Transparency At School Dist. 64 Improves, Albeit Slowly (Updated)


Four years ago the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, led by president John Heyde and his merry band of Pat Fioretto, Russ Gentile, Sharon Lawson, Ted Smart, Genie Taddeo and Eric Uhlig, played coy and secretive with D-64 taxpayers when hiring soon-departing superintendent Philip Bender out of the Hoosier State.

We wrote about that secretive process in our 04.07.10 post, “Arrogant And  Disrespectful, Or Simply Petty And Juvenile?” in which we embedded Heyde’s “invitation” to meet the then-unidentified “preferred candidate” – but only after he had become the “preferred candidate”; i.e., the proverbial “done deal.”

But last week D-64 released a message from current D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli about the search for Bender’s replacement, and the differences in content, attitude and style between his message and Heyde’s are noteworthy, even if not all that substantial.

Heyde spent one sentence describing the “Leadership Profile our community developed in December,” while Borrelli devoted a full paragraph to it – identifying the consultant (BWP & Associates) who compiled the community data for that Profile from “almost 1,000 voices” and pointing out that the Profile is accessible on the D-64 website, which it is.

While Heyde made the “preferred candidate” available to the community for a whopping one hour meet-and-greet that was announced a mere three days before it was to be held, Borrelli is bringing in the two finalists and announcing, weeks in advance, what sounds like more than one meet-the-finalists session.  Hopefully those dates and times will be posted sooner rather than later so that the largest number of residents can make themselves available for the events.

Has Borrelli and the current Board come up with the optimal process for hiring a new superintendent?


But the journey from D-64’s Star Chamber-like proceedings to full transparency takes time – along with a majority of transparency-minded Board members who are willing to tell secrecy-loving bureaucrats to shape up or ship out.  By our count, Borrelli needs at least two more kindred spirits to secure a majority on that Board, but that can’t occur any sooner than the next school board election in April 2015.

Under Borrelli’s leadership, however, the Board has taken another step in the right direction, although not without a few bedeviling mis-steps along the way – the biggest of which appears to be the “Leadership Profile” produced by the cockamamie survey BWP came up with, allegedly to provide itself and the Board with insight into the community’s views on educational matters and issues.

We’re not sure from where Borrelli got those “1,000 voices,” but this Leadership Profile appears to include only 777 “voices.”  And, because of the anonymity and the survey’s susceptibility to multiple takings by the same individuals, those 777 “voices” might well be only 111 people speaking 7 times each.

Throw in the goofiness of some of the survey choices (e.g., among the “important characteristics you would like a superintendent to exhibit” are “Sense of humor” and “Peacemaker”)  and you’ve got something we described as basically worthless when writing about it in our 10.31.13 post.  After viewing the results, we are not inclined to modify that description.

What should the taxpayers make, if anything, from the results of Question 3, where the most “voices” identified the District’s top three “strengths” as: “Excellent teachers and staff,” “Reputation of district” and “Available resources”?  Or from the identification of “Facilities,” “Financial management” and “Culture in district” (whatever THAT means) among the least of its “strengths”?

Are “Interpersonal skills” (whatever THOSE are, in this context) really more important for a superintendent than “Managerial skills” or “Organizational skills,” as the answers to Question 4 would indicate?  Or than “Financial skills” – especially when “Financial management” is one of the biggest weakenesses identified in Question 3?

As we predicted, the questions asked by that survey make the resulting Leadership Profile highly subjective, easily manipulable, and pretty much GIGO, which should have been obvious to the Board from the start.  That should be an embarrassment to Borrelli and the Board.  But at least it’s published for the taxpayers to see, and that’s yet another small step for transparency and accountability under Borrelli’s leadership that was missing on Heyde’s watch, and on the watch of Heyde’s predecessors.

Whether it means that D-64 will be able to hire a new superintendent who can produce better objectively-measurable results – yes, Veronica, we mean standardized test scores – than his/her predecessors, remains to be seen.  Considering the taxes D-64 residents are already paying, however, it’s well past time our schools started achieving scores on those tests that are competitive with those from comparable communities like Elmhurst, Glenview, Northbrook, Western Springs, etc.

Otherwise, the still-high “Reputation of district” will most certainly decline further – and, with it, our property values, as prospective non-resident home buyers look for a better ROI elsewhere.

