Mokena Park District to Burros: Change leadership and ‘let’s start fresh’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com March 1, 2012 7:24PM
Updated: April 3, 2012 8:10AM
A few days after telling the Mokena Burros to pack up their footballs and find another place to play, the Mokena Park District said it is willing to meet with the youth football organization if it is willing to change its leadership.
“Let’s start fresh,” park district executive director Jim Romanek said Thursday.
Romanek said he appreciates what the Burros, who have called Mokena home for 49 years, “are doing for the kids.” But he is concerned about “issues and incidents” the park district is aware of that have “snowballed” over the last five years. The park board backed him at Tuesday night’s board meeting, leaving the Burros, for now, without an agreement for 2012.
Everything came to a head last month with the creation of a new youth football program, the Junior Griffins. Burros officials confronted park district officials about the new team, and a woman removed Junior Griffins fliers from a park district facility and threw them in the trash, according to park district officials.
Romanek sent the Burros an email Monday saying the organization was no longer “a good fit” with the park district, which doesn’t oversee either organization but provides field space for games and practices.
Park district officials have expressed support for the Junior Griffins and park board member Jim Richmond also is on the Junior Griffins board, but Romanek said the Griffins’ existence is unrelated to the park district’s stance on the Burros.
“We will not turn down any organization that wants to offer programs to our kids,” Romanek said.
But the Burros have been “abusive, disruptive and confrontational,” he said. “We need to have a positive, healthy, courteous relationship. When the wife of (a Burros official) is cussing at me and the board president in front of the kids, they need to apologize to the community.
“It’s not us against the Burros. It is how their leadership acts. That’s the biggest issue.”
A Burros coach also is accused of pushing a player to the ground and calling him a profane name in front of his teammates during a practice last season.
In another incident, viewed by the SouthtownStar on a surveillance video obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a woman is seen taking a stack of fliers promoting the new Junior Griffins team from The Oaks Recreation Center. Romanek said he followed the woman out of the building and saw her throw them away.
Nearly three weeks later, after the incident was reported in the media, the park district received a bag full of flyers, Romanek said. It included a note saying, “This is far more than I took. I’ll wait to see this in the papers. Thanks,” according to Romanek. It was signed by the wife of a Burros board member, he said.
The issues prompted Romanek, who is in his first year as parks director, to require all athletic organizations that regularly use park facilities to sign a new “memorandum of understanding” which outlines all the park district’s policies and rules, including a background check of all employees and volunteers, and a code of conduct.
Other organizations signed the agreement, but when the Burros returned it on Feb. 15, it had been “totally changed” and “redlined,” Romanek said.
“I told him it was not up for negotiation. Everyone has to play by the same rules,” Romanek said.
Burros president Joe Lentz said Wednesday “there were some things we looked at” in making changes to the agreement but that he went to Tuesday’s meeting to ask if the two sides could finalize the original agreement and move forward. But the board supported Romanek’s stance that the Burros aren’t a good fit with their current leadership.
Registration for both the Junior Griffins and Burros’ fall seasons begins this month.
The Burros organization attracts about 600 kids per year for flag and tackle football and cheerleading.