Wilmette, News

Park Board president survives challenge, as Wilmette commissioners squabble again

Despite a new challenger and late flurry of public opposition to the status quo, the Wilmette Park Board re-sat Mike Murdock in the president’s chair during its annual meeting Monday, May 8.

Murdock earned a second year as Park Board president by a 4-3 vote, edging second-term Commissioner Cecilia Clarke.

It was the board’s second straight presidential vote enveloped in drama. During the 2021 annual meeting, Murdock was also elected president in a 4-3 vote. At that time, he bested board Vice President Julia Goebel and was criticized by Clarke for breaking from unofficial board precedent in which the vice president ascends to the top seat.

This year, Clarke announced her intention to run for Park Board president in a social media post on May 4. Over the next few days, the park district received numerous emails from community members regarding the position of Park Board president.

Park officials said that leading up to the meeting they received close to 30 messages in support of a change in board leadership. On Friday, May 6, the resident group Wilmette Park Friends — which is spearheaded by former Park Board candidate Walter Keats — emailed its supporters and urged them to contact Park Board members about a leadership change. Keats’ message claims Murdock has failed to listen to resident concerns, especially in relation to the park district’s controversial plan to expand its recreational facilities at West Park.

Prior to Monday night’s proceedings, Murdock addressed the initial West Park proposal and process, calling them “a mistake.”

“We didn’t understand the negative impact (the paddle tennis facility) had on that community,” he said. ” … We should have and could have done a better job of listening and there are better and more effective ways to engage the public. We can do better and will do better.

“I take responsibility for those mistakes.”

After the nominations of Clarke and Murdock, Commissioner Patrick Duffy led board comments by opining that the board president has no more influence on Park Board decisions than any other board member, and thus, Murdock is not independently to blame for any perceived Park Board failures.

Duffy then accused Clarke of asking community members to send the support emails and said those emails “bordered on bullying.” Duffy provided no evidence for his allegation, which Clarke denied and admonished.

“I am grateful to the people who spoke up and supported me,” Clarke said. “I think the community’s opinions are valuable; however, I am not involved in that at all and resent the fact that you implied it.”

Patrick Duffy (left) speaking to his fellow commissioners Monday, May 8.

Clarke was not the only individual put off by Duffy’s accusation.

Wilmette resident Jennifer Manning, who said she wrote the park district an email supporting Clarke, addressed the board, saying that she heard “around town” that Clarke was a candidate for Park Board president and wanted to put her support on the record.

“I am offended by Mr. Duffy’s comment,” she said. “I wrote the board in support of Ms. Clarke and it had nothing to do with bullying. … Your are shutting down the community for having opinions and that was in poor form.”

In his re-election, Murdock again earned the support of Duffy and Kara Kosloskus, both of whom voted for his presidency in 2021. Uncontested, Kosloskus was elected as the board’s vice president.

For his fourth vote, Murdock gained the vote of Allison Frazier, who expressed her support of Murdock under the condition that the board overhaul its committee structure.

In the board’s first vote under Murdock’s leadership in 2021, commissioners via a split decision backed the president’s plan to shake up the committees. The approved structure sat all commissioners, including Murdock, on at least three of the seven committees.

The board approved Monday a shift to a committee-of-the-whole format in which a variety of matter are discussed by all commissioners during a monthly, non-action meeting. Under the new structure, the Park Board reportedly can decide to form smaller, temporary committees — or ad hoc committees — as it sees fit.

The board also decided to rotate the commissioner who presides over the committee of the whole, instead of relying on the board president each meeting.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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