August 2008 Archives

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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