Historical Society Seeks To Join Freeloader Ranks


We’ve often written about “freeloaders”: people and organizations looking for some kind of free or discount ride at the expense of Park Ridge taxpayers.  And we often describe them as “shameless” – and the complicit governmental bodies they put the arm on as “spineless” – because in a battle between the shameless and the spineless, the shameless almost always win.

Today’s featured freeloaders are the folks who run the Park Ridge Historical Society (the “PRHS”).

As reported last week in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Historical Society seeks Solomon Cottage agreement,” May 17), the PRHS wants the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District to let it “share” the Solomon Cottage on the Park Ridge Youth Campus property the Park District is in the process of purchasing.  The PRHS wants to turn that building into a Park Ridge “history center” that would be open one day a week, while allowing the Park District the “shared use” of the building at all other times.

So far, so good.  Or at least inoffensive.

As reported in the H-A story, however, the PRHS doesn’t want to pay any rent for its use of the building.  And if that’s not cheeky enough, it also wants the Park District (a/k/a, the taxpayers) to pay not only the cost of bringing that building into building code compliance (at an estimated cost of $120,000), but also the cost of the additional “build-out” work to make that structure more suited to the PRHS’s needs.

Oh, and did we mention the PRHS wants a full one-year’s notice should the Park District ever decide to end that sweetheart arrangement?

We must confess that when we hear stuff like this, our first reaction is to reach for a Louisville Slugger (the classic “Hank Aaron” model A99: wide-grained white ash, 35 inches long, 33 ounces, medium handle, medium barrel) and consider tapping a little sense into the heads of the particular freeloaders.  Fortunately for all involved, that urge usually passes before it is acted upon; and, instead, we choose to publicize that freeloading with the intent of shaming the bejeebus out of its perpetrators.

In this case, the lead “perp” is PRHS’s treasurer (and former 1/2-term First Ward alderman), Kirke Machon.  But unless Machon has gone rogue, the other officers and directors of the PRHS also need to “wear the jacket” for the kind of shamelessness articulated by Machon, to wit: “We don’t envision spending our money fixing that building up” unless the PRHS is going to own it.

Fair enough, Captain Kirke.  How about your organization proceeding at warp speed to purchase Solomon Cottage from the Park District?  Or why not agree to a long-term lease at a rental that would cover the amortized cost of both the compliance and build-out work – with all of the PRHS’s officers and directors personally guarantying that lease so the taxpayers don’t get stiffed?

One doesn’t need to be able to solve the Kobayashi Maru to recognize the PRHS proposal as a totally one-sided “heads the PRHS wins, tails the Park District/taxpayers lose” bet.  But apparently that one-sidedness is not enough to discourage the Park District from doing its Gumby impersonation and twisting itself into whatever shape might make the PRHS happy.

For example, the H-A article reports that Park District Executive Director Gayle Mountcastle, while noting that the Park District has never before provided “build-out” funding for any if its affiliated organizations (of which the PRHS is not one), didn’t rule out that possibility.  Meanwhile, Board president Rick Biagi talked about using tax dollars to make the Solomon Cottage “habitable,” but not customized for the PRHS.  And Board member Jim O’Brien, while questioning the Park District’s need for any more “shared space,” nevertheless suggested that the Parks Foundation might work with PRHS to fundraise for the building improvements.


While we are grateful for the efforts the PRHS has made to preserve Park Ridge history, an historical society is to the Park District pretty much what an accordion is to deer hunting.  Consequently, there is no reason to make the PRHS a Park District “affiliate” – especially if that’s only being done so that the Park District can try to justify giving PRHS rent-free use of the Solomon Cottage or any other Park District facility.

If the PRHS wants to use Solomon Cottage, it needs to put some significant skin in the game, with “skin” meaning greenbacks.  And the folks at the Park District who are supposed to be the stewards of our Park District and our tax dollars need to stop encouraging and enabling freeloaders of every stripe.

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27 comments so far

So let me see if I have this right.

First we cut funding to CoC and meals on wheels becuase we have no money and we do not want to pay more taxes.

Next we vote to RAISE our own taxes to buy a luxury….guess are taxes are not so bad after all.

Now we are going to GIVE AWAY space and a build out to the historical society?!?!?!?!

Do the math on a year lease and a free build out to fit their needs and I bet that is years of meals on wheels.

Some folks in this town have no shame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t mix apples and oranges: The City Council, at the mayor’s request, cut funding to those non-transparent, unaccountable private community group corporations.

