Here’s Your Hat, Jeff, What’s Your Hurry?


Last week the long-anticipated resignation of Park Ridge Police Chief Jeff Caudill became a reality.  But like so many things that happen in local government dominated by the Culture of Secrecy, Caudill’s departure raises a lot of unanswered questions.

Let’s be frank here: Caudill is clearly not everybody’s cup of tea, but that makes him no different from thousands upon thousands of other employees and bosses in both the public and private sectors.  There also have been some troubling allegations of misconduct by officers under his command, the truth of which will likely be played out in the courts and in the results of the upcoming police department audit.

But police work is not always a neat and easy job, even in a relatively low-crime community such as ours.  The line between a measured response and misconduct is sometimes a fine one.  While the buck rightly stops at the desk of the top official in the organization for purposes of accountability, how well the department is managed and how professionally it operates is not easy to objectively measure.

Which is why Caudill’s resignation at this juncture is even more puzzling. 

As we previously reported, it had been rumored for some time that he was being forced out for political reasons unrelated to his job performance.  And with City Mgr. Tim Schuenke departing this Friday, Caudill may not have wanted to take a chance on who his next boss will be – especially considering it will be a Mayor Frimark appointee.  A more recent rumor added the possibility that Caudill had been promised some significant additional compensation to “go quietly” now rather than later.

While we are concerned about the allegations against various members of the PRPD and look forward to their resolution, we have no axe to grind with Chief Caudill.  None of those allegations, to our knowledge, were directed at him personally, and at this time we are aware of no facts that establish his involvement or encouragement of the acts complained about. 

Nevertheless, if there truly is good cause to terminate Chief Caudill for misconduct, incompetence, or the myriad other lawful reasons available to an employer in the State of Illinois, rewarding him with a hearty severance package at the taxpayers’ expense seems irresponsible.  And if there is not good cause to terminate him, then using those same tax dollars to bribe him to resign reeks of politics of the very worst kind.

Unfortunately, the City Council once again has kept the taxpayers – who will end up footing the bill for whatever the outcome – in the dark by conducting all of these discussions about Caudill and his resignation/termination package in closed session, even though there is nothing in the Illinois Open Meetings Act that requires closed sessions or mandates that these machinations be kept secret.  

But then again, when you’re pushing someone off a ledge – or dangling a wad of cash just beyond his reach to get him to jump – you probably don’t want any witnesses.

Going To Pot(holes)


One of the central purposes of city government is to provide and maintain our infrastructure: the streets, sidewalks, sewers and other structures that are absolutely necessary to the sound functioning of our community.  Those are the “meat and potato” essentials that must be given a priority over the mere amenities which, while “nice” to have, are more like “dessert.” 

The task of maintaining our infrastructure, however, isn’t a sexy one – probably because politicians have not yet figured out how to hold a ribbon-cutting for a newly-repaved street or mark a repaired curb with a bronze plaque, at least without looking more ridiculous than usual. 

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who has been driving around Park Ridge that Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim is readily admitting that Cumberland Avenue “is really falling apart…Busse’s falling apart too.  Touhy east of Washington is falling apart.  Oakton’s got a bunch of potholes.” (“Aching Over Potholes,” Park Ridge Journal, Feb. 13)  As Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) noted: “If anybody wants a front end alignment, go down Cumberland Avenue.”

We agree with all those assessments about those state-owned roadways, and note that some of our city streets are just as bad.  So what are our city officials going to do about it?

5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan took this opportunity to insist: “I think this is something that we’re going to have to address long term.  The state does not have the money. What state routes do we want to repave, or resurface at the minimum, in the future?”

Fair enough, alderman, but where’s the money going to come from?  Director Zingsheim noted that just repairing Cumberland could cost $500,000.  

Ironically, Ryan was one of the Mayor Frimark alderpuppets who recently voted to give Napleton Cadillac $400,000 of our tax dollars – 80% of the cost of repairing Cumberland – to clean up the pollution it caused at its former dealership site, so that it can sell that property to PRC for an undisclosed price (and, presumably, a healthy profit).  And another part of that same foolish Napleton deal could, over the next 15 years, give Napleton up to another $2 Million in sales tax revenue to which the City would otherwise be entitled.

