Public Watchdog.org

“Impact Fees” Just More Snake Oil For The Masses

07.18.17

We rarely agree with anything Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member Tom Sotos says or does when it comes to the D-64 schools. But when “Tilted Kilt” Tommy gets something right – or even half-right – it deserves some recognition.

As reported in a current Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Study to address proposed Park Ridge development’s impact on District 64,” 07.11.17), during a recent D-64 Board discussion of the City of Park Ridge’s possible assessment of “impact fees” on proposed new residential development on the current Mr. K’s site on Higgins just east of Dee, Sotos correctly observed that such fees aren’t “going to solve our problems” of more residences being constructed and burdening the schools with students who cost far more to educate than whatever taxes are paid on their parents’ residences.

Where Sotos missed the boat, however, was with his observation that “[i]f we assess an impact fee on the 31 units considered for the Mr. K site, that impact fee won’t be enough to help us potentially work around our particular problem if all 31 units end up having children in them.”

He’s right, but in the same way that getting the right answer on a math problem is undermined when you have to show your work and, in so doing, you demonstrate that you really don’t understand the applicable math concept.

That’s because the taxes on that 31-unit development can’t even cover the cost of 16 students attending D-64 schools, much less the cost of 31 school kids.

Let’s assume, just for Schlitz and Googles, that each of those 31 residences will have total RE tax bills of $20,000 per year – an unrealistically high assumption, for sure, because that would make them some of the highest-taxed residential real estate in the City. But it makes the math a little easier.

Of those $20K tax bills, roughly $8K per residence would go to D-64 each year. But the cost-per-student in D-64 is around $16K annually, so do the math: 31 units @ $8K/unit of RE taxes = $248,000 of revenue to D-64. Divide that by $16K per student and the whole development starts swimming in red ink if only 16 of the 31 units have just one student living in them.

Even if the developer were forced to pay an $8,000 per unit “impact fee,” the resulting revenue would barely cover the cost of 16 school kids.

And only for one year!

Add any more D-64 school kids above that 16 threshold and the District’s taxpayers will no longer be swimming in red ink, they’ll be drowning in the stuff.

So why is the D-64 Board even discussing such impact fees?

Ignorance and political posturing.

It seems and sounds like many/most of the D-64 Board members and Staff don’t really understand impact fees and how, historically, they have been used almost exclusively to address infrastructure problems anticipated from new development; e.g., the cost of sewer and water service improvements needed to handle increased demands from the new development, or the widening of nearby streets to add turn lanes and traffic lights for access and traffic flow, etc. Because that kind of infrastructure has predictable costs and lengthy useful lives, a municipality can calculate a one-time impact fee that puts the new development on the same financial footing – cost wise – as more established neighboring areas, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

Not so with the highly variable and annually recurring expenses of educating elementary school kids.

And that doesn’t even address the question of whether it would be legal for the City to impose impact fees on developers in order to obtain City approval of their developments, but then turn those impact fees over to D-64 or D-207.

As for political posturing, some of our local politicians are realizing that merely sounding fiscally conservative can fool many Park Ridge residents who desperately want to believe that their elected representatives truly are looking out for the interests of the taxpayers as much as (or more than) for the interests of the tax users. Spouting anything that sounds like it might save those taxpayers money, therefore, becomes a valuable political tool, especially for those politicians who don’t believe one word of their spiel but don’t have the honesty and integrity to publicly admit that they are big-government tax/borrow/spenders.

That makes a term like “impact fees” a wonderful substitute for real knowledge, understanding and principles.

So expect to hear the shallow-thinkers toss that term around for at least a little while longer, if only to avoid addressing the much more difficult problem of figuring out whether, and how, Park Ridge draws the line on allowing more housing for more residents who will drain the taxpayers’ pocketbooks with more and more kids using increasingly expensive public education.

And that’s irrespective of how good or mediocre the quality of that education might actually be.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Parking Study A Good Start, But…

06.26.17

Ever since Park Ridge’s Uptown area was reborn a few years ago as a dining and drinking mecca, enough folks have complained about a lack of parking that it spurred the Park Ridge City Council to engage the firm of Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc. (“GHA”) to perform a parking study.

The Uptown Parking Study dated June 8, 2017 makes several noteworthy points, not the least of which is that “the Uptown area has a sufficient amount of parking” (Report, page 2) – even if any difficulty in finding parking is perceived by some residents as a shortage. GHA explains the perceived shortage as “a lack of balance in parking supply at primary locations or destinations” (Report, page 18).

Tell that to our local merchants, especially those who need parking to accommodate both their customers and their employees.