Park District voters – not the exact same as the City voters, because portions of the Park District are in Niles – voted to borrow and spend $13 million or so for the Youth Campus park. And they’re the ones who would be giving aways space to the PRHS.

There’s no reason to have any shame when being shameless has been so profitable for so long.

Yes. This calls for private fundraising, plain and simple. Residents have proven, most recently with Iannelli Studios and the library mural, that they are willing to contribute.

Thank you, PubDog. This situation is identical to the Park District’s infamous Senior Services, Inc. deal that left the taxpayers holding the bag for three decades. One Park Board member has already challenged the Historical Society to explain why they are more deserving and more aligned with Park District services than, say, Center of Concern. Stay tuned. The conversation is not over…Although you should know that “museums” are already considered an acceptable part of park district functions according to the IRS, and a number of park districts run them and their programs. Of course, that’s not the same thing as renovating, maintaining and yet de facto turning over a facility to a private third party, non-profit or otherwise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The PRHS never seemed to need or want any association or affiliation with the Park District before it needed a new home. Park Districts do a lot of silly things, as do local governments generally. Hopefully giving the PRHS free rent won’t be one of them.

RE: Anon 5.20 2:02 pm’s alleged mixing of apples and oranges, I think he or she has a point. Yes, these are different taxing bodies. Nevertheless, it looks like the community has strange priorities. On the one hand, we say no to a new police building (I think we have other ways to accomodate PR’s finest), no to charities like Meals on Wheels (I gladly contribute my own money to charity, not wishing to force the practice on my neighbors), and no to various pool proposals of days gone by (good riddance). Yet: New admininistrative buildings for Gayle Mountcastle? The community said “yes”.

RE: Anon 5.20 2:23 pm’s comment: Yes, do this with private donations. Perhaps Gayle and Mr. Thillens are feeling generous and have already signaled to the Historical Society that “we can do this.” I don’t seem to recall a new museum among the many illusory benefits of a park at the youth campus.

Which leads me to Anon 5.20 5:44 pm’s comment. Just because the IRS allows museums doesn’t mean we should say “yes” to taxpayer funding for any kind of housing of the PRHS.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The voters said “no” to a new cop shop, and after 20+ years their elected representatives finally said “no” to handouts to private “community group” corporations. The voters also said “no” to various pool proposals until the Park District deprived them of a vote on the new Centennial. As for the Youth Campus, the voters said “yes” only after a massive and expensive promotional effort by OPL, with a lot of help from the District and a bit of fear-mongering about who might be coming back to the YC if the referendum failed.

Hey, the Youth Campus plan is a work in progress that promised something for everybody but, now that it passed, can get a little more “real.” Not quite “bait and switch,” but close.

I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t an “understanding” before the referendum with the PRHS. PRHS were present at meetings and campaigned for the park.

While I support the Youth Campus park, putting the PRHS there virtually for free would be a slap in the face to taxpayers and an indictment on this new board.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As in wink-and-nod “understandings”?

“Yet: New admininistrative buildings for Gayle Mountcastle? The community said “yes”.”

Mmm, not quite. I agree that the residents’ priorities seem inconsistent and odd at times. But this is not what voters said yes to. They said yes to preserving one of the last remaining parcels of open land in town and heading off more residential development. The fact that the PRPD’s offices are to be relocated there was, I think, regarded as not necessarily ideal but also not a dealbreaker.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mmm, not quite. If preserving open land and “heading off more residential development” was the goal, that could have been accomplished for $6.4 million, or less than half of the $13.2 million. But then the PRRPD couldn’t have promised all those nifty amenities to win the votes of those special interests who might not otherwise have been all that motivated by the more altruistic motives.

I’ve lived in PR for 40 years and never once seen the Historical Society open. Ever. Do they really need a whole building? And how happy are they going to be when the 6 days a week they are not using it, it’s being used for other events and their exhibits, etc. are being handled? Exactly how much “stuff” do they have? Perhaps they should talk to the folks at Kalo/Iannelli about a small corner for a display that’s changed periodically with whatever it is they have. Although even the thought of that might ruffle some feathers at K/I.

Shame on the Park District for even giving this consideration.

$6.4 wouldn’t really have cut it. At least half of the rest of the $13.2 was for demolition of unusable buildings, the refurbishing of the retained buildings, land grading, and the city required water detention and parking.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course it would have “cut it” – assuming preserving the that acreage really was the paramount goal. Oh, okay, throw in another million to bulldoze the unusable buildings and trim up what’s left. But that wouldn’t have swung the paddle tennis contingent, or the Park District’s sports affiliates, etc.

