The Board of Commissioners of the Ridgeville Park District voted to approve their new budget on Sept. 10, but it was the behavior and interpersonal relationships that took center stage at the Board’s monthly meeting at Ridgeville Community House, 908 Seward St.
The commissioners’ agenda included a vote to censure Commissioner Dan Coyne at the behest of fellow Commissioner Pat McCourt. That vote did not take place, however, as Mr. McCourt said that he did not want to put his fellow members through “a divisive battle.”
But both commissioners nevertheless sparred at times during the meeting. Mr. McCourt took Mr. Coyne to task for public comments he made at the July 13 Evanston City Council meeting, when Mr. Coyne leveled accusations against City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, and called for Mr. Bobkiewicz’s resignation.
“There’s some concern among those City Council members, I would think, that maybe you’re speaking for Ridgeville, when clearly you weren’t,” Mr. McCourt said.
“What I do as a citizen is not the Park District’s business per se,” replied Mr. Coyne. “That [business] should be at the Park District board meeting. … For three years, I’ve been trying to sit down with you and talk, because you and I have had a lot of differences.”
Mr. McCourt also accused Mr. Coyne of posting inflammatory statements, detailing Mr. McCourt’s objections to a porta-potty in the park, on his personal Facebook wall in June. Mr. Coyne, in turn, said that he had been provoked by Mr. McCourt’s public actions against the porta-potty. The commissioners placed one porta-potty, on a trial basis, on the lawn at Seward Street this summer.
“The reason those Facebook post went out was [it was] a direct response from your sign [saying] ‘I’m the president of the district,’ warning all the immediate neighbors of the park that porta-potties were coming and all kinds of people, were going to start showing up, including taxi drivers,” Mr. Coyne said. “…You did that on your own, and you did that as the commission.”
“What are we trying to do by putting that out there?” Commissioner Ann Cavode then asked. “We’re just aggravating people. It brings about a bad rapport among us. I don’t see the point. … By putting out that inflammatory post, you’re just stirring it up.”
Mr. Coyne suggested that Mr. McCourt’s part of the exchange was inflammatory as well.
“Is this a tit-for-tat, or what?” Ms. Cavode replied. “Is that appropriate for adults? We learned in preschool not to operate that way.”
Relations had been strained to the point that commissioners weighed bringing in Nancy Sylvester, a Loves Park, Ill.,-based parliamentarian and conflict resolution expert, to work with them. A key stumbling block to that plan was the price, however. Ms. Sylvester charges $225 an hour, said Board President Michael Drennan, so the total bill would be between $3,700 and $5,800. But the district budget, which the Board was just moments away from voting on, contained no provision for such an expenditure, which would have to come from the district’s corporate fund.
Mr. Drennan suggested tabling the vote until April, but Mr. Coyne wanted to go forward anyway, and the board voted against the motion to hire Ms. Sylvester. Commissioner Robert Bady said to Mr. Coyne and Mr. McCourt, “I ask you guys to try to work it out. … Please, please, consider talking to each other.”
Mr. McCourt said that he would be willing to work on getting along, but said that other members would have to make the same effort. Mr. Drennan then asked whether endorsing the censure of another board member was Mr. McCourt’s way of showing that. Mr. McCourt countered that he had only wanted a discussion of censuring Mr. Coyne, not an actual vote.
The board also voted to implement a best practices manual for board members, which Mr. Drennan and Ms. Cavode compiled. Mr. McCourt said he had reservations about the document, especially suggestions such as Board retreats, which, he said, might result in significant expenditures for the district. Attorney David Saunders said the manual’s suggestions would not be binding, however.
Mr. McCourt endorsed a code of conduct for the Board, but discussion of that was tabled until the October meeting. The Board also approved the new budget, but during public comments, some audience members expressed concern that there were few provisions for purchase and maintenance of playground equipment.
“It just concerns me that we’re not putting money away for things that matter in the parks,” said Debby Braun, a former commissioner. She asked whether the district could patch rather than repave a parking lot. The projected cost of repaving is $25,000.
Parks Director Brian Rosinski answered that, while patching the lot would save money in the short-term, it would be more cost-effective in the long run to undertake the project in the upcoming year.
Mr. Coyne said that in the months ahead he would want to discuss the equity of benefits among Park District employees, expressing concern that Mr. Rosinski’s insurance package was more extensive than than those of other employees. Mr. Rosinski said that the scope of his package had been negotiated years earlier and that he had agreed to a lower salary in exchange for more extensive insurance coverage.
“This is a big subject,” said Mr. Drennan. “…It’s important to recognize that many years of service have been invested by Brian and all of our employees.”