The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 14


Park District Budgeting – Guessing Game Or Scam?  This week’s Herald-Advocate reports (“Cameras approved for Hinkley Skate Park,” July 28) on something that might be termed “good news gone bad” – the Park Board approved a contract for security cameras at the Hinkley Skate Park at a cost of $8,297.  That’s the good news.  The bad news?  That cost was $15,000 less than the Park District budgeted for them!

Trust us on this, folks: we’re glad it was $15,000 less rather than $15,000 more.  But what kind of “budgeting” process can be off on something like this by almost 300%?  C’mon!  Did anybody make even a few phone calls to check on the true cost of these surveillance systems before throwing caution to the wind, making their WAG (“Wild A** Guess”), and calling it a budget item?

But we have to wonder whether this isn’t a variation on the old “bait and switch” scam, albeit a  governmental “backwards” version, where things are intentionally over-budgeted so that – once the much lower price is obtained and revealed – the over-budgeted differential can be treated as “found money” which can then readily be diverted to other uses?  That way, the bureaucrats and elected officials alike can bask in the artificial, feel-good perception that they’re actually managing well.  And the public ends up none the wiser.  

Farcical Facade Improvements  In the past two weeks both local papers reported on the proposed new store fronts for the building at 25-29 S. Prospect that houses Country Financial, Camp Willow and Raffia Gifts.  And this week’s H-A also reports (“New looks proposed for three Uptown buildings,” July 28) that as much as $75,000 of our tax money could be paid to the owner(s) of that property under the City’s “Façade Improvement Program,” which the City Council devised a few years ago to funnel tax dollars to private property owners – on the questionable theory that the City will prosper if property owners are given incentives to spruce up their commercial buildings.

We still haven’t seen or heard how much extra tax revenue has been generated by the façade improvement to the building housing Pines Men’s Wear, but we have to assume the numbers aren’t all that good – otherwise Kim Uhlig, the City’s retail maven, would have already issued press releases, and the Chamber of Commerce would be thumping the tub for more such “investments.”

But one suspicious thing about this latest private drain on uber-scarce public funds is the fact that neither “news” story identified the owner of the property, although The Journal’s story (“Old School Look In Uptown Gains Attention,” July 22) did identify the architect for the new façade, Jonathon Hague of Hague Architecture.  And the H-A story advised that Robert Solari will be looking for a City handout when he adds a new façade to his building at the southeast corner of Main Street and Fairview.

You’d think that with a $2.5 million deficit budget the City would have put a halt to these giveaways of public money.  But not only does the façade program appear to remain on track, but the City looks like it will up the ante of such giveaways with its flood control rebate program. 

And then taxpayers wonder where all their money is going?

New HOs, Old HOs, Everywhere A HO, HO!


The final figures are in, and we now have a better picture of what the two candidates for Park Ridge Mayor in 2009 spent on their respective campaigns.

According to the most recent D-2 reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections (which supplemented the 2008 D-2 reports), the winning Citizens to Elect Dave Schmidt campaign raised approx. $36,000, not counting Schmidt’s $2,400 loan, while spending approx. $32,470.  Schmidt’s opponent, former-mayor Howard Frimark, appears to have raised approx. $63,500, while having spent approx. $62,700.

Although those are big chunks of money, they are significantly less than what Frimark and his opponent, Michael Tinaglia, spent in 2005.

In the battle of the political consultants, winner Dan Patlak and his “Landslide Group cost Schmidt’s campaign $6,000, while Frimark shelled out well in excess of $9,000 on Linda Szczepanski (or “Linda Ski,” as we like to call her) – although her exact amount isn’t clear because several of her “consulting” charges are combined with charges for other things, like “insurance” and “supplies.”

But the real news going into the 2011 aldermanic elections is that there’s a “new” political party in town, and it already has $15,000+ in its war chest. 

The new “Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections” (the “Non-Partisans”) was formed January 14 of this year, and immediately received a going-out-of-business transfer of $15,000 from the old Homeowners Party (the “HOs”)[pdf], which by then had become little more than a shell of the issues-oriented, policy-driven organization founded by the late Marty Butler decades ago.  The HOs had spent the last six years in virtual exile following their disastrous showing in the 2003 aldermanic elections, when their candidates came in dead last in 5 of the 6 contested aldermanic elections they entered.  Even their sole victor, 2nd Ward Ald. Rich DiPietro, dodged defeat by a mere 21 votes over a virtually unknown opponent.

