Illinois Public Media News
An advisory referendum on the Champaign County ballot next week asks voters if they want their county board to have fewer members, but more districts.
The referendum question on the Champaign County November 2nd ballot reads: "Shall the Champaign County Board size be reduced from 27 members elected from nine multi-member districts with three members elected from each district, to 22 members elected from eleven multi-member districts with two members elected from each district?"
District 4 County Board member Greg Knott (R-Rural St Joseph) said shrinking the board from 27 to 22 seats is a way to weed out less active members. At the same time, he said increasing the number of districts from nine to 11 would ensure better representation and less gerrymandering of district boundaries. For instance, he said rural representation has been diluted on the county board, because rural areas are often combined with urban areas to make up a district.
"To achieve pure rural representation with the current structure is difficult," Knott said. "Having 11 districts really allows more flexibility for those that draw the map to come up with those types of districts."
However, District 7 County Board member Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) noted that the Champaign County Farm Bureau has gone on record opposing a change in county board size. He said switching to more, but smaller, county board districts would hurt rural representation on the board.
"If we shrink the board and move to different districts, the population of the cities will definitely overtake the population of the rural areas," Kurtz argued.
Under the proposed change, county board districts would be represented by two members each, instead of three. Knott said the change would lead to county board members who are more accountable because they serve a smaller area, and voters would have fewer county board members to track.
"I think when we added that other element of more districts, that's where we hope to improve that quality," Knott explained. "Smaller districts may encourage more competitive elections."
Still, Kurtz said those changes would lead to less diversity on a county board that needs to reflect a diverse population of urban, rural and student residents. He said the current county board is an effective one, where members with diverse views are able to work together on legislation such as the county's wind farm ordinance, and the Land Resource Management Plan.
"If we had major conflicts, if we couldn't get legislation through, if we were paralyzed, if we weren't able to work together, I would say we need to make some major changes," Kurtz said. "But I haven't seen that".
Despite his own feelings, Kurtz said he will follow whatever the voters advise him to do when they vote on the referendum November 2nd. Knott said he expects most county board members to do that same. If the referendum passes and the county board heeds its advice, the number of county board members would change with the 2012 election.
The television airwaves are littered with loud political ads, but chances are you're not seeing any from the race in Illinois' 15th congressional district. The incumbent in that District is holding tight to his campaign war chest, and the Democratic challenger hasn't built up the budget to make many media buys. As Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers reports, the incumbent has kept an unusually low profile.
After sitting vacant since the spring of 2009, a prospective buyer has surfaced for Urbana's Lincoln Hotel.
The city council has given preliminary approval to a deal between the city and former commodities trader, Xiao Jin Yuan. Yuan owns a Hampton Inn in Crescent City, California. He said the Lincoln's European exterior is what makes it unique, but the interior is a different story.
"Walking in there, it's just like walking into a dark castle, or something like that," Yuan said. "It's a little bit depressing, that's my personal feeling. I need to talk to my architect and interior designer. The lighting has to be changed. It's too dark."
The Lincoln dates back to 1921 and designer Joseph Royer.
Yuan formerly lived in England. He said he is used to this kind of structure, and sees potential, as long the hotel can offer modern amenities.
"Some of the people like the old style," Yuan said. "I already own a modern hotel. Why shouldn't I try something new?"
Yuan is working to purchase the Lincoln hotel from its current owner, Marine Bank. Under the agreement with the city of Urbana, he would receive $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for initial improvements. Yuan is required to return that money if he sells the hotel before it reopens, but Yuan said he plans on operating the Lincoln until he retires. Additional TIF funds in the $1.4 million dollar agreement would be used for development over a five-year period.
(Photo courtesy of lindsayloveshermac/flickr)
Urbana Alderman David Gehrig is resigning, effective after next Monday's City Council meeting.
A research programmer at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Gehrig would only say he is stepping down due to additional work responsibilities.
"Rather than coming in and doing an 80-percent job or a 50-percent job," Gehrig said. "I think it makes more sense for me to step aside and have someone else come in who can do it do that degree.
Gehrig said he came to the decision about a month ago. The Ward 2 Democrat said he will have more say after next Monday's meeting. Gehrig was elected to a 4-year term in April 2009, but has served since August of 2008, when he was nominated to fill the remainder of another term. He said hopes to see a replacement named as soon as possible, but did not offer any suggestions.
Council members applauded Gehrig following his announcement in Monday night's Committee of the Whole meeting.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The former Champaign County Sheriff's deputy waging a write-in campaign for sheriff says poor fiscal management in that department prompted him to run.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney said last year alone, deputies served more than 12,000 summons, subpoenas, and evictions, and attempted to serve 15,000 more. He said that is cutting down on training time for deputies, and their ability to patrol the streets. Smith said the department could also save money by hiring out a private agency to serve those papers.
