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Tonight’s Council Meeting: One More Reason To Reject MWRD Grant; And A Farewell To Ald. Milissis (Updated)

05.20.19

At tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting the Council is scheduled to address another aspect of the ill-conceived and misguieded – bordering on stupid and wasteful – “green” Library lot project.

Unlike in past sessions where this project was discussed and various aldermen and residents took turns blowing smoke up each others’ (and the taxpayers’) kilts, tonight’s topic is supposed to be limited to the Intergovernmental Agreement (the “IGA”) the MWRD wants the City to sign.

A redlined version of the entire IGA is attached to City Atty. Adam Simon’s analysis of it. But you really don’t need to get past the analysis to see how the reportedly corrupt MWRD wants to stack the deck in its favor.

Simon’s analysis breaks the IGA down as follow:

Performance of the Green Infrastructure

The “green” lot must provide “retention” of at least 192,760 gallons of storm water. The preliminary design of the “green” lot has it capturing the stormwater and then slowly releasing it into the sewer system for ultimate treatment as wastewater. That’s called “detention, not “retention.”

Floating Grant Amount

192,760 gallons of storm water is the “Design Goal.” If MWRD finds, in its discretion, that the “green” lot doesn’t meet the Design Goal, it can unilaterally reduce the amount of the grant.

Long-Term Maintenance Obligations

If the City fails to maintain the “green” lot to MWRD’s standards in perpetuity, MWRD can demand a refund of the grant amount, perform the maintenance work itself, and charge the City for its costs.

No Redevelopment

Once the “green” lot is installed, that lot may never be redeveloped for a different purpose. Even if part of the lot is redeveloped for another purpose, it will affect the Design Goal, which could result in the MWRD demanding partial reimbursement of the grant.

Procurement Issues

The use of the grant money is expressly subject to complying with MWRD’s purchasing laws, including the below state law and local procurement policies – some of which limit the eligible contractors who can be hired to provide material or do the work.

Limited Appropriations

The IGA expressly disclaims any promise to re-appropriate any amounts which have not been disbursed after the expiration of the [current] fiscal year.

Every one of those terms and conditions should be a red flag, warning the City away from doing business with what the Chicago Tribune recently branded as “a bastion of crony politics” that provides “big opportunities for corruption” because it “has long been a hotbed of Democratic politics and patronage.”

We doubt that those red flags will be heeded by the biggest fans of the “green” Library lot boondoggle. But it might be fun to watch and listen to how those proponents try to put some sort of benign spin on the situation in order to keep it moving forward.

Kick-off is at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 505 Butler Place.

*                             *                             *

Tonight is the final meeting for Second Ward Ald. Nick Milissis, who is resigning from the Council after six years of service. He is moving with his family to Glenview and, therefore, is legally prevented from continued Council service.

He was elected to the Council in April 2013 with our cautious endorsement, which you can read in our 04.08.2013 post. Since then he has been a zealous advocate for his constituents in the Second Ward, especially on the flooding issue which seems to dominate all others up there.

Although the magnitude of the flooding problem and the cost of remediation – especially in Wards Two and Three – have made progress slower and more incremental than Milissis or his constituents might like, that has not deterred him from making a case against flooding, and for his constituents, at every opportunity.

In reviewing our posts about the Council since Milissis became an alderman we discovered a fairly equal split between those time we praised him and those times we barbecued him. Not surprisingly, a number (if not a majority) of the latter involved our disagreement on the best way(s) to remediate flooding in the Second Ward and how to allocate the costs of doing so. At one juncture he wrote a lengthy comment critical of one of our posts on that topic that we chose to publish as a post of its own: “Ald. Milissis: PubDog Has ‘Jumped The Shark’ On Second Ward Flood Projects,” 06.12.2014.

But while we may have disagreed with the alderman, we have never doubted his diligence, his sincerity and his desire to vigorously represent not just himself, his friends, or one special interest or another but ALL his constituents. And on all but the rarest occasions he would explain his position and his vote so that his fellow aldermen and residents alike knew the “why” behind it.

We have no idea who will be appointed to fill the remainder of his term, which expires in May 2021. We can only hope whoever it is will bring a skill set, temperament and demeanor similar to what Millisis regularly demonstrated.

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.” (Garrison Keillor).

Update (05.21.2019) We were mistaken about last night being Milissis’ last Council meeting: June 3 will be his last meeting. Hopefully that extra time will give him a few more opportunities to convince his fellow aldermen that this “green” Library lot is basically a deal with the Devil (MWRD) that will be far more expensive – to do right, not half-baked – than the prices we’ve been hearing.

