Is Another Bad-Government Lesson On Tonight’s COW Agenda? (Updated)


The current Mayor and City Council appear to be the best group, collectively, of elected officials to oversee City government in more than 20 years.

Unlike most of their predecessors, whose style of governance consisted primarily of mindlessly rubber-stamping mayoral fiats (like Ron Wietecha’s costly anti-O’Hare obsession, and Wietecha’s and Mike Marous’ disastrous Uptown TIF fantasy) and boneheaded staff decisions, while at the same time writing of as many checks as they hoped the taxpayers could cash, the current occupiers of The Horseshoe seem to be much more a taxpayers-first, policy-oriented, trust-but-verify bunch.

But every so often one or more of them seem unable to resist the impulse to do something that is penny-unwise and public policy-foolish.  And tonight’s (08.26.13) Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting has the potential for providing another object lesson in that particular form of bad government.

We’re talking about the motion of Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) to reconsider the August 12 COW vote rejecting – by a 3-3 tie – the wrongheaded and policy-bankrupt “donation” of a City-owned used 2002 Ford Explorer XLS, allegedly worth $3,000, to Maine Township government.  Or, more specifically, to the Maine Twp. Emergency Management Program (“MTEMP”), a branch of Maine Twp. government.

We wrote about the foolishness of that idea in our August 12 post, It Really Is The Principle, Not The Money,” so we won’t re-hash all those arguments here.  Instead, we’ll focus on its return to the COW agenda: Sweeney was absent from the August 12 COW and, therefore, has a right to seek a do-over because he did not cast a vote for the losing “donation” side.

If you’ve listened to Sweeney’s comments and observed his voting record over the last four years, you know that there’s virtually no amount of spending he won’t vote for if it’s in any way related to police, fire or public safety – all while insisting he’s a staunch fiscal conservative.  If Police Chief Frank Kaminski wanted an M1A1 Abrams battle tank to deter speeders on Touhy, or to repel an invasion by Des Plaines, Sweeney would be the first to leap to his feet in wholehearted, unquestioning support.

Heck, he’d probably even suggest throwing in an armored command car for Kaminski.

So unless one of the three aldermen who foolishly voted for the giveaway two weeks ago –  Alds. Jim Smith (3rd), Roger Shubert (4th) and Marc Mazzuca (6th) – gets religion and changes his vote, Sweeney’s expected “yes” vote will send the giveaway out of the COW to next week’s regular Council meeting for final approval.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what it would take to change any of those “yes” votes because none of the aldermen who cast them bothered to say why.

While Alds. Nick Milissis (2nd) and Dan Knight (5th) explained the reasoning behind their “no” votes on August 12, the three “yes” voters sat in stony silence.  That silence, although completely permissible under Council rules and procedures, cheats the taxpayers out of a public record of the voters’ reasoning – assuming there actually is any kind of “reasoning” behind such votes.

Both Milissis and Knight correctly noted that just because the City’s used SUV is worth only $3,000 doesn’t mean giving it to another separate taxing body like Maine Twp. is the right thing to do.  That’s because whether the SUV (or any other City property) is worth $3,000, $30,000, or $300,000, it still was paid for, and belongs to, Park Ridge taxpayers.  So there better be a darned good reason why property Park Ridge taxpayers paid for with their tax dollars is being given away to other governmental units – like Maine Twp. – which also tax those same Park Ridge taxpayers.

As Knight pointed out: “If we need $3,000, we raise taxes from our citizens.”  That’s what Maine Twp. should do if it needs or wants a vehicle for its MTEMP.

City staff should have known better than to even make such a foolish and policy-bankrupt recommendation to the Council.  But keeping a close eye on Staff is why we have an elected Mayor and an elected City Council.  Too bad three of them – and apparently the MIA Sweeney – don’t seem to be able to figure these things out any better than Staff can.

If these “yes”-voting aldermen and any Park Ridge taxpayers want to give away a $3,000 vehicle to Maine Twp., however, they should take up a collection to buy it from the City (and their fellow taxpayers) and then “donate” it.  Let Sweeney and Chiefs Kaminski and Zywanski chair the effort, assuming they don’t want to each write a check of a grand and fund it themselves.

