Competitive Bidding Still Above City Staff’s Pay Grade


Sixth Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca very well may have the best analytical skills on the Park Ridge City Council…and better than those of any member of City staff.

As we noted in our 02.17.14 post, Mazzuca is the guy who “did some necessary nitpicking about City staff’s cavalier treatment of the competitive bidding process.”  But in our 05.08.13 post, we called Mazzuca “the kind of guy who, armed with an MBA from the University of Chicago, can spend an hour drilling down into a potato chip.”

It was the latter trait that he demonstrated once again this past Monday night during one of the more tedious segments of any City Council meeting.  Ever.

As chair of the Council’s Procedures and Regulations Committee, Mazzuca apparently crafted a purchasing process that he would like the City to adopt.  While that process probably could be a model for General Motors, had he presented it to GM’s management in the manner he presented it Monday night, it probably wouldn’t have received any better a reception than it did from his fellow aldermen and City staff.

It’s not that there was anything inherently wrong with Mazzuca’s process.  Frankly, we’re pretty sure we don’t entirely understand it, and we’d hazard a guess that neither do those members of City staff who would have to implement it, or the aldermen who will decide whether or not to approve it.

One flaw in Mazzuca’s process, however, is that he seems to have constructed it without enough input from the staff – and at times Monday evening he seemed impervious to questions and criticisms from those people, even the ones that sounded like something other than simply obstructionist beefs from folks bristling at any kind of competitive bidding.

While most aldermen did not look or sound prepared for Mazzuca’s onslaught, staff seemed too defensive to seriously consider the points he was making about the current City process and procedures.

When it comes to matters that require painstaking analysis, Mazzuca may be the smartest person in the room.  But he doesn’t advance his own agenda or the taxpayers’ business when he makes it obvious that he knows it.

The aldermen also didn’t look or sound prepared for, or interested in, sparring with Fire Chief Mike Zywanski over his department’s recommendation that the City buy five Zoll defibrillators to replace the City’s five current Zoll defibrillators.

You might remember that purchase, which we wrote about in several posts, including “Is It Fraud Or Is It Negligence” and “Chief Z’s Still A Zoll Man”.   Despite a year of trying to create the semblance of a legitimate competitive bidding process after Chief Z tried to push this purchase through on a no-bid basis, what he and his staff came up seems contrary to the principles of competitive bidding as we understand it.

As can be seen from the Deputy Fire Chief’s Agenda Cover Memorandu, despite the bids having been opened on January 23, as of February 24 the “Total Cost” of this competitively-bid purchase is “TBD”: To Be Determined.

Say what?  After conducting a competitive bidding process over a month ago they still don’t know what the price is?

From the Minutes of the January 28 Bid Evaluation Committee meeting and the related e-mails, it sounds like NONE of the bids complied with the bid specifications.  But instead of throwing out all the noncompliant bids, as is customarily the case, the Committee decided to use them as a starting point for manufacturing bids based on questions the Committee would submit.


Not surprisingly, the Minutes of the Committee’s February 3 meeting note that “the bid numbers…were preliminary numbers” because the Committee still didn’t have all the answers from the clarifying questions.  But, lo and behold, when all the questions were answered and all the smoke cleared, the Minutes from the February 12 Committee meeting confirmed that…wait for it…ZOLL! turned out to be the low “bidder.”

How convenient!

Betting on Zoll in this game of “competitive” (allegedly) bidding roulette was about as sure a thing as betting on 22 at Rick’s cafe in “Casablanca” was for that Bulgarian couple.

So long as Rick, or Chief Z, was calling the shots.

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Someone You Should Know


Harry Porterfield, a newsman with Channel 2 news in Chicago, used to host a feature called “Someone You Should Know.”  Today’s post is about someone in Park Ridge that you should know: Dick Barton.

In our our 02.12.13 post about last year’s Dave Schmidt v. Larry Ryles mayoral campaign, we called Barton the “ubiquitous local public relations and marketing hired gun.”  At that time, Barton was backing Ryles, as he had backed then-mayor Howard Frimark against then-ald. Schmidt in the 2009 campaign.

