Category: Editorial

EDITORIAL: Putting ‘Toxic’ Water Into Proper Context

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Monday, September 26, 2016 || By Michael Romain || EDITORIAL || @maywoodnews

Yes, there’s stuff in the water. No, local governments aren’t to blame. No, you aren’t in immediate danger 

The recent release of a report by the Environmental Working Group showing unsafe levels of the toxin hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in the water supplies of more than 200 million Americans has caused quite the panic. And, it seems, too much of it.

Two days after we published the Sept. 24 story, “Cancer-causing Toxin Found in West Suburban Drinking Water,” I got a call from Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, who said that residents were frantically calling her office with worries that Maywood’s water is undrinkable and that village officials may be to blame for this catastrophe.

To be clear, you can still drink the water and no, your local village manager or elected officials or public works people aren’t to blame for a problem with national significance that affects more than 200 million people.

As the EWG report, and our story based on it, makes clear, chromium-6 has been found in the drinking water supply of most communities in metro Chicago and in many metro areas across the country. The blame lies with lax federal regulators, crooked, profit-hungry corporations who lobby against reasonable safety standards, and the inability of most states across the country (apparently all of them except California) to want to really grapple with this problem.

You should be calling your state and federal lawmakers and regulatory agencies, not the mayor’s office. To call the mayor’s office or village manager or local trustee about this issue would be like calling them about the arctic glaciers melting or because Illinois hasn’t passed a budget.

Secondly, chromium-6 does indeed appear to be cancerous, but it’s not the only, and probably far from the worst, cancerous substance that is all-too prevalent in our everyday lives. Moreover, finding correlation between certain carcinogens and actual, individual cases of cancer is often virtually impossible.

Consider that the public health goal set by California scientists is 0.02 parts per billion and the state’s legal limit for chromium-6 is 10 parts per billion. A limit of 0.02 parts per billion, as the EWG notes, is the amount that poses “no more than a one-in-a-million risk of cancer for people who drink [the water] daily for 70 years.”

The level at which chromium-6 was detected in samples across Cook County ranged from no detection at all to 1 part per billion. The average level county-wide was 0.188, which is closer to the level found in water supplies of west suburban communities like Maywood, Melrose Park, Bellwood, Oak Park, Forest Park and River Forest.

Even at this heightened level, an individual’s chances of getting cancer from chromium-6-infected drinking water is still around one-in-a-million over basically a lifetime. We don’t know how long chromium-6 has been an unsafe presence in the drinking water of millions of people (although the EWG detected it six years ago).

Still, over time, your chances of getting fatally struck by a car are probably significantly higher than your chances of developing cancer due to chromium-6 in the drinking water (around one in a million versus around one in 13,000).

The point is not to panic. This isn’t a Flint, Michigan situation, which involved the outright negligence and corruption of local, state and federal officials that led to an immediate public health crisis.

And unlike less than one part per-billion of chromium-6, the absurdly high amount of lead found in Flint’s drinking water means that not only is significant damage already done (consider the mothers who lost babies to lead poisoning), but the worst damage is yet to even reveal itself (because the effects of lead reveal themselves subtly and over a lifetime).

Thirdly, you can remove chromium-6 (and the thousands of other potentially cancerous and toxic substances) from your drinking water by purchasing a filter. The EWG even has a water filter purchasing guide to help you select the right one.

So, calm down, don’t panic. Your water hasn’t been rendered immediately undrinkable. And it’s unlikely that your or your relative’s case of cancer is directly related to chromium-6.

You can be fairly certain, though, that our environment has slowly, gradually become contaminated with all manner of cancer-causing substances. That’s, in part, because of the nature of our modern, industrial economy. But it’s also, in part, because of toxic politics that allow some of the country’s largest polluters to make a profit at the expense of our health.

For years, companies whose actions have led to this chromium-6 pollution schemed with public relations companies, lawyers, lobbyists and crank scientists to discredit the correlation between chromium-6 and cancer and/or to block attempts by lawmakers to pass laws and other measures designed to monitor, regulate and control the presence of chromium-6 in water supplies.

The best solution to this widespread problem is to educate ourselves about how this corruption works, to develop disciplined resolve over irrational fear and to get organized.

