Palos Hills seeks new building commissioner

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The search for a new building commissioner for Palos Hills was at the forefront of topics discussed at last Thursday’s city council meeting.

The city is looking for a permanent replacement for Gene Nelson, the longtime building commissioner who died last year. Nelson was looking to retire from the position and was in the process of training Gene Newman.

However, Newman has indicated that he will be unable to take on the position on a full-time basis.

Mayor Gerald Bennett and the council agreed recently to advertise for someone to take on the role as a full-time building commissioner.

“When I was at city hall at night I knew how hard Gene Nelson worked,” said Ald. Pauline Stratton (2nd). “Mr. Nelson was a good man who worked very hard. Gene Newman is also very conscientious and works hard.”

Stratton said the building commissioner position was originally full-time and was changed to part-time in an effort to save costs for the city. However, the board has reversed their position and made the building commissioner a full-time position again.

“We did change to part-time,” said Stratton. “But that position should not have been part-time in the first place. It’s not a part-time job. Gene Newman was working full-time hours. There is just a lot of work to do. A lot has to be done as a commissioner.”

Bennett said that it is early and will take some time before a full-time building commissioner can be found.

“Remember, we are looking for a new building commissioner,” Bennett reminded the board and audience.

A new head of the newly created animal control office and ordinance department is being sought. Bennett was asked if the salary was too high. The mayor responded that it is not.

“I have done a lot of research on this and the salary is competitive with other salaries of other municipalities,” said Bennett.

The city council honored two residents during the meeting. Vietnam veteran James Kruse and Chicago Blackhawks organist Frank Pellico were cited.

Kruse was named a “Senior of the Year” by Cong. Dan Lipinski’s (D-3rd) office. Kruse helped organize drop-off containers for residents to bring food items and letters to be sent to troops overseas. Kruse said he received support from many organizations including members of Sacred Heart Parish.

“One a solider, always a soldier,” said Kruse “However, it is those Americans who serve overseas that need our help. I remember when I was in the service. Sometimes you think, ‘does anybody besides our family care where what we are doing out here?’ It’s important to show we care. It means so much.”

Bennett presented Kruse with a plaque for his efforts.

“He’s really been great with the vets and he spends so much time helping them,” said Bennett. “He speaks at different events and sends items overseas to the troops. It’s nice to have someone who cares for the community.”

The mayor then presented an honorary street sign he had made up for Pellico, who has three Stanley Cup rings that he showed the audience. Pellico was also honored for an act of kindness in which he bought a meal for a Hickory Hills police officer at a local McDonald’s. Someone had paid for Pellico’s meal and he was returning the favor. He was highlighted a couple of months ago in a column by Dee Woods, a Reporter columnist.

“He wanted to share the victories with us,” said Bennett, about Pellico stopping by with his Stanley Cup rings. “He is a nice man and I’ve known him for a long time.”

The next Palos Hills City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21.

Chicago Ridge trustees vote against Odelson appointment

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Rev. Wayne Svida, pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge Church, opened the first Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting of 2016 with a prayer, and everything was going along swimmingly until it hit a rough patch, when trustees voted 4-2 against Mayor Chuck Tokar’s appointment of Burt Odelson as the village attorney.

Trustees Bill McFarland and Jack Lind were the only trustees to vote for the appointment, while trustees Bruce Quintos, Frances Coglianese, Sally Durkin and Amanda Cardin voted against it.

In a related move at the same meeting, trustees voted 5-1 to create the office of legislative consul, to be filled by another attorney chosen by the trustees. Lind was the only one to vote against that measure, which Odelson and Tokar see as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Several of the trustees who voted for the legislative consul, including Quintos and Cardin, said the office will serve the village well, acting as a second opinion called upon by trustees when they have any question about advice given by the village attorney.

“The attorney won’t be on retainer. He or she will just be consulted occasionally,” said Cardin.

Tokar named Odelson last June as the interim village attorney, replacing George Witous, who retired without notice after 51 years in the post.

“It was a political statement by at least two of the trustees against the mayor,” said Odelson afterward, taking the vote against him in stride. He knew that while the vote allowed trustees to show their disapproval, it had no effect on the mayoral appointment, which is made by the mayor alone.

