After the Taste: The Culture Of Secrecy Continues


Last week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contained a self-promotion/group-hug letter (“After the Taste: a bright recovery,” August 28) from Niles politician Bob Dudycz and local merchant/Morton Grove resident Dave Iglow, two of the head honchos of Taste of Park Ridge, Inc. (“Taste, Inc.”).

As previously noted on this site (Time For A Transparent “Taste” – Time For A Transparent “Taste” – Part 2 – Hooray For Us), Taste, Inc. is the private, not-for-profit corporation (“NFP”) that was quietly formed by Dudycz, Iglow and a few others in 2005 to take over the operation of our annual Taste of Park Ridge festival.  But don’t expect to see any mention of Taste, Inc. in their letter: all you’ll find are four references to the “Taste committee,” an innocuous way to camouflage the fact that the Taste is a private enterprise with Iglow as president and Dudycz as vice-president.

We’re unabashed fans of Taste, the event.  And, frankly, we wouldn’t care one whit about who runs the Taste if not for two factors: (1) the effort Taste, Inc. seemingly makes to avoid any mention of its existence or role in the event (kind of like “The first rule of Fight Club is – you do not talk about Fight Club.”); and (2) that Taste, Inc. appears to be using a lot of taxpayer-paid resources of the “city of Park Ridge, the Park Ridge Fire, Health, Police and Public Works departments…the Park Ridge Park and School Districts…[and the] Park Ridge Library staff” – without any indication that Taste, Inc. is paying for them.

As we saw from the City’s financial report [pdf] on our most recent 3rd of July fireworks show, the cost of just the services provided by City and Park District employees exceeded $26,000 for what basically was a one-night event.  So we have reason to wonder what the costs were for those services provided to Taste, Inc. by the listed governmental bodies over the three-plus days of the Taste event – and whether Taste, Inc. paid for any of them. 

Our concern also relates to the unique nature of NFPs.  Although not legally permitted to make a “profit,” its officers and directors are able pay themselves, hire and pay employees, and contract with vendors.  But because NFPs don’t have shareholders who expect a return on their investment, there’s really nobody with a sufficient stake in the venture to keep an eye on officer and director compensation, expenses, or if those officers and directors are making money as not-quite-arm’s-length vendors to the corporation.  Hence, you get things like Taste, Inc.’s $1,000 contribution [pdf] to Dudycz’s campaign fund last September.

So when Dudycz’s and Iglow’s letter trumpeted the “consistently improved” Taste website as containing a “complete list of the volunteers,” along with “countless Taste snapshots, sponsor and vendor lists, and much more,” we checked that site in the hope that “much more” might include a full financial report that disclosed Taste, Inc.’s revenues, expenses, officer/director compensation, the identities of its vendors and what it paid them for the various goods and services used in its operations.

But as of 10:00 p.m. last evening, our search found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Under these circumstances, we aren’t going to hold our collective breath waiting for Taste, Inc. to embrace transparency and accountability by making its financial records public.  If it were inclined to do so, it wouldn’t keep hiding behind its “Taste committee” facade and publicizing everything but its financial information. So we expect Taste, Inc. will continue to enjoy its unofficial monopoly on using our streets, our park (Hodges), and the services of local government and hundreds of volunteers while keeping its finances concealed from the taxpayers and customers who keep Taste, Inc. “in business.”  

And the Culture of Secrecy continues.

8 comments so far

What is your site for NFP’s not being able to legally make a profit? Have you ever looked at the tax returns (Form 990) for a hospital or health care system? Huge profits are generated by these organizations every year and they are not doing anything illegal or in jeopardy of losing their exempt status. NFP’s are allowed to generate a profit as this allows them to build up a reserve for unanticipated expenses. However, if the amount of “profit” in reserve is too big (not defined by the IRS), it may draw scrutiny.

And I believe your statement about no oversight is also inaccurate. Most non-profits have boards of directors who have a fiduciary responsibility to safe guard the assets of the organization. They risk financial penalties and other penalties if they fail in this responsibilty. (Of course if the BOD is filled with insiders, then the oversight function of this group is suspect. Is this your concern with the Taste?)

