Palos Hills mayor: We will protect our revenues from state

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett made it clear last week the city will not sit idly by should Illinois legislators try to slash the funds provided to local municipalities in an effort to help patch the state’s roughly $9 billion budget deficit.

“There has been some positioning down [in Springfield] about taking local government revenue and we are all over that,” Bennett told the council on March 2. “We are going to protect our revenues to the last breath.”

Bennett said he is “getting very, very concerned” the state is going into another year “without some type of a budget.”

“It’s getting more and more serious,” Bennett said of the state’s budget impasse. “When they don’t solve the problem they look for other revenue sources and for them it seems that when in doubt to go to local government sources.”

Bennett said he has heard from state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) — both of whom represent Palos Hills — as well as other leaders in Springfield that it is not the state’s intention to take money from the Local Government Distributive Fund to shore up the budget. However, not all feel that way.

“There are some members in the General Assembly who want to go after that [LGDF] money,” Bennett said.

This is not the first time Bennett has had to take a stance against the state potentially cutting income tax revenues. In 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reducing LGDF dollars in half, and last year there was a period of time the state briefly withheld distributing the money to local governments. Palos Hills receives about $2 million in income taxes from the state, Bennett said.

“That [$2 million] goes right into our general fund and it’s out of an operating fund of $8 million so you can see how significant it truly is for us,” he said. “It would be a huge disaster to not only our city but every city to lose that type of money.”

Bennett said his decision to discuss the state’s budget impasse at the council meeting last week was more to provide a notice to city officials than a call to action.

“It’s not yet the time for residents to write or call their legislators,” Bennett said. “I just wanted to put the council on notice that [the state] has not solved the budget crisis down there, and when those things are not solved they start looking at other avenues again.”  

The mayor noted the uncertainty surrounding the state’s budget will not prevent the city from moving forward and passing its own budget by May 1.

“We are going to go ahead and continue to present the budget with that revenue,” Bennett said. “Even if they were going to propose [cutting LGDF dollars] we wouldn’t know how much so there is no way I can try to budget on an assumption.”

In other news, Bennett said Palos Hills will recognize the 50th anniversary of Moraine Valley Community College by dedicating the fireworks show at this year’s Friendship Fest to the school.

The fireworks show typically concludes the four-day festival, which is held annually during the second week of July on the Moraine Valley Triangle. This is the first time in the fest’s nearly 40-year history that its fireworks show has been dedicated to anyone or an organization, Bennett said.

“Moraine Valley is a magnificent campus that we can all certainly be proud of,” Bennett said. “We are proud to be the home of Moraine Valley Community College and I congratulate them on their 50th anniversary.”

Bennett noted the college was founded by the Oak Lawn Rotary and enrollment was originally projected to be around 6,000 students. This school year has an enrollment of around 34,000 students, he said.

“The trickle effect of 34,000 students coming and going each day certainly adds to our economy,” Bennett said.

The mayor also praised the college for its “academic excellence.”

“The academic excellence provided to students is second to none [for a community college],” Bennett said. “They could write a book on stories of people who decided to go to junior college because they had no other option and went on to have great careers because of what they learned there.”

Bennett said the city has also invited MVCC officials to set up a booth at the event to share information about the school to event-goers.

Palos Hills man is thankful to be thriving at 100

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

edwin and guests photo 3-9

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Edwin Van Syckle, of Palos Hills, recently celebrated his 100th birthday

Edwin Van Syckle, of Palos Hills, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, is all smiles with his aide Peggy Armstrong, and Allison Aidinovich, owner of the Right at Home healthcare agency in Orland Park.

Edwin Van Syckle of Palos Hills, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday with family, credits God for his longevity and good fortune.

“Without God, I couldn’t do anything,” said the centenarian, who never misses Sunday services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Burr Ridge.

“I have to be thankful to God. He brought me to where I am. He kept me around longer than I belong,” he said, giving one of many wry remarks tossed out during a recent interview in his home, surrounded by party balloons.

