Public Watchdog.org

City Council Deals With ED Problem

05.09.14

We haven’t had a chance to complete our review of the recently-passed 2014-15 City of Park Ridge budget, which is the first one in 5 years to escape any form of veto by Mayor Dave Schmidt. But at least one budget decision the Council made was a sound one: deciding not to re-establish a full-time City economic development position.

A full-time ED “coordinator” has been the No. 1 fantasy of the Chamber of Commerce and a number of local business owners ever since the City nuked the ED “director” position – and its $100K-plus compensation package – back in 2010. At that time the Council didn’t see enough measurable business generation or maintenance to justify the expense.

It was the right decision then, and it’s the right decision now.

As we’ve previously noted on several occasions, economic development in Park Ridge appears to be limited by several factors – most notably our lack of available land to accommodate big-box, high volume, or otherwise high sales tax-generating businesses. Accessibility is also problematic, with a limited number of major roadways available to transport non-resident customers quickly and easily into our commercial areas, including Uptown (former home to the Bredemann Toyota and Buick dealerships, and the Napleton Cadillac dealership).

Like it or not, Touhy, Greenwood, Northwest Hwy. and Dee Road are not favorites of non-residents looking to get somewhere quickly and easily.

But none of those problems was enough to stop City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Community Preservation and Development Director Jim Testin, and Finance Director Kent Oliven from enthusiastically endorsing the hiring of a new full-time ED person, even if they couldn’t seem to articulate sound business reasoning for that endorsement.

According to a report in this week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Economic Development Won’t Get Full-Time Director,” May 7), Hamilton and Testin, apparently with some help from Ald. Roger Shubert (4th), went so far as to modify the ED job description to include tasks seemingly unrelated to new business development but likely to build support from certain special interests, such as “serving as a liaison to local human and social service organizations.”

How does that translate into a more thriving retail/business climate?

The flabbiness of such bureaucratic thinking was highlighted by Ald. Marty Maloney (7th), who asked Hamilton the threshold $64,000 question: “Is the end result [of creating the new position] to positively increase sales tax revenues?”

Not surprisingly, Hamilton provided one of his typically weak non-answers, suggesting that simply having someone marketing and doing public relations for the City was a good enough end result for him. In other words, Hamilton doesn’t need measurable economic benefit from the holder of a position costing the taxpayers six figures because mere activity is as good as actual achievement.

For his part, Testin, from whom we had grown to expect more substanctive analysis, couldn’t seem to avoid reaching for that easiest of bureaucratic alibis ever since the recession hit in 2007 – claiming that a fluctuating economy would make it hard to use economic factors to judge an ED’s job performance.

Tell that to every private-sector manager who has to judge an employee’s performance by economic factors, usually on a quarterly basis and sometimes even on a weekly basis.

The Journal story reports that Maloney was joined in his inquiries by Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th), who noted that not only would the ED position itself cost between $116,000 and $120,000 once benefits were figured in, but that Hamilton, Testin and Oliven had left out any marketing budget for ED activities such as traveling to trade shows and developing marketing platforms to tell Park Ridge’s story.

Kind of like hiring a painter but not figuring in the cost of paint, brushes and tarps.

Interestingly enough, the Journal story ends with a look back to 2010 when the ED position was eliminated, and recalling how local insurance broker (and then-Chamber of Commerce president) Dave Donovan defended the then-ED director by pointing out how she had secured 40 new businesses, the expansion of 5 others, and generated $5 million in new tax growth during her 5 years on the job.

We remember those discussions quite well, which is why we remember that Mr. Donovan and his fellow ED director fans never seemed able to directly tie most of those new businesses to the ED director’s efforts (a la Testin’s excuse, above).  Instead, they were content to figuratively give the rooster credit for the dawn.  And when counting up her “wins” they conveniently ignored her “losses”: the various businesses that had closed during that same 5-year period, not the least of which was major sales tax generator Napleton Cadillac.

That’s the kind of half-baked “analysis” that invariably leads to the making of bad decisions, and their continuation.

The best thing City government can do to enhance ED is to put its own economic house in order so that it doesn’t discourage businesses from coming here and staying here by high taxes, unreasonable restrictions, and substandard services.  As we have seen with Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Chipotle, etc., we don’t need an ED director or coordinator to attract quality retail.

But so long as our highly-paid senior City management team can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) apply basic business principles and metrics to the operations they are managing and the initiatives they are recommending, Park Ridge taxpayers will need to rely on our $100/month aldermen and our $1,000/month mayor to micro-manage those operations and initiatives – including whether or not to hire a full-time ED person.

