Oak Lawn approves 3-year extension with Nor

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Oak Lawn Village Board has approved a three-year extension of the lease agreement with Norcomm Public Safety Communications Inc., the company hired in 2013 to staff the 911 center.

The 5-1 vote on the resolution at Tuesday’s village board meeting followed the usual pattern, with only Trustee Robert Streit (3rd) voting against the extension.

“(Outsourcing 911 services) was the worst decision we ever made. That is why I will be opposing it,” said Streit. He went on to cite incidents in which residents complained to him being kept on the line by 911 operators, repeatedly asking the same questions about location.

The 911 center, located at the village hall at 9446 S. Raymond Ave., also dispatches calls for Evergreen Park, Bridgeview and Burbank, and Streit said some of the operators argued with callers, saying the addresses they called from were not in Oak Lawn.

“You expect the 911 dispatchers to know the communities they serve, and not have to ask so many questions. It is wasting valuable time.”

However, Diana Tousignant, director of emergency communications, spoke in defense of her Norcomm staff.

“We follow a particular standard of care. We’re required to verbally verify addresses, so we will ask questions,” she said. She added that while one dispatcher is asking the follow-up questions, another is already sending help, so no time is wasted.

“We have mapping systems that show addresses,” she said.

Trustee Bud Stalker (5th) said the instances cited by Streit were “anecdotal.”

“I’ve received anecdotal evidence too. It appears that Norcomm has been doing a good job. There ae going to be mistakes in every organization but we have accurate records (showing response times),” he said.

Responding to a question from Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), Tousignant said that aside from one call from Streit about an issue, no one has contacted her with complaints about service.

She said she is listed on the village website, and encouraged residents with concerns to contact her by email or phone with any questions.

Tousignant also suggested that residents look at the statistics on 911 calls that are also available on the website, under emergency communications. She pointed out that at least 90 percent of 911 calls must be answered within 10 seconds, and in 2015, more than 92 percent of calls were answered within that timeframe.

“Extending this contract was not an easy decision,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen. He said he spoke personally with officials from Evergreen Park, Bridgeview and Burbank, and they all supported the decision.

“This company saved the village more than $1 million,” Deetjen said.

Oak Lawn approves four-year contract with police union

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

               The Oak Lawn Village Board at its meeting on Tuesday approved a four-year collective bargaining agreement with the police union.

               Village Manager Larry Deetjen said the agreement with Metropolitan Alliance of Police, Oak Lawn Chapter 309 is worthy of celebration, and unanimous endorsement by the six trustees.

               The last contract ended in 2014, and Deetjen highlighted a couple of changes in the new one, which encompasses 2015-2018.

               “For the first time, any new hires to the department will have to live in Illinois, and within 50 miles of the village,” said the village manager, who said after the meeting that currently some members of both the police and fire departments live in Indiana.

               Deetjen also noted that the new contract also requires union members to beginning contributing a “slightly larger” amount of money toward their health insurance premiums. Currently, the village pays 90 percent of health insurance premiums for members of the police union, but Deetjen sad that over the life of the contract, the union members’ contribution will increase from 10 to 15 percent.

               The contract also includes a 1 percent pay raise for members retroactive for 2015, and 2.5 percent annual raises for each of the next three years.

               “This shows how things can get done with listening, cooperating and negotiating,” he said. “This was done between the village and the union, without any outside arbitrators,” he pointed out.

               While Deetjen said it deserved unanimous support from the trustees, the vote to approve it was 5-1, with Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) being the lone dissenter.

                “I, too, salute the Oak Lawn police officers and the fine work that they do…but I can’t in good conscience vote for this contract because there is a small part that would be detrimental to the village,” said Streit, pointing out that it allows police to report to work with a blood-alcohol level up to .04 percent.

               “Noting that the legal limit for driving is .08 percent, that level is often referred to as half-drunk or buzzed,” said Streit. “It’s a safety issue,” he continued. Referring to the Laquan McDonald case in Chicago, he said, “I do not want to imagine what would happen if there was a police-involved shooting, and it turned out the officer had alcohol in his or her system.”

