Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ryan's 22nd Century Media chain grows even more in North suburbs

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The Orland Prairie isn't just a great and reliable newspaper. It's also a part of a successful media empire being built by Jack Ryan, the former Republican Candidate for the US Senate (whose decision to leave the senate race handed the post to then unknown Barack Obama). Ryan always felt he was bullied out of the race by vicious news media attacks against him by the major downtown Chicago news media, and he was right.

But Ryan has gotten his vengeance, building an empire of compelling and informative newspapers in the Southwest Suburbs under the banner of 22nd Century Media.

The newspaper chain includes editions in Orland Park (Orland Prairie), Tinley Park (Tinley Junction), Homer Township (Homer Horizon), Frankfort (Frankfort Station), Mokena (Mokena Messenger), New Lenox (New Lenox Patriot) and Lockport (Lockport Legend). This past week, though, Ryan has expanded his magnificent newspapers into the north suburbs taking on the Chicago Sun-Times' owned Pioneer Press Newspapers with newspapers by adding an edition in Glenview (Genview Lantern) to join his papers in Wilmette (Wilmette Beacon) and Winnetka (Winnetka Current). Ryan is a Wilmette Native.

Ryan's principle of journalism is ideal and not only a response to the ugliness that represents the mainstream media and the wild out-of-control online news media (with their vicious anonymous posters and personal attacks)/ It's based on a solid principle of journalism that has been forgotten: local coverage. Each of his newspapers focuses only on the communities where they are located. He calls it "hyper local."

He has plans to launch three more editions up north in Lake Forest, Northbrook and Highland Park where media choices are few and far between.

The truth is the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune have pretty much abandoned local news coverage. The Sun-Times bought up most of the community newspapers in the area, gutting their staffs and plundering their advertising resources.

I saw the need for a suburban newspaper in the southwest suburbs back in 1993 when I launched The Villager Newspapers, consisting of 12 editions. It was very successful and popular. And although we had a strong advertising base, we never had the deep pockets you need to build a media giant. We ended up selling the chain and it was later gobbled up by Liberty Publishing.

Ryan, though, which is strong financial base, has put the newspaper on solid ground. Their online web site has a user-friendly system to navigate and find stories. It doesn't have the viciousness that dominate other local online news web sites,and postings are generally informative. Readers and submit and post their local news and photos online for others to see and read.

Ryan's newspaper giant could become the model for how print newspapers can survive in the Internet generation.

-- Ray Hanania

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Protests force three Cook County Commissioner holdouts to take furlough days

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In the past year, Cook County;s employees were slapped with 10 furlough days to off-set the growing deficit at  County Government caused by the poor leadership of former County Board President Todd Stroger. Instead of cutting the bloated bureaucracy, Stroger slammed taxpayers by adding 1 percent to the already overburdened Sales Tax.

The sales tax was repealed following a stubborn campaign led by Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth "Liz" Gorman. Ironically, Gorman was attacked by two Orland Park village officials -- Trustees Ed Schussler and Patricia Gira -- who claimed she was responsible for the county's terrible financial situation. Without getting in to the equally terrible financial situation of their Village budget, it was hypocritical since Schussler and Gira were partly responsible for the repeal of the sales tax rebate paid to Orland Park homeowners.

Orland Park increased the sales tax to grab funds from consumers, many of whom come to Orland Park from other communities. The rebate was intended to take the burden off of residents. But that came to an abrupt end.

In my book, increasing the Cook County Sales Tax by adding 1 percent is the equivalent of eliminating the Orland Park village sales tax rebate by Schussler and Gira. There is no difference.

But back to Cook County. This week, enraged by the declaration of five Cook County Commissioners that they would refuse to do what they imposed on county workers and they would not take furlough days to help the county saves money, three of them changed their minds. Or, should we say their minds were changed for them. Cook County residents pelted Commissioners Deborah Sims, Joan Patricia Murphy and Robert Steele to accept the furlough.

Imagine the gall of Murphy, who had originally pushed hard to increase the sales tax not 1 percent as Stroger sought but by 2 percent. Murphy claims she can't take the furlough days but will reimburse the county to the tune of $3,269.23, or the equivalent of what their $85,000 a year salary would have lost with the furlough days. She's too busy to take days off. As a PR person now and no longer a journalist, I have to admit that excuse is a brilliant deception, what we call in the business "spin."

Murphy thinks I don't like her, but she's wrong. I do like her. I like the Old Joan Murphy. I like the old Joan Murphy who put the taxpayers' interests above the interests of her political cronies. Murphy is a good person but her policies have been horrible. She should take the lead of Gorman, who has put the interests of taxpayers above her own.

And Schussler and Gira also should follow Gorman's lead instead of bashing her the way they have. It's bad enough the saddled Orland Park taxpayers doubling the village's debt by piling on a loan for a private developer to build a questionable apartment complex. Orland taxpayers are paying the $62 million to fund the Ninety7Fifty in the Park project. Why? Because the village officials have, over the past decade, done whatever they wanted.

Well, the furlough at Cook County won't off-set the mess that Stroger and his allies (Sims and Murphy) have put the county in over the years. And the sales tax rebate money the village has taken away from taxpayers won't cover the loan to the private developers who promised to pay us back. But it is symbolic.

Although, one word about promises. The developers have promised to repay the loan, which is essentially a mortgage in a time when mortgages are falling like dominoes. But promises are sometimes not kept, like when Mayor Dan McLaughlin promised to rebate the sales taxes of residents when he increased the sales tax so many years ago. Afterawhile, the politicians believe that promises can be forgotten and then will be broken.

We'll see. But don't be surprised.

