Ryan (And Hayes?) Should Buy Scharringhausen Lot


What does Ald. Robert Ryan know that the rest of us don’t?

We can’t help but wonder upon reading this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Debate to resume on parking lot purchase,” July 28), which describes Ryan’s continuing effort to get the City Council’s endorsement of his plan to spend $700,000+ of scarce City funds to buy the Scharringhausen parking lot that the City has been renting for around $20,000 a year. 

We also wonder if Ryan’s concept of sound municipal finance really is: “Hey, why spend $20,000 a year renting a lot when we can spend $700,000+ to own it” – especially when (according to an analysis by City staff) it generates only $22,800 in annual commuter parking fees? 

Frankly, we thought this was just a typical “insider” deal, where an established Park Ridge community member (Scharringhausen) cashes out long-term R.E. investment (Fairview lot) through connected R.E. broker (Owen Hayes II), who enlists the aid of a friendly elected official (Ald. Ryan, whose campaign treasurer was Hayes).

But it sounds like Ryan may have bigger plans than just a one-off property deal.  As the H-A reports, Ryan is talking about the Scharringhausen lot supporting “new development” within the surrounding Uptown area.  And he wants the City to spend some money on a “feasibility study” to determine whether a City-owned parking deck could fit on that site.

Unfortunately, that’s vintage Robert Ryan: Spend taxpayer money on a consultant to tell you how to spend even more taxpayer money and/or pile up public debt.  That’s why he may be the biggest, most consistent spendthrift on this Council.  And that’s saying a lot, give the drunken-sailor mentality of most of them.

For anbody who needs some help finding “dots” to connect, you can start with Ryan’s strong advocacy for sinking public funds into Uptown Redevelopment when he served on the Uptown Advisory Task Force (“UATF”) a decade ago.  Before that, as a member of the District 64 School Board, he led the charge to borrow and spend around $15 million to knock down what was then the District’s newest school building (Emerson Jr. High) and build Emerson Middle School.

That expenditure and related debt service appears to have sent District 64 into a financial death spiral that put it on the brink of the State Board of Education’s taking over its finances, until the District snuck through $5 million of “working cash” non-referendum (“back-door”) bonds as a band-aid measure in 2005, and followed that up with its big tax increase referendum in 2007.

We’ve seen what Ryan can do with the taxpayers’ money, so we think it’s time to see what Ryan can do with his own money.

If Ryan really wants to ensure that parking remains on the Scharringhausen property, he should buy the property himself and get into the parking business.  Or he could form a partnership with buddy Owen Hayes to do it.  That way, the taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill; and the property stays on the tax rolls.

Maybe they could get some of those behind-the-scenes land speculators we keep hearing about to invest in the deal.  They could all form an LLC to buy the lot and run it – which, fittingly enough, would support all that “new development” some of those same behind-the-scenes folks are reputedly looking to promote in and around Target Area 4.

If those land-speculation rumors are true, the speculators must be chomping at the bit by now to get some action on their TA-4 “investments” that were supposed to be short-term flip-jobs but have been languishing in this bad economy.

We don’t care whether Ryan is trying to help out some friends on a parking lot deal, or whether he’s trying to jump-start TA-4 – so long as it’s done with private money and/or debt instead of public funds.  That’s why we encourage Ryan and Hayes to pony up their own cash to do the deal.

“R & H Parking,” anyone?

Does MAP Show District 64 Going In Wrong Direction?


Roughly one-third of our growing property tax bills goes to Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.  That’s a reason to pay attention to what’s going on with D-64, even if you don’t have kids enrolled in its schools.

In the past we have been critical of D-64’s unimpressive performance on the ISATs, noting that – as reported in the Chicago newspapers – D-64 schools are regularly outperformed by less affluent districts and/or those that spend less per student, on teachers, and on administrators.

But according to an article in last week’s Park Ridge Hearld-Advocate (“Kids not reaching ‘full-growth’ targets on standardized tests,” July 20), during the just-completed school year only 56.7% of D-64 students reached their “MAP” full-growth targets in reading; and only 57.2% reached their “MAP” full-growth targets in math. That’s down from 60.5% and 61.4%, respectively, for last year’s scores.

