Chicago Ridge candidates talk about loyalty, accessibility

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Candidates running for mayor and village clerk in Chicago Ridge fielded residents’ questions during a March 8 forum sponsored by the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Vice President Christopher Lisek moderated the event, asking the questions submitted by audience members.

The candidates for village clerk, incumbent George Schleyer and Barbara Harrison, didn’t get as many questions as the mayoral candidates: incumbent Chuck Tokar and trustees Fran Coglianese and Sally Durkin. But the clerk candidates did argue about how many hours could be spent working at what is a part-time position.

Harrison, who grew up in Chicago Ridge, stressed her strong ties to the community.

“I do have a loyalty to the town,” she said, recalling her days playing in Freedom Park when it was known as Birmingham Park, and playing on a boys field hockey team for three years. She pledged to be accessible, saying, “I know this town and the people in it, and I have the will to work hard to serve them.”

Schleyer, who is completing his first four-year term as clerk, has lived in Chicago Ridge since the mid-1990s. A production manager in a bakery who led a Chicago neighborhood organization before moving to Chicago Ridge, Schleyer said besides handling the duties of the office, he also helped get the Chicago Ridge Lions Club started last year, and revived the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce.

He told Harrison that a labor lawyer mentioned to him working more than 20 hours in the clerk’s position per week could be illegal, and might require the officeholder to pay into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

“Does that mean not returning phone calls from home?” asked Harrison, promising to do that.

Schleyer said he often does return calls when he is away from the office, and disputed Harrison’s claim that he is not accessible to the public.

The mayoral candidates all cited economic development as a prime objective, but they had a few minor “dust-ups” when discussing how to go about it, as well as several other issues.

“Economic development is the only way we will be able to hold the line on property taxes and make it possible to reinstate the property tax rebate,” said Tokar, who is completing his first term as mayor. Prior to that, the lifelong village resident served for 24 years as village clerk and 14 years as trustee.

When asked to point to development successes during his term, Tokar cited the craft brewery opening this summer in the Harlem Avenue TIF district, as well as a medical facility being built on the east side of the district. He said the sale of the brewery site, and a possible purchase of another village-owned piece of property where a developer wants to build the village’s first Starbuck’s restaurant will be profitable.

Durkin and Coglianese want to see more economic development in the village as well, but they both oppose allowing any more video gaming in town. Tokar said recent decisions by the village board to reject business proposals that included video gaming has cost the village tax money.

Durkin, who said she is running for mayor because she feels like her hands are tied as a trustee, said the “infighting in the village board” has got to stop. She said hiring a village manager to run the village on a day-to-day basis would be on her agenda. She, like Coglianese, also supports the idea of making the mayor’s office part-time.

“Definitely we need it. I think an administrator is needed to put some distance between the board and running the village hall.”

Coglianese, who worked as a secretary in the building department before retiring, said $75,000 has been budgeted for that position. But Tokar said village administrators would cost a lot more than that.

Both Durkin and Coglianese criticized Tokar for taking annual salaries of $12,000 for liquor commissioner and $18,000 for budget director, in addition to the $88,000 salary for mayor. State statute does allow mayors to serve as budget officers, but Tokar said he is the only one of the three with the master’s degree in public administration that the job requires.

While Tokar and Durkin agreed that term limits “should be set by voters,” Coglianese is running on a platform that includes a call for term limits to be set at two.

The mayoral candidates were also asked who paid for robocalls to be made to residents. None of the three took credit for them, but Tokar said that since the calls were critical of Durkin and him, the residents “could draw their own conclusions.”

“I don’t appreciate these tactics in Chicago Ridge,” said Durkin.

Coglianese said she filed a Freedom of Information request to the FCC to find out who placed the calls. She denied the speculation that her team was behind them.

“If it was something I did, they would have pronounced my name right,” she said. She said she expects to get an answer by March 29 about who was behind them.

Hickory Hills green-lights Sabre Woods development

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

After a lengthy period of agreements and disagreements during the Hickory Hills City Council meeting last Thursday, an ordinance was approved for the proposed Sabre Woods development.

