State delays park closings
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration said Sept. 16 it is delaying closures of two dozen state parks and historic sites, blaming unforeseen snags involving employees affected by the closures for the extended timeline.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said the closing date for historic sites has been delayed from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15. Parks will now close Nov. 30, rather than the original Nov. 1 date, she said.
The delay will give the administration more time to work out employee details, she said.
“You’re talking about a lot of union workers,” Quinn said. “We underestimated the time required to go through the process.”
But advocates putting up a strong fight against the closings see it as more political maneuvering.
“It begins to look like the governor’s beginning to play games and he’s just stringing us all along. It’s not funny,” said Jonathan Goldman, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council.
The announcement comes less than a week after the Illinois House voted overwhelmingly to put money back into the budget to keep the parks and sites open, along with restoring other cuts Blagojevich made to deal with a large budget hole.
Senate leaders have said they’re not coming back until the November veto session — after the fall election. This announcement could ease some pressure on them to rethink that stance.
Hundreds of layoffs at the departments of Human Services and Children and Family Services are still scheduled for Dec. 1, Quinn said.
Lawmakers and advocates said this wasn’t the news they were hoping for and promised not to let up on squashing the closings before they happen.
“I think this shows that the pressure is being felt, but we can’t stop now,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union that represents workers affected by the closings.
Quinn said the administration is dealing with both union and non-union employees, and it’s sorting out details with several unions who represent site and park workers.
She noted some union workers at the closing sites have “bumping rights” that allow them to take other jobs within their agencies because of seniority. That affects other employees at other sites.
“It is a factor in slowing this process down,” Quinn said, adding that parks received a longer extension than historic sites because more employees were affected and the administration is trying to follow personnel and collective bargaining guidelines.
She said the administration wouldn’t comment on whether more delays were possible or how legislators’ return to Springfield might affect the closings.
Lindall said it’s true some workers have rights to take other jobs, but that shouldn’t take until Nov. 30 to be resolved.
“It’s a combination of feeling the public pressure and confronting the reality of the serious questions that the closures raise,” Lindall said.
Sen. Larry Bomke (R-Springfield), said he would send a letter to the governor urging him to delay closing historic sites — including the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield — until the end of November.
Jim Peters, president of the nonprofit group Landmarks Illinois, is puzzled why historic sites aren’t also getting a reprieve until November, but he sees a glimmer of hope.
“It’s good news,” Peters said. “The longer they can stay open, the better.”
Sen. Dale Risinger, a Peoria Republican who represents several parks and sites affected by the closures, sees it as another effort by the governor to try to force lawmakers into a corner.
“If you don’t do what I want done, then we’re going to inflict more pain,” Risinger said. “This is all calculated.”
Sen. Gary Dahl, a Granville Republican who has several closing parks in his district, agreed that parks and sites have become unfortunate pawns.
“This game we’re playing with people’s lives just kind of makes you wonder what’s going on with it,” Dahl said. “It’s disheartening. This administration cares nothing about the people of the State of Illinois.”