Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Orland Park quietly scores another achievement -- Borders Book Store rated among top 10 in the World

This is a breaking news story, of the sorts we're used to reading in Orland Park, but it is surprising considering that clearly Orland Park's elected officials don't know how to count. And if they don't know how to count, then obviously, they probably don't read much, unless they are reading their own press releases.

But it is official, at least from the mouths of the store clerks at the Orland Park Borders Book Store at 15260 S. LaGrange Road is in fact one of the TOP 10 book stores in the World. That's it. THE WORLD.

That's way "huge-er" (that's not a word, but village officials can't read anyway so who cares?) than the village slipping from 45 to 92 in the ranking of the Best Places to Live in America from "Money Magazine," which costs a lot of money to buy, by the way.

One reason is they nearly set a record for the number of copies of the Harry Potter sales. The other reason is that people in Orland Park are far smarter than village officials take them to be. We read. We read a lot. We read through the PR crap thown at us from the village officials.

(I know. You're asking. How did I turn a story about Borders Book Stores into a commentary on the sad state of affairs in Orland Park politics? Well, they're both important!)

So congratulations Borders of Orland Park -- where I hang out a lot when I am not eating that Bestever Steak Skillet breakfast at the soon to be relocated (hopefully) Plaza Cafe ... and which also carries my book "Arabs of Chicagoland."

You deserve it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Budget shortfall Shell Game -- Everything is "Intact!"

Click comic strip to view larger image
Ray Hanania's World Comic Strips
July 30, 2008
The Village of Orland Park claims that all of the village services and the highly touted property tax rebate is "intact." Not fully intact, but intact!

When you scale back a rebate, you are raising taxes

Orland Park officials are very creative. They've done a great job in spinning the budget deficit of $4.8 million, according to news reports this past week. It is really amazing. What's more amazing is residents of Orland Park don't care that they are going to pay more in taxes, even though village officials are saying they are not raising taxes.

Let me give you a civis lesson in municipal budgets.

When you collect a tax and then give it back. It is called a rebate. When you rescind all or part of a tax rebate, you are raising taxes.

In otherwords, you can't have it both ways and claim you are doing the taxpayers a favor by rebating the village portion of their property taxes, and then claim you are doing the taxpayers a favor when you say you will scale back the rebate by as much as 1/3.

The headlines of the news stories about the issue are hysterical, especially if you don't care about the rising taxes in Orland Park.

The Orland Park Prairie, my favorite local newspaper, wrote:

At a budget meeting held Thursday, July 24, the revised, balanced budget was presented to the board with village services left fully intact."We've balanced our general fund budget by making cuts, none of which will affect the services the village offers," Finance Director AnnMarie Mampe said.

Village services left intact. Maybe I read that wrong. Fees are going up. Some recreation programs are being shuffled around and trimmed. The Village Portion Property Tax Rebate that Mayor McLaughlin and the board have touted as proof that they are the best leaders in the Southwest Subrubs is being curtailed DRAMATICALLY. It really amounts to a significant increase in your property taxes, because, well, THE BOTTOM LINE IS YOU ARE GOING TO BE PAYING MORE.

But then, maybe you don't care. Chances are your home hasn't been foreclosed on by the bank so you have lots of money to spare. Or maybe, you are one of the mayor's chums and are doing pretty well with that connection.

This is what the Southtown/Star wrote:

Orland Park has found a way to make up for a $4.8 million budget shortfall in its operating budget without cutting village services or raising taxes. The village's annual practice of rebating local property taxes also is safe, but the formula likely will change.

I know the sigh of relief that we're going to get our village property taxes rebated is overwhelming. Well, it will remain "intact."

Well, not really "intact," though.

Later in the story, the reporter wrote:

The board is proposing to change the way it rebates residents' property taxes, Mampe said.
The change would provide more money for the village's capital improvements, Mampe said.
Under the existing formula, if a taxpayer pays $200 in property taxes to the village of Orland Park, then the village uses what it collects in home rule sales taxes to rebate the entire $200. The rebated amount includes what is levied for pensions.
Under the proposal, the taxpayer who pays $200 in property taxes to the village would receive $133 back, and the remaining $67 - the amount levied for pensions - would go toward capital improvements.

Can you say SHELL GAME.

Ah. I paid $200 in taxes and used to get it all rebated. Now, under the rebate plan that the media reports isn't really changing, I'm only going to get $133 back and the remainder will go to fund the pensions of, well, the people who are making the decisions in the village. Not you, the taxpayer, the circus people at Village Hall.

So, they have split up the village property taxes into two parts. One if the actual property tax, and the other is the property tax (that goes to fund the pensions.)


There is no question in my mind that McLaughlin really understands creative financing.

I want to keep paying my "Water Bill" but since the Water Bill doesn't just include water, but also garbage removal and a hefty tax increase in village fees for the administration of that bill, I will just deduct the 60 percent of the "Water Bill" that isn't really the "Water Bill" and, according to village logic, valla! I will have restructed the Water Bill payment, keeping it "intact." I just won't pay it.

I don't think McLauglin would go for that at all.

Shell Game. It's a new program the village is going to offer as a part of its Winter programs to keep their salaries (and raises) "intact."

Ray Hanania

Campaign Election Disclosure Notes for Orland Park

This past week, all candidates and their political campaign funds were required to file disclosures on their fundraising activities for the past six months between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2008.

Here some notes about who has what money:

I - Regular Democratic Org for Orland Twp:
Purpose: Support of the Democratic Party in Orland Twp

Daniel J McLaughlin, Chairman; Paul M Aubin, Treasurer.

Available funds: $12,263.47

Paid phone bills, Aubin and hosted golf outing

II - Citizens For Daniel J McLaughlin:
Purpose: Support Daniel J. Mclaughlin For Elective Office

Created in 1993

Available funds: $36,185.45
Invested funds: $157,083.62

Biggest expenditure: Computer Bits Inc. 7805 Palm DriveOrland Park, IL 60462
$1,864.35 , 3/28/2008 and previously on $329.00 , 1/11/2008

III - Orland Trustees:

Bernard Muprhy $2,670.59

Kathy Fenton $15,409.37
Contributions from the usual suspects: Klein Thorpe and Jenkins, Ed Mulcahy, Edward, McDonough & Assc., and also McLaughlin, Kevin Joyce (19th Ward) and State Rep Kevin McCarthy.

Brad O’Halloran $14,236.70
Gave money to Pat Maher and Kathy Fenton
Owes himself $5,500

Patricia Gira $2,793.53
No activity in the past six months

Ed Schussler $4,713.74
No activity in past six months

Jim Dodge $21,026.47
No activity in past six months

IV - The Gorman Good Government Group
Purpose: To elect Elizabeth Ann Doody Gorman to public office.

Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman
That's an understatement. Gorman, the replaced Cook County GOP Committeeman, did nothing for Republican candidates except try to sabotage one Republican who has a shot at winning the state's attorneys race, Tony Peraica. The new chairman is Lee Roupas, GOP Committeeman from Palos Township. He had Gorman's backing.

Available funds: $20,471.05
Owes Gerald Gorman: $255,145.00

Biggest receipt so far: has Season Tickets for the White Sox which cost $8,142 … that she shares with Odelson & Sterk (Todd Stroger’s Lawyers), Elgin’s Tim Schneider, and County Commissioner Pete Silvestri. Each, including the Commissioner, has a ¼ share in the season tickets at $2,714

V - Friends of Patrick M Maher
Purpose: To support Patrick Maher for political office.
13637 Cherry Ln, Orland Park, IL 60462-1621

Created March 24, 2008

Funds available: $12,917.13

Biggest contributors: Village Clerk David Maher, Deputy Clerk, Joe Lemargo, and attorneys Klein Thorpe and Jenkins, who do work in the village.

Officers: Paul M Aubin Treasurer, McLaughlin’s treasurer, and Patrick M Maher Chairman

McLaughlin gave him money ($500) as did some 19th Ward big shots like Dan Hynes ($1,500), as well as several unions close to McLaughlin.

Maher is the President of the Orland Fire Protection District. The current board consists of President Patrick Maher (2011), Treasurer Marty McGill (2013), Secretary Patricia Corcoran (2009), Trustee Salvatore "Bob" Cacciato (2011) and Trustee Glenn Michalek (2013).

So why did he create this campaign fund in March?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Taste of Orland is one of the region's BEST EVENTS

The one thing I can't argue about is that Taste of Orland Park is one of the best events in the Southwest Suburbs, far better than even Taste of Chicago.

