Cathy McDermott and Marcy Wozniak, two of the five candidates for the Forest Park Park District election, appeared before approximately 30 people at a forum organized by Citizens United for Forest Park (CUinFP), on March 15, at Garfield Elementary School.

The candidates debated the issues surrounding this year’s heated race before a mostly friendly crowd.

The other three candidates, Mary Buckley, Michael Espinoza and Roy Sansone, were offered the opportunity to submit opening statements and to return their candidate questionnaires for distribution, but all declined, said forum organizers.

“Too often people vote without actual knowledge of their candidates and wind up disappointed,” Wozniak said, praising the organization for organizing the forum.

Both McDermott and Wozniak emphasized their personal histories.

McDermott is a former park district board member who said she wants to renew her involvement in Forest Park “at the policy making level.” 

Wozniak became active in local politics out of concerns about the Roos redevelopment project and said she has also been involved with the park district in multiple ways, including as an aerobics instructor.

“I started attending meetings and became a founding member of CUinFP,” she said.  Both McDermott and Wozniak want to bring more diversity and fiscal responsibility to the park district.

“The Park is the jewel of our community,” McDermott said. “The park board continues to spend beyond its needs.”

McDermott promised attendees that, as a commissioner, she is going to demand a balanced budget and eliminate wasteful junkets, citing a $12,000 trip for the entire park board to a national conference in Reno as an example of these junkets.

“It is totally unreal for the park board to make taxpayers pay for [the seven person professional development trip to Reno],” McDermott said. “I have no idea what they were thinking given the whole financial

Wozniak agreed, saying training is a necessity but stating they could have sent one person and had them come back and train the rest of the commissioners.

McDermott said she also plans to build adequate financial reserves for the park.

If serious budget cuts need to be made, McDermott said she would look to the support staff first and foremost.

For her, the question is a little more vague.  She said she would begin to look for cuts by “making sure you are utilizing old equipment and evaluating old contracts.

Demonstrating they have similar policies and issues, both candidates said they favored trying new ideas so that the park district can better reflect the changing needs and desires of the Forest Park community.

“I would like to see more programs for families in the evening and for the single population,” Wozniak said.  “Using the athletic field, putting up a movie screen and showing movies, or bicycle parades. Activities involving food festivals or the pool to get more people out.”

For her part, McDermott would like to see diverse programs that don’t cost the district an “arm and a leg.”

They both made a point of saying, however, that the budget is constrained and it will be unlikely there will be any new projects that require big expenditures by the park district.

When faced with the difficult question of eliminating the basketball fields and replacing them with a skate park, both candidates said they would prefer to hold off on that project.

“I am concerned that we are spending an awful lot of money to address a small group of people,” McDermott said. “I would hate to see the courts close.”

“There are other places we could find to build those, the problem is there is no funding,” Wozniak said. During the question and answer session that followed the opening statements, one member of the audience questioned park Executive Director Dave Novak’s continued role in the park and asked if the director had been there too long.

Wozniak said the “programs run well” but she wants “new programs”. She said she was “not in a position to evaluate [Novak’s performance]”.

McDermott agreed, adding that the board should revisit the director’s performance on an annual basis. She also expressed that the board has a responsibility to “motivate the director.”

Another issue the candidates’ addressed is the community’s concern with the soccer fields, which seem, to bystanders, to always be locked and inaccessible.

“The reason the field is locked, is to prevent vandalism,” Wozniak said. She added that she has met with Novak and discussed the possibility of having the field remain open after school and then re-closing the gate at dinner time.

McDermott agreed, saying the problem with the field is one of perception.

“It looks like a gated [field]; the way it stands now, if kids want to use it, they have to find a maintenance person.”

They also talked about the possible relocation of the YMCA to Forest Park and the possible extension of the Prairie Path through Forest Park.

Both dismissed the idea that the Y could cause a potential problem for the park by diverting attendance.

“There are indoor pool people and outdoor pool people,” McDermott said.

Wozniak said she envisions a year-round pass as a partnership with the Y to help diffuse any potential problems.

“[The Prairie Path] is something the community has been working on,” McDermott said. “If the money was available the park should jump on it.”

Finally, both candidates expressed concerns about making board meetings more accessible to handicapped persons and said it was unrealistic to try to overhaul the existing building to make it accessible.

Instead, they offered to try to move meetings to a handicapped accessible location.

For these candidates the bottom line is simple: Wozniak wants to concentrate on land acquisition.

“And I’m going to balance the budget so she can acquire some land,” McDermott concluded.

The candidates fielded questions from a panel comprised of long-time residents Tim Condon, vice president of Lender Support Systems; Catherine Ditto, former member of the West Suburban Special Recreation Association; and David Stromberg, a consultant.