Last week we reported that the Park District of Forest Park spent close to $13,000 of taxpayer money over the past 16 months on luxuries. We’ve since heard from plenty of readers who are troubled and offended by the spending.
We hope the park’s board and employees hear the clear message and change their policies on travel and entertainment.
The country’s economic recession is technically over, but the rippling effects are still being felt in many places. This is true for Forest Park’s local government, which has seen a steady decline in revenues over the last three years; it’s true for many Forest Parkers, who are living more frugally than they did a few years ago; and it’s definitely true for the park district – newly elected President Sam Alonzo said so.
Alonzo told the Forest Park Review that, due to the poor economy, the park board closely monitors what it spends. If that’s so, how can it justify buying a $1,389 dinner at a gourmet restaurant like Tavern on Rush with public money? Or, throwing a $2,803 party at The Grotto in Oak Brook that board member Cathy McDermott conceded was “extravagant”? Or, spending thousands annually to send too many people to conferences?
“I have never been able to afford to eat in those places,” Adam Schauer, a Forest Parker, wrote in a Web comment responding to the Review’s story last week. “My taxes are going to pay so they can?”
Taxpayers who had supported the tax hike to acquire the Roos building were especially frustrated. “We voted for the Roos project. I spent time and money at fundraisers for it,” wrote a reader who went by “Jan.” “My money is not to be spent taking people out partying because they had a rough year. Give us a break!”
The park district needs to understand how this plays to local taxpayers, many who paid a small portion of the aforementioned tabs and who might not have the luxury to eat at places like Tavern on Rush or Lawry’s – two of the more expensive restaurants in Chicago.
Another issue is the amount of money spent on hotel bills for conferences. It’s a good thing for an organization as insular as the Park District of Forest Park is to get out and network with other parks, politicians and equipment distributors at conferences; but at what cost? And how often? How many members need to go?
Since January 2010, park district officials attended at least four conferences and spent thousands on hotel rooms. While it’s true that the most worthwhile networking happens over drinks after the conference ends, park reps could have done that without purchasing seven hotel rooms at the Hilton in Chicago this January for $2,033.
Park board members are, we trust, well intentioned. After all, it’s a volunteer position. Executive Director Larry Piekarz is a very likeable guy. But these were boneheaded decisions, not “justified expenses” as McDermott said. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
“Thank you to the Review for publishing this information,” Kari Smith wrote.
You’re welcome, Kari. After all it’s your money; you should know where it’s being spent.