Management of the Ravenswood Community Council is under scrutiny again. An award winning series by The Bulldog in January and February noted that the charity, which runs Special Service Area 31, almost failed financially in the period 2005-7.
The series went on to criticize the SSA for failing to provide basic snow clearance following the heavy snow fall. It contrasted the failure in the SSA with successful clearance efforts in other areas that did not have SSA funding available.
SSA stands for Special Service Area. Created by the city, SSAs collect a property tax levy to fund “enhanced” services such as cleaning snow and trash from sidewalks. The RCC manages SSA 31 for the city.
As the manager of the SSA the RCC receives a management fee from the city. In addition it manages the services provided in the area, principally snow removal and street cleaning, but also promotion.
Although the SSA eventually cleared the sidewalks, it was a failure of the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department to clear the streets of snow on Ravenswood, while streets were cleared on industrial streets such as Rockwell and Bradley, that led to issues, according to the story, in ordinary commercial work and the efforts of charities such as the Night Ministry to maintain services.
The series is credited with being a key element in the election loss of Ravenswood Community Council President Tom O’Donnell in the aldermanic election.
A recent spat between a blog and the council has raised the issue again.
CSJ Report has errors
The post, found here at CenterSquareJournal, says the RCC is a tool of Schulter. “Current board members with political ties to Schulter include (Tom) O’Donnell, the former president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party, (Bill) Helm, the current president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party and Marty Casey, who was 47th Ward Streets and Sanitation Superintendent under Schulter.”
The inside scoop
The news that the RCC is a political tool of Schulter is not news. Sadly missing from the list of members with political ties to Eugene Schulter is Rosemary Schulter, listed by the RCC on its website as a director. Rosemary Schulter is married to Eugene Schulter.
The CSJ report goes on to confuse SSA revenue, describing $368,000 received as applied to “administering the Special Service Area #31 contract.”
The inside scoop
As noted by RCC Executive Director Chris Shickles in a reply, “RCC will receive about $50,000 in service provider compensation for managing the SSA which is in line with other similar sized SSAs throughout the city.”
The remainder of the funds are directed to efforts such as signage (the hanging banners you see on light poles), snow clearance, litter removal and landscaping. Much of that work is done by independent contractors.
The post says the RCC experiences high administrative costs.
The inside scoop
As The Bulldog noted months ago, administrative costs at the RCC have historically ranged up to 143.14 percent of revenue in 2007. The Bulldog also pointed to HRAIL as a program with glaring inefficiency. During a four year period the RCC administered HRAIL program repaired ten homes each year for $241,538, excluding the administrative costs.
- HRAIL is a program of small home repairs intended to maintain senior citizens in the community.
- HRAIL has been superceeded by the SARFS program: Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors.
And The Bulldog noted that much of the revenue received was spent on independent contractors and employees, not community efforts.
Despite the financial meltdown the RCC avoided, it continued on with O’Donnell at its head. On the one hand, the RCC headed into a serious financial meltdown under O’Donnell’s leadership. It was also a hands-off leadership, The Bulldog found. O’Donnell was only present at one SSA meeting over a two year period.
Since that initial examination of the SSA minutes, O’Donnell has continued to be absent from each SSA meeting.
The issue is not just that RCC has high administrative costs, but whether the city should even fund these entities. For one thing, RCC is not the only political creature in city that receives money. As Tom Tresser, a former candidate for Cook County Board President, noted if there is a need for these services there is nothing to prevent neighborhood businesses from getting together to provide them.
The services provide a means of cloaking city services. Few property owners and fewer voters understand whether they are covered by an SSA and how to influence them. There must be a more efficient means of administering SSA services than through chambers of commerce.
Plus, the creation of a relationship between the chamber and the city creates a dependency relationship that stifles political dissent.
In essence, the chambers become tools of the city, they lack transparency and accountability to the public.
Finally, the post says there was testimony that the RCC was “politically motivated.” And the post says a hire has “alleged connections to organized crime.”
The inside scoop
The assassination of people based on association is broad. Sheila Pacione, a new employee of RCC, is correctly noted by the blog to be a former staffer of Shulter for example.
Dan Stefanski, another employee, is painted by the blog as a childhood friend of “convicted” former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Stefanski parlayed that childhood friendship into a position in the Blagojevich administration.
And the post says he was fired from the Illinois Department of Transportation for drunk driving. AND Stefanski has a past as a bookie, the report says.
According to a 2005 Chicago Sun-Times article cited online by other web sites but no longer available, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters team of investigators named Stefanski is a friend of reputed mobsters Robert Abbinanti and Nick “The Stick” LoCoco. Stefanski, according to the report, issued a statement offering a $20,000 reward for the address of a mob informant.
Stefanski does not deny keeping company with alleged mobsters, according to the report.
In the spirit of full transparency, The Bulldog itself has ties to RCC. The Bulldog sponsored an event with RCC in September, “The Bells of Ravenswood.”
As noted last month, Michael Fourcher, the publisher of the CenterSquareJournal, is a prolific entrepreneur. According to the CSJ post, Fourcher was a contributor to the post.
Fourcher was associated with the politically connected Haymarket Group, Podesta Associates, former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and ran a political consulting firm as recently as last year, overlapping with his creation of the CenterSquareJournal blog. Fourcher’s political interest in ward politics remains unknown.
It is a “politically motivated” piece according to a reply to the article by Democratic ward boss Eugene Schulter.
According to social media, Schulter is running again for the 47th Ward Democratic committeeman position. Schulter has not formally announced his run.
*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 10.30A We added two paragraphs to explain the roll of SSAs and how they receive their funding. Go to the new text ***
*** UPDATE Nov. 13, 2011 @ 11.05A We moved two paragraphs to the end of the post to provide better flow to the story. And we added an explanation of what the HRAIL program is. ***