Fortunately, in this case Alds. Maloney and Mazzuca performed like another pair of “M & M boys,” albeit from another era and another venue.

Nice hitting, guys!

To read or post comments, click on title.

21 comments so far

Thank you, aldemen Maloney and Mazzuca, for asking the right questions of these bureaucrats who have no clue about the real world works. Creating positions with no clear performance goals and measures is just irresponsible. Enough is enough.

Who is this guy Hamilton come from and how did he get here? I read the Journal story and neither Testin or Olven won’t get an award for this, either. Whole Foods and Mariano’s will generate more sales tax in one year than all the businesses Ms. Uhlig brought into Park Ridge during her five years hear, Mr. Donovan.

Applying your “do as business does” model, it would be interesting to know whether Mariano’s, Chipotle and Whole Foods rely on passers-by and word-of-mouth to build and sustain their businesses, as you apparently think is more than sufficient for Park Ridge as a competitive suburban venue for retail.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All of those businesses sell themselves, not the towns in which they are located. And sophisticated retailers – like Mariano’s, Chipotle, Whole Foods, etc. – know more about why Park Ridge is attractive to the customers they wish to attract than any highly-paid bureaucrat at 505 Butler Place, which is why the last ED director was let go after being paid around $600K over 5 years.

” I was opposed to the former City Manager’s decision to eliminate the position of Economic Development Director. That action led to two years of wasted time as the City’s staff largely ignored Economic Development and the business community. That failing is one major reason why the City Manager was replaced. I recognized the need for a renewed focus on Economic Development at the staff level by seeking a new City Manager who had a private sector and finance background. The new City Manager and I agree that it is appropriate to make an investment in an economic development/marketing professional to serve as a liaison between existing businesses and the City staff and to help market the City to new businesses.”

—-Mayor Dave Schmidt

EDITOR’S NOTE: All of that is exactly what the mayor wrote. And the result he recommends in that campaign piece is wrong for all of the reasons we have previously identified in posts like 02.26.13 and 05.22.12.

I just did not want all this credit for not funding the ED position to go buy with out at least a small reminder that the Mayor STRONGLY supported the position.

Funny how on some issues he grabs the “mic” and reminds the world of his position while pulling out the veto pen and on others…..silencio!!!

How about a threat to veto the budget unless they fund the ED position??…BAH!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe he changed his mind. Or maybe Hamilton’s/Testin’s no-performance-standards-required pro forma for the position caused him second thoughts.

To 12:28pm: the Council, and by virtue of it passing through in the budget, allowed for the City Manager to make an investment in Economic Development in last year’s budget to the tune of $30k, if I have the correct amount. The City Manager didn’t do anything with those funds… doh.

This year when the City Manager concocted his plan to use that $30k PLUS tens of thousands more to fund a full time ED Director the Council majority said NO. So be it.

That said, the $30k was left intact and, I think, included as a roll over to the new year’s budget. Let’s see if the City Manager and staff can figure out a smart way to spend that money and show some tangible ROI. If they can and do THEN let them come back and ask for more.

The idea of any more that the $30k, if that amount should even be allowed, to be used as some sort of proof of concept is outrageous. Especially if you are talking about adding a fully loaded salaried full time employee.

Somebody has to get a clue around here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We hate to say it, again, but this City Mgr. and staff seem over-matched when it comes to figuring out “a smart way to spend…money and show some tangible ROI.”

1:07:

If you want ROI numbers talk to the Mayor. I mean he made some very definitive statements about this position and his feelings on economic development (see above).

We all know how careful and considerate the Mayor is when taking a position on an issue. He would not have made a statement like he did (in writing on his website) without giving serious consideration to the taxpayer and ROI, right?? Why if he did that would make him just lie the CM and COC.

10:44, to me the key line from the Mayor’s comment on his site is “I recognized the need for a renewed focus on Economic Development at the staff level by seeking a new City Manager who had a private sector and finance background.”

The primary thing the Mayor/Council need to do now is use some leverage to get Hamilton to do his job and if he continues to fail, fire him. The CM is the one making six-figures and he shouldn’t need to be told why performance metrics or ROI are crucial factors to consider when blowing taxpayer money.

