Public Watchdog.org

Cult Of Personality Obscures Senior Center Issues

12.12.11

We’ve been critical of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District/s operation of the Senior Center for awhile now, primarily because that facility is operated like a semi-private club for about 800 Park Ridge seniors while sucking around $160,000+ out of the District’s taxpayers each year in subsidies so that members can get away with paying a paltry $45 in annual dues – even as they whine about how unfairly they’re being treated by the Park District.

That’s $45 for a full year’s unlimited usage of the Senior Center facility and many of its activities.  Compare that to some of the Park District’s other facilities, activities and programs:  the Community Center costs $363/year for an unlimited usage membership; youth soccer costs $100 for a 2-3 month season of 2-3 day/wk field usage; and an ice skating pass costs $65/yr. for a maximum of 18 hours/wk. of open skating usage.

But for the past year or so the private corporation whose members seem to think they run the Senior Center, Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”), has waged a propaganda campaign against the Park District and its Board.  The original focus of that campaign was the District’s unwillingness to sign a new contract giving Seniors Inc. a continuing (some might call it a “controlling”) say in the operations of the Senior Center.  And one of the vehicles for that propaganda campaign has been a blog called Butterly On Senior Issues.

According to the November 29 post on the Butterly blog, long-time Senior Center manager Teresa Grodsky has been forced into retirement by the Park Board – reportedly for siding with Seniors Inc. in several of its disputes with the District.  Grodsky’s retirement apparently has become the newest cause célèbre for those Seniors Inc./Senior Center members who are looking for any leverage they can find to help them hang onto their sweetheart Senior Center deal.

The Butterly blog has given Seniors Inc./Senior Center members such as Barb Ignolia, Helen Roppel and Ken Butterly himself the opportunity to castigate the Park Board, and especially Board officers Mary Wynn Ryan, Rick Biagi and Richard Brandt (himself a Senior Center member), for allegedly throwing Grodsky and them under the bus; and new District Director Gayle Mountcastle and her staff for aiding and abetting the Board’s effort by planning for non-senior programming of the Senior Center to help reduce that $160,000+ annual deficit.

In comments to the Butterly blog, Ignolia calls Grodsky “the heart and soul of the Center,” while Roppel quotes scripture: “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”  No word yet on when they will commence Grodsky’s canonization proceedings, but Butterly has raised the specter of a new “Senior Center” being formed, ostensibly in response to the shoddy way these seniors believe they and their favorite Park District employee have been treated.

While Seniors Inc. now appears intent on creating a cult of personality around Grodsky, however, that effort should not obscure the real issues here: control and money.

As the legal owner of the Senior Center building, the Park District is charged with legal custody and control over that facility and its operations.  But for too long the District – both Staff and Board – effectively let the Senior Center “inmates” run that particular asylum, a situation that continued despite those substantial operating deficits piling up year after year without the District’s even trying to push that facility towards a break-even point. 

Consequently, many of those Senior Center members developed an entitlement mentality, talking and acting as if the District’s taxpayers – including the vast majority of the District’s seniors who don’t belong to the Senior Center – owe them their clubhouse and the programs that come with it, all for the token payment that masquerades as annual “dues.”  Meanwhile, Seniors Inc. has accumulated over $241,000 (as shown by its 2010 IRS Form 990-EZ); and we hear it’s looking to add to that total by battling the Park District over a bequest from the estate of deceased Senior Center member Betty Kenmetz.

As we understand it, Kenmetz’s bequest was to “the Senior Center” rather than to the “Park District” or to Seniors Inc./SSI.  And, even more interestingly, Kenmetz’s executor is…wait for it…Teresa Grodsky!

Rumor has it that Grodsky wants that money to go to Seniors Inc. instead of to her employer, the Park District, notwithstanding the Park District attorney’s argument that since “the Senior Center” is part of the Park District and not a stand-alone entity, Kenmetz’s intent was that the Park District receive that bequest to use for the Senior Center.

There’s a Park Board meeting this Thursday (Dec. 15).  Whether any of these topics will be addressed that night remains to be seen, as the District has not yet posted its agenda or board packet.

But one thing looks certain: that 800-person special interest group of Senior Center members isn’t likely to let what they believe to be their power, their money and their Senior Center be taken away from them without a fight.

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

I’m a senior and I just read a few of the posts on the Butterly blog. What those people are saying and doing is embarrassing. Just because we are seniors doesn’t mean we are or should be welfare recipients.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Which may explain why only around 800 of the estimated 7-9,000 Park Ridge seniors are members of the Senior Center.

