Public Watchdog.org

Maybe Not “Fake News”…But Nowhere Close To The Whole Truth

01.05.18

In our most recent post we wrote about our wish for more H.I.T.A. from our units of local government in 2018. We also observed how televised and videotaped meetings have compensated for “sketchy” reporting by our local newspapers.

Not surprisingly, an anonymous commenter to that post accused us of being unfair to our local press on our way to playing the “fake news” card.

So what a fortuitous coincidence it is that an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal just happens to provide a timely illustration of how the local press subtly – or not so subtly – attempts to influence opinions rather than just report the facts.

The article in question, “Library Board Gears Up For New Director Candidates” (Jan. 3), is by Anne Lunde, who has covered local government in Park Ridge for as long as we can remember.

Throughout her career Ms. Lunde has displayed a decided bias favoring governmental bodies – the bigger, more expansive and more expensive, the better – first at the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and currently at the Journal. This being Illinois, and Ms. Lunde being an unapologetic Chicagophile, that means her views are about as anti-H.I.T.A. as possible.

To which, of course, she is entitled as a citizen.

As an experienced journalist, however, she has learned how to promote her bias in nuanced ways intended to be undetected by the casual reader, which she gets to do from a media platform not generally available to the ordinary citizen. It’s not what the current POTUS criticizes as “fake news,” but it’s also a far cry from what legendary WaPo reporter Carl Bernstein described as good reporting: “[T]he best attainable version of the truth.”

In order to understand and fully appreciate Ms. Lunde’s advocacy in what should be objective fact reportage, one needs to deconstruct and analyze her article, virtually paragraph by paragraph.

The first two paragraphs subtly attribute the Library Board’s “losing their top finalists” for the director position to its “[e]fforts to be very transparent.”

What’s her favored remedy to prevent losing future finalists? A third paragraph that extols “interviews in closed session” followed by “deliberat[ing] in closed session” before “return[ing] to deliberate in a separate closed session and determin[ing] a salary offer in closed session” – the process adopted by a majority of Library trustees at their December 19th meeting.

That might be a record for use of “closed session” in one paragraph, at least when the author is not condemning them. And Ms. Lunde isn’t about to condemn a closed session: In her view of government, which she has shared with this blog’s editor on several occasions over the past decade, closed sessions and behind-the-scenes schmoozing are how government gets things done.

Which is why her final paragraph attempts to excuse those secretive closed sessions by pointing out that the Library Board – after interviewing the candidates outside the public’s view, after deliberating about the candidates’ qualifications and suitability outside the public’s view, and after debating and deciding the salary and benefits to be offered the candidate outside the public’s view – still has to conduct the actual vote on hiring the chosen candidate in open session.

Big whoop. That’s the absolute barest minimum transparency required by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”). But IOMA’s bare minimum is apparently what a utopian government looks like to Ms. Lunde.

In our opinion, however, Ms. Lunde’s most devious journalistic device resides in her shortest paragraph, of only five words, about those closed sessions: “There was not universal agreement.”

What’s so “devious” about that? Because it is the truth but not the whole truth.

The lack of the whole truth advances Ms. Lunde’s political agenda at the expense of honest journalism – about which conservative public intellectual Thomas Sowell warned thusly:

“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”

How does she advance her political agenda at the expense of her journalism?

Simple: By not identifying the dissenters – Library trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Mike Reardon, whom we identified in our 12.26.17 post – and thereby marginalizing them and their dissent.

She knows that Egan, Foss-Eggemann and Reardon are the Library Board’s strongest H.I.T.A. proponents. She also knows that they are well respected by many members of this community. Because of that, she knows that identifying them by name would likely cause folks who know and respect them to question the legitimacy of those closed sessions, as well as the judgment of the members of the Board majority – Karen Burkum, Steve Dobrilovic, Josh Keim, Garreth Kennedy, Pat Lamb and Judy Rayborn – who prefer to hide from their constituents in such sessions.

