Labor Contract Buffoonery, Round 2


Today we’re taking a short break from the stretch drive of the various political campaigns – but not a whole week of Spring Break, like mayoral challenger Larry Ryles is enjoying – to address a matter that’s on tonight’s City Council COW agenda: the new collective bargaining agreement between the City and Local 150 of the Operating Engineers who represent the Public Works employees.

Yes, the same union that gave Ryles a $1,000 contribution a few weeks ago, in what might be viewed as an “investment” in a hoped-for future.

It was only back on March 11 that we published a post critical of how City Staff managed labor negotiations, contracts, and communications with the City Council concerning them: “Latest Episode Of Labor Contract Buffoonery On Display Tonight”.  We won’t repeat that discussion (which you can read for yourself if so inclined) other than to note some recent developments that continue the City’s clown-car approach to labor matters.

When we wrote that March 11 post, the Council “packet” on the City’s website didn’t include Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton’s Memorandum containing his “Summary and Analysis Local 150 Tentative Agreement” – nor did the Council, as we understand it.

That Memorandum recounted some details of a May 21, 2012, closed session (“executive session”) to discuss bargaining strategy.  In fairness to Hamilton, he wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Mayor Dave Schmidt or the Council back then, as his predecessor, Jim Hock, had just been sacked and long-time Deputy City Manager had taken over as ACM with the Council’s expectation that she would stay on until the City had paid off all of Hock’s $120,000+ severance package.

But Hamilton apparently did enough research to discover that the Council had reached a consensus back then “to use other fridge [sic] benefit concerns as bargaining”; and that the Council “wanted to see any wage increases offset with other concessions” – “offset” being the operative word, suggesting that any deal would be revenue-neutral for the City.

So when Hamilton joins Suppan in recommending that the Council pass this new Agreement that he admits results in an expenditure of $75,488 of “net new dollars,” we would hope that recommendation would come with an explanation of why the Agreement was good for Park Ridge’s taxpayers and consistent with the Council’s revenue-neutral mandate.

So much for that hope. 

In his own Agenda Cover Memorandum from March 11, 2013 – which we did address in our March 11 post – City H.R. Director Michael Suppan provided no explanation whatsoever for why he and Hamilton were recommending the Agreement even though it failed to achieve the revenue-neutral status the Council wanted.  Instead, he notes only that “[t]he terms of this agreement are below the authority originally authorized by the Council on May 2012” – an oblique way of saying that, at 2.75% for the first two years, it was under the “3% over the first two years” referenced in Hamiton’s memo as Maller’s “authority”; and even though, in apparent excess of her authority, it includes a 1.75% increase in year 3 that takes the Agreement up to a 4.5% increase over 3 years.

But where’s the “offset” that makes such a wage increase revenue-neutral, gentlemen? And where’s the “potential wage reopener in the third year”?

We aren’t suggesting that $75,488 over 3 years will break the City’s piggy bank.  It won’t.  But when the City is giving away 4.5% increases over 3 years with not even an attempt to tie it to merit or performance, this sounds like just another COLA-based deal that is designed to help ensure the preservation of the employees’ purchasing power against expected inflation rather than to reward and incentivize better performance and productivity. 

Where in the City Code does it say that the City is supposed to ensure the purchasing power of its employees?

Hamilton’s memo makes a point of mentioning that the new Agreement cuts the amount of vacation for new employees from as much as 29 days (at 15 years of service) down to a mere 20 days, a/k/a 4 weeks.  So all 28 current employees will be grandfathered into the current vacation plan until they leave or retire, which means the benefits of that policy might not be felt for awhile – assuming the next contract doesn’t restore the current vacation schedule for all employees.

Do Hamilton and Suppan think that’s a good idea?  Have they done some kind of calculation that convinces them the vacation change will somehow bring about the revenue-neutral “offset” the Council wanted?  Do they think that this new Agreement really is in the best interest of the City’s taxpayers, and why? 

We don’t know, because Hamilton and Suppan aren’t saying.

We realize that answering those questions would require actual “analysis” and judgment rather than just clerical compilations.  Given how cavalierly prior Councils gave away across-the-board raises and benefits, there probably are no benchmarks or “cheat sheets” laying around to help them with that task.

But isn’t that what these guys are getting paid for?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Economic Development Requires Diagnosis, Not Quackery


When people visit a doctor with a health problem, they expect a diagnosis of the problem before the doctor starts prescribing a treatment or cure.  That’s because in medicine, like in so many other areas of life, you can’t come up with an effective treatment or cure until you’ve figured out the problem.

Unfortunately, in politics the opposite is often the case – as we saw last Wednesday afternoon at the mayoral candidates’ debate held by the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce.  Not surprisingly for a business group, the main topic of the debate was business, specifically retail…and why Park Ridge doesn’t have more of it.

