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Oak Lawn settles lawsuit with former business operations director

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Oak Lawn Village Board recently approved a $10,000 financial settlement, described as a money-saving decision that puts to rest a former village employee’s lawsuit claiming he lost his job for political reasons in 2013.

Chad Weiler, the village’s former business operations director, named Village Manager Larry Deetjen and the village of Oak Lawn as defendants in the original federal lawsuit filed in July 2014. The suit, which U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly dismissed in February, claimed that Weiler was targeted in a “secret hit list” for political retaliation because he had displayed a campaign yard sign in support of former Mayor Dave Heilmann and Melissa Moran, who was Heilmann’s running mate for village clerk, in the April 9, 2013 election.

Although the lawsuit was thrown out, Weiler planned to appeal the decision, and village trustees voted 5-1 to approve the financial settlement paying Weiler $10,000 in order to put the matter to rest. Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) cast the only dissenting vote.

“I fully support the settlement for saving the village money. I stand by the ruling of the federal judge who found in our favor,” noted Mayor Sandra Bury when the settlement was announced at the Village Board meeting on May 24. She said it was a fiscally responsible decision that benefited Oak Lawn taxpayers.

Bury, who beat Heilmann in the 2013 mayoral election, also asserted that Heilmann had provided legal assistance to Weiler in this case.

In August 2013, Oak Lawn trustees voted 4-2 to eliminate Weiler’s department in a move they said would save village taxpayers $50,000.

But Weiler’s lawsuit claimed that the decision of the village board to eliminate his position was made after he made accusations against Deetjen regarding JenCare’s request that year for a parking variation that would have allowed the medical company to lease space for a clinic in the former House of Brides building at 5433 W. 95th St., in the downtown area.

Deetjen recommended an alternative location at the vacant Men’s Wearhouse site at 6101 W. 95th St., where JenCare runs a clinic now. Weiler’s suit claimed that the village manager’s recommendation that JenCare would be better located on the “outskirts of town” meant Deetjen wanted to keep the primarily black and Hispanic JenCare clientele out of downtown.

But JenCare officials have said the Men’s Wearhouse location better suited their needs, and village officials did not mistreat them.

Evergreen Park mayor informs prospective businesses that the bar has risen

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

 

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton had a clear message during the board meeting on Monday night for any prospective businesses looking to locate in the village.

“We have stepped up in the quality of retail being allowed in our community. We don’t take leftovers anymore,” Sexton said.

Sexton’s comments came following a request for approval of business certificates for three businesses in a proposed strip center at 9601 S. Pulaski Road.

Faris Sweis was seeking approval for a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-through, a smoke shop and a cellular retail store on the parcel of land formerly occupied by Fox Collision Center.

“I am not thrilled with the prospect of a smoke shop and a cellphone store. We have enough cellphone stores to sink a ship,” said Sexton.

Sweis’ request hit a snag at the mention of the 24 hours of operation and the drive-through for the Dunkin’ Donuts store, in spite of his plans for sound-absorbing material being placed in the drive-through.

As discussion ensued, Trustee Mark Marzullo insisted that the speakers on the order box would have to be turned off at 10 p.m., or the 24-hour permit would go away.

“If I was the guy living behind the store, I would not want to be hearing people order coffee at all hours of the night,” he said.

With additional questions about the noise level in the drive-through, amount of traffic and entry and exit lanes, Trustee Daniel McKeown moved to table the request to allow for further review.

Other business certificates were approved for Consultants in Cardiology at 2850 W. 95th St.-Suite 202; Health is Wealth Wellness Center at 3830 W. 95th St.; and Weight Loss, Inc. at 9500 S. Avers Ave.

Also approved was a resolution allowing an amendment to the village code regarding outdoor seating for restaurants. The approval will allow for an outdoor seating area, with three to four tables, at the Porter Cullen restaurant, 3541 W. 95th St. The business is owned by Mike McGrath. The seating will only be available until dusk. Approval came with a 5-1 vote, with Marzullo voting “No.”

Sexton said the approval was only on a trial basis and asked for assurance from McGrath, who was present at the meeting, that he would move patrons inside as soon as it began to get dark. McGrath responded that it would be a “move in or move on” policy for his customers.

