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.


Bad News Bears February 16, 2014 at 03:42 PM
You are exactly right Tim. It would have made it to the ballot and the Board Majority knew it would. And MC - I will not express appreciation for the mayor. Many people (not myself) have been looking to him for guidance. These are his constituents. If he wants to stay out of it, or wants more time to "reflect", he should have made that clear. Instead he said he doesn't respond to "cloaked" messages. That's his message. PERIOD. His statement says all I'll ever need to know about him. Many people have taken a stance, even though they have no control over what happens at the PPD. Whatever their reasons for taking the stance, I respect them for voicing it. The mayor should have weighed in. It's what his constituents wanted, and he should have listened. You can appreciate him, that's completely your right. However, his silence has lost him my respect and my vote; both of which have no signature
Frank February 16, 2014 at 03:51 PM
Mr. Cross deemed the situation "a case of extreme abuse." Ms. Bertino-Tarrant deemed it "an abuse of power." The residents have been blatantly disregarded and disrespected and it's on film. The township has cast a unanimous vote of no confidence. There is pending legislation in Springfield to address the issue. These facts being recognized, the Mayor is still "thinking about it?" That's kinda hard to grasp, MC, although I hope you're right. I got a feeling this ain't gonna blow over, folks. There's nothing more to think about.
Ericus Alanas February 16, 2014 at 03:56 PM
Whats he trying to articulate, its not like hes re-writing a constitution, a 5th grader could make an educated response in a timely matter faster than him.
Tim February 16, 2014 at 03:57 PM
I propose a solution(yes, I know. How strange of me)... Seeing as the mayor does not want to involve himself in this issue, the correct move to make would be to appoint a NON-partisan committee to decide who the village appoints. However, I can not stress the 'non-partisan part of that enough. That means if you are now or have ever been an active member of ANY local political party, PTRO or otherwise, you are not on the commission. At the moment, it looks like Plainfield is going to have the majority of the appointments(or at least more than one), and this presents an opportunity to do this correctly this time around. We have to recognize we made a horrible mistake(vocalizing it or not), and take the steps needed to correct that. Mayor, we can't change the past, we can only make sure we identify the problems, and make sure to not do them again. So I implore you, seeing as you don't want to be involved in this now, please take the steps needed to make sure you aren't involved in the selection process either.
originalrbl February 16, 2014 at 05:00 PM
i agree with kathy-recall option legislation would make more sense but would that be a constitutional convention issue? upping board members to 7 or 9 should a Plainfield park district referendum issue not Springfield sticking their nose in when they can't even handle legitimate State issues. But to enable an elected official from 1 taxing entity to be able to make an appointment to another taxing entity's board doesn't even seem constitutional. Why not have Joliet mayor appoint Plainfield school district board members when Joliet residents are unhappy with #202? Cresthill mayor appoint Plainfield Township board members if it's residents are unhappy with PT board action. Heck why stop there- just make it statewide that any mayor whose boundaries overlap another taxing entity to be able to appoint board members to that board whenever voters are unhappy with electees. Maybe voters start needing to pay attention to whom they vote for-Oh wait that would require due diligence before voting!! Problem is shaking itself out
Bad News Bears February 16, 2014 at 05:22 PM
@originalrbl - like I said, a recall was in the works but the Board Majority found a way to block it. Is this legislation the best for the residents of Plainfield? Probably not. What would be best is for the Board Majority to step down instead of spending our tax dollars on patronage jobs, ways to suppress public opinion, etc. However, I'm grateful that Rep. Cross and Sen. Bertino-Tarrant did SOMETHING since the next election for these 3 are years away. And this goes beyond being unhappy with the electees. They ran unopposed after getting others kicked off the ballot and then did nothing they said they were going to do. Instead started firing people, hiring their friends and family, and spending our tax dollars on highly unethical (possibly illegal) things. I pay attention who I vote for, as many of us do. This was a planned takeover of our Park District and thankfully did not go ignored as so often it does
Frank February 16, 2014 at 05:56 PM
Original, the towns PSD202 serves already pay taxes to the district and have a say in it. This is no different. The REAL solution is the immediate resignation of the problems before this legislation passes. Until then, this is the only viable option and I applaud Mr. Cross & Ms. Bertino-Tarrant for being concerned enough to take the time to move it.
