Illinois Public Media News
The Urbana City Council has put a two-week delay on a vote to endorse the latest revision of the area's Long Range Transportation Plan. At Monday night's council meeting, some members voiced concern over some of the highway projects proposed for Champaign-Urbana during the next quarter-century.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox says the those projects run counter to the plan's own goals for protecting the environment and conserving energy.
"But then the actual implementation", says Bowersox, "when it comes down to what roads would be built, and the projections for how much we'll all be driving shows that the amount we'll be driving goes up a lot faster that population growth, even. So, per-person, we'd all be driving a lot more in 2035 than we're driving today, to live in our community."
Alderman Charlie Smyth says the increased motor traffic would be caused by upgrades of roads on the fringes of Champaign-Urbana that he says are not needed. He was especially critical of a 71-million dollar plan inserted into the long-range plan by IDOT to widen I-74 from Prospect Avenue in Champaign out to Mahomet.
"Where is the justification for expanding I-74", Smyth asked the council. "It's not in the models. There's a statement that says this will relieve future congestion. But there's no modeling that says there's any congestion, even in 2035."
Smyth moved to defer council action on the plan until December 21st, to allow more time for review. But Rita Morocoima-Black of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says that will give them little time to incorporate the council's decision into the plan --- which must be submitted to the state by the end of the year. Endorsement of the plan by local governments is not required, but helps in winning state funding for local road projects.
11 bars in Champaign's Campustown area are accused of promoting and hosting drinking games last month. Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart has issued complaints accusing the bars of violating the Illinois Happy-Hour statute, by encouraging binge drinking and providing special discounts.
The activity occurred during the fall Bar-Scramble that Schweighart says attracted over a thousand participants to Campustown bars on November 7th. He says participants played games in which their scores determined how much they were to drink. Schweighart says he's been a long-time opponent of such drinking games, and he's surprised that so many bars took part.
"They've known for ten years that my rules, they're going to be dealt with very harshly if you involve yourself with drinking games. And by doing this --- an especially in this magnitude. It's kind of in-your-face, we're going to do what we want to
The Barscrambles are held every semester, and sponsored by the Irish Illini, a student group. But Schweighart says this is first time they've been aware of the drinking games, which he was were obvious from the advertising for the event.
The complaints against the 11 bars will be heard at preliminary hearings set for Monday and Tuesday of next week. Schweighart says the bars could accept the penalties the city will propose at that time --- or appeal them to a full hearing, and beyond that to a hearing by state regulators. He says the penalties could range from fines, to something as severe as revocation of a bar's liquor license.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz has completed her review of a state police investigation in the October police shooting death of a Champaign teen.
Reitz confirms she had scheduled an appointment to meet with the family of Kiwane Carrington Tuesday morning, and it's not known how soon the report will be made public after that meeting. But a group led by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice says it's a foregone conclusion the officers involved in the October 9th shooting of the 15-year old won't face criminal charges. They're calling for reviews of the case from a special prosecutor and federal Department of Justice. Those with the civil rights group point to that fact that both officers are currently on the job. Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney remains on duty, while City Manager Steve Carter confirmed last week that officer Daniel Norbits was doing some office work after being placed on paid leave.
The activists also contend that the public can't trust a multi-jurisdictional team that helped state police in their investigation since many of them are friends and often work together. Rhonda Williams is Kiwane Carrington's aunt. "I feel the information probably has been tamperered with," says Williams. "I think that they all stick together with one another and my nephew's not here to tell his side of the story. So basically we're just going on what the officer's story is." Through e-mails obtained through Freedom of Information requests, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice also contends that some key eyewitnesses of the shooting were never interviewed. And the group's Aaron Ammons says it's 'disturbing' that Champaign city council members would send e-mails to Reitz regarding the investigation.