               Streit asked that the language be reviewed and taken out of the contract, but other trustees dismissed his concerns and the vote went ahead.

               Deetjen said the point about alcohol levels was not even brought up in negotiations, and is standard in contracts that he has been involved in.

               “It has been in place for many years,” Trustee Alex Olejniczak said.

               Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who retired after more than 30 years on the Oak Lawn Police Department, agreed with Olejniczak’s point, “and I think (Streit) knows it too,” he said.

               Vorderer said the language is likely there because union members are subject to random tests for alcohol and drugs, and conceivably, a police officer could have had a couple of drinks the night before, and still have some alcohol remaining in the system the following day.

                However, he said that the wording of the contract also allows for action to be taken against any officer who reports to work and appears or acts like they are under the influence of alcohol. “In that case, they would be sent home, and they could face disciplinary action,” he said.

Palos Hills votes on limits for chickens per household

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills officials believe they have come up with a fair ordinance to address a fowl issue.

The city council last Thursday voted unanimously to draft an ordinance that limits residents from keeping more than four chickens on their property and prohibits anyone in town from owning a rooster.

City officials stated last week that Palos Hills’ animal ordinance was “pretty broad,” and not extremely detailed when it pertains to rules and regulations on chickens and other fowl. The current ordinance, which has been on the books for years, does not restrict the number of chickens or roosters per household.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett told the council he fielded a few calls this summer from residents complaining about a noisy rooster and chickens roaming free in the neighborhood. Bennett said another caller told him allowing chickens attracts coyotes and other predators.

“There’s really nothing to our ordinance,” Bennett told the council. “We can do three things: we can keep what’s on the books; make some modifications or ban them altogether.”

Several aldermen then spoke up in support of allowing residents to continue to own chickens. Ald. Mike Lebarre (3rd) noted since Palos Hills has been allowing chickens “probably since the beginning of time” that it “would be pretty difficult” to ban them now.

Palos Hills officials considered following neighboring Palos Park’s policy of restricting the number of chickens based on the size of a resident’s lot, but ultimately decided against it.

“I think figuring out how many we want to allow max is probably a better bet instead of dealing with (number of chickens) per acre and half acre,” said Ald. Joan Knox (1st), who serves as chairwoman of the city council’s legislation and ordinance committee.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th) agreed with Knox’s suggestion.

“I feel we should keep it simple and nip it in the bud,” Moore said. “Let’s not make it something major.”

The council tossed around the idea of allowing five or six chickens per residency, but ultimately settled on the number four.

“I think most people have the chickens for the eggs and (four chickens) should provide enough eggs,” Knox said.

Palos Hills officials had little trouble agreeing that roosters should be prohibited in town.

“If the purpose (of allowing chickens) is for the eggs and roosters do not lay eggs then I would say we discount roosters (from the ordinance),” Knox said.

Ald. Pauline Stratton (2nd) added there have occasionally been roosters in town and she has received complaints from residents because of the amount of noise they produce, especially in the morning.

“I know I got phone calls that they were waking up babies,” she said.

The draft ordinance also states that all food for chickens must be kept in “rodent-proof containers,” the chickens must be kept in a coup, building or pen that “protects them from predators and trespassers” and is at least 25 feet away from the home. The enclosures must also be cleaned a minimum of once every seven days.

The council did not come to a decision on what to do with residents who already own more than four chickens. City officials discussed grandfathering in those people, but the issue is not addressed in the draft ordinance.

Ald. Marty Kleefisch (1st) was the lone official to state he was opposed to allowing chickens in town.

“I believe farm animals should be on agriculturally zoned properties, not residentially zoned properties,” Kleefisch told the council. “As cute as it sounds to have your own eggs in the backyard, I don’t think it’s appropriate for an urban setting.”

Although the city is on the verge of adopting the ordinance, Knox does not anticipate it will lead to an influx of chickens in town.