"You look at the private agency, and see that's a flat fee of 35 dollars," Smith said. "I've spoken to other people that say that most of the time, it only costs us 35 dollars. If you figure the time to pick up that piece of paper and take it and serve it, by the time you pay the deputy's wages, and with mileage, you're probably at 50 to 60 dollars."
Sheriff Dan Walsh said serving those papers only takes a deputy a minute, while the civil duties generate more than $200,000 towards their salaries. He added that his department is hardly in a position to pay an agency, with cuts of more than 11-percent the last couple of years.
"As they're out there serving papers, what's the difference if I'm 'patrolling' or I'm driving down Vine Street to go serve a paper on the Urbana Chief?" Walsh asked. "I'm still there, and if I see something, I'm going to take action. So, I don't think that's a good idea at all, and I don't think it really takes away from their ability to patrol."
Smith's campaign as an independent was cut short because more than 500 petition signatures were declared invalid after a supporter of Walsh challenged them. He said those voters had yet to change their address, and a write-in campaign is a bit of a challenge. He said according to Champaign County Clerk's Office, anyone wanting to vote for him can simply mark 'J Smith' in the write-in space.
Smith, who operates a gym in Urbana, said he is getting a lot of support in door to door campaigns.
Walsh has been sheriff since December of 2002. He said facing his first election challenge has occupied his evenings and weekends, but not regular work hours.
In an election year, the candidate who is already in office tends to have more political clout.
However, Rick Winkel with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs said that is not the case this year in Illinois' 101st district where State Representative Bob Flider (D-Mount Zion) is vying to keep his seat against Adam Brown (R-Decatur).
Combined, the two campaigns have drawn in nearly a million dollars in donations.
This is type of spending is unusual for a legislative race, according to Winkel. He said support for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bill Brady, and voter cynicism towards the Democratic leadership have trickled down the ticket.
"It's probably not fair to Representative Flider," Winkel said. "But people are pretty angry right now."
To help secure the seat, Flider's supporters contributed close to $280,000 last week to his campaign, with more than half coming from the Democratic Party and its leadership.
Meanwhile, various political groups and individuals poured nearly $150,000 into the Brown campaign.
Flider has served in the General Assembly for four-terms, while his opponent has served less than one term on the Decatur City Council. Winkel said in this race, experience may not be a selling point.
Community colleges will split more than $2 million in federal stimulus dollars for energy efficient projects and job training for students.
The Illinois Green Economy Network is a consortium of nearly 50 community colleges with members that include Parkland College, Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, and Danville Area Community College.
Warren Ribley heads Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ribley explained that the funds will also help dislocated workers, and allow them earn associate degrees as trained wind turbine technicians and similar jobs.
"We're far beyond seeing energy efficiency and renewable energy be sort of 'buzz words' and a fad," Ribley said. "It's here to stay. It has to be part of our domestic energy policy."
Danville Area Community College will get more than $400,000 to start up a wind energy technician program. Jeremiah Dye, an instructor in that program, has over 70 students right now, but expects that to grow. Dye said the funds will bring wind turbine components to campus.
"Right now, we have to travel to get to a wind turbine that we can actually have access to to do training and things like that," Dye said. "And you kind of wait for one to go down, and then they call and say 'hey, if you want to go along on this maintenance repair, you can. And so it really limits what I can do hands on. But with this grant, we're able to require some different real-world training situations."
Meanwhile, Parkland College is getting $375,000 to train analysts to inspect buildings for modern energy building codes, and Lake Land is getting a series of grants totaling more than $800,000 - projects there include the construction of two wind turbines and initiating a thermal efficiency program.
Ribley was at Parkland College in Champaign on Friday to announce the grants.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A sixth year of courtwatching in Champaign County has shed new light on predominantly white and female juries.
The statistics released Thursday by the County's League of Woman Voters and University of Illinois College of Law show that a woman is 1.5 times more likely to serve on a jury than a man.
The analysis of courtroom proceedings also showed the odds of seating a white juror are nearly four times greater than having an African-American or other minority on the jury. U of I Law Professor Steve Beckett said he hopes new questionnaires and public service announcements will improve those results, but he said their efforts can only go so far.
"We have to make the decision that the courts don't belong to the judges, and the administrators, and the attorneys, and the state's attorney - they belong to the people," Beckett said. "So long as the people are satisfied by not coming to jury duty then you're not going to have diversity in your court system. When the community decides that it's going to live up to its civic responsibility and come to court, then you will have diversity."
Beckett admitted one problem is the $10 a day per diem given to jurors. He said many who are self-employed cannot afford to sit on a jury. Beckett, who is a Democratic County Board member, also pointed out that the county cannot afford to pay any more right now.
