Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 12, 2010

Early Voting Center Opens in Urbana

The new Early Voting Center at the University of Illinois Urbana campus is open for business, but there's disagreement about the center's location and level of convenience.

Champaign County Democrats wanted the state-mandated early voting center to be in the U of I's Illini Union, but Republican County Clerk Mark Shelden rented an unfinished storefront in the Gregory Place complex on the east side of campus instead. Shelden said the location would suffer less interference from political activity. Election Judge Kathy Hamilton was helping to staff the center on Tuesday, and she said it is a central location, and accessible for people with disabilities.

"If someone is in a wheelchair, there's a ramp right in front of us," Hamilton said. "They can come in, there's no threshold, and it's all on one floor."

Hamilton also noted that on-street parking is readily available. Democratic County Board member Steve Beckett pointed out that all the parking spaces have parking meters. He said free parking is one reason the Illini Union would have been a better spot.

"I knew one of the things said over at the (Illini) Union was, there was going to be free parking in the circle drive," Beckett said. "I was very disappointed about that."

Beckett also complained that about dim lighting, which he said could pose difficulties for older voters like him. Hamilton said that so far, voters in their 30s or above have been in the majority at the Campus Early Voting Center, which exists because of a state law aimed at encouraging student voting. Shelden says he plans to follow up on a letter to Gregory Place development, requesting free parking spaces at the site, and will install additional lighting. He also hopes to see the U of I promote the site,

"I hope the university will send e-mails out to people - they've done that in the past," said Shelden. "Maybe the student government group (the UI Student Senate) that was talking about how much money they were willing to spend on promoting early voting at the union - it would be nice if they would spend some of that money promoting early voting over here."

All Champaign County voters are welcome to vote early at either the campus Early Voting Center, at 700 South Gregory Street in Urbana, or at the Champaign County Clerk's office in the Brookens Center, 1776 East Washington Street in Urbana, through October 28th. Both locations are open weekdays from 8 AM to 4:30 PM, and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 AM to noon.

(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 11, 2010

Quinn Rallies Labor Behind Him, Warning of Cuts

Governor Pat Quinn's election campaign took him to some friendly crowds on Monday, including one in Champaign County.

Union members rallied around Quinn in a statewide series of appearances. After the last one of the day before a spirited crowd at Savoy's Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, Quinn felt like his core constituency was primed to get out the vote, even amid questions about apathy among Democratic voters.

"I didn't see any apathy today," Quinn said. "I think a lot of folks are ready to vote, and that's best way to show your citizenship, flex your muscles."

Quinn dished out criticism of Republican challenger Bill Brady's plans to rein in spending, saying programs such as college scholarships for students in need would be in danger of more cuts.

"The working people of Illinois deserve a scholarship program that can help their kids go to (school). I'm running against someone who wants to cut that back. We're never going to cut that back," Quinn said to applause. "We're going to invest in the brains of everyday people. They're going to make our state even better."

The rally also featured welder Matt Langendorf of St. Joseph, whose homemade commercial for Quinn has made it to statewide airwaves.

As Quinn crossed the state, Brady and his campaign bus tour hit Charleston as it swings through southeast Illinois.

(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 11, 2010

Champaign Social Service Agency Adopts New Name

The head of a Champaign social service agency said its name had become too narrow when examining its broad range of services.

New signs are up at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, changing its name to Community Elements.

CEO Shelia Ferguson said the name change came as a result of three-year strategic plan. She said it reflects the fact that the agency does much more than help those with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. She said it has also been reaching out to the homeless.

"We also have residential services and shelters and community kitchens," Ferguson said. "So this allowed us to have a dialogue with the community that we're more than mental health, but also to allow people to come meet us, reach out to us, if there needs were other than mental health."

Ferguson said the name change will also help the agency do more with less, by partnering with other social service groups in the community.

"We also need to partner where we can save money, where we can deliver services better, more efficiently," she said. "Where we can deliver services to the people who need then, who aren't community-based because they're limited by transportation or other resources in order to get to us. So you'll see a lot more partnership, a lot more discussing amongst social service agencies to make sure that continuum of care is available to those who need it in Champaign County."

Ferguson said Community Elements is still dealing with slow payments from the state. It's owed about $2.5 million between the last and current fiscal years.

(Photo courtesy of Community Elements)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 08, 2010

UI President Hogan, Labor Unions Call Meeting a Positive First Step

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan and a number of campus labor groups say they have started a productive dialogue on issues like employee salaries and affordable education.

Friday's one-hour meeting came a day after many of these unions rallied on campus, giving administrators a failing grade in areas like transparency and accountability. Hogan said it was not a bargaining session, but simply a conversation between people with shared interests.

"I think they would feel very good about having an opportunity occasionally, even only once a semester, or two or three times a year, just to sit in that room (the President's conference room) and not negotiate the details of a contract, but just have a dialogue between interested parties," said Hogan. "I would be very comfortable doing that."

Further meetings haven't been scheduled, but Hogan said the parties already share one common interest.

"That's linking arms in Springfield and trying together to convince our legislators that we're a very good investment," Hogan said. "And if we can get some stability, some predictability, and hopefully increased support out of them, we're able to do more for everybody here."

U of I Campus Faculty Association President and history faculty member Kathryn Oberdeck said it is good to see that groups like hers and the Graduate Employees Organization will be allowed to become part of the decision making process. She said the president and unions will likely have their share of disagreements, but Oberdeck said this meeting was simply about laying the ground work, but she said U of I faculty members continue to have concerns about the voice they will have.

"What sorts of research gets funded and the ways in which the restructuring of the university will reach down and take account of the voices of people who actually work on the ground, and the way that actual process evolves remains to be seen," Oberdeck said. "But I did get the sense that he heard and sympathized with that desire."

