Time For A Senior Center Reality Check


Today we’re re-visiting the Park Ridge Senior Center, that building belonging to the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District that’s attached to the bath house of Centennial Pool and which serves as a semi-private clubhouse to roughly 1,000 seniors, approximately 200 of whom reportedly are not even Park District residents or taxpayers.

The reason for this post is the recent controversy that has arisen over a contract the private corporation that effectively runs the Senior Center (on the public dole, of course), Park Ridge Senior Services Inc. (“Seniors Inc.”), is trying to force on the Park District in order to keep Seniors Inc. in control of the Senior Center for the foreseeable future.

In order to understand this post, a brief history lesson is in order – starting with the formation of Seniors Inc. on December 19, 1980.  It appears Seniors Inc. cut its first deal with the Park District back in 1987, in the form of a one and one-half page letter agreement signed by then-Park Board president Susan Rizzo and then-Seniors Inc. president Clare Craig. 

Under that agreement, the Park District obligated itself to match, dollar for dollar up to $350,000, all contributions made by or on behalf of Seniors Inc. toward the construction of a “South Addition” to the Senior Center.  Additionally, that agreement gave Seniors Inc. a non-exclusive “License for Use” of the Senior Center, terminable at the will of the Park District on 180 days notice, accompanied by the Park District’s reimbursement of Seniors Inc.’s contribution to the South Addition, amortized at the rate of 3.3% per year.

An undated one-page amendment to that letter agreement clarified some rights and obligations, but left the basic terms of the letter agreement intact.  And for the past 23 years, Seniors Inc. has had, in practice, virtually exclusive use of that facility.

According to our back-of-the-envelope calculation, 23 years of amortization at the annual rate of 3.3% for the maximum $350,000 contribution by Seniors Inc. produces a buy-down of 80% of that $350,000, leaving a buy-out amount of $70,000 that the Park District would have to pay should it choose to end Seniors Inc.’s monopoly of the Senior Center.

That seems fair enough to us, but apparently not to Seniors Inc.

All of the sudden, after 23 years under the letter agreement and amendment, Seniors Inc. is pushing the Park District to sign a six-page “Senior Center Non-Taxable License For Use Agreement” (let’s call it the “Sweetheart Deal”) negotiated for Seniors Inc. by Park Ridge’s most prominent insider and legal beagle, John “Jack” Owens, who also happens to be a Senior Center member and Seniors Inc.’s registered agent. 

Why the Sweetheart Deal? 

We’re guessing it’s because, after all these years, our public officials, the media, and the public are finally starting to pay attention to, and balk at, the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost to the taxpayers of “business as usual” – maintaining this semi-private club while its “members” pay a measly $35 in annual membership “dues.”  Within the past few months the City Council pulled the $35,000 donation that Seniors Inc. had come to expect from City taxpayers, and the Park Board has started to think about either cutting back on its approximately $200,000 annual subsidy or generating additional revenue from the Center through non-senior programming.

So Seniors Inc. now wants to lock in a two-year term for its current monopoly.  And, apparently realizing that its original 1987 buy-out price is down to a manageable $70,000, it is insisting that the Park District agree to add another $331,377 to that schedule, purportedly representing “additional improvements made by [Seniors Inc.] since 1999,” even though the Sweetheart Deal doesn’t identify any existing reimbursement obligation of the Park District for those post-1999 improvements. 

Oh yeah: and Seniors Inc. gets the continuing benefit of a “Senior Center Manager” and other Park District staff members providing services at/for the Center…on the taxpayers’ dime, of course.

Not surprisingly, the Sweetheart Deal makes no mention of the millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies the Senior Center has sucked out of the Park District, including a total of $993,000 just in fiscal years 2005 through 2010 alone!  Nor does it make any mention of the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars it has sucked out of the City of Park Ridge at around $35,000/year, until the Mayor and City Council finally eliminated that “donation” this year. 

Given how far they have stuck their hands down into the taxpayers’ pockets and for how long, we have to wonder whether the folks at Seniors Inc. are clueless or just plain shameless in demanding anything from the Park District: they already have enjoyed over 23 years of control over one of the Park District’s (i.e., the taxpayers’) newer and better facilities, at a personal cost to each member of less than a dime a day!  For Seniors Inc. now to try to lock the Park District (i.e., the taxpayers) into a one-sided Sweetheart Deal is disappointing bordering on outrageous. 

But it will be an even bigger outrage if the members of the Park Board spinelessly give into this Sweetheart Deal and sell-out the public trust to their “Greatest Generation” (and “almost Greatest Generation”) counterparts in the process.

