During its monthly meeting in February, the park board voted to send Larry Piekarz, the executive director, and Commissioner Sam Alonzo to Washington D.C. for two reasons. One was to attend a parks and recreation conference. The other was to lobby for federal dollars intended for the reconstruction of the Roos building. It was a trip that Alonzo called “crucial.”
Piekarz and Alonzo said they spent nearly a week in D.C. in March speaking with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7), U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinksi (D-3), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). The pair used a park debit card paid for by local tax dollars to cover hotel costs, dining tabs and airfare; and statements indicate costs for the trip to D.C. came to roughly $3,000.
Piekarz and Alonzo charged $2,738 to the card to cover their lodging at the Grand Hyatt in downtown D.C. during the trip.
The park reps also used the debit card to pay for meals at three gourmet restaurants in D.C: $194 at Bobby Vann’s Grill, a steakhouse; $90 at the District Chop House; and $134 at McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant.
Alonzo, who was elected board president last week, said that he and Piekarz took Lipinksi and other legislators out to dinner to discuss the park’s need for federal dollars none of which are available to the park. Not so, said Nathaniel Zimmer, a Lipinski spokesperson.
“No one from the office had dinner with anyone from the park district,” Zimmer said.
Furthermore, he said Lipinski never even met with Piekarz or Alonzo; instead the two spoke with a staffer at the congressman’s D.C. office. Alonzo did not return calls for clarity on the matter, but Piekarz did and said that he and Alonzo only met with Linpiski “briefly.” Piekarz suggested it was possible that the congressman did not recall the visit, and noted that he and Alonzo mostly spoke with a Lipinski staffer who was present.
The offices of the other elected officials did not confirm any meetings or dinners with either Piekarz or Alonzo.
“We were successful in that we talked to them and they know what we need…so that we know when money comes available they’ll say, ‘Oh, that park district needs it,'” Alonzo said.
“The legislators, I’m sure they prefer these types of places,” he added, when asked about the restaurant tabs.
Alonzo said the trip was “crucial” even though the park district was not directly pledged any money.
Commissioner Cathy McDermott was the only board member to vote against sending both Alonzo and Piekarz to D.C.; she said she felt only one should have gone.