Chicago politics closing in on Norridge

Unprecedented level of Chicago money and manpower flooding into Norridge races, even non-partisan ones

The Chicago Improvement Party?

How many times have we seen stories in the Chicago media about why “Chicago should annex” Norridge and Harwood Heights, or the suburbs as a whole?

It seems we are now beginning to see a picture of the local foot soldiers who may be working to make that happen.

The star of the show has been David M Feller, Chicago’s 38th Ward Democratic Organization President, and a political operative of Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.

Feller has been everywhere in Norridge the past few weeks, and appears to be personally directing the operations of Chicago backed candidates… snapping photos as he goes.

Norridge Village Trustee race

One candidate seemingly with deep roots to Chicago politics, is 25-year-old Norridge Village Trustee candidate Jack Bielak.

Like Feller, Bielak is a Cook County employee, and there are dozens of photos of him hanging around with both Avino and Feller.

It seems Bielak is unable to go anywhere in Norridge without Avino and / or Feller in tow… as if Bielak was their marionette.

Last year, Feller was seen at a Norridge Improvement Party fundraiser.

According to campaign disclosures, the Norridge Improvement Party is taking money from Avino, who in turn is being funded by… Robert F Martwick, the state rep who, as a property tax appeals attorney, profits off high property taxes.

Martwick and Avino seem to make part of the conduit through which Chicago money is surging into Norridge races.

In a Facebook post a few weeks ago, Feller posted what he said were the candidates he and Frank Avino are supporting for Village Trustee: Bielak and Bill Larsen.

Notably absent from the Avino/Feller endorsements is Donald Gelsomino. Last time we looked, Gelsomino is running on the same “Norridge Improvement Party” ticket as Larsen and Bielak.

Perhaps it means Gelsomino’s loyalties aren’t to Chicago, then? There is a reason he wasn’t endorsed.

Not only is the 38th ward eyeing Norridge, a Chicago Democratic operative from the Debra Mell campaign in Chicago’s 33rd ward was one of those who filed an objection against the two candidates opposing the Norridge Improvement Party in April.

Perhaps we need to start calling their political party… the Chicago Improvement Party.

Chicago moves in on fire, school races

Other races where Feller and Avino are involved in is the Norwood Park Fire Department trustee race (where Avino is also a trustee), and our favorite elementary school district: District 80.

Feller and Avino are openly supporting Gina Santoro for fire department trustee.

Santoro even had a fundraiser for her campaign… but if you look at the ballot, she’s running unopposed… which raises the question: who is she really raising money for?

Feller, Avino, and their pal Jack Bielak attended a fundraiser held for the four District 80 candidates Renzo Berardi, Sam Palazzo, Molly Dec and Lou Mezzano.

An image shows Palazzo in a photo with Feller, apparently taken at the Norridge Improvement Party golf fundraiser in 2018.

Somebody with an open mind would give Palazzo the benefit of the doubt that he may not have known who Feller was or what reasons Feller had attending a fundraiser for a “Norridge” political party.

But just yesterday, we had a photo of Avino going door to door with three of the four candidates, including Palazzo… and the 33rd ward Chicago Democratic operative.

The photo included Andrew Cichon, who had his own fundraiser, even though he too is running unopposed for fire trustee.

Cichon’s mother in law owns “the Tavern” talked about in Feller’s FB posts.

If you need to bring in all this Chicago muscle and money, how much local “support” do you actually have?

Local races need local people

Norridge and Harwood Heights both have low turnout due to low voter interest in local elections.

Some of the reasons for this as stated by voters, has been low opinions of candidates running.

No good candidates, or any candidates at all, makes Norridge and Harwood Heights look like it’s ripe for the taking.

It’s too late for 2019, but we strongly encourage you to consider running for one of your local races in 2021: fire trustee, school district, Village trustee.

Because if you don’t, Chicago will surely find a few more local Quislings to put in your place… and their loyalty to the independent Villages currently called “Norridge” and “Harwood Heights”… will be suspect.

Can you say 51st Ward of Chicago?

