Dumb And Dumber


Those citizens who have been going to City Council meetings for years have some experience with bizarre and ridiculous behavior by our elected and appointed public officials.  But even the most jaded of the Council Watchers are reporting that Monday night’s meeting may have set new lows in our version of the Republic form of government.

For those who haven’t yet heard, the Council effectively handed more than $2 Million of your tax dollars to Bill Napleton and his car dealerships in what was nothing less than theater of the absurd – featuring two of Mayor Howard Frimark’s simplest alderpuppets: Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward) and Ald. Tom Carey (6th Ward).  And their respective skits, while very different in theme, illustrate just how much Park Ridge has fallen under Frimark’s greasy thumb.

Let’s start with Carey, who reportedly gave the impression that he was unsuccessfully auditioning for the television show “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” when he appeared to become totally baffled with simple addition and subtraction in connection with an amendment to the Napleton resolution that increased the amount of the City’s sales-tax sharing – first by $20,000, then by $40,000.  He seemed too stumped to even articulate what was bewildering him, despite the prompting from his lord and master, Mayor Howard, who must have been wondering: “I paid $3,100 [pdf] for this guy?” 

The fog still had not lifted over Carey’s head when it was his turn to vote, and he momentarily lost his powers of speech – although some members of the audience now insist that Frimark was drinking water at that time.  When Carey regained his voice (or Frimark swallowed?), he voted “present” – ensuring a 3-3 tie (Schmidt, DiPietro and Wsol voting “No”, Bach, Allegretti and Ryan voting “Yes”) and giving Mayor Frimark the right to cast the tie-breaking “Yes” vote in favor of his $1,000 campaign contributor.

But amazingly enough, Carey’s brain-cramp pales in comparison with the outright buffoonery of  Ald. Bach, who prefaced his vote by excoriating Bill Napleton (gracing the Council with his presence to ensure that the “done deal” really got done) for not only disrespecting the Council but also insulting the goodwill of the people of Park Ridge by holding them up for the $2.4 Million of environmental clean-up money and sales-tax sharing.  Bach noted that he had purchased his current Cadillac from Napleton but that when it came time to buy his next one, he would be going elsewhere.

But then he turned around and voted “Yes,” explaining that he had talked to “about 30 people” in his ward who were all in favor of the Napleton windfall – the implication being that Bach didn’t like the deal but was just mindlessly doing what his constituents told him to do.  Because we can’t yet prove that Bach was lying about those 30 people, we can only surmise that he had to question upwards of 100 residents to get 30 affirmatives, or that he first told those 30 people that without these concessions Napleton would leave Park Ridge, causing the end of the world as we know it.

Apparently Ald. Bach is unfamiliar with the following quote from Edmund Burke (the British statesman, Don, not the Chicago alderman) about the obligations of the people’s representatives:

    Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Speech to the Electors of Bristol [November 3, 1774]

The net effect of Bach’s betrayal of his constituents is that Napleton may have lost one $40,000 sale but gained $2.4 Million.  In other words, Bach won’t give Napleton $40 grand of his own money, but he gladly gave Napleton a whopping $2.4 Million of our money

But while Carey and Bach may have been dumb and dumber, the person who really sold Park Ridge taxpayers down the river on this deal is our wily but ethically-challenged Mayor, who not only was involved in the negotiation of the Napleton deal with one of his elite $1,000-and-up contributors, but also cast the deciding vote for that deal.  Not lost on the audience was Frimark’s repeated references to $100,000 of sales tax proceeds as “Napleton’s money,” even before the deal was approved.

Of course, Frimark’s alibi is that his status as a beneficiary of Napleton’s largesse is a matter of public record, and indeed it is.  But as with most things Frimark, this deal smells.  In our opinion, a completely ethical official in his shoes would have done the honorable thing and recused himself from both negotiating and voting on such a matter.  After all, at some point Carey would have found a calculator to help him with the addition and subtraction and then cast his vote as instructed. 

But Mayor Frimark clearly sees himself as the William Beavers of Park Ridge: The “hog with the big nuts.”  And so long as he’s surrounded by enough little piglets doing their best to keep him happy, our town will remain “for sale” – and not even to the highest bidder, but to those with connections to the mayor.

Adding Insult To Injury


Last week we wrote about how lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke was aiding and abetting Alderpuppets Robert Ryan and Tom Carey in their proposed giveaway of as much as $2.4 Million of our money to Napleton Cadillac and PRC LLC, even as he was proposing a $600,000 deficit budget for 2008-09 and warning of future financial problems. (“Another Done Deal?”)

But Schuenke apparently isn’t content simply to throw away our money – he and his allies, including Mayor Howard Frimark, also want to keep us in the dark about how it’s being done.

Let’s start with the Napleton/PRC fiasco.  Even though the agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting shows that the Sales Tax Rebate Agreement is scheduled for a vote, the City/Schuenke have deprived the public of the ability to read and consider for themselves the terms of that agreement by not posting it on the City’s website (as of 12:01 a.m. today).  Although PublicWatchdog published that agreement [pdf] on January 11 (“The Napleton $2 Million Secret”), that’s no substitute or excuse for the City Manager leaving it off the City’s website of materials related to tonight’s meeting – unless, of course, his goal is to keep the public in the dark.

