From “Freeloaders” To Philanthropists (Kind Of)


Every so often, almost perplexingly, one or other of our local governmental bodies actually gets something “right” – rather than just not getting it wrong.

This past Wednesday night (May 29), the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District Board – after some serious deliberation – appears to have made the “right” decision on an issue we wrote about, critically, in our May 20, 2013 post: making the historic Solomon Cottage on the Park Ridge Youth Campus property available as the new home of the Park Ridge Historical Society (the “PRHS”).  And it will be done by the District’s giving the PRHS a 20-year lease of that 105-year old building at a mere $1 per year.

Yes, $1 per year.

While that kind of deal normally would have us searching high and low for undue influence on behalf of some well-connected-but-undisclosed special interest, this looks and sounds legit for several reasons – not the least of which is that the PRHS is reportedly going to initially commit approximately $120,000 of its own funds to making the Solomon Cottage “habitable”; and then another few hundred thousand dollars of private funding to turn the building into an interactive historical museum.  The PRHS also will be responsible for the utilities and routine maintenance.

In other words, this looks to be a no-cost deal for Park Ridge taxpayers.

And not only will it save this historically-significant structure from demolition but, also, it will save the District’s taxpayers the estimated $80,000 in demolition costs the District was planning to incur because operating/programming the deteriorating Solomon Cottage was not part of the District’s Youth Campus Park redevelopment plan.

Can we get an “Amen”?

Okay, let’s not get carried away just yet.  There’s still a ways to go – and a number of details to iron out – before this plan becomes a reality.  Which means there’s still plenty of time and opportunities for it to get bollixed up.  And the public still needs to weigh in on this landlord-tenant twist, because such an arrangement between the District and the PRHS was not one of the advertised features used to sell the Youth Campus referendum to the voters last month.

Additionally, whatever lease agreement is drawn up MUST totally protect, if not outright favor, the District and its taxpayers.  That means there better be a cracker-jack inspection and evaluation of the structure to ascertain the condition of its foundations, walls, windows, roof and mechanical systems before the District effectively gives the PRHS, as its tenant, the legal right to demand major repairs that could consume tens of thousands of tax dollars and turn this “deal” on its head.

As more than one Park Board member noted Wednesday night, the District doesn’t need or want another Senior Center-style public/private “partnership” boondoggle that cost the District’s taxpayers $150,000+/year in ridiculous subsidies, the $330,000 Kemnitz bequest, and a lawsuit and legal fees to sort things out.  And neither do the taxpayers.

So for now we’re giving a big Watchdog bark-out to both the Park Board and the PRHS, including its treasurer, Kirke Machon, whom we took to task in our May 20 post for being the mouthpiece for the PRHS’s earlier “Ubi est mea?” (an homage to the late Mike Royko) freeloader approach to this venture, one that would have had the Park District throwing at least $120,000 of our tax dollars – if not the whole $500,000-plus – into a deteriorating building it had no plans of ever using.

This has the makings of one of those rare win/win deals, with the private PRHS contributing a boatload of private money for the improvement of a public building.

Now it’s up to the Park District and the PRHS not to screw this up.

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Memorial Day 2013: “Go Tell The Spartans…”


At the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., a Spartan king and 300 of his personal bodyguards sacrificed their lives to delay the advance of a massive Persian army and to cover the retreat of more than 3,000 of their non-Spartan allies.  As reported by the historian Herodotus, that heroic effort led to an epitaph at the battle site which translates as:

“Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we are buried, obedient to their orders.”

That heroism, sense of duty and sacrifice first recorded so long ago helped save Greece, the threshold of democracy, from conquest.  And it is typical of so many soldiers who have given their lives for their countries, many of them young Americans like the soldier whose story was first told in a letter to the editor of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate for Memorial Day 2000 by Park Ridge resident Joseph C. “Jay” Hirst – himself a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star recipient as a Ranger in Vietnam.  That story is reprinted here with Jay’s permission:

*           *           *

It seems that about every other year, I am compelled to submit a letter regarding Memorial Day and what it means to this Vietnam veteran.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a young man named Ken Wedman, who served his country all too well so long ago. With your indulgence, let me tell you of another, John Wasilow, who also deserves our thanks and remembrance every Memorial Day.

John was from South Carolina. Couldn’t understand most of what he had to say, and John had problems finding a niche in the squad.

