Skibinski replaces O'Donnell as OL treasurer

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Outgoing Oak Lawn Treasurer Pat O’Donnell got his props Tuesday night, just 16 months after painting a gloomy financial picture of a village that was struggling with debt and unable to meet pension obligations.


Tuesday night’s meeting was O’Donnell’s last following his resignation after 19 months on the job.


He is being replaced by Joe Skibinski, a certified public accountant and member of the police and fire pension boards for the past year. The board unanimously approved Skibinski’s appointment on Tuesday.


“Pat has very sadly told me he’s moving on,” said Bury, who appointed O’Donnell in June 2013, shortly after she was elected.


The mayor credited O’Donnell for providing clarity to village finances and possessing the ability to explaining the long-term view to trustees who often are “in the moment” when it comes to budgets and finances.


“You did this job because you love Oak Lawn sincerely,” said Bury, who noted that O’Donnell did not take a salary for the position.


O’Donnell played a major role in helping the village take initial steps in paying down debt and increasing the annual contribution to the police and fire pensions.


The village in 2013 contributed $2.4 million to the pension funds, but will increase the amount to $4.9 million for 2015, according to a presentation given by O’Donnell.

O’Donnell offered some final tips during his brief presentation.


“I don’t think you tax your way out of this,” he said of the pension problems.


Rather, the possibility of selling village-owned property might help raise addition funds, he said.


O’Donnell’s presentation listed several village-owned properties that could be sold, including: Jack’s Towing, 4440 Southwest Highway; the 5210 W. 95th Street building and the former sewer lift station at 6100 W. 99th Street.


Village Finance Director Brian Hanigan said the village’s goal for the next few years is to “be disciplined about (debt) pay down.”


O’Donnell said he enjoyed his tenure with the village.


“It’s been a great experience for myself,” O’Donnell said. “I wish you all good luck. We’ve made some tremendous progress. I think this board should be very, very proud of its accomplishments.


Trustee Tim Desmond credited O’Donnell for explaining village finances in laymen’s terms, and Trustee Alex Olejniczak noted that he always was willing to listen.


“I know it not an easy job dealing with a lot of different and strong personalities,” added Trustee Carol Quinlan.


“You put the politics out of it,” Trustee Mike Carberry said.


Trustee Bob Streit, a critic of O’Donnell’s appointment, was the lone trustee not to comment on the treasurer’s body of work at Tuesday’s meeting.


Skibinski is a former member of the Oak Lawn Library Board and a finance committee member at St. Linus parish. He teaches public finance classes at Governor’s State University.


An Oak Lawn native, Skibinski credited O’Donnell for “changing the tone of the conversation” when it comes to village finances. He said his primary focus would be to generate new revenue for the village.




Oak Lawn mayor set to fix town's 'leaky bucket'

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Page-12-jump-buryPerhaps the most significant part of Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury’s State of Village address on Tuesday came toward the end.


“We’ve got it all right here,” Bury said Tuesday afternoon during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Oak Lawn Hilton. “We’ve got the whole bucket. Here’s the problem: it’s a leaky bucket.”


After her formal remarks, Bury explained that the leaky bucket was analogous for the amount of money residents spend outside of the village.


Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton is fond of telling residents to “keep the green in Evergreen” while Bury likes to repeat the mantra: “Shop Oak Lawn.”


The message, which can be found on this year’s village vehicle stickers, should be taken to heart, Bury said.


Most goods and services can be purchased in Oak Lawn, but too often she hears of people traveling to Orland Park to purchase a car or to the mall in neighboring Chicago Ridge for a variety of items.


She said residents could make a difference by spending $50 from time to time in three or four Oak Lawn businesses.


“That would drive other businesses,” said Bury, who also encouraged residents to talk up the village’s business community.


The addition of Mariano’s brings an upscale grocery to the village. The store serves as the anchor to Stony Creek Promenade, which also features restaurants and retail stores.


Development has not been limited to the Promenade, as banks, medical offices and other retail shops have sprung up around town. The challenge now, Bury said, is to encourage residents to patronize the businesses.


The bulk of the remarks in Bury’s second State of the Village address focused on finances, services and development.


“It’s an honor and a privilege to stand here and represent the village of Oak Lawn,” Bury said to the crowd of Chamber members and representatives from various village taxing bodies and organizations.


Bury pointed out that the village represents only 10.6 percent of a homeowner’s property tax bill, or about $435 annually for the average homeowner.


“I think we’re getting a great value for your $36.35 (a month), the mayor said.


Approximately half of the revenue in the village’s $54 million comes from property and sales taxes, Bury said.


The goal is to increase sales tax revenue (currently $14 million) in order to keep the property tax levy down, she said.


The most significant financial dilemma facing the village, Bury said, is the ongoing difficultly funding pensions—a problem that can no longer be delayed.


