Month: January 2015

Proviso Residents Get Schooled in Ways of Realizing Homeownership Dreams

Homeownership Prov TownshipAttendees listen to bank representatives discuss credit building programs Jan. 21 at The Stable Project Meet and Greet event at 7th District Rep. Chris Welch’s office in Westchester. Photo by Nicholas Samuel.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || 1/28/15 || By Nicholas Samuel || Updated: 1/29/15 || 2:08 PM

The first step to buying a home is to find out what your credit score says about you, said Otis Monroe, CEO of the Monroe Foundation.

“You need to know your credit capacity. Some see it as an indicator of character, history and ability to pay back a loan,” Monroe said.

Monroe spoke at a meet-and-greet event Jan. 21 to kick off the Stable Project’s Proviso Township Homeownership and Financial Capability Project Office. The program will offer a series of free home buyer counseling and credit coaching classes, held at the offices of 7th Dist. State Rep. Chris Welch in Westchester.

The project will host a bi-monthly pre-homebuyer certification seminar, one-on-one pre-purchase counseling, foreclosure intervention counseling and one-on-one credit-building coaching.

The project is organized and managed by the Monroe Foundation, a 25-year-old nonprofit community development advocacy organization.

Representatives from local banks, housing and community development organizations discussed ideas for the credit counseling and homebuyer classes at the event.

“You’ll be surprised how many people have errors on their credit report,” said Stacey Woods, financial coach of the North Lawndale Employment Network. “After the workshops, they’ll become credit-building experts and know what to do and what not to do as far as building credit.”

Woods said participants in workshops learn how the credit system functions and the benefits of having a good credit score.

Representative Welch said the classes will help people build up their credit scores and give them a piece of the American dream by owning a home.

“If we can make this program successful here, it can be a model for other districts,” Welch said after the event.

“I look at this as mentoring for adults. Lots of adults we’re dealing with don’t have financial literacy skills for whatever reason and our job is to help them get there,” he added.

Welch said he provided the space for the classes at no cost to the Stable Project or the Monroe Foundation.

“I want to ensure folks coming into our office that this is all about helping them. Nobody is trying to get over on them,” Welch said. “The counseling sessions will be intimate. There will be a couple of private offices they’ll be able to use.”

Monroe, founder of the Monroe Foundation, said there has been a reported slight increase in foreclosure filings in Proviso Township.

He added this project will provide an office space to help borrowers who may be at risk of default.

“This gives us a localized access point where borrowers who are struggling can meet one on one with one of the HUD-approved counseling agencies of the Stable Project,” Monroe said.

“It’s also for those who want to buy and purchase within the Proviso Township community and residents who want credit building, strengthening and sustainability.”

Monroe said a credit score and the ability to pay back a loan is more important now than ever before buying a home, applying for a job or taking out a loan.

“It’s important you know what are the best and affordable options for the family.”

The project hopes to encourage investment in Proviso Township through home ownership. Monroe thanked Welch for collaborating with the Monroe Foundation and the Stable Project.

The credit coaching and homebuyer counseling classes will be offered every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon and Saturdays from 1-3 p.m.

Classes will be available by appointment only at Welch’s district office, 10055 Roosevelt Road in Westchester. VFP

For more information on the credit building workshops and homebuyer classes, contact Athena Williams, project manager for the Monroe Foundation, at 773-914-1534 or themonroefoundation@gmail.com.

Melrose Park Taxpayers Footing Bill for Mayor’s $72K Jaguar, Dane Placko Reports

Fox 32Screenshot of Fox 32 investigate report on Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico’s 2014 Jaguar. Click to see video.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 || Originally Published: Fox 32 News || 1/28/15 || By Dane Placko

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) –

The mayor of west suburban Melrose Park, Ronald Serpico, is driving around town in a brand new Jaguar, and FOX 32 News has learned that taxpayers are picking up part of the tab.

Yet, the village said the mayor’s new wheels are actually saving taxpayers money.

“I’ve had Jaguars, probably six or seven, over the course of my life,” said Serpico.