District 80 Superintendent leaving for “greener” pastures

Paul O’Malley has tendered his resignation from District 80

Departing Paul O’Malley to get nearly $50,000 bump in base salary; ad-hoc committee formed to look for new superintendent

Superintendent Paul O’Malley is leaving District 80 for greener pastures… the kind of green that goes in your wallet, that is.

O’Malley’s new contract shows his $171,000 base salary increasing to $220,000, further rising to nearly $240,000 when you include District 53 paying his portion of the Teacher’s Retirement System contribution.

O’Malley’s is replacing a retiring Superintendent who gave her notice in September of last year. O’Malley, however, has only given District 80 a few months to find a replacement.

Rumors are swirling that current District 80 Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Palmer may be offered the Superintendent position at District 80.

The District appointed an ad-hoc committee consisting of current board members Tim Ludston and Pasquale Biondo plus candidate Sam Palazzo that will head the initial search for a new Superintendent.

Outgoing Board President Srbo Radisavljevic recommended the District think about sharing a superintendent with other school districts such as Ridgewood, Union Ridge, Pennoyer, or Schiller Park District 81.

Last year, a bill to allow Superintendent sharing died in the Illinois Senate.

A parent, Nicole Rusak, asked the board to look into some greater challenges for “overachieving” students, by providing an accelerated program; these statements were also echoed by Fiona Tanny.

Tanny asked the board to take seriously her petition, signed by hundreds of people including the D-80 teacher’s union, that has urged the board not to hire a new superintendent until after the election.

Recording of the February 19 2019 D-80 Board Meeting (until closed session, 32 minutes)

Mezzano, Dec re-emerge as write-in District 80 candidates

Having been thrown off the ballot due to flaws in their petition papers, Molly Dec and Lou Mezzano announce a write-in campaign for District 80 school board

Apologizing for the issues which caused their petitions to be thrown out, a statement on their campaign page read, “Molly Dec and I will not be deterred and will continue our efforts to be your voice at Norridge District 80″.

Candidate Sam Palazzo was not challenged and remains on the ballot for a 4 year term. Kevin Moore withdrew according to withdrawal paperwork posted by Norridge News.

Palazzo, Dec and Mezzano face opponents Frank Tribuzio and Mike Bellafiore who are on the ballot.

For the 2-year unexpired term, Renzo Berardi faces incumbent Frank Stoffel, who despite pulling his Facebook pages down, has not withdrawn as of this writing according to the Cook County candidate filing page.

With four seats open for 4-year terms, because of the removal/withdrawal of the three candidates, at least one of the write-ins will win by default.

Other candidates have expressed interest as write-ins, and the deadline to submit a Declaration of Intent to be a Write-in form is tomorrow, January 31st by 5PM.

Local residents criticize Village church property purchase

Church property purchase agreement signed; Village warns of coming increase in nighttime jet noise

The Village moved forward on a 3-1 vote to formally purchase the Divine Savior property for nearly $1.5 million. Two trustees were absent.

Local resident Mary Willard expressed dismay about the lack of transparency or discussion about the property purchase.

Willard asked Chmura “I want to know what you are going to put there”.

So do we, Mary. But we’re not going to get many answers out of a mayor who is not in the least bit interested in transparency.

Trustee Daniel Tannhauser stated that there would be public meetings held in his committee for the build out.

Willard however, brought up the fact that there were no public meetings held to purchase the property. Tannhauser agreed. She doubted any of their concerns would be heard.

Chmura answered: “We’ll listen. We always listen”.

James Chmura listens… to his campaign contributors and supporters. Everybody else? Not so much.

Chmura argued it was a low risk investment for the Village to purchase this piece of property, as they could turn around and sell it for twice the selling price.

In theory he’s correct, but that strategy so far is not working out for the show property they’re trying to sell.

Chmura went on to say that he forsaw the “need” for a senior center and preschool that he wanted to see built on this property.

The Village already has a senior center – the Sieb center. A preschool? Norridge already has one of those too. Who’s going to pay for a new one?

Chmura again reiterated that he will listen: “You’ll have your say so. I guarantee it.” Chmura said.

Sounds like a whole bunch of of pretexts are coming for more tax increases, folks. But at least Chmura will “listen” to you before he brings the gavel down on your wallet.

