Park Ridge Beats Chicago To “Taste” Privatization


It looks like we were wrong about private corporation Taste of Park Ridge, Inc. (a/k/a, “Taste Inc.”) and its no-bid monopoly of the City’s premier civic event, Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”).  And are we ever embarrassed. 

For the past couple of years we’ve criticized the people who run Taste Inc. for taking $20,000+ of free City services each year while raking in big bucks from their 3-day summer event.  We’ve also been critical of the current and past City Councils who foolishly gave away this event back in 2005. We thought the City should “own” TOPR and get all the profits – like the City Council originally intended when it rubber-stamped then-Mayor Howard Frimark’s TOPR plan.  But we’re now re-thinking that idea.

What caused this change? Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s recently announced goal of privatizing Taste of Chicago.

If you read Saturday’s Chicago Tribune story (“Privatizing Taste a risky move for Daley,” Aug. 27), you know that Taste of Chicago is the latest big-ticket asset Daley wants to put on the auction block in his increasingly desperate attempt to stave off financial catastrophe as more than two decades of systemic graft and corruption are finally coming home to roost.

Who would have thought that our own Taste Inc-sters were 5 years ahead of municipal mogul Daley in figuring out how to shanghai a high-profile civic event and put money in private pockets…compliments of the taxpayers?

But while we may have beaten Daley to the privatization of our major civic food festival, there will be one big difference between how Daley and the Chicago City Council will do it versus how Frimark and the Park Ridge City Council did it.

Daley will privatize Taste of Chicago only “if City Hall gets offers that make sense.” That’s why Chicago will be looking for bidders willing to pay for the right to run that event.

Here in Park Ridge, however, the taxpayers continue to pay for the privilege of having Taste Inc. run TOPR on a no-bid basis while piling up cash ($65,000 in profits just last year alone) that its operators can now legally use for lobbying and political activity.

Ironically, in Chicago that kind of deal might be branded “graft and corruption”…once the U.S. Attorney’s Office got wind of it.

In Park Ridge, it’s just “volunteering.”

Friday Shout-Outs


Time for the ‘Dog to offer a few shout-outs to the “locals” who deserve them:

To John Heyde and the District 64 School Board…for hiding in closed session while they interviewed candidates to replace departing board member Russ Gentile.  What’s so secret about those interviews that you folks have to go Star Chamber on us? 

To Don Bach…for his out-of-the-blue announcement at Monday night’s City Council meeting that he won’t run for re-election as 3rd Ward aldermen because of the success of his business.  Sounds like a win/win to us.  

To Five Guys and Romano’s…for opening their doors in spaces that have not had the best rate of success.  We sure hope they succeed, because Park Ridge needs both their tax revenue and their contributions to achieving the kind of economic “critical mass” for Uptown that Edison Park enjoys – assuming that’s the kind of “vibrant” Uptown a majority of Park Ridge residents want.

To the Private Community Groups…most of whom appear to have received more in “donations” of taxpayer funds from 4 (or 5) aldermen Monday night then they get from the 37,000 taxpayers themselves during the rest of the year.  Hey, folks…have you stopped to think why that might be?

To the Seniors from the Senior Center…who got a $32,500 handout (the second biggest amount) from the Council even though their “club” (Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc.) had $114,000 on hand as of year-end 2008 (per their latest GuideStar Form 990-EZ) and they only pay $35 a year in dues for the use of that nifty clubhouse that cost the taxpayers $190,000+ last year alone.  Great job feeding at the public trough, seniors! 

To City Manager Jim Hock…for getting away with a 1st quarter financial report that provides a bunch of numbers without actually answering the questions: “Do we currently have an operating surplus or a deficit; and how much?” and “Do we currently have a surplus or a deficit measured against the budget; and how much?”  Or did we just miss it?

To Acting City Finance Director Linda Lazzara…for warning of another possible year-end deficit if the current trend continues.  That probably didn’t add to her boss’ comfort level but, assuming it’s an accurate analysis, it’s a refreshing bit of candor from City Hall.

To Ald. Jim Allegretti…for proving that the Council can make fiscally irresponsible decisions without him.

