Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn has picked his Department of Human Services head to be his new chief of staff.
Quinn named Michelle Saddler on Tuesday to replace Jerry Stermer, who resigned this weekend amid an ethics probe. Saddler has led the social service agency since October 2009.
Stermer resigned Sunday after a probe of his admission that he had "inadvertently'' used his state e-mail account to send three messages, including campaign-related ones. He said executive inspector general James Wright later determined they were prohibited under state ethics rules.
Stermer said he quit to avoid being a distraction for Quinn, who is in a tough campaign against Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.
Illinois has struck out in its attempt to get federal school-reform money.
The state was a finalist twice for "Race to the Top'' grants and hoped to get $400 million this time. But the U.S. Education Department named nine states and the District of Columbia as recipients in the final round of stimulus program funding.
Illinois House education leader Roger Eddy says the state's bid was hurt by its long history of local school control and concerns about its ability to continue the programs after federal money dried up. But the Hutsonville Republican says the State Board of Education worked hard to revise its application after Illinois missed out on the first round of federal money in March.
The top education leader in Illinois is diappointed the state got shut out on those funds. But state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch says the reform agenda will proceed. Reforms paid for with the federal money must be continued with state funds. Koch says he doesn't know if Illinois' budget problems played a role in the state's loss. He says there is already some federal money for changes and Illinois can gain from successes in the states that did get money.
A referendum to make the Champaign County auditor an appointed, rather than elected, position will not be on the November ballot this year.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says it was his duty as the county Election Authority to remove the referendum from the ballot, because the Champaign County Board voted to put it on the ballot more than a year in advance of the election.
"I've never had to do it before --- hope it never happens again", says Shelden. "But this ballot question won't be on the November ballot, because it was passed by the County Board, more than a year prior to the election. And the state statute is very clear that they cannot do that."
Shelden acted, following a complaint filed last week by County Democratic Chair Al Klein, who also said the question was flawed because it didn't list a date for the auditor to switch from elected to appointed, if voters approved the measure. Shelden said it might have been possible to work around that problem, but not the county board's failure to wait for the one-year pre-election window.
The referendum's co-sponsor on the County Board, Democrat Steve Beckett, says he plans to bring it up again for inclusion on the April 2011 ballot. Beckett says he accepts responsibility for the error. Meanwhile, Republican County Board member Greg Knott accuses Klein and Democratic County Auditor Tony Fabri of sitting on knowledge of the problem until it was too late for the County Board to fix it.
"It's clear they were playing games", says Knott. "It was a way to not have the focus on Mr. Fabri and his performance and the need for that office in this election cycle."
The auditor's referendum had targeted Fabri, with Republicans and some Democrats on the County Board accusing him of poor attendance at his office, following a News-Gazette report. Fabri says an elected auditor is vital for good county government, and says his critics should run their own candidate for auditor, if they're unhappy with him. Fabri says he had heard rumors that there were statutory problems with the way the referendum was put on the ballot, but wasn't focused on the matter, and thought the County Board would take care of any problems.
Klein says he learned of the statutory problems with the referendum a few weeks before he wrote to the County Clerk about it, but waited in order to check the matter out with legal experts. He also says waiting until after the deadline for submitting items for the ballot is the usual time to post a challenge.
Republicans unhappy with Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri led a County Board vote last summer to put a referendum on the November ballot to make the county auditor's post appointed, instead of elected. Now, the chair of the Champaign County Democratic Party says the referendum should be disqualified.
The charges from Al Klein focus on two provisions of state law. Klein says the Champaign County Board failed to specify a date for when the referendum would become effective, leaving a blank spot in the referendum language. And he says the county board acted more than a year before the November 2010 election --- too early, according to state statute.
If he hadn't found the legal problems, Klein says he'd be campaigning against the referendum. Klein and current auditor Tony Fabri are both Democrats, but Klein argues it's just a bad idea for the auditor to be hired by county officials.
"What good is it to have an auditor, if the auditor is employed by the people he's auditing?", asks Klein. "Think of Arthur Andersen and Enron. There's one of the best firms in the country, with the highest white-hat reputation. And look what to them, because they could not afford to say no to the people who were paying their tab."
