Friday, March 29, 2013

O'Halloran is a rare public official on local suburban government

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Brad O'Halloran is an unusual kind of suburban government official and public servant. Last September, it would have been so easy for him to have not said anything and gone along with the rest of the Orland Park Village Board and vote to approve the complicated financing for the controversial Ninety 7 Fifty project that is the cornerstone of much of the road development at 143rd Street and LaGrange Road.

But instead, O'Halloran stood up and took the side of taxpayers. Southtown columnist and my former newspaper editor Phil Kadner admitted he forgot that O'Halloran and done that, and so had I until it was just raised this past week in a scurilous political attack against O'Halloran by one of his opponents.

So many issues were at stake including the razing of a popular commercial strip mall and the forced relocation of several very popular retail shops and restaurants. There was a cafe there, The Plaza Cafe, that I really loved. They had a great Steak Skillet, one of the best in the Southwest suburbs. I never accepted the argument that people would pay top dollar to buy luxury condominiums in that area especially next to a renovated METRA station.

O'Halloran was attacked for challenging the development by Trustees Patricia Gira and Ed Schussler. Gira and Schussler were engaged in a very tight re-election context in 2011 in which they won but not with a majority of the vote. Clearly, one of the issues was voter concerns over the enormous funding being plowed into the Ninety 7 Fifty luxury development. Orland Park was loaning the developers $38 million, plus a $23 million tax incentive. Gira and Schussler argued that the development will return as much as $700,000 a year in taxes that will bring relief to taxpayers like you and me.

I thought the Schussler-Gira letter was vicious and unjustified. O'Halloran addressed the issue of the development and the negative impact on the taxpayers, Schussler and Gira attacked O'Halloran. Read the column.

I didn't buy that argument, especially after how we have seen the promise of a property tax rebate in exchange for an increase in the local sales tax get gutted and then reduced. Remember when the Village promised that in exchange for increasing the sales tax in Orland Park on retail sales, residents would get their local property taxes rebated to them. The concept was a great one. Raise the sales tax so outsiders who don't live in Orland Park would pay more so the village gets revenue and reduces our tax burden. AND THEN, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, rebate the local portion of property taxes (what taxpayers pay to Orland Park) to off-set what we would also be paying as a result of the sales tax hike.

It was a trade-off I supported way back in 1999. Here is what I wrote.

It was just reinstated but the rebate is about half of what it was when it was first promised and given. (I got $155.55 this year but years back I received over $225, and that's when the value of a dollar was more valuable. The $155.55 is really like about $85 in 1999 dollars).

But then, like a lot of government promises, the extra sales tax didn't help when the economy tanked and the first thing the village did was to eliminate the rebate program.

So why would we now believe Schussler and Gira that the revenue from the development will go to alleviating the tax burden on taxpayers? Might they not simply spend it on something else?

O'Halloran made a reasoned argument that was sensitive to taxpayers in Orland Park who have been misled, brutalized by the bad economy and confused about what benefits they do get.

It's not surprising that he is backed by Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman who championed taxpayer rights in standing up to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger Jr., repressive sales tax hike. Thanks to Gorman, the Stroger sales tax increase was repealed.

So when Gorman endorses O'Halloran, that means something to people who care about taxes and taxpayers.

(Forget about the nutjobs who are tied to the disgraced former Orland Fire Chief -- the one with the porno on his laptop -- who attack Gorman and lie at public meetings about the new board. Thanks to the new OFPD board (where I am a media consultant) the board has saved more than $4 million in the past three years. They're attacks against Gorman are politically motivated and they are proven liars, too!)

What counts is that O'Halloran stood up and question the financing deal. He like the development but didn't like the loan.

That's the kind of leader Orland Park needs, someone who is willing to think independently of the board when it is appropriate to challenge the board. Too many boards are rubber-stamps and do whatever is handed to them, regardless of what voters think. That's not to knock Mayor Dan McLaughlin. He has a lot of great ideas for Orland Park. But it doesn't hurt to occasionally have some dissension on a village board, especially when our taxes are at stake.

Brad O'Halloran deserves our vote of confidence for being open and honest about an issue that involves our tax dollars. $38 million is nothing to sneeze at.

-- Ray Hanania

Saturday, March 23, 2013

O'Halloran targeted because he fought for taxpayers in Orland Park

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O'Halloran targeted because he fought for taxpayers in Orland Park

Orland Park Trustee Brad O'Halloran is being attacked because he spoke out against the expensive Ninety 7 Fifty project which has a lot of taxpayers up in arms. But those taxpayers have no place to go with their anger because the village's incumbents are not being challenged.

