Illinois Public Media News
Champaign City Council member Gordy Hulten is poised to become the next county clerk after the county's GOP Central Committee chose him Monday night to replace Mark Shelden.
Shelden accepted a job offer last week to become the chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) after 13 years in office.
The two contenders up for the seat were Hulten and Deputy County Clerk John Farney. In an unexpected announcement at the meeting, Farney bowed out of his bid to replace Shelden as county clerk, paving the way for Hulten to take the post. Before he spoke, he passed out copies of his resume and touted his experience. Then, Farney tearfully urged members of the committee to support Hulten as county clerk, which they ended up doing.
"I love Champaign County," Farney said. "I love serving you, but the time is not right for me to become your county clerk, and I'm asking you to all support Gordy Hulten tonight. It's what we need to do as a party. It's what we need to do for better government here in Champaign County."
Farney said he liked his chances at grabbing the appointment, but made a decision early Monday to give up on his bid. He said he was not ready to sacrifice more time away from his family.
Hulten will likely take over for Shelden on Jan. 5, after the Champaign County Board votes on his appointment. He said a vote could happen as soon as Tuesday, Dec. 14 by the Policy, Personnel & Appointments Committee. A second vote by the full county board would then happen on Tuesday, Dec. 21.
Hulten said he is humbled by the appointment and added that he does not plan to make any immediate changes to the clerk's office.
"My first order of business is to get into the office and learn, not to go in and make changes," Hulten said. "The office is fantastically run now, so there's no real reason, there's no real motivation to make headlong changes."
The county clerk's term ends in two years until the next general election in 2012. Hulten said he plans he put up a vigorous campaign, so that he can stay in office.
Hulten said he will resign from the Champaign City Council soon, which will open up a search for his replacement. Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said anyone interested in running for the seat will have a three week window to apply after Hulten's resignation. Schweighart said he was considering former city council members James Green and Vic McIntosh for the seat, but both have conflicts preventing them from returning to the council.
"Once the names are submitted, then the council will interview them, and then it'll take five votes of the council to appoint someone," Schweighart explained.
Before Hulten's nomination, he was considered a leading candidate to replace Jason Barickman as head of Champaign County's Republican Party. Barickman will be sworn as the State Representative of the 105th House District. He was appointed in November to fill the seat that will be left vacant by State Rep. Shane Cultra's (R-Onarga) appointment to State Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford's senate seat.
Barickman said even after he is sworn into the Illinois General Assembly on Jan. 10, he plans to stay on as GOP chair.
"There was some discussion that Gordy as our vice-chairman may step up and serve as chairman, but that's no longer in the cards with him serving as our county clerk," Barickman said. "I intend to stay as the county chairman. That's the end of the discussion.
The weather may be improving, but Illinois State Police say the roads in east-central Illinois were still a hazardous place to be on Monday.
Drivers were facing black ice on interstates and other highways - they were re also passing vehicles that have been left stranded on the shoulders in the hours since winds picked up and temperatures bottomed out on Sunday.
Sergeant Bill Emery with the state police post in Pesotum said blowing snow and black ice were still causing problems Monday. He said police were still working on a backlog of reports, including about 50 crashes.
"There's just not enough police and emergency personnel to handle each and every situation," Emory said on Monday. "So we're responding to each one as quickly as possible, and there's several crashes that we're not actually making a report on, if there were no injuries."
Emery said those reports will be done over the next few hours as the immediate problems go away. He said if you slide off the road, the best thing to do is to stay in your car before someone responds.
The conditions have caused two fatalities in the region. 52-year old Edith Janowski-Sherman of rural Champaign was killed Monday morning when her vehicle rolled over at the intersection of two rural roads west of Thomasboro. And Champaign County Coroner Duane Nortrhup says 52-year old Carol Theole of Effingham was helping a towing crew Sunday night when she was struck and killed by a vehicle north of Mattoon on I-57.
A spokesman with one Urbana towing firm said at midday Monday that they still had about 25 calls for help backed up, with a new one coming in every 30 seconds or so.
