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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

23 comments so far

I think it’s time to let your fixation with this project go. I’m all for judicious spending but Park Ridge needs more updated aquatic facilities and the board is well within their rights to do this. We elected them, after all.

We cannot let things continue to deteriorate as the rest of the world progresses around us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our “fixation” isn’t with “this project” but with the anti-democratic, despotic arrogance of this particular Park Board, as distinguished from those over the past 18+ years who always went to referendum on these kinds of projects.

We’d prefer to let a majority of the voting taxpayers decide whether “we” should be borrowing and spending that kind of money for another outdoor pool. Since not one of the current Park Board members campaigned on this issue or any similar tax/borrow/spend issue, however, nobody “elected them” to make this kind of multi-million, multi-decade decision – especially in view of the fact that Ms. Ryan and friends would likely still be dithering away $90,000 a year on Oakton Pool if the Crook County Health Dept. hadn’t shut it down.

The problem is that there are no accpted terms or rules for when a referendum is in order. Typically what happens is that those who are for what a governing body is going to decide in favor of see no need for a referendum (surprise!!!) while those against see it as an absolute necessity!!

The really frustrating thing is that those same people will completely switch sides about the need for a referendum on a different issue.

Althought not a local example, there are those who would completely agree with you about the PD and not getting consent of the governed and yet would applaud what happened in the last week in the state on the east side of the lake. Many have no problem with a “despotic government” so long as it does what they agree with.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You raise a good point about what is “de minimis” for a referendum – a concern that we believe the state legislature addressed when it limited each governmental body to no more than 3 referendum issues per election.

But other than something being so insignificant as to not be worthy of a plebiscite, why not give the voters a say – especially when, as here, the Park Board can legally trump the outcome so long as it it willing to accept whatever political consequences there may be?

It seems like a really gigantic coincidence that this project costs almost exactly the same amount the park district is allowed to borrow without needing a referendum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amazing, isn’t it?

We understand the PRRPD’s official alibi is that the $6.3 million is the most debt it could service without raising taxes, and had nothing to do with the non-referendum debt ceiling. We don’t believe that for an instant, especially since they are deferring the “lazy river” feature that ranked significantly higher in the survey than did “water slides” because of its cost.

A referendum asks a Yes or No question, but this is more complicated than that. According to your past posts, you would prefer a more expensive indoor/outdoor facility. Others who have spoken would prefer the least exensive replacement possible. Others would like no pool expense at all. Some want Mystic Waters. Some would like it in a less residential area. Some would like more lap lanes, of which some like yards and some like meters. And some would like a project just like the one proposed by the PRRPD. You can’t actually solve the above situation with a referendum, which puts all the eggs in one proposal’s basket and the alternative is simply “no”, not those varied alternatives listed aboove. It is a multi candidate race, in which one candidate needs over 50% of the vote.

Add that to the fact that, contrary to what 12:51 suggests, there are actual rules about when a referendum is required, borrowing limits and tax limits placed on the Park District that can only be surpassed by referendum. The reason for those rules is to provide a threshold for spending that the board can not cross. This project doesn’t cross that threshold mainly because of previous budget surpluses and proper debt management. And it shouldn’t cross that spending threshold since it is a reasonably forseen replacement of a current facility which should fit into the long term budget.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is nothing “complicated” about this: The PRRPD is planning to borrow $6.3 million in order to spend $7.1 million on a specific design. As we recall, this is the exact same situation that was addressed with the advisory referendum in 1995.

An up or down vote tells the PRRPD how the voters feel about THIS particular project, even if it doesn’t explain the why between the nay or yay. Just because this Board wasn’t pro-active enough to pose more policy-based referendum questions over the past few years to shape this debate is no excuse for not putting this plan to referendum. Neither is the fact that it’s not “required”…unless, of course, the PRRPD wants to hide behind the “not required” alibi in order to pander to the pro-pool special interest by making sure what the voters really think about this project never shows up in a vote count.