In addition, a tax return is required to be filed with the IRS by most NFP’s. This return is also required by law to be made available for public inspection. The detailed financial statements are not required to be made available. This allows the public the opportunity to review the sources of revenue and the expenses of the organization, including the detail of officers compensation which is required to be disclosed in detail. If you want a copy of a Form 990 filed by an NFP (under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3)) go to the organizations office and ask for a copy or write for one. Most organizations post their returns online.

If the NFP fails to comply with this request they will be penalized by the IRS. If after reviewing the return you do not like what you see-then don’t donate to that 501(C)(3). Or in this case, don’t frequent the Taste. You can also fill out a whistle blower form with the IRS and detail your concerns of any suspected fiscal wrond doing-including inappropriate political donations which are usually prohibited for most NFP’s- to the IRS.

The Taste group, if they are a NFP under IRS code section 501(c), may very well be required(depends on revenue levels and total assets) to file a Form 990. The return is not due until 4 and 1/2 months after the end of the NFP’s fiscal year. So contact the Taste and ask for a copy of the most recently filed Form 990-the summer of 2007 taste. This may help satisfy some of your concerns.

anon 8:12:

Thanks for your post. This discussion was hashed out in a previous post. I will take all that you have written as true, although I am not an expert in NFP’s.

I would never presume to speak for the Pub Dog, but I believe the postion they, and many others on this blog have taken is that all of this required financial information should be posted on the TPR website. Even though the information might be available by contacting the Taste (I am not sure if anyone has ever tried to do that), if they were truely looking to be transparent and not hide anything they would have it available on their web site.

As to whether you agree with that position or not is an individual decision.

Anon 7:27-
I agree that their should be disclosure by a publicly funded organization of how it spends public money. I do not know how TPR is run-but seeing Dick Barton in the promo photos as one of its “volunteers” does not give off a feeling of trust. He has demonstrated that what he does in the name of the public good is really for his own good-can anyone say Green Transportation Solutions and the PRPD board?

However, this website does not do itself any favors when it posts statements they author that are not true-such as NFP’s cannot legally generate a “profit”. It diminishes what this site is trying to do and the citizens of PR need-and that is inform the public with accurate information about matters of concern that city hall, the park district, the school district etc and the newspapers feel we do not need to know about.

The TPR was about two months ago. Perhaps the accountants have not finished their work or the board of TPR has not reviewed and signed off on the financial statements for this year’s taste. Their is such a rush to judge before all the information is accounted for.

So PubDog-get last year’s financial information from last year’s Form 990. It may take more than simply going to their website. Contact the officials of TPR and request it. Since the activity at TPR has not changed significantly, last year’s return will give you a very good idea of what this year’s financial information for TPR.

anon 12:52:

Don’t misinterpret my previous post. I agree with most of your comments, especially your last paragraph.

During the last thread about this topic, shortly before this years TPR, I offered the opinion that if you wanted the information it is easy enough to call. As I recall, I was a lonely voice.

I think the push back you would be receive from PD and the majorty of posters here would be, why didn’t they post 2007? They have a website, they are not posting financial data so it is the culture of secrecy.

A2:03 and A12:52,

Watching you both gyrate over this issue is very entertaining! Thanks!

I’ve particularly enjoyed all the verbiage in the first comment about the use of the word “profit”! All you really had to say was that you do not understand how the word “profit” is used in relation to accounting laws governing NFP organizations, or that you did not understand the use of the word in the piece.

But don’t let me stop you! I’d hate to miss out on any further reasons for a good laugh!

Carry on!

That is one of the great things about blogs. If it is a slow day and there are no politicians, corruption, graft or other windmills to chase you can simply insult other posters.

I admit, I find you to be an easy target that does not require much in the way of effort or energy! Thank you again for the easy amusement!

Taste, Inc. sounds like the other “service
organizations” where “service” comes in a distant second to giving the business and professional types a chance to schmooze each other and the public.

That’s why I quit the two I was in years ago and started coaching kids sports, teaching CCD and doing other things more time consuming but also more fulfilling and less self-serving.

If I had my way, Taste Inc, Kiwanis, Rotary, etc. would all have to put their financial information on their websites so that everyone can see it anytime they want and without having to ask for it.

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