One potential problem identified by the consultants is that Uptown parkers have become used to free and cheap parking. Commuters can park all day in the 125-space Summit “lot” along the METRA tracks (from Euclid down past St. Paul of the Cross) for a mere $1.50, or in the 58-space Prairie Ave. lot for a mere $2.00. Based on an average of 21 work days per month, that’s a paltry $31.50 and $42.00 per month, respectively.

“Prime” commuter parking can be found in the 38-space triangle lot just west of the Uptown METRA station. Those permits cost $350 per 6 months, or $2.70/workday – a slight convenience premium based on its proximity to the METRA station.

Even the 12-hour meters on the south side of Summit between Prospect and Euclid are only $6 for 12 hours – although with the current meters you’ll have to suffer the inconvenience of feeding them 24 quarters.

The Council needs to face the basic fact that commuter parking, although a necessity for commuters, is an economic drain on Uptown: The parking spaces taken up by commuters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. produce no other direct or indirect parking revenue, or indirectly help generate sales tax revenue from parkers who presumably are purchasers of products or services.

Should commuters be charged more than $1.50 or $2.00 per day? Given the perceived shortage of Uptown parking – and the 10-12 hour occupancy of spaces – just the basic concept of supply and demand would dictate “yes.” And based on the Summit meters, the appropriate amount would appear to be at least $6 per day.

Another noteworthy conclusion is that “[a]t this point GHA does not recommend a parking garage be constructed anywhere within the Uptown study area” (Report, page 19), either on the City lot at Summit and Euclid or on the Park Ridge Library lot. GHA believes such a garage would cost too much and be hard-pressed to pay for itself, at least if constructed and owned by the City.

That might be the case IF the current fee structure for commuter parking remains in place. At $2 per day for 252 workdays per year, a 125-space parking structure – that could basically replace the Summit 125-space Summit lot – would generate $63,000 per year of revenue even with full occupancy. At that rate, paying off a $2 million parking structure would take 32 years without even factoring in any debt service or maintenance!

Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard about any private developer who is chomping at the bit to build a parking deck.

Instead of a parking deck, GHA suggests that the City “repurpose” 20 spaces in the Library lot and treat them the same as the triangle lot parking, with 6-month permits.

Because the Library closes at 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, its 151 spaces now become available for patrons of the Pickwick Theater and the other Uptown businesses on what would appear to be their 3 busiest evenings.

The Summit lot spaces, serving primarily commuters Monday through Friday, also tend to become available by 5:00 p.m. most week nights.

Although we tend to agree with GHA’s findings that there is not a true “shortage” of parking in the Uptown area, their study seems to equate a $1.50/day parking space down by St. Paul of the Cross with a $1.50/day space at Euclid. That might be the case for an all-day commuter, but we doubt that somebody looking to buy a box of Fannie May or a Hallmark birthday card would agree. And providing 8-10 hour parking for employees of Uptown businesses is a problem the GHA report appears to have given short shrift.

At the end of the day, however, it looks like the City Council and Uptown businesses will need to find more innovative ways of balancing commuter and customer parking if Uptown is going to continue to thrive and grow as a shopping and entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike.

The GHA parking study is a good start, but it’s nowhere close to the final word.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Council Right To Opt-Out Of Crook County Minimum Wage Hike

06.09.17

Kudos to newly-minted 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening for some recent spot-on observations about the City of Park Ridge opting out of Crook County’s graduated minimum wage increase from Illinois’ current $8.25/hour ($1/hour above the federal version) to $13/hour by July 2020.

“The market will decide what we need to pay people,” she opined, adding: “Anything Cook County wants, I usually don’t want.”

“Amen!” to both sentiments.

Don’t get us wrong: A minimum wage is a good thing to the extent it reduces the opportunities for outright worker exploitation, especially of the lower-wage workers whom it tends to affect most strongly. On the other hand, it’s an arbitrary, non-market based number that is much more of a temporary palliative than a cure for the underlying problem of lower wages for lower-skilled (or lower-risk) work.

Notwithstanding some hyperbolic claims by proponents, the minimum wage was not designed to enable the minimum-wage worker to raise a family of four, or to become a homeowner instead of a renter. It was designed to provide a wage above a welfare-level subsistence for the person earning it and perhaps one “dependent” – back in that day, often/usually a stay-at-home wife.

Not surprisingly, considering that this initiative was produced by the head-scratchers comprising the Crook County Board, that $13/hour, 2020 target rate would provide a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks a year with $26,000 – or roughly the poverty threshold for a family of four in today’s dollars, without taking into account any inflation over the next 3 years before that full $13 wage is achieved.

Three nights ago (June 5) the Council voted unanimously in favor of opting out of this latest Crook County attempt at selling activity as achievement. Under City procedures, however, a second vote is needed to pass the opt-out ordinance, which will be taken at the Council’s June 19 meeting.

