Public Watchdog.org

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.   

 

Building $50 Million Surplus On $78 Million Of Debt Borrelli’s “Greatest Achievement”

03.12.19

In our post “Is Tonight’s $20 Million Bond ‘Hearing’ Another D-64 Charade?” (April 24, 2017)), we criticized the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board for issuing $9.25 million of high-interest, non-referendum “debt certificates” in March 2017 and then, a month later, approving the future issuance of $20.7 million worth of working cash bonds (“WCBs”) without adequate notice to the taxpayers.

We pointed out that $9.2 million of debt certificates were issued while the District’s reserves were already 60% above its target amount: 30% of annual expenses. We also noted that Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli appeared to be pushing through that borrowing before four new members – a potential Board majority of Rick Biagi, Larry Ryles, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu that might not share Borrelli’s love of non-referendum debt – were to join the Board in May, 2017.

Our critique prompted a rare Watchdog comment from Board member (and dependable Borrelli stooge) Tom “Tilted Kilt” Sotos, a comment that so marvelously illustrated Sotos’ cluelessness as a school board member that we turned it into its very own post on 04.28.2017 (“D-64 Bd. Member Sotos: Trizna Failed To Do My Job On WCBs”).

But that was when Tilted Kilt Tommy still had two more years left on his first 4-year term of office and would jump like a playful puppy whenever Borrelli and/or Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz commanded.

Now, however, Sotos is running for re-election against two men (Steven Blindauer and Sal Galati) and a slate of women campaigning as the “MOMS for D-64 School Board!”, so we suspect somebody may have told him he needs to stop acting like Borelli’s and Heinz’s lap dog if he hopes to win another four years on the Board.

That’s likely why, a few weeks ago when Borrelli tried to push the Board into issuing an extra $11 million in bonded debt to fund this summer’s construction projects, Sotos suddenly became the taxpayers’ BFF by joining a “consensus” of Biagi, Sanchez and Bob Johnson (yes, Johnson…can you believe it?) in rejecting Borrelli’s idiocy and deciding to use some of that stockpile of cash (a/k/a, the $50 Million “slush fund”) to cover this summer’s construction costs.

According to a February 12, 2019 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 opts not to borrow money for construction projects, instead will pay with available funds”), Borrelli bragged about that $50 Million “surplus” being “the greatest achievement that this and prior boards have been able to achieve,” no doubt because of his presidency over the past six years .

Not surprisingly, what Borrelli failed to mention during his verbal victory lap was that much of that $50 Million “surplus” has been built up through the District’s accumulation of over $78 Million of…wait for it…DEBT, all of which appears to have been rung up on Borrelli’s watch.

But don’t take our word for it: Check out the “Long-Term Debt” section of the District’s financial report contained in the packet from the Board’s December 10, 2018 meeting.

There you’ll discover that almost $9 Million is still owed on the non-referendum General Obligation bonds issued back in 2014; and another almost $9 Million is still owed on those high-interest, non-referendum Debt Certificates issued in April 2017, on which the District will pay over $3 Million of interest during the expected lifetimes of those certificates.

So why was Borrelli pushing another $11 Million of bonded debt like he was Ron Popeil pitching a Showtime (“Set it and forget it!”) Rotisserie?

We don’t know and, frankly, we no longer care: With his departure from the Board already scheduled for this May – a long overdue addition by subtraction – his motives, however stupid or self-serving they may be, are mercifully irrelevant.

We encourage you to watch the entire discussion of Borrelli’s mostly arrogant, sometime comic efforts to ram through more District debt while keeping his $50 Million slush fund intact, starting at the 1:13:20 mark and running through the 2:03:31 mark of that 02.04.2019 meeting video.

If you don’t have the time or the stomach for all of Borrelli’s bloviations, however, we suggest you check out his attempt to bamboozle his fellow Board members with a bunch of back-of-the-envelope calculations (conveniently – for him – missing from the meeting packet) from 1:15:02 to 1:17:20, followed almost immediately by District finance chief Luann Kolstad’s refutation (“So there’s really no need to rush to issue [bonds]”) from 1:17:35 to 1:18:08; and Borrelli’s explanation, from 1:27:03 to 1:29:14 of the meeting video, of how issuing more bonds might not actually “increase” taxes but merely “extend” prior increases as the new bonded debt replaces the expiring older debt.

Chalk that up to more Borrelli sophistry.

