Rauner claims Madigan balks on university funding bill

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner accused House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) on Monday of manipulating the presidents of colleges and universities in Illinois to refrain from backing any measures proposed by the governor or Republicans before the March 15 primary.

Rauner’s latest salvo came after the governor vetoed two variations of bills to provide funding for college students through the Monetary Awards Programs, or MAP grants, during the past month. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) introduced the first version of the bill that passed through the Senate.

The governor said he supports a bill that is sponsored by state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-5th) to provide $160 million in emergency funding to universities. Rauner had invited several university presidents to stand beside him at a press conference.

According to Rauner, the presidents rejected the idea of attending a press conference because they did not want to anger Madigan. Rauner believes Madigan wants the budget impasse to continue to counter the governor.

“We have a bipartisan bill to fund our universities right now that I can support,” said Rauner. “Madigan won’t call the bill.”

Dunkin introduced HB 6409 last week. The state representative, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from Juliana Stratton, said the bill would provide funding to assist Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Rauner said Dunkin’s Bill would provide funding for these schools without raising taxes or cutting any social services.

In the meantime, Democrats are still considering presenting additional bills. Dunkin has recently sided with Rauner on several issues and has drawn the ire of Madigan and other local Democrats. The likelihood of Democrats supporting a bill by Dunkin is unlikely.

State Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) said that hearings would be held this week to come up with ideas to work with the governor on ways to bring an end to the budget stalemate.

“We can take a look at the need for reforms,” said Cunningham. “I hope by doing this we can talk to the governor and compromise on other issues, like funding for the MAP grants. Those reforms can be talked about, along with the pensions.”

Some local Democrats have said that negotiations with the governor have not gone well up to this point. Republicans have been calling for 20 percent cut in state funding for higher education for the 2016-17 year. However, that would be a reduction of the 30 percent cut that Rauner requested last year.

“I believe we can get something done,” said Burke last week. “If we just talk about the budget, we can work something out. I keep talking to Democrats and Republicans for ideas.”

Steve Brown, the longtime spokesperson for Madigan, said that Rauner is “the only one who has cut higher education.”

Rauner vetoed the bill that Madigan called to provide $721 million for higher education and MAP grants for lower-income students. The bill would have also provided $40 million for community colleges.

The governor rejected the bill because he said it would create a larger hole in the state budget. Burke joined other legislators in sending a letter to the governor to talk about a solution to the budget standoff.

Burke defended her bill to free up higher education grants for eligible students, saying the time to act is now.

“So let’s honor those commitments and let’s get the ball rolling on the MAP grants and the funding for the community college.”

Dr. Sylvia Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, was disappointed that Burke’s original bills were not given more consideration by the governor. Jenkins said Moraine is in good shape for now but is concerned about the future depending on how long this budget impasse lasts.

“Some colleges will have to close programs and some teachers will have to be let go,” said Jenkins.

Rush facing two challengers in 1st Congressional District

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

One of the few contested elections in the southwest suburbs on March 15 ballots will be the race between incumbent Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) and two challengers battling for the seat in Congress that he has held since 1993.

The 1st District stretches south and west from the Chicago lakefront to communities such as Manhattan and Elwood in Will County. Locally, it includes alll or part of Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, Worth and Orland Park, as well as nearby communities such as Alsip and Crestwood.

Rush, 69, seldom has serious primary challengers, but this year, Howard Brookins Jr., and O. Patrick Brutus are running against him.

In the November general election, whoever wins will face either Jimmy Lee Tillman II or August O’Neill Deuser, the two candidates running in the Republican primary for the seat long held by Democrats.

Tillman, who promises to provide representation to "the urban and middle-class communities in Cook County to the rural and bedroom communities in Will County," is the son of former Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman.

Brookins, who has garnered the backing of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd), the chairman of the state Democratic Party, probably has the greatest chance of unseating the incumbent. He is an attorney now serving his third term as alderman of the 21st Ward on the South Side of Chicago.

In addition to being alderman since 2003, he is also a partner in the Brookins and Wilson law firm, as well as a licensed funeral director. Prior to that, Brookins was an assistant public defender, assistant state’s attorney, and special assistant attorney general. He serves on the board of Community Media Workshop, a no-profit organization.

Brookins lists the three core issues of his campaign as job creation, public safety, and education.

He has criticized Rush for not being accessible enough to his constituents.

Patrick has been coordinator of economic development for the Department of Planning and Development for the past nine years. Prior to that, he spent 11 years with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Madigan has not said publicly why he has given his support to Brookins, but his father, Howard Brookins Sr., served in the Illinois Legislature with Madigan from 1982 to 1992, first as a representative and then a senator.