That averages out to over $130,000 a year for each of those years, which is more than the City gets annually from the State of Illinois to maintain the state roads running through Park Ridge.  That kind of money sounds like it would go a long way toward the “long term” solution Ald. Ryan claims he wants to address.  Too bad he was one of those who spinelessly kicked that money away to a shameless Bill Napleton.

But Ryan’s not the only alderpuppet who doesn’t get the big picture.  3rd Ward Ald. Don Bach’s contribution to this discussion was to say: “We need to shame our state representatives to do something to help us.”  Ald. Bach, have you been paying attention to anything that’s been going on down in Springfield for the past year?  Do you have any idea that the state is facing between a $600 Million and $750 Million 2008 budget deficit?

But, then again, this is the same guy who was so insulted by Bill Napleton’s affronts to the City Council at the January 28, 2008, council meeting that he vowed not to spend his money on another Napleton vehicle – but then voted to give Napleton up to $2.4 Million of our money. 

Ald. Bach, if you aren’t ashamed of your vote for the Napleton giveaway, how can you expect the strangers down in Springfield to be shamed into giving us anything?

Another Obscene Library Joke


So this librarian walks into Park Ridge City Hall and says to City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, “Have I got a project for you!  It’s a very expensive project that makes no sense at all, which is why I know you’ll love it.” 

Schuenke tugs the brim of his Milwaukee Brewers cap down over his eyes and leans back in his chair.” Tell me about it.

The librarian says, “Well, first a grandmother walks into the Park Ridge Library and demands every Perry Como CD ever made.  When she’s told we only have four in our collection, grandma loudly complains that the Des Plaines library has at least a dozen but that she shouldn’t have to drive to Des Plaines for Perry Como CDs.” 

“Then, her grandaughter’s entire play group takes over the Children’s section for a birthday party, while the kids’ mothers note how there isn’t enough room to accommodate both a game of musical chairs and the half-dozen clowns who are making life-size balloon animals for the partygoers.”

Schuenke nods.  “Sounds good so far,” he says, while scribbling “On Wisconsin!” in red crayon onto the February 29 page of his dayplanner. “Please continue.”

“Next, all of the library board members – wearing black unitards and swathed in bubble-wrap – come cartwheeling into the main library meeting room, where they proceed to vote to spend $50,000 on yet another consultant’s feasibility study, this one pre-arranged to recommend such a large addition that the current building can’t structurally support it, thereby providing an excuse to recommend Plan B: An entire new library.”

“Neatly done,” says Schuenke, smiling. 

The librarian smiles back at him. “No more shabby gimmicks like piling books on the floor to make it look like we don’t have enough shelf space.  Besides, consultant studies are far more effective in duping the taxpayers.  Fifty grand isn’t cheap, but we’re really getting a lot of bang for the taxpayers’ bucks.”

“How do you justify all the extra space,” Schuenke inquires? 

The librarian pulls out a handful of drawings. “We call it ‘flex-space’ and claim that it can serve whatever purposes we want it to, and can be reconfigured to meet ever-changing 21st Century needs.”  

“Good plan,” says Schuenke.  “That way, they can’t pin you down on any definite space usage.  But what about the money?” 

“We tell ‘em $12 million for the addition that can’t be built, but only $20 million for an entire new library.  And we don’t say a thing about the extra $8 million of debt service.  If anybody beefs, we break out the old reliable ‘it’s for the kids.’  Nobody’s got the stones to argue against that.”  

Schuenke leans forward in his chair. “I agree.  But the voters crushed a new $20 million library in that referendum back in ’02.  Won’t you face the same kind of resistance this time around?”   

“With Frimark as mayor and a council majority in his pocket,” snorts the librarian, defiantly, “they’ll push the deal through before anybody can even get a referendum petition filed.”  

