New vote opens door for video cafes in Palos Hills

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

From “game over” to likely “game on,” so goes the saga of video gaming cafés in Palos Hills.

A little more than a month after city officials voted 5-4 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance for the gaming cafés, a revote was taken at the request of Ald. Dawn Nowak (5th) during the meeting on Nov. 5.

This time a different result ensued as Mayor Gerald Bennett broke a 5-5 tie and directed City Attorney George Pappas to draft an ordinance creating the special classification.

The council is expected to vote at the meeting on Nov. 19 to approve licenses for Stella’s to open at 111th Street and Southwest Highway and Durbin’s for a location in the strip mall in the 10100 block of Roberts Road. Representatives of both businesses told city officials at a meeting in September they had interest in opening a video game café in Palos Hills.

The reason the vote boiled down to Bennett was the presence of Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th). A deputy sheriff for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Marrotta said he planned on attending the meeting on Oct. 1, but was unable because he was called into court.

“I had all intentions of being at that meeting,” Marrotta said. “I have a full-time job. Some of you don’t, you are retired. I had no choice but to attend a trial for my full-time job.”

Marrotta, along with aldermen Nowak, Ricky Moore (4th), Mike Lebarre (3rd) and Pauline Stratton (2nd), voted in favor of the special classification. Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against.

Kleefisch was particularly vocal in his displeasure that a revote occurred. He noted that even though Marrotta was absent a quorum was still in place on Oct. 1.

“Usually when a quorum votes for or against something that vote stands unless there is a significant change in the proposal,” Kleefisch said. “I don’t see a significant change.

“The alderman that was not here had the ability to call in and for whatever reason he chose not to do that. If you go ahead with this (revote) you are setting a dangerous precedent for revoting things that the losing side does not like.”

Bennett told Kleefisch the council has revoted on things in the past.

“I don’t think this would be precedent-setting at all,” he said. “I don’t think the intention of whatever takes place here on the vote is to keep voting something in and out over a period of time, especially with the full city council present.”    

Nowak said after the meeting that she did not know Marrotta was going to be absent on Oct. 1 or else she would have asked the council to table the vote to a later meeting.

“I’m a new alderman, I was just inducted in May,” she said. “I didn’t know about calling in votes so I was instructed after the meeting that I should have waited until a full city council.

“I think this is fairest way to do it,” she said of taking the vote with all 10 aldermen present.

Any business interested in a video game café license would need to spend $1,800 annually on the license and receive approval from the council. Palos Hills officials have previously said they only intend on issuing a handful of licenses as to not oversaturate the market.

Although no one from Stella’s or Durbin’s was present last week, Nowak said both businesses would still be interested in operating a video gaming café if the council were to create the special classification.

While Palos Hills already allows video gaming terminals in restaurants, the cafés would differ because their menu would consist of lighter options like chicken wings as opposed to a full menu. The cafés would also offer alcoholic drinks.

Nowak was uncertain how much revenue the cafés would generate for Palos Hills, but she believed they would be a welcome addition to a city that at last count had 92 vacant storefronts.

In other news, Bennett and the board paid tribute to building commissioner Gene Nelson, who died on Oct. 29 at age 79. Nelson had two stints with Palos Hills totaling more than 20 years of service, Bennett said.

“I don’t think I need to explain to anybody up here his devotion to that job,” Bennett said. “He loved that job and he loved the City of Palos Hills.

“Gene was always a kind-hearted person and he always did what he could to help people along.”

Bennett then appointed longtime plan commission member and architect Gene Newman to the building commissioner position. The mayor said Nelson actually came to him and recommended Newman for the job approximately a month ago.

“Gene (Newman’s) service to the city on that plan commission has been outstanding,” Bennett said. “We welcome Gene on board as our building commissioner.”

Richards coach is charged with filming student

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


    The Richards High School volleyball coach charged with illegal filming a female student in a locker room had been suspended without pay and banned from the grounds of all three District 218 schools.

          In addition to Richards, at 10601 S. Central Ave. in Oak Lawn, the other schools are Shepard High School in Palos Heights, and Eisenhower High School in Alsip.

Raymond W. Van Syckle, 31, who was a pool and equipment manager in addition to coaching girls volleyball at Richards, was arrested Nov. 1 at the school. He was then suspended without pay, said District 218 public information officer Bob McParland on Monday.

Police and school personnel had learned on Oct. 30 that a female student had found a cellphone in the girls locker room that she believed had been used to take photos of her while she was changing.

