Public Watchdog.org

How Much Is Enough?

12.01.17

On the night of November 14, a developer’s representatives showed up at City Holl to pitch the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) on letting it develop the Mr. K’s site – 1440 Higgins, currently zoned for business/commercial use – with 19 3-bedroom townhouses and an office building that the developer hoped would be enough “commercial” to sell the Commission on the project.

Given that the developer previously had sought 31 townhouses and no commercial building for the site, it was clear that the townhouses were the dog and the office building was the tail. Which is why the developer broke out the salesmanship.

So did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, which dispatched finance guru Luann Kolstad, along with an attorney and a consultant from Teska Associates, to try to persuade the P&Z folks that this new multi-family residential development will likely add 6 to 9 kids (a conservative estimate, per Supt. Laurie Heinz’s letter) to D-64 schools instead of the 2.88 kids the developer was projecting.

One would think that Park Ridge’s oft-lamented lack of business/commercial combined with the longstanding commercial zoning of the site, in the exercise of common sense and simple math, would have made P&Z’s decision to say “no” to more multi-family development a straightforward one.

But it wasn’t.

A couple of P&Z commissioners seemed lost in the funhouse and totally overmatched by the interplay of housing density and student costs, even after a fellow commissioner correctly pointed out that 2 of the 3 bedrooms in each townhouse were so small they appeared designed solely for children. A few more commissioners seemed desperate for some kind of compromise that would avoid their having to make a decision that somebody might not like.

But as James Russell Lowell so trenchantly observed: “Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

And when we’re talking about a development that can be expected to last a minimum of 30-50 years, a “temporary expedient” – like 19 3-bedroom townhouses and some half-baked office building afterthought – is the last thing we need.

Which brings us to the key question: How much is enough? In this case, how much residential development is enough?

Multi-family residential is the lowest hanging fruit on the development tree for an older, inner-ring upper-middle class community like Park Ridge. Want to turn a quick, low-risk profit? See how many condos or townhouses you can cram onto your target property.

But at what point do more residences, and more residents, begin to adversely affect the community’s quality of life and its sustainability – whether by too many kids in our public schools, too much traffic, too many demands on our infrastructure, etc.?

The answer to that question depends on who you are and where your interests lie.

If you’re the owner of Mr. K’s looking to cash out at the highest price, you probably don’t give a rat’s derriere about what some developer constructs on that property – so long as the check clears. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay.

If you’re a developer looking to turn the quickest profit with the least risk, 31 townhouses – or 19 townhouses and some half-baked office building – might be your best pump-and-dump deal. And that’s okay, too.

And if you’re a local RE broker, 19 new townhouses increases your “inventory” at no significant additional incremental cost to you. And that’s okay.

Because self-interest – both enlightened and doltish – has always been with us and always will be. It’s how we deal with that self-interest that matters.

Perhaps the most important reason we have City government and a Zoning Code is to prevent selfish property owners, selfish developers and selfish RE brokers from putting their short-term profiteering ahead of the taxpayers’ long-term expense and the community’s long-term sustainability as a unique place to live.

Which means remembering that property owners are like one-trick hookers, that developers are like sharks cruising for their next meal, and that certain RE brokers are like the remoras that swim below the sharks’ mouths feeding on the scraps left over from the sharks’ larger meals.

While the owner and the developer may both be one-and-done on a project such as Mr. K’s, it’s those RE agents who will be getting the longer-term benefits from adding condos and townhouses to their residential inventory that can be expected to turn over far more frequently than commercial property or even single-family homes. That means more sales and more commissions for those agents – the gift that keeps on giving.

Once again, that’s okay.

But when you hear some of those RE agents (like, say…William Cline) pontificate in comments to Facebook posts about how “[a]ny development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” (without and facts or explanation) and how “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society” (also without explanation), first do the math for each unit of these multi-family residences:

At a $16,000 cost per D-64 student, less 40% (D-64’s share) of total RE tax bill = there will be some amount of funding deficit for any residential unit with one kid in D-64 whose total RE tax bill is $40,000 or less. And every additional kid from that same unit in D-64 schools represents $16,000 of additional deficit.

For Cline and his fellow champions of higher-density residential who work on a commission basis, even a 3% commission on the sale of a $350,000 condo or townhouse means almost $12,000 of extra income – which more than covers any incremental RE tax increase they might incur from the extra students.

That doesn’t mean those brokers and developers haven’t earned their money. They have.

But it means we should all remember that it’s their pocketbooks talking the next time you hear one of them claim: “Any development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” and that “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society and the public officials need to stop catering to the nimbys that have no clue how economic development works.”

And then ask to see their math.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Veterans Day 2017

11.11.17

Five years ago we printed a letter-to-the-editor penned by Park Ridge resident Joseph “Jay” Hirst back in 2007.  Mr. Hirst has updated it slightly and we thought it worthy of a revival this Veterans Day, especially because the events Mr. Hirst describes began 50 years ago today.

***

As Veterans Day approaches each year, it typically causes me to pause and consider my service in the Army, particularly my time in Vietnam. However, unlike previous Veterans Days, the approach of this date has caused me to spend significantly more time in contemplation than I normally have done in the past.

