No more free rides for health insurance in Chicago Ridge

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The controversial policy of free lifetime insurance benefits for part-time elected officials is coming to an end in Chicago Ridge.

Trustees agreed at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting to send letters to the vested retirees now getting the taxpayer-funded insurance benefits, advising them of changes being made to the program.

Trustee Sally Durkin said that the retirees will be given the choice of opting out of the program, or accepting the changes being made.

As of July 1, all retirees who remain in the program will be required to pay 40 percent of their health insurance premiums and 100 percent of life, vision, dental and Medicare premiums. Any spouses of deceased retirees will have to pay 100 percent of premiums for any of the insurance policies they wish to retain.

A committee made up of Durkin and Trustee Frances Coglianese with attorney Burt Odelson, held several meetings in recent weeks to determine the best way of resolving the issue. The program had been in place for more than 15 years, but many residents only became aware of it this year and it turned into a major issue leading up to the April 7 election. Durkin said she and Coglianese had discussed the latest move with Odelson before bringing it the full board for discussion in the executive session before the meeting.

“We are drafting an ordinance (detailing the changes to the policy),” said Durkin. She said the changes will affect six or seven people, including retirees and the surviving spouse of a retired trustee.

Trustee Bruce Quintos, now midway through his fourth term, is the only current board member qualified to receive the insurance benefits, which he said he has been doing for four years.

“We took a cold hard look at what everyone was paying, and I think we did an excellent job resolving this. I think it is fair,” he said.

In other business, the board also tightened the existing restrictions on watering lawns and gardens, following advice on water conservation from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Watering lawns and gardens is now limited to alternating days, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., and 7 and 11 p.m. year-round.

Therefore, people with odd-numbered addresses may water between those hours only on odd-numbered calendar days, while those with even-numbered addresses will be allowed to water on even-numbered calendar days.

The current ordinance limits the watering restrictions to between May 15 and Sept. 15, but Trustee Jack Lind said he wanted to make it year-round, and the others agreed.

“It is just simpler,” he said, adding that it will be make monitoring it easier for law enforcement.

Quintos agreed, after ensuring that the ordinance would state that lawns less than three months old would be exempt from the restrictions.

Rescued Palos Hills native tells his story about surviving Nepal earthquake

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Corey Ascolani talks about his adventures in Nepal at Trinity Christian College last Wednesday.

Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani drew his audience into the Nepal earthquake zone during last Wednesday’s talk at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, weeks after being rescued from the Himalayan country devastated by the April 25 quake.

The 1998 graduate of Stagg High School would not call himself an adventurer, but he fits the description.

A world map he showed of the places he had visited was filled with markers stretching across Europe and into Asia. He told of once buying an antique car in Vancouver, Canada, and driving it down the coast to Tijuana, Mexico.

“I just drove and let life take me where it wanted to,’’ said Ascolani,

That philosophy led him to Nepal in April.

He said that after spending more than two years teaching English in Barcelona, Spain, and traveling Europe on weekends and holidays, he felt he needed a change. He bought a one-way ticket to Nepal after hearing about Buddhist monasteries there, and the opportunity to live and work with a family for a month on an organic farm.

“It was kind of a quick decision,” said Ascolani, who flew to Nepal after a trip home to visit his ailing grandmother. He said he arrived in in Kathmandu without any hotel reservations or itinerary, and just figured he would find his own way.

Showing photos of the capital city on an overhead screen, he described the country as impoverished, without infrastructure or building codes, a main reason for the widespread destruction by the  earthquake that killed perhaps as many as 15,000 according to reports.

He made friends with a Dutch man named Kase at a meditation center, and the two decided to take a 60-mile bus ride to Langtang National Park, where they met up with other international visitors for a trek. through rugged mountain valleys.

They took a break at a bamboo tea house during the trek when the 7.8 earthquake struck about noon, shaking the ground for 90 seconds. He said the epicenter was 25 miles from where they huddled for safety.

“It was the worst earthquake in 70 years. We didn’t know what to do.”

Photos and a short video he took with his smartphone during the earthquake showed people cowering under tables and tarps at the outdoor café as rocks falling down from the surrounding mountains kicked up dust around them,

“There were about 80 of us there, including 10 or 15 locals,” he said. “Avalanches were happening right next to us,” he said.

He added one local woman in the group lost her husband when he was hit by a rock, and photos showed how boulders cut trees in half.

There were 50 aftershocks in the 24 hours after the quake, he said. Sleeping outdoors or in a nearby cave, he said, “You could feel the Earth breathe, in a sense.”

Ascolani said that after the dust settled, the group members realized they would probably be there for a while, and formed teams to sort out all the necessities of life to make the best of a bad situation. Some in the group decided to continue walking, but he and others decided it would be safer to wait it out.

“We felt we were in a relatively good situation. We needed to be rescued but we had access to food and water,” he said, noting that not far away, Langtang village was “completely wiped off the map.”

He said there was some trouble with local people unwilling to sell food because their own situations were so dire.

“For two days, people at home did not know where we were,” he said.

