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Baha Auto Group eyes Palos Hills site

  • Written by By Michael Gilbert

A used car business with locations in Burbank and Chicago has plans to open its next dealership in Palos Hills.

Mayor Gerald Bennett invited Baha Auto Group Inc. general manager Musa Muza to the city’s committee-of-the-whole meeting on March 3 to discuss his plans to turn the long vacant building on 110th Street and Southwest Highway that formerly housed Hames Buick into his newest dealership.

Muza has operated the dealerships in Burbank, 8059 Harlem Ave., and Chicago, 4257 W. North Ave., for the past four years and said coming to Palos Hills is a logical choice.

“I live here and I like it here,” Muza said of Palos Hills. “We’re looking forward to expanding and bringing our experience to Palos Hills. We’re looking forward to bringing business to the city.”

Muza said he intends to close on the 31,000-square foot building within 60 days. Once the sale is complete, he plans to open the dealership “as soon as possible.” A summer opening is likely, he said.

The building – although devoid of a tenant for more than a decade – remains in good shape, Muza said. The property, however, does need some enhancements.

“As far as the inside (of the building), it was really built for a dealership so there isn’t much that we have to do from the inside,” he said. “The outside needs some landscaping and the parking lot needs some work. We will need to add more lights to the parking lot.”  

Ald.Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) had nothing but good things to say about the Baha Auto Group.

“I think your building on Harlem Avenue is very nice,” Marrotta told Muza. “My brother lives over in Bridgeview so I’ve driven by (the Burbank dealership) several times. It’s a real nice property

“I think this will absolutely be a nice addition for Palos Hills.”

Ald. Mike LeBarre (3rd Ward) echoed Marrotta’s sentiments. He complimented Muza for the work he did at the Burbank location after purchasing the property from the former owner.

“I’ve went by the place on Harlem Avenue and Musa has really brought it back to life,” LeBarre said. “You’ve really done a nice job there.”

Bennett said he is pleased a long shuttered building is to be revived.

“We’re obviously excited that you are taking a piece of property that has been sitting there for some time and putting it back in use,” he said. “This will add retail sales tax to the city and that’s what economic development is all about.”

Muza said his car prices start at $10,000 and the minimum sale is around $15,000. He hopes to sell 150 cars per month; a goal he believes is reachable since his sales are roughly 125 cars a month at his Burbank location.

The Palos Hills location would also have a full-service mechanic and body shop, he said. The dealership is to be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The service department’s hours would be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A special use already exists for the property since it was previously a car dealership so no variances are needed, Bennett said. The board is expected to vote on a memorandum of understanding at its next meeting which, if approved, would officially pave the way for the dealership to open in Palos Hills.

The MOU would define the ground rules for the property – making note of the special use on the property and certain restrictions pertaining to the service department, Bennett said.

In other news, city officials voted 8-1 to direct parks and recreation commissioner Kristen Violante to apply to the ComEd Green Region Program in hopes of securing grant money to help fund the installation of pavilion at Pleasure Lake, 10800 S. Roberts Road.

The 50/50 matching grant would be up to $10,000. Palos Hills would then be required to pay any costs in addition to $10,000. The exact cost of the pavilion is unknown, but city officials expect it will be more than $20,000.

Violante said the city will find out by June whether the application has been approved.

Oak Lawn trustees praise waste collection service despite rate increase

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn trustees, while approving a 2.2 percent increase in waste collection rates at the Village Board meeting on Tuesday, pointed out that the cost is still lower than it had been under a previous waste hauler.

The newly approved rate increases under the ongoing contract with Allied Waste, a division of Republic Services, which will take effect in April, will mean homeowners under age 65 will pay $57.36 per quarter for waste collection, up from $56.13 last year.

Seniors (those age 65 and older) and those with disabilities will be charged $53.10 per quarter, up from $51.96 last year.

But Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) quickly pointed out that even with the increases, the costs are still significantly lower than they were under contracts with a previous waste hauler.

He and Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) both noted that in 2012, the last year before Republic took over, quarterly waste removal charges were $59.55 for seniors, and $65.10 for non-seniors.

“I would like to thank the office staff for working so hard on this and making it happen,” said Olejniczak.

He also thanked residents for recycling as much as possible, saying that practice allowed the village to negotiate lower collection rates.

“Increased recycling paid off for the citizens,” said Olejniczak. “We are charged by the amount of waste that goes into landfills. If we recycle and e-cycle as much as possible, we can keep the costs down.”

The trustee said that providing homeowners with full-sized blue recycling carts, rather than smaller crates, have evidently helped. Receptacles for yard waste are also provided.

E-cycling is the reusing or distribution of computers, TVs and other electronic equipment, and Olejniczak said the fact that the village provides monthly electronic waste collection for residents also helps keep costs down, because the bulky items do not end up in landfills.

Oak Lawn residents may drop off electronics such as TVs, computers, radios and phones at the Public Works building, 5550 W. 98th St., from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of each month.

In other business, Mayor Sandra Bury announced that the Planning and Development Commission had granted approval on Monday for a Culver’s restaurant to be built at the former site of Papa Joe’s, 10745 S. Cicero Ave.

