WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
MINUTES OF THE REGULAR MEETING OF THE
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE WILMETTE PARK DISTRICT
HELD IN THE COUNCIL ROOM OF WILMETTE VILLAGE HALL
MONDAY, JULY 18, 2011
Written notice of said meeting was given to the Commissioners and the Wilmette Life in accordance with the Wilmette Park District Code, Section 2103, and Section 2.02 of the Open Meetings Act.
Director Wilson stated that because of the power outage on Monday, July 11, the Board meeting was rescheduled for this evening. However, the meeting will not be broadcast live but will be recorded.
President Brault stated his father unexpectantly passed away recently and he wanted to thank staff, his fellow commissioners and a number of people in Wilmette for the outreach they have shown him and his family. His father was a Park Commissioner in Park Ridge in the 1970s and was president of the Board from 1974-77. About a month ago when Commissioner Brault was elected President of this Board, his father handed down his own ceremonial gavel which will be used tonight to call the meeting to order.
President Brault then called the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m.
PRESENT: President James Brault; Commissioners Gary Benz, James Crowley, Darrell Graham, Michael Murdock, and Shelley Shelly; Secretary/Director Stephen Wilson; Assistant Secretary Judy Ostrem
STAFF: Superintendents Bingham, Bowen, Eppelheimer, and Lambrecht; Communications Manager Donoghue
APPROVAL OF MINUTES:
Commissioner Crowley moved and Commissioner Graham seconded a motion to approve the minutes of the June 13, 2011 Regular Board Meeting.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
President Brault asked Director Wilson to provide background information from the Park District’s perspective regarding the potential lease with the Wilmette Harbor Association (WHA).
Director Wilson reported that in September of 2010 Wilmette Park District staff was approached by individuals from the Wilmette Harbor Association (WHA) to discuss the possibility of working together towards the next lease of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s (MWRD) settling basin. At that time, discussions were held that highlighted the hurdles involved. The main hurdle was that the current lease will have new state statutes that require a non-governmental agency to go through a competitive bid process. As a result, the WHA approached the Park District to work together to see if we could sign that lease and utilize that exemption in the statute. At that time, staff was also asked to remain silent on this subject out of respect for the membership of the WHA Association since they had not yet been informed and staff agreed to do so.
On October 23, staff had a meeting with the MWRD in conjunction with memos from the WHA asking for further discussion on this matter and it was at that meeting that the current director of the MWRD asked to see if the two parties could work together. Staff stated we were not sure a lease by the Park District along with a management agreement with the WHA would be a good working relationship but staff agreed we would continue those discussions and see what happens. Following that, several meetings were held with members of the WHA and letters were exchanged between the Park District and the WHA outlining breakdowns of resident vs. non-resident numbers of the harbor as well as some of the operational difficulties of operating such a unique property, especially when the locks are open. This information was included in their letter to the Park District in March.
In May the Park District sent a letter to the WHA asking for several items of a due diligence in nature asking how things are done operationally, how moorings are awarded, how the wait list is maintained, potential liabilities that are outstanding, and financial statements. However, we have not yet received any of that information. Staff did have one subsequent meeting where concerns were expressed about us not being provided the information which would then make the WHA’s files subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and there were also concerns that the harbor would be subject to more strict ADA compliance if the Park District as a public body would hold the lease versus the WHA.
Since then the Park District has received a letter from the MWRD asking us to state our intentions. We responded by asking for an informational meeting. As a result, Commissioner Graham, Director Wilson and Superintendent Lambrecht went to their offices last week Monday and met with two of their attorneys to discuss the process and how to move forward.
COMMUNICATIONS & CORRESPONDENCE:
President Brault acknowledged receipt of correspondence from the lists shown below:
…. Langdon Park Chain Link Fence: Dorothy Sills, Patricia Garretran, Jim & Mary Minogue, Elizabeth Drake Cochran, Nancy & Dave Napalo, Anthony & Olga Napalo, Marilyn Baugher, Dorothy Sills, Tom Tucker, Dean Lindsay, Watler & Jeanne Reed, Nasser and Grace Amir-Razli, David Yablong and Jesus Andreda
…. Elmwood Avenue Beach: Marcy Carlson Christerson, Sandy Faurot, Diane Fisher, Terry Becker, Glen Noran, Laura Hine, John & Bonnie Vasilion, Sonja Beals, Linda Steen, Marilyn Richards, Anne West, Paul Mokdessi, Leslie Weyhrich, Susan & Michael Clabby, Charlotte Adelman and Ann Hammond.
…. Wilmette Harbor: Merle Gleeson, Jennifer Manning, Marshall & Joan Moretta, Peter Holtermann, David Filkins, Beth Beucher (2 communications), Paul & Patti Tyska, Joyce Knauff, Gerald Newman, Ann & George Baker, Mike Venechuk, Elaine Burgert, Joe & Helen Franz, Chip Sterrett, Peter Nussbaum, Erika & Dietrich Gross, Jacob Wallach, Claude Irmis, Bill & Joan Crawford.
…. Centennial Pool: Julie Floor and Leah & Alan Wertheimer.
…. Miscellaneous Correspondence: Trudy Gibbs (recycling concerns on July 3rd) and Christopher & Cheryl Dewey (thanking staff for implementing the new security process at the sailing beach).
Commissioner Murdock stated he talked to a number of people about the Park District’s excellent reaction to the storm on July 11 and he wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the phenomenal job that Bill and his staff do, especially in regard to saving the ice rink at Centennial from melting and working through the night to save it.
