HUMBOLDT PARK — A group of residents are fighting to be confirmed as the new leaders of the Humboldt Park Advisory Council, which was shut down by the Chicago Park District several months ago after the agency deemed the council’s election illegitimate.
The role of the Humboldt Park Advisory Council is to organize events and programming at the park. It is made up of volunteers.
The park district shut down the group nine months ago after determining it did not follow election protocol.
But the residents pushing to be recognized say the election was nothing but fair. On Friday, they held a press conference outside of the Humboldt Park Field House at 1400 N. Humboldt Dr. to make their stance known.
“We we were elected fairly and squarely by the voting members of HPAC [Humboldt Park Advisory Council] … and we just want to resume park operations,” said Jacqueline Baez, who will be named president if the park district recognizes the group.
The Humboldt Park Advisory Council has been embroiled in conflict for years. Instead of organizing Easter egg hunts and other family-friendly activities, group members have used meetings to battle over gentrification.
“All of these people, on both sides, are vindictive and truly hate each other. Their only goals have been to fight and win, with an occasional park accomplishment thrown in,” one former board member previously said.
Former board member Charlie Billups told Block Club in February he left the group after one member allegedly shoved him and another threatened him with a lawsuit. He said he was targeted because he was part of a resident coalition pushing to get Riot Fest out of Humboldt Park.
“What I think the advisory council has become is, instead of being a place where you work out things for the park, it has become gentrifiers against anti-gentrifiers,” Billups previously said.
Years of tensions bubbled to the surface at the election Jan. 23.
Former board members described the election as pure “chaos and confusion” that devolved into shouting matches.
“Votes were counted, re-voted, recounted,” one resident previously said.
Residents are only able to vote in park advisory council elections if they have attended at least five council meetings, according to park district requirements, and some at the meeting alleged that many voters didn’t fit that criteria.
After the chaotic election, the park district shut down the group and invalidated the election results.
In a park district memo shared with Block Club, the agency said sign-in sheets were not available the day of the election, there were inconsistencies between the number of ballots cast and the number of voters, and there was a tie for at least one office and “the solution to the tie did not follow PAC bylaws.” The agency also said it did not receive the ballots.
The park district now intends to hold a new election, though it’s unclear when it will take place. Park district spokeswoman Michele Lemons said a date has not been set and noted that all previously elected officers are welcome to run.
Baez and the residents in her group dispute each of the park district’s claims and find the new election to be unnecessary.
“The outcome will be pretty much the same because the people who voted before are the only people that can vote again,” Baez said.
Baez said the ordeal is about more than just being recognized as the rightful leaders of the group — it’s about neighborhood families getting the programming and events they deserve.
For nine months, Humboldt Park has been without a park advisory council, which means there have been fewer community-centered events in and around the park. With the coronavirus pandemic, neighborhood families need those outlets now more than ever, residents said.
But even before the pandemic, the previous board didn’t do its job of putting on events and programs, they said.
“The Humboldt Park Advisory Council should be raising funds for kids programming and park beautification and we know throughout the years, it’s not happening. This is not happening,” Baez said of the former board.
Jacques Rivera, a lifelong resident of Humboldt Park, came to Friday’s press conference to support the group pushing for representation.
Rivera said he wants to see the Humboldt Park Advisory Council reinstated so the group can get back to the important work of putting on events for neighborhood kids and their families.
“Growing up here, the gangs, the drugs, it’s important to have programs to help these kids who have nothing to do,” Rivera said.
“Our superintendent of police has spoke of that many times … We didn’t have it and I can only imagine if we would’ve had it back then what our lives would’ve led to.”
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