Let's start by stating that this newspaper is all in favor of local government bodies being active participants in national organizations which further their missions. More specifically, we are fans of the Forest Park Park District sending representatives of its top staff and its board to the annual convention of the National Recreation and Park Association.
Such meetings, commonly held in attractive destinations such as Reno, are an important chance to network with colleagues doing similar work in other places. It is a chance to meet directly with vendors plying products that could be of interest to our park district in the future. This year, that important demonstration may have been of a new spray park, say park officials. These conferences are also a good way for staff members to keep up with their continuing education requirements.
In other words, we get it.
It is a worthy place for the park district to allocate funding every single year.
The issue is how much funding for how many people.
This year the park board made a serious misjudgment when it sent its top two administrators and the entire five member board to the five day conference in Reno. That is serious and unjustifiable overkill. That is $12,000 gone. It should never happen again. Two administrators and two board members selected on a rotating basis? Seems reasonable to us.
Beyond the initial misjudgment, we are seriously troubled by the rationalization the board has put forward for why this was an affordable trip. Simply, they say, the district had the money because of a new $20,000 annual payment received by the parks for leasing park space to a billboard company. That money, say officials, is earmarked for an education fund and is not tax money.
Hooey. It's tax money. There is no line to be drawn between property tax money, pool receipts, billboard payments or the profits from the concession stand. These are all the resources the park board is entrusted with by voters to manage in the very best interest of the parks.
Our parks have scrimped by for a number of years and finally went to the voters last year to pass a much needed referendum. Now, as voters are just starting to ante up that extra property tax, it is insulting to watch the park board justify a spending error by suggesting they have a stash of play money to throw around.
Education is good. In this case moderation is better.