“Ain’t that the truth,” Schuenke chuckles, squeezing his stuffed Bucky Badger doll lovingly. “The way Howard’s guys steamrolled those pesky residents on Executive Office Plaza and the Napleton deals was a thing of beauty. So what happens after that?”    

“It gets even better.  The City Council goes into a bunch of closed session meetings and agrees on sweetheart deals with some well-connected insiders for several parcels of private land, arguing that a different site for the new library will allow us to keep the old library open while the new one is being built.  And then we hand out the design and construction contracts to the usual suspects, so long as they’ve kept their campaign contributions up to date.” 

Schuenke pops a cube of genuine Wisconsin cheddar into his mouth. “And the City sells off the old library block for more condos and some token ground-level retail, right?” 

“Exactly,” replies the librarian, trying on Schuenke’s styrofoam cheesehead. 

“How does it end,” asks Schuenke, snatching the cheesehead off the librarian’s noggin? 

“The typical big finish.  The land speculators and developers make out like bandits, the City ends up buried in debt, Frimark moves to Florida, half of all Park Ridge residences regularly flood or lose electric power during the six or seven ‘100 year storms’ we seem to get each year, and the new library is converted into a factory outlet and fast-food court because the City can’t afford the escalating costs of operating it as a library.” 

Schuenke seems perplexed by those final details.  He nervously fingers a couple of Potawatomi Casino five dollar chips that he’s holding in his right hand.  “So what the hell do you call this project?”

The librarian says, with a flourish, “The Library-crats!”

Editor’s Note: Yesterday’s Herald-Advocate contains an article about how the Park Ridge Public Library Board is commissioning a $50,000 feasibility study and conducting a 400-resident survey to help it determine how much space it claims it needs, and whether the current library building can be expanded – or whether a new building may be needed. (“Study to consider library’s needs for expansion,” Feb. 21)  It should be noted that more Park Ridge voters (8,948) cast ballots against a new $20 million library in the 2002 citizen-initiated library referendum than voted for both Mayor Frimark and his opponent (8,114) in the 2005 mayoral election, or voted for the School District 64 tax increase (5,411) in the 2007 referendum. 

The Watchdog’s Kibbles And Bits – Box 6


Goodbye, Chief Caudill: As we predicted here awhile ago, Police Chief Jeffrey Caudill finally turned in his letter of resignation yesterday, February 20, effective March 14. 

Although Chief Caudill may have his critics, something just doesn’t ring true about his departure.  Not only does there seem to be more than a little intrigue surrounding it, but the reported connection between his exit and the proposed police department audit raises an assortment of red flags – as does the suggestion that the taxpayers will be paying to get rid of him.  And because all of the Council discussions about his departure were hidden in closed session meetings, the public’s right to know takes another beating.

Given these questionable circumstances, Caudill should have held out one more day so he could leave on the Ides of March.

How To Balance A Budget: Yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal reported that the Park Ridge City Council, at last Saturday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, completed the second half of what seems to be an annual budget Kabuki in which City Mgr. Tim Schuenke proposes an unbalanced tentative budget, and then the City Council gets to show its fiscal responsibility by finding various ways to balance it.  

But that doesn’t mean there’ll be any relief for the taxpayer.  To the contrary, the City’s increase in its share of our property taxes is likely to be between 4.8% and 5%, exceeding the increase in the Consumer Price Index even as our property values remain stagnant or drop.  We did, however, enjoy a laugh over Schuenke’s comment that “police revenues” are likely to increase in 2008, not because of  increased enforcement but because of increased manpower. 

Making Quarters From Nickels?  The Journal also reported on the progress of the Park Ridge Organization for Uptown Development, or “PROUD” – a new organization that claims it will help revitalize Uptown through a strategic partnership with the City that will usher in a new era of cooperation.  Well, at least they avoided using the highly overdone “vibrant.” 

