Three Years Later, City Still Failing “Outsourcing 101”


In our 11.08.11 post, we gave the City of Park Ridge an “F” in Outsourcing 101 because of how it totally dropped the ball in municipal fine collections by private vendor Duncan Solutions of Milwaukee, WI.

Back then, the City was carrying almost $1 million of uncollected fines, penalties and interest on its books. Three years later, it’s still almost $1 million. And reading the story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge owed nearly $1 million in unpaid fines,” 10.28.14) makes City government look like a clown car, at least on this issue.

According the City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, a big problem with the collection effort is that the City doesn’t have a “collection policy” for collecting unpaid fines. He claims such a policy is needed to “dictate how, when and why we write off tickets” – which write-offs totaled over $60,000 in just in 2012 alone.

Information in a 10.27.14 Memorandum from Michael Fricano to Hamilton indicates that those write-offs were of tickets that were issued from 2002 to 2007 and determined to be uncollectable, although the report fails to say exactly why they were uncollectable. Fricano’s memo contains a three-page “Collection Update” that suggests enough bureaucratic incompetence and futility from November 2011 through June 2014 that it could almost be the script for a Saturday Night Live skit titled “Diddle-Fest.”  It actually made us laugh…but only because the only other alternative would be crying.

Frankly, based on that “Update,” somebody probably should be fired: either the somebodies at City Hall who have been wrangling this goat rodeo for almost 3 years, or Duncan Solutions. Maybe both. Because the taxpayers of this town deserve better than what the “Collection Update” discloses.

In the H-A story Hamilton is quoted as saying “[w]e definitely made some strides” in referring to the $51,000-plus in outstanding tickets the City has collected. But that was over the past two years..which means the City collected less than $26,000 a year against a $1 million outstanding balance!

And as if that were not lame enough, Hamilton appears to be bragging on the City’s already exceeding this FY’s ticket revenue budget by $300 – which might be justified if that budget wasn’t a measly $8,000!

If all you’re budgeting for ticket revenue is $8,000, why even bother?

City Council Finance chair, Ald. Dan Knight, correctly noted that uncollectible tickets (say from 2004 to 2010?) need to be identified and cleared off the books so that the City can focus on what’s collectible. One would think well-paid full-time City employees wouldn’t need to hear such advice from a $100/month part-time elected official, but apparently that’s not the case when it comes to collecting fines and making sure the City’s outsource fine collection vendor is earning its keep.

Frankly, the whole “Citation Process” for Duncan Solutions processing ticket collections reads like it was created by Rube Goldberg. It also seems likely to be using more staff time and effort than if everything was being done at City Hall, which is exactly what outsourcing shouldn’t do. Accordingly, it should be scrapped and its replacement designed to get any money owed the City in fees or fines within no more than 60 days, or 90 days if an “adjudication” is required.

For example, any City employee writing citations that are not legible, or have erroneous information on them that jeopardizes their enforceability, should be reprimanded and sanctioned so that we don’t end up a year or two into the process only to find out that the license number was wrong. Sending out “4th notice[s]” of any type seems ridiculous, and sounds positively absurd when they are being sent out “40 days after adjudication date.”

Similarly, if a fine or fee isn’t paid within a reasonable time (e.g., 14 or 28 days?), it should be doubled or tripled – not only so there is some real incentive for the perp to pay the fine, but also so the cost of processing and enforcement is fully covered without any doubt. And unless state law prohibits it, it should take a whole lot less than “10 or more outstanding tickets” before licenses are suspended.  Like maybe 1 – if it has been outstanding for more than 3 months.

Otherwise, the process just invites people to become scofflaws while wasting staff time.

With the City buried in Uptown TIF debt, facing major flood control expenses, and struggling to hold annual tax increases to around 3%, just the idea that $1 million of fines and fees is being left uncollected is infuriating. And when we see just how bollixed up and neglected the whole process is – despite what was supposed to be a cost-effective outsourcing of ticket processing and collections that has turned out to be just the opposite – it becomes almost maddening.

It’s well past time for some butts to be kicked because of this fiasco.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Irvine Wrong On Library Referendum, Role Of City Council


One would think that Mary Ann Irvine would know better.