FOX 32 watched for several hours last week as the longtime mayor drove his brand new 2014 Jaguar XJL all-wheel drive sedan all throughout town. It’s a head-turner alright, and according to the Kelly Blue Book, the car starts at about 72,000. Plus, if the car is fully loaded, it can run close to six figures.

FOX 32: Who’s paying for it?

Serpico: “I’m paying for it.”

FOX 32: You are? Is it coming out of tax funds at all?

Serpico: “I get a stipend every month. The car’s in my name and I pay for my car.”

However, it appears Melrose Park taxpayers are offering a helping hand, even if they don’t know it.

State title records indicate Serpico began leasing the brand new Jaguar from a Naperville dealership in October, putting the lease in his own name. But right around the same time, the village began paying Serpico a monthly stipend of $500 for expenses in addition to his $100,000 a year salary.

A village spokesman acknowledges the taxpayer stipend is intended to defray the cost of the Jaguar.

FOX 32: So you’re using that money to pay for the Jaguar?

Serpico: “I use that money for any expenses I have, lunches or anything else.”

The village said the mayor is actually saving taxpayer’s thousands of dollars a year with his new Jaguar. That’s because he had been driving a “fully loaded” Ford Explorer, which the village was leasing for a thousand dollars a month including gas and insurance.

But the village will continue to pay for that explorer until the lease runs out in May. It’s now been turned over to the Public Works Department.

“If he’s saving that much money now by driving a Jaguar, what’s wrong with this picture? How much money was being spent in the past and why?” said Robert Herguth of the Better Government Association.

Herguth also found old campaign flyers for Serpico, in which he said he’s cut leased vehicle expenses and would never take a village vehicle for personal use.

Like many suburbs, Melrose Park could certainly use some extra money. Its police and fire pensions rank among the worst funded in the Chicago area.

“The appearance issue is another thing. Driving around in a town with financial problems, and the mayor’s driving a Jaguar that the taxpayers are subsidizing? Even in part? It doesn’t really look terribly good,” Herguth said.

FOX 32: Could you get something a little more economical than a Jaguar?

Serpico: “Let me tell you something. I’m 63 years old. And I’m not a priest. I didn’t take a vow of poverty. Been working as a lawyer for 37 years. And I really don’t think I have to explain my life to you or anybody else.”

That stipend the village board voted Serpico last fall is also raising questions. Under Illinois law, you can’t change the salary or compensation for an elected official in the middle of their term. A village spokesman said it doesn’t change Serpico’s salary, but also admits the mayor plans to report the stipend as income on his tax returns. VFP

Follow the Money: Village Contractors Donate Thousands to Yarbrough Campaign

money

Thursday, January 28, 2015 || By Michael Romain

According to recent campaign disclosures, the law firm Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins (KTJ), which has been providing ongoing legal consultation to the Village of Maywood for years, donated $2,500 to Friends of Henderson Yarbrough, Sr., in December 2014.

Roy Strom, the waste, excavation and recycling company that has frequently contracted with the Village of Maywood, donated $2,500 to Friends of Henderson Yarbrough, Sr., earlier this month.

Edwin Hancock Engineering, another firm that has frequently contracted with the Village of Maywood, also donated $2,500 to Friends of Henderson Yarbrough, Sr., earlier this month.

Henderson Yarbrough, Sr., became Mayor of Maywood in large part due to campaign donations from KTJ, Roy Strom, Hancock and the like — companies that contract services for the village. Those companies donated thousands to his successful mayoral campaigns in the past. Now, he and his ticket mates Ron Rivers and Readith Ester are recycling those donors in the hopes that the money can win them the three trustee seats being contested in the upcoming April 7, election.

It appears that the three-person Maywood United ticket Yarbrough shares with Rivers, the sitting trustee who is defending his seat, and Ester, the outgoing D209 school board member, is solely utilizing the political action committee Friends of Henderson Yarbrough to fund its race.

Maywood United, the PAC that was active in the run-up to the April 2013 election, only had $1.85 in available funds at the close of the D-2 quarterly reporting period, which ran between Oct. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014, and has been largely inactive.

