Grodsky’s Statements Debunk Conspiracy Theories


Will articles in the on-line Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Senior Center manager plans own retirement,” Dec. 26) and today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Outgoing Director Grew Senior Center,” Dec. 28) finally debunk the rumors being spread by certain Park Ridge Senior Center members ab0ut the imminent departure of Senior Center manager Teresa Grodsky after 35 years on the job?

According to those articles, Grodsky is denying that she is leaving her employment by the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District against her will.  “It’s not true at all,” she said, adding: “Thirty-five years is a good career, a very good career.”

Both articles also report that Grodsky’s retirement is coinciding with that of her husband, Richard Grodsky, from his position as executive director of the Elmhurst Park District.

“We’re looking forward to traveling,” she explained.

That all makes Grodsky’s departure sound like a “retirement” to us, although we doubt even her own public statements will satisfy the small group of Senior Center whiners and conspiracy theorists – Barbara Ingolia and Helen Roppel being two of the most vocal – who contend Grodsky’s being forced out because she wouldn’t go along with the Park District’s plans for changing how the Senior Center is operated. 

And let’s not forget Millie O’Brien, who grandly claims in an article in the Park Ridge Journal (“Wills Spark Fight Between PR Seniors, Parks Over Donations,” Dec. 26) that a private corporation, Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”) is “the board that oversees the senior center” and “handles all the financial issues” – comments that brought a strong rebuke from the Park District’s public relations manager, Kathie Hahn.

“[Seniors Inc.] does not run the Senior Center,” Hahn responded.

Sorry, Ms. Hahn, but you sure could have fooled us – at least until a few months ago when the current Park Board finally told Seniors Inc. it would not renew the lapsed contract by which Seniors Inc. had asserted its decades-long control over the Senior Center.  Prior to that time, the Park District acted like the “tail” to the Seniors Inc. “dog” despite Seniors Inc.’s not even holding “affiliate” status like the other organizations to whom the District has delegated the operations of certain of its programs and activities, such as the youth sports programs. 

As a result, Seniors Inc. was able to keep Senior Center annual membership “dues” at $45 even as it was building up a nice fat private bankroll ($241,000, according to its 2010 IRS Form 990-EZ), and at the same time the Senior Center was ringing up $160,000+ annual deficits that the District’s taxpayers were subsidizing in order to maintain the semi-private clubhouse for about 800 Park Ridge seniors.

Now Seniors Inc. is rumored to be fighting the Park District tooth and nail for control of a big bucks bequest by a deceased Senior Center member, Betty Kenmetz.  According to the Journal “Wills” article, O’Brien “felt the deceased would have wanted the money to go to [Seniors Inc.] to benefit the [Senior Center].”  If that’s truly what Ms. Kenmetz wanted, however, she could have been spelled it out in her will or trust document along the lines of:  “I, Betty Kenmetz, bequeathe $X to Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc., to be used solely and exclusively for the benefit of the Park Ridge Senior Center facility.”  But did she?

We can’t wait to hear how this one comes out.

Meanwhile, we wish Ms. Grodsky a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement. 

And we hope that the Park District will finally bring an end to Seniors Inc.’s taxpayer-funded entitlements – and any other special-interest entitlements that pick the taxpayers’ pockets without a compelling reason.

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Let The Marketplace Work


Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) has one particular distinction not shared by any other Park Ridge alderman in at least 20 years: he was elected as a write-in candidate. 

That’s because the residents of Park Ridge’s 3rd Ward – including Smith, apparently – didn’t care enough about being represented on the City Council to actually put a candidate on the ballot by the customary process of filing petitions signed by registered voters from that ward.  So after the petition filing period closed, Smith registered as a write-in candidate within the time prescribed by Illinois election law. 

Needless to say, he won – presumably on the strength of nothing more than his own vote. 

Since then, Smith has occasionally displayed a bit of a Libertarian streak, most recently by his invocation of the 1st Amendment in defense of this blog from the City’s unconstitutional flag ordinance that former mayor/perennial opportunist Howard Frimark demanded to have enforced by the City (through the imposition of a $500,000-plus fine) back in July of this year. 

