It’s All About Priorities


If you were one of the people who showed up at the Park Ridge Library this past Sunday looking to check out a book, read a magazine, surf the Net, or just hang out, you probably were disappointed to discover that you happened to pick the first of what is scheduled to be 14 consecutive Sundays that the Library will be closed this summer.

The official party line on the closings is that the Library doesn’t have the $20,000 it would cost to keep it open those 14 Sundays.

That’s an outright lie.

The truth is that keeping the Library open those 14 summer Sundays just isn’t a priority for the Library’s executive staff who recommended its closing, or for 6 of the 9 Library Board members (pres. Margaret Harrison, vice-pres. John Benka, secretary Audra Ebling, treasurer John Schmidt, trustees Dorothy Hynous and Jerry White) who voted to approve that recommendation.

Or you might say that it just isn’t as much of a priority as giving the Library’s employees $20,000+ of raises.

Or as much of a priority as continuing the free use of the Library’s computers instead of charging a nominal $1 per log-on.

Or as much of a priority as continuing the Library’s free programs and movies instead of charging a nominal $1 per attendance.

In fact, based on the Library’s own computer usage statistics, a $1 computer log-on fee could have generated over $60,000 – enough money to keep the Library open all 14 Sundays this summer AND next, while also giving the Library employees their raises.

And, based on the Library’s own program attendance stats, a $1 attendance fee per program or movie could have generated $30,000 – enough to keep the Library open all 14 of this summer’s Sundays and also cover 1/2 of the employee raises.

Even if computer usage would decline by 50% in response to a $1 fee (as all those financial geniuses chose to spend $1-plus on the gas for their round-trip to the Niles or Des Plaines libraries for free computer usage), summer Sundays could still be saved…and with an additional $10,000 to put toward raises or other uses.

But user fees are anathema to senior Library staff and this Board majority. And keeping the Library open Sundays this summer wasn’t a priority for them.

Actually, closing it was.

That’s because the Library’s senior staff and the Board majority wanted a very visible symbol of the Library’s financial situation to anger the taxpayers enough that they would demand that the City Council give the Library more tax money.  But after failing in that effort and now facing a Library tax increase referendum this November, the staff and Board majority will use the Sunday closings to try to sell a “yes” vote to those same taxpayers.

Interestingly enough, although that senior staff and Board majority wanted a visible symbol to motivate the taxpayers, they didn’t want to cause the Library’s core weekday user base – e.g., kids, seniors, the voluntarily and involuntarily unemployed – any inconvenience.

So summer Sunday users – the largest group, on a per-hour basis, of Library users (according to the Library’s own, albeit very flawed, data) – became expendable.  Or “acceptable collateral damage” in military parlance.

Ironically, a half-baked “Survey-Monkey” survey commissioned by the Library’s senior staff and Board, with the wink-and-nod expectation that it would reveal overwhelming opposition to any kind of Library fees, actually showed just the opposite.

As reported in a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Survey: Most Park Ridge library users would pay for adult programs,” May 20, 2014), 62.8% of the survey’s 530 respondents to questions about “adult” programs said they would be willing to pay a fee to attend programs at the Library. And of the $1-$3-$5-other price range surveyed, 41.9% indicated they would be willing to pay $5 for computer classes!

Even the majority (54.5%) of the 244 respondents who said “no” to a question about paying for children’s programs was not the resounding mandate the senior staff and Board majority seemed to be hoping for, with a number of those folks indicating they’d pay a $3 program fee if it were charged.

The senior staff’s and Board majority’s response to such “Survey Monkey”-shines?

“We need to do our homework and due diligence on this, because if the referendum gets shot down, we need to come out of the gate with an alternative money source,” said Library Resources Committee chair Jerry White.

In other word: Let’s not try to salvage some of this summer’s Sundays by starting to charge user fees now when, instead, we can keep the Library closed and hope it ticks off enough voters that they pass the referendum in November, so we won’t have to start charging the user fees we really don’t want to charge.