Call your U.S. congressperson or state lawmaker. Call the Illinois and U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies. Demand to know what Illinois plans to do about monitoring and regulating chromium-6, and whether or not the state plans on setting a legally enforceable limit (as California did). Sign the EWG’s petition. But whatever you do, don’t panic. VFP

 

Enough: Illinois Budget Standoff Must Be Resolved, Says State-Journal Register

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016 || By State-Journal Register Editorial Board 

Approximately 65 Illinois daily and weekly newspapers are running editorials today through the beginning of July, many on their front pages, on the need for an end to the state budget standoff. The State Journal-Register editorial board shared this editorial and urged other newspapers to weigh in on the need for a resolution to Illinois’ budget crisis.

letter i.jpgllinois’  budget standoff must be resolved, and must be resolved now. Whether or not our leaders manage to pass a stopgap funding measure this week, Illinois still needs the stability of a full budget to restore the health of our state and its economy.

For a year, our state’s elected leaders have engaged in what can only be called political malpractice.

Illinois is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a budget. For a year, because of that failure, it has stiffed small businesses, social service agencies and its higher education system, leaving them trying to operate without money they’re owed. State operations have been cobbled together through a patchwork of court orders, and the state gets deeper in debt by the minute.

Gov. Bruce Rauner said on Monday the state was on the verge of crisis, and that it would be an “outrageous, tragic failure” if schools don’t open on time this fall.

With all due respect, Governor, the state is already in crisis and the budget standoff has already been an “outrageous, tragic failure.” A stopgap may delay imminent emergency and we desperately need that. But it’s still not enough.

As legislators return to Springfield today — for the first time this month — Illinois’  historic, serious problems have been made even worse by the failure to compromise on a balanced, long-term spending plan.

The political war between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan has been confounding and unconscionable.  Rauner has insisted on passage of the so-called Turnaround Agenda, a series of pro-business measures, as a condition of the budget. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have seemed focused primarily on thwarting the governor.

Neither the governor nor the legislature has put forth a balanced budget. Decades of delaying action and willfully ignoring issues like the state’s epically ballooning pension obligations have devastated its financial stability. The state must make cuts, and yes, more revenue will be needed to stanch the economic bleeding.

The consequences of having no budget have been harsh and far-reaching.

The state’s colleges and universities, which ought to be linchpins for growth and economic development, instead have been starved. Hundreds have been laid off, programs have been shuttered. High school graduates look at this mess, fear for their future, and enroll in out-of-state colleges. Our best and brightest may not come back after they complete their education elsewhere.

Meanwhile, more than 130,000 low-income students have had financial aid snatched away. Do these students who wish to better themselves and their future job prospects through education have other resources to continue? In most cases, no.

One million of Illinois’ most vulnerable people — the poor, the at-risk kids, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, the victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault — have been directly harmed by the state’s dereliction of duty, as social service agencies cut services.

Hospitals and medical providers are owed hundreds of millions in unpaid state employee medical bills and delayed Medicaid payments.

Countless business owners, large and small, have struggled to survive because they haven’t been paid. Cities and small towns have been left holding the bag for unpaid state bills.

And yet, it could get even worse.

More than $2 billion in active road construction projects might be shut down, leading to as many as 25,000 workers losing their jobs.

The state’s corrections system says it’s on the verge of not being able to feed inmates and operate prisons.

Social services agencies will continue to turn away the ill, the homeless, the elderly.

The state’s schools were spared last year by a separate appropriation. But this year, many districts face the very real possibility of not opening or not being able to stay open.

But what have citizens seen from the Capitol? We have seen political posturing. We have seen a governor who campaigned as a practical business leader dedicated to finding fixes instead act as an ideological purist. We have seen elected representatives apparently unable to stand up to Madigan, Cullerton and Rauner to demand a resolution to the crisis. We have not seen compromise.

Perhaps the most damaging long-term effect is the toxic cynicism and frustration this crisis has created among its residents, who have to wonder at this point if Rauner, Madigan and Cullerton simply view the toll on Illinois’ people as mere collateral damage. At a recent Better Government Association panel on the impasse’s impact, multiple social service providers said flatly they don’t believe leaders care about their plight.

Many long-term changes are needed to restore Illinois to solid ground. Redistricting reform is a critical piece of restoring true political competitiveness that will lead to legislators facing more accountability to the voters they represent.

But the day has come. Illinois’ people cannot be held hostage for a second year without a budget.

Voters must revolt and demand better.

Enough. VFP

REVIEW: The D209 Election Starts Now

Proviso Township District 209Wednesday, May 11, 2016 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || 5/10/16 || EDITORIAL 

It’s done.

The school board at Proviso High School District 209 has changed its leadership. Out as board president is Theresa Kelly.  In as board president is Teresa McKelvy.

Took a whole lot of disturbing political machinations for the new and narrow board majority to pull off this insider play. Kevin McDermott, the swing vote here, ought to be ashamed of the role he played in this sad game.