You get better food at Taste of Orland Park. It's not gigantic but it is roomy and they have booths that run up and down the parking lot south of the Orland Park Civic Center. They're very affordable.

The entertainment of okay. But remember, this isn't Chicago. It's budget-strapped Orland Park where Chicago's 19th Ward really goes by the name "Ward #1."

Here's a list of the restaurants that will be at Taste of Orland Park, beginning this Friday August 1 through August 3 -- with my reviews of each and every one of them, of course:

Buca Di Beppo -- You get more bang for the buck here than anywhere else. This is one of my local favorites. You get too much food here, but who's complaining. The Veal Limon is my favorite, hen I go there.

Café Gaston -- Very classy. Perfect for breakfast. It has this stylish outdoor cafe. It's one of those places where you might imagine writers, socialites, creative types and other community leaders pausing to enjoy a great meal.

Cold Stone Creamery -- Never been there.

Cooper’s Hawk -- Never been there.

Ichiro Japanese -- Love this place, too. The Sushi is a bit pricey. Still, it's the best Sushi around, short of driving all the way downtown or near north in Chicago.

Mo’s Chinese Kitchen -- Beef Fried Rice is tops here. Very affordable and the perfect place to get Chinese food.

Oberweis Dairy -- Okay, the owner is a goof. A little too conservative for me, but you don't have to vote for him to love his ice cream. It's great.

Orland Meat Market & Deli -- Never been there.

Palermo’s of Orland Park -- I had an okay experience here, but I prefer the Oak Lawn Palermo's when it's open. Weird hours. They have this great stuffed artichoke -- sometimes. And the Veals, pastas and salads are great.

Papa Joe’s of Orland Park -- Went there once and didn't suit my tastes.

Plaza Café -- The absolute very best Steak Skillet in Orland Park and I have TRIED THEM ALL! The pancake house down the stret doesn't even come close to this place. Too bad the village is shoving them out of the plaza at 143rd and LaGrange Road.

R.C. Mulligan’s -- Not bad. Great place to have a Genuine Draft.

Rock Bottom Brewery -- Never been there.

Sam Maguire’s -- Okay.

Taj Mahal -- Didn't like the buffet at all. And I love Indian cuisine. I prefer downtown or on Devon Avenue in Chicago.

94 West -- Sunday Brunch here doesn't come any better. It is the best int he Southwest Suburbs. Very classy. Thsi si the place you want to be for those special occasions like an anniversary, Valentine's Day, or just plain dinner! Love it! The owner will have those little steak sandwiches again this year. Can't wait.

Here's the link to the Village of Orland Park's promotional flyer on the event. Enjoy it?

Ray Hanania

Poltergeist southwest suburban pigeons -- Ghost images haunt Orland Park windows

I'm not a big bird expert, but I suspect those greyish "love birds" are a species from a line of pigeons. They have to be the dumbest birds out there. They don't even know how to take care of their babies -- if DCFS had a branch for pigeons, these birds in Orland Park and the Southwest Suburbs would be on their 10 Most Wanted List for bad parenting.

They have babies like crazy, and can't take care of them. It's really sad. I have one female pigeon with two babies in a flower basket hanging from the garage eave in front of the house. At least she's smart. The baby pigeons fall out of the nests -- the parents are the worst nest builders among the bird species -- all the time. At least the hanging basket has an edge and they'll grow up with some color.

Now, I don't know the species for sure -- maybe someone out there does and can share that. But it is a light grey with a fascinating zigzag on the side of the neck of a sparkling green or teel. It looks like a lightening strike and it's the most interesting part of the bird.

But, there is one other characteristic of these birds and many homeowners who have large windows that face east and west probably know well. They are often confused by the sunlight and fly into the sun's reflection in the windows.

Don't go into the light! Don't go into the light!

Birds are covered with dust, and are much dirtier than you can imagine. When they slam against the window, flying recklessly in the backyard -- blathering "Where's my babies? Where's my babies?" -- they leave a "dust mark." What I like to call the pigeon poltergeist. Have you seen one?

Here is a photograph of one that slammed my backyard window. It's amazing the detail that the dust imprint left ont he glass. It happens about three or four times a summer. (Probably the same bird falling in love with it's own image, maybe.) The "bird dust" was on the window in a detailed image of the bird.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Plane comes a little too close for comfort over Orland Park pool

A plane believed to be flown by an Orland Park lifeguard student pilot flew extremely close above the Orland Park pool, waving it's wings as it buzzed the pool three times, pool goers reported Saturday afternoon.

"It was a little too close for comfort," one witness said. "You could see the lines on the wheels and read the number on the plane."

Pool guards said the student pilot was a lifeguard at the Orland Park Pool, but did not identify him by name.

There was no comment from village officials.

No one was injured, but several pool goers said they were at first concerned when the plane flew over the first time. But it became obvious the pilot, identified as a student by other lifeguards, was merely saying hello to his friends.

# # #

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wild animals all over Orland Park and southwest suburbs

There's a huge hawk that circles around a one square mile area around 151st and 9000 West, scoping out and killing baby rabbits. It's a horrible site to see a baby rabbit running around the yard and then a few days later find its mutilated carcass on the lawn.

Possum are frequent occurrences late at night. Their bright yellow eyes glimmer in the dark, usually in corners against the fence. One made it into the garage one time and tried to hide behind a few boxes until I opened the garage door and saw him sitting atop a railing in the garage along the stairwell. The car frightened him and he ran like the dickens. (What does like "the dickens" mean anyway?)

But this week, the dog started barking and when I looked out, I didn't see anyone walking by. But as I looked, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a shadow walking toward the mulberry tree and then slowly climb up. As I looked, I caught his long, gray and black striped tail disappear into the large green leaves of the tree.

So I went outside and at first tossed a few white decorating rocks into the tree as my son kept yelling, "You missed, dad!" Okay. Quit yelling Sandy Koufax. He's a left handed pitcher and right handed batter. Don't blame me. I can;t play sports at all. I'm lucky I remember the 1970s superstar pitcher was a southpaw.

Anyway, when that didn't work, I grabbed my trusty camera and the hose and sprayed water into the heart of the tree. And within minutes -- raccoons hate water, and homeowners who squirt them with water even more -- I saw the soaking raccoon waddle out on his tip toes, back stretched up in a clear sign that I had better be careful.

I shot this picture as he waddled away across the street, only to be chased out by the neighbor across the street who was watering his lawn. He waddled quickly, still on his tiptoes, across the street again towards 151st Street and into a group of evergreens where he hid.

(It was tough getting a clean shot at dusk running after him. He seemed like he was tip-toeing but he was still moving at a pretty good pace.)

Oh no. Not another raccoon. Years ago, a raccoon and his girlfriend -- who knows, maybe they were two gay males -- lived in my neighbors chimney. It took weeks to get him out. And a few years back, a squirrel and his girlfriend -- okay, maybe two males -- made their way into the roof of my home. At night, you'd hear them making all kinds of ruckus. Let's hope that was it. So I waited until I knew they were in there and I emptied five bottles of concentrated insect fogger into the roof, and then ran outside and waited watching the little hole in the roof eave. First, the grey mist of fogger started to make it's way out of the hole. And then a few seconds later, a screaming squirrel shot out like a bullet. And not too long after, another screaming squirrel popped out.

They were not happy. But I managed to get up there and seal the entrance.

Needless to say, I didn't have any problems with insects for a long time.

When I first moved into the house in 1986, a skunk had made her nest under the front step. I covered Chicago City Hall so I didn't think much of the odor. It just seemed normal. But one night I heard some noises in the middle of the night, and went to the front door. I looked outside and I saw a huge skunk with her tail straight up and curled, followed by four or five baby skunk one right in a row after her walking down the long driveway.

I wanted to filled the hole under the steps but I didn't do it until I knew they were out. I didn't have the heart to do it before seeing them. I didn't want to kill them. After they waddled off I quickly filled the hole with rocks, then stuffed it with plastic and poured in a gallon of ammonia on top of it. Come to think of it, that's when it really smelled like the Chicago City Council.

Ray Hanania

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Writer notes something I forgot

Orland Park was ranked 92 on Money Magazine's 100 Best Places to live. But Heather Warthen, one of my favorite journalists and the editor of the Orland Park Prairie, noted in her feature that in 2006, Orland Park was ranked 45.

I'm always hammering Orland Park's politicians. Some people say I do it because I don't like Orland Park, but I know two things about criticism: 1) Criticism is what forces elected government officials to do the right thing, the jobs they are paid to do but often contend they do as a favor for us; and 2) identifying faults and shortcomings is th efaster way to becoming even better, far more effective than patting yourself ont he back as our Mayor Dan McLaughlin often does to himself.