Following that 2009 election we published a 04.24.09 post critical of Barton for his letter to local newspapers in which he assumed a faux above-the-fray posture in asking citizens and officials alike to “put away our petty disagreements” and “put aside any hurt feelings” arising out of “friction…[created] between neighbors, church members, those in civic organizations of all types and between rival groups of candidate supporters.”

As we noted back then, Barton didn’t “get it”: he didn’t “get” that the differences between Frimark and Schmidt on such significant matters as honest and transparent government, taxes, spending and debt were anything but “petty” – just like he didn’t “get” that the “friction” of competing ideas and policies was a GOOD thing, vastly preferable to those meaningless personality and style beauty contests that historically had defined Park Ridge elections.

Personality and style, however, are the tools of Barton’s trade, along with networking and deal-making.  And a lot of his networking and deal-making have involved the public sector, where slickness is always preferable to friction.

So we read with interest the 02.21.14 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate questioning whether Barton was being paid by Maine Township government for campaign work performed for Maine Twp. Supervisor – and Maine Twp. Republican Committeeman candidate – Carol Teschky. (“Maine Township’s $42K spokesman Dick Barton: Campaign work ‘non-compensated.’”)

Whether the campaign work Barton is doing for Teschky is an outright conflict of interest with his paid duties for Maine Twp. is unclear at this time, as is whether he was actually doing Teschky campaign work while on the clock for Maine Township.

But the situation sure looks and smells strange, especially given that Barton reportedly has been on the Township’s dime for 14 years (since 2000), according to the H-A story.  And although we might have missed it, we don’t recall seeing or hearing anything about the Township bidding out its public relations contract or issuing any RFP for those services during the entire time Barton has been handling its p.r.

Which is not surprising, given the way things operate in Maine Township, which we recently heard referred to as “Provenzano-ville” because of the dominant presence of Highway Commissioner Bob Provenzano – who began working on his second public-sector pension as a Township payroller upon retiring from the Cook County Hwy. Dept. in 1998.  He also was Township Collector from 1993 to 1994, and a Township trustee from 1994 to 1998.

But back to Barton.

Barton’s fingers have been in so many pies locally that it’s hard to keep tabs on what hat he’s wearing at any given time – something we noted in our posts of 07.25.08, 03.13.09 and 07.13.09.  More recently, and relevant to the situation about which the H-A is reporting, on 06.07.12 Barton was promoting a fundraiser for the “Maine Township Incumbents” (including Teschky and Provenzano) while the very next week he was shilling for Teschky and Provenzano while talking up Maine Township’s Community Garage Sale.

Barton reportedly even moonlight’s as a stringer/reporter/photographer for the Park Ridge Journal, resulting in an almost comical situation where he was an honoree at a Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce event covered by the Journal, after which he wrote a letter to the Journal’s editor complimenting him on the Journal’s coverage of the Chamber’s event!

This kind of alter-ego activity isn’t new to him.

In a letter to the editor written in his capacity as Park Board president and published in the 05.01.08 issue of the H-A, Barton singled out from among “a range of businesses” sponsoring the Park District’s Earth Day event a certain “Green Transportation Solutions, a Park Ridge-based consulting firm specializing in environmental issues” – without mentioning that GTS was part of his then-Barton & Barton, Ltd. (now Barton Marketing Group) business that counted the Park District as one of its clients, “past and present.”

On a local scale, Barton appears to have been masterful in creating an economic synergy from his public-sector, private-sector and political contacts, including landing the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce as a client and a warm endorsement from executive director Gail Haller.  We don’t begrudge him one ounce of his success – so long as it doesn’t come at the taxpayers’ expense.

But we have to wonder whether at least some of those relationships and those networking opportunities have come at taxpayer expense.  That sure would explain why Barton has always been an unabashed spender of tax dollars and an equally unabashed advocate of such spending, including when he was on the Park Board from 2005-2009 and ever since.  Frankly, we can’t remember him ever arguing for ways to avoid spending, or actually saving, the taxpayers’ money.

