The B and B show: Hickory Hills cops promoted

  • Written by Kelly White

  Jason Bray and Mark Benaitis joined the Hickory Hills police force in 1997.

  These two cops shared another experience at last Thursday’s village board meeting.
  Both received promotions and plenty of compliments from their boss — Police Chief Alan Vodicka.
  Sgt. Jason Braywas promoted to lieutenant and Officer Mark Benaitis took over his role as sergeant. Also, officer Scott Sodaro was honored for 20 years of service.
  “I firmly believe that these two officers will excel in leading our department,” Police Chief Alan Vodicka said of Bray and Beneaitis
  Bray is a 17-year veteran of the Hickory Hills Police Department. He joined the department in 1997upon his completion of Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.During his tenure, Bray has been a tactical officer, juvenile officer, evidence technician and detective. As a detective, he was assigned to the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force as a lead homicide investigator and was responsible for investigating homicides throughout southwest suburban Cook County. In 2007, he was promoted to sergeant and assigned to supervise the investigation division.
  “His personnel file contains an extensive number of commendations and letters of recognition,” Vodicka said.
  Benaitisalso began his law enforcement career in 1997 in Hickory Hills. During his tenure, he has held the position of juvenile officer, field training officer, detective, patrol officer in charge and has been assigned to the immigration customs enforcement task force, where his investigations generated significant revenue for the department through forfeiture seizures.
  “Along with his partner, [police dog] Oscar, he was part of the first K-9 unit for the Hickory Hills Police Department,” Vodicka said.
  Bray and Benaitis received a blessing from the department chaplain upon taking their oaths administered by Ken Fonte, commissioner of the city’s Police and Fire Board.
  After the promotions, the department is planning to hire a new recruit by September.
  The promotions were not the only thing celebrated on Thursday.
  Sodaro was also honored for 20 years of service to the Hickory Hills Police Department.
  “During his tenure with the department, he had the greatest impact while assigned to the traffic enforcement division,” Vodicka said. “In this assignment, he took traffic safety to a whole new level by combining programs that emphasized education with enforcement tasks.”
  As a result, the police department received numerous awards for traffic safety from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
  “Along with his (canine) partner, Trustee, they are also widely acclaimed for their community relations initiatives,” Vodicka said.
  Over the years, Sodaro and his partner have been a fixture at school, park district and community events. They have been requested to assist other police agencies with safety events and programs. Vodicka said he is proud to have Sodaroas a member of the department.

Vegas or bust

  • Written by Tony Pinto

EP native Bronson heads to Las VegasPage-1-2-col-pic-hooters-girl-copyHooters waitress and calendar girl Kelly Bronson was recently surprised in Oak Lawn with a nomination to participate in the Miss Hooters International Competition Wednesday in Las Vegas. Photo by Michele Vasquez.
for Miss Hooters International Pageant

  What happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas but in this case a local woman wants to bring something back to Oak Lawn.

  An international title.
  Evergreen Park native and Oak Lawn Hooters waitress Kelly Bronson is heading to Las Vegas to compete in the Miss Hooters International 2014 Pageant, which takes place Wednesday at the Hard Rock Casino.
  When she started working at Hooters seven years ago she had no clue it would lead to something as glamorous as this.
  She just waitressed at the Oak Lawn restaurant and said she had no dreams of being in a pageant and no dreams of being in a calendar either. That all changed after she had her son, Jack, and decided to pose for a Hooters calendar last year.
  It was a total surprise to Bronson that she got picked for the Las Vegas event.
  Hooters official Michele Vasquez stopped by the restaurant recently and gave her the good news.
  “She brought flowers and balloons, they surprised me at work,” Bronson said in a phone interview Monday. “I was ecstatic. I just started physically crying...I was so excited just because it was something I wanted for so long.”
  Bronson was picked among women from 11 different Chicagoland Hooters locations in a grueling process.
  “First the girls from the Chicagoland restaurants all did a casting call to see who was going tobe picked to shoot in the 2015 Hooters calendar,” said Vasquez, the director of recruiting and promotions for restaurant’s Chicago area restaurants. “Once we select the girls who are going to be picked to shoot, then we narrow it down to who we think will best represent Chicago at the Hooters pageant.’’
  At 26, Bronson is one of the older contestants in the pageant but she’s not letting her age stop her.
  But she is getting a little nervous as the pageant looms.
  “One of my biggest fears is...any kind of public speaking or being in front of people but that’s pretty much [true with] the majority of the people, too” Bronson said. “I’m nervous, but it’s going to happen anyway I’m going to have to get up there as well as everyone else is, so I’m not by myself doing it.”
  The pageant consists of three parts: the swimsuit competition, the ball gown competition and the hometown gown competition. Bronson was showing her pokerface when talking about the outfits for the pageant as she won’t reveal anything until the public gets to see them on Wednesday.
  The 2006 Evergreen Park graduate is also up for the title of Miss Hooters Social and people can vote for her at and she can win $2,000. People can also help her cause in the main pageant by voting at
  She said she likes working at Hooters, and whether she hits the jackpot or she goes bust in Vegas, she will be back at the Oak Lawn Hooters serving up some smiles.
  “My favorite parts of working at Hooters is the regular clientele that comes in, the people that I’ve met throughout all the years of working here and the people who keep coming back to see me,” she said. “A lot of families come in and their kids and I’ve waited on them since they were young. I’ve seen a lot of little kids grow up.”

