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.


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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