Ryan (And Hayes?) Should Buy Scharringhausen Lot


What does Ald. Robert Ryan know that the rest of us don’t?

We can’t help but wonder upon reading this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Debate to resume on parking lot purchase,” July 28), which describes Ryan’s continuing effort to get the City Council’s endorsement of his plan to spend $700,000+ of scarce City funds to buy the Scharringhausen parking lot that the City has been renting for around $20,000 a year. 

We also wonder if Ryan’s concept of sound municipal finance really is: “Hey, why spend $20,000 a year renting a lot when we can spend $700,000+ to own it” – especially when (according to an analysis by City staff) it generates only $22,800 in annual commuter parking fees? 

Frankly, we thought this was just a typical “insider” deal, where an established Park Ridge community member (Scharringhausen) cashes out long-term R.E. investment (Fairview lot) through connected R.E. broker (Owen Hayes II), who enlists the aid of a friendly elected official (Ald. Ryan, whose campaign treasurer was Hayes).

But it sounds like Ryan may have bigger plans than just a one-off property deal.  As the H-A reports, Ryan is talking about the Scharringhausen lot supporting “new development” within the surrounding Uptown area.  And he wants the City to spend some money on a “feasibility study” to determine whether a City-owned parking deck could fit on that site.

Unfortunately, that’s vintage Robert Ryan: Spend taxpayer money on a consultant to tell you how to spend even more taxpayer money and/or pile up public debt.  That’s why he may be the biggest, most consistent spendthrift on this Council.  And that’s saying a lot, give the drunken-sailor mentality of most of them.

For anbody who needs some help finding “dots” to connect, you can start with Ryan’s strong advocacy for sinking public funds into Uptown Redevelopment when he served on the Uptown Advisory Task Force (“UATF”) a decade ago.  Before that, as a member of the District 64 School Board, he led the charge to borrow and spend around $15 million to knock down what was then the District’s newest school building (Emerson Jr. High) and build Emerson Middle School.

That expenditure and related debt service appears to have sent District 64 into a financial death spiral that put it on the brink of the State Board of Education’s taking over its finances, until the District snuck through $5 million of “working cash” non-referendum (“back-door”) bonds as a band-aid measure in 2005, and followed that up with its big tax increase referendum in 2007.

We’ve seen what Ryan can do with the taxpayers’ money, so we think it’s time to see what Ryan can do with his own money.

If Ryan really wants to ensure that parking remains on the Scharringhausen property, he should buy the property himself and get into the parking business.  Or he could form a partnership with buddy Owen Hayes to do it.  That way, the taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill; and the property stays on the tax rolls.

Maybe they could get some of those behind-the-scenes land speculators we keep hearing about to invest in the deal.  They could all form an LLC to buy the lot and run it – which, fittingly enough, would support all that “new development” some of those same behind-the-scenes folks are reputedly looking to promote in and around Target Area 4.

If those land-speculation rumors are true, the speculators must be chomping at the bit by now to get some action on their TA-4 “investments” that were supposed to be short-term flip-jobs but have been languishing in this bad economy.

We don’t care whether Ryan is trying to help out some friends on a parking lot deal, or whether he’s trying to jump-start TA-4 – so long as it’s done with private money and/or debt instead of public funds.  That’s why we encourage Ryan and Hayes to pony up their own cash to do the deal.

“R & H Parking,” anyone?

Continuing The Push For Scharringhausen Land Deal


The Scharringhausen land deal got COW approval for full Council consideration this coming Monday night on a vote of 4-3: Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro & Ryan v. Carey, Sweeney & Wsol.  And if the “winning” four get their way, that consideration is likely to come in a closed session meeting, outside the presence of the public or the press.

So why are the “Scharringhausen Four” so hot to trot on buying that property now, after all these years of renting it from the Scharringhausens?  We don’t know, because we don’t recall any of the Scharringhausen Four so much as suggesting its purchase, even as recently as this April when the Council approved renewing that lease.  So what happened in just two months to make this such a front-burner issue?

Are they simply trying to do the Scharringhausens a favor by having the City take property off their hands that they haven’t had a whole lot of luck selling?  Are they just trying to give Realtor Owen Hayes II an easy commission? 

Or might this be an attempted under-the-radar first step in jump-starting the recently moribund redevelopment of TA-4, so that the real estate speculators with property (or options, or contracts on property) down that way can at least salvage their investments now instead of waiting until, if ever, developer interest in that part of town arises of its own accord?

