Just Another Manic Monday


Because there are some “hot” items on the agenda’s of both the Park Ridge City Council and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board who are meeting TONIGHT, we’ve got our quick takes on a few of them for your consideration:

City Firefighters’ Contract: On tonight’s City Council agenda is approval of a new 3-year firefighters’ union contract.  As we’ve said before, we believe multi-year contracts that effectively try to predict future local and national economic conditions by locking-in increases in compensation and/or benefits are foolish; and across-the-board compensation increases not based on greater productivity or other merit are idiotic.   Worse yet, in a separate memorandum (“Appendix E”) attached to the proposed agreement, the City is being asked to give up its right to lay off any current firefighters for the three years the contract is in effect, until April 30, 2014.  That means that, should the economy take a turn for the worse during the next three years, the City will be contractually forbidden from laying off firefighters irrespective of its financial circumstances!

This is bad economics and bad government, but what can you expect from a contract that was negotiated in secret because the union requested secrecy, and City Mgr. Jim Hock and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski agreed to that secrecy without even consulting the mayor or the Council?  That secrecy in the negotiating process becomes even more troubling when you look at the red-lined version of the proposed contract on the City’s website and see a number of changes from the previous agreement, the reasons for most of which are not apparent on their face and are not explained anywhere in that document or otherwise.  That’s just more bad government by the bureaucrats (Hock, Zywanski, et al.) for a special interest (the firefighters’ union). 

Under these circumstances, any alderman who votes to approve such an irresponsible and anti-taxpayer agreement should have the decency to accompany his vote with either a public admission that he is not being fiscally responsible, and/or a public confession that he doesn’t even understand what being “fiscally responsible” means.

Washington Ave. Assisted-Living:  Also on the City Council’s agenda is another episode of “How the Group Homes Turns,” the continuing saga of developer Mark Elliott’s attempt to turn his bad investment in 3 single-home lots into three group homes, purportedly for “frail elderly…who can no longer live on their own without assistance from a care giver” according to Elliott’s most recent “Updated Application Statement” – even though Elliott insists that these homes are not “assisted living” facilities for purposes of City licensing and zoning.

It is becoming clearer as this saga continues that our Zoning Code, despite an extensive (and not inexpensive) re-write several years ago, is ill-equipped to deal directly and efficiently with issues such as are presented by this type of group home concept.  Which is why, if Elliott’s Updated Application Statement is factually accurate and truthful, it would appear that what he is trying to do with his property is lawful, albeit undesirable to many residents in that neighborhood who long have suffered from the anti-social behavior from residents of the adjacent Park Ridge Youth Campus.

What we need, at least for dealing with this current mess, is a formal and unequivocal legal opinion from the City Attorney stating whether the facts and the law support Elliott’s proposed use of his property or not.  If they do, then – like it or not – he has the right to do what he is trying to do with his own property; and he should be allowed to do so.  And then the City should get busy revising its Zoning Ordinance to correct what is looking more and more like the shoddy work product of our highly-paid zoning consultants (Camiros Ltd.) and the citizens who comprised our Zoning Re-Write Task Force.  

D-64 Budget Q & A: Over at Franklin School tonight, the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board will hold its 2011-12 budget “Q & A” session, a week in advance of the planned approval of that budget next Monday night (Sept. 26).  Whether this Q & A session is legitimate or just a perfunctory attempt to create the illusion of transparency and accountability in the budget process remains to be seen.  But, given its 6:00 p.m. start time before many residents are even home from work, much less able to grab a quick bite to eat and head back out the door, we have our doubts.

Of course, the 93-page draft budget is a pretty impenetrable document, even to accountants and attorneys trained and accustomed to dealing with such financial matters; and it lacks detailed explanations of all of the differences between the 2010-11 revenues and expenses versus those in the 2011-12 proposed budget .  So exactly what kind of Qs might be asked from whoever shows up remains to be seen.  But one question that comes to mind is: What specific expenses have gone up over last year (and by how much) so that an almost  $6 million decrease in proposed “Capital Outlay” still leaves only a $2 million reduction in overall budgeted expenses? 

But if you have any questions about the proposed budget, you had better get there on time.  Because once the Board and Administration are done with any pesky questions from the taxpayers, they will be running into closed session to plan how they’re going to give away more of our money when they “negotiate” the District’s upcoming collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union – despite the appearance that the proposed budget already will be giving those teachers more than $3.2 million in salary and benefit increases during the coming budget year.  And, must we remind you, that’s for only 8-9 months of actual work?


Perhaps one of these days the City and D-64 will put on their inter-governmental cooperation hats and agree to schedule their meetings so that they both don’t hold them on Mondays, thereby forcing interested taxpayers to have to choose which one to attend.  But we’re not going to hold our collective breath waiting for the D-64 Board to voluntarily do anything that might add to its transparency and accountability.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

I am no authority on the Park Ridge zoning code and have only followed this Elliott matter through the newspapers and this blog, but how can Elliott’s community residences legally be built 1000 feet of (in reality, adjacent to) the existing Youth Campus community residences?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re no authority, either, but that’s as good a question as any; and we haven’t heard it definitively answered as yet.

Is negotiating in secret the same thing as negotiating in a closed door meeting?

If I understand correctly, eventually closed door meeting minutes do come public record.