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Andrea Cline Swings, And Misses, On “Green” Library Lot

05.15.19

We intended to publish a short post yesterday about why the Park Ridge City Council shouldn’t let Ald. John Moran and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District stampede it into approving the purely political “green” Library lot when the first order of business should be piloting the “green” paving of our many un-paved alleys.

But then one of our more prominent local Go Green goddesses, Andrea Cline, checked in with a comment to our previous post that we thought deserved a bit more attention, especially since she had the gumption to sign her name. So we’re giving it a post of its own.

Her comment reads as follows:

As much as I’d like to claim to be the “very engaged resident” Anonymous [commenting on 05.13.19 @ 9:09 AM], twasn’t me, even though I have been singing the praises of MWRD and the CMAP LTA program (totally separate for those of you following along) for years. And while I’d like to take the time to point out all the flaws in this post and the previous one that touched on the library lot, as the Editor often says, I’m busy with my day job.

If Cline isn’t Moran’s mysterious “very engaged resident” – the one who purportedly started this MWRD grant ball rolling – who is? And why is Moran being so uncharacteristically reticent about that person’s identity?

We don’t know, so we’ll just start breaking down Cline’s comment.

She begins by claiming that “MWRD and the CMAP LTA program” are “(totally separate for those of you following along).” At least Cline got that right, the only part of Cline’s comment that is accurate: “CMAP” stands for the “Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning,” while “LTA” stands for its “Local Technical Assistance” program.

Did you ever hear of those before? We didn’t.

Not surprisingly, CMAP is another one of Illinois’ league-leading 7,000 (roughly) units of government that spend billions of taxpayer dollars each year with seemingly no transparency or accountability, and what appears to be few measurable results.

CMAP reports $18,477,158 in FY19 revenues, with almost $13.5 million coming from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and another $3.4 million (almost) coming from the Illinois Dept. of Transportation. Like so many of Illinois’ typically inefficient taxpayer-scamming public agencies, CMAP appears overpopulated: It has 92 staffers who reportedly consume a whopping $11,929,805 of its $18,320,827 in FY19 expenses that’s an average of $129,672 per staffer – sporting job titles like “Local Planning” (25 of those) and “Policy & Programming” (23 of those).

If this sounds to you like a bunch of public payroller positions filled by various politicians’ otherwise unemployable relatives, you might be on to something.

And it’s run by career politician Joseph C. Szabo, who was paid $216,320 in 2017 and is likely being paid more today. After serving as the top dog at the Federal Railroad Administration from 2009 to 2015 (during the Obama Administration, for all you “R” and “D” geeks), heading CMAP appears to have been his soft landing reward, at least for the time being.

Cline doesn’t say what CMAP’s role in the “green” Library lot is, or is supposed to be. That’s probably because it has none, considering that neither Moran nor Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim mentioned CMAP in their respective January 14, 2019 memos, nor did City Engineer Sarah Mitchell mention it in her April 8, 2019 memo.

Maybe Cline just wanted to impress with a little acronym-dropping about an obscure state agency.

She goes on to claim there are all sorts of “flaws” in our 04.26.2019 post and our 05.09.2019 post, although she demonstrates the superficiality she first displayed during her 2015 campaign against Moran for 1st Ward alderman by blithely stating that she doesn’t have the time to identify any of them.

Weak, but not unexpected.

That bit of disingenuousness, however, caused us to go back to the January 14, 2019 meeting video and Cline’s remarks in support of the “green” Library lot project, which you can watch from the 1:41:20 to the 1:43:12 mark.

She starts out by praising the Morton Arboretum parking lot as the “most infamous” example of “green” parking lots (Are there any other “infamous” green parking lots are out there that Morton has beaten out for the title?) before bragging about its zero stormwater discharge.

Cline credited that zero discharge to the Morton paver lot’s sitting on four feet of gravel that itself sits over soil.

That got a rise out of Zingsheim, who noted (a) how such a deep sub-base with such a high-water storage capacity would explain the zero discharge; and (b) how, unlike Morton’s gravel-over-soil base, the Library lot’s base is likely to be the same non-absorbent hard blue clay that’s found in most parts of Park Ridge.

Cline’s smug response: “I would argue that you don’t know that.”

We would argue that Zingsheim has forgotten more about Park Ridge soil and infrastructure than Cline currently knows or will ever know. But until soil borings are done in various parts of the Library lot, everybody remains ignorant – including Moran, whose data-less proclamation that “200,000 gallons of water…will be absorbed and detained during a major storm event” remains the same steaming and odoriferous pile it was four months ago when he first dropped it.

