After a violent 2010 shocked residents of Riverside and Brookfield – two people were killed in Brookfield and a beloved Riverside school teacher was killed in her southwest suburban home – it came as some relief that there were no such incidents in either village in 2011.
This year was filled with the kinds of issues and events that have come to define the area in recent years, chiefly inexplicable weather and continued local fallout from the nation’s financial collapse.
And there are issues and concerns that remain evergreen, like local political battles, arguments over schools and their funding and, of course, crime.
Here’s a wrap-up of some of the more significant happenings in 2011:
All RBHS all the time
As 2011 dawned on the Landmark’s coverage area, we predicted that events at Riverside-Brookfield High School would dominate local news.
“We predict that events at RB will be the most compelling story for both towns in 2011,” the Landmark’s editorial of Dec. 29, 1010 read. Turns out, we were about right with that assessment.
From January through December, Riverside-Brookfield High School experienced a wave of events and changes – from a bitterly divisive and ultimately unsuccessful tax referendum campaign during the early months of the year, to the arrival of a new superintendent and interim business manager, to continued struggles over the district’s budget and hard cuts to staff and programs, to the latest news that the school board and teachers may negotiate changes to the current union contract.
While it appears that another tax referendum has been put on the back burner for now, financial issues continue to dog the district. A financial advisor recently told the school board that the district would be “broke” by 2015 if the status quo remained in place.
But news that teachers and the school board are meeting to see if some of those serious financial issues can be resolved may be the turning point. A year without a contentious referendum may be just what the district needs to reach dry ground.
On the other hand, a lawsuit against the district backed by a taxpayer watchdog group claiming that members of the RBHS faculty engaged in illegal electioneering during the 2011 referendum campaign still hovers in the background.
The two sides are scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 23.
Snow and wind and rain, oh my
All 2011 needed was a plague of locusts and it could have gotten its own book in the Bible.
Chicago’s weather in recent years has been strange enough, but this year’s was, well, a little odder than most.
On Feb. 1 and 2, the area was pummeled by a snowstorm that quickly garnered the nickname “Snowpocalypse” for its fury. Nearly two feet of snow, whipped into drifts more than double that high by strong winds, fell, shutting down schools and businesses. Even Brookfield Zoo closed for just the second time in its 76-year history.
The winter was followed by an unseasonable cool spring that was blown aside by a violent storm on June 21 accompanied by wind gusts up to 75 mph that blew down trees and knocked out power throughout the area.
One prominent casualty of the storm was Brookfield’s Constitution Tree, a 120-foot tall oak tree in Kiwanis Park estimated to be between 320 and 350 years old. The storm left a half million people in the Chicago area without power, many for days.
On July 11, another powerful storm knocked over trees and knocked out power to almost 400,000 in the Chicago area. That was followed by a heat wave that sent temperature soaring north of 100 degrees before another storm dumped between 4 and 7 inches of rain on to the area during the early morning hours of July 23.
And now we’re finding out December is the new April. We don’t even want to guess what Mother Nature has in store for 2012.
In the fall of 2010, the red flags began waving inside the Riverside Fire Department. The fire chief at the time, Kevin Mulligan, had been suspended with pay after an unnamed complaint against him to one of his former assistant chiefs.
It turns out that it wasn’t the first time Mulligan had been suspended by the village manager. The first time came in early 2008, a little over a year after he had been named chief. And when Mulligan’s employment contract was renewed in April 2010, it came without a pay raise.
But in October 2010, the village board held a closed door hearing to weigh complaints against Mulligan. They found his accuser’s charges lacking and reinstated Mulligan as chief.
Just a few months later Mulligan was on the hot seat again. A second assistant chief quit and days later, in February, Mulligan found himself suspended again. By April he was out, fired by the Riverside village board, although the reasons were never made public.
In November, Mulligan filed a federal lawsuit claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In his lawsuit, which named the village and Buckley as defendants, Mulligan claims that the village perceived him to be an alcoholic, even though he wasn’t, and fired him due to that perceived disability, among other charges.
He’s seeking more than $100,000 in damages.
Edward Don heading west
Making matters even worse in North Riverside, the village is losing its highest sales-tax producing business, Edward Don and Company, by mid-2012.
The foodservice equipment and supplies giant could not come to terms with the owners of the Harlem Avenue property on a new lease and North Riverside simply couldn’t come up with the kind of trump being offered up by the village of Woodridge, where Edward Don is heading.
The company will be the beneficiary of millions of dollars in tax breaks courtesy of the people of Woodridge. In the meantime, North Riverside will be left with an empty shell of a warehouse on 20 acres of land that once pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the village’s coffers.
