Cops v. “Charities” And The O’Hare-A-Thon


As reported in both local newspapers (“Park Ridge Police: Union votes down concessions, six employees out of work,” Herald-Advocate, Apr. 27 and “Firefighters Safe But Officers Face Layoffs,” Journal, April 28), the police union voted not to make certain concessions that the City  was requiring in order to not terminate four police officers and two community service officers.

The dollars we’re talking about: according to the newspaper stories, approximately $284,000, although that seems a bit low to us. Those cuts will eliminate the Police Department’s traffic division, the duties of which reportedly will be distributed among other officers.

Some people will say the problem is greedy cops.  And an argument can be made that police officers in an upscale community like Park Ridge have relatively safe and well-paid jobs for which they should be grateful, especially in this kind of economy.  That was basically the same argument made about the District 207 teachers, and it’s one we agreed with in that context.

But we find it less applicable to police officers than to teachers for several reasons, the four most significant ones being:

(a) public safety is a more important governmental function than public education;

(b) police work is far more dangerous than teaching;

(c) police officers work pretty much 12 months a year while teachers work between 8 and 9; and

(d) a mistake by a police officer can cost the officer his/her life, and possibly the lives of others.

So while we agree that Park Ridge is a lot closer to Mayberry than it is to Fort Apache, The Bronx, stopping a speeding, weaving car filled with “non-resident” young men at 2 a.m. is a quantum leap from demanding missed homework from a callow Park Ridge youth in the hallway of Maine South at 2 p.m.

Could those cop jobs have been saved?  Sure, in a variety of ways.  And they still can.   

Taxes can be raised even higher.  Fees can be jacked up a few more bucks.  Cut a little bit of City service here, cut a little bit of City service there.  Give a few more City employees a few more furlough days.

In a $50 million-plus budget, finding a way to dig up $300,000 is not impossible.

But why not do what Mayor Schmidt proposed: Instead of cutting more City personnel and City services, why not cut the $165,000 for the latest marathon O’Hare battle and the $186,000 for those private community groups?

Even our friends over at ParkRidgeUnderground support 82.44% of those cuts – the PRU Crew’s two big exceptions being the preservation of the no-strings-attached giveaways to the Center of Concern (“CoC”) in the amount of $55,000, and the Maine Center for Mental Health (“MCMH”) in the amount of $6,600.

As we’ve said many times before, private organizations – no matter how noble their purpose – shouldn’t get government handouts, much less get them with such regularity that they expect them.  If those private organizations are providing essential government services to Park Ridge residents, they should be doing so by means of lawful contracts with the appropriate governmental body that specify what is being done for our residents and what each unit of service is costing.

The current process of tossing indiscriminate amounts of money at these organizations (including the overlooked Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), which mysteriously avoids inclusion on the “charities” list even though it takes down $23,000 of “free” City services each summer) is bad public policy.  It is irresponsible-bordering-on-reckless, especially given how non-transparent and un-accountable to the taxpayers CoC, MCMH, Taste Inc., and most of these other organizations are – despite their nifty websites loaded with propaganda but little of the financial nuts-and-bolts that well-run, cost-effective essential service providers should be touting.

Which brings us back to the cops v. “charities” and the O’Hare-A-Thon. 

Like it or not, that’s one of several plausible equations of budget balancing our City Council is employing.  But at least the O’Hare funding is public, so we already know exactly how all those dollars would be spent.  Or, if you prefer, wasted.  

That’s a lot more than can be said about the handouts to those non-transparent, un-accountable private community groups. 

Two Interesting Items On Tonight’s COW Agenda


Two agenda items for tonight’s City Council COW meeting caught our attention: Fourth Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti’s attempt to scale-back the “supermajority” requirement for over-riding decisions of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”); and the renewal of the City’s lease for parking spaces on the Scharringhausen family’s 20-22 S. Fairview lot.

