Local legislators share coffee and concerns over budget stalemate

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Two local legislators, residents and some community leaders sat down to have some coffee Saturday morning and shared ideas and complaints about the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield.

State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and state Sen Bill Cunningham (D-18th) listened to the concerns of a wide range of issues from nearly 20 people Saturday at the Starbuck’s located in the Stony Creek Promenade TIF District near 111th and Cicero in Oak Lawn.

Burke told the group seated around a table that the largest obstacle is that Gov. Rauner emphasizes that any reforms that are made has to be tied to his “turnaround agenda” that currently calls for restrictions on collective bargaining rights and major concessions by union leaders.

“There are things we can work with,” said Burke, who district includes Evergreen Park and portions of Oak Lawn. “The governor wants term limits. I personally don’t agree but we can look at that. But calling for the end of collective bargaining is not going to happen.”

Cunningham, whose district includes portions of Worth, Palos and Orland townships, agreed and added that it does not help that the governor makes these demands instead of negotiating.

“The governor had talked about shutting everything down if he doesn’t get what he wants,” said Cunningham, “But when you say the government, it also means Misericordia and Catholic Charities.”

Burke said that she and 20 other legislators sent a letter to Rauner asking to negotiate on aspects of the turnaround agenda.

“We will not talk about collective bargaining,” said Burke. “But we will talk about other issues.”

Burke said that discussions can focus on costs at colleges and universities. She said money goes to instructors, administrative fees and intercollegiate athletics. Rauner signed a bill last year to provide funding for kindergarten through 12th grade. The governor has stated that the cost at state colleges and universities are too high. Burke said a bill she helped introduce regarding Monetary Awards Programs, or MAP grants, has since been revised on a couple of occasions and has been vetoed by the governor. A new bill passed through the Senate on March 17 with some additions and the return of MAP grants. The governor has not commented on the most recent bill.

Residents who dropped by for coffee and stopped to listen to Burke and Cunningham asked what tax plans the Democrats have put forth? Burke said a graduated income tax has been talked about, and pointed to the bill state Rep. Jack Franks (D-63rd) introduced.

Franks’ House Bill 4300 calls for the elimination of several employer tax incentives that he said does not benefit the majority of businesses. Some business leaders have said that Franks’ bill would be detrimental to companies and raise costs for employers.

Cunningham said there are a number of plans out there introduced by Democrats. However, he said he recalled being called in for a breakfast meeting with the governor along with other legislators.

“The first 15 minutes he was talking about the evils of organized labor and that concessions have to made,” recalled Cunningham. “I thought maybe he would talk to us and get to know us. I thought maybe he would find out what we did before entering politics. There was nothing like that. There was no negotiating.”

Cunningham is in agreement with Burke regarding the need for MAP grants. Many of these students are from first-generation homes and need assistance, he said. The legislators said if the governor can get away from collective bargaining, there is room for compromise.

“We have dealt with budgets, we have done it all the time,” said Cunningham. “But when the governor wants to tie everything together, it makes it very difficult.”

The budget stalemate has created financial hardship for state universities like Eastern Illinois, whose applications are way down, said Cunningham. Some residents who attended the coffee hour said that Governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar would negotiate. One woman said that Thompson fought for the “Forgotten Children’s” fund.

“There’s a belief that some of these institutions are bad,” said Burke. “In the 1970s we funded mental health programs but that began to change in the 1980s. The money that is cut from these programs mean these people are left out in the communities.”

Some residents pointed out that these people are our homeless. Another person said many of these people are ill and need help.

Burke added that in a couple of weeks, letters will be sent out to families about MAP grants. “The governor wants to increase spending for K through 12 by 25 percent,” said Burke. “So, where is the money for that?”

Burke and Cunningham said much has to be done. Both legislators said the middle class and the poor are suffering.

“A lot of people’s wages are stagnating,” said Burke. “That’s not good for society.

“I wish I knew some psychological lever I can pull to get things going,” added Burke.

