Kathleen Porreca

It was a changing of the guard at the Park District of Oak Park board of commissioners as commissioners Victor Guarino and Paul Aeschleman officially retired and newly elected commissioners were sworn in.

Both Guarino and Aeschleman chose not to run for re-election this year, leaving incumbent Kathleen Porreca competing with architect Christopher R. Wollmuth, Parks Foundation of Oak Park board President Jake Worley-Hood and Oak Park District 97 Board President James Gates for three spots. 

Porreca got 31.44 percent of the vote, while Worley-Hood came in second and Wollmuth came in third. Getting 25.58 percent and 23.68 percent, respectively.

The changeover was completed during a May 2 special board meeting.

The meeting also saw the commissioners elect officers. Commissioner Sandy Lenz was elected president, while Commissioner David Wick became the new vice president.  Porreca was elected treasurer and Wollmuth was elected secretary.

Park district Executive Director Jan Arnold praised the departing commissioners, crediting them with being vital to some of the major changes the parks have seen over the past eight years, including installing artificial turf on several fields, improving maintenance practices and adding new facilities at Austin Gardens and Ridgeland Commons.

“Without the direction and leadership of both of you, none of this would have occurred,” Arnold said.

The departing commissioners even wound up getting a few gifts. Arnold gave both of them framed posters showing the new park district facilities, while Porreca gave them gag awards. Guarino got a “Top Dog” award – a reference to their disagreements over the dog park, while Aeschleman got an award that referenced his push to reduce a number of garbage bins.

Aeschleman thanked a large number of park district staff by name, as well as Oak Park taxpayers and his wife, and his fellow commissioners for remaining civil even when they disagreed. He also had some words of advice for those continuing to serve on the board.

“Be sure to challenge, push, question,” he said.” Provide ideas and input. The staff here is phenomenal – they’ll take small ideas and make it into big things. Certainly don’t hesitate to put ideas out there. One thing you’ll find from staff that they’re very, very open for new ideas.”

Guarino said that one change he appreciated the most was the change in the way the park district changed its “organizational attitude.” Instead of necessarily tearing down underused facilities, he said, the park district looks at how to expand programs and improve the facilities themselves. 

He thanked the park district staff, giving special thanks to the “frontline staff, the people out there picking up trash, trimming bushes, [providing] customer service.”

“It’s great to be a commissioner, because we get a lot of praise, but I basically do nothing – those are the people who do the real work,” he said. “If they didn’t do their jobs, nothing that we do would really matter.”

Join the discussion on social media!

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...