Will The City Council Start Playing PADS Politics Tonight?


Tonight at Maine East High School (Dempster and Potter, 7:00 p.m.), the Park Ridge City Council will meet as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the text amendment to the city’s zoning code recommended by the City’s Planning & Zoning (“P&Z”) Commission, by a 7-2 vote, on September 8th.  That recommended amendment will permit homeless shelters in Park Ridge but prevent them from being located within 500 feet of any day care, nursery or grammar school. 

The Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) and the supporters of the “PADS” brand of homeless shelter they want to bring to Park Ridge are opposed to any governmental oversight, but the 500-foot restriction has them even more agitated – because the PADS franchise depends on free space and free labor provided by local churches, often in their parochial schools. 

The PRMA and the pro-PADS contingent, however, may have acquired a powerful ally in City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill, who looks like he is trying to set the table for Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s Alderpuppets on the City Council to nix that 500 foot restriction by opining that the restriction might not be legally enforceable.

Hill, who said nothing about the legality or enforceability of the 500-foot requirement when he sat through the P&Z meeting at which it was discussed and approved or during the three weeks following its recommendation, offered his opinion via e-mail [pdf] this past Saturday in response to a request by Alderpuppet Don Bach (3rd Ward).  Hill concludes – without referencing any court decision or other legal authority in support of that conclusion – that “the practical effect of the [500-foot] rule will be to keep sleeping shelters out of PR altogether” and that “the courts will find this to be an illegal zoning restriction.”

That sure sounds to us a lot like Fr. Carl Morello’s criticism that the 500-foot limit, “along with all the other proposed recommendations would make it difficult, if not impossible, to have this ministry in Park Ridge,” doesn’t it?  Must just be a coincidence, huh?

Besides lacking any legal authority, Hill’s conclusion ignores the fact that the 500-foot restriction would appear to permit a PADS shelter in as many as 7 local churches which don’t have schools and are not within 500 feet of one.  And it would permit shelters in a variety of other buildings around town, although those buildings might need to be retrofitted with certain features to meet city code – just as the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal was going to need retrofitting when it was announced as the PRMA’s original PADS shelter site back in January.

That Hill would come up with such a conclusion is not surprising.  He knows that Frimark is strongly in favor of the PADS shelter, and that Frimark is the political godfather of at least four of the Alderpuppets who will be deciding the final wording of the amendment: Jim Allegretti (on whom Frimark bestowed his vacated aldermanic seat without having the decency or the integrity to advise the then-sitting Council consenting to Allegretti’s appointment that Allegretti had contributed to Frimark’s campaign fund), Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan. 

Hill also knows that Bach and Ryan are already in favor of PADS shelter; DiPietro is unlikely to have the spine to defy both Frimark and the PRMA; and the mere suggestion of a lawsuit is enough to send Allegretti into full Chicken Little “the sky is falling” mode.  So even a half-baked and legally unsupported opinion is likely to provide whatever legal cover may be needed to ensure at least the four Council votes necessary to deep six the 500 foot rule – and choose the comfort of the non-resident PADS-approved homeless over the safety of our local school children. 

In addition to the safety of children, let’s not forget that there are two other important standards identified in Table 1 of Section 4.8.E of the Park Ridge Zoning Ordinance, which are supposed to be considered for any zoning ordinance text amendment:

“The extent to which the proposed amendment promotes the public health safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare of the City.”


“That the proposed amendment will benefit the residents of the City as a whole, and not just the applicant, property owner(s), neighbors of any property under consideration, or other special interest groups, and the extent to which the proposed use would be in the public interest and would not serve solely the interest of the applicant.”
How does a PADS shelter do anything more than serve the narrow religious interest of the PRMA leadership and the PADS supporters?  If these factors truly matter, there should be a referendum in April to determine how voters from the entire community feel about this important civic issue.
Meanwhile, we encourage you to show up tonight at Maine East and watch Buzz and the Alderpuppets tap dance under the watchful eye of Mayor “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and the PRMA – while trying to make the average voter and taxpayer think that the dance is really for them.  

UPDATE (9/30/08
Last night’s City Council COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting was about as anticlimactic as a three and one-half hour meeting – without any break! – can be. 

It started with introductions by Acting Community Preservation and Development Director Carrie Davis and City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill, leaving to meeting chair and Park Ridge Mayor Howard Frimark the more mundane tasks of reading the names of people wishing to address the Council, rapping his gavel to quell the occasional outburst, and loosely enforcing the 4-minute speaking limit.  And it ended with the Council adjourning – without any aldermanic discussion of these issues – immediately following the conclusion of the public comments.

The main focus of most of the citizen comments from both the proposed text amendment supporters and its white-shirted opponents was the restriction on homeless shelters within 500 feet of any nursery or elementary school.  As the meeting went on it became increasingly clear that this is not a homeless shelter issue but a PADS homeless shelter issue – because the 500-foot restriction impacts the PADS franchise model more than it would other homeless shelters not based on the free use of churches and parochial schools the way PADS is.

