Some New Year’s Resolutions For 2008


As the last days of 2007 tick away, we decided to make some New Year’s resolutions for those unlikely to make them for themselves.

For All Our Public Officials:  Start out with these three…

1.         Be honest.  Quit being politicians and start being our representatives.  Begin by telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Example:  When you propose one of your grand schemes that involves taking on millions of dollars in bond debt, don’t just tell us the face amount of the bonds.  Give us the same kind of Truth in Lending disclosures that our mortgage lenders provide – how much we’ll have to pay each year, and the total amount (including interest and fees) those bonds will cost us over their lifetimes.  If you don’t have the integrity and the nerve to do that, then don’t issue the %&@@$*# bonds.

2.         Be transparent.  Stop running into “closed session” at the drop of a hat just because it may be technically legal to do so.  To our knowledge there is no public business for which closed session is absolutely required, nor is there any obligation to treat anything that goes on in a closed session as “secret.”  The more you hide from the public, the more public suspicion you create.  Let’s end the Culture of Secrecy in 2008.

3.         Be frugal.  Try treating our tax dollars like they are printed by the U.S. Treasury instead of by Parker Brothers.  As our legendary U.S. Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen used to say: “A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”  So stop spending our real money like it’s chump change.

If you can keep these resolutions, everything else will be a cake walk.

For the Dist. 64 Board and Staff: 

1.         Stop “spinning” us about how well you do on the ISATs and, instead, start showing us where each of our schools ranks in comparison to the rest of the suburban Chicago schools.  If reporters from the Chicago Tribune can go through state ISAT records and determine (to the best of our recollection) that, among Northeast Illinois elementary schools in 2006, Washington ranked 57th, Lincoln was 144th, Roosevelt was 193rd, Carpenter was 320th, Emerson was 344th, Field was 377th, and Franklin was 508th – ranking behind schools from Arlington Hts., Cicero (yes, Cicero!), Clarendon Hills, Deerfield, Elmhurst, Geneva, Glen Ellyn, LaGrange, River Forest, Western Springs and Wilmette – then you should be able to do the same… assuming you have the stomach for it.

2.         See if you can responsibly manage all the extra money we’re giving you these next two years due to the successful referendum.  Your record over the past decade suggests that you can’t and won’t, but hope springs eternal – especially if the District’s newly-expanded Community Finance Committee (“CFC”) can actually be something more than a sitting collection of special interest cheerleaders for continuing tax increases. 

For Mayor Howard Frimark:  It’s prostate, not “prostrate.”  And the homeland of Norwegians is Norway, not “Norwegia.”  While you’re at it, get rid of your private phone in the mayor’s office.  At least try to create the appearance that you’re using the taxpayer-provided office solely for public business rather than for politicking and insurance sales.

For Napleton Cadillac:  Stop trying to pawn off on Park Ridge taxpayers the financial responsibility for cleaning up any pollution your business caused on your former site.

For PRC Partners:  If you want to develop the Napleton Cadillac property, split the clean-up cost with Napleton – or take it all on yourself.  You already made out like a bandit when you slickered the City out of millions on the purchase price of the old reservoir block, so you owe us.  Big time.

For Paul “Mr. Maine” Carlson:  Keep teaching, in whatever capacity you can.  And keep showing us that “institutions” don’t only come in brick-and-mortar.

For City Mgr. Tim Schuenke:  You’re a lame duck, so don’t screw up anything else before you leave.  In fact, confine yourself to routine paper pushing until you turn your office light off for the last time and head back to Wisconsin.

For the Dist. 64/Dist. 207 School Caucus:  Stay gone.  You’ve never been anything more than a purely political organization run by a handful or two of “insiders” who cynically manipulate an ever-changing cast of well-meaning but generally clueless “delegates” from various community organizations to endorse and help elect what has consistently been the most financially inept governing body in our community – the D-64 Board of Education.  And at the same time you regularly scare off any challengers, thereby producing the fewest contested races – and the fewest choices for the voters – of any local government.

