The Watchdog’s Kibbles And Bits


(Bite-sized items of local interest)

  • Who’s His Daddy?  A letter to the editor in last week’s Herald-Advocate by Park Ridge resident Gary M. Zimmerman applauding the Park Ridge City Council for its vote to give the developers of Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) 8 condo units more than what the zoning ordinance allows in return for some phantom “senior housing” can be judged on its own merits.  But in the interest of full disclosure, we note that Mr. Zimmerman is a little more “invested” in that plan than the average citizen.  He not only serves as member of City’s Zoning Board of Appeals but he also served as a member of the Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Committee which drafted the new zoning ordinance from which the EOP developers successfully obtained their variance.

Oh yeah…and Zimmerman was also the Campaign Manager for 5th Ward Alderman and lead EOP cheerleader Robert Ryan.  But you knew that, right?

  • Those Lazy, Hayes-ey, Crazy Days of Autumn.  Last week’s edition of the H-A also carried a story about the State of Illinois professional disciplinary action taken against Park Ridge insider Owen Hayes II (“Real estate agent reprimanded for misleading city during purchase,” November 22).  As reported here back on November 15 (“515 Busse Hwy – The Park Ridge Police Station That Almost Was”), Hayes was reprimanded for trying to sell a commercial building on Busse Hwy. to the City back in 2004 (for a tidy $200,000 profit) without telling the City that he was not just the broker for the property but was also its owner.

The H-A reports that 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan called Hayes “a good man…[who’s] done a lot for our community.”  Fair enough, but we’re surprised Ryan had no explanation why this “good man” didn’t disclose that he was the building’s owner; especially when at that very same time he was holding not one but two public positions: as a member (and past-chairman) of the City’s Economic Development Corporation, and as a member of the City’s Farmer’s Market committee – of which he remains chairman today.  Irrespective of his professional duties as a licensed real estate broker, we believe that Hayes’ positions of public trust back then demanded a lot more candor than he displayed.

We also wonder if Ald. Ryan’s comments would be so generous if Hayes were not the Treasurer and other half – with Gary Zimmerman – of hisFriends for Robert Ryan [PDF] aldermanic campaign team that raised almost $8,000 to get him elected last April?

  • Who Ever Said He Was?  Last week’s editions of both local newspapers carried a letter from 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt [PDF]denying that he is planning to run for mayor, presumably against incumbent Howard Frimark.  Schmidt’s letter made a number of insightful and spot-on comments about Park Ridge and its government, so it had value separate and apart from its primary purpose.  We also understand that the rumors of Schmidt’s mayoral ambitions have increased exponentially since he aggressively took up the cause against the EOP variance and proposed a City ordinance that would permit the recall of sitting elected City Council members.

We’ve heard no little amount of speculation about from where those rumors of “Schmidt for Mayor” are emanating.  But gee, who could ever think that someone who just became alderman would already be considering running for mayor against a guy who…hmmmmmm…began running for mayor as soon as he became alderman?  Never mind.

  • Hello, Kalo!  Last week’s edition of the H-A reports that the Kalo Foundation is coming to the City for a $5,000 handout to fund an exhibit and program at the Park Ridge Library on painter Albert Krehbiel in May, 2008.  Even though we realize that $5,000 is little more than a speck of sand on the City’s $50 Million-plus budget, we question the wisdom of adding yet another giveaway of taxpayer dollars to yet another private entity.

Actually, we have no opinion on how worthy the Foundation’s goals might be.  We also don’t know the state of the Foundation’s finances because they are not disclosed on its website (, or how active and successful it has been at fundraising.  We also wonder why, if the program and exhibit are so important and so worthwhile, the Foundation can’t sell 500 tickets at $10 each, or do a typical artsy-smartsy wine and cheese “benefactors” reception, and pick up the five grand the old fashioned way: By earning it. 

As a policy matter we question the advisability of any local governmental body tossing tax dollars at private special interests, however altruistic their purpose might be – especially to fund something as temporary and insubstantial as a program or exhibit when the Foundation’s first order of business should be its more substantial and permanent goal of acquiring and renovating the Kalo House. 

