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Tonight’s Council Meeting: One More Reason To Reject MWRD Grant; And A Farewell To Ald. Milissis (Updated)

05.20.19

At tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting the Council is scheduled to address another aspect of the ill-conceived and misguieded – bordering on stupid and wasteful – “green” Library lot project.

Unlike in past sessions where this project was discussed and various aldermen and residents took turns blowing smoke up each others’ (and the taxpayers’) kilts, tonight’s topic is supposed to be limited to the Intergovernmental Agreement (the “IGA”) the MWRD wants the City to sign.

A redlined version of the entire IGA is attached to City Atty. Adam Simon’s analysis of it. But you really don’t need to get past the analysis to see how the reportedly corrupt MWRD wants to stack the deck in its favor.

Simon’s analysis breaks the IGA down as follow:

Performance of the Green Infrastructure

The “green” lot must provide “retention” of at least 192,760 gallons of storm water. The preliminary design of the “green” lot has it capturing the stormwater and then slowly releasing it into the sewer system for ultimate treatment as wastewater. That’s called “detention, not “retention.”

Floating Grant Amount

192,760 gallons of storm water is the “Design Goal.” If MWRD finds, in its discretion, that the “green” lot doesn’t meet the Design Goal, it can unilaterally reduce the amount of the grant.

Long-Term Maintenance Obligations

If the City fails to maintain the “green” lot to MWRD’s standards in perpetuity, MWRD can demand a refund of the grant amount, perform the maintenance work itself, and charge the City for its costs.

No Redevelopment

Once the “green” lot is installed, that lot may never be redeveloped for a different purpose. Even if part of the lot is redeveloped for another purpose, it will affect the Design Goal, which could result in the MWRD demanding partial reimbursement of the grant.

Procurement Issues

The use of the grant money is expressly subject to complying with MWRD’s purchasing laws, including the below state law and local procurement policies – some of which limit the eligible contractors who can be hired to provide material or do the work.

Limited Appropriations

The IGA expressly disclaims any promise to re-appropriate any amounts which have not been disbursed after the expiration of the [current] fiscal year.

Every one of those terms and conditions should be a red flag, warning the City away from doing business with what the Chicago Tribune recently branded as “a bastion of crony politics” that provides “big opportunities for corruption” because it “has long been a hotbed of Democratic politics and patronage.”

We doubt that those red flags will be heeded by the biggest fans of the “green” Library lot boondoggle. But it might be fun to watch and listen to how those proponents try to put some sort of benign spin on the situation in order to keep it moving forward.

Kick-off is at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 505 Butler Place.

*                             *                             *

Tonight is the final meeting for Second Ward Ald. Nick Milissis, who is resigning from the Council after six years of service. He is moving with his family to Glenview and, therefore, is legally prevented from continued Council service.

He was elected to the Council in April 2013 with our cautious endorsement, which you can read in our 04.08.2013 post. Since then he has been a zealous advocate for his constituents in the Second Ward, especially on the flooding issue which seems to dominate all others up there.

Although the magnitude of the flooding problem and the cost of remediation – especially in Wards Two and Three – have made progress slower and more incremental than Milissis or his constituents might like, that has not deterred him from making a case against flooding, and for his constituents, at every opportunity.

In reviewing our posts about the Council since Milissis became an alderman we discovered a fairly equal split between those time we praised him and those times we barbecued him. Not surprisingly, a number (if not a majority) of the latter involved our disagreement on the best way(s) to remediate flooding in the Second Ward and how to allocate the costs of doing so. At one juncture he wrote a lengthy comment critical of one of our posts on that topic that we chose to publish as a post of its own: “Ald. Milissis: PubDog Has ‘Jumped The Shark’ On Second Ward Flood Projects,” 06.12.2014.

But while we may have disagreed with the alderman, we have never doubted his diligence, his sincerity and his desire to vigorously represent not just himself, his friends, or one special interest or another but ALL his constituents. And on all but the rarest occasions he would explain his position and his vote so that his fellow aldermen and residents alike knew the “why” behind it.

We have no idea who will be appointed to fill the remainder of his term, which expires in May 2021. We can only hope whoever it is will bring a skill set, temperament and demeanor similar to what Millisis regularly demonstrated.

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” (Garrison Keillor).

Update (05.21.2019) We were mistaken about last night being Milissis’ last Council meeting: June 3 will be his last meeting. Hopefully that extra time will give him a few more opportunities to convince his fellow aldermen that this “green” Library lot is basically a deal with the Devil (MWRD) that will be far more expensive – to do right, not half-baked – than the prices we’ve been hearing.

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Andrea Cline Swings, And Misses, On “Green” Library Lot

05.15.19

We intended to publish a short post yesterday about why the Park Ridge City Council shouldn’t let Ald. John Moran and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District stampede it into approving the purely political “green” Library lot when the first order of business should be piloting the “green” paving of our many un-paved alleys.

But then one of our more prominent local Go Green goddesses, Andrea Cline, checked in with a comment to our previous post that we thought deserved a bit more attention, especially since she had the gumption to sign her name. So we’re giving it a post of its own.

Her comment reads as follows:

As much as I’d like to claim to be the “very engaged resident” Anonymous [commenting on 05.13.19 @ 9:09 AM], twasn’t me, even though I have been singing the praises of MWRD and the CMAP LTA program (totally separate for those of you following along) for years. And while I’d like to take the time to point out all the flaws in this post and the previous one that touched on the library lot, as the Editor often says, I’m busy with my day job.

If Cline isn’t Moran’s mysterious “very engaged resident” – the one who purportedly started this MWRD grant ball rolling – who is? And why is Moran being so uncharacteristically reticent about that person’s identity?

We don’t know, so we’ll just start breaking down Cline’s comment.

