Public Watchdog.org

Park District Needn’t Be In A Pickle Over Pickleball

09.19.18

An article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pickleball could replace tennis courts at Park Ridge park,” Sept. 17) caught our attention, if only because the existence of something with a name as silly as “pickleball” deserved a bit of investigation.

To save you readers the trouble: Pickleball has nothing to do with pickles. You don’t eat them while playing. You don’t throw them. You don’t hit them. You don’t even tickle them.

Instead, it’s a game played with a wiffle ball, a paddle and a modified tennis net, on a badminton-sized court.

But if certain folks have their way, the four tennis courts that have been at Woodland Park for decades will be replaced by six to eight pickleball courts, assuming a big chunk of the cost is picked up by a grant from our semi-bankrupt State of Illinois.

The push for pickleball courts appears to be led by…wait for it…the Park Ridge Pickleball Club, whose 60 members reportedly overcrowd the single pickleball court in Park Ridge (wherever it’s hiding), forcing them to drive to Northfield, Wheeling and even Hoffman Estates for their pickle fix.

The removal of the Woodland tennis courts is being vigorously opposed by members of the Park Ridge Women’s Tennis Association and other local tennis players, rumored to number in the hundreds if not thousands.

The editor of this blog served on the Park Board for eight years (1997-2005), during which time the demand for tennis court time was always high. During his tenure no courts were removed, and lights were added to the courts at Hinkley Park to enable after-dark play. Based purely on admittedly anecdotal, drive-by observations, the District’s 21 outdoor courts still get plenty of use.

So rather than rip out the four tennis courts at Woodland and replace them with pickleball courts, we’ve got a better idea: Put the pickleball courts at that newest jewel in the Park District’s crown, Prospect Park, along with a couple of paddle tennis courts.

After all, the District pulled a bait-and-switch on the taxpayers when it promised them, before the April 2013 Prospect Park $13 million referendum, that the new facility would include at least two paddle tennis courts and a warming shelter. The District reneged on that promise shortly after the referendum passed once it became clear in late 2014 that the District had seriously under-budgeted the Prospect Park project and was going to fall significantly short of cash if it built all of the features it promised in order to win the taxpayers’ votes.

We suspect Supt. Ken “Snow Job” Wallace and his 7 Board Dwarfs over at School District 207 are employing a similarly crass political tactic with their  $195 million ($340 million, all-in) “trust us to replace what we intentionally neglected to maintain and/or repair over the past several years.”

But we digress.

The District – and especially current Board president Mel Thillens and member Jim O’Brien, the only two current Board members who were also on the Board for the Prospect Park paddle tennis bait-and-switch – might be able to redeem some of its credibility by finally building the paddle tennis courts and warming house as originally promised, while also adding four pickleball courts.

We would like to think that such a plan would get a ringing endorsement from economic and social class warriors like Mary Wynn Ryan, Kathy (Panattoni) Meade, Dena Lucy and Ashley Hawkes – given that the only paddle tennis courts in Park Ridge are at the Park Ridge Country Club and not generally available to non-members.

They could bill their support of the paddle tennis courts as striking a blow for all of Park Ridge’s commoners and groundlings who can’t afford a PRCC membership.

And also for our town’s tiny and oppressed pickleballer minority.

What a great dill it could be!

To read or post comments, click on title.

The 100s Of Millions Of Dollars Question: Renovated Schools Or Flood Remediation?

09.14.18

Readers of this blog know that we have crossed swords with former 6th Ward alderman/former Park Board member Mary Wynn Ryan on numerous occasions. Ms. Ryan and this blog’s editor rarely see eye-to-eye on local – as well as state and national – governmental and political issues.

And that’s okay: A thriving marketplace of ideas needs competing views, not concurring ones.

So consider today one of those rare occasions when this blog acknowledges the merit of a point raised by Ms. Ryan in a couple of comments she made to a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, in which she suggests that the Park Ridge City Council and the Maine Township School District 207 Board may have reached some sort of accommodation to give the latter first crack at Park Ridge taxpayers’ wallets.

Ms. Ryan is a battle-tested class (and race, and gender, etc.) warrior skilled in the art of identity politics, which explains her analogy of Park Ridge residents to “poor folk, choosing between heat, rent, groceries and medicine” – except that we “poor folk” live in $385,000 (median value, per Zillow) residences; and our choices are between $200-350 million to address D-207’s decades of neglect of its physical infrastructure, or $106+ million to address the City’s decades of neglect of its sewer system.

Ms. Ryan’s analogy is not an apples-to-apples one, however, because the $200-350 million cost of D-207 projects will be spread over a much larger taxing district than the City’s $106+ million of flood remediation projects.

Whether that difference in taxing districts will result in Park Ridge residents paying more for the D-207 projects or more for the City’s projects is unclear to us. Park Ridge generates much higher residential RE tax revenues than does Des Plaines ($245,000 median, per Zillow), Morton Grove ($301,000 median) and Niles ($276,000 median). Nevertheless, we understand that those other communities generate significantly higher commercial RE tax revenues than does Park Ridge.

Not surprisingly, those intra-District residential value differences are not highlighted in the pro-referendum propaganda created by those public relations professionals that Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 D-207 Board Dwarfs hired back in January – at over $115,000 of taxpayer money – to run a pro-referendum political campaign masquerading as “community engagement,” which we wrote about in our 08.24.2018 and 08.31.2018 posts. Snow Job, the Dwarfs and their p.r. pros know that reminding Park Ridge homeowners about how much more they will be paying than their counterparts in neighboring D-207 communities “wouldn’t be prudent.”

