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Union threatens to sue village after Oak Lawn takes 911 services private

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  A tearful Julie Miller stood outside the Oak Lawn Village Board chambers Tuesday night and talked about the critical role the village’s emergency telecommunicators play in the safety of her husband, an Oak Lawn police officer.
  “They’re part of our family,” said Miller, whose husband, Dan, is a 17-year veteran of the police department. “The 911 dispatchers…are his lifeline. I mean, when he leaves my house, his life is in their hands, literally, and they make sure he comes home to me at night safely.”
  The village board voted 4-2 to privatize 911 call center dispatch services, a move that could save the village $1 million over two years, Village Manager Larry Deetjen said.
  Norcomm Public Safety Communications will assume dispatching services for the village and the other communities it serves. Oak Lawn dispatchers will have the opportunity to apply for their old jobs.
  Ron Cicinelli, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union the represents the dispatchers, said the union would sue the village if it replaces dispatchers with an outsourced firm.
  Miller said a private company will be unable to match the overall “professionalism and loyalty” exhibited over the years by the village’s dispatchers. She said Norcomm dispatchers will not be as familiar with the village or its police officers and firefighters.
  “When he gets a call from them, they get as much description as possible before he goes anywhere and for that I am forever grateful. They are wonderful at their jobs. It’s a shame. It is a shame,” Miller said.
  Trustees Bob Streit and Carol Quinlan voted against the proposal.
  “Oak Lawn has always been a place where residents could count on their public servants,” Streit said. “The system has been working for years. We don’t need to make a change.”
  Streit added that the initial savings the village will realize as a result of outsourcing will “evaporate over time.”
  Trustee Terry Vorderer, a former Oak Lawn police officer, said approving the outsourcing was “the toughest vote in his political career.”
  “I agonized over this vote,” said Vorderer, who added that he holds out hope for an agreement between the village and the dispatchers.
  Cicinelli asked Mayor Sandra Bury to delay the vote and form a board committee to meet with union in an attempt to avoid outsourcing.
  “I want all of you to understand that privatizing your public-sector services is not the answer,” Cicinelli said. “Once you vote to privatize, it’s very difficult to come back.”
  He said that as emergency communications technology advances, it would difficult for the village to resume emergency dispatch services at a later time.
  “Once you rely on the private corporation, you will become their hostage,” he said.
  Several dispatchers and their supporters packed the board room and asked the board to reconsider the move, saying that an outsourced company will not provide the same level service as the village dispatchers.
  The Metropolitan Alliance of Police approved a contract with the village in late 2012 after a lengthy negotiation, Cicinelli said. The contract is set to expire in December 2014. The union was hopeful it could extend the contract through at least 2016, he said.
  One month after the current contract was ratified, 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 union overwhelmingly opposed the cost-saving measures and 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.
  Oak Lawn dispatchers handles fire, police and ambulance calls for Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Bridgeview. They also handle fire department calls for Bedford Park and a portion of the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.
  Deetjen has said the dispatch center was facing mounting expenses, which could increase if some of its customers left. He added that if any of the towns the village serves choose another dispatch service, Oak Lawn would be forced to lay off dispatchers.

Sound the alarms – Oak Lawn changes tornado siren again

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

  Oak Lawn residents will hear a new tornado siren on Tuesday when the system is tested.

  The siren replaces the voice emergency alerts, which were disabled Nov. 18, one day after a severe storm led to numerous complaints about the volume and the various languages in which the warning was broadcast.
  The previous system featured an alarm followed by an emergency warning in English, Spanish, Polish and Arabic.
  Residents complained that the siren was either too loud or too soft while others said the warning should not be broadcast in languages other than English.
  A sample of the new siren can be heard on Mayor Sandra Bury’s blog, www.mayorbury.com.
  Bury said at Tuesday’s village board meeting that residents cannot rely solely on emergency sirens to warn them of tornados and other disasters.
  “It is important that everyone realize that sirens are not the answer. You need to be prepared. Be aware of your environment,” Bury said.
  She encouraged residents to obtain a coupon at village hall that allows them to purchase a Midland NOAA radio at Walgreens at 95th and Cicero for $20. The radio costs $40 without the coupon.
  Coupons will be available at village hall from Dec. 2-6 and will be accepted at Walgreens from Dec. 7 to Dec. 31.
  Bury also encouraged residents to register for the Everbridge system, which sends emergency alerts via phone, email or text message. The majority of residents are not signed up for the system, she said.
  Trustee Bob Streit said promoting the weather radio is an admission on the village’s part that the sirens aren’t sufficient.
  “Many people believe that the village’s solution is to get a weather radio. I think what’s happened is that [the village] realizes that the system isn’t working so now we’re going to supplement with a weather radios,” Streit said.
  Streit also criticized the village for sending mixed messages about the siren system.
  “This was serious,” he said. “Our public safety is at risk if [residents] don’t hear the tornado sirens. Many people claim they can’t hear them.”
  Streit said the village should have held a public hearing to allow residents to weigh in on the issue.
  “Ever since these sirens were installed, people have been complaining and the village didn’t do anything about it,” Streit said. “I don’t think we know if the siren is loud enough to be heard in the homes. I don’t think that question has been answered. I think we’ve gotten inconsistent messages.”

