Are Riverdale's elected officials living lavishly with taxpayer - KMSP-TV

Are Riverdale's elected officials living lavishly with taxpayer dollars?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) -

There's a lot the Riverdale Park District doesn't have. For instance, a swimming pool. However, one thing they do have is a credit card for the elected officials who run the park district.

FOX 32 News and the Better Government Association have found that a credit card is being used to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in conferences, flights, hotel rooms and fancy meals.

At a pickup basketball game in a South suburban Riverdale public park, kids said that it's been a long time since they've heard the ‘swoosh’ of a ball going through the net.

"Two, three months ago," said one kid.

Also, the kids said they pay for the nets themselves.

FOX 32 News found many of the park district's basketball hoops bare, and that’s if there's even a basket to shoot at.

Yet, the people who run the Riverdale Park District -- seven elected officials -- have found plenty of money to travel and eat on the taxpayer's dime.

Credit card records obtained by FOX 32 and the Better Government Association show since 2012, the park district has spent more than $35,000 sending commissioners and some employees to parks conferences in Texas, California and Chicago. That includes more than $7,000 in hotel rooms in downtown Chicago, which is less than 20 miles from Riverdale.

Also, $783 was spent for a group meal at Stetson’s Steakhouse in Chicago, featuring scallops, filet and liquor.

FOX 32 News showed the receipts to Riverdale residents using the parks.

"Oh my god," exclaimed one woman. "They’re hungry...we’re very hungry."

"Wow! That's quite a bit," said another woman. "That could be money used for something else, definitely."

One man added, "Probably could have got a swimming pool in the park and everything."

One of the park district credit cards -- with a $25,000 limit -- was assigned to board member Nathaniel Smiley, who defends the travel and tells the BGA the conferences helped them do a better job of running the parks.

"What do people think about elected officials that do not educate themselves," Smiley asked. "What do they think of them governing their tax dollars? I really would like to know the answer to that one."

Riverdale Mayor Lawrence Jackson said, "I strongly believe that they mismanaged and misappropriated public funds."

Jackson said the separately-elected park district board recently raised its tax levy by two percent, yet fails to provide much in the way of programs and services.

"We do not have the programs that other communities have such as little league baseball programs, boy scouts, arts and crafts programs, programs for our senior population,” Jackson added.

Shortly after FOX 32 visited the Riverdale parks last week, work crews suddenly showed up, replacing the bolts on one basketball hoop and sweeping broken glass off the court.

However, in a suburb where 25 percent of the residents live in poverty, you wonder whether the perks come before the parks.

"This is a community that desperately needs activities for children. They need places for teens to go. They need things for kids to do. So when you're spending money on conferences and traveling on these different trips, it seems the money could be better allocated in the parks for the kids," said Katie Drews of the BGA.

The Riverdale Park District said commissioners were reimbursed for the booze they drank at the meals, but couldn't provide any documentation showing the money was paid back.

The board also voted to skip this year's national conference in North Carolina.

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