District 64 Schools Missing (Again) From “Top 100” Lists


What do Highland Park, Naperville, Barrington, Clarendon Hills, Oak Brook, Glenview, St. Charles, Hinsdale, Northfield, Wheaton, Burr Ridge, Evanston, Schaumburg, River Forest, Palatine, Northbrook, Western Springs, Buffalo Grove, Long Grove, Lincolnshire, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Kenilworth, Arlington Heights, Hoffman Estates, Bannockburn, Deerfield, Wilmette, Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Elk Grove Village, Lake Bluff, La Grange, Lake Zurich, Glencoe, Rolling Meadows, Lake Forest, Winnetka, Mt. Prospect, Lindenhurst, Highland Park, Plainfield, Darien, Aurora and Bartlett have that Park Ridge doesn’t?

They each have at least one school on the Chicago Sun-Times’ lists of the “Top 100” Illinois elementary schools or middle schools.  And many of those suburbs – using that term a little loosely, admittedly – have more than one school on one or both of those lists.

What’s going on with Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64?  Where’s that top-shelf education the bureaucrats and teachers brag about to justify what the taxpayers have been paying for?

From past experience, we expect D-64 will trot out its customary alibi about how it doesn’t teach to the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISATs), yet its students still have a 93.7 “meeting or exceeding” percentage on those tests.  We will be reminded that D-64 students score at least 10 percentage points higher than the “state average,” as if such an average is a suitable benchmark for our semi-affluent community.  This year, the District can even blame students with disabilities for bringing down the scores, as is reported in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Despite ISAT success, Dist. 64 fails to hit mark for first time,” Oct. 26).   

According to that H-A article, the District’s assistant superintendent for student learning, Diane Betts, and Supt. Philip Bender “downplayed” missing the district’s No Child Left Behind Act goals this year, and they did identify the performance of students with disabilities as a culprit.

But that 93.7% meet-or-exceed standard the District touts may be deceptive, according to an article in today’s Chicago Tribune about test scores (“Schools fail to push students on state tests,” Oct. 29).  That article cites a 2008 study by the Consortium of Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago as showing that students who simply “meet” rather than “exceed” 8th-grade math standards will “have little chance of scoring even a 20 on the ACT college entrance exam as [high school] juniors.”  And 20 isn’t all that impressive, especially for semi-affluent communities.

Is this kind of academic performance good enough for the parents of District 64 elementary students?  Is it good enough for the taxpayers who keep pouring approximately one-third of their property tax dollars into the District each year?

We don’t think so. 

And, frankly, we’re tired of hearing D-64 bureaucrats and teachers union apologists trot out the same excuses to protect their jobs by convincing us that things are just swell.  It’s time the parents, the students and the taxpayers started hearing about academic performance from the seven people who have been entrusted to oversee the bureaucrats – the D-64 School Board members: Pres. John Heyde, Genie Taddeo, Ted Smart, Eric Uhlig, Pat Fioretto, Sharon Lawson and Scott Zimmerman. 

Four of their seats will be on the April 2011 ballot, so it sure would be interesting to hear what they – and anybody else who intends to run for one of those seats – have to say about that aspect of the Board’s stewardship of the District. 

They might start by explaining what improvements in student performance (if any) have been identified since that multi-million dollar tax increase referendum passed in 2007.

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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From Last Night’s COW


Most of the “action” at last night’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting involved the Finance & Budget portion of the agenda, chaired by the current dean of the City Council, Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd Ward). As usual there was some good, some bad, and some ugly – and, as usual, darn few residents turned out to question, complain, or just to bear witness.

The good?

Let’s start with the COW’s 4-3 recommendation (Alds. Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol v. Alds. Allegretti, Carey & Ryan) to cut City Manager Jim Hock’s discretionary spending authority back to the $10,000 level where it had been until former city manager Tim Schuenke had his way with the Council back in September 2007, doubling the limit to its current $20,000.  It’s unclear whether this vote was an acknowledgment that the increase was bad policy, or whether it was just an ad hominem slap at Hock for his recent abuses of the privilege.  But under the circumstances, we’ll call this a “win” for now.

Another “good” thing was the COW’s 5-2 recommendation (Bach, DiPietro, Carey, Sweeney & Wsol v. Allegretti & Ryan) to suspend the wrong-headed ab initio facade improvement program and use the remaining $400,000 allocated to it for a reduction of the City’s multi-million dollar TIF-related debt. 

