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Tucked Away in the Mediocrity of Proviso

Bill Dwyer 31 January 2008 6 Comments

Proviso District 209 School Board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch is one of those curious political types who operates in the relative anonymity of Proviso township.

Situated two miles west of the city’s border, just beyond Oak Park, Proviso township is home to an array of folk who have hacked out their own little fiefdoms in the hinterlands, far away from the attention of the major media, or, for that matter, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois.

An ambitious attorney and would-be political player, Welch is a mediocrity who’s excelled only at fooling voters into believing he places the interest of students and taxpayers ahead of his own self interests. Welch spent over $200,000 to be re-elected in 2005 to the non-paying job of D 209 school board president, but hasn’t managed to move beyond the district where he grew up. He was crushed by incumbent Karen Yarbrough by a nearly 3-1 margin in the 2006 Democratic primary for 7th district state representative. As 209 board president Welch has bumbled and stumbled through a series of management disasters.

Through it all, he has maintained both iron fisted control of the board and a sphinx-like face to a local media that’s done it’s best to shine a light on his endless shenanigans.

Welch has fewer and fewer supporters in the district. But for the past 17 months he’s gotten consistent support from an anonymous website called the Proviso Insider. The website touts itself as “a web log where you can find unbiased, straightforward information about politics that affect Proviso township.”

In fact, the Insider’s content is heavy on hyperbole and insinuation, short on facts and substantiation. Its primary purpose appears to be flinging mud at various people, mostly those critical of Welch and the operation of District 209. The posts never feature a writer’s byline, so the author’s content has been a topic of speculation, though nothing’s been proven.

Until now.

Mark Sterk and Burt Odelson, two politically connected lawyers who caught big globs of the Insider’s mud on their suits, are alleging that Welch and the Insider website are- surprise, surprise- one and the same. An amended lawsuit charges that Welch and assistant Emily Robinson (who was Welch’s press secretary during his failed 2006 state representative campaign, and assisted in his 2005 school board race) authored several libelous post on the web site that defamed the two attorneys.

Last July 19, Odelsen and Sterk contend, the Insider accused them of suborning perjury. After Melrose Park police commander Ric Cervone was named in a federal

indictment, the Insider posted, “Sources tell the Insider that Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk of Odelson & Sterk, Ltd law firm will be indicted next by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Sources tell the Insider that Mark Sterk was the attorney advising SD89 Board member Ric Cervone on how to lie to a grand jury.”

“Are Burt Odelson and Mark Sterk crooks?” it asked in conclusion. “Will they be indicted next?”

On August 21 Odelson and Sterk filed a libel/slander suit in Cook County Circuit court, naming Proviso Insider and “John Doe” as defendants. On Dec 21 the two men amended their suit, naming Welch and an assistant as defendants.

The Insider wasn’t always so hard on Odelson and Sterk. In December, 2006 an Insider headline trumpeted

“D209 Lawyer Burton Odelson Respected By All…”

“The Insider has learned that Proviso School District 209’s lawyer, Burton S. Odelson, is also the lawyer for the stars,” the website fawned. “Many think, without Odelson, Proviso would not have been able to secure and negotiate a deal for the Proviso Math and Science Academy.”

That was all before Welch began working to elbow Odelson and Sterk off the D 209 payroll to make room

for Melrose Park mayor Ron Serpico’s favorite law firm, Giglio & DelGaldo. Once the D 209 board majority began alleging over billing by Odelson and Sterk, the

Insider started taking shots at them.

Chris Welch is no stranger to defamation lawsuits. He’s filed three libel suits himself against political opponents and critics, though he dropped all three without settling. Unfortunately for Welch, Sterk and Odelson aren’t likely to drop anything short of a hefty settlement.

If proven, the suit may eventually provide the final nails in Welch’s political coffin. Besides trouncing Welch in the State Rep race, Yarbrough bounced Welch’s political mentor, the County Recorder of Deeds Eugene “Gene” Moore, from the Proviso township Democratic committeeman post. If Moore loses his recorder of deeds position to 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith in the Democratic primary February 5, his career is over, Welch loses his key ally, and Yarbrough becomes the undisputed big dog in Proviso Township.

