Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden believes the dispute over a University of Illinois campus early voting site has been settled, and local officials won't be taking him to court.
Many Democrats on the Champaign County Board and members of the U of I Student Senate want registration and voting at the Illini Union, but Shelden prefers moving it to a vacant storefront about a half mile from there. A new state law requires that each public university provide such a site in a high traffic location. Shelden contends the Union an inappropriate location for early voting because of heavy political activity... and it's hard for those off campus to get to. And he disputes the argument that voters won't find the alternate site at 700 South Gregory Street.
"I certainly would consider it high traffic," said Shelden. "And I think it's a little bit disappointing when people say, 'nobody can find that' or 'nobody knows where it's at.' It's across from Rosati's Pizza which is a really popular campus location. I just don't see that there's going to be any getting students there. It's actually closer to more people where they live than the union is."
Shelden says he's meeting with the student Senate on Wednesday with hopes of convincing them that the Gregory Street location will best serve voters. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says county clerks don't have unregulated discretion over an early voting site. But Shelden says county board members have backed off on talk of going to court over the voting site. County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty also says he'd like to avoid legal action, but he does say students and U of I employees would prefer voting at the Union.
"The union, as I understand it, has set up to allow for parking in the circle drive up front," said McGinty. "It would be free as I understand it. The other location would come with a rent - I think it's $800 a month. There are a lot of people who think the logical location is the union. The clerk has a different opinion. The board doesn't have any control over it. " A resolution on paying for a campus early voting site is on Thursday's Champaign County Board agenda.
One of the big purple insect traps across Champaign County has caught the county's first confirmed emerald ash borer.
The state Department of Agriculture says it found the insect in a trap hanging at the village of Rantoul's Prairie Pine Campgrounds. Spokesman Jeff Squibb says the discovery will likely mean that the quarantine placed over 23 Illinois counties will eventually be extended south to Champaign. Squibb says it's nearing the end of flying season for adult emerald ash borers -- but their destructive work is just beginning, and he says the beetle is likely in Champaign County to stay.
"The adults lay eggs underneath the bark of ash trees," said Squibb. "Those eggs will hatch, and the larvae will start feasting on the inner wood beneath the bark. And it's actually the larvae that causes the damage to the ash trees." Squibb says the quarantine will ban the transportation of firewood from Champaign County to other states, as well as transporting all parts of local ash trees. The pest was also discovered at the Three Rivers Rest Area off Interstate 80 in the Grundy County town of Morris.
If the city council approves on Tuesday, the city of Champaign will pay $ 470 thousand to the family of Kiwane Carrington, to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even before the Champaign County state's attorney ruled that the shooting of the 15-year-old Carrington last October was accidental, his family had sued the city for wrongful death and survivors' benefits.
Champaign city attorney Frederick Stavins says the $470 thousand settlement is an effort by the city and the family to put Kiwane Carrington's death behind them --- and does not represent an admission of guilt by the city.
"There are no admissions in the case of negligence or wrongdoing," says Stavins. "What this does is, it brings peace between the parties. It allows the parties to go on. Speculating about what would happen now is a moot point."
Carrington was killed last October during an altercation with police investigating a report of a possible break-in at the home of a family friend where the 15 year old often stayed. The officer involved, Daniel Norbits, is appealing a 30 day suspension he received for not handling his weapon properly during the incident.
City Council member Will Kyles says he's ready to approve the settlement, if it's what the family wants. The Carrington shooting led to heavy criticism of Champaign Police relations with African-Americans, especially with young people. But Kyles says those relations have improved in the past year, thanks to increased community involvement.
"That's the key ingredient to healing, is community, city and police working together", says Kyles. "And I've seen a lot of that going with, with the Six Initiatives, CCAP, and the countless meetings that don't get broadcast, but occur on a weekly basis."
