D-64 Supt. Contract Extension Just Another Non-Transparent Charade?


A recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 postpones action on superintendent contract extension,” May 19, 2015) reports that a proposal to extend D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz’s contract and compensation package was “deferred.”

Board president Tony Borrelli is quoted as saying that the D-64 Board “is not done deliberating” over the “factors to consider for administrators in general and the superintendent in specific.”

Hey, D-64 taxpayers! When you read something like that, reach for your wallets because there’s a good chance you’re being sold down the river by the elected representatives who are supposed to be protecting those wallets.

Why do we say that? Let’s review.

In February 2014 Heinz, who had NEVER been a superintendent before, was given a three-year contract to head D-64. You can read about all the secrecy surrounding that sweetheart deal in our 02.07.14 post.

According to the H-A article, Heinz this year received $201K in base salary, plus up to 9.4% of her pension contributions (in addition to D-64’s required pension contributions), medical, dental, life insurance coverage, travel reimbursement, 20 vacation days, and $1,320 toward her personal cell phone charges. And those terms apparently are guaranteed irrespective of how well she personally, or the entire District, performs.

Now the D-64 Board is planning on extending that deal after only one year of service.

What has she accomplished in that first year that has earned her the extension the D-64 Board appears intent on giving her? The H-A article doesn’t say, and we can’t find any record of it – even though Borrelli positively gushed about Heinz’s “evaluations” at Page 4 of the Minutes of the May 4, 2015 meeting:

Board President Borrelli announced that the current Board had conducted an evaluation of Dr. Heinz’s first year as superintendent, including mid-term and year-end evaluations. He noted that she unanimously has hit her evaluations and benchmarks out of the park. Board President Borrelli stated that he could not say enough about how much the current Board appreciates her efforts and the sterling evaluations this Board can provide. He further stated that the current Board’s recommendation to the new Board is that her contract be rolled over and considerations be given for raises in benefits and salaries. He noted that the new Board would now have that conversation and make this decision.

Apparently, even allegedly “out of the park” achievements have to be kept under wraps – at least until Heinz’s new deal is finalized in yet another closed session and then approved perfunctorily in open session before D-64’s taxpayers have the information necessary to figure out whether and how they’re being bamboozled.

That kind of conduct makes a mockery of the Board’s “Operating Principles” at Pages 44-46 of the May 18, 2015 Board Report, assuming those principles were anything more than a public relations Tramm sham when approved in August 2013:

Operating Principle 6: Board and Committee Meetings

We choose to conduct our meetings in an open and orderly fashion and in a manner consistent with our operating principles.

*               *               *

Operating Principle 8: Accountability

The Board recognizes that it is accountable to the community and other stakeholders.

  • We will communicate the State of the District on an annual basis.
  • We will conduct open, transparent and frequent communications with the community.
  • We will encourage public engagement.

And if you believe the D-64 Board actually subscribes to these principles, there’s some swamp land in Florida with your name on it.

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D-64 “Freeloaders” Have Legit Beef About Unexplained Fees


Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is in near the end of the first go-round on its new proof-of-residency registration process. This process is intended to reduce, if not eliminate, the non-resident parasites who enroll and keep their kids in D-64 schools even though they don’t live in the District and pay taxes for its schools.

The process seems pretty straightforward and understandable, as demonstrated by the form employed.

Which may explain why we have yet to hear any of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how such a process would be “too burdensome” and a “pain in the neck” for parents/guardians to prove the D-64 residency of their students. That was what former (Hallelujah!) Board member John Heyde and Scott (Mini-Heyde) Zimmerman predicted when arguing against the District’s implementing the residency check several months ago.

But while complaints about the residency checks seem to be missing, we are hearing the annoying call of that not-rare-enough species of D-64 resident whose scientific name is cheapskatias Park Ridgianis, which for shorthand purposes we have nicknamed “freeloader.”

The freeloader’s call is a piercing screech which it emits whenever it is charged for anything related to the “free” $14,000/year education to which it believes each of its kids is entitled by virtue of the payment of $3-4-5-6,000 a year in property taxes to D-64. And it is being heard earlier than usual because, as part of the new registration process, D-64 is requiring the payment of next year’s student fees by June 1 instead of by the customary July 31.

According to the District’s website and fee schedule, the fees “[f]or the 7th consecutive year…will remain unchanged” at $84 for Pre-K/K, $227 for Grades 1-5, and $315 for Grades 6, although for some undisclosed reason they will cover only about 52% of the District’s annual costs for instructional resources and technology – with the balance presumably being hung on the taxpayers. If you’re financially strapped, however, you can apply for a Student Fee Waiver by filling out this form, although the District’s legal counsel either wasn’t consulted or was asleep at the switch for not requiring it to be sworn and notarized like most commercial financial statements.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: only shameless freeloaders would beef about having to pay those relatively nominal fees for educations costing $14,000 per student per year.