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Bad Employment Policies And Practices Make Vetoes Necessary


Last Monday (Jan. 17) the City Council voted 4 to 2 (Alds. Carey, DiPietro, Sweeney & Wsol v. Alds. Bach and Ryan) to sustain Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the $148,000 compensation package which City Manager Jim Hock negligently recommended, and which a complicit City Council gave to Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski on December 6 by a vote of 4 to 2 (Alds Allegretti, Bach, DiPietro & Ryan v. Sweeney & Wsol). 

Schmidt based his veto on the City’s salary guidelines, which sets a cap of $142,000 on the police chief’s compensation; and on Schmidt’s concern (supported by the opinion of legal counsel) that the $19,000 of “deferred compensation” paid to Kaminski in lieu of health insurance was improper because other City employees were not given that same option of extra cash instead of health benefits.

Since then, Kaminski has been telling everyone who will listen about how he wants this goat rodeo over because it has been “a major distraction for [him] personally, for the department and…for the community.”

We agree, although we question just how many sleepless nights most Park Ridgians have endured from wondering whether the chief will be getting $148,000 or $142,000 this year.

What should be giving the average citizen/taxpayer sleepless nights, however, is yet another example of our City Manager and certain aldermen showing how they are incapable of getting something as simple as a salary cap “right” – thereby wasting Council time while creating uncertainty, ill will and unnecessary distractions from more important and pressing matters.

Let’s start with the City Manager, who must have liked his own “deferred comp” benefit so much he decided to award one to his police chief…without giving a second thought to City salary guidelines.  We can’t tell whether Hock just doesn’t “get” things like salary guidelines and caps, or whether he simply thinks he’s above all that.  Either way, this chief’s comp mess is further evidence that Hock may already be overpaid, if not totally over his skis.

And what about DiPietro, the dean of the Council, who at times seems positively anal about rules, policies and procedures but totally missed Kaminski’s above-cap compensation?  We’re glad he finally figured out the error of his December 6 vote and squared it away with his subsequent vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto, but why on earth did it take a mayoral veto to get his attention?

On a positive note, we’re happy to give a Watchdog bark-out to Alds. Sweeney and Wsol, who were the only two aldermen who figured out this issue on both the original vote in December and on the veto last Monday.  

For Wsol, that’s yet another sign of his recent transformation from the guy who wanted to borrow-and-spend a bundle on a big new police station and who didn’t want to charge water users the City’s full cost of that water, into the guy who has become the most fiscally conservative vote on the Council – even if that is like being the tallest midget in the circus. 

But while we applaud the sustaining of Schmidt’s veto as good policy and a nod to fiscal responsibility, its savings ($6,000) pales in comparison to the amount at stake when the Council next votes on a mayoral veto: Schmidt’s veto of Hock’s approx. $200,000 compensation package, with its 2-year duration and its “poison pill” severance payment that effectively puts $117,000+ handcuffs on the incoming City Council should it conclude that he just isn’t cutting the mustard after almost 3 years on the job.

The problem: DiPietro and Wsol, two of the aldermen who voted to sustain Schmidt’s veto of the Kaminski deal and might be expected to do the same with Hock’s contract, were part of that four-alderman team that “negotiated” that sweetheart deal.  And the third most likely vote for sustaining the veto, Sweeney, voted for that contract even while admitting that it’s “a good deal for Mr. Hock, but a not-so-good deal for the City.” 

So the necessary three votes to sustain that veto seem to be MIA.  And Mr. Hock looks all teed up to get the kind of comp package and job security that most of us who will be paying for it can’t even dream of.

The “right” solutions for Park Ridge would be for: (a) Kaminski to publicly and gratefully accept $142,000; (b) Hock to publicly request the Council to sustain Schmidt’s veto and leave further discussion of his contract to the new Council; and/or (c) the current Council to sustain Schmidt’s veto of Hock’s contract while publicly declaring that it should be left for the new Council.  

Not that any of those solutions are likely…unless, of course, you see some low-flying pigs buzzing the rooftop of City Hall.

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Remembering JFK And The Meaning Of Citizenship


“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

President John F. Kennedy uttered those immortal words 50 years ago today as he neared the conclusion of his first, and only, inaugural address.

Kennedy’s inauguration symbolized new hope and energy in dangerous times, as the “torch” of leadership was “passed to a new generation of Americans” in the face of the sobering reality that man held “in his mortal hands the power to abolish…all forms of human life” by means of the nuclear weapons that had proliferated following World War II.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Who asks such a question anymore? 

