The top stories in the south suburbs for 2013

2013-12-29T00:00:00Z 2013-12-29T09:43:03Z The top stories in the south suburbs for 2013 nwitimes.com
December 29, 2013 12:00 am

Calumet City loses Sears, Lansing gains Carsons, Walmart

The Sears store that was an anchor for the River Oaks Shopping Center in Calumet City since it first opened in 1966 shuttered its doors for good in June.

Sears officials in December came to Calumet City to appease local officials and let them know the company, which owns the property, is interested in finding a new business to take over the space.

Another business lost by River Oaks was a Carson, Pirie & Scott department store. Although just before Thanksgiving, Carsons opened an outlet store in The Landings strip mall in Lansing.

That village also is hoping to have a Super Walmart store in place by June. Village officials approved a deal this year that will turn the one-time Sam’s Club warehouse store into a Walmart that will include a full-fledged supermarket.

Kenneth Williams deposed, but wants a return

SOUTH HOLLAND | Kenneth Williams spent the bulk of 2013 trying to keep his public post as president of the School Board of Thornton Township High School District 205.

In the end, he was unsuccessful. A Cook County judge ultimately ruled that his 28-year-old felony conviction with 22 months served in prison in Indiana was enough to make him ineligible to hold a school board post, even though voters chose him in 2009 and again in this year’s municipal elections.

But the restrictions on a felon being able to hold elective office is limited to a school board post, which is why Williams is now trying to win election to the Illinois General Assembly.

He’s one of two people challenging state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, in the March 18 primary for the legislative post. It’s not the first time Williams tried to win a seat in Springfield. In the 2010 election cycle, he got the Green Party to slate him as their pick. Jones ultimately defeated him in that election.

Teen's stabbing shakes Sauk Village, mother charged

SAUK VILLAGE | Sauk Village resident Robin Erwin, 31, was charged with first-degree murder in September after her 17-year-old son Diontae Erwin was stabbed in the chest at the family's house in the 1700 block of East 223rd Street.

Prosecutors later said witnesses overheard an argument about ice cream before the incident.

The teen's death rocked the community. Officials and residents alike were at or near tears at a Village Board meeting the next day.

Police said 130 grams of marijuana were found in the home. Larry Gray, 21, was also in the home. He was charged with unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and had an outstanding warrant for a parole violation.

Calumet City seeks economic development director

CALUMET CITY | The City Council has spent recent months interviewing candidates for a vacancy as an economic development director for the city.

Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush says city officials are following the process for picking someone to replace James Gigliotti, who in July was reassigned from being a dual economic development/housing director to overseeing the city’s housing agency.

The city hired a consultant in autumn, and that person helped them find candidates for the job from across the country. Several of those candidates were interviewed in private meetings with the council, and aldermen discussed the issue earlier this month.

An actual hire could be approved by the City Council in coming weeks.

Luther East High closes, may become private school

LANSING | The Luther East High School closed its doors for good, with Lutheran church officials saying they just didn’t have enough students to operate a viable educational institution.

The last graduating class of 16 students received diplomas during May commencement ceremonies, and were largely complimentary of the education they received.

The facility on Glenwood-Lansing Road will not sit empty. It was purchased in November by a retired high school teacher who says she’d like to convert it into a private elementary school for area children.

Glenwood resolves water issues with Chicago Heights

GLENWOOD | The year began with goodwill between neighboring states, as it was announced in March the village had donated a surplus firetruck to the city of Gary.

A more contentious matter with neighboring Chicago Heights came to a resolution in September when the village approved a new, 20-year water contract with the city that resulted in increased monthly water rates for residents.

Glenwood in 2012 had considered litigation against Chicago Heights over a disagreement regarding ownership of the water line from which both municipalities receive water from Hammond.

Area gets new representation at federal, county levels

Robin Kelly, a one-time state legislator from Matteson and staffer to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, gained a more prestigious title — U.S. representative from Illinois.

Kelly was among the nearly two dozen people who ran in a special Democratic primary for Chicago’s Far South Side and surrounding suburbs to pick a replacement for now-former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. Jackson is now serving a prison term on federal corruption charges.

Federal tax evasion charges were what took down Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, whose district includes Chicago’s 10th Ward, along with suburban Calumet City and Lansing. He was replaced by Stanley Moore, who will have to face a challenger in next year’s elections in the form of Al Sanchez in order to keep the post.

Sanchez is the East Side neighborhood resident and former Chicago Streets and Sanitation head who served a prison term on federal corruption charges a few years ago.

Thornwood community pays tribute to 'the Hulk'

SOUTH HOLLAND | Thornwood High School students and faculty paid tribute in October to Richard “the Hulk” Howser, a security guard who died while trying to break up a fight between two students.

Officials said Howser’s head banged against a locker during the struggle, and that he collapsed shortly thereafter. He was transported to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, where he was pronounced dead.

Howser, a 1978 graduate of Thornwood, worked at the high school and helped coach for the South Holland Jets youth football program. No one ultimately faced criminal charges in connection with the death. Tests by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office were not able to pin his death to the blow. Police Chief Greg Evans said that without a “homicide” ruling, there was no criminal case.

Last explosion for north part of Thornton Quarry

THORNTON | For decades, area residents have heard and felt the periodic explosions when crews mined limestone out of the quarry that dominates their community.

But the portion of the quarry that is north of Interstate 80 will not be like that any more. Back in September, officials did one last blast in the southwestern corner of the north half. During the past 15 years, some 4,000 explosions enabled the removal of 76 million tons of limestone from the quarry.

That will eventually be converted to the Thornton Composite Reservoir, which will be used to help collect floodwater and sewage that overflows from the Deep Tunnel. The south part of the quarry still has decades of use to provide.