Mindful of that Libertarian streak, we were puzzled to hear about Smith’s recent discussion with a developer for the Whole Foods supermarket chain, in which it sounds like he tried to dissuade Whole Foods from opening a store here. 

According to an e-mail sent by Smith to City Council members and City officials , he admitted to speaking with the developer after the latter appeared at the December 15th Appearance Commission meeting to present a pre-application for a 30,000 square foot store at 225 W. Touhy, the site of the vacant American Farm Bureau building. 

After inquiring about whether the developer would be seeking Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) from the City and receiving a negative response, Smith then asked the developer if he knew of plans for Mariano’s Fresh Market to open a 68,000 square foot store on Touhy at Cumberland.  When the developer answered in the affirmative, Smith “expressed skepticism that a 30,000 square foot store could successfully compete with a much larger store that close.” 

Smith also expressed his concern that if a Whole Foods came to town along with Mariano’s, it could damage the business of Jewel, Trader Joe’s, Dominick’s and several Uptown shops.

Whoa, Smitty!

We’re all for the City Council – and the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Appearance Commission – casting a suspicious eye at questionable businesses whose presence might not be in keeping with the character of the community, or might be outright undesirable.  While exactly what kinds of businesses would fit that description can be somewhat subjective, Whole Foods definitely is not one of those.

And because it’s definitely not one of those, Ald. Smith’s “skepticism” about it entering our “market” sounds to us like government meddling, if not outright anti-competitive protectionism.

If Whole Foods and/or Mariano’s believe they can succeed in a market already served by Jewel, Dominick’s and Trader Joe’s, more power to them.  That they are planning (so far, at least) to do it without hitting up the City’s taxpayers for a TIF or other type of handout is better still.  We don’t need Ald. Smith or any other public official substituting his “market judgment” for that of people who seem willing to pay their money and take their chances in our community.

Over the last decade Park Ridge has struggled mightily to attract retailers, with very limited success.  With two new attractive retailers seriously considering an investment in this community, now is not the time to take in the welcome mat.    

To read or post comments, click on title.

One Small Step


Those who attended last night’s City Council meeting may have seen Council history being made when a motion to go into closed session to discuss a “personnel” matter was…defeated!

That “personnel” matter was a discussion of goals and objectives the City Council intends to propose to beleaguered City Manager Jim Hock in furtherance of a 90-minute, lack-confidence discussion the Council held in closed session, without Hock’s being present, on November 7th.  As we understand the situation, Hock will need to substantially meet these goals and objectives by April or risk significant job-related unpleasantness.

So when Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) made the motion to go into closed session, the vote approving it was a foregone conclusion – until Alds. Dan Knight (5th), Marty Maloney (7th), DiPietro himself and Sal Raspanti (4th) all voted “no.”

As best as we can tell, that was the first-ever vote by a Park Ridge City Council not to go into closed session.  And, frankly, we aren’t aware of a closed session motion being defeated by any other of our local governmental bodies.

That’s because public officials generally love closed sessions.  There, they can say what they want the way they want, free from public scrutiny and whatever political consequences such candor might invite.   As a result, most officials seem to cast a knee-jerk “yes” vote at the mere mention of any of those permitted exceptions to open meetings contained in the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”).

But last night at City Hall it was different. 

As soon as the motion was made and seconded, Knight asked for a more detailed explanation of what was going to be discussed in closed session.   Upon being informed that it would be Hock’s goals and objectives, Knight asked why those shouldn’t be discussed openly – a question that no other alderman either could or would answer.

That’s exactly what should happen every time a motion for closed session is made, whether it’s at a City Council meeting, a D-64 or D-207 school board meeting, or a park board meeting.  No elected official should ever again accept a mere recitation of the particular statutory section of IOMA that identifies the permitted closed session purpose, or a one or two word shorthand invocation of its purpose – like “personnel matters,” or “land acquisition,” or “litigation.”

