Sheets is now fire chief of both Oak Lawn and Chicago Ridge

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Wearing two helmets

He now has two jobs.PAGE-1-3-col-sheets-copyOak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets is also the chief in Chicago Ridge after a vote Tuesday night. Here, he poses with helmets from both communities. Photo by Jeff Vorva.
He will wear two hats…well…make that two helmets.
Will that also mean two times as many headaches? Time will tell.
For now, new Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets is getting his feet wet as he takes over a job in the middle of a firestorm. He will lead a department that his new boss – Mayor Chuck Tokar – admits is in a financial “quandary’’ and needs “professional advice’’ for some of its next steps.
Sheets will lead the department with the assistance of three lieutenants rather than one, the village board decided Tuesday night after it approved his hiring, 3-2.
The board ratified an intergovernmental agreement with Oak Lawn that calls on Sheets to head the department through 2016. But a vote to amend the budget and eliminate two of department’s three lieutenant positions died for lack of a second.
Sheets has been the Oak Lawn fire chief since 2009 and now is the boss of two area fire departments.
He comes comes to Chicago Ridge amidst a dispute between firefighters and village officials over the department’s future, which heightened two weeks ago when Fire Chief Robert Muszynski submitted his resignation.

There was talk of eliminating two lieutenant positions and that was strongly opposed by the union that represents Chicago Ridge firefighters. The board decision to keep three likely helped smooth things a little.
Union President Chris Schmelzer said Tuesday that the department is willing to give Sheets a chance “and see what he’s all about.”
But the proposed absence of two lieutenants would have meant that “two thirds of the department (would not) have a leader,” Schmelzer said.
In the past, the department had one lieutenant lead each of the three shifts, Schmelzer said. Two lieutenants retired, leaving the positions open, he said.
The agreement to bring Sheets aboard was approved by a 3-2 margin with trustees Sally Durkin and Daniel Badon dissenting.
Durkin said she opposed the agreement because “it was done without board input.” She emphasized that her decision had nothing to do with Sheets.
Rather, she said, Mayor Tokar was asked to present to the board a variety of options to solve the fire department’s financial predicament. Instead, Sheets was presented as the sole option.
“We were asked for input after the fact,” Durkin said.
Sheets said that examining the Chicago Ridge Fire Department is his first step toward improved services and cost efficiencies.
“I’ve got to evaluate the department and see what we’re going to do,” Sheets said after Tuesday’s meeting.
He said he would need to closely look at the fire union’s contract and meet with firefighters to understand their concerns. The village and the fire department currently are in negotiations for a new contract.
“I do understand their anxieties,” Sheets said.
The Oak Lawn Village Board last week unanimously approved the agreement, which calls on Sheets to head up Chicago Ridge’s department for two more years.
The agreement does not include consolidating the departments, and Tokar repeatedly has said that he has no intentions to disband the fire department.
Sheets comes two weeks after Muszynski resigned and Tokar confirmed that he asked for Muszynski to step down.
Muszynski, who took over as chief in early 2011, supported the hiring of an additional seven or eight firefighters/paramedics who would be based at fire station at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue, Tokar said.
That station currently is used for training and to store equipment, the mayor said.
However, some residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at the Lombard Avenue station, which would reduce the response time to a large number of homes in the village.
The village’s other fire station is located in the industrial park and is not located near much of the village’s residential area.
But Tokar said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
He said Tuesday that the village needs “professional advice” regarding the future of the fire department.
“We need to figure out what our options are,” Tokar said. “We have to be concerned about cost efficiencies.”
The village’s fire pension levy stands at $627,000 and “it’s escalating every year,” Tokar said. At the same time, the village is realizing a drop is annual sales tax revenue, he said.
“We’re in a quandary,” Tokar said.