For those not paying attention, the last time we recall the City hiding in closed session to discuss the purchase of private land was in early 2008, when former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and the Council tried to finagle the City’s purchase of 720 Garden – ostensibly for the new cop shop that the public didn’t want, and at a price a couple hundred thousand dollars above the City’s own appraisal.  We wrote about that deal in posts like “Adding Insult To Injury” (01.28.08), “Why Are We Bidding Against Ourselves” (03.14.08) and “Why There’s No Need For ‘Secret’ Discussions Of Property Deals” (08.18.08).

That deal fizzled when then-Ald. Dave Schmidt blew the whistle on that behind-the-scenes, closed session wheeling and dealing, thereby distinguishing himself from Frimark and his fellow aldermen by achieving the understanding that “closed sessions” under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) are voluntary, not mandatory; and that what goes on in them is neither “secret” nor even “confidential.” 

That earned Schmidt a rousing-but-meaningless condemnation by Frimark and alderpuppets Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan – presumably for Schmidt’s having the audacity to provide public information to the public, as permitted by IOMA. Imagine that!

But that was then, and this is now – and at least four aldermen seem interested in going back into hiding this coming Monday night to once again wheel and deal over the City’s acquisition of private land that will do somebody(ies?) a favor with our tax dollars.

Will anybody blow the whistle on that?

Maloney For Mayor


Six years ago we “strongly endorse[d]” Marty Maloney in his contested race for 7th Ward alderman. Today we endorse him even more strongly in his contested race for mayor of Park Ridge.

Back in 2011 we pointed to Maloney’s 8 years (2003-2011) as “the No. 1 fiscal hawk” on the Park Ridge Park District Board, as well as his key role in helping save the City more than $3 million in construction costs by his support of the intergovernmental agreement to relocate the City’s Uptown reservoir to Hinkley Park – instead of to the intended relocation site of the old City garage property at Greenwood and Elm. Doing so kept that site available for its ultimate sale to Lexington Homes in October 2015 for $1.4 million.

Maloney won the aldermanic seat handily over two other candidates.

During his first four-year term, Maloney – along with his Class of 2011 colleague Ald. Dan Knight (5th) – was so instrumental in helping then-Mayor Dave Schmidt turn around a City government left financially staggering and virtually-rudderless by former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets, that both he and Knight were re-elected in 2015 without a single challenger between them.

Maloney’s support of Schmidt’s dedication to transparency resulted in the City’s receiving two consecutive “Sunshine” awards in each of the two years the City applied for it – 2014 and 2015 – while increasing its transparency scores from 86% to 94.8%. And by our unofficial count, the City leads the other three units of local government in fewest number of closed sessions.

When Maloney was selected by his Council peers in March 2015 to serve as Acting Mayor following Schmidt’s sudden death, he made it clear that the next two years were “the rest of Mayor Dave’s term.” And for the past two years Maloney has advanced Schmidt’s legacy of H.I.T.A.: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability, the four pillars of good government regularly ignored by previous City administrations and effectively mocked by the boards of both of our school districts.

For that reason alone we could endorse Maloney for mayor.

But there’s more.

As alderman he supported Schmidt’s austerity measures and the tax hikes needed to rebuild the City’s fund balances, especially the General (operating) Fund’s, so that the City could stop tapping the Water Fund just to make payroll. He also supported refinancing the onerous Uptown TIF debt and various other financial measures to return the City’s finances to credibility.

That kind of fiscal management paid off in last June’s Moody’s Investors Service “Credit Opinion,” which removed the “negative outlook” that accompanied Moody’s downgrade of the City’s bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2 in late 2011, in large part because of the low General Fund balance and the TIF albatross. Maloney responded to that news by proclaiming his next goal “to raise the rating itself.” Doing so could save City taxpayers millions of dollars of interest if/when the City decides to issue the boatloads of bonds needed to finance infrastructure repair, replacement and/or improvement, including flood remediation.

Chalk up another reason for a Maloney endorsement.

As Acting Mayor, Maloney has continued Schmidt’s initiative of making Park Ridge friendlier to business while refusing to become a sucker for business. During his six years on the Council the storefronts in Uptown south of Touhy have begun to fill, with Holt’s taking over the long-empty former Pine’s space, Harp & Fiddle filling the long-empty Scharringhausen Pharmacy space, and Shakou converting the old Pioneer Press offices.

Maloney also appears to have learned well the lesson of the Uptown TIF: Being stupid and profligate with the public purse usually has harsh, unforeseen and/or unintended – and almost always long-lasting – consequences. That’s why he and the Council have not let themselves be stampeded into stupid and/or profligate decisions by the various special interests whose unenlightened self-interest would leave the City hemorrhaging cash and hog-tied by debt.

