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Evergreen Park mayor is confident Whole Foods will be part of Plaza project

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Stores near Carson’s in the new Plaza development are nearly completed with several of them scheduled to open by the end of September. But 365 by Whole Foods Market, which was scheduled to join the Plaza project, is on hold after Amazon bought the franchise.

 

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said that Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods Market will not deter future progress on the development of the new Plaza that is currently anchored by Carson’s at 9800 S. Western Ave.

Amazon’s planned purchase of Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion is expected to take place at the end of the year. With that transaction scheduled to occur, what does this mean for 365 by Whole Foods Markets, a lower-cost option to the more upscale Whole Foods?

365 by Whole Food Markets was scheduled to be a prominent feature in the new Plaza development, three doors down from TJ Maxx. Sexton would prefer the more economical 365 store, but has no problem with a Whole Foods Market, based out of Austin, Texas, if that is the decision by Amazon.

“We won’t know until a few months from now,” said Sexton. “We won’t know until their management gets together and decides what they want to do.”

But Sexton believes whatever decision Amazon makes, a Whole Foods store will be part of the Plaza development, which replaces the once iconic Evergreen Plaza.

“It’s in limbo right now,” the mayor said. “But we have a 20-year lease with Whole Foods and I don’t see that changing. It’s just a little slow down, that’s all.”

The 365 version of Whole Foods would be 30,000 square feet. It would be flanked by Rally House on the south and Carter’s Oshkosh to the north. The Whole Foods 365 project was viewed favorably by village officials for shoppers on tighter budgets. Carson’s, which opened last September, has performed well. It is also the largest structure in the development project at 120,470 square feet. Whole Foods 365 would be third in size, trailing only Dick’s Sporting Goods, which will be 49,327 square feet.

Officials from Whole Foods could not say when the Evergreen Park store will open. Future plans for Whole Foods are on hold until the purchase becomes final, according to Whole Foods representatives.

However, Sexton views the delay as temporary and the project as a whole is moving right along.

“TJ Maxx will open by September,” said Sexton. “Most of those stores are already built up and should be operating by the end of September. “Petco could be the first operating there, along with Rally House.”

Other stores that could be operating by the end of August and September could be DSW and Ulta. Signs have been posted near the development indicating that Five Below will be opening soon.

Sexton also said that businesses and restaurants will be opening up facing Western Avenue from 98th Street south to 95th Street north. A remaining remnant to the old Plaza, which began to be torn down in the fall of 2015, is the Applebee’s restaurant outlet near 95th Street. Planet Fitness is the other facility that was open when the old Mall was up. It remains at what was the northern point of the old Plaza facing 95th Street.

“The way I understand it, everything is running smooth and one time,” said Sexton. “Everything is going well, and I expect we will have Whole Foods, too.”

Palos Twp. trustee takes heat for comments on Muslims

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

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                                               Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Trustee Sharon M. Brannigan looks up as she reads from a prepared statement at the board meeting Monday.

A crowd of more than 100 protestors jammed Palos Township headquarters Monday to confront an elected official who posted comments on social media that many people are interpreting as anti-Muslim.

“We refuse to be victims of hate,” said Nareman Taha, of Arab American Family Services. “Sharon Brannigan has targeted our kids, she’s targeted women with hijabs. Her words have consequences. We want her to resign.”

Brannigan’s Facebook posts on her personal page and her official page as a township trustee (all now deleted) question what she claims is a growing number of Muslim children enrolled in schools who lack documentation.

“What’s Palos doing? Why are all our schools filling with Middle Eastern students without proper documentation? What is Dan Lipinski 3rd District Rep doing about it?” the post read.

Brannigan unsuccessfully ran against Lipinski for his congressional seat in 2014.

In another now-deleted post, Brannigan expressed admiration for President Trump’s family during their visit to the Middle East in May.

“Watching President Trump and family this morning. I am so proud that they represent us! Am particularly proud that our women are not wearing the headscarves. WE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE REPRESENTED WITH DIGNITY.”

In the parking lot where the protestors assembled, Hatem Abudayyeh rejected Brannigan’s words.

“We came together as a broad coalition of Arab, Muslim and peace-and-justice organizations to say that we just don’t accept hate in our community, he said.

As Abudayyeh spoke, a large, mobile electronic billboard parked nearby flashed messages including “Hate Has No Home in Our Community.”

Abudayyeh said he was present on behalf of the National Campaign to Take on Hate. Locally, he said, he serves as the executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

“Her posts came to our attention a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “We called an emergency meeting and said we need to go to the meeting. An apology is not enough. We intend to demand that she resign. As you can see, there are Arabs and Muslims here, but there are also white people here who live in the community who are against hate.”

Among the “white” people in the crowd was Amanda Thomsen of Palos Park and her 6-year-old daughter, Hazel.

