Illinois Public Media News
An exploratory committee is forming with hopes of learning in about a year whether Champaign can support a minor league baseball team. A former minor league owner, sports enthusiasts, and someone who helped lure a collegiate team to town in the 90's were among the 15 people at the group's initial meeting Monday night.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with committee chair Tony Johnston, who was tapped by Champaign Mayor Don Gerard to lead the group.
The Champaign County Board is prepared to take a straw vote Tuesday on whether to close the downtown jail, and expand the satellite facility.
But one activists group is opposed to what's been supported by Republican County Sheriff Dan Walsh and at least one Democratic Board member. County board Democrat Carol Ammons, who's also with CU Citizens for Peace and Justice, contends that the appropriate research hasn't been done.
"This is not a one time (payment) of putting up your building and the costs end," Ammons said. "This is going to be a recurring cost, which is not captured anywhere. That's why we're calling for a real study to be done. Of course, Mr. Betz does not believe that we need to invest any money into a real study. But I beg to differ. You're asking the taxpayers for upwards of $20-million with no actual study."
Ammons was referring to Democrat Tom Betz, who heads the county board's facilities committee. Tuesday night's discussion will focus on an engineer's report that focuses on structural problems with the downtown facility. Ammons also says the county's African-American Community will be adversely affected since more than half of those incarcerated locally are black. She says jail expansion is both a financial and a human development issue, saying expansion 'can't be discussed in a vacuum."
Republican county board member John Jay says he'll need a little more convincing before deciding the downtown jail is unusable. He also questions where the funding for the expansion will come from.
"We have some theories about some bonds coming due that we'll be able to utilize, but all that need to be laid out," Jay said. "I don't think that the amount that we orginally talked about is going to be close enough. The other thing that we really don't know, until we get into the process, what are we looking at? Are we looking at $25 to 35-million? I don't have a clue."
The county board study session is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, following a 5:30 press conference from the citizens' group.
Faculty leaders at the University of Illinois have passed a resolution claiming anonymous emails that led to the resignation of President Michael Hogan's chief of staff were part of a pattern of campus leadership trying to influence and pressure faculty.
The Faculty Senate unanimously passed the statement Monday. The statement claims the emails were part of "a broad pattern of surveillance and intrusion.''
Urbana Professor Joyce Tolliver, who's vice chair of the Senate Executive Committee, says the statement didn't seek any specific actions.
"The SEC thought it was important, and the Senate agreed with us today (Monday) that we make a statement saying that the actions that are documented in the investigative report do not represent us," Tolliver said. "Those include the actions of former chief of staff Lisa Troyer, Tih-Fen Ting, (a professor on the U of I Springfield campus who shared e-mails from faculty leaders, and resigned her post on the Senate), and Dr. Michael Hogan."
Troyer resigned earlier this month after emails were sent to some faculty. The emails tried to sway faculty who have been critical of an enrollment management plan favored by Hogan. Troyer has denied writing the emails but an independent investigation found her to be the likely author. The investigation did not implicate Hogan.
A report in the News-Gazette Friday indicated Troyer had been offered a full-time faculty position last week in the Department of Psychology.
Tolliver says she's surprised Troyer was offered the position so quickly after resigning as Hogan's aide.
"It appears that he made that statement without having first consulted with our provost and our chancellor," Tolliver said. "This is an appointment that, of course, needs to be discussed at the level of the campus. No matter what the result is of those discussions, those are discussions that are the perview of the faculty.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
According to a report released Monday by the Civic Federation of Chicago, Illinois' overdue bills will total more than $9 billion this summer, and that number could be nearly four times as much in just five years.
As legislators return to Springfield this week, they're facing a difficult situation. Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the state must act quickly to solve its fiscal problems.
"There's nothing politically easily left to do in the state of Illinois," Msall said. "The tax increase didn't solve the problem. We're going to have to start to say no and make painful choices."
The Civic Federation suggests cutting retirement benefits for government employees, reducing Medicaid costs and taxing retirement and Social Security income.
A major state-employee union sharply criticized the Civic Federation's recommendations.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the group calls for government workers to make sacrifices but not big corporations or wealthy individuals. It opposes borrowing to pay overdue bills but ignores the impact on businesses and community groups the state is failing to pay, the union said, and the report doesn't make clear that high pension costs are largely a result of the state failing to pay its share in the past.
"The federation's repeated omission of relevant context calls its credibility into question," said an AFSCME statement "Instead this document reads like a series of ideological conclusions searching for factual support."
In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn's office said employers "need to have a stake'' in paying for teacher retirement costs. The Democratic governor's also says he wants "aggressive restructuring'' of Medicaid, the health program for poor people.
Quinn gives his State of the State address on Wednesday and will formally propose a budget proposal on Feb. 22. He has called for "aggressive restructuring of the Medicaid system," a topic he may discuss in his address. He and legislative leaders have discussed cutting pension benefits for state employees and reducing costs for Medicaid. But it is not clear they will be able to agree on a plan, or whether legislators will be willing to vote for cuts in an election year.