Mayor Dave Schmidt made it clear that he wants more retail, while at the same time pointing out that retail has picked up over the past four years by about 25%, as reflected in the approximately $1 million increase in annual sales tax revenue.  He also talked about the burdens of an Uptown TIF which, contrary to what its proponents promised back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has turned into an economic black hole so deep that the City might never recoup the $40 million-plus that it borrowed to finance the City’s portions of the project, even if the TIF is extended beyond its intended 23 years.

The chief culprits and apologists for that TIF debacle?  Former mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, who have endorsed challenger Larry Ryles for mayor.  And the Chamber of Commerce itself, whose members clamored for something, anything, that might juice their own businesses with little regard for the consequences on the entire community.

At last Wednesday’s debate, Ryles – as he has done throughout this campaign season – showed how he is like a doctor writing all sorts of feel-good prescriptions without bothering to make any diagnosis.

He reiterated his promise to become “the face of economic development in Park Ridge” and to “sell Park Ridge” at local and national conventions, using tools like a promotional DVD.  Reinforcing his “heart and hugs” platform, he talked about making existing businesses feel “appreciated” with “just a hug and a handshake.”

If that sounds vague and silly to you, join the club.

What it’s lacking is a “diagnosis” of what, if anything, is “wrong” with Park Ridge that is preventing the kind of retail this community wants from coming here – assuming anybody has even bothered to figure out exactly what kind of retail that is.

Ryles sure hasn’t, unless his website’s display of the logos of Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ann Tayor, Clarks and GameStop are his oblique attempt to do so.  All he’s been actually talking about are unspecified “local brands” and “national brands,” which apparently leaves out unspecified “international brands” and “intergalactic brands.”

But we digress.

What, if anything, is so “wrong” with Park Ridge that desirable retailers avoid us – and why should we believe that it can be cured with “just a hug and a handshake”?

Is there something inherently “wrong” with the old Napleton property on Greenwood between Busse and Northwest Highway – or is the problem with Park Ridge generally?  That’s a decent-sized parcel right across from the Jewel that’s been vacant for a couple of years, apparently with no interest from any notable retailers.  Could “just a hug and a handshake” turn that parcel into thriving retail?

Is there something inherently “wrong” with the former Napleton site at Northwest Highway and Meacham, just west of Trader Joe’s and the Uptown complex – or is the problem with Park Ridge generally?  And let’s ask the same question about the Mr. K’s Garden Center property just east of the Big Ten headquarters on Higgins, which has been rumored to be on the block for the past several years but where nothing seems to be happening, either.  Could “just a hug and a handshake” change that?

Even smaller existing space hasn’t proved a big draw.  The former Dominic’s Kitchen Store at 116 Main St., a decent-sized space, has been vacant for the two years since Park Ridge native Dominic Cimilluca closed his doors and filed for bankruptcy because his specialty store “just didn’t get the support we needed from the locals” – according to a 03.16.11 story in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate.  “We love Park Ridge.  We love the people.  It’s just a hard place to do business,” Cimilluca said.

Not surprisingly (at least to us), Dominic voiced no complaints about City government being “unfriendly” to business, so that takes away one of the convenient scapegoats.

Could “just a hug and a handshake” have saved Dominic’s?

Ten years ago all we heard was that Park Ridge couldn’t attract desirable new retail until it had the kind of space the new Uptown project was going to provide, and which would reinvigorate the entire area and turn all of Uptown into a “vibrant” commercial and retail mecca.  We were told going $40 million in the hole (with bonded debt) was a small price to pay for all the benefits that would flow from the TIF and the project.

That was a prescription without a diagnosis.  And as an economic “cure,” it has turned out to be the equivalent of trying to cure lung cancer by applying a dozen leeches to the patient’s ankle – leeches that not only won’t cure the disease but which will keep sucking up millions of taxpayer dollars for years to come.

Mayor Schmidt seems to be advocating a measured wait-and-see approach based on an overall economic recovery, although we think he’s off-base when he talks about the City hiring another economic development person.  He’s dead-on, however, when he notes that Whole Foods found its new site at Washington and Touhy despite the City Council’s rejection of WF’s request for over $2 million of tax revenue sharing, and without even any City official offering “just a hug and a handshake.”

What did Whole Foods see in Park Ridge that other retailers haven’t seen?

While Schmidt hasn’t offered a specific answer, Ryles doesn’t seem to have a clue.  But that hasn’t stopped him from writing a flurry of “prescriptions” while still not offering a credible “diagnosis” of what, if anything, ails Park Ridge in its quest for more and better retail.

There’s a name for doctors who do that.


To read or post comments, click on title.


Is Teen Center Closing A Ryles Political Stunt?


Better grab a sandwich and a beverage, not-so-gentle readers, because this is a long one.

On October 13, 2010, and on December 29, 2010, we published posts about the Park Ridge Teen Center in response to the whines and howls from the Teen Center crowd when the City cut its funding – along with the funding for all but three other private “community groups”: Center of Concern, Meals on Wheels, and the Maine Center for Mental Health.

But apparently you can’t keep an entrenched entitlement down.

