Lansing adds administrator, president post now part-time
LANSING | Village government has undergone a significant restructuring during the past year.
Village President Norm Abbott was the inspiration for these changes, which will ensure he is the last full-time chief executive of the south suburb. Instead, the village president’s position will become a part-time post, while the newly created position of village administrator will handle much of the full-time duties of running Lansing.
Village officials created the new post, and hired former South Holland village administrator J. Wynsma, bringing him back from a stint working in his native Virginia. Wynsma wound up bringing the entire family to Lansing, saying they missed the Calumet region.
The change comes as officials are preparing for the 2013 municipal elections, and will not be fully implemented until after the May 1 transition. Wynsma’s own contract in Lansing was only for one year, meaning that he could be replaced if Abbott were to be defeated in the April 9 election by Don Sciackitano, a former village trustee who is making his second bid for village president against Abbott.
Several suburbs, Chicago, adopt electric aggregation plan
Voters in Calumet City, Chicago Heights and Dolton gave their approval to allowing local officials to negotiate lower electric utility rates on behalf of their residents.
Those communities were supportive of the idea, even though Chicago Heights and Dolton voters previously had rejected the concept during the March primary election.
Aggregation allows companies to be hired by municipalities to negotiate with the utilities. In some cases, utility bills have been lowered by as much as 40 percent. Officials in the south suburbs that approved the idea in November were hopeful they would see similar results in the near future.
As of year’s end, however, none of those communities had yet approved agreements that would provide for new rates. Such business is expected to be complete by the spring.
The issue also will come up in Lansing in the April 9 election, as officials decided earlier this year to time their vote on the issue with the upcoming municipal elections.
Gov. backs S.E. Side interests in landfills, coal-gas plant
CHICAGO | There may be polls proclaiming Gov. Pat Quinn to be the most unpopular governor in the United States. Yet on Chicago’s Southeast Side, the man gets his share of respect.
That’s because of his actions on a pair of bills that had people split throughout the Chicago area.
One bill that Quinn signed into law involved a landfill maintained by the Land and Lakes Co. at 138th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, which is the Chicago/Dolton border.
The company wanted the entire landfill site to be incorporated within Dolton village boundaries so it could get around the Chicago city moratorium that kept the bulk of the site closed. The General Assembly reacted by approving a bill banning landfill operations within Cook County and Quinn signed it into law with ceremonies at the Beaubien Woods in Chicago near the landfill.
Many of the activists who wanted that landfill kept shuttered also were against development of a coal-gasification plant at the old Republic Steel plant site in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood. They feared it would further contaminate air quality, even though supporters said it would create jobs.
In the end, Quinn vetoed the bill. Company officials have since said they do not plan to pursue the project any further.
From Jackson shoo-in to the ultimate political free-for-all
Jesse Jackson Jr. spent his 17th year as a member of Congress as a shoo-in for re-election. He handily defeated former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, of Crete, in the March primary when she strove for a political comeback. Jackson then beat several low-profile challengers in the November general election.
Yet Jackson ultimately resigned the post shortly after being re-elected to another two-year term. Jackson faces allegations of misuse of campaign finances and took a six-month leave of absence to undergo treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for bipolar disorder.
His resignation turned what was a sure thing into a free-for-all. At least 20 people have publicly stated an interest in seeking the Democratic nomination in a Feb. 26 special primary election to replace Jackson.
Democratic Party officials from throughout the district spent a day going through a slating ritual, only to decide that they couldn’t decide on any one candidate. Among prospective candidates are state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, state Sen.-elect Napoleon Harris, former state Reps. Robin Kelly and David Miller, Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds and Halvorson.
Lansing takes time before backing video poker machines
LANSING | When the Illinois General Assembly approved a measure permitting communities to allow video poker machines that make actual cash payouts in local businesses, most communities rushed to alter their ordinances to permit the slot machines. But not Lansing.
Village officials spent the entire summer pondering the issue, and only got around in mid-October to approving the issue. However, village officials approved measures that will restrict the ability of taverns and restaurants to market the fact they have the slot machines.
Village President Norm Abbott ultimately had to break a Village Board tie vote, siding with the faction that thinks businesses need the extra income from slot machines to remain profitable. Opponents would have preferred to keep the decades-old Lansing ordinances that prohibit gambling in all forms.
The Illinois Gaming Board still must approve businesses before they can get the slot machines, meaning that Lansing will get its first video poker games sometime in 2013.
Two high-profile homicide cases in Calumet City
CALUMET CITY | Stephon Watts, 15, was shot to death by Calumet City police officers when they were called to his home for a disturbance. An investigation by the Illinois State Police determined the officers were provoked when Watts tried slashing one of them with a knife, and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office decided criminal charges were not warranted.
But throughout the year, the Watts family has backed pickets and a one-day boycott of local businesses. Mayoral hopeful Alderman Brian Wilson has publicly backed the family, although he has not specifically made Watts an issue during his campaigning.
