Park District Spares Taxpayers, Ticks Freeloaders


Readers of this blog know that we’re not the biggest fans of Park Ridge Park District Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle.

Not because she’s a bad person. She isn’t, although we try to leave those kinds of judgments to higher powers because they’re generally above our pay grade.

Our main beefs with Mountcastle are the things she has done in her ED role that we find abhorrent to honest, transparent and accountable government – most notably her manipulation of too-compliant Park Board members to push through a second/third-rate, over-budget $8 million Centennial water park without the voter referendum that previous directors and park boards scrupulously held for every major Park District project since the misbegotten Community Center was built, without referendum, 20+ years ago.

And a design and budgeting process for the new Prospect Park that now seems inept at best, and a bait-and-switch at worst.

But we have to give the “devil” (tongue firmly planted in cheek) her due – and also toss a few kudos in the Park Board’s direction – for turning the District’s collection of amenities into a business-like operation that is projected to derive nearly 51% of its budgeted revenues – up almost 4% from the current year’s projections – not by squeezing already-pinched taxpayers for more property taxes but, instead, through charging user fees.

What a novel concept for government: Make the District’s pay-per-use facilities and programs provide enough value that residents, and even non-residents, are actually willing to pay something close to fair market price for them!

Well, not quite all of our residents.

There’s a contingent of local “freeloaders” – our one-word shorthand for what we otherwise would have to describe, in 31 words, as “those residents who are always looking to leverage maximum benefits for themselves, their families and their friends by shifting the costs of those benefits onto the backs of their fellow taxpayers” – who don’t like these fee increases one bit.

How do we know?

Because perhaps the most outspoken poster-child for local freeloading of all types, Kathy Panattoni Meade, tells us so.

Shortly after the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate published its article about the Park District’s plan to increase certain user fees in its 2016 budget (“Park Ridge pool passes, fitness center memberships could get more expensive,” Oct. 6), KPM was burning up the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page about…wait for it…how she pays taxes that should entitle her to free use of whatever her heart desires, including all Park District facilities and programs.

Just for kicks, let’s look at a few of her FB comments – which we present in italics, followed with our own comments in bold for the reader’s convenience:

“I can put my kids in programs in other communities for less money – even as a non-resident. This enrages me because my taxes should be offsetting the cost of the programs.”

Vaya con Dios, KPM. If you can get a better deal in Niles, Skokie, Winnetka, Lake Bluff or Medicine Hat, adios!

“If the price of the pool passes is going up then the ban on outside food needs to be lifted. The Park District can not ask people to pay over $200 [for a family full-season pool pass] and then forced [sic] Park Ridge residents to pay for over-priced snacks. That is unconscionable.”

Let’s try some Econ 101, KPM: If you aren’t going to go to the pools often enough to justify the family full-season pool pass, don’t buy one! Problem solved…without the Park District having to change its rules to let you roll in a cooler of drinks, a bucket of KFC, or a 6-foot sub from Tony’s.

“I have no problems with paying high taxes for services and that our high taxes in Park Ridge should be off setting the price of the programs at the PRPD.”

Let’s try a little more Econ 101: If the increased fees are paying only 51% of the District’s budgeted revenues, 49% of the budgeted revenues are still being covered by the taxpayers. Reducing the fee revenues as you desire means the taxpayers – including you – will need to pay even higher taxes. But, then again, freeloaders like you don’t mind higher taxes so long as you can recoup them through excessive use of the facilities and services.

“I don’t mind paying high taxes. I knew it was part of the package when I moved here. I want to live in a community where people aren’t complaining that the police are overpaid or the teachers are overpaid yet the city manager is making $140k and the school superintendent is making nearly $200k.”

That “$140k” (actually more than $150K) for the City Mgr., and that “nearly $200k” (actually $250K-plus) for the D-64 Supt. presumably reflects the fact that both of them are the CEOs of their respective $70 Million-plus business enterprises. A patrolman starts at around 40% of the City Mgr.’s salary, and a classroom teacher starts at about 25% of the Supt.’s salary. So your beef is…?

“I posted about the holiday lights which sparked a conversation and now a fund to pay for the holiday lights!”