The MAP evaluation, developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association (“NWEA”), appears to be the latest educational BFF of D-64 teachers and administrators, presumably because – unlike other tests – the MAPs are designed to measure a student’s educational growth against his/her past performance rather than against other standards.  Those test results also are used to set curriculum priorities.

NWEA is a not-for-profit corporation based in Oregon that claims to be “dedicated to helping kids live their dreams” (really, that’s on its website!).  Such dedication can be pretty lucrative, however, as NWEA booked over $54 million in revenues in 2008 (based on its latest IRS From 990 posted on GuideStar) – and its President/CEO made almost $400,000 that year.  Not too shabby for an organization not interested in “profit.”

But back to D-64’s MAP quest. 

Diane Betts, assistant supt. for student learning, is quoted as saying: “We’re a little disappointed that we slipped down.” 

And well you should be, Ms. Betts.  And so should be the people who pay the bill for it, because high-quality education is extremely important for the students, their parents, and the community as a whole (e.g., for the positive effect good schools have on property values).  

Betts went on to state that there is “some variance between buildings and teachers.”  Surprisingly (or maybe not), neither the H-A article nor anything we could find on the D-64 website identified those variances, buildings or teachers. 

When it comes to how our schools and teachers are performing their duties, there shouldn’t be any secrets.  Any “variance between buildings and teachers” should be explained, with those buildings and those teachers identified so that parents and community members can meaningfully address those variances at public meetings.  And so they can hold teachers and administrators accountable for them.

We can imagine the D-64 administrators and teachers union…uh, we mean the “Park Ridge Education Association”…howling about “rights to privacy” and a “lynch mob” mentality if such information were readily available.  To that, we say: “Too bad.”

If you want the security of a public paycheck, pension and benefits, then you owe those taxpayers accountability for what you do to earn them.  And that goes for teachers and adminstrators alike.

As we have noted before, it appears the price taxpayers of Park Ridge are paying for education signficantly exceeds the quality of the education the students are getting, at least based on standardized test scores like the ISATs.  And, so far, we have not heard any satisfactory explanation of that situation from either the administrators or the teachers.  Worse yet, our “representatives” on the D-64 School Board – Pat Fioretto, Russ Gentile, John Heyde, Sharon Lawson, Ted Smart, Genie Taddeo and Eric Uhlig – continue to be deafeningly silent.

Which is why we’re also troubled by Ms. Betts’ quote that “[t]he lofty 70-percent goals may not be realistic” for D-64.

Those “lofty” goals she is talking about are reportedly the student growth rates of NWEA’s claimed 3400+ “partner” school districts, the better performers of which have 70% of their students meet or exceed their average growth standards, whatever that really means.  So if one of our head educators thinks 70% – which is a “D-” in most school grading systems – is too “lofty” a goal for our students, it sounds like D-64 may have a “standards” problem.

Unimpresive ISAT scores are one thing, but how can D-64 get lost with a MAP?

Of Rolling Eyes…And Sighs


Given the tomfoolery that passes for local government here in Park Ridge, we generally avoid looking beyond our own community’s boundaries for governmental silliness elsewhere.

But the July 19, 2010, edition of the Chicago Tribune’s “Trib Local” for the City of Elmhurst got our attention with its headline: “Elmhurst considers violation for eye-rolling”.   It seems that Elmhurst officials are considering a “disorderly conduct” ordinance designed to prohibit certain behavior by citizens attending city meetings. 

This comes in the wake of the recent ejection of an Elmhurst woman from an Elmhurst city committee meeting for…you guessed it…”rolling her eyes”…and for…wait for it…”sighing”…during the discussion of a proposal for Elmhurst’s hiring of a state lobbyist which she opposed.

The Elmhurst city attorney indicated that such an ordinance would not provide for criminal penalties but would simply be a way for that City’s public officials to enforce its sense of “decorum” at its meetings.  If the Elmhurst officials go the ordinance route, we can’t wait to read the official description of what constitutes “eye-rolling” and “sighing.”