For the Park Ridge Park District:  Since you don’t have the common sense to close Oakton Pool and stop pouring $50-70,000 down the drain each year because it’s the most expensive and worst attended pool in the District, try something innovative – like stocking it with game fish and holding daily kids’ fishing tournaments.  Can you say “Junior Bassmasters”?

For the Park Ridge Police Department:  Answer the following two questions, or admit that your obsession with a new cop shop 400% bigger than the current one is really just about size:

1.         How, specifically, has the size of the current police station made us less safe in our homes or on the streets of Park Ridge than we deserve to be?

2.         How, specifically, has the size of the current police station enabled criminals to avoid detection, apprehension and prosecution?

For Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward):  Try actually representing your constituents rather than the developers on density issues.  Or at least do the noble thing and sign on as a co-sponsor of Ald. Schmidt’s recall ordinance. 

For the Planning & Zoning Commission:  Grow a spine and stop rolling over for certain (well-connected?) developers who want to squeeze every square inch – and every single dime – out of their projects.  You’re supposed to be working for “us,” not for “them.”

For the Zoning Board of Appeals:  Ditto.

For the City Council:  Discover and disclose the names of each and every “real” owner of all of those parcels of property that you are considering purchasing for the site of the new police station.  And while you’re at it, publish the appraisals for those parcels so we can compare them to what the City ends up paying.  Maybe the “dots” don’t always connect, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to see every one of them.

For the Park Ridge Senior Center Members:  Get rid of your sense of entitlement.  While your approximately 1,200 members shamelessly pay a paltry $22 in annual membership “dues,” the Park Ridge Park District is burning through almost $150,000 of our tax dollars each year to give you what amounts to a private club. And a number of you aren’t even Park Ridge taxpayers!

For the Maine South Constitution Team:  Another year of hard work and outstanding achievement!

For the Park Ridge Falcons and Cheerleaders:  Ditto!

For All Park Ridge Citizens:  A greater interest in how we’re being governed at the local level.  And more grass roots involvement – because this community has too much quality and potential to be dominated by a small group of profiteering insiders and special interests.

Kemerer v. Schmidt


It looks like rookie 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt and fellow 1st Ward resident David Kemerer might not be exchanging Valentine’s Day cards this year.

In recent weeks Kemerer and Schmidt have waged a war of words via letters to the editor of both local newspapers, starting out with Executive Office Plaza’s zoning variance and Schmidt’s push for an ordinance that would let Park Ridge voters recall their elected officials.  Lately, however, those debates have morphed into questions about the EOP-related conduct of 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan and Schmidt’s alleged lack of “civility” in performing his aldermanic duties.

Measured by the benchmark of 20 years of sleepy Park Ridge rubber-stamp government dominated by Homeowners Party “partisans” (with the notable exception of the last four years), Schmidt probably does qualify as a firebrand – but one with an infectious populist enthusiasm tempered by a solid conservative foundation.  From what we’ve seen, he hit the ground running; and he has been a strong and vocal advocate for positions that we believe represent mainstream Park Ridge values and opinions. 

That’s why we are alternately entertained and bemused by many of the comments contained in Kemerer’s most recent indictment of Schmidt [pdf] – except for Kemerer’s defense of 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan’s private meeting with EOP’s developer (we hear it was with one of the project’s investors who regularly attended the Council meetings whenever EOP matters were on the agenda), which shows a total disregard for the serious problems presented by “A Culture Of Secrecy” in Park Ridge government.

Our citizens deserve, and have every right to expect, that official City business will be done on the up-and-up and openly at public meetings rather than in secret.  A private meeting between an alderman and a developer to discuss that developer’s project while it is awaiting final Council action just plain looks and smells bad…like a judge meeting privately with only one of the parties to discuss the case he’s hearing.  That Ryan “voluntarily disclosed” the meeting after the fact still doesn’t let the rest of the Council, and the public, know what was said by whom and to whom.  Attorney Schmidt gets it; why doesn’t attorney Kemerer?

