Local legislators address term limits, redistricting

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Term limits and redistricting were on the minds of constituents who attended one in a series of casual roundtable discussions with state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th).

A couple of residents voiced their approval of term limits during the discussion held Sept. 14 at the Green Hills Library. One man referred to himself as an Independent but backed the efforts of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who he said has been prevented from making changes by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) and Democrats in general. He called for term limits and the approval of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.”

“People like the idea of term limits,” said Cunningham. “They are very popular.”

But Cunningham said that term limits exist now and can be exercised by voting. The senator said that in the last five years, 71 members in the House are now longer in office.

“My point being is that you already have term limits and it’s called elections,” said Cunningham.

The man calling for term limits was unconvinced. “I say we need to get rid of more of them.”

Another man who attended the meeting had another take on the situation, blaming the current legislative maps that he said favors the Democrats.

“You don’t have contested elections and it pushes parties to the extreme,” he said. The man pointed to the fact that the majority of Democrats are uncontested in the Nov. 8 election due to maps drawn up that favors their party. He pointed to the fact that both Burke and Cunningham are unopposed in the upcoming election.

A variety of business, political and community leaders supported an Illinois Fair Map Amendment referendum be put on the November ballot. However, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the referendum because while changes can be made to the Legislative Branch through a vote, it cannot be done for the Executive Branch.

The referendum calls for changes in the Executive Branch and the court ruled that is unconstitutional. The two men calling for sweeping changes on term limits and redistricting were upset about the court ruling. One of the men said the referendum was opposed because the judges are Democrats.

Burke and Cunningham discussed Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda that is divided into about 14 demands. One of those demands is to make Illinois a “Right to Work” state that the local legislators said would actually minimize job opportunities and salaries. The same objections have been raised over the governor’s demands for changes in worker’s compensation, collective bargaining and union authority.

The legislators said that a main stumbling block in why a 2015 budget was delayed for a year is that the governor wants all these points to be applied in a new budget. Democratic legislators have resisted because they believe it would actually reduce jobs and salaries.

“The governor could get some things passed if we would not continue to link other ideas, like collective bargaining,” said Burke.

Burke said that party leaders broke off into small groups this spring in an effort to come up with an agreement. Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton (D-6th) said in an off-hand way to agree on a six-month budget that Rauner initially rejected, said Burke. However, as talks went down to the wire, Rauner essentially adopted Cullerton’s idea and made it his own. A six-month budget agreement was passed that allows legislators up for election time to work out a deal in January.

“That is not the way to do a budget,” said Burke. “It sets up a showdown in January.”

Cunningham said the six-month budget includes the five percent tax increase. Cunningham pointed out that there are 118 members in the House with 71 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Of the 59 members of the Senate, 39 are Democrats and 20 are Republicans.

One man said that Madigan has too much power and is concerned about making money for himself. He views the House Speaker as the main obstacle in getting a budget agreement, not Rauner.

“Some people oppose (Madigan) because he believes in strong collective bargaining rights,” said Cunningham. “Another reason they don’t like him is because he has been the Speaker for so long.”

Both legislators have said that the pension crisis had been brewing for years.

“You have some legislators who don’t want to raise taxes, and you have others who don’t want to get rid of programs,” said Cunningham. Unfortunately, when other financial concerns have risen, the Legislature has agreed to delay pension payments for a year to take on other projects. The problem is those payments continued to be delayed, the legislators said.

Burke said that even the six-month stopgap budget has not made up for the year-long budget stalemate. A backlog of bills is piling up and many private companies have gone out of business, she said.

Both Burke and Cunningham commented on a variety of issues, including the rising crime rate in Chicago. Cunningham told the audience that although he is a supporter of President Obama, he believes the federal government could have done more for Chicago.

“The (federal government) has done very little to stop funneling guns into the city,” said Cunningham.

Chicago Ridge Board takes measures to eliminate rats

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


The Chicago Ridge Village Board took several steps this week aimed at solving the local rat problem that was the focus of a town hall meeting on Sept. 10.

