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Attorney General looks into former Oak Lawn mayor’s FOIA request

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  For the second time in less than a month, the Illinois Attorney General has agreed to review a partially denied request for information in Oak Lawn.
  The attorney general’s Public Access Bureau on Nov. 19 asked the village to respond to allegations made by former Mayor Dave Heilmann regarding a Freedom of Information Act request he submitted on Oct. 11.
  Heilmann’s FOIA request sought copies of contracts for landscape improvements performed on property on 95th Street west of the I-294 overpass as well as copies of checks paid to contractors and emails associated with the project.
  On Oct. 21, the village provided Heilmann with a copy of the invoice and a check but denied other information that he sought, specifically a proposal for the work.
  About a week later, Heilmann asked if the contractor had submitted a proposal to the village. The village responded that no proposal had been sent. Heilmann believes a proposal does exist.
  “We have determined that further inquiry is necessary,” the attorney general wrote in a letter to Carmie O’Leary, a village freedom of information officer. “Please respond to the allegations made in Mr. Heilmann’s request for review. Specifically, please clarify whether the village possesses any additional responsive records that have not already been provided to Mr. Heilmann pursuant to his FOIA request.”
  Heilmann said the village is “selectively enforcing” the Freedom of Information Act. He said that Chad Weiler, the village’s former director of business operations, whose position was eliminated earlier this year, saw the proposal.
  “The village said there was no proposal,” Heilmann said. “I don’t know why they are hiding that. Chad (Weiler) handed it to (Village Manager) Larry (Deetjen) and it’s on our email system.”
  “There’s a very dishonest thing that was done,” Heilmann added. “It’s dishonest to residents.”
  Weiler’s position was cut as a cost-saving measure, according to Deetjen. Heilmann contends that the village should not have spent approximately $19,000 on landscaping improvement at the western entrance to the village if other cost-cutting measures were needed to help balance the budget.
  The attorney general’s Public Access Bureau on Oct. 21 asked the village to provide unredacted copies of the emails requested by Trustee Carol Quinlan.
  Quinlan on Aug. 19 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails between Deetjen and village attorneys between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. The village partially denied her request, and provided Quinlan with a portion of the emails she requested.
  Quinlan initially requested all emails between Deetjen and the village attorney between Nov. 1, 2012, and June 1, 2013. The village denied the request claiming “that it was too burdensome because of the amount of emails that would have to be produced and reviewed and reviewed by attorneys,” Quinlan wrote.
  The village told Quinlan that there were 2,831 emails between Deetjen and attorneys during the seven-month period plus attachments. The village asked her to narrow the date range of her request.
  The Public Access Bureau grants most of the appeals it receives, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said. It can decide to uphold the village’s partial denial or direct it to turn over the complete records sought by Heilmann or Quinlan.

Beaming over streaming — Chicago Ridge inches closer to live meeting coverage

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne

  Some Chicago Ridge board of trustee members think a major stride for transparency is to stream board meetings online but want to avoid the politicking and constant campaign mode seen at neighboring community city council meetings and the village hopes to hammer out the final details at its Dec. 17 meeting.
  Meanwhile at Tuesday night’s board meeting, a familiar figure stopped by to publically throw in his support for the idea.
  Don Pratl, Community High School Dist. 218 board member and Chicago Ridge resident, complimented Trustee Sally Durkin for starting the discussion regarding streaming board meetings. He encouraged the board to approve the motion despite comments that were in last week’s Reporter in which some trustees expressed concern that neighboring Oak Lawn meetings that are televised feature political speeches and campaigning.
  Pratl said Chicago Ridge should still stream the meetings.
  “The objections to bringing the board meetings to television are the same as some of the comments you made in the local newspaper about we don’t want this to be like a neighboring community,” said Pratl, a former Chicago Ridge trustee. “I don’t think that should be the focus of the discussion and I think having this discussion with the community is very important.”

  For the past eight months, School Dist. 218 board members have toiled over a way to stream board meetings and the cost of providing community access. This month the school board has accepted a proposal to stream board meetings. Pratl said the school pays roughly $9,100 to stream board meetings and most of the cost is incurred by installing microphones and audio equipment, which the village has already purchased.

