Public Watchdog.org

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

12.10.12

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.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

19 comments so far

Good post. Can this city handle anything correctly? I attended the Taste 2 of the 3 days, and could barely move. People were there in droves. Something is extremely fishy. Either numbers are being played with, or we are that dumb as a city government.

Personally, I dislike how much power our paid unelected leaders have. It seems they have more power (since they have all the numbers & info) than our Mayor & City Council. Our City Council & Mayor are virtually unpaid, and have no staff to rely on…so they have to act as a “check” on our own paid Managers. It doesn’t seem like that is the best way to govern.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just like our Park Board members and School Board members are, literally, “unpaid” and are at the mercy of whatever “staff” provides to them – whether it be a half-baked report on TOPR, or a half-baked survey and aquatic facility plan, or increases in teacher and administrator salaries with no commensurate student performance standards.

In reading your blog in the past as well as other mentions, can you please clarify where Hamilton came from? He’s an “Acting” Manager, but from nowhere near here. Does he have any connections to the Mayor or City Council? Trying to connect some dots.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hamilton was one of 12 applicants for the ACM position. He has no connection to the Mayor, but reportedly is a friend of Sixth Ward Ald. Marc Mazucca. Out of the 12 applicants Schmidt recommended him, and his appointment was approved by a vote of 5 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Knight and Mazzuca) to 2 (Alds. Raspanti and Maloney).

We’re pretty good at dot-connecting, but his selection process looks legit.

Editor- What is your solution then? This is a conversation specific to the City Council and it’s reliance on the paid City Manager. It seems same results, just interchange the names.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The “solution” is, in the first instance, to grill Hamilton on why he did what he did, because we can’t conceive of a good reason why Hamilton accepted a financial statement/accounting from Taste Inc. back in September but then concealed it – i.e.,didn’t forward it to the Mayor and the Council – for over two months; and didn’t demand strict compliance with the contract requirements re “certified” financials and the kind of expense detail that would allow the City to verify that there were no insider deals re expenses.

If Hamilton can’t come up with an explanation that solidly negates the suspicion that he has jumped into bed with Taste Inc. and is doing what he can to push the Council into an 11th-hour re-up of the 2012 TOPR deal for Taste Inc., he should be advised to start looking for new employment because he can’t be trusted to discharge his duties diligently, competently, transparently and honestly.

Regarding Hamilton’s handling of the situation: it seems to me that inexperience and incompetence are more likely than anything nefarious. Which is why the “acting” position is a good idea — this is just a trial run. The City has no obligation to keep him on board now that he’s demonstrated his capabilities (or lack thereof).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Does mere “inexperience” or “incompetence” explain how a city manager doesn’t forward an accounting to the Mayor and the Council for over two months? Does it explain how a city manager fails to demand that accounting contain the detail, and be “certified,” as required under the contract? Does it explain his keeping this accounting secret until a few weeks before the deadline for the decision on whether to re-up Taste Inc.’s contract for 2013?

Frankly, his resume and his experience in the private AND public sectors argue against that kind of “inexperience” or “incompetence.” Which tends to leave only something in the nature of “nefarious.”

Man oh man!!! Ya know ya gotta hand it to dem tasties!!!

Here ya gots a guy from the lovely and upstanding county of Grundy where he had a storied carear as administrator, and who must have been grilled by the Mayor during his interview. His resume and the way he presented were thoughtfully compared against 12 others and he was picked by the Mayor as clearly the best. His “philosophy of governing” had to be considered…right??

And yet within a very short amount of time, he has “jumped into bed” with Taste of Park Ridge. Man oh man these guys are amazing!!!!! What exactly are the offering??? Has Shawn been seen driving a Ferrari??? After TOPR has stolen all that cash. Maybe it is hypnosis….yeah thats it!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, “The Shadow” had the power to cloud men’s minds, so maybe The Tastees – Iglow, Patras, Thillens (and the Tastee in the Iron Mask, Galus?) – have the power to cloud city managers’ minds. That would explain how they were able to mesmerize Hock into recommending to the Council that they get $15-20,000 of free City services each year, and how they now have Hamilton sitting on a non-conforming accounting for two months while the deadline for Taste Inc. getting its no-bid contract renewal approaches.

There you go again, name-calling and character-ass-sass-inating. Ever think the poor mope is up to his behind in crocodiles and just didn’t triage this particular problem promptly? In the old days the Aldermen would get major budget packets the week before a major vote; at least there’s a little time left on this clock. Hamilton has had to cope with the fallout from ill-decided terminations of key people, departures of others including a good finance person, a mayor and aldermen who are not speaking a lot of the time because of doctrinaire differences, and, oh, the everyday running of a $50-plus million dollar budget, all while getting his feet under the desk. Many things are more urgent problems than this one, if you ever visit the real world. The City lumped along with Taste taking its half out of the middle for seven years, gave up some thousands of bucks for a major community-building, fun event here in “Action Ridge.” I’m sure it didn’t seem like life-and-death to Hamilton. You’re welcome to think it is life-and-death to put Mel et al in their place, but that doesn’t mean Hamilton is “nefarious.” You lose credibility when you go ape-caca over everything at the same level.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We never said it was “life and death.” But we also remember all the times readers like you said we were “ape-caca” (or something similar) when we suggested that Taste Inc. wasn’t really a not-for-profit…until after four years of faking it Taste Inc. finally admitted it hadn’t been an NFP after all.