In another case, Gena Chiodo disappeared from her Calumet City home in October. Police arrested her boyfriend, Donol Clark, who remains at Cook County Jail and is scheduled to appear in court again in early January.
Although Chiodo’s body was not found until early December in an Indiana forest preserve, police said there was enough evidence of a bloody struggle at the home to warrant criminal charges even without a body.
County keeps indigent burials at Homewood-area cemetery
HOMEWOOD | Homewood Memorial Gardens, near the border with Thornton, will continue to be the place where indigent people are buried in Cook County.
The Cook County Board spent much of the year studying the issue, after problems arose during the spring with an excess of bodies at the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Some burials wound up being done in plots donated by the Catholic Cemeteries system.
Some officials wanted to have the county develop its own cemetery in southwest suburban Oak Forest.
But in the end, the County Board awarded a contract charging $474 per body for people whose remains go unclaimed from the morgue to be buried at the Homewood cemetery. In the process, officials turned down an offer from a Chicago funeral home that would have conducted the burials at Oak Hill Cemetery in Gary.
County officials said they preferred to deal with a Cook County-based cemetery, rather than force people who might want to visit the grave site to have to travel to Indiana.
Sauk Village emotions flow with contaminated well water
SAUK VILLAGE | In July, the Illinois EPA sent a certified letter to Sauk Village officials that the village's well water is contaminated with vinyl chloride.
The IEPA test results showed that vinyl chloride levels had reached 1.68 parts per billion, or ppb. A test result above 1.0 ppb is considered unhealthy, and a reading of 2.0 ppb is officially the maximum contaminant level.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office went to court that week to file a motion ordering the village to distribute bottled water to water customers free of charge until further notice.
Village meetings became a hostile ground as officials blamed various factions for ignoring the problem for more than two years.
Under the supervision of the Illinois EPA, two temporary air-strippers were installed on two wells. The air strippers removed the contaminants and returned the water to a safe drinking status in early August.
The village administration is working to install permanent air strippers to replace the temporary ones.
Water tests taken by the village and the IEPA continue to show the well water is safe to drink.
Sauk Village president resigns amid appointments dispute
SAUK VILLAGE | Sauk Village President Lewis Towers abruptly resigned his position Nov. 6, effective immediately.
In an email sent to the Village Board, the village clerk and the village law firm, Towers cited health and family reasons for his decision.
The resignation ended Towers’ brief three-year administration, one that was mired in controversy.
During that time, the village went through seven trustees, three village managers, three finance directors and four law firms. In addition, the village was and still is mired in $2 million of debt, and also had to deal with the recent contaminated well water crisis.
Towers’ resignation also signaled the end of service for Police Chief Robert Fox and Village Manager Henrietta Turner. Both had been relieved of their duties by the Village Board on Nov. 1. Towers had tried unsuccessfully to bring them back before he resigned.
In a special meeting Nov. 7, senior Trustee David Hanks was elected to serve out the rest of Towers’ term by a 4-1 margin. Trustee Enoch Benson cast the lone dissenting vote.
Fire Chief Alan Stoffregen also was appointed to the position of police chief by the new administration. He appointed Sgt. Tim Holevis as deputy chief.
The position of village manager was eliminated as of Nov. 1, and no effort has been made to restore it.
Hanks, Benson and Trustee Derrick Burgess have filed petitions to run for village president in the April municipal election. Resident Bernice Brewer-Houston also has filed for the top spot.
Crete says 'no' to proposed immigrant detention facility
CRETE | After 20 months of acrimonious debates between the village administration and an opposition group, the Crete Village Board voted on June 11 to terminate discussions with Corrections Corporation of America to build an immigrant detention facility near Balmoral Park.
The proposal to build a detention facility for illegal immigrants had created factions within the village, as opposing views and beliefs jostled for relevance.
Earlier that same month, the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass a bill that would have prohibited private companies from building, owning and operating detention facilities in the state.
The final vote was 58-57 with two members voting “present." State Reps. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, and Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, both voted in favor of the bill.
Concetta Smart and Marimonica Murray, leaders of an interfaith group opposed to building the detention facility, led demonstrations and rallies against the proposal. They also gathered more than 1,200 signatures against the facility and sent those to both local and state officials.
A rally took place April 1 in Crete Park, where an estimated crowd of 100 to 150 marchers came from Chicago and surrounding communities to protest the proposal.
In the end, the board and Village President Michael Einhorn decided the amount of revenue the village would receive was not worth the risk it would accept to have the facility within its limits. Negotiations with CCA broke down, and the board unanimously voted to end talks.
South Holland aims to expand business district
SOUTH HOLLAND | The year 2012 brought several new businesses to South Holland, which is part of village officials' vision to redevelop downtown into a vibrant, thriving business community.
Chicago Bread LLC is building a Panera Bread bakery and cafe at 162nd Street and Wausau Avenue in the Town Center district. The nearly 11,000-square-foot development will allow space for Panera, as well as two additional retailers. The opening is expected in the spring.
JD Byrider, a pre-driven automotive dealership, took ownership of the property at 300 W. 162nd St. and plans to open for business in January. The business will provide a full range of services, including sales, maintenance and finance.