  “We all represent different communities on [School Dist. 218] board and except for me all of the other board members had their meetings on television and they all reported no problems with behavior of trustees or attendees,” he said. “I think you need reach out to you constituents and I think many of them would tell you this is something they would enjoy.”
  Pratl suggested using a free YouTube account, citing a Thanksgiving video showing Great Lakes Naval Academy recruits, featured on Facebook and YouTube by Police Chief Robert Pyznarski.
  Durkin proposed streaming board meetings live either online or via a local television channel. During the Nov. 19 board meeting Durkin’s proposal was accepted pending the cost to broadcast board meetings.
  Two of the six elected officials — Amanda Cardin and John Lind — opposed streaming board meetings due the unknown cost and witnessing how streaming board meetings causes trustees in Oak Lawn to put on a show for the viewing audience. Mayor Chuck Tokar also shared his concerns.
  The village board will make a final decision at the Dec. 17 with full details on the cost and feasibility of streaming the meetings.
  “I think the entire board including myself is in favor of moving forward and we voted on moving forward last meeting,” said Tokar. “I am sure we can get that accomplished shortly.”

Let’s try it again

  • Written by Bob Rakow

After two delays, Oak Lawn officials
may green light a term limit referendum

  Terms limits for elected officials in Oak Lawn likely will be discussed at Tuesday’s village board meeting.
  Trustees must vote before the end of the year on a proposal to place a term limits referendum on the March 2014 ballot.
  The board’s Dec. 24 meeting has been cancelled, making Tuesday’s meeting the final gathering for 2013.
  The board has twice delayed action on the measure, most recently because it did not want to proceed without Village Clerk Jane Quinlan being present at the meeting.
  The mayor, village clerk and six trustees would be limited to three consecutive terms of office if voters approved the referendum question in March.
  Village officials serve four-year terms. Term limits would take effect following the 2015 elections, if approved.

  Trustee Robert Streit is the longest serving member of the board, having been elected in 1991. Trustee Alex Olejniczak and Jane Quinlan are in their third terms. Trustee Carol Quinlan is serving her second term.
  Mayor Sandra Bury and the remaining three trustees were elected in April when Bury ousted Dave Heilmann, who served for eight years. Term limit opponents argue that the April election is proof that term limits are not necessary.
  But Bury has said she’s “very committed” to setting term limits and directed the legislative license and ethics committee to recommend what the term limits should be.

  The mayor said term limits would keep the village board “fresh.”

  “New people bring in new ideas,” Bury told The Reporter shortly after she was elected. “When village trustees know they have a time frame, then they know they have four years or eight years or a certain amount of time to get things done. Without term limits, we have people who have been in office for so long, they either sit there and do nothing, or work the system so well that there is a potential for conduct that is inappropriate and can take advantage of their position.”

  Only a handful of Illinois communities, none in the southwest suburbs, have terms limits.
  Tinley Park voters last November passed a referendum asking whether the village board should establish term limits for elected officials.

  The board formed a seven-member term limits committee that investigated whether term limits in Tinley Park would prove beneficial or detrimental to the community. The commission ultimately decided it could not issue a full recommendation for the village to institute term limits for elected officials.

The colder, the merrier

  • Written by Kelly White

Palos Hills’ Skate Under the Stars officials hoping for frosty weather to avoid cancellation

  Palos Hills city officials are hoping the cold weather sticks around to prevent another cancellation of the city’s annual Skate Under the Stars.

  The 2013 Skate Under the Stars in January was canceled, the second year weather prevented the annual winter event from taking place at Glacier Park, 101st Street and 78th Avenue. The event is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 10.
  The 2012 Skate Under the Stars was scheduled to take place in mid-January, but unseasonably warm weather pushed the event to February. However, once February arrived with its continued fluctuating warm and cold weather, Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th) and the public works department decided it was best to cancel the event, hoping for better luck, ironically, next year.
  When the 2013 January event arrived, Glacier Park was described by aldermen as a lake instead of an ice skating rink. For a second time, the event was cancelled.
  “Even though a great effort was made by public works department and our park department, Mother Nature does not seem to want to cooperate with us with this scheduled event,” Marrotta said.
  Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley said what the city needs is a severe winter storm with frost in order for the pond to freeze.
  “Once the frost builds a nice base, we can continue to fill it with more water,” he stated. “But we need that original frost to build a solid foundation.”
  Past Skate Under the Stars events have been successful, drawing children and their family members from Palos Hills and surrounding suburbs.
  Skate Under the Stars is designed to encourage children to get outside and exercise during the cold weather, while enjoying the winter weather by ice skating, playing hockey and drinking hot chocolate with their families. Everyone attending must bring their own ice skates.
  “Hopefully, we will get some colder weather this year,” Marotta said.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Toyota Park would be great spot for football championships

