Meet The New Retail, Same As The Old Retail?


For the past 22 years the City of Park Ridge, and both its public officials and its business community, have employed a variety of initiatives, plans and even gimmicks in its quest to attract more retail to our sleepy little burg.

First there was the Economic Development Corporation (the “EDC”), a group of citizens selected by who knows whom to come up with ways to attract and keep business here in Park Ridge.  The EDC got enough money from the City to hire a part-time director, Sharon Curcio (at around $39,000 a year, as we recall).  It even was able to keep its meetings closed to the public for all but the last year or so of its existence.  And, as best as we can tell, it accomplished little-to-nothing to keep or bring business to town.

Then there was the City’s economic development director, Kim Uhlig, a pleasant woman who was employed for several years and paid about $120,000 annually.  She, too, produced little-to-nothing in the way of keeping or bringing business to town – despite the arrival of all that new, modern retail space in the Uptown Redevelopment complex. 

And for the past year we’ve had the Economic Development Task Force (the “EDTF”), a collection of 29 citizens which just released the “work product” it developed over the past 12 months. 

We have reviewed that 14-page report and must confess that we expected more than that.  A lot more than that.

What’s missing?

Let’s start with the most basic thing: a clear understanding and articulation of exactly what Park Ridge offers to retailers that stands it apart from its neighbors, especially when competing for those established local, regional and national brands that the City presumably want to attract.  Maybe we missed it, but we couldn’t find even an attempt at defining that “special something” Park Ridge has which should be attractive to retailers.

At last night’s City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, one of the EDTF members who addressed the Council went off-script and said that Park Ridge has higher household incomes than neighboring Des Plaines and Niles.  That should come as no surprise to anybody who has lived here for even a short while.  But we’ve had those higher household incomes for some time now, and they have yet to turn Park Ridge into a retail mecca, or even translate into significant retail sales.

What else is missing from that report? 

How about the kinds of businesses we should be trying to attract, and why.  Even mayoral challenger Larry Ryles has come up with a few target retailers on his campaign web page: Urban Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Forever 21, Clarks and GameStop.  If Ryles can come up with 5 target retailer names, why couldn’t the 29-member EDTF identify its own set of Park Ridge’s Top 10 or Top 20 target retailers, along with the reasons why we want them, the reasons why they should want us, and the way we should go about getting them?

The report prescribes a variety of activities for the City staff and others.  Not surprisingly, a number of those activities require…wait for it…the expenditure of taxpayer dollars.  Unfortunately, the report doesn’t seem to identify any objectively-measurable outcomes from each of those recommended activities; i.e., it is devoid of metrics by which to determine the success or failure of any of those activities the EDTF has recommended. 

Apparently the EDTF members never heard of management guru Peter Drucker’s “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”; or legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.”

Heck, why didn’t somebody on the EDTF make the effort to contact the Whole Foods folks and ask them what about Park Ridge persuaded them to put up a store here?  How tough would that have been?

Judging solely from the EDTF report, one year’s worth of work product appears to be little more than a laundry list of ways for existing local retailers to off-load some of their marketing efforts and expenses onto the City, a/k/a the taxpayers.  As in: “Support ‘First Friday’ with wider Marketing help from City” (Page 10); and “Return of façade renovation matching program” (Page 8) – as if the last incarnation of the façade improvement program did anything more than give a few private property owners some taxpayer-subsidized building improvements, with no measurable increase in business and sales tax revenues for the City.


Given that 29 “volunteers” spent a whole year coming up with this report, however, we assume the Mayor, the Council, and City Staff will praise it with “Huzzahs” and “Hossanahs.”  That’s because, in this town, “volunteerism” is sacred – irrespective of what, if anything, it actually accomplishes. 

Which, in the case of the EDTF, appears to be the resurrecting of more of the same old same old that has served us so ineffectively in attracting retail over the past 20+ years.  We can hear it now: “Get your façade improvement grant applications here!” “Paging Sharon Curcio!”  “Paging Kim Uhlig!”  

