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Conferencing with the experts

PRINCETON — The entire Princeton Park District board and several staff members attended the Illinois Association of Park Districts/Illinois Park and Recreation Association Conference in Chicago Jan. 24-25.

At Monday’s park board meeting, those attending shared what they learned from the sessions they attended.

Board member Dick Volker attended a seminar on identifying sexual predators. He said the park board must have a plan in place to identify such offenders. He said the best prospects to offend are people who don’t get enough love at home. He also said the board needed to monitor employees.

He also talked about the board’s liability and dealing with the adverse publicity.

Volker said sexual predators is the second hottest topic — second only to gun control. He said 800 cases are reported daily, and one in three girls and one in four boys will be abused in their lifetimes.

Princeton Park District Executive Director Elaine Russell also attended the seminar on sexual predators, and she said it was very informative.

“Your liability is at its peak if you don’t do anything about something you know,” she said.

Russell also attended a seminar on best financial practices. There was a discussion on preparing budgets in three-year increments, so after the budget is completed in late summer, Russell would like to also have a 2014 and 2015 budget for the board to review. She said the budget wouldn’t include the little items, but rather projected larger items such as the purchase of equipment.

Administrative assistant Tammy Lange attended a seminar on human resources and said it can be hard to have “tough” conversations with employees. However, if there’s a issue, it has to be addressed.

Lange said if there is a lawsuit regarding an employee, lawyers will turn to performance reviews. If there is a problem, and the reviews are good, that can increase the organization’s liability.

Aquatics coordinator Beth Weger attended a session on problems that can occur while running a day camp and aquatics program. Weger said the remedy was to cross-train the staff in both areas. That results in greater understanding of the jobs each do, and it can be helpful when there is a staff shortage.

She also attended a seminars on dealing with stress and planning a running event. Weger said the park district is hosting another half-marathon, and the seminar was helpful with tips for making the race fun and dealing with problems that might occur.

Board President Gene Englehart said small districts such as Princeton have many of the same problems as larger districts.

“I’ve had people sit at this table over the years and say we’re small, so this doesn’t apply to us,” he said. “Well, these are laws, not suggestions.”

He then recapped some of what he learned, including that all park district employees must have criminal background checks initiated before they are hired.

There can also be no politicking on park district property by incumbent board members, which means incumbents can’t collect petition signatures on any park district property. Englehart said it’s the public right to attend park board meetings, speak before the board, and make FOIA requests.

“People watch us very closely and would love to trip us up,” he said.

Russell said it was fantastic to have all five board members in attendance at the conference.

“That commitment makes it all work so well because we’re all in it to win,” she said.

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