But if any aldermen insist on voting to give away City property, they should at least end their sphinx-like silence and dazzle us with the reasoning behind what appears to be an unpricipled, foolish and irresponsible vote.

UPDATED 08.27.13: With Ald. Nick Milissis, a solid “no” vote, missing from The Horseshoe last night, it looked like Ald. Joe Sweeney and the other giveaway aldermen would prevail on Sweeney’s do-over.  But Ald. Roger Shubert came up big, changing his vote from “yes” to “no” because he finally “got” the principle involved.  So with a 3-3 tie – Sweeney, Smith and Mazzuca “yes” versus Shubert, Knight and Maloney “no” – once again the SUV donation failed to move out of the COW.

Not surprisingly, Sweeney had all sorts of half-baked reasons why this giveaway was somehow a good deal for the City and its taxpayers, all of which seemed to boil down to: MTEMP does all sorts of things for Park Ridge, so it’s time Park Ridge did something for MTEMP.  But as best as we can tell, most of those services MTEMP allegedly performed were not for the City but, instead, for privately-run events like the Taste of Park Ridge, Winterfest, etc.  So if MTEMP needs an SUV, maybe those private entities should step up to the plate, buy it from the City, and donate it to MTEMP themselves.

Mazzuca, on the other hand, actually may have had an even worse reason that Sweeney for voting “yes”: $3,000 isn’t enough money for the Council to stand on principle.

Seriously, Marc?  What rubbish!

Jefferson flashed no price tags when he wrote: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Let us know when you come to understand that concept, alderman.

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

Since Sweeney is so well connected to The Taste of Park Ridge, perhaps the Taste of Park Ridge could find $3,000, pay for the item and donate it to Maine Township. Afterall, its for the people.

EDITOR’S NOTE: MTEMP manager Bob Cohen listed a number of Park Ridge entities who allegedly benefit from the services of MTEMP volunteers, so you’re right to suggest that any additional cost to the City – such as the donation of the $3,000 SUV to MTEMP – should be assessed to those entities.

But, frankly, we’d rather the “yes”-aldermen and City staff endorsers pick up the cost and then try to recover it from those third-party beneficiaries and whichever other chumps they can find.

Just to underline one sentence in the above post:

“Keeping a close eye on Staff is why we have an elected Mayor and an elected City Council.”

School board members and park district commissioners, please take note.


It’s only $3,000!!!!!! The council has more important things to discuss than giving a lousy $3,000 to an emergency management agency. Why can’t you just let it go?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course the Council has more important things to discuss than this $3,000 to MTEMP. BUT…if it can’t get this simple issue right, it’s highly unlikely it will get the bigger, more complex ones right, either.

We hate the term “no brainer” because every decision should require the expenditure of brain power. But if ever there was a “no brainer,” this is it – not only because giving away this $3,000 SUV is bad public policy and an insult to Park Ridge taxpayers, but because the giveaway is to another taxing body that, despite constantlyy tooting its own horn, has remained a backwater of political incest and intrigue for years.

We’d be willing to bet that NONE of those Maine Twp. officials could win any City office, mayoral or aldermanic, in Park Ridge – except, perhaps, in the Third Ward, which has historically been so clueless and apathetic that its voters could barely find one candidate to occupy a ballot position; and, in 2011, couldn’t even do that.

Can’t the Mayor just veto it?

Any dime Maine Township gets is a dime too much.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course he can; and if there are 3 solid votes against it, then his veto would be sustained.

But c’mon! This is local government 101. When Schmidt has to veto stuff like this, the guys around The Horseshoe just aren’t really trying.

Actually, a battle tank to control the speeders on Touhy sounds like a meritorious concept. Sherman? Abrams? What brand do you think would be best?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Marines’ version of the Abrams M1A1, because its amphibious capabilities would allow it to operate during floods.

Roger that, Roger! How many more kids hit by cars do we need before we start taking moving violations seriously? I was going to say just what you did and I’m thrilled you beat me to it.

I wouldn’t want PubDog to think I was a crank or anything…;)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no idea what you’re talking about, so we’ll still chalk you up as a crank.

