We Need Transparency In Order To Follow The Money


Earlier this month we wrote about a newly-discovered $1.7 million deficit in the 2007-2008 budget that resulted from what now appears to be inflated revenue figures invented by former City Manager Tim Schuenke and approved by our City Council (“Budget Deficit Requires Leadership From City Hall” October 2, 2008).  And there’s concern a similar hole will be showing up in the current budget.

How did that happen?  One explanation is that Schuenke may simply have made up revenue numbers as needed to match up against expenses, and the Council members rubber-stamped them.  Meanwhile, taxpayers were none the wiser until current City Manager Jim Hock blew the whistle on it and warned that “dramatic cost-cutting measures” will be needed.

What form will those cuts take?  We don’t know yet.

But the unexpected nature of that deficit, coming at a time of national economic crisis and even higher property tax bills, points to the need for both more competent management or our tax dollars and more transparency of City finances so that the taxpayers have the ability to see for themselves where their money is going. (And more financial transparency from our other local governmental bodies wouldn’t hurt, either).

Hopefully, Mr. Hock will provided his share of competent management.  And maybe the members of our City Council, now that they’ve been burned once by funny-money budgeting, will start paying closer attention to the budget process and not accept everything they’re told about revenues and expenses on blind faith.

But along with our elected and appointed officials raising their games, we also need a process by which we taxpayers can keep an eye on how and on what our money is being spent – whether it be on employee salaries and benefits, sidewalk replacement, trucks, debt service, or road salt.  And this information should not require a FOIA request, but should be readily and easily accessible on the City’s website.

We should be able to find, from the convenience of our homes or offices, all of the City’s expenditures in line-item fashion on an easily searchable database that discloses such information as the name of each contractor or vendor, the purpose of the expenditure, the date, the amount, and which official (e.g., department head) requested/authorized it. 

And the beauty of transparency is that it enhances that other benchmark of responsible government: Accountability.  Because as taxes continue to increase and property values continue to decline, we need more of that in local government at every level.

19 comments so far

I am left with mixed emotions. At times in the past the Council has acknowledged the existence of the tax cap for other taxing bodies and even come close to adhering to it. Our present situation will probably be used to justify a huge increase in tax rates and collections rather than careful control over spending. Rising taxes lift all wages top to bottom.

We really need a huge outsourcing drive and reductions in city staff to deal with the future

anon 8:41:

I understand the general idea behind your comment but I would remind you outsourcing without transparancy is even more dangerous than city enployee payroll.

All one needs to do is look at some of the contractors who are servicing our war effort. If the public does not have the ability to see how much and to whom, it is like these guys hit the lottery!

Forget the Iraq War, the abuse of outsourcing – and payrollers as well – has been going on for years in Richie Daley’s Chicago. And look at all the money Park Ridge has spent on all these consultants that really haven’t done much of consequence for us.

The aldermen got suckered. They voted for a budget that didn’t count on the sure bet income of property taxes, and they didn’t tie their spending plans to that budget portion either. They even reduced the property tax increase from the usual 5% to something around 3++%.

Instead of dealing with reality based numbers and budgeting, they let Schuenke get away with snookering them with fee based revenue income projections based on building permits, transfer taxes and sales taxes to balance the budget, even though none of them should be able to excuse themselves by claiming to not have been aware of the even then downturning real estate market and general economic atmosphere.

Heck Public Watchdog, I wouldn’t need to even see every line item from the budget if I could count on some reasonable thinking in the whole thing. Basing a $50++million dollar budget for a city on fee increases is just dumb, especially when you had to have had your head in the sand about what was going on even then in the economy.

I don’t understand anything about how the budget is even formulated. Finance is not one of my gifts.

I am wondering how and who in the City Government is supposed to do all the number crunching. Is it really all up to just one person who is the City Manager?

Schuenke was a nightmare. If he didn’t sound like he was making stuff up, then he looked like he was making stuff up.

But were all the aldermen asleep when he talked about filling the budget hole with fee increases? That’s bad policy, even if the numbers actually work. And nobody in their right mind should have believed the numbers would actually work.