And that’s not the only thing on tonight’s agenda that Schuenke, et al. seems intent on concealing from us.

The Council is scheduled to adjourn to closed session “to Discuss Land Acquisition” without even identifying the City’s purpose for acquiring the land, or the land it is considering acquiring.  We have reason to believe, however, that the concealed purpose is to discuss a site for the latest big-spending project, the new cop shop; and the site in question is 720 Garden Street, allegedly owned by American Eagle Insurance.

As best as we can determine from our own independent recollection and a review of selected Council meeting minutes, the Council has never formally established a set of criteria for any potential cop shop site in order to determine whether that site is “ideal,” “preferred,“ or merely “suitable.”  Consequently, the Council has not even publicly discussed, much less reached an agreement on, whether the 720 Garden Street site is the best one for the new cop shop.

The mere fact that the owner of that site might be willing to sell it shouldn’t be the – or even a – dispositive factor when we’re looking for the best location for a facility that is supposed to serve our community for the next 30-50 years and cost us $20 Million or more.  Until the qualities and suitability of 720 Garden Street, or any other site under consideration, have been measured against a set of agreed-upon criteria that have been publicly debated, the Council’s running into closed session to hide this process from us citizens is nothing short of cowardly, irresponsible and outrageous.

Schuenke and the aldercowards are also scheduled to retreat into closed session for another discussion of which of the seven big and expensive law firms they’ve been interviewing to conduct an “investigation” into the Park Ridge Police Department should get the job.  Why discussing the qualifications of law firms for such a purpose keeps on occurring in closed session is a question Schuenke and the Council has not answered, other than with the typically bureaucratic and juvenile “the law permits us to do it.”  You can almost hear the “Nyah, nyah, nyah nyah, nyah” in the background.

But we have acquired a copy of a memo from Schuenke [pdf] in which he proposes a cheaper alternative to the full-blown law firm investigation: an unidentified consulting firm – the only consulting firm interviewed – “that does management audits of Police [sic] departments in order to determine where improvements can be made in terms of management of the department.”  And guess what?  Schuenke says it would “be much less costly” than the big law firm investigation, although the real kicker is that it “would probably involve some sort of separation agreement with Chief Caudill.”

Bingo!  How convenient for our on-his-way-out-the-door-and-heading-back-to-Wisconsin City Manager to hand Mayor Frimark a way to get rid of yet another senior City staffer so that Frimark can install one of his own lackeys in that position.  And at the same time claiming that such an option would save the taxpayers the money that Frimark, Schuenke and the Council have devoted the past couple of months to interviewing for the “right” law firm to spend it on!

Given how Frimark’s alderpuppets control a majority of the City Council, the only question that appears unsettled is whether Des Plaines Deputy Chief of Police Angela Burton – a/k/a Mrs. Mike Rozovics, wife of the head of a local accounting firm and yet another of the $1,000-and-up contributors [pdf] to Friends for Frimark – will get the job now, or will they let Deputy Chief Tom Swoboda be a place-holder just long enough to boost his pension?   

Yes, it all smells rotten.  And as the saying goes: “A fish stinks from the head down.”

Another Done Deal?


This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reports that this Monday night (January 28), the Park Ridge City Council is scheduled to vote on giving Napleton Cadillac – along with favored Uptown developer PRC LLC – as much as a $2.4 Million windfall of our tax dollars. (“Napleton deal heads for council,” Jan. 24).

This irresponsible giveaway appears to have been engineered by a two-thirds majority of the City Council’s Finance and Budget Committee, specifically two of Mayor Howard Frimark’s most dependable alderpuppets, Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward), with plenty of assistance from lame duck City Manager Tim Schuenke. 

In a pleasant surprise, the chair of that committee, 2nd Ward Ald. Rich DiPietro, seems to have temporarily shed his customary go-along-to-get-along ways and is proclaiming his opposition to this deal as currently structured because it gives away a little more than he thinks it should.  For a consummate “Yes”-man like Richie D, that’s the equivalent of John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence – so we’re giving him a round of applause for that. 

And we’re giving him another round of applause for finally figuring out that the City has no business tossing away $400,000 of our tax dollars to bail Napleton out of its own environmental problems just so it can sell its property to PRC, presumably at a nice fat profit – one that will be $400,000 fatter thanks to us taxpaying chumps.  DiPietro, clearly on a roll, even notes that the $400,000 could be better used to pay down the City’s still-substantial (over $2 Million?) TIF debt; and that bailing out Napleton could set a bad precedent for the City in dealing with future environmental problems on private land. 

But, sad to say, Richie still doesn’t quite have the cojones to openly reject any and all tax-sharing arrangements with Napleton even though any such arrangement – irrespective of the amounts or percentages – can set the very same kind of bad precedent that the environmental bailout will, but with much larger costs to the taxpayers.  And because tax-sharing isn’t limited just to those relatively few properties with environmental problems, it allows virtually any business to play the “We won’t come to/stay in Park Ridge unless you give us some of your sales tax money” card.