To the people in charge of the Library, closing the Library to the entire community one day a week for 14 weeks is better than deferring $20,000 of raises for less than 50 employees.

And closing the Library to the entire community for 14 summer Sundays is better than charging computer users and program attendees a nominal $1 user fee.

Those are the priorities of this senior Library staff and this 6-person Library Board majority.

And all you Sunday Library users aren’t.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Memorial Day 2014


Americans killed in recognized American wars:

Revolutionary War:  4,435;

War of 1812:  2,260;

Mexican War:  13,283;

Civil War:  750,000 (est.);

Spanish-American War:  2,446;

World War I:  116,516;

World War II:  405,399;

Korean War:  36,576;

Vietnam War:  58,200;

Persian Gulf War:  382; and

Iraq/Afghanistan:  6,809.

Let us all pay tribute to those who have given their lives in the defense of our freedom.

To read or post comments, click on title.




Time For A Joint City – D-64 Meeting On TIF Dispute (Updated)


To hear Park Ridge City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton tell it, he and his staff have been asking Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 since January for information the City needs to verify and confirm the amounts D-64 claims the City owes for the outstanding annual TIF payment (a/k/a the “TIF Bribe”) before it will pay this year’s bill.

To hear D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli and D-64 attorney (and former D-64 board president) Dean Krone tell it, D-64’s staff has reached out to the City 11 times since January to help the City figure out exactly what the City owes.

Either somebody’s lying, or somebody’s incompetent. Oh, wait…maybe it’s both.

It shouldn’t take four months to get data from D-64, especially since it appears to be data D-64 itself actually needed to calculate what it claims the City owes it for this year’s TIF Bribe. So either City staff is lying about the legitimacy of its requests and the diligence of its efforts, or D-64 is lying about the promptness and completeness of its responses.

Or maybe both.

But there’s one simple way to resolve that issue: a joint meeting of the City Council and D-64 Board, with senior staff present.

Hold it at City Hall next Thursday night – so as not to conflict with a possible Game 5 in the Blackhawks’ conference final series with the LA Kings – and let the respective sides explain their positions and make their arguments face-to-face, in public and on television, with the press scribbling away.

Let Hamilton look right at Supt. Phil Bender and tell him what he needs and why. Let Bender tell Hamilton when it was produced, or when it will be produced, or why it won’t.

Let City Finance Director Kent Oliven go toe-to-toe with D-64’s Rebecca Allard on the completeness or incompleteness of the financial data that’s already been exchanged, if any, and the relevance of what’s still missing.

Let City attorneys Everette “Buzz” Hill and TIF-expert Matthew Welch debate the legal issues of this dispute with their D-64 counterparts, Dean Krone and Ares Dalianis.

And then let Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council discuss with Board President Tony Borrelli and the D-64 Board, then and there, how this dispute is going to be resolved with the least aggravation and expense to their collective taxpayers.

All of it in public, on television and video-recorded for posterity. No back-room deals, no closed-door sessions, no behind-the-scenes whispering, no he-said-she-said silliness, no sound bites, no spin, no propaganda.

That means D-64’s minister of propaganda and spin, Bernadette Tramm, can stay home – because the City has no equivalent taxpayer-paid public relations flak with whom she can spar about the “message” of the meeting.

It’s way past time for cutting through all the posturing and other nonsense that seems to have plagued this effort since at least January and has pushed the respective governmental bodies closer to stupid litigation than to wise resolution. That means more light and less heat.

Which brings us to Board Pres. Borrelli’s e-blast Monday afternoon about the TIF dispute.

We think highly of Borrelli. We endorsed his election to the Board three years ago, and we have praised many of the initiatives he has brought to that previously-opaque and unaccountable backwater body – although we harshly criticized the way he and “his” Board mishandled the process of hiring the new superintendent, including the closed session discussions of how much to pay her.

