Thursday, December 14, 2006

Peoria Park Board Meeting Last Night

The subject was whether the park would cooperate with the school district in relocating and building a new school partially on park grounds. The presentation of EXPERT Judy Harris Helms detailed why our educational system has had such a hard struggle to educate our youth. In her loud and abrasive efforts to sell the Park District on the School/Park idea, she totally ignored the fact that our kids are in school mainly to learn to read, write, compute, communicate and develop a work ethic and understand discipline (which many don’t get at home).

Ms. Helms was all into zoo’s botanical gardens, aquatic study at the nearby lake, art and science (which can is taught in most schools no matter where they are located), and trips to the zoo and the African exhibit and playground. They can take all the educational field trips they want if the present school is renovated and expanded. All these advantages are only six blocks away!

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “Flabby, Inefficient, Outdated” Michael Bloomberg, Mayor new York /city writes that “Only 18 out of one hundred high school freshmen will graduate on time, enroll directly into college and earn a two-year degree in three years or a four-year degree in six years. Only 18!”

Totally overlooked by expert Ms. Helms is that school is not in session in the summer when school is closed most parents that are good parents, take their kids to parks, playgrounds and lakes. She does not say where the money would come to visit the African Exhibits and the zoo. Someone tell me if you know because Superintendent Ken Hinton told me the schools could not afford to pay more than what they pay now, let alone after a $32 million dollar expansion. Was dialogue about who would pay for these excursions part of the erased tapes? The Park District is in the process of spending $32 millions dollars for zoo renovating and construction. Who is going to pay for this zoo if kids are let in free? And if Glen Oak kids will be let in free, all school k ids must be let in free. I occasionally see school buses from Havana, Elmwood; ect., parked near the zoo on what I understand is a free day for kids. I believe District #150 can transport by bus from Glen Oak School if kids are transported by bus from, say, Havana.

To think that Mss. Helms is PAID to disseminate the grandeur visions of the intellect that has put our educational system in the position it is now is a travesty of common sense.

Most school kids get Saturday and Sunday off totaling 102 days plus 90 summer days in which they can go to parks and zoos with their parents or social agencies like the Boys and Girls Club and Sun Foundation to name a few out of a hundred agencies and programs. Plus dozens of programs offered by the Peoria Park District.

My belief is that four members of the park board will nix this whole fiasco and leave the taxpayers in #150 stuck with $800,000.00 of real-estate.

Talk about financial inefficiency in government. Also talk about apathy. Despite the fact that Glen Oak School is approximately 70% black, less than 10 black people attended the meeting and two were on the park board and two on the school board or administration.

P.S. I’m corrected by a reader that the 2007 budget for the Park District is $49,700,000.00. The budget was $13 million in 1993.

Open Meetings Act Alleged Violation by the Peoria Park District

On December 12, the JS reported that the Peoria Park Board broke the law on the erasure of Executive Minutes tapes. Judge Barra also ruled that “the Peoria Park Board discussions at two closed meetings may have violated the open meeting act means the case can go to trial where the facts can be decided.”

The plaintiffs, Karrie Alms/Sara Partridge (Rally Peoria) need funds to pursue this action. Those of you who are supporting the plaintiffs and citizens of our community, should help them financially. Please send your donation whatever size to RALLY PEORIA, P.O. Box 44, Peoria, Il 61650-0044.

This lawsuit was filed to protect all taxpayers from public bodies operating as private entities with taxpayer dollars. The erasing of tapes allegedly covering Park Boaard/#150 School District dialogue while SUSPOSEDLY done accidentally, was ruled in violation of State of Illinois law by presiding Judge John Barra.

Thanks for your financial support and please do it today. This suit was brought to protect all citizens from public entities doing business in the dark rather than thru transparency.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Judge: Park Board Broke Law"

“Park Board Broke Law” and “Erased Audiotape Violated Open Meetings Act” are the headlines in today’s JS. The Park may have violated the open meeting act but it also violated anyone with common sense, common sense. The attorney for the park said a “number of tapes were deleted.” Of course many were; who would just erase the most damaging tape without erasing a bunch of others to make it look like just a housecleaning act.