After all, she was a two-term Park Ridge alderperson from 1987 to 1995. She sought to replace mayor Marty Butler when he resigned in 1991 to become a state senator, withdrawing her name before the city council chose Ron Wietecha.

After leaving the council she became the City’s Public Information Coordinator (a/k/a propaganda minister) for another 10 years. As some point she also served on the Park Ridge Library Board, including as its president.

Given all those years in and around City Hall, she should have learned how representative government is supposed to work in a municipality such as ours – even though we recall her as one of those many rubber-stampers who filled most seats around The Horseshoe between 1991 and 2003, when the Homeowners Party ran local government more like a social clique than a true political party with policies, principles and platforms.

But in a letter in this week’s Park Ridge Journal, Irvine displays an ignorance – or maybe just an arrogance – of City government and aldermanic power that warrants some discussion because it’s so plainly wrong.

We’ve included what the Journal has set up as a kind of point-counterpoint presentation – both Mayor Dave Schmidt’s criticism of a previous Irvine letter published in the October 8 Journal slamming the City Council for this election’s Library referendum, and Irvine’s reply to the mayor’s criticism – so you can read them for yourselves (and think about how Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd might present it back in their old Saturday Night Live days).

Before we get into Irvine’s reply, we must point out that Schmidt and Irvine both supported Howard Frimark in his successful run for Park Ridge mayor in 2005. They parted company when Schmidt successfully challenged Frimark in 2009, however, and she was one of the twenty-five former aldermen who, along with the three former living mayors, formally endorsed Larry Ryles for mayor over Schmidt last year.

As best as we can tell, she abhors the way the City is governed under Schmidt.

So when Irvine starts her reply to Schmidt with “[t]he mayor and I must have different philosophies about serving on the city council,” she isn’t kidding – even if the rest of her letter demonstrates no grasp whatsoever of Schmidt’s philosophy of government as repeatedly expressed and practiced by the mayor over the past five years he’s been in office, as well as during the two years before that when he served as 1st Ward alderman.

Distilled to its essence, Irvine’s position is: (a) she wants the Library to get more money from the City; (b) the Council sucks for not giving the Library more money; (c) the Council is using the referendum to avoid responsibility for any Library–related tax increase; and (d) the Council worded the referendum question so that it would fail.

The wording of the referendum, as Schmidt points out, is prescribed by state law and was fashioned with the assistance of the City Attorney and debated at no less than five public meetings in May, July and August of this year. One of them was a joint meeting between the City and the Library Board. A quick Google search reveals that there also were numerous newspaper stories about the referendum and referendum language during that period.

So where was Irvine with her criticisms of the referendum wording during the three months when they could have made a difference?

Contrary to Irvine’s complaints, the Council hasn’t “dodged” any responsibility for funding the Library. The aldermen expressly decided not to give the Library all the funding it requested, instead treating the Library like many other City departments and cutting its budget in an attempt to manage the entire City budget without unduly hiking taxes.

Rather than pull a “we know what’s best for you ignorant taxpayers” move like the Park Board did with its no-referendum $8 million water park decision in 2013, however, the Council – in response to the Library’s and some citizens’ complaints about that funding decision – chose to give the taxpayers a chance to prove the Council wrong through a binding referendum vote.

In other words, unlike an arrogant Park Board and the arrogant way Irvine thinks a City Council should operate (so long as it agrees with her ways of spending taxpayer money, of course), these current aldermen are actually inviting the taxpayers to publicly second-guess their decision of what is the prudent amount of Library funding, and whether taxes should be raised for that purpose.

Imagine that!

Irvine takes a parting shot at the Council for eliminating more than $550,000 from the Library’s budget since 2009 but not giving the taxpayers a tax reduction in that amount, asking: “Where have those funds gone?”

Try the same place that a boatload of other tax dollars have gone: into that black hole otherwise known as the Uptown TIF. Irvine should remember the Uptown TIF because she spoke favorably of it and promoted it while she was the City’s paid propaganda minister.

