Month: April 2015

Fox 32: Melrose Park Mayor Accused of Conflict of Interest

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Thursday, April 30, 2015 || Originally Published: Fox 32 || 4/29/15 || By Dane Placko

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) – Plenty of politicians make an extra buck on the side. Some even make more money in private business than from the public payroll.

But what happens when a mayor gets paid thousands of dollars by a bank that does big business with that mayor’s village?

Well, in west suburban Melrose Park nothing happens, because it appears almost nobody knows about the mayor’s side job – until now.

You would think elected officials would want to know about their mayor’s outside income, because that income is coming from a bank where the village keeps a lot of its money.

But when FOX 32 tried to ask trustees about it, they seemed uninterested.

FOX 32: “Is that a conflict of interest in your estimation?”

Trustee Anthony Abruzzo: “I don’t know any of the details, any of the facts.”

FOX 32: “Did you know he was a contract employee of the bank?”

Trustee Anthony Abruzzo: “Have a good night.”

Serpico has been mayor of Melrose Park for 18 years.

Melrose Park is also the home of Pan American Bank, which FOX 32 and the Better Government Association learned has been paying Serpico’s law business thousands of dollars a year.

Through a spokesman, Serpico said he is paid between $1200 and $1500 a month by the bank to do loan reviews. However, he wouldn’t show FOX 32 any statements or checks.

Pan American is also the village’s bank of choice, with more than a dozen accounts holding 27-million dollars in village funds as of late last year.

Melrose Park also pays the bank to process its water bills and parking tickets, earning the bank $270,000 since 2009. And the village currently has a loan from Pan American for six million dollars.

Yet, one trustee who did talk to FOX 32 said that she wasn’t aware the mayor is working for the bank.

Trustee Cathleen Cossident-Italia: “Well I’d have to talk to him about it and find out more about it. I have no idea.”

FOX 32: “So you didn’t know he was getting money from them?”

Trustee Cathleen Cossident-Italia: “No, of course not. I wouldn’t know that.”

Melrose Park said it has no record of approving any contract, ordinance or resolution to use the bank for bill processing or to park its money. But the bank says those documents do exist.

The mayor’s spokesman said that Serpico had nothing to do with it, saying the village comptroller would have decided where to put Melrose Park’s money.

But former comptroller John Gregor told FOX 32: “I basically really didn’t pick Pan American. It was the mayor’s choice.”

“The fact that none of this is in any sort of written agreement or contract, and the fact that a village mayor then is also a contract employee for the bank is really troubling,” said Patrick Rehkamp of the BGA.

In a statement, Serpico said: “We have found (Pan American) to be diligent, fair, competitively priced and hard-working…. none of (my work for Pan American) is related to the village nor is any of it in conflict with my official duties.”

And the bank says: “Mr. Serpico’s law firm…fees are a small percentage of the bank’s annual legal fees.”

Elected officials in Illinois are required each year to fill out a statement of economic interest, disclosing outside income and gifts. On Serpico’s form, he says only that he makes money as a lawyer and nothing about the bank being a client.

While that may be legal, some lawmakers say we deserve more.

“The public deserves to know if there’s a potential conflict of interest,” said State Senator Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge.

Kotowski has been fighting for a bill that would overhaul Illinois’ statement of economic interest, which hasn’t changed in more than 40 years.

Kotowski said the questions on the current form are murky and enforcement is weak.

“I don’t think people in this business have anything to hide, nor should they. They should be able to say ‘look, if I’m working in another job, here’s what I do. Here’s how I’m making money’,” Kotowski added.

Pan American also has close political ties with the neighboring village of Bellwood, which has accounts at the bank totaling as much as nine million dollars.

FOX 32 has learned that since that banking relationship started, Pan American has hired the son of longtime Bellwood mayor Frank Pasquale and the daughter of Bellwood clerk Lena Moreland, who actually served on the bank’s board for a few months.