That’s yet another reason for our endorsement.

Four years ago we urged the re-election of Mayor Dave “based on his record, one that has been the most public and transparent of any mayor in Park Ridge’s history.” The same can be said about Maloney’s.

Don’t be confused by the differences in style between Schmidt and Maloney. Schmidt’s was your typical Germanic no-nonsense approach that was aptly described as a “Schmidtzkrieg,” while Maloney’s has the smoother edges of those folks with Emerald Isle origins. While Maloney tends to hide his iron fist inside a velvet glove, Schmidt was the iron fist inside the iron glove. But when it comes to City government we believe their values to be consonant.

Acting Mayor Maloney was true to his pledge that the past two years would be the remainder of Mayor Dave’s term. Now it’s time for him to build on Schmidt’s legacy and define himself while continuing to move Park Ridge forward.

We’re confident he can do so. You should be, too.

Marty Maloney for mayor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Parking Problem” Not The Worst One To Have


From time to time we’ve expressed the sentiment that the public officials who run our local government units often make things a lot harder than they need to be – whether because they don’t think clearly, they are cowed by special interests, or they allow themselves to be bamboozled by so-called (and self-proclaimed) “experts” both within and without those units of government.

Those mistakes often multiply the problems.

A new problem recently has sprung up, however, that local government has not created but which it will need to confront: parking.

The commuters who have been parking in the lot at 36 S. Fairview the City has been leasing from AT&T for years will become nomads on October 1. That’s because AT&T is expanding its Park Ridge operations by about 100 employees and is reclaiming that lot from the City. That loss of parking spaces comes on the heels of the loss of another S. Fairview lot on which a new multi-family residential structure is being built.

One hundred new AT&T employees here is a small boon for Uptown merchants, especially those who expect to serve food and drink to those new employees. Similarly, the conversion of surface parking lots to developed property should substantially increase the real estate taxes the properties generate.

That comes with the loss of public parking spaces, primarily all-day commuter spaces. And as we have frequently pointed out in the past, more residential units may very well mean more school-aged children, which will substantially increase the burden on those taxpayers without schoolchildren who already subsidize more than 50% of the approximately $14,000 per D-64 student, and approximately $17,000 per D-207 student.

But back to the parking problem.

Actually, it’s two problems: a commuter parking shortage and a business parking shortage. The former requires spaces primarily between 6:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, while the latter requires more/most of its spaces evenings and weekends.

Evening and weekend parking demands will hopefully increase even more with the addition of the new “Pick” restaurant on the old Pickwick Restaurant site, the new “Holt’s” restaurant on the former Pines site, and the new Irish pub on the former Scharringhausen pharmacy site. And perhaps by a new sushi restaurant on S. Prospect in the former Pioneer Press office building near Hay Caramba.

Those staggered needs suggest that a solution may not be all that complicated. But that solution is looking more and more like a properly-sized parking garage.

Although we’ve already heard calls for a new “parking study,” the City Council and City Staff shouldn’t need yet another “parking study” to figure out that there are two prime sites in Uptown for such a garage that the City already owns: the surface parking lot at Summit and Euclid, and the Library lot. And from what we understand, either site can accommodate a 3-4 story deck that could hold about 125 vehicles per floor.

The main “devil” in the details of such a project is who will pay for it, especially if Public Works guru Wayne Zingsheim’s SWAG of 20,000 – $25,000 per space is in the ballpark.

As we wrote in our post of 06.25.15, if Park Ridge has real parking needs, they should generate interest from private developers who might be willing to pony up the construction costs in return for something like a low-cost, long-term ground lease from the City and the lion’s share of the parking fees.

Failing that, however, the City Council will have to give serious consideration to whether a parking garage is the kind of project, and provides the kind of service, that City government owes its residents and its merchants.

Meanwhile, the Council will need a plan for dealing with the near-term commuter parking shortage. That will likely require some on-street parking in the residential areas near the Uptown METRA station that will likely inconvenience commuters and almost certainly annoy residents in those affected neighborhoods.

That inconvenience and annoyance, however, might be substantially reduced by the City’s setting up – and scrupulously enforcing – marked commuter parking spaces that take up no more than half the available curb space on any given block. Or the City might consider some variation of alternate-side parking for commuters and residents; i.e., commuters will park on the north/east sides of those streets on the first and third weeks of the month, and the south/west sides of those streets on the second and fourth weeks.

The City might even consider pre-paid commuter permit parking in marked spaces on those residential streets.

The short-term fix, however, is the easy part. The tougher, and more important, piece of the parking problem is finding the private developer willing to build the garage.

