Public Watchdog.org

“Show Trial” An Affront To Park Ridge Residents

11.04.09

Back in March, 2008, then-mayor Howard P. Frimark orchestrated a kind of “show trial” of then-Ald. Dave Schmidt by obtaining the public “condemnation” – by Frimark’s Alderpuppets (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) – of Schmidt for disclosing information from a closed session City Council meeting even though that disclosure was perfectly legal under the Illinois Open Meetings Act. 

We branded Frimark’s and the Alderpuppets’ action “a naked political ploy” and “a gratuitous shot” at Schmidt, which it clearly was.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, now-mayor Schmidt seemingly repaid the “favor” by presiding over a “show trial” of Frimark that appears to have been every bit as nakedly political and gratuitous – by all involved – as its predecessor.  And in the process, Schmidt and the City Council made a mockery of a provision of the City’s ethics ordinance that ironically was enacted during Frimark’s mayoralty to prohibit exactly the kind of conduct in which Frimark admittedly engaged.

Anybody who showed up at City Hall Monday night expecting the Council to vote to prosecute Frimark must have been smoking illegal substances, because the odds against the Alderpuppets holding their political mentor accountable for an ethics violation after having filled his re-election war chest with almost $4,000, cumulatively, were so long that there wasn’t even a Vegas betting line on them.

But what the most naïve observer could not have expected was the theater of the absurd that actually took place over more than two hours of apparently not-very-valuable City Council meeting time.

It started with City Attorney “Buzz” Hill practically begging for an excuse not to officially recommend prosecution for what Hill had already determined to be Frimark’s ethics violation.  It continued with Ald. Ryan’s challenging of Schmidt’s biggest campaign donor – resident and local business owner Tony Svanascini – to dueling disclosures, after Ryan admitted to “about $100” in contributions to Frimark’s campaign when, in reality, he kicked in more than eight times that much.

Next came non-lawyer Ald. DiPietro’s personal anecdotes disputing the City Attorney’s legal interpretation of “agent” and “broker.”  And that was followed by an agitated Ald. Allegretti’s denigrating of the applicable ethics ordinance provision as “goofy,” while also denouncing those attacking Frimark for his six years of serving the City “honorably or dishonorably.” (Yes, he really said that!)    

This charade ended with a whimper when its instigator-in-chief, Mayor Schmidt, announced immediately prior to the Council’s vote that while he believed beyond doubt that Frimark had violated the ethics ordinance, he would vote “No” on prosecution because it would not “further the purpose of the ordinance” now that Uptown developer PRC Partners and the Uptown Condominium Homeowners Association (“UCHA”) had pulled the offending insurance coverage from Frimark, thereby depriving him of the economic benefit of his violation.

Say what?

Schmidt subsequently explained his action in an e-mail [pdf] by claiming that “[t]he purpose of the discussion [Monday] night was not to decide whether Frimark had violated the ordinance”; and “that the public admonishment of Frimark and the fact that he will not profit from the transaction was punishment enough under these particular circumstances.”

Say what!

We scoured the ethics ordinance and could not find “public admonishment” or depriving the violator of his ill-gotten gain mentioned anywhere as the purpose of the ordinance, or as a prescribed remedy or penalty for its violation.  We also found no mention of relying on private parties (like PRC and UCHA) to provide de facto private enforcement of the ordinance, as happened here.  The only thing the ordinance provides for, following prosecution by the City and conviction by a Circuit Court of Cook County judge, is a fine of “not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 for each offense,” money which would end up in the depleted City treasury. 

Schmidt’s comments, therefore, reflect a straight-out disregard for the ordinance’s processes and penalties.

The bottom line is that City Attorney Hill found probable cause for prosecution as the result of Frimark’s admission that he sold the insurance that provided coverage to the City and that required payment from the City under its contract with PRC and the UCHA.  In so finding, Hill determined that Frimark was an “agent” for purposes of the ordinance – a finding which is also consistent with the law of Illinois under which all “brokers” are “agents.” 

In the insurance industry, the only basic distinction between “broker” and “agent” is determined by who is the agent’s/broker’s principal. But whether Frimark’s principal was the insurer seeking to sell insurance coverage to the City, or whether his principal was PRC/UCHA buying insurance and seeking contractual contribution from the City for part of that premium, does not change the fact that Frimark was an “agent” of somebody who was seeking “consideration” – in this case, the payment of money – from the City.

