New Park Board Members Bid Adieu To Freebies (Updated)


Every so often one of our units of local government does something that is unequivocally good and right.

Today that accolade goes to the Park Ridge Park District for its June 15 vote to eliminate free use of the Park District’s facilities and programming by our elected District officials.

What a difference a change in Board membership makes!

Back at the Park Board’s November 19, 2015 meeting, Commissioner Mel Thillens was the only Board member in attendance (Commissioners Biagi and Phillips were absent) to vote against an amendment to the District’s Policy 3.03 – somewhat deceptively titled “Opportunities for Oversight of Park District Programs and Facilities” – that slightly modified, but nevertheless continued, the District’s policy of letting Commissioners use District facilities and programs free of charge.

Those kinds of benefits are known as perquisites, or “perks”: a privilege, gain, or profit incidental to the holding of office.

They very well also may be unlawful “compensation” because the Illinois Park District Code prohibits compensation of Park District commissioners.

But that didn’t stop then-Board member Joan Bende and Richard Brandt, along with still-Board members Cindy Grau and Jim O’Brien (Rick Biagi and Jim Phillips absent), to retain those perks back in November 2015. Only Mel Thillens voted “no” that night, stating (according to that meeting’s minutes) that “he believes the amount of free stuff Commissioners receive should be limited.”

Not a Lincolnesque statement, to be sure, but accurate nonetheless.

The leader of this successful effort to ban Commissioner freebies appears to have been new Board member Robert Leach, who was concerned about the perks being prohibited “compensation.” He was joined in his repeal vote by fellow Board newbies Jim Janak, Jim O’Donnell and Harmony Harrington (all of whom we endorsed in April) agreed, joined by veterans Thillens and O’Brien, the latter of whom apparently finally found religion.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to be the only dissenter, given that freebie-lover Cindy Grau was absent.

Perks had been a mainstay of the Park District for decades, interrupted only when a Park Board majority – of which this blog’ s editor was a member – voted to discontinue them in the late 1990s, before a new Board majority reinstated them.

Freebie-loving Commissioners always have argued that free memberships and programs enable them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs. Not surprisingly, rarely if ever did any of the Commissioners partaking of those freebies report back to the Board or Staff on the facilities and programs they were using.

And since they weren’t paying for the perks, their ability to do any cost-benefit analyses was totally compromised.

The elimination of the perks was termed “a great idea” by veteran Park District attorney Thomas Hoffman – although he refused to opine on their legality, according to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District board ends free classes, memberships for elected commissioners,” June 27).

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Association of Park Districts (“IAPD”) – a shameless self-promoting, fluff-and-stroke organization that serves as a quasi-union and lobbying arm for career park district bureaucrats statewide – is quoted in the H-A story as justifying such perks as being “within the discretion of these elected boards.” Of course, the IAPD has never seen a taxpayer dollar it didn’t like or couldn’t find a way for its members to spend, so its attempt to justify perks of any and all stripes was to be expected.

But the good news is that we appear to have four new Park Board members – a majority – who may actually represent the taxpayers every bit as much as, if not more than, the tax spenders and tax consumers.

In the State of Corruption and profligacy that is Illinois this new jerk-the-perks policy, led by the newest Board members, is a good start.

Updated 07.14.17.  Glad to see the Chicago Tribune editorial board agrees:

Another group of freeloaders bites the dust.

To read or post comments, click on title.

14 comments so far

Good job, people. If board members want to get the full taxpayers’/users’ experience, pay full fare and then ask yourself whether the service or facility is worth whatever price is being charged.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly. VALUE: What a novel concept!

Should District 64 board members with kids in the schools also have to pay the full $15,000 cost per child so they understand what all taxpayers pay, not just what some parents get?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We assume your question somehow makes sense to you, but we don’t see how – or what kind of answer you expect.

Thank you, Park Board members, for taking a small but important step to show you represent taxpayers.

Too bad Commissioner Grau wasn’t there to show us whether she has the you-know-what to vote for another freebie now that her pal Bende is no longer around.

School board members are mostly parents of students so they routinely vote for more of others people’s money to spend more on their own kids’ educations. It’s “for the children” after all. In other words: If they had to fork over the entire $15k themselves, they might think about lowering the cost to $13k or maybe $10k.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with your suggestion that school board members who were actually paying $15-17,000/year for their kid’s education might be a whole lot more fiscally responsible.

But we still don’t see the analogy to paying for Park Board members paying for Park District amenities.

Just say “No” to freebies.

If you want one of these public offices, do the job and don’t look for anything more than the satisfaction that should come from doing the job well.

If the taxpayers wanted to pay you for your services, they can write a salary into the statute. Otherwise, you work for free. Don’t like that? Quit.

Who cares. Saves the taxpayers……??? nothing.

Hard to cheer a park board that wasted $10 Million on Prospect Park. The WORST new park development I’ve ever seen. Drive around the suburbs, the park district has the worst facilities (indoor and out).

But hey, they now don’t get free yoga. Woot woot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The “park board” didn’t waste anything: The taxpayers voted for it by referendum, UNLIKE that 3-month-a-year half-baked Centennial water park, which the then-Park Board wouldn’t let the taxpayers vote on because they knew it would fail.