The upside though is that after a year of pretty much unqualified success in starting the slow process of turning this failed school district toward the light, the narrow new majority just couldn’t live with its progress, couldn’t avoid embracing the sort of political squabble that has turned the community sharply against it, and, so have now offered absolute clarity to voters on what must be done in school board elections now just 11 months away.

McDermott, McKelvy, Brian Cross and Dan Adams must be decisively turned out of office and replaced with more non-political, community-based, educationally focused board members.

In this silly and unnecessary battle to strip Kelly of her leadership post half-way through her agreed upon term, these four have made crystal clear where their interests and allegiances rest. And it is not with the thousands of young people whose futures have been trampled and ignored by this perpetually failed school board. It is not with taxpayers from nine decent towns whose hard-earned dollars have been taken from them without respect or a determination to right the political and educational malfeasance that has been perpetrated on this district.

This was petty but hardball politics. And its practitioners must be made to pay at the ballot box next April.

As we have said previously, Ms. Kelly was an imperfect board president. Sincere though and focused on students and teachers and the community. Ham-handedly changing board policy in mid-stream to cut the term of a sitting president in half was a ludicrous response to personal disagreements over matters not of educational substance but of alleged slights.

Now is the time for the 209 Together movement to begin its search for a slate of four vital candidates for next April so that this sad district can once and for all be rid of the politics and self-dealing.

Our thanks to the new board majority for so boldly defining the divide between this district’s pathetic political past and its prospects for a much better future.

The campaign for the possibilities of District 209 starts right now. VFP

The views and opinions expressed in this Forest Park Review editorial are those of that publication and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Village Free Press.

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P A I D  A D V E R T I S I N G

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From The Review: Two-Faced Kevin McDermott

Review.jpgTuesday, April 19, 2016 || Originally Published: Forest Park Review || EDITORIAL 

It didn’t take long, right about a year, for the school board at our Proviso High Schools to turn the subject back to its favorite topic. Itself.

Always. Without exception. Without regard for the suffering of its students, the shame of its unending failure to educate or spend wisely, to connect with parents, to raise up its teachers, to modestly acknowledge its decades of blundering and self-dealing, the District 209 school board again has put its own internal politics at the fore.

This time the absurd debate is over an ill-timed effort to change the number of years the school board president can serve from two years to one year. Maybe that is a good idea. Maybe it isn’t. But it is blatantly political, absolutely rude, and hopelessly and needlessly divisive for a newly aligned board majority to attempt to wrestle the gavel from the current president in the middle of her duly chosen, unanimously elected two-year term.

And Kevin McDermott, the swing vote, ought to be ashamed of himself. In a One View in today’s Review, McDermott attempts to defend himself by self-flattery and puffery. His “energy, experience and integrity” are just what this board needs, he opines.

Nonsense. What this board, with its incoming superintendent arriving in the early summer, needs is steady, mature, open-minded leadership from each of its members. It needs school board members who see beyond its perpetual politicization, who can acknowledge and work with the strengths and the weaknesses every board member brings to the table.

McDermott’s right when he says the Review has previously endorsed his election efforts. We’ve also backed Theresa Kelly, the longtime board member and current board president. Both have their virtues. Both have their flaws.

But one year ago, Kelly led a reform slate to an overwhelming victory on this board. As the veteran of the slate, as the passionate advocate for change, as the African-American woman, she was the singular correct choice for board president. And she has led the district through a critical year of change.

Is she the perfect board president? Nope. Her passions can swamp her at times. She is not the most organized or articulate person at times. She could have done better at times in building connections on this politically-divided board.

But she was the right choice a year ago. She was elected to a two-year term. And the effort to wrest this role away from her by the untrustworthy McDermott and the clearly reelection-focused remainder of this board assures that the year ahead will be yet another year of distraction, chaos and accusation.

We are so sick of this. And based on the results from the change election last year, the majority of the Proviso community is in full agreement.

Much progress has been made in the past year. But the only way to secure the future of this vital school district is at the ballot next year. The remnants of the political machine must be crushed.

And Kevin McDermott has declared his allegiance to the machine. VFP

P A I D  A D V E R T I S I N G

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J O I N  T H E  F U N  A P R I L  23rd

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EDITORIAL: Where We Went Wrong Reporting Wilhelmina Dunbar’s Termination

Thursday, February 4, 2016 || By THE VILLAGE FREE PRESS || Editorial 

In a Jan. 22 post entitled, “Maywood HR Coordinator Wilhelmina Dunbar Terminated,” we reported that Dunbar had been fired from her position and, because we were unable to contact either Dunbar herself or Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., who terminated Dunbar, we offered up some details hoping to provide some context.

