Memorial Day 2011


“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln.

Crossing Talcott And The “Risk Free” Life


The front-page headline in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Pleas For Safer Crosswalk,” May 25) and an article in the on-line edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pedestrian signal device debated for Maine South crossing,” May 25) illustrate a relatively recent American social phenomenon: the pursuit of a risk-free life.

Maine South High School has been at the corner of Talcott and Dee Roads since 1964.  Since that time, high school students have been walking to its campus from various directions, including across Talcott.  We would hazard a guess that millions of crossings of Talcott in the vicinity of Maine South have occurred since then, both in connection with school attendance and otherwise, yet we aren’t aware of any data concerning the number of fatalities, injuries, or even incidents involving crossing pedestrians in that area that suggest a greater danger posed by that stretch of pavement than elsewhere in Park Ridge.

Never let it be said, however, that facts and data should stand in the way of emotional appeals and political grandstanding, both of which were in evidence at Monday night’s Park Ridge City Council COW (committee-of-the-whole) meeting as that stretch of Talcott was depicted as a cross between some form of urban killing field and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  And singled out for special attention was the Talcott crossing just west of Hamlin.

A couple of students said they don’t feel safe walking in the Hamlin crosswalk.  A few parents related personal observations and anecdotes.  And Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Tom Bernick (6th) flexed their political muscles and let it be known that they were going to make sure that something would be done, with the inside-track on that something looking like a yellow flashing signal light.

But as noted in the City’s Agenda Cover Memorandum, the results of City traffic studies for that stretch of road “do not meet the criteria for installation of a traffic control device”; and the installation of devices such as flashing lights where the accepted criteria are not met “exposes the City and City staff to increased liability.”

That didn’t deter Bernick, however, who called the situation “ridiculous” and concluded, albeit without citation to any statute or other legal authority, that the City’s liability would be far worse if somebody gets run over due to the lack of a signal there.  In that regard, Bernick reminded us of former Ald. Jim Allegretti, who seemed to invoke “City liability” whenever he couldn’t come up with any better argument for something he wanted.

But we digress.

For the past several years High School District 207 provided a part-time guard at that crossing during peak start/finish school traffic times, at a cost of $4,500 per year.  But this year D-207 cut the crossing guard due to budget constraints, dumping the “problem” into the City’s lap because the D-207 Board decided that it didn’t want to spend its $4,500 on this particular “safety” feature for its students. 

And at least two aldermen – Bernick and Raspanti – appear only too happy to field D-207’s punt.

But the bottom line here is pretty much an issue of plain common sense.  By the time a kid is of high school age, he/she should already have learned how to “look both ways” and cross a street safely, even a four-lane street like Talcott.  That’s the express basis of City Council Policy Statement No. 2, which states that “students in junior and senior high school are judged to be mature enough to travel to and from school without the assistance of adult school guards.”

And if a particular student isn’t “mature enough,” then the simple solution is for him/her to cross Talcott at one of its several traffic light-controlled intersections: at Courtland, Cumberland, Greenwood or Dee.  Sure, that might be a little inconvenient or out-of-the-way, but it’s a small sacrifice to make if safety truly is that important.

What seems to be at work here, however, is a new type of “special interest”: people looking for a kind of risk-free lifestyle for themselves and their loved ones, especially if the pursuit of that goal can be achieved without significant inconvenience to them and is funded out of the public purse rather than from their own pockets.  Unfortunately, more than a few politicians at every level of government seem ready, willing and able to pander to this new special interest, once again with public funds rather than their own.

At the height of his dudgeon, Bernick postured: “Who’s rolling the dice about which kid gets run over?”   

All the same people – including yourself, alderman – who are content to “roll the dice” every day on kids crossing all our other high-traffic roadways that don’t have a flashing yellow light or a crossing guard at their most convenient crossing points. 

If the solution to this problem is a crossing guard, then it should be up to D-207 (or the Maine South PTO) to fund it. 

But it appears to us that the better solution is letting kids, parents and politicians know, in no uncertain terms, that scarce public funds are no longer going to be used to compensate for a basic lack of common sense and caution.  Or for someone’s mere convenience.

To read or post comments, click on title.