On the contrary, Friends of Henderson Yarbrough reported more than $6,000 in individual contributions during the D-2 quarterly reporting period, with more than half of that coming from the candidates themselves–$1,550 from Ester, $1,500  from Yarbrough and $300 from Rivers.

As for the company donations, they aren’t illegal. But there’ a lot riding on this election from the standpoint of these companies. For instance, the village paid KTJ a legal services retainer of more than $42,000 for the month of October 2014 alone (PDF: KTJ I and KTJ II).

There are two people on this current board — Mayor Edwenna Perkins and Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross — who would love to show KTJ the door. The only thing preventing this unceremonious exit is a majority of trustees who would like to keep the firm’s services. If three trustee candidates sympathetic to Perkins’s wishes happen to win–that could likely spell the end to $42,000-plus monthly payments for the firm.

The same logic applies to Roy Strom and Hancock, the latter to which the village agreed to pay more than $24,000 in Feb. 2014, for construction design and engineering services as part of a sewer main extension project that was projected to cost a total of $175,000 (PDF: Roy Strom Agreement). As with KTJ, a pro-Perkins majority could conceivably block this stream of contracts.

It is in this context that the firms’ campaign contributions appear inappropriate. VFP

Gov. Rauner Freezes Maywood Park District Funding, Putting $1.62M Grant in Jeopardy

Gov. RaunerGov. Bruce Rauner. Wednesday, January 28, 2015 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 9:47 PM

There’s a new sheriff in town and parks aren’t his priority

The election of Republican Bruce Rauner to the Illinois governorship has already hit Maywood hard, with the Governor issuing Executive Order 15-08, which calls for “the review and termination of non-essential contracts.”

In addition, the Executive Order states that, until “July 1, 2015, no State Agency shall let, award, or enter into any contract or grant, or any amendment or change order to or renewal of any existing contract or grant, that obligates the expenditure of State Funds…”

This applies to all funding issued on or after Nov. 1, 2014–and that includes at least part of the “non-essential” OSLAD grant former governor Pat Quinn awarded the Maywood Park District last October.

A Jan. 3, 2015 statement issued by former governor Quinn’s office earmarked “$247,400 [..] to renovate Central Area Park at 9th and Madison Avenue.”

That money is part of a $1.62 million grant Quinn awarded the park district. We don’t yet know how this impacts the full $1.62 million grant, but according to park district commissioner Dawn Williams-Rone, the district hadn’t heard much from the state since Quinn swept into Maywood during campaign season last year and dropped off the dummy check to much fanfare.

“We haven’t heard anything as to whether that money will be released,” Williams-Rone said, adding that she also hadn’t heard anything from Gov. Rauner’s administration about the freeze.

She said she’d simply assumed that there’s a good chance the funds would be held up, if not blocked completely, due to the nature of gubernatorial transitions.

But even if the funds were not in jeopardy of being blocked by a new administration, Rone said that the district is having trouble meeting the requirements of the grant.

She said that it hasn’t raised much of the 10 percent — or $162,000 — in matching funds that is required before the $1.62 million grant money can be released.

The district had anchored its hopes of renovating the building at 809 W. Madison on the $1.62 million. Judging from current events, though, that hope could be fading. VFP

LLOC Meeting, Tonight, Jan. 28, 7 PM (Agenda Inside)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR

A Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting is scheduled for tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 7 PM, at 125 S. 5th Avenue. See below for sample of discussion points. For more click here:

Public Items:
A. Mayor’s Report
B. Village Manager’s Reports:
1) Presentation of the 2013 FY Annual Audit by Baker & Tilly
Memo on FY 2013 Financial Report.docx
2013 04 30 Village of Maywood Communication to Those Charged with Govern .pdf
2) Discussion regarding Survey Collar Towns and an Ordinance for ATV – Vehicles presented by Chief of Police, Valdimir Talley, Jr.
ATV Ordinance.pdf
3) Discussion of a Facade Improvement Project for Al’s Drive-In located at 80 W. Madison Avenue, Maywood, IL.
Facade Improvements – Al’s Drive In.pdf
C. Village Attorney’s Reports:
1) Review and consideration for an Ordinance declaring surplus revenue in the St. Charles Road TIF District Special Tax Allocation Fund and authorizing payment of that surplus revenue to the Cook County Treasurer for distribution to affected taxing districts on a Pro Rata basis (Surplus amount: $34,567.01 plus any additional deposited funds).
Declaration of Surplus St. Charles Road TIF Funds.pdf