Although involving a relatively small amount of money and coming only after far too much was already given away through this program, this was an important victory for “good government” because it reflected a rejection of that longstanding, bogus argument – raised once again by Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller and Ald. Jim Allegretti, naturally – that nebulous, warm-and-fuzzy “intangible benefits” are more important than actual, provable economic returns – whether we’re looking at these facade improvement windfall payments to local merchants and property owners, or at the annual handouts to various private community groups.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that Hock, Maller and Allegretti had not one shred of hard evidence that the hundreds of thousands of tax dollars already spent to improve the facades of private buildings over the past several years have generated even one extra property tax dollar, or one extra sales tax dollar, in return.  No need to ruin their fantasies with facts.

The bad?

Allegretti, Carey and Ryan – insisting that the mayor or the City Council engage in “good faith” negotiations with Hock over a new contract.  Apparently somebody forgot to tell those three amigos that the City has no duty to negotiate with Hock at all, much less to provide him with whatever giveaway those guys might consider a sign of the City’s “good faith.”  From Hock’s marginal performance over the past two years, he should be grateful he’s still got a job that pays him over $200,000, all in.

Unfortunately, Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol let themselves get pushed into approving a proposal whereby the Mayor’s advisory committee of aldermen (Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro & Wsol) will…wait for it…enter into negotiations with Hock, which suggests that Hock’s misadventures might still earn him a raise.  And Sweeney’s common sense hiccupped when he proclaimed that he would wholeheartedly endorse, sight unseen, whatever contract the Council negotiating team might recommend.

Last, but not least, the ugly:

Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) sent President Dave Iglow and Vice-President Albert Galus to put on a dog-and-pony show during which, under questioning by F&B Chairman DiPietro and Mayor Schmidt, they hinted at ending Taste Inc.’s involvement in Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) should the City dare to eliminate the approximately $5,000 in free “direct” city services (police, fire and public works) Taste Inc. has come to expect since then-mayor Howard Frimark and that purple ribbon-whipped Council gave TOPR away back in 2005.

In reality, that’s about as idle a “threat” as you will find, given that Taste Inc. currently enjoys a monopoly on the City’s “signature” municipal event that generates (according to Iglow and Galus) as much as $500,000 of total revenues – if you consider not just the money Taste Inc. rakes into its own coffers, but also all the additional secondary revenue allegely realized (without any documentation, of course) by the Uptown merchants not only during the event itself but on a residual basis from non-Park Ridge TOPR patrons coming back to Park Ridge weeks and months later.

Iglow and Galus gave a figurative back-of-the-hand to inquiries about how much Taste Inc. returns to the community (beyond the whopping $1,781 in sales tax it generated this year), how it can justify non-essential “marketing” expenditures like the orange gorilla near Hodges Park when it is stiffing the taxpayers for at least $5,000/yr – or much more, because City Mgr. Hock conveniently eliminated “indirect” costs from this year’s expense calculation, thereby dropping the City’s expenses from last year’s figure of $23,000 down to only $9,676 in 2010.

We’ll see if Taste Inc. provides the City Council with any of the Form 990 tax returns it should have filed for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 when it most certainly had gross revenues in excess of the $25,000 threshold for filing such returns.  Judging from its history of six year history of secrecy, however, we won’t be holding our breath on that one.

All in all, an interesting night at the COW – but probably nothing like we’ll see tonight, when the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission tees up the special use permits for the proposed cell towers at Northeast and South Parks (7:30 at City Hall).

Tin foil hats optional.

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“Sharks” v. “Jets” – Who Ya Got?


Two local private organizations that claim entitlement to compulsory donations of public monies from the City of Park Ridge – and are irked that they aren’t receiving them this year – share the word “Center” in their names: The Park Ridge Teen Center and the Park Ridge Senior Center.  And they typify the kind of quasi-“welfare” that needlessly grows local government and inflates its cost.

Let’s start with the youngsters.

According to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Teen Center board mulls options to stay open,” Oct. 21), the board of the Teen Center is considering a variety of options to deal with the fact that it isn’t receiving its $22,000 handout from the City this year (thanks to the City Council’s sustaining of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of that funding).  Among them: cutting hours of operation, holding fundraisers, applying for grants, seeking corporate sponsorships, closing during the summers, charging members for use, and seeking “freewill donations outside Park Ridge establishments.” 