Meanwhile, Welch is doing his best to paper over D209’s problems with any factual veneers he can lay hands on, even as his leadership continues to drag its schools through the muck of academic mediocrity.

District 209- which includes Proviso East High School in Maywood, Proviso West in Hillside and the Proviso Math and Science Academy – ranks dead last out of 90 high school districts in Cook County. But with The Insider happily filling their bong, Welch and his coterie of political and administrative hacks go on indulging in hazy pipe dreams of accomplishments they’ll never realize.

In a breathless November 21, 2007 post headlined, “Proviso High Schools On The Rise!!! (The Insider just loves exclamation points), then wrote, “The Insider has learned that Award Committees around the state are looking at Proviso High Schools for possible

recognition. The District is a candidate for the Baldridge Award, an award that recognizes school

district’s for academic excellence.” That award, named for Reagan era Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige, recognizes businesses and governmental entities that have exhibited exceptional performance and achievement in their fields. The awards will be announced in February. Yet The Insider ended its post with “Kudos Proviso!”

That’s a bit like a journalist celebrating because His editor nominated one of his articles for a writing award. I stand a better chance of breaking a Brian Urlacher tackle than District 209 does ofvwinning recognition for academic or administrative excellence from any bona-fide assessment organization.

Meanwhile, nearby Oak Park River Forest high school, which spends just a few hundred dollars more per student more than Proviso, yet unlike Proviso pays its starting teachers more than its janitors, was named one of the top 435 high schools out of 18,000 in America by US News and World Report.

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Bill Dwyer is a regular political columnist for The Chicago Daily Observer.

6 Comments »

  • Anonymous (author) said:

    This column exposes the ugly underbelly of municipal politics as practiced in the suburbs. Unlike the City of Chicago, which has a full time Corporation Counsel, the suburbs often rely upon hired attorneys to provide legal services on an hourly basis.

    These are lucrative assignments and frequently some of the lawyers choose to engage in politics to maintain their lucrative positions. A change of administrations may mean that the billable hours end after the election results are final. Some of the law firms competing for this business actively participate in political campaigns. It is an ethical problem that is seldom addressed publicly since news reporting in the suburbs is minimal.

    Burton S. Odelson is the parliamentarian to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. In his capacity as a notary public, he acknowledged John Stroger’s signature on his letter of resignation that paved the way for the appointment of Todd Stroger to fill his father’s vacated position as candidate for President of the County Board of Commissioners.

  • Wally Doubter (author) said:

    wow!

  • Proviso Watch Dog (author) said:

    Karen Yarbrough is no angel. As a public official elected to serve, Yarbough has instead robbed tax payers in secrecy. Her campaign has accepted several thousands in contributions from the Village of Maywood attorney’s and she has fleeced the taxpayers of Broadview for three years by occupying her state office and political campaigns from Broadview village owned property rent free. We have footed the bill for Yarbrough for three years and that is dispicable. Where is her $70,000 per year rent stipened going? In er pocket?!

    Don’t make the mistake, in your dislike for Welch, of trading off one corrupt machine for a worse corrupt machine.

  • Bill Dwyer (author) said:

    Not making any mistake about Yarbrough, Watch Dog. Go to the Forest Park Review website http://forestparkreview.com/main.asp?SectionID=3&SubSectionID=3&ArticleID=2906&TM=42437.35

    I address some concerns about Yarbrough, in my latest column there, concluding, “Time will tell if (Yarbrough taking over) is a positive development, or merely, as Pete Townsend put it, just more “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

    When dealing with Proviso politics, unfortunately, you have to take things one muck covered step at a time.

  • Bill Dwyer (author) said:

    Let’s try that again…

    http://forestparkreview.com/main.asp?

    SectionID=3&SubSectionID=3&ArticleID=2906&TM=42437.35

  • Carl Nyberg (author) said:

    Giglio and DelGaldo recently changed the firm’s name to something like the DelGaldo Law Group.

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