Joan Miller chairs the League of Women Voters Justice Committee. She said the imbalance of women-to-men serving on juries is a national problem, but said Champaign County may be one of the few areas trying to do something about it. Her group has prepared new public service announcements aimed primarily at young people, with hopes they will demystify the experience of serving on a jury.
"Think about what it's like for a young person who's never had experience with the courts," Miller said. "Or maybe he has to walk into the courthouse and into a courtroom and we're hoping some of these will make it less stressful to respond to jury summons."
The County Board operates an advisory committee on jury selection, seeking ways to boost minority participation. Beckett pointed out that the new juror questionnaire is being prepared by a judge, the circuit clerk, state's attorney and public defender's office. He said the old survey asked if they any family members had been convicted of a crime, which he suspected may have deterred some people from serving on juries.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Remarks on race made by state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) have prompted leaders of two county Republican organizations to call for him to withdraw from the race. Reynolds is running for the 52nd District seat, which makes up parts of Champaign and Vermilion Counties.
In response to a question about increasing minority enrollment at the University of Illinois, Reynolds said black men "find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs" or commit other crimes than get an education.
Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman says the comments are a "gross stereotype" that are a "stark contrast" to Republican values.
Reynolds has complained in the past about tepid GOP support. While Reynolds won the GOP primary in the 52nd Illinois Senate District, Barickman conceded he is never been a party favorite in Champaign County.
"Reynolds independently ran as a write-in candidate," Barickman said. "He implied that he has not been supported by the Champaign County Republican Party, and I think now people see why that is. We've long had some concerns about his candidacy. But last night's comments are just the final straw. "
Vermilion County Republican Chairman Craig Golden released a statement saying that both he and the Vermilion County Republican Executive Committee were calling on Reynolds to either suspend his campaign or withdraw from the race.
"(Reynolds') remarks were a gross generalization and dealt with racial issues which have no place in a political campaign in 2010, or any other year," according to Golden.
According to the News-Gazette, Reynolds said at a candidates' forum Wednesday night in Champaign that African-American men seem less motivated than African-American women to hold jobs. The Danville Republican said more incentives should be provided to encourage African-American men to seek an education. Reynolds could not be reached for comment.
His Democratic opponent, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs (R-Champaign), would not comment on whether Reynolds should drop out of the race.
"I was shocked," Frerichs said. "Not that people hold these positions and believe these stereotypes, but that somebody would actually verbalize them in a public forum."
Reynolds is a co-founder of the East Central Illinois Tea Party; he resigned from that group in October, 2009. Another Tea Party organization, the Champaign Tea Party, released a statement Thursday distancing itself from Reynolds, saying it "condemns any negative racial opinion, speech, or attitude."
Barickman said if Reynolds chooses to bow out of the race, then the Republican Party will take steps to find a replacement candidate.
Meanwhile, Reynolds released a statement saying he has no intention of ending his campaign. However, Reynolds apologized for his remarks.
"I realize that my words generalized a small segment of my neighbors and I regret the inferences that it created," Reynolds said. "That was certainly not my intent."
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden said dropping out of the race is not a possibility since the September certification deadline for candidates to withdraw from political races has already passed.
"Dropping out of races and putting other people in would be chaos," Sheldon said. "Everyone has a fair timeline as to whether or not they want to be a candidate."
Vermilion County Clerk Lynn Foster said the same election rules apply in Vermilion County. More than 4,265 voters have cast ballots in Danville and Vermilion and Champaign Counties.
Frerichs and Reynolds are scheduled to take part in a town hall forum at 7pm on Thursday, October 21 in the Community Room on the second floor of the Old National Bank, 2 W. Main St. in Danville.
It was announced this week that a Decatur food processing firm is moving some of its jobs out of Decatur.
During a debate at Millikin University Wednesday night, Illinois House candidates Democrat Bob Flider and his challenger Republican Adam Brown sparred over the severity of the decision.
Tate and Lyle reported this week that a new commercial and food innovation center will be established in Hoffman Estates, bringing 160 jobs to that area.
A spokesman says 80 Decatur employees will be offered the opportunity to move. Brown slammed the move considering Decatur has among the state's highest unemployment rates.
"It's truly unreal and well beyond me that the state of Illinois is subsidizing a $15 million dollar project not to bring a company to Illinois but to move it somewhere else in Illinois at the expense of downstate voters," Brown said.
Flider said he met with representatives of the company and says other options were to move the jobs out-of-state to Nashville or Indianapolis.
"I think it's shameful to politicize community leaders working to keep jobs and a company in Illinois," Flider said. "I think it shows the immaturity of Adam Brown."
The state parties have been dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the heated campaign for the 101st House District Race.
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