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Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn official preach caution after deadly virus found in local mosquitoes

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton

(Photo by Jeff Vorva)

 

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton lost 60 pounds the hard way.

And he nearly lost his life.

So when there is even a hint that the West Nile virus can be found in his village, he takes it seriously.

Sexton, who has battled and survived the West Nile virus, and Oak Lawn officials said the Illinois Department of Public Health reported last week that mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus were found in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park in May—one in each village.

Sexton said it serves as a reminder to residents to take precautions.

Sexton, who survived a serious bout with West Nile virus in 2012, said his village had been at the forefront of the battle against West Nile virus since 2002.

“I take a serious, hard look at (reports of positive tests). But we were leading the way on this, even before I got sick,” said Sexton. “We’ve always taken a very aggressive approach (to mosquito abatement), since 2002. We’re going to continue on this same path.’’

Sexton contracted the virus in 2012 right around the time another mayor, Lombard’s Bill Mueller, died of West Nile virus. The story was huge in the Chicago area.

“I certainly wasn’t looking for the PR that Evergreen Park received,’’ Sexton said. “But in a strange way it was good if it helped others by shedding light on the seriousness of the situation. I spent 45 days in Christ Hospital, including two in intensive care.

“I lost 60 pounds, but I wouldn’t recommend that diet to anyone,” he added wryly.

A single mosquito with West Nile doesn’t sound like big news, but Sexton has some warnings.

 “I am not sure how seriously people take it, but we all must be diligent in covering up and applying repellant when mosquitoes are active,” he said.  

Sexton encouraged residents to be diligent about checking their property for standing water, and disperse it.

“The village will abate it,” said Sexton, explaining that anyone needing help to get rid of water can get assistance from the village.

The IDPH statement said employees collected a positive mosquito batch on May 21 in Oak Lawn, and another one on May 26, in Evergreen Park.  These were the first positive batches in northern Illinois this year, according to a statement. No human cases were involved, and none have been reported so far this year.

Last year, 50 counties in Illinois reported a West Nile virus positive mosquito batch, bird and/or human case.  IDPH reported 44 human cases in 2014, including four deaths. 
Douglas Wright, general manager of the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, explained that finding by the IDPH of one or two mosquitoes that tested positive will not require any additional action to be taken beyond what is being done already.

“We have treated catch basins in Evergreen Park (and Oak Lawn) with larvicidal briquettes, slow-acting over 45 days. We are constantly clearing standing water (where mosquitoes lay eggs) and checking traps. We are monitoring, and if we see repetitive tests coming back positive, we will take further action,” he said.

Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen also stressed people should take this seriously. “West Nile is a serious virus and residents should take precautions,” he said, noting that there is information about prevention provided on the village website (under Latest News) at www.oaklawn-il.gov and on Channel 4.

“We proactively treat the storm sewers with larvicide. This time of year we will get more aggressive in enforcing village ordinances, such as keeping grass cut,” he said.

In addition to tall grass, the village manager added that outdoor wood piles are also not permitted, because they often retain water and attract mosquitoes.

He encouraged residents to be aware of any stagnant water, in pools and gutters or elsewhere, and contact the village if they need help getting rid of it.

Surveillance for West Nile virus in Illinois includes laboratory tests on mosquito batches, dead crows, blue jays, robins and other perching birds, as well as testing sick horses and humans with West Nile virus-like symptoms.  People who observe a sick or dying crow, blue jay, robin or other perching bird should contact their local health department, which will determine if the bird will be picked up for testing.
 
West Nile virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito that has picked up the virus by feeding on an infected bird.  Common symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle aches.  Symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks.  However, four out of five people infected with West Nile virus will not show any symptoms.  In rare cases, severe illness including meningitis or encephalitis, or even death, can occur. 

Chicago Ridge gets its insurance controversy in order and hires interim lawyer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Burt Odelson has been named temporary attorney in Chicago Ridge and got busy right away finishing up the paperwork on a controversial health insurance issue

(Photo by Dermot Connolly) 

 

Completing a process that began in April, the Chicago Ridge Village Board passed an amended ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting that will end the controversial policy of providing lifetime, taxpayer-funded insurance for retired part-time trustees and their surviving spouses.

The board also approved the temporary appointment of  Burt Odelson and his Odelson & Sterk law firm to represent the village, replacing George Witous, who announced his immediate retirement at the June 2 meeting, after 51 years as village attorney.