A village spokesman said neither elected official lobbied the bank to get their kid a job.

In a statement, Pan American says: “We are a bank dedicated to community service and have made contributions in the best interests of the communities we serve… nearly 60 percent of our employees live in the neighborhoods we serve. Mr. Pasquale and Ms. Moreland are just two examples, and we are proud of their service to our customers.”

Pan American has also made a number of campaign contributions to Mayor Serprico, totaling $13,700 since 2008.

Melrose Park actually has a policy prohibiting its employees from working for village vendors, but that policy does not extend to elected officials. VFP

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Proviso Partners for Health Awarded Grant by Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Thursday, April 30, 2015 || Originally Published: Loyola Newswire || 4/24/15

MAYWOOD, IL – The Proviso Partners for Health was awarded a grant from the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to support their efforts to improve community health. Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H) is comprised of Loyola University Health System, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing as well as Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA), Proviso East High School, Triton College, Cook County Department of Public Health and several other community organizations.

“We are thrilled with the energy that has resulted from PP4H and look forward to the resources and support from IHI,” said Joanne Kouba, PhD, RDN, LDN, associate professor and director of dietetics education programs at Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing.

PP4H is one of 24 communities that is part of the spreading community accelerators through learning and evaluation (SCALE) imitative which is made possible by a $4.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The SCALE initiative will help to share the knowledge and experience of health equity solutions that benefit community transformation,” said Lena Hatchett, PhD, assistant professor and director of Community and University Partnerships at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

SCALE helps communities further their capability to improve the health of targeted populations and develop ways to share and spread community-driven approaches across the country.

“After reviewing hundreds of impressive applications, we are pleased to welcome these 24 communities to the SCALE initiative and to bring them together to deepen their ability to create effective improvement and to generously share what’s currently working in various locales,” said Soma Stout, MD, MS, principal innovator in SCALE and external lead, health improvement, IHI.

“We are excited to be awarded the grant and look forward to supporting PP4H,” said Armand Andreoni, director of community benefit at Loyola University Health System.

SCALE is designed to jumpstart an unprecedented community-to-community learning system right out of the gate in that the initiative matches four “mentor communities” – those with a recent track record of achieving better health – with 20 “pacesetter communities” that are seeking to accelerate their pace of change. PP4H has been named a pacesetter community and will support policy, systems, and environmental change through the Proviso East High School Wellness Committee, Mujeres Unidas Job training, and the Proviso East Entrepreneurial garden.

“PLCCA understands the health disparities in the community we serve, therefore we are excited to know we can build health equity within our community by evaluating the positive results of healthy environmental change,” said Andrew Martin, vice president PLCCA.

The Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division (HSD) advances interprofessional, multidisciplinary, and transformative education and research while promoting service to others through stewardship of scientific knowledge and preparation of tomorrow’s leaders. The HSD is located on the Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois. It includes the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Stritch School of Medicine, the biomedical research programs of the Graduate School, and several other institutes and centers encouraging new research and interprofessional education opportunities across all of Loyola University Chicago. The faculty and staff of the HSD bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a strong commitment to seeing that Loyola’s health sciences continue to excel and exceed the standard for academic and research excellence. For more on the HSD, visit their page here. VFP

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BREAKING: Man Shot 12 Times Last Night, April 29, on 400 Block of South 13th Avenue

imageThursday, April 30, 2015 || By Michael Romain 

A man sustained multiple gunshot injuries after a shooting that happened last night, Wed., April 29, on the 400 block of South 13th Avenue, according to Maywood police.

After receiving an emergency call at around 11:16 PM that shots were fired, first responders discovered Antoine Cotton, 27, sprawled on the ground. He had been shot 12 times, police say. Cotton, who was still alive, was rushed to Loyola University Medical Center, where he is reportedly in critical condition.

