Mayors frustrated by budget impasse

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Local mayors have been less than enthusiastic about Gov. Rauner’s proposal to offer loans to municipalities to assist them financially since the budget impasse began in June.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said Rauner’s low-interest loan proposal is peculiar at best

“It’s like going to a bank and taking out money and the bank charges you for a loan,” said Bennett, who has been mayor of Palos Hills for 35 years. “You know because of the impasse, 911 emergency, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue has been frozen by the state.

“If this continues, we are going to have to look for other resources for revenue,” added Bennett.

Rauner’s proposal is in response to the Democrats passing a bill that would allow the release of dollars being withheld by the state for local programs. Democratic officials said that they want the revenue sent to local municipalities to fund programs.

Local mayors have said the impasse should have no effect on the 911 emergency funds, motor fuel tax and video gaming revenue. However, these officials said they have not received any revenue since the impasse began.

“I can’t understand it,” said Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar. “Compromise is what it’s all about. These guys down in Springfield have been doing this for a long time. You would think somehow they could come up with a compromise. But there seems to be no sense of urgency. It’s kind of scary.”

Tokar said that annually the village would have received $400,000 at this time of the year from the motor fuel tax. But since the budget impasse, Chicago Ridge has only seen $193,000.

“We are at 50 percent of where we should be,” said Tokar. “The motor fuel tax is important. It pays for street improvements. And with the past couple of winters we have had, that is important.”

Video gaming does not bring in as much revenue but Tokar said the village has not received any funds since June, when the impasse began. He is concerned about the state taking income tax money that should go for the village. He added that there is about a five-month lag on income tax revenue. However, if the impasses continues into the new year, the income tax revenue could become a target of the state, Tokar said.

“It’s just not right,” he said.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner is looking at ideas to bring in more development for her village. She said the budget impasse is not helping in that regard. Funds from the motor fuel tax and video gaming have been frozen since the impasse began.

“I think at this point, the funding should go through for video gaming and the motor fuel tax,” said Werner. “Video gaming and MFT funds have nothing to do with the Illinois budget.”

Werner is not optimistic that an agreement will be reached soon.

“With elections coming up next year, no one wants to make a move,” she said. “It sounds like nothing is going to happen until next year.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said that his village may be in better shape right now than other municipalities. However, there are limits. He recalls when Rauner approached the village in the spring to encourage the local government to embrace his five-point plan to jumpstart the economy. Critics have said that Rauner’s plan, the “Turnaround Agenda,” also wants to make restrictions on unions and lower salaries of employees.

“There were a lot of requests earlier this year,” Sexton said. “But it was kind of like all or nothing.”

Sexton added that while the impasse is not affecting the village right now, problems will arise if the stalemate continues into next year.

“Politics is the art of compromise,” said Sexton. “If they would just sit down and talk, they might find out they have more in common than they thought.”

Tokar agrees with that assessment.

“It is mind boggling,” he said. “You would think the governor and the speaker could go out to dinner. There are a lot of good restaurants in Springfield. They should be able to talk and figure this out.”

'Teacher of the Year' brings agriculture to Oak Lawn classroom

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The lack of farms in Oak Lawn has not stopped St. Germaine teacher Carole Scannell’s fourth-grade students from learning how their lives are touched by agriculture every day.

An Evergreen Park resident with 32 years of teaching experience, Scannell has been incorporating farming and agriculture into lesson plans for the usual subjects of math, reading, language, social studies and science since getting involved in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program five years ago.

Illinois Farm Bureau officials recognized her efforts last Thursday, naming her 2015 Teacher of the Year. Keven Daugherty, education director of the Agriculture in the Classroom program, and Maureen Burns, surprised her in her classroom in the school at 9735 S. Kolin Ave. with her award and a bouquet of flowers.

As the Illinois nominee for Teacher of the Year, Scannell also will get a trip to the 2016 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Litchfield Park, Ariz.

She was among 40 nominees statewide, chosen from the more than 7,000 Illinois teachers involved in Agriculture in the Classroom.