Van Syckle turned 100 on Feb. 24, and celebrated with his family and friends on the following Sunday. A native of Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, the retired steel salesman still lives in the Cour Madeline home he bought with his late wife, Winifred, in 1965. They lived in Palos Park before moving to Palos Hills. He recalls watching Moraine Valley Community College, which opened in 1967, getting its start with one Quonset hut.

His wife died 10 years ago.

“I miss her very much,” he said.

His son, Raymond, lives in Palos Heights, and his daughter, Norma Jean, lives in Columbus, Ohio. She and other family members, including twin great-granddaughters, came in for the party. His other son, Jeff, who lived in Atlanta, died of leukemia at age 70.

He is able to live independently with help from home healthcare aides who spend a few hours with him each day, making meals and taking care of whatever needs he has.

“He is a joy and a great person to be around. We have some great conversations and I’ve learned a lot from him,” said Peggy Armstrong, an aide from Right at Home, an agency based in Orland Park that provides in-home care. She comes in the evenings to make his dinner and help him around the house, while someone else comes in the mornings.

His main goal on Sunday mornings is getting dressed and ready when a volunteer from his church picks him up for services.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in my lifetime. Much of it good, some bad,” said Van Syckle.

“I remember women driving electric cars, before gas-powered cars. They would just pull a lever and off it would go,” he said.

Still an avid follower of current affairs, Van Syckle said he likes to watch cable news programs, and made sure he got out to vote in November.

“I didn’t get an absentee ballot. My aide took me to the polling place,” he said.

He remembers as far back as the presidency of William G. Harding, another Ohio native, who was president from 1921 until his death in 1923.

When asked what he thought about Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was quick to respond. “I never voted for him. I was a Republican. I never voted for a Democrat,” said Van Syckle.

“One of my favorite memories was watching the Cleveland Indians win the World Series in 1948. I was at a lot of those games. I also saw the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the New York Yankees,” said Van Syckle. “I was sorry to see the Indians lose to the Chicago Cubs last year, but it was good for the Cubs fans,” he said magnanimously.

Van Sycke said that as a steel salesman, a job he retired from in 1991, he sold spools of wire to companies such as Mead to make spiral notebooks.

“All those manufacturing jobs went to China. But they might be coming back,” he said. His father also worked in the steel industry, and is credited with inventing a tool that allowed pieces of steel to be scraped up from the holds of ships.

“Before inventing that, he had to shovel it himself,” he said.

Mr. Van Syckle has a desktop computer, which he said he used to check the stock market, another field he was involved in during his long career. That is just one indication that he has not let technology pass him by since retiring. Another is the smart phone in his shirt pocket.

“I don’t hear well on the phone any more. But I can send texts to my daughter and keep in touch with her that way,” he said.

Aside from good genes and God, Van Syckle offered no secret formula for reaching the 100 mark.

“I come from a family of long-livers,” he said, noting that his mother lived to 85, and his father to 93. His brother and sister also lived into their 90s.

The only health complaint he seems to have, aside from walking slowly, is colorblindness. That prevented him from serving in World War II.

“I wanted to go into the Air Force, but I wasn’t accepted because I couldn’t pass the colorblind test. Then they came looking for me to join after the war was over, but it was too late,” he said.

He said his favorite food when he went to restaurants on business trips was “prime rib and shrimp cocktail. I really used to enjoy that.”

He has simple tastes these days, things like grilled cheese sandwiches and soup prepared by his aides, complete with ice cream for dessert. Sometimes his aides bring him Nachos Bel Grande from Taco Bell, one of his current favorite foods.

Van Syckle is not a drinker, either.

“I limit myself to have one drink a year now, a vodka martini, usually around Christmastime. Any more than that, and I would be afraid I couldn’t get from here to there,” he joked, motioning to the couch 10 feet from his chair.

Allison Aidinovich, owner of the Right at Home agency in Orland Park, which provides the weekend aides, stopped in to wish an Syckle a happy birthday. Her company was the recipient of 2017 Provider of Choice, Employer of Choice, and Best in Home Care awards from Home Care Pulse, a national ratings agency that grades companies using opinions from clients and employees.