My God, you are a Child! “Despots”, “Zippy”, “Cowardly” (amongst other insults) are representative of the immature and ongoing name calling you continue to engage in. Other than volunteering their free time being Board Commissioners and subjecting themselves (and families (which include “small” children)) to insults from asses like you, is there anything you know personally about Mr. Biagi, Ms. Ryan, Mr. Brandt, Mr. Thillens, and Mr. Vile outside of this process? Believe it or not, they are kind and thoughtful people who are sacrificing their free time trying to serve their local community. Having a different opinion than theirs about this pool issue is fine, but name calling isn’t. It seems this basically comes down to sour grapes. You don’t like the fact they can issue bonds without a referendum. So since the game isn’t going your way, you want to change the rules mid way to suite you. Guess what, that isn’t how things work, everything cannot go “your” way all the time. It takes an adult to understand this, not someone who through this blog comes accross as a 5-year stomping their feet in the kitchen because mommy won’t give them a cookie. Grow up and stop the name calling, perhaps then maybe “some” will actually take you seriously.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have no interest in being taken “seriously” by folks with your “gimme/I want” and taxpayers-be-damned attitude. That’s never going to happen; and frankly, “Palpatine,” we’d have serious second thoughts about our views if folks with your attitude ever agreed with us.

But since you seem to have picked an appropriate pseudonym for yourself, at least we don’t need to call you Zippy.

Thanks for reading, and keep the comments coming.

If this lazy river thing ever gets built, they should force the park board people who voted for it to stand there at the ribbon cutting and sing Ol’ Man River from Showboat.

They probably would.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In black-face.

What kind of policy based questions would have shaped the debate?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Two that come readily to mind:

Given the local climate, should the PRRPD construct new or replacement exclusively-outdoor pools?

Should at least 50% of any new or replacement pool be designed and built for year-round use?

Like I said folks, an ass!

EDITOR’S NOTE: For giving you a forum? Guilty as charged.

Wouldn’t equally viable referendum questions include the other proposals mentioned:

Should the Park District bulldoze the pools at Centennial Park and plant them over? or

Should the Park District spend $6,000,000 to replace the pools at Centennial with the exact same pools?

If one of those were put on the ballot and got a “No” vote, what should the Park District do then?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No. Putting conflicting referendum questions on the same ballot is foolish.

The Park Board and Staff came up with this marvelous plan at this wonderful price with this wonderful debt, so they should be willing to provide an up/down referendum vote on it – just like its predecessors have done over the years.

Anon at 2:54-Where is the $6,000,000 figure from for rebuilding the pools on the same footprint? The PRPD indicated that it really did not even consider this option but got a rough estimate of $4,000,000 for the pools plus the $1,400,000 to expand the parking lot by cutting down trees and for flood relief around the pool area.

The negative comments regarding the pool from those who do not support a waterpark at Centennial have merit and are not being listened to by the PRPD board. These public meetings have been designed to give the board cover so they can say that a couple hundred people came to the two meetings and more spoke in favor of the plan than against-so lets build the waterpark.

But those people supporting the plan were drawn out to the meetings in part because the PRPD board sent out an email that basically said either we build this waterpark or we have no pool at Centennial at all.

The most frustrating aspect of this issue is that the PR taxpayers have voted “NO” on 4 previous occasions when asked via referendum if the PRPD should issue bonds and build a waterpark. Now that the board is using $800,000 in reserves and staying under the bonding amount required to go to referendum, they are essentially doing an end around the taxpayers and committing to a project that in total will cost over $10,000,000 without going to referendum.

While not against the having a pool at Centennial, our family has used it for the past 15 years or so, I am against the waste for an amenity that will only be used at most 90 days of the year. When resources for the major taxing authorities in PR come from the home owning taxpayer, a $10,000,000 plus waterpark is not a priority.

I did not take the time to read the other 9 comments, nor your “Editor’s Notes” after them. I am not commenting not in hopes of you changing your opinion. It is clear to me that you do not have an open mind on the issue of referenda and you never have.

I am commenting here only to voice my opinion that the voters of Park Ridge do have a “real voice” on this issue. We spoke at the polling place. That it apparently was not the voice you wanted to hear is irrelevant to me. We elected the Park Board to do a job. If we don’t like the choices they make in doing this job, we can speak up at meetings and/or vote them out. It’s really that simple.

Here are the facts:

1. There will not be a tax increase to re-do Centennial

2. Centennial needs to be closed or re-built

3. Making Centennial an attractive facility to a wider demographic is inherently a good thing.

4. Making the pool accessible to persons with disabilities or mobility issues is a good thing.

I have voiced my opinions to the Park Board on what changes I would like to see and now I am leaving it in their good and capable hands to implement the improvements to the park district, which is the job they were elected to do. We do NOT need to vote on this again.

