D-64 Board To Taxpayers Re New Superintendent Selection: Go [Blank] Yourselves!


Long ago we learned a valuable lesson about government, especially local government: almost nothing good occurs in “closed session” – when local governmental bodies meet without the public or the press allowed to be present to watch, listen and learn;  and with no minutes published unless the governmental body expressly authorizes their publication.

Which is almost never.

Closed sessions violate the spirit of open government and, therefore, the circumstance in which they can occur – and the topics that can be discussed in them – are limited by the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”).  While a public body is permitted to go into closed session, closed sessions are never required.  Additionally, no formal action, such as the enactment of new laws or the passage of resolutions, can occur during the closed session: the public body must reconvene into open session to do those things.

But since most closed sessions seem to occur at the end of the “public” portion of meetings, by the time the closed sessions end and the officials emerge from the darkness and into the light, there often is no “public” or press hanging around to witness and address the formal action that gets voted on.

Not that many years ago most public officials – virtually ALL bureaucrats, and the vast majority of elected officials – operated from the premise that what was discussed in closed sessions was SECRET and could not even be disclosed or disussed outside of the closed session.  Obviously, shameless and spineless public officials who like nothing more than to run and hide from their constituents in closed session don’t want anybody revealing whatever tomfoolery they concocted while free from public scrutiny.

At the City Council level it took then-alderman, now Mayor Dave Schmidt to dispel that misguided belief (or wishful thinking) that closed session discussions and information are “secret.”  Schmidt took the unprecedented step of publicly blowing the whistle on then-mayor Howard Frimark’s closed session efforts to persuade the Council to buy the 720 Garden property as the future site of a new police station, even though the Council had not yet even decided on whether or not to build a new cop shop – and at a price a couple/few hundred thousand dollars more than the City’s own appraiser said it was worth.

Not surprisingly, Frimark and his alderpuppets were outraged by Schmidt’s disclosure.  Frimark not only denounced Schmidt but also proposed a Council resolution formally “condemning” Schmidt and his disclosures.  Because “condemnation” of a City alderman has no legal consequences, however, Frimark’s show-trial and 5-1 vote approving that condemnation resolution were merely exercises in futility – and may have even helped launch Schmidt’s subsequently successful bid to unseat Frimark.

Since Schmidt became mayor, closed sessions have become far fewer and farther in between.

But at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, closed sessions seem to be the preferred way of doing business, as evidenced by the recent hiring process for the new superintendent.

We discussed some of the shortcomings of that process in our 12.27.13 and 01.08.14 posts, so we won’t recount those here.  But more recent – and arguably more egregious – abuses of closed session deserves a special dishonorable mention.

At a special meeting last Friday (01.24.14), the D-64 Board scurried into closed session almost immediately after convening so that members could discuss the compensation package they intended to offer the new superintendent, Laurie Heinz.  Not surprisingly, the motion for closed session was made by D-64’s own prince of darkness, John Heyde, whose adoration of closed sessions (and secrecy generally) might well be unparalleled in local government over the past decade or two, save for perhaps Frimark’s.

Heyde so relishes closed sessions and secrecy that not only did he advocate conducting teachers union contract negotiations in secret, but he actually built a legal requirement for closed-session negotiations into the contracts he negotiated.  That provision guarantees that the taxpayers don’t get to see or hear the exorbitant opening demands that the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”) is rumored to make whenever it opens contract negotiations, or see or hear all the ankle-grabbing concessions and outright appeasement by our elected officials who are supposed to be looking out for the taxpayers’ interests and the best interest of the District.

So we fully expected Heyde and his fellow travelers on the D-64 Board to want the same freedom from the prying eyes of the taxpayers and the press when it came to the Board’s formulation of the compensation package being offered to Heinz.  And Heyde, et al., did not disappoint last Friday evening.

But Board president Tony Borrelli threw a wrench into Heyde’s plans by suggesting that the discussions of the new superintendent’s contract offer be held in open session.

For the most fleeting of moments, Borrelli’s suggestion seemed to freeze Heyde and his closed-session allies like deer caught in a car’s headlights – before Heyde regained his balance and mumbled an explanation for why closed session was necessary:  the Board’s “strategizing for a contract negotiation” should not be done in open session because it would give the new superintendent the District’s negotiating game plan.

You can watch and listen to Heyde’s oratory – and the 6-1 vote (Borrelli dissenting) to go into closed session – by checking out the meeting video and fast-forwarding to the 1:30 mark.

What Heyde can’t seem to figure out – or won’t publicly admit – is that the Board is under no obligation to “negotiate” with Ms. Heinz.  The Board could have, and should have, publicly formulated all of the elements of the compensation package it was offering Heinz, and explained why that package is fair and reasonable to Heinz AND, more importantly, to D-64’s taxpayers.

Then, if Heinz disagreed with the fairness of that offer, she could say so – equally publicly – and make her counteroffer, also publicly.  That way, the whole process could have played out in full public view, so that the taxpayers could have judged for themselves whether the Board’s initial offer was fair, whether Heinz’s counter (if any) was reasonable, and whether the final deal was fiscally responsible.  More importantly, the taxpayers could have judged for themselves whether their Board was being wise or foolish, and whether Heinz was being reasonable or greedy.

