Three aldermanic seats up for election in Hickory

By Laura Bollin

Seats are up for election in three of the four aldermanic wards in Hickory Hills.

Appointed alderman Brian Waight is running against Stephen Novak in the 1st Ward, and incumbent Alderman Joseph Stachnik is running against challenger John Corasis in the 4th Ward. Alderman Tom McAvoy (3rd Ward) is not running for reelection, and will be replaced next month by the winner of the race between Francine Schafer and Brian Fonte.

1st Ward
Brian Waight, 48, was appointed to the city council in February 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of John Moirano, who was appointed city building commissioner. Waight serves as the liaison to the City Council’s laws and ordinance committee. He graduated from Evergreen Park High School and is a coffee salesman for Papa Nicholas Coffee.

“I’m the welcome wagon to the city for the business owners, and I help them out in any way I can,” Waight said. “I will make a good alderman because I handle all of the citizens’ complaints or issues in a prompt and timely fashion.”

Waight’s challenger is Stephen Novak, 64, an electrical engineer with J&L Electronics. He owns a bachelor’s degree in engineering from DeVry Institute of Technology. He designs and installs 911 dispatch centers for police and fire departments. He has no prior government experience and is running for the first time. He is running because he did not want to see Waight run unopposed, and has public safety knowledge that would be beneficial to the community, he said.

“I feel that people should have some kind of competition when they run,” Novak said. “I’ll make a good alderman because I work with many of the local area police and fire departments including the Hickory Hills Police Department, and I am aware of grants that we may be able to get for the town that I don’t see happening right now.”

The role of the City Council is to approve ordinances and try and keep the city safe, Novak said.

“People are not aware of some of the ordinances in town,” Novak said. “For example, tow trucks are parked in the city, and there is an ordinance that says that is not allowed.”

Novak is also concerned about safety issues in Hickory Hills. There is a small park at 94th Street and 78th Avenue, and it gets a lot of heavy traffic during rush hour, Novak said.

“People are concerned because cars are flying up and down the streets, and there are a lot of kids there,” Novak said. “I see cars going down the street at 40 miles per hour and very seldom see people getting tickets.”

3rd Ward
Francine Schafer, 63, owns bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Indiana University. She is a retired teacher and has taught in the Chicago Public School system and Indian Springs School District 109, which serves part of the 3rd Ward. She is running because she wants to give back to the community, and believes her experience as a teacher will help her on the board. She claims to be “a good problem solver and a good communicator.”

Brian Fonte, 27, owns a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Illinois State University. He works as a project manager for F.E. Moran. He has no previous government experience, and is running to help out the community, he said.

“I grew up here, I have a vested interest in the community and want to see it do well,” Fonte said. “If I become alderman, I will work with the city council to make Hickory Hills a place people would want to call home.”

Fonte wants to maintain taxes, manage the city’s funds and support senior citizens.

“I want the owners to keep up their properties, and I don’t want any of the properties to go down,” Fonte said. “I want to make sure people maintain their buildings.  I don’t want any of the buildings to start looking like slumville. Right now, no area of town looks like that.”

Fonte wants the city to keep taxes where they are and use sales tax revenue for bills the city has to pay, he said.

“We should use sales tax instead of taking it out on the citizens’ property taxes,” Fonte said.

Fonte said he will bring a fresh perspective to the city council.

“I will be the youngest one there,” Fonte said. “I want to assure 3rd Ward residents that they will have a voice in the community.”

4th Ward
Incumbent 4th Ward alderman Joseph Stachnik, 43, has served on the city council since 2001. He is running for his fourth term. He owns bachelor’s degrees in commerce and accountancy in finance from DePaul University, a master’s in business administration from Loyola University Chicago Quinlan Graduate School of Business and a master’s of laws in taxation and a juris doctorate from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law. Stachnik works as a senior manager for a Big 4 accounting firm and as an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago Quinlan School of Business.

Stachnik said he wants to see the city move in a positive direction, and wants to continue to attract viable businesses to town. He wants to make sure Hickory Hills stays a business-friendly community.

“We are business friendly by expediting permits and expediting business licenses and construction permits,” Stachnik said.

John Corasis, 47, is a senior systems engineer with Allscripts. He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from DeVry Institute of Technology. He has no prior government experience and is running for the first time.

“I would like to see Hickory Hills be a desirable place to live for generations to come,” Corasis said. “When I was talking to residents, they felt little things would keep the appeal, like keeping garbage cans not visible from the street. I want to bring residents’ concerns to City Hall and make a difference.”

Corasis believes he will make a good alderman because he will listen to people’s concerns.

“Their concerns are my concerns,” he said.

Two parties, two indies seek Oak Lawn trustee seats

Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (Dist. 2)

Oak Lawn Trustee Tom Duhig (District 4)

Terry Vorderer

Carol Sheahan

Julie Misner

Groups led by incumbent mayor and his challenger will grapple for control of Village Board

By Laura Bollin

The election ballot in Oak Lawn will be full next Tuesday with 10 candidates seeking four trustee seats up for election on the Village Board.

Oak Lawn voters will on April 9 select their choices for trustee in four representative districts, including District 1, which is typically only voted on during even-numbered years. The seat is up for election because Trustee Cynthia Trautsch was appointed to fill an open seat less than two years ago following the resignation of Jerry Hurckes.

A full slate of candidates headed by incumbent Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann is opposed by a contingent led by mayoral challenger Sandra Bury, and the results of the election will have an influence on the Village Board’s power balance. Heilmann is politically aligned with Trustees Bob Streit (District 3) and Carol Quinlan (District 5), neither of who are up for re-election, as well as trustee candidates Trautsch, Julie Misner, Tim Reilly and Carol Sheahan; while Bury is running with incumbent Trustees Alex Oleniczak (District 2) and Tom Duhig (District 4), and first-time trustee candidates Tim Desmond and Michael Carberry.