Although last Monday night’s vote was unanimous, Alds. John Moran (1st) and Marc Mazzuca (6th) explained their votes, in part, by arguing that a minimum wage standard is best left to the state or federal government.

Exactly right.

Crook County’s intrusion into minimum wage policy reminds us of Evanston’s 1985 enactment of an ordinance declaring Evanston a “nuclear-free zone,” ostensibly to prohibit Northwestern University professors from conducting research that might be used in the development of nuclear weapons. The ordinance was unenforceable, but that’s Evanston for you.

Should our City Council complete its opt-out at its June 19th meeting, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, that will have on Park Ridge’s economy. Given Park Ridge’s borders with Chicago and Des Plaines, one of the suburbs that has chosen not to opt-out of Crook County’s latest sideshow. Will Park Ridge suddenly become a haven for small businesses, or for cheaper goods/services, because of a lower wage for low-end workers?

We doubt it.

But we think the opt-out is a win for folks who are tired of further intrusions from a unit of local government that has been mismanaged for decades and shows no signs of improving.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For City Council To Consider Population Issues

06.02.17

How many residents should Park Ridge have?

We don’t know.

But the recent proposed 34-townhouse development for the Mr. K’s property has caused us to once again consider that question. And we think the Park Ridge City Council should do likewise – sooner rather than later, given how regularly the issue pops up, directly and indirectly, in the context of re-zoning or zoning variances for new developments.

New 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening apparently is thinking about this. So are two of Park Ridge’s zoning and land use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan.

All of them cited one of the most significant reasons why the size – and demographics – of Park Ridge’s population is important: More school-aged children mean more students receiving expensive Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207 educations that will end up being paid primarily by the majority of taxpayers whose kids aren’t getting those expensive public educations, including some of whom are also paying out-of-pocket for private/parochial educations.

That situation already is producing some problematic responses.

From talking to a few local RE brokers, we’re hearing that empty nesters are downsizing sooner than they used to, or are moving out of Park Ridge entirely and heading to lower-taxed communities. And in most instances, the homes they are moving out of are being purchased by young families with multiple school-aged kids – and the prospect of more on the way.

The math is simple, albeit a bit rough because of all the variables that need to be taken into consideration. So to make it a bit easier, we’ll use a residence with a $15,000 RE tax bill as our example.

Almost $6,000 of that $15,000 tax bill goes to D-64, while D-207 gets around $5,000. The City of Park Ridge gets a meager $1,700 and the Park District even less.

So with D-64 per-pupil costs closing in on – if not already at – $16,000, our sample residence creates a $10,000 deficit  if only one kid from that residence attends a D-64 school. If two attend that deficit grows to $26,000 and likely crests at $42,000 for those homes where three kids are in grades K-8.

Which means that it takes 7 empty nests being taxed at that same $15,000 rate to subsidize the educational costs of just that one 3-student residence.

Or looking at it another way: If each of D-64’s roughly 4,500 kids were dispersed as tax-optimally as possible, each of them would reside in one of 4,500 individual homes, each of which would be paying $6,000 in taxes to D-64 while drawing out $16,000 in education, producing $10,000-per-home deficits totaling $45 MILLION overall. And that $45 MILLION deficit would have to be absorbed by the other 9,500 of the roughly 14,000 Park Ridge residences, at an average cost of roughly $4,700 per residence per year.

Ouch!

Yes, we know: These calculations aren’t adjusted for variables like the contributions of commercial taxpayers, or the fact that D-64 also takes in some areas outside of Park Ridge proper, etc. That’s why we labeled them “rough.” But these calculations also aren’t adjusted to reflect the reality – as we understand it – that more Park Ridge residences have RE bills below $15,000 than above; and that the students are not distributed in that tax-optimal manner.

Meanwhile, according to the “Illinois-At-A-Glance Report Card” for the 2015-16 school year, the D-64 per-pupil cost of $15,613 was $2,600 more than Glenview D-34 ($13,013); $5,000 more than Mt. Prospect D-57 ($10,663); $3,000 more than Arlington Hts. D-25 ($12,610); $5,000 more than Western Springs D-101 ($10,602); and $800 more than Wilmette D-39 ($14,804).

And according to that same source, the average D-64 teacher salary (“for teachers over the past 5 years… calculated by using the sum of all teachers’ salaries divided by the number of FTE teachers.”) was $85,970, while Glenview D-34’s was $61,207; Mt. Prospect D-57’s was $57,996; Arlington Hts. D-25 was $72,962; Western Springs D-101’s was $60,417; and Wilmette D-39’s was $76,425.