But not repeating the ankle-grabbing Uptown TIF-style giveaways that will continue to screw our taxpayers for another 12 years.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For FFF Advocates To Put Up Or Shut Up


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contained a letter to the editor from long-time resident William Scharringhausen, on behalf of the Park Ridge Kiwanis Club, criticizing the Park Ridge Library Board’s discontinuation of the “Food for Fines” (“FFF”) program. (“Food for Fines cancellation disappointing,” Sept. 30)

We published posts on 10.03.13 and 08.22.14 explaining why FFF was a form of theft from the taxpayers, and we stand by those posts. Not surprisingly, because misconceptions die hard, some of the pro-FFF arguments we criticized in those posts are resurrected in Mr. Scharringhausen’s letter – to go along with a new one such as: “Kiwanians saw the value of transforming a negative fine system into an opportunity to nurture the spirit of giving in our community.”

Heck, if that truly was their motivation, they should have approached fellow Kiwanian and Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski about “transforming a negative” parking fine system. With parking fines checking in at a $25 minimum as compared to a mere couple-to-several bucks average for Library fines, just think of how much more the “spirit of giving” could have been nurtured!

But the simple truth is that any real “spirit of giving” shouldn’t need to be nurtured by any kind of quid pro quo personal economic benefit, especially when that benefit picks the taxpayers’ pockets by what we estimated (because the Library staff didn’t even try to keep track of it) to be as much as $7,000 worth of of Library fines in any given year.

That’s not chopped liver for a Library that could have used that $7,000 to remain open for four or five of the weeks it was closed this summer.

Mr. Scharringhausen concludes his letter with what sounds like a challenge to Library Board members:

“We also anxiously anticipate the generous contributions of the Library Board members to this holiday food drive as they demonstrate leadership in our community without encumbering public funds.”

When I proposed abolishing the FFF program, I suggested that the Library could still be a collection point for food donations. And in order to walk the walk instead of merely talking the talk I also suggested that, instead of donating taxpayer funds, all Library Board and staff members could show their community spirit by making personal monetary donations towards the purchase of food for the needy.

That was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now.

That’s why I pledge a $100 donation to the no-longer-FFF Library food drive this holiday season. And I invite all current Library Board members and those former Library Board members who voted for keeping the FFF program (e.g., John Benka and John Schmidt) to do likewise. Assuming everybody comes through with a Benjamin apiece, that’s at least $1,100 right there.

But let’s not stop walking the talk with just the Library Board members.

Several staff members who advocated for the continuance of the FFF program should also be willing to say “C” (as in C-note) to support the Kiwanis food drive for the needy. And let’s not forget those Kiwanians who showed up at the Library Board’s January 21, 2014 meeting to successfully (for the time being) lobby against elimination of the FFF program, including: Ted Sigg, Jack Owens, Gerald Berkowitz, Lloyd Lange, Frank Kaminski, Maureen Kaminski and Jay Terry.

If they all step up and donate the basic hundo in addition to what the Library Board members come up with, we’ll be kicking off the holiday season with around $2,000 just in cash donations – unsullied by any crass quid pro quo fine forgiveness – before the very first can of Green Giant “Niblets” hits the bottom of the Library’s collection drum.

And, better yet, the Library Board won’t have to waste valuable meeting time discussing such weighty Library operational issues as how the expiration dates on FFF contributions are checked, and how far past those dates the food is still usable so as to be credited against fines.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Business-Unfriendly, Or Just Not Business’ Patsy?


Is Park Ridge business-unfriendly? 

We’ve heard such accusations over the past decade or so, both about the City’s ordinances and about the less-than-motivated way some members of City Staff – or, at least, some former City Staff members – respond to the desires of certain businesses and prospective businesses. 

At the same time, we have seen “business friendly” but just plain stupid City initiatives (like the facade improvement program) waste hundreds of thousands of dollars with little measurable return on investment. 

So we found it somewhat instructive to read a couple of recent letters to the editor in the Park Ridge Journal that  criticized City Hall’s anti-business attitude: “A Perfect Fit For Uptown,” by John McGinnis (8/19/11), and “Building Sits Vacant While Offers Come And Go,” by Mike and Maribeth Carroll (8/24/11).  Both of those letters, perhaps not so coincidentally, focused on the former Pioneer Press office building at 130 S. Prospect, which the Carrolls own and which has been vacant ever since Pioneer Press broke camp several years ago.

Let’s start with the McGinnis opus, which blames “city officials” for “killing the historic Uptown shopping district of Park Ridge.”  McGinnis’ postmortem is based on his assertion that City Hall rejected not one but two “upscale businesses” that were interested in that same Prospect address. 

