Illinois Public Media News
In a reversal of a previous "no" vote, the Champaign City Council has voted to 6-2 to accept its share of a federal grant aimed at curbing underage drinking in Champaign-Urbana.
Urbana and the University of Illinois are also involved in the grant, but the Champaign City Council last month rejected its portion, 11-thousand dollars a year for three years, to fund police efforts to curb underage drinking.
But after the director of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County made a personal plea, enough council members changed their minds Tuesday night to turn last month's "no" vote into a "yes" .
Marci Dodds was among those who switched, even though she thinks the city doesn't need the money, and believes it would be better to combat problem drinking at any age, rather than all drinking by minors.
"In understanding the ramifications of what this means to the Mental Health Center at large, I will vote for it," said Dodds, "because I greatly support what the Mental Health Center does. But I am not thrilled with the plan."
The $360,000 3-year grant will also fund education programs aimed at preventing underage drinking, under the sponsorship of the Mental Health Center. City Manager Steve Carter says the grant is aimed at both policing and prevention --- and if Champaign rejected its portion, it could endanger the entire program.
Every spring, school boards in Illinois announce tentative layoffs, known as RIFs or 'reduction in force' notices. The majority of those receiving RIF notices are usually hired back by the next school year. But that may not be the case with the Urbana school district.
The Urbana School Board voted last Tuesday night to give RIF notices to 139 employees - both teachers and other staff. That's almost 3 times as many RIF notices as were given last year. And they include some of the 20 positions that were eliminated by the Board as part of budget cuts approved Sunday evening.
More than half of those getting RIF notices are usually hired back, once grant funds are received and the state budget is finalized. But Urbana school officials say it's not clear how many of the teachers and staff receiving RIFs will be hired back. And School Board President John Dimit said these RIF notices do not take into account the budget cuts proposed by Governor Quinn in recent weeks.
"Quite honestly, the budget as presented by the Governor would have made those cuts deeper, way deeper," Dimit said.
Dimit says they've been warned to expect the state's budget problems to extend for several years. In fact, the Urbana School Board will start looking ahead to the 2011-2012 school budget after next week's spring break. Looking this far ahead isn't typical. But Dimit says there are certain decisions the Urbana Board will need to make that will require advance planning.
The staff affected by the RIFs will be notified today Wednesday.
Champaign-Urbana's Big Broadband proposal cleared a major hurdle last Tuesday night. The Champaign City Council voted 7-1 to accept a federal grant to help create a new high-speed fiber broadband system --- despite worries about possible future costs.
Champaign is saying yes to a $22 million federal grant plus $3.5 million in state funding to pay for the core infrastructure of the broadband system, plus fiber-to-the-home broadband installations in underserved neighborhoods. Councilman Tom Bruno says the system will give Champaign-Urbana a competitive edge with businesses for the next few years.
"We will have better connectivity than other similar communities," Bruno said. "When somebody trying to decide where to invest, or where to bring the jobs, will like Champaign-Urbana a little bit more than some other city, we will be a little bit ahead of the curve."
But accepting the broadband grant also commits Champaign to spending $688,000 of its own money. Along with Urbana and the U of I, Champaign will become a retail broadband provider, a risk that worries Mayor Jerry Schweighart, who cast the only vote against the project.
"I see a lot of pitfalls on this, and it's going to cost the cities a lot of money at a time when we don't have a lot of money," Schweighatr told council members. "I hope I'm wrong, hope it's highly successful. But I cannot, after reading everything, convince myself to support it."
The Urbana City Council takes its own vote on the Big Broadband project next week.
The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling Thursday in a taxation case that could affect dozens of not-for-profit hospitals in Illinois.
The case involves Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. In 2004 it lost its property tax exempt status because county officials determined the hospital did not provide enough charitable care. State revenue officials agreed, but an appeals court reversed the lower court's decision against Provena. At issue is whether Provena still owes local governments more than a million dollars in property taxes a year since the initial decision. The case is on the high court's list of decisions to be released Thursday - both sides argued before the justices last September.
After a hiatus since the new year, Illinois is once again requiring those who lobby Illinois government to sign in with the Secretary of State. As of Monday, lobbyists can once again register.
Illinois was set to charge lobbyists one thousand dollars each beginning in 2010, nearly triple what most had been paying. But the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging that was too high a price to put on speaking to elected officials. A judge agreed that the registration price should be tied to the cost of lobbyist regulation and threw out the law. But that left Illinois without a registration program until now.
The Secretary of State's office has told lobbyists they must register, but the office will not collect a fee at this time. Cindi Canary with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform says it's the right move.
"We all know that Illinois is just in an absolutely dire budget situation," said Canary. "So people are competing very fiercely for very limited dollars, and the public has a right to know who's trying to influence their government."
Lobbyists have until the end of this month to register. Once lawmakers set a new fee, lobbyists must pay it or their registration will be terminated.
Some 300 people gathered at a public forum in Champaign Monday night to discuss ways to improve relations between police and the African-American community. The meeting was organized in the wake of October's police shooting of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. The need for better communications and mutual respect were common themes in the discussions.
City Manager Steve Carter says a report summarizing the comments and findings from last night's forum should be ready in a week to ten days. It will be sent to forum participants and posted on the Champaign city website.
With just an hour to discuss longstanding obstacles, there wasn't much time at the forum to get into details. Still, 16-year-old Lavon Miller says he learned a lot from the Champaign police officer who was part of his group.
In Miller's view, the police handle their patrols of white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods differently. The 16-year-old notice how officers "patrol different, they wave their hands in the Devonshire, Cherry Hills area, Centennial area. They wave their hands to the people standing. And they wouldn't really say nothing to the people in the north end, they'd be just really rude to the people that come into."
