Chicago Ridge mayor files suit over ordinance reducing his authority

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

In a move that everyone involved knew was coming, attorneys for Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar filed suit on Aug. 9 against five trustees on the village board and the village itself in an effort to overturn an ordinance limiting mayoral powers.

The lawsuit filed by attorney John Murphey wasn’t on the agenda for the village board meeting on Tuesday, but the issue was raised by residents during the public comment section of the meeting.

After the controversial ordinance was passed in June by a 5-1 margin, followed by Tokar’s veto, the same five trustees overrode the veto on July 12. The ordinance requires a majority of trustees to approve all mayoral appointments, including that of village attorney. If the mayor’s selection does not receive the required votes once, the mayor would be given 30 days to change their minds. If the appointee is rejected a second time, the mayor would have to pick somebody else.

The initial dispute arose earlier this year when the five board members rejected Tokar’s choice of Burt Odelson as village attorney. He remains in that position because current state law states that no office can remain vacant, and appointees can hold offices on an interim basis. The trustees such as Bruce Quintos and Frances Coglianese who proposed the new ordinance simply reinforces state statutes that say mayors of home-rule communities govern with the “advice and consent” of the board.

In response to a resident seeking details about the lawsuit, Tokar said, “The bottom line is, it is a case of different interpretations of case law and state law.” He said his legal advisors have told him the ordinance violates the state constitution, because it makes changes to the mayor’s powers without a referendum.

“No one is asking for money. We’re simply asking for a declaratory judgment. Whichever way it goes, we will move on,” said Tokar. “This issue isn’t going to be hanging over us for years. We are hoping to have it resolved in the next eight weeks or so.”

When resident Mary Callan asked why the trustees opposed Odelson’s appointment, the mayor suggested she talk to the trustees individually elsewhere. “This is public comment time. We should be listening to your concerns and taking them under advisement. It is not a question and answer session.”

A proposed ordinance that was on the agenda Tuesday seeks to make village president/mayor a part-time position, and cut the annual salary from $85,000 down to $40,000. Another one would limit the hours and make other changes to the village clerk’s position, which is already part-time. The changes would become effective following the local elections in April 2017.

Quintos said he was prepared to vote on the measure, but at the request of Trustee Sally Durkin, the board agreed to table the ordinances until the mayor and trustees could iron out the details at a workshop on Monday, Aug. 22.

“Maybe this was put on the agenda prematurely,” said Durkin. “A lot of questions (about the ramifications of changing the mayoral position) have come up since this was proposed.”

The current wording of the ordinance calls for the hiring of a village administrator to handle day-to-day business.

Residents who questioned why the workshop is not open to the public were assured that whatever proposals that result from it would be brought up for public discussion at future meetings.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: XXXXXL love coming Tuesday for Richards swimming coach

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Supplied photo

Richards swim coach Joel Staszewski, who joined a JV team in the pool after a meet last season, has gone through some serious health issues this summer and area swim teams are rallying around to help him and his family.


The 2016-17 area high school sports season is in its infancy and already I am writing a column I hate.

And love.

I love the fact that away from the pool, some high school swimmers are doing something special. I hate the reason they have to do it.

Richards’ swimming and water polo coach, Joel Staszewski, fell ill during the summer and according to school officials, the guy nearly died and has been unable to eat normally.

I met the coach once, when Richards’ girls water polo team was playing in the postseason at Lyons Township in May. I talked with him for a few minutes and he was helpful and funny. The people in the Richards community have known him a lot longer and probably have a million great stories about him.

And his popularity extended outside the Richards’ family. Opponents want to see the man most people know as “Coach Stu” back on his feet and onto the deck of a swimming pool near you.

On Tuesday, the Bulldogs swimming team will host a meet with at 5 p.m. in Oak Lawn with Argo and Oak Forest coming to town. It will be a special night to help the Staszewski family. Coach Stu’s wife, Jill, is scheduled to be there as well.

Cora Umecker, who is filling in for coach Stu, said members of her family will sell lemonade at the event with the proceeds going to the family. Shirts that go all the way up to XXXXXL will be sold throughout the season with profits also helping the family.

