Five vie for two seats on park board

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By MELISSA LOU

While some elections are running almost uncontested this year, the park board race is heating up with five candidates filing for the two eligible spots on the board.

The two incumbents are Michael A. Espinosa, who is wrapping up his first term, and Roy J. Sansone, who was appointed last January. They are facing challenges from three women, Mary P. Buckley, Cathleen McDermott and Marcella "Marcy" Wozniak.

Both McDermott, a former park board member, and Wozniak said they are running because they would like to bring more fiscal responsibility and diversity to the board.

"I believe before I was elected in 1989 there was only one female park commissioner and since that time it has been myself and [one other woman] so it is a long time in coming," said McDermott, who served as a park commissioner from 1989 to 1999. "I don't want to say it is the old boys' club, but it is very odd nowadays to see an all-male commission."

"Diversity is a good thing," Wozniak said. "Whenever you can get diversity in any of the boards, it is good."

For McDermott, who works in real estate, the main issues are the budget and finance. She said her job training as a budget negotiator has helped prepare her for the challenges of being on this commission.

McDermott plans to focus on The Park's expected influx of tax dollars.

"This increase is due to the tax rate referendum they passed in 2003. What I am concerned with is that this money is spent wisely and responsibly," she said.

McDermott said she worked hard to help pass the referendum and was furious when she learned the Park District director and assistant director went to a national convention last year.

"I didn't work to pass this referendum, so they could go to a national convention. Is that a wise use of money? I didn't think so when I was on the board, and I don't agree with it now," she said.

Likewise, business experience is key for Wozniak, a recruiter and independent contractor. "I have owned my own business, so I understand budgets, fiscal responsibility and problem-solving," she said.

"I think that it is something all of the commissioners as well as the director need to think about going forward because we are going to be coming into some money," Wozniak said.

Wozniak has been a volunteer at the park for many years. She has worked at the teen center and points to this involvement as one of her strongest selling points.

"Knowing some of the issues, I think, makes me a good candidate whereas somebody who hasn't been involved is coming in blind," she said.

As a commissioner, she hopes to work on the future of The Park.

"They have new issues every year: providing places for [the kids] to be entertained, what to do about the pool and whether or not they continue with having other communities utilize the pool; coming up with more programs and moving forward," Wozniak said.

For her part, McDermott hopes to influence how the board deals with the town's new developments.

"Although the park and village are separate taxing bodies, I believe the actions of one affect the actions of the other. Like it or not, Forest Park's experience of growth in residential development translates into more real estate tax money, increased revenues and user fees. On the other hand, it also means potential added expense to accommodate the influx of new users, parking issues, etc.," McDermott said.

For her, The Park needs to take a proactive stand in dealing with new development.

She cites The Park's stance on the Roos project as a case in which the current board "missed the boat."

"This development is going to affect them for the next four years. They should have been in there negotiating to get some kind of concession," she said. "With the potential for maybe some Environmental Protection Act issues, The Park could have requested that they tent the construction area to keep debris away from their participants."

For Buckley, whose husband Larry P. Buckley is the Superintendent of Parks, the board is an opportunity to give back to her community and to a Park District that has played a major role in her life.

"I am originally from Chicago," said Buckley, who lost a daughter after moving to Forest Park. "After Elsa died, Dave Novak [Park District director] and the park board went around and did a collection for medical bills. I have never forgotten how wonderful they were for me. Through the years of being with Larry, I have known all the board members, and they have been wonderful."

"I care deeply about everybody who works at The Park," Buckley said. "I love these people, and I love The Park, and I love what Forest Park has meant to me over these past 14 years."

"I don't know what ideas I could come up with, but I would like to have my chance. I care more," Buckley said.

She added that her role as commissioner would not be influenced by or affect her husband's work.

"I would have nothing to do with Larry at work. As a commissioner, Dave would report to me, and I would discuss things with Dave. I don't see a conflict at all," she said.

McDermott disagrees.

"I know it is legal, but if she is successful there is definitely a conflict of interest," McDermott said. "As a commissioner, your job is to set policy, and she would be setting policy that affects her husband. She would have to recuse herself; so the question is how effective is she going to be?"

Regardless of the issues, all three women agree on one thing: They aren't running against any candidate in particular; they are all running for a chance to be on the board.

"I have got a lot of things to bring to the table," Wozniak said. "New perspectives. I am not running against Roy or Mike. I am running for a slot in the park board."

A lottery will be held Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. to determine the order of the candidates on the ballot for the April 5 election.

Sansone and Espinosa were not available for comment.

•The following candidates have filed for two six-year terms on the Park Board:
Michael A. Espinosa (Incumbent)
Roy J. Sansone (Incumbent)
Cathleen McDermott
Marcella "Marcy" Wozniak
Mary P. Buckley

•The following candidates have filed for positions on the D91 Board of Education:
Lawrence "Larry" P. Buckley, Jr. (Incumbent)
Marilyn Garapolo (Incumbent)
Lois L. Bugajsky (Incumbent)
Allen P. Bloedel (Incumbent)
Charles E. Marinier
 "compiled by Melissa Lou

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