The question that needs to be asked in response to each such motion is: “Exactly how will holding this discussion in open session harm the residents and taxpayers?”  And whatever answer is given should itself be dissected and challenged as vigorously as those t.v. ads for that electronic belt that’s supposed to produce 6-pack abs.

What that slim majority of the City Council did last night in rejecting a closed session may have been a very small step on the long journey toward government transparency and accountability.  But it was a step forward nonetheless – one that, hopefully, will be followed by many more such steps, not only at 505 Butler Place but also at 164 South Prospect, 1111 South Dee Road, and 2701 West Sibley Avenue.

Because, as we learned from the events of a July night 42 years ago, one small step can also be a giant leap.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Silly “Special” Days Demean Public Office


A letter to the editor in this week’s edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate illustrates why local governments in Illinois tend to be little better than the insane clown posse that passes for state government down in Springfield.

That letter, by Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 superintendant “Philip Bender, Ph.D” (apparently he’s another one of those folks who wants to be called “doctor” even though he can’t legally prescribe drugs) announced how District 64 observed School Board Members Day this past November 15.

That’s right: School Board Members Day. 

As best as we can tell, this particular faux special day is the creation of something called the Illinois Association of School Boards (“IASB”) or its parent organization, the National Association of School Boards.  According to the IASB’s website, observance of School Board Members Day is intended “to build a stronger relationship between school board members and the community” – and if that communty can’t figure out the best way to celebrate it, IASB will furnish a “proclamation,” “sample marquees,” a “tip sheet of suggested activities,” and various other gewgaws to help.

Frankly, if we’re looking for a pre-fab special day to celebrate, we’ll take Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19).  At least the people responsible for that day, unlike their counterparts at the IASB, don’t appear to take themselves seriously.

The last time we checked, school board members were elected by the voters of their community.  That fact alone would seem to suggest that they already have a sufficiently strong “relationship” with that community – or at least strong enough that the community’s voters were willing, however wisely or foolishly, to entrust them with oversight of a public school system which consumes approximately one-third of our property tax dollars.  If not, shame on the voters.

A faux special day to recognize elected public officials, however, is exactly what we would expect from a superfluous organization like the IASB, a…wait for it…“private not-for-profit corporation” (i. e., having no shareholders and, therefore, no real financial accountability to anybody) whose “mission” purports to be “excellence in local school governance in support of quality public education.”  We’re surprised they could exercise enough self-restraint to stop before adding: “at any price.”

We haven’t read any shining reviews about the quality of Illinois public education lately, so we’re not sure exactly how successful IASB has been in achieving its “mission.”  But from a couple visits to its website, we suspect it considers itself quite successful, thank you. 

And while Supt. Bender writes about the D-64 Board members’ “vision and leadership on student achievement, academic programs, funding, and school facilities,” we can’t put our finger on any particular demonstration of Board “vision” or “leadership” over the past 10-15 years, especially when it comes to “student achievement” – at least not as measured by objective standards like ISAT scores. 

Which may explain why School Board Members Day sounds to us like just more of the same old faux self-esteem that’s been baked into our culture for the past 20-30 years, presumably so that everybody can feel like Garrison Keillor’s fictional children of Lake Woebegone: “above average.”

But what a fluff-and-stroke organization like IASB and a we’re-fine-just-ask-us cheerleader like Supt. Bender don’t seem to get (or don’t seem to want the “above average” citizen to get) is that a public office like school board member, alderman, or park board member, although often described in terms of representing a “civic duty,” actually is an honor and a privilege – so much so that the folks who have sought and been awarded those offices by the voters owe their constituents a debt of gratitude and recognition, not the other way around. 

The public trust inherent in those public offices is one of the few “sacred” things in our secular society.  Thomas Jefferson considered the public trust of such importance that he believed it transformed those who hold it: “When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself a public property.”

So if being accorded that honor and privilege isn’t “recognition” enough for the D-64 Board members (or aldermen or park board members), we doubt that any silly, superficial special day will fill the gap.