Or, perhaps more accurately: “Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Private Citizens, And Private Funds, Save “Indians Cede The Land”


Back on 01.29.13, we gave a big Watchdog bark-out to the folks at the Kalo Foundation for their Governor’s Hometown Award.  Unlike so many of those meaningless fluff-and-stroke awards given out by governmental bodies, that one had merit: the Kalo folks raised more than $300,000 to save a piece of our community’s heritage, the former Iannelli home and studio.

And they did it without the typical private community group ploy of going to the City with their hands out.

Today we offer another Watchdog bark-out to another group of citizens who accomplished something on their own for the community, also without the easy recourse to a City handout: the folks who raised the funds necessary to restore the old post office Depression-era mural and donate it to the Park Ridge Public Library.

At the dedication this past Friday evening, a number of those citizens showed up at the Library for the dedication – and also to honor the folks who made it possible: Mural Restoration Committee members Tony Borrelli, Pat Lofthouse, Dick VanMetre, Jeff Caudill, Paul Adlaf, Nancy Pytel and John Murphy.  They led the effort to raise the $38,000 needed for the restoration and the mounting of the 6’ x 20’ mural completed by George Melville Smith in 1940 under a commission from the U.S. Government as a way of assisting artists and decorating public buildings during The Great Depression.

Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt properly noted and praised the restoration effort as further evidence of what can be accomplished by motivated people with a distinct goal and the ability to enlist the community in pursuit of that goal – just as the Kalo Foundation did.  Although the amount of money needed for the mural was substantially less than what was needed for the Iannelli project, the principle is exactly the same.

Of course, successes like this annoy the heck out of all those private “community groups” that organize as not-for-profit corporations (thereby avoiding any transparency and accountability obligations to the general public) to pursue their pet projects, but then sprint for the public trough to feed on taxpayer dollars the moment they can’t or won’t raise sufficient funds for those projects directly from the taxpayers – even as they demand public funds by arguing that that those very same taxpayers endorse the “missions” of those private corporations and want those community groups to be taxpayer-funded.

And those groups howl like banshees whenever any public official – especially Mayor Schmidt and this current City Council – dares to demand transparency and accountability, as in trying to find out what specific public services those organizations are providing Park Ridge residents, and at what cost per unit of service.  That’s one reason restoring those giveaways of taxpayer funds is a key part of mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ campaign.

Fortunately, the Kalo folks didn’t play that kind of game, and neither did the Mural Restoration Committee.  They just rolled up their sleeves and did the heavy lifting, and the fundraising, themselves.

So the next time you’re in or around the Library, stroll up to the second floor and check out the newly-restored mural mounted above the doorway just west of the main information/help desk, which has been a part of this community’s heritage for over 70 years and will continue to be part of it for decades to come.

And when you do so, remember that it is just one more example of what private citizens can do on their own, without not-for-profit corporations and government handouts, when they put their minds to it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Serendipity Doo Dah, Serendipity-ay


Serendipity is an interesting thing.  It’s defined as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary), and it seems to occur for many people at unusual or fortuitous times.

So when we saw the Page Two article in today’s Park Ridge Journal titled “Ryles Touts Endorsements” and learned that mayoral challenger Larry Ryles is being endorsed by the three “former, living Mayors of Park Ridge,” the first word that came to mind was “serendipity.”

That’s because the City just received a report (which we wrote about in our 02.14.13 post) describing what an economic black hole the Uptown TIF has been, and is likely to remain for the rest of its “natural” life (until 2026) – and perhaps even beyond, if the City seeks and receives State of Illinois approval to extend it another 12 years.  In discussing the TIF, the Kane McKenna consultants gingerly avoided identifying the three public officials most instrumental in saddling us with that albatross.

But if you guessed the “former, living Mayors of Park Ridge,” give yourself a cheroot.  

