Local Elections Should Give Taxpayers Pause: Park Ridge Park District Presents Hobson’s Choice


Four years ago we endorsed Mel Thillens, Mary Wynn Ryan and Jim O’Brien (collectively, “TRO”) over a slate of candidates sponsored by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) – because we didn’t, and still don’t, believe it’s any healthier to vote employee union lackeys onto the Park Board than it is to vote teachers union lackeys onto our school boards.

TRO won handily. And now they’re up for re-election against one challenger: Cindy Grau. So just like in the D-64 race, the only question about this Park Board race is: who will be the odd man/woman out?

In a number of respects TRO have done a good job overseeing the day-to-day management of the Park District. The facilities generally appear to be well-maintained. And the District has followed the City’s lead in reducing the number those damnable closed sessions where cowardly public officials try to hide their activities from scrutiny by the people who elected them.

We also have to give a big Watchdog bark-out to the District’s having become increasingly self-sufficient, with fees and other earned revenue increasingly replacing property tax revenue. That suggests the “marketplace – i.e., the consumer – believes the District’s facilities and programs provide good value for the price. That’s very good.

But in a stretch of less than six months, TRO and the rest of their Board buried the District in approximately $20 million of long-term debt, $6.3 million of which went to build a third-rate Centennial water park usable for only 3 months a year without even an advisory referendum. And, worse yet, that involved a dishonest bait-and-switch: the District cut what reportedly was the most desired feature of the design – a “lazy river” because it apparently lacked sufficient non-referendum debt to build it.

Why did TRO support incurring so much debt on such a cut-rate facility? Because they were too contemptuous of the taxpayers, and also too cowardly, to do what every park board since 1992 had done: ask the voters for approval of such a major debt-funded capital expenditure through a referendum.

So the taxpayers are now saddled with that water park debt which, along with the voter-approved Youth Campus/Prospect Park debt, will hogtie the District economically for the next decade and beyond. By then, however, TRO will certainly be gone from the Board. And we wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of them will have left town altogether.

That brings us back to the present and Tuesday’s election…and the question of who should be left without a seat when the music stops.

Frankly, TRO’s contempt for the taxpayers – in our book, the No. 1 sin among the 7 deadly sins of local government – curbs our enthusiasm for any of them. That contempt suggests they possess the typical politicians’ cynical view that taxpayers/voters are just pawns and dupes – to be exploited for their votes for candidates like TRO, but to be deprived of a vote on such major projects, expenditures and debt as the water park.

But we also can’t endorse Grau.

From everything we can gather from her website and articles about her in the local press, she would actually work to reverse the positive economic trend (save for that aforementioned $20 million water park bonded debt boondoggle) at the Park District. Although she makes the token one-time reference to her being “fiscally responsible,” both newspapers have reported her recent complaints about the very user fees that have made the District more economically self-sufficient and less dependent on the taxpayers.

She was critical of the fact that “[w]e make the users pay for camps and programming” (Keeping Costs Down Key To Park Ridge Park Candidates,” Park Ridge Journal, April 1) and she “could agree to a freeze in program costs” that would shift the burden of increasing program expenses onto the taxpayers. (“Park Ridge Park District candidates talk taxes, fees and flood-relief,” Herald-Advocate, March 31).

In other words, she would become the newest Park Board BFF to those special interest folks who don’t mind higher taxes for everybody (instead of user fees) so long as they can use the facilities and services enough to exhaust their tax share AND burn up the Other People’s Money (“OPM”) contributed by the vast majority of taxpayers who under-use Park District facilities and programs.

Which makes her a gold-dust twin of Ms. Wynn Ryan.

Notwithstanding WR’s flier trumpeting her “cost-effective” and “bang for the buck” attitude, she has never seen a local government that couldn’t be bigger, do more, and spend as much OPM as she can get her hands on – whether during her two years on the City Council (2005-07), during her eight years on the Park Board (2007-15), or as a member of the City’s Economic Development Task Force.