-- Ray Hanania

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gorman responds to personal attacks from Gira/Schussler

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Dear Editor:

After reading the letter to the editor by Orland Park Trustees Gira and Schussler regarding the public financing of a privately owned apartment building known as “Ninety7Fifty”, I must address several of their points.

In their letter, Gira and Schussler complain that Trustee O'Halloran is doing my bidding? Is it doing my bidding because he is displaying a conscience when it comes to saddling the taxpayers with a record amount of debt? Is it doing my bidding because he decided to openly share his views with his fellow Orland Park residents?  O'Halloran is an elected member of the Village Board of trustees, and serves as a respected director on the Metra Board. Trustees Gira and Schussler should be appreciative that their colleague is able to represent the region, and just successfully stopped proposed service cuts to the Southwest Line where Ninety7Fifty and our tax dollars are being banked.  Bottom Line is O'Halloran is being attacked, because he has asked questions about the Ninety7Fifty project, that they don't want addressed.

Gira and Schussler then ultimately tell me to mind my own business and worry about County taxation. First, one does not give up their right to question their local government when they get elected to public office. Second, as they need to be reminded, I successfully lead the charge to repeal the infamous Todd Stroger sales tax, which gave some competitive relief to the businesses in the area. Stroger never mortgaged County taxpayers and their homes to finance a project to the tune of $65M…even Stroger knew better than what our Mayor and trustees are about to do.

I asked for two things. We must have public hearings and we should slow down. Why the rush? They are going to pass this today regardless of the public's concerns.

Gira and Schussler further complain that Trustee O'Halloran issued his open letter not to them and Mayor Dan McLaughlin but to the public through the media. Are they saying that they prefer that all questionable public financing projects be discussed in closed door sessions among themselves? That's what got Mayor McLaughlin in trouble last week when the public demanded to know more about the project at a public hearing the village only scheduled at the last minute in response to complaints.

What we are seeing is not strategic leadership but rather politics at its worst. Instead of addressing issues, they attack individuals. Instead of discussing the project with the public -- the taxpayers of Orland Park -- they want the issue to be put behind closed doors.

The letter makes many ridiculous claims that are intended to distract voters away from the real priority here.
The Village of Orland Park should not be a banker, especially in today's economy, underwriting risky projects that are direct burdens on the taxpayers who are already over taxed. The Village Board should suspend action on this project and give the public more time to hear all sides to this debate before rushing a decision at today's board meeting.

I urge the Village Board to postpone a vote on the Ninety7Fifty Development and instead spend more time listening to the feedback of the public, the taxpayers and the community, and get a back-up plan before pursuing this monumental project and its financing.

Liz Gorman
Orland Park Resident & Cook County Commissioner

The differing styles of the Orland Park Village Board members

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Someone asked me, why I was so critical of the statement made by Village of Orland Park Trustees Ed Schussler and Pat Gira, compared to how I simply ran the letter from Trustee Brad O'Halloran a week earlier.

I told him to re-read both statements.

Here is O'Halloran's statement from Sept. 9: Click Here

Here is the Gira/Schussler statement from Sept. 18: Click Here.

There is a marked difference and the person emailed back later and said they understood. Brad O'Halloran addressed the issues in his statement. In fact, he was very respectful, mentioning Mayor Dan McLaughlin by name not to criticize him but to explain that although he respects him and the other trustees, he respectfully disagreed. "Respectfully."

That's the difference. O'Halloran is a gentleman with class. His letter tried to express the outrage that he was hearing from his constituents. He said that in his letter, more mildly than I have described it.

He explained why he disagreed with the approval of the Ninety7Fifty on the Park project.

Instead of reflecting the same professional and respectful style, Gira and Schussler filled their letter with diatribe and personal attacks. They attacked O'Halloran and then they attacked Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman.

Why Gorman? Well, during the recent village elections where Schussler and Gira, both incumbents, won in a crowded field with far less than a majority of the votes cast -- in a one on one race, they would have both been ousted -- they had been behind the election the previous Fall of Pat Maher who challenged Gorman for Cook County Board. It was their support of Maher that cost them so many votes. Maher went on to lose the battle to control the Orland Fire Protection District (where I now do media consulting) and thank goodness he's gone. The policies he pushed were outrageous and unsympathetic to the needs of taxpayers. The new board is pushing reforms and transparency and what everyone has seen there has been shocking in almost every respect. The new board is making changes to conform with the interests of the taxpayers, who Maher and his crew ignored.

So Schussler and Gira are upset with Gorman and they know that Gorman was the key factor in galvanizing public outcry against the Ninety7Fifty project. Gorman, who is a champion of fighting for the taxpayers and led the battle to rescind the oppressive Cook County Sales Tax -- that the Village Officials backed with their silence -- went on to represent the concerns of the taxpayers in addressing the Ninety7Fifty project.

The Village is going to LOAN the developers some $62 million, like a mortgage, to build the project and, assuming it works and so far similar projects have not, the taxpayers will be slowly paid back, or so the village officials claim.

Really. Has anyone noticed how the mortgage market has collapsed and now is not the time to be loaning anyone money, especially taxpayer money to risky developmenrs?

Those are legitimate concerns that O'Halloran express, that Gorman expressed and that the taxpayers expressed. But the village won't listen. And instead of defending the plan, they decided to try and make it personal, attacking O'Halloran viciously and attacking Gorman viciously and in directly attacking viciously all of the taxpayers and residents of Orland Park who agree with the issues that O'Halloran and Gorman have expressed.

That's the difference between O'Halloran and Gorman, and Gira and Schussler. One is concerned with the views of the taxpayers. The other, Gira and Schussler, are concerned about politics.

