Since When Did “Government” Become Synonym For “Charity”?


Four different perspectives on City government and its finances were on display at Monday night’s City Council meeting, during the discussion of the Council’s over-ride votes on Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of $190,000 in donations of public funds to 13 private community organizations.

In asking the Council to sustain his veto of those community group donations, Schmidt stated that he supports private contributions to those groups but does not believe in giving them public funds, especially when essential City services are being cut.

Ald. Jim Allegretti (4th Ward), on the other hand, supported all the donations on the grounds that the organizations might dissolve without these public funds; and because that $190,000 is virtually “meaningless” due to its being only 19/4000s of the City budget.

Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward) also supported all the donations, pointing out that the Council already had cut those contributions indiscriminately by 12% “across the board” because he, for one, didn’t want to have to make the tough decisions of choosing one group over another.  To Ryan, apparently, Meals on Wheels is no more essential a service than Brickton Art Center.

And Ald. Rich DiPietro (5th Ward) claimed to be listening to his heart instead of his head when he voted to over-ride Schmidt’s vetoes as to the Center of Concern ($55,000), Maine Center for Mental Health ($6,600) and Meals on Wheels ($7,040).  In other words, his own “heart” is more important than both the “hearts” and the “heads” of his constituents, who appear to have chosen not to donate enough to these organizations to keep them from trying to feed at the public trough.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that we support Schmidt’s view.  Both the Illinois Constitution (Article VIII) and the City’s Policy No. 6 state the general principle that public funds should be used only for “public purposes,” with exceptions permitted only upon express findings of a “public purpose” for the specific appropriations to private entities.

But it looks like neither the Illinois Constitution nor the City’s own policy means much to Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro and Ryan, as we could find no mention of any express findings having been made by the Council of a specific “public purpose” for each of these donations that justifies the appropriation of these public funds.  In fact, we can find no evidence that any “public purpose”-justification information was even requested from these organizations by this spendthrift Council. 

Just call it this Council’s version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

We question the credibility and/or the sanity of any public official of this community who considers $190,000 “meaningless.”  More than a few Park Ridge households live on half that for an entire year.  Others are spending (or borrowing) that much for four years of college education for their children.  And two of our police officers were fired because this Council didn’t want to budget that much for their retention.

We also have to question the judgment of any public official who seems to equate art classes with meals for the underprivileged – even if we believe Meals on Wheels should be contracting with, and accounting to, the City for each meal it provides to a Park Ridge resident on the City’s dime.

But the real crux of this matter is the view of City government these 5 aldermen seem to share with the folks running these private community organizations: that “government” somehow has become synonymous with “charity” – or with “private non-profit organizations.” 

It’s not synonymous, nor should it be – unless, of course, these private organizations are willing to be as transparent and accountable to the taxpayers as the City of Park Ridge is supposed to be. 

Everything we’ve seen from these organizations so far, however, indicates just the opposite: most of them don’t even post their IRS Form 990s on their websites, and none of them (to our knowledge) has yet to explain to the Council (or the taxpayers) exactly how many Park Ridge residents they serve, what specific service(s) they provide, and at what cost per unit of service. 

That might explain why they also aren’t interested in providing their services under performance-for-pay contracts, like just about every other private, third-party vendor of goods or services to the City signs.

But if the five aldermen who voted to over-ride any of the mayor’s vetoes really want to act as the consciences (or, the “hearts”) of their constituents, we think it’s only fitting that they prove that their own “hearts” are where they want our’s to be.  Let them produce the cancelled checks or other receipts showing all of their personal contributions to each of these 13 private organizations whose appropriations they endorsed.

If you want to walk your talk with our money, fellas, how about first proving that you’ve already done so with your own?

Will Council Say “No” To Mayor’s Latest Veto? (Updated 09/21/10)


Tonight is the deadline for the City Council to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the Council’s unrestricted giveaway of $190,000 of City funds to 13 select private community organizations – without any limitations on how the money is spent/used, and without requiring any accountability from those recipients for that spending/use. 