For her first four years on the Park Board (2007-2011) she led the fight to keep Oakton Pool open and, in the process, burned off about $300,000 of taxpayer money in operating losses. She also can be counted on to support annual property-tax-to-the-max levies like that 5.97% for 2012, even though she had a last-minute change of heart – most certainly campaign-related – and ended up voting against this year’s max levy. And the same H-A article that reported Grau’s complaints about fees, Ryan brags about “increasing the number and variety of free programs,” which she tries to spin into a kind of loss-leader marketing ploy.

And just today, campaigning on the Park Ridge Citizens Online Facebook page, Wynn Ryan shamelessly pandered to one of our community’s premier entitlement queens, Kathy Panattoni Meade, by saying she (Wynn Ryan) is “doing what [she] can” to reduce the price of the District’s “Beyond the Bell” child-care/babysitting service.

So coming at this race from the perspective of a non-endorsement based on who could do the most economic damage to the Park District in the next four years, that dubious distinction comes down to a classic Hobson’s Choice of Wynn Ryan or Grau. Neither one of them seems to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that government HAS NO MONEY other than what it takes from the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, one of them has to win.

To read or post comments, click on title.

12 comments so far

It’s all about the money. My belief is that if you have a Park District it should be something you are proud of and something the taxpayers can utilize.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Go to Jewel or Mariano’s and take 2 t-bones to the check-out. And when they ask you for $15, tell them it shouldn’t be “all about the money.” Then report back to us.

The budgeted expenses to operate the Park District this year are in excess of $23 million, of which $7.5 million is expected to come from property taxes while $8 million is expected to come from user fees.

Another election rolls around and it just makes me sad. As always, I did my research (including information on this site) and made the best decision I could and voted, early this time around as I know tomorrow will be a tight day for me.

To understand why it is so sad one need only read your “endorsements”. Rather than being for anyone they are mainly against other people. While I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the time and effort these people put into their positions with out any monetary compensation, I think your endorsements demonstrate the process most of us have reached over the years. They pretty much all suck but some suck more than others. Now I know you will go on about cancer versus heart disease, and I get that, but it is just sad.

As an example, based on your Park District post apparently that means you want Thillens to win. Here is what you said about him about 6 months ago.

“In any rational world, neither Thillens nor Moylan would be allowed to run for anything more significant than home room rep to their high school student council. This editor has the dubious distinction of having talked government policy and practice with both of them within the past six months, allowing him to both hear and observe firsthand that what these two may lack in stupidity they more than make up for with ignorance.

They are, on their absolute best days, political hacks who represent the worst of the slim pickings their respective political parties have to offer the voters of this state. It’s hard to fathom exactly how low that goes, but just the concept is scary”.

I am sorry but that is just plain sad!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes it is. But you can’t give up.

So the next time you start ranting on about the cowardly candidates who won’t say what matters to them, you’ll keep in mind your lovely decision to de-select Ms. Ryan for being sympathetic to a taxpayer who is upset at paying to build and maintain facilities her family cannot afford to patronize. Please read Ms. Ryan’s statement about whether fees are too low, too high or just right as given to the Pioneer Press, and try not to let the “jerk” in “knee-jerk” make all the decisions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ms. Ryan is a wonderful person who throughout her public life has consistently preferred the interests of the users over those of the payers. Hence, her response to this particular chronic whiner who wants to use at the expense of others.

Cindy and Anon 6:36, – Please tell me who should subsidize these programs that you feel the users shouldn’t pay for?
Let’s play the “X” should pay for “Y” game. Should a family who barely makes their bills each month see their taxes raised to subsidize camp for Ms Meade’s children for camp? Are Park District taxpayers now on the hook for Meade’s babysitting duties?

What about swim lessons? Maybe Fencing? Please, tell me what you plan to cut, or the taxes you plan to raise in order to subsidize these programs for the users.

It’s so easy to say you want low cost stuff, until you realize that low cost, is really a just shifting that cost somewhere else.

As I read Ms Meade constant rants on PRO on Facebook, day in and day out, she is the poster child for wanting other people money. It’s a virus. It is why Illinois is in shambles.

The other thing that I find sad is that, as you have pointed out on several occasions, many of these elections are nothing but popularity contests. People who have been around town for a long time, maybe even grew up here, get all their friends to put up signs but it has little to do with policy or, as you like to say, governing principles.

