Illinois Public Media News
Seven months after coming into office on a vow to clean up government, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed new laws making public records, board appointments and state spending more transparent.
Quinn was joined at Monday's signing ceremony by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She'd championed the legislation to strengthen the state's public records laws.
The new law includes training so public employees know how to comply with public records laws, and it gives the attorney general's office more authority in public records cases.
Madigan's office sought changes in the law to prevent abuse by state offices that looked for ways not to comply or to delay.
Quinn also signed laws that make it easier to get information about the state's boards and commissions and state spending.
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
Champaign residents could start seeing more flyers on their cars and doorknobs soon, if the City Council goes ahead with plans to repeal a prohibition against the advertising practice.
Right now, only political and religious groups can leave a flyer on someone's doorknob in Champaign. And it's illegal to leave flyers of any sort on someone's windshield. But after a company that distributes such flyers argued that the ban violates the First Amendment, the council decided to revisit the issue. Council members unanimously endorsed ending the ban on doorknob flyers at Tuesday night's study session. But the council split 5 to 4 on ending the windshield flyer ban. For Councilwoman Marci Dodds, letting commercial handbills be plastered on windshields was too much.
"I don't have a problem with political and religious handbilling. I'm not fond of it because it just one of my pet peeves. But I don't see that commercial (handbilling) falls in the same category as that in the slightest," Dodds said.
But other council members said that the First Amendment wins out and that the council should repeal any law that they believe to be unconstitutional. Council member Tom Bruno said if Champaign resident gets an unwanted handbill on their car or door, they can exercise their own first amendment rights.
"I think a resident who gets an unwanted handbill should take the time to phone the business or the politician and say I'm really upset by this and I'm not going to do business with you," Bruno said.
The council will take a final vote on the issue at a later meeting.
The Champaign School Board passed resolutions, and introduced new policies last (Monday) night related to the recently concluded Consent Decree for racial equity.
The school board had promised to enact the resolutions and policies as part of its settlement with the Consent Decree plaintiffs. And Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says board members are keeping their word.
"It means that our board is committed to equity and excellence for all students, and that we don't require court oversight to do what we believe is right," Sheppard said. "We want to show the community that we mean what we say."
The resolutions were passed unanimously. One reasserts Unit Four's commitment to the Consent Decree promise of adding new classrooms on Champaign's north side. The other resolution promises to continue the Academic Academy alternative program for at least two more years.
The policy proposals commit Unit Four to equity in its special education program, and in deciding school opening and closings. There will also be a new committee to monitor the school district's success in providing equity in education. The Champaign school board votes on the policy questions next month, after a 30-day public comment period.
The Consent Decree --- which for eight years dictated how the Champaign school district should address racial disparities in education --- is being lifted. The school board and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached an agreement yesterday (Wednesday) that's meant to lift the financial burdens of the consent decree, while keeping its accomplishments in place.
The Unit Four School Board ratified the settlement agreement on a 6 to nothing vote last night. And that gave Board President Dave Tomlinson the chance to say something he had been waiting to say for a long time.
"With this agreement, all court and attorney oversight for the decree has ended," Tomlinson announced to reporters following the school board meeting. "Unit Four has satisfied all of the requirements of the decree, and all motions to extend the decree will be dropped,"
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had filed motions seeking the extension of the Consent Decree on three issues --- north side classrooms, special education and alternative education. But plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley says the extension is no longer needed, because the settlement agreement commits Unit Four to several measures meant to follow-up on those issues --- from an equity policy committee to review the district's progress, to passage of board resolutions confirming plans for the additional classrooms.
Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley has worked on the case since the first civil rights complaints were filed 13 years ago. The Consent Decree agreed to in 2002 kept those complaints from going to trial, and Ashley says that was the best solution for all concerned.
"These are difficult issues to deal with, states Ashley. "But the collaborative process used int his case I think was beneficial to African American students, and to the community at large, and to the school district."
The settlement agreement means that a federal court hearing on the Consent Decree set for August 3rd in Peoria will not need to be held.
The Champaign School Board is holding a special meeting tonight, July 29th, to vote on a settlement of the Consent Decree for racial equity. The meeting is scheduled for 7 PM at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says representatives of both Unit Four and plaintiffs in the case reached an agreement at a settlement conference Tuesday to end the Consent Decree immediately. Details are to be released at a news conference at 8 PM, pending school board approval of the agreement.
The Unit Four school board agreed to the Consent Decree in 2001, to avoid a civil rights lawsuit on charges that African-American students were not receiving the same quality of education as white students. Besides changes in how classes are taught, and students assigned to schools, the Consent Decree has cost Unit Four millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees. School District officials were anxious to have the decree expire as scheduled this summer. But attorneys for the plaintiffs had been pushing for a partial extension.
The Champaign School Board holds a special meeting tonight (July 29th) at 7 PM,followed by a news conference. Both will be held at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
The previously scheduled board meeting is to discuss the Consent Decree. School Board President Dave Tomlinson won't say what the news conference is about. But representatives of Unit Four and plaintiffs in the Consent Decree on racial equity matters met Tuesday in Peoria. The settlement conference was held to see if the two sides could reach an out of court settlement of their differences, prior to a court hearing set for next week.
Champaign School officials want to end the Consent Decree this summer. Attorneys for the plaintiffs have argued it should be extended in three specific areas.
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
The Safe Haven Tent Community will leave the back yard of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House by the end of July. But Safe Haven and its supporters hope to convince Champaign city officials that semi-permanent housing is better than no housing at all --- and that they should be allowed to stay somewhere in the city. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
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