Village applauds arbitrator's rulings

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn village officials are generally pleased with the findings of an arbitrator called in to settle several labor disputes with the local firefighters union involving issues such as wages, residency and minimum staffing.

The findings were discussed at the Jan. 10 village board meeting, and although everything did not go their way, officials such as Trustee Bud Stalker (5th), Mayor Sandra Bury and Village Manager Larry Deetjen said the decisions made by arbitrator Steven Bieiring will save taxpayers money while maintaining safety standards.

“Although we didn’t prevail in reducing the number of firefighters on an engine rather than four, the numbers weren’t raised, either,” said Stalker, the fire department liaison on the village board. He said that Oak Lawn is one of the only municipalities that have four firefighters per engine. He maintained that higher numbers are not needed because neighboring fire departments also respond to Oak Lawn calls as part of the mutual assistance agreements they share.

“The net result is, we have more firefighters than we need (at many incidents),” said Stalker.

The union sought approximately $3.2 million in back pay for hours not worked, due to the staffing levels that were upheld. But that will not have to be paid now.

“We’re very satisfied that this most recent decision means there will not be any added staffing costs beyond those already incurred. The union was forced to acknowledge in this case that there is no need to increase the staffing levels from their current levels. The arbitrator’s award, like our previous court victories, locks in that principle,” said Deetjen.

Fire Chief George Sheets said in a statement that he still would like to see staffing levels brought down to three per engine, and plans to negotiate for that as soon as possible. The fire chief, who splits his time between Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge, said every department he has worked in assigns three firefighters per engine, and there is no safety issues involved.

“The arbitrator gave a mixed response but the village is happy,” said Stalker.

He added that the village also prevailed on the health insurance issue, in that members of Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Local 3405 will now have to raise their contribution to their health insurance costs from 10 percent to 12.5 percent.

“Residents need to know this is a significant victory for us. There are many challenges ahead. Our pension obligations are astronomical. But we’re going to work on that,” said Stalker at the meeting.

Bury said that raising staffing levels would cost the village at least $500,000 more per year.

“We fought that and we won. We held the line. I really want to have good relations with all our unions, but we couldn’t afford it,” she said.

The mayor asserted that the village paid firefighters $2.6 million in overtime last year, but “because our pension system is so broken, it is cheaper to do that than hire more firefighters.”

The arbitrator also ruled in favor of the village’s proposal that employees must live in Illinois. The union had sought permission for members to live in Indiana.

Bury was happy about that, too.

“Employees will no longer be able to take their taxpayer dollars to live in Indiana,” she said. “Oak Lawn is a beautiful community, with fantastic schools, great shopping and excellent dining. We have so much to offer right here in town.”

Hickory Hills Council delays development plans for the Sabre Woods Plaza

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Plans to develop the Sabre Woods Plaza has been delayed indefinitely, it was announced at the Hickory Hills City Council meeting last Thursday night.

The plaza was scheduled to be located at 8900 W. 95th St. and was going to replace the once iconic Sabre Room, which closed last year. The Sabre Room was once a popular night spot in Hickory Hills and the surrounding suburbs dating back to the 1970s. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin performed there on separate occasions.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley made the announcement during the board meeting. He said that plans presented at the Nov. 10 council meeting by Jim Louthen, development project manager, and Charles Cornelius Jr., of Chicagoland Realty Service, did not fit the expectations of the city’s zoning board. Future ideas for the Sabre Woods project will be discussed at a later date.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Howley.

During the first Hickory Hills Council meeting in 2017, a swearing-in ceremony for a new police officer and the awarding of first- and second-place winners in the city’s annual “Lights of Hickory Hills” contest took place.

Joseph Murphy, the new police officer for Hickory Hills, was introduced and sworn in. Al Vodicka, the Hickory Hills police chief, said that Murphy grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side near Midway Airport. He attended St. Simon Elementary School in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood and graduated from De La Salle Institute.

Vodicka added that Murphy had also served in the U.S. Army for five years, had previously worked with the Cook County Corrections Division, and had also served with the Cook County Forest Preserves Police.

“We are very happy to have this experienced officer join our department. We know that he was recruited by several departments, but he chose to join Hickory Hills and we are very pleased to have him.”