Except for silly, superficial people.  And silly, superficial not-for-profit organizations.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Charity, Not Just Government, Begins At Home


Today we won’t be writing at length about this past Monday night’s City Council COW (Committee-of-the-Whole) meeting.

Oh sure, we could have had some fun with Ald. Tom Bernick’s (6th) accusations that Mayor Dave Schmidt was “playing politics” with how aldermanic liaisons (such as Bernick) to the City’s various boards and commissions were improperly injecting themselves into those groups’ proceedings – especially coming, as those accusations did, after City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill’s had advised that such conduct was “dangerous” and could even jeopardize their aldermanic office.  But you can get a taste of that for yourself by going to the meeting video on the City’s website and fast-forwarding to around the 2:16 point and continuing about 10 minutes to the 2:35 point.   

We also could have written about the attention the Council is finally paying to the cost of legal services, which rose to $468,382.23 in FY 2010-11 and is projected to rise again, to $561,595.48, in the current fiscal year.  That’s despite having an outside law firm (Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins) on a $6,250 monthly retainer that is intended to cover routine work by KTJ attorneys Hill and Kathleen Henn.   Among the causes of those higher costs: litigation, which is not covered by the retainer and which can drive up legal expenses dramatically – as shown by the $175,600 in legal fees the City incurred in connection with the police brutality suit that it ended up settling with a $185,000 payment to the victim.

Or we could have discussed the $7.5 million in bonds the Council approved: $2.1 million to fund an early-retirement incentive program and to fill a pension under-funding gap, and $5.4 for Phase I of the long-term sewer and flooding project.  Going into debt to fund early retirement of City employees sounds wrong-headed to us, but that’s more likely a function of over-promising and mismanagement by past Councils.  Moving ahead on long-neglected sewer repair/replacement and flood control, on the other hand, seems to makes sense. 

But instead of those topics, we’re going to focus on an article that appears in today’s Park Ridge Journal, titled “Suburban Poverty.”  It reports that the U.S. Census Bureau has released data from 2010 indicating that 5,033 out of 40,304 residents within the boundaries of Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 – almost 12.50 percent – live at or below the poverty line; and 377 of them are school-aged children.

As regular readers of this blog know, we have consistently opposed the City’s practice of making “charitable” donations of arbitrary amounts of tax dollars to a select few private not-for-profit corporations, without any restrictions on how that money is used or any accounting of what specific services that money provides to Park Ridge residents.  Such donations appear to violate the mandate of both the Illinois Constitution and Park Ridge City Council Policy No. 6 that public funds be used only for public purposes, not given away to private entities.

We stand by that opposition.  Unless the City Council expressly determines what specific services it believes the City should be providing its residents, confirms that those services aren’t being provided by any other governmental body serving our community, and then contracts with private corporations for those services on a dollar-per-unit-of-service basis that can be verified by the City, such services do not satisfy the “public purpose” test. 

That doesn’t mean, however, that the recipients of those services should be ignored.  This is where that thing called charity comes in. 

As Charles Dickens wrote in his novel, Martin Chuzzlewhit (1844):      “[C]harity begins at home” – a concept that may actually have originated with Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy, in which Paul instructs: “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents.”  

Don’t assume that we’re engaging in religious proselytizing here, however: our message is purely a secular, governmental one.  And it’s directed to those aldermen – Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick and Maloney – who so eagerly have thrown City tax dollars at three favored not-for-profit corporations without even a shred of hard evidence or any credible accounting as to exactly how much of that money actually goes to help Park Ridge residents like the 5,033 who are battling poverty. 

Gentlemen, maybe you can’t identify and help every one of those 5,033 residents, but it’s time you did more to make sure the City is getting the biggest bang for those bucks you keep donating, ostensibly on the taxpayers’ behalf but without asking them, to your favored private “charities.”   

And while you’re at it, why not also reach out to those constituents you claim support what you’re doing, and ask them to cut back on their donations for things like libraries in Tanzania and protecting spotted owl sanctuaries in Mexico?  Instead, why not ask them to send that money to Center of Concern, Meals on Wheels and Maine Center for Mental Health?

