When the Village of Oak Lawn first began “debating” the idea of a village owned newspaper, one Trustee claimed it could lose $100,000. Opponents scoffed at the suggestion claiming he was trying to scare residents.
Trustee Robert Streit’s prediction may have been more accurate that those of his fellow officials who are now scheduled to discuss the future of “Oak Lawn Matters” and perhaps the scheduling of a feast for one Trustee who went overboard in promising to eat his shoes if the publication failed to make money.
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen recently painted a different picture than the one Mayor Sandra Bury and the Board of Trustees drew starting in February of 2016 when the idea was first publicly discussed. The Daily Southtown quoted Deetjen as saying, “It’s not a self-supporting publication, and I don’t think anyone envisioned that (it would be) when we embarked on it.”
However, the Oak Lawn Leaf has reported the story of the Village’s entry into journalism almost exclusively. Dating back to February 2016, several statements have been made contradicting the Deetjen statement, that nobody expected the paper to make money.
A an initial meeting, Trustee Tim Desmond asked Fanning how long it would take to get the advertisers on board, and Fanning answered, “Most advertisers want to see what they are going to be advertising in so usually it takes a publication or two… but the difference that we have here is that we already have publications that we can show them from other municipalities. So, I am projecting that by the second publication you would definitely be in the black (profitable).”
When the idea was first discussed in public, Mayor Sandra Bury and several Trustees couldn’t contain their excitement over the prospect of a newspaper being owned and controlled by the village. Trustees William Stalker and Alex Olejniczak went so far as to suggest that the paper would easily be profitable. Stalker based it on unsubstantiated “conversations” with businesses that he claimed were asking for such an avenue to spend money while Olejniczak provided math based on numbers provided by Fanning to say the advertising projections made “logical” sense to him.
Then the proverbial shoe was put in the mouth by a Trustee, who may have been overly exuberant.
Responding to Streit’s predictions of doom for the success of the venture, Olejniczak said the truth would come up in the months of June, July, August and September as the village entered the publishing business.
“I have a pair of Florsheim shoes that I will eat right here on the desk if that happens”, Olejniczak said. For some reason he let everyone know his shoes are black and then proceeded to try to raise his leg to show his shoes to the camera and small audience.
Olejniczak said that his statement was “grandiose” but claimed it was not as grandiose as Streit’s statement that the publication will lose $100,000 over a year’s time. Olejniczak, in an apparent attack upon the various media outlets serving Oak Lawn, said that the $100,000 figure was used to “scare the public” into not getting factual information that is not political.
Oljeniczak said that he has done his research and predicted the cost of the newspaper will be zero. “He (Streit) says $100,000, I say zero and over $20,000 I eat my Florsheim shoes”, said Olejniczak.
Again, as early as March 2016, he said, “I would be shocked if we wouldn’t be able to create positive cash flow within the first two to three [months].”
Trustee Terry Vorderer (District 4), also chimed in supporting the taxpayer-funded newspaper. He said, “looking at the Crestwood last three publications, I looked at the advertising, and Crestwood’s doing a wonderful job with the advertising, and I’ve talked with the Mayor (Lou Presta)and the Mayor tells me it doesn’t cost his community much of anything, and in some months it’s positive.” In fact, the Crestwood paper was losing money and continues to lose money.
Trustee “Bud” Stalker (District 5) also seemed to believe that newspaper publishing could be profitable. Stalker said he had great confidence the idea would work, claiming that businesses were asking for the opportunity to advertise in such a publication. Stalker never provided the names of those businesses.
It wasn’t just one time that these officials predicted profitability for the publication. Even after the Oak Lawn Leaf reported that the Oak Lawn Matters has already lost taxpayers nearly $24,000 in there first few months and not a single profitable issue had been produced, Trustee Stalker devoted two full minutes of the September 13th Board of Trustees meeting to stating just how good an investment the newspaper had been.
“The Oak Lawn Matters newspaper has had a really decent return on investment in a short period of time,” Stalker said. “After three issues of publication, the annual revenue from committed advertising is listed at about $51,000.”
Unfortunately for the taxpayers of Oak Lawn, the annual cost of the newspaper is significantly higher. Every month, the newspaper costs the Village $9,147. Annually, that figure becomes $109,764. When that figure is offset by the committed advertising, the Village taxpayers are still losing nearly $60,000.
Any way you cut it, Oak Lawn Matters is losing money. It has not even approached breaking even, let alone profitability. Despite the Oak Lawn Leaf reporting this fact on multiple occasions, Trustee Vorderer made a bold, yet incorrect, prediction:
“By the end of the year, the Village will make money on it.”
Olejniczak has reportedly admitted to the Daily Southtown that the newspaper was a fiscal disaster. According to that newspaper, Olejniczak wrote in email, “There is zero denying that the plans and promises have fallen far short of what we were told.”
Olejniczak also told the paper he would make good on his promise to feast on his Florsheim shoes. But he didn’t say when that would happen. At Tuesday’s board meeting, Trustees are expected to discuss the future of the newspaper. The Florsheim feast is not on the agenda.