She begins by claiming that “MWRD and the CMAP LTA program” are “(totally separate for those of you following along).” At least Cline got that right, the only part of Cline’s comment that is accurate: “CMAP” stands for the “Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning,” while “LTA” stands for its “Local Technical Assistance” program.

Did you ever hear of those before? We didn’t.

Not surprisingly, CMAP is another one of Illinois’ league-leading 7,000 (roughly) units of government that spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year with seemingly no transparency or accountability, and what appears to be few measurable results.

CMAP reports $18,477,158 in FY19 revenues, with almost $13.5 million coming from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and another $3.4 million (almost) coming from the Illinois Dept. of Transportation. Like so many of Illinois’ typically inefficient taxpayer-scamming public agencies, CMAP appears overpopulated: It has 92 staffers who reportedly consume a whopping $11,929,805 of its $18,320,827 in FY19 expenses that’s an average of $129,672 per staffer – sporting job titles like “Local Planning” (25 of those) and “Policy & Programming” (23 of those).

If this sounds to you like a bunch of public payroller positions filled by various politicians’ otherwise unemployable relatives, you might be on to something.

And it’s run by career politician Joseph C. Szabo, who was paid $216,320 in 2017 and is likely being paid more today. After serving as the top dog at the Federal Railroad Administration from 2009 to 2015 (during the Obama Administration, for all you “R” and “D” geeks), heading CMAP appears to have been his soft landing reward, at least for the time being.

Cline doesn’t say what CMAP’s role in the “green” Library lot is, or is supposed to be. That’s probably because it has none, considering that neither Moran nor Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim mentioned CMAP in their respective January 14, 2019 memos, nor did City Engineer Sarah Mitchell mention it in her April 8, 2019 memo.

Maybe Cline just wanted to impress with a little acronym-dropping about an obscure state agency.

She goes on to claim there are all sorts of “flaws” in our 04.26.2019 post and our 05.09.2019 post, although she demonstrates the superficiality she first displayed during her 2015 campaign against Moran for 1st Ward alderman by blithely stating that she doesn’t have the time to identify any of them.

Weak, but not unexpected.

That bit of disingenuousness, however, caused us to go back to the January 14, 2019 meeting video and Cline’s remarks in support of the “green” Library lot project, which you can watch from the 1:41:20 to the 1:43:12 mark.

She starts out by praising the Morton Arboretum parking lot as the “most infamous” example of “green” parking lots (Are there any other “infamous” green parking lots are out there that Morton has beaten out for the title?) before bragging about its zero stormwater discharge.

Cline credited that zero discharge to the Morton paver lot’s sitting on four feet of gravel that itself sits over soil.

That got a rise out of Zingsheim, who noted (a) how such a deep sub-base with such a high-water storage capacity would explain the zero discharge; and (b) how, unlike Morton’s gravel-over-soil base, the Library lot’s base is likely to be the same non-absorbent hard blue clay that’s found in most parts of Park Ridge.

Cline’s smug response: “I would argue that you don’t know that.”

We would argue that Zingsheim has forgotten more about Park Ridge soil and infrastructure than Cline currently knows or will ever know. But until soil borings are done in various parts of the Library lot, everybody remains ignorant – including Moran, whose data-less proclamation that “200,000 gallons of water…will be absorbed and detained during a major storm event” remains the same steaming and odoriferous pile it was four months ago when he first dropped it.

Cline ended her data-less video pitch by claiming an additional benefit from the “green” Library lot: “Less snow removal costs…so you don’t have to apply salt or plow as much.” That’s not what we hear from all those Park Ridge folks with paver patios and driveways during our winter months.

We can’t think of any significant City project that has gotten as far as this “green” Library lot with so little hard data to support it. Then again, we also can’t think of any significant City project where a single alderman pulled a Lone Ranger stunt with another governmental body without any direction or authority from the Council itself.

But that’s what you tend to get when you let “politicians” run wild without transparency and accountability.

And that’s also what you tend to get when you let the political tail wag the government dog.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will Pork Barrel Top Rain Barrel at City Hall This Coming Monday Night?

05.09.19

In our 04.26.2019 post we pointed out how the City Council, at its April 8 Public Works committee-of-the-whole (“COW”) meeting, decided to move forward with a $1.3 million (at least?) project to replace the Library parking lot’s “grey” asphalt surface with a “green” surface of paver stones – despite an almost total lack of data demonstrating that this is a worthwhile, cost-effective project.

The principal driving force seemed to be the a $650,000 matching grant for the “green” Library lot from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (the “MWRD”), which the Chicago Tribune called “a bastion of crony politics” with “big opportunities for corruption” as recently as in its April 22, 2019 editorial.

How did Park Ridge get that grant?

The first public mention of it was at the January 14, 2019 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, when Public Works Committee chair, Ald. John Moran (1st), announced out of the blue that he and City Staff had already obtained that $650,000 matching grant for the “green” Library lot from the MWRD.

What’s troubling about that?

Nothing at all, if you prefer your City government running on behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing like we had during the almost two decades when Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark occupied the big chair at The Horseshoe, surrounded by a bunch of rubber-stamping minions who made sweetheart deals that left the City with neglected infrastructure, depleted reserves and a falling bond rating.

But there’s plenty wrong with that if you prefer your City government conducted above-board and in the sunlight, transparent and accountable.

According to a Jan. 14, 2019 Memorandum issued by Moran (the “Moran Memo”), an opportunity for a grant from the MWRD “was brought to [his] attention a few months ago by a very engaged resident.” Who was that “very engaged resident”? Moran isn’t saying, for reasons he isn’t sharing; but we’ll accept guesses from our readers just for chips and giggles.

Moran then claims he “requested a sit down” (Yes, a “sit down” – apparently Moran channeling Tony Soprano in the back room at Satriale’s) with some un-named MWRD folks last Fall, apparently without notice to, or formal authorization by, the Council; or even any formal after-the-fact reporting to the Council about the “sit down.”