So she reports the bare fact of the dissent but leaves the dissenters numberless and nameless. That also helps their fellow trustees escape scrutiny for their anti-H.I.T.A. beliefs, policies and conduct – like the bogus, chicken-bleep “survey” of their closed-session hiring process instead of an actual vote on adopting it. That way, the majority gains the political cover of not having a public record of their actual votes for more closed sessions.

You can watch that discussion on the meeting video, starting at the 29:45 mark and ending at the 53:45 mark.

So while we hope for more H.I.T.A. from our local governments in 2018, the same is sorely needed from our local press. Which reminds us of a quote from Pres. John F. Kennedy that Ms. Lunde and the Library Board should consider:

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

If Lunde and the Library Board majority actually care about “a free and open society” – or, at least, care about it more than they do about pandering to the anti-H.I.T.A. propensities of mercenary headhunter John Keister and about hiding from their constituents – they sure have an odd way of showing it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Wish For 2018: More H.I.T.A.

01.02.18

It was back in 2009 that then-alderman Dave Schmidt, with less than two years’ of City Council experience under his belt, decided to challenge first-term mayor Howard Frimark’s bid for re-election. Schmidt’s political platform became embodied in the acronym: “H.I.T.A.”: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Honesty, as in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Schmidt, a trial attorney, was familiar with that concept because it’s part of the oath witnesses take when testifying in a court of law. Too many politicians don’t seem to discover it until they hear it repeated by the witnesses testifying against them or their colleagues in federal corruption trials.

Integrity, as in firm adherence to a code of conduct or ethical values. Schmidt’s code of government was simple: The best government that Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay for.

Transparency, as in an openness characterized by the sharing of important information with the citizenry so that it can hold its governing officials accountable. Even before he came up with H.I.T.A., Schmidt walked his transparency talk by blowing the whistle on questionable Frimarkian closed-session discussions about the City’s acquisition of 720 Garden.

Accountability, as in the assumption of responsibility for the policies, decisions and actions; and the obligation to be answerable to the citizenry for them. Schmidt proved how that works on several occasions by admitting, and publicly apologizing for, mistakes he made; and promising not to make them again. And he didn’t.

H.I.T.A.’s an easy philosophy to understand and implement – assuming that you actually believe in the concepts and want to abide by them. But if you’re a “politician,” it’s your worst enemy. Which is why so few embrace it, and why others fear it so much that they mock it in the hope of undermining its legitimacy in the minds of the citizenry.

There was a bit of mockery (“Who would ever want to watch that?”) almost two decades ago when this editor, who served on the Park Ridge Park District board from 1997 to 2005, led that body in becoming the first unit of local government to videotape meetings so that taxpayers no longer had to rely solely on slanted and/or sketchy newspaper articles, or sketchy meeting minutes.

Schmidt followed that lead when he became mayor in 2009, using some of his mayoral salary to buy the camera that was mounted on the back wall of the Council chambers; and using some of his mayoral goodwill to enlist a couple of supporters to run the camera and upload the videos onto the Internet before the City’s website could accommodate them.

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 followed suit in August 2011 after Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann, Susan Sweeney and friends showed up at a meeting with their own video camera, embarrassing a reluctant school board into doing what it had previously resisted. And, as we recall, the Maine Township High School District 207 board finally jumped on that bandwagon a couple/few years later.

This editor also spearheaded bringing video to the Library Board meetings in 2015. And Ms. Sweeney – with the assistance of fellow newly-elected trustees Dave Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – was instrumental in getting that backwater of local government, Maine Township, to videotape its board meetings after they were elected to that board last April.

Why is H.I.T.A. so important when it comes to government?

Because, unlike in most organizations where the people at the bottom are accountable to the people at the top, in government it’s supposed to be the reverse: The people at the top are supposed to be accountable – at least in theory – to the people at the bottom.

What’s problematic about that situation, however, is that it’s the people at the top – the elected and appointed officials, and the public employee bureaucrats – who have most of the resources (money provided, ironically, by the people at the bottom; and manpower provided by public employees both on and off the taxpayers’ clock) needed to manipulate the information flowing to the people at the bottom, thereby manipulating their beliefs and opinions.