That last option sounds a lot like street begging to us, with modern-day “Oliver Twist”s standing in front of Five Guys, bowls in hand, seeking not “some more” gruel but a sawbuck for some new video games for the basement of the First United Methodist Church, 418 W. Touhy – presumably because these teens don’t want to play video games in their own or their friends’ basements.

But if the adverse sociological implications of recreating in one’s own basement are too overwhelming, here’s the simplest solution to the Teen Center’s money problem: Cut the $25,000 in salaries being paid to a part-time staff of six, and let all those adult proponents of the Center step up and volunteer to take on those duties.

Now for the oldsters.

Last night a group of Senior Center members showed up at the meeting of the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District board to lobby for keeping the Center operating as the almost-free, semi-private club it has become – and keeping it operating at a deficit of almost $200,000 a year.  Several of them objected to the suggestion by Park District Director Ray Ochromowicz that the building (on Western Avenue, just south of the Community Center) be opened up and programmed for non-senior uses in order to recover some of those excessive costs.

Besides the $200,000 subsidy from the Park District that goes to the 800-1,200 Senior Center members (depending on whose totals you believe), the private Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Senior Inc.”) – which seems to have de facto control over the Senior Center – has been getting a $30,000+ annual handout from the City of Park Ridge, although this year’s request for $35,200 also was rejected by the same kind of veto that knocked the Teen Center’s money.  As recently as year-end 2008 (according to its IRS Form 990), however, Senior Inc. was sitting on $114,000 of assets, although we can’t tell what it is today because Senior Inc. has yet to file for 2009.

Like their much younger counterparts, the seniors complain that, without their own special Center, they have nothing else to do and nowhere else to go.  Apparently they’ve tired of the early-bird specials at Denny’s and find the various local dining and drinking establishments the rest of us patronize to be too…pedestrian?

But if the adverse gerontological implications of socializing with Park Ridge’s gen pop are too onerous for these elders, then they should start covering the Senior Center’s $200,000 deficits by paying annual membership dues of $250 ($21/month) for 800 members; or $167 ($14/month) for 1,200 members).  Then they could continue to keep their clubhouse to themselves, at least for now.

Not only would that be fiscally responsible, but from the glowing way these seniors talk about the Senior Center it would be a bargain even at twice the price.

And by making both the Teen Center and the Senior Center self-supporting, their own users/stakeholders can keep them open and avoid the prospect of packs of disaffected teens (many fresh off the mean streets of Edison Park) clashing with cantankerous not-quite-Greatest Generation seniors over control of the heretofore tranquil sidewalks of Action Ridge.

Two Centers, two simple solutions. 

But who would be the “Sharks” and who would be the “Jets”?

Ticked About Cell Towers In Parks? Look In The Mirror


The scene appears in that slightly grainy black and white of 1950s film footage:

It’s Northeast Park’s soccer fields, tennis courts and enclosed children’s play area, bustling with recreating residents of all ages.  Suddenly, an ominous tower intrudes, scattering the tiny humans with high-powered blasts of invisible Radio Frequency (“RF”) radiation that homes in on each of their cellular telephones, especially the babies’.

The camera slowly pans out from the horror to reveal a black-suited Rod Serling, who exhales a long puff of cigarette smoke before flatly intoning his trademark: “Submitted for your approval….”

In reality, neither Northeast Park nor South Park are being invaded by conquering cell towers.  But judging from the contents of leaflets being distributed in the City’s First Ward, it seems that way to some of our residents.  And that’s okay, because petitioning our government is guarantied by our Constitution.  And cell towers are not “native” to parks.

While we have heard various health and safety concerns raised about them, however, it is our understanding that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 pretty much precludes opposition to cell towers based on health-related issues.  So what we have here is really pretty much a question of aesthetics.  And perhaps some NIMBY-ism, which we also applaud because NIMBY’s tend to draw our attention to significant things we otherwise might have missed.

As we understand it, the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District has signed one or more contracts with T-Mobile to install at least one cell tower at Northeast Park and a second one at South Park.  Both are supposed to be “stealth” poles similar to the one that has been at South Park since 2001 (on the East side of Kalina Field, with some spotlights tacked on to help light the field) without any known incidents of radiation death, lightning strikes, or other catastrophes.