Kyles referred to City Manager Steve Carter's six initiatives for improving police-community relations, and the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, a city-organized panel of city and African-American community leaders. But Campaign officials have resisted calls from critics to form a citizen police review board, similar to the panel in Urbana.
Attorney James Montgomery, representing the Carrington Estate, says the family is pleased that the lawsuit has been settled. But Champaign City Council approval is still needed before any money is paid out.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has identified the man whose body was found face down in a retention pond in north Champaign yesterday. He's identified as 19-year old Aaron Williams of Champaign. Coroner Duane Northup says Williams drowned.
The body was discovered by a passerby just before 4 pm in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Williams' death remains under investigation by the Coroner's office and Champaign Police.
A body has been found in a pond north of Interstate 74 in Champaign.
Champaign Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn says a passerby discovered the deceased male face down in the water just before 4 Wednesday afternoon in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Emergency workers used a boat to get to the body.
Dunn says the Champaign County Coroner's Office is investigating. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning in Bloomington.
Champaign County Board members voted 15 to 11 in committee Tuesday night to put a referendum making the county auditor an appointed post on the April 2011 ballot. Board members voted the same way they had 13 months ago, when they slated the measure for the November ballot. That vote turned out to be legally premature --- state law says a referendum must be approved to go on the ballot within a year of the election date.
Despite the delay, supporters like Republican Greg Knott of District Four say it's clear that an elected county auditor is not needed.
"Very seldom does the current auditor ever come and really recommend changes or point out things other than the very obvious that the county or departments within the county could use the advice on," says Knott, referring to Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri. "His staff does all the work. So at this point, it's a surplus position, in my opinion."
Fabri, a Democrat, disagrees. He says the auditor's office needs to be led by someone elected by the people, who can act as an independent monitor of county finances. He says referendum supporters are trying to weaken the office because of their opposition to him. But Knott says problems with the office go back several decades in Champaign County.
Fabri also questions referendum supporters for wanting to place the question on the April ballot, after losing their chance on the November ballot. The November election is a general election, expected to attract more voters than the local elections in April. Fabri says the referendum supporters hope to benefit from the lower spring election turnout.
"I think they're trying to game the system. And they think that in the municipal election, when Urbana, for example, has no municipal election at all, and probably won't have many contested school board elections, I think they believe they'll get a better voter turnout for their side of the argument."
But the Democratic co-sponsor of the referendum, Steve Beckett, says the political maneuvering was actually done earlier --- when Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein spotted the state election rule that disqualified an earlier county board vote to bring the referendum to voters in November. Beckett says Klein waited until it was too late to fix anything before bringing up the matter.
"If he had alerted the board prior to the time that he did, we could have corrected the technical problems with the prior draft, and had it on the ballot for this November,", says Beckett.
The District Nine county board member says he also has concerns about holding the auditor referendum in April, but doesn't want to delay it until 2012, when candidates for auditor will be on the ballot, too.
The Champaign County Board will take a final vote on whether to put the auditor referendum on the April 2011 ballot, at their general meeting September 23rd.
A series of attacks in Champaign has left the city's police department looking at ways to beef up crime prevention.
The Champaign Police Department reports that overall violence has dropped by less than a percent, but aggravated batteries are up by 10.1 percent, robberies 73.9 percent, and armed robberies have risen by 27.3 percent.
Many of these attacks in recent weeks have taken place on or near 4th and Green Street in Campustown. Chief of Police R.T. Finney would not say with certainty whether each attack is connected.
"You know many times a person is hit from behind, so identification is very difficult," explained Finney.
Finney said that arrests have been made, noting that the city is taking the attacks "very seriously" with increased officers on duty who are working overtime.
Champaign police officials are exploring ways to cut down on crime rates. Champaign Police Lieutenant Joe Gallo said in the next few weeks, his department will introduce a couple of new data mapping and analysis programs designed to help beef up security. Gallo explained that one program disseminates information for police officers to help them narrow down their search for a suspect.
