New Year’s Wishes For Our Readers


As another year comes to a close, we here at PublicWatchdog hope that we have helped make local government more transparent, understandable and accountable to the taxpayers who fund it; and that we also have helped shine a spotlight on those who would abuse the public trust of government, or manipulate it for their own benefit to the detriment of the community as a whole.  We also promise to try to do even better in 2010.

In that spirit, we offer the following quotes:

“But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.  It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government.”
            Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
            Edmund Burke

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary”
            James Madison, Federalist No. 51

“The two enemies of the people are criminals and government”
            Thomas Jefferson

“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush.  It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”
            Robert Maynard Hutchins

And with that, we wish all of you a happy, vigilant, active, passionate, engaged and well-nourished New Year.

Can You Smell It Now?


After watching the minutes of the 12/21/09 City Council meeting posted on the Melidosian Motionbox site, we can’t seem to shake the feeling that there is more to this Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) billboards deal than meets the eye – although we’re still unclear about whether the missing part of the equation involves stupidity, corruption, or a little bit of both.

Is there a smoking gun that we can point to? 

No…because stupidity (or ignorance masquerading as stupidity) of public officials is, sadly, so commonplace it is almost expected, especially when the management of public funds is involved.  And when it comes to political corruption, even iron fists like the U.S. Attorney’s office and the F.B.I. usually have to resort to “flipping” corrupt insiders to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

But one would have to be hopelessly naïve to think that Park Ridge is somehow immune to political graft and corruption, if only because we’re talking about a unit of government within what is commonly known as “Crook County,” situated in what the Chicago Tribune has branded the “State of Corruption” – and bordering on a city that has been so corrupt for so long that the term “Chicago-Style” has become more identified with kinky government than with hot dogs.

So when considering the billboards deal proposed by GGI, we think that a little background information might be useful – and we suggest a line of stories from the Des Plaines Journal about that city’s experience with a billboard company, Premere Outdoor, Inc., that has at least one thing in common with GGI.

Back in 2003 when Premere Outdoor got permission from Des Plaines to erect 10 billboards, its attorney happened to be…surprise!…Joseph Loss, one of the attorneys (along with the ubiquitous Park Ridge insider, attorney Jack Owens) for GGI.  And…surprise again!…one of Premere Outdoor’s shareholders just happened to be Heather Loss, reportedly the wife of Joseph Loss.  And two other Premere shareholders just happened to be convicted felon (and former Crook County undersheriff) James Dvorak, and the wife of convicted insurance fraud schemer Joseph Nicosia.

Not the most savory cast of characters, is it?

Just in case anybody doubts there is big money in billboards, a story in the December 1, 2004, edition of the Des Plaines Journal (“Billboard Backlash Is Concern For EDC”) reported that 42 days after Des Planes gave Premere Outdoor the rights for 10 billboards, that company was sold for $10.5 million to another sign company, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, which then sold the rights to 5 of those 10 signs to Premere Media, Inc. – reportedly, an affiliate of Premere Outdoor – before Premere Media sold those rights to Viacom, the media giant, for an undisclosed sum.

What does that mean for billboards in Park Ridge?

Well, thanks to Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti and Alds. Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol providing the 3-2 majority vote (over Alds. Rich DiPietro and Joe Sweeney, because Alds. Don Bach and Tom Carey were absent), the City of Park Ridge, rather than GGI, was the applicant for the zoning code text amendments needed for the billboards.  That meant that GGI was able to avoid being the “applicant” – which, under the Park Ridge ethics ordinance, would have required GGI to disclose the identities of all its officers, directors and anyone having a 3% or greater ownership interest in GGI.

Was the decision by Allegretti, Ryan and Wsol to make the City the applicant stupid? Corrupt? Other? All of the above? None of the above?

For the time being, that’s your own personal call. 

But to provide some kind of frame of reference, consider that 3% of the $600,000 GGI is offering to pay the City – presumably a mere fraction of GGI’s potential take on the four billboards – is $18,000.  But that same 3% of the $10.5 million Premere Outdoor got from its sale of what effectively might have been little more than 5 billboards in Des Plaines yields a nifty $315,000.

Hmmmmm.  Sniff, sniff.

Can You Smell The Meat A’Cookin’?


Back in the 1960s the Illinois Secretary of State was a fellow named Paul Powell, who had a propensity for accumulating unexplained cash – over $800,000, back when that was “real” money – in shoeboxes in the closet of his hotel suite in Springfield.   Powell’s pet phrase when describing a sweetheart deal (at the taxpayers’ expense, of course) was: “I can smell the meat a’cookin’.”