Maybe, that way, those corporations might become more attracted to traditional fund-raising and not so enamored with how easy it is to wet their beaks in the taxpayer-funded City trough.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Cult Of Personality Obscures Senior Center Issues


We’ve been critical of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District/s operation of the Senior Center for awhile now, primarily because that facility is operated like a semi-private club for about 800 Park Ridge seniors while sucking around $160,000+ out of the District’s taxpayers each year in subsidies so that members can get away with paying a paltry $45 in annual dues – even as they whine about how unfairly they’re being treated by the Park District.

That’s $45 for a full year’s unlimited usage of the Senior Center facility and many of its activities.  Compare that to some of the Park District’s other facilities, activities and programs:  the Community Center costs $363/year for an unlimited usage membership; youth soccer costs $100 for a 2-3 month season of 2-3 day/wk field usage; and an ice skating pass costs $65/yr. for a maximum of 18 hours/wk. of open skating usage.

But for the past year or so the private corporation whose members seem to think they run the Senior Center, Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”), has waged a propaganda campaign against the Park District and its Board.  The original focus of that campaign was the District’s unwillingness to sign a new contract giving Seniors Inc. a continuing (some might call it a “controlling”) say in the operations of the Senior Center.  And one of the vehicles for that propaganda campaign has been a blog called Butterly On Senior Issues.

According to the November 29 post on the Butterly blog, long-time Senior Center manager Teresa Grodsky has been forced into retirement by the Park Board – reportedly for siding with Seniors Inc. in several of its disputes with the District.  Grodsky’s retirement apparently has become the newest cause célèbre for those Seniors Inc./Senior Center members who are looking for any leverage they can find to help them hang onto their sweetheart Senior Center deal.

The Butterly blog has given Seniors Inc./Senior Center members such as Barb Ignolia, Helen Roppel and Ken Butterly himself the opportunity to castigate the Park Board, and especially Board officers Mary Wynn Ryan, Rick Biagi and Richard Brandt (himself a Senior Center member), for allegedly throwing Grodsky and them under the bus; and new District Director Gayle Mountcastle and her staff for aiding and abetting the Board’s effort by planning for non-senior programming of the Senior Center to help reduce that $160,000+ annual deficit.

In comments to the Butterly blog, Ignolia calls Grodsky “the heart and soul of the Center,” while Roppel quotes scripture: “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”  No word yet on when they will commence Grodsky’s canonization proceedings, but Butterly has raised the specter of a new “Senior Center” being formed, ostensibly in response to the shoddy way these seniors believe they and their favorite Park District employee have been treated.

While Seniors Inc. now appears intent on creating a cult of personality around Grodsky, however, that effort should not obscure the real issues here: control and money.

As the legal owner of the Senior Center building, the Park District is charged with legal custody and control over that facility and its operations.  But for too long the District – both Staff and Board – effectively let the Senior Center “inmates” run that particular asylum, a situation that continued despite those substantial operating deficits piling up year after year without the District’s even trying to push that facility towards a break-even point. 

Consequently, many of those Senior Center members developed an entitlement mentality, talking and acting as if the District’s taxpayers – including the vast majority of the District’s seniors who don’t belong to the Senior Center – owe them their clubhouse and the programs that come with it, all for the token payment that masquerades as annual “dues.”  Meanwhile, Seniors Inc. has accumulated over $241,000 (as shown by its 2010 IRS Form 990-EZ); and we hear it’s looking to add to that total by battling the Park District over a bequest from the estate of deceased Senior Center member Betty Kenmetz.

As we understand it, Kenmetz’s bequest was to “the Senior Center” rather than to the “Park District” or to Seniors Inc./SSI.  And, even more interestingly, Kenmetz’s executor is…wait for it…Teresa Grodsky!

