Rauner’s decision a hit with Bennett

  • Written by Bob Rakow



The local face of opposition to the proposed Illiana tollway received some vindication last week when Gov. Bruce Rauner put the brakes on the project.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, the chairman of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), has long opposed the tollway and took a fair amount of grief last year when he described it as “a road to nowhere.”

That caused the local mayor to take some heat in some circles in Will County and Rauner’s decision helped take him off the hook. He may still be the bad guy to Illiana supporters, but they can now take their frustrations out on Rauner.

Suspending the planning and development of major interstate construction projects was Ruaner’s first act after taking office last week.

Rauner also named Randy Blankenhorn, executive director of CMAP, to lead the Illinois Department of Transportation. Blankenhorn, like Bennett, has long been critical of the Illiana project

Bennett stopped short last week of saying he felt vindicated by Rauner’s decision, but believed the new governor made the right call.

“Governor (Quinn) was determined to push this through,” Bennett said. “I think this project was pushed through politically.”

A Joliet newspaper editorial last year chided Bennett for describing Will County as a “wasteland” and opposing the tollway.

“Palos isn’t so far off from Nowhere Land, either. And surely as president of the Illinois Municipal League, Bennett must have ventured through other parts of the state settled after Lewis and Clark took off,” the paper said.

It added that Bennett, who attended Lewis University in Romeoville, should have been “more well-rounded and take into account the possibility (that) another east-west route through an already busy intersection of two cross-country interstates just might help.”

“CMAP officials have staunchly stuck to their parochial ways of protecting funds for their own projects with little regard for an area for which they have little regard,” the newspaper said.

But Bennett said CMAP had several reasons for opposing the plan, among them cost and a lack of advantages for the region.

“Let’s make sure we build a road that is going to have some impact,” Bennett said.

He added that CMAP seriously doubted that the project, which was described a public-private partnership, would pay for itself. The more likely scenario would find taxpayers holding the bag, especially if estimated toll revenue did not meet expectations, he said.

The proposed 47-mile expressway between Illinois and Indiana was designed to provide an east-west link from Interstate 65 from near Lowell, Indiana, to Interstate 55 near Wilmington in Illinois. The cost of the roadway was estimated at $1.5 billion.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the interchange connecting the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) and I-57 in the southwest suburbs is $719 million, Bennett said. That project has a greater impact on the area, he said.

“All the facts (indicated) that the proposal should not be considered as a capital project for the region. It’s in southern Will County,” said Bennett, adding that federal and state transportation funds are limited.

CMAP studies have indicated that tollway would have little impact on nearby highways, reducing by only 10 percent the number of the cars that travel on I-80/94.

Bennett was careful to point out that Rauner’s decision to suspended planning and development of the major interstates does not necessarily kill the Illiana project.

“Nobody has said it’s completely over,” Bennett said.


Woman accused of bilking Palos Hills senior out of $631K

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Police expect federal charges to be filed against a Joliet woman who allegedly bilked an elderly Palos Hills senior out of $631,000.


The woman, Marion Issert, 65, was arrested last Wednesday by Palos Hills police and charged with one count of senior financial exploitation, a Class A felony.


Issert, who served as the elderly woman’s live in caregiver, reportedly was working with two other individuals, both who police believe fled to the Philippines. They are being treated as persons of interest, Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan said.


“We don’t know the level of involvement they had in this,” he said last Thursday at a press conference.


Police believe one of the two individuals introduced Issert to the victim as a caretaker, he said.


Police are asking the Cook County State’s Attorney to issue warrants for their arrest before contacting the State Department and Interpol in an effort to locate them, Madigan said.


Bond for Issert was set at $500,000. She is being held at Cook County Jail and is scheduled to appear in Bridgeview court on Feb. 5.


Meanwhile, police continue their investigation.


“We are researching other things that they may have done and others acts that they may have committed, and we anticipate more charges at a later date,” Madigan said.


“There were some Social Security checks that were signed by this woman and cashed, and that money was diverted to these other people as well. I would think there are going to be some federal charges as well as we develop this,” he said.


Issert’s arrest came about three months after Palos Hills police received information from the Plows Council on Aging about a possible financial scam involving an elderly woman from Palos Hills. Plows was notified of the activity of suspicious activity by Bank of America, Madigan said.


Police subsequently worked with Plows and Cook County Public Guardian and put a lock on the victim’s accounts, Madigan said.


Working with Plows and the Cook County Financial Crimes Unit, police identified the two banks where the offenders deposited the money. The accounts were frozen, Madigan said.


