Teen Center: “Priceless,” Or Just Another Entitlement?


When we identify instances of “bad government” in Park Ridge, we usually focus on the misadventures of our elected and appointed officials on the Park Ridge City Council, Park Ridge Recreation and Park District board, or the boards of Elementary School District 64 and High School District 207.

But today we are focusing on a “civilian” aider and abettor of bad government: Kate Kerin, wife of former Ald. John Kerin, and herself a champion of the Park Ridge Teen Center.

Ms. Kerin earned that distinction by her letter to the editor in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Cutting finite sum endangers social services that are priceless,” Oct. 7), in which she criticized the City Council for sustaining Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of funding to 10 of 13 private community groups, including the $22,000 that Ms. Kerin was expecting for the Teen Center with which she claims an association for 10 years as either the director or a member of its board.

Like many supporters of these private community groups, Ms. Kerin seems intent on making sure her favorite “charity” becomes everyone else’s favorite, in this case by having the City use its taxing power to effectively wring involuntary “donations” from residents who apparently don’t think highly enough of the Teen Center (and many other of the private organizations feeding at the public trough) to support it through their own direct contributions.

From where does she get that sense of the Teen Center’s entitlement to our tax dollars?

Let’s start with the four aldermen who originally passed the Teen Center’s $22,000 appropriation as part of $190,000 in giveaways to 13 community groups, but then came up one vote short of the five votes needed to over-ride the mayoral veto: Alds. Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan. In her letter, Ms. Kerin thanked them for displaying the community’s “heart” and “standing up for what we all know is right.”

What “we all know is right”? 

If that were true, Ms. Kerin, the Teen Center would have all the money it needed from private donations, the way real “charities” are supposed to operate.  And there’s nothing inherently “right” about demanding that other people pay for what you want. To the contrary, it seems inherently wrong to organize a not-for-profit and then put it on the public dole, especially when its organizers and operators shamelessly exploit their social or political ties to the officials holding the public purse strings.

We don’t recall anybody asking the taxpayers/voters whether they wanted the Teen Center when it was created back in 1990. And despite the Center having fed at the public trough, we’re not aware of anybody associated with it ever having the basic decency to offer the taxpayers anything close to regular and thorough accountings of exactly what the Center is spending our money on – especially in light of the article in last week’s H-A that suggested the Center serves many non-Park Ridge teens (“Funding woes: Teen Center’s future hangs in the balance,” Oct. 5).

As for the Teen Center’s purported shortage of cash, its most recent IRS Form 990-EZ (2008) shows that it had assets of $54,715 at year-end 2008. And that was after paying $28,000-plus in salaries and benefits, including $12,100 to its director, Kerry Cwick.

That same Form 990-EZ also claims that the Center was visited by “approximately 500 teens in 2008.” If the Center still has that kind of attendance, it can easily replace the $22,000 it didn’t get from the City (thanks to the fiscally-responsible actions of Mayor Schmidt and Alds. DiPietro, Sweeney and Wsol) by charging each of those “500 teens” nominal “dues” of $50/year – less than $1/week.

So why aren’t Ms. Kerin and the other Teen Center managers already implementing that kind of pay-your-own-way program instead of wringing their hands and warning that the Center could close? Could it be that the “500 teens” is mainly propaganda, and that the Teen Center is another one of those facilities or services whose self-proclaimed grandiosity and importance doesn’t come close to reality?

A clue to that might be Teen Center adult supervisor Susan Paweleck’s (from Gurnee, according to the H-A article) referring to the Center’s “core group of regulars” without any mention of numbers – before adding that word of mouth has brought in many new attendees in recent months. How many new attendees? Ms. Paweleck, conveniently, doesn’t say.

It is bad government for our public officials to indulge the penchants of these private organizations for siphoning tax dollars out of the City treasury without any accountability,  instead of hustling voluntary donations directly from our residents.  It is bad government for those officials to encourage the people who operate those organizations to believe they are entitled to whatever they want…without their having to pay for it.

And with our City, our county, our state and our country staggering under crushing debt because too many pandering politicians irresponsibly tax, borrow and spend whatever it takes to maintain their positions, power and influence, it also is bad government for private citizens to wrap themselves in the mantles of “charities,” “not-for-profits” and “social services” while aiding and abetting those politicians in their spendthrift folly.

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