A Decade Later, City Information Still Being “Sanitized For Your Deception”


Frankly, we’re embarrassed.

On March 14 we published a post about “Sunshine Week” without being aware of the fact that on March 13 the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published an article about the Park Ridge City Council’s making a mockery of sunshine in government (”Four months after he was placed on leave, Park Ridge police officer’s employment officially ends,” March 13).

According to the H-A article, the City paid $12,800 to REM Management to conduct an internal investigation of what appears to have been the Park Ridge Police Department’s handling of the Jason Leavitt incident back in 2006 and its aftermath. You may recall that Leavitt, while off duty, apprehended a Park Ridge teen and allegedly punched him out while the teen was handcuffed in the back of a squad car. That led to a federal civil rights suit that cost the City a $185,000 settlement and an additional $175,600 in legal fees to get to that settlement.

That incident also may have precipitated the 2010 FBI seizure of Police Department records and computers, and it also was a factor in the City’s commissioning of the $75,000+ Ekl Report, the results of which were published by the City in 2008 and which we wrote about in our 09.17.2008 post. 

Although Police Chief Frank Kaminski was not on the City payroll until June 2009, he was responsible for pursuing Leavitt’s termination before the City’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners until he mysteriously withdrew those charges, presumably in return for Leavitt’s agreement to retire effective February 21, 2018.

But if you look on the City’s website for any evidence of how this deal played out before that Board or before the Council, you’ll find little more than a Board decision – in the minutes of its Special Meeting of November 16, 2017 – to continue the public hearing on Leavitt’s termination; and the Board decision – in the minutes of that Board’s January 11, 2018 meeting – to approve Kaminski’s dismissal of Leavitt’s disciplinary hearing for reasons allegedly contained in Kaminski’s memorandum dated December 4, 2017.

Would you like to see a copy of Kaminski’s December 4, 2017 memo? So would we.

Would you like to see a copy of the contract that likely memorialized the deal Kaminski cut with Leavitt to take retirement in exchange for Kaminski’s dropping of the termination proceeding? So would we.

Would you like to see a copy of the REM report? So would we.

But we can’t find them anywhere on the City’s website.

And when the H-A made a FOIA request for the full REM report, the City denied it.

Why? According to the H-A article:

“[T]he release of the information weighs more heavily toward the harm it demonstrably would create to the reputation of the city, the public confidence in the department, and the morale and efficient operation of the police department.”

Can you say “Cover up”?

After decades of translating the double-talk alibis provided by public officials to justify their secretive misdeeds, what the City’s statement probably means is that: (a) those PRPD officials who handled the whole Leavitt matter (including Kaminski, once he inherited it in June 2009) botched it; (b) they don’t want the taxpayers to know how and how badly they botched it; so (c) they cut a secret deal with Leavitt; and (d) they are now trying to bury all the problematic evidence with some secrecy alibi trumped up by the anti-H.I.T.A. city attorneys, probably relying once again on the Illinois Personnel Records Review Act (the “PRRA”) that, by its express terms, applies only to the FOIA-bility of personnel records by third parties other than the City, the owner of the records.

You can read a more detailed description of Ancel Glink’s misinterpretation/misapplication of the PRRA in our posts of 05.27.2016 and 07.26.2017.

What are those allegedly pro-H.I.T.A. folks around The Horseshoe at City Hall doing about it?

As best as we can tell, nothing.

“Nothing” seems like a billboard-sized message that they are more concerned about giving political cover to Chief K and his department than they are about telling the truth to the taxpayers who pay for Chief K and that department – and who paid $12,800 for that REM report.

Although we don’t agree with the anonymous commentator to our previous post who suggested that what the City is doing with the Leavitt matter is a “Chicago-style Laquan McDonald cover-up,” we do believe what the Council is doing – intentionally or negligently – sure looks, sounds and smells like a cover-up…and for purely political reasons.

A decade ago this coming May 21, we published a post titled “Sanitized For Your Deception” in which we criticized the spin and deception applied by City Hall to the goings on there, both in The Spokeman and in the meeting minutes. But that practice slowly disappeared under the leadership of Mayor Dave Schmidt. Suddenly minutes were accurate (probably because meetings started being videotaped) and The Spokesman’s more creative writing mysteriously started hewing to the facts rather than some City Hall politician’s fiction.

As we see with the REM report and the related information about Chief K’s withdrawal of Leavitt’s termination complaint, however, City Hall isn’t just sanitizing matters for the public’s deception: It’s hiding them altogether.

That should be unacceptable for any Park Ridge public official who talks the H.I.T.A. talk, and even for those who don’t. And it should be unacceptable for the taxpayers for whom those public officials are supposed to work.