No one in the tax funded public sector erases a tape from an executive committee closed session without the approval from at least three entities: The administrator, the attorney and the full board.

The actions of the Peoria Park District in recent years indicate to the taxpayer that the park will do whatever they want to do, at whatever cost it takes and let the public revel in the after glow of all their good deeds. It is no secret who runs the park district and calls the shots; the park board president is a figurehead and three other members of the board make a majority. The other three remaining members might as well vote “present”.

I believe the community paying taxes to the park district does not realize what is happening. We all want good parks but the $48,800,000.00 budget this year is beyond most people’s comprehension. So is the approximately $35-37 million dollars now in outstanding bonds that are all accumulating more debt and must someday be paid off. A couple of years ago I predicted a park budget of $60 million dollars in 10 years. I move that up to $60 million dollars by 2010. The addition to the zoo will lose millions of dollars a year unless some philanthropist steps forward with a check for many millions of dollars.

The RiverPlex, if not for the park’s “creative accounting”, would show on “factual” accounting books as losing the equivalent of 4 to 5 thousand dollars a day. In all the years it has been open, it has never been able to meet even one payment on the large loans the park indebted itself with at the time of construction.

A simple equation will show that the new zoo addition when completed will lose large sums of money daily. Here are the facts: The Park claims to have 100,000 visitors a year and expects to increase attendance to 170,000 when the zoo is complete. That figure is in the parks own projections. The current zoo loses approximately $400,000.00 a year. If the new zoo would charge ALL visitors, school kids and all children, $10 a visit, which, of course if they do, they will find that is not be a fee that will be sustainable. Even then the total amount raised will be $1,700,000.00 plus concession sales of maybe $100,000.00 or less than $2,000,000.00. Most new ventures like zoos have an attendance fall off after the newness wears off.

It is a consensus that the most the new zoo could charge would be $8 per adult and maybe $4 dollars per child. Cash strapped school districts will not be sending bus loads of kids at even $4 dollars a visit. Based on a split of adults and kids at the $8 and $4 dollar levels would be 85,000 adults times $8 dollars or $680,000.00 and 85,000 kids at $4 dollars would bring in another $340,000.00 or a total of $1,200,000. 00, enough to cover principal and interest payment on the loan but not nearly enough to cover the massive new expenses for the overhead of maintaining a new structure with expensive exotic animals.

Park grounds, activities offered and maintenance have declined and fees have risen along with property taxes. The park recently said they received a million dollar grant from the state, a grant funded by tax dollars. The budget book states that “100 part time employees would; not be rehired.”

I believe that certain park officials sold District #150 on the idea of locating partially on park grounds so that the park administration could later on point to the increased number of visitors per year albeit on a no charge basis. District #150 board members have compiled a list of schools and parks sharing the same grounds. None of the examples I have read about are similar to what is being planned at Glen Oak Park.

Four park board positions are open this year. It would show total apathy of the community to not put candidates on the ballot that could be elected and would impel the administrator to report to the board the way tax supported public bodies are supposed to be operated.

If the JS was doing the job they should be doing they would ask to see a business plan. When the RiverPlex was built the JS was showing figures that by this time the operation would be operating in the black by hundreds of thousands of dollars. But than anyone can show a set of figures beforehand and get away with their wrong guesses unless the media or bloggers point out the facts. The JS who gets income from the park district appears to be reluctant to come forth with the facts.

Again, I say, wake up Peoria!

