When Politicians Play With Fireworks


The annual July 3rd fireworks display at Maine East High School is a grand tradition which Park Ridgians young and old eagerly await each summer.  The shows are spectacular, and they entertain not only the crowd at Maine East but also the crowds that gather at nearby locations such as North, Northwest and Woodland Parks.

But from the sound of things we might soon be seeing a less spectacular kind of fireworks from some of our local officials.

As reported in the July 23, 2008 edition of the Herald-Advocate (“District 207 wants chance to raise funds at fireworks, too”), School Dist. 207 Board member Jeff Bergen wants the District to be able to fundraise at the event in return for its donating the Maine East facilities.  We hear worse ideas from politicians and government bureaucrats almost every day, so we aren’t about to beef about District 207 getting a little quid pro quo for providing a venue for the fireworks.

But Dist. 207 isn’t alone in its discontent.  The Park Ridge Park District reportedly will be discussing at its August 21st meeting whether to pull out as one of the main sponsors of the fireworks – allegedly because it doesn’t believe it’s getting enough credit for helping to sponsor the event.  Assuming the report is true, that could be an entertaining discussion next Thursday night.

These two items got us interested enough to look into the money side of the fireworks show, because when it comes right down to it money is usually at the heart of most of these intergovernmental dust-ups.  And frankly, when its our money, we don’t mind a little frugality.

What we found was not one but two financial reports on this year’s fireworks show: One by the City of Park Ridge Public Works Department and the other by the Park Ridge Park District. Oddly enough, they don’t seem to quite match up, but they may satisfy the cliche: “Close enough for government work.”

The City’s 11-page report [pdf] reports, at page 11, “Total Program Costs” of $37,813.10, and another $22,299 for the cost of City employees.  The Park District’s 1-page report [pdf], on the other hand, shows $26,683.30 in “Total – Expenses.”   

We may be missing something, but if those two governmental bodies can’t seem to come up with the exact same accounting for such a relatively small project and dollar amount, we wonder what might be happening with the multi-millions of dollars in revenues and expenses they handle each year.  But that’s an issue for another time.

We also wonder about the “exclusive” deal the Kiwanis Clubs appear to have for all the food concessions at the fireworks (City report, page 4) – without any evidence that they are contributing anything toward the cost of the show.  We’ve got nothing against the Kiwanis, but so long as the City, the Park District and District 207 are using thousands of our tax dollars to make this event happen – and even the Park Ridge Fine Arts Society is kicking in $8,000 for the musical program – we see no reason for anybody to get a monopoly on anything unless they’re willing to pay for that privilege.  

Meanwhile, it’s time for the City, the Park District and School Dist. 207 to sit down together and exercise a little intergovernmental cooperation to make sure the burdens, the benefits and the kudos for the fireworks show are fairly allocated among all three bodies – and among the taxpayers of their overlapping but not identical territories. If private sponsors can be found to underwrite all or part of the event, so much the better.  

Because when it comes to as traditional a community event as our July 3rd fireworks display, the show must go on!