The Moran Memo goes on to state that “[o]ur staff handled the [grant] application,” also apparently without prior notice to, or formal authorization of, the Council; and apparently also without any interim status report to the Council. This is confirmed by Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim’s “Agenda Cover Memorandum” of January 14, 2019, although he puts the City’s cost for the project “in the neighborhood of $850,000-$950,000.”

The result? A $650,000 matching grant from those corrupt politicians running the MWRD.

Huzzah! Huzzah!

Except that while Moran and Zingsheim were going rogue with the MWRD on a “green” Library lot, the City reportedly was looking into MWRD grants for “green” alley paving. Will the $650,000 Library lot grant impair the City’s ability to get a “green” alleys grant? Who knows? The aldermen who green-lighted the project at the April 8 meeting don’t seem to particularly care.

But despite Moran’s and Zingsheim’s Lone Ranger and Tonto act, let’s look at what benefits the “green” Library lot could bring us.

Moran’s memo states that this project will “help us address the stormwater management challenges that our city has been wrestling with for decades.” How? By “the 200,000 gallons of water that will be absorbed and detained during a major storm event.”

Where’s Moran’s supporting documentation for such braggadocio? There isn’t any – only a nifty analogy to help sell his project: The purported 200,000 gallons of Library lot water detention is “the same as installing 4,000 rain barrels in town.”

After a quick Google search, however, we found that you can buy a 50-gallon rain barrel for $60, and a 60-gallon one for $100 (made from re-purposed olive shipping containers, for you Greenies). And that’s retail. Think Wal-Mart might give the City a deal on 4,000 of those suckers?

So if water detention is Moran’s primary goal – and if you believe that we have some Florida swampland at a bargain price – those same 200,000 gallons of rainwater could be detained with 4,000 of those 50-gallon rain barrels for a mere $240,000 instead of the City’s $650,000 contribution needed to win the matching grant from the corrupt MWRD. Or for $330,000, if we wanted to splurge on 3,330 of those 60-gallon barrels.

Or, looking at it another way: For the City’s $650,000 contribution to the “green” Library lot and a purely speculative 200,000 gallons of stormwater detention, the City could buy no less than 10,833 of those 50-gallon rain barrels, which would store…wait for it…a whopping 541,650 gallons of stormwater!

That’s why this project isn’t really about stormwater detention, or flooding. It’s about politics…which, in Crook County, means partisan Democratic politics.

Those politicians at the MWRD wouldn’t get any favorable publicity whatsoever from the City’s buying 10,833 rain barrels using its own money. And a certain local politician wouldn’t have a nice “green” paver Library lot as a prop for his next campaign.

This Library lot project is supposed to be on the agenda of this coming Monday night’s Public Works COW meeting (May 13, 2019, 7:00 p.m. at City Hall). We suspect there already may be a flurry of back-filling activity by Moran, if not Zingsheim, in advance of that meeting to prop up all the ipse dixit conclusions in the Moran Memo.

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to hear more and/or new justifications for the City’s choosing the MWRD pork barrel over 10,000 rain barrels.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The 10th Anniversary Of A New Age Of Park Ridge Government

05.04.19

Ten years ago today David Faulkner Schmidt was sworn in as Park Ridge mayor.

A month earlier he had pulled not only an upset victory over incumbent mayor Howard Frimark, but also a landslide one, 4,885 (56.44%) to 3,770 (43.56%).

How did an unmarried guy who had lived in Park Ridge only about six years, had no family members living in town, coached no kids’ sports teams, belonged to none of the local social organizations, owned no local business, and served a mere two years as 1st Ward alderman after running unopposed with Frimark’s support, win such a victory?

Unlike Frimark and the members of the Homeowners Party that had dominated City government for decades based on a cult of personality – family, friendships, memberships, business and social contacts – Schmidt based his campaign and his mayoralty on actual public policy positions, and on the principles of H.I.T.A.: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

He inherited a City in terrible financial straits thanks to irresponsible borrowing and spending by Frimark and his fellow social butterflies – a bunch of “nice” guys and gals who regularly passed deficit budgets, consistently neglected infrastructure, charged residents less for water than it was costing the City to buy from Chicago, and gave hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to favored private organizations who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) raise funds on their own. Meanwhile, fund reserves had been spent down to dangerous levels and the City’s bond rating had sunk.

Yet the reality of those situations was being lost on most residents because some aldermen were clueless, others were happy to lie about such things, and the local press was adept at both.

That’s where Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. came in.

He told people the truth about the City’s situation, the bad as well as the good, because he respected us taxpayers enough to tell us the truth. And unlike your typical politicians, Schmidt admitted when he was wrong while promising not to do it again, as he did in his first – and what is believed to be the City’s very first – “State of the City” address: “I personally voted for two unbalanced budgets [as 1st Ward alderman],” Schmidt acknowledged, before promising that “I will not make the same mistake again” and vowing to veto any unbalanced budget passed by the Council.

And H.I.T.A. was the hallmark of Schmidt’s mayoralty through his re-election in April 2013, 5,614 (62.06%) to 3,432 (37.94%), until his sudden, untimely death on March 4, 2015. As we wrote in our March 10, 2015 tribute:

Can you imagine any “politician” running on such a platform?  They’d be laughed right out of the politicians’ union. But Candidate Dave was no “politician” because he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he wouldn’t compromise principles just to make some half-baked, short-term deal that would make some special interest happy.

Since Mayor Dave’s death several local officials have invoked H.I.T.A. when it has suited their purpose, even though less than a handful of them actually have been willing to walk their H.I.T.A. talk. Ironically, the real “politicians” – an epithet to the editor of this blog – among them tend to shamelessly talk about H.I.T.A. while saying and doing the most un-H.I.T.A. things.