But is this really about a choice between neglected schools or neglected sewers?

We think that depends, in no small part, on who the voters are.

Those of us who live in Park Ridge know that 100% of the money spent on local flood remediation would directly benefit Park Ridge residents. But because the D-207 projects will require allocating referendum funding to each of the District’s three high schools – the exact percentages of which we don’t know because Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs apparently don’t want to tell us – it’s very possible that no more than 1/3 of the new referendum taxes contributed by Park Ridge taxpayers will directly benefit Park Ridge residents.

On the other hand, those Park Ridge residents who live in areas where flooding is not a regular or substantial problem, and/or who currently have kids in D-207 schools or have kids who will be attending those schools in the future, might prefer paying extra taxes for school improvements instead of flooding.

One way to find out whether Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay enough extra taxes to remedy both neglected schools and neglected sewers – or to find out whether those taxpayers prefer one of those sets of projects over the other – would be to have both referendums on the same ballot.

But because the City dragged its feet for months on making decisions about what to do with those 8 projects identified in the December 2017 study by the City’s long-time flooding consultant, Burke Engineering – or because, as Ms. Ryan suggests, the City had some understanding with D-207 about not pursuing a flooding referendum that might compete with the schools referendum – the City had no flooding remediation referendum question ready for placement on this November’s ballot.

That deprived Park Ridge taxpayers of a direct choice, this year, between neglected schools and neglected sewers – assuming, for the sake of this argument, that they aren’t willing to pay for both sets of projects.

So the only way for Park Ridge taxpayers to regain such a choice would be if: (a) the D-207 referendum loses in November; (b) D-207 comes back to the taxpayers with the same referendum question, or its smaller Plan B referendum question, on the April 2019 ballot; and (c) the City decides to respect its taxpayers and give them a vote on the whole $106+ million Burke enchillada by putting a funding referendum question on the April 2019 ballot.

Does the City Council have any desire to do all 8 of those flood remediation projects, and to do them over the next 5-10 years? Or is it fine with doing them over 20-40 years as funding from the Storm Water Utility trickles in?

If either of those two possibilities is the case, it’s way past time the Council said so – in public and in no uncertain terms.

Because even if the D-207 referendum fails in November and Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs respond with another referendum in April 2019, if Ms. Ryan’s suspicions are correct, the Council will continue to wink-and-nod itself silly over these flood remediation projects rather than go for the gold, literally and figuratively, with its own referendum question this coming April.

But first things first.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Why Have City’s Flood Remediation Plans Stagnated?

09.10.18

Does the City of Park Ridge really care about dealing meaningfully with its flooding problems?

We’re beginning to have our doubts.

Last October we published a post about what was then the “new” Christopher B. Burke Engineering comprehensive flood remediation plan. It was designed to provide protection against those 100-year floods that we seem to get at least once or twice a year.

Burke published a more comprehensive version of that plan in December 2017. The price tag was $106 million for eight (8) “prioritized” areas, not counting the $10 Million or so of debt service expense if 20-year bonds were issued to finance the project. Part of that plan included a Storm Water Utility (“SWU”) fee – to be calculated by each property’s size and amount of rain-impervious surface area (e.g., the house’s footprint, concrete patios and concrete driveways) – that Burke suggested be set at $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”).

In that October post we encouraged the City Council to determine taxpayer support for the Burke plan by putting a $100 Million-plus bond issue to referendum on either the March 2018 or November 2018 ballot. And we voiced our concern that the Council – or at least those aldermen whose terms will be expiring next May – might choose to play “Springfield-style politics” and delay such a referendum (and any controversy that it might cause) until AFTER the April 2019 election.

Since then, what has the Council done to advance those prioritized projects or to give the taxpayers a referendum vote on a bond issue and/or the SRU?

As best as we can tell, nothing. Nada. Niente. Τίποτα. Nichts. Ничего. Zip.

Even though the Burke study provided a map that showed how approximately one-half of Park Ridge was “at risk” of sewer back-up from storms as small as a “1-year event (1.2” rain in 1 hour duration)” if residents don’t install their own on-site devices (like check valves and/or overhead sewers), it appears that the Council has been fiddling for the past year while Park Ridge has continued to flood from both sewer back-up and overland water.

Why the delay?

We don’t know. But we have to wonder if former 6th Ward ald. Mary Wynn Ryan might be onto something with her suggestion, in a couple of comments on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, that there’s a “gentleman’s agreement with the school district [207] not to put a competing ‘ask’ on the ballot in Nov. or April.” She goes on to “suspect a sewer referendum will not be offered while the [D-207] school referendum is in play,” analogizing Park Ridge voters being given a choice between school renovations and flood remediation to “poor folk, choosing between [sic] heat, rent, groceries and medicine.”

Ryan is an unabashed fan of big government and unrestrained tax/borrow/spending who views referendums the way most people view root canal surgery: To be avoided at all costs unless absolutely necessary. While on the Park Ridge Park District Board in December 2012 she helped engineer the District’s $7 million non-referendum bond issue for the second-rate Centennial water park so that there would be no water park referendum competing for the taxpayers’ votes with the District’s $13 million bond issue referendum for the Prospect Park project on the April 2013 ballot.

So if there’s some kind of “deal” by the City  and D-207 to let the latter get first crack at the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, she might be someone likely to know about it.

Although we can find no evidence of any overt “deal,” that doesn’t preclude an informal wink-and-nod understanding between various aldermen and their corresponding D-207 Board members. And that kind of understanding could explain why the Council has done nothing during the past year to put the Burke priority projects to a referendum vote, or to adopt the proposed $11 per ERU or some other rate.