Where the video starts to get interesting is when Biagi calls out Borrelli and the pre-May 2017 board for a lack of honesty, integrity and transparency in connection with the issuing the debt certificates and the approval of working cash bonds in the Spring of 2017, first from 1:29:45 to 1:30:38 and again from 1:50:40 to 1:52:30 of the meeting video.

Those comments chafed Johnson’s chaps, causing him to launch into a feeble-but-rambling defense of his and that prior board’s rubber-stamping of all that additional debt in Spring 2017 – from 1:55:37 to 2:00:12 of the video – before his spine seemingly calcified and he dared to indicate to Borrelli that he would not be supporting more District debt at that time.

Once Borrelli realized he had failed to stampede anybody but Eggemann into backing more bonds, he launched into Biagi – starting at 2:00:36 and continuing through 2:03:24. Borrelli staunchly defended his integrity and joined in Johnson’s defense of the transparency of all these debt matters, suggesting that taxpayers had no excuse for not knowing all they needed to know about the District’s finances and how to legally object to any of the debt rung up by the District.

In one sense, Borrelli and Johnson are right: There were “so many discussions” (per Johnson) by the  Board about the District’s finances and its debt, many of which we have watched. But we can’t recall even one of them mentioning any of the really important information – such as the $78 Million of District debt, the $3 Million-plus in interest those debt certificates will cost the taxpayers, the District’s $50 Million cash reserve slush fund, or the process and timing for taxpayers to legally object to the WCBs – that might have made those discussions something more intelligible to the average listener than a lot of yada, yada, yada.

And it should come as no surprise to anybody who has observed Borrelli’s and Johnson’s tenures on the Board that neither of them had the decency to admit that those high-interest debt certificates, unlike WCBs, could not even be legally challenged by the taxpayers – which we would submit is the exact reason Borrelli, Johnson, Sotos, Mark Eggemann, Terry Cameron, Vicky Lee and Scott Zimmerman unanimously voted to issue them at the March 13, 2017 meeting.

Too bad we can’t put the $3 Million-plus of interest from those boneheaded certificates on their personal tabs.

Fortunately, Cameron, Lee and Zimmerman are almost two years gone; and Johnson is joining Borrelli (and Eggemann) in a march to the exit this May. Heck, with a little luck and a decent turnout of informed voters, Tilted Kilt Tommy will be sent packing along with his comrades-in-harms.

Happily, we get to end this post on a humorous note thanks to Borrelli himself, who prefaced his attack on Biagi by grandly stating that, as Board president, he has “served as a figurehead for this Board….”

“Figurehead” is one of the things we haven’t called Borrelli during his tenure as Heinz’s sock-puppet (something we have called him, in our posts of 04.28.2017 and 02.02.2018). So it’s gratifying to see that, in his waning days on the Board, Borrelli has finally accepted the truth about his presidency.

Hopefully that truth will set him free.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For Heinz To Go

02.25.19

We won’t lie: We were not unhappy to hear back in December that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s Superintendent Laurie Heinz had accepted the same position at Palatine School District 15.

When she arrived as an untested rookie superintendent from her position as an assistant superintendent with Skokie School District 68, we “sincerely wish[ed] her well” in our 02.07.2014 post: “Here’s Hoping New Supt.’s Performance Matches Big Contract.” The “big contract” referred to the guaranteed 3-year deal with a starting compensation package valued at $243,000 – approximately the same as the senior/“seasoned” superintendent she was replacing.

The 3-year deal was supposed to give Heinz a sufficient warm-and-fuzzy for the jump from assistant at Skokie to the big chair in Park Ridge. And Board president Tony Borrelli – at that point not yet having been disabused by Heinz of the notion that he was the D-64 “boss” – was already hailing Heinz as “someone who will provide direction, find answers” and help D-64 develop into “one of the highest performing districts in the state of Illinois.”

We doubted she could do that, but we acknowledged in that 02.07.2014 post that, if she did, “she will be worth every penny” the D-64 taxpayers would be paying her. But we did add one caveat that now appears to be prescient, but really wasn’t:

“But make no mistake about it: Ms. Heinz is a mercenary. She does not hail from Park Ridge, nor does she live and pay taxes here. The superintendent’s position is simply a career move for her, not a long-term commitment to this community.”

