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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.”
 

Factions battle for control of Worth Township Board


Kevin Hughes, Worth Township Community First Party mayoral candidate

Katie Elwood, Worth Township Community First Party clerk candidate

John Dietrick, Worth Township Community First Party assessor candidate


Patrick Hanlon, Worth Township Community First Party trustee candidate

By Laura Bollin

Two full slates of candidates are running for positions on the Worth Township board.

The Worth United Party, made up mostly of incumbents, is running on a platform of fiscal responsibility while adding and maintaining programs to the township, while the opposition Worth Township Community First Party is pledging to give reserve money back to residents and reduce costs for the township.

Worth Township includes Worth, Evergreen Park, Chicago Ridge, Oak Lawn and Palos Heights.

Supervisor
John F. Murphy
Incumbent Worth Township Supervisor John F. Murphy, 66, has lived in Evergreen Park for 42 years. Prior to being elected supervisor in 1997, he served for 10 years as an Evergreen Park village trustee. He holds a bachelor’s degree in food science from Ohio State University and served in the Navy in Vietnam and Korea from 1965 to 1969.
Murphy is running for reelection to continue the work he has been doing in the township. When he was first elected, the township was $2 million in debt because of an addition that was put on the township building, and that debt has since been paid off, he said. The township has reduced its budget by 14 percent over the past five years, he added.

“There is still work to be done,” Murphy said. “For one thing, the roof on the township building itself is 25 or 30 years old, so it is going to have to be replaced. That is why we cut down the budget, so we could have a surplus to replace the roof and resurface the parking lot there.”

Services to township residents are also important, like helping people appeal their property taxes and providing physicals and inoculations at the township clinic, Murphy said. During his time in office, the clinic has expanded their program to include physicals for adults as well as children and flu shots. The food pantry has also expanded, and now provides food for residents as well as Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for 150 underprivileged families per year.

Part of being fiscally responsible is not granting pay raises, Murphy said, and in October 2012, the township board approved an ordinance that froze pay for the next four years.

Murphy also had concerns about the Community First’s party’s claim that they could give residential rebates of $30 to $50 from the township’s surplus.

“The average tax bill from the general fund is $30, and if they are going to give 15 percent of that back, that is only $4.50,” Murphy said. “It would be the $4.50 plus 50 cents for mailing and handling. If they are talking about the 60,000 households in the township, that is $300,000. If they intend to give back $50, then we’re talking about $30 million. That is money we don’t have.”

Murphy said he has cultivated relationships with leaders in all of the towns in the township, and has financial experience that is beneficial to the supervisor role.

“I have experience working with budgets and negotiating contracts, and I get along with people,” Murphy said. “We have Republicans and Democrats on our ticket, and we get along. We don’t agree on everything, but when a vote is taken, then we move on to the next thing, and we might agree on that. We have done a lot of good things in the township.”

Kevin Hughes
Kevin Hughes, 45, has lived in Oak Lawn for 17 years. He owns a bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Norbert College, and works as the vice president of sales and marketing for MicroTek. He has no prior political experience and is running for the first time. Hughes is the self-described “voice” of the Community First Party, and all candidates on the slate agreed to let Hughes be their spokesperson and said they were all on the same platform, he said. The other candidates on the slate did not want to be interviewed and instead sent responses via email.

Hughes said he was running for office to be more involved in his community. Hughes and the other party candidates believe in term limits, not having part-time officials participate in the pension program, and giving surplus funds back to the taxpayers.

“I would bring fresh ideas to the table,” Hughes said. “I manage and control a $40 to $50 million budget every year. I would look at the township as a business. I also really want to make sure we are bringing those services that are missing to the community. The township needs to take care of the small pockets of areas municipalities are not covering, like maintaining the roads.

Hughes said that the township officials, which are part time positions, should not be participating in the full-time pension program. Murphy said that while the officials participate in the pension program, it is not like a Chicago pension program where officials are receiving a significant amount of money.

