Public Watchdog.org

A Few More Thoughts On Mayor’s Veto Of 104 Main Street Special Use

07.11.18

What do Andrew Duff, Owen Hayes II, John Bennett and Ellen Upton have in common?

All four of them showed up at last week’s Park Ridge City Council meeting to speak against Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of Pusheen, Inc’s special use for the ground-floor space in 104 Main Street. That veto came after a (4-2) majority of aldermen voted on June 4 to grant the special use, which was approved 7-0 by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) back on April 24.

You can read our take on Maloney’s veto in our June 28, 2018 post.

That Duff and Hayes would show up and argue in support of the special use was expected.

Duff is the owner of Pusheen Corp. and his company already occupies the upper floor of 104 Main. He claims he wants the ground floor of the building so that deliverymen don’t have to hall boxes up to the second-floor.

How thoughtful.

When Hayes addressed the Council last week he initially introduced himself as just the “manager” of the 104 Main building. But beginning at the 27:56 mark of that Council meeting video he reveals himself as “not the owner but a part owner” of the property – as well as both a manager and an owner of other Park Ridge property.

That’s a bit curious because, according to Page 3 of the minutes of the April 24 P&Z meeting, Hayes identified himself as the “real estate agent representing the owner of the [104 Main] property,” as he also did in an April 13, 2018 e-mail to the City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham. Compare that to the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement” dated March 15, 2018, in which he lists 104 Main LLC as the property’s owner, while listing only himself in response to the request for “the name of every…[LLC] member.”

Should we just chalk that up as another one of those “Certs is a candy mint; Certs is a breath mint” moments in local government, or is there more to it than that?

For those who have been following City government for a decade or more, you might remember Hayes as the agent and…wait for it…undisclosed owner of the former Foot and Ankle Surgeons building at 515 Busse that he tried to flip to the City as the site of a new cop shop back in 2004. Had he succeeded, he would have netted a tidy $200,000 profit for only a few days of ownership, as you can read about in our 11.15.2007 post and our 08.14.2008 post

We also have heard rumors, seemingly corroborated by Hayes’ statement to the Council during last week’s meeting, that he is the agent and/or owner (full or part) of various other commercial properties in town. A cursory check of a random sampling of Uptown and vicinity properties shows that their ownership is often hidden – albeit legally, we might add – by title being held in the name of a partnership or LLC, like it is with 104 Main LLC. Consequently, some of the City’s property-related forms (like the special use “Applicant Disclosure Statement”) require disclosure of the “real” owners, not just the legal title holders.

But don’t get us wrong: We’ve got nothing against Hayes personally. He’s a nice enough guy who has been active in the community for many years. And there’s nothing wrong with making an honest buck, whether it be in real estate or any other business – even at the taxpayers’ expense – if fully disclosed. Hayes, however, seems more than a little preoccupied with keeping his (and others’) property ownership under the radar, even when he’s seeking special treatment from the City for one of those properties.

Although Hayes’ ownership of 104 Main explains his advocacy for the Council’s over-ride of Maloney’s veto of the special use, we must confess to being puzzled by Bennett’s appearance and the condescending tone he took from the very beginning of his comments at the 51:57 mark of the meeting video in lecturing/arguing for an over-ride of Maloney’s veto.

As a P&Z member he was one of seven at that commission’s April 24, 2018 meeting who voted – wrongly, as we pointed out in our 06.28.2018 post – in favor of Pusheen’s special use. At that point his work should have been finished. So his appearance before the Council was tantamount to a trial judge showing up before an appellate court panel and arguing that his decision should be affirmed.

That just doesn’t happen, even if nobody appears to have told Bennett.

But the most curious appearance was Upton’s, which immediately followed Bennett’s.

She introduced herself as a former 1st Ward alderman (from the late 1990s, as we recall) who chaired the Uptown Advisory Task Force that promoted the creation of the Uptown redevelopment project – although she conveniently left out her support of the City’s multi-million dollar bonded-debt “investment” in that project that is still on track to cost taxpayers millions of dollars because the revenue generated from that project has rarely come close to covering the debt service on the bonds the City issued to help out the developer. She also was a member of the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee that made major revisions to the Zoning Code back in 2006, and also may have updated the Comprehensive Plan.

To the best of our knowledge and research, however, she has not addressed the Council on zoning issues ever since. At least not until now.

Is she that much of a Pusheen fan, or did she have other intentions?

If Hayes, Bennett and Upton are so committed to helping Park Ridge’s Zoning Code and/or the Comprehensive Plan move into the 21st Century, we encourage them to formally propose that the Council create another Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee – and we encourage them to volunteer to become members of it.

But until that happens, the current Zoning Code and the current Comprehensive Plan provide the guidelines by which special uses are supposed to be measured. And as we’ve said about various other local ordinances, rules and plans: If you don’t like them, change them. Don’t just ignore them.

Or try to weasel your way around them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Mayor’s Veto Of Pusheen Special Use: Right Decision, Right Time, Right Reasons (Updated)

06.28.18

If you check out any Facebook page discussions about Park Ridge you are likely to find people lamenting the lack of “retail” – and/or their favorite restaurants (e.g., Chick-fil-A) – in town. Often these laments bear a sarcastic “This is why can’t we have nice things?” tone.

So you might think that Mayor Marty Maloney’s recent veto of the City Council’s approval of a special use permit enabling Pusheen Corporation to expand its offices into the first floor of the former Wells Fargo Home Mortgage office at 104 Main Street would be greeted with an outpouring of support.

