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Burke’s $106 Million Flood Control Plan Means Time For City Council To Make Decisions

10.19.17

We’ve always liked the motto of the Public Television show “This Old House”: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That tends to be good advice in most situations, and especially good advice when it comes to the operation of government: The expenditures of substantial sums of taxpayer money and/or the undertaking of substantial amounts of public debt for some project or program.

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, the Park Ridge City Council, so far, has taken that approach when it comes to the City’s adoption of proposals for addressing the City’s flooding problems. Because of the grand scope of the flooding problems and, therefore, the cost of the projects that will be needed to solve those problems, measuring twice – or even three and four times – is the prudent thing to do.

At the Council’s September 11, 2017 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, Christopher B. Burke Engineering presented its most comprehensive flooding remediation plan to date, intended to address flooding in 13 areas of Park Ridge. The price tag: $106 million for what Burke is claiming will provide 100-year protection, even in those semi-disaster areas like Mayfield Estates and the basin just west of the Park Ridge Country Club between Oakton on the north and the METRA tracks on the south.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: That $106 million doesn’t include the additional $10-20 million of potential debt service costs for the bonds that likely will be needed to fund this mega-project, depending on the amount and the duration of those bonds.

Flood remediation has been the 500 lb. gorilla, and a political football, in Park Ridge for decades. For most of the 1990s and ear ly-2000s our City politicians and bureaucrats not only did nothing to remediate it but, in many instances, they took a variety of actions that actually exacerbated the problems – including diverting the funds budgeted annually for relief sewers (to hold stormwater) to other more popular pursuits and pet projects.

Only after the election of mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009 did the City begin to get serious about flooding, forming the Flood Control Task Force chaired by former public works director Joe Saccamano and comprised of residents like Gail Fabisch and Bob Mack, both of whom are career professionals in dealing with water management and flooding.

In connection with the task force’s efforts the City made Burke Engineering its flooding consultant of choice. Based on studies and recommendations by Burke, the City began some of the more inexpensive remediation projects – the low-hanging fruit – while working toward a more comprehensive and more expensive global plan, which is what Burke appears to have come back with last month.

Burke’s power-point presentation is posted on the City’s website and can be found here. And it prescribes the 100-year protection that should be the goal of any such project.

Such a comprehensive plan will not be able to be accomplished in a year or even two. It also cannot be accomplished by the City unilaterally because it will require the cooperation of the Park Ridge Park District for the detention area recommended for Northwest Park, and of the Park Ridge Country Club for the construction of the underground vault on the east side of Greenwood that will run pretty much the full length of the 3d hole, and that appears crucial to flood control in that area.

The cost of these projects will impose a substantial burden on the City’s taxpayers for years to come, no matter how successful the City’s storm water utility proves to be.

That’s why we think that NOW is the time for the Council to start taking the action necessary to determining whether there is sufficient taxpayer support to move forward with the projects contained in the Burke plan. And that should involve a referendum – the 10-letter word that terrifies and infuriates those public officials, elected and appointed, who distrust the taxpayers/voters, and/or who think those taxpayers/voters are incompetent to express their opinions about projects such as this through the ballot box.

At least two, if not three or four, current aldermen are known to have opined that elected public officials – such as themselves, of course – are elected to make these kinds of decisions, without needing no stinking referendums. And should they want any taxpayer advice, they can easily get it by talking to their constituents , a la former 3d-Ward alderman Don Bach, who once voted to give Napleton Cadillac up to $2.4 million of taxpayer money, even though he was against the idea, because he had talked to “about 30 people” in his ward who thought it was a good idea.

But make no mistake about it: NO current mayor or alderman has EVER run for the offices they currently hold on the promise that they would support the taxing, borrowing and/or spending more than $100 million on flood remediation/prevention. That means none of their voters elected them to do that.

We’ve got two elections coming up in 2018 that would be suitable for such a referendum: The primaries in March 2018 and, even better, the general election in November 2018. Both the primary and the general election regularly produce a significantly larger voter turnout than our odd-year local elections and, therefore, would be the better vehicle for measuring public support for any $100 million-plus expenditure and/or indebtedness.

Because referendum questions have to be submitted months ahead of the actual elections, however, the deadline for the Council to put a flood remediation question on the March 20, 2018 primary ballot is January 1, 2018. That might be cutting it too close, thereby making the August 20, 2018 deadline for putting one or more referendum questions on the November ballot more reasonable.

We would hope Mayor Maloney and a majority of the current Council will voice their support for a referendum on such an important issue, and do so sooner rather than later.

