Bad City Decisions Only Get Worse – Part I


Anyone who wonders how our state (Illinois), our county (Crook) and our City got into the financial messes they now find themselves could have learned an object lesson at City Hall this past Monday night: that bad governmental decisions only get worse over time. 

In around two hours, our elected representatives voted City Mgr. Jim Hock a new 28-month contract that guarantees him more money and job security than his previous one-year contract.  And after that, they tried their darnedest to give away another $100-150,000 of our money to gussy-up the facades of the Pickwick, 720 Garden, and the is-it-really-coming O’Reilly’s Irish Pub buildings. 

This post focuses on Hock’s contract, with the latest façade improvement faux pas saved for one of next week’s posts. 

Hock’s original 2008 contract paid him a base salary of $165,000 a year.  It also provided him with an interest-free $350,000 mortgage loan (worth from $10-15,000 a year in interest payments), a $5,000 annual reduction in that mortgage principal, a car (with gas, maintenance and insurance), and other benefits that put his total compensation up in the neighborhood of $200,000.  And let’s not forget that full month of paid vacation.

That contract, however, was for only one year.  It expired almost a year and a half ago, which means that Hock has been an “at will” employee on whom the City Council could have imposed any terms it wanted to – terms which Hock would be free to accept or reject and go elsewhere.   

So why did the Council give Hock this new, sweetened deal?

It beats us, especially because it seems like Hock’s noteworthy “accomplishments” since coming to Park Ridge a couple of years ago could fit on the head of a pin – with room left over for several dancing angels. 

In place of “accomplishments,” Hock’s record to date conveys an abiding sense of mediocrity punctuated by occasional incidents of boneheadedness, such as: his proposed “balanced” 2010-11 budget that, on its face, was $200,000+ in deficit; his decision to give windfall “super-severance” payments to departing employees Kim Uhlig, Carrie Davis and Aggie Stempniak; and his recent proposal to spend $400,000 this coming year on engineering design work for a $6 million-plus police station renovation and 10,000 square foot addition that he wants the City to build in 2015-16?

But in Park Ridge we appear to reward mediocrity and boneheadedness, in this case with a new contract that more than doubles the duration of Hock’s original one while adding a bit more compensation.  And if that’s not excessive enough while he’s actually working for us, our City Council Santas also just gave him $110,000 not to work for us – in the form of severance pay, even if he is fired for things like insubordination, dishonesty, or moral turpitude! 

How many of you have that kind of deal?  So why should Hock?

According to Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st), the Council negotiators (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro and Wsol) of Hock’s contract “did a tremendous job” in coming up with “a great contract for [Hock]” which Sweeney “still do[es] not believe is a great contract for the City.”  Sweeney nevertheless supports that pro-Hock contract because it’s consistent with the “contract that was entered into years ago” between Hock and the City – that contract being the bad decision that is no longer legally binding on either Hock or the City, but which still seems to have Sweeney, et al. enthralled, if not entranced. 

In response to Sweeney’s explanation of this buffoonery, Mayor Dave Schmidt admonished the Council that “if this is not good for the people of the City of Park Ridge, then you have no business voting for it.”  That’s exactly correct.  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Allegretti, Carey, DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol from giving the new contract their unanimous approval (Alds. Don Bach and Robert Ryan were MIA).  

We’ll have to wait until 2011 to see whether Schmidt will veto that contract, but we sure hope he does.

Because these kinds of stupid and irresponsible deals are what we have come to expect from Mike Madigan and whatever governor happens to be shining Mikey’s shoes down in Springfield.  And from the Crook County Board, especially under presidents John Stroger and Todd Stroger.  And from that demented midget entering the home stretch of his far-too-long tenure on the 5th floor of Chicago’s City Hall. 

Which is why the finances of Chicago, Crook County, and the State of Corruption are in the tank.  And why Park Ridge’s are heading in that direction.

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