Moreover, I know why. For me, this Veterans Day represents a significant anniversary.

On November 11, 1967, elements of my unit (including me), Company N (November) of the 75th Rangers, was sent into the highlands to be attached to and to support the 173rd Airborne Brigade in securing a hill not quite 3,000 feet high (875 meters). What is so hard for me to believe sometimes is that what was three years out of high school back then for me is now 50 years ago.

For those next 12 days in 1967, Hill 875 became a battleground unlike any other in Vietnam as the 66th Regiment of the North Vietnamese Army – with its Chinese advisors – stood their ground and fought a battle of trenches and fortified bunkers more like World War I or II than Vietnam. The network of tunnels used by the NVA throughout the area made any semblance of a “front” frustratingly fluid.

With the 2/503d Battalion of the 173rd leading the way, we initiated the final push for the top of the hill on November 19th. Over the next 5 days the 173rd lost 279 of America’s finest souls killed in action while suffering over 900 wounded and a reported 33 MIA’s.

On the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1967, “The Hill” was finally taken in a cold steady monsoonal downpour made worse by the devastated terrain, the despair over the losses experienced, and just plain pure exhaustion. Thanksgiving dinner that last day was one of the most miserable meals I ever ate. And every Thanksgiving since – I remember that day with a chilling reminder I may not have had that meal or any since.

I was alive, in large part because of the heroism of Carlos Lozada. Carlos, despite being out-manned and out-flanked, was able to maintain a rate of machine gun fire that disrupted an attack of superior forces set to overrun our sector, enabling the rest of us to withdraw with five of our severely wounded. The attack had broken off when “Moose” and I went back up the slope the last time, where Carlos was found mortally wounded.

Despite the Medic’s best efforts, Carlos died before he could be medi-vac’ed. PFC Carlos Lozada was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day, a richly deserved honor. I wish I could say that I knew Carlos well and for a longer period, but in truth I knew him barely more than a week. He came across as an ordinary Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx who ultimately made an extraordinary and selfless sacrifice. And because of the extraordinary acts of this ordinary man, today – 50 years later – I still am able to say how proud I am to have even briefly served with him.

50 years is a long time and the Vietnam of then is now a long way away; yet – there are times, when I close my eyes in reflection, those events play out in my mind like they happened but a moment ago.

I think I am like most other veterans, with their own tales to tell and their own memories to share or keep to themselves as they choose. Like most other veterans, I must admit that some of those memories are painful, some droll, some happy and others melancholy. That is why I personally think the Canadian’s calling their 11th of November “A Day of Remembrance” is so appropriate.

On the 11th of this month, Veterans Day, if you are related to a veteran, know a veteran, or even see a veteran, please take a moment from your busy life and thank them for their service to our country.

Some of these veterans are still kids, freshly home from the Afghanistan, while others of us served a long time ago. And a quickly diminishing few brave souls from WWII and Korea; even longer ago. They all richly deserve credit for what they did, are doing, and will continue to do so Americans like you and I – our children and grandchildren – can have the opportunity to do what we do and be what we are.

However, if you do not happen to know or see a “Vet”, I offer an alternative – pause for a moment to reflect on PFC Carlos Lozada’s ultimate sacrifice for his unit and the “troopers” of a very proud Brigade.

To all my fellow “Vets” – Thank you for your service and your personal investment in what makes this country so unique in this world.

Jay Hirst

A New “Water Problem” For Park Ridge

10.27.17

Park Ridge has a water problem, but not the one you’re thinking of.

Most residents are aware of the flooding problem. A recent report by the City’s water management consultant is estimating that remediating that problem at a 100-year storm level will cost upwards of $100 Million, not counting millions more in debt service. As we wrote in our 10.19.17 post, now the Council needs to move that plan forward to referendum so that the voters can weigh in on the relative costs-benefits.

But the first two parts of a multi-part series in the Chicago Tribune describe our other water problem: Somewhat pricey water and an aged drinking water infrastructure that may be leaking like a sieve.

According to the first Trib article (“Same Lake, Unequal rates,” Oct. 25), a Park Ridge household using 5,000 gallons a month pays $44.67 – higher than 81 of the 162 communities surveyed, including arguably comparable communities like Glenview ($34.97), Northbrook ($25.00) and Northfield ($36.34), but lower than Elmhurst ($53.26). The Trib article also points out that our water costs have increased 43% since 2013, when that cost was only $31.27.

But the more troubling information is contained in the second Trib article (“Billions lost, millions wasted,” Oct. 26) and relates to our water infrastructure.

Based on 2016 data (presumably, the most recent available), Park Ridge is losing 18.54% of its drinking water because of leaking pipes and/or water main breaks. That’s 50% higher than the state’s 12% acceptable loss standard.

The reason?

As of 2014, a whopping 61% of our 147 miles of water mains and pipes – almost 90 miles of it – was over 61 years old. And another 15% was between 41 and 60 years old.