See I think Orland Park is a great community. But I also think it can be even better. Why aren't we number 1 on Money Magazine's top 100. Don't get me wrong. There are only about 100 "cities" in America (a city defined as having a population of more than 200,000), and there are thousands more towns and villages like Orland Park. How many thousands? I don't know. But I still think we are the best.

So how do you become better? By patting yourself on the back all the time and NEVER saying anything bad? (Criticism is considered a "sin" in Orland Park. You say something critical of Orland Park and the politicians put you ont heir blacklist.) I don't think pretending something is great when it is not is the right way to become even better.

You become better by identifying your faults, areas of shortcoming, and then correct them. You correct them and in the process you improve the bigger picture.

We have a lot of great things. A Great Police Chief. A Great Trustee Patricia Gira. A Great looking Village Hall. A TREMENDOUS civic center and director there. We even have great events like Taste fo Orland Park which is far better than Taste of Chicago. Okay, the Orland Days Festival can be better -- and I sure took some grief for saying that, but it's true. It has developed a bad reputation over the years and I am not sure why. But the Lions should figure it out, recognize it and then make it better. This year's Orland Days was better, I'm told. Maybe and other Orland Parkers will return to the Festival which has lost crowds over th eyears due to being sho ved around from dump to dump (like the old Homemaker's Mall -- that was the worst!) We have a great public pool. It's one of the best. And we have great schools and an even GREATER Recreation Department.

Some of our elected officials are lacking, deficient in leadership. But what else is knew in politics?

So I say, yes, let's be cheerleaders. Let's be community boasters. But, let's also be honest. And make Orland Park an even better community by not just applauding everything. But by also acknowledging where things need to be improved.

My list of things that need to be improved:

1 -- Office of the mayor -- needs to be more responsive and willing to listen.
2 -- Several trustee seats -- need to be replaced with people concerned about the community, not themselves or local politics.
3 -- Retail planning in the village needs to be improved. There are too many empty storefronts (When is the old Orland Park movie theater building going to be turned into the bright jewel it once was?).
4 -- Traffic control. Traffic in Orland Park is abysmal.
5 -- Flooding is still an issue in many areas, even on normal rainy days.
6 -- More openness in government: Put village board meetings on cable TV instead of those events that are videotaped that spend more time showcasing the elected officials.
7 -- More public participation in events like theater and comedy performances. (Get rid of the cliques).
8 -- More diversity at our summer festivals. I love Irish music but there is more in Orland Park, isn't there?
9 -- More funding and support for our schools.
10 -- How about one place where you can get a great corned beef and rye sandwich, instead of all the pasta and steaks. I'm just saying more variety!

Okay. That's my wish list.

Ray Hanania

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who voted how in screwing the taxpayers by refusing to repeal the Sales Tax

Breakdown of who screwed the public at Tuesday's Cook County Board meeting:

Voting For Sales Tax Reduction (Yeaaaaa1)
Forrest Claypool (D-12th)
Mike Quigley (D-10th)
Tony Peraica (R-16th)
Liz Doody-Gorman (R-17th)
Peter Silvestri(R-9th)
Gregg Goslin, (R-14th)
Tim Schneider (R-15th)

Voting to Maintain Sales Tax Hike (Boooooo!)
Earlean Collins, (D-1st)
Robert Steele, (D-2nd)
Jerry Butler, (D-3rd)
Bill Beavers, (D-4th)
Deborah Sims, (D-5th)
Joan Murphy, (D-6th)
Joe Moreno, (D-7th)
Roberto Maldonado, (D-8th)
John Daley, (D-11th)
Larry Suffredin, (D-13th)

At least for Orland Park residents, Gorman came through.

The worst part is not one of the Sales Tax proponents protested President Todd Stroger's insult to them when he refused to allow the rperesentatives for the people speak out against the sales tax. Stroger arrogantly appeared before reporters after boasting he's been doing a great job.

Yes, a great job at screwing the public, Todd!

Ray Hanania

Hypocrisies abound on Cook County Board to silence Peraica's fight against the sales tax hike

You can listen to my podcast with Cook County Board Commissioner Anthony Tony Peraica on my audio podcast web page at Peraica calls out Board President Todd Stroger who cut public discussion ont he oppressive sales tax he authored, which gives the City of Chicago the dubious honor of having the highest sales tax in the nation, 10.25 percent, and his colleagues for hypocrisy including Commissioners Larry Suffredin and Debra Sims, who said it's not the tax chasing people to buy in other counties, but public discussion about that tax that is pushing other counties to keep their taxes low to attract Cook County residents. (Commissioner Suffredin is dead wrong on this issue, although he has taken the appropriate pro-taxpayer stand on other issues. We agree with Peraica's assessment that Suffredin is being a hypocrite on the sales tax issues. Here is how one of Suffredin's supporters defended Suffredin's vote in favor of the sales tax increase, from the commissioner's web page.)

Also go to to read my column on the topic.

AND, view Ray Hanania's World comic strip on the fli-flopping at the Cook County Board on the Todd Stroger oppressive Sales Tax increase. Go there?

Ray Hanania

Friday, July 18, 2008

Give the TribLocal credit for hitting taxes on the head

TribLocal Reporter Heather MacDonald hit the nail on the taxing head in her story Thursday in the Chicago Tribune's popular weekly community newspaper insert ( The lead was right on the mark, "Orland Park grapples with budget shortfall."

But more important than the spin that Village officials have been pushing hard to sell -- arguing it's not a "shortfall" but just a budget adjustment -- is that MacDonald also nailed the real issue in the story, the FACT that the Village Board is considering revoking the annual tax rebate it gives to its citizens.

Among cutbacks and savings the village is examining closely, MacDonald writes, "One issue still on the table for the village board is whether to continue the practice of rebating Orland Park's share of the property tax collected by Cook County, which totals $5.3 million."

Not every caught that point, which village officioals are telling everyone is not an issue. (Afterall, there is a village election coming up and I don't care how many "awards" the village wins, they don't add up to the benefit of rebating property taxes, which average around $250 per homeowner.

Other cuts include not spending the $24,000 for a "new filing system" for the Village Clerk, David P. Maher's office. (I guess that means paying to have Maher attend an Illinois Open Meetings Act workshop is out of the question?)

Ray Hanania

Orland Park Village Clerk issues another "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" type notice

Some government officials just don't care, or maybe they don't want to care I guess. It really makes Orland Park Village Clerk David Maher look ridiculous when he cites the Illinois Open Meetings Act right after stating at the top of a public meeting notice:




as he has done, again, at the very top of the most recent notice.

I've tried my best to explain to the clerk that the words he uses impact the spirit and the literal intent of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

Here is the latest notice from the village about, by the way, a Special Meeting of the Village Board to be held Thursday July 24 at 6 PM to discuss the 2008 Village Budget.

Some government officials are stubborn and just don't care what the public has to say. It's arrogance and a comfort level in office that no public official paid on the dime of taxpayers should experience. They should always be considerate of public opinions. And, more importantly, a good leader is always ready to admit when they are wrong.

Apparently, Orland Village Clerk David Maher just doesn't want to admit he is wrong. (By the way, he never acknowledged the statement in the letter he received from the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that her office "advised" that his office stop using that language. So they just came up with a new version.

To me, the issue is one of principle. Maher could meet the basic requirements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act simply by posting a notice at least 48 hours in advance of a special meeting and that's all he has to care about. And, apparently according to his understanding of the law, he can put whatever words at the top of the notice because the Illinois Open Meetings Act simply does not address the placement of words and phrases that might be interpreted (clearly) as discouraging public notice and publication of a notice.

Oh well. But to the news.


Regardless, the real issue is the budget and the tax increases that have taken place over the past few years in Orland Park, and the details of how the village plans to overcome the $4.8 million budget shortfall in the upcoming budget. (See the post below this one on how back door taxes have gone up in Orland Park since at least 2004).

Not that any of the village officials care what you, as a citizen really think anyway -- with the exception of one village trustee and one employee, whom I won't name as that would just make them pariahs at Town Hall.

Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

Ray Hanania

Orland "Stepford Wives" Park and soaring tax increases reflected in our "Water Bills"

Have you taken a close look at your Water Bill lately? It isn't fair to call it a "Water Bill" because in truth, the majority of the "bill" isn't about water any more. It doesn't look like it has gone up over the years, but it has. And much of the increases are TAX INCREASES!