“I’ll be here as long as the mayor wants me,” he said.

However, he did admit to taking the vote personally to some degree, because he is friendly with some of the trustees who voted against him. “How can you not?” he said.

“I saved them $100,000 in a year,” he asserted, explaining that in the latter years of Witous’ tenure, some of the work had to be farmed out to downtown firms.

“We charge $175 an hour and we do everything,” he said of his firm, Odelson & Sterk.

Odelson noted that he serves as attorney for 14 municipalities, 12 school districts, and even the Chicago Ridge Park District.

Tokar also questioned the logic of the vote against Odelson, pointing out that the trustees who voted against him had asked him last June to help sort out the controversy over health insurance provided free of charge to retired village officials. And he did that.

Odelson is seen as an expert in election law, and Tokar said, “Not too many villages have an attorney who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the mayor, pointing out that Odelson was involved in the case involving the 2000 election of George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Coglianese said the vote was not against Odelson personally. “I have nothing against him. It is just the procedure (of his appointment) I don’t like,” she said,

Quintos, who had pushed for the vote, said that as a home-rule community, Chicago Ridge should be governed by a mayor “with the advice and consent” of the trustees.

“We agreed to his interim appointment, with the understanding that we would be able to see who else was available, and vet all the candidates. But nothing was ever done and we were not consulted,” said Quintos.

“If the trustees could vote out a village attorney, I suppose they could also vote out a police chief, fire chief or any other appointed official. But they are all mayoral appointments. That is just how it is done,” said Tokar after the meeting.

Worth board OKs amendments with eye on economic development

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

In accordance with its ongoing economic development plans for Worth, the Board of Trustees approved amendments to two municipal codes at its Tuesday meeting.

According to the ordinances, the amendments will restrict certain businesses in the B-1 and B-2 business districts. However, the modifications will apply to future businesses, not the existing businesses.

In the B-1 district, all business establishments will be retail establishments dealing directly with consumers. All goods produced on the premises will be sold at retail on the premises where it is produced.

“Our primary focus as we move forward with our economic development plans is to encourage businesses providing sales tax revenue,” said Mayor Mary Werner.

Examples of permitted businesses include antique shops, automobile accessory stores, bicycle stores, camera and photographic supply stores and studios, clothing, footwear and dry goods stores, department stores, drug stores, etc.

Permitted uses in the B-2 district will include businesses such as amusement establishments within enclosed buildings, such as bowling alleys, gymnasiums, swimming pools, skating rinks, automotive vehicle and automotive equipment sales, banks, catering establishments, health clubs, gymnasiums, reducing salons and massage therapy establishments, medical and dental clinics and laboratories, pet shops and restaurants.

Certain businesses fall into a category designated as special use, such as places of assembly like theaters, churches and community centers.

Village Attorney Greg Jones suggested that the board consider eliminating these from the list of permitted uses in the amended ordinances. “It will not impact existing facilities, but will prohibit any additional future use,” he said.

In another discussion, Trustee Pete Kats, who is the liaison to the Public Works department, raised the issue of parked cars prohibiting the snow plowing efforts on village streets.

“I have received numerous complaints from residents whose street is not plowed because of cars being left on the street,” Kats said. “This is a major epidemic and is becoming a health and safety hazard. With cars parked on both sides of some of our streets, there is no way an ambulance or fire truck could get down the street.

“I am asking our board to consider this situation and formulate an ordinance prohibiting parking on both sides of the streets and after snowfalls of more than two inches,” added Kats. “We need to get something in place and then stick to enforcing it. Our residents need to realize that they can benefit themselves by not parking on the street.”

In other matters, the board heard a report on the recent audit conducted on village finances. The report was presented by John Williams of Hearne and Associates.

He reported that the village saw a slight decrease in its revenue this past year. 2015 revenues were $12.2 million as compared to $12.4 million in 2014. He attributed it to a reduction in property taxes collected.

Werner commented later that the reduction amounted to $200,000 not collected. She attributed it to people who appealed their tax bills and those who simply could not pay.

Total expenditures for the year were $12 million. “All expenditures were below budget,” Williams said.

Other board action approved a payment of $9,106.25 to Mid America Tree & Landscape, Inc., for flowers for the village’s annual planting day.

