Plainfield Trustees' Heated Email Exchange Goes Public

"Go pound dirt until you make dust," one trustee tells another in ongoing park district dispute.

There appears to be no love lost between village trustees Garrett Peck (left) and Jim Racich (right), pictured on election night last spring with Mayor Mike Collins. Credit: Patch file photo
There appears to be no love lost between village trustees Garrett Peck (left) and Jim Racich (right), pictured on election night last spring with Mayor Mike Collins. Credit: Patch file photo
When it comes to his thoughts about the Plainfield Park District, village trustee Jim Racich hasn't been shy about speaking up.

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  • Ever since a new park board majority hired fellow village trustee Garrett Peck as the park district executive director, Racich has been a vocal critic of the board's decision. Racich has asserted that Peck isn't qualified for the job, and that the decision was made based on favoritism.

    That outspokenness once got him tossed out of a park board meeting and, over the weekend, it made headlines after Peck reportedly copied the Herald-News on a testy email exchange with Racich.

    According to the newspaper, Peck sent Racich an open letter, saying,  “I take exception to the fact that you have publicly engaged in personal attacks against my qualifications and performance as the Executive Director at The Plainfield Township Park District.”

    Racich claims his response — which Peck also sent to the Herald — came after Peck threatened to share their exchange with the media.

    “Your cheap attempt to intimidate me is pathetic," Racich wrote. "Go pound dirt until you make dust. Take my response and your drivel and send it to whomever you choose. Your opinion is without value."

    Peck didn't respond to a message from Patch on Monday, but Racich stood by what he wrote.

    "He sent that to the Herald-News thinking he's going to intimidate everyone," Racich said. "... I have the right to freedom of speech."

    In May, police escorted Racich out of a board meeting after he attempted to speak during the public comment period. Initially, board president Peter Hurtado told Racich he could not speak, since he hadn't signed up prior to the start of the meeting. He then relented, saying Racich could address the board — but gave him a one-minute time limit, compared with the three minutes afforded to other speakers. When Racich balked at the time limit and attempted to speak anyway, he was asked to leave.

    "I'm really kind of offended by some of the actions that that group at the Plainfield Park District are doing, with the exception of Larry Newton and Mary Ludemann," Racich said. "I don't think they know anything about governance, and they're treading on people's rights."

    Peck sounds off

    The open letter to Racich isn't the first time Peck has responded publicly to criticism from a park district resident.

    In November, Peck posted another open letter to the park district website, taking aim at two residents who had filed Open Meetings Act complaints with the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

    The note referred to critics as "a small group of radicals," and included links to documents containing residents' names and home addresses.

    “This is the second unfounded complaint filed by a member of a small group of radicals who have openly tried to promote their political agenda by using the Illinois Attorney General’s office to review and possibly harass the Plainfield Park District Board for its decisions,” Peck wrote.

    The open letter remained on the website for weeks. As of Monday, it appeared to have been removed. (See screenshot to read the full text.)

    'He doesn't belong in the job'

    On Monday, Racich stood by his assertions that Peck should not have been given the park district position.

    "In my estimation, he doesn't belong in the job," Racich said. He also lamented the loss of planning department employees Cameron Bettin — who was initially hired to do Peck's job — and James Less.

    Both employees reportedly resigned. Peck said in a statement that their jobs would not be filled, and that the planning department would be eliminated and the work outsourced to consultants.

    According to the park district website, former Superintendent of Parks Gene Coldwater is now director of "Parks and Project Management." A press release reportedly sent out by the park district Tuesday apparently noted that Coldwater has been promoted to assistant executive director — Bettin's old post. 

    Neither Peck nor park district spokesman Doug Booth responded to messages from Patch inquiring about Coldwater's new role, or how the Parks and Project Management division differs from the planning department. 

    Despite his distaste for recent goings-on at the park district, Racich said the dispute will not affect his role on the village board.

    "It's absolutely nothing to do with the Village of Plainfield," he said. "I'm a resident of the Plainfield Park District and I'm a taxpayer.

