The Hope And Promise Of 2015


As the new year arrives with its blank slate and tremendous potential, here are a few of the things we would like to see, and not see, during the coming year, in no particular order:

1. A flooding solution. That doesn’t mean an end to flooding – we’ve read too many Flood Control Task Force and Burke reports to believe that anything less than Park Ridge’s own “Deep Tunnel” project will ever guaranty no more flooding for all residents. And there will never be enough funding for that.

But the City Council can pass the proposed storm water utility (“SWU”), a long-term plan to fund the upgrading of the City’s sewer system while also addressing the most problematic flood areas: Mayfield Estates, Northwest Park and the West Country Club. The folks in those three areas, however, need to disabuse themselves of the notion that they are entitled to 100-year flood relief – NOW! – at the expense of all other City taxpayers. Unless, of course, they are willing to let all those other taxpayers cast a referendum vote on such major bonded expenditures.

Or those affected residents can accept the creation of three separate Special Service Areas (“SSA”s) under which the City will cover a base-level cost of flood control and the affected homeowners will undertake the remaining costs through a special tax assessment against their homes. That will separate the solid citizens from the freeloaders.

2. A more-informed public. Winston Churchill once said: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Sadly, this appears true here in Park Ridge where, from the nature of the comments from residents (and even some of our public officials), too many folks seem abjectly ignorant of even the most fundamental goings on of our local governmental bodies.

Based on those comments, we’d bet good money that at least 50% of voting-age Park Ridge residents couldn’t name their alderman, or identify the ward in which they live, if their lives depended on it. Which makes them easy targets for boondoggles like the Uptown TIF, a decade-plus of top-shelf prices for middle-shelf education, the resultant inability to fund necessary infrastructure maintenance and improvements, and other ills.

Fortunately, local government-oriented blogs like this one and Park Ridge Citizens Online not only have created their own readership, but they have forced the “mainstream” media (e.g., the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, Park Ridge Journal and Trib Local) to raise their games significantly, albeit still not nearly enough to produce a truly “informed” citizenry.

But maybe 2015, a local election year (with Election Day on April 7, 2015, in case you’re one of the clueless) and some spirited campaigns will help accelerate the pace of that change.

3. A better Library. Last month Park Ridge taxpayers voted to raise the tax levy, and their taxes by as much as a few hundred dollars per year for the next four years, in order to give the Park Ridge Public Library extra money to replace the funds that had previously been contributed by the City Council until the City’s own budget woes made such contributions impracticable.

The Library came up short because, once the City Council cut the City funding a few years ago, the Library chose to deficit-spend itself to the point where it could no longer do “business as usual.” And when the political machinations of the former Library Board majority – such as browbeating the Council to restore the funding, and closing summer Sundays to tick off users – failed, the City Council decided to let the taxpayers vote on whether they were willing to contribute more taxes for Library operations.

And, ‘lo and behold, a majority of them said “Yes!”

With that four-year vote of confidence, however, comes a responsibility: the Library Board and Staff owe those taxpayers and the entire community a duty to make the Library not just as good as it was before funding was cut, but better. Because four years from now when this latest referendum funding increase expires, the taxpayers will be looking to see just how wisely the Library Board and Staff have managed the extra funding before voting the Library another tax levy increase.

4. More retail…or not. Like Capt. Ahab obsessed with a certain white whale, various Park Ridge factions – the Chamber of Commerce, local retailers, and the few public officials in their thrall – seem to be able to think of nothing but what the City can do to bring “more retail” to Park Ridge. Even if they have to drag it here, kicking and screaming; or bribe it here with sales tax revenue sharing and other financial emoluments.

So when Mayor Schmidt created the Economic Development Advisory Task Force in 2011, many of the suggestions ran toward throwing tax dollars at target retailers to bring them her and/or keep them here. And when the Council didn’t go along with that foolish strategy, it got barbecued by several EDATF members, especially when the Council refused to give in to the Whole Foods developer’s demand for a couple of million dollars of sales tax sharing.