But apparently that doesn’t concern a certain someone you should know, who has spent the past 14 years wasted away again in Provenzano-ville.

SIDEBAR:  The editor and publisher of this blog has been a friend of Teschky’s opponent, Charlene Foss-Eggeman, for several years; and he has contributed to Foss-Eggeman’s campaign.  

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D-64 Keeps Biz Mgr. Allard A Solid “5%”-er Into Retirement


A couple of weeks ago we published our 02.07.14 post about new Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s new superintendent, Laurie Heinz and the closed-session process by which the D-64 Board decided on the salary and benefits offered her.

We questioned how and why Heinz, being given her first crack at a superintendent position, should be paid as much as her predecessor, a veteran superintendent with four years of service here and a number of additional years in the a similar position in Indiana.  Not that she shouldn’t be paid that much, mind you, but we thought the taxpayers should know why and how that deal was actually determined.

Of course, that process is and likely will remain a mystery, because the D-64 Board didn’t want to disclose any of the factors or what passed for “reasoning”  during its deliberations.  Giving away large sums of tax dollars, especially in wages that dwarf the median Park Ridge household income, is not the kind of thing that those Board members want scrutinized by pesky taxpayers.

But the $201,000 salary (total compensation: $243,010) that Heinz will be paid as the District’s big cheese almost seems like a bargain compared to the Board’s recent decision to give business manager Rebecca Allard a contract extension for the 2014-15 school year and pay her a whopping $212,063 – which purportedly represents “an increase of two percent (2%) in the Administrator’s creditable earnings reportable to the Teacher’s Retirement System over her compensation package for the 2013-14 school year,” according to a copy of her June 28, 2014 Administrator’s Employment Contract that someone anonymously flung over our transom.

Oh, and part of the extension deal, according to the contract language, is that Allard tendered her “irrevocable notice of intent to resign for retirement purposes on June 30, 2015.”  Which means that extra bump could be felt in multiple amounts by Illinois taxpayers for another 20-30 years in the form of higher constitutionally-guaranteed pension benefits Allard can collect.

Although Allard’s deal was formally approved at the Board’s January 28, 2014, meeting, the details appear to have been worked out in typical D-64 secrecy during…wait for it…a 2-hour plus closed session on January 14.  So the taxpayers have no ability to see or hear whatever wisdom or absurdity went into shaping those contract terms.

District taxpayers will also hand Allard an additional $3,500 for “Personal Growth,” and may toss her an extra $2,500 “Merit Award” at the superintendent’s discretion.  Throw in $1,100 for cell phone expense and some car mileage money and Allard’s entire final-year package totals up to a nifty $219,163.

And that extraordinary sum also includes more than nine – NINE! – weeks of “vacation”: a month of paid vacation, 12 “legal school holidays,” and the potential for another three weeks of Xmas break and Spring break, should her services not “be required by the Superintendent” during those break periods.

That’s almost $70,000 more than the City of Park Ridge pays its rookie city manager, and almost as much as the City paid its previous veteran city manager – under a boneheaded contract awarded, over Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto, by then-alds. Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti, Robert Ryan, Tom Carey, Frank Wsol and current Ald. Joe Sweeney, only a few months before all but DiPietro and Sweeney left the Council without even attempting to run for re-election.

Call it a fond parting gift to City taxpayers that kept on giving long after the boneheads departed.

Allard’s $212,000 base salary alone puts her well into the notorious “Top 5%” category of this country’s “rich” people which starts, based on the latest IRS figures, at around $168,000.  And according to the data we’ve reviewed from a variety of sources – Illinois doesn’t make it easy for the taxpayers to find such information in any one place, and different databases seem to have conflicting information – Allard might be able to collect around $150,000 a year in pension benefits, which will keep her within hailing distance of that “Top 5%” category into retirement.

Not half bad for government work – especially for someone who more than earned her share of the criticism we doled out in our 06.12.09, 03.17.11, 05.13.11, 07.22.13 and 01.21.14 posts.

