Illinois Public Media News
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.
The founder of Jimmy John's sandwich shops says he's considering moving his company's headquarters from Champaign to Florida because of Illinois' new tax increase.
Jimmy John Liautaud told the News-Gazette on Tuesday that he's gathering information on a potential move and will ask the company's board to decide.
Liautaud said he could absorb the increased costs but doesn't believe he should have to.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the income tax increase last week to help address billions of dollars in state budget shortfalls. And during a visit to the University of Illinois Urbana campus Wednesday, the governor said he hoped Liataud would reconsider any move out of the state. Quinn said a tax increase was necessary to get Illinois out of a "fiscal emergency".
"I inherited a budget deficit of billions and billions of dollars when I became governor," Quinn said. "I was direct right from the beginning. I said we needed to use the income tax to pay our bills"
With Quinn's signing of tax hike legislation last week, Illinois' corporate income tax rate increased from 4.8 to 7.0 percent. Quinn says that's still one of the lower corporate tax rates in the Midwest. But Florida, where Liautaud is considering a move for his company, has a even lower corporate income tax rate --- a flat 5.5 percent.
Jimmy John's headquarters employs 100 people in Champaign. The privately held chain has more than 1,000 sandwich shops around the country.
Liautaud said he recently moved his family to Florida from Champaign.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Three of the 10 seats on the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees are vacant after the appointments expired, and it isn't clear how or when Gov. Pat Quinn will fill them.
The terms of Frances Carroll, Karen Hasara and Carlos Tortolero expired Sunday. Quinn has yet to say whether they'll be reappointed or replaced.
Hasara says she's spoken with the governor's staff but doesn't know when or how Quinn will act. In a visit to the U of I's Urbana campus Wednesday, the Governor would only say he'd have an announcement soon.
Quinn appointed Hasara and Tortolero in 2009 to fill seats left vacant when other board members resigned over a university admissions scandal. Carroll refused to resign.
"We had a problem that came up in 2009, and I appointed new trustees, and they, I think, carried out the reforms that I wanted and the people wanted," Quinn said.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Five people seeking a vacant Champaign City council seat have interviewed for the post.
But it's still not clear whether the council will appoint one of two people seeking the District 5 seat solely on an interim basis, or one of the three also conducting write-in campaigns for April's election. At least three council members say they will support Linda Cross or Steve Meid, who don't want the seat long-term.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart contends appointing one of the three also running in April would give them an unfair advantage. Council member Michael LaDue said she agrees, as does Karen Foster.
"It's just an unfair advantage in this situation," Foster said. "It's different if you're an incumbent already and you're running for election and win or lose. It's an appointed incumbency, so to speak."
And write-in hopeful Katherine Emanuel said while she calls herself the best candidate, she also suggests the council not appoint someone running in April.
"Even people I know who are pretty involved in things didn't know who their council member was," Emanuel said. "And I would encourage you (the city council) to not take the responsibility as a governmental representative for selecting the person who will represent the district, but kind of put that responsibility on the shoulders on both the citizenry and the candidates."
Emanuel is running to hold the seat until 2012, along with Paul Faraci and Jim McGuire. At least one Council member, Marci Dodds, said she would appoint of one those three. She said appointing an interim on Feb. 1 means that person isn't responsible for their actions after three months.
"So that means that lame duck isn't accountable to anybody," Dodds said. "Not to the constituents unless they want to be, not to the council unless they want to be, and not to city staff unless they feel like it that day. And I'm not saying anybody here would be like that, I'm just saying that's a real risk."
The Champaign City Council will make the interim appointment Feb. 1, and that person will serve through April.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is weighing in on the death penalty as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn mulls over whether to repeal it in the state.
Durbin said on a federal level, the death penalty should be left open on high-profile cases, like terrorism or treason where he said there is less of a chance that prejudice could lead to someone being falsely executed. But Durbin noted that on a regional level, states should decide for themselves how they want to enforce it.
"I think that on a state basis, I will leave it to the governor to make his own choice," Durbin said, who noted that a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois has been in place for more than a decade. "I think we are right in Illinois at this point in our history to have suspended the death penalty, and should continue to do so."
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already ended capital punishment. Governor Quinn has said he supports the death penalty when it is properly applied, but it is still unclear how Quinn will move forward with the legislation. More than a dozen death row inmates have been exonerated in Illinois.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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