Park Board, Not Seniors Inc., Should Run Senior Center


The war of attrition over control the Park Ridge Senior Center continued last Thursday night (July 21) at the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board meeting, where about a dozen “members” of private corporation Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (what some call “SSI,” but we prefer the more corporate “Seniors Inc.”) showed up to excoriate the Park Board for not rolling over and giving Seniors Inc. whatever it wants.

As we wrote about in greater detail in “Time For A Senior Center Reality Check (01.27.11), Seniors Inc. orginally wanted a contract that not only would have locked in Seniors Inc.’s control over the Senior Center building for the next two years, but likely also would have continued the roughly $160,000+ annual operating deficits the Senior Center has been running for at least the past six years, totaling almost $1 million during that time.

So far, the Park Board – now led by President Mary Wynn Ryan – wisely has said “no” to such a ridiculous special-interest proposal, thereby incurring the wrath of Seniors Inc.  We thank those Board members who have stuck to their guns, and we hope they continue to do so.

But we aren’t yet ready to bet the ranch on it.

Why?  Because the Board has let itself be co-opted and/or intimidated by Seniors Inc. into seeking Seniors Inc.’s approval of something called the “Cooperative Guidelines…” (“Guidelines”).  In essence, the Board is asking Seniors Inc.’s permission to assert the Park District’s existing legal rights over the Senior Center, with a few tweaks to acknowledge the neither-fish-nor-fowl operating arrangement between the Park District and Seniors Inc. for that facility that existed for the past 30 years or so until its expiration at year-end 2010. 

So why is the Park Board continuing to abdicate its lawful role as the governing body of the Park District and engaging in this kabuki-like bargaining with special interest Seniors Inc. over how the Senior Center is to be operated?

One explanation – the cynical one, we admit – is that “seniors vote” (as they constantly remind us); and there are some self-styled politicians on the Board who don’t want to risk alienating any group of voters, even a special-interest group that totals less than 800 people and shamelessly sucks $160,000 a year out of the District’s taxpayers to keep its “clubhouse” operating. 

Another equally-plausible explanation, however, is that too many members of that Board – just like too many of their counterparts on the City Council and the local school boards – prefer making people happy to governing by sound public policy principles.  And the easiest way to make people happy is with give-aways of the taxpayers’ money and/or of the governing body’s power, public policy be damned.

Either of those explanations appears to be supported by the following facts about the Seniors Inc./Senior Center/Park District relationship, as we have been able to ascertain them:

1.  Seniors Inc. is not an affiliate of the Park District and, therefore, is unlike those other private corporations that “run” Park Ridge’s baseball, soccer, hockey and football programs on the Park District’s behalf.  Consequently, Seniors Inc. is not currently bound by the District’s affiliate guidelines and requirements.

2.  It’s not clear whether “Senior Center members” are “members” of the Park District’s Senior Center facility (not unlike Community Center members) or are Seniors Inc. members, because Seniors Inc.’s most recent IRS Form 990-EZ tax return (on file with GuideStar) reports “dues” of $27,601 on Part I, Line 3.

3.  While Seniors Inc. acts like it represents all Park Ridge seniors, we understand it has less than 1,000 “members,” more than 200 of those being non-residents/non-taxpayers of the Park District.  That means Seniors Inc.’s Park Ridge membership is less than 11% of Park Ridge’s approx. 7,400 over-65 residents, and just a shade over 6% of Park Ridge’s approx. 13,000 over-55 crowd that is eligible for Seniors Inc. membership.  So the overwhelming majority of Park Ridge “seniors” (by either measure) don’t belong to Seniors Inc. or use the Senior Center  

4.  Senior Inc. claims to have contributed approx. $1 million over the past 30 years towards upgrading the Senior Center building.  We’ve seen no proof of that total but, even if it were so, Seniors Inc. has received reimbursement of that entire amount by Park District taxpayers in covering the Senior Center’s operating deficits over just the past six-seven years.

