Naperville Park District to take legal action to reopen programs, facilities

Naperville Park District's board of commissioners wants a judge to decide whether it can reopen district programs and facilities, regardless of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's "Restore Illinois" plan.

The board voted 4-3 Thursday night to seek authority "through emergency court action" to make reopening decisions "that are in the best interest of our community." Commissioners took the vote after public discussion and a lengthy executive session.

"I fully support the use of legal action against the governor," Commissioner Bill Eagan said during the public discussion. "I believe his actions are arbitrary and capricious. We need to be separated from Chicago. We are an informed citizenry. And we can make decisions for ourselves."

The lawsuit against the governor will be filed in DuPage County Circuit Court next week, according to park district attorney Derke Price.

When asked about the legal challenge, Pritzker on Friday said Naperville park officials "should be following the data and the science here and not their gut."

"I, too, would like to allow all children, my own included, to participate in summer sports in group fashion," Pritzker said. "And I hope we'll be able to do that soon enough as we move though the phases ... of the Restore Illinois plan, but I recommend against it (an early reopening)."

He said he realizes officials in Naperville will do whatever they want, "but I wish they would show some leadership."

In a statement released Friday, board President Rich Janor said the district intends to fulfill its mission to provide recreation opportunities for residents.

"We understand that an important part of being healthy includes staying active," Janor said, "and that includes being able to use some of the outdoor amenities and operate some of the programs that the district provides. The governor's executive order improperly interferes with the board's ability to make those decisions."

Consistent with existing regulations, the park district is planning to reopen additional facilities and programs beginning June 1. Outdoor facilities that will reopen include disc golf at Knoch Knolls Park, skate parks, sport courts, parking lots and the Paddleboat Quarry.

Executive Director Ray McGury said the district also is proceeding with outdoor summer programs, including camps, "but with substantial modifications to adhere to required social distancing practices," McGury said. Youth athletic programs, including baseball and softball, will return June 15, but with reduced roster sizes.

"We are following this executive order, but we don't believe he (Pritzker) has the power to do it," Price said. "That's why we're seeking relief. We're complying until we confirm that he doesn't have the power to do the things he's trying to do."

Price said commissioners have received information from the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health and simply want the ability to do things that are reasonable.

Several commissioners said they received emails urging them to take action to safely open parks and make youth sports available.

"There are many programs we can open safely right now, if we had any flexibility from the governor to make local decisions," Commissioner Josh McBroom said.

McBroom said it's "ridiculous" that kids can't play Little League Baseball right now.

"So it's my position that we explore all options to break free from the order from Springfield to allow us to make our own safe and responsible decisions in order to allow our constituencies the freedom of choice," McBroom said.

Still, three commissioners - Bobby Carlsen, Mike Reilly and Marie Todd - voted against taking legal action.

"I don't think it's in the best interest for the park district to litigate this matter," Todd said. "I think the bottom line issue really is more whether or not the data from the Western suburbs should be part of the Northeast region data that Pritzker has identified. And I really think the municipality should be fighting that fight - not the Naperville Park District."

Rich Janor
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