Public Watchdog.org

Wrong Request Receives Rightful Rejection

05.07.14

Anybody who has read this blog for any length of time knows how much we harp on transparency and accountability.  After honesty and integrity, there aren’t two qualities we’d rather have in government.

But transparency and accountability should serve a legitimate public purpose rather than being merely gratuitous.

Which brings us to an article that just appeared yesterday in the on-line version of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, breathlessly titled: “Park Ridge officials decline to release income taxes.” (May 6, 2014)

According to the article, the H-A requested that Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City’s seven aldermen release their 2013 income tax returns to the public. No reason was articulated for that request, although its reference to “the release of tax returns by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and gubernatorial opponent Bruce Rauner last month” suggests that the H-A sees some connection between the highest office of our state and the highest offices in our City.

The mayor and all seven aldermen refused the H-A’s request.

As well they should have.

In the first instance, there’s no Illinois law that requires local government officials to publish their income tax returns. In fact, there’s no Illinois law that requires our gubernatorial candidates to publish theirs, or that requires such disclosures from our state senators and state representatives. And as best as we can tell, there isn’t even any federal law that requires presidential candidates to publish their income tax returns, even if such publication has become de rigeur in those campaigns in much the same way as in gubernatorial campaigns.

So what’s the point of such disclosures by the mayor and the Council, H-A?

What information do income tax returns contain that so directly bears on the decisions made by our City officials on City issues that it warrants an invasion of their personal privacy (and that of their spouses, where joint returns are involved) to which income tax returns are generally entitled by law?  Not surprisingly, the H-A article doesn’t say.

But given that City government is funded by property taxes, wouldn’t it make more sense for the H-A to have requested copies of each official’s property tax bill?  Or just to have obtained them directly from Cook County?

When aldermen vote for or against a property tax increase, or when the mayor vetoes a property tax increase, it might be interesting to know how such a decision will impact their own tax bill – which might provide at least a sliver of understanding about why they cast their votes the way they did.  It stands to reason that an alderman with a $600,000 home might be less inclined toward a big tax increase than an alderman with a $200,000 condo, given that the City’s portion of the former’s tax bill could increase by three times the increase to the latter’s.

Had the H-A actually given some thought to the reason for disclosure of tax information rather than merely knee-jerk reacting to what our state’s gubernatorial candidates were doing, it would have asked for property tax bills.  And we’re betting it would have received full compliance from the mayor and the aldermen.

But that wouldn’t have made for as nifty a headline.

To read or post comments, click on title.

19 comments so far

Must have been a slow news day. The H-A was probably looking to drum up a controversy. Cheers to the Mayor and Aldermen for saying no.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Controversy, combined with the fact that it didn’t require any thought and that it was likely to lead to the rejection that provied the “gotcha”-style headline.

Really stupid thing to ask / expect of local (virtually unpaid) officials.

The only financial thing that should be public knowledge, is ANY interest an local official has in doing business within it’s own taxing district. Is it possible Park Ridge Herald is buying the lede? Doubtful. I’m sure it’s just to get “clicks” or to seem investigative.

But, if they want to pose a question about finances, it should solely be on local “interest” that reflects any of their votes. I don’t believe you have to declare any interests when running for Park Ridge city government, but I may be wrong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each elected and appointed City official must annually file a “Statement of Economic Interests” with the Cook County Clerk which asks 8 questions designed to disclose situations that might reveal actual or potential conflicts of interest. While those may not be as comprehensive or incisive as they could be, they would seem to be more useful than income tax returns in determining conflicts and potential conflicts.

Candidates for office are also required to file such a Statement.

Yeah… a “gotcha” headline and a Facebook posting asking “Is it fair?” of the elected official’s rejection of the inquiry.

“Fair”?? How is it fair or unfair?

Talk about crappy and slovenly “journalism”. Would like to say Ms. Johnson can do better but I am not sure that’s the case. This is a top five worst article for Ms. Johnson.

Did they ask local government staff, like the City Manager, the school district superintendents, or the executive director of the park district? If so, it wasn’t reported in the article.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re betting the answer is “no” because the H-A’s interest in those other officials isn’t quite as acute or parochial (at least not as of this time) as it is for the mayor and aldermen who control the City’s budget and, ultimately, where the money goes – including whether City employees get raises.

the mayor and his supporters boast of transparency in government.

they are PAID government officials (albeit funded by taxpayer dollars at a rate below city staff, but still PAID any way you look at it.)