He also should have had 10-20 pages of research, data and analysis attached to his ED position memo showing how this type of spending has working for other towns comparable to Park Ridge and at the end provided a narrow range of revenue generation predictions for the first 6-18 months the position existed. Instead, all we got was a ridiculous letter from the CoC attached, also completely devoid of numbers and data points: http://www.parkridge.us/assets/1/Events/Economic%20Development%20Coordinator%20Proposal.pdf

Frankly I’ll be thrilled if I see Schmidt abandon both his interest in the ED position and eventually his faith in Hamilton’s competence. This is a bad time in Park Ridge, financially, to have a professional poser like him managing things.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Your point about Hamilton’s memo is spot on. The $64,000 questions: is Hamilton capable and just not delivering; or is he truly a “professional poser” who made the move to the public sector because he couldn’t hack it in the private one?

Paine:

I agree that line is important. It is all a part of this “impression” the Mayor was trying to give the market about how much he supported ED as well as the position. He states that one of the main reasons he picked Hamilton for economic development and because of his private sector experience. Hamilton proceeds to do zippo!!! Did he ever even attend a task force meeting?? What exactly did he do at a staff level or otherwise??? This was put out there as one of the main reasons he was picked!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: What Hamilton appears to have done is endorse virtually every boneheaded, spendthrift idea the EDTF – the folks who wanted to lynch the mayor and the council for not agreeing to pay Whole Foods’ developer a $2 million tax-sharing bribe – came up with. Isn’t that good enough for you?

As for attending EDTF meetings, didn’t Testin represent the City/CM at those meetings? Isn’t THAT good enough for you, either?

10:42, consumer shopping behavior is not a valid comparison to the process of opening a business, at least not a successful one. Before a company would even approach the city, they should have done enough research on their own to have determined that Park Ridge is a good market for them, suitable real estate is available, competition and costs are attractive, etc. I don’t see what an ED position adds to this, and the CM certainly didn’t provide anything concrete in his proposal.

Anyway the other thing no one is talking about, is that every time a Whole Foods or Chipotle or new salon moves into a location around uptown, that leaves one less desirable space left to sell. Even the ones left that might seem desirable at first glance are most likely problematic in some way, and it’s naive to think that all it takes is a good sales pitch to overcome this. The principal/vice president of Mid-America Asset Management (the private company who already have the job of marketing the spaces in the TIF “Shops of Uptown” building) explained the problems she faces in a 7/2/13 Sun Times article- “…retailers are looking for closer parking options than the Shops of Uptown provides and that current leases with existing tenants have restrictions built into them preventing new “American restaurant and bar” establishments from opening within the development.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Didn’t Mid-America negotiate those leases with the restrictions in them that it is now whining about?

PD:

Good enough for me?? That is not even the point. The point is that the Mayor (not me) played up Hamilton’s abilities and skills in the ED area. He stated that this area was not only one of the reasons Hamilton was hired but also stated failings in this area were one of the main reasons his predecessor was fired. All I am doing is looking at his words versus the performance of the CM that he picked and a main objective he defined.

As to the Hamilton supporting every idea, the biggest one he supported was the idea of an ED director, and the Mayor supported that idea as well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We aren’t aware of any EDTF ideas Hamilton doesn’t support, so your beef seems unfounded. As for the mayor’s view of an ED director/coordinator, we think he was wrong then and wrong now if he still believes one is worthwhile.

That’s your defense of this guy?? He agreed with all the EDTF ideas so what’s your beef??

If you read what the Mayor said, this guy was not brought in to agree with EDTF ideas. He was brought in to add focus, “horsepower”, private sector experience. He was brought in to ADD ideas, not agree with ideas.

The Mayor recognized a need for renewed focus….yeah!!!! Now go ask any business in town exactly what Hamilton has brought to the table. Ask them about the renewed focus.

I realize you (and others) feel that to market PR to businesses is futile and a waste of money. I am simply saying that this is now Hamilton was “sold” or at the every least “packaged” by the Mayor, apparently as a defense for his ED record during his campaign. The reality has not matched how he was sold. It is not even in the same neighborhood.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mayor and the Council hired Hamilton after launching somebody who in four years had done NOTHING for ED, so anybody was expected to be an improvement. Is Hamilton better than his predecessor. Yes. Is Hamilton all that had been hoped for. No.

So you are right: the reality has not matched the promise. But after a year as “acting” CM, the Council voted 4-2 to remove his “acting” status; and one of the two “no” votes (Ald. Mazzuca) approved his change in status but objected to the increased pay.

I am not saying you are wrong (yet), but I am very curious to hear your reasoning. Related to ED, exactly how is the current CM better than his predecessor??

I am going to hit “submit” and give it some more thought but, at the moment, I cannot come up with a compelling case for Hamilton having done anything related to business development.