Rumor has it that Grodsky wants that money to go to Seniors Inc. instead of to her employer, the Park District, notwithstanding the Park District attorney’s argument that since “the Senior Center” is part of the Park District and not a stand-alone entity, Kenmetz’s intent was that the Park District receive that bequest to use for the Senior Center.

There’s a Park Board meeting this Thursday (Dec. 15).  Whether any of these topics will be addressed that night remains to be seen, as the District has not yet posted its agenda or board packet.

But one thing looks certain: that 800-person special interest group of Senior Center members isn’t likely to let what they believe to be their power, their money and their Senior Center be taken away from them without a fight.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Firemen Renege, Hock Conceals, Council Hides, Taxpayers Pay


The title of this post pretty much summarizes what transpired at Monday night’s Park Ridge City Council meeting, where it was disclosed that the firefighters union is trying to renege on the May 1, 2011, effective date of the new contract it had suckered the City Council into approving only a couple of months earlier…just so the firefighters could grab an extra paid holiday this year.

It seems that the new contract took away Veterans Day as a paid holiday but gave the firefighters a replacement: the day after Thanksgiving.  So the wily firefighters tried to change the new contract’s effective date until after Veterans Day, so that they could grab Veterans Day under the old contract and “Black Friday” under the new.

That’s the “renege” part of the title.  And, even more shamelessly, the firefighters have filed a grievance against the City, reportedly for not paying them for the double-dip holidays.

But City Mgr. Jim Hock apparently decided that our elected officials didn’t need to know such things – presumably because it would make him, lead contract negotiator Chief Mike Zywanski, and the City’s special firefighters labor attorney, Dina Kapernekas, look bad.  Given Hock’s and Chief Z’s previous shenanigans with these contract negotiations, we can see how they wouldn’t welcome any more evidence of their ineptitude and deception. 

Worse yet, it sounds like Hock actually agreed to changing that effective date to October 18, but he kept that change his little secret despite questions being asked about the effective date and Kapernekas’ continuing services (and billing) to the City at both the November 21 City Council meeting and the November 28 COW meeting.

That’s the “conceal” part of the title.  Hock did his best to keep that concealment going Monday night, insisting that this wasn’t a “contract” matter but, instead, a “grievance” matter that should be discussed in closed session out of public view. 

Fortunately, Mayor Dave Schmidt was having none of Hock’s dissembling.  Schmidt pressed his questions about Hock’s authority to agree to an effective date different from the one the firefighters had agreed to, the Council had approved, and Schmidt had signed.

After tap dancing around Schmidt’s first three inquiries and being warned by Schmidt that they would stay there all night if need be, Hock finally cracked: “I don’t know what authority I have to change the date of the agreement.”

Hock offered nothing else to explain his extracurricular activity or the firefighters’ renege, other than to renew his request that this matter be discussed further in closed session.  Despite Schmidt’s warning to the Council that going into closed session on this matter would indicate “whether [they] want a transparent and accountable government or not,” however, the aldermen unanimously (Ald. Marty Maloney absent) voted to do so.

That’s the “hide” that this Council seems to have become as fond of as the old Council was, even though the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) doesn’t require any Council business to be discussed in closed session.  Yes, that’s right: IOMA does not require that anything be discussed in closed session.  To the contrary, IOMA encourages the doing of all public business in open sessions, even though it does permit certain exceptions.

So how does this particular stupidity and deception translate into “taxpayers pay”?

One of the main features that proponents of the new firefighters contract touted in approving it over Schmidt’s veto was a purported savings of $22,000 in the first year of that contract’s 3 year term.  But after figuring in an extra paid holiday and some overtime being paid at a higher rate, much of that first year’s savings very well could vanish.  And that’s not even counting the money the City appears pretty much to have wasted on Kapernekas.

The firefighters contract was a bad deal for the taxpayers on several levels, including its no-layoff provision – which likely has now become a fixture in future contracts and takes away layoffs as the only form of City leverage against unreasonable union salary and benefit demands.  The City officials who negotiated it – former firefighters union members led by Chief Z and overseen by Hock – sold out the taxpayers.  And they did so in secret, thanks to Chief Z’s unauthorized “Ground Rules” that imposed a gag order on the mayor and the City Council while those negotiations were going on.

