Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 19, 2009

Proposal to Terminate CUPHD Contract Goes Before Champaign County Board

Champaign County Board of Health officials are unhappy with the public health services provided for the county through a contract with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. So, in order to re-negotiate, they've asked the County Board to approve a one-year termination notice at its meeting Thursday night.

Board of Health President Julian Rappaport says their arrangement with the CUPHD gives them little flexibility. The Public Health District provides similar health services to both Champaign-Urbana and the county, with the CUPHD administrator acting as the county's health director. Rappaport says there's no incentive for the CUPHD to be responsive to the Board of Health's particular concerns.

"We don't have any ability to set and implement policies that we think would be good policies for the county", says Rappaport. "So the nature of that relationship just completely limits us. Essentially what the County Board of Health becomes is a kind of a pass-through agency."

In addition, Rappaport says the county can't afford a CUPHD budget request for higher administrative costs for next year. A formal termination notice would allow the Board of Health to start negotiating with the Public Health District now, instead of waiting for its contract to expire in 2013. And if the negotiations don't go well, Rappaport says the Board of Health has hired a consultant to look at possible alternatives.

But CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde says there are few changes that can be made to basic state-mandated public health services, especially when little money exists to provide additional services.

"You have core services that your have to provide with Public Health funds", says Pryde. "And it specifies what needs to be done. Anything above and beyond that, there is some discretion. But if you're only covering your costs, you don't have much discretion."

In addition, Pryde says the termination notice would be confusing to the public, giving the false impression that health services might be disrupted. That's what happened in 2003, when a public health services contract ran out before the county and the CUPHD could come to terms on a new agreement. In this case, the termination notice would mean that the Public Health District's current health services to the county would continue for one year, while negotiations proceed.

Pryde says she's very accessible, and the County Board of Health doesn't need a formal termination notice to talk to her.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2009

Urbana Congressman Opposes Transfer of Guantanamo Detainees to Thomson Prison

A Central Illinois Congressman is joining a number of his colleagues in their efforts to block the move of terrorism suspects to Thomson Prison. Urbana Republican Tim Johnson says the Obama administration plan 'flies in the face of common sense... exposing Illinois to a terrorist threat.' But Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer says the bigger concern is what rights those Guantanamo Bay detainees would have once incarcerated in the U-S.

"If they are tried in civilian courts here, the rules of evidence are far different in civliian courts than in military courts," says Bloomer. "And there is the possiblity of these people getting released on technicalities. That can't happen on U.S. soil." Johnson plans to co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by Peoria Republican Aaron Schock that would prohibit the use of federal funds to support the transfer of those prisoners. And Johnson has signed a letter written by Congressman Mark Kirk requesting a briefing from the Department of Defense. It calls for a Homeland Security Impact Study... looking at the vulnerability of Illinois landmarks.

Bloomer says the DOD has 'stonewalled' the efforts of many to find out more about the Thomson plan and its implications. He also cites a letter written by Republican State Senator Bill Brady. He's asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan whether approval from state legislators is needed to sell the prison.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2009

Blagojevich Witness List Reduced

A federal judge whittled down the list of defendants for Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial, dropping Springfield power broker William Cellini and leaving only the former governor and his brother.

And Michael Ettinger, an attorney for Blagojevich's brother, said Monday he will ask the judge within weeks to severe his client from the trial as well.

Judge James Zagel didn't drop charges against Cellini. Prosecutors are still free to bring him to trial after they finish with Blagojevich.

Meanwhile, Zagel says he's hoping to keep the June 3 trial date but left the door open for a brief delay requested by Blagojevich's lawyers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2009

Reaction Comes In on Proposal to Turn Thomson Correctional Facility Over to Feds

Governor Pat Quinn says turning a mostly vacant prison in northwestern Illinois into a federal lockup is a "once in a lifetime opportunity." But concerns are being raised about the possibility of housing terrorists within the state's borders.

Federal inspectors were scheduled to be at the Thomson Correctional Center near the Quad Cities today. They're considering using it to house, among others, Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Governor Pat Quinn is on board. "We have, I believe, 345 convicted terrorists incarcerated across America," the Governor said. "And I believe the people of Illinois and the men and women who live here are more than capable of handling any type of assignment when it comes to incarcerating terrorists."

For Quinn, who is up for election, the proposal carries risk and reward. It's an opportunity to bring up to an estimated 3,000 jobs to the depressed area.

