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Forest Preserve delays vote on fate of Boy Scout camp

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Special to suffredin.org
by Abdon M. Pallasch

Today was supposed to be the day supporters of the Boy Scouts squared off against defenders of gay rights and those who say Forest Preserve property should not be leased exclusively to any outside group.

But Cook County officials postponed today's committee meeting as they work with the Boy Scouts to try to broker a compromise that would keep Camp Kiwanis open not just to the Boy Scouts, but the Girl Scouts or other groups on a permit basis.

The Boy Scouts had offered to spend $225,000 of their own money rehabilitating the camp used by generations of Scouts in Willow Springs in exchange for a contract allowing the Scouts to use the site for the next 25 years.

Commissioner Mike Quigley raised two objections. The Boy Scouts' refusal to allow gays to serve as Scout leaders meant the county's human rights ordinance forbids the county to do business with them. Also, Forest Preserve rules prohibit the county from giving any part of the land to a private group for "exclusive" use.

More commissioners expressed concerns about the exclusivity than about the gay rights issue.

Commissioners raising concerns with the contract assume County Board President John Stroger's office sought the postponement of today's scheduled meeting because he no longer had the votes to pass the contract and is hoping a compromise can be reached that avoids a messy argument.

"I would speculate that it doesn't have enough support under its current plan," Quigley said. "I would assume they would try to rework it to make it more palatable."

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an opponent of the contract, walked the site Tuesday morning with Commissioner Tony Peraica, a former scouting official who sponsored the proposal for the Scouts.

"It's really an old camp site that's been abandoned," Suffredin said. "I'm optimistic that the president is working with the Boy Scouts on an alternative that will not have exclusivity and would not violate the human rights ordinance. I think there are attempts to negotiate and work this out so there is no confrontation."

One possibility would be to have the county spend the $225,000 itself to fix up the site. Then the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other such groups could use the facilities, some commissioners said. The county is hoping the governor will sign a bill giving the forest preserves the right to issue $50 million in bonds to fund building and maintenance projects.

None of the compromise proposals have been shown to the Boy Scouts yet, said Rebecca Fields, spokeswoman for the Chicago area council of the Scouts.



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