Giving in to that kind of extortion – and extortion is exactly what it is, only gussied-up with the warm and fuzzy term “tax-sharing” – is also bad economic policy because it creates a false sense of Park Ridge’s value as a retail market.  Face it, folks: If Park Ridge needs to bribe businesses to come here or stay here, then not only are we lying to ourselves about how attractive a market we are, but we’re also setting ourselves up as easy marks for the carpetbaggers who would like nothing more than to pull us into bidding wars with other communities, many of whom have more money and more available sites than we do.

For those of you keeping score at home, Ryan is the alderman who met privately with the developer of the Executive Office Plaza project before ignoring hundreds of his constituents and voting to give EOP the extra density zoning variances that could add between $500,000 and $1 Million to its profits.  And Ryan’s campaign treasurer, local realtor Owen Hayes II, was disciplined by the State of Illinois for trying to make a quick $200,000 profit from the City by selling it a parcel of Busse Hwy. property without disclosing he was the owner. So Ryan appears very comfortable with relocating our money from the public treasury into the pockets of private business owners. 

Carey’s main claim to fame this far into his budding political career is that Frimark recruited him to run for 6th Ward alderman and bankrolled Carey’s campaign [pdf] to the tune of more than $3,100, or almost 40% of Carey’s total funding, making Frimark by far the single largest contributor to “Citizens for Carey.”  What do you think the chances are that the mayor might have a few ideas for Carey on how good this deal is for Park Ridge and for Napleton, who itself just happens to be…wait for it…one of Frimark’s $1,000-and-up campaign contributors?

But let’s not forget our very lame-duck (but still toxic to Park Ridge’s economic health) City Manager, Tim Schuenke, who not only endorses the deal but also trivializes the $400,000 environmental handout by claiming that “[t]axes on the new development [in Uptown] will pay for that $400,000.”  That’s the same Tim Schuenke who, in a story that shares the very same page of the H-A with the Napleton story, predicts a $600,000+ budget deficit for fiscal year 2008-09 and warns of future budget problems due to rapidly escalating pension expenses. (“Schuenke predicts $600,000+ shortfall for city budget next year,” Jan. 24)

Gee, Tim, wouldn’t that $400,000 you’re giving away to Napleton/PRC fill almost 2/3 of this coming year’s budget deficit – without us having to wait to 2010-11 or whenever it is that the TIF will actually dig itself out of its current multi-million dollar hole and finally start paying for itself?

Fortunately, Schuenke is scheduled to retire on February 29 and is reportedly heading back to his native Wisconsin, so this may be the last of his mischief.  We can only hope that the City hires a new city manager who either is from Park Ridge or at least wants to become invested enough in our community to actually care about its long-term future.  Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like this Napleton fiasco – along with the 2008-09 red-ink budget – are Schuenke’s going-away presents to the suckers of Park Ridge. 

But if most Park Ridge residents don’t really care about how they keep being bled – by higher and higher taxes that go not for essential city services but into the pockets of special interests who all seem to be tied in some way or other to Mayor Frimark and his Merry Band – then nobody will show up at the Council meeting Monday night to tell the Council “No!”  And Ryan, Carey, and two other alderpuppets to be named later by Frimark, will do whatever it takes for what looks like a “done deal” to actually become one.

And the easier it becomes for Bill Napleton, who praises this deal as “a positive thing for Park Ridge and for Napleton,” to be proved half-right.

It’s The Same Old Song


Last week Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed to a mass transit funding bailout that will raise the sales tax in Cook County and several collar counties served by the mass transit system.  But “Hot Rod” Blago, ever the calculating politician, attached a $30 million “string” to his deal: Senior citizens will get free rides on our mass transit systems. 

Anybody who stops to think about this even momentarily might wonder about the relationship of a sales tax increase to free transit for seniors.  There is none – Blago just wanted to pander to a heavy-voting special interest group with another entitlement.  “But what about all those seniors who will be paying the higher sales tax but don’t ride public transportation” you might ask?  Blago and his brain-trust are counting on nobody thinking past the superficial “for the seniors” gloss and being able to see just what dubious public policy it really is. 

Thinking about this particular “for the seniors” pandering by Blago reminds us of another “senior” entitlement at a local level, one we wrote briefly about several weeks ago (“Some New Year’s Resolutions For 2008”):

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!

The Park Ridge Senior Center, owned and operated by the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, is also supported in part by tax dollars from other governmental bodies such as the City of Park Ridge and Maine Township, as well as by charitable foundations like the Park Ridge Community Fund.

In the past few weeks the Senior Center got some well-deserved kudos in both of our local newspapers for some 30 or so of its members making 54 blankets for wounded soldiers coming home from Iraq.  Although we question the wisdom of that war, we are staunch supporters of those sent to fight it and believe they deserve the very best this country has to offer – in supplies, equipment and medical treatment while they’re over there, and in medical treatment, education, training, employment and support services upon their return. 

But we do question the cost-to-benefit ratio of the Senior Center, at least in connection with the way it has been operating for at least the past decade.  That’s because not only is the building’s use limited solely to seniors, but it’s membership is only around 1,200 seniors, a significant percentage of whom aren’t even Park District residents and taxpayers. 

