Public Watchdog.org

Mayor’s Advisory Board Chooses To Stay The Course At The Park Ridge Library (Updated)

06.10.16

Once upon a time Park Ridge was a sleepy little inner-ring bedroom community of single-family homes and “conservative” values – so conservative, in fact, that one of its standout high-school students (who would later become a rich, famous and powerful Democrat running for president) was reportedly a “Goldwater Girl.”

Back then local government was also sleepy, run by something called the Homeowners Party that was more a social club than a political organization. The HOs not only openly ran City Hall but they also indirectly ran the park board and both school boards, the latter two through their unofficial affiliate known as the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207.

Park Ridge City government remained sleepy until April 2003, when the HOs lost five out of seven aldermanic races and subsequently went out of business.

Since then, local politics has become much more a contact sport than cocktail party. But the result is that local government has become vastly more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it. Not as transparent and accountable as it should be, mind you. Just more than it has ever been – even at those bastions of opaque, closed-session Star Chamber government: the D-64 and D-207 school boards.

One shining/glaring example of that “New Way” of government is that the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published not one but TWO online stories this week about the three recommended appointees to the Library Board that were approved just the night before by the Mayoral Advisory Board (the “MAB”) comprised of the chairs of the City Council’s four standing committees: “Alderman, former trustee clash over Park Ridge Library Board attendance,” (June 7) and “Two incumbents, one newcomer recommended for Park Ridge Library Board” (June 7).

Prior to the 2009 election of the late mayor Dave Schmidt, there was no MAB. Library Board appointments, like virtually all other City board and commission appointments, were the prerogative of the mayor; and his choices were regularly rubber-stamped by docile and complicit councils, with little discussion. As a result, ordinary citizens never read or even heard about the mere “applicants” for Library Board appointments. If they heard anything at all it was usually just the names of the appointees once they were confirmed by the council. And that was only if the citizens were really paying attention, and if the local media even reported it.

Contrast that with the process implemented by Schmidt that, over the past several weeks, saw 11 residents have their applications and resumes posted on the City’s website for all to see and comment on – followed by three nights of open-meeting interviews by the MAB, culminating in the open-meeting discussion and selection of the three recommended nominees before last Monday night’s Council meeting.

Transparent process? Check.

Accountability of the four MAB aldermen? Check.

In fact, the process was so transparent that several residents, led by Walter Szulczewski, showed up to monitor those meetings. And a pre-emptive strike against the reappointment of incumbents Joe Egan and Char Foss-Eggemann was launched by a June 3rd letter to all seven aldermen from three former Library Board members (John Benka, Patricia Lofthouse and Richard Van Metre) and the Library’s former business manager (Kathy Rolsing).

Those cabal members trained their fire on the meeting attendance of Egan and Foss-Eggemann because they apparently didn’t have the nerve or the ammo to challenge those two incumbents on their respective records of performance and policy decisions – records which the cabal strongly disapproved even though the City Council and, presumably, most taxpayers, did not.

Despite the confusing attendance figures presented by the cabal, Egan’s lawful attendance at regular meetings was 30 out of 37, or 81%; and 53 out of 63, or 84% for committee meetings. Foss-Eggemann’s numbers were 31 out of 37, or 84% for regular meetings; and 37 out of 56, or 66% for committee meetings.

Further corrections to, and explanations of, those numbers were submitted to the MAB by both Egan and Foss-Eggemann.

I served on the Library Board with all three of those former trustees: with Van Metre for 1 year (2011-12), with Lofthouse for 2 years (2011-2013), and with Benka for three years (2011-2014). All three of them are smart and affable folks who were perfectly suited for the old-Homeowners style of opaque, un-accountable rubber-stamp government. In fact, Benka ran unopposed as an old-HO candidate for Second Ward alderman and held that office from 2001-2005 before being appointed to the Library Board by then-mayor Howard Frimark.

When it comes to the Library, the collective legacies of Benka, Lofthouse and Van Metre can pretty much be summed up as a cumulative 27 years of unquestioning go-along-to-get-along deference paid to the Library staff, highlighted by: Chronic neglect of the Library structure; years of irresponsible deficit spending; open hostility to, and ridicule of, then=mayor Dave Schmidt and the then-City Council as “those guys across the street”; the endorsement of management without meaningful measurement; and a “vision” of the Library based on 20-90 hindsight instead of 20-20 foresight.

In Benka’s case it also included a vote to close the Library on summer Sundays in 2014 – consistently the busiest or second-busiest day of the week based on average visits per hour – so that the Library could use that money to give raises to some employees. Those closings and raises were tacitly endorsed by the other three cabal members, none of whom voiced even a peep of an objection either in person or in writing.

Not surprisingly, Egan and Foss-Eggemann opposed each and every element of the cabal members’ legacies. And they also opposed giving away thousands of dollars of Library money each year on the foolish Food For Fines program, giving away free office space to for-profit tutors, and giving away free computer and Internet time to non-residents. And unlike the cabal members who preferred to deficit spend and then blame the city council for not giving the Library more money, Egan and Foss-Eggemann supported the 2014 Library tax levy referendum that will provide the Library with an extra $4 million by the time that levy increase expires in 2018.

Fortunately, the members of the MAB aren’t old Homeowners and don’t subscribe to those old-HO principles. That’s why Egan and Foss-Eggemann have been recommended to Acting Mayor Maloney for re-appointment. Should they be reappointed they can be expected to continue to help drive the Library into the 21st Century and make it a  better institution for even more Park Ridge residents, especially the many thousands who have not been using it.