Kathy rios February 16, 2014 at 08:05 PM
I can't applaud this legislation. I have always believed in my voice as a registered voter. This seems to undermine the voting public.
my conscience February 16, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Tim, thanks for that link - but I wasn't referring to the findings of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. I think everyone, including the mayor, probably knows about that incident.
Frank February 16, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Not as much as the PTPD board did, Kathy.
Mary Ludemann February 16, 2014 at 08:29 PM
It is very sad that this board majority won't step down even after all the calls for them to do so. That is why I support this legislation. Does it seem extreme that the state has to step in and fix a local problem? Yes, but this local problem does not have a local fix in sight until the first member of this board majority comes up for reelection in 2017. If this board majority could cause so much turmoil in 8 months imagine what they could accomplish in 3 more years. Thank you to everyone in the community for standing up to this board majority.
Frank February 16, 2014 at 08:31 PM
I can feel it in my bones that a false, fabricated firestorm of criticism for the efforts of our leadership to fix this situation is about to erupt. I'm not falling for it. Beware of false prophets.
Frank February 16, 2014 at 08:32 PM
Last ditch efforts to save a ship that's already sunk.
Bad News Bears February 16, 2014 at 08:35 PM
MC - Tim provided that link in response to you saying that neither peck nor hurtado has been found of any wrong doing. Breaking Illinois Labor Laws is definately wrong doing, I think we can all agree on that. And just because everyone knows about it, doesn't make it any less relevant. That's the first "wrong doing" found. I have it on very good authority you'll hear about alot more "wrong doings" and pretty soon too
Mary Ludemann February 16, 2014 at 08:37 PM
With this legislation the newly appointed board members would serve a 2 year term and then those new seats would be up for election at that time and going forward. The legislation as proposed will most likely be amended to also allow an appointment from Joliet and Bolingbrook or Crest Hill. This would allow for the 4 newly appointed board members to each come from a different area of our park district.
Frank February 16, 2014 at 09:02 PM
The biggest thing to remember, @Kathy rios, is that none of these people were actually "elected." They ran unopposed because they tactically undermined the voting public itself, then began to wreak havoc. The voice of the registered voters was never heard, it was silenced. This is why this board needs to be temporarily diluted, to bring some semblance of order to the circus. If you cannot comprehend this, you are very, VERY late to this movie.
Mary Ludemann February 16, 2014 at 09:54 PM
It is very sad that this board majority won't step down even after all the calls for them to do so. That is why I support this legislation. Does it seem extreme that the state has to step in and fix a local problem? Yes, but this local problem does not have a local fix in sight until the first member of this board majority comes up for reelection in 2017. If this board majority could cause so much turmoil in 8 months imagine what they could accomplish in 3 more years. Thank you to everyone in the community for standing up to this board majority.
Frank February 16, 2014 at 10:13 PM
Mary, if I were to go out on a limb and speculate, It'd be my guess that the issues may be far more deep seated, far worse and far more damning than any of us imagine, in order to cause our State Representative and State Senator to step in. Bear in mind that an investigation has also allegedly been opened up by the Attorney General and the Will County State's Attorney. I think we in the peanut gallery only know what's on the surface. These folks should do themselves a favor and bow out now. This thing ain't going away and it most certainly isn't getting any better, easier or prettier over time.