That wouldn’t be so bad but for one very troubling fact: The operations of the Senior Center have been burning through hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars.  The Park District is estimating an almost $183,000 loss for 2007 alone!  At that rate, one could argue that the taxpayers simply gave more than $150 to each of those 1,200 members in 2007; or that those 54 blankets cost us almost $3,400 apiece!  And for 2008, the Park District is budgeting [pdf] a $188,000 operating loss!!  Why?

One reason is that those Senior Center members pay ridiculous “membership dues” of $30* per year, apparently to try to maintain the charade that they aren’t really receiving welfare from the District’s taxpayers.  That’s less than the cost of a Sam’s Club membership, for crying out loud.  If that was kicked up to only $100 a year – less than 28 cents a day, still an incredible bargain for having their own clubhouse – the red ink from the Senior Center could be cut in half.  

And seniors, don’t even think about playing that “we’ve paid taxes here all our lives” card with us – because we’re not pandering politicians willing to buy that tripe in order to buy your votes.  A majority of you are probably sitting on more net assets than most of the non-senior households in town, starting with that house you bought 30-40 years ago that’s appreciated 8-10% per year on average.  And you already got a full return on your taxes, and then some, from all that taxpayer-subsidized public education and recreation your kids got (and your grandkids are now getting?).

If you want discounts just because you’re still breathing after all these years, be content with the early-bird specials at places like Denny’s that only have to answer to their stockholders.  Otherwise, it’s time to get off the public dole and start paying the costs of what you use.  Or you should start sharing that facility with other Park District customers and activities.
If we have any hope of stopping government from shoving its hand ever deeper into our pockets we need to start distinguishing “essential government services” from all the amenities and frills that some special interest or other wants – and too often gets from the unprincipled politicians who are continually trying to buy their popularity with our money. 

In the case of the Senior Center, the hard cold fact is that there’s nothing “essential” about that seniors-only playhouse on Western Avenue that warrants it getting a $188,000 handout from the taxpayers this year…or any other year.

* CORRECTION: We originally listed the annual dues as $22, but that was the old rate (although the new rate is also cheaper than a Sam’s Club membership).  We apologize for the error.

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


The winter air may be crisp, but around Park Ridge City Hall it’s also redolent with the smell of sweetheart deals.  Napleton Cadillac is inhaling the sweet scent of a potential $2 Million windfall sales tax-sharing agreement on its new property (formerly Tom Noe), while PRC continues to sniff around for $400,000 from the City to clean up the contamination on the old Napleton site it intends to buy for the construction of more condos.

The noses of cops and ordinary citizens alike are perking up to the perfumed breeze wafting in from Des Plaines along with rumors of a new “imported” police chief who is the wife of one of Mayor Frimark’s friends and campaign contributors.  And who can miss that down-home smell of meat a’cookin’ as the City continues its search for some more private land it can take off the tax rolls for the big new cop shop.

As any long-time Illinois resident knows, whenever you smell a “deal” you can usually find a campaign donor – often one of the heftier contributors to a heavyweight politician – lurking in the shadows waiting to cash in.  When it comes to Park Ridge politicians, the big dog is indisputably Mayor Howard Frimark.

And when it comes to Frimark contributors, the big dog looks to be the family of Sam Markos [pdf], owner/operator of Crystal Palace Banquets and, it appears, several other businesses whose principal offices are listed as 2648 Dempster, Park Ridge [pdf].  The Markos Family “Empire,” along with the contributions each entity made to the “Friends for Frimark for Mayor” (FFF) campaign fund, include:

·  Sam Spiros Markos [pdf] (and “Spiros Sam Markos”) ($3,000);
·  Crystal Palace Banquets, Inc. [pdf] ($4,200);
·  Crystal Landings LLC [pdf] ($3,500);
·  ENK Brentwood LLC [pdf] ($1,500);
·  Market Square Lot 2 LLC [pdf] ($2,000);
·  Market Square Schaumburg LLC [pdf] ($4,500 ); and
·  Markos Management Corp. [pdf] ($2,000).

The grand total: A whopping $20,700 to FFF between December 17, 2004 and December 27, 2006.

From what we can see, no other contributor or group of related contributors to FFF comes close to matching that number.  But the Markos Family interests also hedged their bets by making $6,500 in contributions – from “Spiros P. Markos” ($1,500), Market Square Schaumburg LLC ($3,000) and ENK Brentwood LLC ($2,000) – to Frimark’s opponent, Michael Tinaglia, putting them among Tinaglia’s largest contributors as well.

That kind of hedging also suggests that the Markos interests may be more like “players” than like “good government” types, especially now that we’re getting a whiff of the newest aroma emanating from City Hall in connection with this week’s Park Ridge Zoning Board of Appeals meeting agenda [pdf].  That agenda indicates that somebody has applied for “several variances” of a “major” nature for the property at 2648 Dempster Street – the Markos property – “as part of the construction of a new CVS Pharmacy.”

The City’s website has posted no other reports or documentation to explain anything more about the variances being sought, or what the exact nature of Thursday night’s ZBA proceeding will be.  Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising given Park Ridge’s “A Culture Of Secrecy” and the fact that it took more than a year from the date Trader Joe’s signed its lease in Uptown for the City to admit that Trader Joe’s had committed to a store in Park Ridge, but it is troubling nonetheless.

