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Oak Lawn adds water bill fee to replace vehicle sticker revenue

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn did away with vehicle stickers this year, and village officials say a new street repair and maintenance fee being added to water bills is a fairer way to replace the funds that sticker sales generated.

Trustee Tom Phelan (6th) and Finance Director Brian Hanigan explained the reasoning behind the change at the March 27 Village Board meeting.

Phelan noted that the board made the decision last year to eliminate the sale of vehicle stickers as of this June.

“It was probably the most unpopular fee. They just cost $25 each, but all the headaches and time and manpower and money that the village employed to monitor and collect the sticker fees just is not worth it,” said Phelan. “The lines were out the door (in Village Hall), and at the library,” said Phelan, adding that village employees took a lot of abuse from disgruntled residents.

The trustee said that about 38,000 vehicle stickers were sold annually, at $25 each, amounting to $950,000 for the street repair fund. But by comparing that with the number of state license plate registration stickers sold, Hanigan determined that about 8,000 car owners were not buying vehicle stickers.

“We want everyone to chip in a little on our roads. If everybody pitched in, the individual cost would be less. This new fee to capture the revenue needed to repair our roads is fair because even people who don’t have cars use the roads,” said Phelan, “whether they use Uber or Lyft, or buses to get around.”

Under the new system, according to village information included in flyers with the water bills mailed in March, the minimum water usage amount on all utility bills (representing the minimum cost to provide the village's Lake Michigan water service) will decrease from 10,000 to 9,000 gallons per quarter. This will result in a $6.30 decrease of the minimum quarterly utility bill for senior and smaller households, from $63.00 to $56.70, or $25.20 per year.

The quarterly street repair and maintenance fee in 2018 for all households is assessed at a fixed minimum rate of $7.20, plus $0.80 per 1,000 gallons used above the 9,000- gallon minimum threshold, or a minimum of $28.80 per year. This fee will be billed to all households regardless of the number of vehicles owned and operated by the owners or tenants.

According to the village’s calculations, an average family using 18,000 gallons of water per quarter, and three cars would save $17 in fees annually, between the addition of the road maintenance fee and the elimination of sticker fees.

“What it comes down to is the vehicle sticker fee is not an equitable tax,” said Hanigan. “This new tax is revenue neutral. This isn’t a money-maker. In my opinion, the good citizens who always bought their vehicle stickers and paid their water bills will save money.

“The only ones who will be paying more with this fee are the scofflaws,” said the finance director.

“That money is going to be used to be reinvested into village streets. This is just a replacement of existing revenue for a fair and equitable tax. The last thing we need is to lose revenue. This is just to continue the village’s program of street repairs. No one wants to go back to where we were seven years ago, when we realized we weren’t investing enough in infrastructure repairs,” Hanigan said.

Phelan said Oak Lawn has been environmentally conscious, and the new tax is in keeping with that tradition as well.

“If you feel like you are being taxed too much, you can cut down on water usage,” Phelan said.

“Nobody likes a tax but this is one of those situations that really the only one who suffers in this is the scofflaws,” he said.

When Mayor Sandra Bury asked how the new fee will be assessed to businesses, Hanigan explained that since they pay water bills monthly, their fees would be a third of what would be assessed quarterly.

“You guys spent a lot of time on that to make sure it is fair and reasonable and equitable,” said Bury.

In addition to the flyers included with the bills due this month, the officials said details about the new fee will be posted on the village website at oaklawn-il.gov.

Customers sad to say goodbye to Palos Hills resale shop

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Items are all half price at the Now & Again Resale shop, 10714 S. Roberts Road, Palos Hills, which is closing at the end of the month.

Donna Mufich had an opportunity to meet some old friends Friday afternoon at her Now & Again Resale shop in Palos Hills.

But for Mufich, it was some bittersweet moments as customers who dropped by to purchase vintage items may be visiting the shop for the last time

Mufich has owned and operated Now & Again Resale, 10714 S. Roberts Road, Palos Hills, for 25 years. And at the end of the month, the resale shop that was a fixture in the city will close.

“We have been here 25 years and all at this location,” said Mufich, who grew up in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood and now lives in Orland Park. “I have so many memories here and the people who come in here are just like family.”

Mufich then paused to greet some people who walked in the front door. Many of them said they were sorry she was closing. Several customers mentioned that they don’t know what they will do because there are not many of these resale shops left.

“Since we have started this sale, we have had a lot of sad customers come in,” Mufich said. “They just come in with sad faces. We have people of every age group who come in here. All age groups come in here, young and old. We have teenagers come in here looking for unusual items.”