Olejniczak and Duhig along with outgoing Trustee Tom Phelan and village Clerk Jane Quinlan are former members of Heilmann’s party who split from the mayor shortly after the spring 2009 election amidst questions about legal bills and the hiring of a new village attorney, among other issues. Quinlan is running for re-election to the clerk’s post as an independent.

Two independent trustee candidates have also thrown themselves into the fray: Terry Vorderer, a former Oak Lawn police officer and current member of the Oak Lawn Park Board, and Joseph Sorrentino, president of the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board of education.

District 1
Trautsch is running for election for the first time. She was appointed in August 2011 after Hurckes resigned. Trautsch is running as a member of the Mayor’s Independence Party against Oak Lawn First Party candidate Timothy Desmond.

Trautsch, 55, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She owns a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Saint Xavier University and works as a sales tax accountant for the California Board of Equalization. Trautsch serves on the Village Board’s public works committee and as the board’s police department liaison.

“I’m running because my constituents said I was doing a good job,” Trautsch said. “I’m trying to do what is best for the village of Oak Lawn. I am not working with an adversarial board, I am working with the village of Oak Lawn. I want to know what the village needs and how we are going to get it. I want to make Oak Lawn prosperous. I don’t want my own little corner of the world, I just want to be in Oak Lawn.”

The biggest issue for Trautsch is the village’s infrastructure.

“We need to get our infrastructure taken care of, and get funding for to keep the streets moving along,” Trautsch said. “The district’s streets are bad, and need help. We have to look at all six districts, and get funding every year so we can do the streets. It sounds stupid, but if you have streets that crack, now you have a community in disarray. Why do you want to live in a community where the streets have potholes? If people don’t live here, we don’t have businesses. It is a circle.”

Bringing development into the village is something else Trautsch wants to work on if she is elected to the village board.

“We have the Mariano’s [grocery store to be built at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue], and I want to work on bringing in businesses that generate sales tax into the village, so we do not constantly have to raise the sales tax,” Trautsch said. “That will probably never happen, but it is a goal. In order to do that, we need good infrastructure.”

Trautsch envisions a village with a lot of different businesses to bring people into the village.

“We need a good mix of things,” Trautsch said. “There are a lot of places that have one dollar store at the end of town, but we have five or six. We have TGI Friday’s, but we need a couple higher end restaurants to bring in more people.”

Desmond, 47, has lived in Oak Lawn for 27 years. A native of County Cork, Ireland, he moved to the United States in 1986. He is the owner of Jack Desmond’s Irish Pub in Chicago Ridge and a stationary engineer with Local 399, and is working toward a facilities degree at Triton College.

As a business owner, Desmond says he has ideas to bring business development to Oak Lawn.

“One of the things I want to do is introduce a program where we can offer incentives to businesses that want to move here and existing businesses, so they will hire Oak Lawn High School seniors and graduates and train them in a career.”

Desmond said his idea extends beyond seasonal employment for those in high school.

“I want all businesses to hire our students and train them in a career that will keep them in Oak Lawn,” Desmond said. “Hawkinson Ford can hire students to be mechanics and finance managers for kids that will not be going to college. It would give t hem a start in Oak Lawn.”

Desmond would also like to developers hire Oak Lawn contractors for new construction in the village.

Desmond said raising six children has helped him learn to compromise, a skill that will be valuable on the board.

“The art of politics is compromise, and as a family man, I have had to learn to work with people every day,” Desmond said. “I can bring it real world experience. We have a board right now that spends most of their time bickering back and forth, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot being achieved.”

District 2
The incumbent Olejniczak is running as a member of the Oak Lawn First Party. His challenger, Julie Misner, is running with the Mayor’s Independence Party.

Olejniczak, 47, has lived in Oak Lawn for 40 years. He graduated from Oak Lawn High School. He works as vice president of operations for Dearborn Wholesale Grocers in Chicago. He is a member of the technology and quality control committees, and served on the public works committee and as the police liaison for seven years.

Olejniczak was elected for the first time in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009, both times as a member of Heilmann’s ticket. The two have since parted ways.

“I’m running because we need to continue addressing the issues the residents have brought forward and improve the quality of life in the village of Oak Lawn, whether that is our infrastructure, streets, water, or alleys.”

Safety is a huge issue in Oak Lawn, Olejniczak said.

“People talk about safety in our village, but we have to go from talking to doing, and put together a plan,” Olejniczak said. “We need to get manpower up in the police department, and continue to look to advance the gang and tactical unit. The people that are doing crimes will think twice if they know the police department has the tools and weapons necessary to fight crime.”

Olejniczak said he does not think of Oak Lawn as unsafe, and says there have been gangs in the village since the 1980s.

“My mother, she’s 87, she was mugged coming out of her doctor’s office,” Olejniczak said. “It has nothing to do with the neighborhood we live in. I have been to every neighborhood safety meeting, and I commend the mayor for doing it.”

Unoccupied homes are also a concern because of the issues can arise, like tenants in pre-foreclosure not cutting their grass or not maintaining swimming pools in the backyard. Olejniczak said the village’s responsible landlord tenant ordinance is important, to make sure people who are renting are conducting themselves well.

Olejniczak also wants to improve safety at the village’s schools.

“We need to bring in more advanced cameras, and bring in a centralized monitoring system to protect our schools.”

The role of the board is to be active in the community and listen to the needs of the constituents, Olejniczak said.

“We can’t be financially irresponsible,” Olejniczak said. “I think we as a board have done a good job of towing the line. The proposals being talked about are concerning to me. Using $1 million to update the Village Green, that is financially irresponsible to me. I would like to see that money go to infrastructure projects, like streets and sewers.

Olejniczak also wants to see more development come to the village.