“We’re not talking 80 percent of an $80,000 salary,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t pay out that much, and we contribute to it.”

Township clerk Roger Benson said after eight years, a trustee would only make $108 per month in a pension. After 10 years, a trustee would make $118 a month.

A rebate for residents is another important issue for the Community First Party.

“We need to give some sort of rebate to the homeowners of Worth Township,” Hughes said. “I believe in a rainy day fund, but at some point, it gets to be too much. We’d be giving back $33 or $34 per household. One woman told me a couple of weeks ago that she could buy a week’s worth of groceries with that. I am hoping we can be seen as a trendsetter. Other municipalities and counties that have a surplus as well, everybody could give a little bit back, and it really starts to mean something.”

Hughes also wants to increase the programs at the township. 

“We can also offer more athletic and academic programs, like a chess club or after school programs.”

 

Assessor
John Z. Toscas
Incumbent assessor John Z. Toscas, 56, has served as the township assessor since 2000 and is running for his fourth term. He owns bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a master’s degree in public administration from Roosevelt University and a juris doctorate from The John Marshall Law School. He has lived in Crestwood for 30 years and has also served as a Crestwood trustee for the last 20 months. He is the former president of Cook County School District 130. He is also a municipal and government attorney and runs the Law Offices of John Z. Toscas in Palos Heights.

“I’m running for reelection because I love my job, and it is honestly the most rewarding job I have ever had,” Toscas said. “I get to help people who don’t have anyone else to help them.”

Toscas said during his time in office, he has made township services better known to residents, and implemented a computer system where all computers are on a network.

“When I took over the office, no one in our township other than a few people even knew this place existed,” Toscas said. “When I asked to see how many people they served, I was told it was only one or two visitors a week, and they didn’t file (tax) appeals. Now, it is a new era. Twelve years later, we have helped almost 16,000 households file residential appeals.”

Toscas said the township candidates worked well together. The assessor’s office is separate from the township - his election, for example, runs from January to December, so his term won’t officially end until Dec. 2013, but all parts work like a “well-oiled machine,” Toscas said.

As for concerns about pay raises, salaries were raised for the first time after 16 years, and a pay freeze went into effect in October for a freeze over the next four years.

“We don’t raise taxes and we don’t spend money foolishly,” Toscas said. “We are very frugal.”

Toscas called the idea of a rebate for homeowners “insane.”

“General assistance is there for a reason,” Toscas said. “When people have extraordinary hardships, they line up at our food pantry or get general assistance checks. If they come to us and there is no money, how are we supposed to take care of them?”

John Dietrick
Toscas’ challenger is John Dietrick, 44, of Oak Lawn. He owns a master’s degree in accounting and financial management from the Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University. He works as an accountant.

Dietrick wants to save residents money by eliminating programs that are duplicated by the municipalities in the township or the state of Illinois. If elected, he also plans to cultivate an open door policy where he will always be available to return phone calls or speak with any resident concerning tax issues or other problems.

 

Clerk
Roger Benson
Benson was elected as a township trustee in 1997, and was appointed to the clerk position in August after longtime Clerk Bud Gavin died. He is running for his first term as clerk. Benson, 59, has lived in Oak Lawn for 50 years. He graduated from Richards High School. He owns B.J. McMahon’s bar in Oak Lawn.

“I want to continue as clerk because it will be a new challenge for me,” Benson said.

If he is elected, Benson plans to make sure taxpayers’ dollars are being spent wisely, he said.

“We are there to watch taxpayers’ money, provide services, and provide accurate accounting of the finances,” Benson said. “We have to run it like a business, with only so much to spend and so many things to get done.”

Benson disagreed with the Community First Party’s claim that taxpayers should be reimbursed.

“It would only be $4.50 per household,” Benson said. “We have old buildings, we had a flood once, and the tax bills don’t go out on time. You never know what is coming down the pike. If we didn’t have a safeguard in place when the money was there, we would have been in trouble and borrowing money. We’ve been there 16 years. We’ve been frugal. We only spend what we have to spend. As long as we maintain quality and services to our constituents, I think we have done a good job. [The other party] think they can build a better mousetrap, but they’ve never built a mousetrap.”