Beth Beucher, 1420 Sheridan Road, #6E
Dave Keenan, 1913 Thornwood
Peter J. Nussbaum, 2547 Laurel Lane
Kurt Harms, 817 Harvard
Sheila Bower, 1019 Sixth Street
Chuck Garnett, 2224 Kenilworth
Cindy Caskill, 1325 Wilmette
Ben Bezark, 1325 Wilmette Avenue
Steve & Alex Borre, 2225 Crestview
Jon Garrett, 1311 Greenwood Avenue
Phil Serwich, 444 Ridge Road
M. Riley, 5060 Ridge
Allen Smith, 1819 Elmwood
Mary Heins, 1728 Elmwood
Peter Hoyt, 717 Rosewood
Norman Awala, 235 16th Street
James W. Graham, 233 Lawndale
Stan Graves, 826 Greenwood
Larry Lasky, 1410 N. State
Stephen Bobo, 1215 Forest Avenue
Marlene Hines, 2928 Old Glenview
Joan Casciari, 2005 Thornwood
Conor Smith, 1819 Elmwood Avenue
Mark Unak, 335 Central
Ken Berliant, 2012 Old Glenview Road
J. & Richard Traub, 915 Oakwood Avenue
Margaret Moulton, 1726 Ridge
Lauren Swu, 1501 Wilmette
Brian Baker, 1219 Ashland
Bob Nickel, 2732 Harrison, Evanston
Paula Sauer, 705 11th, #215
Herbert Sorock, 2403 Iroquois
Chesley Porter, 722 Eleventh St.
Gwen Morrison, 722 Eleventh St.
Rich Liebman, 949 Thackeray, Highland Park
Carol Cleave, 303 Seventeenth St.
Kristin H. Keenan, 212 Greenleaf
Barb Perce, 120 Woodbine
Emily Matz, 1638 Spencer
Anne & Ted Prohov, 1509 Wilmette Avenue
John Hellmuth, 435 Birch, Winnetka
Val & Peggy Smith, 335 Central
Dick Muller, 611 Fifth
Mansare Moretta, 815 Sixteenth St.
Joe Shipley, 820 Oakwood
Mary & Charlie Shea, 735 Michigan
RECOGNITION OF VISITORS:
Beth Beucher, 1420 Sheridan Road, stated she has lived in Wilmette for many years and has volunteered to serve on the Park District’s Lakefront Commission. She also owns a small power boat which is moored in the harbor but does not represent them nor has she been present in any conversations that the Park District might have had with the WHA so she is unable to answer to the accuracy of the statements made tonight relative to the Park District’s discussions with them. She also thanked the Park Board for providing an opportunity for listening tonight. She stated that during the course of the last 11 months on the Lakefront Commission she has learned many things about the Park District including its financial constraints and future vision for Wilmette’s lakefront. When she read about the Park District’s plans, she questioned why we would take over the harbor which is owned and taxed by another entity. She is also curious as to why the Park District would consider this lease since through the years many residents have questioned the Park District’s ability to operate its current properties. There are two fundamental questions – why is the Park District actively seeking to acquire the lease of the harbor and would it be in the best interests of Wilmette residents to do so. She also has concerns about why the MWRD invited the Park District to lease the harbor including not only dealing with the regular maintenance and repair issues but also about the possibility of something catastrophic happening to the harbor resulting in the taxpayers of Wilmette shouldering the costs. Unlike Mallinckrodt where the Park District purchased land to create a park for Wilmette, Wilmette residents would gain nothing through the lease of the harbor. The harbor basin serves a vital function in MWRD’s role which is to provide flood control for all of Cook County and they are the proper party to be responsible for the harbor and its basin. The residents should never be put in that position through the Park District’s actions. Given all of the recent tax increases that residents have been burdened with, she urged the Park District to stop now, to not spend any more money in pursuing this lease and to write a letter to the MWRD saying thanks but no thanks. Ms. Beucher then provided a copy of her entire comments to the Board and asked that these comments be included in the minutes of tonight’s meeting.
Kurt Harms, 718 Harbor, stated he has a boat in the harbor and advocates the Park District taking over the lease. He also suggests that the Park District should investigate expanding the harbor, then using the material that is currently left on the north wall of the harbor mouth and using that to extend the two breakwaters which would increase the size of the harbor and then be able to accommodate 300 boats. He also feels the cost to moor a boat in the harbor is underpriced and the demand for a slip in the harbor is unbelievable with 300 people currently on the waiting list. Expanding the harbor would be a huge financial benefit for Wilmette and goes well with the concept of other municipalities working with MWRD for the public good. He believes it would be a financial gain for Wilmette and provide a service to the community. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) factor is also very important.
Peter Nussbaum, 2547 Laurel Lane, stated he does not think it is in the best interests of the taxpayers to add this tax burden on the residents of Wilmette. Real estate is going down in price and taxes are going up so the focus should be on containing and reducing expenses and for the Park District to be the leaseholder is a step in the other direction. He does not understand why the Park District initially responded to the MWRD request in the first place because he doesn’t know if staff decided if it was in the best interest of the taxpayer. He has also written a letter asking why he would want to add this to his list of taxes. He is not boat owner, has never been one, and does not intend to become one.
Dave Keenan, 1913 Thornwood, stated he is honored to speak on behalf of all residents and for those who are present at this meeting including some boat owners and some not; however, everyone is united by our love of Wilmette and by our duties as taxpayers. With regard to the Park District taking over the MWRD lease of the harbor, we understand that the Park District has an obligation to the residents of Wilmette to conduct a thorough due-diligence effort. As part of that, they are here with respect and conviction to let the Board know the voters want the Park District to stop this process since Wilmette taxpayers gain no new benefit if the Park District takes over the harbor. In addition, taxpayers may also incur significant liability since the Park District does not have relevant experience or expertise to run a harbor, much less a silk basin, and has presented no plan to indicate it understands the gravity of such an initiative. For 75 years, the harbor has thrived as part of the Wilmette community paid for by those citizens with the additional burden on Wilmette taxpayers. On behalf of residents, he asked that the Park District immediately withdraw its direct interest in the harbor and instead focus on matters that benefit all Wilmette residents.