EDITOR’S NOTE: None of these Board members ran for office on a platform of: “elect us to make any/every decision withot referendums, unless legally required”; or “replace Centennial Pools with an exclusively-outdoor aquatic facility usable only 3 months a year”; or “rely on surveys of 682 respondents for all decision-making.” We suspect that’s because even they know they would have lost, assuming they ran in a contested race – which several of them did not.

“1. There will not be a tax increase to re-do Centennial” is NOT a “fact, because it is an expression of future intent rather than something that has occurred.

“2. Centennial needs to be closed or re-built” MAY be a “fact,” although it doesn’t state WHEN; and none of these Board members ran for office on either proposition.

“3. Making Centennial an attractive facility to a wider demographic is inherently a good thing” is NOT a “fact” but an opinion or value judgment, unless you can propose objective criteria for determining what is meant by “a good thing” and how this particular project satisfies those criteria.

“4. Making the pool accessible to persons with disabilities or mobility issues is a good thing” also is NOT a “fact” but, once again, an opinion or value judgment that inherently involves an understanding of the costs thereof and the availability of alternative accommodating facilities.

But here’s a “fact” for you: If this project is put to advisory referendum, the vote totals will conclusively establish the project’s community-wide support in ways that nothing the PRRPD has done to date can even approximate.

Matt-if you think your property taxes will not go up as a result of redoing Centennial and contrusting a waterpark I believe that you are mistaken. The PRPD just raised our taxes at the November meeting. If they were not reissuing expiring bonds and not taking $800,000 out of reserve to build this waterpark-would they have had enough money to cover the ADA compliance requirements without raising the tax levy?

“The most frustrating aspect of this issue is that the PR taxpayers have voted “NO” on 4 previous occasions when asked via referendum if the PRPD should issue bonds and build a waterpark.”

People keep coming back to this. I just want to point out that the pools at Centennial have deteriorated considerably since the last referendum. Just because people voted “no” in previous years does not automatically mean they would vote “no” a fifth time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Which is why the Park Board should hold the referendum – and trust the voters instead of treating them like red-haired step-children.

I am all for the new pool. The voters will always vote no when it comes to spending money because the voting public as whole is ignorant. I am not saying that the voters have a low level of intellect or academic achievement, but rather I mean voters seem prone to making their choices based more on emotion than on a serious examination of the facts. That’s we elect people to study the issue and act on our behalf. I’m glad this not going to referendum and I say bravo to the Park Board.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anon, thanks for explaining to us how democracy sucks. Makes us wonder what all those dead white guys like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, et al. were thinking – King George III had a much better staff to study issues and make decisions.

Actually, we agree with you on one thing: we DO elect people like the Park Board folks “to study the issue and act on our behalf” to propose such a pool plan. Too bad you consider yourself too ignorant and emotional to vote yes/no on that plan, but the rest of the community isn’t.

Anon 3:27 pm, thank you. Earlier this evening I stopped by the meeting to make a comment, but unlike last week, I couldn’t stay for the whole meeting. Anyway, your points were quite similar to mine, both last week and this week.

Matt Coyne, thank *you* for signing your name, as I am doing. You and I both believe Centennial Pool should be repaired, perhaps even replaced. My issue with the plan is that it happens to cost exactly what the park district board is allowed to borrow; we haven’t seen a middle-sized plan that repairs/replaces what we have now.

As to the process, there has been a lot of whispering about NIMBYs. They have a right to speak up for themselves. Equally, the meeting (at least last week) was packed with SWIMBYs: People, recruited by the park district staff and/or board, who use the pools most frequently.

We use the pools frequently (live within sight of Hinckley) and agree Centennial should be repaired or replaced. I just don’t understand how the staff and board arrive at a choice between the $7.1 million, borrow-all-you-can plan and the demolish-it-now last resort.

If I understand this correctly, the park board doesn’t have to go to referendum on this project but could choose to do so. And even if it chose to do so and the project was voted down, the park board could still do the project as planned.

So unless the park board doesn’t care at all what a majority of voters might want or not want regarding this pool project (and, as you point out, they cared enough to spend money on a survey that got 682 responses), there should be no good reason for them not to go to referendum.

Am I missing something?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope, that’s it in a nutshell.