Katie Elwood
Benson’s challenger, Katie Elwood, 39, has lived in Evergreen Park for 32 years. She owns a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Northern Illinois University. She is the former vice president of the Southwest Elementary Parent Teacher Association and the former president of the Evergreen Park School District 124 Foundation.

“I am running for office because I believe I can be a voice and advocate for our community,” Elwood said. “For me, the clerk position means bringing information to the people. As keeper of the records, I believe that it is important to make sure all township information, such as documents, transaction and meeting minutes are readily available by a quick click of a button.”

 

Highway commissioner
Steve Loulousis
Loulousis, 65, of Oak Lawn has served as the highway commissioner since 2005 and is running for his third term. He graduated from Richards High School. He served on the Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn board of directors and the Oak Lawn Park Board. He spent six years in the Illinois Reserve National Guard in Fort Jackson, N.C. and Infantry 175 in Illinois. He works in sales for Citywide Produce.

“I believe in running the highway district as a business,” Loulousis said. “I am a taxpayer, and my taxpayer dollars go there. I have to watch my dollars and how they are spent.”

Loulousis said his eight years of experience make him qualified for the position.

“I know the details of the job, the costs, how to manage the budget and keep a low cost for taxpayers,” Loulousis said.

The role of the township is to provide services for the residents, such as maintaining the roads, ditches, water flow issues, sewage issues, pothole and street repairs, and snowplowing.

As highway commissioner, Loulousis said he gives 50 percent of the tax dollars received from taxpayers back into the roads and other projects.

Loulousis is currently working on obtaining a $200,000 community block development grant from the state of Illinois that will repair four blocks from 117th to 119th streets from Central Park to Lawndale avenues.

Edward Moody
Moody, 48, of Chicago Ridge, graduated from Reavis High School. He works as the administrator for the chief judge of the circuit court.

If elected, Moody wants to implement a plan that will result in more resurfaced roads and overall infrastructure improvements for Worth Township. He believes his experience as a highway technician engineer and the owner of a janitorial and maintenance business make him qualified for the position. He also said he has relationships with legislators that will aid in his effort to secure additional funding for neglected roads and sewers in the township. Moody believes “unresponsive and disconnected” politicians have allowed road and flooding issues to become progressively worse in the township. He wants to repair the roads and sewers to improve the quality of life for township residents.

 

Trustee
Four trustee candidates are running on each party’s ticket. On the Worth United Party slate, incumbent trustees John “Jack” Lind, Michael E. Mahoney and appointed trustee David J. Walsh are running for re-election. Newcomer Kelly Houlihan replaced appointed trustee Marianne Viverito Chmela, who could not continue running for re-election because of her job working for Congressman Dan Lipinski. Chmela said Lipinski had an employment policy she was unaware of, and Houlihan was chosen to replace her. On the Community First Party ticket, candidates Richard Lewandowski, Eamon McMahon, Theresa M. Roche and Patrick Hanlon are running for trustee.

Worth United Party
David J. Walsh, 80, has lived in Hometown for 52 years. He formerly served as an alderman in Hometown from 1970 to 1974 and 1988 to 1990. He also served as the Worth Township collector from 2005 to 2013. He graduated from Mt. Carmel High School and served in the Army at the Army Arctic Center in Big Delta, AK. He was appointed as a trustee in July 2012. He works as a real estate broker and appraiser.

“I’ll make a good trustee because I have been at every meeting an am up to speed on everything,” Walsh said. “I work with the people, not against them. I’m the chairman of the buildings and grounds committee, and I meet with the building superintendent three or four times a week and go over what problems have come up.”

The township is able to do things that the municipalities cannot afford to do, like provide a psychologist, dentist, and podiatrist on staff.

“We take care of what the local government can’t do and the unincorporated areas that have nobody to take care of them,” Walsh said. “The township is extremely important and we can’t afford to let it go.”