Whether such a proposal gets any traction in Elmhurst or elsewhere remains to be seen, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t appeal to those thin-skinned public officials who have what is disparagingly referred to as “rabbit ears” when describing certain sports referees and umpires who over-react to every chirp from the fans.

In fact, we can think of one particular Park Ridge alderman who, when sitting at The Horseshoe, appears nettled by virtually any sound from the audience other than “Hosannas.”  And we must confess that the memory of former mayor Howard Frimark’s upbraiding of a City Council meeting attendee for (as best as we recall) “smirking” brings a wry smile – okay, a smirk – to our faces.

Based on what transpires at many City Council meetings, a mere smirk could be considered admirable restraint.  And based on what goes on at some of those meetings, even torches and ropes might be viewed as nothing more than a measured response.

But it’s good to know that for the time being, to the Elmhurst City Council a kiss is just a kiss and a sigh is just a sigh…even though the latter might get you thrown out of a city meeting.

Choosing Private Organizations Over Police And City Services (Updated 07.20.10)


A few months ago, when the City Council was putting together its 2010-11 budget, Mayor Dave Schmidt warned about the financial risks to the City of expecting a continuation of tax dollars from the State of Illinois.  He asked City Mgr. Jim Hock and the Council to come up with some contingency cuts in anticipation of some or all of that State money not coming in, or not coming in when needed. 

Despite warnings from both State Sen. Dan Kotowski (D) and State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan (R) that Governor Quinn was serious about cutting money to municipalities, and despite the State already being months behind in its income tax revenue sharing with Park Ridge (and other municipalities around the State) for 2010, Hock and a majority of the City Council chose to ignore that issue, with Hock suggesting the City could wait until we saw what the situation was in July.

Well, it’s now July 19th, and we still don’t have any more of that State income tax revenue – nor is the State giving us any clear assurances of when, or even if, it will show up. 

Under such uncertain circumstances, we would expect that sound money management would dictate that Hock and the Council would have begun discussing specific additional cuts that cut be implemented if State funding remains delayed.  But according to Hock (as reported in the latest issue of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate): “It’s not fruitful to discuss what you might cut and then try to lobby your legislators and say, ‘We need this money.’”

Gee, Jim, is it “fruitful” to sit on your hands and continue to spend money the City doesn’t have, as if the State cash is already on its way from Springfield?  Is it “fruitful” to put the City at increasing risk of a full-blown finanical crisis?

Not surprisingly, Hock’s comments come just as the City Council is preparing to finalize the release of one-half of the $190,000 of taxypayer-funded handouts to the various private community groups who claim they provide “essential” services to the community – services which those organizations have consistenly failed (or refused) to document as specifically going to Park Ridge residents, and at what cost. 

At the last COW meeting Hock acknowledged that the City has laid off approximately 27 employees over the past 2 years purely for financial reasons.  Four of those employees were police officers laid off just this year.  Two of those police officers could have been retained for just a shade more than that $190,000 being given away to those community groups.  

So when a Council majority (we’re betting it’s made up of Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan) votes tonight to approve the immediate payment of 50% of the amounts budgeted for the community groups – $95,000, or about the cost of one cop – rather than waiting until more State funding comes in and seeing whether (and by how much?) the City has overspent its revenues during the first quarter of the new budget year, they will be sending a clear and unequivocal message to the taxpayers:

All of those community organizations are more important to them than whatever security was formerly provided by 2 police officers, and more important than the various City services that have been eliminated or reduced.

Update (07.20.10)  Despite the presence of representatives from several of the community groups looking for their annual handouts, a decision was deferred to the August City Council meeting at the request of two aldermen (believed to be Alds. Allegretti and Bach), presumably because Alds. Carey and Ryan were absent.

The Watchdog’s Kibbles & Bits – Box 21


More Of The Wacky World Of Ald. Bach.  An article in this week’s Herald-Advocate (“Pay cut unlikely for elected officials,” July 14) reports that the City Council’s April vote to cut the pay of the mayor and the aldermen to $1 per month cannot take effect until Spring 2011 for the aldermen, and until Spring 2013 for the mayor. 