Cline ended her data-less video pitch by claiming an additional benefit from the “green” Library lot: “Less snow removal costs…so you don’t have to apply salt or plow as much.” That’s not what we hear from all those Park Ridge folks with paver patios and driveways during our winter months.

We can’t think of any significant City project that has gotten as far as this “green” Library lot with so little hard data to support it. Then again, we also can’t think of any significant City project where a single alderman pulled a Lone Ranger stunt with another governmental body without any direction or authority from the Council itself.

But that’s what you tend to get when you let “politicians” run wild without transparency and accountability.

And that’s also what you tend to get when you let the political tail wag the government dog.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will Pork Barrel Top Rain Barrel at City Hall This Coming Monday Night?

05.09.19

In our 04.26.2019 post we pointed out how the City Council, at its April 8 Public Works committee-of-the-whole (“COW”) meeting, decided to move forward with a $1.3 million (at least?) project to replace the Library parking lot’s “grey” asphalt surface with a “green” surface of paver stones – despite an almost total lack of data demonstrating that this is a worthwhile, cost-effective project.

The principal driving force seemed to be the a $650,000 matching grant for the “green” Library lot from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (the “MWRD”), which the Chicago Tribune called “a bastion of crony politics” with “big opportunities for corruption” as recently as in its April 22, 2019 editorial.

How did Park Ridge get that grant?

The first public mention of it was at the January 14, 2019 Public Works Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting, when Public Works Committee chair, Ald. John Moran (1st), announced out of the blue that he and City Staff had already obtained that $650,000 matching grant for the “green” Library lot from the MWRD.

What’s troubling about that?

Nothing at all, if you prefer your City government running on behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing like we had during the almost two decades when Ron Wietecha, Mike Marous and Howard Frimark occupied the big chair at The Horseshoe, surrounded by a bunch of rubber-stamping minions who made sweetheart deals that left the City with neglected infrastructure, depleted reserves and a falling bond rating.

But there’s plenty wrong with that if you prefer your City government conducted above-board and in the sunlight, transparent and accountable.

According to a Jan. 14, 2019 Memorandum issued by Moran (the “Moran Memo”), an opportunity for a grant from the MWRD “was brought to [his] attention a few months ago by a very engaged resident.” Who was that “very engaged resident”? Moran isn’t saying, for reasons he isn’t sharing; but we’ll accept guesses from our readers just for chips and giggles.

Moran then claims he “requested a sit down” (Yes, a “sit down” – apparently Moran channeling Tony Soprano in the back room at Satriale’s) with some un-named MWRD folks last Fall, apparently without notice to, or formal authorization by, the Council; or even any formal after-the-fact reporting to the Council about the “sit down.”

The Moran Memo goes on to state that “[o]ur staff handled the [grant] application,” also apparently without prior notice to, or formal authorization of, the Council; and apparently also without any interim status report to the Council. This is confirmed by Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim’s “Agenda Cover Memorandum” of January 14, 2019, although he puts the City’s cost for the project “in the neighborhood of $850,000-$950,000.”

The result? A $650,000 matching grant from those corrupt politicians running the MWRD.

Huzzah! Huzzah!

Except that while Moran and Zingsheim were going rogue with the MWRD on a “green” Library lot, the City reportedly was looking into MWRD grants for “green” alley paving. Will the $650,000 Library lot grant impair the City’s ability to get a “green” alleys grant? Who knows? The aldermen who green-lighted the project at the April 8 meeting don’t seem to particularly care.

But despite Moran’s and Zingsheim’s Lone Ranger and Tonto act, let’s look at what benefits the “green” Library lot could bring us.

Moran’s memo states that this project will “help us address the stormwater management challenges that our city has been wrestling with for decades.” How? By “the 200,000 gallons of water that will be absorbed and detained during a major storm event.”

Where’s Moran’s supporting documentation for such braggadocio? There isn’t any – only a nifty analogy to help sell his project: The purported 200,000 gallons of Library lot water detention is “the same as installing 4,000 rain barrels in town.”

After a quick Google search, however, we found that you can buy a 50-gallon rain barrel for $60, and a 60-gallon one for $100 (made from re-purposed olive shipping containers, for you Greenies). And that’s retail. Think Wal-Mart might give the City a deal on 4,000 of those suckers?

So if water detention is Moran’s primary goal – and if you believe that we have some Florida swampland at a bargain price – those same 200,000 gallons of rainwater could be detained with 4,000 of those 50-gallon rain barrels for a mere $240,000 instead of the City’s $650,000 contribution needed to win the matching grant from the corrupt MWRD. Or for $330,000, if we wanted to splurge on 3,330 of those 60-gallon barrels.