That’s why H.I.T.A. and its accoutrements – like published-in-advance meeting packets, videotaped meetings and keeping closed sessions to the barest legal minimum – are essential if we are to avoid what has been recently been described as a “post-truth society”: Where special interests at both ends of the political spectrum wallow in their own (usually woefully incomplete) facts and create their own ideological “echo chambers” such as can be observed on both Fox News and MSNBC, and even from time to time in our own local newspapers.

Which is why we concur with Glenn Greenwald: “Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power,…its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

Along with Honesty, Integrity and Accountability, of course.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Increasing Park District Fees: Are You F-Ing Kidding Us!?!?! – Part 1

11.07.17

A recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Park District budget calls for increases in cost for pool passes and camps – but no tax hike,” Oct. 25) seemed innocuous enough, reporting on recently-announced budget proposals for consideration by Park Ridge Park District Board members Cindy Grau, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach, Jim O’Brien, Jim O’Donnell and Mel Thillens.

But that article and the proposed user-fee increases caused such a firestorm of discussion on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page that the page’s resident dominatrix, Kathy Meade (f/k/a “Kathy Panattoni Meade”), shut down all comments on the entire site “until further notice” because of a “spiral of cruelty.”

Ironically (or maybe not), Meade’s command decision appears to have been made less than 36 hours after she herself kicked off that “spiral of cruelty” with a class warfare mini-rant about the fee increases proposed or endorsed by those “many…park board members” who live in “million dollar home[s]” – which she began with the staid and demure:

“ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME!?!?!”

For those of you who, like this editor and several others, have been blocked by Meade from reading her posts and her comments because of offenses real and imagined, you can read that entire string by clicking HERE, thanks to one of our unblocked Watchdog “stringers.”

If you do, you can read on the very first page her beefs about visiting the District’s outdoor pools at “$40 for a family of 5…[to] sit in direct sun on the hot concrete”; and about “$80+ for a basketball skills class” with “15 kids…[o]ne instructor…[n]o materials.”

She pines for when “Day Camp used to be $300” (Page 32) and snarls about “the $200 basketball class and $300 drum lessons” (Page 26), and lifeguards “watching hundreds of kids for $8.25 an hour” (Page 8) – whom she wants to be paid $15 an hour (Page 28) without any clue of how to cover that 45% cost increase, other than to stick the taxpayers with it because the pools are too expensive for her already.

She did a lot of the same stuff a couple of years ago when the H-A ran an article about the Park District raising its user fees. We wrote about her entitlement mentality and her opposition to increased Park District fees in our October 21, 2015 post – which we encourage you to read so that we don’t have to repeat all those same arguments here, including our 31-word description of the kind of person for whom we use the shorthand term: “Freeloader.”

After Meade shut down comments on her post because of what she claimed was “bullying” (i.e., the assertion of points of view contrary to hers that she can’t refute other than by accusations of sexism, ageism, elitism, avariciousness, shaming, bullying, etc.) the discussion shifted to the Park Ridge Illinois Citizens Online FB page, where it raged on – apparently without Meade’s participation – until the whole string mysteriously vanished without a trace.

That’s Facebook for you. As cutting as a ginsu but as lasting as the blink of an eye.

We’re not sure who pulled the plug on that particular string of Citizens Online history but, fortunately, another one of our Watchdog “stringers” downloaded it before it was deleted; and you can read it by clicking HERE.

George Orwell warned about this kind of thing in “1984”:

“As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs-to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date….All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.”

Not “fake news” but “fake history.” Even worse.

If not for the foresight and effort of our “stringer,” those 20-pages of Citizens Online post and comments about Meade’s “time-out” style of censorship would be lost to the ages and, for all intents and purposes, would never have existed at all.

For the record, NO PublicWatchdog post ever has been deleted. And the only comments that were not published (about a dozen over the past 10 years of this blog’s regular publication) were: (a) anonymous ones, (b) containing “personal” attacks about individuals, (c) that could not be verified as true, (d) were borderline (or more) libelous, and (e) were unrelated to the “public” lives and/or activities of their subjects.

