Herald staff pick Fox Valley's top stories of 2009

  • Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay and Sheriff Pat Perez have not seen eye-to-eye on what must be done to close a $1.2 million budget gap in the sheriff's office.

    Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay and Sheriff Pat Perez have not seen eye-to-eye on what must be done to close a $1.2 million budget gap in the sheriff's office. James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff

  • As the saying goes, dogs are a man´s best friend. But for Lake in the Hills resident Troy Evert, it's a lemur named Ringo. But Evert and village officials don´t see eye to eye on this and the village board has given Evert 90 days to find another home for Ringo.

    As the saying goes, dogs are a man´s best friend. But for Lake in the Hills resident Troy Evert, it's a lemur named Ringo. But Evert and village officials don´t see eye to eye on this and the village board has given Evert 90 days to find another home for Ringo. Courtesy Troy Evert

  • Elgin football player Winfred Cooper, left, and Lake Park assistant coach Nana Agyeman, right, acknowledge the crowd's chants of

    Elgin football player Winfred Cooper, left, and Lake Park assistant coach Nana Agyeman, right, acknowledge the crowd's chants of "Coop, Coop, Coop!" as Cooper crossed the field to thank Agyeman for his chance to score a touchdown. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Cary-Grove's team walks off with the first place trophy at the 6A state football championship.

    Cary-Grove's team walks off with the first place trophy at the 6A state football championship. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Published: 12/31/2009 12:00 AM

Money, money, money, money - how to run schools, cities, villages and Kane County with less of it - dominated public discourse throughout the year.

The Kane County Board and some elected department heads, including the circuit court clerk and the sheriff, picked at each other for months, after the board chairman mandated a midyear budget cut.

Elected officials contend they have duties to perform required by state law, and that the county board must find a way to pay for those duties.

County board members countered that the county could not continue to use reserves to pay its bills. The clerk has threatened to sue the county.

Sugar Grove put 25 of its employees on two unpaid furlough days - Veterans Day 2009 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2010 - and shut village hall and public works departments the week after Christmas, to fight a budget deficit.

Employees could use vacation time in that post-Christmas shutdown, or were not paid.

Batavia will start charging residents $36 per house per year for brush and leaf pickup, laid off several workers, encouraged the early retirement of others, and cut back on Christmas decorations.

And the Batavia school district cut spending on many things, including bus travel for teams attending state postseason tournaments, as it made its 2009-10 budget.

In Elgin, the city enacted two rounds of layoffs.

Most recently, 18 union employees were laid off in November to save $1.2 million in the 2010 budget.

City leaders have pledged not to raise taxes in an effort to close the budget gap of more than $5.5 million.

City officials are working with the fire department union to cut $1.5 million in costs for 2010.

Meanwhile in Cary, recurring deficits finally forced the Cary Elementary District 26 school board to take action this year.

Pledging earlier in the year to balance the 2010-11 budget, the board is taking a series of dramatic steps in hopes of closing a budget gap expected to grow to more than $5 million at the end of the 2010-11 school year.

The board in November voted to close Maplewood School, the oldest and smallest elementary school in District 26.

While district officials said the move would save operating costs in the face of declining enrollment, parents pointed to the school's high academic achievement and many said they moved to Cary so their children could attend Maplewood.

In the new year, board members will continue to weigh about $5.4 million in budget cuts proposed by the administration in November.

The district will not, however, seek help from Cary residents in the form of new taxes.

After parents spoke out against a proposed 2010 tax increase that district leaders hoped would erased half the deficit, the board decided in a close November vote against going to referendum.

In Algonquin, a bankruptcy filing left an incomplete building in the center of the downtown.

Riverside Square, an upscale residential building still under construction at Route 31 and Route 62, was to include 54 condominium units and 12,000 square feet of ground-level retail space.

But construction came to a grinding halt in January after Aspen Homebuilders, the Algonquin-based firm hired to build the project, filed for bankruptcy protection after defaulting on a $13.5 million loan from AMCORE to complete the building.

