Hays, West for park board

Hays, West for park board

The contest for two open seats on the Champaign Park District Board of Commissioners has been skewed by debate over a now-rejected land swap with the school district.

The names of three candidates are listed on the April 7 ballot for the park board. But in our view, only two candidates are worthy of election, the third having disqualified herself by virtue of poor judgment.

We're referring to incumbent board member Jane Solon-Wetmore, who rendered herself unworthy of consideration because of her stubborn refusal to recuse herself when the board recently considered a land swap with the school district involving Dodds Park.

The fingerprints of the Atkins Group, where Solon-Wetmore works in property management, are all over the school district's plans for a new high school. The district purchased land from Atkins in north Champaign, the land development organization's clear interest being residential housing development if a new high school is built there.

Given the financial consequences for her employer, Solon-Wetmore should have withdrawn from any consideration of the school district's proposal to swap some or all of the land in north Champaign for 40 acres of park district land at Dodds. Solon-Wetmore rejected suggestions of abstention on the grounds she doesn't hold a significant managerial position with the Atkins Group.

That's a flimsy excuse. She showed herself to be blind to both the reality and appearance of a conflict of interest. At worst, Solon-Wetmore was carrying water for her employer when she used her public position to oppose the land swap. At best, she ignored widespread suspicion that that is what she was doing. Either way, Solon-Wetmore was oblivious to concern that a public decision would be based on a private interest.

The other two board candidates are Craig Hays, chairman of the park district's foundation board, and Brent West, an active community member and volunteer. Both offer the public solid credentials and are endorsed.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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ERE wrote on March 25, 2015 at 9:03 am
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Amen, NG Editorial Board! 

Hmmm...that whole north Prospect site has the stink of a sweetheart deal for the Atkins Group.

If they really had the community at heart, could they have just donated the land rather than sold it at high rate?

The amount of money they could potentially make from development around the site and the traffic of kids and parents through their commercial properties make it just a swell business deal for them.

Please think about that when you drive through terrible traffic to get to the north site or have your kids bug you about something they want to buy when they stopped to shop on the way home from school. 

ericbussell wrote on March 25, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Not surprised to read this after Mr. Foreman came out in favor of the Dodds Park land swap, but I think Mr. Foreman and friends would be more respectful of the notion that elected officials are elected to serve their constituents.   All public polls and at the majority of park hearings, constituents who spoke out at meetings were more strongly against the Dodds Park land swap.   You guys take a shot at at the Atkins Group and a selfless public servant who has nothing politically or financially to gain by her vote?  

I don't have an opinion on the location of Central HS, but the politics of this is silly.  It's too bad the Park District leadership couldn't be proactive on the Central HS topic like the City of Champaign was back in 2012 instead of all this last-minute "leadership" just before the mayoral election. 

I respect the N-G's opinion on Dodds Park, but to attack a public servant and suggest a conspiracy for simply disagreeing with the minority's opinion is somewhat disturbing.   I wouldn't feel strongly about it, but I actually attended both the public hearing on Dodds and the Park Board meeting the night the vote took place.   I don't recall one person speaking in favor of the land swap the night of the vote except for Joe Petry.  From what I saw, the Park Board members (the majority of them) were simply listening to the many who came out to address them during public feedback. 


clm317 wrote on March 25, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Although I have moved away from Champaign I was very disappointed to see the one-sided article/opinion that was printed regarding the two open seats on the Champaign Park District Board of Commissioners. The contest for the two seats isn’t skewed, but the article written certainly is skewed and very biased . Jane Solon-Wetmore is very worthy for consideration. I have known her for over 20 years and I have always known her to weigh all of her decisions very heavily on facts and what her constituents want. She won’t be bullied by anyone to make a decision in their favor, she thinks through all decisions and always comes to a fair and just conclusion based on what is best for the community and her constituents. You state the candidate Brent West is “an active community member and volunteer”. I was a member of Champaign West Rotary for the last 12 years and very active in the community as a volunteer and I would guarantee that Mr. West’s involvement would not hold up to the number of countless hours that Jane Solon-Wetmore has given to the community with various memberships and organizations. Jane is one of the most giving, good natured, fair individuals I have ever met and she certainly does not deserve such a mean-spirited article. Please News-Gazette, get your facts correct before you allow such a biased article to be printed in your paper. You really missed the mark on this one!

MSJ66 wrote on March 25, 2015 at 9:03 pm

I agree that all polls, letters to the editor, comments and public forums were shown that the MAJORITY were AGAINST a land swap and people wanted to keep Dodds Park in its current state. John Foreman and the "News" Gazette editorial buffoons though want to publically criticize a public servant for doing what she was elected to do which is represent the interest of the park district and her constituents. Anything that the right wing hacks on the "News" Gazette think is right they feel thats how it should be even when the MAJORITY is against them. See this joke of a "paper" only likes to spout about democracy when it fits into their right wing bias agenda and can't stand it that the people spoke and Jane listened so deal with it, Lastly, if you are looking to the "News" Gazette as a source for factually correct and balanced unbiased journalism you are looking at the wrong "paper".  Never support this rag by buying it or advertising anything with them. Read for free online and use any other form of media to advertise or get your message out. I personally corresponded with every member on the park board and the only one who didnt show any conviction was Joe Petry who was the only one to change his vote in a pathetic attempt to try and squeeze a few more votes for mayor. Not a chance here Joe. Jane you will be getting my wife and I's vote as I promised. Craig Hays I believe I read where you feel that Dodds should stay as it is and that this issue should now be dead so therefore you will getting our votes as well. You Jane showed that even under pressure from this joke of a media outlet you stood strong and, unlike the Gazette and this hatchet job editorial, have some values in what you do and how you conduct yourself. I'm positive there are many, many more people out there like me that feel this way over the petty sore loser cry baby John Foreman and the "News " Gazette opinion. THANK YOU Jane