The smart money is on the Non-Partisans using those HOs funds to jump-start the aldermanic campaigns of the 4 candidates the Non-Partisans need to take control of Howard Frimark’s most notable, and most damaging, legacy to City government: the cut-in-half, 7 member City Council.   

Given that the Non-Partisans opened for business with the HOs cash and were organized as a lawful political party by a former HOs alderman (John English, 1st Ward), expect them to field reincarnations of the stereotypical HOs candidates – a bunch of generally likeable “nice” guys and gals whose primary concern seemed to be go-along-to-get-along consensus building, instead of serious and effective analysis, debate and decision-making on substantive policies and issues.

A lack of issues, policies and actual results doomed the HOs candidates in 2003 and kept them on the sidelines until apparently deciding to retire their damaged “brand” and re-group as the Non-Partisans – who, not surprisingly, declared in their filing documents [pdf] that they “will seek and support candidates to run for office in city government who…demonstrate a desire to work with other elected officials in a spirit of civility and consensus building….” [Emphasis added]

In other words, that “non-partisan” stuff is just window-dressing for “consensus building” – because municipal elections in Park Ridge are, by law, “non-partisan,” meaning that they are required to be free from the influence of the national political parties.  And despite the occasional cries of “Wolf!” by partisan local Democrats or Republicans, that’s what they generally have been, even though we have heard and observed some local partisans privately judging officials and candidates by their “R” or “D” affiliations.  

From our seat it looks like the real goal of the Non-Partisans is a return to those days of monolithic, go-along-to-get-along insipidness that characterized the last years of the HOs’ reign at City Hall, when every City Council meeting seemed to require at least one lengthy-but-meaningless diatribe by then-mayor Ron “Captain Ahab” Wietecha about his “great white whale,” O’Hare Airport, followed by a lot of head-nodding and rubber-stamping by his HOs-dominated Council. 

So unless and until we start hearing something out of them as to substantive City issues and policies, we think the Non-Partisans can best be described by paraphrasing a line from an old Who song: “Meet the new HOs, same as the old HOs.” 

Firefighters Subsidize Flood Control Rebates


The letter in this week’s local papers from the president of Park Ridge Firefighter’s IAFF Local 2697 begins: “Rarely is life fair and those least responsible for bad decisions are often those who pay most dearly.”

We agree. 

In this case, we have the unfairness of the firefighters agreeing to forego certain contractually-guaranteed benefits in order to help the City of Park Ridge through its current fiscal crisis, while at the same time the City’s Flood Control Task Force is endorsing a foolish $420,000 flood control rebate giveaway contrived by Seventh Ward Ald. Frank Wsol.

For those who have trouble connecting the dots, the money that the City could/should be paying toward the firefighters benefits previously agreed to by the City may end up going into the pockets of a couple hundred Park Ridge residents as partial reimbursement for the cost of flood control devices they voluntarily installed on their own property – and which actually may make flooding worse for their neighbors.

What’s “fair” about that?  What’s even “reasonable” about that?  Ask Ald. Wsol or Task Force chairman Joe Saccomanno.

Let’s not fool ourselves here: What the firefighters union did was not purely altruistic. Given the City’s sad-and-worsening financial situation, it looks like they may have chosen the benefit freeze to avoid more severe alternatives, like unpaid leave or lay-offs.  If so, enlightened self-interest may well have been the prime motivator for their action.

But the bottom line is that they are going to be taking less than what they are entitled to, while a relatively small number of residents will be getting more than they’re entitled to.  And, as Task Force member Gale Fabisch noted during that body’s July 15 meeting, most of the rebate payments will go to residents who already have installed their flood control systems rather than to those who might actually need a rebate “incentive” to install flood control devices which, we reiterate, may make flooding worse for their neighbors.

