Illinois Public Media News
Residents and supporters of a tent community for homeless people made their case to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night.
Neighbors of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House in Champaign had complained about disorderly people living outdoors in tents. But Catholic Worker volunteers say the tent residents now enforce rules banning such behavior. Jesse Masengale is one of about a dozen people living at what has become the Safe Haven Tent Community on the Catholic Worker House grounds. Addressing city council members Tuesday night, Masengale said, "We have established agreed-upon rules, policies and procedures. We have the benefit of following rules already established by legal tent cities from across the country."
One such tent city is Dignity Village, which the city of Portland Oregon recognizes as a transitional housing campground. Supporters of Safe Haven say Champaign city officials could do the same. But Councilwoman Karen Foster says the tent city worries the neighbors and clearly violates the city zoning code. She says it should go. "If they are in need of housing", says Foster, "then -- like we did with the Gateway people -- we can try to work with them to try to find them affordable housing."
Fosgter referred to the crisis that residents of Gateway Studios suffered in May, after the owner failed to pay utility bills and the property closed down. But Safe Haven supporters say that incident illustrates a shortage of affordable housing that the city needs to address.
Council members Mike LaDue, Deb Feinen and Will Kyles said they'd be willing to meet with people from the Catholic Worker House and Safe Haven. But Foster and City Manager Steve Carter say Safe Haven residents will eventually have to fold their tents.
Governor Pat Quinn began today the process of cutting 2,600 state jobs while sending a portion of the budget back to lawmakers with recommendations on how to cut $1 billion to help balance it.
Quinn could have made some of the cuts himself, but instead chose to veto a budget bill and leave it to lawmakers.
Lawmakers aren't due back at work at the Capitol until next week, but Illinois has been without a spending plan since a new fiscal year started July 1 with Quinn and lawmakers at an impasse over the budget.
Quinn wants an income tax increase to help fill a budget deficit he estimates at $9.2 billion, while some lawmakers have said they wouldn't even consider a tax increase without cuts, spending reforms and government efficiencies.
One of the programs targeted for budget cuts is Illinois Cares Rx, which serves low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Governor Quinn has proposed cutting the program by $40 million, or 25 percent.
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services says that would affect about 150,000 people. They would not lose their coverage completely, but they would have to pay more for their medicine.
The state commission that's investigating allegations that political clout was used to get underqualified students into the University of Illinois is meeting again.
The commission will meet Wednesday in Chicago.
Governor Pat Quinn formed the panel last month to look into the university's admissions system after word of the use of clout first surfaced in the Chicago Tribune. The commission is led by former federal Judge Abner Mikva and is due to issue a report next month.
Among those scheduled to testify is Heidi Hurd, former dean of the College of Law. She's now a law professor.
During testimony Monday, an assistant dean said that over four years, the university forced the law school to accept 24 students with political connections who wouldn't have been admitted otherwise.
The city of Champaign's township buildings streets could be up for sale.
Offices for the township supervisor and assessor are located in two adjacent buildings at the corner of Green and Randolph, south of downtown Champaign. Township Supervisor Pamela Borowski says she's been approached by two commercial Realtors, representing investors interested in re-developing the entire block. Borowski would not give their names. She told Champaign City Council members Tuesday night that if the properties were sold, she'd like to move township offices into a single building.
"I have started looking at properties to potentially purchase or lease," Borowski said. "We haven't nailed down any particular properties yet, although there are a couple that are of interest to me."
Borowski says buildings she's looked at include the former Urban League building. She says if township offices are moved, she wants them to stay in or near downtown Champaign --- as a convenience for General Assistance clients using shelters in the area. And she says the new site would need enough parking for people visiting the township assessor's office.
Borowski says she'll have more details on a possible new site for township offices at an August 4th township board study session. Borowski says that after that, she'll likely ask for a special town meeting where Champaign voters could discuss and vote on the proposal.
Illinois is leading the nation in bank failures so far this year, and a banking group warns that more failures are likely.
Regulators say the state's top ranking is largely because Illinois has more banks than any other state.
Illinois has seen 12 banks fail in 2009. The next highest is Georgia with nine failures and then California with six. Six of the Illinois failures came last week with the shut down of six banks owned by a single company, including Danvulle's First National Bank and John Warner Bank in Clinton.
Experts say they were brought down by investments that went bad. All have reopened with new owners. The Illinois Bankers Association says Illinois has far more banks than any other state, so more failures are likely.
West Nile Virus is back in Champaign County this summer after a very light season for mosquitoes last year.
That shortage of mosquitoes meant no reports of the virus in mosquito pools, animals or humans in 2008. Sanitarian Michael Flanagan of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health district says a trap in the city of Champaign yielded a positive test result in recent days. However, he says it's no reason to panic.
"Starting now, since that we've found this virus in Champaign County, it's time to become more aware of your clothing and mosquito protection for people," Flanagan said.
