When Carol Grom looks at recent spending by Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners, she sees projects more appropriate for a park district: baseball stadiums, golf courses, ice rinks -- neither nature nor open space.
When Grom thinks about the series of decisions that facilitated the future of Longmeadow Parkway bisecting the Brunner Forest Preserve, she sees decisions more appropriate for a county board.
Together, all the actions are not what Grom and her fellow members in the Elgin Area League of Women Voters thought they were getting when they supported the last two multimillion-dollar tax increases for the district. And this week, the league released a study detailing all the reasons they may have trouble supporting any future tax increases for the district.
Forest Preserve District President John Hoscheit says the study is invalid because league members merely sought information to confirm their personal biases. Hoscheit does not believe the majority of district residents share the views expressed in the report.
The 33-page report blasts district commissioners for engaging in agreements with other local governments that have resulted in wilderness being transformed into bike paths and soccer fields. It details frustration with the Brunner Forest Preserve, the most expensive single land purchase in the history of the district, still being mostly inaccessible to the public.
And the report calls for a divorce between the district and the Kane County Board.
Commissioners also serve as county board members. But where county board members receive a salary and benefits, a $30 meeting stipend is the only compensation for the role of commissioner.
The study says that discrepancy has made open space and nature a far less important consideration for the elected officials wearing both hats.
"The whole point of having forest preserves was to preserve and restore natural areas," Grom said in an interview. "A picnic table, bathroom and parking lot, I'm OK with that. But once you start developing baseball fields you are no longer preserving wilderness."
That thinking also applies to the future of the Brunner Forest Preserve in West Dundee. The $40 million purchase faces a future that includes the Longmeadow Parkway running through the middle of the preserve and over the Fox River. Grom said a commission focused on preservation probably would not have agreed to that plan.
"Anything that cuts right through the middle of a preserve really diminishes it," Grom said. "But I think everybody has come to grips with that being a done deal."
Hoscheit said the intertwined future of Longmeadow and Brunner is an example of why the boards should remain combined. The forest preserve district didn't have enough money to purchase Brunner without the advance knowledge that commissioners would immediately sell the right of way for the parkway to the county and recoup some of the purchase funds, Hoscheit said.
"If not for the county, there would be no Brunner Forest Preserve," Hoscheit said. "Instead, there would be hundreds of townhouses there."
The Brunner preserve was the focus of a scathing report released last year by Grom and the league that accused commissioners of secretly discussing the creation of a gravel mine operation at the preserve. The league still opposes that idea.
"If you wanted to open up that issue again, I think the public may support it," Hoscheit said. "It would create a separate amenity of a lake there. There would also be a significant revenue stream created that we could invest in properties elsewhere. Right now, the board has chosen not to do that, and I don't see that changing. But it would be interesting to have a referendum on that issue."
Grom said that's the kind of talk that should trigger people into paying more attention to what commissioners really intend to do with referendum dollars.
"That's really scary," Grom said of Hoscheit's comments. "It's clear that that's way on the back burner, but it's not dead yet, and it should be. When you start pulling natural resources out of the land, you're not preserving it."
The full report is available at: http://lwvelginarea.org/.