But only if our elected officials grow spines and stop covering up for high-priced bureaucratic misconduct and subterfuge.

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Sunshine Week 2018: Better Late Than Never


Anyone who has read even a couple of posts on this blog knows that we’re obsessed with “sunshine” in government, our focus being local government here in Park Ridge.

Which is why we’re embarrassed that it’s already halfway through “Sunshine Week” – started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to promote a dialogue about the importance of transparency, open government, and freedom of information – and we haven’t even acknowledged it. And even more embarrassed that we’ve overlooked every year since our post of 03.16.2009

Years before the late Mayor Dave Schmidt got elected in April 2009 on the platform of H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – and made those principles the hallmark of his sadly-abbreviated tenure from 2009 until his sudden death in March 2015, this blog had begun regularly advocating for transparency, starting with its “Statement of Principles” published in its third post, on May 8,.2005:

“Government operations must be transparent so that both our elected and appointed officials can be held strictly accountable to their constituents.”

This blog’s editor, as a member of the Park Ridge Park District Board from 1997 to 2005, was instrumental in getting that public body to become the first unit of local government in our community to videotape its meetings and make the tapes available for public viewing.

Shortly after his election, Schmidt dragged his first City Council into doing likewise, going so far as to donate the camera and enlist supporters George Kirkland and Charlie Melidosian (now the 5th Ward alderman) to, respectively, run the camera and upload the videos to his own Motionbox site until WOW provided a better system as part of its licensing to provide cable service in Park Ridge.

And through the subsequent efforts of Schmidt and his successor, Mayor Marty Maloney, the City applied for, and received, the “Sunshine Award” from the Illinois Policy Institute in both 2014 and 2015 – making it 1 of only 72 Illinois taxing bodies (among the thousands of those in Illinois) to receive that award in 2015, while also increasing its transparency score from 86% to 94.8%.

Not until the summer of 2011 did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 jump on that bandwagon, but only after being shamed into it by Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann and Susan Sweeney, who brought in their own camera to tape that School Board’s August 8, 2011 meeting and then upload it to a YouTube site labeled “sunshine4d64.” We understand that Maine Twp. High School District 207 started taping its Board meeting sometime after that

But it took the election of Reformers David Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney (yes, that Susan Sweeney) to the Maine Township Board last April to finally bring videotaped meetings to that previously opaque political backwater.

Make no mistake about it: When it comes to government, information is power. And the career bureaucrats who populate so much of government know that if they want to manipulate the opinions or decision-making of elected/appointed officials, or of the general public, they can do so by concealing the relevant information that doesn’t serve their purpose; and, worse yet, they are being paid by us taxpayers to do so.

Unfortunately, too many of our elected and appointed officials either knowingly and spinelessly accede to the bureaucrats’ manipulations, or they cowardly hide information and documents from us taxpayers in order to limit the scrutiny of their own decisions and decision-making. They seize upon every opportunity the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) provides for them to run into closed-session meetings even though IOMA merely permits, but does not require, any such closed sessions.

Exhibit A: The D-64 Board, which rarely has seen a closed session opportunity it won’t exploit. From what we’ve seen, heard and inferred, those folks – under the thumb of president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli, who’s under the thumb of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz – have more substantive discussions and do more public business in closed session than in open session, with the latter doing little more than satisfying the barest IOMA requirements regarding the taking of actual votes.

So as we find ourselves in the middle of Sunshine Week, we embed here a guest essay from the editor of the Valdosta (GA) Daily Times and ask you to take a minute to read it, repeating the following lines out loud both for effect and to enhance recall:

“Every action of government is your business.

Every document held in government halls is your piece of paper.

Every penny spent by government is your money.”

Remember: Those low-paid or unpaid “volunteer” elected and appointed officials, just as much as those well-paid and over-paid bureaucrats (including our teachers and school administrators), work for US – not the other way around.

To read or post comments, click on title.

There’s More To Board/Commission Performance Than Meeting Attendance


As a member of the Park Ridge Library Board for six years, I found a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge aldermen recommend city track, publish meeting attendance by appointed board members,” Feb. 22, 2018) problematic for a few reasons.

First, during my tenure (2011-2017) on that Board I missed less than five of over 160 “official” meetings – regular full-board meetings, regular committee meetings, and “special” meetings – for a 97% attendance record; and one of those absences resulted from being stuck on a METRA train for 3 hours after it collided with a car near the Armitage overpass on the evening of December 20, 2016.