On further review of our reporting, we decided that this post would have been better off without including those details a) because one of them was not presented accurately and b), instead of clarifying the context of Dunbar’s termination, they may have helped fuel the public speculation about her termination — the full context of which we still don’t know.

For these reasons, we decided to delete them altogether.

In the initial posting regarding Dunbar’s termination, we noted that a vote of no confidence had been issued by the local SEIU chapter, which, we wrote, represents Maywood firefighters. This, as it turned out, may have led some to believe that a vote of no confidence was issued directly by the Maywood firefighters, which was not the case.

Moreover, after an additional review of the source of that information, which came from this post from 2013 (which notes, “At a December 11, LLOC meeting, Nick Carone, a field organizer with the SEIU Local 73 mentioned during public comments that he was asked by union members in the Fire Department to issue a lack of confidence in the village’s HR department”), we would realize that we were wrong even in that December 2013 report.

After the Jan. 22 Dunbar article, we received a letter from the Maywood Firefighters Union SEIU Local 73 that corrected our original 2013 reporting. The letter noted that union members contacted Carone, who said that clerical employees, not firefighters, requested the lack of confidence issue — and, still, it isn’t clear to us whether or not that request materialized into an actual no-confidence vote.

To say that there was a vote of no-confidence and to imply that such a thing emanated from a request by firefighters (SEIU Local 73 represents other village employees as well) is not accurate.

In addition, other details we offered to try to give some possible context to Dunbar’s termination, such as a recent water scandal, seemed to us, upon deeper evaluation, more guesswork (that could, indeed, stoke the flames of speculation and unfair incrimination) than responsible reporting.

When we first learned of Dunbar’s termination, we decided to report it quickly, because of the position’s significance. There’s nothing wrong with this. But in hindsight, we should’ve simply stated the obvious fact of her termination and not much more, despite our yearning for some context (we stand by our reference to Open the Books regarding her salary information).

With this said, we understand we’re going to make mistakes, even though we’d like to keep them few and far between. When we do, however, go wrong, we rely on the public to correct us (and even to chastise us when we deserve it).

After all, public correction and showing our shame when we realize that our errors may have hurt people (even when we mean no harm), are essential if we’re going to be accountable to a reading and voting public.

We genuinely regret these errors and apologize to both the Maywood Firefighters Union and to Wilhelmina Dunbar for dropping the ball on this one. We only ask that readers bear with us as we endeavor to pick it back up and get better.

And a great, big thank you for the firefighters for holding our feet to the fire. VFP

If you have any concerns about our reporting methods or the accuracy of the information we put out, please let us know by emailing: thevillagefreepress@gmail.com.

EDITORIAL: Clearing Things Up A Bit About Broadview’s Cul-De-Sacs

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 || By THE VILLAGE FREE PRESS

The nature of the responses to an article that was published last week has prompted us to respond ourselves in what will be an ongoing forum for communicating where we stand on certain issues. Hopefully, this will make the process by which we collect and share information more transparent, and enhance our accountability to the taxpaying and voting readers we strive to serve.

On Jan. 7, we published an article entitled, “Maywood Trustees Voice Frustration With Broadview’s Cul De Sacs, Urge More Communication With Neighbor.”

It was based on a brief exchange during a Jan. 5 board meeting between village trustees and a staff member about Broadview’s cul-de-sacs. Maywood Trustee Antoinette Dorris said she had fielded some concerns from residents who were wondering whether or not Broadview was entertaining the construction of another one along 13th Avenue.

The residents’ questions about future construction of another blockade were apparently a new development, which Dorris felt compelled to bring up, even though the existing cul-de-sacs are, as Broadview Mayor Sherman Jones pointed out in a comment below that article, almost two years old.

“[T]he cul-de-sacs in question have been in place since June 2013,” Jones noted.

Jones also noted that — although  Maywood village engineer Mark Lucas said that there wasn’t any communication between Maywood and Broadview staff members before the construction of the existing cul-de-sacs — he “met with the former Village Manager of Maywood, the current Mayor of Maywood and the interim Police Chief of Maywood early on and during the cul-de-sac process”

Just an aside: both Jones and Lucas may well be correct. Key political and managerial figures of two towns can communicate with each other without the staff members of those towns doing so.

Jones was also correct in pointing out that this article suffered from some important historical context. And it wouldn’t have hurt if we reached out to him, and/or other Broadview officials, for any perspective they might have been able to provide on the issue — particularly considering that the article was, in part, about Broadview. In our haste to put out content, and with our very limited attentions and skills scattershot, we posted anyway.