Mayor Dan McLaughlin, who defends the project, has built up a great record over the past four years and while we have had differences in the past, I think he's on the right track. O'Halloran, who had the cajones to stand up and publicly speak out against the development, also has been on the right track for a long time. His hiring as Chairman of METRA gives Orland Park an added benefit. He's someone who will actively insure that Orland's transportation interests are protected.

Trustee O'HalloranThat may offer some insight into why O'Halloran was being viciously attacked in a robocall last week that used false charges against Moraine Valley Community College candidate John Schiera as a basis to personally attack O'Halloran. (Click here to read that post.)

That story got immediately picked up by the Chicago Tribune. Click here for the Chicago Tribune's follow-up to my blog. In the end, the attack against Shiera is unfair because it is anonymous and the accusations are all lies. Schiera has never been convicted of domestic violence. He had an incident with a former girlfriend years ago but nothing came of it, except maybe anger. But doesn't all domestic squabbles end up in anger?

Accusations spit out by anonymous people who are afraid to stand up and identify themselves reflects directly on the accusations. They are false. Completely false. And the people spewing them don't care. Worse, they don't care about Domestic violence. The only reason they raised the issue of Domestic violence and John Schiera was to create a false basis for a political attack against O'Halloran.

Yet, what does any of that have to do with Brad O'Halloran who has been a wonderful father and a great family man who has stood up to champion the taxpayers and has been an independent voice on the Village of Orland Park board?

The village needs an independent voice on the Orland Park Village board but it has to be a responsible one. O'Halloran is that person.

Trying to associate O'Halloran with such a vicious slander was political in its intent.

On Friday night, Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman put out her own robocall defending O'Halloran. Gorman is probably the most popular elected official in the Southwest Suburbs. Her fight to  oppose the outrageous Cook County Sales Tax increase was unique. So few elected officials really stand up to fight for the taxpayers. But Gorman did. She praised O'Halloran and urged voters to support his re-election and not be swayed by vicious rumors and false charges made by some low-life who was afraid to identify him or herself.

Like Gorman, O'Halloran is a champion of the taxpayers. He has nothing to do with the Schiera issue, although as far as I am concerned, I am going to vote to support Schiera because I don't like anonymous negative attacks from people who are afraid to speak up and defend their charges.

But I definitely am going to vote for O'Halloran. We need an independent voice on the Orland Park Village Board who is responsible and has experience and a proven track record fighting for taxpayer rights.

O'Halloran is a class act who is so different from many other elected officials. O'Halloran handled his opposition to the Ninety 7 Fifty development, representing the widespread views of many concerned taxpayers, with respect and dignity, unlike those who attacked him. (Click here to read the story.)

Everyone keeps throwing out one name in speculation about who is behind the smear campaign. But that doesn't matter. Let the patches of low-lifes who populate online chatboards and  discussion groups can spew all the ignorance they want. They're a small group you don't want to be associated with.

What matters is keeping Orland Park strong. For the first time, we have a real taxpayer advocate on METRA to fight for our transportation needs and holding the line on spending.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ugly false robocall makes defamatory attacks against John Schiera and Brad O'Halloran tonight

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I hate getting telephone calls from unknown numbers, especially after 8 pm. And that's just when one came to the phone from a number identified on my Caller ID as "000-000-0000."

Right away, I knew it was some kind of scam. With technology today, I figured I can always listen later, but then I figured, why not check it out. So I did.

It was disgusting. 

A woman's voice comes on claiming to be against "Domestic violence." She then identifies herself as "Sharon," no last name at all. Just "Sharon."

That sounds suspicious.

Then in the most disgusting manner possible, she starts off attacking Orland Park Trustee and METRA Chairman Brad O'Halloran, someone with an impeccable background and career in public service, and another person who I don't know named "John Schiera."

Turns out John Schiera is a candidate for the Moraine Valley Community College Board, running in the April 9 election. O'Halloran is running on the same ballot in Orland Park for re-election as a village trustee.

I plan on voting for O'Halloran but I had no idea who to vote for in the race for Moraine Valley Community College. I know Gary D. Lewis and I like him and plan to vote for him, but Lewis is only one of 6 candidates battling it out for the three (3) seats on the MVCC Board.

Here's the list of names from the April 9 ballot.

John Brosnan Donahue
Sandra S. WagnerNonPartisan205
John SchieraNonPartisan206
Ricardo A. FernandezNonPartisan207
Joseph P. MurphyNonPartisan208
Eileen M. O'SullivanNonPartisan209
Gary D. LewisNonPartisan210

I did some quick searching on John Schiera. I reached out to him on Facebook and I checked him out online using which identifies whether or not someone has had a criminal past, as was alleged in the robocall by "Sharon."

