Illinois Public Media News
A Central Illinois program that helps ex-felons transition into jobs and homes lost its funding this summer. Now its executive director wants to know how a number of new parolees returning to the Decatur area will seek out such services.
Decatur's Promise Community Center used to receive a 100-thousand grant to help those getting out of prison. But most of those funds helped those leaving a prison in East St. Louis, and few of them relocating in Decatur. So the grant ended June 30th, and will be shifted to East St. Louis at a later date. Promise Center Executive Director Reverend Leroy Smith says that makes sense, but he's concerned about the additional 1000 parolees that Governor Pat Quinn plans to release within a month. Smith says the Promise Center is basically a one-man operation, in which he takes a handful of referrals.
"I'm a person who, if I'm making a commitment, I will follow through," Smith said. "And our organization is known to do that."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith says there's been no breakdown as to where the 1000 non-violent early-released prisoners will come from, but she assures there won't be a logjam of parolees in programs like the Promise Center.
"With that early release of inmates, Governor Quinn has allocated us two million dollars to help with that, which will help us electronically monitor those parolees as well as set up an increase support services that they may need," the spokeswoman said.
Reverend Smith says he still plans to advocate for ex-felons when possible. He still serves on an executive committee for prisoner re-entry under Governor Quinn.
Champaign city officials are preparing a zoning change on Green Street meant to encourage continued development in Campustown.
Green Street in Campustown has changed in the past decade. Flood control measures on Boneyard Creek have encouraged construction of tall buildings, and new street and sidewalk design encourages walking over driving. Architect Joshua Daley of Campus Property Management complimented the change during Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session: "I think the incredible transformation of Green Street over the last ten years from Fourth to Wright is an example of a central Illinois city coming back to life."
Now, city planners want to create a zoning overlay on Green Street from 3rd Street west to the railroad tracks, to steer development in the same direction as the blocks to the east. The change would allow for taller buildings, require them to be placed closer to the sidewalk, and reduce commercial parking requirements. City Planner TJ Blakeman says they want the strip malls and other buildings with big parking lots on that part of Green Street to eventually disappear.
"Any time you scoot the building 30 feet back", says Blakeman, "you no longer invite pedestrians as easily into the space. You're inviting a car to park in front of it. So, long term, we don't want to see the parking in the front."
The concept won the endorsement of city council members Tuesday night. Mayor Jerry Schweighart gave his endorsement with the understanding that current buildings on Green Street would not be forced to change.
The mayor of Urbana says the best way to provide Big Broadband service in Champaign-Urbana is to have city government run the system.
The Big Broadband project's application for federal stimulus money envisions a system where any and all service providers can share the infrastructure and compete against each other. But Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says city government is best suited to provide Big Broadband --- Internet, TV and phone service --- to homes and businesses.
"Other cities have done this successfully", says Prussing, "and they're able to offer the customers a lower price --- and make money for the city, which benefits the customers as taxpayers."
Prussing says city government could get an exclusive lock on operating Big Broadband service by building and owning the final leg of optic fiber to homes and businesses. Except for about 46-hundred homes in underserved areas, that infrastructure won't be included in the first phase of Big Broadband now waiting for federal funding.
The idea was discussed at Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. Prussing says her city --- with possibly Champaign joining them --- may hire a consultant to study the matter.
The former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party intends to join the crowded field of people running for governor. The Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio both quote sources close to the campaign as saying Andy McKenna will run for governor in 2010.
McKenna stepped down as Republican chairman a month ago. Now he wants to win the party's nomination for governor.
In addition, those same sources say state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine will abandon his bid for governor and instead run for lieutenant governor as McKenna's unofficial running mate. It's unofficial because candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in Illinois run separately in the primary election.
McKenna unsuccessfully sought a U.S. Senate nomination in 2004. He considered running again for the Senate in 2010 but stepped aside for Rep. Mark Kirk to seek the office.
Republicans already running for governor include Kirk Dillard, Bill Brady, Dan Proft and Robert Schillerstrom.
(Additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's restoring $16 million in funding previously expected to be cut from probation services statewide, averting many layoffs critics said would compromise public safety.
The Democrat says the move came after the state's General Assembly earlier this year funded the Illinois Supreme Court's budget for operational expenses and grants at only 56 percent of the court's request.
That court reimburses the state's 65 probation departments up to 65 percent of the salaries of probation officers.
Quinn's action Tuesday brought the high court's funding level to 82 percent of what it got last fiscal year.
Some counties have insisted that drastic reimbursement cuts will mean layoffs, and that fewer probation officers watching after sex offenders and other criminals could harm public safety.
A $6.74 million judgment against Archer Daniels Midland over a fatal accident would go to the parents and siblings of the man killed. But the Decatur-based company hasn't decided yet whether it will appeal the judgment.