Oak Lawn police said in a statement issued Nov. 4 that after evidence from the phone confirmed that the girl had been photographed, Van Syckle, of the 800 block of Shortwood Drive in Joliet, was charged with unauthorized video recording, a Class 3 felony. He appeared at a Nov. 3 bond hearing in Bridgeview Courthouse, where bond was set at $75,000. Court records show he has since been released after posting bail.

People waiting to pick up students outside Richards last week were appalled by the news.

          “I think it is despicable,” said one father from Evergreen Park, as he waited to pick up his son.

          “I’m glad he was found out. Now it is up to the courts to take care of him,” said the man, who did not want to give his name.

“I was shocked when I heard it. He seemed like a nice guy. He was very friendly with the students,” said Halima Ramahi, who graduated from Richards earlier this year. “A lot of people knew him from taking swimming, and he was also a volleyball coach.

          Her younger brother, Ali Ramahi, 14, is a freshman and classmate of the girl who found the cellphone and reported it.

“Everyone was talking about it. It’s just disgusting,” said Ali.

         The Oak Lawn Police Department and Richards High School officials are asking for any other students with information related to the case to please contact Richards High School administration at (708) 499-2550.

Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School volunteers collect, package food for needy

  • Written by Janelle Frost


Taking classes and boxing are typically what Nasser Nagi and Cayla Fett, respectively, do on Saturday.

But this past Saturday the two Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School students instead did something for others in need.

Nasser, 12, and Cayla, 14, were among 162 volunteers who packaged 17,405 meals on Saturday at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School’s gymnasium. The meals of pasta -- all fortified with soy protein, nutrients and vitamins -- is being donated to local food pantries, the school's food drive, and a veterans’ shelter within the community.

“I wanted to give time back to people in need,” said seventh-grader Nasser. “People around the world are in need. People don’t notice, they just care about their lives.”

Cayla, who raised $100 toward the cost of the food, said a lot of kids don’t have food even though there’s food to give.

“It’s good to help out,” said Cayla, who is in the eighth grade.

This is the third year that the school has participated in the community service event, and has partnered with Feed6, the local affiliate of Outreach – a charity that has been packaging meals for the hungry in the U.S. and abroad since 2004.

Heather McCarthy, organizer of Saturday’s event and a teacher at the school, said the partnership came after she learned about another school that held a meal packaging event and she saw the positive impact it had on the community.

“Our district has a strong belief that students should take part in bettering their school, community, and themselves through community service hours,” McCarthy said. “We require each student to complete two hours of community service each year. I thought this would be a great opportunity for our students to see the positive impact of doing community service.”

In addition to District 123 students, staff, families, alumni and community members helped packaged boxes Saturday, while music played throughout the gym.

“We’re having fun doing it,” said teacher Andy Weber, who participated with his sons, Charlie, 4, and Conor, 3.

Feed6 co-founder Chris Coyne said the community service events are “extraordinarily important.”

“The need is great and this is an ideal opportunity for children to express their giving nature in a safe setting,” said Coyne, who helped Saturday with fellow co-founder Bill Kanatas.

Feed6 has been hosting events with schools, churches, corporations, chambers of commerce, and community organizations for four years, Coyne said. During that period, Feed6 has packaged nearly 2.5 million meals for hungry and food insecure local children, families, veterans, and seniors in partnership with thousands of volunteers. 

According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study, nearly 762,000 individuals of the 5.2 million people in Cook County, which includes Oak Lawn, were food insecure in 2013.

“It’s something a lot of families camouflage,” said Kristin Simpkins, the principal at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, about hunger and food insecurity in the community. “We definitely need to support families in the community. It’s becoming more prevalent.”

Northern Illinois Food Bank states on its website that it “is committed to filling (the)‘meal gap’ and recently announced a strategic plan with a goal of bringing the number of meals distributed by Northern Illinois Food Bank and its network to 75 million annually by the year 2020, and thus providing every meal, every day, for every hungry neighbor.”

Outreach and Feed6 also are working with organizations and individuals to address the overwhelming and growing need, Coyne said. “This year we plan to package 500,000 meals -- and we hope in 2016 to initiate the first of an annual series of Chicago-based Million Meal Events.”

From Saturday’s event, 2,500 meals will go to veterans, many of whom are homeless, and the hungry and poor, Coyne said. The others will go to children and families.

The packaged meals are a “good way to get something nutritious to those in need,” Coyne said.

C. Ridge village board to discuss ethics proposal at special meeting

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

           The Chicago Ridge Village Board will hold a special committee of the whole meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, to review the details of a code of ethics ordinance that Trustee Sally Durkin proposed at the regular board meeting on Tuesday.

