Illinois Public Media News
The federal stimulus program was lucrative for the University of Illinois, but less so for government agencies in Champaign County.
A report from the county regional planning commission says more than $162 million in stimulus funding rolled into the county in 2009. But nearly $96 million of that was for the U of I, mainly for research projects according to commission planner Susan Chavarria. $16 million of the total was for infrastructure projects, mostly road construction and improvements.
Chavarria says it's hard to compare whether Champaign County got more or less than other areas of the state or nation. "Smaller communities and smaller counties, they usually don't have the resources to go through the application processes or to take the time to look for the funding sources," Chavarria said. "So in terms of our ability to do that, I think that we have perhaps received more than some of the other downstate counties. For the $546 million that we asked for, our expectations were we'll take what we can get, so I think we've received a fair amount of funding here."
Chavarria says even the U of I assistance indirectly benefits the community in the jobs it ensures for researchers and students. She says stimulus assistance to the county also came in the form of government contracts and business loans.
One Champaign city council member says she's hoping city staff will take some time to clarify a measure that seeks to speed up enforcement of standards for vacant buildings.
The plan is to remedy problems with empty commercial and residential properties without having to go through a drawn-out court process. Council member Marci Dodds says she backs the plan overall, but says the language lacked clarity as to how property owners get back into compliance after getting their building back up to standards. The city council and public discussed the measure for more than three hours in Tuesday night's study session. Dodds says neighborhood service staff should have written the ordinance to say buildings should meet fire safety codes, and not all property codes. "Do you have to bring your plumbing up to current code in a vacant building? Well, no you don't," said Dodds. "But you have to make sure that holes are patched in the wall, the roof's not going to fall in on firemen if they go in, people aren't going to fall through the floor, that kind of thing. Those are two very different standards. And I think that standard needs to be clear. I also think it needed to be clear what triggered going into a building."
Tom Bruno agrees there's a problem with irresponsible property owners and vacant structures, saying there may need to be more details in the proposal. But he says the neighborhood services department needs to be allowed to do its job. "We have inspectors in the field who are trained and comfortable and qualified at exercising some judgment," said Bruno. "And that a lot of the detailed minutia that people are seeking in this ordinance I don't necessarily needs to be there as long as our enforcement people are well-intentioned, well-trained, and well-able to exercise some discretion."
Property maintenance inspector Michael Lambert says the key is finding what triggers use of the ordinance. He says his staff will try to clarify some of its language, and have it back before the council soon.
Governor Pat Quinn's signature extends the power to borrow money to Illinois' community colleges.
Earlier this week legislation that the governor signed gave the same ability to state universities - nearly all public higher education institutions are awaiting backlogged payments from the state, and many of those schools say the delays have prompted them to cut budgets and scrape to make payroll.
In signing the borrowing authority bill in Danville Wednesday, Governor Quinn said the two-year schools now have another tool to work through the state's budget crisis. Republican Representative Bill Black admits that the new borrowing power is only a Band-Aid.
"I know some of you in the media looked at the three bills and said 'this doesn't solve all the problems' -- no it doesn't, and I don't think the governor will give any the indication that it does," Black said. "But they're all small steps that we can take, and when the state gets back on its feet - and it will -- I think the bills he's signing today will help."
Two other bills the Governor signed Wednesday allow more frequent state payments to community colleges and let the state Community College Board limit some travel reimbursements. Colleges would still have to get the approval of their trustees to issue more bonds.
The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has seated a jury.
Judge James B. Zagel named 18 jurors -- a panel of 12 and six alternates. The judge postponed an immediate decision on a request by Blagojevich's attorneys to dismiss fraud and racketeering charges against him. The former governor has pleaded not guilty to profiting from his power by trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Opening statements are now expected to begin.
The ex-governor appeared upbeat earlier as he made his way through the courthouse security and addressed reporters in the lobby.
Interest in the trial was high. The main courtroom in downtown Chicago and another overflow courtroom with audio feeds from the trial were filled to capacity.
An ordinance banning outdoor storage of indoor furniture was approved by the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole.
The ordinance follows a recent Urbana house fire that left 25 year old Ashley Ames severely burned. The fire started on a front porch couch. Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the ordinance is geared to limit overstuffed furniture such as couches, chairs and mattresses because its a large ignition source.
Dilley says outdoor furniture fires are not an isolated incident in Urbana in past years, and the regulation is not a restriction of one's freedom of choosing a lifestyle.
"We regulate lifestyle every day," Dilley said. "We have codes and ordinances that help people be safe, and this is just another one that over a period of years we've found that it's a problem. We don't just go out and pull something out of thin air. When we start having issues when people die, then we look at them."
Aldermen Dennis Roberts was the only vote in dissent. Roberts says people used to say quote "your home is your castle."
"It's possible, yes, that a fire could start on a porch because of a couch," Roberts told the council. "But does that mean no one should ever have a couch on the porch? I don't think so. I think we have to use common sense, and I think it's a shame that we're trying tro regulate people's styles of living outdoors."
