Murder, Youth Campus closure topped year’s news in Park Ridge
The Park Ridge Youth Campus, 733 N. Prospect Ave.
PARK RIDGE STORIES ON THE WEB
1. Park Ridge suicide victim identified, March 17
2. Chicago man charged with murder in Park Ridge strangling death, Feb. 15
3. Police ID body found in Park Ridge commuter lot, Feb. 9
4. Park Ridge motorcyclist killed in crash, July 28
5. Park Ridge Police investigate second suspicious death, Feb. 9
- Park Ridge police announce ‘person of interest’ in homicide investigation
- Park Ridge police: Strangling victim, alleged killer were ‘in business together’
- Benefit in name of Park Ridge murder victim raises $2,300
- End near for Park Ridge Youth Campus?
- Park Ridge Park District to examine Youth Campus land
- Housing, park space proposed for Park Ridge Youth Campus site
- Park Ridge voters to have say on Park District’s Youth Campus land buy
- Park Ridge Park District woos voters in advance of redevelopment referendum
- Park Ridge Park District eyes purchase of more Youth Campus land
- Park Ridge city manager Jim Hock fired
- Ex-city manager’s loan prompts repayment debate by Park Ridge council
- Park Ridge neighbors not partial to Whole Foods
- With demolition work under way at Park Ridge site, Whole Foods expands parking
- Park Ridge City Council endorses Whole Foods liquor license
- Park Ridge grants Whole Foods special beer, wine license
- Raises for nonunion workers back up for debate in Park Ridge
- Park Ridge mayor likely to veto nonunion pay raises
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:03AM
PARK RIDGE — In the past year the city of Park Ridge faced more financial stress, a violent death, changes in city management, more mayoral vetoes, a popular business looking to call Park Ridge home and the closure of a historic piece of the city’s past. These all made up the top stories of 2012.
1. Morning murder
It had been just over five years since a homicide was reported in Park Ridge, but on the cold morning of Feb. 9 the body of a man was found between Summit Avenue and the Metra tracks just east of Uptown. His hands had been bound and an autopsy would reveal he had died of strangulation.
Chip Mallek was affectionately described by a family member as a “nomad,” traveling across the country and spending time in California and Arizona where the weather was more to his liking. He was a friend to many, known for his warmth, care and humor. Mallek had recently returned to Park Ridge, the town in which he had grown up, to help care for a family member, but his stay would be cut tragically short.
Authorities said Mallek, 39, became involved in an argument with 34-year-old Yuron Robinson of Chicago, a man with whom Mallek allegedly engaged in the sale of illegal drugs. The fight, which police said culminated with Mallek’s death, was reportedly over money Mallek was owed for alleged drug transactions.
Robinson was apprehended by Park Ridge and Chicago Police on Feb. 12 as he attempted to board a bus on its way to Iowa, police said. He was charged with first-degree murder and remains in Cook County Jail with his bond set at $5 million.
Friends of Chip Mallek came out in support of his family shortly after the murder, raising over $2,000 in a benefit held at the VFW hall in Park Ridge.
The same week Mallek’s body was discovered police were already investigating another suspicious death after a body was found in a wooded area near Oakton Street and Riverside Drive. That death was later ruled a suicide.
2. End of an era at the Youth Campus
The closure of the Park Ridge Youth Campus — a staple in the community for over 100 years in various forms — came as a surprise in April, not only because of the organization’s longevity, but because significant changes in its operation had just been announced a few months earlier.
For some, the surprise was a welcome one. Over the last decade troubled adolescents sent to live at the group home had proven problematic for the community, particularly the Police Department which saw its call volume increase greatly due to a rising number of runaways and reports of physical altercations involving residents.
Since the closure calls for police response within the beat where the Youth Campus is located have dropped by half. According to data provided by the Police Department, there were 337 incidents within the greater neighborhood between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2012, compared to 614 incidents the previous year. Fewer battery reports and nearly no runaways have contributed greatly to the decline.
Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen said now that officers no longer respond to the Youth Campus they have more time to walk their beats, speak with residents and address other concerns.
“We’re able to be more proactive and spend time on other beat issues,” he said.
More changes could be on the way to the 11-acre campus next year if voters approve a referendum asking if the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District should purchase the site for park and recreation space.
3. City Council fires manager
City Manager Jim Hock’s tenure as Park Ridge’s top administrator came to an end on a Friday night in May. Aldermen, holding a special meeting to decide Hock’s future employment, voted 6-0 to terminate his contract with the city after less than four years at the helm.
Hock had been selected by former mayor Howard Frimark, but Frimark’s successor, Mayor David Schmidt, had been frequently critical of Hock’s performance. Other elected officials began to feel similarly.
“From a professional standpoint, I don’t think he is a good fit for the city of Park Ridge,” 4th Ward Alderman Sal Raspanti said prior to the City Council’s vote to terminate Hock’s employment.
Now, seven months after Hock’s departure, the city is still dealing with the aftermath. As of early December the city was still owed $288,000 on an interest-free loan that was given to Hock upon his 2008 hiring, but with Hock’s Park Ridge townhouse still up for sale, the money had not been returned to the city’s coffers. There was also concern expressed among elected officials that because a bank lien on the property is listed as the first mortgage, the city could potentially be short-changed if the townhouse sells for less than the total owed.
Other city department heads leaving their positions this year included Deputy City Manager Juliana Maller, Finance Director Allison Stutts and Human Resources Manager Cathy Doczekalski.
4. Neighbors not partial to Whole Foods
A proposal to open a Whole Foods Market in Park Ridge, enthusiastically welcomed by many, left a bad taste in the mouths of some residents this year.
Neighbors of the property at the southeast corner of Touhy and Washington Avenues, which had been occupied for several years by vacant buildings, objected to plans for the grocery store, citing concerns about traffic congestion in the area and safety concerns for children walking to and from St. Paul of the Cross School. The City Council ultimately approved rezoning of the land, but when a request for a liquor license allowing in-store consumption of wine and beer came before the city, some neighbors again objected.
Despite the objections, the license was approved, with some modifications limiting the times of sales, and Whole Foods is expected to begin construction next year.
5. Pay raises debated, passed and vetoed
For two groups of city employees, pay raises were tough to come by this year.
Though the City Council passed a budget that included 2-percent raises for nonunion employees, Mayor David Schmidt vetoed the measure and it was successfully upheld. In July, Acting City Manager Juliana Maller asked aldermen to reconsider raises for the employees, but they declined. Then, several weeks later, the City Council met again to talk nonunion raises, ultimately approving them.
But employees wouldn’t benefit just yet. Schmidt in August again exercised his veto power, but this time the City Council overruled the mayor, granting 43 employees 1- or 2-percent raises, based on their performance.
Employee members of the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs (ICOPS) union also saw their pay raises rescinded in 2012 when a contract approved by the city, union membership and the Park Ridge City Council was vetoed by Schmidt and upheld by aldermen. In an unusual move, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Sweeney voted to support the mayor’s veto even though doing so, he said, would open up the city to litigation. ICOPS filed an unfair labor practice against the city and in November, the City Council by a 6-1 vote reversed its decision to uphold the mayor’s veto. The contract was valid again and the unfair labor practice was dropped.
Schmidt has cited the city’s financial struggles as reasons why raises should not be granted to city employees at this time. The city’s Public Works union remains without a contract as negotiations over pay continue.