Or, looking at it another way: For the City’s $650,000 contribution to the “green” Library lot and a purely speculative 200,000 gallons of stormwater detention, the City could buy no less than 10,833 of those 50-gallon rain barrels, which would store…wait for it…a whopping 541,650 gallons of stormwater!

That’s why this project isn’t really about stormwater detention, or flooding. It’s about politics…which, in Crook County, means partisan Democratic politics.

Those politicians at the MWRD wouldn’t get any favorable publicity whatsoever from the City’s buying 10,833 rain barrels using its own money. And a certain local politician wouldn’t have a nice “green” paver Library lot as a prop for his next campaign.

This Library lot project is supposed to be on the agenda of this coming Monday night’s Public Works COW meeting (May 13, 2019, 7:00 p.m. at City Hall). We suspect there already may be a flurry of back-filling activity by Moran, if not Zingsheim, in advance of that meeting to prop up all the ipse dixit conclusions in the Moran Memo.

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait to hear more and/or new justifications for the City’s choosing the MWRD pork barrel over 10,000 rain barrels.

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The 10th Anniversary Of A New Age Of Park Ridge Government

05.04.19

Ten years ago today David Faulkner Schmidt was sworn in as Park Ridge mayor.

A month earlier he had pulled not only an upset victory over incumbent mayor Howard Frimark, but also a landslide one, 4,885 (56.44%) to 3,770 (43.56%).

How did an unmarried guy who had lived in Park Ridge only about six years, had no family members living in town, coached no kids’ sports teams, belonged to none of the local social organizations, owned no local business, and served a mere two years as 1st Ward alderman after running unopposed with Frimark’s support, win such a victory?

Unlike Frimark and the members of the Homeowners Party that had dominated City government for decades based on a cult of personality – family, friendships, memberships, business and social contacts – Schmidt based his campaign and his mayoralty on actual public policy positions, and on the principles of H.I.T.A.: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

He inherited a City in terrible financial straits thanks to irresponsible borrowing and spending by Frimark and his fellow social butterflies – a bunch of “nice” guys and gals who regularly passed deficit budgets, consistently neglected infrastructure, charged residents less for water than it was costing the City to buy from Chicago, and gave hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to favored private organizations who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) raise funds on their own. Meanwhile, fund reserves had been spent down to dangerous levels and the City’s bond rating had sunk.

Yet the reality of those situations was being lost on most residents because some aldermen were clueless, others were happy to lie about such things, and the local press was adept at both.

That’s where Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. came in.

He told people the truth about the City’s situation, the bad as well as the good, because he respected us taxpayers enough to tell us the truth. And unlike your typical politicians, Schmidt admitted when he was wrong while promising not to do it again, as he did in his first – and what is believed to be the City’s very first – “State of the City” address: “I personally voted for two unbalanced budgets [as 1st Ward alderman],” Schmidt acknowledged, before promising that “I will not make the same mistake again” and vowing to veto any unbalanced budget passed by the Council.

And H.I.T.A. was the hallmark of Schmidt’s mayoralty through his re-election in April 2013, 5,614 (62.06%) to 3,432 (37.94%), until his sudden, untimely death on March 4, 2015. As we wrote in our March 10, 2015 tribute:

Can you imagine any “politician” running on such a platform?  They’d be laughed right out of the politicians’ union. But Candidate Dave was no “politician” because he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he wouldn’t compromise principles just to make some half-baked, short-term deal that would make some special interest happy.

Since Mayor Dave’s death several local officials have invoked H.I.T.A. when it has suited their purpose, even though less than a handful of them actually have been willing to walk their H.I.T.A. talk. Ironically, the real “politicians” – an epithet to the editor of this blog – among them tend to shamelessly talk about H.I.T.A. while saying and doing the most un-H.I.T.A. things.

Which is one of the many reasons we despise “politicians.”

Whether Mayor Dave’s H.I.T.A. legacy survives remains an open question. We are seeing an increase in the number of politicians who are creatures of, and embrace, the cult of personality. They’ve already shown themselves to prefer shameless glad-handing to the hard work of grinding out solid public policy based on principle instead of expediency.

Only time will tell.

But 13.3% turnouts in hotly-contested elections – as we saw with the recent D-64 School Board election – and the number of uncontested races at D-207 and the Park Ridge Park District are not encouraging signs.

A ray of sunshine broke through the clouds ten years ago today and continued to light up the community over the next six years. Whether we stay in sunshine or slide back into darkness depends on whether the people of this community prefer day to night – and are willing to fight the darkness for the light.

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