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Almost halfway there

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn shooting for 100 percent transparency

  Oak Lawn will receive a progress report Tuesday on its goal to improve governmental transparency.

  The Illinois Policy Institute will release its online transparency audit for the largest 25 communities in the state by population. Oak Lawn is No. 23 on the population list.
  Mayor Sandra Bury said that in October, the village’s score was a 41.5.
  “This is what we inherited,” Bury said Tuesday afternoon. “We’re just starting the process. It’s not going to come overnight.”
  Orland Park in 2011 became the first governmental entity to receive a perfect score on the institute’s Local Transparency Project. The village maintained that score on the upcoming audit, Village Clerk Joe La Margo said.
  “That’s our goal, too,” Oak Lawn Village Clerk Jane Quinlan said.
  The village expects to have a redesigned website up and running before the end of the year, Quinlan said. The new, easier-to-navigate site will give residents access to the information recommended by the IPI, she said.
  “We’ll then have the capabilities for all this. It will be easier to follow,” Quinlan said.
  The village already posts on its website much of the information recommended by the IPI, but the site is difficult to navigate, Quinlan said.
  Garnering a respectable score on the audit is not especially difficult, but getting a top score takes some time and effort, said Brian Costin, the IPI’s the director of government reform.
  For example, posting annual documents such as budgets and audits as well the contact information for municipal officials can secure an 80-percent figure on the survey, Costin said.
  “You can get a pretty decent score without expending a whole lot of effort,” Costin said. “The categories that are a little harder are meeting minutes and board packets.”
  LeMargo said achieving the perfect score was a time-consuming process, but he praised the IPI for its assistance.
  “They gave us a lot of guidance,” LeMargo said.
  Organizing and posting archival information was the most difficult part of the process, he said, adding that the village spent five months gathering and organizing the information for the website required on the IPI’s checklist.
  Transparency has been at the center of political debate in Oak Lawn, as critics of Bury repeatedly chastise her for talking about the issue but failing to take action.
  Trustee Robert Streit recently proposed his own ordinance calling for website transparency.
  “My ordinance would codify the need for transparency and what our website, at the minimum, should contain,” said Streit, who proposed the ordinance at the Oct. 22 village board meeting.
  But the village’s legislative, license and ethics committee on Aug. 20 discussed implementation of the transparency checklist, which includes many of the same points listed in Streit’s proposed ordinance.
  Although the committee has discussed a transparency checklist, Streit said no action has been taken.
  “I have not seen any proposal from the mayor regarding transparency,” he said. “I also never saw any campaign literature that set forth a comprehensive transparency plan for the website. That is why I proposed my own ordinance.”
  Streit’s proposed ordinance, which was not discussed at the board meeting, calls for the village website to include:
  • Contact information for elected and administrative officials;
  • Meeting information, including village board meeting packets and videos of meetings;
  • Public records, including information regarding the submission of freedom of information requests;
  • Village budgets and audits as well as fund expenditures for the past five years;
  • TIF expenditures;
  • Salary and benefits for village employees and officials;
  • Contract bids and proposals;
  • The names of lobbying associations that village funded within the past five years;
  • Information on tax rates;
  • The names of contractors who do business with the village as well as information regarding building and zoning applications.
  Streit said his ordinance calls on the village to do than required by the IPI’s checklist.
  “For instance, I placed a provision on the ordinance that requires (a recording of) the board meetings placed on the website. I also placed a provision on the ordinance that requires the site to have a language conversion button for Spanish and Polish,” Streit said.
  The Illinois Policy Institute in October issued a transparency report for the state’s 102 counties. The report found that 22 counties do not have websites. The 81 counties with websites had an average score of 32.8 on the audit.
  Additionally, 90 counties failed the institute’s 10-point transparency check list, and only three scored 90 percent or higher.

