Radio Silence On Labor Negotiations At D-64


Tuesday’s post addressed a lack of candor by Park Ridge City Manager Jim Hock in connection with the City’s labor negotiations.  Hock’s efforts to keep “the public” in the dark about what our City officials are doing when it comes to employee compensation is, in or opinion, reprehensible.

But Hock is not alone in his apparent disdain for “the public” and it’s need – and right – to know how its government operates, and at what cost.

Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 makes City government look like transparency central when it comes to much of its activities.  And when it comes to the District’s negotiations with the teachers union known as the Park Ridge Educational Association (“PREA”), transparency is so lacking that – as we understand it – not even all School Board members are welcome at those teacher contract meetings. 

That’s because the PREA, with the spineless acquiescence of the School Board, foolishly built into the current teacher contract (signed in 2009) a provision requiring non-disclosure of negotiations information.  Chalk that up to the handiwork of Board president John Heyde and member Eric Uhlig, rubber stamped by the remainder of the board at that time.  

We’d like to be able to report exactly how the PREA negotiators and D-64 negotiators Heyde and member Pat Fioretto are conspiring to shake even more shekels out of D-64 taxpayers, but we can’t.  And neither the Illnois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) nor the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) are any real help in getting that information.

So as D-64’s ISAT scores stagnate in mediocrity, as Carpenter School continues to play musical principals, and as taxpayers try to figure out what they are getting for the tax dollars they pour into the District’s coffers, Heyde and Company play footsie with the teachers union.

And “the public” remains none the wiser.

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Proposed New Council Policy Shows What $200,000 Can’t Buy


As our regular readers will attest, we’ve got more than a few complaints about how City Mgr. Jim Hock is performing (or neglecting) his duties as the City’s highest-paid – by far – public official.

The subject of one of those complaints was on full display at last night’s City Council COW meeting, where the discussion of Hock’s revised draft “Council Policy Statement 8: Labor Negotiation Policy” provided a good measure of entertainment – if one’s idea of “entertainment” is having bamboo splinters jammed under one’s fingernails.  

Policy No. 8 is the latest iteration of what started out as Hock’s “Labor Negotiations Guidelines,” which he drafted in a manner so skewed toward keeping secret the terms of City union contract negotiations that it actually demanded that City Council “closed session discussions must remain confidential” [emphasis added] – even though such a confidentiality requirement would appear to violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”).

What Hock trotted out before the Council last night was a slightly toned-down version.  Instead of requiring that closed session discussions “must” remain confidential, the new version provides only that they “should” remain confidential.  But it does delete “the public” from those entitled to receive “timely and accurate information about the negotiations.”   

Which raises the question: Why is Hock so flippin’ concerned about keeping the City’s union negotiations secret – especially from “the public” – after years, if not decades, of the City never having any labor relations policy at all?

We suspect it has something to do with the upcoming (in May) union negotiations, especially given how much flak Hock and Fire Chief Mike Zywanski caught from Mayor Dave Schmidt over the botched firefighters union contract negotiations, where Chief Z (with either Hock’s blessing or his neglect) locked the City into a set of negotiating “Ground Rules” that effectively gagged City officials and prevented them from reporting the progress of negotiations to the taxpayers.

Catching flak from the mayor, however, doesn’t seem to deter Hock, especially since he can usually count on almost unquestioning loyalty from Alds. Joe Sweeney (1st), Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd) and Tom Bernick (6th) no matter how inept (or deceitful?) his performance.  And even Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) have so far seemed more inclined toward averting their eyes rather than directly challenging Hock on even his more egregious conduct.

But last night Hock got grilled by the mayor and some members of the Council – including (gasp!) Bernick.  Little Tommy turned the uber-snarl he usually reserves for the mayor directly on Hock after the City Manager bumbled and stumbled under questioning by Schmidt about the draft policy, before finally admitting that he hadn’t even consulted with the City’s labor counsel (attorney Robert J. Smith, Jr.).

So the Council deferred further consideration of Policy No. 8 until Hock can meet with Smith, presumably to gin up some disingenuous explanations for why this policy (especially its secrecy provisions) is actually a good thing for the City and its taxpayers.

And we’re betting that, by then, Hock will have had a private sit-down or two with Bernick to get the latter back on the reservation.

Meanwhile, we have to wonder just how whacked out (or duplicitous?) Hock must be when he drafts and recommends a City Council policy – which by its very nature is supposed to govern only Council conduct – that goes so far afield that it actually deletes references to “the City Council, and Council staff” from the “Purpose” section of the policy! 

Do we really need a new City Council policy which doesn’t really apply to the Council but, instead, is designed to keep the public in the dark about union contract negotiations while also empowering “the City” (a/k/a the City Manager) to cut whatever deal he wants with “union representatives” over “the rules that will be used during the negotiation process”? 