Mufich said the popularity of the shop in the community was due to the fact that she kept prices affordable

“I’ve always tried to treat people with respect,” added Mufich.

Mufich said it has been fun running the resale shop but times have changed. An ownership change has resulted in different initiatives that don’t include a resale shop and other familiar landmarks along Roberts Road. She said that while time marches on, the resale shop will always be close to her heart. She is a single mother who was able to raise her son while running Now & Again.

One of those loyal customers was Claudia Simonton, an Evergreen Park resident who has been shopping at Now & Again for years and has become a close friend of Mufich.

“I have been coming here for years because they have a lot of vintage things,” Simonton said. “I would come here a lot because there are not many of these places left. But there’s something for everybody here. I also look at it this way -- and not to sound trite -- I like to purchase these items so that it’s not going in a landfill.”

Mufich made a point of thanking the original landlord, the late Frank Stramaglia Sr., and his wife, Lillian, who built the property in the 1950s while raising their three children. Mufich said the family was active in the Palos Hills community.

“I have great respect and appreciation for their undertaking to build the corner of 107th and Roberts Road,” Mufich said. “This foundation gave small business opportunities, and that’s how our Now & Again story began.”

Mufich had a background in retail management and merchandising and got the opportunity to create Now & Again.

“I wanted a family of like-minded dealers that shared my passion and trained them to become superstars with customer service being the most important part of the shop,” Mufich said. “I would hunt for the unusual and keep the price points affordable for antiques and collectables.”

Entering Now & Again, customers go through a large room with various items. But customers can then walk to the back where four rooms are available to peruse through. Items range from clothes, paperback books, children’s books, children’s plates, chairs, coffee mugs, dressers, paintings, clocks, globes, tables, jewelry, teapots, CDs and VHS tapes.

“We would go anywhere to buy items and sometimes we would go to a person’s home,” Mufich said. “Of course, times have changed. You have to put in a lot of hours. It does get hard.”

But Mufich said she will miss running Now & Again because of not only the merchandise she sold but the people she met. She will also miss looking out at the antique bike adjacent to the parking lot that was a signature sight for customers that visited Now & Again.

She recalls an instance when one of her first dealers, Martie Monahan, came up with an idea for a “Midnight Madness Sale” in which the staff opened the doors at 7 p.m. dressed in costumes to greet customers with dimmed lights. Customers then shopped until 11 p.m. Mufich also recalls fondly the annual holiday open house at the shop.

Items now being sold at Now & Again are half price. The shop is open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The shop will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. The final day will be Saturday, April 28.

“It’s been a sad time since I decided to close,” Mufich said. “I have nothing really planned. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. It’s time to move on, but I’m going to miss it.”

Merger of hospitals is called off

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Little Company of Mary Hospital, 2800 W. 95th St., in Evergreen Park, by mutual agreement, recently terminated plans to merge with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

A planned merger of the Rush hospital system and Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers based in Evergreen Park was called off last week.

In a brief statement issued jointly by the two hospital systems on April 11, officials said, “Representatives of the Rush system and Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers have mutually agreed to terminate their integration discussions. The two signed a letter of intent in October 2017. Both organizations maintain their mutual respect for each other and will pursue efforts independently to advance care and service to Chicago-area patients and communities.”

A spokesperson for Little Company of Mary Hospital, at 2800 W. 95th St., said the Monday that nothing more is being said about the decision at this time and CEO Dennis Reilly would not be available for interviews. In addition to the 272-bed hospital in Evergreen Park, Little Company also has 11 outpatient facilities, and 2,000 employees in total. The hospital group planned to remain affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church after the deal.

Reilly reportedly said in October that the hospital, which dates back to 1930, has had difficulty attracting and retaining doctors and is facing challenges common to many U.S. hospitals. These include changes in the way health care providers are reimbursed and increased information technology costs.

According to published reports, Rush CEO Dr. Larry Goodman and Rush President Michael Dandorph said in a memo to employees on April 11 that although it was a “difficult decision for both parties” to put an end to the idea of Rush acquiring Little Company of Mary, “we are confident that it is the right one.

“Both organizations maintain their mutual respect for each other and have decided to pursue efforts independently to advance care and service to Chicago-area patients and communities.”

The merger would have expanded the suburban presence of the Rush system, which is headquartered at Rush University Medical Center at 1653 W. Congress Parkway in Chicago. It also includes Rush University, Rush Copley Medical Center and Rush Oak Park Hospital, as well as many outpatient care facilities. Rush University, with more than 2,500 students, is a health sciences university that comprises Rush Medical College, the College of Nursing, the College of Health Sciences and the Graduate College.

