A letter written to Oak Lawn senior citizens by Trustee Bob Streit has led several of his political opponents to question his motives.
The letter, which was mailed to seniors last week,
The letter also invited seniors to Streit’s October fundraiser at Palermo’s Restaurant. Tickets are $50, and $25 for seniors. Volunteer members of the village’s Senior Citizen’s Commission will be honored at the event, the letter said.
The letter said only that the village planned to outsource senior services; it did not mention that the park district would takeover the programming. Plans call for the shuttered bath house at Memorial Park, 102nd Street and Major Avenue, to be renovated into a senior center.
Memorial Park is undergoing a major renovation that will include new walking paths, the installation of a splash pad and the return of the rocket slide, a landmark at the park for many years.
Mayor Sandra Bury and her allies on the village board believe the park district would do a better job than the village providing programming for seniors. They chastised Streit for writing a letter designed to enrich his political coffers.
“For him to twist it all for a $25 ticket to a fundraiser, that’s pretty twisted,” Trustee Terry Vorderer said.
Vorderer attended the seniors’ monthly luncheon last week with Bury and Park District President Sue Murphy in part to quash the rumors that spread as a result of Streit’s letter, he said.
“I think we walked out of there and dispelled a lot of concern,” Vorderer said.
“There was a lot of confusion,” said Bury, who distributed a letter at the luncheon that outlined the village’s plans for a new senior center.
The mayor said she began working soon after taking office to improve the current senior center and look for a free-standing building for a permanent facility.
The senior center currently is housed at the former McGugan Junior High School, 5220 W. 105th St. Previously, the center was located on 95th Street, but the former village board voted 4-3 to sell the building for $1.8 million to balance the budget and make way for a bank to be built on the property.
Trustee Tim Desmond said Streit’s letter was a form of “fear mongering” designed to create apprehension among seniors.
“It’s ridiculous that everything has to be political,” Desmond said.
Vorderer said seniors would benefit from having the park district take over programming.
“We’re putting it in the hand of the experts,” said Vorderer, a former park district commissioner.
Streit said Bury’s letter was politically motivated.
“It was a rebuttal to a political fundraising letter that I sent out using my personal campaign funds,” Streit said. “The letter that the mayor sent out was inappropriately and illegally sent at taxpayer’s expense.”
Bury’s letter included the paragraph: “I urge you to consider cautiously the motives of those who chose to use misinformation as a tool for political mischief while at the same time asking for money to enrich their own coffers. Seniors should not have to pay a dime for information vital to their interests.”
Streit said seniors deserve better than a renovated park district building for their center. He added that he is working with a group of seniors to develop an alternative plan, similar to the one proposed by the previous village administration.
That plan called for the village to partner with Advocate Medical Center to build a wellness center on vacant property near the center of the village that would house the senior center as well as a fitness center, lap pool and meeting rooms.
“That was a good plan,” said Streit. “It was fitting for the seniors.”
Instead, the hospital agreed in August to pay the village $3.2 million in service fees, including $2 million in building permit fees and $1.2 million in service fees over the next three years.
Bury said Streit never approached her to discuss plans for a senior center or enhanced programming.
Trustee Carol Quinlan, however, recently asked to be part of a committee to guide the future of the senior center and “was completely ignored, again” by Bury, she said.
“The mayor’s speech at the last (village board) meeting about her plans to turn over the seniors to the park district was the first I had heard about this. Of course there was nothing in our packet explaining her reasoning or how she plans to go about this,” Quinlan said.
Quinlan added that the plan to turn senior services over to the park district is not well researched.
“We have a large population of seniors here in Oak Lawn and it just seems like (Bury) wants to push them aside just because she feels she doesn’t know how best to serve their needs,” Quinlan said “Are all of the village services going to be outsourced now? It’s beginning to feel like that is the plan of our new mayor and board majority. Maybe they need to spend a little more time learning about how things operate in the village before they start making so many drastic changes.”