T-Mobile reportedly paid the Park District $4,000 for the “privilege” of being able to pursue the location of the cell towers at South Park and Northeast Park.  The new one at South Park is supposed to generate $2,000/month in lease/license payments.  The more controversial one at Northeast (to be located near the flag pole, at the southeast corner of the tennis courts) is supposed to generate an upfront, 5-year payment of $120,000.  Both will have initial 5-year terms, with additional 5-year options at T-Mobile’s discretion; and there are supposed to be CPI payment adjustments.

For those of you who oppose these new cell towers, or are looking for more information before deciding, we encourage you to attend tomorrow’s Park Board meeting at the Maine Leisure Center, 2701 West Sibley, beginning at 7:30 p.m.  Although the cell towers are not on the Board’s agenda, you can ask about them during that portion of the meeting where citizens are permitted to address the Board on non-agenda items.

Or you can attend next week’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting at City Hall (10/26 @ 7:30 p.m.) and voice your opinion to the governmental body that will be making the initial determination of whether the towers get the special use permits needed to go forward.

In a perfect world cell towers wouldn’t be needed, and someday they might not be.  But here and now they are necessary evils – “evils” much like liquor-serving establishments, airport expansions, lotteries and casinos which generate the “non-tax” revenue to which our governmental bodies have become addicted now that there is so much public opposition to paying more property taxes.

And while part of that addiction is the result of overspending on stupidity, waste and corruption, most of it is the result of too many of us accepting, and even demanding, more and more government services for which we don’t want to pay retail.  That makes us willing dupes of those pandering politicians who keep telling us that we can have all those services we want…and at somebody else’s, or some other generation’s, expense.  Yayyyyy!

While it’s easy to blame the Park Board for “selling out” the beloved green space of our parks for a figurative 30 pieces of silver, the bottom line is that public officials of all stripes have been encouraged to take this tack by those residents who keep on wanting a free (or at least a taxpayer-subsidized) “lunch”: the parents who enroll their kids in every free and subsidized program at the Park District or the Library for what amounts to discount babysitting; the people who beat down every attempted fee increase at the Community Center but then complain about the condition of the facility; the “good Samaritans” who demand handouts of public funds to their favorite private “charities” with no accountability; those who insist on keeping Oakton Pool open despite its losing almost $100,000 a year; those 1,200 or so seniors who demand their private club (the Senior Center) even though it runs annual deficits of a couple hundred thousand dollars a year; and countless others.

Like it or not, if you are one of those people who has demanded and used more non-essential local government services than you have paid for in full, you should look in the mirror before investing in some torches and a few strong ropes for your upcoming visits to the Park Board or the P&Z Commission – because you are one of the reasons that the Park District is willing to consider cell towers in parks.  

And that goes double for you T-Mobile subscribers.

No Comparison For Hock Contract (Updated 10/19/10)


One interesting item on tonight’s City Council agenda (City Hall, 7:30 p.m.) is the Council’s decision on whether to vote to over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of City Mgr. Jim Hock’s new employment contract.  And Hock is doing his best to lobby the Council for that over-ride. 

He is relying on a salary survey purportedly performed by the Glenview City Manager last March.  In typical bureaucrat fashion, he appears to be hoping that a gullible Council will use these “comparables” as justification for nuking Schmidt’s veto and upholding the contract the Council majority of Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan recently gave him. 

When will our elected officials who have the final say on bureaucrat and other public employee compensation wake up and realize that whatever it is other public bodies are doing isn’t necessarily any better – and may be even dumber and more irresponsible – that what we’re doing here in Park Ridge?  Considering the widespread abuses in public employee compensation, pensions and benefits of which we already are aware here in Illinois, mindlessly doing what the “other guy” is doing might well be irresponsible per se. 

According to that survey, Hock’s “Total” compensation of $188,500 comes in at 11th of 17.  But that doesn’t seem to include his interest-free $350,000 mortgage loan, which should be worth another $10-15,000 a year in interest payments he doesn’t have to make; or the $5,000/year reduction of that mortgage.  Add just $15,000 to his $188,500 “Total” and he shoots right up to 8th on the list with comp. of $203,500 – only $700 behind the city mgr. of Mt. Prospect (with its 56,625 residents and $56 million more in its General Fund), but ahead of those of much bigger communities like Evanston and Arlington Heights. 

If that isn’t Exhibit A for what’s wrong with making these kinds of “comparable” decisions, nothing is. 

