Public Watchdog.org

Election 2019: We Suck Once Again

04.13.19

Almost two weeks have passed since this year’s local elections, and here are a few observations about them.

1.  Turnout totally sucked. Despite 2 weeks (including weekends) of early voting and decent weather on Election Day itself, only 4,605 of the 34,626 registered voters (13.3%) in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 bothered to show up to vote for all 4 contested races. That’s the worst D-64 election turnout since 2011, prompting our 04.06.2011 post which told all those MIA registered voters: “You suck!”

That goes double this year.

And as in 2011, the 1st and 3rd Wards couldn’t even produce a contested race (neither could the 7th, but that’s a slightly different story), although at least this time the 3rd Ward derelicts didn’t need a write-in candidate to avoid having to figure out what’s the procedure for filling a seat when nobody even runs. Mayoral appointment? Raffle?

Meanwhile, interest in Park Ridge Park District and Maine Twp. School District 207 boards was so poor there weren’t even any contested races – which was worse than in 2011, and makes us wonder why 4,312 voters out of the 32,044 registered Park District voters (13.46%), or 9,982 out of the 97,915 registered D-207 voters (10.24%), even bothered to vote for candidates who could not lose so long as they voted for themselves.

And the 5th Ward contested aldermanic race drew a meager 1,001 of the 7,313 registered voters (13.69%) in that ward.

For a community like ours, the April 2 turnout is nothing short of pathetic and embarrassing. Paraphrasing a line from T.S. Eliot: “This is the way democracy ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

2.  The D-64 race featured, for what appears to be the first time in Park Ridge election history, an overtly single-gender ticket of Rebecca Little, Lisa Page, Denise Pearl and Carol Sales, running as the “MOMS for District 64 School Board!” All but Page won, and Page lost to incumbent Tom Sotos by a mere 77 votes despite running what could best be described as a “stealth” campaign that eschewed yard signs and all other trappings of a serious candidacy.

We suspect that, had there been slate of candidates campaigning as the “4 DADS,” the howling about sexism and gender politics would have been so high-pitched and loud that it would have agitated every dog between Park Ridge and Indianapolis.

We’ll be interested to see if this was just a one-off phenomenon orchestrated in response to the tone-deaf arrogance and incompetence of the Tony Borrelli/Laurie Heinz Administration – and perhaps to provide sympathetic ears to the teachers’ and teacher assistants’ unions going into contract negotiations – or an actual movement by “MOMS” to take control of local government while “dads” continue to drink beer, scratch themselves and watch sports on t.v.

We’ll also be interested to see whether D-64 will become a better school system producing better academic achievement 4 years from now than it has been on Borrelli’s/Heinz’s watch.

If the MOMS-dominated (since 2013) D-207 Board is any guide, however, the answer to that will be a resounding “No!” – as evidenced by those D-207 MOMS blindly rubber-stamping 5 years of mismanagement and abject neglect of the District’s facilities by the incompetent-yet-arrogant Supt. Ken Wallace that had Maine South’s U.S. News & World Reports ranking sliding from 29th in 2012 to 45th in 2016, before falling out of the rankings entirely in 2017 and 2018.

How did that MOMS-dominated Board react to those failures? They helped Wallace pass a $300 million-plus referendum last November, and then gave him a 5-year contract extension and raise.

When it comes to competence in public service, therefore, XY appears to be no more an indicator of it than XX. And if you want more proof of that, we give you Laurie Heinz and Tony Borrelli.

(Edited 04.14.2019)

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Congratulations To The Winners

04.03.19

The people have spoken!

At Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, the sole incumbent (Athan “Tom” Sotos,) and three new candidates (Carol Sales, Rebecca Little and Denise Pearl) prevailed over Lisa Page, Steve Blindauer, Gareth Kennedy and Sal Galati.

And Ald. Charlie Melidosian prevailed over Sal Raspanti to represent the 5th Ward on the City Council, while Alds. John Moran (1st), Gail Wilkening (3d) and Marty Joyce (7th) won their uncontested races for their existing seats around The Horseshoe.

