City Council Finally Says “No” To Politics Of Appeasement


It wasn’t a pretty process, and it took too darn long.

But the Park Ridge City Council finally made the right decision last Monday (Feb. 1) night in dropping the City’s appeal of Judge Kathleen Pantle’s November 2015 decision in favor of owner/developer John O’Flaherty and his 400 W. Talcott LLC’s plan to develop the eponymous parcel.

Judge Pantle’s reversed the decision of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission to deny the developer’s site plan review application because of the size and scale of the four-story, 22-residential unit structure – even though it met the City’s then-existing Zoning Code standards for B-1 “business” property, which lacked the same kind of residential density restrictions contained in the Code’s “R” (for “Residential”) zoning classifications.

Pantle ruled that P&Z abused its discretion in denying the Code-compliant site plan.

That always sounded like the right decision to us. As we wrote in our 12.22.15 post:

“We’re no fans of increased residential density for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the likelihood such increased density brings more flooding and more school-aged kids adding to our school-tax deficits. But when a developer satisfies our Zoning Code requirements, that should be the end of it – especially when both the City’s former and current law firms agree that the likelihood of the City’s prevailing on appeal is low.”

And way back on 10.22.14, our post noted how “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” – a “determination…based on what increasingly appears to be a vague, ambiguous and unacceptably inadequate Zoning Code” that makes development unpredictable, and therefore “unfriendly,” to business and residents alike.

But what appears to have happened here is that both the folks on P&Z and, subsequently, a four-alderman majority of the Council, let themselves get stampeded into wrong decisions in order to appease a roomful of vocal, specially-interested residents – commonly known as NIMBYs for “Not In My Back Yard” – who really didn’t seem to care one whit about the provisions of the Zoning Code or the developer’s compliance with those provisions.

That’s their right as NIMBYs. And we’re big fans of NIMBYs because they tend to shine a spotlight on issues that non-NIMBYs often overlook – as in this case, where the Talcott NIMBYs helped the City identify loopholes in the Zoning Code, at least one or two of which have since been closed.

Unfortunately, both P&Z and the Council majority seem to have let their good judgment fall prey to the desires of the NIMBYs’ special-interests.

We’ve often called that “political pandering” but perhaps a more accurate term is the “political appeasement.”  It’s an inherent danger when elected or appointed officials try to be politicians instead of statesmen, and look for the most politically expedient solution instead of figuring out what the right course of action is and then taking it – special interests, no matter how vocal, be damned.

Compounding that wrong decision by Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran, Milissis and Shubert was Milissis’ comment in December that an appeal was part of “a strategy to drag this out longer and fight it” notwithstanding that “the likelihood of us winning is slim to none” based on advice of counsel.

That invited a January 14, 2016 letter from the developer’s attorney to the City, charging that the City’s decision to appeal appeared to be “an effort to appease disgruntled residents who would like to make this process as difficult, lengthy and expensive…as possible” for the developer. That arguably opened the City up to potential liability for tens of thousands of dollars of the developer’s attorneys’ fees as a judicial sanction for bad-faith prosecution of the appeal, as well as money damages for any extraordinary costs resulting from delay caused by the appeal.

Ald. Milissis, an attorney, certainly knew better than that. So we have to assume that his vote and his comments were mistakes; and that they were the product of a misguided intention to appease those vocal opponents of this development rather than the product of any over-arching public policy tone-deafness.

Two of those vocal opponents reportedly have threatened their own legal action against the developer, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. The likelihood of individuals spending their own money on attorneys and lawsuits tends to be inversely proportional to the frequency, intensity and volume of their beefs that “government” should do that heavy lifting for them.

Notwithstanding the mis-steps, however, the Council wised up and did what it should have done from the start: listened to the beefers, realized that the developer’s compliance with the Zoning Code made everything legal, and told the beefers “No.”

Public officials should never be human windsocks, moving reflexively in response to the winds of public sentiment – especially when that sentiment is expressed by a small-but-vocal special-interest minority. And extra-especially when that small-but-vocal minority loudly proclaims that it represents a “majority” – but doesn’t have the signed and notarized proxies to back up such grandiose proclamations.

Non-windsock public officials were basically what Madison was advocating when he explained the function of the ideal people’s representative in Federalist No. 10:

[T]o refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.

That “public voice” was finally pronounced – correctly and by the entire Council – last Monday night. For that all Park Ridge taxpayers should be grateful.

Yes, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

Yes, it shouldn’t have taken a closed-session meeting – especially in light of the fact that the advice of both the City’s former counsel and its current counsel against prosecuting the appeal was already public knowledge.

But at least it was done before the Council wasted $5-10,000 of the taxpayers’ money on a losing appeal. And it was done before the Council risked saddling those same taxpayers with tens of thousands of additional dollars for the developer’s attorneys’ fees and delay damages the appellate court could have awarded as sanctions.

We trust this latest Council vote demonstrates that the errant majority, and the minority aldermen as well, have learned an important lesson about the dangers inherent in playing the politics of appeasement.

As Churchill once said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

No matter how noisy it might get and how sharp it says its teeth are, however, a special interest is not a crocodile.