UPDATE (12.28.13)  Just when we see things moving in the right direction re the hiring of a new superintendent under School Board president Tony Borrelli, D-64 announces that: (a) each of the two finalists will be available for a public meet-and-greet on separate days, rather than together; and (b) each of them will be available for a total of only one hour – but only in half-hour increments, from 10:30-11:00 a.m. at Emerson and from 5:30-6:00 p.m. at Lincoln.

Maybe there’s some rhyme or reason behind that kind of scheduling, but we can’t really see any.  If this occurred under the Heyde administration, we’d be firing up the barbecue.  And so, in the interest of fairness, we’re lighting up the cowboy charcoal in the Weber for the Borrelli administration on this one.

A half-hour session for a community meet-and-greet?  Seriously?

Not having both finalists at the same session, so that the public could catch them both on one visit rather than two?  Seriously?

The latest session ending at 6:00 p.m., when many people who work outside Park Ridge aren’t even back in town?  Seriously?

We’re not sure whether this qualifies as a sham, a charade, or simply flipping the ol’ bird to the taxpayers of this community who soon will be paying one of these two finalists a good chunk of change, and entrusting him/her with the education of their children.  But we sure expected better.

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Past Not Always Prologue (And Some Flies Can’t Be Caught)


At Monday night’s meeting the Park Ridge City Council approved the MAP Amendment and the variances needed for the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District to commence work on its Youth Campus Park project (the “YCP”).

As best as we can tell, that was the correct result – if for no other reason than pinch-hitting City Attorney Kathy Henn’s improvised opinion that linking the City’s approval of the YCP zoning matters to the Park District’s granting of rights to the City to use Northwest Park for storm water detention might violate the City’s Zoning Code.  Not any state statute or court decision, mind you, but our own Zoning Code.

Once that opinion was given, the Council defeated the “linkage” amendment proposed by Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd) by a vote of 5-2, Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) and Milissis dissenting; and then it approved the zoning relief by a vote of 6-1, Smith again dissenting.

Whether Henn’s opinion on this issue will cause the Council to revise the Zoning Code to eliminate the arguable ban on linkage in the future remains to be seen.  But it probably deserves at least some cursory review to determine whether linkage is an arrow that belongs in the City’s zoning quiver.

The linkage issue inspired some interesting discussion/debate by the aldermen, one aspect of which deserves special mention because it was as unnecessary as it was disappointing.

Regular readers of this blog may recall that we endorsed Marty Maloney for 7th Ward alderman in 2011, and he prevailed in a 3-way race.  While we have disagreed with him significantly on several occasions since his election, he has served honorably and creditably overall – just as he served honorably and creditably on the Park Board from 2003-2011.

But in arguing against Milissis’ linkage amendment by suggesting that the Park District could be expected to cooperate with the City’s storm water detention program, Maloney disingenuously cited the cooperation of Park Boards past in accommodating the City’s installation of its two reservoirs on Park District land (Kalina Field and Hinkley Park), and the construction of the City’s salt dome at Oakton Park.

Why was that disingenous?

Because Maloney knows that no governmental bodies act consistently and predictably: he’s now been a member of two different ones.  Their actions are always the product of the personalities, policies and politics of the elected officials who oversee them, and of the bureaucrats to whom the elected officials too often delegate/abdicate too much responsibility and discretion.

The people who sat on the Park Boards that gave the City the use of Kalina, Hinkley and Oakton for City facilities are not the same people who sit on the Park Board now.  And the attitude displayed by a majority of the current Park Board members, and by its director, is not the same one that prevailed back when those three projects were done.

Maloney knows that, too, because he was on the Park Board when the new City reservoir was constructed under Hinkley Park.  He knows that the City didn’t even have to ask the Park District for the use of Hinkley Park because it was the then-Park Board that came up with the idea – and offered that site to the Cityas a way to save City taxpayers the millions of extra dollars it would have cost to put the new reservoir on the old Public Works site at Greenwood and Elm, which was the City’s original plan.

Putting the reservoir at Hinkley also kept that old Public Works property available for sale by the City for what some brokers had previously guestimated to be another million dollars or more.  And it prevented the delays in the reservoir project, and the Uptown Redevelopment project that depended on relocating the reservoir, by the additional time left on NICOR’s lease of the old Public Works property that NICOR didn’t vacate until 2009.

