Voters Should Reject “Union” Park Board Slate


On August 16, 1937, pro-union President Franklin D. Roosevelt authored a letter to the head of the Federation of Federal Employees, commending the latter on his organization’s resolution against strikes in government service.  FDR wrote: 

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. 

We heartily agree with that view, and with similar views expressed by private-sector union leaders like the iconic AFL-CIO president George Meany.  Those views and the public sentiment they engendered were sufficient to keep unions out of the public sector until the late 1950s, when public-sector unions gained official recognition in Wisconsin and New York City.  

By 2009, public-sector union members outnumbered their private-sector counterparts, despite there being 5 times more private-sector workers than public-sector ones.  As a result of that increased union membership and collusion between our elected public officials and public-sector employee union leaders, this nation’s taxpayers are not only facing higher government current operating costs, but also as much as a trillion dollars of unfunded public-sector retirement obligations for employees who can (and often do) retire 10 years earlier than their private-sector counterparts, with guarantied pension benefits that dwarf our 401(k)s.     

Now, in 2011, we have a “first” in a local election: a slate of candidates – Nicholas Giordano, Kristen Mattes and Peter Wachowski – being sponsored by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”), the very union that represents some of the Park District’s workers. 

And by “sponsored” we mean Local 73’s vice president Tim McDonald circulating their nominating petitions;  and the union’s paying for that slate’s signs – as reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Recreation and Park District: Union-backed candidates criticized by opponents for park board seats,” Mar. 22).

That raises a serious question of to whom those candidates will be beholden if elected.  That question distinguishes them from all three of their opponents: incumbent commissioners Jim O’Brien and Mary Wynn Ryan, and newcomer Mel Thillens. 

O’Brien has been a dependable voice for fiscal responsibility in his four years on the Board.  Thillens brings both financial and recreation experience from the private sector in the form of his work for his family’s businesses: Thillens Check Cashing and Thillens Stadium. 

And although we have disagreed vehemently with Ryan on the closing of Oakton Pool, and on running the Community Center and the Senior Center more profitably, we believe her views on those topics are more her own than the simple parroting of the position of some special interest or other.   

That’s why we strongly encourage you to vote for Jim O’Brien, Mary Wynn Ryan and Mel Thillens for the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board on Tuesday, April 5.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hoffman Homes Bids Adieu…For Now


At the March 7th City Council meeting, Hoffman Homes suddenly dropped – at least temporarily – its plan to stuff 20 condominium units into an area on Touhy Avenue zoned for only 12.  But Hoffman’s top guy, Norm Hassinger, did not go gently into that good night. 

“This process for me has been unlike anything I have gone through in 33 years as a developer and builder,” said a clearly frustrated Hassinger.  He went on to suggest that the Council work more closely with the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Appearance Commission at the earlier stages of a project so that developers don’t get drawn into protracted zoning variance processes and commission decisions that the Council can summarily disregard.

Even though we opposed his project, Hassinger is right.

He’s right because it appears that P&Z played so irresponsibly fast and loose with the City’s Zoning Code that, as a practical matter, Hoffman Homes may well have been lulled from the very beginning of the process into a false sense that it would receive its 66% density increase and the other variances P&Z approved.  Worse yet, P&Z approved those controversial variances following a public hearing held two days before Thanksgiving 2010, with 3 of its 9 members absent.

That fact alone creates a sense of a “kangaroo” proceeding – a sense that only increases once one considers that 6 of the 7 citizens who spoke at that hearing voiced concerns about the project’s density, and that two commissioners who provided the 4-2 majority for recommending that 66% density increase (and other Zoning Code exceptions) expressed more concern for the developer than for either the Zoning Code requirements or the views of our citizens.

According to Page 5 of the official minutes of that P&Z meeting, Commissioner Mary Catherine Wells “declared that…the City should support developers,” while Commissioner Anita Rifkind expressed concern that the developer would not be able to get financing if it was held to the Code requirements. 

Unless we missed something in the Zoning Code or the Municipal Code, supporting developers and facilitating developer financing is not part of P&Z’s job description.  As best as we can tell, P&Z is supposed to enforce the Zoning Code and look out for the interests of the community.  How a 66% increase in residential density can be in the best interests of the community, frankly, boggles our mind.

