Public Watchdog.org

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.

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

08.03.17

Today we present another object lesson in bad local government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Gilmore The Right Choice From A Wrong Council Process

07.26.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

Not-Really-Secured Vestibules No Match For 12-Year Olds With Guns

07.21.17

We’ve written several posts about what a stupid and money-wasting idea the “secured vestibules” for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 schools are, including posts on 03.11.16, 03.29.16 and 04.04.16. The sad fact is that they are so stupid and ineffective that we took to calling them “not-really-secured” vestibules.

Which they are.

We also suggested that metal detectors and either police or security guards (off-duty police?) would be more effective and economical than those not-really-secured vestibules in dealing with any actual threats.

So we weren’t at all surprised to hear those not-really-secured vestibules talked up in response to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the aftermath of the recent incident where one 12-year old Lincoln Middle School student, along with a 15-year old fellow knucklehead/delinquent, posted some kind of gun-related threat to Maine South summer school students on Snapchat.

It also came as no shock that D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz, her puppet Board president Tony Borrelli, and a few School Board members reacted to this incident as if they had just woken up in the middle of a minefield without a minesweeper.

When a parent of Washington and Lincoln school students showed up at last Monday (July 17) night’s School Board meeting and beefed about the four-day delay in the District’s notification of D-64 parents about the incident, then asked what plans were in place to prevent school shootings, Borrelli jumped at the opportunity to assure the woman and everyone else that the Administration has been so concerned about security that it is installing those not-really-secured vestibules – thereby “increasing the security atmosphere in all of our buildings to prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur,” according to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Parents concerned after learning District 64 student was accused in Maine South threat,” July 18).

Note that bit of Orwellian Doublespeak: “[T]o prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur.” [Emphasis added.]

President Borrelli, your Freudian slip is showing.

Making sport of Borrelli’s shortcomings as School Board president is not a fun assignment, but it’s something that needs to be done – if only as an object lesson in the kind of bad government we tend to get when we keep electing open-minded, non-judgmental, glad-handing “pleasers” who immediately “go native” and become witting or unwitting dupes of the bureaucrats we are paying quite handsomely to blow smoke up our kilts and mislead us while positioning themselves for their next job.

Can you say non-resident carpetbagger Laurie Heinz? We knew you could.

That’s why it’s so easy for Heinz to lead Borrelli and certain other Board members around by the nose, getting them to blow around $1 MILLION per school for these not-really-secured vestibules that are so worthless that…wait for it…they couldn’t have stopped either that 12-year old or his 15-year old partner had they shown up at any D-64 school with guns and ammo in their backpacks.

As we’ve pointed out many times before, the lack of metal detectors effectively gives students, parents, teachers, vendors, service people, etc. carte blanche to walk into any D-64 school “strapped,” “packing,” “heeled,” “heavy,” “Roscoed,” or any of the myriad other terms for walking around with a gun.

Nor will those vestibules stop those same people from bringing in knives, grenades, or ball bearing-laden suicide vests.

And for anybody hell-bent on shooting schoolkids, all they need do is drive by the playgrounds at recess, or the main entrances when school lets out and the schools themselves create target-rich environments.

So what’s the point of the not-really-secured vestibules?

Giving the Board and the administrators an excuse for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to create a façade of top-shelf security that merely conceals the vulnerability.

Not unlike their spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars creating a façade of top-shelf educational quality.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Impact Fees” Just More Snake Oil For The Masses

07.18.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And only for one year!

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

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

Ignorance and political posturing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read or post comments, click on title.

New Park Board Members Bid Adieu To Freebies (Updated)

07.07.17

Every so often one of our units of local government does something that is unequivocally good and right.

Today that accolade goes to the Park Ridge Park District for its June 15 vote to eliminate free use of the Park District’s facilities and programming by our elected District officials.

What a difference a change in Board membership makes!

Back at the Park Board’s November 19, 2015 meeting, Commissioner Mel Thillens was the only Board member in attendance (Commissioners Biagi and Phillips were absent) to vote against an amendment to the District’s Policy 3.03 – somewhat deceptively titled “Opportunities for Oversight of Park District Programs and Facilities” – that slightly modified, but nevertheless continued, the District’s policy of letting Commissioners use District facilities and programs free of charge.

Those kinds of benefits are known as perquisites, or “perks”: a privilege, gain, or profit incidental to the holding of office.

They very well also may be unlawful “compensation” because the Illinois Park District Code prohibits compensation of Park District commissioners.

But that didn’t stop then-Board member Joan Bende and Richard Brandt, along with still-Board members Cindy Grau and Jim O’Brien (Rick Biagi and Jim Phillips absent), to retain those perks back in November 2015. Only Mel Thillens voted “no” that night, stating (according to that meeting’s minutes) that “he believes the amount of free stuff Commissioners receive should be limited.”

Not a Lincolnesque statement, to be sure, but accurate nonetheless.

The leader of this successful effort to ban Commissioner freebies appears to have been new Board member Robert Leach, who was concerned about the perks being prohibited “compensation.” He was joined in his repeal vote by fellow Board newbies Jim Janak, Jim O’Donnell and Harmony Harrington (all of whom we endorsed in April) agreed, joined by veterans Thillens and O’Brien, the latter of whom apparently finally found religion.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to be the only dissenter, given that freebie-lover Cindy Grau was absent.

Perks had been a mainstay of the Park District for decades, interrupted only when a Park Board majority – of which this blog’ s editor was a member – voted to discontinue them in the late 1990s, before a new Board majority reinstated them.

Freebie-loving Commissioners always have argued that free memberships and programs enable them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs. Not surprisingly, rarely if ever did any of the Commissioners partaking of those freebies report back to the Board or Staff on the facilities and programs they were using.

And since they weren’t paying for the perks, their ability to do any cost-benefit analyses was totally compromised.

The elimination of the perks was termed “a great idea” by veteran Park District attorney Thomas Hoffman – although he refused to opine on their legality, according to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District board ends free classes, memberships for elected commissioners,” June 27).

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Association of Park Districts (“IAPD”) – a shameless self-promoting, fluff-and-stroke organization that serves as a quasi-union and lobbying arm for career park district bureaucrats statewide – is quoted in the H-A story as justifying such perks as being “within the discretion of these elected boards.” Of course, the IAPD has never seen a taxpayer dollar it didn’t like or couldn’t find a way for its members to spend, so its attempt to justify perks of any and all stripes was to be expected.

But the good news is that we appear to have four new Park Board members – a majority – who may actually represent the taxpayers every bit as much as, if not more than, the tax spenders and tax consumers.

In the State of Corruption and profligacy that is Illinois this new jerk-the-perks policy, led by the newest Board members, is a good start.

Updated 07.14.17.  Glad to see the Chicago Tribune editorial board agrees: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-park-ridge-perks-free-edit-0713-jm-20170712-story.html

Another group of freeloaders bites the dust.

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.

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Parking Study A Good Start, But…

06.26.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06.09.17

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

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

“Amen!” to both sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly right.

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

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

We doubt it.

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

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Time For City Council To Consider Population Issues

06.02.17

How many residents should Park Ridge have?

We don’t know.

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

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

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

That situation already is producing some problematic responses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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