OL trustees clash over resident’s fence request

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Poet Robert Frost said “fences make good neighbors,” but they also make for good arguments at Oak Lawn Village Board meetings if they are not built to exact zoning specifications.

The issue came up at the May 12 meeting, when the board voted 3-2 to uphold the Zoning Board of Appeals’ denial of a front yard variation that would have allowed Mauricio Medina to finish building a 6-ft. wooden fence around a vacant lot beside his home in the 10000 block of South Moody Avenue. 

“They vet these things for us,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), explaining why he favored upholding the appeals board’s 5-1 vote, without hearing any testimony from Medina. But Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), whose district includes the property in question, was incensed.

“I’m actually shocked that a trustee would make a decision without hearing from the petitioner, to hear the facts,” said Streit.

“We’ve had two public hearings on this,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.

She and others on the board said that Medina had been given a permit to build a fence, but it became an issue when he began building it too close at the property line, next to the front sidewalk, rather than set back according to the instructions that came with the permit. Building inspector Don McKenna put a stop to the work, although it is nearly completed. According to Oak Lawn ordinance, fences should not extend toward the street any farther than the house.

When newly elected Trustee William “Bud” Stalker (5th) said he would like to defer to Streit, since it was his district, both Streit and Medina were allowed to speak to the board.

“I’m disappointed with your decision,” said Medina. He said he bought the vacant lot next to his home with the intention of enclosing it, saying he had seen coyotes in his yard and he feared for the safety of his two young children, an infant and a toddler. He also said he has also been a victim of “flydumping” on the property.

“I moved from Lincoln Park to Oak Lawn. I’m a good citizen. I’m improving the area,” he said. Claiming there was a “lack of communication,” Medina said he did not realize that he was building the fence against code, and was surprised when Building Inspector Don McKenna stopped the work.

Streit said that the board should consider the safety concerns and other extenuating circumstances, asserting that Medina’s neighbors said they had no objection to the fence, and there are other similar fences in the area so it wouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood. In addition to coyotes being seen, he said the property is also “50 yards away from the Norfolk & Western Railroad.”

 However, Vorderer, who said he had patrolled the neighborhood as an Oak Lawn police officer, said the existing fences had been there before the area became part of Oak Lawn. It was also pointed out that the property, located in a secluded corner of the village east of Ridgeland Avenue and north of Stony Creek Golf Course, is separated from the railroad tracks by two other homes and Pacific Avenue, a dead-end street.

Streit also questioned why Village Manager Larry Deetjen got involved in the issue, but Deetjen said he only spoke to Medina and his wife because his office began getting calls about the fence.

Andy Skoundrianos, a member of the appeals board, loudly objected to the contention that the volunteer board acted improperly. “The fence was built illegally. It is a safety issue. There was no quid pro quo. Just follow the rules,” he insisted.

Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) was not at the meeting, and Attorney Patrick Connelly explained that four votes would be needed to overturn the appeals board decision. So with the 3-2 vote against doing so, it failed with only Streit and Stalker voting to overturn the ruling.

“I wish (Medina) well. I hope he builds his fence (within the zoning restrictions),” said Bury. 

Deetjen said Medina can take the issue to court, and it sounded at the end of the meeting like he just might do that.

“This ruling will not stand,” said Streit.

CR takes first step in cleaning up health insurance mess

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Taking the first concrete step to put an end to a controversial insurance program for part-time elected officials, the Chicago Ridge Village Board on Tuesday approved an amendment to the municipal code that ensures lifetime benefits will not be available to anyone not already eligible.

But the board agreed that there is still a lot of work to do.

The program offering health, vision, dental and life insurance to part-time elected officials, had been in place since the 1990s, but it became a campaign issue with the April election. The crowds of people who had come to meetings in recent months to express their displeasure had thinned out somewhat on Tuesday, with the auditorium only about half-full, but the issue remains a big concern of many.

The amendment was prepared by a committee formed at the May 5 meeting, made up of Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese, and attorney Burt Odelson. Durkin, who had first proposed ending the insurance program going forward, said the group met three times to discuss the matter in the past two weeks.

At the same May 5 meeting, the board clarified its interpretation of the existing policy, making the lifetime insurance available for those who have completed two four-year terms.

Because of that, Durkin said that although the new amendment goes into effect with the 2017 election, most current board members, including herself, will not be eligible for the lifetime benefits.

This is because Durkin and Trustee Amanda Cardin, as well as Village Clerk George Schleyer, are midway through their first terms, and newly elected Trustees William McFarland and Coglianese are just starting their first. McFarland and Coglianese both said following the election that they would not be taking the insurance in any case.