Even all that Labor Day weekend flooding – along with articles in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Talks planned on stormwater utility fee, future capital projects following Labor Day flooding in Park Ridge,” Sept. 5) and Park Ridge Journal (“Park Ridge Hit Hard By Storms,” Sept. 5), and a rash of social media postings about the City’s inaction on flood control – appears to have done nothing more than motivate Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) to schedule a discussion of funding projects solely with SWU fees at the Council’s September 24 meeting.

Why is all of this disingenuous and/or just plain screwed up?

How about because Burke’s proposed $11 per Equivalent Residential Unit (“ERU”) is projected to yield a mere $2.4 million of revenue annually. That’s not nearly enough to get those 8 identified projects done on anything more than a snail’s pace timetable.

Are all you folks whose basements flooded on Labor Day, or will flood during the next big rain or the next one after that, willing to wait until 2058 for just those 8 priority flood control projects to be completed through funding with SWU fees?

With the November 2018 ballot referendum deadline already blown because the Council members sat with their thumbs up their kazoos for the past year, the next opportunity the City will have to get objectively-measurable taxpayer support for a $100 million-plus bond issue via referendum will be April 2019, when Alds. Moran (1st), Wilkening (3rd), Melidosian (5th) and Joyce (7th) presumably will be running to retain their seats around The Horseshoe.

And if we’re right about D-207’s master plan of using the November 2018 referendum as a type of stalking horse for a smaller, gentler Plan B referendum question on the lower-turnout, easier-to-win April 2019 ballot, the Council might very well let D-207 have another unchallenged shot at the taxpayers if its November boondoggle fails.

Will the Council respect the taxpayers enough to put a $100 million-plus anti-flooding funding referendum on the April 2019 ballot so those 8 projects might get done within the next decade instead of the next four decades? That would appear to be a no-lose proposition given that, even if that referendum were to fail, the Council could go forward with its current 40-year SWU-funded plan.

Or will the Council continue to kick the flooding can farther down the road, either to give D-207’s bigger bonding referendum questions first dibs on the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, or because it just doesn’t care that much about flooding…but isn’t willing to say so?

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s “Snow-Job” Wallace And His 7 Dwarfs Stack Deck Against Taxpayers

08.31.18

In our previous post we discussed how District 207 Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 Dwarfs – Board members Aurora Austriaco, Paula Bessler, Teri Collins, Linda Coyle, Jin Lee, Carla Owen and Sean Sullivan – committed the District to spending $115,000 (or more) of our tax dollars on the public relations services of bond underwriter George K. Baum & Company (“Baum”), public relations pollster Public Opinion Strategies (“POS”) and focus group facilitator/manipulator Minding Your Business (“MYB”) to bamboozle us into approving a $135 million bond issue referendum in April 2019.

The tactics of those professional contract propagandists?

  1. Have the 7 Dwarfs create a loosey-goosey 40 to 65 member Citizen Task Force advisory group of alleged District residents “with varying viewpoints from across the district” – the backgrounds and actual “viewpoints” of whom D-207 claims not to know – and call it “community engagement” so that gullible residents won’t realize that the Task Force is nothing but a propaganda tool.
  2. Hold four meetings of those Task Force members – while failing to record the attendance (or lack thereof) – so that MYB could facilitate/manipulate them into recommending a $241 million infrastructure project funded by $195 million of bonded debt that would end up costing D-207 taxpayers almost $300 million to repay.
  3. Come up with a “Plan B” that requires only $135 million of bonded debt – and will cost only $200+ million to repay – as the kinder, gentler plan in case the $195/$300 million “Plan A” is rejected by the taxpayers.
  4. Have POS run a survey of slanted, factually-insufficient questions directed to 300 alleged District residents – because those alleged residents also have not been identified by Snow-Job and the 7 Dwarfs – that shows “strong” support for the $195 million referendum but support “bordering on overwhelming” for the $135 million referendum.
  5. Hold several community “reach out” sessions, ostensibly to showcase the infrastructure project’s features but, in reality, to identify and recruit likely supporters to staff a pro-referendum citizens political campaign (a la D-64’s “Yes/Yes” new Emerson campaign in 1997, and its “Strong Schools” funding campaign in 2007).
  6. Have the Dwarfs hire a high-priced new Director of Communications, Brett Clark, as the District’s in-house propagandist to help the outside hired-gun consultants bamboozle and/or stampede the taxpayers into voting for the referendum. Clark remains a “consultant” to the Consortium for Educational Change, a cabal of school administrators, school board members and teacher unions seemingly created and operated for the benefit of those special interests and to the detriment of the taxpayers.
  7. Have the Dwarfs put the $195 million bond issue referendum on the November 2018 ballot so it can be used to test the interest-group targeting and messaging of Baum, POS and MYB – safe in the knowledge that, even if the $195 million referendum loses in November, they have five months to modify and refine that targeting and messaging into a winning campaign for the “Plan B” $135 million bond referendum in the lower-turnout/easier-to-win April 2019 election.
  8. Have the Dwarfs approve a series of 15 dog-and-pony-show “school tours” of the three high schools (as described in the August 25, 2018 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article, “Maine Township District 207 to host school tours leading up to November bond referendum”) that will likely highlight all the problems and “dangers” lurking in the existing buildings, while showcasing the shiny drawings of the planned improvements.

Meanwhile, whether orchestrated by the propagandists or just spontaneous silliness, several outspoken residents have started their own drumbeat for the project, primarily in comments on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page.