Needless to say, D-64’s average teacher salary accounts for a significant part of D-64’s higher costs.

Hence our, and many of our readers’, concern when facially-legitimate third-party ratings, rankings or other evaluations show our schools performing below many of its competitors.

It’s one thing to pay less and get less, but quite another to pay more and get less.

That’s why we think it’s time for the City Council to start a public debate about the further proliferation of multi-family residential, especially through up-zoning and variances, that could – because of its impact on our schools – adversely affect the value of Park Ridge property in ways that have the potential for becoming more significant than flooding and jet noise now are.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mr. K’s Should Not Get A Special-K Deal

05.24.17

For years various developers reportedly have sought to acquire the Mr. K’s Garden and Material Center at 1440 Higgins for commercial development. And for years the owner apparently has said “no.” Or his asking price was too high to make development feasible.

But suddenly a developer wants to stick 34 townhouses on that 2.19-acre parcel and the owner sounds willing to say “yes” – even though the site is zoned “B-2 Commercial” and the City of Park Ridge’s “Higgins Road Corridor Plan” (the”Plan”) identifies that site as one of the City’s last prime office/commercial properties.

At least a couple of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) appear to be taking the site’s B-2 zoning and Plan status seriously. According to a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Developer shares plan for townhouses on site of Park Ridge landscaping business,” May 14), Commissioners John Bennett and Jim Argionis criticized the idea of multi-family residential on that site – with Bennett suggesting a low-rise hotel might be a worthwhile goal and Argionis saying that the space “screams commercial.”

Indeed it does.

And two of Park Ridge’s unofficial zoning and land-use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan, warned of the effect of more multi-family residential on Park Ridge schools, a concern echoed by new 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening.

Back in our 09.12.13 post about the Trammel Crow development just east of Whole Foods, we pointed out how almost every multi-family residential project in Park Ridge is an overall money-loser for Park Ridge taxpayers IF they house children who will be attending our public schools. Just one public school student per residence eats up double or even triple that portion of the average RE tax bill paid to either Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 or Maine Twp. High School District 207.

Trammel Crow persuaded the City to permit that 116-unit rental project on the basis that it was designed for individuals and younger couples, not people with school-aged children. And if we recall correctly, Trammel Crow’s project was a “planned development” that did not require re-zoning, just some density relief which it obtained by offering not only to retain all of its own run-off water but, also, to double the size of the City’s adjacent water detention basin.

We have not heard whether the actual demographics of that project have matched the no-schoolkids sales pitch, although we would expect that somebody at D-64 or D-207 would have said something by now if they didn’t.

But for the past 20 years or so, residential development has been the lowest-hanging fruit in Park Ridge. In part, that’s because the risk to developers of residential is minimal and short-term – as opposed to the greater, more long-term risk of commercial development.

And the cash-strapped City has too often been lured by the Sirens’ song of more property tax revenue coming from residential developers, and also from the City’s real estate brokerage community that understands how there will be far more profit-making opportunities from 34 townhouses – that may flip owners every 5-10 years – than in 1 or 2 commercial/office structures that may flip every 10-20 years, if that.

In addition to the re-zoning needed for the Mr. K’s townhouses, the H-A reports that the project would require a 3-townhouse variance from the City’s density requirement, a height variance, and variances for front and rear yard setbacks. In other words, the developer wants to create a sardine-can subdivision and needs a lot of City help to pack the can.

The main reason for shoehorning that many townhouses onto that site? “The cost of the site is very high,” said the project’s architect, Guido Neri.

Bingo! Mr. K’s owners want to cash out at a top-shelf price, and the developers want to maximize their profits.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

But the City, a/k/a the taxpayers, don’t owe Mr. K’s owner(s) or any developer a zoning change, a basket of variances, or windfall profits – especially if it means losing one of the last significant commercial parcels in Park Ridge. That neighborhood has accommodated Mr. K’s for decades, and it can continue to do so while the owner decides whether a lower sales price might entice some commercial development instead of simply pandering to the low-hanging residential fruit pickers.

After all, a lower sales price usually beats no sale at all. And once that commercial site is lost to residential development, it’s gone for good.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear a persuasive, or even rational, elevator-pitch for adding to Park Ridge’s population, especially if it includes more public school students and further exacerbates the already-onerous tax burdens from D-64 and D-207.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Milissis: Aldermanic Appointment Process Needs Changes

04.14.17

Today we are posting a comment by 2nd Ward Ald. Nicholas Milissis – submitted in response to an anonymous comment of 04.07.17 at 1:52 pm. to our 04.05.17 post – stating the Alderman’s case for changing the process by which replacement aldermen are selected, such as when an alderman resigns or dies.

