Public Watchdog.org

More Ice At Oakton? Take It To Referendum

08.16.17

It was public intellectual George Santayana who penned that well-known aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

That’s the thought that popped into our mind the other day when we read a string of comments to a Facebook post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners page about how the Park District’s Oakton complex NEEDS a second ice surface.

Why?

Because “[t]he demand for ice time in this area is astronomical”; and “[h]ockey players, figure skaters and coaches are being forced to look elsewhere for ice time (Which translates to finances leaving Park Ridge),” according to the FB post’s author, Teresa Smith Nelson.

Those of you who have been around Park Ridge and who actually can “remember the past” may recall how the issue of a second ice surface at Oakton has popped up every so often over the past 20 years, usually wrapped in the same rhetoric: A huge demand for ice time, “finances leaving Park Ridge” and how the facility will pay for itself. That rhetoric is advanced primarily by parents who are tired of schlepping their kids to other towns for early morning or late night ice time, as well as those who object to paying the higher non-resident rates for the ice-time and/or programs.

Government-owned recreational facilities rarely pay for themselves even on merely an “operating” basis, much less by covering the debt service for their construction costs. Consequently, even preventing all those “finances leaving Park Ridge” rarely, if ever, generates enough revenue to turn the ledger ink for that facility from red to black.

Which is why there are so few purely private ice rinks (a la Johnny’s Ice House on West Madison in Chicago) being built in the Chicagoland area. And why many/most of the private rink complexes still in operation have gone through one or more foreclosures and/or bankruptcies until vulture investors could pick them up at deep discounts (a la Seven Bridges in Woodridge).

This blog’s editor played hockey from age 7 to age 40 so, frankly, we have no problem with a second, or even a third, ice surface being added at Oakton. Heck, throw in a major renovation and expansion of the current locker rooms, team rooms, etc. Maybe go whole hog and add a restaurant, bar, gift shop and parking deck!

But unless some private developer shows up with a grand plan and a check big enough to pay for it, we hope the Park Ridge Park District Board sends any proposal for more ice at Oakton to referendum.

That way, the taxpayers who will end up on the hook for a facility only a small fraction of our residents seem to want – an amenity, not a necessity – can get the chance to express their support or lack thereof at the voting booth.

We already have two second/third-rate Park District facilities that were foisted on the taxpayers without referendum, both coincidentally at Centennial Park: The Fitness Center (formerly the “Community Center”) and the water park, each one costing the taxpayers over $10 million, give or take a million or so once the debt service is added in.

The Fitness Center was so undersized and so badly designed from the day it opened back in the early ‘90s that, fifteen years ago, an executive of a major fitness chain took a tour of the place before concluding that his company wouldn’t accept ownership or management of it even if they could get it for free!

Among his many deal-breakers: Only two basketball courts; no exercise room; not enough racquetball/handball courts; a swimming pool too short and too narrow to hold swim meets; and access to that pool area that required walking through the middle of the men’s locker room showers, where curtain-less showers (at that time) created an interesting dilemma for dads taking their young daughters into the pool area for swimming lessons.

Similarly, by keeping the cost of the 3-month-a-year water park within the District’s non-referendum debt limit so that it didn’t have to go to referendum, the 2012-13 Park Board limited its borrowing to just over $6 million of 15-year non-referendum bonds by cutting out some features, including a lazy river – the feature most desired by the District’s 682 survey respondents.

Fortunately for District taxpayers and fans of good government, this past April the voters elected Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell, thereby creating a Board majority which already has demonstrated – with their anti-perks vote – that they are a more fiscally-responsible majority than the profligate Board majorities that built the Fitness Center or the water park.

If the drumbeat for more ice surfaces at Oakton continues, expect to hear the traditional war cry of those folks who doubt their pet project can actually win a referendum and, therefore, need to avoid it: “You Board members were elected to make these kinds of decisions!”

They weren’t, of course – because over the past two decades none of them actually campaigned by promising multi-million dollar special-interest amenities without voter approval. Even tone-deaf candidates who believe in spendthrift government know that such overt disrespect for the taxpayers would be political suicide.

So they wrap themselves in the mantle of “fiscal responsibility” and solemnly insist that they “respect the taxpayers”… until they get elected.

Hopefully we now have a Park Board majority whose members really are what they campaigned as, and who really do respect the taxpayers.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Dave’s And Dan’s “Grilling For The Arts” 2017 Keeps The Tradition Alive

08.09.17

It was the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society concert in Hodges Park on August 3, 2012 where then-Mayor Dave Schmidt and then-Ald. Dan Knight, assisted by Sue Knight and Charlie Melidosian, broke out their Weber kettles on short notice and held a barbecue to raise funds for the PRFAS.

