Grant Park Advisory Council gets new leadership
By Jesse Wright
Published August 2, 2018
Those hoping to find out why former Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) President Bob O’Neill was suspended from the board earlier this year didn’t find out at the recent GPAC meeting, hosted by the Chicago Park District July 10.
A lawyer for the Chicago Park District refused to talk about O’Neill, who was not in attendance, except to say he is threatening a lawsuit. “The party is represented by counsel and they are considering litigation,” said Park District attorney Dorothy Carroll.
GPAC is a public body, consisting of a group of elected officials overseeing the park. The group helps determine infrastructure initiatives and programing in Grant Park. O’Neill told New Eastside News he began serving as president of GPAC around 1998, but Carroll made it clear at the meeting that as far as the Park District is concerned, he is history.
Carroll said GPAC would survive without O’Neill. The Chicago Park District plans to hold public elections to elect a new president and council later this fall. “Bob [O’Neill] isn’t the council. The president is not the council,” she said.
When reached by phone, O’Neill said he isn’t going anywhere just yet and claims the park council is violating the GPAC bylaws by seizing de facto power. He and other GPAC members had already held a meeting July 9 at a South Loop condo, attended by about 30 people. They plan to convene another meeting in early August and to eventually hold their own election.
“I am still the president,” O’Neill insisted in an interview. “They came and said I was removed from GPAC. Well, that violates our bylaws and our guidelines.” O’Neill said the ostensible reasons for his ouster—a lack of insurance for a roller hockey program—were made up. He said he had insurance and offered proof several times to the park district, and alleges they ignored it. O’Neill blames a small group of people who strongly opposed his work as the culprits who caused his suspension, though he did not name them.
O’Neill’s GPAC had at least one defender from another park advisory council. At
the July 10 meeting in the Maggie Daley Fieldhouse, Bob Ziegler, a board member
of the Lincoln Park Advisory Council, also said he believes the Park District ignored
GPAC bylaws. Carroll repeated that the park district had the law on its side. This didn’t satisfy Ziegler, who at one point walked in front of the Park District’s table and tried to address the whole room. “You can’t pick and choose which bylaws you want to follow. You need to follow the process,” he told the room.
Two aldermen who represent the area, Ald. Sophia King (4th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), were present at the meeting and spoke on other topics. Toward the end of the meeting, the Park District authorities announced an election to be held in a few months time. The next meeting is set for September, though an exact date has yet to be determined. It’s not clear who will run for the new GPAC committee.
The local group Keep Grant Green, which is assisting with the election of new officials, accuses O’Neill on its website of ruining the park for locals by allowing the park to host too many big, commercial events which prevent locals from using the park in the way they would like.
One such event is Lollapalooza. O’Neill said he is instrumental in negotiating and supervising reforestation efforts by the organizers of the City’s revenue-generating music festival, raising questions of whether his suspension would affect the post-festival cleanup.
Chicago Park District spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner downplayed any relationship between C3, the Lollapalooza promoter and GPAC. “As a good steward of the parks, I believe that C3 has partnered with GPAC on initiatives in the past, but the Advisory Council standing does not impact the permit or operations in any way,” she wrote in an email.
That show will go on, and Grant Park will be cleaned up and restored, GPAC or no GPAC. Anyone who has been to at least two GPAC meetings this year may run for office and vote for a new president and council. Assuming those same constituents show up at the next meeting, they may well be able to vote in a new council and president who align more with the views of Keep Grant Green, the Park District and the aldermen.