Tried him out as a radio operator, his accent doomed that effort. Tried him as a rifleman, but he couldn’t shoot straight. Figured what he couldn’t hit with a rifle, he could with a grenade launcher. Made John a grenadier.

John humped that launcher, his ruck and about 50 grenades all over II Corps without ever a complaint. “Ironman” became his nickname.

On a late November night, at the beginning of the monsoons, in Binh Dinh province, Ironman saved my life.

Moving along a narrow bank near the Bong Son River (just below silhouette framing), the NVA opened up on my squad. While we caught a lucky break that the slope of the bank provided cover from the small-arms fire, it was going to be only a matter of minutes before the grenades or, worse yet, mortars came in.

My RTO was calling for air support when suddenly, from my right, grenades are flying out at an incredible rate.


With the resulting slacking of NVA fire, we moved rapidly to the wood line 200 feet away. I looked back to see Wasilow running to, and setting up, a new position toward our rear. Didn’t think much more about it at the time.

We held at the woods, with two missing men, and called in air support. A gunship that responded put the NVA forces at more than 60, and a Mike Strike Force Company from across the river caught them. The KIA count was 16 NVA.

But, John was dead.

His initial rate of fire from a weapon less than desirable in a close-range firefight had lifted the NVA fire enough to allow the squad an escape from certain disaster with the additional loss of only one wounded “booner” (infantryman). Wasilow had been hit at least four times, yet his bandoleer was empty.  He died after firing his last grenade.

John could have laid wounded and may have survived.  He didn’t have to get up wounded and put himself at peril again as the squad sought safety, but he did.

Ironman was aptly named.

We did all the paperwork to nominate Wasilow for the DSC. To this date, I don’t know if it happened.

Like I said, John didn’t have to do what he did. But he did, and I am alive today because of it.

Memorial Day is his day, Kenny’s day, and the day of all the veterans like these two. I remember them almost every day. Because of them, I have a son, the love of a wife, and a life. You can begin, I hope, to see and understand my gratitude.

The least we Americans can do is give them their day, their deserved honor, and our heartfelt thanks. God knows I do.

*           *           *

To truly “celebrate” Memorial Day, one stop every American should make before firing up the grill or cracking open the cooler is at a cemetery.  Any cemetery will do – just look for the little American flags, planted each Memorial Day by various veterans’ organizations out of their own sense of honor and duty, which mark the graves of veterans.

Take a moment to note the service of each of those veterans whose graves you come across.

Take a little more time and, with a little luck and a quick calculation, you’ll probably find at least one grave of an American soldier actually killed in action.  When you do, remember Abraham Lincoln’s stirring invocation – at Gettysburg in 1863 – of  “these honored dead” who “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And then offer a heartfelt “thanks” for their ultimate sacrifice.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

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Law Of Unintended Consequences Stymies Arts Groups


In 1692, the English philosopher John Locke – whose political philosophy inspired Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence – first suggested the concept of “unintended consequences” when he argued against a parliamentary bill cutting the maximum interest rate because it would actually reduce the availability of credit, thereby hurting the very borrowers the bill was intended to help.

That concept has since been elevated informally to a “law” by its application to a wide variety of circumstances, especially economics (including “Freakonomics”).  And a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate demonstrates how it appears to have adversely affected our City’s cultural arts community: “Arts fundraiser fails to stick with Park Ridge residents” (May 20).

When the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Dave Schmidt, finally said “enough” to the various private “community groups” that had developed an entitlement mentality towards the public funding they had grown accustomed to receiving from the City, then-city manager Jim Hock and a few aldermen tried to throw a sop to the cultural arts crowd with the institution of a special $10 “arts” sticker that could be purchased along with a City vehicle sticker and would benefit six local cultural arts groups.

But after just one sale – in the Spring of 2011 – the initiative was dropped because too few residents purchased those stickers to justify their cost and the City manpower to process those sales.  And, not surprisingly, the intended beneficiaries of that effort are now beefing about its failure, while also seeming to take a backhanded slap at the mayor and the Council for cutting their funding.

According to the H-A article, Cultural Arts Council member Diddy Blyth called the sticker program a “political move” that actually “diffused and incinerated” an incipient effort by the six cultural arts groups at working together on larger-scale fundraising.  And the article reports that those groups have not met together since.

Can you say: “Why should we actually work at fund-raising when we can once again feed at the public trough”?   Apparently those cultural arts groups can.