"It alerts us that we've had three calls to service at this location in a given time period," said Gallo. "The intelligence portion is going to come up when we start looking at that address and go, 'Ok, this person was recently paroled at this address, and he has a history of violence. Maybe we better look at what he's doing over there.'"
The other program lets the public identify recent criminal activity in their neighborhood on an interactive map, similar to Google Maps. This program lets people sign up for alerts whenever there's a crime near their home.
"I think it's going to be a really valuable tool for our community," he said.
People are encouraged to report crime-related cases to the Champaign Police Department by calling 217-351-4545. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS.
The first recommendations for budget cuts and savings are coming out for the University of Illinois' largest campus.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said the Stewarding Excellence@Illinois program yielded ideas from 17 areas of campus. On Tuesday, Easter revealed the next steps in three of those areas, including information technology services. He said efforts like streamlining communication services and consolidating server rooms will cost money in the short term but bring several million dollars in long-term savings.
"If you have a server room in a college or even in a department, someone has to tend to it and there have to be environmental controls like heating and air conditioning systems at work," Easter said. "And getting all that consolidated where it's appropriate...should result in some significant savings over time."
Two other reports involve re-integrating graduate college admissions into the registrar's office and having the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics absorb more of the cost of athletic scholarships. Currently the DIA relies on tuition waivers for full and partial scholarships - but starting next year, the University will provide 100-thousand dollars less in waivers each year over five years.
Easter said the U of I already contributes less than most schools to athletics, which are funded mainly through sports revenues and donations, and he said the DIA already shoulders most of the academic cost.
"They are already putting about $6 million in tuition money into the campus, so it's not as though this is something new," Easter said. "They've been making very substantial contributions through their donors and their ticket sales and other things to the cost of educating student athletes."
Easter says individual colleges are also being charged with reviewing and reducing their costs.
Retiring Urbana Police Chief Mike Bily said his biggest achievements in 26 years with the department did not make headlines.
Bily is retiring September 22nd. The Urbana City Council confirmed Assistant Chief Patrick Connolly to succeed him Monday night. Bily said overseeing a successful department often had to do with simply helping the community.
"The investigators to an outstanding job," said Bily. "The officers who work patrol 24/7, 365 days a year do good things every single day that receive very little notoriety. Those are the types of things I've proudest of, not any single personal accomplishment."
Connolly said his top goal is now filling vacancies, including the now-vacant assistant chief's position and open lieutenant positions.
"But I also recognize the needs of the city," said Connolly. "So there has to be a balance, and the mayor has been incredible with working with us so far, and I'm going to continue with that relationship, but I'm certainly not going to demand anything up front. We're going to work with the city as closely as we always have."
Connolly said becoming a chief has been a career ambition in his 33 years in law enforcement. He has been with Urbana Police since 1988.
A University of Illinois administrator said he hopes state leaders can give the University of Illinois some advance notice on how much money it will be able to use in its operating budget.
Members of a U of I Board of Trustees committee learned Monday that the state will likely owe the university more than $500-million by the end of the calendar year, combining the prior fiscal year with the current one. Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Doug Beckman said fiscal 2012 looks worse, partly because the state will not be able to rely on any federal stimulus funds. Beckman said it would help if the U of I knew sooner how much it could expect.
"We'd love to have more lead time, but we understand it's a very, very difficult political issue," said Beckman. "There's got to be a combination of cuts and revenue, it would appear, to balance this budget. That is a difficult process. There's hard decisions to be made. I think we would trade a 10-percent cut for certainty right now, at least I would."
Beckman stated that the U of I has to operate under the assumption that some state funds will be cut, and he said the university will adjust to a pension reform plan signed by Governor Pat Quinn in April. Beckman said it is a step in the right direction in that it reduces the state's costs. The plan reduces benefits for those hired after January 1st of next year, raises the retirement age to 67, and caps maximum benefits at just under $107-thousand.
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