Plainfield Park District to Fight Labor Board Ruling

Earlier this month, the park district was ordered to reinstate an employee who was allegedly fired in retaliation for union activity.

Labor attorney Dave Miller speaks at the Jan. 24 special park board meeting. Credit: Shannon Antinori
Labor attorney Dave Miller speaks at the Jan. 24 special park board meeting. Credit: Shannon Antinori
Garrett Peck may have resigned, but the Plainfield Park District must still deal with a legal issue that arose during his time as executive director.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Labor Relations Board issued a ruling finding that the board violated the public labor act when maintenance staffer Joel Schumaker was disciplined by Peck, then ultimately fired, allegedly in retaliation for talking to coworkers about unionizing. Peck and then-Superintendent of Parks Gene Coldwater were also accused of interrogating Schumaker and coworker John Nickl about their union activity. 

On Friday — a day after Peck resigned — park district labor attorney Dave Miller said he plans to appeal the ruling, which came after he failed to reply to a complaint filed by AFSCME Council 31 by a Dec. 17, 2013, deadline. Miller works for law firm Rock Fusco & Connelly, which was hired by the park board in August to represent the district regarding labor issues.

Though the ruling came Jan. 9, Miller said he received it on Jan. 13. He believed the 15-day deadline meant business days, not calendar days.

"My calculation was based on 15 business days — Dec. 23," Miller said during a Friday night special board meeting. "That was an error. I discovered that error on Dec. 23."

Miller's subsequent motion for a six-day extension was denied, and the park district was found to be in violation of the act. Earlier this month, the labor board ordered the park district to offer Schumaker full reinstatement with backpay.

On Friday, Miller said he has one month from the date he received it — Jan. 13 — to appeal the ruling. He wouldn't comment on what the next steps will be, should the appeal be accepted.

Coldwater named interim director

Meeting for the first time since Peck's departure, the board voted unanimously to make Coldwater the interim executive director.

"The key word is interim," park commissioner Larry Newton said. He said the board has yet to determine how it will conduct a search for a new director.

"We have all kinds of things to consider," he said. "It's strictly short term, strictly interim," he said of appointing Coldwater, who was promoted to assistant executive director just days before Peck's resignation.

The board also voted 5-0 to remove Peck, who remains a Plainfield village trustee, as board secretary. 

'We need you to resign'

The meeting was a rare showing of consensus among board members, but it wasn't entirely without contention. 

Peck's resignation on Thursday capped off months of controversy that began when he was hired in May, and Cameron Bettin — who was originally slated to replace retiring executive director Greg Bott — was demoted.

During the public comment period on Friday, two residents spoke up, urging board members Peter Hurtado, Janet Silosky and Peter Steinys — responsible for hiring Peck — to resign.

Resident Jamey Alwood targeted board president Hurtado.

"You, sir, have wrecked lives," he said. "You have ruined careers. And for what? For what reason? ... We need you to resign."

Alwood quoted statements Hurtado made to Patch in which he called for transparency, public involvement and "broad consensus."

"I agree the board should form a consensus — but I think that you, Mr. Hurtado, should follow Mr. Peck," he said. " ... We need you to resign, and we need you to do it right now so we can begin to repair the reputation of this park district," he said, referring to the search for a new director. "What kind of candidate would want to work for a board that is so dysfunctional?"

Newton and fellow commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann, who have been vocal critics of decisions made by the board majority, were hesitant to say whether they also believe the trio should step down.

"They created this situation since May," Ludemann did note. 

Newton agreed. 

"They got the executive director they wanted — look what happened," he said, but added, "it's hard to say [they should resign] now because we're in serious negotiations about the future."

Newton said the board will discuss how to proceed with a search for a new director at its next regular meeting, set for 6 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Plainfield Township building, 22525 W. Lockport St.