Klein wrote Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden about the matter last week --- Shelden is in charge of elections in the county. The letter was written long after the deadline for the county board to do anything to revise the referendum to address Klein's charges. Klein says he chose the normal period for challenging ballot items.
Shelden plans to comment on the issue on Tuesday, but had written County Board Chair Pius Weibel about the question of the effective start date last December.
For his part, Weibel says it was implicit in county board discussion of the referendum last August that it would take effect --- if passed --- at the end of Fabri's term in 2012. But he says he didn't know about a state law requiring that referenda must be approved for the ballot less than 12 months before an election.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz declined to comment on the matter Monday.
A bill that requires pet stores and animal shelters to disclose the health history a dog or cat has been signed into law.
Under the new law, pet shops, animal shelters and control facilities will also have to disclose other information. That includes the name and address of the breeder, retail price, adoption fees and vaccinations, among other things.
Currently, those details are only disclosed if it's requested and often times that means a consumer won't get the information until after a final sale.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill on Sunday. He says the information will help protect consumers before they buy a pet.
The law goes into effect next year.
Gov. Pat Quinn is sticking by his opposition to building a mosque near ground zero in New York despite criticism from a local immigrant rights group.
The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights on Friday called on candidates and elected officials to "stop injecting hate in the debate.''
Quinn said Friday he honors the patriotism of Muslim citizens but believes a group should rethink building a Muslim center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Quinn says there should be a "zone of solemnity'' around the site. He says any place of worship that takes away from the solemnity of ground zero should rethink their location.
He called his position "a matter of conscience.
Estimates about the total cost of the just concluded trial of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich range wildly from several million to $30 million.
There's now at least confirmation of what the jury cost for nearly two months of trial and 14 days of deliberation. The bill? $67,463.32. The U.S. District Court clerk's office provided that figure Thursday.
Jurors returned a sole guilty verdict _ lying to the FBI. They deadlocked on 23 counts.
The jurors' bill includes costs for food and travel. And it includes pay -- jurors got $40 a day the first month, then $50 after that.
Prosecutors don't calculate costs of individual cases, so the trial's full cost may never be known. But prosecutors plan to retry Blagojevich on undecided counts, so that tab may have to be paid again.
Labor unrest is affecting higher education, including University of Illinois campuses in Urbana and Chicago
Members of one UIUC union rallied Thursday outside a residence hall just as freshmen are moving in for their first semester. Ricky Baldwin is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 1000 employees. He claims that administrative cost increases are taking place while union members have seen their pay stagnate.
"The money that the University is spending on all kinds of things at the top shows us that the university does have money," said Baldwin "It just doesn't want to spend it on the basic operations -- the students, the workers, the instruction at the university."
The SEIU and the U of I are in contract talks... but members say they are not close to striking in Urbana. That cannot be said in Chicago, where about 3000 SEIU employees are threatening a Monday walkout.
At another hall complex Thursday, U of I president Michael Hogan and chancellor Robert Easter met incoming students. During the visit, Hogan said the university faces the prospect of more budget cuts and state payment delays, making salary increases even harder to achieve.
"We've just taken another 46 million dollar reduction in our budget, so that's the subject of ongoing negotiations, and I certainly hope we can reach a settlement," Hogan said. He says it's unlikely the school will see any of its current-year funding from Springfield until next January at the earliest. He says he's been assured that all of the U of I's fiscal-2010 funds will be in their hands in the next few months.
A former Urbana high school coach convicted of a sex crime is back in the US, and will start serving a prison sentence.
But the attorney for Yuri Ermakov Thursday filed a post-conviction petition with hopes his client will get a new trial. The 28-year old Ermakov fled to his native Russia while a Champaign County jury deliberated his fate in 2007.
The former University Laboratory High School track coach was found guilty of criminal sexual assault for incidents involving a female student, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was also convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for providing alcohol to two 16-year old girls. After a brief court hearing Thursday morning, Ermakov was remanded to Illinois' Department of Corrections.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says Ermakov was up against Friday's deadline for filing the post-conviction petition. She says Judge Jeff Ford has a three-month window to act on it.
"The judge could say that all of the allegations in his petitions are frivolous - petition dismissed, and that's the end of the case." said Rietz. "The judge could say that some of the allegations deserve further inquiry, and then we have time to respond. Or judge could say the entire petition deserves further inquiry. We do not believe any of those allegations have any merit, and are absolutely confident that the judge is going to find all of them, if not the vast majority of them, frivilous."