Not surprisingly, that warning was totally lost on a clueless Borrelli and his six fellow board dwarfs who, a year later – after discussing Heinz’s first year’s performance in a series of closed sessions where the board could hide its questions, comments, opinions and reasoning from the taxpayers – voted unanimously on a one-year contract extension (thereby keeping Heinz’s contract at a guaranteed 3-years) worth more than $250,000, including a $4,000+ raise and additional benefits. We wrote about that in our 06.22.2015 post and our 07.06.2015 post.

By that time Borrelli was smitten like a schoolboy, willing to give Heinz whatever she wanted on the theory that she was such a superstar that no expense should be spared to keep her at the helm, notwithstanding her lapses in judgment, her manipulation and concealment of information (with the assistance of propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm), and the lack of any objectively measurable gains in student academic achievement vis-à-vis comparable districts.

About a year later he and Heinz earned their respective “Who’s The Boss?” and “I’m The Boss!” sobriquets, reflecting the total domination Heinz had achieved over Borrelli who, in turn, exercised similar domination over all of his fellow Board dwarfs until May 2017.

All that is background to the main point of today’s post: Heinz should be relieved of her duties NOW!

Actually, she should have been relieved of her duties the moment the Board discovered that Washington School principal Stephanie Daly and Franklin School Principal Claire Kowalczyk were leaving D-64 and joining Heinz at Palatine D-15.

In the real world (a/k/a, the world of private-sector employment, as contrasted with the fantasyland of public employment), management personnel like Heinz, Daly and Kowalczyk would have employment contracts that contain restrictive covenants that customarily: (a) limit what employment could be accepted if the employee terminates his/her employment; and (b) prohibits the employee from recruiting fellow employees to his/her new employer.

But since D-64 is a public-sector fantasyland instead of the real world, neither Heinz nor the two principals have such restrictions in their contracts. And while Borrelli and his board dwarfs rubber-stamped Heinz’s guaranteed 3-year deal and its annual one-year extensions at the end of the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, they never demanded a reciprocal guarantee from Heinz that she’d remain at the District for the duration of her contract.

Without such restrictive covenants in her contract we can’t begrudge Heinz for proving the truth of our February 2014 warning that she’s nothing but a “mercenary.”

Irrespective of contractual restrictions, however, real-world employees – especially upper-level management employees like Heinz – have common law “fiduciary duties” and “duties of loyalty” to their employer throughout the duration of their employment with that employer. Those duties include acting honestly and with the utmost good faith and loyalty in performing the employee’s job. In the real world of private-sector employment, that means not recruiting away your current employer’s personnel for the benefit of your future employer.

If that’s what Heinz did with Daly and/or Kowalczyk, she should be fired immediately “for cause”; i.e., breach of her fiduciary duty and/or her duty of loyalty to the District.

But even if she didn’t recruit those principals to D-15, there’s no reason to let a mercenary with one foot out the door pointed toward Palatine continue to run the District. As best as we can tell, after five years of top-shelf compensation she has come nowhere close to Borrelli’s fantasy of making D-64 “one of the highest performing districts in the state of Illinois.” So why keep her?

We now know that Heinz is expendable because she has told us so with her resignation. There is no need to treat her otherwise, or to let her hang around as an under-achieving lame duck.

Admittedly mixing our metaphors: The sooner the stable is cleaned, the more welcoming it will be for the fresh horses.

To read or post comments, click on title.

SPED Major Factor In Picking New Sup’t., Choosing D-64 Board Candidates

02.13.19

A recent “candidates’ forum” hosted by parents of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 students with “special needs” was held at the Shawarma Inn in South Park.

In attendance were 6 (Steve Blindauer, Sal Galati, Gareth Kennedy, Rebecca Little, Carol Sales and incumbent Tom Sotos) of the 8 (Lisa Page and Denise Pearl MIA) candidates for the D-64 School Board. Six of the 8 candidates also submitted written responses to questions posed in advance to them by the organizers of that forum. Sotos and Pearl did not do so.

When discussing the shortcomings of the District’s special education (“SPED”) program, the candidates and the assembled parents repeatedly cited “communication” and “trust.” But that’s the lowest-hanging fruit: Inadequate communication and a lack of trust have been among the bigger problems not just for D-64 SPED parents but for all D-64 parents throughout the 6-year reign of Board President Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli and the 5-year reign of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz, aided and abetted by D-64’s minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm.