Do we really need a City Manager who acts like he can go “rogue” whenever he feels the urge, knowing that if at least five aldermen don’t have the cojones to sack him “for cause” he can only be launched with $120,000 in severance – compliments of the knuckleheaded employment contract given him in late 2010 by several now ex-aldermen and current Alds. Sweeney and DiPietro?  

Is this, really, all you can get in the way of city manager services for $200,000+ these days?

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Mayor Says “No”…To The Taxpayers


It’s not often PublicWatchdog has a sharp disagreement with Mayor Dave Schmidt, but this is one of those times.

Last night’s City Council meeting was Schmidt’s last chance to veto the sweetheart Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) 2012 contract between the City and Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) which, arguably, constitutes an improvement over the no-contract monopoly Taste Inc. has held for the past 7 years.  But only because any contract usually is better than no contract.

Two weeks ago the Council endorsed, by a 6-1 vote (Ald. Knight dissenting) the deal which shamelessly perverts an ostensible 50/50 “profit-sharing” arrangement between Taste Inc. and the City by allowing Taste Inc. to pocket the first $20,000 of any TOPR 2012 “profits.”  That extra $20,000 will get added to Taste Inc.’s hefty $80,000+ bank account, which consists entirely of money wheedled out of the City by Taste Inc. – in the form of $20,000+ of initial “seed money” and another $70-90,000+ in free City police, fire and public works services since 2005.

Taste Inc. will get that extra $20,000 before the City gets dime one of “profit-sharing.”  And from what Taste Inc. has reported as its previous years’ annual “profits” from TOPR, it’s likely that profits won’t even cross the $20,000 threshold.  But, astoundingly, 6 of our 7 aldermen apparently thought that’s a fair deal for the City.

We probably shouldn’t have been all that surprised.  The contract was put together by City Mgr. Jim Hock, for whom spending OPM (“Other People’s Money”) is a lifetime avocation.  And after 7 years of prior Councils letting Taste Inc. have its lucrative way without even a question, just getting this current crop of aldermen to demand that Taste Inc. reimburse the City for its expenses was tough enough.  Their demanding profit-sharing starting with the first dollar – before Taste Inc. boosts its bank account to an unprecedented $100 grand level – would have been a minor miracle.

But, frankly, we had hoped Schmidt could muster the courage to veto the contract on that profit-sharing point.  After all, he is the same “Mayor No” who consistently – and correctly, we might add – has vetoed numerous appropriations of public funding, including $3,168 for Meals on Wheels just last month. 

Which leaves us wondering: If the Mayor doesn’t believe Meals on Wheels is deserving of $3,168 to provide “bread” for needy Park Ridgians for 3 months, how can he justify giving away as much as $10,000 of profit-sharing money to another private corporation that provides “circuses” for a mere 3 days?

If Schmidt had the courage to stand against a TOPR 2012 contract that puts $10,000 in the pockets of a special interest run by a handful of folks, instead of in the City treasury for the public interest of all City taxpayers, he might have given a veto address that began with a reiteration of his oft-stated belief that public funds should not be handed out to private entities except under the most limited of circumstances and only for essential City services, not entertainment.

He might have also noted that Taste Inc. doesn’t need another $20,000, since it already is sitting on more money than it’s ever had or ever needed to run TOPR; and that all of that money is actually City money accumulated by Taste Inc.’s not paying for all those City services it received over the past seven years. 

He could have reminded his Council colleagues of their recent struggles to construct a balanced budget which, even with another 3%-plus property tax increase figured in, has required pinching pennies in order to avoid a return to the bad old days of million-dollar operating deficits, as well as to help ensure the long-term financial health of this City for ourselves, our children, and their children. 

And, if Schmidt wanted to show some real leadership, he could have coupled his veto with the request that Taste Inc. agree to amend the contract language to split any profits with the City 50/50, starting with the very first dollar of profit – a split that is eminently fair and reasonable, given this community’s unwavering and generous support of the Taste event over the past seven years.

Unfortunately, instead of courage and leadership, Schmidt displayed his inner Cub fan with what amounted to an insipid “wait ‘til next year.”

So Schmidt will sign the TOPR 2012 contract; the City and its taxpayers will receive for the first time reimbursement for City services to be provided to TOPR this summer; and the handful of folks who run Taste Inc. as their little fiefdom will once again laugh all the way to the bank at the taxpayers’ expense.

But the bright side for Schmidt is that, in return for his endorsement of the Council’s $10,000 sell-uut of the taxpayers, the Tastees will probably let the mayor work the beer tent again this summer.


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Only One Remedy For Inept, Corrupt Government: Vote!


Everybody knows we live in the most corrupt state in the country, and in the most corrupt county in that most corrupt state.  

It took a long time, and a lot of elections of inept and corrupt candidates, to get that way.  And the only way it’s ever going to improve is through a lot more elections, but of competent, honest, public-spirited candidates instead.

