Illinois Public Media News
Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is offering a handful of specifics about what he'll accomplish in his first months on the job.
In the first question of a 70-minute interview before an audience Wednesday night at the Field Museum, Emanuel was asked to set some benchmarks he'll no doubt be judged on later: what he will have done 100 days after taking office.
"You want to rush forward all 100 days and I haven't even gotten 100 hours in yet," Emanuel said to the interviewer, Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold. The paper endorsed Emanuel in his campaign for mayor.
Emanuel highlighted some of the things he's done in the transition, most notably key staff announcements.
Among his first moves in office, he said, will be to appoint a board to oversee economic development funds, reorganize some of city government and close what he called the "revolving door" for public employees who take jobs as lobbyists.
Emanuel on Wednesday night also mentioned something he says would not be accomplished quickly.
"I want the culture and the mindset in city government to be one of, we all...deliver a service to the people who are paying the bills," he said.
Emanuel told the audience that won't happen in 100 days - or even in a thousand.
The Lincoln Trail Library System says Champaign's library may no longer charge out of town residents a $200 fee to check out materials.
The head of the system says she understands why Champaign's library started charging the fee for residents of Mahomet and Tolono last fall. Champaign library Director Marsha Grove said reciprocal borrowing had become much higher through patrons from neighboring towns than in Champaign and Urbana. Last year, the library lent 700,000 items through the Lincoln Trial system, while Champaign -Urbana residents borrowed about 200-thousand.
Grove said the plan was to evaluate the fee after six months, and the library is sticking to it.
"The board and I will very carefully look at the all the facets of this, and do so, as we have always done, with our primary concern of serving our residents right here in Champaign," Grove said. "That's what we want to do well."
But Lincoln Trail Director Jan Ison said she's surprised to hear the Champaign Public Library board would wait about a month before deciding whether to waive that fee, and she said residents of rural towns still pay taxes for library services.
"They are not non-residents in a legal sense," Ison said. "A non-resident would live outside of any tax-supported public library. And so the residents of Tolono and Mahomet, of those library districts, do pay taxes. Now, those taxes may not be as great as Champaign's tax, which is one of the reasons the board understands that they should perhaps be restricted."
Libraries in the Lincoln Trail system are allowed to limit the items a non-resident patron can check out to five, but Ison called the special use fee 'unacceptable' to both the Lincoln Trail System and Illinois State Library.
The Lincoln trial board said libraries that continue to charge the fee could lose their reciprocal borrowing privileges. Ison said the idea is get Tolono and Mahomet patrons using their local libraries more often.
But no decisions are expected soon. Neither the Champaign Library Board nor the Lincoln Trail Library board will meet until the 3rd week of May.
Residents of a mobile home park that has become a center of Champaign-Urbana's Hispanic community has no central place to go in an emergency. As Jose Diaz of the investigative reporting unit CU-Citizen Access reports, residents want the situation to change.
Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).
The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.
The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.
Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."
"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."
Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.
"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.
This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.
Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.
Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.
Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.
The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.
The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.
The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.
The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.
A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.
But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.
Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.
Monday's overnight tax filing deadline brought out two very different messages to Champaign's West Side Park.
About 50 supporters of city's Tea Party decried federal government spending, claiming duplication exists in several areas. Political activist John Bambanek said the fault lies with elected officials in all parties. He said a tax hike passed by Illinois lawmakers won't help, only impacting the amount the state can give to pensions.
"We still have over 4-billion dollars in past due bills, and we're still not paying the University of Illinois on time, our schools on time, and our human services on time," Bambanek said. "And it is a spending problem, not a tax rate problem."
Commodities trader Bill Lawless told the group the U.S. spending patterns reflect that of someone who gets several credit cards while only making the minimum payment. He said the federal government spending needs to be cut by 40-percent just to achieve a balance.
Meanwhile, about 30 members of MoveOn.org rallied against companies that they allege are finding ways around paying the 35-percent corporate tax rate. They handed staff members at the Chase Bank downtown Champaign a large piece of cardboard representing a bill for $2-million. Volunteer Robert Naiman said that marks the difference between the taxes the corporation actually paid, and what it should have paid at the proper rate.