Maloney also knows that this Park Board is different from previous ones – including the ones he served on – because his boards (with the support of then executive director Jim Lange) went to referendum four times during 2005-2006, at least twice on multi-million dollar aquatic facilities.  Those boards and that director respected the taxpaying voters of this community enough to ask for their endorsement and their tax dollars for such expensive projects with such substantial long-term impact on this community.  And they had the courage to risk being told “no,” as they were.

That’s a far cry from this current Park Board, a majority of which just a year ago arrogantly told the taxpaying voters to go scratch themselves – and the horses they rode in on – when that Board voted to build the $8 million Centennial water park without the courtesy of even an advisory referendum.  Those cowards insisted they knew that the community wanted the water park, they just didn’t have the courage to find out for sure.

At Monday night’s Council meeting, Maloney talked about obtaining the cooperation of those Park Board members voluntarily, calling on the “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” aphorism.  But “flies” who seemingly care so little for what is fair and just for the entire community that they don’t have the decency to hold a vote on an $8 million water park, may not be “catch”-able when it comes to making Northwest Park available for storm water detention, especially now that they’ve got their YCP zoning.

After all, those are some of the same folks who turned tail and ran away from the North Park detention area project after some neighbors beefed about it.  Can they be trusted not to cut and run again if Northwest Park neighbors beef?  Can they be trusted to stand tall when the Park District’s sports affiliates show up en masse to oppose anything that might jeopardize their Northwest Park playing fields?

We hope Maloney is right with about catching flies, because the City just gave the Park District plenty of honey.

But he was dead wrong Monday night by suggesting what past Park Boards had done was a predictor of what the current Park Board might do.  That’s the kind of cheap political trickery we have come to expect from our state senators and state representatives, and from all those other two-bit professional politicians that have run our state into the ground.

You’re much better than that, Ald. Maloney.

You know it.  And we know it.

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Youth Campus Park “Win/Win” Includes Deal On Northwest Park Stormwater Detention


We’ve always been big on intergovernmental cooperation between/among our various units of local government – so long as that “cooperation” is a win/win for each of the units of government involved in the deal.

Keep your eye out for that “win/win” at tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting, when the Council is scheduled to vote on the final reading of the zoning MAP Amendment and a number of variances the Park Ridge Park District is seeking for the construction of the $13 million-plus Youth Campus Park (the “YCP”).

As best as we can tell, the Park District has done a pretty good job of designing the YCP to be neighborhood-friendly, or at least as neighborhood-friendly as an 11-acre park facility can be.  According to City Engineer Sarah Mitchell, the YCP design is in full compliance with the City’s stormwater management ordinance for a 100-year rain event – although last month Ald. Dan Knight (5th) and a couple of other aldermen expressed concerns that such compliance be clearly and unequivocally memorialized in writing before final Council approval is given.

We’re still not sure that has been done, but we trust the Council will ensure that’s the case before final approval is granted.

In looking at this YCP MAP Amendment/variance deal, we see a big “win” for the Park District but no commensurate “win” for the City.  That imbalance might be resolved, however, by a suggestion from Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) – if we understand it, which is not always the case with Smitty’s suggestions – that the Park District commit itself to making Northwest Park available for stormwater detention IF the City decides to go ahead with that portion of the Burke flood control proposal that includes such a detention area.

Obviously, the cost of making Northwest Park suitable for stormwater detention would have to be borne by the City, and would have to include a provision for an ongoing City obligation to protect that park from substantial damage caused by water detention.  Unfortunately, it sounds as if the Park District has told the City to pound sand any time such a commitment has been raised, which doesn’t sound much like the “win/win” spirit that’s supposed to be the hallmark of intergovernmental cooperation.

And Park Board members who have spoken publicly on this topic sound far more combative than cooperative.

Park Commissioner/state representative candidate (or should that be state representative candidate/Park Commissioner?) Mel Thillens has accused the City Council of “holding up a process that was politically supported by the [YCP] referendum…for no good reason.”

It’s Local Government 101, however, that while the Park District’s referendum results authorized the Park District to borrow and spend $13 million-plus to build the YCP, it didn’t also require or even authorize the City to grant a MAP Amendment or a bunch of variances from the City’s Zoning Code to enable the construction of YCP.  That’s because Local Government 101 also teaches that the City Council’s job is to look out for the City’s interests and the City’s taxpayers, neither of which is exactly the same as the Park District’s.

And one of the City’s interests that can be linked to the MAP Amendment and the variances sought by the Park District is doing what it can to ensure its ability to construct the flood relief projects that already have been identified as priorities by the Burke study, like the Northwest Park detention area.