“If there are any problems with it, it will be gone, with no discussion,” said Sexton

The request for the outdoor seating last month had raised concerns about the closeness of a parking lot adjacent to the proposed dining area. McGrath said provisions had been made to provide a safety barrier at the site.

Also approved for the restaurant was an ordinance allowing the facility to be open on Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to midnight, adding an additional hour of operation.

An ordinance was also approved giving the village the right to purchase the property at 3310 W. 97th St. at a cost of $25,000. Sexton said the future of the building on the property will be discussed in later meetings.

The board also approved a lease agreement with St. Xavier University to allow a resource and assessment center for children ages 0 to 3 years with special needs at 9547 S. Homan Ave. The center will occupy the first floor of the building.

Sexton recognized Income tax coordinator Marge Woods for her presentation of a $2,000 check towards the planned purchase of a new mini-bus for Senior Services. Woods works with low- to middle-income clients to help them prepare their tax forms. The village provides space for the services.

At the start of the board meeting, Sexton asked for a moment of silence in honor of Anna Dykstra, former officer of Citizen Services for the village, who died last week at age 84.

“She was an extraordinary volunteer who served on nearly every committee for the village,” said Sexton. “She was a very special lady.”

Worth mayor is grateful for expansion of marijuana pilot program

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Worth Mayor Mary Werner was concerned when Gov. Rauner refused to extend the deadline of the pilot program for medicinal marijuana dispensaries and additional illnesses that the state would cover.

Werner admitted she was surprised last week when Rauner reversed his decision and said the pilot program would be extended from Jan. 1, 2018 to July 1, 2020. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, will be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions. Werner would like to see more illnesses added but said this is a good start.

“Well, we were very grateful,” said Werner. “It took us so long to go through the licensing process that we have had not much time to see the program develop because of the delay.”

The original four-year pilot program for medical marijuana dispensaries began in 2013. Former Gov. Quinn approved the idea but when Rauner was elected in 2014, he wanted to review the proposal. Rauner eventually made some appointments to the advisory board and had tighter restrictions on what illnesses could be treated with medicinal marijuana.

Rauner, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-82nd) and state Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th) compromised last week on the pilot program. Included in the compromise besides the extension and the addition of PTSD was that doctors no longer have to recommend cannabis for patients. Physicians would still have to make it known that a doctor-patient relationship exists and that the patient has a qualifying condition. However, doctors no longer have to recommend medical marijuana.

This had been a sticking point for doctors who did not want to be accused of promoting the use of medical marijuana as a cure. Proponents have stated repeatedly that the use of medical marijuana is not a cure but will provide relief for someone suffering pain from an illness or disease.

Both the House and Senate bills were passed last week. Rauner is expected to sign both. Once the bills are presented on his desk, the governor will have up to 60 days to sign them into law.

“Oh yeah, we are very pleased,” said Steve Weisman, CEO of Windy City Cannabis, which runs several dispensaries in the south and southwest suburbs that includes the Worth location at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. “We are pleased that the governor now recognizes the importance of this program.”

Weisman said that newly instituted laws will provide more balance to the Illinois health advisory board.

“It is our hope that the governor will add more illnesses to the list of qualifying conditions,” said Weisman. “But I believe with the new law reconstituting changes with the advisory board, more sympathetic board members will encourage the governor to add more illnesses.”

But Weisman added that, “I’m hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Werner said that it was due to the delays from the Rauner administration that the Worth dispensary did not open until January. A capacity crowd attended a Worth town hall meeting last September in which they were informed about the program and the dispensary. The majority of the residents who attended that meeting were receptive to the program.

Weisman and Werner both attended the meeting. The Worth mayor said gaining the support and confidence of residents was her main concern when the proposal for the dispensary was first presented the previous year.

But since the Worth dispensary began operating, the number of people applying for medicinal marijuana was not reaching the goals the owners had hoped. She addressed those concerns during a Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon in April.

“The original idea was that 100,000 patients would have signed up by now, but so far the total is 5,000,” said Werner about the pilot program goals. “The owners of the (Worth) dispensary asked if I could help them and I told them I would. I put in a couple of calls to the governor’s office and talked to a couple of officials. Right now we are very happy where we are at.”

