Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 18, 2010

Army Closes Newport Chemical Depot, Prepares for Industry

Nearly 70 years after opening as a site for producing explosives, about 7,000 acres in Western Indiana are now being prepared for industry. The US Army held a deactivation ceremony yesterday to signal the closure of the Newport Chemical Depot.

When Terry Arthur came to work there 1993, she was told her job would last five years, as the Army set out to store and dispose of the chemical nerve agent VX.

But the 9-11 terrorist attacks brought about a new age... and changed a lot of jobs there as about 200 soldiers were brought into secure the Depot. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert spoke with Arthur:

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2010

State’s Budget Mess Lands on Schools’ Bread Budget

A small central Illinois school district says the company that supplies bread for its lunches has declined to bid to for a new contract because of the state government's financial mess.

Superintendent Bruce Owen of the Unit 30 school district in Dieterich says Lewis Bakeries of Indiana cited the state's slow rate of providing appropriated money.

Dieterich is in Effingham County, about 70 miles south of Champaign. The two-school district has just under 500 students.

School districts and other state-dependent institutions have been waiting for months on money the state has promised but says it can't provide.

Illinois' state government is facing a $13 billion budget deficit.

Owen says no other companies bid for the contract. The district may have to buy its own bread from local bakeries.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2010

Former Blagojevich Donor Testifies at Corruption Trial

There's no action Friday in the corruption trial of ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Testimony this week concluded on Thursday with the jury hearing from a former Blagojevich donor.who scored a job leading a state agency.

Ali Ata says in 2002 and 2003, he twice donated $25,000 to Blagojevich's campaign...each time having conversations with the governor that included vague talk of a state job.

With support from Blagojevich and his now-convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, Ata was appointed executive director of the newly-created Illinois Finance Authority.

The ex-governor's attorney, Sam Adam, Junior, asked Ata several times whether Blagojevich ever told him he needed to contribute to get the state job.

Ata repeatedly said no.

That continued line of questioning clearly frustrated Judge James Zagel.

The judge told Adam that if he didn't think the jury understood that argument by now, "then you should just give up all hope".

Zagel made the remark in front of jurors - some of whom laughed.

Ata returns to the stand on Monday when trial resumes.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 17, 2010

Myerscough Appointed for Federal Bench in Central Illinois

President Obama has nominated an Illinois appeals court judge to the Federal Bench for the Central District of Illinois.

Justice Sue Myerscough sits on the appellate bench in Springfield and ran unsuccessfully for the State Supreme Court. She has her law degree from Southern Illinois University and clerked for former federal judge Harold Baker. She has also served on the circuit court and in a private law practice.

Obama says Myerscough has shown an unwavering commitment to public service throughout her career and iis grateful for her decision to serve the American People from the District Court Bench. The nomination requires Senate Approval.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 16, 2010

Grants Help Food Stamp Benefits Go Further at Champaign North First St. Farmers Market

People receiving food stamp benefits will soon be able to double their purchasing power at the Champaign Farmers Market.

A total of $1500 was awarded by the Lumpkin Foundation and Provena Covenant Medical Center to the market, which is held every Thursday on North First Street. The funds will allow food stamp recipients to buy up to $20 worth of food while being charged $10 on their Illinois Link Cards.

Valerie McWilliams of the North First Street Association of Champaign says there's a perception that food is more expensive at farmer's markets than at large grocery stores. She says that for people on a very limited income this can be discouraging, and the double-value program will help make fresh produce more affordable for them.

But Market Director Wendy Langacker says the program value should also boost sales at the market, and keep vendors coming back.

"The vendors who might feel that they're maybe not making as much as they would like, I think it will help add to their bottom line", says Lanaker, "which will encourage them to come back to the market, which has a long-term benefit in terms of the whole market itself."

The value program begins June 24th. The Champaign Farmer's Market is held from 3 to 7 in the police department parking lot on the corner of North First Street and University.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 16, 2010

Blago Trial to Feature More Testimony of Fundraiser Cari on Thursday

Prosecutors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich will continue to question Joseph Cari Thursday morning. Cari is a former Democratic big-wig who previously pleaded guilty to attempted extortion.

Cari managed fund-raising during Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000.

So - Cari testified Wednesday - when he found himself on a private plane headed to New York with Blagojevich back in 2003, the governor asked him about setting up a national fundraising operation.

Cari says, on the flight, Blagojevich told him that, as governor, he could raise big bucks by giving out state contracts, and hitting up those businesses for donations.

Cari told the same story two years ago during the corruption trial of Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko.

