GPAC elects new leaders, even as former GPAC group announces it’s not going anywhere

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

In April, the Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) that is officially recognized by the Chicago Park District elected a new board, even as the ousted Grant Park Advisory Council continued to meet.

The GPAC advises the city on park usage and programs and takes input from the public.

Leslie Recht, a founder of the original GPAC, is the new president, Jim Wales is vice president, John Talbot is secretary and Richard Ward is the treasurer.

“As the four newly elected officers (recognized by the CPD), we are learning and listening, so that we can be as knowledgeable and transparent as possible into the future,” Ward said in an email.

The original GPAC board came under scrutiny a year ago by the Chicago Park District over impropriety allegations against its former president Bob O’Neill. The CPD removed O’Neill and in February the CPD inspector general’s office released a scathing report that accused O’Neill of using the nonprofit Grant Park Conservancy he heads as a personal piggybank by illegally re-selling park permits at an exorbitant rate.

O’Neill disputes the allegations. He added the conservancy is overseen by a board the includes several attorneys and the board and the CPD were aware of how he was managing the conservancy.

O’Neill has agreed to step away from the GPAC group he once led. Council spokesperson Omari Jinaki said Roman Sanders is the new president. He added the group will continue to meet because the CPD ignored the GPAC’s bylaws when it removed O’Neill and the  recent GPAC election was also illegal because it violates bylaws.

“With very little notice, the CPD proposed an April 10 election, which is also outside of the GPAC election period. Moreover, the CPD never held a valid February 2019 meeting which is the requisite meeting timeline for the nominations for GPAC officers,” Jinaki wrote.

In the meantime, Recht’s group is planning a redesign of the website with a new domain name. Recht said she hopes attendees will go to her group’s GPAC meetings.

“Everyone who has been going to the Bob O’Neill meetings is welcome to come to the GPAC meetings. We welcome them,” she said.

Recht said she wants the community’s input on a framework plan of what the park needs. One urgent need is an updated dog area.

“The dog friendly area is really behind the times,” she said.

Recht said besides house pets, some TSA security dogs live in the area and use the park as well.

“It’s not just residents; there are a number of people who need space to run their dogs,” Recht said.

Recht said the first meeting will be May 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Maggie Daley field house and this will be an organizational meeting.

Grant Park still has two advisory councils, though the city recognizes only one. Photo by Jesse Wright