Brickton Art Center received a shade over $2,200 through sticker sales, nowhere close to the $11,000 it was going to receive in FY2010-11 before Schmidt’s veto was sustained by the Council.  And according to Brickton Executive Director Alyssa Kulak, Brickton is compensating for the failure of the sticker initiative by “seeking out different grants” and “cutting back on expenses.”

We suggest Brickton and these other cultural arts groups take a lesson from those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies, where a group of enthusiastic folks would signal their fundraiser of choice with the now-iconic exclamation: “Let’s put on a show!”

If Park Ridge residents truly support the arts – as the cultural arts folks insisted every time they sought City funding – these cultural arts groups should figure out a way to have those residents show it.  With cash. 

How about talking to the owners of the Pickwick, the City’s crown jewel venue, about hosting a gala event?  Or the old reliable Park Ridge Country Club, if the Pickwick won’t work?  Charge a C-note per ticket, serve champagne and some of those “heavy” hors d’oeuvres (we’re partial to super-colossal U12-count shrimp that look like they kicked a lobster’s butt just for the privilege of being on the tray) and feature some notable entertainment that will make the event the place to be in Park Ridge on that particular night.

If that doesn’t raise the kind of money these groups need, maybe it’s time for them to re-think their roles in this community.

And maybe it’s time for the Council to learn yet another lesson about the unintended consequences of City government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong while trying to funnel public monies into private entities and activities.

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Historical Society Seeks To Join Freeloader Ranks


We’ve often written about “freeloaders”: people and organizations looking for some kind of free or discount ride at the expense of Park Ridge taxpayers.  And we often describe them as “shameless” – and the complicit governmental bodies they put the arm on as “spineless” – because in a battle between the shameless and the spineless, the shameless almost always win.

Today’s featured freeloaders are the folks who run the Park Ridge Historical Society (the “PRHS”).

As reported last week in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Historical Society seeks Solomon Cottage agreement,” May 17), the PRHS wants the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District to let it “share” the Solomon Cottage on the Park Ridge Youth Campus property the Park District is in the process of purchasing.  The PRHS wants to turn that building into a Park Ridge “history center” that would be open one day a week, while allowing the Park District the “shared use” of the building at all other times.

So far, so good.  Or at least inoffensive.

As reported in the H-A story, however, the PRHS doesn’t want to pay any rent for its use of the building.  And if that’s not cheeky enough, it also wants the Park District (a/k/a, the taxpayers) to pay not only the cost of bringing that building into building code compliance (at an estimated cost of $120,000), but also the cost of the additional “build-out” work to make that structure more suited to the PRHS’s needs.

Oh, and did we mention the PRHS wants a full one-year’s notice should the Park District ever decide to end that sweetheart arrangement?

We must confess that when we hear stuff like this, our first reaction is to reach for a Louisville Slugger (the classic “Hank Aaron” model A99: wide-grained white ash, 35 inches long, 33 ounces, medium handle, medium barrel) and consider tapping a little sense into the heads of the particular freeloaders.  Fortunately for all involved, that urge usually passes before it is acted upon; and, instead, we choose to publicize that freeloading with the intent of shaming the bejeebus out of its perpetrators.

In this case, the lead “perp” is PRHS’s treasurer (and former 1/2-term First Ward alderman), Kirke Machon.  But unless Machon has gone rogue, the other officers and directors of the PRHS also need to “wear the jacket” for the kind of shamelessness articulated by Machon, to wit: “We don’t envision spending our money fixing that building up” unless the PRHS is going to own it.

Fair enough, Captain Kirke.  How about your organization proceeding at warp speed to purchase Solomon Cottage from the Park District?  Or why not agree to a long-term lease at a rental that would cover the amortized cost of both the compliance and build-out work – with all of the PRHS’s officers and directors personally guarantying that lease so the taxpayers don’t get stiffed?

One doesn’t need to be able to solve the Kobayashi Maru to recognize the PRHS proposal as a totally one-sided “heads the PRHS wins, tails the Park District/taxpayers lose” bet.  But apparently that one-sidedness is not enough to discourage the Park District from doing its Gumby impersonation and twisting itself into whatever shape might make the PRHS happy.