That’s why, in what may be a first for this blog, we wholeheartedly agree with Ald. Robert Ryan when he said (at the March 7th Council meeting) that he was “shocked this even got through” P&Z.  Taking that one step farther, we think “the P&Z 6” owe this community an explanation of why they went ahead with the hearing and vote rather than defer it to when it would have closer to a full complement of commissioners; and that Ms. Wells and Ms. Rifkind owe this community an explanation of their comments.          

Hassinger indicated that he might redo his plans and bring the project back to P&Z at some future date.  If so, we hope that by then P&Z will have stopped considering itself the developers’ BFF, willing to roll over for the “right” developer or development irrespective of the Zoning Code requirements.

Either that, or those P&Z members should be honest enough to formally initiate a change of the Code requirements that it prefers not to enforce.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is O’Hare A “Red Herring” Campaign Issue?


We get the sense that most Park Ridge residents have accepted the fact that O’Hare International Airport will continue to grow, adding more flights over our community.  Most candidates for the Park Ridge City Council in the April 5th election (a week from this coming Tuesday, folks!) have expressed similar acceptance, even as they have voiced support for continuing efforts to mitigate the adverse effects of that growth.

One candidate for Park Ridge alderman, however, appears to have successfully courted some of our more radical O’Hare Airport activists with some obtuse or ambiguous comments about the fly-quiet program for Orange County, California’s John Wayne Airport.  This candidate, 7th Ward hopeful Franklin Ramirez, has suggested that if John Wayne can do it, so can O’Hare.

Although we sincerely wish that were so, there are a number of signficant differences between JWA and ORD that virtually foreordain different results; and that make ORD a “red herring” aldermanic campaign issue.

First, JWA is owned and operated by Orange County, whose government is accountable to both those residents benefited by airport operations and those assailed by it.  ORD, on the other hand, is owned and operated by the City of Chicago, whose concerns rarely extend beyond its own borders to the beleaguered suburbs that surround ORD and bear the brunt of its noise and pollution.

Second, JWA is only 500 acres and has only 2 runways: a 5,700-foot main, and a 2,887-foot “general aviation” one.  ORD covers over 7,000 acres with 6 runways (the longest exceeding 13,000 feet), and more on the way.

Third, JWA serves 10 commercial, 2 commuter and 2 all-cargo airlines.  It handles less than 9 million passengers and approx. 15,000 tons of cargo each year.  ORD serves approx. 48 commercial airlines and 32 cargo airlines, transporting over 67 million passengers and 1.5 million tons of cargo in 2010.

But when it comes to noise, the most important difference between JWA and ORD is that JWA’s owner (Orange County) voluntarily adopted its stringent noise standards: the “General Aviation Noise Ordinance.”  Those standards weren’t imposed on that airport by the FAA, the EPA, the State of California, or some judge.   

The owner of ORD, on the other hand, doesn’t give a rat’s derriere about noise over the suburbs.  To the contrary: we suspect, if anything, that Chicago’s departing King Richard II especially enjoys sticking it to Park Ridge as pay-back for all those years of former mayor Ron Wietecha’s incessant but unproductive yapping about ORD, even if Daley blithely ignored it while devising and launching his O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”).

Despite what that certain aldermanic candidate and his O’Hare activist supporters might have us believe, it really does look like that OMP ship has sailed.  Heck, even our “fellow” neighboring suburbs aren’t interested in joining our fight, perhaps because of our smug spurning of them and their ONCC for all those years. 

And our state and federal officials – Democrats and Republicans alike! – have shown no interest whatsoever in carrying any water for Park Ridge on this issue.  Simply put, they know on what side their bread is buttered, and it’s not the Park Ridge side.

But the City Council has authorized $2,400 for California’s Taber Law Group to ask the FAA to authorize a supplemental Environmental Impact Study; and it has budgeted $16,500 for the Park Ridge O’Hare Airport Commission during fiscal year 2011-12.  While we doubt that will produce a positive return on investment, we think that’s reasonable under the circumstances.