Worth mayor said vandalism may result in thousands of dollars in damage

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Worth Mayor Mary Werner voiced her displeasure during the board meeting on March 16 about reports of damage to property that has occurred recently in the village.

Werner read a prepared statement about what she said has been excessive damage over the last seven weeks to village, park district and school properties.

“To repair and restore the damaged areas will cost in the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

Reportedly, the damage has been caused by an individual, or individuals, driving a vehicle recklessly on the properties. Damage has occurred at the Water’s Edge Golf Course, Altman Park, and twice each at Homerding Park, Stahlak Park and Gale Moore Park.

Additionally, the Worthwoods School and the School Administration Building were vandalized during the same time frame.

Werner said she was bringing this to the public’s attention, not just as a public service announcement, but as a request for help.

“If any suspicious activity is witnessed in our parks or other areas, please do not hesitate to contact the police. We want to continue to keep our village, parks and schools looking good. Any assistance or help in trying to prevent this type of activity from continuing will be appreciated,” she said.

Her remarks came on the heels of an announcement from Village Clerk Bonnie Price, who stated in her clerk’s report that security cameras were installed at the Metra Train Station on Friday.

Werner said she hoped the cameras would become a deterrent to the vandalism. “The recent damage to Gale Moore Park was caused by vandals who stole large bags of rock salt from the train station and scattered it across the grassy areas in the park, which has effectively killed all the grass,” she said.

At the board meeting, two new police officers were sworn in to serve and protect.

Taking the oath of office were Officers Joseph Vityk and Michael Wirth, bringing the total number of police officers in the village to 26. Price administered the oath. Both Vityk and Wirth graduated on Friday from the Cook County Police Academy in Chicago after completing three months of intensive training. According to a police department spokesperson, the two officers will then complete an additional week of training with the academy. The week is an optional choice and will involve taser training.

Vityk and Wirth are scheduled to begin their duties with Worth on Monday, March 28.

After the ceremony, Werner said, “I am grateful when we have young men such as these, stepping up to be police officers in this day and age. It makes me feel safe.” Werner told the officers she was proud of them. She attended their graduation on Friday.

In other board action, a business license and ordinance approving a special use to operate an automobile repair shop was approved for A Plus Auto Repair Inc., located at 6445 W. 111th St., with a stipulation that prevents the company from test driving vehicles southbound on Natchez Avenue, as it is a residential street. Also outlined was a requirement that vehicles not be stored on the lot for more than 72 hours.

A license was also approved for the Hookah Shoppe d/b/a Worth Tobacco, located at 10718 S. Harlem Ave. The license is contingent upon having passed all inspections and being in compliance with all codes and ordinances, which does not allow paraphernalia, such as glass pipes to be sold.

A license approval for The Walk-in Closet, 6955 W. 111th St., was removed from the consent agenda because the owner was not present. Werner said attendance is mandatory for owners of businesses seeking business licenses. She noted it will be visited again at the next regular board meeting.

Also approved were Tag Day requests for the Worth-Ridge Panthers on May 21 and for Blue Cap on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.

Trustees Tedd Muersch Jr. and Kevin Ryan were absent from the meeting due to work conflicts.

Oak Lawn Board decides to keep towing company after heated debate

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The local towing company that has held the contract with Oak Lawn for village business for more than 15 years almost lost it this week, but received a last-minute reprieve after a tense discussion among Village Board members on Tuesday.

The issue was first raised during the public comment portion of the meeting when Ed Forsythe, a longtime employee of Jack’s Towing, pleaded with the board to retain the company’s services. For more than 15 years, Jack’s, located at 4400 Southwest Highway, has been the company used by the police department and the village whenever vehicles need to be removed from local roads.

Forsythe feared the decision to change towing companies had essentially been made, but urged the board to reconsider, saying it would cause at least two Oak Lawn residents, including himself, losing their jobs.

“Everything we do is for the good of the village,” said Forsythe, noting that the towing company depends entirely on the village for business, and there have been no complaints about service. “I’m 60 years old. What else am I going to do?

