Time For District 64 To Start Getting Its Due


We here at PublicWatchdog have been pretty focused on the goings on in City of Park Ridge government, especially during the last two years of the reign of Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and his Alderpuppets.  And with good reason, we might add.

During these past two years of Frimark’s cut-in-half City Council, the City has booked over $3 million in budget deficits while neglecting such basic infrastructure needs as streets and sewers.  And it just passed a new budget that is showing a $1.8 million deficit, assuming every contingency ends up going in the City’s favor.  Otherwise, we’re in even more trouble.

But today we’re going to take a break from the City’s travails and looking at a local governmental body that gives every indication of being as ineptly managed as the City – School District 64 – even though it’s harder to tell because all seven of its Board members seem to be equally clueless about many of the matters under their authority, especially the financial ones.  That may be why they appear to have ceded most of the District’s financial decision-making (via “recommendations”) to the non-elected members of the Community Finance Committee (the “CFC”).

As reported yesterday in the on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Positions approved for new school staff,” April 28), on Monday night the Dist. 64 Board approved the addition of four new staff members and two administrative positions for the 2009-10 school year: a full-time registered nurse, one special-education facilitator (Does he/she “facilitate” the teaching of special-ed students?  What happened to just plain “teaching”?), a literacy teacher for each of the two middle schools, and assistant principals for Field and Washington elementary schools.

According to outgoing Board member Chris Mollet, these new positions “will contribute…to the educational outcome that the children will now have the opportunity to experience.”  Huh?  Mr. Mollet, could you drop the edu-speak and try that again, this time in plain English?

We checked the District’s website of materials related to Monday night’s meeting and found these two action item forms [pdf] for the new-position vote.  Notice anything missing?  That’s right, the cost for each of these positions, or even all of them cumulatively.  And amazingly enough, the cost appears nowhere in the H-A article, either – although the article in today’s Park Ridge Journal pegs the total cost at $385,000 for four of the positions.  So we’re still not sure of the total cost of these new hires.

At least one resident, Tom Johnson, spoke out against increased costs in these tough economic times.  Thank you, Mr. Johnson.  Unfortunately, it didn’t stop the District 64 Board members, who are now flush with the cash from the 2007 referendum and can’t stop spending it – as evidenced by what appears to be an almost $5 million (7.9%) increase in expenses over last year. 

Hey, folks, since when did the cost of living go up that much?  And if we’re paying that much more in expenses, has the quality of the education – as measured by the same standardized test scores that everybody seems to use when rating the quality of schools and school districts – gone up 7.9%?  Or even 3.95%? 

Interestingly enough, the materials for the meeting included a Supt. Sally Pryor memo [pdf] announcing an “Award of Excellence” being issued to outgoing Board president Sue Runyon, who Pryor credits with being “intensively involved” in the last two successful D-64 referendums (the “Yes/Yes” Emerson one in 1997, and the financial bail-out referendum of 2007), as well as for making the District’s finances “more transparent and understandable to local citizens as a steering committee member of the Community Finance Committee (CFC).”   

If that agenda memo for the six new positions with no cost numbers attached is any indication, however, it would seem that “more transparent” still leaves a lot to be desired…and causes us to wonder just how bad “less transparent” might be.

But, then again, that award is coming from the Illinois chapter of something called the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that describes its “mission” as “to advance education through responsible communication” – which it accomplishes “through a variety of diverse services that we provide to Our Members and to other school leaders who contract with or buy from us.”

Hmmmm…that sure sounds a lot like “Have Propaganda, Will Travel.”  For a price.  From our perspective, that’s the last thing a school district (or any other governmental entity, for that matter) needs or should want.  Unless, of course, scamming the taxpaying public and avoiding accountability is the goal – in which case good P.R. is essential.

And guess what.  NSPRA’s website advertises how it provides “experienced advice on a wide range of troublesome topics” like: “Marketing your schools”; “Engaging your community on key issues” and “Passing a bond or budget referendum….” (like the two Dist. 64 referendums, perhaps?); and “Neutralizing pressure groups or dealing with the media during bad times.”  Sound familiar?