After all, his veto message correctly notes how that block of Main – home to the successful Harp & Fiddle and Beer on the Wall – is highly visible from the METRA tracks and has attracted train riders from outside Park Ridge to come and patronize not only those establishments but, also, our other local businesses in ways the proposed ground-floor Pusheen offices will not.

But judging by the negative comments (as of 06.27.2018 @ 9:30 p.m.) to a story about Maloney’s veto on the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s Facebook page, Pusheen apparently deserves “most-favored-tenant” status. And although those comments might be modest in number, they must be viewed in the context of the deafening silence coming from those allegedly pro-retail tub-thumpers at the Chamber of Commerce.

What gives?

Let’s start with the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) and the City Council, both of which seem to be falling over themselves to end-run the Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan for Uptown in order to give Pusheen the special ground-floor office it wants – even if that means foregoing future opportunities to attract retail or restaurant/bar business to that space.

Remember, first and foremost, that a “special use” is a use not contemplated in our Zoning Code for that space. In other words, it legalizes – even if only temporarily, as in Pusheen’s case – what otherwise would be a prohibited non-conforming use. Consequently, the burden is on the applicant to demonstrate a good reason to grant the special use, not on the City to demonstrate a good reason to deny it.

Think back to when a Pearle Vision store tried to locate in the first floor of the Pickwick Building. P&Z Commissioner Jim Argionis pointedly noted (in the minutes of P&Z’s February 27, 2018 meeting) that such a use, albeit retail, “did not fulfill the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan” – an observation in which Commissioners Chris Zamaites, Jim Coogan and Lou Arrigoni concurred; and which produced a 7-0 rejection (Commissioners Baldi and Hanlon MIA) of the special use needed by Pearle.

But a funny thing happened on the way to P&Z’s consideration of the Pusheen special use application on April 24, 2018, a mere two months later.

The City’s Senior Planner, Jon Branham, issued a memo of that same date acknowledging (at pages 2-3) the existing zoning requirements for 104 Main and the Comprehensive Plan’s recommendations of “retail, restaurant, entertainment [and]…[p]edestrian-oriented commercial service and office uses” for the ground floor of that building. He further noted (also on page 3) that a special use should not be recommended unless evidence presented at a public hearing supports “each of the [three] following conclusions” – one of which being that “[t]he special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.”

But when you get to Branham’s proposed “Findings of Fact” (as page 6 of the memo), there is no mention of the “retail, restaurant, [and] entertainment” requirement for a special use permit. Instead, one of the findings is that Pusheen’s proposed use of the ground floor would be for “a pedestrian-oriented business.”

Can you (in the infamous words of the late Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell) “smell the meat a-cookin’” yet?

If not, check out page 2 of the minutes of the April 24, 2018 P&Z meeting, where Chairman Joe Baldi asks Pusheen owner Andrew Duff “if there will be any walk-in business” on the ground floor of104 Main, to which Mr. Duff responds that “there would be no walk-in business.”

Translation: Pusheen don’t need no stinking “pedestrian-oriented business” to get its special use for that ground-floor space.

Despite no retail, no restaurant, no entertainment, and the tenant’s admission of no walk-in business, a 7-0 majority of P&Z Commissioners (Arrigoni, Baldi, Bennett, Coogan, Hanlon, Mills and Zamaitas – Argionis and Giannetti MIA) approved the special use.

Can you smell it now?

Not yet? Then listen to the City Council discussion of the Pusheen special use before it was approved by a 4 (Alds. Wilkening, Shubert, Melidosian and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Moran and Milissis – Ald. Joyce MIA) vote at the Council’s June 4, 2018 meeting, starting at the 17:20 mark of the meeting video and running through the 26:00 mark.

Seemingly looking for some way to justify the special deal for Pusheen, Melidosian tried to get Pusheen’s Duff to commit to putting a Pusheen store on the first floor of 104 Main. To his credit, Duff would not – leaving Melidosian with nothing but an “empty storefronts” faux-justification for approving the special use, even though “empty storefronts” is not one of the considerations for granting a special use.

Wilkening and Mazzuca also copped to that easy-but-irrelevant “vacant storefronts” alibi before they, along with Shubert, voted to give Pusheen its special deal.

Can you smell it now?

FWIW, we dislike empty storefronts as much as the next person. But we believe in the need for a Zoning Code and a Comprehensive Plan, as well as the need for the predictability of precedent in how zoning issues are treated by the City.

P&Z’s rejection of the Pearle Vision “pedestrian-oriented business” should have been precedent for its rejection of the Pusheen non-“pedestrian-oriented business.” But it wasn’t, even though the still-empty storefront at six corners could be viewed as much more problematic than the vacant ground floor of 104 Main.

Perhaps those P&Z members and that Council majority forgot that the building that now houses a successful Holt’s was vacant for several years after Pine’s men’s shop moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Harp & Fiddle was vacant for a couple of years after the drug store moved out. Or that the building that now houses a successful Shakou was vacant for several years after the Pioneer Press moved out. Or that even the building that now houses a successful Beer on the Wall was vacant for several years.

The City wisely stayed the course and held true to both the Zoning Code and to the spirit and intent of the Comprehensive Plan. And because those storefronts were allowed to remain vacant rather than sold out to boring office space, we now have a much more vibrant and thriving Uptown, especially adjacent to the METRA tracks.