*                                   *                                   *

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Allegretti has been trying to finagle a way for the City Council to get around P&Z’s refusal to approve a zoning code amendment to permit Generation Group, Inc. to erect 4 billboards along the Tri-State Tollway.  On November 16, 2009, the Council rejected Allegretti’s proposal to let the Council trump P&Z decisions by simple majority vote and, instead, approved Third Ward Ald. Don Bach’s proposal to give the Council P&Z trumping power by a “supermajority” vote.

From the video of that 11/16 meeting (in contrast to City Clerk Betty Henneman’s sanitized meeting minutes), however, it is clear that Bach understood “supermajority” to be measured by only the aldermen, not by the aldermen and the mayor – the latter of which is how the term “city council” is defined in the State of Illinois municipal code and not otherwise defined in the Park Ridge municipal code.  That would explain why Bach, on at least two occasions during that November meeting, referred to “four versus five” when comparing majority to supermajority voting.   

So when Bach pointedly proclaimed, at the 2:31:55 mark of the April 12, 2010, COW meeting video, that “[he] knew [he] was asking for six votes” when he made his “supermajority” proposal back on November 16th, he may have been engaging in a bit of creative truth-telling, as well as some character re-building.  Which is understandable, considering how mindful he needs to be of having his competence doubted as he begins gearing up for a re-election bid next April that could serve as a springboard to a possible run for mayor in 2013.

But if Bach really meant it when he said at that April 12, 2010, COW meeting – that, back in November, he wanted “to make it as difficult for [the Council] to overturn [P&Z’s] expert recommendations as [the Council] could without leaving too much …wiggle room” – then we’ve got what we will call, immodestly, the best solution to this issue: forget about all this “supermajority” foolishness and simply require nothing less than a unanimous Council vote to trump any P&Z decision.

If a P&Z decision is so wrong the Council needs to trump it, then the Council should be able to muster a unanimous vote to do so.

We doubt that Bach has the stones to propose such a thing but it would be worth the price of admission, if only to see how quickly Allegretti could turn purple and start spinning dervishly in his chair.

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In June 2008, we questioned the City’s leasing of 50 spaces from the SCH Real Estate, LLC, a venture operated by the Scharringhausen family and represented by Patrick Owens of Park Ridge’s first family of law, Owens Owens & Rinn (“The Politics Of Park Ridge Parking,” 06/04/08). Back then we questioned the deal in view of the fact that the City was going to pay the Scharringhausens $500/space/year while it was leasing spaces from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists for only $140/space/year. 

Last year’s lease [pdf] changed that from 50 spaces to 57 spaces, and from $500/space/year to $360/space/year.

This year’s lease [pdf] has the City paying the same rental for the same number of spaces.  But for some strange reason the proposed lease term is only for 6 months with an automatic six month renewal, instead of for one year.  And for some other strange reason the lease can be terminated on one-month’s notice rather than on six-month’s notice.

We’re not necessarily saying there’s anything kinky about this latest lease, but we do wonder why those two points weren’t flagged as notable changes from last year’s deal in Cathy Doczekalski’s “Agenda Cover Memorandum” to the COW [pdf].

Could it be that the Scharringhausens have some plans in the works for that lot that may come due before the end of the upcoming lease year?  Or is this 6-month lease with a 1-month out simply designed to give the Scharringhausens some special mid-term bargaining power?

One thing is certain: if either Cathy D or her boss, City Mgr. Jim Hock, know the answers, they sure aren’t sharing them with the members of the City Council.

Ignore Balaskovits And Sign “Restore The Council” Referendum Petition


Park Ridge resident Ken Balaskovits is at it again.

This week’s Park Ridge Journal carries another letter from Kenny B (“Council Must Stay At Seven,” April 21) arguing against restoring the City Council to the 14 alderman size it had for close to 100 years – before it was cut in half through a referendum initiated by former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark.