           Durkin had wanted the ethics ordinance to be voted on Tuesday, saying she has been working on seeing it to completion since being elected to the board three years ago. But after Mayor Chuck Tokar and several trustees questioned its restrictions, she agreed to postpone voting until the next village board meeting on Nov. 17 to allow time for the committee meeting, which will be open to the public.

           “I thought there were a lot of good things in it, but there are some concerns,” said Tokar.

           Among other things, the proposed code of ethics, a 14-page document, would prevent village employees, as well as elected and appointed officials, from being obligated to do any political activity as part of their job duties or as a condition of employment. Making political contributions and advocating for or against referendums is also prohibited.

           But although compensated time, meaning during work hours, is mentioned in the document, it is unclear whether a prohibition against employees and officials willingly participating in political activity would extend to after work hours also.

           Tokar, as well as Trustees Bill McFarland and Jack Lind, were among those who understood it to mean a total prohibition, and questioned the legality of such a restriction.

           “It would appear to prevent elected officials from running for re-election, since they couldn’t work on any campaign,” said McFarland.

           “How do you tell anyone they can’t (engage in any political activity)? I work on (state Rep.) Kelly Burke’s campaign. I’m not going to sign on to anything that would prevent me from doing that,” said Lind.

           “How can we tell an employee that they can’t go out and help someone get elected, or work on a campaign?,” asked Tokar incredulously.

           Village Attorney Burt Odelson, who didn’t work on the ordinance himself, said that most of what is in the proposed ordinance is already included in the state statute. But he added that, “there are some additions here that might make it difficult to make any contributions, It could very well restrict anyone from making any money for anything.”

           Durkin asserted that the proposed ordinance is taken “pretty much verbatim” from one already in place in Morton Grove.

           “Really and truly, we want an ethics ordinance in place,” said Trustee Fran Coglianese, who argued in favor of passing the ordinance as is, and then amending it if necessary after the committee meeting on Monday.

           “If it is already in place in Morton Grove, it must be legal,” she said.

           “Well, how would we know unless someone challenges it in court?,” responded the mayor.

           Durkin said she would “rather not waste anyone’s time voting on it” before the committee meeting can determine whether it is too restrictive.

“It’s a matter of interpretation. But we will hash it all out,” said Durkin after the meeting.

Raising Cane's coming to Stony Creek

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

     First came Mariano’s grocery, and then Cooper’s Hawk winery and restaurant, and now a Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers fast-food restaurant is coming to the Stony Creek Promenade, the third anchor at the southeast corner of the Stony Creek Promenade Shopping Center at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue.

    At the Oct. 27 Village Board meeting, Steve Radice, the director of business development for the village, gave a glowing report on the revenue generated by the businesses that have opened on in the new development over the past year and then revealed the news about Raising Cane coming.

      According to the company website, this will be the first Raising Cane’s in the Chicago area. The company is based in Baton Rouge, La., and most of the locations are in southern states. The only ones listed in Illinois are close to St. Louis.

     Radice said that Raising Cane’s has signed a lease to open on the gravel space formerly known as “the bank pad” in front of Mariano’s facing Cicero Avenue near 110th Street. Currently in the due diligence and planning stage, company officials expects to submit site plans for approval this month, with construction slated to begin next spring.

     The fast-food chain that specializes in chicken fingers and sauces is named after founder Todd Graves’ yellow Labrador retriever, a certified pet therapy dog that regularly visits children’s hospitals. An old mural found on the original restaurant in 1996 inspired the company logo, and similar murals are now painted on all the restaurants. That tradition is expected to continue in Oak Lawn, officials said.

     Radice said that business at Cooper’s Hawk “is going gangbusters” since it opened during the summer, with 19,000 diners and 22,000 bottles of wine sold the first month. The restaurant has 125 employees, and the hope is that Raising Cane will do just as well.

     Mayor Sandra Bury said after the meeting that plans for a bank to locate there did not work out, but agreed that a restaurant would bring in more tax revenue to the village. Paul Sheridan, of developer Hamilton Partners, said that when a Raising Cane representative approached Hamilton about the possibility of opening a location on the site, the chance to bring in more retail sales should not be passed up. The owners of Mariano’s were also agreeable, since there is still plenty of parking space available.

      “Raising Cane’s community focus is very exciting in that their stated mission is to be as active in the community as possible,” said Bury. “Their history of education, feeding the hungry, promoting pet welfare and entrepreneurship should resonate very well with Oak Lawnians.”

      The mayor added that she hopes the owners bring Raising Cane, the therapy dog, to visit Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital, and the nearby Ronald McDonald House, when the restaurant opens.