Also approved was a Resolution authorizing the village to close 111th Street from Ridgeland Avenue to Harlem Avenue on Aug. 28 for the Worth Days Parade.

Trustee Colleen McElroy said that the Beautification Committee is inviting businesses to participate in this year’s Patriotic Banner Program. Cost of the banner is $175 for the first banner and $150 for a second. They will be placed along 111th Street and Harlem Avenue, from Flag Day through Oct. 1. For further information on the program, contact McElroy at the village hall, (708) 448-1181.


Local mayors are cautiously optimistic about 2016

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Southwest suburban mayors have their hands full as they enter a new year dealing with tighter budgets and uncertainty in Springfield . However, ongoing projects are reason for optimism

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said that he can’t wait until Miller’s Ale House is completed at the corner of 95th and Ridgeland Avenue outside of Chicago Ridge Mall. Miller’s Ale House replaces Tilted Kilt, which closed abruptly this fall.

“I can’t wait until Miller’s Ale House opens up,” said Tokar. “They have great food and we have heard great things about them. They are way ahead of schedule.”

Workers were busy with the framework of the building on Tuesday morning. Tokar said the workers have been busy and have taken advantage of the mild December temperatures. Tokar said that if the weather cooperates, Miller’s Ale House could open at the end of March or the beginning of April.

Tokar said at the top of his list is the Harlem Avenue TIF District, specifically the area surrounding 103rnd and Harlem. The mayor would like to see some development there.

“We would like to get a shovel in the ground there soon,” Tokar said.

The mayor also would like to see RTA associated development occur soon. The Southwest Conference of Mayors was able to get a $1 million grant for local municipalities for development with the RTA’s assistance. Chicago Ridge will receive $800,000 in RTA grant money for development.

“That will be great,” said Tokar. “We could use new signage and new pedestrian sidewalks. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Tokar is realistic that much will depend on movement in Springfield. He is pleased that Gov. Rauner signed a bill and the Senate released funds for the motor fuel tax, 911 system and video gaming. Tokar does not side with either Rauner or House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd).

“I don’t just blame one person,” he said. “I blame them both. Until they get this settled, we are just going to have to be careful.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton is looking forward to when the Evergreen Park Marketplace is built. The Marketplace is replacing The Plaza, which fell to the wrecking ball this fall. The iconic structure that was built in 1952 had become dated and was in decline for years. The Marketplace will be more efficient and will have several notable retail businesses. The mayor said there will be a little more than 30 businesses at the Marketplace.

Carson’s was a longtime fixture of The Plaza and continued operating even when the mall had become nearly vacant. A new Carson’s will be built to replace the old one. Sexton can’t wait for that to happen.

“I would like to hear the cash registers at Carson’s,” said Sexton. “They are rolling along over there. They are moving quickly.”

Sexton said the new Carson’s could be completed by the end of July. The mayor said that some restaurants and retail businesses have been contacted. He said that it is too soon to mention any names.

“We are talking to a few of them and it is our hope that some of them will come to fruition,” said Sexton.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley said that he has a few projects he would like to see get off the ground. The 2016 Beautification Program comes to mind first. The removal of diseased trees is a priority for the city. Thirty trees will be replanted in each of the city’s four wards.

Howley said that the trees that will be removed will be replaced by trees designed to flourish and avoid becoming victims of diseases.

New water meters will be a boost for Hickory Hills, according to Howley. The new devices will be able to determine if there are leaks or other defects in a home.

“These are services that may not sound sexy but are important,” said Howley, who also pointed to sanitary sewer system replacements through a $150,000 block grant.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is looking forward to more development of the 111th Street Stony Creek Promenade TIF District. A pancake house will be built just east of Mariano’s. The mayor said she hopes to have an announcement about Phase 2 of the projects.

The next direct phase is Stony Creek North at the nearby old Edgar Funeral Home property. Bury is confident that an announcement will be made soon on a specific project.

Bury said that she would like to see plans for a permanent senior center facility. While the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post has indicated they would be interested in helping, nothing has been decided.

“We are still looking at ideas,” said Bury. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday for the expansion of Advocate Christ Medical Center.

