From left: Jackson Park Advisory Council secretary Gary Ossewaarde, president Louise McCurry and Wooded Island steward Jerry Levy preside over Monday's meeting.

WOODLAWN — An influential park group whose decisions hold sway around the Obama Presidential Center and potential overhauls to lakefront golf courses could soon raise the requirements for members to vote on critical issues facing the area.

A proposal from Jackson Park Advisory Council leaders would require voting members to attend four meetings and participate in three council-sanctioned “volunteer activities” in a year.

Currently, members can vote if they’ve attended two meetings in a year and there is no volunteer requirement.

At a board meeting Monday, supporters said the raised standards would spur people to increase their involvement on park issues beyond the Obama Center, while opponents said the new rules would block participation from people who aren’t available for that many meetings.

Members will discuss and vote on the proposal at their next meeting on Jan. 10.

More than 60 people attended Monday’s council meeting, where about half of the time was spent discussing the membership proposal.

Some said the issues with the park board have been brewing since 2016, when then-President Barack Obama announced his intention to build his presidential center in Jackson Park.

In years past, “we’re lucky if we had 15 people in the meetings,” President Louise McCurry said. “Once the Obama Center came on board, everybody started coming to the meetings because they all had issues about the Obama Center.”

The stricter voting requirements would shield the council from the “political or personal agendas” of people who aren’t engaged with the park and its upkeep, supporters said.

“I can’t tell you how many things I do in this community, but I find time [for Jackson Park] because it’s important to me,” said attendee Genora Stone, who is also president of the Mamie Till-Mobley Park council. “… Either come here [and] volunteer, or why are you here at all? Y’all are making this into a political thing and it should not be. It’s for the enhancement of the park.”

The West Lagoon around Wooded Island in Jackson Park on Aug. 26, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Several attendees said members should be expected to serve before voting with a service council. Evangelist Latice Porter urged members and community residents to unite and improve the park rather than engage in political debates.

“Change comes with people who are putting their hands to the plow,” she said.

If the proposal passes, volunteer activities would count toward a voting membership if members sign in and their attendance is validated by council Secretary Gary Ossewaarde.

Some residents said the rules would shut out input from people who can’t attend sanctioned volunteer activities or find child care for the weeknight meetings. Others said they use and contribute to Jackson Park beyond the council’s events and programs, and they should be able to vote on park issues without volunteer requirements.

“I have not volunteered with [the council] on a trash-collecting operation,” attendee Kristy Rawson said. “I have personally, on my own, gathered countless trash bags full of garbage out of that park. … I don’t do it on your time, I don’t sign up, I don’t have it documented. We all use the park, and we all take care of the park, the best way that we can.”

Most attendees self-identified as Hyde Park residents. The council aims to get more Woodlawn and South Shore residents involved, McCurry said.

The committee’s bylaws require the council to reach a “consensus” of meeting attendees before putting proposals up for further discussion and a vote.

As the meeting wound down, McCurry announced a vote to establish consensus without a motion to do so — a move hotly contested by the proposal’s critics.

McCurry tallied a 16-15 vote Monday in favor of moving the proposal forward immediately before she ended the meeting. She said Tuesday the vote was 15-13 in favor.

“There was clearly consensus from all the speakers that they wanted to consider it,” McCurry told Block Club on Tuesday, adding she “could’ve simply declared” consensus had been reached but opted for a show of hands instead.

“I thought it was an absolutely wonderful meeting. People were heard; they got to express their feelings … and say what they needed to say,” McCurry said. “… This was the meeting for discussion, and discussion happened. It was a very vivid discussion on both sides of the issue.”

The council also voted during the meeting to amend its by-laws and clarify that voting members aren’t required to pay dues.

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