Public Watchdog.org

“Good News” From D-207? Yes…But, Then Again, Maybe Not

08.13.18

For the first time in a long while we have good news coming out of Maine Township High School District 207.

At last Monday (08.06.2018) night’s meeting, the D-207 School Board voted to place a referendum question on the November 6 ballot seeking voter approval of the District’s issuing $195 million of bonds – that will cost D-207 taxpayers $300 million to repay – to help fund the District’s $241 million facility improvement plan.

The approved referendum language:

Shall the Board of Education of Maine Township High School District Number 207, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing security improvements, increasing accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, renovating classrooms and labs, improving the Library Media Center and renovating special education spaces, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $195,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

By calling it “good news” we’re not saying such a mega-project is necessary or reasonable. As we’ve pointed out in our 05.07.2018 post and our 05.08.2018 post, Supt. Ken Wallace and every member of the D-207 Board since Wallace became superintendent in 2009 should be figuratively horse-whipped for letting the schools fall into the state of disrepair Wallace now claims they need $241 million to remedy.

That kind of mismanagement is, in a word, inexcusable. And as we’ve previously pointed out, that’s squarely on Wallace and Sean Sullivan, the only Board member whose tenure matches Wallace’s stint in the big chair.

If Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) meant anything to Wallace and all the current and past D-207 Board members (save for, perhaps, semi-newbies Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle) who spent the past 9 years neglecting the maintenance, repair and replacement of the infrastructure of the District’s three high schools, Wallace would tender his resignation; and members Carla Owen, Terry Collins, Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Sean Sullivan would perp-walk out the door after him.

But to Wallace, et al. H.I.T.A. is a foreign language – and apparently more difficult to learn than Mandarin Chinese. Their preferred language is prevarication, often spoken with a shameless dialect. Which is why the feckless Board members will sigh and wring their hands while letting Wallace off the hook yet again for his continuing mediocrity.

In the face of that kind of unaccountability, we have to take our “good news” wherever we can find it.

In this case, that’s a referendum on this November’s ballot – if only because turnouts for November elections regularly are several thousand voters higher than for our local elections in April. And that’s just in the City of Park Ridge: It might mean as much as a ten thousand vote difference, or even higher, given the much larger D-207 boundaries.

More voters exercising their franchise always makes for better citizenship than a smaller turnout, no matter what the outcome. That’s because it’s well understood that the smaller the turnout, the easier it is for special interests to manipulate the process. Which is why the public officials seeking to pass a referendum always prefer an April election if they can finagle it.

Hence our bet that the D-207 Board would drag its heels until after the August 20 deadline for putting their referendum question on the November ballot – just like the Park Ridge Park District Board appears to be doing with a referendum on the uber-foolish purchase of the Shibley Oaks property.

Which is why the D-207 Board surprised us with its 6-1 vote to go to a November referendum – with the only dissent coming from, even more surprisingly, Sullivan.

Given Sullivan’s virtually spotless record of wrong-headed voting, his dissenting vote caused us to start wondering whether there might be something anti-H.I.T.A. about the Board’s November referendum decision that we might be missing.

So we checked out the 08.06.2018 meeting video and attempted to listen to Sullivan’s explanation of his dissent, which starts at the 43:40 mark and ends at the 45:50 mark. That was more difficult than one would expect because of a poor sound system, compounded by noise from what sounds like the air conditioning and the clacking of a few computer keyboards that rendered some of what he said inaudible.

As best as we can tell, however, Sullivan’s main beef with the November referendum question is that the cost is too high.

We can’t recall when, if ever, Sullivan balked at the high cost of anything at D-207, which is one of the oddities about this situation that suddenly causes us to suspect there may be another sub rosa strategy at play here, one that is anti-H.I.T.A. and which we’ll write about in our next post.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with a few hints about that other anti-H.I.T.A. strategy: (a) the D-207 Board already has a back-up, $135 million “Plan B” in the can; (b) the Board recently hired Brett Clark as its co-propaganda minister to work with current propagandist Dave Beery, reportedly until the latter retires in December; and (c) the possibility that Wallace and/or the D-207 Board clandestinely engaged a prominent public opinion research firm to drive this referendum.

All of which may just go to show how even “good news” can turn bad in the hands of Wallace and this D-207 Board.

