Schmidt Wrong, Allegretti Juvenile


If you enjoy sturm und drang in City government, Monday night’s City Council meeting provided a heaping helping of it. 

You’ve really got to watch the video of this one on the City’s website (thank you, once again, George Kirkland) to fully appreciate the BTUs Ald. Jim Allegretti was radiating during his hyper-burn over Mayor Dave Schmidt’s parliamentary denial of Allegretti’s point-of-order request for an opinion from City Atty. Everette “Buzz” Hill about his (Allegretti’s) point-of-order objection to Schmidt’s procedural denial of Ald. Joe Sweeney’s motion to approve a zoning change application that the City Council denied on December 20, 2010, despite its recommendation by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission. 

Got that?

We’re not sure we do, and we don’t think we can explain it much better than that, other than to note that the mayor’s action blocked – at least for the time being – a 20-unit condominium development on what is now a three-home site on the south side of Touhy Avenue, just east of Town of Maine cemetery. 

As we’ve stated in many previous posts, we oppose the construction of any new multi-family residences in Park Ridge because: (a) they consume too much more of our diminishing green space than single-family dwellings; and (b) they exacerbate, exponentially, an already-overburdened sewer and water infrastructure that we have been skimping on maintaining and replacing.  That makes this Touhy Avenue project undesirable on those bases alone. 

But we also question this project for the suspicious way it has gotten this far. 

It was originally approved by P&Z in what what looks to have been a rush-to-judgment maneuver last Thanksgiving week by only 4 commission members (Anita Rifkind, Lou Arrigoni, Cathy Piche and Mary Catherine Wells (v. Aurora Abella-Austriaco and John Bennett) when 3 of the 9 members, including chairman Alfredo Marr, were absent.  That shorthanded crew put their stamp of approval on eight (8) units more than the 12 units permitted under the zoning code – a 66% overage!

That makes the 8 extra units the City Council gave Norwood Builders for its still-dead 168-unit Executive Office Plaza project on Northwest Hwy. back in 2007 look like a drop in the bucket.

And the vague reasoning offered by those 4 “yes” votes, along with their cookie-cutter style “findings of fact” reported in the Minutes of that P&Z meeting, do little to dispel the notion that this project got “special” treatment.

What exactly is the allure of this particular project?

We’re not sure, although we’ve heard rumors that it’s the “affordable housing” that Nan Parsons and the City’s Human Rights Commission have been pushing for years.  Basic math suggests that stuffing 20 residential units into an area zoned for only 12 could provide enough total revenue to the developer to justify more “affordable” unit prices and, consequently, more “affordable” rents for those units – even if it means virtually ignoring our zoning laws.

And even in a down market, there’s money to be made on real estate speculation if the “deal” and the price are right.

But although we think this project is bad for Park Ridge and may be a bit kinked, we cannot agree with Mayor Schmidt’s parliamentary maneuvers Monday night – just as we cannot condone Ald. Allegretti’s foot-stomping temper tantrum in response.

Unless the City intends to hire a trained and impartial parliamentarian to consult at every Council meeting, the mayor cannot use his parliamentary “chair” to indulge in Roberts Rules of Order “Gotcha!” that elevates procedural technicalities over substantive governance. 

And with Allegretti already MIA at most of the City’s budget workshops, his walking out on a regular Council meetings to indulge his fit of pique leaves 4th ward residents even less represented than when he’s actually in attendance…if only slightly.

Schmidt may have viewed himself as “Horatius” at the bridge, preventing a bad project from being reconsidered and passed.  Allegretti may have viewed himself as “Mr. Smith Goes to Butler Place,” unwilling to be silenced on his point of order.  As political theater it was mildly entertaining, albeit in a perverse “Chicago-style” way. 

But it wasn’t good government. 

To read or post comments, click on title.

Pension Funding Newest Variety Of Budget Gibberish


Only four aldermen showed up at Saturday’s Park Ridge City Council budget workshop, which was the minimum attendance for a quorum.  Alds. Allegretti, Bach and Carey were MIA, as they have been for most of the other budget workshops this year.

