— A Need for Action —
by John Hlade, Director Waukegan Park District
The Legislative action process is the responsibility of all of us involved in the park and recreation business. We must get to the business of promoting our own business or we will be fighting for our existence.
Too many of us feel that paying our dues to IAPD/IPRS automatically ensures the exact results to satisfy our needs. And it seems we want results but are not willing to expend our energies. We must be willing to put in time and effort. IAPD cannot do it alone. They need our constant involvement and support. Sometimes it takes years of trying—we should be patient.
In our approach to the Legislature asking for funding (H. 1779 and S. 880), we failed to lay the groundwork and to show a basis for need. How many Legislators are aware of the losses experienced from personal property tax reductions. Have you bothered to tell your elected representative? Many are unaware of the scope of services we provide, or that we even exist as a special unit of government. It is our responsibility to provide that information.
Many times we learn of Park Districts that do not pay their dues or complain of no return because "those guys" aren't doing their job. "They are not getting us the legislation we want." They are doing their job, but the legislative procedure is a BIG JOB. Why not stop pointing a finger at someone else. Remember! When you point a finger at someone, there are always three pointing back at yourself. Challenge yourself and get involved in this legislative process. IAPD/ IPRS sorely need more of us doing our homework. How many of you have contacted your Legislator lately OR—how many of you know who your Legislators are and in what legislative district you reside?
Recently I had a severe complaint from a professional and a Park Commissioner, chastising IAPD and IPRS for not following up on a certain bill awaiting the Governor's signature. Very simply, the criticism was based on their incomplete information. I inquired as to this particular Park District's willingness to contribute more dollars to support a good full-time lobbying program, which in turn would be capable of a better information service. The response—"I doubt it, we're not paying our IAPD dues now." The same comparison can be applied to a complaint about a low stock market, by a person owning no stock.
At this point our profession appears to be complacently following the same path: quick to criticize; slow to offer suggestion; and most important, loath to volunteer service. It is time to abolish that "Let George do it" mystique; and re-create "I'd rather do it myself."
Some months ago the Waukegan Park District developed a Master Plan for Senior Citizen programming. The Federal Government passed the Older Americans Act to aid Seniors and funds were appropriated to States to provide these services. We submitted our plan and an application for funding. After a few detours, we took the plan to our State Senator (Morris), who met with various Park Districts and other agencies within the County and proceeded to seek assistance in Springfield. As a result, a daily nutrition program was established in our Recreation Center, with part-time leadership (funded) for recreation activities. Our Legislators need our support and are ready and willing to assist us.
Legislation beneficial to parks and recreation will not just happen by having a bill sponsored in the Legislature and hoping it is passed. Legislation passes because it is sold through hard work by all concerned. If we are prepared to work hard, we are the beneficiaries; but first we must have the POSITIVE attitude and willingness to extend ourselves.
Let me quote the President's message in the Arizona Park and Recreation magazine several years ago, when LWCF and HUD funds were reduced:
"Those of us who are involved with leisure services should bristle and hold our ground at the thought of losing funding for the services that we are directly providing. To become involved means that we have to become 'politically' active to ensure that what is necessary for our field is appropriated to us. This, undoubtedly, will ruffle the lay reader; but, we are the fledgling that normally received what is left. Yet we are the ones who bring the credit, good relationships and public awareness of the qualities of life to our cities, state, and nation. To expound upon the qualities of our field of work and interest is superfluous as we should be cognizant of these values, and if we are not,
Illinois Parks and Recreation 4 January/February, 1976
then what are we doing in this area of learning to live life to its highest quality? I call upon you to politically align yourself for survival, and let yourself be heard to each and every person involved in our legislative structure."
Promoting a closer liaison with our elected representatives is not only important, it is imperative. Legislation at all levels of government which affects park and recreation systems and agencies must be known and understood. A closer communication between the professional and the elected representative is a must if we are to provide the services that our leisure-oriented public demand. This avenue of on-going communication enables us to become more visisble and to engender a sense of reliance on our thoughts and ideas by our elected representatives.
In some cases, legislation is passed which affects us without our knowledge. By creating and promoting this channel of communication, the elected representative and the practitioner are drawn closer. Those responsible for passage will be more apt to inform you before regulations are set.
So what do we do? How do we, within our organizational structures (IAPD and IPRS) effect a closer liaison within, and, closer contact on legislative matters with our elected representatives.
First, we totally commit ourselves to affirmative action. Every effort should be made to contact our elected officials regularly (not just when we need their support). When you are requested, accept the responsibility of contacting by phone, telegram, letter, or whatever other means available, to solicit support from elected officials when their vote is crucial. Attend the IAPD Legislative Reception in Springfield to show your support. Other means of contact and communication will be stressed by members of the panel.
Some progress has been achieved; witness S. B. 220 and 221, among other legislation. The development of the "Hot Line" has improved communication. In an upcoming issue, we will explain this system in-depth and show that with your concerted efforts, we can be involved and we will begin to see some positive response to our efforts.
Illinois Parks and Recreation 5 January/February, 1976