We can’t expect the U.S. Attorney to muck out these stables all by himself.  The current guy – clearly the most tenacious and apolitical one we’ve had in at least 30 years – won’t be around forever; and criminal investigations, prosecutions and convictions of corrupt officials take a lot of time and money.  Even when those prosecutions are successful and the crooks go to jail, that still leaves a lot of public offices manned by incompetent mopes who are easy marks for the next generation of corrupt opportunists.

Voting is the only remedy for this situation, although we must realize that significant change won’t happen overnight. 

But unless enough people vote, even if that means sometimes voting for the “lesser of two evils,” it won’t happen at all. 

To read or post comments, click on title.

More Disingenuousness On Cop Shop Plan


We’ve decided to end the week with one more post about the $1 million-plus police station plan, primarily because this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate carries a letter by cop shop guru Frank Gruba-McCallister that seems so disingenuous as to require comment. 

For the sake of brevity and clarity, we’ve interlineated our comments in bracketed bold type.


Urge officials to fund Police Station plan

Over the past several months, the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force has sought a solution to correct “the urgent deficiencies in the Park Ridge police station” [How “urgent” can these “deficiencies” be, considering that many/most of them are “structural” and have been part of the police station since it was opened? And which, by the way, houses a police department that continually receives high marks from the agency(ies) that rate police departments.] in a cost-effective way. The resulting plan was presented to the mayor and the City Council, and the aldermen have studied ways to fund it. I am one of the many volunteers who helped develop this plan and I am a longtime resident of Park Ridge. As such, I strongly encourage every citizen to study this plan (it can be found on the Police Department website, It explicitly presents the deficiencies of our current police station, explains the hazards they create [Like mold infestation, which is being ignored for the first two years of the plan’s three-year duration?] and outlines a solution for a cost well under that of constructing a new station. [Does that mean, Mr. G-M, that you consider “cost effective” to be anything less than the cost of a brand new police station?] If you agree with its conclusions, I ask that you encourage the mayor and the City Council to fund it.

Among the many obligations of the city government to the citizens of Park Ridge, one of the greatest is public safety. [On that, we agree wholeheartedly with Mr. G-M. And that’s one of the reasons why we object to plans that, on their face, seem knee-jerk, half-baked and bass-ackwards.]  We enjoy living in a generally safe and secure community. Part of the reason for this is the investment made in our police and fire departments. However, our sense of safety should not lull us into complacency. Communities just as small as ours, and just as generally safe, have suffered from crime outbreaks [What kind of “crime outbreaks” are you talking about, Mr. G-M? And what communities like ours have suffered from them?] and natural disasters [What kind of “natural disasters”? Did we miss a recent earthquake in Elmhurst, or a tsunami engulfing Wilmette?] that would severely tax our present police facilities. The fact that the recent murder investigation had to be [“Had to be,” as in somebody of authority requiring that it be?] relocated to Rolling Meadows because our station was too small to accommodate outside personnel highlights its shortcomings. [Did running the investigation out of Rolling Meadows compromise it in any way, Mr. G-M? If so, how?] 

Recent fire and police budgets have been cut. As a result, both departments have fewer personnel and resources. Any time a department is asked to do more with less, no matter how conscientious and creative its employees may be in performing their duties, the risk of not being able to meet a need increases. [How much has the “risk” actually increased? What if the department had previously been over-staffed?] 

In some enterprises it may make sense to operate with a narrow allowance for the unexpected. But in regards to police and fire services, such an approach does not pay off. [Why not? What serious and/or dangerous lapses in police and fire services have occurred as a direct result of the police and fire personnel layoffs in the past few years, or from the budget cuts?] By their very nature, they are emergency services and to prepare for emergencies a community must be proactive. Being proactive means taking steps to minimize the impact of a disaster [What kind of “disaster,” Mr. G-M? Plane crash? Tornado? Carrot Top performing at the Pickwick?]; that is, not waiting until a problem crops up and then fashioning an expensive, patchwork solution. Recent economic conditions and imprudent financial decisions made in the past (e.g. the Uptown TIF) have clearly placed strains on the city budget. However, the cost incurred by just one serious incident for which we are unprepared could dwarf our present money woes. [What kind of “serious incident” are you concerned about, and what kind of costs? If you’re truly concerned about health and safety, why does your plan put off until at least its third year the remediation of what appears to be the only concrete health hazard identified in the current cop shop – mold infestation – even though Chief Kaminski himself recognizes there may not be funding available by year three?]

We all pay for insurance for our home, life and automobiles knowing that it is prudent and responsible to do so, but also hoping that a tragic event does not require our using it. An investment in our safety and well-being [Mr. G-M, are you saying that every element of your cop shop plan “insures” that no problem will arise with that element once it is implemented?] is a sound investment even if it may come at some cost. [What’s the dollar-for-dollar return on this particular “investment”] The need for a better facility for our police department is the proverbial tip of the iceberg of a need to invest more fully in those who have committed themselves to protect and serve members of our community.

Frank Gruba-McCallister

Park Ridge Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force

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New Cop Shop Plan Just Reheated 3 Year-Old Canards?