Those in attendance at Monday night’s City Council meeting might have caught more than a whiff of cooking meat as Fourth Ward Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti did his best (or worst, depending on your point of view) to seal the deal on zoning text amendments that would permit Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) to put up four billboards along the Tollway by the Renaissance office plaza, which could bring the City $400,000 down and another $184,000 over the next 20 years.

“Billboards” has been GGI’s go-to guy on this matter since it was brought to the Council back in June, and by the August 17 meeting he was leading Alds. Robert Ryan (5th) and Frank Wsol (7th) in their successful 3-2 vote – over the opposition of Alds. DiPietro and Sweeney, with Alds. Bach and Carey absent – to make the City, instead of GGI, the applicant for the zoning code text amendments needed for the billboards, ostensibly because with the City as the applicant the Council had the power to trump any unfavorable decision on the application by the Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) that it did not have if GGI was the applicant.

But perhaps the more significant difference between the City being the applicant and GGI being the applicant, although not mentioned by “Billboards,” was what we identified in our post of November 9:

Carrying the water for GGI in this matter is 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti, who seems hell-bent on changing City ordinances to enable the City Council to trump P&Z decisions about billboards.  And he appears to be “gaming” the process by getting the City to be the applicant rather than GGI, which allows GGI to avoid the disclosure requirements under the City’s ethics ordinance [pdf] that were adopted at the April 2, 2007 City Council meeting [pdf] in the face of accusations by then-mayor (and Allegretti puppeteer) Howard Frimark that more-stringent disclosures were “motivated by politics rather than integrity.”

With the City as the applicant, GGI has been able to avoid the required disclosure of the identities of its directors, officers and those shareholders holding a larger than 3% stake in the company.  And such disclosures might be problematic for GGI, especially in view of its ties – through, at minimum, the mutual involvement of Joseph Loss – with Premier Outdoor, Inc., the company that in 2003 got a deal with Des Plaines for up to 10 billboards, and whose officials back then included Loss, former Crook County undersheriff and convicted felon James Dvorak, and convicted felon Joseph P. Nicosia, Jr.  

But all these curious circumstances don’t necessarily mean that GGI’s proposed billboard deal with Park Ridge is kinked up.  “Billboards” Allegretti might actually be telling the truth when he insists that his keen interest in this billboard deal is simply to get $600,000 in revenue for the City’s beleaguered treasury.

After all, “Billboards” is the proven fiscal conservative who:

* voted for giving away $270,000 of taxpayers’ money to private community groups, even as the City was facing a $2 million budget deficit;

* voted for giving $2.4 million over 15 years to Napleton Cadillac, even as it was closing down its operations;

* wanted to build a new $16 million-plus police station without even holding a referendum;

* opposed passing on $400,000 of water rate increases to water users, thereby forcing the City to eat all those costs; and

* opposes the reinstatement of the City’s debt ceiling.

Just passing through the water rate increase would get the City the same $400,000 of up-front cash that it will get from the GGI deal.  And according to a story in the Sept. 22, 2004, edition of The Journal (“Convicted Felon Linked To Firm That Won Billboard Rights From Des Plaines”), two-sided billboards like the ones being sought by GGI “can fetch as much as $12,000 per month” for each of the two sides.  If those figures are still accurate, that means GGI can expect to generate $1,152,000 from its four Park Ridge billboards…each year! 

So why, exactly, is “Billboards” Allegretti so intent on locking Park Ridge into a deal that will get it a measly $30,000 a year, on average – just 2.6% of GGI’s annual take?   

Stop over at City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on January 18, 2010, when this item is next on the City Council’s agenda, take a sniff or two, and maybe you’ll catch the scent of pot roast in the air. 

For Allegretti, Billboards Are No. 1 With A Bullet


For those of you wondering what happened with the “billboard” vote at last night’s Council meeting, we can report that it was deferred to a future date by a vote of 5-2 (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, Ryan and Wsol v. DiPietro and Sweeney) after well over two hours of sometimes rancorous discussion and debate. 

The deferral vote came after attorney Kathleen Henn, standing in for City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill, advised the Council that it would take a “super-majority” vote to over-ride the decision of the Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) rejecting the application of the City – on behalf of Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) – for zoning code text amendments that would enable GGI to put up four billboards in the “Renaissance Area” along the Tollway.  