We also know, however, that it’s not even close to satisfactory for those ORD activists in town.  And we highly doubt that anything but a blank check would be.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Playing The Shell Game


Well, we now have a 2011-12 City budget. 

If Mayor Dave Schmidt doesn’t veto it.  Or if he does and the Council over-rides that veto.

Monday night the City Council voted 6-1 (Ald. Joe Sweeney dissenting) to approve a budget that, according to the cover story of today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Budget OKd, But Work Remains,” Mar. 23), is projected to produce a $200,000 deficit (on revenues of $57.2 million and expenses of $57.4 million) despite a 4.51% property tax increase.

Or at least that’s the way it looks on the surface of what, in reality, is one big shell game with more shells than most taxpayers and voters – and, probably, most aldermen – can keep track of.

Let’s start with the fact that the City has (by our count) 28 – yes, 28! – separate shells…uh, we mean… funds, plus a number of Special Service Area (“SSA”) shells…oops, did it again…funds for those defined parts of the City that receive some special benefit that the City decided to charge against the properties receiving that special benefit.

Of those 28 funds, the City actually budgets for about 15 of them, starting with the General Fund, which is the City’s main operating fund.  That’s the fund from whence payroll gets made, even if the General Fund has to borrow from some other shell…d*mn!…fund in order to have the cash necessary to make payroll – something that has happened several times over the past few years.

One reason for that is because we have been spending more than we take in.  D’oh! 

That’s one of the legacies of what we call “The Frimark Years” – after former mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark, who ostensibly came up with the concept of a smaller, leaner, meaner City Council that has found ways to increase taxes every year it has been in existence while still posting big deficits and spending down fund balances to what are approaching dangerous levels.  But look at the bright side: we’re saving $8,400 a year in aldermanic compensation, as Frimark promised.

Another reason is that the City is cash poor.  As we understand it, almost 60% of the General Fund’s “cash” consists of a $4.5 million I.O.U. from the Uptown Redevelopment project (a/k/a, the Uptown TIF) for debt service and other(?) payments the General Fund has had to make on behalf of the TIF because the TIF hasn’t generated enough revenues for the special TIF-related funds to discharge their obligations. 

That TIF is a legacy of a prior City administration and, according to the most recent financial reports, looks to be a gift that will keep on producing deficits until at least 2016.  If we’re lucky.

Meanwhile, one of the Uptown TIF’s chief architects, former city manager Tim Schuenke, has his City pension checks sent to Delafield, Wisconsin, where (at last report) he was raking in around $100K in self-imposed exile as the city administrator.  And another one of the TIF’s architects, former mayor Ron Wietecha, also isn’t around to watch his tax dollars flow down that particular drain.

But we digress.

In addition to the General Fund, the City also has 9 “Special Revenue” funds, 6 “Debt Service” funds, 3 “Capital Project” funds, and 3 “Enterprise” funds, all of which are restricted to certain limited uses – which apparently include serving as an in-house ATM when the General Fund runs low on cash.  Admittedly, that beats borrowing from the bank, or issuing working cash bonds or tax anticipation warrants.  But it’s still just robbing Peter to pay Paul.

And it also skews the budgetary process by what appears to be, for lack of a better metaphor, balancing apples with oranges.  By considering all of these separate and distinct funds as part of one budgetary unit, the City is effectively “balancing” projected General Fund deficits with, e.g., projected enterprise fund surpluses.

That may technically be legal, but it sure seems misleading.

Which should be expected from a shell game with 28 shells.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Small Tasks Reveal Bigger Problems At D-64


“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10 (King James Version).

This is a secular blog, but this Scriptural passage seems particularly apropos the page-one story in yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal about the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s lunchtime supervision program controversy (“Dist. 64 Wants More Of Students’ Lunch Money,” Mar. 16). Simply put, if D-64’s board and administration can’t effectively manage such a small thing as a lunchtime supervision program, how in the heck can they be trusted to manage all of the other, more important, functions of a school district?