According to a March 8 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate and a similar article in the March 13 edition of the Park Ridge Journal, the Teen Center is again threatening to close its doors at the end of this April because of…wait for it…the City’s cutting off of its funding.

Back in 2010!

If you think it’s not merely a coincidence that this latest threat arrives just in time for the April 9 election, then you have been paying attention.  And you also understand how slick the folks running challenger Larry Ryles’ mayoral campaign can be.

Of course, it could be just a coincidence Teen Center board member Kate Kerin and friends are bringing up this imminent closing – without any prior warning – just before next month’s mayoral election.  But that would mean the Teen Center operators didn’t know what their finances were; or they just had the financial rug pulled out from under them; or they suffered some other major setback.  But if any of those things had occurred, wouldn’t they have made it into the Teen Center’s press release?

They didn’t, so we have to assume that the timing of the announcement is an orchestrated political stunt.

Which should come as no surprise, considering that Ms. Kerin is the wife of former 4th Ward alderman John Kerin, who over the years contributed over $700 to Howard Frimark’s campaign fund.  Kerin also was a member of the old, post-Marty Butler Homeowner’s Party (the “old HOs”) and is rumored to be part of the “new Homeowners” group (nominally known as the “Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections”) that just gave Ryles a whopping $10,000 from that group’s $15,000 war chest it received when the old HOs went out of business in early 2009.  Kerin also gave the old HOs almost $700.

Besides being a one-term alderman, Kerin is a former chairman of the old Economic Development Corporation, a weird public-private group that spent City money but held closed meetings and achieved little actual economic development over the roughly 12 years its existence – other than recommending the Uptown TIF.  He’s also a Center of Concern board member and advocate, which makes him another Kerin whose pet ox has been gored by Schmidt’s efforts to stop tax dollars from going to unaccountable private corporations.

Using something like the Teen Center as a political pawn was never beneath Frimark, so there’s no reason to think it’s beneath his newest BFF, Ryles – or beneath Frimark/Ryles supporters such as the Kerins.  And there’s no reason to think that the timing for moving this particular pawn to help Ryles defeat incumbent Mayor Dave Schmidt (who beat Frimark 4 years ago) is just happenstance.

Mrs. Kerin is quoted in the H-A article as pointing out that: “Since the inception of the Teen Center, the city of Park Ridge was our main funding source.”  Indeed, the City had been a/the major source of funding for almost all of those many private “community group” corporations who fed at the public trough despite providing many/most of their “services” to non-Park Ridge residents, including the Center of Concern, Maine Center, Meals on Wheels, and the Park Ridge Senior Center, as run by private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc.

All those groups would still have been getting their government handouts if it were up to Frimark’s then-alderpuppets Don Bach (3rd), Jim Allegretti (4th), Robert Ryan (5th) and Tom Carey (6th), who voted to throw another $190,000 at those groups back in 2010 but came up one-vote short of over-riding Schmidt’s veto.  Since those alderpuppets’ departure from the Council in May 2011 without even seeking re-election, however, the Council has adopted two more budgets that haven’t included Teen Center funding.

But it looks like the Kerins and their Teen Center comrades are counting on a Ryles victory to change all that.

Despite Mrs. Kerin’s sky-is-falling laments 3 years ago, the Teen Center managed to remain open, reportedly by soliciting a major donation from the Park Ridge Juniors in 2012, and donations from other local groups like the Park Ridge Community Fund and the Kiwanis Club.  Why those groups have shut their wallets is a question neither the H-A story nor the Journal story addressed, presumably because the Teen Center’s press and its designated talkers preferred it that way.

We’ve always viewed the Teen Center as another one of those manufactured “needs” that are really “wants” or “amenities.”  Realistically, how many Park Ridge youths actually need a place to watch t.v., play games, and generally hang out?  That might even explain why the Teen Center reportedly serves so many teens from Chicago’s nearby Edison Park neighborhood (one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Chicago) and “from all of Maine Township.”  The only Teen Center users quoted in either article were from Chicago, with one girl talking about how she was invited there by her friends from Taft high school.

And THAT’s where the rub comes in.

As a matter of public policy, Park Ridge taxes should be used for Park Ridge property and Park Ridge residents.  Period.

If private corporation Park Ridge Teen Center, the private United Methodist Church (which provides the location) and other private community groups want to fund a teen hang-out 8 hours a week, or 80 hours a week, we don’t particularly care where the teens come from – even if we doubt those Edison Park kids have any more of a need for the Teen Center than their Park Ridge counterparts.  But Park Ridge taxpayers should not be forced to fund the recreation and entertainment of non-Park Ridge teens with tax dollars confiscated by the City and diverted to those private groups – especially when a good chunk of that money is going to pay for administrators and “adult supervisors” doing what should be unpaid “volunteer” work.

While the Teen Center leadership claims that they made “valiant fundraising efforts,” we sure didn’t see or hear about them.  But if they really did make serious fundraising efforts, then their inability to raise enough funds to keep their doors open speaks even more volumes about the lack of that widespread community support Teen Center proponents invariably claim.