Not surprisingly, Whole Foods (and Mariano’s, and the new fitness center that will be built on the old Napleton site at Touhy and Cumberland) ended up proving the Council right and those EDATF members wrong. Hopefully, those EDATF members, Chamber members, and certain local retailers have learned something from those situations, as well as from the disastrous throw-money-at-it Uptown TIF, although we’re taking a wait-and-see approach to see if old dogs can learn new tricks.

5. No more “giving back” candidates. Over the years a number of candidates for local offices have explained their candidacies thusly: “I just want to give back to the community.” And virtually every candidate who has offered that lame and vague explanation has gone on to say little-to-nothing else meaningful about what he/she stands for, or what he/she hopes to achieve if elected.

The voters deserve to know not only who a candidate is, what he/she believes about the role of the governmental unit to which he/she is seeking election; and what he/she intends to accomplish if elected. They don’t need any more candidates who think merely serving in elective (or appointive) office is an achievement in its own right.

And, frankly, any candidate who “just wants to give back to the community” is undeserving of the office he/she is seeking.

6. More referendums. It seems like everybody who wants more and bigger government hates referendums. And we can understand why. Referendums demonstrate by counted votes what the public wants or doesn’t want. And most folks who want more and bigger government, or more fiscally-irresponsible government, don’t need or want that kind of objective, measurable evidence of public opinion.

A couple of years ago the Park Board and senior Staff were so afraid of the voters that they refused to go to referendum on their $8 million Centennial water park, presumably because the voters had convincingly turned down on less expensive proposals on two prior occasions. And D-64 Board members are so terrified of referendums that they recently borrowed approximately $8 million to do long-neglected work on Field School, rather than use some of the District’s stockpile of cash on hand, because using cash on hand might have forced D-64 to go to referendum sooner than planned.

That’s right, they BORROWED $8 million to avoid the taxpayers’ getting a referendum vote on that $8 million for Field School AND to avoid having to go to a general funding referendum earlier than they would like.

The passage of two significant referendums in the past two years – the Park District’s youth campus park referendum and the Library’s tax levy increase referendum – prove that this community is willing to vote for borrowing and spending when it believes there are good reasons for it. Which suggests that those public officials who dread referendums may not think all that highly of their own pet spending/borrowing plans.

7. Appointment processes that are more “public.” When people run for the City Council, or the Park Board, or the D-64 and D-207 school boards, they are forced to become “public” figures. They expose themselves to being asked questions about their backgrounds, their experiences, and their views. But that’s not the case when people seek appointments to those same seats to fill a vacancy created when somebody resigns.

Only the City Council has held “open” appointments processes, both for filling Council vacancies and for appointments to the City’s boards and commissions. When then-6th Ward ald. Tom Bernick resigned from the Council back in 2012, the four candidates for appointment to fill his seat were interviewed by a panel of 6th Ward residents Mayor Dave Schmidt appointed (which included the editor of this blog), which interviews were open to the press and public. Similarly, applicants for City board and commission appointments have their applications published on the City’s website and their interviews are conducted by a Council advisory committee (comprised of the chairs of each of the Council’s four standing committees) in meetings open to the press and public.

Contrast that with the appointment process D-64 used in appointing Bob Johnson to fill Terry Cameron’s vacancy, which we wrote about in our July 7, 2014 post, and D-207’s process in filling Eric Leys’ seat, which we wrote about in our August 29, 2014 post.  So if D-64 and D-207 taxpayers think they are being treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and covered with manure – by the boards of both of those entities, they’d be right. And so long as those taxpayers are content to be mushrooms, that’s the way they’ll continue to be treated.

8. A “Year of the Taxpayer” after decades of years of the tax user. Any idiot can spend OPM (“Other People’s Money”), as so many of our local public officials keep proving. And no local governments spend OPM more enthusiastically with less accountability than the elected and appointed officials of our overpriced and/or underperforming schools.

