October 12, 2010

Jackson Park council head quits, citing Park District incompetency

Citing what he described as the incompetence, disrespect, and unsafe working conditions of the Chicago Park District (CPD), Ross Petersen resigned from his position as president and steward of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) in mid-September.

Petersen’s resignation compounds a leadership problem for JPAC, whose website shows that the positions of vice president, secretary, and nature committee chairman are unfilled as well. Vice President Fran Vandervoort resigned in July, according to the JPAC website.

JPAC, a group of volunteers who advise the Chicago Park District on ways to improve the park, manages the day-to-day maintenance of the parks, makes improvements to the park, and organizes events.

CPD did not return repeated calls from the Maroon.

According to Petersen, CPD gave bad instructions to subcontractors, damaging the trees planted by volunteers and allowing invasive species to repopulate areas the volunteers had cleared.

On the JPAC website, a letter dated October 13, 2010, states that both Petersen and Vandervoort left “responsibly and with good will,” but noted, “We are concerned when persons decide to leave, whether out of frustration over park matters or council weaknesses.”

Petersen said he renounced his post for safety reasons. According to Petersen, last October, a mentally ill homeless man struck Petersen in the back of the head. When he brought the criminal case to court, Petersen said park district officials refused to testify in support of him.

Petersen said park district officials failing to do their jobs is a city-wide problem because he has heard similar complaints from other stewards at different parks in Chicago. “One time we used to have steward meetings. We could commiserate. The Park District got tired of us, so they disbanded the stewardship meetings,” and stopped attending Advisory Council meetings, Petersen said.