Hey Santa; what’s new besides Ho, Ho, Ho?

Thinking back to the end of 2014, Morton Grove politicians voted to spend more money on a “pre-development study,” to see whether the 8300 Lehigh building, which the village purchased in 2013, would be suitable for a police station.

In 2012, the village hired a consulting firm and asked them to evaluate the police department’s space needs and weigh the costs and benefits of constructing an addition or moving to a new location. The consultant presented its findings and recommended a new location.

Subsequently, the village purchased the 8300 Lehigh building from General Bandage.

The obvious question here is why wasn’t this study done to determine the buildings’ suitability before the village purchased the building?

On January 14, 2015 Morton Grove News received an email from a resident “G.” who stated;

“I was sitting in the former Police Chief’s office discussing the new Police Station when “Mayor” DiMaria called and told him to stop all work with the consultants who were preparing an outline of requirements for the architectural quote. The new Police Station was pretty far down the pike with property being researched, vetted, consultant studies performed on the locations’ viability, land purchased, funding arrangements made with minions at the County and State level and even two other Police agencies (METRA and Cook County Forest Preserve District) had expressed interest in “renting” space inside the new facility for their officers to use.

No explanation was given at the time why to cease and desist. The former Police Chief did a lot of work on his own to make things happen because of the constant foot dragging of the Mayor, Corporation Counsel and Village Administrator.”

At the time we said; “This new information motivates us to ask the following questions:

If all of this work was already done, why would the administration hire yet another consultant to redo work that had already been done and paid for out of tax dollars?
Does a Village President have the sole power to stop an ongoing project without the input of the village board and without an opportunity for public input?”

Here we are in May of 2017, five full years after the first consultant’s report and the now village-owned building stands used as storage and there is still no new cop shop.

On January 12, 2015 there was an article in the Morton Grove Champion reporting that the owners of Prairie View shopping Center were coming in from Canada to meet with Village President DiMaria on January 15th. “It’s a good spot for a grocery store that complements the surrounding area, and we need a good $20-a-plate outlet restaurant, such as Carraba’s*,” DiMaria said.

DiMaria announced the owners’ visit Jan. 8, 2015 at a public meeting called to have consultant John Houseal present the findings of the village’s strategic plan. His comments came in response to a citizen who asked at the meeting what had happened after reports last May announced a Meijer grocery store might fill the space Dominick’s vacated. Nothing has materialized yet.

“What Happened”? Just like all of the announcements from Dan DiMaria, nothing happened. The economy started to rebound in 2014. Money once again became available for redevelopment, but President DiMaria dithered and waffled and couldn’t, (or wouldn’t) pull the trigger. Now, with major brick and mortar retailers like Sears, Kohls and others going belly up like so many alewives, the window of opportunity has closed.

Here we are in May of 2017, five full years since Dominick’s moved out, and the Park View Shopping Center remains a ghost town and now since Produce World is gone there is no food store in town.

The problem here seems to be twofold. First off the micromanaging of village projects by Mr. DiMaria, inserting himself into areas over which he has no authority and no particular expertise. Secondly, the village board is failing in their duty to oversee village ordinances and failing to curb the power overreach of Mr. DiMaria.

Village President DiMaria seems to be practicing the “ready, fire, aim” method of governing based on unreasoned “shooting from the lip” rather than following the collegiate cooperation of working with the village board and respecting their role of advise and consent. And, just as unfortunately, the village board has forfeited their duty by not overseeing the actions of the village.

Our current village administration is very good at making promises and shouting pie-in-the-sky glorious projects, (which never seem to pan out). They act like the uncle playing Santa Claus promising everything that your little heart desires.

Government officials can’t afford to be Santa Claus anymore, especially for what most would agree are non-essential services like consultants. They have to be frugal, they have to ensure they’re getting the biggest possible bang for the few bucks they have to spend, and — in what is probably the toughest thing a politician can do — they have to learn how to say “no.”

