21 Aug 2014
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Plainfield Trustees' Heated Email Exchange Goes Public

"Go pound dirt until you make dust," one trustee tells another in ongoing park district dispute.

Plainfield Trustees' Heated Email Exchange Goes Public Plainfield Trustees' Heated Email Exchange Goes Public
When it comes to his thoughts about the Plainfield Park District, village trustee Jim Racich hasn't been shy about speaking up.

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  • Ever since a new park board majority hired fellow village trustee Garrett Peck as the park district executive director, Racich has been a vocal critic of the board's decision. Racich has asserted that Peck isn't qualified for the job, and that the decision was made based on favoritism.

    That outspokenness once got him tossed out of a park board meeting and, over the weekend, it made headlines after Peck reportedly copied the  Herald-News  on a testy email exchange with Racich.

    According to the newspaper, Peck sent Racich an open letter, saying,  “I take exception to the fact that you have publicly engaged in personal attacks against my qualifications and performance as the Executive Director at The Plainfield Township Park District.”

    Racich claims his response — which Peck also sent to the Herald — came after Peck threatened to share their exchange with the media.

    “Your cheap attempt to intimidate me is pathetic," Racich wrote. "Go pound dirt until you make dust. Take my response and your drivel and send it to whomever you choose. Your opinion is without value."

    Peck didn't respond to a message from Patch on Monday, but Racich stood by what he wrote.

    "He sent that to the Herald-News thinking he's going to intimidate everyone," Racich said. "... I have the right to freedom of speech."

    In May, police escorted Racich out of a board meeting after he attempted to speak during the public comment period. Initially, board president Peter Hurtado told Racich he could not speak, since he hadn't signed up prior to the start of the meeting. He then relented, saying Racich could address the board — but gave him a one-minute time limit, compared with the three minutes afforded to other speakers. When Racich balked at the time limit and attempted to speak anyway, he was asked to leave.

    "I'm really kind of offended by some of the actions that that group at the Plainfield Park District are doing, with the exception of Larry Newton and Mary Ludemann," Racich said. "I don't think they know anything about governance, and they're treading on people's rights."

    Peck sounds off

    The open letter to Racich isn't the first time Peck has responded publicly to criticism from a park district resident.

    In November, Peck posted another open letter to the park district website, taking aim at two residents who had filed Open Meetings Act complaints with the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

    The note referred to critics as "a small group of radicals," and included links to documents containing residents' names and home addresses.

    “This is the second unfounded complaint filed by a member of a small group of radicals who have openly tried to promote their political agenda by using the Illinois Attorney General’s office to review and possibly harass the Plainfield Park District Board for its decisions,” Peck wrote.

    The open letter remained on the website for weeks. As of Monday, it appeared to have been removed. (See screenshot to read the full text.)

    'He doesn't belong in the job'

    On Monday, Racich stood by his assertions that Peck should not have been given the park district position.

    "In my estimation, he doesn't belong in the job," Racich said. He also lamented the loss of planning department employees Cameron Bettin — who was initially hired to do Peck's job — and James Less.

    Both employees reportedly resigned. Peck said in a statement that their jobs would not be filled, and that the planning department would be eliminated and the work outsourced to consultants.

    According to the park district website, former Superintendent of Parks Gene Coldwater is now director of "Parks and Project Management." A press release reportedly sent out by the park district Tuesday apparently noted that Coldwater has been promoted to assistant executive director — Bettin's old post. 

    Neither Peck nor park district spokesman Doug Booth responded to messages from Patch inquiring about Coldwater's new role, or how the Parks and Project Management division differs from the planning department. 

    Despite his distaste for recent goings-on at the park district, Racich said the dispute will not affect his role on the village board.

    "It's absolutely nothing to do with the Village of Plainfield," he said. "I'm a resident of the Plainfield Park District and I'm a taxpayer.

    "I will treat [Peck] in a totally professional manner" with regard to village dealings, Racich said, "... but I have the right to speak."

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