Odelsson was put to work right away putting the finishing touches on the insurance policy issue, which has been a sore spot for some concerned residents for months.

Letters explaining the change in the insurance policy were scheduled to be mailed Wednesday  to the retirees affected by the policy change. As of July 1, if they decide to keep the village-provided insurance, retirees will have to pay 40 percent of the health insurance premium, and 100 percent of dental, vision and life insurance.

The widow of one retired trustee also currently receives insurance provided by the village, and she will have to pay 100 percent of health, life, vision and dental premiums if she decides to keep the policies.

Mayor Charles Tokar had appointed Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese to work with Odelson to draw up the ordinances needed to resolve the contentious issue, which drew hundreds of angry residents to several board meetings. The issue had died down somewhat in recent weeks, as progress was made, and there was no public comment from the appriximately 50 people in attendance on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day. We worked hard to fix it, and nobody is going to try something like this again, It's only fair,” said Coglianese, who was elected in April and campaigned against the insurance perk.

Due to changes the board had already approved in May, the lifetime insurance will no longer be available to any part-time trustee or village clerk elected from now on.

Coglianese and Durkin are among the five current board members who, by making the changes, ruled themselves ineligible for the lifetime insurance because they will not have completed two full four-year terms by the next election in 2017, as required. The others are newly elected Trustee William McFarland, and Trustee Amanda Cardin, elected two years ago with Durkin. Village Clerk George Schleyer is also no longer eligible, and said after the meeting that he was not interested in the lifetime insurance anyway.

Only veteran trustees Bruce Quintos and Jack Lind meet those qualifications, and it wouldn’t be free for them either if they choose to take it.

Odelson was already sitting in the village attorney’s seat Tuesday, although Witous’ name had not been removed since the last meeting when he announced his immediate retirement. Mayor Tokar cited Odelson’s “good work” done with Durkin and Coglianese on the insurance issue as a reason for giving the temporary appointment to his law firm.

“We are going to do our due diligence to see what other firms are out there,” said Tokar. “We were rather surprised that George Witous made his retirement effective immediately after the last meeting (two weeks ago),” he said. “We knew he was planning to retire, but we thought it would be in a few weeks or a month,” the mayor explained. “We needed representation because we have some pressing issues and we couldn’t just put them on hold.”

EP trustee chided by judge after disorderly conduct charge but will stay on board

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

 

His neighbors are looking forward to a peaceful summer after Evergreen Park Trustee Dan McKeown was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to five months of court supervision last Thursday for repeatedly honking his car horn in front of their houses in the 9300 block of South Sacramento Avenue.

While a judge referred to McKeown as a “bully,” it appears that his status on the EP board is still secure.

Mayor James Sexton would not comment on the sentence, and said it would not jeopardize McKeown’s position on the Village Board. “It appears to be a neighbor problem and I believe they are working to rectify it,” he said.

But a judge was not so kind.

“In this court’s opinion, we see you as a bully,” Fifth District Presiding Judge Raymond Jagielski told McKeown before handing down the sentence for the misdemeanor charge. He also charged him court costs, which amounted to $99.  Jagielski had found him guilty of the misdemeanor charge in a bench trial on May 19 after hearing six hours of testimony from neighbors in the case that dates back to his arrest last July.

Jagielski said that McKeown could have received as 30 days in jail, but because this was his first offense, and his prior good work in the community, court supervision was appropriate. Now midway through his first term as trustee, McKeown is the comptroller of Keyser Industries in the village where he has lived for more than 35 years.

Two of his neighbors who brought the complaint, Keith and Barbara Krummick, were in court for the sentencing. Barbara Krummick said she was satisfied that the court supervision was for a “significant amount of time.”

Another neighbor, Margaret Michalak, who testified against him at trial, and called his behavior “outrageous,” said she wished it was a little longer.

“I’m glad he got convicted, because that is the only way he will learn a lesson,” she said.

The Krummicks live a few doors away from McKeown while Michalak lives across the street.

Both families said their troubles with him began after they complained about petty harassment from McKeown’s son, who also lives on the block and was a village police officer at the time.

Barbara Krummick said she had to install security cameras to record evidence of McKeown pestering them, adding that more neighbors were willing to testify, but were told they were not needed.  Asserting that the case involved more than car-honking, she said she appreciated the judge taking the case seriously.