That advice ignited an already-testy Allegretti, who angrily insisted that he had recently voted for the text amendments providing for a super-majority vote only because Hill had assured him that a super-majority would not apply to this vote on the billboard issue.  For reasons not entirely clear, locking up this billboard deal ASAP sure seems to have grabbed a top spot on Allegretti’s “to do” list. 

The deferral motion also followed the announcement by both DiPietro and Sweeney that they would be voting to uphold the P&Z decision, thereby preventing a super-majority vote for over-ride.  Had the vote proceeded and over-ride was defeated, the City could not re-apply to P&Z for those text amendments for a full year – although nothing would prevent GGI itself from immediately making its own application, something GGI and Allegretti want no part of. 

Hmmm…can anyone say “ethics ordinance” three times real fast while eating saltines? 

We will address some other aspects of this topic tomorrow, but if you want to get up to speed on it we encourage you to read our two previous “billboard” posts: “The Stench Of Council’s Rush To Billboard Deal” and “Billboard Wars: Allegretti And Owens Defeat Planning & Zoning”.

You also might want to catch Allegretti’s positively shameless shilling for GGI on the Melidosian Motionbox site just as soon as the uploading of the video of last night’s meeting is complete.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 18


Double-Talker?  As readers of this blog know, we are no fans of Ald. Jim Allegretti’s successful efforts to weaken the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission and change our zoning code to make it easier to bring billboards to Park Ridge.  But we found it perversely humorous to read in this week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Residents Speak Out Against Billboards Mulled,” Dec. 16) that one of the more outspoken critics of the billboards is none other than Diane Schmidt-Garvey.

For those of you who don’t remember Mrs. Schmidt-Garvey, she was one of the more outspoken “White Shirts” condemning the City Council for daring to require that the proposed PADS homeless shelter actually comply with zoning regulations.  But now she’s a born-again regulator, demanding that our zoning regulations be enforced to the max to keep billboards from blighting the view from her townhome, whining: “It’s going to make our property values go right down the tube.”

Gee, Mrs. S-G, isn’t that one of the same arguments you mocked when it was made by the neighbors of St. Mary’s Episcopal, the first proposed PADS site, just like you mocked the concerns of St. Paul of the Cross School parents when they voiced their concern that PADS – by its own admission – would be importing people with drug, alcohol, mental and emotional problems into our community? 

Another Double-Talker?  We don’t know where Gene Spanos was hiding for the past decade when the new O’Hare runway was being planned, designed and built.  But the sound of Richie Daley’s Flying Circus over his house has sure brought Spanos out of the woodwork and pushing for what is looking to us more and more like expensive and ill-conceived, ready-fire-aim piece of…litigation.

As reported in this week’s Journal, Spanos admits that a lawsuit is “not going to be cheap” but contends that it is vital to the viability of our community. (“Fed Up, Residents Consider Suing O’Hare,” Dec. 16)  Most of the rest of his quotes, however, sound almost schizophrenic; and they sure don’t provide anything in the way of insight into how such a lawsuit is going to achieve anything more than what he refers to as the “lose-lose situation now if we do nothing.”

What we find most curious, however, is that while he “[w]ants some restitution and …to send a message all across the country” via this expensive lawsuit, he admits that his house is currently up for sale and that he’s moving even if a lawsuit is filed and settled. That doesn’t sound like the level of semper fi commitment we would expect from someone who has put so much effort into this issue, at least over the past 12 months.

Spanos describes the effect of our decreased property values as “[t]he vultures are circling.”  But the analogy of rats leaving a sinking ship might be more appropriate.

A “Win/Win” For High School Dist. 207?


If what is reported in today’s Park Ridge Journal is true (“Teachers Keep Lid On Contract,” December 16), we want to give a Watchdog bark-out to the Maine Teachers Association (“MTA”) for what sounds like an innovative win/win solution to Dist. 207’s recently-disclosed financial problems.

While rejecting the D-207 school administration’s request to reopen contract negotiations for the purpose of permitting salary freezes and other reductions intended to avert cutting 75 jobs for an approximately $5 million savings, the MTA has suggested a voluntary payroll reduction which – if we understand it correctly – would divert a portion of teachers’ paychecks to the D-207 educational foundation for the funding of the positions that otherwise would be cut.

In other words, the teachers are stepping up to the plate to save their own, and their fellow teachers’, jobs.

Many private sector employees who don’t have the job, wages and benefits security provided by contracts like the ones enjoyed by most teachers have effectively done the same thing, only in a different way: by accepting wage freezes, and/or wage and benefit cuts, in lieu of layoffs.  As we see it, the MTA proposal gets D-207 to the same place.

