A Powerless Mayor?


Summer’s back, and with it the power outages that have vexed our community for years.  So far this month alone there have been several power interruptions, including at least two significant outages, the most recent one occurring yesterday afternoon that lasted several hours and that ComEd was reportedly blaming on some problem in Evanston.

What’s our Mayor, Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, doing to alleviate this problem? 

After large portions of Park Ridge lost power for as much as four days last August, Frimark made a grand gesture of bringing in ComEd public relations people to explain why we continue to have regular outages and what it was doing to alleviate them.  The report from residents who attended those meetings: “Same stuff, different day.”

As part of those Frimark-orchestrated dog-and-pony shows, ComEd admitted to 268 power interruptions in 2007, most of which were “miscellaneous equipment malfunctions, fallen trees and branches, and weather — primarily lightning and wind.”  ComEd’s p.r. folks promised a variety of actions to remedy the problem.  Consequently, back in April we asked what Frimark and City staff were doing to make sure ComEd was making good on its promises. (“Still Powerless In Park Ridge,” April 23, 2008)  The silence from City Hall has been deafening.

We also suggested that maybe Frimark should consider following the lead of the Village of Deerfield, which in April sued ComEd for bad service as reflected in 223 service interruptions last year.  Again, not a sound from Frimark, who’s idea of acting “mayoral” runs more toward posing for ribbon-cutting photos, planning events like Taste of Park Ridge, and arranging sweetheart deals for his friends and campaign contributors.

Since we reported on the Deerfield suit, we have discovered that Hinsdale is considering such a suit; and that the City of Darien sued ComEd in 2005, also because of poor service.  The Darien suit prompted a settlement that caused ComEd to spend $3.4 million to repair more than 14,000 feet of cable and other aging technology.  As a result, outages are down almost 50% since 2005, to a rate of 1.38 outages per resident per year – compared to ComEd’s system-wide average of 1.57 outages.  

We’re not necessarily suggesting that a lawsuit is the only way to get ComEd to provide us with dependable power,  but we haven’t seen much in the way of results from anything else the City has done so far.  And if suing ComEd is what it will take to get a few million dollars in repairs and improvements to our power grid, we think that’s definitely worth a lot more consideration than our mayor and City Council have given it.

But that will require Mr. Frimark to start acting like a real mayor.  

The Ryan Revolution


It takes a lot to grab our attention twice in one week, but Park Ridge Alderpuppet Robert Ryan (5th Ward) has done it with his letter in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate in which he offers his excuses for what last week’s H-A article and editorial called the worst attendance record on the City Council – and which prompted our Monday posting (“Saving Ald. Ryan?” June 23).

Ryan’s “defense” to the H-A’s critique is pretty much just more excuses, including his continuing insistence that he’s a really busy guy, albeit with a new twist: he argues that even if he misses his committee meetings, he still attends other (unofficial?) meetings related to City issues. 

Once again, we remind Mr. Ryan that Council rules don’t give him the right to pick and choose which of his job duties he wants to perform, or give him the right to engage in “make up” meetings of his choosing in lieu of attending the meetings of the committees to which he is assigned.  And once again, we say to Mr. Ryan: Do what the job requires, or step aside and let somebody else do it. 

While Ryan’s I’m-so-busy excuse is merely flimsy, his proposal that the City Council’s four main standing committees be effectively handed over to a cadre of appointed “subject matter experts” on whose “expert unbiased recommendations” the Council can rely for its decision-making, is substantially more troubling.  In short, Ryan envisions a City government run by un-elected appointees, legally accountable to no one, who get their positions of power because (at best) they may have technical “subject matter” expertise; and/or because (at worst) they enjoy the political, social and/or financial favor of the elected official(s) who will be appointing them.

Ryan’s proposal, while revolutionary for City government, isn’t really all that novel.  It’s the main argument raised in defense of special-interest lobbyists whose sponsors point proudly to all the specialized knowledge and expertise they provide to the poor ignorant legislators and their overworked and underpaid staffs.  It almost sounds patriotic – until you consider the lobbying scandals and the billions of tax dollars arguably wasted on “pork barrel” projects the lobbyists support.

