Ushering In Local Election Year 2011


As we leave behind the difficulties and tumult in local government during 2010 for the hope and opportunities of a new year, we offer the following quotes from among our favorites for your delectation, indifference, or revulsion…depending on your point of view: 

“That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.”  Thomas Jefferson

 “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”  John Kenneth Galbraith

 “A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”  Theodore Roosevelt

 “Frugality is founded on the principle that all riches have limits.”  Edmund Burke

 “The [big] lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie.”  Joseph Goebbels

This coming year also brings with it the election for all seven members of the Park Ridge City Council and for various members of the boards of Elementary School District 64, High School District 207, and the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District are only 95 days away.  Which means you have 95 days to get to know the candidates so that you can exercise a meaningful choice at the polls on April 5th.


“It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error.”  Justice Robert H. Jackson

Happy New Year!

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Learning A Lesson From The Teen Center


Every so often an article appears in one of the local papers that provides an almost textbook illustration of some public policy or governmental operations issue.

One such article appears in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Teen center: Center needs funds to continue operation,” December 28), and it seems to bemoan how the privately-incorporated, privately-run Park Ridge Teen Center – which “is open to teens from all communities free of charge” – is running out of money.

So without further ado, and with due recognition to H-A reporter Jennifer Johnson, here is the unabridged text of that article – with our editorial comments in bracketed bold type:

Teen center: Center needs funds to continue operation  

Leaders of the Park Ridge Teen Center are still looking for ways to keep the venue open on a permanent basis. [Here’s one way, and it’s been around for years: it’s called “Charge admission.”]

Marilynn Provencher, treasurer of the Teen Center’s Board of Directors, said there is enough funding to keep the center, located at First United Methodist Church, 418 W. Touhy Ave., open on Friday and Saturday nights for the next two to three months. Beyond that, the fate of the center remains unknown. [The Center doesn’t have any “fate” – either it figures out how to pay for itself or it closes down, a matter of simple cause and effect.]

“The city deserted us,” Provencher, referring to a funding cut of $22,000 this year. [No, Ms. Provencher, the City didn’t “desert” you – it finally found the good sense to stop wasting dwindling public funds on a private amenity that serves a relative handful of teens, many of whom aren’t even from Park Ridge.]  “We don’t have memberships like a lot of other groups in town.” [Memo to Ms. Provencher: Maybe it’s time to start having “memberships.”]

Provencher and Teen Center Board President Tom Swoboda said the board is considering a benefit to raise money for Teen Center operations to continue. [So long as you aren’t dipping into the public trough, we wish you the best of luck with any “benefit” or other fundraiser]  Swoboda added that other ways to draw a larger support base may include creating a type of “Friends of the Teen Center” organization and recruiting a larger volunteer base for fundraising. [Given the apparent aversion to actually charging for Teen Center use, is it being suggested that the teens who use the Teen Center are so economically disadvantaged that they cannot afford to pay a reasonable membership, admission or user fee – let’s say the cost of going to a 1st-run movie ($7.00) – per visit?]

“We are going to give it our heart and soul and do whatever we can to keep it open,” he said. [Your “heart and soul”?  Really?  To keep middle and upper-middle class teens entertained a few nights a week and off the “mean streets” of Park Ridge?  Is that the best use of anybody’s “heart and soul”?]

A fundraising drive held in November raised some donations [How much…or is the amount too pitiful even to mention?], but “not enough to keep us going,” Provencher said.  Attendance at the Teen Center, which is open to teens from all communities free of charge, is on the rise, according to Provencher. [Why is a Park Ridge Teen Center “open to teens from all communities free of charge”? Since you are beefing about being “deserted” by the City, Ms. Provencher, please explain why the taxpayers of Park Ridge (a/k/a, the “City”) should be providing a free clubhouse and entertainment to resident teens, much less to non-resident ones?]  By the end of October, 500 more teens had dropped in at the center compared to the first 10 months of the previous year. [By “500 more teens” do you mean 500 more individuals separate and distinct from those individual teens who had visited in the first 10 months?  If so, does the Center keep a roster of visitors by name; and would it make that roster public prior to any future application for City funding so the taxpayers can see who are all of those purported individual users?]  