We think Hock’s performance and compensation should be judged on their own merits, not by what his arguable peers are wheedling out of their respective politicians.  And by that measure, Hock may well be overpaid. 

After more than two years on the job, we haven’t seen anything close to what we would consider an “A Game” from him.  Since the beginning of the year he has been flailing at a variety of problems, most of his own making. 

Let’s start with the 2010-11 budget, where he responded to marching orders from both the mayor and the Council for a timely-delivered balanced budget by coming in late with one sporting a $227,000 deficit.  His alibi, given at the February 15 Council meeting: He had no Finance Director and nobody to enter budget data into the computerized template – even though he was the one who failed to replace the departed Diane Lembesis and still hasn’t hired a finance director, even as we approach yet another budget preparation cycle. 

Since then, he has bungled the terminations of three “upper-management” City employees (Economic Development Director Kim Uhlig, Community Preservation & Development Director Carrie Davis, and Public Information Coordinator Aggie Stempniak) by negotiating super-severance deals well in excess of the eight-weeks maximum severance provided under the City’s employee manual – without prior notice to, and approval of, the City Council.  His alibi there: he was trying to save the City as much as $50,000 each of them might be able to collect if they filed for unemployment comp. and remained unemployed for a year or more.

City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill already has opined that Hock’s super-severance payment to Davis is void as exceeding Hock’s $20,000 discretionary spending authority, although it remains uncertain whether the City can recover the $25,000 payment from Davis or whether the best it can do is claim that as a set-off against her unemployment compensation claim.  Uhlig’s and Stempniak’s windfalls, however, remain in place because they did not exceed Hock’s spending authority, only his judgment.  

Uhlig’s super-severance payment seems especially galling because it appears Hock knew that Uhlig already had another job at the time he finalized her deal, rendering the danger of her collecting unemployment virtually non-existent.  Worse yet, Hock sat silently at the Council’s March 29th Finance & Budget COW while the aldermen debated and finally approved cutting the Deputy City Manager position and restoring Uhlig’s position, only to then be advised by Hock that Uhlig had “resigned” earlier that day. 

We really would like to see Hock succeed in this position, if only because of the fact that he inherited a stone-cold mess from his predecessor, Tim Schuenke; and because of the rude reception he received from then-mayor Howard Frimark after the Council selected Hock over Frimark’s first choice: a Village of Glenview bureaucrat who also happened to be one of his insurance clients. 

But Hock still seems way over his skis on too many matters that he should have figured out by now.  And he also seems a bit too arrogant, given what appears to be his uber-modest achievements in the position to date. 

So we hope the Council sustains the mayor’s veto of Hock’s contract for the reasons given by the mayor, and adopts a contract consistent with the terms recommended by the mayor. That would still keep Hock in the middle of city mgr. compensation, while perhaps providing him a much-needed wake up call that he needs to do better from here on out.

Hock’s contract was approved by a 4-3 vote, but 5 votes are needed to over-ride Schmidt’s veto.  Let’s see if Alds. DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol stand firm this time around.

UPDATE  (10/19/10):  In a surprise move, Ald. Tom Carery (6th) joined Alds. DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol in sustaining Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the city manager’s new contract over the over-ride votes of Alds. Allegretti, Bach & Ryan.

Teen Center: “Priceless,” Or Just Another Entitlement?


When we identify instances of “bad government” in Park Ridge, we usually focus on the misadventures of our elected and appointed officials on the Park Ridge City Council, Park Ridge Recreation and Park District board, or the boards of Elementary School District 64 and High School District 207.

But today we are focusing on a “civilian” aider and abettor of bad government: Kate Kerin, wife of former Ald. John Kerin, and herself a champion of the Park Ridge Teen Center.

Ms. Kerin earned that distinction by her letter to the editor in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Cutting finite sum endangers social services that are priceless,” Oct. 7), in which she criticized the City Council for sustaining Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of funding to 10 of 13 private community groups, including the $22,000 that Ms. Kerin was expecting for the Teen Center with which she claims an association for 10 years as either the director or a member of its board.

Like many supporters of these private community groups, Ms. Kerin seems intent on making sure her favorite “charity” becomes everyone else’s favorite, in this case by having the City use its taxing power to effectively wring involuntary “donations” from residents who apparently don’t think highly enough of the Teen Center (and many other of the private organizations feeding at the public trough) to support it through their own direct contributions.