Looking for money
After almost three decades of complete control over the village board, North Riverside’s VIP Party showed itself to be vulnerable. As the village continues to reel from the economic downturn, VIP saw its power directly challenged by two political independents, retired police officer Rocco DeSantis and business owner H. Bob Demopoulos, who unseated a pair of longtime trustees from office and have made things testy at the board table.
Making matters worse for VIP is a budget that has the board scrambling to make ends meet. Backed into a corner this fall, the board voted to issue debt certificates, which come with a higher interest rate than general obligation bonds, to pay off a bank loan coming due in December that it couldn’t repay.
The village was forced to seek a property tax levy extension for the first time in three decades and is seeking every avenue it can find for getting more revenue – selling off long-term rights to a communication tower near the North Riverside Mall, annual increases in license fees and fines and a plan to go after vehicle sticker scofflaws (after years of handing stickers out for free).
At the center of the revenue plan is a proposal to replace all of the village’s aging water meters. The hope is that the village will begin to recoup even more in water revenues, a cost that will be borne by residents through higher water bills.
In Brookfield, 2011 might be called the Year of the Chicken. In July, a Brookfield woman raising chickens in her backyard brought the issue to the fore after she received a demand from the village to get rid of the birds, which were banned, the village contended, according to village statute.
Alana Waters-Piper disagreed. The statute was unclear, she argued, and embarked on a campaign to win public support for hen-raising in Brookfield. Then days after an article about Waters-Piper and her hens appeared in the Landmark in July, her three birds suddenly died.
It’s never been determined what killed the hens. It could have been foul play or the extreme temperatures (hovering around 100 degrees) may have played a role.
But that event set in motion a groundswell of public support for raising hens in Brookfield. Dozens of supporters, including a couple of underground chicken farmers in Brookfield came out to help convince the Brookfield Village Board that allowing hens was progressive and in the best interest of the village.
And on Oct. 10 trustees (including one, Michael Towner, who had opposed hens all along) voted to allow up to three hens per property as long as all coops conformed to building and zoning codes.
Unusual home business
Miltron Brown thought Riverside was a great place to live – quiet, pretty.
So he rented an apartment on Ogden Avenue and started a home business. Only police didn’t think much of what he was selling.
Brown, who also called Forest Park home, really didn’t spend a lot of time relaxing at his Riverside digs. He worked, worked, worked, according to police, cutting some 2 kilos of heroin into smaller packages (diluting them with an over-the-counter sleep aid) destined for sale on the street.
In July, a Riverside policeman thought Brown was acting suspiciously and stopped Brown in his vehicle near the apartment. Inside Brown’s car police reported finding $4,300 on Brown along with several pills of the drug ecstacy.
Riverside police then got a search warrant and went to Brown’s apartment. They didn’t have to search very hard. The apartment was covered in a thin layer of white powder, said police, who had to wear masks while collecting evidence.
In all, police reported recovering more than 600 grams of heroin, 20 grams of cocaine and a loaded handgun, along with all of the tools of the drug trafficking trade.
Brown is in Cook County Jail awaiting trial, and Riverside police say the federal government has even expressed interest in taking over the case from the state.
When all was said and done, the 2011 elections for Brookfield Village Board went the way all village elections have gone since 2005. The ruling PEP Party swept all three seats in play, while VIP suffered its fourth straight defeat at the polls.
While that part of the campaign turned out to be anti-climactic, the most interesting part of the race came when three independent candidates – Josh Jones, Frank Torres and Daniel Gribben – were tossed off the ballot in January after a challenge by a PEP Party supporter.
Torres eventually hitched his wagon to VIP and won election as a write-in to the Brookfield Public Library Board of Trustees. Jones also ran as a write-in for library board, but didn’t campaign and failed to win a spot there.
However, Jones said he’ll run for village president in 2013, and won’t make the same mistakes with his nominating petitions next time. Whether he’ll be able to mount a serious challenge to PEP’s supremacy is speculation, but Village President Mike Garvey will be stepping aside in 2013, because of term limits. It’s anybody’s guess who will be PEP’s candidate for president and there could be a bit of internal maneuvering regarding that position.
While PEP escaped a potential minefield in 2011 by clearing the field of independents, 2013 is shaping up to be an interesting campaign. We’ll know who the players are at this time next year.
The long wait
Will the Hofmann Dam ever be notched? It’s scheduled for notching in 2012. The plan is part of Phase II of the great Des Plaines River dam removal effort by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.
Phase I, the removal of the Armitage Dam in River Grove and Fairbank Dam between Riverside and Riverside Lawn, was to have begun last winter. It didn’t.
Finally, on Dec. 9, workers started hammering away at the Armitage Dam and had approximately 50 percent of the dam demolished before a large rain event blew through the area.
The result is that work on the Fairbank Dam will now start on some date after Jan. 1, 2012, an entire year late. Let’s just call it part of Phase II at this point.