Therefore why not expect them to lead by example?

What does the mayor and his fellow elected officials have to hide?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please provide an example of where “transparency in government” has been treated as synonymous with “transparency of personal finances.”

why did the previous post I placed disappear?

Are you transparent enough to handle a contrary viewpoint?

EDITOR’S NOTE: What “previous post” are you talking about?

Not only are we “transparent enough to handle a contrary viewpoint,” we welcome contrary viewpoints – and we even post them anonymously (or, in your case, pseudo-nonymously) for people who don’t want to be identified.

It does seem like a fake case of gotcha raised by someone who does not get government. To your point, if I cared about any personal financial information of the mayor and the aldermen it would be their property tax bills.

I thought I would share my reasoning and thoughts as to why I declined to share my tax filings. Below is my response to Ms. Johnson’s e-mail requesting their release when she was preparing to write the article:

Hi Jennifer,
My understanding of why candidates or officials release their taxes is to prove that they don’t have any conflicts of interest between the office they seek or hold and their personal dealings, work and investments. As an alderman, I am required by law to annually file a statement of economic interest with the Cook County Clerk’s Office. I file it electronically and it is instantaneously available online for the public to access and review without the need to file a FOIA or follow any other burdensome route. In these statements we answer a series of questions in regards to our and our spouses’ employment, investments and associations with any companies that do business with the city of Park Ridge in order to ensure there is no conflict of interest. We then verify our answers under penalty of law. As such, the interests of ethics and transparency are served.

What is transparent is the political nature of the request. Jennifer Johnson is close pals with the Library folks in general and Laura Enright in particular, and she has family ties to local union employees. She is just trying to stir up trouble for purely personal reasons. Either that or she ran out of ideas for fluff pieces to write about.

I think Ms. Johnson’s bias and personal agenda are shown by the fact that her request was made only to the mayor and the aldermen, and not to them AND the Park Board members AND the District 64 Board members AND the District 207 Board members. If it matters for the City, it should matter every bit as much for those other local governments.

Sorry. I agree all public officials should submit their tax returns. Including those on THE LIBRARY BOARD WHO OPPOSE FUNDING THE LIBRARY!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: First of all, Zippy, this editor/Library Board member isn’t going to do that; and he doubts any other Library Board members would, either.

Second, get your facts straight: this editor/Library Board member first proposed charging user fees to fund employee raises, even before the decision was made by Staff and the Board majority to close summer Sundays. And this editor/Library Board member was the first to propose a referendum to let the taxpayers vote on giving the Library the money the Library wants/needs to operate the way it wants/needs for the next five years.

Huh (nice made up name) wrote: “What is transparent is the political nature of the request. Jennifer Johnson is close pals with the Library folks in general and Laura Enright in particular, and she has family ties to local union employees. She is just trying to stir up trouble for purely personal reasons. Either that or she ran out of ideas for fluff pieces to write about”

Or…more likely, Jennifer was assigned this story by the editor of the paper. Not sure if you know how newspapers work, but that’s usually how it goes. The editors assign stories. So to do her assignment she had to request this information and suffer the consequences of all the idiotic reactions that would follow.

Oh, and for the record, I think I’m the only one that Jennifer knows at the Park Ridge Library (to your point of her being close pals with library folks in general). You might want to get your facts straight on that. We wouldn’t want to start any memes that aren’t true, would we? Well, I wouldn’t. I don’t know what your agenda is (though I think it’s fairly easy to guess).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for clearing that up, Ms. Enright. It’s good to know that it wasn’t Ms. Johnson but, rather, her editor who wanted a “gotcha” story about only the mayor’s and aldermen’s publication of their income tax returns, and not all local elected officials.

Huh?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop it.

The editor wrote: “Thanks for clearing that up, Ms. Enright. It’s good to know that it wasn’t Ms. Johnson but, rather, her editor who wanted a “gotcha” story about only the mayor’s and aldermen’s publication of their income tax returns, and not all local elected officials.”

I just want to make it absolutely clear, Mr. T., I never stated that it was the “editor who wanted a ‘gotcha’ story…” (those are your words) I stated that it was “…more likely, Jennifer was assigned this story by the editor of the paper…that’s usually how it goes.”

Just want to make sure that you’re not telling people I stated something that might turn out not to be the case. I just know from having worked at Pioneer Press that editors usually assign stories, especially once such as this, so I would suspect that’s what happened in this situation. But if you find out otherwise, I wouldn’t want anyone saying that I was lying to protect “my good friend Jennifer Johnson.”

