It was the 2013 election in North Riverside that prompted the Landmark to change its policy regarding online commenting. Sure, people had gotten nasty before online. A couple of years back when Riverside-Brookfield High School was going through a spot of turmoil things got a little dicey.
But that was nothing compared to little North Riverside and the battle for control of the village board. Wow, was that ugly.
When the dust settled, the VIP Party — which has dominated North Riverside politics for the last quarter century — re-established its control and, for now, put a lid on an opposition led by a former village police officer, Rocco DeSantis, who has kept a low profile since the election.
When DeSantis announced in late 2012 that he was running for mayor, VIP knew it was in for a fight. DeSantis, through sheer dedication and an ability to connect with people, put a scare into VIP in 2011 when he, along with political compatriot H. Bob Demopoulos, got elected as village trustee.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis began telling people he was cleaning house. What people didn’t know was that his VIP opponent, Hubert Hermanek Jr. was thinking along the same lines. Sure, they had heard about maybe some change coming to the recreation department, but it went much deeper.
First, though, VIP needed to get DeSantis out of the way. They were relentless.
VIP started by challenging the nominating petitions of DeSantis and his slate of candidates in the Transparency and Accountability in Politics Party. When the local electoral board, all VIP Party stalwarts, disqualified DeSantis and TAP, it ended up in the courts. For three months.
For good measure, then-Mayor Kenneth Krochmal filed suit in circuit court to have DeSantis thrown off the village board, using an argument made to throw DeSantis off the ballot — that DeSantis’ status as a police officer on disability leave made him ineligible to serve as village trustee.
To top it off, the village paramedic contractor sued DeSantis, Demopoulos and the rest of the TAP candidates for libel regarding statements made about the company on the TAP campaign website and Demopoulos’ website.
Just a week before the election, the Illinois Court of Appeals ruled that all of TAP’s candidates could appear on the ballot, except for DeSantis. The appellate court agreed with the local electoral board that DeSantis was ineligible to run, though no ruling on that question was ever made by a lower court, where the case was still pending.
Because it was so late in the game, the county clerk had to print a special ballot for the village board election and no one who voted early had the option of voting for TAP’s candidates.
The result was a wipeout for TAP, which dissolved as a party following the election. A week later DeSantis resigned as trustee rather than keep fighting it in the courts. VIP confidently moved forward. Then the changes started.
Hermanek makes his mark
Almost immediately following the election that made him mayor, Hubert Hermanek Jr. started making calls.
One of the first was to his police chief, Tony Garvey. Promoted to chief eight years earlier, Garvey was now out. His replacement would be his deputy chief, Lane Niemann. The new deputy chief would be then Lt. Deborah Garcia. Garvey, who would take on the new rank of commander, played the good soldier and took the demotion. Shortly thereafter, the village’s fire chief, Ken Rouleau, announced he was retiring and Brian Basek was elevated to chief.
Last to leave was Sue Frampton, the longtime recreation director, whose future had been in question since before the election based on public statements Hermanek had made regarding a move to merge recreation and public works.
‘A moment of being overcome’
Less than a month after he was formally removed as police chief in North Riverside, Tony Garvey took his own life.
Many people wondered what part his recent demotion played in that sudden act. No one will ever know, though it was an explanation his brother, Michael, would not accept.
“I will not accept anything other than the explanation that Tony had to act this way because he thought it was best for his family,” said Garvey at his brother’s funeral. “Forty-seven years cannot be trumped by a moment of being overcome by an illness.”
Hermanek confessed to wrestling with guilt following Garvey’s death, and Niemann was stunned by the suicide of a man he considered a close friend and with whom he believed he had turned a difficult corner professionally.
Hundreds of people, including police officers from communities all over northeast Illinois, attended Garvey’s funeral at St. Louise de Marillac Church. Rev. Denis Condon referred to Garvey’s death as a “crossroads,” a place for people to confront how they want to live their lives in the face of tragedy. He also had a suggestion for how to do that.