Police say they have no information on the assailants or the circumstances of the shooting, which is currently under investigation and has not been ruled a homicide. Police are urging anyone with information to call (708) 450-4471. VFP

BGA: ‘Maywood Machine’ Shifts Back Into Gear

imageWednesday, April 29, 2015 || Originally Published: Better Government Association || By Robert Herguth

Two years after Maywood voters ousted Henderson Yarbrough (pictured) as mayor of the long-troubled western suburb, he’s back on the village board, winning a trustee seat in the April 7 election.

Whether this is a positive development depends on who’s talking. Not surprisingly the current mayor, Edwenna Perkins – who defeated Yarbrough in 2013 and is part of an opposition or reform bloc – isn’t terribly happy.

Henderson Yarbrough seems like a nice fella; he has a gentlemanly manner. But problems were pervasive under his rule. And critics viewed him as ineffectual, at best.

The village’s finances on his watch were quite simply disastrous, with the police department at times not having enough money to gas up its squad cars. Not the greatest scenario considering Maywood’s severe level of crime.

And that’s just for starters.

This is how we put things in perspective in a 2012 Chicago magazine piece:

“Maywood’s financial record-keeping has been so poor in recent years, it’s difficult to determine where all of the tax money ended up. Its police department, though small in size, has had staggering problems with corruption within the ranks . . . and development projects aimed at revitalizing the community’s hollowed economy have routinely withered.”

“Presiding over the dysfunctional town is the political power couple of Maywood: Mayor Henderson Yarbrough and his wife . . .”

That’d be Karen Yarbrough, who was a state legislator at the time, a key ally of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago.) She’s now the Cook County recorder of deeds, and remains Proviso Township’s Democratic committeeman and a leader in the Illinois Democratic Party. She’s considered a riser, with an eye on higher office. Her father once was Maywood’s mayor, too.

We sometimes refer to the Yarbroughs’ political operation as the “Maywood Machine.”

The Chicago magazine article went on to say:

“They may not be solely to blame for the village’s problems — which began decades ago, spurred in part by a manufacturing meltdown in the 1970s — but in many ways, the Yarbroughs seem more interested in keeping their family and political fortunes flush than in helping the 24,000 residents . . . .”

Ok, so with that as a backdrop, what spurred Henderson Yarbrough to return to the village board, although this time as one of six trustees?

“People asked me to run and they elected me,” he told us in a recent interview, adding that during his time as Maywood mayor “things were good and getting better.”

Eleven people ran for three trustee spots, and Henderson Yarbrough was the second top vote-getter, with 897 votes, according to the Cook County clerk’s office.

“I knew I was going to be involved one way or another” in the community “so I decided to give it one more shot,” the former mayor said. “Good decision, bad decision, we’ll see.”

So is this a stepping stone – as Perkins believes – so he can reclaim the mayor’s office?

“No, no, no . . . I have no such intentions,” Henderson Yarbrough said. “That’s not my intention at all. It took a lot for me to say yes to this, you guys beat me up so bad.”

(Click here and type “Maywood” or “Yarbrough” into the search bar for the dozens of stories we’ve done over the last few years.)

Henderson Yarbrough said Maywood residents encouraged him to run for trustee, adding, “I don’t plan on moving, I want [Maywood] to be the best it can be.”

He relayed that the same old issues remain – public safety and economic development “at the top of the list.”

He’s been viewed as a proxy for his politically powerful wife. Did she push him to run?

“No . . . as a matter of fact she stayed on the sidelines . . . I think she would have preferred me not to run,” he said.

Karen Yarbrough explained to us: “It wasn’t my idea, it was his idea . . . I told him I wouldn’t oppose it, I’d be a good wife.” VFP

Robert Herguth can be reached at rherguth@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9030. 

Special & LLOC Meetings Scheduled Tonight, Wed., April 29, 7 PM (Agendas Inside)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR 

A special meeting of the Maywood Board of Trustees is scheduled to take place tonight, Wed., April 29, 2015, at 7:30 PM, after a regularly scheduled Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting at 7 PM. Both will be held at 125 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.

