As the new year approaches, so does the end of a full year of news at Lemont Patch.
Looking back on 2011, it's hard to believe everything that happened. From a robbery at Lemont National Bank and a fake bomb threat at the Willis Tower, to an all-consuming school board election and resignation of a superintendent, there was no shortage of news in our little town.
Here's a look at our top 10 most-viewed stories of 2011, according to our internal metrics:
Former District 113A Board Member Janet Hughes was the subject of quite a few news stories in 2011, including two lawsuits against the district and her controversial bid for re-election in the April consolidated election.
Hughes, who served on the District 113A Board from 2009 to 2011, entered the race as a write-in candidate after she was removed from the ballot in January for failing to properly bind her nominating petition.
Ultimately, the challenges of a write-in campaign proved too great for Hughes, who came in last out of 10 candidates with 981 total votes (850 in Cook County, 131 in DuPage).
In an effort to further reduce expenditures, the District 113A Board of Education voted in March to cut about 10 full-time, certified staff members for the 2011-2012 school year. The cuts included two administrators, six tenured teachers and 2.5 non-tenured teachers.
According to district documents, the reduction was projected to save the district approximately $695,329.
Under the financial plan approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, District 113A is required to eliminate borrowing and build fund balances over the next two years by reducing expenditures and/or increasing revenue. The district has been operating under the plan since it was certified in financial difficulty by the state in December 2009.
On Aug. 30, Lemont Patch broke the news that officials from the Illinois State Board of Education were considering a financial oversight panel for District 113A. The information was presented to the board that night by Superintendent Tim Ricker, who had received a call earlier in the day from ISBE Division Administrator for Business Services Deb Vespa.
According to Ricker, Vespa told him State Superintendent Christopher Koch and Chief Financial Officer Linda Riley Mitchell were likely going to submit a recommendation to the state board that District 113A be placed under an FOP. They are requesting that representatives from District 113A attend the next ISBE meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 27 and 28 in Bloomington, IL.
Although District 113A officials put on a united front and planned to prepare a presentation for the state board, they were notified Sept. 13 that ISBE officials any discussion of financial oversight.
In a phone interview that night, District 113A Board President Mike Aurelio said he and Board Member Al Malley, the district's finance chair, had been working closely with State Sen. Christine Radogno's office since learning about the recommendation last month.
The two board members attended a meeting at Radogno's office on Monday for a phone conference with Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). Together they put together information that addressed the state's concerns, Aurelio said.
Radogno spokesperson Patty Schuh said the senator spoke with ISBE officials Sept. 13 regarding District 113A and reported that she and Durkin felt that discussing a financial oversight panel later would be "premature."
The priority for district officials at that point was to submit various financial documents to demonstrate financial stability to the state. The 2011-12 budget, along with the district's 2011 Annual Financial Report and state-approved financial plan, was to be reviewed by ISBE staff to assess "the financial soundness of the district," according to ISBE spokesperson Mary Fergus.
Back in Fall 2010, the Lemont rumor mill started spinning at rapid pace when news broke that Disney singer-actress Demi Lovato, then 18, had checked into rehab at Timberline Knolls, a local residential treatment facility.
In April 2011, Lovato opened up about her experiences in interviews with People magazine and ABC's 20/20, admitting she had received treatment at Timberline Knolls for cutting, bulimia and anorexia. She also learned she was suffering from bipolar disorder, she said.
From Oct. 30 to Jan. 27, Lovato received intense in-patient treatment at Timberline Knolls, which specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, substance abuse and addiction, and mood disorders in women.
"I worked harder in those three months than I ever did in my life," Lovato told People about her time at Timberline Knolls. "I basically went through hours of therapy every day. ... It was a battle, but I stuck it out."
On Oct. 14, news broke that District 113A Superintendent Tim Ricker was planning to announce his retirement during the school board's Oct. 18 meeting. His final day with the district was to be June 30, 2012—a full year before his original contract with the district was set to expire.