Frankly, we haven’t seen a whole lot of value from all the “experts” (i.e., the hired-gun consultants) the City and the other local governmental bodies have utilized over the years.  As best as we can tell – because nobody in local government ever really tries to quantify such things – the benefit to the taxpayers of all the “expert” recommendations runs from modest to zero.

Why would we expect any better performance from volunteer “subject matter experts” from the community, especially in light of Mr. Ryan’s own observation that we can’t expect all that much from “volunteer” elected officials? 

More importantly, the American form of government was founded not on a lemming-like reliance upon the opinions of appointed “subject matter experts” but, instead, on the reasoned judgment of elected representatives (as James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10) “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

If we really do need “subject matter experts” on any City committees or commissions doing the decision-making on significant issues, that’s probably a pretty good (or bad, if you prefer) sign that at least some members of the City’s paid staff are not providing an appropriate standard of competence and diligence.  And the same might also be said about our elected officials, especially the Frimark Aderpuppet majority which has dominated the Council for the past year.

But as to the latter, we won’t be able to tell until we first know for sure that they’re all actually showing up.

Blowing Smoke At The Public Works Building


An article in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“PW Still Waiting On Air System,” June 25) provides yet another example of why Park Ridge City government, under the administration of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, costs so much and accomplishes so little. 

The City’s “new” Public Works building was built in 2000.  As best as we can tell from available information, that building was approved by its architect (Park Ridge’s Chipman Adams Associates, headed by former 4th Ward alderman John Chipman) and its engineer (Brian Berg) before being turned over to, and accepted by, the City.  One would assume that meant that all systems were “Go.”

But by 2004, the air quality was bad enough that the City added a “dilution system” (cost not readily available) to suck in extra outside air to dilute the diesel fumes inside, and then blow out the diluted polluted air.  Apparently, that hasn’t worked, either, because the building reportedly still has “negative air pressure”: outside air, including the blown-out diluted exhaust fumes, are being sucked back in.  To our untrained ears, that sure sounds like the air handling system isn’t properly balanced or otherwise not working properly.

Which may explain why, in May, Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim and his staff, after consulting Chipman and Berg, recommended that the City spend approximately $25,000 to have the building’s existing air handling system balanced by Independent Testing and Balancing, Inc. 

But within weeks, Zingsheim and building Supt. Brian Wiebe were singing a new tune, recommending to the Public Works committee that a “source capture system” be installed at an estimated cost of $68,415 from Hastings Air Energy Control.  That new and more expensive recommendation, on a no-bid basis no less, was enthusiastically endorsed by 5th Ward Ald. Robert Ryan, who apparently was able to find a few spare minutes in his busy schedule to actually show up for one of his committee meetings. 

By the time Hastings was asked for a firm proposal, however, the price had gone up to $82,535.  And nobody at City Hall or at Hastings is giving any guaranties that the air quality will be acceptable to the employees even after that “source capture system” is installed – in large part because there has been no agreement as to the air quality standard that needs to be achieved. 

That didn’t stop Alderpuppets Don Bach (3rd Ward), Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward) from voting for a no-bid contract for Hastings to do the work.  Fortunately for the taxpayers, 1st Ward Ald. Dave Schmidt once again stepped forward as the voice of reason, insisting that nothing be done until there is an agreement by the City and the affected employees as to an acceptable air quality standard, so that the City doesn’t keep shooting at – and perhaps missing – a moving air-quality target. 

And, fortunately, Schmidt was able to persuade Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and usual-Alderpuppet Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) to join him in opposing the no-bid contract to Hastings, which prevented the measure from receiving the 5 votes needed to depart from the City’s competitive bidding process.  Thanks, guys.

Schmidt’s right.  And his approach is so clearly the correct one that we have to wonder just what the Alderpuppets are thinking – if anything – with their knee-jerk, don’t-just-stand-there-do-something desire to spend no small amount of taxpayer money on what may not even solve the problem.  Are they asleep at the wheel, not that bright, or just doing what they’ve been told? 

And we also can’t help but wonder whether Zingsheim and Wiebe aren’t already in over their heads when they, too, are jumping at every proposal du jour – and then recommending no-bid contracts on top of it.  That’s the kind of fiscally irresponsible behavior that has given the term “government bureaucrat” a bad connotation. 