As Little Company of Mary and Rush continue their efforts to find the right partner, they are part of a consolidation trend in the healthcare industry that has been going on for some time.

In 2013, financially-struggling Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago became part of Sinai Health System. Then in 2015, Palos Hospital in Palos Heights became affiliated with Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. In that case, the two hospitals remain independent and did not actually merge. But patients are able to avail of services offered by both hospital systems.

University of Chicago Medicine did merge with Ingalls Health System in 2016. And last October, Loyola also revealed plans to buy MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn

All aboard LEGO train display at Oak Lawn Library

  • Written by Kelly White

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                                                                            Photo by Kelly White

Katie Harney (from left), of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, looks at the giant LEGO display at the Oak Lawn Public Library on Saturday afternoon with her mother, Sue Atzhorn, of Orland Park, and her son, Andrew Harney, 2. 

The third annual LEGO Train Display was held this past weekend at the Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., and was created by the Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club. 

Oak Lawn brothers Kenny and P.J. Mulligan enjoy building with LEGOs in their free time. One of their favorite LEGO exhibits visited Oak Lawn Public Library this weekend for the LEGO Train Show.

“This is our third year coming to this event,” Kenny, 9, said.

“I like to come every year to look at the different LEGO displays to get ideas of things we can build at home,” P.J., 11, said.

The display was held free of charge at the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., in Oak Lawn, and was created by the Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club. It featured a 50-foot-long-by 15-foot-wide display of running trains, pop culture references and original creations on Saturday and Sunday.

“I love hosting the LEGO Train Show here at the library because of the reaction of the crowd, both young and old,” said Jim Deiters, director of the Oak Lawn Public Library. “It is so much fun to see adults pointing out the imaginative castles and skyscrapers and trains to their children. I am never sure who is having more fun. The exhibit inspires creativity and imagination through play and the benefit of the caregiver-child shared experience bringing them closer.”

The Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club is a LEGO fan-built group made of 25 active adult members, ranging from their mid-20’s to mid-50’s who enjoy building, designing and displaying LEGO creations for public display. Club members are encouraged to create buildings, trains and more in any genre they prefer. They currently display six to seven times a year at various venues including public libraries throughout the Chicago area.

Some specific items in the layouts at the Oak Lawn Public Library included towns, space, cities (including Chicago) and medieval castles, along with Star Wars and Harry Potter references. A train was used to connect all the different areas together into a cohesive display.

The group’s love of LEGO and the opportunity to be creative is what keeps them participating in shows, according to Jamie LeBlanc, president of the Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club.

LeBlanc, of Virgil, Ill., has been an active member of the club for 16 years.

“We spur each other on to build and outdo one another,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a healthy one-upmanship and we are always encouraging each other to try something new and different.”

This was the library’s third time hosting the event with the Northern Illinois LEGO Train Club. The previous two displays were held in 2014 and 2016. However, the library also held the Illinois LEGO Train Club at the library in February of 2010 and 2012. 

“Oak Lawn has always been good to us and the library is very accommodating,” LeBlanc said. “Everyone that works there is nice and welcoming. All of the patrons of Oak Lawn’s Library are also very supportive of this event. So many people come out and have nice things to say about our display. That feedback is always greatly appreciated.”

Library staff and patrons agreed with LeBlanc’s positive perspective.

“My daughter loves LEGOs, so this was perfect for us,” said Amanda Pletsch, of Oak Lawn.

“I enjoy not only looking at the overall magnitude of the display, but the small items hidden in plain sight that are fun to notice,” said Emily Kenny, youth services associate at the library. “It is amazing to see the build and I think the kid in all of us will be inspired to be a little more creative in life.”

The event never fails to draw in a large crowd and continues to grow in popularity every year among fans and residents. In 2014, library staff recorded a little over 2,000 people for the two-day event. In 2016, there was over a 100 percent increase in attendance with 4,800 visitors for the two days, according to Erin Foley, marketing and communications manager for the Oak Lawn Public Library.

“This is my first time here and it’s definitely a lot cooler than I expected,” said Katie Bickett, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood. “I will definitely be back again next year.”

Brannigan breaks silence after months of protests

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

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                                                                      Photo by Anthony Caciopo

A protester at Monday's Palos Township Board of Trustees meeting placed his shoes on a table to show his disrespect as he addressed Sharon Brannigan and fellow board members. Brannigan is visible at far right; next to her is Trustee Richard C. Riley.

 

The monthly meeting at Palos Township headquarters Monday played out like so many before, with an overflow crowd, rallying cries and demands that Trustee Sharon Brannigan resign.

This time, the embattled trustee had something to say, albeit after the packed house had cleared out for the night.