The text amendment is likely to be on the agenda of next Monday (Oct. 6) night’s regular City Council meeting.  

More Hubris From Fr. Carl Morello


According to what we hear from several Park Ridge aldermen, the PADS homeless shelter advocates have been putting on the full-court press of letters, e-mails and telephone calls in advance of this Monday night’s (9/29/08, 7:00 p.m.) City Council Committee-of-the-Whole meeting at Maine East High School, encouraging those aldermen to reject the zoning amendment – recommended by 7 of the 9 members of the City’s Planning & Zoning (“P&Z”) Commission at its meeting on September 8th – that would permit homeless shelters but require them to be located at least 500 feet from any school.

Everyone has the Constitutional right to petition the government, and one of the purposes for this site is to encourage people to get more involved in local government.  So we applaud those who do so, irrespective of their position on any given issue.  We are troubled, however, by the predominance of religious arguments in support of the PADS shelter for what should be nothing more than the public policy issue of land use.  And we are troubled even more by the overtly religious partisanship of the members of the Park Ridge Ministerial Association (the “PRMA”), who appear to be treating this public policy issue like a religious crusade, and their political opponents as neo-infidels.

We here at PublicWatchdog are no fans of the religious Right or the atheist Left – or, for that matter, anything in between which suggests that public policy should be based on any one organized religious view of what God wants.  We respect and embrace the fact that our Founding Fathers, virtually all of whom were unapologetically Christian, gave us a Constitution that wisely provided for the separation of church and state.

Unfortunately, many supporters of the PADS homeless shelter seem to view separation of church and state as something that exempts churches from many of the restrictions and requirements imposed by our civil laws, so long as those churches are engaging in anything they unilaterally deem to be part of their “ministry.” 

An illustration of that view is contained in a letter that was recently e-mailed to members of the Park Ridge City Council by Fr. Carl Morello, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Church, whose school will not be able to serve as the site of the proposed PADS shelter if the City Council adopts the recommendation of the P&Z Commission that no shelter be allowed within 500 feet of any school.  Following is the text of that letter, with our comments interspersed throughout in bracketed bold, although those of you who wish to read the letter in its original, un-annotated form can do so by clicking here [pdf]):

*                  *                  *

I am Father Carl Morello, Pastor of St. Paul of the Cross parish, proposed site of the PADS ministry.  It is no surprise to you, nor am I trying to hide the fact that I, along with the Ministerial Association support this effort. [We agree that ever since you decided to offer St. Paul’s gymnasium for the PADS shelter back in June, you have not hid your support for that project. But you did “hide the fact” – from your own congregation! – that you were bringing the PADS shelter to St. Paul, first when you preached about PADS at the 9:00 a.m. Mass on Sunday, June 1st, without even a hint that you had already made the PADS hosting decision; and then again the very next evening, June 2nd, when you repeatedly encouraged the 8th grade graduating class to “take the higher road” but didn’t choose to do likewise by announcing that St. Paul would be hosting the shelter, even as your Social Service Minister was over at City Hall announcing that fact to the Park Ridge City Council. It’s way past time that you stopped the dissembling and the revisionist history, Fr. Morello, and finally accepted full accountability for what you personally, and your PRMA associates, have done in this regard.]  Currently the city building and zoning committee has stated that a PADS ministry site must be 500 feet from a building also used as a school.  This along with all the other proposed recommendations would make it difficult, if not impossible, to have this ministry in Park Ridge. [There are at least three, and perhaps as many as six, Park Ridge churches which are not affected by the 500-foot limit, so that restriction does not make a homeless shelter in Park Ridge “impossible” – and that’s not even taking into account all the other various locations that could hold a shelter, or the individual private homes that could shelter a homeless person for one night per week.] 

If you, as City Council vote for such recommendations to be passed it would be a low point in the history of Park Ridge. [We can’t even pretend to comprehend the degree of egotism, narcissism, or delusion that it takes to condemn – as “a low point” in our city’s history! – a change in the zoning code that would permit homeless shelters and also take measures to protect our children.]  This seems to me, and others watching this from near and far, to be nothing more than thinly veiled racial and economic bigotry. [That kind of inflammatory rhetoric is patently offensive, especially coming from a “man of the cloth” who has criticized milder comments about homeless shelters as “fear-mongering.”  Unlike you, we are more concerned about the opinions of those in this community than we are about the opinions of those “watching this from near and far.” And if there is “economic bigotry” in Park Ridge, we remind you of how readily you accepted the fruits of that attitude when you raked in the multi-millions of dollars this community donated to pay for the not-so-humbly named “Morello Parish Life Center” at St. Paul.]  I feel this is beneath the real strength and character of this community.  I personally feel deceived by some in city government who have led me to believe, all along, that if we followed the path of special use permit we could work together to make this valuable effort happen. [If you have been “deceived,” sir, it is most likely by those in City government who tried to shamelessly curry your favor with assurances that you would ultimately get whatever you wanted. That a 7-2 majority of duly appointed public officials on the P&Z Commission, after having held public hearings and considered the matter, recommended that the shelter not be located within 500 feet of a school because of a perceived risk to the safety of children, is not deception but, instead, is an example of local government actually doing its job rather than pandering to some special interest or another.  And even more remarkably, those 2 P&Z members who dissented from the recommendation did so not because the amendment was too restrictive but because it was not restrictive enough.] Instead, this has taken more and more of everyone’s precious time and energy on something that should have been simple to work out together and accomplish.  Shame on us all! [No, sir, the shame belongs squarely on the shoulders of you and your associates for not going public with your plans for a PADS shelter months before that “it’s a done deal” pronouncement was made by St. Mary’s Episcopal and the PRMA back in January. And don’t give us any more of that “maybe we would have done it differently if only we had known what the reaction would be” garbage that you and the PRMA started shoveling out once the spit hit the fan: you all cynically chose the “easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” strategy. Once again, it’s time for all of you to accept accountability for your actions and their divisive consequences rather than point your fingers everywhere else.] 

