Taste Inc., City Manager, Still Collaborating On TOPR Secrecy?


Beginning under former city manager Tim Schuenke and continuing under his successor, former city manager Jim Hock, it became a kind of game for city managers to try to conceal important information from our elected officials in City government (i.e., the mayor and/or the City Council).   

A prime example of that is the annual Taste of Park Ridge event (“TOPR”).  First Schuenke, and then Hock, aided and abetted the leaders of private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) in keeping the Taste Inc.’s and TOPR’s financial information concealed from the taxpayers for several years after that event was handed over to Taste Inc. by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a rubber-stamp City Council on a no-bid, no contract, no accountability basis in June 2005.

So when the City of Park Ridge finally decided, earlier this year, to put TOPR out to bid, we were heartened that the City would finally start getting the tens of thousands of dollars of annual expense reimbursement – and the profit sharing – that its taxpayers had been denied for the seven years that Taste Inc.’s operations had been cloaked in such secrecy that its legal status as a “for profit” corporation masquerading as a non-profit one wasn’t even acknowledged until 2009.

Despite then-city manager Jim Hock’s best efforts to make a farce out of the bidding process – which ended up attracting only two conforming bids – we welcomed the fact that the winning bidder would, for the first time, actually have to sign a contract governing its and the City’s rights and obligations, two of which were expense reimbursement and revenue sharing.  And even though the TOPR contract approved by Hock and the City Council foolishly allowed winning bidder Taste Inc. to defer any revenue sharing obligation for TOPR 2012 until Taste Inc. earned enough profit to push its bank account over the $100,000 mark, we looked forward to a first-ever true accounting by Taste Inc. of its revenues and expenses – which it was contractually obligated to deliver to the City within 90 days of TOPR. 

By the time TOPR 2012 was held, Hock had been sacked; and by the time Taste Inc.’s accounting was due, Shawn Hamilton had been appointed Acting City Manager. 

Taste Inc. claims it submitted the required TOPR accounting to Hamilton back in September.  For some as-yet unexplained reason, however, Hamilton kept that accounting secret: as we understand it, he didn’t provide a copy to Mayor Dave Schmidt or the Council until the delivery of the Council agenda packet for tonight’s meeting, barely in advance of the January 1, 2013 deadline for a no-bid extension of Taste Inc.’s contract that is scheduled for discussion.  But even a cursory look  at that “accounting” suggests that the folks at Taste Inc. are back to their old Three Card Monty tricks again – with Hamilton seemingly an aider and abettor in the time-dishonored tradition of Schuenke and Hock. 

One of Hamilton’s duties as ACM is to ensure that Taste Inc. complied with its contractual obligations for an accounting.  And Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum accompanying Taste Inc.’s accounting fails to point out any compliance failures, just as it fails to explain why Hamilton kept the accounting secret for the past couple of months during which clock was ticking on that January 1, 2013, contractual deadline for the City and Taste Inc. to agree on whether to extend the 2012 contract on a no-bid basis for TOPR 2013 – something Taste Inc. covets notwithstanding that it claims to have lost in excess of $11,000 on TOPR 2012, presumably due to rain.

If that smells a little kinky to you, there’s no need to contact your ENT physician.  And the stink of kink becomes even stronger when one examines the types of non-compliance Hamilton overlooked…or is trying to conceal.

Let’s start with Page 2, Para. 1.E of the TOPR Contract, which requires that Taste Inc. provide the City with its “certified financial records for the event.”  Not only are the financial records comprising Taste Inc.’s “accounting” not “certified,” but they don’t even identify who prepared them.  And even though each page of the accounting advises the reader to “[s]ee independent accountant’s compilation report,” no such report is included nor the name of that “independent accountant” disclosed.

That same contractual provision mandates that “[c]ompensation of any kind whatsoever to officers or families of the Contractor shall not be deemed an Event Expense.”  Yet none of the information in the accounting enables the City (or the taxpayers) to determine whether “officers or families” of the folks running Taste Inc. received any compensation, either as service providers or as vendors.

Hamilton has had almost three months to review this accounting, yet he apparently did nothing to obtain the kind of detailed financial information that Taste Inc. was obligated to provide – other than to recently request a Taste Inc. balance sheet.  Whether that’s because of negligence, incompetence, or collusion with that Taste Inc. honchos is unclear at this time.  Seeing how previous city managers played footsie with Taste Inc. to keep secret the details of how it runs TOPR, however, we tend to lean toward the third of those three unacceptable  alternatives. 

When Hamilton was hired as the ACM, we expressed hope that his “varied background in banking and management consulting” obtained in the private sector might create a “new paradigm for how the City is managed and City services administered.”  But it only took a couple of months for Hamilton to demonstrate his own ability to act secretively and play politics to the taxpayers’ detriment. 

This latest bit of game-playing by Hamilton again reflects poorly on his management ability, and raises a red flag about his integrity.  That’s not a good thing under any circumstances, but it’s extra bad if he harbors any reasonable expectation of removing the “Acting” from his job title.  

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