“We’ve had more kids so far this year than we’ve ever had come into the Teen Center,” she said. The free activities, provided during difficult economic times when part-time jobs for teenagers are scarce, are a real draw, Provencher believes. [Wait a minute, Ms. P: The Teen Center didn’t charge for use even during flush economic times since its incorporation back in 1990, so this sounds like a red herring argument to us.  And how exactly do you value the use of a facility that users don’t have to pay for?]  

“They need a place to go, they need something to do,” she said. [How about “the mall”? Or the Pickwick Theater, the Community Center, or our various restaurants and coffee shops that might benefit from some extra business? Or, heaven forbid, somebody’s basement or family room?]

The Teen Center is open to guests ages 13 to 18 and features a variety of games, Internet access, satellite TV and a lounge area. First United Methodist Church allows the center to use its basement rent-free. [If the Center doesn’t have to pay rent, how much can it actually cost to maintain?]

Much of the Teen Center’s expenditures are in staffing. Salaries of the part-time staff accounted for more than $25,000, or 60 percent of the center’s expenses for the current budget year, according to documents submitted to the city of Park Ridge last January. [Where are all those unpaid “volunteers” who (we are told) are so intent on donating their services free-of-charge?] In the past, volunteers staffed the center [Why did that change? Could it be that those public funds the Center had been getting from the City provided too inviting a public trough for those formerly unpaid volunteers to resist?], and the option of again using unpaid staff was a topic of discussion among board members in the early fall, Teen Center Director Kerry Cwick had said. [According to the Teen Center’s latest IRS Form 990, Ms. Cwick was paid $14,100 in 2009 – a $2,000 bump up from the $12,100 she was paid in 2008]

Funding was cut to the Teen Center and several other organizations following a veto of community group contributions by Park Ridge Mayor David Schmidt [But only after spendthrift aldermen Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan unsuccessfully tried to over-ride Schmidt’s veto and give the Teen Center $22,000 this year, even as the City was cutting police and other personnel, along with other City services].  Schmidt said public funds should not support private organizations, especially when the city is experiencing its own financial struggles. [Exactly right, because it’s time somebody in City government started to seriously look out for the taxpayers’ money.]

The Park Ridge Youth Commission, a group that has partnered with the Park Ridge Police Department to host activities for teens, has also seen its funding from the city eliminated. [The same lesson should apply to this group as well] 

To read or post comments, click on title.

Bad City Decisions Only Get Worse – Part II


Last week we wrote about how a bad City decision – the sweetheart contract initially given to City Mgr. Jim Hock – continues to propagate more bad decisions, like the even sweeter and longer-lasting employment deal the City Council recently voted to give Hock (“Bad City Decisions Only Get Worse – Part I,” December 22). 

Today’s topic is that bad decision known as the City’s Façade Improvement Program (the “FIP”).  

The FIP was instituted several years ago by a misguided City Council in an ill-conceived attempt to throw a publicly-funded “bone” to existing commercial building owners in consideration of the multi-millions of tax dollars that the City was funneling toward the Uptown TIF district and PRC’s Uptown Redevelopment project.  

Proponents of the FIP – including former mayor Michael Marous, former aldermen Michael Tinaglia and Don Crampton (1st), John Benka (2nd), Sue Bell and Andrea Bateman (3rd), Sue Beaumont and Howard Frimark (4th) and Rex Parker (6th), and current Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) – claimed that FIP funds were an “investment” that would pay substantial dividends to Park Ridge taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes from buildings that improved their facades through use of FIP money, and in higher sales taxes from businesses located in those buildings. 

Consequently, the City issued bonds for (a/k/a, borrowed) approximately $800,000 to fund the FIP.  According to Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) at the December 20, 2010, City Council meeting, $398,000 already has been spent in the TIF district on the buildings that house Country Financial, Fannie May Candies, Hallmark, Hay Caramba, the Original Pancake House, Pines Store for Men & Boys, Raffia, Remax, Starbucks, Solari & Huntington, and others.

