Public Watchdog.org

Adios (For Now) To The Incredible Expanding Task Force

05.17.13

In 2010 Mayor Dave Schmidt formed the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force in the aftermath of the so-called “Ekl Report” of 2008, which identified a variety of problems within the Park Ridge Police Department that had arguably damaged relations between the PRPD and the public it is sworn to serve and protect.

As we recall it, the Task Force’s “task” was simply to come up with ways to improve those relations.

Unfortunately, Schmidt and the City Council provided no detailed task or mission definition.  And because power, even on a small scale, abhors a vacuum, the Task Force members promptly filled that vacuum with all sorts of “mission creep” tasks and activities increasingly removed from the PRPD’s community relations – the most notable being the Task Force’s recommendations and advocacy for over $1 million of improvements, renovations and expansions of the police station.

But Schmidt recently let it be known that the Task Force is being disbanded due to the completion of its original task of improving relations between the PRPD and the community.

Whether the Task Force’s efforts actually improved the PRPD community relations appears to be a function solely of anecdotal “data” that varies significantly – depending on whom you speak with, their connection to the PRPD or to the Task Force, and their own experiences with the PRPD both pre-Ekl and post-Ekl.  Our own anecdotal “data” suggests that most people never had any problem with the PRPD and saw the Ekl Report as an unnecessary expenditure, irrespective of the glimpse into the internecine power struggles between two rival police factions back then.

In the three years the Task Force has been operating, it has attempted to insinuate itself into all sorts of City matters, including  “public safety” (e.g., “the role of the Police Department in [dealing with]…cyberbullying”), legislation (“proposing changes to the municipal code regarding underage drinking disposition”) and other local issues the scope of which “goes beyond the Police Department and involves other parts of the city government” – according to Task Force chair Frank Gruba-McCallister’s Report to the Mayor and City Council presented at last Monday (May 13) night’s meeting.

Sounds to us a little bit like task force members gone wild.

But there may be more method to this “wild”-ness than initially meets the eye, perhaps related to the new community health initiative and survey sponsored by the “Healthier Park Ridge Project” (the “HPRP”).

According to a Chicago Tribune article from December 17, 2012, by Gail-Tzipporah Saunder, the HPRP arose out of Lutheran General Hospital’s failure to pay the City any parking taxes on cars parked in its lot.  Instead of paying the parking tax, LGH reportedly started giving money to the City’s paramedics – although we haven’t been able to determine whether LGH’s contributions matched what the City should have been getting in parking taxes.  And the same lack of quantified dollar value appears to be the case with this new health survey.

Not surprisingly for an upper-middle class community like Park Ridge, the hot-button public health topic is mental health/mental illness, at least judging by Gruba-McCallister’s Report and quotes from Police Chief Frank Kaminski, Maine Center for Mental Health’s CEO Fran Hook Hume, and Park Ridge Health Commission member Peter Ryan.

Kaminski pointed to the number of suicides in “our community” and the decrease in state funding for mental health services, while Hume and Ryan both extolled the health survey as a way to understand what the community is thinking about public health.

During the Council debates over public funding of private “community group” corporations which have no legal accountability to the taxpayers, it was often noted by those corporations and their advocates that the City – unlike its neighbors such as Des Plaines, Niles and Morton Grove – had no social services department and, therefore, should be funding those corporations as a substitute for its lack of in-house services.  Of course, none of those corporations’ officials or advocates offered to provide the City with transparency and accountability relative to their services, nor did they offer to enter into any legally-binding service contract with the City for a fixed amount of services at a fixed price solely for the benefit of Park Ridge residents.

City Council Policy No. 6, however, governs private vendors of services “deemed to be of substantial benefit to the community” and which are not “in conflict with or duplicative of services provided by any other governmental body having jurisdiction within the City.”