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Maine Township Investigation Report Released: Another Victory For H.I.T.A.

08.07.18

Last night a majority (barely) of Maine Township Trustees supplied the quorum for a special meeting, and then voted unanimously to release to the public the July 30, 2018 “Investigative Report” of the complaint of Trustee Kim Jones against Trustee Dave Carrabotta.

And before dawn’s early light today that Report was posted on the Township’s website – along with an August 5, 2018 letter from Jones to one of the Township’s attorneys, Keri-Lynn Krafthefer, ripping the Report, the “investigating attorneys” – even the court reporter’s transcripts of witness statements.

We recommend that you read both, especially if you have been following The Journal editor/publisher Todd Wessell’s regular pot-stirring articles/editorials about this situation over the past several weeks, or if you read the famous/infamous July 7, 2018 letter from the “10 Maine GOP Women”- including Jones herself, Supervisor Laura Morask, and non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey – to Maine Twp. Republican Committeeman Char Foss Eggemann, with copies to Gov. Bruce Rauner and several other notable Republicans.

We intend to share our views of this soap opera in greater detail in the coming days. This incident has many aspects that deserve something more than the slogans, sound-bites and rimshots that too often characterize what passes for public discourse these days. 

But for now we wish to remind our readers that it was Thomas Jefferson who wrote: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

And that’s why we wish to thank “The Reformers” – Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney – for insisting on holding last night’s special meeting, for showing up to provide the necessary quorum, and for having the courage to vote to release the Report to the taxpayers who are paying for that Report, along with this particular drama and everything else that goes on at Maine Township.

Well done, people!

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Tonight: A New Episode Of “As The Township Turns”

08.06.18

For those of you who might be following the continuing saga of the “As The Township Turns” soap opera, the Maine Township Board is holding a special meeting TONIGHT– 6:30 p.m. at Township Hall (1700 Ballard) – that might lead to a big reveal: The results of the Township’s attorneys’ investigation into whether Trustee Dave Carrabotta did, or did not, grope, grab, touch or brush Trustee Kim Jones’ derriere during Township functions on three separate occasions.

We say “might” lead to a big reveal because the sole purpose of the special meeting is for the Board to vote on whether or not to release the investigators’ report to us taxpayers who presumably paid several thousand dollars (if not much more) for that investigation and, therefore, deserve to know whether Carrabotta is some kind of sleazebag, whether Jones made the whole thing up, or something in between.

But unofficial Jones media flak Todd Wessell, the editor/publisher of The Journal newspapers, released an article last evening (Sunday, although the computer version is dated August 3) reporting that neither Jones nor Supervisor Laura Morask will be attending tonight’s meeting due to “prior commitments” (“Several Maine Twp. Officials Unlikely To Attend Monday’s Meeting On ‘Harassment’ Report”).

According to the Journal article, “only three trustees will likely attend”: Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney. That would constitute a quorum for a legal meeting, and we believe that a vote by all three to release the investigators’ report would be lawful Board action.

Morask reportedly wants the meeting postponed until she and Jones can attend because she claims there is information in the report that needs clarification or correction, although she hasn’t identified any such information or why it needs clarification/correction.

So even before the Board gets to the issue of whether the report will be released, we may need to wade through a few preliminary dramas, such as: (a) Will Morask and/or Jones actually stay away or show up; (b) if Morask and Jones stay away, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney decide not to show up so that there’s no quorum; (c) even if there is a quorum, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney back down and vote to postpone a vote on releasing the investigators’ report; or (d) will something else occur that, while unpredictable, is clearly intended to keep the report hidden from the taxpayers, even if only for a short while longer?

Tune in to tonight’s episode of “As The Township Turns” and find out.

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Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner! (Updated)

08.03.18

We’ve made no secret of our opinion that the Park Ridge Park District’s purchase of the postage-stamp parcel of land at 815 Busse Hwy – recently branded the “Shibley Oaks” property, presumably for “marketing” purposes – is a waste of taxpayers’ money, an opinion we’ve expressed in our 03.26.2018 postour 04.04.2018 post and our 05.23.2018 post.

Since then we have spent hours reading the Park Board’s meeting packets and watched the meeting videos of those few discussions of Shibley Oaks that the Board has not hidden from the taxpayers by running into closed session. You remember closed session, don’t you: That anti-transparency tactic our public officials use to hide stuff from us taxpayers even though closed sessions are not required but are merely permitted under the Illinois Open Meeting Act (“IOMA”).