Papa’s Joe’s relocated to 5900 W. 111th St. in Chicago Ridge last year, and Bury said the original building will be razed.

“Having Culver’s here will be wonderful for the village,” said Bury.

Harris: ‘There needs to be a culture change’

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) heard the rumors and her suspicions were confirmed after receiving a phone call.

“I was told that the Democratic Party was rescinding its support for Dorothy Brown for the Clerk of the Circuit Court and was supporting me,” recalled Harris after receiving the decision of the Cook County Democrats. “It’s amazing. I had overwhelming support.”

Brown has been Circuit Court Clerk since 2000 and originally had the support of the Cook County Democrats. But an ongoing federal corruption investigation of Brown resulted in the local Democrats looking in another direction.

The Democratic Party informed Brown on Oct. 23 that they rescinded their support and were backing Harris. Despite a passionate plea by Brown, the Democrats told her at the slating meeting that the decision was final.

Harris was formally introduced that night at the Cook County Suburban Publishers dinner. Not to be outdone, Brown was also in attendance trying to sway party members.

Along with Brown and Harris, Jacob Meister, an attorney who has been practicing law for 25 years, is also running in the Democratic primary. The winner in the Democratic primary race will face Diane Shapiro, the Republican committeeman from Chicago’s 46th Ward. Shapiro is unopposed in the primary.

In an election year that Harris said is “upside down,” she said her greatest challenge is to inform the public on what the duties of the Circuit Court Clerk are.

“There needs to be a culture change,” said Harris. “Government is there to serve the public, not the other way around. We need to be cross-trained in all departments. We are in the people-pleasing business. It’s about delivering what people want.”

The office of Clerk of the Circuit Court keeps court records, decisions and events, handles fines, bail bonds, records storage, microfilming and automation.

Harris has lived in the 8th Ward for over 40 years and has been a member of the 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization for over 30 years. She is a graduate of Chicago Vocational High School and received a bachelor’s degree in General Studies from Chicago State University.

She said that Cook County Board President John Stroger served as a mentor. She was chief of staff under her aunt, Ald. Lorraine Dixon (8th), for over five years. Dixon died of breast cancer in 2001 at the age of 51. Harris was also a liaison to Peoples Gas and ComEd for Dixon.

Harris has been a member of various committees and served as superintendent of Streets and Sanitation for the 8th Ward, which she took great pride in. She often went with workers and assisted in dispensing garbage. Harris said she wanted to get a better idea of what the job entails. She held the position of superintendent for four years.

In 2006, Harris was appointed alderman by former Mayor Daley to replace Todd Stroger, who became Cook County Board President after his father, John Stroger, suffered a debilitating stroke. Harris has won aldermanic elections in 2007, 2011 and 2015.

Harris said one of her first goals, if elected, is to update criminal records. She said the system has to be updated because it creates frustration for the judicial system and attorneys who have to wait lengthy periods to receive records of information. Even bail bond information has to be improved, said Harris. Hand-written carbon copies may not be clear and the information is often recorded incorrectly, said Harris.

“That’s why we have to do this first,” said Harris. “Waiting for files and incorrect information costs money.”

Brown said her system is not antiquated and that her department has introduced programs such as electronic filing, the online traffic ticket payment system, mortgage surplus outreach and a new mobile app. Brown added that she seeks to deliver new and enhanced services at the clerk’s office.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Brown.

Harris disagrees, stating that Brown is “on an island” and doesn’t work enough with other agencies.

“What I have learned as alderman is that you have to learn to work with people,” said Harris. “The people will let you know how they feel.”

Meister calls for the circuit court to become completely automated and said that it will need more funding. Harris agrees that more technology is necessary but said costs have to be considered initially. More computer terminals can be added when not enough manpower exists, she said.

Harris disagrees with her critics who say she lacks managerial experience. The alderman said she has worked with former Gov. Quinn to build an improved sewer system in her ward and worked with state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-17th) to raise funds for infrastructure improvements at Chicago Vocational High School.

Facing the challenges as alderman has prepared her to lead the circuit court, Harris said. She has also served as chairman of the City Council Rules Committee.

She was criticized in some circles for not holding a hearing on an ordinance to empower Inspector General Joe Ferguson. However, she joined other members of the Black Caucus calling for the firing of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who she said did not listen to the needs of the communications he serves. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has a mostly positive relationship with Harris, dismissed McCarthy that month.

“People want to see you,” said Harris. “I can’t depend on the Democratic Party to get the word out. I appreciate it. Government puts me in a position to help people. It’s all about the community. It’s not about Michelle Harris.”

The primary election is Tuesday, March 15.

Rauner claims Madigan balks on university funding bill

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gov. Bruce Rauner accused House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) on Monday of manipulating the presidents of colleges and universities in Illinois to refrain from backing any measures proposed by the governor or Republicans before the March 15 primary.

Rauner’s latest salvo came after the governor vetoed two variations of bills to provide funding for college students through the Monetary Awards Programs, or MAP grants, during the past month. State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) introduced the first version of the bill that passed through the Senate.