“The Mariano’s development has been a long time coming,” Olejniczak said. “I would love to see some more businesses that the residents have said they want to see. The village deserves to have a Trader Joe’s somewhere in it. I want to see more variety in our restaurants. I do not want to see the continued advancement of gambling parlors. They are using the ability to get a liquor license to have gambling, and then saying they are going to have food. If we ask if the business can exist on food sales alone, and they say they need gambling, I don’t want to see that. I want to see businesses that will bring a positive change to the village.”

Olejniczak said programs he has implemented, like the green team and the senior snow shoveling program show that he has worked hard for the village of Oak Lawn.

“It would be an honor for the residents to vote me in as trustee for another term,” Olejniczak said.

Julie Misner, 46, is the Mayor’s Independence Party candidate for trustee in District 2. Misner is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She attended Oak Lawn Community High School and works as an administrative assistant for an accountant. She has been on the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board of education for four years, and currently serves as the board secretary.

“I’m running because I think it is important that the village maintains a positive direction and I want to be a part of that,” Misner said. “I want to give back to the community that I have grown up in and raised my family in.”

Misner believes her experience on the board will help her serve the village as a trustee.

“I believe that the four years I have served on the school board have given me a great understanding of how boards work and how boards should work. I have learned a lot, and I think the board can use a little collaboration.”

Misner said the board’s role is to govern, and that she believes the current board may have lost sight of that.

“I don’t know that the role is always clear, and I have a very good understanding of the expectations of a good board member. The expectations are to listen, to understand that it is not about power and ego, it is about the people and what is in the best interest of the community. That has to be your priority.”

One of the important issues in Oak Lawn learning what residents need in the village, Misner said.

“There are residents that may not want to run for office that have great ideas to share,” Misner said. “I want to create a format that allows people to share ideas, whether that is a committee or a roundtable discussion that allows people to bring their input and let people know we value what they say. In my district alone, there are 9,000 residents. One representative cannot see through every resident’s eyes without hearing from them. It is important to hear from your people because people have so much to offer.”

Keeping businesses in town is another important concern.

“People are concerned with the economic state of the village and with foreclosures,” Misner said. “People are concerned with all the business comings and goings.”

Misner believes she would make a good trustee because she will focus on the residents.

“I have always put people ahead of myself,” Misner said. “I work on a board, and we agree to disagree. In the end, we focus on the community and while we might offer our personal opinions, that doesn’t impact our final vote.”

District 4
In one of two three-person races, the incumbent Duhig is being challenged by Reilly and Vorderer, the latter who lost to Duhig in the same race in 2009.

Duhig, 69, has lived in Oak Lawn for 40 years. He works as the administrative assistant to the chief of court services for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. He has been a trustee since 2009.

“I am running for reelection because I think I can make a difference,” Duhig said. “My record has shown that. I have pretty much been an independent since I started serving. I bring a lot of common sense to the board. I like to work behind the scenes. I’m quiet, but I like to get things done.”

Duhig said the role of the board is to monitor the issues going on in the village that the board is supposed to vote on.

“You have to do your homework and use common sense,” Duhig said. “You have to listen to the residents and listen to what they are asking. If something is good for my district, it is probably good for all of Oak Lawn; but just because something is good for Oak Lawn doesn’t mean it is good for my district. That is how I have guided my term in office.”

Finances are a big issue in the village, Duhig said.

“One of the big issues is going to be pension funds,” Duhig said. “It if wasn’t for [Trustee] Tom Phelan several years ago, who guided our pension funds to get us out of the stock market, we would be $35 million under water. Our debt is a big issue, but it is no different than the federal or state debt, it is just down to the local level. We have to manage our money wisely.”

Duhig wants to see the village maintain its character while adding new development.

“We have big box and mom and pop stores here,” Duhig said. “It holds the village together. We have a lot of businesses where people do not have to travel far. The key thing to attract new businesses, the problem with that, is that property taxes are so high. If we get a little shoe store or a tailor, everyone wants to be on 95th Street or Cicero, and they just can’t afford it.”

Duhig would like to see the village develop the Southwest Highway corridor, from Southwest Highway between 95th and 99th streets.

“That hospital is not going to stop growing,” Duhig said. “We will get banks and doctor’s offices, which have no retail sales tax. What we need to do is create a corridor on Southwest Highway, and put banks and doctor’s offices there. We want to keep them off of 95th Street so more retail can go there. The hospital has big expansion plans. It will bring in retail stores and restaurants, because people will be going there on their lunch hour. A combination of small and big stores is the key to a healthy community.”

Tim Reilly, 45, has lived in Oak Lawn for 14 years. He owns a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from St. Xavier University. He owns a steel company. Reilly has been a member of the Oak Lawn Planning and Development Commission for five years.

“I am running because I think residents of the fourth district are not having their voices heard,” Reilly said. “I think the current trustee is an absentee trustee, and I want to change that.

“I think I will make a good trustee because I communicate well with people, and I have been involved in different organizations, like St. Germaine Church and Oak Lawn Baseball.”

The board should work to give direction to move the village forward, Reilly said.

“A lot of times, the trustees overstep their bounds,” Reilly said. “We have to get past the infighting and lack of governing. It is all political. I am levelheaded.”

One of the biggest issues in the village is safety, Reilly said.

“There have been safety issues, some at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and then there was an armed robbery a couple of blocks away from my house,” Reilly said. “I think it is always the fringe of Chicago coming to Oak Lawn.”

Vacant businesses are another one of Reilly’s concerns.

“We have to help small businesses move into Oak Lawn by offering incentives,” Reilly said. “If you move in, Oak Lawn will pay a month or two of your rent, something like that, or a reduced cost for garbage disposal, or offer small business loans for people that want to move into Oak Lawn. There are plenty of ways to help. Mariano’s is a great start, but we need to focus on filling up the storefronts that are vacant.”