Whether the Library referendum passes or fails is up to the voters – but only because these aldermen, after deliberating at length and making a tough decision, weren’t so arrogant that they couldn’t acknowledge they might be wrong about their constituents’ willingness to pay additional taxes for the Library; and because they weren’t so cowardly that they were afraid to let the voters prove them right or wrong by an actual vote, rather than by rumor, innuendo, or some half-baked survey.

This is the way local government should operate, and the mayor and the City Council should be applauded rather than pilloried for it.

Irvine, on the other hand, thinks quite differently. And she may still be carrying a grudge from when the voters rejected the $7 million Library expansion referendum she favored back in November 1992; and/or when the voters rejected the brand new $20 million library referendum she also favored back in November 2002

No matter what the outcome of this referendum, however, this editor – in his role of Library Board member – will continue to do his fiduciary duty and work to ensure the Library is managed as well as it can be for all the taxpayers and residents of Park Ridge.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hold Your Nose And Vote For Thillens…Just Don’t Do It Early


Early voting starts today and continues for the next two weeks.

We think early voting is a really dumb idea, maybe one of the dumbest ideas ever invented by politicians. And that’s saying something.

Worse yet, those politicians have been able to convince their more gullible constituents that early voting is really for the voters’ benefit rather than to make it easier for the politicians to allocate their campaign resources. As if polls open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on election day don’t provide enough voting opportunities for the average voter who actually cares about doing his/her civic duty. And as if traditional absentee ballots for people who truly can’t make it to the polls on election day aren’t a sufficient alternative.

Among the many thoughtful critics of early voting, Northwestern University Law professor and public intellectual Eugene Kontorovich may have stated the case against it most succinctly:

More fundamentally, early voting changes what it means to vote. Voting then becomes an incoherent summing of how various individuals feel at a series of moments, not how the nation feels at a particular moment. This weakens civic cohesiveness, and it threatens to substitute raw preferences and momentary opinion for rational deliberation. Of course, those eager to cast early will be the most ideological — but these are precisely the voters who would benefit most from taking in the full back and forth of the campaign.

Early voting also encourages voting without important information that often comes to the fore in the final weeks of the campaign, whether through debates, late-breaking events, or even crass political tactics like “October Surprises.”

If we employed early voting principles for jury trials, individual jurors would be permitted to return their verdicts anytime after opening statements. Some jurors might render their verdicts immediately and leave without hearing any evidence at all, while others would vote and go home after hearing only some of the evidence.

Would that be a reasonable way to run a justice system? Of course not.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of incomplete decision-making early voting encourages. But since we’re stuck with early voting for the time being, we feel compelled to issue our one and only candidate endorsement in this election – in the race for state representative of the 55th District – for all you early voters instead of waiting until a day or two before election day.

Once upon a time, before Mike Madigan became Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and began cutting all those foolish and kinky deals with Republican In Name Only (“RINO”) governors “Big Jim” Thompson, “Slim Jim” Edgar and George “No. 16627-424” Ryan that have helped turn Illinois into the banana republic of American states, we actually had elections between very good and good candidates. That slipped to elections between good and mediocre candidates, and then to between mediocre and bad candidates, and then to between bad and worse candidates.

Republican Mel Thillens v. first-term incumbent Democrat Marty Moylan presents a choice between terrible and horrible – like choosing between congestive heart failure and metastasized brain cancer.

In any rational world, neither Thillens nor Moylan would be allowed to run for anything more significant than home room rep to their high school student council. This editor has the dubious distinction of having talked government policy and practice with both of them within the past six months, allowing him to both hear and observe firsthand that what these two may lack in stupidity they more than make up for with ignorance.

They are, on their absolute best days, political hacks who represent the worst of the slim pickings their respective political parties have to offer the voters of this state.  It’s hard to fathom exactly how low that goes, but just the concept is scary.

There is one crucial difference between them, however, that accounts for today’s endorsement of Thillens.

The simple truth is that a vote for Moylan is a vote for continuing Speaker Madigan’s corrupt stranglehold on State government. So long as the Democrats hold a majority in the Illinois House, they will continue to elect Madigan speaker. And Illinois will continue its slide toward bankruptcy that started the moment Madigan became Speaker in 1983.