But guess what?  No procedure was put in place to measure what kind of return (in the form of increased property taxes and sales taxes) the City would be getting for its FIP money.  And as far as we can tell, to this day City Staff cannot muster more than bare speculation and anecdotes about whether, and how much, the taxpayers have benefitted from that $398,000 of FIP “investment” to date.

That lack of provable benefits wasn’t about to stop Alds. Sweeney, Jim Allegretti (4th) and Tom Carey (6th), however, as they tried their darnedest to give away another $100-150,000 of our money to gussy-up the facades of the Pickwick, the 720 Garden “non-profit center,” and the is-it-ever-going-to-open O’Reilly’s Irish Pub buildings, the last of which is currently owned by a bank following foreclosure.  They did so by seeking an amendment to DiPietro’s renewed motion to suspend the FIP that would exempt those three buildings from the suspension because applications for FIP money had already been made, even though they had not yet been acted upon. 

Fortunately, the absence of façade giveaway supporter Ald. Robert Ryan (5th) from the meeting provided only a 3-2 majority for Allegretti’s exemption amendment.  So, according to Appendix B of the City Council Policy Statements Manual (as brought to the Council’s attention by Ms. Judy Barclay), Mayor Dave Schmidt was allowed to cast a “no” vote, resulting in a tie and the defeat of the exemption amendment.  

Unfortunately, the subsequent 5-0 vote in favor of DiPietro’s overall FIP suspension motion likely has not brought an end to this issue.  Instead, look for Allegretti, Sweeney and/or Carey to seek reconsideration of that vote at the next Council meeting – which they have the right to do under Council procedures because they strategically voted with the majority in favor of the FIP suspension even thought they were against it. 

But the true insidiousness of the Council decision authorizing the FIP year ago was displayed during the December 20 meeting, when O’Reilly’s co-owners Ed Berry and Declan Stapleton, along with their attorney, William Turner, addressed the Council in arguing against suspension of the FIP.

All three of those gentlemen correctly noted that the FIP was an integral element of the grandiose Uptown TIF plan specifically intended to give public money away to private property owners and businesspeople.  They also argued that they went through all the City processes – including Planning & Zoning Commission and Appearance Commission proceedings – with the understanding (fostered by City Staff, of course) that FIP money would be available to them.  Attorney Turner went so far as to invoke the legal concept of “detrimental reliance” and warned that O’Reilly’s financing might fall through without the City’s $50,000 of FIP funding.

That’s the problem with enacting wrong-headed, expensive programs and then letting them stay on the books well after somebody should have realized that they aren’t paying for themselves and are no longer affordable.

As Ald. Frank Wsol noted in addressing the O’Reilly’s spokesmen’s first point: “The TIF is destroying the [City’s] General Fund” because it has already depleted that fund of millions of dollars to cover the debt service on the bonds and other TIF-related expenses that TIF revenues have been unable to cover.  And as Wsol also suggested to the O’Reilly’s folks: “If your project is teetering because of $50,000, maybe it’s not a viable project.”

That’s exactly correct on both counts, as was Ald. Wsol’s point that the City is being asked to continue these giveaways when it already has effectively defaulted on a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of TIF-related payments to School Districts 64 and 207 because the City didn’t have the money to pay them this year – making any more giveaways to private businesses and property owners even more irresponsible.

We here at PublicWatchdog believe that the City should be “friendly” to business.  But that friendliness should take the form of clear and understandable codes and regulations, interpreted and applied predictably, consistently, diligently, expeditiously and decisively by competent City Staff and City commission members.

Paying what amounts to bribes for businesses to locate or stay in Park Ridge, on the other hand, is just plain bad public policy.  Not only does it invite the blackmail-like process of real or imaginary bidding wars with other communities, but it demeans Park Ridge by effectively conceding that our community can’t compete for decent businesses without such bribes.

In his comments to the Council, Mr. Berry spoke of O’Reilly’s generating 40 jobs for local residents, $25,000 of annual sales tax and $40,000 of property taxes from that currently shuttered and foreclosed site.  His partner, Mr. Stapleton, praised the FIP as a means by which the City is “co-investing” in local businesses. 

