Chicago Ridge firefighters agree on contract with village

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

While labor negotiations are so often fraught with arguments and accusations, Chicago Ridge officials seem to have found a way to agree on a firefighter contract without even involving lawyers.

The village board voted unanimously to approve the three-year contract on Aug. 15 to the applause from scores of people in the audience, including a contingent of firefighters. The firefighters were also there for a presentation of a watch to the recently retired Deputy Chief Scott Durling, who had been with the department for close to 30 years.

Police Chief George Sheets noted the current contract doesn’t expire for another year.

“Because of the very positive labor/management relationship, we were able to negotiate a three-year extension of the current contract,” said Sheets. So the new agreement will be in effect through 2020.

“This contract was negotiated by labor and management, and without attorneys.  This alone, saved the Chicago Ridge taxpayers thousands of dollars,” said Sheets. 

International Association of Firefighters Local 3098 Union President Chris Schmelzer, who has held that position since 2000, said in a prepared statement that “this negotiation was the most amicable, most productive, and least stressful I have ever been a part of.”

Schmelzer couldn’t be at the meeting because he was representing the village at an IAFF convention, but Senior Lt. Chris Bennett read his statement to the board.

“Traditionally, the union had always come in asking for more than we thought we could get, and the village was always looking for concessions the union felt were unfair. I can assure you that this more recent ‘interest-based bargaining’ is much less taxing on the mindset and pocketbooks of both parties.”

He said the agreement represents “cooperation between labor and management on a scale that we have never enjoyed.” He said it “literally has something for everyone,” and will allow firefighters “to serve the residents and visitors to Chicago Ridge for years to come, all while maximizing the productivity of the Fire Department as a whole.”

Mayor Chuck Tokar and various trustees, as well as Bennett, gave a lot of the credit for the cooperative spirit to Fire Chief George Sheets, who is also the fire chief in neighboring Oak Lawn. Bennett also said that instituting seniority levels within the command structure has been helpful in retaining staff because those seeking advancement have to wait for someone above them to retire.

Tokar noted that Sheets has been leading the department over the past year, overseeing the successful implementation of a part-time firefighter program and the reopening of the Lombard Street fire station, among other things. Having the second station open, at least for 12 hours a day, and part-time firefighters training and working alongside the full-time crews has been credited with bringing down emergency response times while still saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even replacing several aging vehicles with a five-apparatus quint firetruck was a cost-saver.

In a related matter later in the meeting, the board also approved the purchase of a replacement ambulance, a 2016 Ford F450 Demo.

Court favors Oak Lawn in union dispute

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Cook County Appellate Court sided with the village of Oak Lawn in a ruling issued Aug. 12 against the local firefighters union that village officials say will save taxpayers $3.2 million.

The union has the right to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision, but union President Lt. Vince Griffin said this week that the union will abide by the ruling.

This decision effectively settles a dispute over staffing levels dating back to 2008 when the firefighters union filed a grievance against Oak Lawn after the village started staffing engines with three people instead of four.

A grievance arbitrator sided with the union and ordered the village to maintain a minimum of 21 people per shift and provide $286,000 in back pay the nine months that staffing fell below that. The village complied with that and paid the amount ordered. But the latest judgment stems from a subsequent compliance petition filed by the union arguing that that the village should actually be staffing 22 people per shift.

The Illinois Labor Relations Board initially found in favor of the union and awarded it $3.2 million in back pay and accrued interest last year. But the Labor Relations Board reversed its own ruling on appeal, and the Appellate Court’s decision upholds that decision that Oak Lawn was not liable for the back pay and interest.

“We are, of course, thrilled that the Appellate Court ruled in favor of taxpayers and rejected the union’s efforts to win more than $3 million for work never performed. It is frustrating that the union has steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith over this issue,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.

Mayor Sandra Bury said, “Despite the union’s history of constantly rejecting our proposals, the door remains open to any proposal from the union that would address our staffing concerns and let all parties move forward with a productive relationship while protecting the interests of our taxpayers. We have tried and will continue to try doing what’s best for our residents.”

Bury noted that Oak Lawn shares Fire Chief George Sheets with neighboring Chicago Ridge, where the village board unanimously approved a new contract with the firefighters union last week.

”Chief Sheets was able to successfully negotiate a new union contract in Chicago Ridge ahead of schedule and with little drama…Lack of good faith bargaining and continued litigation initiated by IAFF Local 3405 in Oak Lawn not only hurts taxpayers but also tarnishes the reputation of an honored profession,” she said.

