Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett doesn’t have much good to say about state government.
“The gorilla in the room is the state of Illinois,” Bennett said last week during remarks at the Hills Chamber of Commerce meeting.
He started out his speech with a lot of information about the good things going on about his town during the past year and apoligized for ending it on what he called a "downer" for adressing the state mess and how it will affect Palos Hills and local goverments throughout the state in general.
Bennett and others area mayors have been highly critical of a proposal by Gov. Bruce Rauner that calls for a 50 percent cutback in towns’ share of state income tax revenue.
The six communities in the Reporter’s coverage area would lose approximately $6.6 million under the proposal.
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury summarized the dilemma towns face if the plan came to fruition.
“You either lay off or raise taxes,” Bury told the Reporter last week.
But Bennett pointed out last Thursday that the state has been a thorn in municipalities’ sides long before Rauner took office earlier this year.
“It’s in the news now because the governor made it his first volley,” Bennett said.
In reality, the state, under the leadership of Governors Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich also foisted upon towns numerous unfunded mandates that made balancing local budgets difficult, Bennett said.
For years, towns have faced a pension crisis that Bennett lays at the feet of state legislators, who approved pension enhancements while limiting municipalities’ ability to fund them.
“We could not keep up,” Bennett said, adding that property tax cap legislation made the job even tougher.
But the pension crisis isn’t the only thing that’s pitted Rauner against local leaders in tug of war that well may determine the state’s financial future.
“There’s just a minutia of things that added up. We’ve had to fight other administrations in the past. The state (is facing) a huge, huge dilemma,” said Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors.
Still, local leaders have managed to keep their spending plans in the black—as required by law—and made whatever cuts necessary to do so, officials said.
Despite the struggle, Bennett said, the state would rather take money from towns than raise additional revenue or make budget cuts. The results could be staggering.
“There’s not going to be local government anymore,” Bennett added.
Local governments are no stranger to trimming the budget.
During the recent economic slowdown, Palos Hills was forced to make difficult cuts, including a 17 percent reduction in staff and cuts in capital projects.
Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley, who also addressed chamber members, said recent investments in his town’s public works budget represent “the cost of government, the cost of doing business.”
Palos Hills, meanwhile, recently replaced all of its police vehicles, upgrading the fleet to SUVs.
But public safety budgets, which are a big portion of a town’s spending plan, will certainly be affected if Rauner’s proposed cuts go through, mayors agree.
Bennett offered one other idea to solve the dilemma. “Maybe we should go to Springfield and give (legislators) the keys to city hall,” he said.
The Evergreen Park Athletic Association official who blew the whistle on the Jackie Robinson West Little League for cheating by violating residency rules was charged early Tuesday morning with disorderly conduct and assault after chasing a woman down a residential street and threatening her husband, police said.
Chris Janes, 39, of the 9100 block of Albany Avenue, was standing near his car when the woman arrived home at approximately 1:09 a.m., police said. The woman spotted him and he began to chase her, police said.
Janes, who is the vice president of the Evergreen Park Athletic Association, admitted Tuesday afternoon that he was “inebriated” when the incident occurred.
"I was overserved and had a tough time getting home,” Janes said. “Nothing happened.”
He added that he mistook the house he was at for his own. “I went to the wrong house,” he said.
“I was inebriated and if that’s the case I need to go over there and apologize,” he added. “It’s regrettable.”
The woman entered her house, and Janes began to shout vulgarities and demanded that her husband come outside, according to police.
Neither the woman nor her husband knew Janes, who also was charged with resisting and obstructing a peace officer, public intoxication and using vulgar and threatening language toward police and paramedics.
Paramedics were on the scene because Janes got a minor cut in the scuffle, police said.
Janes told police that he was walking home but did not recall where had been. He denied that he was driving, police said.
Janes is scheduled to appear in Bridgeview court on April 13.
The arrest is just the latest chapter in Janes’ saga, which began last year he alleged to Little League authorities that JRW had recruited players outside their boundaries in order to a field a team well-prepared to compete in Little League World Series competition.
The allegations initially were ignored, but upon further review Little League International decided to strip JRW of its U.S. championship much to the dismay of the team’s supporters and civic leaders, including Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Michael Pfleger among others.
Janes was branded a racist and required police protection at his home after receiving death threats and other intimidating phone calls in the days after JRW was stripped of its title. Others accused him of sour grapes because JRW defeated the Evergreen Park team 43-2 in four innings.