Commissioner Murdock asked for clarification on whether Mr. Keenan meant the Park District should cut the due diligence short or actually gather the information and come back to the residents. Mr. Keenan replied that the publicly available documents he saw stated that the Park District is already conducting due diligence and his point is that we are here to share our data.
Commissioner Graham asked is ignorance better than doing due diligence. The harbor is a resource and an asset to the community and the MWRD is a public body, not a private entity. So the question is how can anyone say to turn off all the information, to not listen to the facts, to not consider any data, and to not analyze any problems and instead just move away. It also troubles him that some people who are in the harbor are using the excuse of taxpayers having to pay more to maintain the status quo in the harbor. The real question is what will the financial impact be and if the financial impact is positive for the community. At this point he is unable to determine if it would be a positive or a negative. What he does know is that it would be irresponsible to not consider any and all information and to shut off our minds which would be a bad thing for the community.
Commissioner Murdock asked Mr. Keenan if he was asking the Park District to stop this process or does he believe at this point that it is not a good idea. Mr. Keenan replied that it is okay to conduct due diligence but the Park District needs to make sure they are getting taxpayer input as part of that due diligence and we are here tonight to express that they do not see the case for the Park District to become involved since Wilmette taxpayers would gain no benefit and could also incur liability.
Commissioner Murdock stated he clearly feels he does not have nearly enough information to make a decision but if it did turn out that this was a large potential revenue source, would Mr. Keenan say he would not be interested in that either. Commissioner Murdock understands that there could also be potential liabilities but he is not prepared to discuss that at this point.
Mr. Keenan replied he is a small businessman and has done is own research. He is not telling us to stop but rather he is saying he has looked at the issue as have other intelligent people and they do not see any benefits. If the Park District is going to move forward then it must produce that pertinent information, make it transparent and share it with everyone, and then provide the taxpayers with a choice.
President Brault stated there was an open letter to the residents of Wilmette and he is assuming Mr. Keenan’s name was on it. In the letter there was a reference to the Park District “spending tens of millions of dollars to benefit an incredibly small number of boaters just so the Wilmette Park District can say it owns the harbor” which is ludicrous. He then asked Mr. Keenan if he had any factual basis to make this statement.
Mr. Keenan replied that yes he does have facts and stated there is a $10 million liability the Park District would have to pay if operating funds could not cover it. President Brault stated that the Park District is very good at risk management and the Park District has insurance for a large number of areas. He then asked Mr. Keenan again if he had facts to support the tens of millions of dollars of liability and his point is that this letter is scaremongering and has no basis in fact. The Board is trying to investigate this issue to understand what the real liabilities and opportunities are and if this is a bad thing or a good thing for Wilmette. Unsubstantiated facts like this do not help anyone.
Commissioner Graham asked Mr. Keenan if the harbor has a $10 million liability and Mr. Keenan replied he did not know since he does not represent the harbor. Commissioner Graham replied that Mr. Keenan is acting as if he is representing the harbor. It’s one thing to join with the people of the harbor, sign the letter and put it in the press to chastise the Park District for doing nothing but we are just trying to gather information to figure out whether this would be a good or bad thing. Mr. Nussbaum has a legitimate point – what is the tax impact going to be on a Wilmette resident. The Park District and its commissioners are very sensitive to tax impacts. In fact, so sensitive that they consciously in the past few years have tried to have a 0% tax increase. The last thing the Board wants to do is create a tax liability for the residents of Wilmette. But sometimes there are opportunities at the harbor in conjunction with running it and other benefits that could arise through Gillson Park and the management of an entire operation which could benefit the entire Park District as well as residents of the community.
After further discussion, President Brault stated this may be a very emotional issue for all of us and everyone is trying to understand the issue. However, he pointed out that we all live in the same community and in the end, the harbor will still be there whether the Park District or someone else is managing it. He does appreciate the straightforward questions that have been brought up so far and hopes that will continue.
Phil Surwich, 444 Ridge Road, stated he has been a resident for most of his life. He is also a boat owner at the harbor and at the sailing beach. He is confused and concerned about the Park District’s schedule, where things stand now, and where the Park District plans to be in the future regarding this issue. President Brault stated that the existing lease with the WHA which runs through 2012. The Park District commenced the investigation when approached last fall by the MWRD and WHA and was not part of the master plan. At this point the Park District can’t say for sure how long the due diligence will take since we are in the process of identifying and then investigating the issues. At some point, further input will be gathered from the public once the Park District has a better grasp on the nature of the endeavor which we do not have at this point. There first needs to be a basic fact set about what we think the issues are, the potential expenses involved and the potential opportunities. President Brault’s expectation is that this issue will be on the agenda for some time to come.
Peggy Smith, 335 Central, stated she is a lifelong resident and believes that the harbor is not just a recreational opportunity for Wilmette but it is also the premier recreation facility in Wilmette. The harbor was formed by public dollars when the MRWD dammed it up to reverse the river. It now seems it is being run by a private association. She believes the Park District should investigate managing the harbor and that the harbor should be run by a body of people who are elected by the taxpayers and not a private organization. She fully encourages the Park District to look into it.
At this point Commissioner Crowley if there was anyone in the audience who represents the WHA but there was no response.
