Illinois Public Media News
Champaign officials are considering a series of cuts that would affect the city's emergency service departments.
The proposal would not lead to any job cuts to the city's firefighting services, but it would mean closing one firefighting company at Fire Station Four on West John Street, on days when overtime is needed to keep the station running. According to Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba, that would have a dramatic effect on the response time on the city's west side, and could hurt other areas if those firefighters are tied up.
Zaremba said he hopes the public provides feedback on the proposed cuts at the city council study session Tuesday night, and in the days ahead.
"Tuesday night being a study session as opposed to a council meeting, your ability to speak publicly is a lot less," Zaremba said. "What we really want to see and what we're really hoping to see in the near future is not our members come out, but educated citizens come out and express concerns about it."
The recommended budget cuts would lead to the elimination of one person at the police station who staffs the front desk during over night hours from 7 pm to 7 am. City Manager Steve Carter said as a result of the cuts, those inquiring about a towed vehicle or similar service would have to wait until morning. However, he noted that they should be calling METCAD 9-1-1 in the event of a crime or accident.
City Manager Steve Carter suggests that is what mutual aid is for, citing the fire that destroyed the Metropolitan Building in October 2008.
"We have several departments from the surrounding area helping us, and we respond likewise when they don't have adequate staffing," Carter said. "No community can afford by themselves to staff at a level that can address any conceivable emergency situation."
The City Building's information desk would also be closed. The city manager's staff would help route phone calls while the general telephone number would be eliminated.
In total, fifteen city positions would be cut if the $3.5 million reduction plan is approved by the Champaign City Council in March. These cuts would be among the most visible aspects of a spending reduction plan that seeks to eliminate a $2 million gap in the current city budget.
The council votes on the changes in March, but Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said there is no set date when the fire department would make the change, suggesting sales tax receipts could improve later in the year. But Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said that is unlikely based on the predictions of economists.
"One major revenue source has turned from dropping to now increasing slightly, but our costs are increasing in many ways in which we have limited control," he said.
City staff is also recommending a voluntary separation program. Through it, Carter said it is still possible the city could achieve the savings it is seeking without layoffs.
Champaign's Art Theater is bringing real life to the screen for the next week. Stories for its first Documentary Festival in the next week include the study of a popular comedienne, the well-profiled downfall of a former New York Governor, and a look at failings in the American education system. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Theater manager Sanford Hess, who says showing the films is a simple matter of downloading them, in the same way the Art has been offering opera and ballet performances.
Due to this week's snowfall, Champaign City officials have once again activated their sidewalk snow removal ordinance, as of Friday, Jan. 21 at 11:30 AM.
The ordinance can go in effect whenever the city receives two inches or more of sidewalk snow accumulation.
Property owners in Champaign's Downtown and Campustown areas have 48 hours to clear their sidewalks of snow and ice --- in this case until Sunday, Jan. 23 at 11:30 AM. If sidewalks are not cleared by that time, they could be cleared by the city at the owner's expense.
Details about the ordinance and maps of the Downtown and Campustown areas can be found on the City of Champaign website.
Illinois officials say residents can take refuge at more than 120 warming centers, as bitter cold settles over the state.
The Illinois Department of Human Services says the other centers are located at IDHS offices throughout the state and will be open during regular business hours.
The warming center locations include: 801 N. Walnut St. and 1307 N. Mattis Ave. in Champaign; 707 E. Wood St. in Decatur; 220 S. Bowman Ave. in Danville; 207 E. Ficklin in Tuscola; 11773 Illinois Highway 1 in Paris; 806 E. Walnut St. in Watseka; 501 W. Washington in Bloomington; 119 W. State St. in Charleston
Warming centers will also open at the seven Illinois Tollway Oases in the Chicago area.
IDHS Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler says the centers are a safe place to stay for people who need a warm place to go or who cannot afford to turn up the heat during the day.
A list of participating centers is available at www.keepwarm.illinois.gov.
Governor Pat Quinn says "zero politics" was involved in his decision to appoint Ricardo Estrada to the U of I board, instead of re-appointing another Hispanic Democrat who he had named to the board in 2009.
Carlos Tortolero told the Chicago Tribune that he believes Quinn's decision not to reappoint him to the board was "political". He says he asked for an explanation for the governor's decision, but never got one. Quinn says he likes Tortolero, who heads the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. But the governor says he didn't want to keep reappointing the same people as U of I Board. Quinn says Estrada is an excellent choice for trustee.
"He has worked in the settlement house movement in our city, state of Illinois and done a great job," said Quinn. "And he also served on our Admissions Review committee that we put together to straighten things out. And I thought he did such a good job that he would be a good man for this position."
Besides serving on the panel Quinn set up to investigate the U of I admissions scandal, Estrada is a former executive director of Erie Neighborhood House, a Chicago social service agency serving primarily Latino families. Estrada says serving on the panel following the U of I's admissions scandal helped a great deal in preparing him.
"I learned a lot about the university, its practices, and policies," he said. "And the great things they were doing, and the issues they had at the time. I've come to this board with my eyes wide open, and hope to contribute."
