Will The Grand Giveaway Finally Happen Tonight? (Updated 08.24.10)


After several false starts and outright delays, tonight looks like the night the City Council finally makes those “charitable” donations for us taxpayers that we have chosen not to make for ourselves.

The $190,000 [pdf] of giveaways is the main event of tonight’s “special” Council meeting (at 9:00 p.m. tonight – to discourage attendance?), but it looks like Finance Committee Chair Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward) is likely to seek separate votes on each of the 13 specific handouts.  That’s a typically DiPietro-an way to create the appearance of fiscal responsibility while still acting fiscally-irresponsibly.  DiPietro must think he can get some political mileage for himself or his fellow aldermen by distinguishing free-loading “social service” organizations (e.g., the Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, Meals on Wheels) from those free-loading civic/cultural groups (e.g., Park Ridge Fine Arts Society, the Cultural Arts Council).

Of course, that’s just a lot of eyewash intended for consumption by a gullible public.  How gullible that public will be, and for how long, remains to be seen.

For the politicians on the City Council, this isn’t about economic or governmental policy.  It’s about those public officials making certain favored special interests happy using taxpayer money instead of their own.  The fact that the Illinois constitution requires that public monies be used only for clearly “public” purposes – and not for donations to private organizations – seems lost on most of the folks sitting around The Horseshoe. 

As we pointed out in a previous post (“Mayor Once Again Sounds Financial Alarm,” 08.09.10), those aldermen don’t even follow the City’s own extremely un-demanding “policy” for providing public funds to private organizations – which requires the aldermen to specifically consider:

· the community’s need for the services;
· the community’s benefit from the services;
· the degree of private financial support for the services; and
· the community’s volunteer support for the services.

We are not aware of serious consideration being given to any of those factors by this or previous Councils, nor have we heard of this or any previous Council demanding an accounting from these private organizations as to how they actually used the public funds for the specific benefit of Park Ridge residents, and what concrete results were achieved.

We’re also betting that these aldermen have never looked at the Form 990s filed by some of these organizations.  If they did, they would find some things that might be interesting to anybody who truly cared about how our tax dollars are spent.

Like how the most recent Form 990 (EZ) [pdf] filed by the Center of Concern shows that a measly $73,763 of its $900,000+ of gross receipts last year came from its 3 fundraising events, netting less than the $55,000 it wants from the City.  That’s just downright pathetic for an organization that claims broadbased support from the Park Ridge community.  

Or like how well Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.”) is doing financially.  Seniors Inc. is the private not-for-profit (naturally) corporation which we understand quasi-runs the Senior Center for the Park District, and which we understand is the actual recipient of City funding.  From its most recent From 990 (EZ) [pdf], Seniors Inc. looks to be sitting on $114,122, so why exactly is it in line for $35,200 of City funding?    

If these organizations want money from Park Ridge residents, they should earn it through effectively soliciting private donations from the individual residents themselves – not by putting the arm on feckless politicians who can’t say “no” to spending the taxpayers’ money.  But if these organizations don’t want to earn their private donations, then they should earn their public funding through the performance of their services under written contracts which identify specifically what services they will provide for exactly how much of City funding.
Frankly, if this was being done according to Hoyle, our aldermen would already know: (a) exactly how many meals (and what kind of wheels) Park Ridge residents will be getting for the $7,040 that Meals on Wheels expects from the City treasury; (b) exactly how many hours of service Park Ridge residents will be getting (and at what cost per hour) for the $55,000 going to the CofC; (c) exactly what “public” benefits the City’s taxpayers will get for that $35,200 Seniors Inc. wants to add to its $114,000 stockpile; and (d) on exactly what things organizations like Brickton Art Center, the Park Ridge Historical Society, and the Kalo Foundation intend to spend the public funds they’re looking for.

But don’t expect to hear these kinds of questions from the Council this evening…or ever.  The current crop of aldermen, not unlike their predecessors, act like they don’t want to know any of this information, presumably because they don’t care about it.  

It looks like they just want the fun and political capital that comes from recklessly giving away money that mostly isn’t their own.

UPDATE (08.24.10):  Richie D did move to divide the question so that each of the 13 giveaways got voted on separately; Richie D voted “yes” on all of them even though he claims he didn’t support the non-social services ones, giving as his “reasoning” that he wanted to ensure they passed so that the mayor could veto them (once again, politics over policy for Richie D); DiPietro, Bach, Ryan and Carey voted for all of the appropriations; Wsol voted against all of them; and Sweeney voted against all but Center of Concern ($55,000) and Meals on Wheels ($7,040) for no disclosed reason.  Oh yes, Allegretti was absent.

Not surprisingly, nobody – neither the aldermen nor the mayor – inquired as to what exactly the citizens of Park Ridge were going to be getting for their $190,000.  And, of course, none of the groups represented in the audience (notably, the Center of Concern and the Senior Center, who combined will be pulling in $90,000 of that $190,000) offered any explanation. 

10 comments so far

Typical politicians. They love to spend money that’s not theirs. I wonder how long this has been going on without this or prior councils making a decision using the criteria from the city’s policy? I’m betting years.