Village Manager Larry Deetjen addressed the situation later in the meeting, pointing out the 15-year contract that a previous administration had awarded Jack’s Towing in 2000 had run out last October.

“They have been on a month-to-month contract since then,” said the village manager, asserting that Mike Queenan, the owner of the company, had been notified the previous year a change in vendor was a possibility.

“It is a business decision. It is nothing personal,” he said, assuring the owners of Jack’s that there had been no complaints about service. But he said the 15-year contract was unusually long, and it was time for a change.

He said that he had put the contract out to bid, and a committee, made up of himself, Police Chief Michael Murray, village attorney Pat Connelly, and Steve Barrett, director of the Public Works Department, thoroughly vetted the five companies that submitted bids.

He said that at the committee’s suggestion, TechniCraft in Justice and Walsh Towing in Chicago, had agreed to share the village’s towing business, pointing out that prior to 2000, the business had been shared by at least two companies.

However, the idea of taking the contract away from a local company did not sit well with Trustees Alex Olejniczak (2nd) and Bob Streit (3rd).

When Olejniczak questioned the necessity of making a change, since there had been no complaints about Jack’s work, Deetjen raised other issues.

He pointed out that Jack’s is located on village property, and has not paid any rent since the contract ended. Furthermore, he said the village has determined that the company has somehow managed to avoid paying any water or sewer charges for the past 15 years.

“They are in arrears on utilities,” he said.

Olejniczak agreed that the village is entitled to get any money owed to them, but said that putting village residents out of work is the wrong thing to do.

“You’ve got a good Oak Lawn business here. Why would you even want to change?,” wondered Olejniczak, who had asked that the vote be postponed to allow further review of the process.

Streit spoke more stridently, asserting that Deetjen’s efforts indicated a lack of loyalty by the administration. “The only thing you get after providing nearly two decades of dedicate service to the village is fired,” he said.

“No one has gotten fired yet,” retorted Trustee Tim Desmond (1st). “Try to tell the truth, if you can.”

Indeed, no one did get fired, because Desmond, Olejniczak and Streit voted against the move, and Mayor Sandra Bury sided with them to break the 3-3 tie.

“I just think after all this discussion, we need to look at the matter further and make sure the right decision is made,” said Bury.

Deetjen said his next step in light of the vote, will be to draw up a contract for Jack’s, to be offered for the board’s consideration.

“But the village cannot do business with a company that is in arrears in rent and utilities. It is against the law,” he said.

Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who voted to change companies, said he had no problems with Jack’s but felt the vetting process was thorough and “a 15-year run is a long time.”

“I know “Jack,” (the company owner), and my only regret is that I guess I won’t be going out for any more beers with him,” he said wryly.

Break ground for new medical facility scheduled for Chicago Ridge

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Village officials and the group of doctors planning to open a new cancer center in Chicago Ridge came together on Friday for a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site where it is being built at 10604 Southwest Highway.

The real digging was expected to begin this week on the site just east of Harlem Avenue, with completion tentatively scheduled for May of 2017.

The Chicago Ridge Village Board last month approved the plans for the 40,000 square-foot facility, which represents an investment of between $15 million and $17 million.

“This is phenomenal. It is going to be our home here for a very long time,” said Amar Hamed, MD, the lead doctor in the group of six who will be moving their practices into the building.

“It is going to be great for the community of Chicago Ridge. It is going to be great for the whole area,” he said of the center, which is expected to draw clients from throughout the southwest suburban area.

He and his partners and their staffs, with Mayor Chuck Tokar and trustees Frances Coglianese, Jack Lind, Sally Durkin and Amanda Cardin, toasted the achievement with sparkling grape juice before lifting a few shovelfuls of dirt to mark the occasion.

The two-story center, open 24 hours a day, will include about two dozen exam rooms, as well as thoracic and pulmonary surgery suites, a PET/CT scan suite and a blood center. Chemotherapy bays will be on the second floor, situated in front of large windows so that patients receiving chemotherapy will be able to look out on an adjacent wooded area.