Oh, by the way, Jennifer posted a Shahrukh Khan video on my FB page. Would Anonymous like to check that out? He/she is normally so interested in my page.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Enright, the only things that I “tell” anybody about you are whatever you read here. Hopefully that helps assuage your paranoia/narcissism, while not unduly harming your self-esteem.

Huh wrote: “Huh?”

“EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop it.”

I don’t know, that’s more intelligent than what he/she wrote before.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions may vary.

I do agree with Laura that’s it’s slimy and creepy to troll peoples Facebook pages. Are you “friends” with Laura or do you “follow” her?

So, Mr/Mrs. Creepy Anonymous, how are YOU for transparency, when you choose to creep around and pick out random comments on a Facebook page. It’s very easy to take crap out of context…and to me, it demeans any credence to the commenter or even the editor who says it’s “posted to the world”. Because, truly it CAN BE ACCESSED by the world, but unless you are “friends” with Laura, than that person is snooping since they have to make a concerted effort to actually search and go through her whole page.

Again, creepy people who control too much of this town. Guarantee it’s some old “get off my lawn” pool hater.

Laura- I’m glad you are on here defending against the creeps!

I also think that a retraction should be made for the attacks on Jennifer Johnson. Why is it ok to personally attack people, then when proved wrong, say “oops it was the editor”. I’d expect a little more discovery before personal attacks are made.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If your question is directed to the editor, the answer is “neither.”

And who has been “proved wrong” about anything concerning Ms. Johnson? All you’ve got is Ms. Enright speculating that Ms. Johnson’s “editor” – and not Ms. Johnson herself – came up with the idea to request tax returns from City officials but not from Park District, D-207 and/or D-64 officials.

Personally, I’d like to see the tax returns (or just know the salaries) of those who post on this blog whose personal budgets are so vast that every “only $17/yr.), “only $35.70/yr”, “only this /yr”. “only that/yr”, that even with the increased cost of EVERYTHING – gas, elec, water, gasoline, food, vehicle registration stickers, etc., etc. – the “only x$/yr” (added to every other $x/yr) is just a drop in the bucket for them.
In fact, I’d liked to be married to one of them. I need a new kitchen, a new car, a new wardrobe, and lots of other new stuff. Oh, and a condo in boca Raton.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The quickest way to find them is to read the news accounts (and meeting minutes) of City, Park District and School District meetings and note the names of the folks talking about how minimal the amounts are, or how “everybody” wants whatever the subject is, or how “we pay taxes for that,” or how no referendum is needed because “we elect you people to make these decisions for us.”

Difficult to see what an elected official’s personal finances have to do with his stance on the Library referendum. It’s not like there’s a private company one of them owns shares in that wants to replace the Library with a totally fee-based concern. Library staff are not unionized, I don’t think; so it’s probably not a plot against the unions. The only possible reason local media might be annoyed with the City for not supporting various economic development strategies that could translate into more ad sales. Maybe. But even if that were true, there’s still a bit of a barrier between what the ad dept. wants and what the editorial dept. covers. (That’s why they sell things called advertorials; to maintain that distinction.) There is unlikely to be personal gain at stake here, just the philosophy that if you can’t pay for things a la carte, you don’t deserve to have them paid for by shared tax burdens. Let the voters decide.

“And who has been “proved wrong” about anything concerning Ms. Johnson? All you’ve got is Ms. Enright speculating that Ms. Johnson’s “editor” – and not Ms. Johnson herself – came up with the idea to request tax returns from City officials but not from Park District, D-207 and/or D-64 officials.”

AND…I never said that either. I never speculated on whose idea it was to request tax returns from City officials but not from Park District, D-207 and/or D-64 officials. I speculated on who assigned a story (requesting tax returns from elected officials), not on to the particulars of the story (i.e. whose tax returns they wouldn’t request). Be very careful how you word things, Mr. Trizna. You know better.

And until you know how the story actually came up, should you, or should you allow, the personal attacks against Jennifer on your blog?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The article bore Ms. Johnson’s by-line, so the idea and the contents are presumed hers until proved otherwise. Since Ms. Johnson appears to have the ability to admit or deny that it was her idea – and, if not hers, whose idea it was – she should come forward and set the record straight, or wear the jacket for that half-baked attempt at “gotcha” journalism.



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>