“This is the thing that keeps me up at night,” Bury said, adding that an additional $5 million budget cut will be required in the 2015 spending plan to help fund mandates.


Other points made in Bury’s speech included:


  • The fire department responded to 8,188 in 2014, and the vast majority were for ambulances;

  • The police department responded 58,140 calls in 2014, and the department’s budget is up 19 percent since 2012;

  • The 911 emergency dispatch center—perhaps the largest bone of contention between Bury and her political opponents—answered 95 percent of its calls last year in less than 10 seconds;

  • The village removed 164 ash trees in 2014, significantly less than the 248 removed in 2013. Only 300 of the original 2,000 ash trees in Oak Lawn remain. “It’s really devastating and terrible,” Bury said of the emerald ash borer responsible for destroying the ash trees.

  • The village has replaced the ash tress by planting 242 trees from 58 species along residential streets.

    Bury said the plan to move the village’s senior center into the VFW Hall is ongoing.

    The plan calls for the village to build a small addition on the west end of the hall, 9514 S. 52nd St., which could be both by seniors and VFW members.

    The plan still requires the approval of the VFW’s approval.

    “It’s not a done deal,” Bury said.

    There are approximately 750 visits to the senior center each month, mostly by seniors seeking exercise, Bury said.

    Bury also outlined the ways in which the village has improved communications an outreach with residents by redesigning its web page and posting information to Facebook and YouTube. A new telephone system is expected to be installed at village hall by April, she said.

Chicago Little League team stripped of title

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-JRWThe Evergreen Park Athletic Association has insisted all along that it wasn’t interested in having the Jackie Robinson West stripped of its United State Little League World Series title when it brought up allegations of cheating to Little League International months ago.

But that’s what happened on Wednesday morning as the organization stripped the Chicago team of its title and made the team forfeit postseason tournament games. It also suspended team manager Darold Butler and Little League District 4 Administrator Michael Kelly

A spark lit by months ago by the EPAA finally caused a major explosion thanks in part to neighboring Chicago Little League teams recently getting on board with added allegations about boundary tampering.

EPAA Vice President Chris Janes, who was the organization’s spokesman throughout this process said in January “At the end of the day, I could care less if they lose a trophy or not – that doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone is held accountable.’’

On Tuesday, when rumors swirled that JRW could be stripped of its title, Janes reiterated that was not his organization’s goal. But he said was satisfied that Little League International was taking the matter seriously.

“I have absolutely no regrets,” Janes said. “It just keeps on popping up. “It’s really cool to see other people coming forward.”

He added that much of the controversy could have been avoided if Little League officials had looked closer at the accusations Evergreen Park Baseball made shortly after the Little League World Series.

“We started at the district level way back in August,” Janes said. “This should have been addressed then.”

The Little League organization issued a statement Wednesday morning condemning the actions of the JRW officials.

“After an extensive review of the operations of Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4, the Little League International Charter/Tournament Committee has determined that the Jackie Robinson West Little League and Illinois District 4 Administrator knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s boundaries,” the statement read.

“The Charter/Tournament Committee has decided to vacate the league’s wins from the 2014 Little League Baseball International Tournament, including its Great Lakes Regional and United States Championships, and suspend team manager, Darold Butler, from Little League activity.

“Illinois District 4 Administrator, Michael Kelly, has also been removed from his position. Jackie Robinson West Little League has been placed on probation with its tournament privileges suspended until such a time that new leadership in the positions of President, Anne Haley, and Treasurer, Bill Haley, have been elected or appointed, and that the league is fully compliant with all Little League International Regulations.”

Prior to the ruling, officials from the Las Vegas squad which lost to JRW in the U.S. championship portion of the tournament weighed in.

Kristi Black, president of Nevada's Mountain Ridge Little League, told the DNAinfo website that the Las Vegas team “rightfully deserves to be recognized as the legitimate team that went the farthest.”

The coach of the Las Vegas team that lost 7-5 to JRW in the U.S. title game described the Chicago team’s actions as fraudulent. His team defeated JRW in earlier round play 13-2.

“If all the information is factual about what has been said was going on … it comes down to fraud. We’re talking about multi-millions of dollars were invested into a program and the whole nation was deceived. They have to take a stand on this,” Ashton Cave told DNAinfo.

Cave compared the controversy to disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who denied doping allegations his entire career but ultimately was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for using steroids.

“Lance Armstrong went down that road and became an example of what happens when you say one thing and it’s actually the other. The truth comes out,” Cave said.

Jackie Robinson West’s success was the feel-good story of the summer as a team from Chicago’s South Side came together and rolled through the sectional and state playoffs before winning the U.S. title. It lost the title game to a team from Seoul, Korea.

