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.