Meanwhile, Incumbent Cindy Grau and newcomers Jennifer LaDuke and Matt Coyne won uncontested races for the Park Ridge Park District Board, while Incumbents Teri Collins and Paula Besler and newcomer Sheila Yousuf-Abramson won uncontested races for the Maine Township High School District 207 Board.

Congratulations!

Now the real work begins. We look forward to seeing what you can do.

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Melidosian For Sainthood, But Raspanti For 5th Ward Alderman

04.02.19

We begin this post with a disclaimer: The editor of this blog has known both candidates for 5th Ward alderman for many years, has dined with them, has cocktailed with them, and likes both of them and their wives.

But if the race for 5th Ward alderman between current alderman Charlie Melidosian and former 4th Ward alderman (2011-2013) Sal Raspanti were a pageant, Melidosian would be a shoo-in for “Miss Congeniality.”

Whether he’s barbecuing competitively or just for fun, whether he’s walking his mammoth beasts around Hodge’s Park or being walked by them, whether he’s pumping out somebody’s flooded basement, building Habitat residences on weekends, or chauffeuring campaign manager Jean Dietsch from Central Wisconsin back to Park Ridge to deal with a family emergency, Charlie is an undisputed social asset to this community.

Heck, he probably could qualify for sainthood if he were Roman Catholic.

As it is, however, he may be Park Ridge’s current benchmark of affability.

But the history of failed local government in Park Ridge is filled with affable people who weren’t very good, and sometimes just plain sucked, at being elected or appointed public officials

It was affable people on the City Council who blew millions of taxpayer dollars over decades of the City’s membership in the impotent Suburban O’Hare Commission (“SOC”). Other affable people on the Council blew tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on the General Obligation bonds the City issued to subsidize the private developer of the Uptown Redevelopment Project and its TIF (“Tax Increment Financing”) district – even as those same folks routinely neglected sewer maintenance and repair, and did nothing about flood remediation.

It was a bunch of affable people on the Park Ridge Park District Board who wasted more than $20 million tax dollars on two undersized, second-rate facilities – the Centennial “Fitness Center” (f/k/a the “Community Center”) and the Centennial water park – because they didn’t want to give the taxpayers a referendum vote on those projects.

And let’s not forget those affable people on the D-64 Board who spent over $20 million (in late 1990s dollars) replacing the District’s then-newest school (the “old” Emerson), which has subsequently delivered student performance remotely close to what was advertised from the new “middle school” concept back then, or remotely commensurate with what D-64 taxed, borrowed and spent on the “new” Emerson.

Most recently, it was those affable people on the D-207 Board who so grossly neglected the District’s infrastructure and mismanaged its resources over the past 9 years that it will cost taxpayers over $300 million to make things right. And then those same affable folks gave the affable Supt. Ken Wallace – who wouldn’t last a full day as the head of any private corporation with a $120 million/year budget – a 5-year contract extension because he helped pass the $300 million November 2018 referendum after keeping the lid on his (and the Board’s) decade of mismanagement and neglect.

So much for historical background.

We supported Melidosian’s appointment to fill the seat of the late Ald. Dan Knight, which we wrote about in our 02.24.2017 post. But in the two years since his appointment, we have seen little to suggest that he is capable, or willing, to do the heavy lifting.

Frankly, we were appalled by the way he disregarded the City’s procurement policy and joined his fellow Council members in rubber-stamping Police Chief Frank Kaminski’s arrogant no-bid, sole-source procurement of $280,000 of Axon body cameras, which served as the subject of our 01.14.2019 postwhich looked even more irresponsible when Niles announced that, after field-testing three body cams instead of just one, it was getting the same amount of cameras and the necessary support equipment for less than a quarter of the cost.

And we were particularly offended that Charlie attempted to justify his wrong-headed support of Kaminski’s folly by claiming that “[Charlie’s] world is H.I.T.A.” – the acronym originated by the late Mayor Dave Schmidt for “Honesty,” “Integrity,” “Transparency” and “Accountability” in local government. Charlie wouldn’t have dared pull something like that if Schmidt were alive, nor would he have dared trade on Mayor Dave’s reputation and popularity by mimicking Mayor Dave’s campaign signage.

