Whose Water Are You Carrying, Ald. Wsol?


Faux fiscal conservative Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) continues to lead the fight to keep Park Ridge water usage rates artificially (and irresponsibly) low by refusing to pass through to water users the full cost the City pays for the water it buys from the City of Chicago.  Wsol wants property taxpayers to continue subsidizing water users, an unsound policy even if judged solely (no pun intended) on economic grounds.

But where it becomes borderline insane is when you actually realize who are the primary beneficiaries of this manipulation of water economics: the City’s Top Ten biggest water users [pdf].

Which means that under Wsol’s subsidy plan, all you senior citizens, all you middle-aged empty nesters, all you single-person households, and all you water conservationists continue to pay a portion of your property taxes so that Lutheran General Hospital, the Park Ridge Park District, School Districts 207 and 64, and Resurrection Nursing Home don’t have to pay the full cost of all the water they use. 

And guess what’s even worse, folks?  Those five entities don’t pay property taxes!

At this past Monday night’s City Council meeting, Wsol smugly questioned whether any previous City Council (including the ones that Wsol has been sitting on since 2005 and which have produced deficit budgets every year except one) “[has] voted on how much of a surplus we should accumulate in the water fund of taxpayer money?” – knowing full well it had not. 

But even if that’s the case, so what, Frankie? 

That question is about as worthless as Ald. Robert Ryan’s customary “What do other municipalities do?” whenever he’s confronted by an issue which brings that quizzical-to-blank expression to his face signaling the same condition as the flashing “vacancy” sign in front of a cheap motel.  Let’s get this straight once and for all: what other municipalities’ collections of plodding bureaucrats and rubber-stamp elected officials do has yet to be proved the “magic bullet” of fiscally-responsible municipal governance. 

While Wsol actually gets something right when he notes that the water fund, an “enterprise” fund which exists to provide a defined payment source for water, currently has an approximately $3 million surplus, that observation deserves another “So what?”  Suggesting that a water fund surplus provides a good reason for not charging water users the full cost of that water is an apples-to-oranges analysis, and one that’s intellectually dishonest to boot.

It also disregards the fact, as reported by former City Finance Director Diane Lembesis on a couple of occasions within the past year, that cash from the water fund has been needed to cover the City’s payroll, thereby saving the City from incurring the cost of having to borrow that money from outside sources.  So depleting the already-dwindling water fund surplus is bad management on yet another level.

Unfortunately, Wsol is not alone in this folly.  Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) is so clueless he actually attempted to justify his opposition to full-cost water rates by stating that he “would not like to see the average 65-year-old homeowner have to pay a couple more cents a gallon.”  Hey, Don…wake up!  That’s what’s already happening, except that your average 65-year-old homeowner is also helping pay for the water being used by the likes of Lutheran General, the Park Ridge Country Club, and even Dominick’s. 

At this point, only Mayor Dave Schmidt seems to “get it.”  And he’s not even entitled to vote on the budget, barring the unlikely event of a Council deadlock over its approval.

Try as we might, we can’t see even one good reason why all Park Ridge water users should not pay the full cost to the City of the water they use, or why anybody’s water usage should be subsidized by the City’s property taxpayers.  Such a policy is both penny and pound foolish, with not an ounce of wisdom to be found.

Maybe it’s because we live in the State of Corruption, County of Crook that when we see something as ridiculous as Wsol’s and Bach’s water subsidy, we find ourselves asking whether the motive behind it is stupid or just plain crooked.  

And, in this case, we also find ourselves asking: “Just whose water are you carrying, Ald. Wsol?”

When The Inmates Run The Asylum (Updated 1/30/10)


If you’re one of the thousands of District 207 taxpayers who don’t have any children currently enrolled in, or soon to be enrolled in, one of the District’s high schools, you probably didn’t attend last Wednesday’s budget meeting at Maine East H.S.  That’s because those kinds of meetings aren’t made for you.