A wise man once said;
“It behooves you, therefore, to think and act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.”

–Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1775

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Tax increase?

Now that there is a “legacy” deal for Morton Grove to purchase water from Evanston, it might be useful to look at some of the “nuts & bolts” surrounding this agreement.

One thing that needs to be considered is the new infrastructure that will be required to get the Evanston water to the pipes in Morton Grove. The last “conservative” estimate on the cost was somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000,000, (which puts it in a pretty ritzy neighborhood, but we are, after all on the southern border of the northshore).

Since it is highly unlikely that the DiMaria administration has $90 mil in a mayonnaise jar in the administrator’s office, that will mean floating a bond to pay the freight… and here is where the two latest downgrades in the village’s bond rating comes back to bite Morton Grovers in the posterior.

Doing some quick figuring computing the $90,000,000 necessary to fund the construction and add to that the fees and costs that go to the underwriters along with the “juice”, (interest), that will have to be paid to borrow the money and the dividing that by the number of households in Morton Grove and we are looking at a property tax increase of somewhere between $1,800 – $2,000 per household.

Just goes to show you that “legacy deals”, just like elections, have consequences. Perhaps the administration would like to show more of its’ transparency and hold another town hall meeting… this one to explain just how, (and who), is going to pay the freight on this project.

…and speaking of projects, has anybody else noticed that there has been no work done on either the Moretti’s site, (where the equipment remains parked since early February), or the project on Waukegan rd, (where the site has been leveled and there is no equipment or activity in view).

We are now in prime construction time… the weather is cooperating and the projects are unlikely to build themselves. Maybe the village fathers would like to explain what the delay is.

This, that and the other

Well, the election is over, and as Mr. DiMaria has said, the people have spoken. But the burning questions are; “What people?” and “What have they said?”

It should come as no surprise that there is a deep divide in our citizenry when it comes to naming Morton Grove a “Welcoming”, (sanctuary), village.

Those who operate on feelings and emotions want an “open door” policy, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the “undocumented” persons involved. On the other hand, those who question why we have laws if we refuse to obey them and those who question just who is going to pay for the extra burden placed upon society by the “undocumented” are labeled as racist. As usual, our politicians, like the unprincipled weather vanes that they are vacillate back and forth as the wind blows their non-existent principles hither & yon. I can hear Village President DiMaria in my mind saying; “Half of my friends are FOR a welcoming ordinance while the other half are AGAINST it… and, as everybody knows, I stand with my friends.

With the imminent closing of Produce World, Morton Grove will officially become a food desert with not one food market within the village limits. Rumor has it that the Action Party folks were aware of this before the election, but chose their usual foggy obfuscation over transparent honesty when dealing with the situation. Produce World gone; Prairie View shopping center in shambles and even the Halal Market on Dempster has closed. Gonna be lots of hungry folks in Morton Grove I believe.

Now that the hoopla of the mayoral campaign has come to a close, can somebody explain what has happened to the two major building projects in the village? No action to be seen at the Moretti’s site and the large project on Waukegan is a ghost town. What’s going on here? Is it possible that the leaders of the projects in question had been promised seed money that the village doesn’t have at this time? Perhaps we should keep our eyes open for a new bond issue, (rates based upon our lowered ratings), in order to sweeten the pot even further for these DiMaria sweetheart deals.

And so, life rolls on in good old Morton Grove… giving voice to the old saying; “Same “Stuff”, different day!” 

Just a reminder

Morton Grove leaders have changed the date of a town hall meeting to consider whether the village should adopt a welcoming community ordinance, often referred to as sanctuary city status.

The town hall meeting is now scheduled for April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Morton Grove Civic Center, 6140 Dempster Street, officials announced Thursday.

It had been scheduled for April 17.

Assistant to the Village Manager Thomas Friel said the Morton Grove Village Board will hold its regular meeting at 7 p.m. that night and then the town hall meeting is expected to start a half hour later.