The bottom line is that whatever information Ald. Ryan or any other alderman needed or wanted about the EOP project should have come either from the developer through City Staff to all aldermen, or directly from the developer to the aldermen in the course of a public meeting.  Because if the information Ryan got in private was so important and persuasive that it caused him to change his “No” vote to a “Yes,” then the public also deserved to have the benefit of it.

Time For Some Honest Discussion About A New Police Station


Sometime over the next couple of months the City Council is likely to review last April 2nd’s 11-3 vote (by what was then a 14-member City Council) approving the construction of a new police station of roughly 37,000 square feet – four times the size of the current station – with another 12,000 square feet of “secured” (indoor?) parking.  

The estimated cost?  Hard to tell for sure, but the former Council suggested a whopping $19 Million in bonded debt to help pay for it.  And with all that extra space, you can be sure that the cost of operating it year after year will be a heck of a lot more than is being spent on the current station.

Why did this project get the former Council’s approval?  Primarily because it was recommended by hired-gun consultants who make their money – $55,000 from the City so far – by recommending big new police stations to municipalities who want big new police stations.  And in the case of the City’s most recent consultant (Sente Rubel Bosman Lee Architects, Ltd., an architectural firm that specializes in giving local politicians what they want), the potential to make a much bigger bundle as the project’s architect, where fees are often based on a percentage of the project’s cost.

But there was another reason, this one legitimate:  The current 9,000 square foot cop shop is admittedly a dated and poorly laid-out facility that does not make the most efficient use of its space and is sorely in need of modernization.  Unfortunately, instead of starting out by looking at how the current facility might be renovated and reconfigured to optimize its 9,000 square feet of space, the City let the highly-paid, one-trick-pony consultants do a “blue sky” analysis that effectively began with a blank page and no space or cost restrictions.

Before this boondoggle gets pushed into “done deal” territory, however, we would like to try to bring some sanity and fiscal responsibility to what, until now, has been basically an irresponsible, consultant-driven process.  As you will see when you read the account of the public discourse on the police station at pages 8 through 16 of the minutes of that April 2, 2007 Council meeting [pdf] – and we strongly encourage you to do so – you will find no answers to what should be the most important questions about a project such as this:

1. Has the size of the current police station made us less safe in our homes or on the streets of Park Ridge than we deserve to be; and, if so, in what specific ways?

2.  Has the size of the current police station enabled criminals to avoid detection, apprehension and prosecution; and, if so, in what specific ways?

3.  Is a big new police station the absolutely best way for the City to spend $19 Million, especially when it involves digging itself into a $19 Million long-term debt hole?

Maybe one of the reasons those questions weren’t answered by anybody involved in City government is because the honest answer to all of them is a big fat “No!” 

After all, the police department – operating out of that dated, inefficient 9,000 square foot space – keeps on getting accredited and keeps on winning awards.  And the Park Ridge crime rate remains low despite that dated, inefficient 9,000 square foot space.  And any time there is a job opening, we have an abundance of applicants willing to work in, and out of, that dated, inefficient 9,000 square foot space.

So if the current station isn’t jeopardizing or compromising our safety or the enforcement and prosecution of our laws, or the hiring of new personnel, then the bottom line is that the big new $19 Million cop shop really will be far more of a convenience and amenity than a true necessity. 

But if Chief Caudill, Deputy Chief Swoboda, or Mayor Frimark’s designated hitter Cmdr. Lou Jogman want to convince the taxpaying voters of Park Ridge otherwise, let them stand up in an open City Council meeting and answer those three questions – and any other questions the public has about the big new cop shop – fully, honestly and with specifics rather than vague generalities or arbitrary calculations provided by the self-interested consultants.

Meanwhile, our aldermen can gain a much-needed reality check on how much sense it makes to quadruple the size of the police station by going to their bosses and demanding that their workplace be quadrupled in size.  And then they can let us know how long it took, and what kind of tools they needed, to remove their bosses’ boots from their derrieres.