By failing to accept Hill’s legally-correct finding and recommendation, Schmidt and the Council not only implicitly endorsed a violation of the ethics ordinance but, at the same time, they gave what amounts to a “no confidence” vote to Hill, whose legal expertise in such matters is paid for by our tax dollars and who is employed to do exactly what he did, albeit reluctantly, Monday night.  They also gave a clear signal that they aren’t serious about ethics in government – or at least not when Howard Frimark is involved.

Had Schmidt made his position known from the outset rather than at the end of those proceedings, everyone in the Council chambers Monday night – and everyone who might watch those proceedings on videotape – could have been spared the two-hours of unvarnished political posturing for which the ethics ordinance served as little more than a cheap prop.  And even though he may not have deserved it, Frimark could have been spared the meaningless ordeal which had him shifting between glad-handing and perp-walking for most of the evening.

Mayor Schmidt and the City Council owed us honest, ethical government.  What they – and Frimark himself – delivered Monday night was a fraud, wrapped in a sham, inside a farce.

37 comments so far

Well said… well said.

Now, can someone who beleives in the ethical operation of local government volunteer to give a compliant via sworn affidavit to our City Attorney, Mr. “Buzz” Hill? Call him, email him and ask him how to proceed and do it.

This will accomplish the following:
1. It will breath life into the enforcement of the City’s ethics ordinance. “Buzz” will hire a special inivestigator and the investigator, if he finds it appropriate, will recommend prosecution.
2. It will give “Buzz” his wish of not having to be involved in prosecuting Frimark. He will hand it off.
3. It will make Frimark accountable for his actions.
4. And while it cannot undo what happened Monday night it will go a long way toward repairing the City’s citizens confidence in their local government.
5. Let me take a part of that back… the next Aldermanic election will go a long way toward repairing confidence in local government – if we get it right.

Anybody… hello… Beuhller??

Anonymous on 11.04.09 3:05 pm,

Why don’t you do it? You sound like you understand it already.

I understand th possible “political” reasons for Schmidt voting th eay he did but what I find so frustrating is it seems so out of character (or at least what I thought was his character). If you look at the closed meetings dust up as an example he seemed to be fighting for the peoples right to know but also for the proper interpretation of the Ordinance. He thought they were taking advantage or stretching the application of the rule so, tact be damed, he fought it. Now here is a clear violation of the ethics ordinance. He say so himself and yet he let’s it pass. I just see this as a contradiction.

Anon 3:05, I do not understand yout point number 4. How will it do this. I mean our local government basically took a pass the other night. How will having “someone else” swear out a complaint increase confidence in a group that took a pass??

3:17…I do not blame you or anyone else who has followed local and state politics over the years for being cynical. And I understand why some may feel confused or even betrayed by my vote. I know there are differences of opinion on this issue. Believe me, I have taken a beating from my closest friends because of this.

However, I want to assure you that there was no political motivation behind my vote. In fact, I’m not sure what political motivation there could have been. To the contrary, had I voted yes, THAT would have been construed as being politically-motivated. Perhaps some will think that I voted no simply to avoid being accused of political motivation, ie, lacking a spine. However, all I did was do what I thought was right. Nothing more, nothing less.

Is it actually true that Ald. Robert Ryan materially under stated his contributions to the Frimark campaign, while citing Mr. Svanascini’s campaign donations ( to Schmidt ) in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of Svanascini’s comments? One would think that Aldermen would make a special effort at honesty when discussing ethics violations. It was Alderman Ryan who brought up the topic of campaign contributions. I find it hard to believe that an alderman would be disingenuous or misleading on a topic he (himself) thought was important.

Mayor,

If your vote was not politically motivated, then can you explain again why you voted not to enforce the ethics ordinance you say you believe was violated? Why do you think it was right not to enforce an ordinance you say was violated?

See the e-mail link in the story above.

ryan says $100 when it’s over $800 and he emptied his campaign fund to make it. convenient memory lapse, eh mr. r?

and what did svansini’s contribution to schmidt have to do with frimark’s conflict of interst when svansini had no vote on the matter but ryan did?

ryan doesn’t get it. has he ever?