Stephen Bobo, 1215 Forest Avenue, stated he is a 21-year resident of Wilmette. He has a boat in the harbor which he has had for awhile. Although he is not involved with the governance of the harbor he is concerned about a change in the status quo. He thinks the harbor largely works the way it currently is set up. One concern about a possible changeover is the burden on expenses. Obviously, this is an opportunity for the Park District to raise fees down there which are already not inexpensive. He is also concerned about the additional expense of operations and supervision by the Park District as opposed to a private organization.
He is also concerned for another reason. He used to be at the sailing beach for eight years in the 1980’s. When he first started sailing off of Gillson Beach he heard many people who were veterans talking about how they were forced to move from the Langdon sailing beach to Gillson Park and how good the program was before the Park District became involved which resulted in participation falling off because they were no longer able to manage their affairs. They also mentioned what a great youth sailing program they had back then. As much as he admires the Park District which is one of the outstanding features of the Village, he would be unhappy if there were a negative impact on the sailing program as it is now run. It is also a fine youth program and last weekend’s national regatta with 71 boats was a great success. He would be very unhappy if there were negative changes to the spirit and volunteer nature of the harbor just to get the Park District involved. The most important thing is really the quality of use of the harbor and the ability to have a productive and meaningful experience for the youth who want to learn to sail. It’s a very successful program the way it is now and was built from harbor residents who bought bonds to fund the acquisition of boats so they could operate a training program for the youth or anyone else who wanted to come. It has since been quite successful. The program also resulted in one youth becoming an Olympic champion. He would hate to see a repeat of the Langdon to Gillson experience 30 years later which would have a negative impact on any of these things regardless of any great plans for the harbor, of revenue opportunities, or of how many years someone has to wait for a particular type of boat.
Commissioner Murdock observed that from everything he has heard the 420 regatta event was a great success and the Park District worked in partnership with the harbor. There were discussions at a number of meetings on how to accommodate the logistics of this event and it is hoped to have more of these types of events. He then asked Mr. Bobo in regard to the move from Langdon if he was aware of people who are currently unhappy with the Wilmette sailing operation.
Mr. Bobo replied that he moved from the sailing beach to the harbor in part because of what was perceived as a stifling impact of the Park District management back in 1984 and that there was hardly anyone using the sailing beach at that time. If you look at an average day now, there are not a lot of people using the beach although there is still a Hobie “forest” at the beach. There also seems to be more kayaks as well. Commissioner Murdock asked if it was Mr. Bobo’s assumption that if the Park District does not become involved, the harbor will continue the lease and that a third party will not come in. Mr. Bobo replied that he does not have any information to form a strong opinion on that and he doesn’t have any indication that there is a third party.
President Brault read a statement from the policies of the MWRD on how they will go about leasing their property. “The Water Reclamation District leases to private entities such as the harbor must be awarded to the highest responsible bidder pursuant to the receipt of sealed rental proposals or bids by the applicant following public advertisement of the availability of real estate for leasing.” What the MWRD has told the Park District is that they would do a national search.
Mr. Bobo stated it is a very small and unusual harbor and is unique in terms of the way boats are packed in there, the way everyone scrambles when the deep tunnel opens up, and the way the wind soars. He does not know how commercially viable the operation would be to an outside operator.
President Brault stated the Park District’s sense is that the MWRD will need to do their homework on what their field looks like the same way the Park District is conducting our own investigation. President Brault also commented that one of the potential outcomes might be for the Park District to retain some type of relationship with the harbor Association due to their expertise and experience. As a result, part of our investigation is of exactly that nature so we are looking at the potential opportunities and outcomes that may result. We asked for a discussion with the harbor and their most recent correspondence to us stated they are no longer interested in talking to us but we would like to keep that on the table because of their experience and expertise. We’re hoping there are some people who can convey that to us.
Mr. Bobo stated he hopes that when the process is completed, the Park District would call for a public meeting to address this topic and to continue the discussion on this issue. It is very important to him as a user and as a taxpayer. This is all new ground and there are a lot of physical limitations. He would like the opportunity as others have to hear the Boards thoughts and to provide their own thoughts.
President Brault stated the Board does not have a viewpoint at this time since the Park District is still investigating and no opinions have been formed. Mr. Bobo stated that the lack of information is breeding concern and he hopes to have a rationale discussion. He would also like the Park District to use a more widespread method of getting the message out if and when any decisions have been made.
Herbert Sorock, 2403 Iroquois stated he and his wife have been residents since 1978 and the closest they have been to the harbor was a cousin who had a boat. He has been looking at this issue as a taxpayer. He asked if the new rules stated that private entities are required to submit bids but if this rule would be waived for a public body, what then sets the price.
Director Wilson replied that in the meeting with the MWRD last week they stated that their standard municipal lease – a fee simple lease agreement – has been for a very small nominal fee. That has since changed and their standard language now is to share 25% of any net profits after all expenditures with the MWRD.
Mr. Sorock asked that if the Park District were to continue with the process, how could the arbor be anything but an advisory organization and not a direct party. This could be a potentially big opportunity depending on who wants to do what such as expanding the harbor, etc. About eight years ago a group of preservationists successfully got a referendum passed through the Park District to purchase the Mallinckrodt property and “Save Mallinckrodt”. The Park District purchased it and turned it over to a developer. Then one morning 44 trees were knocked down and so much for saving Mallinckrodt. There are dangers in thinking big things sometimes and not thinking through them all the way. The economic environment was different back then so as a taxpayer my antenna is always up for potential problems with unforeseen consequences. He would like the Park District to start with one overriding belief that unless there is a compelling reason to do something, he asks the Park District be cautious since it probably has little expertise in running a harbor. There is always an incentive for private institutions to be a bit more careful which is the way things are. He urged the Board to think very clearly and to remember Mallinckrodt.
