Monthly Archives: October 2013

The black family in decline, source of so many Austin problems

More here on Austin issues, from Austin Talks:

African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of the U.S. prison population, black students drop out of school at alarming rates and are increasingly victims and perpetrators of violence, causing many of us to wonder why.

One reason could be the dissolution of the African-American family.

A good, clear, healthy treatment of the matter. For instance,

I’ve seen even further dissolution as my grandparents pass on. The role of the African-American family is shifting from a joint family base to a more nuclear based unit where individual families essentially are fending for themselves without much network to fall back on.

Not that the writer prescribes this or that. Rather, she talks about the problem, which is step one, of course. And she is writing for Austin Talks, a project of journalism students at Columbia College Chicago.

(I taught there some years back, had an almost entirely good experience except for one very bad one at the end, about which more later some time, maybe not.)


On boarding up a good-looking useful building in central Oak Park

Sunday at St. Edmund, 8 a.m. mass:

8:19, sermon starts. It’s Pharisee vs. Publican Week. Pharisee presented sympathetically but as missing the forgiveness message.

8:24, money pitch for big drive, not usual Sunday offering but 3-year commitment, for which $600 G is already pledged, of $1.5 mill needed.

8:27, screen pulled to front from left side. (Uh-oh, home movie?)

It’s about the rectory. Pastor on screen tells of bad odor from creeping mold. Exposed wires and pipes are shown as he talks. (Not a home movie!)

Pastor: Fix rectory, you free up parish-hall space (now housing parish offices), PADS can come back.

More smart people on screen, talking heads neatly edited. (Definitely not home m.)

Pastor on screen: 3-year commitment wanted from “church family.”

Lay leader: We can be “good stewards,” so that building is not “boarded up.” Others equally concise, clear.

Pastor: St. E. oldest RC parish in Oak Park. At over 100 years.

8:36, Video is over. Screen is rolled back. (Flag on motorized chair moves to make way, as seen from other side of church over heads of pew-sitters.)

8:37, mass resumes.

8:41, offertory begins. Piano plays, song is sung. (And out, out, damned masculine pronoun as usual . . . ) . . .

Harmon calls to remind of town hall about Eisenhower

Just had a robo-call from Sen. Don Harmon, who’s hosting a town hall meeting tomorrow night at Brooks middle school, 325 S. Kenilworth, about “reconstruction” of the Eisenhower X-way and how it affects Oak Park.

I had already planned to be there. Harmon is wise to push this session on a very hot issue. He works hard at his job and makes a good impression.

The meeting is also a way for him to talk about something besides pension reform, which many say is in crisis mode, but not he. Nor senate president John Cullerton.

In July the Wed. Journal was not convinced:

We’d say that a state regularly facing downgrades on its debt is in crisis. A state that can’t pay its bills to social service providers in a timely way is in crisis. A state that raises income taxes by $6 billion annually and is just barely keeping pace with added pension demands is in crisis. A state controlled on all levels by a single political party that still can’t pass pension reform is in crisis.

Whatever. No robo-call from me, but I am glad to help our senator and urge you to come to Brooks. 7:30.

I-290: Time to Act

SEOPCO’s call to arms:

SEOPCO wants to empower you to take action on this important issue that will negatively affect our community. The proposed I-290 expansion WILL create more air pollution, noise pollution, visual blight, and lower our property values. It WILL NOT solve highway congestion or safety concerns. You have only until November 7th to voice your concerns to IDOT.

The issue is joined. Read about it here.

Republicans are at it again, right here in Oak Park: Well I never . . .

Having a meeting! At the library!

Tonight, 7 o’clock, Main Branch, to organize and plan for 2014.

Agenda items:

* candidate petitions

* becoming an election judge or pollwatcher

* new web sites

* candidates

* coming events

* key issues

Meeting to 8, then time for chatter.

Linda Tibensky, Republican Committeeman, put out the call.

Let’s do this thing. Adapting the Pied Piper of world revolution, K. Marx, we have nothing to lose but the joys of sitting around and letting things happen to us.

Or: Passivity be damned.

Pastor with mixed record is key player in South Austin development –

Another Chi Trib shot at Austin woes.

Good-doers in Austin — Part Two

Monday night Sept. 30 at Ascension, the OP&RF Community of Congregations gathered a panel of people who are trying to make Austin a better place. Wrote about it here. Said there was more. Here it is:

Kathryn McCabe, exec director of the Cluster Tutoring Program, white, petite, her program ongoing since 1989, when they began tutoring at Pine Avenue United Church, do it now also at First United Church on Lake St. in Oak Park. Students who come for tutoring “are not well educated.” Reading skills are low: 70% are a year or more below grade level. A once-a-week conversation with someone with good vocabulary helps. Results are encouraging: 73% are at or above grade level after three years in the program. Most come to the Austin site, where they need volunteers.