The mayor asserted that village made at least seven compromise offers to solve the issue, but the union rejected them all without making a counter offer.

While Griffin said the union will abide by the latest ruling, he expressed his displeasure with it.

“Currently, the staffing trajectory is a downward trend. Our calls are up and our staffing is down. That definitely raises some questions about safety.”

Griffin rejected the theory that staffing levels are more than adequate, especially considering the mutual aid agreements in place with surrounding fire departments.

“I think that is a smokescreen,” said Griffin. He said that of the 8,000 calls received annually about 6,000 are medical emergency calls, which the fire department handles itself.

“Some people think that MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) is a cure-all, but we are concerned with safety of the worker. If there are three people on a truck sent out, rather than four, that could pose a safety issue.”

Pokemon Go grips Moraine Valley campus

  • Written by Kelly White

The Pokemon craze taking over the nation has also hit Moraine Valley Community College by storm.

At the Aug. 16 Moraine Valley Board meeting, student trustee David Shipyor reported since the game, Pokemon Go, was released in July, there has been an increase in population on campus and not only from students.

“We have noticed a surge from both students and community members visiting campus during non-class time hours this summer to play Pokemon Go,” Shipyor said. “The game has positively encouraged people to come to campus, not only to play the game, but while they are here they also have the opportunity to walk around the campus and see some of the great things Moraine has to offer.”

Pokemon Go is a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. In the game, players use a mobile device's GPS capability to locate, capture, battle and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player.

In order to attract even more people to campus, Moraine’s Student Life Program, in conjunction with the college’s marketing and creative services department, developed two Pokemon Go days in July to attract even more campus visitors.

The event was held on July 27 and 28 at the Moraine Valley Gateway and Thursday, July 28 in the Moraine Valley Library, both of which were used as Pokemon hot spots.

There are a total of 21 Pokemon lure spots on campus, according to Clare Briner, director of marketing and creative services at Moraine Valley.

“The lure spots are used to attract the virtual creatures,” Briner said.

During the event, students and community members met in the gateway and library and dispersed to lure spots waiting for Pokemon creatures to appear.

Students were also able to better get to know one another, while community members were given the opportunity to visit campus and discuss possible future attendance with Moraine’s student life members who actively participated in the event.

“The event’s purpose was to take advantage of this new entertainment phenomenon in order to outreach to current students, perspective new students, and community members about the many resources and services that moraine Valley has to offer,” Shipyor said. “Essentially it was a creative way to advertise our campus.”

Shipyor admits he himself is an avid Pokemon Go player.

An estimated 40 people attended the first event, with an estimated 30 attending the second, according to Moraine Valley officials.

“It brought a lot of people together here on campus for an event that was not highly publicized,” Briner said. “The game is extremely popular and brings people out to campus. We definitely plan on hosting more Pokemon days.”

Briner has not yet determined when the next Pokemon day will take place. However, when a decision is made, flyers will be placed throughout campus.

Ordinance eliminates need for Lucas Berg Nature Preserve Commission

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

An ordinance approved at the Aug. 16 Worth Village Board meeting calling for the elimination of the Lucas Berg Nature Preserve Commission and the position of life safety officer marked the end of an era dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of the Lucas Berg Nature Preserve.

At the Aug. 3 board meeting, Mayor Mary Werner had announced the planned dissolution of the group and the volunteer position of life safety officer.

“Basically, the work of the commission, which was vital during the period of time the property was owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, has been completed,” she said.

The primary focus of the group was to prevent the dumping of sludge from the Cal-Sag Channel into the 78-acre property and to preserve the site that borders on 111th Street to the north, Oketo Avenue to the east, Southwest Highway to the west and the Cal-Sag Channel on the south.

Werner said the threat was eliminated in 2014 when Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) was successful in getting legislation passed prohibiting the dumping of dredged materials on the site, which ultimately resulted in the property being transferred from the Army Corps to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

“The MWRD now has control of the property and have subsequently provided their own security force. This also eliminated our need for the position of life safety officer,” said Werner.

Also approved was an ordinance amending the village’s municipal code regarding police department membership.

Additionally, a special use permit was approved for Ana Novak and Joseph E. Ritter to operate Carl’s Barbershop at 6946 W. 111th St.

