“Smitty” May Have Found An Acorn!


A few weeks ago, in our post “Park Ridge Not “Unfriendly” To Business, Just Nutty”, we were critical of Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) for his attempt to make more of a mockery out of what already was a mockery: the Council’s attempts to cut-and-paste a variety of questionable amendments to the new Class M liquor license requested by Whole Foods.

Whole foods actually drafted the proposed Class M license language and, not surprisingly, it was written to apply only to grocery stores 35,000 square feet or larger.  And not surprisingly, Whole Foods will be one of those, while we understand only Dominick’s currently satisfies that requirement. 

Both Jewel/Osco and Trader Joe’s do not.  And therein lies the rub that begat Ald. Smith’s motion to amend the Class M license area requirement to only 20,000 square feet – which we assume qualifies both Jewel/Osco and TJ’s.

Frankly, once Smitty started talking about shoe stores, florists and real estate offices serving liquor by the glass, he lost us.  And it looked like that’s where he lost the Mayor and the Council, too.  So his 20,000 square foot Class M license amendment really had no chance of receiving meaningful consideration.

And it didn’t.

Which, in retrospect, was unfair.  What’s good for the goose, policy wise, should be good for the gander.  Grocery stores like Whole Foods, Dominick’s, Jewel/Osco and Trader Joe’s should be able to compete on a level playing field.  And if passing a Class M license that would apply to all of them would help level that field, why not consider it now rather than playing catch-up ball later?

As it stands right now, Dominick’s has an eating area where people can consume food purchased there – a situation Whole Foods is expected to duplicate and enhance.  Neither Jewel/Osco nor TJ’s currently offers that dine-in experience, perhaps because of their significantly smaller size.  But why should the language of the new Class M license be structured to frustrate any future effort by those two stores to create dining areas in their existing footprints, or in expanded premises of something less than 35,000 square feet?

Given the effort and debate the Class M adoption process has already consumed, we think it would be more efficient to consider these issues now – when the matter is already before the Council and the law is being written on a clean slate – rather than later, when the debate would need to be effectively re-started from scratch, and intervening circumstances might add to, or cloud, the issues that are pretty clear at this time.

And while the Council is at it, one of the 5 who voted for the adoption of the Class M license as modified by the DiPietro Amendment to restrict alcohol by-the-glass sales to between 5:00 and 10:00 p.m. rather than from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. should seek reconsideration of that service hours restriction. 

Why should Whole Foods be prejudiced in competing for lunch business even though Chipotle (a block away), the Pickwick (two blocks away), and Houlihan’s and the other restaurants in the Uptown complex (three blocks away) can all serve lunchtime liquor by-the-glass – as can all the restaurants in Edison Park a scant five blocks in the other direction?

But much as we think Smitty’s idea of a level playing field for comparable grocery stores makes sense, we’re still not buying into his concept of liquor licenses for every Park Ridge business.

“Koenig & Strey Cocktails” just doesn’t sound quite right.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Chief K Plays Good Cop, Typically Bad Politician


We start this post with a disclaimer: We like Police Chief Frank Kaminski and think he has done a good job of running the Park Ridge Police Department.

But when he or any other bureaucrat starts acting like a politician and trying to pass off cow flop as chocolate pudding in order to spend taxpayer money needlessly, we’re going to call him on it.  And that’s what it looks like Chief K is trying to do with this $360,000 “Phase I” of an approx. $1.2 million, 3-year cop shop renovation/expansion, which we have criticized since our “$1.1 Million Cop Shop Renovation A Want, Not A Need” (11.22.11) post.

At Monday night’s COW meeting, 5 of the 6 aldermen in attendance acted as if they didn’t want to risk not getting their Jello pudding cups by asking Chief K any tough questions.  As a result, it was left to Mayor Dave Schmidt to point out all the existing available space at City facilities and ask the tough questions about why the City should be spending over $360,000 for: a new building to store evidence that has been stored in a vault in the police station for the last decade (or two, or three, or four?); a bike corral; and some additional paved parking spaces.