But if a no-bid contract for Hastings really is your considered professional opinion, fellas, feel free to step up to the plate and guaranty its success with $82,535 of your own money.  And while you’re at it, see if Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan are willing to chip in, too.

Saving Ald. Ryan?


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate carried both an article (“City Council attendance rates vary in Park Ridge,” June 19) and an editorial (“Who’s missing city meetings?”, June 19) on the attendance of our City Council members since the Council was reduced from 14 aldermen to 7 as the result of a 2006 referendum masterminded by Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark to give himself a Council he could control with only 4 votes instead of 8. 

Kudos to Aldermen Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), Dave Schmidt (1st Ward) and Frank Wsol (7th Ward), who were singled out for their fine attendance records. 

And then there’s 5th Ward Alderman Robert Ryan, who also was singled out…for the worst attendance among all the aldermen.  Ryan missed only one Council meeting but was MIA for a whopping 12 committee meetings in his first year in office even though he chairs no Council committees and does not serve as a Council liaison to any other City committees or commissions.  As the H-A editorial pointed out, he has “one of the lightest loads on the council.” 

Ryan serves on only two committees, Finance & Budget and Public Works, but they are arguably two of the most important ones.  As the H-A editorial noted, missed committee meetings can cause missed explanations on issues “which can impact decisions on many subsequent cases” because it’s at committee meetings that aldermen “ask technical questions,…consider input from the public…[and] discuss issues in detail.”

Ryan’s many absences have not deterred him from making decisions on significant City issues, however, and his decisions have often been contrary to the expressed desires of his constituents.  He bucked an outpouring of opposition from his 5th Ward constituents when he voted to give the politically-connected developers of Executive Office Plaza a variance to add 8 units more than what the is permitted by the City’s zoning code.  He also bucked his constituents living near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church with his support of a PADS homeless shelter there. 

In addition to ignoring his constituents, Ryan also supported the crackpot give-away of as much as $2.4 Million of City money to Napleton Cadillac, before General Motors made that a moot point by pulling Napleton’s franchise.  He also has expressed support for increasing the size of the area available for R-5 zoning, portions of which are in his ward.  And while he was missing 12 of his own committee meetings, he was able to attend the April Public Safety Committee meeting where he pushed for the construction of a big new police station without any explanation of how we can pay for it.

Not surprisingly, Ryan’s absences don’t concern his political master, Mayor Frimark, maybe because Ryan still ends up voting exactly the way Frimark wants him to vote.  And they also don’t seem to concern Ryan, whose response to comments about all his missed meetings was: “This is a volunteer job and obviously I’ve got to put my business first.”

No, Mr. Ryan, that’s not the way it works.  You’re the only representative the people of the 5th Ward have to represent their interests in the City Council.  When you don’t show up, they are unrepresented.  When you show up unprepared and ill-informed, they are under-represented.  And when you make a statement like that, they are disrespected.

The position of alderman was a “volunteer job” when you ran for it, and nothing’s changed since that time.  If you don’t want to give your aldermanic duties the time and attention your constituents deserve, then maybe it’s time you un-volunteered.

Bad Government 101: Case Study No. 1


If you were in the City Council chambers this past Monday you witnessed a textbook case of bad government when Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark gave local attorney and Frimark campaign contributor, Jack Owens, a liberal opportunity to mesmerize the Council into recommending – without an actual Council vote – that City staff should look the other way to help Owens’ clients open orthopedic and physical therapy offices in an area not currently zoned for them.

Even more amazingly, Frimark and Owens were able to do this on a matter that wasn’t even on the Council’s agenda!

This all started when Chipman Adams Ltd., the architects for Owens’ clients, were advised by City staff that their plans for the Renaissance Office Plaza could not be approved because that area was not zoned for medical offices.  As explained by Acting Community Preservation and Development Director Carrie Davis, a text amendment to the zoning code is needed to change the zoning to permit medical offices there.