Anon 726pm- Why is the city council/Mayor relationship dysfunctional? What differences do they have that they can’t communicate? It seems to me a few members of the council have no place being there, and are too interested in being annoying then governing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Dysfunctional” appears to be the Ryles’ campaign term to discredit Schmidt’s record, since policy and the issues won’t work very well for them.

Editor- Don’t be paranoid. No connection with Ryles here…was trying figure out what anon 726pm was referring to? I haven’t read that the city council doesn’t communicate, so I’m wondering why. As a weekly youtube watcher of the meetings, any normal human would see that the meetings aren’t functional or normal….but I’m concerned about the communication factor.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly how are the meetings not “functional or normal”? Just because everybody doesn’t always agree on everything?

824am—I disagree that the Mayor/Council relationship is dysfunctional. I consider many members of the Council to be my friends. But my duty is to the taxpayers and residents, so friendship must be set aside when it comes time to govern.

I have had many disagreements with the Council over specific spending items. I have used my statutory veto power to reject certain expenditures. Sometimes I have prevailed, sometimes not. That is democracy.

But this particular Council and I have been able to work together to streamline the budget process, place important controls on discretionary spending by staff, generated two consecutive annual General Fund budget surpluses with another one anticipated for this year totalling almost $3 million, and given the taxpayers the lowest property tax increase in memory. And we have increased staff accountability and improved transparency in government.

So, given the major improvements in City government over the past few years, it is simply wrong to say that the Mayor and the Council are dysfunctional.

Mr Mayor:

You took the time to stop but did not comment on the blog author’s theory about your choice for City Manager???

Editor- No audio/video yet of the meeting yesterday. What happened with Taste Inc and City Manager?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The matter basically was punted to Jan. 21 meeting, when Hamilton and staff are supposed to be coming up with an all-events policy that will cover TOPR and other similar events. The Jan. 1 re-up deadline got pushed back to Jan. 31 in consideration of the forthcoming policy.

Agreed, Mayor Dave. I’ll take today’s situation over the cronyism of Frimark’s reign any day. Now, THAT was “Chicago-style” politics! I’ll even take today’s situation over the prior Homeowners’ long run, in which there was probably too much agreeability and not enough checking-and-balancing. I just meant that navigating between sharply differing doctrines in which there is no room for compromise can be stressful for staff trying to stay on everybody’s right side.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What “sharply differing doctrines” are you talking about, and who on the Council has which ones?

If “staff” members would pay more attention to doing the jobs they’re being paid as well as they can do them instead of trying to play political footsie with the various elected officials, their jobs would be a whole lot less “stressful” and the taxpayers would get a lot more bang for their bucks.

While, I completely dislike the power that the “staff” has over the Council…I think there are two additional and major problems:
* Turnover
* Under-staffed.

The Council and Mayor have to go by data and information by the staff….who don’t have the time or Park Ridge experience to give the elected leaders what they need. Then, as this post insinuates…we don’t even know the info we get is as correct as it should be!

EDITOR’S NOTE: What is the factual/empirical basis for your conclusion that “turnover” has created ANY problem with staff performance; or how City Hall is “under-staffed”?

“…Sharply differing doctrines.” Yeah, right. Unless that’s code for varying degrees of cluelessness.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Great insight, well-supported factually. Thanks for sharing.

1034am- I would hope our Mayor wouldn’t choose a blog to specifically address this. I don’t blame him for that, and give him credit for his post.

9:05:

So this blog is a good place to defend his record (how dare you call relationship with the council dysfunctional) not a good place to comment on infered corruption against his choice for CM (feel free to kick my choice for CM).

Hey Shawn!! Start making those phone calls and pack your bags!! Of course if you did any research before taking this job you probably never unpacked!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pretty tough talk for someone who does his/her own kicking on this blog while hiding under the cover of anonymity.

If Mr. Hamilton wants to explain/defend his sitting on the Taste Inc. financials for two-plus months until less than 30 days before the contractual deadline for the no-bid re-up for TOPR 2013, we’ll gladly give him as much space as he needs. Same goes for Mr. Ryles if he wants to expound on What Would Ryles Do re this or any other situation confronting the City, or any other public official or candidate who has a beef with anything published here.

As for Hamilton’s long-term job prospects, all he’s got to do is his job. Well. Based on what we’ve seen so far, he’s got a lot more to fear from Alds. Raspanti and Maloney than he does from Mayor Schmidt, or from this blog.

Editor- Are you seriously that uninformed that you don’t think frequent turnover leads to less productivity in a job? You can’t be that naive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anonymous, there hasn’t been any “frequent turnover” in City Staff. Most of those who have left or were fired had been in the City’s employ for some time (e.g., Hock held his post for almost 4 years; former Deputy City Manager Maller for well over a decade, etc.).

And depending on how incompetent or lazy the departing employee may have been, the new person often increases productivity almost from Day One.

Re 8:36: Do you really need examples to support the varying degrees of cluelessness exhibited by various council members? Please. They are featured on a regular basis…wait for it…right on this very blog. I could randomly choose an entry from your archives and probably find a few gems within seconds.

Your flip-flopping between apparent support of and clear contempt for our city council is enough to make someone’s head spin.

Update: 5/19/15
We too have notified the the offices of the IRS and their E.O. special investigations unit located down in Dallas, TX.
This is nothing but a political platform
with a narrative condoned by it’s so called leadership. A 501 c6 misued for sure.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Uh…okay….



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