To Ald. Rich DiPietro…for proving that politics means more to him than principle, by voting for something (certain of the community group handouts) he says he’s against just to pass it so the mayor can veto it.   

And, last but not least, to Taste Inc.’s Albert Galus…for not producing the “final number” (whatever that means) for this year’s Taste of Park Ridge that he told the Park Ridge Journal he would have six weeks ago.  Hey, Albert…did you guys net another $65K from this year’s event?  And what are you planning to do with all that cash now that you changed your status so you can use it for lobbying and running political campaigns?      

Summertime, And The Livin’ Is “Comfortable” (At City Hall)


We haven’t had time to pick apart City Mgr. Jim Hock’s 1st quarter financial numbers, but if the story in yesterday’s on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Despite $2.4M deficit, city officials ‘comfortable’ with budget so far,” August 24) is accurate, all we can say is: Here we go again.

According to the H-A article, Acting City Finance Director Linda Lazzara is already looking at a fiscal year-end deficit if the first quarter performance represents a year-long trend.  We realize that’s a big “if” at this point in time, but with economists less than optimistic about any major upswing in economic growth in sight it’s an “if” that City government should take seriously.

But Lazzara’s boss, Hock, claims to be “comfortable with where we are.”  Or at least that’s what he told the Council at Monday night’s meeting.

That’s the same Hock who seemed remarkably comfortable the past two years even as the City was posting multi-million dollar deficits under his management, and borrowing from its water fund to make payroll because the general fund was tapped out (as Hock reports it is again).  Maybe being comfortable under those circumstances comes from drawing a compensation package of around $200K and having to answer only to a bunch of guys who are comfortable feeling warm air blowing up their whatzits.

From what we’ve seen over the past two years, Hock is comfortable producing warm air at will.

Which is why Hock sounds comfortable in continuing to count on getting big bucks from Springfield, even though The Mighty Quinn & Company remain about 5 months behind on paying what Park Ridge is owed from the state income tax.  After all, don’t Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton have it all under control? 

And, as Hock pointed out, our local sales tax revenues should get a shot in the arm with the opening of three new restaurants in Uptown.  We assume that’s also making him comfortable.

Hock’s comfort appears to have been contagious, which may be why the Council seemed so comfortable Monday night in voting to give away $190,000 in handouts to private community groups which aren’t required to account to the Council or Park Ridge taxpayers for as much as a dime of that money. 

And the Council remains comfortable leaving the door open on Ald. Robert Ryan’s continuing effort to saddle the City with a $724,000 parking lot on Fairview that is listed by his buddy and former campaign treasurer, realtor Owen J. Hayes II – a lot which the City now leases from the Scharringhausens for $20,520 annually (and from which it generates a $2,000 profit) and that also contributes $11,030 in property taxes that would be lost if the City acquired it.

We can only assume that the sale of that property to the City would make the Scharringhausens and Hayes comfortable, too, as there don’t appear to be many private buyers jumping at the property at that price.

So as we approach the end of Summer 2010, Hock and the City Council all seem pretty darn comfortable with how things are going over at City Hall.

How about you?

Will The Grand Giveaway Finally Happen Tonight? (Updated 08.24.10)


After several false starts and outright delays, tonight looks like the night the City Council finally makes those “charitable” donations for us taxpayers that we have chosen not to make for ourselves.

The $190,000 [pdf] of giveaways is the main event of tonight’s “special” Council meeting (at 9:00 p.m. tonight – to discourage attendance?), but it looks like Finance Committee Chair Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) is likely to seek separate votes on each of the 13 specific handouts.  That’s a typically DiPietro-an way to create the appearance of fiscal responsibility while still acting fiscally-irresponsibly.  DiPietro must think he can get some political mileage for himself or his fellow aldermen by distinguishing free-loading “social service” organizations (e.g., the Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, Meals on Wheels) from those free-loading civic/cultural groups (e.g., Park Ridge Fine Arts Society, the Cultural Arts Council).

Of course, that’s just a lot of eyewash intended for consumption by a gullible public.  How gullible that public will be, and for how long, remains to be seen.

