Chicago Ridge gets its insurance controversy in order and hires interim lawyer

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Burt Odelson has been named temporary attorney in Chicago Ridge and got busy right away finishing up the paperwork on a controversial health insurance issue

(Photo by Dermot Connolly) 


Completing a process that began in April, the Chicago Ridge Village Board passed an amended ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting that will end the controversial policy of providing lifetime, taxpayer-funded insurance for retired part-time trustees and their surviving spouses.

The board also approved the temporary appointment of  Burt Odelson and his Odelson & Sterk law firm to represent the village, replacing George Witous, who announced his immediate retirement at the June 2 meeting, after 51 years as village attorney.

Odelsson was put to work right away putting the finishing touches on the insurance policy issue, which has been a sore spot for some concerned residents for months.

Letters explaining the change in the insurance policy were scheduled to be mailed Wednesday  to the retirees affected by the policy change. As of July 1, if they decide to keep the village-provided insurance, retirees will have to pay 40 percent of the health insurance premium, and 100 percent of dental, vision and life insurance.

The widow of one retired trustee also currently receives insurance provided by the village, and she will have to pay 100 percent of health, life, vision and dental premiums if she decides to keep the policies.

Mayor Charles Tokar had appointed Trustees Sally Durkin and Frances Coglianese to work with Odelson to draw up the ordinances needed to resolve the contentious issue, which drew hundreds of angry residents to several board meetings. The issue had died down somewhat in recent weeks, as progress was made, and there was no public comment from the appriximately 50 people in attendance on Tuesday.

“It’s a big day. We worked hard to fix it, and nobody is going to try something like this again, It's only fair,” said Coglianese, who was elected in April and campaigned against the insurance perk.

Due to changes the board had already approved in May, the lifetime insurance will no longer be available to any part-time trustee or village clerk elected from now on.

Coglianese and Durkin are among the five current board members who, by making the changes, ruled themselves ineligible for the lifetime insurance because they will not have completed two full four-year terms by the next election in 2017, as required. The others are newly elected Trustee William McFarland, and Trustee Amanda Cardin, elected two years ago with Durkin. Village Clerk George Schleyer is also no longer eligible, and said after the meeting that he was not interested in the lifetime insurance anyway.

Only veteran trustees Bruce Quintos and Jack Lind meet those qualifications, and it wouldn’t be free for them either if they choose to take it.

Odelson was already sitting in the village attorney’s seat Tuesday, although Witous’ name had not been removed since the last meeting when he announced his immediate retirement. Mayor Tokar cited Odelson’s “good work” done with Durkin and Coglianese on the insurance issue as a reason for giving the temporary appointment to his law firm.

“We are going to do our due diligence to see what other firms are out there,” said Tokar. “We were rather surprised that George Witous made his retirement effective immediately after the last meeting (two weeks ago),” he said. “We knew he was planning to retire, but we thought it would be in a few weeks or a month,” the mayor explained. “We needed representation because we have some pressing issues and we couldn’t just put them on hold.”