Brooks has said that he has known Madigan since his father was a state representative, and asked him for his support and was “proud” to get it.

Brookins is listed as the preferred candidate on voting information being distributed by Madigan’s organization.

While Rush is often accused of not being accessible in his district or active in Washington, a press release posted on his website points out the House's passage on Monday of a bill he introduced aimed at opening up more jobs for minorities in the energy sector won bipartisan approval. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

With the passage of H.R. 4583, Rush said in a statement, “Today, the American public witnessed a House united in creating economic growth for all people,” said Rush. “Here we have bipartisan members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who represent various constituencies from diverse regions of the country and who come with different political persuasions. We were able to put aside our differences and focus our efforts on bringing forth a jobs bill that will benefit all communities and help lift up the entire American economy.”

Hickory Hills to consolidate emergency phone boards and 911 center

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Seeking to comply with recent legislation passed earlier this year regarding Emergency Telephone System Boards (ETSB) and Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), Hickory Hills Council members agreed to consolidate its existing ETSB and maintain its own 911 emergency dispatch center.

The agreement was reached at the Feb.25 Committee of the Whole Meeting, where council members reviewed a report from Police Chief Alan Vodicka in which he presented two options available to meet the ETSB/PSAP legislation.

According to Vodicka, the new statute requires Emergency Telephone System Boards, which serve a population of less than 25,000, to consolidate into a 911 Authority that meets the population requirement.

Currently, the city’s ETSB is comprised of seven members appointed by Mayor Mike Howley. They are responsible for overseeing the collection and disbursement of 911 surcharge funds.

Vodicka said the statute also requires the reduction of PSAPs by at least 50 per cent or 2 PSAPs, whichever is greater. The city’s Emergency 911 center is designated as a PSAP.

In addition, the statute further requires ETSBs to submit consolidation plans to the State 911 director by July 1, and complete the consolidation process by July 1, 2017.

“Option 1 would be to outsource the City’s 911 dispatching services and possibly shut down the 24/7 operation of the city’s Police Facility,” said Vodicka.

In Option 2, Hickory Hills’ ETSB will merge with other towns on the same radio frequency that utilizes the same Records Management and Computer Aided Dispatch Software. The towns include Justice, Bedford Park, Willow Springs, Summit and possibly Hometown

After listing the costs and benefits involved with the two options, it was Vodicka’s recommendation that Option 2 was the best choice for the city.

Vodicka said later that outsourcing 911 dispatching services was such a minimal savings over time that it didn’t warrant the city making the change.

“The approval to move forward with this action is just the beginning. We now have to move forward with outreach to the other communities and then we will need resolutions drafted and approved. It is a process,” he said.

The regular council meeting followed the Committee of the Whole Meeting.

During the council segment, approval was given to a financial summary presented by City Treasurer Dan Schramm. The summary was a review of the last nine months of the 2015-16 Fiscal Year.

Schramm reported that all city funds are within budget.

Also approved was a $100 donation for Aaron Appliances Open House/Customer Appreciation Day, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, March 11 at 9600 S. Roberts Road. According to Howley, the donation will benefit the Ronald McDonald House and the city will be listed as a sponsor.

Other approvals included a Class E Liquor License for Lacey’s Place at 7831 W. 95th St., and the purchase of a Hawks pick-up truck for $19,000 by the Public Works Department.

Ald. Debbie Ferrero (2nd Ward) announced that business applications for the city’s Street Fair, scheduled for June 25 and 26, will be distributed through The Hills Chamber this year instead of being mailed by the city.

Interested applicants should contact Phyllis Maka, chamber president, at (708) 233-6860.

Chicago Ridge Board awaits decision on receiving CDBG grants

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The deadline for applying for Community Development Block Grant funds through the state is approaching, and the Chicago Ridge Village Board spent some time at the Tuesday meeting discussing whether to seek CDBG funds for street improvements of water tower renovation.

Village engineer Andrew Pufundt informed the board that applications will be due in April for the CDBG grants, which are funds from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development that are distributed by states. He said that last year, municipalities applied for grants for as much as $400,000, and it is hoped that about that much would be available this year as well.

Mayor Chuck Tokar pointed out that last year the village’s application for a CDBG grant to be used for rehabbing the village water tower was turned down, after being awarded the previous year for another project. CDBG funds can only be used for utility or infrastructure repairs.

“Maybe they were just reluctant to give it to us two years in a row,” he said.

Tokar suggested that because the cost of the maintenance work needed to be done on the village water tower, including exterior painting and interior inspection, has been estimated to cost $800,000, that might not be the best project to use CDBG funds on. He said it would still leave the village with a bill of at least $400,000 to cover the remaining costs.