As best as we can tell, during Ms. Runyon’s tenure District 64’s finances spiraled downward to the point where the District had made enough appearances on the State Board of Education’s financial “Early Warning” or “Watch” lists that it was in danger of having its finances taken over by the State Board – before they were temporarily salvaged by the back-door issuance of $5 million of “working cash bonds” in 2005, without a public vote.  In 2007, the District finally went to referendum and, with a $25,000-plus campaign war chest from Citizens for Strong Schools, won itself what appears to have been the biggest District 64 tax increase in at least 20 years.

Per Supt. Pryor, Ms. Runyon was “instrumental” in that referendum request.  Too bad she hasn’t been “instrumental” in the biggest increase in educational improvement in at least 20 years…or even 10.

So Ms. Runyon will have to do without a congratulatory wag of the Watchdog’s tail, since it appears that her Award of Excellence has more to do with selling the residents on whatever quality of education the District provides than with actually improving the quality of that education in any notable, measurable way.

Vaya con Dios.

Public Subsidies Demand Transparency


At tonight’s Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, one of the agenda items is the approval of the appropriation of $187,000 to 13 private or quasi-private organizations or entities [pdf], all of which are “non-profit” and/or “charitable” in nature.

We here at PublicWatchdog are great fans of many of these groups, and can testify to their respective utility and desirability.  Every one of them contributes something positive to our community.  But these harsh economic times and the millions of dollars of budget deficits our City has been running give us an opportunity to revisit the all-too-common practice of local government taking the money confiscated from the taxpayers and doling it out to these private organizations.

In the case of this $187,000 appropriation being debated tonight, not only does it represent the City Council assuming the authority to pick our charities for us when it can’t even balance the City’s budget, but it is giving that money to entities who appear to be even less forthcoming and accountable about their own finances than the City government which is bestowing our funds on them.

For example, not one of the five organizations getting the most money – the Center of Concern ($55,600), the Senior Center ($34,000), the Park Ridge Teen Center ($21,300), the Fine Arts Society ($12,800) and the Civic Orchestra ($12,800) – posts its finances on-line, even though each of them has its own website and could easily do so.  If you want to get their financial information, you have to go to, where you will find copies of the IRS Form 990s (some of which are outdated) for all but the Senior Center, which technically is an arm of the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District, a public taxing body separate and apart from the City of Park Ridge.  That fact raises a serious issue about the propriety of the City’s contributing its funds to an unrelated governmental entity and taxing body.

So if, for example, you want to know exactly where the Center of Concern’s $708,422 in “government contributions” came from in its 2007 fiscal year, you won’t find it in the Form 990 or anywhere on the COC’s website.  In fact, the closest thing to financials you’ll find on the COC’s website is a list of its “Major Donors” [pdf] – but from fiscal year 2005-2006.  Unfortunately, the amount donated by each of the COC’s 8 governmental donors is not identified.

The same lack of information applies to the various governmental sources of funding for the other organizations except for the Senior Center – which has its financials included in the Park District’s budget.  That 2009 budget [pdf] indicates that the Senior Center is costing the taxpayers of the Park District (the boundaries of which are not the same as the City’s) almost $200,000 in 2008, and another $155,000 in budget year 2009.  

Rather than expound on our reasons for opposing the City of Park Ridge’s making charitable contributions with our tax dollars, we instead offer the comments of the late Rep. David S. Crockett, otherwise known as the legendary “Davy Crockett,” who represented Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District from 1827 to 1831.  When confronted with a bill that would have appropriated money as a charitable contribution for the benefit of the widow of a distinguished U.S. naval officer, Crockett said the following from the House floor:

“We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”

The full text of Crockett’s speech, and a biographical account of how he came to make it, can be found here [pdf].   

Whether or not one agrees with the principles espoused by Davy Crockett over 170 years ago, one thing should be beyond contestation: Any organization which receives public money should provide the same kind of transparency and accountability as is required of the public body providing that money.

And by that standard, the organizations whose handouts will be debated tonight come up woefully short, especially with the City facing its worst financial crisis in memory.

Mayoral Election Was Triumph Of Substance Over Style


When it comes to local suburban elections, some people “get it” and some don’t.

While these elections can be, and often are, simple popularity contests, they have the potential for being very issue-driven – as this last mayoral election proved.  That’s because local suburban elections (unlike elections at the state and national level) tend to deal with people, facts and issues that are more familiar to the voters and, therefore, can be more readily understood by them with even a modest effort.

Which is why you can tell those who “get it” from those who don’t by how they view local politics and local political campaigns. 

