For the past 16 months, one of District 209 School Board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s biggest supporters has been an anonymous website called the Proviso Insider.
The website touts itself as “a web log where you can find unbiased, straightforward information about politics that affect Proviso Township.” Truth be told, the Insider’s content is heavy on hyperbole and insinuation, short on facts and substantiation. Its primary purpose appears to be flinging mud at various people, mostly those critical of Welch. The posts never feature a writer’s byline, so the author’s identity has been a topic of speculation, though nothing’s been proven.
That may be about to change. Mark Sterk and Burt Odelson, two politically connected lawyers who caught big globs of the Insider’s mud, are alleging that Chris Welch and the Insider’s author are one and the same.
What a difference a year makes. In December 2006 an Insider headline trumpeted “D209 Lawyer Burton Odelson Respected By All.” The site went on to say: “The Insider has learned that Proviso School District 209’s lawyer, Burton S. Odelson, is also the lawyer for the stars. Many think, without Odelson, Proviso would not have been able to secure and negotiate a deal for the Proviso Math and Science Academy.”
Then came a falling-out between Odelson and the D209 board majority regarding legal bills. Odelson and Sterk were fired and the Insider started taking shots. Last July 19, Odelson and Sterk contend, the Insider went too far, accusing them of suborning perjury. After Melrose Park police commander Ric Cervone was named in a federal indictment, the Insider stated, “Sources tell the Insider that Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk of Odelson & Sterk, Ltd law firm will be indicted next by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Sources tell the Insider that Mark Sterk was the attorney advising SD89 Board member Ric Cervone on how to lie to a grand jury.”
“Are Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk crooks?” it asked in conclusion. “Will they be indicted next?”
On Aug. 21 Odelson and Sterk filed a libel/slander suit in Cook County Circuit Court, naming Proviso Insider and “John Doe” as defendants. On Dec. 21 the two men amended their suit, naming Welch and an assistant as defendants.
If proven, the suit may eventually provide the final nails in Welch’s political coffin. Welch spent more than $200,000 to be re-elected in 2007 to the non-paying job of D209 school board president after being crushed by incumbent Karen Yarbrough in the 2006 Democratic primary for 7th District state representative.
Yarbrough also trounced Welch’s political mentor, Eugene “Gene” Moore, the county recorder of deeds in the Proviso Township Committeeman race. If Moore loses his recorder of deeds position to 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith in the Democratic primary this February, his career is over, Welch loses a key ally, and Yarbrough becomes the big dog in Proviso Township.
Welch’s political losses may prove to be the least of his worries, though.
His departure from the Proviso scene would be a welcome development. Despite receiving nearly as much funding per student as nearby Oak Park River Forest High School (OPRF), District 209-which includes Proviso East High School in Maywood, Proviso West in Hillside and the Proviso Math and Science Academy-ranks dead last out of 90 high school districts in Cook County.
Last month OPRF, which pays its teachers more than its janitors, was named one of the top 500 high schools out of 18,000 in America by U.S. News and World Report. Being just one of 10 communities eligible to vote for the D209 board, Forest Park has little to say about what goes on, beyond refusing to send its kids there. But we can at least cheer long and loud when-for whatever reason-some of the people responsible for that God awful, expensive mess get slapped.