Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 30, 2010

Quinn Signs New Pension Law, Daley Disappointed

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation affecting the pension system for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Quinn signed the law Thursday. His office says it will stabilize pension systems and protect retirement benefits for the officers and firefighters. However Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he's disappointed Quinn signed the law, saying it will burden Chicago taxpayers.

The new law will affect those hired on or after Jan. 1. Quinn's office also says it will help municipalities fund pensions.

Daley's office says the new law will increase the city's annual police and fire pension contribution from an projected $309 million in 2015 to about $856 million. The new law normalizes retirement ages, sets a maximum pension and begins monthly cost-of-living adjustments at age 60 for retirees and survivors.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 29, 2010

Virginia Theatre’s Next Renovations Likely to be Put Off Until 2012

Champaign's Virginia Theatre re-opens this week after six months of privately funded work to the lobby and concession stand.

The downtown facility has yet to use $500,000 in state grant dollars for plaster work and theater lighting. But Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said that work is expected to take longer, likely about eight months. With movie showings and concerts now scheduled into May, Auteberry said the park district will likely postpone closing the Virginia again until 2012. The schedule includes Roger Ebert's 13th Annual Film Festival.

Auteberry said lots of changes have already taken place since July, including paint and plaster work, a new concession stand, lighting, and carpeting extending into the upper lobby. The decision to move the state grant-funded work to will officially be made at the next park district board meeting Jan. 12. Auteberry said that is also when the board hopes to approve the design for a new marquee on the theater, after reviewing options from a sign company.

"They're going to be looking at redesigned designs, that Wagner (Electric Sign Company) has prepared, and hopefully deciding on a final design," Auteberry said. "Once we get a final design done, I don't think it will take them long to put it up."

The Virginia has been without a marquee the last several weeks. The park district board voted last summer to replace the sign with one resembling the 1921 original, despite complaints from local preservationists. The old vaudeville house re-opens Friday night for the annual Chorale concert. The park district also hopes to schedule an open house in February to show off recent upgrades.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 29, 2010

Shutdown of Champaign Recycling Site Puts Some Out-of-Towners in a Bind

The city of Champaign's recycling drop off site on Kenyon Road is scheduled to shut down for good on Thursday, Dec. 30, at 2:30 PM. That's bad news for residents from outside the city who have been using the facility for years.

Champaign is closing the recycling drop off site because a new program for apartment buildings means recycling pickup is now available to all residents. Landlord pay a per-unit user fee for the recycling collection program that's been dubbed "Feed the Thing". Another program requiring garbage haulers to include curbside recycling pickup for single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings has been in place in Champaign for years.

Landlords and/or residents pay for recycling pickup in Champaign, but the city's recycling drop off facility has always been offered to the public free of charge. Champaign operations manager Tom Schuh said the site was costing the city $12,500 a month in recent years.

"It's never been free," Schuh said. "Unfortunately, recycling materials, the value of those materials just doesn't cover the cost of operating either a drop-off site or any other recycling program."

Whatever the cost, the city recycling drop off facility was popular with many out-of-town residents. And with its closing, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission recycling coordinator, Susan Monte, said those users will be at a disadvantage.

"It will be a very missed drop-off site," Monte said. "Lots of people that lived in rural areas did use that site, and they are now searching for an alternative."

One alternative could be a new drop-off facility that a Champaign-based startup company hopes to open, not far from the city drop off site. If the city approves a zoning change, CEO Steven Rosenberg of Green Purpose LLC said users would pay a $5 monthly fee to drop off recyclables, and he said the facility would also promote the company's strategy of re-purposing

"You'll be able to drop off things that maybe aren't recyclable at all," Rosenberg said. "Lightly used materials that are able to be reused, and even though specific people don't have a use for them anymore, other people might."

According to Monte, most Champaign County residents have access to recycling services. Curbside pickup is available in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Savoy, Mahomet, St. Joseph and Tolono. In addition, Tolono, Homer, Philo and Ogden will continue to operate their own drop off facilities for their local residents. But Monte said 14 rural communities in Champaign County have no recycling service at all. She said some counties, including Macon County, rely on tipping fees from their landfill to fund county-wide recycling programs. Champaign County no longer has an active landfill.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 29, 2010

Legislative Aide to Join Il. General Assembly for One Day

Within the span of the next couple of weeks, Illinois' 105th House District will have had three lawmakers.

State Rep. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) will continue serving until Jan. 9 when he resigns to become the state senator of the 53rd district. He is replacing State Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford. Cultra's permanent replacement in the House is Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman. Barickman will be sworn in on Jan. 10, the day after Cultra gives up the seat.

As a way to show his appreciation to his longtime aide Russell Geisler, Cultra pushed to have Geisler appointed to his House seat for one day before Barickman takes offices.