The “get its” talk about matters of substance, like a candidate’s record, policies and positions on the issues.  The “don’ts” dwell on irrelevancies like personality and style.  And when the election is over, more often than not the “don’ts” will attribute a candidate’s win or loss to the kind of campaign he/she ran, as in “Candidate X ran a great campaign” rather than “Candidate X had the best ideas.” 

And because the “don’ts” deal in personalities and style rather than substance, they tend to regard political campaigns and the whole electoral process as something dirty, distasteful and divisive rather than something to be celebrated.

Which is why we take issue with outgoing Park Ridge Park District Commissioner Dick Barton’s letter to the editor in last week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Future Is At Stake,” April 15, 2009), which opens with: “Let the healing begin.”

What, exactly, needs to be “healed”, Mr. Barton?  Free elections, and the vigorously-contested campaigns that precede them, display the health of our democratic Republic.  They are events to be celebrated and cherished, not illnesses which require healing and recovery.  

Barton bemoans these local political campaigns for “the friction they create between neighbors, church members, those in civic organizations of all types, and between rival groups of candidate supporters.” But the “friction” of ideas and policies rubbing against each other in competition for the voters’ attention and support is usually how the best ideas and policies – and the candidates who espouse them – are identified and endorsed.  

That’s why a candidate’s substance – his/her principles, policies and ideas – are far more important than his/her style – the organizations to which he belongs to, the charities to which she contributes, or the boards on which he serves.  And that’s why John Adams advised: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” 

If a record of community service were the chief qualification for public office, a case could be made for filling every office with a member of the clergy – which would be a recipe for disaster, as the government of Iran demonstrates.   

Barton asks those who participated in the election to “put away our petty disagreements” and “work as a real community.”  We’re not sure what election he is describing, but we don’t recall any “petty disagreements” between Mayor Howard Frimark and mayor-elect Dave Schmidt – unless he considers “petty” the very real differences expressed by the two candidates on such significant matters as honest and transparent government, infrastructure, taxes, spending and debt, and development.  

We sure don’t, and we’re betting that neither do the 8,655 citizens who did their civic duty by voting.

Rather than harming the community, the electoral process is the essential act by which a “real community” goes about governing itself.  The candidates and their supporters did, indeed, “work as a real community” in the weeks and months leading up to April 7th, as did the voters who cast their votes.

They are the ones who “get it.”  And they are the ones who deserve our gratitude.

Penny Un-Wise And Pound Foolish


Just a year after taking office, a then-embattled Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark pulled off his biggest political coup: he ran a petition drive to put a referendum on the November 2006 ballot to cut the City Council from its traditional 14 aldermen – 2 from each ward – to just 7. 

His professed justification for the cut was that 7 aldermen were more than enough to do the City’s business, and that cutting 7 aldermen from the City payroll would produce an annual savings of a whopping $8,400 (aldermanic stipend of $1,200/yr X 7 aldermen).  And although he wouldn’t publicly admit it, the cut gave him a shot at relieving himself of his political “enemies” on then comprising a majority of the Council: Don Crampton (1st Ward), Jeannie Markech (2nd Ward), Kim Jones (3rd Ward), Jim Radermacher (4th Ward), Mark Anderson (5th Ward), Rex Parker and Mary Wynn Ryan (6th Ward) and Jeff Cox (7th Ward). 

That’s because the wily Frimark utilized a quirk of Illinois law to ensure that the referendum question he proposed not only would cut the Council in half and end the terms of all of his Council opponents (including those who had just been elected in 2005), but by excluding any language that would provide for staggered terms he was able to lock in the aldermen to be elected in 2007 for a full four years.

For a variety of reasons, Frimark’s referendum passed, 7,688 (54.75%) to 6,354 (45.25%).  And in April, 2007, Frimark was able to pack the Council with five full-blown Alderpuppets – Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward), Don Bach (3rd Ward), Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), Robert Ryan (5th Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward). 

So what did we get from the $8,400/yr payroll reduction and a majority of Frimark Alderpuppets? 

During the first two years of Frimark’s stripped-down Council, we got approximately $3 million of budget deficits!  In other words, we saved “pennies” ($16,800, two years of aldermanic salary savings) and lost “pounds” – or, more accurately, tons, given the size of the deficit.  And the budget approved Monday night by this same crowd, on closer inspection, looks like it’s “balanced” by smoke and mirrors instead of cash.