One of the more vocal is Kelly Przekota, perhaps because her husband works at Maine East. She claims that the Maine Twp. high schools “are falling down faster than London Bridge”; and that she had to buy her husband a plastic bin with latches to protect his coat and laptop case from…wait for it…the cockroaches.

Not to be left out of any public silliness is Park Ridge’s freeloader queen, Kathy (Panattoni) Meade, who used to run that FB page and is now warning its readers that parents should purchase gas masks for their kids who use the Maine South pool because of chlorine gas buildup.

But it was left to Ashley Hawkes to summarize the various gripes about what “our” high school kids need: “A roof that doesn’t leak. A pool that doesn’t poison. A cafeteria that can fit the class sizes. A building free of roaches. Nothing fancy.”

We agree.

And if we really don’t have those, then “Snow-Job” Wallace deserves to be fired; and the current 7 Dwarfs and their predecessor Dwarfs over the past decade or so deserve to be horse-whipped, figuratively speaking, for ignoring basic maintenance, repairs, renovations and improvements – presumably so that they could build up the $45 million slush fund that they now want to use as a kind of down-payment to go with the hundred million dollars plus of bonded debt for their new grand plan.

As for all those cockroaches, we don’t need a $100 million+ bond issue: A call to Orkin will do.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s Referendum “Strategy” Uses Tax Dollars To Bamboozle Taxpayers

08.24.18

Not all that many years ago, when one of our local governmental bodies decided it needed to raise or borrow a big chunk of money for some facility or project, its governing officials would commission architects and engineers to design and cost-out the project. Then the officials would vote to put a referendum question on the ballot.

Once that was done, those public officials would print up a couple versions of inexpensive “information sheets” that were relatively neutral and reasonably truthful, run a couple/three/four “public information” sessions” based on that same information, and then step back and let the voters decide.

That’s because something called the Election Interference Prohibition Act, 10 ILCS 5/9-25.1, provides:

“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition…[but] shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot….”

Not surprisingly, the Maine Township High School District 207 superintendent and Board members – not unlike the politicians who run other local governmental bodies in this “State of Corruption” – have figured what they believe to be a way around that ban: Spend public funds on data generation, polling and messaging under the guise of “community engagement” that can later be used by private citizens to campaign for the referendum. And, to help get away with such deceit, they make sure to lock in contracts to spend that money months before the referendum question is even approved for the ballot.

That’s what Supt. Ken Wallace and his accomplices on the D-207 Board did back at the January 8, 2018, meeting when a three-member majority du jour of Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Carla Owen voted to approve three contracts for what they vaguely described as – SURPRISE! – “community engagement” services. Only Board member Sean Sullivan voted against it (Yes, that Sean Sullivan; and we’re as shocked as you are!), while members Aurora Austriaco, Teri Collins and Linda Coyle were conveniently MIA.

Because the D-207 Board – unlike the City, the Library, the Park District and even Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – doesn’t publish its meeting packets, taxpayers had no details of these expenditures in advance of the meeting.

But if you watch Part I of the meeting video, from the 28:35 mark to the 30:18 mark, you will see and hear no meaningful discussion of the reasons for, or merits of, those contracts. Even dissenter Sullivan gave no reasons for his “no” vote, raising doubts about the reasons for, and the legitimacy of, his vote.

According to Item 9A of the minutes of that meeting, however, George K. Baum & Company (“Baum”) got the lion’s share of these public dollars, a $75,000 fee, presumably because a “privately held investment banking firm focused on municipal finance” has the most to gain from a $195 million bond issue. The other two recipients of what appears to have been a package deal were Public Opinion Strategies (“POS,” appropriately enough), hired to perform “Phone Surveys” for $19,500 (see Item 9B of the minutes); and something called Minding Your Business, which was hired to be a “Citizen Task Force Meeting Facilitator” (meaning “manipulator”) at a fee not to exceed $20,000 (see Item 9C of the minutes).

Those three contracts total a shade under $115,000, not counting the out-of-pocket and travel expenses the District agreed to pay Baum, per Paragraph 2 of Exhibit A to Baum’s “Professional Services Agreement”

Not surprisingly, Wallace et al. issued no press releases hailing those contracts and services – which may explain why we can’t find even one newspaper article about them by our Pulitzer Prize winning local reporters. Wallace and the Board obviously didn’t want taxpayers realizing that their tax dollars are being used to buy high-line professionals and a blueprint for a political campaign to win the District’s mega-bucks/mega-debt referendum.

Interestingly enough, Paragraph 1 D of Exhibit A to that Baum agreement contains the following language:

It is expressly understood and agreed that this Agreement does not intend, and is not under any circumstances to be construed as requiring [Baum] to perform or provide any services to or on behalf of [D-207] which may constitute advocacy for or against any future ballot measure campaign.

Why is that language included? Because Baum wants plausible deniability of any accusations – such as this blog’s – that Baum’s “community engagement” efforts are just front-loaded political research designed to give disingenuous public officials – “Hello, Ken Wallace and you D-207 Board members!” – a pre-packaged referendum-related political strategy and campaign initiatives that they can share with whatever group(s) of referendum supporters form up, or are already locked and loaded, thereby end-running (arguably) the Election Interference Prohibition Act.

Want proof?

Let’s start with the 37-page POS “Feasibility of a Ballot Measure” Survey of a whopping 300 likely voters conducted May 19-22, 2018” – two months before the Board voted to go to referendum in November – which can be found on the District’s website and, therefore, is readily accessible to the strongest referendum supporters that POS identifies, at Pages 5-11 of that Survey, as being: “Democrats,” “Independents,” “younger voters,” “women” and “parents.”

