Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 09, 2010

Champaign County Clerk Leaving Office to Work for U.S. Rep. Johnson

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.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 09, 2010

Report on Civic Engagement Says Illinoisans are Faring Poorly

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.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2010

Federal Tax Cut Plan Would Also Extend Tax Credits for Ethanol

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.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 08, 2010

Talks Continue About Plan for New High School in Champaign

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)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2010

Jakobsson Sworn Into Urbana City Council

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.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 07, 2010

Weibel Re-Elected, Expects County Board Size Discussion to Move Forward

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.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2010

Longtime Indiana Lawmaker Dies at 79

Former Indiana Republican State Senator Joe Harrison is being remembered as an icon and a mentor for many now serving in the legislature.

The 40-year Senator who served as majority leader for 25 years died Thursday in Chicago after suffering a heart attack while visiting his daughters. He was 79.

Senator and Majority Floor Leader Connie Lawson succeeded Harrison as Senate Majority Leader. In her first legislative session in 1997, she said no one was more enthusiastic to see legislators back at the capitol. Lawson said Harrison was eager to explain complicated issues to new lawmakers, having served on his pension and labor committee for her first two years.

"That's not an easy committee to serve on and the bills are not easy to read," Lawson said. "He was always eager to teach each and every one of us what those bills meant. I just remember the way he ran his committee was in a professional and efficient way."

Harrison shared some of the same legislative area as Lafayette Republican Senator Ron Alting when he first campaigned. Alting said Harrison was always a statesman, and never a politician - who acted in the best interests of his constituents, even when his decisions were not the most popular. Alting said Harrison would fight controversial topics head-on, adding that his efficiency helped taxpayers.

"He told you if you testified to get to the point," Alting recalled. "He focused right to what the subject matter was and say your piece and sit down."

Funeral services for Harrison will be Thursday in Attica.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 06, 2010

Election Officials Hearing Objections to Emanuel’s Chicago Mayor Campaign

Dozens of people who don't want former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to be Chicago's next mayor are moving ahead with efforts to keep him off the February ballot. However, the man who moved into Emanuel's house and later decided to challenge him says he won't mount a mayoral campaign himself.

Chicago election officials began handling petition challenges Monday in the mayor's race including more than 30 objections to Emanuel's candidacy.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has assigned hearing officers to his case and others wanting to run for mayor, alderman or other citywide office.

Opponents say Emanuel doesn't meet the residency requirement to run for mayor because he lived in Washington for nearly two years while working for President Barack Obama. One challenger is Rob Halpin, who had moved into Emanuel's Chicago home when Emanuel went to Washington.

Halpin said in a Monday statement that the challenges of running for office - starting with the cost - led to his decision to drop out. Halpin didn't mention Emanuel's name, but says he has no plans to endorse or work against another candidate.

Halpin made headlines a few months ago when he said he wasn't moving out of Emanuel's house, despite being asked to. Emanuel moved back to Chicago, but is living elsewhere.

Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, moved back in October to run for mayor after Richard Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 05, 2010

Sidewalk Snow/Ice Removal Required in Champaign

Sidewalk snow and ice removal requirements for downtown and Campustown in Champaign were put into effect at noon on Sunday (December 5th).

Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt announced that due to the snow accumulated during the weekend snowfall, property owners in the downtown and Campustown areas had until noon on Tuesday, December 7th to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. The deadline is based on the 48 hours warning period established by City Ordinance. Schmidt said through a news release that sidewalks that were not in compliance could be cleared by the City at the property owner's expense.

The downtown Champaign area subject to the Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance is bordered by State Street on the west, 2nd Street on the east, Columbia Avenue on the north and Springfield Avenue on the south. The Campustown area subject to the ordinance is bordered by Neil Street on the west, University Avenue on the north, Windsor Road on the south and Wright Street (which is also the Champaign city border) on the east.

Champaign's Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordiance is put into effect when snow accumulation reaches two inches or more.

A map and other details of the ordinance can be seen on the City of Champaign website (www.ci.champaign.il.us/snow).

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2010

Search Begins to Fill Rep.-Elect Adam Brown’s Decatur City Council Seat

A special write-in election will be held to fill State Representative-elect Adam Brown's vacant Decatur City Council seat.

Brown narrowly defeated four-term incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion) in the November 2nd election, and last week resigned from the city council. Brown's resignation came after the election filing deadline, which means candidates interested in running for the seat will have to file as write-in candidates on the ballot.

If more than four candidates decide to jump into the race, then a special write-in primary will take place on Feb. 22 with the names of the four top candidates appearing on the ballot in the April 5 election. But if there is not a primary, then Macon County Clerk Steve Bean said voters will have to write-in the candidates' names in the general election. Bean said this will be the largest write-in race that has taken place Macon County in recent years.

"It'll slow down whatever counting process we have for whichever election we do this in," he said.

But before the general election, Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy will have to appoint a new city council member to fill Brown vacated seat. He has 60 days to choose someone following Brown's departure from the council. McElroy, who's up for re-election, acknowledged that it is possible he will appoint someone who plans on running for the seat in the general election.

"I don't know that it behooves anyone to figure that we just want you for five months," McElroy said. "If you're thinking seriously about it, then we want someone that's going to go on and finish out that term."

He said whoever he appoints will have to win the approval of the five current sitting members on the Decatur City Council. McElroy said he hopes to make a decision by next week. People interested in running as a write-in candidate have until Dec. 23 to file the necessary election documents with the Decatur city clerk. Unlike national or statewide races, no signatures or petitions are required for write-in candidates to be on the ballot.

So far, the only person to declare his candidacy is Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel, who unsuccessfully ran for the Decatur City Council last year. However, others have expressed interest in running.

Categories: Government, Politics

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