Gene Vanderport with the Illinois Education Association said he is pleased with the tone and tenor of President Hogan.

"We feel that this administration may be more in contact with what need to be looking as as priorities," Vanderport said. "We can't get into specifics, but we're pleased with some of the answers we got. I feel a lot better about what our future holds."

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 08, 2010

Annual Unity March to Mark Carrington Shooting Anniversary

The fatal shooting last year of Kiwane Carrington is the driving spark of this year's Unity March in Champaign-Urbana. The 7th annual social justice march takes place Saturday, October 9th, one year to the day after the 15-year-old Carrington was shot and killed during a police altercation. The march is sponsored by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, Champaign County NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign County, and the Graduate Employees Organization on the U of I campus.

Aaron Ammons of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice said that while he thinks progress in city government has been slow, Carrington's death has inspired many people and groups to make new efforts towards positive change.

"I believe most entities and institutions have opened up, and are trying to see things from a different perspective, since the killing of Kiwane Carrington," Ammons said. "Honestly, I believe some of it is out of genuine desire to change, and some of it is political pressure that comes, but certainly, there's been a lot more talk and a lot more meetings among several different entities since the killing."

Ammons said the Unity March is aimed at inspiring empowerment among victims of poverty and injustice, so they can take their own steps towards change.

"There are things that we can do as far as our own food security," Ammons said. "For example, to grow some of your own food at the community garden, or at your own home. That's a really basic thing that surrounds the idea of empowerment."

Ammons said another example is teaching young people how to act in contacts with police.

The march begins at noon, 906 West Vine Street where the Kiwane Carrington shooting occurred. From there, marchers will proceed north on Prospect to Bradley Avenue, and then head west to the Randolph Street Community Garden. At the garden, fruit trees will be planted in Carrington's memory, and a garden party will be held, featuring food and music. Ammong said the march is open to all.

In addition, a pre-march symposium is scheduled for 6:30 PM, on Friday, October 8th, at the Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 West Nevada Street, Urbana, on the University of Illinois campus. The topic is "Other Deaths and Other Truths" Communities Confronting State Violence". The symposium is sponsored by the "Landscapes of Struggle in Illinois" Focal Point Group of the Independent Media Center of Urbana Champaign.

Last year's shooting death of Kiwane Carrington by a police officer was ruled accidental, but the officer involved, Daniel Norbits, was given a 30-day suspension for improper handling of his weapon, which he is appealing. Critics say the incident is a symptom of long-standing problems in Champaign police-community relations, particularly where African-American youth are involved. Champaign city officials say they've made several changes in police procedures in the wake of the incident.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 07, 2010

Fire Code Violations Force Shut Down of Urbana Hotel

Repeated fire code violations have forced the city of Urbana to shut down a north side hotel.

Fire Chief Mike Dilley said several rooms at the Hanford Inn and Suites on North Cunningham Avenue had no working smoke detectors, and the ones that did work failed to trigger the hotel's alarm system. About 30 people were displaced after the hotel closed Wednesday. Dilley said the hotel's management has failed to respond to calls questioning when the problems might be rectified.

"The local representative would not come to the building yesterday (Wednesday), he refused to come," Dilley said. "So we're kind of at a loss for what to do at this point until we get somebody involved as a corporation, at least somebody that's involved who will come take some responsibility for this."

Owners of the hotel could not be reached for comment. Dilley said prior fire code problems at the Hanford Inn and Suites included wiring problems and fire doors not closing properly. He said it is ironic that the closure would occur on Fire Prevention Week, and urges all residents and business to make sure they have working smoke detectors. Dilley said half the hotel's guests were construction workers who were able to find another play to stay.

Kelly Hartford with Urbana's Community Development staff said the city found other families willing to take in the remaining 15 guests, and Hartford is working with the Salvation Army for long-term accommodations.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Kirby Hospital in Monticello Prepares for Major Upgrade

A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.

The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.

The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.

"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."

The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.

"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."

Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.

"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."

Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.

The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.

(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Piatt County Clerk Residency Case Gets New Judge, Attorney Defends Rhoades

The attorney representing the Piatt County Clerk is contesting a claim that the clerk does not intend to live inside the county.

Pat Rhoades' qualification is being challenged by a Monticello attorney who claims Rhoades is living just across the county line in Champaign County. Dan Clifton charges that Rhoades has registered to vote in Champaign County, and that the Piatt County property she said will eventually hold her family's new home has not been developed. Cklifton had earlier alleged that the property is for sale, but he since has backed off that claim.

Rhoades' attorney Deanna Mool says Clifton has not followed the correct legal procedure. "If you want to have an official removed from office, you have to file what's called an in quo warranto action, It's provided in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure," said Mool. "It lists certain requirements that you have to follow, one being (that) no individual can sue for that unless the state's attorney and the attorney general have declined to do so. So our motion to dismiss is based on those grounds." However, clifton says he studied the situation and concludes that he didn't have to make the filing.

Mool said she will not address Clifton's residency accusations directly until they are presented in court. Rhoades herself has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

On Wednesday, a Piatt County judge removed himself from the case. A judge from Macon County will come to Monticello to hear the complaint, but no date has been set.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Parties Expected to Pour Lots of Money Into 101st District Race

There's less than a month to go until Election Day, and one of the more contentious and expensive races is in the 101st District. Adam Brown, a 25-year-old Republican who's on the Decatur City Council, is trying to unseat four-term State Representative Bob Flider of Mount Zion. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2010

Champaign Solar Energy Developer Nets $2.5 Million Grant

A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.

Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.

"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."

Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.

During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.

"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."

Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


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