If you want to see/listen for yourself, the Phase I discussion can be found on the City’s website, from approximately 2:28 to 2:45 – a mere 17 minutes – of the meeting video.

Chief K’s answers consisted almost entirely of ipse dixit (“He, himself, said it” – so it must be true) opinion instead of hard facts, but that seemed to be more than enough for the can’t-tell-cow-flop-from-pudding Alds. Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th), Marc Mazzuca (6th) or Marty Maloney (7th) to rubber-stamp the Phase I contract – with nary a mention that it came in $10,000 over the budget. 

Of the five, only Mazzuca had the temerity to even ask a question, a softball about whether any alternatives have been explored and studied.  When Chief K responded with “We’ve been studying this for over a year, ” – which didn’t actually even answer the question – Mazzuca was finished.  Apparently, he and his colleagues (save for Ald. Knight) share the view that simply spending time “studying” something is the equivalent of, or a substitute for, actually conducting an objective, competent and thorough analysis of it.

In the case of these Phase I expenditures, we can only surmise that Chief K and the five aldermen must not (or not want to) remember how Chief K’s predecessor and a number of former aldermen spent well over a year “studying” a brand new police station – until resident Joe Egan got it put on the April 2009 ballot as a referendum, and the voters told them in no uncertain terms what they thought of that idea and the value of all that “studying” – by an 83% to 17% “no” vote on that new cop shop.    

The defeat of the new cop shop, however, is why Kaminski and this new crop of aldermen have adopted this nickel-and-dime strategy, even if the nickels and dimes total $360,000 for just this Phase I – without even attempting to solve what is supposedly the most pressing health issue afflicting the current cop shop: mold.  That’s “Phase III” of this plan, three years from now.  Behind a bike corral and some parking spaces.

Really, Chief?  Really, Alds. DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti, Mazzuca and Maloney?

If you want to see the “studying” that led up to this point, look no further than the “Cost Effective Strategies to Address Risk Factors at the Police Facility,” a transparently lightweight power-point presentation from the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force that we discussed in our “New Cop Shop Plan Just Reheated 3-Year Old Canards” (03.14.12)   and “More Disingenuousness On New Cop Shop Plan” (03.16.12)  posts and won’t waste additional time re-ridiculing – except to say that such a lame presentation in any competent private-sector business setting might well get the authors fired.

The takeaway from Monday night’s meeting (and from the long history of this cop shop saga) is that when a high-placed bureaucrat who professes expertise in an area wants something, most elected officials will take the path of least resistance by simply rubber-stamping it  – as they did Monday night – instead of making the effort to actually think about the issues and ask the tough questions that need to be asked…and answered meaningfully.    

And it’s so much easier to do when those officials can tell themselves it’s a bargain at only $360,000.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is Police Dept.’s Accreditation Just A Glorified Sales Pitch?


Our original plan for today’s post was to do something we wish we had more opportunities to do: praise – that’s right, actually praise – one of our local governmental departments for going above and beyond the call of duty in providing the taxpayers with real bang for our bucks.

We intended to give a big PublicWatchdog bark-out to the Park Ridge Police Department, which recently achieved a 100% score on the 71-point Tier One compliance evaluation by the Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Council (“ILEAC”) rating team.  Actually, the focus of that planned bark-out was going to be the way the accreditation recommendation was achieved: according to the ILEAC rating report, the recommendation was achieved by “extraordinary patience and dedication,” the use of “ingenuity and creativity,” and “careful procedures and diligence” of the PRPD administration and staff – all of which was needed to overcome the 11,000 square foot police station that the ILEAC report pointedly criticized as containing “various physical inadequacies.”   

In other words, at first glance it appeared that our Police Department is doing what most successful businesses and organizations have been doing for years, and even more so since the recession hit a few years ago: getting more done with less resources, a/k/a greater efficiency.  And that’s exactly what the taxpayers deserve from the PRPD…and every other City department, and every other local governmental body.  

But before we got too far along in praising that accomplishment, we took a little time to Google ILEAC and what this 100% Tier One rating actually means.