Those cuts were the brainchild of Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach, who proposed them with what appears to have been little prior thought or investigation into the nuts and bolts of the matter.  In Bach’s wacky world view, saving $20,304 in mayoral and Council salaries – even as he was proposing spending $165,000 in anti-O’Hare funds and $186,000 in handouts to various private community groups, while at the same time cutting police officers – is what passes for fiscal responsibility.  Go figure.

But according to Finance & Budget Comittee chair Ald. Rich DiPietro, once Mayor Dave Schmidt pointed out how Bach’s proposal violated Illinois law, “the thing died.”  As well it should have.

Ryan Still Shilling For Scharringhausen.  At last Monday night’s City Council COW meeting, Ald. Robert Ryan resumed his effort to get the City to take the 21,000 square foot Fairview parking lot off the Scharringhausen Family’s hands for the tidy sum of $700,000+, under the guise of ensuring that there will be parking available if/when the redevelopment of Target Area 4 ever gets going.  

Ryan deftly recited buzzwords like “intangible needs,” “economic development” and “quality of life” – all those warm-and-fuzzies that resist objective measurement but sure sound good to unthinking listeners.  And, true to form, Ryan invoked the Uptown Plan and “expert” opinions in support of his position, even suggesting…wait for it…an expert “feasibility study” to determine what kind of parking garage the City could put on Scharringhausen’s property. 

From what we’ve seen of the City’s past real estate bungles (e.g., the old Bredemann Toyota property, the old City reservoir block, the current Courtland lot, etc.), however, we’d have a better chance of turning that $700,000+ into a profitable “investment” if the City spent it on Powerball tickets.

But the real questions that need to be answered by Ryan are: “Why should the City engage in land banking when it can acquire any property it needs by eminent domain whenever needed”; and “Why should the City be in the parking business in the first place?” 

The City has been renting the Scharringhausen lot for years without having to tie up $700,000 of its capital.  If putting a parking garage on the Scharringhausen lot would be such a profitable venture, some enterprising private developer should be willing to put its private capital at risk to reap those profits.  And that way, the property stays on the tax rolls.

Another Good Point By Ald. Carey.  Only a few weeks ago Ald Tom Carey (6th Ward) had the good sense to propose the $500,000 cap that was added to the O’Hare war chest referendum language by a 4-3 vote (Carey, DiPietro, Sweeney and Mayor Schmidt as tie-breaker v. Allegretti, Bach and Wsol) of the City Council.  Carey correctly noted that taxpayers are concerned about the City making open-ended financial commitments to what continues to look like a losing battle.

At last Monday night’s COW meeting, Carey displayed more good sense when he noted, during a discussion of the City’s parking enterprise fund, that the two Park Ridge Police Dept. community service officers (“CSO”s) included in the parking fund’s budget don’t appear to be generating enough parking-related revenue to pay their own way.

We realize that police officers aren’t supposed to be “profit centers.”  But if the cost of two CSO’s is going to be assessed against the parking fund’s budget rather than accounted for like most/all other police department personnel, there should be some economic basis for doing so – such as, perhaps, revenue generation through parking fine enforcement.

Justifying expenses by the revenues they generate?  What a novel concept!

The Wacky World Of Ald. Bach


In what kind of world is a referendum on spending more than $50 million on flood relief not considered “any more out of line” than a referendum on spending no more than $500,000 on combating O’Hare noise and pollution? 

In the wacky world of Ald. Don “Air Marshall” Bach (3rd Ward), that’s where. 

At Monday night’s City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, Bach actually made that argument in a vain attempt to get support for his flood control bonding referendum proposal that has appeared from its first mention to be more of a political stalking horse than a legitimate referendum question.  Which is why, in our post “The ‘Dog Giveth, And The ‘Dog Taketh Away” (06.25.10), we retracted the kudos we had given him when we thought his flood control referendum proposal was legit. 

Apparently because he operates in his own wacky world, Bach actually voted for the O’Hare referendum resolution after opposing the inclusion of the $500,000 spending limit, and despite criticizing it as providing not nearly enough funding to do “the job,” without ever explaining what “the job” actually is – other than to spend however much of the taxpayers’ money he can get away with in trying to control this region’s number one economic “engine” that has monolithic county, state and federal support. 