Scannell also participates in the IAITC Adopt a Classroom program, which matches her class with farm families in rural Fulton County, in western Illinois.

“The students have a lot of great pen-pals in Fulton County,” explained Agriculture in the Classroom presenter Linda Dunn, a resident of Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood who visits Scannell’s classroom periodically to share agricultural information.

Each May, the fourth-graders at St. Germaine, with their teacher and parents, take a bus trip to visit their farming friends in Fulton County.

“It gives them a chance to see working farms up close,” said Scannell. Like her students, Scannell doesn’t come from a farming background, “But I’ve been interested in it since I was a little girl,” she said. “I think I was a farmer in a former life,” she added.

“It certainly shows that we are teaching more than reading and math here,” said Principal Kevin Reedy. “We don’t teach agriculture as a subject, but she finds a way to incorporate it into everything.”

Reedy said that during the school year, St. Germaine students don’t visit the working farm attached to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in the nearby Mt. Greenwood neighborhood. But he said Scannell volunteers at a summer program at the Ag School, which gives her pupils a chance to see the crops and livestock there.

A runner-up last year, Scannell is only the third teacher from Cook County to receive the Teacher of the Year award.

“Now you’re legendary, Mrs. Scannell. One of the best teachers in the state,” said student James Mahia. “I don’t know about that,” she said modestly.

James and his classmates enjoyed pumpkin sugar cookies in honor of their teacher’s award, after showing off their considerable knowledge about agriculture in Illinois, including the fact that Illinois produces more pumpkins than any other state.

With the Cubs in the playoffs, they were also asked how baseball is connected to agriculture. They were able to reel off everything from the game being played on grass, to the bats made of wood and the clothing and shoes of players coming from plants and animal products.

“Getting this award is really a big honor,” said Scannell, who was nearly brought to tears by the surprise visit and presentation.

“But it’s really because of all these people that it is such a success,” she said, pointing out Daugherty, Dunn and Burns. She thanked them for providing course material and a smart board for her classroom, and said the active participation of the Fulton County farmers is another key.

Oak Lawn trustee: Crime has not risen

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The Oak Lawn Police Department officials said that despite some home break-ins during the past year, residents should not feel that this is a trend.

Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) also said that he sees no increase in crime in his district or the village as a whole.

“Since I’ve been a trustee there has been times it was higher during some times of the year and lower at other times of the year,” said Olejniczak, who has been a trustee since 2005. “But I can honestly say that there is no rise in crime.”

A debate took place during the Oct. 13 Oak Lawn Village Board meeting regarding crime reports. Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) said that he is not receiving all of the information and implies that some incidents are not being reported. Other trustees disagree, stating that they have always received the reports they have requested.

Olejniczak said he can’t understand what Streit is referring to.

“I have never had problem getting police reports,” said Olejniczak. “Now there may be ongoing investigations or if juveniles are involved. But I have never had problems getting reports. Never.”

Olejniczak said that he does study the reports to see if any patterns have developed. He admits that there are some establishments that have more reported incidents, but overall he sees no significant changes.

“If you are a trustee, it’s good to read all of the reports,” said Olejniczak. “You want to know what’s going on in the neighborhood. This way you can do something about it by talking to people.”

And that’s what puzzles Olejniczak about Streit’s claims during the last village board meeting. He added that Streit’s actions are only frightening residents about an alleged rise in crime.

“It concerns me when he uses that information that way,” said Olejniczak. “What he should be doing is meeting with people to try and solve some of those problems.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said that information about vehicle collisions and domestic-related incidents are not provided. However, information is provided to news reporters.

Streit said during the meeting that he “can see no reason why all these reports should be kept from the public.” Streit, who has been a trustee since 1991, said the board of trustees should make a decision on this.

Olejniczak said that the information from the reports can be beneficial in other ways. Blocks that have empty residences could be a sign that problems may appear in the future.

“You start looking at homes that are a little shabby or in disrepair,” said Olejniczak. “My biggest scare is squatters coming in. That’s why it is good to look at the reports and know as much as you can about the district.”

