Illinois Public Media News
Like other nursing homes, the Champaign County Nursing Home has faced delays in state payments, numerous complaint investigations and trouble with staff retention. The Champaign County board hired a management firm to address these problems in 2008, and a week ago a new administrator stepped in at the nursing home. Effingham native Chuck Schuette replaced former administrator Andrew Buffenbarger, who took another position within the management firm. Schuette spoke with CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey about his plans for the job.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence is consulting "The Donald'' as he kicks his run for governor of Indiana into gear.
Pence spent Tuesday morning in New York meeting with Donald Trump. At one point both men considered running for the Republican presidential nomination but both opted out. Pence is running instead for governor.
A Pence spokesman did not say what the two talked about and said Pence is deeply committed to Republicans running in Indiana's 2011 elections across the state Tuesday.
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said Pence should have spent Election Day campaigning for Hoosiers rather than meeting with Trump.
Pence has touted his work for local candidates in the 2011 campaign as he works to connect with Hoosiers statewide after spending the last decade representing the 6th District in Washington.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
An Illinois House committee has approved a new, smaller gambling plan that backers hope can survive a threatened veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.
It passed 8-2. Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the measure could be changed even more before a vote by the full House. Lawmakers approved a major gambling expansion during the spring legislative session. But they never bothered sending the bill to Quinn out of fear that he would veto it.
The Democratic governor has a number of concerns, particularly the idea of allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks. After the governor panned it, Lang pushed for the smaller proposal. The new proposal would still allow slots at racetracks but not at Chicago airports. It also lowers the amount of growth allowed for existing casinos.
"I'm sure even the governor would say we have made a good faith effort to match up some of the governor would agree good faith effort to match up some of our ideas with some of his ideas," Lang said.
However, despite the changes Lang said he still expects the governor will oppose it.
The lure of additional gambling in Illinois has some communities on opposite sides of the issue.
When riverboat gambling was legalized more than 20 years ago, it was sold as a way to boost tourism and the sagging economies in certain towns. Now communities like Rockford, Danville, even Chicago want in on the action. The idea of a quaint trip gambling down the river is long gone. It is all about money and jobs.
"We fit in that original description of an economically depressed community," Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said. "I'm not happy to say that but what i am happy to do is to stand here and fight for an opportunity to bring jobs to our community."
The city is one of five that would be allowed to add gambling under a package being considered at the capitol. An earlier effort met resistance from Gov. Quinn and mayors whose towns already have casinos. Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said his town has used proceeds from gaming on projects.
"We built a police station, we built a recreation center, and those days will be rapidly disappearing for us," Kaptain said.
Kaptain also raised concerns about slot machines at horse tracks, which he says would take money from existing casinos.
A 5-year old mass transit district that started up to keep Champaign-Urbana's MTD from expanding could take some time before asking its voters what level of bus service they want, if any.
Board members with the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District suggest they may wait until November 2012 to place an advisory referendum on ballots. Southwest MTD chairman Ed Vaughan says its board needs the time before then to come up with an education campaign.
"And it makes more sense doing it then because you get a bigger turnout at the election, and we get a much larger sample of our electorate by using the November election," he said. "So we're able to hear what they want."
At Monday night's Southwest MTD board meeting, Vaughan cited a recent meeting with about 80 residents of the Lincolnshire Fields subdivision. He says two people indicated they want more bus service, while 25 said they wanted none. The Southwest MTD board Monday night delayed a formal vote on the referendum, as well as its tax levy ordinance until December. Vaughan says it's possible that levy could go down, since its primary expenses have been legal, and that fight is over.
The Southwest MTD was left in limbo after Illinois' Supreme Court last spring refused to hear its legal battle with the Champaign-Urbana MTD, saying both transit districts could co-exist. Meanwhile, there's still a chance the two could contract service together. A letter to Vaughan from CU-MTD manager Bill Volk says a specific proposal would be needed for any additional services. And he says whatever service the CUMTD would provide would need to be 'in concert with the adopted Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study's Long-Range Transportation Plan' (CUUATS.)
The Southwest MTD Board meets next December 8th.
Champaign County citizens will choose an auditor next year in the March primaries and the November election, and at least four candidates have been collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.
Champaign County citizens will choose an auditor next year in the March primaries and the November election, and at least four candidates have been collecting petition signatures to get on the ballot.
The auditor's office has been a controversial one in Champaign County. A referendum to eliminate the office as an elected post was on the ballot last April --- voters turned it down, by a vote of 57 percent to 43 percent. The question was put on the ballot, after News-Gazette reports in 2009 that analyzed phone and email records to conclude that current auditor Tony Fabri spent little time at the auditor's office.