Meanwhile, Illinois regional school superintendents are hoping they're not targets this year in the governor's State of the State address. State funding for Illinois' regional superintendents is being proposed for next fiscal year.
Last year Gov. Quinn suggested doing away with the 44 positions, then vetoed funding for their salaries in July. Illinois' elected regional superintendents oversee training bus drivers, GED testing, and school building inspections, among other things. Quinn justified cutting funding for the positions last year by calling the officials "bureaucrats."
President of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents Bob Daiber said they are working hard to educate officials about what they do.
"We think the greatest preventative measure is both the General Assembly and the governor to fully understand our significance and that we're not a part of any bureaucracy in Illinois," Daiber said.
The regional superintendents and their assistants worked without pay from last July until November, when legislators approved using money from a corporate property tax.
Exelon Nuclear says a reactor at its Byron Generating Station has shut down after losing power, and steam is being vented to reduce pressure.
Plant operators declared an unusual event at 10:18 a.m. Monday when Unit 2 shut down after losing power from an off-site source.
They say the facility's generators are providing power to equipment, and the unit remains in safe condition.
Officials say Byron Station is designed to vent steam in the event of a power loss. They say the steam contains low levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope, but not at unsafe levels.
Officials say engineers are investigating why the unit lost offsite power. Unit 1 continues to operate normally.
Byron Generating Station is in Ogle County, about 95 miles northwest of Chicago.
An Indiana Senate committee has endorsed the right-to-work bill, sending it toward a final legislative vote this week.
The Senate labor committee's Republican members voted 6-1 Monday to advance the bill to the full Senate. The committee's three Democrats boycotted the meeting in protest, saying there was no justification for rushing the bill through just days after the Indiana House approved the proposal.
The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday to give final approval to the proposal prohibiting contracts between companies and unions that require workers to pay representation fees. Gov. Mitch Daniels says he will sign the bill.
Supporters say such a law will make the state more attractive to employers, while opponents maintain it is a political attack on labor unions and will drive down wages.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is continuing to improve after a major stroke and has been upgraded to fair condition.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Richard Fessler says Kirk is alert, talking and responding well to questions.
The Chicago hospital released a statement Monday about Kirk's progress, a little more than a week after he suffered a stroke that's affected his left side.
Fessler says doctors are very pleased with Kirk's progress.
Kirk is 52 and was in good health when he was stricken.
Doctors believe a clot developed from a tear in an artery in his neck and lodged in his brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure and allow the brain to swell.
State officials are looking for ways to increase the number female prison guards.
The Decatur Herald-Review reported Sunday that the Illinois Department of Corrections wants to boost female and minority recruitment within the department.
Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano says female guards are critical at both male and female prisons. The state operates all-female prisons in Lincoln, Decatur and Dwight.
The announcement comes after a recent report by the Chicago-based John Howard Association on the Dwight Correctional Center. The watchdog group said that it received reports of inappropriate behavior from male correctional officers at the all-female prison.
The watchdog group's report alleges that "inmates expressed distress over lack of privacy.''
Corrections officials say the ratio of male to female guards throughout Illinois' prison system is 5.4 males to 1 female.
The Chicago Bears have hired Kansas City Chiefs director of college scouting Phil Emery as their new general manager.
Emery was an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004. He replaces Jerry Angelo, who was fired after an injury-riddled 8-8 season.
Emery and New England Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht were finalists and both interviewed twice.
The Bears also interviewed San Diego Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye, New York Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross, and current director of player personnel Tim Ruskell.
Two Champaign men are in custody in connection with the alleged beating and robbery of a man from Australia in Urbana last October.
17-year olds Dorian Wills and Ralph Grey made their first court appearance Friday afternoon. They're also facing counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and being held on $750-thousand bond following Friday's court apperance. A third arrest is expected, but 17-year old Anthony Davis is in the Department of Corrections, so it's not known when he'll be in court.
Champaign Detective Robb Morris says 33-year old Clinton Fookes had been in Washington, D.C. for a conference, and was visiting with computer science faculty at the U of I.
Morris says the man had apparently lost his way on the evening of October 20th when walking from downtown Champaign into Urbana, and five men lured him into a stolen van. He says the men sought out to find someone with money on them.
"More than one of them admitted when they left a house they'd been at earlier in the evening, their intent was to find an easy mark for a robbery," Morris said.
Morris says Fookes was left for dead in a barn on far North Mattis Avenue in Champaign, but was able to flag down a car the following morning, and was treated at Carle Hospital for a laceration to the back of his head, concussion, broken nose, cuts, and scrapes.
Morris says property stolen from Fookes linked him to those arrested. He doesn't expect further arrests, since the other two men in the van didn't play a role in the attack.
Morris says Fookes is now recovering at home.
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