MWRD board of commissioners elects Meany as its president

Kathleen Therese Meany was unanimously elected by her eight fellow commissioners to serve as president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) Board of Commissioners during the first board meeting of the new year.

Vice President Barbara McGowan was reelected to her vice presidential post, while Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos was elected to serve as chairman of Finance. Committee assignments will be made at the next Board meeting to be held Jan. 17.

"This is a wonderful honor, and I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners, our staff, and the community as we improve upon the efficiencies in how the District manages wastewater and stormwater," President Meany said.

President Meany was first elected to the Board in 1990. She served as Vice President for 16 years and is currently Chairman of the Committee on Public Information and Education and the Committee on Ethics. President Meany also chaired the Committee on Federal Legislation for 18 years.

With a background in public policy, President Meany has made policy decisions during her tenure that strive to improve the water environment. One of her earliest achievements was to introduce a program to collect and properly dispose of household hazardous waste. This waste had previously been discharged indiscriminately into the sewer system and ultimately had a negative impact on water quality.

President Meany is a retired Assistant Professor of Political Science at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Roosevelt University and a Master's Degree from Harvard GuyUniversity's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Vice President McGowan has served on the MWRD Board of Commissioners since 1998. As Chairman of the Affirmative Action Committee, Vice President McGowan has been active in ensuring that minority and women contractors have an opportunity to perform work on MWRD contracts and are treated fairly. She lead changes to the MWRD's Minority Business Enterprise/Women Business Enterprise Affirmative Action Ordinance to include penalties for contractors that violate the ordinance.

Commissioner Spyropoulos was appointed to the Board in 2009 and was re-elected in 2010. She earned her law degree from The John Marshall Law School and her master's in Business Administration from Loyola University Chicago. As an attorney, Commissioner Spyropoulos brings a unique legal and business perspective to the MWRD.

This is the first time in the MWRD's history that women have filled the top posts.

Chicago water rate hikes hit Orland

By Jeff Vorva

For the next three years, Orland Park residents will be soaked with three water rate increases and village officials are quick to point out that most of the increases are spiking because of the city of Chicago's 15 percent increase to provide Lake Michigan water to suburban towns.

"I want to make sure that our residents know that this is going to go on for a while as Chicago continues to take up its rates," village Trustee James Dodge said Monday night during a Finance Committee meeting. "We are at the mercy of the city of Chicago taking its rates up aggressively."

The new water rates, which will raise the average homeowner's bill to approximately $60 per year, will be voted on and likely be passed at the Jan. 21 Village Board meeting.

The raise in the rate also reflects a 435 percent increase from the village of Oak Lawn, which delivers the water to the area. For the past 15 years, Oak Lawn has charged Orland Park 4 cents per 1,000 gallons and is raising it to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. The two villages are in negotiations to lock in a rate for the long-term future.

Orland Park will raise its rates 3 percent to keep up its infrastructure and maintenance.

The Village Board's Finance Committee discussed the outline of the rate hikes and a three-tier system that residents can take advantage of to try to save money. Most residents currently pay $4.06 per 1,000 gallons. Those who use 9,000 or less per year will be charged $4.65 per 1,000 gallons, whose who use 9,000-18,000 gallons will be charged $5.62 per 1,000 gallons and those who use more than 18,000 gallons will be charged $6.59 per 1,000 gallons.

"The more you use, the more you will pay," Dodge said. "So if people want to try to reduce their water bills they could try to conserve water to try to get to a different rate class. That's important."

Those numbers will be higher by $2 to $3 per 1,000 gallons in the unincorporated areas and Alpine Heights will have a flat rate of $4.48 per 1,000 gallons.

Despite the sticker shock of the proposed increases, officials researched what residents in other communities are paying and say they are on the lower end of the spectrum.

The village's survey showed that neighboring Homer Glen residents are paying $9.01 per 1,000 gallons. Tinley Park residents pay $4.85 if they use less than 20,000 gallons and $6.91 if they use more than 20 gallons. Orland Hills residents pay $6.78 and Oak Forest residents pay $6.65 if they use less than 25,000 gallons and $7.36 if they use 25,000 or more gallons. Mokena charges $5.86 and Chicago Heights charges $5.50.

"Our rates already reflect this proposed increase," Village Manager Paul Grimes said. "We're in the lower quartile. Our rates are still very attractive when you compare them with other south suburban communities. That provides some perspective to our residents. While it's never a pleasant thing to have to pass on a rate increase, our rates are very competitive compared to some of the other neighbors.

"Our proposed rates are about half of Homer Glen's – our neighbor to the west."

But the increase is likely going to make some residents angry. Village officials stress that it's out of their hands.

"We have to let them know that there will be another 15 percent increase next year and it will happen again in 2015 so that nobody will be shocked," Dodge said.

"It's coming again and we have absolutely no control," Trustee Pat Gira said. "Here is the heads- up. We have no control."

