The year 2011 began with a February winter storm that had Forest Parkers digging out and students from closed Forest Park schools frolicking for two days. Weather extremes were the norm during the summer when a year-to-the-day storm reprised the supposed “100-year” flood of 2010. Local basements once more were swamped with sewage and storm water. A seven-alarm fire on Madison Street in September gummed up rush hour and spread smoke and ash through town.
Meanwhile, the 2011 economy remained grim with the closing of Forest Park businesses, but hope sparked when a new appliance store made plans to buy a long-shuttered local commercial space.
Snowmageddon, then floods
Snow fell, and fell and continued to fall overnight on the first day of February, 2011. It snowed until 20 inches covered the village and surrounding area – more than the historic storm of January 1979 when 18.8 inches fell. In Chicago, cars were stranded on Lake Shore Drive overnight. But Forest Park’s village crews took to the streets, working overnight and until 7 p.m. the following day. Sidewalks, alleys and streets were plowed. By late morning Feb. 2, all the side streets were “passable,” according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian.
District 91, District 209 and private school students enjoyed back-to-back snow days. Firefighters shoveled out village hydrants. Fire Chief Steve Glinke said the department added extra manpower to beef up response times. Glinke and Deputy Fire Chief Bob McDermott were on duty for 36 hours straight. The village’s automated phone system repeatedly called residents with messages warning of the expected snowfall and reminding them about parking restrictions in snow route areas. When it was over, Mayor Anthony Calderone bought pizza for the public works crew.
Then on July 23, a year to the day after the “100-year flooding event” that swamped Forest Parkers in 2010, the skies opened up and poured 4-7 inches of rain on the village. Established the previous year, the Facebook page Forest Parkers Against Flooding again sprang to life with more than 50 grim comments from residents. “Basement flooded about 3-4 feet high, lots of gravels in basement and we start to have a nasty seepage. Getting tired to wash everything and have an unusable basement, and the freaking smell … getting tired of this!!!!” wrote Sebastian Rivas of the 800 block of Elgin.
Partly to blame was a century-old combined sewer system that cannot handle large bursts of sewage and rainwater, said the village. Calderone addressed the problem saying, “Here’s the situation: Forest Park, along with many other communities, are stuck with what we have right now. … We cannot magically make that into something that it’s not.” A new sewer system would cost an estimated $60-$90 million. Looking ahead to 2012, residents may need to consider installing private flood prevention systems, he said.
Mayor Anthony Calderone won his fourth term as mayor, April 5, gaining 1,548 votes (53.9 percent) in his race against challenger Marty Tellalian, a village commissioner since 2007 and tank design manager for the Chicago Bridge and Fire Company, who ran as a reformer, winning 1,346 votes. Incumbents Mark Hosty and Rory Hoskins remained on the board while newcomers Chris Harris and Tom Mannix defeated Mike Curry and filled the empty seat vacated by Tellalian.
Thirty-five percent of registered Forest Parker voters participated in the election, a participation rate twice as high as the turnout of registered voters in suburban Cook County (16.6 percent).
Eleven candidates ran for commissioner, a larger number than usual, since no primary was held to winnow the field. Those candidates were Matt Walsh, 18, a senior at St. Ignatius College Prep; Steve Johnsen, a former Forest Park police officer, school board member and Realtor; Sam Tarara, a Realtor and property manager; Chicago bead store owner Jon Kubricht; Eric Connor, a defense attorney; Elsie Norberg, director of a nonprofit agency; Connie Custardo, a part-time bus driver; and Tad P. Mossell.
Candidates were removed from the ballot as the race narrowed. Petition challenges were filed by Elsie Radtke, a Forest Park resident and mother of candidate Tom Mannix. Kubricht was kicked off in January for presenting signature petitions in a manila envelope instead of fastened together with a staple. Custardo was removed from the ballot for petition irregularities. Rory Hoskins survived petition challenges.
In the final weekend of the campaign, a racially tinged direct mail flyer arrived in voters’ mailboxes accusing candidates Hoskins and Johnsen of wanting “Maywood to annex part of Forest Park.” A digitally manipulated image showed a Forest Park welcome sign with the word “Forest Park” crossed out and replaced by “Maywood.” The claim was in reference to a campaign proposal by Hoskins to join Maywood in an Illinois Enterprise Zone designation. The piece was thought to be a jab at Hoskins, who was the only African American in the race. Maywood is a primarily African-American town. The flyer claimed to have been sponsored by a group called Citizens United for Forest Park, a variation on an existing group, Citizens United in Forest Park. Jerry Webster, president of CUinFP, denied the association.