SIDEBAR: Those three should have the decency to abstain from voting on the budget due to their manifest disinterest and likely ignorance resulting therefrom, but we aren’t going to hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen.  It should be pretty clear to you folks in the 3rd, 4th and 6th wards, however, that you aren’t even getting your $100/month worth out of these three when it comes to perhaps the single most important thing an alderman does each year: adopt a budget.

We doubt, however, that the “ABC” aldermen could have added any enlightenment to Saturday morning’s process, which you can witness for yourself by dialing up the video on the City’s website. Even a few minutes of viewing should show you why the City’s finances are screwed up and unlikely to get better anytime soon, unless the public officials representing us start bringing their “A” games to these proceedings and to their preparations for these proceedings.

Perhaps the most troubling vignette in that regard was when the Firefighter’s Pension Fund secretary, J.D. Bruchsaler, took to the podium to explain why the City shouldn’t have to budget the approximately $900,000 of pension contributions this upcoming budget year that the fund’s own actuary apparently prescribed in his November 2010 report.

Not surprisingly, City Mgr. Jim Hock has left that contribution out of his proposed 2011-12 budget even though nobody seems to be ready, willing and able to guaranty that such an omission is fiscally prudent for the pension fund or for the City.  What we do know, however, is that not having to deal with an additional $900,000 in the expense column make’s Hock’s job of balancing the budget quite a bit easier.

To the best of our ability to follow Bruchsaler’s bizarre discussion with the Council (which begins around 3-1/2 minutes into the video), he claims the City can ignore the $900,000 contribution prescribed by the pension fund’s actuary because a change in the law might, repeat “might,” result in a lower current contribution requirement when the actuary issues his next report…in  November 2011.

In other words, the City is supposed to budget its firefighter pension fund contributions based not on what it has been told it owes by the fund’s actuary but what it’s being told it might/will be told by the actuary next November – assuming the law doesn’t change between now and then.

Both Alds. Joe Sweeney and Frank Wsol were unimpressed by Bruchsaler’s arguments, with Wsol going so far as to suggest the aldermen need an opinion letter from the City Attorney exculpating them from any liability if they follow the  go ahead and not make that recommended $900,000 contribution this year.

But the most telling aspect of Bruchsaler’s relatively brief presentation is how loaded it is with words like “guess,” “estimate,” “believe” and “expect”; phrases like “don’t know” and “can’t say for sure”; and a variety of seemingly-random percentages and dollar amounts tossed around for no apparent reason other than to create confusion, which it does quite well.  One other thing: Bruchsaler keeps repeating actuary Timothy Sharp’s name as if doing so might magically ward off all the questions he clearly had no ability to answer.

Expect this $900,000 pension contribution to be a key battleground for the remainder of this budget debate, with Hock and a majority of the current (and outgoing) aldermen trying to avoid making it so that they also can avoid the heavy lifting of further budget cuts and/or tax increases that such a contribution this year will cause.

Given the underfunding of Illinois public pensions we keep hearing about, we believe that the prudent thing to do would be to make the 2011-12 contribution as prescribed by the fund’s actuary just a few months ago.  If we end up finding that the law would have permitted the lower contribution this year, that should set the stage for a lower-than-expected contribution next year.

But don’t expect Hock and this Council to do something that fiscally responsible and logical.  Not when it can kick the can down the road and avoid having to make any more tough budget cuts or tax increases for at least another year. 

And, oh yeah: not making that $900,000 pension fund contribution makes it easier for the current Council to make another year’s worth of arbitrary donations of public funds to certain aldermen’s favorite private community groups.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Underperforming TIF One More Budget “Goat” In The Rodeo


As part of the continuing effort by our City officials trying to convince us they are really working to give Park Ridge taxpayers cost-effective government, there will be another budget workshop tonight at City Hall (505 Butler Place, 7:00 p.m.).