They said the water bills increase are due to the increases imposed by the City of Chicago (and Mayor Daley's excessive and oppressive tax increases) and by Oak Lawn, which is our "agent" for Lake Michigan water sold by Chicago.

But most of the increase comes from other services that increased, too, and some of them are TAX INCREASES.

The bill breaks down as follows:

  • Water Service
  • Sewer Service
  • Storm Water Service
  • Village Service Charge
  • Garbage Service

My last bill was $96.98. Only $42.57 was for water. The remainder is $54.41, which includes the $7.51 Service Charge imposed to manage the bi-monthly billing by the Village of Orland Park.

The billing system is also about two months behind. My last bill covered the period from March 20, 2008 to May 23, 2008. And of course, we are in the "Control Season" where water is used the most to keep the lawns from dying. That means my water bill for June-July and August-Sept. is going to skyrocket even more when those bills hit in October and then December? Yikes!

-- Actually, I was thinking to apply to the Village to see if I can get permission to grow one of those "Green Lawns" that they have around the Award Winning Orland Park Police Building that Congressman Judy Biggert made time to help showcase recently after residents complained to the that the lawn was not being mowed and it looked unkempt. It still looks unkempt, but now they have a reason. Anyway, not watering the lawn would keep the water portion of my bill from skyrocketing when that bill arrives after the summer. I love the way that the news reports on the Police Building ignored public concerns about its shabby look -- remember, Orland Park is an Award Winning Town and the Police Station is an Award Winning Station and Mayor Dan McLaughlin is an Award Winning Mayor. I feel like this is an episode of the Stepford Wives here. There's no such thing as bad news and when it does get reported on this blog and on other blogs, the local media ignores that! Can't showcase the dirt.

What's really depressing about this is how significant the increases in the "Water Bill" have been over the past four years.

Water Service and Garbage Service costs are not necessarily tax increases, if we assume they reflect the actual increase in the cost of service. But the increases in the Sewer Service, the Storm Water Service and especially the Village Service Charge ARE TAX INCREASES.

Here's an overview:


In calculating the increase, you can't just compare water charges from one period to another. I looked back in 2004, and pulled a bill from May 27-July 29, 2004, which was a higher water usage period than the one I am comparing it with. But, you can calculate the precise cost of a "UNIT of Water." I used 11 Units in this current billing period. Four years ago, I used 13 Units of water at a cost of $33.41.

It doesn't sound like much of an increase, does it? Going from $33.41 back in 2004 to $42.57 today. It is an increase of only $9.16. But, that's misleading.

The cost of a Unit of Water in 2004 was $2.5. The cost of a Unit of Water in 2008 is $3.5. (According to my bill.)

That means the cost of water has increased $1, or 40 percent in the past four years. That is NOT a tax increase, though. It's an increase in the cost of a product Orland Stepford Wives Park must purchase.


Also not a Tax Increase, though, is the cost of the Garbage Service, which went up, too. It was $26 in 2004 and in my current bill is $34.30. That's an increase of $8.30, which represents an increase in costs of 32 percent, which is the highest damn increase in the whole bill.


But, what are tax increases we know for sure?


Of course, with the money wasted by the village to purchase those selected homes damaged by water in 1996, the cost of the Storm Water Service surcharge increased even more significantly from $2.47 in 2004 when the service stunk, to $6.72 this past bill cycle.

That is a 172 percent increase in the Storm Sewer surcharge imposed by the village. That's a TAX INCREASE, by the way. But who cares in Orland Stepford Wives Park?

That is an ENORMOUS INCREASE to cover the village's mishandled attempts to correct the poor storm water drainage system that was devasting homes, and still does.

Not that the village engineering company gives a crap about that -- they cared about some homes but ignored challenges facing others homes based on political considerations -- which is one reason why I think Mayor McLaughlin is not that great of a mayor. He has that 19th Ward political vindicitiveness running through his political veins and he likes to pretend he's just a nice guy. Right!


What's the TAX INCREASE on the Village Service Charge?

Well, that went up from $6.70 in 2004 to $7.51 in the current cycle. That is an increase of .81 cents, or a TAX INCREASE of 12 percent.


The Sewer Service also went up by the same suspicious amount, 81 cents, from $5.07 in 2004 to $5.88 in this current bill. An increase of 16 percent. (I'm going to guess they just tacked on the .81 cents to each of the Service Charge and to the Serwer Service charge.) That's a TAX INCREASE, too.

(On my math: I calculated the difference in the bill from today and the past, and then divided that by the past bill to determine what percentage it was of the past bill amount to reflect the percentage increases. For example, the Old Garbage bill was $26 and the new one is $34.30. That's an increase of $8.30. Multiply the $26 by 100 and divide it by $8.30 and you get 32 percent. $8.30 represents 32 percent of the old bill, which is the increase amount.)


Non-Tax Increases

  • Water Charges have gone up 40 percent in the past four years.
  • Garbage collection has gone up 32 percent

Not a tax increase, but an increase in product costs.

Real Tax Increases

  • Storm Water Service has gone up 172 percent
  • Sewer Service has gone up 16 percent
  • Village Service Surcharge has gone up 12 percent

So, don't let them tell you there hasn't been a tax increase in "Orland Stepford Wives Park."

There have been tax increases!

Oh, and did I mention an election is coming up in the Spring?

Believe me when I tell you that if it wasn't for news and opinion sites like this one, the politicians would lie to you through their noses because they know the local papers, which are under a lot of political pressure from the mayor, would not want to piss him off.

Which means that you, the ignored citizen of Orland Park, and me, the OrlandParker, have to do the heavy lifting here.

Ray Hanania

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Everyone out to help themselves in Orland Plaza controversy

The one place I really enjoy eating is at the Plaza Cafe at 143rd and LaGrange Road. I went there this morning and had the Steak Skillet -- eggs sunnyside up and cheddar cheese on the hash brown, chopped steak and mixed vegetables underneath.

Man was that great!

Across the street from the Orland Park Shopping Mall and in the shadow of all the big-time developments in our town, it may seem like an outmoded commercial strip from the past. But in a way for this corner business strip, it's the "past" that makes it so great!

The owners are some big, tough land developers George Gee and his partner, Ron Johnson. Gee is a name I am familiar with. I had an insurance broker at the Gee-Schussler agency once or maybe still located in the mall. They handled my personal insurance for a number of years. I remember them telling me the "Schussler" name was the same family name as Village Trustee Ed Schussler, a former interim village president who is now a member of the village board.

The village has been negotiating forever trying to buy the property from Gee and Johnson, but apparently it never went anywhere. How much time and money was wasted on that effort? And what was the real obstacle? Developer's greed? Village greed? Who knows, although having dealt with commercial property managers for years, I've never liked any of them. Who really cares "about the public."

For many, it's all about the money. Think it's cheap holding a lease in that or any mall along LaGrange Road? Are you kidding me?

The property has to have some real value and for sure, there must be a gap between what the village wanted to pay and what the owners are willing to accept. You didn't think this was really about the store owners, did you? They pay a lease. They won't get the money. Maybe they'll get some help relocating. Maybe some will close. The bulk of the money goes to the property owners, and some, I am sure, must go to the strip mall owners. Maybe there is a buyout fo the leases, and maybe some cash for the small store owners.

But the real gap is that no one really cares about the public or the small store owners, some of whom have spent years building up a client base. I'll give Mayor Dan Laughlin some credit, having spoken to some of the store owners there. He's tried to help them, they say. He's tried his best to make sure that everyone walks away with a fair deal. But he's under a lot of pressure. Maybe this is the best answer to an uncertain future.

I just wish someone would spill the beans on the real story about this mall. What is it really about? Everyone has an angle, a spin, a self-serving story. How about telling the story from the standpoint of the store owners?

But when the strip mall does close, there will be several stores there I will miss -- Orland Video, owned by a great guy who was long ago a former partner of mine when I was at the Chicago Sun-Times, Miroballi Shoes (they owned another location where I once published The Villager Newspapers), and, of course, the Plaza Cafe.

When you read the stories, and the spin, and the PR and the moaning from the village and the strip mall owners, take a moment to think about the little store owners, who are the once who will really take a bath in this, and the customers who for years have seen Orland Plaza as a homey little place that was fun and relaxing to enjoy.

When the time does come, we'll miss them.

Ray Hanania

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Orland Park sneaks in on Money Magazine's List of Best Places in America to live

Here is the complete list of cities named "Best Places to Live by Money Magazine."

