Caution: Freeloaders On [The] Board (Clarified)


Back in the early 1980s it seemed like you couldn’t drive more than a few blocks in any urban or suburban area without seeing one or more of those black-on-yellow “Caution: Baby On Board” signs slapped on the back of a mini-van or SUV.

The intent of those signs was an obvious appeal to other drivers to exercise special care and caution around such vehicles, presumably because of some unrealistic expectation that a reckless motorist might be constrained from imitating his favorite NASCAR driver if he thought the neighboring vehicle he was about to “rub” into the concrete divider on the Kennedy was carrying a baby instead of his favorite NASCAR driver’s main rival.

Predictably, those signs were followed by signs with even sillier cautionary assumptions, like “Caution: Mother-in-Law On Board” or “Caution: Rottweiler On Board” – assuming, of course, that those are not redundant or interchangeable warnings.

But after watching the video from last Thursday’s (08.20.15) Park Ridge Park District Board meeting, we’re thinking that the Park District might need to consider making and hanging one of those black-on-yellow signs on the door of the Board room whenever a couple of our Park commissioners are inside. And it should read:

“Caution: Freeloaders On The Board.”

Regular readers of this blog already know that “freeloaders” is a term we use as shorthand for local residents who try to disproportionally profit from their fellow taxpayers’ tax payments, a/k/a “Other People’s Money” or “OPM” for short. They are to be distinguished from “parasites,” which are non-residents who help themselves to the facilities and services paid for by our Park Ridge taxpayers, especially when they can get them for free.

Today’s featured freeloaders are none other than Park Commissioners Joan Bende and Cynthia Grau.

You can see and hear their freeloader arguments against  park commissioners giving up their currently free uses of Park District facilities and programs by going to the Park District’s meeting video at around the 1:51:00 mark where the discussion begins. You’ll need to listen closely, however, because the audio is muddied by the constant rattle/rumble of the Board room’s window air conditioner.

Such freebies have been a bone of contention at the Park District for decades.

They were S.O.P. prior to 1997 when they really came into their own as the Park Board members who railroaded the land acquisition, construction and bonded debt for the $8 million Community Center (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) promptly rewarded themselves with free memberships to that facility. Meanwhile, the District started issuing short term bonds to pay the long-term CC debt service, but then found itself with insufficient funds to do needed maintenance, repairs and renovation of existing parks and facilities.

But in 1997 a new majority of commissioners (including the editor of this blog) came into office and voted in several changes to business-as-usual, including a ban on those free Community Center memberships and all the other lesser “perks” that commissioners had been enjoying for years on their fellow taxpayers’ dimes.  It wasn’t a game-changer economically, but it sent a message that the Park District wasn’t an “Ubi est mea” (“Where’s mine?”) kind of place.

The proponents of the perks back then howled about how free usage enabled them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs they oversaw. But the perks opponents prevailed with their arguments that (a) facilities and programs could be equally, or better, evaluated by commissioners simply observing them and actively listening to the users’ opinions; and (b) that if use of a facility or program was truly necessary for a proper evaluation, a specific freebie use could be arranged…with the expectation of a written status report by the commissioner in return.

We’re not sure when that no-perks policy was rescinded and the freebie commissioner usage of facilities and programs became “encouraged.” But we shouldn’t be surprised that freeloader commissioners found a way to resurrect freebie commissioner perks without fanfare or media scrutiny.

Freeloaders have a knack for ripping off the taxpayers in a variety of stealthy ways.

So when Commissioner Rick Biagi raised the topic of repealing the current freebie-perk policy – and also instituting an anti-nepotism policy to prevent commissioners and their families from obtaining District employment – it should have been expected that some commissioners would hoist their freeloader flags and object

Enter Bende and Grau, stage left.

In arguing to repeal the freebies, Biagi correctly noted that every commissioner was free to audit programs and facilities when such audits were deemed necessary to properly discharge their official duties; and that the greatest benefit of such audits would be for the auditing commissioner to report his/her findings and conclusions to Exec. Director Gayle Mountcastle.

We’d go Biagi one step further, however, by requiring a written report of those findings and conclusions that not only gets sent to Mountcastle but that also gets distributed to every other commissioner and department head. And that gets published on the District’s website so the taxpayers can read it. Otherwise, there’s a clear and present danger of many/most of those fact-finding tours becoming magical mystery ones that merely provide a freebie for the commissioner’s personal/private benefit.

We also concur in Park District Attorney Tom Hoffman’s observation (at 1:54 of the video) that any one commissioner’s audits of any one facility or program should be occasional rather than regular. While there may be a reason to audit a yoga class, there’s no reasonable need for the same commissioner to audit it every Tuesday morning for several months.

If you have a twisted sense of humor you might want to check out the argument between Biagi and Bende beginning around 1:57:30 of the video and continuing to around the 2:04 mark, in which Bende sounds like she is telling Biagi she would be fine with his regularly inspecting the Driving Range by knocking out free bushels of golf balls.