Not surprisingly, we couldn’t find a D-64 press release hailing Allard’s contract from D-64’s minister of propaganda, Bernadette Tramm.  As Pres. George H.W. Bush used to say: “Wouldn’t be prudent” – especially having been concocted around the same time as the D-64 Board was secretly cooking up its sweet deal for Laurie Heinz.

And that, dear readers, is just more business-as-usual at D-64, where delivering measurable quality education seems to rank a distant second behind paying teachers and administrators handsomely, both while working and in retirement.

Compliments of, as always, OPM.

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Ald. Mazzuca Steps Up For Taxpayers On Competitive Bidding


The editor of this blog was a member of the citizens committee that recommended Marc Mazzuca to Mayor Dave Schmidt from among four candidates who sought appointment to fill the seat of  Tom Bernick, who resigned after one year on the job as 6th Ward alderman.

Mazzuca has earned mixed reviews from us since he took his seat at The Horseshoe in June 2012.

We sung his praises in posts such as those dated 06.23.12, 08.23.12, 12.16.13 and 09.26.13, but we criticized his performance in posts dated 07.18.12, 10.26.12, 05.08.13 and 08.28.13.  And when Mazzuca ran for that 6th Ward seat in 2013, we made no endorsement in his race for reasons explained in our 04.08.13 post.

While Mazzuca has the ability to exasperate, even when he is exasperating he does something that the City Council needs: he provides hard-data analysis.

Recently he did some necessary nitpicking about City staff’s cavalier treatment of the competitive bidding process.  Although that earned him some sneers and grimaces from City staffers it should earn him applause and gratitude from the City’s taxpayers.

The City Code provides for competitive bidding for any contract or transaction in excess of $20,000, unless it involves professional services where competence and quality are more difficult to ascertain and distinguish among service providers.  The main purpose of competitive bidding is to obtain the lowest possible prices for the taxpayers.

But competitive bidding has another purpose: to eliminate, or at least minimize, the potential for graft and corruption to which public contracts funded by the taxpayers – a/k/a, Other People’s Money (“OPM”) – are particularly susceptible.  Over the years, public officials here in Illinois have become so adept at fleecing the taxpayers that even competitive bidding has been rigged and manipulated to provide sweetheart contracts for insiders.

Nevertheless, competitive bidding remains the best weapon against both waste and profiteering.

So it’s a comfort to us any time the mayor or any alderman insists on compliance with such bidding requirements.  And it’s a concern to us any time competitive bidding is criticized, evaded or ignored by City staff – which is one reason why we have written often in favor of competitive bidding and critically of public officials when competitive bidding is scorned – as in our posts of 05.13.09, 06.10.09, 12.20.10, 02.18.13, 03.04.13, 06.06.13, 09.23.13, 10.14.13 and 10.16.13.

Mazzuca provided his share of comfort at last Monday night’s committee of the whole (“COW”) meeting, challenging several contracts and purchases that deserved to be challenged, including the contract for the Red Speed Illinois automated enforcement camera at Northwest Hwy. and Oakton.  When that contract was signed in 2010, it reportedly was for an initial four-year term, with two additional three-year options that could extend the service through 2020.

Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s endorsement of Red Speed notwithstanding, the mere fact that a contract contains options doesn’t mean those options have to be exercised, or that they represent the best deal for the taxpayers.

Public Works Committee chair Ald. Marty Maloney (7th) argued that vendors often build better terms into multi-year option-based contracts, and that re-bidding contracts involve increased City staff costs.  We don’t disagree with either of those points.

But Mazzuca correctly noted that excusing re-bidding based on contract options can very well deprive the taxpayers of potentially less-costly alternatives that may not have been available when the existing contracts were signed.  Consequently, such options should be nothing more than a safety net for the City in case a better deal ISN’T available through re-bidding – not a substitute for re-bidding.

If members of City staff want to shirk their duty to the taxpayers and ignore the City Code competitive bidding requirements, they should come right out and say so – and do it well enough in advance of any existing contract expiration dates so that the Council has a reasonable opportunity to order Staff to competitively bid the contract rather than end up having to exercise the option by default due to lack of time.

And if the mayor or Council members are willing to let Staff get away with such nonsense, then they owe every taxpayer an explanation of why they are letting the inmates run the asylum.