The ostensible tip of this iceberg is a $25 per year increase – from $140 to $165 – in the per-student charge for the supervision provided to those students who don’t go home for lunch.  This is the first such increase in 10 years, according to a somewhat obtuse (or is it abstruse?) March 14 Memo from the D-64 Business Manager, Rebecca Allard, to the Superintendent and School Board.  That caused Ms. Allard’s insightful conclusion that “revenues are not keeping up with expenses.”


As a result, the taxpayers are subsidizing this lunchtime supervision to the tune of $75,000 this school year.  And, without the increase, it looks like that subsidy would grow to $90,000 next year.  That’s admittedly small potatoes when we’re talking about an annual budget of over $60 million, but that’s also why it so aptly illustrates how small matters often reveal larger truths.

Until 2007 this lunchtime supervision program had been run by something called Parent’s Paid Lunch and Before School Care of District 64 (“PPLP”), a not-for-profit private corporation formed in 1973, reputedly by double-income parents who weren’t at home to provide lunch (and lunchtime supervision) for their own kids.

According to PPLP’s IRS 2005 Form 990 cover page, as recently as the 2005-06 school/fiscal year PPLP was turning a $36,000 “surplus”/profit on gross revenues of $564,906 and expenses of $528,847.  PPLPs IRS 2006 Form 990 cover page, however, shows an increase in expenses to $573,987 while gross revenues decreased to $524,163. 

In August 2006, however, Kathleen Goodman and some other Field School parents began questioning the privately-run program.  According to an August 24, 2006 article in the Niles Herald-Spectator (“Field parents question Dist. 64 lunch program”), those parents wondered why the program’s costs weren’t a District expense rather than a user expense; and they challenged the integrity of the program’s management by then-executive director, Natalie Blachut, who was being paid $12,694 and allegedly paying a group of parent supervisors $18/hour plus a waiver of the lunch supervision fee.    

By the next school year, PPLP had dissolved, turning over its $151,256 in surplus funds to the District and individual school PTOs; and the District took over the program.  After less than four years of District “management,” however, all those PPLP surplus funds are gone and the taxpayers are shouldering deficits.    

According to the Journal article, the big concern for the D-64 Board wasn’t the deficits that the taxpayers were being forced to swallow because the District has been asleep at the wheel on pricing this glorified baby-sitting service so as to cover its costs.  No, the Board was concerned about the size of that $25 increase!  And Board members Eric Uhlig and Pat Fioretto voted against it.

The fact of the matter is that this service is effectively a convenience to those working parents who need/want to leave their kids in the care of school staffs rather than make other arrangements for those kids to eat lunch at home, or at a friend’s/family member’s home.  According to that 2006 Niles Herald-Spectator article, then-Supt. Sally Pryor claimed the cost of that program was $1/day/child “for an hour supervision.”

If true, that’s an outstanding bargain for the parents of those kids in the program.  In fact, it’s too good a bargain – which is why we have questions.    

What’s the per-student or per-hour cost today?  Does the fee cover the costs?  How many students are in the program?  How much revenue does it generate? How many supervisors are there and what are they being paid?  We sure can’t tell any of that from Ms. Allard’s Memo, which as far as we know is the only information the School Board members had about the program when voting on the fee increase Monday night.  

But vote they did – however under-informed, uninformed, or misinformed they may have been. 

And those are the folks we’re trusting to run our $60 million-plus a year educational system.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For Another District 64 Referendum?


Last week we criticized Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 for its latest display of hide-and-seek, as reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: concealing the amount of money it intends to spend on a “master plan consultant” until after the consultant is chosen.

Reading between the lines, this “master plan consultant” very well may also become the District’s referendum consultant if it can identify enough maintenance, repair and renovation projects  that have been neglected (since the District blew its wad on the construction and bonded-debt financing of the new Emerson back in 1997?) as to justify a major new building initiative that will require a binding referendum.  

So today we’re taking another shot at District 64 based on another H-A article (“Tax hike on table for all District 64 board hopefuls”) about the upcoming school board election, which appears to be the first election in memory that doesn’t feature a slate of candidates selected and endorsed by the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207.  That might explain why we’ve got more contested races than we’ve seen in 20+ years, with 5 candidates vying for the 3 four-year terms and 2 candidates vying for the 1 two-year term. 