Coincidence?  We think not.

Even a 14-member City Council, manned by part-time aldermen with real jobs (unlike Chicago, for example, where aldermen are paid around $100,000…plus all they can grab), was challenged to keep up with the foolishness towards which municipal government of any size tends.  Cutting the Council in half and then packing it with stooges was a political masterstroke, but it has turned out to be a governmental disaster – and that’s likely to be the case irrespective of which 7 might be sitting around The Horseshoe at any given time.

But don’t get us wrong.  Most of the current Council members are grossly overpaid even at $1,200 each per year.  We doubt that Bach, Allegretti, Ryan and Carey could get a clue if you spotted them the “C” and the “L”, and let them buy a vowel.  And DiPietro still hasn’t figured out what happened to the $650,000 of taxpayer money he voted to send down to Peotone as an “investment” back in 2002.  From what we’ve seen and heard over the past two years, those five have produced more slack jaws over City finances than can be counted.  And we’ve got over $3 million in budget deficits…and counting…to show for it.

But Monday night, Frimark and his Alderpuppets were not alone. 

Wsol, who appears to have a better grasp than all but one of his comrades, seemed incapable of processing the fact that a $400,000 water fund deficit is something to avoid in a proposed budget, even during a recession – and even if the water fund has an almost $4 million balance.  As City Finance Director Diane Lambesis pointed out, that balance represents much/most of the City’s cash on hand – due to the General Fund’s holding only about $3 million in cash and being “balanced” by millions of dollars of IOU’s from bankrupt funds like the Uptown TIF Fund.  That makes his “No” vote the right decision for the wrong reason.

Ryan’s “No” vote, on the other hand, sounded like it was actually a “Yes” vote – but for even more fiscal irresponsibility.  He cast that vote after expressing his opposition to budget cuts to expenditures like the annual handouts to all those private community groups which can’t or won’t raise enough funds to operate on their own and, therefore, have come to consider themselves entitled to be subsidized by the taxpayers.

But the most puzzling, if not disturbing, “Yes” vote for the new un-balanced budget was from Schmidt, who is currently mayor-elect, in part, by promising fiscal responsibility, transparency and focusing on essentials like street paving and flood relief rather than feel-good amenities. Try as we might, we can’t find a whole lot of evidence of those virtues in the budget to which Schmidt said “Yes” Monday night.

He didn’t give any explanation either before or after his vote, so we don’t know what reasoning – if any – lies behind it.  But but we think he owes a big one to the people of Park Ridge, and especially the 4,885 residents who voted for him just 2 weeks ago.   

We’re waiting, Mayor-elect Dave.  Tick tock.

Make Yourself Heard Tonight On Proposed City Budget


The Park Ridge City Council is holding a “public hearing” on the City’s 2009-10 budget tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Park Ridge City Hall.  The Council is supposed to adopt a budget by May 1, so time is definitely of the essence. 

We strongly encourage every civic-minding, thinking Park Ridge citizen to show up and to ask questions and speak your minds on this subject, because it sure is looking like City finances are facing a “perfect storm” that could have the power to sink us if we aren’t careful.  As we pointed out last week in “Time For Fuss About City Budget”, the City is facing a number of critical budgetary problems that have been brewing for the past few years as the result of budget deficits that were concealed from the taxpayers – or, if we wish to be generous to the folks over at City Hall, not as well publicized as they should have been. 

Part of the problem was that former City Mgr. Tim Schuenke apparently just made up revenue numbers out of thin air, possibly in combination with low-balling expenses.  But the other part of the problem was that soon-to-be ex-Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark had no clue about balancing the City budget: he was too busy running around cutting sweetheart deals and trying to build a new cop shop.  And because Frimark had no clue or care, neither did his Alderpuppets – or if they did, they sure weren’t going to say anything that might offend the guy who pulls their strings. 

So what we got for the past two years appears to have been a big dose of fiscal irresponsibility masquerading as benign neglect, including the typical governmental fund-accounting shell game and budget cuts in such essential infrastructure needs as street repair, sewer repair and relief sewer construction.  Unfortunately, we’ve already seen, up close and personal, how well that has worked out for us.