Commissioner Murdock commented that Mr. Sorock talked about a private entity being a bit more financially conservative than a public entity. He encourage Mr. Sorock to take a look at our record especially over the last few years. Our tax levy is limited to a statutory increase and for a number of years we have been far below that and the Board takes that very seriously.
Brian Baker, 1219 Ashland, stated he has had the pleasure of living in Wilmette for 50 years and thinks the Park District has been great to him and his family. He has a sailboat at the sailing beach and uses the parks frequently. They have boat in the harbor as well and he did sign the letter that was published in the press. He believes there is a lot of concern about the unknown and there are a lot of emotions. But as a boat owner who had to wait for 13 years to get into the harbor, they enjoy it and think it runs great. He is joining some of his fellow boat owners who are concerned about what is going on in the interest of making sure we have change for the better. Certainly the Park District must do its due diligence and he is saying that as a resident. He pointed out that if you have 100 residents in the harbor out of 300 slips there might be speculation about increasing the size of the harbor which would be the “tens of millions” of dollars. He is concerned about the practicality from a taxpayer standpoint on how the Park District would be able to make this work for 100 to 300 residents. He does not think this is a profit opportunity and if the MWRD had to get a percentage what would be achieved. As a practical matter, it will have limited benefit to residents due to its size and then there is also the liability exposure. You cannot create this facility for everyone in Wilmette especially the way it’s currently constructed and configured. There will automatically be a lot of unhappy people. He just doesn’t see how practical it would be for the Park District since there are so few spots down there. If the Park District conducts its due diligence, that would be the one question he would ask and he is sure the Park District would come up with the answer.
Commissioner Murdock stated he doesn’t know if the harbor would be a revenue generator or not but his point earlier was that we need to go through the due diligence process first to gather as much information as possible about revenues and expenses as well as any potential capital improvements.
Commissioner Crowley asked a few questions on what the process is for obtaining a slip. Mr. Baker replied that a person goes on a waiting list and then waits for their turn which is the only way to get a slip.
Peter Hoyt, Winnetka, explained that slips cannot be handed down so if he dies, his son cannot automatically take it over. Every year when you send in your application you send in a title of the boat and the majority owner has to be the one with the slip. There is really no way to have a secondary market. The WHA does protect classes of sailboats so that there are enough boats in certain classes like the rainbow fleet. If you want a rainbow, you could buy new one or an existing rainbow and be accelerated because there is certain number of slips for certain boats to keep those racing fleets popular.
President Brault stated that the waiting list is one of the issues and how to address and deal with it. Posing that question in theory is part of what the Park District is thinking about and how to manage a waiting list that is in some cases has people waiting 20 years to get in.
Ted Prohov, 1509 Wilmette Avenue, thanked the Park District on behalf of himself and his wife. They waited 12 years to get into the harbor and prior to that he was involved with the harbor community, working and enjoying competitive sailing. The issues they are trying to understand are the liabilities, revenues and expenses as well as the long-term benefits to the sailing community and to the Wilmette community at large. Sailing is not as exclusive as people think although it can be expensive. He believes the current issues are unknown to most people and the Board could help with holding more open meetings so that everyone can learn from each other. As far as the wait list is concerned, that has been managed quite properly with a minor fee if you get on the list, then an initiation fee the first year, and finally paying for the mooring fee. As long as the ownership is valid, someone can stay at that mooring. The harbor tries to foster competitive sailing and the WHA is one of the few harbors that do. It is the future of our youth to be able to grow up and have that kind of ambiance and that kind of future and there are currently not enough children exposed to it. Many sailors are concerned that if the Park District focused on revenue, there would be more power boats which, in his opinion, endanger people by going too fast and injuring or even killing them. The Park District does a great job and we try to do the same thing at the harbor. He then suggested that the Board continue the open meeting sessions wherein everyone can learn about each other’s values and concerns.
Mr. Prohov then described in detail the different fleets that foster racing along with a limited number of the larger yachts. He added we need to keep the dialogue open, have everyone understand each other, and know what is going on. The takeover of the harbors in Chicago did not work out very well and we don’t want the same thing to happen in Wilmette.
President Brault asked if Mr. Prohov could put his thoughts into writing and provide a description on what he would consider an ideal configuration of boats starting where the harbor is now as well as to offer suggestions.
Sheila Bower, 1019 Sixth Street, stated she does not have a boat in the harbor but does share a kayak on the Wilmette beach. With all due respect to Park District staff, she has concerns about the number of swimmers at the south beach and the uncontrolled environment. It is a large amount of land and the Park District’s staff does a great job but because of that, she fears the Park District would have a hard time controlling and managing the harbor. She has also asked various lakefront staff why they continue to allow people to swim in an uncontrolled area.
Commissioner Crowley replied the Park District does not allow people to swim at the south beach but rather the people down at that end disregard staff who inform them that this is a no-swim area and the only way they can be stopped is to have the police arrest them and issue citations. On the other hand we cannot afford to have a police state down there, nor the can taxpayers.
Ms. Bower stated she wishes the Park District could increase its relationship with the police department to gain better control of what is going on in Gillson Park. She also stated the Park District has served her family quite well and she appreciates it. She has volunteered for the Park District and has always had respect for it and has had a good relationship. She just wants to say that the Gillson Park facility needs to be better controlled and the harbor is so geographically close to that area that it could result in a spill-over of unruly patrons.
