Illinois Public Media News
Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hurrying to get their applications for state and federal funding in on time --- now that those applications have won the backing of both the Champaign and Urbana city councils. The state grant application is due Wednesday, August 6th, and the federal grant application must be submitted by August 14th.
The state and federal funds are aimed at providing affordable Internet service in low-income and underserved areas of town. But backers say the UC2B project will serve the whole community --- and attract businesses that want access to its high-capacity network.
That's an important point for Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. He asked UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer whether the project would add value to the community in the eyes of prospective businesses. Smeltzer said one place that would receive added value would be the University of Illinois Research Park. He says the Research Park already has a high-capacity fiber-optic connection --- but that businesses want a second one as a precaution.
"There are companies moving to the Research Park that talk to (developer) Peter Fox, and they say, 'hey, do you guys have redundant fiber?'", explains Smeltzer. "And he has to say, 'no we don't. We have a single path of fiber'. This (UC2B) would give redundant fiber for the Research Park."
Champaign Council members voted 9-0 to endorse the UC2B grant applications Tuesday night. They're committing up to 920-thousand dollars in matching funds for UC2B. The Urbana City Council voted Monday to commit up to 567-thousand dollars. Both councils also voted to form a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project. UC2B organizers says they'll know by fall if the project has won federal funding.
City of Champaign voters will be asked to weigh in on a proposal to sell off township buildings --- at a special town meeting set for Thursday, August 20th. Champaign City Council members set the date during the township portion of their meeting Tuesday night.
City of Champaign Township Supervisor Pam Borowski wants to sell the townships' two office buildings at the corner of Green and Randolph to buyers interested in re-developing the block. But state law on townships requires an OK from the voters for that to happen --- not voters at the polls, but voters attending a town meeting. Borowski says the event will be similar to the annual town meetings held in Illinois townships every spring.
"Only registered voters will be able to stand up and vote, yea or nay, on whether or not they will allow the township trustees to accept bids and go ahead and sell the township properties," says Borowski. "It's pretty much their call what we
Borowski says approval at the August 20th meeting would only allow the sale, not mandate it. She says it won't go forward until they've identified a new location for township offices. That would involve buying or leasing property ---and perhaps sharing a facility with Champaign city offices. Borowski says she wants township offices to stay in the downtown area, where it will be handy for public aid clients without cars.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband project took another step toward becoming a reality Monday night by winning the Urbana City Council's approval. The council passed two resolutions supporting the plan to launch a community-wide fast and affordable fiber-optic network --- starting with service to low-income and underserved parts of town.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council will vote on the same resolutions that the Urbana Council approved the previous night -- support for the grant application and participation in a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project.
Supporters of the project, known as UC2B, plan to submit an application for a federal economic stimulus grant that - if awarded - would provide 80 percent of the funding. UC2B plans to apply for a smaller state grant this week. Together, Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois would match the grants with about 2.4 million dollars of their own money.
UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer says that because the project is spread over three years, the cities and the U of I don't have to pay the money out all at once.
"The federal government's not going to give us all the money at once," Smeltzer explains. "It's only going to give us money as we make progress, and as we show our match. So as long as we show up with a third of our matching funds, they'll give us a third of the money. And a year later when we need more money, we'll show up with a third, and they'll give us another match."
The supporters envision UC2B branching out to cover the whole community in the future. But the initial buildout would be just in the low-income underserved areas. A community survey has revealed that the territory that could qualify for the grant is smaller than expected --- covering just about 45-hundred people in Champaign and Urbana.
U of I Library Science professor Abdul Alkalimat (al-KAL-ee-mat) says he doesn't think the smaller size will hurt UC2B's chances of winning government funding.
Because it makes it a smaller project, and therefore, from the state level, they could include us at a lesser cost, therefore others might have an opportunity. So in this sense, we think it won't hurt us, it will help us."
The state grant application must be submitted by Wednesday. The federal grant application is due on August 14th.
A spokesman for the University of Illinois says the school respects the decision of the chairman of its Board of Trustees to resign. Thomas Hardy said today that the school appreciates the service of Niranjan Shah, who resigned in a letter today to Gov. Pat Quinn amid an investigation into the use of political clout to get underqualified students into the school. Quinn says he's accepted Shah's resignation and a search for a replacement will begin immediately.
Shah says he decided to quit after members of a state commission investigating university admissions practices said they think the trustees should step down. In his letter, Shah said 'I am not in public service for self-aggrandizement and therefore have no interest in a protracted process regarding my role. My interest is solely in the vitality of the University of Illinois.' Shah is the second trustee to resign. Former chairman Lawrence Eppley quit last week.