But Heyde and his anti-transparency ilk fear that kind of scrutiny and accountability.  They want secrecy and plausible deniability at every turn.  As we noted in our 08.29.13 post, they wouldn’t even consider televising or videotaping meetings until a group of citizens showed up with a video camera and started doing their own taping.

Given that employee compensation, pensions and benefits make up the overwhelming majority of D-64’s ever increasing operating expenses – now over $70 million/year – the need for complete transparency in every aspect of the compensation process, including union contract negotiations, has become more crucial than ever before.  That’s one of the reasons some states (like Florida) have enacted “sunshine” laws that REQUIRE such negotiations to be held in open session.

Complete transparency becomes even more crucial when we keep on electing D-64 Board members who are little more than rubber-stamping stooges for the teachers union and its collaborating administrators – most of whom are former teachers who realize that every teacher pay increase almost always results in commensurate (or better) administrator pay increases.

But the D-64 Board is nothing if not consistent in its never-ending quest to keep the taxpayers in the dark.

Last night it held a special meeting to “Approve Compensation Package for Superintendent designate Dr. Laurie Heinz,” as can be seen from the agenda for that meeting.  Not only were there no details of her “Compensation Package” or contract in the agenda itself, but as late as 8:30 this morning – the day after the meeting to approve her contract – the District had still not posted that contract or its terms on its website as the “Exhibit A” referenced at Appendix 2 to the agenda.

Chalk that up as just another sick joke played on D-64 taxpayers, and another bucket of disrespect thrown on those same taxpayers, by the folks entrusted to look out for our interests and the interests of one of our community’s most valuable assets.  In other words, it’s still business as usual at D-64.

And the taxpayers can either like it or lump it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Boneheaded Ethics Complaint Latest O’Hare-Related Folly


We have previously mentioned Park Ridge 6th Ward resident and anti-O’Hare gadfly, Gene Spanos, in our 08.17.09, 11.16.09, 12.11.0912.18.09, 03.08.10, 06.30.10, 04.06.11, 02.10.12 and 06.25.12 posts.  In each of those posts the subject was O’Hare, except for that June 2012 one in which we identified him as one of several residents who were reportedly recruiting Larry Ryles to challenge Mayor Dave Schmidt in the April 2013 election.

Even that post was related to O’Hare, however, because Spanos – who had backed Schmidt in 2009 – had soured on him as the result of Schmidt’s opposition to throwing boxcars of our tax dollars at fighting O’Hare expansion and all the problems that it creates for Park Ridge.

Schmidt realized, as did the members of the City Council and almost everyone else who has been paying attention and can do political head counting, that neither our state government representatives (Sen. Dan Kotowski and Rep. Rosemary Mulligan; and, since 2013, Rep. Marty Moylan) nor our federal government representatives (Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky) were ready, willing and able to go to the mat for Park Ridge…and actually get something accomplished.

That’s because O’Hare is a gold mine not only for Chicago but also for most neighboring communities whose industrial bases are comprised of businesses heavily served by, or that serve, O’Hare.  Park Ridge, on the other hand, has almost no industry and, therefore, no real economic benefits from O’Hare to off-set the detriments from what Spanos regularly described as “Mayor Daley’s Air Force” back when that evil dwarf was pushing his O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”) to expand his major economic/tax revenue-generating engine.

We haven’t agreed with Spanos’ spare-no-expense approach to fighting the O’Hare leviathan, and we still don’t.  But we think he has really gone off the tracks with his recent ethics complaints against 6th Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca and the City’s O’Hare Airport Commission chairman Jim Argionis.

Spanos’ beef against those two fellows is that they have been attending meetings of the Fair Allocation in Runways (“FAiR”) Coalition, a coalition primarily of Chicago northwest side neighborhoods (and the suburbs of Harwood Heights and Norridge) that are substantially impacted by the OMP and are ostensibly looking for the same kind of relief as Park Ridge has been seeking.

Mazzuca admits to having attended two FAiR meetings last year, noting that the members of FAiR have problems similar to Park Ridge’s.  Argionis concurs, rightly pointing out that neighborhoods comprised of Chicago voters have the best chance of influencing policy and behavior of the governmental body that owns and controls O’Hare.

But according to a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, Spanos is sickened by “an elected official [Mazzuca] and an appointed official [Argionis] assisting the city of Chicago and a group of residents in the 41st Ward in their work in seeking relief.”

Say what, Gene?

What passes for Spanos’ reasoning on this issue gets even cloudier with his admission that he doesn’t have any idea whether or not what Mazzuca and Argionis have done is actually an ethics violation:

“I don’t know.  I don’t know if there’s a violation…I don’t know the city code, but as a retired law enforcement officer, I know you must always tell the truth, and what’s happening here is these FAiR group families are not telling the truth and they are being misguided by Park Ridge officials.”

That’s stone-cold flippin’ brilliant…NOT!…especially because City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill has advised the Council that Spanos’ apparently clueless beef is considered an “ethics” complaint for which the City Code requires the hiring of an independent attorney to investigate.

Spanos’ complaint about the FAiR folks not telling the “truth” appears to be related to his claim that the FAiR folks are “sandbagging”: encouraging and provoking the making of extra noise complaints to the Chicago Dept. of Aviation’s hotline.  Ironically, we recall Spanos himself encouraging Park Ridge residents to do the same.