    "I will treat [Peck] in a totally professional manner" with regard to village dealings, Racich said, "... but I have the right to speak."
    Mayhem January 21, 2014 at 11:16 AM
    @Brian- Many have spoken to Board of elections in Will County and down in Springfield. The Mayor doesn't seem to care to get involved, and Tom Cross has expressed concern. Getting Peck out of Office all together is the game plan. Not only as Park Districk Director, but also as Village Trustee.
    Plainfield Independent January 21, 2014 at 11:26 AM
    The Founding Fathers made it very clear that free speech was a necessary part of a true democratic republic. The people had to be free to critique their government and their society, even if their views were unpopular. Without free speech, how would we recognize the truth if we heard it? Free speech and a diverse range of available opinion makes for a higher quality, more tyranny-proof government, because it gives the people the chance to engage our thinking skills.
    Jimmy Parks January 21, 2014 at 11:35 AM
    "Neither Peck nor park district spokesman Doug Booth responded to messages from Patch inquiring about Coldwater's new role, or how the Parks and Project Management division differs from the planning department." Don't worry. When Booth wakes-up from his nap, he will release the following: "No Comment" Peck will make a statement that it is "confidential."
    Bill Johnson January 21, 2014 at 12:47 PM
    It's funny: the entire Plainfield community is fooled as if Peck is the problem. He's not. Some of us have been around Plainfield since Peck started his politics. It's the take over of the tea party and Peck's cohorts (Hurtado) who control the Republican party. The joke is on the Republicans who are foolish enough to not oust him. You want to stop Peck, go tell the Republicans to stop him.
    Brian January 21, 2014 at 12:58 PM
    @Mayhem and all concerned residents: While it is not surprising that the Mayor Collins does not want to get involved, (what politician would willingly attached his name to the embarrassment that is the Plainfield Park District). We need to follow the lead of residents like Vicky Polito and keep the pressure up. We are in this situation because of voter complacency (very low voter turnout). Employees of the Park District and local government work for us, Hurtado and Peck work for us, their Boss works for us and their bosses boss works for us. While this most likely will be the end of Garrett Peck and Peter Hurtado’s political careers, I believe Tom Cross and Mayor Collins will look to be reelected………. Rep. Cross, we appreciate that you expressed concern, but more needs to be done. Mayor Collins, this is your city, these are your constituents, the PPD is important to us, it should be important to you as well.
    Dan B January 21, 2014 at 12:58 PM
    Jimmy, they have not commented because they are locked in a vicious game of tic-tac-toe!
    Plainfield Independent January 21, 2014 at 01:07 PM
    We can police the local politicians, we can write them letters when they misbehave. But don't count on any of that being too effective. I think we need to concentrate on getting some new blood into office. It's time to send the more belligerent message to the elected officials. And the best way to get that message across to them is with our vote - for someone else. Pay attention to who is associated with who in the upcoming elections.
    Larry Newton January 21, 2014 at 01:31 PM
    Neither Mike.Collins nor Tom Cross have any direct influence over anything that happens at the Park District. The Plainfield Township Park District is a separate unit of local government accountable only to the residents of the District. Residents have a great deal of influence over what happens, but people must be vigilant and involved. Thank you to everyone who has been involved.
    Jimmy Parks January 21, 2014 at 01:43 PM
    @Dan B, thank-you, can't believe I forgot about the best of 5 tournament they have going on.
    Bill Johnson January 21, 2014 at 02:49 PM
    Why doesn't someone put together a recall - with petitions signed. That's about the only way that he'll look at the situation and change.
    Bad News Bears January 21, 2014 at 02:57 PM
    @Bill Johnson, I've wondered the same thing. Then I heard that there was a recall in the works and Hurtado and Peck put useless questions about the PPD on the next ballot which officially blocked a recall because you can only have 3 things on the ballot about any particular governing agency (i.e. schools, park district, etc.) Not sure if that's true, but it's what I heard.
    Larry Newton January 21, 2014 at 03:00 PM
    BNB - ding, ding, ding!
    Vicky Polito January 21, 2014 at 03:14 PM