But Olejniczak said that his district and the village as a whole are not going through a crime surge.

“I can tell you honestly I feel secure about the village,” said Olejniczak. “I have every bit of faith in our police department. I think they are doing a great job.”

Family awaits news on missing relative

  • Written by Joe Boyle

MaryAnn Bielski waits every day for the phone to ring for news about her missing son.

Jim Vasquez has not been seen since Sept. 16, according to family members. Bielski is anxious and worried about Vasquez, 39, who is homeless and described as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Vasquez has been living for the past couple of years on the streets of Chicago Ridge. He and other homeless men have been living under a bridge near 107th and Harlem Avenue near the shuttered Aldi’s store and White Castle.

BIelski now lives in Georgetown, Texas, which is just outside Austin. Her 33-year-old daughter also lives nearby and they wait to hear from relatives or the police about any news. So far, there has been no word.

“I hope and pray every day that he calls,” said Bielski.

Vasquez lived in Burbank for his first 18 years before his family moved to Indiana. His parents divorced when he was 8 and Bielski believes this had a great impact on him as he grew older. As a child he had friends but would soon drift away from them.

“He was very quiet,” said Bielski. “He was a loner. He would have friends for a while and then he just did not want to see them anymore.”

Bielski began to believe that his son’s anti-social behavior was not normal. She asked a grade school teacher if there was anything wrong with her son. The teacher’s response surprised her. She told BIelski that her son was quiet and was no problem in the classroom. But problems began to arise in high school.

“He wasn’t able to hide anymore in high school,” Bielski said.

The family moved to Indiana but Vasquez preferred to stay with his father, who now lived in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood. But when the father and his girlfriend moved to Las Vegas, Vasquez was not asked to tag along. While staying briefly with his father after that, he came back for a while to Indiana.

Bielski said his condition continued to worsen. In one fit of range, he attacked his stepfather. Bielski said it was unlike him to do that. She has been married to her second husband for 26 years and he used to take Vasquez to Boy Scouts and ballgames.

“I think a lot of what has happened to Jimmy is because of the breakup of my marriage,” said Bielski.

Since then, Vasquez’s life has been a roller coaster. After attacking his stepfather, he served some time in prison. He was also incarcerated in Cook County Jail for various offenses.

His mental health and time in prison resulted in Vasquez becoming increasingly paranoid. BIelski said he would engage in conversations where he made no sense. She brought him too many doctors and institutions, pleading for help.

She gets angry when people say that the parents of mentally ill children are their responsibility and their fault when they become homeless.

“I went to psychiatrists every week,” said Bielski. “I’ve been to hospitals everywhere. No one wants to do anything for him. They give him some medication and in two weeks, they let him go.”

Compounding her frustration, BIelski said that Vasquez often refuses to take his medication. He may take it for a two-week span and then stops, thinking he no longer needs to, she said

And for the past couple of years, Vasquez has been seen walking the streets of Chicago Ridge. A niece and other relatives have dropped off food, water and occasionally clothing for him.

BIelski and her daughter saw Vasquez over the summer. Vasquez’s sister bought him some new clothing. Bielski then pleaded with Vasquez to get help and telling him this is no way to live.

“He just laughed at me,” said BIelski. “But I noticed there were tears in his eyes.”

Chicago Ridge Det. Anthony Layman said the family reported him missing Sept. 21. Layman has checked with local PADS shelters to see if had been there. The detective has also supplied information on Vasquez with various national data bases. Information includes his fingerprint and dental records.

“We don’t have a lot of leads right now, but nothing seems to be suspicious,” said Layman, who believes maybe that Vasquez may have checked himself in somewhere. “It’s not unusual for transients to move around. We have even checked with a data base in Indiana, in case he went back there.”

Vasquez has moved around several states over the years and has been on disability when not serving time in jail. Layman said that if anyone sees Vasquez, he said people should not approach him.

“With his history and being a schizophrenic, you don’t know what he can do,” added Layman.