DKM Enterprises purchased a 3.3-acre lot with plans to build Extreme Clean Express Car Wash, featuring a complete line of automobile washing services. The property was re-subdivided into two lots to allow DKM to pursue additional retail opportunities.
Love’s Travel Center has purchased a 15-acre development site at 1455-1533 E. 162nd St. The company plans to build an auto and truck fueling station, as well as a quick-service restaurant, and a truck tire care center with roadside assistance.
The village has extensively used tax increment financing to lure and expand businesses. Officials plan to continue to encourage economic and job growth through new development. The aggressive business expansion is part of the village’s strategic plan called Vision 2022.
Lynwood looks toward village expansion with road project
LYNWOOD | The first phase of the Joe Orr Road extension is now complete. The new connection between Stony Island and Torrence avenues has opened more than just a new roadway. It has opened endless possibilities in Lynwood, village officials said.
The village is aggressively moving forward with plans to build a new downtown at the future intersection of an extended Joe Orr and Glenwood-Dyer Road, which will be part of the second phase. Plans to build a community center at that location are under way.
The village also plans to build a new municipal center next door. Future plans also call for a library, a theater and entertainment center, and a large outdoor family-oriented park.
The new roadway also is helping the village in its attempt to bring a casino to Lynwood. A bill in the Illinois Legislature proposes a casino in the south suburbs.
“Eventually, Joe Orr will go through to Calumet Avenue in Munster,” Village President Gene Williams said. “That will allow us to have the ability to pull casino customers from Indiana as well as all of the south suburbs."
Lynwood officials have met with three developers who are interested in building a casino in the village. Three locations have been discussed, including one on Lincoln Highway.
The village also has reached out to surrounding municipalities for support in the effort to secure the casino.
Phase two of the Joe Orr extension is slated to begin with an engineering study in January.
Chicago Heights files lawsuit over Hammond water rate hike
CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Chicago Heights filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Hammond and its Water Department over Hammond's decision to charge Chicago Heights $2.20 per 1,000 gallons of water provided.
Hammond had charged the city 57.5 cents per 1,000 gallons under a 30-year contract that expired Nov. 12.
Chicago Heights also has appealed to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to take jurisdiction regarding the water dispute and awaits an answer that was expected to come by the end of the year.
The City Council approved an ordinance this month that raised from $2.47 to $5.50 the cost residents will pay per 1,000 gallons of water starting Jan. 1.
Mayor David Gonzalez said the city could not wait to learn the outcome of the legal proceedings before raising water rates, as the city already has begun being billed at the $2.20 per 1,000 gallons rate.
Brookwood D.167 voters OK bonds for new school
GLENWOOD | Voters in Brookwood School District 167 approved a referendum proposal in November that allows the sale of bonds to raise $15.8 million to build a new school to replace Brookwood Middle School.
The original portion of the school was built in 1898.
Board President Melinda Plott has been a proponent of a new middle school to replace the one she once referred to as "an unfit learning environment."
The school has no washrooms on its upper level and is largely not air-conditioned.
Plott called voter approval of the bond issue a "wonderful accomplishment."
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new school is expected to occur late in 2013 and it is anticipated to open in fall 2015.
The final planning stages for the new school will have to take place without Superintendent Pamela Hollich, who announced she is retiring at the end of this school year.
Hollich is completing her eighth year as D.167 superintendent.
Disagreements abound on Lansing D.158 School Board
LANSING | Discord on the Lansing Elementary School District 158 board was commonplace in 2012.
In March, the board was rattled when member Anthony Arens accused fellow board members of nepotism in an article that ran in the Chicago Tribune.
April saw the resignation of board President Joe LaBella, who had served on the board for 13 years.
Angst over what to do with the 2012 tax levy culminated in a 6-1 vote earlier this month to request a zero percent increase.
The board had voted 6-1 in October to approve a tentative levy that called for a 2.9 percent increase over the 2011 tax levy extension.
More tumultuous times may lie ahead, as five of the seven seats on the board will be up for election in 2013.
Proposed senior housing project top issue in Thornton
THORNTON | A September town hall meeting regarding a proposed senior housing development drew what Jack Swan said was as large a crowd as any gathered for a meeting in the 20 years he's served as village president.
In July, the Village Board had voted 4-2 to deny a special use permit and a zoning variance to allow Weiss Properties Inc. to move forward with plans to construct a five-story building with 20 apartments for senior living at 400 E. Margaret St.
Plans called for the demolition of buildings at the site to make room for the development. The adjacent Thornton Brewery building, built in 1876, was to be remodeled and reopened.
Trustees expressed concerns over parking and the location of the property in a floodplain.
The board reversed its decision in October when it approved the special use application and zoning variance by a 5-1 vote.
Swan said the board reconsidered out of fear of costly litigation, but the village soon received notice the developer was denied funding from the state of Illinois to help finance construction costs.
It is expected the developer will resubmit a proposal for state funding next year.