That Schmidt’s veto will be over-ridden on at least some of those donations is pretty much a foregone conclusion.  Over-ride takes five votes, and if all five of those Frimark Legacy aldermen – DiPietro, Bach, Allegretti, Ryan and Carey – show up and vote as expected, at least the Center of Concern ($55,000), Meals on Wheels ($7,040), Maine Mental Health Center ($6,600) and the Youth Commission ($4,400) will head home with more cash than they typically raise from any of their private donors. 

But the fun might be in trying to guess how this will shake out politically, especially if DiPietro doesn’t waffle and actually votes to over-ride the veto only as to those three-four appropriations he talked about last month…right before he voted to approve all 13 of those giveaways 

Will Ald. Frank Wsol, the only alderman to have voted against all 13 donations, hang tough on all 13?  Will Allegretti – who was missing the night the giveaways were approved – be some kind of wild card and vote to over-ride some but not all of them?  

Might DiPietro and Ald. Joe Sweeney finally realize how their voting for some of these public fund misappropriations but not others is actually more unprincipled than voting for or against all of them – especially where, as here, the Council did not even try to comply with City Council Policy No. 6 that prescribes a specific procedure for making exceptions to the general prohibition (derived from the “public purpose” clause in Article VIII of the State of Illinois constitution) against giving away public funds to private organizations? 

Whichever way they all vote, we’d love to hear each alderman explain his vote on each of those 13 individual over-ride motions.  In the absence of legitimate public policy reasons for these unrestricted, unaccountable giveaways of public funds, however, we’re expecting little more than a simple “Yes” (or, in Bach’s case, an “Aye”) on every over-ride vote. 

If you want to bear witness to your elected representatives voting yet again to give away more of your tax money to their favorite non-profits, kick-off is 7:30 p.m. at 505 Butler Place. 

It may not be quite as ridiculous a spectacle as watching our General Assembly continue to tax, borrow and spend Illinois closer to bankruptcy; but, then again, you don’t need to go all the way to Springfield to see it. 

Be thankful for small favors.

Update (09/21/10): Alds Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd) and Frank Wsol (7th) voted together 10 times to deprive the City Council of the 5 votes needed to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto on all but 3 of the 13 Council public funds giveaways, saving Park Ridge taxpayers over $120,000.

DiPietro, however, switched sides on 3 occasions to provide the deciding over-ride votes for the donations of $55,000 to the Center of Concern, $6,600 to the Maine Mental Health Center, and $7,040 to Meals on Wheels. 

More Of The “Culture of Secrecy” At District 64


On December 17, 2007, we published a post titled “A Culture Of Secrecy” in which we criticized local government secrecy which deprives the public of essential information about how the various branches of local government are being run.

Recently our friends over at the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board of Education displayed their continuing allegiance to that Culture of Secrecy with their opaque process for filling the Board vacancy created by the resignation of Board member Russ Gentile.

The D-64 Board claims to have received 18 applications for the vacancy, although we have to take their word for it because we can’t find any identification of the 17 candidates who weren’t chosen, nor any publication of those candidates’ respective qualifications and other credentials – just in case any ordinary citizen might be interested in who is seeking appointment to one of the two local taxing bodies (along with H.S. Dist. 207) which take the biggest bites out of our bank accounts.

The ringleader of this latest stealth effort appears to have been Board President John Heyde, whose 3+ year career in the “Heyde Seat” of the D-64 Board (wife Christina occupied it from 2003 to 2007) has been characterized by keeping as many things over at D-64 under the radar as possible.

We previously highlighted Heyde’s playing coy, if not deceptive, with the identity of the new superintendent, and information about teacher and administrator pay raises, and why the test scores of D-64 students don’t seem to rise to the level of the money the District is spending.

In riding herd on this secretive process for picking Gentile’s replacement, Heyde – with what appears to be the able assistance of stealthy new Supt. Philip Bender (obviously, a fast learner) – made sure that the applications would be reviewed only in closed session [pdf]; and Board members Sharon Lawson and Genie Taddeo cooperated by making the closed session motion [pdf] “to discuss the selection of a person to fill the Board vacancy position” that was unanimously approved, naturally.

Why weren’t those discussions in open session, accessible to the press and the public?  These candidates are being considered for a seat on the Board without even having to run for the position, so why should they get to escape all public scrutiny?  What is there to hide?