Besides targeting the referendum’s strongest supporters, the POS survey also polled what messages and arguments worked best, and worst – the results of which can be seen at Pages 27-35.

But the true “Bottom Line” can be found at Page 37 of the Survey, which calls support for the $195 million bond deal “strong” but labels support for the $135 million deal as “bordering on overwhelming” with, “[n]ot surprisingly, Democrats driv[ing] the support of both funding options.”

In other words, the D-207 Board’s sub rosa strategy that we hinted at in our previous post is to use the $195 million November, high-turnout referendum as basically a stalking horse for a $135 million April 2019, easier-to-win, low-turnout referendum.

That professional strategy cost us taxpayers $115,000, compliments of a dishonest Superintendent and an equally dishonest, or just mindlessly-complicit, D-207 Board that views us taxpayers as clueless dupes to be manipulated into voting for what appears to be the biggest borrowing in District history – in order to make up for almost a decade of Wallace’s (and several flights of Board members’) neglect of the District’s infrastructure.

And compliments of a local press that remains in a coma when it comes to reporting on such dishonesty and mopery.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Good News” From D-207? Yes…But, Then Again, Maybe Not

08.13.18

For the first time in a long while we have good news coming out of Maine Township High School District 207.

At last Monday (08.06.2018) night’s meeting, the D-207 School Board voted to place a referendum question on the November 6 ballot seeking voter approval of the District’s issuing $195 million of bonds – that will cost D-207 taxpayers $300 million to repay – to help fund the District’s $241 million facility improvement plan.

The approved referendum language:

Shall the Board of Education of Maine Township High School District Number 207, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing security improvements, increasing accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, renovating classrooms and labs, improving the Library Media Center and renovating special education spaces, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $195,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

By calling it “good news” we’re not saying such a mega-project is necessary or reasonable. As we’ve pointed out in our 05.07.2018 post and our 05.08.2018 post, Supt. Ken Wallace and every member of the D-207 Board since Wallace became superintendent in 2009 should be figuratively horse-whipped for letting the schools fall into the state of disrepair Wallace now claims they need $241 million to remedy.

That kind of mismanagement is, in a word, inexcusable. And as we’ve previously pointed out, that’s squarely on Wallace and Sean Sullivan, the only Board member whose tenure matches Wallace’s stint in the big chair.

If Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) meant anything to Wallace and all the current and past D-207 Board members (save for, perhaps, semi-newbies Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle) who spent the past 9 years neglecting the maintenance, repair and replacement of the infrastructure of the District’s three high schools, Wallace would tender his resignation; and members Carla Owen, Terry Collins, Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Sean Sullivan would perp-walk out the door after him.

But to Wallace, et al. H.I.T.A. is a foreign language – and apparently more difficult to learn than Mandarin Chinese. Their preferred language is prevarication, often spoken with a shameless dialect. Which is why the feckless Board members will sigh and wring their hands while letting Wallace off the hook yet again for his continuing mediocrity.

In the face of that kind of unaccountability, we have to take our “good news” wherever we can find it.

In this case, that’s a referendum on this November’s ballot – if only because turnouts for November elections regularly are several thousand voters higher than for our local elections in April. And that’s just in the City of Park Ridge: It might mean as much as a ten thousand vote difference, or even higher, given the much larger D-207 boundaries.

More voters exercising their franchise always makes for better citizenship than a smaller turnout, no matter what the outcome. That’s because it’s well understood that the smaller the turnout, the easier it is for special interests to manipulate the process. Which is why the public officials seeking to pass a referendum always prefer an April election if they can finagle it.

Hence our bet that the D-207 Board would drag its heels until after the August 20 deadline for putting their referendum question on the November ballot – just like the Park Ridge Park District Board appears to be doing with a referendum on the uber-foolish purchase of the Shibley Oaks property.

Which is why the D-207 Board surprised us with its 6-1 vote to go to a November referendum – with the only dissent coming from, even more surprisingly, Sullivan.

Given Sullivan’s virtually spotless record of wrong-headed voting, his dissenting vote caused us to start wondering whether there might be something anti-H.I.T.A. about the Board’s November referendum decision that we might be missing.

So we checked out the 08.06.2018 meeting video and attempted to listen to Sullivan’s explanation of his dissent, which starts at the 43:40 mark and ends at the 45:50 mark. That was more difficult than one would expect because of a poor sound system, compounded by noise from what sounds like the air conditioning and the clacking of a few computer keyboards that rendered some of what he said inaudible.

As best as we can tell, however, Sullivan’s main beef with the November referendum question is that the cost is too high.

We can’t recall when, if ever, Sullivan balked at the high cost of anything at D-207, which is one of the oddities about this situation that suddenly causes us to suspect there may be another sub rosa strategy at play here, one that is anti-H.I.T.A. and which we’ll write about in our next post.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with a few hints about that other anti-H.I.T.A. strategy: (a) the D-207 Board already has a back-up, $135 million “Plan B” in the can; (b) the Board recently hired Brett Clark as its co-propaganda minister to work with current propagandist Dave Beery, reportedly until the latter retires in December; and (c) the possibility that Wallace and/or the D-207 Board clandestinely engaged a prominent public opinion research firm to drive this referendum.

All of which may just go to show how even “good news” can turn bad in the hands of Wallace and this D-207 Board.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Maine Township Investigation Report Released: Another Victory For H.I.T.A.

08.07.18

Last night a majority (barely) of Maine Township Trustees supplied the quorum for a special meeting, and then voted unanimously to release to the public the July 30, 2018 “Investigative Report” of the complaint of Trustee Kim Jones against Trustee Dave Carrabotta.

