Preckwinkle is pessimistic on state budget deal

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Gov. Rauner said he is “excited” about the prospect of an agreement being reached on the budget deadlock that is now in its 11th month.

But don’t count Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as someone who is sharing the governor’s optimism.

“My lobbyist in Springfield has told me that nothing is going to get done (by May 31),” said Preckwinkle, after addressing members of the Cook County Suburban Publishers Association Friday afternoon at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel.

“Other people have told me that nothing is going to get done until after the election in November,” added Preckwinkle. “Other people have said that nothing will get done during his term.”

When pressed if she felt that some movement was going to take place by Tuesday, May 31, Preckwinkle said, “No, I don’t think anything is going to get done.”

Despite the budget stalemate, Preckwinkle said that a waiver has been obtained to begin Medicaid expansion that has led to the creation of County Care, a managed care program. Preckwinkle told members of the Publishers Association that more than 160,000 people have signed up for County Care, which for the first time will provide preventive medicine to this population.

In regards to public safety, Preckwinkle said that the county has worked hard with various stakeholders to reduce the population at Cook County Jail.

“When I took office, the average daily population at the jail was about 10,000,” Preckwinkle said. “It is now about 7,000. I’ve often said that our County Jail lies at the intersection of racism and poverty, and a close look at how and why people – especially people of color – have traditionally been detained at the jail underscores that problem.”

The Cook County Board President told the publishers group that only seven percent of prisoners in jail are actually serving a sentence. She added that 93 percent are awaiting trial. She added that of those prisoners awaiting trial, 70 percent are accused of non-violent crimes.

Preckwinkle said that the county has emphasized efficient and ethical government and demanded accountability in spending money and the performance of employees. She also said that that the county has upgraded technology with improved work flow and better customer service.

She alluded to changes to the Cook County Hospitals campus, including a state-of-the-art ambulatory center next to Stroger Hospital. She also mentioned upgrades and road improvements made throughout the county the past few years.

One project included providing turning lanes to traffic lights, making curb and street repairs, and improving the landscape by adding trees along Central Avenue and Southwest Highway in Oak Lawn. The improvements were made to provide traffic safety near St. Gerald Elementary School, which local officials had deemed dangerous for drivers and pedestrians.

But after pointing out accomplishments of her office, she discussed the current budget stalemate in Springfield.

“We are now almost 11 months into the state’s 2016 fiscal year without a budget,” Preckwinkle said. “I find this unacceptable.”

While not initially assessing blame for the lack of movement on the budget, Preckwinkle later said that as a Democrat, “my philosophy of government is largely contrary to the views Gov. Rauner has put forth in his ‘Turnaround Agenda.’”

The Cook County Board president said that government has to do more at every level with less. But she admitted that due to the state’s budget woes, the challenge has been greater. Preckwinkle said that the state owes Cook County and its health and hospital system about $83 million. The largest percentage is for the health and hospitals system, which is currently about $40 million, she said. The state also owes Cook County more than $12 million for staffing resources used in child support enforcement.

“I find it unconscionable that Springfield would put at risk a program whose purpose is to ensure child support is paid to custodial parents and guardians,” Preckwinkle told the Publishers Association. “But for the past 11 months, that is what has happened.”

Preckwinkle said that as the end of the state fiscal year approaches, difficult decisions on the viability of these programs will have to be made if no budget is approved. She also mentioned that other programs, mainly in public health and safety, operate with grant funds and could be threatened due to the stalemate.

“We are in this together; we need to pull together to bring whatever pressure we can to get this troubling situation resolved,” concluded Preckwinkle.

Worth officials warn residents about coyotes after reported attack

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

   Water bills being sent in June to residents of Worth will include a warning from village officials about potential coyote encounters, after a 16-year-old boy reported being attacked by a coyote near the Worth Waterfalls and Water’s Edge Golf Club near the Cal-Sag Channel and Harlem Avenue.

The teen and another boy told officials that they climbed down the banks of the Cal-Sag Channel from a walking trail that is part of the park surrounding the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s aeration waterfalls at 116th and Harlem Avenue. The youths said they were trying to get a better look at a beaver they saw near the water, but when they climbed back to the path, a coyote was standing in front of them.

One of the boys ran to the nearby Water’s Edge golf course, but the 16-year-old said he was bitten on the right leg by the animal before he screamed and scared it away.

The teen's grandparents raised the coyote issue at the Worth Village Board meeting on May 3, asking what the village is doing about the recent influx of coyotes in the area of the Worth Waterfalls and Water's Edge Golf Club.

At the meeting, Mayor Mary Werner cited Cook County Animal Control information that there has never been a confirmed coyote bite or attack on people in northeastern Illinois. The same information, as well as tips on dealing with coyotes, is available at,

According to published reports, the Worth officer who filed the report involving the 16-year-old described the wound as a "superficial scratch." He also noted that the teen did not see the animal bite him. The second teen told police he did not see the coyote near his friend because he had already fled.