One Bite At A Time


There’s a saying that goes: “The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

That’s an apt metaphor for how PublicWatchdog often focuses on the “small things” like City funding of community groups, or whether Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. deserves a contract with the Park District, or how District 64 can’t run a lunchtime supervision program.  Because if government truly is broken, as so many people think, it got that way incrementally (i.e., one bite at a time); and, therefore, that seems to be the only way it is going to be fixed.

Last week we addressed what some might regard as significant misconduct by three of the top City employees – Fire Chief Mike Zywanski, City Mgr. Jim Hock, and Deputy City Mgr. Julianna Maller – who sat silently during the City Council meeting on May 2 in response to Mayor Dave Schmidt’s simple, straightforward question:  How were the “Ground Rules,” that require the City to keep the details of its negotiations with the firefighters union secret, agreed to?  Implicit in that question is who agreed to those Ground Rules, and the mayor subsequently asked expressly by what authority any City staffer could agree to them.

This apparently was done back in January, without prior mayoral or Council approval and without even letting the mayor or the Council know about it until a few weeks ago.  Despite Chief Z, Hock and Maller all being members of the City’s negotiating team and, presumably, having been present when those Ground Rules were agreed to, not one of them owned up to proposing or agreeing to those Ground Rules.  Instead, Hock claimed that’s the way negotiations were done, and he asked for time to investigate.

But only two weeks later at the May 16 Council meeting, perhaps after those three had some time to figure out their best CYA story, Chief Z obtusely explained how he was the one who proposed and agreed to the Ground Rules.  We’re guessing that Hock and Maller, most likely after consulting with City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill, figured that Chief Z, as the “new guy” and carrying the goodwill all firefighters seem to have acquired since 9/11, would catch less flak for this screw-up than they would.

So Chief Z wore the jacket this time, not that there’s much consequence to it.

It’s troubling enough that at a time when “transparency” and “accountability” are being stressed as key factors in how government should be run, three of our top (and most highly-paid) public officials would propose and agree to keeping these labor negotiations secret until a deal, or impasse, had been reached.  It’s even more troubling when public officials seem to believe they can do what they want and then conceal it from our elected representatives with impunity, as Chief Z, Hock and Maller did starting back in January and continuing all the way to May 16th.

Given that the wages and benefits paid our public employees, including our unionized ones, involve the public purse about which there should be no secrets, however, there’s no good reason why such collective bargaining shouldn’t be held in meetings open to the press and the public. 

Let the City decide, as part of its very public budget process, what wage and benefit terms are affordable and in the best interest of the taxpayers for the coming year, and only for the coming year.  The City should then publicly offer those exact terms to the union representing the particular bargaining unit; and then let that union make its case, equally publicly, to those same taxpayers if it thinks its members deserve more than what the City offered.  Maybe all this could be done as part of the budget process.

That way, everything is face-up on the table and visible to the people who are paying the bill. 

And by doing this every year for that coming year rather than for 2-3 years at a time, both the City and the unions know what the City’s financial condition is like on a real-time basis – so the City doesn’t lock itself into a multi-year contract that it may find itself incapable of performing due to the demands of unexpected future occurrences and expenses.

Simple and neat.  No secrecy, no misdirection, no game-playing.

And one less opportunity for Chief Z, Hock and Maller to lie to the Mayor, the Council, and the taxpayers about who did what.

To read or post comments, click on title.

The City’s Three Amnesiacs…Or Three Liars?


Just two short weeks ago, Mayor Dave Schmidt asked the public officials assembled around The Horseshoe to tell him about how an “Agreement for Ground Rules Between City of Park Ridge And International Association of Firefighters, Local 2697” (the “Ground Rules”) was proposed and agreed to that prevents our City officials from telling the public about the negotiations between the City and the firefighters union, something that would have been allowed even if those negotiations were covered by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) but held in closed session.

Sitting in their customary places of honor that night were City Mgr. Jim Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Julianna Maller, and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski – who also just happen to be members of the City’s “negotiating team” on the firefighters contract.  They sat silently except for Hock, who earned a pointed rebuke from Schmidt by explaining that agreements like the Ground Rules had been used in the past.