That’s because freeloaders are like Amway salespeople: they love recruiting more freeloaders who, in turn, recruit even more of them.  Call it gaining acceptance by increasing market share.

But the winner of last Thursday’s “Freeloader On The Board” competition was Park Board newbie Grau, who – if we heard her correctly over the air conditioner – had the audacity to actually admit (between 2:03 and 2:04:35 of the video) that, since her election in April, she has decided it was high time to get back into a fitness regimen at the Community Center via the free pass for commissioners…although, not surprisingly, she failed to note that she would be putting those charges on the taxpayers’ tab.

As we’ve said before: freeloaders are extraordinarily shameless.

But the only way they can keep getting away with it is if the rest of us are equally spineless. 

CLARIFICATION (08.26.15)  Commissioner Grau has objected to this post on the grounds that it accuses her of receiving a free Community Center membership that she has not received.  Athough it was not our intention to create that impression, and although we believe that “she would be putting those charges [for that “free” membership] o the taxpayers’ tab” denotes a future event, after re-reading the post we can see how it might be misinterpreted.

As she makes clear in her remarks (from 2:03:56 and 2:04:40 of the meeting video), whether she can use the Community Center for free might be a factor in her deciding whether to work out there or someplace else, but she had not yet made that decision.

To read or post comments, click on title.

21 comments so far

Interesting that you let the men who spoke in favor of this off lightly.

The “ultimate” freeloader has admittedly not freeloaded yet so I think the adjective is misused.

I’m not getting paid for my board position so it is hard to justify “freeloader” especially when there is no incremental cost to the PD if/when I go there to work out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Provide us with time signatures from the meeting video where you believe the “men” advocated for freebies and we’ll check it out; and if you’re right, we’ll barbecue them as well.

Nobody gets paid for their board positions, but you should have known that going in. And many/most of us serve/d without even thinking about grabbing back-door compensation through these freebie perks.

I have an event I want you to know about and possibly write about. Can you give me your email address? or email me at [email protected]

It’s a program on the Independent Maps movement in Illinois.



We’re aware of the Independent Map initiative and favor it – but with reservations about many of the partisan political players on its steering committee, and about who will be selecting the actual mapmakers, and how they will be selected.

Because this is still the State of Corruption, with too many well-connected people focused entirely on what’s in it for them.

What were Bende and Grau thinking? We aren’t talking a lot of money here, but they just seem tone deaf.

May we see their vital stats, like body weight, BMI, resting pulse, cholesterol levels, etc., to see if the Park District programs are actually effective?

Let’s take it a step further and pay for their healthy meal plans, too. If you start catering Park District board meetings, lots of taxpayers will show up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So long as customers are willing to pay for facilities and program usage, we will assume that they see sufficient value in them to keep signing up. That’s not the same dynamic for freeloaders, obviously.


There may not be an incremental cost to the PD when you use the facilities, but there is a loss of revenue when you don’t pay the membership fee. The loss may be small, but the principle at stake is important: Should government officials, even if they are unpaid, take advantage of the taxpayers? This taxpayer believes that the answer is NO.

“but with reservations about many of the partisan political players on its steering committee, and about who will be selecting the actual mapmakers, and how they will be selected”.

Partisan??? What?!?!?!? I read the post and decided to do some googling. I found a facebook page for Independent Maps

On the page is a link to what is supposedly their website. I clicked on it and it went right to Bruce’s website!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We were referring to


Thanks for the link. Looking at the list, I agree about partisan political players. The fact that a site for a group that clearly supports this initiative goes directly to the governers site is only more evidence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not 100% certain the two are affiliated.

But all things being equal, we’d probably go with Rauner over the likes of Billy Daley, Christie Hefner, Jim Edgar and Sheila Simon.

Who gave you the time stamps of when I advocated for the “Perk” that I have never received?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Park District – by posting not only the video that contains those time stamps but also an accompanying agenda to aid in locating various discussion topics.

To clarify: I do not have a free membership to the Community Center.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fair enough.

Now tell us whether you’re not going to get one in the future; and whether you will to vote to abolish such perks.


Interesting question. Are you implying that Biagi gave him a heads up??

So PW lights up Ms. Grau’s public defense of “freebies” and she and some others want to divert the attention to how PW got that public information. Perfect.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Look…there goes Elvis!”

The only freeloaders I know of in this town are the senior citizens who own prime park ridge real estate but pay cut rate real estate taxes due to the county’s senior exemptions and senior freezes. Why should I pay $8,000 – $10,000 a year in real estate taxes when my elderly neighbor pays $2,500? Same style house, same neighborhood, same lot….vastly different taxes. Just plain not fair.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You are one terminally clueless smurf.