As best as we can tell, even the owner of the most expensive house in town doesn’t pay $14,000 a year in property taxes to D-64, so he/she is money ahead even with only 1 kid in D-64 schools. And those residents who run multiple kids through the schools and pay considerably less than $14,000 a year in taxes to D-64 – anybody whose total tax bill is less than $21,000, of which less than $7,000 goes to D-64 – might be able to game the system for tens of thousands of dollars of subsidized education, especially if they pack up and move out of the District once they’ve used up all the free schooling.

Hence the term “freeloaders.”

But just because they’re freeloaders doesn’t mean they aren’t right about D-64 being tone deaf, inept, or just plain arrogant for continuing to ignore the freeloaders’ call for a “line item” description of the components of those fee amounts.

We can think of no justification whatsoever for the District’s continuing failure to provide such detailed information. Nor can we, frankly, think of any justification for the District’s charging parents only 52% of the total cost of whatever expenses those fees are supposed to cover, especially if the taxpayers are picking up 48% of those expenses.

So it’s time (actually, it’s well past the time) for Board president Tony Borrelli and a majority of the D-64 Board to demand that grossly-overpaid Finance czarina Becky Allard put together a line-item listing of exactly what charges comprise those annual student fees.  And once that mystery is solved, Borrelli and the Board should explain what particular public policy considerations demand that only 52% – and not 100%, or 90%, or even 20% – of those charges are assessed to the parents.

We’re confident that won’t shut up the most vocal freeloaders, but it’s still the right thing to do.

And the Board has put off doing it long enough.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Memorial Day 2015


Memorial Day is supposed to be a day of remembrance of our many fellow Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and for each of us.

But for too many of us beneficiaries of that sacrifice, Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend – the start of summer, an excuse to eat the extra hot dog or hamburger and to drink the extra beer. Memorial Day ends up being all about us, our families and our friends.

That’s wrong, but here’s a simple and easy way to make it right.

The traditional Park Ridge Memorial Day parade steps off this morning from South Park at 10:00 a.m. and ends at City Hall. Show up along the parade route. Applaud the veterans who will be marching in place of those whom we honor.

But don’t let it end there.

Following the parade there will be a short memorial service at the monument in Hodge’s Park. Spend a little extra time to attend that service.

Firing up the grille, or pouring that first Bloody Mary, can wait another half-hour.

But if that just doesn’t fit in the schedule, how about swinging by one of our many cemeteries and stopping by the grave of just one fallen soldier. They aren’t hard to find: all veterans’ graves should be marked with a fresh American flag, and you can pretty much tell by the date of death whether or not the soldier fell while in the service.

We can do that, and we should do that.  Because we are free men and women.

And those honored dead helped keep us that way.

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When Too Many Isn’t Quite Enough, Add More


Last year the City of Park Ridge suffered a bit of a national black-eye when a video of a middle-aged Park Ridge man being beaten by a few young thugs in the midst of a gathering of local (?) youths at Hinkley Park went viral.

News outlets around the county got to watch and listen to our callow youth triumphantly chant “U-S-A!” as the father, searching for his son in the crowd after Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) had closed down for the night, was verbally abused and physically tuned up.

As we wrote about in our 07.25.14 and 07.31.14 posts, our local police did a pretty horsebleep job of dealing with that Lord Of The Flies scenario and its group psychosis, despite being called out on two separate occasions within a couple/three hours of the incident. And that policing charade was followed by what could best be described as pathetic hand-wringing and buck-passing that we wrote about in our 08.12.14 post.

Almost a year later, the criminal charges against the four local darlings who assaulted and/or battered the dad are still wending their way through the Cook County justice system, with two of the “young men” scheduled to appear in court on May 26.

But as Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel once was famously quoted: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.

So this year the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation (“MCYAF”) – in conjunction with the TOPR promoters, the Park Ridge Park District, the Police Departments, Maine South High School and Lincoln Middle School – is organizing even more events to…wait for it…“draw a bigger crowd” of youths to the Park Ridge Library lawn and the TOPR/Uptown area, according to a May 12, 2015 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Group planning new activities aimed at teens during Taste of Park Ridge”)

That’s right, campers: The same Police Department and Park District that, together, couldn’t handle the reported 40+, 75+ and then 100+ youths who ended up at Hinkley Park, including the contingent of about 50 who migrated there from the Library lawn after TOPR closed for the evening at 10:00 p.m. last July 12, are part of an effort to encourage an even “bigger crowd” of youths to show up for activities at and around the TOPR this year.  But only until TOPR closes at 10:00 p.m.


