Looks Like Somebody’s Lying About City/Public Works Contract


Last week we published a post about the “he said, she said” dispute over a significant term of the recently approved contract between the City and the Int’l Union of Operating Engineers (the “OEs”)-represented Public Works Dept. employees.

The Reader’s Digest version of that post is: the “old” City Council – which didn’t include the two new aldermen – approved and then over-rode Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto by votes of 6-1 (Ald. Dan Knight dissenting) of a contract with the OEs that contained at least one significant term different from the contract the OEs reportedly ratified; and then the City started docking Public Works employees’ checks for higher health insurance premiums contained in the new City-approved contract but not in the OE-ratified one.

So now the City is forced to litigate over it before the historically “management”-unfriendly Illinois Labor Relations Board (“ILRB”), and may be forced to arbitrate an unfair labor practice for the higher benefit deductions.

After running a OE-friendly story last week, this week the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate is running a second story featuring the City’s attack on the OE’s claims (“Park Ridge strikes back against union’s bait-and-switch claims,” June 17).  And this time, the H-A reporter correctly referred to City Council members as “aldermen” instead of “commissioners,” so consider that a small but positive step toward actually understanding what’s going on over at City Hall.

How could something as simple as both sides approving the same contract language get this screwed up?

Let’s start with these negotiations being conducted in secret “closed sessions” intentionally concealed from the taxpayers who will end up paying the bill for whatever deal is cut. Opening such negotiations to the public – and having them videotaped by WOW, like City Council meetings – would provide a clear audio-visual record of exactly what the parties agreed to.  It also would show the taxpayers whether either side, or both, were being greedy, unreasonable, or just plain silly in the negotiations.

But failing that, we have to wonder why the Council voted on a deal BEFORE the OEs ratified and signed it?  Had each alderman had a contract already signed by the OEs before they voted on the deal, any opportunity for either side’s creating a revisionist history of the deal would have been prevented.

Instead, we’ve got another stupid waste of time and tax dollars by City officials.  And, as best as we can tell, the City has no better than a 50-50 chance that it will actually prevail.

If you haven’t participated in public-sector union negotiations, you probably can’t imagine how bizarre they can be.  But if the newspaper’s reports are to be believed, the OE’s complaint alleges that its negotiators provided the “last offer” that included employees paying 10% toward their health insurance and locking in non-merit based raises of 1%, 1.75% and 1.75% for the next three years.  The OEs verbally communicated these terms to the employees and obtained an affirmative ratification vote.

Subsequently, the City’s labor attorneys sent the OEs’ labor attorney a written contract and asked her to confirm that the terms as stated were “acceptable.”  And according to Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, the OEs’ labor attorney “advised the City that the draft was acceptable.”

Unfortunately, the City’s counterclaim filed with the ILRB and posted on the City’s website for this past Monday (06.17.13) night’s meeting under “Labor Relations Update” is long on allegations and explanations, but short on documentation – most notably, documentation of exactly HOW the OEs advised the City that the City’s draft was “acceptable” to the OEs.  And considering that the ILRB counterclaim form has a line that specifically requests “Supporting Documents,” we have to wonder why the City didn’t attach any smoking-gun documentation it has.

That suggests to us that there is none.  Or that instead of the kind of smoking-gun documentation Hamilton is touting as proof the OEs are misremembering, misunderstanding, or outright lying about what contract terms were agreed to, the City’s got nothing more than an empty shell casing or two.

Once again, we find ourselves channeling Casey Stengel: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

To read or post comments, click on title.

10 comments so far

I felt angry and frustrated after reading your first post about this matter, but even more angry and frustrated after this one.

I have never been involved in union negotiations, but I have negotiated a variety of contracts and never once did I turn over a contract to my boss until either the other side had already signed it or I was absolutely certain that all the terms were correct.

Like you, I can’t wait to see the “smoking gun” proof of what the true deal was. And like you, I wonder why it was not attached to the city’s counterclaim.

Where has Mayor Schmidt been? He micromanages everything else so why wasn’t he on top of this situation? Or did he put too much faith in his boy Hamilton and now wants to sweep this mess under the carpet? And what’s your angle in pointing this out when you always cover for Schmidt?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Frankly, we think the City would have been better off if Schmidt had led the City negotiating teams for every union contract, given what a horsebleep job the City’s negotiators have done over the years – including this latest clown car collision.

As for our “angle,” it’s what it always has been: trying to discern the public interest from among all the special interests, and advocating for the public interest over those special interests. Oh yes, and defending the taxpayers from the over-reaching of the tax spenders and the tax recipients.

One thing we have learned is that the mayor should be lead negotiator for the taxpayers. The city staff has proved incapable of representing the taxpayers. When the council dictates budget neutrality and the City Manager doesn’t execute that, it’s slap in the face to the city. This whole thing is going to cost the city more money because we do not have an effective leader at the bargaining table. Shawn may be doing some things right, but I can’t see him being a union negotiator.

Call me a conspiracy guy, but I believe some of the city staff are too friendly with the city workers, blurring which side they are on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There may be some good reasons why the mayor or an alderman should not be the lead negotiator, or even on the negotiating team. But when the folks on these teams fumble the ball – or effectively are in bed with the employees – the City may need to make some exceptions.