Like the Park Ridge Senior Center (as run by private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc.), the Park Ridge Teen Center looks and sounds like just another semi-private club run by a select few for the benefit of a select few.  No vote of the taxpayers or their elected representatives created any of these private organizations; and no taxpayer oversight, either direct or indirect through their representatives, has ever been volunteered by those groups.

That’s particularly problematic when, for example, non-profit resource Guidestar shows no Teen Center Form 990 tax return since 2010.  So the ability of the City or the general public to keep a meaningful eye on these groups is virtually non-existent.  Yet the folks who run these private “community group” corporations cling tenaciously to their privacy, even when they demand public funding – and, even then, they prefer their handouts without any commensurate disclosures or accountability.

Kind of like those private corporations and banks that insist on privatizing their profits but always want the government to “socialize” their losses by means of subsidies and bailouts.

The Kalo Foundation and the Mural Committee have shown how to rally public support and raise money privately, without demanding handouts from the City and without badmouthing the City when they don’t get those handouts.  The folks running the Teen Center might learn a lesson from the Kalo and Mural folks.

Unfortunately, demanding handouts from the City and beefing about not getting them seem to be more their style than real fundraising.

Especially when there’s less than a month before an election, an incumbent who vetoed their handouts, and a challenger who keeps on emphasizing his “big heart.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

WWRD? – Mayoral Debate Edition


The first of the final two mayoral debates – the only two opportunities for Mayor Dave Schmidt and challenger Larry Ryles to confront each other with their respective ideas and opinions about how the City of Park Ridge should be run for the next four years – kicks off at noon today.

Because Ryles dodged the first scheduled debate – at the town hall meeting at the Park Ridge Senior Center on February 7 – and because the format for last week’s Park Ridge Republican Women’s event was a candidates’ forum rather than a debate, the candidates will need to cover a lot of ground at today’s luncheon debate at the Park Ridge Country Club hosted by the Chamber of Commerce (lunch begins at 11:30 a.m.) and tomorrow night’s debate at City Hall hosted by the League of Women Voters (7:00 p.m.).

Mayor Schmidt has a clearly-defined, thoroughly-explained and fully-transparent record of accomplishments, most of which involve pulling the City out of the economic and financial tailspin that it had been in since Ron Wietecha spent 99% of his waking hours – and millions of our tax dollars – unsuccessfully battling O’Hare Airport.  Four years ago Schmidt, in no uncertain terms, said what he would try to do if elected.  And, for the most part, he’s done just that.

Challenger Ryles, on the other hand, has been running a vague, warm & fuzzy, stealth-like campaign more befitting a candidate for student council president than mayor – as was evident from his performance at last Thursday night’s Republican Women’s forum.  He has studiously avoided Council meetings and, to our knowledge, has not shared any of his ideas or opinions about City governance with those elected officials during Council deliberations, when any such ideas and opinions might have been able to influence the decision-making process.

That’s why we have run an occasional feature titled “WWRD…” – What Would Ryles Do – concerning various City issues: on 09.05.12, 11.26.12, 11.28.12, 01.31.13 and 02.12.13, for example.

So as a public service we’ve come up with some questions for candidate Ryles which the folks who will be attending these two debates can ask if they don’t have questions of their own:

  • On your website you state: “When elected Mayor on April 9, 2013, I will immediately take the lead on limiting future tax levy increases to a rate that is less than the annual inflation rate.”

Q:       Do you endorse the 2.15% tax levy increase recently passed by the Council? 

Q:       If not, what percentage levy increase would you have endorsed if you were mayor; and what expenditures would you have cut to reach it?

Q:       Why did you not attend the Council meetings at which the levy was discussed to share your thoughts and ideas on the subject?

  • On your website you criticize Mayor Schmidt for raising the property tax levy by a cumulative 155% of the rate of inflation over the past 4 years.

Q:       Isn’t that 155% of the rate of inflation a lower rate of levy increase than achieved over any 4-year period by any of the three previous mayors who have endorsed you?

Q:       Isn’t the average property tax increase, in real dollars, less during Schmidt’s 4 years in office than during any 4-year period under the three previous mayors?

  • On your website you promise that, if elected, you will assess “each planned expenditure by determining whether the expenditure will improve the lives of our Park Ridge residents.”

Q:       Which three City expenditures during the current fiscal year would you have cut based on your quality-of-life standard; and how much would you have saved with each such cut?

Q:       What three expenditures would you add, and in what amounts? 

  • On your website you state that each step of your budget process will always start with the question:” Is this the morally correct thing to do.”

Q:       Name five expenditures during the current fiscal year that you believe are not “the morally correct thing to do”; and have you ever asked the Council, in person at one of its meetings, to stop doing any of those morally incorrect things?

Q:       How is it “moral” for you to accept a $1,000 campaign contribution from a union representing certain City employees whose sole goal is to get more money from Park Ridge taxpayers for no additional, or better, work? 