Finance was not my gift either, but in my professional life I had to learn about it and frankly it wasn’t that complicated. For some reason people are afraid to put a toe in the water, but once you do, the water’s fine.

Aldermen should have this epiphany; it is clear that the city staff has operated at low levels of accountability. It couldn’t have been just Schuenke. This is the same group that doesn’t follow its own zoning regulations.

Into this fray steps Robert Ryan, who wants to put appointed citizens on sub-committees like Finance & Budget in lieu of himself and other aldermen who may not understand the “minutae.” Sounds like a further abdication of responsibility to me, and at this point we’re not talking about minutae.

Excellent topic!
I hope Mr. Hock can not only reign in the spending, but put some accountability to it. Who got us into this debt? Like every other homeowner in this town, I cannot afford to keep having our property taxes increased. It is sad that at the local city level they can be allowed to spend more than is coming in and just come back to us for more tax revenue.

I don’t see us coming back to our employers asking for more money because we spent more than our budget.

The local city staff and assistant city manager should be ashamed that they are over budget by such an enormous amount.

The only guy on that council that seems to actually be doing the work on his own is Schmidt. He always seems more informed than the others, whether it’s just because he actually reads all the stuff he gets from the city, or because he does his own research, or because he actually thinks about it before he comes to the meeting. After him is a big drop-off down to Wsol. And after Wsol you get DiPietro, who is the master of the trivial but can’t see the forest for the trees. And after him you fall off a cliff down to Bach, Carey and Allegretti. Ryan shouldn’t even bother to show up.

That is because Alderman Schmidt moved into Park Ridge, because he loves the town. He wants to keep Park Ridge a great place to live!

Schmidt is working hard and toiling by himself trying to beat back things that are bad for Park Ridge.

Schmidt has repeatedly been a voice of reason (not against homeless shelters, just for regulating homeless shelters and perhaps finding locations better than a school), on the council, on almost every issue.

It’s time we promoted Dave and demoted Liemark and restored some order to this town.

With all the distraction due to PADS, let’s not forget who exactly has benefited the most under the term of this mayor—his friends.

Bruce Adriani (yes of the Country Club Adriani’s).
Bill Napelton (yes, of the corporate give-away Napeltons).

Friends of Frimark, be aware the time has come that your poster child is going to be swept out of office.

Restore power to the hard-working, law abiding, tax paying, citizens of this town.

Draft Schmidt!

No candidate worth his/her salt should need to be “drafted.” Either they want to do it or they don’t, and if they don’t want it enough to pull the trigger without a “draft” then they should sit on the sidelines and let Howard – along with his new best friends (PADS, the PRMA and the White Shirts) and his old best friends (the special interests, his campaign contributors, and the high-density developers) – have their way with us for another 4 years.

If Marty Butler was still alive, this kind of crap would kill him.

I am sure I do not know Alderman Dave as well as many of you. What I have seen, I like. I recently witnessed him ask questions at the meeting on the floods and he asked insightful questions. He was also not afraid to admit what he did not know, which is refreshing for someone holding an elected office.

He does have an advantage at the moment in that he gets to be the contrarian. He appears to me to be a verys smart guy. I am sure he is smart enough to know that if he were to become Mayor there would come a time that he would have to make a difficult decision that might not be popular with the blogs. All those posting here for him to run would turn on him in a heart beat.


What a load of horse oats! Your view presumes some gratuitous, “contrarian”, treatment of anyone holding the Mayor’s seat. That’s simply an obnoxious statement to make about all of the paricipants on this site as well as the U’ground who have bothered to discuss the issues that have come up.

The current Mayor is treated to a regular roasting by “the blogs” precisely because he cannot be counted on to think and reason beyond what is first good for himself, and second good for his friends. There is a large and growing number of very dissatisfied “customers” in Park Ridge who increasingly believe that the current Mayor is not only wrong in the “difficult” decisions he makes, but that those decisions aren’t at all difficult for him because the best interests of the town aren’t even considered.

Truly, do try to give your remarks more than a passing consideration.