It is very unfortunate that a couple Park District Board Members are causing all this havic instead of cooperating with the Senior Center Senate and Teresa. The Board is distroying a program instead of helping it continue to grow and benefit Seniors who have paid taxes for MANY years and need the facility to help them in maintain themselves in their time of need. This is a sad day for all of Park Ridge to have such a senceless thing happening. Northfield, Glenview and Des Plaines all have fine Senior Centers for their elderly to enjoy. WHY this is happening is Park Ridge is hard to understand.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are not privy to the Board’s motives and, accordingly, do not claim to speak for its members. But, as previous posts have demonstrated, our complaints about the Senior Center are basically four in number:

1. It appears to be a “special interest” in the bad sense of that term, in that its members are seeking what we consider “special treatment” (see Point 2, below) for an amenity they claim benefits all Park Ridge seniors despite the fact that the vast majority of Park Ridge “seniors” (55 and up) seem to want nothing to do with the Senior Center, as evidenced by the fact that only a small fraction of them actually belong to it;

2. For a facility that its members claim is so vital to their lives, their unwillingness to pay “dues” more commensurate with both their usage and the cost to the Park District of operating that facility suggests a level of self-interest counterproductive to the sense of “community” they purportedly advocate;

3. Their insistance on a “contract” that would tie the hands of the Park District in managing that facility in the best interests of the entire community, as has been occurring with all these years of $160,000+ deficits, is indefensible; and

4. The seemingly substantial influence over the facility’s operation by private corporation Seniors Inc., which is sitting on $240,000 that it does not have to account for to the Park District or its taxpayers, is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, it seems as if these Senior Center members preferred to play hardball with the Park Board when they should have played nice. C’est la vie.

[Although this comment was “signed” by one “Mariett Reichard,” we have not confirmed that she is in fact the person who actually submitted it. If she did submit this comment, we request that she confirm it by sending an e-mail to the “Contact Us” address.]

Name the other Park Ridge Park District programs that have the majority of elligble participants enrolled in them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We can’t; and we suspect there are none. That being said, however, we have yet to hear from participants in those other programs arguing both for control of their particular Park District venue and that their particular demographic is entitled to a $160,000+ annual subsidy while they pay a paltry $44 in annual “dues.”

As we noted in the post, soccer (and baseball) charges approximately double the Senior Center’s annual dues, and that charge is for only a 2-3 months-long season which consists of approximately 5-10 hours per week of field usage by each participant.

[Although this comment was “signed” by one “Frank Bartolone,” we have not confirmed that he is in fact the person who actually submitted it. If he did submit this comment, we request that he confirm it by sending an e-mail to the “Contact Us” address.]

Can the Park District even accept a bequest? Doesn’t the bequest have to go through the Park District Foundation? Is the bequest for the operations of the senior center or for the upkeep of the building?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We are unaware of any prohibition on the District’s ability to accept bequests; and we recall bequests being received back before there even was a Park District Foundation.

How come the Park District isn’t using the building for after senior hour programming?

How old do you have to be, to be considered a senior for the senior center?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We understand that the Park District gradually has been increasing the number of non-senior activities held there over the past several months, including some fitness classes and rentals. We also have heard that the District is negotiating with an area theater troop to use the main room (with the stage) as its “home base” for performances year-round.

55 years old.

You have misstated the facts regarding soccer and baseball’s contribution to the PRPD. Though the charge to the participants of baseball and soccer is about $80 for house baseball and house soccer, only a small portion of this money goes to the PRPD. As memory serves, PR baseball, soccer (and football) only give the PRPD $10 per participant per season.

Your estimate of the amount of time that the fields are monopolized by PR baseball and soccer is a bit off as well. Both baseball and soccer have a spring and a fall season. Spring baseball runs from the middle of April when practice starts right through to the end of July when the spring season playoffs are over. There are also several travel baseball and soccer teams at each age level through at least 8th grade that use the fields. The PRPD incurs thousands of dollars in both manpower, equipment and materials to maintain the fields-particularly the baseball fields. The $10 charge does not pay for the share of these costs commensurate with how much time PR baseball soccer monopolizes these fields. Therefore, there is a subsidy to baseball and soccer. While the PRPD is raising the fees for other programs and also the real estate tax rate, they have not raised the $10 charge to PR baseball, soccer or football in quite some time. As the PRPD works to match revenues with expenses, all programs should be contributing their fair share to the expenses incurred to operate the program. Baseball, soccer and football revenue and expenses should all be run through the PRPD. Operational decisions can be made by the volunteer boards.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We didn’t state anything about soccer and baseball’s “contribution” to the PRRPD, only what those programs cost the participants and what PRRPD resources they consume. And if you want to talk about “travel” teams, those costs are substantially higher for the participants.