But given how kooky Bach can be, we wonder whether he cast that “yes” vote only so he could be in a position to call it for a reconsideration vote, which only an alderman who votes in favor of a measure is permitted to do. 

We raise that question because the Council passed the $500,000 limit proposed by Ald. Tom Carey (6th Ward) only with the tie-breaking vote of Mayor Schmidt, as the aldermen present that night were deadlocked 3 “yes” (Sweeney, DiPietro and Carey) to 3 “no” (Bach, Allegretti and Wsol) – in the absence of Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward), who would have been expected to vote “no” on capping O’Hare expenditures at $500,000. 

[This appears as a “voice vote” – without explanation – at Page 6 of the Draft Minutes [pdf] of that meeting, even though it required a show of hands when the voice vote did not produce a clear winner.  You can see it for yourself on the City’s website, at 1:42:50 of the 6/21/10 meeting video] 

So a reconsideration vote to nuke that referendum question taken when all seven aldermen are present could result in a 4-3 reversal, which could be followed up with a 4-3 passage of a new O’Hare referendum question without any dollar limit, the kind that Bach, Allegretti, Ryan and Wsol seem to prefer. 

If that is to occur, City procedures require that it come at this coming Monday night’s Council meeting, which is the first meeting subsequent to the one where the action was taken for which reconsideration is sought.  

That could be entertaining.  And if “Air Marshall” Bach has anything to say about it, it also might be wacky.

A Simple Solution To Clear The Air On Taste Of Park Ridge


Two years ago we began looking into the Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) and how it came to be operated by a private corporation, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), that was formed for no apparent reason six years ago by some of the people who at that time were identified for appointment to an “Ad Hoc Committee” of City government being formed to run TOPR for the City. 

What started out as curiosity became concern upon our discovering that Taste Inc. had failed to file any IRS Form 990s (the income tax returns required for not-for-profit organizations with annual revenues over $25,000) or otherwise account to the City for its stewardship of TOPR.  That concern was heightened when we discovered that Taste Inc. had contributed $1,000 to the campaign fund of Bob Dudycz, one of the original Taste Inc.-sters, in September 2007.

That concern turned to skepticism when we discovered that Taste Inc. voluntarily dissolved itself as a 501(c)(3) corporation in February 2009 and then re-incorporated as a 501(c)(6) corporation in March 2009, with no record of what it did with the money the original Taste Inc. could be expected to have had on hand when it dissolved.  What also caught our attention is that 501(c)(6) not-for-profits can do a few things 501(c)(3)s can’t, like use its funds for lobbying and political campaigns.

With rampant corruption seriously impairing the public’s trust and confidence in govenrment here in Illinois, we frankly wondered what was going on with TOPR and Taste Inc., and why our City government seemed to be oblivious to it.

Because when it comes to having trust and confidence in City government, what’s the average Park Ridge resident supposed to think when he/she learns that the City Council, without any known explanation, completely abandoned the TOPR plan [pdf] it debated and approved on June 6, 2005, when it virtually handed TOPR to Taste Inc. without even requiring a bid, a formal contract, or any accountability?

What’s the average Park Ridge resident supposed to think when he/she learns that, instead of the TOPR “profits” going into the City’s coffers as the Council originally intended, those profits not only end up in Taste Inc.’s bank account but the City also gives Taste Inc. approx. $23,000 in City services free of charge?

And what’s the average Park Ridge resident supposed to think when he/she learns that our elected representatives at City Hall have let this happen for six straight years without any serious effort to hold Taste Inc. accountable for all those “profits” that might total more than $350,000, judging by the $65,000 “profit” reported on the only IRS Form 990 tax return [pdf] (for 2009) there is a record of Taste Inc. having filed during the six years it has run the event?

Why is it that two mayors and a total of 18 aldermen have consistently turned a blind eye to this situation?  Is it because of the popularity of the event itself?  Are they afraid of demanding (or even merely requesting) some real accountability from the folks who run Taste Inc – Dave Iglow, Albert Galus, Jim Bruno, Dean Patras, Sandy Svizzero, Barb Tyksinski and John Warnimont – for fear those folks might walk if they can’t continue to treat TOPR as their own?

