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Pitch to privatize slides has political connections

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

The latest attempt to privatize the shabby toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff already has a political flavor.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District's recreation committee passed a resolution Wednesday directing Supt. Steve Bylina to issue a request for proposals on making the slides a year-round attraction. This will be the third attempt to find a private vendor to take over the slides.
The county is looking for companies willing to provide artificial or refrigerated surfaces to keep the slides running even when there's not enough snow.
The leading candidate for that proposal -- who almost got the deal Wednesday until Bylina said a competitive RFP was needed -- is an old ally and family friend of the committee chairwoman, Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park).
"It would have been nice (to award the contract immediately), but if you move too fast with government, there's always questions," Gorman said. "We could have done a sole-source deal today."
The popular slides have fallen in disrepair and last were open in 2003. They need $3.7 million worth of repairs.
Wednesday's meeting was scheduled as a presentation of the district's report on the cost of demolition, repair or refrigeration of the slides.
But Gorman invited Shawn Temple, president of All-Season Extreme, to present his idea to turn the Swallow Cliff slides near Palos Park into a year-round site for winter-style sports.
Temple says he has the exclusive U.S. rights to use a patented artificial snow-like surface called Snowflex.
Although Temple couldn't provide details on the cost or revenue for the county, or even what it would look like, committee vice chairman Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) was so excited by the proposal she made a formal motion directing Bylina to start contract negotiations with Temple.
At Bylina's request, Murphy later changed the motion to call for an RFP.
"I think it's going to be a huge moneymaker for the county," Murphy said. "After reading through their little proposal -- I was really sold on the idea."
Murphy said she didn't know that Temple had been a family friend of Gorman's for years.
Temple ran the two car dealerships once owned by Gorman and her husband, Gerald. Temple was finance director of Elizabeth Gorman's 2002 election campaign.
Temple also was a figure in the Gormans' long-running court battle with DaimlerChrysler. The company accused the Gormans and Temple of diverting more than $400,000 of the dealership's money to Gorman's campaign, ruining the business.
The Gormans argued that DaimlerChrysler was trying to retaliate for their whistleblowing on racist lending policies. A federal judge threw out those charges, accusing Gerald Gorman of lying in court documents.
Neither Gorman nor Temple said anything about their relationship during Wednesday's meeting and both downplayed it later.
"He worked for us years ago -- it was like 1995," Gorman said. Asked if she stayed in touch with him, she said, "Yes and no."
Bylina said he's not sure yet exactly what the RFP will ask for, but he hopes to have proposals before the board within a few months.
"We're going to try to expedite it because this topic has gone on too long," Bylina said.
The district has the money to repair the slides itself, Bylina said, but it wouldn't be worth restoring them to their old condition because it rarely snows enough anymore for the slides to be usable.
From 1998 to 2004, the slides only were open a total of 44 times, the report says.
"Both demolishing and refurbishing the slides should be put on the back burner because there are other viable options," Gorman said.
The slides at Dan Ryan Woods will be torn down this year, officials said, which came as a surprise to commissioners. They are beyond repair, Bylina said, and represent a safety hazard.
Contributing: Mike Nolan, Kristen McQueary

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