Se­cu­rity guard shoot­ing, re­tail among top news

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike Nolan

The po­lice shoot­ing death of a se­cu­rity guard, the gover­nor help­ing a con­victed felon be­come mayor in one sub­urb and law­suits over mil­lions of dol­lars in un­paid wa­ter bills were among the big sto­ries in the south and south­west sub­urbs in 2018.

Painful shifts in the re­tail en­vi­ron­ment in the past year meant empty build­ings for some com­mu­ni­ties, but plans were in the works to hope­fully fill a few of those voids in the com­ing year.

Here is a roundup of some of the events that made head­lines this year:

In Jan­uary, for­mer Markham Mayor David Webb Jr. pleaded guilty to his role in an al­leged $300,000 bribery scheme.

He­was ac­cused late last year in fed­eral court of ac­cept­ing bribes through shell com­pa­nies, cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions and small sums of cash hid­den in cof­fee cups. Ac­cord­ing to his at­tor­ney, Webb had been co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the sub­urb, and two city ven­dors were also in­dicted as part of the scheme.

A sen­tenc­ing date for Webb had not yet been sched­uled as of late in the year, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings. Webb was elected mayor in 2001 but did not seek re-elec­tion in April 2017 amid a fed­eral probe.

In late Fe­bru­ary, Dix­moor po­lice re­moved 35 men and women from a care cen­ter in that com­mu­nity in what the vil­lage’s po­lice chief de­scribed as “de­plorable” con­di­tions. Po­lice sealed off doors to the build­ing to pre­vent oc­cu­pancy.

The mother of one res­i­dent said that, dur­ing a visit to the cen­ter, a wash­room in­tended for the res­i­dents’ use lacked hot wa­ter, toi­let pa­per and pa­per tow­els, and that her son, who has autism, had com­plained to her he couldn’t shower due to a lack of hot­wa­ter.

Po­lice said no staff was on duty the night res­i­dents were re­moved, and that they were in­formed that it was a reg­u­lar prac­tice for res­i­dents to be locked in overnight with no staff present.

In March, amid on­go­ing demon­stra­tions by pro­test­ers con­cerned about the al­leged poor treat­ment of an­i­mals at a Chicago Ridge shel­ter, state of­fi­cials said they had found no health or safety vi­o­la­tions af­ter five sur­prise vis­its to the An­i­mal Wel­fare League fa­cil­ity.

State agri­cul­ture depart­ment in­spec­tors vis­ited the fa­cil­ity on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, search­ing for ev­i­dence of al­leged un­san­i­tary con­di­tions, mis­treat­ment of an­i­mals and a ro­dent in­fes­ta­tion in re­sponse to com­plaints. For­mer shel­ter vol­un­teers and peo­ple who had adopted an­i­mals from the shel­ter had raised con­cerns about con­di­tions at the shel­ter and its treat­ment of an­i­mals, post­ing trou­bling photos on so­cial me­dia.

Law­suits filed by the city of Chicago in March al­leged that the cash-strapped com­mu­ni­ties of Dolton and Rob­bins had di­verted mil­lions of dol­lars meant to pay past-due wa­ter bills owed to Chicago to fi­nance other mu­nic­i­pal op­er­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings in the cases, Dolton’s bill back­log to Chicago was nearly $8 mil­lion, while Rob­bins owed more than $15 mil­lion. The com­plaints ask the court to ap­point in­de­pen­dent re­ceivers to mon­i­tor the wa­ter­works sys­tems of both vil­lages, col­lect pay­ments from their res­i­dent cus­tomers and de­posit those col­lec­tions into seg­re­gated wa­ter fund ac­counts used only for le­git­i­mate wa­ter-re­lated op­er­at­ing ex­penses, in­clud­ing re­pay­ing the debts owed to Chicago.

Dolton avoided re­ceiver­ship by reach­ing a re­pay­ment agree­ment with Chicago in Novem­ber, while the case against Rob­bins is con­tin­u­ing.

Land sale off

In May, Lin­coln-Way High School Dis­trict 210 of­fi­cials said a pro­posed deal to sell 72 acres of dis­trict-owned land for a re­tail de­vel­op­ment had fallen through.