Vasquez is about 6”0 and weighs between 150 to 180 pounds. He often wears a hat and sunglasses, day or night.

Anyone who has seen him should call 911 or Layman at (708) 425-7831.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Reinsdorf says Sox championship was bigger than Bears Super Bowl

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Monday will mark the 10th anniversary of the White Sox winning the World Series and Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said that celebration was bigger than any other sports celebration in Chicago sports history, including the Bears’ Super Bowl title in 1986.

Reinsdorf, the boss of the Sox and the six-time NBA champion Bulls, brought seven top trophies to town and he is not bashful about stating the importance of the White Sox sweep of Houston, which concluded on Oct. 26, 2005.

“The impact on the community of winning a World Series was far greater than winning a basketball championship,” he said. “It was far greater than winning a Super Bowl. Baseball is the one sport that spans generations. Everybody remembers their first baseball game he or she went to and who they went with and who was playing. You ask people about basketball or football, they don’t really remember their first game. Everybody remembers their first baseball game.

“And if the Cubs win a World Series, it will be even a bigger effect on the community because there are apparently more Cub fans. But our fans are better baseball fans.’’

Reinsdorf sat down with this newspaper at a lunch at Schaller’s Pump in Chicago brokered by Oak Lawn legend Ed McElroy. I am on the wrong side of 50 and was the pacifier sucker at a table featuring Reinsdorf  (age 79), McElroy (90) and restaurant owner Jack Schaller (91). That’s 260 years between this trio.

 I covered the playoffs and World Series in 2005 and have my own stories about getting drenched by champagne in the winning locker room in Houston, a sportswriters’ postgame meal at 4 a.m. at a Denny’s after the 14-inning Game 3 and other amusing tales.

But when McElroy offered a sitdown with Reinsdorf, I figured he would have better stories to tell and he didn’t fail to deliver.

After the clincher, Reinsdorf said he finally got to bed at the team hotel at 4 a.m.

At about 6:30 a.m. the phone rang.

“Some woman said ‘hold for the President of the United States,’ ” Reinsdorf said. “[George W. Bush] got on the phone and apologized for waking me up so early but he said he and Laura were going someplace. He told me what a remarkable achievement it was to win a world championship in two sports.’’

A couple of days later, Reindsdorf and some of the players were supposed to appear on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.’’

The players made it.

But not the Chairman.

“I overslept,” Reinsdorf said. “I didn’t wake up until noon.”

As soon as the final out was made and I witnessed the clinching of the first Chicago World Series championship in my lifetime and in 88 years, I turned to whoever would listen and said “Well, the coyote finally caught the Road Runner.’’

Reinsdorf said that immediately after the game, things were hectic with the trophy presentations and celebration. It took a little while to sink in.

“Obviously I was excited and happy,” he said. “But it didn’t hit me and I didn’t realize the enormity of it until the parade. There were two million people on that parade route. And there wasn’t one arrest.

“The other thing was that you could have gone to any cemetery the next day and the graves were decorated with White Sox stuff – including Mayor (Richard J.) Daley’s. That’s when it hit me. It was surreal. It was hard to believe.’’

Like him or hate him, Reinsdorf brought championships to a city that had been starving for the sports title for years.

He has no plans on stepping down anytime soon.

“I want to do this until I reach his age,” Reinsdof said, pointing to the 90-year-old McElroy. “The business of the Bulls is pretty much run by my son, Michael. I have that off my plate. I’m still active day-to-day with the White Sox. But I don’t see any reason to stop unless I die or get feeble. I have a lot of time before I retire.’’

This year’s Cubs team is having a magic year so far and despite biting a rotten apple in New York this weekend, has a chance to win a World Series of its own in the near or distant future and if that happens, it will push the Sox’s accomplishment further in the backs of the minds of a lot of Chicago sports fans.

“Look, if the Cubs win the World Series, it would be a great thing for the city of Chicago,” Reinsdorf said. “But most White Sox fans don’t look at it that way and my allegiance is to the White Sox fans.’’