Which is one of the many reasons we despise “politicians.”

Whether Mayor Dave’s H.I.T.A. legacy survives remains an open question. We are seeing an increase in the number of politicians who are creatures of, and embrace, the cult of personality. They’ve already shown themselves to prefer shameless glad-handing to the hard work of grinding out solid public policy based on principle instead of expediency.

Only time will tell.

But 13.3% turnouts in hotly-contested elections – as we saw with the recent D-64 School Board election – and the number of uncontested races at D-207 and the Park Ridge Park District are not encouraging signs.

A ray of sunshine broke through the clouds ten years ago today and continued to light up the community over the next six years. Whether we stay in sunshine or slide back into darkness depends on whether the people of this community prefer day to night – and are willing to fight the darkness for the light.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Green” Library Lot: A Non-Solution Looking For A Non-Problem?

04.26.19

We here at PublicWatchdog have long been pro-environment and anti-flooding.  Heck, the editor of this blog participated in the very first Earth Day – April 22, 1970 – in Grant Park, and has been environmentally conscious ever since.

So the recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article reporting on the Park Ridge City Council’s April 8 discussion about replacing the Library parking lot’s asphalt surface with water-permeable brick pavers at a cost of $1.3 million (“Park Ridge aldermen divided on pursuing ‘green’ parking lot in Uptown,” April 11, 2019) caught our attention.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (“MWRD”) reportedly is willing to provide a matching grant, up to $650,000, for the project. For those who don’t pay attention to this stuff, the MWRD is one of the thousands of Illinois taxing bodies seemingly created and maintained to confiscate our tax dollars so that, in the MWRD’s case, dim-witted nephews and ditzy sisters-in-law of Crook County politicians can become public payrollers with guaranteed health care and pensions, but with no accountability.

But don’t take our word for it: Read “The ‘Ed Burke Effect’ washes over the  water district: Cue Cook County’s inspector general” (Chicago Tribune, April 22) and you’ll see the MWRD described as “a bastion of crony politics” that provides “big opportunities for corruption” because it “has long been a hotbed of Democratic politics and patronage.”

The MWRD’s corruption is the least of our concerns when it comes to this “green” paver project, however.

We were struck initially with the superficiality and stunning lack of data in that April 11 H-A article, which we initially attributed to superficial journalism until we read the superficial POS (and, in this case, “POS” does not mean Point Of Sale) April 8 Agenda Cover Memorandum by City Engineer Sarah Mitchell and watched the data-light Council discussion on the April 8 meeting video.

Sorry, J.J. Our bad.

Both Mitchell’s memo and the roughly 50-minute Council discussion are bereft of the most basic hard data that any responsible public official should have needed to justify moving this project forward, including: (1) how much water the “green” paver lot will detain; (2) for how long; (3) where will the water go from there; (4) the all-in project cost, including the cost of the design and engineering work for which the City is 100% responsible; (5) the cost to maintain the pavers v. maintaining the asphalt surface; (6) exactly what “other things” the City will we need to do “to make this project work,” per Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th); and (7) viable alternatives.

The only usable information provided by Mitchell’s memo and the Council’s discussion appears to be a proposed Library lot redesign required for the project, which would eliminate 13 current spaces in order to create the island “rain gardens” that are supposed to aid in the water detention.

Is a “green” Library lot more of a solution looking for a problem?

According to the H-A article, Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim told the Council the project will have “limited benefit” for flood control, because water runoff will still end up in the City’s sewer system. And he warned that heavy clay under the Library lot may hamper the amount of stormwater the lot will be able to detain.

“Limited benefit”? Water runoff still ending up in the sewers? No certainty as to how much water such a “green” lot can hold? At a cost of no less – and maybe a lot more – than $650,000?

Half-baked doesn’t come close to describing this boondoggle, which is sounding more and more like a non-solution looking for a non-problem.

There’s a lot more to this story than can be gleaned from just the H-A article about the April 8 Public Works meeting, the POS memo, the meeting minutes, and the meeting video. So we’ll be writing more about this in our next post.

But in view of the gross ignorance that appears to be driving this project forward, we need to give a special shout-out to Ald. Charlie Melidosian (5th) who – in response to a concern of Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd) about the “optics” of this project and its expense – expressed his unqualified support by self-assuredly proclaiming that he was “not concerned about residents’ perception: If we voted based on residents’ perception I think we’d be making a lot of mistakes.” (See meeting video, starting at the 1:02:17 mark).

Is Melidosian so clueless that he thinks being “concerned about residents’ perception” means becoming a human windsock blowing hither and yon at the public’s whim? Or is he so arrogant that he believes there’s nothing he can learn from residents, including his constituents?

To be fair, Melidosian qualified his tone deaf/arrogant comment with: “Our job is to educate people on the facts….”

But just what “facts” might those be, alderman – the answers to questions (1) through (7) above? If so, why weren’t those facts front-and-center in Mitchell’s memo, or raised by you and your fellow “green” lot cheerleaders, Alds. John Moran and Mazucca, at the April 8 meeting before your “consensus” to move this project forward?

For those of you keeping score, those three aldermen were part of a unanimous 6-vote (Milissis MIA) Council that screwed the pooch senseless with their Axon body camera ankle-grab for Chief Kaminski that will cost Park Ridge taxpayers approximately $280,000 – while the Niles PD got the same number of body cams from another vendor for approximately $64,000. We wrote about that in our 12.27.2018 and our 01.14.2019 posts, but you should also check out Kaminski’s defense of his disregard for the City’s procurement policy.

$280,000 is chump change compared to $650,000, which sounds more like a bait-and-switch number than the final, all-in one. And, unlike with the “green” lot’s water detention, there was never any doubt that the Axon body cams would actually work.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Election 2019: We Suck Once Again

04.13.19

Almost two weeks have passed since this year’s local elections, and here are a few observations about them.