We discovered that the ILEAC is a sub-group of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (“ILACP”), which appears from its website to be one of those pseudo-“independent” self-promoting fluff-and-stroke organizations that exist in many industries, but seem particularly prevalent in the public sector – seemingly to persuade gullible taxpayers that they are getting more and better government services for their money than might otherwise be perceived if those taxpayers were left to their own observations and common sense.

A Tier One accreditation, which costs $500, purports to be based on 71 standards for administration, operations, personnel and training.  A Tier Two accreditation costs $1,000 and purports to be based on 180 standards.  Both types of accreditation evaluations involve a two-day, on-site process of file review, interviews and ride-alongs by an assessment team, which submits an Assessment Report to the accreditation committee chairman for distribution to, and consideration by, the entire ILEAC.  If accreditation is granted, it is valid for four years.

And, of course, accreditation wouldn’t be worth even $500 if there wasn’t an awards ceremony, customarily featuring the presentation of the accreditation certificate at…wait for it…a City Council meeting.

Our cursory investigation into the accreditation process also revealed that the ILEAC members are a cast of characters who, if this were the movie “Casablanca,” would be rounded up by Inspector Renault for being “the usual suspects”: two incumbent Illinois police chiefs appointed by ILACP; a member of the Campus Law Enforcement Executive Committee appointed by ILACP; the Director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice, or designate; the Director of the Institute for Public Safety Partnerships, or designate; the Director of the Illinois Municipal League, or designate; the Director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, or designate; the Director of the Intergovernmental Risk Management Association; and the Director of the Illinois County and City Managers Association.

In other words, a group of uber-bureaucrats.  Or their “designates.” 

And guess who just happens to be on the accrediting Council?  None other than Park Ridge’s own, Police Chief Frank Kaminsky.

That very well could explain the arguably gratuitous “shot” at the condition of our cop shop, which lends aid and comfort to Chief K’s advocacy for his latest pet project: a $1.3 million renovation and expansion of the cop shop.  Ironically enough, the $360,000 contract for Phase I of that three-phase project is set on tonight’s City Council Finance & Budget COW agenda for preliminary approval. 

Chief K’s prominent role with ILEAC might also explain some, if not all, of the gushy accolades about the PRPD’s Herculean efforts to overcome its alleged Black Hole of Calcutta-like working conditions.  What better way to set the table for advocating even higher pay and benefits in the future than for ILEAC to “officially” extol the “extraordinary patience and dedication,” “ingenuity and creativity,” and “careful procedures and diligence” of the PRPD personnel?    

So it pains us to conclude that this ILEAC Tier One rating – all $500 worth of it – appears to be little more than a kind of sales pitch.  But instead of Ron “Wait, there’s more!” Popeil pitching his Showtime Rotisserie, we have Chief K pitching a cop shop project and higher pay for PRPD personnel by means of a quasi-official accreditation. 

Accreditation certificate included.    

To read or post comments, click on title.

Park Ridge Not “Unfriendly” To Business, Just Nutty


For as long as we can remember, the City of Park Ridge has tried to lure “retail” businesses to our community.  Yet despite that desire being openly expressed by virtually every public official over the past two decades, Park Ridge allegedly has a reputation for being “unfriendly” to business.

We think that’s a bad rap, unless “unfriendly” means not throwing buckets of money at businesses to locate or stay here.  We call that “bribery,” but semantics are debatable. 

After this past Monday night’s performance in the Council Chambers, however, we’re convinced Park Ridge isn’t nearly as “unfriendly” to business as it is “nutty” to business.

On the Council agenda Monday night was a “first reading” (of the required two readings) for approval of a new type of liquor license – a “Class M” license – sought by the Whole Foods Market planned for the southeast corner of Touhy and Washington.  The Class M license would permit the consumption of beer and wine within any grocery store at least 35,000 square feet in area, a criterion which the proposed Whole Foods store would satisfy.

“Champagne Shopping,” anyone?

But a number of the folks who unsuccessfully opposed the zoning change permitting Whole Foods to build a store at that location in the first place apparently figured they could exact a figurative pound of flesh – high-priced prime Angus sirloin? – from the retailer by opposing the new license.   And that led to approximately 2 hours of what often approached theater of the absurd.

