Illinois Public Media News
Decatur lost its only taxi service last year.
But its city manager hopes the owner of that company can start up something new, and be ready in about a month. AOK Taxi was shut down last year, after reports of the company using an unregistered vehicle, and making unannounced changes to the company and fleet.
Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady says company owner Anthony Walker applied for a new license on Tuesday. But Walker also asked to hold off on a recommendation to city council until he reviewed his financial plans. If he moves forward with it, McCrady says that will essentially wipe the slate clean for Walker.
"If he meets all the requirements to have a license, then there's really no sense in trying to open old wounds and bring those issues back up again," he said. "The key thing is to get a service operating in Decatur that meet the requirements of the city than our residents can safely operate in. And if Mr. Walker can do that with his new company, then that's the best case scenario for everybody."
If that doesn't happen, McCrady says offers have come in from taxi services in nearby towns. Meanwhile, Walker says he'll decide whether to follow through with his plan by next week. If that happens, Walker says he plans to raise cab fares to make them more in line to what other nearby companies charge.
"It's a service to the community, but I don't want to run this operation like the community needs it, then it doesn't need to be profitable," he said. "Because that's the wrong way I looked at it once before."
Walker says the hike in fares is needed with the rising cost in fuel. He plans to meet with local bar owners next week to discuss potential collaborations before deciding whether to move forward.
A Champaign police officer is accusing city council members of conducting a 'witch hunt' by seeking an independent review of a June 5 arrest.
Art Miller's comments before the council Tuesday night came three weeks after council members granted city manager Steve Carter the authority to find a firm to investigate the incident. In the police video leaked online, an officer pepper sprayed a college-age African American after he was picked up for jaywalking. The officer also put hands on the neck of the young man in the back of a patrol car. The arresting officer has been cleared of wrongdoing by the Champaign police, Illinois State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Hiring a firm to look at the incident, and the police department's use of force policy will cost $60,000 to $100,000. Miller called the move 'a colossal misuse of taxpayer money' when the city is looking at cuts to the police department's front desk, and he said the council doesn't remind the public of the good work officers do.
"When I chose to answer the call to be a police officer, I knew there was a segment of society that would despise me in what I stand for," Miller said. "But never once did I think I would face such scorn and animosity from officials from the city I work for."
Mayor Don Gerard took exception, citing his comments to the press about officer raises and promotions.
"Every single member of this council appreciates our police department, and I take great exception on behalf of every single one of them for every comment that says: 'nobody ever likes us, nobody ever gives us any praise,' because it's ridiculous and it's nonsense," he said. "We do constantly. Turn on your radio. Read the newspaper."
Gerard also said it's 'tiresome' for him to hear the June arrest has been investigated three times, saying 'it's been investigated zero times' with no interviews conducted.
In response, Miller simply said the mayor has his opinion, and, "I have my opinion. That's the beauty of our country.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) says banks need to be more transparent as college students start up bank accounts.
In a visit to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Tuesday, Illinois' Senior Senator called on financial institutions to voluntarily adopt a disclosure form for fees. The announcement comes after Bank of America and other institutions imposed and quickly canceled monthly fees on debit card holders.
Durbin says institutions should all adopt a 1-page disclosure form created by the Pew Charitable Trusts, rather than the more than 100-page statements currently released by most banks. He says the form should be as simple as reading health information labels at grocery stores.
"And you know where to look for calories, for sodium, for carbohydrates, for other things that might be important to you," Durbin said. "This kind of disclosure form brings that kind of information when it comes to financial institutions."
Greg Anderson with University of Illinois Employees Credit Union says the disclosure forms are worth a look.
"What we've seen in the past with truth in lending that he spoke of, truth in savings, the Credit Card act of 2009, all spoke to more disclosure, making it easier for consumers to compare, and credit unions fall right into that," Anderson said. "I think it's kind of a natural for us to take part and follow with that."
Durbin has written a letter to Illinois' State Board of Higher Education as well as the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, asking their help in contacting lending institutions.