The H-A article focused on referendums, specifically if and when District 64 could/should hold another one to suck more money out of the beleaguered taxpayers.  

Only one school board candidate,  Anthony Borrelli, sounds dead set against any new tax increase referendum.  He stated that he “would attempt to place the district in a sound financial footing to be able to operate without [a referendum].”  That sounds like a concept we can get behind, at least insofar as Borrelli has fleshed it out in his “Candidate Statement” posted on the County Clerk’s elections website – the only such statement posted by any District 64 candidate. 

We also like what little we’ve heard so far from newcomers Dan Collins, who claims to have a plan “to ensure we stay within our budget without an additional referendum”; Kristie Bavaro, who wants board members to “maintain accountability and scrutiny”; and Marshall Warren, who says he will support a referendum only for “a precisely-defined set of needed physical plant projects.” We hope all three of them will soon start putting some meat on those rhetorical bones, a la Borrelli. 

Unfortunately, their incumbent opponents can’t even manage comparable rhetoric. 

The best incumbents Scott Zimmerman and John Heyde can do is avoid the substance of the issue altogether by claiming they will honor a “promise” allegedly made during the 2007 referendum campaign that the District would not seek another taxing referendum until 2017.  And incumbent Genie Taddeo simply blames Illinois law for being “structured to cause school boards to go to the public periodically for needed funding.”  We assume she’s referring to the tax caps, which is the standard target for every tax-and-spend bureaucrat and politician in this state.

Like most District 64 taxpayers, we’re still in the dark about just how many millions of additional tax dollars the District already has received (and spent) compliments of that 2007 referendum, just as we are in the dark about just what measurable educational benefits all those extra tax dollars have produced. 

On the latter point, we note that the District is trumpeting the fact that it’s again among the 29 Cook County elementary school districts that received the 2010 “Bright Red Apple” award  based on five criteria, only one of which is “academic performance.”  Not surprisingly, the District remains deafeningly silent about why it isn’t among the 14 Cook County elementary school districts that also won a “Bright A+” award, which is based entirely on “academic performance.”

For some time we’ve been questioning the District’s inability to break through to the upper echelon of Chicagoland school districts in ISAT scores, noting how District 64 underperforms several other districts that spend less per pupil,  have larger class sizes, and/or have lower salaried teachers and administrators.   When talking about school quality, student achievement is pretty much Job One – followed by the ability to produce that achievement in the most cost-effective way. 

While we’re not ready to brand any of the newcomer candidates as a budding Michelle Rhee, they all at least seem to be attuned to the fact that District 64 has to be managed better and do better on student performance measures like the ISATs.  Meanwhile, the incumbents appear content with the “same ol’, same ol'” – as measured by things like the Bright Red Apple award, pupil/teacher ratios, teacher compensation and advanced degrees.

That difference might well turn this upcoming election into a referendum...on the incumbents.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Transparency” Is Still MIA At School District 64


Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 has been not only the most costly of our three entirely-local governmental bodies but also the least transparent: it remains the only one among the City of Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District that does not videotape its meetings, and its board minutes often read like the redacted version of a federal indictment. 

So it comes as no surprise that – according to the District’s business manager, Rebecca Allard, as reported in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64: Field narrows to 2 in search for master plan firm,” March 8) – our secrecy-loving school board members and administration are concealing the price of the contract the District will be offering the lucky winner of District 64’s facilities “master plan consultant” contest until the District actually makes its selection.

After all, why give the taxpayers any reason to be riled up about yet another expensive consultant boondoggle until after it becomes a “done deal”? 

According to the H-A article, this “master plan” is “intended to prioritize the maintenance needs of all nine District 64 schools.”  Apparently the District doesn’t have anybody on Staff who has the ability to determine, plan and budget for “a range of current building maintenance needs” like: 

  • “heating and ventilation” (Carpenter is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Hmmm, what might solve those two problems?);  
  • “carpeting” (Can’t we get a free carpeting “expert” by dialing 588-2300?);  
  • “painting” (Benjamin Moore or Dutch Boy?);  
  • “utilities” (Electric Company or Water Works?); 
  • “lighting” (We’re all for it!); and  
  • “asphalt and landscaping” (Not interchangeable). 