We can count on one hand – with four fingers left over – the number of D-64 and D-207 Board members over the past decade who have demonstrated even the slightest concern for the average Park Ridge taxpayer, or the spine to challenge the “professional educators” and administrators on virtually any of their recommendations and expenditures. The Park District has been better in that regard (with the notable exception of the non-referendum $8 million water park) and deserves kudos for its implementation of more realistic user fees to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

But until voters begin electing the kind of taxpayer-centric officials to the school boards as they have elected to the Park Ridge City Council, taxpayers will continue to pay for BMW educations while getting Buicks. And our elected School Board officials will continue to prove Mark Twain right.

9. Treating public employees as “employees.” Anytime we come anywhere close to criticizing public employees for any reason, we get an inordinate number of comments defending those public employees in almost knee-jerk fashion.

In large measure that’s because public employee unions, along with their rank-and-file members, have been masterful at portraying their members as saints or angels – kind of like Mother Teresas laboring in the Black Hole of Calcutta. Has there ever been a better marketing ploy than the teachers unions’ “for the kids” tag line, which new D-64 superintendent Laurie Heinz has massaged ever-so-slightly into the complimentary close to her correspondence “For your children” instead of “For my $240K/year” that Heinz is being paid in her very first year of being a school superintendent.

Because money isn’t why Heinz or any teachers and administrators do those jobs, right?

It’s well past time that taxpayers collectively realized that public employees are just that – “employees,” just like all the rest of us who toil for a living wage – albeit often at higher wages and light-years better pension benefits than those of us who pay for those wages and pensions. They should be respected for what they do, but not venerated.

10. Fewer “parasites” and “freeloaders”: We’ve received no small amount of attention for our shorthand references to non-residents who try to use City services (like the Library) for free as “parasites,” and to residents who try to finagle far more in benefits than they pay in taxes as “freeloaders.”  The principal government reporters for both local newspapers have tried to make it into a cause celebre, while several of the parasites and freeloaders themselves have condemned us for using those terms – albeit anonymously.

We have used those terms for both “fire at will” and “fire for effect” purposes. But either way we are dead serious about, and fully committed to, blowing the whistle on people who are intent on exploiting the goodwill of Park Ridge taxpayers for their own personal benefit.

Which means blowing the whistle on Chicago residents who revel in the lower taxes they pay because they can use the Park Ridge Library for free; and on folks who bought highly-discounted or foreclosed property in flood-prone areas like Mayfield Estates and now want the City (a/k/a Park Ridge taxpayers) to solve their flooding problems and thereby jack up the value of their properties; and on folks who demand that taxpayers spare no expense in financing D-64 and D-207 educations for their kids at costs that those same folks would not pay for private education of that same quality.

Hopefully, by calling out these parasites and freeloaders we can discourage at least some of their parasitism and freeloading, thereby reducing the burdens they are trying to impose on their fellow taxpayers.

To read or post comments, click on title.

22 comments so far

Very interesting collection. If seems to me like Park Ridge would be a better place by New Years 2016 if most, if not all, of these ideas were realized.

One can dream!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Constantly.

The lesson to be learned from the recent Park District and Library referendums is that an organized special interest group willing to spend a little money for signs can easily defeat unorganized opposition. There is nothing more to be learned.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sure there is: if opposition can’t organize and put up a good fight, then the special interest deserves to win.

Well said! I especially appreciate numbers 1 (flooding), 2 (more informed public), 4 (economic development), and 6(more referendums). And I will keep in mind number 5 (political candidates are running because they want to give back to the community). You are correct, in running for First Ward Alderman I want to do more than “give back to the community”. PR is a great community, but we can make it even better by solving the flooding problem, continuing to be fiscally responsible (for example refinancing debt with complete information of the costs and benefits when the opportunity presents itself), and planning for the future of our community (we need strategic planning and an updated comp plan, 1996 was almost 20 years ago, things have changed). All of this requires a more informed and involved public, which the City can continue to facilitate. I’m running for alderman because I bring professional expertise to the table in these areas. And your comments on number 4, economic development, are right on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Ms. Cline.