But while this Facebook folly runs the gamut from troubling to entertaining to just plain silly, it’s merely the back story for the real issue: “How much of the cost for using Park District amenities should be borne by the users instead of the taxpayers?”

We’ll discuss who is “F-ING KIDDING”  whom on that issue in our next post.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Labor Day 2017

09.04.17

Last Labor Day our post discussed all the good things private sector labor unions have achieved for American workers – including today’s national holiday – while also noting the bad things public sector unions have foisted on taxpayers, most of whom are private sector union and non-union workers.

Because public sector union members almost exclusively provide services rather than goods, the global economy does not provide the same checks and balances on that sector that it does to the private sector dominated by manufacturing and retail. Hence, 34.4% of public sector workers are unionized compared to only 6.4% of private sector workers, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And most, if not all, of those public sector workers get their wages and benefits from the taxpayers, who  pay for them with the fruits of their own labor.

Which makes it more important than ever that, on this Labor Day, we remember the words of Thomas Jefferson from his first inaugural address in 1801, in which he advocated for “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Two hundred sixteen years later that principle of government is truer than ever – especially here in the mismanaged, corrupt, tax-happy yet almost-bankrupt State of Illinois.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Dave’s And Dan’s “Grilling For The Arts” 2017 Keeps The Tradition Alive

08.09.17

It was the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society concert in Hodges Park on August 3, 2012 where then-Mayor Dave Schmidt and then-Ald. Dan Knight, assisted by Sue Knight and Charlie Melidosian, broke out their Weber kettles on short notice and held a barbecue to raise funds for the PRFAS.

The take that night was about $1,200, all of which went to the PRFAS because Schmidt and Knight donated all the hamburgers, hotdogs, buns, condiments and chips.

The following summer every member of the Council signed onto the event, and “Grilling for the Arts” suddenly became an established annual fundraiser for the PRFAS.

In 2014, Whole Foods demonstrated its community spirit by donating all of the food, helping the event raise $2,400. And Whole Foods has remained the principal sponsor of the event ever since.

Because of Mayor Dave’s sudden, untimely death in March of 2015, that year’s event became semi-officially known as “Mayor Dave’s Grilling for the Arts.” Led by Ald. Knight, the 2015 take was a record $4,000+.

After a down year in 2016 because of oppressively hot and humid weather that curtailed attendance, this year’s perfect weather on July 28 ushered in “Dave and Dan’s Grilling for the Arts” under the leadership of Ald. John Moran, who picked up the baton following Ald. Knight’s death last December. And the 2017 haul reportedly surpassed 2015’s record.

Perhaps even more importantly, however, this year’s edition may have institutionalized the event as a self-sustaining annual fundraiser for the PRFAS, ironically because it now has outlasted both of its co-founders – a key factor in sustainability. Although their deaths have been a double tragedy for City government and the community as a whole, in a lemonade-from-lemons fashion the continuation of the event without skipping a beat may have had some positive effects.

First, the event continues to serve as a reminder of Mayor Dave’s and Ald. Dan’s steadfast belief that, although those PRFAS concerts are a major part of the character and ambience of Park Ridge summers, as a public policy matter they  are amenities rather than necessities and, therefore, should not be funded by tax dollars.

Second, the event demonstrates how a mere dozen or so private individuals  (albeit 7-8 elected City officials), with the assistance of private businesses like Whole Foods, can significantly boost the private funding of our social and cultural amenities.

Third, it directly and immediately engages all those concert attendees – the diners and non-diners alike who donated from $1 to $100 (yes, a couple of those big bills were found in the “Donations” treasure chest) the night of July 28 – in the funding process of an event they would appear (from their attendance) to enjoy, value and, presumably, are willing to support financially.

