Public Watchdog.org

Do “The People” Matter To Park Board, Staff?

12.19.12

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.” Thomas Jefferson.

For those of you who like your “rulers” feeding you amenities funded by the rest of us taxpayers, without us taxpayers having a real voice in the decision-making process, tomorrow night’s meeting of the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board of Commissioners meeting (7:30 p.m., Maine Leisure Center, 4801 Sibley) should warm your holiday hearts.

The Park Board is expected to pass its 2013 budget that will be financed with a 5.97% property tax levy increase, the highest increase of any of our local governmental bodies this year.  Although the Park Board and Staff will deny it, we’d bet a crisp new $1 bill that the District is trying to stockpile extra cash (in this case, an extra $354,100 next year alone) to cover the debt service for its new Centennial Pool project, thereby providing those officials with plausible deniability for their claim that the project will not increase taxes.

The Board also will be discussing its resolution to put its $14 million Youth Campus acquisition/development project referendum on the April 2013 ballot – but only because the District doesn’t have the non-referendum bonding power to do that project without bonding authority from the taxpayers via referendum.  Otherwise, you can be sure this bunch of Park Board members would be telling us no referendum was needed because: (a) they were elected to make these decisions; and (b) everybody wants the Youth Campus property turned into a park. 

Just like they’re doing with the Centennial Pool project.

Which is why there’s a resolution approving that project on tomorrow night’s agenda.  The Board and Staff desperately want to get that project locked up and under contract while most taxpayers are still distracted by the holidays and not paying attention to something that will cost over $7.1 million, require $6.3 million of 15-year bonded debt, and will only be usable 3 months of the year – and that won’t be on April’s ballot because the Board members are insisting that: (a) they were elected to make these decisions; and (b) everybody wants the new Centennial Pool plan. 

Most of these Board members insist they are so sure of popular support for the project that they don’t need a referendum to prove it.  Besides, they’ve already spent thousands of our tax dollars on a survey of 682 residents which confirms that the most desired new Park District capital project is…wait for it…restrooms in our parks.

That’s right: By a margin of 9% – 34% to 24.9% – real restrooms are more desired than the Centennial aquatic facility by those 682 survey respondents.

But this isn’t about what the residents want, otherwise the District would stop wasting time and money on surveys they disregard and go directly to The People via referendum. 

What this is about is giving a small special interest that has the ear of most Board members what it wants: a new outdoor aquatics facility at Centennial.  And it’s about giving those Board members a bronze plaque with their names on it.  And it’s about giving this executive director something to brag about at future parks and recreation conferences.  And it’s about the lack of integrity and outright cowardice of those Board and Staff members.

Lack of integrity?

Yep.  If those Board members (and the District’s executive director) truly believed that a majority of residents wanted this project, they would welcome an advisory referendum to prove it.  But they don’t believe that for a minute, which is why continuing to tell this particular big lie demonstrates their lack of integrity.

Outright cowardice?

Yep.  An advisory referendum isn’t binding, so the Board could go to referendum on this project, assess the results, and still do exactly what they want – while incurring whatever resident criticism and political backlash might come with such a decision.  But these cowards don’t have the courage to make that kind of decision.  So saying “no” to any referendum avoids that awkward situation.

No matter how many times they repeat their mantra that they were elected to make these kinds of decisions, they really weren’t.  They were elected to perform basic oversight of the bureaucrats and the ordinary operations of the District, including the preliminary work that brings us to the point where these kinds of decisions can be made – by the taxpayers, through a referendum vote. 

Nobody elected them to make a decision that will leave a substantial, indelible mark on this community for the next 30-40-50 years, as the new Centennial Pool will do; or that will burden the taxpayers of this community with multi-million dollar debt for the next 15 years.

That’s why the Board majority believes it needs to immediately authorize the Executive Director to sign a contract that locks the District into some major initial expenses for design and construction preparation.  That way, they can use such a contract and its costs to effectively foreclose the possibility that tomorrow night’s decision can be meaningfully reconsidered or reversed after the holidays, when the taxpayers start paying attention again.

When public officials lack integrity and courage, and don’t trust the people they were elected to represent, that kind of rush-to-judgment is an effective political strategy.

And a despicable abuse of government power.

To read or post comments, click on title.