For example, the H-A article reports that Park District Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle, while noting that the Park District has never before provided “build-out” funding for any if its affiliated organizations (of which the PRHS is not one), didn’t rule out that possibility.  Meanwhile, Board president Rick Biagi talked about using tax dollars to make the Solomon Cottage “habitable,” but not customized for the PRHS.  And Board member Jim O’Brien, while questioning the Park District’s need for any more “shared space,” nevertheless suggested that the Parks Foundation might work with PRHS to fundraise for the building improvements.


While we are grateful for the efforts the PRHS has made to preserve Park Ridge history, an historical society is to the Park District pretty much what an accordion is to deer hunting.  Consequently, there is no reason to make the PRHS a Park District “affiliate” – especially if that’s only being done so that the Park District can try to justify giving PRHS rent-free use of the Solomon Cottage or any other Park District facility.

If the PRHS wants to use Solomon Cottage, it needs to put some significant skin in the game, with “skin” meaning greenbacks.  And the folks at the Park District who are supposed to be the stewards of our Park District and our tax dollars need to stop encouraging and enabling freeloaders of every stripe.

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Adios (For Now) To The Incredible Expanding Task Force


In 2010 Mayor Dave Schmidt formed the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force in the aftermath of the so-called “Ekl Report” of 2008, which identified a variety of problems within the Park Ridge Police Department that had arguably damaged relations between the PRPD and the public it is sworn to serve and protect.

As we recall it, the Task Force’s “task” was simply to come up with ways to improve those relations.

Unfortunately, Schmidt and the City Council provided no detailed task or mission definition.  And because power, even on a small scale, abhors a vacuum, the Task Force members promptly filled that vacuum with all sorts of “mission creep” tasks and activities increasingly removed from the PRPD’s community relations – the most notable being the Task Force’s recommendations and advocacy for over $1 million of improvements, renovations and expansions of the police station.

But Schmidt recently let it be known that the Task Force is being disbanded due to the completion of its original task of improving relations between the PRPD and the community.

Whether the Task Force’s efforts actually improved the PRPD community relations appears to be a function solely of anecdotal “data” that varies significantly – depending on whom you speak with, their connection to the PRPD or to the Task Force, and their own experiences with the PRPD both pre-Ekl and post-Ekl.  Our own anecdotal “data” suggests that most people never had any problem with the PRPD and saw the Ekl Report as an unnecessary expenditure, irrespective of the glimpse into the internecine power struggles between two rival police factions back then.

In the three years the Task Force has been operating, it has attempted to insinuate itself into all sorts of City matters, including  “public safety” (e.g., “the role of the Police Department in [dealing with]…cyberbullying”), legislation (“proposing changes to the municipal code regarding underage drinking disposition”) and other local issues the scope of which “goes beyond the Police Department and involves other parts of the city government” – according to Task Force chair Frank Gruba-McCallister’s Report to the Mayor and City Council presented at last Monday (May 13) night’s meeting.

Sounds to us a little bit like task force members gone wild.

But there may be more method to this “wild”-ness than initially meets the eye, perhaps related to the new community health initiative and survey sponsored by the “Healthier Park Ridge Project” (the “HPRP”).

According to a Chicago Tribune article from December 17, 2012, by Gail-Tzipporah Saunder, the HPRP arose out of Lutheran General Hospital’s failure to pay the City any parking taxes on cars parked in its lot.  Instead of paying the parking tax, LGH reportedly started giving money to the City’s paramedics – although we haven’t been able to determine whether LGH’s contributions matched what the City should have been getting in parking taxes.  And the same lack of quantified dollar value appears to be the case with this new health survey.

Not surprisingly for an upper-middle class community like Park Ridge, the hot-button public health topic is mental health/mental illness, at least judging by Gruba-McCallister’s Report and quotes from Police Chief Frank Kaminski, Maine Center for Mental Health’s CEO Fran Hook Hume, and Park Ridge Health Commission member Peter Ryan.

Kaminski pointed to the number of suicides in “our community” and the decrease in state funding for mental health services, while Hume and Ryan both extolled the health survey as a way to understand what the community is thinking about public health.

During the Council debates over public funding of private “community group” corporations which have no legal accountability to the taxpayers, it was often noted by those corporations and their advocates that the City – unlike its neighbors such as Des Plaines, Niles and Morton Grove – had no social services department and, therefore, should be funding those corporations as a substitute for its lack of in-house services.  Of course, none of those corporations’ officials or advocates offered to provide the City with transparency and accountability relative to their services, nor did they offer to enter into any legally-binding service contract with the City for a fixed amount of services at a fixed price solely for the benefit of Park Ridge residents.

