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Local News

Joliet alley spat: Who started it?

Neighborhood advocate John Sheridan is trying to find out why the alley behind his house was reopened a week ago after neighbors successfully petitioned the city to close it eight years ago.

The alley was considered a safety issue because of thieves, drug dealers and speeders who took advantage of it, Sheridan said.

"That's how we ended it was to close the alley," Sheridan said. "It worked real well."

The alley was closed on one end to thwart getaways but remained open on the other to provide access for people who lived there.

But the posts were removed a week ago after Mayor Bob O'Dekirk told staff he had heard complaints from neighbors and wanted it reopened.

Sheridan, who also is president of the Cunningham Neighborhood Association, believes his public disagreements with the mayor may have more to do with the alley being reopened.

O'Dekirk said the fact that Sheridan lives along the alley had nothing to do with it being reopened.

"John's a friend," O'Dekirk said. "I can't show favoritism to friends."

"I'm his friend, huh? That's a new one," Sheridan said when he heard of the mayor's comment. "I don't understand what he's saying because obviously we're not friends. I cut that relationship because of his politics with the city. I don't consider him a friend."

Sheridan worked for O'Dekirk's election in 2015 but has since been at odds with the mayor on key issues, speaking out at City Council meetings on city manager and police controversies.

O'Dekirk said he sought the reopening of the alley after hearing from residents in the area.

"I got a handful of complaints the last couple of months on it," O'Dekirk said. "I asked staff if they knew why it was blocked, but no one knew why,"

Interim City Manager Jim Hock said he gave the OK after being told by staff that the mayor wanted it reopened after hearing complaints.

Hock called it "a head-scratcher" as to why the alley was closed in the first place.

"Don't you think he should have checked?" Sheridan asked.

Actually, there's a file at city hall on the closing of the alley in the 1100 block of Center Street.

"I was involved with that," Public Works Administrator Greg Ruddy said.

Ruddy said there is a procedure in Joliet for closing alleys similar to one used for restricting parking on residential streets. The residents along the Center Street alley followed that process when it was closed off in 2012.

The closing of the alley was not an issue as far as Ruddy knew until early 2019 when he learned of complaints from the mayor.

"He (O'Dekirk) had contacted me," Ruddy said. "I wasn't contacted by a resident. He said he had been contacted by people who asked that it be opened up."

Ruddy said he discussed the background of the alley with the mayor. The question of reopening it was put off with the idea that the city would develop a policy. But that never happened.

Unlike closing alleys, there is no procedure in place for reopening them, Ruddy said.

He does not know of any other closed alley that has been an issue.

"An alley closure is pretty rare, and I don't think that we've had any other situation where someone requested to reopen one," Ruddy said.

That includes other closed alleys in the Cunningham neighborhood.

Sheridan said there are at least seven alleys in the neighborhood that have been closed over the years. Some of them have been closed so long that grass grows in them.

"Some of these have been that way since before I moved out here in 1963," he said.

Sheridan said he does not know of anyone who wanted it reopened. Three neighbors have complained to him since it was.

Sheridan said it was a former neighbor, Dave Papesh, who circulated the petition to close the alley.

Papesh now lives in Rockdale but lived in the Cunningham neighborhood for 60 years. The alley, he said, had become a source of trouble and an escape route for thieves.

"We had three bicycles stolen out of our garage. A neighbor had a go-kart stolen," he said.

Papesh decided to ask neighbors if they should close it off.

"All but one single person decided that would be a good idea," he said.

Although he doesn't live there anymore, Papesh still thinks it's a good idea.

"I'd talk to the mayor," he said, "if he wants to discuss it."

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