Among items to be discussed at the LLOC meeting:

1) Presentation by the Historic Preservation Commission – By Tom Kus

2) Discussion of the Renewal of General Liability and Workers Compensation Insurance for 2015/2016 Fiscal Year in the amount of $722,527 as presented by Mesirow Financial and CS Strategies, Inc. (the Village’s Brokers of Record). This matter was discussed at the April 15, 2015 LLOC Meeting and the April 21, 2015 Regular Village Board Meeting.

3) Discussion of the Renewal of Health Insurance Benefits for 2015/2016 Fiscal Year in the amount of $2,885,112 as presented by Assurance Agency, Ltd. (the Village’s Broker of Record). This matter was discussed at the April 15, 2015 LLOC Meeting and the April 21, 2015 Regular Village Board Meeting.

4) Consideration of and Motion to Designate and Approve CS Strategies, Inc. to serve the Health Insurance Brokers of Record for the Village of Maywood, effective immediately or on a future date.

5) Maywood Police Department – 2015 First Quarter Report

6) Village Pride-Village Wide update

For more, click here.

Among items to be discussed at the Special Board Meeting:

Consideration and Motion to approve the Renewal of General liability and Workers Compensation Insurance for 2015/2016 Fiscal Year in the amount of $722,527 as presented by Mesirow Financial and CS Strategies, Inc. (the Village’s Brokers of Record).
This matter was discussed at the April 15, 2015 LLOC Meeting and the April 21, 2015 Regular Village Board Meeting.
Mesirow Executive Summary.pdf
Mesirow Premium Summary.pdf
2) Consideration of and Motion to approve the Renewal of Health Insurance Benefits for 2015/2016 Fiscal Year in the amount of $2,885,112 as presented by Assurance Agency, Ltd. (the Village’s Broker of Record).
This matter was discussed at the April 15, 2015 LLOC Meeting and the April 21, 2015 Regular Village Board Meeting.
Assurance – Employee Health Renewal.pdf
Renewal of Health Insurance – Memo David Myers.pdf
3) Consideration of and Motion to Designate and Approve CS Strategies, Inc. to serve the Health Insurance Brokers of Record for the Village of Maywood, effective immediately or on a future date.
CS Insurance Strategies- Special Baord Meeting.pdf

For more, click here. VFP

Maywood’s Violence Constitutes an Immediate Public Crisis in Need of a Solution

The Opinion Pages

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 || By Lennel Grace

We have a crisis in our town and if we don’t come together to solve it, we and our town will perish. After we have solved the problem we can, if we like, go back to the old ways of blame, finger-pointing and poor leadership from all quarters; or we can choose to chart a different course. But solve this problem we must and immediately!

The crisis is unbridled and unchecked crime! Murders take place in broad day light. Shootings happen on a daily basis in broad daylight. Our town appears out of control and our streets are not safe for our citizens. Businesses cannot operate safely, school children are at risk, home values are plummeting and homeowners are placing their homes up for sale.

As I put the finishing touches on Saturday’s Annual Earth Day Prairie Path Clean–up, which hosted schoolchildren from Bellwood, Boy Scout troops from Broadview Baptist Church, members of the Oak Park Cycle Club, representatives from Loyola University, Maywood residents and friends from across the Chicago area, I was overwhelmed with concern.

Maywood’s gun violence is primarily perpetuated by young males of African descent on the middle and south ends of Maywood. As a first step, order and a respect for law needs to be established immediately.

At a recent  Cook County economic summit hosted by the Village of Oak Park and County Commissioner Richard Boykin, Boykin made an observation about crime in the Austin area and a first-step solution designed to get the problem under control. I listened carefully to his comments about the problem and how he asked the city to request help from the sheriff’s department to assist the Chicago police. Maywood seems to be experiencing similar problems of late and could benefit from such assistance.