Notice how Mayor McLaughlin is having Gira and Schussler do all the attacking? They just got re-elected. The Mayor, who is standing by as this fight is launched from his camp, will be running for re-election and some people are speculating that maybe Gorman might run for Mayor against him. She'd be a more powerful challenger compared to the easy races he coasted through in past years.

But there is even a rumor that now O'Halloran, having been slandered to the edge by his colleagues for expressing legitimate views about an questionable project that may harm taxpayers, might consider running for mayor too. Actually, O'Halloran would be a good mayor, one who avoids rancor and one who tries to address the issues.

The village board votes tonight on this plan. It could define the leadership of this important community moving forward.

-- Ray Hanania

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Orland Trustees bash officials in response to taxpayer concerns on Ninety7Fifty project

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Trustee Brad O'Halloran issued a public statement last week expressing his concern with the controversy-plagued Ninety7Fifty luxury apartment complex. O'Halloran, who initially supported the concept, said he was uncomfortable with the proposed financing which involved Orland Park taxpayers putting up almost all of the money to help the private developers make the project work.

Here is a link to O'Halloran's original letter.

A lot of Orland Park taxpayers agree with O'Halloran.

But today (Sunday Sept. 18), Trustees Patricia Gira and Ed Schussler issued their own letter. (You can read it below.) Although they defend the project, they spend a lot of time bashing O'Halloran and Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman.

When officials spend time bashing their opponents, it usually means they are weak on the issues. But it also is a good sign of who they think really has influence in Orland Park. Liz Gorman? Or Mayor Dan McLaughlin, their ally?

Their main complaints seem to be about the people rather than policy. The letter below attacks O'Halloran and Gorman. It makes an absurd claim that O'Halloran is doing Gorman's bidding in opposing the project, noting that she was instrumental in getting him appointed to the Metra Board. And, they lash out at Gorman, claiming she should be more concerned about the county taxation than the taxation in the village.

Wow. Clearly, Gira and Schussler are saying Liz Gorman is the most important political leader in Cook County and this region. Their letter also basically says that poor Mayor Dan is really nothing in all this. By attacking Gorman, Gira and Schussler are saying that Gorman better represents the taxpayers than McLaughlin. It's the only way to read the letter. Is this more about politics than economics to them? Apparently so.

Taxpayers showed at the August public hearing that they agree with the concerns that both Gorman and O'Halloran have expressed in challenging the village-mortgaged project. That was obvious from the public response made at the public hearing the village reluctantly held. (The Regional, Southtown and the Tribune Local had great coverage of that meeting.)

The most startling aspect of the Gira/Schussler letter is the admission that Orland Park taxpayers will be giving the developers the mortgage loan to build their project, and they will pay it back the way homeowners repay their mortgages. I don't know if they have noticed by nearly a quarter of the country's mortgage holders are having problems paying back their mortgages.

If there is any problem with this project, or if it fails, the taxpayers of Orland Park will be stuck holding the bill thanks to Gira, Schussler and McLaughlin.

Gira and Schussler did not point out that their ally on the board, Trustee Jim Dodge, was also appointed to the Metra board and was on it how many years? Eight? No complaints when he was on the Metra Board and the Metra service went to hell in a handbasket. Why didn't they say something then?

I think it was a poor move on Gira's and Schussler's part. That's what happens when you hire too many PR firms and have too many PR people on the village payroll.

I reached out to Gorman and O'Halloran for a response.

Here is the Gira/Schussler Letter issued today (Sunday Sept. 18):

We have decided to explain our position in light of Orland Park Trustee Brad O’Halloran’s recent decision to send an open letter to the media regarding his position on the Ninety 7 Fifty project. Trustee O’Halloran is certainly free to vote as he chooses, however, it is inappropriate to address an open letter to the Mayor and then send it only to the media. He could have shared those concerns with the rest of the board and perhaps swayed others to his beliefs.  Why would someone go to the media before sharing his thoughts with the board with whom he professes to work?

The two questions that we have repeatedly heard about this project are “Why apartments?” and “Why is the Village of Orland Park loaning money to the developer?”  Luxury apartments are being considered because that is where the market is at this time.  We have two market studies that indicate luxury apartments are in short supply and the demand is growing.  As you know, these market studies are available on the village web site for review and analysis.  In addition to those expert opinions, in a recent letter, Mr. John Jaeger, senior vice president of the CB Richard Ellis, Inc. real estate firm, made the following statements regarding this project, “The project itself is well designed and thought out….The suburban MSA needs additional apartments to meet growing demand due to the shift from home ownership to rental living.”

There are two reasons the Village of Orland Park is considering loaning $38 million for this development: it puts the village in a first lien position if problems are encountered and it allows the village to recover all or a major portion of the $23 million incentive that is necessary to get this project under way.  If a third party lender were involved, the village would not be in a secured position if a default occurred and the village would not be able to recover the $23 million incentive.
The Village of Orland Park will not own an apartment building; it will be owned by Flaherty and Collins, the developer.  Just as we own our homes, a lender, in this case the village will carry the loan for the project.  We will be repaid as Flaherty and Collins repays the loan, a process we are all familiar with as we pay the mortgage on our homes.  Bonds will be sold to obtain funds to lend to the developer.  The bonds will be repaid from the net operating income of the building not from real estate taxes. The Main Street Triangle is a Tax Increment Financing District, a TIF.  TIF incremental revenues or sales tax can be used to carry the project if it isn’t rented as quickly as projected.  There are also other parcels to be sold and developed that will contribute financially to the triangle redevelopment.  This project should have no adverse financial effects on residents.  There has been no referendum because residents are not being asked to pay more in property taxes.  In fact, when the project is completed and leased, it is estimated that it will produce over $700,000 in real estate taxes annually and have the potential to reduce the village’s portion of our residents’ tax bill.  