The prison has sat mostly vacant since it was built about 8 years ago, and the state lacks the money to fully open it. But some Republicans have been quick to criticize the plan. Quinn and fellow Democrat -- US Senator Dick Durbin -- spent Sunday trying to alleviate security fears, saying the super maximum prison at Thomson is considered a state of the art facility.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 13, 2009

Prosecutors Move to Drop Cellini From Blago Trial

Prosecutors asked a federal judge Friday to drop millionaire power broker William Cellini from Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial. Meanwhile, the former governor asked that the trial scheduled for June be postponed for months.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel is likely to grant the motion, which would allow for a separate trial but not dismiss any charges, because Cellini's lawyers have been seeking the same thing.

Cellini is a Springfield lobbyist-businessman and has been viewed for decades as one of the most influential behind-the-scenes men in Illinois politics. He is charged with attempting to extort a payoff or hefty contribution for the Blagojevich campaign from a Hollywood producer whose money management firm did business with the state.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 13, 2009

C-U and Champaign County Leaders Consider an “Opt-Out” from Video Gambling

A new state law paves the way for legal video gambling to come to bars and truck stops across Illinois --- unless local governments choose to opt out. A joint study session Thursday night of the Champaign County Board and Champaign and Urbana City Councils considered the pros and cons of the issue.

University of Illinois business professor and gambling opponent John Kindt says studies show that video gambling is a particularly addictive type of gambling. Kindt was a panelist at the s study session, and he says young people have been found to be especially vulnerable.

"By putting these machines in the middle of a student population, this is just the very worst type of gambling in the most vulnerable type of population base", said Kindt.

But the state is counting on tax revenue from legal video gambling to help pay for capital construction projects. In the audience, Larry Swope of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association says that revenue would help provide badly needed jobs.

"It's time we quit worrying about people who MAY end up having a problem, and start worrying about peole who DO have a problem", said Swope, "that don't have work, that if they had work, they could pay their taxes and get construction going. Our people are starving."

County Board member Alan Kurtz pushed for last night's study session. Kurtz is a Democrat whose county board district --- District 7 --- includes the Campustown area --- and most of its many bars. He says he's worried that video gambling machines will prove a dangerous attraction to college students --- even though they state law will require they be placed away from areas where underage patrons are allowed.

"To me, it's obvious that they're not going to be able to control it", said Kurtz. We don't have the police power to be able to be in every bar, every night."

But Champaign City Counciwoman Karen Foster, who also attended the joint session, said afterwards that she favored letting video gambling come to town --- even though she says might have preferred a different way of funding state projects.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, who moderated the panel discussion, says she'd like the state to replace video gambling with alternative funding sources for capital construction. Prussing says the Urbana City Council will continue to study the issue, but would not say if she thought her city should "opt-out", and ban video gambling locally.

It will be a year or longer before legal video gambling is actually a reality in Illinois. In the meantime, at least 27 county and municipal governments --- mostly in the Chicago area --- have voted to ban the games in their jurisdictions --- the county board bans only affect unincorporated areas.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 12, 2009

Graduate Workers Union Rallies On All Three UI Campuses

Rallies were held on all three University of Illinois campuses Thursday as talks of a strike loomed among graduate workers in Urbana. Some of the chanting was aimed at administrators as more than 300 members and supporters of the Graduate Employees Organization made their way across the campus quad. The rally was held a few hours after two busloads of union members rallied in Springfield, where U of I Trustees were meeting, while 50 with the GEO rallied in Chicago.

Its membership approved a strike authorization vote last week over a living wage and guaranteed tuition waivers. The union says the U of I has agreed to a new negotiating session slated for Saturday afternoon. Co-President Caroline Nappo says it's the result of the membership meeting a week ago when more than 90% of voting members favored a strike. "When we put serious pressure on the university related to a possible work action they are more responsive," says Nappo. "We've been negotiating for almost seven months now and from April until just a few weeks ago, the university hadn't made any kind of offer that gave us anything." Nappo says there's been some movement on the areas of health care coverage and parental leave, and the administration agreed to drop some language about discrimination-based grievances.

GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says adding the Saturday session is encouraging, but its strike committee has been meeting regularly and can call for a work stoppage at any time. U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says she's hopeful the best possible contract can be reached within the university's financial constraints.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2009

Champaign City Council Studies Police Use of Force Policy

Once again, the Champaign City Council chamber was filled to capacity Tuesday night, with people concerned about police practices in the wake of the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. This time, the topic was the department's new Use of Force policy, which took effect just before the 15 year old Carrington was shot in a police confrontation.

In his first public comments since his involvement in the confrontation in which Carrington was shot, Police Chief R-T Finney defended the policy, which he says was revised as part of his efforts to earn professional accreditation for the police department. He argued against remarks from police critics, who said that African-Americans were subject to more use of force by Champaign Police than white residents.