The Chicago Tribune wrote an article about this portion of the Village meeting.

Other highlights

O’Hare will be changing the nighttime flight rotation due to construction taking place at the airport, and we should expect more noise as a result.

Village Engineer Brian Gaseor stated the FAA requires the airport to conduct an environmental impact study and the Village has received a copy of the executive summary report of it.

“I am interpreting [the FAA report showing] the Village may get some more noise over here”, Gaseor said.

The FAA will have four public hearings starting in February. “It will explain the new nightime [runway] rotation and how it will affect the environment, noise, and air pollution”, said Gaseor.

Chmura encouraged residents to attend these meetings to object to the new configuration. “It’s important that you go [to the meetings] … after the meetings, and the planes are coming over your roof, it’s too late. They’ve got to hear your voice”, Chmura said.

“Brian and I go to a lot of the meetings, we bitch, we argue… we don’t get anywhere”.

“We agreed to share the noise [with other communities] … now with what they’re doing to us, we’re going to get more of it, we think”.

Chmura added: “My point is, speak [at the meetings]… if you don’t speak, I don’t want to hear it later”.

Recording of the January 23 2019 Village of Norridge Board Meeting (full video – 32 minutes)

District 80 hopeful condemns contract renewals

District 80 board candidate Sam Palazzo asks for no long term contracts be signed; Board renews them anyway

On the agenda for the January 15 2018 board of education meeting was a 3-year contract renewal for District 80’s two expensive principals: Michelle Guzik and Stephanie Palmer.

As of the current fiscal year, Guzik was making nearly $120,000 and Palmer $142,000, both in base salaries not including benefits.

In comparison, the principals of Union Ridge and Pennoyer schools received nearly $109,000, and $100,000 in base salary, respectively.

Prior to the vote, D-80 board candidate Sam Palazzo addressed both the board and the audience in a statement, saying “there should be no multi year contracts negotiated or agreed upon” including “administrative, teacher, consultant, and vendors” until after the election, where as many as five seats could change.

The new board should not be placed in situations where it can be controlled by its current board, with regards to the multi-year contracts, and should delay any such contract renewals until after election, Palazzo argued.

Of course, the majority on the board didn’t see things that way. They plowed ahead and passed both renewals on a majority vote, with Jennifer Paoletti the only dissenter .

Paoletti, who is not running for re-election, echoed Palazzo’s arguments that the contracts not be approved now.

Tim Ludston stated that the contract renewals can’t wait and that multi-year renewals are “normal business”.

Paoletti said “with five seats up [for election], and the fact that neither one of these contracts are going to expire before the new board is seated and has the opportunity to review them and then they get to vote on it, they meaning the people this community is electing … I think we’re tying their hands”.

Board member Warner DeJulio, who is also not running again, mused “Does anybody on the board think the motive for the contract is to lock the two principals and to block out the next board?”

Well, obviously you don’t Mr DeJulio, but for the people outside of your small bubble, the answer to that question, is yes.

Should we expect another renewal for Superintendent Paul O’Malley before the election? What “explanations” will DeJulio and Ludston come up for that one?

Other highlights

An elevator lift at Leigh is not functioning and its stated repair will cost $25,000. However, the board does not seem willing to bid out the repairs as it is claimed the lift is proprietary.

A recent elevator inspection concluded that the elevator issue had to be addressed because the upper floor is used by the day care, although Superintendent O’Malley stated that he had only seen the lift used to move furniture and not people.

The District also has other lifts that will need maintenance at some point in the future.

Notable board members absent from the meeting are incumbents running for re-election Mike Bellafiore and Frank Stoffel.

Stoffel has seen much controversy, including the surfacing of his indecent behavior on social media.

Last week, Stoffel’s personal and campaign Facebook pages appeared to have been taken down, and it is unclear whether or not he remains a candidate in the race.

Recording of the January 15 2019 D-80 Board Meeting (until closed session, 26  minutes)

D-80 board president files to get opponents thrown off ballot

Spiteful Srbo Radisavljevic wants to take out candidates Lou Mezzano and Molly Dec before campaigning even begins

Even though Board President Srbo Radisavljevic is not on the ballot, he’s doing his best to give his preferred candidates a leg up to oppose the assent of reform candidates… after all, his “legacy” is at stake.