But at last Monday night’s meeting (at around the 17 minute mark of the meeting video on the City’s website) we finally discovered that the City official who unilaterally bound the City to Ground Rules that wrapped a cloak of secrecy around those negotiations and put an involuntary “gag order” on our elected representatives was none other than Chief Z.

The same Chief Z who sat silently two weeks ago finally manned-up and admitted that he proposed the Ground Rules to the firefighters union before negotiations began back in January. 

In other words, Chief Z effectively decided for the Mayor and the Council, without even telling them, that the firefighters collective bargaining negotiations would be conducted in secret.  And by so doing, he put our elected officials in a trick bag: if they exercise their right to inform their constituents – that’s us, the taxpayers – of the bargaining positions or the progress of negotiations, the City could be subject to an unfair labor practice charge by the firefighters union and fined thousands of dollars. 

Brilliant, Chief Z! 

His excuse?  That old bureaucratic stand-bye: that’s the way he’d done it in the past – presumably when he was drawing his paycheck from the City of Naperville.  Ironically, that’s the exact kind of excuse Schmidt “banned” at the May 2nd meeting in rebuking Hock. 

But maybe Chief Z doesn’t take the Mayor seriously, especially when it comes to things close to Chief Z’s heart like negotiating contracts with the union representing his comrades in blue.  Or maybe it’s just that Chief Z, like most other bureaucrats, has been getting away with the that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done excuse for so long he’ll need a 12-step program – covered by his City-provided medical plan, of course – to kick the habit.

What authority did Chief Z have for agreeing to those Ground Rules and binding the City?

Under direct questioning by Schmidt, City Attorney “Buzz” Hill quietly admitted that he could find nothing in the City Code or elsewhere that gave Chief Z that kind of authority.  But almost before Hill finished his answer, Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) jumped in and got Hill to readily admit that nothing in the City Code or elsewhere expressly prevented Chief Z from agreeing to the Ground Rules on the City’s behalf.

It’s not clear whether Sweeney, an unabashed fan of public employees in uniform, was trying to give Chief Z some political cover, or whether he was simply pointing out the shortcomings of the City Code.  Either way, however, is no bargain for those of us who foot the bill for this kind of buffoonery.

What is clear, however, is that Chief Z not only acted with disregard for the Mayor’s and Council’s authority, but he didn’t speak up and accept responsibility two weeks ago when the opportunity first presented itself.  Short-term amnesia, Chief?  Or just a lie by omission and concealment?

And what about Hock and Maller?  Was Chief Z’s amnesia contagious, or were they also lying by omission and concealment two weeks ago? 

Perhaps the better question is why didn’t all three of them tell the Mayor and the Council about the Ground Rules back in January, before negotiations started and something might have been done to withdraw or rescind them?  

What this situation suggests is that three of our highest-ranking City employees act as though they believe they can do whatever they want without any duty of loyalty, transparency and accountability to the taxpayers who pay their salaries – which, by the way, cumulatively total well over $400,000, with each of the three being paid more than the median Park Ridge household income of $112,049.

More disappointing than their delusions of grandeur, however, is that those same highly-paid employees have to be virtually cornered and cross-examined into telling the truth.  And even when that happens, they don’t appear to have the ability or inclination to take ownership of their errors, admit fault, and say they are sorry for overstepping their authority and/or concealing that conduct.

Maybe that’s because, truth be told, they aren’t.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Should City Taxes Be Raised To Fund Center Of Concern?


In recent years the Center of Concern (“CofC”) – a private corporation that provides a variety of “social services” to people in Des Plaines, Niles, Morton Grove, Maine Township and Park Ridge – has been masterful at securing hand-outs of our tax dollars from the City of Park Ridge.  Former City Councils were soft touches when it came to writing CofC $50,000+ checks without even asking how much of that money was actually going to Park Ridge residents, for what services, and at what price.

But as the “new” Park Ridge City Council struggles to repair the defective budget it inherited from the past council before the May 30 deadline for doing so, CofC has cranked up its propaganda machine to make sure it retains its place at the head of the public trough.

This past Wednesday TribLocal reporter Jennifer Delgado wrote a “puff piece” featuring two local women who have used CofC’s home-sharing program – where CofC matches prospective “tenants” with homeowners – so that the latter can afford to stay in their homes.  It was a typical warm-and-fuzzy human interest story, short on details and bereft of public policy discussions.