Today the more common question – especially here in the State of Madiganistan (as Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass calls it) and the County of Crook – is one that another Tribune columnist, the legendary Mike Royko, proposed as the unofficial motto of the City of Chicago: “Ubi est mea?” (“Where’s mine?”)

While that “Where’s mine?” attitude definitely dominates the Domain of the Daleys, the county and the state, our own community is far from immune to it.

For example, in just the last few years we have had a number of business owners hit up the City treasury for a few hundred thousand dollars to dress up their privately-owned buildings, compliments of a ridiculous Façade Improvement Program created by penny-and-pound foolish City Council back in the days when it still had 14 aldermen and should have known better. 

Similarly, a number of private community groups have shown up at City Hall asking “Ubi est mea?” and then helping themselves to hundreds of thousands of City dollars because either they prefer not to make the effort to solicit enough funds from private donors, or not enough private donors see sufficient merit in these groups’ activities to warrant their voluntary private donations.

And our favorite private bread and circus provider, Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”), has sucked tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars out of the City treasury to run Taste of Park Ridge under a totally irresponsible, exclusive no-bid, no contract, no accountability arrangement orchestrated by former mayor Howard Frimark back in 2005.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  

When it comes to the operation of City government, that question surely isn’t being asked in Park Ridge’s 3rd Ward, where not one person had the sense of civic duty to file for the City Council seat being vacated by Ald. Don Bach.  Those residents should be ashamed, except that they seem to be pretty shameless when it comes to aldermanic elections – as evidenced by the fact that we could find no record of even one contested 3rd Ward aldermanic race during the past 15 years, before those folks reached this new low.

That puts the 3rd Ward at the bottom of the contested election list, one notch below the 2nd Ward – for which we could find records of only one contested race during that same 15 year period. 

At a time when our City appears to be facing its worst economic crisis in decades following years of lax borrow-and-spend management, it is heartening to see that at least a few of our citizens have not shrunk from that challenge and will have their names on the April ballot.  Still others have stepped up to serve on City boards, commissions and task forces.

But if we ever hope to get a kind of government other than what the incompetent, the self-serving and the outright corrupt in public office produce for the special interests instead of for the common good, we must take Kennedy’s words to heart and get more involved.

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”  

In that vein, we wish to take this opportunity to recognize Marine Capt. Anthony “Tony” Friel, a Park Ridge resident who is doing what he can for his country by once again placing himself in harm’s way, this time in Afghanistan.

Godspeed, Tony.

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Can Schmidt Veto De-Rail Pro-Hock Sabotage?


Sabotage has a long tradition.  

One of several explanations of its origin is that French Luddites jammed their wooden shoes – known as “sabots” – in the gears of powered looms during the Industrial Revolution in protest over the replacement of workers by machinery.

A much more recent, and more benign, form of sabotage occurred when departing Clinton Administration staffers reportedly removed the “W” keys from all the White House computer keyboards as either a prank or in symbolic protest to incoming president George W. Bush.

Last night, Mayor Dave Schmidt vetoed what appears to be another form of sabotage: the 2-year sweetheart employment contract that our current lame duck City Council – 5 of whom (Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey, Ryan and Wsol) are retiring from the Council after the upcoming April election – recently gave City Mgr. Jim Hock after Schmidt vetoed a prior version and his veto was sustained by the Council.

When Schmidt and Hock couldn’t agree to a new contract following that veto, Allegretti, Bach, Wsol and Ald. Rich DiPietro took it upon themselves to negotiate with Hock – but the result they produced could re-define “negotiate” to mean “give away the store,” as the contract they came up with appears to be even worse than the one Schmidt vetoed.

It gives Hock almost $200,000/year from now until April, 2013, and includes what Schmidt called a “poison pill” in his veto message: a “super” severance package that ensures Hock will receive no less than $117,000 if he is involuntarily terminated without sufficient “cause.”  That ties the hands of the City and the new aldermen joining the Council in April; and it makes Hock virtually bullet-proof no matter how poorly he does, or doesn’t do, his job.

In our book, that’s bad enough to justify Schmidt’s veto, as well as a round of Bronx cheers for the four alderman who “negotiated” that sell-out of the public trust.  Given their track records, we didn’t expect any better from Allegretti and Bach.  But we did expect more – much more – from DiPietro and Wsol, so their endorsement of this deal is a major disappointment.