“She (Brannigan) insulted Americans,” said Thomsen. “We’re in this together. This is my neighborhood. They’re my neighbors and being here seemed like the right thing to do.”

Thomsen identified herself as one of the leaders of Pantsuit Nation Illinois.

“It’s a group of women working for change,” she explained. “We’re not happy with the current (national) administration and their take on hate.”

Hazel, who had been crying as she and her mother were approached by The Reporter, brightened up when she showed her visitor her protest sign which read “Be nice to everybody.” On the sign, she had drawn a cookie.

The meeting room at 10802 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills was filled beyond capacity as meeting time drew near. All 42 public seats were occupied and media representatives stood along two of the four walls. At least 75 more people were unable to be in the meeting room. Some sat in a handful of chairs just outside the open doors with the majority being required to stand outside the entrance to the building.

Palos Township government provides a variety of services to all or parts of Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Willow Springs and Worth.

Colleen G. Schumann, the township supervisor, called the meeting to order and, following roll call and approval of the minutes of the previous meeting, said a motion would be in order for dispensing with the agenda to a future date in order to move into the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Palos Township is a diverse community and Palos Township government is proud of the quality of service that is provided to our community,” Schumann said.

“The township government conducts business without any bias, prejudice or exclusion,” she said. “Everybody is invited, always. We are one of the most welcoming government agencies in all of the southwest suburbs.”

Following Schumann, Brannigan read from a prepared statement. She is refusing to resign.

The floor was then turned over to the public. Among the almost one-dozen attendees who chose to address the board, and Brannigan, was Vivian Khalaf.

“I’m an attorney practicing immigration law for over 25 years in Palos Hills, just a few blocks north on Roberts Road.,” she said. “My Middle Eastern children attended Conrady (Junior High School) and Stagg (High School). They are aspiring lawyers and doctors, contributing and continuing to make America great.

“It pains me to stand before you for the very first time after being in Palos for over 20 years, only to condemn the actions of Trustee Sharon Brannigan and the absence of similar condemnation on the part of the board. Silence is complicity,” she said to applause.

Sam Elmosa, of Palos Park, stood up to ask “Why can’t we all just get along?”

“Aren’t we done with this stuff?” he said. “It’s 2017. In this country, this is ridiculous. It hurts a lot of people. Yeah, you have First Amendment rights. This is the most powerful country in the world. Everybody wants to be here. We’re all equal. But she’s gotta go.”

One attendee spoke in support of Brannigan.

William Kuhlman, who described himself as a “Proud resident of Palos Hills for 20 years and a proud citizen of almost 75 years now,” said “I’m here to defend Sharon Brannigan for free speech. She only asked a simple question of a (political) representative and this is what she gets for free speech?”

Kuhlman said “I’m a proud military veteran of the United States of America. I support immigration, but legal immigration.”

Schumann was repeatedly asked if she “Rescinds her endorsement of Brannigan” and if the board intended to take any action against her.

“I cannot take responsibility for someone else’s words,” Schumann said. “They are not my words. I’ve spent time in your prayer centers. I live with neighbors that are my friends and of the community. I have no issues. I don’t endorse thoughts of hate. That’s where I’ll leave it.”

As for removal or disciplinary action against Brannigan, Schumann said “Another elected official doesn’t have the power to take someone off the board. They were elected the same as I was elected.”

“I don’t have the authority, the ability or anything by law that I can remove her from this board,” said Schumann. “This is Sharon’s call as to how she proceeds moving forward.”

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                                                                   Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Rush Darwish, board member of amvote.org, kicks off the rally Monday prior to the Palos Township board meeting.

 

Among the dozens of people unable to get into the meeting room was Oliver Kolb, of Palos Hills, who waited outside the building.

“I heard about this last minute,” he said. “I didn’t know this was actually a ‘thing’. Growing up my whole life in Palos Hills, I can’t remember ever having any kind of social issue in this town that I can remember.”

Kolb continued “When a public official makes comments like she did, it’s counterproductive and petty. I’m here to support the movement. It’s not right to say things like that and expect no feedback.”

“She needs to immediately start working toward some sort of apology,” said Kolb, who doesn’t think an apology will ultimately be enough, “but it’s what right. I do believe she should probably step down, but regardless, an apology is always a first step.”

Protestors vowed to keep pressure on Brannigan and the board, and to keep the issue in the public eye.

“We call upon her to resign, and to resign immediately,” said Khalaf during the meeting. “If she chooses not to do so, the community of Middle Easterners and non-Middle Easterners alike, Muslims and non-Muslims, will make sure she is not reelected.”

“We have the wherewithal, we have the education and the money to make sure that does not happen, should we decide,” she said.