But the far more interesting propaganda was an “open letter” to the City Council from former 4th Ward aldermen John Kerin and Jim Radermacher, now members of CofC’s board of directors, published by the Park Ridge Journal (“Raising Taxes Better than Cutting Funding To The Center Of Concern,” 5/11/11). 

As the title suggests, Kerin and Radermacher want the Council to raise our property taxes rather than have the City Council follow Mayor Dave Schmidt’s recommendation of cutting CofC’s $49,500 of funding, along with some additional funding earmarked for Meals on Wheels and Maine Center for Mental Health, from the 2011-12 City budget.  The following propaganda points from Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher deserve a little deconstruction:

  • CofC “was contacted by over 15,400 area residents in need of assistance” in 2010, before claiming that CofC “directly helped thousands of Park Ridge residents,” of which “seniors” were the “largest group.”

Exactly how many “thousands” of Park Ridge residents contribute to that 15,400 “area” total?  That number is missing from their letter, but CofC’s 2011 application for City funding claims 6,770 “Park Ridge residents served” – without listing exactly what services those residents are getting, how much time is being spent by CofC providing those services, or what those services actually cost CofC.  We are very skeptical of a full 18% of Park Ridge residents even seeking, much less receiving, services from CofC, but proof is hard to come by when CofC doesn’t volunteer that information in any detailed form even to City officials  

  • CofC is “able to use the $49,500 in Park Ridge support and turn it into a $773,000 budget….” 

No blasphemy intended, but such an ROI is the kind of loaves-and-fishes stuff even Bernie Madoff didn’t have the nerve to promise!  Unfortunately, there’s no ready way to determine the validity of such a claim because, when it comes to transparency and accountability about what it does and the related costs, CofC avails itself of every bit of secrecy its “private corporation” status affords.   

  • Donating $49,500 of City tax dollars to CofC “equates to $1.31 per resident.”

Are Messrs. Kerin and Radermacher conceding that CofC’s fundraising is so inept that it can’t even raise the equivalent of $1.31 per Park Ridge resident in direct, voluntary donations?  That very well could be, because a check of Schedule G to CofC’s last-filed (per GuideStar) IRS Form 990-EZ indicates that its fundraising for the entire 2008-09 fiscal year was a measly $29,718 net.  Which raises the question: Does CofC really stink at fundraising, or do the people of Park Ridge believe CofC’s services to Park Ridge aren’t worth $1.31/year? 

  • “[I]f it came down to raising our taxes or cutting funding for the not-for-profits, we would recommend raising our taxes.”

Not surprisingly, we here at PublicWatchdog have a few recommendations or our own that don’t involve CofC taking any more money from the Park Ridge municipal treasury, at least not without providing the transparency and accountability that’s been MIA so far:

1.   Let CofC go to the Des Plaines City Council and get more than the lousy $9,000 those folks budgeted for CofC this year, especially because we suspect Des Plaines (with 56,316 people and a median household income of $60,674) uses a lot more CofC services than Park Ridge (with 37,480 people and a median household income of $112,049).  And we also suspect Des Plaines’ public treasury, with a budget of $96,300,552 and sales tax receipts of $12,495,617, can afford it more than Park Ridge, with a budget of only $57,263,316 and sales tax receipts of a paltry $5,070,000.   

2.   After it’s done shaking down Des Plaines, let CofC head over to Niles and Morton Grove and hit their respective boards of trustees up for $1.31 per resident, since they don’t appear to be budgeting anything for CofC. 

3.   Let the 14 CofC Board Members and the 39 CofC Advisory Board members dig into their own pockets to support their favorite community group, instead of expecting the taxpayers to do it for them.  $49,500 divided by 53 equals a shade under $940 each – a small price to pay for something they claim to “actually feel good about” (according to Kerin and Radermacher), especially when they are also receiving whatever acknowledgements, goodwill and other benefits that may come from being promoted on CofC’s website in that fashion.