Unfortunately, Borrelli’s blast seems to have borrowed liberally from the Bernadette Tramm playbook of political tactics, misdirection and obfuscation. It responds to the detailed points of City Mgr. Hamilton’s 5-page April 7, 2014 letter not with specific counter-points but with D-64 – aggrandizing bloviation that, distilled to its essence, demands that the City keep on making what may be TIF Bribe overpayments simply because it has done so without question for the past 11 years:

We would describe the April 7 letter from the City as an emphatic ‘no’ to our simple and reasonable request that the City live up to its financial obligations – as it has done routinely each year since 2003. Certainly, the April 7 letter was not an invitation for further dialogue and compromise.”

If you can’t see B. Tramm’s fingerprints all over statements like that, you really haven’t been paying attention to the propaganda being churned out by D-64 the last few years to cover up mediocre performance at premium prices.

Eliminating, or at least reducing, that kind of propaganda is yet another reason why the taxpayers deserve a face-to-face joint City and D-64 meeting about this TIF dispute immediately, as in next Thursday, May 29.

And remember: Ms. Tramm isn’t invited.

UPDATE (05.23.14) Instead of the very public meeting we suggested in this post, we understand that there was a meeting this morning between the City’s bureaucrats and D-64s bureaucrats, along with their respective legal counsel.  And, disappointingly, it was not a “public” meeting; i.e., neither the public nor the press were invited to attend.

Of course, that’s just the way the bureaucrats like it.  Public scrutiny, or “sunshine,” is about as welcomed by bureaucrats as it is by vampires.

Nevertheless, we can only hope that the same bureaucrats who have so ineptly handled this situation over the past several months have somehow become enlightened and will be able to make some serious progress toward getting this situation resolved. But the fact that it’s being done behind closed doors makes us wonder just how much the taxpayers are being sold down the river.

Judging by City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton’s latest missive to D-64 Supt. Phil Bender, a May 22, 2014 letter, we’re still not sure.

The letter points out some of the boneheaded terms of the existing intergovernmental agreement between the City and D-64 which our City officials back in 2003-04 were only too happy to sign off on in order to lock in the TIF Bribe – which it sounds like the City is trying to renegotiate.

But one idea that we hadn’t heard discussed all that vigorously by the Council until now is actually being presented in Hamilton’s letter as a proposal: “The City requests the taxing districts to cooperate in the legislative extension of the TIF term by 12 years.”

We’ll have to go back to the Kane McKenna report to look into all the pluses and minuses of such a 12-year extension.

But from our knowledge of TIFs, that’s never a good thing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will Uptown TIF Tiff Bite Taxpayers In Wallets…Twice?


We’ve been pointing out for years how it’s the taxpayers – present and future – who pay the price for all the incompetence, waste, graft, fraud and corruption to be found in most of the almost 7,000 units of government in Illinois.

Unfortunately, Illinois ranks No. 1 among the 50 United States when it comes to positively rank government, so it’s more than a little annoying to realize that Illinois taxpayers are figuratively pouring truckloads of their tax dollars down various governmental rat holes.  That being the case, it’s even more annoying when local governmental bodies botch their respective jobs so thoroughly that they end up in litigation with each other.

Can you say “taxpayers paying legal bills for both sides of the same dispute”?

That might be what we’ll soon be looking at here in Park Ridge, judging by the stories in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 to Park Ridge: Pay money owed or go to court,” May 12), the Park Ridge Journal (“City Contests TIF Funds Owed To D64,” May 14) and The Bugle (“Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 demands money from city of Park Ridge,” May 12) about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 threatening to sue the City of Park Ridge over an approximately $600,000 payment allegedly owed D-64 this year.

And annoyance becomes infuriation upon the realization that this dispute arises from that multi-million dollar albatross dangling around the City’s neck.

Yes, of course we mean the Uptown TIF.

As described in City Finance Director Kent Oliven’s April 11, 2014 Memorandum, the TIF’s originally-projected property tax revenue of $73 million has now been cut by almost 50% (47.5%, to be precise) because of the County’s decision to reduce assessment levels in 2009, and because property values have declined almost seven percent more in the TIF district than the 20% decline in the rest of the City.

