The First Cracks In Taste Inc.’s Culture of Secrecy


Whether because of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s quest for transparency in all aspects of City government, or because of questions raised by this blog, Taste of Park Ridge, NFP (“Taste Inc.”) has finally, after five years of operating Taste of Park Ridge (“Taste, the event”), issued a written statement [pdf] about its history and its operations.  

While solidly self-serving (and perhaps a bit revisionist?), it does reveal some surprising information about what Taste Inc. is and how it operates, starting with its claim that its 2009 gross receipts were $266,652!

That’s right: $266,652…for a three day event.  Suh-weet!

Taste Inc.’s statement also reports that this “civic celebration…costs $90,000+.”  If we take that to mean that Taste Inc.’s expenses are $90,000+, then Taste Inc. is making a cool $176,000 in annual “profit.” 

That’s not too shabby for three days of actual business, although Taste Inc. insists that its “management committee volunteers approximately 8,000-10,000 hours over the course of every year,” worth “over $50,000.”  Fair enough…drop the “profit” down to $126,000.  That’s not too shabby, either. 

Taste Inc. contends that “[t]he $5,000 costs to the city are the services it provides as its sponsorship.” Apparently Taste Inc. didn’t get the City memo that Taste the event is costing the City almost $23,000 a year in City services, not merely $5,000.  That’s one heck of a “sponsorship” – especially for a public body (the City) that is running multi-million dollar budget deficits.

And if Taste Inc. is generating an annual “profit” of $176,000, what’s it doing with all that money – considering that it claims to have contributed only $5,200 “to various community groups in 2009”? 

But the most intriguing item Taste Inc. reports is its status as a 501(c)(6) enterprise. That designation is reserved not for “charitable” organizations, but for associations of persons having common business interests with a purpose of promoting those common business interests. 

While we’re not even close to “transparency” with Taste Inc., this initial disclosure – after five years of secrecy – makes it a bit more understandable why Taste Inc. has been so protective and close-mouthed about its no-bid monopoly on Taste the event.

23 comments so far

Perhaps Taste can take over the payments to the community organizations instead of those payments coming out of the city budget.

$176,000 of profit on $266,000 of revenues? Wow! Where can I sign up for that deal?

Something is screwy here. These numbers aren’t adding up for me.

Taste Inc reports the costs as $90,000 but their total allocations add up to the gross of $266,652. The items that I read as real costs to the event don’t quite make the $90,000 level.

I also question what kind of accounting and tax work they’re getting that they are paying $8,000. That sounds like gouging to me. Also, I’ve seen Taste advertising and if they are spending $10,666 on that they are getting ripped off.

I was pleased to see the food vendors are getting to redeem $157,324 out of this event. That is good for our local restaurants for a 3 day event.

To me though, this is looking screwy. Why won’t the Taste Inc. company just produce a financial report instead of this crap with all the fuzzy feely stuff in it? I am getting the feeling they are working a little too hard to not have to be transparent. That makes me very uncomfortable.

When did it become an association under c6? After it dissolved and reincorporated this year? Business associations are formed to promote the interests of only one group of people/businesses. They are not formed to promote a common good like c3 are intended to do. There are other associations located in PR. I don’t believe that PR taxpayers give these associations money and free services so they can make a 77.8% profit on gross income. Given TPR is not a charity and has demonstrated that it does not give back to the community via grants-this is even more reason that the $23,000 be repaid to the city and taxpayers-NOW.

I think a big lesson in this is that, in most cases partial transparency is worse than no transparency at all. While I appreciate the intent of this document what it has mainly done is create more questions.

One that has me scratching my head is if you include redemptions to food vendors (not sure why would you would do that as it is not really an expense), the total amount they list in the document is 90000+??? Maybe the consumption habits of my family and friends we were with are “above average” but when I look at what we spent and the size of the crowd the days we were there, I would have thought that well over 90K was spent for food and beverages (I wonder where the beer fits in the pie chart) alone.

I find parts of this document to be humorous.

10,000 hours per year volunteered by the management committee? That’s the equivalent of five full time people. I’m a little skeptical about this “fact”.

Their time is worth $50,000? Across 10,000 hours, that’s $5 per hour. They must not think much of their “expertise”.

So where is the money going?

See, now this is an example of the problems with partial transparency. I read the document as PRU did, that being that redemptions are a part of the 90000+ figure. Anon 11:32 read the same document, took 266,652 x .59 and called the result redemptions. If he/she is correct then the profit is zero.