"The Champaign City Council, as Tom Bruno has alluded to on many occasions, is the review board of the Champaign Police Department," says Ammons. "So we find it very disturbing that members of the city council would be sending information to Julia Reitz, who's criminally investigating two of the officers."
In media reports, Reitz calls her work completely objective, and said it's outrageous to suggest that her office would violate its ethical obligations.
As world leaders discuss climate change at a summit in Copenhagen, environmental advocates say Illinois and other states can be -- and, in cases, are -- policy leaders.
There's international pressure on the United States to adopt stricter carbon emissions standards to combat global warming. It's a policy Brian Granahan, an attorney with Environment Illinois, supports. But even as a debate continues with the federal government, he says the U.S. is making progress.
"When it comes to America's response to global warming, what's happening on Capitol Hill, while it tends to dominate the news, it's really only half the story," Granahan said. "States have great power to reduce global warming pollution within their borders. And many states are using that power to implement clean energy policies that rival those anywhere in the world."
Granahan says Illinois is a prime example. The state will require electric utilities to get a quarter of their load from renewable sources. A new state law requires new homes be constructed according to an energy efficient building code.
Critics question how much good standards aimed at climate change will do, especially if they come at the detriment of the state's, and the nation's, business climate.
Illinois' financial woes could force Vermilion County's Health Department to shut down. Administrator Steve Laker says the state owes the department about $800,000, and the department couldn't pay back a loan from the county for $300,000. Those funds became necessary to meet overall budget and payroll that are largely dependent on grants funded by the state.
At this Tuesday's Vermilion County Board meeting, members are to vote on scheduling a special meeting for December 15th to either terminate or restructure the health department. Laker says his hands are tied. "It just seems to be beyond anybody's control," says Laker. "It's certainly well beyond my control. And the only control that the county board may be able to exercise to stop this bleeding is to eliminate the health department. Now that's a pretty drastic action."
Laker says he'll give a memo to county officials to show what a downsized health department would look like. He says even that will be difficult. "Restructure means - is there some action in between status quo and dissillution? It probably means consideration the elimination of some grant-funded programs just to mitigate the deficit." Cutting the department would mean the end of successful areas like immunization clinics, family case management, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program and its 3,400 clients. And 75 jobs would be cut.
Danville State Representative Bill Black says he's sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn's Chief of Staff to alert him of the situation. Black says Quinn's legislative council replied, and hoped to find a solution. The Republican says he's afraid the state would likely have to seek out borrowing money to bail out the health department and similar agencies.
The state of Illinois' backlog of payments is starting to worry University of Illinois leaders.
Interim president designate Stan Ikenberry says the U of I is still waiting on more than $388 million in state funding that would normally be in their hands by now. But Ikenberry says the university has essentially been unpaid since the start of the fiscal year in July.
Southern Illinois University has warned that continued cash shortages could result in missed payrolls. But Ikenberry says the U of I has not faced that problem yet because of revenue from outside enterprises and research grants.
"The longer it goes on, the tougher the challenge," Ikenberry said. "In all fairness, the University of Illinois is probably in the strongest position of any university in the state, but even for us it's certainly an increasing challenge."
Ikenberry says the state needs to work sooner rather than later on a plan to resolve the budget situation through a combination of revenue increases and belt-tightening.
Illinois's two Democratic senators are reacting warily to President Obama's plans for future military involvement in Afghanistan.
Senior senator Dick Durbin issued a terse two-sentence statement saying while the president asked for more time to formulate his plan, he'll take time to respond later.
The state's other senator, Roland Burris, said while he supports the ultimate goal of transferring the responsibility of stability to Afghan forces, he worries how elevated troop levels will affect any future exit strategy.
15th district Republican congressman Tim Johnson was more direct in his response - he says the US should do the reverse and pull troops out of Afghanistan, questioning the wisdom of the war.
As word spread of President Obama's plans to send an additional 30-thousand troops, demonstrations lined the streets in several cities, calling for an end to the 8-year occupation there.