Q:       How “moral” is it for you to criticize various actions by the mayor and the City Council on specific issues, but not even show up at the meetings when those issues are discussed to voice those criticisms and share your views? 

Q:       Do you consider it “moral” for the City to divert large amounts of tax dollars taken involuntarily from taxpayers in order to “incentivize”/bribe businesses to locate or remain here?  If so, do you consider it “moral” for the City to give such funds to certain businesses but not to other competing businesses who already are here?

Q:       Do you consider it “moral” for the City to divert significant amounts of tax dollars taken involuntarily from taxpayers in order to give those funds to private “community group” corporations who have been unsuccessful in obtaining voluntary contributions from those same taxpayers?

  • On your website you state that “[w]hen elected Mayor on April 9, 2013, [you] will immediately take the lead in improving the process the city uses to collect all past, present and future fees and fines owed to Park Ridge” by “better management oversight of its revenue streams….”

Q:       What specific elements of “management oversight” will you implement?

Q:       What exactly would you do to collect on more than 2,200 tickets and violations that you acknowledge “have no name or address attached for collection purposes”?

  • On your website you state that “[w]hen elected, [you] will take the lead in reaching out to retailers, both local and national brands, and will convince them to bring their stores to Park Ridge.”

Q:       What are the three most important “national brands” retailers you will convince to bring their stores to Park Ridge, and what exactly will you do to get them here?

Q:       What are the three most important “local brands” retailers you will convince to bring their stores to Park Ridge, and what exactly will you do to get them here?

Q:       What are the five most important factors that distinguish Park Ridge from neighboring communities and make it attractive to business; and why haven’t those factors already attracted the “local and national brands” you intend to bring here?

Q:       If Park Ridge is such a “strategic location…for the 5.2 million shoppers of Cook County,” what specific reasons can you give to explain why retailers aren’t flocking here already?

Q:      What three specific things would you do to “keep the business home”?  To “bring new business home”? 

Q:      What three specific things would you do to “market our great city to our own residents”? 

  • On your website you talk about a number of “leadership principles” you put into practice during your 24 year military career and your 18 years in the insurance industry.

Q:       Under Park Ridge’s city manager-form of government, in what specific ways does the mayor’s roll and job duties reflect those of your rank of Command Sergeant Major?

Q:       In what specific ways is being mayor of a city with a city manager-form of government similar to being an insurance agent or agency manager?

Q:       In what specific ways do you consider your “character” superior to Mayor Schmidt’s?

Q:       In what specific ways do you consider your “competence” superior to Mayor Schmidt’s?

Q:       What five “smart people” will you surround yourself with if you become mayor?

Q:       If you had been mayor these past four years, would you have retained Jim Hock as city manager? 

Q:       Are there any “yes” people currently in City government whom you would like to “shuck”?  And, if so, who are they?

  • On you website you state that “[w]hen elected Mayor on April 9, 2013, [you] will immediately take the lead in investing in our emergency health services….”

Q:       Do you believe our residents are currently at risk because the City has yet to purchase replacement cardiac monitors/defibrillators?  If so, do you believe Fire Chief Mike Zywanski was lying when he recently assured the Council that the current monitors/defibrillators do not pose any health risk to residents?

Q:       What five other community health and/or safety purchases would you take the lead in making during your first year in office, what are their costs, and how would you fund them?

  • On your website you state that, “[w]hen it comes to purchasing priorities with available funds, [you] will never put resident safety second to anything!!!”

Q:       Considering that the City is currently finalizing a contract with the public works employees’ union (which just contributed $1,000 to your campaign) that will increase the cost of the public works services the City is “purchasing,” do you oppose such cost increases until the City purchases replacement monitors/defibrillators?  If not, why not?

Q:       Do you support all of the wage and benefit increases given to unionized and non-unionized City employees over the past four years?  If not, would you have advocated for higher or lower wage and/or benefit increases?

Q:       How can you justify your support for building a new police out-building and bike storage corral when that money could fully fund the monitors/defibrillators?

Q:       Which of Mayor Schmidt’s vetoes, if any, do you support?  To the extent the Council sustained those vetoes, do you believe the Council was wrong in doing so?

Q:       Considering how vocal you are in criticizing Mayor Schmidt’s positions on City finances, do you favor the type of fiscal management demonstrated under Mayor Frimark?  Under Mayor Marous?

Q:       Which of the three (3) Kane McKenna suggestions for reducing the continuing multi-million dollar deficit from the Uptown TIF, if any, do you recommend the City choose to deal with that problem?

And that’s just for starters.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Latest Episode Of Labor Contract Buffoonery On Display Tonight (Updated)


At tonight’s Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (City Hall, 7:00 p.m.), the City Council will be asked to approve the new collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Int’l Union of Operating Engineers covering the City’s public works department employees.