Wis­con­sin-based Woodman’s Mar­ket had a ten­ta­tive agree­ment to buy the site, at 191st Street and Har­lem Av­enue, for $4.6 mil­lion. Ear­lier plans for the site by an­other de­vel­oper pro­posed a 370,000-square­foot re­tail shop­ping cen­ter to in­clude Wal­mart and Sam’s Club.

Dis­trict 2010 ac­quired the land in 1996 and it was to have been the site for its North high school, but the school was even­tu­ally built on land to the north. The school opened in 2008 and closed in June 2016 af­ter the dis­trict landed on the state’s fi­nan­cial watch list and faced de­clin­ing en­roll­ment.

In June, Will County of­fi­cials ded­i­cated a new Pub­lic Safety Com­plex in Joliet. The $33 mil­lion, 87,000-square-foot cen­ter at Lar­away Road and U.S. Route 52 combined sev­eral sites that housed the sher­iff ’s depart­ment and con­sol­i­dated three 911 dis­patch cen­ters into one.

Con­struc­tion be­gan in Oc­to­ber 2016, and was the first build­ing to be com­pleted as Will County un­der­takes the largest cap­i­tal cam­paign in its history, which will also see a new court­house built in down­town Joliet.

Also in June, the A.E.R.O. Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion Co­op­er­a­tive said it had reached a ten­ta­tive agree­ment to buy the for­mer Queen of Peace High School cam­pus in Burbank for $3.25 mil­lion.

A.E.R.O. pro­vides spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices to about 400 full-time stu­dents from 11 mem­ber dis­tricts in Stick­ney, Worth and Lyons town­ships, and the co­op­er­a­tive said the ac­qui­si­tion would en­able it to cen­tral­ize its op­er­a­tions and bet­ter serve stu­dents’ needs. Queen of Peace had closed in June 2017.

At the end of the school year in June, staff and fam­i­lies at St. John Fisher El­e­men­tary School in Chicago’s Bev­erly com­mu­nity bid a fond farewell to Sis­ter Jean McGrath, who re­tired af­ter 32 years as the school’s prin­ci­pal.

Har­vey of­fi­cials in July ap­proved a re­pay­ment agree­ment with the city’s po­lice and fire pen­sion funds, re­solv­ing a month­s­long dis­pute over with­held state tax rev­enue the city claimed had put it on the brink of fi­nan­cial col­lapse and forced it to lay off 40 po­lice of­fi­cers and fire­fight­ers.

Since Fe­bru­ary, the state comptroller had held back about $3.3 mil­lion in sales tax and other rev­enue at the re­quest of the po­lice and fire pen­sion funds. The funds, which claim the city is more than $23 mil­lion delin­quent in combined pen­sion pay­ments to them, took ad­van­tage of a pre­vi­ously un­used state law that re­quires the comptroller to seize a mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s state tax rev­enue when it’s been cer­ti­fied delin­quent in mak­ing re­quired pen­sion pay­ments.

Apart­ment law­suits set­tled

In Au­gust, Tin­ley Park of­fi­cials set­tled law­suits with the Jus­tice Depart­ment and its for­mer plan­ning di­rec­tor over a pro­posed apart­ment de­vel­op­ment.

In re­solv­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment law­suit al­leg­ing vil­lage of­fi­cials vi­o­lated fed­eral Fair Hous­ing Act rules by not ap­prov­ing plans for an apart­ment build­ing that would have tar­geted low-in­come renters, the vil­lage paid $50,000 to the gov­ern­ment, and some vil­lage of­fi­cials and em­ploy­ees were re­quired to un­dergo fair hous­ing train­ing.

The set­tle­ment of a law­suit filed by the vil­lage against a for­mer plan­ning di­rec­tor, Amy Con­nolly, as well as a com­plaint she had filed against the vil­lage with the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, in­volved an over­all pay­out of $360,000, with the vil­lage con­tribut­ing $85,000 and the bal­ance be­ing paid by the vil­lage’s in­surance car­rier.

That same month, Charles R. Griffin, for­mer two-term mayor of Ford Heights, was charged with felony theft of gov­ern­ment funds and of­fi­cial mis­con­duct for al­legedly di­vert­ing more than $147,000 of pub­lic funds into mul­ti­ple se­cret bank ac­counts that he con­trolled and used to make per­sonal pur­chases at Wal­mart, Home De­pot, Me­nards and LA Fit­ness.

