Kadner: Oak Lawn politics taint everything
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org December 20, 2012 9:30PM
Updated: January 22, 2013 6:29AM
Like just about everything in Oak Lawn these days, a major development project that could result in a large community/fitness center has become mired in political intrigue.
Developers Karl Shea and Anthony Ruh purchased the long-abandoned Beatty Lumber property at 9537 S. 52nd Ave. Shea said plans include a medical office building that he hopes will be leased by Advocate Christ Medical Center and another building that would be used as a community center.
The village had been bargaining with Advocate officials over some sort of user fee to compensate Oak Lawn for the services it provides the hospital.
“Advocate has such arrangements in many of the other suburbs where it has hospitals, and it’s a standard arrangement these days in communities that are impacted by not-for-profits that have a regional reach,” village manager Larry Deetjen said.
He mentioned Northwestern University and Evanston, among others, as an example.
Deetjen said he had set a target of $800,000 a year from Advocate, had received a counteroffer that was much lower and was in the process of negotiating when “the (village) board decided to go in a new direction.”
That new direction came from Mayor David Heilmann, who has said he wants Advocate to help the village construct some sort of wellness center that would also serve as a senior center.
“The ball’s in Advocate’s court right now,” Deetjen told me, adding that he knows very few details about the project.
At a village board meeting, Trustee Thomas Phelan (6th) asked the mayor how attorney Dennis Brennan came to be involved in the project. Brennan showed up at a meeting with Deetjen, the mayor, Shea and Trustee Robert Streit (3rd) as Shea’s attorney.
In 2001, the state election board found that Brennan violated several election laws while an attorney for Oak Lawn High School District 229.
Streit, who was the only Oak Lawn official to appear as a defense witness for Brennan at administrative hearings of the election board, is now a business partner with Brennan in a consulting firm that represents municipalities during electrical aggregation negotiations.
Heilmann told me, as he told Phelan at the village board meeting, that he had no idea what Brennan was doing at the negotiating table with the developer.
“The mayor did not seem surprised Brennan was there,” Deetjen said when I asked him about the meeting.
I asked Shea if Brennan had represented him before and he said, “no,” adding that Brennan no longer represents the developers.
How did Brennan come to represent him in the Beatty Lumber development negotiations?
“As I recall, he was recommended to me by several people in Oak Lawn,” he said.
Did Shea call Brennan or Brennan call him?
“As I recall, he did contact us and asked us if he could participate in this,” Shea said.
When I asked him who in Oak Lawn had recommended Brennan, he said he couldn’t remember precisely who he talked to but thought that Streit “was one of the people who recommended Dennis Brennan.”
Shea seems to be a reputable developer who built a medical office complex at 116th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Merrionette Park that houses several Advocate facilities and Everest College. He also redeveloped a property at 102nd Street and Cicero Avenue in Oak Lawn into a Hines VA outpatient clinic.
He is listed with the secretary of state’s office as the managing agent for several corporations, including RSA Properties LLC and Synergy Management Resources LLC. Shea said he organized a new corporation, Center Point of Oak Lawn, to manage the Beatty Lumber development.
While Heilmann has pressed for the fitness center in Oak Lawn, Advocate Health Care now operates 12 fitness centers throughout the Chicago region.
It has standalone fitness centers open to the public connected to its Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, and in Country Club Hills, not far from South Suburban Hospital.
It’s strange to me that Advocate hasn’t opened a fitness center in Oak Lawn, close to its flagship hospital, before now.
Palos Community Hospital (not owned by Advocate) opened a fitness center in Orland Park many years ago, without any incentives from the village. Not-for-profits are exempt from the property tax.
Phelan, who has been at odds with Heilmann, has questioned why Oak Lawn would give up millions of dollars in fees from Advocate in exchange for a fitness center.
Deetjen said that for decades Advocate has not paid building permit fees, but Oak Lawn trustees recently passed an ordinance that would require such fees, which could be substantial.
Streit, once an ally of Phelan’s on the village board, has switched sides and is now aligned with Heilmann.
The SouthtownStar revealed recently that FBI agents delivered a grand jury subpoena to village hall as part of an investigation into a roofing contract Oak Lawn issued to a firm that employs a brother of Streit’s. The contract has since been canceled.
Last year, federal subpoenas were delivered in Oak Lawn in connection with the village hiring a law firm to serve as village attorney — a move that was orchestrated by Phelan.
It is difficult to determine exactly what’s going on in Oak Lawn these days because every major decision seems to be tainted by political deal-making or backstabbing.
The development of the Beatty Lumber property would be a major coup for the village.
A fitness center, new senior center and medical office building would all be great things.
Yet, there’s always an uneasy feeling these days that things aren’t right in Oak Lawn.