Spanos’ misguided view of this situation very well could be sincere.  On the other hand, it could also be the product of a rivalry arising from his self-proclaimed “leadership” of an alleged-but-never-proved “500-family” group called “Citizens Against Plane Pollution” (“CAPP”).  As best as we can tell, CAPP has achieved no measurable reduction in O’Hare-related noise or pollution for Park Ridge or its residents since its inception.

It may also be telling that Spanos reportedly cancelled a February CAPP meeting at the Park Ridge Public Library because FAiR had scheduled a January 25 meeting at the Summit of Uptown, which Spanos seemed to suggest was FAiR’s unfair attempt at stealing CAPP’s thunder.  Amazingly enough, Spanos is demanding that FAiR reimburse CAPP for the meeting fee it paid the Library.

GFL with that, Gene.

What he and his fellow anti-O’Hare fanatics don’t seem to grasp is that Park Ridge lost any leverage it had over O’Hare back in 2000, when Sen. John McCain – then chair of the Senate’s influential Commerce Committee – figuratively stared down fellow Republican Rep. Henry Hyde and decreed that local Illinois politics must yield to either an expansion of O’Hare or the construction of a third Chicago airport.  That’s all Richie Daley, desperate for more revenue to conceal the consequences of his financial mismanagement of Chicago, needed to hear.

From that point, even then-mayor Ron Wietecha – the pony for whom opposition to O’Hare had been his one and only trick – realized that the anti-O’Hare ship had sailed.  He shifted his attention to Uptown Redevelopment before jumping ship entirely, resigning on a Friday evening and shortly thereafter moving to Barrington.

His next two successors, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark, ignored O’Hare and focused on satisfying their own edifice complexes by bringing Wietecha’s Uptown vision to fruition.  By the time the first new OMP runway (9L-27R) opened in November 2008 after 3 years of construction, Frimark actually seemed surprised to learn that it was bringing numerous additional flights over areas of Park Ridge that previously had been unaffected by airplane noise.

Since then, things like supplemental environmental impact studies, lobbying the FAA, and full-blown litigation have been considered and found seriously wanting in one way or other.  And only time will tell whether the noise monitor at Maine South yields any worthwhile results.

Instead of condemning Mazzuca or Argionis, anti-O’Hare folks like Spanos – and the taxpayers of Park Ridge – should be applauding their efforts to forge a working alliance with a group that would appear to have the greatest potential for bringing about an outcome far more beneficial for Park Ridge than the heretofore fruitless, if not outright worthless, lip service paid to our predicament by our elected officials at the state and federal levels.  And far more beneficial than the heretofore fruitless, if not outright worthless, activity by Spanos and CAPP.

Unless, of course, running up the City’s legal bill to investigate boneheaded ethics complaints constitutes an achievement.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Tales Of Salt…And Sand


As we sit here awaiting the next visit from the Alberta Clipper, the Polar Votex, or whatever new name Mother Nature’s public relations department can dream up for nasty winter weather, we are sharing with you a message from Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt about the current state of the City’s ability to deal with more snow and cold:

Hi everyone-

I have been conferring regularly over the past few weeks with our City Manager and the Public Works Director regarding winter storm response and particularly the issue of salting the streets.  I have already written to you about some of the reasoning behind when salt is used and when it is held back. 

I learned this morning from our PW Director that we are running low on salt, although we should have enough left to handle 6-8 more snow storms if our supply is used wisely.  We have already had 52 inches of snow, well above the 39 inch average. 

By way of background, the City had a stockpile of salt left over from last year, approximately 2000 tons.  The last two winters saw us use 1800 tons and 3100 tons, respectively.  Based on staff’s recommendation, we budgeted for an additional 2400 tons, for a total of 4400 tons.  We are down to about 1000 tons, and it is still only January. Staff has been searching for additional supplies, but it appears there is little or none to be had, because the severe winter weather across the country is causing the demand to spike to historic proportions.

I just finished a quick internet search, and I can tell you that the salt shortage issue is not just area-wide, it is nationwide.  I read stories from Montana, Ohio and Vermont where the situation is far worse than ours. For instance, we have the same amount of salt left as does Dayton, Ohio, a city of 140,000 people.  One more storm and they are out, and since supplies are tight everywhere, they may be out of luck.

The bottom line is that the City will be altering its salting procedures unless and until we are able to locate more salt for purchase.  For now, the Public Works Department will not be salting side streets.  Arterial and collector streets will be salted twice, once at the beginning and again once the storm has passed.

I assure you this is not a budgetary issue. We have more money for salt, but staff cannot find anywhere to buy it, even at inflated prices.  It is purely a result of low supply and excessively high demand.  In many ways, we are fortunate because we started the year with a hefty stockpile and our staff has tried to use our supplies wisely, recognizing that there are still many weeks left in the winter season and that obtaining more salt may be difficult if not impossible.

I ask the residents to be patient and understanding.  Above all, I ask them to be careful driving.  Take your time.  Saving a couple minutes is not worth risking your life or those of your loved ones and neighbors.

And remember, think positive.  Pitchers and catchers report in about three weeks. 


Note Schmidt’s assurance that the salt shortage “is not a budgetary issue.”  It also doesn’t mean that streets won’t be plowed, just that salting will likely be limited to main streets.