From where does she get that sense of the Teen Center’s entitlement to our tax dollars?

Let’s start with the four aldermen who originally passed the Teen Center’s $22,000 appropriation as part of $190,000 in giveaways to 13 community groups, but then came up one vote short of the five votes needed to over-ride the mayoral veto: Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan. In her letter, Ms. Kerin thanked them for displaying the community’s “heart” and “standing up for what we all know is right.”

What “we all know is right”? 

If that were true, Ms. Kerin, the Teen Center would have all the money it needed from private donations, the way real “charities” are supposed to operate.  And there’s nothing inherently “right” about demanding that other people pay for what you want. To the contrary, it seems inherently wrong to organize a not-for-profit and then put it on the public dole, especially when its organizers and operators shamelessly exploit their social or political ties to the officials holding the public purse strings.

We don’t recall anybody asking the taxpayers/voters whether they wanted the Teen Center when it was created back in 1990. And despite the Center having fed at the public trough, we’re not aware of anybody associated with it ever having the basic decency to offer the taxpayers anything close to regular and thorough accountings of exactly what the Center is spending our money on – especially in light of the article in last week’s H-A that suggested the Center serves many non-Park Ridge teens (“Funding woes: Teen Center’s future hangs in the balance,” Oct. 5).

As for the Teen Center’s purported shortage of cash, its most recent IRS Form 990-EZ (2008) shows that it had assets of $54,715 at year-end 2008. And that was after paying $28,000-plus in salaries and benefits, including $12,100 to its director, Kerry Cwick.

That same Form 990-EZ also claims that the Center was visited by “approximately 500 teens in 2008.” If the Center still has that kind of attendance, it can easily replace the $22,000 it didn’t get from the City (thanks to the fiscally-responsible actions of Mayor Schmidt and Alds. DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol) by charging each of those “500 teens” nominal “dues” of $50/year – less than $1/week.

So why aren’t Ms. Kerin and the other Teen Center managers already implementing that kind of pay-your-own-way program instead of wringing their hands and warning that the Center could close? Could it be that the “500 teens” is mainly propaganda, and that the Teen Center is another one of those facilities or services whose self-proclaimed grandiosity and importance doesn’t come close to reality?

A clue to that might be Teen Center adult supervisor Susan Paweleck’s (from Gurnee, according to the H-A article) referring to the Center’s “core group of regulars” without any mention of numbers – before adding that word of mouth has brought in many new attendees in recent months. How many new attendees? Ms. Paweleck, conveniently, doesn’t say.

It is bad government for our public officials to indulge the penchants of these private organizations for siphoning tax dollars out of the City treasury without any accountability,  instead of hustling voluntary donations directly from our residents.  It is bad government for those officials to encourage the people who operate those organizations to believe they are entitled to whatever they want…without their having to pay for it.

And with our City, our county, our state and our country staggering under crushing debt because too many pandering politicians irresponsibly tax, borrow and spend whatever it takes to maintain their positions, power and influence, it also is bad government for private citizens to wrap themselves in the mantles of “charities,” “not-for-profits” and “social services” while aiding and abetting those politicians in their spendthrift folly.

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COW “Chips” Tonight? (Update 10/12/10)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will stage another Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting (7:00 p.m. at City Hall), and the agenda is a full one.  There are, however, a few “action items” that deserve special attention. 

No. 1 on our Hit Parade comes under the Finance & Budget portion of the COW: Ald. Robert Ryan’s crusade to push the City into buying the Scharringhausen parking lot at 20 S. Fairview for $700,000+.  This issue has been…wait for it…deferred from two previous COWs, presumably because Ryan lacked the 4 votes (Ald. Allegretti missing on 8/23/10, Alds. Allegretti and Carey missing on 9/27/10) needed to ensure passing this boondoggle out of the COW.  

With the City struggling to cover its budgeted expenses, and with the TIF Fund already $4.6 million in debt to the General Fund for more than two years in connection with the development of Target Area 2, the City’s spending of an unbudgeted $700K to acquire and land-bank a parking lot in Target Area 4 just because the current owners have decided they want to sell is nothing short of ridiculous.   

Is Ryan simply trying to help out the Scharringhausens and listing broker Owen Hayes II (Ryan’s former campaign treasurer)?  Or is he trying to reward any speculators in neighboring properties – like, perhaps, the owners of 720 Garden, or 16 Prairie, or the old D’Bob’s restaurant and/or the homes over on 3rd Street – by jump-starting the otherwise stagnant redevelopment of that area?  