A group of Republican Party leaders in the district from Champaign, Ford, Livingston, Iroquois, Vermilion, and McLean counties voted unanimously to approve the temporary appointment earlier this month, but not without some hesitation from its members. Gordy Hulten, the outgoing vice-chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party and soon-to-be county clerk, said he is concerned about Geisler's ability to cast votes when the General Assembly's in session.

"They make vote on worker's compensation, or teacher tenure reform, or a $15 billion borrowing plan, and we may have an honorary state representative for a day casting votes or being instructed on how to vote for us, which is even worse," Hulten said. "I live in this district, so I'm not excited about that."

Geisler contended that he has plenty of experience working with Rep. Cultra in Springfield and added that he is well informed about pending legislative measures that may come up for a vote.

"I've been there, down there, and listened to the debates on the floor," Geisler said. "You know, that's why you got the House staff, and if I didn't understand something, I can call them over and say, 'Hey, explain this to me before I do cast a vote.'"

During Geisler's short time in the General Assembly, he will not receive salary or pension benefits, and he has already signed a letter pledging to resign after one day in office.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 29, 2010

Ald. Frank Edwards Named Interim Springfield Mayor

The Springfield City Council chose Alderman Frank Edwards on Tuesday evening as the city's interim mayor.

Immediately after the vote, Edwards was sworn in by Springfield City Clerk Cecilia Tumulty.

Edwards, who is the city's former fire chief, was chosen on a 6-4 vote to serve until April as a replacement for Mayor Tim Davlin, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Dec. 14.

Under the law, the council had 60 days to select an interim mayor. The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reports that a number of aldermen said they need someone in place sooner because of the serious budget issues the city is facing.

Edwards, who was running for re-election as alderman, was one of those calling for a quick replacement for Davlin.

"Our budget process ends Feb. 28. We really need to have someone in place (now) so we can start working on the budget and find out exactly where we are. We have people's livelihood in the balance," Edwards said Monday.

Others who had expressed an interest in the interim job or who had been mentioned by City Council members included Alderman Mark Mahoney, Alderman Debbie Cimarossa, and Jim Donelan, who served as Davlin's executive assistant. The council is officially non-partisan.

Last week, Alderman Frank Kunz, the mayor pro tem, withdrew from the running to be interim mayor and endorsed Mahoney, who is not running for re-election as alderman.

Mahoney and Cimarossa voted against naming Edwards, as did Alderman Gail Simpson and Alderman Sam Cahnman.

Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone said Davlin, a two-term Democrat, died of a close-range gunshot wound to his chest. The 53-year-old mayor was found dead after he failed to show up for a court appearance to address questions about his handling of the estate of one of his cousins, who died in 2003.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 28, 2010

Urbana Farm Issues Sprout Recall After FDA Health Warning

The owner of Tiny Greens Organic Farm in Urbana is recalling alfalfa sprouts that are suspected of being tainted with salmonella after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Monday advising the public to stay away from the sprouts.

"If I have a problem, I want to fix it," Tiny Greens' CEO Bill Bagby said. "If it's not, I want it to be known."

Bagby alerted his customers about the recall early Tuesday morning. His client list includes grocery stores and restaurants across the Midwest.

The FDA warning came a week after one of the company's clients, the Jimmy John's restaurant chain, stopped serving the sprouts in Illinois. The sprouts are linked to dozens of salmonella outbreaks in 12 counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook. Bagby said if his farm is the source of the outbreak, he questioned why there were no other reported cases of people becoming ill after eating food with salmonella from other companies that also get sprouts from the Urbana farm.

Efforts by the FDA and the Illinois Department of Public Health to identify contaminated sprouts at the farm have led to no positive results of salmonella. But Don Kraemer, the acting deputy director with the FDA's Center for Food Safety, said a preliminary review shows there was enough evidence to issue the warning.

"We traced back from the patients to the restaurants that they ate at and determined who supplied them with the sprouts, and virtually all of them were supplied by Tiny Greens," Kraemer said.

The sprouts in question were distributed to farmers' markets, restaurants and grocery stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and possibly other Midwestern states. Bagby said it was premature for the FDA to issue the warning based on statistical evidence.

"They've got nothing," Bagby said. "And now they're swabbing the terrarium in the office. They found a bird's nest outside of the facility, and found bird droppings. I mean they're doing everything. They're going to for sure find salmonella this time. It's not going to be related to this."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that from Nov. 1 to Dec. 21, around 90 people across the country became sick with a matching strain of salmonella. More than half of those cases were in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health's Kelly Jakubek said the last case of someone in Illinois getting sick with salmonella after eating a sprout was on Dec. 7, but she said an investigation is ongoing.

"We'll continue to look at sprout producers and distributors," Jakubek said. "It's very important that anyone who becomes ill after eating alfalfa sprouts, it's very important that they contact their health provider."

Bagby said he will cooperate with the investigation. He said his mandatory recall has had a significant impact on his business going from distributing around 10,000 pounds of alfalfa sprouts a week to a thousand pounds.