AMCORE began foreclosure proceedings against Aspen, but dropped them in exchange for Aspen surrendering the deed to the bank.

Algonquin is now seeking various fines from AMCORE Bank related to project in the form of eight property maintenance and building code violations that carry fines between $25 and $1,000 per day.

A hearing on the matter has been scheduled for late January.

Besides money, 2009 was also year of new leadership, inspirational stories, new case filings and allegations of corruption.

McHenry misdeeds

After battling through a brutal primary campaign to win re-election in 2008, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi may have had reason to breathe a sigh of relief upon the new year's arrival.

But news began to leak early in 2009 of a secret grand jury meeting at the McHenry County courthouse to investigate allegations a former secretary, acting at the behest of Bianchi's political rivals, copied then removed thousands of computer documents from his office.

The secretary, Amy Dalby, ultimately was charged and convicted of a misdemeanor computer tampering charge, but Bianchi did not end up looking much like a victim.

Dalby, a college student at Northern Illinois University, said she removed the files to prove she was required to perform campaign-related duties for Bianchi while on county time. The documents, eventually made public, appeared to show Dalby had typed letters to political supporters and tracked donor lists from her computer in the state's attorney's office.

The revelations eventually led McHenry County Judge Gordon Graham to appoint former Lake County Chief Judge Henry Tonigan III as a special prosecutor to look into whether Bianchi did anything wrong. The results of Tonigan's investigation, expected to be released in the first half of 2010, could be among next year's top stories.

As in McHenry County, Gary Gauger and the three former McHenry County sheriff's detectives he accused of framing him for his parents murder and putting him on death row finally got in 2009 what they've been waiting on for 16 years: their day in court.

Gauger, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for his parents' 1993 murders on their Richmond-area farm, was suing the detectives for $20 million.

His lawsuit alleged they falsely claimed he confessed to the killings, then used the false confession to have him convicted.

The ex-detectives - Gene Lowery, Beverly Hendle and Chris Pandre - denied wrongdoing, testifying that Gauger admitted to the killings later linked to two members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club.

After a two-week trial in August, and five hours of deliberations, a McHenry County jury sided with the detectives, ruling that even though they got the wrong man, they had probable cause to arrest Gauger and did not act with improper motives.

Gauger's legal team has filed a motion asking a McHenry County judge to overturn the verdict and, if that fails, they are expected to appeal the decision.

Sisters spared

In another court case closely watched in Kane County, two Geneva sisters convicted of neglecting their elderly mother in the final weeks of her life were spared prison time Friday.

Kane County Judge Allen M. Anderson sentenced Jill Barry, 55, and Julie Barry, 48, each to 24 months of conditional discharge, 150 hours of community service and a $750 fine. The sisters, convicted in August of criminal neglect of an elderly person, had faced up to three years in prison.

"Any sentence imposed by me will not change or alter the harm done to Mrs. Barry," Anderson said, referring to the sisters' mother, Mary Virginia Barry, who died seven days after paramedics found her covered in open bedsores and severely malnourished in the family home April 20, 2007.

Crushed by a car

In another court case that has grabbed local attention, a Streamwood woman accused of running down and killing an Elgin teen with her car may try to have her murder trial moved out of Kane County, due to the media coverage the case has generated.

Timera D. Branch, 33, faces first-degree murder charges in the Nov. 8 death of 17-year-old John W. Keyes III, who died after he was crushed against an Elgin apartment building on the 200 block of Center Street.

Dixon, who said Branch intends to plead not guilty, criticized authorities for allowing the public release of police affidavits that say Branch's 16-year-old old son beat Keyes in the head with a baseball bat after Keyes was struck, and that her sister and other son, 13, were in the vehicle with her.

Dixon said he has yet to see the affidavits, which were covered in the Daily Herald and other media outlets this week.