They’re made for demonstrations like the one the tearful students staged to save the jobs of approximately 75 non-tenured teachers who may be cut from the payroll to help fill what is looking more and more like a $19 million hole in the District’s 2010-11 budget.  

Never mind that such a “spontaneous” outpouring of student sentiment appears to have been orchestrated by the teachers’ union – it’s still great theater.  And great theater provides an easy “human interest” story for a superficial news media, which explains why the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate devoted an entire story to reporting student comments (“District 207: ‘We are a family here to fight against you’”) in addition to featuring student comments in its only other story on the meeting (“District 207 board hears impassioned pleas to spare teachers’ jobs”).

After all, why should our local papers struggle to analyze tough issues – like why so many individual teachers are making more than the annual Park Ridge median household income despite working only 8 months a year in jobs that can’t be outsourced or relocated, with pensions and benefits better than what are enjoyed by most of the folks paying their salaries – when its reporters can interview a few teenagers and write a warm-and-fuzzy about losing their favorite teachers or coaches because other teachers wouldn’t forego their raises this year?   

Those meetings are also made for the parents of those tearful students to show up and complain that they pay taxes and, consequently, their children deserve every educational benefit imaginable no matter what the cost – and no matter that their annual tax payments to District 207 barely make a dent in the actual cost of educating just one of their children.

After all, as Maine East science teacher Dana Nixon stated at the meeting: “A quality education is more than reading, writing and arithmetic.”  Indeed it is, which is why teachers and administrators can make a case for including Mandarin Chinese, fencing, cloisonné, field trips to Machu Pichu and even embalming among the offerings of a “complete” high school curriculum.

And those meetings are made for the school administrators to put on their concerned faces and act like they know what they’re doing, even though all of them are former teachers’ union members who retain the union entitlement mindset and who lack the formal business education or experience needed to run a successful card-table lemonade stand, much less the $100+ million a year business that is District 207.

The bottom line is that, if you are the average District 207 taxpayer, there are only two things standing between you and District 207’s (and District 64’s) pillaging of your pocketbook: tax caps and your elected members school board members.

The District 207 board members may be fine people, but what proven business education or experience do they have to act as directors of a $100+ million business, especially when they are overseeing a CEO (a/k/a, the superintendant) and operations officers (a/k/a, staff) who themselves are functionally clueless when it comes to business theory and strategy? 

According to the District 207 website, three of those board members (Margaret McGrath, Edward Mueller and Sean Sullivan) are attorneys, the last of whom is also the vice-president of business affairs (whatever that entails) at Triton College; two of them (Eldon Burk and Donna Pellar) are retired teachers, one of whom (Pellar) has a masters degree in “School Administration” (whatever that entails); one of them (Joann Braam) has a masters degree in social science; and one of them (Eric Leys) doesn’t even list any college education or an occupation. 

That’s it.  No MBAs and no demonstrated private sector experience running even a small business.  Just a bunch of business-“blind” union-sympathizing teacher/administrators leading a bunch of business-“blind” school board members.  No wonder the teachers’ union runs things…and why teachers’ raises appear to be outpacing the rate of inflation even during a recession.

So don’t be surprised if all those non-business types running District 207 come up with a “solution” that will involve dipping into the District’s reserves and further jeopardizing its long-term financial future for a quick and easy “fix” today.

When will this insanity stop? 

Not until somebody stops the inmates from running the asylum.

Update 1/30/10.  According to a statement issued by the District 207 administration, it is proposing a plan to “save” 40-45 of the approx. 75 teaching jobs scheduled to be cut – by…wait for it…”‘tap[ping] deeper into its fund balance reserve and commit[ting] up to an additional $2 million in deficit spending’ over the next two fiscal years.” (“New offer by District 207 could spare 45 teachers,” Jan. 29) 

We’d like to take a bow for calling that shot but, after years of watching shameless teachers’ unions and spineless/clueless school administrations, that kind of prediction is like shooting fish in a barrel. 

