New Year 2013: Looking Backward, Hoping Forward


Another year – and 103 more PublicWatchdog posts – has passed.  So it’s time to take a brief look back and a brief look forward.

The year 2012 began with our questioning  whether then-city manager Jim Hock would raise his game in response to the City Council’s demand that he start earning his approximately $215,000 annual compensation.  He didn’t, and he was gone before mid-year.  But the City’s taxpayers are still holding the bag for his defaulted interest-free home loan, which former mayor Howard Frimark and then-and-now City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill conspired to subordinate to a bank loan Hock also took out for less than half the amount of the City’s loan, all without even telling the Council. 

Whether Mayor Schmidt and the Council learned anything from that wasteful exercise remains to be seen.  It also remains to be seen whether Hock’s replacement, Acting City Manager Shawn Hamilton, can raise his game enough to lose the “Acting” but still retain the rest of the title when his contract runs out this Spring. 

And with number-cruncher extraordinaire Allison Stutts having left the City’s finances in the hands of newcomer Kent Oliven, we hope he and Hamilton have the common sense and the work ethic needed to stick with Stutts’ battle-tested budget playbook rather than start cutting corners on what appears to have become the best budget process the City has employed in at least 20 years.

At the beginning of 2012 we also called for open-session contract negotiations between our local governments and the various employee unions, with special mention of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s then-upcoming teacher negotiations.  The idea would be to have all such negotiations occurring in meetings open to the public, and broadcast/videotaped for viewing by those citizens who were not able to attend in person.  That way, the public could judge for itself who was being unreasonable in their demands or offers.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t occur for any of the negotiations conducted last year.  Worse yet, the D-64 negotiating team of Board president John Heyde and member Pat Fioretto agreed to a new contract that continued the D-64 practice of actually requiring secret, closed-session contract negotiations.  Chalk up yet another bargaining coup for the Park Ridge Education Association, a/k/a the teachers union. 

Last year saw the closing of the Park Ridge Youth Campus up in the City’s 1st Ward.  A local institution for over a century, in recent years it had become a continuous source of police calls related to resident runaways and physical altercations between residents.  Come April, the voters will have a chance to decide whether to borrow and spend over $13 million to turn that 11+-acre parcel into a park and recreation complex – or leave it available to private developers, most likely for single-family residential.

We also look forward to this April’s local elections because of all the contested races, including: 

  • for City of Park Ridge mayor, Mayor Dave Schmidt and challenger Larry Ryles;
  • for 2nd Ward alderman, Nicholas Milissis and George Korovilas;
  • for 4th Ward alderman, Roger Shubert and Jane Johnson;
  • for 6th Ward alderman, Ald. Marc Mazzuca and Vincent LaVecchia;
  • for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 School Board, incumbent Scott Zimmerman and newcomers Terry Cameron, Vicki Lee, Dathan Paterno, Benjamin Seib and Rick Van Roeyen vying for four seats;
  • for Maine Township High School District 207 Board, incumbents Eldon Burk, Eric Leys, Margaret McGrath and Carla Owen vying with newcomers Mary Childers, Jin Lee, Jeffrey Spero and Sean Story for five seats; and
  • for Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board, incumbents Rick Biagi, Richard Brandt, Steven Hunst and Stephen Vile vying with challengers James Phillips and Joan Bende for four seats.

Our hope for these elections is that the candidates will take their campaigns seriously and actively engage each other in substantive debates not only on the issues but also on their individual philosophies of local government – instead of hiding behind vague pronouncements, warm-and-fuzzy promises, and outright dishonesty about the costs of those promises.

Unfortunately, the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District will be giving the taxpayers only one referendum (a binding one, for $13 million, on the Youth Campus park and recreation plan) in April instead of two (the second being an advisory one, for the $7.1 million Centennial outdoor pool project), but only because it legally can’t get away with giving us none at all.  That display of contempt will earn this Park Board the dubious distinction of being the first in 20 years to do a major multi-million dollar project without seeking the advice of the voters via referendum.

Nevertheless, our hope for 2013 is that all members of this community – individuals, businesses, community groups, etc. – strive to become more self-reliant and less dependent on local government (a/k/a, the taxpayers) to solve their problems.  In that regard we close this post with two quotes from the late longshoreman/public intellectual (and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner) Eric Hoffer:

“It still holds true that man is most uniquely human when he turns obstacles into opportunities”; and “The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails.”

Happy New Year!

To read or post comments, click on title.

18 comments so far

Those who agree with this blog owner that there should be no public cures for private ills, whatever you do, DO NOT go see the movie “Lincoln.” It will turn your stomach what that guy did to make something happen that HE believed should happen. Take down his statues, forth-frickin’-with!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Is it that you are historically-challenged, or that Steven Spielberg is just too obtuse for you? Or perhaps you can’t grasp the subtle political and governmental gradations between Congress passing the 13th Amendment and the Park Board denying the taxpayers a referendum on a water park?


