Council Triumphs Over Unenlightened Self-Interest…For Now


Last Monday night (June 2) the Park Ridge City Council held a special committee meeting to once again discuss the elephant that’s been parked in the corner of the Council chambers for the past few years.

Flood control.

This time, however, the discussion focused on whether the entire community should be allowed to vote in an advisory referendum on spending – or, more accurately, borrowing and spending – upwards of $20 million on flood control for two relatively small areas of Park Ridge, both in the Second Ward and serving approximately 450 homes: Mayfield Estates and the Northwest Park neighborhood.

Most of the assembled multitude in the gallery last Monday seemed to be from those two areas, and they were vocal in their opposition to such a referendum. They branded it “divisive” even as they insisted flood control was “a Park Ridge issue” affecting the entire community.

In other words, “we’re all in this together” – with everybody sharing the cost of what benefits only a few of us – and don’t you dare take a vote that might prove otherwise!

That’s a standard tactic for people who want to spend OPM (“Other People’s Money”) on their own pet project while insisting that “everybody” wants it, especially when they don’t think they can muster the 50.01% majority of “yes” votes needed to pass a referendum for the project.

We call that the “Tim Schuenke Rule,” which is as dishonest as it is anti-democratic and anti-republican (note the small “d” and “r”) because it’s based on manipulating and/or intimidating a majority of the officials of the relevant local governing body – assuming that a majority of that governing body hasn’t already convinced itself to cut the voters out of the process, as the City Council did back in 2003 with the Uptown TIF; and as the 2012-13 Park Board did with the new Centennial Water Park that opens this coming weekend.

Manipulating/intimidating the aldermen is what almost every speaker tried to do last Monday night, with one speaker even threatening litigation…a hollow threat, to be sure, because those folks aren’t about to spend their own money on lawyers to file a losing lawsuit, as Farmers Insurance appears to have conceded in dropping its flooding suit against all Cook County municipalities including Park Ridge.

With the legal claim to public monies for expensive flood control infrastructure gone, the Second Ward residents seemed to be desperately scrambling for some kind of moral high-ground. That meant continuing to portray themselves as helpless victims of unfair treatment, such as by pointing to 9 other City flood control projects totaling over $5 million that already had been done without referendum.

Not surprisingly, however, they failed to mention that those other 9 projects provided a total of approximately 2.5 miles worth of relief sewers to a number of different areas of town. By a purely back-of-the-envelope calculation, those projects benefited almost 10 times the number of residences projected to be benefited by the Mayfield Estates and Northwest Park projects combined – and at around a quarter of the cost being projected for those two projects.

Those facts, even if articulated, probably wouldn’t have made that crowd any less ornery.

Which is why a Watchdog bark-out goes to Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) for his solid job chairing that raucus meeting.

He was spot-on in noting how this Council has taken on these tough flood discussions that previous councils ignored. And he demonstrated his knowledge of Santayana’s warning that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by comparing the long-term financial burdens of flood control to the burdens of the Uptown TIF.

Such comparisons and history lessons, however, seemed lost on most of the crowd – no more so than on Birch Street resident Meg Schwieder, whose unenlightened self-interest can be seen and heard in all its glory from 52:45 through 1:01:12 of the special meeting video.

We particularly liked her “That’s your problem, not mine” response to Mazzuca’s invocation of the TIF-created financial problems. We can’t tell whether she just couldn’t grasp or simply refused to accept Mazzuca’s point that every major long-term bonded debt incurred by any of our local governmental bodies becomes “all of our problems,” often for a decade or more. But her comments highlight just how shallow, short-sighted and greedy a view some of our fellow residents take of this flooding problem, if not other City problems.

Fortunately, four aldermen – Mazzuca, Marty Maloney (7th), Dan Knight (5th) and Joe Sweeney (1st) – expressed their support for an advisory referendum, with Sweeney pointing out that areas in his ward flood almost as often and as much as Mayfield Estates. He also advocated a comprehensive City-wide flood mitigation program, which could run over $100 million.

But only if it gets taxpayer support via a City-wide referendum.

That’s not what the folks in the audience Monday night wanted to hear. But that’s what they needed to hear. Now let’s see if that 4-alderman Council majority can hang tough on putting this issue to referendum.

And let’s see whether those Second Ward residents reconsider some Special Service Area cost-sharing arrangements rather than risk going “all-in” with a referendum.

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