Weisman was not as concerned. Despite some illnesses that are not recognized, like people suffering from severe migraine headaches, he believes there is reason for optimism.

“They were (the dispensaries) all doing OK,” said Weisman. “People have to become comfortable with it and that takes time. But with the extension, this tells people that the pilot program is being taken seriously. It is our belief that more doctors will come on board with the extension of the pilot program.”

Figures provided after April indicated that 36 dispensaries had 6,200 patients who qualified to purchase and use medical marijuana. With the addition of PTSD, some ailments and diseases that Illinois law recognizes for patients who qualify for medical marijuana use with a doctor’s signature are cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The drug still remains illegal under federal law.

With the pilot program being expanded two more years, Weisman believes more patients will take part.

“Absolutely,” said Weisman. “The extension will add more patients. Adding PTSD will provide more relief for patients and encourage more people to come for treatments.”

Werner believes the program will expand because it will provide more time for educating the public.

“Right now, we are pleased,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, the governor will add more illnesses to be treated.”

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: 'Greatest' stories of vets, eggs, muscles and magic

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

 

ALI AND COMMANDER

Photo courtesy of Ed McElroy

Muhammad Ali, who died last week, and Oak Lawn’s Ed McElroy pose during an event in 1978.

 

 

This was like bringing Donald Trump to a Mexican Pride meeting.

In the early 1970s, Muhammad Ali was a hated man by many white veterans for refusing to go into the military during the Viet Nam war era. The controversial boxer was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title and sentenced to five years in prison for draft evasion. He spent a lot of time in Chicago during and after his boxing exile.

White veterans back then didn’t like what Ali stood for and the n-word plus some cuss words were fairly prevalent when his name came up.

Chicago radio personality and public relations guru Ed McElroy, a longtime Oak Lawn resident and a veteran, wasn’t exactly in Ali’s corner about refusing to serve. But he met the former Cassius Clay through legendary politician Ed Kelly and McElroy’s jobs required that he interact with the pugilist.

They formed a relationship close enough that McElroy coaxed Ali to do something no one else would likely ask the Champ to do.

Ali, who died at age 74 last week, agreed to head out to the Maywood area with McElroy to Hines Hospital to meet some veterans.

“I brought out people all the time to meet with the veterans,” McElroy said. “I brought out Tommy Dorsey and Sammy Kaye and other celebrities.’’

Yeah, but those guys were bandleaders and not political powder kegs.

Yet, McElroy pulled it off. Ali may have been against the war, but he wasn’t against veterans who served in battles. And that’s what a lot of people didn’t realize at the time.

“No one said a thing,” McElroy said. “I said ‘if you tell me no, I won’t bring him out.’ No one booed or hissed him. There may have been some people who didn’t look at it as being a good idea, but the majority of the veterans said ‘bring him here.’ So I brought him and it turned out great.’’

There was no blowback after the fact. In fact, McElroy said he received more guff for another sports appearance under his watch.

“I brought White Sox players out there and people took more offense to that because a lot of the veterans were Cubs fans,” McElroy said.

McElroy had a few funny stories about Ali. McElroy was a guest one morning at his house in the 8500 block of South Jeffrey Avenue.

“He must have had 20 mirrors in his house – there were mirrors all over the place,” McElroy said. “He would walk by each mirror and show off his biceps. I laughed and he said ‘don’t you laugh’ and showed me his fist.’’

McElroy, who turns 91 in July, was stunned by Ali’s first meal in the morning.

“He had a dozen eggs for breakfast,” McElroy said. “I mean, eating two eggs is pretty good, right?  He made his breakfast himself and he had some bacon, too. He said ‘the eggs are good for you – it gives me muscles’ and then he showed his biceps again.

“He was different. He was something else.’’

My moments with Muhammad

While my one encounter with Ali is not as cool as the McElroy stories, it shows what kind of a unique individual he was.

In July, 1999 while I was covering the Cubs, he made an appearance at Wrigley Field. After the game, he was meeting and greeting the players. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome 15 years prior and his arms were shaking.