The normal text amendment process can take several months to get approval from both the Planning & Zoning Commission and the City Council, which would not accommodate Owens’ clients’ plans for a September 1 occupancy date.  As a result, it was suggested that while the text amendment process is pursued the building owners could submit plans showing only generic – rather than medical – offices and thereby get the City approval necessary to move forward. 

That suggestion was accepted by consensus of the City Council. So if that plan is followed, Owens’ clients will be submitting false plans which the City will approve knowing them to be false…presumably with the appropriate Chicago-style wink and nod.

Is that any way to run City government? 

But this isn’t only about public officials behaving badly.  This is also about what looks like incompetence by one of the City’s outside consultants – in this case, Camiros, Ltd., a zoning rewrite consultant that was paid good money to guide the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee through the year-long task of revising our zoning code. 

Davis claims that she spoke with Camiros about this matter, but the only explanation she could come up with is that this “medical office” anomaly may have simply been overlooked during the year-long rewrite process.  Maybe she just doesn’t want to say anything to offend Camiros – after all, the City recently hired them for around $50,000 to consult on the proposed Higgins Road Corridor.

Within months of the Council adopting the Camiros-approved, Committee-recommended zoning ordinance rewrite, however, Frimark and his Alderpuppets were approving an 8-unit variance for the Executive Office Plaza (“EOP”) development of Frimark campaign contributors Norwood Builders and Norwood’s Bruce Adreani.  Jack Owens also reportedly represented the EOP developers early on, and former 4th Ward alderman and principal of Chipman Adams, John Chipman, is an EOP investor.

Frankly, we’d expect that a local architect and former alderman like Chipman would understand our zoning code well enough that he wouldn’t put himself and his clients in need of favored treatment to keep a project on schedule.  But apparently getting favored treatment is becoming standard operating procedure in Park Ridge, along with cozying up to public officials.  Call it  “The Chicago Way Comes To Park Ridge.”

Let’s see if we’ve got this straight: A prominent local architect’s ignorance of our zoning code reveals mistakes in that code’s rewrite by a favored consultant for the City which, in turn, causes a prominent local attorney and mayoral campaign contributor to ask for, and get, special treatment from the City Council that involves letting City staff process falsified construction plans.  That may not be the “perfect storm” of bad government, but it’s got to be close. 

At least one alderman voiced reservations about the Council’s conduct Monday night, even though he now admits that he didn’t do enough to stop it while it was going on.  Consequently, Ald. Dave Schmidt (1st Ward), in a Wednesday morning memo to Frimark, the other aldermen, and Acting City Manager Julianna Maller, asked for a “special meeting” to actually vote on whether to formally direct Carrie Davis and her staff to treat as legitimate any falsified plans that Owens’ clients might submit.  Schmidt noted that, Monday night, he and his fellow Council members had “lied to ourselves and our constituents, and we have told staff it is all right to lie to us and to the people.”

But at least one of Schmidt’s colleagues seemed to have no problem with that kind of chicanery.  Alderpuppet Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), an attorney no less, called for “common sense” and argued against strict enforcement of the current zoning and text amendment procedures: “We shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand and say procedure, procedure, procedure.”

From comments like that and from what we’ve seen of Allegretti’s performance on the Council so far, perhaps buried in sand would be an improvement over where his head seems to be. 

D-64 Sliding Back Down The Financial Slippery Slope?


At its meeting on May 27, members of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board conducted their first public review of the District’s 2008-09 budget.  What they saw should make us taxpayers uneasy, if not queasy, with thoughts of “There they go again.”

According to reports published in our local newspapers, the District’s first big gulp of our 2007 referendum-generated extra taxes will boost District revenues to a shade over $69 Million, up 14.2% from last year’s $60.69 Million.  That’s the “good” news.  The bad news is that next year’s operating expenses are projected to grow to over $60 Million from this year’s $56.78 Million.  That’s a 7.7 percent jump, folks, or almost double the growth in the Consumer Price Index over the past year.  And this year’s $56.78 Million in expenses was a 7.57% increase over the $52.8 Million of expenses in the 2006-07 budget.

Call us conservative, but outspending the rate of inflation by almost 100% does not seem to be sound fiscal policy or management.

