Illinois Public Media News
The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.
The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.
But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.
"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.
Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.
Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.
"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."
However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.
Signs will soon go up along streets leading into Urbana that tell people their bicycles are welcome.
The purple signs recognize Urbana's new designation as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Public Works Director Bill Grey says the signs send an important message.
"It does send a message that this is a town that is accommodating bicycling as a mode of transportation", says Grey. And we're implementing the facilities to do so, and the education and enforcement that go along with that. And encouragement of people to want to get out of their cars , or seek this as a viable mode of transportation."
City councilman and avid cyclist Charlie Smyth says the designation is important for Urbana because of the estimated 8 percent of city residents who use bikes to get to work. Smyth says that's according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. And he says it's important for the city to upgrade its designation from bronze to silver-level. Smyth says that will require more and better bicycle education programs in Urbana --- and better connections between bike paths.
Champaign has not been named a Bicycle Friendly Community --- but the League of American Bicyclists did name Champaign city government a Bicycle Friendly Business.
New contracts for residential recycling pickup in Urbana are on hold, until the city council gets answers about why apartment dwellers would be able to recycle more materials than those who live in single-family homes
The extra material in question is number six polystyrene plastic. Urbana-based Community Resource is offering to pick up the hard-to-recycle plastic --- except for foam --- in its winning bid for multi-family recycling in the city. But ABC Sanitary Hauling of Champaign would NOT recycle Number Six, under its winning bid to continue as Urbana's single-family curbside recycler.
Alderman Charlie Smyth says he wants both residential recycling programs in Urbana to accept Number Six Plastic.
"Because really, it's confusing to have one program doing more than the other", says Smyth. "I'll just as soon put my stuff in Multi-Family, because I'll be able to more. I want to be able to put all my plastic film and #6 plastic in, and not have to worry about checking all the stupid numbers. If I just know I can put every bit of plastic in the barrel, I'm going to be happy."
The Urbana City Council was set to vote on both the curbside and multi-family recycling bids Monday night. But now the issue goes back to the city council's Committee of the Whole for more discussion.
Urbana's proposed budget doesn't include any tax hikes, but eliminates raises and leaves a number of jobs vacant in order to do that.
The city will also rely on $6 million in reserves to balance the budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the $48 million dollar proposed spending plan also relies on fine and fee hikes from the past year. The city will leave seven jobs unfilled, including a police officer, a public works maintenance worker, and an executive assistant job that's being eliminated for good. Prussing says one area of revenue - the state motor fuel tax... really hasn't changed in 20 years, and suggests the city should enact its own. She says a 2-cent tax would bring a half-million dollars a year for street improvements. "This is something that has to be discussed with the council, and I'd like to talk about it with Champaign," said Prussing. "But I think it's something that Urbana really has to take seriously because we have a need for this and I think since we'd only be asking for a fairly modest amount, we'll have to see what the public thinks." Prussing says a 5-cent motor fuel tax has worked well in Danville, where residents don't mind spending the extra money to upgrade streets.
Mayor Prussing says she's also concerned about what courts decide on Provena Covenant Medical Center's tax exemption. She says if local hospitals provide enough charitable care to be exempt, then Urbana taxpayers are paying for it. She says that doesn't seem fair for the city to pick up that cost. Urbana's city council gets its first look at the budget plan on May 24th - a final vote on the plan will be on June 21st.
The next president of the University of Illinois will have the task of maneuvering the school through shrinking state funding and lingering mistrust.
But Michael Hogan says he's up to the task. Hogan today visited the Urbana campus, one day after his appointment was announced. Hogan is leaving the presidency of the University of Connecticut to take over for interim president Stan Ikenberry, who stepped in after the U of I admissions scandal. Hogan told trustees, faculty and students that he knows adversity.
"There are challenges ahead for the University -- everyone knows that. These are tough economic times not only here but for public and private higher education across the country," Hogan said. "But I'm looking forward -- I'm really looking forward -- to addressing these challenges, and mostly to addressing them in partnership with the faculty, the staff, the students and the board of this great university."
Hogan rose above more than 200 applicants for the U of I's top job, including other university presidents and provosts. Professor May Berenbaum sat on the search committee - she's happy that the U of I is still held in high esteem in spite of its problems.