President Brault stated Ms. Bower’s concerns are shared by the Board and as part of the overall master plan process for Gillson, the south beach is something that is near the top of the list. As we continue the lakefront planning process, it is very much on our minds to better maintain order but still not make it into a police state.
Dick Muller, 611 Fifth Street, stated he has been a Wilmette resident since 1966 except for a three-year period. His children went through New Trier and they love the community and the Park District. He thinks the waiting list at the harbor is run equitably and does not believe there are any “pay-offs” like the rumors heard about how Chicago sometimes runs its harbors. The slips are limited but there are some things that could be done to generate more slips by going up the locks and possibly putting some slips there. He currently shares a 28-foot sailboat with a partner which is the how they are able to afford it. He has been sailing since he was 14 years old and believes what people fear the most is that the Park District might use the harbor as a revenue source which concerns him since as a middle-class retiree it seems his taxes go up every year and that eventually they may have to move out of Wilmette. In fact, he would guess that many of the boat owners are middle class. If the rates are raised, then the harbor will only have the “rich people with big boats and big slips” and the middle class people will be gone. One way to generate more slips would be to not allow non-residents but he would be opposed to that. The reasons that the rates are comparably low is because the harbor is run efficiently even though we have to do our own dredging.
President Brault stated that there are some sections on the seawall that are deteriorating to the extent that there is a capital requirement to repair the seawall whether it is managed by the harbor, the Park District, or by some third party. He then asked Mr. Muller who would pay for that repair.
Mr. Muller responded that ordinarily it is paid for by the users regardless of who runs the harbor. It is his understanding that the harbor will need to be fully dredged in the near future but currently it is only a partial dredging. The last time they drained the whole harbor it was a huge project and that would be a very large expense which would also be on the backs of the users.
President Brault explained that this was one of the issues the Board is investigating and as a public entity, the question is do we have access to grants or resources beyond Wilmette. We do not yet have that answer but it is part of our investigation to see if there is money either from the state or federal governments that we could use to maintain the facility. We’re also looking at the condition of the seawall and if there are other pockets of money that will help the harbor.
Connor Smith, 335 Central Avenue, stated he grew up sailing and was very proud of his brother who sailed while at New Trier, was a member of the US sailing team and is a member of the US Olympic Team. Mr. Smith is a US Coast Guard licensed captain and has a Mainline Masters 50-ton license. In order to obtain that, he had to spend 380 days of sea time, most of which was from this harbor. He was home-schooled for a year and experienced sailing at several marinas during that time. He has applied for a slip and one had already come up but he turned it down to stay on the list in the hopes of getting a larger slip. It seems to him the harbor is run efficiently, everything is in order and he can’t think of any major improvements that needed.
Commissioner Murdock stated he sees that Mr. Smith’s parents and brother are here and at the Parks & Recreation Committee meeting held before this meeting there was also a young man who spoke. He finds it very encouraging to see young people active and interested in local government and he thanked Mr. Smith for speaking to the Board.
John Helmuth, 435 Briar, Winnetka, stated he has been sailing from the harbor for about 13 years. The heart of a sailing harbor like Wilmette is the racing fleet. Across the country, sailing is in somewhat of a down cycle and many harbors are trying to build things back up. The activity in the harbor is really about working together and racing with and against each other. Within the harbor, there are a number of different fleets. Typically when a mooring comes up, the only boat that can replace it on that mooring is another similar boat with the same class design. If that boat could go to another class of boat, it could result in that racing fleet being diminished which is what really drives the harbor. The ability to maintain what we have here as far as the fleets go and the ability to race is important.
President Brault asked if the waiting list was a public document. Mr. Helmuth responded that it is a public document and anyone could call and ask for it.
Rich Traub, 915 Oakwood Avenue, stated he was in New York for four years and has now moved back to Wilmette. He put his name on the waiting list so that by the time he is 30 he could possibly get into the harbor. He has not yet achieved that but when he does he will begin to pay into maintaining it. His question is if the Park District takes over and changes the way the waiting list works, where does the money go that he started paying and how are those who have been paying for several years dealt with. That issue should be reviewed since it seems like changing the way the waiting lists work could be a fairly large expense.
President Brault stated that the Board is nowhere near that level of detail yet but if Mr. Traub had a recommendation on how to address that we would like him to send it to us.
Commissioner Graham stated that Mr. Traub’s point about the waiting list is a good one and it is something that was raised and then placed in a letter asking for a recommendation. He believes it is something the Park District is still waiting for.
Alex Borre, 2225 Crestview Lane, stated he is currently on the WHA board. He was just able to get his boat slip and from what he has heard there is a large lack of information on the Park District’s part. The Board has asked some really good questions but to my knowledge no one has come forward and provided any answers. His concern is that if someone put their name on the list, then the Park District could potentially take someone like him who has been waiting for 16 years off the list. This harbor means a lot to him and he doesn’t think the Park District understands the inner workings of the harbor and that there is a lot to learn. What is not understood is how the harbor is set up. The boats are placed in specific places because the harbor is very shallow. For example, smaller sailboats are placed in specific areas of the harbor and in a certain positions because of the way the locks are set up. The main purpose of doing this is to be able to move the boats within a half hour of the locks being opened. Mr. Borre stated we will do everything in our power to answer the Board’s questions. What makes him nervous are those people who have had their names on the list since they were children and what will happen to them if they don’t really have a lot of money if the Park District raises those prices. That is what is making him nervous. Mr. Borre has worked there for almost 10 years. A lot of time and effort has been put into the harbor and to see it potentially being taken over and completely changed is disturbing. This is a close-knit community of 300 boats, everyone knows each other there and once again the biggest concern is that we don’t want someone to come in and change everything.