Regular cellphones were useless, but someone in the group had a satellite phone, which allowed them to send texts to loved ones. Once the embassies were contacted, they knew help would be on the way. eventually.

In addition to setting up a system of boiling and cooling drinking water, they dug a latrine and put a chair with a hole in the middle over it. They also cleared spaces for three helipads, marking them with blue paint.

Five days passed before a U.S. Special Forces came for him and about 28 others and they were the last ones to leave. Ascolani said helicopters chartered by the Japanese and Israeli governments had come first, but only rescued their own nationals.

“There were only three Americans there, and I was afraid our government would do the same,’ said Ascolani. “I was very proud of my government when they said they said they were taking everyone.’’

Ascolani said he felt overwhelmed, “but in a good way,” when he finally arrived at Midway Airport, met by his brother Damon and other family and friends who worked to get him home.

“There is no other feeling but love,” he said, explaining how his grandmother died the day he went to Nepal, and his mother told him she was afraid she had lost her mother and son in the same month.

When audience members marveling at his calm demeanor asked if he was religious, Ascolani described himself as “spiritual.”

“Life throws all kinds of situations at you. It is how you deal with it that matters,” said Ascolani, adding that rather than planning any more adventures, he is content to stay home for a while, He is working on a fundraising project for Nepal, which can be found online at, with 100 percent of the money raised going to Nepal.

 Tom Panush of Evergreen Park, a retired Cook County sheriff, asked Ascolani to speak to members of the Seasoned Adults Learning at Trinity program as part of his “Behind the Headlines” class.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Real-world advice for you graduates

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions

Greetings, grads.

For those of you who have graduated from high school or college this month, you no doubt have heard words of wisdom from men in suits and women in dresses about how you are the future and your potential is unlimited and all that stuff I heard when I graduated high school in 1978 and college in 1982.

These speech makers tell you there will be pitfalls and to never give up. They speak in general terms.

They aren’t wrong. You have the potential of great things in front of you. And you have the world of disappointment in front of you. Some of you may be millionaires. Some of you may be rotting in a prison cell somewhere. Most of you will be somewhere in between.

I am here to give it to you straight, boys and girls and men and women. I’ve lived a long time and I’ve seen a lot of people succeed and fail. Advice? Yep, I have plenty.

So as you put your gowns on the hanger and get ready for your next phase in life either curing cancer or selling pencils on a street corner , here are some tips from your goofy Uncle Jeff to keep in mind…

-- For those going into college, don’t freak out if some of the general courses in your field are really hard. A lot of stuff gets thrown at you and it can make your head spin.

It gets easier and more interesting when you start taking specialized courses in that field. You will enjoy them more. Survive the general courses and thrive in the advanced courses and you will be fine.

-- I learned this late in my academic career, but employ the Vorva Distraction Method when studying for tests.

Once, I had a big test on a Monday (professors who give big tests on Mondays have a nice big section of Hell awaiting them in the afterlife) and there was a big football game I wanted to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

I ended up doing both. I would try to memorize something and when I thought I had it nailed, I would watch some of the game. After about five minutes of being totally distracted, I turned the game off and wrote down what I tried to memorize before watching the game. If I could write it down, I knew I knew it and went on to anther section. If I couldn’t, I tried again.

I was stunned with how well that worked. I earned some pretty good test scores after that.

-- Don’t believe everything a professor or teacher tells you about a pending final exam. Once, one of my teachers was completely upfront about what would appear on a mid-term and that worked out well. But during the final, he threw a lot of stuff on the test that he didn’t mention. So study everything!

-- Now a few tips for the real working world. Anytime you are looking for a job and the ad raves about how nice the area is, it’s probably a low-paying job.

-- Work as hard as you can.

Even if you work your tail off and you see goldbrickers and idiots who get promoted or better jobs, don’t lose your work ethic.  

-- Be on time. It sounds so simple, but not everyone masters the art of being where they need to be when they need to be.

-- If you are going to loudly rip your boss in one part of the office on a weekend, make sure that the office is empty and that the boss’s quiet sister isn’t in the back of the room making mental notes on everything you say.

 -- When the big bosses bring the whole company together and try to convince you that “bankruptcy is actually a GOOD thing,” it’s OK to be a little skeptical.

 -- If you get laid off from a job and the people you had great relationships with outside the company don’t even return calls or e-mails, then you know who your real friends are in the business. If you get another job and deal with those people who blew you off, keep the relationship strong, but never forget what slime they were to you when you were down.  Revenge can come in all sorts of ways.

-- When the company brings in a brand new soda machine and gives you free pop for a night or two, don’t make a pig out of yourself. I know a guy who must have drank 10 big cups of root beer and had a stomach ache afterward. It wasn’t me. Trust me.

-- Don’t believe anyone who uses the phrase “trust me.”

So to the class of 2015 I say, good luck and be careful out there. 

Electricity and gas taxes rising in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Electricity and gas taxes are going up in Oak Lawn and that left one trustee grumbling.

The Oak Lawn Board of Trustees Tuesday approved two ordinances that will raise the municipal utility tax on electricity and natural gas bills in the village—a move most trustees agreed was the best option available to generate funds needed for infrastructure improvements.

