Public Watchdog.org

Firemen Renege, Hock Conceals, Council Hides, Taxpayers Pay

12.07.11

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:

NO MORE CLOSED SESSIONS!

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

There are reasons to discuss labor issues in closed session, the most important of which is so that the other side doesn’t see the necessary debate about strategy required to get a body of officials to concensus. As an attorney you must know the purpose of closed conversations in any legal matter. It isn’t to prevent disclosure to the public, but to prevent it from the opposing negotiators. That is why the IOMA permits these discussions to be private.

EDITOR’S NOTE: One can come up with reasons for discussing almost anything in closed session and out of the public eye, which is why the members of the City Council (and our other local governmental bodies) run into it so often.

But you appear to be mixing apples and oranges when you refer to “closed conversations in any legal matter,” because IOMA doesn’t require that closed session communications be kept secret while the attorney-client privilege imposes that obligation on attorneys.

The “negotiations” were over and the contract signed. The only things being kept out of public view, therefore, were the gamesmanship and greed of the firefighters (which they also concealed during negotiations thanks to Chief Z’s “Ground Rules”) on one hand, and the boneheadedness of Mr. Hock and Ms. Kapernekas on the other. The public interest would most certainly be served by putting all of that on full display and recorded for posterity as a lesson in how not to operate local government.

You have written about, and against, closed sessions for quite awhile, but our local governments keep holding them. Don’t those officials understand IOMA, or don’t you understand IOMA?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We understand IOMA just fine, thank you. As for the cowardly public officials – both elected and appointed – who look for every excuse to hide what they say and do from the public, the “letter” of the IOMA exceptions provide that excuse even if the “spirit” of IOMA does not.

2:24… there is a law against bribery and corruption, yet our elected officials keep ending up in the slammer. The simple fact is that local elected bodies do not care what the law is concerning closed sessions, just like Blago, Walker, Kerner, Ryan & Co. did not care about corruption laws.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We think you give them too much credit: they “care what the law is concerning closed sessions” – at least that part of IOMA that permits them. What they don’t care about, however, is the transparency and accountability purpose of IOMA.

why did schmidt and knight call for closed session elected officials only meeting a few weeks back–isn’t that counter to your/his/ya’lls mantra?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It sure is, and we think it was a mistake – for the reasons we’ve stated in criticizing closed sessions in the past. And the fact that Schmidt subsequently talked to the press about some of the things that went on during that meeting doesn’t make it any less of a mistake. We also think Hock should not have been excluded from that Nov. 7 meeting, as he clearly was its subject.

Wait a second…Schmidt and Knight called for a closed session (something you have been on like a pit bull since I have been coming here – especially related to Frimark) and it took anon 3:23 to even get it mentioned on this blog?!?!?! Well not there is a shock!!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, there have been scores, if not hundreds, of closed sessions that have occurred since we began writing this blog, and we’ve commented on very few of them – basically because unless somebody participating in the closed session talks about it afterward, there’s nothing known about it. And since we still don’t know all that went on during that closed session on November 7, we cannot report on anything nefarious having occurred during it.

When the rare occasions we reported on Frimark’s closed sessions, on the other hand, we always had something nefarious to report – such as his attempt to purchase 720 Garden for a new cop shop that the Council hadn’t even approved, and at a price a couple hundred thousand dollars above what the City’s own appraiser valued it.

We realize you would have preferred a post headlined “Schmidt And Knight Seek Closed Session!” even if that headline also doubled as the complete post. Sorry to disappoint you.

we cannot report on anything nefarious having occurred during it.

is that a statmenent that you are choosing not to report on something that was nefarious that did happen but you will not divulge or is it a statement that no neferious happenings occurred and if not, how do you know about that.

BTW–from sources there were a few neferious instances that should be divulged but doing so would cast certain members of the council in unfavorable light.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We know of no nefarious occurrences. And if certain members of the Council would be cast in unfavorable light (or favorable light, for that matter), that’s yet another argument against closed sessions.

Hey, as I have said before, it’s your blog so you can “report” things as you see fit.

I would think that a Mayor who does something that he ran against (see his website) and that you yourself have said was not necessary and you disagree with is worth a mention on the blog….what ever!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sure you would. By the way, where was your comment about the City’s posting its first surplus – a $2 million surplus at that – in 4 years? We would have thought that somebody as concerned about the community as you would have thought that worth a comment…whatever!!

so based on your comment, you would readily endorse a severe public chastisement of the mayor and 5th ward alderman should it be proven they perpatrated nefarious actions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If “the mayor and 5th ward alderman” (or any other public official) perpetrates nefarious actions, you can be sure we will call them on those.

I believe the following statement you made is untrue: “One can come up with reasons for discussing almost anything in closed session and out of the public eye…” Actually, I think the law is very clear that there are only three authorized reasons to go into closed session: to discuss employment contracts (such as with a union)or the employment situation (dismissal, hiring, etc.) of an individual employee; or to discuss the sale or acquisition of property. All of these are closed for the reason another reader explained: Not to hide from the public but to keep the other side from knowing our (in effect, the taxpayers’) bottom line in a negotiation. When there’s taxpayer money on the table, public officials have the obligation to give the taxpayer the best deal possible, don’t you think? And information is power. (By the same token, breaking that confidentiality seems right when an official or officials are trying to subvert the financial best interests of the taxpayer, as in some of the examples you mentioned.)
A good attorney for the government body is alert to the group wandering off of authorized topics and reins them in.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Your understanding of IOMA is erroneous. Google Atty. General Lisa Madigan’s 50 page guide to IOMA and try reading it before writing further on IOMA.

As for your contention that closed sessions let the City “keep the other side from knowing our (in effect, the taxpayers’) bottom line in a negotiation,” that’s just a lot of tripe. Let the governmental body figure out IN OPEN SESSION exactly what its take-it-or-leave-it offer will be – so that the taxpayers and the unions KNOW what the City’s bottom line is and why that’s what it is. And then the negotiations should also take place in open session so that the taxpayers can see and hear why the union wants more, and how much more.

8:56’s argument for closed session was just disproved by the bad (for the taxpayers) firefighters contract, which was negotiated in secret. And by Frimark’s attempt to buy 720 Garden. And by God knows what else that we didn’t hear about because of closed session.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Your last comment is the most telling one. If closed sessions really were in the public’s interest, they would be required rather than merely permitted by IOMA; and whatever went on during them would be legally secret, not kept secret merely by the tacit agreement of secretive public officials.

OK, I got Lisa’s Cliff’s Notes to IOMA; my apologies; I did not realize there were so many other reasons — or pretexts, as you’d call them — for a body to convene in closed session. Guess the taxpayer could lose either way depending on whether his elected officials and well paid managers and ridiculously paid consultants have his interests at heart or not. One way the taxpayer loses if it’s in a negotiation and the other side (Blackwater, anyone?) gets to hear our bottom line. The other way the taxpayer loses if there’s actual collaborateur action (Blackwater, anyone?) going on, as in the famous Park Ridge example of using insider info to give a pal a price above the assessed value of a property.
Bummer!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our point is: We don’t care if the “other side” gets to hear our bottom line. In fact, that’s exactly what we want – but only AFTER that “bottom line” is discussed and debated publicly so that EVERYONE know what it is and why it is. And then we hold whatever “negotiations” remain IN OPEN SESSION, so that the public gets to hear all the gory details about why a particular union and its employees think they deserve more than what the City has offered. That way, if the union and its employees say “No” and go to arbitration, and some goofy arbitrator decides to give it to them, at least the public will know that their City government didn’t sell them out either intentionally or incompetently.



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