Park District board to fill three seats
Alderman, incumbent and three others have filed to run for April 2 election
Five candidates are seeking three seats on the Springfield Park District Board, a position that entrusts those who are elected to care for the more than 40 parks and golf courses, a zoo and a budget exceeding $25 million.
The seven-member board has three trustee positions – Don Evans, Tina Jannazzo and C.J. Metcalf seats – up for election this year, plus the president’s chair. Of the three, Metcalf is the only trustee seeking re-election.
Leslie Sgro, Park District Board president, is running unopposed for her eighth term as the president and has served in her current position for 28 years. Voters will decide the leadership of the Park District’s board for the next two years on April 2.
The remaining three trustee seats, currently occupied by Grant Hammer, Robin Schmidt and Sierra Senor-Moore, will be up for election in 2021.
Travis Graff: Manager of Billing and Settlement at Prairie Power, Inc. - Age 37
Travis Graff, a self-proclaimed “heavy park user,” is making his first run for an elected position with the Park District.
Graff said his affiliation with Springfield Kings Youth Hockey Association has allowed him to hear some of the concerns people who frequent parks and facilities have.
“Spending a lot of time in the park and the facilities, I want to see them thrive,” Graff said. “I think with being in them and around them, I kind of see what works and what doesn’t.”
He said he also thinks his business background could be put to good use. “I’ve been in purchasing before and have put budgets together,” Graff said. “I know how the business process works, and I really want to see what is spent by the Park District is all done in a fiscally responsible way.”
Parks are important to a healthy lifestyle, Graff said, and athletic programs offered through the district help keep people active.
“Yeah, anyone can go out in their backyard and play,” Graff said. “But with the Park District’s programs, once you get signed up for them, it kind of forces you to be active.”
Kris Theilen: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Management Systems Specialist and current Ward 8 Alderman - Age 45
Kris Theilen said he believes his position as Ward 8 alderman has given him an interesting perspective that he can put to use at the Park District.
“With me being termed out on the city council, I thought the Park Board was the place I could still serve my community and make a difference,” Theilen said.
He said he has had a long-term connection to the Park District, having grown up taking advantage of some of the sports offerings.
Improving the relationship between the city council and the Park District is on Theilen’s to-do list, he said. He also wants to do more to promote Springfield’s Henson Robinson Zoo, pointing to the lack of a bus route to the facility as a pitfall that makes the zoo inaccessible to some.
“My family has been big supporters of the zoo; a lot of people forget it’s part of the Park District,” Theilen said. “I would definitely be interested in a way to increase and find accessibility to the zoo.”
C.J. Metcalf: Illinois Department of Insurance Deputy Director of Division of Innovation and Marketing Analysis - Age 43
Metcalf said he finds serving the community through his trustee position to be personally enriching and is proud of the tough fiscal decisions those sitting on the current board have made over the past few years.
Springfield’s parks are a reflection of the city’s quality of life, Metcalf said, and he wants people to see what type of city Springfield is through its unique public spaces.
“We’re truly fortunate in Springfield, and that’s kind of why I’ve gotten involved with the Park District,” Metcalf said. “I would like to continue to see it flourish.”
Though proud of the work that’s occurred over the past four years, Metcalf said he wants to continue to push the Park District “into the 21st century” by making program sign ups available on the district’s webpage and using more data to target specific programs.
Hewitt Douglass: Illinois Department of Human Services Disability Appeals Officer - Age 64
Hewitt Douglass said he sees the Park District as something that’s already great, but he wants to help smooth out some of the rough edges by making neighborhood parks better.
“I’ve seen many parks that are just that,” Douglass said. “They have a bench, they have a yard area, but they don’t have the playground equipment for small children.”
Douglass said his love for the outdoors and wanting to be a part of something that benefits all members of the community, present and future, is why he is seeking the Park District trustee position.
“The parks are very important to me, and it should be for everyone, because it is a recreation area that allows us to be able to relax at times,” Douglass said. “It allows us to enjoy nature.”
He said he would like to attract more of the state’s official insect to parks, the monarch butterfly. “Monarchs prefer milkweed plant,” Douglass said. “I would like to see a milkweed garden started in some parks.”
Lisa Badger: Community Affairs Specialist for State Treasurer Michael Frerichs - Age 39
Lisa Badger said Springfield parks have served as a valuable resource to multiple generations of her family.
While this is Badger’s first attempt at running for an elected position, she believes it’s important for the board to be representative of the communities it serves. She said she thinks she can help with that diversity.
“I think there should be representation that reflects the community,” Badger said. “I think we need people from every side of town, different genders, different socioeconomic backgrounds … and now I don’t see that.”
Besides being the only female running for the Park District, Badger said her job requires her to listen to what people want. She said she would like to find a way to engage community members more.
“We can’t just talk to them or at them; we have to be able to have a system where it’s more of an open forum to come to the meetings,” Badger said.
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at email@example.com.