The year 2005 handed Forest Park a mixed bag containing both memorable victories, mostly in the business sector, and notable setbacks in the form of numerous controversies and a bitterly divided village council.
People on all sides of the multiple ongoing debates around town will have widely differing opinions of the implications of the past year’s events for the history of Forest Park, and only time will tell who is right.
One thing is for sure, though ” it would be tough to find anyone who would call 2005 a dull ride. Here are 10 of the year’s most notable stories, in no particular order. Let’s hope 2006 brings more progress and less pettiness.
The superintendent shuffle
In August, the Proviso High School District 209 board of education, led by board President Chris Welch, voted to fire Superintendent Greg Jackson and replace him with Robert Libka, the district’s former director of auxiliary programs, in a hotly contested 4-3 vote.
Soon after, Libka’s qualifications were called into question by Regional Superintendent Bob Ingraffia, as Libka did not hold the state’s superintendent certification. The board majority then changed Libka’s title to Chief Education Officer, though they openly admitted he would still be performing the duties normally handled by the superintendent. They promoted Bellwood Trustee Dr. Phyllistine Murphy, who had been appointed interim superintendent for technology and operations when Libka was first made superintendent, as the new superintendent, at least in title.
Also in 2005, Dr. Randy Tinder, superintendent of Forest Park School District 91, announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the 2006-2007 school year after being named president-elect of the Illinois Association of School Administrators.
Drama at the police station
In a controversial move which likely will remain a hot topic in 2006 and beyond, the village sought the firing of 21 year police veteran Sgt. Dan Harder on charges of excessive absenteeism, swearing at a subordinate officer, lying about his whereabouts while out sick, and fabricating a story about an altercation with another officer.
Harder’s defense claimed he was being retaliated against for his participation in a 2002 sexual harassment suit against the village, and called numerous officers to testify regarding alleged offenses which they argue are equally or more severe than those Harder is being charged with committing.
The defense also claimed he was being retaliated against for speaking up against incidents of police brutality, and used police memos and the testimony of officers including Lt. Steve Johnsen to back up their claim that brutality has been overlooked. Harder has expressed his intention to sue the village if he is indeed fired.
Forest Park gets a Starbucks
Forest Park’s first Starbucks Coffee location opened in October at 7231 Madison St. The store, located alongside athletic clothing shop Run Chicago, The Prep Kitchen, Fantastic Sam’s hair salon and Dahn Yoga in the Madison Commons complex at Madison and Elgin Streets, marks a high point in the Madison Street renaissance that has occurred over the past several years.
“Having Starbucks call Forest Park home is a monumental statement that Forest Park has come leaps and bounds over the years,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone.
Public works, public debate
The already contentious relationships between the Forest Park commissioners hit a low point in August when the hiring of Paul Burris, a candidate for public works director brought forward by Commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach, was voted down by the council majority.
Doolin said at the time that the move had “destroyed the public works department” as well as the commission form of government, which allows each commissioner to take charge of a village department. The majority argued that Bob Kutak, who had served as an interim department head for the last 18 months, should be given the chance to head the department.
The council changed its tune in December, voting to hire Curtis Cashman as the department’s director and make Kutak his assistant.
Magnet school opens
but questions linger
The brand new Proviso Math and Science Academy, a magnet school for the Proviso High School district, opened its doors on Aug. 13 to a freshman class of 123. The school, located in a former Loyola Medical Center building at 8601 W. Roosevelt Road, was financed with a $40 million bond issue.
Though the school appears to be an academic success thus far, its future remains in doubt as soon after its opening a budget report revealed that the project was in excess of $5 million over budget, and only about $1 million from the bond money remained.
Critics blamed board of education President Chris Welch for the news, claiming that several layers of unneeded management jobs were given to his political allies for the project. Welch, in turn, blamed mismanagement by recently fired superintendent Greg Jackson.
Proviso officials have not yet said that the district would ask for a referendum to help keep the school open, but have not ruled out the possibility either.
Governmental center at the Roos falls through the cracks
In June and July of 2005, Mayor Anthony Calderone began publicly exploring the idea of turning the long vacant Roos property, on Harrison Street and Circle Avenue, into a governmental center for the village, park district and possibly even School District 91.
Though developer Patrick Wangler was asking $3.75 million for the property, upon which he at one point had planned a massive condo project, the village had it appraised at $1.3 million for a commercial property and $2.3 million as a residential property.
The District 91 school board, however, expressed its lack of interest in moving at its July board meeting, with members stating that the price of purchasing, renovating and maintaining the building seemed excessive ” plus they were perfectly happy at their current facility at 424 Desplaines Ave.
The park district board of commissioners also decided during an executive session meeting in September that the price-tag was too high to warrant their interest in the move.
Look at those shiny new alleys!
The village began work on the first phase of a multimillion dollar project to resurface and repair numerous streets and alleys throughout Forest Park.
The project, known as the Village Improvement Plan (VIP), was made possible by the sales tax referendum passed recently, which raised retail sales tax by 0.5 percent.
Phase 1 of the VIP, which will be completed in the spring, consists of eight street reconstructions or repavements and 19 alley reconstructions. The cost of the first phase was just under $6 million, with the entire project set to cost about $11 million.
Subpoena or ‘glorified FOIA’?
The village received a federal subpoena by fax in August seeking records relating to controversial consultant Anthony Bruno and his companies, Illinois Development Services and Gray and Associates.
Bruno, who has long been under investigation for his role in a $42-million water project in Melrose Park, worked as a consultant and project manager during Forest Park’s water system overhaul in 2003.
While many in town hailed the subpoena as a sign of impending doom for Mayor Anthony Calderone, village officials downplayed its significance, calling it a “glorified FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request”
So far, there has been no known follow-up to the subpoena, and Calderone has stood by his past assertions that he is satisfied with the work Bruno did for the village.
New Village Clerk
and Village Administrator
The village council voted in February to hire Michael Sturino as village administrator. Sturino, who holds a law degree from John Marshall Law School and specializes in municipal law, replaced Matt O’Shea after a 7-month vacancy.
In March, the village appointed Vanessa Moritz, a 13-year Forest Park resident, as village clerk, replacing former clerk Joan White.
Forest Parkers voted Charles Marinier back onto the District 91 school board after a two-year absence, also electing Larry Buckley, Marilyn Garapolo and Lois Bugajsky. Buckley and Garapolo would both move out of town and resign from the board later in the year.
Meanwhile on the park district board of commissioners, Cathy McDermott and Roy Sansone were elected to the board beating out incumbent Michael Espinosa and challengers Mary Buckley and Marcy Wozniak.
At Proviso Township High Schools, board President Chris Welch, along with fellow Students First party members Reatha “Sue” Henry and Daniel Adams, were elected to the school board. Charles Flowers was the only non-Students First member elected to the board.
The year’s elections were marked by especially low voter turnout, with well under 20 percent of the village’s nearly 8,000 registered voters showing up at the polls.