As if that news isn’t bad enough, we’re now being told that the TIF-related bonds were “back-end loaded,” meaning that the annual TIF debt service payments will actually increase by an average of over $400,000 a year in 6 of the next 8 years, peaking in a debt service payment of $4.875 million in FY2022.

Those ill-conceived Uptown TIF bond obligations made over a decade ago already have caused the City’s debt rating to be downgraded, raising the City’s borrowing costs even though Moody’s has expressly recognized that current City management is responsibly biting the bullet “is implementing the necessary policies to balance TIF operations and rebuild General Fund liquidity” – through major expense cuts, layoffs, and tax and fee increases.

Needless to say, the City doesn’t have the luxury of wasting money – whether by overpayments to D-64 under the TIF-related September 8, 2003 intergovernmental agreement (a/k/a, “The Bribe Agreement”) or by litigation.  And we can’t imagine D-64 has a spare hundred grand laying around to litigate with the City.

But according to an April 7, 2014 letter from City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton to D-64 Supt. Philip Bender, D-64 has been improperly charging the City for “new students” in the TIF district whose addresses are not in the TIF district and, therefore, don’t qualify for new-student payments.  D-64 allegedly also has been charging the City for half-day pre-K and Kindergarten students for whom D-64 is not entitled to payments.  And the City claims it has been improperly charged for “new students” in the TIF district who aren’t “new” because they moved there from elsewhere inside D-64.

If that isn’t enough to sort out, there’s also a dispute about payments made to D-64 related to “new property” which – according to Matthew Welch, a TIF-specialist attorney hired by the City – may not even legally exist in the TIF district under applicable state law, as interpreted by the Illinois Department of Revenue.  Such “new property” charges might account for almost 3/4 of the City’s annual payment to D-64.

Consequently, it’s possible the City already has overpaid D-64 by millions of dollars over the past 11 years – and may have overpaid D-207 and the Park District, too!

So the City wants a reconciliation of its account with D-64 before coughing up another $600,000 for this year’s installment, which sounds reasonable notwithstanding the apparent lack of any sound justification for somebody(ies) at City Hall being asleep at the switch on this for the past 11 years.

But that’s not what D-64 wants to hear, especially when its own free-spending habits reportedly have made some of its programs and even its class sizes dependent on receiving that annual $600,000 (or so) from the City.  At least that’s what D-64’s leading tax/borrow/spend Board member, attorney John Heyde, is warning – while at the same time suggesting the City is acting in bad faith and attempting to “rewrite history just because [“The Bribe Agreement”] no longer suits [the City].”

So in addition to having the benefit of advice from attorney Dean Krone, who was a member of the D-64 Board back in 2003 and whose school law firm is the District’s regular counsel, D-64 now has hired former D-64 Board member Ares Dalianis of a different school law firm to handle any TIF-related litigation with the City.

Apparently it pays to be a former D-64 Board member who practices school law.

Before this turns into a full-blown legal battle on a collection of wide-ranging issues, however, D-64 owes the City a complete accounting of all the students for whom it has been charging TIF fees under The Bribe Agreement.  That way, the parties should be able to at least narrow the scope of any remaining disputes so that any litigation is as simple, narrow and efficient as it can possibly be.

Ideally, the only issues that would require court resolution would be purely “legal” ones related to whether or not there is – or can be – “new property” within the meaning of the PTELL/”tax cap” statute as interpreted by IDOR, an issue described in greater detail at Pages 4-5 of Hamilton’s April 14, 2014 letter, which would appear to have been written by the City’s TIF attorney.

From the sound of things, both the City’s counsel and D-64’s counsel may have screwed up in their haste to approve The Bribe Agreement 11 years ago.  But the last thing Park Ridge and D-64 taxpayers – not the exact same group of taxpayers, you know – need now is to have that screw-up compound by hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees because two cash-strapped local governmental bodies fighting over the same bone.

Hamilton’s letter seems to lay out the City’s position clearly and straightforwardly.