Griffin was mayor from 2009 un­til los­ing his bid for a third term in 2017. Of­fi­cials said the al­leged em­bez­zle­ment was dis­cov­ered shortly af­ter Griffin left of­fice in May of that year, when “ir­reg­u­lar ac­tiv­ity” was found in three vil­lage bank ac­counts.

Also in Au­gust, a 118year-old train de­pot in New Lenox, which had been do­nated by Me­tra to the New Lenox Area His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, was re­lo­cated to Walt Konow’s farm in Homer Glen. With­out find­ing a new home, the de­pot faced de­mo­li­tion to make way for a new shop­ping cen­ter.

The five-mile move took more than nine hours and in­volved crews tem­po­rar­ily mov­ing power lines out of the way along the path.

On Aug. 24, fire de­stroyed the award-win­ning New Or­leans-themed Maple Tree Inn in Blue Is­land. The own­ers, who lived above the restau­rant, were able to es­cape with­out se­ri­ous in­jury.

Maple Tree re­opened three months later in a smaller, tem­po­rary lo­ca­tion not far from where the orig­i­nal restau­rant, which opened in 1975, was at. Oc­cu­py­ing space at 13000 West­ern Ave. where Tus­can Grill and Pizza had op­er­ated and rechris­tened Maple Tree Inn Bistro, the restau­rant has a one-year lease with op­tions to ex­tend the lease on a monthly ba­sis while the own­ers mull whether to re­build.

Also in Au­gust, Lans­ing set­tled a law­suit with the fam­ily of a black teenager who sued the vil­lage last year af­ter the youth was threat­ened and re­strained by a white off-duty po­lice of­fi­cer, of­fi­cials said.

Cell­phone video of the in­ci­dent, in which Lans­ing po­lice Of­fi­cer Wil­liam Ma­son pinned 15-year-old Jor­dan Brun­son on his front lawn and threat­ened to kill him, re­ceived mil­lions of views on Face­book and gar­nered na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.

The $70,000 set­tle­ment was to be dis­trib­uted be­tween the teen’s fam­ily and lawyers, with a small amount set aside in a re­serve ac­count for Brun­son’s fu­ture med­i­cal ex­penses, Lans­ing of­fi­cials said.

The vil­lage also en­tered into a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on com­mu­nity polic­ing is­sues with the as­sis­tance of a Depart­ment of Jus­tice me­di­a­tor and com­mu­nity groups.

In early Septem­ber, new rules took ef­fect that Southland of­fi­cials ar­gue will ef­fec­tively kill new eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the re­gion.

New pre­vail­ing wage re­quire­ments for pri­vate com­pa­nies that re­ceive prop­erty tax breaks for new busi­ness in­vest­ments will make de­vel­op­ments too costly, area civic and busi­ness lead­ers have said. The tax in­cen­tives have been widely used in the south and south­west sub­urbs to help off­set prop­erty tax dis­par­i­ties be­tween Cook and other coun­ties and north­west In­di­ana.

Tax­ing bod­ies al­ready must pay pre­vail­ing wages for roads, pub­lic build­ings and other projects that are di­rectly funded by tax­pay­ers.

Univer­sity Park in Septem­ber dis­closed the re­sults of a foren­sic au­dit of tax in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing ac­counts that showed mil­lions of dol­lars in “ques­tion­able” trans­fers.

The au­dit was to have been turned over to the FBI, which has been look­ing into Univer­sity Park’s fi­nances for more than two years.

From 2012 to 2016, the vil­lage shifted nearly $40 mil­lion from TIF ac­counts into its gen­eral fund and pay­roll ac­count, and an au­di­tor deemed about $14 mil­lion of the to­tal as “ques­tion­able.” TIF funds gen­er­ally can be used only for ac­tiv­i­ties within a spe­cific TIF dis­trict and for ex­penses re­lated to spurring de­vel­op­ment within that dis­trict, and not to fund gen­eral op­er­a­tions of a mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

A vil­lage of­fi­cial said the au­dit did not un­cover any TIF trans­fers that sug­gested vil­lage money had been em­bez­zled.

Mayor-elect sworn in

In late Septem­ber, Roger Ag­pawa, the top vote-get­ter in 2017’s Markham may­oral race, was sworn in as the city’s leader af­ter Gov. Bruce Rauner in­ter­vened on his be­half.