We are featuring Ald. Milissis’ comment as a stand-alone post because of its timeliness: A new 7th Ward alderman will need to be appointed after Acting Mayor/Mayor-Elect Marty Maloney vacates his aldermanic seat in May to assume the Big Chair at The Horseshoe. We also are providing an Editor’s Note as our counterpoint to Ald. Milissis’ arguments.

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First off the only true representational way to select an alderman is an election by all residents of a ward. In the situation of a vacancy we are in a less than ideal situation because someone is being appointed and not actually elected in an election open to all residents of a ward. This process is already imperfect and what we are dealing with here are the different approaches to making the best of a bad situation.

I vehemently disagree with assertions that aldermen are primarily responsible for their ward. Even though aldermen are elected by a specific ward they are part of a council charged with the well-being of the entire city. I vote on all matter of issues that affect a specific ward other than my own. When I vote for a street to be resurfaced in the 5th ward I don’t look at it from a 2nd ward perspective but rather as a repair to our city’s infrastructure that needs to be carried out.

Aldermen have a representational role and responsibility to their immediate constituents when it comes to liaising with city staff on their behalf and on specific issues (challenging a water bill, an argument with a neighbor over a tree or zoning violation etc.). However, they also have a much larger and in my view more important role of legislating for the benefit of the entire city.

It is that tribalism mentality of “I know what’s best for MY ward”, and the assertion that wards have unique needs or ward specific needs that is pervasive in Park Ridge and which has led to divisions and a mentality of “not my problem” unless it’s in my backyard. That is not what a City or Municipal Corporation is meant to be.

For example, just because I might have less O’Hare noise in my ward does not mean that I do not support and vote in favor of city actions that might alleviate my Park Ridge neighbors on the south side of the city.

Comments such as those of Anon 04.07.17 @ 1:52 pm illustrate the point that the process is flawed and that if someone is appointed (and I emphasize appointed) to make decisions that will affect the entire city, then elected aldermen should have a say.

In fact the current process already recognizes the fact that aldermen have a say. The current process (which I think is partly based on the requirements of the Illinois municipal code) states that aldermen have to confirm the selection of the mayor. No matter who the committee appointed by the mayor selects, the council still has to confirm the selection. I am not trying to take away input from residents. I am merely trying to get the aldermen involved earlier in the process where they can ask questions and participate in interviews instead of just having them vote at the tail end.

I envision a process where some aldermen are added to the interviewing committee alongside residents of the ward impacted.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The City Code authorizes the mayor to appoint successor aldermen to fill Council vacancies between elections, subject to approval by a majority of the Council. For more than a decade (if not longer), the last three mayors – Frimark, Schmidt and Maloney – have chosen to avail themselves of the recommendations of committees filled with citizens of the affected wards who interview and assess the qualifications of their fellow ward residents who are seeking appointment.

Irrespective of whether an individual alderman (or aldermanic candidate) holds the interests of his/her ward above those of the City as a whole – or vice versa, as you encourage – the bottom line is that the selection of a ward’s alderman always has been the province of the citizens of that ward, not of the aldermen of other wards. Allowing aldermen from other wards to meddle in, and maybe even dominate, another ward’s aldermanic appointment process undermines the self-determination of those ward residents.

Instead of changing the current unofficial process, we would encourage the amendment of the City Code to: (a) require the mayor to form a ward committee when filling Council vacancies; and (b) establish a process for how that committee will operate. Frankly, the codified process could be modeled after the one employed by the Fifth Ward committee in recommending the successor to the late Ald. Dan Knight: interviews and deliberations held according to published schedules, open to the public, with audiotaped proceedings publicly available on the City’s website.

If sitting aldermen want to “get…involved earlier in the process,” they can do so just like any other citizen.

And at the end of the day, those aldermen still have to approve the person whom the committee recommends, assuming the mayor approves him/her and advances the appointment.

So even if the other aldermen haven’t availed themselves of the committee process, they still have the opportunity to question the appointee in an open Council session before voting on the appointment – as they had with Ald. Melidosian’s appointment.

The current process works fine. It should be codified, not tampered with.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Big Win For Yesterday’s Victors, An Even Bigger Win For H.I.T.A.

04.05.17

Eight years ago mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt sparked the flame of good government when he promised to bring H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – to a City administration that was bereft of those principles. He also pledged to put taxpayers first because there would be no City government without the taxes they provide.

Since then that flame has grown stronger and burned brighter, finally becoming a torch that illuminated the workings of City government through initiatives like televised meetings, the online posting of meeting materials in advance of meetings, and reducing closed sessions to the barest minimum.

