More Principle, Less Money


Just when we thought it was safe to believe our local elected officials had finally figured out – thanks to well-publicized discussions and a vote by the Park Ridge City Council – that giving away (a/k/a, “donating”) public monies and property to other governmental bodies or private entities is a misappropriation and/or waste of the taxpayers’ assets, along comes the Park Ridge Park District with a proposal on this Thursday night’s agenda to do just that.

According to the meeting agenda, the Park Board will be considering the adoption of Ordinance No. 13-8 “[a]uthorizing the sale or donation of used personal property owned by the Park Ridge Park District (2001 GMC Sonoma pick-up truck and 2000 GMC K2500 pick up truck)” [Emphasis added]

The proposed ordinance does not mention “donation,” but it expressly gives Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle absolute discretion to determine how, and at what price, those “surplus” vehicles will be disposed of.

Does that mean Mountcastle could sell them for $1 each to the Maine Township Emergency Management Program (“MTEMP”), that pet subsidiary of Maine Township/Team Provenzano government that was turned down for a similar “donation” of a used SUV last month by the City of Park Ridge, thanks to some clear-headed thinking by Mayor Dave Schmidt and Alds. Nick Milissis (2nd), Roger Shubert (4th), Dan Knight (5th) and Marty Maloney (7th)?

Or maybe a $1 sale could be made to some “charity” – like Kids Around the World, Inc., a Christian-based organization that was given the Centennial Park playground equipment, allegedly because it had no market value (an undocumented claim, of course) and the District was just darn fortunate to get that organization to disassemble the equipment and cart it away?

Or, given the ordinance language that allows Mountcastle to advertise (or not) and auction (or not) the pick-up trucks, could she steer the sale to one or more favored buyers through a process designed to look like competitive bidding, the way City Staff appeared to do recently in sending bid solicitations for fire hydrants to only six preferred(?) vendors – resulting in the Council’s criticism of the process and its rejection of the sole conforming bid?

We’re pretty certain the two pickup trucks the Park District is getting rid of have some value, although we can find nothing in the meeting packet that discloses what that value might be.  But whatever that value, it belongs to the taxpayers; it deserves to be maximized; and it is not properly “donated” to anyone anywhere.

Once again, it’s the principle and not the money.

Which causes us to wonder just how totally clueless and bereft of even the most basic understanding of their oaths of office do our local officials have to be when they blithely give away tax dollars or taxpayer assets?  And just how narcissistic must they be to think that they are more capable than the taxpayers of determining what charitable objectives are worthy of donations – especially when the funds those officials donate are confiscated from the taxpayers through taxation, or generated through the use of tax-funded activities?

Giving away OPM (“Other People’s Money”) doesn’t mean you’re generous.  And public officials who give away the taxapayers’ money are worse than common thieves – because they steal from the taxpayers under color of law, with minimal risk of criminal prosecution or conviction.

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9 comments so far

Questioning these officials’ ethics and value system is exactly right. If I were a public official I cannot conceive of even proposing these kinds of give aways, much less voting for them.

As a public policy matter, government should get out of the “charity” business altogether and let the taxpayers decide to support the charities of their choice. I don’t elect public officials to make my charitable contribution decisions for me, and I don’t pay taxes for that purpose either.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We can’t conceive of it, either, but over the years we’ve had far too many elected and appointed officials who can’t seem to grasp the nature and scope of their elected or appointed duties and authority.

There is a huge second hand market for metal (steel, copper, composite, or what have you).

There is no liability when you sell it to this second hand market because the items get melted down. Obviously requires more work to sell then to donate, but it would have netted a positive return.

A very quick look at Kelley Blue Book shows:
2001 Sonoma – short bed, 80,000 miles – $3,800 – 4,700
long bed, 80,000 miles – $3,400 – 4,300
if sold privately. Since there were no details about what condition the truck is in or how many miles, difficult to guess the true value.
The 2000 “K2500” didn’t show where I was looking, so I have no idea on that one.
It appears to me that there is some sort of value, hopefully the commissioners will recognize that. But I’m not holding my breath!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would have hoped to have found this kind of information in the Park Board meeting packet, but knowing something’s worth $3,400 to $4,700 makes it a lot harder to sell for $1 while claiming the sale was made in good faith.

From the Maine 207 August 5th BOE Meeting, Page 3 of minutes.

More giveaways this time of books to staff, students and charities! Why does Maine 207 not have a used book sale? Oh I forgot, they do not need the money. Maine 207 ended last year with an $8 million dollar budget surplus. So they now must have at least $100 million or more in the bank.

Give permission to the Maine East Librarians to dispose of approximately 7,177 outdated or damaged books with the approximate total value of $125,856.45, by allowing students and staff to choose from this list and donate the remaining books to public libraries for their used books sales or charity as presented.

You were on the Park Board for eight years, Mr. Trizna. Do you expecct us to believe that nothing was given away by the Park District while you were there? Or have you only recently found your new religion?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor learned long ago that facts are facts, belief is belief, and not nearly enough does that twain meet.

But to the best of my recollection, no “surplus” property was given away on my watch. But if it was, then I am accountable for it.