In addition, a pharmacy and retail store for medical supplies will be on the first floor, as well as an outdoor patio area.

“We want a friendly space for our patients. We want them to think positively. That is important in cancer care. So, to promote that, we have incorporating a water feature, a fountain in the two-story lobby and reception area,” said Mahmoud Mahafzah, MD, one of the cancer specialists partnering with Hamed.

He said that while a name for the center has not been officially chosen, they are seriously considering “Fountain of Hope.”

The six are affiliated with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, and Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights.

Cathy Griffin, the regional director of operations for the group, said they will be consolidating three medical offices, including two in Oak Lawn and one in Burbank, at the new site.

“We are so happy and excited that this is coming to Chicago Ridge,” said Griffin. “It is a tremendous addition.”

“It seems like 10 years we have been working on this, rather than one,” said the mayor.

“We’re here to celebrate. We are so proud to have this center here. It is going to be great for Chicago Ridge and the whole area,” said Tokar.

When the Village Board approved the plans last month, the mayor noted that developing the land within the TIF district will benefit the village financially, too.

“The increment on taxes is going to mean a lot. It is a big difference in what is being collected now on vacant land. It will mean some jobs, too,” said Tokar.

With the Chicago Ridge Nursing Center already located next door at 10602 Southwest Highway, and the Davita dialysis center nearby at 10511 S. Harlem, and other facilities in the area, Tokar said at the groundbreaking that area is becoming a “medical corridor” for the village.

“And it has been a pleasure working with these doctors to come to an agreement that is good for everyone.

The Rev. Joseph Mol also led the medical and village staff in a prayer, seeking blessings for everyone from the construction workers to the future generations of healthcare workers and patients who will pass through the doors.

“May the Divine Physician shower his grace upon all the good that will take place in this building for years to come,” he said.

School buses based in Evergreen Park will require village stickers

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

Action taken at the Evergreen Park Board Meeting on Monday approved an ordinance that will require that village stickers be purchased for school buses based in the suburb.

Mayor James Sexton explained that only buses with a base of operation located in the village will be required to purchase stickers.

“If buses are operating in the village, but their headquarters are elsewhere, they will not be required to have a village sticker,” he said.

Also approved were ordinances updating Evergreen Park’s Intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Oak Lawn to provide emergency dispatch services and to establish and authorize the operation of a 911 joint authority.

Participating in the Intergovernmental agreement in addition to Evergreen Park, are Burbank, Hodgkins and Bridgeview. Also participating is the Bedford Park Fire District and the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.

Additionally, the approval of an ordinance providing for the acquisition of property located at 9138 S. Kedzie Ave. will allow the village to move forward in its efforts to purchase the property. Sexton said the property has been in foreclosure for a number of years and the village is hoping to purchase it in order to provide off-street parking for ThiThi’s Restaurant, located just north of the property.

Other approvals included granting a request from Tavern in the Green to erect tents on the east side of its building at 3422 W 95th St. on April 29, July 1, Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

An application for a business regulation certificate was approved for Shaker Subs Elite, d/b/a Firehouse Subs, a fast food restaurant located at 9204 S. Western Ave.

In other board action, approval was given on the selection of Environmental Cleansing Corporation as the company to demolish two buildings at 2942-2946 W. 95th St. at a cost of $23,554. Their bid was one of eight bids received. Two of the bids presented reflected lower cost estimates, including IESCO Construction Company at $16,385 and Signature Demo Service at $22,500.

Trustee Mark Marzullo questioned Public Works Director William Lorenz on why the lower bids were not considered. Lorenz replied that he was not familiar with either of the companies and that none of his peers in nearby municipalities had ever heard of the businesses.

“Also, Environmental Cleansing Corporation has previously worked in Evergreen Park and is familiar with our village and its environment,” Lorenz said.

Sexton also added that when a company submits such a low bid on a major project, it usually results in trouble down the road.