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Mayor’s Real Non-Veto Message: Zoning Code Needs More Certainty


During his first five years in office, Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt acquired the nom de veto “Mayor No” because of his numerous vetoes of profligate budgeting and overspending by the City Council – most of which were ultimately sustained, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Each of those vetoes was usually accompanied by a veto message in which Schmidt explained in detail why he was exercising his veto power.

But at last Monday’s (February 3) Council meeting, Schmidt provided a “dog bites man” twist to the proceedings when he read his first-ever non-veto message.

The Council action that provoked such an oddity was the two week-earlier Council approval – by a slim 4 (Alds. Sweeney, Shubert, Knight and Maloney) to 3 (Alds. Milissis, Smith and Mazzuca) vote – of the 116-unit planned development apartment building by Trammell Crow to be constructed at 205 West Touhy, which also got Planning & Zoning Commission approval by a similarly slim 5 to 4 margin.

The project’s biggest sticking point was that it exceeded the Zoning Code-prescribed residential density ceiling for that area by 31% because of its primarily 1-and-2-bedroom units, even though it could have complied with the Code’s density requirement if the same-sized structure consisted totally of 3-bedroom units.

Frankly, that sounds just plain goofy to us.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the P&Z Commission, the Council and the Mayor, the way this process played out demonstrates the need for some serious revisions to Section 5 of the City’s Zoning Code for “planned developments,” a kind of hybrid neither-fish-nor-fowl concept that effectively allows City officials to ignore our conventional zoning standards and regulations in exchange for certain other considerations.

Unfortunately, almost all of those other considerations are subjective and, therefore, subject to the vagaries and even arbitrariness of the folks applying them.  That makes for a highly unpredictable process when what we should have is just the opposite: a set of clear, understandable standards regulated by a predictable process, so that a developer knows right out of the blocks what standards will be applied to its project.

The current process for planned developments like Trammel Crows seemed dominated by a number of fingers held to the wind.  Some members of P&Z wanted “green” roofs; others wanted LEED gold certification; still others, more underground parking, or tree preservation and a “pocket park,” or additional storm water detention.

It was that last factor – with Trammel Crow offering to double the size of the City’s water detention basin adjacent to the development site – that seemed to seal the deal not only at the P&Z and Council levels, but also for the mayor’s non-veto.  It also seemed to carry the day with flood-beleaguered neighbors who normally can be counted on to oppose any development of any kind in that area, including Whole Foods.  That lack of vigorous opposition was another factor which Schmidt cited for his non-veto, and from the sound of things that also may have influenced the P&Z and Council votes.

We’ve regularly ripped on folks who charge that Park Ridge is “unfriendly to business” – which tends to be code for “the City won’t give us what we want,” or “the City won’t look the other way,” or “the City won’t give us money.”  Since Schmidt became mayor, however, several of City staff’s biggest obstacles to business and development either have been terminated or have resigned after reading the handwriting on the wall.

Zoning Code provisions that reek of uncertainty and arbitrariness, however, truly are “unfriendly to business.”  That’s why we commend Schmidt for pointing that out, and for asking Procedures & Regulation Committee chair Marc Mazzuca and Staff to get cracking on some Code revisions to dispel the uncertainty of the planned development process and standards.

Trammel Crow played the game by the City’s current rules, scaling down the project twice and substantially enhancing those project features that counted to City officials at every level of the decision-making.  Under these circumstances, therefore, we agree with P&Z’s, the Council’s and Schmidt’s decisions.

But now the City must move expeditiously on the needed revisions to Section 5 of the Zoning Code.  And developers need to take to heart Schmidt’s warning that this vote, and his non-veto, should not be viewed as a precedent for future 30% density variances or other significant departures from the Zoning Code’s basic requirements.

Because the next “squeaker” decision may well go the other way.

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Here’s Hoping New Supt.’s Performance Matches Big Contract


Last week the Board of Education of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 made it official: Laurie Heinz is the District’s next superintendent and will be taking the reins from Philip Bender in June.