Government funding of a special interest becomes even more problematic, however, when the special interest has familial or other significant connections to people in that governmental unit which could make the process susceptible to undue influence.  The Kalo Foundation has those connections through Board of Directors members Nancy Frimark (wife of Mayor Howard Frimark); Sharon Curcio (former Economic Development Corporation executive director who served with former EDC chairman Howard Frimark); and, most significantly, political consultant Linda Szczepanski, whose relationship to not only Mayor Frimark but also to Frimark cronies Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) and Ald. Thomas Carey (6th Ward) are so substantial that we will be featuring them on our very next installment of PublicWatchdog.

Instead of the City giving the Kalo Foundation tax dollars, we encourage our readers who think the Krehbiel exhibit and program are worthwhile to visit the Foundation’s website and start buying up those Kalo Coffee Cups and “Orange Umbrella” prints.  Or see if you know any of the Foundation’s directors and write them a good-sized check – so that the Foundation doesn’t need to put the arm on our often far-too-compliant local governments.  

“PROUD”? Of What?


We here at PublicWatchdog are fans of Park Ridge.  We appreciate its character as a quiet, predominantly single-family home, bedroom suburb of Chicago conveniently located to almost anything a person could need or want.  And we get the impression that most of the people who live here feel the same way.

Which is why we continue to be amazed at how a relatively small group of people seem so intent on making significant changes to the small-town character and feel our community – with little or no accountability to the residents.  And we’re even more amazed at how they seem to be getting away with it.

It has been several years since a number of our local movers and shakers, many of whom are business owners and real estate professionals with economic interests in commercial property in town, decided that they were tired of the traditional Park Ridge and embarked on an Uptown Redevelopment (“UR”) plan to change the face and the character of the Uptown area. 

They baited us with talk about making Uptown a retail mecca, but they immediately switched us into helping the developers pick the “low-hanging fruit” – building condos and townhouses – while throwing in only enough retail to make things look legit.  After baiting us with rumors of big-name retailers like Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods, The Gap, Ann Taylor and Crate & Barrel, they smoothly switched us to lower-profile brands like Trader Joe’s, Chico’s and Joseph A. Banks.  Meanwhile, big-time retailer interest was so lacking that 15,000 square feet of retail space was redesigned into more condos. 

With such an inauspicious beginning to this redevelopment, one might expect that adopting a wait-and-see attitude as to further development would be the most prudent approach.  But now comes word that some of those same movers and shakers who gave us Target Area II have formed a new organization in town that is devoting its efforts to pushing for even more – and faster – redevelopment. 

Calling itself Park Ridge Organization for Uptown Development, or “PROUD,” it is billed as a not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization – although it already has received a substantial amount of taxpayer support by virtue of the City’s Economic Development Director, Kim Uhlig, having spent a great deal of her time during October assisting PROUD in its organization and start-up.

In a recent letter to the Herald-Advocate (“Help PROUD unify area businesses here,” Nov. 1 – PDF), local dentist Ross Rubino – not surprisingly, an Uptown commercial property owner – touted PROUD as “an important advocate for change” in response to what he called the “glacial pace” of UR.  He identified PROUD’s goals as making Uptown “as vibrant and meaningful…as possible” by promoting redevelopment that will “maintain the basic feel of our community” while “enhancing our considerable assets.” 

“Vibrant” has been the main UR buzzword since Day One, although not even UR’s biggest cheerleaders have ever explained exactly what it means in connection with our unique community.  Does “vibrant” mean 20% more people milling around the streets at night?  Or a 2:00 a.m. jazz club on Prospect?  Or 35% more businesses staying open past 8:00 p.m. on week nights?  Nobody seems willing to say.

The same goes for spurring redevelopment that will “maintain the basic feel of our community.”  Nobody is explaining how the “basic feel” of Uptown is being “maintained” by the addition of those hulking 4-story buildings in Target Area II that dwarf both the neighboring buildings (even Summit Square retirement home) and the structures formerly on those sites.

And what specifically are “our considerable assets” that are being enhanced by all this development?  Park Ridge’s primary “asset” has always been its location – comfortably close to both the Loop and O’Hare Airport, not too far from Lake Michigan, with relatively convenient access to the Tri-State and major shopping venues like Old Orchard, Northbrook Court, Woodfield Mall and Oakbrook Court.  Has the new development somehow changed our location when we weren’t looking?  

According to Rubino, PROUD is also trotting out the “more dining, shopping, and event options in our Uptown area” party line – the same tactic that was used to sell UR to us several years ago.  But PROUD has an extra card up its sleeve: The prospect of Park Ridge signing onto the “Main Street” redevelopment program [PDF], which ostensibly is designed for historic preservation of traditional business districts.  Neither Rubino nor PROUD are saying, however, what “unique [Uptown] qualities” and “historic [Uptown] buildings” deserve to be enhanced and preserved through the “Main Street” program.