I stood face to face with a guy who at one time was known all over the world and whose face was famous for being expressive in anger or joy. But this time, he had a blank look. His famous eyes were open but, as the old phrase goes, the lights were on but it looked like no one was home. I heard that despite his outward appearance, his mind was still sharp, so I said something like “Hi, Champ!”

The Champ kind of nodded at me and minutes later he nodded off in a chair.

His head was tilted and some spittle was running out of his mouth and down his cheek.

The man they called “The Greatest,” didn’t look so great and I felt horrible for seeing him in such a pathetic position.

Then he woke up, wiped his face, stood up and walked toward one of the Cubs players and out of nowhere pulled out a coin from behind his ear.

This guy who I was thinking should be in a nursing home and not a baseball clubhouse just pulled off a really cool magic trick and many of the Cubs players applauded.

To quote a soon-to-be 91-year-old Oak Lawn resident, Ali was something else.

 

 

Park Lawn celebrates opening of vegetable garden

  • Written by Joe Boyle

After years of discussion and planning, the new urban vegetable and pollinator gardens opened Friday morning on the grounds of Park Lawn in Oak Lawn.

Nancy Schmitz is the director of development at Park Lawn, which provides instruction and opportunities to promote independence, choice and access to community living for people with developmental and physical disabilities. She said the idea of a garden at the facility, 10833 S. Laporte Ave., was discussed in earnest last October. The idea of an urban garden would give participants a chance to grow plants and vegetables that could be sold at the Oak Lawn Farmer's Market.

Proceeds from the sale of plants and vegetables at the Farmer's Market, which is held on Wednesday mornings at the Village Green near 95th and Cook Avenue through mid-October, would go to assist with programs for Park Lawn.

Schmitz said the idea of the gardens was greatly advanced through the efforts of Maureen Reilly, president of the Park Lawn Board. Schmitz also applauded the efforts of Maureen's husband, Charlie, and board member Cheri Boublis.

“We have really made this space functional for planting,” said Schmitz, who also credited the efforts of Roy Erickson and his Outdoor Maintenance Company in Crestwood for creating the garden. “It's a dream that has become a reality.”

Also attending the ceremony for the opening of the gardens were Steve Manning, executive director of Park Lawn; Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee William “Bud” Stalker, whose district Park Lawn is located.

Schmitz said that many volunteers have contributed to the efforts of the creation of the gardens and other programs at Park Lawn. Robert Lauf, who is from Tennessee and works with gardens, visits Park Lawn annually. He said it is a coincidence that he arrived for the opening of the Park Lawn gardens.

“We need to do more for places like Park Lawn who help so many,” said Lauf. “I've supported Park Lawn for over 40 years.”

“We needed to do something that is a great source for the community,” said Maureen Reilly. “And what is better than growing vegetables. The idea came to me at last year's Farmer's Market. People came up to me and said they did not know about Park Lawn. That's when I approached the University of Illinois Master Gardner's Program to help us out. They have been a great help.”

Schmitz said Erickson and his maintenance company deserve a lot of credit for the development of the garden. She said that during the winter months, four beds were constructed in his shop by his employees.

“One sunny day in April, Roy had his crew came to Park Lawn and started digging up the grass, laying and pounding the stone so the beds would stand stable and laid the brick pavers,” said Schmitz. “Next came the installation of the beds, then the plants. Roy's passion for gardening and true belief in our mission made this dream a reality.”

Schmitz also credited the efforts of Busy Bee Nursing in Crestwood, Fasel and Sons Nursery in Oak Lawn, and Maurice Moore Memorials in Chicago Ridge.

Manning said it is through the efforts of the volunteers that made this program happen.

“Park Lawn is a terrific organization,” said Manning. “What makes this so great is that it is a collective effort.”

Vegetables included in the garden are tomatoes, basil, lettuce, arugula, carrots, sweet peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and Brussels sprouts.

“This is a community effort,” said Bury. “I am so proud of Park Lawn. You are going to have an awesome garden.”

Manning said that the new urban garden will allow Park Lawn participants to contribute to society.

“This is just a stepping stone for us,” said Manning. “This allows participants to go out and help out on other projects in the community. The garden is just of part of that.”