I remain befuddled why this can’t be run as a grant program, where organizations apply for the money, submit audited financial records, and then report upon the use of the funds.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  We don’t pretend to be an authority on municipal law, but the basic legal principle involved is that there must be an overall “public” purpose to whatever activities are financed by the public funds.  The expenditure of the public funds of a particular unit of government also must benefit the citizens of that unit generally, not particular persons or interests of that unit; and not the citizens of other units of government. 

Wow….ya know it is worse than I thought!!!!! Have you heard of the Park Ridge Community Fund?!?!?!?! AHHHHHHHH!!!!! Do you realize our city is supporting this organization by closing down streets and offering city services this weekend???? AHHHHH!!!! Have you seen the organizations that this fund supports??? Why it is an outrage!!!!! Why have I not heard the Mayor state his position on this fund?!?!?! I think if we were to address this one issue and stop helping those who might need it, the budget issue would go away. Do you realize there is a city employee on the board of this organization?? Ahhhhh!!!!!…..bitch….whine…..bitch….cry…..gee I am getting good at this!!!!!!

Anonymous @ 944am:

My position, which I first stated about a year ago, is that organizations or businesses which utilize city services such as police and public works should reimburse the city for the cost of those services. I repeated my position last night at the Committee-of-the-Whole meeting.

In fact, City Manager Hock submitted a proposal to the Council a year ago which would have set up a procedure for approving special events. That procedure would have included a reimbursement requirement. However, the Council decided to reject that plan. I do not have the legal authority to impose such a requirement or I would have done so.

In short, unless a majority of the aldermen decide that reimbursement should be required, there will be no change in the City’s policy.

You say, “The expenditure of the public funds of a particular unit of government also must benefit the citizens of that unit generally, not particular persons or interests of that unit…”
This makes no sense to me. By that standard, public schools that only “benefit” kids; public aid that only benefits indigent families and individuals, Social Security that only benefits the elderly and disabled, Veterans benefits that only benefit those who have served, etc. etc. etc. would not “deserve” public funding. Nonsense. Either you get that the body politic is weakened, not just morally but physically, financially and materially, by designating everybody but the current Masters of the Universe as undeserving, or you don’t get it. In your world, the only virtue is the ability and willingness to earn, snatch or inherit one’s share and then some. That’s an impressive virtue, but there are other virtues and other values worth preserving. People who are members of various age groups, income levels, etc. of the public are not ipso facto “special interests,” although that’s a good way to depersonalize them. I love you, Pubdog, but you are all wet on this one. 


What kind of NFP is the Park Ridge Community Fund, the hobby kind or the networking kind?

Molly Pitcher,

The Mayor and the Pubdog don’t get it. Not in that order.

Molly, you seem to be flummoxed by the difference between “government” and “charity.” Think about it as the difference between being provided with “safety” or being provided with ”welfare.” The former is government, the latter is charity.

Or, rather, it was…before the politicians figured out that government’s taking over welfare from the traditional charities (and from those individuals performing personal acts of charity/kindness for their neighbors) would allow politicians and bureaucrats alike to grow their fiefdoms, and increase their power and influence, on the backs of the sheep known as taxpayers.  Not surprisingly, that also led to the proliferation of the pseudo-”charities” called not-for-profits, with their bureaucracies chewing up 40-50-60% or more of their funding just to maintain themselves.

If you’re accusing us of subscribing to Darwinism, we plead guilty as charged – but only as to those who “earn” their station in life, not those who “snatch or inherit” it.

And we still believe that “government” should concern itself with governing – and performing those functions that only government can perform – while leaving the traditionally charitable activities to charities. The real ones, not the pseudos.

Hmmm. I vaguely recall some wording somewhere about promoting “the general welfare.” Sound familiar?
You are right about shyster charities — and I would add shyster companies with their no-bid sweetheart contracts, the oil companies setting U.S. energy policy behind closed doors, big pharma and big farms setting health and healthcare standards for the government, etc. etc. Any operation that takes taxpayer monies should be made to fully account for itself and how what it does will provide value (defined as cost vs. benefit) for the public, with no smoke and no mirrors. Too bad we only whack the little community groups that don’t have flotilla of well-paid accountants and lawyers to explain and justify their doings. There must be a relatively simple grant-seeking form that could be used to get the answers we need to evaluate the scope and value of services. But then we’d still be left with your contention that random acts of charity — which dry up as soon as things get tough — are all that’s needed to run an annual budget, purchase goods and provide services. In reality, relying totally on such random gifts is why most bigger charities spend so much of what they take in just doing the special events, junque mailings, etc. etc. etc. to get the money in on a random donor basis. Printers want money, hotel ballrooms want money, yada, yada. Personally, I’d rather have tax dollars allocated so that most of the money goes to provide the services, not to fundraising efforts. This is not in conflict with having N-F-Ps provide full accounting and rationale for these allocations.
But thanks for providing a forum for us to discuss what matters to each of us, jointly and severally!

Anonymous on 08.26.10 1:21 pm:

The City Council has failed to follow its own policy for determining whether the services of any of these private community groups is deserving of public money. And these groups, espcecially the clearly multi-jurisdictional ones like Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, and Rainbow Hospice, seem to take pains to avoid disclosing exactly what services they perform for Park Ridge residents that justify the payment of Park Ridge tax dollars.

Good intentions do not make good policy. And the City Council’s handing out money without complying with its own policy and without requiring one iota of accountability from the recipients of that money is simply bad policy.