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D-207’s Referendum “Strategy” Uses Tax Dollars To Bamboozle Taxpayers

08.24.18

Not all that many years ago, when one of our local governmental bodies decided it needed to raise or borrow a big chunk of money for some facility or project, its governing officials would commission architects and engineers to design and cost-out the project. Then the officials would vote to put a referendum question on the ballot.

Once that was done, those public officials would print up a couple versions of inexpensive “information sheets” that were relatively neutral and reasonably truthful, run a couple/three/four “public information” sessions” based on that same information, and then step back and let the voters decide.

That’s because something called the Election Interference Prohibition Act, 10 ILCS 5/9-25.1, provides:

“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition…[but] shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot….”

Not surprisingly, the Maine Township High School District 207 superintendent and Board members – not unlike the politicians who run other local governmental bodies in this “State of Corruption” – have figured what they believe to be a way around that ban: Spend public funds on data generation, polling and messaging under the guise of “community engagement” that can later be used by private citizens to campaign for the referendum. And, to help get away with such deceit, they make sure to lock in contracts to spend that money months before the referendum question is even approved for the ballot.

That’s what Supt. Ken Wallace and his accomplices on the D-207 Board did back at the January 8, 2018, meeting when a three-member majority du jour of Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Carla Owen voted to approve three contracts for what they vaguely described as – SURPRISE! – “community engagement” services. Only Board member Sean Sullivan voted against it (Yes, that Sean Sullivan; and we’re as shocked as you are!), while members Aurora Austriaco, Teri Collins and Linda Coyle were conveniently MIA.

Because the D-207 Board – unlike the City, the Library, the Park District and even Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – doesn’t publish its meeting packets, taxpayers had no details of these expenditures in advance of the meeting.

But if you watch Part I of the meeting video, from the 28:35 mark to the 30:18 mark, you will see and hear no meaningful discussion of the reasons for, or merits of, those contracts. Even dissenter Sullivan gave no reasons for his “no” vote, raising doubts about the reasons for, and the legitimacy of, his vote.

According to Item 9A of the minutes of that meeting, however, George K. Baum & Company (“Baum”) got the lion’s share of these public dollars, a $75,000 fee, presumably because a “privately held investment banking firm focused on municipal finance” has the most to gain from a $195 million bond issue. The other two recipients of what appears to have been a package deal were Public Opinion Strategies (“POS,” appropriately enough), hired to perform “Phone Surveys” for $19,500 (see Item 9B of the minutes); and something called Minding Your Business, which was hired to be a “Citizen Task Force Meeting Facilitator” (meaning “manipulator”) at a fee not to exceed $20,000 (see Item 9C of the minutes).

Those three contracts total a shade under $115,000, not counting the out-of-pocket and travel expenses the District agreed to pay Baum, per Paragraph 2 of Exhibit A to Baum’s “Professional Services Agreement”

Not surprisingly, Wallace et al. issued no press releases hailing those contracts and services – which may explain why we can’t find even one newspaper article about them by our Pulitzer Prize winning local reporters. Wallace and the Board obviously didn’t want taxpayers realizing that their tax dollars are being used to buy high-line professionals and a blueprint for a political campaign to win the District’s mega-bucks/mega-debt referendum.

Interestingly enough, Paragraph 1 D of Exhibit A to that Baum agreement contains the following language:

It is expressly understood and agreed that this Agreement does not intend, and is not under any circumstances to be construed as requiring [Baum] to perform or provide any services to or on behalf of [D-207] which may constitute advocacy for or against any future ballot measure campaign.

Why is that language included? Because Baum wants plausible deniability of any accusations – such as this blog’s – that Baum’s “community engagement” efforts are just front-loaded political research designed to give disingenuous public officials – “Hello, Ken Wallace and you D-207 Board members!” – a pre-packaged referendum-related political strategy and campaign initiatives that they can share with whatever group(s) of referendum supporters form up, or are already locked and loaded, thereby end-running (arguably) the Election Interference Prohibition Act.

Want proof?

Let’s start with the 37-page POS “Feasibility of a Ballot Measure” Survey of a whopping 300 likely voters conducted May 19-22, 2018” – two months before the Board voted to go to referendum in November – which can be found on the District’s website and, therefore, is readily accessible to the strongest referendum supporters that POS identifies, at Pages 5-11 of that Survey, as being: “Democrats,” “Independents,” “younger voters,” “women” and “parents.”

Besides targeting the referendum’s strongest supporters, the POS survey also polled what messages and arguments worked best, and worst – the results of which can be seen at Pages 27-35.

But the true “Bottom Line” can be found at Page 37 of the Survey, which calls support for the $195 million bond deal “strong” but labels support for the $135 million deal as “bordering on overwhelming” with, “[n]ot surprisingly, Democrats driv[ing] the support of both funding options.”

In other words, the D-207 Board’s sub rosa strategy that we hinted at in our previous post is to use the $195 million November, high-turnout referendum as basically a stalking horse for a $135 million April 2019, easier-to-win, low-turnout referendum.