So why treat it like one?

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

Step 1: Closed session meeting…..Holy transparency batman!! Why was this a closed session? Were they discussing how to clean the egg of their faces?

Step 2: Vote to not persue appeal.

Step 3: Really ridiculous quote from Mayor Marty….”I supported the appeal based on the cost estimate our attorneys gave us. I wasn’t supporting an appeal to be a nuisance…..If there were merits of the appeal, I was in support of that”.

Correct me if I am wrong but the cities attorneys told the council (including the Mayor) that winning an appeal was a long shot if not out right recommended against an appeal prior to the councils vote to appeal. In other words, they told you there were no merits to the appeal prior to you voting for it!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Closed session seems unnecessary.

The original cost estimate from the City’s attorneys on which the original vote was based was $5,000-7,500 for what was a “longshot” – but NOT a “no merits” – appeal. But the price of poker escalated substantially thereafter when the developer’s attorney threatened to pursue both money damages and attorneys’ fees.


December 15th story in HA:

“The council’s decision to appeal the ruling comes against the advice of Park Ridge’s former and current legal counsel, both of whom told city officials that the likelihood of the judge’s decision being reconsidered or overturned on appeal is low”.

“It is a difficult case to win because the city is not allowed to bring in anything new,” City Attorney Julie Tappendorf told the council Monday. “Whatever happened at the [Planning and Zoning Commission meetings] is what happened”.

So the Mayor ignored this part and voted yes based on the cost….but only if it had merit…..WTF?!?!?!

EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE EDITOR’S NOTE to your previous comment.

The Mayor did what he did for the reasons that he gave. If you’ve got a beef with that, have the spine to show up at City Hall next Monday night and beef to the Mayor’s face instead of sniping anonymously from ambush.


The most liberating and valuable feeling for an elected official is that of not giving a rats derrière (to use one of your terms) or assigning very little value to political cost. The minute you have aspirations for higher office or worry about your re-election you have become beholden to the phenomena you refer to in your post (political appeasement etc). I am happy to say that my re-election or the political cost of what I do has zero bearing on my decisions. What is important to me is to be aware of my mandate by those I represent and to remain true to what I promised when running and to what I believe is the best interest of those I represent. I have zero aspirations for higher office and could care less if was not reelected. My decision, my vote and my comments had one overarching principle in mind. Protecting the freedom of citizens and their right to participate in their local government. This developer dragged into court PR residents who dared show up in an open meeting and express their opinion and dislike of this development. As I’ve said before,I believe that action caused a chilling effect on our residents ability and willingness to participate in open meetings in our city. What resident wouldn’t think twice about showing up at a P&Z meeting to express their opinion after that stunt? I believed that I had the duty to stand up for those residents and their rights by showing that the city supports them by spending what was presented to us at the time as a small and reasonable cost. For future purposes I wanted it to be known that I do not look favorably on the type of action the developer took against regular citizens who spoke up. At the same time the council has taken action to address the ordinance side of this matter. I always have and will continue to vote my conscience.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” John Quincy Adams

I hope I am wrong but it does not appear to me that they “said no to the politics of appeasement” as your title states. It is more like this case became too expensive for their liking, but if it had still been at the bargain price of the original estimate they would have been perfectly happy with appeasement.

I would also wonder aloud if this new decision to go back on the appeal was statesman like behavior or just being political. It would have become very awkward politically to go forward with this and spend a silly amount of money when (to this day) there was not definable merit to the appeal. In other words, there is no evidence if they have any grasp of the concepts you describe above. If they did then the bargain price would never have been a good reason for the vote.

Lastly, I would remind Alderman Milissis I believe the developer (essentially a small businessman) had already purchased the property based on the zoning. He was then told no by the city and, in theory, would have been stuck with a virtually unsalable property. All this when he followed the code to the letter. Any reasonable person in that scenario would sue and if council advised naming neighbors they would follow advice of council.

I’m not sure why the council voted to appeal the judge’s ruling, but I guess I’m happy the council chose not to pursue the appeal because it could have been really stupid and expensive if it didn’t.

Could it have been handled better? Yes. Was it screwed up? Yes. Was it salvaged? Yes. Process bad, result okay.

Twenty or thirty people show up at a meeting and expect the city council to do what they want just because they’ve showed up and people with an opposing viewpoint did not, despite whether or not their position has any validity. Just say “no” to dopes.

“Statesmanship”, I think, is all about balance. [I would insert a quote from the Federalist Papers here, but the only quote I can think of about “balance” comes from The Karate Kid and probably is too esoteric for this this blog]. It isn’t about the letter of the law, or about what the majority feels, or about their own emotional feelings, or about what a vocal minority feels. Rather it is the act of balancing all of those sometimes disparate viewpoints and coming to a decision that is the correct one for the community which one is serving.

Arriving at the statesmanlike decision is not made in a vacuum. It is a dynamic process. A statesman can come to a decision at one point in time and later change his position based upon new facts or even just a re-weighing of the old ones.