Even with the homeowner exemption, senior citizen homestead exemption and the senior citizen assessment freeze exemption, that chances of a senior citizen paying only 25% of the full tax bill are remote-to-non-existent. And since seniors use only a small fraction of the tax-financed services that homeowners with public school children use, even a senior’s $2,500 tax bill would provide more net tax revenue to the community than someone paying $10K per year but with one child in the schools.

Gee, ‘Dog, you don’t seem to have received any responses from Ms. Grau to your questions after her comments of 08.25.15 at 7:11 am and 2:55 pm.

I can’t say I’m surprised.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That makes two of us.

I do believe elected officials should get some sort of expense reimbursement for their service.

The Alderman get at $100/month or something. There are costs that go to serving (gas, phone usage, office supplies…), I like them getting something. I would guarantee that the Aldermen end up spending more money than they make, and obviously so does the Park Board.

If the “perk” of spending hours and hours of free representation is a $35/month membership at a crappy community center, then so be it.

The commenters above (and me) won’t even sign our name on a blog, but they expect elected representatives to actually lose money while serving?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Illinois Park District Code would appear to disagree with you, since it expressly provides in pertinent part, that Park Board members: “shall act as such without compensation….” 70 ILCS 1205/4-1. That’s what Park Board members signed on for, whether they knew it or not.

If Ms. Grau, Ms. Bende, or any other Park Board member what to be paid for their public service, they should run for the City Council so they can pocket the $100/month; or for mayor, so they can pocket the $1,000/month.

But if you want our mayor and aldermen to get more money, show up at a Council meeting and propose it. And if you want Park Board members to start getting “compensation” – including free memberships in that “crappy community center,” call up Sen. Kotowski or Rep. Moylan and ask them to amend the Park District Code to permit it. Otherwise, what you believe isn’t worth squat.

The brave anonymous posters want me to reply, after being falsely accused of doing something I haven’t done, but they don’t even sign their names.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have added a “Clarification” to the post to address your charge of “being falsely accused of doing something [you] haven’t done.”

Now that we’ve taken care of that, can you reply to OUR questions – in our EDITOR’S NOTE to your 08.25.15 @ 2:55 pm comment – re “whether you’re not going to get [a free Community Center pass] in the future; and whether you will to vote to abolish such perks”?

1. If she says that she is not receiving these “perks” why do they need to be abolished??? I mean how do you abolish something that you are not getting??

2. Is there such a vote on the agenda?? How can she comment on a vote that appears to not even be required (see above) and is not scheduled??

3. Has Mel Thillens weighed in on this issue??

EDITOR’S NOTE: 1. Don’t strain your brain on that one because it was on the Board’s agenda as a “policy” matter.

2. Try something new, like educating yourself by Watching the video.

3. Ditto.

Ahem…..I didn’t say a salary, to cut and paste what I did say was —->
” I do believe elected officials should get some sort of expense reimbursement for their service.” EXPENSE REIMBURSEMENT.

The Park Board should visit other similar suburban park districts though and then come back and ask themselves, how the heck did we end up with the substandard facilities we have. And we should reimburse their gas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Then you shouldn’t have referenced alderman getting “$100/month or something,” which IS “compensation” and not “EXPENSE REIMBURSEMENT”; or Park Board members getting “a $35/month membership at a crappy community center” which would be “compensation” and not “EXPENSE REIMBURSEMENT.”

As to “how the heck did we end up with the substandard facilities we have,” it’s simple: previous park boards BUILT “substandard facilities” like the over-priced, under-sized, mis-designed and backward-looking Community Center, and the over-priced backward-looking 3-month/year Centennial water park; and they stupidly and cowardly financed them by long-term non-referendum bonded debt to prevent the possibility that the taxpayers might have voted “no.”

PR Serf – the senior exemption amounts to approximately $300-500 reduction in property taxes. The senior freeze exemption is more, however, it is income based and I believe the total income cannot exceed $55,000. While that is not insignificant, take $10-12,000 off for taxes and it leaves very little for day to day living, so giving a break to someone who, as PW points out no longer uses much of what the property taxes go towards, seems fair.

Good post dog! If I recall correctly the perk of Board Commissioners getting a FREE pass to CC was discontinued in 2007-08. When did the park board add it back in? And/or was it ever an agenda item? Members of the current park board appear to have personal agendas that aren’t in the best interests of PR as a whole. Very disappointing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We believe the free pass was discontinued prior to 2007-08, then reinstated before being discontinued again and then apparently reinstated again…without much, if any, fanfare. Which is how the freeloaders like it when they are looking to bilk the taxpayers.

It is disappointing, but even more disappointing are the currently unidentified board members who reinstated the freebies.

So the Illinois park district has a code ?
Wow, maybe a code of silence ?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for that modest dose of mindless innuendo.

Mel Thillens isn’t the board president any more.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nothing gets past you, does it!

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