Public Watchdog.org

Charity, Not Just Government, Begins At Home

12.14.11

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.

5 comments so far

Uhhhhhh… the $2.1 million bond is a re-fi that will cut the rate on the already outstanding indebtedness, which is due to the dopey early retirement program from a few years ago, from some +7% to something like 3.5%, maybe less. It’s actually as close to a no-brainer as you can get… and these guys got it!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we said: “…more likely a function of over-promising and mismanagement by past Councils.”

And, BTW, Bernick was priceless. He displays such a nice temperament.

EDITOR’S NOTE: But, hey, he knows more about what those boards and commissions are doing than the members of those boards and commissions themselves.

12.5% seems pretty high number of folks at or below the poverty level. What was it in the previous census? What is the foreclosure rate in Park Ridge? Any correlation possible or totally unrelated?

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s this great search engine called “Google.” You might want to check it out, and then report back.

Nice call about how the local urgent needs organizations should get our few discretionary dollars. I’ve often thought that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks. But until they start providing a lot more transparency about exactly what services they actually provide, to whom, and at what cost, we are reluctant to concede the “urgent needs” characterization.

As long as government gives so much funding to these not-for-profits, they will keep going to the well. Don’t these groups already get most of their funding from government instead of private donations?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not necessarily. For example, the 2009 Form 990 for the Center of Concern shows $945,922 of “contributions and grants” during its FY 2009 (up from $893,250 in FY 2008), of which it reports that only $379,623 was attributable to “government grants.” But exactly what constitutes those “government grants” and what amounts come from which “governments” is not listed on the 990.



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