Coyotes are likely attracted to the area because the surrounding woods provide cover, and the ducks, geese and seagulls that congregate there provide a food source.

There are signs up around the waterfalls warning against feeding the wildlife, but they are largely ignored by people who also flock to the area to enjoy the sights and walking paths. Many bring bread and other items to feed the birds, almost beside the signs saying not to.

This makes the site more attractive to birds, and possibly coyotes, too.

In addition, according to a study done by biology students at nearby Trinity Christian College last spring found that large numbers of coyotes and other wildlife are being displaced due to construction infringing on their habitat along the Cal-Sag Channel.

This includes softball, soccer and other athletic fields that have been between the Cal-Sag Channel and Route 83.

Briidgeview resident Brandy Markusic was taking her elderly mixed-breed dog, Skokie, for a walk around the waterfalls on Sunday, and was not concerned when told about the coyote report.

“Doing this is on Skokie’s bucket list,” she said with a smile. “He’s big but he is blind and deaf so he wouldn’t be much help. I’m not worried about a coyote coming near me. I think they mostly stay away from people,” she said.

“If it was a snake, it would be a different story,” she joked.

Hickory Hills resident Leeanan Sparr and Amber Gibson, of Bridgeview, were sitting chatting near where the coyote is said to have appeared, but they weren’t worried either.

“I’ve never seen any. That sounds like it was just a one-time thing, if it happened,” said Sparr. “Kids are more likely to attack coyotes.”

Because it is illegal in Illinois to trap, hunt or kill coyotes, residents who see one and feel threatened are asked to call Cook County Animal Control.

'Mr.' Chigas impressed Windy City Thunderbolt skipper in debut

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 Chigas with tbolt story

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Oak Lawn graduate Chris Chigas pitched 3 1-3 innings in the Windy City Thunderbolts season opener last Thursday.


In the first inning of the first game of the season, a fan sitting in the stands behind home plate bellowed “Bring in Chigas.’’

Two innings later, Chigas was brought in.

Chris Chigas, the lone player on the Windy City Thunderbolts from the area (a Bridgeview native who went to Oak Lawn Community High School) came into the season-opening Frontier League game against the Joliet Slammers in the third inning when starting pitcher Dan Child experienced discomfort in his elbow after throwing warmup pitches last Thursday.

The local lefthander  entered the game with a score knotted at 3-3 and left the game after 3 1-3 innings of work with the score tied at 5-5 and the Thunderbolts went on to win, 6-5 in front of a crowd of 1,435 at Standard Bank Park.

“I got the call and I had to get hot real quick,” Chigas said. “(Manager Ron Biga) said ‘you’re going’ and I said ‘I’m ready.’ I didn’t need much time. I felt good. I hung in there. I felt great for the first time being out there.’’

Chigas gave up two runs on seven hits with no walks and two strikeouts in his stint.

“For a kid in his first professional game – he did outstanding,” Biga said. “It’s tough to come in and a lot of young kids want to come in and try to throw balls as hard as they can. He’s not that kind of pitcher. He mixes things up. Mr. Chigas did a hell of a job.’’

The 23-year-old Chigas will serve as the team’s long reliever.

Since graduating from Oak Lawn in 2010, he attended three colleges but decided to concentrate on baseball. He was released after training camp by the Florence Freedom last year and tried out for the Thunderbolts in March and made the roster.

“It’s a lot faster-paced game and I’m getting up to speed with it,” Chigas said.

Ransom LaLonde hit a three-run homer in the second and Coco Johnson’s sixth-inning single brought home Cody Keefer with what turned out to be the winning run. Brandon Boyle picked up the win and Cam Giannini recorded the save.

Bolts take two from Florence

After the opening day win, the T-Bolts headed to Florence, Kentucky and won two out of three games against the Freedom.

In Friday’s series opener, Reggie Lawson’s second-inning homer was the only run for the team in a 7-1 setback.

Windy City roared back the next day with a 7-2 win as Coco Johnson had three hits and two runs to lift his average to .500.

On Sunday, Kevin Barker drove in Johnny Eierman in the 12th for a 4-3 T-Bolts victory. It was the first time since 2014, Windy City played beyond 10 innings as the Thunderbolts were 1-6 in extra-inning games last year – all 10-inning games.


Oak Lawn man is charged with felony abuse of elderly relative

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn resident Thomas Bartley is facing charges of felony abuse and neglect of an elderly person after police doing a wellness check on his 76-year-old cousin found her sitting in human waste in the kitchen of the home the two share in the 10700 block of South Keating Avenue on May 10.

Police said they were asked to check on the well-being of the woman, after the manager of a dental office called to say she had missed an appointment. When they went to the house, police said they noticed an overwhelming foul odor inside. They said the woman was sitting at the kitchen table, with human feces on her legs and the floor around her.

They said she appeared disoriented and suffering from malnutrition. Bartley told them she was eating spaghetti, but had not eaten “for a day or two” before.

