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Almost halfway there

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn shooting for 100 percent transparency

  Oak Lawn will receive a progress report Tuesday on its goal to improve governmental transparency.

  The Illinois Policy Institute will release its online transparency audit for the largest 25 communities in the state by population. Oak Lawn is No. 23 on the population list.
  Mayor Sandra Bury said that in October, the village’s score was a 41.5.
  “This is what we inherited,” Bury said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re just starting the process. It’s not going to come overnight.”
  Orland Park in 2011 became the first governmental entity to receive a perfect score on the institute’s Local Transparency Project. The village maintained that score on the upcoming audit, Village Clerk Joe La Margo said.
  “That’s our goal, too,” Oak Lawn Village Clerk Jane Quinlan said.
  The village expects to have a redesigned website up and running before the end of the year, Quinlan said. The new, easier-to-navigate site will give residents access to the information recommended by the IPI, she said.
  “We’ll then have the capabilities for all this. It will be easier to follow,” Quinlan said.
  The village already posts on its website much of the information recommended by the IPI, but the site is difficult to navigate, Quinlan said.
  Garnering a respectable score on the audit is not especially difficult, but getting a top score takes some time and effort, said Brian Costin, the IPI’s the director of government reform.
  For example, posting annual documents such as budgets and audits as well the contact information for municipal officials can secure an 80-percent figure on the survey, Costin said.
  “You can get a pretty decent score without expending a whole lot of effort,” Costin said. “The categories that are a little harder are meeting minutes and board packets.”
  LeMargo said achieving the perfect score was a time-consuming process, but he praised the IPI for its assistance.
  “They gave us a lot of guidance,” LeMargo said.
  Organizing and posting archival information was the most difficult part of the process, he said, adding that the village spent five months gathering and organizing the information for the website required on the IPI’s checklist.
  Transparency has been at the center of political debate in Oak Lawn, as critics of Bury repeatedly chastise her for talking about the issue but failing to take action.
  Trustee Robert Streit recently proposed his own ordinance calling for website transparency.
  “My ordinance would codify the need for transparency and what our website, at the minimum, should contain,” said Streit, who proposed the ordinance at the Oct. 22 village board meeting.
  But the village’s legislative, license and ethics committee on Aug. 20 discussed implementation of the transparency checklist, which includes many of the same points listed in Streit’s proposed ordinance.
  Although the committee has discussed a transparency checklist, Streit said no action has been taken.
  “I have not seen any proposal from the mayor regarding transparency,” he said. “I also never saw any campaign literature that set forth a comprehensive transparency plan for the website. That is why I proposed my own ordinance.”
  Streit’s proposed ordinance, which was not discussed at the board meeting, calls for the village website to include:
  • Contact information for elected and administrative officials;
  • Meeting information, including village board meeting packets and videos of meetings;
  • Public records, including information regarding the submission of freedom of information requests;
  • Village budgets and audits as well as fund expenditures for the past five years;
  • TIF expenditures;
  • Salary and benefits for village employees and officials;
  • Contract bids and proposals;
  • The names of lobbying associations that village funded within the past five years;
  • Information on tax rates;
  • The names of contractors who do business with the village as well as information regarding building and zoning applications.
  Streit said his ordinance calls on the village to do than required by the IPI’s checklist.
  “For instance, I placed a provision on the ordinance that requires (a recording of) the board meetings placed on the website. I also placed a provision on the ordinance that requires the site to have a language conversion button for Spanish and Polish,” Streit said.
  The Illinois Policy Institute in October issued a transparency report for the state’s 102 counties. The report found that 22 counties do not have websites. The 81 counties with websites had an average score of 32.8 on the audit.
  Additionally, 90 counties failed the institute’s 10-point transparency check list, and only three scored 90 percent or higher.

‘I know who my daughter is’

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Grieving Worth mother disputes Cook County prosecutor’s claim of pill purchase during night of her daughter’s death

 

FRONT-COLOR-3col-cross

Photo by Jeff Vorva. A mourner brings a cross that was placed in a memorial for Brittany Wawrzyniak during a vigil on a cold Monday night in Worth.

 

  Rebecca Tully sat in the living room of her Worth home Monday morning struggling to understand why anyone would harm her daughter, Brittany Wawrzyniak.

“What happened was pointless,” Tully said. “I think there’s a lot we don’t know.”

Twenty four hours later, as she made last-minute preparations for her daughter’s wake, Tully fervently disputed the scenario that led to her daughter’s death, which was outlined by Cook County prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Wawrzyniak, 18, died Friday after she was ejected from the backseat of an alleged drug dealer’s car after buying pills from him.

Wawrzyniak met Eric Steven Johnson at the boat launch near 115th Street and Beloit Avenue. She got into the backseat of his car and handed him $200 in exchange for 30 pills of Clonazepam, prosecutors said.

Hoops removal demanded by OL residents

  • Written by Bob Rakow

 

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Photo by Bob Rakow. Oak Lawn resident Paul Egan asks the Oak Lawn Park Board why upgrades to Little Wolfe Park did not include removal of the basketball courts. Several residents attended the meeting to call for the hoops to come down following an August fight that led to two arrests.