“Oak Lawn is open for business and we are excited about the future,” added Bury.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said the city is working on economic development. A $15 million nursing home will open in June. Webb Chevy is coming to Palos Hills.

Bennett said the one difficulty for Palos Hills is that it is surrounded by malls. It has been difficult to draw businesses to the community. But Bennett is encouraged by some of the businesses that have come to the city.

“We have challenges,” said Bennett. “We are working on filling vacant businesses. But we are moving forward like most other towns. We just have to be very cautious.”

Worth Mayor Mary Werner would like to see more development along 111th Street, including money from CMAP for development near the Metra train stations. The medicinal marijuana dispensary will open sometime this month. Werner said that it will bring more revenue to the village but also something more.

“One of the key things is that it could draw more people to the village who have never come here before,” said Werner. “I look at this as a win-win situation.”

Werner would also like to see some development along 111th Street. A new Italian café shop will open soon that will specialize in fresh foods. The Italian deli could open by the end of January.

Oak Lawn restaurateur sells business after another show of generosity

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Sandi DiGangi quietly sold her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant, at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn a few days after her seventh annual feed the hungry program on Christmas Day.

DiGangi, who has become known for giving away thousands of freshly cooked traditional meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, said she plans to continue the tradition at another location.

“I had a good seven-year run,” said DiGangi on Tuesday. “I survived, and built up and improved the business,” she said.

DiGangi herself went through a bout of ill health last spring that caused her to seriously consider selling the business. She said she was misdiagnosed with cancer, but had two major operations that kept her in the hospital and out of the restaurant for weeks at a time.

Last April, one offer she received to sell the restaurant fell through when the Oak Lawn Village Board rejected the business plan put forward by the prospective owner.

But DiGangi said that when she got another offer, it was too good to turn down.

“With my health, although it is good now, I thought this was the right time to sell,” she said.

As she said in the announcement made on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Dec. 30, “The time is right. I just need to relax a little.”

“I gained so many great friends and met so many amazing people, and I was supported by so many wonderful people in Oak Lawn....I really thank everyone for everything. It was all of you who made Big Pappa’s what it is,” she added.

She has no plans to slow down, or go on vacation. Rather, she said she now has more time for volunteer work.

“I just increased my volunteer work from five hours a week to 30 hours a week,” she said, explaining that she regularly visits several area seniors, doing their grocery shopping and other errands. She also makes regular visits to seniors in hospitals and nursing homes.

“I miss the restaurant, but I have been very busy,” she said.Top of Form

“I could have closed in November, but I wanted to wait until after Christmas,” she said, explaining that the sale was finalized on Dec. 28.

So on Christmas Day, she and her three children — Tony, 20, Michaline, 17, and Nicolette, 14 — were again busy preparing and handing out free meals for the needy, as well as toys for children.

“We had another successful year. We gave away more than 3,000 meals,” she said. In addition to delivering locally to shut-ins, and giving meals to people who lined up at the restaurant, DiGangi said more than 245 meals were delivered to homeless people in downtown Chicago,

“We had a few vans go down there,” she said. “We helped a lot of families and churches.”

DiGangi said that after a slow start, the amount of donations coming in to help fund the project picked up. “I had to go into my pocket a little bit, but that is OK,” she said. “I figure if my son was alive, I would be spending the money on him, so instead, I spend it on this,” she said, referring to her son, Gary, who died at age 5

“Feeding the needy on holidays won’t stop. I’ll be looking for another location, somewhere with a full kitchen, in the next few months,” she said. “A VFW hall or someplace like that would be nice, so people could sit down and have their meals. I didn’t have much space for that in the restaurant.”

DiGangi said the new owner, whom she knows as Frank, has promised to “provide the same great quality food at low prices,” and she is encouraging her longtime customers to continue patronizing the business.

And she plans to remain living in Oak Lawn also, so she is not looking at the sale as a “good-bye.”

“Oak Lawn is my town and I love living here. I am not going anywhere,” she said.

DiGangi said her son, Anthony, who has worked alongside her in the restaurant for the last few years, is looking into opening his own fast-food restaurant.

“I’m not sure what town it will be in,” she said. “It will be all his. He learned a lot at Big Pappa’s, working from open to close. I’ll be giving my little support in the background, but I told him I won’t be working there,” she said with a laugh.