With the exception of DiPietro…who still fudged it…none of the aldermen complied with the required disclosure of economic relationships…until Judy Barclay requested that they do so.

…and then, Allegretti made sure to take advantage of the “bully pulpit” later. How an alderman was allowed to get away with that, as well as Ryan’s attempt to act as if a citizen addressing the council has to disclose ANYthing when commenting upon council business unrelated to himself, is beyond me…

Mayor Schmidt performed poorly on all fronts and in every way at Monday’s meeting.

My hope is to never see a “repeat performance.”

I continue to wonder what else will be uncovered about things that Frimark signed without the Council’s consent. A type of guy like him doesn’t do that just once.

Mayor,

I did read the e-mail link in the Public Watchdog article and I still do not understand why you think it is right not to enforce an ordinance you say was violated.

I think I agree with Public Watchdog that the ordinance was disrespected and that is a shame.

is it true that frimark didn’t pay his property taxes? does he still owe? if that’s true why isn’t something like that in the papers? i’m assuming that the american eagle guy didn’t know what he was talking about being that it was the first i heard of it. anyone have hard facts regarding this?

Mayor:

Of course I take you at your word that you did what you thought was right and it is nice that you do not blame people for being cynical. The irony is that by voting the way you did you contributed to the very cynicism that you referenced earlier. An ex elected official (well inside the 2 year window) violates the ethics ordinance – I believe at this point we can take that as fact. After all, you said so and the city attny said so. Did he bring down city government? No. Did he make millions? No. Was this a really big, nasty, bad, horrible thing he did? No. But he violated the oridnance and he should be held responsible.

I think it is important to remember where that cynicism comes from. It comes from too many inside deals and people getting away with it. It comes from to many people getting caught and not being punished. It also comes from to many people making too many promises and not living up to them. Many people feel as if elected officials get to skate when the average Joe would not. When I first moved to PR I missed the no right turn sign between 4-6PM sign onto Greenwood. I was new in town and I did not cause an accident. Why didn’t I get to skate?

Unfortunately, this whole incident is right “in the wheel house”, of the cynical perception people have about government. I knew how the Aldermen would vote, but I was hoping that you might once again be that one lonely voice of sanity (kind of like with the open versus closed meetings). It has been said here before but what good is an ordinance if it is not enforced?

7:48-you can verify the information on the Cook County website. The taxes are still unpaid.

Allegretti talking about ethics is a joke. His appointment as alderman by Frimark in 2005 has pay-to-play written all over it. A pre-election $300 campaign contribution down, an additional $200 post-election contribution following the appointment. And if what was posted by Watchdog some time back is correct, he never disclsoed that first contribution during the public hearing on his appoitnment.

What a guy.

Some interesting comments…A couple of reactions.

1. Do you think the City enforces every ordinance on the books? Probably not — in the end, most (not all) municipalities seek compliance not penalty. So if Frimark didn’t get the commission and lost the contract, then there is no benefit – so no violation.

2. The City should use a different attorney for these investigations. Its unfair for Hill who has to work with the elected officials and staff on a daily basis to now be an investigator for a ethics violation. He’s too close to the situation and a different attorney from a different firm should investigate. Clearly, Hill was uncomfortable handling the issue and I can’t blame him…he can see the votes stacked against him — why should he stick his neck on the line? Again, I’m not talking about a special prosecutor, just someone else to look into the matter.

3. At some point, there is a time when we all have to move on…the former Mayor is gone and there is only so much time & money in the day to accomplish positive things for the City. What good at this point does it matter to go after Frimark? So you find him guilty of an ethics violation? Then what…the true accountability is at the polls…It’s time to move on folks…

Mayor Schmidt, you could of been more forthcoming when Anon 3:49 asked for more explanation. I know your probably very busy but your response to just look at the email link was kind of rude. Wow.

Did not mean to be rude. There just really is nothing else I can add. I felt Frimark’s loss of a $3-4000 commission just for the first year alone constituted a significant monetary penalty by itself.

