Illinois Public Media News
Prosecutors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will continue to question Joseph Cari Thursday morning. Cari is a former Democratic big-wig who previously pleaded guilty to attempted extortion.
Cari managed fund-raising during Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000.
So - Cari testified Wednesday - when he found himself on a private plane headed to New York with Blagojevich back in 2003, the governor asked him about setting up a national fundraising operation.
Cari says, on the flight, Blagojevich told him that, as governor, he could raise big bucks by giving out state contracts, and hitting up those businesses for donations.
Cari told the same story two years ago during the corruption trial of Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko.
On Thursday, Cari will likely detail the extortion attempt he's pleaded guilty to involving a state pension board.
Prosecutors say that was part of a broad conspiracy Governor Blagojevich took part in to enrich his campaign, himself and others.
Cari is cooperating with the government in exchange for a lighter prison sentence for himself.
The Subway restaurant chain has issued an apology for a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 80 people across 26 Illinois counties.
As state health investigators continue working to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, Subway corporate spokesman Kevin Kane said Wednesday the company was sorry for the problems.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says people began getting sick after eating in Subway restaurants beginning May 11.
Kane noted that all the cases cited by the health department are in people who ate at the restaurants before June 3. He said that since then, the chain has discarded and replaced lettuce, green peppers, red onion and tomatoes.
The 26 Illinois counties that were affected includes Champaign, Vermilion, DeWitt, McLean, Macon, Coles and Moultrie.
Champaign County voters could get a chance this November to give their opinion on a proposal for a smaller county board. County Board members voted Tuesday night in committee to put the non-binding resolution on the November ballot.
County Board Vice-Chairman Tom Betz says the proposal --- for a 22-member board with eleven two-member districts --- is a compromise. It's not exactly what he wants, but Betz says it's the version that the county board appears willing to put on the ballot.
"If you're going to change the structure, I think the public needs to get itself invested in it", says Betz. "This is the public's county board, it's not MY county board."
Betz believes a smaller Champaign County Board --- it currently has 27 members -- would be a more responsive body. But fellow Democrat Alan Kurtz says the current 27-member board with three members per district allows for more diversity.
"We have a tremendous background of everything from attorneys to hard-working farmers", says Kurtz. "And they give us their opinions, their experiences, their life experiences, and it helps me make a decision for my constituents as well."
Whatever the voters would say, the Champaign County Board would have the final say on how their board is constituted. A final vote on the referendum takes place next week --- six county board members were absent during last night's committee-level vote.
Also on Tuesday night, a measure to put another non-binding referendum on the ballot --- this one to ban video gaming machines --- received only five "yes" votes from the Champaign County Board. Gambling opponents say video gaming is too addictive. But supporters say the games --- which are soon to be legalized in Illinois --- will produce tax revenue that's needed to help fund highway and other state construction projects.
Family reunification accounts for nearly two-thirds of lawful permanent migration to the United States: it's the largest avenue by which people receive admission to the country. Yet, family separation remains a part of daily living for countless immigrants. A legislative effort in Congress focuses on family unity as a key component of immigration policy. Illinois Public Radio's Sean Powers examines the issues facing lawmakers and families.
(Photo courtesy of Sergio Cuellar)
The Champaign School Board received a promise of a classroom boycott if the new Booker T. Washington School project on the north side goes ahead without significant changes.
Terry Townsend and Robert Brownlee say the new Washington School's parking requirements and bus traffic will cause congestion. Townsend says he fears the school will lead to forced buyouts of homes to make room for parking, and higher property taxes that will lead to gentrification.
"They're going to force poor people out of their homes", says Townsend. "They're going to make it so it's very difficult for people that live there to continue to live there. And it's changing the character of that neighborhood.
Townsend wants a smaller Washington School to be built, and guarantees that neighborhood children be guaranteed seats in the new school. He says if the district doesn't change its plans, he'll organize a classroom boycott for the first week of school in August. But Champaign school board members are defending the new Washington School plans. Vice-President Susan Grey says the building will be an asset that local residents can use themselves.
"It can be a place for gatherings and community meetings", says Grey. "And I would certainly hate to think that the community in the Douglass Park area would think that we wouldn't want to open our school for community use. Because I think we will."