4.   Let CofC offer to open up its books and records to City officials so that our elected representatives can determine for themselves and on our behalf whether CofC actually is doing all those things it claims to be doing for Park Ridge residents, and at what cost.  In fact, that should be required before the City gives CofC another dime, because City Council Policy No. 6 states that the City’s payment of public money to private organizations (like CofC) must be based on, among other things, the “community benefit for such services” – presumably on a cost-benefit basis tied to the amount of public money being given away.  Without seeing CofC’s books and records, the City administration has no way of determining whether it could be providing those same services to Park Ridge residents at less, perhaps way less, than the $49,500 CofC is “charging.”

5.   CofC should offer to contract with the City – just like any other vendor of services to the City and its residents – for those specific services it is providing, at a specific price per service unit (per hour, per task, etc.).  That way, our public officials and the City’s taxpayers alike can know that they are getting at least $1.00 of service from CofC for every $1.00 they are paying.

We’d prefer to see CofC actually become self-supporting rather than relying on annual handouts of public funds, which is why we prefer recommendation Nos. 1, 2 and 3, individually and in concert.  But, frankly, we don’t expect all the folks with their names on the CofC website – especially all those “Hon.” ones – to put their money where their mouths are.

But if CofC truly is a legitimate and efficient essential service provider to the City, it should welcome and embrace recommendation Nos. 4 and 5, which will finally provide some much-needed transparency and accountability to the Park Ridge taxpayers whose public officials have been “donating” hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to CofC over the years, no questions asked.

That’s the bare minimum Park Ridge taxpayers deserve for their money.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Board Stealthily Picks Architect Of Record


The anti-transparent Board and Administration of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is it at it again.

As we predicted back on March 9th (“‘Transparency’ Is Still MIA At School District 64”), the D-64 Board went ahead and chose Ohio-based (but with a convenient Park Ridge office) Fanning Howey (“FH”) over Oakbrook-based FGM to become the District’s “architect of record” for the construction project(s) D-64 is contemplating.

Why FH?

We’re not sure, because the only information emanating from the secretive D-64 Board is that a point-based ranking system was used, and that FH got the most points.  Of course, this being D-64, we could find no evidence on the District’s website or elsewhere of either the Board’s ranking system or exactly how FH stacked up to its competition – other than the description (in Appendix 4 to the April 25, 2011, meeting agenda) of the process as being “simple.”  As usual, the D-64 Board members just expect the taxpayers to blindly trust them.

We prefer Ronald Reagan’s “Trust, but verify,” especially when dealing with the Culture of Secrecy at D-64.

But verification doesn’t come easy when dealing with folks who don’t bother to televise or even videotape their meetings, unlike both the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District and the City.  As a result, residents have to rely on sketchy newspaper accounts or on the even sketchier meeting minutes.  Or on D-64’s “Board Meeting Highlights”… so long as you don’t need highlights for any meetings since September 28, 2009. 

With that kind of track record, we’re not surprised that we can’t determine from D-64’s website or elsewhere how many and what kind of points FH scored to best its competition for the “architect of record” spot.  But we are troubled by the knowledge that FH specializes in helping school districts pass referendums.  As we pointed out in our March 9 post, FH’s website touts its “community engagement” and “referendum/bond issue assistance” among its professional architectural credentials.  FH also promotes its ability to help schools recruit various community groups and special interests to support the referendums that will put bundles of school construction dollars into FH’s coffers.

Along those very lines, an October 20, 2010, story in the Daily Herald (“Companies in line for Gurnee school work support referendum”) described how FH caught some flak last year for contributing $1,000 to a group promoting a “yes” vote on a referendum for Gurnee School Dist. 56 to borrow $28.5 million, primarily to build a new school for which FH was going to do the architecture, engineering and design firm.  That contribution was criticized by a Gurnee anti-referendum group and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the former comparing it to what occurs in “Springfield and Chicago…giving money to get a job,” while the latter branded it a conflict of interest.

Whether FH practices pay-to-play government contracting or not is beside the point of this post.  What concerns us more is D-64’s continuing and almost flagrant lack of transparency.

