Flooding: 100-Year Pump v. 10-Year Pail?


Flooding – and the effect it has on private property values and on the City treasury – is the most significant problem Park Ridge faces.  Even people who can put up with air plane noise are far less tolerant of several inches to several feet of fetid water appearing all too regularly in their basements.

So we direct your attention to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal about the flooding problem and its remediation (“Flood Fixes Under Review,” September 25).  And a big Watchdog bark-out goes the Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) for making – at the City Council’s September 9 Committee of the Whole meeting – essential points about the inadequacy of the “10-year flood” remediation with which the City is currently fiddling.

As reported in the Journal article, back in May 2012, the Council approved spending over $800,000 from the City’s sewer fund on a flooding feasibility study by the City’s newest BFF consultant, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd.  But as we understand it, the focus of this feasibility study is a plan to improve the sewer system to better hand 10-year floods.

Resident Bill Montgomery, from the Northwest Park area, noted that despite having overhead sewers and a sump pump, his house floods because the main City sewer line serving his house and others on his block is inadequate to handle the several 100-year floods we’ve had in the past five years.

Unfortunately, Mazzuca’s and Montgomery’s incisive observations were met with bureaucratese from Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, who defended the 10-year storm focus because that’s the “industry standard” – without apparently appreciating the absurdity of that statement in light of the flooding we’ve actually experienced.  And he analogized building a sewer system for 100-year floods to building a 300-seat restaurant “for the one time you have a wedding.”

Sorry, Wayne, but we’ve had at least four “weddings” in the past five years.  And if one gives any credence whatsoever to the climate change theory, a continuing or increasing number of “weddings” seems more of a certainty than a likelihood.  Which means you should probably buy yourself a tux rather than keep relying on rentals.

Mazzuca’s comment that “[i]f we were to continue with the Burke [10-year flood] plan, we’re still not solving the capacity problem” – and Montgomery’s observation that “[t]he plan for a 10-year flood, a 10-year rain is just shortsighted” – sound spot-on to us.

The bottom line is that EVERYBODY knows, or reasonably should know through nothing more than simple observation and the application of common sense, that expecting any significant flooding relief from a 10-year flood plan is just a couple of degrees north of “foolish”…and heading towards “delusional.”  Throwing time, effort and boxcars of cash at such a plan, therefore, would appear to be stupid and wasteful – unless that 10-year plan comes with a much-needed system-wide sewer evaluation to determine the extent and degree our existing sewer system has been neglected and in need of basic repairs or replacement.

We don’t know how much of the $800,000 appropriated for the Burke study has been spent already, but to the extent there’s any left un-spent we strongly suggest the Mayor and City Council put the brakes on before it’s all gone.  Nobody, including the victims of chronic flooding and the taxpayers as a whole, will be properly served by finding out at the next big flood control presentation on November 11 that we’ve spent $800,000 on what amounts to a plastic beach pail when a 20,000 gallon-per-hour pump is needed.

Whether we can afford the pump is a legitimate question, but do we really want to waste millions on the pail?

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COW Assaults Pooch: Film At 10:00 (Updated)


Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting has a few agenda items of interest that also provide the Council and City Staff with ample opportunity to “screw the pooch” – as Tom Wolfe so aptly put it in “The Right Stuff.”

The most important item on tonight’s hit parade should be the discussion of the City’s competitive bidding process, which appears to have led to indecent liberties with the pooch on at least three occasions we can think of during just the past year.

We wrote about Fire Chief Mike (“Chief Z”) Zywanski’s attempted $150,000 no-bid ambulance defibrillator purchase in our 02.18.13 and 03.04.13 posts.  Chief Z’s fingerprints also were all over the no-bid deal earlier this month to move the City’s fire emergency dispatch services to the Regional Emergency Dispatch (“RED”) Center.  And at last Monday’s meeting, the Council rejected a $32,000 contract for 12 fire hydrants because of legitimate questions about how the Public Works Dept. handled that bidding process.

Under such circumstances, we would have expected some serious analysis and some hard-nosed recommendations from City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton.  But as can be seen from his Agenda Cover Memorandum for tonight’s COW meeting, the only substance (modest by any standard) relates to a need for a central purchasing and procurement agent.

