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?