Although the minutes of the D-64 Board’s April 25 meeting report that FH was the winner of the ranking process, those minutes are silent on any details about D-64’s ranking system or the various contestants’ scores.  Instead, those minutes happily note that newly-elected Board member Scott Zimmerman “remarked that…the District’s process [was] rigorous, fair and effective” – but without any explanation of why he thought that to be so, or to what “similar processes” he was comparing this one.

Not to be outdone, D-64’s business manager, Rebecca Allard, made a point of including in the published board packet a letter of recommendation for FH from…wait for it…Gurnee School Dist. 56, where Ms. Allard just happened to work a few jobs ago.  That letter raves about FH, with Gurnee’s superintendent gushing that he “could not have been more pleased” to be working with FH – and then re-gushing “in the clearest manner possible that we could not be more pleased” with FH’s services.

Nowhere in all that gushing, however, does the Gurnee superintendent say exactly why they take so much pleasure from FH and its services.  But it looks like D-64 taxpayers will soon be finding out.

In the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s May 12 story (“District 64 board OKs $1.6 million for parking expansion, new playground”), D-64 Board president John Heyde is quoted as responding to the $170,808 cost of a new playground at Franklin Elementary School with: “School construction is expensive.”

It sure is, Mr. Heyde.  And it looks and sounds like D-64 taxpayers are going to be finding that out with increasing frequency in the months to come.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will New City Council Maintain Same Old Financial Policies?


Last night’s first Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting of the “new” City Council provided some preliminary discussion of the repairs the new aldermen will need to make to the 2011-12 budget the “old” City Council phoned in while five of its members whose terms were expiring headed for the exit.

Fortunately, they have Mayor Dave Schmidt’s 70 line item vetoes to start with. You remember those, don’t you? The ones Schmidt – working with City Staff – came up with in response to the old Council’s complaints about his “blanket” veto of last year’s budget. The line item vetoes then-Finance & Budget Committee chair Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) suggested would be given serious consideration if Schmidt would propose them instead of another one-shot “blanket” veto.

When it came to voting to sustain or over-ride those 70 individual line item vetoes, however, it was the disingenuous DiPietro who flip-flopped and made the motion to nuke all of them in one “blanket” over-ride that effectively kicked the budget can down the road for the new aldermen to deal with in the first 30 days of their terms.

The new guys started to do that last night, with mixed results.

But at least this time around, the Council finally has somebody with an actual finance background chairing the Finance & Budget Committee: new Fifth Ward Ald. Dan Knight, who currently manages the cash and helps oversee the complex financial activities of a major Chicago-based company; and who previously performed similar duties for several publicly and privately-held businesses.  Unlike his predecessor, Knight seems ready, willing and able to work with City Finance Director Allison Stutts – who already has shown some promising financial chops in her short time with the City – to get a real handle on the City’s finances.

Whether this new Council has the ability and the will to do what is necessary to put the City on a financial path different from the multi-million dollar deficit-spending one the City has been on for the past few years remains to be seen. Discipline and austerity aren’t readily embraced by public officials who prefer the instant popularity that can come from picking the low-hanging fruit rather than taking on what’s tough but necessary.

Truth be told, what this new Council does with the 2011-12 budget will be basically a band-aid on a gunshot wound, because that 2011-12 budget, like the ones for prior years, was produced by a process that simply layered more spending onto a tax-borrow-and-spend structure without ever re-evaluating and updating that structure.

In other words, the same basic path of least resistance taken by our “representatives” down in Springfield. And we’ve seen how well that’s worked out, haven’t we?

So once the Council and Staff do what they can with the current-year’s budget, we hope they will immediately turn their attention toward next year’s budget process.

The first order of business in that regard should be achieving a clear definition of what a “balanced budget” is – something that has eluded City government for years because of the arcane system of “fund accounting” that turns the City’s finances, and the budgeting process itself, into a shell-game with a couple dozen shells.

Once that is accomplished, the second order of business should be exploring a fundamental change to the City’s long-standing “incremental-based” budgeting (“IBB”), which accepts the aggregation of all of the financial policies of previous years (and administrations) and just keeps adding on to, and adjusting from, them without on-going scrutiny.

The most well-known alternative to IBB is “zero-based” budgeting (“ZBB”), which starts department budgets at zero and then adds line items determined to be “essential” before addressing the non-essential, nice-to-have items. ZBB provides for a regular and systematic reconsideration of the validity of those long-standing assumptions and policies to reduce and eliminate obsolete or wasteful practices.