So unless residents of this community start whispering not-so-sweet somethings into the ears of their aldermen to keep them from jumping on this bandwagon because it’s the easy thing to do, $420,000 of much-needed tax money will be going to enrich those who really don’t need enriching. 

That’s not just unfair…it’s irresponsible. 

The Flood Control Task Force: Leaping Before Looking?


Do you ever wonder exactly what kind of thought processes cause our U.S. Senators and Congressmembers to throw themselves into spending trillions of dollars and burying us in trillions more of debt?  If so, we encourage you to watch the latest City of Park Ridge Flood Control Task Force meeting for a smaller-scale version of the same process.

At the Task Force’s July 15, 2009, meeting, Chairman Joe Saccomanno fell all over himself, verbally, recommending Ald. Frank Wsol’s (7th Ward) $420,000 flood control incentive/rebate program – repeating again and again (in classic “big lie” style) how it has to be done, and it has to be done right away.

That program, at least as presently constituted, would reimburse residents up to $2,500 each for a variety of flood control-related devices installed in their homes since January 1, 2008.  If each claimant got the full $2,500, the program would serve a total of 168 households.   

Readers of this blog know what a bad idea we think it is, so we won’t waste additional space here recounting all the reasons.  But after watching the video and listening to the Saccomanno’s “reasoning” for endorsing that program to the City Council, we were amazed at just how easy it seems to be for ordinary (or so they seem) citizens, once they are given any governmental authority whatsoever, to toss around big chunks of taxpayer money, almost on a whim.

But don’t take our word for it: check it out yourself at  All you need to do is watch the first 8 minutes, which is when all the fun takes place – starting with Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim’s reading of the Wsol proposal.

Saccomanno’s “reasoning” is a series of comments that don’t appear to reflect a whole lot of – actually, make that any – careful analysis.  After claiming that “there’s an emergency sense, a sense to act quickly” – in other words, to do something, no matter what it is – he makes clear that there’s no need to actually think through the matter when they can get away with simply reacting:

“I don’t want to take numbers and worry about 2 years back or 3 years back” (referring to the period of time for which rebates will be available);

“I don’t want to say we’re going to wait 2 weeks and look at data and analyze it” (because, of course, there’s no need to let any of that pesky data interfere with what they want);

“I don’t think this body is one to talk about details” (because that might actually take some effort to analyze that pesky data?); and

“I think we should just go with it” (because, what the hey, it’s only $420,000).

With that kind of disregard for the public purse, Saccomanno could be an alderman!

One of his accomplices in this welfare-for-the-well-off frenzy was Task Force member Bob Mack, who trotted out that time-dishonored cliche: “There are a lot of other communities around here who are doing this…[so] we don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

Didn’t his mother ever tell him that just because the kid next door picks his nose doesn’t mean that he has to do the same?

One member of that Task Force, however, at least tried to act responsibly.  Gale Fabisch, a consulting engineer with 36 years of experience, including employment with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, pointed out how this program might not actually contribute any additional flood control because all of the $420,000 could end up being spent on systems that already have been installed!  As Fabisch put it: “There would be no money for anyone to do something tomorrow.”   

Unfortunately, Chairman Saccomanno and the rest of the Task Force members didn’t want to hear that kind of thinking, which may explain why – when Fabisch had the temerity to question whether it might be worthwhile for any flood control reimbursement “to target areas that are most severely impacted” by flooding – he was actually laughed at by Task Force member (and former alderman) John Humm, among others.

Maybe that explains why Fabisch ended up going along with the pro-reimbursement proposal moved by Saccomanno at the urging of Humm – even though no such motion or vote was even on the Task Force’s published agenda, but appears to have been the product of Saccomanno and Humm just winging it.

With such an inauspicious beginning, we can’t wait to find out what other arrows the Flood Control Task Force has in its quiver.

The Wsol Train To Nowhere


What’s the best way to combat flooding throughout Park Ridge?  How much will it cost?  How will we pay for it…and how will it affect the City’s ability to continue to provide the customary services we rely on?

These are all good questions.  Too bad Seventh Ward Ald. Frank Wsol and at least a few of his City Council colleagues don’t seem to know and don’t seem to care.