We’ll give Charlie’s campaign manager the discredit for a cheap shot like that, along with other ticky-tacky things like: (a) portraying Charlie as seeking “re-election” when he was never “elected”; (b) claiming that his opponent has “participated in some negative campaigning, without specifying what that was; and (c) claiming that his opponent “provided misleading information to the public,” again without specifying what that was.

But that’s just the chaff.

When it comes to the big stuff, however, we don’t think the body cam fail was a one-off for Charlie. He’s just too much of a “pleaser” to be counted on to make the tough, and often unpopular, calls needed if the City is to continue on the upswing started by Schmidt and “his” councils, beginning in 2011 with the departure of mayor Howard Frimark’s alderdopes.

Ironically, Charlie’s opponent served on the citizens committee that recommended Charlie’s appointment to succeed Knight. Before that, however, Sal served on a Mayor Dave-led Council as the 4th Ward alderman from 2011-2013, until a job promotion and a related increase in world travel caused him not to seek re-election.

In his two years on the Council, Sal’s greatest achievement – in our opinion – was standing tall with Schmidt and a then-Council majority in rejecting the demands of the various local business interests clamoring for the Council to give developer Lance Chody a sweetheart deal in the neighborhood of $3 million of tax relief in return for bringing Whole Foods to Park Ridge. We wrote about that in our 05.17.2012 post

Although he was never a rubber-stamp for Schmidt, he supported many of Schmidt’s efforts to dig the City out of the deep financial hole their affable Council predecessors left behind, to go with a sinking bond rating and unsustainable commitments of tax dollars for questionable projects and programs.

That’s why we believe that Sal, while decidedly less affable than Charlie, is more ready, willing and able to actually walk the H.I.T.A. walk, and not just talk the H.I.T.A. talk. And that’s why we endorse Raspanti for 5th Ward alderman, while leaving sainthood for Melidosian.

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Our Only Endorsement For D-64 Board: Gareth Kennedy

04.01.19

We apologize for the lateness of this post, but we spent much of last week dealing with technical problems on the site, and the past 3 days reading, analyzing and cross-referencing all the campaign materials, websites and Facebook pages of the two candidates for the vacant 2-year seat, Gareth Kennedy and Rebecca Little; and of the five candidates for the three vacant 4-year seats, Steve Blindauer, Sal Galati, Lisa Page, Denise Pearl and Carol Sales (We eliminated Athan “Tom” Sotos from contention in our previous post).

We also read, analyzed and cross-referenced their answers to the SPED-parents’ and Go Green questionnaires. And we listened to the 1 hour, 41 minute audio recording of the Action Ridge candidates’ forum…twice, as well as those portions of the SPED-parents’ forum surreptitiously recorded by an attendee.

Frankly, it was stultifying to the point of physical pain.

Most of the candidates’ spiels were virtually indistinguishable from the others’: How many times, and in how many different ways, can candidates say “better communication,” “rebuilding trust,” “professional development,” “student focus,” “innovation” and “socio-emotional learning” (or “SEL”) without sounding like a bunch of parrots? And on those rare occasions when someone actually said the word “taxpayer,” it was usually as a throw-in merely to round out the full complement of “stakeholders.”

But we soldiered through, and here are the conclusions we drew:

The 4-year seats.

There’s an old political axiom that “yard signs don’t vote.” And that’s absolutely correct.

But yard signs say something very important about a candidate’s legitimacy and commitment: That he/she is proud enough and serious enough about his/her candidacy to promote it in the most visible way; and that he/she has gone to the expense and effort of convincing other residents to publicly identify themselves with his/her candidacy, also in the most visible way.

Both Galati and Page showed up at forums. They both answered questionnaires. And they both have websites/FB pages. That’s commendable, and some day that might be enough. But today is not that day.

That leaves Blindauer, Pearl and Sales.

As readers of this blog know, this editor favors private-sector unions but is a conscientious objector when it comes to public-sector ones – for the same reasons articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”) and, years later, by the first president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany (“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”). We wrote about the major problems of public-sector unions in our Labor Day posts of 09.01.2013 and 09.07.2015.