A deputy clerk for Champaign County said he believes that a move up to the clerk's position will make for a seamless transition.
John Farney has worked for Mark Shelden for nearly four years, in the vital records and elections areas. Shelden will resign next month to become Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson's Chief of Staff. Farney and Champaign City Council member Gordy Hulten will interview for the job before County Republican Precinct Committeemen Monday night.
At least one other unidentified candidate is expected to attend the meeting at GOP headquarters. Farney said he is not concerned about additional names coming forward.
"Frankly, I do hope other people show up and say 'hey, I've got some interest in this," Farney said. "It should be an open process. While I think I'm uniquely qualified for it, the more the merrier I say. I'm always looking forward to bringing more ideas out."
Meanwhile, Hulten said the marketing and sales duties at Devonshire Reality would suit him well for the County Clerk's position, along with 20 years of experience managing political campaigns.
"I've managed staff, managed budgets, been accountable for results, and had to use communication tools to effectively serve our clients and win new business, and those are all things the county clerk has to do," he said. "The county clerk may be the county office that interacts with customers the most."
Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said he is highly optimistic that his party will select a nominee for county clerk Monday night. The Champaign County Board will vote on that person's appointment next month.
A former County Board member and longtime parliamentarian said state law mandates that when a county elected official resigns, that that person's political party must find a replacement. Democrat Steve Beckett said it is also been a matter of custom in Champaign County.
"I cannot think of a time in the 10 years that I was on the county board where we replaced an elected official and did not accept the nomination from the respective party, Democrat or Republican," Beckett said.
Beckett added that county board members certainly have the option of voting against the GOP appointee for clerk. He says he did it once himself, when a new county auditor was named, but no one has been rejected.
The Mayor of Decatur has appointed James Duies to fill the city council seat left vacant by Adam Brown's election to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Brown narrowly won the November election to the 101st House District against incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), and he resigned from the city council last month
Duies grew up in Decatur graduating from Eisenhower High School and then studying finance at Millikin University. He later served for a short time on the Decatur police force and eventually moved out of state to work for Evergreen Investments in Charlotte, N.C. before returning to the city with his wife in 2006. Duies is now a global pensions manager at Archer Daniels Midland Company. McElroy said one of the things that set Duies apart from the other candidates under consideration was his experience analyzing pension systems at ADM, which he hopes will be a valuable asset to Decatur as the city grapples with supporting employee retirement benefits.
"Pensions are the biggest thing that we're talking about financially in every community in the state - pension for the police, fire, and AFSCME workers," McElroy said. "It's nice to have someone that you know watches pensions everyday and sees what's going on with the pensions and can lend his expertise. I don't think that hurts anything."
Since Brown resigned from the council after the election filing deadline, people have until Dec. 23 to file as write-in candidates. Duies will be sworn in within the next few weeks, and he said he plans to run in a special election next spring to stay in office.
"I just am very gracious that the mayor has recommended me for appointment, and I can't wait to get started," Duies said. "I'll stay on as long as I can."
Other candidates running in the special election include Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel and resident James Thomas Taylor. If five candidates end up running for the seat, then a Feb. 22 write-in primary will take place to narrow the number of challengers down to four who will appear on the April 5 ballot. Three other city council members will also be up for e-election, in addition to Mayor McElroy who is running unopposed.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden is leaving his office to join the staff of Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).
Next month, Shelden will take over for Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke, who's going to work for Congressman-elect Randy Hultgren of Winfield. The 46-year-old Shelden has been in the office for 13 years. Shelden says Johnson approached him about the job earlier in the week, after learning his current chief of staff was leaving.
"The way things work in the legislative process is so much different than it works in an executive department," Shelden said. "I think there will be times when I'll be a little frustrated about the slow movement of things, and good ideas you want to get done. So there will be a change from that standpoint."
Republican Precinct Committeemen will meet Monday to begin the process of naming a replacement. Shelden said he will not be endorsing anyone, but will talk to anyone interested in the job.