The Council continues to address the initial budget proposed by City Mgr. Jim Hock and his Staff, which jacks up the City’s portion of our property taxes by 5% (following a similar 5% hike last year) even though the cost of living has not increased by anything close to 5% last year, or 10% over the past two years.  But simple percentage hikes in taxes and/or fees are standard operating procedures which allow government bureaucrats to avoid making tough choices of “this” over “that” even though that’s one of the things they are being paid to do.

As occurred last year, Hock and his executive staff (i.e., full-time City employees paid, cumulatively, close to $750,000 a year) are trying to wipe their hands of any further budget responsibility beyond that initial draft by dumping it into the hands of the Mayor and City Council (i.e., part-time volunteers paid, cumulatively, $20,400 a year).  And, as last year, this Council seems all too willing to let that happen. 

Which makes it likely we will see a repeat of last year’s goat rodeo, where our elected officials volley increasingly arbitrary revenue and expense numbers around The Horseshoe at an increasingly frantic pace until moments before the deadline for passing a balanced budget expires, at which point somebody proclaims the budget to be “balanced” – even if the balancing is done with inflated revenue projections, deflated expense projections, smoke, mirrors and stealth technology.

What Park Ridge taxpayers deserve, instead, is a budget where every number is owned by both City Staff and our elected officials. 

In our opinion, what the Council should do tonight – and should have done as soon as it received Hock’s/Staff’s draft – is to tell Hock/Staff, in no uncertain terms, that any property tax increase is unacceptable; and that, consequently, each department head must provide a written report (available to the public on the City’s website) within 7 days that describes the specific budget cuts he/she recommends to make up for the 5% of his/her budget that can no longer be expected from the property tax increase.

In other words, Wayne Zingsheim will own the 5% cut in Public Works’ budget; Chief Kaminski will own the cuts in the Police budget; Chief Zywanski will own the cuts in the Fire budget; and Librarian Janet Van De Carr will own the cuts in the Library budget. 

Oh, yes: and City Mgr. Hock, as the City’s COO, will own all of those cuts.

That way, the mayor and each aldermen also will own those cuts or any changes to those Staff recommendations they approve – so long as the official presiding over each committee and Council meeting at which Staff recommendations are changed insists upon roll call votes for each and every nip, tuck and tweak, rather than those voice votes that often allow individual aldermen to escape accountability.

Sadly, we don’t expect any of this to happen from the fiscally feckless majority that’s been sitting around The Horseshoe producing multi-millions of dollars in deficits since the voters foolishly bought former mayor Howard Frimark’s snake oil referendum to cut the Council from 14 to 7 aldermen.  The only good thing we can say about this group of tax-and-spenders is that they haven’t added massive borrowing to their legacies – although much of the credit for that has to go to Joe Egan’s 2009 police station referendum and the voters who torpedoed it and the multi-millions of bonded debt it would have required.

But as inept as this current Council has been at budgeting and management, in fairness we must acknowledge that it inherited an albatross in the Uptown TIF, which is pointed out in a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City Budget: Uptown TIF debt going nowhere soon,” Feb. 15).

The H-A story reports that over $5 million of City funds has been sucked into the TIF black hole with no hope of repayment in full for another 12 years.  And repayment even then isn’t assured if the City decides to fund additional capital projects in the TIF district – like, say, Ald. Robert Ryan’s favorite boondoggle, a parking facility on the Scharringhausen lot on Fairview.

The TIF was the City-orchestrated brainchild of 26 citizens whom, in 1999, were assembled into the Uptown Advisory Task Force (“UATF”) that included, ironically but not surprisingly, Ryan himself.  The TIF-enabled redevelopment was touted at the time by its proponents as a retail-oriented development that would pour money into the City’s coffers while turning Uptown into a “vibrant” retail and entertainment destination.

Lofty visions of Barnes & Noble, Crate & Barrel, the Gap, etc., however, soon were replaced with a condominium and townhouse-dominant project, notwithstanding the results of a City-sponsored 1999 survey which showed strong citizen opposition to Uptown condominiums.  But by that time the UATFers, along with then-mayor Ron Wietecha, then-City Mgr. Tim Schuenke, and most/all of the aldermen then on the Council (including Ald. Rich DiPietro) had signed onto the multi-family residential-heavy deal lock, stock and barrel.