Instead, they’re busy pushing a $420,000 rebate plan that would use already-scarce tax dollars to provide up to $2,500 to residents who have installed private flood control devices (such as overhead sewers, backflow valves and the like) since January 1, 2008.  And from what we’ve seen and heard so far, there may be more than a few residents with the chutzpah to think and act like they’re entitled to such a reimbursement.

We understand how some residents, tired of what has become a fairly regular event of sewer back-up into their basements, would invest $5-10-15,000 to combat the problem.  But we also understand that when one resident prevents his basement from flooding, that means a bit more water remains in the system that has to go somewhere else – like into a neighbor’s basement, or into the street.

While that kind of “collateral damage” may be acceptable under our scheme of individual property rights, the idea that the City would commit public money to reimburse and encourage such efforts that ultimately pit neighbor against neighbor is foolish beyond words.  But let’s try the following words, just for starters:

1.  The City doesn’t have the money for such a program.  This year’s budget was passed with an approximately $2.5 million deficit that has already grown because of spending decisions by a Council that seems unwilling or unable to manage our money responsibly.  And given the economic indicators so far this year, it’s looking like more of the same next year.

2.  It’s welfare, pure and simple.  But it’s not even “good” welfare, because Wsol’s plan (such as it is) does not appear to be based on financial need.  So the well-off can get a quick $2,500 just as easily as the not-so-well-off.

3.  It’s unfair, because the time period fixed for the rebate – currently for work done since Jan. 1, 2008 – is totally arbitrary.  Why should someone who happened to put in his/her flood control system following the August 2007 flooding get shut out of this giveaway?

4.  It’s a willy-nilly, piece-meal response that ignores the root causes of the problem – which makes it look, sound and smell like nothing more than political grandstanding of the worst kind.

5.  It detracts and distracts from efforts to come up with a meaningful, comprehensive, community-wide solution to the problem.

From what we’re hearing, anything approaching a real solution to the problem will require a bond issue of $30-60 million, which would be (as best as we can tell) the largest bond issue in Park Ridge history.  That means we’re going to be looking at a significant tax increase to service that debt unless the same officials who already have shown that they can’t balance a budget suddenly develop the ability and the will to cut expenses enough to compensate for the additional debt service costs of those bonds.

Fortunately, in April the voters rejected Wsol’s previous hare-brained scheme for a big new police station.  So at least we aren’t already saddled with multi-millions in bond debt for a project that is nowhere near as important to our property values and quality of life as an improved sewer system.

Compared to $30-60 million, $420,000 might seem like chump change.  And it is – for the chumps who would sit back and let it get spent for what is either a plain mistake or an inherently bad idea.  That’s why it’s time for all non-chumps to let your aldermen know you don’t want to see them waste any more time and effort on something as ridiculous and wasteful as the Wsol plan.

For the good of the entire community, let’s hope Wsol’s “private rebate” train doesn’t leave the station.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 13


School  Dist. 64 Test Results Unclear.  This week’s Park Ridge Journal reports that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s most recent MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) results in math, reading and language arts leave something to be desired, with 40% of the D-64 students failing to meet their “growth goals” in the past 3 years (“Test Scores Reveal Good, Bad News For Schools,” July 15).  One of the suggested explanations/excuses: a “summer slump” with kids not retaining knowledge and skills over the summer, causing notably lower scores in the Fall tests than in the Spring.

We don’t know about a “summer slump,” but can Dist. 64 and the local newspapers stop reporting that our students “scored higher than the national average”?  A community with the affluence and advantages of ours should be embarrassed to consider comparisons against the “national average” in anything academic! 

Are The “Yutes” On The Loose?  Both local newspapers are reporting that 5 residents of the Park Ridge Youth Campus required police attention last week: 4 girls (ages 12, 13, 13 and 16) were charged with disorderly conduct; one (age 14) was charged with battery; and another (age 14) was arrested on an outstanding warrant from Markham.

We understand and applaud the Youth Campus’ mission, and many people in this community have supported that mission for many years.  But these kinds of incidents suggest that the Youth Campus’ staff isn’t taking “security” seriously enough.

