Jeff Vorva's Editor's Notebook -- Bury says Oak Lawn blog ‘motivated by hate’



jeff columnThe gloves are off.
  Until now, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury has not said much publicly about the anonymous website that I affectionately call the Cowardly Blog.
  The blog was started by former mayor Dave Heilmann last year but he said he no longer has time for it. For a long time, people had suspicions and educated guesses as to who was still running it but the bloggers insisted on keeping it a secret. They thought that taking shots at people behind the mask of anonymity is noble and a new style of journalism that makes their stories more important than the byline.
  That is warped logic but if that’s what you are going to hang your hat on...
  The Cowardly Blog does come up with some solid journalistic work because it has some great inside information. But it also takes a few too many liberties with its own ethics and Bury, who has become the largest target, said it no longer bothers her.
  But I think it still bothers her.
  When Bury and Worth Mayor Mary Werner were guests at the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland area Saturday morning at the Palos Heights Library, the two mayors were asked about how tough it was to deal with negative campaigning against them.
  That’s when Bury took off the gloves. She said that she is still getting attacked through this blog and named names.
  “The content is written by seated trustee Bob Streit and his business partner Dennis Brennan,’’ she said. “They have developed this website. They will take any angle — as long as it’s negative – and throw it out there. You could say nothing — you could show up and smile and they will be like ‘look, she’s doing nothing.’ You do anything and it’s ‘look what she did.’ It’s really disheartening and small-minded.
  “These are people who are really motivated by hate and that’s wrong. I think people are tired of that.’’
  She wasn’t done.
  “I’m a single woman and they’ve called me a lesbian,’’ Bury said. “It’s unbelievable. There is no bottom to the depths they want to drag this. I’m not looking down there. I’m looking ahead. I’m looking forward. We want to nurture and grow and collaborate and develop. It’s not in my playbook to just wallow in this stuff. At first it was hurtful. It’s kind of like the schoolyard bully tactics. It’s pretty aggressive to this day in Oak Lawn. But it’s fine. I’m here to do a job.’’
  Since the Cowardly Blog frequently canonizes Streit, it’s no surprise his name surfaced. Streit would not return calls to find out his association with the blog.
  Bury said that fighting with the blog is in the past.
  “At first I wanted to say ‘they are lying [and] I’m going to do what you did. I’m going to respond to everything.’’’ she said. “I would be up until 2 a.m. typing a response and I wasn’t going to put up with it. Then I realized that if I do this, I’m going to get nothing done and then they win. So they don’t win by being negative. I think they lost. But they would really be victorious if I got nothing accomplished.
  “I’m just going to be aware of them but I’m not going to let them drag me into the mud. I don’t really have an interest in answering every single lie out there. But they are getting really good at it in respect to social media.’’
  Werner chimed in with her displeasure of having Oak Lawn’s soap opera foisted on her via the Cowardly Blog’s e-mails to the world.
  “Every mayor in the Southwest conference gets those silly messages from that organization,” Werner said. “It’s almost as if we signed up for it.’
  This drama could go on for a while. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which side is right and which side is wrong.
  But we do know that one side is more than willing to put their name on what they say and the others are willing to be noble cowards.

New deadlines are here

  I hate to be the bad guy here, but some behind-the-scenes decisions have been made regarding the deadlines of some of our early pages and that affects those of you who want to get us information about your garden clubs, church news, fundraisers and any other worthwhile events you have.
  The Reporter deadlines are at noon on the Friday before the next issue. Some weeks we might be able to go to 3 p.m. Some weeks we won’t. But we have to have it in by Friday.
  For a while we were able to give you better than half a chance on Mondays but that wiggle room is gone.
  So, please, we really want your information. But we really, really want it by noon on Fridays.