As best as we can tell, even the interviews of those purported 18 candidates were held in closed session, away from the prying eyes of the pesky press and the public – although we haven’t heard whether or not the candidates were instructed to travel to and from the interviews in disguise.

Surprisingly, the appointment of 7-year resident, Washington School parent, and CenterPoint Properties’ CIO Scott Zimmerman to fill Gentile’s chair until this coming’s April elections was announced by press release [pdf] rather than by a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the ESC.  That might be a signal the D-64 General Caucus wasn’t involved, although we wouldn’t bet the ranch on that given its historical dominance of D-64 elections.

The D-64 Board, with Heyde at the helm, once again has shown that it still believes it can pawn off these clandestine processes on a gullible public as “transparency.” And the public continues to prove them correct.

So welcome to D-64’s Culture of Secrecy, Mr. Zimmerman. 

Assuming that’s really your name.

The Continuing Hock Contract Saga


Tonight’s City Council COW meeting is scheduled to feature the continuing saga of City Mgr. Jim Hock’s employment contract, which expired on July 13, 2009, but which is being treated as if in full force and effect while the Mayor and City Council continue to fiddle with it.

For those of you who care about this kind of stuff, Hock was hired despite then-mayor Howard Frimark’s desire that the job go to one of his insurance clients.  But even though Hock was Frimark’s second (or third?) choice, Hock still was given a sweet deal [pdf], including:

annual base salary of $165,000;
$8,500/year in deferred compensation (increasing to $10,000/year after year one);
16 vacation days, increasing to 20 days (a/k/a 4 weeks) in year 2;
a $350,000 interest free loan toward his purchase of a residence in Park Ridge, and the forgiveness of $5,000/year of that loan up to a maximum of $50,000;
an unmarked City vehicle, including gas, insurance and maintenance;
all off his moving expenses from Oak Park, Michigan;
the real estate commission and attorneys’ fees for the sale of his Oak Park condominium;
up to $12,000 of living expenses that first year until Hock moved to Park Ridge;
up to another $12,000 in expenses to maintain his Oak Park condo until it is sold; and
various other benefits.

That’s over $190,000/year just counting his base salary, deferred comp, no loan interest, loan forgiveness and car expenses.  And he isn’t even required to produce a balanced budget or any annual “profits” (i.e., surpluses) to remain employed.

We’re willing to bet there are more than a few Park Ridge residents who are qualified to do that job and would jump at that package.  And we suspect some of them could do it as well, or better, than what we’ve seen from Mr. Hock so far – especially in light of his recent giveaway of $25,000 to departing Community Development director Carrie Davis, and his $20,000+ deal for departing Public Information Coordinator Aggie Stempniak to produce The Spokeman, neither of which was brought to the Council for the required approval.

Those disclosures provoked – justifiably – the ire of both Mayor Dave Schmidt and Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) at last week’s Council meeting, but got little more than a ho-hum from the other 5 aldermen (Ald. Don Bach was missing) who have consistently demonstrated their love of giving away the taxpayers’ money for no good reason and without demanding any quid pro quo return.

But another hang-up on a new Hock contract appears to be his desire to secure that sweet comp package with a 12-month severance – which amounts to no less than $165,000 for Hock not to work for the City. 

The mayor and Wsol expressed serious reservations about that deal as well. 

But leave it to that towering statesman from the 4th Ward, Ald. Jim Allegretti, to defend the 12-month severance by arguing that it will “take the politics out of the [City Manager’s] job” in ways a 6-month severance cannot. 

Allegretti insisted that “politics should happen” in City government and that the aldermen “are expected…to deal in politics.”  He didn’t come right out and say exactly who expects politics rather than good government from the folks at City Hall, other than to refer to some people who “come in and are clamoring at the podium” of the Council chambers for the Council’s attention” – and often get it.  

Acknowledging that he and his fellow politicians tend to crumple under pressure from constituents, Allegretti said the City needs a job-secure city manager to ensure that those aldermen’s “poltical will not necessarily be immediately carried out.”

In other words, we need Hock to be the good-government “adult” and prevent the Council’s political “children” from doing stupid things.

Frankly, if Hock – or any city manager – could stop our politicians from doing stupid things, he would be a bargain at twice his $190,000 or so a year.