Maloney’s veto shows that he sees and understands how this works. And so do Alds. Moran and Milissis. The other five aldermen: Not so much.

If the Council over-rides Maloney’s veto at the July 2 meeting, 104 Main Street will continue to contribute no entertainment value toward that newly-vibrant dining/drinking/entertainment area.

What an over-ride will do, however, is feed the suspicion that if you know the right people in the right places, you can get a special deal/special use, irrespective of the Zoning Code and the Comprehensive Plan.

Just like Pusheen is on the verge of doing.

Update 07.03.18. Last night three aldermen – John Moran (1st), Nick Milissis (2nd) and Charlie Melidosian (5th) – prevented the over-ride of Mayor Marty Maloney’s veto of the City Council’s approval of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s award of the special use to Pusheen Corp.

Moran and Milissis had previously voted to reject the special use, but it was Melidosian’s conversion that carried the day.

Now let’s see if Pusheen’s owner takes his ball and leaves. Or what 104 Main’s owner, Owen Hayes II, does, or doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if City Staff (Jon Branham), the P&Z Commissioners, and certain aldermen don’t want to enforce the Zoning Code as written and/or wish to disregard certain elements of the Comprehensive Plan in order to hand out special deals (e.g., special uses), let them start the process for changing those Code and Plan provisions –with the appropriate notice and publicity so that the public and existing business owners can meaningfully participate – instead of arbitrarily enforcing or disregarding them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Live From Maine Township Hall…It’s Tuesday Night!

04.24.18

On January 24 of this year we published our first ever post about Maine Township’s inept (or corrupt?) government, pointing out how three new Township trustees – Republicans Dave Carrabotta and Susan Sweeney, and Democrat Claire McKenzie – were attempting to reform Maine Township government since their election a year ago.

We labeled them “The Reformers” and published 3 more posts after that – on 02.08.2018, 02.13.2018 and 04.02.2018 – each one citing more ineptness (or corruption?) from a taxing body that pretty much institutionalized bad government over the past couple of decades.

Our favorite battle being fought by The Reformers so far is their war on pension benefits for Susan Moylan-Krey, the Maine Twp. non-Assessor with four “deputies” – each getting a salary, benefits and constitutionally-guaranteed pension – who don’t actually “assess” anything! Not assessing anything leaves Moylan-Krey free to be a full-time real estate broker with Century 21 Langos & Christian (according to that firm’s website), which makes her non-assessor gig with the Township more like moonlighting.

While we could write more about the non-assessor, today’s post is about Township Supervisor Laura Morask, who continues to try to run the Township Board with an iron fist despite controlling only two of the five votes: Hers and that of Trustee Kim Jones.

The most brazen example of that may have occurred at last Tuesday (April 17) night’s “special” Board meeting, where Morask attempted to anoint the Ancel Glink law firm as the successor to the Township’s longtime lackey…er, we mean attorney…Dan Dowd, who abruptly “retired” after it looked like he may have been helping Morask and Moylan-Krey screw with The Reformers by getting Moylan-Krey back on the pension track after she had been kicked off.

But first a little background.

Under state law Morask has the right to appoint the replacement Township attorney with the advice and consent of the Board. She made it known that she wanted Ancel Glink, irrespective of what The Reformers might think or whom they might prefer. But she still needs Board majority consent, and The Reformers represent that majority.

When Morask asked for a motion to appoint Ancel Glink (at the 6:05 mark of the meeting video), Sweeney jumped in with a motion to defer any vote in favor of more consideration of Ancel Glink and the Board’s other options; and Carrabotta promptly seconded it (at the 6:38 mark).

Amazingly (but not surprisingly), Morask ruled that motion out of order. Her reasoning:

“Because there’s a current motion pending that I was about to make.”

Yes, she actually said that…although not before oddly looking to her left (at the 6:44 mark) as if seeking assurances from some off-camera consiglieri. And, curiously enough, Clerk Peter Gialamas and Highway Commissioner Wally Kazmierczak also looked in that same direction at about that same time.

Was Tom Hagen in the house?

Morask didn’t get around to actually making her Ancel Glink motion until the 11:10 mark of the video, which was promptly and predictably seconded by Jones. But even though two Ancel Glink attorneys were present to accept Morask’s blessing – and bask in her gushing about how Ancel Glink is “the cream of the crop” and “the best” township attorneys in the business – a lengthy debate ensued about “best practices” versus Morask’s power of appointment.

Although Morask would not retreat from her insistence on her power to appoint, she ultimately agreed to continue the matter to the next Township Board meeting – which is TONIGHT, 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall,1700 Ballard Road, Park Ridge.

Morask’s anointing of Ancel Glink is back on the agenda, in case you’re wondering.

An RFP is the absolute best way to engage attorneys for ANY local governmental body. But we don’t know how quickly the Board will be able to conduct an RFP process, especially if Morask insists on retaining her power of appointment rather than going along with such a process.

But hiring a Township attorney, at least for the purpose of the Board’s appealing the kinked-up, secretive reinstatement of Moylan-Krey’s pension participation – engineered and/or concealed from The Reformers by Moylan-Krey, Morask and Dowd after The Reformers’ refused to certify that the non-assessor’s position requires at least 1,000 hours of work per year – needs to be done ASAP because the deadline for filing such an appeal is almost here.