For readers who didn’t reside here that far back, or who don’t remember the past (and risk, as Santayana warned, being doomed to repeat it), the following is a brief history of those three amigos and their roles in the current TIF fiasco.

Former mayor Ron Wietecha (1991-2003) spent most of his 12 years as mayor wasting bushels of our tax dollars (somewhere north of $1.3 million?) battling O’Hare International Airport – including blowing $650,000 on a new airport at Peotone he deceptively called an “investment.”  When not obsessed with O’Hare, Wietecha was leading his Homeowners Party-dominated Council in passing the Uptown TIF – before curiously resigning in September 2003, halfway through his term, and only days before the Council meeting at which he was to answer Council questions about that Peotone “investment.”  Shortly thereafter, he packed up and moved to Barrington.

Unlike Wietecha, former mayor Mike Marous (2003-05) was never elected mayor by popular vote.  Instead, he was installed by a vote of the aldermen after Wietecha abandoned ship.  Rumor has it Marous got the job by cutting a deal with one particular Council faction: he agreed to support then-ald. Mike Tinaglia for mayor against then-ald. Howard Frimark in the 2005 election if that faction went along with what Marous wanted in connection with the Uptown TIF development project.  

Not surprisingly, given Tinaglia’s shellacking by Frimark and the TIF’s becoming an economic train wreck, Marous and his fellow political schemers have been pretty tight-lipped about that particular grand bargain.  But we’re betting he’s breathing a sigh of relief that former-ald./political schemer Rex Parker didn’t succeed in having the signature Uptown TIF building at six corners named the “Marous Building.”

As for Frimark (2005-09)…well, what can we say about ol’ “Let’s Make A Deal” that we haven’t said before – other than that, even now, he’s telling anybody who will listen that the Uptown TIF is a great deal for Park Ridge.

We got our hands on a copy of the three amigos’ endorsement letter – more serendipity, it turns out – and had to chuckle about their statement that Ryles “will continue to support the future, positive, impact of the Uptown Redevelopment.”  

How?  By throwing even more millions of tax dollars down the toilet in order to help those three “former, living Mayors” keep their perp roles in this fiasco under the radar so that they can continue to escape accountability for this TIF goat rodeo?  Or by stiffing the school districts and the Park District on the payments due those bodies under the Inter-Governmental Agreements the City used to buy them off so they wouldn’t file court challenges to the TIF?  

Page 16 of the Kane McKenna TIF report warns that “difficult decisions will be required from a fiscal management perspective” if the TIF isn’t extended another 12 years, or if the school districts and the Park District don’t agree to being stiffed by the City.

When it comes to “difficult decisions,” those “former, living Mayors” rarely, if ever, got one right; and the closest they came to “fiscal management” was when they left office and kicked the can down the road to the next guy.

No wonder they’re endorsing Larry Ryles.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Competitive Bidding…Who Needs It?


In our 01.24.13 post, “Two Lessons On Governmental And Political Integrity,” we criticized the way Fire Chief Mike Zywanski cried “Wolf!” about public safety while trying to blow the purchase of $150,000 of cardiac monitors/defibrillators past the City Council, despite a woeful lack of critical information about that purchase.

The purchase recommendation in his 01.14.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum was so vague and incomplete on its budget and appropriations details – as even the City Council concluded in deferring it to the 02.11.13 Committee of the Whole (“COW”) – that we didn’t even address how it also appeared to circumvent the City’s competitive bidding process, designed to get the best possible deal for the taxpayers while at the same time preventing self-dealing (a/k/a, graft) by those officials involved in the procurement process.

So we’re getting around to that now.

Section 2-9-9 of the City Code governs that procurement process.  Subsection D requires competitive sealed bidding for all goods and services purchase contracts over $20,000 – unless the City Manager determines that the bid process isn’t appropriate for such products or services, in which case those purchase contracts would be covered by the competitive sealed proposals process of Subsection E.