The planned unit development (PUD) proposal would take in the site of the old Sabre Room, 8900 W. 95th St., Hickory Hills. The once iconic center was the site of wedding receptions and noted performers who took the stage there, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The Sabre Room closed last year and the building was recently demolished.

The approved special use for PUD, which is located in a R-4 Single Family Residence District and C-3 Highway Commercial District, will allow a combination of commercial and residential uses, including retail stores, independent and assisted living apartments, senior apartments, senior single-family ranch homes, and property that may be donated to the city for use as a public library or other public purposes.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley said that he and 3rd Ward aldermen Tom McAvoy and Brian Fonte had met with the Koziarz Group, owners of the property; Retown, the development manager; and Chicagoland Realty, marketing and sales, to review the numerous plans that have been presented to the city.

“We finally hammered out an agreement that was agreeable to them and satisfied our zoning and building commission requirements,” Howley said.

In a later conversation, Howley stated that it would be a great benefit to the city if the parties involved are able to attract a developer or developers who can conform to the zoning and building guidelines for the proposed development.

“We are in need of quality senior care in Hickory Hills,” said Howley. “I have talked with many residents who want to stay in the area and when they decide to downsize, or their health needs require a change in their lifestyle. They don’t want to move away from their families and friends. They want to stay close.”

Howley also added that a development restricted to senior level living would not place a burden on the city’s school system.

The approved ordinance addressed several issues of concern such as required footage for setbacks of single-family residences (setbacks were increased from 10 feet to 20 feet to allow cars to park in the driveway of a residence).

An earlier concern of the council was who would be responsible for the detention, retention and storm water areas. The ordinance states that management and maintenance will be the responsibility of a master association. The association will consist of all privately-owned property comprising the site and shall be responsible for the maintenance and repair of all facilities and the common area.

The ordinance also states that the proposed commercial area would be limited to 45,000 square feet.

In his later conversation, Howley also stated that the council was aware that any future developer would need some flexibility in some areas such as the number of single-family homes.

“We will do our best to work with them as long as the plan conforms to our concerns and zoning guidelines,” he said.

Oak Lawn police lawsuit settled for $2.7 million

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


An Oak Lawn man who alleged that two Oak Lawn police officers brutalized him in his home without provocation while his two young daughters were nearby has settled his civil rights claim for $2.7 million.

The case was settled on Feb. 24, and the payment was approved by the Oak Lawn Village Board. But there was no admission of guilt or responsibility, village attorney Kevin Casey said on Tuesday.

According to the 11-count complaint filed by Piotr Niton and his two daughters in federal court, Niton said that shortly after midnight on July 27, 2013, he was asleep on his couch in Oak Lawn when he was awakened by “loud and persistent banging on his front door,” and found two uniformed Oak Lawn police officers on his front porch. His daughters were in their bedrooms nearby.

The complaint alleges that the officers began shouting commands at him, questioning him about a hit-and-run that occurred earlier that evening. He told them he had not driven his vehicle that night and said they demanded that he come outside and show them his van. In the complaint, Niton said he refused to leave the house but offered to open the garage door and let them check it out.

The complaint states that an officer then “forced his way into Niton’s home and violently shoved him backwards” onto the floor, and struck him with his fists and knees. The officers also allegedly struck him with steel batons and one of them allegedly placed his knee on his face.

David P. Sterba, the Nitons’ attorney, said that one of the officers repeatedly lifted Niton off the floor by his belt, slamming him back down on his back with such force that the belt broke. The other officer allegedly put him in a chokehold and handcuffed him.

Sterba said that one of Niton’s daughter witnessed the violence, while the other one heard it from her room. He said the $2.7 million awarded was for Niton’s pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as compensatory damages for the daughters for their “severe emotional distress.”

Niton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting a police officer. But he was found not guilty by a jury following a four-day trial and 45 minutes of deliberation in November 2015.

Sterba said that police eventually determined that another man, not Niton, was responsible for the hit-and-run incident. The other man was an employee of Niton, and the vehicle involved was registered to Niton’s company.

The attorney, a partner in the Palos Heights law firm of Walsh, Fewkes and Sterba, said this week that Niton had to undergo one back surgery as a result of the incident and still requires another operation for “spinal fusion.”

