Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Finally, relaxing among the sardines at the Orland Park pool

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Even if the weather destroyed the annual Memorial Day family picnic plans, Monday's burst of heat and sun sure made the Orland Park pool opening so appealing.

My wife and son got to the pool when it opened at 12 noon and there was already a huge line to get in. And when I got there at 1 pm, there were even more, some 200 people waiting in the pay-to-pool line and about 40 residents lined up to purchase annual passes.

I have an annual pass and walked through the entrance with no delays.

But the pool was a zoo. It was jam-packed. Every seat and inflatable for the Lazy River already claimed. Then, something happened and they had to close the deep end at the main pool -- Orland has two pools, one zero depth which is beautiful and one nearby that has a diving board and slide, and racing swim lanes -- I don't know what they call them, I can barely swim.

The problem with the pool is that it is so packed, but mostly with non-residents, its seems. And the non-residents don't care about anything. You get up from your lounge chair and they'll sit on it and your towel. It's like you can only spend about half your time enjoying the pool and the other half of your time eyeballing your possessions, so no one steals them. The deep end of the pool looked very murky, but at least it didn't have blue spots. (Do they use blue die? I hope so.)

And wars get started over the chase lounge chairs, too. People get very possessive and confrontational, too. You get up for one second to stretch and if you don't have something on the chair while you are standing right next to it, someone will come up and grab it. Why not. Half the people won't confront the morons and inconsiderate oafs.

There was one accident. A woman fell and hurt herself near the lazy river entrance on the blue paint. I wonder why they didn't use that grainy blue paint that makes it hard to slip on. I slipped there and dozens of other people slipped there, too, but one woman tragically fell so hard they needed an ambulance to take her to the hospital. (We hope she is doing okay.)

But overall, it sure was relaxing at the pool under that 92 degree heat. Orland Park has one of the best public pools in the region. I'd just like to see more residents join and make it harder for people outside of Orland Park wade through there.

-- Ray Hanania

Vehicle Sticker Shock hits Orland Park

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The renewals for vehicle stickers came in the mail today and while I knew the price was going up from $15 every two years to $30 every two years, to see the 100 percent increase was still a bit shocking.

Let's be honest folks. We get angry when property taxes increase but in the end we know we have to pay them. But for some reason increases for the closer, smaller things like vehicle stickers, and other fees really seem to hit hard. The principle is if the fee is so low what good does it do to increase the fee? It's only $15 more now. Although if you miss the deadline, you will be paying another 100 percent penalty, or $60 a year.

And you don't have much time to get your payment in before it doubles again. You have to do it by July 1, 2011.

For a vehicle sticker????

Maybe if they just increased my property taxes $5 a month, I could understand. Well, they have increased my property taxes in Orland Park. They have increased dramatically.

Seniors who only paid $1 now will pay $10. The village says the projected revenue from the dramatic increase will be $1.075 million, or an increase of $544,000 from 2009.

All of the stickers for all of the various types of vehicles will increase with the biggest hikes between $22 and $40.

Only seniors will be exempt from the penalty bump.

They had originally planned to increase fee two years ago but balked to avoid a backlash in the election where Mayor Dan McLaughlin and several board members easily won re-election. (And this column deserves the credit for putting the pressure on the board to back down.)

I know Village Manager Paul Grimes is doing the best he can with what he is given to plug a $1.8 million hole in the village budget. Things are tough. But when it comes to the property tax increases and a vehicle sticker hike, most voters are more shocked by the latter.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

I don't care if it's raining or not, It's Memorial Day and I will barbecue, Damn it!

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Beef and Corn on a Charcoal BBQ grillImage via Wikipedia
Comcast Cable TV was at least burping out sounds, unlike the times when yu finally sit down to enjoy a movie and the Internet goes out. But it was the automatic emergency system graying out the screen with the screeching sound and then a buzz and then what sounded like a computer voice warning about tornadoes in the far southwest parts of Will County.

The rain was slapping sheets of rain on the sidewalk and streets in front of my home and the sky was getting darker. But the smoke was steaming off the barbecue grill I had just lit under the chicken, burgers and salmon steaks I just defrosted from the "ice box." Okay, I call it the "ice box" and my 10 year old constantly reminds me of my age.

"Dad, that's what they called the refrigerator in the olden days?"

Yes, I replied. And in the olden days we didn't surrender to the weather or let Mother Nature get in the way of enjoying a Memorial Day weekend barbecue. Rain, sleet or snow, the barbecue must glow!