5.  As of the end of 2009 (per its 2009 Form 990-EZ), Seniors Inc. was sitting on more than $215,000, yet back then it was still charging its “members” a paltry $35/year in “dues” for unlimited use of the Senior Center while letting the taxpayers make up the annual $160,000+ operating shortfall.

6.  Whatever previous contract Seniors Inc. had with the Park District for its use and occupancy of the Senior Center expired and is no longer in force.

Given the foregoing facts, we see absolutely no legitimate public policy reason for the Park District’s ceding any control over any of its public buildings to private corporations, including the Senior Center to Seniors Inc. – irrespective of what kinds of irresponsible giveaways other politicians may have signed onto 30 years ago and their equally irresponsible or clueless successors continued ever since. 

And this is even more true when that private corporation isn’t even a Park District affiliate, serves a very small demographic, yet generates a disproportionately substantial operating deficit for which all taxpayers have to pick up the tab – including the vast majority of “seniors” who aren’t members of Seniors Inc. and have never set foot in the Senior Center.

If the Park Board has a collective spine it will end this nonsense and tell, yes tell, Seniors Inc. under what terms it will permit Seniors Inc. to retain its current level of use of the Senior Center.  And those terms should include Seniors Inc.’s covering of all the seniors-related costs of that facility’s operation – including the cost of the Park District personnel who provide services to that facility’s senior users. 

Whether that’s done by Seniors Inc.’s increasing its “dues” for existing members, or adding a significant number of new members, or by dipping into its treasury, is something that can be left up to Seniors Inc.  But that’s pretty much all that should be left up to Seniors Inc., because the voters elected the Park Board members – not Seniors Inc. or its members – to manage the Park District and its various facilities, including the Senior Center.

Letting the inmates run the asylum is bad enough.  Letting them run it at a $160,000 annual loss is crazy.

To read or post comments, click on title.

7 comments so far

I hope readers will realize that the complicated “deal” you have tried to untangle here is all about controlling a facility, staff and other resources provided by and belonging to the general public. Although SSI tries very hard to portray the squabble as between the mean teenagers who run the Park Board and everyone over 55 in the City (aka “the seniors), the fact is, as every Board member and the executive director have repeatedly promised, NONE of this has anything to do with actual programming, classes, trips, tours, services such as blood pressure screenings and tax prep help that are provided to seniors by and through the Park District. Those programs and benefits are not going to go away. They were provided before there was an SSI and they will be provided with or without SSI, because that is what a Park District does. It’s like saying that School Districts 64 and 207 would close were it not for the PTO. IT’S NOT TRUE. SENIOR PROGRAMMING IS SAFE IN PARK RIDGE NO MATTER WHAT.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Mean teenagers”? No offense intended, but we’ve seen the Commissioners’ photos and seen them in person; and they lost their Homecoming King and Prom Queen eligibility some years ago.


I can see you’re all riled up again over the Park Ridge Park District (PRPD) and the on-going Senior Center fiasco. You know my man; so am I. And as unlikely as it may seem, the two of us are in agreement on two important aspects of this posting:

1.)PRPD’s President, Ms. Wynn Ryan and her Board, keep on screwing things up; thereby continuing to make matters worse and as you’ve stated, probably all done for political reasons

2.)Senior Services, Inc. should not be the organization running the Senior Center, PRPD should; and I mean completely.

Now, I do have a lot to say about this posting but unfortunately, the comment section of your site is too limiting. But before I go, let me set you straight on a thing or two.

Bob, the Cooperative Guideline idea; you can thank Ms Wynn Ryan and her staff for that remarkable document. No one from the Senior’s side of the field had anything to do with it’s creation, other than possibly Mr. Dick Brandt, a Senior Center member and currently PRPD Board’s current Secretary and if I’m correct, the Building and Grounds Chair.