1.  Turnout totally sucked. Despite 2 weeks (including weekends) of early voting and decent weather on Election Day itself, only 4,605 of the 34,626 registered voters (13.3%) in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 bothered to show up to vote for all 4 contested races. That’s the worst D-64 election turnout since 2011, prompting our 04.06.2011 post which told all those MIA registered voters: “You suck!”

That goes double this year.

And as in 2011, the 1st and 3rd Wards couldn’t even produce a contested race (neither could the 7th, but that’s a slightly different story), although at least this time the 3rd Ward derelicts didn’t need a write-in candidate to avoid having to figure out what’s the procedure for filling a seat when nobody even runs. Mayoral appointment? Raffle?

Meanwhile, interest in Park Ridge Park District and Maine Twp. School District 207 boards was so poor there weren’t even any contested races – which was worse than in 2011, and makes us wonder why 4,312 voters out of the 32,044 registered Park District voters (13.46%), or 9,982 out of the 97,915 registered D-207 voters (10.24%), even bothered to vote for candidates who could not lose so long as they voted for themselves.

And the 5th Ward contested aldermanic race drew a meager 1,001 of the 7,313 registered voters (13.69%) in that ward.

For a community like ours, the April 2 turnout is nothing short of pathetic and embarrassing. Paraphrasing a line from T.S. Eliot: “This is the way democracy ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

2.  The D-64 race featured, for what appears to be the first time in Park Ridge election history, an overtly single-gender ticket of Rebecca Little, Lisa Page, Denise Pearl and Carol Sales, running as the “MOMS for District 64 School Board!” All but Page won, and Page lost to incumbent Tom Sotos by a mere 77 votes despite running what could best be described as a “stealth” campaign that eschewed yard signs and all other trappings of a serious candidacy.

We suspect that, had there been slate of candidates campaigning as the “4 DADS,” the howling about sexism and gender politics would have been so high-pitched and loud that it would have agitated every dog between Park Ridge and Indianapolis.

We’ll be interested to see if this was just a one-off phenomenon orchestrated in response to the tone-deaf arrogance and incompetence of the Tony Borrelli/Laurie Heinz Administration – and perhaps to provide sympathetic ears to the teachers’ and teacher assistants’ unions going into contract negotiations – or an actual movement by “MOMS” to take control of local government while “dads” continue to drink beer, scratch themselves and watch sports on t.v.

We’ll also be interested to see whether D-64 will become a better school system producing better academic achievement 4 years from now than it has been on Borrelli’s/Heinz’s watch.

If the MOMS-dominated (since 2013) D-207 Board is any guide, however, the answer to that will be a resounding “No!” – as evidenced by those D-207 MOMS blindly rubber-stamping 5 years of mismanagement and abject neglect of the District’s facilities by the incompetent-yet-arrogant Supt. Ken Wallace that had Maine South’s U.S. News & World Reports ranking sliding from 29th in 2012 to 45th in 2016, before falling out of the rankings entirely in 2017 and 2018.

How did that MOMS-dominated Board react to those failures? They helped Wallace pass a $300 million-plus referendum last November, and then gave him a 5-year contract extension and raise.

When it comes to competence in public service, therefore, XY appears to be no more an indicator of it than XX. And if you want more proof of that, we give you Laurie Heinz and Tony Borrelli.

(Edited 04.14.2019)

To read or post comments, click on title.

Congratulations To The Winners

04.03.19

The people have spoken!

At Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, the sole incumbent (Athan “Tom” Sotos,) and three new candidates (Carol Sales, Rebecca Little and Denise Pearl) prevailed over Lisa Page, Steve Blindauer, Gareth Kennedy and Sal Galati.

And Ald. Charlie Melidosian prevailed over Sal Raspanti to represent the 5th Ward on the City Council, while Alds. John Moran (1st), Gail Wilkening (3d) and Marty Joyce (7th) won their uncontested races for their existing seats around The Horseshoe.

Meanwhile, Incumbent Cindy Grau and newcomers Jennifer LaDuke and Matt Coyne won uncontested races for the Park Ridge Park District Board, while Incumbents Teri Collins and Paula Besler and newcomer Sheila Yousuf-Abramson won uncontested races for the Maine Township High School District 207 Board.

Congratulations!

Now the real work begins. We look forward to seeing what you can do.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Melidosian For Sainthood, But Raspanti For 5th Ward Alderman

04.02.19

We begin this post with a disclaimer: The editor of this blog has known both candidates for 5th Ward alderman for many years, has dined with them, has cocktailed with them, and likes both of them and their wives.

But if the race for 5th Ward alderman between current alderman Charlie Melidosian and former 4th Ward alderman (2011-2013) Sal Raspanti were a pageant, Melidosian would be a shoo-in for “Miss Congeniality.”

Whether he’s barbecuing competitively or just for fun, whether he’s walking his mammoth beasts around Hodge’s Park or being walked by them, whether he’s pumping out somebody’s flooded basement, building Habitat residences on weekends, or chauffeuring campaign manager Jean Dietsch from Central Wisconsin back to Park Ridge to deal with a family emergency, Charlie is an undisputed social asset to this community.

Heck, he probably could qualify for sainthood if he were Roman Catholic.

As it is, however, he may be Park Ridge’s current benchmark of affability.

But the history of failed local government in Park Ridge is filled with affable people who weren’t very good, and sometimes just plain sucked, at being elected or appointed public officials

It was affable people on the City Council who blew millions of taxpayer dollars over decades of the City’s membership in the impotent Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”). Other affable people on the Council blew tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on the General Obligation bonds the City issued to subsidize the private developer of the Uptown Redevelopment Project and its TIF (“Tax Increment Financing”) district – even as those same folks routinely neglected sewer maintenance and repair, and did nothing about flood remediation.

