Park Board OKs New Vandalism Rule
District also will seek restitution for Washington Park toilet incidents.
The Downers Grove Park Board unanimously approved a new ordinance Thursday mandating that park staff notify the board whenever vandalism occurs at a park, even if staff doesn't file a complaint. But board discussion about the incident that inspired the ordinance was less agreeable.
During their April 7 meeting, the board briefly discussed pressing charges in response to a series of October incidents in which a portable toilet at Washington Park was filled with water. However, Commissioner Janet Barr was absent and the board decided to wait until Thursday's meeting to revisit the issue.
In the weeks since, it was revealed the alleged perpetrator was park neighbor Mark Roman, who was elected to the Park Board on April 5. According to information obtained by Patch under the Freedom of Information Act, Roman was observed allegedly filling the portable unit at the park with water from the park’s fountain. The Park District filed police reports after the October incidents, but did not sign complaints against Roman.
On Thursday, Barr was the only one to mention Roman by name, and the only one to defend his actions.
“I feel bad that the Park District put a portable toilet near his house that smelled very badly,” Barr said. She said the district needed to be considerate of its neighbors, and added that a Park District contractor was at fault for installing a dirty unit and not responding quickly to requests to remove it.
Roman “could not get anyone to respond to his concerns,” Barr said. “A level of frustration does build up when you feel you are being ignored or are powerless.” Barr said she was against filing charges, as she believed the board was informed of the incidents in October and that there was no need to revisit it now.
Other commissioners disagreed.
“I was not aware that we had not filed charges,” said Park Board President Bob Gelwicks. “I don't believe the board discussed this at all.” Gelwicks added the toilet was moved after Roman's wife visited the Park Board last year.
Commissioner Matt Cushing said that at minimum, the district should seek restitution from Roman. “We set a very poor precedent if we let (this incident) willingly occur,” he said. “We need to encourage civility and respect to park property.”
Commissioner Cathy Mahoney added that even if residents believe they are not being listened to, taking matters into one's own hands is not acceptable. “We don't live like that,” she said. “That's why we have laws and ordinances.”
Park Administrator Dan Cermak told the board the staff did move the unit after Roman contacted the board, and park staff could not verify that the toilet was emitting foul odors. He acknowledged the toilet contractor was “tardy” in removing the unit once the Park District decided to do so.
Cermak said he would draft a letter to Roman asking him to reinburse the estimated $330 the Park District paid to have the toilet contractor come on site multiple times to pump out the unit.
Barr joined the other commissioners in approving an ordinance stating that staff will report any vandalism to the Park Board that does not result in a complaint filed with the police. Commissioner Fred Gusel was not at Thursday's meeting, but did express an interest in pursuing the complaint at the April 7 meeting.
Washington Park reopened to the public last fall following a major renovation, and acquired the portable toilet at that time. Cermak told the board that staff would monitor park use this summer to see if a portable toilet was necessary at the park.