Public Watchdog.org

Unenforced Ordinances = Worthless Ordinances

10.21.09

A couple of years ago, the City Council amended the City’s Ethics Ordinance to address some gaping holes, like self-dealing and “insider” (e.g., friend, friend-of-a-friend, campaign contributor) dealing. 

One of the results of that effort was the current Section 2-5-3, which “absolutely” prohibits our mayor, aldermen and certain other City officials – both while they are in office and for two years afterward – from acting as an agent for others in their dealings with the City. 

Despite being the mayor when this Section was extensively debated and enacted, it appears that Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark may have earned the dubious distinction of being its first violator – by selling insurance to the folks in charge of the Uptown development: Developer PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”).  Oh, yes, and to the City.  

According to his “mouthpiece” – not surprisingly, Frimark “lawyered up” with prominent local attorney and consummate “insider” Jack Owens – the former mayor did exactly what the ordinance prohibits. 

After proclaiming to the Council that Frimark “was actually solicited” by the UCHA, Owens admitted that Frimark sold insurance to PRC and UCHA that covered the underground parking garage, of which the City owns three floors.  According to Owens, Frimark initially bound the coverage for only PRC and UCHA without knowing the City was supposed to be an additional named insured, and obligated to pay part of the premium, based on its contract with PRC – even though Frimark was an alderman when that contract was negotiated and executed.

But Owens’ attempt at mounting the “ignorance-is-bliss” defense crashed and burned seconds later when he admitted that Frimark, after being informed of the City’s status and interest, went ahead and “bound the coverage for the City…the next day.” (If you want to hear it for yourself, the video – courtesy of intrepid videographer George Kirkland and up-link expert Charles Melidosian – can be found at yesterday’s post on Park Ridge Underground http://parkridgeunderground.blogspot.com/2009/10/city-council-meeting-video-oct-19-2009.html )

Sounds like game, set and match, right?  Time for Owens to start trying to negotiate Frimark’s fine down from the maximum $5,000, right?

Not so fast, Bunky.

Even though City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill had prepared an “interim” report which presumably found the same ordinance violation by Frimark to which Owens admitted from the Council floor, the enforcement of the ordinance requires that a formal “complaint” about the violation be filed. 

In this case, Hill’s analysis and report arose not out of a formal complaint but, instead, from a simple inquiry by Mayor Dave Schmidt, who had heard of Frimark’s involvement in the insurance deal and asked Hill for an opinion of whether or not that was an ordinance violation.

The upshot is that, unless somebody actually files a formal complaint, it looks like Frimark is off the hook, ethics be damned.

Of course, Schmidt or one of his supporters could file the formal complaint, which would almost certainly be followed by howling accusations of “vendetta politics” and “witch hunt” by Frimark and his allies. Whether the mayor or an ally will run that risk remains to be seen. 

But an excellent way to stifle such accusations would be for one of Frimark’s five former(?) “alderpuppets” and campaign contributors – Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan – to lodge the complaint, which could serve as a meaningful endorsement by them of ethics in City government.  We’re not going to hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen, however, especially in light of the palpable expressions of relief they (other than Carey, who was absent) displayed upon hearing about the complaint requirement.

According to Owens, the City’s share of Frimark’s commission on the insurance sale would be $365 – a figure he spoke with an almost dismissive, “so what?” tone.

But this isn’t about $365, or about the much larger commission Frimark will earn from the rest of the insurance he placed for PRC and UCHA. It’s not even about the $1,000 to $5,000 fine that could be assessed against Frimark for this violation, even though the financially-challenged City can use every stray dollar it can grab.

This is about the City’s ethics ordinance and about those acts which that ordinance describes as being “not mere conflicts of interest, but…absolutely prohibited” – seemingly irrespective of the ignorance or intent of the person committing them.  And this is about whether an absolute prohibition is worth the paper it’s printed on.

We live in what is commonly referred to as “Crook County,” in what the Chicago Tribune described as the “State of Corruption” because of the ethically bankrupt way government operates in Illinois. The reason ordinances such as this one were enacted is because too many elected and appointed public officials in this state seem to need bright-line standards of ethical and unethical conduct.

But if ordinances like this are not going to be scrupulously and aggressively enforced, they are worthless.  Or, even worse, they are a sick joke…primarily on the taxpayers who keep footing the bill for the graft and corruption that seem virtually institutionalized in, ironically, the Land of (Honest Abe) Lincoln.  

13 comments so far

Who can file a complaint? Where do we go to file the complaint? What happens after a complaint is filed? Are there any costs associated with filing a complaint?

PD:

Thanks for the post. I absolutely agree with this sentence…..”But if ordinances like this are not going to be scrupulously and aggressively enforced, they are worthless.” It is like the various cell phone laws that go unenforced. What good are they???