Missing from Hamilton’s memo is any acknowledgment of understanding that competitive bidding of government contracts serves two principal functions – (1) getting the best price for the taxpayers, and (b) minimizing opportunities for corruption from sweetheart insider deals – which in many ways are two sides of the same coin.

Under Chapter 9, Section 2-9-9 of the City’s Municipal Code, competitive bidding is generally required for any contract for goods or services over $20,000.  Subsection F of that Section lists 7 exceptions to the bidding requirement, but even a cursory review of them suggests that Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 7 serve no legitimate purpose and should be eliminated, while the remainder could definitely be tightened up and the reasoning behind them (if any) explained so that their fiscal and governmental soundness (if any) can be understood and/or challenged.

We can’t wait to see what the COW does with this issue – and how much push-back Staff provides to any attempts by the COW to enforce the current competitive bidding process, and hopefully make it tighter and more enforceable.


The second threat to the pooch’s virtue is Hamilton’s proposed award of the 2014 Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) contract to private vendor Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”).  What a shocker!

Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum containing that recommendation includes a “Statement of Revenues and Expenses” for the 2013 TOPR event that discloses over $300,000 of gross revenues but only a measly $4,446.99 in “Net Operating Income.”

$4,446.99?  On $300,000 of revenues?  With nothing but “volunteer” help?

Unlike in 2012, when rain cut into attendance, this year’s TOPR enjoyed virtually perfect weather, which presumably accounted for the $81,500+ of increased “Ticket revenue” and the $56,985 of increased “Vendor payouts.”  But why were “Vendor fees” $9,500 less in 2013 than in 2012?  And, for that matter, what are “Vendor fees”?

When we first started looking into TOPR and the sweetheart no-bid deal Taste Inc. was given by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a disinterested City Council back in 2005, our principal concern was that the City recoup its costs for fire, police and public works services that Taste Inc. had been receiving, gratis, for the first 7 years it was operating.  We were pleased, therefore, when the Council issued a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) for TOPR a couple of years ago and made reimbursement of the City’s expenses AND a profit-sharing arrangements two requirements of the RFP.

But the central requirements of any profit-sharing arrangement are transparency and accountability.  And Taste Inc.’s “Statement of Revenues and Expenses” leaves a lot to be desired on those counts, starting with the non-itemized $180,945 in “Vendor payouts” and $108,000 of “Cost of Goods Sold.”  That’s where sweetheart deals for favored or “insider” vendors can be hidden.

We’re not saying they are, just that they could be.  So why create the opportunity when requiring the back-up documentation could provide the transparency and accountability currently lacking?

We would have expected a “numbers guy” – as Hamilton was advertised when first hired as the “acting” City Manager in 2012 after his predecessor was sacked – to at least suggest that any new contract with Taste Inc. provide a whole lot more detail than what we’ve seen so far, especially if the profit-sharing term of the contract is going to have any meaning.

But all Hamilton could muster is the recommendation that the letter of credit requirement (as security for the City’s costs) be eliminated and the general liability insurance coverage be reduced from $2 million to $1 million – on the ground that “removal of these two items would be consistent with other events in the city.”

What “other events in the city” require closing off a street and a commuter parking lot for four days, consume $18,000 of City services, and generate over $300,000 of gross revenue, Mr. Hamilton?

When it comes to TOPR, Hamilton seems to be following the path of least resistance that was cleared, graded and paved by his predecessors Hock and Schuenke.  And that’s not a ringing endorsement under any circumstances.


The final opportunity for the COW to have its way with the pooch involves a modification to the City’s liquor license recommended by the City’s Liquor License Review Board to permit the sale of individual bottles and cans of beer in containers smaller than 32 ounces.

Apparently in recognition that an increasing number of craft and import beers come in 22- and 24-ounce containers, the Liquor Board recommended such 1-off sales, but only if…wait for it…the beer  in those containers is sold at room temperature rather than cold.

The silliness of the Liquor Board’s discussion needs to be read to be appreciated, but our favorite comes from Liquor Board member Anthony Amelio who – according to the draft minutes of that Board’s September 16th meeting – opposes the sale of cold beer because “a person buying one can may only be able to afford that one can and that it would or could simply be drunk in the car before leaving the parking lot.”