EDITOR’S NOTE: if you support the EDTF’s agenda (which we don’t), then the current CM is better than his predecessor because the current CM endorsed the EDTF agenda.

PD:

I am floored!!! I almost spilled my coffee!! You say he is better than his predecessor because he endorsed an agenda?!? Apparently, like me, you cannot come up with a single idea, thought or new “policy” or direction that this guy brought to the table or you would have including it in your post. He is better because he (while making six figures) endorsed ideas created by a bunch of community members volunteering their time.

Sorry, but in light of the Mayor’s comments about Hamilton, and the ED issue, this guy has not produced a single document, idea or (god forbid) result that makes him in anyway better than his predecessor.

Reread the comments by the Mayor. He did not bring in this guy to endorse other peoples ideas. He brought him in (or at least sold him as having) new perspective, ideas and focus. If endorsing others ideas is the standard for “better” we are in worse trouble than I thought.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Spare us the theatrics and we’ll try to make this simple enough for even you to understand.

Not only did Hamilton’s predecessor do nothing about ED, he chose to terminate the City’s ED director. So the mere fact that Hamilton has endorsed the EDTF’s recommendation of hiring an ED coordinator automatically makes him “better” than his predecessor on ED issues – at least to all the local ED cultists who think Park Ridge could be turned into Arlington Hts. or Schaumburg if only we committed more money and manpower to ED.

And yes, “we are in worse trouble than [you] thought” for a variety of reasons, the single worst of which is the City’s No. 1 ED initiative of the past 30 years: the Uptown TIF, brought to you by a few boneheaded mayors (Wietecha, Marous and Frimark), their mostly rubber-stamp city councils (too many alderdopes to name), a Machiavellian city manager (Schuenke), and both the public/private Economic Development Corporation and the City’s in-house ED director (Uhlig) – aided and abetted by a stupid and greedy business and real estate community.

But since ALL those city government folks departed, we actually got a little ED worthy of the name without having to bribe it to locate/open here: Whole Foods and Mariano’s, no thanks to the goofs on the EDTF who barbecued the mayor and council for not rolling over to Whole Foods’ demand for a couple million dollars bribe in the name of sales tax revenue sharing.

Let’ me make it even more simple to understand.

1. Read the Mayors written statement.

2. You have now written several replies to me ion this issue and have yet to state a single new thought, idea or policy that this guy (for all the Mayor’s gushing) brought to the table.

3. Talk to ANY of the business owners in PR and ask them how/if they see any of the things the Mayor if things have changed. Ask them if they have experienced this “renewed focus”.

‘nuf said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This isn’t about the Mayor’s “written statement” – because we think the mayor was wrong when he said it, and he’s wrong if he still believes it. Nor did we ever say Hamilton has “a single new thought, idea or policy” on ED – because he doesn’t.

All we said, in response to your contention that Hamilton is no better than his predecessor, is that he is “better” – if only because his predecessor did nothing about ED and Hamilton endorsed dumb ideas from the EDTF that ED cultists think are great ideas.

As for the local business owners, we don’t put too much stock in their opinions because too many of them constantly have their hands out for tax dollars. Almost all of those that were around back in 2000-2005 were positively gushing about the “vibrant” retail dynamic the Uptown TIF was going to bring, and they were delighted that the City was bonding tens of millions of dollars to make it happen. They also gushed about “facade improvement” money from the City, streetscaping, etc. – anything they thought would give them more in revenue than they would have to pay for in taxes.

I did not say to ask business for their opinions and this has nothing to do with handouts.

The Mayor stated he was bringing Hamilton in (in part) because….”the City’s staff largely ignored Economic Development AND the business community”. He saw a need for a renewed focus on ED AND THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY!! So it is a bad idea to ask one of the groups he targeted if they have see a renewed focus?? He said they had been ignored so why not find out if thy have seen any change at all??

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, it’s a great idea, so long as it comes with the recognition that the only “change” many of these business people acknowledge is what puts money in their own pockets. So if Whole Foods doesn’t do that for Tea Lula, or Thornton’s, or Living Seas, the owners of those businesses are unlikely to see “change.”

PD- Yeah, my guess would be that it was Houlihans who asked Mid-America for the non-compete restriction. At the time (a few years ago, when a lot more of the spaces were still vacant) they must have felt desperate enough to agree to it, unlike the city with Whole Foods.