A jury decided Friday that ADM should pay the money over the March 2007 death of 26-year-old Francisco Moreno Garcia.
Attorney Donald Shapiro represented Garcia's family. He says Garcia worked for a St. Louis company and was insulating pipes at one of ADM's Decatur facilities when a machine malfunctioned and sprayed him with steam and hot liquid.
Garcia died the next day, and a coroner says he was burned over almost 90 percent of his body. Shapiro says Garcia family lives in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
ADM says it's weighing the jury's decision as it decides its next steps.
The parent company of Central Illinois Bank has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with hopes of reorganizing with a strategic partner in 45 to 60 days.
But CIB Bancshares Chairman and CEO John Hickey Junior says the filing will have no impact on the bank and its customers. He says Central Illinois Bank has the capital for it to continue doing business with clients, and is separate from the petition that the holding company filed Tuesday night in federal court in Milwaukee.
Hickey says trust-preferred securities holders had to agree to a pre-packaged reorganization plan that was similar to what auto makers GM and Chrysler went through:
"You get the pre-approval from the creditors in advance, and that allows you to go in on a pre-package basis and come out and emerge very quickly," Hickey said. "We've continued to keep the regulators all informed in terms of where we are in the process, and so we've kept them up to date."
Hickey says employees of the parent company are excited about prospects for the company's future. Discussions with potential partners are expected start once the reorganization is complete.
Central Illinois Bank has 12 branches in the region, including locations in Champaign, Urbana, Danville and Decatur. CIB Marine Bancshares also has offices in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Arizona.
A Champaign city councilman is proposing a "family resource center" to provide services to residents of the city --- but especially to its northeast side.
1st District City Councilman Will Kyles says the need for a center to bring community services into the northeast side became clear to him in his work as outreach coordinator for Congressman Tim Johnson. He says the center could provide services and activities for children, teens, parents --- even ex-convicts trying to make a fresh start.
"We believe in structures, we need structures," Kyles said. "But the issue is that it'll take awhile to rebuild those structures, to redevelop the neighborhood. So in the process of redeveloping the neighborhood, why not have services that are building people up?"
Melorene Grantham of the Peer Ambassadors youth group told the city council a family resource center could provide activities for older teens that are currently lacking in the area. She says that's a need her group found out about from its monthly meetings with youth at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center.
They said they need other things to do to stay out of trouble, like jobs," said Grantham. "We went every month for some years; that was the top thing they say would keep out of trouble."
Kyles says the city of Champaign could work with the community, and leverage state and federal funds to put the family resource center together. But he says it wouldn't happen right away. He hopes the idea can be included among the Champaign City Council's goals for the next 5 to 10 years.
Police in the south Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills say their investigation into the death of a friend and fundraiser for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is essentially over. They believe Chris Kelly committed suicide.
Police say that when Chris Kelly swallowed a bunch of pain killers last Friday, it was his second suicide attempt that week.
They say Kelly has also tried to take his life last Tuesday night, just hours after pleading guilty in federal court to bid rigging. Kelly was due to enter prison this Friday to start a three-year tax fraud sentence.
Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans said Tuesday that "based on all the information and the witnesses we know to be involved, we have no other investigation right now unless the toxicology report comes back to be something unexpected."
After attempting suicide last Friday, police say Kelly contacted his girlfriend who picked him up in the parking lot of a lumber yard in Country Club Hills.
She took him to the hospital but he died Saturday morning.
Kelly had been indicted three times by federal prosecutors who hoped to pressure him into testifying against Blagojevich.
(Additional reporting by the Associated Press).
Tuesday's hearing over the consent decree was notable for how it was covered by the news media. Judge Joe Billy McDade allowed electronic media to record the hearing.
University of Illinois journalism professor Steve Helle says cameras and microphones have not been allowed in lower federal courts since 1994.
"The federal courts conducted an experiment between 1991 and 1994 with regard to cameras in the courts. And the experiment was positive, but the Judicial Conference nonetheless voted to ban cameras in the federal courts," said Helle. "There was reconsideration of that policy and they decided to allow cameras in the circuit courts of appeal but still ban them in the district courts."
Tuesday's consent decree settlement hearing took place in federal district court, were cameras and mics are normally banned. But Helle says judges have occasionally "fudged the rules" in civil cases.
In this case, Judge McDade granted an exception for TV cameras that was later extended to all media after a brief meeting with reporters Tuesday morning. McDade told reporters that he had made a mistake in initially approving TV cameras, which he had thought would be for one station's live coverage.
Helle says allowing cameras under any circumstances in a central Illinois federal district courtroom is unprecedented. And he doubts it will be repeated, unless federal court officials decide to change the rules.
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