Subsection F provides seven specific exceptions to the competitive process for “contracts which by their nature are not adapted to award by competitive selection process,” none of which appear applicable to the monitors/defibrillators Chief Z wants to buy.  That could account for there being no explanation in Chief Z’s memorandum of why this purchase is exempt from competitive bidding.

That’s the “if you don’t have the answer, ignore the question” rule of bureaucratic survival.

That memo states that the Fire Dept. “conducted an evaluation of the major brands of Cardiac Monitor/Defibrillators designed for Paramedic use in the field” [emphasis added], which evaluation led to the determination that the Zoll device is the “best option” for the PRFD.  Yet no written report, or even any specific details, of that evaluation process were included in Chief Z’s memo.  Nor were they made part of his 02.11.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum , which purports to address the competitive bidding issue in its “Question #5 Response” but which doesn’t even come close to doing so.

Heck, it doesn’t even mention the City’s competitive bidding provisions.

Such an omission, however, didn’t stop the Council – during the Public Safety portion of last Monday’s COW meeting – from advancing this purchase by a 5-0 vote (Alds. Sweeney and Raspanti absent) for approval at tonight’s Council meeting.

So why hasn’t Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton put this purchase on tonight’s Council meeting Agenda as an action item?

If we had to bet the ranch, we’d wager that Chief Z and Hamilton are still trying to come up with something that can pass for an “evaluation” and satisfy Ald. Dan Knight’s (5th) request, last Monday, for a copy before the Council takes its final vote on Chief Z’s recommendation.

That’s because, if such an evaluation actually existed as of last Monday, we would expect Chief Z and/or Hamilton to already have produced it, thereby facilitating the approval of this deal at tonight’s meeting.  But they haven’t – which suggests that Chief Z may have been fibbing about that evaluation; and that Hamilton may be aiding and abetting the cover-up of that fib.

That would be extremely disappointing under any circumstances.

But it takes on an extra dimension in light of mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ making this equipment purchase his most recent political cause célèbre.  Ryles has been barbecuing Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Knight for delaying the purchase of this “critical” replacement equipment, notwithstanding that Chief Z himself finally admitted at last Monday night’s meeting – under pointed questioning by Knight – that any delays in the purchase of replacement monitors/defibrillators were not negatively impacting the health or safety of Park Ridge residents.

But facts don’t seem to matter to Ryles, just as they never mattered to his political mentor, former mayor Howard Frimark.  So we’re not going to hold our breath wondering whether Ryles will show up at City Hall tonight demanding an explanation of why this purchase has been delayed once again.

For a guy who wants to be “the 24/7 mayor,” Ryles has been incredibly reluctant to actually stand up and address the Council about City issues.  Like Frimark, Ryles seems more comfortable laying in the weeds and shooting from ambush.  But that’s another issue for another time.

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, Ald. Knight and the Council apparently are still waiting for Chief Z’s evaluation of the competing cardiac monitors/defibrillators that would demonstrate why Zoll’s product is better than the competition and/or lower priced; and why it shouldn’t need to go through competitive bidding despite being more than $100,000 above the threshold for such bidding.

Although we’ve seen no hard evidence that Chief Z has engaged in any unethical behavior regarding this equipment purchase, we can’t ignore the fact that a $150,000 equipment purchase such as this often contains enough “flexibility” to easily accommodate…oh, say…some complimentary Bulls tickets, or a couple of expensive dinners, with wine, to oil the procurement machinery.  THAT’S one of the main reasons there is a competitive bidding process in the first place.

So while Chief Z’s failure to include his purported “evaluation” in either of his memos, and his inability/failure to produce that evaluation within 24 hours of Knight’s 02.11.13 request could simply be the product of boneheadedness, it creates a reasonable suspicion that things aren’t working they way they should be.