If he is elected, he will focus on resident input, Reilly said.

“I will communicate with residents via email,” Reilly said. “I will hold quarterly or monthly meetings with residents, and I would be available for people to talk to.”

Terry Vorderer is an independent candidate running for trustee in the fourth district. Vorderer, 66, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. He served as an infantryman in the U.S. Marines. He earned an applied sciences degree from Moraine Valley Community College, took classes at Governors State University, and attended the Northwestern University Staff and Command School. He served as a police officer in Oak Lawn for 34 years, and retired in 2003 as the chief of patrol. He was an Oak Lawn Park District Commissioner for six years, and served as the president and vice president of the park district board.

“Oak Lawn has given me so much over the years,” Vorderer said. “I have the energy, knowledge, and desire to serve the village.”

Vorderer believes the board serves as a liaison between the residents and the village, and sets the direction and financial obligations of the village.

Vorderer believes some of the issues that need to be addressed are political attacks between village trustees, finances, and safety. 

“Political attacks are hurting Oak Lawn, and they are unprofessional,” Vorderer said. “I have spent most of my career as a police officer working in adversarial environments. I can work with whoever gets elected to present a more positive image of the village.”

Vorderer wants village trustees to be vigilant of property taxes.

“Many residents are taxed to their maximum,” Vorderer said. “We need to be financially sensitive of that and use the limited dollars we have to deliver services. People are attracted to Oak Lawn because of the good schools and good public services, like the police department.”

Safety is another important issue.

“An armed robbery occurred directly across the street from my house,” Vorderer said. “I believe that the fourth district is uniquely affected by the population that Christ Hospital brings. It is world-class and we are lucky to have it, but I think we do pay an additional price for that. As a result, I think village services, especially the police, need to pay special attention to this district.”

Vorderer wants the village and the hospital to work together on a partnership to address safety and quality of life issues.

“I will not be a part-time politician,” Vorderer said. “I see myself as a public servant. I want to run because I love this place. It’s been my home since the day I was born, and I want to be part of its future.”

District 6
Trustee Tom Phelan is not seeking reelection in the race between Sheahan, Carberry and Sorrentino. Carberry did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Sheahan, 43, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. She owns a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University. She is a stay at home mom who volunteers with the Oak Lawn Green Team, Oak Lawn Baseball, and the Oak Lawn Lions Club.

“I decided to run because I wanted to be involved,” Sheahan said. “I’ve always volunteered or contributed to my neighborhood in Oak Lawn. I have the same concerns other people do. I want to keep my taxes low, keep the streets safe, and do what is best for Oak Lawn.”

One of the biggest issues is business development.

“I want to involve residents’ input regarding stores that are going into their neighborhood,” Sheahan said. “The 111th and Cicero development is practically in my backyard, and I will be doing a lot of shopping there. We also need to address vacancies and draw in small businesses. I want to get ideas from residents on what they would like to see.”

Safety is another concern for Sheahan.

“Having grown up here, I am from the era where you left your back door open, and you can’t do that anymore,” Sheahan said. “I want to keep the neighborhood as safe as I can. I am on the team to kickstart a neighborhood watch program, and have residents be the eyes for the police department. People will walk through neighborhoods and see graffiti, beer cans, or if you see unruly kids in a park and it’s past 11 p.m., let them know it is time to leave.”

Sheahan also wants the board to work together.

“The board working together is what is going to carry the board forward,” Sheahan said. “They are not working together right now. Everything is at a stop point. If you don’t like my idea, it just gets squashed. Everything should be able to have input and work it out amicably.”

Sorrentino, 48, has lived in Oak Lawn for 41 years. He holds a business administration degree from St. Xavier University. He is the owner of the Step Up Logistics company, which sells transportation services. He is the current president of Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board of education.

“I’m running because I think it is time for a positive change,” Sorrentino said. “I think I have the qualifications. I am a successful business owner. I am the president of the largest school district in Illinois, and I am an independent candidate.”

Sorrentino said the role of the board is to set the vision for the village, support the growth of the village, improve public safety and manage key development projects. The board is also in charge of making sure residents have basic services, like police, fire, and garbage pickup.

He is concerned about the public fighting amongst Village Board members.

“We have to make good decisions for the residents,” Sorrentino said. “The divisiveness is not a way to run a government. People should not be so committed to whatever his or her beliefs are. You have to understand what the residents feel. There are a lot of good, smart people in Oak Lawn and they need to be listened to. Everybody is disgusted by what is going on.”

Sorrentino said residents have gotten more and more concerned about public safety.

“One of the things that is a hot topic is making sure our kids are safe when they are at school,” Sorrentino said. “One person or one district cannot do that. what Oak Lawn has been about since I was a little kid living here is everyone working together. Now, everyone is working to appease a political party.”

Sorrentino said his experience on the school board has given him the tools to restore order on the board and help trustees develop a sense of respect with one another.

“Having the business background that I have, I have experience and am objective,” Sorrentino said. “I can analyze data and make the best decision. My credibility and my sense of ethics is how I grew my business. My business experience will help me ensure financial progress in the village. We have to get back to basics, restore order on the board, and debate issues in a healthy forum.”

Five vie for seats in Oak Lawn High School District 229

One incumbent board member and four other candidates including two write-ins are running to fill four open seats on the Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 board of education.

Incumbent James Melnik will be joined on the April 9 election ballot by Robert Loehr and Kathleen Berry. Stephen Greene and Dan Sodaro are o running as write-in candidates.

Neither Melnik nor Sodaro responded to requests to submit information for this story.