 

  The basketball hoops at Oak Lawn’s Little Wolfe Park will stay up for now despite protests Monday night from a small group of residents who live near the park.

Park District commissioners decided to consider the matter further at a future committee meeting rather than vote on a proposal to remove the hoops from the park.

“We do understand your frustrations, but things take time, park board President Sue Murphy said at Monday’s meeting.

The six residents who spoke at the meeting, including village Trustee Carol Quinlan, strongly urged park commissioners to remove the hoops. Residents have called for the removal of the hoops following an Aug. 14 fight involving two groups of teens, which led to two arrests.

Quinlan attended the park board’s September meeting and said the fight was not an isolated incident. Instead, she said, the court was used throughout the summer by troublemakers from outside the village. The poor conduct led other patrons, such as parents with young children, to avoid the park, she said.

One test at a time

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Dist. 117 pleased with state test results but isn’t resting on its laurels

  Oak Ridge Elementary School in Palos Hills is jump-page-2-col-reichOak Ridge Principal Beth Reich was pleased with recent test results but is looking for bigger gains. Photo by Jeff Vorva.taking it one test at a time.

  Principal Beth Reich is pleased with her school’s results on the recently released Illinois Standards Achievement Test, but she’s focused on the progress her students will make this year.
  The Illinois Standards Achievement Test measures student achievement in reading and math in grades three through eight and science in grades four and seven.
  Nearly 79 percent of the 630 students at Oak Ridge met or exceeded the state’s expectations—a figure that was much in higher in previous years before that state raised expectations for the test.
  Students at Glen Oaks Elementary School in Hickory Hills also did well with 77.9 percent meeting or achieving state standards. At Conrady Middle School, 75 percent of student met or exceeded standards.
  The results are from tests given in March. Starting next year, students will be given a new standardized test which will determine whether they are meeting new expectations based on Common Core state standards.
  Many school districts throughout the southwest suburbs did not perform as well as in previous years, leaving some administrators disappointed.
  Reich, however, prefers to look forward and discuss the tools the school, 103rd Street and 88th Avenue, has at its disposal to help improve student performance.
  “We have programs in place for any child who needs them,” Reich said. “We feel that it’s important to the child.”
  Those programs include an after-school tutoring program that serves more than 100 students as well as four reading specialists on staff who work with small groups of children who require additional support, Reich said.
  But the school can’t intervene without knowing which students need help and that’s where data analysis comes into play.front-color-3-col-studentsThird graders in Christine Durco’s class raise their hands in joy as Oak Ridge Elementary School in Palos Hills scored well on a state achievement test.  Photo by Jeff Vorva.

 



  “We have a lot of data,” Reich said. “We believe that’s the foundation.”
  Reich, in her third year as principal at Glen Oaks, said students know what’s at stake and work with their teachers to set performance goals.
  “We have the kids in on this,” she said. “The kids are happy to achieve goals. It’s mostly their hard work.”
  Seventy-seven percent of the students in North Palos School District 117 met or exceeded state standards. That figure would have been in the 90th percentile under the previous testing standards, Reich said.
  However, the score is the highest of the seven elementary school districts in the The Reporter’s coverage area.
  District 117 Supt. Jeannie Stachowiak credited the significant amount of teamwork in the district for success on the test. She said the district’s three assistant superintendents are routinely in the schools “really listening to the teachers need.”
  “I think we’re going to see a lot of growth this year,” she said.
    “It’s just a new reality,” Reich said of the new state standards. “We’re always looking to be better.”

Blighted Plaza property ready for demolition

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Evergreen Park officials Monday took some additional steps toward the redevelopment of the Plaza.
  Trustees approved an ordinance approving the Evergreen Park Place redevelopment plan, which will permit the village to charge a 1 percent sales tax within the commercial district to reimburse the costs of demolition and renovation, Mayor Jim Sexton said.
  A second ordinance approved on Monday designates the Plaza property as blighted, which would allow the developer to pay 10 percent in Cook County property taxes rather than 25 percent, Sexton said.
  The ordinance also grants the village condemnation powers that can be used if any remaining tenants do not leave the mall, 95th Street and Western Avenue.
  Negotiations with Carson’s, the lone retailer in the mall, have stalled, Sexton said. Condemnation power gives the village leverage in future negotiations, he said.
  The retailer is only one remaining at the otherwise shuttered mall. The mall closed on May 31. Applebee’s, which is located on an out lot, and Planet Fitness, remain open.
  Plans calls for an outdoor mall that would a feature a variety of retailers and restaurants.
  The 61-year-old shopping mall, formerly the Evergreen Plaza, has been in foreclosure since 2011.
  DeBartolo Development wants to demolish the mall and replace it with a “lifestyle center,” Chicago Real Estate Daily.com reported. The development firm is owned by former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo.
  Sexton and other village officials met with DeBartolo representatives last week. The developer hopes to begin demolition in the spring followed by construction, which would take about one year, Sexton said.