Frankly, we don’t think the City, as a matter of public policy, should be “co-investing” with any private business.  There are far too many downsides to such “investments” and not enough upsides.  Just look at the City’s purported “partnership” with PRC on the Uptown Redevelopment project.

But if the City chooses to do so, it should not provide up-front money.  Instead, it should provide back-end incentives…like, for example, some form of tax abatement, but only after these businesses can prove that they actually have brought substantial undisputed and quantifiable financial benefits to the City.

The current City Council and its predecessors since 2002 weren’t able to figure that out.  Here’s hoping a new Council can do better.

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Christmas 2010: In Praise of Old Fezziwig


The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it.

“Know it!” said Scrooge. “Was I apprenticed here!”

They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welch wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement:

“Why, it’s old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it’s Fezziwig alive again!”

Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice:

“Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!”

Scrooge’s former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-‘prentice.

“Dick Wilkins, to be sure!” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick! Dear, dear!”

“Yo ho, my boys!” said Fezziwig. “No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, “before a man can say, Jack Robinson!”

You wouldn’t believe how those two fellows went at it! They charged into the street with the shutters — one, two, three — had ’em up in their places — four, five, six — barred ’em and pinned ’em — seven, eight, nine — and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

“Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn’t have cleared away, or couldn’t have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night.

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her Mistress. In they all came, one after nother; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them. When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, “Well done!” and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind! The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him!) struck up “Sir Roger de Coverley.” Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.

But if they had been twice as many: ah, four times: old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs. Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that’s not high praise, tell me higher, and I’ll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would become of ’em next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, hold hands with your partner, bow and curtsey; corkscrew; thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig cut — cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two ‘prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.

During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now! That’s all.”

His former self turned down the lamps as he gave utterance to the wish; and Scrooge and the Ghost again stood side by side in the open air.

May Fezziwig’s spirit inspire your Christmas.

Bad City Decisions Only Get Worse – Part I


Anyone who wonders how our state (Illinois), our county (Crook) and our City got into the financial messes they now find themselves could have learned an object lesson at City Hall this past Monday night: that bad governmental decisions only get worse over time. 

In around two hours, our elected representatives voted City Mgr. Jim Hock a new 28-month contract that guarantees him more money and job security than his previous one-year contract.  And after that, they tried their darnedest to give away another $100-150,000 of our money to gussy-up the facades of the Pickwick, 720 Garden, and the is-it-really-coming O’Reilly’s Irish Pub buildings. 

This post focuses on Hock’s contract, with the latest façade improvement faux pas saved for one of next week’s posts. 

Hock’s original 2008 contract paid him a base salary of $165,000 a year.  It also provided him with an interest-free $350,000 mortgage loan (worth from $10-15,000 a year in interest payments), a $5,000 annual reduction in that mortgage principal, a car (with gas, maintenance and insurance), and other benefits that put his total compensation up in the neighborhood of $200,000.  And let’s not forget that full month of paid vacation.

That contract, however, was for only one year.  It expired almost a year and a half ago, which means that Hock has been an “at will” employee on whom the City Council could have imposed any terms it wanted to – terms which Hock would be free to accept or reject and go elsewhere.   

So why did the Council give Hock this new, sweetened deal?

It beats us, especially because it seems like Hock’s noteworthy “accomplishments” since coming to Park Ridge a couple of years ago could fit on the head of a pin – with room left over for several dancing angels. 

In place of “accomplishments,” Hock’s record to date conveys an abiding sense of mediocrity punctuated by occasional incidents of boneheadedness, such as: his proposed “balanced” 2010-11 budget that, on its face, was $200,000+ in deficit; his decision to give windfall “super-severance” payments to departing employees Kim Uhlig, Carrie Davis and Aggie Stempniak; and his recent proposal to spend $400,000 this coming year on engineering design work for a $6 million-plus police station renovation and 10,000 square foot addition that he wants the City to build in 2015-16?

But in Park Ridge we appear to reward mediocrity and boneheadedness, in this case with a new contract that more than doubles the duration of Hock’s original one while adding a bit more compensation.  And if that’s not excessive enough while he’s actually working for us, our City Council Santas also just gave him $110,000 not to work for us – in the form of severance pay, even if he is fired for things like insubordination, dishonesty, or moral turpitude! 

