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Orland Village Board race heats up with all names back on ballot

By Dermot Connolly

Voters in Orland Park can look forward to a competitive trustees race April 2 between two slates of candidates running for three seats on the village board.

The names of three candidates were returned to the ballot after the Illinois Appellate Court on Friday affirmed a Cook County Circuit Court ruling to restore them.

The candidates had been removed due to a technicality on their nominating petitions, in which they listed the office they sought as “trustee” instead of the more specific “village trustee.”

The upcoming election also includes races for Orland Park Library trustee and Orland Fire Protection District trustee.

The People Over Politics slate, including William Healy, Michael Milani and Cynthia Nelson Katsenes had appealed to the Circuit Court after the local electoral board struck them off ballot in January.

The board—made up of Village Clerk John Mehalek and Trustee Kathleen Fenton—after consulting legal counsel, agreed with objector Christopher Kasmer’s assertion that the lack of specificity created confusion and some of the 12,000 people who signed the nominating petitions may not have known what office the candidates were running for.

When the Circuit Court rejected that decision, the case was taken to the Appellate Court. But the Appellate Court panel of Judges Eileen O’Neill Burke, Robert E. Gordon and Margaret Stanton McBride agreed with the lower court’s decision to reverse the ruling.

In part, they said there was no confusion because the district listed on the nominating petitions was named correctly as “the village of Orland Park” so there could be no confusion with the Fire Protection District, which covers a wider area.

With this decision final, the next challenge comes on April 2, when the People Over Politics slate will be vying for votes with the Orland Integrity Party slate led by incumbent Trustee Carole Griffin Ruzich, who is joined by Devin Hodge and Kelly O’Brien. Current trustees Michael Carroll and Patricia Gira are not running for re-election, leaving their seats open.

“I believe the right decision was made. Let the people decide, that is how it should be,” said Mayor Keith Pekau, who endorsed the People Over Politics slate.

Because village officials who support one side or the other are allowed to sit on electoral boards, Pekau said “the system is flawed,” which he blamed for the board’s original decision to remove the names from the ballot.

The mayor recused himself from the board because he circulated petitions, but Mehalek and Fenton had circulated petitions for the other slate. However, they said their decision was in keeping with legal precedent.

When she was asked about the Appellate Court’s decision on Friday, Ruzich just shrugged. “Onward and upward. We were not involved in the objection,” she said.

Carole Griffin Ruzich

Ruzich directs her own law firm, Griffin & Gallagher, LLC, focusing on representing developers and lenders in complex real estate and financial transactions. Previously, she served as associate counsel for First National Bank of Evergreen Park. As chair of the Development Services Committee on the board, she was part of the team that negotiated the recent deal to bring the Von Maur department store to Orland Square Mall, where it is expected to open later this year on the site of the old Carson’s.

Ruzich has a bachelor’s degree in government and history from St. Mary’s College, and a juris doctorate from the University of Illinois. She and her husband, Larry, have three children.

Kelly O’Brien

O’Brien is also an attorney. She manages a team responsible for the Alliance for Regional Development and the Chicago Central Area Committee. She formerly served on the Palos Hills City Council where she chaired the Economic Development Committee. O’Brien has a bachelor’s degree in political communications from George Washington University and a juris doctorate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Devin Hodge

Hodge has been a member of the Orland School District 135 Board of Education since 2015. He is the chief operating officer for Argonne National Laboratory’s Computing, Environment and Life Sciences organization.

Milani his wife, Heather, have lived in Orland Park since 2004. Their two sons attend Sandburg High School. A business development executive with IBM, he earned a master’s degree in management information systems from Governors State University. His serves as vice chairman of the village’s Economic Development Advisory Board, and chairs the Technology Commission, both volunteer positions. He also coaches Orland Youth Athletics and Orland Park Warriors baseball, Church of Nazarene Recreation, and the Lincoln-Way Wrestling Club.

William Healy

Healy, a 40-year resident of Orland Park is a self-employed certified public accountant in the village with an accounting degree from John Carroll University. He describes himself as a fiscal conservative. He currently serves on the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Healy has also taught accounting at Moraine Valley Community College, and is involved at St. Michael’s Church. He and his wife, Nancy, have four children, and four grandchildren.

Cynthia Nelson Katsenes

Katsenes has lived in Orland Park for 30 years, where her husband, Chris, practices law. She served as a trustee for the Orland Fire Protection District from 2001 to 2007. As a licensed real estate broker, Katsenes said she is committed to working on economic development, specifically the I-80 corridor, and keeping property taxes low.

Recently, she said the OIP slate unfairly blamed her for raising taxes during her term with the Orland Fire Protection District. But she said tax hikes were passed by referendum, and were needed due to “demands placed on our first responders” following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

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