And Ald. Joe Sweeney’s vote for it after stating that it’s a good deal for Hock but a not so good deal for the City makes us wonder whether somebody ever explained to Sweeney exactly who he represents when he’s sitting in that chair around The Horseshoe.

Worse yet, the sweetheart deal they cooked up was given to Hock without any Council member even attempting to show how Hock’s performance over the past three years has been good enough to warrant anything more than at-will employment, at best.  

Which in a perverse sort of way makes sense, because from what we’ve observed over the past three years Hock’s performance has done nothing to distinguish him from any other mediocre bureaucrat.

That might explain some of the displeasure expressed by Rob Lohens and several other residents at last night’s meeting, which should make the video of the meeting more interesting than usual when it gets posted later today or tomorrow on the City’s website.  

Two weeks from now we should find out whether our departing saboteurs (along with DiPietro and Sweeney) will have realized the error of their ways, will vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto, and will then leave the question of Hock’s contract to the new Council that will have to live with it.

Hope springs eternal…but we’re not going to hold our breath.

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Kenny’s Back…And Talking More “Village” Smack


In his “Guest Essay” in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Democratic process not working under current system,” Jan. 13), resident Ken Balaskovits renews his call for changing Park Ridge from a City form of government to a village. 

His argument is the same one he’s been flogging for the past year: that the village form of government – with its representatives elected on an at-large basis rather than from individual wards – would provide more candidates and more contested races.

As we pointed out in two previous posts about this half-baked idea, “Does It Take A ‘Village’ To Get Good Government In Park Ridge?” (03.19.10) and “Ignore Balaskovits And Sign ‘Restore The Council’ Referendum Petition” (04.23.10), his argument that our current form of City government provides far fewer choices than local governmental bodies electing “at large” officials is just plain wrong.

Over the past decade, the City Council has had far more contested ward races than either the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board or the District 64 School Board have had for their at-large seats.  And if you exclude the two most apathetic (or just plain pathetic) wards in the City – that dubious distinction goes to the 2nd and 3rd Wards – the City Council’s advantage would be even greater.

So we have to wonder just what Kenny B’s game might be.

It sure doesn’t seem to be increasing contested races for their own sake, especially since Kenny was a supporter of former mayor Howard “Cut the Council” Frimark and never beefed about low turnout in 2007 (when the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Wards all had uncontested races) or pre-2003, when the Homeowners Party candidates rarely had challengers.

But blind squirrel theory being what it is, Mr. B does make one salient point: the lack of citizens willing to step up to the public service plate and seek aldermanic seats is a sad commentary on this community, especially given the thick calluses it has developed from continually patting itself on the back about all its “volunteerism.”

Don’t get us wrong.  Volunteering to be a coach, scout leader, lunch mom, crossing guard, Sunday Supper helper, etc. is a good thing.  And often it provides a service that taxpayers otherwise might need to pay for, so its also fiscally responsible.

But accepting the public trust that comes with representing one’s fellow citizens on a governing body is several notches above that other volunteerism, especially if it is done purely in the name of public service rather than in the interest of networking and marketing.  Or picking up more insurance leads.  

Which is why the residents of the 3rd Ward – it doesn’t seem quite right to call them “citizens” when they seem so bereft of this vital incident of citizenship – deserve a collective dope-slap for their ward’s long-standing tradition of uncontested races that finally has culminated in the figurative spitting in the eye of democracy: No candidates at all.

So as we try our best to rinse away the sour taste of that civic irresponsibility with another slug of vermouth-kissed Bombay Sapphire, perhaps Kenny B’s brain-cramp does have some merit:

Turn the 3rd Ward’s aldermanic seat into an at-large one until all those civic disconnects living there finally wake up and figure out that they owe the rest of us an alderman.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

Matching Funds Do Not Deserve City Funding


Last week brought the announcement that an anonymous donor had offered as much as $200,000 – in a $1 match for every $2 of public donations – to help the Kalo Foundation purchase and rehab the former Alfonso Iannelli studio and residence at 225 N. Northwest Hwy., which most recently housed Audrey’s Callico and Old Lace, a flowers and gifts shop.

Estimates place the cost of acquisition and rehab at $600,000, which means that the Kalo Foundation needs to raise $400,000 on its own in order for that anonymous $200,000 to put the project over the top.

We here at PublicWatchdog applaud the efforts of the Kalo Foundation to preserve that property, if only because we greatly prefer the rehabilitation of the current structure to replacing it with yet another multi-family residential structure – in this case, four two-story townhouses – that would further erode this community’s single-family home character and further burden our infrastructure and our schools.

