Dashboard cameras get green light for Chicago Ridge police cars

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Chicago Ridge Village Board recently gave Police Chief Rob Pyznarski the “go-ahead” to start pricing dashboard cameras to be installed in village patrol cars.

Pyznarski made the request during the board’s Dec. 20 meeting. He estimated that the cost of the cameras could end up being anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000. However, he said that none of the cost would be borne by local taxpayers.

The chief said that the camera program, which would include audio equipment as well, qualifies for the cost to be paid for out of the funds the department receives from other sources.

“Because it involves equipment improvements, we can use the funds we are allocated from asset forfeiture programs involving crimes connected to narcotics and money laundering,” he explained.

Illinois state police cars are required to have dashboard cameras with audio capabilities installed, but municipalities are not required to do so. However, the board agreed with Pyznarski that they are beneficial.

“Overall, it is for the protection of the police and the citizenry,” said Pyznarski.

“They will be there for the benefit of the police as much as the public,” added Mayor Chuck Tokar. He pointed out that a lot of accusations are made against the police, and having video footage can solve a lot of disputes.

Pyznarski said that it has not been decided yet whether all 14 squad cars should be equipped with the cameras. Cost may be a deciding factor. He also pointed out that once a camera has been installed in a car, the vehicle cannot be taken out on patrol unless the equipment is operational because having non-working cameras would be problematic.

“With your permission, we will start the process of comparing the options available and soliciting for bids. We will then come back to you with the top three choices for your final approval. We will get it done as soon as possible, but it could be closer to February,” he said.

Pyznarski noted that the camera program will take up some work by staff, who will have to review the footage recorded. The recordings will also have to be stored for a certain period of time.

At previous meetings, the police chief has also discussed the pros and cons of body cameras, which are also being used by some departments. But he said on Dec. 20 that their use is more complicated than dash cams, and the department is waiting for various legal issues to be ironed out at the state level before seriously considering them.

Evergreen Park seeks funding for capital improvements

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

The Evergreen Park Village Board welcomed the new year with a balanced budget and calls for an appropriation ordinance and liquor license requests during the Tuesday night meeting.

A proposed appropriation ordinance for fiscal year beginning Nov. 1, 2016 and ending Oct. 31, 2017 for Evergreen Park was presented at a public hearing prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting on Tuesday. The meeting was brief, with no questions or comments from the public.

Presenting the proposed ordinance was Village Treasurer John Sawyers, who stated that the village is operating with a balanced budget.

“In the general fund, we are requesting an appropriation of $26, 419,574 as we have a surplus of nearly $11,000,” said Sawyers.

He added that there have been significant capital expenditures such as six new squad cars, totaling $159,000; a new prisoner transport van at $87,000; a new ambulance at $153,000; and a body camera system for police officers at $115,000.

Other large expenditures included a HVAC system upgrade at the firing range, a backstop at Duffy Park, a new roof at the storage garage and a truck upgrade.

As for the sewer and water fund, Sawyers said an appropriation of $7,075,340 is requested because there is a surplus of $41,660 in the fund.

Trustee Mark Mazullo commented that public safety was the number one concern for the board as the budget was discussed.

“All the department heads were very reasonable in their requests as we met in our budget meetings and we were able to meet their requests,” said Mazullo.

According to Sawyers, approval of the appropriation ordinance is anticipated at the Jan.17 board meeting.

In the board meeting following the public hearing, an ordinance was approved to amend the village municipal code to add a Class H Liquor License.

The approval was based on a request from Chicago Famous Seafood, The Crazy Crab, located at 9204 S. Western Ave., to change from a Class E to Class H liquor license. The change will allow them to serve specified drinks such as margaritas or daiquiris in addition to the beer and wine allowed under their Class E liquor license. The Class H license limits the consumption of the alcohol to the premises only.

The board also approved a business certificate for the new owners of a Brown’s Chicken restaurant at 3414 W. 95th St., now a Brown’s Chicken J.J. Fish & Shrimp, but only after several questions were raised by the board.

Mayor James Sexton told the new owners, Steve Matariyeh and Samer Alsalibi, that the restaurant has been a solid business in the community for many years and he hoped that it would continue in the same manner.

“What kind of changes are you planning for the site?” Sexton asked.