And before dawn’s early light today that Report was posted on the Township’s website – along with an August 5, 2018 letter from Jones to one of the Township’s attorneys, Keri-Lynn Krafthefer, ripping the Report, the “investigating attorneys” – even the court reporter’s transcripts of witness statements.

We recommend that you read both, especially if you have been following The Journal editor/publisher Todd Wessell’s regular pot-stirring articles/editorials about this situation over the past several weeks, or if you read the famous/infamous July 7, 2018 letter from the “10 Maine GOP Women”- including Jones herself, Supervisor Laura Morask, and non-Assessor Susan Moylan-Krey – to Maine Twp. Republican Committeeman Char Foss Eggemann, with copies to Gov. Bruce Rauner and several other notable Republicans.

We intend to share our views of this soap opera in greater detail in the coming days. This incident has many aspects that deserve something more than the slogans, sound-bites and rimshots that too often characterize what passes for public discourse these days. 

But for now we wish to remind our readers that it was Thomas Jefferson who wrote: “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

And that’s why we wish to thank “The Reformers” – Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney – for insisting on holding last night’s special meeting, for showing up to provide the necessary quorum, and for having the courage to vote to release the Report to the taxpayers who are paying for that Report, along with this particular drama and everything else that goes on at Maine Township.

Well done, people!

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

Tonight: A New Episode Of “As The Township Turns”

08.06.18

For those of you who might be following the continuing saga of the “As The Township Turns” soap opera, the Maine Township Board is holding a special meeting TONIGHT– 6:30 p.m. at Township Hall (1700 Ballard) – that might lead to a big reveal: The results of the Township’s attorneys’ investigation into whether Trustee Dave Carrabotta did, or did not, grope, grab, touch or brush Trustee Kim Jones’ derriere during Township functions on three separate occasions.

We say “might” lead to a big reveal because the sole purpose of the special meeting is for the Board to vote on whether or not to release the investigators’ report to us taxpayers who presumably paid several thousand dollars (if not much more) for that investigation and, therefore, deserve to know whether Carrabotta is some kind of sleazebag, whether Jones made the whole thing up, or something in between.

But unofficial Jones media flak Todd Wessell, the editor/publisher of The Journal newspapers, released an article last evening (Sunday, although the computer version is dated August 3) reporting that neither Jones nor Supervisor Laura Morask will be attending tonight’s meeting due to “prior commitments” (“Several Maine Twp. Officials Unlikely To Attend Monday’s Meeting On ‘Harassment’ Report”).

According to the Journal article, “only three trustees will likely attend”: Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney. That would constitute a quorum for a legal meeting, and we believe that a vote by all three to release the investigators’ report would be lawful Board action.

Morask reportedly wants the meeting postponed until she and Jones can attend because she claims there is information in the report that needs clarification or correction, although she hasn’t identified any such information or why it needs clarification/correction.

So even before the Board gets to the issue of whether the report will be released, we may need to wade through a few preliminary dramas, such as: (a) Will Morask and/or Jones actually stay away or show up; (b) if Morask and Jones stay away, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney decide not to show up so that there’s no quorum; (c) even if there is a quorum, will Carrabotta, McKenzie or Sweeney back down and vote to postpone a vote on releasing the investigators’ report; or (d) will something else occur that, while unpredictable, is clearly intended to keep the report hidden from the taxpayers, even if only for a short while longer?

Tune in to tonight’s episode of “As The Township Turns” and find out.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner! (Updated)

08.03.18

We’ve made no secret of our opinion that the Park Ridge Park District’s purchase of the postage-stamp parcel of land at 815 Busse Hwy – recently branded the “Shibley Oaks” property, presumably for “marketing” purposes – is a waste of taxpayers’ money, an opinion we’ve expressed in our 03.26.2018 postour 04.04.2018 post and our 05.23.2018 post.

Since then we have spent hours reading the Park Board’s meeting packets and watched the meeting videos of those few discussions of Shibley Oaks that the Board has not hidden from the taxpayers by running into closed session. You remember closed session, don’t you: That anti-transparency tactic our public officials use to hide stuff from us taxpayers even though closed sessions are not required but are merely permitted under the Illinois Open Meeting Act (“IOMA”).

And even though such closed session meetings can be conducted outside the view of the taxpayers, nothing in IOMA requires that what goes on in those closed-session proceedings must be kept secret – although the public officials who scurry into closed session whenever possible rarely, if ever, tell us what went on in them, or post the minutes of those closed-session meetings for us to read. 

One of the Park Board’s champions of closed-session secrecy is president Mel Thillens, who – to the best of our knowledge – has never met a closed session he couldn’t vote for. Both he and Jim O’Brien have been on that Board long enough to know that IOMA makes closed sessions permissive rather than mandatory, assuming they actually cared as much about transparency as they seemingly care about talking and acting in secrecy.

SIDEBAR: Yes, we endorsed both Thillens and O’Brien for their positions on the Park Board…twice. But the first time we endorsed them was as an alternative to an SEIU-backed slate of candidates, and the second time we endorsed them was as an alternative to Cindy Grau. We chalk both of those up to the lesser of two evils, even though we realize that’s “still choosing evil.” (per the late Grateful Jerry Garcia).

But, frankly, we can’t recall seeing or hearing about any of the seven current Park Board members actually voting against a closed session. We would love to be proved wrong about that, really we would. But we aren’t going to hold our breath waiting for that to happen.