Orland Park, thanks to it's wonderful citizens, just made the list sneaking in at 92. We're right behind Naperville, Bolingbrook. Wheaton and Aurora. (Rank, city, state, population):

1 Plymouth, MN 70,100
2 Fort Collins, CO 129,400
3 Naperville, IL 142,900
4 Irvine, CA 193,900
5 Franklin Township, NJ 59,100
6 Norman, OK 102,800
7 Round Rock, TX 92,300
8 Columbia/Ellicott City, MD 158,800
9 Overland Park, KS 166,700
10 Fishers, IN 61,800
11 Olathe, KS 114,600
12 Highlands Ranch, CO 102,600
13 Parsippany/Troy Hills, NJ 52,900
14 McKinney, TX 107,500
15 Carrollton, TX 121,600
16 Cary, NC 112,400
17 Eagan, MN 63,700
18 Richardson, TX 99,800
19 Hunter Mill, VA 124,100
20 Allen, TX 73,200
21 Abington, PA 57,400
22 Troy, MI 81,100
23 Piscataway, NJ 53,900
24 Apple Valley, MN 50,100
25 Sully, VA 158,500
26 Lakeville, MN 53,000
27 Ann Arbor, MI 113,200
28 Gilbert, AZ 191,500
29 Gaithersburg, MD 57,900
30 Chandler, AZ 240,500
31 Burke, VA 58,200
32 Bolingbrook, IL 69,800
33 Loveland, CO 61,100
34 Euless, TX 52,000
35 Edison, NJ 101,400
36 West Bloomfield Township, MI 65,900
37 Reston, VA 63,600
38 Frisco, TX 80,400
39 Shawnee, KS 59,200
40 Eden Prairie, MN 60,900
41 Maple Grove, MN 60,500
42 Bellevue, WA 118,100
43 Burnsville, MN 59,300
44 Westminster, CO 105,700
45 Franklin, TN 55,800
46 North Hempstead, NY 222,600
47 Scottsdale, AZ 231,100
48 Novi, MI 54,100
49 Newton, MA 82,800
50 Longmont, CO 82,600
51 Hamilton, NJ 91,700
52 Edmond, OK 76,600
53 Ames, IA 51,500
54 Wheaton, IL 54,600
55 Peoria, AZ 142,000
56 Missouri City, TX 73,600
57 Denton, TX 109,500
58 Washington, NJ 52,600
59 Clay, NY 58,800
60 St. Peters, MO 54,800
61 Sterling Heights, MI 127,900
62 Shelby, MI 72,200
63 Orem, UT 90,800
64 Sugar Land, TX 79,900
65 Chapel Hill, NC 49,900
66 Rockville, MD 59,100
67 Garland, TX 217,900
68 O'Fallon, MO 72,400
69 Lewisville, TX 94,500
70 Rochester, MN 96,900
71 Clarkstown, NY 82,600
72 Waltham, MA 59,300
73 Weston, FL 65,700
74 Aurora, IL 170,600
75 Union, NJ 56,000
76 West Hartford, CT 65,100
77 Howell, NJ 52,000
78 Coral Springs, FL 129,800
79 Lee's Summit, MO 81,900
80 Greenburgh, NY 89,000
81 Germantown, MD 59,600
82 St. Charles, MO 63,000
83 Sandy, UT 94,200
84 Henderson, NV 240,600
85 Chesapeake, VA 220,500
86 Middletown, NJ 67,600
87 Brookline, MA 59,600
88 Fargo, ND 90,000
89 Madison, WI 223,300
90 Roseville, CA 107,100
91 Fountain Valley, CA 55,800
92 Orland Park, IL 55,500
93 Blaine, MN 55,100
94 Sunnyvale, CA 130,500
95 Spring Valley, NV 176,700
96 Grand Prairie, TX 153,800
97 Bismarck, ND 58,300
98 Miramar, FL 108,000
99 Midlothian, VA 54,500
100 Wayne, NJ 55,700

# # #

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Village Clerk David Maher misleads public on letter from the Illinois Attorney General

As much as I try to give public officials who work on our dime the benefit of the doubt, I have to say I am shocked and dismayed over the conduct of Orland Park Village Clerk David Maher.

As you have read below in earlier postings, Mr. Maher asserts that he received a letter from the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stating, and quoting his letter,

"The Illinois Attorney General has exonerated the Village of Orland Park and in its letter to Mr. Hanania wrote, 'While general public notice is the underlying purpose of the Act’s notice requirements, there is no evidence that the conduct of the Village in this case violates any of the Act’s provisions.' "

No, Mr. Maher, it turns out you took that sentence out of context. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office didn't "exonerate" you at all. In fact, they never used that word. What they said was there was NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE of a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act by your office.

In fact, the main part of that statement IN CONTEXT relate to another part of the letter and the remainder of that paragraph that you intentionally excluded, which states clearly:

"While the Act does describe certain information that must be contained in a public notice of a special meeting of a public body, it is silent with respect to any additional language or information a public body might include in its posted notices. It is unclear from the information you provided why the Village included such a statement on the posted notice and we would certainly advise that the Village avoid such language in the future, in order to prevent confusion."

The Village is only required to post the notice and THAT WAS NEVER AN ISSUE in my expressed concern regarding this matter. My sole concern is and remains that the village may have intentionally added the language "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" to discourage the media from posting it immediately on their web sites so that the PUBLIC (not the media) would be able to attend. As it turns out, no media published any information prior to this unprecedented special meeting which was of significant importance to the citizens of Orland Park.

The Letter from the Illinois Attorney General, which I received the DAY AFTER the village allegedly received a letter (my letter has no notation that a copy was sent anywhere), emphasizes that ONLY because there is not more information about why the village did what it did, the Illinois Attorney General concluded it was NOT a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

But I will repeat what the letter did say that Mr. Maher conveniently excluded from his letter to me, we reached me the day before the Illinois ATtorney General's Letter:

"we would certainly advise that the Village avoid such language in the future, in order to prevent confusion."

Mr. Maher gave this ridiculousa explatation (see earlier posting below) that the intent of the phrase "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" was:

"This phrase is used to let the media know that paid space is not being purchased for publishing the notice."

Normally, a village will state at the bottom of a letter or posting "Not paid for by public funds." And the purpose of the phrase "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" is clearly to discourage the media from pre-publicizing the event so that members of the public who are not in the media -- and the Illinois Open Meetiings Act is, according to the Illinois Attorney General, designed to inform the media AND the public of public meetings -- could attend the meeting.

No one in the public knew.

Who is playing a game here?

Ray Hanania

Here's the link to the letter sent to me by the Illinois Attorney General:

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Letter to me dated July 9, 2008 and received July 12, 2008, the day after Mr. Maher received his letter: View Letter?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Illinois Open Meetings Inquiry held hostage: Day 1

I did receive mail on Friday, July 11, 2008, and wanted to show that I did not receive a letter or a response from the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on my July 1, 2008 INQUIRY about the special notice by the Village of Orland Park of June 27, 2008.

Madigan did notify the village Clerk David Maher, according to his email and letter attached, that she did contact him to EXONERATE him (even though there was no accusation).

Here's a photo of my mail from Friday:

I'll do this every day until I get a letter from Ms. Madigan. Hopefully, I might get one BEFORE she leaves office to run for Governor of Illinois.

Maybe I'll get the letter, tomorrow. (See the post below for details about the Illinois Open Meetings Act issue, and the Village of Orland Park's response quoting Il. Attorney General Lisa Madigan's letter to them -- not to me)

Ray Hanania

Village Clerk responds to possible Open Meetings Act violation

Well, you didn't expect Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is going to run for governor soon, to criticize the 19th Ward -- er, the Village of Orland Park for their unusual, unprecedented non-public public notice about a last-minute special meeting to discuss the surprise, unexpected deficit in the upcoming village budget, did you?

Orland Park Village Clerk David Maher sent me this letter, which I gladly publish and share:

July 11, 2008

Mr. Ray Hanania
Orland Park, Il 60462
Dear Mr. Hanania:

Please permit me to respond to the July 9, 2008 column entitled, "Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act." This particular column concerns the Village issuing a meeting notice on Friday, June 27, 2008 for a meeting of Orland Park’s Board of Trustees on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6:00 p.m.

The Village of Orland Park did not violate the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. We followed the 48 hours notice, as required by the Open Meetings Act, which states, "Public notice of special meetings, except a meeting held in the event of a bona fide emergency, must be given at least 48 hours before such special meeting, and the notice must also include the agenda for the special meeting. The actions of the public body, while not required to be specifically detailed in the notice, should be "closely related" to those matters set forth in the agenda for the special meeting."