KPM, you had NOTHING whatsoever to do with the creation of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund. And, true to your freeloader form, as of the time of publication of this post the Fund has no record of your having donated one cent – as if that should come as any surprise.

But enough about the freeloader mentality and the freeloaders who revel in it.

The Park District really is onto something. And all you taxpayers – you folks who are net “payers,” as opposed to the net “users” (like KPM) whose principal goal is to pull more out of the public trough than they put into it – should be supporting that effort.

Now that the Park District is crossing the 50% threshold of non-tax revenue, its next goal should be having tax dollars cover only those CAPITAL costs of the District’s parks and facilities, while having user fees cover all the operating expenses.

That’s the kind of twofer we like: Making the taxpayers happy.

And making the freeloaders howl.

To read or post comments, click on title.

To Understand Evanston Water Option, Think Uptown TIF


About ten (10) years ago the government of the City of Park Ridge decided to lock our taxpayers into tens of millions of dollars of 20+ year bonded debt in return for the potential – the mere P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L – of approximately $23 million of net revenue. They called it the “Uptown TIF” and “Uptown Redevelopment,” depending on whom they were trying to cajole or bamboozle.

Needless to say, that potential net revenue never materialized. But the City was nevertheless stuck paying off that bonded debt, the cost of which has substantially reduced and even prevented certain infrastructure spending, while also causing property taxes to rise. Meanwhile, that $23 million net revenue has turned into (at last estimate) an approximately $17 million net loss.

And, not surprisingly, not one of those elected or appointed officials responsible for steamrolling the TIF fiasco past the taxpayers – without even giving the taxpayers a referendum vote on it – has ever stepped up to assume accountability for it.

So why are we bringing up the Uptown TIF financing in connection with a post about the City’s water sourcing?

Because, to quote George Santayana: “Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

And the City Council seems to be moving toward repeating that past TIF mistake with what we will call the “Evanston Water Option” (or “EWO” for short).

The EWO was devised by Morton Grove and Niles and consists of constructing a water supply line from Evanston, along with the necessary pumping infrastructure. Those two communities are putting the full-court press on Park Ridge to commit to picking up a substantial portion of the EWO’s staggering cost they don’t want to carry all by themselves.

What’s in it for Park Ridge?

If you listen to the Sirens’ song coming from Park Ridge’s would-be municipal partners, cheaper water. And if you listen to some of our town’s chronically under-informed shallow thinkers, the vast long-term savings from buying water from Evanston instead of Chicago will not only pay for all that new water line infrastructure but also can pay for flood control projects. (Yes, Kathy Panattoni Meade, we’re talking about you).

Fortunately for Park Ridge taxpayers, however, they now have elected City officials who are more intelligent, and far less ignorant and gullible, than their predecessors back in 2003-05.

Led by Acting-Mayor Marty Maloney and Finance Chair Ald. Dan Knight, this Council is demanding that City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, Finance Director Joe Gilmore, and Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim get their hands around the cost of Park Ridge’s share of the project – which starts at around $60 million and could go as high as almost $100 Million, depending on who’s throwing the numbers around and what day of the week it is. And, as best as we can tell, even that low-end $60 million figure doesn’t include 30 years of debt service – which even at 2% interest could add almost $30 million to the cost.

Call that $90 million, at a bare minimum.

So when you look at Gilmore’s water-cost savings projections using a 3% annual increase in the cost of Chicago water and a 4% discount rate for the net present value of the water-cost savings over 30 years, his $26,285,068 savings will be completely consumed – and then some – by those bond interest costs the City will have to pay just on the lowest-end EWO cost. And that deficit could grow by tens of millions of dollars if the high-end cost becomes reality.

Sound familiar?

We don’t mean to suggest that continuing to do business with those incompetent and corrupt weasels who have run Chicago into the ground over the past 30+ years – a/k/a mayors Richie “the Evil Midget” Daley and Rahm “Tiny Dancer” Emanuel, along with more than a hundred of their sycophantic alderdopes – doesn’t come with a significant risk of future price-gouging as Chicago tries to prevent itself from going the way of Detroit.

But there are scores of variables, some of which (e.g., Chicago’s possible/likely municipal bankruptcy) could salvage Chicago financially and thereby result in a much less pressing need for it to gouge Park Ridge on water prices over the next 30 years. But once the City issues its $60 million (or $100 million) of bonded debt, our variables become pretty darn limited because that money needs to be repaid.