Vicky Polito February 17, 2014 at 01:47 AM
This solution, while not perfect and certainly sad to see necessary, seems reasonable and workable to the benefit of the residents as well as the district staff and the board. Many of us have been making a case to both Rep. Cross and Sen. Bertino-Tarrant that they need to help us, to do something. Well, they have done something, done what they can do given the tools they have, if it can pass the legislature. That part is still a decent sized "if", really. The appointments are only the starter, to effect the change fairly quickly (which still won’t be instantaneous) without the expense of a special election. After that, elections will kick in. I think having a recall option would be worth pursuing for the future, but right now that would take just as long if not longer to implement and may not actually give us any better results. I mean that: does a recall gain us any more sound a solution than this one, given the severity of the problem? I bet not. I also don't see the current climate for this action boding well for any mayor trying to slip in a "bad" appointment. If Hurtado, Silosky, and Steinys resign, this legislation may not come to pass, of course. Lastly, like others, I’ve been thinking a lot about the families of these three: one of Peter Hurtado’s daughters, Samantha, is a trustee on our library board and she’s at least tangentially involved in the Solis LED lights scandal so this is already bad for her and I promise (and regret) it will only get worse; Steinys has had nothing but negative publicity for about a year and a half, from his thuggish behavior over campaign signs up through his bungling of being on this board, and now he’s got one daughter’s husband in the mix; and Silosky just looks like someone’s puppet or dupe, flip-flopping, making no sense and just generally being in the way, sometimes while being rude and vicious. (I read in the Herald-News her quote about this legislation. Stop talking!). Back in the summer I said that it must have been awful to be in their orbit, to be associated with them, but it’s gotten, and will get, so much worse. I believe these three don’t care about the general public and they are delusional about their own images, but how can they be so uncaring of their spouses and kids? And, while I’ve got the page, have either Doug Booth or Jim Cullen (Steinys’ son-in-law) been told to find jobs someplace else, yet? If not, why not? Those two are both easily and readily replaceable with existing staff at the PTPD.
Jimmy Parks February 17, 2014 at 09:12 AM
Here's a question to Poker-Pete, the self-appointed thug and dial-up internet speed Janet, if you are SOOOOOO in favor of what the legislation would do for the park district, why are you three so incredibly rude and ignorant to everyone at the park district meetings? You NEVER answer questions and don't do a thing. Just go, and make it very far away. Jamey, at this point, I believe their table has been given to others! No restaurant would want these idiots in there!
itsmeray February 17, 2014 at 11:21 AM
And when the mayors use the opportunity to make politically motivated appointments that a portion of us don't like, then what? I personally find this proposal frightening. Illinois politicians appointing more Illinois politicians without the vote of the people. Bad idea.
Vicky Polito February 17, 2014 at 03:12 PM
itsmeray--I think there is so much heat on this issue that the mayors involved will not burn themselves by appointing anyone that the majority of the public will reject. There is NO benefit to any mayor in doing that. Whether much has been publicly said about it or not, the mayors of the surrounding towns are not supporters of or happy about what's been happening in the PTPD and they aren't going to make it worse. These appointments would only be in place for two years before they, like any other candidate, would have to go through the ballot box to keep their seats on the PTPD board. This is, after all, exactly what would happen should any board member vacate a board seat for any reason: the existing board--elected officials--appoint a person to fill the seat until the next election. We just don't have a system wherein we hold a special election for every open seat on every tier of government, so interim appointments are common and generally work just fine. Many good people serve via appointment.
Frank February 17, 2014 at 04:21 PM
Every municipality that is served by PTPD is as agitated with this situation as we are and want it fixed as much as we do. Trust me, they WON'T appoint someone with anything other than the best of intentions, because that's not in their best interest. Those appointed will have to do what's best and in the residents best interest if they want to be reelected. If they don't, they can be tossed by the voters in 2 years, which is MUCH sooner than our present bad eggs can be tossed. We can't lose with this. At best, problem fixed; at worst, problem fixed 2 years sooner than we can fix it now. Win-win all the way.
Bad News Bears February 17, 2014 at 05:48 PM
There's one question I haven't heard voiced yet ...... what political person in their right mind would actually want this appointment? I can't see anyone running for office, now or in the future, wanting to be attached to this debacle. I'm thinking only concerned residents would even take such an appointment
Larry Newton February 17, 2014 at 07:38 PM
BNB, we're not talking about Blago appointing Rolland Burris. We're talking about a local government that is universally liked (save for a couple of leaders).
Bad News Bears February 17, 2014 at 08:03 PM
Larry, I completely understand that and thanks again for the laugh. My question was more rhetorical. Seeing as there seems to be some staff issues that have lately arose (the Board Majority friends/family plan and the hiring of a permanent ED), there is quite the quagmire to trudge through here. The cleanup process could bring it's own controversies. I'm kinda playing devil's advocate. Some people seem to think this is may turn into a fortuitous circumstance for the Mayor or others. I personally don't think anyone is jumping up and down with their hand up saying "Oooooh oooooh, pick me".
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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