A Culture Of Secrecy


Except in certain national security situations, secrecy in government usually ends badly for the average taxpaying citizens. This is especially true in the operation of our local government bodies, which rarely deal with matters where secrecy is an absolute necessity – notwithstanding how eagerly most public officials run into closed session to escape public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, the longer things remain secret, the easier it is for any adverse effects to become irreversible. And the easier it is for the public officials responsible for them to avoid accountability – whether because facts are lost over time, or because officials leave office and find it easy to pass the buck to their successors.

Secrecy can take many forms: non-disclosure, incomplete disclosure, and outright misinformation are three examples. The first two were on display in three articles from last week’s Herald-Advocate: “Uptown TIF revenues top predictions,” “‘Typo’ or zoning loophole?” and “New site for police station is under consideration” (December 13, 2007).

  • “Uptown TIF…” displays the typical governmental practice of using the press to disseminate only good news, however incomplete it might be. In this case, City Mgr. Tim Schuenke trotted out “new calculations and predictions” that he claims show how the Uptown Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) District will generate higher revenues – starting next year and continuing until the TIF is due to expire in the year 2027 – than were projected just two years ago.

We love good news as much as the next watchdog, but why are only “revenue” figures included in that article? Why no mention anywhere of the expenses and the debt the City has incurred or expects to incur to generate those revenues? And, more importantly, why doesn’t that article or the actual Schuenke report [pdf] disclose who prepared those projections, and what data and assumptions underlie them? Is the big difference between the 2005 projections and these latest ones primarily the result of the most recent reassessment of property values?

Of course, by the time we find out whether the TIF revenues really will exceed expenses by 2010 instead of 2019 (as projected in 2005), Schuenke – who has already announced his retirement and is expected to leave Park Ridge for Wisconsin – will be long gone. So much for his accountability.

  • “Typo…” discusses a potential change in the language of the new zoning ordinance that would tie R-5 multi-family residential zoning district to the boundaries of the “Central Business District” rather than to the “B-4 Uptown Business District” as the ordinance currently provides. As reported, this change would increase the amount of land that could become the subject of more R-5 developments beyond the area that is generally considered as “Uptown.”

Director of Community Development Randy Derifield claims that this change is needed because it’s inappropriate to use one zoning designation (i.e., “B-4”) in describing the boundaries of another (i.e., “R-5”). He doesn’t say that it’s illegal, however, nor does he explain what adverse affects the City could suffer if the current “B-4” language were retained.

He also doesn’t explain how this “inappropriate” zoning term got past the Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee’s “Principal Consultant,” Jacques Gourguenchon, and Associate Arista Strungys – as well as committee chair Ald. (former) Kirke Machon and committee members Ald. Rich DiPietro; Ann Tennes; attorney Gary Zimmerman; Atul Karkhanis; attorney Ellen Upton; Brian Kidd; Philip Mitchell; attorney Cynthia Funkhouser; Timothy Metropolus; Rob Lohens; Judy Barclay; attorney Joseph Cwik; attorney Terry McConville; Tom Provencher; Anita Rifkind and attorney Aurora Abella-Austriaco.

And by the way – Derifield is also retiring from his City employment, so his accountability for this change (if it occurs) will be zero.

  • “New site…” reports on the pursuit of a site for the new police station – a site so secret “[neither] Schuenke nor Police Chief Jeff Caudill would reveal the location.” But why aren’t they talking? Why isn’t the proposed location of the new cop shop a matter of public record?

It can’t be because they’re afraid to lose the deal or get gouged on the price, as the City has condemnation powers that can force the owner(s) to sell the City the property at its fair market value – and coming up with that value presumably is the reason why the City got its appraisal earlier this year and the secret property owner is having its own appraisal done now.

So we ask again: What’s the reason for all the secrecy? Could it be that the City is trying to put together a sweetheart deal with a favored “insider” before the public finds out about it and raises objections to taking yet another piece of private property off the tax rolls – especially when it purchased property on Courtland adjacent to the current City Hall parking lot just a couple of years ago for the express purpose of constructing a new police station there?