Kathleen Berry, 44
Education: bachelor’s degree in elementary education, North Central College in Naperville; master’s in curriculum and instruction, National Louis University.
Job: Vice president of operations at Strategic Learning Initiatives in Chicago.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
My inspiration lies in the passion I have for education.  I am interested in being part of the process that ensures that the best education is made available and delivered to all students.  As a person who seeks challenges, being a member of this elected office will be an exciting and rewarding experience.
What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
Given the budget cuts that the current board has had to make in order to provide for financial sustainability, I think the hard decisions will be how to best provide for the student’s needs in an environment of shrinking resources. 

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
By exploring all available resources, I want to be inspiring and innovative in making sure the education given to the students is of the highest quality and reflects the needs of the community.  I intend on having a positive, lasting impact on the board so I can look back and feel confident that due to my education, passion and dedication I was a valuable member and made a difference.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
My skill set and background would be an added value to the current board.  I am analytical and perceptive and am vested in making decisions that will be in the best interest of both the students at OLCHS and the community.  As a dependable and conscientious team player, I’m not only ardent about meeting expectations, but strive to exceed them both personally and professionally.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
As both a parent of a current student and a long standing member of the Oak Lawn community, I will take my responsibilities very seriously and work diligently to understand the financial implications of decisions that are put before me, weigh the pros and cons and make choices that represent the best interest of the community as well as the students, not only for today but for the future as well.


Stephen Greene, 52
Education: Graduate of Oak Lawn Community High School; associate’s degree in computer Programming from Moraine Valley Community College
Job: Quality manager for a tool-and-die manufacturing company

What inspired you to run for elected office?
I believe that strong schools build strong communities.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
Balancing the budget, how to provide the students the education they will need to succeed in life while being accountable to the taxpayers of the school district.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
A balanced budget.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
I’m a team player.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
I’m a concerned parent who has a student enrolled at Oak Lawn High School. I’m a graduate of Oak Lawn High School. I’m a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. I’m a taxpayer.


Robert Loehr, 57
Education: Graduate of Evergreen Park Community High School; completed trade school at Local Union 130 Plumbers Trade School.
Job: Plumbing/building contractor

What inspired you to run for elected office?
I have always been very involved in my children’s schools and school districts. I have served on numerous committees’ in Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 and I’m currently very active in District 229. Having attended most of the board of education meetings in District 229 over the past two years and having been instrumental in policy changes, I felt that it was time to become more than just a participant making public comments. District 229, as well as all school districts in Illinois, will be facing many serious financial and academic issues in the near future and it is these challenges that have helped to shape my decision.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
That’s easy; the current collective bargaining negotiations are the single most important issue currently facing our board.  It is imperative that we strike an agreement that satisfies the teachers and at the same time keeps the district financially solvent. It is a fine line that we walk, given that our economy is very fragile and still in recovery. A poorly structured agreement could set in motion a series of financial problems that could have devastating ramifications for many years to come. The taxpayers and parents of district 229 should be much more vocal then they are presently.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
It is my hope that I will be instrumental in upgrading our school from that of having a failing state of Illinois report card, both academically and financially, to that of a successful school. I don’t want OLCHS to be second best, I want it to be the best! Status quo will not suffice. Oak Lawn Community High School has great potential and the young men and women that attend OLCHS deserve the best that we as a community can give to them.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
I have been a contractor for more than 30 years and have executed thousands of contracts and been part of numerous collective bargaining agreements. The art of negotiations and working toward successful compromise is a large part of being a contractor and a board member, the similarities are striking. My knowledge in the area of construction will also be an asset as we look toward repairing and renovating an aging facility. After a successful bond issue recently passed, the administration came forward with a wish list that contained numerous items that fall into my area of expertise. Another important aspect is the level of involvement and interaction that I have in this community.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
I am not a politician and I don’t have some slick well prepared answer for this question. Given the state of politics today I would most likely tell my children not to trust any politicians with their money. I’m not looking to make a career out of this. I’m just another blue collar guy that lives down the street and has pretty much all the same problems as everybody else, maybe more! I’m tired of seeing money spent on issues only to have those issues get worse. If I’m elected I will take a common sense, regular guy in the neighborhood attitude to the board room and I will be sure that our administration and teachers are held accountable for their actions.  I also hope that my election will bring more public input and participation, that’s how I got here.

Oak Lawn, Palos Hills residents among candidates for Moraine board

Ten candidates including three incumbents are vying for four open seats on the Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees.

Up for election on April 9 will be three six-year-terms and one two-year-term.

Eight people are each hoping to fill one of three seats for a six-year term position. Incumbents Andrea Ramirez-Justin of Orland Hills, Sandra S. Wagner of Palos Hills and Joseph P. Murphy of Blue Island are running for reelection. John Brosnan Donahue and Ricardo Fernandez, both of Orland Park, and John Schiera of Palos Park, Eileen M. O’Sullivan of Oak Lawn and Gary D. Lewis of Bridgeview are also running.

Joseph A. Skibinski of Oak Lawn and Tom Cunningham of Orland Park are facing off for the board’s available two-year term.


Joseph P. Murphy, 53, Blue Island
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Illinois State University; and master’s degree in school business management, Northern Illinois University.
Job: Director of business and finance, treasurer, Community High School District 155 in Crystal Lake.
Elected experience: Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees (2001-Present); Blue Island Park Board (1995-98); Community High School District 218 board of education (1989-94)

What inspired you to run for elected office?
As a child growing up, I admired President Kennedy and Mayor Daley.  Additionally, my father was active in our neighborhood and I believe those experiences taught me that we should all work to do some public service for the good of our communities.
What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
The State of Illinois finances is affecting all government entities.  The State of Illinois is not living up to its responsibilities on funding Community Colleges.  Our biggest challenge is how we continue to deliver a superior education with diminishing state resources.  Additionally, the board is presently working to transition the college with a new college president.  I believe my experience of these past 12 years can serve as a valuable resource to insure the new president is successful.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
Accessibility is one of my major goals.  I want to see the board accomplish this by continuing to work to keep tuition for MVCC affordable.  Additionally, we have already accomplished major strides to expand the access to the college by opening a branch in Blue Island to serve the South East corridor of communities as well as building a branch in Tinley Park to serve the residents of the South West corridor.   We need to look at opportunities to expand our access to the North to better serve these residents.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
My experience as an elected official goes back to 1989 when I was first elected to office.  I have a proven track record with an emphasis in education.  My job is as the chief financial officer of a high school district, so the financial expertise I bring to the board is invaluable.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
I will continue to ensure that every dollar spent is used wisely and for the purposes for which the public is expecting, and that is to provide quality educational and training opportunities for the residents of Moraine Valley.