So we see nothing wrong with the City’s linking its approval of the YCP MAP Amendment and variances to the Park District’s providing an ironclad agreement to make Northwest Park available to the City for flood water detention so long as that: (a) does not require the Park District to pay for any of the conversion costs; (b) any such conversion will be done with all reasonable expedience so as not to take those athletic fields out of commission unduly; and (c) the City agrees to underwrite future repair of any damage to Northwest Park from stormwater detention.

In fact, the Park District’s agreeing to the detention area as a quid pro quo for the zoning relief it wants from the City is the very LEAST the Park District can do for the City and its taxpayers.

As Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) pointed out in response to the complaints from the Park District that what amounts to the City Council’s rightful circumspection and due diligence is costing the taxpayers money: “When you’re spending $13 million of taxpayer money to fundamentally change the land use for an 11-acre parcel, it would seem one extra meeting shouldn’t kill you.”

Exactly.  If the Park District deserves its zoning “win” at YCP, so does the City.  And that should include the Park District’s ironclad agreement to the City’s right to use Northwest Park for stormwater detention if necessary.

Before the City gives its final sign-off on the Park District’s YCP zoning accommodations.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Should SSAs Convert OPM To YOM?


Most people are familiar with the plaintive cry: “Don’t just stand there, do something.”

When it comes to government, that call often proves an irresistible Sirens’ song to the aim-to-please politicians and path-of-least-resistance bureaucrats.  And when doing “something” can be accomplished with other people’s money (“OPM”), the sky is often the limit on how much OPM will be spent.

The City of Park Ridge currently is hearing the steady drum beat from certain residents who want “something” – anything – done about flooding.  And we’re with them…to a point.

Since his election in April 2009, Mayor Dave Schmidt has pushed for some form of solution to at least the worst areas of our chronic flooding problem.  He formed the Flood Control Task Force and staffed it with a number of knowledgeable volunteers who produced some solid work product, with the exception of a penny foolish, pound foolish mis-step: recommending that the City’s taxpayers subsidize individual homeowners for their installation of “private” flood control devices like overhead sewers and check valves.

Blame it on OPM intoxication.

The City Council also engaged Christopher B. Burke Engineering to study the flooding problem and devise a seemingly comprehensive flood remediation program.  Unfortunately, it appears the entire Burke program would cost the City $100 million or more, which might make some kind of sense if it provided the entire City with protection from the 100-year floods we seem to be getting every year or so.

But it doesn’t.

Instead, it provides a handful or so of areas with protection against only 10-year floods.  And, frankly, spending multi-millions of dollars on multi-year bonded debt merely for 10-year flood protection is, in a word, “irresponsible.”  And if that word’s not enough for you, try “wasteful.”  Or “stupid.”

Unfortunately, access to OPM often inspires ideas that fit those descriptions.

And for people with flooding problems, the only questions seem to be: “Why not?” and “How soon?”

Certain folks around The Horseshoe at 505 Butler Place have indicated their concern about spending that much money for what looks to be very little relief for a relatively few people.  City staff promptly held its collective finger to the wind and then suggested that the City hire another engineering firm to “validate” the Burke report.  Or, failing that, hire another engineering firm to provide a “second opinion” of the Burke report.  Or simply decide to move forward on the Burke recommendations, costs be damned.

Fortunately for City taxpayers, this mayor and these aldermen – unlike so many of their predecessors – seem to understand that difficult problems needing expensive solutions require serious thought and sound judgment.  That’s why we hold out hope that they won’t let themselves get stampeded by the folks who want to blow millions of tax dollars on half-baked flood control measures of dubious value.

Which includes any 10-year flood solution, for starters.

As best as we can figure it, the only ways to achieve meaningful flood control are to: (a) pump the water out of Park Ridge; or (b) safely store it in Park Ridge – what is commonly called “detention.”

Pumping it out of Park Ridge, however, requires a cooperative receiver of that water.  And from what we’ve seen over the years, when flooding hits this area there seems to be a decided shortage of neighboring areas pleading: “Send us your run-off, your back-up, your stagnant ponding yearning to flow free.”

To the contrary, in almost every such situation the widespread suspicion among Park Ridge flooding victims is that somebody – the IEPA, the MWRD, the Army Corp of Engineers, or Satan himself – is actively preventing the evacuation of water from Park Ridge by every avenue.

