On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. On March 18, the mayor of Oak Park ordered Oak Park to shelter in place. On March 19, the Park District of Oak Park approved agenda items for about $1.3 million for architect and engineering services related to their proposed Community Recreation Center. On April 3, the park district furloughed almost 300 people (all of its 262 part-time staff members and seven full-time staff members). 

Shouldn’t we be putting people first, especially in a crisis situation? In the middle of a global pandemic, with everyone facing a tremendous amount of economic and medical uncertainty, we expect our governments to rise to the occasion for the people they employ and the people they represent. 

The Park District, one of our local governments, failed their people. It failed their people not because it couldn’t afford to pay them (which would have been understandable). It failed their people because it prioritized a building over their lives. 

We are living through an unprecedented time and mistakes will be made, no one expects perfection. But those mistakes should err on the side of compassion, not callousness. Those mistakes should err on the side of people, not projects. 

In the middle of a pandemic, it’s not OK to spend over a million dollars on a proposed project while conducting mass furloughs the next week. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s not OK to spend money on a future dream that could be better used to support those in present need. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s not OK to prioritize a building over the well-being of your people. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s not OK to be so blind to the world around you that you think a future rec center is of more pressing importance than the current economic plight of hundreds of your employees. 

I believe in putting people over projects. If you agree, please email the park district at pdop_all_board@pdop.org and let them know. 

Cory Wesley 

Oak Park

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