Sandra S. Wagner, 63
Education: Bachelor’s degree in clinical and counseling psychology, St. Xavier University
Job: Fitness and yoga Instructor
Elected experience: Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees (2001-present); served as board chairman from 2003 to 2007 and vice chairman from 2007 to 2011.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
When I first ran in 2001, the school itself was my inspiriation. As a member of the Moraine Valley Foundation Board, I had become familiar with the college, and saw the growth taking place.  I wanted to play a part in helping Moraine Valley expand and improve. Today, I have a deeper understanding of, and greater appreciation for the college which continues to inspire me.   I am proud to be a member of the Board and would like to continue to serve.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
I think the most significant issue the Board faces is  the question of state funding and undetermined pension reforms. The college maintains a balanced budget and finances will continue to be an important focus for the Board of Trustees.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
There is not one particular goal that I would like to accomplish.  A bigger  picture needs to be considered, and personal agendas are probably not the place to start.  I would like to be a member of a Board that focuses on working together, and acts in the best interest of the community and the students, whatever the issues or concerns may be.  Moraine is doing beautifully, and we need to continue to ensure its smooth operation and excellent reputation throughout the state and nation.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
Probably the greatest asset I bring is my 12 years of experience as a Trustee, and my passion for the work.  I enjoy working with all the college personnel and the current board, and I am proud to represent Moraine in the community.  I have been a resident of Palos Hills for the last 37 years, and have many roots here.    I understand the concerns of our residents and the needs of our students, and feel that I have proven myself to be an honest, responsible, and hardworking representative of the community.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
The public can trust me because I have proven myself to be  honest and trustworthy with no personal or political agenda.  I see the concerns of today's students, but I am also aware of the budgetary concerns of the college, and will always try to make the most of each taxpayer's dollar.  The Board recently voted to refinance the referendum bonds which has resulted in a $6,000,000 savings for the taxpayers.


Ricardo A. Fernandez, 46
Education: bachelor’s degree, University of Illinois-Chicago; master of health science degree, University of Indianapolis; PhD, Nova Southeastern University.
Job: Physical therapist for 24 years; adjunct faculty at Governors State University, Morton College, and Oakton Community College; former full-time professor at Northwestern University (2002-06); appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to serve on Illinois Physical Therapy Licensing and Disciplinary Board (non-paid position) from 2009 to 2012, and re-appointed to serve from 2013 to 2016.
Experience in elected office: Lost Democratic primary for 18th District state senator in spring 2012; lost general election as Democratic candidate for 35th District state representative in fall 2012.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
Motivated by the lessons I learned from growing up in a large family:  hard work, self-reliance, honesty, integrity, family values, duty, helping your neighbor, the power of faith, and a sense of responsibility to community and country. Instead of passively sitting around complaining about the economy and political environment, I have decided to become an active agent for change.  I am committed to use my time, talents and resources to make a difference in my community. I intend to "do something about it." 

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
We need to implement board policies which maintain high-quality affordable education in a manner that is fiscally responsible.  Moraine Valley Community College should focus on maintaining a balanced budget and controlling costs, especially now that the state is suffering from poor fiscal management. We owe it to the people of this district to work to keep tuition down and enrollment high.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
-Increase student enrollment by working to make Moraine Valley Community College the college of choice.
-Implement board policies which maintain high-quality, affordable education.
-Better serve the 700 students of Moraine Valley Community College who have served our country.
-Utilize my healthcare experience to assist with the opening of the Health Education and Wellness Center.
-Effectively serve on the board of trustees at the college where my college education began.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
I have a history of supporting education and am committed to community service.  These attributes will make me an effective member of the board of trustees.

I am supportive of all who have worn or currently wear the uniform of the United States military.  I am a member of Sons of the American Legion in Tinley Park, Squad 615.  I have served as a guardian on 11 occasions for Honor Flight Chicago and am a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.  I and my wife, Gina, have welcomed sailors from Great Lakes Naval Academy into our home for Thanksgiving the past three years. 

I have volunteered extensively to help others and helped build with Habitat for Humanity in Haiti in 2012. I have volunteered in Chicago to provide free physical therapy for the uninsured, with Health Volunteers Overseas in Peru and Ethiopia, Global Medical Brigade in Honduras, the Chicago Marathon for 10 years on the medical staff, and volunteer physical therapist at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.    

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
As a taxpayer, I understand how precious our tax dollars are in this struggling economy. I believe that if elected, the community entrusts me to spend its dollars wisely. As a former professor, I have a strong educational background including time as a full-time faculty member at Northwestern University where I completed my PhD research.  Additionally, my work with the local colleges and universities has prepared me to take a leadership role on the board of trustees at Moraine Valley Community College. I have been actively involved serving the community and has spent the past two decades paying taxes to support my local college. As a graduate of Moraine Valley, I know the importance a keeping the escalating education costs down to provide affordable education to the citizens of the district. As a taxpayer, I definitely have an inherent interest to watch over the public's hard-earned money. 


