PLAINFIELD – A rally on May 22, 2013, outside the Plainfield Township Park District Recreation/Administration Center brought together a group of citizens who didn’t know each other but were concerned about the direction of the district.
Now, they are a loosely organized citizen watchdog group called “Park Truth” that has influenced major change in the park district.
“We had a very small group, 10 to 12 people, show up to the meeting where [former Executive Director Garrett Peck] was appointed,” Plainfield resident Michelle Kelly said. “Then more and more people got involved with it. There were 50 to 60 people at the budget meeting months later.”
Kelly, a former park district board president, helped organize the rally after she heard about changes in the park district – including the booting of former Executive Director Gregory Bott for Peck, who was a business owner and village trustee but did not have any park district experience.
Newly elected commissioners at the time, Janet Silosky and Peter Steinys, sided with Commissioner Peter Hurtado to form a majority vote that brought Peck in.
Peck made a number of decisions that drastically changed the way the park district operated, including the elimination of the park district’s planning department and outsourcing its work.
This irked many of those community members at the rally, who started to come to board meetings advocating for the resignations of Peck, Hurtado, Silosky and Steinys.
Those members also started supporting the views of minority vote commissioners Mary Kay Ludemann and Larry Newton, who had previously stated they felt shut out of the decision-making process.
“When something would happen, an email chain would go around,” Kelly said. “Suddenly, we say this needs to change.”
Members of Park Truth say the park district is doing better since Silosky switched sides in February to vote with Newton and Ludemann. Peck resigned and an experienced interim executive director has been helping organize the park district’s operations.
“We felt the need to meet more often at the end of last year than we do now,” Plainfield resident Debra Bostjancic said. “But we’re still actively watching. A lot of email communication is still happening. But we’re still just a backyard meeting of a group of people that got together.”
Vicky Polito has been a staunch critic of Peck at board meetings. She also made a commitment to post video of park district meetings on YouTube. Polito attended the rally then started coming to every meeting since.
Peck declined to specifically comment on Park Truth or any issues related to the park district.
“I wish them the best,” he said.
“I’m aware of the group,” said Ludemann, who became president after Hurtado’s term ended. “I’ve listened to some of their concerns, and, as a board member, I’m very grateful that there are people in the community that supported our position.
Ludemann said that things started happening when the citizens spoke at the board meeting and kept the pressure on other commissioners and Peck.
In May, Park Truth members talked with state legislators to find a way to fix a seemingly destructive park board.
Those talks led to House Bill 5593, which would expand the park board from five to seven members, diluting any current majority. The bill is waiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.
“The biggest surprise is how quickly this could happen,” Kelly said. “It’s very exciting to hear the park district is moving forward.”