Public Watchdog.org

Has The Train That Never Should Have Left The Station Finally Been Stopped?

11.14.18

It has been more than a year since we first heard about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s plan to put very part-time – a total of 8 hours per week, 4 hours per each of 2 days – school resource officers (“SRO”s) in Emerson and Lincoln Middle Schools.

That SRO program was dreamed up by Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski and Niles Police Cmdr. Robert Tornabene, with the assistance of D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz. Despite Heinz’s presentation of the program to the D-64 Board a week after a gun-related “threat” to Maine South High School was posted on social media by a Lincoln student and a Maine South student, Heinz and other D-64 officials incredibly insisted that the SRO proposal was not related to that threat.

That program was immediately embraced by Board president Tony Borrelli and Board members Larry Ryles, Tom Sotos and Mark Eggemann, and supported (albeit less enthusiastically) by vice-president Rick Biagi and members Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu.

We criticized that SRO program as a wrongheaded faux-solution looking for a non-existent problem in our posts of 08.31.2017, 12.29.2017 , 02.02.2018, 02.21.2018, 04.30.2018, 05.21.2018 and 06.22.2018.

But even after Biagi, Sanchez and Tiu broke ranks with their colleagues in February 2018 in response to the well-researched, well-written SRO report by the law firm of Ekl, Williams & Provenzale (under a contract with the District) that recommended against such a program in our schools, Borrelli, Sotos, Ryles and Eggemann doubled down on the program, with Heinz’s support. They, along with Kaminski and Tornabene, kept blurring the purpose of the SRO program.

Was it for security? Not really. Discipline? Not really. Counseling? Not really. Anti-bullying? Not really. Anti-vaping? Not really. Anti-sexting by minors? Not really.

Ultimately, it became clear that the program was primarily intended as a public relations initiative by Kaminski and Tornabene in the nature of the old “Officer Friendly” program, but with D-64 picking up the costs of what would start out as a “pilot” but likely grow – via pre-planned mission creep – into a more substantial and permanent presence.

So we were delighted to hear that this past Monday night one of the SRO program’s initial drivers, Board member Ryles, corrected his course and branded the SRO program a “train [that] has run off the track,” the implementation of which “has taken way more time than it’s worth”; and that he was in favor of scrapping it.

Actually, it was a boneheaded idea from the start, well before it ran off the track into quicksand. But the right decision, even for the wrong reason(s), is still the right decision. And after staking out a strong position in favor of the SROs, it took some gumption for Ryles to reverse engines. Kudos to him.

Not surprisingly, Borrelli continued to argue for the SRO program, and Eggemann joined him in voting to keep the program moving forward.

According to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“ ‘This train has run off the track’: District 64 board to scrap middle school resource program,” November 13), Chief Kaminski had not returned calls seeking comment as of press time.

But we wouldn’t be surprised if Chief K, the consummate local politician, isn’t burning up the phone lines to Ryles (who was a dependable Chief K vote when he was a member of the incredible expanding Chief’s Task Force from 2010 to 2013) and to Sotos, who agreed to put a keep/kill vote at the D-64 Board’s December 10 meeting but who reportedly still favors “some sort of police presence in District 64 schools.”

How about a life-sized cutout of McGruff, the Crime Dog ?

Kaminski’s biggest challenge will be re-packaging the ridiculous 8-hour/week SRO program to make it more marketable to the many Park Ridge parents who regularly showed up at Board meetings and spoke in opposition to it, such as: Miki Tesija, Ginger Pennington, Carol Sales and Alice Dobrinsky.

Fortunately, Biagi seems locked and loaded on this issue and appears to have gained the support he needs to nuke it. Hopefully, Ryles, Sanchez and Tiu can hold their ground in the face of whatever new kandy-kolored tangerine-flake streamline baby version of the SRO program Kaminski comes up with; and, hopefully, Sotos doesn’t get mesmerized by its shininess.

But even if they succeed in putting an end to the SRO discussion, it still won’t make up for the waste of more than a year of time, effort and attention that District personnel and the D-64 Board put into it. Nor will it make up for the ill-will caused by Borrelli’s and the Board’s ham-fisted way of dealing with legitimate concerns voiced by parents and community members who understood from the start what a half-baked idea the SRO program was.

This Board got stampeded into approving multi-millions of dollars of not-really-secured vestibules by the shameless panic peddling of Heinz and the paid shills for the school security industry. And it almost got stampeded into this SRO fiasco, albeit at only a tiny fraction of the price of the vestibules. Hopefully the Board members have learned that a bovine mindset is no way to run a school district.

Now let’s see if a Board majority can, once and for all, scrap that train that never should have left the station when it meets on December 10.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

I believe hell hath perhaps frozen over, b/c I agree with pretty much every word of your post today. Stupid idea from the start, and their bone-headed and stubborn insistence has done lasting harm to the Board and Admin’s credibility in this town

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks, but since this editor doesn’t know who you are, your agreement could be gratifying or terrifying, depending on whether you’re Mayor Marty Maloney or freeloader Kathy (Panattoni) Meade.