Several residents spoke of the carnage that would result from shnockered shoppers slamming their cars into St. Paul of the Cross school kids on their way to and from school – as if those same school kids aren’t already at risk from the lubricated motorists making their way along Northwest Highway from their liquid lunches at the gin mills/restaurants just down the street in Edison Park.  Or from the lunch crowd at Houlihan’s, Chipotle, or even the Pickwick Restaurant who might hit the road a bit tipsy. 

And that’s not even counting the frugal folks who imbibe their Two Buck Chuck at home before heading out on their daily errands. 

If protecting St. Paul kids from drunken drivers is really that much of a concern, however, why haven’t those folks who are ragging on Whole Foods about serving liquor demanded that the Park Ridge Police set up “Checkpoint Paulie” – as in St. Paul, not Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” – on Northwest Hwy. every afternoon to snag impaired drivers – and do the same for the kids at all the other schools in town?

The Council’s contribution to the goofiness was led by Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), who sought to amend the original Class M license language proposed by Whole Foods by imposing several restrictions on liquor sales, the most significant of which was limiting Whole Foods’ sale of liquor-by-the-drink to the after-school hours of 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.   DiPietro wasn’t all that clear on why Whole Foods should be limited in ways that neighboring liquor-by-the-drink emporiums are not, but he’s always been more of a one-shot thinker than a comprehensive public policy wonk.

After DiPietro’s amendment passed 6-0, seemingly blessed by the silence of the Whole Foods representative in the audience, the amended Class M license was approved by a 4 (Alds. Raspanti, Knight, Mazzuca and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. DiPietro and Smith; Ald. Sweeney absent) vote.

That’s right, DiPietro voted against his own amendment!  Crass two-bit politics, anyone?

Not to be outdone, Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) – whose views and votes sometimes suggest the adverse effect of sunspot activity or, perhaps, subtle changes in the Earth’s magnetic fields – sought an amendment that would permit any business in Park Ridge to obtain a liquor license. 

Banking on bourbon?  Pinot at Pines?  Living Sea libations?

That bit of knuckleheadedness lost by a vote of 5-1, with Smith casting the only “yea” vote.   Smith also moved to have the Whole Foods site plan reduced from a 38,000 square foot store to a 20,000 square foot one, but that motion failed to even earn a second.

Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) let his freak flag fly, too, proposing the limiting of any Whole Foods boozer to 16 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine per day.  We can only hope his motion was an attempt at satirical improv, because not only would such a standard be pretty darn silly but it would be practically unenforceable.  Fortunately, that motion also failed, by a vote of 4-2 (Mazzuca and Smith voting “yea”). 

At one point, resident George Johnson asked:  “Do shoppers need to be liquored up to go to Whole Foods?”

We’re not sure of that, George – but a double scotch on the rocks sure might make Council meetings like these easier to endure.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Board And Adminstration Already Electioneering For April (Corrected)


Although he isn’t publicly admitting it, Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 Supt. Philip Bender is scared.  So are School Board president John Heyde and several other D-64 Board members.  And so is the Park Ridge Education Association, commonly known as the PREA or the teachers union.


Because last month School Board members Anthony Borrelli and Eric Uhlig did the unthinkable: they voted against the new PREA contract negotiated in secret closed sessions by Heyde and fellow Board member Pat Fioretto, as we discussed in our post “Taxpayers Just Dairy Cattle To D-64 Board, Administration (09.27.12).  Based on memory and the limited research we were able to do, those dissenting votes against the new teachers’ contract appear to have been the first of their kind in at least 20 years.

Dissenting votes scare public officials, who count on unanimity in the decision-making process to maintain the appearance of “consensus” that lulls the public into complacency and apathy.  The bureaucrats, elected officials and union folks know that the taxpayers are far less likely to question the wisdom of a unanimous vote than a vote with even one dissenter, much less two.  Conversely, taxpayers who know and respect dissenters like Borrelli and/or Uhlig are more likely to doubt the wisdom of something those two voted against.