“We have to be patient enough with ourselves and be humble enough to ask for help.”
Who’ll stop the rain
Floods used to be rare, noteworthy occurrences — inexplicable downpours leading rivers to overflow into the streets and homes that border them.
The floods are still noteworthy, but they’re not so rare any longer. Since 2008, the area has been socked almost annually with a major flood event.
But 2013 topped them all.
It had already been a damp April, with the Des Plaines River less than two feet below flood stage when the rains came on April 17 and 18. Almost five inches of rain within a 24-hour period sent flood waters over the banks in Riverside, while areas near Salt Creek in Brookfield resembled lakes.
All the sandbags in the world couldn’t safeguard homes in the 3500 block of Forest Avenue in Brookfield, which was evacuated as the water seeped into the first floor of homes on the block.
In Riverside, emergency personnel evacuated 200 residences near the river along West, Groveland and Lincoln avenues.
The Des Plaines River in Riverside crested at 11.42 feet around midnight on April 19 — a record by more than a foot. That day, Gov. Pat Quinn held a press conference in Riverside to declare Cook County and 39 other counties disaster areas.
As the waters receded, residents began to survey the damage. On the 3500 block of Forest Avenue, Linda and Phillip Kasik had lost everything, including their dog. Rather than try to put the pieces back together, they said they were leaving Brookfield.
“This is it,” said Phillip Kasik, who had also experienced flooding in 2008 and 2010. “We’re saying goodbye to Brookfield. We’ll come back with our kids when we visit the zoo.”
Changing course in District 96
Probably no local agency experienced the kind of upheaval that characterized the year at Riverside Elementary School District 96.
The year 2013 was destined to be one of change in any case. Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson was on his way out, having announced his retirement at the end of the 2012-13 school year. The school board was, at the end of 2012, in the process of hiring a new superintendent.
But the school board was also in the process of coming to grips with an issue involving one of its principals, Colleen Lieggi. It was a complex tale involving accusations of child sexual abuse, which police determined were unfounded, against the principal’s former husband, two Riverside residents and a teacher at the principal’s school.
Complicating the matter was that Lamberson had not told the school board about the police case and the school district’s law firm’s insistence that somehow school board members would be breaking the law if they read the police report given to them in the fall of 2012 by the father of the accused teacher. In addition, it emerged that Lieggi had a personal relationship with one of the district’s law firm’s attorneys.
The issue lingered for six months and ended up being an important talking point in the 2013 school board election, which resulted in the school board president being ousted by voters.
A week prior to the election, Lieggi announced she would resign at the end of the school year.
But the changes were just beginning.
As the 2013-14 school year dawned, District 96 looked very different than it had a year earlier. Not only had the school board hired a new superintendent in Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, it also hired two new principals, a curriculum director and a finance director.
The district also wrapped up a two-year project to renovate all of its schools and, as the year ended was positioning itself for even more change. In December, the district worked out a separation agreement with its director of special education and was in the midst of grappling with how to address its technology infrastructure.
All of that change is being accompanied by a statewide change in the way students are to be assessed with the implementation of the Common Core. For the time being, it seems like change will remain constant for District 96.
Shedding the cocoon
Since 2009, in the wake of a recession that collapsed the real estate market and threw local governments into a panic about their financial futures, Riverside had been satisfied to ride out the bad times.
Budgets were essentially frozen and the village board after 2010 was content to stand pat. Then something interesting happened. A regional planning organization, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), announced it would be taking on Riverside’s downtown business district as a comprehensive planning project.
The document was accepted by the village board in the spring of 2013, just prior to the April village board election — one that would shift the face of the village board, from a mainly inward-looking group to an outward-facing body intent on implementing the changes called for in CMAP’s plan.
The 2013 elections, uncontested and free of the rancor that characterized the 2009 race, brought Ben Sells to the president’s chair, and he immediately began pushing for change — he called on village commissions to examine themselves and suggest ways to streamline and eliminate overlap. He pushed for and got a merger of the plan commission and zoning board of appeals. He called for and got the recreation commission changed back to a recreation board.