New discipline policy at District 91 gets results
Fewer District 91 students were sent to the principal’s office with discipline infractions in 2011, as the district reaped the results of Positive Behavioral Support System (PBIS), which had been introduced in 2007. The system has changed the culture at Forest Park schools, reducing infractions by up to 50 percent in some schools.
PBIS consists of a school-wide structure of behavior-driven standards, simply explained and then rewarded with raffles and special awards. At Forest Park Middle School, Behavior Interventionist Bob Liddel and Assistant Principal Michelle Gossett created a set of three behavior expectations – be respectful, be responsible, be safe – that were spelled out in notebooks given to students at the beginning of the school year. The focus is on proactively modeling and promoting correct behavior more than punishing infractions. The middle school website even has a list of PBIS behaviors for students at home, including “Do chores every day without being asked,” “Let your parents know where you are” and “Check edline every day.”
Data is collected on which infractions are committed and where they are observed. The staff creates a “cool tool” to address that specific behavior for two weeks. Students who exhibit good behavior are rewarded at a raffle.
Such data also show that PBIS has been effective thus far. Statistics show that the number of infractions at the middle school decreased from 1,504 during the 2009-2010 school year to 1,347 in 2010-11.
Occupy Chicago – Forest Park Style
Occupy Chicago demonstrations in October swelled from 50-60 protesters near Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street to 1,500 in Grant Park before contracting to a handful as the weather turned cold. Forest Parkers Deb Jensen, John Buno, Rose Mattax, and Mary Dye attended the demonstrations on Oct. 11. To stand out, Mattax and Jensen dressed in choir robes, calling themselves the “church ladies.” They carried a sign that read, “We represent the diversity of the 99 percent and are here to show that Christians aren’t just right-wing conservatives. Liberal Christians love Jesus too. What the church ladies want to see most is health care reform, campaign finance reform and tax reform. Furthermore, stop spending money on wars. – True, lasting change comes with a change of heart, so we’re calling on the 1 percent to repent of their addiction to greed and the 99 percent to repent of their apathy.” Dye summarized the protesters as “educated, articulate and well read.” Jansen said, “I think we are experiencing history.”
Police tasering and sexual assault suits
In January, Jose Santana was awarded $50,000 in a 4-year-old brutality case against two Forest Park police officers after he claimed he was beaten and Tasered in 2004. A jury found Officer Harold Grimes guilty of excessive force and Officer Jason Keeling guilty of failing to intervene when a handcuffed Santana was Tasered in a jail cell.
A 19-year-old female police intern filed suit in Federal Court on Sept. 1, 2011 against Forest Park Police Detective Young Lee and the Village of Forest Park, claiming that during a purported alcohol “sting” on March 30, 2011, Lee had instructed her to drink two alcoholic beverages in an unnamed pub and then sexually assaulted her in a car. According to the complaint, the woman woke up in the laundry room of her building the next morning. She filed a complaint with the police department. An investigation of Lee took place, which found the allegation of sexual assault “unfounded.” The complaint states that the Village of Forest Park “directly encourages – the very type of misconduct at issue here by failing to adequately train, supervise and control its officers.” It also states that, “by adequately failing to punish and discipline prior instances of similar misconduct [the village leads] Forest Park police officers to believe their actions will never be scrutinized.” The village filed a motion to dismiss on Nov. 14, asserting that the victim’s recital of elements of her case was “threadbare” and that the village has immunity under the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. The case will continue into 2012.
Roos Building: Park purchase still pending
The Park District of Forest Park spent 2011 working out the details of acquiring the looming, empty Roos property at 7329 W. Harrison Ave. and transforming it into a multi-use complex. Meanwhile, the abandoned building became more of an eyesore as graffiti collected on the walls and vandals hurled rocks from the Circle Avenue bridge through brand new windows. The district hatched plans to demolish the Circle Avenue portion of the building and restore the Harrison side, creating three floors of 7,000 square feet each for a teen center, a senior center, fitness rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms and a preschool. By the end of 2011, the district announced that they were closer but still had failed to craft a deal to buy the property. The park district continues to negotiate with Harris Bank, which currently holds the mortgage on the building. Complicating the negotiations was the bankruptcy of one of the partners in Troyanovsky LLC, the holder and seller of the Roos. The building formerly housed a factory that made cedar chests.
Farmers Market moves
The year-old Forest Park Farmers Market returned in June to a new location in The Grove, 7824 Madison St. near Altenheim. Not only did The Grove site provide a park-like atmosphere – compared to the Mohr Community Center parking lot – it had bathrooms, electricity and picnic tables. The market had 20 merchants selling fresh produce, farm-fresh free-range eggs, honey and baked goods. Featured also were a moon jump for children as well as cooking demonstrations with market ingredients, wine-tastings, animal adoptions by the Animal Care League and other special events.