And the outgoing Park District president Mel Thillens, who also wears the TOPR chairman’s chapeau, is looking to get the Park District to have an “open swim” at Hinkley, just in case there are some aquatic-oriented youths whom might otherwise not be drawn to the area and miss out on the mob action…er, we mean fun.

To quote MCYAF’s (and newly-elected Maine Twp. H.S. Dist. 207 Board member) Teri Collins: “We think part of the problem is that kids don’t have things to do that are age appropriate.”

Sure they do, Teri: What’s more “age appropriate” for teenage kids than hanging out with friends, preferably somewhere their parents and other responsible adults can’t keep an eye on them?

And occasionally beating the tar out of some parent who foolishly invades their turf after TOPR closes at 10:00 p.m., two full hours before the City’s curfew goes into effect?

Given last year’s apres-TOPR fiasco, however, this year the Police Department is promising to deploy more troops to Hinkley. And maybe, unlike last year, the gendarmerie that shows up might actually stick around for awhile instead of stopping by, smiling, and leaving the growing crowd to its own devices despite two separate telephone complaints about repeated incidents of fireworks discharge, vandalism and aggravated mopery with intent to gawk.

Doing things to bring even more teenagers into Uptown on the Friday and Saturday evenings of TOPR makes us wonder what exactly are these folks thinking – besides the obvious special-interest benefits of more traffic and revenue for TOPR, and a higher public profile (and more donations?) for MCYAF.

It also makes us ask: Hey, Mel and Teri…are TOPR and MCYAF going to be footing the extra cop costs, or will the taxpayers get stuck with those while your organizations just reap the benefits?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Oath Reaffirmation By Police The Right Idea


Today we’re giving a Watchdog bark-out to the Park Ridge Police Department for having all 54 of its sworn officers reaffirm the oath they took when they first became officers. (“Park Ridge police officers reaffirm oath to community,” Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, May 12, 2015)

According to the H-A article, the officers reaffirmed not only their official oath of office but, also, the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor – which includes vows such as never betraying the officer’s badge, or his/her integrity, character, “or the public trust”; and the vow to hold themselves and other officers “accountable for our actions.”

This reaffirmation of oaths reportedly came as a reaction to the highly-publicized incidents of questionable police conduct in various places around the country. And although Park Ridge and all of Illinois has, so far, been spared such highly-charged incidents, those of us here in Crook County have witnessed enough political and police corruption (e.g., drug dealing, burglary rings, shakedowns, bribery, the “blue wall,” etc.) to realize that no community is immune.

Additionally, while the H-A article mentioned incidents like the officer charged with DUI, a commander facing reinstated aggravated battery charges related to a 2006 beating of a teenage suspect, and an officer’s suspension for sexting, those three incidents involved off-duty officers – it failed to mention the 2010 FBI seizure of police department records and computers (at least some of which were related to the 2006 beating), or the 2008 Ekl Report that identified other instances of questionable police conduct.

That’s why we think that a reaffirmation of those oaths should be an annual event.

We’re not suggesting that as any slam on the police department and its personnel. We believe Park Ridge, on an overall basis, has a solid – and perhaps exceptional – police department. And while the mean streets of Park Ridge don’t regularly present the kinds of challenges that other communities present, even the most benign traffic stop carries the kind of risk that most of us do not want to face; and which we appreciate the police facing on our behalf.

But both elected and appointed City officials reaffirm their oaths of office every time their term of office is extended – and they don’t carry guns or have to make split-second, potentially life and death decisions for their own safety and the safety of others.

With regard to an annual reaffirmation, we’re encouraged by the comments of officer and police union steward John Dorner, who not only reported no negative response to the reaffirmation but also indicated that “every officer embraces it and…look[s] forward to hopefully doing it on a yearly basis, if not more.”

Exactly right.

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Breaking The Government-As-Usual Mold At Park Ridge Public Library


Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, famously invoked a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

If you’ve been paying attention to the adventures of Illinois’ new governor, Bruce Rauner, you know that he has been learning a painful lesson: In the state that calls itself the Land of Lincoln – a sick joke, considering the pervasive dishonesty and corruption for which Illinois has become infamous – we seem to have become a government of the bureaucrats, by the politicians, for the special interests.

And those special interests often include both the bureaucrats and the politicians.