As any reader of this blog knows, we’ve been critical of the almost automatic way the City (and each of our local school districts, for that matter) has increased wages and benefits for City employees without requiring any commensurate increase in performance.  We’ve been even more critical of the secretive way all those negotiations have been conducted (e.g., Fire Chief Mike Zywanski’s “Ground Rules” which effectively imposed a gag order on the mayor and the Council preventing them from giving the taxpayers progress reports on the negotiations).

As best as we can tell, this new agreement continues that economically-irresponsible automatic wage increase practice.

But we can’t say for sure because the Cover Memorandum provided by H.R. Director Michael Suppan contains nothing in the way of an “executive summary” or other analysis that would assist us, or the Council, in fully understanding the deal that the City’s negotiating team (whose members also remain unidentified) appears to have cut with the union – other than that it’s a 3-year deal that’s been delayed almost a year.  Consequently, the City will effectively owe the covered employees a year of retroactive raises.

What will those raises total?  The memo doesn’t say, other than for a check in the box that states that Council action on the agreement “will Require an Expenditure of Funds” – without any of the additional required information about that expenditure, such as its “Total Cost,” whether it’s a “Budgeted Item” and, if so, what budget section it will affect.

And although the agreement itself refers, on Page 2, Section A of Article V, to a “Wage Schedule” attached as “Tab A,” guess what?  No “Tab A” is attached.  Instead, Suppan writes that “[t]he details of the changes in the agreement will be presented to the Council in closed session.”


Should the Council go along with Suppan’s folly and the aldermen hightail themselves into closed session to discuss the results of these secret negotiations, the taxpayers who will be asked to pay for this deal over the next 3 years will remain in their current “mushroom” state (kept in the dark and covered with fertilizer) for at least another week.

What’s so darned secret about all this stuff, Mr. Suppan?  Or, voiced another way, what exactly are you trying to hide?  And why isn’t Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton doing anything to enhance the transparency of this process?

Discussions of wages and benefits for City employees should be open to the public so that taxpayers can see and hear how their elected and appointed public officials are responding to the demands from City employees and their unions; and so the employees and their unions also get to hear the Council’s discussion and have a better understanding of the City’s position, free from suspicions of bluffing or bad faith.

That way, if the taxpayers think their representatives are being unfair to City employees, or are not treating them with enough “respect,” they can tell their officials in time to do something about it.  Or not.

Heck, maybe such an open process would even lure mayoral challenge Larry Ryles out of hiding to address the Council on his ideas for how the Council should deal with the ever-escalating demands of its employees, or with this contract in particular – although we’re not going to hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen.  Ryles hasn’t addressed the Council on any of the issues it has faced since he declared his candidacy last Fall, so there’s no reason to think he’ll risk publicly displaying his views (0r lack thereof) on these kinds of controversial matters.

But whether Ryles shows or not, the one-sided way labor negotiations have gone for as long as we can remember has demonstrated, time and again, that secrecy has ill-served the taxpayers – whether at the City, at the Park District, and especially at the school district levels.

Since secrecy hasn’t worked, it’s time it ended.  Starting tonight.

UPDATED 03.12.13.  By the time last night’s COW meeting was convened, “Tab A” had finally been posted on the City’s website.  Unfortunately, whoever prepared it must didn’t think to include the previous year’s “Wage Schedule” for comparison purposes.  Or else he/she was actually trying to conceal those numbers to prevent such a comparison.

Either way, the COW discussion that begins at approximately 01:20:55 of the meeting video demonstrates the problems this Council – and City staff – still have with being honest and forthright with City taxpayers about the details of unionized employee contract negotiations, even if they can’t seem to come up with good reasons for that particular malady.

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) and Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton clearly don’t “get it,” as their arguments for closed-session secrecy about those negotiations and the Council’s discussion of the tentative contract indicated. 

If we understood Sweeney, contract terms should remain secret until the Council reaches a closed-session consensus to approve them.  Hamilton, on the other hand, worried about “releasing to the other side” the Council’s views and strategies about contract terms – as if there’s some big honkin’ secret about how much money the City can afford, and wants to spend, for raises and benefits for any particular group of employees.

Not surprisingly, Mayor Dave Schmidt was right on target in noting the public’s “right to know” all those details.  Whether he’ll be able to convince the “I’ve Got A Secret” contingent remains to be seen, because they sure don’t seem to want convincing.

As we’ve said many times before, there’s no reason to be coy or secretive about labor and employment negotiations.  The Council (and all other public governing bodies) should discuss and calculate – openly and publicly – what terms and amounts are fair and affordable by the City, so that such information is known and understood not only by the “other side” but also by the taxpayers and the rest of the civilized world.  That way, whether a raise is a meager 1% or a whopping 10%, its amount and the reasons for it will become public knowledge in real time, with no secrets and no opportunities for mistrust.  And the same goes for all demands made by those employees and their unions.

Both “sides” hold a public trust, and owe us taxpayers duties and obligations commensurate with that trust.  There’s no place for secrecy in that kind of relationship.

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Republican Women Kick Off Election Stretch Drive


The April 9 local elections are only 1 month away, and last night provided the first event of what is the stretch drive to election day.