We have previously expressed doubts about the need, or even the potential benefit, of this organization. (‘Proud? Of What?’ ) We also wonder why the City’s development department and the Chamber of Commerce can’t – or won’t – do the things PROUD sees as its mission.  PROUD official Dr. Keith Berndtson says that PROUD is “committed to taking three nickels and trying to rub them into a quarter.”  We’ve got no problem with that, so long as the rest of that quarter doesn’t get picked from the taxpayers’ pockets.    

A Bad Game Of Hide And Seek


If you checked out the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) section of the Illinois Attorney General’s website via the link we furnished in our last discussion (“Want To Learn About The Illinois Open Meetings Act? Feb. 15), you now probably know more about IOMA than most of our elected city officials. 

That’s less because IOMA is that difficult to understand, and more because those elected officials don’t seem interested in knowing anything more than whether lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke puts “closed session” on the agenda; and whether city attorney Buzz Hill says it’s okay.

As stated at Page 20 of the Attorney General’s guide to IOMA: “The exceptions authorize but do not require the closing of a meeting falling within their scopes. 5 ILCS 120/2(b), 2a.” [Emphasis added]  Which means our public officials – not only our aldermen, but also the members of the Park Board and our School Boards – go into closed session because the want to, not because they need to.

We realize there are some issues where confidentiality concerns may rival the public’s right to know.  Negotiating strategies for labor contracts and litigation strategy for dealing with pending lawsuits come readily to mind as two matters where premature public disclosure of information discussed by the Council could put the city – and, therefore, its taxpayers – at a significant disadvantage.  But even in those situations, secrecy is such a worrisome slippery slope that the state legislature still does not consider it so essential that closed session is required – it is only permitted

It should be noted that many of the situations where the Council runs into closed session are ripe for abuse of that process and, consequently, of the taxpayer.  Things like land acquisition, the hiring of consultants to perform a police department audit, or matters related to real estate development are ideal candidates for insider dealing and profiteering, a fact recently pointed out by Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass in discussing the “buffers” – well-connected friends, flunkies and political allies – who surround Mayor Daley and insulate him from direct contact with the shady dealings that occur in Chicago (“Laski’s book casts Daley as an emperor in the buff,” Feb. 15, 2008):

They roll in money, they’re included in multimillion-dollar zoning deals, they’re paid off as consultants on bus shelter contracts, or through real estate developments.

When you share a border with one of the most corrupt big cities in America and are entirely within the borders of one of the most corrupt counties, you’re kidding yourself if you think nothing corrupt could be going on here in Park Ridge, even if on a much smaller scale.

Which causes us to wonder about things like the City Council running into closed session to discuss the hiring of a law firm to audit the police department [pdf], especially when it appears that the audit is somehow tied to a possible buy-out of Police Chief Jeff Caudill’s contract.  And about making an offer to buy private land for a police station when that offer is hundreds of thousands of dollars above the city’s appraised value of that land, and the offer is made even before the city has firmly decided on how big a station it can afford and what is the best location for it.

That’s why we propose that, from here on out, before any alderman votes to hide from the public in closed session, he should publicly answer the following question: “In what specific ways will the city be harmed if the public gets to hear this particular discussion in open session?”

We don’t expect Mayor Frimark’s alderpuppets – DiPietro (2nd), Bach (3rd), Allegretti (4th), Ryan (5th) and Carey (6th) – to answer this question, or even ask it of Schuenke or Hill.  But maybe the two aldermen who have shown themselves to be accountable to their constituents, 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt and 7th Ward Ald. Frank Wsol, will at least ask it. 

Because we’d love to hear some of the answers.

Want To Learn About The Illinois Open Meetings Act?


Grass-roots opposition to the Culture of Secrecy is developing in Park Ridge, at least in connection with the Park Ridge City Council.  This week alone there were articles in both local newspapers addressing the issue and noting the citizens who spoke in favor of open government (and in support of 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt’s efforts to get it for us) at Monday night’s meeting, along with a letter to the editor in yesterday’s Herald-Advocate taking a similar position.

We hope the demand for open and transparent city government continues to gain traction throughout our community, no matter how much Mayor Howard “We’re only going into closed session when we need to and have a legal right to” Frimark and 2nd Ward Ald. Rich “It is my belief that for the protection of our city and our residents the integrity of the closed session should remain intact” DiPietro wish to hide city business from their constituents.  We also hope that demand spreads to our other branches of local government as well.