The owners stated that the primary change was adding additional seafood items to the menu. They were also planning painting and general clean-up of the facility.

Trustee James McQuillan said he would be more comfortable if the new owners would meet with the village building commissioner and go over their plans for any changes or additions they were planning.

Sexton agreed. “I think it is a good idea to meet and make sure your mechanicals with the new additions are good and up to par.”

The mayor also announced that the next board meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 17 due to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance on Monday, Jan. 16.

Chicago Ridge fire chief receives award named in his honor

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

george sheets at podium photo 12-29

Submitted photo

Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets speaks at the Chicago Ridge Fire Department's Dec. 19 holiday party after members of the firefighters union presented him with the first George W. Sheets Award for professionalism, progress and results during the past 21/2 years that he has led the department. It will now be awarded annually to a member of the department.

Who else would get the inaugural Fire Chief George W. Sheets Award but the man it is named after?

Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets was surprised when he received the award from the Chicago Ridge Firefighters Union at the department-wide Christmas party held Dec. 19.

“It’s really an honor to receive an award named after you. And not too many unions are giving awards to fire chiefs these days,” said Sheets. "As you can imagine,I was very surprised and taken off guard when they announced my name for the award. Over the past three years, we have partnered with the firefighters union to accomplish a substantial amount of positive, cost-efficient and innovative change within the department. A key to our success is providing an atmosphere of ownership, and giving the employees opportunities to recognize concerns within the organization, and the tools to make the changes that are necessary," said Sheets.

In fact, the more common scenario these days is what happened in Chicago in September, when the executive board of Chicago Fire Department Union Local 2 declared a vote of no-confidence in Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago. The same was done at fire departments in Maine, Delaware and other states this year.

But Chicago Ridge Fire Department Capt. Chris Bennett said Sheets deserved the award named after him. The plan is to present the award annually to a deserving member of the department who shows the qualities emblazoned on the plaque: professionalism, progress and results.

Bennett said a lot of improvements have been made in the department in the 21/2 years since Sheets took over as chief. He actually does double-duty, serving as fire chief of neighboring Oak Lawn as well in an arrangement that the mayors of both communities said has worked well.

“The reason he got the award is he is constantly doing things to make the department better,” said Bennett.

Bennett cited the creation of the part-time firefighter program, with fully-trained part-time firefighters working alongside the 13 full-time firefighters as one of Sheets’ accomplishments. He said Sheets has also expanded the role of paid on-call firefighters, a program that grew out of the department that was made up of volunteer firefighters.

Bennett said the success of the part-time firefighter program is allowing the department to keep the village’s second firehouse, at 107th and Lombard Avenue, open 24/7, starting in mid-February. For the past year, since it was reopened in April 2015, it has been open 12 hours a day. Currently, ambulances are based at the station, but eventually fire equipment will be, too. Officials said having it open has reduced response time by more than two minutes, because the main firehouse is located on Virginia Avenue is in an industrial park away from the center of the village.

The fire captain said union members began making plans for the award presentation and the Christmas party in September, after 10 department promotions were made and three lieutenants and three captains were named. Bennett said the six lieutenants and captains decided to form a firefighters club, which will raise money for a local family in need, make the annual award presentation, and fund the annual party. Bennett said the union used to hold its own parties, but the party last week at the Virginia Avenue station was the first time the celebration was department-wide.

“This system is better than under past administrations, when we had three deputy chiefs who were only administrators and shift commanders. They could not work any equipment. Now, as a captain, in addition to being a shift commander, I can go out on calls to monitor the situation. We now have enough people to man two ambulances, and we don’t need to look for help from neighboring communities as much as we once did,” said Bennett.

“The bottom line is, (Sheets) is a great delegator, and we are getting things done. He protects this town more than it ever has been before.”

Local woman brings cheer to vets, homeless at restaurant party

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

kathy cuts cake photo 12-29

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Kathy Lovitt looks up from cutting the cake she brought for the annual Christmas party she organized last Thursday at McDonald's in Palos Hills.


Dozens of people enjoyed the Christmas celebration thrown by Kathy Lovitt of Palos Heights last Thursday morning at McDonald's, 11050 Southwest Highway, in Palos Hills.