“I’ve had about enough of this nonsense, I really have,” she said.

Brannigan has been at the center of controversy since July, 2017 when more than 100 protestors converged on the 42-seat Township meeting room at 10802 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills.

The activists were there to challenge her about social media postings they said are bigoted toward Muslims and Middle Eastern people. They have turned out in similar numbers at each subsequent Palos Township Board of Trustees meeting.

Her multiple comments, now deleted, included speculation about the documentation of Middle Eastern students in Palos Township schools, and a comparison in dignity between First Lady Melania Trump and Middle Eastern women who wear headscarves.

Last summer, Brannigan issued a written statement which she read aloud at the monthly board meeting in an attempt to clarify her intentions. Later, she apologized by saying she was sorry if some residents felt her comments were anti-Arab or anti-Muslim.

“After deep reflection,” she said, “I can honestly say that my words were poorly crafted and my feelings were inadequately expressed. Racism and discrimination is not my intent and is not in my heart.”

Her apology was poorly received, with protestors claiming it was too little, too late and ultimately insincere. They maintain the only course of action is for her to resign.

“They can come for three more years,” Brannigan said Monday evening, in reference to protestors attending meetings for the remaining length of her elected term. “I’ve apologized three times over. If they don’t like me and don’t like what I’ve said, they can run against me. I’m not going anywhere.”

Protestors have also turned their attention to her fellow elected trustees, to Palos Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann and even to Sean Morrison, committeeman of the Palos Township Republican Organization. Morrison is also the Cook County Commissioner of the 17th District.

Each has been called upon, repeatedly, to pressure Brannigan to resign, which they say cannot be done because only voters can remove her from her elected position.

The packed monthly meetings, the often-heated rhetoric and the close quarters between the meeting attendees and the Board has Brannigan questioning safety.

“Have you asked the police why they’re not here? Probably would be a good idea to find out,” she said after the meeting. “We have requested and they have refused. I’m not going to tolerate it anymore. I want the (Palos Hills) police to be here, and if they won’t be here then the state police has to be.”

Deputy Chief Jeff Cucio of the Palos Hills Police Department told The Reporter “We have been in touch with the Township office and we’re aware of the meeting schedule,” he said. “We’re keeping an eye on the area, we understand that tensions are high, but we’re abiding by what the Township office requested.”

“We are always standing by,” he said. “We respond to every call (for assistance) that takes place in Palos Hills.”

When asked if she feels she is in any danger at the meetings, Brannigan said “There have been times that I have. In fact, tonight I think I saw a gentleman with a weapon under his jacket.”

Her comment was met with a quick response from Basem Kawar, national coordinator of the National Network of Arab American Communities.

“I’m sick of this idea that our community is violent,” he said. “Our community is not violent. Everything she is talking about is avoiding the fundamental question around racism and bigotry. All this nonsense she talks about is missing the fact that this problem was created by Trustee Sharon Brannigan. There must be accountability.”

“Hate speech translates into tangible effects on our community,” he said. “Hate speech translates into hate crimes. It’s okay for an elected official to spew that racist hate on social media? What kind of message is that sending — that it’s okay to talk down to Muslims and Arabs and immigrants and people who look different?”

Brannigan, who says she has received emails of support from across the U.S. and from as far away as England, chooses not to encourage her supporters to attend the meetings due to her concerns about security, a position scoffed at by Kawar.

Both factions claim there have been cases of abuse during or after the meetings by one or more members of the opposing side.

Word of a possible mediation meeting with a representative from the Department of Justice, as originally reported by The Reporter, has apparently not been re-ignited. The community coalition withdrew due to their claim of “bad faith” on the part of the Township by speaking about it to the media.

“We’ve tried to meet with the other side,” said Brannigan, in reference to the called-off meeting. “When they (the protestors) ask questions at tonight’s meeting about ‘why aren’t you answering us?’ — well, we have been more than willing to sit down and talk with any of the leaders. They refused to meet with the Department of Justice and we can’t do anything about that.”

“When you have your hand extended for a resolution and it’s not taken, that’s not my problem,” she said.

“Brannigan will not be part of any conversations that we are to hold with the Township, if we decide to hold any conversations,” said Kawar.

“It’s been proven over and over again that she is ill-suited to serve in public office,” he said. “It’s okay to criticize legislation but the second you single out one community over another with the shameful posts she put on social media, that’s taking the confrontation to a different level.”

“We all have to pay for our mistakes,” said Kawar. “The way the community believe she should pay for her mistakes is that she should step down.”

And will she? Before departing Palos Township headquarters after Monday’s meeting, her quick reply was “Not going to happen.”