On Thursday, Cari will likely detail the extortion attempt he's pleaded guilty to involving a state pension board.

Prosecutors say that was part of a broad conspiracy Governor Blagojevich took part in to enrich his campaign, himself and others.

Cari is cooperating with the government in exchange for a lighter prison sentence for himself.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 16, 2010

Champaign County Board Close to Final Vote on a Referendum on Smaller Board Proposal

Champaign County voters could get a chance this November to give their opinion on a proposal for a smaller county board. County Board members voted Tuesday night in committee to put the non-binding resolution on the November ballot.

County Board Vice-Chairman Tom Betz says the proposal --- for a 22-member board with eleven two-member districts --- is a compromise. It's not exactly what he wants, but Betz says it's the version that the county board appears willing to put on the ballot.

"If you're going to change the structure, I think the public needs to get itself invested in it", says Betz. "This is the public's county board, it's not MY county board."

Betz believes a smaller Champaign County Board --- it currently has 27 members -- would be a more responsive body. But fellow Democrat Alan Kurtz says the current 27-member board with three members per district allows for more diversity.

"We have a tremendous background of everything from attorneys to hard-working farmers", says Kurtz. "And they give us their opinions, their experiences, their life experiences, and it helps me make a decision for my constituents as well."

Whatever the voters would say, the Champaign County Board would have the final say on how their board is constituted. A final vote on the referendum takes place next week --- six county board members were absent during last night's committee-level vote.

Also on Tuesday night, a measure to put another non-binding referendum on the ballot --- this one to ban video gaming machines --- received only five "yes" votes from the Champaign County Board. Gambling opponents say video gaming is too addictive. But supporters say the games --- which are soon to be legalized in Illinois --- will produce tax revenue that's needed to help fund highway and other state construction projects.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 15, 2010

Family Reunification Focus of Immigration Legislation

Family reunification accounts for nearly two-thirds of lawful permanent migration to the United States: it's the largest avenue by which people receive admission to the country. Yet, family separation remains a part of daily living for countless immigrants. A legislative effort in Congress focuses on family unity as a key component of immigration policy. Illinois Public Radio's Sean Powers examines the issues facing lawmakers and families.

(Photo courtesy of Sergio Cuellar)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 11, 2010

US Attorney Appointment for Central Illinois Clears Senate Committee

The man appointed to be the next federal prosecutor for central Illinois has taken a big step toward the post. The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved James Lewis for the US attorney job. President Obama appointed Lewis, who's been an assistant in the US Attorney's office for the last 27 years. If the full Senate approves, Lewis would replace acting US attorney Jeffery Lang.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 10, 2010

Champaign Park District Opts For New Virginia Theatre Marquee

One of those responsible for changing the marquee on Champaign's Virginia Theatre says it needs to be recognized as more than a place for showing movies. Champaign Park District Board member Barbara Kuhl favors replacing the sign to make the theatre look more like a vaudeville house, as it appeared in 1921. Board members voted 3-2 for replacing the marquee that's been there since the 40's. Kuhl also says the current one needed replacing anyway. "The current marquee will be taken down and destroyed. It cannot be refurbished," said Kuhl. "So the question was not 'will there be a new marquee?'... it was just 'what was the shape of the new marquee going to be."

Those favoring the change say a new sign would show off more of the upper-level façade and original architecture. Urban planner Alice Novak says there's no doubt the Virginia is a beautiful building, but argues the park district is changing the most defining feature. Kuhl says the public opposition to changing the sign was blown out of proportion. But Novak says there was an obvious public sentiment for retaining the marquee, and the park district board chose to ignore it. "So I think that's very disappointing," said Novak. "And I don't know what the long-lasting implications of that kind of bad policy will be."

Novak sits on Illinois' Historic Sites Advisory Council, which reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Park District Board members contend the new marquee won't change that eligibility. But Novak says once the old one comes down - she'll submit photos of the Virginia to the rest of her group to consider a change. Champaign Park District Board President Jane Solon says she initially would have preferred the Virginia's next marquee be a combination of refurbishing the existing one, with features from the original sign's 1921 design. But she says public opposition convinced her that the best marquee was the one currently in place. "You can't marry two periods together and create a new that's not the best thing to do," says Solon. "So from a historical perspective and from what citizens had said they preferred, I then became in favor of keeping the triangle marquee."

Both board members say they hope the marquee change will be done when other renovations to the theater are completed. The Virginia closes next week for upgrades to its entrances and lobby, and re-opens in November. A million dollar bequest from the estate of Michael Carragher is funding that work, while ticket sales and other private donations are paying for the new marquee.


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