Just as an interesting observation, isn’t it strange that for the past 4 years every village communication, newsletter and postcard has had Village President DiMaria’s name plastered all over it and THIS one is an invitation by the village board of trustees? Makes you wonder if DiMaria is ashamed of this action… or is he anti-immigrant? Also interesting that the only Action Party supported candidate not elected was named Khan…

Morton Grove is a swinging town

On January 10th. Morton Grove News ran an article regarding massage parlors which stated, in part;

Today we ask the question; “Does the change in the massage parlor ordinance mean an announcement of exciting new businesses by the Mayor?”

00000000happy-ending-massage

Morton Grove. because of it’s Home Rule status, can license the parlors and make them subject to spot inspection.  (Home Rule allows a municipality with more than 25,000 residents or one whose citizens have voted to become a Home Rule unit to do pretty much anything not forbidden by state law.)

According to The Morton Grove Champion,

Village board members voted unanimously at their Dec. 12, 2016 meeting to adopt the new regulations which officials said are intended to give the village better oversight of massage therapy establishments.

(The main thrust of these new regulations increases the fee for a license to provide revenue for the village)

“The regulation of massage establishments is a matter of growing importance to public health safety and the welfare of residents,” said Trustee Bill Grear. “And is intended to prevent the spread of diseases through unsanitary practices and…abate nuisances and unlawful activity.”

Village administrator Ralph Czerwinski said there are currently four massage therapy establishments in the village and that another application is pending. He explained that none of the current ones are suspected of anything inappropriate, but the village just wants to proactively have measures in place.

“There should be rules because it protects the community and provides a healthy and appropriate environment,” Czerwinski said.

In today’s Niles/Morton Grove Patch we find the following:

MORTON GROVE, IL — The following information comes from the Morton Grove Police Department as a record of police activity. An arrest by the police does not constitute a finding of guilt but represents merely an accussation. Criminal charges are often dropped or reduced and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

PROSTITUTION

A 51-year-old woman, of the 8300 block of Callie in Morton Grove, was arrested for prostitution after grabbing and manipulating the genitalia of an undercover police officer at the Enya Spa on the 9200 block of Waukegan Road on March 23.

All of this leads the Morton Grove News to ask the following questions:

  1. Trustee Grear, can you explain why the new ordinance did nothing to curtail the spread of diseases through unsanitary practices… or why it failed to abate this nuisance and unlawful activity?
  2. Village manager Czerwinski, does this mean that the administration saw nothing inappropriate in the behavior exhibited at the Enya Spa or was the action on the part of the undercover Morton Grove police officer part of the village’s proactive measures under the newly modified ordinance?
  3. Finally, not to seem ageist, but Mr. village president, (or possibly any of the village trustees whose job it is to protect the quality of life in Morton Grove), explain exactly what is there about our village that would attract 51 year old hookers to ply their trade here?

This isn’t exactly what we would expect from moving Morton Grove forward.

Time to act

The incumbent administration won a resounding victory by the 20% or so of voters who participated in last Tuesday’s village election. Village president DiMaria has said that the voters have given the incumbents four more years to complete their vision.

On January 29th there was a rally at the MEC in support of undocumented immigrants, and a petition signed by many Morton Grovers has been circulated urging the village government to adopt a “Welcoming ordinance”.

 

Rather than share HIS administration’s vision regarding this issue, Mr. DiMaria has stated publicly in the press: “”There’s two sides to every story, There are 23,000 residents in our community and this is a polarizing issue. It’s divisive.”

Well, thank you Captain Obvious!

We know that there are two sides, (sometimes more), to every story. We can read the Welcome to Morton Grove sign and see that there are 23,000+/- residents in town. It’s a polarizing issue… it’s devisive? Wow, what critical insight!

What Mr DiMaria, and through him his newly reelected administration, have done, is what most politicians do. They have side-stepped the issue and mouthed platitudes without telling the residents what THEY, the elected representatives of the residents think and believe.