Your comparison is a VERY big reach!!! That said, I bet there were a hell of a lot of people in the south screaming for a referendum back then!!

Happy New Year. You know I’m with you on much of what you say, especially about the need for our candidates to engage in substantive debates. However, you lose me with your notion that our residents need to exercise more “self-reliance.”

Other than certain non-profits who seemed to expect handouts from City Hall, I don’t see Park Ridge residents as demanding that our government “solve their problems.” I’m not sure exactly what your vision is. And I don’t think it’s asking too much that they provide a basic level of services. Without them our city could not function.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re 100% behind local government providing “a basic level of services” befitting a community such as ours, which it generally does.

But when it comes to self-reliance, “certain non-profits who seemed to expect handouts from City Hall” aren’t monoliths or alien life forms – they’re organizations run by “our residents” who expect government (a/k/a, the taxpayers) to do the work they don’t want to do, or aren’t successful at doing (e.g., fundraising).

The same goes for that vocal segment of residents who keep wanting more and more stuff from government “because we pay taxes” – even though they consume far more dollars of services than the taxes they pay (e.g., a homeowner who pays $3,000/yr. of taxes to D-64 but gets $12,000/yr. of education for his/her kid, then beefs about paying fees for extracurricular activities; or who pays $500/yr of taxes to the Park District but beefs about fees and charges for certain facilities, programs, etc.)

Editor- Conversely, what about the many that pay the high taxes for public schools, but send their children to private schools? Therefore paying twice. That represents a lot of people in this community who are paying a ton of money without getting anything.

While we argue about a pool that is broke…and a police station that needs an upgrade….please review where our real tax dollars are going. Some of the salaries are offensive… like a Music teacher in a middle school that makes 103k (+ benefits and pension). How is that sane by anyones standard?
If anyone wants to see why our taxes are high go to: “Family Taxpayer Foundation” and check out all the local teachers salaries. You have to click on the actual name and you will see their position.

Barely anyone knows who’s running for School Board. It’s actually hard to find out any substantive info about their beliefs.
I hope everyone asks real questions of those running and publishes it.
We want to know where they stand, because they will be the ones with the largest impact on our taxes (by inflation standards and obligations).

EDITOR’S NOTE: People who CHOOSE to send their kids to private schools have no legitimate beef about “paying twice.”

Hopefully the challengers for seats on the D-64 and D-207 boards will ratchet up the interest in these campaigns, because we’re pretty sure the incumbents and their friendly administrators would prefer a rose-garden strategy and discouraging voter interest.


I could not agree more. The PR folks I know are not looking for gov’t to solve their problems. In fact many I know have volyunteered to do things that gov’t used to do. Of course there will always be, and always has been, debate about exactly what qualifies as “basic level of service”.

What ya have here is a page right out of Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, Mitt (47%) makers and takers. I am greatful that the majority of people do not see Park Ridge (or the world) that way.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ah, another anonymous commentator who claims to know how “the majority of people” see our community.

When it comes to dealing with what the weak-minded have generalized and trivialized into the cliche “makers and takers,” we prefer to toss Rand, Ryan and Romney aside for the likes of Charles Darwin (“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”), Thomas Jefferson (“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”), Benjamin Franklin (“I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”), Dwight Eisenhower (“You and I, and our government, must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow.”), Calvin Coolidge (“The collection of taxes which are not absolutely required, which do not beyond reasonable doubt contribute to the public welfare, is only a species of legalized larceny.”), and Winston Churchill (“For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”). For starters.

What I (Anon 1008am) meant, was there are many in the city that don’t even use the services that they pay for. I’m more positive about people than thinking most want to just take from govt.

Editor- How do we even get the right questions asked of the candidates for School Board? Has anyone publicly taken a stance that they are going to do something about the ridiculous employment packages that are strangling us? I’m sure the unions are more organized than the opposition.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We never said “most” Park Ridge residents “want to just take from govt.” But the ones who do are always more vocal and organized than the average taxpayers, and they also have the able assistance of the bureaucrats who have never found a dime or a dollar they can’t and won’t spend if given half a chance.

It’s up to the candidates themselves, because the PREA has its act down to a science and the PTOs are little more than cheering sections for the PREA.

To 10:08, while you might find some of the teachers’ salaries offensive, I believe they are fairly compensated for the hard work they put in, year in and year out. I know I could never do it and I’m grateful for the high-quality, well-rounded education my kids are getting in D64.