If the salt runs out, the City will use sand.  The problem with sand, however, is that it ultimately gets washed into the sewers, where it accumulates and reduces sewer capacity.

Now you know the deal, so act accordingly.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Herd Mentality Does Not Justify D-64’s Bovine Thinking On Student Fees


From time to time we write about how various units of local government botch the “small things,” and how that should give all of us pause about how they are handling the big things.

So the moment we read the words “arbitrary student fees” in the headline of a recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64 officials debate ‘arbitrary’ student fees” Jan. 17), we were pretty sure that that what would follow wasn’t going to be delightful.

That highly-informative, well-written article – by reporter Natasha Wasinski, who has done some of the most solid reporting on local government we’ve seen around these parts in at least 20 years, and who shines again with this article – shines a spotlight on the way per-student fees are charged by Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64.  And that article didn’t even mention all those fees which D-64 apparently doesn’t even bother to collect, which we wrote about in our 11.18.13 post.

How screwed up is the situation with these “arbitrary student fees”?  Let’s start with the explanation of those fees by D-64 Business Manager Rebecca Allard:

“It is an arbitrary number that has been determined by what is acceptable” to each community.

Not only is it “arbitrary” but, from the sound of things, it seems pretty clear that nobody at D-64 has even attempted to ascertain the actual costs of books, supplies, technology and activities considered tangential to an education program, and then to charge fees that cover the costs of those items.  Confronted by such a basic disconnect in how a market economy works on such a small scale, we have to wonder once again just how our highly-paid administrators and our unpaid School Board members deal with all the other parts of the District’s $73 million/year operations.

We are left to wonder about that because, frankly, the various explanations given by D-64 personnel – as reported in that H-A article – fall between unintelligible and stupid-bordering-on-demented.

Let’s give Business Manager Allard another crack at it:

“I don’t know of too many districts that actually tie their [fee] revenues to the expenses and expect that number to be equal.”  Chalk that up to the tried and true “nobody else does it, so why should we” defense of arbitrary bureaucratic decision-making.

Becky!  Sweetheart!  We’re talking basic math here.  You know, addition and subtraction.  How tough can it be to add up the costs of what each kid is using and charge the parents that amount?

According to the H-A article, REALLY tough.  Allard describes it as a “very-labor intensive” process, presumably because she claims she’s “never seen a list from the school code and/or the State Board of Education that says you can charge this but you can’t charge that.”

We’ve tended to subscribe to Mark Twain’s description of the school board, at both its state and local levels.  But even with that bias, we’d like to think that the reason the State Board hasn’t provided such a list is because it expected highly-paid bureaucrats like Allard to be able to figure out that if you pay $1 for a package of pencils, you charge the student’s parents that same $1.

Or is it that Allard and D-64 just don’t want to charge the actual cost of those expenses?

According to the H-A article, citing data compiled by the D-64 Community Finance Committee (the “CFC”), last year D-64 charged the highest fees out of 23 local districts, including Wilmette, Winnetka and Glencoe.

Roosevelt School parent-activist Kathy Ranalli, a CFC member who also reportedly works for Niles Elementary School District 71, is quoted in the H-A article as complaining about these fees thusly: “I feel like if you’re going to ask me for all this money, then show me that you’re doing everything in your power to save and use my money wisely.”

Those words should be a mantra for ALL taxpayers of EVERY local governmental body, including those who are paying a whole lot more in taxes and fees for their various local governments than D-64’s mandatory $84 kindergarten fee, its mandatory $227 elementary school fee, and the mandatory $315 middle school fee about which Ranalli beefs.  Given that parents of D-64 children are getting “free” educations worth around $13,000 a year per child, those mandatory fees sound like a bargain – unless, of course, you’re one of those people for whom anything identifiable as “government”-related is synonymous with “free.”

Or, at the very least, heavily subsidized by other people’s money (“OPM”).

Interestingly enough, according to the H-A article Ranalli’s CFC last year proposed a reduction in those fees.  But that reduction wasn’t intended to correspond to the actual costs of the products and services being provided.  All the CFC wanted to do was simply chop those fees to make them more comparable to the fees charged by other districts, irrespective of the actual costs!

Brilliant.  Replacing one set of fantasy fees with another set of fantasy fees.

But it gets even better!

According to the H-A article, the most D-64 could collect in fees – based on the current fee structure – is $974,502, yet the District’s expenditures related to those fees are $1.7 million.   So D-64 is slamming the taxpayers for an extra $800,000 or so, rather than charging the parents of the kids using the goods and services their actual fully-loaded costs.

And we just have to remind you: Ms. Ranalli’s CFC wanted to cut those fees so that the taxpayers would get hammered even more.  And those CFC folks are the people the D-64 Board is relying on for the Board’s understanding of, and planning for, the District’s financial matters!

Can you say: “Inmates are running the asylum”?  We knew you could.

But let’s not forget about Business Manager Allard.  What does she have to say about this kind of deficit spending?

“I don’t know of too many districts that actually tie their [fee] revenues to the expenses and expect the number to be equal.”

No, because it’s just so darn easy to keep bilking the taxpayers while those elected school board members in all those various districts who have sworn an oath to look out for the taxpayers’ interests just blindly shuffle along to the sound of the clanging bell, into those green pastures where they can peacefully chew their $70 million-plus (and rising, every year) cuds.

