Confrontation Boils Over at Park Board Workshop
Commissioner and Oswegoland Park District critic Len Wass presented his campaign financial analysis to his fellow commissioners Wednesday morning at the Little White School Museum. It was less than warmly received.
Commissioners met to discuss a wide range of issues, but spent most of their time arguing about newly-elected member Len Wass’ campaign study of park district spending. Allegations that Wass manipulated the district’s budget numbers to shed a negative light on spending stretched out over his nearly 90-minute presentation of his analysis, which was widely disseminated during the campaign earlier this year.
Commissioners agreed to allow Wass to provide his analysis at the workshop meeting after a report in the Aurora Beacon News said that his claims that the park district spends the most per resident in the area were not accurate.
During the campaign Wass said the district spends about $456 per resident annually. He arrived at that figure, he said, after studying the district’s 2009 financial report. Wass said the report shows park district expenditures totaling about $18 million with 40,000 residents. The 40,000 figure was based upon 2000 census figures. The latest census has the Park District with 49,000 residents.
Board President Bob Mattingly came to the workshop prepared for Wass’ report with an analysis of his own. He said that Wass’ figures were not fair comparisons. Wass’ report shows the park district with $18 million in total expenditures (which includes fund balances from previous years that carry over from budget to budget,) and his analysis of other park districts did not include those districts’ fund balances.
Mattingly said in reality the park district only spends about $9 million annually. His study also showed that comparing local district spending (including budgeted fund balances,) the Oswegoland Park District spends less per resident than Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles.
“I think what you’ve been doing is manipulating these figures for your own gain,” Mattingly said. “It’s been very misleading.”
The verbal sparring between Wass, Mattingly and Commissioners Danielle Ebersole and Deb Krase continued over everything from employee pay and benefits, the number of park district facilities and user fees.
“Going in I was a bit suspicious about why I was asked to present my campaign presentation (at the workshop),” Wass said after the meeting. “I took them at their word that they wanted to see it and understand the background information.
"I indeed was surprised and disappointed in what happened. It was a well-coordinated, pre-planned attempt to discredit me in the hopes that I might fall in line or resign with this public humiliation. It was like a pack of hyenas enjoying their kill.”
Mattingly said Thursday he has no interest in forcing Wass to resign. In fact, he said a conflicting voice on the board is good.
“I’m sure he didn’t feel good that we challenged him,” Mattingly said. “In the past when he’s given his presentation it’s been before a crowd of folks that are supportive of him.
"What we were doing is attempting to get the facts out about the park district. We’ve been accussed time after time of being the biggest spenders in the nation and it’s just not true, yet he continues to insist that his figures are correct.”
Wass wondered why Mattingly is only now bringing forward these figures after the 2009 financial report was published over a year ago.
"I find it more than a little suspicious," he said.
As for the future and working together on issues facing the park district, both men had characteristically opposing viewpoints.
“At the current rate there are three votes of the incumbents and (Commissioner) Roy (White) may vote his own way,” Wass said. “They certainly have a majority. They are going continue to operate the park district in the way they see fit, and they won’t let anyone impede them in that. I was certainly given a clear message — conform or resign.”
Mattingly said he’ll try his best to come to an agreement with his rival.
“I’m sure this is the way it’s going to be, and I feel badly about it,” he said. “I’m not confrontational. We can disagree on things, but it’s how you disagree that matters. I can tell you one thing; I won’t be bullied.”