By Stanley Campbell
A number of friends asked for an explanation of my remarks about the Forest Preserve. “Didn’t you want a separate board looking after our precious environment?” they asked. “Why are you wailing now about their spending habits?”
I am wailing and gnashing my teeth because a majority on the board are throwing away hard-earned tax money. The new Winnebago County Forest Preserve District Board was spun off from the Winnebago County Board. This was to enable concerned citizens to focus on taxpayer-owned protected land throughout our county.
Seven board members were elected to serve the Forest Preserve, out of a field of 35. Four of the seven voted to take what was in the coffers and give to one of their friends.
The extraordinary gift took place as we taxpayers sat idly by. Money was promised to the former sheriff of Winnebago County for his “fishing hole” adjacent to one of the forest preserves. By the way, Sheriff Don Gasparini is a man I look up to and admire.
This was a transfer of public money to one’s private friends, in my humble opinion. The Forest Preserve has no money for purchases, even though they have a long wish list of environmentally-sensitive land they would like to purchase. But this fishing hole was not on the list.
The four board members who voted in favor of purchasing the fishing hole are Gloria Lind, Cheryl Maggio and Jay Ferraro, with Randy Olson, president of the board, breaking the tie.
Yes, three board members voted AGAINST the purchase: Judy Barnard, Mary McNamara-Bernsten and Audrey Johnson. These three were all endorsed by environmental groups during the election. So, it looks as if we lost a crucial vote that may jeopardize our environment.
But I think it’s our own fault. Out of 25 candidates, the environmentalists fielded more than 10 or more in the election. They (we) didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we endorsed more candidates than there were positions.
Meanwhile, the “good old boys” with name recognition walked away with the election, and now we watch as they spend money on their friends’ property.
I am so disappointed with the new Forest Preserve Board voting to purchase that old fishing hole. It was not on any lists, or showed much environmental value.
We should watch the Forest Preserve Board closely. A number of staff members are retiring, and the board should hire the best qualified, instead of their friends (or worse, their relatives).
Jay Ferraro has since moved out of the county and should resign. Gloria Lind has announced her campaign for state representative, and should resign.
There’s an election coming up in 2012, and I hope we can put some people on the board who will protect the hard-earned property of Winnebago County citizens.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Nov. 2-8, 2011, issue