And “Moo-ooooo” whenever the administrators – those highly-paid “professional” educators and finance people – tell them to.

To read or post comments, click on title.

High Cost Flood Control Options Need A Referendum (Updated)


We wonder whether 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney knew what was in store for him and his fellow aldermen when he arrived at 505 Butler Place last Monday night, with the Public Works Committee he chairs scheduled to take up the flood control projects proposed by the City’s flood consultant for three neighborhoods on the City’s northwest end.

Whether he did or didn’t know, Maloney masterfully handled the often heated marathon session attended by over 70 flood-impacted residents.  And he was able to deftly forge a consensus to move ahead with further consideration of the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park 100-year flood control projects.

That’s “further consideration,” as in “we’re going to continue to evaluate it.”  Not: “It’s definitely going to happen.”

The Mayfield Estates project has an estimated cost of $2.3 million, while the Northwest Park project carries a tab of $16.6 million – but only if the Park Ridge Park District agrees to let the City use Northwest Park for a temporary floodwater detention area.  And from what we hear, that cooperation is nowhere near the lock some people would like it to be, although that’s an issue for another time.

Left behind Monday night was the “Country Club” flood control project for the area extending west from the Park Ridge Country Club’s Greenwood Avenue boundary.  Although that project could benefit the largest number of households among the three projects under consideration, it also could add as much as $80 million to the bill while only providing that area with protection against 10-year floods.

For those of you who are still wondering what all this 10-year, 100-year stuff means, it’s that in any given year there is a 1 in 10, of 1 in 100, chance of such a flood occurring – not that such floods are expected only every 10 or 100 years.  Another mystery solved.

We empathize with the residents of these affected areas, and especially the residents in Mayfield Estates.  Most of their problems are caused by overland flooding resulting from the lack of storm sewers in the streets – a deficiency that has existed since the installation of such sewers was rejected by Mayfield Estates residents in 1967, when that area was annexed by the City.  We’ve seen that overland flooding up close and personal, and the helpless feelings it generates truly can be devastating.

But the question of whether the substantial costs required to solve flooding problems in those three affected areas should be imposed on all the City’s taxpayers has significant economic and public policy implications.  And those implications need to be addressed with the cold light of reason and logic, not the heat of raw emotion on display Monday night by residents who demanded that the Council approve flood remediation plans NOW – and costs be damned!

Many of Monday night’s speakers stated, in one form or other, that money should be no object in dealing with these problems.  We can understand such sentiments coming from folks who likely have already done the math and realize that if the whole City is on the hook for the multi-millions of dollars it will cost to provide all this flood protection to just these two or three limited areas, the beneficiaries of that largesse are likely to reap several dollars in property value increases for every dollar they pay in increased taxes.  And they don’t seem to give a rat’s derriere that such major financial commitments will leave the City with millions more in annual debt service payments that hogtie future Councils in dealing with future City-wide needs.

Most of Monday night’s speakers portrayed themselves and their neighbors as helpless victims of some sort of City misconduct or neglect.  But nobody seemed ready, willing and able to articulate exactly what the City did – or didn’t do but should have done – that has caused any of these flooding problems, or that justifies imposing multi-million dollar burdens on all the City’s taxpayers.  For example, nobody has demonstrated, or even credibly alleged, whether and how the City ignored its own Zoning Code, Building Code, or any other codes so as to cause or exacerbate this flooding.  Similarly, nobody has demonstrated, or even credibly alleged, whether and how the City has neglected the infrastructure in those areas – at least not in ways it has not done with other areas of town.

That would appear to lead to a couple of hard and inconvenient truths: If you built or purchased a home in Mayfield Estates since at least September 2008 without a MAJOR discount because of that area’s well-known flooding problems, you’re either reckless or an outright idiot who doesn’t deserve to get bailed out by the rest of the City’s taxpayers.

And if you DID get a major discount for building or purchasing a home in that area in the hope that City-funded flood relief would provide a windfall increase in your property value, you’re a speculator who doesn’t deserve to turn a profit at the expense of your fellow taxpayers.

Advocates of these flood control projects have advanced all sorts of doomsday scenarios – running the gamut from small children and pets being swept away in the rushing floodwaters, or the elderly dying when ambulances can’t get them to Lutheran General due to impassable streets, to homeowners in these affected areas simply abandoning their homes for whatever price they can get, thereby letting “less desirable” (wink wink, nod nod) residents purchase them and colonize those areas.

Because virtually anything is “possible,” such possibilities – however farfetched – can’t be totally dismissed.  But mere possibilities can’t be allowed to act as guns to the heads of either the Council or the rest of the community, extorting OPM (“Other People’s Money”) for the benefit of the few.

While the Mayfield Estates project is “only” $2.3 million, that comes out to roughly $100,000 per affected home – or, put another way, a $100,000 handout by the City’s other taxpayers to each of those 23 affected homeowners.  If that sounds a little pricey to you, join the club.  And because it very well may sound a little pricey to a majority of the City’s other taxpayers, shouldn’t they have the right to say so, or not  – by means of an advisory referendum in November’s general election, or in the April 2015 local election – before the Council commits to these projects?