And remember the last time the City acted secretly to buy property for a new cop shop: It almost gave “insider” Owen Hayes II a quick $200,000 “flipping” profit. “515 Busse Highway – The Park Ridge Police Station That Almost Was” (Watchdog 11-15-07)

Isn’t it time we ended Park Ridge’s “Culture of Secrecy”?

Napleton’s Secret Santa?


This week’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal brings a trifecta of holiday cheer.  

You can deck your halls with the City of Park Ridge’s 5% tax levy increase (“Aldermen Approve 5% Increase In Property Tax”).  You can jingle your bells with the Park District’s more modest 2.95% increase (“Park District Eyes $5.2 Million Property Tax Levy”).  Or you can let Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 really roast your chestnuts with its 11% tax increase (“Dist. 64 Agrees On $54.4 Million Tax Levy, 11% Increase”).

But before you start spiking the egg nog over the fact that the recent triennial re-assessment sent your home’s assessed value soaring by 25-40% while your market value actually may have declined by 10-15%, you might want to hoist your mug of glogg in a toast of good cheer to those lucky folks who own Napleton Cadillac. 

That’s because it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Napleton – and for PRC Partners, which is likely to purchase the old Napleton Cadillac property for more condos and/or townhouses.  City Manager “Tiny Tim” Schuenke and the City’s Finance and Budget Chairman “Richie D” DiPietro are eagerly cutting a deal that will give Napleton $400,000 of the City’s TIF revenues to pay for the environmental cleanup of the old Napleton Cadillac site – which Napleton contaminated during all those years it was running a profitable dealership there. 

Apart from the financial concerns, it sure seems like wrongheaded policy to effectively reward environmental polluters by bailing them out from the consequences of their conduct, especially when the polluter clearly has the ability to pay its own way.  Is that the kind of message we, as a community, should be sending? 

And as if that weren’t enough, the City is ready to cut a tax revenue sharing arrangement with Napleton whereby the City will share any sales tax revenues generated by the new Napleton (formerly Tom Noe) dealership on a 50-50 basis once Napleton crosses a certain tax threshold – which is looking to be around the $225,000 the City says it has collected in sales tax revenue from Napleton during the past 12 months.

Why the giveaway?

One reason being floated by the City is that the Napleton deal is a lot like the giveaway to Bredemann when the City bought the Toyota and Buick properties for TA2.  You know how it goes: We let the first guy fleece us, so it wouldn’t be fair not to let the second guy do the same.  And the standard party line on these kinds of deals is that if you don’t give businesses such “incentives” they will leave for other communities. 

That kind of rationalization reminds us a lot of the scene in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” where the black sheriff holds a gun to his own head and stops the onrushing white citizens in their tracks with the warning: “Next man makes a move, the [N-word] gets it!”  Sure, an auto dealership that’s been located in our town for the past X number of years might pick up and leave.  But let’s face a simple fact: If a multi-million dollar business will pack it in over the kind of dollars we’re talking about here, it’s commitment to the community isn’t worth “a pitcher of warm spit” (borrowing a term John Nance Garner once used to describe the vice presidency of the United States).

What we’re really talking about here is something that’s becoming more and more prevalent in Park Ridge: Greed, pure and simple.  And also the increasingly well-known ability of savvy and well-connected businessmen like Bill Napleton and Joe Bredemann to pretty much have their way with a lifelong bureaucrat like “Tiny Tim” Schuenke, and a rubber-stamp official like Richie D.

But let’s not forget about our mayor at this festive time of year:  Howard “Old Fezziwig” Frimark, who amazingly saw nothing wrong with leading the City’s “Napleton” negotiating team even though Napleton Cadillac gave Frimark’s mayoral campaign $1,000 [pdf].  When somebody on the Council raised a question about the apparent conflict of interest, Frimark’s response was to disclose – at the January 22, 2007 Council meeting [pdf] – simply that he had “an economic interest with Napleton Cadillac,” without explaining the nature of that interest (or if it was, indeed, limited to that $1,000 campaign contribution), the extent or dollar value of that interest, or how long it had existed.