"Obviously, we have nothing against the employees in this bank," he said. "Our beef is with the corporate leadership of JP Morgan Chase. They're making the decisions about hiding the profits overseas so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes."
The group says corporations like JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil and FedEx are hiding tax earnings in so-called offshore 'tax havens.'
And there was a small third rally Monday, a matter of feet from the Tea Party Group. Sam Kaufman with the U of I Law Student Labor Action Coalition said its presence of about 12 students was to show elected officials their support for health care reform, and labor-related measures.
(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Service Employees International Union Local 73 has reached an agreement with the University of Illinois over a new contract.
The union represents about 800 food and building service employees on the Urbana campus who threatened to go on strike Monday if an agreement couldn't be reached. But SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin said union members voted with overwhelming support over the weekend to approve a contract, which includes about a three percent pay raise.
"I think it's the best contract we could have gotten, and we're proud of that," Baldwin said. "We know we wouldn't have gotten it without the solidarity of our members, and also our campus allies."
The U of I and the union have been negotiating over a new contract since last summer. Workers began regularly picketing in December. In March, a federal mediator was brought in to help facilitate the contract negations.
Baldwin said a major victory in the contract is a provision allowing workers with seniority to be able to choose certain jobs, rather than leaving it up solely to managers.
"We've been trying to get that for about 20 years," he explained.
Baldwin noted that some workers who have had disciplinary problems or who are doing a poor job in the workplace may be ineligible for this right.
During the contract negotiations, SEIU officials accused the University of replacing some union positions with lower-paid workers, mainly students. Baldwin said that issue is not addressed in this latest deal, but he hopes it is included after the contract expires in July 2012.
About 800 food service and building service employees on the Urbana campus may go on strike as early as Monday, April 18.
Members of the Service Employees International Union local 73 are demanding better pay, and urging the University to stop using lower-paid, temporary workers to cover permanent union jobs.
The two sides have been negotiating over a new contract since last June. A federal mediator was brought in last month to help facilitate the discussions.
University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler said even if workers go on strike, students should not notice any disruptions in service next week.
"We'll have management staff and other staff who will keep the operation going," Kaler said. "The dinning menus will be the same, The hours will be the same. Students will have their trash removed."
Kaler said the University will have its vendors prepare some meals normally done in house.
She also said the University has offered pay raises to union workers, and acknowledged she is confident an agreement will be reached.
SEIU members held a rally Thursday on the Urbana campus. They are expected to vote this weekend to go on strike, according to SEIU officials.
Legislation being lauded for making historic improvements to Illinois' education system passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night with no opposition, and it did so with the full backing of teachers' unions.
With their massive membership and money, teachers unions carry a lot of influence. Yet, not only did they back the package, they made considerable concessions.
No longer will tenured teachers have as much job protection. Teachers will be subject to performance reviews, and evaluations could mean some will lose their jobs. In Chicago, teachers may have to work longer hours, even if the union does not agree.
The Illinois Education Association's President, Ken Swanson, acknowledged the focus was on students. He denies the unions were more willing to give in after watching the clamp down on workers' bargaining rights in states like Wisconsin.
"What this shows is that to have meaningful reform that will work, you have to have the unions at the table," Swanson said. "Here in Illinois what we've shown is you do not need to have Draconian, unwarranted attacks on public employee rights, collected bargaining. You can do this through collective bargaining, you can do this through bringing the parties to the table."
Advocates like Jessica Handy, with the group Stand for Children, laud the changes as significant for students.
"Having a great teacher in the classroom is the most important school-based factor in effecting student outcomes, and this shift to making performance the driving factor in personnel decisions is ultimately a huge win for children," Handy said.
The package came together this week after months of negotiations. Despite having the support of unions, advocates, school administrators, and Senators on both sides of the aisle, it could see changes in the House.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) said that chamber may push for some revisions.
"We hope that any changes that we might decide would be appropriate would not so upset the apple cart that we would end up with nothing," she said.
There's a possibility changes to the package could lead a stakeholder to withdraw support. Under the measure, Chicago Public Schools may prolong their school year and lengthen the school day.
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