Miller says the officer at his table said the residents of predominantly black neighborhoods who call for police help want to see a change, so they come in more forcefully.
At another table, police Sergeant Robert Rea aaid he hadn't realized some of the perceptions that people have of his work. He says he doesn't treat African-Americans differently from whites, but he understands opinions can differ.
"Two people can see the exact same thing from totally two different perspectives", says Rey, "and they can both be right. So I think that's one of the things we need to talk about and figure out why people are perceiving things that way."
Champaign Police Chief RT Finney says that with so many people from different backgrounds talking together, he expects to obtain ideas from the forum that will help improve policing and police-community relations in the city
City Manager Steve Carter says a report summarizing the comments and findings from the forum should be ready in a week to ten days. It will be sent to forum participants and posted on the Champaign city website.
A lawsuit that complained that thousands of mentally Ill people in Illinois are being treated unfairly is about to be settled.
The settlement orders the state to transfer 256 people from larger institutions to smaller homes or apartments over the next year, with nearly 400 more transferred next year. Over the next five years the agreement between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union would affect about 4500 mentally ill Illinoisans.
Diane Zell heads the Champaign chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says too many people left institutions only to be warehoused in nursing homes not designed to care for them. She fears that the state's economic situation may not mean a smooth transition for many of those people.
"Most poeple who have serious mental illness have not completed their education, and they may not be employed, at least not employed to the extent where they have health insurance," said Zell. "So this is a problem that won't go away."
Nevertheless, advocates of the mentally ill are hailing the agreement as a landmark. The settlement needs a judge's approval and both sides have requested a hearing to consider the specifics of the plan.
More than 250 people have signed up for Monday night's Community-Police forum at the Hawthorn Suites Hotel in Champaign. The city of Champaign organized the event in the wake of last October's police shooting death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington. His death put a spotlight on long-standing frictions between police and African-American youth in Champaign.
Deputy City Manager Joan Walls says a diverse group of people have signed up for the forum --- including young people and other community members, neighborhood leaders and police. She hopes their discussions will shed light on ways to break down the barriers that have hindered police-community relations.
"When you get over 250 people in a room", says Walls, "who are committed, who recognize and realize that a tragedy has occurred in our community --- and that it's something we can all agree that we never want to happen again. And whatever it takes for us to pull it together, to really recognize what some of the issues might be, but not only that, identify what the workable solutions are going to be."
While registration for the forum's small group discussions has filled up, Walls says anyone interested can check with the Champaign community relations department to see if there are any last-minute openings. The public can also attend as observers --- and submit their own answers to the forum's main questions through a survey at the city of Champaign website. The Monday night at the Hawthorn starts at 6:30.
The Champaign County Board of Health is waiting for a consultant's report before it tries to resolve a dispute with its services provider.
The C-U Public Health District provides core services for the county through a contract. The county tried to renegotiate that contract early, in order to force re-negotiations of its terms. But the Champaign County Board refused to approve a one-year termination notice.
Stan James is the County Board's Liaison to the Board of Health. He said the consultant was charged with determining exactly what public health services the county is mandated to provide and to describe what options the Board of Health would have if they ended their service contract with the Public Health District.
Not all Board of Health members appear to agree on the value for money of the CU-PHD's services to the county. James indicated his first choice would be to continue working with the Public Health District.
Meanwhile, James wants more information before moving forward: "Moving forward right now we're paying the bills, we're gonna wait for this consultant's report and then find out for sure what's mandated by the state... Hopefully (we'll) sit down with public health and keep working at this. Right now, I think they're doing, in my mind, a great job. "
The consultant's final report is expected in April. The Board of Health is scheduled to meet March 30th.
A group representing University of Illinois faculty members say they want access --- if not a vote --- to the Board of Trustees.
The University Senates Conference --- which represents faculty senates on all three U of I campuses, is asking the Board of Trustees to grant a non-voting ex officio seat for a faculty representative on several of the board's standing committees. That representative would also present a brief report at each board of trustees meeting.
Urbana campus education professor Nick Burbules presented the request at Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting. Burbules says the university's financial crisis may require major changes, but that those changes can't occur without faculty support.
"If we are to be partners in the sacrifices ahead, we need to be partners in the conversation about those sacrifices", said Burbules, reading a statement prepared by the University Senates Conference. "If major and potentially disruptive institutional changes are on the horizon, the faculty who are being asked to continue their unflagging efforts on behalf of this institution, must believe that these changes are about continued academic excellence, and not just cost-cutting."
Burbules says the Faculty Senates Conference would like a faculty member to one day have a vote on the Board of Trustees. But he says that's not part of their current proposal --- instead the non-voting faculty member would keep trustees abreast of what's happening on the U of I campuses, and discuss ideas with them. A bill that would provide faculty with a voting seat on the board passed an Illinois House committee Wednesday. It would also make nearly half the voting seats on the board elected, not appointed.
U of I Board Chairman Kennedy Christopher Kennedy says he's inclined to support the faculty proposal, in the interests of shared governnance. But he wants to poll other trustees before making a formal response.
But Trustee Carlos Tortolero indicated his support right away for inclusion above the committee level. "I, for one, would like to see the day when, instead of being in the back room, you guys are at the table with us", Tortolero told Burbules. "I think that's what partnership is."
NOTE: This story was revised on 3/12/10, to note that the Faculty Senates Conference request applies to board activity at the committee level, and to note Illinois House legislation affecting the Board of Trustees.
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