Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

GOP Candidates Endorse Merging Two Financial Offices

The Republican candidates for Illinois Treasurer and Comptroller say they're confident that consolidating the two offices will not only save the state money, but be done in a system with checks and balances.

Former Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka and Pontiac Senator Dan Rutherford say merging the positions will save the state 12-million dollars by trimming jobs, office space, and saving communication time when investing money. Campaigning in Urbana Tuesday, Topinka says it used to be that way, when Illinois simply had a state auditor. A person in the office in the 1950's... Orville Hodge... was convicted and sentenced to prison for embezzlement. Topinka says the two offices were created for oversight, but adds that's what the office of auditor general is for now. "He (William Holland) serves in that function of oversight. Second of all, becase of the high-tech computerization, we have the same numbers."

If they're elected, Topinka and Rutherford say they'll actively campaign for the change before lawmakers next year. If lawmakers approve the change, it would require voter approval in November 2012. If the question passes, the single financial officer would be on the ballot two years later. And during their time in office, "Communication will be key," said Rutherford. "Because of our relationship, we will talk about when she's gonna disperse and when I can make funds available. But the thing is, someday Judy and Dan aren't gonna be there, there will be a different personality, and we want to have this thing fixed for the future."

Illinois' Democratic candidates for Treasurer and Comptroller, Robin Kelly and David Miller, have also gone on record supporting the idea. Kelly contends she first proposed merging the offices, but the GOP candidates say press reports indicate she was only exploring such a plan until recently.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Quinn Names New Chief of Staff

Gov. Pat Quinn has picked his Department of Human Services head to be his new chief of staff.

Quinn named Michelle Saddler on Tuesday to replace Jerry Stermer, who resigned this weekend amid an ethics probe. Saddler has led the social service agency since October 2009.

Stermer resigned Sunday after a probe of his admission that he had "inadvertently'' used his state e-mail account to send three messages, including campaign-related ones. He said executive inspector general James Wright later determined they were prohibited under state ethics rules.

Stermer said he quit to avoid being a distraction for Quinn, who is in a tough campaign against Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Illinois Fails In Bid For ‘Race to the Top’ Education Funds

Illinois has struck out in its attempt to get federal school-reform money.

The state was a finalist twice for "Race to the Top'' grants and hoped to get $400 million this time. But the U.S. Education Department named nine states and the District of Columbia as recipients in the final round of stimulus program funding.

Illinois House education leader Roger Eddy says the state's bid was hurt by its long history of local school control and concerns about its ability to continue the programs after federal money dried up. But the Hutsonville Republican says the State Board of Education worked hard to revise its application after Illinois missed out on the first round of federal money in March.

The top education leader in Illinois is diappointed the state got shut out on those funds. But state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch says the reform agenda will proceed. Reforms paid for with the federal money must be continued with state funds. Koch says he doesn't know if Illinois' budget problems played a role in the state's loss. He says there is already some federal money for changes and Illinois can gain from successes in the states that did get money.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

Auditor Referendum Removed from Champaign County Ballot

A referendum to make the Champaign County auditor an appointed, rather than elected, position will not be on the November ballot this year.

Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says it was his duty as the county Election Authority to remove the referendum from the ballot, because the Champaign County Board voted to put it on the ballot more than a year in advance of the election.

"I've never had to do it before --- hope it never happens again", says Shelden. "But this ballot question won't be on the November ballot, because it was passed by the County Board, more than a year prior to the election. And the state statute is very clear that they cannot do that."

Shelden acted, following a complaint filed last week by County Democratic Chair Al Klein, who also said the question was flawed because it didn't list a date for the auditor to switch from elected to appointed, if voters approved the measure. Shelden said it might have been possible to work around that problem, but not the county board's failure to wait for the one-year pre-election window.

The referendum's co-sponsor on the County Board, Democrat Steve Beckett, says he plans to bring it up again for inclusion on the April 2011 ballot. Beckett says he accepts responsibility for the error. Meanwhile, Republican County Board member Greg Knott accuses Klein and Democratic County Auditor Tony Fabri of sitting on knowledge of the problem until it was too late for the County Board to fix it.

"It's clear they were playing games", says Knott. "It was a way to not have the focus on Mr. Fabri and his performance and the need for that office in this election cycle."

The auditor's referendum had targeted Fabri, with Republicans and some Democrats on the County Board accusing him of poor attendance at his office, following a News-Gazette report. Fabri says an elected auditor is vital for good county government, and says his critics should run their own candidate for auditor, if they're unhappy with him. Fabri says he had heard rumors that there were statutory problems with the way the referendum was put on the ballot, but wasn't focused on the matter, and thought the County Board would take care of any problems.

Klein says he learned of the statutory problems with the referendum a few weeks before he wrote to the County Clerk about it, but waited in order to check the matter out with legal experts. He also says waiting until after the deadline for submitting items for the ballot is the usual time to post a challenge.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 23, 2010

Champaign County Auditor Referendum May Not Qualify for Ballot

Republicans unhappy with Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri led a County Board vote last summer to put a referendum on the November ballot to make the county auditor's post appointed, instead of elected. Now, the chair of the Champaign County Democratic Party says the referendum should be disqualified.

