Public Watchdog.org

Learning A Lesson From The Teen Center

12.29.10

Every so often an article appears in one of the local papers that provides an almost textbook illustration of some public policy or governmental operations issue.

One such article appears in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Teen center: Center needs funds to continue operation,” December 28), and it seems to bemoan how the privately-incorporated, privately-run Park Ridge Teen Center – which “is open to teens from all communities free of charge” – is running out of money.

So without further ado, and with due recognition to H-A reporter Jennifer Johnson, here is the unabridged text of that article – with our editorial comments in bracketed bold type:

Teen center: Center needs funds to continue operation  

Leaders of the Park Ridge Teen Center are still looking for ways to keep the venue open on a permanent basis. [Here’s one way, and it’s been around for years: it’s called “Charge admission.”]

Marilynn Provencher, treasurer of the Teen Center’s Board of Directors, said there is enough funding to keep the center, located at First United Methodist Church, 418 W. Touhy Ave., open on Friday and Saturday nights for the next two to three months. Beyond that, the fate of the center remains unknown. [The Center doesn’t have any “fate” – either it figures out how to pay for itself or it closes down, a matter of simple cause and effect.]

“The city deserted us,” Provencher, referring to a funding cut of $22,000 this year. [No, Ms. Provencher, the City didn’t “desert” you – it finally found the good sense to stop wasting dwindling public funds on a private amenity that serves a relative handful of teens, many of whom aren’t even from Park Ridge.]  “We don’t have memberships like a lot of other groups in town.” [Memo to Ms. Provencher: Maybe it’s time to start having “memberships.”]

Provencher and Teen Center Board President Tom Swoboda said the board is considering a benefit to raise money for Teen Center operations to continue. [So long as you aren’t dipping into the public trough, we wish you the best of luck with any “benefit” or other fundraiser]  Swoboda added that other ways to draw a larger support base may include creating a type of “Friends of the Teen Center” organization and recruiting a larger volunteer base for fundraising. [Given the apparent aversion to actually charging for Teen Center use, is it being suggested that the teens who use the Teen Center are so economically disadvantaged that they cannot afford to pay a reasonable membership, admission or user fee – let’s say the cost of going to a 1st-run movie ($7.00) – per visit?]

“We are going to give it our heart and soul and do whatever we can to keep it open,” he said. [Your “heart and soul”?  Really?  To keep middle and upper-middle class teens entertained a few nights a week and off the “mean streets” of Park Ridge?  Is that the best use of anybody’s “heart and soul”?]

A fundraising drive held in November raised some donations [How much…or is the amount too pitiful even to mention?], but “not enough to keep us going,” Provencher said.  Attendance at the Teen Center, which is open to teens from all communities free of charge, is on the rise, according to Provencher. [Why is a Park Ridge Teen Center “open to teens from all communities free of charge”? Since you are beefing about being “deserted” by the City, Ms. Provencher, please explain why the taxpayers of Park Ridge (a/k/a, the “City”) should be providing a free clubhouse and entertainment to resident teens, much less to non-resident ones?]  By the end of October, 500 more teens had dropped in at the center compared to the first 10 months of the previous year. [By “500 more teens” do you mean 500 more individuals separate and distinct from those individual teens who had visited in the first 10 months?  If so, does the Center keep a roster of visitors by name; and would it make that roster public prior to any future application for City funding so the taxpayers can see who are all of those purported individual users?]  

“We’ve had more kids so far this year than we’ve ever had come into the Teen Center,” she said. The free activities, provided during difficult economic times when part-time jobs for teenagers are scarce, are a real draw, Provencher believes. [Wait a minute, Ms. P: The Teen Center didn’t charge for use even during flush economic times since its incorporation back in 1990, so this sounds like a red herring argument to us.  And how exactly do you value the use of a facility that users don’t have to pay for?]  

“They need a place to go, they need something to do,” she said. [How about “the mall”? Or the Pickwick Theater, the Community Center, or our various restaurants and coffee shops that might benefit from some extra business? Or, heaven forbid, somebody’s basement or family room?]

The Teen Center is open to guests ages 13 to 18 and features a variety of games, Internet access, satellite TV and a lounge area. First United Methodist Church allows the center to use its basement rent-free. [If the Center doesn’t have to pay rent, how much can it actually cost to maintain?]