 

 

There is now a highly touted Town Hall meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 17th at the American Legion Civic Center. This would be a wonderful opportunity for village president DiMaria and the elected Trustees, (whose job, should they choose to do it), is to set policy and pass legislation to govern Morton Grove.

You folks have been reelected… it is time to stop mouthing meaningless platitudes and actually show some leadership.

Promises made, promises kept?

The DiMaria administration claims many things as as fact.

What they have provided are either unsupported statements, or at best half-truths which they  apparently believe that the voters of Morton Grove cannot see the difference between overblown empty promises and the reality of this administration’s failure.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalized economy increasing sales tax receipts.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is higher cost of government and a continued stagnant business tax base.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised more and better senior services.
What the DiMaria administration has delivered is reduced, or in some cases, eliminated senior programs.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalization of the area around the Metra station with shpping and other amenities. They were going to make a Morton Grove version of Edison Park.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is a Metra station that is not advertised or promoted. There are no new businesses or amenities around the station and the area more closely resembles the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side rather than Edison Park.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would move Morton Grove forward. Great sums of money, your money, was spent to hire outside consultants to create a village ‘brand’ and create business. An economic development officer was hired to address the “numerous” large parcels of land in the Village’s “Land Bank.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Take a stroll around town and look at the empty retail buildings and storefronts. These vacant properties generate zero sales tax revenue. The corner of Dempster and Waukegan is one of the most heavily traveled in this state and it’s corners sits there undeveloped and under performing. The industrial strip along Austin is a ghost town.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would maintain village services while keeping your taxes low.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Fines and fees have increased with no appreciable commensurate increase in services. The DiMaria administration has certainly increased Village employees…we have certainly staffed up and created more office space for them. What has the increase in staff done to make things better?

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised to address the crisis facing the funding of our police and fire departments.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? The Police and Fire Pension funds are owed over $20 Million dollars. Where is this money going to come from? Without a business tax base the homeowners are the sole funding source. Right now the 5000 households owe $4000 each to this fund just to catch up!

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration said that we were in dire need of a new police station because the current station was outmoded and presented a safety hazard to the residents of the neighborhood. Once more, the village went into the real estate market and purchased a manufacturing property on Lehigh for the purpose of moving the police into a new facility.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? A vacant building on Lehigh and no solid plan made public as to when, (or if), the new police facility will happen, and, if it does, how it will be paid for?

– Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised openness and transparency.

What has the DiMaria adminstration delivered? A Chicago style ‘political boss’ version of government has done little to nothing to stimulate business or improve Village finances. A use of village resources, (like the newsletter, village web site and village-wide mailings), as political propaganda to promote Village president DiMaria.

What has the DiMaria administration NOT delivered? There is no major food market within the village limits. There is a shopping center on the 3rd busiest corner

 in Illinois going to ruin, even though the ownership was eager to reach a redevelopment agreement. There is a loss of the sense of community that up until 4 years ago had Morton Grove as one of the top 10 places to live in Illinois.

 

Has the DiMaria administration told the truth? Perhaps only half of it, and, as Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanack; “Half the truth is often a great lie.”

Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the election that will determine the future of YOUR Morton Grove.
Perhaps you need to ask yourself a question before you vote this time; “Are you and Morton Grove better off now than you were 4 years ago?”

Morton Grove Melodrama part 16- I got friends in low places

                                BREAKING NEWS!

Morton Grove News has discovered that the current village administration has had a proposed ordinance declaring Morton Grove as a “SANCTUARY VILLAGE”, (the working title is a “welcoming ordinance”),  in their possession for at least 7 weeks. The residents who proposed this measure on January 27, were assured that the village would look into this proposal and take action, yet no response has been forthcoming. So, the question to Mr. DiMaria is:

“Are you FOR this proposal, or are you AGAINST it?”