But the skeptic in us wonders just how legitimate this offer really is.  That’s because almost everyone involved in fundraising has their own stories of promises, and even pledges, of donations that never materialized – many of which had real names and addresses attached to them rather than being shrouded in anonymity and unaccountability.

Frankly, it would be a lot more convincing if the anonymous donor actually put the money into an escrow with specific instructions on how it can be drawn down as the Kalo Foundation reaches its fundraising goals.  And the whole project would appear a lot more legitimate if the Kalo Foundation offered a “money back guaranty” for all donations to this preservation project if the matching anonymous funds do not materialize, or if the property is not acquired and rehabbed.

That being said, while preserving what by all accounts is a structure of local historical significance seems like a good idea – and we wish the Kalo Foundation good fortune in that effort – we question some of the comments by Kalo Foundation representatives that suggest the rehab of the former Iannelli studio will provide a significant boost to the Park Ridge economy. 

No matter how well this property is rehabbed and turned into a museum of local artist and artisan history, we don’t see it turning into any type of tourist mecca. 

Let’s face it: Alfonso Iannelli, the silversmiths of the Kalo Shop, architect Bruce Goff, painter and muralist Albert Krehbiel, and painter, illustrator and printmaker Dulah Evans Krehbiel aren’t household names even here in Park Ridge. So the prospect of busloads of art buffs and historians rolling through Park Ridge on pilgrimages to 225 N. Northwest Hwy. is basically a pipe dream.

Consequently, we hope the Kalo Foundation – which came looking for taxpayer funding by the City almost immediately after it was organized – doesn’t view this anonymous matching-funds offer as an excuse to once again put the arm on the City for a handout of tax dollars.

As we repeatedly have said about the various private community groups who view our local politicians as the soft touches they have proved to be when it comes to giving away other people’s money: If you can’t persuade the taxpayers directly to donate to your cause, you have no business trying to pick their pockets indirectly through their public officials.

Even if some anonymous donor purportedly has offered $200,000 of matching funds.

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Is School Caucus Sitting Out This Election?


For more than 50 years the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207 (the “Caucus”) has handpicked almost every person who has sat on the Board of District 64, and every “Park Ridge” member of the District 207 Board.  That’s because the Caucus has acted as a de facto political party that became commonly viewed as insuperable.   

Every two years the Caucus would emerge from the figurative mist, Brigadoon-like, to recruit, interview, approve and promote a slate of candidates, primarily for the Dist. 64 Board.  And as soon as that mission was accomplished, it vanished back into the mist for the next two years, unaccountable to the voters for all that occurred in the District. 

But as best as we can tell, “Brigadoon” has not emerged this year: No Gene Kelly, Van Johnson or Cyd Charisse; no Phil Eichman, Michael Callahan or Marianne Griebler. 

As of today, the Caucus’ website still has posted the “Process” for the April 17, 2009, School Board election; and it looks like the 2009 list of officers is also still up.  So unless the Caucus has been meeting in Star Chamber-like secrecy to do its handpicking and anointing, all signs point to a Caucus-less School Board election in April.  We think that’s a good thing.

What happened?  We don’t have a clue – and the silence is deafening. 

But we do know that this year there are more contested races – 7, for 4 seats – for the Dist. 64 Board  than at any time since 1997, when a 3-person slate challenged the Caucus’ slate.  Unsuccessfully.  

Since then, we can think of only two non-Caucus candidates who displayed the temerity even to have run against the Caucus slate in the past 6 elections, only one of whom was successful: Ted Smart, who withdrew from the 2007 race too late to have his name removed from the ballot, but went on to defeat Caucus candidate Shlomo Crandus in what some viewed as an anti-Semitic vote.

Five candidates are running for three 4-year terms, while 3 candidates are running for the 2-years remaining on the term of Russ Gentile, who resigned last year and was replaced by appointee Scott Zimmerman, who is seeking election to that seat.  Dan Collins has filed petitions for both a 4-year seat and the 2-year one, but was required to drop out of one by December 28; and we have yet to hear which one that is.

In previous posts (e.g., on 01/02/09, 01/16/09 and 04/02/09) we criticized the whole Caucus process for, among other things, discouraging contested races for the Dist. 64 Board.

If the Caucus truly is sitting this election out, it would appear that its sabbatical already has paid dividends by giving the voters more choices than they have had in more than a decade.

Now let’s hope both the candidates and the voters take this opportunity seriously. 

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With No “Ray O,” Where Does Park District Go?