"It's already hurt my business," he said.

Products subject to this recall include: 4 oz. Spicy Sprouts and our 4oz., 1lb., 2lb., & 5lb., Alfalfa Sprouts (all package sizes) with lot codes 348, 350, or 354 or having a "sell by" date of 12/29/10, 12/31/10 and 1/04/11. Additionally, any product containing alfalfa sprouts that remain on the market with the following lot numbers 305 thru 348 or "sell by" dates from 12/16/10 thru 12/29/10 will also be recalled.

The warning issued Monday includes a mix called Spicy Sprouts, which contain radish and clover sprouts.

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 25, 2010

Champaign Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance Goes Into Effect December 26th

Once again, the city of Champaign has declared its sidewalk snow and ice removal requirement will be in effect as of Sunday, December 26th at 8 AM.

With the National Weather Service reporting 4-point-4 inches of snow accumulation in Champaign-Urbana over the Christmas weekend, the city of Champaign is giving property owners in its downtown and Campustown areas 48 hours to clear all ice and snow from their sidewalks. Sidewalks that are not cleared by Tuesday, December 28th at 8 AM, could be cleared by the City as the owner's expense.

Champaign's city code allows for the implementation of the sidewalk snow and ice removal requirement whenever accumulated snowfall reaches two inches or more.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2010

Three Candidates Vying for Champaign City Council Seat

The race for a Champaign city council seat next spring will include at least three write-in campaigns.

Jim McGuire, Paul Faraci, and Catherine Emanuel have all filed to run for the District 5 seat being vacated by Gordy Hulten, who has been appointed as the next Champaign County Clerk. By time he was chosen by local Republicans for the office, it was too late for the three candidates' names to appear on the ballot.

McGuire, the president of the U of I's AFSCME local 698, said he is running since he has had a long family history in the community, and has been part of many Republican campaigns. Now, he said he wants to serve in a 'bigger capacity' in rough economic times.

"We have problems with our budget," McGuire said. "I think I can help have an impact. I've been dealing with the budget at the university, and I received the layoff notices myself. I'm trying to work through those issues."

McGuire manages stores and receiving at the U of I. He has twice lost bids for the Champaign school board, in 2001 and 2003. If elected, McGuire said he would resign his position with AFSCME to avoid any conflict of interest.

This is Catherine Emanuel's first bid for public office. She said newcomers and outsiders can have a unique appeal to voters. The health care consultant said she will bring a moderate business perspective to the city council.

"I haven't been involved in politics heavily," Emanuel said. "I see this as an opportunity for people like me who are moderate and not on one side of the extreme or other."

Paul Faraci with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said his job experience would bode well on the city council. Faraci was a Democratic Champaign County Board member from 2000 to 2002. His family has a long involvement in downtown business in Champaign.

"Between the three of us, I've had almost 50 years of experience," Faraci said. "That experience will place nicely in this."

Mayor Jerry Schweighart is expected to appoint an interim city council member to the district 5 seat by late next month.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2010

Ivory Coast: One Village Votes

The West African nation of Ivory Coast recently took a step towards democracy with a historic election, but with the sitting president disqualifying the results, Ivory Coast is now on the brink of Civil War. University of Illinois instructor Carol Spindel visited the Ivory Coast as the momentous vote took place.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 23, 2010

FBI Releases Files on NPR’s Daniel Schorr

The Nixon White House was so worried about Daniel Schorr's reporting that it ordered an investigation into the veteran network correspondent whose tough stories landed him on the president's infamous enemies list, according to newly released FBI files.

The administration had the bureau conduct a background investigation in 1971, according to one section from among hundreds of pages released Thursday from Schorr's FBI file.

The White House said it was considering Schorr for a public affairs job in the environmental area. A day later, the investigation was canceled but the White House still wanted to see anything the FBI had managed to discover about Schorr.

Schorr asked the FBI to discontinue the investigation.The long-time newsman later said he had never applied for such a position.

The 93-year-old Schorr died in July after a six-decade career with CBS, NPR and other news media outlets. He believed the White House had tried to intimidate him for his hard-hitting coverage of the administration.

The first reference to Schorr in FBI files dates from July 31, 1942, when FBI Director J Edgar Hoover asked the chief of the Special War Policies Unit for more information on Schorr's status as a "representative of a foreign principal'' in his employment with the Netherland Indies News Agency.

Eight years later, at the height of the post-war "Red Scare,'' Hoover told the CIA director that the bureau had looked over Schorr's background and had kept information on his travels to "Iron Curtain countries.''

The files mainly deal with the fallout from the FBI's investigation into Schorr and include dozens of newspaper articles and interviews with people who knew the famous reporter.

Some of the files document Schorr's attempts to pry information from the FBI about the investigation by filing a Freedom of Information Act request for information.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

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