And even though such closed session meetings can be conducted outside the view of the taxpayers, nothing in IOMA requires that what goes on in those closed-session proceedings must be kept secret – although the public officials who scurry into closed session whenever possible rarely, if ever, tell us what went on in them, or post the minutes of those closed-session meetings for us to read. 

One of the Park Board’s champions of closed-session secrecy is president Mel Thillens, who – to the best of our knowledge – has never met a closed session he couldn’t vote for. Both he and Jim O’Brien have been on that Board long enough to know that IOMA makes closed sessions permissive rather than mandatory, assuming they actually cared as much about transparency as they seemingly care about talking and acting in secrecy.

SIDEBAR: Yes, we endorsed both Thillens and O’Brien for their positions on the Park Board…twice. But the first time we endorsed them was as an alternative to an SEIU-backed slate of candidates, and the second time we endorsed them was as an alternative to Cindy Grau. We chalk both of those up to the lesser of two evils, even though we realize that’s “still choosing evil.” (per the late Grateful Jerry Garcia).

But, frankly, we can’t recall seeing or hearing about any of the seven current Park Board members actually voting against a closed session. We would love to be proved wrong about that, really we would. But we aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

Unfortunately, all those secretive closed sessions prevented us taxpayers from hearing the Board members discuss the reasons, if any, why buying Shibley Oaks made any sense, considering that: (a) the District had no plan for creating a park in that part of town; and (b) we can’t recall the last time the District even considered acquiring such a tiny parcel of land. Those kinds of discussions could have been held – and should have been held – in open sessions.

So thank you, NOT, Park Board members, for gratuitously hiding those discussions from us taxpayers.

We also didn’t get to hear if those Board members secretly discussed how neither the Shibley Oaks neighbors nor any of their tree-hugger allies suggested making Shibley Oaks into a District park until after the parcel’s owner posted “No Trespassing” signs on the property – and then built a fence around part of it – that annoyed the heck out of those neighbors whose kids had been using that property as their own private park/playground for years.

So thank you again, NOT, Park Board members, for also hiding that discussion from us taxpayers (assuming you actually even had such a discussion).

But what really peaks our curiosity is how and why the Board gave Director Mountcastle the authority to make such a bogus purchase offer of a piddling $1.15 million that the owner wouldn’t even dignify with a counter-offer, as reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District: $1.15 million purchase offer for ‘Shibley oaks’ site rejected,” July 24).

Why do we call that offer “bogus”?

Let’s start with the H-A’s report that the listing price of that commercially-zoned property is $2.35 million, or double the District’s offer. And if that doesn’t make the offer bogus enough for you, consider that the District reportedly has some sort of an “appraisal” (secret, of course, and most likely not a formal MAI version that any responsible land purchaser would require) that puts the property’s value at $1.43 million, or almost $300,000 more than the District’s offer.

But what makes the District’s lowball offer truly bogus is that it was made even though the District, because of its eminent domain powers, can legally force the owner to sell the property to the District at its fair market value (“FMV”) anytime the District wants.

That means the owner of Shibley Oaks most likely KNOWS that if he isn’t stupid enough or desperate enough to jump at a lowball offer, the worst he’ll ever get –even if the District ever has the stones to employ its eminent domain power – is the property’s FMV, or $300,000 more (based on the District’s rumored $1.43 million “appraisal”) than the District’s $1.15 million lowball offer.

In other words, the Board authorized that bogus $1.15 million offer either out of ignorance of how its eminent domain power could guarantee an FMV purchase price, or because it actually wanted a rejection of the offer and no counter.

If the bogus offer was the product of ignorance of eminent domain, then shame on those Board members for not doing their homework and asking the right questions of Director Mountcastle and Attorney Tom Hoffman. And double shame on Mountcastle and Hoffman for not adequately advising those Board members of what we just stated in the previous two paragraphs. This wasn’t Mountcastle’s or Hoffman’s first rodeo, so they most certainly knew better and should have advised better.

If ignorance is not the culprit, however, then why did the Board want a rejection of the offer and no counter?