As evidence I would point to a large number of yards in town that proudly display Eggemann signs as well as Besler signs. While not an expert, it seems to me that there is a pretty dramatic difference between the approaches and governing principles of these two candidates. Of course they are running in different elections but supporting both candidates still seems pretty hard to reconcile. I am thinking it is a husband wife thing or perhaps multiple personality disorder.

Because I not from here and do not have a long PR history, I ask neighbors and folks I know with signs supporting candidates about their choice and what is good about their candidate and it is amazing the vague answers I get…….”oh I’ve know them since high school”.\

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s why we’ve had so many “nice guys/gals” in local government who couldn’t find their own derrieres with both hands AND a GPS – and who tried to buy support and/or friendship, and/or build up their self-esteem, by giving away OPM.


Not that it makes your point any less valid, but the scenario you offer is a bit slanted. I mean you ask an interesting question but let’s take an honest look at who is screaming the loudest and pushing the hardest on these issues. It is not the family that barely makes their bills. It is the professional (bank exec or investor or lawyer for example) bitching about the taxes on their McMansion.

Hell, if PR was really worried about that family barely getting by why did we vote to buy more park land? Remember the “It’s only $70 dollar refrain??” That may not be much money to you or I but it is a big chunk to the people you reference. So now we are worried about the family barely getting by!?!!?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Over our 25 years of paying attention to this stuff, “freeloaders” come in all shapes and sizes of houses and wallets – although we’ve found more of them from among those who have stretched to move here and then think that because they pay their taxes they are entitled to free everything else.

701am- How do you root out those evil McMansion bankers versus the all american blue collar union workers that deserve park subsidies according to your scenario? Should the application for all park programs include an income statement?

Prospect Park is a once a generation opportunity for open space for all of Park Ridge. More importantly, it was a referendum that easily won.

Do you want a referendum whether we should subsidize babysitting for Ms Meade?

Also, no one is “pushing hard” for higher costs, just proper costs. Someone (Meade) has posted up to almost 10 times because her Park District summer daycare is too expensive. One candidate (Grau) seems to want us all to subsidize that. Ryan may be amenable to her as well.

Those are legitimate campaign issues that need to be discussed.

If common sense taxpayers don’t speak up, then the freeloaders win. I’d rather subsidize nicer facilities for all, then daycare for a few.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with you on all points but one: Prospect Park “was a referendum that easily won.” The back-story on that illustrates why we would not endorse the three incumbent Park Board members running for re-election.

Had the Park Board and Executive Director been honest and respectful of the taxpayers rather than panderers to the pro-water park special interest, they would have put the water park AND the Youth Campus projects on the April ballot. But they didn’t respect and trust the taxpayers enough to risk losing one or both.

They also didn’t respect and trust the taxpayers enough to just put the water park on the April ballot and use the $6 million+ of non-referendum bonding power to purchase the Youth Campus – thereby ensuring the capture of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even without going to referendum on it.

But they chose to play purely political games with both projects, using that $6 million+ non-referendum debt to pander to the faction supporting the weaker project, and trusting they could stampede enough voters with that “once a generation opportunity” pitch to win the Youth Campus referendum.

Voila! $20 million of long-term debt service for two facilities (one a third-rate 3-month a year water park for which they even bait-and-switched the “lazy river”) that likely will never even pay for themselves.

I never said blue collar union workers deserve subsidies. Did you miss the part where I said “not that it makes your point any less valid??”

All I said was that the example the poster uses was slanted. You can’t vote for a luxury of additional park land causing additional taxes for the family barely making it and do so proudly but now act like you care about them. Well, you can but it is crapola!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not sure that we get your point exactly, but what it comes down to is priorities.