People who live in the development will shop our local business community and 400 to 500 construction jobs will be created over a three-year period.  Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s have reaffirmed our excellent bond rating, fully aware of the plans for the Ninety 7 Fifty development.
Because of conservative budgeting and prudent decisions that were made by successive village boards over the last forty years, Orland Park is a very desirable place to live and work. Residents and businesses receive a plethora of services at a very low relative cost.  Twice in the last five years, we have made the list of the most desirable places to live in the entire country.  New businesses continue to open in Orland Park.

Orland Park is one of a very small number of municipalities in Illinois that has the financial ability to handle a project like Ninety 7 Fifty.  At the end of our most recent fiscal year (2010), we had more than $37 million in fund balance reserves.  The village’s debt, as a percentage of equalized assessed value, is low.  In 1992, we had just under $22 million of outstanding debt which was 2.93% of equalized assessed value.  In 2010, the outstanding debt was over $79 million but the percentage of equalized assessed value was almost the same, 2.89%.  The board only borrows for capital projects and never to cover operating expenses.  That is one of the reasons why approximately $4.4 million was cut from the operating budget during the last three years.

The highest Standard & Poor bond rating is AAA and ten municipalities have it.  We, along with 24 other Illinois municipalities, have the next highest rating of AA+.  Our per capita debt and liabilities are $1,811.  The average per capita debt and liabilities for southwest Cook County is $5,244. Conservative fiscal policies have kept the village real estate taxes low.  In the last ten years a single family home with a value of $300,000 has paid an average of $533 per year in real estate tax to the village. If you factor in the property tax rebates that were given to residents in the last ten years, the average amount of taxes paid to the Village of Orland Park drops to $184 per year. This amount includes a levy for parks and recreation.  Orland Park residents do not pay a separate tax to a Park District.  That certainly is not the “high taxation” that Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman mentioned at our last meeting.  Perhaps she was referring to the Cook County taxes that burden us and our businesses each year.

Commissioner Gorman also stated “We also have a lot of vacant retail space.” Not true.  Orland Park had a retail vacancy rate of 5.32% in 2010 while the national average during the same period was 12.7%.  In spite of the recession, our business sector is growing.

Trustee O’Halloran has tried to justify his recent decision to vote against the Ninety 7 Fifty proposal.  Redevelopment of the triangle started eleven years ago when Trustee O’Halloran was on the board.  Many votes have been taken the last eleven years regarding the triangle and Trustee O’Halloran has voted in the affirmative on all of them.  Now, when we are finally ready to get redevelopment under way, he suddenly flips and says he will vote no.  He is certainly entitled to his opinion and to change his mind, however, we wonder if his recent appointment to the Metra Board of Directors, allegedly orchestrated by Cook County Commissioner Gorman, had anything to do with his sudden change of heart.

Orland Park residents should not fear bold action.  Forty years ago, a nervous mayor and board approved the construction of a big shopping center on a former pig farm.  It was a controversial decision that many said would change the town.  It certainly did that.  Today Orland Square is a huge success.

The only other TIF in the village was Orland Park Place which was met with some opposition at the time.  That TIF was retired early and is clearly a tremendous success and has made a positive contribution to our community.

The current economy calls for creativity and innovation if Orland Park is to remain a dynamic village.  We need to invest in the future.  Orland Park has hired the best consultants and advisors who have indicated that the Ninety 7 Fifty project maximizes returns to the village and minimizes the risks.  It will act as a catalyst for millions of dollars of future private investment in the Main Street area of our Downtown Orland Park.  On September 19th, we intend to vote yes on this project and for the future of the Village of Orland Park, one of the most dynamic communities in the State of Illinois and the country.

Trustee Patricia A. Gira
Trustee Edward G. Schussler III
Village of Orland Park
Sunday Sept. 18, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

HH Gregg. What's the big deal? Seriously!

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I was planning a nice Friday night to relax. Alison took Aaron to the Cub Scouts meeting but I got a call asking me to bring his uniform shirt and belt and neckerchief. She misread the meeting notes saying that you had to be in uniform. So, I had to jump in the car and drop the uniform off at the meeting. On the way back, I noticed the flood lights spinning in the night sky over the Orland Park Place shopping Mall.

Was Barnes & Nobles celebrating the closure across the street of Borders Books? I loved Borders and I already miss it. And then I realized it was the opening weekend of a new appliance and computer store called HH Gregg. Really it's all small letters, kind of the new thing in the 21st Century. "hh gregg."

Every conversation where the name came up, there was this excitement like, wow, it's going to be better than Best Buy or Comp USA when it comes to computers and technology, and appliances.


I don't think so. But, I love excitement, like everyone. The opening of a new technology store is exciting. So on the way home from my errand, I stopped by the packed parking lot of the Orland Park Place mall and barely found a parking spot. They converted the old sports store that was there. It's one of those stores where you enter this tall foyer and take these escalators to the second floor. (I assume the bottom part is another store you enter from the other side of the mall. Or, as they said in the movie Contact, it sure is a lot of space to waste!

It was exciting because there were so many people there buzzing around. Old men, grandpas like me, dragging behind their grandmas barely able to carry these large boxes of flat screen TVs. People rushing in and out. I wonder what they're all excited about? So I went in.

I was immediately disappointed. Partly because I am spoiled. I have everything. Half the place on the left was washers, dryers, dish washers, ice boxes -- okay, okay, refrigerators (I can't get over calling them ice boxes from when I was a kid) -- and freezers and stoves. It looked like the inside of a Sears Roebuck Store, honestly. On the right were the big screen TVs and the sound systems and the computers. Not a lot of computers but enough to create a crowd.