 

Static on the airwaves

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne

Ridge mayor opposes live meeting coverage citing
Oak Lawn bickering and ‘campaign mode’ speeches

  Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar opposes allowing live streaming of village board meetings citing neighboring Oak Lawn’s behavior on cable television broadcasts.
  The mayor pointed out Oak Lawn trustees’ constant politicking, speeches and being on campaign mode during each meeting.
  Chicago Ridge Trustee Sally Durkin asked her fellow trustees at a Nov. 19 board meeting to approve a motion to stream board meetings via Internet and local cable television. After a 4-2 vote in favor of streaming a live feed online or on cable television, the motion was amended due to variable expenses and unknown logistics associated with recording board meetings. Trustees agreed to investigate pricing and expected costs prior to voting on streaming meetings on television and online. A final decision will be made at the Dec. 17 board meeting.
  “In terms of transparency I don’t have a problem with the meetings being on the air,” Tokar said. “But I think that the [trustees] in Oak Lawn think that since they are on television that they have to make speeches or have to read speeches into the record, and those things are done for political reason. It’s almost as if they are on campaign mode at every board meeting.”
  Trustees Amanda Cardin and John Lind both rejected the proposal. Cardin requested more information regarding the cost of streaming video while Lind agreed with Tokar’s statement regarding Oak Lawn’s meetings turning into a “political football” with a lot of “unseemly accusations flying back and forth.”
  In Lisle, board meetings are recorded by a expensive camera with a media crew that adds to the cost of streaming video. South of the canal, Palos Park and Palos Heights broadcast their meetings but Orland Park does not.
  “I don’t want to go Hollywood here, I would just like to make it easier for our public to have access to our meetings,” Durkin said. “It’s something to offer our citizens and I think it’s something we should do.”
  • In other news at the meeting, Rick Morrow, of Parkside Avenue, accused former Chicago Ridge school board member and current Chicago Ridge employee Robert Gushes of neglecting his duty as a village inspector during the summer months when Morrow’s apartment reached over 95-degrees, which caused his pet to overheat and die in August.
  Morrow said he reached out to numerous village employees to no avail. Due to the building’s broken attic fan, Morrow said he ran five portable fans to keep his 800-square-foot condo at livable temperature, which increased his air conditioning bills by $200 and a total of $600 in other bills.
  Morrow said he talked to the police and claimed that he saw Gushes sleeping on the job.
  One village inspector, Rich Sumner, came to Marrow’s aide upon his request and inspected the third floor condo. Sumner attested to the extreme heat and Morrow’s efforts to abate the heat by using multiple fans.
  “When I called [Tokar’s] secretary she said I was a problem and Gushes just hung up on me,” Morrow said. “It’s ridiculous but the animal didn’t have to suffer because of it. I did everything I could to save that animal, and I spent every dime I could.”
  Tokar said he sympathized with Marrow, saying that there are apparent legal issues outside the village’s control; however, the living conditions are an area of concern for the village.
  “This sounds like a legal problem between you as a condo owner and the condo association,” Tokar said. “It’s a different story if it’s unhealthy to live there.”
  Lind said the village will look into the issue of the code enforcement officer and make the health department available to Morrow to help determine if the condo association must be cited code violations.

  “Like Mayor Tokar said, a lot of these issues you have you’ll have to take up with the condo association, but I will make our health department available to you so you can sit down and have them hear your complaints,” Lind said. “I can’t say he can help you but at least he can hear your complaints and maybe cite them for any code violations.”

Hungry holidays for the poor?

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Area pantries feeling crunch as more ‘desperate’ people seek food

  A crowd of people gathered on ap1-3-col-colorHerb Mohn of Palos Heights unwraps some canned goods recently at Elsie Pantry, a joint ministry of Moraine Valley Community Church and Savior Divine Lutheran Church. Photo by Bob Rakow. recent Thursday afternoon outside the back entrance of Savior Divine Lutheran Church in Palos Hills waiting for Elsie’s Pantry to open.