A 1999 fed­eral mail fraud con­vic­tion kept Ag­pawa from hold­ing a mu­nic­i­pal of­fice, with a Cook County Cir­cuit Court judge and a state ap­pel­late panel block­ing his path to the mayor’s of­fice. Rauner re­stored Ag­pawa’s rights of cit­i­zen­ship, which a judge ruled made him el­i­gi­ble to hold of­fice. His felony con­vic­tion stands, with only a pres­i­den­tial par­don wip­ing that from his record.

In early Oc­to­ber, state ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials an­nounced that Hick­ory Creek Mid­dle School in Frank­fort and Car­di­nal Bernardin Catholic School in Or­land Hills had been named Blue Rib­bon schools by the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. They were among 24 schools around the state to achieve the des­ig­na­tion for over­all aca­demic ex­cel­lence.

Also that month, a man charged with at­tempted mur­der in Tin­ley Park was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave from his job as a mid­dle school teacher in Lyons School Dis­trict 103, with ques­tions swirling over how the pend­ing crim­i­nal case ap­par­ently went un­no­ticed dur­ing his hir­ing process.

An­dres Ro­driguez had been dis­missed from a job with Cicero School Dis­trict 99 over the sum­mer af­ter the at­tempted mur­der charge came to light, and had been hired by Lyons in late Au­gust. He is ac­cused of shoot­ing a man seven times, in­clud­ing sev­eral times while stand­ing over him af­ter he’d fallen to the ground, fol­low­ing a traf­fic dis­pute in Tin­ley Park in July 2017.

In late Oc­to­ber, Calumet City School Dis­trict 155 fired its su­per­in­ten­dent, al­leg­ing, among other things, that Troy Para­day had padded his pay with­out au­tho­riza­tion and had mis­rep­re­sented the dis­trict’s fi­nan­cial sta­tus.

Para­day, who had been set to re­tire from the dis­trict, was the state’s high­est­paid su­per­in­ten­dent, pulling down more than $430,000 in his last year. He was re­port­edly owed hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars for un­used va­ca­tion and sick days upon his re­tire­ment, and Para­day’s lawyer said he be­lieved the dis­trict’s al­le­ga­tions were an ef­fort by 155 to avoid the huge pay­out.

Para­day had been on paid leave since Oct. 6 pend­ing the out­come of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the dis­trict’s school board.

Also in late Oc­to­ber, a jury awarded $11.2 mil­lion in dam­ages to a Coun­try Club Hills fire­fighter who sued the city over al­leged gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and re­tal­i­a­tion.

Dena Lewis-Bys­trzy­cki sued the city in 2012, al­leg­ing she was passed over for a pro­mo­tion and re­tal­i­ated against for re­port­ing mis­be­hav­ior. She later amended her com­plaint to in­clude al­le­ga­tions that fire­fight­ers reg­u­larly watched pornog­ra­phy at the fire sta­tion. A mem­ber of the fire depart­ment since 1998, she had been on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave since 2015.

In the Novem­ber Gen­eral Elec­tion, in­cum­bent Demo­crat Dan Lip­in­ski hand­ily won re-elec­tion in the 3rd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict race, but his Repub­li­can chal­lenger, Arthur Jones, man­aged to gar­ner 26 per­cent of the vote de­spite wide­spread lo­cal and na­tional me­dia cov­er­age that de­tailed Jones’ anti-Semitic and seg­re­ga­tion­ist be­liefs, as well as his past af­fil­i­a­tions with Nazi or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Also in the Novem­ber elec­tion, Floss­moor vot­ers, in an advisory ref­er­en­dum ques­tion, fa­vored tak­ing a new look at the vil­lage’s long­time re­stric­tion on where pickup trucks can park. Vil­lage of­fi­cials said pub­lic hearings would be sched­uled on pro­posed changes to the cur­rent or­di­nance to al­low cer­tain types of pick­ups to be parked in res­i­den­tial drive­ways.

Floss­moor ini­tially banned all pick­ups from the vil­lage in 1975. Since 1989, the vil­lage has al­lowed res­i­dents to own pickup trucks, but they must be kept hid­den in garages. Park­ing on drive­ways is al­lowed only for load­ing or un­load­ing ma­te­ri­als, ac­cord­ing to the cur­rent or­di­nance.

Guard’s shoot­ing sparks out­rage

The Nov. 11 shoot­ing death of se­cu­rity guard Jemel Rober­son by a Mid­loth­ian po­lice of­fi­cer sparked a firestorm of protest and calls for the of­fi­cer’s fir­ing.

