The Circle Remains Unbroken


A few weeks before moving to Park Ridge from Chicago in 1988, I drove around after a storm and found extension cords running across streets between houses, carrying electric power from the side of the street that had it to the side that didn’t.  I also saw piles of sodden carpeting and furniture, along with other soaked belongings, heaped on the curbs.

Nineteen years later, the circle remains unbroken: We in Park Ridge still lack dependable power and a sewer system that can be counted on to keep our basements dry. And nobody seems to be doing what it takes to make it better.

Over the years Park Ridge residents have made thousands of calls and complaints to ComEd, to no effect.  Many of us have simply accepted the problem, even as our electric bills have skyrocketed.  Others have purchased their own generators, as if they lived in some third-world country.  But maybe this most recent outage – which in some parts of town lasted as much as four days – will finally get us up off our duffs and shouting: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Isn’t it time our city government demanded a meaningful sit down with ComEd executives to determine exactly what are the specific problems with our portion of the power grid, and what must be done to fix them?  The same goes for the flooding, which may be improvable by the installation of more relief sewers but which still needs a solid commitment from the City.  Either way, a responsible and competent city government must take the lead in getting us some definitive answers – and then acting on them.  

We also need to start thinking about the substantially greater demands all the new “development” is placing on our already strained and fragile power grid and sewer systems.  Every old house wired according to code that is replaced with a larger one drawing two or three times more power adds to that strain.  And what kind of potential for future havoc is being created by all the electricity and sewer demands of those new condo and townhouse units that we’re adding like there’s no tomorrow?  

The “perfect storm” explanation that I’ve been hearing from the City and ComEd for why we lost power and flooded a couple of weekends ago might be fine if this was a once-a-decade event.  But in the week leading up to that “perfect storm,” my house (and many others in our neighborhood) lost power on a least three other separate occasions: August 17, 19 and 21. That might be considered okay for a banana republic, but it’s unacceptable for a city such as ours.

Solving problems like these may not be as easy and fun as a groundbreaking for a new building or a ribbon-cutting for a new business, but it’s every bit as much of what government is supposed to do for us.  Is there anybody in City Hall that’s willing to step up to the challenge and get ‘er done?

A Solution Looking for a Problem


When it comes to anything claimed or viewed as being “for the kids,” our society today can’t seem to do enough – even when “enough” is outright goofy.  So it should come as no surprise that somebody will use “for the kids” to justify fixing something even if it isn’t really broken.

Case in point: The new City ordinance which reduces the speed limit on the streets adjacent to four of the Park District’s parks – Centennial, Jaycee, Northwest and Woodland – to 20 mph “when children are present and within fifty (50) feet of motorized traffic.”  The fine for first-time offenders: a whopping $250!

Like most wrong-headed laws, this one has superficial appeal.  Who hasn’t experienced, while driving past one of our parks, the occasional soccer ball or baseball expelled from the field of play and into the street, sometimes with a child in hot pursuit?  Nobody wants to see any of these kids going one-on-one with an SUV, mini-van, or even a Cooper Mini.

But guess what?  That rarely happens, probably because most rational people know that driving near a park or anywhere that young children are playing requires extra caution – and they exercise it.  And most rational parents also train their kids, even the young ones, to stay away from the street when playing.  As a result, kids being struck by moving vehicles near our parks are, happily, few and far between. 

But apparently that’s not good enough for the Chicken Littles who see danger lurking around every corner; or for our weak-kneed public officials who govern by knee-jerk capitulation to the lowest common denominators – if enough of them show up at a meeting and make enough noise.

How many serious auto/pedestrian accidents have occurred around Park Ridge parks during the past decade?  Who knows?  Although this new ordinance got approval from both the Park Board and the City Council, it did so with virtually no evidence of how numerous and how serious those accidents have been.  But since the ordinance is “for the kids,” fear is an acceptable substitute for evidence.

From past experience with these Chicken Littles, we can already hear them howling: “Does a child have to die before we do something?”  Of course not!  But if a child’s death by vehicle impact is the standard for action, then the tragic death of young Sam Coberly a few months ago already should have caused the City to ban trucks from Aldine Avenue and ban kids from riding their bikes along Touhy Avenue.

And looking at the bigger picture, how is this ordinance going to be enforced in anything but an uneven and outright arbitrary manner?  How can we reasonably expect the average motorist – or even our police officers – to accurately calculate whether a moving kid is within 50 feet of a moving motor vehicle?

Goofier still, the ordinance as written would apply to kids within that 50-foot “buffer zone” no matter what they are doing.  So a kid sitting on the grass 48 feet from the street waiting for his ride home (and perhaps blocked from the view of the passing motorist by cars parked along the curb) can create a violation just as readily as a kid sprinting after a loose ball 5 feet from the street.  Where’s the common sense to that?

This ordinance will also apply to any person who shall “fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign or red light…before turning right onto a park zone street.”  Isn’t there already a law dealing with these situations?  Maybe the City is looking for an excuse to bring back those little red signs that say “Stop Means Stop” – perhaps with the added legend “We Really Mean It This Time, Buster!” 

But if the Chicken Littles are really serious about making the streets around parks safer for kids who run out into the street without looking, then reduce the speed limit to 5 mph instead of 20 mph.  Not only will that give motorists a better chance of avoiding darting kids, but it will also reduce the force of any impact that might occur.  And best of all, most motorists who don’t want to drive 5 mph will simply avoid those streets entirely, substantially reducing the possibility of any accident occurring.