Unfortunately, all those secretive closed sessions prevented us taxpayers from hearing the Board members discuss the reasons, if any, why buying Shibley Oaks made any sense, considering that: (a) the District had no plan for creating a park in that part of town; and (b) we can’t recall the last time the District even considered acquiring such a tiny parcel of land. Those kinds of discussions could have been held – and should have been held – in open sessions.

So thank you, NOT, Park Board members, for gratuitously hiding those discussions from us taxpayers.

We also didn’t get to hear if those Board members secretly discussed how neither the Shibley Oaks neighbors nor any of their tree-hugger allies suggested making Shibley Oaks into a District park until after the parcel’s owner posted “No Trespassing” signs on the property – and then built a fence around part of it – that annoyed the heck out of those neighbors whose kids had been using that property as their own private park/playground for years.

So thank you again, NOT, Park Board members, for also hiding that discussion from us taxpayers (assuming you actually even had such a discussion).

But what really peaks our curiosity is how and why the Board gave Director Mountcastle the authority to make such a bogus purchase offer of a piddling $1.15 million that the owner wouldn’t even dignify with a counter-offer, as reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District: $1.15 million purchase offer for ‘Shibley oaks’ site rejected,” July 24).

Why do we call that offer “bogus”?

Let’s start with the H-A’s report that the listing price of that commercially-zoned property is $2.35 million, or double the District’s offer. And if that doesn’t make the offer bogus enough for you, consider that the District reportedly has some sort of an “appraisal” (secret, of course, and most likely not a formal MAI version that any responsible land purchaser would require) that puts the property’s value at $1.43 million, or almost $300,000 more than the District’s offer.

But what makes the District’s lowball offer truly bogus is that it was made even though the District, because of its eminent domain powers, can legally force the owner to sell the property to the District at its fair market value (“FMV”) anytime the District wants.

That means the owner of Shibley Oaks most likely KNOWS that if he isn’t stupid enough or desperate enough to jump at a lowball offer, the worst he’ll ever get –even if the District ever has the stones to employ its eminent domain power – is the property’s FMV, or $300,000 more (based on the District’s rumored $1.43 million “appraisal”) than the District’s $1.15 million lowball offer.

In other words, the Board authorized that bogus $1.15 million offer either out of ignorance of how its eminent domain power could guarantee an FMV purchase price, or because it actually wanted a rejection of the offer and no counter.

If the bogus offer was the product of ignorance of eminent domain, then shame on those Board members for not doing their homework and asking the right questions of Director Mountcastle and Attorney Tom Hoffman. And double shame on Mountcastle and Hoffman for not adequately advising those Board members of what we just stated in the previous two paragraphs. This wasn’t Mountcastle’s or Hoffman’s first rodeo, so they most certainly knew better and should have advised better.

If ignorance is not the culprit, however, then why did the Board want a rejection of the offer and no counter?

Because we weren’t privy to any of those closed sessions, we can’t say for sure. But if we had to place a small wager on it, we would suggest that a majority of Board members wanted the offer to fail without a counter because:

  1. Grau definitely wants the District to buy Shibley Oaks, and Thillens, O’Donnell, O’Brien and Harrington apparently don’t have the stones to tell the Shibley Oaks folks that buying the property is stupid and a waste of the taxpayers’ money;
  2. the District doesn’t have the financial ability – due to the $20 million or so of bonding power the District spent on the Centennial Water Park and Prospect Park – to buy Shibley Oaks without a tax increase that requires a binding referendum;
  3. a couple/few of the Board members previously indicated on the record that they preferred that the deal go to referendum in November;
  4. since then, both those Board members and the Shibley Oaks folks have figured out that such a referendum is unlikely to pass even at the questionable $1.43 million “appraisal” price, so neither group wants it to go to referendum in November and fail; and
  5. neither group wants to publicly admit that they know a November referendum would fail, because that would effectively be an admission that the Shibley Oaks purchase IS a stupid waste of taxpayer money that a majority of voters do not support.

So…by secretly authorizing Mountcastle to make a bogus, lowball $1.15 million offer that likely wouldn’t even get a counter, those Board members and Shibley Oaks folks can now blame the owner for not negotiating a realistic price that the Board could take to referendum this November.

And, guess what? That’s exactly what they did.

Per the H-A article, “Grau called the outcome of the real estate talks ‘very unfortunate’…[and]…the park district’s offer ‘a fair price’,” while branding Shibley Oaks’ owner “an unwilling seller.” Not surprisingly, Grau wants to end any current attempt to buy Shibley Oaks because: “We don’t have that kind of money.”

Gee, Cindy, isn’t not having that kind of money why the District was going to have to go to referendum in the first place?

Putting off any November referendum is the dishonest way of preventing Shibley Oaks from getting blown out of the water in a higher-turnout November referendum while also giving the Shibley Oaks folks more time to build a public relations campaign to sway a much smaller voter turnout for an April 2019 referendum.

Which is why Shibley Oaks leader Rob Bowe is quoted in the H-A article as stating: “We’ll continue to do what we have to do and grow support and increase awareness that this is our only park in that whole area.” And, presumably, they’ll get to that point just in time for…wait for it…an April referendum.

But that’s what we get when cowardly politicians prefer pandering to special interest groups and hiding their pandering discussions from us taxpayers in secretive closed sessions.

Dishonest? Check. Anti-transparent? Check. Anti-accountability? Check.

Unfortunately for us taxpayers and for anyone who believes in honest government, it works – at least for those pandering politicians and the special interests to which they pander.