 Only Trustee Bruce Quintos has been on the board for more than eight years, and Trustee Jack Lind was just elected to a second term and will be eligible if he completes it.

“Anyone elected in 2017 will be fully aware that they will not be entitled to the lifetime insurance,” said Durkin.

However, the trustee pointed out that while the lifetime insurance issue has been addressed, the full board must now take up other aspects of the insurance program in the coming weeks. This includes determining whether insurance should be offered to serving trustees either, and if the village is obligated to continue paying the insurance for ex-trustees. She has suggested the possibility of having them pay 100 percent of the premium if they want to keep it.

“A lot of people were unaware that the insurance offered included life, health, dental and vision,” said Durkin. “It is hard to get insurance (as a benefit) with any part-time job,” she said.

Mary Callan, one of the residents most vocally opposed to the insurance policy, said after the meeting that she appreciated the progress made but would still like to send letters to ex-trustees asking them  to give up the insurance voluntarily, if it cannot be withdrawn by the board.  

 “The process is going to continue. I think this is a great start. I think we’re attacking the problem head-on,” said Mayor Charles Tokar.

OL native and sound man from ‘Lebowski’ comes back home for renovation ceremony

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


 Photo by Dermot Connolly

Brian McCarty speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony near a renovated intersection in Oak Lawn at which he suffered injuries in an accident there 48 years ago. McCarty has gone on to have a career in Hollywood as a sound engineer and music arranger for films including “The Big Lebowski."



St. Gerald alumnus Brian McCarty waited almost a half of a century to see this day.

Forty-eight years after receiving 176 stiches in his face and a broken leg when he was 13 because of a an accident at a dangerous intersection near the school at Central Avenue and Southwest Highway intersection, he came back from Australia to celebrate the completion of the renovation of that area along with current students and Oak Lawn and Cook County officials on last Wednesday outside the school.

McCarty grew up to work on movies such as the “Big Lebowski,” which has a famous line in it about a “world of pain’’ and he and others hope these renovations can prevent future pain and destruction.

Central and Southwest Highway had been both two-lane roads in each direction at the intersection, which was notoriously dangerous for years, especially for cars stopping to make turns. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, who joined local officials and Cook County Commissioner John Daley (D-11th) for the ribbon-cutting ceremony said more than 100 crashes have occurred there over the past decade.

But there were problems there for many years before.

In 1967, McCarty was a 13-year-old student at St. Gerald riding his bike through the busy intersection next to his school when he was struck by a speeding car and badly injured.

“I was on my bicycle and I was hit by some aggravated driver going 44 mph,” he said. McCarty, who lived on nearby Moody Avenue at the time.

McCarty, now 60, fully recovered and went on to a long career in Hollywood working on more than 40 movies, mainly as a sound engineer and music arranger.

He has been nominated three times for Oscars for his work on movies that included “The Big Lebowski,” “Naked Gun,” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” among others.

“(The accident) was a career-building moment,” he said wryly after the ceremony.

But he and his family, many of whom still live in Oak Lawn, never forgot about the danger of that intersection. Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), who grew up on the same block as McCarty, said he has been working on getting the intersection improved since he was first elected 10 years ago, in 2005.

Olejniczak said that after hearing about his efforts, McCarty sent him an email telling his story, which the trustee kept in his wallet to remind him of the importance of the task.

“We’re very happy that it is complete. It is not just for my district but for all of Oak Lawn and the whole area,” said Olejniczak. He credited Commissioner Daley for taking a personal interest in the project, thanking him for his “professionalism and concern, and for listening to a newly elected local trustee.”

“It shows that government can work,” said Olejniczak.

A work commitment prevented the trustee from attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony, but his sons Zach and John filled in, helping cut the ribbon along with Preckwinkle, Daley, Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustees Tim Desmond (1st) and Terry Vorderer (4th), and St. Gerald Principal Al Theis.

The $1.3 million renovation included widening the intersection, adding turning lanes on Central, and landscaping of the property adjacent to St. Gerald Church and School. Updated traffic lights and pedestrian countdown timers were also added to improve safety.

“We’re here in celebration of teamwork and cooperation,” Bury said of the project funded by the county.

Preckwinkle agreed, saying, “This is a great example of when units of government work together.”

She added that the county has spent $3.3 million on various Oak Lawn projects in the past five years.

“I think we were safer in these last six months [while the renovation work was underway] than at any time before,” said Theis. He thanked the county officials for working so closely with the school and parish to ensure the safety of the children and their families who use the intersection daily.