Umecker said she appreciates what some of the other schools in the South Suburban Conference have done already.

“The Argo program has reached out to ask what they can do to help,” Umecker said. “Their girls swim team donated money to be spent getting a meal together for Stu’s family via the Meal Train link. They have been so supportive. They’ve been great.

“We had a coaches meeting at Evergreen Park with all of the swim coaches in the conference and their athletic directors. The first thing they wanted to talk about was what they could do to help Stu’s family. They decided that at the conference meet, they will run a split the pot fundraiser and give the money to Stu’s family.

“Also, a portion of the proceeds from the conference shirt that they sell at that meet will also be donated to him,’’ she continued. “I could not thank them enough. They asked me to keep all of them informed of anything being done for his benefit. They were all concerned, supportive, very wonderful people to work with. How awesome is it that the swim community is rallying around Stu and his family.’’

So far, coach Stu, the father of young triplets, is in bad shape. Umecker said that he recently started a liquid diet with ice.

“That was huge considering he hadn’t eaten anything since June 6,” she said. “It was looking as though he would be transferred to a rehabilitation facility within the next week or so. Unfortunately, he had to be taken for another procedure because the food he took in was ending up in the drain.

“So they had to replace the feeding tube and adjust the stent. We're hoping this was the last bump and that he will be on his way to rehab soon. I’m hoping he can attend a later meet or even the conference meet.”

If that happens, it will even be a more thrilling and emotional event than what’s going to happen Tuesday at the Oak Lawn school.

That is a column I would love to write.

Supplied photo

Richards swim coach Joel Staszewski, who joined a JV team in the pool after a meet last season, has gone through some serious health issues this summer and area swim teams are rallying around to help him and his family.


Local chess players display their moves

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

alex connelly photo 8-18

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Club tournament director Alex Connelly explains his move to Christopher Harrison, 11, while other members of the South Suburban Chess Club play alongside them during a Friday meeting at the Oak View Community Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.


By Dermot Connolly

Members of the South Suburban Chess Club can be found most Friday evenings quietly matching wits with each other across their checkered boards in their headquarters in the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn.

But the club, sometimes called the Oak Lawn Chess Club, has been making some noise in regional competitions in recent years, with two teams competing In the Chicago Industrial Chess League.

Wayne Ellice, of Oak Lawn, now leads the club, which meets from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday. It was formed in 1994 by Fred Gruenberg and other following the closing of the Orland Park Chess Club, which originally met in Palos Heights. Members pay $10 annual dues.

Club members range in age from 11 up to over 80 years old, and their skill levels vary. From beginners to intermediates and experts. Most Fridays, if there is no tournament going on, they just pair up and playing games, chatting back and forth about various strategies over snacks.

But last Friday, eight members accepted national chess master Todd Freitag’s offer to play them all at once. Freitag, 35, a Palos Park resident and member of the group himself, is one of just 1,000 chess masters in the United States. He said he has been playing the game since his days in the chess club at Sandburg High School, and earned the master title by winning a certain amount of regulation games.

“Chess is a good community of folks,” said Ellice. “Players come from all walks of life, from Chicago and the suburbs. Some people take it really seriously, while others just play for fun.”

“Chess helps you with all of life’s challenges,” added Ellice. “Among other things, it teaches you to think several steps ahead, and be responsible for your actions, because once you make a move, you can’t take it back.”

Freitag moved quickly from chessboard to chessboard set up on three tables, making his move as soon as his opponents’ made theirs. He ended up winning seven of the matches, and drawing with Adrian Zolkos, one of the most experienced members of the club. And Ellice pointed out that the club members playing him weren’t beginners.

He said that the club’s two teams, the Wombats and the Pawns, finished first and second, respectively, in the West Division of the Chicago Industrial Chess League concluded its playing season in July. The League includes 20 teams, coming from communities as well as companies such as Fermilab in Batavia.

The Wombats took second place in the whole league in 2012, and won the CICL championship in 2014. Under its previous name, the Yorktown Wildcats, the team also were co-champions in 2010 also.