See what we mean?

Apparenlty what passes for reasoning by the Liquor Board is that, by selling only warm beer in individual cans or bottles, a potential inebriate of modest means will be deterred from drinking it in his/her car before driving away from the parking lot.  But if he/she can afford a six-pack, that can be bought cold and chugged down before hitting the road.  Or he/she can buy a whole quart, cold – or spring for a half-pint of some distilled spirit that can be enjoyed at any temperature.

As we said: silly, silly, silly.

And, oh, that poor, poor, poor pooch.

UPDATE (09.24.13); Corrected (09.25.13)  From Monday night’s meeting:

Procedures & Regulation chair, Ald. Marc Mazzuca, led a lengthy discussion on bidding.  He repeated some of his prior comments about how flawed the process and its implementation has been.  Not surprisingly, City Mgr. Hamilton defended the process and its implementation by staff, all the while lobbying for a return of the purchasing agent position.

The result: Hamilton and City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill were asked to produce a revised Section 2-9-9 of the City Code that reflects this Council’s expressed desire to make competitive bidding the go-to process rather than something Staff constantly seeks to avoid; and Hamilton is supposed to try to be a better gatekeeper for purchasing decisions in order to avoid recurrences of the boondoggles we identified.  Hamilton also is supposed to produce an analysis of whether the purchasing agent position can be funded via a budget transfer during the current FY 2013-14.

A contract revision for TOPR 2014 was tabled in favor of Hamilton coming back to the Council with a special events policy that can be applied to all community special events, including TOPR.  The question was raised why TOPR should be treated any differently than other community events – to which we reiterate: “What ‘other events in the city’ require closing off a street and a commuter parking lot for four days, consume $18,000 of City services, and generate over $300,000 of gross revenue?”

Cooooooool beer here!  One of the shortest discussions of the night led to an amendment – by Ald. Dan Knight (5th) – of the  proposed ordinance to strike all “at room temp” references; and the ordinance, as amended, passed unanimously.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Know When To Hold ‘Em, Know When To Fold ‘Em


We here at PublicWatchdog are no fans of O’Hare expansion.

The noise decreases our property values.  The pollution – however much can actually be attributed to planes rather than industrial activity and the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that travel the Kennedy and the Tri-State on our South and West borders – may be making us less healthy.  And we can’t see any significant economic value to our community from expansion.

But over a couple of decades of watching the workings of local, county, state and federal government, we have learned to tell when the deck is stacked one way or the other.  Which is why we view fighting O’Hare expansion as a lost cause: too many politicians – and the special interests that own them – are fully invested in that plan.  Park Ridge doesn’t have nearly the kind of money or influence to beat the clout of that politician/special interest combine.

But if you have any doubt about that, it should be dispelled by the article in today’s Chicago Tribune: “Feds hope to break stalemate with $10M for O’Hare.”

O’Hare is getting another $10 million federal grant – on top of the $747 million the feds already have “invested,” according to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin – in an effort by the feds to push United and American airlines into paying what Chicago needs to finish off the project, which was originally estimated to cost $6.6 billion (in 2001 dollars) but is now projected to cost $9.7 billion (in 2012 dollars).

United and American need pushing because they want to hold off on more expansion expense until they see a real need, in the form of passenger demand.  Publicly-traded corporations like them need to manage themselves in a fiscally responsible way.  They have Wall Street and their shareholders to account to.  And they both have bankruptcies to show for what happens when they didn’t manage themselves properly.

Since the feds can print their own money, however, bankruptcy’s not a consequence of stupid or reckless spending by the folks in Washington, including the Illinois congressional delegation.  According to the Tribune article, that delegation “is pushing the Emanuel administration and the airlines to make a deal on the rest of the [O’Hare expansion] work.”

Don’t think that this new push for O’Hare expansion is about transportation.  It’s not.  It’s all about the politics of jobs, as Durbin brazenly admitted: “Today’s additional funding, in combination with a significant contribution from the airlines, will help create jobs and keep the project on track.”