Blighted Plaza property ready for demolition

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Evergreen Park officials Monday took some additional steps toward the redevelopment of the Plaza.
  Trustees approved an ordinance approving the Evergreen Park Place redevelopment plan, which will permit the village to charge a 1 percent sales tax within the commercial district to reimburse the costs of demolition and renovation, Mayor Jim Sexton said.
  A second ordinance approved on Monday designates the Plaza property as blighted, which would allow the developer to pay 10 percent in Cook County property taxes rather than 25 percent, Sexton said.
  The ordinance also grants the village condemnation powers that can be used if any remaining tenants do not leave the mall, 95th Street and Western Avenue.
  Negotiations with Carson’s, the lone retailer in the mall, have stalled, Sexton said. Condemnation power gives the village leverage in future negotiations, he said.
  The retailer is only one remaining at the otherwise shuttered mall. The mall closed on May 31. Applebee’s, which is located on an out lot, and Planet Fitness, remain open.
  Plans calls for an outdoor mall that would a feature a variety of retailers and restaurants.
  The 61-year-old shopping mall, formerly the Evergreen Plaza, has been in foreclosure since 2011.
  DeBartolo Development wants to demolish the mall and replace it with a “lifestyle center,” Chicago Real Estate Daily.com reported. The development firm is owned by former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo.
  Sexton and other village officials met with DeBartolo representatives last week. The developer hopes to begin demolition in the spring followed by construction, which would take about one year, Sexton said.

Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook: Marathon man and all-around good guy wins Runner of the Year Award

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

jeff column  It’s hard to catch up with former Hickory Hills resident Mike Kenny because he’s always on the go.
  But Kenny, who now calls Mokena his home, was named the south suburban-based Yankee Runners Club’s Runner of the Year in a ceremony in late October. One of the criteria for the award was his amazing 2013 schedule of attempting to run 12 marathons in less than an eight-month period.
  He celebrated his 50th birthday in April and already had a couple of races under his belt when he decided to try for a dozen before the year ran out.
  His 12th race is coming up this Sunday as he runs in the inaugural Edward Hospital Marathon in Naperville. His first event to start this streak was the 50K Paleozoic Run through the Palos Trail System on March 16. It was the first time that event hosted a 50K, which is 31.1 miles.
  His Toyota Camry has put on more front-color-1-col-with-jvcolFormer Hickory Hills resident Mike Kenny shows his 11 medals that he earned in 11 marathons that he competed in since March. He will go for No. 12 Sunday in Naperville. He is posing next to his Toyota Camry, a car that put on 1,500 extra miles because of his marathon adventures. Photo by Jeff Vorva.than 1,500 miles because of his trips to various Midwestern marathons and ultramarathons this year. He’s run in the Chicago Marathon 18 times.
  He has 40 career marathons under his belt heading into Naperville but the one he remembers most is the humid Chicago Marathon in 2007. It was there that he helped a friend who fell ill after the race. He rushed the friend to the hospital.
  The friend, who lives in Palos Heights, didn’t want to be identified citing he didn’t want to draw attention away from Kenny, said that Kenny’s actions were “huge.”
  “It was bad situations for me for sure,” the Palos Heights man said. “It was just awesome what he did. We met up in the 24th mile of the race and he stuck with me. After the race I was telling him to ‘go home’ but he ended up taking me to the hospital. I’ve known Mike for years. He’s a great guy and it’s his nature to do that kind of stuff. He’s awesome.”
  Yankee Runners President Joe Werner said that Kenny won the award for the way he lives his life as well as his running prowess.
  Kenny said he was glad he could be there for his friend.
  “I offered to drive him home,” Kenny said. “He didn’t want me to do that, but I told him I would tackle him, tie him up and throw him in the trunk, so he finally agreed to it.”
  Kenny lived in Hickory Hills for 15 years before moving to Mokena.
  He said he was happy to win the Runner of the Year award.
  “We have about 130 runners in the group from all over,” he said. “It was an honor to be selected.”

Bigger in Texas
  In case you were wondering, the record for the most marathons run in a 12-month period is 157, done by a 68-year-old guy from Texas named Larry Macon, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
  Also, some dude from Japan ran 52 marathon in 52 days so it looks like Kenny isn’t the craziest guy around.

Techno Talk debuts
  We made a few more tweaks with the back end of the paper.
  The business page tended to put me to sleep on occasion so in order to put a little more sizzle on the page, we’ve added a weekly feature called “Techno Talk” which will focus on newfangled gadgets and cool stuff.
  It seems like whenever you buy a new phone, tablet, computer, iPod or whatever, it becomes obsolete in a few minutes.
  Hopefully “Techno Talk” will help take some of the confusion out of the process. This week, it looks at tablets available for the Christmas season.

 

Lipinski tries to stifle dumping site in Worth

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Worth residents are encouraged by legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) that would prevent the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers from using the Lucas-Berg Confined Placement Facility as a dumping site for materials dredged from the Cal-Sag Channel.