Over the past 10 days or so, the opposing parties in the village April 4th election have been having a “He said, she said” joust over the village pension debt and village pension contributions.

Village president DiMaria and his mates repeatedly report how they have increased contributions to the pension obligations the past four years. The Action Party states “we contribute more towards our pension obligations than the minimum payment required by law.”

The “Independent Candidate” group point out that they must increase contributions, because every year the pension liability will continue to grow due to yearly increases in payroll and fluctuations in investment returns and that the amount they have contributed each year has not kept pace with the increasing liability.

We might want to remember a bit of fairly recent village history. In 2005, the Caucus Party, which at that time controlled village government, made a statement that the village did not have to pay the suggested yearly pension amount and tried to pass a budget drastically reducing pension obligation payments.It was this same Caucus Party that backed DiMaria for Mayor, and is now running the Action Party. It could be questioned if this is the reason for not dealing with the growing pension debt.

But there is another troubling issue that has not been addressed by either the Action Party or the “Independent Candidates”, an issue that goes directly to the heart of fiscal responsibility, white collar patronage and cronyism.

When village president DiMaria and his “rubber stamp” village board decided to replace the village manager, they did it in a way reminicent of the old Daley political machine. Without regard to the Supreme court decision in Elrod v Burns that decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347), without public notice, without a search for the most qualified candidate, without public debate or proper authorization, they chose and handed the six-figure position to the current village administrator. What is interesting, is that the current administrator happens to be a former village of Morton Grove fire chief who receives a pension paid for by the taxpayers amounting to about 80% of his former salary as fire chief.

Nice work, if you can get it. A six-figure village pension supplemented by a six-figure village salary, (which could qualify for yet another village pension in the future since this individual had served as village administrator before heading off to greener pastures in Skokie).

But wait, as they say in the late-night infomercials, there’s more. The Morton Grove fire chief that followed the current village administrator as fire chief before the current village manager was given the job was named as the “acting village manager”. After a bit of musical chairs, the second fire chief “retired”. It was at that point that village president DiMaria and his “rubber stamp” village board created a non-existent position of assistant to the village administrator. Again, without regard to the Supreme court decision in Elrod v Burns that decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347), without public notice, without a search for the most qualified candidate, without public debate or proper authorization, they chose and handed the new five-figure position to the recently retired fire chief. So, now we have the two highest administrative positions in the village held by previous village fire chiefs whose combined pensions alone come to over $200,000 per year… and whose combined salaries and fringe benefits equal or exceed that amount.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand

There is also a bit of strangeness when it comes to the village attorney, (who, coincidentally happens to be the village ethics officer). The position is shown in the village budget as a part time position, but if you look at the village budget documents, you will see that it qualifies for a pension… which normally would not be available to a part-time employee.

It’s good to have friends in high places. It’s a shame that, apparently the tax payers of Morton Grove have no such friend.

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 15- Looking back and questioning forward

In February 2013 the daughters of Jack O’Brien, one of the Action Party founders, spoke out on who they feel would be their dad’s choice in the Feb. 26 election in a letter to a local news outlet. Here’s what they said:

As daughters of Jack O’Brien, who, with former Mayors Dan Scanlon and Dick Flickinger, founded the Action Party, we are quite dismayed by the turn of events within our Party which has led to the necessity of holding a primary.

It’s distressing that Trustee DiMaria:

  • did not have the majority vote for the party’s endorsement of his candidacy for Mayor;
  • did, when being interviewed, agree to support the slate put forth by the Screening Committee;
  • Is being supported by certain individuals who do not share the Action Party’s values, and in fact, have publicly denigrated the integrity of Mayor Scanlon and Jack O’Brien;
  • is now subjecting our village to the financial burden of a primary.

The Action Party has always prided itself on its inclusiveness. We have sought out the best and brightest of our opposition and invited them to get to know the Action Party better. Some accept, some do not.