The chief said that when Murphy was asked why he chose Hickory Hills, he responded that it was because of the good reputation of the department and because he saw how well Hickory Hills treated its employees.

Also recognized at the meeting were members of the Stewart family, who live on the 9000 block of Forest Lane. They placed first in the 3rd Ward for their “outstanding Christmas lights decorations.” Congratulating them were the ward aldermen, Tom McAvoy and Brian Fonte.

The Kelly family, of the 9100 block of 92nd Place, placed second in the 3rd Ward.

Each city ward had first- and second-place prize winners in the Christmas decorating contest, but only the Stewart family was present at the council meeting.

Other winners in the 1st Ward were Moskala family, of the 9300 block of South 77th Court, who placed first; and the Las family, of the 7800 block of West 90th Place, who came in second.

In the 2nd Ward, the Schendl residence, of the 9100 block of South 83rd Court, came in first. The Gacek family, of the 9300 block of South 87th Avenue, came in second.

The Kubis family, of the 8800 block of 83rd Avenue, placed first in the 4th Ward. The resident of a home on the 8700 block of South 82nd Avenue placed second.

Ald. John Szeszycki (2nd Ward), chairman of Finance, announced that the city had collected a total of $230,000 from video gambling in 2016.

Fonte, who is also the chair of Health and Environmental Control/Recycling, reported that 49 households had called “At Your Door Recycling” to schedule pick-ups of electronic equipment since the program began with Waste Management on Jan. 1.

A business license was approved for USRC Hickory Hills, also known as HEMO Kidney Dialysis Clinic at 9640-42 S. Roberts Road. The owner is US Renal Care, of Plano, Texas. The proposed opening date is this November.

SWSRA in Worth opens a room ‘where fun happens’

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Hannah Brancato, 9, of Worth has fun with the fiber optics wires during last Thursday’s grand opening of the SWRSA Sensory Depot.


Imagine a room filled with soft, soothing music, a sweet aroma, a sandbox and squishy toys to help relieve your stress and a beanbag chair to snuggle in and just relax.

 No pressure.

 No demands.

 Just you and the relaxing environment.

 This room became a reality last Thursday with the opening of the Sensory Depot at the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA), located at the Helen Goy Center, 10707 S. Oak Park Ave., in Worth.

 “This is really exciting,” said Worth Mayor Mary Werner. “I saw this under construction and I didn’t know what to expect. It is truly impressive!”

 The Sensory Depot is a multi-sensory room “where fun happens,” said Susan Vinyard, superintendent of recreation at SWSRA.

 “It is a specifically designed environment for people with special needs and various ability levels where they can experience a variety of senses which can also assist in developing specific skills,” she added.

 The Sensory Depot contains equipment to activate every sense; smell, touch, sound, sight and taste.

 “The sensory sessions are participant led to accommodate individual needs with SWSRA sensory staff supervision at all times,’’ said Vinyard.

 Vinyard explained there are many benefits of the Sensory Room.

“It calms, de-stresses, reduces anxiety and pain and helps develop self-regulating skills,’’ she said. “It teaches cause-and-effect, color recognition, and eye-hand coordination. Using the equipment increases concentration, improves alertness and improves mobilization, creativity, social relations and communications.”  

 Currently, equipment in the room includes a five-foot long piano keyboard on the floor that participants can walk on to create musical sounds. By stepping on certain buttons, the sounds of various instruments can be heard.

 A skill-building wall includes workable zippers, snaps, button-holes and shoe-laces for participants to work with to their hearts’ content.

 There are also fidget toys including musical balls, soft-spaghetti-like threads that can be mashed, pulled, bunched-up, etc., and crunchy mats to step on.

“All participants leave their shoes at the door, so they can experience the touch and feel of all the equipment,” said Vinyard.

 The Sensory Depot will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Each sensory session is 30 minutes long. Occupancy of the room allows up to four children per session. For adults, it is no more than three per session. Tickets are $20 for five visits or $36 for 10 visits. Without a ticket, the daily fee is $5 per visit. Further information on the hours of operation is available at (708) 389-9423 or the website:

 Lori Chesna, SWSRA executive director at The Helen Goy Center, recognized the Worth Park District for its efforts in constructing the Sensory Depot.