17 comments so far

I don’t particularly care what they do with the Centennial Pool: replace it as is, replace it with the proposed plan, tie it to the Community Center with all-year features, or rip it out a la Oakton. But I agree with you that a decision this significant in the way of cost, debt and duration deserves a referendum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s pretty much our view, although we would prefer an all-year or indoor/outdoor facility to this 3-month version, assuming the taxpayers would vote to support a more attractive and usable version.

How do they unilaterally raise the levy 5.97%? I thought taxing bodies were limited to the lesser of the CPI increase and some floor….3%?

EDITOR’S NOTE: They might get capped out and not get the full boat increase, but that doesn’t stop them from asking for it – under what we understand to be an arcane local government concept of “capturing” new EAV or losing the cumulative effect going forward.

How about and indoor pool with a retractable roof like the modern day football stadiums?

Think that’s what you called those roofs that open and close.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A retractable roof is one way to get indoor/outdoor, but there are many less expensive ways, some of which are produced by the Berndorf Baderbau Group referenced in our 05.31.12 post.

Oh no you have it wrong, I believe the board has every intention on trying to make Park Ridge happy and Park Ridge matter, of course. By creating a new recreational facility can only benefit the city of Park Ridge and in hope to generate some revenue for the district for other needs as suggested. Obviously from the survey, majority was in favor of the Centennial project. Did the board actually spend money on the survey? I am not sure about that, but I know you can do excellent surveys online and they are free. In my opinioin, a very well, unbiased and thought out survey. If the funds are available to begin a new facility so be it let the wrecking ball swing. We all know that most facilities are in need of a major face lift. I do not agree the board is cowardly since the park board posted earnings, budget, and expenses in the middle of their winter catalog to inform the residents. They have held meetings to get feedback. Is it necessary to referendum a new facility for our families and children here in Park Ridge? Clearly the survey was in favor of the Centennial project. Our city could use something fun for our children, for our families, and for our guests who come to visit from out of state. I would be proud to take my family and guests to the new water recreational area, and I would feel proud and would rather spend money at Centennial then Mystic Waters or Flick pool. However, I do agree with you on the Youth Campus referendum since the idea is more recent, and not as clear to the residents what exactly they want to do with it. It is very clear when it comes to the Centennial project because the entire idea is about community and making it better, our Park Board cares and they make us matter.

EDITOR’S NOTE: From the sound of your comments, we’re guessing you’re a grape Kool-Aid kind of guy/gal.

Mike:

Here is what strikes me about your post. What motivates those who object to the project?? While there is dialogue about the “way they are doing this” (no referendum etc) I believe (and would bet you $1) that this is a tactic in towards their ultimate goal, which is to stop or dramaticaly REDUCE the scope of this project.

Do you thik the NIMBYs will be any happier with what would appear to be even a larger project with more covered and roofed in area?? Do you think the “green space” crowd will be happier? Most importantly, do you think those who do not want to spend the money for this project would want to spend the money for a project that will cost even more??

EDITOR’S NOTE: So why not take the speculation, belief, suspicion, etc. out of this project by putting this one – the one that the Park District has already invested time and money in – to referendum to see what the voters think of it. And if the Park Board doesn’t like that result, it can do the deal just the way they’re planning to do it – but with the kind of accountability that is provided by counted votes rather than opinion.

“Did the board actually spend money on the survey? I am not sure about that, but I know you can do excellent surveys online and they are free.”

Yes they spent money. It wasn’t an online survey but a pretty extensive one mailed to a sample of, I believe, several hundred PR residents. I know because my kids’ swim teacher told me about it back when it was in the works and I also was one of those who received one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We understand they spent several thousand dollars on the “Stantec” survey that got a whopping 682 responses, the largest percentage of which wanted bathrooms in the parks.

“It is very clear when it comes to the Centennial project because the entire idea is about community and making it better”

I think it’s clear that the Youth Campus project is also about community and making it better. Even if no amenities were added to the parcel of land, the green space is something we can never get back.

Unless you think a couple dozen new McMansions and all the related infrastructure investment and creation is a better solution.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At least the voters will get a chance to express what they thing about THAT project, unlike the Centennial Pool project that will serve as a 30-40-50 year monument to the tyranny of the minority.

