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The Semi-Secrets On Tonight’s City Council Agenda

10.19.09

For those of you who are curious about local government secrecy and intrigue, however small-potatoes it might be, tonight’s City Council agenda [pdf] (7:30 p.m., 505 Butler Place) has a two-fer for you.

The first item comes fairly early on the agenda, under the “City Attorney” portion of the festivities and bearing the innocuous title “Target Area 2 Insurance.”  This should be City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill’s opining on whether former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark is violating the City’s ethics ordinance by his involvement in the sale of insurance for the parking garage portion of the Uptown development.

Because the City owns three levels of the underground parking garage, it must be listed as an “insured” on the insurance policy.  According to City Mgr. Jim Hock (per an Oct. 7 Park Ridge Journal story), the City is obligated to pay only 21% of the garage premium because condo residents and customers of the businesses there are using most of the City’s spaces. The rest of the premium is being paid by PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”).

PRC and/or UCHA reportedly chose Frimark as the broker for this insurance coverage. 

Under Article 2, Section 2-5-3 E(1) [pdf] of the ethics ordinance – which was enacted while Frimark was mayor – certain City officials (including the mayor) are prohibited from acting “as agent…for any party in that other party’s request for consideration from the City or in that other party’s claim against the City” while serving as an official “or within two (2) years after his or her office…has ceased.”

Frimark clearly served as mayor less than 2 years ago, so the key question to be answered by Attorney Hill is whether Frimark’s involvement in placing the insurance coverage makes him an “agent” regarding a “party’s request for consideration from the City” – with the “party” in question being PRC, UCHA, and/or the insurance company issuing the coverage?

Under the “Definitions” in Section 2-5-1 [pdf], “Consideration from the City” shall include “use of or interest in City property…and contracting with or product or service vending to the City.”  

We’re not municipal law experts, but it sure looks to us like being the insurance broker for coverage of the City’s ownership interest in the garage that provides spaces for use by PRC and UCHA, is both an “interest in City property” and “product [in this case, insurance coverage] or service [in this case, insurance brokerage] vending to the City.”  

If Hill believes a violation has occurred and recommends prosecution, the City would have to file a lawsuit against Frimark in the Circuit Court of Cook County.  Under Section 2-5-13 [pdf], if the court finds a violation, the violator “shall be fined not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 for each offense.” 

But irrespective of what Atty. Hill finds or recommends, under Section 2-5-8 [pdf] the City Council still has the final say on whether or not to file the lawsuit against Frimark.  And, frankly, we don’t see that happening, given that five of the current aldermen not only endorsed the former mayor for re-election but also contributed a total of $3,829.51 to his campaign fund: Allegretti – $1,500; Bach – $400; Carey – $500; DiPietro/CrossTech Communications – $565; and Ryan – $864.51.

Plus, they’ve got a built-in excuse for giving this violation – assuming Hill finds Frimark’s conduct to be one – the proverbial wink and nod: a court case, especially if Frimark contests it, could well cost the City more in attorneys’ fees and filing costs than the it could recover in fines.  And since those five Frimark aldermen are the same fiscal conservatives who keep on running up multi-million dollar deficit budgets, they have to start economizing somewhere.

The “other” bit of secrecy on tonight’s agenda is the continuing refusal by City Staff to identify the owner of 31-33 S. Prospect who wants the City to pay it $24,000 a year to keep the current portion of “Pickwick Plaza” behind that property intact, or remove it at a cost of $62,369 – as can be seen from the newest Carrie Davis “Agenda Cover Memorandum” [pdf] on the subject, which this time makes only one discrete reference to “the property owner.”  That discussion is scheduled under the report of the Public Works Committee, near the end of the meeting. 

Thanks to the comment to last Friday’s post (“Another Side To The Culture Of Secrecy”) by one of our readers, we were able to confirm that the current owner of that property is Winchester Investment Services, L.L.C. [pdf], whose managers are Timothy and Jennifer Perry.  Mr. Perry is a prominent, long-time mortgage broker in town, and Mrs. Perry chairs the newly-formed Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission. 

That’s not to suggest that the Perry’s or their LLC are doing anything wrong here.  As best as we can tell, they acquired that commercial property with an existing contract with the City that gives them the legal right to restoration of the parking spaces and dumpster pad now that the City’s $1-a-year lease has expired; and they are lawfully exercising their rights under that contract.

Which is why we just don’t understand what Ms. Davis or the rest of the gang over at City Hall is trying to cover up, or why, by so tenaciously keeping the property owner’s identity a “secret.”  Haven’t they figured out that one really effective way to create suspicion about City business is to keep some relevant element of it a secret…especially when that “business,” one way or the other, is going to cost the taxpayers some dough?

But, then again, maybe the Culture of Secrecy is so entrenched over at 505 Butler Place that the bureaucrats don’t even “get” the concept of “transparent” government…or simply don’t don’t think it applies to them.

3 comments so far

Does Hock, Davis or anybody else at city hall pay any attention to what’s going on at the Uptown buildings, or are they just letting PRC do whatever it wants?

anonymous on 10.19.09 10:47 am

The Uptown buildings are private property. What is city hall supposed to pay attention to?

The insurance on the three floors of the parking garage that are owned by the city and for which the city pays the premium.



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