You seem to be asking for the impossible of Ms. Mountcastle and the PRPD board when you ask for “more principle less money”. As you have pointed out time and again, this is a PD that is spending $7,700,000 on a waterpark without asking the taxpayers of PR if this is how we want $7,700,000 taxpayer dollars to be spent.

This is an administrator in Ms. Mountcastle who is insisting-according to an article in the HA-that there is no nearly $600,000 budget overrun on the waterpark. Ms. Mountcastle explains the additional $600,000 taxpayer dollars going to the waterpark as a conscious decision she made to use a majority of the 2012 operating surplus of approximately $750,000 to add additional amenities to the waterpark. A waterpark we the taxpayers did not get to vote yes or no to.

And how did the PRPD generate a $750,000 surplus? Is the PRPD overcharging for the services and programs they offer? Why would Ms. Mountcastle and the PRPD board spend even more taxpayer/OPM on a limited use facility like the outdoor waterpark when other PRPD facilities are in need of repair or updating?

This is an administrator who illegally lobbied and campaigned on the taxpayers’ dime for the passage of the $13,200,000 Youth Campus boondoggle. Principle?

Giving Ms. Mountcastle-a Chicago resident who has could care less about the financial impact to the residents of Park Ridge-the sole discretion on how to dispose of “surplus” vehicles is like giving an alcoholic the keys to the liquor cabinet.

PRPD board find your principle and vote “NO” on this ordinance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We bow to no one in our utter distaste for the way Ms. Mountcastle and the Park Board steamrolled the taxpayers/voters with the Centennial water park boondoggle, which has been recounted in several posts on this blog.

And we share your concern about how the PRPD has been accumulating substantial surpluses. We have been hopeful they have been the product of better management rather than a conscious neglect of maintenance and repairs – in the rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul management style that appears to have been S.O.P. at the City and at D-64 for a number of years under prior administrations.

We take issue, however, with your use of the term “overcharging” for PRPD services and programs, as we long have been outspoken proponents of market-rate pricing – with the only constraint being that the pricing at least covers the fully-loaded costs of those services and programs.

As for Ms. Mountcastle having “illegally lobbied and campaigned on the taxpayers’ dime for the passage of the $13,200,000 Youth Campus boondoggle,” we have seen and heard of actions taken by her and Staff that could be viewed as going beyond merely “informational” efforts, the costs of which are legally permissible expenditures for public bodies in connection with referendums. Nevertheless, at this point in time we would hesitate to term those actions “illegal” without further factual development.

To that end we would hope that the Park Board members – the taxpayers’ duly-sworn representatives – are looking into the propriety and legality of those actions; or that they will look into them as part of the year-end audit of expenditures. On the other hand, given how most (if not all) of those Park Board members were solidly behind the referendum, we would not be shocked if their happiness with the outcome makes them less concerned about the means by which it was achieved.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

If the PRPD has been able to generate such significant surpluses in the last several years it is hard to argue they are not overcharging for their programs. Or are they issuing bond money they don’t need? Or are they purposely neglecting the other PRPD properties so the PRPD could accumulate enough surpluses to build the waterpark without having to go to referendum?

And it would be difficult to support a claim that the board was not apart of this effort by Ms. Mountcastle and staff. And one need only look around at other PRPD properties like the ice rink, Maine Park, the building at South Park to name a few that are in need of repairing and/ or updating. Why weren’t the surpluses used for this purpose instead of spending millions more on a waterpark when replacing the pools in the same footprint would have sufficed.

And “illegal” may be too strong a word for Ms. Mountcastle and her staff’s lobbying for the referendum. But the PRPD board-whose own member Mel Thillens headed a lobbying group whose sole purpose was to pass the Youth Campus referendum-was well aware of the nature of the “informing” that the taxpayer paid Ms. Mountcastle and Terry Wolf were doing to get the referendum passed. The board’s silence on this matter is their approval of the actions of Mountcastle et al.

What the PRPD is doing at Centennial Park is a travesty. The board and Ms. Mountcastle’s action are shameful and a disservice to the taxpaying residents of this town.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you consider “market price” the same as “overcharging”? Because we don’t.

Whether they are “neglecting the other PRPD properties” to accumulate surpluses for pet projects like the water park, however, is another question.

We observed some of the “informing” to which you refer, and it is disappointing the Board seemingly endorsed it, or at least acquiesced in it. The Our Parks Legacy committee has reported total receipts of $8,268.25 and total expenditures of $6,282.12. We have not seen a figure for how much the PRPD spent in “informing” the voters.

Unfortunately, Ms. Mountcastle and most Park Board members well understand the power they have, but not the responsibility that comes with it.

The Park Board last night corrected the issue, and removed the words “or donate” from the Ordinance. There was much discussion about the sale of these vehicles, which will either be sold to Carmax, which offered more than the trade in offer, or at auction.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s good to hear, although we understand the reference to “donate” in the agenda item may have been a typo.

Too bad there wasn’t a Carmax for used playground equipment.

Too bad you keep focusing on the design of the burlwood on the violin. What’s that BBQ smell?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to be the new Delphic Oracle, you need more work on your obtuse metaphors.

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