Chutzpah Is As Chutzpah Does


We’ve never given a “Chutzpah of the Year Award.”  And we doubt we’ll institute one this year – if only out of concern that too many Park Ridgians might channel their inner Michele Bachmanns and mispronounce it the “choot-spa” award.

But if we were to give one out, the leading contender through the All-Star break would have to be Frank Gruba-McCallister, who chaired the Park Ridge Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force (the “PCATF”) from its creation in 2010 until it was disbanded by Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council in May of this year.

The main reason the PCATF was created was to provide a group of citizens to help the Police Department implement changes suggested in the 2008 Audit of the PRPD by attorney Terry Ekl (the “Ekl Report), especially improvement in police-community relations in the wake of several troubling incidents – like the wrongful and deceptive arrest of resident Jayne Reardon, and the police brutality claim by a 15-year old allegedly roughed up by an off-duty police officer after the youth had been arrested and handcuffed.  That latter incident cost the City a $185,000 settlement, plus the attorneys’ fees incurred in defending the case prior to settlement.

But simply helping with community relations must have been too pedestrian a task for the PCATF members who, almost immediately following the PCATF’s creation, turned it into a hammer in search of more nails.

It became the chief instigator and cheerleader for over $1 million of “improvements” to the police station–a collection of “wants” rather than “needs” which became a priority only after the PRPD’s grand plan for building a big new $16-20 million cop shop crashed and burned via an April 2009 referendum.  That cop shop improvement program encouraged further PCATF “mission creep” into many other areas of police activities – which it got away with largely because neither the Mayor nor the City Council was paying close attention while they grappled with more pressing financial problems.

With that mission creep came claims of achievements that, not surprisingly, could not be objectively measured or otherwise supported by hard data – other than the brick-and-mortar of the aforementioned cop shop improvements.   That lack of hard data, however, didn’t stop Mr. G-M and several other PCATF members from acting like the proverbial rooster taking credit for the dawn, taking bows for all sorts of real and imagined “successes” running the gamut from the purported curtailment of underage drinking to “coping with the budgetary stresses experienced by governmental bodies.”

Yes, that’s what Mr. G-M claimed – on the sixth page of what became the PCATF’s final Report to the Mayor and the Council.

That Report and last year’s PCATF meeting minutes suggest that the PCATF already had identified the next big thing for it to jump into.

Mental health.

The Report contains (by our count) 23 references to “mental health” (or its permutations), easily outdistancing the 13 references to “underage drinking” (and its permutations).  It also contains a gratuitous yet opportunistic reference to “Sandy Hook” that displays  a heat-over-light strategy for stampeding chronically skittish and analytically-challenged residents into unquestioning support for giving the PCATF an even broader role in City government going forward.

But that was before Schmidt and the Council decided that three years of the PCATF was enough.

So Mr. G-M showed up at the July 8 City Council meeting to recommend the Council create a “Public Safety Commission” as a replacement for the PCATF – with 20-members, 14 of whom would be specific former PCATF members whose appointments would be exempt from the normal screening by the Mayor’s Advisory Board, comprised of the chairmen of the City Council’s four standing committees.

But where Mr. G-M distinguished himself as the front-runner for a first-ever chutzpah award was his recommendation that the new commission’s chairman be…wait for it…Mr. G-M, himself.  And his appointment also would be without any Mayor’s Advisory Board screening, naturally.

Fortunately, the City Council seemed unimpressed by both the idea of a Public Safety Commission and Mr. G-M’s recommended staffing of it.  That reaction suggests the formation of such a commission is unlikely, which seems to be the right decision.

The Police Department issues targeted by the Ekl Report appear to have been addressed, thanks in large part to the management and leadership of Chief Frank Kaminski.  To the extent the PCATF may have contributed to improved community relations, we’ll toss them a bone for that even though we see and hear far more anecdotes than evidence in that regard.

But although Chief K is rightly concerned about continuing to build public trust in the Police Department and its officers through “constant interactions” between police and citizens, we don’t think either the PCATF or a Public Safety Commission is the best way to accomplish this, given the improvements we’ve observed in the 5 years since the Ekl Report and four years into Chief K’s tenure.  Further improvement in that regard would appear to require more internal, organic development within the department itself.

Chief K warns that “[t]he more you isolate the department from the community, the more problems you are going to have.”  We agree wholeheartedly.  And since Chief K clearly appreciates the problem, we trust his decades of police experience and his Kellogg (Northwestern) MBA in management make him equal to the task of solving it.

As for Mr. G-M and his PCATF alums, assuming they really are serious about dealing with mental health and underage drinking, they should check out the City’s Community Health Commission.  The City’s website indicates that 5 seats will be opening up in September, although we assume the appointment process will require Mayor’s Advisory Board screening.  No exemptions.

And, Mr. G-M, you probably shouldn’t expect to be anointed chairman of the CHC should you apply for and get an appointment.

Unless you really are shooting for that chutzpah award.

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