Photo by Dermot Connolly
A couple of dozen protesters, including many former volunteers no longer allowed to walk dogs and clean cages, demonstrated outside the Animal Welfare League animal shelter at 10305 Southwest Highway, Chicago Ridge, frequently during 2019.
By Joe Boyle
One issue that was on the minds of public officials and residents during the past year in the southwest suburbs can be summed up in one word – cannabis.
The Cannabis Regulation Tax Act was signed into state law on June 25 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. This meant that adults ages 21 and over can smoke or ingest recreational marijuana beginning this past Wednesday (Jan. 1) in Illinois. During the past year, the issue was debated frequently at local city and village board meetings, especially near the end of 2019.
The village of Worth was unique in that they already had a dispensary, Windy City Cannabis, 11425 S. Harlem Ave., and staff there had been distributing medical marijuana for the past two years. Medical marijuana dispensaries had the first option to sell recreational cannabis.
The Worth Village Board passed the ordinance during a meeting held Nov. 5. The board approved a special use permit to establish and sell recreational cannabis from Windy City Cannabis.
Chicago Ridge, Hickory Hills and Palos Hills approved ordinances to implement a three percent tax if marijuana is sold from a dispensary in the municipalities. Worth, along with the other local municipalities that approved the ordinance, would be provided with at least 1.5 percent of the revenue from the tax while the rest would go to the state.
Steve Weisman, owner of Windy City Cannabis, said they will be working with the state to begin the process of selling cannabis.
“They are getting a lot of requests right now,” Weisman said. “It could take a while because of so many requests.”
While several local municipalities approved the tax and will consider locations for a dispensary, the new law drew the ire of some public officials and many residents who believe there has to be another way to raise revenue besides selling cannabis.
No recreational cannabis will be sold in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn in 2020. Both village boards voted down ordinances to sell recreational cannabis this year. Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton was most adamant after the board rejected the proposal.
“I don’t think the tax revenue is worth it,” the mayor said. “The state, in their infinite wisdom, will not allow you to get tax revenue for the first eight months of operation.”
While Sexton stated his opinion, ultimately the board has to decide now and in the future regarding cannabis sales, he said.
“This is the village of churches,” Sexton quipped. “What are we going to do…change the name?”
In another major story in the southwest suburbs, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations put three euthanasia technicians' licenses on probation at the Animal Welfare League shelter, 10305 Southwest Highway, Chicago Ridge for not following protocols. Protesters could be seen often outside the facility during the year, claiming that animals were treated poorly.
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen was involved in one of the major stories of the year after he allegedly hit a pedestrian while driving near 101 st and Harlem Avenue in October. A witness reported the license plates and Chicago Ridge police later went to Deetjen’s home. He claimed that he did not know he hit someone, stating that he thought he struck a barrel. The person struck is still in critical condition and is being cared for at an undisclosed nursing facility.
Meanwhile, Deetjen retired and then turned in his resignation just before a scheduled board meeting was planned to discuss his fate. He has been temporarily replaced by Oak Lawn Police Chief Randy Palmer. Deetjen pled not guilty at a December hearing and will appear again in court on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at the Bridgeview Fifth District Court House.
The Reporter first reported plans for a merger between Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers and OSF HealthCare, which is based out of Peoria, on July 18. The two medical facilities signed a contract later in the year and the merger will become official sometime in February.
The passing of the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, 74, who was the pastor for 11 years at St. Gerald Parish in Oak Lawn, was another major story. The popular pastor, who died on July 4, had been considered for retirement but the Chicago Archdiocese allowed him to serve another year due to petitions and requests by parishioners and community leaders who wanted him to stay on. Malcolm would have celebrated his 50 th year of his ordination in 2020.
Malcolm’s replacement as pastor at St. Gerald has not yet been decided. Associate Pastor Michael Flynn is currently serving as the interim pastor.
Another big local story was the Evergreen Park School District 124 and teachers union averting a strike after six months of emotional debate over a salary increase and other issues.
The grand opening of Whole Foods at the outdoor Plaza in Evergreen Park drew a record crowd on March 6. The new Evergreen Park Community Center, 3450 W. 97 th St., opened in the spring. The state-of-the-art facility features ample room for activities designed for youths and adults.
Another major story in nearby Bridgeview was that the Chicago Fire soccer club paid the village $60.5 million to break its lease at SeatGeek Stadium, which was the new name for Toyota Park
The Fire will play its games this year at Soldier Field.
Although playing its games elsewhere, the Fire will retain a presence in Bridgeview through a $5 million training facility it is building near SeatGeek Stadium.
“The money will be well spent to create a world class professional training facility and various youth training areas,” Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek said.
Two artificial fields will be installed beside the sports dome just north of the stadium.
Contributing to this report was Bob Bong