Or as they’ve been represented to the City Council and the public.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Stiffed By The TIF


At Monday night’s Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, the Council got further confirmation – as if even the most hapless alderman needed it by now – that the Uptown TIF could remain a money-sucking albatross around the City’s neck for the remainder of its 23-year life.

Or for another 13 years, to be exact.  Assuming it’s not extended.

That was the word from the City’s outside TIF consultants, Kane McKenna and Associates, who told the City that by May 1 of next year the City’s TIF Fund will be in hock to the City’s General Fund by about $6 million.  While one fund owing another a boxcar number might sound like the creative accounting and mumbo-jumbo that comes out of Washington D.C. when discussing the federal government owing hundreds of billions of dollars to “Social Security” for loans that the SS “trust fund” made to keep the government operating, it’s real dollars to us average taxpayers.

The problem is a simple one: back in 2003, then-mayor Ron Wietecha and a recklessly “motivated” City Council borrowed and spent way too much on the Uptown TIF District Redevelopment project – selling themselves on the pie-in-the-sky revenue projections provided by the developer, PRC Partners; by our disingenuous then-city manager, Tim Schuenke; and by local realtors and retailers, many of whom were hoping the project would give their own businesses the jump-start they were desperately looking for.  Oh, and maybe some local real estate speculators, who saw the new project as a way to goose up the values of neighboring property and scalp a quick profit.

Kind of like those speculators who were buying up or optioning all that land in and around the expected venues for the “guaranteed” Chicago 2016 Olympics.

Compounding the problem of those ridiculous revenue projections is the strong possibility that the City sold off the City land on which the bulk of the project sits – the old reservoir block – for as much as two or three million dollars less than it was worth.  That’s because our irresponsible public officials were so consumed with getting the project done that they threw caution (and/or common sense) to the wind, and didn’t even get the property appraised.


The City then undertook a lot of infrastructure expenses in furtherance of the project, and as a favor to the private developer.  It issued a bunch of long-term bonded debt and pledged all the City’s assets as security for that debt.

For the first few years the TIF bumbled along with nobody paying close attention or publicizing its performance – because then-Deputy City Mgr. Juliana Maller, who nominally was in charge of keeping track of the TIF, was clueless and uninterested; and because reliable information was next to impossible to come by, probably because such information would have become increasingly embarrassing for the culprits still sitting around The Horseshoe and harboring further political (or commercial?) ambitions.

Not until Allison Stutts became Finance Director and took over TIF analysis from Maller did Mayor Dave Schmidt and the new Council start to get some of the unhappy totals – and it became increasingly apparent that the City needed some TIF experts to advise if anything could be done to improve the situation by refinancing or other creative tactics.

According to Page 16 of the Kane McKenna report (which also is available on the City’s website under the 01.11.13 City Council meeting attachments), the City currently is on the hook for over $39 million in additional TIF debt service.  But that’s far from the worst part of the report.

On that same page, in that same table, Kane McKenna forecasts three separate alternate scenarios, with the best one projecting that the TIF will end up costing the City $7.4 million.  The worst case scenario: The TIF ends up $27 million in the in the hole.  And, as the consultants note: “The imbalance between TIF revenues and obligations…is significant”; and none of their suggested action plans is “a complete remedy.”

If you watch Monday night’s City Council COW meeting video on the City’s website, you will hear the Kane McKenna representative discuss how these scenarios were drawn up with a conservative underlying premise of no growth in sales and property tax revenues, which is unlikely.  But even building in an equally unlikely 4% annual growth in such revenues, the deficit in the “special” TIF fund could still end up at $10 million or so, to go along with the locked-in $7.35 million cumulative obligation to the school districts and the Park District under all three alternative scenarios.

Fortunately for all the perpetrators of this goat rodeo but one (current Ald. Rich DiPietro), these revelations come when they no longer are public officials.  And if you ask them about how they could have been so wrong about this project – for which they were planning on as much as a $20 million-plus profit by the expiration of the TIF’s 23-year term – you can expect more songs and dances than the original Broadway production of “Cats.”