Monday, December 11, 2006


My original blog on this subject was posted on 12/05/06. I received a rather blistering comment from one Matt Jones. You can read my blog of 12/05 and Mr. Jones’s comments. I wrote a comment back but my comments got lost out their in cyberspace. So here are basically my answers to Matt Jones:

First Matt, you are presumptuous to think you are the only Matt in town, I could have been talking about half a dozen Matt’s who I know.
Second, you left out that you approached me this summer and asked if I would consider stepping down, not run for reelection. You said you knew many Republicans who would not vote for me and that the Central Committee, you, I’m told, are on the Executive Committee and on the political Advisory Committee and I’m told you area also attorney to the Central Committee. You said Republicans wanted to hold District 11 for the Republicans and those did not think I could win. When I told you I would not even consider not running, you then asked me if I would consent to a poll to determine my elect ability. When I said no way, you then asked who was going to run my campaign. When I told you, I would run my own campaign; you told me again, I could not be elected without a campaign manager. You told me I would have to pay for these services. Later you called me and asked if I was going to do a mailer. I told you no, I was doing handouts. You were not pleased.

When I won both the election and the Vice-Chairmanship I couldn’t resist giving you a little “needle”. Sorry you got so upset but am glad with all your other time constraints that you have time to read my blogs.

As a result of your negativity, I set out to prove I could win without spending more than $1000 (one handout), no yard signs and do no mass mailing and do no phone bank. While my win was narrow, my election for Vice-Chairman of the Peoria County Board, was, using the terms of miffed former politician and Republican Roger Monroe, a “landslide”.

My comments about the JSEB, they who said I lacked communication skills, was long-winded and strident, (partly so on the strident), Roger Monroe who after I won my first election, said in his 3rd rate column that I was dirt, and coupled with your activities, Matt Jones, I decided to give you all the “needle” or rub it in a bit.

Matt, I know you are a Republican candidate wannabe. You had better develop thicker skin because my comments could hardly be called an attack. I have been attacked by many people in many different ways including Penny Radley, wife of a judge or former judge, who said she worked with me on the Peoria Park Districts Citizens’ Recreation Advisory Board and I was uncooperative and unpleasant to work with, probably because I concluded the Advisory Committee was really “useless as tits on a boar” and totally dominated by the administrator. (The last year I served under the “leadership” of Rocky Vonachen, one half of all meeting were cancelled), I resigned, Park Board President Tim Cassidy who asked that people vote for him to “save the parks” from Merle Widmer, Tim is saving the park district with it’s $48,800,000.00 budget all right for present and future taxpayers to receive the property tax jolt soon forthcoming; a letter to the editors from R. W. Slonneger who insinuated I was on the payroll of PDC (sorry, R. W., not one thin dime) and from many emails, letters both positive and negative from concerned citizens (and rightly welcomed) as I was concerned, and some from people who favorite “whine” was “we don’t want no toxic waste in our backyards”. Never mind that it is hazardous waste, not toxic when it is deposited and that the landfill had been there for TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS. Just a few extra "needles".

Several months earlier Matt Jones had blistered me about speculative comments I made about the some County Board members. I remind Matt that I was elected Vice-Chairman by 15 out of 18 votes including all three African-Americans now on the Peoria County Board an by all but two voters on whose vote I had speculated on and apologized to them for doing so. Just as a reminder, PDC is suing the County and you will soon hear more details about additional hearings out at the ITOO. The "yes" voters are not involved

Matt is a nice fellow well met, and I can appreciate being up at three AM to feed a new baby can make you irritable, but we all worked and raised kids. I believe Matt is most upset because I work with all people of all parties’, races, religious beliefs, who use facts and have sane beliefs. Suffer fools gladly, I don’t.

And didn’t I warn you this was not a politically correct blog site? It isn’t.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Who has the Upper Hand?