“I don’t think (the ordinance) is going to bring people in droves to get chickens,” Knox said. “I think people that really want chickens are the chicken people already. I think we’re just setting some perimeters.

“When we pass this ordinance, I’m not running out to get a chicken.”

Those found in violation of the chicken ordinance are subject to an $80 fine, Knox said.

In other news, Palos Hills officials voted 5-4 to table a vote on creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance for video gaming cafés.

Labarre asked for the vote to be postponed because the full council was not present with the absence of Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th).

It is expected the item will be removed from the table once all 10 aldermen are present.

Some towns won't push their luck with gambling cafes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recent failed attempts to allow video gambling cafés in Palos Hills, and open a new café in Chicago Ridge, may be an indication that local communities are losing interest in them.

At the Palos Hills City Council meeting on Oct. 1, aldermen voted 5 to 4 against creating a special liquor license for the businesses that would allow them to sell beer and wine and require them to serve food. The license would have come with a $1,800 annual fee.

              But the promise of tax revenue did not sway a majority of the aldermen to allow the small cafes, which usually have a woman's name as part of their name — and cater to women who would rather go into a cozy diner to gamble than a bar. But critics say that their business model focuses too much on gambling.

               Unlike Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge does allow video cafés, as do Hickory Hills, Oak Lawn and Worth. Many suburbs allow the cafes, including nearby Hickory Hills and Oak Lawn. Evergreen Park only allows video gambling at one location in town, the American Legion Post 854 at 9701 S. Kedzie Ave., while Palos Heights and Palos Park prohibit it altogether.

But at the Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting on Oct. 6, trustees voted 5-1 against allowing a request to open a Lacey’s Place gaming café in a vacant storefront at 10725 S. Ridgeland Ave.

“We do not like seeing vacant spaces. But how many video gaming places is too many? There is no easy answer,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar. It was pointed out that the village already allows video gambling at 19 locations in the village, including at the McDonnell-Linn VFW Post down the street, at 10537 S. Ridgeland, as well as at the Stella’s Place gaming café in Chicago Ridge Commons, about a mile south on Ridgeland.

The mayor said he was told by the owners of Stella’s Place that many mothers stop in there to try their luck after dropping their kids off at school.

Trustee Amanda Cardin said she did not want the village to become “the gaming capital of the southwest suburbs.”

               Oak Lawn has more video gaming establishments than Chicago Ridge, include a few gambling cafés such as Stella’s Place, at 8759 S. Ridgeland. But officials there also have expressed reservations of allowing any more.

“The reason we wanted video gambling licenses was to benefit our existing businesses. But it has gotten out of hand,” said Oak Lawn Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) this week.

“I don’t have a problem if people want to spend their discretionary income on gambling. But I do have an issue with the business model of the gaming cafés, which focuses more on gambling than anything else,” he said.

Worth Trustee Colleen McEvoy, who chairs the Economic Development Committee on the Board of Trustees, said she would not be interested in adding to the two gaming cafés, Elsie’s and Dottie’s, already in the village.

“But Worth is not a home-rule community, so we are limited in deciding what we can allow in,” she explained, noting that they have to go by what the state allows.

“We have a lot of existing restaurants that I would like to see people going to, rather than bringing in more gambling cafes,” said McElroy, who is working on attracting more businesses to 111th Street and Harlem Avenue, the village’s two main thoroughfares.

She noted that the village’s Economic Development Commission is inviting residents to a meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Village Hall at 7112 W. 111th St. McElroy said concept photos will be available of proposed plans, and residents may make suggestions.

Palos Hills votes against gaming cafés

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Luck wasn’t on the side of video gaming café owners last Thursday in Palos Hills.

City officials voted 5-4 on Oct. 1 against creating a new classification in the liquor ordinance that would have paved the way for the gaming cafés to come to town. The vote does not impact the city’s current stance of allowing video gaming machines in restaurants.

Aldermen Marty Kleefisch (1st), Joan Knox (1st), Mark Brachman (2nd), A.J. Pasek (3rd) and Mary Ann Schultz (5th) voted against creating the ordinance while aldermen Pauline Stratton (2nd), Mike Lebarre (3rd), Ricky Moore (4th) and Dawn Nowak (5th) were in favor. Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th) was absent.

