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Port Clinton Repairs Begin, Theater Up Next

The city council held two emergency meetings to get Port Clinton garage repairs underway.

As the city council works to reopen the Port Clinton Parking Garage and , both elected officials and residents are beginning to ask how these facilities became unsafe to begin with.

The council after both facilities were examined by an independent fire inspector, which led Highland Park Fire Chief Pat Tanner . that the preliminary report cited the sprinkler system in both facilities as safety concerns, a conclusion echoed by members of the city council.

"We've also been told that the sprinklers in the garage are past their normal life expectancy," said .

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Since then, the city council  to discuss how and when the facilities would be reopened. At the second meeting, held this past Saturday, the city council voted unanimously to begin working to repair the garage. Lane Young, a Patch blogger and former city council candidate, tweeted that work on the garage may have already begun.

Reopening the theater, Young noted, will be trickier. 

"Issues w/making theatre safe not limited to fire suppression & egress," Young tweeted Saturday, echoing concern. "How much $ should be spent?"

Blumberg was not the only one wondering about costs. Because the the city council is currently seeking Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for the theater, both council members and the mayor are unsure how much the city should spend on the facility before someone buys it.

"If someone else is going to buy the theater, it's not the best use of city dollars to put a lot of money into it," Mayor Nancy Rotering told Patch before the first meeting. "We need to see what it would cost to have [the theater] safe enough to open now and see where things go as we move ahead with the possibility… for someone to take it over."

Some Patch readers feel too much of their taxpayer dollars have already been put into the theater.

"The taxpayers spent at minimum, $2 million, to acquire the Theater," commented Patch blogger David Greenberg. "Was it worth it? Or did we simply tie up money that may have been better utilized for needs elsewhere?"

Others though, are wondering if the city has spent enough. Former mayor Mike Belsky where he suggested that cuts to the city budget contributed to the sprinklers in these facilities going unchecked.

"One of the casualties in this  ... was fire and building inspection services," Belsky wrote. "Less government sometimes can have dire consequences."

There may be something to his concerns. The Highland Park News reports that Highland Park's fire department has been understaffed since 2010, resulting in fewer fire code inspections.

"Our whole process needs to be reviewed," Tanner told the Highland Park News.

Yet in the same story, the Highland Park News also reports that the city council began asking questions about the theater's sprinkler system months ago. Rotering and city council members were told in February by Mary Anderson, the city's former Public Works director, and Patrick Brennan, the city's former acting City Manager, that the sprinkler system in the theater was operational, the Highland Park News reports.

“It’s incomprehensible to me that this sprinkler system was deemed fully operational at the end of February,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told the Highland Park News on Monday.

Both Brennan and Anderson resigned in April.

Northbrook-based S.E. Moran Fire Protection has begun a 24-hour work schedule in order to replace Port Clinton garage's sprinkler system so it can be reopened by May 23, according to Highland Park News.

"The garage is getting fixed as we speak," Councilman Steve Mandel told Patch on Monday. He added that he hopes the theater will be open again soon as well.

"I'm anxious to see that theater reopened," Mandel said.