A win/win that preserves the bargained-for contract rights while acknowledging and addressing the District’s precarious financial circumstances is a good thing.  And we would like to think that the concept of teachers sacrificing for each other – or, more accurately, for those unidentified 75 who were going to get sacked – in this way might also build some additional esprit de corps among the teachers.

This solution is not yet a done deal, however.  As MTA president Emma Visee acknowledges: “We don’t know yet how it will work.” 

Hopefully, the respective parties can overcome the devil that always seems to be in the details and make this solution a reality sooner rather than later.  Because even with a plan that provides the District with the $5 million it hoped to save by those 75 layoffs, there is still an additional $12 million in deficits that the District needs to address.  And that ain’t chicken feed.

But for the time being, this looks like a big step in the right direction which deserves a pat on the back all around.

And it should serve as a shining example to our other governmental bodies and their employees to consider as they cope with their own financial struggles. 

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 17


The Common Sense Chief. With the often mindless “nanny state” mentality encroaching into our daily lives with increasing frequency, we want to give a big Watchdog bark-out to Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski for his common-sense approach to the problem known as “distracted driving.” 

Chief K was asked to look into whether a hands-free cell phone ordinance like the one the demented midget who runs Chicago instituted might be worth enacting here.  Instead of blindly jumping on that misguided bandwagon, Chief K wisely noted in his memo [pdf] that such an ordinance would pose compliance/enforcement problems.  But where we give him extra credit is for his recognition that “the data also proves that this [distraction] occurs whether cell phones are hand-held or hands free” – not unlike it occurs for those nitwits who apply makeup or shave while driving.

Good call, Chief!

Just Do Your Job.  During Monday night’s City Council discussion of zero-based budgeting, Fifth Ward Ald. Robert Ryan suggested the formation of a citizens task force to help the Council (and Staff?) figure out ways to balance the City budget after yet another multi-million dollar deficit that Ryan voted for.  

Sorry, alderman, but formulating a balanced budget is something that City Staff is being well-paid to do, and competently overseeing that effort is something you and your fellow alder-critters signed on for when you ran for your seats around The Horseshoe.  Since we don’t recall any of you professing fiscal incompetence when you were running for office, don’t now try to push your responsibilities off on people who neither sought, nor have taken the oath of, your offices.

If the Staff and/or the Council can’t or won’t do the jobs they signed on for, then we need to find that out sooner rather than later and take appropriate steps to replace them.  What we don’t need are private citizens being conscripted to effectively serve as enablers and concealers of City governmental incompetence.

It’s Coming!  Next Wednesday (December 16) night the Gene Spanos/Joe Karaganis traveling road show is coming to the South Park Field House, as flyers [pdf] in this week’s Park Ridge Journal are announcing.  According to those flyers, the meeting will address “our next step toward a class action lawsuit for all who are impacted by the negative side effects of the ORD re-configuration – 2014 O’Hare Plan.”

We strongly encourage a big turnout for this meeting so that as many Park Ridge residents as possible – from all areas of town – are present to hear about what we suspect will be a grand and glorious plan to take on all comers in a litigation death match: the City of Chicago, the FAA, the EPA, the airlines, the ONCC, etc.  And we hope questions are asked about how much that plan is going to cost, and how it’s going to be paid for.

It’s Unanimous!  Maine South’s University of Indiana-bound running back Matt Perez recently made it unanimous when the Chicago Tribune concurred with the Chicago Sun-Times’ selection of him as the Player of the Year in high school football.  Perez not only excelled while running and catching the ball, but he also was a defensive standout and special teams force for the Hawk’s repeat state championship squad.

Over the past two years that he has played a starring role in his team’s achievements, we repeatedly have heard about his dedication and work ethic.  So it’s great to see how he has successfully turned all that hard work into such outstanding performance that it earned the recognition he is receiving. 

Well done, Matt!

One Small Step Forward On Zero-Based Budgeting


Monday night the Park Ridge City Council had its first close encounter with the concept of zero-based budgeting (“ZBB”).  And as best we could judge from the video and commentary at Park Ridge Underground, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

Mayor Dave Schmidt raised ZBB as part of the “Mayor’s Report” because he claimed he wanted the topic discussed in a public forum rather than in private between himself and the City Manager.  After four years of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing by former mayor Howard Frimark, that kind of transparency is refreshing – even if it appears just a tad disingenuous by Schmidt, given his admission that he decided not to veto a recent amendment to the zoning ordinance after having private discussions with some members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission.