She said that because most of Van Syckle’s family is out-of-state, they make use of the “Family Room’ online service her company provides.

“It is very helpful. Everything we do for the client is recorded, including when we weigh them and take their blood pressure. That way, they can make sure their family member is being cared for and stay in touch with us.”

Candidate says Worth mayor’s husband verbally assaulted him

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The former mayor of Worth and current candidate for the position filed a complaint with police claiming he was verbally abused by the husband of current Worth Mayor Mary Werner.

Randy Keller, who served as mayor of Worth from 2009 to 2013 before losing to Werner, said he was out campaigning door-to-door and passing out literature at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday along 109th Street and Depot, near Gale Moore Park.

It was at this point, according to Keller, that Steve Werner pulled up along the street in his truck and began shouting obscenities at him. Steve Werner, the mayor’s husband and the president of the Worth Park District, was angry about Keller’s campaign literature, stating the material was a “bunch of lies,” according to police. Keller responded that “the truth hurts” and kept on walking, reports state.

According to Keller, Steve Werner continued to follow him but remained in his vehicle. The mayoral candidate said that Werner continued to follow him just over a half hour.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Keller said. “I was concerned for my safety.”

Keller said that as he approached at 108th Street and Depot Avenue, Erich Werner, the son of Steve Werner, drove up in his vehicle and allegedly approached him. He advised Keller to leave the area.

“You better get out of here (because) my dad is going crazy,” according to Keller in a statement to police. According to police, Erich Werner advised Keller to get into a car and leave. Keller soon entered his friend’s car, which was nearby.

Erich Werner then immediately left the area. Keller said he then noticed that Steve Werner drove north on Depot Street to 107th Street, turned around and continued south on Depot. Keller said Steve Werner drove past him and also left the area.

After the alleged incident, Keller called police from a friend’s home and filed the report. Police reportedly questioned both Steve and Erich Werner about what reportedly happened.

According to police, Steve Werner said that he did shout at Keller regarding the campaign literature, but never threatened him. Steve Werner told police that he never left his vehicle during his contact with Keller.

Ecpert in human trafficking enlightens residents about 'modern-day slavery'

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Human trafficking is as prevalent today as it has ever been, and a justice advocate said these victims come from all social backgrounds.

“Human trafficking has been around forever,” said Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM, the justice advocate for human trafficking representing the Sisters of Mercy Hermanas de la Misericordia West Midwest Community out of Kansas City, Mo. “Violence is the key in human trafficking and that’s how they control their victims.”

Sr. Jeanne was the guest speaker last Thursday night at the Warde Academic Center at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She spoke on the topic of “Human Trafficking = Modern Say Slavery” before a crowd of just over 150 people.

The majority of the victims of women are between the ages 18 and 24, according to Sr. Jeanne. She pointed out that there are two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion; or labor trafficking, in which a person is forced into labor against their will.

According to Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.

Sr. Jeanne said cases of human trafficking can occur at social gatherings and sporting events throughout the country. She mentioned there had even been some incidents at the annual College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where often a group of young women are checked into hotels and stay there for a couple of days.

“Some men feel free to do what they want on the road,” Sr. Jeanne said. “If girls are registered in hotels with don’t disturb signs that could be a sign of human trafficking.”

Sr. Jeanne said these young women are in danger but are often not in a position to seek help.

“If a victim is at the hospital with a predator, she is not going to tell you the truth,” Sr. Jeanne said. “You need to separate the victims from these predators.”

Sr. Jeanne said the number of trafficking victims in the U.S. is largely unknown. However, thousands of U.S. citizens, including minors are estimated to be at risk of human trafficking. While the number of trafficking U.S. victims may be unknown, 100,000 U.S. children are commercially exploited every year in the U.S. The number may be as high as 300,000, according to recent statistics on human trafficking.

Ninety-eight percent of human trafficking victims are girls and women. Ninety-five percent of victims experienced physical or sexual violence due to human trafficking, according to statistics.

“Fair trade helps cut down on human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Victims are of all backgrounds and are not just minorities or the poor. Runaways ages 13 or 14 could become victims of human trafficking. Don’t go to the streets and be very careful about social media.”