These variances for CVS will be considered by the sitting ZBA members [pdf], who serve as our new zoning code’s enforcers in major variance matters such as this.  And if you don’t know what the ZBA procedures are in connection with major variances, you might want to take a look at the relevant sections of the City’s new Zoning Ordinance [pdf].

A CVS pharmacy may be a fine addition to the northwest edge of Park Ridge; and if that provides a nice pay day for the Markos Family so much the better – so long as that pay day doesn’t come at the expense of Park Ridge taxpayers or violate the zoning ordinance.  If it does, you can be sure the Watchdog will pick up the scent.  

Round Up The Usual Suspects?


The City of Park Ridge, with an annual budget of over $50 Million, is a business that mainly provides services to a customer base of 37,000-plus residents.  The more efficiently and effectively those services are provided, the less expensive they should be – and, consequently, the lower our taxes should be. 

So one might expect that when looking for a replacement for early-retiring City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, the City Council might want to at least consider candidates with experience successfully running private-sector service businesses of comparable size.  After all, as reported in this week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Aldermen suggest qualities, traits for picking a new city manager” January 17), Schuenke is currently receiving a base salary of $174,046 – plus benefits that include full-time use of a city vehicle, free gasoline, a cell phone and a lap-top computer.  Not exactly slave wages.  And if the new city manager had the ability to operate with less of those expensive outside consultants the City loves to hire, there could even be extra money available for some additional performance-based compensation.

But, instead, the Park Ridge City Council hired The PAR Group search firm, which specializes in recruiting public executives from the ranks of public executives.  We can almost hear Casablancas “Inspector Renault” now, ordering his men to “round up the usual suspects.”  And just to make sure that the search process is confined to public bureaucrats, the Council has come up with a list of “must-have” qualities the candidates must possess, which include things like: “[a] strong working relationship with elected members of government”; “[i]nvolvement in community organizations”; “[a]n ability to get citizens to participate in local government”; and “[a] background in community preservation.” 

No offense to The PAR Group, but when you specialize in placing government employees in government positions, you run a strong risk of Kool-Aid intoxication.  And no offense to Mr. Schuenke, but we’re not aware of any of these qualities being required when he was hired – and we’re not too sure how many of them he possesses even now, after many years on the job.  So what’s the point of requiring these new “qualities”?

And how is the presence and extent of these “qualities” going to be accurately and objectively measured?  Exactly how, Mr. Aldermen, do you plan to measure the degree of citizen “participation” in local government – and how exactly do you plan to determine just how much credit a city manager deserves for it? 

We also don’t see the point of Ald. Rich DiPietro and his Finance & Budget Committee offering a starting salary of $150,000-$160,000.  If the city manager position truly deserves the compensation we’ve been paying Mr. Schuenke, then why are we trying to low-ball his successor – especially if we have all the hiring competition (from places like Des Plaines, Orland Park and Rolling Meadows) The PAR Group is telling the Council we face?

It’s time our City Council stopped doing the same old thing and started thinking outside the box.  Rather than look for a new city manager exclusively from the ranks of candidates who know nothing but the “tax, borrow and spend” governmental model, why not at least consider candidates who know what it takes to aggressively manage expenses and wring “profits” (in our case, “surplus”) from the existing level of revenues?

Does ComEd Dream Of Electric Sheep?


Do you remember all the way back to last August?  When we got one of those 100 year rains we seem to get about every other year?  And a good-sized portion of Park Ridge lost electrical power for as much as four days?

Maybe you were lucky enough to secure one of the last portable gasoline-operated generators.  Or maybe you weren’t – and settled for a couple of oversized coolers and a dozen bags of ice to try and salvage the food in your refrigerator.  Maybe you even got to the point of enjoying reading your newspaper by candlelight or flashlight.

About a month after the power was finally restored, Mayor Frimark made a big show of bringing in a ComEd team to a special City Council session to look very stern and assure us that ComEd would look into the situation.  And then they came back again in December to put the blame on the weather and damaged trees [pdf] .

Apparently ComEd thinks its Park Ridge customers are a bunch of sheep, able to be led anywhere and fleeced at ComEd’s leisure for its convenience.  Unfortunately, our Park Ridge City government – by accepting a couple of dog-and-pony shows instead of any commitments to real solutions – has given them little reason to think otherwise.

If we’re to believe ComEd’s “reliability manager” and his trusty power-point presentation [pdf] – and just how gullible does one have to be to do that, given ComEd’s record? – Park Ridge experienced a total of 268 power interruptions in 2007, of which 158 were caused by “miscellaneous equipment malfunctions, fallen trees and branches, and weather — primarily lightning and wind.”

First of all, we seriously question the number “268” when it comes to “power interruptions” in all of Park Ridge during all of 2007.  We know people in the First and Fifth Wards who could account for most of those in just their own blocks.  So the number 269 already has us looking askance at ComEd’s explanations.

