The legislation, House Bill 5593, passed out of committee in a 15-1 vote. The next step would be a roll call vote on the House floor to see if the measure has enough support to pass.
The bill is aimed at diluting the influence of the three-member board majority of president Peter Hurtado, vice president Janet Silosky and commissioner Peter Steinys.
Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, has sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.
Since last May, the board majority has stirred controversy, starting with the hiring of Plainfield village trustee Garrett Peck as the new park district director. Peck has since resigned.
Vicky Polito — who was ejected from a park board meeting in November — joined former District 202 school board member Mike Kelly and his son-in-law Heath Wright in testifying before the House's Cities & Villages Committee. Wright's wife, Michelle Kelly, previously served as the park board president.
"This seems like the only way to get people on the board who can dilute [the majority's] decision making," Wright said. Numerous times, he said, "The public has asked the three problem board members to step aside."
So far, none of the three has responded to public requests for them to resign.
Polito said having the state step in to solve issues stemming from a local board is a last-ditch effort.
"I think that this is the last and best way we have for righting this crazy course," she said Wednesday. "Given that as citizens we can't get this board to behave in a way that's better for the public or to resign."
In her testimony before the House committee, Polito noted that the length of the park board members' terms makes it tough to solve the issue by voting them out of office. Hurtado's term expires in 2017, while Silosky and Steinys' terms last until 2019.
"By the time we can 'vote the bums out,' our park district will be broke," Polito said, adding she believes the board is depleting the park district's contingency fund and could ruin its bond rating.
"Without this legislation we will lose quality parks, open green spaces, and recreation opportunities for ourselves and our children in addition to seeing the value of our homes sink and the business development we need in our district shrivel up," Polito told the committee. "I’ve heard that a representative of the board majority has been contacting legislators to say that since the board will be electing new officers in May that these problems are resolving themselves. That’s untrue because the destruction is not coming from their roles as president or vice president, but rather from their 3-2 majority strangle-hold on district operations."
Kelly addressed other issues at the park district, including residents being ejected from park board meetings and a recent controversy involving missing Plainfield Soccer Association equipment.
"The Plainfield Park District current majority have now shown our community that they are not interested in providing a functioning, let alone outstanding park district," Kelly testified. "The controversy that has come from all of the turmoil at the park district has the effect of keeping many good people from getting involved. They have expelled members of our community from meetings for being 'appalled' at the board’s action. They even tried to expel one member of the public from the park district property with a restraining order of sorts. A public meeting is indeed a public meeting open to the public, that is what I believe. And recently the park staff changed the locks on the Plainfield Soccer Association’s storage sheds located on park district fields. Equipment is now missing from some of the sheds. These sheds were built and paid for by the PSA."
- Peck Calls Citizens ‘Radicals;’ Resident Ejected from Park Board Meeting
- Plainfield Soccer Assoc.: Equipment Missing from Shed on Park District Property
"Our community has over three years before an election that would let the public change this board majority; we are here to ask that you to support and pass this legislation to fix our community’s problem," said Kelly, who also alluded to allegations of ethics violations on the park board. "Please understand that we do not come here lightly or without understanding that this is a drastic measure."
Legislators would choose new commissionersThe bill, co-sponsored by State Reps. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, and Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, would allow state legislators to appoint two new members to the board for a two-year term. One commissioner would be appointed by the state representative serving the park district's service area, and the other would be named by the state senator serving the area.
After two years, the new members would be up for election; the new seats would then carry six-year terms like the other five commissioner spots.
Last month, Cross called the bill an "attempt to bring sanity back" to the Plainfield Park District after months of turmoil.
"This is an isolated case of extreme abuse," Cross said. "Of people abusing their power. It's an aberration, I hope."
The bill has been amended since it was introduced last month. Originally, the proposal called for adding four more members to the board. Under that proposal, the new commissioners would have been appointed by the mayors of the towns served by the park district.
Click here to read the full text of the bill.
- Legislation an 'Attempt to Bring Sanity Back' to Plainfield Park District: Cross
- Letter: End the 'Reign of Terror' at Plainfield Park District
- Newton to Hurtado: End the Sideshow by Resigning
- Letter: Hurtado's Racism Claims Are an Insult to Residents
- Plainfield Park Board VP Accuses Hurtado of Ethics Violations
- Accusations of Patronage, Dummy Companies at Plainfield Park District