Rockford Park District deserves better

By Frank Schier
Publisher & Editor

I find the recent attacks on the Rockford Park District’s Executive Director Tim Dimke outrageous and unfair. More than one fact has been omitted under the banner of the public’s right to know.

I must first admit my bias, which I don’t believe other news organizations that have covered this story will do, especially as to who is really motivating coverage on this story and why.

I have been having lunch for 22 years once a month with Dimke’s mentor, and one of mine, Webbs Norman. Norman is a council member on the Rock River Trail, and the Rockford Park District (as have the City of Rockford, and Winnebago County) have been of great assistance to that effort, which I founded. The RPD is also one of this newspaper’s advertisers, as they are with other news organizations. Tim and I have picked up the monthly lunch tradition. I have had dinner at Marc’s Fusion with him and his family once about a year ago. I went to high school with his wife, Deb. We have rarely seen each other since. Newspaper and trail business is the extent of our frank relationship. Dimke and I have had our disagreements. He knows I have a temper, and I know he has one.

What has been said and poorly researched and written about him and our Park District make me very angry

Being in the restaurant business for 14 years and this business for 25 years, I know when I meet a weasel on two legs or a human who purports to be something they are not.

After knowing Dimke for many years now, I must say I cannot imagine Tim Dimke doing anything that would sully the reputation of the Rockford Park District. I cannot imagine him making a dirty back-room deal to benefit himself. I cannot imagine him engaging in quasi-legal, immoral or greedy behavior.”

Dimke is farm boy and in his last year at Auburn High School, a 17-18-years-old, he was very happy to be hired by the Rockford Park District part time. After graduation, he worked at Page Park on the maintenance crew for 40 hrs a week and then at the Children’s farm another 30 hrs a week.

Now he’s 60-years old–after 42 years of dedication to the Rockford Park District–and he wants to retire. Rarely, in any organization, do you find employees who have served with such tenure. He thought he had a plan to save RFD money, and set up a consulting company, while finishing two projects he really wants to see completed.

Dimke relates, “Working at the Park District is a way of life that it is way beyond a career, and after 42 years I am ready to do a couple of things.

“One is to finish very strongly my commitment to the Transforming Rockford Initiative; and the other is to finishing the major economic development/recreation Reclaiming First project which are beneficial for the entire region.”

Dimke has been working on Reclaiming First since 2009. That project encompasses the refurbishing of SportsCore I, the expansion of SportsCore II and the construction of an extensive sports complex on the bank of the Rock River. These elements will make Rockford a top regional draw for amateur sports tournaments, and greatly increase money spent in restaurants, hotels, gas stations, pharmacies and our sales tax revenue.

By unanimous votes in 2013, approval came from the Rockford Park District, Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB), City of Rockford, City of Loves Park, Village of Machesney Park, Village of Cherry Valley and Winnebago County have approved Reclaiming First.

Dimke and John Groh, CEO of RACVB, are spearheaded Reclaiming First with the cooperation and support of all partners.

After all of what I see as unjust criticism, Dimke could just retire. But he won’t. The reader may make one assessment of his character just by that decision. What if Dimke just quit? I asked John Groh that question.

Groh said, “Tim’s stable involvement with the Reclaiming First project is key reason why we are we are were we are today. Those facilities’ expansions are funded and under construction.

“Since 2011, following at least two years of research and analysis, market studies showed what our citizens need and the market will support. Now these facilities are set to open next year in 2016.

“He and I are co-chair of the project; without him it would not have happened.

“We are looking for a smooth and successful opening. With the city, the RPD is managing $55 million worth of capital construction projects that will have a $16 million a year impact new to the community. We have to do everything we can to make sure they go smoothly and changing a pilot mid flight will not help land a plane safely or successfully,” Groh concluded.

Dimke is not a quitter. He is a responder of the with the utmost responsibility to his community.

Many people retire after 20, 25, 30 years, but Dimke didn’t. He loved his job. He has risen through the ranks .Webbs Norman, who served for 34 years as the executive director of the RPD, picked him out of all his employees for extensive mentoring and to succeed him.

Like Webbs, he’s rarely taken sick days or vacation days. I asked he what his average day was like.

Dimke said, “I’m up at 5 to get a workout in, and then it’s whatever the day requires seven days a week. It’s whatever the evenings meeting schedule is. It’s whatever the whole day requires to do the job and the energy it takes for 24/7.”

Responding to one mean-spirited remark, with his usual sense of humor, Dimke said, “As someone suggested, I may be helping the staff at Portillo’s, if they’ll have me.”

Dimke never imagined that when he let so many of his sick days and vacation day go, and when he did want to claim the relatively few in comparison, he would be attacked.

