Illinois Public Media News
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he's sorry for being careless and making mistakes about his accomplishments.
Kirk addressed supporters Tuesday in his first news conference since reports that he had embellished his military record, including claiming a prestigious award he didn't win.
The Illinois congressman says he isn't perfect. But he pledged he'll do better and that it won't happen again.
Meanwhile Kirk's Democratic opponent's campaign calls the Republican candidate's apology "hollow.''
A spokesman for Alexi Giannoulias criticized Kirk, saying the congressman wasn't careless as he claims. Spokesman Matt McGrath says Kirk "lied.'' McGrath contends there are too many inconsistencies for Kirk to claim he was careless.
Kirk also acknowledged twice being scolded by the Pentagon for improperly mingling politics with his military duties.
It's something his campaign had flatly denied just two weeks ago.
When a blogger disclosed a Defense Department memo referring to Kirk being "counseled'' for political activity while on duty, the Kirk campaign said the memo was "off the mark'' and that he had never violated Pentagon policies. His campaign called the document "a baseless political ploy.''
Kirk acknowledged today that he was counseled in late 2008 after he gave interviews about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest. He also says he was counseled for a Twitter post he said his staff made in July 2009 when he was on duty.
Kirk is locked in a tight battle for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat with Democrat Giannoulias and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones.
Testimony from a labor union official shows ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich angled for job offers and other help from supporters of President Barack Obama.
The SEIU's Tom Balanoff says in November 2008 he acted as a go-between between Blagojevich and members of Obama's inner circle.
In a secretly taped call played at the trial on Tuesday, Blagojevich talks to Balanoff about Senate candidates, including Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.
Then the governor wonders aloud if Obama donors would give millions to start a health care advocacy group Blagojevich could work for.
BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah and then we can help our new senator, Valerie Jarrett, go out and push that. BALANOFF: So let me...let move this idea and...let me put that flag up and see where it goes.
Balanoff testified Tuesday he never had any intention of looking into Blagojevich's idea.
On cross examination, Balanoff acknowledged Blagojevich never explicitly said he'd appoint Jarrett in exchange for personal benefits or favors.
Balanoff also testified that state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias told him in passing, "Maybe (Blagojevich will) appoint me."
When Balanoff told the governor this, he says Blagojevich responded with a expletives aimed at Giannoulias.
Giannoulias' current Senate campaign says his comment to Balanoff about being interested in the seat was made "half jokingly."
Meantime, Balanoff says Blagojevich also dismissed suggestions that Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky get the appointment.
He says Blagojevich told him he wanted to pick an African American, so the governor said - quote - "If Jan could show me she had any ancestors who came over on a slave ship, she'd be fine."
A statement from Schakowsky says the comment "demonstrates Blagojevich's cynical attitude toward the African-American community.
An independent candidate for Champaign County Sheriff faces a possible roadblock in his effort to get on November's ballot.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney says he'll carefully examine the voter registry and contest a challenge from Stephen Frank. The Fisher resident is objecting to more than 1,000 signatures on Smith's petitions - claiming a number of them aren't from registered voters. Other claims from the former law partner of Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh include that the signatures are illegible, voters from outside the county signed the petitions, and that petitions were signed more than once.
Smith, who's from Sidney, says he expected an immediate challenge when filing the petitions, noting Sheriff Walsh hasn't had an election opponent. "I think that anytime you start getting competition, and you throw that out there, and if you can win an election by not having to a campaign, I guess that's what they're trying to do." said Smith. "The question I have is - who checked the voter registry to our petitions? All I know is that he (Frank) filed, and they're claiming an objection to this, and I don't know who checked them, who didn't, and I don't know if it matters or not. But our job is to go through it ourselves to see if their claims are valid or not."
The 3-member Champaign County Electoral Board has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 at the county courthouse to hear Frank's objections. One of that's panel's members, Urbana Circuit Clerk Linda Frank, is the ex-wife of Stephen Frank, and has already said she'll step down for that hearing. Smith calls that an 'admirable' move.
Decatur has become the latest Illinois community to benefit from an update to more than 20-year old telecommunications law.
Governor Pat Quinn was in the city Monday, announcing it now has access to AT&T's super-fast mobile broadband network. Craig Coil is the President of the Decatur and Macon County Economic Development Corporation. He says the city has been behind the curve in luring in new technology, particularly for the business community - and that it's safe to assume to the announcement will lead to new jobs in Decatur. Earlier this month, the Governor signed off on a plan that updates a 1985 law, giving phone companies more flexibility to expand service. The measure allows the companies to change pricing and package deals without having to wait for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Coil says the changes are critical as everyone becomes more mobile. "The day of the land line is guess is, while not gone, certainly diminished over what it had been in past years," said Coil. "Our ability to take advantage of these techologies continues to be a critical factor, along with the ongoing ability of our community to communicate globally and more efficiently and more effectively, so it's a positive for everybody."
Last week, AT&T announced plans to add more than 80 cell sites in Illinois this year, along with the upgrade of 300 other sites. The company has spent more than a billion dollars to bring the 3G broadband network to Illinois.
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.