The Park Ridge Republican Women held their customary candidates forum Thursday (03.07.13) night at South Park Fieldhouse, and around 150 people showed up to hear the two candidates for mayor, the six competing candidates for alderman (in the 2nd, 4th and 6th wards), and five of the six Park Board candidates give short presentations and press the flesh.

Oh, yes…some of the Republican candidates for Maine Township offices also spoke, causing us to once again question why Illinois doesn’t just eliminate township government.  But that’s another story for another day.

[Because of the number of candidates running in contested elections – a GREAT THING! – the Park Ridge Republican Women will hold a second forum at the same site on March 21 at 7:00 p.m. for the candidates for the three school boards – D-64, D-207 and Oakton Community College.]

Notably, it was the first opportunity for voters to see and hear both Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt and challenger Larry Ryles in the same room – although the forum format did not give them an opportunity to spar about the issues.

That opportunity should come next week, assuming Ryles shows up, with the Chamber of Commerce luncheon debate at the Park Ridge Country Club on Wednesday, March 13 (11:30 a.m.), and the League of Women Voter’s debate at City Hall on Thursday, March 14, (7:00 p.m.).

Ryles went first and did his best to spend his entire allotted 5 minutes talking about everything but substantive City issues: his childhood in Georgia, his military service, his terrorizing local cleaners with his fluency in Korean, his insurance career, etc.  And he might have made it, too, had not the timekeeper audibly informed Ryles that he was down to his last minute – at which time Ryles began mouthing a few hollow platitudes about making Park Ridge a place his children could call home and raise their own families.

Gee, Larry, isn’t Park Ridge already that kind of place – and hasn’t it been that way for the last several decades, except when property values and/or taxes go so high that grown children can’t afford to move back?  Wasn’t Park Ridge recently declared the 72nd safest city (among those with populations over 25,000) in the entire country?  Isn’t that why we live here?

Heck, even former mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark – who, not surprisingly, have endorsed Ryles, presumably in response to Schmidt’s telling the painful truth about what an economic black hole their pet Uptown TIF project turned into – consistently talked up what a great place Park Ridge was to raise a family, albeit while they were chronically deficit spending and digging us into a debt hole so deep we aren’t likely to emerge until the mid-to-late 2020s, if then.

Besides Ryles’ fluency in Korean, we also learned that there are two competing factions of Park Board candidates: the “incumbent” faction of current Board president Rick Biagi and current commissioners Steve Hunst and Dick Brandt, and the “challenger” faction of current commissioner Steven Vile and newcomers John Philips and Joan Bende – the latter apparently critical of the current board’s handling of the three-year running battle between the Park District and private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. over how the Senior Center will be managed.

Whether the “challenger” faction is more than a one-trick pony special interest ticket remains to be seen.  And we think the “incumbents” ticket owes the taxpayers a much better explanation of why the Park Board is saddling our community with a second-rate replacement Centennial Pool, and exactly how reliable are the numbers in what appears to be a smoke-and-mirrors financial plan for the proposed Youth Campus project.

We only wish that the Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters provided debate time to both the Park Board candidates and competing aldermanic candidates: George Korovilas and Nick Milissis in the 2nd Ward, J.B. Johnson and Roger Shubert in the 4th Ward, and Vinny LaVecchia and Ald. Marc Mazzuca in the 6th Ward.

Because it’s at the local level, with these local races, that the democratic process does its best work – and where grass-roots government gets done.  And this year we’ve got real differences between the candidates, and real choices.

So pay attention, do your best to attend the remaining debates, think, and make sure to vote on April 9.

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Is It Fraud, Or Is It Negligence? (Updated)


Back in the 1970s the Memorex company ran a commercial that featured legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald singing a note that cracked a wine glass.  Followed by the recording of her voice on Memorex audiotape also cracking a wine glass.

The tag line of the ad was: “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

That advertising slogan came to mind in a slightly different way as we were reading the 03.04.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum from Fire Chief Mike Zywanski about the latest developments in the City’s spending of approximately $150,000 on 5 portable defibrillators to replace the current ones used by the Fire Dept.’s paramedics – even though it never followed the competitive bidding process contained in Section 2-9-9 of the City Code.

The tag line of this deal: “Is it fraud, or is it negligence?”

As we pointed out in our 02.18.13 post, “Competitive Bidding…Who Needs It?“, purchases of this type over $20,000 are supposed to go through a competitive bidding process to help ensure that no City official sells their influence over a procurement process using public funds..  But this one didn’t; and the more we looked into why it didn’t, the kinkier the deal looked to us.  And the two perpetrators of what appears to be this kinky deal are none other than Chief Z and Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton.