To that end Radisavljevic has filed objection papers against Mezzano and Dec on three points.

The two cases, SD08 and SD09, have appeared on the docket of the Cook County Electoral Board Case list website. No scheduled hearings have been posted as of this writing.

This is a developing story.

D-80 board member’s bigoted views resurface after tirade against rivals

Frank Stoffel’s prejudicial comments comes back to haunt him after his drive-by attack on rivals

Frank Stoffel has revealed his prejudicial views on social media

Last weekend, current District 80 board of education member Frank Stoffel (and now candidate) unleashed an attack on the five members opposing him and fellow board member Michael Bellafiore.

In the post, Stoffel accused Mayor James Chmura and his Norridge Improvement Party of funding and aiding candidates Lou Mezzano, Sam Palazzo, Molly Dec, Renzo Berardi, and Kevin Moore.

Stoffel further stated that it was an attempted takeover of the board by Chmura to “gain control over more jobs and contracts” for repairs required at District 80’s two buildings.

Of course Stoffel didn’t provide any evidence to support his rant. Not surprising.

The authors of this blog are vocal Chmura and Norridge Improvement Party critics. But that does not make us partisan or loyal to another political party. Our only loyalty, now and the future, is to the truth.

Of “the Five” running for District 80’s school board, the only one with Norridge Improvement Party ties is Molly Dec.

However, school boards are nonpartisan, and she is not running as NIP, or any other party. It certainly isn’t in of itself a legitimate reason to oppose Dec’s candidacy.

Maybe Stoffel was trying to link the two from a photo Lou Mezzano posted that day, after he modified the drinking fountains at District 80 for America for Disabilities Act compliance.

It seems a puerile attempt by Stoffel to inject politics into a board of education. It’s also a tactic repeatedly employed by Board President Srbo Radisavljevic – perhaps not coincidentally.

But then again, if you have no real support in the community, and are only being backed by the status quo, dismal failure elements of the board, then you may have to fabricate a scenario that makes you look like a player.

Nothing screams desperation more than this long winded rant.

Stoffel’s prejudicial views

Unfortunately for Stoffel though, some of his past controversial comments on social media have made a timely reappearance.

They seem to reflect his deeply held prejudicial views, which we’re calling Frank “Big-IT” Stoffel’s Greatest Hits.

Frank Stoffel was appointed by the Radisavljevic-led board in December 2017 to replace Adam McGready.

In a short time however, Stoffel has made his prejudicial views on several subjects known on social media. Here’s but a few.

On one occasion, he got into a long winded conversation with a local teacher, calling him a “liberal cunt who lives in a bubble” and telling the same teacher “if everything could be learned from YouTube we wouldn’t need to hire losers like you to teach”.

On another occasion, he accused a gay teacher of “pushing a personal or political agenda on our youth”.

Stoffel suggested seniors were responsible for the condition of the school buildings.

During a conversation about Village water rates, he said those unhappy with water rates should “collect rain water, pump from the well in the Schiller Woods, and use an outhouse”.

A subsequent query to Frank Stoffel’s employer, the Schiller Park Police Department, claimed no discipline was imposed against Stoffel for these comments. However, if he received a verbal reprimand, it may not be an official record.

We do not presume to think we can understand what police officers have to deal with on a daily basis. There is no doubt they take more abuse, both physical and verbal, every day than any of us.

But in no way does this give Mr Stoffel cart blanche to treat folks with such disrespect.

Better choices

This appointee wants us to elect him in his own right to the school board? Could any of us meet his exacting “standards”?

Frank Stoffel does not impress as a board member. His record is pretty typical for District 80, rubber stamping the major decisions without any real dissent.

And based on his disturbing and ridiculous comments on social media, Stoffel does not have the temperament to be a District 80 board member. There are certainly better choices than him.

It will be interesting to see what further insights this foul-mouthed buffoon comes up with to justify his continued presence on the District 80 board. We’ll certainly be watching.

Frank Stoffel may have thought his drive-by attack on the five was a smart move to try and hurt his opponents early.