Although he would never admit it, we’re pretty certain that cutting the Council in half was Frimark’s strategy for making it easier to control City government: it’s easier to elect a 4-alderman majority than an 8-alderman one.  And Frimark was instrumental in recruiting and helping elect the current Council majority Alds. Jim Allegretti, Don Bach, Robert Ryan and Tom Carey in 2007 – another one of Frimark’s “gifts” to the City that keeps on giving – who, 2 years later, returned the favor by contributing over $3,200 to Frimark’s unsuccessful re-election campaign.

The central thrust of Balaskovits’ letter is his more-aldermen-mean-more-uncontested-elections spiel, which ignores the fact that the 14-member City Council produced more contested races in the past decade than the other three 7-member local governmental bodies (School District 207, School District 64, and the Park Ridge Park District) combined!  From 2001 through 2005 (the last election year for the 14-member City Council), the Council had 35 candidates for 21 seats, compared to 16 candidates for 12 seats on the Park Board, 13 candidates for 12 seats on the District 64 board, and 14 candidates for 11 seats on the District 207 board – and that’s including 2001, the last year of Homeowners Party domination, where 6 of the seven HOs ran uncontested.   

But Kenny B was never one to let facts get in the way of a totally bogus argument, especially one of his own.

Balaskovits warns readers of his letter: “Do not sign this petition and, if you have, make an effort to have your name removed.”  In other words, don’t let the matter even get on the ballot.

Frankly, we think a referendum on restoring the size of the City Council is worthy of voter consideration…certainly a lot more worthy than at least one of the 3 referenda proposed by Ald. Bach: Whether to reinstate the position of City Treasurer, which was a worthless one before it was eliminated in 2005 and has no realistic prospects for providing any greater value if reinstated.

So we applaud the restore-the-Council petition circulators for their efforts; and we encourage the voters to help them put this important issue on the November 2010 ballot. 

“Hopelessly Flawed” Budget Unworthy Of Park Ridge Taxpayers


The Park Ridge City Council has voted to pass a budget which Mayor Dave Schmidt has described as “hopelessly flawed” and has said he will veto.  

The reasons Schmidt cites for that conclusion are many, including his belief that City Mgr. Jim Hock’s revenue projections are seriously overestimated, as they were – by a whopping $2.1 million – for the current budget year; and the budget’s failure to address the $936,000 reduction in state tax revenue sharing that Gov. Pat Quinn already proposed, and that state rep. Rosemary Mulligan already warned the Council about.  

Schmidt also takes issue with the $165,000 budgeted to battle O’Hare Airport, especially the hiring of a lobbyist at $105,000 which he called “a colossal waste of money.  And he questions how the Council could justify cutting personnel from the City’s police, fire and public works departments but then donate $186,000 of public funds to private community organizations, with no strings attached.  

We agree with Schmidt.  This budget, like last year’s and the year before that, is unworthy of the taxpayers who pay for City government and deserve better.  

Which is why we hope the Mayor will veto the whole damned thing – because simply cutting some line item expenses here and some there won’t address structural defects like Hock’s inflated revenue estimates.  But anything that displays some sense of fiscal reality and restraint, even line item vetoes, will be a welcome change from the irresponsible tax and spend mentality of the aldermen who outnumber him around The Horseshoe.  

To get a real sense of the intellectual deficiencies on display last Saturday prior to the passage of this “hopelessly flawed” budget, we strongly encourage you to watch the meeting video posted both on the City’s website and on Park Ridge Underground.

Meanwhile, we’ll give you a taste from both the video and from quotes in yesterday’s on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Park Ridge mayor promises veto of ‘hopelessly flawed’ budget,” April 20)…with our comments, of course (in bracketed bold): 

“When you are laying off people and seriously affecting their lives and then turning around and giving money to community groups that will survive without donations, I think that is not right,” [1st Ward Ald. Joe] Sweeney said. [Not only is it “not right,” it’s irresponsible public policy and only encourages those organizations to remain dependent on handouts from  various governmental bodies rather than on voluntary contributions from donors who may actually believe in those organizations, their missions, and their management. Or does that explain the need for all the government handouts?] 