“It’s over for us. We’re very proud of the Niton family for displaying the courage to stand up and fight for justice. And this is a very good day for justice,” said Sterba.

He suggested that the Oak Lawn Police Department should review its policies for handling situations like this in the future.

Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said the two officers involved in the case are still working for the department. But he said that the agreement prevented him from commenting on the details of the case.

Palos Hills girl's recovery is cause for celebration

  • Written by Kelly White

junnah hamed photo 3-9

Photo by Kelly White

Junnah Hamed, 7, of Palos Hills, prepares to cut the ribbon for the new pediatric emergency room department recently at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. She is assisted by her sister to her right, Amenah Hamed, 9, and Dr. Omprakash Sawlani.

Junnah Hamed is a typical 7-year-old girl. She enjoys school and spending time with her family and friends. But in November of 2016, her life took an unpredictable turn.

It was then when Junnah, of Palos Hills, was admitted into Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn with a persistent fever. After arriving, she suffered a heart block and went into cardiac arrest. She spent two weeks in a coma in the pediatric intensive care unit. Doctors diagnosed her with streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Junnah’s treating doctor, Dr. Omprakash Sawlani, medical director of the pediatric emergency Department, reports she has since recovered and is doing well today.

In fact, she is doing so well that she joined Sawlani, her mother, Sawsan Abdallah; her father, Ayman Hamed; her 9-year-old sister, Amenah, and a team of medical professionals that included Dr. Brian Sayger, chair of the Department of Medicine, and Mike Farrell, president of Advocate Children’s Hospital, 4400 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, on March 1 to personally cut the ribbon of the hospital’s newly remodeled pediatric emergency room.

“They did a wonderful job taking care of Junnah,” her mother said. “They went above and beyond in care and treatment. It was like she wasn’t just a patient; it was almost as if she were the daughter of all of the doctors and nurses on staff. Really an outstanding job.”

Junnah, a first grade student at Sorrick Elementary School in Palos Hills, was the one to cut the ribbon to the new pediatric emergency room, alongside her big sister Amenah, and Sayger and Farrell.

Farrell reported it was the quick and exceptional response within the emergency room department that saved Junnah’s life.

“They did a really good job taking care of my little sister,” Amenah said.

“Situations like Junnah’s are exactly what amplifies why we come to work every day,” Sayger said.

Sayger was one of the members behind the planning of the new unit.

“This emergency room was designed to be only for pediatric medicine and built from the ground up,” he said. “It was all about the patient when we were planning this expansion.”

A blessing of the department was held along with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The kid-friendly atmosphere officially opened to patients on Tuesday.  

The state-of-the-art department contains an expanded capacity with six additional treatment rooms, Level I pediatric trauma rooms, as well as psychiatric and isolation rooms. In 2016, 37,000 children, including Junnah, were treated in the emergency room.

According to hospital staff, the expansion meets a growing community need.

Initially, the pediatric emergency area was only made up of five beds within the adult emergency department. Over the years, a designated space was carved out specifically for pediatric emergency patients. First, it was an area made up with eight beds, then it doubled to 16, and now, the new emergency room will have 22 individual rooms.

With the remodel, the physical space has doubled, making room for the 22 exam rooms with beds. There are also two trauma bays, resuscitation rooms and critical care rooms designed specifically for the hospital’s sickest patients. The original department also only had two isolation rooms with ante rooms for caregivers to suit up before entering the patient's room. The new space has eight rooms to accommodate for communicable disease in order to separate really sick patients from the rest of the population.

The department also features a fully functioning sugar free slushy machine for all patients to enjoy.

In August 2016, a pediatric annex was added. It essentially functions as a fast track for the lowest acuity patients who can be quickly treated and released from the hospital. This space will continue to exist outside of the pediatric emergency department.

Plans for the new design began in 2012 in an effort to grow capacity and provide a better experience for patient, family and caregivers.

The space is much more spacious than the previous department and all of the new equipment is the latest and greatest, according to hospital staff.

The hospital staff has inspired Junnah’s future career choice as well.