But Stoffel may want to pause for a moment and check his fire, because ricochets can be a problem, and may just come back to hurt him, instead.



D-80 phones to be finished by end of December

The new phone system will be installed by mid to end December as per Superintendent Paul O’Malley

District 80 submitted a statement of waiver on administrative costs that caused it to exceed the 5% cap, due to “circumstances beyond of the control of the district”.

DIstrict 80 is trying to get the Village of Norridge to send out an infographic the District 80 created showing where they claim most of the $10 million reserve was spent.

District 80 may also try to get Ridgewood to send the mailing.

(This seems to be a hot potato that nobody wants to take… could it be the District’s stated numbers are, shall we say… questionable?).

Recording of the December 11 2018 D-80 Board Meeting (until closed session, 27  minutes)

Village rams through red light camera contract, church property buy

Village signs contract with red light camera company, moves church property purchase forward

Just a few years ago, Village politicians, when asked about Harwood Heights’ red light camera program, derided them as revenue generators (which they are).

Cue to 2018 and all of a sudden these same politicians plan to move forward with them in Norridge. What happened?

Village elected officials including trustee Dominick Falagario admitted the Village didn’t have a list of the intersections where they planned to install red light cameras.

The only Village official who objected to the red light cameras and property purchase was Dominic Sulimowski.

When asked for projected revenue and location of the red light camera(s), Trustee Falagario claimed this information was not available.

If the idea was to place red light enforcement cameras in order to increase safety, wouldn’t you already know where you were going to be putting the camera(s)?

It’s a law in search of a crime. Are they even going to try to sell red light cameras in Norridge as being anything other than a money grab?

The contract with red light camera vendor Safespeed moved forward on a 5-1 vote, with Sulimowski being the only NO vote.

Divine Savior property purchase “boondoggle”

When the discussion shifted to the Village property purchase, Sulimowski was the only trustee to raise the burning question on everybody’s minds: where are they going to get the money for this land purchase?

We think the answer to this question (as well as the $15 million buildout) is going to be burning a big hole into our wallets, in the form of even more tax increases.

Sulimowski also brought up the fact that the Village purchased a piece of the show property from Harlem Irving Plaza mall owner Michael Marchese, and is now turning around and selling that property. He called the planned purchase of the church property a “boondoggle”.

Chmura and Falagario’s responses (or perhaps, “excuses”) had to do more with the Village buying the church property to prevent other developers from building 50 or 60 condos there.

Wait a minute, isn’t that what the zoning commission is for? Surely the building height for 50+ condos would require a zoning petition be approved?

Sulimowski raised the question: why shouldn’t there be condos there, or some other residential development that would put the property on the tax rolls?

Chmura’s response was any new property taxes would mainly go to the schools – apparently that’s a bad thing in Chmura’s mind.

Sulimowski objected to continuing with the vote until a proper plan was presented, and made the motion that it be tabled.

The motion was not seconded, and the ordinance passed on a 5-1 vote, with again Sulimowski being the only dissenter.

Chmura made a big deal about the resolution only authorizing the Village to “talk” to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago about purchasing the property.

However, the action item on the meeting agenda clearly states it is “authorizing the execution and delivery of a contract between the Village and the Catholic Bishop of Chicago to purchase certain real estate” and “authorizing the taking of all other actions necessary to the consummation of the transactions contemplated by this ordinance”.

Gus Rapatas raised concerns over the cost and the lack of a plan for the property, as well as questioning whether the Village’s “private” meeting with the Archdiocese was Open Meetings Act complaint.

Another resident who lives near the church property raised concerns about an increase in traffic on her block if a new Village Hall/police station is built there. She requested the Village involve the local residents in whatever is ultimately built.

Armed guards?

Armed guards at public comment?

One subtle but notable event was the appearance of armed Village police officers in front of Chmura who only appeared during the public comment.

Normally during meetings Norridge police officers stand at the open doors of the board room.

Nothing against the Norridge police officers who were obviously ordered to stand at attention for Chmura, but we do not believe our police should be used in this way. These kinds of optics could be perceived as discouraging public participation.

Mayor Chmura, if you have to have armed guards protecting you in the board room… could it very well be that you are part of the problem you so freely assign to others?