"I want an open process that looks for the many good candidates that we've got, and tries to find somebody who can do this job well and hopefully maintain this office in a way that I'm proud of," he said.
Shelden said he is excited about tackling new issues, but having worked as a policy analyst in Springfield, he's familiar with the legislative process. Shelden said he expects his successor will be appointed by the Champaign County Board in early January, but Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said it is possible that person will be named by Monday night. The appointed clerk, who would be sworn in by the Champaign County Board in early January when Shelden resigns, would fill the term for two years until the 2012 election.
"I presume people will look at whether or not someone is a Republican," he said. "I think from there Mark has run such a terrific, professional office. Some of the qualifications would probably be who is the person who is electable who in addition to replacing Mark, will run a great, quality office."
Shelden said he was appointed to the office much the same way in April 1997.
"The public needs to remember that we just have an fantastic staff," he said. "Part of my legacy is hiring good people that have run good elections. The first goal of the new county clerk will be to make sure that they are wise enough to lean on the collective skills and talents of those people to get through the next couple of elections.
A report on civic engagement suggests Illinoisans need improvement in areas ranging from voting to simple acts of kindness.
The National Conference on Citizenship's report uses Census Bureau data to show a decline in the number of voters, particularly young voters, in 2008. Voter turnout fell 3-percent that year, despite the presidential campaign of native son Barack Obama. And Illinois ranked 46th in the past year among those 18 and up who did favors for neighbors, like babysitting.
Study Author Shawn Healy says the report should be viewed as a call to action, and one of those areas are schools - which at one time, weren't solely to prepare us for college or a career.
"They're certainly important objectives, but was to prepare people for their role in a democracy," Healy said. "So that's really critical. And there are some great things going on statewide in that respect. But in this tough environment with fiscal constraints, and top of it the standardized testing that's gripped our country, that's really narrowed the curriculum and really pushed civics aside in that central role for schools to play."
Healy also suggested that Illinois should make voter registration easier. While he says absentee voting has become more accessible in the state, he notes states like Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voter registration on Election Day.
He says simple day to day things, like reading a daily newspaper to get the news, or talking politics with a friend, rarely happen anymore. He says someone only needs to look as far as their local bowling alley.
"Bowling hasn't died. In fact, more people are bowling than ever before," he said. "But we bowl alone. And what used to happen when we were bowling on teams is we would interact with people that we might not otherwise see. We might talk about what's going on in the community - we might even discuss politics."
Healy uses Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's metaphor about the bowling alley to represent society, and the layer that stands between individuals and their government. The 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index was funded by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation, and the Citizen Advocacy Center.
The tax cut deal worked out by President Obama and Senate Republicans includes a one-year extension of tax credits for ethanol --- although at 36 cents a gallon, which is down nine cents from the existing 45-cent tax credit set to run out Dec. 31st.
A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, said the one-year extension is shorter than what the Urbana Republican would prefer. Instead, Johnson said he wants a permanent extension of the tax credits.
"If you take these away, as it seems to indicate at this point," Bloomer said. "I think that would have severe consequences for farm states, for central Illinois and the entire Midwest."
But even a one-year extension of the the ethanol tax credit, even at a lower rate, would be good news to Illinois Corn Growers Association Board President Jim Reed. Reed said the tax credit has been key to making ethanol available to consumers, but he said it is time to look for a different way to encourage ethanol production, and an extension would give the industry time to do that.
"By it being extended a year," Reed said. "That really gives us the opportunity to stand back and think about what we can do to increase access to ethanol and make it more available to the consumer, and really do what we can help us limit that importation of the foreign oil."
But Clark Bullard with the Prairie Rivers Network said he does not care for the proposed extension of ethanol tax credits. The U of I Engineering professor said so much of the corn crop goes to making ethanol that corn prices are up, leading to higher food prices and environmental abuses.
