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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

12 comments so far

That’s a pretty thoughtful piece. Thank you.

Smith is the epitome of all that is wrong with how our. Elected officials at all levels react today to what goes on around them. Smith obviously has no bearings nor convictions. How sad.

Sweeney has been consistently inconsistent. What else can be said?

As someone who pays attention I want so badly to see Rispanti and Maloney to get moored, take positions anD be consistent. Do it!

The 2nd Ward Alderman is biding time and the 6th is an obvious idiot.

Come on that you all do the public service but it isn’t that hard.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “I want so badly to see Rispanti and Maloney to get moored, take positions anD be consistent.”

From your lips to God’s ear.

The rest of your analysis is pretty solid, although perhaps a tad generous.

I agree with 9:14, these are the kinds of questions we need to ask about our public officials. Principles do matter, and I for one would like to hear the members of the council reveal more about what theirs are.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We recall that when DiPietro voted for including community group funding in the upcoming year’s budget, he talked about his “heart” making that decision. That’s probably tied to the fact that he’s a really nice guy but (in our opinion) an ineffective/poor alderman who, not coincidentally, has helped preside over the significant decline in the City’s infrastructure and financial condition during the past 16+ years. We would be interested in what he believes to be his Top Five accomplishments while on the Council, because we’re having a hard time coming up with anything noteworthy for which he was the “point man.”

In the grand scheme of life, being a really nice guy is probably a lot more important than being a really good public official. But we’d like to think a person can be both; and if he can’t, then maybe he should stick with being the really nice guy and leave government to somebody else.

“leave government to someone else.” — someone not as nice. Dear Lord.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe. Or at least someone who can be a nice guy/gal and a good alderman.

Speaking of “Dear Lord,” Mother Teresa never got elected to any public office, so maybe she realized her limitations and chose the road to sainthood over the Calcutta City Council. And good for her!

Didya ever consider that being too “nice” is one of the reasons we are in the pickle, financial and otherwise, we are in?

Think about it.

Being too nice – yes.
But the case involving the potential food stores moving into town – took a swift turn when they did not care for the revenue – tax split ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: What the heck are you talking about?

Mayor Schmidt actually vetoed a settlement that eliminated the extra holiday pay . So he wants them to have the extra holiday pay ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, Mayor Schmidt vetoed a settlement of a union grievance when the City refused to pay for the extra holiday.

159pm, this is what happened: the City and the union spent many months negotiating a contract which governed all terms and conditions of employment. The very first section of the contract says the effective date was May 1, 2011. Simple enough.

After the contract was signed, the union decided it wanted to change the effective date so that certain firemen could earn extra pay for Veteran’s Day. To engineer the change, the union filed a grievance which should have had no chance of succeeding. Then the union negotiated with city staff to resolve the grievance. The “settlement” of the grievance calls for altering the effective date of several provisions in the contract. Call it “capitulation” or “blackmail” or “bad faith” or whatever. I just call it wrong.

159pm it looks like Mayor Schmidt can’t answer your question because he did veto the settlement that did what he wanted. Now the Mayor has to keep the target moving as directed by the bloggers here so he can continue his political games. Worst Mayor ever.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You and 1:59 are just plain wrong, factually, as both this blog and now the mayor have pointed out. The union welshed on the May “effective date” of the contract, the City Mgr. enabled them to welsh, and then the City Council voted to enable the enabler.

I can’t understand how anybody (like 1:59 and 3:59) can be misinformed on this. Schmidt vetoed a settlement that rewarded the firefighters for grieving the double holiday they didn’t deserve under the terms of the latest contract. That will just prolong the inevitable, though, becasue this council doesn’t have the balls to say no to the unions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s only hard to understand if you don’t want to, and/or you’re looking for something to rag on the mayor about.