But it was more than poor communication and a lack of trust that created a SPED program so dysfunctional under former SPED director Jane Boyd that an outside consultant (Lisa Harrod of LMT Consulting) had to be brought in last Spring to audit it. She and her team concluded that, in additions to neither SPED parents nor SPED teachers trusting the Heinz administration, SPED services had actually declined over the previous two years.

We wrote about that in our 06.22.2018 post.

Because students with special needs are the most vulnerable of D-64 students and are very dependent on the SPED program’s educational quality, a dysfunctional SPED program would appear to be more problematic than, say, a dysfunctional Channels of Challenge program. Yet for the better part of the last three years many/most(?) SPED parents were virtually invisible at School Board meetings.

That changed in N0vember 2017, when SPED parents showed up to object to the District’s misguided plan for moving 5th grade SPED students into middle school a year early. Many SPED parents also objected to the District’s plan to install part-time School Resource Officers (“SROs”) in the District’s middle schools.

Although a few of the candidates at the forum identified the hiring of a new superintendent as one of the challenges the D-64 Board is facing, none of them listed any specific SPED-oriented qualifications, abilities and philosophies a new superintendent should possess – at least judging from the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 school board candidates call for improved communications with parents, community,” Jan. 28) and from the candidates’ written responses.

Why not? Haven’t they learned from the Heinz/Boyd debacle how important it is to have a superintendent who is fully-engaged in the process of providing SPED services?

Let’s face it: SPED costs a lot more per student than the District’s regular curriculum. And teaching special needs kids can be very challenging. Because of the confidentiality related to information about all students, SPED parents also tend to feel isolated. And, frankly, many (most?) teachers and administrators do not care about their special needs students nearly as much as they want SPED parents to believe they do.

But don’t take our word for that last point: Check out the minutes of the D-64 Board meetings from 2016 and 2017 and we’re pretty sure you’ll find no mention of any of the problems with the SPED program that the consultant identified last Spring. We’re also pretty sure you’ll find no mention of SPED teachers appearing at Board meetings asking the Board for help with the problems that the consultant indicated were not being addressed by the various school principals, by Boyd, and by Heinz.

This isn’t anything new: Back in the 1990s the editor of this blog had a special needs child who received very uneven SPED while a student at Field. Every IEP meeting was a dog-and-pony show by several teachers and administrators replete with edu-speak, SPED-speak, charts and graphs clearly intended to pass off activity for achievement. And for too long they succeeded – until the lack of progress became so obvious they could no longer deny or spin it.

That led to the scheduling of a due process hearing.

After weeks of posturing and bluster from the District’s then-head of the SPED program, and less than 12 hours before the hearing was to begin, the District offered a settlement: A full summer (several thousand dollars’ worth) of in-home SPED services to make up for the lackluster services provided during the previous school year. So a fourth grader lost his summer vacation and the taxpayers were forced to pay extra for the District’s incompetence, intransigence and duplicity. Meanwhile, the SPED teachers and administrators responsible for that travesty got to enjoy their summer and continued to draw their public paychecks without one iota of accountability.

Not surprisingly, we’ve heard a number of sadly similar stories from current D-64 SPED parents. And we’ve heard that there is an inordinate number of due process hearings that have been held over the past year or that have been requested.

Although most D-64 candidates have expressed various SPED-related ideas they would like to bring to the D-64 Board if they are elected, those ideas are going nowhere unless they can be understood, critically evaluated and approved by the new superintendent. Which means that the new superintendent must be as committed to the SPED program as he/she is to the educational programs for every other student – and that he/she is aided by a competent and equally committed District SPED director instead of another Heinz and Boyd tandem.

That’s why it’s good to see that more SPED parents have finally become publicly engaged and vocal in fighting for their kids’ rights to the appropriate public education the IDEA requires. They need to remain engaged in the SPED program itself. And they need to demand that the D-64 Board select a new superintendent who truly understands the importance of SPED not only to the parents of special needs kids but to the taxpayers and the community as a whole.

Otherwise, the District will continue to spend money fixing problems of its own making while wasting boatloads of money on lawyers fighting parents in due process hearings that could be much better spent on providing quality SPED services.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Grau Needs Secrecy To “Talk Honestly” About Janak’s Replacement

01.29.19

Back in our July 7, 2014 post we criticized the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 for hiding its deliberations on the appointment of a new Board member in closed session – “where the horse-trading and deal-making will go on” – because such closed session deliberations concealed from taxpayers not only the other Board members’ “reasons for and against each candidate” voiced during those deliberations but, also, “which reasons came from which of the six board members.”