Pub-lic discussion – Some Evergreen Park residents concerned about new restaurant

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A small group of Evergreen Park residents Monday raised concerns about the impact a new restaurant could have on their community.
The residents attended Monday night’s village board meeting and said they only recently learned of plans for the Porter Cullen Irish pub, which will be located on the southwest corner of 99th Street and Clifton Park Avenue.
They added that owners of the restaurant did not speak to them about their plans to bring the pub to the site of A J Meats, which was located at the site for several years.
“No one was asked anything about this,” said Scott Benson, a Clifton Park Avenue resident. “We only heard hearsay.”
Mayor James Sexton said the co-owners of the restaurant assured him that they had spoken to nearby residents.
“I understood that you were talked to,” said Sexton, who added that he would speak with the pub owners about residents’ concerns.
“I promise I’ll work with you,” Sexton said.
Sexton said Tuesday morning that he spoke with one of the owners, who agreed to meet with the residents who attended Monday’s meeting.
The residents also expressed apprehensions about future plans for the restaurant if the pub does not succeed on a small scale.
Specifically, they’re worried that restaurant owners might expand into the adjacent hair salon and candy store that they own, add television screens and a beer garden and request a later liquor license if the plan for small pub does not succeed.
“All we have are rumors and fears,” Benson said. “Our concern is about tomorrow. We’re optimistic but skeptical.”
Sexton said the owners have not expressed any interest in developing a large bar or restaurant. The owners have not indicated when they plan to open the pub, Sexton said.
“Let me monitor it. You tell me what’s going on,” the mayor told the residents.
In a related business matter, a Harding Avenue resident sought assurances from the village that the retaining wall dividing the new Walgreens from the adjacent residential community will be eight-feet high.
A six-foot-high fence would not be high enough to block headlights from shining into the adjacent neighborhood, said resident Diane Rice.
“We’re trying to get some resolution to it,” Sexton said.
The mayor added that while not all of the residents’ aesthetic requests could be met, the addition of Walgreens trumps a muffler shop, which previously occupied the southeast corner of 95th Street and Pulaski Road.
“I think this will be a far cry better,” he said.
Finally, the board approved a 24-hour drive-thru hours on weekends for McDonalds’s, 2620 W. 95th St.
Restaurant officials told the board the extended hours were needed to remain competitive and serve a growing market that is seeking convenient food during non-traditional hours.
The board approved the extended hours for a six-month trial basis and asked restaurant representatives to consider lowering the volume of the drive-thru speaker.
The restaurant abuts a residential area, which is why Trustee Carol Kyle voted against the proposal.
“I have a real problem with 24 hours so close to residents,” Kyle said. “As my mother used to say, ‘Nothing good happens after midnight,’”

Jeff Vorva's ImPRESSions: Moving on up – area property transfers are back


Jeffs Col ImpressionsThey are back.
They are not flashy.
They are not what you would call eye candy.
On the printed page, they are just there – a bit dull, to tell you the truth. They are words and numbers.
But it appears that our readers love them.
And they are back.
The popular property transfers page-3-2-col-right-right-jv-colMichael Weeks of Mokena presents Orland Park’s Kristen Sandberg, a child life specialist for the hematology and oncology clinic at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn with some bowling pins, top photo, as a part of a toy fundraiser. Weeks and his family brought in about $3,000 worth of toys to the hospital, bottom photo. Photos by Jeff Vorva.PAGE-3-2-col-left-with-JVCOLwill return to the pages of the Reporter for the first time since…well folks around the office aren’t quite sure. But rest assured, it’s been awhile. And we heard about it from people.
I would love to slam my meaty fist on the desk and tell you that because you wanted them back, by God we are giving them back to you! Nothing was going to stop us!
But that wasn’t really the case.
The transfers returned to the Regional News last week and the Reporter will start running them this week and it’s been a taffy pull to get them back.
Ever since I’ve been working as a reporter for the Regional in September, 2012 and editor at the Reporter since last August, I’ve heard about the importance of getting these bad boys back in print for the two papers.
We won’t go into all the how-the-sausage-is-made gory details on how we got them back from the Cook County offices, but the tag-team efforts of Regional Editor Jack Murray and reporter Tim Hadac paid off big dividends while I sat back and watched like a dummy without understanding why all of this is a big deal. To me, the most interesting transfers are which athlete is leaving what high school and college.
But it is a big deal.
People like to see what the property in their neighborhood is selling for. They like to see what property in the rest of the community is selling for. And they may want to take a peek at the going rates for other communities as well in case they have an itch to move.
Our goal at the Reporter is to try to keep it anchored on page 11 and jazz it up a little with a graphic so you can easily find it.
It took some work to get it back and we hope you enjoy it.