Consequently, I was never concerned about the City’s mandatory meeting attendance ordinance for City board and commission members, which reads:


To remain eligible to serve on any Board or Commission, each member shall attend not less than 75% of all meetings for such Board or Commission during each calendar year. Any member who becomes incapable of attending at least 75% of all meetings for such Board or Commission may be disqualified from serving in that office and can be removed by the Appointing Authority in the manner described in Sections 3.1-35-10 or 11-13-3 of the Illinois Municipal Code, as applicable. Failure to meet the minimum attendance requirement shall be considered good cause for removal of any member appointed to any Board or Commission. (Ord. No. 2016-03 , 2(Exh. A), 1-18-2016)

Attendance at “official” meetings is the simplest, easiest and most objective way for measuring one aspect of a board or commission member’s commitment to his/her office. But it’s a huge mistake to consider just attendance at those “official” meetings as an absolute performance benchmark of any board or commission member – as Library Trustee Mike Reardon so cogently pointed out in his remarks to the City Council at its February 19, 2018 meeting, the text of which can be found here.

Since being appointed to the Library Board in June 2015, nobody – N.O.B.O.D.Y. – on that Board has done more, or better quality, work than Reardon. Whether analyzing staffing, measuring performance both internally and vis-à-vis other comparable libraries, exploring efficiencies from the automation of certain operations, budget numbers-crunching, dealing with personnel issues, or just providing the clear, hard-eyed insight that an engineer with a Northwestern (Kellogg) M.B.A. and an abiding love of this community (and its Library) can provide, Reardon’s contributions demonstrate the foolishness of using “official” meeting attendance as the sole benchmark of commitment or effectiveness.

And because his meeting attendance has consistently been in the 90% range, his opinions in this regard cannot be challenged as self-serving.

Most of what can be said about Reardon also can be said about Trustee Joe Egan, another engineer but with a Chicago (Booth) M.B.A. and a similar love of this community and its Library.

Although Egan’s attendance was a bit below the 75% target because of the travel demands of his job, he also has put in plenty of uncredited overtime on some of the same projects as Reardon, as well as being the Board’s point man in dealing with the Library’s architects on design issues for the proposed renovation; in working with the City on fire and safety issues related to the renovation; and in hammering out an intergovernmental agreement with the City to correct the longstanding, half-baked arrangement whereby the non-home rule Library is supposed to pay for capital repairs and improvements to the Library building – like a new roof, new windows, HVAC, etc. – out of its relatively modest budget even though the building and grounds are owned by the home rule City with a budget 15 times larger.

Despite those extra-curricular projects undertaken by Reardon and Egan often impinging on their day jobs – unlike the more accommodating evening schedules for the “official” meetings – they most certainly have saved the taxpayers thousands of dollars in outside consultant services.

So when residents like Alice Dobrinsky and Amy Bartucci suddenly pop out of the woodwork to make an issue of Egan’s meeting attendance, or the attendance of Library Trustees Stevan Dobrilovic and Pat Lamb – both of whom also have carved good chunks of time out of their day jobs to undertake extra-curricular activities on behalf of the Library – it’s naïve to assume it’s just about attendance.

Just like it would have been naïve to assume it was just about attendance a couple of years ago when another resident, Walter Szulczewski, popped out of the woodwork and attempted – along with former Library Board members John Benka, Patricia Lofthouse and Dick Van Metre, and former Library business manager Kathy Rolsing – to nuke the reappointment of Egan and Trustee Char Foss-Eggemann because they disagreed with Egan’s and Foss-Eggemann’s philosophy of running the Library based on Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability, and with an emphasis on fiscal responsibility.

You can read about their unsuccessful 2016 nuking effort in this blog’s 06.10.2016 post.

Not surprisingly, Bartucci and Dobrinsky – like Szulczewski before them – were notably MIA during all of those years of bad management, even after it led to the closing of the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 – despite Sundays regularly being the busiest days for the Library on a user-per-hour basis – in order to send a political message to then-mayor Dave Schmidt and the then-city council. We wrote about that in our 04.14.2014 post.

So if I had to bet the Vegas line on why Bartucci and Dobrinsky are suddenly beefing about Library trustee attendance, I’d put my money on attendance being the easiest way to pressure the mayor and at least 4 aldermen into getting rid of Egan, Dobrilovic and Lamb – and replacing them with old-style, fiscally irresponsible, go-along-to-get-along trustees who might assist a couple/few old-style trustees currently on the Board in walking back the H.I.T.A. and the fiscal responsibility that have taken hold at the Library.

Make no mistake about it: Meeting attendance is important. I wouldn’t have gone through the effort to attend 97% of the “official” meetings if I didn’t believe it was. But taking the easy way out by making an arbitrary 75% attendance standard the sine qua non of board and commission service, and effectively ignoring the extra-curriculars of board and commission members like Reardon and Egan, is a sham wrapped in a fiction inside a fraud.

And it increases the likelihood that good government can be subverted by bad politics (redundancy intended).

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Former Park Ridge Library Trustee

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