The take that night was about $1,200, all of which went to the PRFAS because Schmidt and Knight donated all the hamburgers, hotdogs, buns, condiments and chips.

The following summer every member of the Council signed onto the event, and “Grilling for the Arts” suddenly became an established annual fundraiser for the PRFAS.

In 2014, Whole Foods demonstrated its community spirit by donating all of the food, helping the event raise $2,400. And Whole Foods has remained the principal sponsor of the event ever since.

Because of Mayor Dave’s sudden, untimely death in March of 2015, that year’s event became semi-officially known as “Mayor Dave’s Grilling for the Arts.” Led by Ald. Knight, the 2015 take was a record $4,000+.

After a down year in 2016 because of oppressively hot and humid weather that curtailed attendance, this year’s perfect weather on July 28 ushered in “Dave and Dan’s Grilling for the Arts” under the leadership of Ald. John Moran, who picked up the baton following Ald. Knight’s death last December. And the 2017 haul reportedly surpassed 2015’s record.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, this year’s edition may have institutionalized the event as a self-sustaining annual fundraiser for the PRFAS, ironically because it now has outlasted both of its co-founders – a key factor in sustainability. Although their deaths have been a double tragedy for City government and the community as a whole, in a lemonade-from-lemons fashion the continuation of the event without skipping a beat may have had some positive effects.

First, the event continues to serve as a reminder of Mayor Dave’s and Ald. Dan’s steadfast belief that, although those PRFAS concerts are a major part of the character and ambience of Park Ridge summers, as a public policy matter they  are amenities rather than necessities and, therefore, should not be funded by tax dollars.

Second, the event demonstrates how a mere dozen or so private individuals  (albeit 7-8 elected City officials), with the assistance of private businesses like Whole Foods, can significantly boost the private funding of our social and cultural amenities.

Third, it directly and immediately engages all those concert attendees – the diners and non-diners alike who donated from $1 to $100 (yes, a couple of those big bills were found in the “Donations” treasure chest) the night of July 28 – in the funding process of an event they would appear (from their attendance) to enjoy, value and, presumably, are willing to support financially.

Granted, $4,000 is just a small dent in the roughly $60,000 it costs to put on six Friday night concerts at approximately $10,000+ per concert. But if only 600 or so of the folks who attend three or four of those concerts every summer would each write just one $100 check a year to the PRFAS, the entire cost for a summer’s worth of concerts would be covered – without the need or temptation to hit up those taxpayers who don’t attend, don’t enjoy and, therefore, don’t value the these particular amenities.

Substantial private support for the PRFAS and all the other private organizations that make Park Ridge a more pleasant place to live is what Dave Schmidt and Dan Knight were trying to inspire with their efforts back in August of 2012. Hopefully, that’s the kind of support their “Grilling for the Arts” will continue to inspire for many summers to come.

And if you find yourself inspired by reading this, click HERE for a shortcut to the donation page of the PRFAS website.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Moran Provides Object Lesson On Anti-H.I.T.A. City Government

08.03.17

Today we present another object lesson in bad local government.

Unlike most of our recent bad government lessons which tend to focus on those two Star Chambers that are the Boards of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, however, today’s lesson features the unit of local governmental that for the past 8 years has been a bastion of Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”): The City of Park Ridge.

This lesson is provided courtesy of Alderman John Moran (1st) via his August 2, 2:19 p.m. comment to our July 26, 2017 post in which we criticized the City Council’s very own Star Chamber secretive closed-session process by which it transitioned Joe Gilmore from “Acting” to full-fledged City Manager. We suggest you read that post and its Comments as context for the rest of this post.

Notwithstanding Ald. Moran’s attempt to pivot from defending a bad selection process to defending the substantive merits of Gilmore’s appointment, such a politician’s maneuver can’t change what we already have said and will say once again: Gilmore has demonstrated the potential for becoming a better City Manager than any of his past three predecessors who under-served (Shawn Hamilton) and outright dis-served (Tim Schuenke, Jim Hock) the taxpayers of this community over the past 30 years.

So without further ado, let the lesson begin with Ald. Moran’s own words:

*                             *                             *

To compare this process to the Heinz “rolling” contract” is not apples to apples. Also, this contract in its entirety was posted to the city website in advance of any finalization via council vote. How many citizens showed up to complain or ask questions about how were arrived at the proposed contract? How many emails did the council receive questioning the same? NONE We would have gladly explained how and why we came to the contract we did, but no one asked.