That’s right, folks, 1983. For twenty nine of those thirty one years (the exceptions being 1995-96, when the Republicans gained control of the House for a measly two years), Madigan has been the one constant in Illinois state government and the intractable mess it has become.

People are slowly starting to figure out that Madigan is the albatross, however, which is why Moylan doesn’t want the voters to think of him as Madigan’s sock puppet – despite the fact that Moylan can’t speak whenever Madigan is drinking water. So Moylan’s campaign is going out of its way to stress a few issues on which Moylan seemingly has split with Madigan.

Don’t be fooled. Moylan’s next original thought will be his first.

Ironically, back in 1999 Madigan attempted to recruit this editor – then in his first term as a Park Ridge Park District commissioner – to run for state rep against the then-incumbent one-trick (pro-abortion rights) pony, Republican Rosemary Mulligan in 2000.  Madigan’s recruiter back then was his political operative Rob Biederman, a Niles resident who subsequently moved to Park Ridge after his wife’s failed bid for Niles mayor in 2009.

Biederman promised this editor plenty of financial support from Madigan and assured him that Madigan tolerated independence from his minions except on certain key votes, such as when it came to electing the Speaker. When this editor rejected the pitch, Biederman turned his sights on then-Park Ridge Library Board member Mary Beth Tighe.

Madigan delivered on his promised financial support, and even produced U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin for a Tighe fundraiser at the home of Laura Morask – who was elected to the Maine Township Board the following April (2001) as a Democrat but soon flipped to the Republican side.

Mulligan beat Tighe by 1,300 votes, making it Rosie’s toughest re-election race until her botched petition drive two years ago led to her being blown out by Susan Sweeney by over 2,000 votes in a write-in Republican primary. Mulligan turned around and endorsed Moylan, thereby joining Morask in demonstrating that what Tribune columnist John Kass branded “The Combine” is alive and well in Maine Township politics and government.

So much for the stroll down memory lane. We’ve got more than enough challenges in the here-and-now.

The first is to convince as many voters as possible to envision the name “Madigan” on every green and white “Moylan” sign, and to treat every Moylan vote as a vote for Madigan himself. Practice by referring to them, interchangeably, as “Mike Moylan” and “Marty Madigan.”

The second is to make certain nobody deludes themselves about Thillens. He is NOT a fiscal conservative, as his three year tenure of tax, borrow and spend practices on the Park Board has amply demonstrated. When it comes to public policy, Thillens’ only principles are whatever will get him elected. And, like Groucho Marx, if you don’t like those, Thillens has others.

Voting for Thillens, however, does have one other positive effect beyond depriving Madigan of a vote for Speaker: if Thillens wins, we understand that he has to resign from the Park Board. As a first-term state rep he probably can’t do as much damage to Park Ridge taxpayers from down in Springfield as he can from Park District headquarters on Sibley, judging from the $20 million-plus of long-term debt he helped the Park District run up in the last 18 months or so.

That’s why we’ve decided to ask you to hold your nose when you go to the polls and cast your vote for Mel Thillens. Put on one of those ebola-proof hazmat suits if that’s what it takes for you to feels safe enough to vote against Moylan, the 55th District’s proxy for Illinois’ Dark Lord of the Sith. Because Illinois government will NEVER improve, E-V-E-R, so long as the Democrats keep control of the Illinois House and keep anointing Madigan as Speaker.

And with a little luck, maybe between now and 2016 the Republicans might actually find a qualified candidate to challenge Thillens’ re-election bid in the Republican primary.

To read or post comments, click on title.

City Mgr’s Outsourcing Initiative Likely More Smoke Than Fire


Recessions like the one this country recently experienced cause a lot of bad things.

The economy contracts. Unemployment increases. Wages stagnate. Savings are consumed by cash-strapped people and cash-strapped companies that can’t make ends meet on their reduced income or profits.

One good thing that can come out of a recession, however, is the belt-tightening that tends to make people and businesses more efficient. Sometimes it even causes outside-the-box thinking from executives who need to do more with less but can’t do so simply by continuing the same old same old.

On rare occasions that outside-the-box thinking even finds its way into the public sector, as we read about in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge city manager to look at outsourcing jobs,” Oct. 9) reporting on how City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton announced at the October 6 Council meeting that he and his staff would begin exploring possible outsourcing of some City jobs.