Where’s D-64’s equally clear and straightforward response?

To read or post comments, click on title.

In The Land Of COLAs And Bubble-Wrap, The Teacher Is King


We’ve never been fans of COLAs: Cost Of Living Allowances, otherwise known as non-merit based pay raises tied to the cost of living.

The reason is simple.

The cost of living (usually measured by the Consumer Price Index, or “CPI”) has nothing whatsoever to do with legitimately increasing an employee’s compensation.  That’s normally the purpose of increased productivity, profitability and/or performance, either individually or as part of an organization’s success.

A COLA, on the other hand, is basically an insurance policy that guarantees the COLA-ed employee’s buying power from erosion by inflation. As the cost of living goes up, so does the employee’s pay to protect his/her ability to buy the same amount of stuff he/she could buy before.

Consider it a kind of financial bubble-wrap designed to further protect those COLA-ed employees from yet another of life’s common risks the rest of us have to endure.

Not surprisingly, such a disconnect of compensation from productivity tends to occur almost exclusively in the fantasy-land that is public-sector employment. And, not surprisingly, one of its strongest bastions is public education, where accountability basically doesn’t exist.

Which brings us to last week’s report in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate of a new Maine Twp. High School District 207 teachers union contract (“New teachers’ contract approved for Maine Township High Schools,” May 8).

In typical school board fashion – both D-207 and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 are guilty – this latest contract appears to have been negotiated behind closed doors with no information about its terms being released until after it became the proverbial “done deal,” ratified by the teachers union and approved by the D-207 Board on May 5.  Only then did the press releases get cranked out about “win-win” and all the other standard I’m-okay-you’re-okay palaver we’ve come to expect whenever the teachers unions and the bobble-headed school board members combine to fleece the taxpayers.

Listen to union president Mike Poehler:

“The agreement helps stabilize a financial base that ensures a rich curricular environment with diverse elective and core class offerings as well as extra curricular activities for the students of Maine Township High Schools well into the future.”

George Orwell’s “Big Brother” would have been okay with that, especially the part about the “rich curricular environment” – even as the District’s objectively measurable performance and rankings continue their decline while teacher and administrator pay continues to increase, as we noted in our post: “Are Our Schools Threatening Park Ridge Property Values?” (11.04.13)..

Now listen to School Board president Margaret McGrath:

“The settlement is fair to all parties, fiscally conservative for our taxpayers, and it provides long-term cost savings to the District.”

How exactly does it do that?

We can’t say for sure because we couldn’t find the actual contract anywhere on the D-207 website despite looking for it for the better part of 10 minutes – which, as we all know, is virtually an eternity on the Internet, and the hallmark of website-unfriendliness.  As we recall, however, D-64 didn’t post its current contract until a couple of months after it was approved by that Board, so D-207 can keep this new contract under wraps for a while yet without under-performing D-64.

The new contract reportedly is a five-year deal, the first year of which carries a flat 2% increase. After that the raises become tied to the CPI, although the H-A article doesn’t explain whether it will be a straight application of the CPI or a “CPI-plus” arrangement – kind of like commercial loans that have LIBOR-based interest rates with a basis point kicker; e.g., “LIBOR plus 300 basis points.”

But according to a Daily Herald article from 05.06.14, the CPI-based plan would produce increases from 1% to 3%, although that article doesn’t explain how that calculation will be done.

The Daily Herald article also reports that, under the new contract, a beginner D-207 teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no teaching experience will make $55,681, while a teacher with 30 years of experience and a master’s degree would be paid $132,635.  And let’s remember that’s for 8-9 months of actual work, so those salaries annualize to at least $74,241 and $176,847, respectively.

Compare that to the Park Ridge median household income of around $85,000 and you start to see what happened to the “middle class,” at least in Park Ridge: it became “upper class,” at the taxpayers’ expense.

