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411 on Oak Lawn’s 911 system still up in the air

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

  Oak Lawn is considering outsourcing its 911911-COLOR-1-col-phoneOak Lawn officials are figuring out what to do with their 911 system. photo by Jeff Vorva emergency dispatch services if the village cannot reach an agreement with telecommunicators to rein in expenses associated with the operation.

  Trustees recently gave Village Manager Larry Deetjen the authority to negotiate with two national dispatching firms to operate the emergency dispatch center, which handles fire, police and ambulance calls for Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Bridgeview.
  The center also handles fire department calls for Bedford Park and a portion of the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.
  Deetjen said the potential move is not a reflection on the performance of the current dispatchers.
  “It’s not a service issue,” Deetjen said.
  Rather, the dispatch center is facing mounting expenses, which could cause some of its customers to leave. He added that if any of the towns the village serves choose another dispatch service, Oak Lawn would be forced to lay off dispatchers.
  Kathy Hansen, the village’s director of emergency communications, said the center also is losing revenue as more people eliminate land phone lines in favor of cell phones. The village receives $1 per a month from customers with land lines. It only receives 58 cents a month from cell phone users, Hansen said.
  The village receives only a nominal fee from pay-as-you-go cell phones and nothing from government-issued phones, she said.
  “We’re faced with revenue depletion,” Hansen said.
  The dispatchers are represented by the Metropolitan Alliance of Police. The union in late 2012 approved a two-year contract with the village after a lengthy negotiation, said Ron Cicinelli, a union attorney.
  One month later, the village asked the union to consider cost-saving measures, including deferring the 2.5 percent wage increase included in the contract, regular pay for overtime hours, hiring part-time dispatchers and changing the wage scale for new employees, Cicinelli said.
  “The package as a whole was voted down,” he said.
  The union filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which was rejected. The union appealed the decision, and the village has responded, Cicinelli said.
  He added that the union would sue the village if it replaces dispatchers with an outsourced firm.
  Deetjen said the village will “explore any and all savings by outsourcing or other means to cost effectively serve our Oak Lawn residents and our fine neighboring communities who we currently serve.”
  He said the village in December notified union officials of cost concerns after an independent analysis was completed and presented to the village board.
  “We have always offered an open door and exchange of options with the interest of our customers first but with respect for continuing the gone services delivered by our associates in Oak Lawn dispatch,” Deetjen said.
  Deetjen added that the village “will vigorously defend and support the rights and demand for quality services at a fair price that our taxpayers and municipal customers so deserve.”
  Trustee Bob Streit (3rd District) questioned the wisdom of outsourcing a vital service such a 911 dispatch.
  “Those folks who work for us in the 911 center, they work hard,” Streit said.
  He added that outsourced dispatchers may not be reliable or know the community as well as the current team.
  “It will save money, I guess, but will it really in the long term,” he said. “Contracting out the services sound like a good idea until you really examine the facts.”
  Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th District), a former Oak Lawn police officer, also raised concerns about outsourcing 911 services. He said there’s a “unique relationship” that exists between patrol officers and the dispatchers that might be lost if the service is contracted out.

 

Oak Lawn board vanquishes Weiler’s position

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

Some cite cost-cutting but one trustee calls it ‘ludicrous’

  The elimination of Oak Lawn’s business operation director, Chad Weiler, is either a cost-cutting move or political retribution, depending on who you ask.

 