Less than a decade later, we have a project that has not moved past the first of its intended four phases because it hasn’t even been able to pay its own debt service, or the subsidy payments it committed to make to School Districts 64 and 207.  In 2011-12 alone, the City will need to make $2.9 million in TIF-related bond payments, according to the H-A article.

So while the current occupants of 505 Butler Place didn’t make the entire current financial mess by themselves, we cannot afford a continuation of the deficit-producing business-as-usual that our public officials have tried to pass off as sound fiscal policy since 2006-07, when the City posted its only surplus this millennium.

The goats are loose at City Hall.  Will anybody be able to round them up?

To read or post comments, click on title.

What Else Is Wrong With City Government? Public Officials Who Want To Govern In Secret


Last week we wrote about one element of bad City government: the fiscal irresponsibility of the City Council in over-riding Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the new (and undeserved) 2+ year sweetheart contract for City Manager Jim Hock.

Today we address another element of bad City government, the latest example of which also occurred last week and also involved Hock: Public officials who apparently prefer to govern in secret and think that’s what “closed sessions” are for. 

Last Thursday night, Hock and City Clerk Betty Henneman hosted what they called a “Candidate Information Session” for the aldermanic candidates in the upcoming April election.  Not a bad idea, until the point where (as we understand it) “information” turned into misinformation when Hock and Henneman advised those in attendance that what is discussed in Council “closed sessions” under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) is expected to be kept confidential; and that its disclosure will be frowned upon.

In other words, what goes on in closed-sessions stays in closed-sessions.  

And if that kind of keep-it-under-your-hat attitude wasn’t bad enough coming from Hock and The Hen, current Alds. Rich DiPietro and Joe Sweeney, who also are candidates and were in attendance that night,  reportedly sat silently in seeming endorsement of that concept.

Although secret closed sessions might be the way Hock, Henneman, DiPietro and Sweeney would like to conduct City government, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s “Guide to the Illinois Open Meetings Act” ( advises otherwise:

“[IOMA] requires that all meetings of public bodies be open to the public unless the meetings fall within one or more of the exceptions….” (Guide, at page 20);

“The exceptions authorize but do not require the closing of a meeting falling within their scope” (Guide, at page 20);

“A public body cannot sanction one of its members for disclosing information or issues discussed in a closed meeting” (Guide, at page 28); and

“[T]here is nothing in [IOMA] that provides a cause of action against a public body for disclosing information from a closed meeting.” (Guide, at page 29).

For those of you with short memories or who are new to the workings of City government, back in January 2008 then-Ald. Dave Schmidt blew the whistle on the closed-session Council discussions concerning then-mayor Howard Frimark’s secret push for the City to buy the 720 Garden property for a new police station, at $200,000 more than the City’s appraised value.  That earned Schmidt a Frimark-orchestrated official but legally-meaningless “condemnation” by Frimark’s “Alderpuppets” – including DiPietro – and also by The Hen on March 3, 2008.

Almost 3 years later, it appears DiPietro and Henneman still don’t (or don’t want to) “get” IOMA, and they’ve been joined in their Star Chamber mentality by Hock and Sweeney.  Worse yet, they are attempting to bamboozle the City government newbies with their misinformation and propaganda.

Hock looks to be permanently lost in the bureaucrat funhouse on this point, while Henneman looks to be equally lost but generally harmless (other than to the extent she can sanitize City Council meeting minutes).  And we’re stuck with DiPietro for another two years, because that’s all his new term will be and he reportedly has told constituents this is his last “campaign.”  Nevertheless, we may be witnessing the end of the Culture of Secrecy that has pervaded City government for so many years.

That’s because we finally have a mayor who cares about, understands, and complies with IOMA.  And it looks like we finally may be getting a couple/few aldermen with similar views.

To read or post comments, click on title.