Granted, $4,000 is just a small dent in the roughly $60,000 it costs to put on six Friday night concerts at approximately $10,000+ per concert. But if only 600 or so of the folks who attend three or four of those concerts every summer would each write just one $100 check a year to the PRFAS, the entire cost for a summer’s worth of concerts would be covered – without the need or temptation to hit up those taxpayers who don’t attend, don’t enjoy and, therefore, don’t value the these particular amenities.

Substantial private support for the PRFAS and all the other private organizations that make Park Ridge a more pleasant place to live is what Dave Schmidt and Dan Knight were trying to inspire with their efforts back in August of 2012. Hopefully, that’s the kind of support their “Grilling for the Arts” will continue to inspire for many summers to come.

And if you find yourself inspired by reading this, click HERE for a shortcut to the donation page of the PRFAS website.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Fourth Of July 2017: Never Take Freedom For Granted

07.04.17

It has been 241 years since the Continental Congress ratified the revolutionary words of the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson – ably assisted by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

At that time, “all men are created equal…[and] endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…among [which] are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was both novel and radical. So was declaring independence from a monarchy that commanded one of the world’s largest armies and its pre-eminent navy.

But perhaps the most courageous aspect of the Declaration was its signers’ mutual pledge of “[their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.”

They knew that they were serving a purpose well beyond themselves, beyond their families, their friends, their businesses, and any provincial special interests – a purpose that defined them. Paradoxically, even for those who knew slavery firsthand (including the many who actually owned slaves), “liberty” was not some abstract concept.

They never took freedom for granted, Which is why they were so concerned about government power.

They understood, far better than most of us do today, that once you arm imperfect, fallible public officials with the power to protect you, those same imperfect, fallible officials can just as easily oppress you. See, e.g., James Madison’s warnings in Federalist No. 10: “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.’

The Founders understood that because they themselves were imperfect, fallible individuals.

And because freedom and limitations on government power were so important to them, they often viewed their rivals as fundamental threats to the emerging nation.

Consequently, President Trump’s tweets had nothing on the Founders’ opinions of their opponents.

For example, Hamilton compared Jefferson and his followers to the French revolutionary extremists of the Jacobin Club. Adams described Hamilton as “[t]hat bastard brat of a Scottish peddler!” and suggested that Hamilton’s ambitions “all arose from a superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off!”

Crude and petty? Of course.

But they were the products of the deepest concerns about, and honest passions for, the future of our new Republic by giants like Thomas Paine, who observed that “[h]e who dares not offend cannot be honest”; and George Washington, who saw that government “is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.”

Unfortunately, those noble concerns and passions for the future of our Republic have been replaced by today’s politicians’ craven obsessions with being re-elected and retaining their membership in what has come to be known – with appropriate disgust – as the “political class” that operates with equivalent cowardice and duplicity in Washington as in Springfield.

On this Independence Day we need to realize that true patriotism requires more than mere flag waving. It requires our continuing dedication to this country’s founding principles and the courage to pledge our own “Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” in furtherance of those principles.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

04.05.17

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

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

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

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

But that wasn’t the half of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And doing so in bright sunlight.

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, voters!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Recommendations For The D-64 And D-207 School Boards

04.03.17

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, cumulatively, consume in the neighborhood of $200 million of our tax dollars…each year – or around 70% of our entire property tax bills.

And growing.

Yet over the past several years many/most ratings and rankings show a decline by the schools of both districts – with D-207 flagship Maine South now ranked as low as 45th in Illinois, according to the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings. As we noted in our 04.22.16 post, that’s down 16 slots from 2012.

Worse yet, the “College Readiness” of Maine South’s students is a meager 40.8%, trailing not only the likes of New Trier, Stevenson, the Glenbrooks (North and South), Deerfield, Highland Park, the Hinsdales (Central and South) but, also the likes of Wheeling and Elk Grove – despite comparable-or-higher teacher and administrator salaries, and comparable-or-lower student to teacher ratios.

And off-the-record conversations with a few long-time Maine South teachers suggest that a key reason why Maine South’s performance is declining is because the kids coming into South – the majority of whom are D-64 grads – aren’t high school ready.