Rober­son, 26, had been work­ing se­cu­rity in­side Manny’s Blue Room in Rob­bins when a fight broke out be­tween two groups of men and shots were fired. Po­lice from mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions re­sponded to the shoot­ing, in­clud­ing a white of­fi­cer from neigh­bor­ing Mid­loth­ian, who shot Rober­son in the park­ing lot as he held one of the sus­pected bar shoot­ers on the ground at gun­point, wit­nesses said.

State po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the shoot­ing, and a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tra­dicts wit­ness ac­counts of the in­ci­dent. Rober­son’s fam­ily has sued Mid­loth­ian po­lice.

In late Novem­ber, a pri­vate se­cu­rity guard was charged with ag­gra­vated bat­tery and felony dis­or­derly con­duct af­ter he al­legedly threat­ened two Dolton high school stu­dents with a hand­gun in the Academy for Learn­ing park­ing lot. It was later learned that the guard, Ben­nie T. Scott, was not li­censed to work se­cu­rity in Illi­nois.

In early De­cem­ber, the Chicago Heights Park Dis­trict fired its em­bat­tled po­lice chief who was charged with non-con­sen­sual dis­sem­i­na­tion of sex­ual images.

Chris­tian Dai­gre had been sus­pended with­out pay since be­ing charged in Oc­to­ber with se­cretly film­ing his sex­ual en­coun­ters with two women and shar­ing in­ti­mate photos of them with­out their con­sent.

Over the course of the year, changes in re­tail­ing meant va­cant build­ings pop­ping up in sev­eral south and south­west sub­urbs, with Sears shrink­ing be­fore fil­ing for bank­ruptcy later in the year, and Car­son’s and Toys R Us shut­ter­ing all of their area lo­ca­tions.

Hun­dreds of work­ers lost their jobs as Car­son’s closed stores in lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing Chicago Ridge and Or­land Park. In early March, Car­son’s abruptly closed its Mat­te­son store, then be­gan liq­ui­da­tion sales at other stores af­ter its par­ent com­pany, Bon-Ton Stores, was un­able to find a buyer for the chain.

On a pos­i­tive note, plans are ad­vanc­ing for a 10screen movie the­ater to be built in the empty Sears space in Or­land Park, and, in Oc­to­ber, Or­land Park of­fi­cials ap­proved a pack­age of tax in­cen­tives worth $8.5 mil­lion to bring up­scale re­tailer Von Maur to fill the va­cant Car­son’s space at Or­land Square Mall.

An In­di­ana com­pany, CSC Gen­er­a­tion, bought the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty of Bon-Ton Stores, ini­tially re­viv­ing the re­tailer’s web­sites and in Novem­ber re­opened, with lim­ited store hours, the Car­son’s in Ev­er­green Park.

The com­pany also has plans to open a Car­son’s store this com­ing spring in Or­land Park in a now-va­cant fur­ni­ture store Car­son’s op­er­ated just east of Or­land Square Mall.

In Mat­te­son, which this year saw re­tail­ers in­clud­ing Car­son’s, Tar­get and Toys R Us close stores, a shut­tered Sam’s Club is be­ing re­pur­posed as an e-com­merce ful­fill­ment cen­ter. The store, op­er­ated by Wal­mart, closed in late Jan­uary and was among sev­eral Sam’s Club out­lets around the coun­try to close.

Mat­te­son of­fi­cials have also an­nounced re­de­vel­op­ment plans for the site of the for­mer Lin­coln Mall, which en­vi­sions a mix of hous­ing, com­mer­cial and recre­ational uses.

ERIN HOO­LEY/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Friends and fam­ily com­fort each other af­ter the funeral for 26-year-old Jemel Rober­son, a se­cu­rity guard shot and killed by a Mid­loth­ian po­lice of­fi­cer Nov. 11.

JOSE M. OSO­RIO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

For­mer Markham Mayor DavidWebb ar­rives at the Dirk­sen Fed­eral Court­house in Chicago on Jan. 18, 2018.

SUSAN DE­MAR LAF­FERTY/DAILY SOUTH­TOWN

As the New Lenox train de­pot is set­tled into its new home on Walt Konow’s Homer Glen farm, Lori Lind­berg, left, chair­man of the New Lenox Area His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, and Walt Konow cel­e­brate.

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