Keeping the public in the dark is the main reason union contracts are negotiated in secret closed sessions that shield the union’s shameless demands and the District’s spineless concessions from public view and comment.  We understand that Heyde and Fioretto made sure that the secrecy requirement contained in the previous contract was included in the new contract – although we haven’t been able to confirm that yet because we can’t seem to find the actual contract posted anywhere on the District’s website. 

Just consider that more of D-64’s hide-in-plain-sight strategy, directed by D-64’s current minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm.

The D-64 “leadership” and PREA are so afraid of the independent thought that Borrelli’s and Uhlig’s dissenting votes represent that they took what we believe is the unprecedented step of running a “coffee and informal conversation” at District headquarters this past Thursday (10.11.12) night so that Heyde and friends could stage a dog-and-pony show on the “A-B-C’s of School Board Service” – billed by Supt. Bender as a way for anybody considering running for the Board in April “to hear first-hand about what it’s like to contribute to local public education in this significant way.”

Puh-leeze!  As if any competent person seriously considering a run for the D-64 Board doesn’t already have some idea of what they’re getting into. 

Four full-term (four-year) seats are in play on April 9, 2013 – those of current Board members Fioretto, Uhlig, Sharon Lawson and Scott Zimmerman.  Assuming Borrelli maintains his independent, pro-taxpayer stance, and should Uhlig be re-elected and do likewise, the election of only 2 more like-minded Board members would create a full-blown Nightmare on Prospect Avenue for Bender, Heyde and the PREA.

Hence, the unprecedented “coffee and informal conversation.”  Can the re-awakening of the recently dormant Brigadoon-like General Caucus of School Districts 64 and 207 be far behind?

Because neither of our D-64 “stringers” were able to attend Thursday night’s “coffee and informal conversation,” we don’t have any first-hand report on what actually transpired.  And because it wasn’t an official D-64 meeting, we doubt there will be a video of the session – even though a legitimate “A-B-C’s of School Board Service” would be the kind of informational video that a transparent D-64 could be expected to feature prominently on the District’s website… right next to that new teachers union contract, of course.

But our suspicious nature leads us to speculate that the “informal conversation” was intended to be a preliminary screening process by which Bender, Heyde, et al. could size up any prospective Board candidates in attendance to determine which of them are the kind of go-along-to-get-along folks who traditionally have occupied the big chairs at D-64 and rubber-stamped whatever the PREA and its administration allies cooked up.

In other words: not troublemakers like Tony Borrelli or Eric Uhlig.

CORRECTION (10.16.12): D-64 Board president John Heyde posted a comment earlier today that pointed out an error in this post, specifically that a similar “coffee and informal conversation” was held back in October 2010, preliminary to the 2011 election.  We thank Mr. Heyde for that correction and apologize for the error.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Staff Doing Its Part For “Bad Government”


In our previous post we criticized our elected City officials for the “not-so-good government” or “outright bad government” involved in the recent Council vote to sustain Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the ICOPS contract. 

Since that post, however, we have learned a few things about Ald. Marc Mazzuca’s (6th) motion for a do-over of the September 17, 2012, vote that sustained Schmidt’s veto.  And, unfortunately, most of what we learned suggests that bad government is not confined to elected officials – although Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) still deserves special mention for his “I’m sure this is going to screw the City, but I’m doing it anyway” spite vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto, which just might be the single most stupid and irresponsible vote any alderman has cast in recent memory. 

And that’s saying something.

What we have learned is that City Staff – those full-time City employees who are paid good money and benefits by the taxpayers to handle the day-to-day administration of City business – dropped the ball, and then kicked it a couple of times, when it came to providing our part-time, barely-paid ($100/mo. for aldermen, $1,000/mo for the mayor) elected officials with the information they should have had, and probably needed, to cast a truly informed vote on the ICOPS contract and on the Schmidt veto.

