JPNA elects new president; alderman removed from association’s Facebook group


A critic of Alderman John Arena (45th) was elected the new president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association at its Sept. 30 meeting, and a day later he removed Arena from the association’s Facebook group.

Bob Bank, who joined the association when it was formed 15 years ago, received 60 votes, and Ryan Richter, who joined the association in January and who is a member of Arena’s zoning advisory committee, received 27 votes. Richter opposes the association’s platform against upzoning and has called for more "progressive" leadership in the association.

Bank said after the election that he plans "reach out" to everyone who wants to work with the association and that he would like the association to be "more aggressive" in promoting its positions and in overseeing the actions of the area’s elected officials.

Bank is replacing Judy Skotzko, who retired from the board. Also elected as directors were Eva Skowronski, Peter Insley and Liz Jurkacek, and Ed Irsch ran unopposed for treasurer.

Richter said that he will remain active in the association and has offered to help revamp the association’s Web site but that it became clear to him that some members were not receptive his vision for the association.

"The message sent to me, particularly given the lengthy question-and-answer session after my speech, was that the membership was uncomfortable with my views on development issues and of collaborating with the alderman and any developer that wants to build in Jefferson Park," Richter said.

Bank said that he hopes to better monitor the association’s Facebook group, where discussions on development projects and a planned special service area taxing body have become heated. "I’m trying to make it a more pleasant site," he said.

Bank said that Arena was removed because he is a no longer a paid member of the association and he had posted inaccurate information about the amount of tax that some home owners in the proposed special service area would pay. Arena supports the special service area as a way to help revitalize the Jefferson Park commercial district.

Bank opposes the special service area because it would require that the owners of 501 residential properties on Milwaukee Avenue, Lawrence Avenue and Central Avenue pay an additional property tax, estimated at an average of $172 per property. However, most of the taxing body’s proposed $220,000 budget would come from commercial properties on those streets.

The association has about 190 paid members, but non-members can request to join the Facebook group, which has a membership of about 600. Bank said that anyone who makes inappropriate comments should be removed from the Facebook page and that those who are not paid members of the association should be subject to fewer warnings and quicker removal.

Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the special service area statistics posted on the Facebook page by the alderman were accurate and that he hopes Bank’s recent decision does not indicate how the association will operate. "We all need to work together," Brugh said. "We enjoy working with neighborhood organizations to better the community."

Bank said that Arena can be an important source of information for issues affecting residents and that he hopes Arena will rejoin the Facebook group in his capacity as alderman. He said that Arena was considered a member of the group as a resident at his time of removal.

The association’s board is expected to discuss guidelines for removing people from the Facebook group at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 12. Several board members serve as administrators of the Facebook group.

Bank also said that he will ask the board to investigate whether Arena is violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act by keeping his zoning advisory meetings closed to the public. Zoning advisory board meetings in the 41st Ward are open to the public.

Brugh said that Arena’s advisory meetings are not subject to the open meetings act because the committee is intended to provide opinions only to the alderman and not the City Council or one of its committees. He said that the meetings are private to allow for "open and frank discussion" among members of the committee, which consists of urban planners and architects, and that it is not unusual for a mayor to form a private advisory group on an issue.

Brugh said that Arena regularly holds community meetings on zoning proposals and that the City Council Zoning Committee holds a public hearing on all zoning proposals.

The association’s membership has increased from about 120 last year to 188 this year.