Fifth Ward Ald. Robert Ryan: “I want [the City Manager] to look for how you can outsource public works, even fire [protection].” [So you can throw $165,000 of our tax money at a no-win fight against O’Hare, or $186,000 at various private community organizations that don’t have to account to the City or the taxpayers for how they spend that money, or even on whether they spend it for the benefit of Park Ridge residents?] 

“[This budget] is both fiscally and socially irresponsible,” 2nd Ward Ald. Don Bach said. [How is it “socially irresponsible”? What “social” activities are the taxpayers supposed to fund through our City taxes?] 

“It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do,” said 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti. [That pretty much identifies the main problem with this City Council.] 

“I hate a lot of pieces of this budget. I hope the mayor will look to his ability to exercise veto in certain areas,” said 7th Ward Ald. Frank Wsol. [So why did you wimp out and vote for it?]

And the last word, coming from Allegretti while arguing to close debate and approve the budget: “If we can’t come to an agreement on what [the budget] means, shame on us.” [Exactly!]

Making Sausage Out Of City Budget


A quote erroneously attributed to 19th Century Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, warns that “laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” 

Anyone who sat through Saturday morning’s special City Council budget meeting and watched the Council “debate” and pass the 2010-11 City budget ordinance can appreciate the sausage quote.  Actually, what came out of City Hall Saturday morning wasn’t even high-quality sausage (although it was a lot of baloney) but more like that second-tier lunchmeat kids never want to find in the sandwiches they pull from their brown bags at school – stuff like olive loaf or head cheese.  

From the comments of the aldermen, it seemed like none of them believed the finished product was actually “balanced” – even Alds. Jim Allegretti, Tom Carey, Rich DiPietro, Robert Ryan and Frank Wsol who, in lemming-like fashion, voted to adopt it. 

Some of them questioned the accuracy of the revenue figures, suggesting that City Mgr. Jim Hock took a page from the playbook of his predecessor, Tim Schuenke, and basically just made up whatever revenue figures he thought he needed to off-set the expenses he and/or the Council were locking in.  Others didn’t like some of the spending, but couldn’t muster enough votes to defeat it.  And at least one alderman said he was voting to approve the budget but would support a mayoral veto of what he was voting for. 

We’ve never been overly impressed with the intelligence, the historical knowledge, or the analytical powers of Allegretti, Carey and Ryan, nor the spine of DiPietro.  So their votes in favor of a bad budget were not unexpected.  

Wsol’s vote, however, was disappointing because he definitely knows better.  So when he explained that he was voting for passage but would consider supporting Mayor Schmidt’s veto, we realized that “Frankie, the Politician” had returned and was playing some political angle either for his own aggrandizement or to put Schmidt in a trick bag.  Because for those of you who don’t remember, this is the same “Frankie the Politician” who wanted to saddle the City with a couple of decades worth of $1 million-a-year debt service payments for the big new cop shop that Frankie (and others on the Council) so desperately wanted. 

It should be noted that Alds. Don “Air Marshall” Bach and Joe Sweeney voted “no” on the budget, although neither really explained why, other than to voice general dissatisfaction with it.  But leave it to Bach to once again display the kind of fiscal policy disconnects that make him seem either exceptionally dull-witted or borderline schizophrenic.

After voting to retain that ridiculous $165,000 appropriation for the City’s O’Hare Airport Commission in the budget, Bach orchestrated the purely symbolic reduction of elected official compensation to $1 per month – from the current $100/month for the aldermen, and from the current $1,000/month for the mayor.  In other words, Bach is willing to waste $165,000 on tilting at the O’Hare windmill in order to save a symbolic $20,400.  Brilliant! 

But coming from the guy who, back in January 2008, vowed not to buy another Cadillac from the “insulting” Bill Napleton but in the next breath voted to give Napleton up to $2.4 million from the City treasury, neither consistency nor reason should be expected when it comes to spending public funds. 