This has been the worst Memorial Day of any I can remember. Yes, we have had rain on this holiday remembrance of the veterans who have served our country, but there was always a day of hot sun tucked in between the thunderstorms. None was as bad as this weekend, one not even predicted by the often inaccurate weather forecasters. (I'd call them weathermen but 1 - it reminds me of the 1960's terrorists or 2 - most of the so-called weathermen are actually weather women, so much the better for that. Where's Michelle Leigh when you need her?)

So as the wind howled and the trees swung from side to side. As the puffs of gray smoke-like clouds sailed low above the swaying tree tops. As the lightning flashed and then seconds later the thunder boomed. And as the rain spit down soaking my head and shoulders, I pulled out the brand new spatula and kept wiping it clean as I turned the chicken on the low grill; then flipped the steak on the middle grill and then shuffled the middle grill. It was Memorial Day, damn it and I was going to enjoy my barbecue!

The crows were shaking under the trees hiding from the piercing rain drop missiles. But I refused to budge. It was the first real holiday of the impending summer and I wans't about to change my annual backyard hejira. (Look it up. It may be an Arab Muslim word, but it has meaning pal.)

The barbecue was ready to be grilled and I wasn't going to let it down. Over the past five weeks, all I have been doing was paying homage to the barbecue grill. Cleaning it off. Replacing the old grills with new ones. Swapping the gas tanks at Lowes -- I always have an extra one for that inevitable moment when the tank runs out of gas and the flame fades away into that barbecue heaven in the sky. Two minutes and we're back in the business with the new tank.

It was supposed to be a picnic. Where the hell was the sun? But I didn't care as I shivered in the arctic late May wind. It's going to be June in a few days. Don't you have any respect for Father's Day?

Puddles formed in the yard as the fast rain began to slowly flood. Thankfully, Orland Park installed new sewer and rain pipes in the street to help prevent another deluge that destroyed the home. It won't happen again I vowed with my aluminum pincers waving high and mightily above my dripping dreadlocks of short black and graying hairs.

We're not going on a vacation to the Caribbean this summer as we always do because airline tickets have risen so much -- and it's Ca-rib-bean not Care-a-be-yan. Gte it straight when you announce the third Johnny Depp pirate film. I'm just going to stand in my backyard and enjoy an hour of grilling and then a few minutes to devour the charred food.

-- Ray Hanania
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Facelift or substance for Orland Park Mall improvement?

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I was really excited when I heard that the owners of the Orland Mall, Simon Management, is planning improvements there. It was in the newspaper. It sure needs it. Will they be just a face lift or will the changes be substantive? I don't know. But I do know that having lived in Orland Park for the past 25 or more years, the place has really changed, and not always for the better.

For example, I find myself going to the mall at 153rd and LaGrange Road far more often than I do the Orland Mall. Has anyone bothered to do a study? Well, save your money. The mall at 153rd and LaGrange (both sides) has a name problem -- I don't know many people who can properly identify its name -- but it has stores that are worth shopping at that are not clothing stores. Let's face it, there was a time at the Orland Park Mall when they had a lot of great stores there, but the hope was some higher end stores would move in. They haven't. Besides Sears, the Orland Mall's three other anchors are JC Penny, the old Marshall Fields (I don't like Macy's much so I won't use the name) and Carson Pirie Scott.

The stores that I used to enjoy shopping at have all left or have changed. Take the GAP for example. Used to be a great place to by clothes but now it's just a hangout for young kids. (Baby boomers still think they are young folks, but I don't have to tell most of you who read this blog, which is baby boomer central.)

The Orland Mall needs more than just a makeover. It needs more substance, a reason to go back there to shop. Lately, I've been driving out to the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Now there is a mall. It's both an in-door and out-door mall with stores all over, like what Oak Brook Mall used to be. (Oak Brook Mall is on the verge of going the way of the Orland Mall, too. They used to have some great stores there but these days, I don't know).

You know the Orland Mall views its future with kids when you walk in and they promote a special credit card for the younger set. That's not going to get the aged money back to the mall's stores.

The Schaumburg Mall has a lot of great restaurants, and even the stores there that are in the Orland Mall seem to cater to a different kind of customer. Really. I think someone should spend some money and compare the stores at the two malls. They're selling cheaper items in Orland than at Schaumburg. It's either the market that defines itself or people who think they are reading market statistics and data properly that are making the decisions. Orland needs a lot more substance. It needs a few better stores, It needs someone with an eye for perception because Orland's biggest problem is a perception problem. I don't want to run in to the skateboard crowd, young kids who hang out there and seem to be the focus of the marketing of the stores there.

A better mall would target families.