The charges from Al Klein focus on two provisions of state law. Klein says the Champaign County Board failed to specify a date for when the referendum would become effective, leaving a blank spot in the referendum language. And he says the county board acted more than a year before the November 2010 election --- too early, according to state statute.

If he hadn't found the legal problems, Klein says he'd be campaigning against the referendum. Klein and current auditor Tony Fabri are both Democrats, but Klein argues it's just a bad idea for the auditor to be hired by county officials.

"What good is it to have an auditor, if the auditor is employed by the people he's auditing?", asks Klein. "Think of Arthur Andersen and Enron. There's one of the best firms in the country, with the highest white-hat reputation. And look what to them, because they could not afford to say no to the people who were paying their tab."

Klein wrote Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden about the matter last week --- Shelden is in charge of elections in the county. The letter was written long after the deadline for the county board to do anything to revise the referendum to address Klein's charges. Klein says he chose the normal period for challenging ballot items.

Shelden plans to comment on the issue on Tuesday, but had written County Board Chair Pius Weibel about the question of the effective start date last December.

For his part, Weibel says it was implicit in county board discussion of the referendum last August that it would take effect --- if passed --- at the end of Fabri's term in 2012. But he says he didn't know about a state law requiring that referenda must be approved for the ballot less than 12 months before an election.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz declined to comment on the matter Monday.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 22, 2010

New Law Requires More Information from Pet Shops and Shelters

A bill that requires pet stores and animal shelters to disclose the health history a dog or cat has been signed into law.

Under the new law, pet shops, animal shelters and control facilities will also have to disclose other information. That includes the name and address of the breeder, retail price, adoption fees and vaccinations, among other things.

Currently, those details are only disclosed if it's requested and often times that means a consumer won't get the information until after a final sale.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill on Sunday. He says the information will help protect consumers before they buy a pet.

The law goes into effect next year.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 20, 2010

Feathers Ruffled by Quinn’s Stance Against Building the Lower Manhattan Mosque

Gov. Pat Quinn is sticking by his opposition to building a mosque near ground zero in New York despite criticism from a local immigrant rights group.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights on Friday called on candidates and elected officials to "stop injecting hate in the debate.''

Quinn said Friday he honors the patriotism of Muslim citizens but believes a group should rethink building a Muslim center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Quinn says there should be a "zone of solemnity'' around the site. He says any place of worship that takes away from the solemnity of ground zero should rethink their location.

He called his position "a matter of conscience.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2010

Little Agreement on the Final Cost of the Blagojevich Trial

Estimates about the total cost of the just concluded trial of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich range wildly from several million to $30 million.

There's now at least confirmation of what the jury cost for nearly two months of trial and 14 days of deliberation. The bill? $67,463.32. The U.S. District Court clerk's office provided that figure Thursday.

Jurors returned a sole guilty verdict _ lying to the FBI. They deadlocked on 23 counts.

The jurors' bill includes costs for food and travel. And it includes pay -- jurors got $40 a day the first month, then $50 after that.

Prosecutors don't calculate costs of individual cases, so the trial's full cost may never be known. But prosecutors plan to retry Blagojevich on undecided counts, so that tab may have to be paid again.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2010

As School Starts, UI Administrators and Employees Grapple with Money Issues

Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago

Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.

"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."

The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.

At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.

"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 19, 2010

Former Urbana Track Coach Back in US, Turned Over to Corrections Authorities

A former Urbana high school coach convicted of a sex crime is back in the US, and will start serving a prison sentence.

But the attorney for Yuri Ermakov Thursday filed a post-conviction petition with hopes his client will get a new trial. The 28-year old Ermakov fled to his native Russia while a Champaign County jury deliberated his fate in 2007.

The former University Laboratory High School track coach was found guilty of criminal sexual assault for incidents involving a female student, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was also convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for providing alcohol to two 16-year old girls. After a brief court hearing Thursday morning, Ermakov was remanded to Illinois' Department of Corrections.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says Ermakov was up against Friday's deadline for filing the post-conviction petition. She says Judge Jeff Ford has a three-month window to act on it.

"The judge could say that all of the allegations in his petitions are frivolous - petition dismissed, and that's the end of the case." said Rietz. "The judge could say that some of the allegations deserve further inquiry, and then we have time to respond. Or judge could say the entire petition deserves further inquiry. We do not believe any of those allegations have any merit, and are absolutely confident that the judge is going to find all of them, if not the vast majority of them, frivilous."

Rietz notes that a federal warrant was out for Erkmaov that preventing him from travelling outside of Russia, which may have been part of his motivation for returning home to serve his sentence.

Judge Ford denied a request from Chicago Attorney Steve Richards that his client remain in Champaign County's custody in order to stay in closer contact with him. Ford says such a move would prove too costly. The FBI had been negotiating for Ermakov's return from Russia the past several months. Rietz says he's also seeking clemency from Governor Pat Quinn as part of a large backlog of cases before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.


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