What’s causing that big jump in costs?  Maybe it’s the restoration of a number of programs that the District cut over the past several years – totaling $12.2 Million since 2001 – as its finances were coming under increasing scrutiny by the State Board of Education.  The District assured us that those cuts would not affect the quality of education.  But if that is true, what compelling reasons have caused those cut programs to be restored?

Or maybe that big jump in costs is the result of adding five new literacy teachers, another psychologist, a new intervention services administrator, and two more months of salary for a current assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School.  We may have missed a more comprehensive explanation, but the only one we’ve seen from the District to date is contained in the minutes of the District’s Committee-of-the-Whole meeting from February 11, 2008 [pdf], in which Supt. Sally Pryor states that such staffing “is essential to meeting the goals of the District, particularly the mandated EIS/Rtl program, which will add value to learning for all students.” 

Unfortunately, we can’t tell exactly what “goals” she is referencing; and a search of the District’s website for the term “EIS/Rtl program” turns up “No Results.”  We also would like to know what Dr. Pryor means by that feel-good phrase “add value to learning,” but we had no better luck finding that on the District’s website, either.  Which suggests that The Culture of Secrecy is not confined to just Park Ridge city government.

Or maybe the big jump in costs is related to the increased salaries for teachers and teaching assistants, even though we were told by the District – pre-referendum, of course – that the extra referendum tax revenue would not go for teacher salaries and benefits.  Was that not quite the truth, District 64, or are we due for another lesson in the Three Card Monty game known as governmental “fund accounting,” where pieces of various costs are stashed in various funds for reasons known only to politicians, government accountants, and The Almighty (perhaps with the help of a government accountant)?

The reason we can’t tell what any of these things cost, either individually or collectively, is because D-64 apparently didn’t give that information to the newspapers.  And – “surprise!” – we can’t find a draft of the proposed new budget anywhere on the District’s website.  We did find, however, the District’s “FY09 Budget Timeline” [pdf], which indicates that the Board will review “Draft #2” of the proposed budget (where’s “Draft #1”?) at the Committee-of-the-Whole meeting this coming Monday, June 23.

So if you think your eye is quicker than D-64’s hand, you’ll get your chance to prove it Monday night.  But if you’re smart, you’ll keep your wager modest.   

A Great Time To Support Our Center Of Concern


Recently we have been critical of the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) for the way it has gone about trying to bring a PADS homeless shelter to Park Ridge.  And we have questioned the value of the PADS transient shelter program run by Palatine-based PADS to HOPE, Inc., as well as the possible adverse effects it might have on our community.

We have noted with approval, however, the community-based homeless programs run by the Park Ridge-based Center of Concern,, including its Home Sharing program, its Homeless Prevention program, and its Homeless Transitional Housing program.  All of these programs strive to provide meaningful, longer-term solutions for those who are already homeless and those in imminent danger of becoming homeless, building upon their existing ties to our community.

That’s why we have endorsed the Center of Concern programs over the PADS-style program.  And that’s why, today, we are encouraging your financial support of the Center of Concern 

Tomorrow, June 17, the Center is holding its 15th Annual Miniature Golf Outing [pdf] at Mountain View Adventure Golf, 510 E. Algonquin R. (west of Wolf Rd.) in Des Plaines.  For $15 per adult and $8 per child under twelve, you can play a round of miniature golf and enjoy a picnic dinner while at the same time helping the Center in its worthy endeavors. (We suspect that the June 10 RSVP deadline may not be strictly enforced, but we do suggest calling them ASAP) 

Currently, at least 222 Park Ridge property owners either are in foreclosure or on the verge of it, or are in danger of losing their homes in other ways according to  And numerous other homeowners are beginning to feel the pain of servicing mortgages on homes whose values are dropping, sometimes even below the mortgage balance itself.  Some of those local homeowners might soon need the programs the Center of Concern offers.  

If you believe, as we do, that charity begins at home, then we encourage you to show your financial support for the Center of Concern, an organization already in Park Ridge and serving the residents of this community with a proven track record of effectiveness. 

A Critical Look At the PRMA’s Pro-PADS Manifesto


Yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contains what might best be described as the “manifesto” of the Park Ridge Ministerial Association on bringing a PADS homeless shelter to Park Ridge (“Ministerial Association reports on choice to move PADS to St. Paul’s,” June 12).