Yesterday that torch was officially passed to a new generation of leaders with the election of Marty Maloney, a staunch Mayor Dave ally and an even stauncher proponent of H.I.T.A., as mayor of Park Ridge.

His election alone, by a margin of roughly 70% to 30%, would have been enough to keep Park Ridge on the H.I.T.A. path and moving forward in all other respects, especially because it was accompanied by the re-election of pro-H.I.T.A. aldermen Nick Milissis, Marc Mazzuca and Roger Shubert.

But that wasn’t the half of it.

The voters of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 made their voices heard with the election of vocal H.I.T.A. proponents Rick Biagi and Fred Sanchez to that Star Chamber Board which, by our unofficial tally, leads all units of Park Ridge local government in the number of closed sessions it holds, and in the obfuscation that comes with them. At the same time those voters just said “No!” to three candidates whose most notable – and controversial – qualification for office was that they all were married to D-64 teachers and shamelessly wanted to put themselves in the untenable position of voting on their wives’ raises and working conditions. Or recusing themselves, thereby effectively reducing the Board to the bare mininum of four members required to do business.

That was about as anti-H.I.T.A. as you could get, and the voters wisely rejected such shamelessness.

Over at the Park Ridge Park District, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell – although not espousing H.I.T.A. by name – advanced many of its principles in their successful campaigns to oust two decidedly non-H.I.T.A. incumbents and their two unofficial running mates.

The same can be said for successful Maine Twp. High School District 207 candidate Linda Coyle, who we understand was, ironically enough, a law school classmate of Mayor Dave’s.

All told, yesterday may have been the single greatest across-the-board good government day Park Ridge has had in decades – in no small measure because it was a victory, first and foremost, of principles instead of just personalities.

But make no mistake about it: Yesterday’s victories didn’t make everybody happy.

There are still residents, some of them very brazen and vocal, with special-interest axes to grind and a related lust for spending OPM (“Other People’s Money). These residents will continue to denigrate H.I.T.A. as a kind of code word for “conservative” (shudder) or “Republican” (double shudder) guys and gals.

That’s just sour grapes from folks who can’t accept the voters’ repudiation of the dishonest and failed tax, borrow and spend policies of local governments past and present.

So don’t be surprised if those naysayers try to demean yesterday’s results by decrying the “low turnout” – which was 28.29% for the mayoral race, down from the 34.87% of 2013. A similar decline in voters was also the case for the other races as well.

But it was the late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh who stated: “Voting is a civic sacrament.” So those who refused that sacrament deserve whatever damnation they may subsequently complain about as being visited on them by yesterday’s winners.

The H.I.T.A. revolution, while started by Schmidt and advanced by the aforementioned winners, hasn’t been the work of any one person, or even several people. Instead it has been the work of hundreds of Park Ridge citizens who initially believed that local government could be made better than it was, more cost-effective than it was, and more respectful of the taxpayers than it was. But where H.I.T.A. really gained traction was when those same people came to realize that making local government better in those aforementioned ways actually was an achievable goal.

Schmidt’s election in 2009 and his re-election by an even larger margin in 2013 proved that. So did the elections and re-elections of Alds. Maloney and Dan Knight in 2011 and 2015, respectively, as well as the election and/or re-election of Alds. Mazzuca, Moran, Milissis, Shubert and the other aldermen who served on the Council these past several years.

Now it’s time for Maloney and the rest of yesterday’s victors to emerge from the long H.I.T.A. shadow Schmidt created and start creating shadows of their own by walking their campaign talk.

And doing so in bright sunlight.

That will be most challenging for Biagi and Sanchez at D-64, where there is a longstanding anti-H.I.T.A. bias and culture, and where they likely will have to confront Board president (and closed-session aficionado) Tony “Who’s the Boss?” Borrelli and his puppetmaster, Supt. Laurie “I’m the Boss!” Heinz, right out of the gate. Whether Biagi and Sanchez can get any support from Board members Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos – heretofore regular rubber-stampers of Borrelli’s closed-session motions and uber-secrecy about the PREA contract and Heinz’s contract extension – remains to be seen. So do the proclivities of newbies Larry Ryles and Eastman Tiu.

Over at D-207, Coyle will find herself surrounded by Board members afraid of their own shadows – and, therefore, possessed by a vampire-like fear of sunlight likely engendered by the desire to avoid any accountability for Maine South’s continuing and heretofore ignored decline in the rankings of Illinois high schools.

These local races, however, need to be viewed in the context of our state government which, over the past 40 years, seems to have grown as ethically bankrupt as it has grown financially bankrupt. That state of corruption won’t be reversed overnight.