Another alternative gaining popularity is “performance-based” budgeting (“PBB”), which relates spending to actual accomplishments. Departments develop strategic plans and specific objectives, with the department’s budget tied to the resources it needs to meet its objectives.

But departing from business-as-usual has been an unattainable task for previous Councils, especially with so many special interests entrenched both inside and outside City Hall.

And with so many public officials who seem satisfied with simply being liked.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Bargaining Secrecy Agreement Is Incompetent, Foolish And Devious


At this past Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Dave Schmidt revealed a Hardy Boys-style mystery that points to yet another element of City government dysfunction: we’ll call it “The Case of the Unauthorized Secrecy Agreement.”  

The City is currently involved in collective bargaining with the firefighters union, and it seems that somebody in City government agreed to something called the “Agreement for Ground Rules Between City of Park Ridge And International Association of Firefighters, Local 2697” (the “Ground Rules”).  These Ground Rules purport to maintain “the confidentiality of the bargaining process [between the City and the firefighters’ union]…until such time as a total agreement has been reached or a formal declaration of impasse has been made.”

As readers of this blog well know, we hate secrecy in the workings of local government – which makes these kinds of “rules” unacceptable on general principles no matter how they came about.  But what’s even worse than the cloak of secrecy these Ground Rules try to draw around the negotiations is the cloak of secrecy City Staff has drawn around the identity of the Staff member(s) who actually agreed to them, and who decided not to consult with the mayor or the Council before agreeing to them. 

Instead, Staff seems to be perpetrating a conspiracy of silence about them, which was displayed when Schmidt inquired where these Ground Rules came from.  The only response City Mgr. Jim Hock could muster was that they were virtually identical to the ones that have been used in the past.  In other words: Don’t blame me because we mindlessly did this year what we mindlessly did last year, and what others mindlessly did before us.

That’s what passes for “management” from Hock, the City’s CEO who earlier this year was given a brand new 2-year contract worth $200,000+/year, all in, by the five recently-departed aldermen and current Alds. Rich DiPietro and Joe Sweeney.  And as if that compensation package wasn’t attractive enough, Hock’s new contract also includes a “super” severance provision that pays him $117,000 and up if he is terminated without sufficient “cause.”  

Hock’s business-as-usual comment elicited a quick rebuke from Schmidt: “From this point forward I am forever banning the phrase ‘this is how we’ve always done it’.”

That’s a good first step toward ridding City Hall of the complacency that had infected it for years under old city manager Tim Schuenke, and that has shown no signs of abating during Hock’s three-year reign.

But we confess to being totally bumfuzzled as to why Schmidt didn’t press Hock and his subordinates a lot harder Monday night for the answers to the many questions these Ground Rules present, including:

  • Who actually agreed to them on the City’s behalf? 
  • By what legal authority did he/she do so?   
  • Why didn’t he/she inform the mayor and City Council, either in advance or immediately after the fact?

Schmidt’s a trial lawyer by trade, but he must have checked his cross-examination skills at the door before meekly agreeing to let the Butler Place bureaucrats take the next two weeks (until the next regular Council meeting on May 16) to come up with a plausible CYA story, even though the heart of the City’s “negotiating team” – Hock, Deputy City Mgr. Julianna Maller and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski – was sitting right there in front of him.    

Secret negotiations with public employee unions are just plain wrong.  Unlike private-sector labor negotiations, public-sector negotiations impose involuntary financial burdens on the City’s taxpayers.  That’s why those taxpayers deserve to know the details of these public employee negotiations from start to finish: they deserve to know what the City employees unions are demanding, just as they deserve to know what their public officials are offering. 

And they deserve to know it in real time, when it matters – especially when the City’s negotiators barely have any skin in the game: As we understand it, Maller and Zywanski don’t even live in Park Ridge, so whatever wage and/or benefit increases they give away don’t show up on their property tax bills.  And we don’t get the sense that Hock, although required to live in Park Ridge by City Code, is putting down any long-term roots here.