We first became suspicious of this deal when Chief Z tried to push it past the Council in January, notwithstanding that the federal grant funding that was being counted on to cover a big chunk of the cost of the replacement units did not come through.  In arguing for immediate purchase notwithstanding the funding failure, Chief Z made it sound like the current devices were so undependable they were putting the health and safety of the City’s residents in jeopardy – until, under pointed questioning by Council Finance Chairman Ald. Dan Knight (5th), he admitted that the current devices were fully functional and posed no danger to Park Ridge residents.

Our suspicions became more pronounced when Chief Z represented (on the third page of his 02.06.13 Memorandum to Hamilton) that “[c]urrently, there are four major manufacturers of critical care Cardiac Monitors/Defibrillators for Paramedic Field-Use” and that the Fire Dept. staff engaged in “side-by-side” comparisons of the comparable equipment from those manufacturers before choosing the Zoll Medical Corporation unit as “the preferred unit” of the Department – based on “unit design, features, ease of use, unit weight, portability and training required to transition to the new unit” – but could not/would not produce a copy of the evaluation/testing report or notes requested by Knight.

Even more suspicious was Chief Z’s failure, in that Memorandum, even to identify any of the other brands that were tested as part of the “evaluation,” or to provide any benchmark specifications for the replacement units and each brand’s scores measured against those specs. 

But it wasn’t until we saw Chief Z’s 02.14.13 Memorandum to Hamilton in which Chief Z stated that since August of 2009 there have been only 2 “major competitors in the market” (Zoll and Medtronic), with newcomer Philips Medical “just introducing…a new product in the marketplace,” that this deal began to actually smell.

How could Chief Z and his staff have tested/evaluated the equipment from two or three other manufacturers besides Zoll if there was only one other competing manufacturer?  

Interestingly, it looks from his 03.04.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum like Chief Z tried to end-run the competitive bidding requirement by utilizing the “Government Purchasing Cooperative” exception to purchase the Zoll units.  But that after-the-fact attempt at back-filling failed because the best price from the co-op for the Zoll units was $25,000 more than the quote he got directly from Zoll.

We’ve questioned Chief Z’s integrity and judgment since he sat mute at The Horseshoe in May 2011 while Mayor Dave Schmidt demanded to know who locked the City into a set of negotiating “ground rules” which , among other things, required that the negotiations between the City and the firefighters union be conducted in secrecy, and placed a “gag” on City officials to prevent them even from talking publicly about the offers and counteroffers until after an agreement in principle had been achieved.

Only two weeks later, after then-city mgr. Jim Hock was given an opportunity to look into how those “ground rules” came about, did Chief Z finally come clean and admit that not only did he bind the City to those “ground rules,” but that he actually proposed them!

Whether Chief Z’s (and Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton’s) blatant disregard for the City’s bidding requirements for such a significant contract is an attempt at outright procurement fraud or just boneheaded negligence remains to be seen.  But that question will only be answered if the City Council stands up for the taxpayers and holds up this deal until Chief Z and Hamilton come clean – this time not about Chief Z’s kinky labor negotiations procedure but about why this procurement deal seems to be cooked to favor Zoll.

If the Council doesn’t do that job, the aldermen will be ignoring the competitive bidding process of the City Code.  And they will be selling out the taxpayers that they have taken an oath to serve and protect.

Worse yet, they will be acting more and more like typical Illinois politicians.

UPDATED (03.06.13): At Monday night’s Council meeting – beginning at 00:35:00 of the meeting video and ending at 00:51:12 – was the Public Safety portion of the meeting dealing with the continuing sage of Chief Z’s blatant disregard of the City’s competitive bidding rules in an attempt to get the City to spend $150,000 on new monitors/defibrillators for its paramedics from one particular source: Zoll.  And, once again, this deal looked so kinked up that the Council voted 6-0 (Ald. Marty Maloney absent) to send it back to the Public Safety Committee.


Because Chief Z admitted that he had nothing to do with the “subjective and opinion-based evaluation” performed by other Fire Dept. staff members back in 2009.  According to Chief Z, back then there were four manufacturers from which to choose, but Monday night Chief Z said he thought there were only three manufacturers today…until, under questioning from Mayor Schmidt, he acknowledged that there could be still other manufacturers who have come into the monitor/defibrillator marketplace since 2009.   And apparently no Fire Dept. employees did any research into the performance records or reports of those competing 2009-vintage machines since…wait for it…2009.

The more Chief Z tap dances around this deal, the dumber and/or kinkier it looks and sounds – and that even goes for Chief Z’s admission, under more Schmidt questioning, that a 3-month or more deferral of this equipment purchase until a real evaluation can be conducted will not endanger the public in any way.  That’s quite a bit different from the panic he was understatedly peddling just a month or so ago.

So while this misbegotten purchase has been properly delayed yet again, we continue to wonder why oh why nobody – not Schmidt, not ACM Shawn Hamilton, and not any aldermen – aren’t discussing the City’s competitive bidding requirement and how this particular purchase can possibly be exempt from it.  Maybe somebody around The Horseshoe will eventually wake up and ask that question of Chief Z and ACM Hamilton.  And with a little luck, they may even have an answer.

What’s the Vegas line on that?

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