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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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 14 – The Power of Incumbency

One of the advantages of being the incumbent party and controlling all the municipal functions of the village is being able to “game the system” to your advantage.

slot machine

For example, a recent Morton Grove Champion article , recounts how a challenge to the current Action Party candidates was refused a hearing by the village clerk, who is also one of the candidates running on the Action Party ticket in the upcoming election.

Albers’ objections were filed Dec. 23, making the papers late, according to Board of Elections attorney Menzel.
“Those candidate petitions are presumed to be valid and the candidates move on — even if there were flaws in the petitions — because the time window for the challenges passed,” he said.

Albers maintained that the Action Party nomination papers were accepted a half hour before the clerk’s office opened and questioned whether statements of economic interest were filed with the clerk during the filing period.
Not filing statements of economic impact during a filing period could be “fatal,” he acknowledged, but there is no way to investigate further because of the lack of timeliness.

“The only way to challenge candidates’ petitions and qualifications to get onto the ballot is through the objection process and it has a hard and fast deadline,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate what happened here, but there isn’t a format to challenge because they were too late with their objections.”

So, in essence, there could have been hanky-panky but there will not be a hearing, there will not be transparency and the voters will have one less chance to fairly judge how this current administration is dealing with following election laws ethically.

When you are in charge and control everything you can pretty much do as you please apparently. For example, a few weeks ago there was a village newsletter that more resembled an Action Party campaign piece mailed to residents. It follows, almost word-for-word, the political web site of the candidates running on the party ticket for the April 4th election.

Just this week residents received a post card announcing a “Town Hall” meeting for Thursday, March 16th. It’s funny that this administration which promised transparency decides to have what could rightfully be characterized as an Action Party campaign rally paid for at taxpayer’s expense within three weeks of the election. Illegal? Maybe or maybe not but unethical and politically sleazy? Absolutely!

village-mailer-002
Many might think that political patronage was long dead. After all, the Supreme court in Elrod v Burns decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347) and reaffirmed the decision in Branti v Finkle, ( 445 US 507). What the court left standing, however, was what is commonly referred to as “white collar patronage”.
In recent cases the US court of appeals held that the first amendment protection under Elrod does not extend to government contractors. This preserves on of the most highly valued elements of the patronage system the distribution of government contracts and awarding of government money and commission positions as a means of rewarding political supporters and donors.

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For example, the TIF money that was earmarked for the revitalization of Prairie View Shopping Center has, instead, been used to underwrite Heartland ( the development company behind the luxury apartments at 8700 Waukegan Rd, political donors to the Action Party. Money from the Lehigh-Ferris TIF  went to underwrite Moretti’s pizza restaurant, (another political donor to the Action Party).

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Three of the candidates running for the Park District are officers of the Action Party and appointed members of village commissions. It is interesting to see coordination in the placement of their campaign signage,  so apparently there is now a plan in place for the Action Party to have all elected and appointed offices under their control.

Some would say that the folks running the Action Party are gaming the system, but you don’t have to game the system when you can make up the rules as you go along and decide which rules, (like the village ethics ordinance), you choose to ignore.

As the actor Mel Brooks says in his film “History of the World-Part 1”; “It’s good to be the king!

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