The Village followed the stipulations of the act, announcing the meeting 48 hours before it was convened and included the agenda for the meeting. This notice was publicly posted in the lobby of the Village Hall, on the Village’s website and was distributed to the media.

As for the "not for publication" notation on the notice, this was not an "embargo order" as assumed. This phrase is used to let the media know that paid space is not being purchased for publishing the notice. This same notice was distributed to all of the media outlets that have filed requests with the Village of Orland Park to receive such notices.

The Illinois Attorney General has exonerated the Village of Orland Park and in its letter to Mr. Hanania wrote, "While general public notice is the underlying purpose of the Act’s notice requirements, there is no evidence that the conduct of the Village in this case violates any of the Act’s provisions."

Assistant Public Access Counselor Amanda Lundeen further wrote, "…the Act only requires that the notice be posted, not that the Village ensure that it be published." And, Assistant Attorney General Lundeen closes with, "As such, it does not appear from the information provided that any violation of the Open Meetings Act occurred."

Sincerely yours,
David P. Maher
Village Clerk
Village of Orland Park

While I appreciate Clerk Maher as being a great public servant, and while we often agree on so many other issues, permit me to disagree on this one. Mr. Maher has come up with a very interesting explanation that, as a political reporter for some 30 years, I have never heard uttered once:

"This phrase is used to let the media know that paid space is not being purchased for publishing the notice."

In my opinion, that is ridiculous!

If that were the intent of the phrase they typed in UPPERCASE letters "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," they would have said it in English, "The Village did not pay to have this published."

And, if Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is expected to run for governor and needs Orland Park's support, doesn't want to criticize the village, not even to urge them to change their language on future postings, that doesn't change the fact of the matter at all.

The village did achieve what in my opinion was their real intent, to minimize public participation at the meeting at which they disclosed the shortfall in the next fiscal budget. Announce a "special meeting" on a Friday. Put at the top of the notice "NOT FOR PUBLICATION." And then spint he story that this isn't a "deficit" or a "shortfall." It's just that this year's revenues don't meet the expenses we have for next year. Ooops!

But, the important thing, is that we will be watching the village conduct regarding the budget and how they hope to cover the budget deficit.

What the village has not responded to yet is 'what was the rush?' How is it that only a few months after such a glowing overview of the village's budget made by Mayor Dan McLaughlin at the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce, the village is suddenly 4 percent short in revenues to cover budget expenditures, a situation that requires them to cutback services to off-set the shortfall?

I haven't heard an answer to that.

Still, Clerk Maher is a responsible official, taking the time to answer the public's concern. Public accountability is about forcing government officials to address issues even when they don't like the issues or they don't want to address the issues. They work for us. We, the public, don't work for them.

Ray Hanania

PS: I am glad that the village got a response from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office about an "INQUIRY" that I sent the Attorney General asking if the Attorney General would look at the issue, BEFORE I actually got a response from the Illinois Attorney General. It just goes to show where the Illinois Attorney General's priorities are at, I guess.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Like a scene from the Tom Cruise movie "War of the Worlds"

Amazing images over Orland Park this evening as strange clouds ominously swept across the Orland Park skies Thursday night around 8:05 PM:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act

So far, no one wants to go on the record officially, but it appears that the Village of Orland Park may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

The issue is now being reviewed by staffers for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That doesn't mean they will be willing to hammer an important Democratic municipality whose mayor has strong union ties and is controlled by the powers-that-be in the powerful Chicago 19th Ward.

Still, it is an issue.

The Village of Orland Park issued a notice on Friday, June 27, 2008 to announce that a special village board meeting would be held on Monday, June 30, 2008 at 6 PM. The notice posting met the minimal requirement that notices of public meetings be made available to the public at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting start.

But, the village notice, which announced what turned out to be a major meeting event that disclosed the Village of Orland Park has a budget shortfall of $4.8 million, also had the warning posted on the very top of the notice itself, which read "NOT FOR PUBLICATION."

How can you post a notice under the Illinois Open Meetings Act and then tell the people receiving it that it is "NOT FOR PUBLICATION?"

First, the fact that the meeting was called on a Friday suggested that there was some politics being played. Governments always announce BAD NEWS on Fridays because of the nature of the news cycle. The least viewed and read news media is on Friday. Most of what is published in Sunday's papers (SUnday is ther most read day of the week for print media) is laid-out by Thursday. And, usually, to get into the media on Monday mornings news, you would have to write it over the weekend.

So, announcing news on Friday is one way government's minimize the negative news.

Adding the warning "NOT FOR PUBLICATION" touches on a tradition of professional journalism. When you accept something that says "EMBARGOED" or "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," there is an honor in journalism in which the information will NOT BE PUBLICIZED.

But, the Illinois Open Meetings Act DEMANDS that all notices of upcoming government meetings MUST BE PUBLICIZED.

The Illinois Open Meetings Act is not written so that the media can know about events. The purpose of the LAW is to make sure the PUBLIC knows about the meetings.

How different that meeting would have been on Monday June 30, 2008 at 6 PM if members of the public had actually learned about the special meeting to discuss a major shortfall of $4.8 million in the village's budget, which is only $127 million? How different it would have been if the news media that received the notice jumped on an obviously important story on Friday instead of waiting to cover the meeting -- when so very few attended the meeting to cover it -- and then reported on it on Tuesday, after the fact and after the village had its spin.

Don't expect the village to be cited, although the Illinois Press Association spokesperson told me:

" ... a unit of government can not prohibit the publication of the date/ time/agenda of a public meeting…NO WAY. In fact, the whole idea that they put it on the top of the notice is unbelievable. "

I sent them a link to the notice, which I'll bet any amount of money, will be removed.

Ray Hanania

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Controlling the air pollutants in Orland Park ...

Click image to view larger image

Ray Hanania's World comic strip
Orland Park Village Board Meeting
News media covers how great Mayor McLaughlin is ... village wins award for controlling air pollutants ... but not a blowhard politician ...
July 8, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

Orland Park Police Headquarters lawn caper solved

Well, the caper of Orland Park's awardwinning but surly and unkempt Police Headquarters lawn has been solved, in response to the, of course.

The good news: They mowed the lawn. Well, most of it. They mowed the lawn in the triangle right in front of the headquarters, and along the public easement on the street side of the sidewalks. Looks nice and clean. You can actually read the sign now.

But the lawn behind and around the sign, and along the building on 151st Street on the building side of the sidewalk has been designated protected natural wild open grasslands. A sign has been put up -- finally explaining the jungle -- that reads "Three Year Prairie Grass Project."

When I lived in Chicago many years ago, one of my neighbors had a "three year prairie grass project" on his front lawn. It didn't look very good. The problem with wild Tall Grass, if that's what they are hoping for or an open lands prairie is that the prairies next to buildings look like bad lawns, still.

So does this one. It looks like a mess. But, an intentional mess! At least we finally have the answer now to the Police Headquarters Lawn caper. People driving past can stop calling and emailing me, asking about why the police headquarters lawn is so messy. It's "the wild!" You have your answer. We're glad to help.

Someone from the village will probably eventually write or email (don't hold your breath on that, though) to say they explained all this to the local news media. Wow! Usually the local news media runs all of the village's press releases, verbatim. So why not this one?

Ray Hanania

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's not illegal, but contractors and business pour money into Mayor McLaughlin's campaign warchest

So you want to run for Mayor of Orland Park? Anyone can. But, if you do decide to run for office, you might want to get to know many of the village contractors who do business with Orland Park. Because they make a lot of contributions, including to Mayor McLaughlin.

Orland Park is a "play-and-pay" system where contractors get business from the village and don’t hesitate to make contributions to the elected officials who approve their contracts. The test of whether a contractor is making a donation to reward the receipt of a major contract would come in whether they also make donations to other candidates running against the incumbents they support.

A review of Mayor McLaughlin’s campaign contribution disclosures, the last one filed for the last half of 2008, which reported more than $37,000 in contributions in it’s annual filing that was due Jan. 22, 2008. The new Campaign Disclosure D-2 Report representing contributions received during the first six months of 2008 is to be filed July 21, 2008.

Almost one-third of the donations made to Mayor McLaughlin during the reporting period (June 1, 2007-Dec. 31, 2007) came from contributors who do or have done business with the Village of Orland Park, or that are existing village businesses.

It’s all legal. Some argue convincingly that government officials should not be taking donations from companies who do business with their village, and that officials who do take donations should not be voting on the approval of those contracts. Right now, there is legislation (HB0824) to tighten the restrictions on statewide policies involving contributions, mainly targeting Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Here’s an overview of donations from Orland Park Village contractors and village businesses, including the date when the contract awards or extensions were approved, and also when the donations were made:

(Information obtained from "Citizens for Daniel J. McLaughlin," last report filed Jan. 2008.)