City Government a la Allegretti. We’ve never been fans of Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), an unabashed cheerlead for closed sessions and governmental secrecy, irresponsible spending and giveaways of taxpayer money, and an overall lack of governmental accountability.  So he didn’t disappoint us when, just this past Monday, he led the effort (supported by Alds. Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan, naturally) to let the City Council overturn zoning text amendment decisions of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) by simple majority instead of super-majority.

We’ve seen the P&Z process function reasonably well over the years, perhaps even better than the rest of City government.  So why is Allegretti – or Bach, Carey and Ryan – choosing to meddle with something that’s not broken when they so blissfully ignore so much of what is? 

City Government a la Allegretti, Part II. After making it easier to bypass P&Z, Allegretti then tried to but the kibosh on a plan by AT&T to bring its “U-Verse” cable television services to Park Ridge.  Not only would that bring potentially beneficial competition (v. Comcast), but the AT&T proposal included payment to the City of 6% of AT&T’s gross revenues from its Park Ridge services, which could turn into some real money – one of the reasons Allegretti gave for touting a text amendment to liberalize the City’s billboard zoning.  Allegretti’s objection to the U-Verse boxes? They’re “unsightly.”

Hey, Jimbo, now you’re cutting into the Appearance Commission’s territory!

Flood Rebates Pure Politics, Terrible Policy


According to reports in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Talkin’ Thousands,” July 15), the $420,000 flood control rebate program being hustled by Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) might be gaining traction among the politicians on the City Council.  And we can understand that: after all, what’s not to like about it – if you’re a politician?

Wsol gets to puff out his chest and claim he’s “getting something done” on flooding, even though he admits his program might benefit no more than 168 people if they all get the maximum $2,500 rebate.  He also gets to claim that his program is cheaper than relief sewers, which cost approximately $120,000 each to service an average of 30 residences, or approx. $4,000 per residence v. $2,500 per rebate.  And let’s not forget how much popularity and gratitude he can purchase – with our tax dollars – from those lucky 168 who will receive this windfall.

Can you say “pork”?  (Ald. Wsol, just oink once for “yes”)

The only real voice of reason among our elected officials appears to have been provided by Mayor Schmidt, who questioned the fairness of such a rebate program to the people who put in flood control systems before Wsol’s artificial January 1, 2008, cut-off date, as well as its fairness to the residents who can’t afford to install a flood control system in their own homes but will see their tax dollars used to subsidize those residents who can afford flood control.

Schmidt also asked the Council not to jump the gun on any expenditures of already-scarce funds until the City’s Flood Control Task Force, with the assistance of the City-hired outside consultant, can make its report and recommendations on how best to address the flooding problems on a comprehensive, city-wide basis.

That’s wise advice, although we are less than confident that the politicians on the Council – led by Wsol the Pol – will pass up this grandstanding opportunity to spend public funds for purely private purposes, even though they still haven’t come within $2.4 million of balancing the City’s budget and will likely be dipping into the City’s rapidly-depleting “savings account” to pay the rebates if that program is enacted.

But thanks to the video camera Mayor Schmidt purchased with the mayoral salary he can’t legally forego (and the camera work of a couple of civilian volunteers), you can see and hear the debate on this issue (and what went on during the rest of the meeting) at (click on “video library” and choose videos 6 and 7), which is where Schmidt is having these videos posted until the City finds a way to accommodate them on its own, outdated website. 

If you check it out, you’ll see and hear resident Joan Sandrick channel the late Clara “Where’s the beef?” Peller with her “Where’s the money?” question to the Council.  Just don’t strain your ears listening for any meaningful response from our elected and appointed spendthrifts sitting around The Horseshoe.  You’ll also see and hear a resident question whether these private flood control devices won’t cause more flooding problems for those who don’t have them, and for our streets and sidewalks, on the theory that the water not going into flood-controlled basements has to go somewhere (like into neighboring basements?).

And you’ll also see and hear from some residents who can’t seem to resist the chance for a government handout like Wsol’s rebate program, even when they know it’s coming from their own neighbors.

We empathize with everyone who has endured flooding and sewer backups.  It’s a terrible mess and creates constant fear every time it rains.  But giving $420,000 of what amounts to taxpayer-funded home improvement handouts to 168 residents is just plain bad public policy.  It’s unfair, it’s economically unsustainable, and it diverts public money from serving the public good to providing a purely private benefit.