Sheets is now fire chief of both Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Wearing two helmets

He now has two jobs.PAGE-1-3-col-sheets-copyOak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets is also the chief in Chicago Ridge after a vote Tuesday night. Here, he poses with helmets from both communities. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
He will wear two hats…well…make that two helmets.
Will that also mean two times as many headaches? Time will tell.
For now, new Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets is getting his feet wet as he takes over a job in the middle of a firestorm. He will lead a department that his new boss – Mayor Chuck Tokar – admits is in a financial “quandary’’ and needs “professional advice’’ for some of its next steps.
Sheets will lead the department with the assistance of three lieutenants rather than one, the village board decided Tuesday night after it approved his hiring, 3-2.
The board ratified an intergovernmental agreement with Oak Lawn that calls on Sheets to head the department through 2016. But a vote to amend the budget and eliminate two of department’s three lieutenant positions died for lack of a second.
Sheets has been the Oak Lawn fire chief since 2009 and now is the boss of two area fire departments.
He comes comes to Chicago Ridge amidst a dispute between firefighters and village officials over the department’s future, which heightened two weeks ago when Fire Chief Robert Muszynski submitted his resignation.

There was talk of eliminating two lieutenant positions and that was strongly opposed by the union that represents Chicago Ridge firefighters. The board decision to keep three likely helped smooth things a little.
Union President Chris Schmelzer said Tuesday that the department is willing to give Sheets a chance “and see what he’s all about.”
But the proposed absence of two lieutenants would have meant that “two thirds of the department (would not) have a leader,” Schmelzer said.
In the past, the department had one lieutenant lead each of the three shifts, Schmelzer said. Two lieutenants retired, leaving the positions open, he said.
The agreement to bring Sheets aboard was approved by a 3-2 margin with trustees Sally Durkin and Daniel Badon dissenting.
Durkin said she opposed the agreement because “it was done without board input.” She emphasized that her decision had nothing to do with Sheets.
Rather, she said, Mayor Tokar was asked to present to the board a variety of options to solve the fire department’s financial predicament. Instead, Sheets was presented as the sole option.
“We were asked for input after the fact,” Durkin said.
Sheets said that examining the Chicago Ridge Fire Department is his first step toward improved services and cost efficiencies.
“I’ve got to evaluate the department and see what we’re going to do,” Sheets said after Tuesday’s meeting.
He said he would need to closely look at the fire union’s contract and meet with firefighters to understand their concerns. The village and the fire department currently are in negotiations for a new contract.
“I do understand their anxieties,” Sheets said.
The Oak Lawn Village Board last week unanimously approved the agreement, which calls on Sheets to head up Chicago Ridge’s department for two more years.
The agreement does not include consolidating the departments, and Tokar repeatedly has said that he has no intentions to disband the fire department.
Sheets comes two weeks after Muszynski resigned and Tokar confirmed that he asked for Muszynski to step down.
Muszynski, who took over as chief in early 2011, supported the hiring of an additional seven or eight firefighters/paramedics who would be based at fire station at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue, Tokar said.
That station currently is used for training and to store equipment, the mayor said.
However, some residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at the Lombard Avenue station, which would reduce the response time to a large number of homes in the village.
The village’s other fire station is located in the industrial park and is not located near much of the village’s residential area.
But Tokar said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
He said Tuesday that the village needs “professional advice” regarding the future of the fire department.
“We need to figure out what our options are,” Tokar said. “We have to be concerned about cost efficiencies.”
The village’s fire pension levy stands at $627,000 and “it’s escalating every year,” Tokar said. At the same time, the village is realizing a drop is annual sales tax revenue, he said.
“We’re in a quandary,” Tokar said.