Meanwhile, the Champaign School Board approved bids Monday night for eight of the ten construction contracts for the new Washington School. The other two contracts came in over budget, and the district is downsizing some of its building plans in hopes of attracting lower bids.
Architects for the new north side school presented proposals last (Monday) night for using cheaper building materials in some parts of the new building, in the hopes of shaving 1-point-7 million dollars off the building's cost. Board member Greg Novak endorsed the changes --- but he warned against going too far.
"I mean the fact that we never did the grading we were going to do at Barkstall", says Novak. "It's come back to haunt us. There's been some things at Stratton that have come back to haunt us. So in some ways, I understand we need to make some cuts, and we need to do some trimming. And in some ways, I don't want to go too far in that direction."
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously to accept eight construction bids, while rejecting two. Changes will be made to the two outstanding projects, to make sure those two projects are less expensive, before resubmitting them for bids.
A University of Illinois Geology Professor says the discovery of a century-old construction problem in the Natural History Building produces lingering ones for research, and fall classes. Inspections of termite damage last week showed metal reinforcements were improperly placed on the building's addition in 1908. There's no time estimate yet for repairing the building.
Stephen Marshak directs the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment. He says a few summer classes had to be moved immediately to another part of the building. Marshak also questions how lab research will continue when staff can't gain access, and that a lot of lab materials are delicate, and can't be easily moved. Marshak says if part of the building is still closed this fall, classes with a lot of students will have to move as well. "So we're thinking of reconfiguring some rooms that are being used for other purposes in the stable part of the building to accomodate some of the geology classes in the fall," said Marshak. "We're not going to be able to set those up though until they give us the go ahead to actually move cabinets of rock specimens and cabinets of maps and things that we need access to. And right now, we're told that we're not allowed to move those yet."
Marshak says the U of I's Facilities and Services Department will determine when materials can be moved and where. Meanwhile, Marshak several offices are looking for a place to move to. He says until his staff knows what the time frame is for repairs to the building, departments will wait until moving their research to other rooms. Marshak estimates about 25 graduate students have been displaced.
Illinois coaches and officials are welcoming Nebraska to the Big Ten though few Illini teams have recent experience against the Cornhuskers.
Athletic Director Ron Guenther on Friday called Nebraska a good fit for the Big Ten. The Big Ten accepted Nebraska Friday after the Cornhuskers opted to leave the Big 12. The move is part of what could be major shift in college athletics. Illini football coach Ron Zook welcomed Nebraska's strong football tradition. Men's basketball coach Bruce Weber said he expects the Cornhuskers to be a tough opponent. Illinois football is 2-7-1 all time against Nebraska but the two haven't played since 1986. Illini men's basketball is 7-2 against the 'Huskers but hasn't played them since 1990.
A University of Illinois Administrator says the school can take the lead in moving some textbooks to the web.
A $150,000 grant from the U-S Department of Education will enable administrators to pick one or two books as a kind of pilot project. Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Evans says the first advantage of the funds will be saving students the cost of a textbook. But the U of I will also be able to share these open source textbooks with other schools, like Parkland College and Northwester, where professors on those campuses can add their own lessons. The grant is intended to last one year, and could be continued... but Evans says one hope is for faculty to initiate their own on-line textbooks.
"We know how to publish a textbook," said Evans. "So we want to wet their appetites to doing more in that work.- because there are commercial entities who are in this field already. We could go back for another grant to do more, but I think there are organizations and other corporations that would be interested in working with our faculty." Evans says the on-line initiative was spearheaded by US Senator Dick Durbin, who's been vocal about the rising cost of college textbooks. Evans says another key to the grant is helping community colleges. "Once we come up with a topic, we will bring in community college faculty to say, 'how can we best work with you in this topic?," Evans said. The grant was announced by U-S Senator Roland Burris' office on Thursday.
About 350 employees on the University of Illinois campus have a tentative contract agreement with their employer. The two-year agreement would cover about 350 visiting academic professionals - on Thursday night their bargaining unit announced that members had ratified the agreement. No details have been announced yet. The U of I Board of Trustees will vote on the tentative agreement in July.
The man appointed to be the next federal prosecutor for central Illinois has taken a big step toward the post. The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved James Lewis for the US attorney job. President Obama appointed Lewis, who's been an assistant in the US Attorney's office for the last 27 years. If the full Senate approves, Lewis would replace acting US attorney Jeffery Lang.
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