The last time the City jumped on property just because the owner wanted to sell, we got that dump at 229 S. Courtland that the City has no use for and whose value reportedly has declined significantly since the City acquired it.  The 20 S. Fairview lot looks like another white elephant, only larger.  

Also under F&B is the approval of a $40,000 payment under what we consider another imprudent program to spend scarce public funds: the City’s “Façade Improvement Program,” under which building owners or lessees can recover as much as 50% of the cost of making their buildings look nicer.  The latest recipient of this taxpayer handout is 100-102 Main Street/7-15 South Fairview, the Solari & Huntington jewelry store building. 

This kind of payment of public funds to private property owners appears to be somewhat akin to the Council’s donation of public funds to private community groups.  If so, it should require something similar to compliance with City Council Policy No. 6, or maybe Policy No. 31 – which requires that any economic development expenditures provide a “demonstrable quantitative and qualitative return on the City’s investment to be realized during a reasonable period of time after such investment.”  

But, as best as we recall, the Council that created the Façade Improvement Program in conjunction with the redevelopment of Target Area 2 never gave serious consideration to the qualifying criteria identified in Policy No. 6 or Policy No. 31 – just like the current Council failed to do with the community group giveaways.  In other words, this program looks like another boondoggle that, in this case, will cost us $40,000 that could be better spent elsewhere.  Hopefully, somebody on the Council will recognize that and start the process for getting rid of this misbegotten program.

Finally, the Procedures & Regulations portion of the COW will feature City Mgr. Jim Hock’s seeking of Council approval to issue an RFP for the sale of the vacant former Public Works site at Greenwood and Elm.  Peddling that property in a down R.E. market doesn’t sound like the smartest idea, although we can see how a quick couple of million in unbudgeted revenues might fill that prospective multi-million dollar operating deficit Hock keeps insisting is not coming down the pike the way it did in each of his first two years on the job. 

What concerns us most about this sale, however, is that the Community Preservation & Development manager’s “Agenda Cover Memo” for this item includes no terms or parameters for the proposed RFP, even though Ald. DiPietro requested those items at the 9/27/10 COW meeting.  That lack of information could lead to an unfocused, rush-to-judgment discussion and ill-considered action; or it could lead to another of this Council’s trademark deferrals.  Either way, it looks like Staff dropped the ball on this.

From the looks of things, tonight could provide the taxpayers with a few unwelcome COW “chips.”

UPDATE:  In a mild upset last evening, a four alderman (Bach, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol) to three (Allegretti, Carey & Ryan) vote dashed, at least temporarily, Ald. Ryan’s fiscally irresponsible plan to have the City purchase and land-bank the Scharringhausen parking lot.  And if that weren’t good enough for one evening, Ald. Rich DiPietro went so far as to propose that the City suspend its half-baked Facade Improvement Program. 

See, guys…good government really isn’t all that difficult.

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More “Small Stuff” Gone Wrong


This past Monday night provided another micro-economic example of “bad government” on the local level when the City Council rejected – by a vote of 5-0 (Alds. Jim Allegretti (4th) and Robert Ryan (5th) absent) – a Staff recommendation to increase the price of business licenses for the first time since 2006.  

The Staff recommended doubling most of the current modest fees: the contractor’s license would have increased from $50 to $100, certain service businesses from $275 to $550, and retail sales businesses from $175 to $350.  Fees on vending machines also would have increased. 

Why do we consider the Council’s rejection of this recommendation “bad government”?

First and foremost, because we believe that business license fees should be tied to the costs of whatever inspections and processing the City incurs in issuing those licenses.  As we understand it, that is not currently the case – and would not have been the case even if the license rates had doubled, as Staff proposed.  

So it appears that the taxpayers have been subsidizing Park Ridge businesses on these licensing fees for quite some time now, a fact conveniently lost on both the business community and our elected representatives on the Council who decided to pander to those members of the business community who managed to find their way to City Hall to complain about the crushing hardship these fees impose. 

And in what might be a point of interest to people like our MIA Alds. Allegretti and Ryan, who regularly disregard sound economic principles like cost-recovery in favor of simply mimicking what other communities do, yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal reports that the increased licensing fees would have been comparable to, or even lower than, those charged by most nearby communities (“Council Won’t Raise Business License Fees,” Oct. 6). 