But we doubt that any boneheaded-ness by Borrelli, et al. will have done “lasting harm” to anybody because: (a) too many people have the attention span of fruit flies and the memories of amnesiacs; (b) Borrelli reportedly is not running for another term so he’ll be gone by next May; (c) former public officials in this town seem to disappear and accept no accountability for anything they did while in office; and (d) nobody in this town holds teachers and administrators accountable for anything.

As a relatively new PUblicwatchdog reader I didn’t realize you were all over the stupidity of this SRO program almost from the beginning. Well done! And I happen to agree with you on the vestibules, which I’ve always thought were just an excuse to build more offices or reconfigure the buildings when there wasn’t any other sound justification. I see you picked up on that, too.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks. We try.

Paying attention to government and politics for over 50 years provides this editor with some extra insight and perspective, as most of this stuff just keeps repeating itself in one form or another. Plus being a trial lawyer helps with analysis, and distinguishing actual facts and evidence from speculation and opinion.

Hope you continue to read and comment.

ANONYMOUS ON 11.14.18 10:37 PM.

If you care about Park Ridge and local issues this is the best place (and maybe the only place) to get the facts and the insight needed to understand what’s going on. There used to be another blog that was also pretty good, Park Ridge Underground, but that folded in 2010. Props to the people who run this blog for continuing to run this blog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks.

Frankly, it helps to have been actively observing and participating in local government for the past 27 years because it provides a kind of institutional memory that new arrivals don’t have, and the politicians either don’t have or don’t want to talk about; e.g., the Uptown TIF giveaway, giving away hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to private not-for-profits without requiring any accountability from them, approving major CAPEX projects with long-term bonded debt but no referendum, etc.

This is the kind of stupidity that ticks me off.

Somebody comes up with a half-baked idea (8 hr./week SRO program) on which the Board and Admin. waste over a year of their time and hundreds of hours of resident time, and thousands of dollars on a report that a Board majority and Heinz choose to disregard.

And what are the consequences to Chief Kaminski, Heinz, Borrelli and the rest of the Board for this stupidity? Nothing!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The consequences to Chief K are non-existent because everybody on the Council (except the Mayor) appears afraid of him – just like several D-64 Board members appear to be afraid of Heinz, Lopez, Kolstad and the District’s attorney; and like all 7 Dwarfs on the D-207 Board are either afraid of or mesmerized by Snow-Job Wallace.

If history is any guide, once elected officials leave their respective public bodies they disappear and act like they weren’t even members of those bodies UNLESS there’s credit to claim. For example, when then-mayor Frimark’s cut-the-Council referendum succeeded and the Council was cut from 14 aldermen to 7 in November 2006, 10 of the 14 sitting aldermen – Alds. Kirke Machon and Don Crampton (1st), Jeannie Markech (2d), Andrea Bateman and Kim Jones (3d), Jim Radermacher (4th), Mark Anderson and Joe Baldi (5th), Mary Wynn Ryan (6th) and Jeff Cox (7th) – chose to abandon their seats rather than stand for re-election in April 2007. And since then, their addressing the Council on any issue is about as rare as the appearance of Halley’s Comet.

I think your call on Sotos may be spot on. He was spouting off on Concerned Homeowners earlier today about what a “near perfect program” the D-64 SRO program could have been had politics not gotten “in the way of goodness.” Yes, he really wrote that.

He also wants D-64 to finish the Memorandum of Understanding and the Inter-Governmental Agreement “to have them available to other bodies of government in PR and to have a good sound program in place just in case future boards revisit this.”

Is he that much of an idiot or is he a dupe of Chief K trying to keep the D-64 SRO program alive in whatever way possible?

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Tilted Kilt” Tommy is a nice enough guy, but he fancies himself a politician and is constantly practicing the politician’s trick of being all things to all people. Hence, his quote in the Jun 18, 2018 H-A article: “Let’s just get it right so everyone feels comfortable with an SRO program and that we can all be happy with it.”

So he supports a final keep/kill vote on the SRO program for December 10 but than vigorously defends the program on social media, going so far as proposing D-64 complete the MOU and IGA to benefit D-207 and other public bodies. As we wrote in our 02.02.2018 post: While Ryles and Eggemann were still drinking the SRO Kool-Aid back then, both Sotos and Borrelli were “on their second Big Gulp.”

The SRO program is Kaminski’s baby brought to D-64 by Ryles. It would have been implemented without an MOU or an IGA had it not been for the vocal residents you identified, the Ekl report and, finally, Biagi, Sanchez and Tiu.

Ryles and Sotos still want it but they have been intimidated for the time being by the vocal residents. You are right to be suspicious of what alternative Kaminski is plotting that can give the program additional political cover.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll see on December 10, but Kaminski is the most skilled politician in Park Ridge, knowing how to play both “good cop” and “bad cop” whenever either is called for.

Keep in mind that Ryles isn’t against the SRO program: He just thinks implementing it has taken too long. We’re not counting his or Sotos’ vote against the SRO program until they are cast and the do-over period expires.



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