22 Champaign County union employees would take unpaid furlough days to help keep the county in the black --- under an agreement that the County Board ratified Thursday night.
he 22 are all members of AFSCME Local 900, which represents about 150 county employees paid by the county's General Fund. County Administrator Deb Busey says they only needed furlough days for a few of the union employees, as part of mid-year budget cuts approved by the county board last month.
"Because the midyear cuts we did that led to these furlough days were done at the department level", explains Busey. "And only six of the departments needed to use furlough days, as part of their solution for the cuts that they had to make."
The departments using furlough days include Administrative Services, the Auditor, the State's Attorney, the Juvenile Detention Center and Emergency Management. The furloughs will range from four hours to three days in length.
Members of AFSCME Local 900 will vote on the furlough agreement next week. If the agreement is ratified, the 22 AFSCME workers will join 57 non-union employees who also face furlough days over the next few months. Busey says Champaign County is also trying to negotiate furlough days for 48 Fraternal Order of Police union members in the county court system.
An advisory referendum to reduce the size of the Champaign County Board will be on the ballot this November. County Board members voted 21 to 4 Thursday night to put the question before the voters.
Few county board members --- even those against shrinking the board's size ---- wanted to be seen as denying voters the chance to weigh in on the matter. One who did vote no was Democrat Alan Kurtz. He says cutting the county board from its current 27 seats down to 22 would hurt the level of diversity among board members.
"I enjoy the diversity on the board", Kurtz told his fellow board members, "the rural representation, the minority representation, the expertise, and experience of our board members, who all bring something to the table."
But others, like Republican Alan Nudo, say a smaller county board would be more accountable, and retaining multi-member districts would help it stay diverse.
"With 27 members, it's a little bit too much", says Nudo. "I think 22 will give it the diversity that we need, that many people want. And I think the biggest issue for me is that compact and contiguous districts will produce the diversity that we want to get."
The proposed county board reduction is a compromise for some members, who wanted an even smaller board, or preferred single-member districts. Democrat Brendan McGinty first proposed the county board reduction, along with Republican Greg Knott. McGinty says the current county board is "dysfunctional", and admits he'd like the reduction to go further.
"I'd love for the board to be much smaller", says McGinty, "but I'm willing to compromise, because this is a good step. It might be baby steps, but this will create, in my opinion, more accountability. This is a good thing to do."
State law says that the county board reduction referendum must be non-binding, and that only a local county board can officially decide how many members it should have.
Construction of the first development at the I-57 Curtis Road Interchange could begin this fall.
"Wellness at Prairie Village" is to feature a community wellness center, a 50-unit senior living facility, as well as shops office space and residential development. But the only firm commitment at the site is a new Christie Clinic facility. Developer Todd Raufeisen says they're talking to other potential tenants who will want to build next to Christie Clinic.
"Christie is the one that's providing the momentum to get the project started", says Raufeisen. "A lot of the users that we talk to like to be next to hospitals and clinics such as Christie. But as with any development, you got to start with somebody. And Christie's our anchor at the end of the day. They're taking 20 out of the 60s acres for the sake of round numbers. And that's what we'll start around."
Champaign City Council members gave the go-ahead Tuesday night for city staff to continue working with Raufeisen on planning for for Wellness at Prairie Village .
Several council members expressed concerns that the development might contain excessive parking --- they want the site to be more aesthetically pleasing that the retail developments in the North Prospect area.
However, Councilman Tom Bruno added that he was just grateful to see a developer interested in the Curtis Road site.
"But I don't want those concerns about parking at this early stage of discussion about the planning stages of this take the luster off the delight I feel that all of you players are thinking about developing at this location in our community at this time in our economic history", said Bruno.
Raufeisen says Christie Clinic wants to start construction this fall --- he says it could take 5 to 7 years to completely develop the rest of the 60 acre site. Wellness at Prairie Village would take up about one-eighth of the land at the Curtis Road Interchange.
The city of Champaign is instituting changes to its Police Complaint Process --- in the wake of last fall's police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
The revamped complaint process is meant to be simpler and less intimidating, with a PR campaign to tell the public how it works. But all complaints will still be reviewed by the police department --- with appeals going to the city manager. At Tuesday night's city council study session, about a dozen Champaign and Urbana residents said the council should consider a citizens review board or other outside body to hear appeals. Councilman Will Kyles agreed.
"I support what has been brought forth, but I know that an outside voice has to look into these things" said Kyles. "It just has to be or we will continue to have these conversations over the next few years."
Councilman Tom Bruno remains cool to the idea --- he says those who spoke in favor of a Citizens Review Board are in the minority citywide.
"I frankly don't hear a preponderance of the citizens of Champaign asking for one", says Bruno.
City Manager Steve Carter says one new part of the police complaint process will allow residents to opt for working things out with a professional mediator, bypassing the formal complaint process.
"What they really want is to seek some fairness to the resolution, which involves a face-to-face discussion with the officer" says Carter, "so that they can express their feelings at about what happened, and their concern. And then also hear back from the officer about why the officer did what he did or she did,and just arrive at an understanding and just an ability to talk through that."
The mediation option was singled out for praise by several council members, and by several members of the public who criticized the city for not including a Citizens Review Board as part of the complaint process.
Council members voted unanimously to endorse the new Police Complaint process during the study session. No further action is needed
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