Palos Hills seeking grant to help restock Pleasure Lake

  • Written by Kelly White

  City of Palos Hills officials they the deep freeze of this winter has taken a toll on fish in their lake and are hoping to restock it this spring.
  They are seeking a grant from ComEd to help fund it.
  ComEd has a Green Region Grant Program to support municipalities, townships and park districts in their efforts to improve public outdoor places. Grants will be for amounts up to $10,000 and this is a matching grant. The Community Resource Department in Palos Hills, after approval at last Thursday’s City Council meeting, submitted an application for the revitalization and fish restocking of Pleasure Lake, located at 10801 S Roberts Rd., calling it the Revitalization and Fish Restocking of Pleasure Lake Project.
  The City of Palos Hills would be matching the ComEd Green Region Grant Program sum of $10,000 if awarded the grant money through the city’s Capital Development Fund. Currently, the city’s Capital Development Fund holds $170,000 to be used for any improvements within the city involving the city’s parks. Mayor Jerry Bennett noted matching the amount, if awarded the grant money, would not be a concern. “We do have that money set aside for our parks,” he said.
  By submitting in the application to the ComEd Green Region Grant Program, the city is committing to the expenditure of matching the funds necessary for the project’s success if the application is approved.
  “The grant, if awarded, would allow us to purchase equipment to aerate the lake to help in combating algae and vegetation, etc.,” Alderman Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) said. “We would also like to stock the lake with several varieties of fish.”
  The purchased fish would include bass and blue gill fish, along with several other varieties of fish. The total fish procurement would only equal out to about an estimated $1,000, Mary Joe Vincent, Commissioner Resource & Recreation Department stated. The remaining amount of the money from the ComEd grant, and matching amount from the Capital Development Fund, would be used for aerators and diffusers to aid in the revitalization of the lake.
  The city council members stressed revitalizing the lake and keeping it clean and sanitary takes priority over the restocking, which is why the cost is higher for the revitalization purposes rather than the restocking of the fish. The lake will be cleared from most of its algae and vegetation, thanks to the revitalization portion of the project, prior to distributing in the new fish into the lake. The entire project will give new life and a new look to Pleasure Lake.

  “Lake Katherine restocks their fish all the time,” Bennett said in support of the ComEd Green Region Grant Program, “Even though that is a deeper lake, we do need to be restocking our lake more often, obviously not to this extreme, but after a winter like this one, restocking the fish in a little excess is probably necessary.”

  The city council also agreed with the concern over the deep freeze of winter affecting this year’s spring fish. The unbearable winter cold has prolonged during this never-ending season, keeping the city’s lakes covered in both ice and frost for a much longer duration of time than previous winter seasons.
  “Restocking our lake after a winter like this one, especially, is definitely a good decision,” Bennett added.

Kustok guilty

  • Written by Tim Hadac

In about the same 90 minutes it took Orland Park resident Allan Kustok to grasp a loaded .357-caliber revolver, shoot his sleeping wife in the face, wrap her body in bloody bed linens and drive her to Palos Community Hospital in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2010, jurors in Kustok’s murder trial deliberated, ordered and ate lunch, and then delivered a guilty verdict on Tuesday afternoon.
Kustok, 63, bowed his head when the verdict was read while his sister, Sharon Crooks, sat behind him and wept as jurors were polled to confirm the verdict.
Prosecutors and relatives of the victim, 58-year-old Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, reacted to the guilty verdict with a mixture of faint smiles and tears of relief. They spoke with the press briefly outside the Bridgeview courtroom after the verdict.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that we lost a great sister,” said Jeanie’s brother, John Runko, his eyes tearing up and his voice wavering, as Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez gave him a reassuring pat on the back. “Nobody wins in this, but I’m just glad that justice was served.” Runko had been a witness for the prosecution, testifying back on Feb. 20 that he was close to his sister and was unaware of any trouble in her marriage.
Runko thanked the prosecution team for doing “a phenomenal job,” and his sentiments were echoed by Jeanie’s sister, Patti Krcmery.
“I’m so indebted to them for everything they’ve done, because they truly showed my sister and how wonderful she was” throughout the four-week trial, Krcmery said.
The jury clearly was not buying Kustok’s longtime contention that his wife had shot herself with the handgun—as on accident or as a suicide— that he claimed to have given her as a 34th anniversary gift in response to her alleged fear of being alone in the house.
During the trial, prosecutors made much of Allan Kustok’s allegedly adulterous ways, portraying him as a good-time Charlie who even joked about his “life of the party” exploits to a hospital nurse on the morning of his wife’s murder, and who received text messages from another woman while he was being quizzed by Orland Park police.
What appeared to be the decisive blow in the prosecution’s case was last week’s testimony by crime scene analyst Rod Englert that the killer had to be someone standing over Jeanie while wearing Allan’s T-shirt, shorts and glasses.
Englert testified on March 4 that the pattern of blood stains in the Kustoks’ Orland Park bedroom made it clear—at least from his analysis—that Jeanie could not have shot herself, deliberately or accidentally.
Further, the victim was reportedly right handed, which would not be consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left cheek, police said in 2010.
Jurors also apparently brushed aside testimony given Monday by the Kustoks’ daughter, Sarah, that she did think her father killed her mother. Sarah was not in court on Tuesday.
The Kustoks’ children are former standout area athletes Zak and Sarah Kustok, who starred in several sports at Sandburg High School. Zak played quarterback at Northwestern University for three years, while Sarah played basketball at DePaul University, was an anchor for Comcast SportsNet Chicago and currently works for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