Unless, of course, they want to play Springfield-style politics and kick the flood control can far enough down the road that it rolls past the April 2019 City elections – when the terms of Aldermen Moran (1st), Wilkening (3d), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) will be expiring. That way, should they choose to run, neither they nor their challengers would have to handle any potentially difficult questions that might arise from the results – up or down – of a November 2018 referendum.

Hope springs eternal, however, so we’re willing to make a modest wager that the Council will move forward on the Burke plan so that one or more appropriate referendum questions will find their way to the November 2018 ballot.

But if they don’t, every homeowner in Park Ridge who has flooding problems should be demanding to know why not.

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City Getting More Into The “Business” Of The Farmers Market

10.10.17

We dislike public-private ventures where governmental bodies and private businesses combine in what should be purely private enterprises.

The reasons?

First, because those types of arrangements rarely are essential functions of governmental bodies. Second, the private-sector business people who look for such fusion opportunities tend to be a lot slicker negotiators than their public-sector counterparts. And third, even when the public officials aren’t being out-negotiated, they often end up carrying the water for some special interest or other, usually resulting in a windfall of tax dollars and no accountability.

We’ve seen that happen with boondoggles like the Economic Development Corporation, the Facade Improvement Program, the Uptown Redevelopment project and annual giveaways of taxpayer cash to private non-profit corporations like Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”), the Center of Concern, Meals On Wheels, and other such community organizations that went on for years with no thought whatsoever of demanding accountability for that money.

Today’s boondoggle du jour is the Farmers Market, which reportedly has been a favored special interest since the days of mayor Marty Butler.

Why did the City get into the Farmers Market business in the first place, and what was the City supposed to get out of it? Nobody seems to know. And looking back at the bare-bones council meeting minutes from 2006, when the Market’s section of the City Code was last amended, it’s virtually impossible to say.

As noted in the City Attorney’s memo dated August 10, 2017, the running of the Market has apparently been so ignored by the City that:

* the Market “has operated outside the regular budget and procurement process…”;

* the Market “has not broken even…” thereby requiring “the City to underwrite some expenses with taxpayer dollars (e.g., AT&T parking lot lease)”; and

* “despite…selling out its vendor permits for each of the last several years, the cost charged for a permit has not been enough to cover the Market’s expense, “ which has dinged Park Ridge taxpayers for about $3,000 each year.

Why, then, did Alds. John Moran (1st), Gail Wilkening (3d), Charlie Melidosian (5th), Marc Mazzuca (6th) and Marty Joyce (7th) vote to amend the Farmers Market Ordinance (Article 12, Chapter 7 of the City Code) at the Council’s October 2 meeting instead of deferring that action and re-visiting whether the Market should have a place in the City Code at all?

According to Mazzuca at the September 25, 2017 COW meeting, the Market is “tradition” and “is in our Code.”

Our Code also has provisions for “Sexually-Oriented Businesses,” “Garage or Yard Sales” and “Valet Parking Businesses,” but we’re not aware of any of those getting City subsidies or their own City committee.

Don’t get us wrong: We like the Farmers Market. This editor is there almost every Saturday, rain or shine. But that doesn’t justify the Council’s treating it like a favored child, or tying it even more closely to the City than it has been up to now.

It’s not like Park Ridge residents live in one of those food “deserts” characteristic of the poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago, where the Market is our only source of fresh produce, meat, bakery, flowers, dog treats, giardiniera, and all the other things sold there. We’ve got our choice of Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Jewel and Trader Joe’s within our own City boundaries, along with a Jerry’s just over the northeast border in Niles, and a Tony’s on Greenwood just a block north of Dempster.

By subsidizing the Farmers Market even nominally (to the tune of $2,000 or so per year) the City is effectively subsidizing private businesses – most of them not based in Park Ridge or run by Park Ridge residents – who actually are competing against those aforementioned taxpaying grocery stores, and some of our smaller businesses like Dolcetti Patisserie & Café.

According to an October 3, 2017 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Elected officials to have say over Park Ridge Farmers Market volunteer committee”), rental fees for Farmers Market vendors were finally raised this year to a whopping $14 per Saturday, or $3.50 per hour for each of the four hours it’s open. That’s chump change, although it probably explains why the Market keeps getting more vendors while increasing its City subsidies – and why the H-A reports that Farmers Market co-chair Jay Crowley wants the City Council “to explore paying someone to [run the Market].”

Gee, did anybody else see that coming?

2d Ward Ald. Nick Milissis was spot-on in calling for a review of the Farmers Market ordinance and wondering why the City appears to be getting even more involved in what should be “a private initiative” like TOPR: A private, non-profit corporation that is permitted to use City property – a portion of Summit Avenue and the “Triangle” and “Library” parking lots – but which in all other respects is treated as an entity separate and apart from the City that pays the City for the police, fire and public works services it uses.