Taxpayer with 5 kids-you won’t think a $10,500,000 outdoor waterpark that can be used at most 90 days of the year is so great when you start sending those 5 kids to college and you are trying to balance your household budget to cover the cost of higher education and ever higher and higher property taxes. A waterpark is a want not a need. Replace the aging pools with a scaled back project. The limited tax resources in this town need to be prioritized.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Everything you say is true. But the only issue that needs to be addressed here and now is: “Should the PRRPD issue $6.3 million of 15-year bonds to demolish the current Centennial Pools and replace them with with an aquatic facility substantially similar to the one proposed by the PRRPD, at a cost not to exceed $7.1 million?”

Regardless of the Property Tax bill and the 4.39% goes to the Park District, we are still getting a property tax increase in regards to the Uptown Tif…yes that’s right. So, my point is…The park district is being honest, not cowardly and they are forthcoming on all expenses, and what is supported by the property tax bill. You either like the Centennial Project or not but it doesn’t change the fact that all residents will be getting a tax hike. At least residents now have an idea of what and where the money is going when it comes to the Park District. I think that’s fair.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The cowardice of the Park District Board is in its lying about how the community supports this project but then being afraid to back up that big lie with a referendum to prove their point. Just another example of tyranny by a special-interest minority, furthered by our public officials’ abuse of power in depriving the voters of a true, unmistakable voice on this matter via the ballot box.

I would just like to say to “Taxpayer with 5 kids” that I, too, am a taxpayer, and I, too, have 5 children. Our family enjoys the pools. I’m in favor of repair and replace but not the proposed expansion that will max out the park district’s borrowing. I’m sympathetic to Public Watchdog’s rationale for a referendum, but more concerned that the park district board and staff commissioned only one option, and it *just* happened to cost the same as what the borrowing would allow. In other words, they not only propose to fund the project to its limit, but to build it right up to that same limit. We’re not seeing a proposal that simply repairs and replaces (up to current safety and regulatory standards, of course). Instead, they are telling the community “accept our plan or we’ll have to demolish this pool in the spring.” It’s a false choice. Similarly, when I went to last week’s hearing, Ms. Gayle Mountcastle waved off the search for a more modest proposal, saying “we are out of time.” My response — at the meeting — was that we should have been discussing this six months ago. Why do they keep trying to paint us into a corner?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because, as Rahm Emanuel is known for saying: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” So taking the current condition of Centennial Pools and manufacturing it into a life or death crisis furthers the cause of the Park Board members getting their names on a bronze plaque, the Director getting a new facility to brag about at P&R conferences, the pool designers starting off 2013 with a new contract, and the SWIMBY special interest having a new toy to play with/in. And the sooner the contracts get signed and the PRRPD gets financially locked-in to the deal, the less chance for reconsideration after the holidays.

The shame of the project is that it was decided long ago. These meetings were were just window dressing. There are two groups that have an interest in this project. The first group is the recreational pool user. With the way this was presented to the recreational users how could they not like it. (Especially after they were led to believe this was an all or nothing project). The second group is the taxpayer. Concerned about the initial cost and increased operating expenses why would any taxpayer want the increased burden, especially in this current environment. Isn’t interesting that no alternatives (other pool configurations and their associaterd costs) were given or presented to the public. Given that pool users are a subset of taxpayers who would the responsible board member side with. SO here’s the shocker. In speaking with a previous park board member he recalled attending a seminar at a Parks and Recreation Convention where the subject was how to get a pool project passed through. The seminar conducted by a pool consulting group listed a number of items that would ensure passage of the project. One item was keeping it off a ballot at any cost. Another item was make sure the voting for the project took place in late December. Why ? because people are distracted by the holidays and are not paying close attention. Also, withhold plans/intentions from the public as long as possible. In looking at how this all transpired, it looks like the the script was followed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a former Park Board member himself, this editor had a similar experience 15 years ago at the annual Illinois Association of Park District’s conference, where the speaker extolled the virtues of doing budgets and other financially problematic activities during the holiday season because nobody was paying attention. And, yes, the script was followed with this Centennial Pool plan – to what should be the enduring shame of the taxpayers’ representatives on the Park Board, were they not shameless.

Steve- Why would someone spend 5+ Million on a 1960’s style pool? I heard your speech at the Senior Center. I applaud you giving your voice, but I believe it’s short-sighted. There is a lot of cost built into the project that would be in replacing the exact footprint (I.E…replacing the AWFUL parking lot and sewer fixes…). That cost would come with both.

