Park Board “Despots” Do Founders – And Taxpayers – Wrong


“A republic, if you can keep it.” 

That’s the way Benjamin Franklin announced our new form of government upon emerging from Independence Hall in 1787.  The brevity of that statement belies its importance: democratic republics such as ours are founded upon the consent of the governed, which consent provides both the source and the legitimacy of the power our public officials exercise.

But Franklin, like the other Founders, believed that such a government would last only until “the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government.”  The corruption Franklin warned about, however, was not the criminal and quasi-criminal “politics” practiced here in Illinois, although that would surely qualify.  The corruption that concerned Franklin and the other Founders was a loss of the values on which the country was founded – such as hard work, truth, humility, trustworthiness, self-reliance, thrift, self-restraint, and sacrifice. 

Unfortunately, too many of our current public officials, both elected and appointed, treat “government” itself – not The People – as the source and repository of power.  Consequently, they see themselves as the instruments of that power, free to wield it however they choose without concern for the consent of the governed…until it’s time for their re-election, of course. 

In other words, arrogant despots practicing “despotic government.” 

The members of the Board of the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District have recently been demonstrating their own despotic streak.

After blithely passing a whopping 5.97% property tax levy increase (the largest levy increase, by far, of any of our local governmental bodies – with only Board Pres. Rick Biagi dissenting), they now are winding up their “public hearings” – the final one is tonight (7:30 p.m., South Park Fieldhouse, Cumberland and Talcott) – cynically-orchestrated to create political cover for their insistence that they know with absolute certainty that what’s best for this community is a new $7.1 million outdoor aquatic center at Centennial Park that will only be usable 3 months of each year but will burden the taxpayers with $6.3 million of new bonded debt for the next 15 years. 

And because they know it, there’s no reason to ask those taxpayers for their consent by taking the plan to an advisory referendum this April.

Ironically, a successful advisory referendum would add legitimacy to a project clearly lacking it.  And the beauty of such a referendum is that it provides a no-lose proposition for those pro-project Park Board members: if the project were to be defeated by referendum vote, they would still have that “authority” they keep bragging about to tell the voters how wrong they were in voting “no,” and to do the deal anyway.

Admittedly, that would take some courage.  And except for Biagi, we’ve seen very little of that from this Park District crowd.  Hence, the steam-rolling of this project without regard for the taxpayers, and with no referendum.

Also seemingly lost on these Board members is the fact that no Park Board in at least the past 18 years has demonstrated the arrogance or the disrespect of the taxpayers by attempting to build a new or significantly-expanded aquatics facility – or any new facility, for that matter – without a referendum, either binding or advisory.  That even includes projects that could have been built using non-referendum debt, like the 1996 Hinkley Pool house renovation costing $460,000.

But you can tell just by watching and listening to these Board members and Staff smugly dissemble about the wonders of this new plan and their “authority” to do it without any referendum, that they have no grasp of Daniel Webster’s concerns about those who govern us:

Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

By denying Park Ridge taxpayers a real voice in this project via an advisory referendum, these Park Board members clearly are letting us know who are the masters…and, by implication, who are the serfs.

Just because they can.

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