ComEd reps juice up their improvement plans in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn officials have unplugged a proposal to file a formal complaint against ComEd with Illinois Commerce Commission.
Village trustees discussed the possibility at Tuesday’s committee-of-whole meeting, but put the issue to rest after ComEd representatives outlined improvements made in 2013 and planned for the next two years.
“We do invest in Oak Lawn,” Katie Maier, ComEd’s manager of external affairs, told trustees.
Maier added that improvements include the area in the village’s 2nd District that has experienced several outages over the past several years, including one in mid March.
“That area is on our radar,” Maier said.
ComEd plans to bury an additional 8,700 feet of power lines in 2014 and inspect utility poles throughout the village the following year, Maier said.
Additionally, the company plans to continue tree trimming throughout the village and install several distribution automation devices, officials said.
“It seems to me you’re being more proactive,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), a long-time critic of ComEd.
Olejniczak, who asked the board to consider the ICC complaint, recapped on Tuesday several of the problems the village has experienced with ComEd, including a lack of preventive maintenance and inspections.
Trustee Mike Carberry (5th), who expressed support for ComEd at the March 25 village board meeting, criticized Olejniczak for his lengthy presentation.
“How long is this going to go on?” Carberry asked.
He added that he envisioned the new committee-of-the-whole meetings to be effective workshop sessions.
“I guess I want something productive,” Carberry said. “It’s not productive. It’s not making anything better.”

Olejniczak said he did not understand how resolving problems with ComEd was not productive.
“I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’ve got an issue with Commonwealth Edison,’” Olejniczak said.
At a previous board meeting, Carberry rejected Olejniczak’s position that ComEd’s service is below average. He added that the utility has followed up when he’s filed complaints.

In 2015, Carberry added, ComEd plans to inspect each of the 6,900 utility poles in the village.

Future for EP’s Planet Fitness is unhealthy due to new Plaza plans

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Tens of thousands of fitness fanatics may Page-1-2-col-plazaThe Plaza in Evergreen Park is ready for redevelopment but an issue remains regarding the status of a healthy facility that boasts 12,000 members. Photo by Bob Rakow.have to look elsewhere for their weights, treadmills and exercise classes if the Planet Fitness in Evergreen Park closes its doors.
The fitness facility, located on the north end of the Plaza, could be closed if the village uses powers of eminent domain to take over the shopping mall.
But village officials say the use of eminent domain powers is only a possibility.
“The village has been working for years on redeveloping the Plaza,” village attorney Vince Cainkar said at Monday’s village board meeting.
Representatives from Planet Fitness and Carson’s, which still has a store in the Plaza, appeared at the meeting to ask about the village’s redevelopment plans.
Bryan Rishforth, Planet Fitness owner and developer, said the Evergreen Park location has approximately 12,000 members and the club has multi-year lease at the mall. He added that Planet Fitness supports the redevelopment and wants to stay at the location.
Rishforth could not be reached for additional comment on Tuesday.
The fitness center’s primary concern is communicating with the village about redevelopment plans and want to stay out of court, he said.
The village is considering using “quick take” powers to acquire the mall for redevelopment. “Even if it’s quick take, it’s still a slow process,” Cainkar said.
Carson’s representatives have said they oppose the use of eminent domain to acquire the Plaza.
Cainkar said the village does not necessarily plan to use has not eminent domain powers simply because it has the authority. The village and Carson’s remain in negotiation regarding the store’s future, officials said.
Evergreen Park trustees last year authorized Cainkar to negotiate with Carson’s so that demolition of the mall, 95th Street and Western Avenue, can proceed.
The mall closed on May 31, 2013. Applebee’s, which is located on an out lot, is the only other property that remains open. An Applebee’s representative attended Monday’s meeting.
DeBartolo Development wants to demolish the mall and replace it with a “lifestyle center,” Chicago Real Estate reported. The development firm is owned by former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo.
The 61-year-old shopping mall, formerly the Evergreen Plaza, has been in foreclosure since 2011. The property is currently in receivership.
The mall was conceived by developer Arthur Rubloff in the 1936 and opened in August 1952 as an open-air shopping center. Carson’s anchored the mall along with the Fair Store, Lytton’s and Walgreens. The mall also featured a Jewel supermarket. The entire mall was enclosed in 1966.

