Citizens Council Endorses Penicook and Lacey for Park District Board
Board did not select current board member Brad Belcaster.
The Citizens' Council of La Grange last night voted to endorse Mary Ellen Penicook and Lynn Lacey for the Park District of La Grange Board of Trustees in April's municipal elections.
The council vetted incumbent board president Penicook, newcomer Lacey and incumbent board member Brad Belcaster for the two slots on the Park District board that will be up for election.
Lacey, a retired postal worker, said she wanted to get involved and give back to the village she loves.
Lacey, a former president of the La Grange chapter of the NAACP, said the two top issues facing the park district are the sale of a portion of Gordon Park and the fitness center. She said both of those issues are contentious and suggested it may be wise for the park district to take a step back and look at all the options.
"Sometimes you need to let go of the big money and take a look at the big picture," she said.
Lacey said she wanted to reach out to the youth of La Grange to find out what they wanted in a park district. She said she sees teenagers spending more time roaming the shopping districts of the village than she does at the municipal parks.
"Obviously we're not giving the kids what they need," Lacey said. "We need to talk to them and ask them what they want out of the park district."
Lacey said she's never been to a park district meeting, however, she said she keeps up with what the board of commissioners is doing by reading the minutes online.
Penicook said her top goals for the next term include continuing to provide quality services in spite of a weak economy.
Penicook said she's been pleased that in the last four years the Recreation Center on East Avenue has become more of a community center than merely a place for recreation. She said the building has played host to wedding receptions and other parties since it opened. Penicook said the recreation center has been a great source of revenue for the park district. She praised the decision of Dean Bissias, the executive director of the park district, to establish the neighborhood network of fees for residents of neighboring villages using the recreation center. She said the recreation center draws users from all over suburban Cook County as well as DuPage County. Penicook said Bissias' plan staggers the user fees based on proximity to La Grange.
"That's been great for the bottom line of the park district," Penicook said.
During her tenure on the board Penicook said there have been some challenges to improving the parks in La Grange due to some road blocks, a veiled reference to the litigation surrounding Gordon Park. She said she hopes to see advances there soon.
Belcaster, who was appointed to an empty seat on the board in May 2010, said his top issues for the park district include maintaining recreation programs in this tough economy. He said those programs generate needed funds for the park district. In addition he said he wants to keep the bureaucratic organization of the park district as flexible as possible.
Responding to a question about the Gordon Park litigation, Belcaster said the district has spent nearly $1 million on attorneys' fees. He said the park district will be back in court on Dec. 3 as the legal saga continues. He said he hopes they will still be able to sell the parcel of land for an amount that will justify the legal fees.
"If we can still get $6.5 million for the land that will be great, but if market conditions show the land can only be sold for about a million dollars, then we'll probably hold on to it," Belcaster said.
Following the three candidates' remarks, the 13 council members present met in closed session to make their endorsements.
Katie Justak, chairman of the council, said she could not discuss the vote totals each candidate received.
The council was successful in electing two members to the Park District of La Grange 2009. But a council endorsement is no guarantee of winning an office in La Grange. The council had slated three candidates for the board, Bob Ashby, Chris Walsh and Jim Boo. Both Ashby and Walsh were elected to the board, but Boo was defeated by incumbent Tim Kelpsas.
The Citizens' Council of La Grange is a non-partisan organization founded in the 1930s. The council's mission is to is to identify, interview and recommend highly qualified, community-minded candidates to run for local offices.
Editor's note: This article previously identified Lynn Lacey as current president of the La Grange chapter of the NAACP. She is in fact a former president of the chapter.