A plan to cut service at the Champaign Fire Department has stalled as city officials and the local fire union try to reach an agreement to save the city nearly $420,000 in overtime costs.
The city had set a Jan. 1 deadline to reduce operations for Engine Co. 154 located on West John Street, but recent budget negotiations pushed that date to Jan. 15.
Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba said union members are willing to make concessions to ensure that the truck is available whenever there is an emergency.
"The union is looking at doing approximately $350,000 of that, and the city would essentially match what we're doing to come up with the rest," Zaremba said. "I believe the (union) supports us making some sort of offer to try to keep that company open."
Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said he is cautiously optimistic that an agreement will be reached. However, if there is not a compromise, then service to staff the fire engine would be cut by 75 percent.
While Forsman said Engine Co. 154 is the least busy out of all of the city's fire companies, he acknowledges that reducing service would have an impact on emergency response. If service is reduced for Engine Co. 154, one of the city's adjacent fire stations would have to respond.
"That causes a little bit of a time delay, and causes an area to be uncovered that would normally remain covered during that incident," Forsman said.
A call seeking comment from the city was not immediately returned.
Meanwhile, plans are still in place to stop overnight operations at the front desk of the Champaign Police Department from 7pm until 7am.
Reducing staffing overnight is expected to save the city approximately $140,000. Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said the change will take affect by the middle of January.
"The lobby is not used a lot during those times anyway." Daniels said. "Certainly, we want to keep someone at the front desk at often as possible. Right now, we're being told the cuts should come and that we should implement the cuts, but certainly the council or the city manager's office could tell us otherwise at any time."
Daniels said the department is preparing for the change by modifying the way the public can get a hold of law enforcement when the front desk is closed. Unlike the negotiations going on between the city and the fire union, he noted nothing like that is taking place to prevent the front desk from closing.
None of the 79 Sears and Kmart stores that Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close are in Illinois.
The Hoffman Estates-based retailer announced the specific stores it would close on Thursday. It said earlier this week that it would close up to 120 stores nationally after poor holiday sales.
The Indiana stores slated to close include Kmarts in Indianapolis' Pendleton Plaza and St. John, as well as a Sears store in Anderson. A Sears location in St. Louis, Missouri's Crestwood Plaza is also closing. The dates of the closures haven't been announced, and the company says it can't yet verify the number of impacted employees.
The retailer had reached an agreement with Illinois officials to keep its headquarters in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn had said the store closings don't affect that agreement.
Quinn signed legislation guaranteeing the company $15 million in tax breaks during the next decade. The company had threatened to move its headquarters from the state before securing the tax incentives.
The tax breaks depend on the company's ability to maintain 4,250 jobs at the Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates.
Eastern Illinois Foodbank Could Win $10,000 from Kraft
As the University of Illinois' football team gears up to take on UCLA this weekend in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, fans from both team's hometowns are trying to garner enough support for their area food banks.
By "Liking" the Kraft Fight Hunger Facebook page and playing a two-minute trivia game, a user has the chance to donate meals to Feeding America, one of the largest anti-hunger organizations in the country.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Bank of America will pay a multimillion dollar settlement to resolve allegations of discriminatory loans by its subsidiary, Countrywide that took place between 2004 and 2007. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the Illinois attorney general's office.
Back in March 2008, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a fair lending subpoena to Countrywide after a report found that the company sold higher-cost loans in the Chicago area to more African Americans and Hispanics compared to white borrowers.
Bank of America's decision to pay a $335 million dollar settlement signals the largest settlement of its kind over residential fair lending practices.
The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District court of California and is subject to court approval. According to the DOJ's complaint, Countrywide charged over 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile.
Natalie Bauer, who's a spokeswoman in the Illinois attorney general's office, said approximately 15,000 people in the state may be eligible for restitution under the settlement.
"The settlement is one of those ways that we will be able to help homeowners on the ground who are struggling right now as a result of the illegal practices that banked used in the lead up to the crash of the economy back in 2008," Bauer said.
Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said in a statement that the bank does not practice lending based on race.