How many of you have that kind of deal?  So why should Hock?

According to Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st), the Council negotiators (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro and Wsol) of Hock’s contract “did a tremendous job” in coming up with “a great contract for [Hock]” which Sweeney “still do[es] not believe is a great contract for the City.”  Sweeney nevertheless supports that pro-Hock contract because it’s consistent with the “contract that was entered into years ago” between Hock and the City – that contract being the bad decision that is no longer legally binding on either Hock or the City, but which still seems to have Sweeney, et al. enthralled, if not entranced. 

In response to Sweeney’s explanation of this buffoonery, Mayor Dave Schmidt admonished the Council that “if this is not good for the people of the City of Park Ridge, then you have no business voting for it.”  That’s exactly correct.  Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Allegretti, Carey, DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol from giving the new contract their unanimous approval (Alds. Don Bach and Robert Ryan were MIA).  

We’ll have to wait until 2011 to see whether Schmidt will veto that contract, but we sure hope he does.

Because these kinds of stupid and irresponsible deals are what we have come to expect from Mike Madigan and whatever governor happens to be shining Mikey’s shoes down in Springfield.  And from the Crook County Board, especially under presidents John Stroger and Todd Stroger.  And from that demented midget entering the home stretch of his far-too-long tenure on the 5th floor of Chicago’s City Hall. 

Which is why the finances of Chicago, Crook County, and the State of Corruption are in the tank.  And why Park Ridge’s are heading in that direction.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Christmas Comes To City Hall Tonight


Tonight’s City Council meeting is scheduled to provide early Christmas presents for two lucky recipients…at the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

One recipient is John’s Landscaping, which has provided weekly grass maintenance for City-owned medians and cul-de-sacs for the past two years.  According to the Agenda Cover Memorandum of Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, the contract between the City and John’s cotained “an optional one-year extension” which is being exercised for $45,552.

For no good reason we can ascertain, however, that contract wasn’t attached to the memorandum – so we can’t tell whether the option for that one-year extension belonged to the City or to John’s – although it’s our experience that most such contracts like this give the option to the service recipient (i.e., the City) rather than the service provider.

We have no beef with the services performed by John’s. Our beef is with the fact that the amount of the contract and the nature of the services normally require competitive bidding. Consequently, we have to question whether Zingsheim is exercising the City’s “option” so as to end-run the bidding requirement.  And by not attaching the contract to his memo, it looks like Wayne might be trying to hide that end-run from both the Council and the public.

Not good.

The second recipient of early Christmas cheer is City Mgr. Jim Hock, whose new contract is scheduled for approval.  Section I of that contract purports to make Hock’s employment “at will” – meaning it can be terminated by the City at any time for any reason, or no reason at all.  But the very next section of that contract (Section II) turns around and gives Hock a 28-month fixed term of employment, from January 1, 2011 through April 30, 2013. 

So much for “at will” employment, unless we’re talking about the “will” of Mr. Hock.

Under this new contract, Hock keeps his $165,000 base salary, his $5,000/yr pay-down of the $350,000 interest-free mortgage the City gave him, the value of the mortgage interest payments ($10,000-15,000/yr?) he does not have to make under the interest-free loan, his City car (along with insurance, maintenance and gasoline), and 4-plus weeks of vacation.  He also gets some amount of “Deferred Compensation,” although we can’t tell if it is $833.34 or $1,541.27 per month because both numbers appear under the “Category 2” compensation provision of Section III.

If Hock gets all this compensation, he will be one of the higher paid (8th of 17) city managers in this area based on a survey Hock himself did – but only after we added in some of his “special” comp and benefits that he conveniently left out, making it appear that he is undercompensated v. his peers.  And it’s a better deal than CMs in much bigger communities like Evanston and Arlington Heights are getting.

So why is Mr. Hock so special?  We don’t know, because the “Mayor’s Executive Committee” of the City Council – the chairmen of the four standing Council committees, meaning Alds. Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro and Wsol – didn’t provide any kind of “cover memorandum” with the draft contract they negotiated, explaining why they think Hock deserves such a deal.