That the PRMA sees the need for such a public relations/propaganda effort suggests that the vocal opposition to its heavy-handed and arrogant decision is registering with at least some of that group, and maybe even its co-conspirator, PADS to HOPE, Inc.  It may even suggest a concern by the PRMA about rumors of a backlash that could start showing up in the collection basket – or, perhaps more accurately, not showing up in the collection basket. 

We encourage everyone to read that essay and give it some “critical thinking” not only to what it says but, more importantly, to what it doesn’t say.  And just to get that ball rolling, here are a few of our “critical” questions and comments:

* The proposed St. Paul location is “[a] short walk from a public transportation hub, along a primarily commercial pathway.”  If the Park Ridge shelter is supposed to serve the Park Ridge homeless, why exactly does it need to be near public transportation?  Unless, of course, it is actually intended to serve a homeless contingent commuting into Park Ridge from elsewhere, as the PADS critics have been contending.

* The proposed St. Paul location will provide “[a]dequate space for 20 overnight guests.”  Weren’t we being told only weeks ago that the Park Ridge PADS shelter was only going to house 10-15 homeless?  Is this the first sign of the “bracket creep” that PADS critics have been warning about?

* PRMA members are pushing the PADS shelter in the face of community opposition because they are “people who have experienced God’s incredible compassion and undeserved love in [their] own lives.”  Are they suggesting that they’re the only people in Park Ridge who have had that kind of religious experience?  Can you say “holier than thou”?

* PRMA members are “motivated because [they] know that, as [they] follow the way of Jesus, [their] efforts make a real difference in the lives of those who suffer and are in need.”
Are they suggesting that those who oppose the homeless shelter or who are critics of PADS are not following “the way of Jesus”?  And what about any atheists, agnostics or non-Christians in the community: should they be forced to accept “the way of Jesus” – and the homeless shelter that apparently comes with it – without any say in the decision or even the process?

* PRMA members are “motivated and determined because [they] look forward to joining with others – both inside and outside the churches – to be part of the solution to the region-wide problem of homelessness.”  Once again, wasn’t this supposed to be addressing the Park Ridge homeless?  The shelter isn’t even open yet and it has become a “region-wide” one?  Isn’t it time the PRMA finally was upfront with us and told us exactly what kind of “solution” it intends to deliver to the people of Park Ridge?  Because it’s sure starting to sound like PRMA’s “solution” will be nothing more than the typical one-night-stand flophouse that the PADS “chain” has been running for years.

* “The Park Ridge PADS initiative is, above all, a ministry of the churches in Park Ridge.”  What kind of religious “ministry” is run by a secular, 501(c)(3) corporation that gets more than a third of its annual revenues from various governments and has no formal religious affiliation of any type?

* PRMA members “welcome a partnership with the city administration and the city as a whole as we together respond to the needs of people in and around our community.”  What kind of “partner” tells its fellow “partner” (i.e., the “City administration”) that the latter’s zoning ordinances are inapplicable?  And what kind of “partner” tells its fellow “partner” (i.e., “the city as a whole”) that the latter’s legitimate concerns and opinions don’t really matter?

* PRMA members “urge and invite the entire Park Ridge community to share [their] vision of the kind of people and city we can be.”  Are we currently not the kind of people, or the kind of city, we should be – simply because we don’t have a PADS shelter?  And if we don’t choose “to share [their] vision,” what justifies them shoving that “vision” down our throats?  

* PRMA members “invite and urge our public officials to see this initiative as laying the groundwork for a healthy new era of cooperation in tackling the social problems that trouble our community.”  Will the hallmark of that “healthy new era” be a group of un-elected clergy dictating to both the government and the citizenry what to do, and how to do it? 

* PRMA members “invite and urge those who remain unconvinced or opposed to a PADS site in Park Ridge to join with [them] in civil and respectful conversation as [they] move forward” with their plans for the PADS site.  By “civil and respectful conversation,” do they mean their telling us that they are going to put in a PADS shelter whether we like it or not?  Does it mean their telling us that they don’t need to comply with the City’s zoning laws by going through the Special Use Permit process? 