Anonymous on 08.26.09 11:32 am:

I had that same question, which I based on the $5,200 being “2%” of something. But if $5,200 is 2%, then the “something” is around $226,000, which isn’t either the $90,000+ cost figure or the $266,000 of gross revenues.

59% for food (and beer?) sales would yield $133,340 (at the $226,000 figure), $156,940 (at the $266,000 figure), and $53,000+ (at the $90,000+ figure). Shouldn’t the city be able to clear that up by releasing the sales taxes paid – assuming that each food vendor who “is responsible for paying the City of Park Ridge taxes after the event” does so?


2% of 266K yields 5320. That get us to within 120 bucks of donation figure in the document.

I stand corrected.

But if the expenses roughly equal the revenues, what’s the meaning of “a civic celebration that costs $90,000+: funds the City does not have to allocate from its budget”?


I, like you, find the document unclear. The key question for me is are redemptions included in the 90K+, or are redemptions the difference between total gross and the 90K? If one reads it the first way, then you are looking at this HUGE profit. If one reads it the second way, then we can dig into some of the operational expenses but basically I have no major problems with what they are doing.

The more I read it the more I think what they were trying to say was the second choice. The idea that they would be making 176,000 is just too far fetched to believe. I hope that someone from the taste may read this thread and perhaps post to clear it up.

anon on 08.26.09 1:26 pm

Yeah, it seemed a bit unclear at first. But when I read it a second time it makes sense.

When you tally up the other areas excepting the vender ticket redemption it comes to about 104K –so the 90K+ would be one way you could state the information.

When you read the whole paragraph (it appears directed to the city council since they vote on the issue), It looks like the point they were trying to make is that the operation of the event less the money that goes back to the food venders is over 90K and that the city doesn\’t have to put that amount out. Seems a reasonable point to make. The cost to the city would likly be more if you added in staff costs for planning and operating the event with city staff.

Looking over the document it seems a resonable explanation of the event. I know my kids and grandkids like going to it.

Semper Fi and Goodnight Chesty whereever you are.

If the food vendors sell $157,000 of food (59% of $266,000) and the city gets 1% sales tax on that, the city gets $1,570 for its $23,000 of free services. So the taxpayers take it in the shorts for $21 grand for 3 days of Taste.

So why doesn’t Taste Inc. have to pay that $21 grand?

Suds for Subsidies!

Beer for (dry) Basements!

For the record it is 11K and change in additional direct expenses (almost exactly the same as the July 4th fireworks).

I am glad that there is a new focus on transparency in PR. This should apply not only to the taste but all “partners”. We have the blogs and the new Mayor and many PR citizens to thank for that.

But as long as it is operating fairly, I have no problem with my tax dollars going to provide services to the taste. If you break it down by taxpayer I bet most of us have more change in our sofa cushions. I would bet if you asked the thousands of people I see every year at the taste they would not feel they are “taking it in the shorts”.

anon on 08.26.09 4:41 pm

For the record, counting just the “direct additional expense” disregards the fact that there are police, fire and public works people who are reassigned to “Taste” duty instead of their real jobs. So those “indirect reassigned personnel costs” are real, not just an accounting fiction.

I go to Taste every year, usually at least two days. And I spend more money than the change in my sofa cushions. But Taste is just a frill, some fluff, an amenity that is not remotely close to being on par with essentials like flood control (that we can’t afford), or even on par with some of the other amenities like those local community organizations that we spend tax dollars on.

What part of “million dollar plus budget deficits” don’t people like you understand?

Anon on 08.26.09 @ 12:08 p.m.

First, we’re not “PRU” – that’s the acronym for that “irreverent and unrepentant” Park Ridge blog.

Second, there should be no “partial transparency” – and the people of Park Ridge should not have had to have waited 5 years to get the limited information Taste Inc. recently provided. Taste Inc. has been feeding at the public trough for its entire existence, getting $20,000+ per year in City services while enjoying a no-bid monopoly on the City’s premier event.

Being dependent on money from City government, Taste Inc. owes City government – and the people it represents – complete transparency. In our opinion, anything less is dishonorable and an affront to the taxpayers.

And the more Taste Inc. fights disclosure, the more suspicion it casts on itself.