Whether the proposed budget on tonight’s agenda will be much better is anybody’s guess, especially if our elected representatives and City staff insist on pulling more of those fund-accounting tricks, like “balancing” the General Fund with worthless(?) IOU’s from other bankrupt funds – such as the allegedly “successful” Uptown TIF fund.  That fund currently sports a gaping $3.8 million hole and is projected to come up another $1.3 million short this year, in part because of the approximately $1.3 million of annual debt service on the $27 million of bonds the City issued in 2005 and 2006 in connection with that project. 

And in case you’re wondering, that $27 million in bonded debt does not include the $16,770,000 in bonds the City issued in 2004 to build the new reservoir and pump station.    

How many of you know that we just got hit with a 15% water rate increase by the City of Chicago that is going to cause a $400,000 deficit in the water fund this year?  And there’s another 14% increase coming Jan.1, 2010!  If we understand City Mgr. Jim Hock correctly, the City has been subsidizing water use for years (how many of you know that?), which causes us to wonder how in the world the City was able to build up a water fund balance of almost $4 million.  Maybe somebody will be able to explain that at tonight’s hearing.   

Meanwhile, for all you folks who have begun to consider stocking your basements with bass or walleye every time it rains heavily, you might want to show up tonight and ask exactly how much money is being set aside in the proposed new budget for sewer repair and installation of relief sewers – because it looks like, for the third year in a row, those infrastructure items will go begging.

In addition to showing up at tonight’s meeting, we also encourage you to check out the City’s website and give a read to the budget information posted there so that you’ll have some idea of what’s going on.  But you need to get that information from what was posted for Saturday’s budget workshop – all you’ll find on the website for tonight’s hearing is the agenda.

Government budgets are where the rubber meets the road.  Given the mess that’s staring us in the face, can we really trust the folks at City Hall to get this right without our input?

Time For Fuss About City Budget


Just slightly more than a week ago, the six Alderpuppets of lame-duck Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark were still touting the need for a new $16.5 million (real cost, all in: $28 million) police station, while assuring us that such a project was affordable despite multi-million dollar budget deficits over the past two years and more of the same on the horizon.

What a difference a week makes.

With the voters having decisively rejected both cop shop referendums, Monday night’s City Council COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting featured a discussion of the proposed 2009-10 budget which focused on flooding reduction – and how to pay for it.

The City staff proposal for revenue increases focuses on increases in water rates and sewer fees, but with the proviso that the sewer revenues would go into a special sewer enterprise fund to be used only for that purpose.  Which sounds like a sound precaution, given what is known or suspected about the state of the City’s finances.

City Mgr. Jim Hock acknowledged that the $1.2 million of “new” revenues (expected from the water and sewer tax increases) to pay for sewer repair and improvements would normally come out of the General Fund “but there is not enough money there at this time.”  Two reasons for that: the Uptown TIF fund is awash in red ink, and public works expenses were more than $800,000 over budget.

Uh oh.

We would have hoped such sobering news would cause some deep thinking from our representatives on the Council, but such was not the case.  With the exception of Ald. (and mayor-elect) Dave Schmidt and Wsol, deep thoughts were pretty much at a premium.

Frimark lap dog Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) – who was so convinced the voters wanted a new cop shop that he even opposed any referendum on the issue – did his best to de-rail efforts to begin building the sewer enterprise fund, arguing that no such fund should be established or budgeted for until the results of the pending sewer study are received.  Perhaps he’s holding out hope that the study will report that we really don’t have a flooding problem, or at least the kind of problem that can be remediated by sewer improvements and/or the addition of relief sewers.  Would that put the cop shop back in play, Jimbo?

Not to be outdone by Allegretti when it comes to having no grasp of City finances, Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach (3rd Ward) – who wouldn’t spend his money on another Cadillac from Napleton, but who happily voted to give Napleton up to $2.4 million of our money – claimed to be “disheartened” by the proposed cuts in funding to various community organizations. “I can’t stand to watch these social and cultural programs be cut,” he said after hearing a plea for continued funding from Perry Fisher, president of The Park Ridge Cultural Arts Council, Inc. (“CACInc.”), one of the many 501(c)(3) not-for-profit private corporations which find ways to suck up public funds while keeping disclosures about their finances and operations pretty much to themselves. 

