The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From Last Night’s COW


Most of the “action” at last night’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting involved the Finance & Budget portion of the agenda, chaired by the current dean of the City Council, Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward). As usual there was some good, some bad, and some ugly – and, as usual, darn few residents turned out to question, complain, or just to bear witness.

The good?

Let’s start with the COW’s 4-3 recommendation (Alds. Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol v. Alds. Allegretti, Carey & Ryan) to cut City Manager Jim Hock’s discretionary spending authority back to the $10,000 level where it had been until former city manager Tim Schuenke had his way with the Council back in September 2007, doubling the limit to its current $20,000.  It’s unclear whether this vote was an acknowledgment that the increase was bad policy, or whether it was just an ad hominem slap at Hock for his recent abuses of the privilege.  But under the circumstances, we’ll call this a “win” for now.

Another “good” thing was the COW’s 5-2 recommendation (Bach, DiPietro, Carey, Sweeney & Wsol v. Allegretti & Ryan) to suspend the wrong-headed ab initio facade improvement program and use the remaining $400,000 allocated to it for a reduction of the City’s multi-million dollar TIF-related debt. 

Although involving a relatively small amount of money and coming only after far too much was already given away through this program, this was an important victory for “good government” because it reflected a rejection of that longstanding, bogus argument – raised once again by Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller and Ald. Jim Allegretti, naturally – that nebulous, warm-and-fuzzy “intangible benefits” are more important than actual, provable economic returns – whether we’re looking at these facade improvement windfall payments to local merchants and property owners, or at the annual handouts to various private community groups.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Hock, Maller and Allegretti had not one shred of hard evidence that the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars already spent to improve the facades of private buildings over the past several years have generated even one extra property tax dollar, or one extra sales tax dollar, in return.  No need to ruin their fantasies with facts.

The bad?

Allegretti, Carey and Ryan – insisting that the mayor or the City Council engage in “good faith” negotiations with Hock over a new contract.  Apparently somebody forgot to tell those three amigos that the City has no duty to negotiate with Hock at all, much less to provide him with whatever giveaway those guys might consider a sign of the City’s “good faith.”  From Hock’s marginal performance over the past two years, he should be grateful he’s still got a job that pays him over $200,000, all in.

Unfortunately, Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol let themselves get pushed into approving a proposal whereby the Mayor’s advisory committee of aldermen (Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro & Wsol) will…wait for it…enter into negotiations with Hock, which suggests that Hock’s misadventures might still earn him a raise.  And Sweeney’s common sense hiccupped when he proclaimed that he would wholeheartedly endorse, sight unseen, whatever contract the Council negotiating team might recommend.

Last, but not least, the ugly:

Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) sent President Dave Iglow and Vice-President Albert Galus to put on a dog-and-pony show during which, under questioning by F&B Chairman DiPietro and Mayor Schmidt, they hinted at ending Taste Inc.’s involvement in Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) should the City dare to eliminate the approximately $5,000 in free “direct” city services (police, fire and public works) Taste Inc. has come to expect since then-mayor Howard Frimark and that purple ribbon-whipped Council gave TOPR away back in 2005.

In reality, that’s about as idle a “threat” as you will find, given that Taste Inc. currently enjoys a monopoly on the City’s “signature” municipal event that generates (according to Iglow and Galus) as much as $500,000 of total revenues – if you consider not just the money Taste Inc. rakes into its own coffers, but also all the additional secondary revenue allegely realized (without any documentation, of course) by the Uptown merchants not only during the event itself but on a residual basis from non-Park Ridge TOPR patrons coming back to Park Ridge weeks and months later.

Iglow and Galus gave a figurative back-of-the-hand to inquiries about how much Taste Inc. returns to the community (beyond the whopping $1,781 in sales tax it generated this year), how it can justify non-essential “marketing” expenditures like the orange gorilla near Hodges Park when it is stiffing the taxpayers for at least $5,000/yr – or much more, because City Mgr. Hock conveniently eliminated “indirect” costs from this year’s expense calculation, thereby dropping the City’s expenses from last year’s figure of $23,000 down to only $9,676 in 2010.

We’ll see if Taste Inc. provides the City Council with any of the Form 990 tax returns it should have filed for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 when it most certainly had gross revenues in excess of the $25,000 threshold for filing such returns.  Judging from its history of six year history of secrecy, however, we won’t be holding our breath on that one.

All in all, an interesting night at the COW – but probably nothing like we’ll see tonight, when the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission tees up the special use permits for the proposed cell towers at Northeast and South Parks (7:30 at City Hall).

Tin foil hats optional.

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