Commissioner Brault stated he appreciated Mr. Borre’s passion for the harbor since that’s what makes it go. In terms of the issues that the Board is trying to learn about, a very extensive letter was sent to the WHA asking many of these same questions. However, the majority of those have not yet been answered. So the Park District continues to wait while trying to learn about these issues. His second thought was that if you look at the way the Park District manages its other facilities such as the golf course, tennis or ice, we are typically the highest cost provider all the way around so in terms of how we look at the world we understand the merits of community. That may not be the case if a third party comes in. When you look at any potential involvement in this issue, please do not look at it as if it’s the WHA vs. the Park District because that is not what we are trying to do. We are trying to see if it is a good fit or not. If not, it could very well be someone else.
President Brault thanked everyone for their patience and for attending tonight’s meeting. There has been a lot of discussion and the comments made were very educational as we go through the process of trying to learn everything.
Commissioner Crowley commented that he was very surprised no one from the WHA was in attendance at tonight’s meeting.
Chess Porter, 722 11th Street, addressed the Board and indicated he is a Board member of the WHA. He is here tonight only as an observer. He stated the WHA Board has appointed a committee to be headed by Chuck Rider. Mr. Rider has advised Mr. Porter that there is a rather large issue with a certain Freedom of Information Request that has not been resolved in terms of how the harbor plans to deal with that.
Commissioner Graham stated he sent an email to Mr. Rider addressing that issue and he hoped Mr. Rider informed Mr. Porter about that email and then analyzed the issue with him. However, the Park District has not yet heard from him and it has been about a month. Mr. Porter stated that the WHA Board will be meeting next week Monday evening, July 25. President Brault added it is the Park District’s belief that any sensitive information can be protected.
Commissioner Crowley asked Mr. Porter that while he understands some information is sensitive, a lot of the information the Park District has asked for is not sensitive. We have asked the harbor to talk to us but they do not step forward and do so and we don’t know why. That then paints the Park District as being an aggressive organization going after the harbor and that is definitely not the truth. We are just asking for information and as a result he is somewhat concerned about how the Park District is being portrayed. Once again, we are just trying to gather information.
Mr. Porter stated that very early on the harbor came to the Park District indicating they were very interested in working with the Park District and stated here are the facts and would the Park District be interested in a contractual relationship. And it was his understanding that it was reported back to the WHA Board that the idea was rather emphatically turned down by the Wilmette Park District.
President Brault strongly emphasized that this was not true and he cannot make it any clearer than that. Mr. Porter asked if that was still an option and President Brault responded yes, indeed it was. Mr. Porter replied he will indicate that to the WHA Board at next Monday night’s meeting. President Brault stated the Park Board will also have another meeting on August 8.
Commissioner Murdock stated that once again we are simply trying to gather information and for himself he hasn’t made any decisions and does not have near enough information to make a decision. He thinks that this is true for the other Board members here tonight. He knows there were several people who raised concerns about the operation of the harbor, waiting lists, current moorings and fees. Once again, even if we were to become involved, none of these decisions have been made. It is his understanding that the MWRD would actually require certain provisions in the lease to protect current boat owners whether it’s the WHA, the Park District or a third group managing the harbor. Again, he asks that cooler heads prevail. The meeting tonight has been a pleasant one and he thanked everyone for coming out to share their opinions on both sides of the issue. This will be a long process and it is really just the start of it. He encouraged everyone to attend future meetings and as President Brault requested, if anyone has additional information for us, please communicate such at a public meeting, via email or another method.
President Brault added that if anyone has not heard issues that need to be talked about to let the Board or staff know. The best way to let us know your thoughts would be to email Director Steve Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APPROVAL OF VOUCHER LIST:
Commissioner Crowley moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to approve the Voucher List in the amount of $1,950,783.09, a copy of which is to be attached to and become a permanent part of the minutes of this meeting.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
Financial Planning & Policy Committee – Committee Chair Graham reported the Committee had two meetings since our last Board meeting. Topics discussed included the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility review which was put out for bid and one response was returned. Staff asked for another bid and another response was received. The first bid was lower so the Committee recommended approval of the initial bid. The purpose of this is review is to make sure all of our facilities comply with the ADA. The second bid came in at $21,160.
Commissioner Graham moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to retain the firm of Recreation Accessibility Consultants, Hoffman Estates, IL to perform the ADA Accessibility Review and provide estimated costs for the Capital Improvement Plan in the amount of $20,876 as recommended by the Financial Planning and Policy Committee.
By a roll call vote, voting Yes – Commissioners Benz, Brault, Crowley, Graham, Murdock, and Shelly; voting No -- None. Absent – None; Motion carried.
Commissioner Graham stated there were two other items the Committee discussed that deal with amendments to the Organization and Operation of the Park Board. The first one deals with compliance with the Open Meetings Act. That recommendation is to add a section to the Park Board Ordinances that make clear what the rules and restrictions are as well as the limits for open discussion. The Park District has always asked for open discussion like we had tonight and this will help to create a slightly more orderly process. The recommendation is to have a three-minute limit but that could be expanded by the chairman of the presiding committee as well as additional Park District related topics that were not on the original agenda.
Commissioner Benz moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to accept the updates to the Organization & Operations of the Board of Park Commissioners under Section 2.09 Order of Business.
Commissioner Graham explained that the next motion has to do with meetings and the structure of meetings has changed so that there are more committee meetings and less Board meetings than in the past. The rule used to be that you had to attend 12 meetings or your position as Commissioner could be vacated. Now there are 12 Board meetings a year with multiple committee meetings which all Commissioners attend. But because of the nature and change in the meeting structure, it is proposed to change the vacancy ordinance so that it requires a minimum of eight meetings, including special and Committee meetings, and those meetings can also be attended by telephone or video hook-up provided there is sufficient advanced notice.