To the Anon posts from today and yesterday, I think the Mayor in particular might be re-thinking the usefulness of the ED position based on his experiences with Whole Foods and Trammell Crow among other things. Why would anyone be happy with him if he stuck to an old position he once held, as the evidence continued to show it wasn’t a good or necessary idea? Sorry, but I will value results over “a foolish consistency” any day. I also look at the whole existence of the EDTF and the ideas in their report as stemming from the climate of 2011, which was a lot closer in feel to 2008/9 than it is to now. The city generates over 25% more sales tax revenue now than it did then, so it’s not as if the change in his opinion towards the ED position occurred in a vacuum.

And frankly Schmidt has proven himself to be more savvy when it comes to making deals that are good for Park Ridge than Hamilton or any of these other six-figure salaries in the past have. Look at his memo on the deal with Trammell Crow and you see he put a lot of thought into the pros and cons and basically just did the kind of homework and due diligence that Hamilton should have done on his ED proposal, and in the end it’s going to save the city $100K on a sewer line and give us an improved flood basin. (https://publicwatchdog.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/20140212121519.pdf)

At this point the $30K earmarked for ED would absolutely be better spent on a hiring process to find a better CM.

Unlikely to see change?? You yourself have admitted that there has been no change. Of course you do not feel there was any need for any change or increased focus or ED position but that is not the point. The point is the Mayor said he believes or believed increased focus was required for ED AND the business community. He said he believes they were ignored for 2 years. If you talk to a member of the “business community” they will tell zero has changed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, because the addition of Whole Foods and Mariano’s and Jersey Mike’s, etc. means nothing to those “business community” members if it doesn’t put coin in those members’ pockets. They’d rather have a worthless $75,000 facade improvement for their building than a Whole Foods and Mariano’s for the City’s tax base.

God bless you for putting up with this incessant whining PD.

Anon 1:28 and more…get a new horse, this one is beat to a pulp already!

EDITOR’S NOTE: They’re learning experiences…for all of us, even those in the remedial track.

Madame Mid-America was making the usual feeble sales excuse. Prospects said no to her because they want closer parking??? One story down, via elevator, there is way ample parking, comfy in any weather! And any closer and it would be in the prospective retailer’s men’s room. And if Mid-Am negotiated non-compete leases with Houlihan’s, that would still leave room for Bath & Body Works, Claire’s, and other small-to-mid-sized retail ops — which we kinda need more than more restaurants, bless them. And you know yourself that the Mayor was neither lynched nor barbequed for not acting on his purported concerns about economic development. A couple of retailers with whom he has had prior run-ins yapped a bit at him, but nobody bit him that I saw. Da Mare is a big boy and a few desperate retailers who are probably netting less than his secretary didn’t scare him. He may have been uncomfortable at being confronted but I think he does something like that for a living. In any case, he was fully vindicated, and I have not heard peep one from him in the na-na-na-na-na-na department. And you know that Ms. Ulig was not let go because she didn’t do a good job of chasing down prospective businesses. She was let go by Skanky because he was made to choose between Ulig and the assistant city manager, the much-maligned Ms. Maller, and since Maller was doing Skanky’s job, it was a no-brainer to keep her. You know all this, so c’mon, PubDog. $30K isn’t a lot for a City to spend on marketing, but except for the Spokesman, we have nothing now for anybody. Actual research, survey models, and a rather extensive report that you poo-pooed were provided by people who actually do that stuff for a living in the private sector. Council said “great!” and that was the end of that story. And the City website, which had professional marketing assessment and actual new, biz-friendly content provided FREE by the ED Task Force professionals and approved by Maller, is still nowhere after two years this coming July. Now that we’re at near-saturation with supermarkets and fast food restaurants (much as I love most of them), what’s next? Nothing; that’s what’s next.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We believe in leaving it to the retailers themselves to determine “which [of them] we kinda need.”

If they think they can make enough of an ROI by coming to Park Ridge without bribery, they will (a la Whole Foods, Mariano’s, etc.). If they don’t, they won’t (a la Barnes & Noble, Crate & Barrel, Bath & Body Works, Claire’s, etc.). And all the survey models and marketing assessments in the world aren’t going to change that.

The EDTF barbecue wasn’t of Mayor Schmidt but of the aldermen (Raspanti and Smith, as we recall) who showed up at the EDTF meeting between the time the Council told developer Chody no bribes (i.e., revenue sharing), and Chody’s return to the Council to say Whole Foods was in.

Ms. Uhlig wasn’t sacked by Schuenke but by Hock, who chose to keep Ms. Davis over Ms. Uhlig. Maller was never in any real danger of being launched by Hock.

Excuse me, Schuenke, Hockey,Nonentity…I get them confused….but thanks for the correction.



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