As we stated in our last post, the City Council actually got it right on June 6, 2005, when it approved a TOPR plan that would have entrusted that event to an “Ad Hoc Committee” of City government, accountable to the City Council, with its meetings subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) and all “profits” going to the City.  Mysteriously, that plan was abandoned almost immediately; and the mayor and the aldermen who conceived of and approved that plan seemingly became afflicted with collective amnesia.

So we call on the current Mayor and City Council to take their collective heads out of the sand on this issue and re-take ownership of TOPR for 2011.  They should implement the TOPR plan approved by the Council on June 6, 2005, by creating the proposed “Ad Hoc Committee” and offering the Taste Inc. officials positions on that committee.  And we call on those Taste Inc. folks to accept that offer – if they truly are the public-spirited volunteers committed to running the City’s premier civic event without any expectation or hope of personal gain, as they claim to be.

From what we’ve seen of our public officials and the Taste Inc.-sters, we think the chance of that happening is just about zero.  But we’d love to be proved wrong.

Why Did City Walk Away From Original “Taste” Deal?


Today marks Day Two of the 2010 edition of Park Ridge’s signature civic event, the Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”).  From what we saw of last night’s festivities, once again a good time is being had by all.  And we think that’s great…really we do.   

Our problem with TOPR is more of a financial one, reflected in part by learning over the past few days that a number of our residents still think TOPR is run by the City of Park Ridge and/or by the Chamber of Commerce; and that it’s a big money-maker for the City.

For those of you who don’t know (but do care), since 2005 TOPR has been run not by the City or by the Chamber, but by a private 501(c)(6) not-for-profit corporation, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), which is the successor to a private 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation with that same name that previously ran TOPR, managed by basically the same individuals.

But that wasn’t the City Council’s intent back in 2005, when TOPR was on the ropes because the Chamber was bailing on the event.

According to the relevant portion of the June 6, 2005, City Council meeting minutes [pdf], in proceedings that read like a description of herding cats, then-mayor Howard Frimark personally pitched the idea of giving TOPR to a 10-member “Ad Hoc Committee” of City government, along with $23,000 of City funds.  That Ad Hoc Committee was to be subject to the Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”), and a condition of that $23,000 appropriation of public funds was that:

“within 30 days of the conclusion of the event, the committee would provide the City Council with an accounting of income and expense and to the extent that there are any funds remaining, the funds will be returned to the city after all expenses are paid.”

What’s not to like about that, right?  Which would explain why all those grand TOPR plans were approved by the Council that very same night. 

Two weeks later, however, the original 501(c)(3) version of Taste Inc. was incorporated [pdf] as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation.  We could find nothing to indicate that any notice of this incorporation was given to the City Council.  

Interestingly enough, at Council meetings on July 18, 2005 [pdf], July 17, 2006 [pdf] and July 16, 2007 [pdf], Frimark trumpeted the success of TOPR and promised that reports would be forthcoming from “the committee” or the “Taste Committee.” 

What “committee”?  What “Taste Committee”? 

No City-related one that we could find.  But according to the Taste Inc. website, Taste Inc. isn’t just the private corporation.  It also has its own TOPR “Committee” [pdf] that is not affiliated with or accountable to the City Council, or subject to IOMA. 

As best as we can tell, no “reports” were ever produced by either a TOPR “committee” or a TOPR “corporation” – until last summer, when Taste Inc. produced what we would call more of a “public relations” piece [pdf] than a meaningful financial disclosure like the IRS Form 990 that Taste Inc. had not filed up to that time.   

But nobody on that 2005 Council – which included current Alds. Jim Allegretti, Rich DiPietro and Frank Wsol – or any Council since appears to have cared enough to inquire about the original TOPR deal, or where the City’s share of the “profits” was, even as Mayors Frimark and Schmidt, and many aldermen as well, manned beer tents and booths while watching the money roll in.  

Which may have been great for Taste Inc., but not nearly so good for the City’s finances.  Or the City’s accountability to its taxpayers, who have been funding Taste Inc. through “free” City services which last year alone were valued by the City at around $23,000, a number that curiously mimics the original TOPR funding.