We think so, and for one very good reason: the only time in the past three decades that the City or any other local governmental body has committed such major funding or bonded debt to any project or related group of projects without at least an advisory referendum was when the City Council gave us the Uptown TIF development.  And just look at how well THAT has worked out, financially, for the City!

If these projects are such a great deal for the entire community – as their proponents loudly insist at every opportunity – then it shouldn’t be all that hard for those same proponents to make a convincing case to a majority of voters that a “yes” vote for City-funded flood control in those three affected areas is a solid investment, directly or indirectly, for the entire community.  And if they can’t make such a case and the voters say “no” to such a grand funding plan, the City Council can still choose to provide some less-costly relief to those affected areas – such as through the creation of Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) where the affected property owners take on a significant portion of the funding with the help of some reasonable City subsidy.

After all, if “money’s no object” for the City’s taxpayers, why should it be an object for the homeowners who are getting all the benefits?

Make no mistake about it: a referendum and/or the creation of SSAs may not be a perfect solution.  But based on what we know right now about the cost and effectiveness of these three proposed projects, it appears to be the fairest and most reasonable solution for all involved.

Except, perhaps, to those who’ve already developed a “jones” for OPM.

UPDATE (01.20.14)  We ran into one of our readers yesterday morning who suggested what sounds to us like an eminently fair application of the SSA approach: why not tie the City’s contribution to the cost of flood remediation in Mayfield Estates, the Northwest Park area, and elsewhere to the cost of installing relief sewers in those areas?

The precedent for this idea is that the City historically has attempted to upgrade its basic sewer system by adding relief sewers to handle storm water (even though those relief sewers usually were the first casualty whenever expenditures needed to be cut) and has not specially charged the principal beneficiaries for those relief sewers.  That’s a public policy decision that past Councils have made and reaffirmed over the years, as recently as the installation of several million dollars of relief sewers in various areas of town as part of the Burke flood remediation plan, which was done without imposing SSA’s on those residents.

Unless and until the self-styled “victims” of flooding – be it in Mayfield Estates, the Northwest Park area, west of the Country Club, or anywhere else – can present compelling evidence that the City somehow CAUSED the flooding in their area, the City should not pay what amounts to damages or reparations to the residents of those areas.  The cost of installing relief sewers, on the other hand, can legitimately be viewed as nothing more than implementing the sewer improvement/enhancement program that long has been in effect.

While we would hope that the Council will consider this kind of SSA funding for flood remediation projects such as the ones currently on the table and others to come, from what we’ve already heard from the residents of these flood-afflicted areas and their advocates, we aren’t optimistic that they will be satisfied with such a plan.  The more those folks howl about how their being required to pay anything for flood relief is unfair, however, the more they will reveal themselves to be just another group of freeloaders looking to feed at the public trough.

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Do Residents Prefer A Snow Job Over Their Streets Going To Pot?


January 1979 was a watershed month in Chicago politics.  Or, more exactly, a snowshed month.

Then-Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic was heavily favored in the Democratic primary over his challenger, Jayne Byrne, whom Bilandic had fired from her City Hall job.  And, Chicago being Chicago, the Democratic nomination made election a foregone conclusion.

But two snowstorms within two weeks buried Chicago in over 35 inches of snow, and the resulting unplowed streets, uncollected garbage and strangled public transit enraged voters who, one month later, booted Bilandic out of City Hall.  Since that time, snow removal has been a touchy subject for most public officials in the Chicagoland area.

Which brings us to the latest snow storm in Park Ridge, which reportedly dumped a little over a foot of snow on the 140 miles of streets in our 8 square mile community and was promptly followed by sub-zero temperatures.

According to a January 2, 2014 story in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, many of the streets where plowing was incomplete or unsatisfactory could be attributed to parked cars that impeded the plows, especially in cul de sacs.  Consequently, even though the City’s Public Works Dept. runs two 12-hour shifts of approximately 16 employees, areas went unplowed not for want of trying.  And after the snow tapered off on January 2nd, Public Works director Wayne Zingsheim reports that his crews began “salting like crazy.”

Our previous post drew a number of comments critical of the plowing and salting.  In driving around we found areas in town that seemed to justify the criticism.  But a little over a week later, most of the streets are clear, compliments of warmer temperatures and plenty of rain.

How much snow removal from this last storm actually cost the City has yet to be reported, but we suspect it will put a good-sized dent in the Public Works budget.  But when a situation can virtually remediate itself in a week or so, that raises a couple of important questions: Just how clean should the City make our streets; and how much should the City spend to do it?

We would think everybody would want the streets to be passable ASAP, and it sounds like some even expect snow and ice cleared down to the pavement.  Presumably most residents are looking for something in between.  Whatever the desired condition, however, we still need the political/economic will to pay the cost of achieving that condition.

So those are discussions we think our elected and salaried public officials should be having, starting tonight (Monday, January 13)  at City Hall, 505 Butler Place, starting at 7:00 p.m., when the City Council’s Public Works Commitee is one of the featured events of the COW (Committee Of the Whole),   If you’ve got any complaints about the recent snow removal or, better yet, some ideas on how services could be better and/or more economically provided going forward, show up and let your views be known.