After years of recession and what is being bemoaned as a jobless “recovery,” politicians (especially Democrats) and the special interests who own them are infinitely more concerned about creating jobs – and about the political capital that comes with such job creation – than they are about the noise pollution and air quality of sleepy little Park Ridge.  And no supplemental environmental impact study or threat of a lawsuit is going to change that.

In the political poker game of O’Hare expansion, the feds just raised us $10 million.

And we don’t have enough chips to call.

To read or post comments, click on title.

More Principle, Less Money


Just when we thought it was safe to believe our local elected officials had finally figured out – thanks to well-publicized discussions and a vote by the Park Ridge City Council – that giving away (a/k/a, “donating”) public monies and property to other governmental bodies or private entities is a misappropriation and/or waste of the taxpayers’ assets, along comes the Park Ridge Park District with a proposal on this Thursday night’s agenda to do just that.

According to the meeting agenda, the Park Board will be considering the adoption of Ordinance No. 13-8 “[a]uthorizing the sale or donation of used personal property owned by the Park Ridge Park District (2001 GMC Sonoma pick-up truck and 2000 GMC K2500 pick up truck)” [Emphasis added]

The proposed ordinance does not mention “donation,” but it expressly gives Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle absolute discretion to determine how, and at what price, those “surplus” vehicles will be disposed of.

Does that mean Mountcastle could sell them for $1 each to the Maine Township Emergency Management Program (“MTEMP”), that pet subsidiary of Maine Township/Team Provenzano government that was turned down for a similar “donation” of a used SUV last month by the City of Park Ridge, thanks to some clear-headed thinking by Mayor Dave Schmidt and Alds. Nick Milissis (2nd), Roger Shubert (4th), Dan Knight (5th) and Marty Maloney (7th)?

Or maybe a $1 sale could be made to some “charity” – like Kids Around the World, Inc., a Christian-based organization that was given the Centennial Park playground equipment, allegedly because it had no market value (an undocumented claim, of course) and the District was just darn fortunate to get that organization to disassemble the equipment and cart it away?

Or, given the ordinance language that allows Mountcastle to advertise (or not) and auction (or not) the pick-up trucks, could she steer the sale to one or more favored buyers through a process designed to look like competitive bidding, the way City Staff appeared to do recently in sending bid solicitations for fire hydrants to only six preferred(?) vendors – resulting in the Council’s criticism of the process and its rejection of the sole conforming bid?

We’re pretty certain the two pickup trucks the Park District is getting rid of have some value, although we can find nothing in the meeting packet that discloses what that value might be.  But whatever that value, it belongs to the taxpayers; it deserves to be maximized; and it is not properly “donated” to anyone anywhere.

Once again, it’s the principle and not the money.

Which causes us to wonder just how totally clueless and bereft of even the most basic understanding of their oaths of office do our local officials have to be when they blithely give away tax dollars or taxpayer assets?  And just how narcissistic must they be to think that they are more capable than the taxpayers of determining what charitable objectives are worthy of donations – especially when the funds those officials donate are confiscated from the taxpayers through taxation, or generated through the use of tax-funded activities?

Giving away OPM (“Other People’s Money”) doesn’t mean you’re generous.  And public officials who give away the taxapayers’ money are worse than common thieves – because they steal from the taxpayers under color of law, with minimal risk of criminal prosecution or conviction.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time To Decide Whether Alternative Water Source Is Worth Pursuing


A recent article in the Park Ridge Journal – one of the last by reporter Craig Adams who, unfortunately for Journal readers, has been re-assigned to a beat closer to his far northwest suburban home – reported that the City of Park Ridge is still exploring alternatives to the City of Chicago as a supplier of water (“City Still Exploring Water Alternatives,” 08.28.13).

Over the past couple of years the City began exploring alternate sources of water when Chicago started a series of rate hikes.  Given Chicago’s precarious financial condition resulting from decades of mismanagement, graft and corruption under “Li’l Richie” Daley, there’s no reason to believe – or even hope – that Chicago won’t continue to use its virtual monopoly power to bleed its suburban customers.

That being said, the cost of building a competing water treatment and distribution system, projected at between $180 and $400 million, makes it unaffordable unless a some sort of joint venture or consortium could be created to undertake the construction costs and lock in water price controls over a sufficiently long period of time to justify the major infrastructure cost.  And as pointed out in the Journal story, no such venture or consortium currently exists.