The board meeting on Tuesday started out with an emotional ceremony led by Police Chief Rob Pyznarski, who announced Detective Anthony Layman as the first winner of the Steven A. Smith Officer of the Year Award. Lisa Smith presented Layman with the award named after her son, Officer Steven Smith, who was killed Sept. 13, 2015, in a traffic collision caused by a wrong-way driver under the influence of alcohol on Interstate 294.

Layman, who received a standing ovation, was chosen for the award by his peers, practically all of whom were present in their full dress uniforms.

Following the ceremony, trustees passed two ordinances amending the municipal code describing when properties can be deemed “a public nuisance.” Property owners who do not maintain their properties and “allow any condition to exist that would attract or encourage an infestation of insects or rodents.” will now face harsher penalties.

Trustee Jack Lind had suggested including “insects” in the new verbiage because in addition to rodent infestations, he said things like bedbugs can also spread quickly.

The board also amended the requirements for structures enclosing large garbage containers, such as dumpsters, used by businesses and multi-family dwellings. Wooden enclosures will no longer be allowed, and must be replaced with either chain-link or wrought-iron fencing.

Broken down and poorly maintained dumpster enclosures behind six apartment buildings on Pleasant Boulevard had turned the sites into havens for rats, and Mayor Chuck Tokar said that public works employees were removing them all this week.  

The board also announced the hiring of a licensed environmental health practitioner, who is also certified for pest control. The man will work as an independent contractor, paid $65 for each inspection.

Tokar said the first order of business would be to conduct a second inspection this week on the Royal Palace, a banquet hall at 6425 W. 111th St. that has been closed for about two weeks due to a rat infestation.

The new inspector replaces Rich Ruge, who resigned after being heavily criticized for not having the proper qualifications and not conducting regular inspections.

A second exterminator with Guardian Pest Control is also being hired, for a total monthly cost of $3,200, up from $1,600. Trustee Fran Coglianese explained that dry ice provided by local business Praxair is also going to be used for pest control. She said Praxair will supply the cubed dry ice, which will be stuffed down rat holes. It releases carbon dioxide, which will suffocate the animals.

Tackling another cleanup related issue, the board also approved a one-year contract with Waste Management’s At Your Door program allowing homeowners to have old TVs, electronics and household hazardous waste products picked up at their door.

The service, costing households an extra $1.25 per month, will start Nov. 1.

“We look forward to rolling out the program,” said Mike Morley, a Waste Management representative who had explained the program at an earlier meeting. He said residents may contact Waste Management by email or phone to arrange pick-ups.

Tokar noted that residents who responded to a survey gauging interest in the program “were 3-1 in favor of it. I would venture a guess that we will be continuing this beyond the one-year trial period.”

Lind said it was important to get the program in place before the holiday season, when people are often looking for ways to dispose of old electronics

Palos Hills approves ordinance for four chickens per family

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills officials believe their fowl ordinance is now a bit more fair.

The city council voted 7-2 with one abstention to amend its chicken ordinance Sept. 15. The most noteworthy change is in the number of years granted for one to comply with the city’s rule that no homeowner may own more than four chickens.

When the ordinance was approved in 2015 it stated residents who had more than four chickens on their property had three years to get in compliance. City officials opted to amend the ordinance last week to give residents up to five years to comply. Ald. Joan Knox (1st Ward), who serves as chairwoman of the legislation and ordinance committee, said the impetus to grant an additional two years came after a resident who owns 15 chickens told city officials that three years may not be adequate time for some of her fowl to live out the rest of their lives.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) was the most vocal in granting an additional two years. With the average lifespan of a chicken around seven years the thought by the council was most chickens will have reached the end of their life within five years. Residents with more than four chickens may not replace any chicken that dies or is lost if it would push the number of chickens they own past four.

“I would rather error on giving citizens more than enough time,” Moore said. I’m going to support amending the ordinance to allow for five years instead of three.”

Ald. Mary Ann Schultz (5th Ward) and Marty Kleefisch (1st Ward) cast the votes against amending the ordinance while Ald. Pauline Stratton (2nd Ward) abstained from voting.

Schultz said after the council meeting that she believed three years was an “adequate amount of time to comply” with the ordinance and did not believe granting an additional two years was necessary.

“If you want to keep 15 chickens then buy a farm,” Schultz said. “I’m sorry but I would not want to live next to someone who has 15 chickens.