Next to a big new library, a big new police station has been the most enduring pie-in-the-sky project in our community since we borrowed tens of millions of dollars several years ago to bring long-awaited “redevelopment” to Uptown.  And that project has been hemorrhaging red ink ever since.

Three years ago the voters rejected – by an 83.39% to 16.61% referendum vote – building a new police station.  Back then, proponents of the new cop shop panic-peddled dire warnings of lawsuits, unhealthy working conditions, crime sprees, and just about everything short of Al Qaeda attacks and swarms of locusts if the new cop shop wasn’t built.  Fortunately, the voters weren’t bamboozled.

And guess what?  Nothing happened.  Nothing.  Nada.

But only three short years later, the cop shop is back.  This time, however, it’s on a much smaller scale – “only” $1.1-1.3 million (best case) over several years, all the better to fly under the radar and thereby minimize the chance of a referendum where the voters might express their views in ways that can be counted objectively by the Board of Elections.  Plus, the target audience this time around is an eminently-bamboozleable City Council.

The new cop shop plan is called “Cost Effective Strategies to Address Risk Factors at the Police Facility,” a power-point presentation that appears to be the work product primarily of Frank Gruba-McCallister, Ralph Cincinelli, and some other members of the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force.  We grudgingly have to commend them on incorporating “risk factors” in the title: an up-front scare tactic never hurts when trying to create a stampede, even if only a four-alderman one. 

The rest of the 75-page presentation is loaded with enough other disconcerting words and phrases to elicit vacuous, knee-jerk agreement from most uncritical thinkers.  While it would take us far too long to identify and comment on all the half-truths and factually questionable assertions jammed into that document, you can get the flavor from a few examples (with our parenthetical comments):

Page 5:  “Prisoners – 600 to 700 prisoners processed annually.”  [PW: That averages out to under two prisoners per day.  That’s less than Andy and Barney deposited in the Mayberry jail, not counting Otis Campbell’s regular Saturday night visits and the occasional dust-ups between the Darling Family and Ernest T. Bass.] 

Page 7:  “Intake – Path using front steps…poses risks of physical injury to officers, staff and prisoners.” [PW: Virtually everything we do involves “risks,” but how many actual injuries to “officers, staff and prisoners” have been sustained on those front steps in the past 1-3-5 years?]

Page 16: “Prisoner Processing… Trip and Falls – Prisoners and Staff.” [PW: The Report is silent on how many incidents of trip & fall injury or liability there have there over the past 1-3-5 years, but it does try to scare us with several examples from…wait for it…the New York City police department.  Is that because whenever people talk about police issues, NYC and Park Ridge invariably are spoken of in the same breath?]

Back in 2008-09, when local resident Joe Egan and his allies collected the signatures needed to put the new cop shop on the April 2009 referendum ballot (after then-mayor Howard Frimark and a majority of his alderpuppets refused to do it), we asked a few basic questions in an effort to get to the heart of the new cop shop rationale, including:

  • Has the size and condition of the current police station impeded or jeopardized the investigation and prosecution of any crimes? 
  • Has the size and condition of the current police station significantly compromised the safety of the people of Park Ridge? 
  • Has the size and condition of the current police station resulted in any actual financial liability for the City?

Not surprisingly, not one of those questions was answered in the affirmative, either by any of our public officials at that time or by the new cop shop cheering section.  But we’d still love to have those questions answered this time around – maybe by Chief Kaminski, Mr. Gruba-McCallister, or Mr. Cincinelli?

And while they’re answering those questions, we’d love for them to tell the City Council and the taxpayers why their multi-year, million dollar-plus project puts off until Year 3 – the final year – what would appear to be the single most health/safety-threatening condition of the current cop shop: mold?

Frankly, if there actually is a mold problem (as Pages 33 through 38 of the Report insist), Chief Kaminski and City Mgr. Hock owe the Police Department employees and the taxpayers a darn good explanation for: (a) why they haven’t demanded the City Council budget for mold remediation well before now; and (b) how they can justify deferring mold remediation until the final year/phase of their new cop shop plan, behind such dubious “needs” as “bike storage”? 

Or maybe Mr. Gruba-McCallister and Mr. Cincinelli could take a crack at those questions, too?

Not that the aldermen falling all over themselves in support of this project care about the answers to questions such as these.  Led by Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Rich DiPietro (2nd), they voted 5-1 (Knight dissenting, Bernick…surprise!…absent) at the February 27 COW meeting to jack up vehicle sticker charges by 30% (they’re calling it a one-year “surcharge”) so that they can move forward with the project ASAP.

Predictably, Mayor Dave Schmidt questioned the rush to judgment on a million dollar project that has not been anything close to fully vetted by the Council, while Knight opposed raising the vehicle sticker charge and wanted Hock to find the money elsewhere.

But the other aldermen are stampeding, and it looks like it will take more than Schmidt and Knight to turn that herd.