The club gained some international experience this year also, after member Eva Harrison arranged a tournament with a chess club in her hometown of Salzkotten, Germany. “I used to play a lot when I was growing up in Germany,” she said, explaining that she got back into the sport when her children started playing it in school. She, Ellice and Freitag, along with fellow members Vasyl Kukuruza, Marty Franek, Eric Mendenhall, Joe Sinople, Jim Nowak, Steve Russo and Jose Garza, played 10 people from Salzkotten. At one move per week, the 10-board match finished with the Oak Lawn team winning eight, and drawing two games.

“The main thing is, we weren’t beaten,” she said.

Harrison’s son, Christopher, 11, has joined the group now too. On Friday, while the eight tournament games were going on, Christopher was playing against club tournament director Alex Connelly, of Oak Lawn, and picking up tips along the way. Connelly assists Ellice in running the club.

“We have a lot of space in this room, so while tournaments are going on, there is always room for “open play,’ too,” said Ellice. “We have about 40 members but there are always room for more,” he added.

More information about the club may be obtained on its South Suburban Chess Club Facebook page, or by emailing Ellice at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Garden Harvest Day earns a (green) thumb's up

  • Written by Kelly White


harvest garden photo 8-18Photo by Kelly Whitw

The Oak Lawn Community Garden volunteers held their first harvest Saturday morning, marking the coming fall season. Volunteers helped to pick a variety of crops to be sent to local food pantries.


Volunteers and local organizations celebrated the first Oak Lawn Community Garden Harvest Day, which was held Saturday morning to mark the beginning of the fall season.

The community garden is located between Harker Park, 104th and Minnick Avenue, and the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, 5220 W. 105th St.

The garden became a reality in June. This is the cooperative project of School District 123, the Village of Oak Lawn and the Oak Lawn Park District. A community garden is a single piece of land that is worked on collectively by a group of people. The Oak Lawn Community Garden is made up of 30 active members.

“Community gardening has been a trend in the United States since the 1960’s,” said Dolly Foster, horticulturist for the Oak Lawn Park District and community garden volunteer.

Foster worked alongside Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 Community Liaison Officer Larry Fetchko on the planning and garden creation.

Foster has worked for the parks for almost 10 years. Her duties include caring for the landscapes that can be found in and near the parks and other facilities. She is responsible for the planning procurement and propagation and also runs gardening programs for the park district, with the community garden being the park’s newest program.

The garden is composed of garden beds and is divided into two sections. One half is a pantry garden composed of 22 beds where volunteers from the community plant and care for the vegetable plants and harvest the produce to donate to local food pantries in the Oak Lawn area.

The other half of the garden is allotments that can be rented by anyone in the community. Allotments cost $25 per Oak Lawn resident and $35 for non-residents. Currently, there are 17 people renting allotments. There is currently room for 30 more 4 x 10 or 4 x 16 garden beds.

“Half of the people who are renting allotments are living in apartment buildings or condo complexes,” Foster said. “There are a lot of both apartments and condos in our community and people residing in them have nowhere to garden. They cannot garden on their balcony. The community garden provides a place where they can garden and harvest their own crops. Oak Lawn Park District members have wanted to put in a community garden where people could rent spots and could build their own garden on their own time.”

The community garden also works hand-in-hand with the Oak Lawn Village Senior Center, according to Foster.

“We have a number of raised or elevated beds for senior citizens where they can plant and harvest crops free of charge,” she said.

“It is really nice working with the senior center,” Fetchko said. “Most of the senior citizens that are currently working in the community garden have never gardened before. We encouraged them to try it and often they are surprised at how much they love it.”

With the help of eight community garden volunteers, the group harvested a couple hundred pounds of fresh produce on Saturday morning, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers and squash.

The group worked for a total of two hours, picking vegetables, laying out all of the vegetables by type and packing them to be distributed to local food pantries.

“We talked with local food pantries in the area and asked if they needed assistance. However, one major factor in the decision making for the first harvest was if they could store fresh produce,” Foster said.

“Our goal is to supplement local food pantries with fresh produce,” Fetchko said.

The three pantries selected by the community garden for the first harvest were St. Germaine, Trinity Lutheran and Pilgrim Faith church pantries. All three pantries chosen are located within the Oak Lawn community.