Mayor Dave,

Huh? So I open a shell game in the library common area, make $3000 off school kids on Saturday afternoon, get caught, give it back and no have admission of guilt. Under your idea of law enforcement I lost the $3000 and that alone “constituted a significant monetary penalty by itself”.

First, it was never his to lose. If he was following the law, he should never have had the $3000-4000 in the first place. If there is no penalty for playing the shell game, then why on earth would someone not try to run one?

Yes and congratulations Mayor,

There is nothing the “good old Park Ridge boys club” would like to do more than neuter the ethics ordinance, especially with the City Council now doing zoning enforcement. I can get my garage expanded now and all I have to do is make a little political contribution. My Alderman doesn’t have to worry because; hey if anyone questions it he just gives the money back. Yes sir, under the table politics had a twofer on Monday night and you stood silent. Welcome to the fifty first ward.

Anon 11.05.09 1:33:

I like the idea of somebody not the city attorney doing these investigations. I think you could be right on that.

I disagree that somehow because the city does not enforce every ordinance that not enforcing this ordinance is o.k. too. Public officials have a duty to the public trust and should be held to a higher standard in how they conduct themsleves.

Frimark’s penalty at the polls at the last election was his penalty for being a crummy mayor when he served honorably or dishonorably as Allegretti said.

He signed the paper that he knew the city would be on the hook for insurance money only some months ago and he tried to sneek one by with getting this big business because he was even mayor when the ethics ordinance was made. I feel like he should have been made to answer for trying to pull a fast one. There is a reason the ethics ordinance includes a 2 yr. clause for when they leave office.

I didn’t think the aldermen were going to choose prosecution but I didn’t expect a unanimous pass from all the aldermen and the current mayor.

annoymous 11.05.09 5:12

Did you see this story?

http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/11/man-accused-of-offering-100000-to-get-airport-concessions.html

What you talk about could not be too far from our future in Park Ridge.

By Anon on 11.05.09 1:33 pm

1. What a just plain stupid comment. Under the ethics ordinance, Frimark should have received a $1,000 to $5,000 fine. The only reason he lost his commission is not because the Alderdopes and Mayor Quit did their duty, but because PRC and the condo association pulled the pin on the commission. They did more to enforce the ordinance than the dunces we elected to represent us.

2. Hill’s job is to represent US – the people of Park Ridge, not the clowns who we stupidly elected to not represent us. So what if Hill was uncomfortable – he sucked it up and did his job, unlike our mayor and city council. Why should we have to pay yet another attorney?

3. Another stupid comment. With that thinking, the Feds should have let George Ryan walk because he was no longer the governor when they tried him, so the Feds should have just “moved on” (isn’t that Howard Frimark’s favorite term?) And Howard was defeated at the polls, yet he’s still so kinky he still can’t follow an ethics ordinance. Until we get the scam artists and outright crooks out of government, we’re going to keep on getting screwed and having our taxes wasted on pay-to-play, ghost payrolling, and all the other things that have been keeping the Feds down at 219 S. Dearborn busy for years.

After watching the video I think our mayor did what he could to ensure that there was a unanimous vote to not prosecute Frimark. And Sweeney got hung out to dry on it, because he said before Schmidt spoke that he wanted the court to decide Frimark’s fate. Too bad his mayor made him look like a goof by pulling the rug out from under him. And too bad Sweeney made himself look like a goof by turning around and voting “no.” Way to stand tall, Sweens.

If the shoe was on the other foot and Schmidt was in the dock and Howard was in the mayor’s seat, think things would have turned out the same?

NFW, Jose.

Public Watchdog,

Thank you for this very good analysis of the events. I agree that the orchestrations of the meeting were absurd, and I agree with many of the critical comments people have made here.

Elected representatives should be held to a higher standard because being able to trust in our government is so important, and when they break a law they should be accountable for it. You would have hoped one person would have been willing to vote for the idea of accountability.

I guess not. So sad.

Is it my imagination…or does Alderman Ryan say “Oh Shit” at the 22:11 mark of this video when Mr. Trizna is called to the microphone?

the whole charade was a joke on all of us who thought the city gvt was moving on from the dirty frimark yrs. i was disgusted from watching the videos and watching the idiots and schmidt included.