    BNB, Mr. Johnson, other--Yes, because board President Hurtado and his Tea Party anti-American radical pals Steinys and Silosky, along with Garrett Peck, spend time and energy to find any way they can to be sure your vote and voice not only don't matter but can't even be expressed. On the other hand, they are awfully fond of your money. REMEMBER all of this and get to the polls for EVERY single election. Don't help those who want to hurt us and our community.
    Mary poppins January 21, 2014 at 03:32 PM
    Start voting out the Republicans. As you start eliminating the pecking order, they start worrying about their own election and may start doing what is in the best interest of the people in their districts. Better yet, start talking to your neighbors to get out and vote and what they are voting for.
    Mary poppins January 21, 2014 at 03:33 PM
    How many people can fill the Park District meetings.
    Larry Newton January 21, 2014 at 03:35 PM
    Mary, not all Republicans are bad...
    Tim January 21, 2014 at 03:48 PM
    The one positive that has come out of this is the way that residents from both parties have come together in opposition of this situation. On a per person level, the politics do not matter. Which 'side' you are on 'D" or 'R' does not matter. We all know and want what is best for our community, and what we are seeing is almost universally agreed to not be in the best interest of our community, and people have been galvanized by it and have put aside petty partisan politics. This is about the specific actions that have been taken, not the parties of the people who are performing those actions. It would be wise for the PTRO to realize this before irreparable damage is done to their organization. It was them who supported this group of people, and it should be obvious to them that they were used. A few months back a group of PTRO members publicly came out to condemn the appointing of peck to this position in a letter to the papers, so there are rational minds on both sides. Hopefully, the rest of the membership will follow.
    Vicky Polito January 21, 2014 at 04:48 PM
    I'm a progressive liberal and have been a Democrat all of my life. I've voted for Republicans and persons from other parties when it seemed clear by analysis that they were the best candidate because the party I believe in ran terrible candidates not worth supporting. Well, and also because I’m not stupid and I can take an objective look at every candidate in every election. Don’t count anyone out for something as superficial as the party designation next to their name. Heck, a decade ago Peter Hurtado ran for a township spot as a Democrat and he and Mike Keniley (the local Dem Party leader who’s being sued by Peck right now) were friends and political colleagues! And, we need more good people, especially more women, to RUN for office, even for “small” offices. So many of the people I’ve been meeting this last year, Reps and Dems, are such terrific people and could do so much for the community. Everyone needs not only to vote, but either to run for office or just find someone who wants to run but needs support and encouragement and be someone who helps get a good person into office.
    Jenny Hamby January 21, 2014 at 05:02 PM
    Mr. Racich, thank you for speaking up. I wish others on the Village Board would join you. Mr. Peck, you're not qualified for the job for which you are so highly paid. This is not an opinion; it's a fact. You have ZERO experience in parks and rec and would never have been hired if you actually had to go through a real interview process vs. being hired by your pals. If you can't handle public criticism, get out of the position. By the way, classy move cutting off the Patch because they aren't nice enough to you (http://joliet.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/park-district-discontinues-contact-with-plainfield-patch-joliet). I'd expect this kind of behavior from a toddler, not from a grown man getting paid $100K+ to be a leader in our community and steward of our parks system. Vicky Polito, if you're reading, how do we join your group of "radicals"?
    Frank January 21, 2014 at 05:35 PM
    A nice thing about Racich is you never have to spend any time wondering what he REALLY means!!! Regardless of which side of the issue you're on, I admire his having the stones to stand up in defense of freedom of speech, one of our most important rights as Americans. Locally and nationally it has been under attack a lot lately and we Americans need to do a much better job of protecting it more.
    Vicky Polito January 21, 2014 at 06:11 PM