I mention all of this mainly because I am on hold with tech-support for a computer issue in my office, but also because I think that the alderman and mayor have been trying to act in the best interest of Park Ridge all the way through this process and that they are to be commended for working things through instead of being condemned for reconsidering the weight of the various points of view.

I happen to agree that the appeal should have been dropped. I may even agree that that it should have never been pursued in the first place, but even if I was one of the “vocal minority”, I’d like to think that I would be able to see that our representatives were working with the best interests of our city at heart.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Matt: We’re happy to serve as an on-hold diversion for you.

We disagree with you that “statesmanship” is all about balancing disparate viewpoints, as that tends to suggest compromising those disparate viewpoints as if each is worthy of some level of deference when some viewpoints are simply “suspect,” fatally flawed,” or even “worthless” – and should be disregarded. Hence one of our favorite quotes, by James Russell Lowell: “Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

We do agree with you, however, that the current Council is comprised of people who generally seem to have a strong sense of putting the whole community above provincial special interests.

A semantic argument about the meaning of “balance” in my comments. I didn’t really mean “compromise” at all. I did mean consideration of all points of view and giving them the weight each deserves in the process of determining one’s position on an issue. Statesmanship would require that “worthless” points of view be treated as such. However, Mr. Miyagi never mentioned anything about “consideration”, so I went with “balance”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fair enough.

Just don’t try the “stork” move.

“I did mean consideration of all points of view and giving them the weight each deserves in the process of determining one’s position on an issue”.

Any elect official can claim that they have given consideration to all points of view, even if they did no such thing. I think that the real arguments are around the weight each deserves in the process. I happen to think that existing laws and codes deserve considerable weight. If elected officials believe that those laws or codes are wrong or do not reflect the community they represent there is a process by which they can change them. I suppose there are cases where an elected official feels compelled to advocate violating existing laws but I do not think this situation qualifies…… is not even close to qualifying!!

The case and appeal had some merit but because as pubdog himself will admit involved a vague and ambiguous (now amended) ordinance which a trial court level judge or a panel of appeal judges could have decided the other way. Unfortunately the lawyers arguing the case seem to have not transcribed and presented all the discussions from all the meetings and did not argue the nuances that created the vagueness and ambiguities. Recently several neighbors have raised the possibility of bringing their own lawsuit (guess the developers stunt in suing the residents may rile them up evough to get their own lawyer) under an adjoining landowner statute (11-13-15: some bold resident passed out packets citing the law at a council meeting) but have to wait until permits are pulled. If those residents can show that things like having a 99% residential building in a commercial district where the ground floor is 99.8% residential parking -even though the plan calls for compliance with commercial parking requirements rather than the higher residential parking requirements,do not comply with the ordinance, a court can and should stop the development. Further if the ordinance at the time said “dwellings above ground floor” are allowed over commercial uses -how is this building compliant when probably 99% of the ground floor is residential parking with only a sliver of commercial space shoved in one tiny corner of the building. seems far from merit less. And aren’t the lawyers that handled the case for the city no longer the lawyers for city bc the city decided they weren’t doing so great (this was. Probably another example of that) and weren’t the new lawyers stuck with ,for purposes of appeal, what the “no longer city lawyers” stuck us with in terms of arguments and or lack of transcripts from PNZ meetings. In the olden days PNZ brought in court reporters to take down what was said to have a full record. We have video and or audio these days. Did anyone bother to transcribe those tapes and submit to judge?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Judge Wapner – he dead. As are your comments.

We have read Judge Pantle’s opinion and the memos of both Kathie Henn (KTJ) and Julie Tappendorf (AG), and it is clear that both Henn’s and Tappendorf’s opinions that the Judge’s decision was unlikely to be overturned on appeal are solid.

As for “transcripts,” the Judge expressly found that:

“It is clear from the record that the opinions of the testifying residents were just that: opinions unsupported by facts. To the extent that any denial is based on the opinions of these residents, that denial is arbitrary and capricious because there is no evidence presented by the residents.”

But since you sound like one of those all-opinion-no-facts residents, go out and hire yourself a private attorney and let him/her fight your battle for you – on your own dime rather than on the taxpayers.

This council has been a do-nothing council once again.
– Why haven’t they voted on new laws to protect high-density developments, which are popping up all over town? “Oops” or “It wasn’t me” is so typically political in nature.

– How has this council as you say: “current Council is comprised of people who generally seem to have a strong sense of putting the whole community above provincial special interests.”
Only days after passing a Stormwater Tax (sorry, it’s a a fee as they call it, so that sounds wayyyyy better).

* The Stormwater TAX is tax that attacks homeowners for designing their properties according to the Park Ridge own code retroactively, but now Millissis wants a TAX to fund his own property value, by retrofitting his own area with sewers that originally the homeowners didn’t want. (And Millissis says NO to SSA’s).

Now this was Mazzucca’s new TAX idea, so I don’t want to leave him out of the Stormwater TAX increase on ALL homeowners, businesses, schools, churches……How many times will it hit each homeowner?

Sorry PubDog, I don’t buy your comment that I quoted above.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry gutless coward sniping from the cover of anonymity, we don’t care what you buy…or lease, or borrow.

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