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Hock’s Council Policy No. 8 Smells…But Not Of Chanel No. 5 (Updated 03.13.12)


Back on February 27 and again on March 1, we wrote about how City Mgr. Jim Hock’s “Labor Negotiations Guidelines” are exactly the wrong thing for the City and its taxpayers.  Those guidelines, as written, would both hamstring and gag our City officials in the upcoming negotiations with some of the City’s unionized employees. 

When it comes to dealing with the City’s unions, Hock’s been acting like he’s on their payrolls instead of drawing his $200K-plus annual compensation from the City’s taxpayers.  

First, Hock winked and nodded at Chief Mike Zywanski’s wrongheaded negotiating “Ground Rules” that drew a curtain of secrecy around the latest firefighters negotiations.  Then Hock recommended rolling over on the firefighters’ grievance that was filed to enforce the double-dip paid holiday demand, in utter disregard for the May 1, 2011 “effective date” of the new contract. 

Any doubt about whose side Hock really is on in any union v. taxpayer dispute, however, seems to have been cleared up at the February 27 Council COW meeting, when Hock reflexively branded, as an “unfair labor practice” (“ULP), Mayor Dave Schmidt’s suggestion that future collective bargaining occur in sessions open to the public – even though Hock, in typical fashion for him, couldn’t provide any legal or other precedent to support his ULP claim.     

Schmidt asked City Atty. Everette “Buzz” Hill to opine on Hock’s contention.  So far, there appears to be no word from Buzz, presumably because he’s having as difficult a time as we had finding anything in the way of statutes or court decisions that would back up Hock: our quick-and-dirty Google search, and conversations with a couple of labor law attorneys who specialize in public sector matters, turned up not even a hint of anything that would make open-session negotiations a ULP.  

Meanwhile, perhaps realizing that his bull-flop had been called, Hock has now come up with a new tactic to hamstring and gag City officials in connection with the upcoming union negotiations: he’s converted his “Labor Negotiation Guidelines” into a City Council policy – Policy No. 8 – which he wants the Council to adopt at tonight’s meeting.

Although that proposed policy is not quite as outrageous as his guidelines were (e.g., unlike the guidelines’ secrecy provisions, the policy does not require City officials to violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act), Hock has inserted revised secrecy provisions into that policy which semi-sneakily replace the “shall”s and “must”s with “should”s, effectively setting up the City for bad-faith ULP grievances by the union if the mayor or any alderman were to go public – as they are permitted to do under IOMA – about any aspects of the negotiations, such as what the unions have demanded.

We have to assume that these revisions are an intentional attempt by Hock to jackpot the City because, frankly, we’d hate to think all of us taxpayers are paying over $200K a year for somebody who would do something like this out of mere stupidity. 

So it’s time to conclude that Hock has thrown in with the unions; and that the unions, emboldened by having an ally “inside” City Hall, not only have no intention of ever taking “no” for an answer from this mayor (even if that “no” ultimately gets over-ridden by a feckless Council) but, also, now want an enhanced ability to file ULP charges against the City. 

That would explain firefighters union president Mike Isom’s comments about Schmidt in a recent TribLocal article (“Park Ridge mayor exercise [sic] veto power again over firefighters contract,” 03.09.12):

“I think he’s trying to create controversy where there wasn’t any,” Isom said.  “We’ve made multiple concessions over the years only to be lambasted.”

Not surprisingly, Isom didn’t identify any of those “multiple concessions,” or when they were made.  Maybe he didn’t think he’d get all that much sympathy from City taxpayers by claiming that a cumulative 5% raise over three years, with commensurate benefits, was a major “concession.” 

City/union negotiations shouldn’t be hostile, but make no mistake about it: they are adversarial – especially when the City finds itself in a bubbling financial stew that’s been quietly simmering for the past decade or more while previous City administrations irresponsibly spent money and made long-term financial commitments – including for regular raises and increased benefits for union employees – as if the bills would never come due.

Well, they’ve come due, even though only Ald. Rich DiPietro remains from the folks who closed their eyes and whistled while the stew simmered. 

But don’t expect DiPietro to fall on any swords if he can help it: after 16 years on the Council, he’s become a “short-timer” looking to leave next year.  Which is why he acts like he doesn’t even want to deal with the current problems, much less future ones; or to accept any accountability for previous Council failings.

But if this mayor and this City Council don’t get even more serious than they’ve recently been about managing expenses and increasing revenues, things will get a whole lot worse, starting next fiscal year when – as Schmidt pointed out in his recent State of the City address – the Uptown TIF drain on the General Fund is projected to begin its newest escalation, from the current $5.4 million indebtedness to the $9.4 million mark.

We’re guessing it’s Hock’s and the unions’ fear that the taxpayers are finally waking up to the dangers presented by all this red ink which spurred Hock to propose his guidelines, and now his new Policy No. 8.  Together, Hock and the unions may have concluded that a Council Policy is the best way to lock the City into keeping the collective bargaining process – and all the unions’ demands – hidden from public view until there’s a done deal for the Council to rubber-stamp.  And to get it done quickly, before the next round of collective bargaining begins.