As local resident Bruce Gilpin succinctly put it Monday night: “Democracy and secrecy are incompatible.”  Except for the narrowest carve-outs for legitimate national security issues and certain other hyper-sensitive matters, we strongly agree.

So if you want to get a better handle on secrecy in local government, take a look at the website our Illinois Attorney General maintains concerning the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”).  We think you will find it as enlightening as we did.  And we encourage you to let us know if you find anything on that site, or anywhere else in the Illinois statutes or case law, that REQUIRES closed sessions for ANY public business – because we sure haven’t found it.

So anytime Mayor Frimark says “when we need to” when talking about closed session discussions, feel free to substitute “when we want to.”

Shining A Light On Police Investigation RFP


As reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Council Requests Bids For Police Investigation,” Feb. 13), at its February 11 meeting the Park Ridge City Council approved a Request for Proposal [pdf] (“RFP”) to be sent to several still-unidentified law firms who are being considered to conduct an “audit” of the Park Ridge Police Department. 

The fact that this discussion was finally held in open session rather than in the closed sessions where previous discussions of this subject had been hidden from the public suggests that Ald. Dave Schmidt’s (1st Ward) campaign for open, transparent government might be succeeding – as evidenced by the six speakers who stepped up during the non-agenda portion of Monday night’s meeting to thank Schmidt for his efforts.

A shout-out to Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) is also in order, as it is Wsol – the chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee – who has provided the impetus for this audit, at least partly in response to citizen complaints about various problems with the PRPD.  And it was Wsol who held firm when Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) not only tried to eliminate one of the RFP subjects but also wanted to limit, if not exclude entirely, citizen input into the audit investigation.

Ryan’s attempt to nix any investigation into insider actions related to land purchases should have come as no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the City’s quest for a big new cop shop.  That’s because Ryan’s aldermanic campaign treasurer [pdf] was local realtor Owen Hayes, who almost pocketed a quick $200,000 from the City back in 2004 until a local reporter blew the whistle on the fact that Hayes was not just the broker but also the owner of the property he was trying to sell to the City for a new police station.  One can only assume that the investigators will at least look into that situation, which resulted in Hayes being reprimanded by the State of Illinois. See “The Park Ridge Police Station That Almost Was.”

And questions have been raised about the City’s recent offer to purchase the 720 Garden property for approximately $200,000 above the fair market value fixed by the City’s own appraiser – once that value was adjusted upward by lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke to reflect the actual square footage of the property.  Of course, we wouldn’t have known anything about that deal, either, if not for Ald. Schmidt releasing Schuenke’s “confidential” memo [pdf].

Joining Ryan in his attempt to limit the audit investigation was Ald. Don Bach (3rd Ward), who claimed he couldn’t see how looking into insider deals related to a new cop shop “is going to make the police department better.”  Such thinking should come as no surprise, either, as it was Bach who just a couple of weeks ago voted to give as much as $2.4 Million to Napleton Cadillac – while sternly warning Mr. Napleton that Bach would not buy another car from him because of the disrespect Napleton was showing the Council in refusing to answer questions posed by Ald. Schmidt.  No wonder Napleton was smiling as he left the Council chambers that night.

We’ll make it simple for you, Ald. Bach: Every dollar that the City doesn’t pay to some “insider” – or even an “outsider” – for the site of the new police station is another dollar that the City can, if it chooses, put toward a better police station, or better police equipment, or better training, or even better salary and benefits. 

Heck, we could even put some of that savings toward street salt, a shortage of which is keeping our streets iced up.  That might not make the Police Department “better,” but it would make the police – and the rest of us – safer.  And isn’t safety what the PRPD is supposed to be about?

