Public Watchdog.org

Susan Moylan-Krey: The Maine Township Non-Assessor

02.08.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

02.02.18

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

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

The reason?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Melidosian’s Dangerous Liaison With The Library

01.29.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

So what exactly is their agenda?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Better Results Require Better Choices – Part II

12.26.17

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

This post picks up the tale from that point.

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

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

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

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

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

Say whaaaaaaaaat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Habemus directorem!”

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Better Results Require Better Choices

12.15.17

On June 12, 2017, then-Library Director Janet Van De Carr advised the Park Ridge Library Board that she would retire after 37 years with the Library, the last 17 as executive director.

That sent the Library Board on a search for Van De Carr’s replacement. Meanwhile, despite the trepidation of several Board members, the Board entrusted the Library’s management to two senior staffers to serve as acting directors on an interim basis.

And guess what? For the past six months the Library has continued to run smoothly.

Just like the Children’s Dept. continued to run smoothly after supervisor Kelly Durov noisily resigned in September 2015 to take a higher-paying position with another library – and then lambasted the Library Board for having the gall to demand transparency and accountability from then-director Van De Carr and the Library staff. That caused certain patrons and Library staffers to wail and gnash their teeth over what woes would befall that department and the children.

Those woes turned out to be…none. Bupkes. Zero. Zip. Nada.

But government bureaucracies being what they are, and thinking outside the box being anathema to bureaucrats, the Library Board embarked on a conventional search for a new full-time director. It hired an executive search firm that bills itself as specializing in library personnel: John Keister & Associates (“We Help Libraries Hire Exceptional Leaders”), a family business that seems to have cornered the Chicagoland market for this particular employment niche.

So the Library (a/k/a, the taxpayers) paid $16,000 to Keister to find and screen “qualified” candidates. It signed his Keister-friendly “Executive Search Proposal” – in lieu of a fair and balanced bi-lateral contract – that we can’t believe the Library’s attorneys (if they even were consulted) would have approved.

We understand that Keister attempted to un-nerve the Board with warnings of how the Park Ridge Library had acquired a toxic reputation among the librarian fraternity/sorority throughout the area, presumably because of the way its Board had begun: (a) challenging the director and staff on actual performance metrics and holding them accountable for their performance; (b) televising/videotaping meetings; (c) publishing its Board packets online so the taxpayers could see them in advance of meetings; (d) actually charging non-residents for premium Library usage like computers and program attendance (How terrible!); and (d) charging tutors and other for-profit businesses for using the Library as their taxpayer-funded office space (Heresy!).

Ironically, a few years ago Park Ridge’s then-mayor, Dave Schmidt, and the then-City Council reportedly acquired a “toxic” reputation after they sacked city manager Jim Hock in 2012 for with a no-confidence vote and a laundry list of performance fails. He was followed by Shawn Hamilton, who jumped ship one step ahead of another performance review that likely would have weighed, measured, and found him wanting.

But guess what?

The City turned to finance supt. Joe Gilmore. And, so far, Gilmore has proven himself a superior city manager to both of his two most immediate predecessors – and light years ahead of Tim Schuenke, the prince of darkness whose incompetence was exceeded only by his deceptiveness, both of which flaws were not only tolerated but even rewarded for more than a decade by mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, along with their complicit councils.

That was before Schmidt introduced H.I.T.A. to City government, a concept that even made some inroads at the Library over the past few years.

But transparency and accountability aren’t what a headhunter like Keister is about. His thing is generating fees while maintaining and gaining influence – the influence that comes from placing modestly-talented bureaucrats in secure, over-paid public jobs with Cadillac pensions, thereby creating a pool of once-and-future job seekers who not only become Keister’s captive “inventory” but are also beholden to him for their future job moves.

He reportedly insisted on controlling the hiring process if our toxic Library was to have any chance of landing a qualified director. And the Library Board bent to his will: It screened the four finalists in the secretive closed session Keister demanded before choosing the two finalists: Jeannie Dilger, the executive director of the LaGrange public library, and Aaron Skog, the executive director of a library consortium known as SWAN.

Board president Pat Lamb acknowledged Keister’s secretive preferences in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article on the subject (“After candidates withdraw, Park Ridge Library Board starts over on leadership search,” December 6), saying that Keister was “very concerned that candidates are not comfortable with some of the things that we do in open session versus what other libraries may do in open session.” That’s because most bureaucrats despise transparency and accountability.

Despite the Board’s accommodations to most of what Keister wanted, one of his two finalists – Jeannie Dilger, the executive director of the LaGrange library – dropped out almost immediately to accept a $122,000 offer from the Palatine library? (which serves 90,000 patrons).

Guess who was running the Palatine library’s director search?

Yep.

And guess who reportedly didn’t disclose to our Library Board that he was serving at least two masters?

Yep.

But that’s barely the half of this farce. We’ll share the other half in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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.