It took more than 200 minutes, but the Winnetka Park Board finally addressed the elephant in the room.
Toward the end of a nearly four-hour meeting July 20, Commissioner Warren James condemned the recent actions of Commissioners Cynthia Rapp and Colleen Root, both of whom walked out of a special Park Board session on July 5, denying the shorthanded board of its voting authority.
James, who along with Jeff Tyson was not present at the July 5 meeting, called the walkout disappointing and disrespectful and requested that Root be removed as the board’s liaison to the Village of Winnetka.
In the same breath, James also took aim at the Village of Winnetka, accusing the agency of rushing four lakefront-regulation ordinances with the purpose of denying the Winnetka Park District time to review and potentially respond to them.
“The subject matter expertise lies among this board that has carefully studied (development along the lakefront),” he said, “and yet the actions taken by the Village Board appear to me to be clearly driven to supplement the judgement of this board.”
Village of Winnetka officials did not immediately return messages from The Record.
Winnetka Village Board’s recent lakefront discussion arc began in December 2022, when trustees approved the consolidation of four residential lots just south of Centennial Park along the lakefront. The development of the consolidated property is ongoing.
During that meeting, and in numerous public meetings since, Village officials explored their role in lakefront development and discussed increased regulation of such development. Staff drafted four ordinances, which include a nine-month moratorium on new lakefront construction and an overlay district defining lakefront land, and trustees approved a first read of those ordinances on Thursday, July 6. Final approval occurred on July 18.
James said the Village was deliberately acting against park district interests when it scheduled the holiday-week meeting and when it posted the meeting’s agenda at “the 11th hour,” Friday, June 30; however, the council scheduled and approved a July 6 meeting in November 2022, and the agenda and its materials were posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act (48 hours in advance) and Village custom (Friday prior to regular council meeting).
The Park Board called its special meeting on July 5 in response to the Village of Winnetka’s agenda, and Root and Rapp walked out prior to a cosmetic vote to protest the lakefront proposals.
James said Root’s and Rapp’s actions were disrespectful to their boardmates and park staff who prepared and participated in the meeting.
In his lengthy statement, James also blamed Root for derailing the district’s plan to combine Elder and Centennial beaches by incorporating the Ishbia family’s property in between the two beaches. The plan, which threatened public access to the shoreline, drew intense criticism from residents and eventually the entire Winnetka Village Board prior to the Park Board voting 3-2 on June 9, 2022, to pull the plan from state and federal consideration.
In the vote, Root’s motion was supported by Rapp and now-retired Commissioner David Seaman, while two of James’ allies, Christina Codo and Eric Lussen, were absent from the June meeting.
Root and James, the board’s president in 2022, have squared off several times over the past year. James has publicly called for Root to resign, and Root said on July 24 that she does not appreciate James constantly singling her out.
“I am sick and tired of you personally attacking me,” she said. “I work very hard as a commissioner. We have differing views. We don’t agree, but that is all right. That, at the end of the day, is good because it brings balance.
She added, “I’m tired of this, the personal attacks. I want you to stop.”
Root also called James’ accusations against the village “absolutely absurd” and urged him to speak with village leaders.
Lussen jumped in to say he believes the park district and village must improve its cooperation and suggested that Rapp and Root are not the best park representatives to enable that improvement. He suggested that Codo lead negotiations with the Village, and Codo requested Lussen join her.
The change may be considered at a future Park Board meeting, Codo said.
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.