Will the City end up chopping 4 cops from the payroll May 1 because the Council would rather send $165,000 of our tax dollars to the O’Hare Airport Commission and another $186,000 to all those private community organizations that the taxpayers themselves aren’t willing to support with their own direct donations?  

Will Mayor Schmidt veto the whole budget, or just a few line items?  If so, will the Council once again muster the five votes needed to over-ride the mayor’s veto? 

Those questions will be answered in the upcoming few weeks.  Meanwhile, however, we encourage every Park Ridge resident who cares about how our City is being run and how our money is being spent to watch the video of yesterday’s meeting when it becomes available on the City’s website. 

But be forewarned: you might never want to eat sausage again.

Recess Rightly Postpones Budget Vote


Last night’s public hearing on the 2010-11 budget went on for over two hours before recessing to tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 9:00 a.m., assuming that doesn’t violate State law regarding advance notice of meetings.

That procedural move was made at the suggestion of Mayor Schmidt, who sharply criticized City Mgr. Jim Hock for not posting updated budget information on the City’s website until only hours before last evening’s hearing.  The mayor correctly pointed out that residents were being badly served by such a process that seemed intended to keep them in the dark until the last minute.

The mayor is right.  It looks like Hock is playing hide-and-seek with budget figures, or he’s badly overmatched by his job.  Either way, the result is that the Council seems ready to approve a budget that is so poorly documented it causes us to wonder whether even the aldermen know exactly what it is they will be voting for.  And, amazingly, when questioned about whether the City could post a “red-lined” version of the budget that showed the changes from the version he originally proposed, Hock claimed to be unable to do so!

And we’re paying Mr. Hock almost $200,000 a year, all in, for this kind of performance?

The aldermen showed few reactions to the comments from the citizens who addressed the Council, the vast majority of whom voiced support for keeping all of our police and firemen while at the same time criticizing the $165,000 budgeted for the O’Hare Airport Commission.  So it’s hard to tell whether any minds were changed.  And Ald. Jim Allegretti was MIA altogether.

The good news about last night’s meeting is that it was SRO, with about 15 people standing out in the hallway listening to the proceedings over the sound system.  Interestingly enough, it looked like the O’Hare Airport Commission and most of the private community organizations (with the notable exception of Center of Concern) were unrepresented.

Will the Council heed the comments of the citizenry?  Tune in tomorrow, City Hall, 9:00 a.m.

We Can’t Affford To Gamble On Another Fast Shuffle


There’s a big poker game in Park Ridge tonight. 

We suspect all the players will be wheelin’ and dealin’, bluffin’ and blusterin’, some holding cards close to the vest, others tipping one or two – as one might expect when the “pot” exceeds $50 million.  Some of the players will hold ’em, some will fold ’em.  And by the end of the night, some will walk away, one or two might even run.

The poker game is what the City Council will play during and immediately following the “public hearing” on the City’s 2010-11 budget scheduled for 7:00 p.m., which is the taxpayers’ last chance to comment on how the City is going to tax us and spend our money during the upcoming fiscal year. 

Although these public hearings have been sparsely attended in past years, this year might be SRO if all the special interests (police, fire, the O’Hare Airport Commission, seniors, private community groups, etc.) show up.  After all, they have to make sure they get the deal the City Council has already promised them, and not some watered-down version.

Will any plain old ordinary taxpayers show up in sufficient numbers to off-set all the special interests in the audience and cause our City officials to finally act in a fiscally responsible way?  We can only hope. but we’re not holding our breath.

Will the budget be balanced by evening’s end?  We can only hope.  But that will depend in large part on whether the revenue projections City Mgr. Jim Hock and his Staff have produced are credible.  Frankly, they seem overly-optimistic to us, especially in view of all the unenthusiastic economic forecasts for the coming year and our memories of all the pie-in-the-sky revenue projections that didn’t pan out and produced the torrent of red ink that has filled the City’s ledger for 9 of the last 10 years. 