"It speaks well for our campus and its reputation, and it's hope for the future that there were so many people who wanted to face those challenges," Berenbaum told Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn. "In that sense, it was quite reassuring -- daunting at first, but as the process unfolded it was more and more encouraging."
Hogan will receive a $620,000 salary according to the U of I plus a $225,000 retention bonus after five years. Trustees chair Chris Kennedy says even at that salary, the university is getting a bargain and is not paying top dollar.
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Illinois' courts are in the process of getting an update for how judicial evidence is handled. Hearings will be held next week in Chicago and Springfield.
The rules the courts in Illinois follow when handling evidence are scattered in common law, statutes, and court decisions.
Most states have these rules outlined in one authoritative source, but not Illinois. Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wants to change that, which is why he appointed a special committee to write a blueprint of the state's evidence rules.
This committee includes appellate judges, trial judges, law school professors, and legislators. The manual they've designed is intended to make the judicial process more efficient.
Supreme Court spokesperson Joe Tybor says a judge or lawyer could consult the legal manual to determine the validly of the defense's accusation based on previous rulings. "It should help any lawyer, any judge, and any client who needs information to make a decision on how to proceed," Tybor said. The Supreme Court would have to approve the final product.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
The Illinois House on Thursday approved giving public universities the authority to borrow money to pay bills. The schools are owed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
The controversial change is being viewed as a temporary solution to university cash flow problems. The State of Illinois owes more than $700 million to universities... putting some in jeopardy of being unable to make payroll.
Under this proposal... the universities could borrow based on how much the state owes for the current fiscal year... which expires June 30th. When the state finally comes through.... the schools would be required to quickly pay off the loans.
Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson endorsed the measure.
" When universities are able to do this short term borrowing, able to pay their staff and employees, our young people will continue to receive the world class education they should get from Illinois and that they will be able to get from Illinois", said Jakobsson.
Danville Republican Representative Bill Black concurred. Black says he understands there are concerns about schools taking on the debt ... but he sees no other available option.
"Unless you want the universities to close before the fall semester starts, I suppose you could vote no", said Black. "If you want them to stay open, I suppose as distasteful as it might be to some of us, I have no other alternative. I intend to vote for the bill."
Several lawmakers say they are concerned about allowing the schools to take on the debt... but others argue there is no alternative.
Lawmakers previously sent the Governor a plan to let community colleges establish a line of credit to also cover bills.
Vermilion County is once again on the warning list in a report on Illinois poverty put out by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance.
The Alliance's "2010 Report on Illinois Poverty" lists Vermilion County among 29 counties in the state with high poverty, unemployment and teen birth rates, and low high school graduation rates. Christian and Kankakee Counties are also on the Warning List. The indicators are only a little better in DeWitt, Macon, Edgar, Coles and Clark Counties --- they've been placed on the report's Watch List.
Amy Terpstra with the Heartland Alliance's research unit says that while some counties are worse off, poverty has gotten worse in all parts of Illinois. But she cites differences between rural and urban poverty.
"When you look at rural areas, you see a lot of access issues", says Terpstra. . "Those people have a hard time getting to the services that they need to help them meet their basic needs. They have trouble getting transportation to jobs. When you start looking at some suburban areas, maybe slightly more urban areas, there's issues about enough resources to go
Overall, the report says about 1.5 million Illinoisans - 12.2% of the total --- were living in poverty in 2008, as the recession began. The study says those already living in extreme poverty have been the hardest hit, and their recovery is expected to be the slowest.
In addition, Amy Terpstra says the wealth of Illinoisans is eroding.
"You look at foreclosures and you look at bankruptcies", says Terpstra, "and you've seen both of those over the last couple of years really skyrocket. And so not only are families losing jobs and not drawing in that income, but their long-term wealth and their long-term stability is being eroded by bankruptcies and foreclosures and debt.
Terpstra says the Heartland Alliance calls on state lawmakers to find new revenue to shore up the state budget and preserve social service programs that help the poor.
The Heartland Alliance is a Chicago-based organization that grew out of that city's old Traveler's Aid Society. Terpstra says they believe that good government policy can help turn around the poverty rate. She says that includes putting "new revenue" into the state budget, and using the money to avoid deep cuts in social services.
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