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

jeff column  That was fun.
  Well, not the final score. That wasn’t so fun for Richards’ football fans.
  The Bulldogs were beaten, 34-14, by Batavia Saturday afternoon in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A State Championship game.
  Their dreams of a state title were dashed and Batavia won the first football championship in the history of the school. The only other state championship for that school was a state basketball title in 1912. Even with the 101-year gap, that’s still better than the Cubs.
  Anyway, what was really special was the atmosphere of the game.
  The state championships were held at the University of Illinois in Champaign since 1999 but were moved to DeKalb this year and the two sites will ping-pong back and forth through 2021.
  Playing the games at the University of Illinois is pretty cool to a point. Memorial Stadium is historic and big. Way, too big.
  You get 5,000 to 10,000page-3-3-col-jv-colRichards fans gather in the middle sections of Huskie Stadium during Saturday’s Class 6A state championship. The atmosphere at the facility was electric before and throughout the game. Photo by Jeff Vorva. fans at the place and the 60,000-seat old joint swallows them up. Unless you are right in the middle of the crowd, it isn’t all that exciting.
  At the 24,000-seat Huskie Stadium, Batavia filled about three quarters of west stands. The town is less than a half hour from DeKalb and there was a drive to bring 10,000 fans to the game. I don’t know if they hit that mark or not — the IHSA didn’t release attendance figures — but there were a lot of people in the stands wearing red and gold.
  Richards’ crowd wasn’t too shabby either. The black and gold-clad fans probably filled close to half of the east stands. They, too, had thousands of fans on hand. I’m not sure if they would have brought as many if the game was in Champaign.
  Before the game, both fan bases were geeked up and made a ton of noise. I’ve covered quite a few state title games at the U of I and never felt the excitement this intense.
  Even with about 10 minutes left in the game and Batavia leading by three touchdowns, the Richards fans were making a racket when the team was on offense.
  ‘’It was an awesome experience,” Richards junior quarterback Hasam Muhammad Rogers said. “It was a great atmosphere. The emotions were high. The stakes were high. The support we had from our parents, coaches, students and our nation … it was cool to see.”
  The IHSA takes a lot of criticism for a lot of its decisions but bringing the state championships up north was a pretty good idea.
  An even better idea would have been Toyota Park in Bridgeview, which was considered by some to be a player in this mix. For whatever reason, the local field didn’t make the final destination.
  Maybe when the DeKalb-Champaign-DeKalb-Champaign merry-go-round is over in 2021, Toyota Park could get back in the mix.
  The place hosts the Chicago Fire and a variety of other events. Jimmy Buffett and his parrot-heads made it their home for a little while. Why not the IHSA?
  More Chicago area teams tend to hog up the final slots in Classes 5A to 8A and would bring even bigger crowds if it was held there. This would make the atmosphere even better. Maybe there could even be a sellout or two, especially if Mt. Carmel was still a powerhouse.
  I wouldn’t mind seeing a tradeoff of DeKalb and Bridgeview from year to year. Knocking Champaign out of the mix wouldn’t break my heart.
  It would be good for our area and good for the Chicago-area fans.
  As for the players?
  “Wherever they have it, that’s where I want to be,” Rogers said.

Ben there…
  Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park hosted Blackhawks player Ben Smith Monday night as a part of its grand opening week. Bears legend Mike Ditka was scheduled to appear Wednesday night and another Bears legend, Dan Hampton, is holding court from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
  It appeared that Smith might be the weak link of the three as far as name recognition but Binny’s officials were happy with the crowd that showed up for him.
  Maybe the fact that Smith’s 11th round shootout goal against the Dallas Stars Friday night in a thriller on the road helped bring a few more bodies to Binny’s.