Illinois Public Media News
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.
The brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says a jury's verdict in the corruption case shows he's been an innocent target of the federal government all along.
A jury on Tuesday found Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents. That means they're hung on 23 counts, including four against Robert Blagojevich.
Prosecutors say they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich quickly.
The Tennessee businessman says he's ultimately confident in his acquittal. He thanked his legal team and the jury for what he says appeared to be a "serious deliberation.''
Robert Blagojevich says he feels sorry for his brother.
Both brothers pleaded not guilty to trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeezing people for campaign donations.
A federal jury has found ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents, and the judge says he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts.
Prosecutors said Tuesday immediately after the jury reached its verdict that they intend to retry the case against Blagojevich as soon as possible.
It will cost an extra 2-cents a gallon to buy gas in Urbana, beginning October 1st.
The local motor fuel tax proposed by Mayor Laurel Prussing last spring was approved by the city council Monday night on a 4-to-3 vote. The tax going towards street maintenance and safety will generate $340,000 annually. An escalator of 0.4 cents will kick in each July for three years, bringing that total to about $544,000 dollars by 2013, but the gas tax will be up for review each of those years. The vote among council members mirrored that of a study session a week earlier.
Alderwoman Heather Stevenson has always opposed the plan, saying this may actually mean she buys her gas and does her shopping elsewhere.
"If I'm in Champaign, I'm going to purchase items over there that I possibly could purchase in Urbana." said Stevenson. "So I think it's not about traveling a mile to save money on gas, it's about saving money... and spending money - tax dollars - in another area."
Stevenson says the council needed to explore alternatives to the tax to pay for road improvements. Urbana resident Bob Bosshart opposed it, saying it will hurt the middle income during the recession.
Alderman Dennis Roberts supported what he calls a 'gentle tax' but admits passing any off on residents during a recession is tough.
"It'll be reviewed, and it is important to be self-sustaining and take care of your own streets as a municipality." said Roberts. "But I also realize that all taxes are a burden to people who are using them, so this is not the easiest vote."
Mayor Laurel Prussing says other towns enacting the tax hadn't seen an increase in gas prices when compared to neighboring communities. She proposed the tax last spring because she says state motor fuel tax dollars haven't increased in 20 years, while the cost of road repairs have more than doubled.
The gas tax also earned the approval of AFSCME Council 31's Michael Wilmore, who says union members from Urbana's Public Works Department work hard to make the city a safe place to live and travel.
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