So sing a chorus or two of “Silent Night,” Park Ridgians, and worry not for Napleton and PRC.  Visions of sugarplums – and our tax dollars – are already dancing in their heads.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles And Bits – Box 2


Early Retirement…Or Evacuation?: At its meeting this past February 19th, the Park Ridge City Council, with the blessing of Mayor Howard Frimark, adopted an “Early Retirement Incentive” program (ERI) designed to give senior City employees a financial incentive to retire early by contributing City money to their pension fund. 

The reasons given for such a program are principally two: it’s supposed to save money in the long run by replacing the more senior, highly-paid employees with younger, cheaper ones; and it brings in “new blood” and “fresh ideas.” 

Frankly, we have never been fans of this kind of program because it seems like the replacement personnel tend to cost almost as much as the folks they replaced (and, if they are any good, they soon get raises that close whatever initial gap there may have been); and because they rarely provide enough new good ideas to justify themselves on that basis.

Plus, if the old guys and gals weren’t providing enough value for their salary and benefits, why were they kept around as long – and paid as much – and they were?

Since the ERI was passed, we have seen Public Works Director Joe Saccomanno, Asst. Development Director Brian Emanuel, Community Preservation and Development Director Randy Dangerfield, and City Manager Tim Schuenke all tender their resignations.  Rumor has it that some, if not all, of them found some additional impetus toward the exit by the increasingly political environment of City Hall.

Rumor also has it that Mayor Frimark is doing the old “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” to Police Chief Jeff Caudill because he wants to install one of his cronies in that position.  Leading contenders?  Speculation centers on former PRPD officers William Hominick and Bob Kristy, with the dark horse candidate being a current member of the Des Plaines P.D. who is married to a close Friend of Frimark.

Cop Shop Fever: Now that the School District 64 Educational Services Center (“ESC”) building has been labeled a no-go, the Park Ridge P.D. is back in the hunt for a site for the big new cop shop it insists on building rather than renovating (and perhaps adding onto) the current facility. 

Forget about the fact that the City already owns two parcels – the old public works property at Greenwood and Elm, and the Courtland parcel just south of City Hall that the City bought almost two years ago specifically for a new cop shop.  The City is looking for a new site, and we have to wonder if the main impetus is private profit rather than public benefit.

As Richie Daley and his cronies in Chicago know so well, there’s money to be made from real estate deals between favored developers and public entities whose management either understands what’s going on or is about as business-savvy as a zucchini. It’s pretty well known that the property near the AT&T building is back in play.  A couple of parcels on N. Northwest Hwy. have also been hinted at.  Not surprisingly, when we tried to check the ownership of those parcels, we were stonewalled by land trusts and Limited Liability Corporations that conceal the identities of the true owners.  That’s the way the game is played when you’re trying to fly an “insider” or “sweetheart” deal under the public’s radar.

And that’s why we suggest that before the City buys another piece of land for any reason, it should insist on a full written disclosure under oath from the nominal seller as to the identity of each land trust beneficiary, each LLC member, each corporate shareholder, and each limited or general partner that has any interest in the parcel. 

Where big bucks from the public treasury are being paid out, the public deserves to know exactly who’s receiving them.

A Salute To Park District President Marty Maloney: Recently the Herald-Advocate printed a letter from one of our editors praising Park District president Marty Maloney for his principled vote against keeping Oakton Pool open for another big money-losing season (“A Profile in Courage,” Nov. 29 [pdf]).

Oakton Pool is a classic example of financial mismanagement of our tax dollars by public bodies, something on which the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District does not have a monopoly.

What business person in his/her right mind would keep open an enterprise that was consistently losing $50,000 to $70,000 a year because it didn’t have enough customers, it had too high overhead, and there was no realistic prospect of turning the situation around?  But even though Oakton Pool has been hemorrhaging red ink for years now, the Park District Board and Staff – save for Maloney – don’t have the nerve to close the spigot because it keeps a tiny-but-vocal minority of citizens happy.