I have spent my life in training and in formation and preparation for the priesthood.  I have been a priest for 25 years and at the heart of our ministry are the corporal works of mercy, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter those in need, bury the dead and visit those in need of pastoral care. [As has been noted repeatedly, you have always been able to “shelter those in need” in your own (or, more accurately, the church’s) home, so why has it taken you 25 years to finally act on one of those corporal works of mercy at the heart of your “ministry”?  Why are you so easily satisfied by warehousing the homeless in a school gymnasium for only one night a week, after which they have to move to another town?  And why are you insisting that this religious “ministry” be outsourced to a secular agency like PADS?] Not to allow us to do what we are called to do hurts the entire community. [We’d prefer to let “the community” decide that for itself, through an advisory referendum on a PADS shelter in April’s election. And if you truly are concerned about what “hurts the entire community”, you will actively support such a referendum to put an end to the divisive and hurtful attacks you have tacitly encouraged by those who call other members of your own and other congregations “un-Christian” because they happen not to favor a PADS shelter in this community, or believe that their children deserve the protection of a 500-foot buffer.  But, then again, once there’s a vote total on the issue, you can no longer mobilize a bunch of people in white shirts and claim that they represent the majority of our citizens.] 

I urge you to take this into consideration when you discuss the requirements when you meet on September 29th.  It has been said that this issue is a source of divisiveness in the entire community. [Yes it is, because you and your fellow PRMA members caused it to be so by doing all of your planning under the radar rather than out in the open; and then letting those who disagree with you be labeled “un-Christian.”] I hope that we can work together for the good of this community to make this happen and restore a sense of dignity and unity for all. [The presumptuousness of this statement is nothing short of incredible!  Can you seriously believe that the only way this community can have its “dignity and unity” restored – assuming it’s been lost in the first place – is by you and the PRMA getting your way on the PADS shelter?  As we see it, the “dignity and unity” of this community is far better served by its refusal to allow you and the PRMA to dictate public policy from your pulpits.]

Fr. Carl Morello
St. Paul of the Cross Church

Little Sir Ekl, How Do You Do?


Last week we wrote about how attorney Terry Ekl, the auditor of choice for Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets, basically told Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) to pound sand in response to Wsol’s request that Ekl explain why he chose not to identify those public officials who – as described at pages 30-32 of Ekl’s report – were intruding into day-to-day police business.

Ekl’s accusing Wsol of playing politics by “pandering to his constituents” is particularly ironic, given Ekl’s long history of political activity and contributions to various judicial candidates and DuPage County States Attorney Joe Birkett.  So we have to assume that Ekl was just feigning indignation at the possibility that Wsol may have been acting in a political way.

Memo to Ekl: Politics is the only reason you were even hired.  The audit itself was just a political tool for Frimark to push former Police Chief Jeff Caudill out the door and quiet the complaints about the police department, and your lowball bid was the political excuse Frimark and the Alderpuppets needed to avoid hiring the likes of former Ass’t U.S. Attorneys Dean Polales or John Kocoras to perform a far more thorough (and a commensurately more expensive) investigation.

So please check your self-righteousness at the door when you show up at City Hall at 6:30 tonight for Round 2 of your questioning by the City Council, Mr. Ekl.  And consider actually answering the questions you’re asked rather than continuing to dodge, duck and stonewall – especially that question about which elected officials kept sticking their noses into police business. (We’re guessing it was Frimark and Allegretti, but we’re going to wait to see the official Vegas line before we actually put down any serious money).

The fact that Ekl can identify Caudill and several current and former police officers by name but then try to cover up the identities of elected officials whose conduct Ekl criticizes seems both inconsistent and downright unfair.

As for all you ordinary citizens out there who might be wondering why the City is spending more than $75,000 of our tax dollars for a report that some police officers and citizens are already suggesting is a “whitewash,” show up at City Hall tonight and see if you can find out.  You might also see Alderpuppet Allegretti do his “Chicken Little” the-sky-is-falling routine about all the lawsuits that will be filed against the City as a result of the report.  Of course, Allegretti voted against publishing the report to our citizens in the first place, so at least he’s consistent in his desire to keep us in the dark.