We support reasonable development that both preserves and enhances the unique character of our community.  But the current Target Area II development eliminated rather than “preserved” what was on that site; and we won’t be able to tell whether it enhances our community until it is completed and our residents get an opportunity to more readily judge for themselves whether the results are attractive enough and economically successful enough to justify more of the same.

For those reasons alone, any rush toward new development deals would be foolish.  And being foolish is certainly nothing to be PROUD of.

515 Busse Highway – The Park Ridge Police Station That Almost Was


As the discussion of a new 39,000 square foot police station begins to heat up again now that it looks like School District 64’s headquarters at 164 South Prospect is not a viable site, we are reminded of the poem that begins “For want of a nail…” and goes on to describe how a kingdom was lost because one single warhorse lost its shoe due to a missing nail.  With that poem as background, it might be worth a short trip down memory lane to consider the new police station that we almost had back in the Spring of 2004.

The story actually began on January 23, 2004, when local real estate broker and long-time political insider Owen J. Hayes II formed an Illinois limited liability company named “515 Busse LLC,” apparently for the purpose of purchasing the commercial property located at 515 Busse Highway – across the street from the Public Works Building – which was then owned by the American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons.

The timing of Hayes’ efforts to acquire that property were serendipitous: The College was looking to move out of town and its Director, J.C. (Chris) Mahaffey, a former chairman of the Park Ridge Economic Development Corporation (“EDC”), had reached out to the EDC’s executive director, Sharon Curcio, for help in finding a buyer.  According to a letter written by Mr. Mahaffey [PDF], Curcio “mentioned” the City’s interest in acquiring a larger police facility and Mahaffey asked her to suggest the College’s building.

Although Curcio reported back that the City was “not interested,” both City Manager Tim Schuenke and Chief of Police Jeff Caudill are reported to have said that the property was not brought to their attention when it was originally placed on the market in November, 2003.  It remains unclear how the City eventually became interested in the 515 Busse building, but sometime in late December 2003, Hayes – coincidentally, also a former EDC chairman – reportedly contracted to purchase the building.

For those of you who don’t remember the EDC, it was formed in the early 1990s to promote business development and growth within the City.  Although almost 50% of the EDC funding came from the City and the EDC’s office was located in City Hall, for almost its entire existence its meetings were closed to the public.  By 2004, Hayes’ fellow EDCers included current 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan and former 4th.Ward Ald. John Kerin; and Mayor Howard Frimark had only recently resigned his charter membership.

So Hayes was getting set to close on the 515 Busse property when the City became aware that property was for sale.  On March 30, 2004, Chief Caudill and City Manager Schuenke were given a tour of the building by Hayes, who ostensibly was acting as the broker for the College.  The property was listed for sale at $1,385,000, and Hayes indicated that another buyer was interested.

On April 5, 2004 city staff made a presentation to the City Council, and the Council instructed the City Attorney to prepare an offer at $1,150,000 to purchase the property. By April 9, however, Chief Caudill was tipped about a possible transfer of ownership of that property.  Upon checking the public record, he determined that ownership of the property had been transferred to Hayes on April 1, 2004, for a purchase price of $950,000.

That led to a closed session meeting of the City Council on April 19, [PDF], at which time the Council was informed about the property transfer to Hayes.  After deciding to instruct the City Attorney to proceed with a formal complaint against Hayes to the Illinois Office of Banks and Real Estate (the governmental body that regulates real estate brokers), the Council deadlocked 7 to 7 on a motion to pursue the purchase of the 515 Busse property, but at a price of $975,000.  At that point, the Council abandoned any further efforts to acquire that site; and the property was subsequently sold and now houses Avenues to Independence and, until very recently, the Howard P. Frimark Insurance Agency.  The Mayor has reportedly moved his business to 422 N. Northwest Highway, which appears to be another Owen Hayes owned building. [PDF].

On April 27, 2004 the City Attorney filed a complaint against Hayes [PDF] with Commissioner D. Lorenzo Padron at the Department of Banks and Real Estate.  Because of understaffing of that Department, however, the investigation of the City’s complaint languished until November, 2006, when an inquiry from an alderman prompted the City Attorney to follow up on the matter.