Together, the taxes are expected to generate $2.5 million per year, which Finance Director Brian Hanigan said would be put into a capital reserve account only used for streets, sidewalks, sewer pipes and other infrastructure improvements.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen told the board that the utility tax rate for electricity will be going up from .118 cents to .537 cents per kilowatt hour. The gas tax will be hiked from roughly 1.03 percent to 5 percent of the total bill, depending on the number of therms used.

 Trustee Bob Streit (3rd), the only one of the six trustees to vote against both increases, called the electricity tax hike “exorbitant.”

“This is the equivalent of a 10 percent increase in property tax, and unlike property tax, it is not tax-deductible,” said Streit.

He went on to describe the increases as “hidden taxes,” questioning why others were adamantly opposed to property tax increases but accepting of these increases.

Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) said that the increase will really only amount to an increase of about $1 to $4 on monthly bills for homeowners, depending on how much electricity they use. The increase would be less than that for residential properties when it comes to gas bills, which are typically less than electric bills. Depending on the size and type of home, residents would likely see annual combined increases of $25-$50 in their utility bills.

Stalker said the increase will have the greatest effect on large businesses, perhaps adding $1,000 per month to their bills.

“I don’t like overly taxing businesses, we need more businesses in Oak Lawn,” he added. “But large companies can afford to pay that.”

“As long as the money is going to be used for infrastructure, I can support this,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th).

Although Stalker was just elected in April, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) said that, unlike Streit, he had become familiar with the tax plans prior to the election by attending the Public Works Committee meetings where they were discussed.

Streit questioned why the minutes of the recent Public Works Committee meetings have not been made publicly available.

“Is this really open government?” he asked,   

“You were right about one thing, that we are opposed to property tax increases,” Olejniczak told Streit. “(Our goal) is to get the infrastructure done with the least amount of pain to the residents, and I think we did that. Unless you have a better solution?”

Streit maintained that more money was spent on infrastructure before Mayor Sandra Bury was elected two years ago. But Bury said money was borrowed to do that, and in recent years infrastructure funding was reduced in favor of paying more of the village’s police and fire pension obligations.

In other business, the board also approved a resolution authorizing K-Plus Engineering to do a study of the Stony Creek East Branch Drainage Basin, the first step in improving flood drainage in the village.

The cost of the study, according to the engineering firm’s proposal, is not to exceed $146,400.

“The only thing we can do (to improve drainage) is build more retention ponds and increase the flow rate of Stony Creek,” said Olejniczak, explaining that the village is working closely with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Streit said, “I support any improvements we can make to our drainage system,” but then after some discussion, cast the lone vote against going ahead with the study.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: I won't give this choice the finger

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions





What to do?

Across the pond, in jolly ol’ England, had some time on its hands and money in its drawer, so it conducted a survey. One of the questions involved asking people if people would rather lose a finger or a broadband connection.

Well, 29 percent of the 2,500 people who responded said they would rather lose the finger and 25 percent more said they couldn’t make a choice.

For those 29 percent that would choose the finger – God bless you for your decision. I would have added another question to the survey…

How do you want the digit to be removed?

$1a)      Surgically

$1b)     Chainsaw

$1c)     Doberman

$1d)     Really big scissors

For those who would definitely rather keep their finger and ditch the cable, God bless you, too. You made a wise decision.

But for those who are waffling, I have to wonder what in the heck you are thinking of.

Unless you are like former Cubs pitcher Antonio Alfonseca and have an extra finger or two to spare, this should be a no-brainer. You shouldn’t have to think about it. It’s a tough choice, but not that tough.

In a move that may stun my family, I would choose losing the internet.

We have grown so dependent on it that losing it would jolt us back into the covered wagon, pioneer and prairie days – the early 1990s. We had to rely on telephones instead of texts. We had to do research using books. Some people actually didn’t know what happened in last night’s ballgame until they read it in the newspaper.

We watched TV shows when the networks told us to. Music was on these round things called discs and before than on bigger round things called records.

Yeah, you could watch movies on a thing called a VHS player but it took a while before newer movies were released in that format.

Teenagers actually talked to each other without looking down at their phones.

I can go on and on.

My brother and sister, albeit older than me, have lived without the internet. And they would enjoy it. My brother is huge into old cars and would love the world of information he could glom off the internet. But they don’t have it and they seem OK with it.

I love using the internet as much as anyone but to lose a finger over it?

“Which is why the question of what we’d give up to keep our broadband, provides us a somewhat crazy answer. A finger? Surely not,” editor Dan Howdle said in quotes all over the place. “What we’re doing there is substituting ‘broadband’ for ‘daily contact with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances’ – and in that context, the thought living with nine fingers is, by comparison, rather trivial to some.”

And that about those people who already lost a finger or two? They could be down to an unlucky seven or eight by the time this scenario plays out. They might not have enough to use the keyboard effectively.

Ah well, I will keep my finger and hope to heck I didn’t sell any of my Ramones CDs at a garage sale.