If that’s true, we may be looking at the results of decades of water infrastructure incompetence, neglect and obfuscation. And as is too often the case with most government incompetence, neglect and obfuscation, 99% of the public officials responsible for this situation over those decades – elected, appointed and employed – are long gone from City government and, if questioned about their stewardships, will have no clear recollection of what, if anything, was discussed, not discussed, done, not done, and why/why not.

While we expect that some folks will whine about this kind of finger-pointing, Santayana correctly noted that: “’Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And repeating past mistakes is one of government’s few specialties, albeit an expensive proposition.

But the real significance of these water infrastructure shortcomings may be in relation to the planned flood remediation plan.

As it has been described, the flood remediation plan will involve opening up sizable portions of many City streets under which the sewers run in tandem with…you guessed it…water mains and supply pipes. So if those streets are going to have to be opened up for sewer work, it would seem an opportune time to also replace those old (and undersized?) mains and pipes.

Consistent with our favorite “measure twice, cut once” philosophy, opening up the streets once to correct two water-related problems would appear to be the smart approach.

That will add many additional millions of dollars, and debt service, to the cost of the flood remediation. And that might make a referendum a tougher sell – although the City Council might be able to address that problem by having two referendum questions: One for the sewer project, the second for the water infrastructure improvements.

Whatever the Council decides to do, however, needs to be done sooner rather than later.

The Council needs to get its hands around this water infrastructure problem ASAP and figure out how and how it can be done and at what cost in time to put that referendum question on the November 2018 ballot along with the flood remediation plan.

If the water problem, like the flooding problem, truly is the product of decades of neglect, then it is well past time to call the question so that the taxpayers can weigh in on both of those problems in the most meaningful way our society permits: At the ballot box.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mayor Maloney Joins Mayor Dave With His First Veto

10.24.17

Mayor Dave Schmidt exercised his first veto of City Council action in June 2009, little more than a month after being sworn in as mayor. At that time, nobody knew whether any previous Park Ridge mayor had ever vetoed City Council action.

And as of today, that remains the case.

But although it took Mayor Marty Maloney almost six months to find a Council action worth vetoing, last Monday (October 16) night he boldly went where only Schmidt had gone before: He vetoed the Council’s October 2, 2017 endorsement – by a vote of 4 (Alds. Joyce, Milissis, Wilkening and Shubert) to 3 (Alds. Moran, Melidosian and Mazzuca) – of a major variance from the City’s sign ordinance that would permit a new sign to be erected in front of the BP gas station at 1220 West Touhy Avenue that is more than double the size the sign ordinance allows.

That variance previously had been approved by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (the “ZBA”) at its August 24, 2017 meeting by a 4 (members Garrick Bunting, Rebecca Leslie, Linda Nagle and Steve Schilling) to 2 (Atul Karkhanis and Missy Langan) majority for reasons that are hardly clear from reading the meeting minutes.

The BP station sought the variance on the basis that forcing it to comply with the current sign ordinance that permits pole signs of “only” 32 square feet would leave it at a competitive disadvantage with the 91 square foot sign for the Shell station immediately east of it and with the 70 square foot sign in front of the Thornton’s station a half-block further east.

As we understand it, because both the Shell sign and the Thornton’s sign were in place before the ordinance reducing signage size was enacted, those other two signs were “grandfathered” as an exception to the size restriction. That’s pretty much the accepted practice when new ordinances of this type are enacted.

But that doesn’t explain why BP deserved a variance permitting it to erect a new sign of 70 square feet – more than double what the current sign ordinance allows. And, interestingly enough, ZBA member Missy Langan appeared before the Council to request that the ZBA’s action be disregarded.

Unfortunately, the only arguments made in support of the variance by the aldermen tended toward: (a) the ZBA has recommended it; and (b) it’s a reasonable accommodation for a local business.

As Maloney’s veto message points out, the general principle behind permitting existing non-conforming uses and structures – like the Shell and Thornton’s signs – to remain after ordinances are enacted or revised is the expectation that those newly-proscribed uses and structures will eventually come into compliance through the passage of time, wear & tear, and other such factors. Permitting new non-conforming uses and structures, therefore, not only makes a mockery of the new/revised ordinance but, also, effectively creates an “arms race of sign size and non-conforming use,” according to Maloney.

Exactly right, Mr. Mayor.

We have consistently argued that laws should either be enforced or eliminated. We also have consistently stated that City ordinances – especially zoning and sign codes – are not mere suggestions to be followed only if convenient, or if the wind is blowing a certain way. The ZBA members should know that. If they don’t, it’s up to the Council members to remind them of it rather than jump on the runaway ZBA bandwagon as it leaves the reservation.

Maloney’s first veto is a big step in defining the new mayor’s philosophy of City government now that he has a mayoralty of his own rather than being the good and faithful custodian of the last two years of “Mayor Dave’s” term. Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, his use of the mayoral veto to try to correct a perceived wrong is right out of the “Mayor Dave” H.I.T.A. playbook.

On that basis alone this glass is more than half-full.

Now let’s see if the Council can fill up the rest of it by sustaining Maloney’s veto on November 6.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Burke’s $106 Million Flood Control Plan Means Time For City Council To Make Decisions

10.19.17

We’ve always liked the motto of the Public Television show “This Old House”: “Measure twice, cut once.”