Like many people who are retiring, he is absolutely entitled to accumulated vacation and sick days; and yes, just like others, those vacation and sick days will increase retirement pay because they are claimed in the last year. Yes, just like others, it will increase the average of your last four years pay, upon which your pension payments will be based. If anyone else were to do this, that would be a normal situation with no questions. Because Dimke has a high-visibility job and he cared enough to make a proposal to save the RPD money so he could finish important community projects, he was attacked for a normal practice.

Specifically, Dimke, explain, “The $41,685 increase of salary being questioned in my last year comes is the accumulation of two years of unclaimed vacation time and 400 hours of unclaimed sick time, which is all that is allowed. I actually have 3,000 hours of unclaimed sick time but I did not claim it. I have given my sick time away to other employees in need at times. I did take two days when I had a heart stint put in; I figured I needed a couple of days for that,” Dimke, said.

Again, Dimke has been an employee of the Rockford Park District for more than four decades. Given Dimke’s distinguished service, the recent media commentary does not seem consistent with his leadership values. It is off base, and if anyone deserves “shame,” it is that media commentary. This entire situation caused this paper to engage in a review of the facts.

The Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners approved the retirement timing and contractual services plan for Dimke in the Board’s open session at the January 13, 2015 meeting. That was done right in front of everyone. There was no back-room deal. The intended plan was for Dimke to continue service, so he could lead the completion of the Reclaiming First project as well as plan for staff succession within the RPD.

The Board’s lead counsel, Mike Schuerich, had been assisting with the formulation of Dimke’s retirement plan for several months. Schuerich believes “the plan that the Board supported was legal, had precedence in other Illinois park districts, and was affirmed in the ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court (Prazen v. Shoop, 2013 IL 115035) as a viable plan for IMRF retirees. Kathy O’Brien, IMRF counsel, told Schuerich that IMRF did not like the idea of a retiree providing transition services to an IMRF employer, but advised that forming a viable LLC to provide transition services would be compliant with all state requirements.”

Schuerich reviewed a contract that was in place for the executive director of the Addison Park District who retired from IMRF (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund) in January 2014. The Addison Park District entered into a contractual agreement with Mr. Mark McKinnon to continue service once his IMRF benefits began. Prior to his retirement, Mr. McKinnon indicated that the IMRF approved his contract so it would not interfere with pension regulations. The primary difference was that McKinnon retired first, and then entered into the contract. In my opinion, “Mr. Above-Board” Dimke’s mistake was to inform the IMRF and ask for their blessing.

McKinnon wrote Dimke in a Sunday, March 22 e-mail:

“Tim: I just want you know that I feel awful about the turn of events with you and IMRF. It completely baffles me that IMRF would consider doing this, especially after the supreme court decision over a year ago.

“I think I am preaching to the choir here, but you have earned your 40 year pension from IMRF, and forming your own company that is contracted to RPD no longer makes you and employee. You should be allowed to get any job you want as an independent contractor. You are still being paid by Rockford for one job. IMRF is paying your earned pension, not the Rockford Park District. I do not believe IMRF can dictate where or who your company contracts with.

“The saddest part is that the Rockford Park district is losing out from saving money that was really the whole premise of the plan. I understand politicians are now involved, which takes it to a different level. I also believe IMRF is ticked off because now they will not be getting their money for the ED [Dimke’s Executive Director] position.

“I don’t know where you are at with the process, but I would be happy to help where I can. As I stated, I had IMRF review my contract with our attorney and IMRF attorneys in advance to insure it would not risk any pension issues with me. I believe they reluctantly agreed to allow it on the heels of the court case. I will have some discussion with our attorney tomorrow and would welcome your legal staff to consult with him again.

“Feel free to contact me with any update or information that could support you.

“Talk to you later, Mark”

With the Supreme Court ruling, with what Schuerich and Dimke characterize as affirmative conversations with IMRF General Counsel Kathy O’Brien, and with the McKinnon /Addison precedent, the RPD Board of Commissioners believed they were implementing an already approved plan that would insure they could maintain the leadership services of Mr. Dimke after his retirement.

How to explain why Mr. Dimke’s plan was not supported by IMRF when other such agreements exist in park districts around the state?

As published by the daily, IMRF’s executive director Louis W. Kosiba indicated that Mr. Dimke’s retirement plan would cost the RPD an additional $220,000 in actuarial expenses. That was a one-time payment. Dimke asserts he told the daily not to use that figure because he thought it should be more throughly examined.

When the RPD inquired through its attorney as to how to IMRF arrived at the figure of $220,000 provided to the daily, the IMRF a projected actuarial expenses estimated at $109,000. Those figures were not provided until 9 days after the request. Why there is more than a $100,000 difference could not be answered. IMRF’s General Counsel Kathy O’Brien is out of the office until April 27. IMRF’s Executive Director Louis Kosiba is out of the office until April 22. This paper goes to press April 21. Messages were left for both, Watch our website for their replies.

One reply about the monetary situation was from Webbs Norman . When was asked how all this came about and to reflect on it, Norman said, “It is my understanding given the decline in revenues that the Park District was receiving, the board asked Tim to consider all the ways of reducing expenditures. There was no intent of deceive or mislead anybody. He and I worked together for 34 years and during that time there was never any reason that I questioned the character of this man.”