Because we weren’t privy to any of those closed sessions, we can’t say for sure. But if we had to place a small wager on it, we would suggest that a majority of Board members wanted the offer to fail without a counter because:

  1. Grau definitely wants the District to buy Shibley Oaks, and Thillens, O’Donnell, O’Brien and Harrington apparently don’t have the stones to tell the Shibley Oaks folks that buying the property is stupid and a waste of the taxpayers’ money;
  2. the District doesn’t have the financial ability – due to the $20 million or so of bonding power the District spent on the Centennial Water Park and Prospect Park – to buy Shibley Oaks without a tax increase that requires a binding referendum;
  3. a couple/few of the Board members previously indicated on the record that they preferred that the deal go to referendum in November;
  4. since then, both those Board members and the Shibley Oaks folks have figured out that such a referendum is unlikely to pass even at the questionable $1.43 million “appraisal” price, so neither group wants it to go to referendum in November and fail; and
  5. neither group wants to publicly admit that they know a November referendum would fail, because that would effectively be an admission that the Shibley Oaks purchase IS a stupid waste of taxpayer money that a majority of voters do not support.

So…by secretly authorizing Mountcastle to make a bogus, lowball $1.15 million offer that likely wouldn’t even get a counter, those Board members and Shibley Oaks folks can now blame the owner for not negotiating a realistic price that the Board could take to referendum this November.

And, guess what? That’s exactly what they did.

Per the H-A article, “Grau called the outcome of the real estate talks ‘very unfortunate’…[and]…the park district’s offer ‘a fair price’,” while branding Shibley Oaks’ owner “an unwilling seller.” Not surprisingly, Grau wants to end any current attempt to buy Shibley Oaks because: “We don’t have that kind of money.”

Gee, Cindy, isn’t not having that kind of money why the District was going to have to go to referendum in the first place?

Putting off any November referendum is the dishonest way of preventing Shibley Oaks from getting blown out of the water in a higher-turnout November referendum while also giving the Shibley Oaks folks more time to build a public relations campaign to sway a much smaller voter turnout for an April 2019 referendum.

Which is why Shibley Oaks leader Rob Bowe is quoted in the H-A article as stating: “We’ll continue to do what we have to do and grow support and increase awareness that this is our only park in that whole area.” And, presumably, they’ll get to that point just in time for…wait for it…an April referendum.

But that’s what we get when cowardly politicians prefer pandering to special interest groups and hiding their pandering discussions from us taxpayers in secretive closed sessions.

Dishonest? Check. Anti-transparent? Check. Anti-accountability? Check.

Unfortunately for us taxpayers and for anyone who believes in honest government, it works – at least for those pandering politicians and the special interests to which they pander.

By having all these closed-session Board discussions and secret “negotiations” with the Shibley Oaks owner, the Park Board has delayed the matter until it now has only one more meeting, on August 16, for the Board to vote to put a Shibley Oaks referendum question on the November ballot before the August 20, 2018 deadline for doing so.

If this Park Board had even an ounce of H.I.T.A. it would put the tax-increase referendum question on the November ballot at a purchase price of $1.43 million, the FMV of the District’s own unseen “appraisal.” But we’re not betting the ranch on that happening.

So all we can do is say “Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner!” – for being the only person connected to this Shibley Oaks boondoggle with enough common sense and backbone to just say “No.”

UPDATE 08.05.2018. After reviewing the minutes from the Park Board’s meetings we discovered that Commissioner Leach was the sole “No” vote against going into closed session to discuss the Shibley Oaks acquisition at the meetings of 12.07. 2017, 01.25.2018 and 03.15.2018 – which appear to be the only votes against any of the closed sessions at which Shibley Oaks was discussed.

And although the Board, at its April 19, 2018 meeting, unanimously passed a motion by Thillens “to authorize the Executive Director [Mountcastle] to apply for the waiver from the National Park Service, to allow for negotiation with the seller, and to negotiate a contract with the seller for the best possible deal for purchase of the Shibley Oaks property contingent on the passing of a referendum in the November election for the purchase price, plus the development of the property,” less than a month later – at its May 17 meeting – Grau tried to bail on her earlier November referendum vote; Leach continued to push for it; and Thillens was almost comical in pirouetting around the issue so as to avoid taking any stand.

You can find the meeting video here, with the Shibley Oaks follies starting at the 00:09:30 mark and ending at the 00:17:00 mark.

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