Rietz notes that a federal warrant was out for Erkmaov that preventing him from travelling outside of Russia, which may have been part of his motivation for returning home to serve his sentence.
Judge Ford denied a request from Chicago Attorney Steve Richards that his client remain in Champaign County's custody in order to stay in closer contact with him. Ford says such a move would prove too costly. The FBI had been negotiating for Ermakov's return from Russia the past several months. Rietz says he's also seeking clemency from Governor Pat Quinn as part of a large backlog of cases before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
A jury has found former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents.
The maximum penalty for making false statements to federal authorities carries a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Judge James Zagel said he will declare a mistrial for the 23 other counts against the former governor, including the most serious charge - trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of that conviction. Sarnello said a female holdout "just didn't see what we all saw," but that the counts around the Senate seat were "the most obvious."
During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on FBI wiretap recordings where Blagojevich could be heard spewing profanity, and speculating about getting a Cabinet level post or campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment. Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the jury confirmed the former governor's pattern of dishonesty even though they were deadlocked on many charges.
Blagojevich's attorneys plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas - including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - but by the end of the trial, none of them had testified, sparing Democrats any potentially embarrassing testimony. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said she is concerned the defense team may have sent the wrong message to the public that Blagojevich was just doing politics as usual in Illinois.
"If there is one thing that elected officials need to do in Illinois, it is to send a strong signal that the politics of the past are over, regardless of what the final verdict may be in the Blagojevich trial," she said.
Lawmakers threw Blagojevich out of office when they impeached him in January 2009. Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose served on the Illinois House committee that drew up the impeachment charges. Rose said the former governor implicated himself with his own words, as heard at the trial in wiretapped phone conversations.
"There were a hundred things to impeach him for," Rose said. "I just completely can't believe anybody in their right mind could hang this jury."
While the impeachment of Blagojevich was sparked by criminal charges, Rose said the two processes are different. He said the burden of proof is higher for prosecutors in a criminal trial, while lawmakers considering impeachment can also look at non-criminal charges, such as dereliction of duty.
Prosecutors say they intend to put the ex-governor on trial again, but Attorney Sam Adam, Jr. said federal prosecutors do not have a case for a mistrial.
Robert Lobe, a criminal defense attorney who teaches at Loyola University, said if prosecutors were able to convince 11 jurors that Blagojevich was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, then they should feel confident about getting a conviction next time.
"I don't even think they have to change their approach if this is just one very independent holdout," said Lobe.
Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign said he cannot explain how the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts.
"The only thing I can think is this proves the old maxim that you can fool some of the people some of the time," said Frerichs.
It is clear now that Blagojevich will stay in the spotlight as the prosecution retries the case, according to Frerichs.
Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker was convicted in the late 1980s after his time in office of improprieties connected to a Savings and Loan scandal, and he served 18 months in a federal prison. Walker said the worst part of Tuesday's verdict is that people will likely have to hear more about Blagojevich rather than turn their attention to problems that current state officials are facing.
"I just wish like a lot of other people I think feel the same way," said Walker. "We've just got to rebuild Illinois and the Land of Lincoln."
Walker said while he worked hard as governor, Blagojevich disgraced the office. Current Governor Pat Quinn said Rod Blagojevich's conviction is a "sad day for our state." Quinn said he is the first honest governor Illinois has had in a long time, and dismissed the notion that as Blagojevich's former running mate, the prolonged saga will hurt him on election day.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich's brother, Robert, was acquitted of all four counts the jury was weighing against him. The Tennessee businessman said he feels sorry for his brother, and he thanked his legal team and the jury for what he said appeared to be a "serious deliberation."
Rod Blagojevich spoke to reporters on Tuesday after the jury found him guilty of the one count of lying to federal agents. He vowed to appeal the conviction, and said he wants the "people of Illinois to know that I did not lie to the FBI."
Blagojevich's trial was another chapter in Illinois' history of crooked politics. His predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering in 2006 and is serving a 6 1/2 year-sentence.
A hearing about a retrial is set for Thursday, August 26.
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