Based on Taste Inc.’s first-ever IRS Form 990 [pdf] filed just this March, Taste Inc. booked a $65,000 “profit” last year alone – on $163,000 of revenues (we have a question or two about that number, but that’s for another post).  If the original 2005 TOPR deal was being enforced by our City officials, that would have put $42,000 (including reimbursement for the cost of those “free” City services) in the City treasury.  Not a boxcar number, granted, but better than a sharp stick in the eye.  Heck, it would almost pay half the cost of one of those police officers the City laid off this year.

How did TOPR go from a City-controlled “Ad Hoc Committee”-run event to one run by the private Taste Inc., which gets to keep all the “profits” to use as it chooses?

It sure would be swell if Taste Inc. honchos Dave Iglow, Albert Galus and Jim Bruno provided a full public explanation of that metamorphosis – preferably during an open-session City Council meeting, although we’re more than willing to give them explanation space here if they want it.

And if they choose to provide a comprehensive explanation rather than just another P.R. piece, we would hope they would explain why there appears to be no record of the 501(c)(3) Taste Inc. having filed Form 990 income tax returns for 2005 through 2008; how much “profit” Taste Inc. generated in those years; what Taste Inc. did with that profit; why they changed to a 501(c)(6) Taste Inc. last year; and what happened to any money that 501(c)(3) Taste Inc. had on hand when it voluntarily dissolved in February 2009.

We’ve asked for some of that information before.  But when it comes to such disclosures, for people who dress in bright orange shirts those Taste Inc.-sters sure seem to be shrinking violets.

And we also invite former Mayor Frimark, current Mayor Schmidt, and past and former aldermen Allegretti, Anderson, Bach, Baldi, Bateman, Carey, Cox, Crampton, DiPietro, Jones, Machon, Markech, Parker, Radermacher, Ryan (Mary Wynn), Ryan (Robert), Sweeney and Wsol to explain to their tax-weary, increasingly under-served constituents why they let a private corporation walk away with the City’s signature civic event and the profits it generates, without any accountability.

This is not one of the bigger gaffes by City government in recent years, nor is it a problem anywhere near the magnitude of the City’s finances, flooding, O’Hare, etc.  But it’s precisely because it is not that big or complex a problem that we wonder why it hasn’t been managed better, if not simply ignored.  

It’s not often we say this, but our elected officials put together a reasonable deal for the City on TOPR that should have been a win/win for the taxpayers and the community as a whole.  So why did they walk away from it?

Getting Transparency From Taste Inc., One Inch At A Time


It’s that time of year again – time for the Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”), the City of Park Ridge’s premier civic festival run, once again, by private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) without any contract with, or accountability to, the City even though it costs the taxpayers almost $23,000 in unreimbursed City services.  

Two years ago, in ”Time For A Transparent Taste” (07/07/08), we first questioned the secret way in which TOPR was being run by Taste Inc., at that time an Illinois 501(c)(3) corporation [pdf].  Taste Inc. did not publicize its financial information and also appeared not to have filed any IRS Form 990s [pdf], the federal tax return form required of 501(c) corporations who have annual revenues greater than $25,000, for the first four years of its existence: 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.  

Even though non-profits don’t have to pay taxes, the required Form 990 is an informational return intended to allow the IRS and the public to evaluate non-profits and how they operate.  Most, if not all, of the Form 990s filed with the IRS are posted on the GuideStar website, but none were ever listed there for Taste Inc. in any of those first four years, even though it was a certainty that Taste Inc. had revenues exceeding $25,000 in each of those years. 

Our questions stirred up a hornets’ nest of comments both challenging and defending Taste Inc’s conduct.  We were accused of being conspiracy theorists, axe grinders and worse.  But through all that time Taste Inc. produced nothing to account for the money it took in or how it was spent.  

So around this time last year, in ”One Year Later: Another Call For Transparency From Taste Of Park Ridge” (06.22.09), we re-raised those same questions, along with a new one: Why did Taste Inc. voluntarily dissolve itself on February 20, 2009 [pdf], and then re-incorporate on March 4, 2009 – but, this time, as a 501(c)(6) corporation with Chicago attorney Leo Aubel replacing Pines’ Dave Iglow as its registered agent? 