But as we await tonight’s festivities, we find it more than a little disturbing to see that the Culture of Secrecy appears to be expanding beyond our public officials’ concealing information from us to now include the City’s outside legal counsel’s concealing information from our public officials.

That is definitely not transparent or accountable city government.

Update (9/25/08):

Mr. Ekl’s answer to most questions boiled down to: “It’s in the report. And if it’s not in the report, that’s because I didn’t consider it important enough or provable enough to put it in the report. And if it wasn’t important enough or provable enough to be put into the report, there’s no reason to talk about it now.”  S-T-O-N-E-W-A-L-L.

Even though the entire report is about former Chief Jeff Caudill and how the department was run on his watch, Ekl admitted that he interviewed Caudill for only 2 hours.  That leaves us wondering just how interested Ekl really was in getting Caudill’s side of the whole story. And Ekl claimed morale is better since Caudill left, although he was unable to cite even one concrete reason for why that was.

Ekl’s excuse for not naming the elected officials who were meddling in police business was that “it serves no purpose”; and he distinguished away his naming of cops and Jayne Reardon because their situations were already “public knowledge.”

Ald. Bach went on record as supporting a new police station and being against the zero tolerance youth alcohol policy because it’s “not working” – which suggests at least the possibility that he may have been one of those “meddling” elected officials who were sending mixed signals to the police department about how the laws should be enforced.  Ekl encouraged the aldermen to contact the City Manager if they have police-related issues in the future. 

Ald. Ryan proposed the formation of a “blue ribbon” panel to monitor police dept. performance over a 2-year period, once a new police chief gets hired. We wonder, if such a panel is formed, whether the appointees to it will have to publicly establish their “blue ribbon” credentials?

Mayor Frimark called it an “excellent” report, which was no surprise considering how well it did his dirty work for him.

And Ald. Allegretti said nothing silly because he (along with Ald. Carey) was absent.

Round Up The Usual Suspects…Again?


Have you ever wondered what kind of qualifications you need to be appointed to a City of Park Ridge committee, commission or task force.  We have. 

And we are wondering again after seeing the list of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s fourteen appointments to the City’s new “Preservation Task Force” (the “PTF”).

The PTF is supposed to determine whether an historic preservation ordinance is desired by the people of Park Ridge and whether a workable law can be drafted to preserve historically significant buildings in the community.  Frankly, we have our doubts about this effort, especially because we don’t see how the City legally can prevent major remodeling and tear-downs of homes or buildings – even historically significant ones – short of using taxpayer dollars to acquire them from their owners.

But irrespective of the PTF’s chances of success, what exactly are the “historical preservation”-related qualifications of each of these appointees?  How did they distinguish themselves as interested and knowledgeable on historical preservation, considering that the principal qualification most of them share is that they have already been appointed or re-appointed to other committees, commissions, or task forces by Frimark?

Let’s start with former 1st Ward alderman Kirke Machon.  In his two years on the City Council and during his prior stints on the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning & Zoning Commission, and the Uptown Advisory Task Force (“UATF”), we don’t recall his saying or doing anything that would suggest a special interest in, or knowledge of, historical preservation.  The same thing is true of Steve Huening, a 5th Ward alderman from 1995 through 2003, a current member of the City’s Liquor License Review Board and also a UATF alumnus.

As for the rest of them – Paul Adlaf from the Historical Society and Milton Nelson from the Heritage Committee, Brian Kidd from the Appearance Commission, Alfredo Marr from the Planning and Zoning Commission, Anita Bloom from the Zoning Board of Appeals, former city community development director Randy Derifield, 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti, Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller, acting Community Preservation and Development Director Carrie Davis, City Attorney Buzz Hill, and eleventh-hour additions Judy Barclay from CURRB and Herb Zuegel from the Kalo Foundation – only Barclay has been outspoken on the issue of historical preservation; and even she has done little more than merely express support for it.

The selection of PTF members, however, is just symptomatic of the problem with appointments to all City committees, commissions and task forces: the lack of transparency and accountability.  A visit to the City’s website reveals almost 150 appointees (not including the new PTF members) populating 17 non-Council committees, commissions and task forces. These panels are responsible for a considerable part of the business of government in our city.

Yet the only information readily available to the average citizen about those appointees is their names – not even their addresses, much less their qualifications for the position, how long they have held it, or whatever information they provided in seeking the appointment.  But because the City purportedly requires a standard form application [pdf] (which is supposed to contain an explanation of why the applicant desires the appointment) and the resume of each applicant, a lot of useful information about each appointee should already be in the City’s possession.

So why isn’t all of it being posted on the City’s website?

Police Auditor Terry Ekl’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy


From the reports we’ve received about Monday night’s City Council review of the recent police department audit, it sounds like it wasn’t all “sea shells and balloons” (as the late, great Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire liked to say) for audit author, attorney Terry Ekl.

But today we come not to bury Ekl, but to praise him.  Our reason?  Ekl has decided not to be the political fall guy for a process that was phony from the start.  On that very limited basis we say: Good for him.

