Illinois Public Media News
A native of England is bringing his vision of year round soccer to Urbana.
The city council has accepted Developer Graham Berry's plans for a 24,000 square foot facility on North Willow Road, west of O'Brien Auto Park.
Berry says he expects to break ground on 'Soccer Planet' next month. He says the visibility from the interstate was a big bonus for the location, as well as the Tax Increment Financing incentives tied to that location. Berry has played in adult soccer leagues that require him to drive to Decatur. Other kids in the area play soccer in cities like Bloomington and Springfield.
But Berry says a local indoor facility built specifically for the sport will open new opportunities for many ages, "...Whether it be a recreational player, a 4-year old who wants to be in a developmental program, learning the game but it's more a social thing between him and his parent or guardian.." he said. "So the competitive player who wants to play year round, this facility is going to provide that."
Berry says the site in Urbana will be state of the art, with a playing surface less susceptible to injuries. "It's not astro turf," he said. "It's field turf. So it's actually a synthetic grass that actually has blades and either rubber infill or matting to protect players when they fall because there's some cushion there."
Berry says the surface will also produce a better bounce for soccer balls. Soccer Planet should be finished by the end of September.
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.
The Champaign School Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the hope that it might know more about the professional future of Superintendent Arthur Culver, but that meeting has been canceled.
Culver has served in his current role for nearly a decade, and is one of two candidates on a shortlist for the top job with the DeKalb County School System in metropolitan Atlanta.
Culver couldn't be reached for comment, but in an interview with the News Gazette, he stated he thinks he has taken the Champaign School District as far as he can, and that its time for him to "find something somewhere else."
Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson wouldn't comment on what would happen if Culver is not picked for the position in Georgia, but said if he does get it; a national search would begin to replace him.
"We would probably name an interim superintendent for a period of time because we think a national search would take a considerable period of time," Tomlinson said. "Clearly, right now Superintendent Culver is here, and that's who we're looking at."
The Champaign School Board meets Monday, April 25 at 6 PM to talk about personnel issues. Tomlinson wouldn't provide more specifics about the agenda.
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 Republican-controlled Indiana Senate has approved a change that would allow GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if indicted Republican Charlie White is found to be ineligible, a move Democrats called a blatant power grab that changes the rules in the middle of the game.
Democrats are challenging the eligibility of White, who faces voter fraud charges. They argue that state law requires runner-up Democrat Vop Osili to take office if White is ineligible.
A change approved by the Senate on Monday would instead allow the governor to pick a new elections chief if the winner is ineligible. Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis says the change was spurred by White's case and that the non-elected recount commission shouldn't determine the election's outcome.
Federal prosecutors Monday ripped into public comments made by Rod Blagojevich. That comes two days before the former Illinois governor's corruption re-trial begins.
Blagojevich's comments to the media have centered around him saying, "Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes."
The former governor has said that playing all the secret phone conversations recorded by the FBI would show he's innocent and the fact that they aren't all played for jurors is a conspiracy by the prosecutors.
Prosecutors have mostly stuck to the legal issues in court, but U.S. Attorney Reid Schar let loose Monday, telling the judge that Blagojevich's talking points are lies. It's the judge who decides which tapes to play, not the government.
Judge James Zagel, for his part, told the court it would be wise for Blagojevich to restrain himself, saying he could overstep the line if he hasn't done so already. The judge said his comments should be considered a "red flag" for the defense to get their client in line.
Blagojevich's defense attorneys left court without talking to reporters; a rarity for them.
Some Republican political donors got a surprise when they opened their mail recently - solicitations from 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, even though Johnson isn't their representative.
People in Carbondale and Peoria were among those who received letters from Johnson's campaign asking for their help. But Johnson's chief of staff said the letters are not related to a potential upcoming shuffle of Illinois' congressional districts. Mark Shelden said the people who compiled one of the Johnson campaign's fundraising databases are to blame.
"For some reason in their database, some of these people were marked and flagged as being within our district and because of that, they received mail that we hadn't intended," Shelden said. "But we did manage to get a few contributions from outside our district, so obviously we're happy about that."
Shelden said it is highly unlikely that either Peoria or deep-southern Illinois would become part of Johnson's district once reapportionment is done later this year. Shelden said Johnson doesn't solicit campaign funds from adjoining House districts, though he sometimes receives outside donations because of his role on the House Agriculture Committee.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Ruth Wyman, and to note that Renner-Wikoff of Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements.
