Wildwood candidate profile: Dave Rupp
The longtime Wildwood area resident previously served two terms, or six years, on the board in the 1990s, and now the district’s hard times and sudden notoriety have him planning a return.
Rupp is one of three candidates running for two positions in next month’s election, and he is determined to return the district to what he considers were its glory days.
“It’s been painful watching things going in the wrong direction,” Rupp told the Lake County Gazette. “That’s a big part of why I’m making this run.”
The wrong direction Rupp speaks of has to do with a widening list of board-authorized credit card expenditures that were exposed by the Arlington Heights Herald. These charges included as much as $6,000 in purchases for such items as food, gift cards and employee awards over a year-long period ending in 2014.
“It was so out of control there may have been some reimbursements for things that weren’t even purchased,” he said.
Wildwood Park Director Maureen Jekot has defended the expenditures and even argues the presence of some of them illustrates just how hard her office was working to control spending in light of all the economic challenges faced by the county.
One disputed grocery expenditure that included beef tenderloin was purchased in lieu of a restaurant outing for a staff holiday appreciation gathering, Jekot said.
That’s doesn’t satisfy Rupp’s concerns. He points out that credit card bills were as high as $60,000 per year before the recent scrutiny helped reduce them to around $8,200.
“I don’t know if it’s mismanagement or corruption,” he said. “Either way, the damage has been done.”
One of the biggest issues Rupp has is with what he sees as money being collected for one expense and ultimately used for another.
“Money that went for boat ramps was transferred to the general fund,” he said. “That money is only to be used in the area it was collected for.”
Wildwood is home to around 4,000 residents. The district has three full-time employees, up to 40 part-time workers and had a $819,000 budget for 2015-16. The Taxpayers United of America director of operations, Jared Labell, recently observed that tracking spending in places like Wildwood may be "especially problematic” given its small-budget operations and propensity to fly under the radar.
But Rupp still holds out hope. “If we spend responsibly, we can make it good again,” he said. “We need responsible people.”
But board treasurer Dan Van Erden insists the park district has already taken steps to ensure better maintenance of records and making certain its operations are more transparent.
Past heavy credit card use can be largely attributed to the district being operated without a finance director, Van Erden said, adding that the system it used was found to be the least problematic.
Either way, Rupp has one first thing in mind should he return to park district leadership.
“We should take a comprehensive look at the budget and see if the numbers match,” the licensed mechanical engineer said. “You can’t appropriate money for one thing and use it for another. We have to think like adults to fix these problems.”