As we noted in our 08.23.12 post (“Will August Spending Bring November Taxing?”), when the Council voted 5-2 on August 20th to approve the new ICOPS contract, the only Staff “analysis” of that contract provided to the Council appears to have been a page and one-half Agenda Cover Memorandum so lacking in useful information and analysis that it didn’t even attempt to compare the new contract’s costs to those of the old contract.  Yet, incredibly, Staff recommended Council approval of that contract for no ascertainable reason. 

And that lame memo apparently was the only information Schmidt had when he vetoed the contract on September 4th; and the only information the Council had on September 17th when Sweeney, Mazzuca and Ald. Dan Knight (5th) cast the three votes needed to sustain Schmidt’s veto.

We also have learned that since Schmidt’s veto was sustained, somebody(somebodies?) on City Staff put together a new “analysis” which lists every ICOPS employee and attempts to show how the new contract that was vetoed is actually better for the City, economically, than the old one was.   

Can you say “Bass-ackwards”? 

Whether this new “analysis” is worth the paper it’s allegedly printed on remains to be seen, assuming it ever sees the light of day.  But the fact that someone got paid a significant sum of taxpayer dollars to produce that original memo and recommendation with the expectation that the Council would rely on it to vote on the ICOPS contract is sad, bordering on pathetic.  And the fact that the Council and the Mayor apparently DID rely on that memo and recommendation, without question, in approving and vetoing (respectively) the ICOPS contract just compounds the  problem.

The fact that someone also working on the taxpayers’ dime decided to crank out some new “analysis” only AFTER the ICOPS contract is voted on, vetoed, and the veto sustained, is even more troubling.   And the fact that it appears to have been done on the down-low – as evidenced by the fact that the new “analysis” hasn’t appeared (to our knowledge) in any Council meeting packet or posted elsewhere on the City’s website – is offensive.

Can you say: “Staff playing politics?”  Or how about: “Alderman(men) using staff to play politics?”

If the Mayor, the Council, and the acting City Manager are doing their jobs, there should be a very “public” inquiry into who prepared this new “analysis, who requested and/or ordered it prepared, and why it wasn’t prepared until AFTER the entire legislative process had run its course?  And somebody also should explain why it seems to have been concealed from the taxpayers who are paying for this latest example of bad government?

Paging Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton!

We realize Mr. Hamilton has only been on the job a little over two months, so he’s still entitled to a bit of slack when it comes to finding his way around City Hall and figuring out who can do their jobs, who are overmatched by their jobs, and who (if any) are just collecting a paycheck and/or playing political games on the taxpayers’ dime.  We also realize he’s got a full plate dealing with the day-to-day workings of the City, while also going through the 300-or-so resumes already received for the soon-to-be-vacant H.R. Manager’s job, and the 200-plus resumes already received for the soon-to-be-vacant Finance Director’s job.

As Schmidt correctly, albeit jokingly, noted Monday night: “Let the minutes reflect there is a market for $100,000 a year jobs, even here in Park Ridge.” 

But Hamilton’s not entitled to even one millimeter of slack when it comes to transparency and accountability of City government – a/k/a, keeping our elected officials and the taxpayers fully informed about what’s going on and why.

Starting with the circumstances and details of this new after-the-fact, under-the-radar ICOPS contract “analysis.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Sounds Of Silence Loudly Proclaim “Bad Government!”


Not-so-good government, and outright bad government, comes in many forms. 

The policy-oriented “good government” Homeowners Party created by Marty Butler that controlled City government in the 1970s and 1980s degenerated into a policy-challenged social clique of “bad government” under successor Ron Wietecha and his sycophants.  The major accomplishment of those post-Butler  Homeowners was electing (mostly in uncontested races) go-along-to-get-along toadies like themselves who could be counted on to rubber-stamp the few initiatives Wietecha proposed.   

By 2003, the Homeowners brand was so tarnished its candidates were defeated in four of six contested races by the highly-political-but-inept “Anderson Four” (2003-2007), which morphed into the less-political-but-equally-inept “Gang of Nine” (2005-2007) before surrendering to a cut-down City Council and the let’s-make-a-deal special-interested “Frimark Alderpuppets” (2007-2011).

Meanwhile, Park Ridge slid into almost two decades of gradual economic decline.