“What we found was that in the course of about two months the caregiver along with two other people had taken this elderly woman to a few different banks where she had accounts and they transferred $630,000 out of this woman’s accounts,” Madigan said. “It’s kind of amazing that this amount of money was allowed to be transferred out of this woman’s accounts. I’ve never seen anything like this.”


On one occasion, $317,000 was transferred out of the woman’s account. Other transferred amounts included: $39,000, $35,000, $15,000 and $202,000, Madigan said. Police have recovered all but $88,000 of the victim’s money, he said.


“There was some information that they were trying to get the woman to donate all this money to a Filipino church group. The woman did not want to do that and told them so.”


‘Water is gold’

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

But taxpayers have to come up with that gold in Palos Hills

The cost of water for Palos Hills residents has gone up nearly 100 percent in the last five years.
That sobering fact came from Mayor Gerald Bennett at the City Council meeting last Thursday – the same meeting that during which Alderman Frank Williams (5th Ward) confirmed there was another double-digit percent increase coming to residents in 2015.
“When we warned about [the spike in water costs] five years ago, I used the term ‘water is gold’ and it’s certainly moving in that direction,” Bennett said. “In tallying, over the last five years there has been an increase of $1 million in purchasing consumption by residents of the City of Palos Hills.”
The climb in water rates is a trickle-down effect that starts with the City of Chicago. Palos Hills and 12 other nearby municipalities receive water from Oak Lawn via Chicago. Roughly five years ago Chicago announced it was going to increase its cost to Oak Lawn to pay for repairs to its water system. Oak Lawn had to pass along those rate increases to its clients as well as impose its own increase to help pay for a $180 million overhaul to its own water system. Palos Hills then tacks on a small increase to its residents to cover operational and maintenance costs, Bennett said.
The minimum monthly water bill for a Palos Hills resident in 2015 is $55.95, which translates to $34.88 for the first 4,000 gallons used as well as $11.50 for sanitary sewer service and $9.57 for general capital improvement, Williams said. The cost of a minimum water bill in Palos Hills is $3.18 more than last year, Williams noted.
The overall percent increase from last year is around 10 percent, which is actually less than the 15 percent to 17 percent city officials were expecting back in the fall. Oak Lawn decided to use a new rate model that basis the increase on the proximity of its clients, Williams said. Communities further south of Oak Lawn will see a larger increase, he said.
Palos Hills residents are charged for a minimum of 4,000 gallons whether used or not. Bennett said this is done to cover the operational costs of the water system.
“People sometimes think all they pay for is when they turn it on and water is coming out, but there are water lines that need to be maintained,” Bennett said. “When you turn on the water it has to go somewhere so we charge a minimum to cover our operational costs.”
The good news is that after this year residents aren’t expected to see a double-digit increase for the foreseeable future. Bennett said Chicago has already stated its increase will be based on the consumer price index and then Oak Lawn will pass along a minor charge making the increase around 4 percent for 2016.
In other news, Alderman Ricky Moore (4th Ward) warned residents of a phone scam in which the caller identities himself as a ComEd employee and claims the residents’ electric service will be disconnected unless the payment is made.
“These impersonators instruct customers to buy a prepaid credit card and call back to a different phone number with the personal identification number or other personal information,” Moore said. “Remember that ComEd representatives will never call you to ask you for cash or request that you purchase a prepaid credit card to make a payment on your bill.”
Moore said scammers are even using a tactic called “Caller ID spoofing” to manipulate the displayed phone number so that it appears as a different number.
“Your display can say Bank of America or Internal Revenue Service but don’t believe it,” Moore said. “The display [number] is not hard to change.”
Bennett said the city puts information on the latest scams on its website, but often that is not enough to thwart con artists.
“We will continue providing the information as best we can but people have got to be aware,” Bennett said.
“These scams are just crazy – they are off the chart,” Moore added. “Whether it be email or phone the key term is ‘be aware.’ No valid institution will call you to ask your personal or sensitive information over the phone. If you get a phone and they do then that is your first red flag that it is a scam.”
Moore said anyone who believes they received a phone call matching that description should visit Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s website at for more information.

'The best basketball on the South Side'

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pep squad member Casey O’Connell and Eagles basketball player Jimmy O’Keefe will take part in Saturday’s Special Olympics Basketball Day at Mother McAuley.

OK, Todd Mallo is running the event, so he’s going to hand out a high heaping of hype.

That’s understandable.

When asked what a possible crowd of 2,000 people will see when the sixth annual Special Olympics Basketball Day at 2 p.m. Saturday at Mother McAuley High School, the Oak Lawn special recreation supervisor  was not bashful about boasting.