Lastly, in case you haven’t gotten the word: PRPD already has FULL control of the “Senior Center” building, and has had TOTAL UNFETTERED CONTROL of the building since 01/01/2011 when the contract expired. As I see it, PRPD can do any damn thing it chooses with that building to make money! Maybe you have some ideas?

Just thought you’d like to know!


From reading your blog, I would suggest you’ve cornered the market on “riled up” people re this Senior Center issue. But I digress.

When it comes to “screwing things up,” I would nominate whoever came up with this Senior-Center-run-by-Seniors-Inc. arrangement in the first place: these public/private ventures usually end badly, with the “private” usually exploiting the “public” – kind of like the private Taste Inc.-sters exploiting the City on the Taste of Park Ridge event. Actually, I respect the previous Park Board and the current one for having the foresight and the courage to say “no” to the contract deal back in January/February, and continue saying “no.”

We do appear to agree, however, on the point that “Senior Services, Inc. should not be the organization running the Senior Center” – that it should be the Park District.

As for the Cooperative Guidelines idea, I think they are far better for the Park Ridge community as a whole – and the Park District’s taxpayers – than the “contract” that Seniors Inc. wanted the Park District to sign. Beyond that, there’s probably plenty of room for debate.

While I agree the Park District now has full control over the Senior Center, it seems like neither Seniors Inc. nor the Park Board itself is able to get comfortable with that fact. Hence, the continuing battles. But I’ll leave it to the unpaid Park Board members and the District’s paid staff to take first crack at figuring out how to reduce the $160,000+ annual operating deficit the Senior Center has been generating iand turn it nto a break-even or a profit.

Thanks for visiting.

The Park District does not control the “Senior Center” in theory or in reality. Name one program that is in the Senior Center that is not exclusively for seniors? The seniors even have private parking spaces that are in a public parking lot. Have you ever tried to use the bathroom at the senior center? If you have kids and want to take them to the bathroom at the senior center while playing at the ballpark, or playground, they will refuse you entrance. I know several families that have not been allowed to use the bathroom at the senior center.

The Commissioners on the Park Board should set up an acceptable policy for the community to use the senior center; otherwise we should put it to referendum as to what the building that the seniors currently occupy should be utilized for. Either the Commissioners set the policy for the Park District or the general tax paying residents should set the policy!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve always been big on referendums, but we trust that the Park Commissioners and Staff – now that they’re out from under that ill-conceived “contract” that expired at year-end 2010 – can figure out the best way to operate the Senior Center structure for the benefit of the entire community, not just one tiny segment of less than 800 residents.


You stated: “….now that they’re out from under that ill-conceived “contract” that expired at year-end 2010 – can figure out the best way to operate the Senior Center structure for the benefit of the entire community, not just one tiny segment of less than 800 residents.”

As a former PRPD Board member, you’ve certainly I’m sure, taken time to ponder on the various ways the “Center Center” build could have been used for the “benefit of the entire community, not just one tiny segment of less than 800 residents.”

Better utilization of assets (this building) is important. Can you provide a few examples of how that building could have been better utilized since, let’s say, 1980?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken: I used the term “ill-conceived ‘contract'” because it locked in a particular use under specific terms that, in principle and as a practical matter, tied the hands of the Park District in managing it and controlling costs. Hence, the almost $1 million in operating losses over the past 6 years.

I am not sure what other uses the Senior Center building could have been put since 1980 because, at least during the 8 years I was on the Park Board, the Senior Center was off the table as a facility that was usable for anything but senior activities. I’ll leave the programming questions to the Park District staff, as my concern at this point is the Senior Center’s generating all those deficits while serving not the entire Park Ridge “senior” community but, instead, only the approx. 800 Seniors Inc. members.

Why not change it to the ‘People’ center and allow all residents to use the building. It could be used for birthday parties, anniversary parties, meetings, etc. That should help to defray the loss?!?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That could work. Or the Seniors Inc. members who have had the run of the place could continue to have it by simply paying membership dues that would cover the annual deficits that have averaged approx. $165,500 since 2005 – by our calculation, around $200/year instead of the $35/year they had been paying until recently.