It will also depend on whether all the proposed expense cuts can actually be achieved, something called into question by the story in Tuesday’s on-line Herald-Advocate (“Budget hearing: Debate over public safety cuts goes on,” April 13) that reports on the impasse between the City and the police union on how to save the jobs of four officers.  The police department reportedly still has to cut $283,768 from its budget in order to retain those four low-seniority officers – which could be done by things like an annual $6,500 pay reduction for every officer on the force; or by an additional $8 increase (above and beyond the already-approved $5 increase) in the price of vehicle stickers; or by a variety of furlough arrangements; or by things like cutting the funding to the O’Hare Airport Commission and the private community groups; or by a combination of several of these alternatives, and others.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t account for the prospect of $936,000 less revenue than Hock budgeted, if the Illinois General Assembly goes along with Gov. Quinn’s proposal to cut 30% from the state income tax payments scheduled to be sent to municipalities like Park Ridge.  Despite our own state rep (Rosemary Mulligan) telling the Council to expect that cut, the folks sitting around The Horseshoe – with the notable exceptions of Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) – are like kids whistling past the graveyard, refusing to even acknowledge that looming danger.

Which pretty much convinces us that what the taxpayers of Park Ridge are getting, once again, is another budget fast-shuffle from City Mgr. Hock and a complicit City Council – a fast-shuffle designed to minimize public scrutiny and understanding of the proposed budget necessary for ordinary citizens to ask the tough questions before tonight’s public hearing and the adoption of the budget expected immediately thereafter.

The evidence?

Let’s start with Hock, who claims to have a “contingency plan” of expense cuts to cope with that potential 30% revenue reduction from the State.  What are those cuts?  Hock’s not committing to any, which suggests he’s either talking through his hat, or that what he’s come up with is so questionable or ridiculous that it wouldn’t pass the smirk test if subjected to any real scrutiny.

If Hock were being straight with the taxpayers, each of the specific cuts of his “contingency plan” would have been publicized and posted on the City’s website immediately after he announced that he had such a plan, back at the March 31, 2010 budget COW meeting. 

The same goes for the “red-lined” version of Hock’s budget book showing all the changes that the Council has already approved, copies of which we understand he distributed to the Council at Monday night’s COW meeting but have yet to made it to the City’s website. 

Why wasn’t that information available to the taxpayers well enough in advance of tonight’s public hearing so that it could be reviewed?

By now it should be obvious to all but the legally blind why Mayor Schmidt wanted to start these budget discussions months earlier than Hock and the Council did.  Unfortunately, Hock and the Council won that battle, and we’re now back to the kind of eleventh-hour rush-to-judgment that characterized past budgets, and which started and continued the City down the current path to financial instability.

So expect to see a lot of wagering tonight, with money from here going to there, money from there going elsewhere, and not a lot of reliable countin’ going on.  Don’t be surprised if you can’t follow what’s getting cut, what’s getting funded, what’s staying the same, and whether and how the budget balances.  Or doesn’t. 

That’s the way the fast shuffle is done: Hock and the aldermen don’t want to actually do a final count of the money while they’re still sittin’ at the table with the public hanging around.

As Kenny Rodgers sings: “There’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.”

The Park Ridge Spiral


In yesterday’s editorial, “The Illinois Spiral,” the Chicago Tribune editorial board noted that Illinois got itself into the economic mess it currently faces via “the Law of Accumulation: Little things add up.” 

A lot of phrases from that Tribune editorial describing State government are equally applicable to City of Park Ridge government. 

Like the State of Illinois, Park Ridge also has gotten itself into a downward spiral of its own by a lot of little things adding up over the years.  For example, previous mayors and aldermen found it easier to pander to a variety of short-term special interests than to comprehensively build toward the City’s long-term future – such as by borrowing tens of millions for a frill like the Uptown Redevelopment TIF that continues to suck millions out of the City treasury, instead of taxing and borrowing fewer millions for infrastructure essentials like sewer maintenance and replacement.  