After just 13 months on the job, Park Ridge Recreation & Park District executive director Ray Ochromowicz  (a/k/a “Ray O”) is leaving the PRRPD for the St. Charles Park District. 

That Ray O is leaving for St. Charles is not surprising from a “career” perspective.  The SCPD owns and manages 1,400 acres of parks and recreational facilities, compared to a meager 130 acres at the PRRPD.  The SCPD also sports such features as a 9-hole Robert Trent Jones, Sr.- designed golf course, a miniature golf course, and a variety of other amenities beyond what the PRRPD offers.  A new $10.2 million (not counting debt service), 9.2 acre water park complex is scheduled for a June 2011 grand opening. 

It’s also rumored that the SCPD offered him a big bump up from his current $120,000 salary, which would be expected given how much larger the SCPD is than the PRRPD.

In his short time at the PRRPD, Ray O has done some very good things.  He is credited with revamping the District’s organizational structure, revising job descriptions, and establishing a pay-for-performance plan that saw $36,000 of performance-based bonuses paid to District employees in 2010.  He established needed customer satisfaction assessment measures. 

He also started the District toward a modified zero-based budget process – which is the direction in which we wish all local governmental bodies started moving – and slashed expenses by 10% while producing approximately $1 million more in revenues than expected. 

Those notable achievements, however, were tempered by a few notable failures. 

Ray O was stonewalled when he tried to take on two of the District’s most sacred cows and financial black holes: the Oakton Pool and the Senior Center.  In each instance small but entrenched, vocal minorities – with the aid of a slim majority of sympathetic Park Board members – were able to preserve their “entitlement” facilities that suck almost $300,000 a year ($100,000 for Oakton, $200,000 for the Senior Center) out of the taxpayers’ pockets to subsidize what effectively serve as semi-private “clubs” for their relatively few users.   

Another notable gaffe was the cell tower at Northeast Park, a somewhat marginal idea to begin with that was totally botched by Ray’s failure to follow the long-standing District practice of sending written notification to all of the park’s neighbors in advance of the District’s public hearing on the project.  Consequently, the project received few objections until it finally came before the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission, where an irate SRO crowd convinced that City commission to deep-six it.  

And we seriously question the wisdom of Ray O’s plan for turning Centennial Pool into a modified water park, if only because he has proposed using a significant amount of the District’s non-referendum bonding power to do so – in the face of the voters’ decisive rejection of every referendum on spending big money to increase the size and amount of water at Centennial (or at Oakton) since at least 1995.  

The last time the District committed a significant amount of its limited non-referendum bonding power, we got our  $12 million-plus (counting principal and bond interest) poorly-designed and undersized Community Center – which deprived the District of the $7.6 million of non-referendum bonding power it would have needed to acquire 13.8 acres of what was then (in 1996) the “Edison Park Home” property (on Canfield between Devon and Higgins) that subsequently became the Brickton Place development. 

Despite those failures, we hope the District seeks and finds someone with Ochromowicz’s ability, financial focus and direction.  But even if it finds one, it will need fiscally-responsible Park Board members to encourage the new director to stay on the relatively sound financial path that the District generally has been following for the past decade. 

Unfortunately, the Park Board will be losing its most fiscally responsible member in Marty Maloney, who after 8 years on the Board has chosen to seek election to the Park Ridge City Council as alderman from the 7th Ward.  Besides Maloney, only Board president Jim O’Brien (who is seeking re-election) and vice-president Rich Biagi (who has two more years remaining on his term) have consistently displayed any backbone on the Oakton Pool and Senior Center albatrosses, in sharp contrast to Board members Richard Brandt, David Herman, Mary Wynn Ryan and Stephen Vile.

Since 1995, the Park District has seen the most contested election races of any local governmental body.  We think that is a big factor in the Park District having been (in our opinion) the leading local governmental unit when it comes to: improving operations of existing facilities while eschewing big expenditures and/or debt; meaningful intergovernmental cooperation; transparency of its operations (it was the first to videotape its meetings and post them on line); and accountability, including the solicitation of public opinion through both advisory and binding referenda before big decisions are made. 

We hope this April’s election sparks spirited, issues-oriented debates among this crop of Park Board candidates about whether they wish to see the Park District continue to move in its present direction, or whether they wish a return to the District’s less transparent, less accountable, more tax, borrow and spend ways of the early-to-mid 1990s.

Meanwhile, we bid bon voyage to Ray O, while at the same time wondering just how much better the PRRPD might have become with another year or two of his presence at the helm.

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