For the politicians on the City Council, this isn’t about economic or governmental policy.  It’s about those public officials making certain favored special interests happy using taxpayer money instead of their own.  The fact that the Illinois constitution requires that public monies be used only for clearly “public” purposes – and not for donations to private organizations – seems lost on most of the folks sitting around The Horseshoe. 

As we pointed out in a previous post (“Mayor Once Again Sounds Financial Alarm,” 08.09.10), those aldermen don’t even follow the City’s own extremely un-demanding “policy” for providing public funds to private organizations – which requires the aldermen to specifically consider:

· the community’s need for the services;
· the community’s benefit from the services;
· the degree of private financial support for the services; and
· the community’s volunteer support for the services.

We are not aware of serious consideration being given to any of those factors by this or previous Councils, nor have we heard of this or any previous Council demanding an accounting from these private organizations as to how they actually used the public funds for the specific benefit of Park Ridge residents, and what concrete results were achieved.

We’re also betting that these aldermen have never looked at the Form 990s filed by some of these organizations.  If they did, they would find some things that might be interesting to anybody who truly cared about how our tax dollars are spent.

Like how the most recent Form 990 (EZ) [pdf] filed by the Center of Concern shows that a measly $73,763 of its $900,000+ of gross receipts last year came from its 3 fundraising events, netting less than the $55,000 it wants from the City.  That’s just downright pathetic for an organization that claims broadbased support from the Park Ridge community.  

Or like how well Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.”) is doing financially.  Seniors Inc. is the private not-for-profit (naturally) corporation which we understand quasi-runs the Senior Center for the Park District, and which we understand is the actual recipient of City funding.  From its most recent From 990 (EZ) [pdf], Seniors Inc. looks to be sitting on $114,122, so why exactly is it in line for $35,200 of City funding?    

If these organizations want money from Park Ridge residents, they should earn it through effectively soliciting private donations from the individual residents themselves – not by putting the arm on feckless politicians who can’t say “no” to spending the taxpayers’ money.  But if these organizations don’t want to earn their private donations, then they should earn their public funding through the performance of their services under written contracts which identify specifically what services they will provide for exactly how much of City funding.
Frankly, if this was being done according to Hoyle, our aldermen would already know: (a) exactly how many meals (and what kind of wheels) Park Ridge residents will be getting for the $7,040 that Meals on Wheels expects from the City treasury; (b) exactly how many hours of service Park Ridge residents will be getting (and at what cost per hour) for the $55,000 going to the CofC; (c) exactly what “public” benefits the City’s taxpayers will get for that $35,200 Seniors Inc. wants to add to its $114,000 stockpile; and (d) on exactly what things organizations like Brickton Art Center, the Park Ridge Historical Society, and the Kalo Foundation intend to spend the public funds they’re looking for.

But don’t expect to hear these kinds of questions from the Council this evening…or ever.  The current crop of aldermen, not unlike their predecessors, act like they don’t want to know any of this information, presumably because they don’t care about it.  

It looks like they just want the fun and political capital that comes from recklessly giving away money that mostly isn’t their own.

UPDATE (08.24.10):  Richie D did move to divide the question so that each of the 13 giveaways got voted on separately; Richie D voted “yes” on all of them even though he claims he didn’t support the non-social services ones, giving as his “reasoning” that he wanted to ensure they passed so that the mayor could veto them (once again, politics over policy for Richie D); DiPietro, Bach, Ryan and Carey voted for all of the appropriations; Wsol voted against all of them; and Sweeney voted against all but Center of Concern ($55,000) and Meals on Wheels ($7,040) for no disclosed reason.  Oh yes, Allegretti was absent.

Not surprisingly, nobody – neither the aldermen nor the mayor – inquired as to what exactly the citizens of Park Ridge were going to be getting for their $190,000.  And, of course, none of the groups represented in the audience (notably, the Center of Concern and the Senior Center, who combined will be pulling in $90,000 of that $190,000) offered any explanation. 