Fandango’s Papa on 11.05.09 8:32 pm:

We did hear what sounded like those words, although we can’t tell for sure who uttered them.

But we understand that Mr. Trizna has provoked that kind of reaction from public officials on more than one occasion.

I guess when you get right down to it, this Mayor is not so different than the last Mayor.

What a joke.

Mayor Schmidt, I worked, walked, rang doorbells, and talked to many of my friends and neighbors into voting with you.

What have you done since being elected? Appoint a friend to the City Council, created a flooding task force, where the best (paid)recommendation so far seems to be: divert the water into our parks (my ten year old came up with that same idea for free), and now you’ve “taught” a political rival a lesson.

Seems like you’ve gotten pretty good at playing politics, but have you done a single tangible thing that has improved the City of Park Ridge?

Regrets…,

Schmidt is different in that he didn’t seek the office of Mayor as a promotional tool for himself and his “local business”…

…but the Schmidt campaign, despite press releases to the contrary, was fundamentally based upon the message, “I’m not HOward! Vote for me!”…and I believe that “campaign promise” remains fulfilled.

What Mayor Schmidt has so far failed to understand is, campaigning is easy…governing is hard…and if you let political consideration and personal feelings cloud your policy thinking…well…you’re a gonner.

>>> What Mayor Schmidt has so far failed to understand is, campaigning is easy…governing is hard…and if you let political consideration and personal feelings cloud your policy thinking…well…you’re a gonner.

Call it an affront, a joke, sham, scam, politics or what have you.

The whole thing stinks. The mayor should have been the people’s voice but he failed.

Poor Public Hounddogs. Schmidt finally makes a reasonable decision and casts a vote and you all go crazy. What’s the matter? Did your puppet not obey his anonymous Hounddog puppet masters? Are you afraid you have lost control of your puppet? It looks as if Schmidt might not carry out your total agenda, whatever that is. Schmidt even admitted at the meeting that he wasn’t will to extract the pound of flesh you all want to chew on like the pack of rabid dogs you are. Good for Schmidt. He refused to feed the anonymous blog beasts. He finally did something on his own and refused to hurt the town to carry on your political vendetta against Howard Frimark. Thank you Schmidt for standing up finally.

Yawn:

You missed the opportunity to open with “You ain’t nothin’ but a houndog.” Maybe next time.

We can’t speak for anyone else in the community, but we have never sought a pound of Frimark’s flesh because (a) the City’s ethics ordinance doesn’t list that as one of the penalties for violation; and (b) the prescribed $1,000-$5,000 fine going to the City works just fine for us.

But if you’re going to implicate our “total agenda, whatever that is,” we think you owe our readers a description of what that agenda might be – and we have no problem with your quoting liberally from any of our previous posts over the past five years as evidence of it.

While you’re at it, can you also please explain how enforcing an ordinance that the City Attorney concluded was violated by Frimark would “hurt the town”?

Finally, we have no “political vendetta against Howard Frimark.” The voters eliminated any reason for that this past April.

The unabated Hounddog feeding frenzy continues. Your Hounddog puppet Schmidt didnn’t do your bidding. Even Schmidt said there were those looking for a pound of flesh. Take it up with your puppet mayor. Schmidt finally stood up and didn’t vote to spend money on a useless prosecution to give the Hounddogs a pound of flesh. The poor Hounddogs will have to go hungry. Good for Schmidt.

Yawn, it sounds like you can’t get past a couple of sound bites. No explanation of what you think PW’s “agenda” is or how prosecuting the ethics violation the city attorney said occurred is wrong. Sounds like you drink the Frimark kool-aid.

It’s our RIGHT to question our elected officials. They will try to sweep this one under the rug, but it won’t work. Dwelling on it, however, isn’t going to solve anything. It’s going to be hard to move on. I am furious as hell at the City Council as a whole.

Like, for example, the item on the COW agenda on Monday to ban cell phone use while driving (only hands-free devices allowed). So if I am caught driving while holding my cell phone and talking on it, can I say I didn’t “intend” to break the law? Can I say I didn’t “know” the law applied to me? Can I get a bunch of citizens to get up and testify that I was talking to them on the phone and that it was really really really important and they called me, so technically I wasn’t breaking the law?

Just askin.



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