Michele Zurakowski, Executive Director of Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, also white and petite (excuse the male chauvinism, I havent finished my attitude classes): They serve hungry people from 12 zip codes, including all of Austin. Problem is “food insecurity,” not knowing where the next meal is coming from. In Austin, 34% have this problem — 34,000 people. The area also is a food desert, as in the average 5.9 miles to a supermarket for blacks in the city, half as far for fast food. 20% of the insecure are single mothers. They cant choose their diet. One-third are children. The pantry supplies 45 pounds of “fresh, very good” groceries per family who comes to the pantry.

Cristy Harris, executive director of eight-year-old Prevail, formerly Walk-In Ministry, based at First United Church, Oak Park: Helps families in financial crisis. Once in poverty, it’s hard to get out. In Austin over 20% of adults are not working.

Lynda Schueler, MPA, Executive Director, West Suburban PADS: Started 22 years ago as Tri Village PADS. Homeless from Austin go to Oak Park or Pacific Garden Mission, named after the beer garden it replaced on Van Buren Street in 1888, now on Canal Street a mile south of the Loop, which receives 1,000 sleepers a night, she said. 38 come to Oak Park from Austin, 70 from Oak Park itself.

Rev. Reginald E. Bachus, MDiv, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and executive director of Austin Coming Together, a multi-organization collaborative that aims to build a community development system, praised this meeting as fostering trust and unity.

Rev. Walter Jones, executive director of Fathers Who Care, spoke in vigorous preaching style, with ample use of emphasis, hitting every fifth or tenth word hard, changing volume from whisper to shout. “Life! Reality! Not a joke!” he said at one point. He solicited (and got) applause for “sixty young people” who were employed this summer, “thanks to our elected officials,” whom he called “servants of social change.” Describing his (and their) goals as to “empower people to change.”

Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th District), called attention to two other elected officials Rep. Camille Lilly and Alderman Deborah Graham, sitting in the back. “If Austin is weak, so is Oak Park,” he said, suggesting that “a small-business committee” was in order. He also declared himself opposed to state-employee pension reform that reduces retirees’ benefits.

Questions and comments at the end included the meeting’s starkest depiction of life in Austin, voiced by a man from the Bobby E. Wright mental-health center, at Madison and Kedzie, who quoted a client in Austin who heard traumatic events described — drive-by shooting, being shot or jumped, domestic violence — said immediately, “That’s every day.” Mental illness, the man said, has reached “epidemic proportions” in Austin.

The meeting’s purpose was more clearly met with answers to the question to the panel from a member of Unity Temple, Oak Park:

How can Oak Parkers help?

1. Circle Family Health Care’s Dr. Hines: “We need doctor and nurse volunteers.”

2. Fathers Who Care’s Rev. Jones: “Just communicate,” he said, “Love each other! I believe in my heart” that is the way. Give school supplies. “Don’t it feel good to help somebody?” he asked.

3. Bethel New Life’s Edward Coleman: Business owners, come and show how it’s done. Help our businesses connect with supply chains on business-to-business basis. Bethel had much success because of help from Oak Parkers.

4. Austin Coming Together’s Rev. Reginald Bachus: Come to our meetings.

5. Rep. Ford: “Do as the pope says, he’s a man of the time.”

At Julian Oct 9, Part Four: Students quiz legislators on cost of college, school lunches, federal shutdown, pensions

* Cost of college? (from students)

Harmon: Aware of the problem and working on it. Yay! But what else is there to say to this question. from students? Have they been told the state legislators have a lot to say about this, so they have only Illinois state campuses in mind?

Lightford: Refers to MAP grant without explaining what it is, is not asked. Insider info again from KL. I looked it up.

The indomitable Lilly, blowing her horn again with highly questionable claim (for this CLAIM gathering): “I passed legislation [she passed
for grants for junior college.” The horn blows at forums. “But I’d like to put on the table, [we should] get parents involved, [they can] tell us how to do it. We need to bring them to this room and ask them.” This room? None are present? Hey, parents, get with it, OK?

School lunches? (students again, reference is apparently to menus: ingenuity alert for legislators)

Ford: “Form a student lunch committee. . . . It will change things.”

Lightford: “Draft legislation, if you will, changing, uh, the menu. Open dialog with the school administration.” Why not? Don’t bother us with your menu problems, for gosh sakes? Yes.

8:45, fifteen minutes left, joke time . . .

Federal shutdown?

Harmon: Federal funding is in jeopardy. Agreed, but again, what’s to say or what was to say on Oct. 9? Lightford promptly agreed with him.

Lilly: Depends on how long it lasts. Longer we’re in it . . . Etc.

Budget, pensions?

Harmon: “Most complicated issue” yet. “We have to get [solution] right.” Pensions were underfunded “the day I was born. . . Crucial reform of 2010 has been grossly underreported. Tribune doesn’t . . . ” Conference committee, house and senate, soon to come out with Cost of Living agreement, for $140 billion in savings. (Limiting automatic COLA raises)

Ford: Problem is “difficult to a degree,” but “I could not support [any] benefits reduction [!]“, because it’s unconstitutional and because it reduces benefits.” Uh-oh. No reductions?