Park Ridge reportedly is under contract to Chicago through December 31, 2019.  How long it would take to actually construct an alternate treatment and distribution system is not yet clear, but it would almost certainly be a multi-year project that could be expected to consume at least 3 of the 6 years left on the City’s deal with Chicago.

So the City Council should be discussing NOW – while the analysis of the joint study the City commissioned last year is still valid – whether it really is serious about pursuing an alternate water source.  That would mean committing the attention and effort necessary to explore and pursue the creation of the joint venture or consortium needed to pull off an alternate infrastructure.  And that would also involve a decision of whether the City would be better off accepting a continuing water purchase relationship with Chicago, albeit while knowing that Chicago’s finances in 2019 might make even more extortionate water increases likely.

Whether City Staff is equal to the task of reviewing last year’s joint study report and undertaking the assignment of providing usable information and recommendations to the City Council is an open question.  But if Staff lacks the ability, perhaps this might be a project suited for another citizens’ task force – assuming there are enough capable engineers and business people ready, willing and able to provide useful input to the Council.

The City has more than enough other, more immediate matters to deal with than this one.  But 2019 is not that far off, especially if just the physical construction of an alternative water distribution network will take 2-3 years.

That’s why the City leadership should take some time, now, to at least decide pro-actively whether to fish or cut bait on this alternate water source issue.

To read or post comments, click on title.

When A “Code” Is Merely A Suggestion


This past Tuesday night developer Trammell Crow made its initial presentation to the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission for a 126-unit apartment building proposed for the site of the current Advocate Health office building at 205 West Touhy.

Regular readers of this blog know that we have no love for new multi-family residential structures in Park Ridge.  Not only do we believe the density that comes with such buildings is problematic for a mature community such as ours, with it’s dated infrastructure, but the cost of educating every child that might live in multi-family units tends to be even more disproportionate to the property taxes generated by those units than it is for single-family residential property.

The 126 units Trammell Crow wants are a full 40 units more than the current zoning permits.  That normally would be a non-starter for the Commission, if past decisions (albeit by a different cast of characters than presently comprise the Commission) are any guide.  That’s not to say, however, that at least some members of the Commission wouldn’t accept a number of units between 86/87 and 126.

And THAT’s what Trammell Crow might be betting on.

The economics of almost any multi-family structure are a “loser” for Park Ridge taxpayers, unless those units are occupied by childless couples who will be contributing 33% of their units’ real estate taxes to Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 and another 30%-plus to Maine Township High School District 207, while at the same time using no D-64 or D-207 services.   That’s because just one child in D-64 costs approximately $13,000 a year to educate, while a large single-family home paying $20,000 in annual RE taxes doesn’t cover even one-half the annual educational cost of that student.

But according to the developer, this project will contain smaller units (1 and 2 bedroom) instead of the 3 and 4-bedroom units such projects typically include.  And if the developer is to be believed, those smaller units will still rent for between $1,800 and $3,000 per month, primarily to people without children – whom we are being told are now called “power couples.”

In a previous incarnation they were known as “DINKS”: double incomes, no kids.

Why such couples would choose to spend $1,800 to $3,000 a month on rent for a 1 or 2-bedroom apartment in Park Ridge is, frankly, beyond our comprehension.  And from their reactions Tuesday night, several commissioners seemed equally uncomprehending, if not outright skeptical.  As they should be.

Instead of “power couples,” we’re betting the 2-bedroom units are far more likely to draw single parents who want their kids in Park Ridge schools but can’t afford (or don’t want to pay) the down payment and/or monthly mortgage debt service for a condo or single family home.  So either Trammell Crow has a way better sense of what it can sell in the Park Ridge market than we do, or it’s trying to blow a lot of smoke up a number of people’s kilts.

We’ve seen this movie before, so we know how it ends.  And we’re taking the latter.

Judging from comments by several P&Z commissioners and the heads of other commissioners nodding in agreement, 40 units over the Zoning Code’s 86-unit maximum isn’t going to happen – notwithstanding a nifty argument from the developer’s representatives that the exact same size structure on the exact same footprint could conform to the Code’s density requirements by substituting 3 and 4-bedroom units for the 1 and 2-bedroom ones.  In other words, the 40 extra units would be of no practical consequence to the number of people actually living on the site.