Lansing D.158 school renovations, new board member

LANSING | The improvement of Lansing Elementary District 158 schools continued in 2013, with renovation projects that added new classrooms and other amenities to Oak Glen and Reavis elementary schools marked with ribbon cutting ceremonies in March.

The School Board itself underwent a major change when Jerry Kern resigned in August after 40 years of service.

The September appointment of Brian Stewart to fill Kern's seat was controversial, as board member Anthony Arens maintained the board should have appointed the next-highest vote getter who did not win election to the board in April.

Stewart, who had served on the board previously, finished last among the seven candidates who ran.

New leader, progress on new school at Brookwood D.167

GLENWOOD | The theme for Brookwood School District 167 in 2013 was transition.

Valorie Moore began her tenure as new superintendent, taking over for Pam Hollich who retired in July. Moore presented an outline of her vision for the district to the School Board in November, stressing the need to listen to stakeholders of all kinds and expand the methods and means used to educate children and strengthening relationships within the community.

The Brookwood Middle School project, approved in a referendum vote in November 2012, also moved forward. It did have its hitches, though. Issues with ownership of portions of the plot of land originally planned to be the site of the new building have arisen. The district also went to bid for a new construction manager in December. It's still unclear how much or even if the project has been slowed.

Thornton D.205 School Board sees partisan politicking

SOUTH HOLLAND | The Thornton District 205 School Board has been engaged in intense politicking.

Following the April municipal elections, the School Board found itself in a 4-3 split, with board President Kenneth Williams being in the majority. He used that majority to pass many measures that shook up how the schools were run.

Although critics contend the changes, which included shifting the contracts for building security and janitorial services, were often to companies that were not fully qualified to do the work.

When Williams got dumped from the School Board in October, the board wound up in a 3-3 split, which has resulted in many acts of business not getting done as nothing could get a solid majority of four votes.

Lansing changes leaf, trash pickup; residents resist

LANSING | The Village Board altered the way it picks up trash and yard waste from local residents. The Homewood Disposal company had the village issue a trio of trash cans for all residential customers, one each for trash, recyclables and yard waste.

Some residents expressed outrage at having to change. Some said the new containers were bulky. While others didn’t want to recycle.

The bulk of public anger came from people who didn’t like having to change from the old way of dealing with fallen leaves, branches and grass clippings.

Village Trustee Mike Manno has said he wants the Village Board to reconsider the way things are done, and Village President Norm Abbott has said the issue may come up when the Village Board meets again in January or February.

Granderson gives youth players all-star experience

LANSING | They weren’t necessarily the best ballplayers in Lansing or Lynwood.

But Curtis Granderson, the Thornton Fractional South High School alumnus who now plays professional baseball for the New York Mets, went out of his way in August to make local kids feel like all-stars in their own right.

Granderson,a product of the Babe Ruth League program in Lansing, treated kids to a baseball game when his team (then the New York Yankees) played in Chicago against the White Sox. He then arranged for a special game for them to play against each other, providing uniform jerseys for the game and other equipment.

Granderson, who was on hand for part of the game, said “it’s an opportunity to teach them something about the game, while they have fun.”

Residents mostly pleased with their village presidents

Politically, 2013 was a year of maintaining the status quo.

All across the south suburbs, voters chose largely to keep the same individual as the head of their local governments.

Norm Abbott, of Lansing, and Don De Graff, of South Holland, both managed to defeat challengers for their village president posts, while in Calumet City, Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush managed to knock would-be challenger Brian Wilson off the ballot giving her a third full term. She’s been in office since 2003.

The only significant change in the area occurred in Dolton, where outspoken Vllage Trustee Riley Rogers managed to defeat Ronnie Lewis. Since taking over, he has had the Cook County Sheriff’s Police come into the village to act as an inspector general to help find flaws in the current government structure.

Changes to board; PE teachers honored at D.155

CALUMET CITY | The spring saw changes to the School Board and administration in Calumet City Elementary District 155.

Teresa Kic won election to the School Board and replaced Diane Kreuger, who did not seek re-election after 16 years of service, while former Assistant Principal Julie Hassel was hired to replace Francisco Sanchez as principal at Wentworth Intermediate School.

The School Board assured some continuity by agreeing with Superintendent Troy Paraday to a new five-year contract that began July 1.

In October, it was announced that Wentworth Junior High School would receive special recognition after physical education teachers Mark Foellmer and Brittney Klemenswicz were asked to give presentations at state and national conferences regarding innovative lessons they designed incorporating special events and core curriculum into lesson plans.

Durkin re-elected, 2 trustees come on board in Glenwood

GLENWOOD | Voters in April re-elected Kerry Durkin as village president, a post he has held since 2009.

But controversy brewed prior to the election when eventual write-in candidate Adam Winston cried foul regarding his name not being allowed onto the ballot.

Village officials claimed that when Winston submitted his candidacy papers he failed to include a receipt proving he filed an economic interest statement with Cook County.

Winston insisted he provided all necessary information for him to be included on the ballot.

Some turnover on the Village Board was seen when Trustees Ron Gardiner and Paul Styles were elected and replaced Alvin Freeman and Twone Thomas, both who did not seek re-election.

Sauk Village borrowed from itself, banks to pay the bills

SAUK VILLAGE | The Sauk Village board had to find ways to make payroll and pay its bills in the final quarter of 2013.

In November, the board borrowed more than $400,000 from its water fund to pay for litigation costs, debt services and payroll. It was understood that the money would be returned to the fund as soon as possible.

In December, an ordinance was approved to allow the village to seek a line of credit of up to $500,000 with banks. The ordinance required the interest rate on the line of credit to be no more than 7 percent and be paid back within 10 years, but Village President David Hanks said Sauk Village expects to pay it back when tax revenue comes in March. The village expects about $2.4 million.

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