Public Watchdog.org

Sounds Of Silence Loudly Proclaim “Bad Government!”

10.08.12

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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

7 comments so far

Mazzuca’s two most high profile momnents are questionable at best. 1 – His last minute water rate modification which weighted the costs on the size of the pipe rather than the actual cost Chicago charges. That effectively moved the home water bill subsidy from the City budget to the Park District and School District budgets. 2 – The recall of this vote, which adds to the current perception of our city government as disfunctional.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In fairness to Ald. Mazzuca, while his water rate modification was “last minute,” the rest of the Council didn’t have to vote for it, or vote for it the evening that he presented it. But unless subsidies are based on some provable need, we think they should be eliminated as skewing costs in ways that tend to be counterproductive.

We’re still waiting to hear his explanation for the do-over, so until we do we stand by our post.

Better luck — or better judgement — next time.

Did Mazzuca misrepresent himself to the Ad Hoc committee?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not in any way we’re aware.

Good point, PW. I’ve always wondered why some aldermen explain why they are going to vote the way they do, and others don’t. And I find it a lot harder to trust those who don’t.

The also have to get rid of those voice votes (unless it’s unanimous) so when you can tell who voted which way. I applaud the mayor for pushing transparency like he has, but it has to keep going.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agreed.

5:43:

While I agree that this is far from perfect, there is at least some degree of transparency in this case. Your stated the following…..”I find it a lot harder to trust those who don’t”. Tha is exactly the point!!!

In this case, while we do not know at the moment his exact reason for asking for a reconsideration (we can make some assumptions, and more information will come out in the end) we do know exactly who made this request. At some levels of government elected officials can delay or block consideration of a bill for ever without their name ever being attached. The bill never reaches consideration and we have no idea who stopped it, let alone why.

In this case, the elected official can either explain or not explain his request and the public will judge accordingly. Like you, I tend to be very suspicious of those who choose not to explain.

I also have to say this shows the challenges with good governance and voting at a local level. The two people we are talking about were not initially brought into the political arena in PR via election. In all likelyhood, they went through a more agressive review process versus an election and the two people beating the drum for change the loudest, and with one might argue pretty good political radar, (the Mayor and the author of this blog) were directly involved in choosing these two.

Look at what we enede up with!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The editor of this blog had no involvement whatsoever in Sweeney’s appointment following the 2009 mayoral election: an ad hoc committee of 1st Ward residents recommended Sweeney’s appointment, and he subsequently won election to a full term in 2011.

As noted, the editor did serve on the 6th Ward residents’ committee that recommended Mazzuca’s appointment. But neither this matter nor the water meter rate matter is causing us recommender’s remorse as of yet, even as we hope to hear some kind of explanation from him before the do-over vote in November.

Sorry but your “Sidebar” is flawed or not true, your choice. Word has it that 6th ward resident Rick Biagi wasn’t even present for the interviewing process of the candidates to fill the 6th Ward vacancy and that Ms. Haller and Ms. Harrington of the mayor’s so called ad-hoc committee didn’t even ask questions of all the candidates. Word also has it that the mayor asked the lion’s share of the questions. Was the mayor even supposed to ask any of the questions? Wasn’t that the whole purpose of the “Mayor’s Ad-Hoc Committee”? If it was any person other than the current mayor you would have attacked them relentlessly. Come on dog!

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is nothing in that “Sidebar” that is untrue. Although Mr. Biagi was not physically present for the interviews, he was provided a tape recording of them. Ms. Haller and Ms. Harrington both asked questions of the candidates, although this editor did not keep a scorecard of how many. It was a public meeting; and the mayor attended and asked questions (although not likely the “lion’s share”). Is there some statute, Council policy or rule that you contend he violated in so doing – given it was a “public meeting” so, technically, anybody probably could have asked questions?

The editor of this blog doesn’t need to be defensive about helping select Ald. Mazzuca. Mr. Mazzuca has an impressive set of analytical skills that should redound to the City’s benefit over time. Using a second reading of water rates to substantially change the content of what had been approved in the first reading by the Council was inconsistent with Mayor Schmidt’s goal of transparency. But, I suspect Ald. Mazzuca’s intelligence and diligence will make him one of the more influential members of the City Council.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Mr. Godfrey, but he is not – for the reasons you have noted.



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