  “Lipinski has been trying to help us all along,” said Adelle Benck, a longtime Worth resident and dumping site opponent.
  Residents have long worried that dumping materials dredged from the Cal-Sag into the ditch would lead to a variety of health and environmental concerns, Benck said.
  Those concerns include launching air-borne contaminants and polluting the water table with oil residue, mercury and industrial waste, Benck said. There is also the possibility that endangered species, such as eagles, inhabit the ditch, she said.
  “So far, we’ve been successful,” said Mary Ann Buckingham, a Worth resident opposed to the dumping. “We’re getting more nervous. My concern is schools and children.”
  Legislation that Lipinski helped pass includes a provision contained in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.
  “Since I was first elected to Congress, one of my top local priorities has been to remove Lucas-Berg as the Army Corps’ designated site for dumping dredged materials from the Cal-Sag,” Lipinski said in a press release. “This is very good news for the village of Worth and local residents, but we still have work to do. I am working to make sure that this provision is in the final compromise that passes in the House and Senate and becomes law.”
  Lipinski added that he is working with the Army Corps to find a place for the dredging that is not in located the middle of a community.
  The Lucas-Berg site was acquired by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and, through a long-term lease, designated by the Army Corps in the 1970s as a potential spot to store silt and other materials dredged from the bottom of the Cal-Sag Channel.
  Since the agreement was reached, Worth and the neighboring communities have grown and expanded and a residential neighborhood abuts the ditch, which is located near 111th Street and Southwest Highway.
  Residents have long feared that using the ditch as disposal site would lower property values and harm the environment.
  The primary purpose of WRDDA is to authorize projects that maintain the country’s shipping infrastructure and set environmental policy for the Army Corps. The language in WRRDA regarding Lucas-Berg pit is part of a $12 billion worth of old projects and facilities that would be de-authorized.
  The Senate passed its version of WRRDA in May. With passage in the House, both bills now head to a conference committee to be reconciled before the final legislation can be signed by the president.

One test at a time

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Dist. 117 pleased with state test results but isn’t resting on its laurels

  Oak Ridge Elementary School in Palos Hills is jump-page-2-col-reichOak Ridge Principal Beth Reich was pleased with recent test results but is looking for bigger gains. Photo by Jeff Vorva.taking it one test at a time.

  Principal Beth Reich is pleased with her school’s results on the recently released Illinois Standards Achievement Test, but she’s focused on the progress her students will make this year.
  The Illinois Standards Achievement Test measures student achievement in reading and math in grades three through eight and science in grades four and seven.
  Nearly 79 percent of the 630 students at Oak Ridge met or exceeded the state’s expectations—a figure that was much in higher in previous years before that state raised expectations for the test.
  Students at Glen Oaks Elementary School in Hickory Hills also did well with 77.9 percent meeting or achieving state standards. At Conrady Middle School, 75 percent of student met or exceeded standards.
  The results are from tests given in March. Starting next year, students will be given a new standardized test which will determine whether they are meeting new expectations based on Common Core state standards.
  Many school districts throughout the southwest suburbs did not perform as well as in previous years, leaving some administrators disappointed.
  Reich, however, prefers to look forward and discuss the tools the school, 103rd Street and 88th Avenue, has at its disposal to help improve student performance.
  “We have programs in place for any child who needs them,” Reich said. “We feel that it’s important to the child.”
  Those programs include an after-school tutoring program that serves more than 100 students as well as four reading specialists on staff who work with small groups of children who require additional support, Reich said.
  But the school can’t intervene without knowing which students need help and that’s where data analysis comes into play.front-color-3-col-studentsThird graders in Christine Durco’s class raise their hands in joy as Oak Ridge Elementary School in Palos Hills scored well on a state achievement test.  Photo by Jeff Vorva.

 



  “We have a lot of data,” Reich said. “We believe that’s the foundation.”
  Reich, in her third year as principal at Glen Oaks, said students know what’s at stake and work with their teachers to set performance goals.
  “We have the kids in on this,” she said. “The kids are happy to achieve goals. It’s mostly their hard work.”
  Seventy-seven percent of the students in North Palos School District 117 met or exceeded state standards. That figure would have been in the 90th percentile under the previous testing standards, Reich said.
  However, the score is the highest of the seven elementary school districts in the The Reporter’s coverage area.
  District 117 Supt. Jeannie Stachowiak credited the significant amount of teamwork in the district for success on the test. She said the district’s three assistant superintendents are routinely in the schools “really listening to the teachers need.”
  “I think we’re going to see a lot of growth this year,” she said.
    “It’s just a new reality,” Reich said of the new state standards. “We’re always looking to be better.”