That professional strategy cost us taxpayers $115,000, compliments of a dishonest Superintendent and an equally dishonest, or just mindlessly-complicit, D-207 Board that views us taxpayers as clueless dupes to be manipulated into voting for what appears to be the biggest borrowing in District history – in order to make up for almost a decade of Wallace’s (and several flights of Board members’) neglect of the District’s infrastructure.

And compliments of a local press that remains in a coma when it comes to reporting on such dishonesty and mopery.

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

Candidates pay good money (like $115K) for that kind of political information, but I do not see how it is the kind of information that the D207 Board should be buying, or how it wouldn’t violate the law.

What is wrong with Wallace and the Board to be playing these kinds of games with the taxpayers?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If one subscribes to the Occam’s Razor principle – the simplest solution tends to be the right one – we’d suggest: (a) Wallace’s mismanagement of the District; (b) this Board’s, and prior boards’, irresponsible blind faith in Wallace; (c) Wallace’s and this Board’s belief that taxpayers must be manipulated in order for them to vote for the referendum.

How “convenient” were the absences of Austriaco, Collins and Coyle? The idea that this kind of expenditure for these kinds of questionable services could be done by a majority of the barest quorum is troubling. But it doesn’t sound like any of the missing three cared enough about the matter to ask that it be continued to a meeting when they could attend, so you may be right about their absences being “convenient.”

Looks like your endorsed candidate Coyle and the other board member you gave a pass to, Austriaco, are no better than the members they replaced. You’re losing your mojo, Dog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We never knew we had any “mojo.”

We have no idea why Austriaco and Coyle, along with Collins, didn’t show up for the January vote. But we understand they are uber-Democrats, so it may not have mattered whether they showed up to vote or not – because the POS Survey reports that the strongest supporters of the referendum are “Democrats,” and that “women” are among the strongest supporters.

Once again, Trizna, your Republican bias is on display with this post.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I subscribe to the theory that, here in Illinois, the Democrats are the corrupt party and the Republicans are the stupid party. Which is why I dislike Republicans only slightly less than Democrats…and only when I can actually tell the difference, which here in Combine land isn’t easy. (See, e.g., Democrat state rep. Marty Moylan calling for “fellow” Democrat Maine Twp. Trustee Claire McKenzie’s resignation while defending and praising RINO Trustee Kim Jones).

$115,000 is the all-in cost of at least one teacher that was spent to give Wallace and the board a strategy for selling the voters on a referendum. How is that not a violation of the law?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not sure it isn’t, other than we assume Wallace and the 7 Dwarfs will argue that all those “community engagement” services pre-dated the referendum’s ballot approval and, therefore, could not be advocacy for the referendum.

And you can bet that Baum & Company – considering the fees it might get from a $135 million bond issue (because, as we’ve said, the $195 million bond issue is just a stalking horse for the bargain-priced, easier-to-win, lower-turnout April referendum) – has at least one legal opinion to that effect which the rubber-stamp D-207 board can rely on.

District D207’s website instructs us:

“Community Task Force

A Community Task Force of 40 citizens met four times from February to June and the group included members with varying viewpoints from across the district. The task force completed building tours, a review of the FMP, a review of potential projects and a review of survey results from students, staff and community members. Ultimately the task force recommended to the superintendent that a $195 million bond issue should be put forth to the community.”

So I asked the obvious question. Who are THE-40, as I call them?

My individual FOIA requests are part of the following D207 August 14, 2018 response:

RE: August 7, 2018, FOIA requests: 20180807 002 through 007

Dear Mr. Butterly:

Thank you for writing to Maine Township High School District 207 with your request for information pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq.

On August 7, 2018, we received your requests for the following information:

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who are parents (002)

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who are teachers or administrators (003)

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who are non-administrative employees of D207 (004)

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who are non-parent citizens (005)

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who represent community organizations (006)

● list of Citizens Task Force participants who represent current or potential referendum related contractors (007)…”

Wait for it – drum rolllllll…

“District 207 did not ask Task Force members for any of the above identifying factors and, therefore, has no responsive documents.”

Really? THE-40, who recommended to the superintendent “that a $195 million bond issue should be put forth to the community” were never polled to what their relationship was to that community? I’ve been part of a “Community Task Force” and everybody knew who everybody was and what they were to that public body.

What’s the Spanish word for Bull Sh*t? But I digress.

So, I then went back on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 5:44 PM: “Do you have a list of attendee’s by meeting?”

Drum rolllllll…

D207’s responded on Aug 14 at 5:49 PM: “I don’t think we used sign-in sheets, but I will check.”

Today is Aug. 26th and I’ve yet to receive THE LIST or even a follow-up email.

Now before you all go bonkers, I remind you, it’s only been 12 days, and these are Teachers/Administrators we’re dealing with. You have to have some patience and maybe a little pity on them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no pity for bureaucrat payrollers (like Wallace, Kalou, et al.) who burn off taxpayer dollars misleading and manipulating the taxpayers who over-pay their salaries; and we have outright contempt for incompetent and/or dishonest elected officials who rubber-stamp and/or conspire with those bureaucrat payrollers to mislead and manipulate.