But because we aren’t just critics, we will offer the Park District a solution: If Oakton Pool is as much of a treasure to the community as its fans claim, let’s see them put their money where their mouths are.  Let them all “subscribe” for an “Oakton Only” swim pass that will be priced at a premium calculated by the Park District to permit Oakton to operate on a break-even basis this summer.  If enough subscriptions are received by a March or April deadline, Oakton opens for another season; if not, it doesn’t.

Or…the Park District can keep the Oakton spigot open and watch another $50-70,000 of our tax dollars go down the drain.

“Hello, Kalo!” – Part II: Our recent bit about the Kalo Foundation’s putting the arm on the City of Park Ridge for $5,000 to fund a program and exhibition at the Park Ridge Public Library (“Kibbles And Bits,” 11-26-07) caught the attention of some Kalo-ers, who thought we were unfairly picking on this good cause.

We have no grudge against the Kalo Foundation, and we have previously admitted that $5,000 isn’t a big hit to the public purse.  But we also oppose any policy that provides public funding of private foundations whose purpose and function have no clear connection to the provision of essential municipal services.  And we like it even less when the finances of the private foundation seeking public funding are not readily viewable by the public, so that the taxpayers can judge for themselves whether the foundation is a serious endeavor rather than more of a hobby for the people involved in it.

Our tip to the Kalo Foundation:  Put your finances – your budget, your balance sheet and your profit and loss statement – on your website.  And come up with a “business plan” – which you can also post on your website – that explains exactly what you want to do and a concrete plan for getting it done.  Or just stop asking for our tax dollars and truly be a “private” foundation.

Time For Lights…Camera…Action!


If you’ve looked at our “banner” you know that the motto of PublicWatchdog is a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Information is the currency of democracy.” 

More than fifty years after televisions became commonplace in most homes, we can watch the workings of the United States Congress and the Cook County Board from the comfort of our own easy chairs.  But if you want to see for yourself what our City Council is up to, you either have to hike down to City Hall or wait for the local papers to come out and hope that (a) they actually covered the meeting; and (b) they reported the important stuff accurately and completely.

But all that may change if Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) has his way.  Schmidt wants the City to start televising Council meetings live – and to replay recorded meetings – on the City’s public access channel that apparently was de-activated due to non-use.  According to Schmidt, “a better-informed public would be well worth the cost” of setting up and operating the system.  We agree.

But leave it to City Hall to find a way to gum up a good idea and keep the voters in the dark.  According to a recent story in the Herald-Advocate (“City meetings on TV could cost taxpayers $131,000+ in first year,” November 22)[pdf], the City wants to set up a Cadillac broadcasting system when a Chevy would be enough.  It’s an old government trick: If you don’t want something, make it so expensive that it becomes financially unattractive.

Instead of installing cameras only in the Council Chambers at a relatively modest cost (approximately $50,000, as best as we can estimate from the sketchy numbers the City has released), Finance & Budget Committee chairman Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) and the bureaucrats have come up with a grand plan that requires the installation of cameras in at least three rooms at City Hall and one room at the Public Works building.  But that’s not all.

Although simply televising the meetings would be a quantum leap beyond what we currently have – which is nothing – live and recorded television broadcasts apparently are not enough for Richie D and the Killer Bs (as in “Bureaucrats”): They also want live streaming video and recorded video online because they “have a feeling most people would view it that way.” 

Here’s a suggestion: Wire up the Council Chambers only, so that the citizens can watch the Council meetings live and via taped re-broadcasts on cable access.  Then work out the scheduling so that most, if not all, of the various committees can hold their meetings in the Council Chambers rather than in two other City Hall rooms or the Public Works building.  And, at least for now, forget about wiring up the three extra venues, as well as about the streaming Internet.  That should save at least around $80,000 right off the bat, if not more.