Emulating their counterparts down in Springfield, another “little thing” our politicians did was form a “mutual admiration society” with our City employees, creating a system of automatic annual raises and increased benefits unrelated to increases in productivity.  And because residents displayed so little interest in demanding a fiscally-responsible City government, the politicians and bureaucrats alike found little to worry about in the way of accountability, either on a day-to-day basis or at the ballot box.

One would think that the recession would have given City government the incentive to re-invent itself.  But like our State Capitol, it appears our City Hall “brims with defensive, small-think pols hoping to survive another election” while “dithering through a crisis, inviting an even more bleak future with their refusal to reform government spending.”

Which might explain (about as well as anything can) Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach, joined by Alds. Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan and Tom Carey, voting for a “little thing” like budgeting $165,000 – including $105,000 for our very own lobbyist! – to once again tilt at the O’Hare windmill, even as the federal government bestows $410 million for O’Hare expansion.  The chances of that $165,000 having any significant effect on the O’Hare situation?  None.  But those aldermen appear to be betting that it will ingratiate them to those Belle Plaine folks who act like O’Hare’s existence was just revealed by a burning bush. 

Another “little thing” those same four aldermen, along with Ald. Rich DiPietro, also approved was to give more unrestricted handouts of tax dollars ($185,680) to private community groups who have no legal accountability to the taxpayers.  Once again, several special interests get greased in the hope that they won’t squeak, and that they will say nice things about their City Council benefactors.

Meanwhile, the Council continues to disregard the prospect of a $936,000 cut in the City’s share of state income tax revenues as proposed by Governor Quinn, which the Council already has been warned about by State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan.  That might be nothing more than political posturing, but the Council ignores it at its – and, more importantly, our – peril. 

The Council plans to vote on adopting this questionable budget Thursday night (April 15), following a public hearing at 7:00 p.m.  In referring the budget from committee to the Council for final approval, DiPietro noted that not many citizens show up for those hearings.  We suspect the Council is sincerely hoping that’s the case again this year, so they can dodge this particular bullet without much more attention. 

That causes us to echo one other comment from yesterday’s Tribune editorial: Park Ridge “needs leaders who [will] unwind the terrible indebtedness that lawmakers past and present have bequeathed to taxpayers and their grandchildren.”

Because one thing is certain: we sure don’t have them now.

Another Year Too Many For Oakton Pool


A page one story in this week’s Park Ridge Journal asks: “Will This Be Last Year For Oakton Pool?”

More than two years ago, in our post titled “The Old Oakton Bucket” (10/16/07), we called for that year to be the “last year” for Oakton.  We criticized the Park Board and Staff for not having the gumption to close it down, or the ability to come up with any ideas for operating that pool in a way that eliminated, or at least reduced, the $75,000 operating loss it was booking back then.

The Journal story reports that last year the District’s five pools (including the indoor “lap” pool at the Community Center which was built both too short and too narrow to even host a swim meet) lost more than $135,000, with Oakton alone accounting for $95,000 of that unhappy total. 

Oakton’s 2009 attendance [pdf] was only about 17% higher than South Park’s wading/”baby” pool – despite being the District’s only Olympic-sized lap pool, with a capacity more than 6 times that of South Park’s.

Fortunately, new Park District director Ray Ochromowicz appears to understand that the taxpayers shouldn’t have to swallow $95K of red ink annually just to cater to the nostalgia of a relative handful of Oakton/swimming fanatics.  He noted that “[t]here is enough water in Park Ridge to make up for the loss [of Oakton]” – and we don’t think he was referring to our flooding problems.

Better yet, the Journal article reports that “most…[Park District commissioners] said they were ready to make a final decision on the pool’s future soon.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like they will have the guts to turn “soon” into 2010, so District taxpayers can expect to see another $95K disappear down the drain.