In response, Fabri said he is a full-time auditor, even if he is not always at work. Fabri resigned his chairmanship in the Champaign County Democratic Party so he could devote more time to the auditor's job. And, as his first full term draws to a close, the controversy has brought out other candidates for auditor, who have joined the chorus of Fabri's critics.
John Farney of Urbana, the only declared Republican candidate, works in the county clerk's office. He is a GOP precinct committee member, who ran unsuccessfully for a Champaign County Board seat in 2006. Farney said Fabri doesn't stack up to Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, who won a close election 35 years ago to become the first in an unbroken string of Democratic Champaign County auditors.
"I remember if you wanted to see Republicans on the county board pulling their hair out and red-faced, it was because Laurel Prussing was questioning the way they did things," Farney said. "That's what we need in the auditor's office, somebody that's willing to go out and ask those questions and make people defend the way they're spending the taxpayer's money."
Farney said he would draw on his experience in the county clerk's office, and his prior experience as a newspaper reporter to make sure he gets the answers he needs about county finances.
Farney may have the least experience with numbers and finances of all the declared candidates for auditor.
But none of the candidates claim they would do the actual auditing if elected. Democrat George Danos of Champaign, whose financial background includes jobs in the healthcare and insurance industries, said he would work to make sure county government is fiscally responsible, based on the recommendations of his staff.
"They're there 8-to-5, crunching numbers," Danos said. "When issues come up, that are political in nature, or involve a conflict of interest, that is the duty of the county auditor, to engage in collaboration or confrontation along those lines."
When Republicans dominated Champaign County government, it was easier for a Democratic auditor to say they would protect the county from the other party's fiscal mistakes. But with more Democrats in county government today, the current candidates all say party affiliation doesn't define them.
Ben Carlson of Champaign is a self-described conservative Democrat who works in the insurance industry.
"No party affiliation should be where the auditor's at. It's not about whether I'm a Democrat or a Republican," Carlson said. "It's about working together with the other county board members and the team in the office, as well as in the county."
Another issue the auditor candidates come together on is the need for greater public transparency. One popular idea is putting county financial records online. Democrat Kevin Sandefur of Royal said he wants to put information online that is easy for people to search through and understand.
"You don't want to be creating extra work for the people in the auditor's office," Sandefur said. "They already are doing an outstanding job under the circumstances. But I think that if you had somebody who actually showed up for work, then they would be able to pick up some of that slack, in terms of making the information available to the public."
In an email to Illinois Public Media earlier this month, current auditor Tony Fabri said he did not yet have a "solid answer" on whether he'll seek re-election. If Fabri decides to run for auditor again, it is not too late. The window for submitting ballot petitions to the county clerk for the March primary is Nov. 28 through Dec. 5.
Work on the John Street storm sewer project in Champaign means motorists will have to take a detour when using Prospect Avenue, starting next week.
Prospect Avenue will be closed at John Street for three weeks, starting Monday, Nov. 14, so that a section of the new sewer can be installed. Champaign City Engineer Roland White said the scope of the work requires a complete closure of the street.
"We looked at this early on, and we determined that with the depth of the excavation being some 12-to-14 feet, 9-foot diameter manhole being installed, with large heavy equipment moving around, that the complete closure of the intersection was the safest and fastest way to get the work complete," White said.
Detours will be marked during the closure --- using Neil, Mattis, Springfield and Kirby Avenue to get motorists around the street closure on Prospect. White said he hopes motorists will avoid residential streets when driving around the closure on Prospect.
This is the last work on the John Street sewer project to be done this year. White saod the street will be clear through the winter, and work on the sewer will resume in the spring.
The University of Illinois' investigation of inflated test scores at the School of Law has determined that one person was responsible for inflated grades and entrace exam scores being posted online.
Former college assistant dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Paul Pless was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 7, and resigned from the U of I last Friday. The investigation determined that the College reported and/or publicly disseminated inaccurate LSAT and GPA statistics with respect to the class of 2008 and the classes of 2010 through 2014.
Urbana campus Chief Legal Counsel Scott Rice said the law school lacked adequate control to prevent, deter, and prevent such actions. With the help of data analysis firm Duff & Phelps, the U of I included a set of eight recommendations to prevent such incidents from happening again.
"We did find that there was too much concentration of authority in one individual," said attorney Theodore Chung, who led the investigation.
Chung said in trying to explain what happened, Pless claimed he never knowingly did anything wrong. He says the former dean had a solid reputation, and that may have been one reason the inaccurate data took a while to be discovered:
"Frankly, it was very striking to the investigative team how well he was regarded and how universally well he was regarded," said Chung. "To my mind, that is one of the explanations why the issues weren't detected earlier. He didn't do anything in his own professional or personal life that raised a red flag."