The Urbana City Council will vote on the Ordinance next Monday.
In addition, Mayor Laurel Prussing says that June 8th 2010 has been proclaimed Al Johnston Day in Urbana. The veteran Urbana Police Officer recently retired.
Gov. Pat Quinn has declared four Illinois counties disaster areas after tornadoes tore through parts of the state.
Quinn on Monday declared LaSalle, Livingston, Peoria and Putnam counties disaster areas. Quinn said during a visit to Dwight in Livingston County the declaration would help ensure the flow of state assistance to areas hit by tornadoes. The governor says he expects communities like Dwight and Streator to get federal help as well.
"We want to give everything we can from the state, but under these circumstances there are moneys available from the federal government for disaster assistants." said Quinn. "And I think very shortly we'll be filing for that." The National Weather Service says at least 15 tornadoes touched down across central and northern portions of the state Saturday night. The strongest was a tornado with 140 mph winds that touched down near Dwight before tearing through the town about 60 miles northeast of Bloomington. 14 people were hurt in the town, including one with serious injuries, and about 50 suffered minor injuries in nearby Streator. Dozens were injured and a number of homes and businesses were damaged.
State banking regulators closed the Arcola Homestead Savings Bank Friday, and turned it over to the federal regulators. But unlike many failed banks, Arcola Homestead will not be opening under a new name.
FDIC spokesman David Barr says Arcola Homestead Savings Bank will be closing for good.
"More than nine out of ten bank failures result in a transition over to a new ownership group", says Barr. "However, in this case, Homestead was one of the four or five percent of the bank failures we've seen, where we haven't been able to find a buyer."
But Barr says Homestead depositors will still be getting their money back. He says checks for all insured deposits will be mailed to account owners, starting on Monday. In addition, Homestead depositors have the option of transferring the checking and NOW accounts over to the First Mid-Illinois Bank in Arcola. Barr warns that account holders will have to go over to the First Mid-Illinois branch in Arcola to make the switch --- and that checks from their Homestead checkbooks are no longer valid.
The FDIC says 81 federally insured banks have failed so far this year. Arcola Homestead Savings Bank 12th Illinois bank to fail.The federal agency says the bank had about $17 million in assets and $18.1 million in deposits, as of March 31st.
A bill designed to change Illinois' often-abused legislative scholarship program is heading nowhere, and that means lawmakers may avoid one more touchy vote before the fall election.
The Senate faces a deadline next week to consider Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of the measure. But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says senators have no plans to return to the Capitol by then.
Cullerton is a Chicago Democrat who sponsored a series of restrictions on the scholarships rather than support an outright ban passed by the House.
Quinn vetoed Cullerton's proposal on May 11, saying he preferred to eliminate the program.
Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says this particular bill is dead but the issue isn't.
The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun questioning potential jurors for the case.
Among the first questions Judge James Zagel asked them today were whether they had read much about the case and whether they could set aside any preconceived notions about Blagojevich.
The former governor is accused of scheming to profit from his power to fill President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.
One potential juror said she had seen the former governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, on a reality TV show eating a bug.
Jurors were referred to in the courtroom by numbers only. Zagel plans to keep the jury anonymous until after the trial and denied a request by news organizations to reverse that.
18 months after his arrest on federal corruption charges, jury selection begins Thursday in Chicago in the trial of Rod Blagojevich. The former Illinois governor is charged with trying to trade state decisions and appointments for cash and political favors --- including an appointment to the President Obama's old Senate seat.
A University of Illinois law professor says a major point of contention in the Blagojevich trial will be the link between favors granted by the former governor and requests for campaign donations and favors.
Professor Andrew Leipold says he thinks arguments by the defense will not focus on what Blagojevich said, but on what those statements mean.
"When the former governor said X, did he mean, 'and if you don't give me money I won't do it', says Leipold. "Or was he discussing two different topics: 'I'm prepared to do this'; and perhaps separately, 'Are you going to be contributing to my campaign, because we're doing a lot of good work, and I would value your support'."
Leipold says that question will make testimony by someone like former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk especially important ... because he would be in a position to know the former governor's intentions. Monk is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the Blagojevich trial.
Meanwhile, while opening arguments in the trial are still days away, Blagojevich has been make his cause before the public,w ith TV and radio appearances, and the publication of a book.
Leipold says it's an unusual move for a defendant in a trial.
"The notion that your client would be out going on talk shows and on the radio and on reality television is normally not something that defense lawyers would encourage", says Leipold. "Anything the governor says in any of his many, many, many public appearances are fair game, in the sense that if he says something that turns out to be different that what he says at trial, then he's subject to impeachment by that."
And Leipold says it's clear that Blagojevich intends to testify in his own defense at the trial. It will be Blagojevich's word against his words recorded in wiretapped conversations that prosecutors say show the former governor engaging in a "public corruption crime spree".
But Leipold says he expects the defense to argue that Blagojevich's requests for money and political favors were not connected to any of his actions as governor.
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