But perhaps the most objectionable aspect of this contract is Section VII, which ensures that if Hock is involuntarily terminated, even for poor performance or such egregious “cause” as acts of dishonesty or moral turpitude, he gets a minimum of six (6) months of severance, including one additional year for each year of service up to twelve (12) months.  Which means that if this contract is signed and Hock is involuntarily terminated the following day, he will get eight (8) months of severance – $110,000.

That’s $110,000 that the City will have to pay out in addition to whatever it has to pay Hock’s replacement.

We don’t begrudge Mr. Hock fair compensation for services rendered.  But giving him this sweet of a deal for more than two years just doesn’t seem irresponsible, it is irresponsible – especially where: (a) his comp appears to exceed that of most of his peers and most of the residents paying for his lucrative package; (b) the vast majority of Park Ridge residents don’t have anywhere close to that kind of job security and severance benefits; and (c) we can’t think of one exceptional thing he has accomplished since coming here from Michigan.

To the contrary, some of his most notable “achievements” – his proposed “balanced budget” last year that was $200,000+ in deficit, his windfall severance giveaways (to Kim Uhlig, Carrie Davis and Aggie Stempniak) that exceeded his expenditure authority, and his recent endorsement of a $6 million+ cop shop renovation/addition – are things that would come a lot closer to grounds for termination than for a new 28-month contract.

But that’s the way public employment operates in Illinois, as well as in our sleepy little town of Park Ridge.  And that’s why Illinois is broke, and Park Ridge is sliding in that direction.

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City’s First Budget Workshop Provides “Something Appalling”


If you were one of the 10 people (including 2 aldermanic candidates, 2 Library representatives presenting the Library’s capital expenditure requests, and intrepid volunteer videographer George Kirkland) sitting in the gallery for last night’s initial City of Park Ridge 2011-12 budget workshop, you heard nothing that should make you or any other City taxpayers feel optimistic about the coming budget year. 

First of all, the Council and City Staff were operating off sets of documents that never made it to the City’s website or to the sign-in table at the Council chambers, so the citizens in attendance had nothing with which to follow along.  Whether that was by design or negligence, it was disrespectful to the public and should not be repeated. 

But that may have been the least discouraging aspect of the workshop, as early on it was announced that the City is facing a $1 million increase in its pension funding obligation.  That increased obligation alone represents a 6.47% increase in the City’s roughly $16 million piece of our property tax bills, which means the City’s new Finance Director, Allison Stutts, should already be looking for that much in additional revenue or cuts. 

That pleasant announcement was followed by the presentation of a series of various proposed capital projects.  Unfortunately, they did not appear to be presented in any ascertainable order of priority because – as City Mgr. Jim Hock explained – Staff wants the Council to prioritize them! 

Memo to Mr. Hock: Prioritizing expenditures, at least in the first instance, is the job of those City officials making more than $1,200 a year! 

But Hock saved the “best” for last, when he discussed the proposed expenditure of $405,000 to hire…wait for it…Sente Rubel Bosman Lee Architects Ltd. (“SRBL”)…”to develop plans for a renovated police facility, with [a 10,000 square foot] addition” to be built sometime in 2015-16 at a cost of approximately $6 million – not including debt service, of course. 

For you readers who don’t remember, SRBL is the firm of police station design “experts” that previously told the City it needed the 37,859 square foot, $16.5 million (without debt service) cop shop that the voters nuked by a 6,821 to 1,364 landslide in the April, 2009, citizen-initiated referendum. 

But according to a Memorandum written by Police Commander Lou Jogman, pursuing a renovation of the current station and an addition that will almost double its size is justified by the fact that a similar referendum question on that same ballot, initiated by Ald. Frank Wsol at the 11th-hour, lost only 4,338 to 3,827.  Jogman contends that those results show that “there is significant enough consensus that improvements are needed, although not a self-standing, $16.5 million dollar facility.” 

Nifty spin, Commander. 

Can we assume you also drafted the “Police Facility Renovation/Expansion” capital budget proposal that warns of unspecified “potentially hazardous” conditions in the current facility that jeopardize the “safety of the entire department” and “pose considerable liability issues” – presumably by “placing visitors at risk”?

