Kadner: Presta has big plans for Crestwood
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org May 3, 2013 11:06PM
New Crestwood mayor Lou Presta is greeted by residents during the Crestwood Village Board meeting Thursday, May 2, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 6, 2013 6:47AM
Despite what anyone may have heard or read in the newspapers, new Mayor Lou Presta wants people to know the future of Crestwood is bright.
“We’re close to finalizing a deal with the MWRD (Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) for all the land along Route 83 (adjacent to the Calumet Sag Channel) from one end to the other, 40 acres on one side and about 18 acres on the other side, that will become fully developed,” Presta said. “That will generate a lot of sales tax revenue for the village.”
He said a Culver’s Restaurant will soon be built on land at the Midlothian Turnpike and Cicero Avenue.
There’s also an investor interested in buying the former House of Hughes restaurant location, 143rd Street and Cicero Avenue, which will bring a “lot more money into the village.”
As for the tainted-water scandal that has put Crestwood in the news for years, “I believe by the end of the year we will have put that behind us,” Presta said.
He said the village is in negotiations to settle a lawsuit filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and will soon enter into serious negotiations with the many people who have filed class-action lawsuits.
“I firmly believe we can resolve all of that by the end of the year,” Presta said.
Presta, 62, received a standing ovation from a crowd of more than 200 residents after taking the oath of office Thursday night.
It was an impressive display of support in a village where two longtime officials were indicted by the federal government regarding the water scandal, resulting in a guilty plea by one and a jury’s guilty verdict for the other.
Both former employees eventually indicated that they were merely following the orders of former Mayor Chester Stranczek and other high-ranking village officials in mixing contaminated well water into Crestwood’s Lake Michigan drinking water supply.
Despite those courtroom revelations during the last few weeks, not a single resident rose to ask Presta a question about the scandal during a public participation portion of Thursday’s meeting.
“People here just aren’t concerned about that,” Presta said. “I went door to door during the election, and no one said a word about the water.
“They know the drinking water wasn’t tainted. We’ve conducted something like 42 tests on that well since this began, and not one has shown any contamination. Nothing was found in it.”
Presta, who grew up near Midway Airport in Chicago, has lived in Crestwood since 1976 and has served on the village board for more than 20 years.
During the trial of former water department chief Theresa Neubauer for falsifying documents about the use of the well, her attorney said she wasn’t privy to the secret meetings of Stranczek and the village board.
“She wasn’t in those closed-door meetings with the mayor, the (village) board, the elected officials,” attorney Jonathan Brayman told the jury, “She didn’t know the answers.”
Presta told me he doesn’t know what Brayman was referring to.
“In the 23 years I’ve been here, there were no secret meetings at which that was discussed,” Presta said. “In all those meetings, contaminated water was never discussed. I don’t know what he was talking about. You can review the minutes of all those (closed) sessions, and nothing is mentioned.”
But Presta did say he knew the well water was being used.
“Sure we knew the well was being used,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything that said it wasn’t safe.”
Neubauer was later named police chief in Crestwood, was put on a paid leave of absence following her federal indictment and the village agreed to pay for her legal defense.
Following her conviction, the village allowed her to resign rather than fire her.
“I don’t think there’s a difference,” Presta told me.
I told him I thought there was a difference. A resignation implies an honorable departure from public office, while a firing signifies that a person has performed poorly or done something wrong.
“If we had fired her, you would be asking me why we didn’t let her resign,” Presta said.
I assured him that would not have been the case, but he indicated that he didn’t believe me.
Presta owns a newspaper distribution company, the Cicero News Agency, which delivers the daily newspapers in Chicago.
He has often mentioned to me his friendship with Bruce Sagan, the former owner of the Daily Southtown and a current investor in Wrapports LLC, the parent company of Sun-Times Media, which includes the SouthtownStar.
Sagan is listed in Illinois Board of Elections filings as having contributed $500 to Citizens for Presta.
No one at this company has ever attempted to influence my coverage of Crestwood.
Despite the millions of dollars in legal fees the village has incurred due to the water scandal, Presta contends that Crestwood is in sound financial shape and that, as he promised during his mayoral campaign, he will restore a property tax rebate that ended when the scandal erupted.
“I hope to do it by the end of this year, but if not, certainly by 2014. It may not be a big rebate in the beginning, we may have to do it gradually, but we will rebate property taxes,” he said.
He also plans to replace a private ambulance company with a village-run service, make improvements in the parks and add at least one firefighter to every shift and possibly two police officers.
Ditches along Central Avenue from 127th to 135th streets will be replaced with sidewalks in an improvement project that has begun, Presta said.
“This is a good town,” he said, when I asked him what he would like the public to know about Crestwood. “We have great people who live here. Great people who work for the village who are loyal. We have a great senior population and provide them with quality services.
“Few towns could have withstood the sort of challenges we have, but we had a rainy day fund and that kept us financially sound. The water problem is going to be behind us by the end of the year, and the future looks great.”
If anyone in Crestwood disagrees, they didn’t speak up Thursday.