Ms. Heinz, currently an assistant superintendent with Skokie School District 68, was the last candidate standing – through no fault of her own – when the other finalist, Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 superintendent Robert Machak, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration after his day-long visit to D-64.  Whether he was scared away by what he saw during that visit, or whether he just had second thoughts about leaving his current position, or whether District 124 made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (with or without horse’s head), is not known.

But, frankly, that’s water under the bridge, as is the flakey hiring process that started with a terribly flawed, if not outright silly, “Leadership Profile” survey dreamed up by the high-priced consultants over at BWP & Associates, and ended with the School Board hiding in closed session meeting after closed session meeting , even as its members were bragging about this being the most transparent process ever.

Compared to the Vatican’s papal selection process, maybe.  But calling it “transparent” clearly redefines that term, even in the parallel universe of local government.

Like an untested athlete picked in the first round of the draft, Heinz reportedly got a three-year deal with a starting salary of $201,000 and a total compensation package valued at $243,010.  There has been no mention of any incentive bonuses for achievements – like making the all-administrator team, winning the Most Valuable Superintendent award, or landing even one D-64 school in the Chicagoland Top 50 rankings based on standardized test scores.

Since the “transparent” D-64 still hasn’t posted Heinz’s contract on its website – at least not where we can find it – we’ll have to rely on the District’s 01.31.14 Press Release for those details for now.

School Board president Tony Borrelli called Heinz “someone who will provide direction, find answers, give input and, most importantly, pull the various elements of our district together so that all oars are pulling together for the common goal of developing this district to be one of the highest performing districts in the state of Illinois.”

If she can do that, she will be worth every penny the D-64 taxpayers are paying her.

But we’ve heard that kind of happy heifer dust before…whenever D-64 hires another superintendent.  Or when it comes up with some new “silver bullet” scheme heralding sea-change improvement in academic performance, like when it embraced the “middle school” concept in order to manufacture the need for the new Emerson school building back in 1997.  All that produced was a mini-financial crisis 8 years later and another tax hike referendum in 2007, with no objectively-measurable improvement in educational performance or rankings.

The District’s 01.29.14 Press Release is loaded with all sorts of school-oriented public relations jargon like “work seemlessly,” “best maximize,” “collaborative groups,” “seek an endpoint,” “earmarked,” “vibrant yet controlled” and “push personal boundaries.”  While these are attributed to president Borrelli, they sound a lot more like D-64 spin-meister Bernadette Tramm’s handiwork.

For her part, Ms. Heinz is saying and doing all the right things (although terms like “continued success,” “fresh perspective” and “leveraging community and Board of Education involvement” also sound like 100% pure Tramm) and we sincerely wish her well.  If she succeeds, her success will redound to the benefit not only of the children in her charge, but also to the benefit of the D-64 taxpayers who have suffered from the upward spiraling D-64 tax burden while objectively-measurable student performance has stagnated or declined – and may be taking Maine South’s ranking down with it.

But make no mistake about it: Ms. Heinz is a mercenary.  She does not hail from Park Ridge, nor does she live and pay taxes here.  The superintendent’s position is simply a career move for her, not a long-term commitment to this community.

Her “investment” here will be limited to her time and effort – for which she will be handsomely compensated, not only while she is working but also by a guaranteed pension that could pay her an additional $3-4 million after she retires from public education.  And if things don’t work out for her at D-64 after 3 years, she can move on – almost three quarters of a million dollars richer – without any disruption to her and her family’s life.

That’s not her fault, either, but just another aspect of the absurdity that infects public employment in Illinois.

We do, however, find it odd that Ms. Heinz, a newly-minted superintendent, will apparently be paid the same as a seasoned superintendent like Bender.  Why that is the case is unclear, although we find it interesting that Board member Dan Collins, in casting the only “no” vote for Heinz’s compensation package, referred to how his fellow Board members already knew all his reasons for that vote – presumably because they heard them in all those closed sessions.

Chalk that up as another information casualty from this faux-transparent Board.

But from what we’ve seen and heard so far, we have to trust that Ms. Heinz can do the job.  Whether the Board can do its job, however, remains the real unanswered question.

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