    To Jenny Hamby and anyone else interested in being more active in our park district: PLEASE come to meetings and get involved at least at that level. We can all network in person, share ideas and form any plans we think are worthwhile. You know the old paraphrase from a Woody Allen movie: the world is run by those who show up. The next PTPD meeting is on Tuesday, February 4th at 6p at the Plainfield Township Admin Bldg at 22525 West Lockport (just 2 miles east of route 59 on Lockport, south side of street and across from 4 Seasons Park). That’s really the most important thing. Beyond that, and I know that some truly can't make it to meetings, I don’t really have a plan but if you send me your contact info--and it needs to be name, address, email, and a phone number, just be you, in full and in detail--I will be sure you get added to a list of people that shares info on the PTPD and hopes to begin a good and broad-based effort to not just support and engage our park district right now, but to get out the vote and get out some good candidates so we all have quality options in front of us (for all our branches of government) at the polling place these next couple of rounds and beyond. I will also be sure that your contact info is NOT handed around willy-nilly and that no one uses it to pester you. I want to be clear, I’m no leader of any group, and I’m tossing this to you on the fly, but I don’t want to squander the interest of people who want to try and get together and do good things for this place we all love because it is our home and it matters. I’ll work with anyone who will work with anyone! My email for this is radical4plainfield@gmail.com.
    Saluki January 21, 2014 at 09:43 PM
    I have stated this many times that as a proud Republican people like Little Garrett Peck make me sick to my stomach! The so called radicals that Little Garrett talks about are both Republicans and Democrats. Now is the time to keep the heat on! Also, thank you to Jim Racich for being a stand up guy and telling it like it is! Little Garrett your day is coming!
    Henry Bowlin January 21, 2014 at 10:24 PM
    Let's be honest. We all live on Planet Peck and should be honored he gives us room and board.
    J Anderson January 21, 2014 at 10:42 PM
    Peck and Hurtado should listen to Racich. If memory serves, early in office Racich and a few others violated the open meetings act. Later he approved a person who had never work in government or as supervisor and was generally accepted as unqualified into the position of Village Administrator. By all accounts that person removed highly regarded staff. Later that Village Administrator had to be fired. Peck should listen to Racich, he’s been there and knows first-hand what he is talking about.
    Mayhem January 22, 2014 at 08:56 AM
    Larry- First, thank you for being a voice of reason and fighting the good fight. We all appreciate what you and Mary are trying to accomplish. With regard to your statement about Tom Cross and Collins having no influence.. Although they may not have direct influence, residents want reassurance that other local government leaders are paying attention to, and care about whats going on in their town/district. Taking the 5th in this situation has left some people with a bad taste in their mouth. Everyone wants to remain quiet on the matter publicly. Behind closed doors, well, that's a different matter.
    Vicky Polito January 22, 2014 at 09:15 AM
    I agree with Mayhem that while there may be no "jurisdiction" for action from some officials, we still look to them for leadership in terms of ideas and want to know, need to know, where they stand on all sorts of issues important to the constituents. We turn to them for comments on all kinds of things they will never get to "decide", so why not this? Stand and deliver, I say.
    Ericus Alanas January 22, 2014 at 09:30 AM
    When is the next park meeting? I usually can't go but there is no way I'm missing this epic meeting.
    Vicky Polito January 22, 2014 at 09:38 AM
    Ericus A----PTPD meeting slated for Tuesday, Feb 4th at 6p at the Plnfld Township Admin Bldg, 22525 West Lockport. However, note that if enough people signal to the board that they are coming, the venue may have to change to accommodate higher attendance. Just go to this link regularly to check on meeting dates, times, and locations (you have to scroll down a bit, past the commissioner bios, etc.): www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/about-board.asp
    TB Plfd January 23, 2014 at 09:09 AM
    Peck is no good for Plainfield!!! Thank you Mr. Racich for standing up for the people of Plainfield
    Vicky Polito January 23, 2014 at 09:20 AM
    Don’t forget folks, special meeting scheduled of PTPD board for tomorrow, Friday, 6p at the Heritage Professional Center (old Midwest Bank at Illinois and Lockport intersection, back entrance, downstairs). See PTPD website for agenda. There is a public comment portion, but the only action will be to go to closed session, then reconvene and take any action stemming from closed session (they are required to vote/take a decision in view of the public on any issue). So, it may not be very interesting from the perspective of what the public can “witness” BUT, it might be pretty interesting to see how much of the public this board and Peck have to “witness” showing up! See link for info: www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/about-board.asp.


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