Don’t get us wrong.  We opposed Ekl’s hiring from the beginning, as we noted last April in  “It’s Almost Time for ‘Scapegoat Caudill’.”  We preferred the far more substantial (albeit also far more expensive) proposals from prominent Chicago firms with audit teams headed up by former Ass’t U.S. Attorneys like John Kocoras (Kroll) and Dean Polales (Ungaretti & Harris) over the bare-bones proposal from Ekl’s 6-man DuPage County litigation firm because we figured that if an audit was worth doing, it was worth doing right – and thoroughly, not half-baked.

By the time Ekl’s $75,000 proposal was selected, however, the real reason for the audit – Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s desire to heat up then-Police Chief Jeff Caudill – had been eliminated through Caudill’s early retirement.  With Caudill out of the way, Frimark and his very own “Mini Me,” Alderpuppet Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), only needed something that looked official but accomplished little.  And Ekl’s audit did just that.

So when Allegretti argued at Monday night’s meeting that Ekl should be paid the full amount that he billed the City for the audit because “[t]o a certain extent, we got exactly what we paid for with Mr. Ekl’s report,” he was about as right as he is likely ever to be about City matters.  But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so we’re going to hold the applause for Allegretti until he climbs down off Frimark’s lap.

Meanwhile, back at the City Council chambers Monday night, a sharp exchange occurred between Public Safety Chairman Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) and Ekl over why Ekl’s report did not identify by name those elected officials who were found to be intruding into the day-to-day operations of the PRPD.  Ekl accused Wsol of being unable to “articulate an intelligent question” and of “pandering” to his constituents.

Frankly, we here at PublicWatchdog hate pandering, especially by public officials.  But if our elected officials are going to do it, we’d rather have them pandering to their constituents than to a carpetbagging attorney – or a bunch of carpetbagging developers and other special interests who view Frimark as Park Ridge’s own “Monty Hall” and Park Ridge taxpayers as sheep just asking to be fleeced.

The audit review part of Monday night’s festivities ended with Ekl scheduled to evade more questions at the continued Council “workshop” (which usually means the public isn’t allowed to ask questions) next Wednesday, September 24, 2008, at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

When the Council went into its regular session and began debating payment of Ekl’s bill that has already exceeded the original $75,000 proposal, Allegretti predictably argued for full and immediate payment “for the good of Park Ridge” – whatever that means.  When his plea went nowhere, Alderpuppet Robert Ryan (5th Ward) offered a 50% payment compromise, just to show Ekl that the City values his services – whatever that means – and as an inducement for him to show up on October 6. 

But the star of this debate was clearly Alderpuppet Don Bach (3rd Ward), who ripped Ekl’s “attitude” and disrespect for the Council.  We have to remind our readers, however, that the last time Bach was this visibly ticked off, he told Bill Napleton that he would never buy another Cadillac from him – but then turned around moments later and voted to give Napleton up to $2.4 million of our tax dollars.

Let’s just hope Ekl doesn’t show up next Wednesday toting an empty suitcase.

The $16.5 Million Question: More Sewers Or New Cop Shop? (Update 9/16/08)


Over the past few days we have learned once again – as so many Park Ridge residents have known for years but too many of our public officials seem intent on ignoring – just how vulnerable we remain to flooding. 

On Saturday (September 13) we endured what is being reported as a record-breaking single-day rain.  Fortunately, there were no major power outages, so at least sump pumps could keep on pumping – albeit into already-flooded yards and streets.  Which explains all the piles of sodden carpeting, furniture and assorted other items once again littering our parkways. 

Is anybody sick of this recurring scenario yet?  If so, are you finally ready to demand that our City government actually does something about it?

Yes, this may have been a record-breaking rain, but we don’t need anything close to record-breaking rains to flood our basements.  Not a summer goes by that the residents of at least some significant part of our city go through this drill.  Yet our local politicians and bureaucrats still appear to have no comprehensive plan in place to address the problem in a realistic way. 

That’s why the City’s $52.5 million 2008-09 budget includes the construction of only two relief sewers totaling a meager 1,060 feet – between three and four block’s worth!  And we can’t even tell what the exact cost of those relief sewers will be because the budget posted on the City’s website states (at Page 56) that “each capital project is explained in detail in the capital budget section of this document,” but we can’t find that “capital budget section” among those seven portions of the budget that are posted.

Now, we’re not saying that the $16.5 million (that’s without figuring in the interest payments on the bonds) the City Council has talked about spending on a new police station, if spent on additional sewers, will completely solve our flooding problems.  Frankly, we have no idea how much flood relief we can buy for how many thousands of Park Ridge residents at that price.  But based on what we do know and what we’ve been able to Google, neither does anybody at City Hall. 

They’ve apparently been spending their time on more pressing concerns, like trying to find a way to cut a deal for Bill “Friend of Frimark” Napleton’s vacant car lot at the corner of Busse and Greenwood, so that they can build a big new police station for the police department’s 100 or so employees.