With two new members to the Park Ridge Park Distict Board, and a relatively new Executive Director, I think we should give them a chance to understand the Senior Center relationship / issues / problems. There is a grace period where everyone needs time to get educated on the all of the issues affecting the Park District. I have great confidence in the new team, and I think they will tackle the Senior Center issue with a win/win solution for both sides.

From a former PRPD Commissioner

EDITOR’S NOTE: The only issues we see are about as simple as they can be: (1) do the elected Park Board officials run the District’s facilities, or do they let a self-appointed special interest group do so; and (2) should an amenity like the Senior Center (or the Community Center, etc.) cover its own costs or hemorrhage money and get taxpayer subsidies?

(Also from a former PRPD Commissioner)


You’ve made it plain you think the idea for the original contract was stupid, without ever telling us why it was stupid. That said; let me try to explain why it was smart for Senior’s to insist on a contract.

A contract was entered into because the nice building you see now was at the time of the initial contract, a much smaller run-down storage facility and the Seniors (already long-time Park District taxpayers) who were going to fix it, expand it and use it for “senior program activities” wanted assurances, that their initial money, their sweat equity and their future fundraising dollars would only go toward having a building capable of supporting long term “senior program related activities”.

For its part, the Park District knew it would ultimately inventory a refurbished building capable of supporting Park Ridge Senior and other activities, for what most reasonable people would consider, a very modest cash outlay.

The original Senior Center leaders had sufficient foresight and real-life-experience, to demand a long-term guaranteed commitment. Their experiences told them, that without a contractual guarantee, in all likelihood, some local politician(s) might some day TAKE A LIKING to that facility and ALL THEY HAD BUILT on behalf of Senior Center Members. That is the position you are now supporting and some members this Board continue to actively pursue.

A contract legally obligated and protected each party. Unfortunately, the legal protections and obligations of that contract ended on 12/31/2010 and are now gone – forever. The Senior’s investment has been confiscated, just as they feared!

As to your claim of $1 million in operating losses over the last six years, I beg to differ.

Bob, you mistakenly believe that all aspects of the Senior Center operations; should be covered by end-users. I remind you, the Park District is a public levying (confiscating) body not a private enterprise. Its function is to provide tax-funded facilities and services to the public; among them, baseball fields, soccer fields, swimming pools, playgrounds, and yes, a Senior Center and its activities as recently declared in PRPD Board’s own 02/17/2011 “Resolution”. There is nothing in the charter requiring any of these activities to be self-funding. That is a recently applied Park District Operations fad implemented by former PRPD Executive Director, Mr. Ray “O”.

The services and their associated costs at the Park Ridge Senior Center are for Park District employees; men and women the Park District hired and paid and who’s salaries, pay increases and benefits the Park District controls. The Senior Center has NO say in who works at the Center, what they do, when they work or how much they are paid! And never has!

Bob, if there was a $1 million operating loss as you purport, you need only ask the Board Commissioners why THEY allowed that to happen.

I asked you in a prior comment to give me an example of your well thought-out ideas as to how the Senior Center building could have been used for something else. As anyone reading your response will note, you copped out!

Lastly, your oft-repeated red haring; that only 800 Park Ridge residents are being served by the Park Ridge Park District’s Senior Center, is really getting old and boring.

Increasing the fold.

The responsibility for increasing the use of any Park District facility has always belonged to the Park District Commissioners and their Executive Director. Seniors could only suggest and participate. As it was, the Seniors marketed their activities through their limited capacity; a hell of a lot more than you guys on the Board ever did. And you know that, you served for 8 years on THAT Board.

“Clubhouse” access!