Turns out the accusation is false. Schiera has no criminal record on file. In fact, he is a businessman from Palos Park. He's 51 years old and on top of it, he was born on a day I really love, July 4.

The robocall is a scam, one of the worst kind. True disgusting mudslinging. If the accusation were true, the caller, "Sharon," would have identified her last name. But more significantly, the Robocall would come from a traceable number, not one that is intentionally disguised to hide the source of the political mudslinging.

Worse is at the end. Election law REQUIRES to all campaign literature have a disclosure of who is responsible for the literature be it a printed mailer or a telephone robocall. But this one ends by saying, "This call has been paid for by." And it just ends.

In fact, it ends that way in every phone call.

I think that Cook County Clerk David Orr should get off his partisan ass and earn his salary and investigate who is behind this defamatory, illegal election robocall. I think the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan -- who would clearly do a more professional job than the very partisan David Orr -- should investigate this too.

The political person who is behind this should be arrested and charged with a crime. Better yet, if they have the cajones, they should stand up and defend their slanderous accusations.

But the person who paid for the robocall -- and robocalls cost money -- won't because that person is a coward. There is no doubt that the person who paid for the call doesn't give a damn about domestic violence, but used it believing that it was the most scurrilous thing you could say about someone to destroy their reputation weeks before an election.

It's disgusting.

Just to show that I won't be bullied, you can bet that I will go out and vote for John Schiera now. AND I definitely will make sure that I vote for Brad O'Halloran, too. YOU SHOULD VOTE FOR BRAD O'HALLORAN and JOHN SCHIERA, TOO!

If someone is so desperate to keep them off the ballot using slander and defamation, and are afraid to identify themselves as the source of the accusation, then clearly the accusations are false and John Schiera is a good person.

I urge you to send a clear and strong message on Tuesday April 9 and vote for Brad O'Halloran and John Schiera and show the scumbag who paid for the ugly robocall that we won't be bullied by shameless cowards.

--- Ray Hanania

I just got my property tax rebate check in the mail. Thanks Mayor! Hoorah!

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Ok Mayor Dan McLaughlin, you have GOT my vote.

I just got my tax rebate check in the mail. Alright, it was only $155.55, but still, it is the principle. Four years ago I was a little angry with da Mayor. He had long ago promised to off-set an increase in the local sales tax that he proposed by promising residents he would rebate our share of property taxes. And then, a few years later, he stopped it. Boo!

But he reinstated it. So yea! That's what it means to be a fickle voter.

This rebate check came just in time for the April 9 election, which only goes to prove that just before election time is the best time to make demands of our government officials.

I won't complain, too much, though. I mean, the last check I got was about $215. That was four years ago or so. (I could be off but for sure, the last full rebate check I got was way bigger.) And that means that this check doesn't even come close to what we should be getting back.

The Village of Orland Park raised the sales tax, which I dutifully pay when I buy things in Orland Park, and promised -- promised -- to rebate our village portion of our property taxes to off-set that increase. The idea was a good one and I give Mayor Dan credit for that. The sales tax would hit outsiders, non-Orland Park residents who come to this area to shop. Orland Park has a large commercial base in addition to the Mall -- although the Mall is getting a little skanky, face-lift or not.

Technically, had the Village NOT have stopped the rebate when they did and continued it each year at the same rate, I probably would have gotten $300 back this year. 

So, in a way, it's not the full rebate.

But that's ok. I like Dan McLaughlin. I've known him a long time, from when he was just a trustee. He can't control everything in Orland Park and he can't be blamed for everything. The trustees have a lot to do with it, too. They're the votes that cast votes, not Dan.

So I don't fault Mayor McLaughlin and I wish him luck in this election, although he won't need it. No one is running against him. And with only one exception, there isn't anyone I would have backed to take his place. He would have gotten my vote anyway, most likely.

I saw the mayor the other day. It was good to see him. He's done a lot of good for Orland Park, though I have some issues with Ninety 7 Fifty and its financing. Still, Orland Park is the place I always wanted to live and make a home and I did that around 1985 and have been loving it ever since. And for the most part, it's great in a large part because of Mayor McLaughlin's vision.

I'm not being critical, just honest. It's tough being a politician. I know because I work with a lot of them. I only work with the ones I like and McLaughlin is easily in that group.

So come April 9, I hope everyone backs Mayor McLaughlin, not just because he was able to reinstate the property tax rebate, but because given everything that politicians and government officials have to do and put up with, McLaughlin has done a good job.

-- Ray Hanania