I know one of my wishes for the new year is that teachers be accorded the respect they deserve. Along with their overall commitment to their students, as recent events have sadly proven, many would lay down their lives for the kids who are in their care every day. I have no doubt our own teachers would act as bravely and selflessly if they were ever faced with a horrific situation like Sandy Hook.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Most of us couldn’t work the back of a garbage truck or wash windows on highrise buildings, either, but that’s a really stupid premise for determining whether garbage men or window washers are or are not overpaid. The same goes for speculation on whether or not teachers would “lay down their lives for the kids”: by that standard, our Armed Forces men and women regularly in harm’s way in Afghanistan should be paid what, around $500K a year?

Garbage collectors and window washers provide needed services, however they don’t work with kids. Kid are our future and any hope for it rests on their shoulders. Education. Is. Key. How can you not understand that? Teachers’ work is not equivalent to garbage collectors, plain and simple. And I’d argue that their work is much more important than most in middle management in corporate America, yet we don’t complain about their overinflated paychecks every chance we get.

As for the Armed Services, since you mentioned it…I think those dedicated folks, especially those on the front lines, are indeed underpaid. Their families suffer and many veterans face a pretty grim transition back to civilian life.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Kid [sic] are our future and any hope for it rests on their shoulders” is just another version of the “it’s for the kids” propaganda campaign, one of the slickest ever devised – by the teachers’ unions nationwide, naturally – to convince the simple-minded folks who unquestioningly buy into it that teachers (and administrators) deserve ever-increasing pay and benefits without producing commensurate, objectively measurable results.

How much do you want to pay our underpaid military personnel for every day they are in harm’s way v. how much for a Park Ridge D-64 teacher, and why?

If you think “it’s for the kids” is propaganda, you’ve obviously never taken the time to talk to a teacher or observe one on the job. Truly, where would you — or any of us for that matter — be without an education?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor has talked to plenty of teachers, including friends and relatives who are teachers and administrators, and has even taught some himself – and “it’s for the kids” is nothing but teachers union propaganda, albeit brilliant propaganda at that.

The reality is that teaching is a JOB not unlike virtually every other job or career – which is demonstrated time and again by the teachers unions’ constant demands for more money, Cadillac benefits, and uncompromising resistence to accountability for their students outcomes.

@1:37pm – All teachers aren’t asked to create equal tasks. A special ed teacher is asked to apply expertise and faces constant and unique struggles and deserves an elite salary…versus a music or art teacher who are teaching basically an “elective”.

I’m not at all ripping on what they do…but the level of expertise and need, do not compare to that of special ed, or even higher level math/science…

Any successful business/market pays by worth, production and expertise not by squatting time.
The obscene thing is someone in a middle school teaching an elective class for over 100k + extraordinary benefits. No need for that. If mommy and daddy want little billy to play the piano, there are plenty of lessons available that they can purchase.

That is just one example, but there are many.

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t respect teachers. The “kids” card is always played first, followed by the “don’t rip on teachers” card. Both arguments are obfuscations.

PW and 4:08, looks like we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the importance of teachers. I want to get one final comment in about the middle school music teacher and the importance of his/her job.

The music program is about much more than Buffy or Jody learning an instrument. The band program fosters collaboration, teamwork, camaraderie and an invaluable sense of belonging and accomplishment at an age when these things are critical in social and emotional development. I’d put the music teacher on par with a special ed teacher, also, as kids with special needs such as autism spectrum disorders tend to gravitate toward music programs because they can excel without undue social pressure, where they have more difficulties than “typical” kids.

What’s more, since “soft” benefits don’t seem to go over with this crowd, I’d like to quote some “harder” stats:

“Aside from the social benefits, students in high school music programs have higher test scores and cognitive development. A U.S. Department of Education study found that those who reported consistent involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12. (This observation holds regardless of students’ socioeconomic status.)

Additionally, students who learn to play an instrument develop a greater language capacity and a greater ability to learn a new language. In another context, it is invaluable to gain a wider perspective on cultural history by being exposed to centuries of our rich cultural heritage.” (“The importance of music education in schools,” by Vince DiFiore, Special to CNN, May 31, 2011)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, but we don’t consider the non-scholarly opinion about the educational value of music and band programs – without ANY supporting “stats” at all, hard or soft – from the trumpet player of “Cake” as authoritative educational doctrine. Weren’t Jack White or Bruno Mars available?

Sorry I didn’t take the time to uncover the actual studies cited by Mr. Cake in the article. I suppose I left myself open to being ripped to shreds. However I’m sure no matter what I came up with you’d find a way to rip it to shreds anyway.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Junk science” – in whatever form(s) it takes – deserves to be “ripped to shreds” because it’s tough enough to address public policy issues with the help of legitimate data and the opinions of competent scholars.