Obviously there’s not much that can be done about the weather, but ComEd can do something about “miscellaneous equipment malfunctions.”  Has it?  And if so, what exactly has it done?  Has any of that “degraded equipment” been inspected and evaluated?  Have those 34kV lines been “thermo scanned”?  Since most of the tasks identified in ComEd’s power-point presentation are scheduled for Q1 and Q2 of 2008, has anyone at City Hall been put in charge of following up with ComEd on a regular (weekly?) basis to make sure that stuff is actually getting done?

Something can also be done about the effect of trees: Either cut them back far enough away from all the power lines so that falling limbs or even falling trees are less likely to knock the lines down, or bury the lines underground and eliminate the tree (and perhaps also the lightning) problem altogether.  Is anybody at City Hall looking seriously into both of those ideas?

And if ComEd says burying power lines isn’t feasible, is anybody at City Hall going to make sure we get a credible chapter and verse from ComEd on why not?  Because it sure seems like getting the wires buried is the most effective solution to most of these problems – which might explain why all those new subdivisions have their power lines underground.

Ironically, today’s Park Ridge Journal reports that ComEd has come up with a “seven-point plan” that reportedly has been embraced by the Northwest Municipal Conference (“NWMC”), an agency that represents 50 area municipalities (“Local Officials, ComEd Plan Faster Response Times,” Jan. 16).  That “seven-point plan” will:

[P]rovide quicker communications to area communities outlining severity of storms; improve the quality of information given to communities; provide better “boots on the ground” personnel to support municipalities; improve computer services; review of ComEd facilities with municipal leaders; work to improve customer education; and include related material in municipal newsletters.

Notice something missing?  Not one word about anything that would actually improve the reliability of ComEd’s power delivery system.  Just a lot of after-the-outage communications/public relations mumbo jumbo (“Hello, this is ComEd, the power company that cares.  If you are experiencing a power outage, rest assured that we are aware of it and are already mobilizing ‘boots on the ground’ to restore your electricity before all the food in your freezer spoils.  Thanks for calling ComEd, the power company that cares.  And remember to keep that freezer door closed.”), along with a little bit of after-the-outage remediation (“boots on the ground”).

Perhaps a seven-point puff of warm smoke up the skirts of NWMC president (and Des Plaines mayor) Tony Arredia and NWMC’s executive director Mark Fowler are enough to make them giggle, but it doesn’t do much for us.  And we suspect it doesn’t do much for all those Park Ridge residents who endure what sometimes seems like Third-World power dependability.

So here’s a suggestion for some real action, but it requires leadership from Mayor Frimark:  Convene a “summit” of Democratic State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a fellow Park Ridge resident; State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, one of Frimark’s fellow Maine Twp. Republicans; and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who Frimark traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to cozy up to back in October.  Invite an actual ComEd executive with decision-making power, not more ComEd public relations and “reliability” twerps.

Then get a solid commitment from ComEd that it’s going to focus on PREVENTING outages rather than simply telling us how screwed we are (but how much ComEd loves us) after an outage occurs; or trucking in “boots on the ground” from Tennessee or New Jersey a couple of days after the power goes out.

Can you do that, Mr. Mayor?  Will you do that, Mr. Mayor?

If you can and will, we bet ComEd will even let you cut a ribbon when the first power line is buried.  If you can’t or won’t, just let us know so that we can start shopping for generators or ice chests.

“Survey Says…”


Any day now 1,200 “randomly selected” Park Ridge residents should be receiving the City of Park Ridge’s newest survey which, as recently reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City to ask: What do you think?” Dec. 20, 2007), will ask residents to rate things about Park Ridge like shopping opportunities, air quality, snow removal, taxes, the quality of city services, garbage collection, ease of travel within the city, access to affordable housing, childcare and health care.  

Deputy City Manager Juliana Maller claims that the survey results “will help the city plan programming, set goals, determine projects to budget for, and measure performance.” 

We here at Public Watchdog have always supported citizen input on significant policy or spending issues through binding or advisory referenda.  We have always been skeptical, however, about “government by survey,” especially when the way the questions are framed influences the answers; and where there is no attempt by the surveyor to ensure that the respondents have any real knowledge of the subject matter of the questions.

Our skepticism is heightened in this case by the fact that this particular survey, sold under the trademark “National Citizen Survey,” was developed by the National Research Center, Inc. (“NRCI”) in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (“ICMA”) – an organization that effectively serves as a trade association for uber-bureaucrats who hold top appointed positions in their respective local governments.  

A quick check of the ICMA’s website reveals that one of its significant activities is bestowing self-serving awards and recognition, mainly on ICMA members and even retired members.  It’s not surprising, therefore, to read on the NRCI website that the National Citizen Survey also is award oriented, providing its local government customers with “entry to win top honors for Voice of the People Awards.” 

We have heard that in addition to the survey’s generic cookie-cutter questions, there will be three specialized Park Ridge questions originally suggested by the City and re-formulated by NRCI to make them more “meaningful”: 

1.         Please rate the quality of each of the following:
Traffic calming efforts             (excellent, good, fair, poor)
Pedestrian safety measures  (excellent, good, fair, poor) 

2.         Please rate the level of fairness with which Park Ridge Police Department services are provided to all community members. (excellent, good, fair, poor) 

3.         To what degree would you support or oppose the creation of a Historic Preservation Ordinance to protect historically and/or architecturally significant buildings and residences in Park Ridge. (strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose) 

We wonder how many survey recipients will read “traffic calming efforts” and think Xanax instead of speed bumps?  Will the survey explain all of the various “traffic calming efforts” Park Ridge already employs, so that the recipients will actually be answering in an informed manner? (We doubt it)  As for “pedestrian safety measures,” we can’t think of any.  Will the survey list them, so those surveyed will actually know what they are being asked? 