The next general meeting of the Palos Township Board of Trustees is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 14 at 10802 S. Roberts Road, Palos Hills.

Parents of sick children speak out against proposed Medicaid cuts

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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                                                             Photo by Dermot Connolly

Advocate Children's Hospital President Mike Farrell discusses the importance of Medicaid funding to children such as Layla Molina, 6, (at right) and her mother,  Ivonne Camarillo, during a press conference Monday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

 

Several Chicago area parents and their children who depend on Medicaid went to Washington this week to lobby against the Medicaid funding cuts included in the American Health Care Act backed by President Trump.

They traveled to Washington to speak to congressmen and senators as part of the Speak Now for Kids Family Advocacy Day scheduled for yesterday and today, July 12 and 13, an event sponsored by the Children’s Hospital Association. But before doing so, they joined pediatricians and other officials at a press conference held Monday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Mike Farrell, president of Advocate Children’s Hospital, hosted the event. Other speakers included Daniel Johnson, MD., vice chairman of patient care services at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, and Matthew Davis, MD., coordinator of health services and police research at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

But the main focus during the press conference was the young patients, Layla Molina and Jamela Anthony, both 6 years old and battling life-threatening conditions. They both depend on Medicaid for their medical care as well.

Johnson said the ACHA proposal calls for $800 billion in Medicaid cuts over 10 years.

“That’s billion with a b,” he emphasized.

While no specifics have been stated about where the cuts will be made, Johnson said, “Any decline in dollars will result in decline in services. So we have a lot to worry about.”

And that is what the parents of sick children want to prevent as well.

“My daughter would not be here without Medicaid, She is the light of our lives, and I don’t want anything to happen to her,” said Ivonne Camarillo, Layla’s mother. The Little Village resident said her daughter, who uses a wheelchair, was born on July 4, 2011 with a congenital heart condition. That led to two open-heart surgeries, implanting a pace maker, and a feeding tube.

“She was also diagnosed with a seizure disorder,” Camarillo said. “Thanks to the services provided by Advocate Children’s Hospital, she is currently stable and improving. She receives occupational, and physical therapy, all provided by Medicaid. Everything including her wheelchair and medicines are provided by Medicaid.”

Tangela Watson also spoke about her daughter, Jamela, who sat smiling nearby.

“She loves to sing, dance and eat ice cream,” said Watson of Jamela, who has battled through surgery and chemotherapy after a rare brain tumor was found wrapped around her spinal cord last year.

“Medicaid has been a lifeline for us. I don’t know where we would be without it,” said Watson.

“The best outcome would be a “no” on the bill,” said Davis. “Medicaid truly is a vital lifeline for these children and many others.”

Farrell said that more than 30 million children nationwide, including 1.5 million in Illinois, depend on Medicaid for their medical care.

“Prevention is the cornerstone of pediatrics,” said Johnson. He pointed out that everything from lead screening and dental and vision care is federally mandated now, and in danger of being eliminated if the Medicaid funding is cut.

Johnson also said that the Medicaid cuts could even have dire repercussions for children and families not dependent on Medicaid, because if funding for immunizations is cut, doctors may decide not to offer them.

“Doctors have to buy the immunizations up front, and then wait to be reimbursed. If they stop providing immunizations, children won’t get their shots and we could be looking at a resurgence of some of these diseases we had nearly wiped out,” said Johnson.

Charley Niego is named Regional/Reporter Athlete of the Year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego lets out a yell after receiving a state championship medal.

When Charley Niego walked through the gym doors at Mother McAuley High School for her first volleyball practice three years ago, she had one goal.

She wanted to be on a team that won an Illinois High School Association volleyball championship, just like her mother – Therese Boyle-Niego – did in 1980 and 1981.

It was a bond that was important to her, and, if she needed any inspiration, there was always Boyle’s retired No. 5 in the gym to look at. Or, heck, she could look at her own shirt as school officials allowed her to wear her mother’s old number.

The trouble was, in recent years Benet Academy became a state power and won Class 4A titles in 2014 and 2015, knocking out McAuley in supersectional and sectional action respectively. Heading into the 2016 campaign, Geneva was a preseason national power and McAuley was considered a pretty-good-but-not-great squad. Even coach Jen DeJarld had her doubts about this team early in the season.

Niego had just two more chances for her wish to come true and it didn’t look like it would be in the cards her junior season.

“Going into the season we knew we lost some players from the previous season and we were trying to get to know the new players,’’ Niego said. “Our goal was to take every game and play the best we could. State was in the back of our mind like it is every year but we just kind of took it slow.’’

Well, slow-and-behold, the Mighty Macs not only won the Class 4A state title in November, but in the following weeks, Prepvolleyball.com, USA Today/AVCA and Max Preps all named the 40-1 Macs national champions.

