Chicago Park District ignores complaint against Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council: Council continues to operate as a “Private Club”

An Open Letter to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners

By Juanita Bratcher


More than a year ago, a letter of complaint was sent to Commissioner Bob Pickens, Vice-President of the Chicago Park District Board, and other commissioners complaining that Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council (87th & Jeffery) was operating as a “Private Club” and shutting out residents who wanted to become members of the Council.

Officers of the Council refused to let non-members participate in overall meetings and cranked up their efforts in this regard by closing out community participation through Executive Session, informing non-members verbally and in the meeting agenda that they had to leave the meeting room when Council goes into Executive Session. Obviously, it was a planned maneuver to keep non-members from hearing any substantial dialogue on what was being discussed. It was for members’ ears only.

The CPD never responded to the letter of complaint and as of today the Jesse Owens Advisory Council continues to operate as a “Private Club”, and have systematically closed out residents who applied for membership.

The Letter of Complaint sent to the Chicago Park District Board over a year ago which was also presented to the President of JOAC at their May 2010 monthly meeting, follows:


As per our telephone conversation following the Chicago Park District Board

meeting in April 2010 at Jesse Owens Park.

Park District Advisory Councils Are Public Domain; Not Private Club Havens


I have read the “Park Advisory Council Guidelines” posted on the Internet several times over. And not once have I come across anything that states that Park District Advisory Councils are, or should be “Private Clubs”, or even “Private Havens”. Nor did I see anything that said Advisory Council Officers can use their “discretion” as to who can and cannot be a member of the Council. In other words, who they will let become a member of the Advisory Council and who they will deny membership to.

It is clear as day that the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council is not open to the general community at large, but only to a small group of people they selectively choose as members – those who will work with them to maintain the status quo in representing their own interest – whatever that interest might be, and not so much the interest of the overall community. This “Private Club” has made it its business to shut out other residents in the community who are interested in being a member to help in the stabilization of the park and community structure.

This “Private Club” has closed out other residents of the community and has no problem saying “this is the way it is and you can’t change it or do anything about it.”

At the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council’s May monthly meeting, President Barbara Cooley, when questioned about this practice, had no problem in telling community residents attending the meeting (those who were not members of the Advisory Council) that “This is the way it is and you can’t do anything about it.”

Cooley made the statement after Johnny Acoff, a community resident for more than 40 years, asked why the Council hadn’t acted on ten names he had submitted of persons who wanted to become members of the Council.

I have been a homeowner in the Calumet Heights area for almost 40 years (since November, 1970). My late husband, Neal A. Bratcher, was longtime President of the Jesse Owens Advisory Council. Under his leadership, anyone who wanted to be a member of the Council was welcomed with open arms to be involved in talks and strategies and participate in Advisory Council’s meetings. No one was shut out, so there was never a problem as to disgruntled residents who wanted to be part of. Everyone who attended Advisory Council meetings had a voice…the way that it should be.

My husband (Neal A. Bratcher), along with so many other concerned and active residents in the community, including Johnny Acoff, pushed for, planted the seeds, and worked hard to get a Field House at Jesse Owens Park. Yet, for some reason, which is certainly beyond my perception, the current Advisory Council seems to think that they have some kind of entitlement to a public facility owned by taxpayers.

Let me make this very clear: I do not want to be a member or officer of the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council nor do I have any inclinations to participate as a community resident under the current officer makeup of the board where origins are not known as to how they were selected for their positions. But I do know that when elections are held in an open process and one wins “fair and square,” their win cannot be disputed. They won it whether you agree with the results or not. And you set aside differences and work together for the good of the community.

That said, now you might ask why I am on a mission for a “fair and open” process that is being denied to some of the residents in the area of the park. Pure and simple, because of complaints by some who wanted to be members and found the process shut out to some and open to others.

My dissatisfaction with the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council board, as well as some others in the community, is that it is a “Private Club” where officers have shut out many in the community from participating. My goal is to shed light on the way it operates and the fact that it is shutting out people who want to be a part of. Take for instance, Mr. Acoff presented ten names to the Council of people who wanted to become members. That’s when he was told that membership was by their discretion and they were not taking anymore members. Really? He received this response about three months after he had submitted the ten names.

Moreover, after some residents (not members of the Council) attended an April meeting and complained about their “Private Club” and shutting people out, they cranked up their efforts to keep the organization private by closing out community participation through Executive Sessions. Now outsiders must leave before any of the agenda is acted upon.

Executive Sessions are put into play after a small portion of the program agenda takes place. As an example, the agenda is as follows:

Sign in, Call to Order, Opening Prayer, Reading of Minutes and two minutes per speaker Community Input (on what?), and then they go into “Executive Session JOPAC members only”. What can you say in the way of community input when you’ve been kept out of substantial dialogue that is discussed in Executive Sessions that you are barred from being part of? After that, everyone must leave with the exception of Council members. It is obvious that the Executive Sessions were put in place to bar or force non-members from hearing the main issues discussed at meetings.

Before I exited the July monthly meeting, I asked the president if after they discussed certain matters could those told to leave come back for the remaining part of the meeting. The answer was no, that the duration of issues on the agenda are discussed in Executive Session, which are many. Yet, all the serious subjects of discussion take place after non-members are told to leave. This certainly passes the “smell test” of making sure that outsiders do not have the least idea of what is going on regarding the Council and its undertakings.

Additionally, the Chicago Park District web site on Park District Advisory Councils states that only one Council will be recognized. I agree that there should only be one, but that one should be elected by the overall community and should represent the overall community – not a private group that has failed in its efforts or never wanted an open and fair forum on the part of all residents. That is not happening! And it has a lot to do with the effectiveness of activity at the park. One might also wonder are they using their “discretion” as to what activities will be held at the park as well.

In closing, I put forth the following questions:

  • In your 2008 guidelines of Registered Advisory Councils, Mr. Hal Bauswell was listed as President of the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council – he is deceased – so how and when did Ms. Barbara Cooley take over the reins? And under what circumstances?
  • When was the election held to elect officers of the Council?
  • When will terms of present officers be up and when will a new election be held?
  • How many people were present and voted on the current officers?
  • Who were eligible to vote for officers?
  • Are you privy (Chicago Park District) to any bylaws the Jesse Owens Advisory Council may have in place?
  • Is the Jesse Owens Advisory Council following the Robert Rules of order and Open Meetings Act?
  • They say prospective members must be finger printed, is that within Chicago Park District guidelines or one they put into place themselves? And if so, why would a resident have to be fingerprinted to be a member of the Council? Is this a way to try to scare people off if they had a minor scrape with the law (parking tickets, etc.)?
  • Do new members come in only by discretion of sitting members, leading to the Private Club I so often talked about in this letter?
  • Was a sign posted on the Jesse Owens Park bulletin board informing residents that an election would be held?
  • If so, how many days in advance was the notice posted in advance of the election?
  • Were other public methods used in informing residents in the Jesse Owens Park area of an election prior to the election?

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

On this day, August 8, 2011, Commissioner Pickens we urge you and your Co-Commissioners to bring a swift resolution to this problem. We are still seeking an “open and fair” process in regards to the Jesse Owens Park District Council.

Juanita Bratcher

Journalist, Author, Publisher, Poet & Songwriter

Editor & Publisher of CopyLine Magazine