The killing happened, according to Keyes' relatives, a day after Keyes punched Branch's 16-year-old son in a feud over a girl.

Hello, goodbye...

New faces seemed to be the rule in Carpentersville and Elgin, where voters were ready for change.

The Carpentersville village board underwent an overhaul in the April election and the changes started at the top.

Incumbent village president, Bill Sarto, was handily defeated in a three-man race for the mayor spot.

Ed Ritter moved from a trustee seat to the village president seat after defeating Sarto and challenger Jim Krenz.

In a stunning victory, Ritter tallied 47 percent of the votes, while Sarto languished with about 16 percent of the vote.

Incumbent trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski was also defeated in her attempt to retain her board seat with voters electing two newcomers to the board, Bradford McFeggan and Patricia Schultz.

Trustee Kay Teeter was re-elected to another term in office.

In Elgin, a new era began at city council when voters decided not to re-elect longtime incumbent trustees John Walters and Juan Figueroa, who had been on the board for 22 years and 10 years respectively.

But the voters did return Robert Gilliam to the council - with 36 years on the dais is the longest serving member.

Voters replaced Figueroa and Walters with John Prigge and Richard Dunne.

As well, Mike Warren was voted to succeed former Trustee Mike Powers, who had resigned with two years left on his term.

Prigge and Dunne have 4-year terms along with Gilliam.

For a Lake in the Hills family, 2009 was the year they bid farewell to their 6-year-old pet lemur.

Ringo had been living with the Troy Evert family in Lake in the Hills for a few months, but had been their pet for four years when they lived in McCullom Lake.

The village board said the furry nocturnal primate had to leave Lake in the Hills though, because the town has a ban against residents keeping wild animals as pets.

Ringo, who left the Everts in September, now lives in Marengo at Corbin's Exotic Pets, where his new roommates include an albino wallaby, a rose-hair tarantula and a kinkajou.

The good news

On a happier note, Sherman Hospital in Elgin completed its new $355 million, 645,000 square foot hospital that offers 255 beds on the city's west side.

While the new Sherman opened in mid-December, the old Sherman on Center Street on Elgin's east side will be transformed into a 24-hour immediate care facility where patients can be treated for non-life-threatening ailments.

As well, a pair of sports teams from Cary Grove High School triumphed this year in the state championships.

The Trojans won two state athletic titles within two weeks - first in girls volleyball and then in football.

The football team defeated Providence Catholic 34-17 on Saturday to win the Class 6A title - the football team, which went a record 14-0 - the first undefeated football squad in school history.

A week earlier, the volleyball team earned its trophy by defeating Lyons Township in the Class 4A finals.

With nearly everyone in the school decked out in Trojan blue and white to celebrate the accolades during a recent rally, Principal Jay Sargeant made early note of the two trophy wins by calling the school "Title Town."

"It took 48 years to break the ice, but (winning) two state titles in two weeks certainly gives you a little bit of swagger," Sargeant said.

Finally, Winfred "Coop" Cooper, an Elgin High School senior football player with severe autism, touched readers hearts this fall with the story of his Sept. 12 touchdown against Lake Park High School.

Coop hadn't played much all year. Lake Park Coach Nana Agyeman knew that and had made an earlier offer to Dave Bierman, Elgin's coach.

The two coaches devised a play called "Driver Driver," named after Packers' wide receiver Donald Driver.

During the second half of the game, Driver Driver was called.

The ball was snapped. Coop found an opening, caught a wobbly pass and began running like there was no tomorrow - amassing a full 67 yards.

"He has always been near and dear to the hearts of everyone at Elgin High," local father John Glowinski, of Carol Stream said. "I can promise you that anyone in Elgin who read (that) story said, 'My gosh, look what happened for Winfred.'"

Daily Herald Staff Writers Larissa Chinwah, Charles Keeshan, Kerry Lester, Jameel Naqvi, Susan Sarkauskas and Josh Stockinger contributed to this report.