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forest barbieri May 15, 2012 at 06:32 PM
The prime subject here is and should be Public Safety. I commend the Mayor and City Council for making the right decisions relative to immediate closure and their priorities in reopening the garage ASAP while tackling the Theater secondary, not relative to safety but to the more immediate public and economic needs of the city. Obviously, there will be a hindsight process to clearly establish how we got here in the first place and I agree with former Mayo Belsky that we may have been penny wise and pound foolish in some governmental cuts particularly, where they can affect Public Safety. We need to be measured and analyze cause and effect of actions taken.
David Greenberg May 15, 2012 at 10:38 PM
As I've said many times - the total cost of ownership includes setting aside funds for eventual replacement of building systems such as sprinklers, HVAC, electrical, pumps, plumbing, etc. When we don't set aside that money year-on-year after the initial installation, and hold it inviolate - we do future generations a disservice by handing them the bill because we were too irresponsible to set aside the funding that we knew would be needed one day. All of these facilities should be self-funding. The garage being free is nice, but as we see, it's not a build-it and forget-it item. We have to build it, and maintain it. And the maintenance costs us money each year. I have to ask myself why the taxpayers should pay for this. Let whomever wants to park in that facility pay a nominal fee to cover it's maintenance and operation costs (cleanup, changing bulbs, electrical lighting...), and also cover funding to replace the sprinkler system the next time. In the City's annual report, we should be told each year how much money has been set aside for future maintenance and replacements, and the purposes for which it is being held. Then when someone brings up the nature of the "Reserve level" - we can speak to a specific purpose. The trick will be holding it inviolate.
David Greenberg May 15, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Finally, forget the theater. There's ABSOLUTELY NO reason to throw any more good money after bad. If someone wants to buy it - it's AS IS. They get to deal with it, or tear it down, or whatever. But no way, no how, should one penny of our tax dollars go toward any more expenses at a facility that has lots of competition, and no compelling reason to patronize it in the face of: a) Declining theater ticket sales all over the country, b) Better alternatives elsewhere in the case that someone, maybe, somehow decides to visit a theater... And the whole concept that it's an anchor for the East Side of town, and draws in sales tax dollars - I find difficult to believe. Post the actual ticket sales and how much money it's brought in. Post the analytical methodology for determining that there's secondary sales tax revenue brought in as a result of the Theater's operations.
Jack Straw May 16, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Ok now I believe it was Belski and his city manager that tried to outsource the inspection department. There was a lone voice that kept telling people in the city that the fire suppression system was not working for 10 years at Port Clinton. In no way is Belski off the hook here, it is Mike Belski and mike alone who is responsible for the mismanagement in the last 8 years. I believe strongly that Belski his city manager and assistant city manager were very aware of the pipes deterioration. As a blind eye was turned to infrastructure we purchased things like a theater, a fleet of Toyota prius’s, a couple Smart cars, supper high end golf carts for the police that they refuse to drive the list goes on and on. Mike made style over substance the Highland Park motto.
David Greenberg May 16, 2012 at 12:43 AM
According to http://www.openthebooks.com/search/?F_imrfemployernm=City%20Of%20Highland%20Park Visit this site for some really eye-opening information on just what various persons are paid in different units of Government. Info for the City of HP, and Twp HS Dist 113 are listed here... David M. Limardi, City Manager had the following salary during his tenure: 2011 $222,041.70 2010 $218,685.25 2009 $224,517.06 2008 $219,338.38 2007 $211,819.99 2006 $204,041.53 2005 $202,817.00 2004 $189,811.60 2003 $187,306.57 2002 $166,274.10 For that kind of money, I'd expect the employee to be on top of the issues and be able to warn the Council beforehand of such critical public safety issues. Did he? If so, what was the reaction of the Council? If he didn't, then did he know? If not, WHY? Did the persons under his purview hide things from him? If not, what did they tell him? When? What if any action was taken (apparently not much...). What salary is the new City Manager going to get?
Jack Straw May 16, 2012 at 03:12 AM
A good point David, under David M. Limardi and Mike Belsky’s leadership the average city employee was afraid to come to work Lamardi’s temper tantrums were legendary, he instilled such a sense of fear they needed to unionize. If a citizen brought a problem to the Mayor he promptly threw them under the buss. So mike if you think you have a comeback chance well take some more Oxycodone and think about it.