How about getting rid of all of the "circus performer" retailers in those kiosks. Is that not PC? These are the small kiosks that harass you as you walk past. "Hey, you want a new cell phone?" Why? Is the high end f-ing cell phone I now have not better than the piece of garbage you're trying to shove down my throat in your glass display there? (I have to put the "f-ing" in the sentence otherwise they might not understand what I am saying. There's that new young-people speak that includes a lot of cuss words.)

Driving into the mall is a hassle. The entrances are filled with deep potholes. (Come to think of it, Orland Park streets have a lot of potholes, too, but I think that's just a reflection of the bad economy -- though Mayor Dan McLaughlin has said the retail collapse in the village is improving.)

Let's be honest, the nicest thing about having the Mall is that most motorists can drive around the red light cameras at 151st and LaGrange Road. And they are driving a little too fast, by the way but no one grabs them and issues any tickets. I think it's 25 MPH in the outer ring road, but the cars are often flying past at 40 to get to and from work in the morning and the evening. God forbid being in front of one of the dragsters while they are going around the circular road trying to pass you while staying within the lane markers.

Yes, let's face it. The Orland Mall's primary purpose, at least for most motorists, is to avoid the intersections. There is a perception -- there is that word again -- that you can get some place faster driving through the mall than you can by driving on Orland's main roads, which are choked with traffic. And nothing drives the success or failure of anything more than perception. Simon Management might consider that as they move forward.

I like the idea of the islands and trees ... how about doing something with that old Homemaker's property and that old movie theater? That movie theater used to be something. Now, it's just an empty shell where perverts get nabbed by the police -- seen any of the police reports lately? The best way to get to Toys R Us is to drive through the movie parking lot, which has potholes that look like they should be in a scifi film. They're big enough to eat your car, although navigating them becomes a natural thing once you've done it a dozen times.

Perception. Simon Management is going to have to do a little more than just fill a few potholes and plant a few trees.

Get rid of the Circus Atmosphere. Start a campaign advertising the "upgrade" in quality from skateboard class to family class, maybe. Stop catering to the kids. Crack down more on crime. (A double edged sword. The more you report on crime and fight crime, the more it builds the perception that crime exists there).

How about imposing a dress code? Get rid of those fast-dollar circus freak show of kiosks. That's so Ford City and Chicago Ridge Mall. Convince a few of those high end stores where people really spend money to invest in Orland Mall and focus on the adults more than the kids. The kids are a fast steady stream of change. That's what drags a mall down. Always been the problem even when I was a kid.

You have to convince people that it's far better to drive a few minutes to the Orland Mall than the 45 minutes to the Schaumburg Mall. But that's going to take some serious planning, rebuilding the whole issue of "perception."

Perception often becomes reality, whether you like it or not.

You think we have enough cheap jewelry stores there?

It's not enough to have an Apple Store.

-- Ray Hanania

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hundreds of protesters target legislatures supporting cuts in public employee pensions

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The State of Illinois is in a mess. One of the causes is the enormous pension responsibilities placed on the state. I know that many public employees rely on those pensions for retirement because they don't qualify for social security. IT was a trade off. But I don't think anyone ever expected those pensions to rise to astronomical rates.

Here's a great analysis of the state's pension problems from the Chicago Civic Federation, which opposes much of the proposed budget cuts by Gov. Pat Quinn, but supports the proposal to pay for pensions from the state's operating budget.

About 300 protesters lined the street on 151st and 90th Avenue in Orland Park outside of the offices of Illinois Legislator Rep. Kevin McCarthy. They brought out a huge crowd, although some believe it's just a partisan political effort to embarrass the Democrats while ignoring that Republicans have been equally responsible for causing our statewide pension mess.

Should a teacher, for example, who retires make more than $100,000 a year in pension benefits? That's a little excessive, but typical of the problem the state pension faces.

Illinois’ overall liability is $85.6 billion to five pension programs which serve approximately 174,600 retirees:

- The State Employee Retirement System: $20,107.6 million
- Downstate Teachers Retirement Systems: $45, 969.4 million
- State Universities Retirement System: $17,998.9 million
- Judges Retirement System: $1,296.2 million
- General Assembly Retirement System: $197.1 million
When combined with retiree health care obligations, Illinois will have more than $140 billion in unfunded obligations by the end of Fiscal Year 2011. Without reform, the state can only pay 38.3 percent of what is expected to owe future retirees. 7% of Illinois population benefits from pensions that are supported by 100% of taxpayers.