The first, an unidentified “progressive health club” (compared to a “regressive” one?) was purportedly rejected because of “not enough parking” and the property “not [being] zoned for a health club” even though (according to McGinnis) it’s “the perfect location for a health club” – especially for someone like him who claims he “has to travel quite a distance to find a health club close to home.” 

Paging Yogi Berra!

The second of McGinnis’ prospects for Prospect was a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, which he claims was rejected because of insufficient parking and “limited liquor licenses” and which he brands collectively as “irresponsible zoning hindrances.”  His solution: “Why doesn’t the city purchase or lease one of these [nearby parking] lots to help boost local business?”

Hey, Mr. McGinnis!  Did you ever think of asking the Carrolls and the other building and/or business owners in that area why they don’t purchase or lease one of those lots to help boost their own business, instead of looking for more handouts from the City, a/k/a the taxpayers? 

The City already leases parking space in that vicinity, including the Scharringhausen lot at 20 S. Fairview that Robert Ryan did his best to get the City to buy for $700,000-plus while he was 5th Ward alderman from 2007-11.  Maybe the Scharringhausens would be wiling to chip in that lot as their share of a joint venture parking deck to serve the existing businesses in that part of town and to attract new ones, assuming parking is an attraction and not just an excuse.

The Carrolls’ letter was partially an “us too” to McGinnis’ health club/restaurant anecdote, but with a kicker that raises at least one red flag. 

The Carrolls claim that the City “dismissed any potential tenants related to general office and the medical industry…even though there’s a dentist on one side of the building and Resurrection Medical Group on the other”; and two buildings owned by the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists further down that block.  And they further complain that their inquiries to Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller about “what kind of business is allowed” in 130 S. Prospect have gone unanswered, while she has told them that chances of a zoning variance “were very slim.”

We don’t know if what McGinnis and the Carrolls wrote is factually accurate or not.  But, frankly, it sounds a little soft and squishy to us, with more un-named “potential tenants” that don’t readily lend themselves to independent verification.   

Nevertheless, it does call into question whether City Staff – in this case, the Deputy City Mgr. whose job description includes economic development – is asleep at the wheel, if not actively discouraging business development.

We would hope that, if McGinnis’ and the Carrolls’ anecdotes are true and they are sincere about their concern for the Uptown business district, they will bring these matters formally to the City Council – via either Ald. DiPietro’s Policy & Procedures Committee, or Ald. Knight’s Finance & Budget Committee – so these matters can get a proper public airing.  But that means naming names other than just Lettuce Entertain You.

Only a few years ago a group of citizens and some well-paid consultants totally rewrote the City’s zoning ordinance, reportedly to reflect current economic reality and to enhance, within reason, the City’s ability to compete with neighboring communities for desirable businesses.  If that effort produced a hostile business climate that is inconsistent with the wishes of the majority of the City’s taxpayers, then it’s time for the City to acknowledge that and go about correcting the situation.

But if, on the other hand, these complaints are just hot air from special interests who want to off-load some of the risks and expense of doing business in Park Ridge on the City and its taxpayers, we should find that out sooner rather than later, too.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Underperforming TIF One More Budget “Goat” In The Rodeo


As part of the continuing effort by our City officials trying to convince us they are really working to give Park Ridge taxpayers cost-effective government, there will be another budget workshop tonight at City Hall (505 Butler Place, 7:00 p.m.).

The Council continues to address the initial budget proposed by City Mgr. Jim Hock and his Staff, which jacks up the City’s portion of our property taxes by 5% (following a similar 5% hike last year) even though the cost of living has not increased by anything close to 5% last year, or 10% over the past two years.  But simple percentage hikes in taxes and/or fees are standard operating procedures which allow government bureaucrats to avoid making tough choices of “this” over “that” even though that’s one of the things they are being paid to do.

As occurred last year, Hock and his executive staff (i.e., full-time City employees paid, cumulatively, close to $750,000 a year) are trying to wipe their hands of any further budget responsibility beyond that initial draft by dumping it into the hands of the Mayor and City Council (i.e., part-time volunteers paid, cumulatively, $20,400 a year).  And, as last year, this Council seems all too willing to let that happen. 

Which makes it likely we will see a repeat of last year’s goat rodeo, where our elected officials volley increasingly arbitrary revenue and expense numbers around The Horseshoe at an increasingly frantic pace until moments before the deadline for passing a balanced budget expires, at which point somebody proclaims the budget to be “balanced” – even if the balancing is done with inflated revenue projections, deflated expense projections, smoke, mirrors and stealth technology.