Predators often find girls of low self-esteem by talking to them at bars, restaurants, malls, rest areas, bus depots and train stations. Traffickers can be individual pimps (men or women), small families or businesses, loose-knit criminal networks, gang members, and national or international organized criminal syndicates.

Sr. Jeanne said that when authorities are able to crack down on human trafficking, some of these predators just change how they do business. She mentioned these predators use websites to lure girls and women. Sr. Jeanne said these predators have used the Backpage website to solicit customers.

“Reducing the demand is what we’re working on,” said Sr. Jeanne. “If you think something is suspicious, report it. Call law enforcement. If you are in the mall and see something you don’t like, report it.”

The U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is a faith-based national network that offers education, supports access to survivor services, and engages in advocacy in an effort to eradicate modern day slavery.

Sr. Jeanne presented a 20-minute film on two victims of human trafficking who have since turned their lives around and now assist victims.

“We just had a 20-year-old woman in our town who has disappeared and could be a victim of human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “She worked in a strip club. Some of these girls in strip clubs are trying to make more money. But it is not a good situation.”

This is why volunteers need to reach out these women and men, many of whom have been traumatized by what they have gone through.

“Be a voice and share with others,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Talk to men about showing respect for women. If we respect women, you won’t treat them like a commodity.”

Anyone who has information about a possible victim can call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

Speeding, wildlife feeding are hot topics in Worth

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


A lively exchange of conversation took place during the Worth Village Board meeting on Feb. 21 regarding speeding and feeding the wildlife

Resident Jim Peltzer, who lives near 114th Place and New England Avenue, spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting with complaints about speeding traffic on his residential street and people continuing to feed the wildlife at the Worth Waterfalls area, in spite of signs reading “Do Not Feed the Wildlife.”

Peltzer stated that he fears for his children and the neighborhood children going to and from a nearby elementary school.

“Some of these drivers reach 60 miles per hour on my street, they ignore the stop signs and many of them are texting” he said.

“I have tried to flag them down to tell them to slow down. I have yelled at them, all to no avail. I am really afraid something bad is going to happen. Something needs to be done,” Peltzer added.

He added that he understood that the police can’t be there all the time.

“But would it be possible to increase the presence of the police for a while?” Peltzer asked.

Mayor Mary Werner also responded with her concerns.

“I see these people speeding on our side streets also, and it boggles my mind,” she said. “It is so frustrating.”

“The sorry thing about this situation is the fact that it is the parents of these kids doing the speeding,” said Trustee Pete Kats. “I see them; they drop their kids off at the school and speed away, texting and driving and not paying attention. The parents need to be educated.”

He also suggested to Peltzer that perhaps the residents could take photos of the license plates of the offenders, which could then be reported to the police department.

Police Chief Mark Micetich stated that he had talked with the school’s service officer and there are plans to include a letter to the parents in the school’s newsletter regarding speeding, texting while driving and parking illegally in the school zone.

Peltzer’s second comment was in regard to the violation of feeding rules at the Worth Water Falls area. He said people are feeding the wildlife, which is clearly prohibited.

“Feeding the ducks and geese creates a hazard to their health and also creates a mess on the grassy area. I was there with my family and we couldn’t even walk on the path,” Peltzer said.

Again, Werner agreed with him.

“I was sitting on a bench there last weekend and families were walking by with large bags of bread to feed the geese, right in front of the huge sign prohibiting the feeding. The bread is harmful to the ducks and geese. We are literally killing the wildlife.”

She said an ordinance is needed to enforce the prohibition, but it would have to come from the MWRD, which owns the property.

“We are working with them to establish an ordinance,” Werner said.

In other business, the board approved two ordinances and a business license pertaining to a retail tobacco store at 10700 S. Harlem, Fattoush Hookah, Inc., owned by Naser Farhan. The ordinances included a special use zoning and a variance to reduce the required number of vehicle parking spaces for the store.

Other action included the swearing in of four police officers: Bryan Brooks, Christian Ferchau, Roberto Frias and Gerard Igoe.