But progress toward open government, however incremental or inconsistent, is still progress.

Not surprisingly, City Manager Jim Hock expressed more than a few reservations about ZBB as an alternative to budgetary business-as-usual.  We can understand that, even if we don’t agree with it: No bureaucrat likes the idea of having to reinvent his/her particular “wheel,” and much less so when the “wheel” is one he inherited – with several spokes missing – from the mismanagement team of Frimark and former city manager Tim Schuenke a little over a year ago.  It also doesn’t help that Hock’s finance director is exiting, stage left, after the first of the year.

We’re not counting Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) among ZBB’s staunchest proponents, either.  With the faux-ness of his “fiscal conservatism” having been revealed by his successful (so far) opposition to passing through increased water costs to water users, and by his unsuccessful (mirabile dictu) efforts to saddle us with a big new $16 million-plus cop shop, Wsol’s tepid endorsement of a “modified” ZBB was no surprise.

Fifth Ward Ald. Robert Ryan admitted that he doesn’t understand the concept of ZBB, so he shouldn’t be counted on for a “yes” vote, either.  And Ald. James Allegretti was MIA so his view on the matter could not be ascertained.  But given his track record of fiscal irresponsibility and plain boneheadedness, we’ll pencil him in for a “No” vote until further notice.

We were surprised by what sounded like an unqualified endorsement of ZBB by Third Ward Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach, who claims he wants a “business case” done for each significant City expenditure.  We can’t tell if Bach is just blowing smoke or if he has become a born-again fiscal conservative, but we’re not complaining – at least not for the time being.

Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) and Tom Carey (6th Ward) seemed to be in favor of the concept, but Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) gave it his customary non-committal treatment, so he could be the swing vote on this issue.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is required for ZBB to be a success, which means cold-heartedly determining what City government ought to be doing with the taxpayers’ money and then coldheartedly prioritizing those tasks.  The key is to make sure we can pay for the things we truly need before we even think about things we merely want.

At the top of the “need” list has to be public safety, a/k/a police and fire.  But just because they are No. 1 on the hit parade doesn’t mean that those departments can skate through without cuts, or even systemic changes, to make them operate more cost-effectively.  In addition to police and fire, however, “public safety” is also provided by certain types of City Code enforcement, inspections, permits and licensing.

Next comes water and sewer.  Anything less than a 100% pass through of all water costs to consumers – on a usage basis – will be a clear indication that City Staff and/or the Council are not serious about ZBB or balancing the budget.  And given how sewer maintenance appears to have been neglected, just keeping that system up and running is likely to be an expensive proposition that may require the sacrifice of other services.

After that comes streets and sidewalks, the repair and replacement of which also have been put on a slower track over the years as money was diverted to other uses.  Part of that cost also relates to things like snow plowing and salting, which not only make it safer to drive on our roadways but also may have some effect on the rate at which those roadway surfaces deteriorate. 

Beyond that are a variety of services to keep the City functioning, including flood control and even tree trimming – especially where overgrowth poses a threat to power lines.  Determining how many, and to what extent, such services can survive given the City’s current revenues will be a challenge for Staff and the Council.

And for ZBB to be truly effective, in addition to justifying every dollar spent, those justified expenditures also should be measured against the price that those particular services could be purchased from the private sector or otherwise outsourced.  That way we can get a better sense of whether the City’s cost structure is lean or padded.

As with any reform of a program or system, the success of ZBB will depend primarily on the strength and tenacity of the leadership promoting it.  That means no compromises and no free passes given to any department or department head, or else ZBB will look like empty rhetoric that can be ignored.  And that also means each department head must be forced to take ownership – and personal accountability – for every ZBB recommendation and decision he/she makes.

Implementation of ZBB can bring a “New Age” of cost-effective management to City government, or it can be a worthless boondoggle.  Which outcome prevails will depend upon the folks at 505 Butler Place.

Zero-Based Budgeting: The Time Is Now


On tonight’s City Council agenda is an innocuous-looking item under the “Mayor’s Report” titled “Zero-based budgeting.”  But it might just prove to be the key to whether our community thrives and prospers in coming years, or whether it staggers along under more deficit budgets, decreasing services and, ultimately, much higher taxes.

For as long as we can remember the City of Park Ridge – and our other local governmental bodies as well – have formulated their budgets based on some percentage of increase (or, theoretically, decrease) over the previous year’s budget.  Which means that rarely, if ever, has anybody looked with a keen eye and a sharp knife at the way things are operating before automatically tacking on a fractional request for more funds. 