The two finalists are allegedly “architectural” firms: Oakbrook-based FGM, and Ohio-based Fanning Howey, which conveniently just happens to have a Park Ridge office.  That’s why we’re putting our standard PublicWatchdog $1 wager on Fanning Howey – that, and the fact that its website advertises its expertise in such traditional architectural and engineering disciplines as “community engagement” and “referendum/bond issue assistance.”

As the H-A reports, Fanning Howey brazenly admits to a strategy for getting community support for what likely will be boxcar-number tax increases and/or bond issues that includes thumping the tub for schools hosting “church groups, community-centered assemblies, sports leagues, concerts and adult education classes…during non-school hours.”

The better to justify expensive additions, major renovations, and designs that are “flexible” – a term as essential to describing modern public buildings as “vibrant” is to describing municipal redevelopment projects.

Can you feel you wallet getting lighter already?

If not, check out the District’s recent “Ten Year Financial Projections” from yet another consultant: StratPlan Consulting & Modeling.

Start with its Page 1 description of the District’s “Recent History.”  It describes the District’s 1999-2007 financial problems as if they were produced by forces of nature (and that perennial villain, the “tax cap”) rather than by the acts and/or omissions of the School Board or administration – such as the District’s mismanagement/mis-budgeting of the “New Emerson” project that left it on the brink of having its finances taken over by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2005, a situation it averted only by issuing $5 million of non-referendum “working cash” bonds to restore its depleted fund balances.

Head over to Page 6 and read StratPlan’s (i.e., the School Board’s) description of timing a “strategic referendum” so that it can ask the voters “to simply replace the expiring debt levy with a comparable operating levy – at no net tax rate increase.”  In other words, just keep replacing debt with more debt so that it (and the expensive debt service) becomes permanent.

But what strikes us as outright deceitful is that, despite the pages upon pages of graphs and tables, we can’t find any record of exactly how much in total property tax dollars District 64 was collecting before the 2007 tax increase referendum, compared to what it has been collecting since that referendum.  Is it just coincidence that this report starts with the 2007-08 school year?

We also can’t seem to find that tax information in anything else available on the District’s website.

But that’s the kind of obfuscation and misdirection we’ve come to expect from District 64, its board and its administration…and from the consultants it hires.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Few Brief Moments Of City Budget Sanity (Updated 3/7/11)


It seems like only yesterday when City budget time was a lot like waiting for the election of a new Roman Catholic pope: minimal information provided to the public, followed by a puff of white smoke and an announcement.  Except that then-City Manager Tim Schuenke made sure the City’s budget smoke was accompanied by plenty of mirrors to mask his fiscal charades.

Back then, aldermen got their Council meeting packets by home delivery.  But even those aldermen who diligently studied their budget materials over the weekend wound up dazed and confused come Monday night’s meetings, when Schuenke would enter the Council Chambers at 7:25 p.m. with fistfuls of brand new budget numbers still warm from the copy machine. 

That was usually followed by head scratching, mumbling and bumbling, and budgets that turned into big deficits by the end of every year this millennium except 2006-2007. 

Now the public can view most of that information on the City’s website, although that hardly makes the City’s sausage-making budget process anything to cheer about – even if current City Mgr. Jim Hock isn’t quite as deceptive as his predecessor.  

But this past Monday night’s budget workshop – held following the regular COW meeting so as to improve the chances Alds. Allegretti, Bach and Carey might actually show up – provided a glimmer of hope when a couple of good things occurred that we hurry to note, because we expect that they will be undone as soon as the affected special interests wake up, Ald. Robert Ryan decides to show up, and Hock actuaries-up.

The most notable good thing was that a “consensus” of aldermen – admittedly only a temporary snapshot of opinion at one brief moment in time – actually agreed to act responsibly and budget for the full amount of police and fire pension funding formally recommended by those plans’ actuaries rather than some lesser amount that’s being bandied about. 