Walsh said the position lets him contribute to the community.

“I am very proud of the group I work with,” Walsh said. “I am working with a coalition of Democrats and Republicans and we get the job done with a minimal amount of trouble.”
John “Jack” Lind

John “Jack” Lind, 56, is a lifelong resident of Chicago Ridge. He has served as a trustee since 2000 and is the liaison to the youth commission and the youth service bureau. He graduated from Richards High School. He is the former Chicago Ridge public works director, where he served for 36 years and a former Chicago Ridge Park District commissioner. He also serves as a Chicago Ridge trustee.

“I am very proud of the work we do with the youth commission and the youth service bureau,” Lind said. “We have counseling programs. Some kids have single parents who work 12 hours a day, and they are latchkey kids. They need someone to talk tom to vent.”

Lind also started an anger management program for students at Oak Lawn Community High School, and plans to expand it to other high schools in the district this summer.

Lind said the major issue in the township is providing services for the residents.

“Our food pantry has never been busier, and we are so proud of it,” Lind said. “No matter how much food we get in, it goes right out the door. So many people are just one paycheck away from needing help. We are trying to provide that help to them.”

Lind said he is accessible and always calls people back. He echoed other United Party candidates’ concerns over the Community First Party’s proposed rebates for homeowners.

“It is just a way for them to mislead people to think they are going to try to get money back to buy votes,” Lind said.

 

Michael E. Mahoney, 47, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn. He has served as a trustee since 1998 and is running for his fifth term. He is the chairperson of the Worth Township Finance Committee and the clinic and senior services committee. He owns a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Eastern Illinois University works as the senior regional manager for Atkore International, an electrical tubing and metal framing manufacturer.

Mahoney said over the last five years, the clinic has added services, even though the township budget has been reduced by 14 percent. The clinic has added preventative, dental and podiatry care.

“We run the township fiscally responsibly year after year,” Mahoney said. “We’ve kept our budget balanced.”

Mahoney echoed other candidates’ concerns about the proposed rebate.

“It’s only $4.50. That’s a cup of coffee. What are they going to do next year, when they don’t have the money? Borrow money and raise people’s taxes.”

Mahoney would like to see more programs added for seniors in the township, including computer classes.

 

Kelly Houlihan, 47, has lived in Oak Lawn for 37 years. She earned a secretarial certificate from Southwest Business School. She works as a professional development secretary at the Eisenhower Co-Op special education program.

“I’m running because I want to be more involved,” Houlihan said. “I want to see good programs in the government and I want to see them continue. I don’t want to see good programs get cut.”

 

Worth Township Community First Party
Richard Lewandowski, of Palos Heights, graduated from Kelly High School. He is the owner of Breaker Press Company.

Lewandowski is running for office because he wants to make a difference, he said.

“After the past 10 years of hearing about pension abuse and lack of performance from our elected officials, I am done sitting around and just listening to it,” Lewandowski said. “I have always been drawn to working in the community I have lived in. This is my opportunity to make a difference at a higher level of involvement.”

Lewandowski has owned his own business since 2001, and said the experience will help him as a trustee.

“I bring the experience of everyday checks and balances that every organization needs,” Lewandowski said.

If elected, Lewandowski plans to bring more exposure to the township.

“One of the biggest issues facing the township is the fact that Worth township government exists, and yet a large majority of the homeowners do not even know if exists, and if they do, they don’t know what the available services are to them or their families.”

Lewandowski said communication between the township and its homeowners was crucial.

“You have an obligation to inform the taxpayers of where their dollars are being spent and how to better utilize the services available,” Lewandowski said.

 

Eamon McMahon, 47, of Oak Lawn, is a carpenter. He serves as the business agent for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and the Financial Secretary for Carpenters Local 141.

McMahon said the pension problems in the state of Illinois motivated him to run for office.

“I have committed to freeze salaries, impose term limits, and suspend pension contributions on behalf of part-time elected township officials,” McMahon said. “If our pension commitments are to become realistic, the leadership of state and local governments must take tough stands to end pension abuse. Their duty to their constituents is to facilitate solutions, not add to their burden.”