As for seasons, we got our house league soccer schedule from the soccer affiliate’s website; and our recollection of house-league baseball is tht it ends around Father’s Day. But no matter how you cut it, no season is even 4 months – which annualizes out to a cost of $240/year per player.

As for “monopolization” of fields, those fields are open all morning to mid-afternoons weekdays during the seasons. Whether the PRRPD should review the costs of its affiliates’ sports programs to recover a greater share of the expenses is a legitimate question, and one we encourage the PRRPD to bring those charges more in line with the fully-loaded costs to the District. But that doesn’t change the fact that every one of those sports participants pays far more in fees for those programs – with far less usage per participant – than the members of the Senior Center pay in “dues” for their facility.

I think it has been awhile since you were involved in baseball. Season starts with practices in mid-April. When the playoffs were over and the championship series ended this past spring season, it was mid-July 2011. Baseball and soccer also host tournaments that use every field in town over long holiday weekends. Also, kids are in school from about 8 am to 3:30-depending on the age-until the second week of June. When they can use the fields when school is over-baseball practice starts. Therefore, baseball uses many more of the useable hours than you are accounting for. $10 per participant per season means a subsidy from PRPD and the taxpayers to PR baseball and soccer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mid-April to mid-July is 3 months @ $80 equals $320 annualized v. $44 for the Senior Center membership.

Last time we checked, soccer holds one tournament over the Memorial Day weekend (Friday through Sunday) and that tournament does NOT “use every field in town: the only truly PRRPD fields it uses are at Woodland Park, as Emerson’s fields technically belong to D-64; and the bulk of the tournament is run at Maine East.

1:24p.m., the building wasn’t used after-hours to help defray the ever-increasing costs of maintaining and staffing it because the foundation, or club, or whatever they call it, pitched a hissy fit every time the place was booked by anyone else because they might touch “our” pool table, paperback book collection, toilet seat, stage, etc. etc. The group had a very different concept of what constitutes a “donation” than most people have so the place sat empty rather than subject staff to browbeating.

Exactly the response expected from someone who was on the park board and let baseball continue to monopolize the fields and not pay its fair share of the cost to maintain them. And the baseball board keeps $70 of the $80 paid to play. Where does all that extra money go?

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re talking through your hat. Measured by cost to participant, the Senior Center costs members $44/year, while soccer/baseball costs participants $80-100/3 month season. And since baseball and soccer only have 2 seasons per year, their so-called “monopolization” of the fields maxes out at 6 months v. 12 months of “monopolization” of the Senior Center by 800 (of appox. 7,000) seniors.

11:39 PM,

In addition to the player fee, I believe that Park Ridge Soccer continually pays for the maintenance and rehabilitation of the fields, including about $250,000 to build the fields at Emerson which PRS doesn’t even own. (Please correct the numbers if they aren’t accurate, I couldn’t find the info in a quick internet search.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We understand that both organizations – which are “affiliates” of the Park District and subject to its control – contribute in various ways to the maintenance of the fields, such as by donating new backstops and scoreboards (baseball) and around $250,000 for the construction of the Emerson soccer fields.

You are constantly complaining about the taxpayer funded subsidy of $160,000 to the senior center. And you didn’t like the taxpayer funded subsidy for keeping the Oakton pool open. Why is it ok then to subsidize baseball, football and soccer and not the senior center. Seniors also want control over the facility-which I agree they should not have. But baseball and soccer control the fields. And since you have been out of the loop on these sports and how they operate for some time-you are kidding yourself if you think baseball and soccer control don’t control the fields.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not “ok…to subsidize baseball, football and soccer.” But just because the PRRPD may to some limited degree subsidize those activities doesn’t excuse subsidizing the Senior Center or any other big money-loser that serves only a small portion of the community. That’s especially true for the baseball, football and soccer organizations, because they are legal “affiliates” of the PRRPD (while Seniors Inc./SSI is not) and, consequently, any “control” baseball, football and soccer exert over the fields is effectively exercised on behalf of the PRRPD.

All effort needs to be made to continue the activities the Senior Center provides to members. Many people (seniors) benefit from services there. All seniors are welcome to join; that is their coice. Programs offered are enjoyable and beneficial to seniors’ health and well being, which in turn benefits our community.

It seems to be a good idea to increase income to the PRPD by renting areas to outside groups after Senior Center hours. Why waste good space? The additional income would help subsidize the Senior Center, not work against it. If some are worried about non-members having access to property of the Senior Center, that issue could be resolved quite easily.