“It’s absolutely disappointing,” Nowak, who serves as the chairwoman of the city’s economic development committee, said of the vote. “Those (gaming café owners)are going to go someplace else and give their money to other cities.”

Nowak told the council there are 92 vacancies in town and recent efforts to bring Buona Beef to the corner of 111th Street and Roberts Road proved unsuccessful. Representatives of Laredo Hospitality Ventures, which is the parent company of café casino Stella’s Place, and Durbin’s addressed the council last month expressing interest in operating video gaming cafés in town.

“It’s unacceptable to me (to have 92 vacancies in town),” Nowak told her fellow aldermen. “I’m beating the doors down on businesses and there is not a lot of interest. I’d like to ask you all to try (with gaming cafés) and see where it goes.”

Calling herself a “proponent of small businesses,” Stratton was open to creating the new liquor classification for the gaming cafés.

“Even though the government keeps saying the economy is better it really isn’t,” Stratton said. “This is a trendy situation and we have nothing to lose if the businesses are willing to go forward and try something new.

“I’m not a proponent of gambling, but, if you’re looking at gambling, churches have raffles and bingo – both forms of gambling. If the businesses want to put forth some effort to help themselves and invariably help the city, then I will support it.”

Moore was also in favor of the gaming cafés, noting the city already allows its restaurants the option to have gambling machines.

“First of all, we are not doing or asking for anything that we are not already doing in the city,” Moore said. “It’s a very small footprint. It’s an occupied storefront instead of a vacant storefront. It’s revenue for the city. I wouldn’t have any problem supporting the two (Stella’s and Durbin’s) and seeing how it goes.”

Five restaurants in Palos Hills currently have video gaming terminals that generated a total of $65,000 for the city in 2014, Mayor Gerald Bennett said. Revenue from the machines is broken down four ways with 25 percent going to the state, 5 percent to municipality, 35 percent to the establishment owner and 35 percent to the terminal operator.  

Although there are plenty of vacant storefronts in town, Schultz said she did not support any of them being filled with gaming cafés.

“I don’t understand this. Why would you not want your municipality to be known for a nice place to raise a family as opposed to a nice place to go gambling,” Schultz asked rhetorically. “We have had businesses empty for I can’t tell you how many years and we have survived this. We will survive this. I just think (by allowing gaming cafés)you are opening up a can of beans that I am so vehemently against.”

Kleefisch told the council he has been opposed to video gaming from the beginning and remains opposed to it.

“I’ll go on record as saying I’m not for increasing the liquor licenses for this purpose,” he said. “One of the reasons (I’m against video gaming) is that it’s one of the most addictive forms of gambling. I don’t want to be a part of hurting anyone or their family by giving them another opportunity to lose their money.”

Kleefisch also feared allowing the gaming cafés could damage the city’s reputation.

“I believe the reputation of the city is somewhat tied into video gaming,” he said. “I’m concerned about the reputation of the city. I think we should look for more creative ways to make money for our city and provide services for our citizens other than video gaming.”

Laredo Hospitality Ventures operates nearly 40 gambling cafés in Illinois, including one each in Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge and Hickory Hills. Nowak said the cafés have had no issues with unruly customers or financial troubles.

“Stella’s has 38 locations with no closures,” Nowak said. “Mayor Bennett has checked with other cities and came back with no problems (pertaining to Stella’s).”

Nowak said she would not be opposed to revisiting the creation of a liquor class for gaming cafés in the future. Bennett noted all it would take is for one member of the council to bring the topic up at a future meeting.

Bennett anticipated the city would not allow more than three or four gambling cafés in the city so voting against it last week was not going to cause Palos Hills to lose a lot of money.

“It wasn’t going to bring in a whole lot of revenue but it would create some revenue,” Bennett said.

“I told the council from the beginning that it’s up to them. If they want to create it that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s their choice.”