I walked through the whole place, trying my best to find something. Don't you want to buy something at a new store? I wanted to, but I couldn't find anything to waste my money on. I breezed through the computer section and then past the flat screen tvs and then paused and contemplated buying a sound bar for one of the flat screens I already have. It was only $279, a little bit cheaper than what I've seen at CompUSA (Tiger whatever). I almost bought it but couldn't find any real information to assure me that I could easily connect it to my TV. It said I could connect it to the Blue Ray Player I vowed never to buy (I have three) and to the flat screen TV using an optical cord. But how would I know they would really work? And, I bet I'd have to buy the two optical cords that actually involve better sound quality, I think. I didn't want to buy any additional cords.

I walked past it several times, each time looking. And then walking away. Finally, I just left, really disappointed. There was nothing there that was exciting. So I drove back to Best Buy just to satisfy that urge I had brought out because I had to leave the house. And I wandered around there, too, lamenting the fact that there are no more stores that sell great computer software. Everything is sold online nowadays and that's a real rip-off. Online purchased software is risky. When you download it to a computer, it's great. But if that computer crashes or you upgrade and buy another, forgetaboutit! You ain't getting the software you bought off one computer and on to the other without spending a lot of money on another software program.

Don't believe the lies. I've tried it with lots of downloaded purchased software and it doesn't work trying to move it to another computer. They can move the data files but not the software. That's why I prefer to only buy software that comes in a box on a CD. Period!!!

You can always get around the registration problems if you have the original CD and license and are moving it to a new computer.

Best Buy had nothing. That got me thinking. Maybe hh gregg isn't a bad store after all. Maybe it's not about hh gregg or Best Buy or any of the other disappointing technology stores. The truth is, the real problem is with the industry itself. We've gone from selling software in boxes on store shelves to online downloads that are unreliable and do not have a long use-life. (Don't let anyone BS you. It is almost impossible after 2 years to move a software program to a new computer that you downloaded. The best odds are with a software on a CD that you actually have in hand with the license and registration.)

The industry and the way we sell software has changed. And I am glad. Because it is saving me lots of money. I am a serial technology spender. I spend a lot on computers. Ever since I bought my first Coleco Adam Computer from Wards which lied and said my daughter would get a $500 scholarship if I bought the tape-driven computer machine. They lied. Promises from a retailer are promises made to be broken no matter who they are.

I bought the IBM PC Jr and then an IBM XT back in the day when a 5 MB hard drive was considered huge and we used those large 5 1/4 inch floppy discs. Now I use the iPad and that's a "whole-nother" problem, especially when you move to a new computer and try to sync the iPad through iTunes. I don't work!

But it is the industry that is disappointing. Lot's of neat new technologies in the works and available. But I have it all. And there is such a thing as technology overload, or technology hoarding, what physicians call "disposophobia," or the selfish act of greedily collecting stuff. That's me, Mr. Disposophobia, the selfish collection of possessions just to possess something.

And that's how hh gregg disappointed this disposophobic shopper. They had nothing I wanted to hoard.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why did I go to a White Sox Game? Hell-u-lar Field

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Why did I go to a White Sox game last night? It was so disappointing on so many levels. But my son won the seats as a reward for his academic efforts so it was to share his moment that I had to suffer with the White Sox.

It isn't the White Sox players themselves that disappoint me. Any White Sox player can become a Cubs player, some day. The Cubs lose but the Cubs fans go to the ballpark to enjoy the game, win or lose. White Sox fans actually think they are going to win the World Series again. Delusional!

I hate the stadium. It is so commercial and un-intuitive. Who designed that monstrosity of a public hassle? And to name it after a cell phone company only adds insult to injury. The cell phone companies are the biggest  rip-offs in our economy. They charge us an arm and a leg for service but they fail to provide adequate service. Not one of them. All of the services stink and they constantly drop calls. The cell phone industry doesn't work properly. it is plagued with bugs and failure. Co "Cellullar Field." Pathetic!

The parking around the stadium should be the easiest to get to but the fact is that it is easier to park at Wrigley Field -- built when? A few years after the turn of the 19th Century? -- than it is to park at Comiskey Park. There I said it. F-You Cellular Field! The parking there is horrendous. Some moron who flunked out of the Chicago Public schools -- and that is so hard to do, actually -- must have designed the parking lot patterns. And the idiots they hire to manage "security" around the park only make it worse. You turn on 39th Street to par and they immediately wave you away, even though the signs tell you to keep going to park with a ticket or for cash, they make you go around in circles on purpose. The signs are lies at White Sox park. The people hired to direct traffic are not directing traffic at all. They are mocking White Sox commuters.

A smart rat couldn't figure its way around the parking maze at White Sox Park! It's a hassle and an intentional mess. I think it might be a strategy to make life difficult for Sox fans so that they have lowered expectations before they get int he park and consume cases of beer and slosh around the F word like they were at the South Side Irish Parade.

The food at Sox Park is okay. It's not great. It is just okay and that's amazing for a politically connected place to give the food to people who are there only to make a fast buck rather than service the hunger pangs of the fans. What else is new?

The prices of food is not out of line with the prices at Wrigley Field or any other place. But the food at Wrigley is so much better.

Then there are the people. I think it is an anecdotal fact that South Siders are fatter than north siders, and maybe that's why the smartest south siders are also Cub fans and not White Sox fans. A lot of South Siders are heffers. (Who came up with Cows on Parade? A northsider mocking south siders, of course.)

And the souvenir shops had pure junk. At least at Wrigley Field I can buy my son an autographed baseball. Not at White Sox Abomination. Pure worthless junk.

But the drunks who stumble in to the White Sox games and then stumble out -- and are too afraid to walk through the local neighborhood even though many of the public housing units have been demolished to make them feel better -- don't care about the quality of the junk there because many of them  are dressed like slobs.