Some brief additional research, however, has turned up at least one 40 year old “staff supervisor” with only 16 years of experience (all in D-207) making $139,000; drivers ed. teachers making between $121,000 and $149,000; librarians taking down between $100,000 and $130,000; and staff social workers and psychologists making between $116,000 and 165,000.  Not surprisingly, you can’t find any of THAT information on the D-207 website, either.

Ms. McGrath calls the new contract “fiscally conservative for our taxpayers.” In the words of the fictional Col. Sherman Potter on t.v.’s iconic “M*A*S*H*”: “Horse hockey!”

How many of you taxpayers are getting a 2% raise this year and a guaranteed four more years of CPI-based raises – without having to do one extra lick of work or otherwise improve your productivity? And that CPI-based increase is in addition to the traditional “step” increases teachers get simply for putting another year into the system.  Not surprisingly, nobody at D-207 is talking about what that adds up to annually.

But that’s still not all.

According to an article in the Park Ridge Journal (“New Dist. 207 Teacher Contract; $1,250 Merit Pay for ‘Excellent’ Instructors,” 05.08.14), teachers who earn an “excellent” rating in their annual review can pick up a $1,250 bonus.

We’re all for merit pay…just not on top of COLAs and step-increases.

And let’s not forget those outstanding Illinois constitutionally-guaranteed defined-benefit pensions that enable retired teachers and administrators to earn almost as much in retirement as they did for working – and which private sector workers would need 401(k)s in the $3-4 million range in order to match.

Given this largesse, we’d hate to see what Ms. McGrath and her fellow Board members who unanimously approved this contract – Sean Sullivan, Eric Leys, Mary Childers, Carla Owen, Jin Lee and Paula Besler – would consider “fiscally irresponsible.”

But we’d bet it involves even more bubble-wrap.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Council Deals With ED Problem


We haven’t had a chance to complete our review of the recently-passed 2014-15 City of Park Ridge budget, which is the first one in 5 years to escape any form of veto by Mayor Dave Schmidt. But at least one budget decision the Council made was a sound one: deciding not to re-establish a full-time City economic development position.

A full-time ED “coordinator” has been the No. 1 fantasy of the Chamber of Commerce and a number of local business owners ever since the City nuked the ED “director” position – and its $100K-plus compensation package – back in 2010. At that time the Council didn’t see enough measurable business generation or maintenance to justify the expense.

It was the right decision then, and it’s the right decision now.

As we’ve previously noted on several occasions, economic development in Park Ridge appears to be limited by several factors – most notably our lack of available land to accommodate big-box, high volume, or otherwise high sales tax-generating businesses. Accessibility is also problematic, with a limited number of major roadways available to transport non-resident customers quickly and easily into our commercial areas, including Uptown (former home to the Bredemann Toyota and Buick dealerships, and the Napleton Cadillac dealership).

Like it or not, Touhy, Greenwood, Northwest Hwy. and Dee Road are not favorites of non-residents looking to get somewhere quickly and easily.

But none of those problems was enough to stop City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Community Preservation and Development Director Jim Testin, and Finance Director Kent Oliven from enthusiastically endorsing the hiring of a new full-time ED person, even if they couldn’t seem to articulate sound business reasoning for that endorsement.

According to a report in this week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Economic Development Won’t Get Full-Time Director,” May 7), Hamilton and Testin, apparently with some help from Ald. Roger Shubert (4th), went so far as to modify the ED job description to include tasks seemingly unrelated to new business development but likely to build support from certain special interests, such as “serving as a liaison to local human and social service organizations.”

How does that translate into a more thriving retail/business climate?

The flabbiness of such bureaucratic thinking was highlighted by Ald. Marty Maloney (7th), who asked Hamilton the threshold $64,000 question: “Is the end result [of creating the new position] to positively increase sales tax revenues?”

Not surprisingly, Hamilton provided one of his typically weak non-answers, suggesting that simply having someone marketing and doing public relations for the City was a good enough end result for him. In other words, Hamilton doesn’t need measurable economic benefit from the holder of a position costing the taxpayers six figures because mere activity is as good as actual achievement.