McMahon said he supports teachers, first responders and municipal employees who have earned a negotiated pension during their years of service; but pension abuse has left them in doubt about their future security.

“They earned every penny of their pension and they deserve to know it will be there for them when they need it,” McMahon said.

McMahon said he also supports limiting township service to two terms.

“By limiting township service to two terms, more people become engaged in the solutions to our community’s problems,” McMahon said.

McMahon said growing up in a family of eight while helping to run a small family-run construction business helped prepare him for running for trustee.

“(It) taught me a lot about negotiation, the need to achieve consensus and to examine all sides of an issue,” McMahon said.

 

Theresa M. Roche, 46, of Oak Lawn, holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Illinois and a juris doctorate from the Illinois Institute of Technology-Chicago Kent College of Law. She has served on the board of education for Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 since 2009. She is the president of OAR Management, Inc.

Roche said she is running for office because the township needs a new perspective.

“Worth Township is in need of fresh ideas and insights,” Roche said. “Some of the current board was elected in 1997. Although new members have joined them, the lack of changes and updates in the township offices reflect a stagnant board.”

Roche said her business, legal and community leadership experience make her qualified for the trustee position.

“I’ve worked with numerous businesses to make them more productive and profitable by implementing best practices,” Roche said. “I understand the legal aspect of the responsibilities of Worth Township. My experience on the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 board has given me experiences with a well-run board. I pride myself on being collaborative while not being afraid to ask hard questions and make hard decisions.”

Roche said the township needs to offer more services to ease the residents’ burden.

“We can offer the children more programs since so many schools are limiting enrichment opportunities,” Roche said.

Patrick Hanlon, 47, of Evergreen Park, holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from St. Xavier University and a juris doctorate from DePaul University Law School. He works as an attorney with Ungaretti & Harris LLP in Chicago.

“I’m running for one simple reason: taxpayers deserve better,” Hanlon said. If he is elected, Hanlon plans to decline the salary and pension benefits for serving as a township trustee.

“I am running to serve the community as its watchdog on the township board, to ensure that taxpayer revenue is used and allocated efficiently to support township operations and services,” Hanlon said. “It is the taxpayers’ dollars, not the township’s dollars.”
 


 

 

 

Trooper mourned at Valley Church


An American flag is displayed between a North Palos Fire District truck and a Glenview Fire Department truck outside of Moraine Valley Church, 6300 W. 127th St. in Palos Heights. Cars and emergency vehicles in the funeral procession for State Trooper James Sauter passed under the flag on their way to a crematorium in Chicago Heights. Sauter was killed in the line of duty March 29 when his squad car was struck by a semi-tractor trailer on the Tri-State Tollway