One thing bothers me about your post. You move real quickly from Schmidt and his possible filing of a complaint to the Aldermen. You mention howling of “witch hunt” by Frimark and his supporters. I do not have the history with Frimark some of you seem to so I do not necessairly hold him in the same contempt. That being said, I am sorry but screw Frimark and his supporters. Let them scream all they want. If the Mayor has verifiable information and an opinion from the City attorney that warrants a complaint he damn well better file one. A part of what he ran on was following the rules and no insider deals – a law and order kind of guy. That is one of the reasons he got my vote. Of course it would be great if an alderman filed the complaint but if this things goes by the wayside with no complaint being filed and Schmidt had the opportunity to file the complaint that is dead wrong!!!

Anon 9:22:

Anybody can file a complaint, and there are no costs for filing.

With whom it must be filed, and what happens afterward, is not 100% clear because of what appears to be an inconsistency between two separate sections of Article 2, Chapter 5.

Section 2-5-2 indicates that the complaint must be filed with the City Attorney and then reviewed for probable cause by an “Independent Reviewer,” while Section 2-5-8 suggests that it is to be filed with the City Clerk, who will then submit it to the City Attorney for review and recommendation to the City Council.

Filing with both the City Attorney and the City Clerk would appear to be the safest route.

Why is Randy Dangerfield on the appearance commission? He was also on the historic preservation task force. I thought that a former city employee had to wait for two years.

Am I reading the ordinance wrong?

anon on 10.21.09 9:30 am –

What does having a “history” with Frimark have to do with anything? For that matter, what does holding him in “contempt” have to do with this?

If he violated the ordinance, he should publicly admit it and pay the price. End of story.

Instead, he sends a smarmy legal beagle with a bunch of alibis. What a weasel.

Just wait. There’s more.

While I agree that the “cleanest” way for this to proceed is with one of the aldermen (who have seen Hill’s report and presumably know his view of this situation), this must not fall by the wayside.

Unless Hill says it’s not a violation, at the end of the day it’s up to the Mayor to step up to the plate on this if nobody else does, politics aside, and make sure the ordinance is enforced.

Do you simply go to City Hall to file the complaint? Where and specifically how?

There are apparently two ways to skin this cat… er, I mean Frimark.
One is to file a complaint with the City Attorney, which apparently has been done, or at least has been claimed to have been done by some blog reader.
The other is to file a complaint, including a sworn affadavit, with the City Clerk.

In the former situation it seems the City Attorney (Buzz) makes a report, including his opinion on whether there has been a violation, to the City Council who can decide to charge/prosecute or not. And it is said that in his so-called preliminary report handed out on Monday night Buzz stated that there has been a violation of the ethic ordinance by Frimark. So in the case at hand all of the Aldermen, and the Mayor too I think, get to vote on whether to go after Howard. Ought to be interesting to see what they all do.
In the latter situation, with the complaint and affidavit to the City Clerk, it seems that the matter is turned over to Buzz who is the bound to hire a special investigator to look into the matter. The investigator would determine if there has been a violation and then if there is, apparently, recommend prosecution.

So the wheels are in motion for the matter to come before the Aldermen who will get a chance to decide Frimark’s fate… that shold be interesting since so many are his pals and benificiaries of campaign cash in the past. And anyone can put the wheels in motion for a special investigator by contacting the City Clerk, dear Betty, and determining how to file the required affidavit. I say go for it, it would be verrrrrrry interesting to see how things would unfold of the actions were taking place on parallel paths.

Of course, Frimark could short circuit all of this by fessing up that he knew exactly what he was doing, that it was a violation of the ethics ordinance that he once swore to uphold and that he will take his lumps formally and in the court of public opinion. Anybody want to bet on the chances of this happeneing?

Gotta love it.

The bitter people who run these blogs won’t be happy until Howard Frimark is destroyed. Then what will you have to write about? You are all pathetic whingers and losers out for revenge even after your annointed mouthpiece won. It is only a matter of time before people understand Schmidt is a tool for the anonymous cowards behind the blogs.

Anonymous 10/23/09 8:46 am,

How very brave of you to make your thoughts about anonymous bloggers known, anonymously.

Why don’t you anonymously print up some flyers and mail them around town…make your thoughts known to an even wider audience? I can put you in touch with somebody who has experience doing that…

Gotta love it.

Anonymous on 10.23.09 8:46 am:

We don’t consider ourselves “bitter people.” Irritated? Regularly. Angry? Sometimes. Disappointed? Ususally. Outraged? Occasionally.

But as far as us wanting to see Howard Frimark be “destroyed,” nothing could be farther from the truth. Frankly, we wish him a comfortable and happy retirement in Bonita Springs.

But just as we wouldn’t put up with his wheeling and dealing for himself and his cronies while he was an elected official, we won’t put up with his capers just because the voters gave him the boot – especially if he is, in fact, violating the City’s ethics ordinance.

In that vein, you should take a look at today’s post, which shows that Mr. Frimark knew or should have known that the City was involved in the insurance for the Uptown development despite his attorney’s protests to the contrary.

And in case you’re worried about us going easy on the current mayor, you shouldn’t be. Because the moment Schmidt starts pulling the same kinds of shots for which we went after Frimark, he will find himself on the very same barbecue.

Don’t know if I wish him a happy retirement.

If he did something wrong he should pay for it.



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