Following the Oct. 18 board meeting, in which the retirement request was unanimously approved, Board Member and Spokesperson Lisa Wright said she was not surprised by Ricker's decision to seek early retirement, and that he was "simply exercising his right ... allowed under his contract."
"He has expressed a desire to spend more time with his family," she said. "He did express that same sentiment some time ago."
Last week, however, Ricker's tenure with District 113A was cut short following the news that the district currently owes more than $328,000 to the state for made for the 2008-09 school year. Ricker, having known about the audit adjustment since February, apologized to the board Tuesday for not informing them sooner.
On Wednesday, Board President Mike Aurelio called an abrupt special meeting for Friday night, citing issues related to employment.
Following a nearly three-hour closed session meeting, school board members voted unanimously to approve a with Ricker, effective Dec. 31.
Current Asst. Superintendent Mary Gricus and the district's administrative team will oversee operations until the board names an interim superintendent.
On March 3, Lemont Patch launched There, readers could find everything they needed to know about their local election, including voting locations, candidate biographies and referendum information.
In order to consolidate nearly two months of coverage into one location, we created an Election Log, where we posted updates several times a week. The log contained everything from news briefs to information on organized candidate forums.
One of Lemont's most heartbreaking stories of the year came in early August, when 25-year-old Jeremy Asbell was found dead in a Lemont retention pond. It wasn't a crime story (no foul play was suspected), but it involved emergency responders from nearly a dozen surrounding towns so we thought we'd include it anyway.
According to Lemont Fire Chief Carl Churulo, Asbell was reported missing Aug. 2 after he and a friend were tossed from a canoe that capsized on a pond near Frontage Road and Woodward Avenue. Crews discovered his body after two days of searching the pond.
Preliminary results of an autopsy indicated Asbell died of an accidental drowning, according to a release from the DuPage County Coroner's Office. The report also stated that there is no indication of foul play or suspcious circumstances.
Asbell was a 2004 graduate of Romeoville High School, where he wrestled and played football. On his Facebook page, he listed his current residence as Darien and his hometown as Bolingbrook.
With nine candidates running for four open seats and a $20 million referendum question on the ballot, the April 5 consolidated election was all about District 113A—at least in Lemont.
Throughout the night, Patch posted updated results as election totals began rolling in four each of Lemont's 17 precincts (14 in Cook County, three in DuPage). It was one of the busiest traffic days of the year for Lemont Patch as voters anxiously awaited the final results.
We've filed this one under "What Were You Thinking?" in this year's archives.
In August, 19-year-old Lemont resident Julija Petraityte was arrested at the Willis Tower after telling a security guard that her friend had a bomb, Chicago police said.
According to a Chicago Tribune report, Petraityte made the joke after the guard asked her friend if she had taken all the items out of her pockets. When the guard warned her it wasn't funny, Petraityte repeated her statement.
Police said there was no actual bomb.
Petraityte was charged with one count of felony disorderly conduct—making a false bomb threat, police said.
Lemont's biggest crime story of 2011 came in the final weeks of the year, when the Lemont National Bank on State Street was robbed.
Police responded to a hold-up alarm at the bank around 5 p.m. on Dec. 13. Employees reported a man had handed a note demanding money to the teller. After the man implied he had a weapon, the teller complied and the man fled the bank with an undisclosed amount of money, police said.
Within 11 hours, Lemont police tracked down and arrested Gerald C. Tysko, a 33-year-old homeless man who police describe as a "serial bank robber." He was charged with bank robbery and aggravated robbery, police said.
Following Tysko's arrest, Patch learned that Lemont police tracked him down using a local cab company. According to a source at the company, Tysko walked to a nearby Lemont bar and called a cab immediately following the robbery.
Police ultimately tracked his cab to a motel in Bridgeview.
Tysko remains in Cook County jail on $250,000 bail. He scheduled to appear in court Jan. 5.