But to listen to the D-207 Board and administration, and the Maine South administration, everything’s just ducky. Or peachy, if you prefer. And that’s the same bag of heifer dust being scattered about by the D-64 Board and administration – even though both D-207 and D-64 have some of the highest-paid teachers and administrators in the state, and have among the highest costs per pupil.

Those high costs and salaries might be justified if the performance demonstrated real value to the taxpayers who are footing the bills. But higher taxes and lower performance is an unsustainable model for the long-term attractiveness of Park Ridge.

D-207:   Four (4) seats are being contested by 5 candidates: Incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee; and challengers Aurora Austriaco, Linda Coyle and Dan Gott.

We didn’t endorse Owen or Lee when they ran in 2013, and you can read why in our 04.01.13 post. Since then, all that has changed is that Maine South has slid further in the rankings, so we can come up with no conceivable reason why they deserve re-election.

Unfortunately, because the current lineup of candidates will leave on odd-man/woman out, we would encourage the voters to leave Jin Lee without a chair when the music stops – if only because (a) he has expressed an almost total disregard for the taxpayers; and (b) he’s trying to institute a “global educational” initiative, including matching up one or more D-207 schools with schools in Korea and elsewhere, without any suggestion that such globalism will stop the ranking slide or increase the levels of student college-readiness.

Of the 3 challengers, Linda Coyle is the star by far. An attorney who has served on both the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission and the D-207 Community Advisory Council, she consistently has demonstrated sound thinking and a firm grasp of taxes-to-value analysis that is currently MIA on the D-207 Board. And her belief that the D-207 board “must spend the taxpayers’ money carefully…[while] ensuring that each dollar is directed at providing the strongest learning environment possible for our children” is a refreshing change from Jin Lee’s spend-without-results compulsion.

D-64:     Seven (7) non-incumbents are vying for four (4) seats created by the departures of Bob Johnson, Vicki Lee, Dathan Paterno and Scott Zimmerman.

Given their D+ performances (and a grade of F when it comes to transparency), It’s hard to conceive of their replacements being anything but an improvement. Amazingly (and sadly) enough, however, three of those challengers – Greg Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are almost guaranteed to be as bad or even worse, by virtue of the fact that they are all married to D-64 teachers. So if they are elected, they will get to vote not only on the 2020 teachers’ contract but, also, on various other conditions of employment and even teacher disciplinary issues that arise in the interim.

Whether that’s just the appearance of impropriety or an outright conflict of interest might require a lawsuit to actually establish. But for the reasons we discussed in greater depth in our 03.07.17 post and our 03.15.17 post, we see no sane reason why D-64’s already-H.I.T.A. (Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability)-challenged School Board should be burdened with either of those potential integrity breaches.

The other 4 candidates are Rick Biagi, Larry Ryles, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu, all of whom are preferable to the “3 Hubbies.”

Of those 4, however, the stars clearly are Rick Biagi and Alfred “Fred” Sanchez, both of whom are attorneys, strong proponents of H.I.T.A. and strong proponents of maximizing educational value for our tax dollars. They also are staunch opponents of the D-64 Board’s regular abuse of secretive “closed session” meetings.

Biagi is completing his second 4-year term on the Park Ridge Park District Board, where he twice led the Board as president. Both he and Sanchez are founding members of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee. Both of them have children currently attending D-64 schools, as well as children who have graduated from D-64 schools, with Sanchez himself being a D-64 grad.

Only by electing candidates like Biagi and Sanchez can we hope to improve the quality of education for D-64 students while also improving the value of D-64 to its taxpayers.

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog serves with Biagi and Sanchez on the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee.

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Our Endorsements For Park Ridge Park District Board

04.03.17

For many years the Park Ridge Park District has had the highest number of contested races, and this year is no exception.

First-term incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Phillips appear to be running on an unofficial “slate” with newcomers Carol Becker and Laurie Pegler Mallin for four seats on the 7-member Park Board. Phillips, in a March 24 letter to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, claims that those four are the true “Friends of the Parks” – running against alleged “Republican candidates” while identifying only Jim O’Donnell, former Republican candidate for State Senator, by name.