And, not surprisingly for spineless school administrators and their clueless school board overseers, the District 207 statement does not say just how deeply it will be dipping into those reserves, even as it disclosed that the teachers would still be receiving their “step” pay increases and their 3.5% cost-of-living increase (which appears to triple-plus the actual increase in the cost of living!) for the upcoming school year – in return for giving up only their 3.2% COLA the following year. 

Looks like yet another tower of jello negotiation strategy by District 207. 

We did get a kick, however, out of Supt. Ken Wallace’s mealy-mouthed, public relations propaganda statement touting this proposal:

“While this doesn’t solve our financial situation, it buys us some time to do long-term planning with various stakeholders to be in better position ourselves to deal with these difficult economic times going forward.  In light of the difficult economic times that our communities are experiencing, we hope this proposal is a win-win.”

Yes, Ken…a “win-win” for the teachers’ union, as in: “Heads the teachers’ union wins, tails the taxpayers lose.”


Speaking Truth To Power


Recently we had some kind words for the District 207 teachers when it sounded as if they were going to hold the District to its contract but kick back enough of their pay increases to save the jobs of their non-tenured teachers union members who were otherwise going to be chopped to help the District fill the gaping $19 million budget hole for the coming year.

Well, the teachers union sure fooled us.

Wednesday night at Maine East High School, union brotherhood/sisterhood went the way of common sense, fiscal responsibility and basic altruism, as union officials and tenured teachers demanded that the District draw down its reserve fund in order to keep everybody – except the taxpayers – fully employed, properly enriched and reasonably happy. 

In the process, the teachers union and its supporters appear to have callously exploited their well-meaning but naïve students, who we understand were “encouraged” to attend the meeting and voice their opposition to the District’s belated recognition of fiscal reality.  After all, it’s common knowledge that weeping teenagers are even better than puppies and kittens for tugging at heartstrings and interfering with clear-headed thinking.

Just because the union and its backers were shameless, however, doesn’t mean that that the District’s board didn’t show it could be spineless.

To the contrary, Board president Ed Mueller sounded like a typical politician when he seemingly blamed every external force except the Haitian earthquake for the District’s deficit, while making sure that not a hint of blame or accountability fell on him or his board.  Amazingly enough, after blaming tax caps for contributing to the District’s revenue shortfalls, Mueller bizarrely announced that the board has ruled out any referendum to exceed the tax caps – a position supported by Supt. Ken Wallace, who said it would “not be responsible” to ask the taxpayers to vote to bail out the district.

In other words, folks, what they’re telling us is that, if not for those darn tax caps, they could have gone ahead and raised our taxes to fill the budget hole without having to get our permission via referendum and without having to cut anything. 

That sounds like Exhibit A to the case for why we need tax caps!

But if revenues really are such a problem, why not at least ask the voters if they want to lift the caps to send more bucks to District 207 – before it turns into a real crisis, like the one District 64’s board caused during the first half of the last decade, when it foolishly refused to go to referendum until its finances were so shaky that the State Board of Education was reportedly considering taking over their management? 

Are Mueller and Wallace afraid a huge “no” vote might seem too much like a referendum on the board’s stewardship of District 207?  Is the teachers union afraid such a vote might be perceived as an indictment of the teachers’ greed?  Or are both sides afraid that such a vote might make it more difficult for them to tap into those District 207 reserves, which we’re still betting will end up being the dirty little deal that gets done before the final curtain falls on this particular drama.

One voice of reason did stand out above the grumbling and caterwauling, however.  Mike Bender, a Maine East teacher and softball coach who is on the chopping block, publicly asked his union to reopen negotiations with the District.  

We know virtually nothing about Mr. Bender, but he gets a Watchdog bark-out for having the courage to make such a request, albeit self-serving, in what he had to know was a hostile forum.  Not surprisingly, his request was openly mocked by his union brethren (and sistren?), who already had shown that they have no reservations about “playing chicken” with the District over the jobs of non-tenured teachers like Bender, or the long-term financial soundness of the District.  