Politics, Lawsuits, No Answer To O’Hare Noise


If you happen to be one of those simplistic local partisan Republicans (we’re leaving you simplistic local partisan Democrats alone today) who thinks that replacing our current representative in Congress will magically make our O’Hare problem better, you were probably a bit disappointed by what you heard from her Republican challenger last Wednesday night at the Park Ridge Library.

Joel Pollak seems like a bright, earnest and pleasant fellow.  He’s got whatever cachet comes from undergrad and law degrees from Harvard.  He may yet give Jan Schakowsky a run for her money.  But when it came time for the rubber to meet the road on O’Hare, he didn’t have any more horespower under the hood than the incumbent.

Pollak’s message?  Try to get a seat “at the table” and see what we can negotiate, because lawsuits don’t have a likelihood of success and chances aren’t good that the airlines will observe any City Council-declared “no fly” zone over Park Ridge.

Unless City Hall starts deploying Stinger surface-to-air missiles to those embattled residents in the Belle Plaine corridor.

Even the double handful of local Dems salted throughout the audience waiting to pounce on any Pollak flub had little to squawk about.  Pollak noted the pre-emptive role of the FAA (a/k/a, the “Feds”), which is the 800-pound gorilla on whom Richie Daley relies to keep ‘em flying at O’Hare and pumping more cash into Chicago’s coffers that have been depleted by decades of his administration’s mismanagement, cronyism, and outright crookedness.

But if Pollak’s message was lost on anybody last Wednesday night, last night’s City Council dog-and-pony show by Irvine, California attorney Steven Taber should have been a bucket of cold water to all but those afflicted with terminal O’Hare Fever. 

We quote from Taber’s August 9, 2010, memorandum to the mayor and City Council concerning O’Hare-related litigation:

“While there is potential for causes of action that would affect the OMP, and thereby prevent or reduce the noise over Park Ridge, the time for filing project related lawsuits has essentially passed.”

The same appears to go for lawsuits other than those directed against the OMP as a whole.  As Taber notes in his memo, even suing to get a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) is viewed as having a probability of success that is “not very high, even with significant evidence supporting noise in excess of levels predicted by the EIS.” 

We don’t like airplane noise and pollution any more than the next guy or gal.  But, as we’ve said on this blog before, the time for getting after O’Hare expansion and the new runways via lawsuits (if there ever was any realistic opportunity) came and went years ago – while Mayors Howard Frimark, Mike Marous and even O’Hare-obsessed Ron Wietecha busied themselves with other things (in Wietecha’s case, figuratively -and futilely – baying at the O’Hare moon at virtually every City Council meeting). 

And let’s not forget all those Belle Plaine folks who were asleep at the wheel regarding OMP until they got a 757-sized wake up call. 

There may be numerous reasons to prefer Joel Pollak to Jan Schakowsky as our representative in Washington.  But from what we heard last week at the Park Ridge Library and what we heard last night at City Hall, an effective plan to provide Park Ridge with relief from O’Hare is not one of them.

And throwing $165,000 of City money at the problem is just a waste.

Inaction May Be Best On City’s Proposed Cell Phone Driving Ban


Monday night the Park Ridge City Council’s Committee of the Whole deadlocked – 3 aldermen (Don Bach, Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol for) to 3 aldermen (Joe Sweeney, Rich DiPietro and Jim Allegretti against) on a motion to send an ordinance to the full Council that would impose a $50 fine on drivers talking on hand-held cell phones.  Ald. Tom Carey was absent, and Mayor Schmidt is not allowed to break ties on COW votes.

The ordinance was not supported by Police Chief Frank Kaminski, who believes a state-wide ban would be more effective and enforceable than a local ordinance.  We agree with the Chief on that one.

But if you want to consider this issue at the level our elected officials did, consider the “reasoning” offered by Ryan and Allegretti for and against, respectively, the hand-held cell phone ban, courtesy of this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“Cell phone ban gets poor reception from aldermen on Monday,” August 10).

Ryan:  “I think there’s nothing wrong with Park Ridge taking a leadership position.  We’ve always done that and I would like to see us get back to doing that.  I would hate to see some child die because I didn’t act.”