I seem to have a knack for pissing you off. I clearly need to express myself more clearly. I never said that there is a contrarian view on this board for ANYONE who is mayor. I did say he has the advantage of being able to play a contrarian role to Howard -who virtually everyone on this blog hates. If everyone thinks that Brand X sucks there is an advantage to being Brand Y. Just ask Mr. Obama (at least so far).


What you seem to truly have a knack for is shallow and ill-considered sentiments. I will leave any assessment of what you “need” up to you.

Your accusation is that the views expressed by Alderman Schmidt are merely “contrarian” and, by extension, so are those Alderman Schmidt represents with his voicing of concerns on matters of public policy.

You confuse hate of the man (Howard Frimark) with hate for what he represents (the pejorative view of a “politician”). If Howard Frimark were to actually consider the voices of the residents all around him, instead of only those he whispers with at various clubby functions he attends, and if Howard Frimark were to actually represent interests broader than himself and his friends, the blogs and the posters here would not continually call him out.

When you position anyone as being in the drivers seat, and that they would be “turned on” for unpopular and difficult decisions, you are not only minimizing the people with serious public policy concerns but also the representative who has been the only elected official the residents of Park Ridge can ever count on to truly listen to their concerns. To attempt to say that residents are so incredibly fickle that they would forget how doggedly Alderman Schmidt has worked on their behalf is to also minimize the ability of reasonable minds to disagree on an issue.

The trust and goodwill that Alderman Schmidt has built in the community and consistently displayed on behalf of residents is not likely to be tossed aside by those residents who have come to understand that at the very least, Alderman Schmidt does hear them and bothers to respond directly to them. It is a measure of trust that Howard Frimark doesn’t have the privilege of receiving from residents because he has so consistently demonstrated his disregard for them, while he attempt to deliver another less-than-clever sound bite.


I stand by my statement.

First of all you used the word “merely. I did not. How you got merely is a mystery to me. There is no question that Alderman Dave, based on what I have seen has a very different opinion and agenda versus the current administration. Then you jump to the next step and say that the merely that I did not use or imply no applies to all those Alderman Dave represents.

Second of all, you assume, that somehow I think that the hate for Howard is personal and that somehow it is not justified by his public policy and decisions in office. That is not the case. I have only been coming to the blogs for approximately 6 months but what I have seen here has helped me to take a more critical look at PR government. It has been a starting point for more research as well. There are situations that are suspicious at the least. There are decisions that were flat out wrong and situations that were very badly mishandled.

In terms of your fickle “trust being earned” statement I guess I am not sure how to even answer that. I guess I would say that that “trust” is a risky commodity and people forget quickly. I would like to think that reasonable minds can disagree (you and I seem to do it all the time, although I am not sure I could be labeled reasonable). I am not sure how often I see that behavior and I know that the blog medium does not encourage this behavior. Perhaps you are projecting your own attributes on to the entire population.

In late September there was an article in the Journal where Alderman said some things about the PADS issue including “needing evidence”. There was a post on one of the blogs that took serious issue with his comments including the following:

“We sure do hope that while Ald. Schmidtzkrieg is considering a run for Mayor, he isn’t also considering adopting a more “politically correct” manner of representing the concerns of the residents in Park Ridge. We’ve had our fill of the milquetoast bullshit that for too long has been allowed to get passed off as discussion and debate on issues in this town.”

He has not even decided to run for office, makes a comment in the paper and this is the commentary from a poster. I am not saying this comment cannot be justified but I would say that as Mayor there will be decisions and commnets that he will make that people will disagree with.

I maintain that many of those, who like me post anon., and are now suggesting he run will turn on him in a heart beat. If I close my eyes I can see the posts….”what happened to Alderman Dave???”……”power corrupts…..”

Alpha’s post at 5:06,

Hear hear!

The only down side of having an Ald. Schmidt as the sole voice of reason in City Hall. . . is that he is the SOLE voice of reason in City Hall.

Park Ridge deserves better.


An admirable attempt at back-pedaling, but the shallow and ill-considered sentiments remain in the statement you are standing by. Try not to get too much of the stink of it on yourself.

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


(optional and not displayed)