Shortly after that, in an email to Little League International, EPAA officials called on Little League officials to investigate whether Jackie Robinson West engaged in “manipulating, bending and blatantly breaking the rules for the sole purpose of winning at all costs.’’

As being the designated voice of the organization, Janes received criticism and abuse via e-mail and social media. On Wednesday morning, a caller to WSCR radio who was hopping mad about the decision made a reference to the “losers in Evergreen Park.’’

During the postseason, EP lost to JRW 43-2 in four innings. In the books, that is now an Evergreen Park victory.

JRW players enjoyed significant recognition when they returned to Chicago from World Series site Williamsport, Pa., including a downtown pep rally and appearances at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field and a chance to meet President Barack Obama.

With this seemingly behind him, Janes said he that he’s looking forward to the coming baseball season.

“I can’t wait for baseball to start,” Janes said. “I’m looking forward to being on the field with the boys again.”


Heart disease plays no favorites

  • Written by By Jeff Vorva and Kelly White

Photo by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards sophomore Nick Aggelopoulos stands in front of a bulletin board full of hearts with the names of students who will receive EKG tests on Feb. 24. Aggelopoulous found he had a heart disease last year when he received an EKG a little more than a year ago.


When he was a freshman, Nick Aggelopoulos was a football player who started the season on the freshman team at Richards and eventually worked his way to up to varsity.

A few months later, on Jan. 10, 2014, he passed out while working out.

Wait a minute.

Conventional wisdom suggested this wasn't right.

Aggelopoulos was a football player since kindergarten. He was in good shape. Why in the heck did he pass out after a routine workout?

As he and others are learning, heart disease plays no favorites. It can strike at any time. It doesn’t matter if you are athletic, appear to be physically fit or never picked up a barbell in your life, heart disease can target anyone.

It targeted Aggelopoulos in January and caused him to get examinations and an electrocardiogram, which showed he had Wolff-Parkinson-White, a birth defect of the heart. This is where the heart has an extra electrical pathway, which can sometimes cause arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Friday will be the one-year anniversary of heart surgery – cardiac ablation -- that Nick received and he is glad he is still around to recognize the date.

                “It’s hard to believe it’s been a year,’’ he said. “I look at life differently now. Before, I would be rushing to get to what’s next. What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Now I look at what gifts I have. I take a step back and realize how lucky I really am.’’

                He played football again his sophomore season and is trying to tell as many of his peers as he can about getting EKGs as a preventive measure.

The Young Hearts for Life organization has been bringing groups of qualified community volunteers to Chicago area high schools to provide free EKG screenings to all of its students and will be stopping off at Richards, 10601 Central Avenue, on Feb. 24.

             Young Hearts for Life stresses early heart screening for teenagers and young adults to foresee any potential cardiac conditions that may need further attention during the aging process. More than 500 of Richards’ 1,700 students signed up and officials are hoping for more. Aggelopoulis is trying to get the word out to his peers.

                “It’s cool to be involved in helping other kids,” he said. “If we can save one of those 500, it would be worth it. Or 20 out of 500. Or even all 500.”

                You don’t have to convince his mother, Paula. She saw firsthand what you can learn from and EKG.

“I am a firm believer in the necessity of EKG’s,” she said. “My son on occasion, especially the year leading up to his workout incident, complained of chest pain at football practice. He told me his heart pounded a lot at summer practice, told me his chest felt tight. We told him, ‘take your inhaler, it’s probably your asthma.’”

                "Over the years we have been bothered by stories of young people dying," Dr. Joseph Marek founder the Young Hearts for Life Cadiac Screening Program said.

                According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that 3,000 young adults are victims of sudden cardiac death each year in the United States and that 50-to-60 percent of these deaths may have been prevented through a simple, inexpensive heart screening.

Unfortunately Oak Lawn Community High School student, Tim Nickos, was one of the cardiac victims in 2011.

                “He was a normal, everyday kid, and he happened to be in really good shape,” Tim’s father, Dale Nickos said about his son who died in between his junior and senior year.

                Tim loved music, video games and playing trumpet for the Spartans marching band, his father said. He was a standout swimmer who was to become captain of the team his senior year. He displayed no symptoms of a heart condition. And at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he seemed to be the picture of health until the day he didn’t wake up in 2011, when he died in his sleep of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy leaving his family stricken with shock.

                “We had no idea that he had a heart condition,” Nickos said, “We found out in the autopsy four months after he had passed away.”

                As sad as the loss has been, Nickos said he finds strength and purpose in sharing the story publicly, not only to keep his son’s memory alive but to help prevent this kind of loss from happening again. He emphasized the importance of an early EKG screening and how it can save lives.

                “As parents, we want our children around forever,” he said, “I do love the fact that the loss of my son, Tim, is helping to save others. This alone helps to keep Tim’s memory alive. Of course I wish I could turn back time and get him tested a year before he passed, but I can’t do that. So I have decided to do whatever I can to make sure that this will never happen to another student and their family. No parent should ever have to go through this.”