“I have no problem with someone keeping a chicken or two in town it’s just that having a dozen or more can get excessive.”

Prior to approving the chicken ordinance last year, Palos Hills had no restriction on the number of chickens a resident could own. The city settled on the number four after taking into consideration average lot sizes and researching chicken ordinances in other municipalities, Knox said.

“Probably the most thought about the ordinance went into the number (of chickens one can keep),” Knox said. “We tried to be fair when it comes to lot size because we have some very big lots and we have tiny lots in Palos Hills. The council kind of debated the number back and forth and four (chickens) was kind of the general consensus. That was the number we were most OK with.

“I think there were some residents that had a lot of chickens and their neighbors weren’t really loving the idea,” Knox said. “We tried to make it equitable for everyone.”

The ordinance prohibits any chicken from roaming at large and instead the bird must be kept in a coop or run, which must also be located in the rear of the yard at least 25 feet from the property line and at least 25 feet from another house. In addition, the coup shall provide a minimum of four square feet of floor area per chicken and the run provide a minimum of eight square feet of floor area per chicken. The ordinance requires those residents who wish to maintain chickens on their property to purchase a coop permit at a fee of $25. Residents must also register their chickens with the city, but there is no fee for the registration.

Those found to have more than four chickens without the grandfather clause are subject to a fine of $80 per day, according to Beverly Williams, the city’s animal control officer.

In other news, Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) told the council he would like to see a way in which the city could assist those residents who have to remove dead ash trees from their properties.

Brachman said he would be in favor of the city working with a contractor to offer discounts to residents who have to rid deceased ash trees from their yards.

Mayor Gerald Bennett said residents could contact the city and Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley could recommend a nursery, but he was uneasy about contracting a company to offer reduced rates to residents.

“We can talk to someone about doing that but the problem we’d have is if something does go wrong it could turn around and bite us,” Bennett said. “What happens if we recommend some contractor and then the tree end up dying within a year?”

“It’s a bit of a sticky wicket,” Weakley said. “If we start making these recommendations to specific contractors it’s like we are creating an exclusivity to that particular contractor and then other contractors are offended by that and could call us out saying we are showing favoritism.

“I’m much more comfortable recommending registered contractors that are in our building department’s registry.”

Brachman said after the meeting he had a solution if a contractor came to the city and was upset there was a discounted program with another contractor.

“My feeling is that’s fine then do it for the same price,” Brachman said.

Brachman said he will discuss the idea with Weakley in the near future but was uncertain his plan would become a reality.  

Sabre Room auction officially closes out once popular hall

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

sabre room sabres photo 9-22

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Auctioneer Bret Walters sells a pair of swords that had once been on display in the Sabre Room, 8900 W. 95th St., Hickory Hills.

The Sabre Room has been closed since May, and on Sept. 14, just about everything in the iconic banquet hall at 8900 W. 95th St. in Hickory Hills went up for auction, including the kitchen sink.

More than 150 people signed up in person as bidders for the all-day event, and hundreds more were bidding online at the live auctions held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. by Grafe Auction Company. Many restaurant owners were among the bidders, and they went away with vans loaded with china plates, cups and glassware, pots and pans, and even stone planters. But quite a few seemed to have come for nostalgic reasons, hoping to get one last look, and maybe pick up a souvenir or two, from a place they remembered visiting on all sorts of happy occasions.

Arnold and Marie Muzzarelli opened the Sabre Room in 1949, on the 30-acre grounds of the former Dynell Spring Spa. The Muzzarellis had connections in the entertainment business, and seating for more than 2,500 people, so top stars began performing in the 10,000-square-foot building. During its heyday, with Frank Sinatra appearing in 1976, and Dean Martin in 1977, the Sabre Room became one of the most popular concert venues in the Chicago area. Elvis Presley, as well as Liberace, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Rudy Vallee also made appearances.

“It is a neat, historical event,” said auctioneer Bret Walters, as he led a group of bidders from one banquet hall to another, selling everything with a numbered tag on it. He said as many as 600 people could have been involved in the bidding, conceivably from anywhere in the world.