Gov. Rauner is finding out just how entrenched those bureaucrats and special interests really are, and how determined they are to maintain Illinois’ continuing road-to-bankruptcy status quo: No matter what it is that Rauner wants to cut, it always seems to be somebody’s indispensable program, service or entitlement.

So it should come as no surprise that a variation on that same theme is playing out here in Park Ridge. And although there are many examples we could point to, today we will look at the Park Ridge Public Library – specifically the $43,738 in raises recommended for some of the Library’s 90 employees that the Library Board nixed last month.

That $43,738 is around 1% of the Library’s annual budget. In government, both that dollar amount and that percentage are treated as little more than rounding errors. And small ones at that.

But that $43,738 represents a principle much more significant than the dollars or percentage: Whether the Library exists primarily for the benefit of its taxpayers/users, or for the benefit of its employees?

Last summer that question was answered loudly and clearly by Library Director Janet Van De Carr and a majority of the then-Library Board (Trustees John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous, John Schmidt and Jerry White) when it chose to slam the doors – literally – on the Library’s Sunday users for 14 summer Sundays, rather than use the roughly $20,000 earmarked for employee raises to keep those doors open. You can read the gory details in our our 04.04.14 postour 04.14.14 post and our 05.29.14 post.

And those doors stayed shut until the July 15, 2014, Board meeting, when new Trustees Pat Lamb and Dean Parisi, replacing Benka and Schmidt, joined with Trustees Joe Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and myself to provide a majority vote to overturn the Sunday closings.  With that handwriting on the wall, Ebling, Harrison and White grudgingly flipped – leaving only Hynous insisting that shutting down the Library on summer Sundays wasn’t wrong and provided a more consistent referendum message.

With the new Board has come more oversight, a more pro-active approach to management, and a more exacting focus on Library finances than existed in past years.

So when increases to employee compensation came up at the April 14 Library Board personnel committee meeting, a majority of the Trustees in attendance voted to convert Van De Carr’s recommended $43,738 merit salary increase pool into a $25,000 merit bonus pool.  And then at the April 21 Library Board meeting, a majority of the Trustees present rejected any additional compensation for employees, indicating that neither Van De Carr nor the employees themselves had made a persuasive case for such additional compensation.

Not surprisingly, that exercise in financial stewardship whacked the hornets’ nest.

Not only did Van De Carr express her indignation at the temerity of the Board to reject one of her recommendations, but so did some employees and a collection of folks from the Citizens Supporting the Library Referendum, who were on hand that night to be honored for their efforts in running the successful Library referendum campaign. The employees and referendum folks accused the “no”-voting Trustees of not valuing the employees, of ruining morale, and of ignoring the will of the voters who passed the referendum.

Of course the Library employees are valued.  But just like the rest of us mortals, they are not irreplaceable. They can die, become disabled, move to another state, or simply change jobs or careers.  So if their morale is so fragile that it can be crushed by not getting a raise or bonus this year, then it’s far too fragile to count on under any circumstances.

Moreover, nothing in the referendum question itself mentioned employee raises or bonuses.  Neither did anything in the Library’s own Funding and Budget FAQs, or in its Referendum Information sheet, or in the campaign mailer sent out by the referendum folks.  And for good reason: neither the Library employees nor the referendum folks wanted the taxpayers/voters even to think about whether any of the extra $4 million in total funding would go for employee raises and bonuses.

Just like the way the Director, the former Board majority, and the employees emphatically denied and ridiculed any suggestion that last summer’s Sunday Library closings were in any way related to last year’s employee raises.

As one of those trustees who cast a “no” vote at that April 21 meeting, the easiest thing to do would have been to rubber-stamp whatever the Director proposed. That’s what past Library boards had been doing for over a decade, even if it meant deficit spending to the point of closing the Library’s doors on summer Sundays,and cutting other hours.  And the reason they did that is because they never cared enough to ask the basic questions that should be sine qua non inquiries before taxpayer money is used for additional employee compensation:

“Is the Library better today than it was a year ago?”

“Are the employees providing more and/or better service than they did a year ago?”

“Does the Library provide greater value to the taxpayers than it did a year ago?”

None of those questions, or any variants of them, were answered or even addressed by the Director or by the employees, or by the referendum folks, prior to that April 21 vote.  Instead, all that was offered were arguments along the lines of the contents of a letter which the refendum folks sent to the Trustees two days ago, which all boil down to: “Library staff members deserve a modest wage increase in line with that being received by other City employees.”

In public employment that’s what’s known as an “entitlement.”  Because here in Illinois, just showing up for your public-sector job is usually reason enough for a raise, especially if other public employees are getting raises.