That tends to be good advice in most situations, and especially good advice when it comes to the operation of government: The expenditures of substantial sums of taxpayer money and/or the undertaking of substantial amounts of public debt for some project or program.

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, the Park Ridge City Council, so far, has taken that approach when it comes to the City’s adoption of proposals for addressing the City’s flooding problems. Because of the grand scope of the flooding problems and, therefore, the cost of the projects that will be needed to solve those problems, measuring twice – or even three and four times – is the prudent thing to do.

At the Council’s September 11, 2017 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, Christopher B. Burke Engineering presented its most comprehensive flooding remediation plan to date, intended to address flooding in 13 areas of Park Ridge. The price tag: $106 million for what Burke is claiming will provide 100-year protection, even in those semi-disaster areas like Mayfield Estates and the basin just west of the Park Ridge Country Club between Oakton on the north and the METRA tracks on the south.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding: That $106 million doesn’t include the additional $10-20 million of potential debt service costs for the bonds that likely will be needed to fund this mega-project, depending on the amount and the duration of those bonds.

Flood remediation has been the 500 lb. gorilla, and a political football, in Park Ridge for decades. For most of the 1990s and ear ly-2000s our City politicians and bureaucrats not only did nothing to remediate it but, in many instances, they took a variety of actions that actually exacerbated the problems – including diverting the funds budgeted annually for relief sewers (to hold stormwater) to other more popular pursuits and pet projects.

Only after the election of mayor Dave Schmidt in April 2009 did the City begin to get serious about flooding, forming the Flood Control Task Force chaired by former public works director Joe Saccamano and comprised of residents like Gail Fabisch and Bob Mack, both of whom are career professionals in dealing with water management and flooding.

In connection with the task force’s efforts the City made Burke Engineering its flooding consultant of choice. Based on studies and recommendations by Burke, the City began some of the more inexpensive remediation projects – the low-hanging fruit – while working toward a more comprehensive and more expensive global plan, which is what Burke appears to have come back with last month.

Burke’s power-point presentation is posted on the City’s website and can be found here. And it prescribes the 100-year protection that should be the goal of any such project.

Such a comprehensive plan will not be able to be accomplished in a year or even two. It also cannot be accomplished by the City unilaterally because it will require the cooperation of the Park Ridge Park District for the detention area recommended for Northwest Park, and of the Park Ridge Country Club for the construction of the underground vault on the east side of Greenwood that will run pretty much the full length of the 3d hole, and that appears crucial to flood control in that area.

The cost of these projects will impose a substantial burden on the City’s taxpayers for years to come, no matter how successful the City’s storm water utility proves to be.

That’s why we think that NOW is the time for the Council to start taking the action necessary to determining whether there is sufficient taxpayer support to move forward with the projects contained in the Burke plan. And that should involve a referendum – the 10-letter word that terrifies and infuriates those public officials, elected and appointed, who distrust the taxpayers/voters, and/or who think those taxpayers/voters are incompetent to express their opinions about projects such as this through the ballot box.

At least two, if not three or four, current aldermen are known to have opined that elected public officials – such as themselves, of course – are elected to make these kinds of decisions, without needing no stinking referendums. And should they want any taxpayer advice, they can easily get it by talking to their constituents , a la former 3d-Ward alderman Don Bach, who once voted to give Napleton Cadillac up to $2.4 million of taxpayer money, even though he was against the idea, because he had talked to “about 30 people” in his ward who thought it was a good idea.

But make no mistake about it: NO current mayor or alderman has EVER run for the offices they currently hold on the promise that they would support the taxing, borrowing and/or spending more than $100 million on flood remediation/prevention. That means none of their voters elected them to do that.

We’ve got two elections coming up in 2018 that would be suitable for such a referendum: The primaries in March 2018 and, even better, the general election in November 2018. Both the primary and the general election regularly produce a significantly larger voter turnout than our odd-year local elections and, therefore, would be the better vehicle for measuring public support for any $100 million-plus expenditure and/or indebtedness.

Because referendum questions have to be submitted months ahead of the actual elections, however, the deadline for the Council to put a flood remediation question on the March 20, 2018 primary ballot is January 1, 2018. That might be cutting it too close, thereby making the August 20, 2018 deadline for putting one or more referendum questions on the November ballot more reasonable.

We would hope Mayor Maloney and a majority of the current Council will voice their support for a referendum on such an important issue, and do so sooner rather than later.

Unless, of course, they want to play Springfield-style politics and kick the flood control can far enough down the road that it rolls past the April 2019 City elections – when the terms of Aldermen Moran (1st), Wilkening (3d), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) will be expiring. That way, should they choose to run, neither they nor their challengers would have to handle any potentially difficult questions that might arise from the results – up or down – of a November 2018 referendum.

Hope springs eternal, however, so we’re willing to make a modest wager that the Council will move forward on the Burke plan so that one or more appropriate referendum questions will find their way to the November 2018 ballot.

But if they don’t, every homeowner in Park Ridge who has flooding problems should be demanding to know why not.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Getting More Into The “Business” Of The Farmers Market

10.10.17

We dislike public-private ventures where governmental bodies and private businesses combine in what should be purely private enterprises.

