To the Editor:
Just saw Jackson Park Watch’s latest missives on why the Obama Presidential Center should be delayed and the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Plan for Jackson Park is unnecessary, and it has finally driven me to public comment. As a life-long South Sider, with a lot of friends and acquaintances around the South Side, I can say with some certainty that Jackson Park Watch’s (JPW) does not speak for most of the people I know. Rather, most are excited to see Jackson Park revitalized, welcome new economic opportunities for our neighborhoods, and are honored to have President Obama’s global initiatives for youth centered right here on the South Side. I have attended countless neighborhood meetings with the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Chicago Park District staff; I have attended the federal review meetings. Through all of these engagements I have found all the people involved in these projects to be professional, knowledgeable, open to discussion and suggestions, and working in the best interest of both Jackson Park and the broader South Side.
What I fail to understand is JPW’s short-sighted point of view about the OPC and who they think they are representing. They state that “Jackson Park Watch is a virtual community organization committed to advancing community input, transparency and comprehensive planning in all major decisions concerning Jackson Park.” I am on their purported 500-member mailing list, but they have never solicited my opinion, held a meeting, or responded to questions I have had about their organization. They do ask me for money to support their activities. Upon investigation, I found that JPW is a registered non-profit but operates for tax-exempt purposes under a fiscal agent agreement with Friends of the Parks (FOTP). Repeated requests to both JPW and FOTP regarding information about the terms of the fiscal agent arrangements and how much money has been raised and spent have resulted in responses ranging from “everything is in order,” to “sorry, we are busy, but will respond to you soon.” While I suspect there is nothing legally inappropriate about the fiscal agent relationship, the responses from an organization that claims it champions community input and transparency strike me as hypocritical.
One of my friends characterized the Obama Foundation’s initiatives as the Marshall Plan for Chicago’s South Side. I lived through the urban disintegration of the South Side and now look forward to witnessing its reawakening.