Lightford: “I’m challenged. If a teacher after 25 to 30 years, retires, it’s totally wrong to take [reduce] benefits.” Woman in row behind your blogger-reporter: “Right.”

“I’m not for it, I’m not against it. All who did their due diligence . . . ” referring to pensioners who put in their time. Woman: “That’s right.”

Extended further comment, then: “We’re talking about people’s livelihoods.” Woman: “That’s right.”

“I have time [to plan ahead], but . . . ” — refers to others who do not. “I can’t give a yes or a no.” Woman: “Thank you for that.”

Lilly: “Process is just as important as the end itself.” Hands in air, mike-sputter. “So correctively, what can we do? We need to listen to one another.” Bromide time again.

“We are listening to state employees. Someone will walk away with less. But if we talk, they may have a better feeling toward our state [of Illinois].” But your state of confusion?

Ford: Someone on a fixed income “and working because they want to work,” the outcome “might be good.”

It was 9 pm, and end of Oct. 9 Julian forum with legislators.

At Julian Oct 9, Part 3: Unfunded mandates, state aid, the TIF

Cutting to the chase (cliche alert), consider the telling (tell-tale?) points made by the four legislators at Julian Oct. 9, for not quite a closing to this tale of citizen involvement. (For Part One of the tale, go here. For Part two, here.)


Funding of state mandates: Depends on how you define mandate, said Sen. Lightford, a champion of compulsory schooling (and incidentally a mocker of home schooling). Compelling attendance raises cost of kindergarten, for instance. “It became very popular” to raise such costs as unfunded. She’s “lukewarm” about the problem, likes a “happy-medium” solution, she said.

Sen. Harmon draws the line at “significant” added costs, he said. Not wanting to put the questioner — one of three from CLAIM — “on the spot,” he asked for examples. She turned to ask the superintendent, who may have stepped out and in any case was not to be seen and did not respond.

Rep. Ford responded “as a teacher” innocuously — which made sense enough in view of the apparent unavailability of the superintendent after Harmon asked for specifics: “We want to meet the needs of all children. . . . We all listen . . . ”

Ditto Rep. Lilly: “We have to look at the entire picture . . . ”


State funding for public schools: Lightford complained about the formula for allocation, based on “40- to 50-year-old poverty figures.” For Oak Park with its 21% poverty rate vs. the state average 49%, state aid “may be” less. (“May be”?) But “is it fair” that Oak Park gets as much as it does, she asked, considering it’s lower-than-average poverty rate? Then she launched into numbing detail about the process of deciding how the funds ($4 billion this year) are apportioned.

Harmon agreed that the formula is “complicated” but took note also of the “teacher pension subsidy” for districts outside Chicago as complicating the matter further by adding to district costs.

Lilly said she would “like to put on the table a corporate round table,” meaning apparently a gathering of big-business executives who would contribute to state funding.


More state funding, or getting slice of the pie: The forum as such seemed to end, with comments by CLAIM member John Moss, — trim, gray-haired, beard neatly cut, in gray suit, light gray shirt and nicely contrasting middle-gray tie, slim and soft-spoken — who went into great detail about how to influence legislation!

He also pitched heavily for members for CLAIM, giving his voice a lilt here and there — to soothing effect — but did drone on. In the course of which he said something about state aid — a longtime sore point and major issue for the district — that got a response from the ed-funding insider Lightford.

“There’s always an excuse for not raising the allocation for education,” she said, launching into another demonstration of inside-baseball data. She came around again to the “funding formula,” which she said is the “real issue,” adding that “distribution is the problem” and that it will “always” be a problem “as long as there is local control” of schools.

Perhaps anticipating eyebrow-raising from her local-district audience, she promptly added that she supports local control, but wants “fair distribution” of funds, citing for some reason the city of Chicago’s “neglect” of Austin. And on and on she went.

Lilly said she is “behind efforts” to be rid of “tax breaks for corporate America,” adding that “we need to get corporate America involved.” For the first time in the evening, she reverted to stump style, hands moving, eyes ablaze, the cheerleader in full blast.

“You’re referring to TIF [tax-increment financing], right?” asked Harmon, looking down the table, then said what he’s said before, “We must be sure it’s used for its intended purposes.”

“TIFs are good,” Lightford said, “but for me [for her money, she means] a TIF should not take too much money from schools.” (Easy sell, that “too much.” Who wants too much of anything?)

Harmon responded that TIF renewals are regularly signed off by the other taxing bodies, to which Lilly, her voice rising, added: “If we [were to] prioritize education, TIF wouldn’t be an issue.”

If only.

— To be concluded —

Don Harmon’s fair is someone else’s not so fair

Something for Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) to read about what he calls a new “fair tax” for Illinois. Lots of data leading up to this:

. . . don’t be fooled when lawmakers say a progressive income tax will only affect high-income earners. The newly proposed rates in Illinois make it clear that lawmakers are gearing up to raise tax rates on Illinois’ working- and middle-class residents.

That’s Sen. Harmon’s idea of fair?