Let’s see how many of the folks around The Horseshoe jump at this new chance to help Hock sell out the taxpayers…again.

UPDATE:  This matter was deferred to the March 26, 2012, Procedures & Regulation Committee meeting at the request of 2 aldermen (Maloney & Raspanti), which is a permitted Council procedure.  That was just as well, because the City Attorney had not yet completed his research into the exact nature of unfair labor practices, including (per Mayor Schmidt’s question) whether it would be a ULP for future union contract negotiations to be held in sessions open to the public and the media.

That question wouldn’t even need to be answered by the City Attorney if all the City unions agreed to open-session bargaining.  But until you see herds of pigs are doing loop-the-loops in the airspace over Park Ridge, don’t expect that to happen.

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What Are Their “Principles” (And How Can We Tell)?


An article in the online Park Ridge Herald-Advocate dated March 6 bears the title: “Park Ridge mayor calls veto of firefighters pact ‘matter of principle.’” 

It goes on to discuss the Council’s over-ride of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of an after-the-fact change in the firefighters union contract that effectively allows the firefighters to double-dip one extra paid holiday – compliments of bungled contract negotiations led by Fire Chief Mike Zywanski, under the should-have-been-watchful-but-really-was-blind eye of City Mgr. Jim Hock.  The cost to the City’s taxpayers: $6,400.

Schmidt admitted that if his veto were upheld and the firefighters union filed for arbitration rather than voluntarily give up one of the double-dip holidays, just the City’s legal fees for that arbitration would exceed $6,400…even if the City won.  Schmidt’s reasoning for opposing the contract change?  “It sets a bad precedent, and it sends the wrong message to the other unions by showing weakness and inviting them to employ the same tactics.”

We agree, which should come as no surprise to anybody who has read our posts about those negotiations and how Chief Z and Hock helped keep negotiating details hidden from public view until the contract had become virtually a done deal.

But at least six aldermen – Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Bernick and Maloney – apparently didn’t agree with Schmidt’s concerns about “bad precedent” or about encouraging certain unions to employ such tactics in the future.  Or maybe they didn’t want to risk having to spend the money to arbitrate.  Or maybe they just didn’t care. 

Unfortunately, we don’t know – because while Schmidt explained his reasoning, the Override Six weren’t talking. 

Ironically, that same H-A article reported the Council’s over-ride of another of Schmidt’s vetoes – this one of more donations of tax dollars to Center of Concern, Maine Center for Mental Health, and Meals on Wheels.  The Council over-rode as to the CofC and Maine Center handouts by a vote of 6-1 (Knight dissenting), but then sustained it for the $3,168 donation to Meals on Wheels by the bare minimum of 3 votes needed to sustain: Knight, Sweeney and Smith.

Which brings us back to the issue of “principle” – about which Jefferson once wrote: “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”

As with the firefighters contract, Schmidt has stood like a rock on this community group funding, always articulating his reasoning – as he did when he announced his veto of these latest donations at the February 20, 2012 meeting: “It is wrong to compel taxpayers to support any private entity, no matter how well-meaning the group, unless that group is providing an essential city service which the city cannot.”  Knight has been equally staunch and has articulated that same reasoning on several prior occasions.  That sounds like a “matter of principle” to us.

When it comes to Sweeney and Smith, however, their votes seem more like a matter of schizophrenia – as evidenced by their previously having voted both for and against “community group” funding. 

As recently as the February 6th meeting (with Sweeney MIA), Smith voted for donating to Meals on Wheels the exact same $3,168 on which he is now, just one month later, voting to sustain the mayor’s veto.  Yet just last June, Smith voted to override Schmidt’s veto of the Council’s budgeting $65,776 for all three of those groups, while Sweeney voted to sustain that veto.  And, going back to August 23, 2010, Sweeney voted for donating $7,040 to Meals on Wheels but against donating $6,600 to Maine Center. 

If you can discern any controlling principles of public policy or municipal governance from that kind of behavior, you’re a lot sharper than we are – or just as bollixed up as Sweeney and Smith seem to be.  Judging from their public comments and votes, they could very well be Marxists…albeit of the Groucho variety: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.”

Unfortunately, most of the other aldermen have yet to voice or display any discernable consistency in their approach to the many issues confronting City government that would suggest more developed principles of public policy and governance than Sweeney’s or Smith’s.  Heck, Rich DiPietro’s been an alderman since 1995, and the “principle” of municipal governance he has demonstrated most consistently during all that time is go-along-to-get-along.

Modern leadership guru Stephen Covey distinguishes “reactive” people from “proactive” ones by the latter’s ability to “subordinate an impulse to a value.”  Reactive people are “driven by feelings, by circumstances, by conditions, by their environment” while proactive ones are “driven by values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.”

Looks to us like a proactive mayor and one aldermen, surrounded by a bunch of reactives.  And the results speak for themselves.