Commissioner Benz moved and Commissioner Crowley seconded a motion to accept the updates to the Organization & Operations of the Board of Park Commissioners under Section 2.23 Vacancies Declared.
Lastly, the Committee talked about capital improvement plans and the budget for them. The Committee then approved some items and reserving approval on other items until later in the year to see how the budget is progressing.
Parks & Recreation Committee – Committee Chair Murdock reported the Committee has met twice since our last meeting – on June 20th and again tonight. Discussion took place on a number of issues. At the June Committee meeting, enrollment in camps was discussed and in summary the numbers were up across the board which is very positive. Also discussed was the chain link fence at Langdon Park which will be revisited in the fall.
Committee Chair Murdock also reported at tonight’s Committee meeting, discussion again took place on camp numbers and that camps are in their sixth week. The Committee also talked about the damage sustained from the July 11th storm. There was some damage but most of it was limited to the lakefront. In addition, Highcrest, the Village Hall and Centennial lost power. Once again, staff did a great job of dealing with the storm issues and then getting everything open again and ready for our patrons. He would also like to remind everyone that registration is ongoing for fall activities so if you’re interested, please register.
Golf Operations Committee - Commissioner Brault reported the Golf Operations Committee met on June 18 with the primary topic being the master improvement plan. This plan was summarized by Martin Design Partnership who created it and after a significant amount of discussion, the Committee moved to accept the plan as submitted.
President Brault moved and Commissioner Crowley seconded a motion to accept the golf course master plan as prepared by the firm of Martin Design Partnership, Ltd., as recommended by the Golf Operations Committee.
President Brault added that as part of our discussion, this is a long-term road map for potential improvements that may or may not be made over a long period of time. This is also not a mandate to start changing the golf course next week. This is actually a long-term vision for the course and its ultimate implementation either in part or in whole and will be a function of available capital at that time. We did, however, approve some capital improvement items for this year and one of the recommendations was to move forward with the improvements of the green at hole #6 which is somewhat of a start of the master plan.
Commissioner Murdock stated he understood that apparently the #6 green is in very good condition relative to recent years but because of the nature of the green and how it was constructed we think it is living on borrowed time. Director Wilson stated that it is a safe statement to make especially with a certain type of heat lasting for a prolonged period of time which is when we really need to keep it alive by a lot of watering. Much of what we do at the course is in Mother Nature’s hand. Living with a green where you have to babysit it and potentially lose it is time consuming so if we can avoid having to operate that way it would be a much better situation in managing a golf course for public consumption.
Commissioner Murdock added that, as President Brault mentioned, this is a long-term project but will be nice for our residents to see at least one part of that plan being implemented. Director Wilson stated that at this point, we are still working on the technical documents but hope in time it will eventually allow for the proper bid process to take place followed by construction in the fall.
President Brault also reported that due to the bad weather this year, our paid rounds are down about 20%. Last year through the end of June, the course had almost 18,000 rounds of play. This year to date there are only about 14,250. Total round revenue is actually down almost $60,000 from last year at this time. Last year total revenue was $308,000 at this point compared to $247,000 this year which is a drop of about 20%. The good news is that there has been some sound expense tracking and managing of our surplus at the course which means we are only down by about $6,000 through June 30 as compared to last year. Mike and his crew have done a very good job in managing costs at the golf course.
Centennial Operations Committee – Committee Chair Crowley reported the Committee did not meet in June due to the storm but will meet in July.
Director Wilson reported on the July 3rd celebration held over the Independence Day weekend. The event was very successful and the day began with 386 adult participants in our run/walk and 169 in the formalized youth races for a total of 555 participants plus the 75 age five and under participants. The afternoon was filled with activities, music, rides, and carnival games that are always well received and enjoyed by everybody. That evening the fireworks were spectacular and everything went very well, including the weather. Superintendent Lambrecht works very closely with the with the police, fire, and public works departments and without their help the event would never happen so we thank them all for their assistance. It was probably the best July 3rd event he has been a part of and a lot of that had to do with the weather. In addition, no incidents were reported from the police or fire departments.
Regarding the July 11th storm, we lost approximately a total of nine trees – three at Mallinckrodt, two at Bateman Park, and two on the golf course. There were also a lot of large limbs down throughout the Village and we coordinated our efforts with the Village to clear the branches.
Director Wilson has passed on to the Board the vacancy announcement and 12 individuals submitted their statements of qualifications and interest for that position. As of this morning one individual has pulled their name out of the hat so there are now 11 candidates.
President Brault stated that because of the resignation of one of our Board members a couple of months ago, the process of filling that vacancy will begin with the formation of a new committee headed by Commissioner Graham. This committee will go through the initial round of interviews followed by the selection of potential commissioners. The Committee will then come back with recommendations for the full Board so that everyone will have a chance to talk about the potential candidates. It is hoped to have that selection process completed by the next Board meeting in August.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: None
NEW BUSINESS: None
The meeting adjourned to closed session for the discussion of the selection of a person to fill a public office, as defined in the Illinois Open Meetings Act per Section 2(c)(3) of the Open Meetings Act at 9:47 pm.
The Regular Board Meeting was reconvened at 10:10 pm.
Commissioner Crowley moved and Commissioner Murdock seconded a motion to approve the Special Meeting minutes of the June 12th Closed Session of the Board of Park Commissioners.
There being no further business to conduct, the meeting was adjourned at 10:11 pm.
MINUTES APPROVED ON AUGUST 8, 2011.