One question that your comments raise, however, is how you would vote on the City’s providing flood control for the three main priority areas (Mayfield, Northwest Park and West-Country Club) that residents in those areas want done NOW and solely with City funds – and without a City-wide referendum or the creation of SSAs.

And, in fairness, we’d also like to hear Mr. Moran’s thoughts on that, as well as 3rd Ward candidates Mr. Wilkening’s and Mr. Van Roeyen’s.

One of the Facebook Park Ridge Groups, seems to be an organized movement to spend millions of dollars on small scale flood projects. They openly advocate on this issue. In fact, most of the proponents are more than happy to say no to any other spending, except for their own sewer relief. Please tell, where’s the 100 year protection projects for every other ward?

Editor, by “Stormwater Utility”, I think you are using a marketing term, to just call a tax something more palatable….because you know, it’s another NEW tax. If we are being transparent, then we should call it that.

Please tell me, when we spend millions more, or add a new tax, isn’t that a big stick up the arse to those of us that installed check valves, or overheads sewers? Man, so we get stuck twice now!!

Please refer to it as a TAX.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sorry, but occasionally we assume folks know things that they don’t. Yes, you’re right: the “Stormwater Utility” (as we understand it) would involve a monthly fee based on each property’s amount of water-impervious surface; i.e., buildings, conventional driveways and patios.

But it’s not a big stick up your kazoo because it’s intended to deal as much with overland flooding as with sewer backup; and check valves and overhead sewers don’t address overland flooding.

Ten more excellent points that, if implemented, would make Park Ridge a better place to live, work and have business invest in. Too bad there is no chance any one of our local governments except the City of Park Ridge will heed any of them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you. And, unfortunately, you are probably right – especially at the school board level.

No. 9 is my favorite and long overdue. Public employees in Park Ridge make solid money and get great benefits while working in a fine community with few if any of the risks private sector employees have. If we as taxpayers should be grateful for their efforts, they should be just as grateful for what they get out of this sitaution.


7:12 makes an interesting point.

Hell, I do not have a problem with overland folding in my neighborhood. There is not a person I even know who has experienced damage or basement water because of overland flooding. If overland flooding is causing an issue in parts o PR they should have to do an SaS, right?? That is using your argument not mine. I mean if those neighborhoods with overland flooding issues see dramatic improvement due this “tax” that I will now have to pay, how does not fit your favorite term….freeloading??

By the way, you seem to agree with their point about the sewer system qualifying as “taking it up the kazoo” so what does your phrase “intended to deal AS MUCH with?” IS it 50/50 so we are only getting half screwed??

EDITOR’S NOTE: From everything we have read and observed over the past 7 years (especially since the big flood of September 2008), overland flooding is far more widespread than you are acknowledging. And, frankly, the more people who install private flood protection to prevent their basements from becoming the equivalent of individual relief sewers, the greater the potential for overland flooding when the water that would otherwise end up in basements has nowhere to go but overland. So while we encourage individual flood protection, it contributes to overland flooding.

I never said that overland flooding was not a problem. What I said (your argument)is that those neighborhoods that have this issue should not freeload off of those who do not have this issue by having us pay this new tax.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And what we said is that more neighborhoods appear to have this issue than you seem to be acknowledging, making it much more of a “community-wide” issue than a “neighborhood” one. But we are sure the extentiveness of the problems will be one of the main topics of open Council debate, should you care to come out of the anonymous closet and address your concerns directly to the folks around The Horseshoe.

More widespread than acknowledged? What areas flood this particular way? . Nobody can answer, only a generic over there and over here. . . With the high cost you’d think the city or engineering firm would of surveyed the residences.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the last couple of years a number of residents from various areas of the City have appeared at Council meetings to report on overland flooding in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th Wards.

I admit I didn’t really understand, or want to understand, your calling people “freeloaders” and “parasites.” That seemed harsh to me. But for some reason this explanation clicked with me while reading it over my bowl of Wheaties and I now see what you are talking about.