Maybe that’s one reason why none of the 5 lemmings/aldermen who voted against raising the fees particularly distinguished themselves with their comments about why they voted that way. 

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) suggested that raising the license fees, especially on local businesses run by Park Ridge residents, is akin to double taxation and a declaration that “we don’t want you [businesses] anymore because we’re going to double your fees” – a sentiment echoed by Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), who claimed that he supported some kind of increase but not one that might cause the City “to lose any businesses.” 

C’mon, guys…do you really expect us to believe that raising an annual business license fee even $275 (to $550) is tantamount to telling a business to pack up and leave town?  Heck, just changing its phone service and other incidentals to a Des Plaines, Niles or Norridge address would cost a business more than that!  

But that kind of soft-headed thinking pales in comparison to what was expressed by Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) head honcho Dave “Pines” Iglow, who suggested that the revenues the City was trying to generate by these business license increases could be replaced by installing more red-light cameras.  In other words, Mr. Iglow wants the City to recover the cost of administering the business license program by handing out more traffic tickets to Park Ridge residents.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of disconnected “reasoning” we’ve come to expect from an otherwise reputable business owner like Mr. Iglow and his Taste Inc. buddies as they stiff the City for tens of thousands of dollars of City services (police, fire and public works) provided to Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) while they merrily bank tens of thousands of dollars ($65,000 in 2009 alone) from that three-day event which an asleep-at-the-wheel City Council handed over to them on a no-bid, no accountability basis back in 2005. 

We are pro-business, and we believe the businesses here in Park Ridge contribute much to this community.  But when its members show up at City Hall with what Southerners derisively refer to as “a handful of ‘gimme,’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’,” that’s just plain unvarnished greed.

And when our public officials roll over in response to that greed, that’s just plain “bad government.”

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Getting The Small Stuff Right


Examples of incompetent and wasteful government exist at epidemic levels in both federal and state government.  But we prefer focusing on our local governmental bodies because their bumbling is smaller in scale and, therefore, more accessible and understandable.  And (we hope) more fixable. 

Take Park Ridge City government.  Its third-year city manager, Jim Hock, has already perfected the practice of asking for forgiveness instead of permission – as he displayed by keeping Carrie Davis and Aggie Stempniak on the payroll for a number of weeks after the Council had cut their jobs from the budget.  And when he finally sacked them, he gave them windfall compensation in addition to their generous severance packages, all without Council approval.  

Hock’s $25,000 payment to Davis clearly exceeded his $20,000 discretionary spending authority, although it appears to remain an open legal question whether Hock’s largesse can be recovered in its entirety, or only to the extent of the $5,000 excess, or not at all.  

But both Davis’ and Stempniak’s windfalls, along with the $20,000 windfall Hock previously gave Kim Uhlig with at least the tacit approval of the mayor and the Council, seem to be borderline insubordination by Hock and bad management all around.  And Hock’s lame alibi – that the giveaways saved the City whatever unemployment compensation those former employees might have collected – just may have set a new unofficial severance standard for City employees who are cut loose in the future.   

So what does the Council do in response to Hock run-amuck? 

It gives him a brand new contract.  With a raise.  And up to a full year of severance benefits even if he is terminated for poor performance.  And a non-disparagement clause that prevents the City from publicly stating the reasons why he was terminated.  Which makes him pretty much bullet-proof while at the same time increasing the cost of replacing him if he actually is terminated. 


Mayor Schmidt intends to veto Hock’s new contract at tonight’s Council meeting (7:30 p.m. at City Hall), which we believe is the best way to deal with what amounts to the Council’s rewarding of a chief operating officer whose job performance so far has been mediocre at best. 

Meanwhile, this episode may have the Council re-visiting a decision from 2007 to increase the City Manager’s discretionary spending authority from $10,000 to $20,000.  That may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but giving career bureaucrats discretionary control over the spending of public funds is like letting the inmates run the asylum, especially where they are nominally overseen by too many fiscally-irresponsible elected officials. 

$5,000 here and $10,000 there is admittedly small stuff.  But small stuff tends to turn into big stuff. 

And considering the systemic and seemingly intractable mess that scenario already has produced in Washington and in Springfield, there’s no reason to let it get any further entrenched here in Park Ridge.