The Watchdog’s Kibbles And Bits – Box 5


How Much Is Too Much, Mr. Mayor? Mayor Howard Frimark wants to be known as the “pro-business mayor.”  So far, that seems to mean greasing the give-away of zoning variances and tax dollars to campaign contributors like Bruce Adreani ($250 on 2/8/05) and his Norwood Builders ($250 on 2/7/05), and Napleton Cadillac ($1,000 on 11/5/04), respectively. 

He claims that one of his guiding purposes is to not lose businesses to neighboring communities.  So far, the City has given Adreani/Norwood an estimated $600,000 in extra profit by granting them an 8-unit variance for their Executive Office Plaza project, and as much as $2.4 Million (over a span of up to 15 years) to Napleton Cadillac.  So, Mr. Mayor, is there any limit on giving away favors and spending taxpayer money to keep a business in Park Ridge?  And are there two standards: One for your campaign contributors, and one for everybody else?

Will “Richie D” Walk The Walk? According to the draft minutes [pdf] of last Tuesday night’s (Feb. 5) Park Ridge City Council Procedures and Regulations Committee meeting, 2nd Ward Ald. Rich DiPietro would like to see an amendment to the City Council’s ethics ordinance that would prevent a “breach of confidentiality issues” – apparently to protect Park Ridge residents from having too much information, like what’s been coming from 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt.  That’s a typical Richie D attitude: The voters are smart enough to vote for him for alderman, but once they accomplish that task they immediately become too dumb to deserve to know all the things the Council is doing.

Those draft minutes reveal that DiPietro stated he would not vote to go into another closed session until these confidentiality issues are resolved.  The City Council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting shows two closed session items: “the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance or dismissal, of specific employee(s)” (could this be another discussion of buying-out Police Chief Jeff Caudill?) and “to approve Closed Session minutes.”  Richie D has talked the talk – now let’s see if he’ll walk the walk.

Sex Education At Maine South: This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reports that Maine South High School will change its freshman biology course to reflect concerns recently expressed by parents about how birth control was being taught. (“Dist. 207 to change biology unit,” Feb. 7).  According to the H-A article, compromises have been achieved under which birth control will continue to be taught – but in ways that address the parents concerns “while still preserving the academic integrity of the district.” 

Birth control has been a controversial subject, sparking many strong emotions on both sides of the issue.  We believe that it is a subject that should be taught, as the consequences of unintended pregnancy are far too important and life-changing to be ignored.  But if the H-A’s account is accurate, both the parents and the school administration should be commended for handling what could have been a difficult situation in what appears to a reasonable, mature and mutually-respectful manner that will benefit the students.

Police Dept. Audit RFP: Also on tonight’s agenda is approval of a Request for Proposal for the Police Dept. audit that has been the topic of closed session meetings for several months.  Apparently it’s still a secret as to which firms will be receiving this RFP [pdf], but some of the items listed there are intriguing to say the least.  We know about some of the “[a]lleged Citizen abuse,” including an incident that the City (along with Lake Zurich) recently settled for $500,000, but we sure would like to know about the “[a]lleged filing of false police reports”; the “[a]lleged intentional loss or destruction of evidence” and the “[a]lleged insider actions relative to land purchases.”

We can’t tell from the description on the City’s website whether this is the RFP that is supposed to go hand-in-hand with Chief Caudill’s “separation agreement” that lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke was quacking about in one of his “confidential” memos [pdf] last month, but it sure sounds like it.  So is the plan to launch Caudill, then make him the scapegoat for everything the audit turns up? 

The “Culture Of Secrecy” v. Ald. Schmidt


Just about nine months into his first term in office, 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt has shown himself to be not only a refreshing, independent voice in the Park Ridge City Council but also a true enemy of the “Culture Of Secrecy” that has pervaded the Council for years, and that has taken an even greater hold over it under Mayor Howard Frimark and his Alderpuppets.

For those of you who did not read either of our local newspapers this week and, therefore, did not see Ald. Schmidt’s letter to the editor explaining his actions in disclosing information that lame-duck City Mgr. Tim Schuenke labeled  “confidential” – a classification which doesn’t lawfully exist under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) – you can read that letter here [pdf].

