Talk about "parks and recreation."
The corruption-busting team at the Better Government Association has released an eyebrow-raising, head-shaking report uncovering allegedly rampant financial wrongdoing within the park district serving south suburban Riverdale.
According to the BGA, citing FOIA-ed evidence including credit card statements, Riverdale Park District staffers have allegedly blown through more than $35,000 in taxpayer dollars to attend park and recreation conferences across the country since 2012.
Meanwhile, almost one-quarter of Riverdale residents live below the poverty line. Even so, the park district's seven-member roster of elected commissioners recently signed off on a two percent tax increase amid criticism that the city's parks are in bad shape and unsafe for kids. Said Mayor Lawrence Jackson: "The social consequences are detrimental. We have kids hanging out on the street and on the corners when they should be at the parks."
Among the most alarming discoveries, as detailed by BGA: "Despite its close proximity to the City of Chicago, the park district spent $7,700 on hotel stays in downtown Chicago from 2012 to 2014 for the annual Illinois Association of Park Districts conference at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. During last year's event, the park district also used taxpayer money for a $780 meal that included menu items such as rib-eye steak, seafood and $18 worth of alcohol. (One public official believes the agency was reimbursed for the alcohol.)."
But Nathaniel Smiley Jr., who presides over the district's board, argues that conferences are crucial investments for the public good, saying: "What do people think about elected officials that do not educate themselves? What do they think of them governing their tax dollars? I really would like to know the answer to that one."
Smiley said the district now has turned around a "dead park" and boasts "more programs than we've ever had before."