ericbussell wrote on March 26, 2015 at 7:03 am

I believe the N-G edidtorial board is supposed to behave like journalists and not political bullies.   All you elected officials better keep this editorial in mind the next time John Foreman tells you how you should vote.  The irony of this is that John Foreman posts a facebook plug pointing out Joe Petry's leadership in calling a public hearing (after a member from his own campaign team requested the school board to put pressure on his own park board).  I don't think Foreman was expecting the public to be against the Dodds Park land swap.   Too bad for Jane.  

MSJ66 wrote on March 26, 2015 at 8:03 am

Eric there is no acting like journalist, well at least any that has any ethics or integrity on the Gazette. Today they want to attack Don Gerard and mention how the Champaign municipal elections are non partisan( yea right) and then try to imply supporting one of the republican chamber of commerce backed candidates. Yea real non partisan by the " News" Gazette. Everything they discuss or have an editorial or opinion about is right wing GOP partisanship. A joke of a media outlet as their radio mediums are just as ridiculous as their small town rag of a paper.

ericbussell wrote on March 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm


This was not a partisan issue at all, but it was bad politics.   What's crazy about this is that nobody asked Jane to recuse herself.  The N-G is going to count a request from an anonymous Tom's Mailbag submission??  Really?  Somebody who brought it up anonymously with the basis as her being a Atkins Group "big wig".   Really?  None of her fellow board members asked her.  Nobody in public comment asked her.   This is just bizzare.       

missinJerry wrote on March 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I write to add my name in support of Jane Solon-Wetmore for park district board.  I have worked with Jane on Champaign West Rotary projects, and found her to be hard working, and dedicated to helping our community.  I also believe the Atkins Group is being unfairly accused.  They have bigger fish to fry than manipulating the new high school on to 40 acres of bare ground.  Jeff Elliott

amee wrote on March 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

I am going to vote for Ms. Solon-Wetmore for Park Board. I thought the editorial nasty in tone and incomprehensible in argument. The Atkins SOLD the land to Unit 4. Unit 4 owns the land, not the Atkins Group nor the Park District. If the Gazette editorial board was so upset about Atkins getting the best of the deal, then they should have done an article about the advantage accrued to the Atkins Group by Unit 4 buying the land for the school. And then pointed that out when they wrote their editorials endorsing the school board candidates Jamar Brown and Kerris Lee and supporting the school referendum. Instead, the Board endorsed 2 candidates who voted to enrich the Atkins Group by buying the ground and voting to put a school there, and then the Editorial Board further argued for enriching the Atkins Group by endorsing the referendum even though they know the site will be the Interstate site. To attack a dedicated and ethical Park Board Commissioner because she works for a company that no longer owns the land while not not also attacking the folk who bought it or the referendum that will increase its value smacks of hypocrisy at best, and a smear campaign born of political sour grapes on the part of the Editorial Board, at worst. This was a shameful editorial that treated a decent person unfairly. Ugly, ugly, Editorial Board.

Kathy R. wrote on March 30, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Many writers have said that public polls and the number of speakers at Park District Board meetings showed that a majority of Champaign residents oppose a land swap with Unit 4, so that a new high school could be built on the soccer fields at Dodds.

But one speaker (at the Leonhard Center meeting on this topic) presented a petition to the Park Board with over 200 signatures from residents who favored the Dodds Park land swap, which far outnumbers the people who spoke against the idea.

If public polling data exists, I would appreciate seeing it. Relying simply on the number of speakers for and against this topic at the meetings themselves does not present anything close to an accurate measure of public sentiment.


ericbussell wrote on April 01, 2015 at 7:04 am


Kathy, here is a poll that was conducted by WDWS.   No poll or forum is a true measure of public opinion as the only poll that matters is conducted on election day.   

I attended the meeting and have no opinion on Dodds one way or the other.  I am making phone calls for the Mayor's race and am listening to people.   The community is divided, but the WDWS poll (not the most scientific tool available) seems to support what I saw at meetings and am hearing.  

It was notable that not a single person attended the Park Board meeting the night of the vote and stood up in favor of swapping Dodds Park.  I found that very suprising considering there was was anonymous online petition in favor of Dodds Park that was promoted immediately by Joe Petry's campaign team.  Someone even went through the effort of going door-to-door to get signatures and that does matter.   There was no lobbying effort that I noticed for those against Dodds Park, yet people showed up in numbers.   I think that was very telling, but of course I stand by my comment that the only truly accurate measure of public feedback is the voter booth.   If this convesation had happened two years like it should have, the general public and the park board members wouldn't have to be making loose assumptions on what the public believes.   

Kathy R. wrote on April 01, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Thanks for the link to the survey, Eric. I hope to see a trend in the future when survey results are always reported along with the survey size, sampling method, and other information necessary to understand the results.

I know that some supporters of the land swap did not attend the Park District's meeting on the evening of their vote because of a conflict with a school board candidate forum. (Just another reason why meeting attendance alone is a poor measure of public sentiment.)

Everyone vote on April 7!