Our Wish For 2018: More H.I.T.A.


It was back in 2009 that then-alderman Dave Schmidt, with less than two years’ of City Council experience under his belt, decided to challenge first-term mayor Howard Frimark’s bid for re-election. Schmidt’s political platform became embodied in the acronym: “H.I.T.A.”: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Honesty, as in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Schmidt, a trial attorney, was familiar with that concept because it’s part of the oath witnesses take when testifying in a court of law. Too many politicians don’t seem to discover it until they hear it repeated by the witnesses testifying against them or their colleagues in federal corruption trials.

Integrity, as in firm adherence to a code of conduct or ethical values. Schmidt’s code of government was simple: The best government that Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay for.

Transparency, as in an openness characterized by the sharing of important information with the citizenry so that it can hold its governing officials accountable. Even before he came up with H.I.T.A., Schmidt walked his transparency talk by blowing the whistle on questionable Frimarkian closed-session discussions about the City’s acquisition of 720 Garden.

Accountability, as in the assumption of responsibility for the policies, decisions and actions; and the obligation to be answerable to the citizenry for them. Schmidt proved how that works on several occasions by admitting, and publicly apologizing for, mistakes he made; and promising not to make them again. And he didn’t.

H.I.T.A.’s an easy philosophy to understand and implement – assuming that you actually believe in the concepts and want to abide by them. But if you’re a “politician,” it’s your worst enemy. Which is why so few embrace it, and why others fear it so much that they mock it in the hope of undermining its legitimacy in the minds of the citizenry.

There was a bit of mockery (“Who would ever want to watch that?”) almost two decades ago when this editor, who served on the Park Ridge Park District board from 1997 to 2005, led that body in becoming the first unit of local government to videotape meetings so that taxpayers no longer had to rely solely on slanted and/or sketchy newspaper articles, or sketchy meeting minutes.

Schmidt followed that lead when he became mayor in 2009, using some of his mayoral salary to buy the camera that was mounted on the back wall of the Council chambers; and using some of his mayoral goodwill to enlist a couple of supporters to run the camera and upload the videos onto the Internet before the City’s website could accommodate them.

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 followed suit in August 2011 after Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann, Susan Sweeney and friends showed up at a meeting with their own video camera, embarrassing a reluctant school board into doing what it had previously resisted. And, as we recall, the Maine Township High School District 207 board finally jumped on that bandwagon a couple/few years later.

This editor also spearheaded bringing video to the Library Board meetings in 2015. And Ms. Sweeney – with the assistance of fellow newly-elected trustees Dave Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – was instrumental in getting that backwater of local government, Maine Township, to videotape its board meetings after they were elected to that board last April.

Why is H.I.T.A. so important when it comes to government?

Because, unlike in most organizations where the people at the bottom are accountable to the people at the top, in government it’s supposed to be the reverse: The people at the top are supposed to be accountable – at least in theory – to the people at the bottom.

What’s problematic about that situation, however, is that it’s the people at the top – the elected and appointed officials, and the public employee bureaucrats – who have most of the resources (money provided, ironically, by the people at the bottom; and manpower provided by public employees both on and off the taxpayers’ clock) needed to manipulate the information flowing to the people at the bottom, thereby manipulating their beliefs and opinions.

That’s why H.I.T.A. and its accoutrements – like published-in-advance meeting packets, videotaped meetings and keeping closed sessions to the barest legal minimum – are essential if we are to avoid what has been recently been described as a “post-truth society”: Where special interests at both ends of the political spectrum wallow in their own (usually woefully incomplete) facts and create their own ideological “echo chambers” such as can be observed on both Fox News and MSNBC, and even from time to time in our own local newspapers.

Which is why we concur with Glenn Greenwald: “Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power,…its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

Along with Honesty, Integrity and Accountability, of course.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

Great post and spot on. I cannot fathom how anti-H.I.T.A. are so many of our elected and appointed officials, and almost all of our bureaucrats. It makes me suspect that either they are trying to get away with something, or they are so unsure of themselves that they don’t want to risk offending anyone, so the safest thing for them to do is hide what they are doing in closed sessions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We suspect it’s more the latter, but never discount the former.

I miss Mayor Dave. As an alderman that served during the Wietecha/Schuenke years I always thought we were doing things the wrong way, but I didn’t have the courage to buck the rest of the council that thought what we were doing was the right way to do it.

I realized Dave was the real deal when he outed Frimark’s closed session attempt to buy 720 Garden and got condemned in the process. Looking back on it, I only wish I had Dave’s courage to do something like that when I had the chance.

RIP Mayor Dave.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, your failure to identify yourself by name makes it impossible for us and our readers to tell whether you really are a former alderman or a Nigerian prince urgently needing help in transferring millions of dollars of excess funds out of Nigeria, for which he is willing to pay us a handsome fee for providing our social security and American bank account numbers.

Great post PWD and fingers crossed that your wish comes true. Challenging each other around the horseshoe is easier said then done. Mayor Dave always encouraged it and regularly reminded us it was okay to disagree and thoroughly debate issues because that’s how we ultimately reached the best solutions for the city.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, former ald. Raspanti (4th). Despite all the bragging that Illinois’ conniving political weasels do about the wonderful things they accomplish “behind the scenes,” they never seem to be able to document any of it. Perhaps it’s because those political images they continually burnish would not look nearly as good if their greasy-thumbed quid-pro-quo horse-trading were to come to light.

What we’ve learned from 8 years of H.I.T.A. here in Park Ridge is that vigorous and honest debate IN OPEN SESSIONS is democracy – in the small “d” and small “r” republican sense – at its finest.

I remember the opening of the old Superman t.v. show where the voiceover talked about “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

H.I.T.A. is the equivalent of that in local government. Too bad so many public officials don’t buy into it, as can be seen from all their closed sessions and keeping the minutes of those meetings secret.

Calling the reporting by our local newspaper “sketchy” is totally unfair. Jennifer Johnson and Ann Lunde do an outstanding job of keeping us informed about local government.

I guess it’s only a matter of time before you go all Trump on them and start calling their stories fake news.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We thought we were being generous with “sketchy.”

As for POTUS’s use of “fake news,” just because it’s critical of him doesn’t make it fake.

Only way I know to leave a note for the admin. Do you ever comment on Maine Township? There is a lot going on now, and I think 2 or our ‘Township Reps’ are killingnit. Would love to see your take on thinks

EDITOR’S NOTE: We intend to publish a post about Maine Township – even though it’s outside our regular beat – because of the buffoonery of the Supervisor and her rubber-stampers.

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