Shah says his resignation is effective in 90 days or sooner if his successor is in place.
University of Illinois Trustee David Dorris says he's ready to step down from the board, as Lawrence Eppley did yesterday (Tues) amid the school's admission scandal. But Dorris says his resignation and more need to be accompanied by a concrete plan from Governor Pat Quinn for filling the vacant board seats. The Bloomington attorney says wants to hear from the Governor about keeping a quorum on the board so it can make university decisions. And Dorris says the publicity garnered by the admission of politically-connected applicants has been too connected to the trustees, which he says was responsible for a small portion of the so-called 'Category I' list. Dorris suggests that U of I President Joseph White resign over the admissions scandal, and that the university implement a defined admissions policy.
"We need an ombudsman that's effective that can give the public answers where we can refer them to when we get inquiries,' says Dorris. "We'll say look, here's who you call, you'll get an answer. That was not in place during the time that I was a Trustee. When we would get inquiries or questions about admssions, I was told the procedure we use was that inquiries you get, refer them to (Chancellor) Richard Herman."
Dorris defends Chancellor Herman, who says the volume of inquiries he received was unfair. He also suggests the U of I implement a code of conduct for Trustees, and a way to discipline those who interfere with an administrator's ability to do their job. As for selecting future trustees, Dorris suggests the university put together an independent organization to examine records of candidates, and name them to the board. He's not in favor of plan that would allow the U of I's Alumni Association to select six trustees, saying they would wield too much power.
A federal judge says he'll largely turn down media requests for access to sealed documents in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political corruption case.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Wednesday he tentatively plans to unseal a smattering of what news organizations want to be made public - including snippets of a motion filed by lawyers for Blagojevich co-defendant William Cellini.
The Cellini document had been sought by the Chicago Tribune, CNN and WLS-TV.
CNN and WLS also sought access to FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich's phone conversations in the days before his arrest.
Blagojevich is accused of scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and of illegally squeezing business executives for campaign money. He has denied wrongdoing.
One of the key figures in the uproar over the role of political influence at the University of Illinois is resigning. University trustee Lawrence Eppley said Tuesday in a letter to Governor Pat Quinn that he will step down from the board that oversees the school's three campuses.
In a statement, Governor Quinn says he accepts Eppley's resignation, and thanks him for his years of service. He says a search for his successor will begin immediately. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the resignation letter, and reports that Eppley writes that fellow trustees should step down as well. He also calls on unnamed school administrators to accept their share of responsibility for the admissions uproar.
Eppley was first appointed to the the U of I board in 2001 and later served for a time as chairman. Eppley sent e-mails to the university noting Blagojevich's support for students applying to the school. Eppley says he'll leave in 90 days or when someone is appointed to replace him.
Eppley resignation comes a day after two former U of I presidents, James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry, called on some or most trustees to be removed, in testimony to the Illinois Admissions Review Commission. Stukel named Eppley as one of three trustees who should be removed. Ikenberry, reached for comment Tuesday, said he had no comment on Eppley's resignation. Admissions Review Commission Chairman, Abner Mikva, said Tuesday he had just learned of Eppley's announcement, and could not comment at this time. A copy of the letter can be accessed below.
Additional reporting from The Associated Press Letter.Eppley_.PDF
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
The governor's panel investigating politically-tainted admissions at the University of Illinois convened at the school's Urbana campus yesterday --- and heard from 30 years worth of leadership. University President Joseph White vowed to end the use of a so-called 'clout list' of politically connected applicants --- and set up a strict code of conduct for the admissions process. Meanwhile, the two men who served as president blamed the scandal on a politicized board of trustees --- and said at least some of the trustees should be removed. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports on the day-long testimony before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission:
Members of the Admissions Review Commission have at least one more hearing before they write their recommendations to Governor Pat Quinn.
Retired Judge Abner Mikva heads the commission. He says any report will have to be a consensus of the seven com missioners. He stops short of saying the report could recommend the firing of trustees or administrators.
"Our mission is to do something about the admissions process,and I think one of our jobs in writing the report is not to stray...that we have no power beyond that was given to us by the executive order, Mikva said after the hearing. "I think that we ought to make sure that we're not trying to solve all the problems Illinois has. And I have quite a list!" Mikva joked.
Mikva says he was concerned by the presidents' comments that recent trustees considered the University as just another state agency, instead of an independent institution. He hopes U of I officials make policy changes that make people comfortable that admissions are based on merits.
The commission's next hearing is Wednesday - they're scheduled to hear from state senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora, but member Z Scott hopes other lawmakers agree to speak.
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