First reported 2/1/2010 4:06 p.m.
The founder of a large health club in Oak Park is behind a multi-pronged campaign to defeat a bond referendum in River Forest. In that referendum, which went before voters Tuesday, the River Forest Park District was asking for $8 million in bonding authority to acquire property and build a new recreation center.
On Sunday, Gale Landers, founder and CEO of the Fitness Formula Club, which is at 1114 Lake St. in Oak Park, sent out an e-mail to FFC members in River Forest urging votes against the referendum.
Under the heading “FFC’s Position on Feb. 2nd RF Rec Center,” Landers, who signed the note, said the bottom line for voters is increased taxes. He also criticized government-subsidized health club facilities.
“Citizens have a right to be concerned when the government attempts to get into operating non-core municipal services. We all have plenty of stories about how inefficient government can be,” Landers wrote, adding that FFC paid $500,934 in real estate taxes in 2009.
The FFC e-mail echoes and, in some parts, mirrors criticisms of the referendum that appeared in a series of attacks last week by a group called Citizens for Responsible Activities and Parks, or CRAP.
Secrecy surrounding CRAP has become a cause for concern among park district officials in River Forest, who are saying they doubt the group includes River Forest citizens.
CRAP filed incorporation papers with the Illinois Secretary of State on Jan. 25 through its agent, Oak Brook attorney and Burr Ridge resident Nathaniel Reinsma, whose law firm, Tiesenga Gottlieb & Reinsma, has offices at 1200 Harger Road in Oak Brook.
The secretary of state’s Web site usually lists the name of an incorporated entity’s president, and sometimes its secretary. But for the CRAP filing, the state site identifies no one.
On Jan. 27, a Web site supporting the group went up. That site links to a Facebook page. Its only photo is of a placard that reads “Vote NO Feb. 2.”
A check on Whois.com shows this Web site is overseen by a Tim Stevens, who according to Whois.com, has an office at the same Oak Brook address and suite number, 830, as Reinsma.
On Friday, Wednesday Journal left a detailed message on the CRAP Web site, asking for the identity of those paying for the site, who specifically was responsible for its content, and to name any health clubs in River Forest that pay real estate taxes. No reply was received as of Wednesday Journal’s press time at noon Tuesday.
Landers did not return a phone call placed Monday seeking comment.
On Friday, a two-sided postcard urging a no vote was mailed to residences throughout River Forest. The mailing was sent under the CRAP name, using a presort mailing permit out of Algonquin.
Park District President Dale Jones disputed several statements in the newspaper ad, the postcard mailing and on the group’s Web site. He said that the anonymous nature of the campaign, and the possibility that it may be driven by businesses outside the village, concerns him.
Jones stressed that neither Landers nor anyone else affiliated with FFC ever contacted the park district about concerns expressed in the ad, the postcard and on the Web site. Nor, he said, did anyone from FFC attend any of the public meetings the park district hosted on the referendum.
Jones responded to the FFC e-mail Monday, saying, “First and foremost their comment about them paying taxes of $500,934 is a complete red herring, as none of that tax goes to River Forest. So that argument is absurd.”
“It would seem to me it’s really inappropriate for someone who’s not a taxpayer in the village to be interjecting themselves in a local election,” Jones said. He also blasted what he called false and misleading information.
This postcard was sent to River Forest homes Friday by a bulk presort mail permit pulled in Algonquin.
Sunday night this e-mail under FFC letterhead and founder and CEO Gale Landers’ name was sent to River Forest residents who are members of FFC.