I quote from an article in Forbes titled the “Upper Hand” by Andrew C. MCCarthy, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and who is also found on National Review Online. I’m typing his name as printed with 2 cap CC’s; he writes “When I grew up in the Bronx, there were street gangs. You mostly stayed away from them, and, if you really had to, you fought with them. But I never remember anyone saying “Gee, maybe if we just talk to them….”. Nor do I remember in two decades as a prosecutor, anyone saying, “Y’know, maybe if we just talk to these Mafia guys, we could achieve some kind of understanding…” Sitting down with evil legitimizes evil. As a practical matter, all it accomplishes is to convey weakness. This spring---after trumpeting the Bush Doctrines “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” slogan for five years---Secretary of State Rice pathetically sought to bribe Iran out of its nuclear program with a menu of carrots and no sticks…and certainly no demand that the mullahs stop fomenting terror. The result? They’re still laughing at us, even as they build their bombs, harbor al Qaeda operatives, and arm the militias killing American soldiers in Iraq.

While our rhetoric blathers that we’ll never let them build a nuke, our talks beg them, pretty please, to stop building one. And our actions all but hand them one. If all that makes you wonder who the superpower is, what do you suppose they’re thinking?

Most of us felt numerous times that we have mishandled this war and called for many heads to literally roll but few did. Who was most responsible for the mishandling? The buck stops at the top. As a Republican and an aging senior I am most disappointed in many of the actions of the top echelons of our government. Democrats can share much of the blame for letting the situation get so far along that terrorists were able to crash our systems and kill thousands of our citizens on our own soil. For those of you who point out the many mistakes we made in other wars had better start believing this is the most important war of our history and the mistakes made will affect this continent forever. Only one thing will change the outcome and we don’t have the political guts to do it and that is to go to an all out war against those who do not even want to capture us but want us dead.

Cal Thomas has it right in his column Friday in the JS titled “Only Force Can Finish Iraq Job”.

For those of you who think these evil and misguided people will “make nice” with us if we just go home and stay home will someday go down in history as either being foolishly ignorant or cowardly traitors.

There is an old saying that “when the going gets tough, the tough get tougher.”
The Baker Kissinger commission reports should be studied, now that they have been erroneously done but inviting Syria and Iran in for peace talks is like inviting the Hamas, al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists over to visit your teen age daughters when you are not at home.

It’s most likely that there is another error in bible and the meek will not inherit the earth.
Like most things in life, I cannot guarantee who and what will inherit the lands I love but history so far has proven that it will not be the weak.

Growing Class Divide

Much has been written about the division of money and status of the people living in this country and in the world. Many blame the inability to rise from one’s birth condition to the effort needed for upward mobility and self suffiency in our society. Even those born rich or middle class must work to keep their status in the community. If born in circumstances beyond your control such as a product of poor parenting, inadequate education, and poor mentoring or bad luck, the challenge to a higher status is often daunting. Or people can also be indifferent or lazy. But one thing is certain; one is at an incredible disadvantage if not educated, has a bad attitude and a poor work ethic.

No matter under what circumstances one is born, (serious health problems not included), the United States offers everyone an opportunity to learn to read, write, communicate, work and do basic computations. Without these skills and attitudes, most people have little chance of upward mobility. An article in the 12/26 edition of Forbes titled “An unhappy childhood doesn’t kill” says that when Walt Disney was 9 years old, his family was so poor that young Walt would rise in the darkness and get his newspapers to deliver and deliver them and be home by 5:30 A.M. to take a nap and eat his breakfast before going to school.

When I meet or read about a student who doesn’t like to read, doesn’t like school, doesn’t like to work or doesn’t like to participate in community activities, I can almost always be sure I am looking at a person who by failing to participate in what is being offered, will whine all their lives about circumstances that has affected his or her present or future well being.

True, the most fortunate or best prepared of us have a certain responsibility to those who never rise from poverty. However, most of us understand it is difficult for a person to have upward mobility if that person does not apply some of the self-help tools that are free for the taking (like a free public education). Government micro-bombing of money to poverty stricken areas, loaning money that will never be paid back, free food pantry’s, housing and clothing with no obligations, is not an answer. Unless those people capable of upward mobility take responsibility on themselves, these programs have little success. (I’m tired of hearing the old saw “teach a man to fish---, but the saying is true.)

A number of years ago I saw a woman fishing for food in a trash can. I gave her $10 and asked her to go get some decent food. By chance, I saw her coming out of a convenience store minutes later with two 6-packs.