But before the needle on the Richter Scale could even begin to jiggle, Hamilton promptly began backsliding into an acknowledgement that he might decide not to go in that direction once his outsourcing analysis is completed over the next few months.

If you want to bet on how that will end up, the smart money is going with the “under.”

Outsourcing – or, more accurately, talking about outsourcing – is becoming the flavor-of-the-month management tool among government bureaucrats who are only now finally figuring out, more than five years since the recession official ended (according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) that their units of government can’t keep paying those escalating wages and benefits they’ve been giving out for decades. Or at least not without raising taxes higher than most taxpayers are willing to accept.

In Hamilton’s case, however, he has a built-in excuse that doesn’t require him to wear the jacket for the City’s wage and benefit largesse that has gone on during his relatively short watch:

The Uptown TIF.

Hamilton said the impetus for his outsourcing initiative was the increasing Uptown TIF bond payments, which were back-end loaded by those irresponsible City officials who saddled Park Ridge taxpayers with that financial boondoggle a decade ago. Cynics might suggest that back-end loading was intended to ensure that the perpetrators of the Uptown TIF would be long-gone from public office before any real pain might begin to be felt. And in the case of Uptown TIF ringleaders like former mayor Ron Wietecha and former city manager Tim Schuenke, they would be long-gone from our community entirely.

Mayor David Schmidt sounded receptive to the idea when he noted that “everything has to be on the table” when figuring out ways for providing City services more cost-effectively. According to the H-A article, the number of full-time City employees has decreased 10% since FY2009-10, although some of that reduced manpower has been replaced with an increased number of part-time employees.

From the hour or so of research we were able to do by Googling “municipal outsourcing,” we have concluded that outsourcing is far more talk than action. One reason is that it has not yet proved to be the magic/silver bullet bureaucrats and elected officials alike were hoping for. Another reason is that municipal employee unions and their members view it like the ebola virus.

And despite what they say, bureaucrats don’t really want outsourcing because it reduces the size of their fiefdoms. It’s a lot harder to argue for more money when you are seen as managing less people because 20 city/school/park jobs have been outsourced to a private vendor. In Hamilton’s case we also have to question the legitimacy of his outsourcing initiative when its announcement comes with a “we-might-not-do-any-of-it” qualifier.

Even more tellingly, despite promoting unspecified “outsourcing” out of one side of his mouth, Hamilton has been arguing for returning the city attorney functions to an in-house position – despite the fact that the in-house position was abolished around a decade ago because the total cost was too high – due to so much of the work still having to be outsourced to private law firms.

So we’ll be interested to see whether Hamilton is really serious about outsourcing, or whether he’s just another lemming bureaucrat.

To read or post comments, click on title.

For Once, Some Good News On O’Hare


Anyone who has been reading this blog or otherwise paying attention for the past few years knows what a Sisyphean task it has been getting any meaningful noise relief from O’Hare International Airport, especially since the $8 billion O’Hare Modernization Program (“OMP”) was adopted.

The airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and congressmen and senators from around the nation were looking to reduce the air traffic bottleneck that O’Hare had become. Meanwhile, a virtually bankrupt City of Chicago became hell bent on building more runways and running as many flights in and out of O’Hare as possible, if only for the taxes and fees they could generate.

Lo and behold, last week we heard that O’Hare had wrestled the title of the country’s busiest airport away from its old nemesis, Atlanta’s Hartsfield.

Add to that the seeming sabotage of Park Ridge’s efforts to alleviate the overhead traffic and noise by neighboring O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission (“ONCC”) member communities like Arlington Heights – who feared that any gain in Park Ridge’s noise reduction efforts would result in increased noise for them – and the task of merely gaining approval of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”) looked increasingly bleak.

So last week was quite a welcome development for Park Ridgians.

On Thursday, October 2, Illinois congressman Mike Quigley announced the formation of a “Quiet Skies Caucus” comprised of himself, fellow Illinois representative Tammy Duckworth, and 11 other U.S. House members from California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York.