What Park Ridge taxpayers deserve, instead, is a budget where every number is owned by both City Staff and our elected officials. 

In our opinion, what the Council should do tonight – and should have done as soon as it received Hock’s/Staff’s draft – is to tell Hock/Staff, in no uncertain terms, that any property tax increase is unacceptable; and that, consequently, each department head must provide a written report (available to the public on the City’s website) within 7 days that describes the specific budget cuts he/she recommends to make up for the 5% of his/her budget that can no longer be expected from the property tax increase.

In other words, Wayne Zingsheim will own the 5% cut in Public Works’ budget; Chief Kaminski will own the cuts in the Police budget; Chief Zywanski will own the cuts in the Fire budget; and Librarian Janet Van De Carr will own the cuts in the Library budget. 

Oh, yes: and City Mgr. Hock, as the City’s COO, will own all of those cuts.

That way, the mayor and each aldermen also will own those cuts or any changes to those Staff recommendations they approve – so long as the official presiding over each committee and Council meeting at which Staff recommendations are changed insists upon roll call votes for each and every nip, tuck and tweak, rather than those voice votes that often allow individual aldermen to escape accountability.

Sadly, we don’t expect any of this to happen from the fiscally feckless majority that’s been sitting around The Horseshoe producing multi-millions of dollars in deficits since the voters foolishly bought former mayor Howard Frimark’s snake oil referendum to cut the Council from 14 to 7 aldermen.  The only good thing we can say about this group of tax-and-spenders is that they haven’t added massive borrowing to their legacies – although much of the credit for that has to go to Joe Egan’s 2009 police station referendum and the voters who torpedoed it and the multi-millions of bonded debt it would have required.

But as inept as this current Council has been at budgeting and management, in fairness we must acknowledge that it inherited an albatross in the Uptown TIF, which is pointed out in a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City Budget: Uptown TIF debt going nowhere soon,” Feb. 15).

The H-A story reports that over $5 million of City funds has been sucked into the TIF black hole with no hope of repayment in full for another 12 years.  And repayment even then isn’t assured if the City decides to fund additional capital projects in the TIF district – like, say, Ald. Robert Ryan’s favorite boondoggle, a parking facility on the Scharringhausen lot on Fairview.

The TIF was the City-orchestrated brainchild of 26 citizens whom, in 1999, were assembled into the Uptown Advisory Task Force (“UATF”) that included, ironically but not surprisingly, Ryan himself.  The TIF-enabled redevelopment was touted at the time by its proponents as a retail-oriented development that would pour money into the City’s coffers while turning Uptown into a “vibrant” retail and entertainment destination.

Lofty visions of Barnes & Noble, Crate & Barrel, the Gap, etc., however, soon were replaced with a condominium and townhouse-dominant project, notwithstanding the results of a City-sponsored 1999 survey which showed strong citizen opposition to Uptown condominiums.  But by that time the UATFers, along with then-mayor Ron Wietecha, then-City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, and most/all of the aldermen then on the Council (including Ald. Rich DiPietro) had signed onto the multi-family residential-heavy deal lock, stock and barrel.

Less than a decade later, we have a project that has not moved past the first of its intended four phases because it hasn’t even been able to pay its own debt service, or the subsidy payments it committed to make to School Districts 64 and 207.  In 2011-12 alone, the City will need to make $2.9 million in TIF-related bond payments, according to the H-A article.

So while the current occupants of 505 Butler Place didn’t make the entire current financial mess by themselves, we cannot afford a continuation of the deficit-producing business-as-usual that our public officials have tried to pass off as sound fiscal policy since 2006-07, when the City posted its only surplus this millennium.

The goats are loose at City Hall.  Will anybody be able to round them up?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Court Overturns City’s Foolish Re-Zoning


Back on July 8, 2009, we published a critique of the City Council’s July 6, 2009, vote to change the zoning of long-time commercially-zoned properties into multi-family residentially-zoned ones (“Private Property Rights And Sound Zoning Policy Hijacked By 4-3 Vote”).  One of those properties was the former Napleton Cadillac parking lot at 200 N. Meacham.

Our main objection than (as it remains today) was that such a decision favored more multi-family residential development, which increases the strain on our already overwhelmed infrastructure, over commercial development.  That kind of pre-emptive residential rezoning also effectively eliminated any possibility that those properties might attract retail or other commercial development – and the property and sales tax benefits that kind of development might bring – when there wasn’t even a residential developer seeking such a change.