* PRMA’s “vision is that Park Ridge would be a community of vitality and caring, prosperity and compassion.”  We’re pretty sure that most residents share that vision, but why is PRMA trying to make it seem as if putting in a PADS shelter to attract the homeless from other communities in this “region” is the only way of achieving it?  And shouldn’t a big part of that “caring” and “compassion” be directed first and foremost to our current taxpaying residents who don’t want a PADS shelter here? 

* PRMA members “realize that [they] haven’t always done the best job in providing timely information to the community” and they “apologize, and…promise to do a better job going forward.”  That sounds a lot like the cynical and increasingly popular (unfortunately) philosophy of “we’d rather ask for forgiveness than for permission” that we get far too often from our politicians and government bureaucrats.  Should it be any more acceptable coming from our clergy? 

We conclude by noting yesterday’s Park Ridge Underground piece on this same topic, which sports a photo of St. Paul of the Cross pastor Fr. Carl Morello doctored to look like Napoleon.  Morello is quoted as saying about opponents of the PADS shelter: “I will listen to them, but they won’t alter my decision to go forward with this.”

That sounds a lot like “hearing but not listening,” Padre.  And if that’s your attitude, why waste their time? 

Public Works Building Needs Clean And Clear Air


In case you didn’t know, the City of Park Ridge’s Public Works Service Center at 400 W. Busse Highway is the City’s newest building.  It also won a “Public Works Project of the Year” award from the American Public Works Association.  So why is such an award winning building the subject of complaints by public works employees that noxious fumes from idling trucks inside the garage are spreading to the rest of the building?

That’s the question the City Council is trying to answer.  In recent weeks City staff has met privately with the building’s original architect, Chipman Adams (now Chipman Adams + Defilippis), and its original engineer, Brian Berg, and been told the problem exists because the building’s air handling system “had never been properly balanced after construction” – according to City Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, as reported in a recent article in the Park Ridge Herarld-Advocate.” (“Public Works’ air vent system: Out of balance,” May 29).

But if that’s the case, why have the complaints about the bad air only surfaced recently, almost 8 years since that building was put into service?  And if that’s the case, why did the architect and engineer sign off on the building?  And who at the City accepted it in that condition?

It sounds like more of a maintenance or repair issue to us, but we’re not HVAC experts…and we admit it.

As you can see from the May 15, 2008 “Background Memo”[pdf] to the Public Works Committee authored by Zingsheim, the architect and engineer recommended – and City staff concurred – that “the first step in air quality improvements should be the testing and balancing of the ventilation system in place.”  City staff also concurred in the architect’s and engineer’s recommendation of Independent Testing and Balancing, Inc., to do the balancing work at a cost of $25,000.

But by the time the matter came to the Public Works Committee on May 21, 2008 (as reflected in that Committee’s Minutes[pdf]), Public Works Supt. Brian Wiebe had a quote from Hastings Air Energy Control for $68,415.  Not to balance the current system, mind you, but to install an exhaust source capture system for the first floor of the building.  And it looks from the minutes that not only was Wiebe pushing for that, but so was Public Works Committee member Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward).

We here at PublicWatchdog, being the suspicious sort when it comes to local governmental bodies spending our tax dollars, have a few questions about this process:

1.  If City staff concurred in the architect’s and engineer’s recommendedation that the first step in solving the air problem should be balancing the current system, why was Wiebe looking into source capture systems for almost triple the cost of balancing the current air handling system?

2.  What were Ryan’s reasons for jumping at the more expensive proposal before getting the current system balanced?

3.  Why was Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark in attendance at the private meeting with the architect and the engineer?  Does he have any air handling expertise of which we are not aware, or was he there simply to make nice with the un-named Chipman Adams representative, who we understand was Chipman Adams principal John Chipman, former Park Ridge alderman, one of the investors in the limited liability company developing Executive Office Plaza, and reputed friend of Frimark?  Or was Frimark engaging in the kind of “micromanagement” that he condemned while campaigning for his cut-the-Council referendum?

The Public Works Committee Minutes[pdf] indicate that Ald. Bach “moved to defer action of [sic] this item and to go out to bid and it passed unanimously (3/0).”  Given the two very different proposals in two very different price ranges, we wonder just what exactly it is that will be going out to bid? And why?  And how much more it will cost the taxpayers?