When the principal benefit of some non-essential governmental service flows to you personally and enriches you personally at taxpayer expense, while you are fully capable of paying for that service, that’s freeloading. And when people from other communities who pay lower taxes for lesser services in their own communities come here to use our better services for free, that’s parasitism.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Excellent. Eat more Wheaties.

“Over the last couple of years a number of residents from various areas of the City have appeared at Council meetings to report on overland flooding in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 7th Wards”.

SO this is why you deem it to be more “community-wide?!?!?!” A number of residents over several years?? Very scientific!! All those wards have houses with basement flooding as well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not claiming that a number of residents “[o]ver the last couple of years” is “scientific.” But we saw overland flooding in every ward of Park Ridge in September 2008, and we’ve seen it in at least those five wards since.

Additionally, people with “basement flooding” (which we assume means sewer back-up flooding) have the ability to remedy that on their own with overhead sewers and/or check valves, something that can’t be done with overland flooding. So those two types of flooding aren’t the same for remediation purposes, or for purposes of who should pay for them.

By the way, why no demand for a referendum on this overland flooding SWU issue?? I mean that made the list (No. 6) as well, right, and you demand it for Mayfield and the other areas. It would seem logical that that same demand would apply to overland flooding. There goes that ole’ PD “consistency” again!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Until we hear concrete numbers for what the community-wide SWU costs might it would be premature to suggest whether or not a referendum should be held. We already have been told, however, that Mayfield Estates will cost approximately $2.3 million for a mere 23 affected homes – some/many(?) of which may have been purchased at a discount specifically because of their location and whose new owners now want a $100,000 per home taxpayer-funded improvement.

So now the dollar has to be big enough?? You keep changing the rules. Do you really think that “community-wide” (it will not be community-wide) is going to be a smaller amount compared to the park expansion or the library funding? You supported those referendum. In fact you demanded the library referendum. How does this SWU not apply??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Who says “it will not be community-wide” – some anonymous commentator who may not even live in Park Ridge?

How much overland flooding is a result of the building of McMansions on smallish lots over the last two decades or so? Because of deep basements and lot line to lot line construction that has greatly minimized the amount of green space for rain water absorption? What percentage of the town has experienced overland flooding?

Frankly no money should be invested in flooding related issues until there is a comprehensive change in the building and zoning codes to eliminate as much as possible the man made causes of flooding.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t know, and neither do you. But we do know that there is NO “lot line to lot line construction,” so your credibility is suspect on that basis alone.

By the way I also find it amazing that you seem to support (does the Mayor??) such a completely arbitrary criteria for a special tax. I though you guys were all about protecting the poor taxpayer (or maybe that is Thillens). What data is their to back up the criteria for the tax?? Some of the new houses in town gave drains on the property that mitigate run off and aloe water to go int the ground. A new house with a larger porch may infect drain better than a old house with a small porch.

Beyond that, if proof exists that these homes are such a problem in PR why have our elected officials done NOTHING to change rules for new builds?? They let all these homes be built without a problem but now want to tax them?

So essentially this is going to be a tax on people who can afford big houses with three car garages. How progressive of you!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not sure what you’re trying to say about things like “aloe water” (is that like Vitamin Water?) or what “completely arbitrary criteria” you’re talking about, so we’ll wait until you can write an intelligible comment.

“But we saw overland flooding in every ward of Park Ridge in September 2008, and we’ve seen it in at least those five wards since”.

The same applies for sewer back up…..every ward during that storm and since.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope, because most folks with overhead sewers and/or check valves don’t have sewer backups.

Look no further than the house in the 300 south block of Vine. This oversized house and garage now cause the neighbors to flood from rain water run off because the builder with the city’s approval raised the level of the lot, exceeded the allowable amount of coverage for the lot size, and violated a number of other building codes. The neighbors got no relief from the city to eliminate this man made overland flooding.

