Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 23, 2010

Champaign Council Gives OK to Planning Work on First Development at Curtis Road Interchange

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.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 23, 2010

Champaign Council Approves New Complaint Process for Police Conduct

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

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2010

Urbana City Council Passes City Budget, Discusses Motor Fuel Tax

Less revenue, less spending, and more vacant positions are features of the budget approved by the Urbana City Council Monday night.

The$ 48 million budget avoids any staff layoffs by leaving seven positions vacant, and by freezing salaries --- although contract negotiations with city unions are still in progress. It also relies on six million dollars in city fund reserves to fill the gap between city spending and projected tax revenues.

In introducing some last-minute revisions, Mayor Laurel Prussing says she had some good news from city Comptroller Rod Eldridge. According to the mayor, "Ron Eldridge says that even though our revenues are going to be down a little bit more for this year, our spending is going to be down even more. So we're going to have more of an ending fund balance than he originally anticipated."

The budget passed on a 5 to 2 vote.

Meanwhile, Urbana council members had mixed opinions during their first discussion of the mayor's proposal for a city motor fuel tax.

Republican Heather Stevenson says the mayor's tax would simply send motorists to Champaign to shop for gasoline --- and they might shop for other things as well.

"If I can save it by going across Wright Street, then I might as well continue to go and spend the money that I've saved, not spending money on gas in Urbana, at the shops in Champaign", says Stevenson.

But Mayor Prussing says a two-cent motor fuel tax would hardly be noticed amidst the ups and downs of gasoline prices.

"Two cents per gallon - the price fluctuations are much bigger than that", says Prussing. "You see 20-cent differences in prices per gallon, so I think two cents is very small."

But Prussing says a 2-cent tax would be enough to bring in another $500,000 a year for the city to spend on improving its streets. Urbana already receives money from a state motor fuel tax, but the mayor says that revenue hasn't kept up with rising costs. Prussing says she'll have her staff do more research on her gas tax proposal, and come back to the council with information on other small cities with motor fuel taxes.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2010

Urbana City Council Bans Outdoor Use of Indoor Furniture

By a 5 to 2 vote, the Urbana City Council has banned the outdoor use of indoor furniture.

Council members Heather Stevenson and Dennis Roberts cast the two votes against the ban. Both of them said the government had no business telling people what they could do with furniture at their own homes and yards. Roberts says he's gotten a lot of feedback from the public on the ban, most of it in opposition.

"They agree that the city is sort of tip-toeing into overregulation of people's habitats and homes", said Roberts.

But Alderman Dave Gehrig argues that the dangers involved in keeping flammable indoor furniture out of doors are too great to ignore.

It's more than a decade since we had a fire death in Urbana, and this is about trying to keep it that way", said Gehrig.

Gehrig cited last month's fire at a rental house on Stoughton Street near Lincoln Avenue. Eight people were displaced --- one of them severely burned --- when fire in a couch on the front porch spread to the entire house.

Urbana Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the outcome could very well have been fatal.

"We dodged a bullet, so to speak", says Dilley. "And we decided, I don't want to ever go to another fire again, and see a young lady of that age, with the type of burns on her body pulled out of a building like, if I can do anything about it. As fire chief, that's my job."

Dilley says indoor furniture stored on a porch or elsewhere outdoors can be easily set ablaze, and a fire can be well underway before people inside the house find out about it.

Urbana's ordinance is similar to one already on the books in Champaign. Repeat offenders will be subject to possible fines set by a judge. The ordinance makes exceptions for furniture brought outside to be sold at a yard sale, or left out for garbage pickup.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2010

IEA Representative Says Districts In East Central Illinois Aren’t Part Of 1-Year Contract Trend

Illinois' financial uncertainty has prompted a lot of school districts to move to one-year contracts for teachers.

But a union spokesman says that's not the case in East Central Illinois. The Illinois Education Association's Gene Vanderport says the districts in the area have been pretty fair to those he represents. He says there have been a lot of early settlements with multi-year contracts, including Urbana, and he expects those in Gifford and Rantoul City Schools to settle soon as well. But Vanderport admits it's been a struggle for most school districts. "Nobody's getting rich in public education, that's for sure,"said Vanderport. "We're down to absolute bare minimum of people doing the services that need to be done, to educate the kids. We're not making Buicks, we're educating brains, and it takes X number of people to do that. School boards recognize that we gotta keep feeding our families, and they've been relatively decent across the board in recognizing our needs."

Still, Vanderport says his union and others are trying to settle without asking for too much, while urging state and federal lawmakers to work on a consistent and sustainable school funding formula. "That's why we're for progressive funding mechanisms that aren't in place at this point," said Vanderport. "And we hope to continue to lobby for those, and make those issues election-year issues." Vanderport says negotiations with Champaign teachers are still taking a while. The two sides have been bargaining since January, and he says salary and benefits remain the sticking points. Vanderport says Champaign Unit 4 schools and his union should wrap up talks by August, but he says it's hard to say what the length of the contract will be.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2010

EPA Says Liquid Spill In Danville Creates Odor, But No Health Concerns

Preliminary tests of a liquid spill near a railroad track in Danville show that residents there aren't at any health risk. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency hopes to have more information at a public meeting in the city on Wednesday. But agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says the first samples prove that the smell of the fatty acids used in industrial settings are the only problem so far. "We're fully aware that there are odors and the neighbors have experienced them, and this is a problem," says Carson. "Even though there's not a hazardous chemical involved, the odors affect the quality of life of the neigbhors."

The substance appeared to have come from Double-S Liquid Feed Service on North Bowman Avenue. Carson says some of it spilled as it was being off-loaded, and rain waters carried it into a ditch. She says the area isn't heavily populated, but enough people were adversely affected to call for the meeting. Carson says it's also not yet known how much of the liquid had spilled, but she says inspections of site show small quantities of the substance may have spilled before there. The EPA is working with Double-S and the city of Danville to clean up the site. Carson says if the problem proves to be severe, the EPA could call the Attorney General's office over possible fines or other penalties. The EPA's public meeting over the spill is Wednesday at 12:15 at the Danville Boys and Girls Club.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 21, 2010

Cohen Says He Has the Signatures For Fall Ballot

Scott Lee Cohen plans to file his petitions with the Illinois State Board of Elections to run as independent for governor.

Cohen says he'll file the signed petitions on Monday afternoon in Springfield. His campaign said in a news release Sunday that he's been on a five-week, nonstop campaign to collect the 25,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot. Cohen's campaign says he has more than 130,000 signatures.

Cohen is trying to revive his political career after being forced to resign as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor when issues in his personal life became widely known.

He says voters "were very anxious'' to sign the petition and he thinks they'll be "just as eager'' to vote for him in November.

Categories: Government, Politics

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:

Download mp3 file
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.


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