West Nile disease has led to deaths in Illinois and other Midwest states in previous years. But health officials say many cases are mild, sometimes leading to no overt symptoms. Flanagan says the best protection against the disease is keeping away from mosquitoes - wearing light-colored clothing, using repellent and dumping any standing water on your property.
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Chancellor of the University of Illinois's flagship campus in Champaign-Urbana admitted his role Monday in getting politically connected applicants accepted to the school.
Testifying in Chicago before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, Chancellor Richard Herman said the university should abolish its practice of admitting students based on clout.
Herman said he typically got 40 recommendations a year-most of them from trustees. He admits he was often the one with the final say over whether politically connected students were admitted. In one instance, Herman a trustee passed along a request to admit a student from then Governor Rod Blagojevich.
"Did I follow that directive?", said Herman. "Yes. That was a rough 24-hour period for me personally, and I am apologetic about it."
Herman said he wanted to "compensate" the law school for taking the trustee's "dicey" student. So he asked the trustee to find five jobs for graduating law school students. But Herman denies any quid pro quo.
The chancellor said he believed at the time that admitting the students would help the U of I, by showing they were being responsive.
Commissioner Maribeth Vander Weele wanted to know who the university was being responsive to. "By donors? By legislators? By the governor's office?", she asked.
"I suppose the answer to that would be yes", Herman replied.
But Commission Chairman Abner Mikva said the "responsiveness" might look very different to an Illinois resident whose own child was denied admission to the U of I, while the child of someone with an inferior record but superior clout was let in.
"Wouldn't you be very upset?", asked Mikva, asking Herman to put himself in that resident's shoes.
"I think that is really the reason for this hearing, sir, and I would be," said Herman.
"Especially since you know your tax money was paying at least 18 percent of that university's bills", continued Mikva.
"Agreed, sir," replied Herman.
Herman testified in Chicago, before the commission, which was set up by Governor Pat Quinn to investigate the role political influence played in student admissions to the University of Illinois.
After his testimony, a reporter asked Herman if he felt his job was on the line, "I feel I can continue to go forward," said the chancellor. "I feel I, others perhaps, but I made some mistakes --- from which I've learned."
Herman says he now supports an end to the U of I's so-called "Category I" list of politically connected students --- a list which the university has already put on suspension. He also promises to enact reforms such as requiring all requests on applicants' behalf to be made in writing.
The Admissions Review Commission is due to issue its report next month.
Authorities have identified the victim of Monday's fatal shooting on Danville's east side.
Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson says 45-year old Bennie W. Moten was shot multiple times... and died a short time later at Provena Good Samaritans Medical Center. A second victim... a 37-year old male whose name is being withheld... was treated and released.
Danville Police Deputy Director Doug Miller says his department received a call at 9-30 Monday morning of two shootings at the same location on South Cleveland Street. He says the second victim was able to walk to a nearby car wash and contact authorities.
"We're still trying to piece together exactly what happened," Miller said late Monday afternoon, "but it appears there were several suspects involved in the incident, and numerous shots were fired at the victims."
Miller says any witnesses to the incident or those who know more about what occurred should contact Danville Police's Criminal Investigation Division at 217-431-2245.
School officials in Champaign County have identified 355 homeless children attending local public schools --- mostly in the Champaign and Urbana districts. A government grant pays for their textbook fees and other charges. Now a private grant will provide money for emergency situations.
Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation Executive Director Gail Rost says resolving emergency problems are key to keeping homeless kids in school --- and that's the first step to a good education. "So if there's a child whose family has slept in the rest stop and doesn't have a coat, we can buy that coat", explains Rost.
The United Way of Champaign County is providing 6-thousand dollars a year for two years to pay for the emergency needs of homeless schoolchildren. But Rost fears that may not be enough. She says the money they sought was meant to pay for the needs of about 200 school children, and their number has grown about 75-percent since the application was made. Rost says that with 355 homeless schoolchildren in Champaign County, the United Way grant amounts to "less than 20 dollars a kid" per year.
The Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation teamed up with the Regional Office of Education of Champaign and Ford Counties to apply for the grant. School social workers who identify emergency needs can draw on the grant funds through the R-O-E.
Three of the six elementary schools in the Urbana School District failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress, under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools achieved the standard overall, but not for the subgroup of Economically Disadvantaged Students. To make the grade this year, 70 percent of students in each school and each subgroup had to meet or exceed state exam standards.
District 116 Assistant Superintendent Don Owen says the schools came close --- and better test scores from less than 20 students would have brought the three schools up to the federal standard.
"We're going to take a very active role with the three elementary schools that did not make AYP, to make sure that their School Improvement Plans are really focused on closing achievement gaps," says Owen.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools do not face any sanctions, because this is the first year they've fallen short of federal standards.
Wiley, Prairie and Martin Luther King Schools in Urbana all made Adequate Yearly Progress, as did Urbana Middle School. District 116 officials are still waiting for the results from exams at Urbana High School.
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