  The village board recently voted 4-2 to eliminate the department of business operations, which has been headed by Weiler since 2005.
  Trustees Bob Streit (3rd District) and Carol Quinlan (5th District) voted against the move, saying it was political retribution against Weiler, who supported former mayor Dave Heilmann in his unsuccessful re-election bid.
  “I don’t get it. Chad has successfully done his job and more,” said Quinlan, a long-time Heilmann supporter.
  She credited Weiler for attracting new business to the community, overseeing the beautification of the village and leading efforts to ensure a success Fall on the Green festival each year.
  “Overall, he’s enhanced the look of Oak Lawn,” Quinlan said. “In my opinion, it’s ludicrous.”
  Village Manager Larry Deetjen told the board that the village work force has decreased by 20 percent since 2009. Additional cost-cutting measures, such as eliminating several vacant positions, will help the village hold the bottom line.
  He added that the village’s focus has shifted to retaining existing businesses. Meanwhile, the public works department oversees the village’s beautification projects.
  Deetjen added that he is in charge of economic development with help from all of the department heads
  “We all have to accept more responsibility,” Deetjen said. “We’re going to have to be leaner. This was not an easy decision for me.”
  Bury, however, criticized Weiler for failing to make connections within the village’s business community.
  “I didn’t see a lot of networking, historically,” said Bury, a long-time Chamber of Commerce director.
  Quinlan raised concerns that the loss of Weiler puts more responsibilities on Deetjen’s plate at a time when he is burdened with numerous responsibilities.
  Trustee Bob Streit (4th District), who also voted against eliminating Weiler’s post, said he always received positive performance reviews.
  “His only mistake was supporting our former mayor,” Streit said.
  Eliminating Weiler saves the village $101,000 in annual salary and benefits, Deetjen said.
  “You’re making a reasonable case to someone who doesn’t know better,” Streit said.

 

The circus was…just a circus

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 Despite preliminary controversies, show in Palos Hills was uneventful

 It turned out to be a typical circus after all.CIRCUS-COLOR-3-col-perfomerA circus performer smiles during the opening act. The first performance went off without controversy despite some drama in the weeks leading up to it.

  The Carson & Barnes Circus put on four shows in Palos Hills earlier this week and if Monday’s first show was any indication, the circus was just a circus one would expect complete with clowns, animal tricks, singing and high flying stunts.
  The controversy the weeks leading up to the event were a lot more dramatic.
  The circus planned on a special segment with a candlelight vigil and information about sexual assault victims and other victims under the title “Survivors Under the Stars’’ to benefit the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
  Jacque Hollinder, who said she is a victim of sexual assault and filed a lawsuit that she was attacked by singer James Brown, organized that segment, which has been a part of various stops along the circus’s tour this year. T-shirts were to be sold to benefit the victims.
CIRCUS-COLOR-3-col-specatorsPalos Hills’ Gail Livigni and Mia Chieco watch the Carson & Barnes Circus during Monday afternoon’s performance.  City officials were not aware that it was a part of the entertainment until reading stories and seeing ads in the Reporter and Regional News and wanted that taken out, deeming it inappropriate for a family circus.
  After the city negotiated with the circus, the vigil and victims portion of the show was taken out in Palos Hills but Hollinder’s song “I Am the Circus” was allowed to be sung by trapeze artist Franchesca Cavallini. Children and parents were allowed to parade in the ring and outside the ring while the song was performed but there was no mention of ICASA or victims.
  Hollinder said she saw a lot of police presence and assumed it was for her but she said she had no plans of making trouble and said she would conform to the city’s wishes.
  “It’s sad we weren’t able to do the full presentation,” Hollinder said. “But I’ll do what I’m told.’’
  That was one problem solved but the city also received letters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urging city officials to either cancel the circus or to not allow it to return next year, citing cruelty to the elephants in previous stops.
  There were no protesters from PETA seen during Monday’s first performance.
  For some people, the controversies were not a factor in coming to see the show.
  Gail Livigni of Homer Glen was with her nieces Eva, Mia and Olivia and sister-in-law Maria from Palos Heights.
  “I heard about the controversy but I didn’t pay attention,” she said. “No matter what happened I was going to come and bring the kids.’’
  The circus is now in Steger and has future stops in the Stickney-Cicero area and Wilmington.