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Taste Of Park Ridge Curtain Call Tonight? (Updated 03.06.12; 03.07.12)


Tonight’s City Council meeting should finally ring down the curtain on the recent Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) RFP charade orchestrated by City Mgr. Jim Hock, seemingly in collusion with the folks who run the private corporation Taste of Park Ridge Inc. (“Taste Inc.”) that has had a no-bid, no-contract monopoly on TOPR since 2005. 

That monopoly appears to have cost the City over $100K in City services provided free to Taste Inc. over the past 7 years – which allowed Taste Inc. to build up its current $80,000+ bank account despite having to pay what Taste Inc. claims were thousands (tens of thousands?) of dollars to the IRS in back taxes for the four years (2005-08) it advertised itself as a not-for-profit while, in reality, it was a for-profit corporation. 

This year was supposed to be different.

This year the City was going to award a first-ever TOPR contract, based on an RFP that required reimbursement of City expenses and a share of the profits.  But as could have been predicted from the fact that Hock was in charge of the process, the RFP itself was a cobbled together mess in many respects that contributed to the three applicants submitting non-conforming proposals, all of which should have been rejected.

But Hock chose to enter into negotiations exclusively with…wait for it…Taste Inc.  And once that started, he promptly (a) agreed to reduce the RFP’s $100,000 letter of credit requirement to the $20,000 one Taste Inc. offered, and (b) agreed to defer any City profit sharing until after Taste Inc. pockets the first $20,000 of profits so that it can boost its bankroll up to an arbitrary $100,000 figure.

If this City Council had a spine, it would tell Hock and Taste Inc. “no deal” unless profits were split 50/50 beginning with the first dollar.  But it doesn’t.  And, besides, politicians love bread and circuses – and TOPR provides both.

Which might explain why, by our count, Alds. Joe Sweeney, Rich DiPietro and Jim Smith already are in Taste Inc.’s corner.  And if Taste Inc.’s biggest Council cheerleader, Ald. Tom Bernick, actually decides to make one of his rare appearances at The Horseshoe, Taste Inc. will have its fourth vote even if Alds. Sal Raspanti, Dan Knight and Marty Maloney vote for a better deal for the taxpayers.

There are those who will say that forcing Taste Inc. to pay its expenses after 7 years on the public dole is an accomplishment.  And it is, just like grabbing a few crumbs off the floor is an “accomplishment” for a beggar.  Which is what the City has let itself become in dealing with Taste Inc.

Worse yet, the City’s (a/k/a Hock’s) mismanagement of this RFP process likely has demonstrated to anybody who might otherwise be interested in bidding on any future TOPR contract that the City’s RFP process is just a sham and a “cover” for awarding the event to Taste Inc.  But that almost certainly will be lost on Hock, the Taste Inc. aldermen, and whatever Taste Inc. representatives – Mel Thillens? Dave Iglow? – show up to take their bows. 

Just chalk it up to a little more special-interest government from 505 Butler Place.

UPDATE (03.06.12):  To nobody’s surprise, Taste Inc.’s done deal for TOPR 2012 became officially “done” last night by a 6-1 vote (Ald. Knight dissenting).  

And, also not too surprisingly, Taste Inc.’s No. 1 Council cheerleader, Ald. Tom Bernick (6th) – whose Council attendance record to date makes that of former Ald. Robert Ryan seem positively stellar – apparently found the awarding of the TOPR contract an event more worthy of his presence than the usual Council and COW meetings, or the budget workshops.  Perhaps he just wanted to publicly ask Taste Inc.’s Dave Iglow and Mel Thillens, one last time, why they keep insisting on running TOPR when they’ve been treated so shabbily of late at 505 Butler Place.

Memo to Ald. Bernick: Try $80,000 in the Taste Inc. bank account, which should swell to a cool $100 grand this summer, thanks to the $20,000 of profits Taste Inc. won’t have to share with the City under the contract approved last night. 

Other than Bernick, none of the aldermen explained their votes, so we don’t know why they thought Taste Inc. shouldn’t have to split the first $20,000 of this year’s profits with the City, a/k/a the taxpayers.  Frankly, we expected more from Alds. Raspanti and Maloney, who in past Council discussions on this subject seemed more concerned with maximizing the City’s financial return on TOPR than their simple “yes” votes (which cost the City $10,000) last night would indicate. 

But the taxpayers should be grateful it’s only $10 grand: at tomorrow night’s budget meeting, these same folks will be dealing with real money. 

Or maybe not all these “same folks”: what’s the Vegas line on Bernick showing up?   

UPDATE (03.07.12):  For those of you who bet the “over,” you’re in luck…because we’ve heard that Bernick bailed on tonight’s budget workshop, preventing the Council from having a quorum and causing the cancellation of the workshop (because Alds. DiPietro, Maloney and Raspanti had previously indicated they would not be present).

We’ll need an “official” record check, but it’s looking like Bernick may have set the record for most Council meetings missed by one alderman in one budget year.  And, more remarkably, he will have done it as a rookie! 

