In October, 2005 the Porter Town Council gave the Park Board until year’s
end to get its act together and make council-requested changes or risk being
In December, 2010 another Porter Town Council asked the Park Board to
transfer jurisdiction for all park employees to the council for more
continuity, reminding members the board can be disbanded if it didn’t
This time, is it more than just a threat?
The current Porter Town Council on Tuesday authorized preparation of an
ordinance to disband the sitting Park Board citing the need for
consolidation of town resources and manpower to save money. The ordinance
will be considered Oct. 8.
It was stressed that if the ordinance is adopted, park operations and
facilities rentals including those at the Hawthorne Park community building
will continue without interruption.
Council president Elka Nelson explained that two years ago she would have
laid down in front of a train rather than change the parks but now she’s a
strong proponent of doing so. She noted Lowell and Cedar Lake, both larger
than Porter, have disbanded their respective Park Boards.
Nelson proposed bringing the Porter Park Department under the council’s
direct jurisdiction and making it answerable to it like the Police, Public
Works, Fire and Building departments. The statutory Park Board with
independent powers would be replaced with a park advisory board to develop
suggestions and goals.
The park shake-up in no way disrespects the four current Park Board members,
Nelson added, and they would be asked to join the new advisory board.
Resident Nancy Bailey endorsed reorganization. With a Park Board, “(It’s)
almost like too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” she said. Resident
Jennifer Klug supported reorganization as well.
Council members Jeannine Virtue, Rob Pomeroy, David Wodrich and Nelson voted
to have the reorganization ordinance prepared; Greg Stinson voted no,
defending the need for a Park Board and at times listening to the discussion
with his lowered head in his hands.
He said when plans for an open drainage swale through Hawthorne Park first
were proposed, the Park Board defended Hawthorne’s interests and negotiated
a better solution. Stinson noted that while the Park Board didn’t budge, the
wishes of a park advisory committee could be ignored.
Stinson also said streamlining the Park Department to save money sounds
good, but he’s not convinced it outweighs the other risks.
Council proponents of reorganization said park director Brian Bugajski,
hired six months ago, would be an effective department head not subject to
unnecessary Park Board oversight, described by Virtue as an extra layer of
Current Park Board member Ross LeBleu sent a message read by Virtue as park
liaison expressing his support for reorganization, calling it a positive
step in the right direction.
But former and current Park Board members speaking Tuesday did not share
“I really question the wisdom of it,” said former member Al Raffin. He felt
the current council’s election in 2010 was a referendum on the Park Board
after threats to disband it. He also called for a forum to discuss the
reorganization plan. “We have very nice parks in this town and I’d hate to
Nine-year member and current Park Board president Rondi Wightman said Nelson
last year forced the Park Board to retain former park superintendent Jim
Miller, who had resigned but was brought back as maintenance specialist in a
wave of public support resulting in two full-time park positions.
Wightman said it’s disingenuous to complain that having done so costs more
money. Nelson said she did support Miller’s continued park employment, but
it’s not about Miller now; her concern is how to save money in the Park
Department and eliminating an estimated $6,000 in duplicate administrative
costs is a start. She stopped further comments from Wightman.
After the meeting Wightman said, “I hope (Nelson) doesn’t take us down
another rabbit hole.”
Former Park Board member Nikki Crist said there are a lot of unknowns at
this point and asked whether a comprehensive park reorganization plan should
be developed first.
She also questioned whether Bugajski would require a raise for his expanded
responsibilities, negating other anticipated savings. Nelson said it’s
likely too early to discuss a raise.
Nelson said the goal is merger and consolidation of town services using
shared resources and manpower between departments. “Everybody would be on
one team working together.”
Pomeroy said the Park Department has had cash-flow problems for years that
won’t go away until expenses are less than revenue. “I don’t think the park
will really be hurt. It will be fine.”
Virtue explained the only way to trim the budget was to cut out the popular
children’s summer park program but that’s out of the question so dissolving
the Park Board is being considered instead. So far she’s had a lot of
positive responses to doing that, said Virtue, but she’s still trying to
determine if there would be a downside to it.
Wodrich asked about the legal ramifications if the Park Board is disbanded.
Nelson said the Town of Porter Park Department has title to the parks, and
there will still be a Park Department.