Bartley also told police she had not showered for two or three weeks. He said he would wheel her back and forth to bed. Police said she was suffering from bedsores and a live maggot was found on her body.

The staff of Advocate Christ Medical Center where the woman was taken by ambulance, told police that she was "one of the worst malnourished patients they had ever seen." Police said her socks and other clothing was stuck to her skin and had to be cut off to be removed.

At a bail hearing the following day, bail was set at $100,000 for Bartley, who had been sharing the home with his cousin for nine years, prosecutors said.

Bartley’s next court appearance is set for June 8.

Students get FIRED UP at O'Hare

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

How many students can say they have gone on a field trip and assisted firefighters in extinguishing a raging “airplane” blaze.

Twenty-three students at Finley Junior High School in Chicago Ridge can boast just that after attending a College and Career Ready event field trip Friday at O’Hare Airport. The trip was planned through the efforts of Laura Grachan, principal at Finley Junior High, and American Airlines.

The eighth grade students filled out a survey earlier this year asking them what careers would interest them. Grachan said that eighth-graders are usually the first selected because they will be attending high school soon and are beginning to think about future careers. Two seventh grade students also took part in the field trip because of how they responded to the survey and the interest they showed in aviation.

“A number of these students showed an interest in flight and jobs at an airport,” said Grachan. “That’s when I began to look into it.”

Grachan contacted officials at the airport and soon was discussing ideas with administrators from American Airlines. She was surprised to learn that not only does American Airlines hold such field trips, but the students would also get an opportunity to visit an air traffic control tower, view and later assist in putting out a fire of a mock plane, and take a tour of a modern American Airlines aircraft.

After a morning bus ride to O’Hare, faculty members and students were greeted by Adam Retzler, senior specialist of tooling for the airlines’ aircraft maintenance division. He fielded a number of questions from the Finley students. Retzler pointed out that some aircraft can fly as long as 16 hours without stopping to locations such as Beijing or Shanghai, China.

The students were led on a tour of the air traffic control North Tower. Students had a panoramic view of all sides of the airport. They had an opportunity to view the control panels the air traffic controllers have to handle every day to allow aircraft to take off and land safely. Air traffic controllers continue to work unless winds reach as high as 88 miles per hour. When that occurs, the air traffic controllers then evacuate the tower.

Retzler said that nearly 500 to 800 flights take off daily for American Airlines at O’Hare. Pilots have a mandatory retirement age of 65. However, Retzler pointed out that the veteran pilots are more experienced and get to choose which flights they want.

American Airlines also has charter flights for the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks. The airlines have also helped deliver supplies to Haiti when it was hit by a devastating earthquake several years ago. Retzler told the Finley students that an average American Airlines aircraft travels about 600 miles per hour.

The students and faculty were then taken to an area near another runway and were met by firefighters from Engines 655 and 659. Students had an opportunity sit in the front seat of the trucks. They were then led off to an area where an iron mock-up plane was located. The mock-up is then lit from underneath with propane gas that ignites a fire. The firefighters took many of the students with them to put out the blaze. Students got an opportunity, with the direction of firefighters, to assist in putting out the blaze.

The firefighters have three minutes to respond to an aircraft fire.

“They are still talking about it,” said a delighted Grachan about the Finley students turn as gunners putting out fires.

The firefighters use this exercise for field trips and to instruct recruits in putting out a fire. Students also had an opportunity to view another mock structure that is designed to instruct firefighters in putting out a fire inside an aircraft. The firefighters also try to save as many lives as possible. After exiting the mock aircraft, a fire was programmed to occur along one of the wings and a tire as the kids looked on with interest.

The students, faculty and other guests then were served lunch and listened as Chip Long, chief pilot and director of flights at O’Hare, talked about his Air Force training that resulted in him later becoming a commercial pilot.

The day concluded with a tour inside and out of one of American Airlines’ new planes, a Boeing 787. The plane features the latest in technology and goes through 600 pounds of fuel an hour, according to Retzler. Students toured the expansive interior and got an opportunity to sit in first class and the cockpit.

Grachan was appreciative of the efforts of Retzler and Long in explaining aspects of the airlines and aviation in general. The Finley Junior High School principal said preparations for the field trip took two months. Evita Garces, who heads the Mid Line, MTC, Central Division, Line Division for American Airlines, helped to make the trip become possible. Nichole Lombardi, an executive assistant to Garces, played a major role as well, said Grachan.

The tour of the North Tower was arranged through the cooperation of Jim Johnson, a coordinator for Air Transit for the North Tower.

With the success of the field trip, Grachan hopes to revisit O’Hare again. This time, she would like to expand the field trip to include some parents. This way they can see what interests their children.

“What happened was what I hoped would happen,” said Grachan as the tour was coming to a close. “When we were coming here kids were saying what colleges they want to go to. This can help get them ready for college. This is hands-on education.”