PWD @10:13. I agree that the park could have been developed in a less costly manner. I’d be happy with little to no bells or whistles but apparently the PRPD felt otherwise.
However, I’d rather see an overdeveloped park than none at all, which is why I voted yes and I suspect others felt the same.

I also think the Historical Society should be able to keep its location on the grounds. I can’t believe, however, that they would expect the park district to pay for the renovations. That’s insane. And disappointing for me, as I had respect for them and their mission. That respect has been diminished as a result of this news.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The PRRPD played typical Chicago politics by loading up the YC plan with something for everybody (“passive gardens, walking paths…[and] recreational amenities from a performing arts pavilion to an athletic field to paddle tennis courts” and a “splash pad.”) just to get votes. And it worked.

Anon 5:21.

The PRHS and probably most suburban historical societies aren’t open every day of the year.

Now I don’t know why they haven’t been able to open the current location after losing the old one on Prarie & Garden but at first it was open twice a week and cut back to once on Saturdays.

Do you honestly expect a small town HS to be open every day of the week and big city ones?

I’m no fan of the Youth Campus project but you’re not being fair. It’s silly to say the Park District cooked up something for everybody just to get votes. They cooked up something for everybody and therefore won the votes of all those bodies. That’s how it works! What would you prefer, that they do what the originators of the idea wanted — the taxpayers to buy a nice green vista with no troubled kids or tacky $750K houses on it for the handful of Country Club neighborhood residents to enjoy? Most of the amenities and facilities were included for the entirely legitimate, even laudable, purpose of meeting all the taxpayers’ wishes and providing some revenue-producing activities. (And yes, of course the recreation revenues won’t equal the lost residential real estate taxes that would have been realized if the property went to a developer. People got that and said yes anyway.)
As to the Historical Society (and its reported 120 members paying $20 a year in dues)getting a free building out of the Park District, those who find this problematic should make their views known early and often to the Board and Ms. Mountcastle. The Board needs a lot of public support to “just say no,” as you no doubt saw when your board let the Senior Services, Inc. deal continue and continue. It’s just easier.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our previous point was that if the goal of the YC purchase was preserving the land and keeping it from being developed into housing (“Tacky $750K houses”? Seriously?), the PRRPD didn’t have to spend $13 million. And we’ll be pleasantly surprised if the YC operations break even.

If the Board “needs a lot of public support to ‘just say no'” to bad ideas, its members need to grow spines. Or find less taxing positions.

hey Dog, what’s with your buddy Biagi? First he stiffs you on the Centennial water park, then he supports the Youth Campus amusement park, now he wants to give the Historical Society free space. I thought you had him in your pocket, but he seems to be a loose cannon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Commissioner Biagi remains the sharpest knife in the Park District’s drawer – and that doesn’t change just because we disagree with him, sometimes even sharply (pun intended), on individual issues. Hopefully he and the other commissioners will learn to be more skeptical of what “staff” tells them and begin to realize that public employees are no more altruistic than, and every bit as self-interested as, most other employees.

“The Board needs a lot of public support to ‘just say no.’”

Yeah, it’s called getting elected. Once that’s done, the board is supposed to know when to say yes and when to say no. Unfortunately, the answer always seems to be yes. When do our elected officials ever turn down what bureaucrats recommend?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with you to a point, FWT: elected officials, especially at the Park District and the school districts, tend to let themselves be mesmerized by the bureaucrat “experts.”

So while the Park Board acted like Mountcastle’s Munchkins in keeping the $7 million new Centennial pool project away from the voters, those same voters DID approve the Youth Campus referendum – albeit with a mammoth, well-run political campaign by OPL, ably aided and abetted by the District to at least the fullest extent the law allows.

Fair point, Mr. Publisher, but the referendum did not include language offering the PRHS free building space.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Touche. But by the time the Youth Campus park is done there is likely to be several departures from what was advertised. If you wish to be kind, you can call it a page out of the “ready, fire, aim” school of management.

5/21/13-8:30 pm-PWD is not being silly in its analysis of how the PRPD was able to get a fiscally irresponsible $13,200,000 YC referendum through. The reality is the PRPD took liberties with the facts to “convince” enough taxpayers to shift their wealth in the form of increased property taxes to the people on the north side of town-the only people who will tangibly benefit from the park.

The PRPD put out a proposed budget for the YC that shows it should breakeven-then Biagi-the then PRPD board president-comes out 5 days before the vote and questions the numbers behind the break even budget. The YC will likely cost more to maintain than any revenue it may collect so the park will cost more to the taxpayers than the estimated $72 annual tax increase as we will have to fund the deficit.