Mark Twain is credited with comparing the making of laws to the making of sausage, and suggesting that people who like either shouldn’t watch them being made.  Being able to watch our City Council in action on television might not be pretty, but at least it would let the average voter see for himself where all the baloney is coming from.

The Golden Girl


Most of you probably have never heard of Linda Szczepanski.  Until recently, neither had we. 

But “Linda Ski,” as she is known in some quarters, might be one of the bigger “players” in Park Ridge politics by virtue of being the political hired-gun not only to Mayor Howard Frimark but also to two of his wing-men: Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) and Ald. Tom Carey (6th Ward).

We found out about her in researching “Hello, Kalo?” (”Kibbles and Bits,” November 26), where we questioned the wisdom of any local government body spending tax dollars on privately-owned special interests – like the City is considering doing for the Kalo Foundation, albeit at a relatively paltry $5,000.  We noted the potential for undue influence where members of such special interests have close ties to the government body from whom the funds are sought. 

Although the marquee names on the Kalo Foundation board of directors may be Vice-President Nancy Frimark, the mayor’s wife, and Secretary Sharon Curcio, the long-time executive director of the semi-secretive but now-disbanded Economic Development Corporation under several prominent chairmen (including Howard Frimark), we found it interesting that Szczepanski’s name also appeared there.

Why?  First of all, because Linda Ski is a Niles resident.  But more importantly, because she is a public relations professional and political operative who has been Mayor Frimark’s political “go to” gal since at least February 2005.  He paid her almost $28,000 during his 2005 mayoral campaign, before loaning her earlier this year to Allegretti and Carey for their aldermanic campaigns – which, in turn, paid her at least $4,000 and $4,300, respectively, for her services.

Or did they?  Actually, we’re not quite sure how much money Linda Ski got from the Allegretti and Carey campaigns because it’s not clear who was really paying her bills.  Schedule B of the “Allegretti for Alderman” D-2 campaign disclosure form [pdf] reports that Allegretti’s fund paid “LMS Political Solutions” (which stands for “Linda M. Szczepanski” and also goes by “LMS”) $4,008.05 this year; and Schedule B of the “Citizens for Carey” D-2 [pdf] shows payments totaling $3,581.29 to LMS and a payment of $709.65 to Linda Ski directly.

But while the Illinois State Board of Elections Campaign Disclosure website shows LMS [pdf] receiving five (5) separate payments in 2007 totaling over $2,300 and Linda Szczepanski [pdf] receiving six (6) separate payments totaling over $4,100, all of those payments are shown as having come from “Friends for Frimark for Mayor.”  Carey’s D-2 also reveals that “Friends for Frimark” provided $3,127.73 of the $7,025 in total contributions the Carey campaign took in.

And just to complete the circle, the “Friends for Frimark for Mayor” D-2 for 2007 [pdf] discloses those contributions to “Citizens for Carey,” shows no contributions going to “Allegretti for Alderman,” but does show a $750.36 contribution to “Friends of Robert Kristy,” the campaign fund for the Frimark ally who lost his 7th Ward aldermanic race to incumbent Frank Wsol.

One additional point of interest: Szczepanski is currently employed as Vice President of Empower Public Relations (, the p.r. firm that just so happens to be representing Maine Twp. Trustee and Republican candidate for a 12th Judicial Subcircuit judgeship, Laura Morask.  So it looks like Linda Ski’s reach also may extend into Maine Twp. government.

What’s the bottom line on all this – other than perhaps somebody needs to be a bit more diligent with their paperwork?  Maybe it’s that if Allegretti and Carey want to be taken seriously as “independent” voices for their constituents rather than Mayor Frimark’s puppets, they have to overcome at least an inference that they owe their political souls to Frimark.  Or maybe it’s that we just need to pay a bit more attention to the “who knows whom” of Park Ridge government, and to a certain paid political propagandist with the cozy relationship to City Hall.

But one thing is certain:  If you’re looking for someone who moves in the “right” circles of the current City of Park Ridge administration to put in a good word for you or your organization, Linda Ski is somebody you should know.