That could mean another hot time in the ol’ Township Hall tonight – especially if Moylan-Krey reprises her rant from last Tuesday night’s meeting (from 1:03:21 to 1:06:28 of the video) in which she ripped The Reformers’ actions as “bullsh*t” occurring at “every friggin’ meeting,” then let loose with a John McEnroe-worthy “Are you serious?” before ending with an “I’m done” and an “I can’t come to meetings if there’s no attorney here.”

If you’re planning on attending we recommend popcorn and/or Junior Mints (“They’re refreshing!”). And maybe a Big Gulp to wash them down (but stay away from the Kool-Aid!).

Given her non-assessor status, Moylan-Krey’s presence at Board meetings would appear to be unnecessary, other than as a way for her to run up hours toward the 1,000 total she claims are needed to perform her non-assessor duties…AND to qualify for a pension for when she’s done non-assessing Township property.

If that’s the case, maybe it’s time for some addition by subtraction.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A New Library Director, If We Can Keep Her

04.10.18

Recently the Park Ridge Library Board of Trustees unanimously (Trustee Mike Reardon absent) approved the hiring of Heidi Smith as the new director of the Library. Smith is currently the assistant director of the Waukegan Public Library.

Smith, a Highland Park resident, will be paid $110,000 and receive health insurance and pension benefits.

She will assume her new position on April 16, relieving the three interim co-directors – Laura Scott, Anastasia Daskalos and Angela Berger – who have done an outstanding job holding down the fort since the sudden retirement last June of the Library’s long-time director, Janet Van De Carr, who was paid $140,000+.

The serendipity of Smith’s availability and selection is noteworthy for a few reasons.

After Van De Carr retired, the Library Board hired John Keister – who runs a recruiting service for library bureaucrats – to find a new director. Keister promptly persuaded a majority of the Board (with the notable exceptions of Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon) to run the search process in closed-session semi-secrecy, thereby producing two “finalists” that the taxpayers could finally be trusted to know.

One of those finalists, Jeannie Dilger, withdrew her name almost immediately after becoming a finalist in order to take the director position at the Palatine library, a position for which Keister was simultaneously recruiting her – reportedly without telling our Library Board. We wrote about that seeming lack of integrity on Keister’s part in our 12.15.17 and 12.26.17 posts.

And Keister’s other finalist, Aaron Skog, mysteriously withdrew his name almost immediately after a public meet-and-greet on November 27 of last year.

That commenced a round of hand-wringing from the likes of Go Green gadfly Amy Bartucci, who talks and acts like taxpayers exist for the government’s benefit; and who seems to consider public employment as the work of the angels, notwithstanding the good pay, job security and Cadillac constitutionally-guaranteed pensions that can be taken years earlier than the rest of us can collect our modest Social Security benefits. We wrote about Bartucci’s strange obsession with Library Board member meeting attendance in our 03.05.2018 post.

With Keister’s first flight of candidates having either crashed and burned or flown the coop, the Library Board authorized Keister to tender four new candidates from his stable of usual suspects.

Two of those, reportedly, were just plain unqualified non-starters who may have been thrown into the mix by Keister solely to create a plausible field of four candidates. And a third suspiciously pulled his name the moment he was designated a finalist – although the fact that he lived with his family way out in DeKalb suggests that he may have been little more than a stalking horse for the candidate whom Keister wanted the Library Board to accept: Ms. Smith.

This blog’s editor attended both the November 2017 meet-and-greet for Aaron Skog as well as the March 15 meet-and-greet for Ms. Smith, and Smith looked and sounded like a far better choice than Skog. So that’s a good thing for our Library.

But let’s not be naïve here.

The serendipity of Ms. Smith’s availability appears to have been the product of her being passed over for the top job in Waukegan in January, despite the strong endorsement of Waukegan mayor Sam Cunningham. Instead, the WPL board imported an Hispanic candidate, Selina Gomez-Beloz, from the Crown Point, Indiana library where she had served as director since 2014. Given that more than 50% of Waukegan’s population is Hispanic, with many having ESL needs, we can see how identity politics may have shaped the WPL board’s decision.

But we have to wonder whether the Park Ridge Library directorship is merely a resume-builder for Ms. Smith that Keister can use in a couple/few years to better market her to other libraries for another fee and even greater influence over the Chicagoland public library hiring market that he already seems to dominate.

In light of that possibility, we are reminded of when Benjamin Franklin was asked about what form of government was being proposed for the United States, and he answered: “A republic…if you can keep it.” His point was that a republic, although less factional than a democracy, was still a demanding form of self-government – the success of which would depend on an informed and committed electorate.

If Ms. Smith is accepting the directorship of our Library in order to position herself for her (and Keister’s) next move, the Library Board and we taxpayers need to be wary of any “new” Library programs and initiatives instituted by her more for their resume enhancement value than to meet the legitimate needs of our community. And the Library Board also needs to start thinking about ways to retain her, assuming she does a good enough job to deserve retention.

Because when you live in Highland Park, there are a number of public libraries requiring shorter commutes than the one to Park Ridge, starting with Deerfield, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Glenview, Winnetka, Wilmette, Buffalo Grove, Vernon Area and Indian Trails (Wheeling).

With that caveat, however, it looks like Ms. Smith has the potential for being a welcome breath of fresh air for a Library bureaucracy that had embraced a this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it performance benchmark for much of the past decade, if not longer. And for that reason we encourage all Park Ridge residents – and especially Park Ridge Library users – to welcome Ms. Smith with open arms.