Just like the Uptown TIF bonds. Or just like Paulie Cicero’s loan to Sonny Bunz for the Bamboo Lounge in “Goodfellas.”

This matter is on tonight’s City Council COW agenda. Let’s hope the current Council – unlike its predecessor 10 years ago – figures out that something too good to be true usually isn’t.  Because this project already appears to be fool’s gold in much the same way the Uptown TIF and the City’s multi-million dollar “investment” in Uptown Redevelopment appeared to be, even before then-mayor Mike Marous and then-city manager Tim Schuenke sprinkled it with pixie dust and snake oil.

Otherwise, we might end up stuck with an EWO project so bad it ends up making the Uptown TIF almost look good by comparison.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64’s Stealthy Public Relations Council


Back on August 11 we published a post about the lack of transparency at…where else…Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

Unofficial motto: “Don’t ask, cuz we won’t tell.”

We wrote about how D-64 Super!-intendent – because that’s pretty much how Board president Tony Borrelli and fellow Board members gushed about her when the Board gave her a $250,000+ contract extension and raise a few months ago – Laurie Heinz got herself a propaganda army she named the “Community Relations Council”(the “CRC”) for its avowed purpose of “strengthening relationships between the schools and local residents” in order to facilitate “a free-flowing dialogue and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”

D-64 Minister of Disinformation Bernadette Tramm must have earned combat pay for that folderol.

Anybody who pays attention to what passes for representative government at D-64 knows by now that if there’s any “free-flowing dialogue” over there, it’s occurring only when the Board scurries off into its regular secretive closed session meetings, the proceedings of which it hides and keeps hidden from the public. For us ordinary Park Ridge residents/taxpayers, on the other hand, “free-flowing dialogue” most often consists of “talking to the hand” of Heinz and the Board collective.

According to Super!-Heinz, there were almost 40 applicants for the CRC, 19 of which were chosen and identified for the first time in a Sept. 16 posting on the D-64 website – one day after the CRC’s first meeting was held. Just chalk that timing up to D-64’s version of the “it’s-better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-than-permission” school of non-transparency and non-accountability.

And this being the D-64 Star Chamber, the only thing that has been revealed about the 19 successful applicants so far appears to be their names:

Marlene Arteta, Chris Bauer, Anne Camarano, Mariana Eguren-Cosma, Jeff Flyke, Kathleen Kornely, Terry Krahl, Dale Lasky, Robert Leurck, Maureen McGuire, Annette Miller, Sheri Roche, Philip Salemi, Rob Schoenstedt, Franco Scimeca, Paul Sheehan, Michael Shields, Jennifer Steurer and Kara Vormittag.

Because of D-64’s pro-secrecy/anti-transparency obsession, the qualifications of these 19 individuals (as well as the other 20 or so unsuccessful applicants) are nowhere to be found on the District’s website or in any of its Board materials for the past several Board meetings. That’s in stark and ugly contrast to the transparency of the process by which the Park Ridge City Council appoints residents to its boards and commissions – where every single application is posted on the City’s website days before those applicants are interviewed by the Mayor’s Advisory Council, in meetings open to the press and the public, prior to the recommendation of the selected applicants to the mayor and the full Council’s voting on them in meetings open to the press and the public.

We also can’t find anything in the D-64 Board’s minutes, agendas or meeting materials to suggest that the Board had any role whatsoever (even its typical rubber-stamping one) in the appointments of the favored 19. That suggests that the whole CRC is Heinz’s personal rodeo, although we assume Tramm was whispering sweet somethings into Heinz’s ear during the selection process.

Meanwhile, unsuccessful applicants like Watchdog reader/commentator George Korovilas were left scratching their heads about why they weren’t chosen, although only Korovilas publicly expressed his skepticism of the process and/or selection criteria in a comment to the 08.11.15 post on 09.15.15 @ 11:03 a.m.:

I think that maybe PUBDOG might be onto something with this NEW council created by the superintendent. I was offended that PUBDOG would suggest that only YES men would be put on this council, since I applied to be on it. I, along with others that believe there is good and bad with what the district is doing and had NO INTENTION of being YES people, have been denied a spot on this council. I hope that I am wrong but it looks like I might owe PUBDOG an apology for his original take on this Council.