We are all teachers whether we realize it or not. Someone is always watching what we do and say and if we do or say it, why can’t they? Unfortunately, what people are most likely to emulate is what we do that is not a benefit to society. Leaders must set examples. We should be demanding that people be responsible and showing people how to be responsible instead of being their nanny. I believe that while all of us should be compassionate, this country is creating more people to be dependent on others rather than showing people how to be more dependent on themselves.

In 1997, I wrote an article on responsibility that was published in a local paper under the heading “Responsibility has been replaced”. In this article I wrote “Fear of ones own children is widespread because some parents are afraid of disciplining their kids or make them do chores, accept responsibility or study for fear of being charged with child abuse. Teachers and others are afraid of disciplining for fear of lawsuits. Principals often promoted on seniority; weak administrations and boards who let kids grow up without accepting responsibility on the school grounds, hallways, sports teams and classrooms add to the problem. Lack of parental training and in turn kids born to untrained parents, conflicting doctrines on how to raise children and welfare programs from both the private and public sector; all these things visited on those who could learn to pay their own way and be contributors to society. All contribute to the in jail, in court, can’t find a job, can’t hold a job, won’t work, pregnant without support, won’t work if that’s all they pay me or undependability has led to a most severe breakdown in our society.

Faith based compassion often does not help the problem as those that need the help are laughing at those who think they are helping. Look at those in the world who we have helped with trillions of dollars and are now saying get out or be killed or get out and we will kill you sooner or later.

It may occur to some of our leaders someday that many people do not want to be free because of the responsibility freedoms demand of them. “Do-gooders" cannot fathom this reality that many “homeless people” do not want to come off the streets because keeping their status quo is the only power they have.

Think about it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Disappointing the JSEB

Yes, JSEB, the vote last night was 15-3 to reelect me as Vice Chairman of the Peoria County Board. The Journal Star should know; Molly P. does know, (she was in attendance) that the person nominating me was my friend Bob Baietto and the board member seconding my nomination was my friend Lynn Pearson. “Widmer’s weakness – communication” said the JSEB.

Communications skills my ass! The JSEB and a few of their writers, should look in the mirror.

When the JS is finally sold, which can’t be too soon for many of us, maybe we will get editors who “report the news rather than try to “make the news around their own prejudices” and revel in their character assassinations.

Yes, my reelection for a third term was closer than I would have liked but a win is a win. I didn’t put up any yard signs, send out a mailing, use a phone bank or spend any of my money; my handout was donated to me by a retired friend, his daughter and my daughter Mary Jo, a total of $900 plus, so I ran a calculated risk of not being reelected. If I had not been reelected, no big deal; I have plenty of things I still wish to do to add to a career some of the Journal Star “writers” and “editors” really do envy. To some of them I say “get a life”. It’s also past time for some in upper management to retire and enjoy their generous pensions and contemplate what they would have liked to have been.

I’ll start blogging again with more frequency in February. Right now I’m doing some more of the things I want to do. Like raising money for kids thru the Noon Optimist Club, spending time with my friends and family, reading books; just finished a good one by Fanny Flagg, and playing tennis. Yes, tennis indoors at the Clubs at River City. And some tennis tournaments in warmer climates, too.

People tell me “Merle, you can pick the time you want to step out of politics.”

Probably so.

I also want to say hello on this blog to Republican Matt Jones, political analyst and attorney. Hey Matt, how’s it going? You didn’t call to say congrats. Cat got your tongue? And I don’t want to miss acknowledging ex-politician turned “columnist” Roger Monroe. Hi Rog, how’s it going? And to Eldon Polhemus who said that the county is well run and attributes that to our capable administrator Patrick Urich and now out of office Dave Williams. Eldon is correct, but all board members, elected officials, employees, administration and staff make Peoria County one the best run boards in the country.

And all this in spite of the Journal Star which at times is this communities worst enemy.