And with wide-open eyes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

03.19.18

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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

If Wishes Were Restaurants, All Beggars Would Dine (Updated)

02.26.18

Tomorrow night (02.27.18) the City of Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) will hold a public hearing, beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, on whether the owner of the Pickwick Theater Building – Pickwick Enterprises, LLC, reportedly owned by the Vlahakis Family – will be given a “special use” allowing a lease of the former Pickwick Restaurant (also f/k/a “The Pick”) for a Pearle Vision franchise.

We think an eye-care center would be a serious misuse of that space. But that’s beside the point.

What’s most important is whether enough evidence – not mere opinion but actual facts – will be presented at Tuesday night’s hearing to convince a majority of the P&Z commissioners that:

1. The establishment, maintenance and operation of the special use in the specific location proposed will not endanger the public health, safety or general welfare of any portion of the community;

2. The proposed special use is compatible with adjacent properties and other property within the immediate vicinity of the special use; and

3. The special use in the specific location proposed is consistent with the spirit and intent of the Zoning Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan.

Those are the points Pearle Vision and/or the landlord need to prove in order for P&Z to approve the special use.

Point 1 is a virtual given, and a finding on Point 2 also seems likely.

Where a Pearle Vision franchise is most vulnerable, however, appears to be on Point 3, given that the “spirit and intent” of the 1996 Comprehensive Plan is to support uses that will strengthen retail, restaurant and entertainment activities in that area.

FYI: A Pearle Vision franchise reportedly is considered a “service” business rather than a “retail” one. And we don’t see how a Pearle Vision franchise, or any eye care facility, will strengthen the area’s retail, restaurant or entertainment features.

But we also can’t ignore the fact that the last two restaurants in that space have failed; and the space has been vacant since July 2017, after the latest restaurant failed in less than a year.

Does that mean that a restaurant can’t succeed there? We can’t say.

The apparent lack of restaurateurs lining up to lease the space, however, suggests that maybe such a space poses more challenges than the folks carping from the cheap seats think when they question why it can’t house a Gibson’s, a Hackney’s, a Bobby’s Deerfield, a Rick Bayless or Lettuce restaurant, some un-named chain restaurant, an ice cream shop, a bar, a coffee co-op, a bakery, a brewery, an art school, some unidentified “small” or “mom and pop” businesses, or some unidentified “destination.”

Not surprisingly, the folks with all those swell ideas don’t seem to have two nickels to rub together. Or maybe they just don’t want to risk those nickels to turn those ideas into reality.

As the old saying might go in this situation: “If wishes were restaurants, all beggars would dine.”

We suspect that if any of the folks running their mouths had been willing to sign the same kind of lease as the Pearle Vision franchisee, the Vlahakis Family would have accepted it.

But like so many folks who prefer to watch the spending of Other People’s Money (“OPM”) rather than spend their own, the idea folks didn’t. And so the Vlahakis Family had to choose between a Pearle Vision and a whole lot of empty in the most prominent storefront in town.

And how did the all-talk-no-cash folks respond? Some of them chose to rip the Vlahakis Family for being…wait for it…“greedy” because they chose a real live tenant over leaving the space empty in the hope that a dream tenant might materialize.

Worse yet, one of the loudest carpers, Dena Lucy, went so far as to suggest (over this past weekend, as a comment to Terry Flynn’s 02.11.2018 post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page) that a decision by P&Z in favor of Pearle would be the product of some unspecified “corruption.”

Over the years we have disagreed with some P&Z decisions, occasionally with vigor. But we have never seen any evidence of what could reasonably be viewed as “corruption” – just different viewpoints and philosophies of government.

So we hope Ms. Lucy will show up tomorrow night and provide exquisite details of her “corruption” charge at the beginning of the hearing, so that everyone watching those proceedings can be on the lookout for the “fix” and who’s involved in it

But don’t bet on her doing so. Even in a political cesspool like Illinois, it’s a lot easier to claim “corruption” than to prove it.

Updated 02.28.2017. Last night the P&Z denied a somewhat half-hearted effort by the Pickwick’s landlord and a Pearle Vision franchisee to get a special use permit to run an optical service business out of a space intended for restaurant/retail/entertainment. Apparently the “corruption” that was supposed to swing this deal for the Pearle franchisee and the “greedy” Vlahakis family never materialized.

Shocking!

Should the permit-seekers wish to pursue the matter, their next stop would be an appeal of the P&Z decision to the City Council. From the look and sound of things, however, that doesn’t seem all that likely.

So now we look forward to those unidentified restaurateurs – who allegedly want the space but were beaten to the punch by the Pearle Vision franchisee – coming forward with whatever grand plan(s) they have for that restaurant space.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Susan Moylan-Krey: The Maine Township Non-Assessor

02.08.18

Only two weeks ago we wrote our first-ever post about the Bizarro World of Maine Township government where (with apologies to Ray Davies and his iconic “Lola”): “Rs will be Ds and Ds will be Rs, it’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world” that, at least here in Illinois, Tribune columnist John Kass has dubbed “The Combine.”

The Combine is populated by politicians like Maine Twp. Supervisor Laura Morask and Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey, two RINOs who support more-and-bigger Township government.

Recently they and their questionable (if not outright profligate) style of government have been challenged for the first time by new trustees Dave Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney, whom we’ve dubbed, collectively, “The Reformers” because they have refused to mindlessly rubber-stamp whatever Morask, Moylan-Krey and the other Township officials shove in front of them.