However, in fairness to us, the nature of the article was meant to be in the spirit of a brief update, a snippet, something like a glimpse of the meeting minutes from what was — to be fair to the board members and the staff person who were talking about the issue —  a rather informal dialogue that we suspect all of those involved in the discussion might have wanted to stay in that room.

But discussions about infrastructure are important and they’re so few and far between — at least in a public setting like a board meeting — that we seized on the opportunity to share that one bit of information (however spontaneous and off the cuff).

No matter, we could’ve done more — the least being reach out to the public servants of Broadview. That we didn’t do. It’s a teachable moment that we’ll learn from. Going forward, we’ll at least reach out to public officials before reporting on issues that so intimately involve their municipalities.

On this note, we’re in part following the politicians’ lead, several of whom from Maywood and Broadview have at least made the important first step of reaching out across their respective borders to spark dialogue and discussion about how both villages can work together for the sake of mutual improvement.

Perhaps they can start, as both Mayor Jones and Broadview Trustee Kevin McGrier suggested in our comments section, by joining together to think about creative ways to resurface 13th Avenue (Maywood Trustee Michael Rogers responded enthusiastically to McGrier’s suggestion).

Jones noted in his comments that he’s been told by Maywood officials that this was prohibitive due to a lack of funding on Maywood’s side. Where there’s a will (and with staff and elected officials of both towns working together), however, there may be a way. VFP

Maywood’s Sky High Water Bills Partly Due To Sky High Waste

leakage_management_teaser_imageWednesday, November 4, 2015 || By Michael Romain 

EDITORIAL | During an Oct. 20 regular board meeting, Maywood resident Dawn Williams-Rone expressed her dissatisfaction with the village’s high water bills — bills Rone, along with many other residents, are convinced are high unnecessarily.

Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet, Jr., pointed out in a prior meeting that an audit conducted two years ago showed the village has 25 leaks in its underground water delivery system, Williams-Rone said.

“Due to those leaks, there’s a wastage of water and that wastage has to be paid for,” she noted. “Unfortunately, it’s paid for on the backs of us who live here in Maywood and pay water bills. We’re paying for 25 known leaks. Water is being wasted every month and this is why water bills are so high. If those leaks were addressed two years ago, we wouldn’t have had such high water payments. I was really appalled by that.”

At a board meeting last year, Jason Coyle, a partner with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, the accounting firm that prepares the Village’s annual financial audits, said the village’s water fund was running a $1 million deficit at the time — in part due to the massive leaks.

And those leaks, as village engineer Mark Lucas noted at the time, could indeed have perhaps been prevented, or at least monitored better. Lucas said that an annual sewer maintenance program in operation in the early 2000s was allowed to go defunct — not good for a system that’s around 80 years old, according to Lucas, and requires constant vigilance.

But Maywood’s leaks aren’t peculiar to Maywood.

Josh Ellis, with the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), estimated two years ago that up to 70 million gallons of water a day is not even used because of leaks that proliferate in old infrastructure across the state.

According to a 2014 study by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the greater Chicago area “22 billion gallons of treated water per year through leaky pipes.”

“We figured that that could fill the residential needs of about 700,000 people in a year,” Tim Loftus, a water resource planner with CMAP, told National Public Radio at the time.

Throughout metropolitan Chicago, there are so many leaks in the area’s old piping systems that the wasted water could fill the Willis Tower each week, the MPC estimates.

And across “the state, too, water mains installed in the early 1900s are beyond their useful life,” notes a September 2015 Associate Press article, which adds that “periods of more extreme drought and precipitation as well as pollutants from agriculture and industry are degrading groundwater resources and infrastructure.”

And yet, despite the need for long-term improvements to aging water systems throughout the country, the AP notes that more than $1 billion of money allocated for water system improvements “sits unspent in government accounts nationwide.”

Between 2011 and 2015, Illinois received nearly $700 million in federal funds for water system improvements. In 2011, 20 percent of that year’s allotment went unspent. There are signs that things have improved, with more of that money having been spent since then, but leaks don’t stop proliferating just because state money frees up.

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Clean Water and Drinking Water Gap Analysis. That report estimated that “if investment in water and wastewater infrastructure does not increase to address anticipated needs, the funding gap over the next 20 years could grow to $122 billion for clean water capital costs and $102 billion for drinking water capital costs.”

The bottom line is that, as long as money isn’t spent on infrastructure improvements (and actual improvements, not ‘set asides’ to cover administrative costs and salaries) taxpayers throughout the country who live in areas with aging water delivery systems will continue to pay more for water than they should be paying.

But when you live in a state whose governor vilifies any spending on the public welfare as waste and abuse, and in a country populated by people who want to do away with agencies like the EPA, investing in improvements now to save tax dollars later becomes easier said than done. VFP