Former Plainfield Parks Employee Appointed to Ottawa City Council

Landscape architect James Less reportedly resigned. According to park officials, the planning department will be eliminated.

Credit: File photo
Credit: File photo
Former Plainfield Park District landscape architect James Less, who reportedly resigned just before New Year's, already has a new gig.

Less, 37, was appointed to the Ottawa city council on Thursday, following the death of commissioner of public health Ed Whitney, according to the Ottawa Times.

Less ran against Whitney in 2011 and received praise from the incumbent city council member, according to the paper, which quoted Whitney as saying, "I think he ran a good campaign. He's a good, intelligent kid. I think in the future he will be a very good candidate."

According to the Times, Less is an Ottawa native and has served on the city's Tree Board, Plan Commission and Playground and Recreation Board.

"Being a landscape architect and having a planning background I feel I have a good understanding of what that plan is trying to accomplish and what it's going to do," Less told the Times. Click here to read the full article.

On Dec. 30, the Plainfield Park District issued a press release announcing that Less and Superintendent of Planning/Assistant Executive Director Cameron Bettin had resigned. No reason for the resignations was given.

In the release, Executive Director Garrett Peck said the positions would not be filled, and that planning department duties would be contracted out to a third party. According to Commissioner Larry Newton, Naperville-based Hitchcock design will be used as a consultant for planning projects.

