Senior Center Advocacy HIghlights Seniors’ Vice, Not Virtue


We respect Carla Owen.  She is a smart person who seems to care deeply about this community. 

So when the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate recently published one of her guest essays, and when she sent us a copy of her and Barbara Hemeder’s letter to the editor of the Park Ridge Journal, we promptly read and analyzed their contents – even though we already had given plenty of thought and devoted plenty of pixels to the ongoing dispute over the Park Ridge Senior Center and the $330,000 Betty Kemnitz trust bequest to the “Park Ridge Senior Center,” including our posts of 12.01.10, 01.27.11, 07.29.11 and 04.16.12.

But after reading that essay and that letter, we are more convinced than ever that Ms. Owen and that not-so-merry band of seniors who run that private corporation known as Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. (“Seniors Inc.” or “SSI”) are totally and unequivocally wrong about who should be running that facility at 100 S. Western, how it should be run, and who should get the Kemnitz trust money.

Let’s start with Ms. Owen’s essay, which is an endorsement of the seniors’ illegitimate power and control over the Senior Center. 

It begins with the totally false premise that the “Senior Center” is not the building on Western but, instead, is some sort of “organization” of its members.  That’s like saying the Park District’s Community Center on Touhy isn’t the building but, instead, is some organization of all the people who work out or otherwise recreate there.

That’s just plain goofy.  But without such a goofy premise, Ms. Owen’s and Seniors Inc.’s arguments for control of the Senior Center collapse because any “Senior Center” organization is not a legal corporation like Seniors Inc., or a limited liability company, or a similar form of corporate entity.  At most, it’s an unincorporated association; and Ms. Owen, a licensed attorney, knows that this particular unincorporated association has no legitimate claim on the use of that Senior Center building.

That is borne out by the several contracts between the Park District and Seniors Inc. (not the “Senior Center” organization) going back to 1980, the last of which is dated December 31, 2005, and expired on December 31, 2010, over 18 months ago.  Not surprisingly, there is no mention in that Agreement of anything called the “Senior Center” organization, or of any “Senior Senate” that Ms. Owen claims is “the elected governing body of the Senior Center.”   

Simply put, Ms. Owen is insisting that the Senior Center building owned and operated by the Park District (on behalf of all the Park District’s taxpayers) should be run by some “elected governing body” of some “organization” with no contractual or other recognized legal right in that Senior Center building.  And then she has the audacity to condemn the Park District for not going along with such an absurdity!

While Ms. Owen’s essay is about power and control, her letter is about plain old unvarnished greed – the greed displayed by this suspect “Senior Center” organization and Seniors Inc. in their venal attempt to hijack the $330,000 Kemnitz trust bequest to the “Park Ridge Senior Center,” a/k/a, the Park District’s building at 100 S. Western.

Ms. Owen, on behalf of Seniors Inc., writes that “we believe we are the rightful recipients of the Kemnitz bequest.”  Why?  Because, as she modestly explains it: “we are better able to judge how Betty [Kemnitz] would like to spend her money.”  

Says who?  Why, Teresa Grodsky, of course!

Grodsky, the long-time Park District employee and Senior Center supervisor who left the District under a cloud several months ago, is the trustee of the Kemnitz trust.  As best as we can tell from the available information, while still employed by the Park District, Grodsky went rogue and didn’t even notify her then-employer of the bequest before distributing more than 2/3 of it to Seniors Inc.   Once the Park District discovered the bequest, it raised its objections; and Grodsky responded with the pending lawsuit.  

If Ms. Kemnitz wanted Seniors Inc. and its leadership – and not the Park District – to decide how her $330,000 bequest should be spent, she easily could have had her attorney draft that bequest to “Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc.”  But she didn’t: It was drafted to “Park Ridge Senior Center.”  And the only “Park Ridge Senior Center” we know of is at 100 S. Western, owned and operated by the Park District – whose board already has said it would use that money solely for that building and its senior citizen operations.

That sure sounds to us like exactly what Kemnitz wanted. 