Allegretti: “I talk on my cell phone a lot and I’ve never had an accident with it; I’ve never run anybody over and I’ve never turned a corner and nearly struck somebody.  I don’t think it’s that level of distraction that these studies say (cell phones) are.”

We challenge Mr. Ryan to identify all the “leadership position(s)” Park Ridge has taken on significant public issues over the past decade.  What the heck, we’ll give him the past two decades – if only because we feel sorry for a guy who is looking for “leadership” from a City still reluctant to let go of Prohibition.

As for Mr. Allegretti’s statements, even a cursory Internet search reveals numerous surveys and studies with a variety of results, almost all of which conclude that cell phone usage – both hand-held and hands-free – while driving is a significant distraction that increases the risk of auto accidents.  Then again, so is yelling at your misbehaving kids, putting on make-up, reading billboards, and a variety of other things that impair a driver’s concentration.

The debate is ongoing, however, on whether hands-free cell phone usage is significantly safer than hand-held usage.  A survey in the February 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found the difference between hands-held and hands-free cell phone safety usage to be “not significant,” and subsequent studies generally have concurred.   

But if safety is truly the reason behind the City Council exploring any kind of ban on cell phone use while driving, then why not ban all cell phone use while driving?  Why limit it to just hand-held phones – other than because hand-held usage is more readily provable by the police and, therefore, more likely to provide extra revenue for cash-strapped municipalities like Park Ridge? 

Hey, couldn’t those red-light cameras catch hand-held cell phone drivers red-handed?

If the public really wants to significantly increase road safety, it could start by demanding more stringent driving tests instead of the joke that passes for a licensing exam in Illinois today.  Or by demanding mandatory prison sentences and lifetime driving bans for people convicted of drunk driving, like they do in some other countries.  Or by raising the licensing age to 25, the age that most insurance companies use for determining the “adult” premium rate.

Those are weighty policy issues that don’t seem to be within the comfort zone of our public officials at the state or local level.  Which is probably just as well, because as of now this debate – at least on the City Council level – sounds more about good intentions than sound public policy considerations. 

And as perhaps the leading 19th Century American statesman, Daniel Webster, warned: “It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.”

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This site is undergoing some upgrades and, consequently, the “Comments” function will not be functional at all times during the upgrades.  We expect them to be completed within the next few weeks, at which time the Comments function should become fully operational again.

Mayor Once Again Sounds Financial Alarm


Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt’s message in the most recent edition of The Spokesman (“Budget problems persist,” August 2010) is a needed reminder that the City continues to face substantial financial problems that must be addressed on an immediate and ongoing basis instead of at year-end, when the money already has been spent and we’re staring at yet another multi-million dollar deficit.

Schmidt correctly points out that the chronically-mismanaged State of Illinois owes Park Ridge over $1 million in payments that the City Manager and the City Council counted on to help balance the 2010-11 budget. Whether and when that money ever hits the City treasury remains to be seen, which appears to be why Schmidt reiterated in The Spokesman his previously-disclosed plan to veto the Council’s expected donation of approximately $200,000 of City funds to a variety of private community groups who can’t or won’t do what it takes to raise the private contributions necessary to support themselves without handouts of tax dollars.

While Schmidt cites the current precarious financial circumstances as the principal reason for his opposition to throwing money at these community groups, we think donating public funds to private organizations is bad public policy at all times, especially without a quid pro quo arrangement by which those private groups contract with the City as vendors to actually sell their specialized services to the City.

We also note that City Council Policy Statement No. 6 permits City funding of these community groups solely in “limited circumstances” and prescribes certain criteria for the appropriation of public funds to benefit private entities:

3. When considering use of limited public funds for private non-governmental organizations the City
shall consider:

   A. The community need for offered services(s)
   B. The community benefit for such service(s)
   C. Private financial support for the service(s)
   D. Community volunteer support for the service(s)

Throughout the entire course of debate on community group funding, these four criteria were virtually ignored by the City Council. Instead, we got general ipse dixit pronouncements from the aldermen who favor these kinds of donations about what a great deal these groups provide for the City. And most of the organizations who appeared before the Council seeking funds provided no specifics about how many Park Ridge residents they serve, what the cost of those services for Park Ridge residents really is, and exactly what Park Ridge taxpayers are getting for their money.