Bender will be lucky if mockery is the only consequence of his speaking truth to power.  That’s because when it comes to our public schools, the teachers unions hold all the power.  And when it comes to their wallets, they have no use for truth.  

Time For Some Answers From Alds. Ryan And Wsol


Monday night the Park Ridge City Council ended its 7-month flirtation with billboards, at least for the time being, when Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti led the effort to deprive Park Ridge residents of a final Council vote on whether or not to uphold the 9-0 decision of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) against permitting billboards in Park Ridge.

After shamelessly serving as chief Council lackey for Joseph Loss’ Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) in its effort to get permits for four billboards at Renaissance Office Plaza by using the City as its unofficial agent, Allegretti took the coward’s way out: with the help of Alds. Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan, he successfully substituted his motion to withdraw the City’s zoning change application for the pending tactical motion of Ald. Joe Sweeney to overturn the P&Z ruling. 

Sweeney’s motion was “tactical” because it would have required a supermajority of six votes, something Sweeney’s and Ald. Rich DiPietro’s expected “no” votes would have prevented.   

What Allegretti has up his sleeve with this latest ploy isn’t immediately clear, but with a little luck we won’t have to watch City government waste further time and effort on a billboards proposal that, even if it had been approved by P&Z or the Council, likely could have generated only a tiny fraction of the revenues Allegretti (and GGI) were promising.
The upshot of all this? 

Seven months of wasted time and attention by the Council, City Staff and the public on an initiative that didn’t deserve to get off the ground – and probably wouldn’t have, if not for the votes of Ryan and Ald. Frank Wsol at the August 17, 2009, Council meeting in support of Allegretti’s motion to make the City, rather than GGI, the zoning change applicant. 

With Bach and Carey absent that night, Ryan’s and Wsol’s votes were all Allegretti needed to overcome the opposition of Sweeney and DiPietro.  And once that happened, the unproductive chain of events that followed was set in motion.

The minutes of the August 17 meeting (sanitized for your protection by the City Clerk, as usual) say only that Allegretti “believes this case was important enough to allow the Council to have the final word” that it wouldn’t get if GGI were the applicant and P&Z denied its application; and there’s no mention of Ryan or Wsol speaking on the motion before voting to approve it.

Try as we might, however, we can’t think of one good “public policy” reason why this case was so “important” that the City had to carry the water for GGI.  Or why the Council needed to have “the final word” on it.  

Although it’s easy to think of several kinky reasons why Allegretti so shamelessly pushed the GGI agenda, we have to wonder what Ryan and Wsol could have been thinking when they signed onto Allegretti’s special deal for GGI.
So we pose the following question for Messrs. Ryan and Wsol:  Why did you vote to make the City the appllicant for the zoning ordinance amendments to permit billboards, especially where doing so allowed GGI to avoid the disclosure requirements of the City’s ethics ordinance that are designed to combat kinky deals? 

Gentlemen, feel free to submit your explanation(s) as comments to this post – we promise to publish them.  

Meanwhile, since we don’t really expect Ryan or Wsol to take us up on our offer, we invite our rank-and-file readers to offer their own explanations.

Billboard Scheme/Scam Should End Tonight


For any of you who were foolish enough to have expected billboard advocate/faux fiscal conservative Frank DiFranco to actually show up at last Saturday’s (Jan. 16) City Council budget workshop for the purpose of learning something about City finances, he didn’t. 


But the more interesting question will be whether DiFranco, or his law partner and fellow billboard advocate/faux fiscal conservative Jeff Wilson, or Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) attorney and consummate Park Ridge insider, Jack Owens, shows up at tonight’s City Council meeting, seeing as this might be GGI’s last stand.

That’s because City Attorney Everette M. “Buzz” Hill has now provided the Council with a formal opinion letter [pdf] stating that the “fee by agreement” GGI is offering the City appears to be unlawful and unenforceable either as an excessive impact or license fee (because it is disproportionate to the City’s cost of regulating the billboards), or as invalid “contract zoning.”  