We need to do something besides imposing more taxes on the taxpayers and filling the pension hole that way.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, May 20, 2011

Proud to have been tapped to help our community in Orland Park

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I am very proud to have been asked by Jim Hickey and the board of the Orland Fire Protection District to help provide communications services for their many great programs. I have complete confidence in Jim Hickey and new trustees Blair Rhode and Chris Evoy that they will do a tremendous job to implement the mandate of the public and the taxpayers to manage spending while maintaining the highest quality fire department. I have confidence all of the trustees will do their best to do what's in the best interests of the district's taxpayers.

I know that good public servants like Hickey, Evoy and Rhode are often attacked anonymously by people who refuse to  identify themselves. But I also know that people who attack from behind anonymous walls usually represent the real problems. The namecalling and attacks and criticism by a few anonymous disgruntled people we are seeing is a sign that the complaints by these anonymous people really have no substance, that they are really politically motivated. If the only way you can speak out is to do so anonymously and with namecalling and cowardly attacks, then it suggests your arguments and claims have no real substance.

As a long time resident of Orland Park, I'm looking forward to doing my part to help the district. And, I am proud to be able to do it for far less than what was being charged to the District in the past. I know that is one of the important mandates demanded by the voters and that Jim Hickey, Chris Evoy and Blair Rhode had publicly made a commitment to better managing the costs.

I've received many calls from firemen and firefighters who welcomed me to the service of the Orland Park Fire Protection District. I am  looking forward to the chance, after next week's meeting, to work for the benefit of all of the people of Orland Park.

Thanks for the opportunity
Ray Hanania

Work Completed the Week of May 16, 2011: 143rd and LaGrange

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Work Completed the Week of May 16, 2011: 143rd and LaGrange

• The contractor continued their concrete crushing operation.
• The contractor completed removal of the asphalt and concrete pavement along LaGrange Road.
Temporary driveways have been constructed to maintain business access across these removal
• The contractor completed Stage 1 storm sewer along the west leg of 143rd Street.
• The contractor remediated unsuitable soils along the 143rd Street roadway.
• The contractor graded 143rd Street to subgrade elevation and placed base aggregate.
Work Scheduled for the Week of May 23, 2011:
• Utility Contractors will continue with site restoration.
• The contractor will continue excavation, grading and placement of stone material for the new
roadway along 143rd Street and LaGrange Rd.
• The contractor will place and fine grade the capping stone in preparation of roadway concrete
placement along 143rd Street.
• The contractor will continue storm sewer removals and installation along Lagrange Road.
• The contractor will begin the installation of irrigation and electrical conduits along 143rd Street.
The Stage 1 traffic control is currently in place for 143rd St. and for LaGrange Road. Please
use caution when driving through the work zone.
Property owners will be notified prior to work which will impact their driveway access.
Daily single lane closures will be used on LaGrange Road and 143rd Street as needed, and will be noticed
as they are scheduled via direct email advisories and Media outlet releases.
Substantial completion for the Orland Park portion of this massive multi-year project is November 11,
2011. Any comments, call Public Works at (708) 403-6350.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Police headquarters looks so much better

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I'm all for open lands and that prairie look, but the design of the prairie look around the Police Headquarters at 151st and Ravinia was so disturbing to look at. It just didn't work. Finally, they cut down the waist-high weeds and trimmed the grasses and are making it look like a real presentable property. The architecture of the police building is beautiful and you couldn't see it with the distraction mess that grew all around it.

When the village decided to let the weeds grow "natural,"  lot of residents just thought no one was maintaining the new police property. It really looked like a mess. (Poor PR.) Eventually, the Tribune did a story that helped explain what was happening -- even though there were signs posted explaining everything in small letters that no one could read. (Read my past post from 2008.)

The Tribune wrote that most of the neighbors probably didn't know the purpose was to help the environment by avoiding all those fertilizers. Yet, while this and a few other properties were growing natural without fertilizers, every home around it was drenched in the toxic lawn chemicals. The point was and is still lost on Orland Park residents.

The truth is that the economy is still shaking and those hybrid cars and crossovers have turned out to be not so advantageous. Part of the problem is the greed of the car manufacturers. In making the electric-gas hybrids and the all-electric cars, the auto industry turned towards greed. The cars are too expensive and a recent report on television even shows they are very dangerous to drive. You are putting your family's safety at risk buying one of those overly-priced hybrids. (The New York Times write about the dangers of the hybrid cars back in 2004. (Click here). And there are more and more reports of the dangers of those cars. (Click here). Too bad the auto industry never cared about safety. They only care about their billions in profits.

Now, I'm not saying the uncut grass at the police station was causing us any danger, although a lot of driver's necks were twisting to stare as motorists drove by. But it should didn't do much to make the environment any better.