Back in 2011 this blog endorsed three candidates for the Park Ridge Park Board – Mel Thillens (can you believe it!), Mary Wynn Ryan (can you freakin’ believe it!) and Jim O’Brien – primarily because they were running against a slate of “union lackeys” endorsed by the same union (the SEIU) that represented Park District employees with whom they would be bargaining, ostensibly on the taxpayers’ behalf, if elected to the Board.

Three years later, in our 12.05.2015 post, we applauded then-Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council for standing up to Operating Engineers Local 150, their inflatable rats, their “Veto Schmidt” signs, and their unprecedented (in Park Ridge, at least) $1,000 contribution to the campaign of Schmidt’s opponent.

And two years ago, we heartily endorsed two of the candidates running against a de facto slate of husbands of D-64 teachers whom we dubbed the “3 Hubbies” because, had they been elected, they could not be trusted to bargain for the taxpayers and against their and their Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA,” the teachers union)-member wives’ joint economic interests.

This year, the Park Ridge Teacher Assistant Association (“PRTAA”) has endorsed Blindauer, Pearl and Sales for the 4-year seats. Unions, not unlike businesses, rarely endorse candidates unless they believe those candidates, if elected, will be soft touches when it comes to doing favors. And with a new PRTAA contract coming up for negotiation, the PRTAA’s endorsement makes no bones about “want[ing] to negotiate our next contract with [Board] members we feel respects [sic] us and value what we do for the students” – according to the endorsement posted on the campaign FB page of 2-year candidate Rebecca Little, also endorsed by the PRTAA.

That’s reason enough in our book to just say “no” to those PRTAA pawns. And, most likely, PREA pawns.

The 2-year seat.

This one pits Rebecca Little against Gareth Kennedy. We could endorse Kennedy solely because of the union argument made above.

But there are other reasons as well.

Kennedy first came to our attention as one of the two runners-up (out of 8 applicants) for the appointment to fill the 5th Ward aldermanic vacancy after the death of Dan Knight in December 2016. When a few of the sitting aldermen criticized the citizens’ nominating committee’s recommendation process at the February 6, 2017 Council meeting at which Charlie Melidosian’s appointment was to be approved, Kennedy spoke up in defense not only of the process but also of the Melidosian recommendation itself.

That one incident showed us more character than most Park Ridge public office seekers ever display, especially when their personal ox is being publicly gored.

Undeterred, Kennedy sought and obtained appointment to the Library Board in June 2017, and has served there with distinction ever since.

Little, on the other hand, claims on her campaign Facebook page that she has “been attending D64 meetings for about a year and a half….” Yet when we reviewed the minutes of every D-64 Board meeting (regular and special) during all of 2018…SURPRISE!…we could find not one mention of her name or one shred of evidence of her attendance at even one such meeting. So if she actually was in attendance, she apparently contributed nothing  worthy of inclusion in the meeting minutes.

Or she was simply lying.

But what we found even more troubling about Little’s attitude toward our D-64 schools and Board service are her comments in response to Question 9 at the Action Ridge forum asking why non-parents of D-64 students should be concerned about who gets elected to the D-64 Board. Little’s response – from 1:12:18 to 1: 12:40 of the forum audio – focuses on leaving Park Ridge, presumably after she finishes taking out over $350,000 in “free” public education (3 kids for 21 combined school years @ $17,000/kid in current dollars) paid primarily by her fellow taxpayers between now and 2030:

“You have to care if you ever want to sell your house.” And “[i]f you ever want to leave, you have to care.”

Those brought laughs from the forum attendees, many/most of whom presumably share Little’s strategy of sucking out as much “free” stuff as possible (with Kathy Meade’s alibi that “we pay taxes!”) before leaving, not unlike swarms of locusts stripping fields of everything worth consuming before moving on.

Kennedy, following Little in answering that question, recognized that unchecked taxes can be detrimental; and that there must be “a balance between educational excellence and fiscal responsibility, and it’s a fine line” which “must be carefully walked.”

We’ll take a fine-line walker over a swarm of locusts any day.

Kennedy is heartily endorsed and deserves your vote.

But no matter what candidate(s) you favor, make it a point to go to the polls and vote.

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