But old attitudes and inertia die hard, which is why the sound of push-back was heard from Commissioners Mary Wynn Ryan and David [identified as “Steve” in the Journal story] Herman, in the guise of concern about where the District’s summer campers will swim if Oakton doesn’t open this year.

Deep-six the hand-wringing, Commissioners.  If you won’t close Oakton because of the campers, the simple solution is to roll all the costs of keeping Oakton open another summer into the cost of the camps.  After all, the District brags about the “fantastic price” of those camps, which range “from $4.28 per hour to $6.08 per hour.” 

So tacking enough extra onto those hourly rates to cover the entire cost of giving all those campers one more chance at the Oakton experience might be the revenue-generating idea that the District just couldn’t quite come up with on its own. 

That way, at least the taxpayers wouldn’t get stuck subsidizing another summer of other people’s child care.

Arrogant And Disrespectful, Or Simply Petty And Juvenile?


Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board president John Heyde’s got a secret: He knows who the next District 64 superintendant is going to be, and he’s not telling.

Whether they are being arrogant, disrespectful, or just plain petty and juvenile, Heyde and his accomplices on the School Board (Pat Fioretto, Russ Gentile, Sharon Lawson, Ted Smart, Genie Taddeo and Eric Uhlig) have decided to play games with the taxpayers, as evidenced by District 64’s posting of “An Invitation from Board President John Heyde” [txt] to meet the “preferred candidate” that the School Board has chosen as the new superintendent to replace the retiring Sally Pryor.

The superintendent effectively is the chief executive officer of the District, the governmental body that consumes about one-third of our property tax revenue and is responsible for educating thousands of our children.  And as the District repeatedly reminds the taxpayers when it comes to us for more money, “the schools” are what keep Park Ridge property values high.

So why all the secrecy about the identity of the new superintendent and his/her bona fides?

Whether out of more arrogance, disrespect, or just plain petty juvenility, Heyde isn’t saying.  According to yesterday’s article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Board won’t share name of ‘preferred’ superintendent candidate,” April 6), all he is saying for the record is: “We’re not ready to let go of the candidate’s name and information yet.”

What are you hiding, Mr. Heyde?

Now that you and your Board have made your decision and have even visited the “preferred candidate’s” current school district, what’s there to conceal?  If you truly want feedback from the community before your hiring decision is finalized, why not get the name of that “preferred candidate” and that person’s credentials out to the entire community as soon as possible?   

Could it be, Mr. Heyde, that what you and your Board really want is a rubber-stamping of your decision from a relatively controlled group of community members – the kind of audience that you are more likely to get when you don’t announce the name and credentials of the “preferred candidate” in advance, and when you schedule a meet-and-greet for only one hour on only one night during a week when the local parochial schools are on Spring break?

Those parochial schools educate over 1,000 students whose parents pay taxes to the District, don’t use its services, but may well have something to say about the new superintendent and about the District as a whole.  But, then again, it may not be what Heyde and his Board want to hear.  So why take that chance?

Even if it weren’t parochial school Spring break week, one hour for “the community” to meet the “preferred candidate” and make any kind of informed decision about him/her that would yield useful feedback is, frankly, ridiculous.  It’s also a slap in the face of every one of the voters who, just three years ago, voted the District a huge tax increase to make up for the questionable financial management [pdf] that occurred for several years last decade, when Supt. Sally Pryor and School Board members Joe Baldi, Rich Brendza, Ares Dalianis, Christina Heyde, Ron James, Barb Jones, Marty Joyce, Dean Krone, Steve Latreille, Steve Lieber, Jane Meagher, Chris Mollett and Sue Runyon were at the helm.

So when Heyde and his Board play this kind of game about the identity and credentials of their choice for superintendent, we can’t be sure whether they are being arrogant, disrespectful or simply petty and juvenile.  But we do know they aren’t being open, honest and transparent.

Badly done, folks.