The goal of eliminating crime must be the priority and a problem-solving plan put in place and worked to its conclusion by all. If the plan is not successful, then we should have a ‘plan B’ prepared in advance to take its place. Nothing else matters and all other nonsense must be stopped!

Any other problem-solving thoughts anyone might have on the subject would be greatly appreciated. VFP

Lennel Grace is a principal with Urban Capital of America, Inc., and the president of Neighbors of Maywood Community Organization (NOMCO). His views are not necessarily those of either entity.

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First U.S. Tank Commander to Engage Enemy Forces in World War II, Maywood Native, Dies

Ben Morin IIBen Morin, left, the first U.S. tank commander to engage enemy forces in World War II and the last surviving officer of the National Guard’s famed 192nd Tank Battalion, has died at a retirement home for Catholic priests in Michigan. Caption and photo by Illinois National Guard.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 || Originally Published: Illinois National Guard || 4/28/15

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The last surviving officer of the National Guard’s famed 192nd Tank Battalion, 1st Lt. Benjamin Morin, died at a retirement home for Catholic priests in Michigan.

Morin, 94, was noted as the first U.S. tank commander to engage enemy forces in World War II.

Morin died April 23 of natural causes at the Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan.

After his service in the Philippines and Japan during World War II, Morin returned home to Maywood, Illinois, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1946 and worked as a missionary in Peru for 38 years.

“Meeting him, I felt completely humbled,” said Maj. David Pond of the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Pond and five other Soldiers traveled to Michigan in 2012 to present Morin with the Armor Association of the United States Army’s Order of Saint George Medallion. “Here’s a gentleman that endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of others, but he wouldn’t speak a bad word about anyone. The most he would say about his Japanese captors was ‘They were not the nicest people.’”

Morin enlisted into the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in 1937. The company was based in his hometown of Maywood. The 33rd Tank Company was called to federal service in the fall of 1940 and re-designated as Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion was comprised of National Guard units from Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Kentucky. It trained in Kentucky and Louisiana before deployed to the Philippines in 1941.

The battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the battalion was attacked by enemy aircraft. Three days before Christmas, 1941, Morin’s tank platoon attacked enemy forces who had landed in the Philippines, making it the first U.S. tank engagement of World War II. With his main gun inoperable, his tank disabled and on fire, the other tanks in his platoon withdrawing, and four enemy tanks bearing down on him and his crew; 2nd Lt. Morin was forced to surrender himself and his Soldiers.

What followed was three and a half years as a prisoner of war under the most appalling conditions imaginable. Morin and his fellow prisoners endured constant beatings, disease, lice, and malnutrition. For more information on 2nd Lt. Morin’s experience in World War II, please visit the Proviso East High School’s history project on the 192nd Tank Battalion here.

Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Bowman, the Illinois National Guard’s Land Component Command Sergeant Major, grew up near Maywood and remembers hearing about the valor of the 192nd Tank Battalion. “Last week, the Illinois Army National Guard lost a hero,” he said. “I remember all the time I spent playing on the M3 Stuart Tank by the memorial. I was told the story of the unit’s bravery.”

“Lt. Morin was a leader. He was a first sergeant as the unit left San Francisco for the Philippines and promoted to second lieutenant after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and his comrades were all proud tankers. Illinois Army National Guard tankers were the first to make contact with the Japanese.”

To those who knew him, Morin was always an optimist.

“The things I remember about Ben was his sense of humor. He had a great wit. There was always a sparkle in his eye. He (was) an extremely kind person,” said Jim Opolony, the history teacher at Proviso East High School who led the 192nd Tank Battalion history project.

Maywood has held a ceremony in September honoring the 192nd Tank Battalion for more than 70 years. It was started during World War II by the mothers of the battalion’s missing Soldiers. The lineage of the 33rd Tank Company lives today in the Illinois Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. VFP

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