The city giving a $3,000 car to Maine Township is as bad as the Park District giving playground equipment away. The well is rapidly, if not already, dry. In the grand scheme of things $3,000 is not much, but by golly it’s not chump change either.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fortunately, Ald. Shubert got religion and switched his vote to “no” earlier this evening, so this misbegotten idea won’t be advancing to a formal Council vote. Well done, Roger!

Did the others vote YES still? If so, did Mazzuca, Sweeney and Smith say why?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re still waiting for the full report from our “stringer” at City Hall. Apparently the meeting is a slow go tonight.

At the Park Board meeti g it was made clear that the playground was not worth saving for reinstallation in the USA, home of the trial lawyer brigade, and prevailing wage laws. The main supports would’ve needed to be replaced to meet insurance standards, and the labor would’ve needed to be done at union scale. Not worth it on a fifteen year old playground. The charity actually removed it for free, saving some labor cost.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Did the Park District make any effort whatsoever to sell it? We’re betting the answer to that question is a big fat “No.”

Hey Dog, what’s the problem with your boy Mazzuca? You recommend his appointment, endorse his election, and he says and does stupid things that are in direct oppostion to the positions your blog takes. Is it possible you screwed up?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sure it’s possible we screwed up. But we doubt that any of the other three candidates for appointment to fill the Tom Bernick 6th Ward vacancy in June 2012 would have voted differently from Mazzuca. And we DIDN’T “endorse” his election this past April – our post of 04.08.13 confirms that we made no endorsement in that ward election.

Mazzuca’s comment about “principle” at last night’s meeting sounded terminally stupid, if not brain-dead. Unfortunately, it was not all that different from comments he’s made in voting for other wrongheaded spending, like for the 3-year cop shop expansion/renovation plan that ignores the allegedly health-threatening mold problem for the first two years; his vote to over-ride the mayor’s veto of the across-the-board, non-merit based pay increases for the ICOPS; and his vote to give more non-merit based pay increases to the City’s Public Works employees.

What a waste of time. Not your blog, but that the whole episode was voted on two different times in the last few weeks. There are real items to figure out and they waste time dealing with this rubbish.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is just another example of “for want of a shoe…” syndrome.

As we piece it together, if Chiefs K and Z (along with Public Works supervisor Mike McGrath) had their heads on straight re basic policy/finance/civis, they wouldn’t have kicked this stupid idea up to City Mgr. Hamilton. And if Hamilton’s command of those basic government subjects was any better than his underlings’, he wouldn’t have let the idea roll through to the Council. And if at least three aldermen weren’t equally deficient in Local Government 101, it would have only been on the COW agenda once.

But at least the “kingdom” – or $3,000 of it – wasn’t lost.

Now let’s see if any of these policy/finance/civics-impaired public officials learn any lessons from this silly exercise.

One question not yet addressed: Who put Sweeney up to this revote thing in the first place? Someone at the redundant Maine Twp. level of government? Someone at City Hall? Someone from Park Ridge’s Finest?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It could have been anybody, or just a cool breeze around his ankles – because of his public safety obsession.

I believe in taking care of our problems first. Then, once we’ve got them under control, if we’ve got money to blow, we can start looking elsewhere for problems to solve.

Why can’t our public officials figure that out?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because actually SOLVING the significant problems our local units of government face (or at least making a reasonable dent in them) is HARD WORK – a whole lot harder than giving a used SUV to Maine Twp., or $50,000 to some private community group, or some arbitrary non-merit based raises to employees, or ordering a bunch of Chromebooks, etc.

Just noticed in the Journal-Topics coverage of the meeting a quote from Ald. Dan Knight: “I don’t really understand how we can take any amount of money, any Park Ridge asset, and give it to another taxing body.”

Good point. Could this also be a basis for renegotiating the TIF?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, a GREAT point for a number of reasons, not the least of which is allowing two units of government to shuffle money/assets around willy nilly reduces the transparency and accountability of both.

No, this can’t because (as we understand it) the City’s commitments to its bondholders and to the other units of local government that it “bribed” to go along with this boondoggle a decade ago are CONTRACTUAL, not voluntary.

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