Will the secret negotiations have the same public disclosures, eventually?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not necessarily. Negotiating “in secret” (as it usually is done) is negotiating in a closed session, except worse if (as is usually the case) there is a “confidentiality agreement” in place like there was for the City and the firefighters’ union. Such an agreement contractually prevented our elected officials from publicly reporting on what the parties’ respective demands and offers were, as well as the reasons behind those demands and offers, all of which could have been reported under the Illinois Open Meetings Act if it were only a typical “closed session.”

No, closed session minutes do not have to ever be made public.

No, all you can expect to get out of the secret negotiations is whatever contract the parties end up agreeing to.

So, what were the damages last night, PW?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t know – our “stringers” haven’t reported in yet.

Firefighter deal passed unanimously. But what a convoluted discussion in advance of the vote. It is no wonder the public unions get what they do with the rules put in place by our State Legislature and the NLRB. It seems to come down to the choice of the lesser of two evils…pay up now or possibly pay up more later.

The issue of the Washington St “residences” was referred back to PandZ, supposedly as-is, and PandZ can revisit anything relative to the deal. This includes Elliot’s request for a “reasonable accommodation” on the 1000 ft rule and parking issues. And the City Attorney seemed to indicate that anything else that was of concern to PandZ or others could be looked at or revisited as well.

This was about the extent of the “excitement”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Re the firefighters’ contract, another victory for the public sector over the private sector; and of stupid, profligate government over frugal, responsible government.

Re the Washington project, we hope somebody can figure out the applicable legal standards, otherwise they’re just asking for another P&Z goat rodeo that will send another steaming pile back to the Council.

If you go back a few council meetings, recorded and put on the internet, Jim Hock addressed the secrecy on the union negotiations. Jim said the secrecy was put into place by the city and not the union.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re calling bull-sugar on that one.

As we reported in our 05.23.11 post, neither Hock nor Chief Zywanski owned up to proposing or agreeing to those firefighters negotiation “Ground Rules” when Mayor Schmidt first questioned them about it at the May 2 meeting. If those Ground Rules truly were “put into place by the city and not the union,” we would expect any person of honesty and integrity to have said so when asked, rather than sit mute as Hock and Chief Z did that night. And, frankly, we don’t believe Chief Z’s half-hearted and obtuse explanation, two weeks later at the May 16 meeting, that he proposed the Ground Rules, implicitly without the encouragement, acquiescence, or endorsement of Hock or Dep. City Mgr. Julianna Maller.

So you’ll have to excuse us if we’re not believing you, Hock, Z or Maller on that one. But if we did believe, then they should be severely disciplined for not only being so stupid as to propose something so anti-transparent and without any benefit to the City, but also for doing it without running it by the mayor and the Council in advance. “Secret” negotiations only benefit the unions by concealing from the public the unions’ demands, posturing, threats, and all the other stuff that goes on in these kinds of negotiations that the unions don’t want the taxpayers to see or hear.

You have got to be going nuts!! I mean you always had the answer before – It was a “hand picked” council by Frimark…that was it!!! But you railed against the firefighters contract and how terrible it is yet the council passed it unanimously!!! This group was not hand picked by the enemy. You have some folks on that council that appear to be in your camp on many issues yet even Knight voted for it?!?! How can this be?!?!?! How can this entire group be sooooo wrong (by your standards)? Are you saying this entire group is in the tank too??

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t have a “camp,” nor do we want one. Good (and bad) policies and ideas stand on their own.

Unfortunately, the Council’s vote on the firemens’ contract displayed the same flawed public policy that has pushed Illinois to the brink of bankruptcy. Fortunately, the total cost is projected to be “only” about $80,000 over 3 years (we’ll believe it when we see it), so it’s some of the least costly flawed public policy the City has adopted in recent memory.

So , you are suggesting that the NLRB and state legislature would have done better to have allowed any public safety group to still be able to legally strike , instead of having an objective 3rd party (i.e. an arbitrator ), make a final decision in the case of an impasse during negotiations ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, we are suggesting nothing of the kind, because public safety employees should never have the right to strike – nor should they be entitled to have their wages and benefits decided by binding arbitration. Civil Service already provides them with sufficient protections; and they don’t have to worry about the City of Park Ridge relocating to Mexico, or the City outsourcing its public safety services to Mumbai.


Let me rephrase my question since you did not answer it the first time. How could it have been unanimous??? You many not like the word “camp” but there are folks on the council who, related to the budget and TOPR for example, have received praise from you and seem to see the role of government in a way that is more in line with yours. Knight is an example.

So how is it that on an issue that to you is so completely obvious, so crystal clear (like the sky being blue) that every single one of these elected officials thought you were wrong. These officials were not hand picked to run by a prior admin. Hell one of them was picked by Schmidt and another one was an officer in his campaign for Mayor and both of them could not see what you see as so obvious.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We take no credit for seeing the obviousness of this position, as even such notable liberal Democrats as California Gov. Jerry Brown and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have figured out that public employee union business-as-usual is both unsustainable and economically suicidal.

But, frankly, we can’t figure out why the Council voted the way it did 6-0 – which is why in today’s post we will be offering all of them the opportunity to explain the reason(s) for their votes in next Wednesday’s PublicWatchdog.

what happened at last d64 meeting? too disturbing to even write??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Budget passed…no surprise. That it was unanimous was disappointing.

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