The reasons?

First, because those types of arrangements rarely are essential functions of governmental bodies. Second, the private-sector business people who look for such fusion opportunities tend to be a lot slicker negotiators than their public-sector counterparts. And third, even when the public officials aren’t being out-negotiated, they often end up carrying the water for some special interest or other, usually resulting in a windfall of tax dollars and no accountability.

We’ve seen that happen with boondoggles like the Economic Development Corporation, the Facade Improvement Program, the Uptown Redevelopment project and annual giveaways of taxpayer cash to private non-profit corporations like Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”), the Center of Concern, Meals On Wheels, and other such community organizations that went on for years with no thought whatsoever of demanding accountability for that money.

Today’s boondoggle du jour is the Farmers Market, which reportedly has been a favored special interest since the days of mayor Marty Butler.

Why did the City get into the Farmers Market business in the first place, and what was the City supposed to get out of it? Nobody seems to know. And looking back at the bare-bones council meeting minutes from 2006, when the Market’s section of the City Code was last amended, it’s virtually impossible to say.

As noted in the City Attorney’s memo dated August 10, 2017, the running of the Market has apparently been so ignored by the City that:

* the Market “has operated outside the regular budget and procurement process…”;

* the Market “has not broken even…” thereby requiring “the City to underwrite some expenses with taxpayer dollars (e.g., AT&T parking lot lease)”; and

* “despite…selling out its vendor permits for each of the last several years, the cost charged for a permit has not been enough to cover the Market’s expense, “ which has dinged Park Ridge taxpayers for about $3,000 each year.

Why, then, did Alds. John Moran (1st), Gail Wilkening (3d), Charlie Melidosian (5th), Marc Mazzuca (6th) and Marty Joyce (7th) vote to amend the Farmers Market Ordinance (Article 12, Chapter 7 of the City Code) at the Council’s October 2 meeting instead of deferring that action and re-visiting whether the Market should have a place in the City Code at all?

According to Mazzuca at the September 25, 2017 COW meeting, the Market is “tradition” and “is in our Code.”

Our Code also has provisions for “Sexually-Oriented Businesses,” “Garage or Yard Sales” and “Valet Parking Businesses,” but we’re not aware of any of those getting City subsidies or their own City committee.

Don’t get us wrong: We like the Farmers Market. This editor is there almost every Saturday, rain or shine. But that doesn’t justify the Council’s treating it like a favored child, or tying it even more closely to the City than it has been up to now.

It’s not like Park Ridge residents live in one of those food “deserts” characteristic of the poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Chicago, where the Market is our only source of fresh produce, meat, bakery, flowers, dog treats, giardiniera, and all the other things sold there. We’ve got our choice of Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Jewel and Trader Joe’s within our own City boundaries, along with a Jerry’s just over the northeast border in Niles, and a Tony’s on Greenwood just a block north of Dempster.

By subsidizing the Farmers Market even nominally (to the tune of $2,000 or so per year) the City is effectively subsidizing private businesses – most of them not based in Park Ridge or run by Park Ridge residents – who actually are competing against those aforementioned taxpaying grocery stores, and some of our smaller businesses like Dolcetti Patisserie & Café.

According to an October 3, 2017 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Elected officials to have say over Park Ridge Farmers Market volunteer committee”), rental fees for Farmers Market vendors were finally raised this year to a whopping $14 per Saturday, or $3.50 per hour for each of the four hours it’s open. That’s chump change, although it probably explains why the Market keeps getting more vendors while increasing its City subsidies – and why the H-A reports that Farmers Market co-chair Jay Crowley wants the City Council “to explore paying someone to [run the Market].”

Gee, did anybody else see that coming?

2d Ward Ald. Nick Milissis was spot-on in calling for a review of the Farmers Market ordinance and wondering why the City appears to be getting even more involved in what should be “a private initiative” like TOPR: A private, non-profit corporation that is permitted to use City property – a portion of Summit Avenue and the “Triangle” and “Library” parking lots – but which in all other respects is treated as an entity separate and apart from the City that pays the City for the police, fire and public works services it uses.

Milissis and Ald. Roger Shubert (4th) were the only two aldermen voting against the amendment and suggesting that the entire concept behind the Farmers Market Ordinance should be re-visited.

We don’t see that happening with a Council that finds “tradition” and “it’s in our Code” handy excuses for avoiding serious policy discussions and continuing to subsidize non-essential services that aren’t being run in a self-sufficient manner, yet will continue to be run by the same people.

To read or post comments, click on title.

J.D. Kadd’s Should Not Become Low-Hanging Condos

08.22.17

Within the past few years Park Ridge has filled some significant holes in its commercial and retail space base.

The biggest win in that regard was filling the empty Dominick’s space at Cumberland and Higgins with Mariano’s.

Right behind that comes Shakou, which filled the large space vacated by the Pioneer Press several years earlier. Holt’s took over the prominent space vacated by Pine’s men’s apparel at the corner of Prospect and Summit. And Harp & Fiddle combined the old pharmacy space with the adjacent space formerly occupied by Garden on the Run.