But maybe, just maybe, the torch of good government passed last evening to these new Park Ridge leaders can also light the way for the officials of other communities to raise their games and adopt H.I.T.A. as the overarching principle of good government in their own communities – which can, in turn, start a grassroots turnaround statewide.

If so, it’s you voters who showed up yesterday to put your own imprints on local government – by means of the candidates you elected – who will deserve the credit.

Well done, voters!

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VOTE! (Updated)

04.04.17

Mayor:                      Marty Maloney 

Ald. (3d):                   Rick Van Roeyen

Ald. (4th):                  Roger Shubert

D-64 Board:               Rick Biagi

                                 Alfred “Fred” Sanchez

D-207 Board:              Linda Coyle

Park Dist. Board:        Harmony Harrington

                                 Jim Janak

                                 Bob Leach

                                 Jim O’Donnell

Update (04.04.17 @ 1:00 p.m.) Voter turnout is sucking, people. C’mon…get off your duffs and get to the polls! A little rain isn’t going to hurt you.

It’s “of the people, by the people, for the people” time, folks!

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Van Roeyen In The 3d, Shubert In The 4th

03.31.17

Only 2 of the 4 aldermanic seats whose terms are expiring this year have contested races: Nobody even attempted to challenge Ald. Nick Milissis in the 2d Ward, and the only challenger to Ald. Marc Mazzuca in the 6th Ward was tossed off the ballot because of insufficient valid nominating petition signatures.

3d Ward. When we first heard that there were four candidates for alderman of Park Ridge’s 3d Ward, we figured that was a misprint. After all, for the past 25 years or so the 3d Ward rarely even had a contested race. And the nadir was reached in 2011 when NOBODY filed candidate petitions, leaving Jim Smith to run uncontested as a write-in candidate.

None of the four technically is an “incumbent” because current 3d Ward Ald. Rick Van Roeyen was appointed by the Council after the death of Bob Wilkening only a few months into the term we won over Van Roeyen in April 2015. It is the final two years of Wilkening’s four-year term that are at stake this election.

Flooding is basically the 3d Ward’s political one-trick pony, which is why that was the No. 1 answer by all four candidates to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s question: “What are the top issues facing Park Ridge today?”

Pasquale Laudando’s campaign, well-intended as it might be, has displayed the shortcomings of a candidate who has not been engaged very long in City issues. He has a few interesting ideas but they lack both depth and comprehensiveness. On the other hand, for the past four years that Vicki Lee has been a member of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board, her most significant contribution appears to have been helping provide a quorum – although we will miss her open-mouthed gum chewing when perusing D-64 meeting videos after May 1.

That leaves the race to Van Roeyen and Wilkening’s widow, Gail, who has never run for a City office but who was twice elected to 4-year terms on the Park Ridge Park District board (1997-2005).

Their answers to the H-A’s questionnaire and their performances at the March 2 candidates’ forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters (Laundando and Lee were MIA) were surprisingly similar: They both profess to be environmentally conscious; they both seem to support the creation of the proposed storm water utility; they both speak zealously about infrastructure maintenance, repair and replacement; and they both support Marty Maloney for mayor.

Although Wilkening has 8 years of government board experience to Van Roeyen’s 2, hers is over 10 years old and was for a much smaller unit of government. Van Roeyen’s experience is current and it’s been on the Council dealing with more varied and significant issues, and a much larger budget.

For that reason we give the edge to Van Roeyen.

4th Ward. This race is an inter-generational battle between incumbent Ald. Roger Shubert and challenger Jack Barnette, who was an alderman back in the 1980s when dinosaurs roamed Park Ridge, the Homeowners Party dominated City government, the Council was comprised of 14 aldermen, and none of them could even spell “transparency” or “accountability.”

Shubert ran four years ago as a supporter of then-mayor Dave Schmidt and as an adherent of Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability”) platform. For the most part he has lived up to those principles, seeming to stray only on those occasions when he puts “politics” ahead of “government.” He also has a tendency to spread himself a bit thin because of his wide variety of extracurricular activities, although that also can serve to expand his perspectives on City issues.

Another difference between them is that Barnette seems to favor City activism in attracting business and controlling residential development, while Shubert has adopted the more laissez faire approach we favorespecially when government activism involves bureaucrats trying to outsmart the marketplace using taxpayer funds.

Barnette also recently attempted to distinguish his qualifications from Shubert’s by arguing, on Facebook, that he has “owned and lived in three different homes in Park Ridge” – paying the property taxes that the City Council is charged with levying and spending – while Shubert “has no real commitment to Park Ridge” because he “is renting a place here in the Fourth Ward…[and] pays no property tax.”