But who cares about “public policy” when there’s public money to give away and political profit to be gained? 

Taste, Inc.’s “Owners” Owe All Of Us A Show-And-Tell (Updated 7/15/09)


This just-concluded weekend saw the annual return of Taste of Park Ridge.  The weather cooperated and the event appeared to have been well-attended, as usual.  Which means that it very likely was a financial success for its private owner/operator, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste, Inc.”). 

Although we are unabashed fans of the Taste of Park Ridge event, we have been critical of Taste, Inc. because of the somewhat odd way it came into existence and because of its insistence on keeping all of the details about its finances secret – especially in view of the fact that it effectively has been given a no-bid monopoly on Park Ridge’s largest annual civic event.

According to the Taste, Inc. website, its creation occurred as follows:

“In May of 2005, newly elected Mayor Howard Frimark, responding to citizens’ desire to see the Taste continue to develop as a signature event, secured seed funding for the 2005 Taste.”

Given Frimark’s role and his self-promoting tendencies, it’s not surprising that, at the July 18, 2005, City Council meeting [pdf], he crowed that the newly-minted version of the Taste event “was a great success” and announced that “a more detailed report would be forthcoming.”  But we never heard about such a report being issued, and we could find no evidence of one on the City’s website or, more importantly, on Taste, Inc.’s own website. 

Frimark made the same kind of announcement, and gave the same kind of assurance about a “report” being forthcoming, at the City Council meetings in July, 2006 [pdf] and July, 2007 [pdf].  But, again, we never heard about such a report being issued and could find no evidence of one either on the City’s or Taste, Inc.’s websites.  By July 2008, however, it looks like even Frimark could no longer maintain the charade, as no such announcement by him appears in that month’s City Council meeting minutes.

Why all the secrecy, Taste, Inc. President Dave Iglow (Pines Mens Wear of Park Ridge), Vice-President Albert Galus (Academic Tutoring Centers), and Treasurer Jim Bruno (Chase Bank)? 

If everything about Taste, Inc. is, and has been, on the up and up, why have you guys (and your predecessors, like Maine Twp’s Bob Dudyzc, Summit Square’s Marc Dennison, and Park District Commissioner Dick Barton) refused to share Taste, Inc.’s financial and operating information with the City and its residents whose volunteer services and money make this event such a success?

Don’t you guys understand that this kind of secrecy breeds suspicion? Or is it that you just don’t care?

Update (7/15/09)

Taste (the event) chairman and Taste, Inc. vice-president Albert Galus is quoted in yesterday’s on-line Herald-Advocate as labeling this year’s event “another successful weekend of feasting and entertainment,” and estimating attendance at between 40,000 and 45,000 people over three days. (“The ‘Taste’ of the town”) 

That’s great, Albert, really it is.  And we’re really happy for you.  Now why not do the right and honorable thing and provide 100% disclosure of Taste, Inc.’s finances, including its P&L on the just-concluded event, to all those resident volunteers who provided all that free labor, and all those resident customers who provided all that wonderful revenue?   


“Something Fishy” About Wsol’s Flood Rebate Proposal?


We’re guessing that Seventh Ward Ald. Frank Wsol probably hopes most Park Ridge residents are unfamiliar with the following passage from Nelson Algren’s “Chicago: City on the Make”:

For the masses that do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart.  And they think there’s something fishy about someone giving them a museum for nothing and free admission on a Saturday afternoon.

That’s because anybody who has heard or read it is probably savvy enough to realize that “there’s something fishy” about Wsol’s “flood rebate” proposal [pdf], which is scheduled to be discussed at this coming Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (7:00 p.m.).
Wsol wants to use $420,000 of property tax reserves from the City’s rapidly depleting “General Fund” to subsidize – by as much as $2,500 per household – the cost of private flood control projects (such as overhead sewers, backwater valves, lift stations, sump pumps and generators) installed by Park Ridge residents between Jan. 1, 2008, and April 30, 2010.

For a City whose current budget deficit started at over $2 million and continues to grow, this is the kind of idea that any responsible person in government could be expected to keep to himself.  But it seems as if Ald. Wsol has some kind of undisclosed agenda that apparently involves depleting as much of the City treasury as he can, as quickly as he can.