I actually sat there and watched a White Sox prodigy who was maybe 12 years old sit at his chair and spit constantly on the cement steps next to his aisle seat. His friend did the same. Spitting through the whole game. Fortunately a Cubs fan told them to stop. Who else would step up to the plate to teach them public manners?

Of course, the White Sox lost the game to the Detroit Tigers. But that isn't exclusive to the White Sox. The Cubs lose often. But when I go to a Cubs game, I go in knowing we have no chance in hell of winning anything. And it doesn't bother me because by the time I get to my seat -- which is just as expensive as the seats at the White Sox Rat Maze -- I am happy and hassle free and I am enjoying the food at the park. I'm content at Wrigley Field before the game starts, unlike the nightmare experienced at Hell-u-lar Field.

-- Ray Hanania

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Another major gunfight at the OK Corral Mall

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How many shootings have there been at the Orland Park Mall? That's what I asked my wife this morning as she sat at her laptop and read the stories about the manhunt for a shooter who attacked a shopper at the Orland Mall, shooting the woman in the arm with a gun outside of Penny's around 9 pm Friday night.

That will be a big draw for Orland Park. Thankfully we have the best Police Department in the nation to respond to it.

As my wife read through the stories, I kept asking her to tell me what was happening. That made me think of how our society has changed in the computer era.

"Didn't you hear the helicopters flying over the mall last night keeping us awake?" she asked.

I was fast asleep. "No. What helicopters?"

Cook County sent a helicopter to help track down the gunman, who is seems, was a woman attacker. That's even worse, I think. Male chauvinism maybe?

"What happened?" I asked.

After I pestered her with a dozen questions, my wife looked at me and said open your iPad and read the stories yourself.

No. I want someone to tell me the story. "I wonder if we can invent a little box that you put in the frontroom and turn on and some guy comes on the screen and tells you everything that happens instead of having to dig for the news ourselves?

Oh yea. That's called television news, something that is fast disappearing from our daily agendas. We used to watch the TV to get all the news that the newspapers couldn't get straight. The reports and videos were informative and fast.

Now, we have to scan the Internet news sites for news ourselves. I didn't get it any sooner on the Internet and only listened as I prodded my wife to tell me what was happening Saturday morning as I drank my black decaf coffee.

Maybe that's the problem. No caffeine to fuel the energy I thought.

Yea, I'm watching some dufus trying to tell me how to make millions using the Internet. "Just let the money come to you. I have this automated system and you don't have to do anything. You build the web site, use my three step system and blah, blah, balh."

It was "Paid Programming" on Comcast Cable, which has seriously deteriorated in the past few years. Comcast charges you for everything on its channel lineup, even old movies that are junk have to be bought. It's crazy. How did I let myself fall in to this Comcast Crap anyway? I need to cancel Comcast and try satellite, I think. Although Netflix has partially replaced my movie viewing habits. Netflix downloads are good quality but the selection of movies sucks. There really isn't much. So far no one has invented a great system for TV. We've only gone backwards into the Stone Age.

I want some guy, or girl, on TV telling me the Who, What, When, Where, How and Why of the news story. The updates and the conclusion. I don't mind reading about it later, if it interest me. And anytime there is a gunfight at the Orland Park Mall, it interests me. The thought of the suspect scurrying away and around the nearby homes at night is frightening.

Maybe Mayor McLaughlin can take some of that $62 million we're giving to his developer pals and boost up security around here. Yea, a gunfight at the Orland Park Mall isn't going to attract a lot of those wealthy rich people to move into the luxurious Orland Park apartments a stone's throw from the Mall. Although maybe that might get the thieves to stop focusing on robbing people at the Mall and focus on breaking in to the apartments of the very rich who are not so bright to invest their wealth in an apartment overlooking a Metra Train station.

Okay. There's too much to process here.

Back to the Boob Tube!

--- Ray Hanania

Friday, September 9, 2011

Breaking News: Trustee O'Halloran on Ninety7Fifty: "Mr. Mayor, I respectfully Disagree"

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Letter from Trustee Brad O'Halloran
Mr. Mayor, I respectfully must disagree.

I have been a Trustee in the Village of Orland Park for the past 18 years. While there have been many challenging issues during this time, none has had the potential economic impact on the Village’s finances to the degree the proposed “9750 On The Park” project will have. As such, it is the single biggest financial vote in 20 years. When I first became a trustee the Village’s overall debt was around  $18 million, today it is $79 million. The proposed 9750 project would almost double that debt to $144 million.  To put things in perspective, the 9750 project’s debt of $65 million is greater than the debt of the new police station, the Sportsplex, the new library, the new train station, the public works facility and the old police station renovation----COMBINED. Now that’s a big deal.

I received the final details of this deal in my weekly Village package on August 13th in the form of a 5 inch ring binder stuffed full of details. I’ve been trying to absorb them ever since. While it’s certainly true that I knew this project was in the works for quite some time, this was the first time I saw the final business terms and was given the third party report that analyzed the risk factors involved. In addition I always assumed there would be plenty of time for debate with public hearings and the traditional Village Committee process, prior to any final vote. Well, as we all now know the final vote is to occur at our next meeting on September 19th, after the public hearing this past Tuesday. So in addition to the statements I listened to on Monday, I’ve been soliciting my own input from the same neighbors, friends, former coaches and local business folk I’ve relied on for years and whose opinions I respect. And we’ve hit on some common themes.

1.)   This is no time for anyone to be doubling their amount of debt. If I wouldn’t do it as an individual or business, why would the Village ever consider it? If there is one common thread to the current problems in our state and country it is one thing, too much debt.