But the bottom line, especially as we move into the final months of the mayoral and City Council races, is that it looks like the TIF will continue to be a major drain on City finances for the foreseeable future, the proverbial 500 lb gorilla sitting in the corner of the City Council chambers at every meeting.  We therefore encourage all taxpayers/voters to press all the candidates for City office on how they view this problem, and demand specific answers about what they intend to do to address it.

Mindless, pie-in-the-sky irresponsibility by City officials brought us to this place.  Does anybody but the village idiot(s) think more mindless pie-in-the-sky irresponsibility will get us out of it?

To read or post comments, click on title.

WWRD? Hide In Plain Sight From Scary Debates


A minor snow/sleet storm may have held down attendance at last Thursday night’s City of Park Ridge town hall/candidates’ debate.  But the 40-50 folks who made it to the Park Ridge Senior Center heard Mayor Dave Schmidt and four of the six City Council candidates talk about their beliefs and ideas for improving City government.

The main event of the evening was scheduled to be the first debate between Schmidt and challenger Larry Ryles.  But with Ryles a no-show along with 2nd Ward candidate George Korovilas  and 4th Ward hopeful Jane Johnson, Schmidt, 2nd Ward candidate Nick Milissis and 4th Ward candidate Roger Shubert got to play Q and A with the moderators, Park Ridge Journal editor/publisher Todd Wessell and Park Ridge Herald-Advocate editor Ben Meyerson, who also asked questions tendered by the audience.

That made the featured “bout” a battle of the 6th Ward bantamweights, with current alderman Marc Mazzuca and challenger Vincent “Vinny” LaVecchia displaying two different styles and views of City government, especially on finances.  That bodes well for an energetic contest between them, a welcome difference from two years ago when Tom Bernick ran unopposed but then resigned his seat barely a year into his 2-year term.

And we hope the absences of Korovalis and Johnson last Thursday night are not an indication of their lack of commitment to their respective campaigns.  The voters in those two wards need and deserve more, and more vigorously-contested, aldermanic races than what they’ve been getting.  Not only those voters, but voters throughout the entire community, would have been better served with three aldermanic debates Thursday night rather than just one.

But the biggest disappointment was Ryles being MIA.  As reported by both local newspapers, he went through two alibis for not attending – it was “Schmidt’s debate,” and there were no “ground rules” to establish the “controlled environment” he desires – before coming up with, at the eleventh hour, the excuse he apparently felt he could best sell to the voters: a family commitment.

That’s too bad, because we would have loved to have heard Ryles actually try to answer a number of those questions asked of Schmidt.

For example, we would have loved to have heard Ryles explain why, despite his insistence on keeping property tax levy increases at or below the CPI, he was MIA from the recent Council debates that led to the Council’s adopting the 2.15% increase, the lowest in over a decade; and why he didn’t share with both the Council and the public what specific additional expenses he would have cut, or how specifically he would raise revenues, in order to cut that levy increase even further.

We also would have loved to have heard Ryles identify each specific business he reportedly has been accusing Schmidt of driving out of town, or keeping out of town – and how Ryles would have prevented those departures while luring the others in.  We’re still waiting to hear what specific retailers Ryles thinks he can bring here, and what devices or techniques he plans on using (and at what cost).j

And we can’t wait to hear Ryles’ plans for dealing with the City’s biggest black hole, the misguided and mismanaged Uptown TIF.

Although Ryles may have been MIA last Thursday night, two of his key backers were prominently in attendance: former mayor Howard Frimark, rumored to be serving (with exquisite irony, we might add) as Ryles’ one-man “truth squad”; and ubiquitous local public relations and marketing hired gun, Dick Barton. Frimark was observed furiously scribbling away, seemingly creating a verbatim transcript of the proceedings.

