Mum’s Still The Word On Taste Of Park Ridge


After seven years of the City’s giving private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) a no-bid, no contract, no transparency monopoly over the Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”), the current City Council – breaking with the somnambulant tradition of its predecessor Councils – finally woke up and decided to invite proposals from other parties interested in running TOPR.


The good news is that, no matter who runs TOPR this year, it looks like the taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for the approximately $20,000 of police, fire and public works services the City has been donating annually to Taste Inc.’s bottom line.  Reimbursement of the City for those services is something we’ve been pushing for since July 2008, when we first started questioning the sweetheart deal former mayor Howard Frimark and the “Purple Ribbon”-phobic City Council gave Taste Inc. back in June 2005.


But there’s also some not-so-good news: the City Council turned the Request for Proposal (“RFP”) process over to City Mgr. Jim Hock, who – true to form – promptly found a way to throw a blanket of secrecy over the process by including the following language on Page 5 of the RFP:


Vendors are hereby notified that all information submitted as part of, or in support of, proposals will remain confidential until the date the date [sic] of award; thereafter the documents will be available for public inspection in compliance with Illinois State Statutes.


In other words, thanks to Hock, the taxpayers don’t get to know the contents of the three competing proposals until after the City Council awards this year’s TOPR, thereby producing the stereotypical “done deal.” 


Mr. Hock, can you spell “transparency”?  What if we spot you the “t,” the “r,” the “p,” and let you buy a couple of vowels? 


So when the City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) took up the matter near the end of last night’s meeting, nobody but the Council and the two applicants present (of the three who submitted proposals) had any clear idea of what was being discussed – although we did catch the part where Hock himself admitted that none of the three applicants submitted a proposal that fully complied with the RFP requirements.


After having reviewed the vague and slipshod RFP, we can see why.


But just because the RFP was poorly drawn didn’t prevent Hock and certain members of City Staff from recommending that the TOPR contract be awarded to Taste Inc., whose new designated spokesmodel appears to be Mel Thillens, now that former spokesmodel and founding Taste Inc. honcho Albert Galus reportedly has resigned under a cloud of “unusual” circumstances. 


Thillens continued Galus’ grand tradition of Taste Inc. self-aggrandizement while sounding like he expected the award of the TOPR contract right then and there.  Needless to say, his bragging about Taste Inc.’s being a not-for-profit corporation – in contrast to the other two for-profit applicants – conveniently omitted the inconvenient truth that Taste Inc. was a for-profit corporation from 2005 through 2008, which Thillens and his fellow Taste Inc. honchos wouldn’t even admit publicly until this past summer. 


Despite the Hock-imposed blackout, comments of both Thillens and the representatives of applicant Absolute Production Services suggested that: Taste Inc. wants to operate TOPR until 11:00 p.m. (v. the traditional 10:00 p.m. close); Absolute wants to run TOPR from Friday through Sunday afternoon (v. the traditional Thursday – Saturday night); Taste Inc. is offering the City a 50/50 share of any profits above $20,000; and Absolute is offering some undefined percentage of first-dollar profit-sharing.   


Not surprisingly, Mr. Thillens also failed to offer an explanation of whether Taste Inc.’s $20,000 threshold makes its profit-sharing offer illusory and a sham, in view of the measly $8,000 “profit” it reputedly reported in 2010, and no reporting of its “profit” in 2011.  


All that crude “money” talk offended City Clerk Betty Henneman, who recalled the good ol’ days when TOPR was just about “building community.”  Apparently lost on Betty is that Taste Inc. seems to have been so concerned with accumulating money that, instead of voluntarily reimbursing the City for all the services it has furnished TOPR over the past 7 years, it chose to both stiff the City while it built up what we understand to be a $70,000-plus bankroll and to refuse to open up its books and records for inspection by the City and its taxpayers.  


And if it wasn’t about the money, there wouldn’t even be any Taste Inc. – because TOPR would be run by a committee of the City, on the City’s dime and entirely for the City’s benefit, as it was proposed back in 2005. 


The Council thrashed around for about an hour and one-half wrestling with whether to: (a) direct staff to prepare a contract for Taste Inc.; (b) direct staff to prepare contracts for both Taste Inc. and Absolute; or (c) throw out the non-compliant proposals and re-start the RFP process.  In the end, it decided to defer any action on this bollixed process until the next COW meeting on January 23. 


Whether the three proposals will be made public before then is still an open question because – according to City attorney Kathie Henn – Hock’s secrecy provision must be waived by the applicants in writing before the City can publish those proposals on its website.  We’re not going to hold our breath on that, but we’ll be happy to be surprised.


Meanwhile, recalling political philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s warning that “Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government,” we have to wonder what will be the next piece of City business Hock tries to hide from the taxpayers, and perhaps from their elected representatives on the City Council as well.


Care to spot us any letters, Mr. Hock? 


To read or post comments, click on title.

8 comments so far

Why is Mr. Thillen’s the spokesperson? What happened to the previous individual?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Albert Galus resigned from Taste Inc. management.