Wsol, you may recall, led the charge against passing through to Park Ridge residents the actual increased cost of water from the City of Chicago, a bit of financial mismanagement that contributed over $400,000 to the current budget hole.  He also voted for increasing the already over-budget City funding of private community organizations, several of whom appear more financially sound (albeit on a smaller scale) than the City itself.

Even if one were to discount the fundamental public policy arguments against this kind of give-away program, there are more than enough logistical problems to make Wsol’s proposal a non-starter, including the possibility that the whole $420,000 could get eaten up by as few as 168 households grabbing the maximum $2,500 allotment.  That means that unfairness is literally built into the proposal.

And the fact that the proposal gives no indication that these reimbursements will be tied to economic need means that we could end up with what amounts to “welfare” for the already well-off.  Is that really the way most taxpayers want to see $420,000 of their money spent?

But those concerns don’t seem to have prevented Wsol from engaging in a little shameless pandering to the unenlightened self-interest of some residents when he suggests, near the end of his proposal, that those homes adding subsidized flood control systems “may see a property value increase and some corresponding increase in real estate transfer fees as well as property taxes collected.”  We wonder if he can actually say those words in public with a straight face.

Whether he can or he can’t, however, doesn’t change our belief that this proposal is about as wrongheaded as they come.  Every spare City tax dollar devoted to any form of flood relief should be directed toward the systemic analysis and systemic improvement of the City’s sewer system for the benefit of all Park Ridge residents.  And it should be done in a well-thought out, economically sound way that maximizes the value of every one of those dollars spent.

Maybe that’s why Wsol’s give-away proposal smells kind of…”fishy.”

Private Property Rights And Sound Zoning Policy Hijacked By 4-3 Vote


This past Monday night four members of the Park Ridge City Council – Alds. Jim Allegretti, Don Bach, Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol – cast the votes that turned long-time commercially-zoned properties into multi-family residentially-zoned ones.  They did so not because the owners, or prospective purchasers, had any concrete plans for erecting residential structures on them, but simply because a few handfuls of neighbors and one pandering politician (Ryan) wanted it.

The attorney for the owner of one of the properties, the former Napleton Cadillac parking lot at 200 N. Meacham, argued against the unfairness of such ad hoc spot re-zoning and noted the chilling effect it could have on businesses that may be considering whether to re-locate to, or remain in, Park Ridge.  He also warned the Council of a possible lawsuit by his client.

Whether the Council’s action results in a lawsuit or chills business interest in Park Ridge remains to be seen.  But one thing seems certain: the market value of those re-zoned properties just decreased, as did their tax revenue potential.  Given the Council’s irresponsibility in passing a multi-million dollar deficit budget and the sheer boneheaded-ness of adding to that deficit with even more spending, however, “value” and “revenue” are two concepts that seem lost on these Alder-dunces.

As head panderer (or is it “pimp”) for this re-zoning foolishness, Ryan tried to foreclose any debate on the public policy considerations of such action by dusting off the 7-plus year old “Uptown Comprehensive Plan” (the “Plan”) and purportedly quoting its suggestion of “transitional residential areas” bordering the Uptown TIF district as if that concept were a moral imperative delivered by a solemn voice emanating from a burning bush.

We have reviewed that Plan and can find nothing in it that calls for, or even suggests, converting business/commercially-zoned properties into multi-family residential ones; and we hereby challenge Mr. Ryan to prove otherwise.

And although nobody mentioned it Monday night, we wonder why these spot zoning changes – if they truly are as essential to the Plan and as desirable to their neighborhoods as Ryan claims them to be – weren’t adopted by the City’s Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Re-Write Committee (with its well-paid consultants) when it rewrote the City’s Zoning Code only three years ago?  Were the members of that committee asleep at the wheel, or is this re-zoning a really bad idea?

But unless Mayor Schmidt were to veto these changes and force an over-ride vote, or Napleton makes good on its veiled lawsuit threat, it looks like this ship has sailed. Unfortunately, we may never know whether, and how many, desirable business opportunities sailed away with it.