“Without their assistance I don’t know how we could have accomplished the addition of this room to the center,’’ she said.

 She also thanked Steve Werner, president of the Park District Board, and Brad Urban, a board member.

“They were here nearly every day, putting up wallboard, doing electrical work and painting.

Without them, the labor costs would have eaten up our budget for the Sensory Depot,’’ Chesna said. “We are very grateful for all they did.”

 On prominent display at the event was a poster outlining a wish list for the Sensory Depot, reflecting a goal of $30,000 to be raised for equipment. Topping the list was a $15,000 Gesture Tek Cube, an interactive projection on the floor, which simulates various actions such as walking through fall leaves, offering the participant the sensory experience of hearing the crunch of the leaves. Other items on the list included rotating rainfall panels and a learning chair (which vibrates to the beat of music).

 For anyone wishing to donate towards the $30,000 goal, checks are payable to SWSRA, 12521 S. Kostner, Alsip, IL 60803 or,

 SWSRA is a special recreation agency comprised of the Alsip Park District, Blue Island Park District, Village of Merrionette Park, Midlothian Park District, Palos Heights Recreation Department, Posen Park District, and Worth Park District. SWSRA was formed in 1981 to provide year-round quality recreation programs and services for individuals with disabilities or special needs. SWSRA programs are designed to increase independence and enhance the quality of life for each individual.

Lipinski talks Trump, challenges ahead

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) responds to a question about his support for the First Amendment Defense Act during his town hall meeting on Saturday morning at Oak Lawn Community High School

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) fielded a variety of questions and engaged in some spirited discussion with constituents at a crowded town hall meeting on Saturday morning at Oak Lawn Community High School.

Several people challenged him on his stances in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, and issues involving Israel, First Amendment rights, and immigration.

“There is both a lot of excitement and anxiety looking toward the inauguration of Donald Trump as our next president,” said Lipinski, who was sworn in last Tuesday to his seventh term in office.

“I’m hoping we do have a comprehensive infrastructure bill,” said Lipinski. “There seems to be some backpedaling on this [from Trump] but I’m going to keep the pressure on. It will help everyone greatly. The better we can move goods around, the better it is for everyone.”

“We know our economy is not as good as it needs to be,” said Lipinski, outlining two new bills he will be introducing to address the situation. He said one bill would “close loopholes” in the existing Buy American rules for the federal government. Another is aimed at helping military personnel get the training needed to qualify for good jobs when they leave the service.

Asked about checks and balances in a government with a Republican president with majorities in the House and Senate, Lipinski said, “Congress needs to step up and make sure that there are those checks and balances.”

Lipinski added that he would consider Trump’s proposals on a case-by-case basis rather than opposing everything automatically.

“I get a lot of criticism for not always going along with the Democratic leadership, and I hope the Republicans in Congress don’t blindly follow Trump either,” he said.

He expressed concern that Republicans are being fearful of being attacked in tweets by Trump if they do go against him.

“My biggest concern is foreign policy, because that is the area the president has the most direct control,” said Lipinski. “I am also concerned about moves toward deregulation. Is there any truth to there being overregulation? Yes, but not to the extent they are saying, certainly not with the environment.”

He also asserted that Trump’s tax reform proposals would “blow up the deficit.”

Several people challenged him on his support for defunding Planned Parenthood, as well as his co-sponsorship of the First Amendment Defense Act during the previous Congress. Lipinski was the only Democrat to sign on as a sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act, and said he did so because he felt it would prevent religious organizations from losing their tax-exempt status for opposing gay marriage.

“I think it is important that we defend religious organizations. It’s important that organizations don’t have the federal government coming in and giving them orders.”

But several men and women said the bill would allow religious organizations to withhold numerous services, including health care, from gay married couples and their families.

“The problem is that it would allow policies that would discriminate against people. Illinois already has the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1998, so this law is unnecessary and goes too far,” said one man.

Lipinski said the bill in question died with the old Congress. When asked to promise not to co-sponsor another similar bill, he declined, saying he would have to wait until he saw it.

“There is not even a bill yet. There are all kinds of shades of gray,” said Lipinski, pledging instead to discuss the issue with any constituent before co-sponsoring such a bill.