Park Ridge’s Zoning Code was re-written approximately 7 years ago.  The current Code, therefore, represents a relatively contemporary community view – a/k/a, its “public policy” – of how property in Park Ridge should be developed, including the density of dwelling units.

We assume the folks who served on the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee (Kirke Machon, Rich DiPietro, Ann Tennes, attorney Gary Zimmerman, Atul Karkhanis, attorney Ellen Upton, Brian Kidd,  Philip Mitchell, attorney Cynthia Funkhouser, Timothy Metropolus, Rob Lohens, Judy Barclay, attorney Joseph Cwik, attorney Terry McConville, Tom Provencher, Anita Rifkind and attorney Aurora Abella-Austriaco, with the assistance of professional zoning consultants) properly considered how the number and size of dwelling units – be they apartments, condominiums, townhouses, or single family homes – would impact the areas in which they are located.

So when any developer comes along and asks for close to a 50% variance in the amount of dwelling units, we have to wonder whether the City has acquired a reputation for being such a pushover that developers actually believe they can get such variances; or, alternatively, that it has acquired a reputation of split-the-baby compromise, thereby emboldening developers to ask for 40 extra units with the expectation that they’ll get 20.

Either way, if true, tends to make a mockery out of the City’s Zoning Code.  And it turns the Code into mere suggestions that Groucho Marx could have been describing when he announced:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Summit Lot Reconstruction Flyer Raises Questions


More than a year ago we wrote about the abysmal condition of the City’s commuter parking lot along Summit Avenue (“‘Management By Walking Around Should Start With Stroll Along Summit,” 08.03.12).

Virtually 100% of the pavement was crumbling back then, some of it revealing formerly paved-over tree stumps.  That it was allowed to deteriorate to the point where the lot’s condition would have been an embarrassment to economically-distressed communities like Bellwood, Robbins or Waukegan suggests that somebody(ies) at City Hall had been asleep at the wheel for a number of years.

So there’s finally some good news to report: the rebuilding of that parking lot, along with the curbs and the installation of sidewalks, is beginning today.

The bad news, however, is how the City is choosing to deal with the problems the construction will cause.

Last Wednesday/Thursday, parkers along Summit returned to their cars in the evening to find a flyer stuffed behind their cars’ windshield wipers, announcing the commencement of the project and that there will be NO PARKING in that Summit lot between Prospect (on the West) and Ridge (on the East) for the approximately six weeks the project is supposed to take.

No mention of where these displaced resident commuters might find alternative parking – presumably because the City has made no arrangements for such alternative parking – or even where the other City parking lots are located.  Just a basic “parking lot will be closed for 6 weeks.”

And an implicit: “F U” to the folks who regularly use that lot.

We’re talking well over 100 spaces that are used 8-plus hours a day, 5 days a week.  Many of the people who regularly park in those spaces have never parked anywhere else in connection with their daily commute.  They probably could have used a small map of what City lots are closest to the METRA station.

But commuters got no map.  They got no alternatives.  All they got was a bare-bones announcement.

Oh, yes, and they got one more thing: not one but TWO mentions on the flyer of “Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. (CBBEL)” – the City’s engineer on this project.

Hmmm, how curious.

We’ll match our governmental “transparency” and “accountability” advocacy against anybody’s, but wouldn’t one mention of “Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. (CBBEL)” on this flyer have been enough?  Especially since “CBBEL” seems to have become the newest most-favored-vendor for City engineering services, with its fingerprints already all over the City’s various flood control projects.

Or is somebody at City Hall shilling for CBBEL?

Back in October, 2011, Mayor Dave Schmidt and Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd) and Dan Knight (5th) expressed reservations about the circumstances surrounding the selection of CBBEL as the provider of engineering services for the initial phases of the City’s sewer improvement (a/k/a, flood control) plan.  According to the minutes of the October 10, 2011 Committee of the Whole meeting, Schmidt questioned then-city manager Jim Hock’s playing golf as a guest of CBBEL, especially when the City was negotiating with CBBEL over its services for the multi-million dollar flood control projects.