City Council Policy No. 6, however, governs private vendors of services “deemed to be of substantial benefit to the community” and which are not “in conflict with or duplicative of services provided by any other governmental body having jurisdiction within the City.”

Given the way some of our past mayors and Councils tossed around tax dollars, however, it’s no surprise to us that we can find no indication in City records of a prior Council actually conducting any evidentiary hearing or otherwise taking evidence, and making findings, related to the benefit to the community of the private services and the availability of those services from other governmental bodies – like Maine Township or Cook County.

LGH’s community relations director, Paula Besler, has said that LGH is willing to provide financial support to initiatives created from survey results, including the option of creating a community health specialist position.

But we’re betting that, if this initiative gains traction, LGH won’t be providing all the “financial support” for all those sub-initiatives.

And we’re also betting that it’s only a matter of time before the various private corporations that became so comfortable over the years feeding from the public trough with only the most minimal transparency and no legal accountability to Park Ridge taxpayers turn up at City Hall some Monday night with what Will Stockdale (in “No Time For Sergeants”) called “a handful of ‘gimme’ and a mouthful of ‘much obliged’.”

Meanwhile, we’ll await the expected effort from the Police Chief’s Task Force folks to prod the Council into creating some kind of City “commission” that will allow them to pursue their many and varied governmental interests on a more permanent basis.

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Good Riddance To Greedy Geezers


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate reported that Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“SSI” or “Seniors Inc.”), the private corporation that the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District permitted to effectively run the Park Ridge Senior Center on Western Avenue for the past 30 years, may be setting up operations in the former Our Lady of Ranson School on Greenwood Avenue in Niles (“Park Ridge senior group eyes move to Niles,” May 6).

Bon voyage and good riddance, greedy geezers.

We won’t re-hash all the reasons why we think self-imposed exile in Niles constitutes addition by subtraction.  Those can be found in our posts of 01.27.11, 07.29.11, 08.02.11, 12.12.11, 04.16.12 and 07.16.12, among others.

From the sound of the H-A article, new Park Commissioner James Phillips – as he indicated he would do during his recent successful election campaign – did his best to get the Park Board to relent and try to make nice with SSI.  But we prefer the approach of re-elected Commissioner Richard Brandt: “If they want to go, let them go.”

How many Senior Center members join the approximately one dozen malcontents who make up the SSI leadership and/or the self-importantly named “Senior Senate” (assuming they aren’t one in the same) in the move to Niles remains to be seen.  It also remains to be seen how much of the personal property (e.g., folding chairs and tables, a piano, pool tables, several TVs, bocce ball sets, etc.) currently in the Senior Center they will take with them – although we hope they take all of it to further underscore their pettiness.

Given all the acrimony infecting this situation, however, we question why the Park District seems to be coddling SSI while it conducts its search for a new clubhouse.  Rather than giving SSI until June 1 to decide what property it will be taking with it, and giving SSI until August 1 to remove it, the District should have told SSI in no uncertain terms that such a decision needs to be made NOW…and the stuff moved out NOW.  No need to let that toxic situation continue to infect the Park District.

Irrespective of how many folding chairs and TVs the SSI malcontents take with them, however, they also will be taking with them a whopping $330,000 from the Betty Kemnitz Trust that probably belongs to the Park District and its taxpayers – the results of the settlement of Grodsky v. Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, Case No. 2012 CH 2032, the lawsuit that was filed by former Park District Senior Center supervisor Teresa Grodsky after she was challenged by the Park District for handing over the Kemnitz Trust money to SSI even as she was drawing a Park District paycheck.  Maybe SSI can use some of that ill-gotten Kemnitz cash to hire Grodsky to run their senior “clubhouse” in exile.

With SSI leaving, the burden now shifts to the Park District to make good on running the Senior Center in a more cost-effective way – and for the benefit of more than the 700 or so seniors, a good number of whom weren’t even District residents and taxpayers.  Having left all that in the hands of SSI and Grodsky for so many years, it will be interesting to see if the District is up to that task.

Meanwhile, it will also be interesting to see whether the Park Board and District administration learn anything from this Senior Center debacle.