The taxpayers also were sold out by Hock’s (?) hiring and mismanagement of labor attorney Kapernekas, at a cost of upwards of $30,000, to counsel the City on those negotiations and contract drafting – something that seems to have been botched to the point that she reportedly advised the City that it wouldn’t be wise to oppose the union’s demand for a different contract effective date.

And the Council members who approved that contract over Schmidt’s veto also sold out the taxpayers, while at the same time demonstrating to the firefighters union that the City doesn’t have the will to resist the union’s demands.  Those aldermen are charged with, among other things, ensuring that City staff is competently managing the City and earning its keep.  They are not supposed to be rubber stamps, apologists and cheerleaders for staff screw-ups.

But by constantly running into closed sessions on seemingly every controversial matter , the Council continues to demonstrate its contempt for the taxpayers’ right to know how they are being governed and how their City is being managed.

So here’s one simple tip on how to better do your job, aldermen:


To read or post comments, click on title.

Half Full Also Means Half Empty


In last Monday’s post we wrote about the City of Park Ridge’s 2010-11 audit results, which show that the City booked a $2 million surplus in FY 2010-11 – in large part, we would argue, due to the very public budget-cutting insistence (and spending vetoes) of Mayor Dave Schmidt – after 3 straight years of deficits totaling approximately $6 million, and 8 annual deficits over the previous 9 years.

We referred to that surplus as the glass being half full, however, because the City’s finances remain in clear and present danger of plunging back into the red ink barrel – as demonstrated by the City’s projections for the six months remaining in current FY 2011-12 which indicate that the General Fund (the City’s principal operating fund) is facing a $166,000 deficit as part of a projected all-funds deficit of $809,566.

And that’s despite annual property tax increases averaging approximately 3.5%  which helped the City pull in $800,000+ more in property tax revenue in FY 2010-11 than during FY 2009-10, even as the Equalized Assessed Value (“EAV”) of the City’s taxable property declined by $100 million – from a shade over $2 billion down to $1.89 billion.

That $166,000 current operating deficit actually is more troubling to us than the $809,566 all-funds deficit, if only because the latter can be explained as the product of yet another projected deficit in the Uptown TIF Fund, this time to the tune of $932,000.  By our count, that puts the TIF Fund’s tab owed to the General Fund at around $7 million.  And counting.

Worse yet, we understand that the City hasn’t even begun to pay down any principal for the roughly $27 million in general obligation bonds the City issued in 2005 and 2006 to help former mayors Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark – along with the herd of aldermen who served between 2003 and 2007 – achieve their “vision” of turning Park Ridge’s Uptown into a knock-off of downtown Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Arlington Heights, et al., presumably on the theory that substantially increasing residential density in the central business district will create vibrant and thriving retail.

Is Uptown retail vibrant and thriving enough for you?  

We expect somebody to accuse us of being anti-development, but we’re not – even despite this cookie-cutter approach to suburban planning and redevelopment.  Our principal beef is with the foolish way such projects are financed – which for many/most Illinois TIFs means sticking the taxpayers with the long-term debt and expenses while the often well-connected private developers (like Uptown’s PRC Partners) grab their profits off the top and take off. 

We have no idea if or when the Uptown TIF will ever be profitable enough to reimburse the City’s General Fund and pay off all those bonds.  Wietecha left town, neither Marous nor Frimark have offered their latest views on the financial hole they helped dig, and Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) is the sole remaining member of the aldermanic herd that provided those mayors with their “Amen!” choruses on cue.  

Accountability tends not to be embraced by spendthrift public officials once they’ve left office, especially if they did their best to dodge it even while in office.

But that means the current mayor and City Council, along with City staff, will just have to hunker down and do the heavy lifting necessary to soundly manage the City’s finances with that TIF albatross hanging  around their collective necks for the foreseeable future.

Starting with finding a way to eliminate that projected $166,000 year-end deficit.