Here's an idea, you wacky canoe-enthusiats. Break out your paddles with Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin on Jan. 1 and explore the Forrest Preserves by boat.

The paddling starts Skokie Lagoons where canoes and kayaks begin their trip, traveling through Cook County's forest preserves to Linne Woods. Check out the details below.

Annual New Year's Day Paddle
January 1, 2009
9 A.M.
Note: Participants stagger their launch times; some arrive as early as 7:00 A.M. The last launch is at Noon.

Canoe Launch Location:

Forestway Drive just north of Willow Rd. Put-in is just below the Willow Road Dam. End point for the trip is at the horse bridge in Linne Woods south of Beckwith Road.

Travel north on the Edens and exit at Willow Road. Turn right (east) onto Willow Road. Travel approximately ½ mile and cross over the bridge. After crossing bridge, immediately turn left onto Forestway Drive. Look for the people and cars in the parking lot.

Participants must provide their own canoes or kayaks and it is recommended that they have some prior experience.

Got questions? Call Bill Koenig at the Forest Preserve District

Here's a few tidbits from Wednesday's Cook County Board meeting that got squeezed out of Thursday's edition for space reasons.

I'll keep it short.

Cook County commissioners Wednesday unanimously agreed to pay $3.2 million to 105 county workers who were victims of political discrimination. Julia Nowicki, the federal court-appointed hiring watchdog, said she would not release the names of employees set to split the payout until each person is notified of how much they will be awarded. That should take about two weeks. In a statement, Nowicki said the affected employees are "not the only instances of illegal patronage" in county government. They "represent only those claims that met the criteria" of the federal court order.

And ..

Companies with Cook County contracts will now be required disclose the names of all investors who own more than a 5 percent stake in the business. The information will be kept in an on-line database. The measure, authored by Commissioner Forrest Claypool, was approved in a 12-2 vote.

There was quite a debate on the Claypool's "sunshine" measure. Republican commissioner Greg Goslin - who was being supported by Stroger Democrats on this one -- tried to push a substitute ordinance that wouldn't have published the database on-line.
Stroger's administration also made what turned out to be a bogus claim that it would cost $2.5 million to create the database. That figure was debunked by the county's head of information technology.
The Claypool measure ultimately won -- Goslin even voted for it. And in 180 days, we'll all be able to see who really has an ownership stake in companies doing business with Cook County. Should be interesting. Stay tuned.

I couldn't make it to Monday's community meeting about plans to put an all-night Maxwell Street Polish stand at 18th and Halsted.

And Ald. Danny Solis - who has pledge to block the sausage stand from opening at that location against neighbors wishes-- hasn't called me back yet.

Thankfully, Al DiFranco, a long-time Pilsen resident and former UPI journalist, was at Providence of God Church last night. He was kind enough to send me this dispatch from the meeting.

Danny Solis promised a lot. He said the move by city departments to grant permits and licenses was the "stupidest decision that's ever been made."

Solis said he will immediately put the project on "administrative hold," and that "I'm going to make legislation" for a permanent fix that would bar the hot dog stand.

Solis said, "I have full confidence that I'll stop [Express Grill owner Alex Lazarevski]."

Lazarevski was there, along with at least 200 residents and nearby business owners, including the 86-year-old non-resident John Podmajersky, Jr., and his son , the 40-something John Podmajersky III. They were spectators, not panelists. Pod the Younger asked a couple of technical questions about garbage pick-ups and storage.

Solis was asked if he gave Lazarevski an "aldermanic letter of acknowledgment." Solis said no -- adding that he figured Lazarevski would have avoided that move in anticipation of Solis turning him down.

As frequent public meetings in this church basement go, it was a large crowd. Since moving to Pilsen in 1974, it was also the most unified I have ever seen. Pretty much everybody -- including Solis -- seemed to agree with each other against Lazarevski.

While not offering their opinions much, the City officials, like Bill McCaffrey of the Building Department, had some sobering words. McCaffrey said there is very little distinction in the permit process to weed out a hot dog stand from another kind of restaurant. He said the square footage (under 4,000) of the place was "too small" to require a traffic study.

A Transportation Department representative did cite narrow sidewalks and the location of the Halsted Street and 18th Street bus stops on both sides of the restaurant as a possible barrier to approval. But the CTA rep indicated the CTA was flexible on that issue.

One unidentified resident claimed that crime stats show big trouble at the current site of the two hot dog stands on Union, while another unidentified resident of University Village (the former Maxwell Street market area) said they have the "lowest crime in any part of the city."

Twelfth Police District Commander Dennis Keane did not confirm or deny those citations of statistics, but did say it was illegal to park in front of a place with a bus stop and that the law would be enforced. He was asked and declined to offer his "speculation" on what kind of crimes would increase if the restaurant goes forward. He said the dynamics of vehicle and pedestrian traffic and parking are completely different at the Union Avenue site.

As for citizen DiFranco, he's been in Pilsen since 1974.

His take: "I was relieved to see the hot dog stands relocated from Halsted about a decade ago. Like most of the residents at the meeting, I think, I have seen the litter, the sleazy 24-hour clientele and have smelled the smell to say 'enough' to more of what surely will be the same problems."

(If you were there, send along your take (and pictures or video) of the meeting. Let your voice be heard.)

For the record, East Pilsen isn't technically a recognized neighborhood. East Pilsen refers to the east side of Pilsen.

When people refer to East Pilsen, they're talking about the gentrifying part of Pilsen where you'll find a lot of white people. Not all white people, mind you. East Pilsen is a diverse neighborhood. But you don't have to worry about asking donde es banjo at the coffeehouse?

Regardless, many neighbors are fighting to keep Express Grill, a Maxwell Street Polish sausage stand, from moving to 18th and Halsted, the heart of what we're calling East Pilsen. Here's the story.

Neighbors believe the sausage stand will be the neighborhood's downfall. What do you think?

Due to a space crunch, a shorter version of this story was printed in the paper.

Here's a version with more details.

The Cook County Health and Hospitals System board on Thursday agreed to hire interim chief financial officer Pitt Calkin on a six-month contract that will pay him up to $252,000.
That's $1,800 a day for 20 days a month, plus up to $300 a day in travel expenses.
Former county hospital system CFO John Cookinham was paid $178,603 a year.
Calkin, who currently is a financial consultant for Tucson Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz, said he has been working at Cook County Hospital for the past three weeks. In addition to his duties here, Calkin said he will continue to work one week a month at the Tucson Medical Center.
Since 2003, Calkin has worked as CFO or financial adviser at six different hospital systems for stints of two years or less.
"With my company I go around ... and turn hospitals around," Calkin said.
Calkin's salary was added to the hospital board's contract with MedAssets Net Revenue Systems. MedAssetts has a contract to increase revenue at the hospital system by about $80 over three years.
County Commissioner Forrest Claypool said Calkin's salary is "a remarkable amount of money for a public position that has historically paid less."
"If these are kind of fiscal decisions the hospital board will make routinely, we may want to consider restoring county board oversight," Claypool said. "That's remarkable amount of money for single individual. All other level governments attract CFOs for far less. I'm not quite sure who is advising them on salaries."
Hospital system chief operating officer David Small said Calkin's contract was the "best deal on an interim CFO" that he could get.
The salary "may seem remarkable, but that's what the market demands for a competent professional."

Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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