"We discontinued Countrywide products and practices that were not in keeping with our commitment and will continue to resolve and put behind us the remaining Countrywide issues," Frahm said.
The United States' complaint said that Countrywide was aware that the fees and interest rates that its loan officers were charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it.
People who believe they were victims of lending discrimination should e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice at email@example.com
Bauer said a settlement administrator will review those claims.
Meanwhile, the Illinois attorney general's office has filed a similar lawsuit against Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending practices.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday shot down a measure by the U.S. Senate to extend payroll tax relief for two months. The Republican-controlled House instead sent the measure to a joint conference committee, so that both parties can try to negotiate on a compromise.
But Urbana Republican Tim Johnson did not vote along party lines. Johnson said that is because the issue became too politicized.
"To laden this measure down with political agendas and extraneous, irrelevant riders is simply unacceptable," Johnson said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this is part of business-as-usual inside the beltway politics and I refuse to be part of that misplaced strategy."
The House passed a full-year extension of the payroll tax last week, but included many spending cuts opposed by Democrats. If lawmakers fail to reach an agreement, nearly 160 million workers could see a tax hike in January, while almost two million people could lose their unemployment benefits.
(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess)
A faith-based group in Champaign that is trying to find housing for the area's most vulnerable homeless residents has completed its first successful match.
C-U At Home connected Vernon Chounard to a two-bedroom rental home - his first permanent home since 2000.
The group will pay for utilities while the property owners - Deana and Luke Hammock - will forgo the $500 monthly rent until April.
Chounard moved in Tuesday afternoon during a public housewarming party, and he said that having a place to live means everything.
"I don't have to worry about waking up soaking wet or freezing or having a place to lay my head," Chounard said.
Chounard had lived on the streets for the last decade.
"I ain't going to lie, I'm an alcoholic," he said. "But I'm working on that too."
Deana Hammock said she and her husband bought the house initially to use as part of their church ministry. It has been vacant for several months.
"We are called to share what we have," Hammock said. "There are so many places out there that are vacant right now, it's fairly easy for other landlords to do something."
C-U At Home is part of a nationwide campaign that aims to house 100,000 vulnerable homeless people within the next two years. John Smith of C-U At Home said that Chounard is one of the nearly 12,000 homeless people in the country to find a home in the past year.
(Photo by Pam G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess)
Urbana's city council will further explore the idea of a seven-story downtown development that would include retail space, offices, and condominiums.
Champaign developer Gary Olsen now estimates the cost at a little over $80-million. Monday night's 5-0 vote by the city council meant no firm commitment, but directed Urbana's legal staff to prepare a document, saying Olsen can market his Vine Street Metro Centre idea to investors.
The plan looks to have four total levels of office space, retail on the first floor, and nearly 30 condominiums on two others. Two levels of parking would be underground, and town homes would be in a smaller building to the east. Alderman Charlie Smyth called the project ambitious, telling Olsen he is 'moving forward in spite of the economy.'
It's one the developer believes will turn around.
"The United States will slowly get out of this," Olsen said. "That's what I'm counting on. It will be a much better situation when this building is dedicated - maybe in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of our beautiful shopping center. It probably needs some help, too".
Lincoln Square Village is across the street from the proposed site, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014. Mayor Laurel Prussing said the size of the proposal concerns her, but wants to take the time to get the proper amount of public input.
"It's our land, and we're going to be very much involved in what's the proper scale," she said. "What's economically viable? You're never going to get a perfect answer, but you get to a better answer by having a lot of discussion about it and involving a lot of people. And if there's investors that are willing to do it at a certain scale, that tells you something right there."
Olsen said such a site would appeal to non-profit groups, and lawyers, who could walk to the nearby federal and county courthouses.
The plan is to locate in Urbana's Tax Increment Financing District, and also where Goodyear Tire holds a lease on the property. So if the project moves forward, it's unlikely any construction would take place in 2012. Olsen's plan also includes a separate building of town homes to the east.
The city council expects to revisit the Metro Centre idea next month.
(Drawing courtesy of Olsen and Associates)
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