It was a bunch of affable people on the Park Ridge Park District Board who wasted more than $20 million tax dollars on two undersized, second-rate facilities – the Centennial “Fitness Center” (f/k/a the “Community Center”) and the Centennial water park – because they didn’t want to give the taxpayers a referendum vote on those projects.

And let’s not forget those affable people on the D-64 Board who spent over $20 million (in late 1990s dollars) replacing the District’s then-newest school (the “old” Emerson), which has subsequently delivered student performance remotely close to what was advertised from the new “middle school” concept back then, or remotely commensurate with what D-64 taxed, borrowed and spent on the “new” Emerson.

Most recently, it was those affable people on the D-207 Board who so grossly neglected the District’s infrastructure and mismanaged its resources over the past 9 years that it will cost taxpayers over $300 million to make things right. And then those same affable folks gave the affable Supt. Ken Wallace – who wouldn’t last a full day as the head of any private corporation with a $120 million/year budget – a 5-year contract extension because he helped pass the $300 million November 2018 referendum after keeping the lid on his (and the Board’s) decade of mismanagement and neglect.

So much for historical background.

We supported Melidosian’s appointment to fill the seat of the late Ald. Dan Knight, which we wrote about in our 02.24.2017 post. But in the two years since his appointment, we have seen little to suggest that he is capable, or willing, to do the heavy lifting.

Frankly, we were appalled by the way he disregarded the City’s procurement policy and joined his fellow Council members in rubber-stamping Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s arrogant no-bid, sole-source procurement of $280,000 of Axon body cameras, which served as the subject of our 01.14.2019 postwhich looked even more irresponsible when Niles announced that, after field-testing three body cams instead of just one, it was getting the same amount of cameras and the necessary support equipment for less than a quarter of the cost.

And we were particularly offended that Charlie attempted to justify his wrong-headed support of Kaminski’s folly by claiming that “[Charlie’s] world is H.I.T.A.” – the acronym originated by the late Mayor Dave Schmidt for “Honesty,” “Integrity,” “Transparency” and “Accountability” in local government. Charlie wouldn’t have dared pull something like that if Schmidt were alive, nor would he have dared trade on Mayor Dave’s reputation and popularity by mimicking Mayor Dave’s campaign signage.

We’ll give Charlie’s campaign manager the discredit for a cheap shot like that, along with other ticky-tacky things like: (a) portraying Charlie as seeking “re-election” when he was never “elected”; (b) claiming that his opponent has “participated in some negative campaigning, without specifying what that was; and (c) claiming that his opponent “provided misleading information to the public,” again without specifying what that was.

But that’s just the chaff.

When it comes to the big stuff, however, we don’t think the body cam fail was a one-off for Charlie. He’s just too much of a “pleaser” to be counted on to make the tough, and often unpopular, calls needed if the City is to continue on the upswing started by Schmidt and “his” councils, beginning in 2011 with the departure of mayor Howard Frimark’s alderdopes.

Ironically, Charlie’s opponent served on the citizens committee that recommended Charlie’s appointment to succeed Knight. Before that, however, Sal served on a Mayor Dave-led Council as the 4th Ward alderman from 2011-2013, until a job promotion and a related increase in world travel caused him not to seek re-election.

In his two years on the Council, Sal’s greatest achievement – in our opinion – was standing tall with Schmidt and a then-Council majority in rejecting the demands of the various local business interests clamoring for the Council to give developer Lance Chody a sweetheart deal in the neighborhood of $3 million of tax relief in return for bringing Whole Foods to Park Ridge. We wrote about that in our 05.17.2012 post

Although he was never a rubber-stamp for Schmidt, he supported many of Schmidt’s efforts to dig the City out of the deep financial hole their affable Council predecessors left behind, to go with a sinking bond rating and unsustainable commitments of tax dollars for questionable projects and programs.

That’s why we believe that Sal, while decidedly less affable than Charlie, is more ready, willing and able to actually walk the H.I.T.A. walk, and not just talk the H.I.T.A. talk. And that’s why we endorse Raspanti for 5th Ward alderman, while leaving sainthood for Melidosian.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Only Endorsement For D-64 Board: Gareth Kennedy

04.01.19

We apologize for the lateness of this post, but we spent much of last week dealing with technical problems on the site, and the past 3 days reading, analyzing and cross-referencing all the campaign materials, websites and Facebook pages of the two candidates for the vacant 2-year seat, Gareth Kennedy and Rebecca Little; and of the five candidates for the three vacant 4-year seats, Steve Blindauer, Sal Galati, Lisa Page, Denise Pearl and Carol Sales (We eliminated Athan “Tom” Sotos from contention in our previous post).

We also read, analyzed and cross-referenced their answers to the SPED-parents’ and Go Green questionnaires. And we listened to the 1 hour, 41 minute audio recording of the Action Ridge candidates’ forum…twice, as well as those portions of the SPED-parents’ forum surreptitiously recorded by an attendee.

Frankly, it was stultifying to the point of physical pain.

Most of the candidates’ spiels were virtually indistinguishable from the others’: How many times, and in how many different ways, can candidates say “better communication,” “rebuilding trust,” “professional development,” “student focus,” “innovation” and “socio-emotional learning” (or “SEL”) without sounding like a bunch of parrots? And on those rare occasions when someone actually said the word “taxpayer,” it was usually as a throw-in merely to round out the full complement of “stakeholders.”

But we soldiered through, and here are the conclusions we drew:

The 4-year seats.

There’s an old political axiom that “yard signs don’t vote.” And that’s absolutely correct.