Then on Friday, October 3, the ONCC voted to support Park Ridge’s request for the SEIS, with only three “no” votes: from Elmwood Park, Melrose Park and the City of Chicago.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

While the vote in support of the SEIS is an important step, the FAA is not bound to honor that vote. And even if it does, it could be years before any meaningful relief is provided – and that will most likely be in the form of a new noise contour map that would increase the number of homes and buildings entitled to soundproofing. And, if we’re lucky, it might also promote an increased implementation of the “Fly Quiet” program.

And you can bet Chicago will fight tooth and nail to keep O’Hare cranking at full capacity.  Because of the mess he inherited from Daley, Rahm needs every penny he can squeeze out of anything that moves…or sits still for too long.

Nevertheless, Mayor Dave Schmidt’s jaw-boning of the ONCC to vote in support of the SEIS is something. And it validates the decision of the City Council to look for political solutions to what is a political problem, rather than spend tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars on litigation with little-to-no chancce of gaining any better result.

Meanwhile, the best chance we have for noise relief continues to be the airlines’ modernization of their fleets by replacing the noisiest jets – currently the MD80s – with newer, quieter jets. Expediting those upgrades is where a caucus like the one Congressman Quigley helped form might be able to exert some influence that’s not in Park Ridge’s or any other community’s tool box.  But, once again, don’t expect that to happen overnight – if at all – because Chicago is too big to fail.  And so are the airlines, at least to those elected officials who count on them for campaign contributions and jobs in their districts.

We’ve still got a long way to go. But last week was easily the best one Park Ridge has had in years when it comes to dealing with O’Hare noise.

And it cost Park Ridge taxpayers next to nothing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For FFF Advocates To Put Up Or Shut Up


Last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate contained a letter to the editor from long-time resident William Scharringhausen, on behalf of the Park Ridge Kiwanis Club, criticizing the Park Ridge Library Board’s discontinuation of the “Food for Fines” (“FFF”) program. (“Food for Fines cancellation disappointing,” Sept. 30)

We published posts on 10.03.13 and 08.22.14 explaining why FFF was a form of theft from the taxpayers, and we stand by those posts. Not surprisingly, because misconceptions die hard, some of the pro-FFF arguments we criticized in those posts are resurrected in Mr. Scharringhausen’s letter – to go along with a new one such as: “Kiwanians saw the value of transforming a negative fine system into an opportunity to nurture the spirit of giving in our community.”

Heck, if that truly was their motivation, they should have approached fellow Kiwanian and Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski about “transforming a negative” parking fine system. With parking fines checking in at a $25 minimum as compared to a mere couple-to-several bucks average for Library fines, just think of how much more the “spirit of giving” could have been nurtured!

But the simple truth is that any real “spirit of giving” shouldn’t need to be nurtured by any kind of quid pro quo personal economic benefit, especially when that benefit picks the taxpayers’ pockets by what we estimated (because the Library staff didn’t even try to keep track of it) to be as much as $7,000 worth of of Library fines in any given year.

That’s not chopped liver for a Library that could have used that $7,000 to remain open for four or five of the weeks it was closed this summer.

Mr. Scharringhausen concludes his letter with what sounds like a challenge to Library Board members:

“We also anxiously anticipate the generous contributions of the Library Board members to this holiday food drive as they demonstrate leadership in our community without encumbering public funds.”

When I proposed abolishing the FFF program, I suggested that the Library could still be a collection point for food donations. And in order to walk the walk instead of merely talking the talk I also suggested that, instead of donating taxpayer funds, all Library Board and staff members could show their community spirit by making personal monetary donations towards the purchase of food for the needy.

That was a good idea then, and it’s a good idea now.

That’s why I pledge a $100 donation to the no-longer-FFF Library food drive this holiday season. And I invite all current Library Board members and those former Library Board members who voted for keeping the FFF program (e.g., John Benka and John Schmidt) to do likewise. Assuming everybody comes through with a Benjamin apiece, that’s at least $1,100 right there.

But let’s not stop walking the talk with just the Library Board members.