Meanwhile, expect Van Metre to keep showing up at Library Board and City Council meetings to demand my resignation or replacement, respectively. Or to rail about Egan’s attending some Library Board meetings by “calling in from third-world countries” like…Phoenix AZ. Or to kvetch about Foss-Eggemann. Or to warn the other Library trustees about agreeing with the three of us on anything.

As a sporting proposition, he’s welcome to bring the rest of his cabal along with him.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

[DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the editor and are not intended to represent those of the Park Ridge Library, its staff, its Board of Trustees, or any other individual trustee.]

UPDATE (06.12.16): A former alderman has advised that a “Mayoral Appointment Board” was created by former mayor Mike Marous (2003-2005). Although we have not been able to independently verify that fact, we consider this alderman as a credible source of such information; and, accordingly, we deem it worthy of inclusion in this update.

To read or post comments, click on title.

8 comments so far

You said three nominees. Who was the third? And what is the back story of that third nominee? Reappointed or not?
The process does seem to work well and 11 applicants for 4 spots is encouraging.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the H-A story.

Lol, it’s s good thing you’ve got this platform to spin your revisionist history fantasies. Otherwise you’d just be talking to yourself.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We look forward to your stream of evidence demonstrating how any of our posts are “revisionist history,” much less “fantasies.”

I have lived in Park Ridge long enough to remember the old Homeowners’ way of handpicked candidates with green and white signs running uncontested races because nobody wanted to risk being ostracized by the Homeowners clique.

I can understand how those people might not want to accept the new way of doing things just like the Springfield crowd does not want to accept Gov. Rauner’s new way of doing things. But Park Ridge is better for these changes and Illinois will be, too.

Good post. Too many newer residents don’t remember what it was like during Homeowners reign, before televised/videotaped meetings.

Everything that Mr. Egan and Ms. Foss-Eggemann have done in the past three years has made the Library better and stronger, and now they are planning a long-overdue renovation.

What did Benka, Lofthouse and Van Meter do besides deficit spend and same old same old?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good question.

The following two comments are to a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners site:

Barbara Gaffke If 75% in-person attendance of Board meetings is not a requirement but an expectation and was told to the trustee candidates, then that was a mutual verbal agreement. In the business world, if 75% meeting attendance was expected by your boss, then that is your responsibility and how your performance would be evaluated. Eagan’s attendance rate was 68%; Dobrilovic,67%; Char-Foss Eggarman,63%. There were 8 other candidates to replace those who have problems in fulfilling their responsibilities. Also, phone-ins can not participate in closed sessions nor complete a quorum. The By-laws need to be revised and be very clear. The taxpayers deserve better.
Like · 21 hrs · Edited

Kathy Panattoni Meade I’m just wondering why people can reapply for another term. I thought the whole point of reappointing positions every three years was to achieve turnover.

Also, is it any coincidence that the two incumbents who voted to charge tutors have been chosen for reappointment and the one who voted against charging tutors was denied?

Does anyone else smell anything fishy?

“The final policy passed 5-3 with Dobrilovic, Rayborn and Jerry White voting against it. Egan, Dean Parisi, Char Foss-Eggemann, Michael Reardon and Robert Trizna supported the policy as approved in committee. Patrick Lamb was absent.”

Some of this sounds to me like misinformation. Can you comment?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Re Ms. Gaffke’s comment, not surprisingly her numbers are wrong: as we pointed out in the post, both Egan and Foss-Eggemann attended in excess of 80% of regular Board meetings, which are the official action meetings which we understand is to which the 75% “expectation” applies. And her concern that “phone-ins can not participate in closed sessions” is virtually meaningless given that we don’t recall the current Library Board having even one closed during any regular meeting in the past year.

Additionally, Gaffke was MIA when a previous Library Board shut down the Library on summer Sundays in 2014, showing up only to beef about the tutoring policy. So she’s hardly a competent critic.

As for KPM, she’s another person who, like Gaffke, is rarely correct but never in doubt. She, too, was MIA when the Library was closed down summer Sundays, presumably because that wasn’t a day she used it.

Her comment about turnover being some implicit goal of the appointment process is belied by the fact that Library trustees can be reappointed for 3 terms of 3 years/term. Also, Jerry White stated publicly that the reason he voted against the tutor policy was because it didn’t go far enough for him, as he want all tutors and business activity BANNED from the Library.

But as one of Park Ridge’s premier freeloaders who never saw a taxpayer dollar she didn’t want spent on her or her friends/family, her being consistently lost in the funhouse is what we’ve come to expect.

The city council is doing with the library board what it is doing with the city, making it be accountable for itself. It’s about time.

When former library board members who helped put the library in bad straits criticize the current members who have had to clean up their predecessors’ messes, you know who to believe. Just like how “old HOs” criticize the current city council that is cleaning up the messes of “old HO” councils. But people don’t know or don’t want people to remember what got us here, kind of like Madigan doesn’t want Illinoisans to know or understand how he’s the guy who has been behind Illinois’ problems for the last 30 years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The next original idea from the cabal members about how to improve the Library will be their first. They were nothing but custodians simply rubber-stamping business as usual – including deficit spending, Food For Fines, and neglect of the physical structure (i.e., roof, windows, bathrooms).



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