And if that’s not bad enough for DiFranco and No. 1 billboards Alderlackey Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Hill also has tendered an opinion letter [pdf] confirming Mayor Dave Schmidt’s ruling from the chair at the December 21, 2009, Council meeting that a supermajority of six votes will be needed for the Council to over-rule the decision of the Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) rejecting the City’s application for the zoning code text amendments necessary to permit the  billboards GGI seeks. 

As you may recall, the City – rather than GGI or the owner of the Renaissance office plaza property where the signs would go – became the applicant when Allegretti and Alds. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Frank Wsol (7th Ward) outvoted Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) and Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) on that issue last summer.  So if a supermajority vote is required to trump P&Z’s decision, even the addition of Alds. Don Bach (3rd Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward) to the pro-billboards forces would not provide the six votes needed – assuming DiPietro and Ryan hang tough, and Mayor Schmidt keeps his word about voting “No.” 

But it could still be a lively discussion, given Allegretti’s mini-tirade at the December 21, 2009, Council meeting against the supermajority vote and the erroneous advice he claims to have received from the then-absent Hill.  As a result, the vote on the issue was deferred to tonight’s meeting. 

But if we’re lucky, when the smoke clears tonight we should be done with this ridiculous and malodorous billboard scheme that would be shameful, if only its proponents weren’t totally shameless.

And with this sideshow out of the way, the Council can start to focus on coming up with some real reforms to the way it has been mismanaging our tax dollars for the better part of the past decade.

Tomorrow Morning’s The Time To Show We Mean Business On City Budget


As we noted in Wednesday’s post, tomorrow morning from 9:00 a.m. to noon the City Council will be holding its first “budget workshop” for the 2010-11 budget year. 

Although Mayor Dave Schmidt was instrumental in changing the customary “workshop” practice to permit citizen comment, if citizens don’t show up and speak their minds about how the City takes and spends our tax dollars we’re likely to get another year of business as usual – which, in the City’s case, means multi-million dollar deficits and insufficient funds to maintain the City’s infrastructure and essential services.

We can’t wait to see whether Frank DiFranco shows up to actually learn something about City finances to go with his simplistic, one-note “We need billboards” refrain.  If so, that would appear to be a first, as we don’t recall Frankie D ever publicly expressing any prior interest in the City’s finances, even as the City spent most of the past decade posting multi-million dollar operating deficits while at the same time depleting fund balances and running up more multi-millions in bonded debt. 

In fact, Frankie D’s only only involvement with City government our research disclosed is as a $2,100 contributor to Howard P. Frimark’s first mayoral campaign, and as the attorney defending Norwood Builders’ Bruce Adreani against charges he had a “Monica Lewinsky” moment with a temporary waitress in the Park Ridge Country Club’s men’s locker room in July 2007. 

But now he’s writing to the Herald-Advocate about how “[o]ur taxes are going up. City services are being cut. Police raises are not being paid even though the city was contractually obligated to pay them.”

Good points all, which is why it’s up to the average citizen to start letting it be known, in no uncertain terms, that the City’s business-as-usual financial mismanagement will no longer be tolerated. 

So will we see you at City Hall tomorrow morning, Franki D?

How about the rest of you Park Ridge taxpayers? 

Wishes For A Better 2010-11 City Budget (And Better City Officials)


The Park Ridge Herald-Advocate has just published its “wish list” for the City of Park Ridge (“Editorial: Greatest wish for 2010? Forget about past decade,” Jan. 11) that contains one “wish” we wholeheartedly endorse:

• aldermen educating themselves on municipal finance and the city’s budget situation. Since taking office nearly three years ago, more than one elected official has admitted to having limited knowledge of municipal finance. Such decision-making is one of the most important of aldermanic responsibilities and should be treated accordingly.

The H-A apparently didn’t believe its readers deserved to know the names of each of those elected officials who have admitted that they can’t (or just don’t want to do the work necessary to) figure out how City finances work to the extent necessary to cast an informed vote on budget matters.