Stella Reese January 11, 2014 at 01:20 PM
Let's be clear about the cart and the horse here: Garrett Peck did away with the planning department (an interesting maneuver in one of the state's biggest park districts, at a time when everyone expects the building boom will soon resume, and in-house planners will be really needed) BEFORE Cameron and James 'resigned.' After doing superb work for the district for years, these planners no longer had a place to work. They had no choice.
Vicky Polito January 11, 2014 at 11:49 PM
I’m happy that Mr. Less has landed on his feet. Congrats to him. I want to run some math: Two full time staff amounts to 4160 hours a year. It was costing the district around $245K a year, all inclusive, to employee the very experienced, educated, and skilled Cam Bettin and James Less. That’s an hourly cost of about 60 bucks. Peck says that consultants will handle 25% of those hours the rest being assigned within the new but not fully disclosed Parks and Project Mgt dept. So, if you multiply a quarter of those hours by the low-ball hourly rate of $125 paid to consultants like Hitchcock Design Group (and, some get double that rate), you get about 1040 hours by $125 per and that’s $130,000—or, more than half of what having Bettin and Less lead the way in planning cost us. Don’t worry though, after the first 80 hours or $10K, Peck will seek board approval to spend more! Gee, do you think the board will give up that extra $120,000 or so? Who is staffing this new PPM dept and what are their qualifications? Who is able and will do the remaining 3120 hours of work a year? Will it end up being Hitchcock or some other consulting firm? Still, since it seems that Peck and the board majority lead by Hurtado only want to do what will bleed the district to death and the dead don’t eat much, how much staff or consultants will we need? Peck said recently that the district has no projects planned for 2014, so we don’t need a planning dept. It is extra-special stupid to think that in a park district all you have to worry about is the next calendar year. It’s also ironic since when cooking up his contract with his hunting buddy Hurtado, Peck planned four years out. Peck also said that Hitchcock could help write grants for state funds. Grants to do WHAT? There are no plans to DO anything in the district this year or for the years after, so what money is PTPD going to apply for? And grant writers get paid either a flat fee or a percentage of grant money awarded. At least when Cam Bettin or any staffer wrote successful grant apps ALL the grant money went to the district.
joan husarik January 12, 2014 at 07:15 AM
Thank you Vicky, for spelling out some very DISCOURAGING math. We are stuck with a bad decision here, I'm afraid.
Anita Gerardy January 12, 2014 at 08:24 AM
Thank you James for all you have done for us. You will be missed beyond words. AG
Alice Norelco January 12, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Vicki is correct, it makes no sense to save the Park District $125,000.00 per year by outsourcing two positions at the Park District that have no purpose. What did these people do on a day to day basis? What were their department goals, did they obtain them?... and how did they save me $ on my taxes? It also makes no sense that the Park District saved over $100,000.00 on the employees health insurance. Commissioner Newton should resign his position for voting in favor of this. Why would we want to save money for the taxpayers? Government should be inefficient and overspend without reason. They should have taken Michelle Kelly's recommendation and also raised taxes just because "they can". Or her husband's reckless accusation that the Naperville Park District staff take bribes from the Toro vendor. They should start subsidizing anti-psychotic drugs for most of these bloggers. Maybe the village can just add it to the water and raise my water rate again! Thanks Margie Bonuchi, Jim Racich, Bill Lamb, and Mike Collins. Or maybe a program that teaches them to get a life because clearly they have none. The peanut gallery is just as crazy as the Park Board and their new staff.
Alice Norelco January 12, 2014 at 12:05 PM
Maybe the Park District can also hire a $120,000.00 per year administrative assistant like the Fire District has as well? Or they can have a contest who has the highest paid staff that get better benefits and salaries than the private sector??? They have Peckerhead beat by a few thousand dollars.
camaro1 January 13, 2014 at 09:08 PM
Eyes on Government, why would we need to outsource 2 jobs if they had no purpose? Seems to me if they had no purpose then there would be no need to outsource their work, right. You don't even seem to know what they did so how can you justify their elimination and consider outsourcing a savings?
Grandpamike January 13, 2014 at 09:13 PM
You know, that all of the conversation here regarding the PPD and the officials that are running it is not really worth the back and forth, While I agree mostly what Vicky and others here have articulated, but at the end of the day, the people elected this group and will have to reap what they have sown, until they are out of office, and whatever ,alleged misdeeds they have accomplished while in office can be undone. Maybe voters will be a little more circumspect in the future and do some investigating the candidates more thoroughly.
camaro1 January 13, 2014 at 09:15 PM
Mr. Peck makes $110,000 + 5000.00 in a retirement plan and talk about some one with no experience at doing a job but still making all the drastic changes with hiring friends while getting rid of qualified people at the park district.
Vicky Polito January 13, 2014 at 10:16 PM
The total compensation for Peck as exec director is $152,000 a year, before adding in any educational costs as per the 3-4 year contract Hurtado and he built. That base salary of $110,000 also goes up automatically each year by 4%-6% without any sort of merit or performance evaluation. And, yes, I completely understand and agree that the next couple of election cycles, 2015 and 2017, are key to fixing this problem. But, there's no reason not to speak out and look for other impacts to have as citizens until we vote. Part of being an informed voter comes from information and opinion flowing over time, neighbor to neighbor, and documenting things is helpful.
J. Hagen January 17, 2014 at 11:24 AM
Is there any way to recall rather than waiting to vote the problems out?
Vicky Polito January 17, 2014 at 11:59 AM
To my knowledge, no. A growing group of people in the community were talking about petitioning to put a referendum on the ballot sooner to allow recall of commissioners, but—and this is my educated and experienced guess—the board majority of Hurtado, Silosky, and Steinys along with Peck reacted to this by using their ability to put what are called “back door” referendums on the March ballot to block any citizen effort. See, they put three non-binding and vague (read: meaningless) referendums up for March (dog park fee question; term limit question; indoor sports facility question) and since the Illinois election code says that there can only be a maximum of three referendums on a ballot regarding one entity (this is called the “rule of 3”), they hogged up the spaces. It just occurred to me that this is very like the game tic-tac-toe, where you place an X or O to block, a la “Hollywood Squares! (I’m old.) Interestingly, while they swore up and down that term-limits were good because it let voters clean house of people they felt weren’t doing a good job in their elected roles, they denied that adding recall to that would be an even greater tool for the residents to address bad players. Wonder why they thing THAT? Part of the difficulty is that for citizens to place a referendum on a ballot is more effort (although, it’s not at all hard work, just more work), whereas all the board majority had to do was vote to do it, so it is just easier for them to take that action. Further, these are NON-BINDING, so all they amount to is poorly sampled survey questions, no action can come of them. But, the meter is running and more opportunity for the citizens to prevail will come along.
J. Hagen January 17, 2014 at 12:49 PM
So we are stuck with this awful mess that grows worse every day? Are there any officials above this that can take any sort of action?
Vicky Polito January 17, 2014 at 01:23 PM
I’ve been told several times that there is no other elected official who has authority over this, BUT: There is such a thing as critical mass and momentum and if enough people make their views known, concretely, then that builds those things as elections come up and in case something happens before an election that would allow a faster remedy. I encourage anyone with something to say to write to this park board, to the village board, to the IL state reps like Bertino-Tarrant, to the IL reps like Tom Cross, etc. Whoever you want to speak to, speak to them. It’s your right. Come to meetings, both park district and village board meetings, and if you have any comment to make, make it. Similarly, you can reach out to any local media you want. Further, you can contact the Attorney General’s office (and the Public Access Counselor therein) with complaints or issues, particularly regarding any denial of a FOIA request or any Open Meetings Act violation you think may have occurred. Contrary to those who would rather the people shut up, it doesn’t always matter if your specific complaint is not found to be actionable, it matters that people don’t accept defeat before even trying. You can go to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office, too. Bottom line, whether another government tier can weigh in or not aside, any and every American can speak up and ask any questions they have by any legal means they see fit about what happens in their community, their public entities, and with their tax money. Sometimes it’s all about building the case. Or, as someone I know says, sometimes things take the time and effort they take, not the time and effort you’re willing to give them.


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