John Schiera, 51
Education: Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, University of Illinois.
Job: Self- employed landscape architect
Elected experience: First attempt for office.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
I have become frustrated with local school boards and governing bodies spending habits and their lack of vision in seeking more creative and alternative methods of funding and education, effectively applying our tax dollars and offering curriculum and classes for the students which more relative to expanding growing job markets, professions and careers.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
The main issues I believe are that we must ensure that maximum credit hours are transferrable, replacing funds which are no longer being dispersed by the state, and keeping the wellness center costs under control.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
Grow the college’s curriculum; increase student enrollment; develop more corporate and business partnerships for educating students; and create an environmentally conscientious campus.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
I would be an asset to the board because I would offer a more pragmatic guide to managing the school, and operating the institution as a business rather than a entity that spends with no discretion.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
I would be an effective steward to the public because I would apply my knowledge and experience of owning and operating a business successfully for 30 years, through various economic conditions, by managing funds prudently and being fiscally responsible.


Joe Skibinski, 55
Education:  master’s degree in finance, DePaul University; bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting, Loyola University of Chicago; graduate of Richards High School in Oak Lawn.
Job: Licensed certified public accountant and manager with DeMarco Sciaccotta Wilkens and Dunleavy in Oak Brook; adjunct faculty member for accounting and finance at Governors State University and University of Phoenix.

Elected experience: Oak Lawn Public Library board of trustees (2011-13); Chicago Ridge Public Library board of trustees.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
MVCC is a huge asset for our community. Its graduates move on to better careers. At the same time, they remain in our community, making it a better place to live. Moraine also plays a critical role in attracting employers and investment dollars to the Southland. Without the college many residents would never be able to attain a higher education, retrain for a new career or learn a skilled trade. The affordable tuition and quality education that Moraine offers is a critical element in the success and prosperity of our community. This will only be an increasing challenge as the state continues to cut back on its share of the cost supporting our educational institutions.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
Expanding enrollment in both credit and noncredit classes. This requires maintaining both course relevance and affordability in a constantly changing and increasingly competitive world. Expanding enrollment will provide the revenues necessary to provide the economies of scale necessary to contain tuition increases.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
My goal is to work towards increasing and broadening the revenue base for MVCC. Increase enrollment in both the credit and noncredit course offerings. I have seen tremendous enthusiasm for having Moraine bring noncredit classes into the community by offering them locally, more often and hopefully at a lower cost using local libraries. The libraries could create cooperative programs with MVCC in an effort that would benefit the institutions involved and most importantly, the taxpayers. A program such as this would continue to cement the relationship that MVCC has with its alumni and the community. MVCC could reach out to local chambers of commerce and offer convenient and affordable classes that would enhance their ability compete, increase their profitability, payrolls and even pay more in taxes as they become increasingly successful. MVCC gives us the ingredients to grow our pie, not just slice it up differently.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
As someone who has worked as an adjunct faculty member at St. Xavier University, Governors State University and University of Phoenix throughout most of my professional career, I am well aware of and passionate about how the cost of education plays a deciding role in the success of those striving to succeed in our communities. My focus will always be on the students and our taxpayers.

Second, results are the primary goal. During just my two years on the Oak Lawn Library, we have taken our community institution to new heights. Our programing continues to grow. We are one of the few libraries in the area to open on Sunday’s during the summer. This was done during the depths of the recession when many needed our computer facilities to look for work or improve their careers. We eliminated fees for our DVD rentals. More importantly, we eliminated a policy of fine forgiveness for all current and past trustees. We became leading participants in the Chicago Federal Reserve’s program for consumer financial education called “Money Smart Week.”

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
Largely because I know how hard they are to make. At the same time I will work to maximize their benefits for those tax dollars that they do invest in our communities.


Andrea Ramirez-Justin, 46
Education: master’s degree in business administration, University of Wisconsin; bachelor’s degree, Northern Illinois University, B.A.
Job: Vice president of Old Plank Trail Community Bank with offices in Frankfort, Mokena, New Lenox and Orland Park. Manages the bank’s governmental and non-profit portfolio. Twenty-eight years of experience in the financial industry. 
Elected experience: First time running for office; appointed to fill vacant seat on Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees in August 2012.

What inspired you to run for elected office?
I was honored to be appointed to the board of trustees at Moraine Valley Community College on Aug. 22, 2012 and would very much like to continue to serve in this capacity as I feel I bring much value to the college with my true work ethic, financial background, community outreach and continued interaction with students and staff. I believe in strong education and will not steer from my beliefs.

What do you think is the single most significant issue facing the board?
As with any board in Illinois, the financial status of the state is in a terrible state with late payments to schools due to a variety of factors such as pension reform, foreclosures of taxing property and more. This is a main issue that feeds down to all levels of school boards from elementary to college. These late or low payments are causing some school districts to obtain tax anticipation warrants to continue with normal operating expenses. Strong leadership at the state level must be reestablished and communication must be reopened between state officials and our school districts and community colleges in order to reorganize and recreate a fiscally sound educational environment. Moraine has a strong financial state due to the fantastic efforts of the executive leadership team and the great communication with the current board; however, the fiscal irresponsibility of the state affects all levels of education and will continue to be an issue for all.

What do you want to accomplish as a member of the board?
From my short term thus far, I have had much outreach and connection with the students and have continued my efforts with the various programs at Moraine Valley. With that stated, I will continue to strive for excellence with all educational and workforce outreach programs at the College by continually working together with the faculty, staff and adjunct teams to ensure that our programs are up to date and in strong academic competition with our peers.

Why do you believe you would be an asset to the board?
As a seasoned community banker with over 28 years of service and a dedicated philanthropist, I bring not only financial, economic and business strengths to the Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees; however I also bring a strong community connection through my continued volunteer efforts that mirrors Moraine Valley Community College’s mission. Also, as a parent of a student who will receive his associate’s degree in May from MVCC and who will have a daughter join the MVCC family in the fall of 2014, I believe in Community College education as the foundation of a College journey and I would like to ensure that all within the 26 communities of Moraine will continue to have this accredited college as their main choice for foundational education.

