A slate of candidates are challenging the Glen Ellyn park board incumbents on their handling of financial matters, most prominently the park district's new fitness center.
Board President Ed Hess is a 12-year board member who has praised the district's work on the state-of-the-art Ackerman Sports and Fitness Center that opened last year. His most direct challenge comes from a three-person slate of candidates who say the $4 million in extra costs of Ackerman is one example of how the district's financial books aren't in order.
When voters authorized the new complex in 2006, the building's cost was said to be $7.4 million. But the project was later expanded when some residents asked for more amenities, such as increases in field size.
The cost ended up being $11.2 million, and to make up the difference, the district borrowed the funds.
The increased price tag has caught the ire of Kathy Cornell, Richard Dunn and Gary Mayo, who say they decided to run as a slate because of shared concerns on fiscal matters and transparency.
It's not the first time a three-person slate has run on such a platform. In the 2009 park board election, Melissa Creech, Jay Kinzler and Julia Nephew successfully unseated three incumbents. Since joining the board, they've voted together against a four-person majority led by Hess on most issues involving district finances, such as the budget. The three have endorsed Cornell, Dunn and Mayo.
Also running is Catherine Galvin, a frequent attendee of board meetings and "Glen Ellyn Park Bench" blogger.
Incumbents Sandy Minogue and William Dallman aren't seeking re-election.
Mayo said the park board didn't make an effort to gauge the opinion of taxpayers about the extras at Ackerman. Dunn said they deserve a "through and complex explanation" about the added costs, which he argued has increased the district's debt.
Galvin said the board should have communicated with residents on how it chose to change the scope of the project.
But Hess has defended the Ackerman project from its inception, calling it one of the best projects the park district has done. He said the facility is well-utilized by residents, and the district is seeing a profit from it in only a year's time.
"If we built a $7 million building, it would've been sitting there doing nothing," Hess said.
The three candidates running together have criticized the last two district budgets for overspending, and they say the district's total debt has tripled since 2001.
"There's a lot of great programs, good maintenance, and I'm proud of facilities we have," Dunn said. "But financially, the approach has not been as good as it could have been."
Hess said the district is currently engaged in deficit spending, but it's not unexpected because of the Ackerman project. He said Ackerman will be paid for in 10 years, while it would yield benefits for years to come.
"All our financial statements show we're in the black. We're not losing money," Hess said. "What the other side is saying is that if we did not sell the non-referendum bonding, then we would be in the red. Well maybe that's true, maybe not."
All of Hess' opponents say the board could do more to be more transparent. Some have suggested recording board meetings and posting them online, and making more detailed meeting minutes.
Hess said he believes the vast majority of constituents serviced by the park district are pleased with what the district has done. He argued there would be a lack of diversity on the board if Cornell, Dunn and Mayo are elected together.
"I think there needs to be someone on the park district board that knows the true facts and is willing to do something for the whole and not just a small constituency," Hess said. "I'd like to be the voice of reason on the board, not somebody out for a special interest."
The three say they agree on overarching issues, but have differences on smaller matters, and didn't expect they would vote as a block.
Mayo said before the 2009 election of Creech, Kinzler and Nephew, the seven-member board voted the same way all the time.
"They were a hand-picked group that rubber-stamped everything," Mayo said. "I think now we would have some people on the board who would question some things and would be willing to sit down and discuss issues."
Galvin, who called herself an independent, said she would be a diverse viewpoint on the board.
"I've never seen any board where people were so bent on having control to the point of having six people controlling the board out of a seven-member board," Galvin said. "I think the key to the race is offering diversity and offering a different voice."