That leaves detention as the most dependable way for Park Ridge to independently manage its flood water.

Under the Burke flood control program, two of the three main projects involve storm water detention: at Northwest Park and at the Park Ridge Country Club.  And it might be part of the Mayfield Estates project, although that would require the City to acquire and demolish as many as 8 of the 23-homes in that neighborhood, at a cost of several million dollars.

Residents living west of the Park Ridge Country Club want the City to build a detention area on Country Club property.  But that would cost at least $23 million and would only address 10-year floods for approximately 165 residences.  Adding the splitting of sanitary and storm sewers to the Country Club detention area would benefit 680 properties, but would drive that cost up to almost $49 million and still protect against only 10-year floods.

That kind of money for merely 10-year flood protection should be considered D.O.A. by the Council…unless the residents of those affected areas would be willing to turn them into Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) that would be separately taxed to cover the cost of what appear to be expensive and incomplete solutions to localized flooding problems.

For those 165 properties west of the Country Club, 10-year flood protection would cost them around $140,000 each, while the amped-up $49 million project for 680 properties would cost a relatively bargain-basement $72,000 per property.  That’s without debt service costs, of course.

We’re not sure of all the legal wrangling required to get these SSA referenda on an election ballot, but there’s no way all the details can be worked out and the language finalized before the filing deadline for putting them on this March’s primary ballot election.  But there should be plenty of time to get that done between now and the filing deadline for next November’s general election.

Expect to hear a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by the folks in those proposed SSAs if the Council starts moving in that direction.  Expect to hear “Why not?” and “How soon?” replaced by: “We pay taxes so why should we have to pay extra to keep our basements dry?”

That’s the kind of changed tune you get when OPM becomes YOM:

“Your Own Money.”

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EMBs Bring Thoughts Of R.E.M.


Listening to the recent debates about amending the Park Ridge sign code to permit electronic message boards (“EMB”s), the chorus of a well-known R.E.M. song kept running through our mind: “It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

To hear the anti-EMB folks tell it, EMBs are the devil’s tool that will turn quaint Park Ridge into a vulgar Rosemont, increase traffic accidents by distracted drivers, otherwise cause various forms of lesser mischief that erode the “character” of Park Ridge, and may even cause the heartbreak of psoriasis.   The pro-EMB folks, on the other hand, suggest that prohibitions and even significant restrictions on EMBs put local businesses at some form of competitive disadvantage and reinforce the perception of Park Ridge as “unfriendly to business.”

We like the “character” of Park Ridge, and we get the sense we’re not alone in that.  But what exactly is the “character” of Park Ridge, and how will EMBs ruin it?  And if Park Ridge is so “unfriendly” to business, explain Whole Foods and Mariano’s both opening stores here within a six month stretch?

The City’s Sign Task Force had recommended that EMBs be permitted, albeit with a number of restrictions.  That recommendation, however, was over-ruled by the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission at its September 24, 2013 meeting.  At a special meeting on November 19, 2013, and at another one this past Tuesday (12.03.13) night, the City Council entertained public debate on whether EMBs should be banned completely, per the P&Z recommendation.

As best as we can tell from Tuesday’s meeting, EMBs won’t be coming to Park Ridge anytime soon for a very practical reason: there appears to be no good way to permit EMBs with limitations that satisfactorily balances the competing rights and interests of the pro- and anti- factions without subjecting the City to an increased risk of litigation.

City Attorney Everette M. “Buzz” Hill, Jr., in a memorandum, identified a number of legal issues that appear to be irreconcilable – in light of the competing interests and agendas – other than by either a blanket permission or a blanket prohibition.  Many of Hill’s observations echo those articulated by the executive director of the Illinois Sign Association in his letter of August 15, 2013.

Frankly, while we don’t have any strong desire to see EMBs in Park Ridge, we believe that EMBs can be permitted in ways that would be constitutional and yet not be the end of Park Ridge’s “character” as we know it.  Just like allowing and even liberalizing alcohol sales, or eliminating City subsidies to private community groups, haven’t been the end of that “character,” either, despite dire warnings from opponents of those two decisions that they would.  We agree with Alds. Milissis and Knight that EMBs are a significant-enough and growing issue that the City must find ways to accommodate them if at all possible.

That leads us to the real point of this post: what appears to be a lack of efficient management of the time and resources of the City’s committees, commissions and task forces – and, ultimately, of the Council itself.