On the other hand, the Pickwick/Pick/Pickwick saga ended badly and, as a result, one of the most prominent retail spaces in Park Ridge sits empty, along with a few more storefronts in Uptown. Those are the spaces people should be concerned about because they are the draws for what our retailers like to call the “vibrant” Uptown.

But recently a lot of attention has been paid to the old J.D. Kadds complex on Northwest Hwy. by the folks holding court on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners FB page, provoked by a post by one Sara Brown-Povis at 10:00 a.m. on August 12 bemoaning how “[t]he old JD kadds lot is SUCH an eye sore” and proffering her wish list of “a bar And grill and Starbucks” or even “another nail shop.”

That set off a string of comments containing other people’s wish lists, such as a Buffalo Wild Wings (Jackie Baldur), a “Bakery + Coffee shop” (Jennefer Martin), a Chick Fil-A (Mary Moore Becker), a drive-through “Dunkin’” (Lauren Hall and Ashley Hawkes), a “Jimmy and or Papa John” (Max Power), “Green space” (Park Commissioner Cindy Grau, twice), a BBQ place (Karen Ley), a barber shop (Malcom Hawkes), a lacrosse field (Sarah Sohl Post), or “some sort of indoor facility for sports and fun! Ninja warrior, climbing, tumbling, whatever” (Michelle Tullett Charley).

As the saying goes: “If wishes were horses, all beggars would ride.”

But one of the reasons this country became the most free, successful and powerful one this planet has ever known is because, with a few notable exceptions, capitalism – with its inherent risks and rewards – provides the environment most conducive to achieving the highest and best use of its resources, including property.

So while the J.D. Kadd’s site is currently fallow and an “eye sore,” the chances are pretty good that at some point in the not-too-distant future the current owner or a new one will come up with an idea to make that land more profitable and, presumably, more attractive.

More likely than not it will involve some sort of investment (i.e., “capital”) that carries with it some degree of risk and an equal or better prospect for reward.

And, more likely than not, the person(s) making that investment and taking that risk won’t be any of the folks who have shared their wish lists on the Concerned Homeowners page. Instead, it will be the Bob Marianos, the Declan Stapletons and the Ed Berrys, the Matt Ranallis, the Tim Griffins and the Frank Ernestos who are willing to put their (and/or their investors’, or their lenders’) money on the line and commit their effort to taking their shots.

Until then, however, the J.D. Kadd’s site will remain an eye sore while those pickers of low-hanging fruit – the condo developers and real estate brokers – will lobby the City for zoning changes so that they can make a quick buck.

Just like they are trying to do with the Mr. K’s site on Higgins.

Hopefully the City will resist those low-hanging fruit pickers so that maybe, just maybe, some entrepreneur will find a way to keep that J.D. Kadd’s property commercial, like it has been for decades.

And maybe, in the process, even grant one or more of those wishes.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Moran Provides Object Lesson On Anti-H.I.T.A. City Government

08.03.17

Today we present another object lesson in bad local government.

Unlike most of our recent bad government lessons which tend to focus on those two Star Chambers that are the Boards of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, however, today’s lesson features the unit of local governmental that for the past 8 years has been a bastion of Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”): The City of Park Ridge.

This lesson is provided courtesy of Alderman John Moran (1st) via his August 2, 2:19 p.m. comment to our July 26, 2017 post in which we criticized the City Council’s very own Star Chamber secretive closed-session process by which it transitioned Joe Gilmore from “Acting” to full-fledged City Manager. We suggest you read that post and its Comments as context for the rest of this post.

Notwithstanding Ald. Moran’s attempt to pivot from defending a bad selection process to defending the substantive merits of Gilmore’s appointment, such a politician’s maneuver can’t change what we already have said and will say once again: Gilmore has demonstrated the potential for becoming a better City Manager than any of his past three predecessors who under-served (Shawn Hamilton) and outright dis-served (Tim Schuenke, Jim Hock) the taxpayers of this community over the past 30 years.

So without further ado, let the lesson begin with Ald. Moran’s own words:

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To compare this process to the Heinz “rolling” contract” is not apples to apples. Also, this contract in its entirety was posted to the city website in advance of any finalization via council vote. How many citizens showed up to complain or ask questions about how were arrived at the proposed contract? How many emails did the council receive questioning the same? NONE We would have gladly explained how and why we came to the contract we did, but no one asked.

As for the 4 year contract, it is not a guaranteed 4 years he can be fired for cause or let go without cause, the later triggers a 4 month severance agreement, a fair deal, and not a windfall for Gilmore by any means(I’ve seen much longer deals in the private sector). Even the COLA only kicks in if the COL actually increases and we have a cap on it. If you are going to argue that it’s “guaranteed” in the fact that we can’t lower his salary, that is correct, but if his performance is so dismal that we want to lower his salary, I would argue we are better off firing him.

In my opinion, we simply could not discuss negotiation points on this matter in open session and still hope to get the best deal possible for the residents… you will only get the minimum acceptable deal.

As for the process the best analogy is this… Compare it to a game of Go Fish where one player has their cards face up and the other is playing them in hand.