Several staff members who advocated for the continuance of the FFF program should also be willing to say “C” (as in C-note) to support the Kiwanis food drive for the needy. And let’s not forget those Kiwanians who showed up at the Library Board’s January 21, 2014 meeting to successfully (for the time being) lobby against elimination of the FFF program, including: Ted Sigg, Jack Owens, Gerald Berkowitz, Lloyd Lange, Frank Kaminski, Maureen Kaminski and Jay Terry.

If they all step up and donate the basic hundo in addition to what the Library Board members come up with, we’ll be kicking off the holiday season with around $2,000 just in cash donations – unsullied by any crass quid pro quo fine forgiveness – before the very first can of Green Giant “Niblets” hits the bottom of the Library’s collection drum.

And, better yet, the Library Board won’t have to waste valuable meeting time discussing such weighty Library operational issues as how the expiration dates on FFF contributions are checked, and how far past those dates the food is still usable so as to be credited against fines.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

To read or post comments, click on title.

Zoning Code Unfriendly To Business And Residents Alike


About eight years ago then mayor Howard Frimark and the city Council formed an “Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee” tasked with re-writing the City’s Zoning Code. The City hired an outside consultant and conscripted seventeen Park Ridge residents – six of whom were attorneys – to do the job.

But almost immediately after the newly-rewritten ordinance was adopted, developers began identifying all sorts of gaps and inconsistencies that they tried to exploit – with varying degrees of success. And an old rumor got new life:

“Park Ridge is unfriendly to business.”

Anything that is unpredictable is, almost by definition, “unfriendly” to business. Unpredictability increases the risks inherent in already-risky business ventures – medical marijuana and casino gambling likely being the most notable exceptions. And that unpredictability can be perceived as “unfriendliness,” especially to prospective businesses and developers.

In the years that have passed since the “new” Zoning Code was enacted, it seems as if most developers come in looking for variances and MAP amendments; and expecting to get them. Often they have at least a colorable argument, given the gaps, inconsistencies and general ricketiness of many of the Code’s provisions.

So it should come as no surprise that a developer is threatening to sue the City for the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recent denial of his request to build a four-story primarily-residential building at 400 Talcott Road that formerly housed an auto repair business.

This proposed 4-story building would be located in a “business” rather than a “residential” district, but it will have approximately 1,429 square feet of commercial space and 22 two and three-bedroom condos, each of which reportedly will contain more square footage than the entire amount of commercial space. That apparently qualifies as “business”/commercial under our whacked-out Zoning Code.

And the language of our Zoning Code, as previously interpreted by City staff and approved by the P&Z Commission for the project at 20-30 South Fairview – by the same developer, John O’Flaherty – would appear to permit the kind of structure he wants to build on Talcott.

But there’s a difference between that Fairview project and the Talcott project.

The Fairview project appears to have been a favorite of City staff, including Senior City Planner Jon Branham. Consequently, City staff may have interpreted vague or ambiguous Zoning Code terms in ways that favored the developer and advanced that project earlier this year – without any regard for what kind of precedent such interpretations might set for future projects.

Precedent, as in predictability.

Back at the public hearing on May 27, P&Z chairman Joe Baldi expressed concern about the lack of Zoning Code standards for the Talcott style of residential development in a B-1 Retail and Office district. Had this project been located in an area zoned “R” (for “residential”), even the highest residential rating, R-4, would have limited the maximum number of residential units to around 10-15 units.

Which don’t provide enough profit for Mr. O’Flaherty, who paid $400,000 for the property with the understanding that he could build what he is proposing on that site.

And if O’Flaherty gets his way, storm water detention may be a combination of insufficient and stupid, because he gets to pay a fee-in-lieu of providing sufficient detention. A fee which we understand to be wholly inadequate to address already-problematic flooding. Doesn’t that sound just ducky!

While we don’t take kindly to any developer threatening to sue the City in order to get what it wants, O’Flaherty and his attorney rightly pointed out that developers buy property only after analyzing the zoning parameters, with the purchase price based on what they should be able to build there. And that determination is based on what increasingly appears to be a vague, ambiguous and unacceptably inadequate Zoning Code.

Interpreted by City staff and P&Z in ad hoc ways that make it unpredictable.  And unfriendly.

To business and to residents alike.

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