The mayor said any grant money received might be better used on street improvements.

“We do have quite a few streets that need repairs and qualify for the money,” he said, noting that CDBG funds can only be used in areas of municipalities where the average income does not exceed a certain level.

“There is no doubt that a lot of our streets have really gotten a battering in recent years,” Tokar said, adding that last winter was much worse than the current one.

However, Trustee Jack Lind stressed the importance of maintaining the water tower.

“I agree the streets are very important, but we can’t wait for CDBG funds to get the water tower done. We don’t know when they will be coming anyway,” said Lind, the former public works director, suggesting that a bond issue might be needed to pay for it, rather than depleting the water and sewer fund or other village accounts to do it.

Lind said the water tower project entails much more than repainting the exterior.

“There is nothing more important to a community than its water supply. Ours is fine now, but we want to keep it that way. Some repairs are needed inside the tower,” he said.

“I have a background in this and we need a comprehensive study done every so many years,” said Lind. He said it may have been 16 years or more since the last one was done.

Lind explained that such a study would include inspecting the outside of the tower, and then using a camera to inspect the inside.

At his request, the board agreed to ask Public Works Director Stanley Barwock to get the process started, by seeking proposals to get the study done.

“You have your marching orders now, Stan,” Tokar told the director, who was in the audience.

In other business the board passed a resolution approving the village’s purchase of a vacant restaurant property at 10255 S. Harlem Ave. for $650,000.

Lind and Trustee Sally Durkin said after the meeting that acquisition of the former Nicobee’s restaurant, which will be torn down, was important because the property is located just south of a vacant trucking terminal that the village is trying to market to a developer.

News about Worth golf course is encouraging

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

The Worth Board of Trustees received some good news about the Water’s Edge Golf Course at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Trustee Tedd Muersch Jr. board liaison to the golf course, reported that the facility is in a good place. “I would like to take credit for that fact, but I attribute it to our new general manager, Dean Gabey who has brought a new energy to the club,” said Muersch.

“We already have 47 golf outings on the book for this year, which is 37 percent ahead of last year’s number. Several of the scheduled outings will bring 120 to 140 golfers to the club for each event, which is the maximum number for the course. These numbers are great financially for the club,” he said.

He added that Gabey has brought some new marketing strategies to the facility, which is really getting the word out to the area about upcoming activities. Future events include a Shamrock Scramble on March 19 and brunches planned for Easter and Mother’s Day, with those dates yet to be announced.

He also announced that Water’s Edge has re-negotiated a lease agreement with EasyGo, the company, which provides the club’s golf carts. The club was in the fourth year of a five-year lease, at a cost of $9,000 per month, providing an option to purchase the golf carts at the end of the five year contract.

The new lease will provide new carts at a cost of $6,000 per month with a beverage cart and two maintenance carts added to the deal. Muersch said it did not make any sense to buy the five-year old carts because of the years of wear and tear.

“We were very happy with the new contract and glad that we were able to stay with EasyGo,” said Muersch.

In other board action, a business license was approved upon the recommendation of the Economic Development Commission for Luxe Embellishment to be located at 6401 W. 107th St.

The approval is contingent upon the business passing all inspections and being in compliance with all codes and ordinances.

Luxe Embellishment is a specialty retail store selling Irish dance, bridal, communion and every day accessories.

Also approved was an ordinance approving a lease agreement and an amendment to the lease agreement with PNC Equipment Finance, LLC concerning personal property at Water’s Edge Golf Club.

A resolution was approved for the allocation of $300,000 MFT funds allowing for general maintenance of streets and highways in Worth, such as streetlight repairs and curb replacements.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, resident German Cordova presented a petition signed by residents living on Depot Street, between Southwest Highway and 107th Street, requesting that parking be banned on both sides of the street.

Cordova, a 10-year resident on the street, had attended a previous meeting where he raised an objection to tenants from a condominium located on his street, parking their vehicles on the street instead of in the parking lot provided for their building. He said it was unfair to the other residents and presented a safety hazard and prevented the street from being plowed properly.

Trustee Pete Kats agreed that he had a good case and asked if the board could take action on the petition.

Village Attorney, Greg Jones, said that an ordinance would have to be prepared and then brought to the board for approval.

Mayor Mary Werner said that she would direct the attorney to prepare the ordinance. However, she wanted to reach out to the owner of the condominium first to see if an agreement could be peacefully reached to require the tenants to park in the space provided for the building.

“This will be addressed at our next board meeting,” she said.

Trustee Kevin Ryan was not present but had given notice that he would be unable to attend the meeting.