Illinois Public Media News
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) will be joined by Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut in a town hall forum this weekend in Champaign.
Johnson and Murphy co-chair the Center Aisle Caucus. Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the two congressmen will take questions from the public, and demonstrate that despite their differences, both parties can come together.
"We thought it was a very unusual opportunity to bring these two guys together to talk about ways to improve dialogue in Washington, DC instead of calling each other names," Bloomer said.
Johnson, who is running for re-election in the redrawn 13th Congressional District, will do another town hall in Connecticut in Murphy's district.
Meanwhile, Murphy, who has served three terms in Congress, said he hopes the town hall sets an example for other Democrats and Republicans to work more closely on legislation.
"I think job creation is on the minds of the residents of Illinois just like it is in Connecticut, but I'm really hoping to get a broad sense of what it is that people in his district care about," Murphy said. "It will be interesting to match it up with what I'm hearing back in Connecticut."
The town hall will take place on Sunday at 1:30 PM at the I-Hotel at 1900 South First Street in Champaign.
A couple of Champaign County Board members are offering very different suggestions to boost what's described as a healthy fund balance.
Democrat Brendan McGinty says the county has exceeded revenue projections this year by about 2-percent, and underspent as well. Meanwhile, the county has downsized through attrition and furlough days, and McGinty says he's still seeking ways to replenish a depleted fund balance, and what he calls 'bare bones' operations.
McGinty says one way would be to conduct an audit of the county's fee structure.
"A lot of people don't want to increase fees, and I understand that," he said. "But when you have not increased fees, and kept up with the cost of delivering services for 30 or 40 years, then you fall behind. And you're missing out on potential revenue that can help the health of the county and help employ the right number of people, because we're pretty trim right now."
One example is a hike in marriage license fees, which did recently go up from 20 to 30 dollars. McGinty says the few thousand dollars coming from it won't make much of an impact. The original proposal called for raising the fee to $75.
County Administrator Deb Busey told the board this week that revenue projections are actually up a bit. County Board Republican Stan James says county government is getting away from its intended purpose, like law enforcement and infrastructure.
"We're getting into a lot of programs that are sort of an outreach or an outshoot, and maybe we need to revisit those like we do with the quarter-cent safety tax," he said. "We give to youth groups. I'm not saying I'm against that, but I'm just saying that it's tax money that could be used to to pay the bills that need to be paid."
McGinty also endorses Republican Alan Nudo's suggestion of offering more private-pay rooms in the Champaign County Nursing Home. He says the county needs to work with hospitals to transfer patients needing long-term care. The state currently owes Champaign county $1-point-8 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
The city of Urbana is paying homage to Abraham Lincoln through a series of video podcasts that guide visitors through a tour of the community.
Lincoln spent nearly twenty years practicing law in Urbana.
City Planner Rebecca Bird said while the podcasts focus on sites Lincoln visited, they also explore the connections between the Urbana of Lincoln's era and the historic buildings that still exist today. For example, Bird said one of the featured structures is the Champaign County courthouse, which was built more than 30 years after Lincoln's death.
"So, the courthouse obviously was not built at the time Lincoln was here, but there was another courthouse at this site. It tells the story of at that time, as well as some of the effects of Lincoln," Bird said. "It's the type of tour that it celebrates our heritage. It's something that will be enjoyable to both residents of Urbana and visitors to Urbana."
The video podcasts are available on the city's website. A walking tour of the landmarks featured in the project will start at 10 AM on Saturday at the Urbana Free Library.
Prosecutors are playing tapes that are more than seven years old at the corruption trial of millionaire businessman and Blagojevich co-defendant Bill Cellini. The tapes are conversations Stuart Levine had on secretly recorded phone calls. He was on state boards and was taking bribes from businesses that wanted state contracts.
The calls were recorded in 2004, the early days of Rod Blagojevich's time as governor and the early days of the wide-ranging federal investigation called "Operation Board Games."
Levine has pleaded guilty to fraud schemes, and he's cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against Cellini. On the stand he's told jurors how he and Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly plotted to extort bribes from state contractors and how they used Cellini to ask one contractor for a campaign contribution.
Cellini was left out of the planning and didn't know the particulars of the extortion attempt, but prosecutors say he knew that he was part of a scheme to trade campaign contributions for state business. They say he joined in the plot to maintain his own influence with Blagojevich and his advisors.
A Champaign lawmaker says he is afraid calls to end legislative scholarships will get bogged down in procedure rather than simply getting the job done.
Republican House member Jason Barickman's comments come in response to those by Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who said Gov. Pat Quinn overstepped his authority by using his amendatory powers to try and abolish the program.
Barickman said the simple solution is to call for an up or down vote on H.B. 201, which does away with the program entirely. He said there's too much bickering by leadership in Springfield to end a program ripe with corruption.
"This single bill has resulted in lot of talk and no action," Barickman said. "Here we have an opportunity to do away with it, and because of the political jockeying, again we're left with the status quo, which means those legislators who continue to award these scholarships, by law, could give these to their relatives because of political jockeying."
Barickman is a co-sponsor of the House measure, along with Republicans Chad Hays of Catlin and Chapin Rose of Mahomet. Barickman said the numerous incidents of someone abusing the program, as well as Illinois' fiscal condition, should make the fall veto session the perfect opportunity to end what he calls an annual $14-million political perk.
Recently, a federal investigation surfaced in which three current and former lawmakers improperly awarded them. Reports have shown some of the scholarships have been awarded to campaign donors, close friends, and others who don't reside within a legislator's district.
The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.
On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.
"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."
For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.
Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:
A spokeswoman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the former Illinois Republican congressman will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term.
The spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, said LaHood was asked about his intentions at a media luncheon Thursday. She said he gave no reason for his decision and hadn't discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama.
LaHood was congressman for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel before that.
He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.
Prosecutors are linking a career criminal with Bill Cellini, the final Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. They've called their star witness, Stuart Levine, to the stand. Just a few minutes into his testimony Wednesday afternoon Levine started down a laundry list of his criminal activity.
He told jurors that he spent decades paying bribes to public officials to get government contracts for businesses that he had an interest in. He also admitted abusing drugs for 30 years.
Levine has admitted his guilt in various schemes to defraud the state of Illinois and he's now cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying against Bill Cellini. Previously he testified for three weeks in the trial of Blagojevich fundraiser and advisor Tony Rezko.
Levine told jurors he's done business with Cellini for decades, paying Cellini more than a million in fees. He said the two were also personal friends. Prosecutors say the relationship eventually turned criminal. They say Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions on behalf of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in an attempt to keep his own business with the state.
Defense attorneys will no doubt plumb the depths of Levine's criminal life and tell jurors they shouldn't trust a word he says.
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that a recent report exaggerates the state's debt.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., released the report saying the state has $8.3 billion worth of unpaid bills. But the state comptroller said the number is more like $5.1 billion.
Quinn said the state is making progress in cutting its unpaid bills.
"I think (Kirk) probably exaggerated some of the numbers," Quinn told reporters Wednesday at an unrelated news conference. "We have whittled down the bills we have to pay, we still have a long way to go. You know if it's just woe is me and a doomsayer - I don't think that's particularly helpful."
Quinn said creating jobs is the key to improving Illinois' debt standing.
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