Security guard shooting, retail among top news
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.
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.
Former Markham Mayor DavidWebb arrives at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago on Jan. 18, 2018.
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.