Pub-lic discussion – Some Evergreen Park residents concerned about new restaurant

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A small group of Evergreen Park residents Monday raised concerns about the impact a new restaurant could have on their community.
The residents attended Monday night’s village board meeting and said they only recently learned of plans for the Porter Cullen Irish pub, which will be located on the southwest corner of 99th Street and Clifton Park Avenue.
They added that owners of the restaurant did not speak to them about their plans to bring the pub to the site of A J Meats, which was located at the site for several years.
“No one was asked anything about this,” said Scott Benson, a Clifton Park Avenue resident. “We only heard hearsay.”
Mayor James Sexton said the co-owners of the restaurant assured him that they had spoken to nearby residents.
“I understood that you were talked to,” said Sexton, who added that he would speak with the pub owners about residents’ concerns.
“I promise I’ll work with you,” Sexton said.
Sexton said Tuesday morning that he spoke with one of the owners, who agreed to meet with the residents who attended Monday’s meeting.
The residents also expressed apprehensions about future plans for the restaurant if the pub does not succeed on a small scale.
Specifically, they’re worried that restaurant owners might expand into the adjacent hair salon and candy store that they own, add television screens and a beer garden and request a later liquor license if the plan for small pub does not succeed.
“All we have are rumors and fears,” Benson said. “Our concern is about tomorrow. We’re optimistic but skeptical.”
Sexton said the owners have not expressed any interest in developing a large bar or restaurant. The owners have not indicated when they plan to open the pub, Sexton said.
“Let me monitor it. You tell me what’s going on,” the mayor told the residents.
In a related business matter, a Harding Avenue resident sought assurances from the village that the retaining wall dividing the new Walgreens from the adjacent residential community will be eight-feet high.
A six-foot-high fence would not be high enough to block headlights from shining into the adjacent neighborhood, said resident Diane Rice.
“We’re trying to get some resolution to it,” Sexton said.
The mayor added that while not all of the residents’ aesthetic requests could be met, the addition of Walgreens trumps a muffler shop, which previously occupied the southeast corner of 95th Street and Pulaski Road.
“I think this will be a far cry better,” he said.
Finally, the board approved a 24-hour drive-thru hours on weekends for McDonalds’s, 2620 W. 95th St.
Restaurant officials told the board the extended hours were needed to remain competitive and serve a growing market that is seeking convenient food during non-traditional hours.
The board approved the extended hours for a six-month trial basis and asked restaurant representatives to consider lowering the volume of the drive-thru speaker.
The restaurant abuts a residential area, which is why Trustee Carol Kyle voted against the proposal.
“I have a real problem with 24 hours so close to residents,” Kyle said. “As my mother used to say, ‘Nothing good happens after midnight,’”

Jeff Vorva's ImPRESSions: Moving on up – area property transfers are back


Jeffs Col ImpressionsThey are back.
They are not flashy.
They are not what you would call eye candy.
On the printed page, they are just there – a bit dull, to tell you the truth. They are words and numbers.
But it appears that our readers love them.
And they are back.
The popular property transfers page-3-2-col-right-right-jv-colMichael Weeks of Mokena presents Orland Park’s Kristen Sandberg, a child life specialist for the hematology and oncology clinic at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn with some bowling pins, top photo, as a part of a toy fundraiser. Weeks and his family brought in about $3,000 worth of toys to the hospital, bottom photo. Photos by Jeff Vorva.PAGE-3-2-col-left-with-JVCOLwill return to the pages of the Reporter for the first time since…well folks around the office aren’t quite sure. But rest assured, it’s been awhile. And we heard about it from people.
I would love to slam my meaty fist on the desk and tell you that because you wanted them back, by God we are giving them back to you! Nothing was going to stop us!
But that wasn’t really the case.
The transfers returned to the Regional News last week and the Reporter will start running them this week and it’s been a taffy pull to get them back.
Ever since I’ve been working as a reporter for the Regional in September, 2012 and editor at the Reporter since last August, I’ve heard about the importance of getting these bad boys back in print for the two papers.
We won’t go into all the how-the-sausage-is-made gory details on how we got them back from the Cook County offices, but the tag-team efforts of Regional Editor Jack Murray and reporter Tim Hadac paid off big dividends while I sat back and watched like a dummy without understanding why all of this is a big deal. To me, the most interesting transfers are which athlete is leaving what high school and college.
But it is a big deal.
People like to see what the property in their neighborhood is selling for. They like to see what property in the rest of the community is selling for. And they may want to take a peek at the going rates for other communities as well in case they have an itch to move.
Our goal at the Reporter is to try to keep it anchored on page 11 and jazz it up a little with a graphic so you can easily find it.
It took some work to get it back and we hope you enjoy it.

Not playing around
Mike Weeks of Mokena brought some toys to the hospital last Thursday, but he wasn’t playing around.
Weeks and his family brought in a couple of carloads of toys to Advocate Children’s Hospital to help stock up a toy closet at the Oak Lawn hospital that overnight patients can go to make their stay a little more bearable.
It’s the fourth year the Weeks family brought toys to the hospital. The toys – about $3,000 worth — came from friends and neighbors via a late June block party fundraiser called Michael Weeks’ Stock the Closet fundraiser.
Weeks had leukemia and spent more than his fair share of nights at the Oak Lawn facility and in spring of 2011 he had his final treatment there and noticed the closet was getting bare. So the family came up with the idea of providing toys for the closet. Weeks is in sixth grade now and said he said he likes the fact so many friends contribute.
“It helps make kids with cancer feel better,” he said. “When I was here, I remember playing with a basketball hoop. It was fun.”