Pay-and-pension controversy: Agencies launch Park District probes

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Lake County state's attorney and Illinois Attorney General's Office have opened investigations into the Park District of Highland Park's festering pay-and-pension controversy.

Park District officials said last week that both agencies have contacted the district and requested documents related to the pension-bloating salaries and bonuses given to former executives Ralph Volpe, David Harris and Ken Swan between 2005 and 2008.

Park District Executive Director Liza McElroy said the district is cooperating fully with both investigations and has already turned over volumes of records related to payroll.

During the district's board meeting Oct. 28, commissioners discussed whether they should hire an outside attorney to conduct an internal investigation into the matter or wait until both agencies release their findings.

The board ultimately concluded that the district should not spend additional money to investigate the issue.

"I would rather not spend the $20,000 to $30,000 to duplicate what is already being done," Park District Commissioner Cal Bernstein explained.

Maura Possley, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, confirmed that the state agency has requested the information but would not comment further. She declined to explain what materials the attorney general is seeking or what violations, if any, may have been committed.

Bernstein said it's unknown whether the investigations will result in a criminal or civil lawsuit, or no action at all.

Three finalists pull out

Meanwhile, three of the finalists for the last remaining park commissioner position have pulled out of the running this week.

Highland Park residents Lane Young, Lori Flores Weisskopf and Greg Rosenbloom all interviewed with the remaining members of the Park Board last week; however, they have since dropped out of consideration, citing a lack of confidence in the existing Park Board and the selection process.

Young and Flores Weisskopf confirmed that they still plan to run for election in April.

"I've heard from some members of the community who have suspicions (that this has been an unfair process)," Young said. "I felt I could better serve the community by seeking a full term and getting the community's endorsement instead of being appointed temporarily."

The Park Board is scheduled to meet in closed session Wednesday evening to discuss the final appointment. The fifth Park Board member could be sworn in as early as Nov. 18.

"I hope we reach an agreement (Wednesday night)," Bernstein said.

Bernstein confirmed that five residents were interviewed last week; however, all of the nearly 40 applicants are still being considered.

"Everybody that's on the list is still on the list," he said. "We haven't ruled anybody out."