D209 Finance Director Booted from Investment Loss Meeting

Todd DrafallWednesday, January 28, 2015 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || By Bob Skolnik

Last week Proviso Township High School District 209 chief financial officer Todd Drafall (pictured left) was excluded from a meeting hosted by the Proviso Township school treasurer’s office (PTTO) to discuss an investment with the Illinois Metropolitan Investment Fund (IMET) that has gone bad. There has been bad blood between the treasurer’s office and Drafall for a more than a year.

The PTTO invited the top financial person for 13 of the 14 school districts to attend a meeting on Jan. 23 for a briefing about an investment fund that was subject to a fraud and lost $50 million. Proviso District 209 was the only district not invited to the meeting. Drafall got wind of the meeting and showed up at the PTTO’s Westchester office Friday morning but was asked to leave.

“All of the districts except for Proviso high school received that email requesting that they come to a meeting at the Township Treasure’s office about the IMET potential losses,” Drafall said. “I did not receive that, several people sent it me. I did show up at 10 o’clock and was told that I would not be allowed to attend the meeting by the CFO and the Treasurer. To my knowledge Proviso High School (District 209) was the only one not in attendance and not allowed to listen to the information and ask questions.”

Drafall said that he was told that the information presented at the meeting would be sent to him Friday afternoon which it was. Drafall said that he could not share that information until after a meeting with the district’s financial oversight panel Tuesday afternoon after press time.

In answer to a Freedom of Information Act from the Forest Park Review, the PTTO sent a bank statement showing $2 million was in a “restricted” account.

PTTO treasurer Daniel Coglianese essentially confirmed Drafall’s account of what happened Friday, but didn’t go into detail in explaining why he and his chief financial officer, George Chirempes, didn’t want Drafall at the meeting.

“He left on his own accord,” Coglianese said. “He wasn’t invited to the meeting. We felt it was better to speak with 209 personally.”

Drafall has been persistent about demanding information from the PTTO about the extent of the possible loss in its investment in one of IMET’s short term money management funds going so far as to even filing a Freedom of Information Act request. The D209 Financial Oversight Panel requested the information from Drafall at a December board meeting and he couldn’t answer questions.

 IMET was a victim of fraud when it purchased a short term security that was portrayed as being backed by federal guarantees when it was not. About $2 million of the PTTO’s investment in IMET’s Convenience fund is at risk although IMET and an investment advisor are aggressively pursuing the assets of those who perpetuated the fraud. The PTTO is just one of approximately 300 Illinois municipalities and other local government entities that invested in the IMET fund. The total IMET investment in the fraudulent securities has been valued at $50.4 million. However asset recovery efforts have already collected about 60 to 70 percent of the potential loss a lawyer for IMET said. Assets seized, which include five Florida hotels, have been placed in a trust and will eventually be liquidated and distributed to investors, such as IMET, who bought the fraudulent securities.

The PTTO handles financial and cash management affairs for 14 school districts including District 209 and Forest Park District 91.

Last year, Drafall and the PTTO butted heads after the PTTO refused to credit the district for $1.8 million in a bank account that had not been properly journalized.

Drafall and the district’s auditors complained the PTTO pools all the funds for 14 districts in a single ledger, clouding the transparency of the accounts. Drafall also has questioned the $160,000 paid to the PTTO yearly when the township treasurer doesn’t even have the computer capability to pay checks electronically, which could save $10,000 per year.

Coglianese’s frustration with Drafall was apparent in a letter he sent to Drafall on Jan. 9.

“Any projection of a loss at this time is premature and would probably be incorrect,” Coglianese wrote in his letter. “THERE IS NO LOSS of any of your funds.

You again are using trickery in your requests such as changing your wording by replacing the word “may” to “potential” loss to the same question. THERE IS NO LOSS! THERE IS NO LOSS! THERE IS NO LOSS.”