But one of that hapless group is Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), who admitted his fiscal ineptitude at the Council’s December 7, 2009, meeting.  Ryan’s solution to this particular shortcoming, however, wasn’t to promise to hit the books and educate himself, or to demand that City Staff provide financial reports and explanations that Ryan and everybody else, including the average resident, can understand.  Instead, he suggested the formation of another citizens task force – this time for the purpose of advising the Council on financial matters.

Brilliant!  Let appointed residents effectively make decisions for those public officials who were elected to make those decisions for us.

When Ryan – reportedly with the encouragement of then-mayor Howard Frimark – chose to run for alderman back in 2007, didn’t somebody tell him that perhaps his most important duties would be to guard the taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars and keep in check the often profligate spending of the bureaucrats who run City government on a day-to-day basis?  Or is it that he just didn’t care?

In contrast to Ryan, Third Ward Ald. Don Bach repeatedly has talked the talk about balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility.  Unfortunately for City residents, however, he has totally failed to walk the walk, as evidenced by his being one of the five aldermen (along with Alds. Allegretti, Ryan, Carey and Wsol) who voted to over-ride Mayor Schmidt’s historic veto last June of the Council’s giveaway of even more tax dollars to private community organizations run by folks not elected by or accountable to the taxpayers for those tax dollars. 

And although Bach has flapped his gums about drastic cuts in City personnel, he has offered little-to-nothing specific for Staff or the Council even to consider.  No surprise there.

Allegretti and Wsol wanted to hang about $1 million a year of extra debt service on the City to finance their new police station (thank you, Joe Egan, for your referendum that put the kibosh on that insanity), so we shouldn’t expect much fiscal responsibility from them – although it hasn’t escaped our sense of perverse humor that Wsol and Allegretti opposed the pass-through of water rate increases that would have netted the City approximately the same $400,000 of additional revenue – albeit for only one year – that Allegretti wants from his billboard deal (assuming that deal is even lawful, which the City Attorney disputes).   

This Saturday (Jan. 16) from 9:00 a.m. until noon, the City Council will be holding its first “budget workshop” for the 2010-11 fiscal year.  This session will be a crucial first step in a process that recently has produced million dollar-plus deficits that have put the City in an extremely precarious financial position. 

We understand that this year, unlike for past budget workshops, residents will be permitted and even encouraged to share their views about the budget and City finances.  That’s an encouraging change, instigated by Mayor Schmidt, although its practical value will depend on how many residents make the time and effort to show up, listen, and speak meaningfully to the issues.

But be forewarned: the spendthrift bureaucrats and elected officials who have proposed and presided over the recent deficit budgets and a good deal of indiscriminate spending will not embrace fiscal responsibility quietly or willingly.  In the past they relied on treating the taxpayers like mushrooms: keeping us in the dark and feeding us manure.

Now with the lights switched on (but with manure still at the ready), expect them to try to make this financial stuff sound as complicated and intractable as possible; and expect to hear about far more problems than solutions intended to discourage meaningful change and preserve the status quo with which they are all too comfortable. 

But if we fall for those tactics, we have only ourselves to blame.

Time To Get Serious About City Budget


Mayor Dave Schmidt has already talked about the need for the City to begin work on the 2010-11 budget.  He also has publicly vowed to veto a budget that isn’t balanced – or that is “balanced” by deceptive public fund accounting tricks.

So we noted with interest the report in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune that Naperville is trying to close an $11 million budget deficit this year by eliminating 49 jobs to save $3.6 million a year (“Naperville cuts 22 employees, won’t fill 27 vacant positions,” Jan. 9).  These latest cuts come on the heels of Naperville’s elimination of 43 other positions a year ago.