Plainfield Independent January 25, 2014 at 12:44 PM
TAI and Mayhem - The problem extends politically beyond the park district. There are some who are working "behind the scenes" about this. Working behind the scenes is not the way you build the public trust. It only creates more and more suspicion. Changes need to be made at the township, school board, village board, and attention needs to be given to this March primary. It is important to know the associations (outside the park district) that have led to this mess.
Penny Wharvey January 25, 2014 at 12:45 PM
Hurtado guotes during his recent Senate campaign: "The new 42nd District is closer to what I believe," said Hurtado, a small-business owner and Plainfield Park District commissioner who was born in Peru. "A lot of Hispanics live in the Aurora area and I think I have a lot of roots there. So that's why I'm running in that district." Hurtado criticized state budgeting practices and said he would be "more fiscally responsible" than Holmes and "more involved in the community." He said the state has a spending problem that can be fixed by budgeting with hard numbers instead of revenue assumptions and by removing "stupid spending." http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20121009/news/710099727/
Penny Wharvey January 25, 2014 at 12:51 PM
Silosky quotes during her recent State Representative campaign(s): “Control has to stay in the community, where officials have to stay in touch with electors,” she said. “When they’re local, they’re accountable.” “The voters in the 98th District elected someone last year they thought would be a new voice for the residents, but what did they get? Nothing different, that’s for sure,” she said. “I am running for the same reason I got involved five years ago - so that that the voice of an ordinary woman could and would be heard.”
Mayhem January 25, 2014 at 01:06 PM
Plainfield Independent- I agree with you 100%. This is why it is so important to keep the momentum going, keep the pressure on, and spread the word. I hope people are talking to all of their neighbors.
Plainfield Independent January 25, 2014 at 01:14 PM
I believe in my Village, I love my Village. But in believing in this Village I also believe as a citizen you must be vigiliant. You must hold the government's feet to the fire. That's what I like doing - question my government, question why they do things, and question people in the government and keep them honest!
Tim January 25, 2014 at 01:27 PM
@PI - It's just clowns being clowns. When the editor has the time to review all the comments they have flagged, I'm sure they will return. It's a weekend, and she deserves time off more than anyone. Check back later, and I'm sure they will be back up.
Plainfield Independent January 25, 2014 at 02:41 PM
Tim - It'd be interesting to see a timeline of events attempting to suppress free speech and in my opinion ways to intimidate the public from participation to include suing patch posters, making new public comment policies, sign up sheets and recording devices one on one, ejecting citizens from meetings, posting FOIA responses and costs online, press releases indicating there's possibly harassing behavior by a small group, cutting off communications with media because of comment policies, this labor complaint, etc.
dan mchugh January 25, 2014 at 02:53 PM
So let me get this straight. This attorney who screwed up is now going to spend TAXPAYERS money to fight a fight he had the chance to fight and let the park district down. The fact is they put time limits on cases all the time if this attorney screwed up let the district sue him for malpractice. The fact that they hired him means he must have had some experience fighting labor board violation's . Which I would think he would have or should have known when the case time constraints be dealt with. SUE HIM FOR THE LOSS!!!! Let the employee have his job back and if they want to unionize LET THEM......
Bill Thoman January 25, 2014 at 03:10 PM
The law firm needs to be terminated. Any law firm dealing in a particular area of law knows the timelines by heart. What a feeble excuse! Now I am really starting to get ticked at the continued waste of our tax money. I agree with Dan.
Joel Craig January 25, 2014 at 03:41 PM
The law firm is only going to do what it's directed to do. Most likely, that direction is coming from either your new 'interim' director (who got us in this mess in the first place) or the Board President (and we all know what he's done up to this point). So, who's the one who's really to blame for needlessly stretching this thing out and wasting more money? As an aside, it's a shame that after all these years, some employees felt that conditions within the District necessitated union protection and collective bargaining. Another direct result of the Gang of 3 and their hire of an unqualified disaster of a director.
Think About It January 25, 2014 at 03:43 PM
Vicky Polito January 25, 2014 at 03:58 PM
Just an FYI sparked by TAI's petition comment--I and several other people in the community will be arranging open, free seminars in the coming months to allow anyone interested to come and hear from a representative of the Citizen's Advocacy Center on all the how-to's and where-for's of ballot composition, particularly HOW to correctly both gather signatures for putting a person or referendum on a ballot in Will County AND for how to be prepared to defend any challenges to those petitions (important because some challenges purposely come late in the process to limit the time the petitioner has to answer the challenges). PLEASE WATCH THE PATCH, OTHER MEDIA, AND IF YOU WANT TO BE NOTIFIED OF THIS SEMINAR/WORKSHOP HAPPENING, SEND AN EMAIL to me at radical4plainfield@gmail.com, with the words "Ballot Petitions" anywhere in the subject line. I promise your email will not be used for any other messages if you do not wish it to be. If you send a msg with a subject including "Ballot Petitions" and DO want to be on a general mailing list for local park district and general government activism information, just say that in the body of the message and in that case PLEASE provide your name, address, and phone number if at all possible so that we may develop and maintain a true list of interested citizens, without duplicates, etc. Thanks much.
joe January 25, 2014 at 04:16 PM
Hey kids, good news. You don't have to go to California or Florida any more to go to Disney Land. We have it right here in Plainfield. It's brought to you by our Park District Leadership, MR. Goofy, Mr. Daffy, and Mr. Dumbo. Yeaaaaa!!
Ericus Alanas January 25, 2014 at 06:40 PM
Obviously the law firm messed up. Just sue them for bad representation. Any person in business know when days are declared confirmation is key on the specifics. Usually what good lawyers do.
Mark Murphy January 25, 2014 at 08:29 PM