To the contrary, from the limited hard data these organizations provide it appears that (for example) the Center of Concern provides the great majority of its services to non-Park Ridge residents, and that 15-20% of the Senior Center membership consists of non-Park Ridge residents. But during the City Council budget hearings, the Council asked no such questions and the community groups provided no such information beyond their standard warm-and-fuzzy sales pitches.

We hope the City Council finally wakes up to economic reality and demands an up-to-date accounting from City Mgr. Hock that shows exactly where the City’s finances are in relation to the 2010-11 budget before it even considers giving public funds to private groups. We also hope the Council demands a detailed accounting from each group about exactly what it does, for exactly whom it is done, the specific per-person cost of doing it, and why it can’t/won’t be done with private donations rather than by these groups sticking their snouts into the public funding trough.

The Mayor once again has sounded the financial alarm. Will the aldermen once again sleep through it?

City Officials Need To Be Accountable For TOPR


One of the comments to our August 3 post about Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) and the private corporation that runs it on an exclusive no-bid, no-contract, no-accountability basis, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), inquired about the City officials who gave away TOPR to Taste Inc. back in 2005.

That’s a good point, because while we have called Taste Inc. on the carpet for its sweetheart deal and its secrecy, in situations like this it takes at least two to tango: the opportunistic private individuals/organization that want something from government, and the typically (for Illinois, at least) complicit/clueless public officials who blithely give it away.  Oh yes…and let’s not forget the sheep-like voters, who are happily distracted from the harsh realities of incompetent and/or corrupt governance by the bread and circuses our politicians cynically provide.

As we’ve previously pointed out, the Taste Inc.-sters cashed in on the opportunity given them in June 2005 by then-mayor Howard Frimark and then-Alds. Don Crampton, Kirk Machon, Rich DiPietro, Jeannie Markech, Andrea Bateman, Kim Jones, Jim Radermacher, Jim Allegretti, Mark Anderson, Joe Baldi, Rex Parker, Mary Wynn Ryan, Jeff Cox and Frank Wsol.  So instead of running TOPR through the planned City committee that was going to be subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and would be returning all profits from the event to the City, the Taste Inc.-sters promptly set up their private corporation answerable to nobody and began running TOPR for what appears to be solely Taste Inc.’s benefit.

During its first four years in operation, Taste Inc. produced no reports for the City and didn’t even file IRS Form 990 tax returns – facts ignored first by Frimark and those fourteen aldermen who gave TOPR away, then by Frimark and his stripped-down Council of Alds. Dave Schmidt, Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey and Frank Wsol.  Rather than call Taste Inc. to account for its activities, all those officials were too busy being “politicians” – working the beer tents or otherwise making themselves visible to the voters by helping run the TOPR circus.

But last summer, Mayor Schmidt finally called Taste Inc. to account for its activities.  And for the first time ever, Taste Inc.’s Dave Iglow and Albert Galus showed up at a Council meeting with a “report” [pdf] which claimed $266,652 of “gross receipts” but said absolutely nothing about the profits produced by those revenues. 

We had to wait until March of this year to see Taste Inc.’s first-ever IRS From 990 [pdf], which inexplicably reported only $163,391 of total revenues (what happened to that $266,652?), but also reported a whopping $65,221 of “excess” – what most of us in the real world call “profit.”

In addition to the gross revenues discrepancy, we also noticed that Taste Inc.’s Form 990 doesn’t report the $20,000+ in free City services (police, fire and public works) that Taste Inc. received, even though there is a specific line item (Page 3, Part III, Line 5) asking for “[t]he value of services or facilities furnished by a governmental unit to the organization without charge.”

We wonder whether Taste Inc. president Dave Iglow, who signed that Form 990, or Taste Inc. accountant James Vourvoulias, who prepared it, have an explanation for those discrepancies; and, if so, whether they will share that explanation with the public that effectively puts that $65,000 in Taste Inc’s bank account.  And we have to wonder whether our Mayor, our City Council, or our highly-paid City Manager will even bother to ask for such an explanation.