He was also criticized for his support for defunding Planned Parenthood, which he called “the biggest abortion provider in the country.” While some in the crowd shouted that abortions only account for three percent of the services provided, others shouted “stand your ground.”

He said funding taken from Planned Parenthood would be given to other non-profits that provide other women’s health services. “Maybe we can invest in our community healthcare centers,” he said.

A Jewish woman who said her grandfather’s family was killed in the Holocaust thanked Lipinski for “coming out against Steve Bannon,” referring to President-elect Trump’s chief strategist, and leader of the “alt-right” movement. “I know you’re stridently anti-choice. But given that the Hyde amendment is in place and Planned Parenthood cannot use federal funds for abortions, why should it be defunded?”

She asked if he had polled his constituents to see if they support his stance. “No, I haven’t taken a poll. I oppose abortion because science tells us that life begins at conception,” he said.

Lipinski said he voted against the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” but opposes Republican efforts to repeal it without having anything to replace it. “It needs to be fixed. It has done some good. I totally understand about having pre-existing conditions,” he said, pointing out that he is a diabetic.

Turning to immigration issues, Lipinski said, “I support strong border security. If that means some form of a wall, so be it. I have always been in favor of that.”

But he rejected Trump’s claim that Mexico will pay for it. “Mexico is not going to pay us anything. That was a ridiculous statement,” he said.

“This might surprise you, but I believe that there is a likelihood that Donald Trump is the president who does comprehensive immigration reform,” Lipinski told his audience. “But first we need to secure our borders.”

He said he opposed deporting undocumented people using information they submitted to get legal status under the Dream Act for those who entered the country illegally as minors.

“I believe the DREAMers will be taken care of,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out what we need to have internal enforcement,” he said, asserting that 40 percent of illegals have overstayed visas. “I think the ones who are working but not taking jobs from Americans should be allowed to stay. Donald Trump said we would go after the two million who have become criminals.

“Stay tuned. Let’s see where this all goes,” he said.

Retiring Worth police officer is honored for 22 years of service

  • Written by Michelle Zalesny

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Submitted photo

The Worth Village Board honored police officer Jim Kaczmark (fourth from left) during the Jan. 3 board meeting on his retirement. Congratulating and joining Kaczmark were (from left) trustees Rich Dziedzic, Pete Kats, Colleen McElroy, Mayor Mary Werner, Village Clerk Bonnie Price, and trustees Warren Soldan and Kevin Ryan.

Worth Police Officer Jim Kaczmark, also known as “Officer Kaz,” was feted during the Jan. 3 village board meeting on his retirement. A large smile crossed his face when he received a watch as a token of the administration’s appreciation.

“This is kind of bittersweet,” said Mark Micetich, Worth police chief. “He’s been with us for over 22 years. During that time he became full-time in the year 2000 and promoted to squad leader last year. During his time though here, he’s had two stints in the detective division, was part of the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, also Southwest Major Case Unit, and was also a member of the Fifth District SWAT Team.”

On behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police, Sgt. Robert Petersen also presented Kaczmark, who began working as a Worth police officer in 1994, with a shadow box of his patches and badges commemorating his accomplishments throughout his entire career.

“There’s not a police officer in this building that doesn’t have skin in the game here,” said Kaczmark to a room that was filled with officers in and out of uniform as well as his family. “And I just want to commend all my brothers and sisters in blue for all they’ve done for me. They’ve had my back, they made sure I went home every night to my family, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Kaczmark personally thanked the village board for the opportunity and honor of being an officer representing the Village of Worth. He individually thanked Mayor Mary Werner. “She has been 100 percent behind the police department as well as this entire board,” said Kaczmark.

“Bonnie Price will do anything for anybody. She is the unofficial member of everyone’s family and I thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” said Kaczmark, offering his gratitude to the village clerk.

The meeting wrapped up with a business owner’s public comment on parking restrictions. He expressed the need for 90-minute parking as stated in the parking ordinance that was adopted in 2005. The signs that are located near his business on 111th Street state 60-minute parking and motorcycle parking only.

Werner said that she understands that the situation is confusing and has plans to contact the Illinois Department of Transportation to look into the state road restrictions in order to amend the ordinance to 90-minute parking.