For example, at the August 22, 2017 Township Board meeting they refused to certify that the Township Assessor position required at least 1,000 hours of work per year, thereby entitling Moylan-Krey to continued participation in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (“IMRF”) pension program. For those of you who may not have been paying attention, the IMRF is one of those Cadillac public-sector pension plans whose defined benefits are guaranteed by Illinois taxpayers because of a sweetheart provision inserted into the Illinois constitution in 1970.

Moylan-Krey stated under oath that the Assessor’s position required 1,000 hours of work. That’s an average of 20 hours/week for 50 weeks a year, assuming two weeks of vacation. In typically non-transparent, unaccountable Illinois bureaucrat fashion, however, she failed to supply any evidence of why 1,000 hours were needed for that position.

Why shouldn’t The Reformers have trusted her sworn statement?

Let’s start with the fact that the Maine Township Assessor does not appear to actually “assess” anything. As we understand it, all property assessments in Maine Township are done by the County Assessor.

If Moylan-Krey doesn’t do any assessing, what exactly are her job functions, and those of her office?

According to the Assessor’s profile on the Maine Township website: “The main role of the Assessor’s office is to serve our residents.” Seriously, it really says that – which is why we embedded it so you could see for yourself, before they change it.

Have you ever seen a more disingenuously nebulous description of what a bunch of bureaucrats do than “serve our residents”? We know we haven’t, and we’ve been paying attention for quite a long time.

But, as legendary t.v. pitchman Ron Popeil might say: There’s more!

In addition to Moylan-Krey, the Township – meaning we, the Township taxpayers – employs at least four other folks with the title of “Deputy Assessor,” according to the Maine Township Staff Directory. That sure seems like a lot of payrollers in an Assessor’s office that does no assessing.

And it gets even better – or worse, depending on your perspective.

Although Moylan-Krey claims that the Assessor’s position that does no assessing requires at least 1,000 hours of work (Remember: 20 hours/week for 50 weeks), and that she personally puts in more than 1,000 hours a year, Moylan-Krey’s “Personal Profile” on the Century 21 Langos & Christian website trumpets her as “a full time real estate professional…fully committed to serving the needs and interests of both sellers and buyers in all aspects of residential real estate.”

So even though Assessor Moylan-Krey doesn’t do any assessing, Broker Moylan-Krey apparently does sell real estate, full time.

Does Century 21 Langos & Christian have a defined-benefit pension plan as good as, or better than, the Township’s IMRF plan? We highly doubt it, which might explain why Moylan-Krey – with the rock-solid backing of Morask – is fighting tooth and nail to have the IMRF over-ride The Reformers’ refusal to certify the non-assessing Assessor’s position as requiring 1,000 hours of annual work.

We’ll tell you more about that IMRF battle in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Moving In The Right Direction – Albeit Too Slowly – On SRO Program

02.02.18

Contrary to the collective belief of our critics, we actually enjoy writing about our public officials doing good things, or at least not screwing up.

Today is one of those few days we get to do that.

The reason?

A Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article reports that three members of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board are re-thinking their previous support for what appears to be a highly-suspect plan to put Park Ridge Police officers in both D-64 middle schools on a part-time basis in the guise of “School Resource Officers,” or “SRO”s. (“District 64 board members reconsider placing resource officers at middle schools,” Jan. 30).

Before you get your hopes up that this SRO idea is heading for the ash can, however, we must warn you that while Board vice-president Rick Biagi, member Fred Sanchez and member Eastman Tiu reportedly had this epiphany after reading the well-written 36-page “Report & Recommendations” (the “Report”) about SROs by the law firm of Ekl, Williams & Provenzale (the “EWP Report”), they remain one member short of a Board majority.

We encourage you to read the entire EWP Report so that you can appreciate just how impetuous the Board and Administration appears to have been in their rush to implement an SRO program that: (a) fails to reconcile or even properly consider the conflicting “police” and “educator” roles of the SRO and the nature of any SRO intervention; (b) lacks any specific training requirements for the SROs; (c) lacks not only some of the most basic data to justify adopting such a program but, perhaps more importantly, lacks any data collection plan on a going-forward basis by which to evaluate the program; and (d) lacks even a “Mission Statement” or “Memorandum of Understanding” identifying for the D-64 Administration, the PRPD, the parents of D-64 students and the taxpayers exactly what problems the SRO program is supposed to address.

If the motto of “This Old House” is “Measure twice, cut once,” D-64’s and the Police Department’s motto for the SRO program so far appears to be: “Put away that damned yardstick and pass the chain saw!”

Since the Board previously voiced unanimous support for the SRO program, we can only wonder whether members Mark Eggemann and Larry Ryles might still be drinking the SRO Kool-Aid. But no guessing is necessary for Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and Board secretary “Tilted Kilt Tommy” Sotos, whose comments as reported in the H-A article suggest they both are on their second Big Gulp.

Borrelli, the sock-puppet of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, continues to laud the SRO pilot program as having “a lot of merit”– without explaining exactly what that alleged “merit” consists of, other than 8-10 hours per week (out of approximately 35 school hours per week) of soft duty in a clean, well-lighted place for whatever police officers are lucky enough to get it.

And Sotos? He still “really support[s] the SRO program” – for reasons also not explained in the H-A article or that can be ascertained from watching the SRO portion of the January 22, 2018 Board meeting video.

But if you think you can tolerate more spun saccharine than you’d find in a cotton candy factory, read the SRO program’s eight “objectives” on page 2 of Heinz’s SRO memo for the D-64 Board’s January 22, 2018 meeting and then ask yourself: “How are they going to measure whether, and to what degree, any of those objectives have been achieved?”