We also have to wonder what particular public policy causes the Mayor and the City Council to keep giving away $20,000+ a year in free services to a private organization that is pocketing $65,000+ in profits originally intended for the City’s coffers, even as that same City Council cuts police officers because it can’t afford the $100,000-per-officer annual cost. 

But, then again, what can we expect from public officials who, if not actually “in bed” with the Taste Inc.-sters, do their best to keep Taste Inc.’s pillows fluffed?

Hey, Albert Galus…Where’s That “Final Number” For TOPR 2010?


As readers of this blog know, we have taken it upon ourselves to try to get some transparency and accountability out of the folks who run Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), the private corporation that was given an exclusive no-bid, no-contract monopoly on the City’s premier civic event, Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”), in June 2005. 

The reason we have undertaken that thankless task is because nobody else at City Hall has stepped forward to do it ever since then-mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Purple Ribbon-wimped City Council gave away TOPR to a group of “volunteers” who were supposed to form a City committee and operate TOPR under the City’s control for the City’s financial benefit.

Within weeks of the Council’s decision, however, those volunteers formed the Taste Inc. corporation and began running TOPR as a private business while reaping the benefits of “free” City services (police, fire and public works) worth as much as $20,000 a year, all while maintaining a level of financial stonewalling that would make the notoriously secret Mars candy family proud: until last year, Taste Inc. never produced any written report to the City, nor did it file the IRS Form 990s that are required of not-for-profits with gross revenues over $25,000

Heck, we’ll bet even the Mars family filed their tax returns! 

The only thing the public knew about Taste Inc.’s finances was that it gave $1,000 to the campaign fund of former Taste Inc.-ster Bob “the Dude” Dudycz, in September 2007, even though a 501(c)(3) organization (which Taste Inc. was at the time) is prohibited from making such political contributions.  And in case you’re wondering, that contribution to The Dude’s campaign wasn’t voluntarily disclosed by Taste Inc. 

Whether that explains why Taste Inc. shut down its 501(c)(3) operation last year and reincorporated a couple weeks later as a 501(c)(6) that can lawfully make political contributions, is anybody’s guess because Taste Inc.’s president Dave Iglow (Pines Men’s Wear), vice-president Albert Galus (Academic Tutoring Centers), treasurer Jim Bruno (Chase Bank), and directors Dean Patras (Broadway Livery Service), Sandy Svizzero (Parkway Bank), Barb Tyksinski (All On The Road Catering) and John Warnimont (Activision Electric) aren’t saying.

But when Taste Inc. finally filed its first-ever Form 990 in March of this year (for 2009), it showed a whopping “profit” of $65,221 on $163,391 of gross revenues for that 3-day event.  Instead of that money going into the City’s coffers like was originally intended back in 2005, however, the money may have ended up in Taste Inc.’s bank account for Taste Inc. to use as it pleases.  

Not surprisingly, the Taste Inc. triumvirate (Iglow, Galus and Bruno) has been stone-cold silent about last year’s profit and whatever additional profit it made from this year’s event.  Silence, especially about Taste Inc.’s and TOPR’s finances, has been their stock in trade, except when they’re verbally patting themselves on the backs or praising all the volunteers who provide the free labor that lets Taste Inc. rake in that kind of cash without having to account for it.

So when Galus crowed to the Park Ridge Journal (“Well That Was Fun!” July 14) about sales at this year’s event being “very good” and stated that he would have a “final number” later that week, we wondered whether Taste Inc. had turned over a new leaf and was going to make itself more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who pour all that money into Taste Inc.’s coffers. 

Even we can be hopelessly naive sometimes!

Almost three weeks later there still is no “final number” from Taste Inc.  And if Taste Inc. repeats last year’s initial Form 990 filing procedure, we won’t know how much Taste Inc. pocketed from this year’s event, or the total cash it is sitting on, until March 2011 – less than a month before what might be hotly-contested April aldermanic elections.

How many Park Ridge aldermanic seats can a 501(c)(6) corporation buy for $65,000?