CACInc.’s website claims that it’s “a resource for the active promotion, coordination, and support of cultural arts activities in and for the Park Ridge Community.”  According to Fisher, CACInc. has been receiving $5,500 a year from the City, which he stated is more than half its budget.  Whether that’s true or not is not readily verifiable, as CACInc.’s website doesn’t post any financial information; and its last IRS Form 990 available on GuideStar is from 2000 [pdf] – and shows it getting $2,250 in “Direct public support” versus $10,650 in “Government contributions (grants).”

We’re big fans of cultural arts, really we are.  But we think it’s pretty pathetic when an organization like CACInc. has to rely on handouts from the taxpayers for more than half of its rather modest budget.  Maybe the folks at CACInc. should try a few bake sales, pancake breakfasts or car washes rather than government welfare. 
With the City facing what is starting to look like a financial meltdown, with flooding becoming a routine occurrence, with Public Works scrambling to afford road salt and pave our streets, it is patently irresponsible to continue to fund frills – yes, frills – like cultural arts, and especially those organizations which either can’t or won’t generate enough community support to pay their own way and, instead, demand annual entitlements from the taxpayers.

The City Council has until May 1 to adopt its new budget, and there’s a public hearing this coming Monday (April 20) at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall that should at least be worth the price of admission – which is free, as usual.  It isn’t likely to be pretty, but it’s at meetings like this where the real city government “rubber” meets the road.  Who knows, maybe Alderpuppet Robert Ryan (5th Ward), MIA this past Monday night, might even show up.

Hopefully the taxpayers who have kept this City afloat all these years and will be expected to do so in the future will be well represented in the audience, because – with the exception of Schmidt and perhaps Wsol – we can’t expect much from the rest of the crowd sitting around “the Horseshoe.”

Stop Lying About The Cop Shop, “Politician” Wsol


7th Ward Alderpuppet Frank Wsol wants the taxpayers to buy a new police station he can take credit for.  And after three years of scheming his way to that goal, he’s still at it.

First, he came up with his confusing, misleading, dishonest and unnecessary cop shop referendum question after a bunch of private citizens had already put a legitimate cop shop referendum question on the ballot. To many Council observers and those citizens who braved the cold and Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s interference to get their question on the ballot, it sure looked like Wsol was trying to marginalize the results of the citizens’ referendum because he knew that it was going to lose big-time.  And it did, 83.39% to 16.61%. 

So in last Thursday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Schmidt wants Park Ridge house studied for police,” April 9), Wsol was already deceitfully “spinning” the 53.20% to 46.80% defeat of his referendum question into a bass-ackwards “victory.”  

“I think it’s pretty clear that if we do have the funds available after taking care of our infrastructure, a fair of amount of citizens understand that we should do something (about the police station),” Wsol said. “I’m positive about the response to the second question, because it shows people understand, at least in principle, the concepts that were proposed are sound: a fixed budget, no new land purchase and an addition onto City Hall.”

Of course, Wsol had no dollar figure for what “taking care of our infrastructure” might cost, or even what it might entail.  And that means that he had no idea of when any funds for a new cop shop might be “available.”  All he was trying to do was look less like a deceptive weasel than he might otherwise appear to the many voters who wondered why he would come up with such a last-minute piece of junk to put on the ballot.

Having watched Wsol with interest since he “inherited” his aldermanic seat in 2005 from retiring alderman Larry “Mr. Infrastructure” Friel in an uncontested election, we have found him to be pretty much of a “RINO” (“Republican In Name Only”), especially when it comes to City finances.  He also seems to fancy himself a “politician” – in the worst sense of that term – which would explain why talking honestly to Park Ridge taxpayers about the cop shop is not very easy for him.

Three years ago, Wsol led the “Hallelujah” chorus when the City’s hired-gun consultants recommended a 40,000+ square foot “Taj Mahal” police station with shooting range, work-out room and indoor garage.  And when Mayor Frimark was negotiating sweetheart deals with the owners of various sites on which the new cop shop could be built (including a site owned by Frimark campaign contributor Napleton Cadillac, and the 720 Garden parcel owned by a Frimark friend), Wsol happily voted for the closed sessions to keep the taxpayers in the dark and keep the project moving forward.