The amenities that were shown in the drawings are proposed. So all of those who voted for a performing arts area (really?), paddle tennis (really?), a walking path which is really a track with no end, a picnic grove will likely be disappointed when none of this is in the final plan. Frankly, none of these amenities (except the walking path) should ever have been in the plan to begin with as they are very low use-but hey that is what the neighbors wanted. A low use park with no lights that we all pay for but only they benefit from.

The fact that commissioner Thillens was the head of the OPL should in itself have been an illegal conflict of interest. How can an elected official who is supposed to be accountable to all of the taxpayers of PR work and raise money and authorize PRPD employees paid by the taxpayers to campaign for the referendum?

Ms. Mountcastle did a great job of convincing the PRPD board and they fell for it that we need a waterpark and we need the YC. The PRPD does MAY need more building space but they have failed to demonstrate a need for the space. Are we just supposed to take their word for it? Do they have the demand to cover the cost of operating and maintaining more space?

Ms. Mountcastle will likely be long gone from her job with the PRPD when the waterpark is losing money and the YC is losing money and the actual residents of PR will have to subsidize these losses. But she does not care-she lives in Chicago.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, word is that the 2 paddle tennis courts will be increased to 4 because you really need 4 courts to hold tournaments. The outdoor performing arts area is reportedly the acceptable collateral damage for tournament-level paddle tennis. But as today’s Park Ridge Journal is reporting (at Pag 5A), the Park District appears to be open to all sorts of changes if enough residents want them.

Just leave everything to Mountcastle and Thillens: they’ve got it covered.

As for public officials being “long gone” from their jobs before the shinola hits the fan, “long gone” doesn’t even mean distant from Park Ridge – although former city mgr. Tim Schuenke went back to Wisconsin, former city mgr. Jim Hock was last heard to be out in Carpentersville, former Park District executive director Steve Meyer went back to Wisconsin, and former Park District executive director Ray Ochromowicz is out in St. Charles. Nevertheless, we’ve got a whole bunch of former elected officials who still live in Park Ridge but who seemingly don’t accept any responsibility or accountability for what went on during their terms in office – starting with the three former living mayors (Wietecha, Marous and Frimark) and those 25 former aldermen who publicly endorsed Larry Ryles for mayor.

Neglected infrastructure? The Uptown TIF black hole? A schizophrenic Community Center? Don’t bother asking them – it’s not their problem. Or everything was fine when they left office.

1. What does it cost to build a Paddle Tennis court?

2. How many people in PR actually play Paddle Tennis?

3. How many tax payers even know what Paddle Tennis is? (what are those things they are building???).

4. Paddle tennis is often played at night with bright lights. Whii those be included??

5. Do you think that as residents are bailing out their basements they are daydreaming about the joy a Paddle Tennis court wil bring to their lives??

EDITOR’S NOTE: NOW you ask these questions? Why not BEFORE the election?

1. According to the Wilson Sporting Goods platform tennis website, each court costs approximately $50,000 each, but a “paddle hut” is recommended as “a major component for producing revenue” – which is why “some clubs or park districts will go all out to construct very lavish ones for this exact reason.” Hey, maybe Mel and Mountcastle could get Lettuce Entertain You or some other restaurant/hospitality company to build a really lavish one in return for the exclusive food and beverage (adult beverages included) concession.

2. We understand that paddle tennis is like “Fight Club”: the first rule of paddle tennis is that you do not talk about paddle tennis.

3. If they voted for them, why does it matter?

4. We’re guessing that’s part of the ongoing discussion and “evolution” of the design.

5. They’ve got to have something to aspire to.

Anon 12:11 is on to something about lights. I have not read either way whether lights would be included in various parts of the new park.

I think it would do a disservice to taxpayers to not get the most use out of the park. Lights should be available for Football/Lacrosse as well as Paddle Tennis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Why weren’t you at the OPL pep rallies…er, we mean the “informational” events to make that point?

It is funny you mention adult beverages. In my youth a wealthy family in my neighborhood had a paddle tennis court on their property.

My two memories are the neighbors complaining about the bright lights for night games, and a bunch of us kids (all of age of course) regularly playing a large, and rather aggressive version of “beer pong”.

All kidding aside, paddle tennis is a hell of a lot of fun. It just seems like a rather obscure and niche market to be spending tax payer dollars on. I wonder what or if they will charge for court time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe the Park District is trying to up-scale our community – and, since we don’t have a lake, paddle tennis is the tool.

Four paddle tennis courts? Is this a joke? Let the country club build the paddle tennis court and hold tournaments.