In a sense, the community should be grateful to the greedy geezers of SSI for providing a clear object lesson in what happens when a governmental body that is supposed to be the steward of the taxpayers’ money abdicates responsibility for both that money and the related taxpayer-owned facility, effectively encouraging the inmates to run the asylum.  In this case, those inmates ran up $150,000 a year in operating deficits while charging their “members” a paltry $43 in annual membership “dues.”  And the Park Board and staff let them do it without objection.

Can the lesson of SSI and the Senior Center be applied to the District’s actual affiliates, several of which are also private corporations like SSI which traditionally received (and still receive?) the same kind of wink-and-nod oversight that SSI and the Senior Center used to receive.  Is anybody over at Park District HQ paying close attenti0n to how those affiliates are operating, as well as to their finances and how those finances are being managed?  Although we understand each affiliate is supposed to file with the District an annual financial statement and tax return (if it files such returns), we couldn’t find any such statements or returns on the District’s website.

Frankly, that’s not an encouraging sign.

The Park District was fooled once by SSI, so shame on SSI.  Hopefully, the District won’t get fooled again.

If it does, that shame will be all on the District, its staff and the Park Board.

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Flood Control Task Force Over-Stepping Its Authority


We’ve been a fan of the Flood Control Task Force (the “FCTF”) since its establishment, in part because several of its members have first-rate expertise in water and flooding matters; and most of the other members appear to have served capably in their lay-persons roles.

But when appointed board, committee and task force members decide to go beyond their assigned duties and try to play politics, it almost always goes off the rails – often causing additional and unnecessary expense to the taxpayers.  That’s what we addressed in our post “The Flood Control Task Force: Leaping Before Looking” (07.22.09), and that’s exactly what we’re getting again from the FCTF, if the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s story is accurate (“In flood’s wake, Park Ridge task force looks for new problems,” May 6).

Former Public Works director and FCTF member Joe Saccomanno, claiming he speaks for a majority of FCTF members, is trying to resurrect one of the more boneheaded wastes of taxpayer dollars we have seen or heard in at least two decades: City (a/k/a taxpayer) subsidies, or “incentives,” for homeowners installing flood control systems – primarily overhead sewers and shut-off valves – in their own homes.

That wrongheaded idea was originally proposed by Saccomanno and Company back in 2009 as a $420,000 give-away which, at $2,500 a home, would help 168 households.  It was wisely rejected by the Council for several reasons, including that it’s a form of “welfare” that would actually reward those homeowners who have been too irresponsible or too cheap to install their own flood control systems, at the expense of those many residents who already have sprung for that expense themselves; or who are fortunate enough to not have seepage and/or back-up problems.

Worse yet (and as Saccomanno acknowledges), these taxpayer-subsidized private flood control devices would likely put more water into the streets, many of which already become impassable when we get the kind of rains that cause this kind of flooding.  In other words, the FCTF wants to use public monies to subsidize the installation of flood control devices in private homes that likely will push more water into neighbors’ basements and into public streets, helping make those streets impassable.

And impassable streets mean a likely delay, if not a complete loss, of fire, police and other emergency services – as anybody who remembers the photo of a City police cruiser on a flatbed and a Fire Department ambulance literally dead-in-the-water at Greenwood and Busse back in 2008 can attest.

That kind of subsidy was bad public policy four years ago, and it’s bad public policy today – just as it’s bad public policy to throw public dollars at private community groups, or to subsidize private businesses.

We believe the recent flooding should cause the City – and the FCTF – to revisit the issue of whether the flood control program already devised will actually provide $1 or more of value for every $1 borrowed and spent.  That program is only designed to address “10-year” floods, even though we reportedly have had three “100-year” floods since 2008 that the City’s 10-year plan would not have prevented.

Is simply “reducing” the amount of flooding worth the multi-millions of cost – and bonded debt to fund it – that the current program is intended to provide?  More importantly, do our citizens realize that the program will do only that and not keep their basements bone dry going forward?

Those questions should be front-and-center on the new Council’s agenda, especially as it reconsiders the already-passed 2013-14 budget over the next few weeks, a prerogative newly-elected Councils enjoy.

Meanwhile, we suggest that the members of the FCTF stick with the technical issues within their wheelhouse, leaving public policy matters to the folks the voters elected to address them.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Change At D-64, No Change At City Hall


Monday night, the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 Board did the unimaginable: it elected first-term member Tony Borrelli as its president over the hand-picked choice of immediate past president John Heyde, Scott Zimmerman.