There has never been any kind of restriction to membership (other than age 55 or above) at the Senior Center. No discrimination, like some other local Park District sponsored Senior Centers. Hell Bob, I live in Niles and all I had to do was pay a few extra bucks to walk in the door (should I so choose). As to the use of the bathroom facilities by non-seniors, I’ll discuss that messy subject on my own blog.

Who runs the Senior Center?

The Board always has! And now that these Commissioners have “won” what they’ve so desperately wanted; their own “Clubhouse”, as far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to it; such good that it will do them.

Instead of gently persuading the Seniors to follow them, this politically incompetent Board chose to herd them like sheep to the pens, barking dogs nipping at their heals. That’s not how smart people create change. It’s how they create failure and in this case how they loose $125,000 per year in user fees!


Thank you for that fine yarn. But why didn’t you include the following facts, assuming they would be as favorable to Seniors Inc. as your prose seems to suggest:

1. How much did the Seniors Inc. folks actually “invest” in the Senior Center building – either in cash or in that “sweat equity” you write about? The 7/16/87 “contract” suggests that Seniors Inc. and the Park District each put in “matching funds” up to as much as $350,000, but how much actually went into it?

2. How much fair market value did Seniors Inc. add to the building? Here’s a hint: Who besides Seniors Inc. might want to buy it if the PRRPD put it up for sale?

3. On what facts do you base your claim that the “contract” – assuming you are talking about the 7/16/87 one, as amended by the one page undated “amendment” – “legally protected” the Park District? Protected the Park District from what?

4. What is the dollar value of Seniors Inc. “investment” that you claim the Park District has “confiscated” by not giving Seniors Inc. another “contract”?

It is our understanding that the Senior Center posted operating losses of: $137,199 for 2005; $153,902 for 2006; $167,911 for 2007; approx. $173,000 for 2008; approx. $192,000 in 2009; and approx. $169,000 in 2010 – or approx. $933,012 over that 6-year period. Are you suggesting, Ken, that just because the Board allowed these massive operating losses to accumulate over those six years justifies the continuance of such losses into the future?

While we’re at it, Ken, can you please cite me to any state constitutional provision or statue, or to the Park District’s charter or any other official Park District document that decrees it to be the District’s purpose and function to provide its grounds, facilities and programming to the public for free, or at less than the District’s costs? I know there’s no “self-funding” requirement, but I can’t find anything that prevents such self-funding, either – for the Senior Center or any other of the Park District properties and programs.

What other uses the Senior Center building could have been put to is irrelevant because Seniors Inc. held the unquestioned franchise; and so the Park District did not attempt to utilize that facility for anything else. And, frankly, I don’t care if Seniors Inc. continues to hold that franchise, so long as it covers its costs and the Park District is not restrained in any way from using that building as it sees fit.

Sorry, Ken, but you’ll keep hearing that “only 800 Park Ridge residents are being served by the Park Ridge Park District’s Senior Center” until you or your Seniors Inc. cronies can provide verifiable documentation to the contrary. I’ll be happy to give you space here in the ‘Dog. As for “marketing” the facility, that never was the Park District’s obligation because “membership” was always controlled by Seniors Inc.

And not once in my 8 years on the Board did anybody from Seniors Inc. come to the Board and either complain about not enough members, or ask for the District’s help in marketing/recruiting more or new members. The bottom line is that Seniors Inc. has enjoyed its “clubhouse” so well that it couldn’t care less about bringing in more members – so long as it could get by on dues of just $35 (increased just recently to a whopping $45) because the taxpayers were subsidizing the rest.

I’ve been to enough Park Board meetings with these Seniors Inc. seniors to know that there would be no “gently persuading” them into anything other than business-as-usual. BUt if Seniors Inc. chooses to take its ball and go elsewhere (with its $215,000+), I’m willing to bet you $1 that the Park District will be able to operate that facility so that it won’t be losing anywhere near that $165,000/year average deficit it was posting as Seniors Inc.’s clubhouse.


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