But when citizen opposition increased, Frankie The Politician started tap-dancing.  He came up with a new plan to cap the cop shop’s purchase price at $16.5 million, which he calculated could be financed for roughly the same annual debt service as what we have been paying for the past 10 years on the expiring Public Works Building bonds.  What he tried to hide, however, was that the new bonds would be for 23 years instead of 10, raising the total cost of the project to $28 million, without any land costs figured in.

That’s one of those kinds of lies that the courtroom oath “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is designed to prevent: telling the “whole truth” would have required The Politician to actually acknowledge that $28 million cost figure, which he consistently refused to do. 

He also failed to tell the “whole truth” when he and Frimark claimed that the new cop shop bonds wouldn’t raise our taxes because they would just be extending the annual debt service payments we’re already making.  Telling the “whole truth” would have required them to admit that while taxes won’t have to be raised to continue to pay that same level of debt service, even for the next 23 years, they will have to be raised if the City wants to do things – like flood control or street re-surfacing – that it otherwise might have done with the $1.2 million in the unallocated cash that would become available once the Public Works bonds were paid off.

According the the H-A article, Wsol says he is not going to bring any new cop shop proposals to the Council – at least not for the time being.  Said The Politician: “I think we need to wait for our new mayor to help us answer that question.” The “whole truth” is that the voters already gave Wsol and the rest of the Alderpuppets the answer to that question, and that answer was “No!” 

As for “our new mayor,” he already came up with a suggestion: renovating the City-owned house at 229 S. Courtland.  That makes it time for City staff to explore whether that option is viable and cost-effective, and to give the Council a recommendation on it which the Council can either endorse or reject.

But whatever the outcome, it’s way past time for Frankie “The Politician” Wsol to stop shoveling the “sugar” and start telling the residents the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the cop shop – both what it will cost and what other important projects it will prevent.

Or he can keep on tap-dancing.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Election Edition


Some bon mots, vignettes and quick hits from the just-completed election season:

·         Did Mayor Frimark really spend a good part of Election Day encouraging people to visit an anti-Schmidt website while in the same breath stating that he doesn’t condone that sort of thing? 

·         Didn’t anybody ever tell Frimark’s political propagandist, Linda “Linda Ski” Szczepanski, that sour grapes (i.e., claiming Schmidt ran “a negative race”) make for bad whine?  

·         Speaking of sour grapes, Wednesday’s Park Ridge Journal quotes a “shocked” Frimark thusly: “[Schmidt] put out four negative pieces portraying me as a crook.”  After looking at all four of those pieces, we think “ethically challenged” would be more accurate than “crook.”

·         Speaking of ethical challenges, how will newly-elected Park Board Commissioner Richard Brandt avoid a conflict of interest in connection with the District’s relationship with the Service Employees International Union that effectively sponsored Brandt’s candidacy?

·         Did Rosemary Mulligan really tell some Maine Twp. Republicans Tuesday night that newly-elected mayors Marty Moylan (Des Plaines) and Dave Schmidt (Park Ridge) are Daley plants who will try to turn their respective communities into “Chicago’s 51st Ward”?

·         Speaking of more sour grapes from Frimark (also as reported by The Journal): “The city of Park Ridge, you’ll have to deal with him.”  Wasn’t Frimark referring to all things Park Ridge using the term “we’ll” just a few days ago?

·         After losing his seat on the Park Board and his sponsor at City Hall (Frimark), whither goest Nick Milissis?  Maybe he should have spent less time trying to kick candidates off the ballot and more time actually campaigning.

·         How soon before newcomer and top Dist. 207 vote-getter Margaret McGrath becomes a real force on that board?  

·         We’re still having a hard time deciding which of Frimark’s answers to the questions posed at The Journal’s debate contained the most inaccurate information.  One thing that seems pretty clear from the videos of that debate, however, is that City Council meetings should be televised (or at least video-recorded).

·         Where will Frimark lap dog Jim Allegretti (4th Ward) curl up after May 4th?

·         Did Sam Spiros Markos’ $17,000 in contributions to Frimark come with a money-back guaranty?

·         We can’t wait to see how much of all that campaign dough Frimark actually spent, and where it went.

·         How will Alderpuppet Frank Wsol (7th Ward) spin the fact that his confusing, misleading, dishonest and unnecessary referendum question still lost by 53.20% to 46.80%?  We’re betting he’ll compare it favorably to the citizens’ referendum losing 83.39% to 16.61%, and then come up with a lame excuse for yet another new cop shop plan.