For his part, Testin, from whom we had grown to expect more substanctive analysis, couldn’t seem to avoid reaching for that easiest of bureaucratic alibis ever since the recession hit in 2007 – claiming that a fluctuating economy would make it hard to use economic factors to judge an ED’s job performance.

Tell that to every private-sector manager who has to judge an employee’s performance by economic factors, usually on a quarterly basis and sometimes even on a weekly basis.

The Journal story reports that Maloney was joined in his inquiries by Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th), who noted that not only would the ED position itself cost between $116,000 and $120,000 once benefits were figured in, but that Hamilton, Testin and Oliven had left out any marketing budget for ED activities such as traveling to trade shows and developing marketing platforms to tell Park Ridge’s story.

Kind of like hiring a painter but not figuring in the cost of paint, brushes and tarps.

Interestingly enough, the Journal story ends with a look back to 2010 when the ED position was eliminated, and recalling how local insurance broker (and then-Chamber of Commerce president) Dave Donovan defended the then-ED director by pointing out how she had secured 40 new businesses, the expansion of 5 others, and generated $5 million in new tax growth during her 5 years on the job.

We remember those discussions quite well, which is why we remember that Mr. Donovan and his fellow ED director fans never seemed able to directly tie most of those new businesses to the ED director’s efforts (a la Testin’s excuse, above).  Instead, they were content to figuratively give the rooster credit for the dawn.  And when counting up her “wins” they conveniently ignored her “losses”: the various businesses that had closed during that same 5-year period, not the least of which was major sales tax generator Napleton Cadillac.

That’s the kind of half-baked “analysis” that invariably leads to the making of bad decisions, and their continuation.

The best thing City government can do to enhance ED is to put its own economic house in order so that it doesn’t discourage businesses from coming here and staying here by high taxes, unreasonable restrictions, and substandard services.  As we have seen with Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Chipotle, etc., we don’t need an ED director or coordinator to attract quality retail.

But so long as our highly-paid senior City management team can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) apply basic business principles and metrics to the operations they are managing and the initiatives they are recommending, Park Ridge taxpayers will need to rely on our $100/month aldermen and our $1,000/month mayor to micro-manage those operations and initiatives – including whether or not to hire a full-time ED person.

Fortunately, in this case Alds. Maloney and Mazzuca performed like another pair of “M & M boys,” albeit from another era and another venue.

Nice hitting, guys!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Wrong Request Receives Rightful Rejection


Anybody who has read this blog for any length of time knows how much we harp on transparency and accountability.  After honesty and integrity, there aren’t two qualities we’d rather have in government.

But transparency and accountability should serve a legitimate public purpose rather than being merely gratuitous.

Which brings us to an article that just appeared yesterday in the on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, breathlessly titled: “Park Ridge officials decline to release income taxes.” (May 6, 2014)

According to the article, the H-A requested that Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City’s seven aldermen release their 2013 income tax returns to the public. No reason was articulated for that request, although its reference to “the release of tax returns by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and gubernatorial opponent Bruce Rauner last month” suggests that the H-A sees some connection between the highest office of our state and the highest offices in our City.

The mayor and all seven aldermen refused the H-A’s request.

As well they should have.

In the first instance, there’s no Illinois law that requires local government officials to publish their income tax returns. In fact, there’s no Illinois law that requires our gubernatorial candidates to publish theirs, or that requires such disclosures from our state senators and state representatives. And as best as we can tell, there isn’t even any federal law that requires presidential candidates to publish their income tax returns, even if such publication has become de rigeur in those campaigns in much the same way as in gubernatorial campaigns.

So what’s the point of such disclosures by the mayor and the Council, H-A?

What information do income tax returns contain that so directly bears on the decisions made by our City officials on City issues that it warrants an invasion of their personal privacy (and that of their spouses, where joint returns are involved) to which income tax returns are generally entitled by law?  Not surprisingly, the H-A article doesn’t say.

But given that City government is funded by property taxes, wouldn’t it make more sense for the H-A to have requested copies of each official’s property tax bill?  Or just to have obtained them directly from Cook County?