Not playing around
Mike Weeks of Mokena brought some toys to the hospital last Thursday, but he wasn’t playing around.
Weeks and his family brought in a couple of carloads of toys to Advocate Children’s Hospital to help stock up a toy closet at the Oak Lawn hospital that overnight patients can go to make their stay a little more bearable.
It’s the fourth year the Weeks family brought toys to the hospital. The toys – about $3,000 worth — came from friends and neighbors via a late June block party fundraiser called Michael Weeks’ Stock the Closet fundraiser.
Weeks had leukemia and spent more than his fair share of nights at the Oak Lawn facility and in spring of 2011 he had his final treatment there and noticed the closet was getting bare. So the family came up with the idea of providing toys for the closet. Weeks is in sixth grade now and said he said he likes the fact so many friends contribute.
“It helps make kids with cancer feel better,” he said. “When I was here, I remember playing with a basketball hoop. It was fun.”


Double duty

  • Written by Bob Rakow

OL fire chief will also head up Chicago Ridge’s department

Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets’ duties are expanding to include leading the department in neighboring Chicago Ridge.

The Oak Lawn Village Board on Tuesday night approved an agreement that calls on Sheets to head the Chicago Ridge Fire Department through 2016.
The Chicago Ridge Village Board is expected to approve the agreement at its July 15 meeting, Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen said. Sheets would take over for Robert Muszynski, who submitted his resignation in June after a firestorm and letter-writing campaign between the department and the village board members in Chicago Ridge regarding the future of the department.
“They reached out to us. We had a discussion with them and met with the mayor.” Deetjen said.
The agreement, which was unanimously approved by Oak Lawn trustees, does not include consolidating the departments.
“It’s just the chief at this time,” said Deetjen, who said that it was “premature” to talk consolidation.
Earlier this year, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar explored several cost-saving measures, including joining a fire protection district or hiring a private ambulance service.
Tokar has said he does not plan to disband the fire department.
The union that represents Chicago Ridge fire fighters opposes those ideas and expressed their differences with village officials in a letter distributed to the community.
Sheets’ priority is to “get in and get a better focus managerially,” Deetjen said.
“He’ll come back to both bodies, and he’ll make recommendations for the future. ” Deetjen said.
“We’re looking to achieve some cost efficiencies,” Tokar said Wednesday morning. “We think it’s a good deal for both towns.”
He added that he spoke with several mayors, fire chiefs and fire protection districts as he explored ways to improve cost efficiencies.
“We’re looking to improve services while at the same time save dollars,” he said.
He described Sheets as well respected fire chief, who has “a wealth of knowledge and experience” and agreed with Deetjen that Sheets will make recommendations on how to better operate the Chicago Ridge department.
Deetjen said he does not expect Sheets to meet any resistance from the Chicago Ridge firefighters.
“George is a firefighter’s man,” Deetjen said. “I think he’s a good public safety manager. I think they’re going to like George very much.”
The decision to bring Sheets to the helm in Chicago Ridge comes amidst a dispute between firefighters and village officials over the department’s future, which heightened after Muszynski’s resignation.
Tokar confirmed that he asked for Muszynski’s resignation.
Muszynski, who took over as chief in early 2011, supported the hiring of an additional 7 or 8 firefighters/paramedics who would be based at fire station at 107th Street and Lombard Avenue, Tokar said.
That station currently is used for training and to store equipment, the mayor said.
However, residents have asked the village to consider having a second ambulance and possibility a fire truck at the Lombard Avenue station, which would reduce the response time to a large number of homes in the village.
The village’s other fire station is located in the industrial park and is not located near much of the village’s residential area.
But Tokar said the village cannot absorb the costs of staffing a second station.
The union’s letter expressed concern over the village’s decision to seek alternative methods for fire protection and emergency medical services.
“Why then is the village of Chicago Ridge contemplating taking a step backwards when the rest of the world is moving on to what works better,” the letter asked.
The village’s response said the union’s letter “contains misrepresentations of fact in an attempt to cause fear.”
It said Tokar was directed by trustees to “investigate and report to the board cost-saving measures that might save our taxpayers money while increasing the level of fire and ambulance service.”
Dissolving the fire department and contracting with a private ambulance service are not under consideration, the letter said.
The village’s letter also pointed out that village and the union are in the midst of contract negotiations and noted that none of the Chicago Ridge firefighters live in Chicago Ridge.
“By looking into how other towns operate, where our firefighters themselves live, we may discover better, more cost-effective ways to operate,” the letter said.