PWD-TPR is not a charity and as such should receive no free services from the city and the taxpayer. Yes-partial transparency is an issue. But to me the bigger issue is that an organization that is not even close to being a charity (it is an association of businesses looking out for their best interests not the city of PR’s and the taxpayers’) is getting free services. They should pay. No more free services and pay up for the years you are in arrears-NOW. TPR has the money to pay PR the $23,000 for July 2009.

After reading Taste Inc.’s puff piece, I had to count how many times they used the word “volunteer” and came up with 9. Sarah Palin couldn’t even get that many “maverick”s into one of her stump speeches.

What’s that line from Shakespeare about the lady protesting too much. Yeah, you Taste people are volunteers, just like hundreds of us are volunteer coaches for kids sports, or volunteer CCD teachers, or volunteer Scout or Indian Guide leaders. So what?

What I’d really like to see is who are all the vendors who are getting all the money that Taste Inc. is paying out. Because if the operators of Taste Inc. really aren’t getting anything out of this, then the only money being made is by the vendors – like Richie Daley’s no-bid wrought iron fence buddies, or that French company that got the no-bid contract for those bus shelters.

I’m sure Richie Daley sure would have liked to have “maintain(ed) the confidentiality of private businesses who entered into negotiations” for those fences and bus shelters, too. So when Taste Inc. resorts to that kind of lame argument, you can smell the fish a-stinkin’.


I can’t find the Taste statement anywhere on the City’s list of documents. Where did you get it and why wasn’t it listed for the rest of us to see?

anon 5:41:

As I have stated, apparently not clearly from some of the replys, I am completely for total transparency. The document was not clear and confusing and there are two ways it can be read. I am all for complete transparency and anything less is only going to make it more confusing and worse for them.

In terms of what it costs the city, of course the entire 20k+ would be billable. I do not discount that people are reassigned from their nomal job for all or parts of the event. All I am saying is that in terms of additional dollars that are added to our taxes it is 11K. We would have been paying the rest of it anyway. In other words, let’s say the taste was canceled this year and never even took place. What would that have saved in tax dollars?? 11K.

Like you, I spend quite a bit on food and beverages at the taste every year. But I am not sure what your point is. The majority of those dollars are simply passed through to the vendor. We can dig into the operational issues and suggest that they should be able to run it more efficiently and have enough left over to pay the city. If I were on the taste board I would suggest a hard look at the following: Take a look at total traffic over the last few years and tack on a fee to the tickets that would go for city services. Of course traffic varies based on weather but at least it would be something but that would mean that for every $10.00 in tickets you bought there would be a a .42 service charge.

But the reality is our tax dollars go to support things in much much larger amounts and on top of that we still are charged to you use services. Four cents on the dollar go to the park district and yet I am still charged a fee for my family to use the outdoor pools in the summer (which I still think is a huge bargin).

Lastly, this idea that we are going to somehow tackle a million plus dollar budget issue by whacking what could turn out to be a very reasonable amount on an event that provides traffic to our merchants and fellowship and fun for the people of PR is funny to me. I am concerned about the budget. That is why I have and will continue to give my alderman an earful in writing and every time I see him. That is why I voted for the Mayor and will be voting against my alderman(if someone runs against him). I ask things like why did we spend 400K on a few new trucks and could that not been defered. I ask why the hell are we not passing through the water fee. I ask why they paved the three blocks in my neighborhood when it was not that bad at all.

If this year we had canceled support for every single special event, six of which I did not even attend, I think we would loose a great deal of goodwill and sense of community. I realize these are intangibles but I do place a value on them. Canceling support of all these events would add 31,009 to the bottom line – don’t spend it all in one place!!!

By the way PD, I am sorry about the error. I do go to both blogs and clearly made a mistake. Based on my posts I am sure you can see how that could happen.

I think the city not knowing more about the taste and working with them as a partner is crazy. I am glad that it appears that is starting to change. But, in the end, if it turns out that my tax dollars go to support the taste I have no problem with it at all.

Anonymous on 08.27.09 8:11 am:  

It came in over the transom, not unlike other things we receive from time to time. But if you watch the video of the August 17, 2009, City Council meeting, you will hear Taste Inc.’s Dave Iglow reading what sounds very much like verbatim from the statement, so we assume the statement may have been distributed/circulated at or about that time.

I haven’t seen anything about this in the local papers. Are they asleep at the wheel (again) or are they just afraid to run the risk of alienating a prominent advertiser?

Know what I think is reall b.s.? That the management committee members volunteer from 8-10,000 hours over a year.

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