Borrelli, joined by fellow-first termer Dan Collins and newly-elected Vicki Lee and Dathan Paterno, prevailed over Zimmerman, Heyde and newly-elected Terry Cameron, who ran on a “ticket” with Zimmerman.   And, just like that, the prospect of unprecedented transparency and accountability from an historically opaque and irresponsible governing body is in the air.

Borrelli has been the only D-64 Board member in the past two years – or the past twenty years, for that matter – who has dared to vote against the across-the-board, non merit-based pay raises for both D-64’s teachers and administrators.  For those who haven’t been paying attention, or who missed our 06.06.11 post, those pay raises are what helped push D-64’s average teacher and administrator salaries above those in places like Winnetka, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Wilmette, Bannockburn, Lake Forest, Deerfield, Arlington Heights, Northbrook/Glenview, Western Springs and Lake Bluff.

But there’s no guarantee that prospect will become a reality.

First off, the fact that Borrelli could garner four votes for president doesn’t mean he can count on those same votes on other issues.  Collins has spent the past two years hiding from his own shadow, so whether his vote for Borrelli signals his acquisition of a spine remains to be seen.  Lee will have to show she is bringing more to the table than her Carpenter PTO fundraising ability.  And Paterno will have to fend off wackos demanding to know whether he believes that God is a white-bearded heterosexual male who created the world in, literally, seven days.

Moreover, if those four dare do anything to suggest that they don’t believe D-64 exists primarily for the benefit of teachers and administrators, they likely will be assailed and undermined not only by their fellow Board members but by the PREA and the highly-paid administrators.

Nevertheless, at least there’s new hope that business as usual at 164 South Prospect might be coming to a welcome end.

While Borrelli was being elected, however, Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt was being over-ridden.  Or, more accurately, his two vetoes on Monday night’s agenda were being over-ridden as the last official acts of the 2011-13 City Council.

First up was Schmidt’s veto of the new Public Works employees’ contract, which Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton botched by ignoring the express directive from the Mayor and the Council that it be “neutral” – i.e., that any wage increases would be offset with other concessions – and negotiating a deal that will cost $75,000 of fresh cash.  Unfazed by Hamilton’s quasi-insubordination and the new contract’s arbitrary, non merit-based raises that other City employees can now use to justify future increases of their own, on March 25th the Council blithely voted 5-1 (Knight dissenting, Sweeney MIA) to approve that contract.

Monday night, City Atty. Everett “Buzz” Hill responded to a softball question from Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) by indicating that he would not be surprised if the union filed an unfair labor practice (“ULP”) charge should the Council not over-ride Schmidt’s veto and finalize the contract.   Hill did not opine on whether he thought such a charge would be successful, but Knight pointed out that if the City’s disapproval of any contract negotiated by City staff can conceivably be a ULP, then the City will need to change the way it negotiates its labor contracts.

Without further ado, the Council over-rode Schmidt’s veto by a vote of 6-1 (Knight dissenting).  And the spiral of arbitrary, performance-unrelated raises continues.

Then came the Council’s vote on Schmidt’s veto of the $389,500 “Phase II” of the police station renovation/expansion, which it over-rode by another 6-1 vote (Knight dissenting).  Although Schmidt and Knight both spoke against that expenditure, it was left to Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) to ask the only Council questions about Phase II – two marshmallows that went like this:

Mazzuca: “First, do you believe that Phase II would be helpful to your department in creating a more efficient and professional police force, that it’s a good investment for your department?”

Kaminski: “Yes I do.”

Mazzuca: “How do you think [Phase I] is going, and are we still on track to get our money’s worth on Phase I.”

Kaminski: “I think so.”

Gee, Marc, did you really think that Chief K was going to say “No”?  And if he had, were you ready with another withering inquiry – something along the lines of: “Chief, are you really sure you want to give that kind of answer?”

Mind you, Mazzuca is the kind of guy who, armed with an MBA from the University of Chicago, can spend an hour drilling down into a potato chip – a trait he demonstrated with his one-man water meter crusade and, later during Monday night’s meeting, what seemed like an eternity questioning Police Pension Board re-nominee Tom Ahlbeck.  So lobbing his Stay Pufts at Kaminski seems like just a feeble attempt to add a sliver of legitimacy to his vote.  He might as well have been sitting on Chief K’s knee, hoping nobody could see the Chief’s lips moving.