You can be a fan both of Mayor Dave and the unions. I am. I’m just not a fan of using grievance procedures — the winning of which cost many good people their lives in the bad old days– to override an existing, agreed-upon contract. I disagree with a number of the Mayor’s decisions and even with his basic premise in re essential human services funding, but it’s nuts to say he’s the worst mayor ever. Not by a long shot. He may not be an ole softie, but he’s also not in it for what he and his personal cronies can skim, glom, and otherwise get from the public. You know who I mean. We’ve had a recent mayor who actually stood up and fought having an ethics ordinance at all; a recent mayor who did personal business out of City Hall and tried to hide deals for his pals that would hurt the public behind closed meetings — and then went around talking about the Chicago-style pols we have here! Now, that’s what I call “worse mayor ever” material.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re fans of the firefighters, police and city workers, but not of public employee unions, for reasons we’ve previously articulated. But simply calling someone the “worst mayor ever” – or “best mayor ever,” for that matter – while giving half-baked “reasons” (like 3:39), is silly.

But it’s time the current aldermen did what previous aldermen never did, even when there were 14 of them instead of just 7: articulate their guiding principles or philosophies of City government, not just their occasional one-off views on particular issues and votes that often aren’t even consistent with their other views and votes. That might be impossible for some of them, however, because (to slightly paraphrase Steven Covey): “You can’t live principles you don’t understand.”

“…..articulate their guiding principles or philosophies of City government”.

There are a few things in this statement that are worth addressing.

First of all, you are essentially saying that those of us in PR who actually took the time to vote (not that many), voted for these Aldermen without any idea what their guiding principles are – that is a little funny/tragic…no??

Second, I guess the above is somewhat understandable considering one Ward had no one running at all until the last moment, one Alderman was brought to the horseshoe for his first term by appointment and PR has a history of many unopposed races.

Third, as I recall you endorsed aldermen. You made endorsements without any idea what their guiding principles are. You have complimented many of these aldermen and you still have no idea about these principles.

So I am left with a question. It is time they articulate these principles or what??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Who you voted for, and why, is your business. But we endorsed only one alderman, Marty Maloney.

We did so (in our 04.04.11 post) based on his many years as the “No. 1 fiscal hawk on the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board” who “was instrumental in the successful intergovernmental effort to build the new City water reservoir at Hinkley Park, thereby saving City taxpayers over $3 million in additional costs and preserving the old City Garage property at Greenwood and Elm for other City uses or for sale to private developers”; and because his next most-qualified opponent, Franklin Ramirez, tried to turn what is supposed to be a non-partisan election into a partisan one “by lining up the endorsements of non-resident Republican officials like Cook County Commissioner (and Village of Elmwood Park president) Peter Silvestri and State Rep. (and Des Plaines resident) Rosemary Mulligan, even as he has failed to identify even one City issue that has an inherently ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ position to it.”

With the exception of Ald. Dan Knight (5th), who also serves as Finance Committee chair and who has been consistent in his attempts at cutting spending while holding down tax increases, we can’t get any real sense of the other aldermen’s “principles” from either their voting records or their comments. For example, Ald. Bernick, whenever he shows up, professes to be “a businessman,” yet he’d be out of business if he ran it the way he votes on City issues. And after 16 years in office we still have no idea what Ald. DiPietro really stands for, other than giving taxpayer money to his favorite private charities without requiring any accountability.

So yes, we would like to hear them articulate their principles or, alternatively, start exhibiting some consistent voting patterns from which we could at least speculate on those principles.

You endorsed Maloney becuase he was a “fiscal hawk” and yet you are pissed that he appears to left some money on the table with his recent TOPR vote. I guess there are guiding principles and then there are guiding principles.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are disappointed, not “pissed,” that he seems to have left some of that “fiscal hawk”-ishness back at the Park District, as evidenced by several of his pro-spending votes. On the other hand, he’s been more of a “fiscal hawk” than at least four (and maybe five) of his fellow aldermen, and than his predecessor. So right now he’s got a lot more going for him than against him re fiscal matters.

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