Given the way some of our past mayors and Councils tossed around tax dollars, however, it’s no surprise to us that we can find no indication in City records of a prior Council actually conducting any evidentiary hearing or otherwise taking evidence, and making findings, related to the benefit to the community of the private services and the availability of those services from other governmental bodies – like Maine Township or Cook County.

LGH’s community relations director, Paula Besler, has said that LGH is willing to provide financial support to initiatives created from survey results, including the option of creating a community health specialist position.

But we’re betting that, if this initiative gains traction, LGH won’t be providing all the “financial support” for all those sub-initiatives.

And we’re also betting that it’s only a matter of time before the various private corporations that became so comfortable over the years feeding from the public trough with only the most minimal transparency and no legal accountability to Park Ridge taxpayers turn up at City Hall some Monday night with what Will Stockdale (in “No Time For Sergeants”) called “a handful of ‘gimme’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’.”

Meanwhile, we’ll await the expected effort from the Police Chief’s Task Force folks to prod the Council into creating some kind of City “commission” that will allow them to pursue their many and varied governmental interests on a more permanent basis.

To read or post comments, click on title.

5 comments so far

A few things. First, there is no listing at all on the city web site about this task force. If you look at the Boards, Commissions Committees and Task Froces tab, you will see all manor of groups listed but no Police Chier’s Advisory Task Force.

Second, as you correctly point out, the Mayor formed this task force, and as you again correctly pointed out, he (along with the council) provided no detailed “marching orders”.

I would add a third thing. As this task force morphed completely out of control, doing things you clearly believe they were never intended to be involved in, the Mayor said nothing.

Apparently the Mayor does not feel they were a “task force gone wild”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wrong. The mayor on several occasions over the past year or so has said that he believed the Task Force had overstepped its bounds in studying and then recommending the cop shop rehab/expansion plan, the report of which was issued early last year and was (as best as we can tell) the first really clear signal that the Task Force had left the reservation.

My mistake. The task force is listed under the police section.

“The purpose of the Chief’s Advisory Task Force is to provide input, feedback and recommendations to the Chief of Police, the Mayor, and the City Council regarding a range of issues or concerns related to the lives and well-being of the citizens of Park Ridge and the ability of the Police Department to fulfill its mission and purpose”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kind of like parents letting their kids make their own curfew rules.

And to the mayor’s and the Council’s further discredit, they apparently weren’t paying attention when this ridiculous (for a task force ostensibly charged solely with improving relations between the PRPD and the citizens) mission statement was drafted with claimed authority over “a range of issues or concerns related to the lives and well-being of the citizens of Park Ridge.”

I like the concept of task forces populated by knowledgeable citizens. But this task force seemed to be concerned with only one thing, expanding the police station, just like the flood task force seems preoccupied with subsidizing private flood control devices.

Maybe its time to swear off task forces for awhile.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We still think they can be useful, but their “task” needs to be well-defined and managed – otherwise you get this kind of goat rodeo.

8:05:

The other problem with task forces is that people love them as long as they agree with them.

If the task force had come out against the police station project, or if the FCTF had issued a statement that subsidizing flood control devices was bad policy, there would have been no complaint from you at all. Actually, I would hazard a bet they would have received HUGE accolades on this blog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And that would have been another bet you would have lost.

Irrespective of their positions, we would have been critical of the both task forces for going beyond their assigned tasks: improving PRPD community relations and coming up with community-wide solutions for flooding, respectively. Neither the mayor nor the Council created these task forces to deal with public policy matters.

The right result for the wrong reasons is barely better – although it nevertheless IS “better” – than the wrong result.

this is rather odd; why in heaven’s name would any public body create a task force if not to explore public policy issues? Every time we spend a dime or decline to do so is a policy statement — the budget is only a numerical expression of what we value. It’s not hovering in the ether on its own, although when you compare what we say with what we fund, one might think so….

EDITOR’S NOTE: Public policy is the province of The People’s elected representatives. Task forces of unelected individuals are created to research and study issues and propose solutions for the elected officials to act upon, consistent with public policy.



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