Park district may cut out-of-state trips
Glencoe Park District Commissioner Hilary Lee
Updated: August 21, 2012 11:09AM
In a replay of Glencoe Park District miseries of a year ago, the Park Board is likely to vote 3-2 June 19 against veteran commissioner Hilary Lee taking an out-of-state trip.
Lee had traveled to the National Recreation and Parks Association convention seven straight years before last year, when fellow commissioners Andre Lerman, Max Retsky and Trent Cornell voted not to spend tax money on such commissioner trips anymore, and put on the brakes for number eight.
But a fan of Lee’s, witnessing the Board-meeting angst over the issue, contributed anonymously the $2,042 that sent her to Atlanta in the fall of 2011.
“I said to her as long as the money was not coming from the taxpayers, fine,” said Cornell, board president.
“It was a one-time situation, and I thought maybe it would help issues between Board members.”
On several significant issues, newer Board members Lerman and Cornell have lined up with Retsky against Lee and Robert Kimball, and tempers have sometimes flared.
But despite the arguments of 2011, Lee asked to go to the NRPA Congress and Exposition in Anaheim this year, which Cornell said surprised him.
“I certainly had the view (a request for) a trip was not to be repeated unless there was a significant reason for it,” he said.
“I think many of our board members have a very insular idea of park districts,” Lee said last week. “These guys have no idea; they don’t realize what other park districts are doing.”
It’s not unusual for park districts to send commissioners to the conventions, nor is it unheard of for one particular commissioner to make most of the trips, as Lee has.
Only one other Glencoe commissioner, Tim Stratton, traveled to any of the multi-day conventions since 2001. He moved to Arizona two years ago.
But the Glencoe Park Board majority now believes that in an economic downturn, it’s sometimes beneficial to send paid staff members on such trips, but commissioners should stay home.
According to a Glencoe News Freedom of Information Act request, trips by Lee to San Antonio, Seattle, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis have cost the district a little over $12,000.
That figure doesn’t include the Atlanta trip, nor a 2004 trip to Las Vegas, the cost of which was not available, Executive Director Don Van Arsdale said.
Lee has also attended three Illinois conferences since 2008, two in Springfield and one in Chicago.
The Illinois Association of Park Districts trips to Springfield cost a total of about $700, and the city trip cost $75.
Either she or Stratton handled all of the Illinois trips since 2006, according to the FOIA report.
Retsky complained about Lee’s request at the May Park Board meeting, and Lee subsequently said that her fellow commissioner has “a vendetta against me.”
She maintains that her trips have been very beneficial for the district, and even more for the Glencoe Schools, where she has made some reports on her trips. She’s a District 35 physical education teacher, and says that the district covers her absences with substitutes.
She has not, however, made formal reports on her trips to the park district, she said.
She said that she doesn’t feel the new Board is appreciative of her, and so says little.
But she said that the trips have borne fruit, including her discovery of Rod Aiken, Van Arsdale’s predecessor, years ago.
“I absolutely have no problem with Hilary Lee as a person, teacher or board member,” Retsky said Tuesday. “I have a problem with spending public money to send any commissioner on trips all over the country year after year after year.”
Conversely, Kimball said that Lee’s trips are valuable, and she’s the right person to travel on behalf of the Board, because after three stints on the panel, “her experience is deeper. Her knowledge is better than the rest of ours.”
He said that she’s an active participant at conventions, “and always attends the breakout sessions.
“Her going to conferences makes sense.”
Before her long stint at the school district, Lee worked for eight years in the Evanston Recreation Department, mostly in leadership roles, she said.
Kimball said that after Atlanta, Lee brought knowledge of registration software that helped him in deciding what to vote for when the district chose a new provider.
“I think Hilary came back with some really profound thoughts (and) because of her own experience, was able to communicate, at least to me, the pluses and minuses.”
Retsky said she didn’t hear about any of that.
“No staff member or commissioner, has ever, since I have been on the park board, reported on any conferences,” the two-term commissioner said.
“We probably talked about it in the parking lot, or somewhere else in the community,” Kimball explained. “There were no other commissioners present.”
The amount of money for the trips is not huge, by government standards, Cornell said.
“It doesn’t move the needle in a budget,” he said. “We just have to be able to justify expenses, so we have to say No.
“I’m sorry her name is attached to it, but there it is.”