Way to go, Little Tommy!

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Is It Finally Time For Some Sunshine On Public Sector Collective Bargaining?


As we wrote in Monday’s post, the “Labor Negotiations Guidelines” proposed by City Manager Jim Hock are exactly the wrong way for the City to go about negotiating union contracts.  That’s because public sector collective bargaining bears little resemblance to its private sector counterpart. 

Private sector employers are profit-driven. They want to maximize their profits for the shareholders’ benefit.  One way to do that is to minimize costs – including labor costs.  Collective bargaining in the private sector, therefore, is the product of both management and labor keeping their cards close to their vest, bluffing when they can, and generally producing a level of creative tension that usually facilitates a reasonable balance between the employers’ and employees’ interests.

Public sector employers, on the other hand, are governmental bodies who tend to be viewed by their own bureaucratic managers as “non-profit” entities.  That view fosters a give-away mentality, because the bureaucrats generally have no real incentive to minimize labor costs or operate more efficiently.  To the contrary, increased raises and benefits given away to the unionized workers, and a larger workforce under management, can actually be used to justify higher raises and benefits for those “managers.”

That symbiotic coziness between public sector unions and the governmental managers is a key reason why bureaucrats like Hock would prefer to keep union negotiations hidden from public view – as we saw with the recent firefighters union contract, where lead City negotiator Chief Mike Zywanski (presumably with Hock’s approval) proposed “Ground Rules” that kept negotiations secret and effectively put a gag on the elected officials.  And, as we saw in the aftermath of those negotiations that guaranteed the union firefighters a non-merit, across-the-board raise of 6% over the next 3 years, the non-union salaried City employees were given non-merit, across-the-board raises shortly thereafter.

Another reason why negotiations are kept secret is that the public officials who are supposed to be negotiating on behalf of the taxpayers often have strong ties to the union side of the table.  In the case of Chief Z, he reportedly spent much of his career as a firefighters union member; and his non-Park Ridge taxpayer status (he resides in the Naperville area) doesn’t even provide any “taxpayer” self-interest as a counter-weight to that sense of firefighter fraternity.   

Even when we have elected officials involved in the collective bargaining, however, those officials often are proven go-along-to-get-along types (like D-64 Board president John Heyde), or outright union sympathizers (like D-64 Board member/union attorney Pat Fioretto).  No wonder Heyde and Fioretto don’t want even fellow D-64 Board members sitting in on the teachers union negotiations.

But perhaps the most significant reason why negotiations are conducted in “closed” sessions outside the public and media view is because the unions want it that way. 

Irrespective of whatever lofty mantle a particular union wraps itself in for marketing purposes – “first responders” for police and fire, “for the kids” for teachers – the last thing those unions want is for the taxpayers to see and hear, firsthand, the unions’ demands; or for those taxpayers to be exposed to a weeks/months-long stream of meeting video, news reports and press releases detailing the costs of whatever compensation and benefit packages are being negotiated. 

They’d prefer the taxpayers hear about that stuff only once, after the deal is tentatively struck and being rushed through the City Council or school board for final approval.

That’s why we’d like to see the City – and all our other local governmental bodies – adopt ordinances requiring that all union contracts be negotiated publicly, in meetings open to the public and videotaped for those who can’t attend in person.  Let the taxpayers see and hear the respective sides’ demands, offers, and negotiating “styles” so that they can judge for themselves who is being reasonable and who is not.

Prior to any such negotiation, however, each governmental body would have to make a determination – in open session, probably in the context of the budget process – how much it believes it can/should appropriate for union (and non-union) employee compensation and benefits for the coming year; and, if possible, projections for 2-3 years out.  That way, the public could weigh in on the fairness/reasonableness of those numbers even before negotiations commence.

But don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

When Mayor Schmidt suggested the possibility of open-session bargaining at Monday night’s COW meeting, Hock called it an “unfair labor practice” (“ULP”) almost before Schmidt finished his sentence – although City Attorney “Buzz” Hill didn’t offer an opinion either way on Hock’s claim.

While we don’t claim to be experts in public employment law, we could find nothing in the Illinois statutes or in case decisions that support Hock’s position.  While labor negotiations are a permitted exception to the Illinois Open Meetings Act’s requirement of open proceedings, neither IOMA nor any other law we could find prohibits open-session negotiations.  And open session collective bargaining – under so-called “sunshine” laws – has been the rule in states such as Florida for years.

Schmidt asked Buzz to look into it and report back to the Council, so we look forward to what he will find.

We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Hill reports that not only are open-session union negotiations permitted (and, therefore, not a ULP), but that the City’s adoption and enforcement of Hock’s misguided “guidelines” would violate IOMA while also actually providing the unions with a basis for claiming a ULP if, for example, any information about negotiations were to slip out of the “confidential” bargaining sessions Hock wants to impose!

But apparently that’s the kind of sharp thinking that gets Hock the big bucks.

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