2.)   A partnership is just that. 50/50 or 60/40 or even 70/30, but 96/4, I don’t think so.

3.)   The Village has no business being in the Apartment business. If this is such a good idea then let the private sector have at it, but don’t risk my money by using public funds.

Of course there was a lot more banter, but those three were common to any discussion.

 So how did we get here today? Well, this project is perceived to be the linchpin of the Village’s downtown redevelopment. A vision the Mayor and this board have worked on for many years. A vision I must say I share and have supported to date. A vision that has been many, many years in the making. Unfortunately, I think with respect to the 9750 project maybe there’s been a little too much tunnel vision. Too much focus on the end result and the beautiful renderings and rosy projections and not enough focus on the economic uncertainty in both our state and country and the fact that these funds are the funds of our citizens. The same citizens that I have been so proud to represent for so many years. The same citizens that have entrusted me to represent them to the best of my ability.

The one thing I’ve always admired about the Village board and the Mayor is that we can disagree without being disagreeable. So in the end I guess I must concur with the folks I spoke with and the common sense input they offered and respectfully disagree with you Mr. Mayor and say no to the proposed financing of “9750 0n The Park “.           
                                                                                             Brad S. O’Halloran
                                                                                             Village Trustee                                                 
                                                                                             Finance Chairman
                                                                                             Village of Orland Park

A trip to Chick-fil-A in Orland Park

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I went to Chick-fil-A in Orland Park this morning. I've been putting it off for months. The place has been here but I just didn't feel inspired to go eat there. I'm not sure why though maybe it has to do with my attitude that chicken is best served from the barbecue, why pay for it at a restaurant? I don't know.

But leave it to my wife to figure out a way to get me there. She heard that Chick-fil-A was giving away a free breakfast and all you had to do to qualify was to go online and register. Sounded like a gimmick but she got two full page printouts one for each of us giving us a free breakfast.

So she dragged me there this morning. Had to be between 9:30 and 10:30 am. Okay. I was free.

The place is nestled near Red Robin and Lowes between 94th Avenue and LaGrange Road. The counter was busy with people waiting for their orders. We got in one line and then ordered. She handed the cashier the two sheets of paper reservations and the cashier put them on this huge pile.

Impressive so far. Lots of people coming here for this promotion.

But I got a crumby muffin with eggs and bacon and cheese. What? Why would I go to Chick-fil-A to order some high fat breakfast sandwich that I can get at McDonalds, if I didn't care much about my cholesterol levels? Fine. Throw in the little round hash browns and some coffee. Alison got her free little McDonald's like muffin sandwich and so did I. And we got coffee. We ended up spending another $5. Okay.

It really tasted just like a McDonald's sandwich. So why would I come here? Why didn't they just offer or push as a promotion the chicken breakfast sandwich. It's Chick-fill-A, after all? It's a chicken restaurant, I mean. Right?

Not smart. After I got the McDonald's breakfast muffin, I started to wonder what the chicken here taste's like. The egg and bacon and cheese muffin tasted pretty routine. Nothing to cluck about.

But a nice waitress walked around with a little tray of chicken chunks on small little slices of bread offering them as samples. And that tasted great. I almost walked out thinking why come back? I don't like McDonalds. Why would I like Chick-fil-A? The chicken tasted good, so maybe I'll go back.

That got me in to a conversation about another place opening soon, Dave and Busters. They're taking over the long abandoned eyesore that used to be the Orland theaters on the south end of the Orland Park Mall. I figured, oh, another big hamburger place? But no. It's a kids hangout, like Chuck-E-Cheese with the big Rat where kids plow a fortune in change in to worthless electronic pinball games. What a waste, but fun for the kids, of course.

They have 55 locations and number 56 will be landing in Orland soon, Mayor McLaughlin's idea of economic boon. (Not!) I can just see all the rich people who are going to plunk down their retirement fortunes to land one of those nifty Ninety7fifty luxury apartments that everyone is complaining about, lining up to get in to Dave and Busters to play the video game machines.

Their slogan is "play your little heart out," a message to the "little" kids who will plop in coin after coin eating up their parents disposable income or grandparent's retirement funds on junk time.

Hey, whatever brings in the sales tax money to the village.

By the way, where is my annual sales tax rebate check? I miss that. Bad move getting rid of it. It's the little things that really count and what little we got made me feel great. They then got rid of it and now what? I have no plans to move in to Niety7Fifty any time soon. And I am not sure how many people are, although I know that the money to build the place is coming out of taxdollars I've paid to the village that could go to do something else.

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, September 8, 2011

McLaughlin says 95 percent of retail space is filled but I don't believe it

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I don't believe it ... I don't believe that 95 percent of the retail space in Orland Park is filled.

McLaughlin is quoted in the TribuneLocal as saying 95 percent of Orland Park retail space is occupied, giving it the lowest vacancy rate in the south suburbs.

Do I have to go out and count every retail vacancy that exists? They are everywhere. An eyesore. A sign of a terrible economy. How do we assess it otherwise? Just by taking Mayor McLaughlin's word. I like him but I don't always agree with him. That's what Democracy is all about. It's not personal except in this sense. I live in Orland Park and I am concerned about Orland Park and I don't think all of the members of the Village Board have acted responsibly when it comes to Orland Park.

There is no doubt in my mind that the village is playing with the numbers. Manipulating statistics and data to make themselves look good. The Ninety7Fifty project stinks. It's just not smart government. Worse for the mayor, it's not smart politics.