Fortunately, you don’t need to rely on Frimark’s play-by-play, because Schmidt had the festivities videotaped and posted on YouTube, where you can see and hear the candidates who participated; and judge for yourself just how unfair to Ryles was the forum and format Schmidt created.

The next chance to see the candidates in the flesh – assuming they all show up – is at the Park Ridge Republican Women’s Forum on March 7 at 7:00 p.m. in the South Park Recreation Center.  The mayoral candidates also are scheduled to debate before the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce at the Park Ridge Country Club on March 13 between 11:30 and 1:30 p.m.; and before the League of Women Voters on March 14, at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

Until then, expect Ryles to continue to be MIA, even while hiding in plain sight.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Ald. Smith Baying At The Moon Over Signs


We received an undated “Press Release” from Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) concerning his plan for “raising issues and offering amendments” at the January 28th City Council Committee of the Whole meeting concerning the City’s sign ordinance.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive it until days after that meeting.

Which is probably okay, because we had a hard time making much sense out of what Smith is complaining about – other than Mayor Dave Schmidt for creating a Sign Task Force that, according to Smith, Schmidt “packed…with proponents of rigorous regulation” who have proposed amendments to the Zoning Code that will create “a more business-hostile environment.”

Who are these business-hostile task force folks? 

Judy Barclay of the Historic Preservation Commission.  Mark Dejardins, who reportedly operates a sign business.  Sheila Duda of the Tea Lula tea shop.  Kathie Hahn of the Park Ridge Park District.  Brian Kidd of the City’s Appearance Commission.  Alfredo Marr of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission.  local real estate agent Joan Sandrik.  Resident Paul Sheehan.  And Gary Zimmerman, of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Frankly, we aren’t aware of any facts that would suggest these folks are “anti-business.”  And Smith doesn’t explain how they are, or how he knows it.

Whether the City’s sign ordinance needs clarification, amendment, or a complete rewrite is unclear to us.  Generally speaking, we don’t find any of the business signs around town offensive.  But the Sign Task Force was created to assess that situation and, as best as we can tell, it has done its job.

Is every one of the recommendations the Task Force has come up with optimal?  Probably not.  But do the proposed amendments make the Zoning Code hostile to businesses with signage? 

As best as we can tell from his Press Release, they may require “a number of new signs even though the original ones are perfectly serviceable for their intended purpose.”  But the only example he offers is the Dunkin’ Donuts at Touhy and Greenwood. 

That’s not a bad example, mind you, because it does illustrate the odd-to-goofy situation (if Smith is correct) where a non-compliant, free-standing sign is permitted to advertise the dry cleaners next to DD but cannot also advertise DD – because the dry cleaners’ sign is grandfathered in, while the newer DD does not enjoy the same status and exception to the rule.

Smitty’s real beef, however, seems to be not the “grandfathering” exception that currently creates this anomaly, but the proposed elimination of that exception by these proposed amendments, which would require replacement of the entire sign by January 1, 2015 with one that conforms to the ordinance.

In recent months, Smith has demonstrated an amazing ability to propose things that don’t even get a second from the rest of the Council.  That occurred at the January 28th meeting, when he moved to delete Section 14.18 of the revised sign ordinance – the section that sets a January 1, 2015 deadline for non-conforming signs to be brought into compliance – and failed to get a second.   

That two-year amortization period has been acknowledged by City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill as being “aggressive,” so a Council debate on the length of that amortization period would have made sense.

Had Smitty been concerned with actually legislating rather than political grandstanding, he could have moved to expand the compliance window to 3, 4 or even 5 years.  Or he could have sought a special compliance window for those businesses who installed a new sign within the past 1 or 2 years, so that they could recoup more of their recent sign investment made without any expectation of a change in the ordinance.  Either one would have triggered the kind of debate these issues deserve.

Instead, he chose to make his DOA motion. 

But only after issuing his Press Release, and baying at the moon.

To read or post comments, click on title.