But guess what, folks?  There’s a legitimate question of whether we can afford a $16.5 million anything, much less a $16.5 million new cop shop and major sewer improvements. 

Of course, there are those who will say we can have it all.  They share the mindset of those geniuses in Washington who insisted the federal government could cut taxes and increase spending, which is why our national debt is closing in on $10 TRILLION, almost double of what it was 8 years ago.  But what the heck – we need to leave some legacy for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.

Back at the local level, long-term debt – in the form of municipal bonds – is how local governments try to hide the true cost (and minimize the immediate pain) of these kinds of expenditures.  The longer the bond term, the lower the annual debt service payments.  Of course, that adds multi-millions of dollars of interest to the total purchase price of what are, in reality, depreciating assets; but by the time those chickens come home to roost the politicians who devised and/or approved the financing plan are usually out of office and beyond accountability, if not retired and living elsewhere.

Long-term bonds is how the City financed Uptown Redevelopment, and that’s what Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) is advocating with his proposed “replacement” of the expiring Public Works building’s 10-year bonds with a new 22-year $16.5 million bond issue for the new cop shop.  Wsol has touted his plan for making the annual debt service payments on a new cop shop a couple of hundred thousand dollars less than we’re currently paying on the Public Works building’s bonds, but we wonder why he hasn’t also told us exactly how many more millions of dollars those extra 12 years of bond financing will end up costing the taxpayers?  

The City is currently carrying almost $44 million in bonded debt, with $5.3 million of this year’s $52.5 million budget – a full 10% – going to debt service.  If we issue $16.5 million in bonds to be repaid over the next 22 years for a new police station, how can we expect to pay for any significant sewer repairs or other flood prevention – in addition to the recurring expenses we already shoulder – without a substantial tax increase?

The bottom line is that we can’t have it all.  Which is why we think it’s way past time the taxpayers demanded that our elected officials start acting like grown-ups and talk publicly about the hard choices between what the entire community really needs and what some of us may merely want. 

Otherwise, they will continue to fiddle while Park Ridge floods.

Update (9/16/08)   A number of Park Ridge residents dealing with flooded basements last Saturday (9/13/08) morning have reported a sudden and unexplained – although very welcome – draining of their sewers around 9:45 a.m.  At least one knowledgeable resident has offered an explanation: Somebody finally decided to turn on all of the city’s sewer pumps.  We have not yet been able to determine whether that is true or, if so, how and by whom that decision was made.  But it does suggest that the City may have had the ability to prevent or reduce at least some of the flooding that was experienced. You may want to contact your alderman, City Manager Jim Hock, or even Mayor Frimark and ask if this is true and, if so, what’s the explanation for it.

Another source familiar with sewer and storm water handling has advised us that relief sewers are an alternate system to Park Ridge’s “combined” (rain water/sewage) sewers.  Relief sewers are designed to store rain water run-off in a separate system and transfer it slowly into the combined sewers.  While a full system of relief sewers throughout the City probably would not have kept all of our basements dry, it sounds as if they certainly could have prevented some flooding and reduced the amount of the flooding that could not be prevented.

Unfortunately, it appears that relief sewer construction has been reduced in recent years by budgetary constraints.  And oh, by the way: Yet another one of our sources points out that Ald. Wsol’s grand plan for the new $16.5 million cop shop with an annual debt service payment of $1.3 million over 22 years will end up costing Park Ridge taxpayers a whopping $28.6 million over the life of those bonds.  We thought you might want to think about that as you pull the last of the sodden carpeting out of your basement. 

Frimark Prefers Napleton Over Taxpayers


According to an article in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate(“Mayor: Prefers pursuing police station for Busse and Greenwood,” September 11) , Park Ridge Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark is once again trying to stick Park Ridge taxpayers with the former Napleton property on the southwest corner of Greenwood Avenue and Busse Highway now that his buddy Bill Napleton has no use for it.  And maybe paying a premium price for it to boot.

Frimark reportedly was “really encouraged” that the City’s Public Safety Committee – two/thirds of which is comprised of Frimark alderpuppets Don Bach (3rd Ward) and Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) – wants to move forward on a new police station.  The mayor claims to favor the Napleton site because it’s next door to the Public Works Service Center, which apparently wasn’t a factor when he wanted the City to buy the current School District 64 headquarters on Prospect, or the American Insurance building at 720 Garden, or the parking lots near the AT&T building.

But back then, Napleton wasn’t trying to dump his property.

At least Public Safety Committee chairman Frank Wsol (7th Ward) was outraged by Frimark’s attempt to put taxpayer dollars into Napleton’s pocket, even if he waited until Frimark left the meeting before expressing his displeasure.  Wsol rightly accused Frimark of “playing games” with yet another potential cop shop site.

Unfortunately, that’s the only kudo Wsol has earned on the new police station issue. 

Despite his slam on Frimark’s game-playing, Wsol – along with Allegretti – did a little game-playing of their own, refusing to disclose Napleton’s asking price for the property other than to call it “outrageous” and say that it was well above what Napleton had paid for it within the past year. Why the big secret, gentlemen? 