As best as we can tell, neither the Sign Task Force nor P&Z had the benefit of the analysis and opinions contained in Hill’s memorandum; and the Sign Task Force did not have the Illinois Sign Association’s letter.  That would have put both those bodies at a significant disadvantage in undertaking their tasks relative to EMBs.  It also causes us to wonder whether both bodies’ efforts and outcomes re the EMBs would have been different – or at least less time-consuming – had they had those legal opinions and insights from the beginning.

The members of the Sign Task force and P&Z – like the members of all other City citizens’ committees, commissions and task forces – are volunteers who perform valuable services to the community without compensation.  Similarly, the mayor and the aldermen provide an extraordinary amount of service and undertake substantial responsibility for nominal compensation.

But when a significant portion of the time and effort devoted to a particular task – in this case, to EMBs – by these officials may have been wasted because they lacked significant information that could have been obtained at the beginning of the process rather than at the later stages, we have to wonder why it wasn’t.

For this committee-commission-task force process to work, everybody has to operate at a high level.  It should be City staff’s responsibility to procure and provide those volunteers with the kinds of legal opinions, industry insights, and reasonable foundation of relevant data sufficient to inform those volunteers about the matters they will be addressing.  Otherwise we end up with the classic GIGO situation.

And the Council ends up having to re-invent the wheel.

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Pension Reform Episode II – Attack Of The Clowns (Updated)


Since we started this blog way back in 2004, we have assiduously focused our attention on those units of local government serving the Park Ridge community.  Frankly, that has been more than enough of a challenge for our modest abilities and limited time.

But we are making a notable exception today, in advance of what we expect will be the Illinois General Assembly’s passage of a 327-page pension “reform” bill, the final text of which was circulated less than 24 hours ago to the state senators and representatives who will be voting on it later today.

Having read about, observed and even met a number of the current seat-fillers down in Springfield over the past several years, we suspect most of them would be challenged simply to read that bill in its entirety before today’s vote is held.  But to understand it well enough to meaningfully vote on it?  At least another week, but only if they had the assistance of competent legal counsel.

This being Illinois, however, we fully expect the bill to pass before sunset.

The last time Illinois public pension policy was “reformed” was forty-plus years ago, when a majority of the Illinois Constitutional Convention (“Con Con”) delegates included a provision in the state’s new constitution that guaranteed the promise of public pensions as creating “an enforceable contractual relationship” that “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

Whether and to what extent this new 327-page “reform” bill can pass that 1970 constitutional guarantee, in whole or in part, is anybody’s guess.  So is whether it will come anywhere close to saving all the $160 billion its proponents are wildly claiming it will, even over the 30 years it’s supposed to take for those savings to accrue.

Frankly, we don’t have the time or the inclination to address everything that’s wrong with just the light-speed process by which this particular piece of legislation has advanced from its skeletal form the afternoon before a four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend to its full 327-page text less than 24 hours before the expected vote.  That process alone should be viewed by the taxpayers of this state as nothing short of the insulting slap in the face its proponents intended it to be.

But that assumes a fact not yet in evidence: that it’s still possible for Illinois taxpayers to perceive insults after three decades of living in serfdom under the thumb of Darth Madigan, dark lord of the Sith.

Those encouraging this legislative rush to judgment point to its “bi-partisan” support by Madigan, his Dark Side senate ally John Cullerton and fuzzy-thinking Ewoks like Christine Radogno and Jim Durkin – four of the five “leaders” who, along with former House Minority “leader” and fellow Ewok Tom Cross, have been at the legislative helm of our listing ship of state while two of our last three governors (one from each party, furthering the “bi-partisan” theme) have been imprisoned and Illinois’ finances have sunk to a notch or so above insolvency.

Trusting such an inept crowd to successfully reform our state’s absurd pension system is like trusting a cardiac surgical team with a history of chronic malpractice to get its next quadruple bypass right.  It’s as if “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” were Einstein’s definition of sanity.

Given how crucial true pension reform is to Illinois’ future, and how complex the problems presented by it are, serious debate and deliberation on a legitimate reform bill should easily take at least a few weeks, not merely a few hours.  But with the editorial boards of both Chicago daily newspapers and a host of other cheerleaders wildly clapping and stamping their feet for speedy passage, “serious” anything is too much to ask.

To paraphrase “Senator Padme Amidala” in “Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones”: “So this is how pension reform dies… with thunderous applause.”

