Public Watchdog.org

Our Endorsements For Park Ridge Park District Board

04.03.17

For many years the Park Ridge Park District has had the highest number of contested races, and this year is no exception.

First-term incumbents Joan Bende and Jim Phillips appear to be running on an unofficial “slate” with newcomers Carol Becker and Laurie Pegler Mallin for four seats on the 7-member Park Board. Phillips, in a March 24 letter to the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, claims that those four are the true “Friends of the Parks” – running against alleged “Republican candidates” while identifying only Jim O’Donnell, former Republican candidate for State Senator, by name.

For us, Phillips’ – and his running mates’ – philosophy of government is captured in Phillips’ minimizing the District’s recent tax increase as “the amount added to the typical property tax bill this year is $3.42, the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks!” Politicians who demean tax increases in that fashion rarely have any respect for the taxpayers or the money taken from those taxpayers.

That was demonstrated four years ago when Bende and Phillips also ran on an unofficial “slate” with then-incumbent Steven Vile – billed as “The Last Three” because of their ballot positions. Their major issue then was support of private corporation Senior Services Inc. and its efforts to walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars bequeathed to what was then known as the Senior Center, which they used to form their own short-lived senior club in Niles.

Vile lost his bid, but Bende and Phillips did not. And, not surprisingly, during the past four years they have consistently voted for annual property tax increases, voted against competitive bidding, and voted against repeal of the District’s policy of freebie uses and memberships of District facilities by Board members, and have regularly blanched at the mere thought that the Park District can be operated somewhat like a business.

Yet the Park District is the unit of local government best suited to operating on a business model.

It is both the smallest, budget-wise, and least essential of our four units of local government: Its 2017 budget of $22 million is less than 1/3 that of either the City or Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, and less than 1/6 that of Maine Twp. High School District 207. And most, if not all, of its facilities and services are amenities – albeit desirable ones – rather than necessities like police, sewer, water, or education.

Unfortunately, there were no debates (or “forums,” for those gentle souls like the League of Women Voters who view debates as too harsh and adversarial, if not downright traumatic) for the Park Board candidates. That prevented the Bende/Phllips/Becker/Mallin “slate” from having to answer hard questions about the costs and cost-effectiveness of their cause celebre this time around: The GoGreen “natural” method of grass, tree and plant management.

But from information about the candidates – available primarily from the March 9 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Q&A with eight candidates running for the Park Ridge Park District Board”) and Facebook– we believe the best choices for filling the four Park Board vacancies are first-time Park Board candidates who (in alphabetical order) favor a more business-oriented approach to District operations: Harmony Harrington, Jim Janek, Bob Leach and Jim O’Donnell.

Harrington is an attorney and lobbyist, which makes her the candidate best-suited to pursue the private partnerships and grants she believes can supplement the property taxes and user fees now funding the Park District. She believes that “a healthy park district needs to operate like a business, use market-based principles yet maintain affordable access. While we all pay our share of taxes – 5% of our City of Park Ridge tax bill goes to the Park District – those taxes cannot cover all Park District amenities. Hence, the reliance on market-based user fees is essential.”

She also believes that “for major capital projects outside our current means, public referendum is a very important component.” Exactly right!

Janak is running with O’Donnell. Both of them favor voter input, via referendum, as a condition of any tax levy increase. That novel idea means that the Park Board would need to anticipate its revenue requirements and levy on a two-year basis to correspond to the odd-year local election calendar, unless the District wished to also utilize the even-year primary and general election calendar. That might mean more work for the Board and staff, but it would also ensure more thought than currently goes into the moronic “Use It Or Lose It” reflexive increases favored by Bende and Phillips, which would also mean greater taxpayer scrutiny and accountability.

They also realize that the competition from other recreation and fitness vendors like the new Fitness Formula Club (“FFC”) only a few blocks from the District’s Centennial Fitness Center (f/k/a the “Community Center”) requires that the District be more circumspect about the strengths and weaknesses of its facilities and programs.

Interestingly enough, Leach favors a two-year strategic plan – of a more readily understandable 20 pages instead of the current 331 pages – which would fit neatly into Janek’s and O’Donnell’s levy referendum process the he also supports. He wants the District to focus on improving the quality and value of those programs our residents actually want or need instead of trying to be all things to all people.

Harrington, Janak, Leach and O’Donnell deserve a shot at making the District a better value for all of our residents.

To read or post comments, click on title.

2 comments so far

I didn’t know you had an editorial board. Who is helping you with your picks? Could it be “Char” the person with no last name that sent out the “Republican” slate in a nonpartisan election funded by PAC money? Her choices seem to mirror your own. Or maybe somebody from the Liberty Principals PAC who helped fund challenges to many of the candidates you didn’t endorse. Or maybe someone from the Cook County Integrity PAC that felt they needed to pat for a mailing for O’Donnell and Janak for Park Board. Or maybe the person behind the robocalls against Bende and Phillips for Park Board. Somebody surely is worried about this race. So in the spirit of HITA- inquiring minds want to know who is the “our” in “our endorsements”? And how is using PAC money from out of towners transparent or full of integrity?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Several people who, like yourself, prefer to remain anonymous but who are Park Ridge residents actively involved in local government as other community activities.

If candidates aren’t “worried about this race” then they probably don’t care enough to be elected.

The “transparent” part is that even somebody like you knows that it’s “PAC money,” perhaps even from “out of towners.”

I think that the competition that has opened down the street will eventually effect the Community Center and their business model. Right now the Park District seems to be in very good financial shape based. It seems that the Community Center is going to start to face some headwinds in keeping members from leaving (mostly in the late teens through twenties age group).

Time will tell.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That was the exact point Jim O’Donnell made in the H-A interview of the candidates (03.09.17): “The opening of FFC…presents a competitive threat to our Centennial Fitness Center.”



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