"The use of force is based on reasonableness," said Finney. "It's based on the actions that are presented to the officer. We review each one of them for that. It has nothing to do with race."

In contrast to two previous council meetings, police officers and supporters turned out in large numbers at Tuesday night's study session. Many wore buttons that said "Support Our Police". Albert Lo defended the Use of Force policy against critics who said it needed to be more specific.

"The Use of Force policy probably should be ambiguous," said Lo, "giving officers the opportunity to use their best judgment. That's why we hired them."

In contrast, 1st District Councilman Will Kyles said he thought the revised Use of Force policy might be too vague. For instance, he called for more specific guidelines on when officers can draw their gun.

Champaign Police officials say the revised policy allows deadly force only in cases where great bodily harm has or may occur. And they say the guidelines for Tasers are for when the department may call in another law enforce agency that uses Tasers --- Champaign does not. Chief Finney has talked about reviving the idea, but would not comment on the idea last night.

C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice was among those arguing Tuesday night for more specific language in the Use of Force policy, and against any language on Tasers. They also want any changes in police policy that directly affects affecting the community to come before the Champaign City Council. The group plans a noon-hour youth rally on Wednesday, Veterans Day, at the downtown Urbana Veterans Memorial, in memory of Kiwane Carrington.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2009

Douglas County Judge Sides with Family of Autistic 6-Year Old

A Douglas County Judge has ruled that an autistic 1st grader can continue bringing his service dog to school. Judge Michael Freese sided Tuesday with the family of 6-year old Kaleb Drew, saying 'Chewey' clearly functions as a service animal, keeping him calm and focused in class. Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew, says before the family got the Labrador retriever, her son often slept 2 to 3 hours at night, ran away from home, and they weren't able to take him to places like grocery stores and restaurants.

"We were seeing such improvement with Kaleb and such growth with Kaleb and Chewey as a team that we didn't want anything to hinder that," says Drew. "We wanted it to be able to continue and for Kaleb just to be able to continue to experience life to the fullest. And I think that's what every parent wants for their child. As parent of a child with autism, it's something that I don't get to experience very often."

Attorneys for the Villa Grove school district argued the dog wasn't helping the child's development, and can be disruptive to other students and staff. Based on the testimony from school staff, Judge Freese noted problems in dealing with the dog at times. But he says the real problems were with a state statute that doesn't clearly define Chewey's role while accompanying Kaleb at school. Villa Grove schools attorney Brandon Wright says its legal team is still weighing its options, and could appeal the district's decision. He says a big problem lies with a state law that allows service animals in schools, but doesn't provide much guidance.

"When you have a student who is young and incapable of being the handler of a dog, what does that mean for the school in terms of its responsibility?," says Wright. "And this statute is silent on that and the judge recognized that conundrum for the school district." This case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to the state's law allowing service animals in schools. Authorities in both school districts have said that the boys' needs must be balanced against those of other children who have allergies or fear the animals.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2009

Neighbors, Activists Claim Water Main Project is Digging Up Contaminated Dirt

A new dispute has erupted among a utility, environmental officials and neighbors near a Champaign site that decades ago hosted a manufactured gas plant.

Ameren has been treating soil and groundwater on the site but maintains that contamination from the residue buried in the soil has not leached out into the surrounding area. The Champaign County Health Care Consumers disputes that, and today they say a nearby water main replacement project is digging up some of that questionable soil.

The group's director, Claudia Lenhoff, says Illinois American Water, Ameren and the city left neighbors in the dark over the safety of the water main project.

"This corridor here should be tested in order to remove any doubt to whether it's safe or not to be digging this soil and into the groundwater," Lennhoff said. "Just a few feet that way (toward the site itself) is contaminated."

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says the water company cleared the project with them. "We were aware of what they're doing. They are aware of what we're doing," Morris said. "They know what the extent of the contamination is. And there is no contamination that they would need to be concerned about.'

But one neighbor, Magnolia Cook, distrusts whatever Ameren is saying about the site's safety. "Ameren has never told us the truth about anything, so why would we believe what Ameren is saying as far as this site is concerned, "Cook said. "How come the Illinois EPA is not out here to see what's underneath this dirt while they're digging?"

Neighbors have questioned why the Illinois EPA issued a permit for the project using Ameren's test results. However, Randy West, local field operations superintendent with Illinois American Water, says they commissioned their own soil testing along the water main site, and found no evidence of any contamination from the old gas plant.


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