Fighting “city hall” is never easy, but Schmidt has been an inspiration for those Park Ridge citizens who are tired of closed session meetings, insider deals and the continuing higher cost of a city government that doesn’t seem to be providing better services for the money.  And one of those citizens who has been inspired by Ald. Schmidt is Ruth Major, who recently let the mayor and the aldermen know about it:

From: Ruth Major
To: Schmidt, David F.;;;;;;;
Sent: Tue Feb 05 16:56:00 2008
Subject: The Pending Investigation into PR Police

Dear Mayor Frimark and City Council,

Every week the local paper prints the name of Park Ridge citizens and others who have been issued DUI tickets and arrested and there seems to be little concern about those disclosures.  During the past year many of us have learned, some firsthand, that many of those tickets and arrests may be unwarranted and in violation of the law.  Yet that doesn’t stop the police department from releasing the names and information.

This week our Alderman Schmidt released information about the pending investigation into the police department and certain of our elected officials, and some of our unelected officials, have made an issue out of it.  I am personally at a loss to understand why private citizens have their alleged misconduct publicly aired on a regular basis, but our elected officials, and our other public officials, and our public servants (i.e. police) are somehow entitled to a complete cloak of secrecy when addressing their problems.  Our elected officials and our public servants are here to serve us and should be held to higher standards and greater scrutiny than private citizens.

Alderman Schmidt’s release of the information about the investigation was the first time in the last year that I have had my confidence in our city council at least partially restored.  We have a right to know the scope of the investigation and the details of how the investigation will be handled.  We also have a right to expect that our elected officials will review and address the complaints that have been made by citizens against the police department and police officers.  

This is not a “personnel” issue, this is a civil rights issue, and a criminal issue, and a public safety issue.  Taking innocent people into custody and accusing them of lying, pointing loaded guns at the heads of our children, and beating up kids and taking their money is a matter we all have to be concerned about.  The people who have engaged in this activity, or aided and abetted this activity, or who have looked the other way when they were responsible for stopping this activity, need to be held accountable (and not rewarded with severance packages). 

There are a lot of people in this town who are fed up with the secret meetings that are taking place with our city council.  There are many people who appreciate the honesty of Alderman Schmidt and I sincerely hope that others on the city council will support him and will support transparency in our government.

Thank you,
Ruth I. Major

But despite an outpouring of praise like this from his constituents, Ald. Schmidt is finding out that no good deed goes unpunished.  At this past Tuesday’s Procedures & Regulations Committee meeting, non-committee member Ald. Rich DiPietro showed up for no other apparent reason than to criticize Schmidt’s disclosures and claim that they harmed the closed session process that (get this) “protects” the citizens of Park Ridge.  DiPietro also suggested that Schmidt, a P&R Committee member, should be censured for his actions.

As we’ve reported here before, DiPietro is very comfortable operating in the shadows – where he can do his business without risking his carefully-cultivated image as the unofficial nonno (grandfather) of the Second Ward.  But make no mistake about it: DiPietro is a calculating politician who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it.  And one way to do that is to make sure the average Park Ridge citizen is kept in the dark, which Richie D might prefer to call “protected from the truth.”

Which leads us to believe that the rumor about certain Council members looking to publicly admonish Ald. Schmidt at this Monday’s City Council meeting may very well be true – even though the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) permits everything that Schmidt is accused of doing: Back in 1991, the Illinois Attorney General issued an opinion letter [pdf] in which he stated that a public official like Schmidt cannot be sanctioned for revealing what occurred in closed session because such a sanction would provide “a shield behind which opponents of open government could hide.”

Unfortunately, we’ve got a mayor, a lame-duck city manager and a majority of aldermen who all seem to despise “open government” and who hide from their constituents in closed sessions at the drop of a hat.  And we’ve also got a city attorney who knows that his continued employment depends on keeping those hide-and-seekers happy.  For them, Ald. Schmidt is their worst nightmare: A guy with a flashlight.