Alpha Construction Company, Hazel Crest
CONTRACT: Bid opened April 4, 2007; awarded contract April 9, 2007.
DONATION: Oct. 26, 2007 donated $1,000 to McLaughlin’s campaign

(From the Village Board Minutes, April 9, 2007)
Four companies remitted a bid proposal. Sealed bids were opened by the Clerk's Office on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, at 11:00 a.m. Bid proposals were received from: Alpha Construction Co. of Hazel Crest, Illinois; Central Blacktop Co., Inc. of LaGrange, Illinois; Crowley-Sheppard Asphalt, Inc. of Chicago Ridge, Illinois and K-Five Construction Corp. of
Lemont Illinois. Alpha Construction Co. was the low bidder at $2,477,178.80. Therefore, it is recommended that Alpha Construction Company be awarded the bid. I move to recommend to the Board of Trustees to approve awarding the bid for the 2007 Road. Improvement Program and miscellaneous pavement patching to Alpha Construction Co. of Hazel Crest, Illinois, for an amount not to exceed $2,778,165.31;

Blackwater Construction & Development
CONTRACT: Petitioned the Planning Commission for a new development. Approved Oct. 9, 22, and Nov. 5, 2007 with no opposition on board
DONATION: Oct. 26, 2007 donated $250 to McLaughlin’s Campaign

Contract Info:
Orland Park: Biltmore Towers Mixed-Use Development, Ravinia Ave. and 144th Street, 39,930 mixed-use development, July 2008, $3 million.

Blackwater donated more than $23,000 to elected officials during the same period, and McLaughlin’s donation was the smallest amount given. Most were above $500 or more.

Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd.
CONTRACT: $56,000 in legal work Submitted March 2007, Approved by the Village July 2007
DONATION: $1,000 on Oct. 26, 2007

(From Village Board Minutes July 2, 2007)
The Spring Creek Agreement obligates Gallagher & Henry to turn over Doctor Marsh to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Cook County has still not taken this property so the Village can hold it until the County accepts it. This property includes Doctor Marsh and Spring Creek, both of which need restoration. The Army Corps of Engineer has agreed to this area being designated a wetland mitigation bank. This allows mitigation dollars from developers and projects to be funneled into this site for restoration, keeping the funds in Orland Park and reimbursing the Village for its costs. Currently, the Village is involved with two projects that require wetland mitigation. One is 156th Street between LaGrange Road and Ravinia Avenue. The other is the bikepath along the ComEd easement near 139th Street. A suitable site and a restoration plan for that site are required. The Doctor property is a suitable site and Christopher Burke has prepared a scope of work not to exceed $56,600. The scope of work specifically addresses the 156th Street project but included identification of other potential restoration on the site. The idea is that this will draw other mitigation funds required by the Army Corps and the Village can get reimbursed. The scope of work includes topographical survey, wetland field reconnaissance, assessment report, conceptual wetland mitigation plan, agency coordination and final engineering plans for a wetland mitigation/restoration project on the Doctor property.
Christopher Burke, an engineer from Rosemont, has donated $13,400 in his name personally to an assortment of candidates. But under the company name, through which McLaughlin received his contribution, Christopher B. Burke Engineering donated over $400,000 to candidates, including McLaughlin, according to state disclosure records.

McDonough Associates Inc.
CONTRACT: Requested approval for $10,000 in additional fees for construction work at 159th and Ravinia on April 2, 2007, approved by village April 16, 2007.
DONATION: $1,000 made on Oct. 19, 2007
McDonough has sponsored many Orland Park events going back several years.

MCZ Development Corp.
CONTRACT: $6.4 million land development in Orland Park planned in 2007, dropped in March 2008 (according to Crain’s Chicago Business, June 9, 2008).
DONATION: $1,000 Oct. 18, 2007

(From Crains Chicago Business June 9, 2008:)
Just across 153rd Street from that site, two deals to buy 73 acres where Andrew had its headquarters have failed to materialize. Last May, Kimball Hill pulled out of a deal to pay $16.5 million for the property, which is zoned for 172 housing units. In March, Chicago-based MCZ Development Corp. failed to pull the trigger on buying the property for $6.4 million, says Len Caldeira, managing principal with the Chicago office of Staubach Co., who is marketing the property.

MCZ also hosts a golf outing for the Crisis Center.

Mid America Tree & Landscape Inc.
CONTRACT: Low bidder for three-year contract for 50-50 tree planting program, July 23, 2007
DONATION: $500, Nov. 3, 3007

(From the Village Board Minutes, July 23, 2007:)
The three (3) year 50/50 Tree Purchase and Planting Bid was opened on July 11, 2007 at 11:00 a.m. Three (3) bid specifications were sent out and two bids were returned. Mid-America Tree and Landscape, Inc., was low bid at $250 per tree for three years. With the 50/50 split, the cost to the homeowner will be $125.00 per tree and the cost to the Village will be $125.00 per tree. Last years' prices were $300.00 per tree. This is a great savings not only to the homeowner, but to the Village as well. 3" caliber tree planted: $250 per tree each year for three (3) years 2008, 2009 and 2010. I move to recommend to the Board to approve accepting the 50/50 Tree Purchase and Planting Bid amount for a three (3) year contract as stated in the specifications from Mid-America Tree & Landscape, Inc., at a cost not to exceed $250.00 per tree for three (3) years 2008, 2009 and 2010;

Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co., Ltd.
CONTRACT: Conducts village’s annual audit, accepted April 9, 2007
DONATION: $800, Oct. 19, 2007

(Salvador, Philip, donated $300, Oct. 19, 2007. Mulcahy, Edward W, donated $500, Oct. 19, 2007.)

The Horton Group Inc.
CONTRACT: Provides Insurance for the Village. Liability Insurance renewal for 2008 approved unanimously by the Village Board Sept. 4, 2007
DONATION: $500. Donated Oct. 26, 2007

(Brad O’Halloran abstained from vote.)

Waste Management
CONTRACT: Provides waste removal for the village, awarded 3 year contract extension July 16, 2007
DONATION: $500, Nov. 2, 2007

(From Village Minutes July 16, 2007:)
The Board of Trustees approved entering into a five (5) year contract with Waste Management of Illinois for the collection and removal of garbage, refuse, yard waste and recycling throughout the Village beginning November 1, 2002. Article Six (6) of the Agreement includes language which allows for a three (3) year extension to be negotiated after the initial term of the Agreement. Waste Management has provided continued exemplary service for the entire time that they have been under contract with the Village of Orland Park. Therefore, it is
recommended that Waste Management of Illinois be awarded a three (3) year extension to its existing contract starting on November 1, 2007 through October 31, 2010. Staff recommends Option "C" for the length of the extension for the following reasons: Every other week pickup for recycling service reduces fuel consumption, reduces loading on the Village streets and encourages co-mingling of recyclables. The 96 gallon container seems more than ample for storage volume for a two-week period of time. It has been suggested that Waste Management provide a sticker showing the dates of recycle pickup with the container. [Trustee moved] approve the extension of the Waste Management of Illinois contract for a three-year period beginning November 1, 2007 through October 31, 2010; And Approve authorizing the Village Manager to execute the contract.


DONATION: $1,000, Pct. 29, 2007
Principals involved in the building of the Orland Park Mosque also known as the Orland Park Prayer Center in 2005.
Co-sponsors the Orland Lands Garden Walk

Other ongoing contractors or businesses located in Orland Park who have donated to McLaughlin:

Comcast: $500
Community Honda, $500
Bell Boyd & Lloyd $1,000
Klein Thorpe & Jenkins, $1,000

(Note. I have done my best to track contributions based on what is available for the State, and to research awards and extensions for those companies. If any information is inaccurate, please email me at and I would be happy to correct or clarify it.)

Ray Hanania

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Orland Park officials fight the use of the word "deficit"

Get ready to have sugar sprinkled all over your heads by Mayor Dan McLaughlin.

The Southtown/Star changed their headline to remove the word "deficit." Mayor McLaughlin, who only four months ago painted a rosey future of Orland Park's development for the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce, told members of a Village Board at a meeting that was intentionally not publicized Monday, that the village is about $4.8 million short. The village fiscal year begins Oct. 1 and during this next budget session, the village will expand the budget year by three months to carry it through all of 2009 and re-align the new fiscal year to begin Jan. 2010, village officials told the

Officials insist that they have a "hole" or a "gap," and they desperately don't want to call it a "deficit" or a "shortfall," even though that is exactly what it means to have a budget that is short on revenues to pay for programs that are ongoing.