In light of that offer, the demands of Ms. Owen and Seniors Inc. that the Park District “drop this lawsuit immediately” and let Seniors Inc. have the money to use as it wishes are not only wrongheaded and shameless, but border on despicably greedy.

PublicWatchdog initially addressed this Senior Center situation solely because we objected to the Park District’s spending approximately $160,000/year in taxpayer money to subsidize the operation of the semi-private Senior Center clubhouse so that its 800-1,000 “members” could continue to enjoy their measly $45 annual “dues” when a fee structure comparable to the District’s other facilities should have put those dues at around $225 – still a bargain, especially in light of such a large taxpayer subsidy they’ve been receiving for such a small number of users.

That’s one reason why we think the Park Board was being far too conciliatory in offering to walk away from Kemnitz’s $330,000 in return for a mutual general release from Seniors Inc. and the questionable “Senior Center” organization.  Nevertheless, we considered it an acceptable settlement of a lawsuit that could cost a lot more in attorneys’ fees and costs to litigate.   And if the relationship between Seniors Inc. and the Park District is as dead as Seniors Inc. and its spokespeople like Ms. Owen say it is, then mutual releases serve as appropriate eulogies. 

But it seems that the Seniors Inc. crowd’s greed, combined with their desire for power and control over the Senior Center, motivated their rejection of that overly-generous settlement offer.  Which means that these issues will likely need to be litigated in the courts, although we understand that Judge Peter Flynn earlier today ordered the parties to mediate their disputes before going into full-blown litigation.

Whether mediation is of any value to the taxpayers depends on whether Seniors Inc. finally gets real, gets a conscience, and displays some good faith – which will be demonstrated by nothing less than acceptance of the mutual releases previously offered by the Park District.  That still won’t be fair to the taxpayers, but it will be a big step in that direction on a going-forward basis.  And it will stop the legal fee meter from running. 

Thanks in large part to Ms. Owen’s essay and letter, the taxpayers now have an even better insight into the entitlement mentality that has prompted the greedy Seniors Inc. leaders and their equally greedy senior constituency to try to beat the Park District out of money rightfully belonging to the District and its taxpayers.

Hopefully, this misbegotten goat rodeo also will serve as a lesson to the Park District (and to other local governing bodies) about how an otherwise worthwhile public-private arrangement – if instituted in a half-baked manner and allowed to spiral out of control due to lack of effective government oversight – can, and will, go bad, usually to the detriment of the public rather than the private entity.

Meanwhile, the honest, decent taxpayer gets ripped off a little bit more by a cadre of the greedy masquerading as the needy.

To read or post comments, click on title.

9 comments so far

You are absolutely right: In most public-private deals, the public gets the short end of the stick. While no policy can stay the hand of an improvident future Park Board, the current board this month voted to adopt a joint venture policy, many months in the crafting, which will in large part discourage any unfair-to-most-taxpayers joint ventures such as the one with SSI that lapsed in Dec. 2010. In future, all such agreements with any group will be handled as the agreements with sports affiliates are: Any improvements, such as the $350K+ contributions to the Park District from Park Ridge Soccer, will be true, no-strings donations as they should be — and as the SSI efforts clearly were not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Then perhaps some good has come out of this mess, although whether it’s worth $330,000 and an additional $1 million of Senior Center deficits is a different question entirely.

Their entitlement demands are sickening. I hope they find a new home and then realize what a great deal they had with the Park District. As for Carla Owen, my elected representatives are the Park District Commissioners and they have much more of a mandate than some trumped up Senior Senate.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, past Boards and Staffs seem to have abdicated their oversight responsibilities, which permitted Grodsky to run the Senior Center without any real unaccountability and encouraged the “trumped up Senior Senate” to believe it was both infallible and bullet-proof.

Time for claw back of some sort on Grodsky’s salary and benefits. The Park Board again took the easy way out. Now they have an opportunity to make good for the taxpayers by fighting this

EDITOR’S NOTE: The time for clawing back Grodsky’s salary and benefits was before the Park District gave her a retirement/termination package. And yes, as we understand it, both the executive director and the board sold out the taxpayers after years of failing to properly supervise her running of the Senior Center.