And new City Manager Jim Hock didn’t exactly cover himself with glory, either, revealing that the City had the Napleton property appraised but refusing to say what that appraised value was.  Welcome to membership in the Culture of Secrecy, Mr. Hock.   

But back to Wsol, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative who drank the Kool-Aid on a big new multi-million dollar police station two years ago when he was locked in what looked to be a tough re-election fight with Frimark tool (and former Park Ridge cop) Bob Kristie.  After supporting a new cop shop four times the size of the current one while battling Kristie, however, Wsol now wants the City to buy whatever it can get for a $16.5 million bond issue.

That $16.5 million “magic number” is just a calculation of what would make the annual debt service payment on a new cop shop about $1.4 million, slightly less than the $1.67 million annual payment the City has been making on the expiring 10-year bond issue used to build the Public Works building.  But because the new bond issue proposed by Wsol will extend over 22 years instead of just 10, the taxpayers will get hit with millions more dollars in interest payments over the bond’s lifetime.

Worse yet, Wsol came up with this plan without ever having asked, or having received an answer to, the most fundamental question about any new, bigger police station: How much safer and more secure will we be for each additional million dollars we spend on it?  Nobody in favor of a big new cop shop wants to even address that question.

So while more and more Park Ridge homes go into foreclosure and while the City keeps raising our taxes but still can’t pave our streets, fix our curbs, keep our homes from flooding and do the many other things that it should be doing, Wsol wants to lock us into a new 22-year, $16.5 million-plus bond issue for a new police station that may not make us any safer or more secure than the current one.

That’s not fiscally conservative, Ald. Wsol.  That’s fiscally irresponsible. 

Whom Do You Trust?


Today’s Park Ridge Journal reports on another political skirmish between Park Ridge Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and 1st Ward Alderman Dave Schmidt (“Frimark Defends Against Schmidt Accusation,” Sept. 10). 

Back in June, Frimark complained to Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Ann Tennes that Schmidt was trying to steer the ZBA’s decisions.  Tennes reported Frimark’s complaint at the ZBA’s June 26 meeting:

Chairman Tennes shared with the Board that Mayor Frimark contacted her because of his concern that Alderman Schmidt was trying to interfere with the rulings of the Board cases.  He was advised that Ald. Schmidt was putting things in writing and trying to steer the Board’s cases.  Chairman Tennes stated she defended Ald. Schmidt because he has always been respectful to her and to the Board.  Joe Sweeney and Gary Zimmerman stated they both see Ald. Schmidt several times a week and there are never any discussions regarding the Board or village politics. 

So at the September 2nd City Council meeting, Schmidt publicly challenged the truth of Frimark’s comments to Tennes.  Not surprisingly, Frimark offered nothing in response.  But the Journal reports that by September 5th, Frimark was complaining that Schmidt was not telling the truth and had taken Frimark’s comments out of context – claiming that an un-named ZBA member had called Frimark in May to express his concerns that Schmidt was “using his influence to promote his agenda,” whatever that means.

The Journal further reports that Frimark tried to tap dance away from the accusation, contending that Tennes’ statement in the ZBA minutes inaccurately recounted what Frimark told her.  But Tennes is sticking to her guns: “My comments that were in the meeting minutes stand.”

That doesn’t surprise us.  In a battle of credibility, we’ll go with Schmidt and Tennes every time. 

And because Frimark seems to prefer avoiding public scrutiny whenever possible (which is why he’s the poster boy for closed City Council sessions and the Culture of Secrecy) it also doesn’t surprise us that, as reported by the Journal, Frimark whined about Schmidt going public on the matter instead of talking to him privately: “As an alderman, he should call me and say he’s got a problem with me and ask, ‘What is the real story?’ and I would have told him.” 

But if that’s the way Frimark likes to operate, we have to wonder why he didn’t call Schmidt – instead of Tennes – to discuss his concerns about Schmidt and the ZBA in the first place?

Is “The Fix” In For The PADS Special Use Permit? (Update 9/9/08)


Tonight (September 8, 2008) at 7:00 p.m. the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) will once again meet at Emerson Middle School in Niles to review and consider City Staff’s proposed homeless shelter Text Amendment to the City’s Zoning Ordinance that would enable the issuance of special use permits for homeless shelters like the one PADS wants to run out of St. Paul of the Cross School. 

Prior to August 25th, Staff proposed its original draft of the Text Amendment that included only the most minimal requirements for the applicant seeking a homeless shelter special use permit.  On August 25th, P&Z held a three-hour hearing to obtain public testimony about what additional considerations and requirements might be included in the process for a shelter obtaining a special use permit.  Much of that “testimony” was opinion rather than fact, but a number of facts were presented.

One might expect that Staff might find something in that three hours of resident testimony to justify even some minor adjustments to the original Text Amendment.  But, amazingly enough, Staff’s post-public hearing version of the Text Amendment is exactly the same as the original.  