Since then, the City of Park Ridge has held open deliberations on replacing two aldermen (Dan Knight and Bob Wilkening). Even D-64 changed its ways, conducting an open-session vetting and deliberation process this past November in appointing Bob Johnson as the short-term replacement for Eastman Tiu.

So it was good to see, at the January 17 meeting of the Park Ridge Park District Board, that a 3-1 majority of the commissioners present (O’Brien and O’Donnell MIA) expressed their desire to conduct the vetting and deliberations about the applicants to fill the Board seat of the late Commissioner Jim Janak in open session.

That commissioners Harmony Harrington and Rob Leach would support open-session vetting and deliberations was expected. But after watching Board president Mel Thillens spend his first 7-2/3 years on the Board running into closed session and hiding from the taxpayers every chance he got, it was refreshing to see him finally take a stand for transparency and accountability, even if he only has a mere 4 months left on what is his final term.

He even got the rationale right, noting that because “the public doesn’t get a chance to vote” on the applicant it deserves to hear the commissioners’ reasons for choosing one applicant over the others.

Better late than never, although much better early than late.

The one commissioner saying “no” to transparency and accountability was, not surprisingly, Commissioner Cynthia “Cindy” Grau, who wanted to discuss the merits of the various applicants away from the public’s eyes and ears. Her argument: She didn’t want the successful applicant to know which, if any, commissioners may not have supported the appointment, or made critical comments about that applicant.

“I don’t know that we could talk honestly in public,” Grau objected. “You couldn’t say what’s truly on your mind.”

Yes, Grau actually said that.

Since her election almost four years ago she has been a steady voice for the “Ubi est mea?” (A Latin phrase meaning “Where’s mine?” coined by the legendary Mike Royko as the unofficial motto of Chicago) special-interest crowd that wants their Park District amenities free of charge; or, failing that, with a heavy subsidy from all those non-user taxpayers who already pay to build and maintain the District’s parks and facilities.

SIDEBAR: That “Ubi est mea?” crowd consists of those people we have labeled “freeloaders” as shorthand for: “those residents who are always looking to leverage maximum benefits for themselves, their families and their friends by shifting the costs of those benefits onto the backs of their fellow taxpayers.” But if you prefer the Merriam-Webster online definition of “freeloader” – “a person who is supported by or seeks support from another without making an adequate return” – you also get synonyms like “bloodsucker,” “leech,” “moocher,” “sponger” and “parasite,” the last of which we use to describe vagabonds from lower-taxed places like Chicago who come to Park Ridge to use our better and/or free and discounted facilities and programs.

Grau has practiced “Ubi est mea” for her own benefit as well, supporting free use of facilities and programs for commissioners as a “perk” (short for perquisite) of being a commissioner, even though the office of commissioner is one that, by law, is unpaid.

We remind our readers that the policy of the State of Illinois is that The People’s business should be done openly and transparently, for maximum honesty and accountability. That’s why we have the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”).

Although IOMA permits a limited number of exempted matters to be discussed in closed session, it does not require it. To the contrary, IOMA permits all matters, including those certain exemptions, to be discussed in open session. So whenever our public officials choose to go into closed session, you can bet dollars to donuts that it’s because they are trying to conceal what they are saying and doing from us taxpayers.

Since 2011 the de facto leader of the Park Board’s closed-session brigade has been Thillens. Now that he finally appears to have discovered H.I.T.A. (“Honesty,” “Integrity,” “Transparency” and “Accountability”), however, Grau looks like the Park Board’s new hide-and-seek leader who’s afraid to “talk honestly in public.”

Somehow we doubt that quote will make it onto her yard signs or flyers between now and Election Day, April 2, 2019.

So you’ll just need to remember it when you go to the polls to vote for Park Board candidates.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

 

Trustee Jones Can’t Get No “Assgate” Satisfaction From EEOC

01.21.19

After a couple of posts about the Park Ridge City Council’s incompetent procurement mismanagement – and its outright disregard for the City’s procurement rules on a $280,000 body cam purchase – we decided our readers need some comic relief.

And where can you find more comic relief in local government than Maine Township, where the clown-car full of Township officials keeps circling that clown-car known as Maine Township.