Disingenuous, but clever nonetheless – even if not one incident of that “considerable liability” has been identified as arising from conditions at the police station.

At this point it’s unclear whether this cop shop expansion plan is a serious budget item or just something ginned up by Hock, Jogman, et al. as a bargaining chip or two when budget discussions begin in earnest after the first of the year.  The renovation of the existing space is estimated at between $888,000 and $1,165,500, not counting equipment and furnishings.  The rest would go for the addition.

But the fact that it’s being discussed at all suggests that this year’s budget process may be an even bigger goat rodeo than last year’s. 

As we said in yesterday’s post: “Something appalling.”

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Budgeting Tonight


Last week, Mayor Dave Schmidt sent the following message to his “supporters”:

I wanted to let you all know that we will be starting budget discussions much earlier this year. The first session will take place this coming Tuesday, December 14, beginning at 7pm at City Hall. The first session will involve a capital budget review, an overview of goals and priorities and a review of revenue projections. The next scheduled meeting is January 31 when the actual budget booklet will be distributed to the Council. However, it is entirely possible, perhaps likely, that there will be one or more additional meetings between those dates.

Last year’s budget hearings we by far the best-attended in any one’s memory. Although I obviously was not satisfied with the final product, I was pleased that there was so much resident involvement. I strongly believe that it has an impact, and I encourage residents to participate again this year. I hope to see you Tuesday.

Well, folks, “Tuesday” has arrived, and the Agenda for the Budget Workshop indicates that we will be getting a first glimpse of the City’s projections for its finances this upcoming budget year.

We agree with the mayor that last year’s budget process was far better and more open than in previous years, but that the result still left much to be desired.  Hopefully, City Mgr. Jim Hock and Staff will tell us that the City has a chance of ending 2010-11 in the black for only the second time in a decade, although we’re not going to hold our breath waiting for that.

Over the past few months we’ve been reading about neighboring communities either laying off personnel or raising taxes to combat their own multi-million dollar deficits.  For example, in October, Mt. Prospect announced that it would lay off 35 village employees in response to a $3 million general fund deficit and a $7 million decline in its fund balance since 2008.  And in early November, Arlington Hts. announced plans for a tax increase to combat a projected $3.6 million general fund deficit.

This will be the last budget for two of the bigger spendthrifts on the Council, Alds. Jim Allegretti and Robert Ryan, as well as for budget schizophrenic Ald. Don Bach, who seems to temper every one of his spending cuts with an equal or greater spending increase. 

All in all, we expect tonight’s budget workshop to provide “something appealing, something appalling,” if not quite “something for everyone.”

Come see for yourself: 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.

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“Sweeney’s Folly” Keeps Hopes Of City Handouts Alive


Monday night a 4-2 majority of the City Council (Alds. Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti & Frank Wsol v. Alds. Robert Ryan and Joe Sweeney) voted to sustain Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the Council’s earlier decision to suspend the City’s ridiculous Façade Improvement Program, which already has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that the City borrowed to incentivize private building owners to gussy-up their facades. 

Yes, that’s right: Several years ago, the City issued approx. $34 million in Uptown Redevelopment-related bonds, of which several hundred thousands of dollars in proceeds were set aside to help Uptown building owners pay for improving the appearances of their buildings, and enhance their values.  As best as we can tell, however, nobody at City Hall has been tracking that program to see how much in additional property or sales taxes those handouts have generated.  Go figure.

Which might cause one to wonder why Mayor Schmidt vetoed the suspension of such a misguided program. 

We admit it sounds crazy, but only because it actually is crazy – or, as City Attorney “Buzz” Hill opined: “It’s a bit counterintuitive.”  That craziness is the handiwork of Ald. Sweeney, who – with the help of Allegretti and Ryan – was able to turn a good resolution bad by his amendment that cut a nifty $50,000+ loophole for the will-it-ever-open O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, owned by one of Sweeney’s 1st Ward constituents. 

Call it “Sweeney’s Folly.” 

That amendment itself passed by a mere 3-2 vote, with Allegretti, Ryan and Sweeney voting for the loophole, and DiPietro and Wsol voting against.  The main suspension resolution, as amended, then passed unanimously.  