In other words, Staff derived nothing from those three hours of citizen input that caused it to re-think and revise any aspect of its original draft Text Amendment.  Is Staff just so good that it doesn’t even need citizen input, or was that citizen input just so poor that Staff was justified in disregarding it?  We believe neither.

We have annotated the September 8, 2008, Text Amendment memorandum [pdf] from Acting Director of Community Preservation and Development Carrie Davis to point out just how shallow, incomplete and undocumented Staff’s “analysis” of the Text Amendment is.  Frankly, it’s little more than a collection of Staff’s (or somebody else’s?) substantially unfounded opinions and conclusions that pretty much ignore the nine “Standards” for zoning text amendments found at Table 1 to Section 4.8.E of the Zoning Ordinance – including the crucial criterion of whether this proposed Text Amendment “will benefit the residents of the City as a whole, and not just the applicant, property owner(s)…or other special interest groups.”  We include an annotated Table 1 with the September 8th memo.

Carrie Davis should be ashamed of releasing such a piece of fluff under her name, but we’re guessing she’s just playing typical bureaucrat and following somebody’s orders.  Over the years we’ve observed that half-baked bureacratic “work product” from Staff usually signals that some kind of “Fix” is in, for some special interest or another at the expense of the rest of our community. 

But we encourage you to read the relevant materials, form your own opinions, and show up at Emerson tonight to see whether those P&Z members – all of whom we understand to be either appointments or re-appointments by our pro-PADS Mayor Howard Frimark – will rubber-stamp Carrie Davis’ fluff or actually stand up for “the residents of the City as a whole”?

As usual, we’re not holding our breath.

Update (9/9/08):

By a final vote of 7-2, P&Z last night forwarded the proposed Text Amendment to the Park Ridge City Council, but with one significant addition: No homeless shelter shall be located within 500 feet of a school.  By the slimmest 5-4 margin, Commissioners Anita Rifkind, Aurora Abella-Austriaco, Lou Arrigoni, Cathy Piche and Milda Roskiewicz stressed public safety in advocating and voting for this requirement, while chairman Alfredo Marr and commissioners Joe Baldi, Tom Provenchar and Mary Wells voted against the requirement.

The conduct of the meeting often seemed like Roberts Rules of Order meet the Marx Brothers, especially when the 500-foot requirement was being discussed: Chairman Marr put off a vote on it as long as possible, first taking a break to privately huddle with City Attorney Buzz Hill and Acting Director of Community Preservation and Development Carrie Davis, then inviting more discussion, then asking for a show of hands (which reflected the final 5-4 majority) before finally asking for a motion and calling the formal vote. 

The Text Amendment now moves on to the City Council, six members of which were in the audience for at least part of the meeting: P&Z liaison Dave Schmidt (1st) and Aldermen Don Bach (3rd), Jim Allegretti (4th), Robert Ryan (5th), Tom Carey (6th) and Frank Wsol (7th).  

After the Taste: The Culture Of Secrecy Continues – Part 2


Like our previous pieces on the Taste of Park Ridge – both the event and the private not-for-profit corporation (“NFP”), Taste of Park Ridge, Inc. (“Taste, Inc.”) – our post “After the Taste: The Culture Of Secrecy Continues” (September 3) got no responses that could clearly be identified with any officer or director of Taste, Inc.

We did receive a few comments, however, which suggest some clarification of our position may be needed. 

For example, we wrote that Taste, Inc. is not legally permitted to make a “profit,” a short-hand explanation of NFPs which at least one reader may have interpreted as meaning that Taste, Inc.’s income cannot exceed expenses, or that it cannot accumulate assets.  What we should have said is: an NFP like Taste, Inc. cannot have shareholders and cannot distribute its profits (or its assets) to its members, directors or officers other than as reasonable compensation for services rendered, or as reimbursement for contributions made for the NFP’s benefit. 

But the one point we continue to stress is that there is something just not quite right about a community organization like Taste, Inc. making such an effort to downplay or conceal its corporate status.  We also can’t help but wonder why Taste, Inc. doesn’t post its IRS Form 990 (or 990-EZ) on its fancy website so that anybody interested in the finances of Taste, Inc. can see them without having to request those reports from Taste, Inc.?

Maybe Taste, Inc. president Dave Iglow (Pine’s Mens Wear of Park Ridge), or vice-president/secretary Albert Galus (Academic Tutoring Centers), or treasurer Jim Bruno (Chase Bank), or directors Dean Patras (Broadway Livery Service), Sandy Svizzero (Parkway Bank & Trust Company), Barb Tyksinski (All on the Road Catering) and John Warnimont (Activision Electric), would like to explain all the secrecy?  Why aren’t they interested in giving the community that keeps their NFP in business a look inside its finances and how it operates?   

While they’re at it, maybe they could tell us why Taste, Inc. gave $1,000 to then-Taste, Inc. vice-president Bob Dudycz’s campaign fund last September?  And if they’re really in an open and honest mood, maybe they could try answering some of those questions we posed in Time For A Transparent “Taste” – Part 2 

After all, if there’s no Culture of Secrecy, why are they hiding?