Janes did not return to work for several days after the incident as his employer decided his presence might present a safety threat.
“It just got really convenient to point the finger this way,” Janes said a few weeks ago. “It’s deflection.”
He added that Little League International’s decision to strip JRW of its title was not the result of his initial compliant.
In fact, Little League officials initially ruled they were confident that JRW had met residency requirements and considered the issue closed. But in early February, officials met in Chicago with presidents from JRW’s sister leagues.
I look at Ernie Banks a little bit in the same way I look at Jimmy Buffett.
These are two guys who have an image that’s hard to shake.
Buffett is the fun-lovin’ entertainer who is smiling and joking and singing songs about drinking and being in warm places. He is living the life a lot of us want to live. He is one big good-time guy.
Life is a great big party 24/7 for JB, right?
Few people are around him when he is out of the spotlight. We don’t get to see him when he is hung over, sweating out a fever or getting mad at the world because his Internet is acting up. We’re not around him to see human sorrow when he finds out the death of a loved one. The guy has been divorced and separated and we weren’t around to see him argue with either of his wives. And he has kids. We never got to see him have the pleasure of dealing with teenagers.
Nope, we just get so see the guy crooning about hanging around the beach and taking boat rides with some babes and rum drinks in tow. What a life.
That brings us to Ernie.
Banks is the popular Cubs legend who died Jan. 23. Most of us remember him smiling with an unbridled joy for life and baseball. He made the optimistic and enthusiastic line “Let’s play two today” famous. He had rhymes for how the Cubs would do in a certain year.
Everything was great with Ernie. That was his image and that’s how we want to remember him.
You got the feeling that if someone ran over his foot with a car, he would yell “Hey, Mister, is your tire OK?’’
When he died, he was splashed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Everyone interviewed had nothing but good words to say about Ernie.
I purposefully didn’t write about Ernie after he died. Even though I covered the Cubs for 10 years, my dealings with the man were not all that fun. I tried interviewing him about Sammy Sosa once and, while he was nice, his mind wandered and he would get distracted a little too easily and I could tell things weren’t in top working order upstairs and I felt bad.
Once when the media gathered for a press conference with him, a media relations person had to talk to him like talking to a 5-year-old about how we were going to ask him questions and that he should pay attention to the questions and answer them.
It was sad.
I’m happy to report, though, that he pulled it off with flying colors and he was great that day.
I didn’t want to reveal those stories after he died because I wanted people to remember the smiling guy who was a friend to all and never had a bad day in his life. I was preserving the myth. That’s something I don’t like doing, but in this case I thought it was right to just keep my stories to myself.
But now his family is coming out and punching holes in his myth.
Look, we all know the guy was a real human being with real problems like the rest of us. He wasn’t a cartoon.
But now his family is fighting over money, property and somehow his dead body is lost somewhere. It’s becoming a tragic joke and now we’re going to have a different view of Mr. Cub.
It’s been brought out that he’s been married four times and I’m not sure I even knew that. It’s being brought out that he filed for divorce from his fourth wife because of mental cruelty.
To quote another baseball line “Say it ain’t so!’’
There is a part of my brain that doesn’t want to register all of this. I can’t picture Ernie involved in a domestic situation so ugly that it came to that. I don’t want to think of Ernie screaming and cursing at his wife. I certainly don’t want to think of one of Ernie’s wives doing something so cruel that it would reduce him to tears or depression.
I don’t know where the truth lies, but either way it’s an ugly truth.
This story is wretched and it’s going to get worse and we will find out that Ernie was not always the happy-go-lucky smiling ambassador for baseball and that that there was reality behind the legend.
Maybe a little too much reality.
In one way, it hurts to think of the bad things that have gone on in Ernie Banks’ life.
In another way, the fact that he could put all that behind him in public and stay the same man of joy he was to us all is pretty special.
Let’s write about two: Remembering Wendell Kim
One guy who was as despised as Banks was beloved was is Wendell Kim, who was the team’s third-base coach in 2003-04. He died Feb. 15 of Alzheimer’s disease at age 64. Kim haters might have a cruel field day with jokes about that one.
He was known to some as “Wavin’ Wendell’’ for aggressively sending runners home and when some of them were thrown out, it caused Cubs fans to turn purple and pull the hair out of their head.
I liked the guy. You can have that silver-haired guy in the beer commercials dubbed “the most interesting man in the world’’ but for my money, it’s Wendell Kim.