Recording of the December 12 2018 Village of Norridge Board Meeting (full video – 45 minutes)

Norridge to purchase part of church property

Norridge government to buy portion of Divine Savior property for new village hall, police station and more

Per this week’s meeting agenda, the Village will be moving forward to purchase an unused section of the lot owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

In addition to relocating the Village hall and police station, the Village will also be adding a women’s health center and a day care center, sources say.

In 2016, District 80 sought to purchase portions of the same property as part of its ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful $60 million dollar referendum.

The purchase price is said to be $1.5 million, plus an additional $15 million to build it out as per the current estimated figures.

How the Village government is going to pay for this, when they supposedly can’t even make the pension fund payments without raising taxes, will be the real question to answer in the coming weeks and months.

Should we expect more massive property tax increases to pay for the bonds (debt) will be needed to make this a reality?

District 80: spend big on security while keeping the gates open

Giles school Oriole Ave gate

Inability or unwillingness to keep the gates closed contradicts district’s claimed push to upgrade security

District 80 has been very talky about security upgrades at the school, from the phone system to building changes that will limit how far an unauthorized person can get into the school building itself.

All of which seems like reasonable upgrades. But the school has an existing security feature surrounding the school that it can deploy now: it’s called a gate and a fence.

A fence is a device consisting of metal bars, when arranged in a certain way, physically prohibits access to a given area. A gate is a gap in the fence which permits you to allow and control access in the fenced-off area. (Obvious explanations given for District 80’s benefit).

It’s likely the school would need to keep at least one of them open in the event the students had to exit the building quickly (a fire, for example), but why are all 3 gates being left wide open? Don’t students play in both of those areas?

A better solution may be for the district to modify the gates to allow for exit from the inside while prohibiting entry without a key or security badge.

Giles Cullom Ave big gate

However, why spend tens or hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to upgrade security at District 80 when its employees can’t, or perhaps won’t, keep at least some of the existing gates closed?

Perhaps no-bid hire and Giles principal Stephanie Palmer is too busy lavishing praise and photo ops on board members Frank Stoffel and Mike Bellafiore to be concerned about such trivial matters.

It may not concern her of at least three such incidents in the last year about the gates at Giles school being left open on school days.

Not serious about security?

For all the District’s (empty) rhetoric, they still aren’t taking security any more seriously now than before.

The Norridge Schools Foundation has recently acquired funding to address some security related issues at District 80.

However no amount of money from the Foundation nor any other source can buy what is in the shortest supply for District 80’s leadership – common sense.

Keeping the gates closed, while not costing the District anything on dollars, is apparently too taxing on the leadership’s limited intellectual capacity. Nothing new to report there.

Giles Cullom Small Side Gate

But elections are coming up in April. Should voters, especially parents, re-elect the same people in charge of this fiasco for another 4 years?

District 80 board moves forward with new phone system purchase

Board members spar over best phone system proposal, ultimately choosing California-based Ring Central

Board members spent 45 minutes debating the proposals after board member Warner DeJulio objected to the accuracy of the financial cost numbers as presented to the board, urging the vote be tabled until all alternatives had been evaluated.

DeJulio argued the “cloud” based phone system would not function in the event of an internet outage, and recommended looking into an on premise system as an alternative.

However the cost for a new on-premise system was well above the $50,000 budgeted for a new phone system, and the board moved forward with the cloud based solution by Ring Central.

These were all good points made by DeJulio, but was DeJulio’s interest in selling the District a more expensive product borne of genuine concern for the best solution?

DeJulio certainly knows his stuff – he’s a “Senior Solutions Architect” at his company, 312 Communications.

DeJulio’s company also provides communication services for the public sector. You know, public sector entities like school districts… we’re sure there could be no conflict of interest there… right?

DeJulio has reached out to us, denying any conflict of interest in a statement, saying he argued for the more expensive system because it is the “best option for safety, security and functionality” and that his company “had no interest in that contract”.

DeJulio has said the more expensive, on-premise quote given to the District was from one of his competitors, and he had “had zero interest financially or any other way in this deal”.

He continued to object to the Ring Central solution the District purchased as flawed, saying “running the phone system over an existing Internet connection isn’t reliable enough for mission critical applications like E911 for example”.

