Thursday, October 26, 2017 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews
In my nearly five years of covering Maywood, I’ve grown used to sloppy pessimism and cynicism emanating from many fronts — particularly Facebook.
But I still bristled when I read some recent comments under a post about the park district renovating its central area grounds.
“Definitely rushed to get that done,” the comment read. “When are you guys going to fix these streets? Maybe Add better lighting at the already existing parks. Maybe should redo some of the badly damage parks [sic].”
The comment garnered a thumbs up and a response from someone else, who explained that “You’ll get all that as soon as you pay more in taxes. It’s not free, ya know… government pockets have to get lined first.”
Yet another respondent noted, “Well y’all taking enough from the red light camera in maywood.”
There’s a lot to unpack here — not the least of which is that the park district, being a separate taxing body from the village, has no responsibility for maintaining Maywood’s streets.
And one wonders if the commentator thought twice about writing that whatever undefined entity he references “should redo some of the badly damage parks” under a news post about a renovated park.
The posts also betrayed an ignorance of the fact that the park district doesn’t even control most of the parks in the village, which is its own issue.
Or that the village of Maywood (again the taxing body that is responsible for maintaining streets) has made multiple millions of dollars’ worth of street repairs in the last year without raising new taxes (the money has come from a combination of TIF funds and county, state and federal grants).
Or that the park district does not realize any revenue from red light cameras and what revenue the village of Maywood realizes from red light cameras is likely to be inconsequential.
It’s rather frustrating when I encounter these criticisms, but the deep cynicism and pessimism behind them is understandable. Those sentiments have become the default positions of many Maywood residents who are even more frustrated (and rightly so) about any number of things.
But lazy and misinformed skepticism will not make one’s frustrations go away or improve one’s material reality. In fact, it often simply feeds a climate of despair in which neglected parks and darkly lit streets are the norm.
When something good happens, like $500,000 worth of park upgrades, some people are so used to dysfunction that they can’t bring themselves to give credit where credit is due.
Take it from a natural pessimist. It’s OK to feel good about what’s currently happening at the park district, even if, like me, you might have to temper the feeling with caution.
I’m not intimately familiar enough with the park district’s affairs to be giddy, but I do know the contours of its recent history (going back to 2013, when I first started covering Maywood) enough to see that the district is making progress.
In 2006, the park district received a $1 million state grant to renovate its flagship building at 809 Madison. By 2013, the building still sat empty.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood native and current resident who paved the way for the funding, said that she was “heartbroken” when she learned that despite $750,000 spent, the building seemed nowhere near ready to open roughly a decade later.
The most recent round of funding that paid for the district’s exterior renovations and that the park district is confident will pay for them to open the renovated 809 Building, after three decades of vacancy, is due to Lightford’s work in the General Assembly, despite the heartbreak, on behalf of low-income park districts not just in Maywood but across the state.
Lightford sponsored a bill in the Senate that allocates money to park districts in need. State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, another Maywood native, helped push it through the House. And when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner froze those funds, Lightford and Welch were among those lawmakers who pushed back until he freed them up.
This time, Lightford said, better oversight measures will ensure that the money isn’t squandered. The village of Maywood matched that oversight when it voted unanimously in September to give the park district $285,000 in TIF funds that would be paid directly to contractors working on the 805 Building.
Credit is also due to park district officials, particularly former executive director Antoinette Dorris, who made sure that the district got its financial house in order. A period of belt-tightening resulted in the district earning the trust of a bank that would loan them enough money to make the required matching share necessary to secure those state grants.
And it took the apparent diligence and doggedness of the park district commission, particularly commissioners Terrance Jones and Dawn Williams-Rone, who seemed to envision Saturday’s ribbon-cutting when they first got elected in 2013. Their work would be void without the votes of their fellow commissioners Bill Hampton, Arnettra Burnside and John Rice.
The district, under a new executive director, Lonette Hall, also seems to be working on a plan to finally take control over the six remaining parks that should have been transferred from the village a long time ago, ever since the passage of a 2006 referendum mandating such a transition.
This is all progress and it should be praised, but there are also qualifiers. For instance, I worry what kind of debt load the park district has taken on in its pursuit of renovating its central area district, and whether or not it will continue its financial prudence beyond what’s needed to open the 809 Building’s doors. I also wonder if the district will be able to scale up and upgrade its services and programs to the level of its parks and facilities.
There are other concerns that I have — many due to a lack of knowledge. For the sake of transparency and as a way to manage the public’s expectations, the park district could perhaps host some informational sessions designed to educate the community on its financial status and its future plans — both for its central area district park and the other parks under its control.
But responsibility is a two-way street. Residents need to take some measure of responsibility for their own civic awareness and understanding instead of falling back on lazy, knee-jerk cynicism. VFP
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