I say if you do a big project, you do it modern and you do it right. Next time you replace your TV, will you replace with a 27″ Zenith Tube TV, or a 50+” HD flat screen? Things modernize. Needs change. The cost difference between a modern pool and replacing the footprint are about $2 Million. If that lasts 40 years…then that’s around $1.35 /person/year (actually less since more revenue will be brought in by residents and non-residents).

Steve- Can we please have pride in our city? I applaud the Park Board for guts they’ve shown. BTW, Editor- You keep saying the majority is AGAINST this plan…you are completely wrong. Your small, loud circle is against it. The majority and the people that love our city are for the plan.

Again, let’s have some pride in our city.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Measuring “pride in our city” by an aquatic facility is about as shallow and pathetic as anything we’ve heard recently.

And we’d love to be proved wrong about what “[t]he majority of the people that love our city” want in the way of outdoor aquatic facilities at Centennial. Unfortunately, Mr/Ms Anonymous, our arrogant cowards on the Park Board are too terrified of a yes/no vote to approve the referendum that would prove it.

“The majority and the people that love our city are for the plan.”? Then put it up for referendum.

We all can make sweeping generalizations as well but when it comes to spending ~$7million on a luxury item used 3 months out of the year, it *SHOULD* be voted on by the entire city

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly right, Mike. And that’s not even mentioning the 30-50 year expected life of this particular “investment” – which actually reduces the value of the land.

Mike- A pool in our city is a luxury? We have an average family income of 108k. Our unemployment rate is lower than our neighbors. It’s widely recognized that the pools are failing.
This is an opportunity for improvement…or to continue the path of Park Ridge to sliding downward.

RT- a little hyperbolic don’t you think? I don’t think Jefferson was talking about suburban govt.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For somebody who writes that “Park Ridge is sliding downward,” you can’t criticize anyone else for being “hyperbolic.” And you’re probably right: suburban government is based on the political philosophy of Dr. Seuss.

The constant refrain about pools being used only 3 months a year has got to stop. Towns all over the world that aren’t located in tropical locations have outdoor pools so that people can take advantage of the nice weather while it lasts. Are they ALL foolish and wrong for providing seasonal amenities to their residents? Come on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, they are ALL foolish and wrong for sinking that much money into minimal use facilities – UNLESS their taxpayers prove they want it through a referendum, which is all we’ve been asking for.

With a few rare exceptions (e.g., Great America, which charges an arm and a leg), only GOVERNMENT is stupid enough to build these facilities because only GOVERNMENT can get away with making bad financial decisions and dumping the consequences on taxpayers.

Dear Mr. Anonymous: Thanks for your anonymous response. I’m less thankful for your attempt to portray my point of view as something dating back to the 1960s. If you were really at both meetings, and heard my remarks, then you would have heard me clarify that I didn’t propose turning back the clock. I did propose a more fiscally responsible set of alternatives. Clearly the park district board wanted to borrow and spend up to the limit of their authority.

As for your anonymous remark that I should have pride in my city…well, I’ve lived in Park Ridge for nine years and care about it enough to contribute my POV, my time, and energy — and even sign my actual name to an online forum.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we’ve said before, public officials’ showing “pride” in their city by abusing their power and spending multi-millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money without a referendum is a pathetic perversion of this country’s founding principles.

I was upset about the pool. Real upset. And I started checking around and noticed that this man was hired to work at the Park District in 2011 with just being arrested on a Heroin charge:

http://www.justmugshots.com/illinois/chicago/1711326

Notice the last name? This kind of crap has to stop. I found this on ACCIDENT. How much more is there?

EDITOR’S NOTE: First, we don’t put a lot of stock in some website calling itself “justmugshots.com.” Second, assuming mugshots-R-us is a credible source of this information, it reflects only an arrest, not a conviction – so unless you want to dispense with the fundamental right of innocent until proven guilty (suspected terrorists being held at Gitmo excepted), where’s the conviction? Third, where is your proof that this fellow was ever employed by the PRRPD? And fourth, where is your proof that he is in any way related to the former PRRPD executive director and was the beneficiary of clout in gaining his unproved employment with the PRRPD?



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