But on the bright side, the Illinois General Assembly makes the workings of the Park Ridge City Council, even on its worst days (and nights), seem like a beacon of light in the abyss of Illinois government.

UPDATE (12.04.13)  We wish we could claim a special gift for correctly predicting that the 327-page pension “reform” bill would pass by sunset yesterday, less than 24 hours after its final language was first circulated.  Shooting fish in a barrel with a 12 gauge, however, would have been more challenging.

Not that conclusive proof will ever be available, but we suspect that 90% or more of the public officials in Springfield who voted for the bill yesterday hadn’t even read it.  Sadly, that makes them no different from our legislators in Washington, most of whom appear to rely on staffers – or, more likely, highly-paid special interest lobbyists – to tell them what a bill says and why they should, or should not, vote for it.

That’s what we now have in this country: a government of the politicians, by the bureaucrats, for the special interests.  Or is it a government of the bureaucrats, by the politicians, for the special interests?

All we know is that the taxpayers are never one of those special interests.

Will this pension “reform” bill really save the taxpayers of this state $160 billion by 2044?  Of course not.  Only small children and idiots would believe projections like that – which are almost always wrong, and usually very wrong.  Plus, there are so many variables involved that ascertaining and analyzing cause and effect (or finding fault and placing blame) becomes exponentially more difficult with every passing year.

That’s not even taking into consideration the strong possibility that certain portions of the bill – the ones that might actually be good for Illinois taxpayers, naturally – could be declared unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court, yet “severable” from the rest of the bill rather than invalidating the whole bill.  So taxpayers could end up being stuck with all the costly “bad” parts of the bill and none of the really cost-saving “good” ones.

That’s what we assume the public employee unions are counting on, and their friends in the General Assembly (including Madigan, Cullerton and other union tools) are hoping for.  Given the way this bill was handled and the fly-speck level of integrity possessed by its major proponents down in Springfield, we wouldn’t be surprised if some of those “anti”-employee provisions were actually drafted to make them easier for the Supreme Court to pitch.

Not surprisingly, not one of the officials who voted for this bill yesterday can be expected to still be holding a seat in the General Assembly when the final results of this bill are tallied up 30 years from now.  And a substantial portion of today’s voters will be worm food by then, too – unable to say to Sen. Dan Kotowski or Rep. Marty Moylan: “You donkeys…we told you this wouldn’t work.”

Assuming Danny K and Marty M are still on the right side of the grass themselves by then.

It’s a lot like the Uptown TIF, for which proponents were projecting $20 million-plus of net revenue by the end of its 23-year term.  Now, only 10 years after it was passed and the City locked itself into tens of millions of dollars of bonded debt, not one of the elected officials responsible for passing it remains in City Hall and accountable to the taxpayers for the major economic drain it has become, or for the $20 million-plus of net deficits now being projected for it. 

Meanwhile, former mayor and TIF architect Ron Wietecha resigned his office and moved to Barrington before the TIF was even passed.  And former mayors Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, along with all those City Council members who supported the TIF project’s multi-millions of dollars of debt and subsidies to the developers, remain out of sight anytime their red-haired stepchild is publicly discussed.

That’s the inherent problem with plans based on multi-decade projections of dubious merit, using assumptions that no sane individuals would make, even when blind drunk and playing Mississippi Stud at Rivers Casino on a Tuesday night.  That’s also why even a corrupt, communistic, economically doomed governmental system like the one employed by the former Soviet Union rarely extended its projections beyond five years, thereby giving it a constant series of “five-year plans.”

But our geniuses in Springfield used a 30-year projection for this pension “reform” bill because they needed a 30-year timeline to make the math work for all their made-up numbers.

Already the “victorious” legislators, their sycophants, apologists, and what masquerades as a keen-eyed, vigorous press are proclaiming pension peace for our time.  If you could dress them all in dark Chesterfield overcoats, umbrellas in one hand and waving copies of the bill over their heads with their other hand, you might think Neville Chamberlain had risen from the dead and been multiply cloned – and totally clowned.

But at least Great Britain had a Winston Churchill standing in the wings to salvage Chamberlain’s folly.

All we’ve got are the likes of Sen. Kwame Raoul (D. Chicago) who, when urging a “Yes” vote, limply warned: “We cannot continue to be the embarrassment of the nation.”

Way too late for that, Kwame.

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