By having all these closed-session Board discussions and secret “negotiations” with the Shibley Oaks owner, the Park Board has delayed the matter until it now has only one more meeting, on August 16, for the Board to vote to put a Shibley Oaks referendum question on the November ballot before the August 20, 2018 deadline for doing so.

If this Park Board had even an ounce of H.I.T.A. it would put the tax-increase referendum question on the November ballot at a purchase price of $1.43 million, the FMV of the District’s own unseen “appraisal.” But we’re not betting the ranch on that happening.

So all we can do is say “Thank You, Shibley Oaks Owner!” – for being the only person connected to this Shibley Oaks boondoggle with enough common sense and backbone to just say “No.”

UPDATE 08.05.2018. After reviewing the minutes from the Park Board’s meetings we discovered that Commissioner Leach was the sole “No” vote against going into closed session to discuss the Shibley Oaks acquisition at the meetings of 12.07. 2017, 01.25.2018 and 03.15.2018 – which appear to be the only votes against any of the closed sessions at which Shibley Oaks was discussed.

And although the Board, at its April 19, 2018 meeting, unanimously passed a motion by Thillens “to authorize the Executive Director [Mountcastle] to apply for the waiver from the National Park Service, to allow for negotiation with the seller, and to negotiate a contract with the seller for the best possible deal for purchase of the Shibley Oaks property contingent on the passing of a referendum in the November election for the purchase price, plus the development of the property,” less than a month later – at its May 17 meeting – Grau tried to bail on her earlier November referendum vote; Leach continued to push for it; and Thillens was almost comical in pirouetting around the issue so as to avoid taking any stand.

You can find the meeting video here, with the Shibley Oaks follies starting at the 00:09:30 mark and ending at the 00:17:00 mark.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Guest Essay: D-207 Gearing Up Propaganda Machine For Funding Referendum

07.24.18

Today we are posting a letter to this blog’s editor by Kenneth Butterly, a Niles resident (Elementary School District 63) who nevertheless lives within Maine Township High School District 207. It addresses many of the points made in our 07.19.2018 post; and it is published with the permission of its author. FWIW, Mr. Butterly’s reference to his and this editor’s past disagreements might be better understood, at least in part, by reading our 12.12.2011, 01.19.2012 and/or 11.03.2015 posts. 

__________________________________________

Robert, you and I have gone nose to nose on several occasions regarding local subjects. And we’ve hardly ever agreed. However, this is not going to be one of those times. 

The “Public Opinion Survey” was District 207’s attempt to finesse its way toward its goal; the $240.7 million referendum. The questions were obviously designed to solicit a positive District-leaning response. And yes, we’ve not seen the results of those surveys, nor in my opinion, were we ever meant to. The “Public Opinion Survey” technique is a commonly used marketing gimmick designed to make target audience members feel as if they are part of the show. This same method is being utilized elsewhere by districts engaged in similar referendums.

Now to your question. Is the District planning a November 2018 or April 2019 vote?

On June 29th, D207’s Superintendent and his Board hired Mr. Brett Clark as D207’s Co-Director of Communications for $150,000+. Sean Sullivan and Teri Collins moved and seconded, respectively, the motion. Results: Aye: Austriaco, Collins, Coyle, Lee, Owen, Sullivan; Nay: None; Absent: Besler.

What does this mean? Two things I think.

First, D207 now has 2, yes I said 2, Co-Directors of Communications: (1) Long time Director of Communications, $85,000+ Mr. David Beery; and (2) $150,000+ Mr. Clark, to work toward the referendum. That’s $235,000+ in propaganda-creating talent.

Second, D207 intends to go for broke and, at this moment, it’s still unclear as to whether that will occur this November or in April 2019.

Mr. Beery, to my understanding, has never fought a referendum battle. It’s also unclear if Mr. Clark has done so, either. On the other hand, if you believe Mr. Clark’s work history, this is not his first rodeo.

Mr. Clark’s “Linkedin” page states the following:

“Summary

Experienced educator with more than 20 years experience in the areas of communications, marketing and human resources. Skilled in Crisis Communications, Editing, Public Speaking, Media Relations and Publications. Earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation from Public Relations Society of America.”

Under the “Experience” section he displays the following job titles: 

  • Adjunct Faculty, Governors State University (Feb. 2017 – Present – 1 yr. 6 mos.);
  • Director of Communications and Marketing, Consortium for Educational Change (Sep. 2015 – Jul. 2018 – 2 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Human Resources, Glenview D34 (1 yr. 3 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Planning, Glenview D34 (4 yrs. 1 mo.);
  • Director of Community Relations and Grants, Glenview D34 (7 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Public Relations Director, Ladue SD (2 yrs. 3 mos.);
  • Lead Public Information Specialist / Public Information Specialist, Parkway SD (2 yrs. 5 mos.);
  • Publications Coordinator, Missouri Society of CPAs (8 mos.);
  • Information Specialist U. of Missouri, St. Louis (6 mos.); and
  • Public Relations Coordinator, McCann Erickson Public Relations (9 mos.).

If you want to see it all, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brett-clark-apr-0b69126.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The fact that Dr. Wallace and Board President Carla Owen see a need for this much public relations fire-power says a lot about their fear of being rebuffed by the taxpayers/voters, and a heightened determination to get the money.

The plot thickens!

P.S.  For those of you who might be interested, please take notice of the following:

SUBJECT:      D-207 Building & Grounds Committee mtg. Monday, July 30, 2018 at 5:15 p.m., 1177 South Dee Rd.

AGENDA:      “…3. Public Comments  4. Facility Master Plan  5. Financing Facility Master Plan….”

Kenneth Butterly

To read or post comments, click on title.