Either the village can find new monies or can trim existing programs.

The budget "shortfall" is no small amount. For example, $4.8 million represents about 4 percent of the village's estimated $127 million budget -- McLaughlin told the Chamber it was $127 and Grimes says it is $129. There's $2 million gine right there, or $2 million more. Who knows?

Imagine the impact on the city of Chicago with it's budget of $3.2 billion (for the corporate budget only) if they had a 4 percent deficit or a shortfall -- and Chicago City Hall reporters would use exactly those terms to describe the budget "hole."

The budget shortfall would be the equivalent of $128 million, and that would be a huge tax hole to fill.

The only way to fill deficits and shortfalls is to raise new revenues. In this economy, which was bad when McLaughlin addressed the Chamber of Commerce and sugar-coated them to applause and absolutely no critical challenge (who wantsto be on the bad side of a vengeful mayor?), it is going to be tough to raise any new revenues.

County Board dictator, er President Todd Stroger's repressive 1 percent sales tax hike slammed Cook County this week, forcing everyone to drive from the Southwest suburbs to Will County where the sales tax is far lower to save huge costs. The last thing we need is a tax increase in Orland Park.

You may not have noticed but home after home in Orland Park is being confiscated by the demons who work for the local banks, who donate huge monies to the political coffers of our elected officials. People can't pay their mortgages and it's not just that many had those rip-off balloon mortgages that exploded with increases. Gasoline prices are sky-high, thanks to President George W. Bush and a phoney war on terrorism he ordered to that Vice President Dick Cheney's company, Halliburton, can make billions in profits from the war profiteering and the crappy equipment they provide to our soldiers.

It's all tied together. No taxpayer is an island!

In the next few weeks, I'll start posting the forms and information about the procedures you will need to run for office in Orland Park and in the Southwest Suburbs. We need new faces, new ideas and a new enthusiasm if we are going to survive. There are some great leaders in office in Orland Park and other government offices, but there are far too many incompetents who think that doing what they are supposed to do is enough to earn your accolades. It's not!

Ray Hanania

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Orland Park official I trust insists there will be no property tax increase

An Orland Park official who will remain nameless, who I trust, told me that the Village of Orland Park has no plans to increase taxes in Orland Park to address the projected budget "shortfall."

I normally do not trust elected officials given the past history of dishonesty I've encountered in 32 years of covering Chicago and suburban politics, but this one official I do trust.

The official also said that they may have to trim some programs back that have not received the kind of public buy-in that other more popular programs have received, in order to save money.

The economy has not been good for anyone, including in Orland Park, so these kinds of challenges, the official said, should be expected. The official said it isn't a "deficit," although my experience as a government reporter tells me a "shortfall" in any antiicpated budget is a deficit until it is filled.

As for the Public Notice, maybe saying "Not for Publication" was not a smart thing.

But, if this was the first budget meeting for the village, Mayor McLaughlin sure didn't start on the right foot of building public confidence by calling it in such short notice (Friday, June 27, for Monday, June 30 meeting). It made it seem like it is an emergency rather than "a normal process of reviewing the budget challenges" that face Orland Park, as the official, whom I respect, insisted.

More to follow (see other related stories below):

Ray Hanania

TALL GRASS CARTOON: Orland Park's budget woes ...

Click image to enlarge

Orland Park's sudden budget woes
"Tall Grass Cartoons"
July 1, 2008
Village of Orland Park
Read the post below on the story.
By Ray Hanania

Orland Park has a What? Budget deficit? Since when? TAX Increase on the way!

Mayor McLaughlin broke the bad news to the Village Board Monday night, June 30, at a special meeting of the Village Board called by Clerk David Maher on June 27. The Village of Orland Park has a "budget deficit" of $4.8 Million. Considering the village budget is only $127 million, that's a huge deficit of about 4 percent. Huge!

Here is my prediction: Mayor McLaughlin is setting the stage to RAISE ORLAND PARK TAXES BIG TIME!

Here are some issues I have with the announcement:

I -- The first is a possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act:

Maher may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act in posting the notice of the meeting: The notices are supposed to be posted publicly at least 48 hours in advance. But, in posting the notice of the Special Meeting, called on Friday June 27 for 6 PM Monday June 30 (the Open Meetings Act requires that notices be posted publicly at least 48 hours in advance ) , Maher added a little provision on his own to the top of the notice:

Posting publicly 48 hours ina dvance means posting it "publicly." But you can read the posting of the notice for the special meeting yourself and see that the Special Meeting Notice posted by Maher begins at the very top by stating "NOT FOR PUBLICATION."

What does that mean? Well, it means the Village thinks it can get away with calling a special meeting 48 hours in advance, without letting the public know. (They probably just let the media know so theyc ould be at the meeting and report it afterwards.) But, clearly, the Village Board and Mayor McLaughlin DID NOT WANT THE PUBLIC TO ATTEND TO ASK QUESTIONS.

II -- But the second issue has to do with the deficit itself:

What did Mayor McLaughlin know and when did he know it?

Every year McLaughlin gives a very glossy, shinny "State of the Village" speech to the members of the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce. Usually, McLaughlin brags about how great he is doing as Village President/Mayor.

In 2005, for example, McLaughlin told OPACC members:

"The Village has maintained its AA bond rating with both Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s. This is important and a big benefit when we sell bonds. The better bond rating allows us a better interest rate. Our budget for Fiscal Year 2005 was more than $131 million dollars and we are the seventh largest revenue producer in the State. We abated almost $1.5 million in property taxes which is a benefit to all property owners."

And it has been as cheery, and optimistic every year since.

Just four months ago, Mayor McLaughlin gave his most recent State of the Village Speech (February 27, 2008) at the OPACC's Installation Dinner for new officers. It was, once again, boring and very self-congratulating.

"There is a lot to go over in a short period of time. We have again prepared a handout that will be available that summarizes some of the things that have been done over the past year. I think you’ll be impressed."

The president of the OPACC thanked McLaughlin for his comments, saying:
"Thank you again to Mayor Dan McLaughlin for taking time from his busy schedule on Wednesday February 27th to address our Chamber members with his annual "State of the Village" message at Silver Lake Country Club. As always the event was well attended with over 130 chamber members on hand. We believe it is critical for our members to hear from the Mayor and other Village Officials about past accomplishments as well as any upcoming challenges, projects and goals that could impact the local business community."
"Upcoming challenges?" … What "upcoming challenges?"

McLaughlin noted that single-family "new starts" were down (new residential homes), there was an additional investment of $100 million in business investment, mainly many new restaurants in Orland Park …

He said there is still investment taking place and "confidence" in the community.
"The Finance Department received the Government Finance Officers Award for Excellence in Financial Reporting and was awarded the Government Finance Officers Distinguished Budget Award for fiscal year ending September 30, 2007. We continued to rebate the property taxes to the residents. This year we will be rebating over $5 million. We also are continuing to abate property taxes, which is beneficial to businesses.

"This year over $2.5 million in property taxes will be abated in addition to the mount that’s being rebated to the homeowners. The village continues to be ranked eventh in the State in terms of sales taxes and holding strong. This might be the time to mention that we just passed our 2008 budget. The budget is about $127 million. I found in my collection something that might interest you. This is the reasurer Report for the State of Illinois. It says that the amount of all funds in the State Treasury as of this date is $2.4 million. Of course, that was 1878."

No. What would interests us, Mayor McLaughlin, is how in three months, the Village of Orland Park's financial situation went from such a rosey and cheery picture that you painted to one that is bleak and disconcerting?

Coincidentally, our former Village Manager Robert J. Zeder resigned his post on November 5, 2007. What did he know and when did he know it?

He was just replaced by Paul Grimes, who bragged that one of his specialities was dealing with a budget deficits. Grimes, a U.S. Navy veteran, worked in the private and public sectors. He was last a business development executive with United Healthcare in Warwick, R.I. And before thatm he was director of administration for Cranston, Rhode Island, a city of 80,000 where he helped close an $11 million deficit by both cutting services and raising taxes.

The talk now is that McLaughlin says he can cut expenses that he detailed at the SECRET SPECIAL BOARD MEETING where the notice was NOT FOR PUBLICATION.

But not $4.8 million. So it turns out that Paul Grimes is not just the new Village Manager. He's our new Village Political Grim Reaper!

I've emailed questions to McLaughlin, Grimes, Maher and some members of the village board. We'll see how they respond.

Ray Hanania