We know, we know: We said we were done writing about that Lilliput of local government. And we are.

But after our multi-part “Assgate” series we feel duty-bound to continue to track the further developments in its continuing saga, in this case the fully-expected dismissal by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) of Trustee Kim Jones’ (RINO, Park Ridge) complaint against Trustee Dave Carrabotta (Moron, Niles) for allegedly groping, brushing, swiping, touching, ogling or just thinking about Jonesie’s “ass” (her word). Check out the December 12, 2018 article by the Maine Township RINOs’ unofficial public relations flak, Todd “The Wet Sprocket” Wessell, published in his very own Park Ridge Journal newspaper, titled: “No Recourse For Jones-Carrabotta Issue, Trustee Told.”

According to that article, Jones claims the EEOC – as well as state and Crook County officials – told her that “[L]ocal officials are not a protected class” when it comes to sexual harassment. So, according to Jones: “[P]eople like Dave Carrabotta can sexually harass other elected officials with impunity”; and that her only alternative was to sue the Township and Carrabotta.

Remember, folks: That’s solely according to Jones. We’ve seen or heard nothing from the EEOC itself to corroborate anything The Journal is reporting. And after the woeful lack of evidence supporting her accusations against Carrabotta, her credibility is somewhere between that of the Little Boy Who Cried “Wolf!” (before the wolf showed up) and Chicken Little .

As of the date of the article, Jones was undecided on whether to file such a suit. Frankly, we really wish she would.

After all, she and Carrabotta have already cost the Township’s taxpayers over $38,000 because of Jones’ unproven (and, most likely, fabricated for purely political reasons) accusations that Carrabotta did something improper in her vicinity, which prompted Carrabotta’s moronic demand for a closed-session Board meeting followed by a Township-funded (a/k/a, a taxpayer-funded) investigation.

So we’d like to see both of them start spending bundles of their own cash as a consequence of Jones’ petty politics and Carrabotta’s idiocy.

Maybe some of Jonesie’s cheerleaders – Laura Morask, Susan Moylan-Krey, Wally Kazmierczak, Pete Gialamas, Rep. Marty Moylan (Dem., Madigan’s vest pocket), Sen. Laura Murphy (Dem., Cullerton’s vest pocket), or RINO groupie Jean Dietsch – could chip in for her attorneys’ fees and costs so that Jones won’t have to shoulder that burden solo. Since Jones got all that free legal advice about confronting Carrabotta and filing the complaint that started the investigation from her friendly neighborhood Township attorney, Keri-Lyn Krafthefer (whose firm conveniently pocketed that $38,000+ to conduct the investigation), it’s about time for Jones to start paying her own way.

Meanwhile, Carrabotta – who reportedly has been paying a private attorney for advice – could look to Trustees Susan Sweeney and Claire McKenzie for donations, considering how they foolishly indulged Carrabotta’s fit of pique and voted for both his arguably unlawful closed session meeting and his stupid Ancel Glink investigation.

McKenzie, however, may not be so inclined to contribute to the Carrabotta defense fund now that she is rumored to be angling for a Crook County Circuit Court judgeship and will likely need the intercession of Jonesie’s BFF, Marty Moylan, if she wants Boss Madigan to bless her candidacy. That also might explain why McKenzie seems to have abandoned her fellow “Reformers” and is siding regularly with Morask and Jones on Township Board votes.

But much as we would like Jones to continue this Township farce with a lawsuit of her own, if only for its perverse entertainment value, we’re pretty sure that won’t happen. Whatever political masterminds (using that term loosely) have been steering Jones through this goat rodeo (Morask? Kazmierczak?) up to now have to realize that they’ve already milked these unproved accusations for all they were worth.

And the last thing they want is an actual court decision that might expressly find that Jones made all of this up, aided and abetted by the speculation and hearsay of Morask, Moylan-Krey, Kazmierczak and Gialamas.

Besides, now that Morask and Jones have lured McKenzie over to the Dark Side, the RINOs no longer need to push Carrabotta off the Board so they could replace him with RINO Kelly Schaefer (which was the only reason behind Assgate from the jump): They can now regularly outvote Carrabotta and Sweeney whenever the latter two attempt to act like “The Reformers” we believed them to be back when they had their 3-2 vote majority and were actually relevant.

So it looks like reform is dead at Maine Township.

Now, who’s going to tell Carrabotta and Sweeney?

To read or post comments, click on title.