The only thing that will give the PRPD a chance to break even on this financially irresponsible YC acquisition or to make a little bit of money is if two multi-use turf fields with lights are put on the 11.2 acres with a walking track around the entire piece of property. Then the PRPD can charge a market rate-no sweetheart deals-to PR football, soccer and lacrosse for use of the fields. Tournaments can be held with tournament fees collected. Throw in a descent concession stand, playground (a nearly brand new one is already on the YC property so just use that one) and parking lot. This is likely the only way the PRPD will have a chance to construct the “break-even” facility they said the acquisition of the YC would be.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Are you suggesting the Park District’s “business plan” numbers might not be all that accurate?

5:22 at 3:05-the question about lights is a good one. According to the now unavailable Our Parks Lecagy group’s website, one of the informational FAQ’s was what about lights on the property. The response was very simply and straightforward-NO LIGHTS. Since Mel Thillens was the head of the OPL and he is now the President of the PRPD board-that appears to be his answer as well. NO LIGHTS. Remember the OPL was trying to appeal to the heartstrings-preserve this treasured piece of the last open space in Park Ridge. Keep the land open and free of development-but NO LIGHTS please-they don’t want the noise at night.


If no lights is the way the decide to go that means the paddle tennis courts will be funded by all of our money but used by an even more limited group of people. How many folks can use the courts during the week, dinner hours or with kids ball games. You cut off a lot of potentail usage with no lights.

PT is a very night friendly game. As I recall it is also a very winter friendly game and if gets dark at 4PM with no lights that is even less of a chance to use the courts.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Real paddle tennis aficionados won’t hesitate to take a few hours off from their jobs in the middle of the afternoon to squeeze in a few games from October through March.

I may be in the minority but I know a number of people in PR who’ve said they are excited about the possibility paddle tennis. It’s popular on the North Shore/Evanston and in some parts of Chicago so it’s not a stretch to imagine that people here are familiar with it.

I lamented to an experienced paddle tennis playing friend about being a novice and she said anyone can easily pick it up and quickly become competitive. I can think of worse hobbies.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe four courts won’t be enough? Time to re-revise the YC referendum plan.

Why’s Ms. Mountcastle even on the board if she’s not a PR resident?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Mountcastle isn’t an elected official. She’s a paid employee who doesn’t have to live in Park Ridge and pay taxes here as a condition of her employment.

5/22/13-5:49-Again the comparison to the North Shore. Park Ridge is not the North Shore!!! We live at the end of the runway of one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world. Park Ridge also has no public access “shore”. It is both fiscally dangerous and irresponsible to compare Park Ridge to towns that have a much higher average income and tax base. Park Ridge cannot compete from this perspective. It is ridiculous to pay for and fund an amenity to benefit only a few people.

The YC property-which should not have been purchased at all with taxpayer money-should be developed by the PRPD with the highest and best use facilities that can pay for themselves and will not generate annual deficits that have to be funded by the taxpayers. So no paddle tennis, no performing arts pavilion (?!) and no splash pad. (Synthetic athletic fields with lights and a walking path and playground and concession stand will be the best and highest use and may be able to generate money to offset maintenance.) Hopefully the PRPD board members won’t be stupid enough to put in low use niche amenities-but don’t hold your breath.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Mountcastle & Mel Production is still a work in progress, since no real planning was done prior to the referendum. But the voters gave them a vote of confidence, although it’s not clear whether that was just to keep the land undeveloped or for the full amusement park.

There will be lights. You are not the only one who has noticed the fading of enthusiasm for everything-but-the-kitchen-sink amenities once the deal was sealed and bait-and-switch from fun to lawn will not be tolerated.The rest of the city did not vote to pay for more green views for those on the Country Club and Northwest Park. There will be revenue-producing activities as promised, day and night, for the vast majority throughout the city who still must toil for their living during the daylight hours. And that means lights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, we can’t tell exactly what the voters voted for because the land and the amusement park were rolled into one referendum question, even though one of the major OPL campaign points was to keep the YC free of residential development – which would have cost about half of the total referendum amount.

It will be interesting to see how the park district and/or disgruntled members of the public/legal profession (but I repeat myself) argue for what, exactly, the voters did vote for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The voters voted for the referendum as presented – which appears to have been a rush-to-judgment plan slapped together to to maximize voter turnout from as many special-interests as possible.

@1:12. I never tried to compare PR to the North Shore. I just said that paddle ball was popular there (and in Chicago). It’s a sport that can be played anywhere, it doesn’t need a “shore.” And adding four measly paddle ball courts isn’t going to compromise us or alter our identity.

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