If you answered “by using unverifiable warm-and-fuzzy anecdotes,” you’re a winner.

After reading the EWP Report we still have the same questions and objections we raised in our o8.31.2017 and 12.29.2017 posts, starting with: Is there really a need for stationing police officers in our schools – officers who are bound by oath to enforce child pornography (e.g., sexting-by-minors) laws, drug and underage alcohol laws, and underage smoking/vaping laws – but expecting them to behave like glorified counselors or home-room teachers?

Unfortunately, the three newly-enlightened Board members don’t yet appear quite ready to call for an end to further time-wasting discussions of the misbegotten SRO program even though it becomes clearer and clearer that (as we wrote in that 12.29.2017 post) “the real reason the SROs are being brought in is because the teachers and/or administrators at those schools aren’t willing or capable of maintaining order and discipline when left to their own devices” – especially when D-64 needs to create distractions from things like test scores and other measures of academic achievement (like ratings and rankings) which suggest that the teaching and administrating being done is neither worth its high cost nor competitive with the schools in comparable communities:

“What do you mean our academics aren’t as good as they should be? Look at that wonderful million-dollar secured vestibule…and let me introduce you to our new SRO.”

According to Pages 7-8 of the EWP Report: “[T]here is no data that correlates the presence of an SRO to a reduction in…[shooting] incidents” or “to lower instances of weapons, drugs and violence within a school….”

So instead of wasting more time, effort and money on an unnecessary SRO program, the D-64 Board should focus on improving the quality of the expensive education provided to its students, and especially those special needs students whose treatment by the Administration has sparked what seems to be justifiable concern, if not outrage.

If D-64 middle-school students – basically 13 and 14 year olds – can’t reasonably be controlled by the teachers and administrators during school hours, that’s a failure of the teachers and administrators; and a failure of the students’ parents.

Let’s not compound those failures with s half-baked, wrong-headed SRO program.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Melidosian’s Dangerous Liaison With The Library

01.29.18

Why are Park Ridge residents Alice Dobrinsky and Amy Bartucci so concerned about the attendance at Park Ridge Library Board meetings of the City Council’s liaison to the Library Board, Charles Melidosian (5th)?

And why did those concerns prompt such a lengthy article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: “Residents voice concerns over Park Ridge Library Board attendance,” January 23, 2018?

Historically, the attendance of aldermanic liaisons at City board and commission meetings was irregular-to-rare. That changed in 2009 when mayor Dave Schmidt – in response to the Council’s new Committee of the Whole (“COW”) structure following its reduction from 14 aldermen to 7 in Spring 2007 that also cut the number of monthly regular Council meetings and Council committee meetings from around 12 per month to 4 per month – encouraged aldermanic liaisons to become more pro-active in their interactions with their respective boards and commissions, especially when significant issues might be on those meeting agendas.

But Schmidt, who himself was the Council’s liaison to the Planning & Zoning Commission while he was the First Ward Alderman, realized that aldermanic liaisons didn’t need to attend every meeting of their respective boards or commissions to do their jobs. A lot of the liaison’s duties can be accomplished just by the liaison’s reading the minutes and board packets, and by being accessible to its members.

It’s against that historical backdrop that we consider the significance of Dobrinsky’s and Bartucci’s complaints about Melidosian’s – and certain Library Trustees’ – meeting attendance.

According to that article, both Dobrinsky and Bartucci were troubled by Melidosian’s absences – he reportedly attended 12 of 26 regular board and COW meetings since being appointed Library liaison in February 2017 to replace the late ald. Dan Knight. Ostensibly their beefs arose from the Library’s failure to fill the Library Director vacancy since Janet Van De Carr retired in June 2017.

We wrote about that goat rodeo in our 12.15.17 and 12.26.17 posts, including about how hired-gun library recruiting consultant John Keister fed our Library Board two candidates, one of whom he was simultaneously recruiting for the Palatine Library Director position – apparently without telling our Board – that she accepted just as soon as she was announced as a finalist for our position. And the other finalist, Aaron Skog, withdrew right after his first public vetting, although his qualifications were so questionable we have to wonder how he even got to be a finalist, other than by being the last midget standing.

According to the H-A article, Bartucci faulted Melidosian for not attending the November 27 public vetting of Skog even though the City Council was meeting that night: “If there is a [City Council] liaison not attending and [the library board] is in the process of finding an executive director, I felt this deserved more attention.”

Seriously?

Melidosian belonged exactly where he was that night – at 505 Butler Place – instead of at the Library auditorium listening to Skog. But apparently that concept doesn’t jibe with Bartucci’s view of City, and Library, government.

Yes, we know – thanks to the Jennifer Johnson’s curiously incomplete cite to the City’s Handbook for Elected Officials – that aldermanic liaisons are “expected” to attend the meetings of their respective boards and commissions. The Handbook, however, does not set any specific requirement for liaison attendance, nor should it – because the duties of a liaison can be accomplished in many ways, some far more effective than by sitting at an uneventful meeting.

And, not surprisingly, Ms. Johnson overlooked that other provision in the very same paragraph of the Handbook (at page 10) that states: “It is not the role of the liaison to express opinions on any issue before the Board or Commission in the liaison’s capacity of Alderman.”