                District 218 spokesman Bob McParland said there are several reasons why teenagers are avoiding cardiac screenings. He said students think they are bulletproof, many parents don’t view cardiac issues seriously in regard to teenagers, students have fear because they think it will hurt. McParland added that since high school physicals do not include an EKG, students have no idea whether they have a cardiac issue of concern.

                McParland said the free cardiac screening taking place at Richards High School is painless and offered to all students.

                Since the Young Hearts for Life program launched in 2006, more than 12,000 volunteers have been trained and more than 110,000 students have been tested, making Young Hearts for Life the largest screening program in the United States.

                “It doesn’t matter if they are athletes, band members, mechanics, ROTC or drama students, everyone has a heart and my hope is that each and every student gets the opportunity to live their longest life and enjoy each moment they get growing old,” Aggelopoulos said.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions:: Changing this scoring decision was the right thing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Sometimes doing the nice thing isn’t always the right thing.

It sounds good.

It’s done for positive reasons.

But it’s not right.

The wrong was righted, however and all is well.

There are some who would question why so much time, energy and media space to an issue about who the all-time girls basketball scoring leader at Oak Lawn Community High School is spent when there is so much else going on in the world.

That’s true. But even issues that seem small and frivolous to the rest of the world are worth fighting for to the people closest to the situation.

Deerfield’s Drew Levin says he is not a troublemaker or the type who sends meals back to the kitchen at restaurants. But last February when he started reading newspaper reports that Oak Lawn’s LaTondra Brooks became the all-time scoring leader, he was upset and got involved.

His wife, known in these parts back in the late 1990s as Kathy Krzak, was the scoring leader with 1,235 points. Brooks scored 1,132 points in a Spartans uniform. Coaches and officials at the school, however, added 316 points that she scored on a varsity squad in Missouri when she was a freshman before moving to the Oak Lawn district.

Kathy and Drew Levin weren’t happy and Drew decided to write letters to get things changed. Drew pointed out that basketball great Kevin Garnett, who played just one year at Farragut High School in Chicago, didn’t have all of his previous career points transfer with him.

For the past year, Drew tried to get things changed and recently showed up to District 229 meetings to argue his case. That picked up some media attention and D229 Superintendent and Oak Lawn Principal Michael Riordan did some research on how other schools and teams did things.

On Jan. 26, he let the Levins know that Kathy was indeed the all-time scoring leader and her name was going to be put back on the board in the Spartans gym recognizing that accomplishment.

“It was a tough issue – LaTondra is one of the best female athletes we ever had,” Riordan said. “In time she will be [immortalized in a display with some of the other Spartan greats]. The coach and athletic director felt it was the right thing to do to include her points. At the time, I agreed and supported that decision.

“When Drew started raising the questions, I didn’t disagree with them but I felt our position wasn’t wrong, either. It’s not a right or wrong, it’s how you define career points. I give Mr. Levin credit for his persistence and I started doing more homework. While the decision we made wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t common practice. It’s not what the norm was. Keeping career points scored [solely] for the school made sense. Ultimately we did what we thought was best.’’

Three days later, senior Brianna Markusic hit a steal and layup in the first half of a game against Shepard and broke Kathy’s record.

The Levins were on hand to watch the record fall. It was the first time Kathy was back in the gym for the first time since she graduated in 1999.

Drew, Kathy and their three children, Jake, Lexi and Lucas made the trip from Deerfield to watch the record fall. It was not a sad time. Kathy was able to show her kids her name on the board and at halftime, she congratulated the new scoring leader and received some flowers in return.

“It’s exciting and it’s exciting for my kids,” Kathy said. “We just wanted it done the right way. This is great. It was done fairly and it was exciting to see her break the record. It’s quite an accomplishment.’’

Her husband insists that this was done to show his kids to stand up for what you believe is right.

“This was really about principles more than Kathy holding the record,” Drew said. “We knew the record would be broken. Last year we read articles about the record and I was upset. It wasn’t right. At first I got a lot of resistance. But now they are doing the right thing and it’s a good example.’’

As for Brooks?

Last year’s Reporter-Regional Player of the Year is a freshman at Western Michigan Unversity, which recently took over first place in the Mid-American Conference West division for the first time since 2008.

Riordan said Brooks’ accomplishments and contributions to the school will not be forgotten.

“Some people will look at is as shedding negative light on LaTondra,” Riordon said. “No way. She did nothing wrong here. She still has her name up there [on the board] six times for six other records. It will be a long time before anyone breaks those, probably. We don’t want to be disrespectful to LaTondra and her family.’’

It wasn’t an easy issue to deal with, but Oak Lawn got it right.