  Inside, a team of volunteers hurriedly placed donated food—bread, bags of salad, frozen meat and dairy products—on tables, while others filled boxes with canned and dry goods stored on rows of metal shelves.
  The food pantry wasn’t forced to turn anyone away, but director Beth Heinrich is concerned about the future.
  “Right now, my shelves are bare,” Heinrich said. “We broke a record last month. The canned goods are really low.”
  Heinrich is not alone. As the holiday season approaches, food pantries throughout the region are working harder than ever to meet the needs of a growing client base and looking to donations to fill the void.
  Elsie’s Pantry, a joint ministry of Savior Divine Lutheran Church and Moraine Valley Church, served nearly 600 clients in October, a significant jump from the 350 to 400 individuals who are typically helped on a monthly basis, Heinrich said.
  The pantry receives some of its supplies from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which distributes donated and purchased food to a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters throughout Cook County. But Elsie’s also relies on private donations and monetary contributions to serve clients.
jump-3-colBob Shields of Palos Park removes a case of food from the shelves at Elsie’s Pantry in Palos Hills. The pantry relies on food and monetary contributions to serve needy families throughout the area. Photo by Bob Rakow.  Moments before the pantry opens, volunteers form a circle, join hands and pray for the people they serve as well as the success of their mission. When the doors open, clients take their seats and wait patiently until their numbers are called. Some are regulars who make small talk with volunteers and other clients. Newcomers, meanwhile, check in at the front desk and present identification to prove they live in one of the communities served by the pantry.
  The pantry, located at 10040 S. 88th Ave., is open from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and serves nearly 41,000 residents from Palos Hills, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Hickory Hills, Willow Springs and Orland Park.
  In addition to helping meet nutritional needs, the pantry offers blood pressure screenings on the first Thursday of the month and nutrition workshops from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on the fourth Thursday. A pet pantry provides food for clients’ dogs and cats.
  Donations can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The pantry is always in need of canned goods, cereal and pasta, Heinrich said.
  Elsie’s Pantry is not the only one in the southwest suburbs fighting to meet the basic nutritional needs of a growing number people who need some help making ends meet.
  “We get a lot of new clients,” said Sue Coffey, secretary at Worth United Methodist Church, which operates a food pantry. “They are having a hard time.”
  Like Elsie’s Pantry, Worth United Methodist Church looks to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and private donations to keep the shelves stocked. The pantry also counts on food drives sponsored by schools and local organizations as well as contributions from its congregation.
  The pantry, 7100 W. 112th St., is open from 9 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Clients can visit twice a month and receive a selection of meat, canned and dry goods as well as dairy products, including milk, butter, yogurt and cheese.
  Donations can be made when the pantry is open. Organizations with large amounts of food can contract the church at 708-448-6682 to arrange a pick up. The pantry is always in need of non-perishable items such as cereal, macaroni and cheese, pasta, instant potatoes, ramen noodle packages, soup (dried or canned), cake mixes and vegetables.
  The pantry serves a wide area bounded by 79th and 135th streets, Cicero Avenue and LaGrange Road. It will provide food to people who live outside that area on a one-time basis, Coffey said.
  “People are desperate,” Coffey said, adding that unemployment and a recent decrease in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are two of the primary reasons why more people are turning to food pantries for help.
  “There are people who are homeless who come in,” she said. “We try to do what we can.”
  Teresa Rodriguez, southwest regional director for Catholic Charities, said food panties have become more important than ever as the need increases and smaller pantries close their doors.
  “(Clients) are really stretching every single dollar,” she said. “There’s always a need. “We are talking about basic items.”
  Catholic Charities, which has an office in Worth, operates a food pantry at St. Blasé Church in Summit, which serves surrounding communities. The church also provides a hot meal at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.
  The pantry has seen the number of families served jump from 650 to more than 1,000 over the past few months, Rodriguez said.
  “It’s frightening,” she said. They’re the working poor.”
  Unemployment, a decrease in work hours or a family illness often lead people who’ve never before visited a food pantry to take advantage of their services.
  “They’ll say, ‘I never envisioned myself in a food pantry,’” Rodriguez said.

  She added that clients are extremely thankful for whatever the pantry can provide.
  “Ninety-nine percent will take what they need,” she said. “They feel welcome. They’re made to feel important.”