In 2001, our dad, Mayor Scanlon, and other prominent Action Party members reached out to Dan Staackmann to determine his interest in joining the Action Party. Dan was elected as a Village Trustee in 2003, and ran for Village President in 2005…in a campaign marked by nastiness from our opponents—the same individuals who are now supporting Mr. DiMaria.  Dan Staackmann was reelected to the position of Village Trustee in 2007 and, in 2009, ran for the office of Village President and was successful.

During very tough economic times, Dan Staackmann has stabilized the Village’s finances and balanced the budget. This is no small accomplishment! He has provided solid leadership, brought in businesses, improved infrastructure, streamlined operations, maintained services at a superior level, and has done it all with an outstanding Village staff and personnel…and with only a 3% property tax increase in the past four years.

Dan Staackmann is passionate about Morton Grove and has spent about half of his life in public service to our town. We feel Dan Staackmann would be Jack O’Brien’s choice for mayor, because Dan Staackmann is a man of integrity who gets the job done.

We urge you to cast your vote in the February 26th primary election for Dan Staackmann.

Sincerely,

Lori O’Brien Gattorna and Terri O’Brien Cousar

Now, 4 years later, the situation in the village has not improved with Mr. DiMaria as village president. The promised transparency has not been forthcoming, but the current administration has scheduled a “Neighborhood Outreach Meeting” for Thursday, March 16th at the American Legion Civic Center.

This would be a great opportunity to ask Mr. DiMaria 10 questions “On the record”:

  1. You have stated that the new water deal will save residents about $900,000 over 40 years. How much can we expect our water bills to drop every month?
  2. You promised openness and transparency in your administration. Why weren’t there any village outreach meetings before this water deal was done informing us of the various options and costs?
  3. In order to bring water in from Evanston we will need to build waterlines. How much is this going to cost taxpayers?
  4. On February 12, 2015 Trustee Grear, speaking about the second lowering of the village bond rating stated: “It’s not earth shattering”. Isn’t it true that having a lower bond rating increases our cost of issuing bonds? Isn’t this earth shattering?
  5. The owners of Moretti’s,  contributors to the village president’s political party have cut a deal with the village. The deal cut by the village underwrites over 40% of the cost of building the pizzaria.  Why has this administration given a “sweetheart deal” to this political contributor?
  6.  TIF funds from the Lehigh/Ferris TIF were redirected to the Heartland property, (luxury apartments on Waukegan road),  whose owners were contributors to the village president’s political party. Why didn’t the administration use these funds to work a redevelopment deal with the owners of the Prairie View shopping center?
  7. For four years  the village was in negotiations with the owners of Prairie View shopping center to modernize and upgrade the property. The owners have reached out to the Village numerous times. In 2016, they reached out twice. In June 2016, they requested TIF assistance not to exceed $9 million. The Village ignored this request. In December 2016, wanting to start construction in the Fall of 2017,  they offered to lower their request to $7.5 million. The Village has still not responded and the project remains stalled.Village officials are now saying that the owners of the shopping center have broken off negotiations, yet it is the village stalling the dealIf there was TIF money and other incentives available for Moretti’s and Heartland, why couldn’t funds be found to close a deal with the owners of Prairie View?
  8. Four years ago you ran on the promise of increasing the tax base. You hired an economic development person to facilitate that, yet today, there are just as many, if not more vacant storefronts on Dempster and our EAV has gone down which increases the tax burden on every homeowner. How can you justify this failure to improve the business climate and tax base?
  9. There is a village ethics ordinance that prohibits village officers from accepting political contributions from vendors and consultants, yet the village president’s political party has received thousands of dollars in donations from businesses, like Groot that have lucrative contracts with the village. Why isn’t the ethics ordinance enforced?
  10. There is a state law prohibiting incumbent officials from voting themselves an increase in money during their term of office, yet this administration did exactly that a few months after taking office. How is this not a violation of the law?

The time has come for accountability, transparency and honesty instead of empty talk.

 

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