Much of the Teen Center’s expenditures are in staffing. Salaries of the part-time staff accounted for more than $25,000, or 60 percent of the center’s expenses for the current budget year, according to documents submitted to the city of Park Ridge last January. [Where are all those unpaid “volunteers” who (we are told) are so intent on donating their services free-of-charge?] In the past, volunteers staffed the center [Why did that change? Could it be that those public funds the Center had been getting from the City provided too inviting a public trough for those formerly unpaid volunteers to resist?], and the option of again using unpaid staff was a topic of discussion among board members in the early fall, Teen Center Director Kerry Cwick had said. [According to the Teen Center’s latest IRS Form 990, Ms. Cwick was paid $14,100 in 2009 – a $2,000 bump up from the $12,100 she was paid in 2008]

Funding was cut to the Teen Center and several other organizations following a veto of community group contributions by Park Ridge Mayor David Schmidt [But only after spendthrift aldermen Allegretti, Bach, Carey and Ryan unsuccessfully tried to over-ride Schmidt’s veto and give the Teen Center $22,000 this year, even as the City was cutting police and other personnel, along with other City services].  Schmidt said public funds should not support private organizations, especially when the city is experiencing its own financial struggles. [Exactly right, because it’s time somebody in City government started to seriously look out for the taxpayers’ money.]

The Park Ridge Youth Commission, a group that has partnered with the Park Ridge Police Department to host activities for teens, has also seen its funding from the city eliminated. [The same lesson should apply to this group as well] 

To read or post comments, click on title.

5 comments so far

But the Senior Center…I mean Teen Center…no I mean Youth Commission…no wait I had it right, the Teen Center, has always been given that money.

Why is this new Mayor coming along with all of these crazy new ideas? Common sense?

That was never a qualification for the job before.

EDITOR’S NOTE: O(ther) P(eople’s) M(oney) has always been a narcotic of choice for the politicians and bureacrats. And when it comes to borrowing (as in issuing bonds) that can produce a big splash now, only to be paid back for years to come (long after those politicians and bureaucrats have left the building) with even more OPM, it’s “Ecstasy.”

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Well said PW. And enough said. Good times/bad times the city has no business funding an operation like yours. Charge admission, fund raise like your organization’s life depended on it (it should and does now) and/or figure a way to cut your costs (more volunteers?)… PRTC, you are a private club!
The obvious unfortunate thing is that the city, by way of past administrations and elected officials, ever gave you the idea that you could depend on it for your lifeblood of funding. The gravytrain has ended… get on with it.

Comments on ParkRidgeUnderground are questioning whether Mayor Schmidt and any new aldermen who might be supportive of his positions will start charging the veterans for the city’s expenses for the Memorial Day parade, or the people behind Analise’s Run for city expenses. What is PubDog’s position on that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We checked that site to try to get the sense of the comments you referenced, and it appears the “issue” – if one can be discerned from those comments – is: “Should the City charge ‘charities’ like the promoters of Analise’s Run and the Memorial Day parade for the City’s costs attributable to servicing those events?”

We’ve got an opinion on this issue, but properly addressing it requires more space than we can commit to in an “Editor’s Note.” We promise to address it in an upcoming post; but if you want a preview of what that opinion will be, you shouldn’t bet on our answer being “No.” (And we can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the bleeding hearts who want to spend Other People’s Money – a/k/a, our taxes – on their favorite charities and causes)

Lottie Janus, candidate for 7th ward alderman, wants to create more programs for families. That should get her the votes of the Teen Center supporters and anybody else who thinks they can get more of what they want without having to pay for it.

Teens do need someplace to go besides basements where too many adults fear to tread (until it’s too late). Teens need a transitional place that’s not under their parents’ noses but not loose in the wilds; a place that has adults in the vicinity just in case, but not up their noses. When it’s too cold to hang around Uptown, they need a safe public space. Hmmmm…..How’s about the empty-after-5-p.m. multi-room Park District building next to the Community Center? That building has been monopolized by another age group’s private club of 600 residents for 30 years at a membership cost of $30 or less per annum (this year’s deal is $17 a person or $29 a couple) nowhere near enough to cover a $200,000 per year cost overrun. How about moving a few games there from the Methodist Church basement and opening it a couple of nights a week for teens? How about requiring teens, seniors and anybody else using the site to pay a tiny but not ridiculously miniscule membership or day rate – say, $1 a visit? — to cover the cost of maintainance and minimal adult staffing? How about opening it to residents for a buck a vist and non-residents for two bucks a visit? Too fair and sensible, you say?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We would never say that about a “plan” like yours.

Park Ridge teens may want a “transitional place that’s not under their parents’ noses” but they certainly don’t need such a place – just like seniors may want their own private, heavily taxpayer-subsidized clubhouse, but they surely don’t need it.

And $1 a visit is “ridiculously miniscule” – and just plain ridiculous to boot.

Your ideas sound like just more of the same welfare-for-the-well-off that has put our community, our county and our state in the financial messes they are in.



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