I came home to a neighborhood peppered in orange flyers purporting to give the facts about the Gale Community Center. I read it closely along with the Alderman's email, which arrived today in my Inbox. My take on both is that we are facing a marketing blitz, intended to focus attention on the BGC rather than on the process being used to bring the BGC into the center.
The key point in the Alderman's email is this:
According to a recent Harris survey, 57% of Boys & Girls Club alumni say their Boys & Girls Club membership had helped save their lives, literally in many cases. The survey also found that 28% of alumni say they would have dropped out of high school if not for the Boys & Girls Club, and 51% say they achieved a higher level of education than they thought possible because of their club experience.
With that kind of track record, who could be against a Boys & Girls Club coming to Rogers Park?
The Alderman wants us to believe that the challenge being posed is all about the BGC. The issue being fought here is not the BGC, it's this:
As you may recall, the Chicago Park District and the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago have been engaged in discussions about the Boys & Girls Club locating a club at the new Gale Community enter at Howard and Marshfield. While it's far from a done deal, I hope an agreement can be reached.
What is the basis for these talks? Why are CPD and BGC discussing anything at this point? What exactly are we talking about in terms of an agreement? If the CPD is going to run the center and manage it, with BGC providing some programming, why not say so directly?
The Alderman enumerates 4 facts, all of which are as wholesome as Mom, the flag, and apple pie. Who could possibly object? But then he moves on to the stuff that starts raising the red flags:
No Park District employee will lose his or her job if the Boys & Girls Club comes to the Community Center. In fact, the Park District and the labor union are discussing a possible joint use of the Park District facility, with the Boys & Girls Club offering some programs and the Park District providing others.
If anyone out there is in touch with SEIU perhaps they will get verification of this claim. The reps at the Loyola Park meeting this week were clearly concerned about the status of jobs, and, if I read my email correctly, SEIU may be represented at the rally on Saturday. If SEIU shows up and marches, then I will be forced to conclude that the union membership is not in agreement with the Alderman's claim.
The Community Center is the only viable location in Roger Park for a Boys & Girls Club at this time. While the Boys & Girls Club has pledged to raise money to facilitate their Rogers Park operation, they cannot fund it entirely on their own. The Park District has offered to subsidize a portion of the costs of the Boys & Girls Club programming. This funding would not be available if the Boys & Girls Club operated at a non-Park District facility.
Wait just one red-hot minute! BGC has to raise funds for their operation and the CPD may subsidize a portion of this? Is CHA subsidizing BGC at their various locations? Anyone? I can't say that I am all that enthused about my tax dollars being used to subsidize BGC when I have already paid for Park District personnel to provide programming. Perhaps BGC needs to scale back their plans so that resources and capabilities are in sync, rather than look for taxpayer funded subsidies.
The community has been involved in the process from the beginning. As soon as the Park District and the Boys & Girls Club began negotiating, officials from both organizations met with Rogers Park community organization leaders and members, including members of the North of Howard Park Advisory Council, to fully apprise them of the negotiations and to seek input. In addition, I have provided the community at large with regular e-mail updates, of which this is the third.
So now we go from talking to negotiating. What is the basis for these negotitions? Just what is being negotiated when one partner is taxpayer funded and the other has to raise money and look for subsidies in order to run their operation?
The Alderman's final two points promise more community input and provide an update on the status of the building. He closes by again raising the specter of opposition to BGC itself and says:
I've heard from many 49th Ward residents who are excited about the possibility of a Boys & Girls Club coming to our neighborhood. Unfortunately, their voices have been drowned out by the small minority of people in our community who wish to keep out the Boys & Girls Club.
He'd like for it to be that simple, but it isn't. I wonder if the excited residents he refers to understand that additional taxpayer dollars may be needed to fund a BGC program. The Alderman's email makes it plain that BGC lacks the wherewithal to run an operation at the center unless they are able to raise additional funds and/or receive a subsidy. Available resources do not match their plan and the taxpayers may wind up funding the difference. Given the laundry list of 'stuff' needing attention in CPD buildings and parkland, how can CPD even afford to discuss a subsidy?
BGC is one non-profit among many. They happen to be walking point on this issue, which makes it easy for the Alderman to point and claim the opposition is all about keeping the BGC out. I'd be having the same reaction if it was anyone else, and I personally like the Girl Scouts. If BGC's role is simply that of one provider among many, with the CPD managing and operating the center, that is one thing. Any partnering proposal should be clear on the boundaries of the relationship and what BGC will provide. If it is more than that, then the Alderman and the CPD need to explain the process that, in effect, makes the BGC (to paraphrase Orwell) "more equal than others," and thus worthy of an expanded role. Especially given their financial handicap.
As I told Westgard, I don't care if it's the Girls Scouts, the Boys Scouts, Camp Fire, or my Great Aunt Irene who has 101 great ideas for youth programming and the resources to implement them. If anyone other than the CPD runs and manages the community center, then it needs to be the result of a fair and open competition. And now that the Alderman has provided additional information that raises even more questions, I would say we need to look this over with a very fine comb.