I consider myself a “maker” and I resent the “takers” who expect government handouts at every turn. But I contribute my time and money to various charities because I think the direct personal involvement that is inherent in private charity (unlike remote bureaucratic structure of government) is the best way to deal with people suffering hardships.

What I really resent, however, are the people who are fomenting class warfare, both the 99% (or 47%, or whatever percent the will be tomorrow) lefties who want to grow government and perpetuate the welfare system at the expense of anybody making more than the $50,000 median family income, and the 1% (or 53%, or whatever percent they will be accused of being tomorrow) righties who want to perpetuate corporate welfare.

Why is a 39% tax rate any “fairer” than a 35% one? Would a 50% tax rate be “fairer” than a 39% one? Would it be “unfair” to tell anybody making over $400,000 a year “That’s enough!” and tax them at 100% of anything over $400,000? Or would it be “fairer” to drop that cut-off down to $250,000?

The way it’s being abused, “fair” is becoming the most vulgar four letter word in the dictionary.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re getting the impression that when it comes to taxes, “fair” has become “the most we can get away with and still be re-elected.”

Ask Mr. Christie in New Joisy what matters and what the role of government should be.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The next time Park Ridge has a catastrophic hurricane and needs the POTUS to show up with federal disaster-area assistance, we shall.

Oh, I see; unless the anguish is being suffered by you personally, right this very minute, it’s not worth a moment’s thought.
I hate to sound like the Senior Services folks, but I sure hope you are always young, affluent and healthy and that no rain falls except soft upon your fields.

EDITOR’S NOTE” This comment is just as stupid as your last one about the New Jersey governor seeking federal aid in the wake of a devastating hurricane. It has nothing to do with age, affluence or health, but whether as a public policy matter government should permeate our society and act as a master insurance company insuring everybody against any and every risk, including bad judgment and negligence – with the “premiums” (a/k/a taxes) to match.

Anyone have a clue as to why the Journal-Topics web site has published and republished several times as a lead story the upcoming fundraiser for supporters of the park district board land grab? Maybe a certain influential supporter advertises in that paper and can pull some editorial strings?

EDITOR’S NOTE: There are probably a variety of reasons, few of which actually relate to journalism.

living on the east coast (or louisiana coast, or west coast) is bad judgement and negligence? Geeze, you are beginning to make Rand Paul and Paul Ryan look sane….

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, Paul McCartney, matters nothing to us.

But to your point, living in New Orleans or anywhere else that is highly susceptible (however you want to define that) to hurricanes and flooding, for example, is clearly a form of risky living that the taxpayers probably shouldn’t have to subsidize. Just like if you weigh 400 lbs, eat double cheeseburgers, and smoke cigarettes, you should pay a lot more for whatever medical insurance you might be able to get rather than the taxpayers having to subsidize your irresponsible behavior.

Shifting risks from those engaging in irresponsible behavior to the taxpayers is bad public policy and, ultimately, will prove to be unsustainable financially and socially. So the only question is: does it stop now, or is it allowed to continue until it becomes even more intractable.

OMG. How about the major, perhaps even pivotal role played by the oil industry’s debauch and a “we got ours” mentality on all political levels that resulted in eroded wetlands and unrepaired levies? The local residents didn’t do anything wrong, so your fast-food analogy doesn’t hold water either. Why is it people like you only think women who “got themselves in trouble” and the children of the poor should pay? There’s a whole lot of irresponsibility to go around, Ace; but we socialize loss and privatize gain, so the worst irresponsibilities are not experienced by those who create the worst messes. I’m assuming you don’t like laws that force ‘Mericans to behave responsibly and considerately (seatbelts, helmets, insurance, drinking while driving, texting while driving, smoking around toddlers, etc. etc. etc.)so the only result is more misery for those innocents affected. Nice.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We despise “socialize[d] loss and privatize[d] gain.” But if you’ve got a beef with BP being fined only $4.5 billion and Transocean being fined only $4.1 billion, contact the Obama Administration that cut those deals. Unless oil drilling platforms can be rendered perfectly safe, however, anybody living in their proximity is implicitly accepting the risks that come with their malfunction.

As for “laws that force ‘Mericans to behave responsibly and considerately,” we’re all for them IF they truly are effective rather than cheap palliatives like so many of our knee-jerk reactive laws; and IF they are stringently, rather than haphazardly, enforced. But if you’re so concerned about “those innocents affected,” what about all those “innocent” unborn children who can be legally killed under a policy called “pro choice”?

How your invocation of “innocent” Louisianans relates to what’s going on with Park Ridge government, however, seems a little obscure. So why don’t we all get back to the local issues and try to solve our own problems here in Park Ridge?

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