The community garden plans to incorporate school children from District 123 into the gardening project this fall.

“When we began planting in June, children were already out of school for the summer. But we look forward to having them help out with future planting and harvests,” Foster said.

This Sabbath rarely rests

  • Written by Mary Alice Maloney

PAGE 1 Jeff Sabbath 8 18

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This guy is the only person to participate in all 33 Chicago Triathlons. Evergreen Park’s Jeff Sabbath will try to make it 34-for-34 on Aug. 28.

            In 1982, a young man from Iowa, Jeff Sabbath, had a passion for exercise and years of experience partaking in numerous triathlons around the country and traveled to Chicago to join thousands of others to participate in the city’s first swim/bike/run event.

            Six years later, Sabbath completed his sixth Chicago Triathlon and moved to Evergreen Park and his family roots were planted.

            Now, in 2016, the 57-year-old Sabbath will complete his 34th Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 28, and is scheduled to be the only competitor in the history of the race to run in all 34 events.

            In 2013, Sabbath and Hampshire’s Bob Oury, 76, were the only two to run in all of the Chicago Triathlons but Oury did not run it in 2014, leaving Sabbath as the lone runner with perfect attendance.

            The two were honored during the 25th running of the race.

“He was probably around 70 at the time, so I figure (I would have outlasted him),” Sabbath said lightheartedly.

            There was one year, however, that Sabbath almost didn’t make it and this wasn’t lighthearted at all.

            In 2000, Sabbath was nearly a scratch because of a family tragedy.

“I was widowed a few years ago due to my wife (Debbie) having cancer,” Sabbath said. “Right before the triathlon, my wife was getting really sick, and I almost skipped the race. But at the last minute, we decided I should go ahead and do it. It was challenging, but I did it. That was the year that almost wasn’t.”

            Sabbath plans to continue participating in the Chicago Triathlon for as long as he can and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“Staying healthy is the most important thing for me,” Sabbath said. “I used to race competitively and set timed goals for myself when I was younger, but now it’s really just all for fun. I’ll do it as long as my body lets me,” Sabbath said.

            Sabbath lends the diversified nature of triathlon training to his prolonged enjoyment of the events.

“The training is my favorite part,” he said. “I exercise every single day, and in preparing for a triathlon I get to ride my bike, go swimming, and run all summer. That’s the fun part for me. Exercise isn’t just something I do, it’s who I am.”

Over the years, he has run in more than 100 endurance events including the Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco and various Iron Man competitions in Hawaii, New York, and Cape Cod.

            The Chicago Triathlon unlike many other triathlons, Sabbath said.

 “This event is one of the only ones that actually takes place in the urban setting of the city. A lot of other triathlons take place in suburban areas, but this event allows me to swim, bike, and run in the heart of the city,” Sabbath said.

            The Chicago Triathlon consists of a .93-mile swim in Lake Michigan, a 24.8-mile bike ride on Lake Shore Drive and under the loop on the newly rebuilt intermediate level of Wacker Drive before heading to the lower Randolph Busway, and a 6.2-mile run along the lakefront and around the city’s Museum Campus to total a 31.93 mile race, with the finish line on Columbus Drive.

            Participants from all over the country come to compete – last year there was approximately 6,500 -- in the Chicago Triathlon, making it one of the biggest triathlons in the nation.

“The large amount of people is both good and bad,” Sabbath said. “I feel like people are drawn to this race because you have the lakefront and skyline right there, and it’s exciting to have such a big, energetic crowd. At the same time, the crowd makes the race course dense and a little crazy sometimes.”

            This year, Sabbath is also participating in a triathlon in LaPorte, Indiana along with his family. “It’s very low-key and is about as opposite as the Chicago Triathlon a you can get, but it’s still a really great time,” Sabbath said.

            As his 34th Chicago Triathlon swiftly approaches, Sabbath is ready and excited for another race.

“The Chicago Triathlon has just become a part of my life,” Sabbath said. “It signifies the end of summer, kids going back to school, the weather changing to fall – the triathlon is part of the seasons for me. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday.”