A bid was awarded to D Construction in the amount of $293,370 for 2016 street resurfacing. According to Village Engineer Mike Spolar, the original bid amount was $306,834, but the village’s Public Works Department will handle a portion of the pay items, reducing the contract by $13,464. D Construction was the lowest of four bidders on the project.

In other matters, Werner announced, with much regret, the resignations of Ken Koester, the village’s building inspector, and Lyn Koester, a member of the Beautification Committee.

“Our loss is someone else’s gain,” said Werner, as she thanked them for their years of service to the village. The Koesters are relocating out of state.

On a brighter note, Werner announced the appointment of Police Sgt., Timothy Denton to the position of Deputy Chief for Worth.

“His appointment is a blessing to our community as he also serves on the South Suburban Major Task Force. Our citizens will be in very capable hands,” she said.

Village Clerk Bonnie Price administered the oath of office to Denton.

Also present at the board meeting were members of the local Fraternal Order of Police who were there to present a check in the amount of $7,500 to the commander and members of the Marrs -Meyer American Legion Post 991. The funds were raised at the recent FOP/American Legion golf fundraiser event

Police Chief Mark Micetich presented the check to Post Commander Dan Finnegan.

“We greatly appreciate this contribution,” said Finnegan. “The funds will be used to help our veterans, needy families in our community and for our annual Christmas Day with recruits from Great Lakes Naval Base. “

Trustees Tedd Muersch Jr. and Colleen McElroy did not attend the meeting.

Rain outside does not affect ‘blizzard’ indoors at back to school event

  • Written by Kelly White

olivia shaffer photo 8-25

Photo by Kelly White

Oak Lawn resident Olivia Shaffer, 4, gets her face painted by Oak Lawn Ice Arena staff member Brandon Kapelinski, 21, of Oak Lawn, at the Summer Beach Blizzard Back to School event on Aug. 12 at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena.



The calendar indicates it is August but the Oak Lawn Park District supplied the cold and ice for kids preparing to go back to school.

The park district held its 16th annual Summer Beach Blizzard Back to School event on Aug. 12 at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena, 9320 S. Kenton Ave.

“This event began 15 years ago with just a pile of snow on the ice rink,” said Shari Wolfe, Oak Lawn Ice Arena’s assistant manager. “Within the last five years, the event has evolved into a much larger event. Kids really enjoy the irony of the snow and ice in summer and take advantage of it by making snowballs on the ice rink.”

The event was supposed to be held outdoors at Central Park and Pool, 9400 S. Kenton Ave., where the park district had planned to deposit a large pile of shaved ice for children to build snowmen in. However, the rainy weather resulted with the event being held indoors at the ice arena instead.

The damp weather did not seem to bother the children at all.

Beach blizzard attendees were still able to enjoy a DJ, interactive games, face-painting, hula hooping, snow-related activities and ice skating.

“It is so much fun,” said Luis Ascencio, 7, of Addision, “I love everything about this event, but especially the face-painting.”

Ascenio was the first child to have his face painted by ice arena employee Brandon Kapelinski, 21, of Oak Lawn. He wanted his face painted as a tiger.

He and his brother, Jesus, 5, joined an estimated 100 other people this year at the event, surpassing the 2015 attendance of 75.

All attendees were encouraged to ironically dress in winter gear of hats, scarves and mittens in the middle of summer.

“My children absolutely loved the idea of a winter-themed event in the middle of summer, combining the mix of warmth with cold and ice,” said Christal Shaffer, of Oak Lawn. “Plus they have never been ice skating before, so we were all really looking forward to enjoying a little bit of winter today.”

There was a $7 admission cost to the beach blizzard with a $3 skate rental fee.

The park district was also accepting donations of school supplies, which were donated to local school districts in the Oak Lawn area. Any participants who donated school supplies received a free open ice skating pass for a return visit this fall.

Due to the weather, participants were also able to enjoy an indoor viewing of the movie, “Surf’s Up” at the ice arena. The movie was originally scheduled to be shown outdoors.

The movie follows the life of a penguin hoping to become a professional surfer. It was chosen by the park district staff because of its summer and winter combined context, according to park district officials.

“The nice thing about this event was that participants were able to enjoy the Oak Lawn Park District facilities,” Wolfe said. “It introduced ice skating to participants who may not have utilized these facilities/programs prior to the event. This event was also great for busy families, with a big household who were looking for an all-encompassing event that the whole family could enjoy together.”

Learning to occasionally say no only means that we all have some limits