PADS turning people away as calls for help grow louder

By Dawn Thrasher
Community Resource Coordinator

As one of our PADS site managers recently said, "We are a community of people even though we do not see each other often, or ever."

Think about that – 4,000- plus individuals all pulling together to support one mission; to provide shelter, meals and supportive services to persons facing homelessness.

South Suburban PADS is the largest provider of shelter and supportive services for persons that are experiencing homelessness in the south and southwest suburbs of Chicago. PADS partners with local Faith Communities for the use of their building one night a week. Volunteers from these Faith Communities and the public at large provide the operational support that keeps these shelters open for the approximately 175 men, women and children served by PADS every night of the week.

The number of guests depending on the PADS shelter network this winter is the largest number ever in PADS 22 year history.

"This is the first year that PADS has had to turn guests away because we do not have enough capacity," commented Dawn Thrasher, community resource coordinator for PADS. "This breaks our hearts! We've also had several pregnant women this season, and many children."

PADS opened a 77-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Country Club Hills several months ago. Having 77 units of additional affordable housing in the Chicago Southland couldn't have come at a better time. Many PADS guests have been housed in this building in the last few months, leaving the shelter environment behind.

Even though PADS is blessed with thousands of volunteers, there are never enough to fill all the needs. Shelter volunteers are asked to work one four-five hour shift a month, and office volunteers are asked to work one 3 to 4- hour shift a week. Plus there are many other types of volunteer opportunities.

This winter season, PADS is operating 32 shelters each week, but 32 is not enough. We need more Faith Communities willing to open their doors one night each week to host a PADS shelter.

Since 1990 PADS has sheltered 12,724 men, women and children; has served 1,185,114 meals, and has been blessed with 13,873 men and women that serve as PADS volunteers, staffing the overnight shelters, and preparing and serving meals. To learn more about how you can help contact Dawn Thrasher, community resource coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or 754-4357, Ext. 107.

What do you say?

State your case for or against a federal ban on assault weapons.

(Asked at the Oak Lawn Public Library)

Austin Morgan,
Chicago Ridge

"I think they should be banned. You don't even need them to go hunting. They are for soldiers and the police."

Hana Elhila,
Oak Lawn

"I am for the ban. Violence is happening around the country to an extent that is too much."

Rem Ismail,
Oak Lawn

"They should be banned, because they will just cause more violence."

Neal F.,
Oak Lawn

"I am for the ban. Unless they are for the police or the FBI, I don't think regular citizens should have them."

Saja Jaber,
Oak Lawn

"People should be able to have them, but I think they should have to take a psychological test before they get the gun."

Fire official charged with attempted murder

Police say Gary Swiercz, who began his firefighting career in Worth in 1984, had a knife, 8-inch sex toy and lubricant when he broke into woman's condo

By Laura Bolin

A Chicago Ridge Fire Department official is accused of trying to sexually assault and kill a woman after he allegedly broke into her Tinley Park condominium and attacked her last Saturday.

Gary M. Swiercz, 49, who lives in the same building as the alleged victim, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated unlawful restraint, home invasion and residential burglary.

Swiercz, the deputy fire chief in Chicago Ridge and a former chief of the since-disbanded Worth Fire Department, allegedly broke into the woman's unit early Saturday morning at the building in the 8100 block of 168th Place. Swiercz allegedly beat the woman, attempted to tie her up and sexually assault her, and threatened to slit her throat with a folding knife.

At one point during the attack he allegedly forced her to the floor and smashed her head against the tile surface. The alleged victim was reportedly treated on the scene for minor injuries.

Swiercz reportedly entered the apartment with the knife as well as rope, zip-ties, an 8-inch sex toy and a bottle of lubricant.

A neighbor who reportedly heard a woman screaming reported the alleged incident to police, who reportedly found Swiercz in the parking lot of the condominium building and arrested him at 2:35 a.m.

Swiercz has been placed on indefinite leave from the department pending an "investigation surrounding criminal charges regarding an allegation of home invasion," according to a statement from the Chicago Ridge Fire Department. At the time of the alleged attack, Swiercz was "off duty and not performing any duty in his official capacity with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department," according to the statement. Fire department officials refused to comment further on the matter.

Swiercz, who retired Monday after posting $15,000 bail, is under court-mandated electronic surveillance while staying at his parent's home in Worth.

Swiercz has been with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department for 24 years. No members of the department ever had a problem with him and he has never before been placed on administrative leave before, said Chicago Ridge Fire Chief Robert Muszynski.

Swiercz began his firefighter career in Worth in 1984 as a paid on-call firefighter, a position he held until 1991. He began working full-time as a deputy chief in Chicago Ridge in 1988. He returned to Worth in 2004 as a part-time fire chief, and served in that role until November 2006 following the death of Chief Don Stefaniak, then served another five months in Worth as parttime chief from August 2008 to December 2008. The Worth Fire Department was dissolved Jan. 1, 2009 when control was handed over to the North Palos Fire Protection District.