Other highlights

The new special education director provided a status report presentation of the new special ed services department. The District recently took itself out of the LASEC cooperative, and brought special education in-house.

There was a presentation of what is claimed to be a financial breakdown of where the majority of the $10 million reserve was spent.

We aren’t going to take at face value any figures presented by District 80 while the current board leadership and administration is in place.

Even if we were to accept their claims, at the end of the day, it’s an attempt to “justify” their overspending. Cover for years of burning reserves for operational expenses.

An unbalanced budget plus excuses is still an unbalanced budget. Numbers don’t lie or care why the money was spent.

It was several years before District 80’s “leadership” started to take the deficit seriously.

The District 80 board, and its financial consultant Craig Schilling, are slapping themselves on the back for getting closer to a balanced budget. Except… a balanced budget is to be expected of a public body.

Schilling mentioned that District 80 isn’t so bad compared to other schools he has deal with.

OK Craig, we’ll take your word for it… but it’s irrelevant. This is Norridge and Harwood Heights. We should never accept anything less than fiscal responsibility from our schools… or from any other government body.

Given all those years of overspending, and outside of any historical context, it could be considered an “achievement” to be so near to balancing the budget.

But we can not and will not ignore the past: 10 years and counting of deficit spending.

Show us a real balanced budget… show us 3 years of financial actuals in the black (including deposits to the reserve fund)… then maybe you will have something to praise.

Recording of the November 20 2018 D-80 Board Meeting (until closed session, except for the security vulnerability presentation – 1 hour 30 minutes)

Village plays the blame game with pension fund shortfall

Village officials blame everybody but their own policies for pension funding shortfall as justification for property tax increases

If you listen to village officials defending their decision to hike property taxes by 35% this year, they’ll point fingers at Springfield, the previous disgraced actuary… but never their own policies.

While it is no doubt Springfield has contributed to the problem (see the “Edgar pension ramp”), neither Chmura nor any other village official will admit the major reason for the pension funding shortfall: higher salaries and benefits for employees.

Only the new actuary “dared” to mention this critical fact.

We previously reported how the Village paid the pension payments out of the general fund in previous years, but has since shifted the burden entirely to homeowners.

“Village Administrator” Joanna Skupien, reading from a prepared statement at the November 14 tax levy hearing, stated how the Village would supplement the police pension payments from the general fund “if financially able to”.

Major James Chmura, just this year, raised the Norridge sales tax to 10.5% . Yet by Village officials’ own admission, and supported by the Village’s financial documents, not a penny of that tax increase has gone into the police pension fund.

Where is all this sales tax money going?

Village property taxes going up

Skupien’s statement indicated the average property tax increase for homeowners would be $35 next year, however public bodies are notorious for under reporting tax increase numbers in order to “sell” tax increases.

Based on our calculations, however, depending on your home assessed value (as determined by outgoing Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios), as well as the median home value in Norridge, it’s going to be more like between $50 to $100 higher next year, based on current property assessment trends.

This may not seem like a lot (unless you’re fixed income). But this is just one of the many public bodies on your tax bill.

For example, these pension payments only cover the police pension fund, not the firefighters and EMT (ambulance) pension fund, as the Village of Norridge does not provide fire and ambulance services, as many other municipal governments do.

The concern however is this 35% increase year over year has opened the floodgates for a substantial ramp up of the Village portion of our property taxes, every year.

The actuary recommended a pension payment of $2.1 million for next year, which means the $1.6 million isn’t enough.

As the pension funding level has dropped to 55.67% this year, the recommended amounts in 2020 will no doubt be higher, perhaps much higher.

So that means we may be looking at another 35% or greater tax increase in 2020. And because the Village is “home rule”, it can raise taxes any amount without a referendum.

It’s not the $50 increase for next year… it’s the $100 or $200 or $500 increase the year after that.

We only have to look at Chicago to see how their property taxes have increased under Rahm Emanuel, for the same stated reasons: pensions.

It may have not been much the first year, but the snowball got bigger and bigger year after year until it really stated to hurt.