Park Ridge’s budget deficit for the current fiscal year is “only” a little over $2 million, but so far City government has only cut 4 jobs even as the City has operated irresponsibly for the past several years by not raising its approximately 10% share of our property tax bills to cover all those expenses it refuses to cut, or even increases – as it demonstrated by reacting to the current $2 million-plus deficit budget by increasing the cash the City gives away to private community organizations that have come to expect annual handouts of tax dollars to make up for what they can’t or won’t raise on their own.

Schmidt talked a good game several weeks ago when he proposed that the City adopt some form of zero-based budgeting (“ZBB”) requiring the City’s various departments to take a fresh, square-one look at: (a) what they currently do and should be doing (only, perhaps, better and more efficiently); (b) what they currently don’t do, but should be doing; and (c) what they currently do but should not be doing.  The lack of enthusiasm from a majority of the City Council and City Staff, however, combined with the departure of Finance Director Diane Lembesis, quickly turned ZBB into a “wait ‘til next year” idea, if then.

With the State of Illinois trailing only California in the race to bankruptcy, we can’t expect much in the way of financial assistance from Springfield.  To the contrary, as a community we’ll be lucky if we don’t start hearing more howling from our local schools because today’s Tribune reports that the state owes local school districts $1 billion that it cannot pay – to go along with the $775 million it owes universities and community colleges, and the $478 million it owes various municipalities.

Last May we suggested a variety of ways for the City to balance its 2009-10 budget which were ignored, leaving the $2 million+ deficit untouched.  And there was nothing in that budget for things like flood relief, O’Hare noise monitoring, and other expenditures that a number of Park Ridge residents consider vital – at least to themselves.

There are no attractive options available at this juncture, especially with a City government that has refused to even own up to its financial problems and embrace such common-sense solutions as passing through to water users 100% of the cost of the water the City purchases from Chicago, or cutting handouts to private organizations over which the taxpayers have no control.

These are precarious financial times, folks.  Unfortunately, unrealistic expectations combined with financial mismanagement over the past several years have put us in a situation that will be difficult and painful to properly resolve – even with that billboards “snake oil” Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti and his colleague Frank DiFranco are trying to peddle.    

Frankie And Jimmy In The Claire De Lune


The front page story in this week’s Park Ridge Journal is titled: “The City Needs Money.”  That’s what prominent local attorney and Morningfields Market owner Frank DiFranco is howling in a blatant attempt to stampede our resident sheep – including most of the Park Ridge City Council – into a questionable billboards deal.

The kinkiness of all this should have been obvious from the start, with DiFranco law colleague (and relative?) Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti not only leading the charge on the zoning code text amendments needed for the four billboards Generation Group, Inc. is seeking, but also proposing the scheme by which the City (rather than GGI or the property owner) became the “applicant” for those amendments – a scheme in which Alds. Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol were (take your pick): (a) co-schemers; (b) accomplices; (c) aiders and abettors; or (d) clueless go-along-to-get-alongs. 

Because the applicant was the City, no disclosures had to be made under the City’s ethics ordinance as to the identities of the officers, directors and shareholders of GGI or the property owner.

How convenient for them.

According to the Journal article, DiFranco wants the City to have a sit down with GGI’s Joseph Loss and talk money:  “They should be meeting with Joe Loss and trying to figure out how to get the most amount of money.”

We agree…but only after GGI and the owner of the Renaissance office plaza voluntarily provide all of the disclosures required under the ethics ordinance, so the City knows exactly who it is dealing with.  And because (according to the Journal article) DiFranco “has stated he is not connected to Loss’ Generation Group corporation,” we think DiFranco and Allegretti should present ethics disclosures too, if only as a sign of their good faith and fair dealing.  

Disclosures are crucial here because some of Mr. Loss’ clients in billboard deals with other municipalities reportedly are known criminals, like former Crook County undersheriff Jim Dvorak, who did federal time for bribery and ghost payrolling scams; and Oak Brook businessman Joseph Nicosia, convicted of insurance fraud.

