By Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn trustees at the Village Board meeting on June 9 called for loosening of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to allow struggling restaurants and other small businesses to open as soon as possible.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd) invited Pete Klementzos, whose family has owned the Oak Lawn Restaurant at 5769 W. 95th St. since 1957, to speak about the hardship the closure of his popular eatery has placed on his staff.
Kleme n tzos, an Oak Lawn resident, operates the restaurant with his brother, Tom, and they have not opened for outdoor dining, which has been allowed since June 1.
” Ninety percent of my my customers are seniors. I don’t want these people sitting out in the heat." he said.
“ We have spent well over $20,000 (on renovations). All I am saying, we need to open. I have 20 employees. If we open on a limited basis, I wouldn’t be able to bring all of my servers, cooks and dishwashers and busboys back,” he explained.
“ When this thing first started, it was fair to be overly cautious. But we’re not seeing a spike in hospitalizations or deaths (in states that have opened),” said Trustee Tom Phelan (6th).
He called it “raging hypocrisy” for Gov. Pritzker to march with hundreds of protesters while telling people they cannot meet in groups of more than 10.
“ This isn’t politics. If the statistics are coming down quicker, let’s open quicker,” said Olejniczak, questioning why the restaurants have to wait until the end of June to offer any indoor dining when all regions in Illinois have already met the requirements to move into Phase 4.
“ The high ground and finger-wagging has to end. People who have health conditions, the elderly need to be cautious. We don’t need to be told by a hotel magnate (Pritzker) what to do. We need to start establishing our own rules here,” said Phelan, asserting that data is “glaringly obvious” that COVID-19 is primarily affecting people over 65.
While Phelan suggested that businesses could open in defiance of of Pritzker’s executive order, Trustee Tim Desmond (1st) said doing so could put their liquor licenses and insurance in jeopardy.
“ If it was my license, I would want to protect it,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.
The Board said they would like to make their feelings known to Pritzker with a resolution, which Orland Park village officials have already done, but no action was taken at the meeting.
Olejniczak said Louie’s Chophouse, at 4642 W. 103rd St., has decided not to reopen, and others may follow “if we don’t do something for these small businesses, and get the governor to change.”
“ We need to send something to the state. I believe he needs to make better decisions based on the science and the facts. This is time for us as a village to support the businesses to allow them to open up inside. We need to stop the nonsense and we need to start leading,” said Olejniczak
The board did take action on a new contract with Guardian Pest Control to handle rats in particular.
Although at the last meeting, the board agreed to renew a working relationship with Guardian, the company’s initial offer of $60,000 per year was rejected as too expensive.
Instead, the trustees agreed to pay $180 per call, and charge residents $50 if they want Guardian to place bait traps on private property.
According to village officials, the number of calls for rat problems has been dropping in recent years.
“ We want to help the residents but not soak the village either,” said Interim Village Manager Randy Palmer.
Palmer, who is also the police chief, praised “the men and women on the front lines” who made 11 arrests during the spate of looting that occurred the first weekend in June.
He also thanked those who helped make a recent march and protest led by Oak Lawn Community High School students go smoothly.
“ It was great to see people peaceably protesting without trying to cause an issue,” he said.
“ If you want legitimate information, follow the police department’s Twitter account or follow us on Facebook,” said Palmer, addressing the problem of false information being spread on social media during the unrest.
In other business, Olejniczak asked Finance Director Brian Hanigan about letters some residents received from the village stating that if they do not make arrangements to have new water meter installed, they could face a $500 fine.
The trustee noted that because of the pandemic, some residents aren’t even allowing family in their houses.
“ We will work with them. We’re aware of the pandemic conditions. Our goal is not to fine people. But this is the fifth notice,” said Hanigan. “The biggest thing is that the installer (Professional Meters Inc.) is going to wrap up their work by June 30.”
Hanigan said that out of of 17,000, about 650 to 700 homes are left to be refitted with new water meters. After PMI concludes its work, the installations will be done by village Public Works employees.
After all the pandemic talk, Olejniczak and Trustee Paul Mallo (3rd) did share some positive news for summer events.
Mallo said that Concerts in the Park will kick off at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28, with a performance by country band Wild Daisy. He said the free concert on the Village Green will also be videotaped for people to watch at home.
He said that the Fourth of July Parade is also going ahead, although the Park District has decided against having a fireworks show this year.
“ I think they should reconsider that,” he said.
For those who enjoy fishing, Olejniczak said newly renovated Oak Lawn Lake has also been stocked with bluegills, sunfish and catfish, with some bass being added soon.
“It is catch and release,” he noted.