Fresh perspective

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

New McAuley principal uses her young age to her advantage

  OK, let’s get this out of the way right now.Page-1-2-col-principalEileen Boyce is the new principal at Mother McAuley and it has been brought to her attention how young she looks. Submitted photo.

  Yes, new Mother McAuley High School Principal Eileen Boyce looks young. That’s because she is young. She is 29 and looks even more youthful.
  There are likely still some people out there who think an all-Catholic girls school principal should be ancient and cranky and ready to break knuckles with rulers. There are some people out there who realize that men and women of various ages can handle the job of principal quite well.
  But even the most liberal of folks can’t help but notice how young Boyce looks. Heck, the Oak Lawn native and Orland Park resident could pass for one of the students.
  “I am fully aware of people’s reaction,” Boyce said on Monday. “From my end, people have been positive about it. For me, it’s an advantage. It’s a benefit. And I’m lucky that people around me to strengthen me in ways in certain experiences that I haven’t had.
  “For those who have concerns about my age, once people see the direction McAuley is taking, they will see I have a lot of experience in what we are doing to move forward, I think all of their concerns would be faded away. At least that’s the goal.’’
  Boyce earned the spot after nationwide search and interview process. She graduated from the Chicago school in 2003 and is the first alumna to be named principal of the school, which is the largest all-girls high school in the country with 1,200 students.
  Little did she know when she was sitting in the classroom, playing basketball or managing the volleyball team back in the early 2000s that she would be running the school a decade later.
  “It’s funny because we had these senior Academy Awards at the end of my senior year,” she said. “I think I was voted most likely to return as a teacher at Mother McAuley. Once that was said, it was always in my mind that I wanted to be a teacher.’’
  She never got that chance. But she taught at St. John Fischer and said that working with Principal Jean McGrath helped her develop and itch for the administrative side of education.
  Boyce joined Mother McAuley in 2012 as assistant principal. Her achievements during her tenure include directing the AdvancED accreditation process, co-chairing the Academic Council, directing the implementation of the Strategic Academic Plan and creating and implementing a 1:1 iPad® program.
  In an era when enrollments are dwindling at Catholic schools in the Chicago area — Mt. Assisi in Lemont just closed shop in June — Boyce has confidence in McAuley’s numbers.
  “Our numbers are strong,” she said. “Certainly it’s a sacrifice for parents to make financially for their children to attend Catholic schools. I know they see the benefit at Mother McAuley. We will remain strong and I am confident in the future.’’
  While there were some whispers in the past about the school possibly merging with Brother Rice, Boyce said she’s not aware of those talks and even though McAuley has a strong relationship with Brother Rice, the plans are to keep McAuley as a single-gender school.