So…after assuring the taxpayers that the 40 “Community Task Force members “included members with varying viewpoints from across the district,” Wallace and the 7 Dwarfs can’t name those members, have no ability to confirm what “varying viewpoints” they purportedly represented, or even track which of them actually showed up for the meetings that resulted in their “recommendation” (wink wink, nod nod) of the $195 million bond issue.

This is the kind of conduct that should be criminal, but isn’t – because the knuckleheads who make the laws in Springfield are cut from the same cloth, if not worse.

7:32 am-frankly whether the work is needed or not is somewhat irrelevant. The district has chosen over the last several decades to delay doing necessary repairs and upgrades, instead they chose to highly compensate teachers and administrators. For years D207 teachers were the highest paid in Illinois-yet our schools have been dropping in the rankings. In 2017, D207 teachers received average compensation of over $111,000 per year second only to Highland Park High School. Yet not one D207 school is ranked in the top 10 or top 20. Maine South is not even ranked in some lists and is ranked 48th in Illinois in the one list in which they were included.

The district has chosen to act recklessly with taxpayer money. Do not reward their recklessness and lack of stewardship of taxpayer money with more money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember: Ken Wallace has been the CEO since 2009, so he has to wear the jacket for every bit of mismanagement and neglect at D-207 since then, aided and abetted by head-in-the-sand, rubber-stamp school board members who required no accountability from Wallace. And who paid $115,000 for hired-gun bond underwriters and propagandists – Baum & Company, POS and Minding Your Business – to bamboozle the D-207 taxpayers.

Does this kind of dishonesty start with Wallace and trickle down to the board level, or start with the board and trickle up?

Either way, it’s offensive that our elected representatives have their finger prints on such a manipulative scheme at the taxpayers’ expense. Shame on them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Watch some of the meeting videos and you will see that Snow-job Wallace and the 7 Dwarfs have no shame. Or, in the best-case scenario, the 7 Dwarfs have no clue.

Are you saying the work that is being proposed for the schools isn’t needed? If so, how do you know that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We can’t tell, because Wallace and the 7 Dwarfs haven’t broken out the individual costs that we could run by competent construction managers for evaluation.

But when the project is proposed by folks who appear to compensate with dishonesty for whatever they lack in competence, our default position is to disbelieve anything they say.

Your friend, Kathy Meade, has called a vote for the referendum paying it forward. Isn’t she right: We pay now and future students and families get the benefit?

EDITOR’S NOTE: After reading her posts and comments for years (before she blocked this editor from reading them directly, making him dependent on getting them second-hand from others), we concluded that the way to choose between positions on a political issue on which you’re undecided is to find out Meade’s view and choose the opposite.

In keeping with her “Queen of the Freeloaders” (Park Ridge chapter) status, her idea of “paying it forward” is to commit herself to paying a tiny amount more than the paltry sum she already is paying (given that she has one of the lower RE bills in Park Ridge, per an “anonymous” comment on 10.27.15 @ 2:36 PM to our 10.21.2015 post https://www.publicwatchdog.org/archives/2015/10/21/park-district-spares-taxpayers-ticks-freeloaders/
that we were able to independently confirm) with the knowledge that her kids will reap 100s of times more than that in “free” education going “forward.”

The community engagement may predate the bond approval but now the district is offering tours of the three schools to see the current condition of the buildings and how and where the bond money will be used.

The park district used this same tactic to get the $13.2 million Prospect Park referendum thru. Gayle Mountcastle and other taxpayer paid PRPD employees went around to local groups to “explain” the referendum thus improperly using taxpayer money to get the bonds approved. Mel Thillens was in on it too heading up the outside organization that pushed for the new waste of money under used park near the Niles border.

Good luck contacting the state to file a complaint. By the time they get around to investigating the November election will be over.

This is an easy NO vote for $195 or $135 million. This incompetent fiscally irresponsible board must not be given any more money to mismanage.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This may be an “easy NO vote” at either price, but if you think that’s the case District-wide you’re blowing smoke up your own kilt.

Snow-Job Wallace and the 7 Dwarfs didn’t spend $115K of our money on those professional spinmeisters just to lose the $135 million bonded debt referendum in April. And you can bet the ranch that they’ve already got those 40 Community Task Force folks out there shilling for the November referendum, if only to make it look like that referendum is legit so that voters don’t suspect they’re just being set up for the real deal in April.

There’s a lot of info in this post, so let me see if I understand it.

1. D207 can’t legally spend tax dollars campaigning for the referendum so the board dishonestly spent $115,000 of tax dollars on something called “community engagement” months before the D207 board voted to go to a November referendum.

2. That community engagement produced all the information any pro-referendum citizens would need to run a pro-referendum campaign while skirting the law.

3. Wallace and the D207 board kept this on the down-low, and the local reporters paid no attention or helped conceal it.

4. The POS survey is a lot of crap but shows how Democrats, the naive (young), women and parents of kids who will benefit from the project are the easiest to convince and the strongest supporters of the referendum.

5. The November $195 million referendum will make the April $135 million referendum an easier sell after several more months of propaganda.

Do I get it?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yep, 5 by 5.

I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring – again! Address: http://207referendum.blogspot.com



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