Trooper mourned at Valley Church

James Sauter grew up in Ridge, graduated from Richards
 

By Laura Bollin

  Hundreds of mourners packed Moraine Valley Church in Palos Heights Tuesday to say goodbye to Illinois State Police trooper James Sauter, who was killed last Friday when a semi-tractor trailer struck his squad car on Interstate 294.
  Family and friends remembered Sauter, 28, as someone who always wanted to be a state trooper and loved his job. Police officers from around the state were lined up outside the church to lead Sauter’s body to a crematorium at 12th Street and Halsted Avenue in Chicago Heights.
  Sauter’s brother, Matthew, spoke to the crowd at the funeral service.
  “He will always be in my heart,” Matthew said. “I will be the brother and son I should have been. I will do everything I can to be like him.”
  Sauter, of Vernon Hills, grew up in Chicago Ridge and graduated from Richards High School. A sign at 127th Street and Ridgeland Avenue in Palos Heights read, “Thank you, Trooper J. Sauter,” and another outside Moraine Valley Church asked people to pray for comfort for Sauter’s family. Flags in front of the church and at the Palos Heights Fire Protection District flew at half-mast.
  Sauter worked with his father, Don, at Complete Collision Care in Crestwood before becoming a state trooper. Complete Collission Care office manager Laura Reeb said Sauter often talked about being a state trooper.
  “He got along with everybody, and we enjoyed having him here,” Reeb said. “He talked about being a state trooper, it was something he always wanted to do.”
  Sauter became a state trooper in June 2008. He recently completed a temporary assignment in air operations and been re-assigned to District 15 as a patrolman.
  Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau offered his condolences to the family.
  “It is with great sadness that I announce the tragic death of Trooper James Sauter, and on behalf of the men and women of the Illinois State Police, I offer sincere condolences to Trooper Sauter’s family,” Grau said in a statement. “Trooper Sauter left a legacy of courage, honor, and duty, and we will never forget Star 6095. Our hearts are heavy with grief, but they are also strengthened by Trooper Sauter’s brave calling and dedicated service to ISP.”
  The driver of the United Van Lines moving truck involved in the accident did not sustain life-threatening injuries, according to Illinois State Police. He has been hospitalized as a precaution and is answering questions and undergoing tests that will be used in the investigation.
  Sauter was helping a motorist at the time of the accident, according to the Illinois State Police. His squad was stopped on the left shoulder of the southbound lanes on I-294 when the truck rear ended the car, causing both vehicles to burst into flames.
  A memorial page for Mr. Sauter on legacy.com lets people offer their memories of Sauter and kind words for his family. One of his fellow state troopers, Dan, of Naperville, wrote about his time shared with Mr. Sauter.
  “I’m going to miss giving you a hard time on patrol buddy,” Dan wrote. “I always loved joking with you. I’ll never forget the memories we had and how you would always ask me for advice. I looked at you like a little brother. You will live on in our stories about you. As long as I’m around, the new troopers will hear who Jim Sauter was.”
  Sauter is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; his father, Don; his mother, Eileen; his brother, Matthew; his grandmother, Mary Lou Sauter; and his aunts, Kathleen Stevens, Patricia Duffin, Maureen Curran and Anne Oles.
  Donations to a memorial fund for his wife can be given to the James M. Sauter Memorial Fund, care of Palos Hills Funeral Home, 10201 S. Roberts Road, Palos Hills, IL 60465.
 

Focus on Seniors

Double Nickel
  The Double Nickel Plus Chorus meets at the Community Center, 3450 W. 97th St. in Evergreen Park, every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in Room 111. Newcomers are always welcome. For more information call 422-8776.
Tax Filing Help
  The Evergreen Park Office of Citizens’ Services offers a volunteer tax filing program in Room 110 at the Community Center, 3450 W. 97th St. E-filing and direct deposits are available. Call 422-8776 for an appointment. Counselors are volunteers and are available Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  Assistance with circuit breaker, property tax exemption forms, and notary service is also available. Bring last year’s federal and state returns, bank statements, and all forms showing income including social security, pension, dividends, interest and property tax bill. Business returns and complicated returns will not be accepted.
Rules of the Road
  The Worth Township Seniors will hold a free Rules of the Road class from 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. June 5, Aug. 7 and Oct. 2. Appointment must be made to attend; call the Worth Township Senior Room at 371-2900, Ext. 28. Worth Township Center is at 11601 Pulaski Road in Alsip.
Meals on Wheels
  The Evergreen Park Office of Citizens’ Services offers a Meals on Wheels program for village residents 60 years and older who are unable to prepare their own meals. Meals are delivered Monday through Friday. For more information call 422-8776.
55 and Up
  Palos Hills residents 55 years and older meet from noon to 2 p.m. the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Palos Hills Community Center, 8455 W. 103rd St. Tickets for events must be purchased one week in advance. Entertainment includes musicians, singers, luncheons, movies, plays and bingo.
Pinochle
  The Worth Senior Pinochle club is seeking new members. Membership is free. Visit the group at the Worth Park District Terrace Centre, 11500 Beloit Ave., every Monday and Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Games begin at noon. Call 448-1181 for information.