“Zero-based budgeting” (“ZBB”) is different.  It begins with the assumption that nothing will be spent on each of the functions for which a particular department is responsible.  Rather than simply using what that department’s manager is already spending as the baseline for additional spending, ZBB requires each manager to review his/her department’s budget and perform a cost-benefit analysis of each task assigned to that department, including performance measures and alternatives.

The bottom line: each manager is required to justify every dollar of what he/she is requesting, no matter for how many years something or other has been done without question.

With years of deficit budgets having jeopardized the City’s financial well-being and the services to which we have grown accustomed, and with no let-up in sight, we think ZBB is an idea whose time has definitely come.   And Mayor Dave Schmidt appears to share that opinion, as we understand that the ZBB agenda item is there at his insistence.

While we strongly support the concept of ZBB, our research indicates that it is not practical for every department every year, due to its labor-intensive nature and the cost.  But it can be used effectively on a rotating basis so that no department does ZBB more than once every X number of years to enforce budgetary restraint and reduce the “entitlement” mentality that promotes inefficiency and spending.

Unfortunately, just because the mayor is proposing it doesn’t mean ZBB is going to be adopted. 

As we’ve repeatedly seen over recent years, and more often since former Mayor Howard Frimark led the referendum to cut the City Council in half and then install a majority of his Alderpuppets in the 7 chairs remaining, we’ve got a Council that seems incapable of controlling spending – as shown by how it increased spending last year even as it was staring at a $2 million budget deficit. 

And if that’s not crazy enough, try this one on for size: After the Council, at the insistence of Ald. Frank “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) Wsol, rejected the fiscally-responsible pass-through of increased water costs to water users, the City is now looking at an approximately $900,000 operating deficit in the water fund this year, even as the City increasingly relies on that water fund to help cover other expense obligations, like payroll.

We also can’t expect support for ZBB from City Staff, because government bureaucrats are no fans figuring out what to cut and what to fund in what amounts.  That’s hard work…and it carries the risk of accountability for those decisions if they turn out to be wrong.  Which is why we wonder whether the prospect of ZBB may be responsible for City Finance Director Diane Lembesis reportedly exiting for Gurnee.

ZBB will clearly be a test of Schmidt’s leadership and an indication of whether the City Council and/or City Staff care one whit about Park Ridge’s long-term fiscal health and its viability as an upscale residential community.  

We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

In For $24,000, In For A Pound


It has been a year since the opening of new O’Hare runway 9L27R began bringing planes over an area of Park Ridge previously unaffected by – and, hence, relatively unconcerned about – that huge airport to the west.  The newly-harassed residents in that area were outraged but, truth be told, many residents in the Northeast and Northwest sections of town were relieved as their air traffic decreased.

According to a page-one story in yesterday’s edition of the Park Ridge Journal (“Record Own Noise Levels,” December 2), however, the Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission may be looking to the City to come up with $24,000 to buy its own noise study from a company that formerly did such studies for the defunct Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”).

This proposed noise study, endorsed by Park Ridge Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach, appears to be focused more on soundproofing our homes, schools, etc. than on getting planes out of Park Ridge airspace.  According to the Journal article, “Bach hopes to present the [noise] information to congressional representatives and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in an attempt to garner additional sound proofing money for Park Ridge.”   

But at first glance, the plan being endorsed by Bach and the Commission seems far more likely to put some quick cash in the pocket of S&V Solutions, Inc., the former SOC noise consultant that clearly needs a new gig now that SOC is no more, than to put soundproofing money in the City treasury.

Just the fact that the $24,000 proposal involves only one noise monitor to be placed in an as-yet undetermined location suggests that whatever data it produces will be too localized and incomplete to justify any kind of comprehensive relief for our entire community.  That means the likelihood either of more monitors or neighborhood pitted against neighborhood. 

Worse yet, this “plan” seems to put the cart before the horse…again.

For any airport noise plan to have a decent chance of success, City representatives need to go to those congressional representatives and the FAA first – before expending resources on things that may end up being totally worthless – and find out directly from those officials: (1) what relief is available, and (2) exactly what it will take for us to get it.  Simply acquiring and assembling data is idiotic – as idiotic as the City’s throwing away $650,000 on a SOC-brained scheme to build a Peotone airport several years ago.

We need to face the hard cold fact that unless somebody with provable federal clout is willing to commit to going to bat for us in a clearly-defined way based on clearly-defined objectives and clearly-identified standards, we are just chasing our tails.

And wasting tax dollars that are already in too short supply.