Hock’s gone, so we know he didn’t author the flyer promoting CBBEL.  So that would appear to mean that CBBEL has another “friend” (or two) in City Hall.

And when it comes to government, especially here in Illinois, such “friend”-ly relationships usually mean trouble for taxpayers.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Labor Day 2013: More Than Just One Last Barbecue-Op


Labor Day 2013 brings a mixed bag for people who work for their living, and we’re not talking about hot dogs v. hamburgers, ribs v. chicken, Bud v. Miller Lite.

According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), “real” unemployment – which includes the currently unemployed, the under-employed, the “marginally attached” unemployed, and the “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for work – has dropped from 15% a year ago to a shade over 14%.

Unfortunately, median household income is only $51,000, or $4,000 below what it was in pre-recession 2007.  That suggests the jobs being created that reduced unemployment by a percentage point aren’t as good-paying ones as they were pre-recession.

Meanwhile, young adults are graduating from colleges and universities with mountains of debt but without solid prospects for the kind of employment that might provide them the kind of incomes needed to pay off those debts and begin living independently of their parents.

What’s the solution?

We don’t have one.  But we do have a few observations that might at least get folks looking in the right direction.

First, we need to stop lying to ourselves about the country’s economic situation for purely partisan purposes.  Voodoo economics as advocated BOTH by Democrats (“double the minimum wage immediately”) AND by Republicans (“Even $1 of tax increases is too much for $10 of spending cuts”) hasn’t worked in good times, and it sure won’t work today.  Or tomorrow, for that matter.

Second, any rebuilding of the middle class will require a re-commitment to the U.S. returning to a manufacturing power rather than continuing its slide toward a predominately “service” economy.  And we’re talking 21st Century manufacturing, not post-WWII rust-belt style manufacturing.  Anybody who can’t see how increasingly “intelligent” machines will perform an increasingly larger share of routine services, especially the more mundane ones like super-sizing your fries, is wearing blinders.

Third, those who demean the American entrepreneurial spirit with foolish and divisive statements like “you didn’t build that” also demean the labor – mental and physical – of the people who did, indeed, “build that.”  Thomas Edison did build General Electric (presumably with “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration”); Henry Ford did build Ford Motor Company; Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did build Apple; Phil Knight did build Nike; Jeff Bezos did build Amazon; and the list goes on and on.

More importantly, they built those businesses while learning from the same teachers, using the same roads and bridges, relying on the same police and fire protection, etc., that the rest of us did.  So, for the most part, they didn’t have any special advantages over the rest of us that the “you didn’t build that” meme implies.

Similarly, anybody who demeans the contributions of organized labor over the past 100-plus years also demeans the work-based standard of living that has made this country the most prosperous one the world has ever known, with the longest-running stable constitutional government in the history of the world.  It was the trade/industrial union movement that brought us most of the work-related laws and benefits we now take for granted, like:

  • The minimum wage;
  • The 8-hour work day;
  • Overtime pay;
  • Holiday pay;
  • The 40-hour work week/work-free weekends;
  • Social Security;
  • Paid (and unpaid) sick leave;
  • Paid vacations;
  • Paid work breaks, including lunch;
  • Child labor laws;
  • Pensions, including 401(k)s;
  • Unemployment insurance;
  • Workplace safety;
  • Employee and family health insurance;
  • Collective bargaining rights;
  • Anti-discrimination laws; and
  • Whistleblower protection laws.

Contrast those contributions with the contributions public sector unions have brought about since their rise to prominence over the past 20-30 years, which appear to be confined to:

  • Unsustainable and grossly under-funded defined-benefit pensions in lieu of Social Security and defined contribution pensions;
  • non merit-based raises that often exceed the rate of inflation; and
  • a lack of any real accountability to the taxpayers who fund those pensions and those raises

That’s what you get from a system of employment that is more socialistic than capitalistic, and which enables and actually rewards collusion between public-sector unions and the politicians who pander to those unions in return for political support – at the taxpayers’ expense.

So on this Labor Day, consider spending a few minutes contemplating how we can restore to prominence the private sector labor and management that built this country – while reducing the growing dominance of the collusive public sector labor and politics that is undermining it.

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