Most Employer's know you just don't mess with someone trying to unionize. Another big waste of taxpayer's money trying to fight the ruling. Has anyone at the park district or their lawyer's know of the National Labor Relations Act? It specifically protects those who try to organize. Remember the movie many years ago with what's her name that also played the "Flying Nun" A waste of our money, hope the guy files a law suit!
Lisa S. January 25, 2014 at 09:37 PM
What competent labor attorney doesn't already know the state's definition of "15 days"? Appeal is ridiculous... and the PPD should not pay one dime to continue the fight- if the attorney wants to pursue it they should do it at no cost because of their malpractice!
drez January 25, 2014 at 10:00 PM
Wow, way to support free speech, all you haters. As I said earlier the Board majority needs to stand up to the pro-union hacks and fight this ruling on behalf of those of us in this community who work hard and already pay way too much in taxes!
Rose DelRose January 25, 2014 at 10:16 PM
Can a vote of no confidence be used to get anyone out of the park district? Could it be used to get peck off as a village trustee? We moved to Plainfield in June and these "clowns" need to go.
Rose DelRose January 25, 2014 at 10:18 PM
Out should be off
Tim January 25, 2014 at 10:58 PM
Someone thinks 'freedom of speech' seems to mean 'you must all agree with me'. Where have we heard that line of thinking before... hmmmmm...
Vicky Polito January 25, 2014 at 11:40 PM
No, Rose D, for the park district no such mechanism exists (although there are other more drastic measures per the IL park code that mean actually dissolving the park district and rebuilding from ground zero--that's nothing anyone I've heard so far feels ready to do). I don't know about the village board, I'd have to research that. I do know that at the very least you can come to the next regular village board meeting (Monday, Feb 3rd, 7p in Village Hall, 2nd floor) and make a public comment if you choose. Someone else on The Patch opened up the top of requesting the board censure Peck. Censure does NOT remove anyone from any board or limit their participation, it is just an official resolution and statement of reprimand and condemnation, used mostly so a board can be on record as not supporting the actions of a given member. But, it is a serious action and it does affect, without a doubt, that person's ability to continue to run successfully in elections, etc.
Joe Schmo January 26, 2014 at 12:45 AM
As far as I know Plainfield Park District employees have never tried to unionize before. This obviously was a result of the Peck Silosky Hurtado and Steinys coming in like gangbusters scaring the District’s employees about losing their jobs. Employees don't try to unionize unless there are some issues in the organization
Jofield Joker January 26, 2014 at 09:14 AM
Hey Drez, have you been paying attention? This "tax saving" board is costing the tax payers more money. By fighting the unions illegally Peck and Coldwater cost us money. I wonder if we could compare the cost of having unionized employees at the Park District with the costs of paying the lawyers and having to pay employees back pay (plus interest). Now we are going to spend more money on lawyers to appeal this. Joe Schmo makes a great point. Pay and treat your employees well and they won't unionize. A happy employee is a productive employee. The purpose of the board is to make sure our money is being spent smartly. The three majority members are not doing a very good job in that respect.
Mayhem January 26, 2014 at 09:45 AM
Drez- Regardless of your feelings about unions, the guy lost his job because Peck felt threatened. This is a no win situation for the District. They will NEVER WIN. Why in the hell would you want more taxpayer money to be thrown out the window. Would you be jacking your jaw like you are if it were you in this guys position? No, you wouldn't.
Robert Betzwiser January 26, 2014 at 11:32 AM
The firm could be a joke, just as the board majority. Quite possible they stand to make more money fighting the uphill battle? Hopefully they will decide not to fight this ruleing. One of the ( fab four ) friends with this firm? If so this would amount to a pork barrel project.
Bad News Bears January 26, 2014 at 12:21 PM
I'm not always pro-union, but I'm definately pro-treating your employees right. And if staff at the PTPD felt that unionizing was the way to go, it's their right as Americans to do so without risk of losing their jobs. And disagreeing with someone is not suppressing free speech. Flagging comments you don't agree with is #LearnYourFirstAmendmentBeforeSpewingFalsehoods
Dan B January 27, 2014 at 12:55 PM
Vicky, I've said it before. Please run. You are a very knowledgeable person with alot of good sound reasoning. We need people like you instead of the Terrible Three.
Plainfield Independent January 27, 2014 at 01:30 PM
Dan B - I think Vicky would do the park district very well. Please be aware the problem is in more places than just the park district. There's other elected officials than just "three" that need to be held accountable. Who was the group that endorsed the park district candidates in the last election? Pay attention to the upcoming primary and to other local elected boards. Village board, township board, library board, school district, park district.
Vicky Polito January 27, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Dan B, I know myself and I know that I don't have the skill set or ambitions necessary to be either a candidate or an elected public servant. A few people are being very kind to even suggest I could run, but I already have work I love doing. Again, you do NOT have to be a politician, a candidate, or an office holder to work hard in your community and have a good impact on it! I love being an ordinary citizen.
Frank January 27, 2014 at 09:53 PM
PI is right. There is a need to assemble and make available a connect the dots game of sorts, in order to trace the origins of these people. It's possible that a cancer runs a bit deeper than many are aware of. There are a couple of things that make me draw this conclusion. Although a grass roots campaign to send a message (like occurred here) is a good thing, I don't think it can be heralded as a "game changer" because of the size and reach of the medium. I think there were bigger forces that were behind the recent positive changes. The voting public needs to know who are connected to the positives and who are endeared to or connected to the negatives in order to make the right choices at the polls. As we've learned, lack of knowledge can bring distasteful circumstances and our village is too large to continue to adhering to an uninformed and laissez-faire modus operandi.


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