  The pantry is open Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 1 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays. It provides one package per month that includes canned goods, dried goods and frozen meat. In addition, clients can come to the pantry each day it is open for food that is donated by local grocers, restaurants and bakeries.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Cowardly Blog needs to man (or woman) up and show yourself

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

jeff column Anonymity is the coward’s best pal.
  I learned that one a long time ago in this business.
  From people making wild accusations but not wantingDOUBLE-RUN-page3-2-COL-jvcolTemperatures in the single digits didn’t stop this dude on the Naperville Central chain gang from breaking out the shorts and showing his legs. Photo by Jeff Vorva. to go on the record to voice mail to the comments that are on the bottom of online stories, the cowards have had various platforms to vent their spleen without being seen.
  And of course, there are the bloggers.
  These waterlogged weblogs have popped up like pimples over the last decade or so and are full of anonymous voices spewing out garbage with no accountability or consequences.
  Locally, there is a blog that is serving the Oak Lawn community claims to be the “newest and most exciting news source” that has mixture of political ugliness mixed in with some thought-provoking stuff sprinkled in with some community news and sports.
  This isn’t being run by some teenager writing in his underwear in the basement. The people behind this are sharp and have some darn good inside information. There are some connections within the Oak Lawn inner circle of power players.

  One of its joys in life is to try to bury Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and her people.
  The only trouble is, it’s anonymous. No one is publically admitting or taking ownership of the site. So, for the rest of this column, it will be referred to as the Cowardly Blog.
  Former mayor Dave Heilmann admitted he founded the blog but didn’t have time to administer it any more. So who is running the show? Heilmann? Heisenberg? Who knows?
  And that’s the problem.
  Bury recently came up with her own blog and the Cowardly Blog immediately cried foul. They have been nailing her with accusations about ethics and misdeeds. Are the charges right on the money or is the Cowardly Blog just urinating in the wind? That will all be determined.
  But I will say that the Cowardly Blog should clean up its own ethical shop before pointing it fractured finger at others.

  For instance, the Cowardly Blog has lifted word-for-word some prose from one of Reporter reporter Bob Rakow’s stories. It’s one thing to use the same quotes that we do. It’s another to steal the writing before the quotes word for word. It’s called plagiarism. Feel free to steal from us, just give us the credit boys and girls.
  Also, one of the photos used in a Richards football story was stolen — without giving credit — from a daily newspaper. Another no-no.
  I suspect that the Cowardly Blog will respond in not-so-kind fashion to this criticism, but I would like to extend an olive branch.
  If someone from the Cowardly Blog would like to show some guts and use his or her name and go on the record with me about the blog and why it exists and discuss its goals, I will be happy to talk. Our e-mail is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
  If you do that, I will run a column on it (free publicity!) I will stop calling you the Cowardly Blog and will show you proper respect.
  Until then, you can enjoy your little blog that is jam packed with bluster but void of credibility.

Not too cold for this guy
  Anyone who was out and about over the weekend knows it was cold out. Anyone who went to a high school football game may still not be fully thawed out for Thanksgiving.
  I was shooting photos of the Marist-Naperville Central game on Saturday night and the temperature was 19 degrees and the wind chill made it feel like it was in the single digits.
  Speaking of digits, my shooting hand had some frozen fingers and the hand with the big ol’ glove on it also featured a frozen finger or two. The sideline portable hand warmers were quite the popular destination on this night. I saw two football players on the bench huddled in a blanket. Tough guys aren’t always so tough on a night like this.
  But despite the freezing cold, there was one guy on the Naperville chain gang who decided it was still balmy enough to wear shorts.
  I shot a photo of him and probably should have interviewed him. But I was too cold to talk.
  Was he brave? Was he crazy? Was he both?
  Any way you look at it, those bare legs certainly stuck out in the crowd.

Ahhhh, shaddup
  Evergreen Park’s Binny’s Beverage Depot, which took over Bleekers Bowl this year, is having three sports figures stop by for its grand opening next week.
  On Monday, Ben Smith of the Blackhawks hits town from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to sign autographs and pose for photos. The Bud Light Ice Crew ladies are supposed to be there, too.
  Former Bears coach Mike Ditka will participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. He will sign bottles of his brand of wine for free but if you want something else you need to cough up 25 bones which will go to Evergreen Park charity Christmas Without Cancer. One of my favorite sound bites is Ditka telling a heckling fan “Ahhhh, shaddup” after a game. It still makes me laugh.
  On Saturday, Dec. 7, Hall of Fame football player Dan Hampton will hold court in a meet-and-greet from 1 to 2:30 p.m.
  Binny’s is located at 3447 W. 95th St.