A viral Facebook Post, interviews with Oak Lawn senior citizens and off the record discussions from high ranking officials in Oak Lawn indicate that the senior snow shoveling program has been a dismal failure.
In addition, the program has been using a sworn police officer as the administrator of the program keeping him off the street and preventing him from providing patrols in the neighborhood.
On December 18th, Oak Lawn homeowner Cindy Vayda brought the issue to the forefront by posting a Facebook message that stated that she and her husband, both in their seventies, had signed up for the senior citizen shoveling program, but had not received any assistance. The post received widespread discussion because her husband must leave the house two or three times a week for dialysis.
Mayor Sandra Bury and Trustee Robert Streit both became involved in the matter with Streit’s Third Disrict Constituent Office contacting a volunteer, David Jasudowicz, who had offered to shovel the snow. Sure enough Jasudowicz shoveled the snow.
Vayda thanked Streit for contacting Jasudowicz and Bury for trying to find a solution to the problem. But, it is a problem that has apparently existed for years with less volunteers available than homes in need of shoveling. Trustee Alex Olejniczak, who instituted the program admitted at a board meeting that there aren’t enough volunteers and “we don’t get to everyone”.
An investigation by the Oak Lawn Leaf found that the village uses a sworn police officer to administer the program with the Trustees not taking any active role in it other than soliciting volunteers, who receive no monetary compensation. Recently, the village and one of its appointed officials admitted on Facebook that the program lacks volunteers.
We spoke to thirty homeowners who signed up for the program and have never had their snow shoveled. Some called the program “useless” while a few asked “what are my taxes going for then”. We didn’t speak to everyone who signed up for the program.
The expectation for all of the people we interviewed was that the village would make sure that a volunteer is attached to each senior citizen’s home. But that isn’t the case. In fact, some volunteers provide the service on a limited basis in order to receive “service hour credits” from their high school.
A high ranking employee of the village called the program “a waste” noting that the village uses a police sergeant to oversee it. “Promising to shovel someone’s driveway and sidewalk and then not doing it is ridiculous because it causes nothing but problems for the employees who have to answer the complaints”, said the employee.
The village is prohibited from using public funds to maintain private property. The program was never approved by the Board of Trustees, although it appears that each Trustee has solicited volunteers with limited success. Instead of seeking approval from the board, Olejniczak announced a few years ago that the program was being “expanded” throughout the village.
In addition to failing to meet expectations, the use of a police officer to provide clerical administration of the program may become an issue in the April election. Streit, who is running for Mayor, had previously proposed that officers not being used on regular patrol shifts be mandated to work one or two shifts a month on patrol in order to fight crime.
The employee we spoke to at the village said the program has been a waste and was created for “Alex’s political benefit” in order to allow him to promote it as an accomplishment. In his 2013 re-election, Olejniczak did use the senior snow shoveling program as an accomplishment, claiming it was a success.
Olejniczak won his third term in 2013 and is opposed for a fourth term by Glenn Schlesser, a fire department Captain who has never held elected office in village government.