Meanwhile, Chung said the law school has encouraged College of Law Dean Bruce Smith to correct all erroneous data, conduct a comprehensive review of control procedures, and implement "best practices" for staffing and operations in the admissions office.
Smith issued a formal apology to the legal-academic community, the U of I, alumni, and students. "This investigation has concluded that a single individual - no longer employed by the college - was responsible for these inaccuracies," he said. "The college takes seriously the issue of data integrity and intends to implement the report's recommendations promptly and comprehensively.
Illinois lawmakers head to Springfield on Tuesday for the last week of the fall session.
Several big items have been pushed to the back burner, including a bill that would overhaul Illinois' pension systems. It's proving to be one of the most radioactive issues in the legislature this year. And that's why lawmakers might put it off -- again.
Putting it off, however, won't make the state's financial picture better. Gov. Pat Quinn in September announced he needed to close seven prisons and homes for the disabled because there is no money to keep them operating. If his decision stands, it will mean a major reshuffling of the mentally ill, some of whom were sent to institutions because they're dangerous. It could mean relocating adults and children who have severe physical disabilities.
There are many examples of the budget crunch. The state is so far behind paying its bills, it had to stop a program that helped fund burials of poor people whose families couldn't afford to bury them.
"We're broke, as everyone knows," said Ty Fahner, a former Illinois attorney general and president of the Civic Committee, which focuses on economic growth.
His group has been pushing legislation that would make state workers, teachers and others pay more toward their retirements. Because the state is so far behind paying its share to their retirement accounts, there is little money left over. The debt grows each year, taking a bigger share of the state budget.
State Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park) is chairman of the House pensions committee.
"I don't think there's any member of the General Assembly who doesn't realize this is a problem we have to do something about," he said.
But lawmakers seem to be gearing up for their final week of session without addressing the single biggest budget pressure facing taxpayers.
"This all comes from basic cowardice, and I mean that word sincerely," said Fahner who believes lawmakers are more focused on their re-eletion campaigns than on the state's budget crisis. Goups that oppose the bill are powerful. Unionized teachers and state workers are hounding lawmakers with phone calls and e-mail. And union leaders are determined to run candidates against incumbents who support the idea of making their members pay more.
The unions say the reason the state is in this mess is the state's fault, not theirs.
Even legislators will admit they used the pension system as a credit card. When there wasn't enough money for schools or health care for the poor, they made a smaller payment into the retirement accounts of workers, thinking eventually they would catch up.
But it didn't stop there.
They also made pension benefits more expensive over the years. They made retirement ages younger for certain groups. They made retirement income go up each year, higher than the cost of living, through a compounded 3 percent adjustment. And they added more workers.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego is sponsoring a bill to overhaul the pension system, and he is ready for a vote on it this week.
"We could sit here and point fingers, but I think this is the issue of the day, and if we don't address pensions, it will consume us like we've never seen before," he said.
Lawmakers meet for three days. So far, it looks like they'll be asked to vote on a tax cut package for businesses and maybe a casino bill.
But the state' s biggest money crisis - pensions - just might get kicked to the spring.
The days may be limited for Urbana native Roger Ebert's weekly show "Ebert Presents: At the Movies," which premiered in January on public television stations across the country.
In a blog post, Roger Ebert says the show will likely be canceled at the end of its current season because of a lack of funding. The longtime film critic says after Kanbar Charitable Trust gave the program an initial $25,000 donation, he and his wife have been footing the rest of the bill to keep the show on the air.
"I believe a program like this is needed on television," Ebert wrote on his blog. "On "Ebert Presents," a new Johnny Depp movie can get two thumbs down (or up, or a split decision) from two intelligent people who will tell you why they voted that way, and challenge one another. Movie coverage on TV is otherwise so intensely driven by marketing that some programs actually cover the marketing itself."
Ebert said that he had hoped other contributors would come forward to underwrite the program, but he said that hasn't happened. Chuck Koplinski, a film critic in Champaign, said with more people getting their movies reviews online, the possible demise of At the Movies is simply a sign of the times.
"They don't want an in-depth discussion of film," Koplinski said. "They want to see if it's worth...if it has enough laughs or enough scares or enough thrills for them to throw their $9 on. I think that this happening to him is just the latest step in the death mill for intelligent film criticism."
"At the Movies" is hosted by Associated Press reviewer Christy Lemire and Mubi.com film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
Ebert said he has to decide this month if his show will return next year.
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