There are very few times when the best interest of the taxpayer has to be handled in closed session, by the individuals who were elected to represent them. The council will be judged on the success or failure of the decisions like this. That is the nature of the position.

My comment about the Schmidt/Hamilton process (above) had less to do with the end result(shitty city manager) and more to do with the fact that Mayor Schmidt, the father of HITA, didn’t adhere to those principals when he and Hamilton negotiated on a cocktail napkin. Where was the public involvement there? So, why are we being held to a different standard on the process??

This was not a union negotiation, so again it’s not apples to apples. Labor negotiations can go to arbitration. The only 2 outcomes here were Joe Gilmore takes the job or he doesn’t. We identified him as a very desirable candidate and then attempted to obtain the best terms possible for the city. As for the hindsight on Hamilton vs Gilmore, in the 8 months(or so) he served as action city manager, Gilmore already had proven to be a more competent leader via the strategic planning and budget process.

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Acceptance of Ald. Moran’s arguments that “the best interest of the taxpayer” has been served by this contract requires that the taxpayers be dumb enough and/or apathetic enough to ignore the following inconvenient truths, none of which Ald. Moran seems to recognize or understand:

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers (by a full year) than even D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz’s ridiculous 3-year contract that the D-64 Board reflexively rolls over for another year as each current one expires;

 

  1. The unprecedented 4-year duration of Gilmore’s contract is patently WORSE for the taxpayers than the 9-month initial deal Mayor Dave gave Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s subsequent at-will deal that required neither (a) cause for the City’s termination of him, nor (b) a 4-month severance entitlement like Gilmore just received; and

 

  1. Gilmore’s $171,000 salary – which cannot be reduced for the full 4-year duration and includes an automatic annual COLA increase – is WORSE for the taxpayers than Hamlton’s ending $160,000 one, which could be reduced and included no automatic raise.

In every material respect, therefore, the contract given Gilmore is bad for Park Ridge taxpayers – and the secretive process by which it came about even worse.

How far has this Council fallen away from H.I.T.A. ideals, and why?

Consider how Ald. Moran attempts to sweep this abuse of H.I.T.A. under the rug by noting that no taxpayers “showed up [at the Council meeting to complain or ask questions about how were [sic] arrived at the proposed contract” for Gilmore, blithely ignoring how the Council hid all Gilmore contract discussions in closed sessions for weeks before quietly slipping the finished contract into a meeting packet – with no advance notice or warning to either local newspaper or to the taxpayers – a mere 72 hours (48 of which were a weekend) before the meeting.

Will that kind of “hiding in plain sight” gamesmanship become the new paradigm for Transparency at City Hall?

Unfortunately, the answer may well be “yes” so long as taxpayers let this Council get away with it like they have let the D-64 Board and the D-207 Board get away with their Star Chamber closed sessions for all these years, even as their schools’ academic performance and rankings have fallen while the costs-per-student have soared.

What Ald. Moran’s arguments basically come down to is: Trust us – “the individuals who were elected to represent” the taxpayers.

That’s exactly the request/command we’ve heard from the likes of Mike Madigan, John Cullerton, George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel, Richie Daley and every other non-transparent, dishonest and accountability-shirking political weasel throughout this state who have done their part to run it into the ground over the past 30 years.

The reason Mayor Dave came up with H.I.T.A. is because no local taxpayer should have to trust any local public official, much less any local official who fancies himself/herself a “politician.” Instead, H.I.T.A . requires that those local officials trust us taxpayers enough to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – so that we can judge for ourselves whether they are acting in our best interest or selling us down the river.

But as we’ve seen over and over again, Transparency leads to Accountability. And no politician wants to be held accountable for anything unless it comes with a pat on the back and thunderous applause.

So if Ald. Moran and any other local officials want to talk the H.I.T.A. talk, they had better walk the H.I.T.A. walk.

And what they just did with the Gilmore contract isn’t even the H.I.T.A. crawl.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Gilmore The Right Choice From A Wrong Council Process

07.26.17

Back in 2012 when the Park Ridge City Council sacked then-city mgr. Jim Hock for not performing up to expectations, the chirping began about how the City was getting the reputation as being bureaucrat-unfriendly because Mayor Dave Schmidt and that Council dared to actually demand high performance from the City’s top employee.

The chirping got louder in May 2016 when Hock’s replacement, Shawn Hamilton, resigned rather than be subjected to what was likely to be an unsatisfactory performance review by then-Acting Mayor Marty Maloney and a slightly different Council from the one that launched Hock.

The chirpers made even more dire predictions about how nobody from the “city manager” class of public employees would apply for the job and subject themselves to…um…er…well, objectively measurable performance standards and a Council willing to demand they be met.

Maloney and the Council chose to make relatively new City Finance Director Joe Gilmore (he didn’t join City staff until early 2015) the acting City Mgr. The appointment was intended to be temporary, primarily because Gilmore saw himself as a “finance guy” and didn’t believe he had the chops for the top job.

It actually took some heavy-duty lobbying by Maloney and the late Ald. Dan Knight, the Council’s then-Finance Committee chairman, to persuade Gilmore to accept the position, even on a temporary basis.