When I covered the Cubs for the Daily Southtown, we had a chance to talk about the fine art of coaching third base not long after I had to do it once for my son’s Orland Youth Association game.
To hear him talk about all the variables of who is running and where the ball is and trying to make an educated decision in seconds, this was not a dummy, even though that’s what many fans thought of him when Cubs were thrown out at the plate.
“Certain things you can’t control,” he said during a one-on-one interview with me in 2004 that appeared in the Southtown. “If a runner makes a wide turn and I’ve already sent him from second base — it’s too late. If he makes a sharp turn, he makes it by two steps. It’s not all up to me. I can just send him because I know the speed of the guy. But if he makes a wide turn, that’s tough. You’re losing two or three steps. That could cost you the game.’’
Once after a mistake against the White Sox for all of Chicago to see, he was asked about the pressures of being a third base coach and he brought up an incident that happened when he was in his 20s and a group of thugs thought he ratted them out to the cops.
“I’ve already had a .38 (caliber gun) to my head,’’ he said. “That’s worse than anything I’ve ever known. This is still a game.’’
I did a Q and A story with him and he was the most entertaining subject I interviewed in that format.
I found out he was a magician who was in great demand from players all over the league. He was genuinely disappointed after 9/11 when security put a crimp in his magic shows.
“I don't do it much anymore because when (Sept. 11) came up and when they were looking through my bags, they took my knives away’’ he said. “It's a hassle. When they go through a deck of cards, they can screw it up because some cards are already fixed.’’
He said the “Rocky” movies were his favorite because he identified with a lead underdog character.
“I've always had to prove myself,” he said. “Even in fighting. They always picked on me when I was in the minor leagues but once I broke somebody's knee or hit them in the throat...everybody knows that I really don't want to fight but I will if I have to. They picked on me because I was small. I'm still small.’’
And when I asked him if he was sensitive when getting heckled about his height, he said: “When they heckle me with that, I just turn away. It's not worth fighting about because guys will pull out guns now. In the older days you didn't have that. You might have a pocketknife or a knife but now they have guns.’’
With all the violence in his life, I truly expected Kim would die in some “Sons of Anarchy” or “Boardwalk Empire” style.
Hopefully his death was not too traumatic and that he can finally rest in peace, although there may be a few folks in the afterlife that better watch their tongues around him.’’
When Sandi DiGangi found about last Thursday’s physical assault and robbery of an Oak Lawn senior, she became ill.
“I literally threw up. I was crying I was so upset,” said DiGangi, the owner of Big Pappa’s Gyros in Oak Lawn. “I love my seniors.”
Indeed she does, having gone above and beyond to take care of them, especially during the holiday season.
Last year, DiGangi served 2,300 turkey dinners to seniors and needy Oak Lawn residents in what has become a holiday tradition at her restaurant, 10806 S. Cicero Ave.
Many of the meals were served in a tent that DiGangi sets up outside her restaurant, while volunteers deliver others to homebound seniors.
Seniors also make up a significant portion of DiGangi’s customer base, which is why last week’s attack affected her so deeply.
Police continue to investigate the incident, which occurred at 1:30 a.m. when a man entered a home in the 9000 block of 51st Avenue after forcing open the front door.
The elderly resident told police she heard a loud noise prior to the offender entering the house. She checked the door and found damage, according to reports.
Moments later, she heard another loud noise and the offender entered the home, physically assaulted her and fled.
The resident was unable to contact police for more than an hour after the incident. She was treated for her injuries, which were non-life threatening.
Police do not know if the resident was targeted.
In the meantime, DiGangi has launched an initiative to make sure seniors are safe in their homes.
“I was up half the night wondering what I could do,” DoGangi said.
Eventually, she decided that offering deadbolt locks to Oak Lawn seniors would help them feel safer.
DiGangi will purchase the locks and is accepting donations of both locks or monetary donations to purchase them. She is relying on volunteers that she trusts to install them. As of Monday, 17 seniors contacted DiGangi about the locks.
DiGangi is limiting the free locks to Oak Lawn seniors or elderly couples who do not live with other family members.
“I just want to make them feel a little bit safer,” DiGangi said. “They have enough to worry about.”
Trustee Alex Olejniczak said a village meeting aimed at helping seniors become safer in their homes will be held on March 7 at Village Hall. A time has not been set for the meeting.
Olejniczak said the attack is one of the worst incidents he’s seen in his years as a trustee.
