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Palos Fire Board Vows Transparency, Clashes on Methods

After a recently passed referendum that will add $1.9 million to the district's annual budget, trustees of the Palos Fire Protection District debated the best methods to improve financial transparency.

In light of a , Palos Fire Protection District trustees reiterated their promise on Tuesday to keep the public apprised of how its money is being spent but disagreed at times about how and when to do it.

The first Monday meeting of every fiscal quarter will be televised from the in Palos Park so that a summary of district expenditures can be seen by those unable to physically attend.

“I think that it behooves us to have as many meetings here as possible,” Board Secretary Addison Woodward said. “It’s open to the public and it’s televised and it doesn’t hurt us.”

Though the decision to televise meetings four times a year was unanimous, Board Treasurer Gene Adams offered a few words of dissent—in contrast to numerous and direct demands from residents, of operating behind closed doors.

“Well, we’re not going to be getting the money for a year and a half, so, I mean, we’re going to be strapped until we get the money, so I don’t think the public wants to hear how strapped we are,” Adams said.

Further, he said he was worried that making the chief give quarterly updates on how referendum money will be appropriated would conflict with the chief’s budgetary duties. Historically, meetings near the end of the first and second fiscal quarters are devoted to preparing and agreeing on an annual budget.

Adams later clarified his disagreement as a concern for timing and “the paperwork involved,” noting, “We got to approve the budget before we can tell the people what’s happenin’.”

Renewing his own vows of transparency, Fire Chief Steven Carr said he would work around whatever time frame the board gave him. But because he isn’t long for retirement, he wondered out loud whether it wouldn’t be prudent to hold successive chiefs and board members to the same goal.

Before the night ended, Carr read from a proclamation, penned in part by Woodward, thanking the community for its support and vowing to be actively open about its finances in the future. One financial projection , and the referendum that was considered by some a desperate shot in the arm.

Trustee Russell Miller took issue with adopting the proclamation because the board had supported the referendum as individuals, not as a group.

“That’s my personal opinion,” he said, “but I think we may be crossing the line here as far as endorsing a political agenda as opposed to a governmental agenda.”

As a result, the proclamation—and its promise—was not adopted. But it was read into the public record.

Todd Thielmann, the district’s newest appointed trustee, who was sworn in Tuesday, was not present during these discussions due to a perennial engagement. Meetings were moved to Mondays for his accommodation.

Also New to the Tax Roll

The board annexed residential property at 10355 W. 131st Street which district attorney Thomas Courtney said has been receiving fire services but has paid no taxes, likely due to a mapping error when the district formed in 1953.

Courtney said the home—which is bordered on the east by Cook County Forest Preserve and sits across from Peace Village, itself across from Palos Fire Station 2—may not have been built in 1953.

He said the homeowners brought it to the attention of the district once they learned they weren’t eligible to vote in the recent referendum.

No one spoke during the public comment portion of the fire district meeting.

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Updated May 3 at 5:20 p.m.

Bob May 02, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Clearly it's time for Gene Adams to get off this Board. It's apparent that he is neither qualified or community centered enough to hold this important position. “Well, we’re not going to be getting the money for a year and a half, so, I mean, we’re going to be strapped until we get the money, so I don’t think the public wants to hear how strapped we are,” Adams said. The problem is that the Board is apparently SPENDING like they have the money already, and are BORROWING in anticipation of their tax gouge. NOW is the time we should be watching the spending the closest. Of course, Mr Adams would rather we not see how he's spending this booty. Gee, I wonder why?LOL
Bob May 02, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Adams later clarified his disagreement as a concern for timing and “the paperwork involved,” noting, “We got to approve the budget before we can tell the people what’s happenin’.” This is reminiscent of Pelosi's statement on Obamacare that "We need to pass the Bill in order to see what's in it!"LOL The fact is that people like Mr Adams would rather the public NOT know what they're budgeting to spend, becasue if people knew they'd be outraged! Every school district in Illinois has to go through a budget approval process by which they post the full budget on line for at least 30 days before the Board can vote to approve it. It's a simple process. The Budget is provided on the district's web site, and there's a hearing prior to the vote where the public can comment. Apparently Mr Adams doesn't believe that his budget is able to pass this public scrutiny, so he wants to pass it before he'll make it available to us. Is there any wonder about the source of the financial problems in this district? It should be noted that our Twp Board, Led by Supervisor Collen Schumann, refused to appoint anyone serious about being a "watchdog" for the waste and abuse the Board is planning. Maybe we should be changing more than the Palos Fire Board in the next election cycle!
Bob May 02, 2012 at 06:21 PM
It is very simple for the Board to be transparent about it's spending, if it really wants to be. After years of my badgering the District 230 Board, they FINALLY agreed to put all the non-proprietary Board and committee packets (the info given to Board members at the meeting) so that the public could see what was being planned. This requires minimal additional work on the part of staff. They just scan the documents and post them on the website. The only reason the Board ISN'T doing this is because they'd rather we didn't know what they're actually doing. There's no reason not to televise EVERY meeting. One of the reasons the Board doesn't want this is that public commments would be transmitted to the cable audience, and when the Board is "caught" they'd rather as few as possible people know about it. This Board does not take criticism well, being unelected and political appointments and all.
bob busch May 03, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Bob I know we don't see eye to eye on a lot of issues.But i appreciate the work you are doing.

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