2 Highland Park officials resign after bonus outcry

Residents had demanded they step down

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Two Highland Park Park District commissioners resigned in the wake of an outcry over huge bonuses awarded employees, officials said Wednesday.

Commissioner Stacy Weiss tendered her resignation Wednesday, while Nancy Rosenbaum handed in her formal letter late Tuesday evening, Park District Executive Director Liza McElroy said.

Rosenbaum said Wednesday evening that she felt residents hadn't received the answers they deserved, which prompted her resignation.

"That's what did it for me. Not answering the questions upfront," she said.

The five commissioners agreed before a heated public meeting Monday that they would not answer questions from residents during the forum, Rosenbaum said.

"We had outraged people who wanted answers — and we told them we would post the answers on our Web site later and that we would only take questions now," she said.

Weiss could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Residents had demanded the resignations of Rosenbaum, Weiss and board President Lorenz Werhane Jr. Werhane has vowed not to resign and could not be reached Wednesday.

Residents' anger was sparked by an Aug. 1 Tribune story that outgoing Park District Executive Director Ralph Volpe landed $270,999 in bonuses in 2008, boosting his compensation that year to $435,203. Volpe, who retired at 57, receives a pension this year of $166,332. It would have been about $110,000 had he received more typical annual salary hikes of 4 percent, instead of the huge hike and bonus in 2008.

In another case, Park District finance director Kenneth Swan received a five-year contract that called for bonuses of about $75,000 a year. He has not yet retired.

About 50 residents attended the park board meeting Monday at the West Ridge Center to express their disappointment and to hear how the board planned to address the issue. The meeting was largely a repeat of an Aug. 19 gathering where about 100 residents at the Highland Park Community House spoke of their outrage to the board.

Residents demanded that the three members step down because they had been on the board when the pension plans had been approved. Vice President Elaine Waxman and Commissioner Cal Bernstein were not on the board, so residents have not called for them to step down.

They reserved their ire for Weiss, Rosenbaum and Werhane, who said on Aug. 19 that they would not leave. While they apologized profusely for the pension and pay packages, the crowd was unmoved.

Rosenbaum said at the time that she would finish out her term, which would have ended in April. Weiss said she had done a lot of good on the board overall, while Werhane simply said he would not leave his post.

The remaining three board members will be tasked with appointing new members, McElroy said The board is expected to hold a special meeting soon to discuss that. No date has been set yet, she said.