If you believe that we need the kind of open government that Ald. Schmidt is trying to get for us, come out to Monday night’s City Council meeting and tell the Council that you support Ald. Schmidt.  Tell them that you’re sick and tired of their Culture of Secrecy.  And let them know that, as Ald. Schmidt said in his letter, “[t]he public will be watching” from here on out.      



Today’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal gives Mayor Howard Frimark’s side of his recent tie-breaking vote to give up to $2.4 Million of public money to one of his big-ticket campaign contributors, Napleton Cadillac (“Mayor Backs Incentive Vote,” Feb. 6).  One comment by the mayor speaks volumes:

“I’m not ashamed of my vote at all.”

To those who have paid attention to Frimark’s four-plus years of public life, that comes as no surprise.  The thought that there might be something unseemly about the quid pro quo appearance of a public official casting a deciding vote – or any vote – for the benefit of one of his major contributors is most assuredly a stranger to Frimark’s mind.  That’s because he, like many of his peers who control the governments in places like Chicago, Cook County, Niles, Des Plaines and Rosemont, operate as if from the premise that what’s good for them and “their people” is, by definition, also good for “The People.”

That’s one of the founding principles of what Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass calls “The Combine” – the bi-partisan collection of Democratic and Republican officeholders and their well-connected cronies who have been fleecing Illinois taxpayers since downstate Combine power-broker William Cellini first dipped his beak in the public trough during the administration of Gov. Richard Ogilvie.

But what is actually more stunning than Frimark’s shamelessness in bestowing such largesse on Napleton is his seeming contempt for the intelligence of his constituents, as evidenced by several of the justifications for Napleton’s sweetheart deal that he offered The Journal, presumably with the expectation that the residents would swallow them hook, line and sinker.

Let’s start with the $400,000 giveaway to help Napleton clean up the environmental contamination that it caused at its old Meacham & Northwest Hwy location.  As reported in The Journal article, Frimark wants us to believe that’s really not a giveaway at all because Park Ridge will eventually get that money back after that property is redeveloped by PRC Partners LLC and the new property taxes start coming in. 

Of course, that alibi begs the question of why we would have to “get that money back” if Frimark and his alderpuppets hadn’t already given it away?  It also assumes a fact not in evidence: that PRC wouldn’t develop the old Napleton property if the City didn’t gild the lily with $400,000.

Another bit of misdirection is reflected in Frimark’s claim that the $400,000 comes from Tax Increment Financing District (“TIF”) funds rather than the City’s general fund, so it doesn’t really contribute to the City’s projected $600,000 2008 budget deficit.  But despite his hasty retreat into the alternate reality that is government fund accounting, Frimark appears to miss the fact that it’s still our money.  So even though it might not affect the 2008 budget, the windfall for Napleton means that our TIF fund still will need an extra $400,000 to dig itself out of the multi-million dollar hole it’s already in.

But where Frimark really hits his politician’s stride is when he cynically plays the “fear” card: If we don’t give away all these “incentives,” dealerships like Napleton will sell themselves to the highest bidders, like Des Plaines.  He even quotes Des Plaines mayor Tony Arredia as saying: “Howard, if you don’t want any car dealerships in Park Ridge, or you don’t want to make any deals, we’ll take them over in Des Plaines.”

Assuming Arredia actually said it, the bottom line is that we can’t compete with Des Plaines in a battle of the incentives – and it’s the height of foolishness to try.  That’s because Des Plaines has almost 59,000 residents v. our approximately 38,000; it’s total area of almost 16 square miles dwarfs our 7.1 square mile size; and it’s annual budget is more than double that of Park Ridge.  Des Plaines is also home to several Fortune 500 companies, as well as many industrial and commercial businesses that provide far more in the way of non-residential tax revenues than Park Ridge is capable or producing under any circumstances.

But more to the point: Do we want to be like Des Plaines?  Maybe that’s a question that should show up as an advisory referendum on the November ballot. 

Meanwhile, however, we can’t help but wonder just how much more of our money this shameless mayor and his sycophantic aldermen can give away before the people of Park Ridge say: “Enough!”