With the 6-foot Niego hitting close to .400 and coming up with 498 kills, 473 digs, 69 blocks and 25 aces on a national championship team, she was named the 2016-17 Regional/Reporter Athlete of the Year.

She went on to win several awards including being the first Mighty Mac to win the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year.

With her mother and father, basketball star Charlie Niego, giving her pretty good bloodlines, the Morgan Park resident had to make a choice late in her St. Cajetan athletic career – basketball or volleyball?

“In seventh grade I dropped basketball because I loved everything about volleyball,” she said. “It’s always been my dream to win state just like my mom. I didn’t care for the contact in basketball and I liked volleyball more.’’

“My mom and I both happy that we were able to win a state championship and my sister (Grace, a libero who is going to be a sophomore in the fall) is hoping to win one, too,’’ she added.

As for dad, who was once in Sports Illustrated with three of his four brothers for basketball accomplishments?

“He was fine about it,” she said. “He respected my decision.’’

By the way, Charley is her real name. It is not a nickname.

Niego, who verbally committed to Notre Dame her sophomore year, and the Mighty Macs may have been the best in the nation, but they weren’t always dominating postseason opponents. They had all sorts of problems with Marist in a 25-22, 25-20 sectional final battle and had to make monumental comebacks in a 22-25, 25-20, 25-21 supersectional win over Geneva. The title match against Minooka was no picnic as the Macs won 25-19, 19-25, 25-19.

“Even when we were down, we kept fighting back,” she said. “We knew it was now or never. We just kept pushing. We were down a lot during the season but when we would get down, our endurance would just increase.’’

 

District 230 sweating out state budget battle

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Members of the District 230 School Board were keeping a close eye on the negotiations underway in Springfield as they set the schedule for their own budget calendar for the 2018 budget schedule last week.

The board agreed at its June 29 meeting to hold the public hearing for the fiscal year 2018 budget at its Sept. 28 meeting, being held at 7 p.m. at Andrew High School, 9001 W. 171st St., Tinley Park. According to the schedule, the tentative budget must be available for public review by Aug. 28.

When the board passed its $130 million operating budget last fall, Superintendent James Gay noted that it marked the 14th consecutive balanced budget for the district, since 2003-04, and fourth year in a row that the district had not raised its tax levy. But he and John Lavelle, assistant superintendent of business services, acknowledged that keeping that streak going is not helped by the uncertainty in Springfield, where lawmakers are entering the third year without passing a budget.

“I don’t want to create panic,” said Gay, stressing that District 230 high schools, Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg, will be opening on time whether or not there is a state budget in place. “We are able to open because of our fiscal responsibility over the years,” he said.

However, he said the state’s inability to pay bills has affected the district.

“They owe us $1.6 million in categoricals,” said Gay, referring to the quarterly payments the state pays the district for mandated costs, including transportation, special education and reduced-price lunches.

Lavelle said the district is still owed two of the four quarterly payments.

“When we do the budget, we assume we are getting our categoricals. Is it better to plan on not getting them?” asked board member Tony Serratore.

“It would be very difficult to get a balanced budget without them,” said Lavelle, pointing out that categorcials amount to more than $4 million in total. After the meeting, he said that when drawing up the budget for the coming year, he will probably factor in the outstanding categoricals owed the district, and at least some of the ones that will be coming due.

Gay said he and the other district officials are kept apprised of the ongoing budget talks in Springfield. “There are a lot of moving parts,” but the chances of a state budget being passed any time soon “look gloomy,” he predicted.

The superintendent said he was “shocked” by the sudden resignation of state Sen. Christine Radogno (R-41st), the Senate minority leader, which went into effect Saturday. “Christine Radogno is a very good person. She has been a good friend to our district.”

District 230 receives 85 percent of its funding from property taxes, 10 percent from the state and 5 percent from federal funding. So Gay said the district would be hurt by a permanent property tax freeze advocated by Gov. Rauner as part of budget negotiations. He was told that the two-year freeze approved by the Senate will not be voted on in the House.

“The reason we’re opposed to it is our funding would be drastically affected. All of us want fair funding. Including our partner schools, 25,000 students would be affected,” said Gay, referring to the elementary and junior high schools that feed into the District 230 high schools.

Financially, “$39 million over four years is how it would affect us,” said Gay.

“We want to be good stewards of tax money. We’re already doing bonds and really lowering property taxes,” said the superintendent, referring to a $4.5 million bond issue discussed at the May meeting and formally approved last week. It will result in a drop of more than 21 cents per $100 of assessed value in the district, according to officials. This will result in a reduction of $127 in annual property taxes levied by the district for median-priced homes in the district.

School Board President Rick Nogal credited the board’s “fiscal integrity and prudent financial management” for the AA1 rating assigned by Moody’s credit agency that made the reduction possible.