“You’re going to see the best basketball on the South Side,’’ Mallo said. “These players will come and play their hearts out. We hope to have a full, packed house. These kids are just amazing athletes and this is a big deal for them. It’s the biggest game of the year for them. They love to play it.

“It’s a big, great atmosphere. The crowd is into every basket.’’

Neutral observers who have been a past games say there is plenty of fun, thrills and “goosebump moments” when the Special Olympic players mix it up on the court. So Mallo might not be far off in his praise.

The event started with 30 athletes in a game at St. Linus then grew enough to have it played at Brother Rice and now Mother McAuley.  There are 60 athletes expected to take part on Saturday.

Oak Lawn’s Junior Jordans and Eagles will compete and Special Olympic athletes from Oak Lawn,  Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park,  Orland Park, Burbank and other communities will be hooping it up.

The doors open at 1 p.m. with opening ceremonies taking place at 1:30 p.m. There will be a halftime performance by the Oak Lawn Pep Squad. Admission is free but donations will be accepted at the door. The school is located at 3737 West 99th Street in Chicago.

Some of the players will be making their debuts in the game while others are old hands at it.

“A lot of players have played in all of the games,” Mallo said. “They have been playing in it for years when they were younger and love it so much.’’

Mallo, a 13-year veteran of the park district who is an Evergreen Park native and Orland Park resident, is usually busy running the show and doesn’t get to take in the whole game. But when he has a spare minute or two he said he enjoys observing.

“I’m just in awe of these guys,” he said. “It’s always a great game.’’

For more information, contact Mallo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 708-857-2200.


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Pep squad member Casey O’Connell and Eagles basketball player Jimmy O’Keefe will take part in Saturday’s Special Olympics Basketball Day at Mother McAuley.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Half marathon flying high with more than 900 early birds

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions

Jeff Prestinario probably wanted to turn a couple of cartwheels and execute a backflip or two but he’s not as spry as he used to be.

The co-founder of the annual half marathon that runs mainly through Palos Heights and features runners from all over the area, was trying to keep a happy face last Friday when the race’s committee members got together for their first meeting at the Recreation Center in Palos Heights.

But there was a lot to be glum about.

Before the meeting, he admitted that for the second year in a row, there existed a possibility that the race would be shut down.

During the meeting, he told the committee heads that last year’s race lost money and drew less than 1,500 runners despite hosting two races – the half marathon and a 10K race – for the first time. At its peak, Prestinario said, the half marathon on its own drew 2,100. In 2014, he said the half marathon portion drew about 1,100 runners, which was the lowest in the history of the event.

Oh, and to make life a little tougher for Prestinario and co-founder Mel Diab, the town of Frankfort decided to get into the half marathon game. 

The first half-marathon in that community will take place April 25 and run through the historic downtown area and Old Plank Trail – eight days before the eighth running of the First Midwest Bank event in Palos in May 3.

That news was bound to take away a chunk of runners from Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena from the Palos event. It was also going to threaten to grab away runners from Orland Park and Tinley Park as well.

On paper, things were not looking all that great.

But he had 922 reasons to brighten his day.

Jennifer Griffin, a member of the Chicago Special Events Management group that runs the half marathon on race day, gave the committee the report that 922 people had already signed up for the 2015 races – many taking advantage of an online early bird sign-up special.

It was met with applause and a few hoots.

“I was excited to hear that!” an obviously excited Prestinario after the meeting. “When I heard that number, I was extremely excited. Last year, we had less than 1,500 for both races. Now we’re at [922]? And it’s January? That’s amazing.’’

And 23 of the early entrants are from Frankfort.

There are also runners who signed up from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and New Jersey.

A few months ago, Diab, who was in Florida running in a race and not at Friday’s meeting, and Prestinario mulled shutting down the race because of the setbacks. But all is well, now.

“There’s always that question mark but when you get everyone on board, things can work out and things fall into place,” Prestinario said. “Everybody is excited about the race. Good things are happening and we need more good things. There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and we need more good things.’’

Interestingly, people like Prestinario and Diab are goodwill ambassadors for running and the previous success of the half marathon in Palos has had other communities – including Frankfort – trying to take runners away for their own races.

While I would suggest something outlandish and goofy as having people run in Santa suits in the spring or even their birthday suits to drum up interest as a novelty, that’s not going to happen. Prestinario said he is hoping that the open roads on the course and thousands of fans who come out and cheer the runners will make athletes want to come back to the Palos race.

“More and more races are popping up all the time,” Prestinario said. “You have to do something to promote and market the race. We will have to work a little harder to bring the runners to our race. I think we’re going to be all right. We’re back to shooting for 2,000 again.’’