The point of much of this is for Riverside to respond to opportunities, should they arise in the aftermath of the recession — to new development to new businesses to tourism.
Is there a rebirth of Riverside’s downtown in the future? That’s tough to predict, but this village board appears to be laying the groundwork for welcoming the possibility.
Coyotes have been scampering through Riverside forever, but in 2014 coyotes made their presence felt more keenly than ever.
The event that flipped the switch on the spotlight was pretty dramatic, even though there were some people who were skeptical. On Jan. 25 at 1:20 a.m., three coyotes reportedly ambushed three dogs in the backyard of a home on South Herbert Road.
The dogs made it back into the house before the coyotes could snatch any of them, but the dogs’ owner, Roger Nelson, said the coyotes charged up the back steps and leapt at the back door. They only retreated, Nelson, said when he shot at them with a pellet gun.
That event, coupled with a reported coyote attack that killed a small dog a month earlier on Addison Road, prompted Riverside to craft a comprehensive coyote policy, which included asking residents who encounter coyotes in Riverside to report them to police.
Prior to the policy, Riverside police said, the most coyotes sightings reported in the village during any given year was about 20. But in the months following the February implementation of the coyote policy, Riverside police logged more than 360 coyote sightings — with a high concentration in north central Riverside.
By the end of summer residents were becoming concerned as well with what appeared to be sick coyotes scrounging for food. The Riverside Village Board contemplated hiring a trapper to shoot the sick coyotes, but opted in the end to forego that solution. By the year’s end, sightings of the sick coyotes had pretty much ended.
But coyotes aren’t going anywhere in the Village in the Forest. So far, apart from last January’s remarkable, puzzling event, the coyotes have tried to avoid human contact and have pretty much left pets alone.
But as long as there are easy sources of food and water, the coyotes will continue to roam the backyards of the Uvedale/Gatesby circle, Big Ball Park and the Repton Road triangle.
The passing of a local legend
Everyone knew that 2013 was going to be a big year for Brookfield legend Roy Overholt, and the village made sure that the Little League patriarch from Hollywood got his due — from opening day to the year-end Roy Overholt Tournament, which would be celebrating its 50th birthday in 2013.
He started the tournament in 1963 as a capper to the Little League season, inviting all of the champions of communities that made up Little League District 9. Games were played on the field that bore Overholt’s name and which he personally devoted countless hours maintaining throughout the decades.
Brookfield Little League did it right. In April, following the annual parade signaling the start of baseball, the 89-year-old Overholt threw out the first pitch of the season. In August, Overholt was honored at his beloved tourney and feted at a picnic in his honor on Sept. 1 in Kiwanis Park, right across the street from his home.
Roy Overholt died on Dec. 8, survived by his wife Audrey, to whom he’d been married for 65 years.
On the night of his wake at Johnson Funeral Home, a Brookfield Little League official flipped the switch at Overholt Field, bathing the snow-covered infield with light as a tribute to the man who defined Brookfield baseball.
On Nov. 4, shortly after 12:35 p.m. the folks over at the Hanson Material Service quarry on 47th Street in McCook pushed the button to do some routine blasting, something they had done dozens of time throughout the year.
Then about seven seconds after the blast, the earth really moved.
The tremor — apparently related to the blasting — registered 3.2 on the Richter scale and was felt all over northeast Illinois, but particularly in neighboring suburbs like Brookfield, Riverside, LaGrange and Countryside.
At first the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which monitors seismic events internationally, chalked the shaking to the blasting itself. But a couple of weeks later, the USGS — after visiting the quarry and analyzing their data — concluded that the 3.2 seismic event was, in fact, an earthquake.
The USGS further revealed that a similar 2.7 magnitude event in 2010 was also likely an earthquake and not the quarry blasting itself.
Since that event, the quarry has halted blasting and the USGS has installed its own seismograph at the site to monitor seismic activity to determine what, exactly, is going on there from a geologic perspective.