Why should the public entrust you as a steward of its tax dollars?
I understand the everyday hurdles we face as working Americans, which is why having a strong stance of transparency and streamlined communication is the true key to financial stability of any organization or business. This philosophy is in place at Moraine Valley and I will continue with that mission of transparency and streamlined communication to all the constituents of the 26 communities which encompass this great college, as the college is your college. I am seeking to retain my seat to ensure that the future of Moraine Valley Community College for your family and my family is secure and sound for years to come.

Worth trustee mounts challenge as Keller seeks second mayoral term

Worth Mayor Randy Keller

Worth Trustee Mary Werner

By Laura Bollin

The mayor of Worth has recent history on his side but is facing what appears to be a legitimate challenge from one of his fellow Village Board members as he seeks a second term in the village’s highest elected office.

Randy Keller was in the same position in 2009 as the woman running against him on the April 9 election ballot. He only hopes the outcome is different this. Keller, then a trustee, was bidding to oust incumbent Mayor Ed Guzdziol, and ultimately succeeded. The victory ended Guzdziol’s two-term tenure as mayor; and Guzdziol himself had unseated former Mayor Jim Bilder after the latter’s eight-year reign.

Four years later, Keller is the hunted. Village Trustee Mary Werner, elected to the board two years ago, is mounting a campaign that has gained considerable support despite her relative inexperience in elected office. Voters will decide next Tuesday whether the mayor’s office will turn over again, or if the village will have its third straight two-term boss.

Randy Keller
Keller, 55, has lived in Worth for 30 years. He holds an engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology and works as a manager for Nicor Gas. Prior to being elected mayor in 2009 he served six years as a village trustee and 12 years on the Worth School District 127 board of education.

Keller wants to keep Worth moving forward, he said.

“I want to continue some of the good things we’ve been doing for the last four years,” Keller said. “When I first got into office, there was literally $65,000 in reserves, and we were in pretty bad shape financially. We made difficult decisions, and our cash reserve is now over $1.5 million.”

One of the biggest cost savings was switching village employees’ health coverage from a PPO to an HMO plan, he said.

“We saved $220,000 on insurance every year for four years, so that’s almost $1 million right there,” Keller said.

The village save $46,000 annually by eliminating the deputy clerk position, and reducing the size of the public work’s force helped cut costs, he added.

“We originally had eight employees and now we are down to six in public works, and we hired two new employees at half the cost of the people who retired or left,” Keller said. “Their salaries were a lot cheaper. We saved over $550,000 over four years.”

The village also changed liability insurance carriers and saved $156,000 over three years.

“In total, we saved about $3 million, and we put money back in the town, street repairs, replacing our generator, we put a new roof on our public works building, we did all kinds of stuff, and now we have $1.5 million in reserves.”

Keller is looking forward to continuing the village’s road improvement program.

“We have four miles of streets we’ll be improving this year, and four more next year,” Keller said. “When I first got here, one of the biggest complaints was that the roads were in horrible shape, and now, we have funds set aside to do that.”

The mayor would like to see more businesses move into Worth. The shuttered Citgo gas station at 115th Street and Harlem Avenue, which has been vacant for three years, will reopen later this year, Keller said; but the tax increment financing district at 111th Street and Ridgeland Avenue has remained undeveloped since it was created by the Village Board in 2006. Keller was a member of the board that created the special financing district, however, was absent from the meeting at which that vote was taken.

“One of our biggest issues is bringing in businesses,” Keller said. “We have had a couple of offers for the TIF district on 111th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. Family Dollar wanted to move there, but they wanted too much money from the village to do so.”

Their plan now is to build a new store just west of, which has been vacant for three or four years. They are going to knock it down and build a new store. Right now, they are in Fairplay Plaza, but they will be able to see more food at the new location.”

Keller said he should be re-elected because he has good leadership skills and is able to make difficult decisions for the village.

“I make decisions based on what is best for Worth, and not necessarily what is going to bring me a vote,” Keller said. “Leadership should not make decisions based on the next vote.”

Mary Werner
Werner, 57, has lived in Worth for 31 years. She has worked as an office manager for 29 years, and has been a trustee since 2011. She serves as chairman of the Village Board’s finance committee and co-chairman of both the licensing and ordinance committee and life safety committee.

Werner is running because she is concerned about the direction and leadership of the Village Board, she said. She believes trustees must be better informed in order to make decisions.

“The trustees need to be more involved in discussions and decisions,” Werner said. “With my career, I have experience with budgets, spreadsheets, forecasts, hiring, training, and firing. I have 29 years of experience that has prepared me for all of the hats the mayor has to wear.”

Werner is retired, and her flexible schedule has allowed her to attended economic development committee meetings and meet business owners in the community, she said.

One of the biggest issues in Worth is commercial development, Werner said.

“We need to reach out to potential business owners,” Werner said. “In Orland Park, people have multiple choices for restaurants, and those businesses feed off of each other. We need people investing in the village of Worth.”

The board would benefit from better leadership and communication, she added.

“It starts at the top, with leadership,” Werner said. “We need to communicate, talk to people and get ideas.”

Werner, should be elected, would like to to re-establish the Worth Senior Commission and create a nonprofit foundation that would raise money to support the village, park district, library and schools.

“[Village Clerk] Bonnie Price used to hold tax meetings and health fairs for the seniors, and none of that has happened in two years,” Werner said. “The senior citizens feel ignored. I want to bring that back.

“[The foundation] would be a good way to get money that could be used to solve problems in the community without needing taxpayer money or going into debt.”