Sorry, Mr. Barnette, but Ald. Shubert has demonstrated his “real commitment to Park Ridge” by his Council service over the past four year. And at the risk of shaking your concept of real estate economics, property tax tends to be factored into the rent of both residential and commercial leases. If you can’t grasp that basic concept, perhaps the rest of the Council’s business might also be a bit too much of a challenge.

Shubert is the better choice.

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog serves with Ald. Shubert on the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee.

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Maloney For Mayor

03.29.17

Six years ago we “strongly endorse[d]” Marty Maloney in his contested race for 7th Ward alderman. Today we endorse him even more strongly in his contested race for mayor of Park Ridge.

Back in 2011 we pointed to Maloney’s 8 years (2003-2011) as “the No. 1 fiscal hawk” on the Park Ridge Park District Board, as well as his key role in helping save the City more than $3 million in construction costs by his support of the intergovernmental agreement to relocate the City’s Uptown reservoir to Hinkley Park – instead of to the intended relocation site of the old City garage property at Greenwood and Elm. Doing so kept that site available for its ultimate sale to Lexington Homes in October 2015 for $1.4 million.

Maloney won the aldermanic seat handily over two other candidates.

During his first four-year term, Maloney – along with his Class of 2011 colleague Ald. Dan Knight (5th) – was so instrumental in helping then-Mayor Dave Schmidt turn around a City government left financially staggering and virtually-rudderless by former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets, that both he and Knight were re-elected in 2015 without a single challenger between them.

Maloney’s support of Schmidt’s dedication to transparency resulted in the City’s receiving two consecutive “Sunshine” awards in each of the two years the City applied for it – 2014 and 2015 – while increasing its transparency scores from 86% to 94.8%. And by our unofficial count, the City leads the other three units of local government in fewest number of closed sessions.

When Maloney was selected by his Council peers in March 2015 to serve as Acting Mayor following Schmidt’s sudden death, he made it clear that the next two years were “the rest of Mayor Dave’s term.” And for the past two years Maloney has advanced Schmidt’s legacy of H.I.T.A.: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability, the four pillars of good government regularly ignored by previous City administrations and effectively mocked by the boards of both of our school districts.

For that reason alone we could endorse Maloney for mayor.

But there’s more.

As alderman he supported Schmidt’s austerity measures and the tax hikes needed to rebuild the City’s fund balances, especially the General (operating) Fund’s, so that the City could stop tapping the Water Fund just to make payroll. He also supported refinancing the onerous Uptown TIF debt and various other financial measures to return the City’s finances to credibility.

That kind of fiscal management paid off in last June’s Moody’s Investors Service “Credit Opinion,” which removed the “negative outlook” that accompanied Moody’s downgrade of the City’s bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2 in late 2011, in large part because of the low General Fund balance and the TIF albatross. Maloney responded to that news by proclaiming his next goal “to raise the rating itself.” Doing so could save City taxpayers millions of dollars of interest if/when the City decides to issue the boatloads of bonds needed to finance infrastructure repair, replacement and/or improvement, including flood remediation.

Chalk up another reason for a Maloney endorsement.

As Acting Mayor, Maloney has continued Schmidt’s initiative of making Park Ridge friendlier to business while refusing to become a sucker for business. During his six years on the Council the storefronts in Uptown south of Touhy have begun to fill, with Holt’s taking over the long-empty former Pine’s space, Harp & Fiddle filling the long-empty Scharringhausen Pharmacy space, and Shakou converting the old Pioneer Press offices.

Maloney also appears to have learned well the lesson of the Uptown TIF: Being stupid and profligate with the public purse usually has harsh, unforeseen and/or unintended – and almost always long-lasting – consequences. That’s why he and the Council have not let themselves be stampeded into stupid and/or profligate decisions by the various special interests whose unenlightened self-interest would leave the City hemorrhaging cash and hog-tied by debt.

That’s yet another reason for our endorsement.

Four years ago we urged the re-election of Mayor Dave “based on his record, one that has been the most public and transparent of any mayor in Park Ridge’s history.” The same can be said about Maloney’s.

Don’t be confused by the differences in style between Schmidt and Maloney. Schmidt’s was your typical Germanic no-nonsense approach that was aptly described as a “Schmidtzkrieg,” while Maloney’s has the smoother edges of those folks with Emerald Isle origins. While Maloney tends to hide his iron fist inside a velvet glove, Schmidt was the iron fist inside the iron glove. But when it comes to City government we believe their values to be consonant.

Acting Mayor Maloney was true to his pledge that the past two years would be the remainder of Mayor Dave’s term. Now it’s time for him to build on Schmidt’s legacy and define himself while continuing to move Park Ridge forward.

We’re confident he can do so. You should be, too.

Marty Maloney for mayor.

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