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.

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