Proposal for Worth 5K not OK with two trustees

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A Worth Park District proposal to host a 5K run at Water’s Edge Golf Course may never leave the starting blocks if trustees opposed to the plan have their way.


The Worth Village Board Tuesday night debated the merits of the idea, and at least two trustees—Tedd Muersch Jr. and Mary Rhein—voiced opposition to the plan that called for a 5K run to be held at the village-owned course on Sept. 14.


The district proposed the early morning run as part of the village’s centennial celebration.


Muersch said the course would lose significant money if it closed on a Sunday morning to accommodate the run.


“In my opinion, I do not think this is a good idea,” said Muersch, who chairs the golf course committee.


He said a significant number of Sunday golfers who tee off early would not be able to golf that day.


Rhein agreed that reserving the course for Sunday morning run did not make financial sense.


“I don’t see that the board can make that decision and feel good about it,” Rhein said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to do the right thing over there and increase our revenue. I can’t see shutting it down and losing this revenue.”


She said the proposed run and walk coupled with the clean up after the event would force the course to close from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.


“The golf course is going to lose revenue. It’s not going to make revenue that morning,” she said.


Muersch agreed, saying that the loss of $67 greens fees per golfer on a busy Sunday morning is not feasible.


“I don’t see any way can move forward with this,” he said.


Mayor Mary Werner, however, voiced support for the run.


“I personally think it would be a great event for residents,” Werner said.


She said the run would promote the golf course as well as its restaurant, The Edge.


“I just think logistically it makes sense,” said Werner, who added that the event would serve as a marketing tool even if the village lost some golf revenue that day.


Trustee Colleen McElroy said she was not wholly opposed to the idea but it did lack a detailed plan.


“I think it would have been wise to have this discussion in a committee,” McElroy said. “I would prefer that everybody sit at a table and talk about this.”


Trustees agreed to delay a decision on the run and left the door open for a sponsor for the event or funds from the centennial committee to offset the cost of the event.


Sifting through emotional rubble

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-COLOR-4-colA week has passed since a triple murder and suicide shook Oak Lawn—the latest in a series of tragedies that has battered the community in 2014.


While many ultimately will forget the events, first responders continue to cope with the devastations.


The most recent incident occurred last Wednesday when John P. Conta allegedly killed his parents—John and Janice Conta—and nephew at the family home in the 9800 block of 51st Avenue. Conta then set the house on fire and killed himself with a gunshot while in a car in the house’s garage, police said.


An Oak Lawn firefighter who responded to the blaze saw Conta kill himself, officials said. The body of Conta’s nephew, 5-year-old Matthew Meier, was discovered in the house later in the day, they said. Family members celebrated the boy’s fifth birthday at the house the previous night, police said.


That level of tragedy—suicide and the murder of a family members—can wreak havoc on the emotions of even the toughest and resilient first responders.


“Especially when you have a tender-age (involved), I think it affects everybody,” said Oak Lawn Police Division Chief Mike Kaufmann.