·         Now that Frimark is out of the way, when will the new “Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections” start flexing its political muscle – using the $15,000 “start-up cash” it got from the defunct “Homeowners Party” – to begin fielding its aldermanic candidates for 2011?

Congratulations, Mr. Schmidt…Now Comes The Heavy Lifting


Congratulations, Mayor-Elect Schmidt.  You did it!

And congratulation, Park Ridge voters…for making it happen! 

4,885 of you went to the polls and cast your votes for taking this community back from the let’s-make-a-dealers and special interests for whom “public policy” is measured by un-enlightened self interest and personal profit.

By saying “Yes” to the open, honest, transparent and accountable City government promised by Mayor-Elect Dave Schmidt, you also said “No” to the cheap imitation of it Mayor Howard Frimark and his Alderpuppets have been trying to pass off on us the last two years. You also showed that you wouldn’t be snookered by a big-bucks campaign that became so desperate it resorted to eleventh-hour sleaziness because it had nothing of substance to offer.      

So give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back.  You earned it.

But Schmidt’s election was just the necessary first step of many that will need to be taken to get Park Ridge back on track.  And the next steps won’t be easy for Schmidt or for the rest of us.

First, Schmidt will inherit Frimark’s Alderpuppets, and don’t expect them to make the new mayor’s life easy.  Five of the six (Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) regularly opposed Schmidt on Council business and actively supported Frimark; and the sixth, Wsol, showed his true colors with his last-minute, deceptively-worded police station referendum designed to confuse voters and neutralize Joe Egan’s citizen-initiated referendum.  It almost worked, garnering the support of 46.80% of the voters, compared to the meager 16.61% that voted for the new cop shop on Egan’s referendum.

Despite the clear defeat of both cop shop referendums, however, expect Wsol and the other Alderpuppets to push forward with that project in some way, shape or form.  As Allegretti said: They were elected to make decisions like that, without input from the public.  That’s why we also can expect them to try to get redevelopment going in Target Area 4, even though the results of Target Area 2 are singularly unimpressive and the Uptown TIF fund is millions under water.  That’s because – from what we hear – the speculators and owners of those TA-4 properties are chomping at the bit to cash out while they still have the Alderpuppets to rubber-stamp the process.

Mr. Mayor-Elect, maybe it’s time to look into whether the City Code gives the mayor any veto power.

Second, Schmidt will inherit a financial mess.  After $3 million in budget deficits over the past two years and a proposed budget that is flirting with a $2 million deficit for this coming year, the new mayor will need to hold City staff’s and the Alderpuppets’ feet to the fire to reduce the risk of a financial melt-down.  Time for City Manager Jim Hock and Finance Director Diane Lambesis to earn their salaries – and for the Alderpuppets to learn about fiscal responsibility.

Third, Schmidt needs to walk the walk on changing the Culture of Secrecy.  Start with cutting down on closed sessions for everything but litigation and sensitive personnel issues, or at least making it clear to the Alderpuppets and citizens alike that (as the Illinois Open Meetings Act unequivocally permits) anything discussed in closed session is fair game for disclosure. Force those secrecy cultists to make their case for closed session every time one is proposed. We’ve had more than our fill of our mayor running around negotiating sweetheart deals and then telling the Council about it in secret.

Fourth, Schmidt needs to do what he can to make information more readily available on the City’s website.  He can start by digging up the applications for all of the people serving on the City’s boards and commissions and posting them, so that we can learn at least something substantive about the qualifications each of those individuals bring to those bodies. And how about putting in some reasonable biographical information about the City Council members, starting with the names of their employers?

Fifth, he will need to make a sound appointment for his replacement as First Ward Alderman, someone with a thick skin and a strong work ethic who is ready, willing and able to do what Schmidt has done for the past two years.  Four years ago Frimark picked a lapdog (Allegretti) – Schmidt needs to pick a bulldog.

These are just a few of the many things that will provide challenges to our new mayor the moment he takes the oath of office, a solemn vow with which we trust he will abide continuously and scrupulously. 

Because if he doesn’t, rest assured that it won’t get past the Watchdog.

Well Done, Park Ridge!


Howard P. Frimark                           3,770              43.56%
David F. Schmidt                           4,885              56.44%

More on this tomorrow.