About 30 University of Illinois students and other Champaign-Urbana residents took to the corners of Green and Wright streets, staging brief 'die-ins' every time the stoplight turned red and the intersection was clear.
Groups like the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort and International Socialist Organization say the President has appeared to change his tone about Afghanistan since running an anti-war campaign last year. Protester Karen Medina says Obama's strategy won't begin to help build a government for the Afghan people:
"A lot of people say we're there to promote democracy, and democracy has never been promoted by another country being militarily present," Medina said. "If you really are doing what you're saying you're doing, then either you're lying about wanting democracy there or you're doing it the wrong way."
The groups cite a CNN poll saying that 57% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while Western-run polls show about 75% of Afghans favor negotiations among themselves.
About 70 similar protests were scheduled across the country yesterday.
Things could be turning around for an Urbana domestic violence shelter recently forced into layoffs and reduced services.
A Woman's Place has received more than $120,000 in back payments owed by the state. Executive Director Tami Tunnell expects the shelter to remain on an expedited payment schedule for the next six months.
The agency hadn't expected to receive any payments until mid-December. Tunnell says the news came as shock, but she'll take a conservative approach when looking at the months ahead:
"So we're got going to jump and bring everybody back right aw, " Tunnell said. "Hopefully one of these days soon we'll be back to some semblance of normal, but what we'll be looking at is how much we need to set aside in the bank account in case this happens again and the state gets backed up."
A Woman's Place was forced to lay off 10 employees last month, reducing its staff to six. Tunnell says some may be brought back for part-time work around the holidays, but won't do any more hiring until early next year. A Woman's Place had also stopped taking new admissions. It's now serving about 18 families, some staying at the shelter, and others who have found other places to live with the agency's help.
Carol Knowles, a spokeswoman for Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes, says her office is getting flooded with requests each day from various social service agencies. She says the letters from A Woman's Place showed the most urgent need for funding. The state currently has a backlog of $4.4 billion in unpaid bills.
The Champaign police officer involved in the October shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington has continued to do some work for the department --- despite being on paid administrative leave.
Officer Daniel Norbits was placed on leave after Carrington was killed by a shot from his gun during a confrontation that also involved another youth and Champaign Police Chief R-T Finney. But at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, City Manager Steve Carter says Norbits has continued to do some office work for Champaign Police.
"He's been in and out of the department, over time", says Carter, "and he has helped out in what would be considered some light-duty work ---some inventory work, civilian clothes, non-public contact --- a little bit. But his work on those projects has been completed, and he'll continue to be on administrative leave, until at least after the state's attorney makes her decision. And then it'll be evaluated as we go along, in terms of what his status it."
Carter's disclosure came after Martell Miller and Brian Dolinar asked city officials to comment on rumors they had heard of Norbits being back at work.
An investigation of the Carrington shooting --- led by Illinois State Police --- was completed nearly three weeks ago and handed over to Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz. Rietz has said she will not release the report until after reviewing it completely.
The Champaign City Council voted last night to extend the life of its East University Avenue Tax Increment Financing District for another year. That will give the city time to seek a 12-year extension from the state.
Enacted in the 1980s, the East University Avenue TIF District covers the commercial area east of the Canadian National tracks, including University Avenue and nearby sections of First and Second Streets. City officials say the TIF district has helped spur development --- but not as much as in downtown and Campustown. As the city makes plans to seek a long-term extension of the TIF district, City Councilwoman Marcie Dodds says she thinks flood control and beautification work done on the 2nd Street reach of the Boneyard Creek will spur development that can link downtown and Campustown together.
"It'll do it not only geographically and physically, but also psychologically", says Dodds. "For years, it was campus over here and Champaign over there and downtown far away. The two never met. It was even sometimes difficult to get to one from the other. And I hope that this changes that."
Property tax revenue above a certain level in a TIF District is spent within the district, focusing on building renovations, streetscape work and infrastructure improvements.
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