But most of all, we can’t help but wonder why this wasn’t done right in the first place?

UPDATE: 6/11/08 @ 11:30 a.m.
In a June 5, 2008 “Background Memo”[pdf] from Director of Public Works Zingsheim, we see that the staff is now proposing to award a no-bid contract to Hastings Air Energy Control, Inc. – Brian Wiebe’s and Ald. Robert Ryan’s choice – for the installation of the source capture system instead of first balancing the current system.  And without explanation, Hastings’ price has gone up to $82,535 from its previous quote of $68,415 of only a few weeks ago.

We think no-bid contracts are almost always bad for the taxpayers, and this one at first glance looks a lot like a classic bait-and-switch, with no explanation of why it has gone up $14,000 in less than three weeks.  Worse yet, there’s no explanation of why staff has moved from endorsing the balance-first recommendation of building architect Chipman Adams and building engineer Brian Berg, which could be accomplished for only $25,000.

Something about this smells, Citizens, and its not just diesel exhaust. 

Better Than PADS And Affordable, Too


Over the past several months we, like many other Park Ridge residents, have tried to get a handle on whether Park Ridge really has a “homelessness problem” and, if so, whether a PADS shelter is the best way to deal with it.  At this point, we still aren’t sure about the first question, but we are leaning toward “No” on the second.

The way the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) has gone about trying to bring a PADS homeless shelter to Park Ridge, however, has been disappointing – starting with its failure to get community support in advance, followed by its trying to jam the shelter down the throats of the St. Mary’s Episcopal neighbors, and continuing with its insistence that it is above the City’s zoning laws because its proposed branch of the secular, government-subsidized PADS to Hope, Inc.’s franchise is a “religious ministry.” 

That has proved to be a recipe for divisiveness, with citizens split not only over the issue of whether Park Ridge should get into the homeless business by accepting a PADS flophouse du jour and inviting in PADS “clients” from outside Park Ridge, but also on the issue of whether PADS shelters might be more effective in promoting homelessness than in reducing it.  Some citizens, including members of the City Council, are even divided on whether religious organizations can tell the city to pound sand with its zoning laws.

But despite the wrongheadedness of the PRMA and the divisiveness this issue already has caused, we believe there has to be a better way, if not several better ways, to address whatever homelessness problem there might be, preferably ones on which the community as a whole can be consulted in advance and around which a consensus can be built. 

Perhaps the simplest and most common sense alternative to setting up a PADS shelter in a local church is to get the homeless cheap rooms in a local motel. 

For example, the standard rate at the Days Inn Niles (6450 West Touhy) for a room with 2 double beds and a complimentary continental breakfast is currently around $80/night, tax included.  Each such room can house at least 2 “guests,” or $40/night per person, although the PRMA should be able to get a better rate if it guarantied 8 rooms every Sunday for the maximum 15 “guests” we’ve been told the Park Ridge shelter should expect.  Some non-chain motels in the area might be cheaper still. 

But even at that standard rate, 8 rooms @ $80 is $640 per week, or $17,920 over the roughly 28-week (October through April) PADS season.  That’s just $1,500 for each of the 12 PRMA member churches if they split the cost equally.  And this plan comes with some additional benefits, including providing extra revenue for a private, taxpaying business on what might otherwise be a slow night (Sunday), and generating sales/occupancy taxes for Niles or whatever other community in which the motel is situated.

Of course, under this plan the PRMA would still need volunteers to provide logistical support, such as some transportation, monitoring, and whatever food might be needed to supplement the continental breakfast that comes with the rooms.  But the homeless get sheltered, PRMA members can claim credit for it, and both a private business owner and a local government reap some unexpected economic benefits. 

That sure sounds like a win-win-win situation to us, and one that should satisfy the PRMA – assuming that it truly is more concerned with getting homeless people out of the elements for a night than it is with helping PADS to HOPE, Inc. build its brand, expand its franchise network to Park Ridge, and leverage even more money out of the government and private contributors. 

But that’s just one idea.  We welcome others.