The city allows these McMansions to be built (they love the increased property taxes) then people are surprised when flooding occurs for the surrounding properties. The city should modify the building codes to increase green space requirements or require construction and materials that address water runoff or retention before taxing PR residents and spending millions on flooding “solutions”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have repeatedly advocated for improvements to the Zoning Code, so you get no argument from us on that point. But if not even one more McMansion was built in Park Ridge, we’d still have flooding problems.

As for 322 Vine, we addressed the kinkiness of that deal in our 05.03.12 and 05.23.12 posts. Fortunately, the main perpetrator of that fiasco (in our opinion) is no longer employed by the City, so hopefully there will be no repeats of that nonsense.

Please forgive the typos. I was on an mobile devise. Aloe was to be the word “allow”. Many of these newer houses have drainage systems in the yards that “allow” for the water to more efficiently drain into the ground. There may very well be less run off compared to an older house that has not such drainage system.

As to arbitrary, if what you stated as your understanding is the direction they go, there is no study behind it. I mean the point appears to be tax those who contribute most to the problem but there is not proof of that. In reality it is a complex that includes many criteria like how the house was graded (322 Vine). They arbitrarily picked one criteria. If all of these things were properly addressed in the zoning, appearance and inspection process. If the size of the structures and driveways and patios is so critical as to tax them why have the done nothing to address them?? They really have proof (they don’t) that this is such a major factor in our flood issue and have done nothing?? There are houses being built and about to be built in PR that will fit into the “tax” criteria and yet they are allowing them to be built.

Hell why not just tax people like me who put in flood control systems. You say I am contributing to the problem by keeping water out of my basement yet it was completely legal and the city had to inspect it as it was being installed. How about a flood control system tax? It would make just as much sense.

By the way, you asked who says it will not be community wide…..LOGIC says so. In the areas where this issue occurs (you claim it is city wide) the cost to make a dent in the issue will prevent from meeting and “city wide” standard.

EDITOR’S NOTE: From the looks of things your computer is no better than your “mobile devise.”

So rather than waste any more time trying to decipher which of your points are substantively unintelligible and which are merely the product of more typos, we’ll just generally disagree and leave it at that.

Every candidate in the 2015 Aldermanic election better be on record for many things, but especially:

* Do you support giving over $100,000 per home flood protection for Mayfield, thereby bailing them out (no pun intended) from making an uneducated purchase, buying on the cheap, and/or allowing past decisions (when annexed) to be changed. These people are soooooo dedicated to the fix, that they will not spend a dime for an SSA to solve their problem (and increase their property value by a huge margin).

* Do you support a sewer utility tax or whatever the marketing jargon they want to call it. You know, the one where you raise taxes and call it something special.

* Should contracts for condominiums (i.e. Park Ridge Pointe, Bristol Court) also be changed to help each condo owner increase their property value. Because, you know, that’s what this craziness is about.

* Do you support more large Apartment projects? If not, what will you propose to stop over dense projects.

* Can you stand up to the loud Flood Zombies that are NOT talking about overland flooding, but want dry basements? Yes, Flood Zombies, since they go on every board and want our tax money, our parks, even our DRIVEWAYS to be used by the city for flood control. It’s getting insane out there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Great points and great questions. And we can hear the tap-dance practicing already.

A stormwater utility is no more a tax than your water bill. It is a user fee. Right now, residents of Park Ridge pay a sewer tax. We are not paying the full cost of the service provided or the money needed to maintain the infrastructure. The City is currently looking into a stormwater utility which residents would pay based on how much they use. Stormwater utilities can be structured many different ways, but they often give credit for green space or open areas, permeable areas (which could be pavement), and other ways which can be used to change people’s behavior. This is one advantage of a stormwater utility – a government entity can plan to manage for future conditions (more frequent heavier rainfall storms, more tear downs with bigger replacement homes). The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning wrote a paper on stormwater utilities that provides many local examples:

Now will one of the Anons tell me not to comment and sign my name?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another candidate willing to engage here – the City must have put something in the water!

Excellent intro to SWUs, and interesting to see how communities like Highland Park and Downers Grove are handling their SWUs. Thanks.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, “Cindy,” but you either got the wrong comment or the wrong post.

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