But right out of the blocks Gilmore began showing that he could do the job, in large part by eschewing the political maneuvering and gamesmanship that Hock and Hamilton could not resist and, instead, focusing on the nuts and bolts of his own and City staff’s work product. In so doing he provided the Council with what it needed to do its job better. And on those rare occasions when something did not meet the Council’s standards, Gilmore immediately owned the error and promptly made sure it was corrected.

So we applaud the Council for unanimously removing the “acting” part of Gilmore’s title, which it did at its July 10, 2017 meeting. And we fully expect that Gilmore will prove himself to be a significant improvement over his three predecessors: Hamilton, Hock and Schuenke.

As reported in a July 12 article in the Park Ridge Journal (“It’s Official: Gilmore Named City Manager”), Gilmore’s starting salary as City Mgr. is $171,000 – which Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th Ward) observed, for some unknown reason, was  approaching the $174,000 salary of a U.S. Senator.

Irrespective of what a U.S. Senator is paid, we believe $171,000 is a reasonable salary for someone in charge of a $70 million-plus enterprise, especially if he does his job better than his three most recent predecessors.

Mazzuca also lauded the Council for its handling of Gilmore’s new contract. But after reading the Journal story and checking some past Council meeting minutes, we have to disagree with Mazzuca and wonder whether this Council is already starting to walk itself back from Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.) doctrine.

Let’s start with the Council’s decision to give Gilmore a four-year contract with annual raises based on increases in the cost of living (i.e., a COLA, or a non merit-based raise), which we believe to be unprecedented for a Park Ridge City official. But the real problem is that it appears to have been discussed entirely in closed sessions.

Although the Journal reported “closed session meetings every week to discuss the city manager position and terms of a job offer” since Marty Joyce’s appointment as 7th Ward alderman, our review of the meeting minutes since Joyce’s appointment show only two closed sessions “to discuss the appointment employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal of specific employee(s)” prior to the announcement of Gilmore’s contract: At the June 5 and June 19 meetings.

We know that the City’s attorneys from Ancel Glink consistently panic-peddle their opinion that the Public Records Review Act (“PRRA”) – which expressly applies only to Freedom Of Information Act (“FOIA”) requests for documents – also prohibits any discussion of performance reviews in Council meetings governed by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). We took issue with that opinion in our 05.27.16 post, and we still don’t believe that opinion has been endorsed by even one Illinois court. We have to assume, therefore, that the Ancel Glink attorneys assured the aldermen that they could lawfully hide any discussion of Gilmore’s performance in closed session.

Fair enough, at least for the time being – even if hearing how the Council came up with the $171,000 salary, the COLA raise and the car-use deal would probably be more than a little informative to the taxpayers who will be funding that package.

We are aware of nothing in the PRRA, IOMA or elsewhere, however, that would justify or even permit closed-session discussions of the public policy reasons the Council came up with for converting what historically had been a one-year contract (e.g., Jim Hock’s 07.14.08 Employment Agreement), a 2-year contract ( e.g., Hock’s 2010 renewal), or an “at will” employment arrangement (Shaw Hamilton’s) into the four-year contract offered Gilmore, as well as its automatic COLA-based raises.

And from some quick legal research it appears that limiting for-cause termination (other than for criminal or statutory official misconduct) solely to “nonfeasance” – rather than also to “misfeasance, malfeasance, insubordination or a documented pattern of unsatisfactory performance” – is virtually inviting a lawsuit should the City’s employment relationship with Gilmore sour. So it also would be interesting to hear who came up with “nonfeasance” as the operative “for-cause” termination standard, and why.

Yet all that was hidden from the City’s taxpayers – much like how the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board hides in closed sessions its annual discussions about why they keep adding another year to Supt. Laurie Heinz’s 3-year contract every time a year expires, and how they come up with her annual raises.

We never thought the City Council would compete with the D-64 Board in a lack-of-Transparency contest. Maybe it’s just the natural progression of what Charles Dudley Warner proclaimed as: “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

If there were true justice in verbiage, however, “politician” would be a four-letter epithet; and there would be a sizable bounty on the head of every one of them.

If you’re one of those citizens who prefer that their units of local government treat them like mushrooms (i.e., kept in the dark and covered with manure), you probably find these kinds of closed-session deliberations welcome relief from the past seven years of Mayor Dave and post-Mayor Dave “Transparency” and “Accountability.” Such closed-session discussions harken back to the bad old days of Mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, where meetings weren’t televised or video-recorded, council meeting packets weren’t available in advance of the meeting so that the average citizen could knowledgeably participate in the meetings, and closed sessions were the rule rather than the exceptions.

Not surprisingly, Wietecha, Marous and Frimark endorsed Mayor Dave’s opponent in the 2013 election, as did about 25 of the former alder-creatures who couldn’t spell H.I.T.A. if you spotted them both consonants and let them buy a couple of vowels.

Nevertheless, the appointment of the reluctant Gilmore – who truly earned the City Manager job through 14 months of solid performance in his “acting” capacity – is a very positive move for the Council and its taxpayers.

Too bad such a positive move has to be tainted by the unnecessarily secretive and un-accountable way the Council went about it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“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.