Although DiPietro already has asked that a new anti-façade improvement resolution that doesn’t contain any special-interest loopholes be placed on the agenda for the December 20 Council meeting, the mayoral veto of Sweeney’s Folly has put the façade program back in business, at least temporarily.  And as we all know, it doesn’t take long for private opportunists to belly up to the public trough. 

Which made it no surprise that at Monday night’s meeting, before the Council could even vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto, the Council was advised that two new applicants for façade improvement funds have already emerged. 

One of them is John Sasser, who purchased the building at 720 Garden shortly after his buddy, then-mayor Howard Frimark, saw his closed-session plans for the City to buy that site for a new police station “outed” by then-ald. Dave Schmidt.  We understand that Sasser got the building at a significant discount from what Frimark wanted the City to pay for it, and he has turned it into the headquarters for some of our local community groups – at least until the real estate market picks up and he can flip it for a profit. 

The other new façade subsidy applicant is Dino Vlahakis, owner of the Pickwick building.  We find his application for a City-funded façade subsidy a touch ironic, given that he was outraged several years ago at the prospect of accepting a larger amount of City funds when newly-elected aldermen Mark Anderson, Don Crampton and Rex Parker called for the City to condemn the Pickwick, acquire it by eminent domain, and operate it as a cultural arts center.  That offer of City funds may even have prompted his support for Frimark’s 2005 and 2009 mayoral bids.

If Park Ridge City government were as kinked up as, say, Chicago’s, some political heavyweight’s sister’s cousin’s nephew’s uncle (by marriage) in the appropriate city department would hurry up and “expedite” the approval of these new façade improvement applications so the applicants could get the projects under contract before the anticipated re-suspension of the program.  That way, they’d have a stronger argument for loopholes of their own in the new suspension resolution.  And if this were Chicago, that city department “expediter” would then promptly retire to Florida, the better to avoid grand jury subpoenas. 

But Park Ridge isn’t that kinked up (we hope), so we will expect that no action will be taken by City staff on the 720 Garden and Pickwick façade improvement applications between now and December 20.

But, thanks to Sweeney’s Folly, we will need to keep our fingers crossed until then.

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A Property Tax Increase To Air Condition And Heat Carpenter School?


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reported that Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 might need to resort to raising our property taxes now that federal funds aren’t being made available to pay for air conditioning and a new boiler for the heating system at Carpenter School (“Heating, AC issues at Carpenter have parents hot under the collar,” Dec. 2).

If that report is accurate, we have to wonder what’s up with District 64’s management.

Don’t get us wrong: we’re big fans of AC.  We rank it right up there with fire and the wheel when talking about mankind’s greatest inventions.  And heated schools are pretty useful, too.

But as we understand it, Carpenter never has had AC.  So if kids really have been going home from school vomiting because of the heat – as Carpenter parent and former PTO president Brett Parker claims – why wasn’t the need for AC and a plan to fund it put in place years ago?  And the same goes for the replacement of Carpenter’s 50-year old boiler?

Why is it that only now are we hearing D-64 Board president John Heyde warning of “big decisions” with “big costs” for ensuring that the District’s schools are “safe and healthy” places?  Is Carpenter currently unsafe and unhealthy, Mr. Heyde?

Meanwhile, D-64 Supt. Philip Bender is claiming the decision to install AC and a new boiler at Carpenter is “going to require thought and input from the general public.”

We expect the initial “thought and input” on things like A/C and a new boiler for Carpenter to be coming from Bender and the D-64 Board, because he’s the one sitting in the big chair making the big bucks to provide that thought and input; and the seven School Board members were put in their seats to do something more than just rubber-stamp regular raises for the teachers’ union and their flavor-of-the-month educational programs which don’t seem to be raising the educational performance of the District’s students measurably. 

Let those folks come up with two or three alternative plans for Carpenter, and then the taxpayers can provide their input – preferably first at public hearings, then at the voting booth in the form of a binding or advisory referendum.

And just in case the point hasn’t been sufficiently made by now: Crossing one’s fingers and hoping for a windfall of federal grant money is not a “plan.”

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