The principal schemer for this foolishness was none other than Ald. Robert Ryan, who is so clueless when it comes to sound government policy and fiscal responsibility that he couldn’t find Col. Mustard in the Public Works Building with the new Vactor.  And Ryan’s co-conspirators were Alds. Jim Allegretti, Don Bach and Frank Wsol, all of whom disregarded the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission that the zoning of those properties should remain unchanged at least until some developer comes forward with a plan that requires a zoning change.

As can be seen from the minutes of that July 6, 2009, meeting, an attorney for Napleton warned the Council that such a change would so adversely affect the value of his client’s property that a lawsuit was likely.  But Ryan and his merry band were not going to be intimidated, and they went ahead and voted for the change.

Well, folks, Napleton sued.  And according to this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Cook County Circuit Court: Judge overrules rezoning of private property in 2009,” Nov. 23), Circuit Judge Peter Flynn agreed with Napleton that the zoning change made by the City Council over a year ago was unlawful because it required a three-fifths super-majority, rather than a simple 4-3 majority, vote.

That’s pretty much a technicality, but we’re fine with it because it restores the affected properties back to commercially-zoned status – where they likely will remain unless Ryan again pushes for re-zoning; and one of the three aldermen who voted against the change flips to Ryan’s side.

We don’t think that’s likely.  But one thing we’ve observed about Ryan in his 3+ years on the Council – and during his term on the D-64 School Board back in the late 1990s – is that he’s not one to let a bad idea drop, especially if it’s his bad idea. 

Remember: for months he lobbied for the ridiculous 20 S. Fairview (a/k/a Scharringhausen) lot purchase despite the City’s shaky financial condition and the fact that such a purchase would take yet another piece of private property off the tax rolls.  And Ryan can still argue, as he previously did, that conversion of those properties from commercially-zoned to multi-family residentially-zoned is consistent with the City’s now 8 year-old Uptown Comprehensive Plan which, not so coincidentally, he helped devise.

Fortunately, Ryan’s got less than six months left on the Council, which is one more thing to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.  On the other hand, City Mgr. Jim Hock supported Ryan’s boondoggle, and he has no known departure plans.  Nor does City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill and/or his deputy, Kathie Henn, who appear to have gotten the law wrong on the number of votes needed for the zoning change.  We wonder just how much that gaffe cost us in legal fees for the Napleton litigation.

But the H-A reports that Hill is saying he does not believe the City will appeal Judge Flynn’s decision, which should put a halt to further legal expenses.  So add that to the list of things to be thankful for.

For PublicWatchdog, that includes all you readers.

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COW “Chips” Tonight? (Update 10/12/10)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will stage another Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (7:00 p.m. at City Hall), and the agenda is a full one.  There are, however, a few “action items” that deserve special attention. 

No. 1 on our Hit Parade comes under the Finance & Budget portion of the COW: Ald. Robert Ryan’s crusade to push the City into buying the Scharringhausen parking lot at 20 S. Fairview for $700,000+.  This issue has been…wait for it…deferred from two previous COWs, presumably because Ryan lacked the 4 votes (Ald. Allegretti missing on 8/23/10, Alds. Allegretti and Carey missing on 9/27/10) needed to ensure passing this boondoggle out of the COW.  

With the City struggling to cover its budgeted expenses, and with the TIF Fund already $4.6 million in debt to the General Fund for more than two years in connection with the development of Target Area 2, the City’s spending of an unbudgeted $700K to acquire and land-bank a parking lot in Target Area 4 just because the current owners have decided they want to sell is nothing short of ridiculous.   

Is Ryan simply trying to help out the Scharringhausens and listing broker Owen Hayes II (Ryan’s former campaign treasurer)?  Or is he trying to reward any speculators in neighboring properties – like, perhaps, the owners of 720 Garden, or 16 Prairie, or the old D’Bob’s restaurant and/or the homes over on 3rd Street – by jump-starting the otherwise stagnant redevelopment of that area?  

The last time the City jumped on property just because the owner wanted to sell, we got that dump at 229 S. Courtland that the City has no use for and whose value reportedly has declined significantly since the City acquired it.  The 20 S. Fairview lot looks like another white elephant, only larger.  

Also under F&B is the approval of a $40,000 payment under what we consider another imprudent program to spend scarce public funds: the City’s “Façade Improvement Program,” under which building owners or lessees can recover as much as 50% of the cost of making their buildings look nicer.  The latest recipient of this taxpayer handout is 100-102 Main Street/7-15 South Fairview, the Solari & Huntington jewelry store building. 

This kind of payment of public funds to private property owners appears to be somewhat akin to the Council’s donation of public funds to private community groups.  If so, it should require something similar to compliance with City Council Policy No. 6, or maybe Policy No. 31 – which requires that any economic development expenditures provide a “demonstrable quantitative and qualitative return on the City’s investment to be realized during a reasonable period of time after such investment.”  