The current Council is better than any of its recent predecessors, if for no other reason than it seems to lack the social cliques, overt political partisanship, or overt special-interests of its predecessors.  But the current Council, with the fiscally-conservative leadership of Mayor Dave Schmidt, also has shown that City government actually can govern within the taxpayers’ means, as evidenced by how the customary annual deficits that occasionally exceeded a million dollars have been turned into modest-but-growing surpluses these past few years.

But a better Council still doesn’t guarantee good government at every turn, as last Monday night’s Council meeting demonstrated when Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) inexplicably moved for reconsideration of the Council’s September 17 vote that sustained Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the new 3-year ICOPS contract.

That September 17 vote, although providing an outcome we favored, was itself an example of bad government, thanks to the hi-jinks of Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st), which we described in greater detail in our 09.20.12 post “Say It Ain’t So, Joe!”  Sweeney provided the object lesson that even the correct result can be bad government when it’s the product of shameless political boneheadedness – in that case by someone who cast the decisive third vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto despite insisting he favored the ICOPS contract, and warning that the veto he was voting for would lead to an unfair labor practices claim by ICOPS, a possible sympathy work stoppage by all other unionized City employees, and a lot of unnecessary legal fees for the city.

From his half-baked comments, it seemed clear to us that Sweeney was playing petty politics in an attempt to embarrass Schmidt and pressure Mazzuca and Ald. Dan Knight (5th), both of whom also voted to sustain Schmidt’s veto.  But if Sweeney were doing anything other than playing political games, his conduct suggests that if this were a high school student council instead of the Park Ridge City Council, he couldn’t even come up with a theme for the homecoming dance.   

Although we oppose the ICOPS contract primarily because of its 3-year term and its performance-unrelated raises, and although we don’t believe it’s in the public’s best interest to give the Council a second opportunity to over-ride Schmidt’s veto, that’s not why we think Mazzuca’s do-over motion is bad government.  It’s bad government because Mazzuca, who not only provided one of the three votes needed to sustain Schmidt’s veto and, several weeks earlier (at the August 20 meeting), had voted against the Council’s ratification of that contract, didn’t seem to care enough about the transparency of this process to articulate his reason(s) for seeking the do-over. 

Did he have a policy-related epiphany about the merits of the issue since his vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto?  Was he moved by City Finance Director Allison Stutts’ after-the-fact diatribe about how sustaining that veto would adversely impact the operation of her department?  Does he just want to give Sweeney another chance to make a fool of himself? 

Who knows, because Mazzuca didn’t say. 

Unfortunately, Mazzuca’s reticence is not unique to this Council, especially on certain controversial issues.  Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) regularly become almost Sphinx-like when anything related to contracts and raises for City personnel come up, even though they are hardly shy about speaking their minds on other issues.  It makes us wonder what particular cat’s got their tongues on these labor issues, and why. 

18th Century British statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke, in a speech to the Electors of Bristol (England) on November 3, 1774, addressed the duties of an elected representative to his constituents:

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. [Emphasis added.]

That concept was echoed by James Madison 13 years later in Federlist No. 10, in which he argued that our representatives aren’t supposed to be mere windsocks for public opinion but, instead, should apply their own knowledge, experience, wisdom and reasoning to refine that public opinion into sound public policy and law. 

But when aldermen, without explanation, cast their votes on controversial issues, or make do-over motions after twice voting in a way inconsistent with that do-over, we have no idea whether or how they are exercising “judgment.” And by not articulating their reason(s) for their votes or motions, those aldermen deprive the taxpayers  and voters of the ability to determine for themselves if each of those aldermen’s judgments is sound or lacking – or if they’re not exercising judgment at all but just playing petty politics.

At the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

SIDEBARThe editor of this blog was a member – along with fellow 6th Ward residents Rick Biagi, Gail Haller and Alison Harrington – of the mayor’s ad hoc committee that interviewed the four applicants for appointment to fill the aldermanic seat vacated by the resignation of Tom Bernick and made the recommendations that resulted in Mazzuca’s appointment to that seat.

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