Illinois Public Media News
For the second year in a row, voters at the annual town meeting in Urbana have turned down a request to place an advisory referendum on the ballot supporting Instant Runoff Voting.
The vote at Tuesday night's annual town meeting for Cunningham Township in Urbana was 82 to 13 against putting the referendum on next year's primary ballot. One of the opponents was Champaign County Board Member Tom Betz. He says most Urbana voters agree with him that Instant Runoff Voting is not a fair way to conduct elections, "because it disenfranchises voters". Betz went on, "It allows a second place candidate to potentially win. I believe in majority rule, and this is not majority rule. It's anti-democratic. I don't even believe it's lawful in the state of Illinois."
But supporters of the proposal accuse Democrats of denying voters the chance to make their own decision on the matter.
Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the ballots for the candidate with the least votes is recounted using the voters' second choice, and so on, until a majority winner is chosen.
Meanwhile, over at the City of Champaign town meeting, the vote was 29 to 4 in favor of putting a non-binding question on the 2010 primary ballot in favor of a property tax hike for Township General Assistance.
Champaign voters previously approved a non-binding referendum for more Township aid for the poor last spring. But they've twice defeated referenda calling for actual property tax hikes. Randall Cotton, who sponsored the question at the town meeting last night, says they'll have to work harder to get their message across. But he says the support for the funding is there. "There's a growing group of people who are really very acutely interested in this issue," says Cotton. "And of course, it's more timely and important now than any time before in recent memory, because of the incredible downturn in the economy."
Cotton says the referendum that City of Champaign voters will see next year will provide more details than previous ones. He says it will point out that Champaign's funding for General Assistance is less than 10 percent of the average funding levels for Springfield, Bloomington and Peoria. And the resolution will call for a cap on how much property tax bills can go up.
The Champaign City Council has changed its mind, and will continue to award grants to social service agencies for another two years. But there will be new strings attached.
The grants, using federal funds, were scheduled to end July 1st. The city of Champaign was taking a different approach to social service funding --- working with the school and park districts to create its own initiatives targeting troubled neighborhoods, such as Garden Hills.
But city council members decided at last night's study session to continue granting money to local social service agencies through 2012, using 300-thousand dollars in city funds tagged for urban renewal. City Manager Steve Carter says these grants will only go to agencies ready to follow the pattern of the city's neighborhood initiatives. "It will be very much targeted," said Carter, "both in terms of geographic location in the community and the types of programs we're looking for."
Champaign officials changed their minds, because they saw local social service agencies losing funding due to the slumping economy, while the need for their services increased. At the same time, officials with the agencies argue the city funding can be crucial in obtaining matching grants, making city funds go further. "Essentially, ten thousand becaomes near enough 200-thousand dollars," said Tom Sullivan of the Center for Women in Transition.
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.
Today's plea makes official Blagojevich's denial of political malfeasance that authorities say included a scheme to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich looked relaxed as he stood in court today alongside his brother, who also pleaded not guilty in the scheme.
The former governor didn't make a statement before the plea, but he told a throng of reporters as he entered the courthouse earlier that he's "innocent of every single accusation.''
Blagojevich also is charged with planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business. And prosecutors contend heplotted to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.
The Champaign School Board is taking applications until the end of the month for people to serve on a new oversight committee to make sure they keep their promises.
During Monday night's Unit Four School Board meeting, Board President Dave Tomlinson said the "Promises Made, Promises Kept" Committee will oversee how the district uses money from the school facilities sales tax approved by Champaign County voters last week. "The oversight committee's going to keep us accountable," he explained.
Topping Unit Four's list for spending the sales tax revenue is construction of new classrooms for Champaign's north side. They're required by the Consent Decree. The new classrooms will be added on to Garden Hills School, and be part of a completely new Booker T. Washington school building. The district plans to follow that with construction of a new grade school in Savoy.
In addition, Unit Four plans to use sales tax revenue to pay off the district's existing bond debt --- allowing property taxes to be cut. Tomlinson says the tax savings will amount to about 32-dollars a year on a 150-thousand dollar home.
The new school facilities sales tax takes effect in 2010.
Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.
The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.
Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.
County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.
In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pardoned 11 people and ordered that their criminal records be expunged.
He says it's part of an effort to clear what he calls a "shameful'' backlog of almost 2,500 clemency requests that built up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Crimes committed by those who were pardoned include drug possession, aggravated battery and burglary.
Quinn says this is just the first in a series of clemency petitions he will act on with the goal of drastically reducing the backlog by the end of the year.
He says each person he pardoned underwent a criminal background check.
Mahomet Aquifer Study Short of Funds
A major study on the Mahomet Aquifer has been left unfinished because its state funding was cut off. Now the consortium that oversees the project is trying to raise the money to complete it.
The voters of Champaign County approved a one percent sales tax for school facilities on Tuesday. But the tax proposal faces one more vote before it takes effect. That's a vote by the Champaign County Board. The Board cannot reject the sales tax --- but it could lower it to a half-cent or quarter-cent on the dollar.
But County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he will vote for the tax rate that the voters approved. "The voters voted on it," he says. "I think it would be a disservice not to do that (vote for the full one percent rate), or if we do it, we'd have to have a very good reason."
And Weibel says if the new sales tax rate was reduced, he thinks it would take away the ability of school districts to offer the property tax relief that they promised.
Weibel says the school facilities sales tax will go before the county board's Policy Committee. Its chairman, Tom Betz, opposed the sales tax personally, and says it won't provide meaningful savings for the average homeowner. But Betz says the voters passed a one-percent tax, so that's what he'll vote for, too.
Voters in Champaign County have approved a 1% hike in the county sales tax to help school districts pay for construction projects and pay off bond debt. Champaign joins two other counties in the state with such a sales tax -- several other counties voted on similar referenda on Tuesday. The sales tax was passed with 53% of the vote. Voters in the Urbana Park District also passed a property tax hike.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing won a second term, easily defeating Republican Rex Bradfield and two other candidates. Incumbents David Gehrig, Robert Lewis and Heather Stevenson regained their Urbana City Council seats, and Democrat Diane Marlin won ther lone open seat.
In Champaign, William Kyles defeated Freddie Gordon to win the open District 1 council seat. Incumbents Michael LaDue and Marci Dodds also won. Republican Pam Borowski defeated D'Anne Winston to win the City of Chamapign Township Supervisor seat that had been occupied by Democrat Linda Abernathy. Incumbent Brian Christie held off Democrat Wayne Williams in the City of Champaign Township Assessor race.
Incumbent Dave Tomlinson regained his Champaign Unit 4 School Board seat -- Thomas Lockman will join him along with Stig Lanesskog, who defeated Lynn Stucky by only three votes for the third available seat.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he canceled his predecessor's sweeping ban on campaign contributions from companies doing business with the state partly because it raised constitutional questions.
He also says then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ban aimed to undercut ethics reform _ not advance it.
Quinn's action last week keeps reforms lawmakers approved barring constitutional officers from pay-to-play politics. But it blocks Blagojevich's order including state lawmakers in the ban.
Legislators scoffed at Blagojevich's claim his measure was more comprehensive.
Quinn echoed that Tuesday. He says he doesn't want what he calls "that kind of monkey business'' to seep into Illinois law.
He's also says a flood of new recommendations will address similar ethical issues.
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