Estrada says he hopes to be a great steward with university resources and the public trust. Estrada was seated at Thursday's U of I Board meeting in Chicago, along with another new trustee, attorney Patricia Brown Holmes, who says one of her goes is keeping tuition costs down.
"Increasing tuition to a point where it's unaffordable is just unacceptable," she said. "I don't think that that's going to be one of our goals, and I think we will do whatever we can to keep it affordable."
Quinn also re-appointed another of his 2009 appointees, former Springfield mayor Karen Hasara. The six-year appointments must be confirmed by the Illinois Senate. Trustees re-elected Merchandise Mart boss Chris Kennedy as their chairman.
The city of Champaign is getting ready to release another round of budget cuts - and some city employees may be given the option to leave their jobs.
City manager Steve Carter will tell city council members next week about a proposal for a voluntary separation incentive. If the council approves, some union and non-union employees would be able to get two weeks' salary for each year of service up to 26 weeks if they agree to leave, with a minimum of $10,000.
Carter said he expects about 20 employees would accept the incentive, which will be offered first to people whose jobs are already under threat of being cut.
"Any position, whether through past budget decisions or the ones we're going to be discussing next Tuesday, those will be our top priority (for separation offers)," Carter said. "We have the ability to lay people off, but our preference would be not to. We have really good employees, and if we can find a way to make this more mutual, the better for the organization and for the people."
Carter said police officers and firefighters would not be offered voluntary separation because their positions would likely have to be re-filled. He said the city administration will say what other budget cuts they think should be made in the middle of the current year's budget. The last five year forecast suggested the city needed to cut $1.2 million in recurring costs from this year's spending plan.
University of Illinois trustees have adopted a policy designed to limit tuition increases even as they raise the cost of housing at the school's three campuses.
The tuition policy approved Thursday links tuition increases to inflation and other factors.
Students are guaranteed by state law to pay the tuition rate they paid in their freshman year throughout their undergraduate years. But the rate increases for most incoming classes.
This year, tuition increased 9.5 percent and led to complaints from some students and parents. The cost of tuition and housing for a typical undergraduate year at the Urbana-Champaign campus is more than $20,000.
Governor Pat Quinn said he likes 'the basic framework and concept' for the next year's tuition that was outlined Thursday by University of Illinois Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr.
"I think that has a lot of merit to try and keep tuition pretty much even with inflation and adjusted dollars," Quinn said. "I think carrying that out is a good mission."
Quinn said the state is also putting about $404 million into grants for MAP, or the Monetary Awards program., but he said the demand is at least 50-percent higher that. Quinn added that one of his goals for the next four years is to secure more scholarship money for students who attend Illinois' public universities and community colleges.
Trustees on Thursday also raised the cost of a double dorm room in Urbana-Champaign 4 percent to $9,452 a year. Costs in Springfield and Chicago increased less sharply.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
A Sangamon County inquest Thursday determined the late Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died of a close-contact bullet wound to the heart in a vehicle parked at his home Dec. 14.
Investigators say they found no note from the 53-year-old Democrat. They also say there were no signs of foul play and no drugs or alcohol in his body.
The scene was bloody when police responded to a 911 hang-up call to Davlin's home, according to Illinois State Police Sergeant Brad Sterling
Sterling described the scene to jurors during an inquest into Davlin's death. He testified Davlin was found in the front, passenger seat of his white Lincoln Navigator parked in his garage. He said while the car was running, there was no indication of carbon monoxide poisoning as the garage door was left half open.
Sterling said police suspect Davlin used a revolver to shoot himself in the chest. He said the bullet went through Davlin's heart, through his body, and was found in the seat cushion. The cordless, home phone Davlin presumably used to call police was in the cup holder next to his body.
According to Sterling, investigators found no note at the home, and he said there was no sign of foul play nor of violence. Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone also told jurors a toxicology report showed no alcohol nor drugs in Davlin's system.
The entire inquest, including jury deliberations, lasted less than an hour. Sergeant Sterling said the state police investigation is expected to wrap up soon. Neither Sterling, Boone, nor anyone on the seven-member jury was willing to answer reporters' questions after the proceedings.
Davlin died the morning he was to show up at a court hearing to give a financial accounting for an estate he was handling. The IRS also said he owed $90,000 in back taxes.
The two-term mayor had recently announced he would not seek re-election.
University of Illinois trustees have re-elected Christopher Kennedy as their chairman.
Trustees meeting in Chicago on Thursday picked Kennedy as the leader for the next year of the governing board that oversees the university and its three campuses. Kennedy was first elected in September 2009. Lawrence Eppley was his predecessor but resigned over the university's admissions scandal. Kennedy was one of six trustees appointed in September 2009 by Gov. Pat Quinn to fill vacancies left by resignations related to that scandal.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago.
Quinn on Wednesday reappointed another trustee, Karen Hasara of Springfield. The governor also picked two new trustees, Chicago-area lawyers Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada.
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