On October 25, 2007, a consent order [PDF] – the equivalent of a plea bargain – was entered by which the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued a formal reprimand against Hayes’ real estate license for violating 225 ILCS 454/20-20(h)(12)[PDF] – engaging in “dishonorable, unethical, or unprofessional conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud, or harm the public.”

Nevertheless, Hayes remains active in the community, continuing to serve as the chairman of the Farmer’s Market and recently serving as Treasurer for Ald. Robert Ryan’s 5th Ward campaign.

But how Hayes handled this particular transaction reveals how deals can be done in ways that look, sound and smell fishy when made public – and how, as the State’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation found, they can violate the law.

But even worse is the fact that the kinky-ness of this deal may have cost the taxpayers a bundle of money.  Because of Hayes’ wrongful non-disclosure of his interest in the 515 Busse property, the City Council abandoned its efforts to buy that property for a new police station at either the original offer of $1,150,000 or the reduced offer of $975,000 – and it is now shopping for a new cop shop of almost double the size of the 515 Busse building…at more than ten times the price.

“For want of a nail….”

You Can’t Tell The Players Without A Scorecard – Part III


Since “The Manor” was annexed to Park Ridge’s Second Ward, Rich DiPietro has been the only alderman it has ever had.

DiPietro, known as “Uncle Rich” to some, “Richie D” to others, and labeled “Lord of The Manor” by the authors of Park Ridge Underground, has been a member of the City Council since 1995. He was elected and re-elected as a member of the Homeowners Party, facing (to the best of our knowledge) only one opponent – in 2003, when he defeated a badly underfunded political unknown by a mere 21 votes (298 v. 277).

But don’t let his quiet grandfatherly manner and Peter Falk/“Columbo”-esque style fool you. Richie D knows exactly what he’s doing and almost always gets what he wants – as was seen this past Monday night (Nov. 5) when he and three other aldermen allegedly beholden to Mayor Howard Frimark put the final touches on a sweetheart deal for the developers of Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”).

By a 4-3 vote, DiPietro, 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti, 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan, and 6th Ward Ald. Tom Carey gave EOP developer Park Ridge 2004 LLC, led by Frimark supporter Bruce Adreani and his Norwood Builders, 8 more condo units than the 160-unit maximum the city’s recently-rewritten zoning ordinance permits. And they did it under the guise of ensuring that the developer will make 50 of those 168 units “senior housing,” although that “senior housing” requires only 1 “senior” (55 years old or older) per unit and allows an unlimited number of non-senior residents so long as they are age 21 or over.

Termed a “travesty” by 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt, who led the opposition to this end-run around the zoning laws and was joined by 3rd Ward Ald. Don Bach and 7th Ward Ald. Frank Wsol in voting “no,” the passage of this variance finally got some of the residents opposing it asking the same question about DiPietro that they had previously asked about variance cheerleaders Allegretti and Ryan: “What is he thinking?”

As with Allegretti and Ryan, we don’t claim to know. But as with Allegretti and Ryan, some clues might be gleaned from public records that provide some useful transparency concerning Richie D’s political friends and relationships.

For those of you without a scorecard, DiPietro is the owner of Cross Tech Communications, a printing and graphic services business located at 111 N. Jefferson in Chicago. Cross Tech got $2,470 of sign business from Frimark’s mayoral campaign back on 2/17/05. Was it merely a coincidence, then, that Richie D personally contributed $250 to Frimark’s campaign on 3/26/05 – and an even bigger coincidence that Cross Tech dropped $440 of “in kind” (e.g., in printing services) contribution to the Frimark campaign on 3/31/05? Cumulatively, that’s $690 in contributions for $2,470 in revenues – PDF, not a bad deal at all.

And in a similar type of coincidence, Cross Tech contributed $2,250 and got $3,281 of printing business – PDF from Citizens for Strong Schools (“CSS”), the campaign fund that supported the District 64 tax increase referendum this past April. Cross Tech’s “in kind” contribution was made on 2/15/07, with $1,958 of business coming back to Cross Tech on 3/21/07 and another $1,323 of business received on 3/23/07. That’s not quite as profitable as the contributions to Frimark’s campaign, but it clearly beats a sharp stick in the eye.