But yard signs say something very important about a candidate’s legitimacy and commitment: That he/she is proud enough and serious enough about his/her candidacy to promote it in the most visible way; and that he/she has gone to the expense and effort of convincing other residents to publicly identify themselves with his/her candidacy, also in the most visible way.

Both Galati and Page showed up at forums. They both answered questionnaires. And they both have websites/FB pages. That’s commendable, and some day that might be enough. But today is not that day.

That leaves Blindauer, Pearl and Sales.

As readers of this blog know, this editor favors private-sector unions but is a conscientious objector when it comes to public-sector ones – for the same reasons articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”) and, years later, by the first president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany (“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”). We wrote about the major problems of public-sector unions in our Labor Day posts of 09.01.2013 and 09.07.2015.

Back in 2011 this blog endorsed three candidates for the Park Ridge Park Board – Mel Thillens (can you believe it!), Mary Wynn Ryan (can you freakin’ believe it!) and Jim O’Brien – primarily because they were running against a slate of “union lackeys” endorsed by the same union (the SEIU) that represented Park District employees with whom they would be bargaining, ostensibly on the taxpayers’ behalf, if elected to the Board.

Three years later, in our 12.05.2015 post, we applauded then-Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council for standing up to Operating Engineers Local 150, their inflatable rats, their “Veto Schmidt” signs, and their unprecedented (in Park Ridge, at least) $1,000 contribution to the campaign of Schmidt’s opponent.

And two years ago, we heartily endorsed two of the candidates running against a de facto slate of husbands of D-64 teachers whom we dubbed the “3 Hubbies” because, had they been elected, they could not be trusted to bargain for the taxpayers and against their and their Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA,” the teachers union)-member wives’ joint economic interests.

This year, the Park Ridge Teacher Assistant Association (“PRTAA”) has endorsed Blindauer, Pearl and Sales for the 4-year seats. Unions, not unlike businesses, rarely endorse candidates unless they believe those candidates, if elected, will be soft touches when it comes to doing favors. And with a new PRTAA contract coming up for negotiation, the PRTAA’s endorsement makes no bones about “want[ing] to negotiate our next contract with [Board] members we feel respects [sic] us and value what we do for the students” – according to the endorsement posted on the campaign FB page of 2-year candidate Rebecca Little, also endorsed by the PRTAA.

That’s reason enough in our book to just say “no” to those PRTAA pawns. And, most likely, PREA pawns.

The 2-year seat.

This one pits Rebecca Little against Gareth Kennedy. We could endorse Kennedy solely because of the union argument made above.

But there are other reasons as well.

Kennedy first came to our attention as one of the two runners-up (out of 8 applicants) for the appointment to fill the 5th Ward aldermanic vacancy after the death of Dan Knight in December 2016. When a few of the sitting aldermen criticized the citizens’ nominating committee’s recommendation process at the February 6, 2017 Council meeting at which Charlie Melidosian’s appointment was to be approved, Kennedy spoke up in defense not only of the process but also of the Melidosian recommendation itself.

That one incident showed us more character than most Park Ridge public office seekers ever display, especially when their personal ox is being publicly gored.

Undeterred, Kennedy sought and obtained appointment to the Library Board in June 2017, and has served there with distinction ever since.

Little, on the other hand, claims on her campaign Facebook page that she has “been attending D64 meetings for about a year and a half….” Yet when we reviewed the minutes of every D-64 Board meeting (regular and special) during all of 2018…SURPRISE!…we could find not one mention of her name or one shred of evidence of her attendance at even one such meeting. So if she actually was in attendance, she apparently contributed nothing  worthy of inclusion in the meeting minutes.

Or she was simply lying.

But what we found even more troubling about Little’s attitude toward our D-64 schools and Board service are her comments in response to Question 9 at the Action Ridge forum asking why non-parents of D-64 students should be concerned about who gets elected to the D-64 Board. Little’s response – from 1:12:18 to 1: 12:40 of the forum audio – focuses on leaving Park Ridge, presumably after she finishes taking out over $350,000 in “free” public education (3 kids for 21 combined school years @ $17,000/kid in current dollars) paid primarily by her fellow taxpayers between now and 2030:

“You have to care if you ever want to sell your house.” And “[i]f you ever want to leave, you have to care.”

Those brought laughs from the forum attendees, many/most of whom presumably share Little’s strategy of sucking out as much “free” stuff as possible (with Kathy Meade’s alibi that “we pay taxes!”) before leaving, not unlike swarms of locusts stripping fields of everything worth consuming before moving on.

Kennedy, following Little in answering that question, recognized that unchecked taxes can be detrimental; and that there must be “a balance between educational excellence and fiscal responsibility, and it’s a fine line” which “must be carefully walked.”

We’ll take a fine-line walker over a swarm of locusts any day.

Kennedy is heartily endorsed and deserves your vote.

But no matter what candidate(s) you favor, make it a point to go to the polls and vote.

To read or post comments, click on title.

It’s Time To De-Select Sotos Off The D-64 Board

03.29.19

A rule of thumb among trial lawyers is that selecting a jury is actually more about de-selecting those prospective jurors who might be hostile to your client. In a similar vein, today we suggest that one candidate for the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board deserves to be de-selected because he not only is hostile to the very concept of “good” representative local government but, also, he is an incompetent public official to boot.

That dubious distinction goes to incumbent Athan “Tom” Sotos. And what follows is actually the short version of the many reasons for this recommendation.

Sotos may be a decent guy in his private life: The vast majority of local public officials over the past three decades this editor has lived in Park Ridge have been decent individuals in their private lives. Some of them have even led exemplary private lives. But as Abraham Lincoln so insightfully observed: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Based on what Sotos has done with the power of his D-64 Board office these past four years, he hasn’t proved up to the test.

Sotos fancies himself a “politician” which, here in Crook County, means blabbing incessantly without actually saying anything meaningful, trying to be all things to all people no matter how many inconsistent or contradictory positions that requires you to take, and even lying when it suits one’s purpose.