With these Ground Rules in place, our public officials can’t even tell us the union’s demand or the City’s offer without the risk of being found to have committed an unfair labor practice that would subject the City to fines.  So by agreeing to these Ground Rules, some City bureaucrat basically put our public officials under a gag order about the progress of these negotiations.

Not surprisingly, uber-bureaucrat Hock came up with a rationalization for why secret negotiations are a good thing for the taxpayers: “If the union knows how much money [the City is] willing to settle in terms of a wage increase, [the City will] never settle for less than that amount.”

To which Schmidt responded: “The City Council should be deciding ahead of time what [the City is] willing to offer, and then offer no more [than that].”


But instead, our bureaucrats – who act as if City government exists for their personal benefit – enter into agreements to keep negotiations secret, without even telling the mayor and the aldermen.  And by doing so they enable the unions to make whatever demands and threats (e.g., strikes) they feel like, without worrying about how they will look and sound to the people who pay their salaries and benefits.

Which is why agreeing to these Ground Rules was incompetent and foolish.  And hiding them from the mayor and the Council was unacceptably devious.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Changing Of The Guard At 505 Butler Place


The changing of the guard at Park Ridge City Hall occurs tonight with the departure of five aldermen and the swearing in of their replacements.  It also marks the end of what remained of the administration of former mayor Howard P. Frimark and, perhaps, the beginning of what can be called the administration of Mayor Dave Schmidt.

That’s because four of the five outgoing aldermen – Alds. Jim Allegretti (4th), Don Bach (3rd), Tom Carey (6th) and Robert Ryan (5th) – were Frimark acolytes.  Or at least it sure appeared that way from how they seemed to dance to whatever tune he called, as well as from their lack of any identifiable philosophy of City government other than simple ad hoc decision-making irrespective of its long-term or interdependent consequences. 

The fifth, Ald. Frank Wsol (7th) was the most enigmatic of the five.  No Frimark acolyte, to be sure, but also not the dependable and consistent fiscal conservative he fancied himself.  Too often he appeared to be governing less by principle and more by finger-to-the-wind politics.  Unlike the other four who came into office as Frimark gophers and left as little else, we will remember Wsol most for his unrealized promise.

Their legacy looks to be one dubious “achievement”: a likely fourth straight year of operating deficits which, all in, should total several million dollars and will have depleted the City’s reserves to a dangerous level.

Ironically, their best “achievements” were those ill-conceived things they tried to do but failed, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, including:

  • an unnecessary and overly-dense condominium complex at the Executive Office Plaza site that fell victim to the recession;  
  • a multi-million dollar giveaway to Frimark campaign contributor Napleton Cadillac that was aborted when General Motors pulled Napleton’s dealership; 
  • a PADS “If it’s Sunday, this must be Park Ridge” traveling homeless shelter that PADS walked away from rather than apply for the required City special use permit;   
  • a secret land deal for 720 Garden that was abandoned when then-Ald. Dave Schmidt lawfully blew the whistle on it – and was promptly “condemned” for it by the Illinois Open Meetings Act-challenged Frimark, his four departing acolytes, remaining Ald. Rich DiPietro, and City Clerk Betty Henneman;  
  • an unnecessary and unaffordable new police station that crashed and burned thanks to Joe Egan’s citizen-initiated cop shop referendum; 
  • what looked like a kinked-up billboards deal; and 
  • another makes-no-sense, extremely overly-dense condo development on Touhy just east of the Town of Maine cemetery.  

Of the incoming five aldermen, at least 3 – Dan Knight (5th), Marty Maloney (7th) and Sal Raspanti (4th) – sound like they share at least some of Schmidt’s views on transparent, accountable and cost-effective City government.  Although 3 votes aren’t enough to pass ordinances and resolutions supportive of such policies, 3 are enough to sustain mayoral vetoes of actions contrary to such policies.  Whether that will be enough to govern effectively and implement those policies, and whether those policies – if implemented – will have a positive effect on City government, remains to be seen.

But to those five departing aldermen we offer a heartfelt “bon voyage” and the hope they are much more successful as private citizens than they were as public officials; and to their incoming successors, we offer an equally-heartfelt “bienvenue.” 

And “good luck,” because you new guys are inheriting a mess.  

To read or post comments, click on title.