The most recent Waterloo Park Board meeting saw a blow to the splash pad’s funding as well as a discussion of election ethics.
Perhaps the most contentious moment of last Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall came toward the end as Waterloo Park Board President Shelby Mathes spoke during the section on the agenda listed as commissioner comments.
Mathes spoke about his thoughts on the long-discussed possibility of a community pool, also referencing a recent ad in the Republic-Times that he and fellow park board candidate Lance West purchased which featured the line “A vote for Mathes & West April 4 is a vote for the parks, not a pool.”
“You will see in mine and Lance’s ad in the paper that we’re not for the pool,” Mathes said. “And I’m not for a pool if it’s the taxpayers’ dollar. So what I’m saying is, if the Waterloo Sports Association can do nine functions for over nine months out of the year without a taxpayer’s dollar, why can’t the Waterloo Citizens for a Pool, for their 60-75, 90 days, whatever, do it on their own? That’s my thoughts, and that’s why my stance is what it is. Not that Waterloo couldn’t use a pool, but I don’t think the taxpayers’ dollar should pay for that.”
Waterloo resident Scott Davis was among the audience attending the meeting. He questioned why his tax dollars shouldn’t go toward a pool when they also go toward community features like the pickleball courts.
Mathes responded by pointing to the large expense of maintaining a pool, which he said WCP President Amy Grandcolas had previously said would cost over $200,000 for 60 days of use, though Grandcolas said this figure isn’t accurate.
He went on to say that, as an investor in his 401k, he wouldn’t want his investment manager to say “here, take this, and you’re gonna lose $200,000 on your investment,” at which point fellow Waterloo Park Board Commissioner Gina Pfund interjected.
“Is this really the place to do this?” Pfund said. “Because this kinda sounds like you’re campaigning, and I don’t think you should… If you have time for you and Lance to campaign, because I know you’re going together with your ads, then I think you should have equal time for Mary and Alan too, but they don’t have time to prepare. You had time to prepare. I don’t think this is a place for campaigning. That’s my personal opinion.”
Mathes noted he was sharing his thoughts during the section of the meeting meant for commissioner comments.
Grandcolas asked whether or not WCP or the pool were on the agenda, which they were not.
Mathes acquiesced after it was said that campaigning was not allowed at City Hall. He then requested that his comments be stricken from the record, though several present spoke against it, and the action was not taken.
Regarding the legality of Mathes’ comments, local attorney Amanda Chase offered her thoughts after some cursory research.
Chase said if a candidate performing in an official capacity attempted to influence voters to vote for or against a candidate or public question to be voted on at an election or knowingly promised to perform or refrain from performing an official act – like promising they would prevent the pool question to be submitted to voters by referendum – this could be an election code violation.
Chase made clear upon listening to Mathes’ comments she did not believe him to have made any violations.
Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean – who serves as the local election authority – also offered his perspective by saying the matter didn’t fall under his purview.
“Political speech is the most protected form of speech under the First Amendment,” McLean said. “I am not aware of any law that would regulate anyone from expressing an opinion in favor of or against an issue at a public meeting. The park district may have an ordinance that clarifies what a park district commissioner can and cannot say at a park district meeting. This matter does not pertain to the election code. Therefore, it does not fall under my jurisdiction.”
McLean added the matter seemed to have been handled appropriately within the meeting, specifically pointing to Pfund’s interjection during Mathes’ comments.
A regular topic of discussion on the meeting agenda was the ongoing splash pad project.
Mathes made a major announcement regarding the project’s funding, namely that the previously discussed donation from the William Zimmer Foundation was off the table.
He explained that Chip Bieber of the Waterloo Community Leaders Committee, which oversees the fund, told him Edward Jones Trust Company, which manages the Zimmer Foundation Trust, would not allow a pass-through of funds to the park district.
“He said no matter what, Edward Jones Trust to the Zimmer Foundation will not let a pass-through happen,” Mathes said. “They don’t care who it goes to, it cannot be a pass-through. So if we would even form one, we couldn’t get it through our ‘friends of the thing’ and they give it to us. It wouldn’t work because it’s a pass-through.”
The Zimmer Foundation had previously offered a donation when the project was first being discussed, though later found out it would be unable to donate to the park district as it is a taxing entity.
The possibility of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization – first WCP and then a hypothetical Waterloo Friends of the Park District group – accepting the funds on behalf of the park district was entertained for several months.
Following the meeting, Mathes also said that a recently requested extension for the project’s Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources had been approved after a month of anticipation.
The new deadline for the park district to make progress on the splash pad in order to receive its full $400,000 grant – of which the district has already received $200,000 – is now June 20, 2024.
Also on the splash pad, Waterloo Park Board Commissioner Keith Buettner, who was recently tasked with overseeing the project along with fellow commissioner Michael Nolte, led the discussion.
Buettner said he had been in contact with the project’s contracting bidders Litteken Construction of Breese and Fitzgibbons Contracting of Waterloo, who have been waiting for word on the project’s progress.
“I told them I would call them tomorrow and either tell them, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna go,’ or ‘It’s gonna have to wait,’ so they can find other work,” Buettner said. “It’s not fair to string them along. They’re trying to make a living too.”
Buettner added the current designs of the splash pad seem to meet state code, particularly in regard to the concrete buffer around the pad.
The splash pad item was ultimately tabled to be discussed further at next month’s meeting.
Waterloo Park District Superintendent Don Prater also spoke throughout the meeting to discuss various goings-on in the community parks, including communications between two local baseball teams to practice at a long-unused field and the high expense of dog waste bags which seem to be highly used.
The board also approved budget numbers for the next fiscal year. Park district attorney Mary Buettner said she would be putting together an ordinance for the budget which would be available at her office, though it is not known if she was able to complete the ordinance in time for it to be available 30 days prior to the next meeting.