The October death of six-month-old Vivian Summers, who allegedly was killed at the hands of her grandmother, Alfreda Giedrojc, a long-time Oak Lawn resident, was one of the most heinous crimes Kaufmann had witnessed during his career, the veteran officer said.


“Everybody can relate to a young, infant baby. For all of us, it touches (the) heart,” Kaufmann said at the time.


Both the police and fire departments offer various services to anyone affected by the tragedies that are part of the job.


“It doesn’t stop when we leave the fire scene,” Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets.


Sheets said he and his commanders apply a “now-what” approach after a fire or other incident concludes. The health and welfare of the firefighters is at the top of that methodology, he said.


Firefighters are offered a variety of resources, including services provided via the village’s employee assistance program or Genesis Therapy, village manager Larry Deetjen said.


Sheets added firefighters often elect to talk with their colleagues during tough times.


“You have the camaraderie of those firefighters that were there,” Sheets said. “We have individuals who have been here a long time.”


The Chicago Police Department offered its peer counseling program to Oak Lawn’s first responders following last week’s incident. Some officers prefer to peers rather than supervisors about the rigors on the job, Kaufmann said.


“Everybody is affected quite differently,” Kaufmann said.


Deetjen agreed.


“In additional to offering professional help, each individual copes with stress, violence and tragedy through their own networks consisting of family, loved ones, special friends, church and other support groups.”


Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer, a retired village police officer, agreed that various incidents can affect first responders over the long haul.


“Talking about these things does help,” said Vorderer, who joined the Oak Lawn force shortly after returning from a tour as an infantryman in Vietnam.


He said the “macho, get over it” approach prevalent in his day is gone.


In fact, the Oak Lawn Fire Department looked to therapy dogs this week to assist firefighters looking to cope with last week’s fire.


On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, three golden retrievers from the K-9 Comfort Dogs program visited firefighters at Station 2, 6451 W. 93rd Place. The program is sponsored by Lutheran Church Charities and is designed to bring compassion to those affected by a calamity.


“When anybody pets a dog, it relaxes them,” said Tim Hetzner, president of the charity.


He added that some people will talk to dogs about their involvement in or feeling about an disaster before speaking with another person.


“The dog serves a tool,” said Hetzner, who added that golden retrievers are used exclusively by the program because “by nature they are lovers.”


Last week’s fire isn’t the only tragedy Oak Lawn first responders have had to cope with in recent weeks.


In early February, a fire on the west side of the village lives of two elderly women.


Kathryn Lomec, 73, was pronounced dead Feb. 8 shortly after a blaze at her house in the 10100 block of Lawrence Court, officials said. Her sister and caretaker, 74-year-old Mary Bruce, died three days later at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, according to news reports.


There were no smoke detectors in the house and officials have not released the cause of the fire.

In January, a fierce argument between an Oak Lawn man and his wife may have led the man to burn down his house a few hours after the dispute, prosecutors said.


Arunas Samoska, 48, was charged with two counts of aggravated arson and one count of residential arson Jan. 13 after appearing in Bridgeview Court where a request for bond was denied, according to police.


Oak Lawn police and fire departments from several communities responded Jan. 11 to a house fire/explosion in the 8900 block of 55th Court. The house was engulfed with fire and required about one hour to extinguish.


Prosecutors said Samoska poured gasoline throughout his home, including the living room and the bed in the master bedroom. The vapors ignited when he went to his garage to get more gasoline, prosecutors said.


The explosion and subsequent fire rendered the home a complete loss, officials said. No one was in the home at the time of the explosion and there were no injuries. The houses on each side of the fire were occupied but no one was injured.


But fire has not been the only cause of tragedy in the community in 2014.


In late January, an elderly Oak Lawn died from cold-related causes. Antoinette Diesness, 86, of the 8700 block of Meade Avenue, died from hypothermia due to cold exposure, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Heart disease and dementia were contributing factors in her death, the medical examiner said.


A neighbor found her lying in the snow near her home, police said. She was the 17th reported cold-related death this winter in Cook County, authorities said.