Palos Hills in wrestling match with environment versus money decisions

  • Written by Kelly White

  Saving money?
  Saving money?
  That’s a decision Palos Hills alderman are chewing over when it comes to bringing in an electrical supplier.
  “We need to be more concerned about environmental issues,” one Palos Hills city alderman stated at Thursday night’s City Council Meeting.
  Referring to possibly choosing a predominantly coal-burning electrical supplier, Alderman Joan Knox (1st Ward) stressed the importance harming the environment has over “saving a couple dollars monthly per household”.
  “Is our intent to get the lowest price out there or for us to look at the environmental issues?” Alderman Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward) asked. “I do believe that what we do has an impact on global warming. We are only one community with one bid, but we can make a difference in our town with our choice to bid more cautiously.”
  Knox would not give a certain percent in which she felt was acceptable in a company using coal-burning energy; however she urged to move away from using coal as a provider of electrical energy as much as possible.
  “We need to worry about the environment,” she said. “One of the biggest problems with coal is the amount of water it wastes.”
  Palos Hills’ two-year contract with First Energy Solutions, with a locked-in rate of 4.74 cents per kilowatt hour, is set to expire this July. Northern Illinois Electrical Collaborative went out to receive new electrical bids two weeks ago for the city and at the March 27th Committee Meeting, Mayor Jerry Bennett presented several bids to discuss among the city council members, including a bid from Homefield Engery. Out of the six new bids received, Homefield Energy came in the lowest with a rate of 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour. At the time, Bennett and the city council were content with that bid.
  But at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Knox telephoned Bennett with a discovery and what she felt was a major concern. Upon reviewing Homefield Energy’s contractual agreement, she noticed 64 percent of its energy derives from coal-fired power. Bennett said he was unaware of this and decided to wait until the City Council Meeting last Thursday to discuss this further with the rest of the city alderman before having N.I.M.E.C. go out to obtain more bids. Bennett made city alderman and residents aware rates will change now from what N.I.M.E.C. received the previous week.
  Knox pointed out the next highest bid received was not from a predominately coal-burning energy source and they presented a bid with a rate of 7.6 cents per kilowatt hour.
  “We are talking about a couple bucks a month per household here,” she said. “I hope that people will look at the big picture over price and do the right thing.”
  Some alderman disagreed with Knox and said saving money took priority over underlying environmental issues.
  “The middle-class people I represent are concerned with one thing and that’s price,” Alderman Ricky Moore (4th Ward) said.
  “If residents are concerned about the pollution aspect of a certain supplier, they always have the option to opt into the green energy choice that is available within every contract,” Alderman Frank Williams (5th Ward) added. Although the renewable energy option was also available with the two-year contract with First Energy Solutions, only nine out of nearly 6,900 residents opted into that portion of the program.

Oak Lawn senior needs votes for special van

  • Written by Bob Rakow


page-9-2-colRiley Spreadbury is hoping for enough votes to win a specially equipped van to drive. Submitted photo.Riley Spreadbury needs a car.
  But the Oak Lawn Community High School senior can’t drive just any car. Instead, she needs a vehicle equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls. Her math teacher, Ellen Kruger, is doing all she can to make that a reality.
  “She made a joke about how her brother, who is a sophomore, can drive and she can’t,” Kruger said.
  The veteran educator didn’t forget Spreadbury’s remark and began to wonder what she could do to resolve her student’s dilemma.
  Spreadbury’s family owns only one van and the cost of another vehicle equipped with a lift and hand controls is cost prohibitive, Kruger said.
  She wrote a letter to Ellen DeGeneres’ television show in the hopes that that they’d tell Spreadbury’s story and give her a van. The show, however, did not respond. Kruger then turned to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.
  She nominated Spreadbury for a contest the association is sponsors. The winners receive specially equipped vans.
  “I thought that something like this sounded more realistic,” Kruger said.
  More than 900 people were nominated. The top 10 vote getters are selected and the three finalists win a van. Riley has gathered nearly 8,000 votes, primarily the result of a promotional campaign at the high school and via Facebook, Kruger said.
  She’d like to get the entire community involved. Votes can be cast for Spreadbury at One vote can be cast each day.
  Spreadbury was born with a condition called Goldenhar Syndrome.
  Despite this condition, she led a typical childhood, participating in dance, ballet, swimming, rollerblading and hiking. But at age 10, she developed scoliosis. She had numerous surgeries on her back and because of complications; she sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed.
  She spent over 100 days in the hospital and was able to regain control of her arms but she remains paralyzed from the chest down.
  Spreadbury has never let her condition hold her back, Kruger said.
  “It’s almost like you have to tell her she’s in a wheelchair,” she said.
  Spreadbury, a Hometown resident, has been significantly involved during her four years in high school.
  She was a writer for the school newspaper and was involved in the leadership of several student organizations.
  She takes piano lessons and played on a youth sled hockey team for two years. She also is active in the Shriner’s Hospital community as a spokesperson and poster child and served as a camp counselor for their Spinal Injury Sports Camp. Finally, she is taking a peer training class where she helps developmentally disabled children with physical education activities.
  Spreadbury wants to become a recreational therapist and work with children whose mobility was affected as a result of an accident or surgery. She plans to attend community college for two years before transferring to Illinois State University to complete her degree.
  She’s so optimistic,” Kruger said. “She has embraced her situation in life and lives it to its fullest. “This girl needs a car.”


Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: It might be next winter before we hear cops' side of Brittany story

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

They came from near and far – some from Michigan and Florida – to yell at the Worth cops and call Mayor Mary Werner a “b----.’’

Team Brittany was furious on Tuesday night.

Team Brittany was looking for answers, justice and respect Tuesday night.

Team Brittany let four month of raw emotions out at Tuesday night’s village board meeting. There were roughly 200 people who showed up and some screamed out insults at the mayor, police chief and board members. Some asked for the mayor and police chief to step down.

What do the mayor and police chief have to say?


They can’t.

They say there are two sides to every story.

For us folks in the newspaper racket, we try to provide both sides to every story we can. We try to be fair and just.

If a reporter does a controversial story and both sides agree he or she was fair, that’s a solid story.

If a reporter does a controversial story and both sides are mad at him or her, that’s usually a sign that story was good, too.

Then there are stories like the tragic death of Worth teenager Brittany Wawrzyniak, where one side of the story is told and the other is not. That makes for an imbalance that unfortunately cannot be avoided.

Three people know for sure what happened in the back seat of a car on Nov. 8. One is dead. Two are alive.

Prosecutors came out firing, claiming that Brittany met a dude by the name of Eric Steven Johnson near the boat launch in Worth to buy some pills. She was counting the pills while Johnson was driving away and she opened the door of the moving vehicle and was ejected and struck the pavement.

Family members dispute that story and in the last couple of month have been trying to get to what they believe is the truth and doing their own investigating. They believe she was pushed out and there were no drugs involved. They have been critical of the Worth cops for what they consider is a lack of information, and some family members have likened them as Barney Fifes, referring to the incompetent deputy on the “Andy Griffith Show.” They also believe that a witness in the car was let free because of a relationship with a member of the Worth police force.

That’s their side of the story.

The Worth cops have said nothing to the media. Werner said Tuesday that talking publicly about it could jeopardize the case.

That’s not surprising. Police officials rarely share information on investigations with the media unless they are using us as bait to try to nab someone or have news that they nabbed someone. This is as true in Worth as it is in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York City.

Some cops anonymously leak information to the press to get their side of the story out. Sometimes it is with a wink and a nod from their superiors. That can be risky, though. In Joliet, someone leaked information to a Patch reporter about a sensitive case and he ran with it and no one could figure out where the leak came from.

The reporter, Joe Hosey, was grilled in a courtroom by a judge and has been threatened with some jail time if he doesn’t cough up his source. That’s serious stuff. If that leaker is ever caught, he is in some monster-sized trouble.

Who knows what evidence the cops have to confirm or deny the family’s arguments? A lot of this could involve wrinkles such as DNA and forensic  testing and other parts which could take months to figure out. This isn’t TV where it’s all wrapped up in a tidy package by the end of the one-hour show.

Werner said it could take another 8 to 10 months.

So the cops need to be given some benefit of the doubt even if they are being closed-mouth about it. That’s unavoidable.   

This family is passionate about getting to the bottom of this story and you can’t blame them for that. As they continue to find out more information, the family is going to be more than willing to share it and we will be more than willing to listen and more than willing to call the cops and other village officials for comments and more than prepared for more “no comments.’’

The cops aren’t there to appease the family.

The cops aren’t there to appease the media (darn it).

The cops’ job is to find out what actually happened in the back seat of the car that day.

And it will take some time before we all find out.

Stay patient.

It could be cold and snowy again before the truth comes out.


HEADLINE – Get out the popcorn

In the next couple of months, we will have some new people writing stories and features for us as we plan to bring in some fresh blood with college interns.

Starting a little early for us is Tony Pinto who will be doing a variety of things for us but is cutting his teeth doing movie reviews for our O and A section. We are calling the feature Pinto’s Popcorn Picks.

He’s a Palos Hills resident attending Governor’s State University and makes his debut this week with a review of the new Muppets movie.

We hope to run his work as consistently as we can throughout the spring and summer until he goes back to school. Enjoy his reviews.