The real problem with the environment are the politicians who front for their contractors and contributors who pollute the environment or who believe the global warming is a leftist plot. I'll bet millions of people around the country are scratching their heads at the weird weather that has taken so many lives over the past recent years. They can't support the global warming fight without undermining the big industries that line their pockets with contributions. And most homeowners are selfish. The love to recycle because it sounds convenient and fun, but don't ask them to support legislation cracking down on companies that pollute the environment -- the rightwing conservatives won't allow it.

Out little effort in Orland Park is a model for the rest of the nation. But I will say that you still have to win over the hearts and minds of the public before you can convince them to do anything. Letting the weeds grow around the police station didn't do much to help anything.

Fortunately someone else in power agreed.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tinley Park Police Chief Michael J. O'Connell dies from complications from heart surgery

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Tinley Park Police Chief Michael O'Connell was all heart. He was someone who really cared about people not just in his community of Tinley Park but in the surrounding community. He was a class act, and there are only a few others like him, including Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy.

O'Connell, 60, died on Wednesday morning reportedly as the result of complications from heart surgery.

His death is a monumental tragedy for Tinley Park, the suburban region and for police as a profession.

I knew him well. The man was genuine, and always so concerned. He played by the book but he also had so much common sense.

I can relate to his experience, too. I had heart surgery last December. I remember laying down on the very narrow marble slab in the operating room at Christ Hospital as the surgeons spoke to me as they put me under with anesthesia. My mind was racing, wondering if I was going to "wake up." I don't know exactly what happened to Chief O'Connell during his surgery at Ingalls Hospital, but I can imagine the concern he would have had about that very same experience. They put you under. They begin the heart surgery. And with an operation on your heart, you can never know what might happen.

I woke up. The nearly seven hours of surgery felt like minutes to me. No dreams. All black. Almost instantaneous but a lifetime to my family who waited outside the operating room and lived every minute of the surgery with apprehension.

O'Connell's death is a major tragedy. Our condolences go out to his family and to the Village of Tinley Park and to Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, who is one of the region's best mayors.

O'Connell had been on leave for nearly one month due to undisclosed health issues. He sent me an email in December when he heard I had heart surgery myself. Always thinking about other people.

O'Connell began his career as police officer in Riverdale in 1972 and later became the police chief there. He joined the Tinley Park Police Department in 1995.

A visitation is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at Brady-Gill Funeral Home, 16600 S. Oak Park Ave., Tinley Park. A funeral Mass will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, May 16, at St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr Church, 17500 84th Ave., Tinley Park. The family has requested privacy during their time of grieving. In lieu of flowers, donations are appreciated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105. To donate by telephone, call 1-800-805-5856. Chief O’Connell is survived by his wife, Barb, his daughter, Colleen; son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Liz; daughter, Michelle (Anichini), and son-in-law, Paul; and four grandchildren

Monday, May 9, 2011

LaGrange Road & 143rd Street construction isn't as bad as it could be

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The village and the contractors are doing a decent job of keeping the construction inconveniences at 143rd and LaGrange Road down to a minimum. I thought it was going to be worse. For some reason, I thought the construction was going to involve the partial closing of the railroad overpass, which would be a nightmare.

But so far, that hasn't happened. Kudos to the village for managing this ugly potential construction nightmare.

Here's an update on what has been done and what will be done in the coming weeks:

Issued May 9, 2011
Work Completed the Week of May 02, 2011:

The contractor continued their concrete crushing operation.

The contractor continued the removal of existing curb for Stage 1 Construction.

The contractor removed the existing asphalt pavement on 143rd Street and LaGrange Road.

The contractor completed removal of the concrete pavement along 143rd Street and began removal of the concrete pavement along LaGrange Road, both in Stage 1. Temporary driveways have been constructed to maintain business access across these removal areas.
Work Scheduled for the Week of May 9, 2011:

Utility Contractors will continue with site restoration.

The contractor will continue to remove concrete pavement and curb and gutter on LaGrange Road.

The contractor will continue excavation, grading and placing stone material for the new roadway along 143rd Street and LaGrange Rd.

The contractor will continue storm sewer removals and installation along Lagrange Road and 143rd Street.
The Stage 1 traffic control is currently in place for 143rd St. and for LaGrange Road. Please use caution when driving through the work zone.
Property owners will be notified prior to work which will impact their driveway access.
Daily single lane closures will be used on LaGrange Road and 143rd Street as needed, and will be noticed as they are scheduled via direct email advisories and Media outlet releases.
Substantial completion for the Orland Park portion of this massive multi-year project is November 11, 2011. Any comments, call Public Works at (708) 403-6350.