As for the 4 year contract, it is not a guaranteed 4 years he can be fired for cause or let go without cause, the later triggers a 4 month severance agreement, a fair deal, and not a windfall for Gilmore by any means(I’ve seen much longer deals in the private sector). Even the COLA only kicks in if the COL actually increases and we have a cap on it. If you are going to argue that it’s “guaranteed” in the fact that we can’t lower his salary, that is correct, but if his performance is so dismal that we want to lower his salary, I would argue we are better off firing him.

In my opinion, we simply could not discuss negotiation points on this matter in open session and still hope to get the best deal possible for the residents… you will only get the minimum acceptable deal.

As for the process the best analogy is this… Compare it to a game of Go Fish where one player has their cards face up and the other is playing them in hand.

There are very few times when the best interest of the taxpayer has to be handled in closed session, by the individuals who were elected to represent them. The council will be judged on the success or failure of the decisions like this. That is the nature of the position.

My comment about the Schmidt/Hamilton process (above) had less to do with the end result(shitty city manager) and more to do with the fact that Mayor Schmidt, the father of HITA, didn’t adhere to those principals when he and Hamilton negotiated on a cocktail napkin. Where was the public involvement there? So, why are we being held to a different standard on the process??

This was not a union negotiation, so again it’s not apples to apples. Labor negotiations can go to arbitration. The only 2 outcomes here were Joe Gilmore takes the job or he doesn’t. We identified him as a very desirable candidate and then attempted to obtain the best terms possible for the city. As for the hindsight on Hamilton vs Gilmore, in the 8 months(or so) he served as action city manager, Gilmore already had proven to be a more competent leader via the strategic planning and budget process.

*                             *                             *

Acceptance of Ald. Moran’s arguments that “the best interest of the taxpayer” has been served by this contract requires that the taxpayers be dumb enough and/or apathetic enough to ignore the following inconvenient truths, none of which Ald. Moran seems to recognize or understand:

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers (by a full year) than even D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz’s ridiculous 3-year contract that the D-64 Board reflexively rolls over for another year as each current one expires;

 

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers than the 9-month initial deal Mayor Dave gave Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s subsequent at-will deal that required neither (a) cause for the City’s termination of him, nor (b) a 4-month severance entitlement like Gilmore just received; and

 

  1. Gilmore’s $171,000 salary – which cannot be reduced for the full 4-year duration and includes an automatic annual COLA increase – is WORSE for the taxpayers than Hamlton’s ending $160,000 one, which could be reduced and included no automatic raise.

In every material respect, therefore, the contract given Gilmore is bad for Park Ridge taxpayers – and the secretive process by which it came about even worse.

How far has this Council fallen away from H.I.T.A. ideals, and why?

Consider how Ald. Moran attempts to sweep this abuse of H.I.T.A. under the rug by noting that no taxpayers “showed up [at the Council meeting to complain or ask questions about how were [sic] arrived at the proposed contract” for Gilmore, blithely ignoring how the Council hid all Gilmore contract discussions in closed sessions for weeks before quietly slipping the finished contract into a meeting packet – with no advance notice or warning to either local newspaper or to the taxpayers – a mere 72 hours (48 of which were a weekend) before the meeting.

Will that kind of “hiding in plain sight” gamesmanship become the new paradigm for Transparency at City Hall?

Unfortunately, the answer may well be “yes” so long as taxpayers let this Council get away with it like they have let the D-64 Board and the D-207 Board get away with their Star Chamber closed sessions for all these years, even as their schools’ academic performance and rankings have fallen while the costs-per-student have soared.

What Ald. Moran’s arguments basically come down to is: Trust us – “the individuals who were elected to represent” the taxpayers.

That’s exactly the request/command we’ve heard from the likes of Mike Madigan, John Cullerton, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel, Richie Daley and every other non-transparent, dishonest and accountability-shirking political weasel throughout this state who have done their part to run it into the ground over the past 30 years.

The reason Mayor Dave came up with H.I.T.A. is because no local taxpayer should have to trust any local public official, much less any local official who fancies himself/herself a “politician.” Instead, H.I.T.A . requires that those local officials trust us taxpayers enough to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so that we can judge for ourselves whether they are acting in our best interest or selling us down the river.

But as we’ve seen over and over again, Transparency leads to Accountability. And no politician wants to be held accountable for anything unless it comes with a pat on the back and thunderous applause.

So if Ald. Moran and any other local officials want to talk the H.I.T.A. talk, they had better walk the H.I.T.A. walk.

And what they just did with the Gilmore contract isn’t even the H.I.T.A. crawl.

To read or post comments, click on title.