By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
After briefly discussing whether to hold off on voting until December meeting, the Village of Niles Board of Trustees wound up voting unanimously to revoke the Special Use permit for Just Relax Chinese Massage.
Located at 259 Golf Mill Center, at Golf Mill Shopping Center, Just Relax closed June 2017 after its license was suspended due to allegations that one of its employees sexually assaulted a client. Owner Nancy Tran and the village subsequently agreed that she would close the business and not apply for another license for at least four years.
During the Nov. 28 village board meeting, Tran said that she was in the process of selling Just Relax to someone else. She asked the trustees to not revoke the permit, so that the new owner would be able to reopen in time to take advantage of the holiday season and honor gift certificates customers already bought. But the board ultimately decided not to grant Tran’s request. If the sale goes forward, the new owner will be able to apply for a Special Use permit in January at the earliest.
According to the Sept 12, 2017 findings of fact, Just Relax originally operated out of a kiosk space. Opening in 2008, it ran into issues after it started offering Chinese To Na massages. Any business that offers massage services of any kind must get a Special Use permit. Tran subsequently did that and the application was unanimously approved by both the Niles Plan Commission and the village board.
During the Nov. 28 meeting, none of the individuals that spoke got into any detail about the alleged incident. But according to an incident summary sent to the Bugle at the time, on June 21, employee Jun Liu was arrested for allegedly touching a female customer in an “insulting provoking manner” while she was getting a massage. According to the report, Liu lived on the same block as Tran’s corporate address.
The Bugle attempted to get comment from Tran, but her attorney, James Hyun, advised her against speaking to the media. During the board meeting, he described Liu as an “independent contractor” and said that the case against him was still making its way through the court system. Huyn said that the trial was scheduled some time in January 2018.
According to the copy of the notice provided by the village, the incident violated two sections of the Niles Code of Ordinances, enough grounds to suspend the license and begin the process of revoking it for good.
In Aug. 24, 2017, Tran and the village reached a settlement. While she didn’t admit fault, she didn’t dispute that the alleged violation happened. She agreed to surrender all of the business licenses and close Just Relax for good. Tran also agreed that she any of her company’s partners and employees wouldn’t apply for a business license for any kind of massage services business for at least four years.
During the Nov. 28 meeting, Hyun told the board that he and his client were under impression that the settlement with the village would allow Tran to sell the business, and that it would allow the space to keep a Special Use permit.
Geoffrey Gist, the attorney for the potential buyer, said that keeping the Special Use permit in place would allow his client to reopen Just Relax in time for the holidays and honor the gift certificates customers still had. He explained that the sales agreement with Tran would require the new owner to honor the certificates, but it also gave him the option of withdrawing from the deal if the Special Use permit is revoked.
Gist told the reporters that, to the best of his knowledge, his client didn’t have any familial or business relationship with Tran.
Village attorney Danielle Crcic told the board that, because the agenda for the December meeting of the Niles Planning and Zoning Board has already been set, if the Special Use permit is revoked, the new owner wouldn’t be able to have his application processed until January 2018 at the earliest.
Mayor Andrew Przybylo originally considered tabling the revocation vote until December meeting, but after the discussion with the board, he decided that having the new owner re-apply for the permit would be in Niles’ best interests.
“The only way out is to have a hearing, be transparent and have people talk about [what happened],” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do – to protect the reputation of Niles.”
Tran told the board that she wants to sell off Just Relax – especially since she still has to pay rent in on the space.
“My heart goes out to you, but you should’ve been watching your business,” he said, noting that, as a co-owner of White Eagle banquet hall for 40 years, he understood the challenges and the responsibilities of running a service-orientated business.
Przybylo invited the trustees to make a motion to table. When none did, the board proceeded with the vote, revoking the permit.
Dates removed from 2018 advisory referenda
The Village of Niles Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remove the fixed dates from three advisory referenda questions that were originally meant to be placed on the Nov. 6, 2018 election ballot, changing the language so that they would they instead go on the ballot “for the next available election.”
During the June 13, 2017 special meeting, the board voted to place six advisory referenda on the next two election ballots. At the time, activist Joe Makula strongly objected, arguing that, with only three refenda slots available per ballot, this makes it impossible for citizens to submit referenda questions until 2019. In Nov. 8, 2017, he filed a binding referendum for Nov. 6, 2018 ballot. If passed, it would ensure that, if the village puts one referendum on the ballot, they wouldn’t be able to put any more refenda on the ballot for any election that’s more than 180 days away. It would take effect on March 1, 2019.
Oct. 25, 2016, Makula filed a petition that would reserve two of the three referenda slots for resident petitions, but the Niles Municipal Officers Electoral Board threw it out because petition circulators didn’t properly signed to petitions, rendering them invalid.
Under the Illinois election code, a referendum can’t be placed on the ballot for any election that’s more than a year away. The Office of Cook County Clerk confirmed that, while the March 20, 2018 referenda made their way onto the ballot, the Nov. 6, 2018 referenda didn’t.
As previously reported by the Bugle, those referenda asked voters whether the village should build a “multi-purpose community center” somewhere on the existing village property, whether the “Village of Niles Community Development Department [should] continue to work with local school districts to enhance their ratings, ” and whether the village should modernize the Niles Historical Society building.
The change in the refenda dates was approved without any discussion as part of the consent agenda vote. Mitch Johnson, the Niles Communications and Multimedia Coordinator, said that the move came in response to a legal advice in the wake of Makula’s latest referendum submission.
“It was recommended that the Village amend the previously adopted referenda that specified the November ballot so that the referenda do not specify a specific election and simply go on the next available ballot, in order of adoption,” he said.