Also, dues could be raised; a survey of neighboring Senior Centers could be done to find out the amount of dues being charged, as well as what services are offered for the dues, and what hours their center is available to members. If the deficit per year of the PRSC is $160,000, that equates to $200 per member. Not that dues should be raised by that amount, but perhaps there could be an outreach to enlist new members, and fundraising could be done for the specific goal of helping to decrease the deficit. If all members were made aware of the direness of the situation, I am sure members would be eager to help the Senior Center become self sufficient. After all, we all know that the City of Park Ridge is in financial difficulty, as are many other cities in the area. Economically, our city needs to work towards becoming financially solvent. Why not start with the Senior Center? People feel good about themselves when they are self sufficient and contributing members of society. This could be a chance for our community to create an innovative plan which could be a model for other communities.

A meeting of the minds could result in a cooperative association between Senior Center personnel/members and PRPD board members, with the goal of finding ways of raising money to abolish the deficit and make the Senior Center self-sufficient. I believe all concerned would be happy with the results. And a little publicity re resulting projects may induce more of our PR seniors to join the Center. It would show the Senior Center to be a vital and productive organization, which can only attract people to join. Just some food for thought.

I pray that all energy expended re this difficulty can be directed towards positive channels. With a cooperative spirit and a willing heart much can be overcome and accomplished! Blessings! Mary E. De Salvo, R.N., M.A.

EDITOR’S NOTE: From everything we have heard and read, the Senior Center wouldn’t even be an issue if: (a) it wasn’t losing approx. $160,000+/yr for the past several years; (b) certain outspoken Senior Center members (like Helen Roppel, Barbara Ingolia, Roger Loeffler, etc.), purporting to speak for the entire membership, opposed any significant increase in annual “dues”; and (c) those same outspoken Senior Center members didn’t insist on a new contract (after the old one expired and is no longer in force and effect) that tied the hands of the PRRPD on how the Center would be operated. But those Senior Center “leaders” decided to talk tough, hire an attorney, and try to push the elected representatives of ALL the District’ residents around. But that didn’t work.

And now that it didnt’ work, those same “leaders” and others of a similar mind aren’t offering to do the things you suggest (even if, frankly, those things sound like too little, too late to us) but, instead, are saying they won’t volunteer their time, won’t support the Center, will look to join some other senior center, rewrite their wills to eliminate bequests to the Senior Center, etc.

Good for them! And good for you, too, for choosing such spokespeople.

[Although this comment was “signed” by one “Mary E. De Salvo,” we have not confirmed that she is in fact the person who actually submitted it. If she did submit this comment, we request that she confirm it by sending an e-mail to the “Contact Us” address.]

I think what I am reading here is that PR Baseball and PR Soccer pay over about $10 per player to the Park District annually. I hear that Baseball/Softball has about 1500 participants, so that means that PR Baseball pays about $15,000 annually to the Park District. Compare this to the $100,000 to $125,000 that the Seniors paid over to the Park District annually. Baseball has improved fields, etc… over the years and I don’t know how much it has cost for them to do so, but the Seniors have also improved the park district property it has used over the years. Two of those improvements alone cost the seniors about $700,000. As for usage, Baseball gets first dibs on Field usage during the season, no doubt about it. And the seniors, under the contract they used to have, got first dibs on the building they were using. There have always been summer camps run out of the building, and dog training. The contract allowed for usage by people other than seniors, but did give seniors use during most daytime hours. What’s the big deal about that? Was there some tremendous NEED for additional space within the Park District during daytime hours that was not being met?

To summarize, comparing seniors to baseballers… seniors paid in more, had the same kind of use, and made improvedments, but seniors are wrong HOW?

You keep portraying the seniors as demanding and dictatorial about the use of the senior center building. Could you be more specific? What exactly did they do that makes you say that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: First of all, let’s get the numbers straight: in just the past 5 years, the Senior Center has cost the taxpayers of the PRRPD approximately $900,000 in subsidies because of the Center’s annual operating losses – which more than off-sets the $700,000 you claim the seniors put into that building over the past 30 years. On that basis alone, letting the Senior Center hemorrhage money in the same fashion, even with that “usage by other people,” is clearly unsustainable.

Park Ridge Baseball/Softball operates its programs as an affiliate of the PRRPD (unlike Seniors Inc./SSI/the Senior Senate) and it absorbs all the costs of its programs other than some of the costs of field maintenance. Additionally, the baseball seasons (Spring and Fall) only last 2-3 months each, so the usage is at most 6 months/year v. 12 months/year for the Senior Center. Yet the baseball participants pay approx. double ($80-$100) – for just one 2-3 month season – than the Senior Center members pay ($44) for the entire year. And baseball has approx. twice the number of participants as the Senior Center has members.

So if you still think the Senior Center members are getting a raw deal, there’s nothing more we can do to help you.

An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who was doing a little research on this. And he actually bought me dinner because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your blog.



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>