Milissis and Ald. Roger Shubert (4th) were the only two aldermen voting against the amendment and suggesting that the entire concept behind the Farmers Market Ordinance should be re-visited.

We don’t see that happening with a Council that finds “tradition” and “it’s in our Code” handy excuses for avoiding serious policy discussions and continuing to subsidize non-essential services that aren’t being run in a self-sufficient manner, yet will continue to be run by the same people.

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Biagi Invites Censure, Gets No Takers

10.05.17

At the Park Ridge City Council meeting on March 3, 2008, then-Park Ridge mayor Howard Frimark took the unprecedented step of “condemning” then-1st Ward ald. Dave Schmidt for publicly disclosing the contents of two memos about topics discussed in closed session that should have been discussed in open session.

Since history tends to repeat itself, you might want to read about that buffoonery – which led to Schmidt’s adoption of “H.I.T.A.” (Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability) as the centerpiece of his successful 2009 mayoral campaign – in our posts of March 5, 2008 and March 19, 2008.

We were reminded of Frimark’s condemnation of Schmidt as we watched the video (from the 2:51:20 mark continuing through the 3:16:33 mark) of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board’s September 25, 2017 meeting at which president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli ripped into Board vice-president Rick Biagi for the latter’s response to our 09.18.17 post – which we published in our 09.21.17 post and which Biagi also posted on his own D-64 Facebook page in response to e-mails he claims to have received from other constituents.

Borrelli branded Biagi’s response “malicious and disrespectful…self-aggrandizement,” and took particular issue with Biagi’s reference to “the Borrelli Doctrine” used by “a blogger” – presumably this blog’s editor, who used that term to describe Borrelli’s philosophy of government revealed by his own words: “We have to trust Dr. Heinz that she is being fiscally careful with our money.”

Wasn’t that the philosophy of the Lincoln-Way High School District 210 school board prior to the indictment of former supt. Larry Wyllie for wire fraud and embezzlement?

SIDEBAR: We’re not suggesting D-64 Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz is committing any indictable acts. But any elected steward of a unit of government and the taxpayers’ money, such as Borrelli, has his head in the sand – or in another warm dark place – if he simply trusts but does not verify.

Instead of waiting for Borrelli to propose some action against him, however, Biagi went on the offensive and pointedly invited Borrelli and the rest of the Board to censure him if they disapproved of his explanation of his vote, or of his blogging/Facebooking in general.

Borrelli immediately started backpeddling, and kept backpeddling even after Biagi read his entire response into the record for the benefit of Board member Larry Ryles, who was not aware of it.

Not only did no Board member accept Biagi’s censure invitation, but Ryles noted how “very eloquent” Biagi’s explanation was. Ryles also questioned why Borrelli was so offended by the term “Borrelli Doctrine,” given that Ryles had heard it back when he was campaigning for the Board prior to last April’s election.

We thought we had coined that term, but we’ll offer a Watchdog bark-out to whoever beat us to it – if only because Borrelli needs to be held accountable for his six years of: (a) perpetuating D-64’s Star Chamber proceedings; (b) two negotiated-in-secret PREA contracts providing non merit-based raises exceeding the CPI; (c) three negotiated-in-secret extensions of Heinz’s contract, with raises; and (d) in-house rave reviews of D-64 schools even as they remain MIA from virtually every Top 100 rating/ranking of Chicago-area public elementary/middle schools, and even as the rating/ranking of Maine South – populated substantially by D-64 graduates – continues to slide.

But we digress.

We still believe Biagi and the rest of the D-64 Board effectively rewarded Heinz and finance czarina Luann Kolstad for their typical intransigence and lack of transparency – in this instance, by almost two months of failing to provide data to support those administrator raises despite Biagi’s admittedly throwing a “public tantrum” and having “pitched a fit over three separate board meetings” about such a lack of data.

Transparency is not something over which elected officials should have to bargain with highly-paid administrators: It should be expected as the sine qua non of any issue those administrators bring before those officials. And if it isn’t provided it should be demanded – with the clear message that, if it has to be demanded again, somebody will need to update their resume.

That being said, however, Biagi has shown once again that in less than six months on the D-64 Board he has caused more transparency and accountability than President “Who’s The Boss?” has mustered in his six years there.

Whether Biagi can build a consistent majority of allies (or followers) on that Board remains to be seen. We also are mindful of how service on our two local school boards has the uncanny ability to turn even ostensibly well-meaning reformers into zombie-like pawns of the teachers’ unions, domineering administrators, and an established network of consultants and vendors whose manipulation tactics seem positively K Street’s.

But if D-64 is going to turn around and start providing top-shelf educational quality and achievement for the top-shelf money it spends, it will need the H.I.T.A. of Rick Biagi.

And a few more like him.

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