Billboard Wars: Allegretti & Owens Defeat Planning & Zoning


Park Ridge Alderman James Allegretti and the consummate Park Ridge insider, prominent local attorney Jack Owens, are leading the charge for a billboard company that wants to put four 80-foot billboards on the west end of Park Ridge, along Interstate 294.

Whether that’s a good or a bad idea is a matter of opinion.  In the case of Park Ridge City government, the “opinion” that matters historically has been that of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”).  But Allegretti and a majority of his Council chums are trying to change that.  And “Mr. Insider” Owens is more than happy to help them.

Presumably, Owens is being well paid to change the City zoning ordinance for his client, billboard company Generation Group, Inc.  And as Allegretti constantly reminds us, he is poorly-paid to represent the residents of Park Ridge’s 4th Ward. 

But if Allegretti is going to keep on accepting his $100/month to sit in one of those nice chairs around the City Council horseshoe, we would expect him to be something more than a lackey for special interests like Generation Group.

Or was it just a coincidence that Generation Group, Inc. contacted Allegretti directly, rather than going to P&Z, when it made its initial pitch for a text amendment to the City’s zoning code so that its billboards would be allowed?  And was it just a coincidence that Allegretti has led the charge to have the City be identified as the applicant – as Generation Group’s stooge surrogate – for the pro-billboard text amendment?

This week’s Herald-Advocate (“Zoning panel’s message: Don’t place your ad here,” Nov. 17), reports that P&Z commissioner Anita Rifkind criticized the “subterfuge by the City Council to take over the application for Generation,” only to be upbraided by Allegretti.

“It’s truly a pet peeve of mine that with virtually everything the City Council is asked to do, someone says we’re in somebody’s pocket — or potentially in somebody’s pocket — and somehow getting a campaign contribution from them,” Allegretti reportedly complained.

Gee, Jimbo, how would anybody ever get the idea that you would be questioned about your motives when acting as a public official?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that he contributed $300 [pdf] to Howard Frimark’s election campaign in March, 2005, but made no mention of that fact during his rather lengthy confirmation hearing as Frimark’s hand-picked aldermanic successor in June of that year – before Frimark’s campaign disclosure report made that contribution a matter of public record?  Or could it have anything to do with the fact that he contributed $200 [pdf] more to Frimark’s campaign in July 2005, just a few weeks after he got his aldermanic seat? 

Even at the paltry $100/mo aldermanic salary he whines about, Allegretti still made back that entire $500 contribution by the end of his first year in office.  And by the time his appointed term was through in 2007, he had picked up more than enough to also fund that $1,500 he contributed [pdf] to Frimark’s recent, unsuccessful re-election campaign. 

But if Allegretti really cares about dispelling the notion that he or anybody else on the Council is “in somebody’s pocket” on this issue, what he and his Council colleagues should do is immediately move for reconsideration of last Monday (Nov. 16) night’s Council vote by which they gave themselves final say over all P&Z decisions by “super-majority” vote.  Instead, they should require a unanimous vote to over-ride any P&Z decision.

That way, the public can be assured that if the Council is trumping a P&Z decision, it’s only because every single alderman is willing to go on record as saying that the P&Z decision was wrong.

But we’re not going to hold our breath for that to happen.  Allegretti and Owens have P&Z right where they want it: neutered.