But, as best as we recall, the Council that created the Façade Improvement Program in conjunction with the redevelopment of Target Area 2 never gave serious consideration to the qualifying criteria identified in Policy No. 6 or Policy No. 31 – just like the current Council failed to do with the community group giveaways.  In other words, this program looks like another boondoggle that, in this case, will cost us $40,000 that could be better spent elsewhere.  Hopefully, somebody on the Council will recognize that and start the process for getting rid of this misbegotten program.

Finally, the Procedures & Regulations portion of the COW will feature City Mgr. Jim Hock’s seeking of Council approval to issue an RFP for the sale of the vacant former Public Works site at Greenwood and Elm.  Peddling that property in a down R.E. market doesn’t sound like the smartest idea, although we can see how a quick couple of million in unbudgeted revenues might fill that prospective multi-million dollar operating deficit Hock keeps insisting is not coming down the pike the way it did in each of his first two years on the job. 

What concerns us most about this sale, however, is that the Community Preservation & Development manager’s “Agenda Cover Memo” for this item includes no terms or parameters for the proposed RFP, even though Ald. DiPietro requested those items at the 9/27/10 COW meeting.  That lack of information could lead to an unfocused, rush-to-judgment discussion and ill-considered action; or it could lead to another of this Council’s trademark deferrals.  Either way, it looks like Staff dropped the ball on this.

From the looks of things, tonight could provide the taxpayers with a few unwelcome COW “chips.”

UPDATE:  In a mild upset last evening, a four alderman (Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol) to three (Allegretti, Carey & Ryan) vote dashed, at least temporarily, Ald. Ryan’s fiscally irresponsible plan to have the City purchase and land-bank the Scharringhausen parking lot.  And if that weren’t good enough for one evening, Ald. Rich DiPietro went so far as to propose that the City suspend its half-baked Facade Improvement Program. 

See, guys…good government really isn’t all that difficult.

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Summertime, And The Livin’ Is “Comfortable” (At City Hall)


We haven’t had time to pick apart City Mgr. Jim Hock’s 1st quarter financial numbers, but if the story in yesterday’s on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Despite $2.4M deficit, city officials ‘comfortable’ with budget so far,” August 24) is accurate, all we can say is: Here we go again.

According to the H-A article, Acting City Finance Director Linda Lazzara is already looking at a fiscal year-end deficit if the first quarter performance represents a year-long trend.  We realize that’s a big “if” at this point in time, but with economists less than optimistic about any major upswing in economic growth in sight it’s an “if” that City government should take seriously.

But Lazzara’s boss, Hock, claims to be “comfortable with where we are.”  Or at least that’s what he told the Council at Monday night’s meeting.

That’s the same Hock who seemed remarkably comfortable the past two years even as the City was posting multi-million dollar deficits under his management, and borrowing from its water fund to make payroll because the general fund was tapped out (as Hock reports it is again).  Maybe being comfortable under those circumstances comes from drawing a compensation package of around $200K and having to answer only to a bunch of guys who are comfortable feeling warm air blowing up their whatzits.

From what we’ve seen over the past two years, Hock is comfortable producing warm air at will.

Which is why Hock sounds comfortable in continuing to count on getting big bucks from Springfield, even though The Mighty Quinn & Company remain about 5 months behind on paying what Park Ridge is owed from the state income tax.  After all, don’t Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton have it all under control? 

And, as Hock pointed out, our local sales tax revenues should get a shot in the arm with the opening of three new restaurants in Uptown.  We assume that’s also making him comfortable.

Hock’s comfort appears to have been contagious, which may be why the Council seemed so comfortable Monday night in voting to give away $190,000 in handouts to private community groups which aren’t required to account to the Council or Park Ridge taxpayers for as much as a dime of that money. 

And the Council remains comfortable leaving the door open on Ald. Robert Ryan’s continuing effort to saddle the City with a $724,000 parking lot on Fairview that is listed by his buddy and former campaign treasurer, realtor Owen J. Hayes II – a lot which the City now leases from the Scharringhausens for $20,520 annually (and from which it generates a $2,000 profit) and that also contributes $11,030 in property taxes that would be lost if the City acquired it.

We can only assume that the sale of that property to the City would make the Scharringhausens and Hayes comfortable, too, as there don’t appear to be many private buyers jumping at the property at that price.

So as we approach the end of Summer 2010, Hock and the City Council all seem pretty darn comfortable with how things are going over at City Hall.

How about you?