If the Tastee, Inc. did not open up their books, this sure has a smell of a kickback scheme or at least something not passing the smell test.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Illinois – almost everything odd involving government smells of kickbacks.

Whoever wins the contract, are they going to use volunteers to sell tickets and staff the venue, or will the For-profit folks actually hire people to work the event?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The for-profit folks from Absolute said they intended to use volunteers.

The way you describe this, it does sound like there’s a lot going on that the public isn’t seeing, such as why is Hock trying to give TOPR to “Taste Inc.”, why is Mel Thillens’ suddenly do prominent (TOPR, park commissioner), why are Betty Henaman and Joe Sweeney against the city making a profit from TOPR?

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s always a lot going on in local government that the public doesn’t see, which is why we’re so big on transparency.

We figure Hock and the rest of City staff wants Taste Inc. to keep TOPR because Taste Inc. knows the ropes while a new operator will create more work for them. Plus, all the people who have been vendors or participants in Taste Inc. would prefer dealing with a known quantity (Taste Inc.) than an unknown one, so they’re giving Hock an earful.

We’re not tight with Thillens, so we’d only be speculating that he’s trying to increase his public profile and contacts for political reasons. We’d suggest he focus his efforts on doing his job on the Park Board, where his first 8 months have been pretty undistinguished. Plus he’s the perfect “stooge” for the rest of the Taste Inc. operators because, unlike them, he’s new and doesn’t have his fingerprints over all those previous years of Taste Inc.’s being a for-profit corporation, etc., so he has the plausible deniability the others don’t.

We’re guessing Betty longs for the good old days when her Homeowners Party ran the City without question, transparency or accountability. So long as she can keep on running unopposed for Clerk and pocketing her modest City salary as a supplement to her teacher pension, it’s all good. So what if tax dollars are subsidizing the private Taste Inc., private community groups, or anything else that she likes?

Sweeney, on the other hand, is a paradox. He claims to be a hard-nosed fiscal conservative, but he picks and chooses where to exercise that conservatism in ways that aren’t necessarily consistent. According to today’s Journal article, he is quoted as saying (about TOPR profit-sharing): “I’m not in the business of sitting here to make a profit for the city of Park Ridge.” But for the last 2.5 years he’s been on the Council, he never even tried to cut the losses to the City from TOPR-related police, fire and public works services – so his “make a profit” statement rings hollow to us.

Bollixed process is right, holy cow. If you hadn’t painted such a humorous picture of the unfolding events (“buy a couple vowels,” “spokesmodel…Thillens,” “money talk” to name a few gems), I probably would have been crying by the end of your post.

On a related note, I think it was mighty generous of you to refer to Thillens’ tenure so far on the Park Board as undistinguished. The “stooge” characterization is, however, right on the nose.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We, too, laugh so as not to cry.

In fairness to Mr. Thillens, he’s only been on the Park Board since May, and it doesn’t seem like he was very involved or even paying much attention prior to his campaign for the Board – so he may still be in need of more ramp-up time. And we used the term “stooge” more in the sense of a compliant dupe (of the Taste Inc. hierarchy) rather than in the sense of an idiot. We’d almost feel sorry for him if he didn’t seem to be so enthralled by it.

I did know which meaning of stooge you were using. However, I don’t think a double entendre is inappropriate precisely for the reason you stated — that he seems enthralled. With his position, his “power,” I don’t know.

But I hear you on giving him the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Hock submitted a draft of this RFP to the November 14 Committee of the Whole, including the sealed bid provision. No one objected at that time. Maybe they should have. Also, Hock mentioned at that time that most event companies would require an up front budget and some cash outlay. A budget of “zero” was insisted upon by the council, emphatically by Ald. Knight. This is the provision that made this RFP so unique.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course they should have, but that means the part-time elected officials now have to review the work of the $200K-plus full-time City Mgr. That’s ridiculous.

And from what we heard the folks at Absolute say Monday night, what makes this RFP “unique” is that most events they work are owned by the municipality, which owns the profits and the expenses and pays a management fee to the operator. Here, the City is farming out the whole event and taking a share of the profits (and recovering its expenses), neither of which it got from Taste Inc. during the past 7 years.

You’re right; whetherthe City (i.e. we taxpayers) make a “profit” on Taste or not and whether or not the City shares in the profit the organizers bring in or not, the City must be reimbursed for its/our direct expenses such as police. The City should not wait for the possibly chimeric “profits” Taste brings in after all its net/net/net expenses for everything from trash cans to political campaign stash before we are made whole. The City should be the first to be paid out of gross receipts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Both Taste Inc.’s and Absolute’s proposals purportedly ensure that the City will be made whole on its expenses, unlike the past 7 years of Taste Inc.’s no-bid monopoly when the City was not reimbursed for the approx. $20,000/yr of expenses. Re “profits,” Absolute purportedly offered a to-be-negotiated percentage sharing from dollar one, while Taste Inc. 50/50 sharing starts only after Taste Inc. takes the first $20,000.

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