Over the past four years we’ve watched countless D-64 Board meeting videos and read even more board packets and meeting minutes, all of which have revealed Sotos to be incapable of even comprehending, much less dealing effectively with, both the educational and the fiscal issues at the heart of Board service.

That was first observed only a few months into his term when he voted to give rookie Sup’t Laurie Heinz a one-year contract extension (on her remaining two-year deal) worth a whopping $250,000 before, only minutes later, voting against giving her a $4,200 raise. We wrote about that in our July 6, 2015 post, and you might find it interesting to hear how Sotos adopts the rationale of the subsequently-discredited Dathan Paterno – from 4:12:51 through 4:15:25 of that June 22, 2015 meeting video – in justifying $250,000 but not $4,200 more.

Our April 24, 2017 post addressed Sotos’ inability to grasp school finance issues – or his irresponsible stewardship of the District’s finances, if you prefer – based on his vote authorizing the District to issue $9.25 million of non-referendum, high-interest debt certificates even though the District was sitting on an operating fund balance of over $48 million, two times the District’s 30% fund balance target. Sotos’ most salient question during that colloquy: “How does using bonds differ from going to referendum?”

Yes, he actually asked that in response to a resident’s inquiry about D-64’s debt, starting at the 13:13 mark of the April 24, 2017 meeting video.

Our February 13, 2019 post discussed how Sotos, despite having been on the Board for almost 4 years, had to admit at the January candidates’ forum (as reported in a 01.28.2019 Herald-Advocate article) that he was unaware of the dysfunction of the District’s Special Education (“SPED”) program because he “didn’t see it happening” due to the fact that he was “not in that world” – a stunning admission of cluelessness from somebody who has pretended to be on top of all things D-64.

Worse yet, he lacks even a 5th Grade civics-level grasp of the basic principles of representative government – as he proved during the September 12, 2016 Board meeting that we wrote about in our September 19, 2016 post. That night, resident Jayne Reardon challenged the Board to publish the 2016-2020 teachers’ union (PREA) contract so that taxpayers could see and comment on it before the Board voted to approve it, and Sotos decided to challenge Ms. Reardon.

Big mistake.

In a span of just 9 minutes, Sotos was left on the canvass bleeding worse than Chuck Wepner after dancing almost 15 rounds with Ali back in 1975. We encourage you to watch the video of that colloquy (from 1:03:18 to 1:12:20) to understand what passes for “transparency” in Sotos’ parallel universe:

 “When you ask us to release [the contract], are you asking us to release it so that you and the public would have their opportunity to give their opinion on the contract, or is it so that you can just have it viewed prior to us making our, or voting on it?”

 “So if I get 6, or 10, or 50 people that come in and say I absolutely don’t like [the contract], am I then, as an elected official, am I then to take those 50 people and take their opinions and allow that to change the way I felt about the contract prior to them reviewing it?”

“Where is the number [of residents] that I have to wait to hear from the public to change my mind, the mind that was elected by the individuals to make this decision for them in the first place?”

Reardon’s responses to Sotos’ questions could have been excerpts from “Civics For Dummies” that Sotos probably doesn’t comprehend even now.

That video also provides an insight into Sotos’ duplicity when he tells Reardon: “I would love to publish [the contract].” Two weeks later at the September 26, 2016 Board meeting, however, Sotos – after issuing more pandering “thank yous” than a drunken Oscar recipient before being played off the stage – voted to approve that contract without even one word about publishing it first. If you have a strong stomach, you can find his bloviation from 1:03:22 to 1:08:34 of that meeting video.

And who can forget the phony/absurd display of sensitivity when Sotos, the owner of a Loop gin joint that we’ve described as “Braveheart with cleavage,” admonished women addressing the Board for using the word “vagina” because it was “not being used in a positive way.” Yes, he actually said that, too – which is why we wrote about it in our February 20, 2017 post; and why we started referring to him as “Tilted Kilt Tommy.”

All that was well before Sotos went into full campaign mode (“FCM”) and began fighting for one of three 4-year seats against a de facto slate of 3 women – Lisa Page, Denise Pearl and Carolina Sales – who, either directly or through supporters, have targeted him as unfit for further Board service due to his “Tilted Kilt” ownership.

FCM now has him insisting to Ingrid Groening Czech in a recent comment on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page that he “fought against [“secures” (sic) vestibules”] from day one” – a lie demonstrated by a March 8, 2016 H-A article reporting how Sotos actually supported the highest-cost not-really-secured vestibule at Lincoln Middle School, stating: “I don’t want to go to bed at night and say ‘I voted not to approve that one school’ and then something happens at that school.”

In another comment under that same FB string, FCM has Sotos bragging to Michelle Fiore-Cwiertniak about the $40 million of school renovations “without the need to raise taxes by way of referendum” – but failing to mention that part of that questionable achievement was made possible by the aforementioned issuance of over $9 million in high-interest, no-referendum debt certificates that will end up costing D-64 taxpayers an additional $3 million in interest.

And in that same comment to Fiore-Cwiertniak, Sotos reveals his most unprincipled nature by shamelessly offering to be a power-brokering “tiebreaker member” of the future Board with no allegiance to either “the 3 current members” of the Board, or to the “new candidates who are all running as a single voice.”  In other words, Sotos believes he has identified two separate Board factions and is already cynically starting to play them off, one against the other, with no regard whatsoever for any individual issues or policies that either faction, or any of the individual Board members, might espouse. That’s Crook County politics at its worst.

In our opinion, that makes Sotos the sleaziest local public official since Howard Frimark. And that’s why we believe Sotos needs to be de-selected from the D-64 Board this Tuesday, April 2nd.

To read or post comments, click on title.