During his trial, McKeown denied honking to antagonize the neighbors. He maintained that he was signaling his grandchildren, who live on the block, or the horn just sounded when he used his remote control to unlock the vehicle. But the neighbors asserted it was obviously done just to harass them.

“As I’ve said before, do we really see criminals here? In today’s world, these are minor offenses. But is this the type of behavior you want to be known for?”  Jagielski asked McKeown.

After finding McKeown guilty, Jagielski asked McKeown and his neighbors to attend a mediation session led by Sexton, which was held May 28. The judge said the most important issue is to find a way to put an end to the animosity between neighbors.

While Keith Krummick said he believed “baby steps were made” at the mediation session, Michalak said she did not appreciate Sexton saying the “tit-for-tat” actions between the two sides should end, implying the neighbors shared responsibility for the problem.

“We never retaliated against him,” she said.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction. Turning a negative into a positive (is the goal),” said McKeown’s attorney, Craig Miller, who said Sexton stressed the need to be a good example to the children and grandchildren. Just before the sentencing, he said the case  “involved a lot of good people, and it just got out of hand.”

McKeown let Miller do most of the talking at the sentencing. “I would like to concur with my attorney. I want to move ahead and get past this. It has only been a week (since the mediation) and I’ve done what I was asked.”

He declined comment as he left the courtroom.

Jagielski said the only requirement he is asking of McKeown while under court supervision until Nov. 5 is to “act like a gentleman” at all times. He said that was the same rule he had to live by during four years at Wabash College, an all-male school in Crawfordsville, Ind.

“You have an opportunity to take this and use it as a positive, and I hope you do,” said Jagielski, explaining that if he follows the rules, McKeown’s record could eventually be expunged.

Possible change in OL ordinance brings out more than 100 to meeting

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

 

 

David and Cassie Dawe have their say regarding possible changes in Oak Lawn’s policies on RVs and boats on people’s property.

 

Fears that trustees were planning to pass an ordinance making it harder, or even illegal to store most recreational vehicles and boats on residential property brought more than 100 concerned – and sometimes irate -- citizens to Tuesday’s Oak Lawn Village Board meeting.

The meeting room was overflowing for the 7:30 p.m. meeting, and the line of people waiting to sign up to speak extended into the hallway.

Before opening the floor to public comment on the controversial issue, the board moved to table the controversial issue, listed on the agenda as an ordinance “amending certain sections of the Oak Lawn Village Code pertaining to the parking of recreational vehicles on residential property.”

Trustee Mike Carberry (6th) tried to reassure the irate crowd that there was never any intention of voting on the proposed ordinance that night, saying it was only on the agenda as a discussion topic.

But judging by the grumbles in the back of the room, some of the RV and boat owners didn’t believe him.

Carberry said the proposed ordinance had been addressed at the June 4 meeting of the Legislation, Licenses and Ethics Committee that he chairs, and the decision was made then to bring it put it on the agenda for discussion by the full village board.

Other trustees at the committee meeting included Alex Olejniczak (2nd), Bud Stalker (5th) and Terry Vorderer (4th).

Cautioning that it was never intended to be voted on in its current form, Village Attorney Patrick Connelly read the proposed ordinance, which would have imposed fines on residents found in violation, either by not keeping the RVs or boats well-maintained, or out of public view.

Currently, RVs, boats and trailers can be kept on driveways, but the new legislation would have required most to either be shielded from public view by a fence, or those over 20 feet long to be stored in a garage.

Carberry said there had received a few complaints about large RVs or boats either kept in poor condition or so close to the front property line that they create hazards for people walking or driving by.

Many residents who spoke thanked Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) for bringing the issue to their attention. Streit said he noticed it when the agenda was issued on Friday, and sent an email to residents who receive his newsletter.

“You almost got away without public debate. The residents have a right to be heard,” Streit, said.

 Olejniczak referred to Streit’s comments and tactics as “grandstanding,” and maintained that the public always has the opportunity to “vet ordinances,” and this would have been no different.

“This is a good discussion,” he added.

Dennis and Cassie Dawe were among the 25 residents who spoke about the issue, and cited the financial hardship the new ordinance would impose on them.

“I’m saddened that I had to learn about this from Trustee Streit,” said Dennis Dawe. “Where is the transparency?”

“We as campers and boaters are already tied to large mortgages (on our vehicle),” said his wife, Cassie. “The financial hardship would be too much for us. I really hope you reconsider this.”