The governor said he supports a bill that is sponsored by state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-5th) to provide $160 million in emergency funding to universities. Rauner had invited several university presidents to stand beside him at a press conference.

According to Rauner, the presidents rejected the idea of attending a press conference because they did not want to anger Madigan. Rauner believes Madigan wants the budget impasse to continue to counter the governor.

“We have a bipartisan bill to fund our universities right now that I can support,” said Rauner. “Madigan won’t call the bill.”

Dunkin introduced HB 6409 last week. The state representative, who faces a Democratic primary challenge from Juliana Stratton, said the bill would provide funding to assist Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Rauner said Dunkin’s Bill would provide funding for these schools without raising taxes or cutting any social services.

In the meantime, Democrats are still considering presenting additional bills. Dunkin has recently sided with Rauner on several issues and has drawn the ire of Madigan and other local Democrats. The likelihood of Democrats supporting a bill by Dunkin is unlikely.

State Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) said that hearings would be held this week to come up with ideas to work with the governor on ways to bring an end to the budget stalemate.

“We can take a look at the need for reforms,” said Cunningham. “I hope by doing this we can talk to the governor and compromise on other issues, like funding for the MAP grants. Those reforms can be talked about, along with the pensions.”

Some local Democrats have said that negotiations with the governor have not gone well up to this point. Republicans have been calling for 20 percent cut in state funding for higher education for the 2016-17 year. However, that would be a reduction of the 30 percent cut that Rauner requested last year.

“I believe we can get something done,” said Burke last week. “If we just talk about the budget, we can work something out. I keep talking to Democrats and Republicans for ideas.”

Steve Brown, the longtime spokesperson for Madigan, said that Rauner is “the only one who has cut higher education.”

Rauner vetoed the bill that Madigan called to provide $721 million for higher education and MAP grants for lower-income students. The bill would have also provided $40 million for community colleges.

The governor rejected the bill because he said it would create a larger hole in the state budget. Burke joined other legislators in sending a letter to the governor to talk about a solution to the budget standoff.

Burke defended her bill to free up higher education grants for eligible students, saying the time to act is now.

“So let’s honor those commitments and let’s get the ball rolling on the MAP grants and the funding for the community college.”

Dr. Sylvia Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, was disappointed that Burke’s original bills were not given more consideration by the governor. Jenkins said Moraine is in good shape for now but is concerned about the future depending on how long this budget impasse lasts.

“Some colleges will have to close programs and some teachers will have to be let go,” said Jenkins.

Rush facing two challengers in 1st Congressional District

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

One of the few contested elections in the southwest suburbs on March 15 ballots will be the race between incumbent Cong. Bobby Rush (D-1st) and two challengers battling for the seat in Congress that he has held since 1993.

The 1st District stretches south and west from the Chicago lakefront to communities such as Manhattan and Elwood in Will County. Locally, it includes alll or part of Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Palos Heights, Worth and Orland Park, as well as nearby communities such as Alsip and Crestwood.

Rush, 69, seldom has serious primary challengers, but this year, Howard Brookins Jr., and O. Patrick Brutus are running against him.

In the November general election, whoever wins will face either Jimmy Lee Tillman II or August O’Neill Deuser, the two candidates running in the Republican primary for the seat long held by Democrats.

Tillman, who promises to provide representation to "the urban and middle-class communities in Cook County to the rural and bedroom communities in Will County," is the son of former Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman.

Brookins, who has garnered the backing of House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd), the chairman of the state Democratic Party, probably has the greatest chance of unseating the incumbent. He is an attorney now serving his third term as alderman of the 21st Ward on the South Side of Chicago.

In addition to being alderman since 2003, he is also a partner in the Brookins and Wilson law firm, as well as a licensed funeral director. Prior to that, Brookins was an assistant public defender, assistant state’s attorney, and special assistant attorney general. He serves on the board of Community Media Workshop, a no-profit organization.

Brookins lists the three core issues of his campaign as job creation, public safety, and education.

He has criticized Rush for not being accessible enough to his constituents.

Patrick has been coordinator of economic development for the Department of Planning and Development for the past nine years. Prior to that, he spent 11 years with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Madigan has not said publicly why he has given his support to Brookins, but his father, Howard Brookins Sr., served in the Illinois Legislature with Madigan from 1982 to 1992, first as a representative and then a senator.

Brooks has said that he has known Madigan since his father was a state representative, and asked him for his support and was “proud” to get it.

Brookins is listed as the preferred candidate on voting information being distributed by Madigan’s organization.

While Rush is often accused of not being accessible in his district or active in Washington, a press release posted on his website points out the House's passage on Monday of a bill he introduced aimed at opening up more jobs for minorities in the energy sector won bipartisan approval. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

With the passage of H.R. 4583, Rush said in a statement, “Today, the American public witnessed a House united in creating economic growth for all people,” said Rush. “Here we have bipartisan members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who represent various constituencies from diverse regions of the country and who come with different political persuasions. We were able to put aside our differences and focus our efforts on bringing forth a jobs bill that will benefit all communities and help lift up the entire American economy.”