Urbana attorney and former Champaign County Board member Robert Kirchner died over the weekend. A recording on the phone at Kirchner's law office in Champaign announced the death.
Kirchner was appointed to a vacant seat on the County Board in 2001, and was elected to a two-year term in 2002. He ran again in 2006, losing in a hotly contested primary
Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein remembers an earlier, unsuccessful bid by Kirchner for Tim Johnson's Illinois House seat in 1996. Klein said Kirchner's slogan in that campaign was "Stand Up, Speak Out, Be Heard", and that it was a slogan which fit him well throughout his life and career.
"He was a stand-up guy," said Klein of Kirchner. "He liked to speak up on issues that mattered to him. And he thought everyone should be heard and their views considered which is why, of course, that he was an advocate and a successful defense lawyer."
Fellow Democrat Tom Betz served with Kirchner on the Champaign County Board. Betz, now the county board vice-chair, says Kirchner was always concerned about the long-term impact of county board decisions, and sought inclusiveness in making appointments to county commissions. Betz said his concern for inclusiveness could also be seen in his law practice.
Ruth Wyman is an attorney in Kirchner's law firm, and also a former Urbana alderwoman who, like Kirchner, has been active in the local Democratic Party. In a statement for WILL, Wyman says Kirchner understood that justice was something to work for, not something automatically bestowed at the courthouse. She says Kirchner was ready to take on difficult cases and cash-strapped clients that other attorneys would turn down.
"Bob would develop the legal theories and defenses necessary to see that his clients got justice", writes Wyman, "whether it was the lawsuit to reinstate the Medicare 100 Plus program at Provena hospital for low-income seniors, creating a child dental program for low income children in the county, defending African Americans who were being stopped because of their race, or stopping the strip search of juveniles at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center."
Betz adds that might not been the most profitable career path for Kirchner, but it reflected his values.
"I had my share of disagreements over the years with Bob," Betz said. "But I always felt it came from a position of deeply held principled values."
Kirchner's run for the Champaign County Board in the 2006 Democratic primary pitted him and Lisa Bell against more moderate incumbents, Steve Beckett and Barbara Wysocki. Betz said he felt the differences involved were more a clash of personalities than political views.
The 54-year-old Kirchner is survived by his wife, Gerri, who has also been active in local Democratic politics. Renner-Wikoff Chapel and Crematory in Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements, which were pending, as of Tuesday morning.
An Indiana House committee Friday barely passed an immigration reform bill, even after the bill's most controversial provision had been removed.
In a six-to-five vote along party lines, the House Public Policy Committee approved Senate Bill 590, which now moves to the full Indiana House for consideration next week. The bill no longer includes a provision that would allow state and local police to question anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. That section was similar to a law passed in Arizona last summer. The Arizonan measure has been blocked from implementation by a federal judge.
But it is possible representatives could try to amend SB 590 before the full House votes during second and third readings. If the bill survives that process, it will move back to the Indiana Senate. That's where the bill's original sponsor, state senator Michael Delph, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis, is lukewarm to his now watered-down proposal.
"I introduced a bill that I wanted to see become law," Delph said Friday in Indianapolis. "This is not that bill."
Political blogs and news reports now speculate that the bill could fail passage because it has been altered too much.
If support does fall short, it would mark the fourth consecutive year that Delph tried but failed to move a "get tough" immigration bill through the Indiana legislature. That is despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, Delph's own party, the GOP, controls both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. Republicans have not warmed up to Delph's original bill, which opponents had argued would open police to charges of racial profiling.
One Republican committee member, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-Liberty), said he would have voted against the original bill. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, does not support granting police the ability to question those suspected of being in the country illegally. His priority in the immigration reform debate is to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
But Delph says getting police involved is now allowed under federal law.
"The most controversial part of this bill, at least according to press accounts, has been with this issue with enforcement with law enforcement," Delph told the House committee at a hearing Thursday. "The Congress in its wisdom gave state and local governments several years ago the power to use state and local enforcement basically as a force multiplier. That's part of the bill."
The revised House bill would revoke certain tax credits for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and would check the immigration status of criminal offenders. It also would require the calculation of how much money illegal immigration costs the state; then, the state would send a bill to to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement.
The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.
The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.
There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.
"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."
The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.
"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."
Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.
"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."
Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.
During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.
"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
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