What those of us on the Board considered, however, were a variety of facts that suggested the answer to all three of those sine qua non questions was “no” – including the Library’s own reports showing: (a) a consistent decline in Library visits to their lowest level in 10 years; (b) a decline in Library circulation to the lowest level in six years; (c) a decline in Library program attendance to the lowest level in 9 years; and (d) even a slight decline in the number of Library card-holders and the number of cardholders actually using their cards to check out items.

And, as Trustee Pat Lamb pointed out, Library employees had received raises over the past four years that averaged in excess of the increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Those of us who have been entrusted with the stewardship of the Library realize that the additional $1 million/year in referendum money the voters gave us for the next four years carries additional responsibilities for using it wisely. That means making sure that, first and foremost, the Library is put on a sound and sustainable financial footing by the time those four years are up.

It also means improving the Library and its operations so that it looks, feels, and IS a better facility – not only for its regular users but, also, for the occasional user and even those non-user taxpayers who are funding it without getting any direct benefit in return.

That requires more from both the Board and Staff than acting merely as custodians and doing the same old same old for the next four years. That requires improving and even re-inventing what the Library does, how well and efficiently it does it, and the space in which it does it – so that the Library’s performance metrics start demonstrating something better than the lemming-like following of some “national trend” that has become the alibi du jour anytime those metrics are questioned.

If the Director and Staff can figure out ways of doing that, maybe next year they will have some tangible achievements, instead of just a purported entitlement, to justify a request for additional compensation.

Let’s hope so…for the community’s sake.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

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Only City’s Top Bureaucrat Gets Transparent Review


Since 2009 the City of Park Ridge has had the most transparent operations of any local governmental unit, by far. That’s because the late Mayor Dave Schmidt fought tooth and nail to make it so. And because the voters wisely elected a majority of aldermen who joined Mayor Dave in that fight.

One of the fruits of that transparency was on display – naturally, given that “on display” is what transparency’s all about – at the City Council COW (Committee Of the Whole) meeting last Monday (April 27) night when the Council conducted its open-session review of City Manager Shawn Hamilton.

Hamilton is the top City employee and its highest paid one. He’s also, as we understand it, the only City employee whom the Council is legally empowered to directly hire, fire, review and compensate.  And as it has done for the past few years, the Council once again conducted his review in open session, with the press present and the videocamera running.

That’s the way government should work: out in the open, in the bright light of day.

According to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story about the process (“City manager receives ‘below average’ performance review,” 04.29.15), Hamilton received less than a ringing endorsement of his past year’s performance.  In the pre-Schmidt, pre-transparency years, there would have been no such H-A story because the process would have been hidden from view in closed session, leaving the taxpayers scratching their heads and wondering why the then-city managers were getting their regular raises and benefit increases.

Not only does the transparency of the City’s process give the ordinary taxpayer an up-close-and-personal appreciation for how their top employee performed over the past year, but it also gives them some insight into how their aldermen came up with Hamilton’s rating – because the aldermen’s actual rating sheets were part of the meeting materials posted on the City’s website.  That way, taxpayers can see for themselves what factors went into that rating.

Unfortunately, at its March 5 meeting the Park Ridge Park District Board took a big step backward from last year’s more transparent process for evaluating the District’s top employee, Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle.  Instead of an open-session discussion like last year, the Park Board waited until the end of its lengthy meeting before running into closed session for its 40-minute evaluation of Mountcastle.  The result: another 4% salary boost (from $149,000 to $155,000) after a 4% bump last year and a 7% bump in 2013.

Not surprisingly, the individual Park Board members’ reviews of Mountcastle were not posted on the District’s website, nor does it sound like any Board members except president Mel Thillens actually saw all the written reviews prior to the Board adjourning, lemming-like, into the closed session.

Call it a cowardly retreat from the promise of last year’s more-open process.

That probably shouldn’t have come as a total surprise, however, given that Board president Thillens and several other Board members have consistently displayed no natural instinct for transparency and accountability – other than when they are on the campaign trail, or when they believe they have no other alternative.

But when it comes to treating the taxpayers like mushrooms, nobody does it any better/worse than both of our local school boards. When they review their respective superintendents – Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s $240,000+ Laurie Heinz, and Maine Twp. H.S. District 207’s $250,000+ Ken Wallace – those boards are so secretive that Edward Snowden would be challenged to sneak a peek.

We’ve heard all the secrecy arguments, most of which are some variation on the “closed sessions let elected officials speak candidly” theme.

Elected officials who need the secrecy of a closed session to speak candidly about the performance of their government unit’s top executive have no business holding public office.

Too bad so many of them still do.

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