Yeah, all you “anonymous” commentators to our January 8 post – especially 01.09.14 @ 9:08 am, 01.09.14 @ 4:31 pm, 01.09.14 @ 5:39 pm, 01.10.14 @ 8:56 am, 01.10.14 @ 3:33 pm, 01.10.14 @ 4:21 pm, 01.10.14 @ 4:52 pm, 01.10.14 @ 4:59 pm, 01.10.14 @ 5:39 pm, 01.11.14 @ 10:57 am, and the likes of “More money less services” on 01.09.14 @ 3:47 pm – we mean YOU!

Meanwhile, the newly-cleared streets reveal another problem – one that won’t vanish with warmer temperatures or be washed away by rain.

Pot holes.

A few drives around town yesterday and today would suggest that potholes seem to have sprung up overnight, like mushrooms.  And while most of them don’t appear to have grown to tire-blowing or wheel-bending size, that problem is just a matter of time.

Remember: The more the City spends on snow removal, the less it has to spend on pot hole repairs – unless, of course, residents want to pay more taxes.  And if you do, there’s a mayor and seven aldermen who want to hear from you.

How about at tonight’s Council meeting?

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What Lies Ahead In 2014?


We’re already several days into 2014 and nothing all that significant has happened in local government.

Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is purely in the eye of the beholder, as we saw from several comments to our January 1 post which ripped Mayor Schmidt and the City Council for not moving fast enough to turn Park Ridge into a retail mecca, replace its antiquated sewer system, completely solve the flooding problem, and find Waldo, generally without raising taxes.  All those failings notwithstanding, however, let’s look ahead at some of the things that arguably are teed up for 2014 and consider whether they should remain that way, or whether they should be teed down.

Let’s start with EMB signs.  Frankly, we don’t care whether they’re legalized or not.  But we think the “distracted driver” argument raised by some opponents of EMBs is bogus.  Any driver who hasn’t already bounced off the median on 294 while passing that Barnum & Bailey community commonly known as Rosemont likely is immune to the more modest distractions that might be presented if The Sandlot gets an EMB and advertises “buy-one-beef-get-one-free,” or Joseph A. Banks rocks its own EMB with a “We’ll PAY YOU to buy our clothes!” invitation.

A tougher task is predicting the effect on the City’s sales tax revenues – direct and indirect – from Whole Foods and the new Mariano’s.  Will the new stores cannibalize Jewel and Trader Joe’s?  Or will they draw in enough customers from outside Park Ridge to simply grow the total retail grocery pie?  Whatever the outcome, that’s the competition that “capitalism” is supposed to provide.  And, best of all, this City Council hasn’t given subsidies to any of them.

In a sick and twisted way, we can’t wait to see the results of the community health survey created and administered under the auspices of Lutheran General Hospital.  Judging by the few results that have leaked out – and by how long LGH is delaying the release of the results, a reliable signal that a seamless propaganda message is still being woven – we expect “results” that will be used to argue (or should we say “Advocate”) for the creation of a City mental health department.  Or, at the very least, a push for City-funding for mental health care provided by LGH personnel.

Over at School District 64, the most important task will be choosing the new superintendent from two announced finalists – Laurie Heinz from Skokie Dist. 68 and Robert Machak from Evergreen Park Dist. 124 – which is scheduled to occur within the next couple of weeks.  Machak will be at Emerson Middle School to meet with the public tomorrow, Jan. 9, from 10:30 to 11:00 a.m.; and at Lincoln Middle School from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m.  Heinz will do the same drill at the same places and times on Friday, Jan. 10.  Don’t blink, or you might miss them.

While this process is somewhat more transparent than was the selection of current supt. Phil Bender four years ago, it remains far less than what taxpayers deserve – especially considering that, according to Board President Anthony Borrelli (as reported in a Jan. 6 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story), the D-64 Board will have its “serious heart-to-heart [interview] with these candidates and find out what makes them tick, so to speak” in a closed session, hidden from public view.

C’mon, Tony, that’s a fake punt right out of former pres. John Heyde’s playbook!  Sad to say, but when it comes to transparency, this looks like one step forward, two steps back

Over at D-207, the most important goal should be halting the academic ranking slide that has seen Maine South drop from its historical top-ten spot to a slot in the 20s, even as costs have continued to rise and D-207 has some of the highest-paid teachers and administrators in the state.   But we’re not holding our collective breath waiting for that discussion to take place.

The Park Ridge Park District’s main event for 2014 should be the grand opening of the new Centennial water park this summer.  Despite our vigorous opposition to that almost $8 million project’s being approved without a referendum, we hope it will be successful and not another drain on the taxpayers, especially since those taxpayers were denied a vote on such a major Park District expenditure and debt for the first time since 1992.

2014 will likely bring a first for the Park Ridge Library – or, at least, a “first” in quite a while – as the recently-passed 2014-15 budget calls for the Library’s closure every Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Closing on those Sundays will enable the Library to give employees a 1% pay increase, and to continue to provide patrons with free use of the Library’s computers, CDs, DVDs, and free attendance at its many programs.  DISCLOSURE:  The editor of this blog is a Library trustee; and he voted against the Sunday closure as an individual budget item, and against the budget that contained that closure.