What’s Wrong With City Government? Start With New City Manager Contract


In our May 30, 2008, post (“Going Into Hock For New City Manager”), we criticized former mayor Howard P. Frimark and the City Council for giving then-new City Manager Jim Hock a contract that treated our tax dollars like Monopoly money and that “put [Hock] “a lot closer to Boardwalk and Park Place than most of the residents he will be serving.”

While we criticized the approximately $200,000+ compensation package he was given, we did not criticize the one-year term because we thought such a “guaranty” was reasonable consideration for Hock’s moving here from Oak Park, Michigan.   

But that term expired in 2009, and Hock has continued to work and receive that same level of compensation without a contract, with no apparent detriment. 

Until December 20, 2010, that is, when the City Council approved a deal “negotiated” – and we use that term about as loosely as we can without laughing out loud – by Alds. Rich DiPietro, Jim Allegretti, Don Bach and Frank Wsol that not only improved Hock’s financial arrangement but also extended that arrangement through April 30, 2013 – which the Council locked in this past Monday night with its 7-0 over-ride of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of that contract.

If anything speaks to what’s wrong with government in the State of Illinois, or the County of Crook, or our own sleepy little burg, it’s that kind of fiscal irresponsibility.

Why does Hock deserve a contract at all instead of remaining as an employee at will, as the vast majority of us are?

Check out the video of Monday night’s meeting on the City’s website and then let us know whether you heard a satisfactory explanation by any of the aldermen of why Hock deserves a 2+ year employment contract.

Watch and listen to Ald. DiPietro prattle on about how he and his colleagues believe Hock’s new contract is a “fair” one.  

Watch and listen to Ald. Joe Sweeney – who previously described this contract as being a good deal for Hock but not such a good deal for the taxpayers – attempt to justify it by noting that back in 2008 Schmidt, as a new alderman, voted to give Hock a 1-year contract.  That’s right: because Schmidt voted to give Hock a one-year contract almost 2 years ago, Sweeney can now vote to give Hock a 2+ year contract.

Watch and listen to departing Ald. Frank Wsol compare Hock’s compensation under that new contract to the compensation provided his counterparts in other communities.  As if other dysfunctional and fiscally-challenged local governments are somehow the gold standard by which Park Ridge government should be measured.

We especially liked Wsol’s praise of Hock’s performance, which consisted of Wsol’s pointing out that Hock has maintained City services at the level he inherited from his predecessor.  In other words, Hock hasn’t screwed up to the point where services have declined.   

But let’s get down to the real nitty gritty.

How many of you who have been helping pay Hock’s $200,000/year (all in) compensation earn similar compensation?  And for those of you who are so fortunate, how many of you also have a 2+ year contract that calls for a $117,000+ severance payment? 

What we are seeing from this Council, 5 members of which are heading for the exit come April, is the same mindset that has pushed public employee compensation and pensions, especially in Illinois, to the point where they have become an unsustainable burden on the taxpayers. 

A few weeks ago, Gov. Pat Quinn and our General Assembly passed a 67% state income tax increase, ostensibly to make up for decades of mismanagement. And our own City Manager has just recommended his second consecutive 5% property tax increase.

The better to pay for his new contract.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

In City Manager-Speak, Spending Plans Become “Revenue Goals”


This week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reports on the City’s proposed 2011-12 budget (“Property taxes, fees go up in proposed Park Ridge budget,” Feb. 1), which was formally presented to the City Council this past Monday night and will be the subject of a budget workshop tomorrow morning, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers.

The new budget projects revenues of $58 million and expenditures of $59.4 million.  To you math and accounting majors, that yields a projected deficit of $1.4 million – which doesn’t look or sound like a “balanced” budget to us.

But sights and sounds can be deceiving when it comes to government budgets, even those of small local governmental bodies.  

In this case, the deception comes from the fact that the projected deficit cuts across all of the City’s 15 (yes, 15!) separate funds, some of which have produced surpluses over the past few years but will be drawn down for some planned expenditures which those funds are specifically intended to finance – like the $1,910,000 to be drawn from the Sewer Fund for the planned North Park/Burton flooding remediation project. 

