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Legislation an 'Attempt to Bring Sanity Back' to Plainfield Park District: Cross

Bill would allow mayors of Plainfield, Romeoville and possibly Joliet to have a say in who serves on the board.

Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and State Rep. Tom Cross are sponsoring legislation to expand the Plainfield park board. Credit: File photo
Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and State Rep. Tom Cross are sponsoring legislation to expand the Plainfield park board. Credit: File photo
Amid accusations of unethical behavior and nepotism on the Plainfield Park District Board of Commissioners, State Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, are proposing a solution: Make the board bigger.

On Friday, Cross announced he is sponsoring legislation that would increase the board from five to nine members, while Bertino-Tarrant will sponsor a similar bill in the Senate.

The proposals come after months of controversy and calls for the resignations of board board majority members Peter Hurtado, Janet Silosky and Peter Steinys.

The four new members would be appointed by mayors of the towns served by the park district, and would serve an initial two-year term. After that, the four spots would be elected. 

"It still allows for the election process, but it allows the community's voice to be heard via appointments," Bertino-Tarrant said. Both Cross and Bertino-Tarrant said they hope to push the legislation through as quickly as possible, and that if it passes, the four new board members would have to be appointed within six months.


Since a new board was seated in May, community members have spoken up, expressing anger at the park board for decisions including ousting Cameron Bettin and hiring Plainfield village trustee Garrett Peck as park district executive director. Both Bettin and Peck have since resigned, but in recent weeks, residents and even elected officials have called upon the board majority to resign.

Cross, who is running for state treasurer, said constituents have been voicing concerns about the park board for months.

"The very first hire they made for the executive director was a political hire," Cross said. "[Peck] had absolutely no experience."

Voters also complained about the board's perceived hostility to residents, Cross said, adding the board majority "had an unwillingness, many times, to even let the public engage in asking questions. ... Jennifer and I had numerous people ask, 'What are you going to do about it?' At the end of the day, we felt like the best approach was to expand the board."

Under the proposal, the four new members would be appointed by municipal officials. As written, that would mean Plainfield Mayor Mike Collins and Romeoville Mayor John Noak, although Cross said he's working on a fix that could give Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante a say, too.

"It was an oversight on my part," Cross said, adding that changes could also be made to account for the fact that small portions of Bolingbrook and Crest Hill are served by the Plainfield Park District.

'An isolated case of extreme abuse'

"It's an attempt to bring some sanity back to the Plainfield Park District," Cross said of the bill, acknowledging that it's rare for legislation to so specifically target a governing body.

"This is an isolated case of extreme abuse," he said, "of people abusing their power. It's an aberration, I hope."

He said no other park districts fall under the parameters outlined in the bill, which states that the law would apply to a park district "if that park district serves a population within at least 2, but no more than 4, municipalities and serves within a county with a population greater than 100,000 but less than 200,000."   

Bertino-Tarrant — who ran against former park district executive director Peck in her Senate bid — agreed the legislation is out of the ordinary.

"This is a very unique situation and it's not something we take lightly," she said, adding the recent developments at the park district have "really saddened me."

"It has hurt a community," she said. "It has tainted the image of elected officials. I spoke to numerous employees and constituents and they basically felt their hands have been tied."

Board members, officials react

Plainfield mayor Collins said he spoke to Cross prior to legislation.

"I'm in agreement that we need to increase the number of board members," he said, but added, "We have to wait to see if the [bill] passes."

Asked about his feelings regarding the recent goings-on at the park district, Collins would only comment, "The board is going to have to work together." Referring to online comments criticizing him for not taking a stand on park district-related issues, he said the critiques were coming from "cloaked individuals."

"It's like getting a letter of complaint without a signature," Collins said. "You don't respond to it."

Commissioner Mary Ludemann said she's all in favor of adding new members to the mix.

"I'm very excited that hopefully this legislation will pass ... so this board majority can't continue to push everything through they way they have been for the past eight months," Ludemann said, noting that while Hurtado's term expires in 2017, Steinys and Silosky will serve until 2019.