Yet another question was raised by the way the original Taste Inc. dissolved: we could find no record of it having followed the prescribed procedures for dissolution [pdf], including any record of what it did with whatever assets it had from those first four years of operations.  In other words, it looks like the original Taste Inc. was a scofflaw as to both its annual IRS filing requirements and its dissolution – with no accounting of whatever assets it accumulated from four years of operations and what it did with them on dissolution.    

As for why Taste Inc. effectively changed from a 501(c)(3) corporation to a 501(c)(6) one, the single biggest difference between the two appears to be that a 501(c)(6) corporation may engage in political activity [pdf] on behalf of, or against, individual candidates for public office, so long as that political activity does not constitute the corporation’s primary activity; and a 501(c)(3) cannot [pdf].   By running the TOPR, therefore, Taste Inc. has the “primary activity” qualification necessary for it to engage in political activity. 

What could that mean for Park Ridge government?   

Well, judging from Taste Inc.’s first-ever Form 990 [pdf] filing in March of this year, Taste Inc. is sitting on $65,221 in surplus assets just from last year’s TOPR event.  If Taste Inc. does that well this coming week, it theoretically could have a $130,000 campaign “war chest” with which to help finance aldermanic candidates in next April’s municipal election. 

That’s over $18,000 for each of the seven wards, which as best as we can tell would comfortably exceed what has been spent by any aldermanic candidate in the history of Park Ridge – other than Mark Anderson, who in 2003 spent a shade over $20,000 [pdf] to defeat incumbent Homeowners Party 5th Ward Ald. Steve Huening.   And it would far exceed the next biggest aldermanic campaign spender, Howard Frimark, who dropped a little under $13,000 [pdf] that same year to win the open 4th Ward seat [pdf].

Back in 2003, however, the City Council still had 14 aldermen, with only 7 seats at stake in any one election.  That made it impossible to win an entire Council majority in any given election. 

But with the current 7-person Council, Taste Inc. could commit $20,000 to four individual races to elect a 4-alderman Council majority favorable to any interests or agenda it might wish to advance.  And even after that $80,000 expenditure, Taste Inc. would still have $50,000 left over as “seed” money for TOPR 2011. 

Was the switch from a 501(c)(3) to a 501(c)(6) part of a plan by Taste Inc. to become a political powerhouse?  Or are its motives more benign? We don’t know, and the folks running Taste Inc. remain characteristically closed mouth. 

But irrespective of whether they intend to become moneyed power brokers in Park Ridge politics, that $65,000 in operating surplus reflected in Taste Inc.’s initial Form 990 filing makes one thing crystal clear: Taste Inc. can well afford to reimburse the City for the approximately $23,000 in City services it uses.But if past history is any guide, don’t expect that check to be in the mail to City Hall anytime soon. 

[To be continued…] 

Happy Second Of July!


Happy Independence Day! 

Although we have come to celebrate “Independence Day” on July 4th – the day that the Continental Congress approved the wording of the Declaration of Independence – the vote declaring independence from Great Britain actually occurred on July 2nd, 1776, when the Congress adopted the following resolution of independence on motion of Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: 

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation. 

This language was incorporated into the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which ends with those Congressional delegates pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the principles of independence.  And after approving that Declaration, those Congressional delegates went out and acted on those principles to build this great nation. 

That’s why, as we have done in the past, we mark these patriotic days with a call for Park Ridge residents to live their patriotism more fully by getting involved in local government. 

Sure, it’s easier to sit around with friends and beef and moan over coffee or stronger drink about what’s going on in Washington or in Springfield.  But rather than wringing your hands about those things, you can accomplish a lot more by rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in the governance of the City of Park Ridge, the Park Ridge Park District, and School Districts 64 and 207.  

And to bring home that point, we offer the following: 

“Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”  Thomas Carlyle

“The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.” Justice Louis Brandeis

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”  Albert Einstein

On this Independence Day weekend, give some thought to what you can do to make our local governmental bodies better.  Nobody’s expecting you to pledge your lives, your fortunes and your sacred honor to that cause. 

Just pay closer attention, go to some meetings, and demand accountability from the people we elect to govern on our behalf.