Has anyone looked at the impact of this project on the park itself. A very frequently used playground gets torn down, only to be rebuilt in a highly used pinic area that will be bulldozed. In order to accommodate this project trees and green space will be replaced by a parking lot. If the lazy river gets built more trees and green space get bulldozed. Let’s take green sapce and convert to concrete.

Lastly, the expenses are already beginning to grow. For example, I hope the Aquatics Manager is a part time position. If it is not than how does the PD justify her salary ? For 3/4 of the year she is only managing the pool in the community center. A center that alredy has a manager and assisstant manager. Somone is bulding an empire at our expense whether it be tax dollars or membership fees.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Friends: You actually seem to think that the PRRPD Board members actually care about coming up with the best possible project for the community – when all they are trying to do is come up with something the it can slide under its non-referendum debt cap.

Despots? Really? I thought they were elected officials making the decisions we elected them to make.

Excessive hyperbole is excessive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We reiterate that not one of these 7 commissioners sought election on the platform of replacing Centennial Pool with a $7.1 million aquatic center that will define that area of the park for the next 30-40-50 years, or in doing these kinds of projects without a referendum.

“Despots” is about as restrained as we can be in describing people who are so power-drunk that they basically are telling the taxpayers to pound sand.

How do you know the commissioners knew the pool would need to be replaced and at what cost before the last election?

EDITOR’S NOTE: They probably didn’t, but the point is that nobody elected them to do this project – or any other multimillion dollar project.

It would be difficult to imagine a more power-drunk individual than you are; or perhaps it’s thwarted power-lust that’s the problem. I do thank you for providing this forum; as a faithful daily reader I’ve never seen so many eloquent comments IN FAVOR of what the Park Board is doing. Apparently only you and a few other alumnium antennae-sporting conspiracy theorists see the Board as red-headed stepchildren in blackface. The situation is simple: Nobody campaigned on this because if it were not for you, it would be the non-issue it deserves to be. It’s a replacement with modest upgrades to keep current with the market; a replacement that, even if somebody would do a non-ADA-compliant exact replica, would still cost about $6.4 million, as I heard it. Versus $7 million to do it right. I can just imagine how you’d pillory the board if they took that penny-wise, pound-foolish route. It’s clear you’d like to spend less — or perhaps nothing at all since your kids are long gone and !
fellow feeling is a weakness, correct, Ayn my dear? The project will allow for a whopping extra 80 people to use it at one time, and also provide 81 more parking spaces. The board is empowered — yes, that’s the word — to authorize repair and replacement projects. I suggest you hie yourself to Tea Lula’s on Fairview; perhaps she will sell you a nice teapot for your tempest. As a fan, I must tell you you are beginning to embarrass yourself, whether you know it or not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Opinions vary, but the only “power” this blog and its editor might have is the power of the ideas that appear hear.

As we’ve written before, we favor an even more expensive aquatic facility at Centennial, but one that would be tied to the Community Center and be usable most/all of the year instead of this planned over-priced, third-rate facility that will only give the community 3 months of use (assuming perfect summer weather) but costing $7.1 million, of which $6.3 million is debt that will generate another $1 million-plus of interest expense over the next 15 years.

But as we’ve also consistently written, we would gladly accept the yea/nay decision of the voters on this boondoggle, but you and the Park Board cowards are too terrified of such a vote to call for it.

“Despots” Franklin quotes…settle down. It’s a local pool project.

The public OVERWHELMINGLY supports the board. You and your loud cronies have to stop ruining this town which is crumbling.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not just a “local pool project,” it’s local GOVERNMENT – albeit one dominated by cowardly despots, however minor they might be.

And too bad those cowardly despots don’t want to give “the public” the opportunity to show how “OVERWHELMINGLY” it supports that Board.

I Took time out to attend their meeting.
The photos show clearly that it’s leaking – badly.

Why not just replace the pool – period.
Forget the window dressing.

By the way, many I know will vote no for another property take hike on the 1st ward park deal.

Thank you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Taxpayer: In our opinion, the only thing the Board and the “I want”/”Gimme” crowd actually got right on this project is NOT replacing the current facility, as is/where is but updated to meet ADA and other requirements – because such facilities are reportedly not as popular as ones with zero-depth entry, lazy rivers, etc.

Nevertheless, we would’t object to a referendum on that idea, either, because this is a decision that will leave a significant imprint on that park for the next 30-40-50 years.


Can you please show me the information that supports your statement that “The public OVERWHELMINGLY supports the board”?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t hold your breath waiting.

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