For you to know what happened in court earlier today, must mean that you were present at that hearing, or… your friends at the park district i.e. Biagi, Mountcastle, Wynn-Ryan, gave you that information with all the other garbage you are being fed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Obviously, you consider facts as “garbage,” which is the customary reaction by people whose positions are fantasy rather than fact.

So tell us: Is the fact that Kemnitz’s bequest was to the “Park Ridge Senior Center” and not Park Ridge Senior Services, Inc. “garbage”? Is the fact that the Senior Center has been booking roughly $160,000 a year in deficits for the past several years “garbage”? Is the fact that the last Seniors Inc./Park District agreement terminated in December 2010 “garbage”? Is the fact that the case was sent to mediation “garbage”?

Unfortunately, a relatively small group of greedy seniors have become accustomed to taxpayer-funded welfare in order that those seniors can have their Senior Center clubhouse for what might be as little as 17 cents a day, based on the paltry $45/year membership dues after years of even lower “dues.” But we suspect you consider that “garbage,” too.

Publicwatchdog, are you saying that your only objection to the way the senior center is run is that the seniors don’t pay enough? If the senior center was not running a deficit, would you agree to let it run the way it has always run?

EDITOR’S NOTE: While our initial beef was about the money, our observation of this situation over the past 18 months or so has convinced us that the Park District grossly mis-managed – or actually failed to manage – the Senior Center in ways that are a great dis-service to the taxpayers. So, at this point in time, we would not agree to its being run as it had been run.

How many agreements between SSI and the Park District were there, and weren’t at least three of them signed by the Park Board while you were a member?

EDITOR’S NOTE: From the FOIA results obtained by Ken Butterly, it appears that agreements were signed in 1980, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1996, 2001 and the last one in 2005. There was also a “stage addition” agreement in 1998.

The editor of this blog was on the Board from May 1997 through April 2005. So one licensing agreement (2001) and the “stage addition” agreement occurred on the editor’s watch.

So just to clarify, the PRPD board (or at least a majority) have viewed this issue over the years, including recently, in the exact same way that you saw this issue between 1997 and 2005.

Of course since then you have had an epiphany!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editor cannot and will not speak for other PRRPD Boards, but he has no recollection of voting on the 2000 agreement (running from 01.01.01 through 12.31.05).

And although the agreement, signed by then-president Gail Wilkening and then-secretary Lauren Streff (along with Holmes D. McLendon, Jr. and Judith A. Malz for Seniors Inc.), states that it was approved by a resolution passed at the Board meetings of 10.19.2000 and 11.15.2000, the editor has been advised by the PRRPD that the minutes of those meetings reflect no such resolutions; and he is currently awaiting copies of those meeting minutes to confirm that advice.

As for the “Stage Addition” agreement dated January 21, 1998, and signed by then-PRRPD president Gary Somerman and then-PRRPD secretary Helen Schaeffer (along with Seniors Inc.’s then-chairman John E. Owens, then-vice chairman Marilyn O. Goll and the aformentioned Ms. Malz), it does not even purport to have been approved by any Board resolution.

But irrespective of whether this editor did or did not know about, or sign off on, those two deals, he still remains accountable to the taxpayers for them. And irrespective of all that, he clearly had “an epiphany” when he discovered that the Senior Center was losing $160,000+ a year while the 800 or so Park Ridge-resident “members” were paying dues of (at that time) a paltry $35, since raised to a measly $45.

If the Park District offered to use all the Kenmitz money on the Senior Center building and operations, that should end this matter. If SSI doesn’t want that, then they are as greedy as you say, and even more so. And the people of this town should be informed of it.


So the Senior Center was not losing any money in 2005???

EDITOR’S NOTE: Who said that?

Frankly, we don’t know whether it was or it wasn’t because, in part because (as we recall) the PRRPD’s recordkeeping for its programs and facility usage was not charging costs on a fully-loaded basis, thereby significantly under-reporting the true costs of programs and facility operations.

But we wouldn’t be shocked to find out that the Senior Center was losing money back then, even if not the $160-180,000 deficits that former Executive Director Ray Ochromowicz identified in recommending changes to the Senior Center operations.

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