“When I grow up, I want to be an eye doctor because I love doctors,” she said with a smile.

National treasures: SXU takes second in the nation in NAIA DII

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Semifinal juby

Photo by St. Xavier University 

SXU players rejoice after winning a national semifinal game on Monday.

St. Xavier’s women’s basketball team started a long trip to Sioux City, Iowa, on a bus on March 8 and there was some slow going on the way there because of hail.

The Cougars were hoping for a long stay in Sioux City with the end result of being hailed as the NAIA Division II champions.

A bookend of hails, so to speak.

They did stay in Iowa a long time. And for the first half of Tuesday night’s championship game at the Tyson Events Center, it looked like they were about to grab that title as they owned a 30-23 lead.

But the Cougars were pelted by baskets and were outscored 24-8 in the third quarter and dropped a 66-52 decision to defending national champion Marian (Ind.) to finish in second place – the best finish ever by coach Bob Hallberg and his program.

SXU (34-3) and its fans saw a little of everything on this five-game journey.  They saw a 30-30 quarter. A 6-6 quarter. They saw a couple of blowouts, a couple of come-from-behind victories and, ultimately, a loss after holding the lead as late as 3 minutes, 10 seconds in the third period in front of a crowd of 1,600 at the Tyson facility and a large crowd watching the feed of the game at the Shannon Center in Chicago.

Brittany Collins led the Cougars with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Junior Kara Krolicki was limited to 10 points but after the game was named the NAIA Division II Player of the Year.

“You can’t judge (the season) off of one game,” Krolicki told reporters after the game. “I had a great time playing this season. I loved playing with all these girls and this is the game that everybody wants, but this time it didn’t come out in our favor. . . We are hoping that we can come back here next year and get what we want. I couldn’t ask for more this season.”

To get to the final, the Cougars trailed Concordia University (Neb.) 28-11 early but went on to dominate the rest of the way in a 91-83 triumph. Unlike Tuesday night, when the Cougars had their share of woes in the third quarter, the third quarter of the semifinal game saw them outscore their opponent 25-9.

"It's amazing; just an unbelievable feeling," said Krolicki, who had 26 points.

"We went into halftime with the lead cut down. We knew we could do it. We had another 20 minutes of basketball left. The first half we had to get used to what they were doing and settle down and see what worked for us. We were a little calmer."

Freshman guard Maddie Welter connected on a pair of three-pointers in under a minute in the third to give the Cougars the lead for the first time. Senior guard Mikayla Leyden drained a long-range shot at the third-quarter buzzer to head into the final 10 minutes ahead, 61-53 and the Cougars never looked back.

Junior center Collins continued to be a force on the glass as she pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds – 10 on the defensive end.  She also scored 18 points on the night to log her 20th double-double of the season.

Concordia, making its second national semifinal in three years, was led by junior Dani Andersen who recorded a team-high 21 points.

Collins had 21 points and a career-best 23 rebounds in a 69-53 victory over the College of the Ozarks in the quarterfinals Saturday to reach the Final Four.

SXU never trailed and led by as many as 24 points (33-9) in the second quarter.  Collins became just the second player in Saint Xavier women’s basketball history to grab 20 or more rebounds and score 20 or more points in a game.

Freshman forward Chanel Fanter added 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks to aid the victory. 

The Cougars set all kinds of records and milestones in a 96-66 over Friends University (Kan.) in the second round on Friday night. The team set a record for wins (32) and Krolicki became just the second player in program history to go over 2,000 points for her career as she scored 29 points. Morgan Stuut (2011-15) is the only other player in Cougar history to hit that mark. Senior Leyden set a single-game Cougars record for assists with 13 and broke the SXU career mark with 511.

The Cougars got off to a slow start falling behind by as many as seven points (12-5) near the midpoint of the first quarter but the team righted the ship and dominated the rest of the way.

The team opened the nationals with a 100-61 victory over Indiana University-Kokomo as Collins had 24 points and 12 rebounds. The team shot 63 percent from the field, with Collins dropping 11 of her 12 shots. It was the 12th time this season the Cougars scored in triple figures.