And if you think “some of the city staff are too friendly with the city workers” to negotiate effectively for the City and its taxpayers, you’re right as rain. And Exhibit A for that argument is Fire Chief Zywanski’s “Ground Rules” that required details of the firefighters’ union negotiations to be kept secret until a deal was reached, effectively gagging our elected officials so that they could not share the progress and details of those negotiations with the taxpayers.

You still haven’t explained why these negotiations should be public except to repeat your view that the kinds of interpersonal leverage that apply to every private sector negotiation are somehow suspended when it’s in the public sector. Do you really think having the City reveal whatever fragile strategems it might come up with to the other side will help the taxpayers’ cause? What should happen is simply this: Da Mare tells Hamilton a figure that’s 90% from his/the Council’s walk-away point and tells Hamilton to at least meet that figure. If he doesn’t, he’s gone. We don’t need to pay anybody to NOT do as they’re told. To mangle a valuable old joke, when we’re talking a bacon-and-egg breakfast, the taxpayer/pig is the bacon, the City’s paid manager and staff are the eggs. One is all in; the other is not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “[T]he kinds of interpersonal leverage that apply to every private sector negotiation are somehow suspended when it’s in the public sector.”

Exactly! “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.” Thomas Jefferson.

Our public employees hold a level of public trust, albeit perhaps a lesser level than do our elected officials. That’s why their salaries and benefits are public information, and that’s why the negotiation of those salaries and benefits should be public information, every step of the way.

The City has not had, does not have, never will have, and should not have any “fragile strategems” when it comes to compensating employees using taxpayer funds. What really should happen is that the Council, not just the Mayor, holds a public hearing and then debates and decides what is fair compensation for any particular group of employees – in the context of the City’s budget and other spending plans. And that’s the fair compensation that should be offered to the unions.

No ticky tacky “90%” (or 80%, or 95%, etc.) game playing, just a simple: “We represent the taxpayers; we have debated and deliberated what we think is fair; and this is it. If you want more, okay, but then we’ll have to bargain over other terms and conditions, including staffing and layoffs, because we’re standing by the fairness of our well-reasoned compensation offer. And we will keep the taxpayers informed of everything that’s going on in the negotiations, every step of the way.”


I am in complete agreement related to Mayor Dave. He identified the “acting” CM and seems like he is about to negotiate a deal with the guy. He could have brought anyone before the council and they would have approved him or her (within reason of course).

On your second point, PD has no problem hammering (for good reason) on the CM and pointing out all his questionable calls. He simply has a complete blind spot about Schmidt’s connection.

If I bring someone to my company as a potential employee and they get hired but fall on their face, it is a negative reflection on me….period! Even if 100 other people interviewed that candidate, I am the one who “sponsored” this person and it reflects on me.

This blog often talks about how the CM is a CEO and COO combined. Well it seems like the Mayor picked someone not up to the job.

As an aside, the Mayor talked about the CM having experience that would help with our business community and economic development. What exactly has he done in that area??

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t have a “blind spot” about the Schmidt-Hamilton “connection.” But while Schmidt picked, the Council approved him – the same Council that had no problem over-riding a number of Schmidt’s vetoes that should have been sustained. And since that time, the Council has decided that Hamilton has done a good enough job that there’s no reason to go through a full-blown search process.

Interestingly enough, we don’t recall you calling for Hock’s ouster or condemning Frimark for hiring him at a ridiculous compensation package. Or did you just recently move to Park Ridge?

Which came first, the refusal to approve the contract or the PW’s candidate loosing the mayoral election? Gotta wonder how things would have played out had PW’s candidate won.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We assume you mean “Public Works” when you use “PW” – and not PublicWatchdog.

We could speculate, but given the landslide Schmidt victory why bother.

Are you planning to address 4:08’s question as to what the CM has done for economic development? For starters, has he implemented any of the no-cost strategies provided by the Mayor’s Economic Development Task Force?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are unaware of the implementation of any of the “no-cost strategies” from the Economic Development Task Force. That being said, we wonder why those EDTF members haven’t shown up at any Council meetings and asked that question directly to Hamilton, the Mayor and the Council.

But since you bring up the EDTF, we remind our readers that it was the EDTF which barbecued the Mayor and City Council for refusing to give Whole Foods the $2-3 million in sales tax revenue sharing that WF and its developer originally demanded, insisting that WF would walk away from Park Ridge without that incentive.

Oh well.

Ooops, sorry about that, yes, PW in this case is definitely Public Works.

So he has botched a litany of things you have listed here on your blog and he has done nothing on one of the major “reasons” the Mayor stated for his pick.

Hell of a choice Mayor Dave!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not sure developing retail was a big part of that equation, but if it was then you may be right.

So can we count on your showing up at City Hall at 7:00 p.m. this Monday night and asking the Mayor and the Council why they aren’t looking for other city manager candidates?

The Mayor has removed the pull downs from his website, so you have to use the search function with the search words economic development. If you do that you will find a piece under “on the issues” about economic development.

He states the following…….”Despite these successes, there is more that can be done. I was opposed to the former City Manager’s decision to eliminate the position of Economic Development Director. That action led to two years of wasted time as the City’s staff largely ignored Economic Development and the business community. That failing is one major reason why the City Manager was replaced. I recognized the need for a renewed focus on Economic Development at the staff level by seeking a new City Manager who had a private sector and finance background. The new City Manager and I agree that it is appropriate to make an investment in an economic development/marketing professional to serve as a liaison between existing businesses and the City staff and to help market the City to new businesses”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We stand corrected.

See you at the Council meeting Monday night?

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