“I’m absolutely sick,” he said.
The meeting is designed to discuss ways to prevent similar occurrences.
“What can we do to stop things from happening to seniors,” Olejniczak said. “The biggest thing is, how would we prevent something like this?
Seniors often are targeted by criminals, who follow them home from banks and stores or lay in wait for them in parking lots, Olejniczak said.
Olejniczak reiterated the often-heard message that seniors should call police even
“Call no matter what,” Olejniczak said. “It’s good to know your neighbor. Help your neighbor.”
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact the Oak Lawn Police at 708-422-8292.
The welcome mat is out in Oak Lawn for Gov. Bruce Rauner.
But the fight may be on against him in Palos Hills.
Some interesting reactions came from local mayors last week follwing Rauner's budget address last Wednesday.
“I would like to invite him to Oak Lawn anytime,” Mayor Sandra Bury said last week in reaction to Rauner’s proposed 50 percent cutback in towns’ annual share of state income tax revenue.
She thinks he should see her town as it would serve as a model for him to check out.
Bury would like to open the village’s books to the newly-elected governor and explain that Oak Lawn and other communities throughout the southwest suburbs cannot afford such a significant revenue hit.
She’d also like to point out that Oak Lawn—like most other towns—does not have cash reserves on hand for a rainy day.
If approved, Rauner’s cuts would mean an estimated $2.7 million annual revenue loss for Oak Lawn, Bury said. It’s a figure the mayor has a tough time grasping. Indeed, the village would have few options to make up the loss.
“You either layoff or raise taxes. It’s wrong,” Bury said.
At a time when Oak Lawn and other communities are already making budget cuts to fully fund employee pensions, a significant revenue reduction from the state is the last thing they need, Bury said.
The mayor said she was caught off guard by Rauner’s proposed cut, which he outlined during his budget address last Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly.
During his campaign, Bury said, Rauner met with area mayors and said he wanted to work with them after the election.
“We were optimistic,” she said.
She said she’s hopeful that the governor’s proposal “starts a conversation.”
“I have hope, but it’s pretty depressing,” she said.
Bury is not alone in her displeasure with Rauner’s plan. Other mayors in the Reporter’s coverage area expressed dismay at the plan. Five of the six mayors responded to interview requests however Worth Mayor Mary Werner did not return numerous requests for comment.
“I hope he doesn’t fix (the state’s financial problems) on the back of local governments,” said Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton. “We can’t afford to pay other people’s bills.”
Sexton added that the state could take a lesson from his community, which keeps a close eye on revenues and expenditures.
“We watch every dime. Maybe others should do the same,” Sexton said. “We pay our bills year to year.”
Evergreen Park could lose approximately $500,000 annually if Rauner’s proposal becomes a reality.
Palos Hills Mayor Mayor Gerry Bennett said the proposal is unnecessary.
“All they’re doing is putting (the burden) on the backs of local residents,” said Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “They’re going to bankrupt local governments.”
Palos Hills and other communities such as neighboring Hickory Hills already operate with fewer employees in key departments such as public works than they did just a few years ago, Bennett said.
Additional reductions in manpower would make it extremely difficult to provide basic services to residents. Additionally, towns would have a tough time avoiding cuts to the public safety, he said.
“It will bankrupt us. The fight is on, I guess,” Bennett said.
Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley agreed.
His city has relies on the utility tax to help balance the annual budget. The city has put off capital improvement projects such as street and sewer work to help make ends meet.
“That’s problematic,” Howley said. “We still have to provide city services.”
He said he’s hopeful that Rauner’s proposal is just a starting point in budget negotiations—a sentiment put forth by area legislators as well.
“I guess you have to start someplace, and this number got everyone’s attention,” Howley said
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar echoed the feelings of his mayoral colleagues.
“That’s a big chunk of change,” Tokar said. “I wasn’t expecting (Rauner) to say that. I can’t replace $600,000, $700,000.”
Tokar admitted that that his town is fortunate to draw sales taxes from a regional shopping mall, but that revenue stream would never replace the state’s money, he said.
At least one local elected official said he agreed with Rauner’s plan.
“I would say there’s always room for cuts,” said Palos Hills Ald. Al Pasek.
He added that smaller communities should consider merging if they can no longer go it alone. But mayor and many aldermen would never back such a plan, Pasek said.
“I think it these little dynasties that don’t want to get broken up,” he said