Photos by Jeff Vorva

 

 

Getting ready for a fun ride in six Reporter cities

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

COLOR--1-colJeffV There is a new sheriff in town.
  OK, that’s overstating it, but it’s something I always wanted to say.
  I am the new editor of the Reporter, taking over for Jason Maholy, who had this seat for the last decade. He leaves big shoes to fill but I have some really big feet.
  I have some ties and memories to each of the six communities:
  Oak Lawn: My dear wife Maggie (maiden name Fearon) and her family is from Oak Lawn and she and her sisters attended St. Linus and Mother McAuley. We just celebrated out 20th anniversary Wednesday. No need to send gifts. Her father, Tom Fearon, was an optometrist in town and his office was located across from the library.
  Chicago Ridge: My son T.J. and daughter Lauren played many school and travel basketball games and volleyball matches at Frontier Park. There were a lot of triumphs and a few disappointments on those courts for our family and teams the kids were on.
 Hickory Hills: I grew up watching Bob Luce Wrestling on Channel 26 and one of the first rasslers I saw was the “Golden Boy” Paul Christy back in the days when Dick the Bruiser, Moose Cholak and Baron Von Raschke were kings. Christy hailed from Hickory Hills when I was able to interview him in the 1980s.
 Evergreen Park: I was able to cover Evergreen Park’s softball team, coached by Marilyn Wax, when the team finished fourth in the Class A State Tournament in 1986. Michelle Stine was the top pitcher for the Mustangs.
  Palos Hills: In the late 1970s, I was in high school and had to cover Lincoln-Way-Stagg boys basketball game for the Joliet Herald-News. It was the first time I ever had to go to the school and I got lost. I made it right at tipoff and didn’t have my jacket off. I was in no way prepared or had my bearings but God bless the Chargers for pulling a stall in the entire first quarter and there were only like one or two shots in the first eight minutes of the game. Some fans shouted “boring, boring” but I was most grateful.
  Worth: A few months ago, I got to know Worth’s Mike Recchia who has gone from the minor leagues to the independents leagues to the minor leagues to the independent leagues and it now back in the minor leagues again with the White Sox. He’s a kid worth rooting for. I also got to know a gymnast from town, Skylor Hilger, who could be one of the best in the state in coming years. She’s also a pretty good softball player, too.
  So this is going to be fun.
  A little bit about myself — I was born and raised in Joliet. I have had bylines in or worked for just about every paper in the Chicago area. I have a strong sportswriting background. For 10 years I covered the Chicago Cubs and was in the visiting clubhouse in Houston the night the White Sox won the World Series and got my shirt and hair sprayed with champagne. I am proud to say I have a Hall of Fame vote.
  For the past 10 months, I was the reporter for the Regional covering Palos Heights, Palos Park and Orland Park. I had some opportunities to go north of the canal to cover an event or two including the touching Oak Lawn tribute to the Sandy Hook victims in December.
  As the so-called new sheriff in town, I’ll try to make a few changes to help out our readers. We turned the masthead blue last week. In future weeks, I hope we can take some of the library and senior notes and a few others things and package them city by city. In sports, Ken Karrson, Anthony Nasella and I will be making weekly football picks and are inviting readers to join in on the fun.
  Jason always did a nice job making the front page lively and exciting and I hope to follow in his footsteps. I hope our stories and headlines can grab your attention and make you want to read on. Granted, there might be a board or council meeting or two that are dry and sleep-inducing, but we’ll try.
  Each week, I’ll try to have some fun with this column, similar to what I’ve done for the Regional in which I wrote about everything from meeting the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld to the evils of roundabouts.
  The bottom line is that we’re your paper and we’re here for you. If you need to get a hold of us, the best way is via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Facebook/website update
  During the transition between Jason and myself and the invaluable assistance from Brett Rush that I received during this time, we neglected our website (thereportneronline.net) and Facebook page. We ask that you take a look at them again and we’ll try to keep them updated. Please “LIKE” us on Facebook and come back often to the website.

Apologies ahead of time
  Also during the transition, there may have been something sent to us from a school or organization that we didn’t get in, let me apologize ahead of time if it fell through the cracks. The best way to get us your information is to email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . If you get it to us the previous Friday, you should be golden. If you get it to us by Monday, you should be OK. Tuesday? Well, that’s a crapshoot and we can’t make any guarantees.
 Let’s all have some fun.

 

Could Oak Lawn become the next Detroit?

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Village’s financial health nearly on life-support; officials have recovery plans 

  Like bone-weary contestants at the end of a Depression-era dance marathon, Oak Lawn officials and several stalwart citizens staggered out of Village Hall and into the midnight air Wednesday.