Poor guy: he thought the selection process would be (to quote the late Jay McMullen, husband of then-Chicago mayor Jane Byrne) “on the legit.” As if anything of consequence D-64 does is ever totally “on the legit” or even totally out-in-the-open.

Korovalis clearly overlooked how his vocal beefing about the District’s ongoing refusal to provide D-64 parents with itemized billing statements of the expenses that comprise the annual student fees made him a persona non grata with Heinz and the Board. His chances of getting appointed to anything at D-64 more important than Franklin School copy machine volunteer are slim and none.

But back to the CRC.

It’s supposed to meet three times a year for a couple of hours at a crack, with these 19 members serving for two years.

And according to Heinz’s post on the D-64 website, CRC members “will be building their understanding of current District 64 issues” – as spoon-fed to them by Heinz and Tramm, of course – which those CRC members will, in turn, spoon-feed to the community.  That’s the way non-transparent, non-accountable governmental bodies stay that way: by controlling the flow of information to that public.

And Heinz also wants CRC members to “provide her with feedback about what misconceptions the community might have about what is or isn’t happening” in D-64. [Emphasis ours.]

“Misconceptions” like the continuing underachievement of D-64’s students despite the ever-increasing costs to the taxpayers?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Criminal Background Checks: Good Idea But No Panacea


The Park Ridge City Council is considering requiring criminal background checks for residents appointed to the City’s various boards and commissions.

The simple question to ask when considering this idea is: Are there any advantages to having board and commission members who have criminal records?

We don’t think so.

According to a story in the current edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge exploring background checks for board, commission volunteers,” Sept. 29), more than 100 residents serve on 17 boards and commissions by mayoral appointment.

That means that more than 100 residents are making significant decisions for our community while, unlike the mayor and the aldermen, not having been subjected to direct scrutiny by our community’s 24,000 or so registered voters – even if only 11,000 or so of those voters ever actually bother to show up and cast their votes. Instead, prospective board and commission appointees are vetted by the “Mayor’s Advisory Board” comprised of the chairs of the Council’s four standing committees, serving as the peoples’ representatives.

That vetting and selection process is all well and good by us. But it requires at least four conscientious aldermen who will make the effort to select, if not the “best of the best, sir!” (“MIB”), at least the tallest midgets in the circus – and not a collection of the usual suspects appointed primarily because they are somebody’s buddies who can be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the mayor, aldermen and/or City bureaucrats, or some developers or business owners, want.

Having conscientious aldermen at all times, however, can’t be guaranteed.

Back when Ron Wietecha (1990-2003) and Howard Frimark (2005-2009) were mayor, a number of aldermen were so dependent on being told how to vote that they probably still bear faint traces of their respective mayor’s thumbprints on their backs or bellies. And we remember at least one alderman regularly taking his seat at The Horseshoe before tearing open his meeting packet for the first time – back in the days before transparency, when the packets were delivered on Saturdays and their contents weren’t available on-line.

So criminal background checks might also compensate, at least a little bit, for a lack of diligence by any phone-it-in aldermen.

Background checks would create reports that most likely would be public documents discoverable through FOIA requests, however, so we agree with new City Attorney Adam Simon that they should be required only for those applicants who actually are recommended to the mayor for appointment AND whom the mayor actually intends to appoint. [NOTE: Under the City Code, the mayor is free to reject such recommendations and, after two such rejections, he/she can appoint whomever he/she chooses.] That way, all those unsuccessful candidates will not have their privacy invaded unnecessarily.

But while such a process makes sense, it will not immunize the City from bad appointments who do stupid things because…well…they are stupid and/or ignorant individuals; or because they are “pleasers” for whom a pat on the back or a rub of the belly can suspend any semblance of good judgment.  Nor will it shield the City from appointees without criminal records who – when given the opportunity – might decide to do somebody a “favor,” either gratuitously or on a quid pro quo basis.

Remember: Dixon, Illinois’ appointed treasurer/comptroller (and quarter horse breeder extraordinaire), Rita Crundwell, didn’t have a criminal record when she ripped off Dixon’s taxpayers for $53.7 million over 22 years.

To read or post comments, click on title.