He reminded his audience that Elvis had appeared there, as he held up a compilation of Presley’s music, which was quickly snapped up for about $60. Beside it was a one-of-a-kind ship made out of cooling racks by one of the chefs, just one indication of the plethora of things that were available for sale.

Among the other music-related items that Walters sold was a collection of 45 rpm records.

He also sold two antique swords that had been on display on one of the walls.

Mellody Kelleher, of Chicago Ridge, did not get the swords, but she was able to buy a set of bongos that she had her eye on.

Each banquet room had its own free-standing bar, and each of them were up for sale as well.

“My brother’s wedding reception was here, and my aunt was one of the (Sabrette) dancers for many years, so being here brings back a lot of happy memories,” she said. “I was happy to get the bongos.”

More often in recent years, wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve parties, quinceaneras and other social and ethnic events were held in its spacious rooms. And a collection of New Year’s Eve hats was among the least expensive items for sale in the main kitchen.

Judd Grafe held court there, running the auction for the “back of the house,” while Walters ran the front. In the kitchen, he sold everything from a chocolate fountain tht was popular at parties, up to the ovens and chef’s islands that included sinks and warmers.

Hector Brambila, of Chicago, was looking for supplies for a bakery he is opening, and picked up industrial-size mixers, some antique mixing paddles sold separately, and large bowls as well.

“There are some good deals here, but you have to pay attention,” said Brambila. “Some things are expensive, and a lot of it is old. I think some people forget that they have to pay a premium on top of the auction price too,” he added.

Keith Vanselor, of Oak Lawn, said he wasn’t looking to buy anything in particular, but just wanted to see the place one last time.

“I didn’t see any of the big names here, but I was at a lot of events here over the years. It is a shame to see places like this go. With the Martinique already gone, it was the last of its kind.”

Hickory Hills officials said back when the Sabre Room closed in May that the 30-acre site will not be broken up into separate parcels. Expectations are that it will eventually be turned into a mixed-use development of businesses and residences, but no definite plans have been presented yet.

Message of Columbine victim inspires District 124 students

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Rachel Joy Scott’s life was cut short during the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado on April 20, 1999.

But her short life still has meaning all these years later. Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 accepted “Rachel’s Challenge” to start a chain reaction of kindness, which took place last week. All District 124 students in kindergarten through eighth grade were encouraged – and ultimately challenged – in developmentally appropriate ways to choose kindness over prejudice, bigotry and apathy.

District 124 students and parents listened as Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, shared the inspiring true story of her dream being fulfilled over a decade after her death. The acts of kindness Rachel displayed in her short 17 years of life provide a powerful reminder of the little things everyone can do each day to make the world a better place, he said. Rachel wrote in one of the many essays that her uncle shared, “You never know how far a little kindness can go.”

“Rachel was the first student to die in the Columbine shootings,” said Scott. “Her death devastated our family. She was the middle child of five; she had two sisters and two brothers.”

Scott said that Rachel kept journals to chronicle her thoughts and good deeds. Those journals unveiled that Rachel had wisdom beyond a typical 17-year-old girl. “She knew she was going to die before her time and she knew her life was going to impact millions of people,” said Scott.

According to Scott, Rachel’s Challenge has been facilitated in over 20,000 schools nationally and internationally combined. It’s a message of hope, inspiration and a call to action to change the world for the better.

“I believe true healing happens when we use our lives to help others to the extent we’ve been hurt,” said Scott. “Today our family is doing well and that’s largely because of our faith and the work we’ve done through Rachel’s Challenge.”

Last week marked the third year for Rachel’s Challenge in District 124. Supt. Dr. Robert Machak said that the program continues to positively impact the school community.

“Our disciplinary numbers go down every year; the Challenge is a big part of it,” said Machak. ”It’s really about accountability to ourselves and to one another -- the idea of setting goals and writing them down, signing your name to the banner, these all speak to the real commitment we are making to try to get better every day.”

The banner is a large poster passed around each school that every student and staff member is invited -- not required -- to sign. By signing it, participants agree to honor the five tenets of Rachel’s Challenge, which include using kind words and doing kind things for others.

In referencing the banner in his meeting with District 124 parents last week, Scott said, “Tell (your children) not to sign it if they don’t mean it.”