  Well over four hours after the Village Board meeting was gaveled open at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, elected officials were admittedly exhausted. “We’re getting a little punchy here,” chuckled Mayor Sandra Bury as she explained a couple of minor procedural lapses on her part while trustees rushed towards the finish line by voting to postpone consideration of several matters.
  There was nothing humorous, however, in the main focus of the meeting: a stark assessment of Oak Lawn’s financial health, delivered by new Village Treasurer Pat O’Donnell in the wake of last week’s downgrading of the village’s general obligation bonds by Moody’s Investors Service.
  Figures provided by O’Donnell in his “Preliminary 5-Year Budget and Pension Impact’’ document show that while the current village budget of $49.6 million appears balanced on paper, the village is in fact running nearly $4.8 million in the red, thanks to underfunding of pensions and retiree medical plans.
  That annual shortfall, he stated, will balloon in the years to come, to as much as a projected $9.5 million in 2018.
  O’Donnell criticized past fiscal analyses conducted by the village, saying officials offered unfounded hope based on “rosy” revenue predictions and severely outdated actuarial tables that failed to take into account that as people continue to live longer, pension obligations increase.
  He said that Oak Lawn is in better fiscal shape than most other Illinois municipalities, yet he strongly cautioned trustees against “kicking the can down the road.” Inaction on funding pensions, he warned, will have a negative snowball effect and could result in financial catastrophe for the village.
  As a chilling example, he briefly discussed the fiscal crisis in Detroit and implied the same thing could definitely occur in municipalities across the nation—Oak Lawn included—if nothing is done.
  As a first step towards a remedy, O’Donnell proposed five steps for village government:
  • Obtain Village Board approval for the 2014 budget to include 90 percent of the actuarial-recommended pension payment, “which means we’re going to have to find an additional $5 million from somewhere,” he said.
  • Implement an immediate hiring freeze.
  • Freeze spending for 90 days on all new projects.
  • Put a freeze on any new loans for 90 days.
  • Declare a 90-day pay freeze for all non-union employees.
  He added that his analysis will be available online soon.
  Grim as it was, the analysis was praised by Village Manager Larry Deetjen, who called it “…adult talk, tough talk. It’s real.”
  Bury agreed, thanking O’Donnell and his team
  “I want to tell the residents of Oak Lawn…that I and several trustees on this board are committed to finding a way through this without raising property taxes,” Bury said, adding that pension underfunding “is the big gorilla in the room. We just can’t ignore it.”
  She said she plans to arrange a special meeting with local state legislators to enlist their aid.
  While there appeared to be consensus about the reality of the threat to the village budget, trustees battled their way though consideration of several cost-cutting ideas, including:
  • Outsourcing 911 services.
  • Switching from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to United Health Care Insurance.
  • Outsourcing senior citizen services to the Park District .
  • Eliminating specified vacancies in the current budget.
  • Abolishing the village’s Department of Business Operations, a move strongly objected to by Trustees Carol Quinlan and Bob Streit, who decried it as political payback against an employee who supported for Mayor Dave Heilmann is his losing re-election bid last spring.

In other board news:
  Bury announced that a new agreement with Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center—so new there was still no press release ready—will add $3.2 million to village coffers over the next several years.
  Developers Todd Berlingoff and Paul Sheridan of Hamilton Partners announced that plans for a new Mariano’s grocery store at 111th and Cicero are on track, with the store set to be constructed next spring. Other retailers and restaurants are expected to be a part of the landscaped development.
  Eagle Scouts J.P. Murphy and Jim Spoto were honored by the board for their service projects and earning the prestigious rank.
  Spoto collected over 700 pairs of used eyeglasses for the Evergreen Park Lions Club—a group that normally collects about a thousand in an entire year. The glasses are refurbished by the Lions’ Recycle for Sight Program and typically distributed to men, women and children in developing nations.
  Murphy’s project raised public awareness of the emerald ash borer, its devastating effect on ash trees, and practical steps people can take to eliminate the invasive insect and protect their trees.