But from what we’ve seen so far, he can’t and doesn’t seem to really want to.

And when it comes to feathering his own nest, you can bet he won’t.

Schmidt Vetoes $190,000 Of Oxymoronic “Government Charity”


As promised, Mayor Dave Schmidt wielded his veto pen last night to the City Council’s recent passage of $190,000+ in handouts to various private community groups. 

Schmidt’s veto message [pdf] makes the same point he previously made about it being bad policy for City government to donate public funds to private organizations who provide non-essential services when the City is cutting back on funding essential services.  But it also adds two new points that we wholeheartedly endorse.

The first point is the fact that the City’s own Policy No. 6, (which tracks Article VIII, Section 1 of the Illinois Constitution) establishes that public funds generally “should not be used to support any private non-governmental organization” unless the Council first makes four specific findings that such use justified, including the community’s “need” for the private services and the extent of the community’s “financial support” for those services.  We haven’t seen even one of these 13 organizations demonstrate any specific community “need” for the various services they provide; and the fact that these organizations are putting the arm on our pandering politicians for funding suggests a distinct lack of “financial support” from the community overall.

The second point is having those organizations actually sign enforceable contracts with the City under which they will get specific compensation for specific services rendered to Park Ridge residents, just like it does with its other private outsource vendors.  Using Center of Concern, for example, the City and the CofC would sign a contract for the same $55,000 the Council wants to donate, but which would identify what specific services CofC would provide Park Ridge residents and at what per-unit price(s).  The $55,000 would serve as a “cap” on the City’s obligation. 

At the end of the year, CofC would provide the City with an accounting of exactly how many units of what kinds of services it actually provided, thereby enabling the City to decide whether it got full and fair value for its $55,000.  Depending on that analysis, the City could decide whether, and in what amount, it wanted to contract with CofC for services the following year. 

In other words: Pay only for what you get, get only what you pay for.  What a novel concept! 

That’s why any organization that truly intends to give the City’s taxpayers fair value for the public funding it seeks (rather than reap a windfall “profit” that it can divert to other communities or other purposes) should warmly embrace this particular kind of contractual quid pro quo compensation.  Conversely, any organization that doesn’t do so is sending a pretty strong siignal that it wants a lot more “quid” than its “quo” is worth.

Unfortunately, there’s little chance that the undisciplined spendthrifts who comprise a majority of our City Council will vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto.  They have become far too accustomed to giving away other people’s money for them to care about things like the Constitution, the City’s own policies, the City’s sorry finances, or the words of long-dead white guys like James Madison that Schmidt quoted in his veto address.

Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, DiPietro, Ryan and Sweeney don’t even seem capable of comprehending that “government charity” is an oxymoron; or that what they espouse is just another name for “welfare”…but without even the basic welfare requirement that the recipients demonstrate need and qualifications.

Or you can call it robbing Peter to pay Paul, with “Peter” being us taxpayers and “Paul” being those private groups that can’t or won’t do the fundraising required for them to be self-supporting.

Taking From The Mouth Of Labor The Bread It Has Earned


Today is Labor Day. For some of us, it’s nothing more than the quasi-official end of Summer.

But for those of us who “labor” for the wages it takes to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, Labor Day should be something more. It should be a time for reflection on how our “labor” is treated, and valued, by the “political” class of our society whom we charge with governing us.

These days a substantial portion of the wages for which we exchange our labor end up, pretty much involuntarily, in the pocket of some unit of government or other; and it is spent in a number of ways many of us do not view as particularly essential or necessary – and we’re not even talking about the money lost to the waste or outright corruption for which this state has become well known.

The “Feds” and the State of Illinois take their generous portions from most of our paychecks before we even receive them. Crook County, our City, our schools and our park district wring their shares out of our homes and commercial property through real estate taxes. And virtually everything we buy comes with tariffs for the state, county and City.

The politicians have tried to help us forget that is country was founded, in large part, on the concept of limited government – and limited taxes.

That is why, in his first inaugural address in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson described “good government” as being “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, [but] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

On a day when the politicians traditionally take every available opportunity to dissemble about jobs and labor, we don’t expect to hear this particular Jefferson quote.

That’s because, for the politicians, taking from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned is a lot easier than delivering “wise and frugal government.”