Overspending the issue

All in all, the Village’s song and dance over the property tax increases, sounded like a bunch of excuses to continue overspending.

As the new actuary admitted, there’s no evidence previous actuary Tim Sharpe made decisions that adversely affected Norridge’s pension fund investments.

Neither Sharpe, nor Springfield, are responsible for the high salaries and benefits.

There is nothing in the Illinois constitution that requires or guarantees salaries or benefits for current employees. The village could freeze salaries (as we and others have advocated) as well as having employees to pay more for health care benefits.

The village could also reduce, even modestly, the size of its patronage army, and implement a real anti-nepotism policy. They could hire people only when there is a job requirement, not because a Village employee’s family member needs a job.

They could outsource certain kinds of work that don’t really need to be performed by Village employees.

This would, however, require Village politicians to care more about municipal finances overall, than keeping their regime in power.

Apparently, that’s too much to ask from Norridge’s politicians.

Recording of the November 14 2018 Village of Norridge tax levy hearing (full video – 19 minutes)

Results show strong local opposition to D-207 tax increase

District 207 referendum wins big in Park Ridge, but fails bigger in District 79’s area

If District 207’s tax increase referendum were only held in District 79, it would have failed by a large margin.

Unofficial numbers show total results at 27,671 in favor with 17,718 against.

But in the area of unincorporated Norwood Park Township, Harwood Heights, and Norridge served by District 79, the numbers were 992 NO to 576 YES.

Paul Hanley of George K Baum recently “advised” the District 79 board to wait until presidential elections in 2020 in order to take advantage of high Democrat Party turn out. Democrat voters are generally more supportive of tax increases, according to Hanley.

However the recently concluded congressional midterms and governor election of 2018 also had relatively high turnout, yet local voters rejected the D-207 referendum by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Taxes and taxpayer money laundering

At the District 207 board meeting on November 5th, residents expressed concern with large campaign contributions made to the YES 207 political action committee, including George K Baum, calling for an ethics investigation, as llinois law forbids public funds being used in referendum campaigns.

The law in question is the Illinois Election Interference Act (10 ILCS 5/9-25.1), which states that “No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated for political or campaign purposes to any candidate or political organization”.

The board did not address the issue, continuing on without missing a beat, confident its taxpayer-funded campaign would achieve the desired result… and they were correct.

Other residents spoke out about continually rising property taxes in the area, and requested a change in leadership at District 207.

District 207 has been consistently ranked as having some of the highest paid school employees in the entire state. Now the homeowners get to pay for it all.

Concerned homeowners in the District 79 area aren’t entirely without options however. A meeting held by regional superintendent Mark Klausner in September brought up an option of changing the high school feeder from D-207 to Ridgewood.

Residents in District 79 concerned about rising property taxes can also support the consolidation movement, which seeks to combine District 79 and 80 into a single school district, eliminating unnecessary duplicate costs, and making the grade schools operate more efficiently by sharing resources.

In life nothing is guaranteed except for death and taxes.

In Illinois we know that taxes are guaranteed to rise until we say NO… NO MORE TAXES.

This article has been edited to reflect changes in the unofficial voting numbers.

District 207’s recording of the November 5 2018 board meetting, public comments start at 22:40

Park Ridge watchdog exposes taxpayer money laundering to D-207 PAC

Schools exploiting loophole in campaign finances laws to channel taxpayer money to pro-tax increase political action committees

Our schools seemed to have found a loophole in campaign finance laws that would prohibit tax money going toward campaigning… just launder tax money through private companies.

And they are sailing boatloads of taxpayer money through this loophole.

Park Ridge-based has exposed D-207’s channeling of taxpayer funds through some of 207’s vendors.

Wight & Company, Frank Cooney Company and George K Baum are all vendors District 207 has used who have contributed to the pro-tax increase PAC “YES 207”, according to campaign disclosure documents.

In the case of George K Baum, they were paid $75,000 in January for “community engagement” services, and sent nearly $8,000 to the YES 207 PAC as of November 1st 2018, the largest contribution of the three.

George K Baum is the same Baum who was involved in the District 80 tax increase referendum, and wants to get involved in a future District 79 referendum.

Last day to vote is election day tomorrow, November 6.