“Management By Walking Around” Should Start With Stroll Along Summit


There’s a style of business management called “management by walking around.” 

Among its notable proponents is management consultant Tom Peters, who wrote about it in his 1982 book “In Search of Excellence.”  Its premise is that a manager can learn many of the things he needs to know about his/her business simply by walking around and informally observing.

After strolling along Summit Avenue this morning from near St. Paul of the Cross School to the METRA station, we observed a few things that suggest our City is not being managed in the way it should be, as to matters both large and small.  And that suggests new Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton and whoever becomes the permanent city manager may be inheriting more of a mess than they, or we taxpayers, have been led to believe.

The first observation we made in our stroll concerns what is commonly called “infrastructure.”  In this case, we’re talking about the condition of that 3-block long strip of 100+ perpendicular parking spaces on the South side of Summit along the railroad tracks, which could be considered of “Third-World quality” only if one stretches the meaning of the term “quality”…and doesn’t mind insulting the Third World. 

We don’t know how many years (decades?) it has been since that expanse of asphalt was last repaved, but judging by its overall appearance we’d be willing to bet it hasn’t been since at least Bill Clinton’s first term (i.e., 1992-96).  That stretch of pavement contains so many dangerous elevation changes, depressions, pockmarks and holes that we’re surprised some enterprising personal injury lawyer hasn’t set up shop out of the trunk of his BMW to sign up prospective plaintiffs near the pay-box at Summit and Euclid.

And speaking of that pay-box, does anybody on City staff realize that there’s no sign posted on that box to inform parkers about how much the daily parking fee is?  Just this morning we saw two consecutive parkers appear to stick only a single $1 bill in the slot, even though the charge has been $1.50 for quite awhile now.   How tough is it for one of our City employees – how about whoever collects the money from that pay-box? – to note the absence of a daily fee sign and report back to whoever’s job it is to post one?

On the other hand, parkers might very well be discouraged from putting any money in those pay-box slots if they are already filled because nobody is showing up to collect that money.  This morning we saw bills and coins already filling the slots for many of the higher-numbered spaces beyond the 40 or so cars actually parked there at the time – suggesting that nobody emptied the box yesterday.

How many parkers see their coin slot already filled and thank their lucky stars that “good enough for government work” just saved them $1.50?

With Park Ridge’s city-manager form of government, the “buck” for all of this supposedly stops at the city manager’s desk.  We realize that the firing of Jim Hock by a 6-0 vote of the Council this past May might represent a partial explanation for that kind of neglect over the past four years Hock was putatively at the helm. 

But the abysmal condition of the pavement along Summit predates Hock by a number of years, which raises a legitimate concern about how efficiently and well the City’s Public Works Dept. is functioning, especially given that we don’t recall anybody from that department pushing to give this Summit paving problem any kind of priority. 

That, in turn, makes us wonder how much money is being spent by the City to do “just enough” infrastructure maintenance, repair and replacement to create a kind of Potemkin village – or, if biblical references are more to your liking, “whited sepulchers” (Matthew 23:27) – that lead the taxpayers to believe things are a lot better than they really are?

Despite Mayor Dave Schmidt’s incessant calls for cutting expenses for everything other than infrastructure and essential City services, and even after years of annual property tax increases that have exceeded the rate of inflation, is the City effectively playing a shell-game to conceal or disguise infrastructure deficiencies that arose while Ron Wietecha devoted his 12-year mayoralty to jousting with former Chicago mayor Richie Daley over all things O’Hare, and that were compounded by the subsequent neglect of later mayors and aldermen preoccupied with TIFs, Uptown redevelopment, and other frolics and detours?

We already have heard rumblings about a 10-11% City property tax hike this November, and about the possibility of similar tax hikes needing to be repeated for several more years thereafter in order to pull the City’s finances out of the power dive they were in when Schmidt took over as mayor in May 2009.  We also get the sense that there are more than enough infrastruture and other “essential” projects to soak up that extra revenue if the City Council goes in that direction. 

With that in mind, maybe new ACM Hamilton, Council Public Works Committee chair Ald. Marty Maloney, and Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim should try some of management by walking around.  And we encourage Mayor Schmidt to join them, if only to point out the things that many inhabitants of City Hall apparently have trouble seeing. 

They can start with a stroll along Summit.

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