“We have a small pop-up camper and a long driveway. I know there are some eyesores, but ours is licensed and insured. Camping with our children is wonderful. This is the only way we can afford to go on vacation,” said Wendy Cafagna.

Several residents said that they were required to pay for storing their RVs and boats, they would leave Oak Lawn. Others said going after poorly maintained vehicles is understandable, but not all of them.

“My boat costs more than some houses here,” said one man. Others pointed out that larger RVs would be required to be stored in a garage more than 10 feet high, which would require a zoning variance.

“The ordinance was badly written,” said Stalker afterwards, citing one more reason why it was not going to be voted on without more discussion.

“We got an earful,” said Mayor Sandra Bury after hearing all the comments. She encouraged people for and against the proposed ordinance to contact her or their trustee. “We want to hear from you.”

Carberry said he appreciated seeing so many people come to the meeting, and encouraged them to stay engaged, and even run for office.

"Hopefully, they will stay involved. Maybe some will put their names on the ballot." There are no immediate plans to take any action on the proposed ordinance. It may be referred to a committee  such as planning and zoning. But Carberry said he liked the idea one resident had of "letting the people decide."

"Maybe putting it to a referendum would be the best way to handle it," he said.     

 

Gyro hero to stay in business

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandy DiGangi will not be selling her gyro restaurant and still plans on hosting free holiday meals for the poor.

 

By Dermot Connolly

Staff Reporter

Oak Lawn restaurateur Sandi DiGangi, known for providing thousands of free holiday meals to the elderly and underprivileged over the past five years, is recovering from a health crisis made her question the future of her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant, 10806 S. Cicero Ave.

But things have turned around for her since April, when DiGangi spoke at the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting about her plans to sell her business due to poor health.

“I got was misdiagnosed with throat cancer,” DiGangi said last week, explaining why she was considering the move. She also has battled infections and other complications since having her appendix removed, and spent several weeks in Advocate Christ Hospital.

“I’ve been through two major operations, but things are starting to look up,” she said last week. “Thanksgiving is a go, and Christmas is a go,” she added, referring to her Feed the Needy annual tradition of preparing and giving away thousands of turkey dinners with all the trimmings on both holidays. Donated toys are also collected and given away to children getting meals on Christmas.

Even when she was thinking of selling the business she founded with partner Eddie Memishi, her first concern was finding another location to prepare the holiday meals. She said several area VFW and American Legion halls had offered their kitchen space.

But that will no longer be necessary because Big Pappa’s is staying open now that her health is improving.

 “I got a bit lucky,” she said. “I’m still recuperating, but I am improving every day. The doctors haven’t cleared me to work full-time yet, so I am part-time for now.”

She credits her son, Anthony, 19, for working long hours every day to keep the business going in her absence. Her daughters, Nicolette and Mikey, also help out.

Her mission of feeding the hungry on holidays, and collecting toys for children is done in memory of her son, Gary Edward, 5, who died in a house fire in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood in 1995. Neighbors donated money for the funeral, and since then, she and her family have spent the holidays helping others.

DiGangi acknowledged that the reluctance of the Oak Lawn Village Board to approve a liquor license for a prospective buyer at an April 28 meeting now feels like “a blessing in disguise,” since she no longer wants to sell.

Many trustees expressed reservations about issuing the liquor license, because they were concerned about the business plan, and it was not even brought up for a vote. DiGangi had received a liquor license last year, allowing her to having gaming machines, but several trustees said in April that they had only approved it then because hers was an existing business and she had given so much for the community.

DiGangi said her phone was ringing off the hook when word got out that she was thinking of selling.

In a message posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, DiGangi expressed her thanks and explained why she has decided to stay in business.

I am so honored to have such great support from all of you. I thank you and my children thank you for supporting Big Pappa’s and for all the love and concern you have shown us. Oak Lawn is awesome and I am so proud and honored to meet and get to know so many wonderful people,” she said.

On May 16, the Swallow Cliff chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, based in Palos Heights,  presented her with an award for her service to the community.

“It was a blessed day. It was a beautiful day for all of us,” she said.

DiGangi also pointed out that she has a policy of providing free meals throughout the year to the needy. “This goes on 365 days a year. If someone comes in and is homeless or hungry and has no money, we will give them a meal.”

“It happens sometimes five to seven times a week,” she added. “Making sure someone has a good hot meal and a full stomach is more important than the money.”