I sympathize with Anon. 9:23 a.m. While the Park Board definitely deserves kudos for 86ing their perks, the history of the Park Board is not so illustrious. For years it seemed like the Gayle Mountcastle led the Board instead of the other way around. The Editor is correct to point out that voters approved Prospect Park — but it was the Board that waved on to referendum what is essentially Gayle’s new office complex. And then there’s Centennial. And a million-dollar bathroom at Hinkley. You get the idea.

I’m filled with hope, however, because the new Board *does* seem to “get the idea” and hopefully the surrender of perks is just the beginning of a journey toward careful fiscal management.

The park board wastes $13.2 million on Prospect Park. It is an embarrassment. Though the majority of taxpayers who voted approved the concept of the park the park board and Gayle Mountcastle did not deliver much of what they proposed for the new park. It’s conception and construction were mismanaged. They over promised to get a yes vote.

So instead of a usable park we have a piece of property where most of the trees were cut down even those that were not dead. The athletic field is full of construction debris and still not in use. No lights are in the park so when the field is ready-done it will have limited utility. A new building was added and one that was supposed to be torn down is still there. So we have a field of buildings with no trees and limited amenities. That is not what the taxpayers voted for.

“…That is not what the taxpayers voted for.” — Anon. 7/15/17 at 9:52 a.m.

Hate to say “I told you so”, but…

EDITOR’S NOTE: We expressed concern about this in our posts of 08.16.13
and 11.19.14

Typical government bait-and-switch tactic: Underestimate costs to sell the deal to gullible taxpayers, then blame things that should have been anticipated as “unforeseen.”

Has anybody seen the Centennial Water Park’s “lazy river”?

Just want to point out that the guy (politician) very much involved in the pool as well as spearheading the referendum movement for prospect and the over selling you mention is the same guy now making sure he gets credit for the topic of this thread.

I can already see it on a flyer in my mailbox the next time he runs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some people are just slow learners. But the most important question is whether or not he actually has learned, or whether he is just mouthing the right words.

On the other hand, his opponents bear the mark of the beast – Mike Madigan – so we’d still take the slow learner over Madigan’s zombies.

Steve S-9:52 am here. I did not vote for that referendum to purchase Prospect Park. As can be seen by the condition of the other PRPD properties, the park district was failing to properly maintain the properties it already owned. The dishonest manner in which the waterpark was built after the taxpayers had previously voted NO to a waterpark meant there was no way the PRPD should be entrusted to develop Prospect Park. This “park” only benefits Gayle Mountcastle and the houses that border it. The rest of the taxpayers are stuck paying for it.

Steve S.-Anon at 9:52 am-I did not vote for the referendum. The plan put forth for Prospect Park by the PRPD at the time was too good to be true. In addition, the PRPD was not properly managing and maintaining the acreage and facilities it already owned so there was no reason to support a $13.2 million bond referendum that would acquire more acreage to be mismanaged. It is shameful that the PRPD board and management so ineptly handled this development and have left us the taxpayers including those of us who voted NO to pay for their actions. But the bordering neighbors are happy-they have a barely used park that someone else is paying for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The $8 million (but third-rate) Centennial water park that panders to a tiny segment of the community for only 3 months each year would never have won a referendum, which is why that 2012-13 Park Board didn’t take it to referendum. But that same Board’s under-estimating, panic peddling (“We’ll lose irreplaceable open space to houses!”) and bait-and-switch (paddle tennis courts) tactics worked – in no small part, most likely, because only 9,372 (32.94%) of the District’s registered voters bothered to show up.

Anon., thanks for clarifying. My quotation of you, and the snarky “told-ya-so” rejoinder, was directed at the community, not you in particular. As mentioned above, 9,372 people voted that day — and a majority fell for the sell of Prospect “Park”. In the same way, just five years ago, 6,000 people voted to raise everyone’s property taxes so D64 could claim to run an obscene surplus (and pay Dr. Heinz). My point is: Pay attention, people, and if you’re going to vote for a tax increase, at least be informed as to what you’ll get in return.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree with your “Pay attention, people…” admonition, except that it should have been: “PAY ATTENTION, PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!”

Under-estimating and bait-and-switch have been two of the most basic tools of local government bureaucrats and rubber-stamp elected officials for decades, yet the sheeple keep falling for them.

But we don’t understand your: “In the same way, just five years ago, 6,000 people voted to raise everyone’s property taxes so D64 could claim to run an obscene surplus (and pay Dr. Heinz).” We’re not aware of any D-64 referendum since 2007.

Wow, the last D64 tax increase was way back in 2007? The pain still feels fresh.

Thanks for clarifying/correcting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And remember: That 2007 referendum was needed to make up for all the deficit spending that had been going on since the new Emerson was built using funds from a 1997 referendum because apparently they under-budgeted the debt service and/or operating costs of that new school. That put D-64 on the Illinois State Board of Education’s financial “Early Warning” and “Watch” lists, one step short of the ISBE taking over the District’s finances. We have written about that mess in the following posts:

The bottom line is that D-64 has a history of managing itself into a crisis and then crying “Wolf!” and turning the students into handy props for shaking down the taxpayers for more money.

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