The City will also continue to grapple with that economic black hole called the Uptown TIF, which is expected to swallow another million of our tax dollars on its way to what the City’s TIF consultants are projecting could be a $27 million hole by the TIF’s expiration in 2026. Discussion will again likely focus on advance refunding, which could save the City some signficant money but which is a one-time deal and timing-sensitive.

But the toughest question any local governmental body is likely to face this coming year is flood control.  We hope there will be an insightful and vigorous debate over whether or not to bond and spend tens of millions of dollars on flood control projects that carry the promise of protecting most affected areas from only those so-called “10-year” floods.

Having already committed hundreds (thousands?) of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees to come up with the Burke recommendations, and having already undertaken 7 relief sewer projects costing $5.3 million primarily for flood control purposes, we can see how the path of least resistance might be for the Council to issue a boatload of long-term, low-interest bonds to provide a little flood control for everybody – because most of the carping about flood control to date has been in the nature of what the late, great Mike Royko called the unofficial City of Chicago motto: “Ubi est mea?” (“Where’s mine?”).

That would be the worst kind of pandering, especially since 10-year floods seem to be virtually insignificant to the vast majority of residents and not worth the $100 million or so investment that would be required to implement all those remediation projects.

But if the Council decides it wants to go in that direction, we suggest it seriously consider creating a number of special service areas (“SSA”s) where the costs could be better targeted to those most directly benefitting from such low ROI remedies.  And if it decides on proceeding with any flood control plan that requires more than $10 million of cumulative expenditures or long-term debt, the final decision should be submitted to the taxpayers via referendum in November.

The forgoing are not intended to form a comprehensive list.  We expect other issues to pop up, and one  or more of them could take on major significance.  We invite our readers to submit any that we may have left off.

But whether good, bad or downright ugly, 2014 has the makings of an “interesting” year.

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2013 Election Was A Big “Yes” On Mayor Schmidt


Happy 2014!

As one year ends and another begins, it’s time to try to learn some lessons from the past and also look with hope and expectation to the future.  This post will provide the retrospective, with the next post providing the prospective.

The single most significant local event in 2013 was the April election, and that election was dominated by two referendums – the first a referendum on Mayor Dave Schmidt’s first term, the second the Park District’s Youth Campus Park (“YCP”) referendum.

Both won, with Schmidt getting 62.06% (5,614 votes) and the YCP 55.89% (5,118) “yes” votes.  But credit must be given where credit is due: the proponents of the YCP referendum passed the first multi-million dollar parks project in at least the past 30 years.

The more important of those two Election 2013 stories, however, is Schmidt’s – because of its potential long-term significance on City government.

Schmidt’s victory bested both his percentage and his vote total (56.3% and 4,897) achieved in his 2009 victory over then-incumbent Howard Frimark, ironically a strong backer of Schmidt’s 2013 opponent, Larry Ryles.  That suggests Schmidt’s candid “Mayor No” approach touched a responsive chord in the average taxpaying voter.

Schmidt’s win was all the more noteworthy because Ryles was openly backed by the City’s three living former mayors (Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark) and by twenty-five former aldermen, purportedly representing 100 years of Council experience.  Interestingly enough, one of those mayors and several of those aldermen actually supported Schmidt 4 years ago, although that support may have been primarily anti-Frimark.

Their support of Ryles appeared to be a mix of anti-Schmidt sentiment and “old way” nostalgia, with Ryles seemingly a poster boy for the social network-style “old way” – when he wasn’t a mere afterthought, as he was in those officials’ full-page ad in the March 27, 2013 issue of the Park Ridge Journal, where Ryles’ name wasn’t even mentioned until the very last of the ad’s 10 paragraphs.

Not surprisingly, those former City officials happened to be the perpetrators of the very messes – from infrastructure neglect to million dollar deficits and that financial white elephant (for the City’s taxpayers), the Uptown TIF – that Schmidt inherited.  They clearly disliked Schmidt’s pointing out to the taxpayers all the shortcomings of their stewardship as he attempted to galvanize the public will into support for the reality checks and belt tightening needed to address all the problems those previous administrations had so effectively swept under the carpet.

Additional opposition came from something called the “Citizens for Non-Partisan Local Elections” (the “CNPLE”), the red-headed stepchild of the once-proud Homeowners Party founded by Marty Butler in the 1960s that cratered several years after Butler’s death.  CNPLE dumped $10,000 of the $15,000 it inherited from the Homeowners’ war chest into the Ryles Campaign, to no effect.

Other significant opponents of Schmidt’s re-election were the City’s employee unions, one of which – the Operating Engineers representing the City’s Public Works employees – made what we understand to be the first-ever union political contribution to a City candidate: $1,000 to the Ryles Campaign.

Whether Schmidt’s lopsided re-election in the face of that kind of “political” opposition represents a paradigm shift away from the “old way” of Park Ridge government (Ryles referred to it, variously, as “hearts and hugs” and “hugs and handshakes”) driven by business and social relationships rather than any shared principles and policies of local governance, still remains to be seen.

But the fact that Schmidt won every single precinct but one in the face of such pointed opposition from those particular factions suggests that Schmidt’s “what does it cost, what is it worth, and do we really need it” approach to City government might be becoming institutionalized.  And the prospect of the new Whole Foods and Mariano’s further rejuvenating the City’s moribund retail base doesn’t hurt, either.

The next three years should prove more than a little interesting.

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