Orland residents call for Mehalek and Fenton to step down

Orland residents call for Mehalek and Fenton to step down
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Orland residents call for Mehalek and Fenton to step down

Voters call foul after a decision by Orland Park Village Clerk John Mehalek and Trustee Kathy Fenton is thrown out by a Cook County Circuit Court Judge. Mehalek and Fenton ruled that a slate of candidates for Orland Park trustee could not appear on the ballot because their petitions only identified the post as “trustee.” Some residents are calling for Mehalek and Fenton to step down from their offices

By Ray Hanania

A Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thursday ruled that a challenge to the petitions filed by three independent candidates for trustee backed by Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau should remain on the ballot, dismissing what many observers said was a “cheap shot political attempt to deny the voters the right to choose their representatives.”

Restored to the ballot were William Healy, Cynthia Nelson Katsenes and Michael Milani, who were tossed off the April 2 election ballot by two allies of the opposing slate, Village Clerk John Mehalek and Trustee Kathy Fenton, on the unheard of assertion that the challenger’s petitions only identified the office of “trustee” on their petitions rather than “Village Trustees.”

The move was a politically stupid decision that only enhanced the growing scorn against the incumbents and the ruling village board which has organized opposition to Pekau since he ousted in a landslide decision former Mayor Dan McLaughlin in 2017.

Orland Park Trustee Candidates Billy Healy, Michael Milani, and Cindy Katsenes

Orland Park Trustee Candidates William Healy, Michael Milani, and Cindy Katsenes

Mehalek and Fenton are McLaughlin allies who Pekau has asserted have opposed his efforts to run the village as the elected mayor. They both implicitly argued that Orland Park voters would be too ignorant and stupid to recognize that the Katsenes slate is running for village trustee, saying incredulously that using the word “Trustee” on the petitions was “too confusing.”

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The Cook County Judge, however, did not feel the voters of Orland Park are either stupid or ignorant, or that they wouldn’t understand that the candidates were running for village trustees.

Mehalek and Fenton said Orland Park residents
would be “too confused” to know that
Katsenes, Healy and Milani are running
for Village Trustees in the April 2 election

Normally, candidates are removed from the ballot when they fail to file enough signatures, or the signatures were signed by individuals who are not registered to vote, outside of the election district, or fraudulently signed and not authorized by the actual voter. In this case, the Katsenes slate had more than enough signatures to appear on the ballot.

Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich, along with Devin Hodge and Kelly O'Brien on the Orland Integrity Party Slate

Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich, along with Devin Hodge and Kelly O’Brien on the Orland Integrity Party Slate

Reaction has been swift from voters in Orland Park with many urging that Mehalek and Fenton resign from their offices for playing politics to remove Katsenes, Healy and Milani from the election ballot. Although the challenge was probably funded by their opposing slate of candidates, the judge and courtroom costs are paid by the taxpayers.

“All they tried to do was deny the voters of Orland Park the right to choose who should represent them on the Village board,” one resident said.

Another resident argued, “The reason given was ridiculous and so transparent. It was just an effort to continue to obstruct the will of Orland Voters who elected Pekau as the mayor and tossed out McLaughlin when he tried to give himself a large pay increase and an automatic 6-figure annual pension. This is all about the board majority continuing to block the mayor and the will of the voters.”

Katsenes, Healy and Milani are running on the People Over Politics slate and will face incumbent Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich and newcomers Devin Hodge and Kelly O’Brien, who are running on the Orland Integrity Party slate.

Both Katsenes and Ruzich are popular and are considered leading candidates to win office in April. Three trustee seats are up.