We also wonder what kind of “fairness” the second question is talking about?  Have there been any accusations that our police are tougher on 3rd Ward residents than on 5th Warders; or that they are more likely to ticket a speeding 55-year old Samoan former NFL defensive linemen in a silver 2006 Escalade than a speeding 39-year red-haired Caucasian female real estate broker driving a blue Volvo? 

And while we support protecting “historically and/or architecturally significant buildings and residences in Park Ridge,” our level of enthusiasm would certainly depend on exactly how the “Historic Preservation Ordinance” in question went about doing its job – and how much it will cost the taxpayers. 

Speaking of costing the taxpayers, the H-A article reported that the survey will cost $9,000 for the basic cookie-cutter questions, and $1,350 more because the City is splurging on an “open-ended” question:

The City of Park Ridge Police Facilities have been determined to be inadequate to meet the needs of the department and the community.  Given that something must be done, please tell us what top 3 issues or concerns are most important to address in considering how to change the Police Facilities. 

Besides the factually dubious major premise of this question – that the current police station is not meeting the needs of the community notwithstanding our downward-trending crime rate and the police department’s steady stream of awards – the potential responses are so many and varied that we suspect they will be easy to manipulate through “interpretation” by NRCI. 

To reduce that possibility, we encourage survey respondents to consider the following as their “top 3 issues or concerns” about how to change the current cop shop: 

“What feature(s) can be built into a new police station that will enable our police to predict and prevent the rare early morning gangland-style slayings of Park Ridge residents by ski mask-wearing gunmen?”  

“How many more awards can the PRPD win, and what specific features of a new police station would increase their odds of winning?” 

“Are there any cop shop designs that would aid Mayor Frimark in his engineering of the hiring of the wife of one of his good friends and political contributors as the new chief?” 

Whatever the survey answers might be, however, one thing is certain: The survey will do its best to generate a lot of feel-good responses about which our City officials can pat themselves on the back and which they can use to advance an expensive project like the new police Taj Mahal.  After all, that’s how the National Research Center keeps its cash registers cha-chinging.  

The Watchdog’s Kibbles And Bits – Box 3


The Napleton $2 Million Secret.  According to the Park Ridge Journal’s Dwight Esau, the Park Ridge City Council is making sure the tax incentive deal it’s handing to Napleton Cadillac is “done right.” (“Still Hammering Out Napleton Deal,” Jan. 9)  If you enjoy government giveaways of your tax dollars to one of Mayor Frimark’s political contributors [pdf], or relied solely on Esau’s reporting, you might even fall for that propaganda.  That’s because nowhere in his story does Esau mention that the “deal” embodied in the recently drafted “Sales Tax Rebate Agreement”[pdf] can give Napleton as much as $2 Million in sales tax rebates over 15 years – in addition to the $400,000 of “Environmental Reimbursement” by the City for demolition and environmental clean up costs of the former Cadillac site at the corner of Northwest Hwy. and Meacham so that Napleton can sell a “clean” site to Park Ridge Corporation, LLC (“PRC”) for the construction of more multi-family (as in “higher density”) residential units. 

Frankly, we don’t believe for a minute that Napleton would pack up and leave if it doesn’t get this $2.4 Million windfall.  It’s already open for business at the old Tom Noe site, and the local identity and goodwill it has established in Park Ridge over the years has got to be worth more than that.  But we can’t really blame Napleton and PRC for asking for, and accepting, the sweetheart deal City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, Mayor Frimark and his Alderpuppets seem willing to toss their way.

So is this deal truly being “done right”?  Absolutely…if you’re Napleton and PRC.

Shrinking Violet?  When she was sporting her purple ribbons and railing about those evil new “Democrat” aldermen back in 2005, nobody would have accused C.U.R.B.B.’s Judy Barclay of treating any of the local politicians who displeased her with kid gloves.  So we were surprised that her letter, published in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Citizens predicted traffic problems,” Jan. 10)[pdf] warning of the dangers of Uptown’s residential density creeping into the neighborhoods surrounding Uptown, failed to name the “elected and appointed officials…with the dubious distinction of having voted for all the [zoning] exceptions on all of the developments.”  That sure doesn’t help in the never-ending battle to hold our officials accountable for their actions.

We applaud Ms. Barclay’s stand on increased density and share her concerns.  But isn’t her failure to name names the same kind of political pussyfooting that not only seems to have rendered C.U.R.R.B. pretty much an ineffective paper tiger in curtailing the higher-density condo developments, but also failed to inspire the voters of the 5th Ward in her campaign for alderman last April against condo-hugging, density-loving Robert Ryan? 