“We’re just grateful that this was done, especially that they replaced our trees,” said the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, pastor of St. Gerald, pointing out the newly planted saplings on the rebuilt parkway along Central Avenue.

Tinley mayor announces shocking resignation

  • Written by Sharon Filkins

You could have heard a pin drop.

More than 300 people sat in stunned silence.

What started out as a festive Tinley Park Business Breakfast, May 6 turned into a shocking ending when Mayor Ed Zabrocki concluded the affair with his comments.

Zabrocki, overcome with emotion, struggled to finish his remarks, announcing that he was resigning his position as mayor, effective June 1. He has served the village a total of 36 years, two as trustee and 34 as mayor. Locally, he had strong ties to Brother Rice High School, serving at the Chicago school for four decades.

With his voice breaking several times as he spoke, he cited health reasons as a major factor in his decision to resign as mayor.

“Ten years ago I battled cancer and it went into remission. I recently learned that the cancer has returned and a specific treatment plan was recommended," he said. "Treatment will begin this month and will be intensive and time-consuming. It will continue for 10 weeks.

Zabrocki said that he and his wife, Emily, have endured a very challenging year as they cared for three of their grandchildren enabling his son and daughter-in-law to remain at the hospital with his granddaughter, who suffers from spina bifida and has been in critical condition for several months.

“We realized with the challenges facing us that it is time to make this very difficult decision. he said.”

In addition to serving as Mayor of Tinley Park, Zabrocki was employed at Brother Rice for 40 years, retiring in 2005.  He began his career there in 1965, teaching American literature. He then served as both a teacher and a counselor and in later years he became the director of counseling.

“Those were golden years for me,” he said. “It is a great school with great students. Both of my sons graduated from there and went on to college; one to Georgetown University and one to Northwestern University.”

Zabrocki said he believes in the school and continues to support it through its foundation.

“I try to give back what I can,” he said.

His years at Brother Rice have left him with quite a legacy. Among his students at Brother Rice were Dan McLaughlin, now mayor of Orland Park and Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills and president of the Southwest Council of Mayors.

“Yes, four or five kids I taught or counseled are now either mayors or legislators,” Zabrocki said.

Zabrocki recommended that veteran Tinley Park Trustee Dave Seaman, currently Mayor Pro-tem, be elected to serve out his remaining term.

Public asks for part-time CL clerical workers to save on health insurance

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The health insurance issue in Chicago Ridge – in which trustees and former trustees have been offered healthy insurance benefits for free or a highly reduced rate, has a new wrinkle to it.

During the board’s May 5 discussion of advertising for an open clerical position in the police department, which needs to be filled due to an impending retirement, the health insurance issue surfaced.

Resident Mary Callan, an outspoken opponent on the insurance offered to trustees, asked if the full-time position could be filled by two part-time employees, to avoid paying insurance.

Although her suggestion was applauded by some in the crowd, Police Chief Robert Pyznarski, who asked for the opening to be advertised, said that isn’t possible.

“This job requires someone who is going to be there all the time,” he said.

He added the contract negotiated with employee unions requires that there be four full-time clerical positions.

Trustee Michael Davies suggested that the board hold off until the next meeting in two weeks to decide about advertising the job in order to get an official determination from attorneys about the legality of hiring part-time replacements.

“It seems to me we don’t need to wait two weeks,” said Mayor Charles Tokar. “I’ll call (attorney) Nick Cetwinski and get an answer. Then we can advertise for the job.”

As for the main controversy about the health insurance issue, Tokar helped form a committee which would look into the options for solving the problem. This issue brought more than 100 residents to the past two board meetings.

Callan also publicly praised Worth Township Highway Commissioner Ed Moody, a local resident who was at the meeting, for bringing the insurance issue to the attention of residents during the recent election campaign.

At the previous meeting in April, Moody was criticized by people such as Trustee Daniel Badon, who lost his bid for re-election, for making a political issue of the insurance. Badon is the only member of the current board who was a trustee when it the insurance plan was approved.

Before the meeting wrapped up and the new trustees were sworn in, Lind addressed the issue when thanking Badon and Davies, who stepped down from the board for many years of volunteer service to the village.

Referring to what he called “unfair criticism,” Lind said it should be remembered that the trustees are longtime residents and volunteered “countless hours” of service to the village. He also took issue with similar criticism of former trustee Don Pratl, who lost his bid to return to the board.

“We’ll get through this insurance thing, and if you think we did something wrong, that is fine. But (Badon and Davies) are not in it for the money. I do not serve to get insurance. I am here because I grew up here and I love this village. We look out for you. We are our neighbors. We are your friends,” said Lind.

“I second that,” agreed Tokars, thanking the outgoing trustees.