"It has given farmers tremendous incentives to clear the last little strip of wildlife habitat, and ... bring highly erodible land into production, just to get more acres of corn at this higher price," Bullard said.
Bullard said even if the ethanol tax credit was dropped, federal mandates for ethanol use would still keep production up to a certain level. He supports further research into ethanol made from ethanol made from grasses or wood chips as an alternative to corn.
The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.
The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.
The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.
Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.
"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.
Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.
"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."
Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Eric Jakobsson was sworn in Monday night as alderman of Urbana's second ward.
Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), replaces former council member David Gehrig. Gehrig resigned from the seat in November citing the work overload. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she appointed Jakobsson, a former University of Illinois biology professor, because of his honesty and ability to make sound decisions.
"Well, I've known him for many years," Prussing said. "I think he's an individual with very high integrity, and what I was looking for with a council member is someone who would have very balanced approach to things, not jump to conclusions, but be willing to listen to people and ask good questions."
Jakobsson said he is ready to get to work on issues like historic preservation and the prospects of setting up a wind farm located outside the city on the University of Illinois campus in South Farms.
"One of the things that I welcome about it is the opportunity to be more fully engaged with the community," Jakobsson said.
At his first council meeting as an elected official Monday night, Jakobsson heard a spirited debate about the proposal for setting up the wind farm. While the project would not be based within Urbana, it would be close enough where city officials can enforce a zoning ordinance. The project has an estimated budget of about $4.5 million dollars, but supporters of the plan raised doubts over whether it would be economically feasible to construct three wind turbines as originally proposed.
Groups touting the plan, including the U of I's Students for Environmental Concerns, shared their voice of support for the project's environmental benefits while property owners raised concerns about the proximity of the wind turbines to their land.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation would help set up the wind turbines, but that grant is slated to expire in May, leaving less time to make last minute changes to the project. Jakobsson said the city wants to see this project become a reality, but he said officials need to explore its impact on the entire community, including residential areas where noise pollution could become a big problem as a result of the wind turbines.
"When the city is given responsibility over an area, the city can't neglect that and the city won't, I'm sure," he said.
Jakobsson plans to stay on the council on a more permanent basis, which is why he is running in next year's city council race against Brian Dolinar of the Independent Media Center. Since both candidates are Democrats, a Feb. 22 primary will determine whose name appears on the ballot.
Democrat Pius Weibel will head the Champaign County Board for another two years.
He and Democrat Tom Betz were re-elected as chair and vice chair on party-line votes of 14 to 12 Monday night, besting Republican nominees Alan Nudo and Jonathan Schroeder. One member, Democrat Geraldo Rosales, was absent. Weibel said the keeping the budget tight as possible remains the top priority, and he said the mere size of the board, 27 members, gives off the impression that things are not being accomplished.
"We've gotten many things done," Weibel said. "We've built new buildings, we've changed some old buildings into new things. We've changed structure. We've done a lot of things. I think the problem is because we have so many people, people think with wll these voices, that's why we're dysfunctional - like a big family vs. a small family."
Weibel said he expects the county board to begin discussion a week from Tuesday on reducing the board from 27 to 22 members, while boosting the number of districts from 9 to 11. On November 2nd, voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum supporting the change. The changes would take effect with redistricting, for the 2012 election.
At least two new County Board members are ready to consider the change. However, Stephanie Holderfield said the effectiveness of reducing the size will rely largely on communication. The District 1 Republican from Mahomet said now that constituents have spoken, it is up to her and other board members outside of Champaign and Urbana to have a voice.
"I think it's going to depend on how the county board representative communicates with the township supervisors, and the community is one and a half miles outside the town limits," Holderfield said. "That's what my job is. My job is to be a good communicator and good facilitator of the constituents one and a half miles outside an incorporated area."
Holderfield is the one new Republican on the board. New District 9 Democrat Christopher Alix says he is ready to advance the proposal as well, saying it will work as well as what's currently in place. He and Democrat James Quisenberry were also sworn in Monday night, along with Democrat Pattsi Petrie in District 6.
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