Ed Brill May 18, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Limardi's salary was among the highest for city managers in Illinois, see http://forthegoodofillinois.org/blog/2012/05/top-13-big-dog-village-manager-salaries-il/ . #6 on the list. But having said that, for his length of service and considering the range, it doesn't really seem as out of line as David's post suggests.
David Greenberg May 18, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Again, I don't find the "length of service" to be relevant. Getting a raise because someone continues to be on the job is not a valid reason for a raise. What did our City Manager do that was worth $222,041.70? For that matter, what did he do that was worth $166,274.10? Did his actions bring in more than the amount of his salary in taxes, fees? Did his actions save us more than the amount of his salary? If so, by how much? The whole point of my post is that the salary for the position was TOO HIGH. If we want our taxes to get under control, then we have to get salaries and benefits under control (and yes, I realize what portion the City of HP is to our tax bill, but each piece contributes). No more "automatic" or "cost of living" increases. Performance based raises, with a potential for a particular percentage, out of a specific pool of money available for raises, if and only if the employee meets or exceeds their metrics (which of course, should be fairly set and measured) - just like in the private employment world. Not everyone gets a raise, not everyone gets a raise as large as they'd like. If that's not enough money for someone, they're free to go into private practice and seek more.
Bryce Robertson May 18, 2012 at 08:16 PM
David - by that logic, let's get rid of unions... You should know better than anyone that all unions, especially teacher's unions, are generally based on salary schedules where more time gets you more pay. All of our local school districts are like this - otherwise, you'd face lawsuits for discrimination in compensation, etc... Much easier to base pay on quantitative measurements (years employed, amount of education, etc...). So yes, length of service very much was probably a factor in Limardi's salary. If he was given an 8% raise every year, so be it.
Bryce Robertson May 18, 2012 at 08:18 PM
No analytical methodology needed - bring people in from out of town and they eat at a local restaurant, there's your proof. At this point though, I agree with you. The theater needs to go. It was left alone for too long in a state of "well, what should we do?" - we should just beat Deerbrook to the punch and get ourselves a new performing arts center. The building is shaped in such a way it appears that it could be gutted and turned into a single large theatre-in-the-round.
David Greenberg May 18, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I'd argue that at one time, Unions had their need, but that the pendulum has since swung too far in the other direction, and now it's the Unions that are the abusers (but that's a whole different discussion thread). W/R/T the school districts - the State law has changed, and now a portion of the raises for teachers has to be based upon merit - which is a good thing. But as I've said all along, the metrics for rating a teacher have to be fair, and targeted toward the group their teaching (i.e., it's unfair to use the same metrics to rate a teacher with an honors class v. one with a remedial class). I agree that it's EASIER to base pay on years employed, amount of education, but that doesn't make it the correct method to use for determining pay levels, in fact I'd argue that it's a poor methodology because it panders to the lowest common denominator with regard to performance. No one has to try harder because everyone's getting a raise no matter what they do. If someone wants a bigger raise, they take a class or two - and most of the time in those instances, the courses don't even have to be related to the person's job - simply take some more courses, get a degree in *something*, and you qualify for more money. Ludicrous. Basing raises on a "Cost of Living Increase" - is likewise pandering to the lowest common denominator. You know that if the costs of living go up, you're going to get more money and there's no ill effect on your earnings. Equally ludicrous.
David Greenberg May 18, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I beg to differ. If the City is making a claim that the Theater brings in secondary revenue that makes a certain investment in the Theater worthwhile, then they need to substantiate their claim. How many people? How much is their average meal expenditure? What's the City's portion of the Sales Tax revenues? What about the City's portion of parking fees? How did they determine these numbers? Who'd they ask? How was that information vetted? As for a "new performing arts center" - if some outside entity wants to build one, great. But the City has no business investing one dime in such a venture whether it's actual dollars provided, rebates, property tax reductions, etc. Let the business stand on its own two feet if it can - if it can't, then perhaps the management of it or the market analysis was inadequate and we need a different business in that location. Finally, what's the compelling reason for someone to come to Highland Park for a performing arts center? What groups are going to be there? At what times? What's the impact on traffic? Parking? Infrastructure? And finally, why wouldn't the Ravinia Festival be a better venue for such a development?

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