For us, Phillips’ – and his running mates’ – philosophy of government is captured in Phillips’ minimizing the District’s recent tax increase as “the amount added to the typical property tax bill this year is $3.42, the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks!” Politicians who demean tax increases in that fashion rarely have any respect for the taxpayers or the money taken from those taxpayers.

That was demonstrated four years ago when Bende and Phillips also ran on an unofficial “slate” with then-incumbent Steven Vile – billed as “The Last Three” because of their ballot positions. Their major issue then was support of private corporation Senior Services Inc. and its efforts to walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars bequeathed to what was then known as the Senior Center, which they used to form their own short-lived senior club in Niles.

Vile lost his bid, but Bende and Phillips did not. And, not surprisingly, during the past four years they have consistently voted for annual property tax increases, voted against competitive bidding, and voted against repeal of the District’s policy of freebie uses and memberships of District facilities by Board members, and have regularly blanched at the mere thought that the Park District can be operated somewhat like a business.

Yet the Park District is the unit of local government best suited to operating on a business model.

It is both the smallest, budget-wise, and least essential of our four units of local government: Its 2017 budget of $22 million is less than 1/3 that of either the City or Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, and less than 1/6 that of Maine Twp. High School District 207. And most, if not all, of its facilities and services are amenities – albeit desirable ones – rather than necessities like police, sewer, water, or education.

Unfortunately, there were no debates (or “forums,” for those gentle souls like the League of Women Voters who view debates as too harsh and adversarial, if not downright traumatic) for the Park Board candidates. That prevented the Bende/Phllips/Becker/Mallin “slate” from having to answer hard questions about the costs and cost-effectiveness of their cause celebre this time around: The GoGreen “natural” method of grass, tree and plant management.

But from information about the candidates – available primarily from the March 9 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Q&A with eight candidates running for the Park Ridge Park District Board”) and Facebook– we believe the best choices for filling the four Park Board vacancies are first-time Park Board candidates who (in alphabetical order) favor a more business-oriented approach to District operations: Harmony Harrington, Jim Janek, Bob Leach and Jim O’Donnell.

Harrington is an attorney and lobbyist, which makes her the candidate best-suited to pursue the private partnerships and grants she believes can supplement the property taxes and user fees now funding the Park District. She believes that “a healthy park district needs to operate like a business, use market-based principles yet maintain affordable access. While we all pay our share of taxes – 5% of our City of Park Ridge tax bill goes to the Park District – those taxes cannot cover all Park District amenities. Hence, the reliance on market-based user fees is essential.”

She also believes that “for major capital projects outside our current means, public referendum is a very important component.” Exactly right!

Janak is running with O’Donnell. Both of them favor voter input, via referendum, as a condition of any tax levy increase. That novel idea means that the Park Board would need to anticipate its revenue requirements and levy on a two-year basis to correspond to the odd-year local election calendar, unless the District wished to also utilize the even-year primary and general election calendar. That might mean more work for the Board and staff, but it would also ensure more thought than currently goes into the moronic “Use It Or Lose It” reflexive increases favored by Bende and Phillips, which would also mean greater taxpayer scrutiny and accountability.

They also realize that the competition from other recreation and fitness vendors like the new Fitness Formula Club (“FFC”) only a few blocks from the District’s Centennial Fitness Center (f/k/a the “Community Center”) requires that the District be more circumspect about the strengths and weaknesses of its facilities and programs.

Interestingly enough, Leach favors a two-year strategic plan – of a more readily understandable 20 pages instead of the current 331 pages – which would fit neatly into Janek’s and O’Donnell’s levy referendum process the he also supports. He wants the District to focus on improving the quality and value of those programs our residents actually want or need instead of trying to be all things to all people.

Harrington, Janak, Leach and O’Donnell deserve a shot at making the District a better value for all of our residents.

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

03.31.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For that reason we give the edge to Van Roeyen.

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

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

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

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

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

Shubert is the better choice.

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

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