Some of these people who beef about paying a few hundred dollars for textbooks or Chromebooks (while getting $14,000/kid of “free” education), or paying for after-school babysitting/programs (even though the family goes to Cancun, or Vail, for spring break), or paying for Library computer use (while making 3 Starbuck’s visits a day), etc., know exactly what they’re doing. They figure that by electing sock puppets to public office who will give them “free” stuff on the public’s dime, they can get $100, or $500, of “free” use out of a new Prospect Park and only have to pay $70/year in extra taxes. So they’re picking up $30 to $430 of “free” benefits courtesy of OPM – or, to put a face on the OPM, all those taxpayers who have no desire for a Prospect Park and will never use it.

For that referendum, only 9,372 of our 28,456 registered voters cast ballots, a 32.94% turnout. And 5,118 (55.89%) beat 4,039 (44.11%), meaning 19,084 didn’t care enough to even vote. And THAT was a larger-than-normal turnout, due to a hotly-contested mayoral and aldermanic races.

Sorry, it’s hard to hear you over the laughter of happy children…you clearly find it easy to blow off people who have problems or concerns you don’t have, but elected officials are duty-bound to at least listen and say sincerely, “I hear you” when voters/taxpayers voice their complaints. If the person is voting and paying real estate taxes here, they deserve a civil hearing from their elected officials.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course it is, because you’ve learned from the PREA and other teachers unions that almost ANY expenditure can be justified with those three little words: “for the kids.”

No, we blow off people with entitlement mentalities who approach every governmental body, faciliity and service with the proverbial “handful of gimme” – as evidenced by another one of your BFF’s postings on Park Ridge Citizens Online earliar today:

“Kathy Panattoni Meade Steve, you and I are simply apples and oranges. Your priorities are not my priorities. Your ideas of how government should be financed and run are not my ideas of how finances should be run. You think there is too much spending. I don’t believe there is enough spending on education or infrastructure or parks or healthcare. I don’t mind paying taxes if I get a return on my investment. You just don’t like paying taxes. Your argument is just as assertive if not downright cold. I’ll take breezy any day.”

In other words, “spending” = achievement; and “a return on my investment” = taking more out than I put in.


My point, to be blunt, is either ya give a damn about those “barely making it”, or ya don’t. One can make arguments either way and opinions will vary buy at least try to be consistent. Many bring up the poor taxpayer when it serves their purpose (what they want) but if it does fit what they want you get…….”it’s just $70. Once they get that they go back to caring about those barely making it, that is until they want something else.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To be equally blunt, the way you use “barely making it” sounds like situational ethics.

There’s a big difference between (a) the family who moved here, paid their dues taxes-wise, but then hit an unexpected rough patch and are temporarily “barely making it,” and (b) the opportunists/freeloaders who “stretched” to move here solely so they could milk the benefits, have hit NO rough patch, but want every single entitlement they can get until, like locusts, they’ve consumed all they can and decide to move on.

The only reason we refer to “the poor taxpayer” is because he/she rarely has any elected officials going to bat for him/her versus the “special interests.” Mayor Dave did so, which is why he beat Howard “Special Interests R Us” Frimark and then beat Larry “I’m With Howard” Ryles even more convincingly. And that is why we currently have the least “special interest”-beholden City Council since Marty Butler’s day, if not beyond.


You are a classic example of what some of those running for office suffer from. Have you ever heard the term King Baby?? You want what you want but the rest are freeloaders. You want every one to pay for what you consider a once in a life opportunity, even some 75 year old retired person on a fixed income who never uses the parks we currently have…..tough luck to them and pay up!! On the other hand, someone makes a request you do not agree with and it’s “don’t let the freeloaders win”.

What makes it worse is you give yourself a title…..”common sense taxpayer”, as if you are better that those damn freeloaders. I have news for ya. You are as guilty as they are. See PD’s commnets on the 11AM post above.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like it or not, at least the taxpayers got a voice on the Prospect Park project – unlike the $8 million-plus Centennial water park.

And one way to tell a “freeloader” is that he/she NEVER wants his/her pet project or expenditure to go to referendum


I would bet ya a Starbucks that most of the Legacy group would have loved to do it without a referendum (included the elected officials). For financial reasons they had no choice but to go to referendum to get the money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course they would have, but their strategy of burning off most of the District’s non-referendum debt on Centennial and then stampeding the herd with the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to get land worked like a charm – especially since there was no organized opposition.

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