You can be sure there will be a lot of nip-and-tucking of budget numbers between now and when that budget is formally approved at the end of April, right before at least 5 of the 7 current aldermen walk away from The Horseshoe for their last time.  And you can also be sure that there will be more verbal and mathematical misdirection before that occurs.

For example, in the H-A article, City Manager Jim Hock is quoted as having told the Council Monday night: “We’re proposing a 5-percent property-tax increase to meet the revenue goals we have.”

That sounds to us a lot like Hock’s way of saying that he’s proposing a 5% property tax increase to meet the spending goals he has.

This new 5% property tax increase comes on the heels of last year’s 5% increase, which followed two previous years of 3% increases. In other words, the City has raised its share of our property taxes by 16% over four years, or 4% per year on average – while the Consumer Price Index was increasing less than 8% during that same period of time!

Hopefully, one of our elected representatives at tomorrow’s work shop will ask Hock to explain – publicly for the record, and in substantial detail – why our property taxes are going up at more than double the CPI rate of increase, even as the City has cut a number of services and their related expenses.  We hope someone also will ask him to state – again, publicly for the record and in substantial detail – whether he and his staff have cut every last bit of fat out of the expense side of the ledger.

Being the suspicious sort, we also will be interested to see, as this budget process develops, what expense items end up looking like they were put in by Hock as mere place-holders or bargaining chips.  Take that $1.9 million for the North Park flooding remediation, for example, which is listed as serving “70 residents,” although we assume that means 70 residences.  Whatever, that still works out to $27,000+ per residence – which sure doesn’t sound cost-effective to us,

Frankly, we had hoped Hock would have gone to his department heads and demanded – new Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle-style – that they each come up with a plan to trim their departments’ budgets by 10%.  Then we could have seen what the people who purportedly have the most knowledge about the operations of those departments think could be cut with the least adverse effects. 

But, instead, Hock took the easy way out for himself and his staff by simply proposing yet another 5% property tax hike. 

You know…in order to meet those new “revenue goals.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Dist. 64 Flooding Makes Us Ask: “Where Has All The Money Gone?”


Last week both local newspapers published articles about flooding problems with District 64 schools (“District 64: Bond issue, tax hike mulled to fund $2.8M flooding fix,” Herald-Advocate, Jan. 26; “Call For School Drainage Repairs,” Journal, Jan. 26). 

According to those articles, Carpenter and Franklin Schools need approximately $2.8 million to remedy flooding.  The H-A reported that the auditorium at Carpenter “is unusable due to the flooding issues” and needs “drastic attention,” while Franklin needs an underground water detention vault and a new storm sewer.

And in case flooding isn’t problem enough, we recently (in November 2010) learned that Carpenter is unsafe because of inadequate heat and no air conditioning.

Are all these pressing needs that must be attended to immediately?  Frankly, we don’t know, although it sure sounds that way.

But what’s suspicious to us is that these problems are the kinds of things that just don’t spring up overnight.  Yet in this case these seem to have…just sprung up overnight.

Back in November we started hearing (in the local newspapers) about the problems with the Carpenter heating system, as well as the complaints about Carpenter having no air conditioning.  But back then there was no mention of flooding – and especially not the kind of flooding that makes an auditorium “unusable.”

But a review of the minutes of the November 15, 2010, District 64 school board meeting discloses comments by Carpenter 1st Grade teacher Lisa Gray and Carpenter parents Brett Parker, Jennifer Gallery and Colleen Straka raised complaints about some of these conditions, although those minutes reflect that only Ms. Gray reported any water issue, which she described not in terms of “flooding” but as “water and mold in the basement.”

In the past we’ve been critical of local government management that downplays or ignores problems until they reach crisis proportions, at which point they become “emergencies.” We question whether that has been allowed to happen here.

But we also wonder why, given all of the additional tax revenues District 64 has taken in since the 2007 tax increase referendum, the District 64 board is talking about a bond issue and a tax increase to cover that $2.8 million cost. 

Where has all that money gone?