When aldermen vote for or against a property tax increase, or when the mayor vetoes a property tax increase, it might be interesting to know how such a decision will impact their own tax bill – which might provide at least a sliver of understanding about why they cast their votes the way they did.  It stands to reason that an alderman with a $600,000 home might be less inclined toward a big tax increase than an alderman with a $200,000 condo, given that the City’s portion of the former’s tax bill could increase by three times the increase to the latter’s.

Had the H-A actually given some thought to the reason for disclosure of tax information rather than merely knee-jerk reacting to what our state’s gubernatorial candidates were doing, it would have asked for property tax bills.  And we’re betting it would have received full compliance from the mayor and the aldermen.

But that wouldn’t have made for as nifty a headline.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Law Day 2014: Better Late Than Never


Happy belated Law Day!

We had hoped to get this post written and published Thursday, but the Fates and our day jobs conspired against us. So please excuse the two day delay in our post about what President Dwight D. Eisenhower first proclaimed as a day for celebrating “our moral and civic obligation…to preserve and strengthen that great heritage” of liberty, justice, and equality under law which was this country’s Founders’ legacy to us.

Sadly, Law Day is virtually ignored by the vast majority of the American public. Something as stupid and meaningless as Groundhog Day gets 10 or 20 times the attention. And Cinco de Mayo and Bastille Day generate far more celebrations.

Saludo and salut.

Polls show that two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice, and only one-third can name the three branches of government. 51% of Americans can’t name even one of their U.S. senators, and only 25% can name both.

And that’s just the adults!

Worse yet, the study of “civics” has been dumbed down and relegated to just a small piece of what commonly is called “Social Studies” in the curriculum of most of our elementary schools. That’s what we understand is the case at D-64, which takes approximately one-third of our property tax dollars but does not appear to have made any meaningful commitment to improving civic education.

“Less than one-third of eighth graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name,” laments retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance.”

The dumbing down of our children’s civic education should be a national scandal.

But probably only if TMZ picks up on it after catching Selena leaving a Beverly Hills nightclub.

Unfortunately, it seems that no small number of the civics-challenged reside right here in Park Ridge, judging from the comments submitted to this blog, comments published in our local papers, and comments made at public meetings of our various local governmental bodies.

For example, as recently as a month ago, a middle-aged resident attending one of our local governing body meetings wondered aloud why Maine Twp. High School District 207 couldn’t just give some of its reported surplus cash to the City so that the City could give it to the Library. The idea of D-207 and the City being two separate and distinct governmental entities and taxing bodies that could not legally pool their money or share their funding seemed totally lost on this resident.

How totally clueless is that? Seriously? How can a middle-aged Park Ridge resident not know that City government and its taxing authority are not the same as, or even part of, D-207 government and its taxing authority?

Another mystery to many (even those who have lived here for decades) is the fact that the City of Park Ridge, the Park Ridge Park District, and Park Ridge–Niles School District 64, don’t share the exact same boundaries and don’t contain the exact same constituencies. So some Park Ridge taxpayers aren’t Park Ridge Park District taxpayers, some D-64 taxpayers aren’t Park Ridge taxpayers, and (we suspect) some Park Ridge Park District taxpayers aren’t D-64 taxpayers.

Mayor Dave Schmidt and our aldermen regularly hear from residents complaining about the water temperature of Hinkley Pool, or D-64’s bus service, or parking at Maine South football games – despite the City having no authority over any of those matters.

Fortunately, Justice O’Connor is leading a crusade through, a website for educators and students that uses games, lesson plans and activities to engage young and old alike in learning about our form of government and citizenship.

“We have to ensure that our citizens are well informed and prepared to face tough challenges,” she said. “If there is a single child not learning about civics or not being exposed to what they must do as citizens, then all our lives are poorer for that.”

Spot-on, Sandy.

But we can’t deal with it right now – it’s Cinco de Mayo weekend.

Care for a margarita?

To read or post comments, click on title.