Since getting to know many of the veterans, seniors and other regular morning customers at the restaurant about three years ago, Lovitt began a tradition of bringing cake and other goodies to share with her friends around various holidays, including Veterans Day, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day. The holiday celebrations include homemade cookies and a cake.

"She really puts a lot of work into it," said Rich Olund, 92, a World War II veteran from Palos Park, who is among the original group of veterans whom Lovitt befriended. He served in France, Holland and Germany in General George Patton's Third Army, and was among five World War II veterans who enjoyed sharing stories over breakfast.

This year, Olund’s close friends Tony Vallos and Elmer Korhorn died.

"I miss seeing them all here,” said Olund.

While he now shares his stories with the many veterans of Korea and Vietnam who also come to the restaurant, Olund said the only WWII veteran left in the group is Raymond Munoz, 91, who lives in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood and can't get out as often as he used to. Just last year, he received the French Legion of Honor Medal for his wartime service.

Lovitt said she feels close to all the veterans and their families who come to the restaurant because her father served in World War II. For the party last Thursday, she brought two sheet cakes to ensure there would be enough for everyone.

"A lot of homeless people come in here, and I invited them, too," she said. She also had trays of cookies, brownies and marshmallows that she and her daughter, Sara, made. In addition to coffee, the party-goers also enjoyed little strawberry shakes complete with straws that looked like peppermint sticks.

When she wasn't passing out the treats, Lovitt was gathering her friends for photos that she collects in a scrapbook of all the parties.

"It's not that much work. I enjoy doing it. This is what the holidays are about," she said.


Over 100 volunteers package food at Feed6 program event

  • Written by Joe Boyle

heathers volunteers photo 12-22

Photo by Joe Boyle

Heather McCarthy (left), event coordinator and seventh-grade language arts teacher at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, visits one row of workers who were packaging the Feed6 Meals for those in need this holiday season.

The holiday season is a time for giving. Students, families, teachers and staff at Oak Lawn-Hometown School did just that recently by packaging foods to be distributed to the less fortunate.

The fourth annual Feed6 Meals Packaging event took place Dec. 17 in the gym at Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School, 5345 W. 99th St., Oak Lawn. More than 100 participants showed up that morning despite the cold weather. Participants included District 123 students, staff and alumni. The District 109 Student Council and the Oak Lawn Kiwanis were also in attendance to pack meals for the needy.

"It was amazing to see students, community members, and people from all different backgrounds coming together and working side by side to help others," said Heather McCarthy, event coordinator. “Last year, we had volunteers from age 6 to 86 working to support their community. It truly is a feel good event.”

McCarthy, an Oak Lawn resident who has been at the school since it opened 11 years ago, is currently the language arts teacher for seventh-grade students at OLHMS.

“This school is so active and gets involved in the community,” said McCarthy, who introduced the idea of holding the Feed6 Meal program at the school. “I saw this a few years ago at another school and I suggested it here. Everybody likes the idea.”

Feed6 currently organizes meal packaging events throughout the Midwest in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. Volunteers come together to package nutritional meals of macaroni and cheese fortified with soy and vitamins. Organizers said that the program offers more nutritious food than popular brands available in the supermarket. Each plastic package is designed to feed six children. These meals are distributed locally through food banks to the hungry in local communities.

The volunteers lined up in rows to make the cheese and macaroni meals with soy and vitamins. The food was placed in packages that are labeled “Kids Care.” They were stamped by younger students. The volunteers, who included Dr. Paul Enderle, District 123 superintendent, worked at a steady pace for two hours preparing the food.

Students, families, teachers and staff were invited to come out to the event. Students worked to help cover the costs of the food, materials and delivery. Anyone who was interested had to raise a minimum of $20.

The fundraiser raised a total of $3,928.18 and during the event was able to package 14,000 meals. Last week began the distribution process. McCarthy and her team made deliveries to local food pantries, various shelters, and families in need.

“This is really great because this is usually a tough time of the year to get people to come out,” said McCarthy about the event held just before the holidays. “But we got great support. We had more people come out this year.”

Amanda Bencik, assistant principal at OLHMS, said the outpouring of support for the Feed6 meal program was gratifying.

“It a community thing,” said Bencik. “This is a community with heart. It just keeps growing.”