Economic development and the future of the former property of the state mental health center are key issues for candidates running for three Tinley Park board seats.
Incumbents Michael Mueller and William Brennan, along with Ken Shaw, who sits on the Village’s Planning Commission, are running under the One Tinley Park ticket, while Trustee Diane Galante is seeking re-election as an independent.
Also running with Mueller, Brennan and Shaw is incumbent clerk Nancy O’Connor, who is challenged by Ahleah Balawender.
Galante said the biggest concern she hears from residents is the dispute between the village and the Tinley Park-Park District over the former ownership of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
“We’ve always worked together,” says Galante, 57, who previously worked for BorgWarner in Frankfurt. “It is that trait that has caused this division. We cannot have this division in our city.
The Village and Park District are both seeking state approval to acquire the property, located northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. The country has environmental problems such as contaminated soil, leaking underground storage tanks, asbestos and black mold. There would also be a cost of demolishing dozens of buildings as part of any redevelopment.
The village would like to see the 280-acre site redeveloped for entertainment purposes that could generate significant property and sales tax revenue.
The Park District is proposing uses including multi-purpose sports fields and a domed sports complex with a full-sized soccer field. According to the district, regional youth sports tournaments could be held on the site.
Galante said what the park district has proposed is “perfect for this city.”
Having the ability to host sports tournaments could attract visitors from Illinois and surrounding states, which would help generate tax revenue for Tinley Park, she said.
“Our hotels would fill up,” Galante said. “The village would benefit greatly.”
O’Connor, 63, was appointed clerk in January 2022. She said village officials “want to see something that is going to generate income for the village to keep our taxes at a relatively good level.”
While not a voting member of the village council, O’Connor has been a staunch supporter of urging the state to clean up the closed mental health hospital and adjacent Howe Developmental Center.
The dual interest in the property has led to a rift between village and park district officials. The village scheduled its own fireworks display for the Fourth of July, prompting the park district to cancel its old event. The park district was cut off from agreements with the village to purchase commodities such as fuel and road salt at discount prices through volume discount pricing.
Balawender, 35, a physician assistant with the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, said “petty politics” are behind the dispute.
“There is no legitimate reason for the village to have its own firework display and everyone knows it,” she said. “I run to put the needs of Tinley Park residents first because our residents deserve more than petty political play.”
Mueller, 43, a software architect, said maintaining a low tax rate and promoting economic development are among the One Tinley group’s priorities.
Brennan, 37, elected with Mueller in 2019, owns a State Farm agency in La Grange, and Shaw, 55, is a U.S. Army veteran and works as an internal audit director at Argosy Group, an insurance company in Chicago, according to One Tinley.
“We’re really bringing a complete package,” Mueller said. “We’re in this for the long haul. We’re invested in this community.”
An Amazon Fresh store on Harlem Avenue south of 159th Street is expected to open in late summer or early fall, while a Pete’s Fresh Market, also planned for Harlem, is expected to open next year, Mueller said.
“We’re working to keep taxes low, but we want to make sure the important things are taken care of, like public safety,” Mueller said.
O’Connor said 183 new businesses have come to Tinley Park in the past two years.
“We nurture a very positive business environment, we’re drawing people in,” she said.
O’Connor said she is proud to have helped support a recent village council decision to abolish the requirement of village vehicle decals. Revenue from the program has fallen and can be made up through other sources, she said.
“We wanted to do something as a gesture of goodwill for the residents,” the clerk said. “This makes a difference to a lot of people.”
Galante, Mueller and Brennan were chosen four years ago with the One Tinley Park list, but Mueller said Galante had moved away from the One Tinley group and would not be on the ticket this year. Mueller said Galante and the party have had disagreements since her election.
Mueller said it was a decision Galante made that “being part of a team wasn’t a priority for her.”
Galante said her running mates “went in a different direction that I don’t agree with.”
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In January last year, Galante was publicly reprimanded by fellow administrators after the findings of an ethics complaint showed she “showed a strong error of judgment” in disclosing confidential information about the village’s defense against some lawsuits.
Galante said last week that she had done nothing wrong.
“I never leaked anything,” she said.
Campaign finance disclosure reports show One Tinley ended 2022 late last year with $123,000 available to spend. Since then, the committee has received more than $87,000 in contributions, according to reports.
There were no separate campaign reports for Galante, as the state’s election records show that she is still part of the One Tinley organization.
Balawender hosted her A Better Tinley Park committee on Feb. 4, starting with $4,900 available to spend on the campaign, according to an election commission filing.