Coglianese went on in the letter to accuse Drafall of misrepresentation in stories previously published by the Forest Park Review and faulted him for arranging meetings with superintendents and politicians about the possibility of abolishing the PTTO. Essentially Coglianese told Drafall to stick to his own job.

“Has the oversight committee given you the direction for abolishing the Proviso Township Treasurer’s Office or for you to concentrate on School District # 209 finances?” Coglianese wrote.

“As Proviso Township School Treasurer for 27 years, I have never experienced an individual such as yourself.”

For his part Drafall said that he was troubled by the decision to exclude him.

“I’m a little frustrated,” Drafall said. “We’re trying to be very open about our finances. We post our audits, our monthly expenditures and revenues out on our web site so that everybody has a sense of the health of the district. To exclude us from that process because we asked questions is troubling. I don’t quite understand the reasoning for it. I am doing what I am required to do, both by my employer and essentially what I’m required to do professionally to understand where the funds are and what’s going on. And to be told that everyone can attend but you. Well it’s not very professional. I don’t think we’ve been out of line in anything that we’ve asked for.” VFP

Read the response from Township High Schools here.

Districts 89 & 209 School Board Candidates Survive Challenges

Cheryl AndersonTuesday, January 27, 2015 || Originally Published: 1/26/15 || Forest Park Review || By Jean Lotus, Editor

Proviso District 209 school board candidate Cheryl Anderson (pictured left) survived a challenge to her candidacy, Friday, after the Cook County electoral board overruled a complaint saying she failed to turn in a statement of economic interest.

“I did have a statement of economic interest,” Anderson said Monday. “I guess someone just didn’t want me on the ballot. Someone was looking hard to try to find some miniscule things to eliminate me because I’m a strong candidate.”

The challenge was filed by Maywood insurance agent Antoinette Gray, who herself was thrown off the ballot in a 7th District state rep primary challenge in February 2014 for failing to establish residency in the district for two years.

Anderson said Monday she is an independent candidate who represents change for the district. She pointed out the other six candidates have split into two slates, each including an incumbent.

“There are two tag teams with three on each slate, and it’s three times the same thing. People are tired of it,” Anderson said.

The other slates are 209 Together and The Children First Party. In the 209 Together group, Forest Parkers Nathan “Ned” Wagner and Claudia Medina have joined incumbent Theresa Kelly. The Children First Party candidates include incumbent Francine Harrell, along with Theodore Matthews and ShawnTe Raines Welch. Raines Welch is the wife of former D209 school board president Emanuel Chris Welch, who was elected 7th District state rep in 2014.

Anderson said if elected she would bring back vocational skills training to the district to get students ready for jobs.

“I want to have skilled craftsmen, carpenters, plumbers, bakers and chefs who are unemployed to come and teach these students a trade; everyone may not be interested in going to college.”

Anderson, of Melrose Park, is a Melrose Park Public library board member. She formerly worked in Englewood as a juvenile protection officer.

“If the schools fail, the jails increase,” she said, adding that all stakeholders are responsible for students’ success.

“Everyone has to be accountable, the students, the parents, the legislators, the schools, the community. Everybody should be called out for why aren’t our kids graduating. That’s why I was challenged.”

District 89 candidates survive challenge || By Michael Romain

Two District 89 School Board candidates facing challenges were both successful in overturning them. Rolando Villegas of Melrose Park and Damien Harvey of Maywood were challenged by Carlos Esteban Rojas of Melrose Park. Villegas is said to have been recruited to run by District 209 Board member Theresa Kelly, who herself is running with a slate that includes Forest Parkers Nathan Wagner and Claudia Medina. Rojas, according to a source, may have once been employed by the Village of Melrose Park and may be connected to incumbents on the District 89 Board who are allied with Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico.

Rojas claimed that the nomination papers of the two candidates contained “the names of persons, as petitioners, who are not duly registered as voters at the addresses shown opposite their respective names;”  illegible or incomplete addresses; and less than the minimum of 50 validly “collected and presented signatures of qualified and duly registered legal voters” of District 89, according to the case file.

Villegas and Harvey will both appear on the ballot in April. VFP