Oh, don't tell me politics is not a part of all this. That's why the village is moving to hire its fourth communications person. Four. Two employed with the village, and one already contracted with the village and now they want another one. Didn't thew village do this when Pat Maher (name from the past) was running as the Village of Orland Park's dynasty representative in the last two elections? The voters rejected Maher because the voters rejected what he stood for and what he represented. And the elected officials who backed him stand to lose in the next election, too.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I guess we know what the Village of Orland Park's problem is ...

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Orland Park Says it needs to get it's message out:
the problem is their message is already out and the public doesn't like it.

The Village of Orland Park has two full-time communications people to help promote their events and agenda. Apparently, they're not very good, their political clout and pedigree not withstanding.

Don't get me wrong. I think communications consultants and employees are important to every government, After all, having spent 30 years as an award winning journalist with front line professional journalism experience under my belt, I am a communications consultant today. My job is to know not only how to present a message for a client, but also to whom. Who is the audience? And, what message is most effective. Comes from years of experience, folks.

But I have also learned that when a government has two full-time communications employees who were paid last year $142,768 -- and no doubt far more this year to issue press releases touting Mayor Dan McLaughlin and his agenda -- and the mayor declares that clearly the problem with the village is that it is not getting their communications message out very well so they have to hired a third communications consultant. Houston. We have a problem.

Now, communications isn't rocket science. So they hired a friend of mine, Lloyd Betourney -- I say that knowing that chances are in the small minds of some of the village officials, being my friend may not be an asset. Betourney heads up The Public Response Group which mostly does political campaigns but was brought on specifically to manage "reputation management" for Mayor McLaughlin and the Village.

I'm not sure which one has the reputation management problem at this point any more. (I love the village and I like McLaughlin -- he's a decent guy but we find ourselves on the wrong side of issues many times.)

The Public Response Group will only be paid about $49,500 for their 18 month contract to help the village get its reputation in order. So that brought the amount taxpayers are spending to manage communications (and the very related aspect of reputation management) to -- let's see, I went to the public schools where class length was far longer than what we have today in Chicago and even in the suburbs -- $192.276. Again, this Chicago Public Schools alumni can figure out that represents last year's total and my guess is the salaries this year for the "two" village relatives on the payroll is probably higher. So, for the sake of sensationalism, let's just say the village is already, now, paying about $200,000 for communications.

But apparently in the month since Betourney's Public Response Group was brought on, the village of Orland Park has decided to bring on yet another communications firm. Yes, another PR group to handle the issues probably being ruffled by the village's misguided plan to build luxury condominiums next to the Metra train station. (Sure. Wealthy people are going to move next to a Metra Train so they can get to work? I don't think so.)

The new fourth PR Firm being brought is in going to deal with surveys of the public to determine, as one village official explained, if things like snow removal and street cleaning were still relevant to residents.

I'm a little surprised that someone would ask that question. Of course, they were probably told what to say when asked by the three Communications employees and consultants who I am sure got together to figure out why that amount of money wasn't going to their pockets.

And by the way, how much with the village spend to hire the fourth communications consultant? We don't know. Maybe the village needs to hire another communications consultant to help them figure that out. They'll take bids and they will do it publicly.

Mayor McLaughlin and the "IT Team" headed by Trustee Jim "Sunshine" Dodge -- that's his favorite saying -- are probably just doing their best to try and figure out why their originally intended message hasn't gotten out. And maybe they want to know why the message of the luxury apartment complex they want to build using taxpayer money seems to be mired in public rejection. And oh, the public so does not want that Main Street Ninety7Fifty complex with the nifty little name.

They just don't understand. The problem is that their message HAS already gotten out and the problem is that the taxpayers in Orland Park understand it very well and they don't want it.

Wow. And no one had to pay me for that communications advice. I can just hear the commotion at the Village of Orland Park's new Communications Consultant Armory Offices and the $280,000 in salaried and consulting employees screaming, "Let's put out 5 press releases and see if we can spin this differently folks!"

Why not? It doesn't bother them how much the village has to spend on consulting, on luxury apartments and on PR spin. It's taxpayer money anyway.

-- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Suburban school children stay in school longer than their Chicago counterparts

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I was fascinated by the debate in Chicago over the length of time schools kids spend time in schools. There is no question that the big concern is teachers is their excessive salaries and their pensions, not the children. And that's sad. The fact is Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is not right about much, is right about the schools. Children need to stay in the elementary school classrooms longer than the 5 hours or so they are there now. Emanuel wants to increase their time in school and that's a great idea.

The Chicago news media (Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times) are preoccupied with the subject. But the truth is they don't care about school children at all either. They care about selling newspapers. Even the TV media which slurps up sloppy seconds on news, follows the lead of the Tribune and the Sun-Times reporting only on Chicago's school dilemmas.

Well let me give some information that no one seems to care about.

Suburban schools started one week before Chicago's schools and will probably remain in class days longer than Chicago's schools.

Suburban children are in class more than 6 hours every day and there is nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, Emanuel is right. School children should be in class at least 6 hours but the Chicago Teacher's Union doesn't agree. The issue for them is salaries and wages and costs. It's not about the children. Teachers complain about their salaries but they get great salaries and great benefits. But they always want more.

Chicago's Mayor Emanuel should win this fight and force the kids to stay in school longer.

It may be different from some kids in High school. There, the children in junior and senior year may have to work to help their families and staying in school longer might be a costly burden for them. But that's easily resolved by giving those children permits to leave school early.

The point is, children should be in school all day and at least 6 hours or more. That's where they learn. And if teachers don't want to be teachers, maybe they should join the unemployment line and see what it's like being without a job.

They have great healthcare benefits that are far superior than anything their students get. So quit whining, teachers and start focusing on what's good for the students. Your union has done far more for you than you deserve, getting more benefits than the students. While your salaries have increased, school programs have been cut.

I wonder if they teach about all this in economic classes?

-- Ray Hanania