And the rest of the aldermen?  Silent as sphinxes.

The tally for the evening: more City employees get arbitrary raises unrelated to performance, and almost $400,000 more will be spent on the cop shop without remedying the allegedly health-threatening mold infestation.

Change?  Not this time around.

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I Come Not To Bury DiPietro, But To Praise Him


This Monday (May 6) night, the new City Council will be sworn in.  And when the smoke clears, for the first time in 18 years Ald. Rich DiPietro will not be sitting at The Horseshoe.

DiPietro did not seek re-election on April 9, and will be replaced by Nick Milissis.

It was all the way back in 1995 that Rich first took his seat in the Council Chambers.  The mayor back then was Ron Wietecha, each ward still had two aldermen, and the City was still in pretty much the same shape as former mayor Marty Butler had left it after his 18 years in the big chair, prior to his being appointed state senator in 1991 following Bob Kustra’s election to the post of Lieutenant Governor.

From the moment he took his seat on the Council, Rich and I rarely agreed on any controversial issue.

I never could understand what appeared to be his unwavering support for Wietecha’s obsessive/compulsive, spare no expense, all-O’Hare-all-the-time agenda.  That obsession led not only to years of neglect of Park Ridge infrastructure but also to the City’s flush-down-the-sewer $650,000 “investment” in a proposed Peotone airport.  Rich also endorsed both Wietecha’s thwarted effort to build a new $20 million library, and his ill-conceived/worse-executed Uptown TIF that Wietecha successor Mike Marous made a reality – and which has proved to be a multi-million dollar financial albatross that is now projected to hang around the taxpayers’ neck for years to come.

But we really crossed swords over Rich’s equally-unwavering support of mayor Howard Frimark, perhaps Park Ridge’s all-time political bottom-feeder and opportunist.  Rich was on-board with Frimark’s closed-session efforts to cut sweetheart deals to owners of land on which Frimark wanted to build a new $20 million police station, and he voted in favor of Frimark’s legally-meaningless “condemnation” of then-Ald. Dave Schmidt for actually upholding the Illinois Open Meetings Act and blowing the whistle on Frimark’s closed-session wheeling and dealing.

How Rich’s legacy of Council service will be viewed likely will not be known for a number of years, probably not until the Uptown TIF expires and its full effect on Park Ridge can be assessed.   It remains bewildering, however, that after 18 years of watching and listening to Rich and watching his Council votes, I can honestly say that I have no idea of what his overarching philosophy of City government might be.

Yet notwithstanding the upbraiding regularly administered to him on this blog, Rich remained unfailingly cordial and gentlemanly in person.

Which brings us to the point of this post: praising the “real” Rich DiPietro.

If you want to learn about the real Rich, you can start by reading Denise Fletcher’s Park Ridge Journal article dated August 15, 2012.

There you’ll find out that he has been married to his wife, Kathy, for 50 years – a truly “golden” achievement burnished even brighter by the fact they were high school sweethearts who married so young they couldn’t legally share a champagne toast at their own wedding.  Theirs is a Romeo and Juliet story without the tragic ending, and his role in that story speaks more to his character than any of his Council votes.

Not only did Rich and Kathy raise seven children of their own but, during the 1970s, they served as temporary foster parents to 22 infants until Catholic Charities could place them with adoptive parents.  That’s another kind of “walking the walk” that doesn’t show up in the Council’s meeting minutes or on its meeting videos, but is far more meaningful in the long run.

Rich has been in the printing business all his adult life, having started his own shop in 1981 and evolving it into a printing and graphic arts service provider now known as CrossTech Communications, with its own building on Jefferson Street just a block west of the Ogilvie Transportation Center.  He’s what used to be called a self-made man – except that I suspect Rich is too modest to claim that kind of credit for himself.

From all outward appearances and everything I have heard from those who know him far better than I, Rich has lived an exemplary private life and has more than earned whatever good fortune awaits him in his retirement from public life – including 24 grandchildren on whom he is reported to dote more than a little bit.

Rich DiPietro is one of the finest men ever to sit at The Horseshoe.  That should be his continuing legacy to this community, and that is what this post celebrates.

Ave atque vale, Rich!

Robert J. Trizna

Editor, publisher, chief cook and bottle washer

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