As we discussed in one of last week’s posts (“Pension Funding Newest Variety Of Budget Gibberish,” Feb. 22), there seems to be some kind of bizarre, unexplained alliance between Hock and those pension boards on this issue.  Frankly, that’s puzzling, given that deferring funding of what we understand are already underfunded pension plans does not appear to be consistent with the fiduciary duties of those pension boards’ members.

Ald. Frank Wsol correctly pointed out that the City should fund those pensions according to the official recommendations it has received from the funds’ actuaries, rather than according to the bogus-sounding quasi-predictions from Hock and a couple of pension trustees about how new state pension laws might be implemented and what contributions the funds’ actuaries might recommend this coming November – especially where neither pension fund has formally requested the City to actually cut the tax levy to reflect the deferral of funding. 

Wsol also was spot-on in rebuffing Hock’s vague scare-tactics of linking this full-funding to additional budget cuts or tax increases, calling it just more “kicking the can down the road” management at which Hock has proved adept since coming here three years ago.  Exactly! 

The other notable good thing was a non-consensus: a 3 (“Yes”: DiPietro, Allegretti & Bach) to 3 (“No”: Carey, Sweeney & Wsol) split on budgeting for yet another year’s worth of arbitrary giveaways to private community groups-of-choice Center of Concern, Meals on Wheels, and the Maine Center for Mental Health.  The 3-to-3 tie defeated that proposal – at least until Ald. Robert Ryan shows up at the next budget workshop, requests a new “consensus” on the issue, and then provides the additional “Yes” vote needed to add-back that expenditure.

As we’ve said before on several occasions, if these private organizations provide essential services that the City should be providing to its residents, then these organizations should be treated as vendors and paid as vendors, under legally-binding contracts with the City to provide a fixed amount of clearly-defined services at an agreed price. 

That’s effectively what City Council Policy No. 6 requires for departing from the City’s general policy that public money can’t be donated to private organizations.  But this and prior City Council’s have been derelict for years in following that policy or demanding any accountability from the organizations that have sucked well over a million dollars out of the City treasury in the past 5-6 years.

Perhaps the best example of no accountability is the Center of Concern (“CofC”), the single biggest recipient of City funding.  It’s February 18, 2011 funding submission to the City claims that it served 6,770 Park Ridge residents through 8,350 “contacts” during 2010. 

Yet that submission makes clear that none of those “contacts” were for housing-related assistance; and we can’t tell from that submission exactly what other services were provided by  any of those “contacts”  – except that, for Park Ridge residents (as stated on the fourth page of that submission): “Statistics reflect number of services tracking contacts, not hours. Total PR contacts was 8,350. Service hours are not tracked.” 

In other words, assuming that CofC’s records of the number of “contacts” are accurate, we still don’t know what services those “contacts” represent, how much time was commited to those services, and exactly what each delivery of them cost for that $55,000 of our tax dollars the City Council threw at CofC last year.  For all we know, that entire 55 grand could have gone for 6,770 of those famous CofC “wellness” telephone calls: 

“Mr. So and So, this is the Center of Concern. Glad to know that you’re well enough to answer your telephone today.  Have a good one, and we look forward to talking with you again tomorrow.”

Mr. Park Ridge taxpayer, that will be $8.12.  Please bend over.

Sound crazy?  It sure is!  In some respects, it sounds like an outright scam.  But it appears that’s the way our City officials have been willing to throw our money around, even as our streets and sidewalks crumble, our homes flood, sewers collapse, and other things that the City is required to do get neglected or deferred.

So the little bit of fiscal sanity we got from the folks around The Horseshoe last Monday night was a welcome respite.

Too bad it’s not likely to last past the next budget meeting.

UPDATE 3/7/11:  As 0ne commentator has pointed out, we miscalculated the cost of those “wellness” calls because we divided last year’s $55K donation of City tax dollars by the 6,770 individuals who CofC claims to have served, instead of the 8,350 service “contacts.”  So instead of $8.12 per one-minute average “wellness call” (assuming that’s the service for which the City is being charged) it’s only $6.58 per call; and instead of that “whopping $486.72/hr.” equivalent CofC is getting for those services, it’s only $394.80 per hour.  We apologize for those errors. 

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