These figures also don’t include any goodwill that DiPietro or Cross Tech may have earned from rubbing (or bending) elbows with other big CSS contributors like Norwood Builders (at $1,500) and PRC Partners (at $2,000) – PDF

Not all of these relationships involve political contributions. For example, in another one of those increasingly unsurprising coincidences, DiPietro used Norwood’s EOP project architect, OKW Architects, Inc., for his own business in 2000, a fact that he disclosed at the August 20, 2007, City Council meeting – PDF after one of OKW’s principals, Park Ridge resident Andy Koglin, spoke in favor of the EOP project. And for those of you without a scorecard, OKW is also the architect for PRC LLC, the developer of the Target Area II condos and townhouses which DiPietro also supported.

Once again, we have no hard evidence that any of these transactions and relationships provided a quid pro quo for DiPietro’s “yes” vote on the EOP variance. But they reveal a direct economic relationship between DiPietro and Mayor Frimark, as well as an indirect one (through CSS) with Norwood Builders – relationships that might (and we stress might) have influenced DiPietro’s decision-making on a Norwood project like EOP that Frimark also favors; and which could influence his decisions on other matters in the future.

Veterans Day 2007


Today we thank and honor the people who have done their patriotic duty to our country through service in the military.  None of us should ever underestimate the importance of that service, or the sacrifice that it entailed.  Similarly, we should not underestimate the opportunities available for us to do our patriotic duty in non-military ways: Not just the duty to vote, but the duty to form and express opinions – through dissent, demonstration, and the organizing of political opposition to those in power – is patriotism in its own right.  The opportunity for us to serve in peace is what our military veterans have served and sacrificed for in war. 

As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.”


Hurray For Craig Adams!


For years we have been reading the two main local newspapers and complaining about how often the reporting is just plain shoddy.  One of our biggest complaints was the newspapers’ failure to report – on non-unanimous votes – the names of each official and how he/she voted.

So today we want to give a big shout out to The Journal’s Craig Adams, whose article in this week’s edition about the Park Ridge City Council vote on the Executive Office Plaza zoning variance (EOP Condos OKd, November 7) not only identified each alderman and how he voted, but even gave the sequence of the voting – thereby correctly noting that 3rd Ward Ald. Don Bach’s “no” vote, coming after Ald. Rich DiPietro’s deciding fourth “yes” vote had already been cast, was rendered “moot.”

Way to go, Mr. Adams!  Thanks for contributing to a better understanding by your readers of exactly what’s going on at City Hall.

You Can’t Tell The Players Without A Scorecard – Part II


This week’s edition of The Journal reports on various ways the Dist. 64 “Community Finance Committee” (the “CFC”) has come up with to supposedly save the District money.(“Dist. 64 Committee Thinking Of New Ways To Save Money”, 10-31-07 – PDF) 

The CFC is a collection of individuals neither employed by the District nor elected by the voters, but on whom the Dist. 64 Board relies for advice about its financial matters.  It has three subcommittees: The Financial Structure Subcommittee, chaired by Phil Eichman; the Communications Subcommitee, chaired by Craig Elderkin, and the Spend Management Subcommittee, chaired by Diana Stapleton.  It was CFC recommendations which reportedly led the Board to propose the tax increase referendum that was approved this past April. 

The CFC’s newest recommendations deal with how the District obtains its legal services.  For years Dist. 64 has used the prominent law firm of Seyfarth Shaw, with attorneys who concentrate their practices in local government and employment law.  Seyfarth Shaw does not come cheap, so anything that carries the promise of lowering the costs of legal services is welcomed. 

But we were less than impressed to read that two of the main changes that the CFC was recommending were (1) the District being billed by its attorneys in one-tenth hour increments, and (2) paying only for the actual out-of-pocket costs the law firm incurs in performing services for the District rather than paying for them on a cost-plus basis. 

Both of those “new” billing practices have been routine in the Chicago legal community for more than a decade, so we have to wonder why it has taken this long for Dist. 64 to implement them?  

The District also has retained two additional law firms: Franczek Sullivan P.C. and Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, both of which concentrate on representing governmental bodies.  Supt. Sally Pryor’s justification for engaging two more firms?  “We believe there are definite advantages to this multiple representation, including the ability to request different opinions on specific cases.” 

That may be true, but for those of you without a scorecard the more interesting news – not reported in The Journal’s article – might be that partners in each of those two new firms used to be District 64 Board members – Ares Dalianis and Dean Krone, respectively.  In some places, that’s what is sometimes referred to as “pin-stripe patronage.”  Whether that’s the case here will remain to be seen.