"My fear is that the current board majority, they're not going to step down," she said. "That's a long time."

Commissioner Larry Newton said he also likes the legislation.

"I'm glad he's proposing a solution to the problem," Newton said. "I wish there was something that could effect a change quicker," he added, saying it's unclear how long it could take for the bill to pass.

Newton also said he's grateful to Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood), for sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.

Board president Hurtado did not immediately respond to a message from Patch on Friday.

"I think there are probably a couple on the board that will like [the bill] and there are a couple that won't like it," Cross said when asked if he'd discussed the proposal with current park board members.

Mark Batinick, who is running for Cross' current state representative seat, also applauded the bill.

"As a Plainfield resident, father and soccer coach who uses our local parks regularly, I was appalled at the actions of certain members of our park board.  Certain members of the park board acted in irresponsible and callous ways that deteriorated trust and jeopardized taxpayer dollars," Batinick said in a statement Friday. " I am in complete support of Representative Cross' legislation to restore accountability and responsibility to our park board--it is a solution to the problem and I hope it can move quickly through the legislative process."

Click here to read the full text of the bill.

Related:

Larry Newton February 17, 2014 at 09:32 PM
I will go out on a limb and say that I won't vote to approve anyone to serve out a Commissioner's term or someone to serve as our next E.D. who doesn't believe that we need to have a house cleaning, in a sense.
Joel Craig February 18, 2014 at 12:40 PM
Larry said: "BNB, we're not talking about Blago appointing Rolland Burris..." Tic-tac-toe Pete tried to sell his own light bulbs to the District. Don't put it past him to try and sell a seat on the Board :-)
itsmeray February 19, 2014 at 03:01 PM
Vicki -- Thanks for your polite response unfortunately based on your comments and the comments of some others after my post it appears, at least to me, that you still have some faith in the folks currently in the offices who would be making these appointments and the people accepting the appointments to do the right thing. I personally, at least as far as Illinois politics goes, do not, and would like to see the same house cleaning everyone wants with PPD across the entire state. Any politician in any office in Illinois who can sit there and say that this is an embarrassment needs to remember the old adage about glass houses. Especially Tom Cross. I would go one step further and say that in my opinion it would be a fair statement to compare the current state of affairs in Illinois and how we are viewed nationally to the current state of the PPD and how it is viewed statewide. Both are equally in need of some return to sanity.
Tim February 19, 2014 at 04:34 PM
itsmeray - there are good politicians in Illinois. Sure, there aren't many of them, but they do exist. On the local level, many of them do look out for something other than themselves. I have had a local county board member come out to my house to discuss an issue I raised over email. He didn't just have his staff sent a 'thank you for your concern' email, he came out and sat down with me and talked about it for half an hour. This wasn't even during an election year. THAT is what a true politician does. Luckily, he is still serving in a public capacity in the area. The aberration at the local level in the PTPD is just that, an aberration. While this little group has its fingers in many other local governing bodies, they do not have a board majority in any of them, and that is why it hasn't spiraled out of control in those government bodies. Make no mistake, they are certainly TRYING to get a majority in many other boards(village, library, township, etc), so I see this as a good thing in the long term that it has finally 'woken up the sleeping bear' so to speak. Their poorly organized attempt to take over local governments has been put to a halt, permanently. The local republican group has shown its true colors, no matter how much they try to deny it, this is what they actually want. They don't 'hate government', they just hate not being the ones in control of it. Don't get me wrong, I have no animosity to republicans over democrats, but it is a fact as plain as day that this fiasco is a direct result of the local republican organization. It isn't about their politics, it is about their agenda, and on a local level they have pretty much ended themselves by still supporting these people to this day. Tom Cross on the other hand has been a great asset to the area. Don't vote for the party, vote for the person. Just be glad that none of these clowns were able to win their bids for state office(Hurtado, Silosky, peck). The residents of Plainfield and the surrounding community put a stop to them getting to the state level to mess things up. So while you may not like what is currently in office...look what the voters rejected. This circus could have been happening in their state senate/representative seats, instead of just the local park district. The voting residents are on the right path, for the most part.

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