In a series of articles in 2004, the Des Plaines Journal details the connections between Loss, Dvorak and Nicosia in the company that made a bundle off billboard permits granted by the City of Des Plaines, ostensibly trading on Dvorak’s relationship with Bill Schneider, who himself was convicted of mail fraud in the 1990s but nevertheless overcame that impediment to become head of Des Plaines’ Economic Development Commission and then even Acting City Manager.

Once all the appropriate disclosures have been made and the City and all of its residents have some idea of with whom they are dealing, sitting down and bargaining over how much the City deserves for four eyesores and the prospect of more makes sense.  And once the money issue is resolved – and assuming the City Attorney finds a way to ensure that any deal the City cuts on these billboards can be legally enforced – the City Council can hold a public hearing where residents can opine on whether the price is right.

Make no mistake about it, folks: the City does need money.  But, in large part, that’s because of the financial mismanagement we got for the past four years under former mayor Howard P. Frimark and his favorite aldermanic lapdog, “Billboards” Allegretti, when the City posted millions in deficit budgets, spent down fund balances, and tried to add another $16 million of debt for a new cop shop – something Allegretti favored so much he didn’t even want a referendum. 

So why weren’t DiFranco and Allegretti singing the money blues back then?

Maybe they were too busy listening to Claire de Lune?

Billboards And Flyers A One-Two Punch


Mayor Dave Schmidt is quoted in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Mayor vows to vote against sign proposal,” January 5) as saying he will vote “no” on the zoning code text amendment to permit billboards in Park Ridge: “As far as I’m concerned, when Planning and Zoning votes unanimously on something, that sends a pretty strong message that it’s how the community at large feels.”

In case you’ve been in a coma for the past several weeks, what Schmidt is talking about is the four billboards Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) wants the City to approve for the Renaissance office complex at the northwest corner of Park Ridge, a request that has been aggressively advanced by Fourth Ward Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti’s ever since GGI contacted him several months ago to enlist his aid in getting the City’s blessing to inflict billboard blight on our community.

There is nothing attractive about a billboard, irrespective of whatever message is splayed across it – except to the people who make a bundle on them.  But we don’t exactly know who those people are, because Allegretti got Alds. Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol to join him in voting to have the City of Park Ridge be the applicant for the zoning code text amendment needed for the billboards. 

That means neither GGI nor the owners of the Renaissance complex (who likely will be getting a nice piece of change as “rent” for providing the billboard location) had to comply with the City’s ethics ordinance, which requires applicants for things like zoning text amendments to disclose their principals, partners, shareholders, officers and directors. In other words, Allegretti, Ryan and Wsol made sure that the owners and operators of GGI and Renaissance folks got a free pass from public scrutiny on this deal.

Why doesn’t that surprise us?

Allegretti continues to try to lead the cattle drive on this billboards deal, arguing that the proposed one-time payment by GGI of $400,000 represents a windfall of 20% of the reported 2009-10 budget deficit.  But even if that payment is legal – which the City Attorney thinks it isn’t – it is still just a one-time payment, not a $400,000 annuity.  Which means that if Allegretti and his fellow alderdopes keep spending millions more than the City takes in while depleting the City’s fund balances in the process, the economic benefits of that billboard deal will be a distant memory while the billboards continue to stand guard over Park Ridge. 

That’s why it is even more suspicious that flyers promoting GGI’s billboards [pdf], and containing several factual inaccuracies, have turned up at Morningfields Market in South Park, a business owned by prominent local attorney and legal colleague of Allegretti’s, Frank DiFranco.  The flyers claim that the City is being irresponsible if it turns away the billboard money, which coincidentally is the same argument DiFranco made at the City Council’s December 21, 2009 meeting.

But where was DiFranco for the past few years when the administration of former-mayor Howard P. Frimark – with Allegretti as Frimark’s favorite lap-dog alderman – was passing all these deficit budgets that have left the City in such a precarious condition?  Where was DiFranco’s law partner, Jeff Wilson, another pro-billboard take-the-money speaker on December 21? 

Will the next Morningfields’ flyers explain those absences?