So riddle us this, Ms. Dobrinsky, Ms. Bartucci and Ms. Johnson: What did you expect Ald. Melidosian – or Mayor Maloney, or any other alderman – to do had they been in attendance at the November 27 public vetting of Skog, hours before he withdrew his candidacy for the director’s position: Wave goodbye?

As best as we can tell, Ald. Melidosian has attended virtually all of the Library Board’s regular meetings and a few of its COWs. And, frankly, on occasion he has over-stepped the role of an aldermanic liaison by expressing his opinions about matters before the Board. But we don’t hear Ms. Dobrinsky, Ms. Bartucci and Ms. Johnson beefing about that.

So what exactly is their agenda?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Better Results Require Better Choices – Part II

12.26.17

Our previous post left off with our intrepid Library Board having lost one of its two finalist director candidates to the Palatine library – to which she was lured for the seemingly bargain price of $122,000 almost immediately after being designated a finalist here, notwithstanding a salary range for our Library’s directorship reportedly running from $101,558 to $142,181.

This post picks up the tale from that point.

Having been stood up by Ms. Dilger, the Board staged a public meet-and-greet session for sole finalist Aaron Skog on Monday evening, November 27, 2017, in the friendly confines of the Library’s lower-level meeting room. A number of residents attended, as is shown in the meeting minutes.

Skog put on his best dog-and-pony show, fielding questions from the audience with a surfeit of aplomb and a dearth of substance.

But a funny thing happed on the way to Skog’s offer.

After Board president Pat Lamb predictably moved to go into closed session to discuss Skog’s hiring, and Trustee Judy Rayborn predictably seconded it, Board treasurer Mike Reardon said that he would be voting against the closed session and suggested deferring any decision on Skog’s hiring for several days to give Board members a chance to think through the situation.

And then, in what can only be described as a pre-Christmas miracle, six of the eight assembled trustees – Karen Burkum, Steve Dobrilovic, Joe Egan, Garreth Kennedy, Josh Kiem and Mike Reardon (Char Foss-Eggemann MIA) – actually voted against the closed session.

Say whaaaaaaaaat?

We don’t recall Burkum, Dobrilovic or Kiem ever voting against a closed session, so the headline on that one has to read: “Trustees bite dog!”

Even such a mild slight, however, appears to have been was more than Skog could bear: Less than 24 hours later he withdrew his name – sending the Board and its hired-gun consultant, John Keister, back to square one.

At the Board’s December 19th meeting (and reportedly at Keister’s urging), the Board “surveyed” itself – an action of no legal validity, but something that Keister wanted – about what hiring activities should be conducted in secretive closed sessions rather than in sessions open to the public: (1) All initial interviews, “Closed,” 6 to 3; (2) the Board’s initial deliberations about those candidates for purposes of cutting down the field, “Closed,” 5 to 4; (3) the Board’s deliberations about the finalists following a public forum (like was held on November 27 for Skog), “Open,” 5 to 4; and all discussions of salary and “negotiating strategy,” “Closed,” 6 to 3.

Only Trustees Egan, Foss-Eggemann and Reardon voted against the secretive closed sessions on all four issues. Conversely, Trustees Burkum, Dobrilovic, Kiem and Rayborn voted for all four closed sessions. Trustee Kennedy voted against closed sessions as to (2) and (3). And Trustee Lamb voted against closed sessions as to (3).

Although that “survey” is legally meaningless, Kiem touted the results as “an act of good faith” on which Keister can, and will, tell the candidates they can rely – even though none of these four results are necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers. And expect to hear that “good faith” argument loudly raised by Kiem and others when the actual closed-session votes come up for each of those steps of the hiring process.

Yes, the Board will have to emerge from those closed-session discussions to actually vote in open session. But that’s the absolute barest minimum of transparency that they can legally get away with under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”), so hold your applause.

Frankly, without that IOMA requirement, we’d bet a tidy sum that at least 5 members of the closed-session majority (the possible exception being Kennedy) would gladly hold the actual votes themselves in closed session – before sending wafts of white smoke out of the Library’s chimney to signal the clueless taxpayers that we have a new Library director.

“Habemus directorem!”

Shortly before the Board’s December 19 meeting, this blog’s editor sent an e-mail to all the Board members urging them to reject closed sessions for these vital actions. Having read the meeting minutes of the Board’s December 11, 2017 personnel committee meeting, however, this editor knew the outcome was already foreordained – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) be damned, just like they are almost everywhere else in Illinois government. Which, not surprisingly, explains in no small part why Illinois is the banana republic of the United States.

With only three Trustees committed to H.I.T.A. and another three apparently thinking it’s “Bulls-H.I.T.A” – according to Park Ridge Park Board member and situational-socialist Cindy Grau – there’s no reason to expect H.I.T.A.-inspired majorities from this Library Board, notwithstanding that one aberrational “Trustees bite dog!” vote on November 27.

Just like there’s no reason to expect H.I.T.A.-inspired majorities on many/most Illinois governmental bodies, starting with the toadies who roam the halls of our state capital constantly hoping for the slightest glimmer of recognition by their anti-H.I.T.A. lord and master, The Speaker, Darth Madigan.

So our Library Board is back at square one, still under the thumb of consultant Keister – who may have a keister-full of undisclosed conflicts of interest every bit as problematic as the one he had with Park Ridge and Palatine over candidate Dilger. Whether he discloses them or not remains to be seen.

Depending, of course, on whether the Library Board chooses to hide from the taxpayers in yet another sightless, soundless closed session.

To read or post comments, click on title.