The People Over Politcs slate issued the following press release on the reversal of the decision by Mehalek and Fenton to deny the voters the right to chose their elected officials:

PEOPLE OVER POLITICS PARTY SLATE REINSTATED BY COOK COUNTY JUDGE

Orland Park- In a strong victory for democracy, a Cook County Circuit Court Judge today reinstated the People Over Politics Party to the ballot for the April 2ndOrland Park Municipal Election. The slate of William Healy, Michael Milani and Cynthia Nelson Katsenes will be punch numbers 1, 2 and 3. In the order of reinstatement the Judge stated “There is NO CONFUSION WHATSOVER. These three candidates are to be placed on the ballot”

The judge’s ruling overturns a blatant power grab by long-time political forces within Orland Park who continue to obstruct and obfuscate for their own personal gain. Chief among them are Village Clerk Mehalek and Village Trustee Fenton, who despite gathering signatures for the opposing slate refused to recuse themselves from hearing the case at the Orland Park Election Board.  Of course, they voted 2-0 to remove the slate as they clearly consider the People Over Politics a threat to “business as usual” and to ignore the will of their constituents by trying to anoint their hand-picked trustees to the board.

“Rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” stated People Over Politics slate member Michael Milani. “Those who celebrated our temporary removal from the ballot in a press release, derided our intelligence, insulted our more than 1200 petition signers, and danced on our graves – including so-called Orland Integrity Party slate members Carol Ruzich, Devin Hodge and Kelly O’Brien along with current Trustees Michael Carroll and Patricia Gira – have shown themselves willing to disenfranchise voters to cling to their fading power. The voters see through this and they are mad as hell. This will be reflected at the ballot box April 2nd,” Milani concluded.

This was the release posted by the Orland Inegrity Party when the challenge was filed and Mehalek and Fenton ruled the Katsenes slate could not be on the ballot:

Orland Integrity Party candidates applaud Election Board’s ruling to uphold petition objections

Orland Park, IL (January 10, 2019) – Orland Integrity Party candidates said the Orland Park Election Board made the right decision to uphold the challenges to the petitions three Trustee candidates filed without proper identifiers of what office they were seeking.

“There is some leeway in how to word petitions, but the petitions for a public office should include the exact position candidates for office are seeking,” said Orland Park Trustee candidate Kelly O’Brien. “This is not exactly rocket science here. The first step to getting on the ballot is to get the petition process right. The Election Board made the right decision upholding petition standards.”

Candidates William Healy, Cynthia Nelson Katsenes and Michael Milani, running on the People Over Politics ticket, all had challenges to their petitions which contain the word, “Trustee” but not the particular “Trustee” positions the candidates are seeking. The Election Board upheld the challenges to their petitions.

“Our fire district has trustees and our library board has trustees and voters will be voting on all of these positions in the upcoming election,” said Devin Hodge, candidate for Orland Park Trustee. “There were probably some people who signed these petitions who had no idea what office these candidates are seeking. The whole point of having rules governing the petition process is to make sure voters are protected and they know exactly what they are signing, and the Election Board has rightly recognized these concerns.”

Carole Griffin Ruzich said there is more at issue than the ability of candidates to do paperwork right.

“If their intention was to run for Village Trustee, their petitions should have stated that clearly,” Ruzich said. “Part of being qualified to run is having the competence to get on the ballot. It is a fact that these candidates did a poor job executing this task and they will not be on the ballot as a result.”

Carole Griffin Ruzich currently serves on the Village Board. She directs her own law firm, Griffin & Gallagher, LLC, where her practice focuses on representing developers and lenders in complex real estate and financial transactions. Kelly O’Brien is an economic development specialist, and she manages a team responsible for the Alliance for Regional Development (Alliance) and the Chicago Central Area Committee (CCAC). Devin Hodge is the Chief Operations Officer for Argonne National Laboratory’s Computing, Environment and Life Sciences organization.

Ruzich, O’Brien and Hodge are running for Orland Park Trustee on the Orland Integrity Party. The election is April 2, 2019.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

Click here to listen to Ray's Political Podcast. 

Hanania's columns are archived on his personal website at RayHanania.com. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at rghanania@gmail.com.
Ray Hanania

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