Safety – for ALL our residents – is an important issue.  But Chicken Little laws like this new City ordinance not only don’t make us appreciably safer, they make the job of our police officers unnecessarily more difficult.  And they reduce respect for the rule of law and the people who govern us, however goofy and misguided some of those folks might be.

Welfare for the Well-Off?


Who wants to give Napleton Cadillac $400,000 of taxpayer money as an “incentive” for demolishing the buildings and cleaning up environmental contamination at Napleton’s former location on the west end of Uptown?  How about throwing in a “sales tax recapture” agreement that could give Napleton hundreds of thousands of dollars more just to stay in Park Ridge? 

As reported in the August 29 issue of The Park Ridge Journal & Topics, that’s exactly what our city government is looking to do. 

Of course, the City is trying to build in some safeguards for its “investment” – like an agreement by Napleton to stay in Park Ridge for the next 15 years.  But you can be sure such an agreement would have a bail-out provision in the event the manufacturers of Napleton’s car lines become unhappy with Napleton’s current space or location, as purportedly occurred with one or more of the lines Bredemann was selling from its former Uptown locations.

But the larger issue is why the City keeps throwing tax dollars at private businesses to pay for problems those businesses caused, like soil contamination; or to “incent” (formerly known as “bribe”) them to stay in Park Ridge?  The standard explanation is that these businesses provide the City with needed revenue, which makes the cost of keeping them happy an “investment.” 

But when was the last time the City did a competent cost-benefit analysis for any of these giveaways – and then followed it up each year thereafter to determine whether the original analysis was accurate and whether the taxpayers are ahead or in the hole?  For example, when was the last time the City performed and made public an accounting of the revenues and expenses related to relocating the Bredemann dealerships from Uptown to their current Dempster Street location? 

Another concern should be even more obvious: Having long-term public bureaucrats negotiating business deals with hard-eyed private business owners like Bill Napleton and Joe Bredemann.  Does anybody really think that public trough dwellers are going to hold their own with their bottom-line private sector counterparts in those kinds of negotiations?  If so, would you be interested in some swamp land in Florida?

It also should be noted that Napleton Cadillac was one of Mayor Frimark’s more generous campaign contributors, having added $1,000 to the mayor’s coffers in November, 2004. That doesn’t mean Napleton is getting any improper or unduly favorable treatment from the City, but it does raise that possibility. And at the very least, it probably means that Napleton’s telephone calls to City Hall get returned a bit quicker than most.

In the final analysis, Park Ridge should figure out what it is, what it’s not, what it wants to become, and what it is willing to sacrifice to do so.  Until that occurs, however, spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to buy the affection of certain businesses seems like more of a crap-shoot than an “investment.”

Tower of Babel?


As reported in last week’s Park Ridge Journal & Topics, Elementary School District 64 is in the process of re-evaluating its Foreign Language in the Elementary School (“FLES”) program, which has been in effect for the past 12 years.

Recently questions have been raised about why each school offers only one language (either French or Spanish), why French is offered at all, and why the language instruction is being watered down with instruction on foreign cultures. 

School Board president Sue Runyon got it right when she suggested that every school should offer both languages or all schools should offer the same one; and that greater emphasis should be placed on language instruction rather than culture study.  The first order of business should be to get the students reading and speaking the foreign language.

So with President Runyon clearly on target, why does D-64 feel it needs to spend up to two years on a “study” to re-evaluate the language program?  Here are four suggestions that don’t need a 2-year study:

1.      Make Spanish the only language taught at all schools. French may sound classier and have more snob appeal, but with the U.S. Government predicting that our population will be almost 25% Hispanic within the next 25 years, the untility of Espanol over Francais is indisputable.

2.      Ask the Spanish teachers at Maine South, Maine East and a couple of the local Catholic high schools for their analysis of what the D-64 graduates have mastered and what they are lacking when they get to high school.

3.      Get rid of the foreign culture studies. Save the mysteries of the pinata and the origins of the serape for exploration by any curious student on his own time.

4.      Set proficiency goals for reading and speaking the language based on recognized national standards, and then commit as many classroom hours a week as can be made available after such core subjects as math, English, science, etc. are accomodated.

This isn’t rocket science, folks. And for the children already in the D-64 FLES program, 2 years is far too long to wait to figure out something this easy.



In the Spring of 2002, a group of Park Ridge citizens – Democrats and Republicans alike – formed an organization they named “Citizens for Responsible Government,” which soon became known by supporters and detractors alike as “CRG.”

It articulated a set of governing principles:

Responsible government requires broad public participation by an informed citizenry that can be achieved only through the timely dissemination of complete and accurate information and vigorous public debate.

Government operations must be transparent so that both our elected and appointed officials can be held strictly accountable to their constituents.

Fiscal policies must be value-based and focused on common sense cost-effectiveness that, whenever possible, complements rather than competes with private enterprise and investment.

Government initiatives that further special interests or place long-term demands on public resources require the highest level of public scrutiny.

The best way to maximize the value of our public resources is through synergy and cooperation between the units of local government who consume them.

Partisan party politics have no place in local government, which should operate free of external political influences.

Armed with those principles, CRG members set out to put three referendum questions related to the Park Ridge Public Library on the November 2002 ballot.  3,000-plus petition signatures and one petition challenge later, those issues were on the ballot; and the voters overwhelmingly voted to maintain the current library on its current site.

That referendum also served as a catalyst for several “Independent” aldermanic candidates to challenge the hegemony of the Homeowners Party, four of whom defeated their Homeowner opponents in April, 2003.

Unfortunately, CRG fell victim to petty partisan political differences and disappeared almost as quickly as it emerged.  But hopefully its founding principles will live on in Park Ridge.