Dimke asserted that his plan of retirement and employment as a consultant would be a savings of $65,000 a year. The difference in Mr. Dimke’s salary as an employee and as a contractor were estimated to be a savings of $65,000 annually or $195,000 over the three years on his consulting contract.

This paper disagrees with that figure. It is too low. We will use the salary average of $150,000 as a base, which does not include the aforementioned payout this year for unused vacation and sick days. We are projecting future cost are they exist under present circumstances. If Dimke is to remain a salaried employee with benefit sand taxes, add the another $40,000 dollars. That’s the RPD share of his continued pension costs to the IMRF, matching Social Security taxes, state unemployment tax fees, life insurance, and additional accrual of vacation and sick days.

Plus add in a 2.5 percent raise each year.

“I take the average of what all the employees get and no more, “ Dimke said, citing that most CEOs do not follow that inexpensive practice.

Adding the benefits, taxes, and raises, if you subtract what the RPD could have paid with Dimke as a consultant at only $125,000 per year for three years, the savings are as follows: $69,449.05 for year one; $73,310.28 for year two; and $76,268.04 for year three. That total is $219,027.37. Now subtract out what the real IMRF actuarial cost is of $109369.60, and the taxpayers could have saved $109, 657.78.

Again, given the more accurate estimates, it apparent that the Dimke proposed plan would have resulted in a net savings of a minimum of $109369.60, for the three years of his contract.

Again, original numbers that were reported by the news media and IMRF were grossly overstated and portrayed as a “money grab”. There was little discussion about leadership succession.

The IMRF asserts on its website that it is an agency that values transparency. Somehow the agency forgot to be transparent with Mr. Dimke. Mr. Dimke’s IMRF denial was e-mailed to a politico, Illinois Rep. Jack Franks (D-63) from Marengo, prior to being sent to Mr. Dimke via the US mail. “Exclusive: Retirement plan blocked for Rockford Park District chief Tim Dimke. March 20, 2015 – Rockford Register Star,” is a post on his website:

I wonder if this editorial will be posted on Rep. Frank’s website; will it improve one of his favorite issues’ focus?

Dimke’s IMRF refusal letter was also provided to the daily without a letterhead or signature before Dimke received it. I thought the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund was supposed to represent and support it’s contributing members.

Again, IMRF’s O’Brien Kosiba were not available for comment at press time. Watch our website for their replies.

Ted Flickenger, retired executive director of the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD) said about the attacks on Dimke’s character, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t know anyone who has more integrity than Tim. He is a person who has worked and achieved respect across the nation as a Gold Medal winner.

“I don’t get the IMRF. They have been trying to get the park district out of the system for some time. I hope they are not using Tim as a goat,” Flickenger said.

Peter Murphy, the current IAPD executive director said, “I think Tim has one of the finest characters in the State of Illinois. Your park district is one of the most innovative and progressive in the state, and that can be attributed to Tim’s leadership. People who know Tim know he is of high quality.”

Dimke has done an exceptional job leading the Rockford Park District’s pursuit to become recognized as “one of the best park districts” in the United States. Along with Groh, their efforts in six years have created Reclaiming First, which has the potential to economically transform the northern Illinois region. Overall, his leadership has made a lasting impact on the viability of this community. The RPD is certainly one of the premier organizations in this region, yet over the past few weeks the integrity of the RPD, it’s board and Dimke have been wrongly questioned.

To the daily, local mean spirits, the IMRF and Rep. Franks, here’s a quote from the RPD website: “The Rockford Park District received the 2012 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). The Gold Medal Award honors park and recreation agencies throughout the United States that demonstrate excellence in long‐range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development, and agency recognition. Each agency is judged on its ability to address the needs of those it serves through the collective energies of citizens, staff, and elected officials.”

When asked about assertions from a citizen in a letter to the daily that he is “Immoral and greedy” Dimke replied, “I haven’t changed from my original stance back when we first analyzed this. There is savings to the taxpayer. It is legal. There is precedence. As we move forward, i will work diligently with the board and the entire park district team to continue the high standard in the future. To quote another newspaper, we are “a world class park district.” We will continue that. That only happens through strong, committed, consistent leadership from board and staff, and citizen participation in the process, not back room deals,” Dimke asserted.

As to the upcoming Park Board of Commissioners meeting, Dimke said, “First, the board will rescind the contract with my consulting company, and will evaluate continuing my employment status as executive director.

When asked what will happen when his projects are completed and he does retire, Dimke said, “After that I want enjoy my consulting company, probably outside of Rockford to teach best practices. Deb and I will probably relocate at that time and spend more time with family.” Dimke concluded.

I think quit a few people owe Tim Dimke, all the staff and board of our park district, and Dimke’s family an apology.

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