Which One Is It?  As the City Council continues to hide out in closed session meetings while interviewing several prominent and expensive Chicago law firms to decide which one we will enrich for investigating the Park Ridge Police Department (before or after Chief Caudill is forced out the door by the mayor?), the City’s Community Information Coordinator (“Hey City Hall, how about some truth in advertising by calling it ‘Chief In-House Propagandist’?”) is reporting that residents “are responding pretty favorably to the police department” in a survey that has been sent out since September (“Public Safety Board To Examine Police Survey,” Park Ridge Journal, Jan. 9). 

So…is it the survey that’s the waste of money, or is the investigation going to be an even bigger waste of money?

The Carousel Goes Round And Round.  We here at Public Watchdog are huge fans of citizen involvement in local government, including the writing of letters to the editor.  So we applaud Park Ridge resident Timothy Janes for writing a letter printed in yesterday’s Herald-Advocate (“Weigh the choices on possible lawsuits,” Jan. 10)[pdf], in which he appears to argue in favor of the City permits needed at the new site of Christie’s Carousel of Learning (Park Ridge Presbyterian Church) based on which of the parties to the dispute – Christie’s owners and customers, or the neighbors opposed to the relocation – stands to recover the most money in whichever lawsuit might be filed.

Frankly, Mr. Janes, we don’t have a dog (pun intended) in this fight.  But basing government policy decisions on who might collect more damages if they file and win a lawsuit against the City seems pretty wrongheaded.  And although we’re not municipal lawyers, we understand that something called governmental immunity would likely prevent the City from paying any damages at all for good-faith exercises of its legislative discretion.   

But our suspicious minds cause us to wonder why, after 25 years, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church gave Christie’s the boot.  We also wonder if there is any truth to the rumor that this dispute really boils down to money – the money Christie’s is saving by relocating to another church rather than a higher-rent commercial property, and the money its customers are saving through lower tuition.

The Truth…


When witnesses are called to testify in court, they swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  At first blush it seems almost redundant, but its meaning is not lost on trial lawyers, their clients, the judge and the jury.  And it shouldn’t be lost on anyone who regularly listens to, or deals with, many of the politicians and government bureaucrats who have mastered the principles of misinformation and obfuscation. 

For most people, “the truth” is pretty easy to understand.  It is correct information.  When you tell “the truth,” old is not new; black is not white; and Bill Clinton really did have sexual relations with that woman.

The “whole truth,” however, is a different matter.  It means that none of “the truth” that is relevant to the matter at hand is omitted.  The reason for that part of the oath is embodied in the Ben Franklin quote: “Half a truth is often a great lie.”  For example, when one of our local governmental bodies reports that it will pay for a $20 Million project by issuing $20 Million of bonds, that may be “the truth” but it certainly isn’t the “whole truth” – because it fails to elucidate that those bonds will actually drive up the cost of the project by many more millions of dollars when the years of interest and fees are figured in.

Even more difficult for people to comprehend is the “nothing but the truth” part of the oath.  That’s meant to eliminate the flotsam and jetsam, however true it might be, that tends to obscure, color or bend “the truth” of the matter at hand.  If you want to understand why this is important to truth-seeking, listen to the first three or four sentences of a politician’s answer to what is posed as a simple “yes” or “no” question and see if you can even remember the question by the time they get to their actual “answer” – which is almost never a “yes“ or a “no.”

Why should “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” be important to us outside of the courtroom?  Because our ability to effectively govern ourselves – which is what we are supposed to be doing, albeit through our elected representatives – depends upon us having enough accurate information, enough of “the truth,” to reach informed judgments about the issues and the conduct of our representatives, and then to act on those judgments. 

Whether it’s by personally contacting our mayor, our alderman, or one of the school board or park board members, by writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, by engaging a neighbor in conversation, or by voting, the quality and value of our self-governance tends to be only as good as our judgment; and our judgment is only as good as the information on which it is based.

Which is why it’s time that our local governments and our local newspapers started taking “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” seriously.  Two examples:

*  As a decision nears on the City Council choosing what is rumored to be a prominent Chicago law firm to conduct an investigation into the Park Ridge Police Department (which is sounding more and more like an effort to force out Chief Jeffrey Caudill rather than simply investigate citizen complaints and evaluate the department), why haven’t we been told “the whole truth” about: (a) the identities of the six-to-eight law firms which City Mgr. Tim Schuenke claims are being considered; (b) what exactly is the scope of the services the City is seeking; and (c) what the City has budgeted for this investigation?  And why are the selection discussions/interviews being conducted in closed session [pdf], preventing the public and the media from hearing and observing those discussions even though there is no legal requirement that such discussions occur in closed session?  What are they trying to hide from us, and why?

*  As for “nothing but the truth,” as the City appears to get closer to bailing Napleton Cadillac out of its environmental problems and throwing some tax-break “carrots” its way, why does the City – and the local media – keep telling us that this is similar to the deal the City gave the Bredemann dealerships?  Any deal with Napleton should be judged on its own merits or demerits, not on what deal may have been done with other property and another party years ago.

The simple truth is that if we want good, honest, efficient, cost-effective and accountable government in our community, then we need to start demanding it.  And the first step in getting it is to insist, without compromise, on “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” from our public officials.