Illinois Public Media News
One immediate change following former Governor Rod Blagojevich's removal from office last year was the overhaul of four state pension boards. Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation last spring that not only changed the membership of those boards, but moved the chair of Illinois' Board of Higher Education into the same role with the State Universities Retirement System. Carrie Hightman has served in both capacities since July.
AM 580's Jeff Bossert spoke with her about the dual role, and the funding challenges faced by colleges and universities:
The Champaign Police Department has become the second in the state to follow the requirements of a new state accreditation program.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation program makes sure that police agencies follow common standards. Champaign chief R. T. Finney says the department will now undergo regular reviews to make sure its standards are well-explained and followed. He says the designation is more than just a new level of bureaucracy.
"While it seems like it's paper, much of what the officer on the street does is contained in policy -- how they act, what they should do," Finney said. "So the officers have the ability to go back to the policy when they have a question, be able to read the policy and have some confidence that this policy is within standards for the state of Illinois."
Those standards got an especially close review late last year as Champaign police were dealing with the aftermath of the Kiwane Carrington shooting. The case drew attention to a change in the policy regarding use of lethal force - the city council ordered clarification on when officers are able to use their weapons.
Imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan's wife and lawyer say they are seeking clemency from President Barack Obama, citing health reasons for seeking Ryan's early release.
Ryan's 75-year-old wife, Lura Lynn, has a terminal lung disease and says she now is on oxygen 24 hours a day.
And Ryan's attorney, former Gov. Jim Thompson, says Ryan himself has health problems, including kidney disease and infected teeth.
Ryan, who was sent to a federal prison in Indiana after his 2006 conviction on corruption charges, turns 76 next Wednesday.
In a telephone interview Wednesday with the Chicago Tribune, Lura Lynn Ryan confirmed she had made a previous plea for clemency for her imprisoned husband in 2008 by calling then-President George W. Bush's mother, former first lady Barbara Bush. She said she was unsuccessful.
Authorities say a Champaign teenager charged with resisting arrest will return to court in two months, with hopes that alternative education programs will steer him on the right path.
16-year old Jeshaun Manning-Carter was arrested last October 9th, the same night that Kiwane Carrington was fatally shot in a scuffle with a Champaign police officer following a report of a break-in at a residence. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz says Manning-Carter has missed some days at the Ready Alternative School, but he's recently been placed in a County program called Parenting with Love and Limits that works to improve lines of communication with adults. Before Manning-Carter's apperance in court Wednesday, activists with the group Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice held a press conference outside Reitz' office. They submitted a petition with 1,700 signatures, demanding that the charges against the teen be dropped.
The group's Carol Ammons says the charge of resisting a peace officer against Manning-Carter has essentially silenced him. "And to date this community doesn't have a true sense of what happened on that day," says Ammons. "We only have the testimony of one side, and are lacking a lot of of testimony that could shed more light on this case, and Jeshaun is critical to that." Champaign Officer Daniel Norbits was not charged in the October fatal shooting of Carrington following an investigation of a multi-agency task force led by Illinois State Police.
Reitz says she won't consider the petition, saying she's simply following the law, but suggests groups like C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice exert their energies in other ways. "They could be down at the Ready School encouraging them to go to class, or offering them tutoring opportunties or mentoring them," says Reitz. "But instead what they do, is they spend their time door to door in the dorms and collecting signatures. That's not helping any." Manning-Carter will be back in court April 13th. Reitz says he's her hope the 16-year old will stick with school in the coming weeks, and stay out of trouble.
The Illinois Senate discussed the state's horrible budget problems but did it in a closed-door session that was off limits to the public.
Illinois lawmakers are defending their decision to bar observers from Wednesday's meeting, where national researchers presented details on how state budgets are suffering in the recession.
Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman says both Democrats and Republicans agreed to close the session to encourage "bipartisan dialogue.''
The Constitution requires "sessions'' of the General Assembly and its committees and commissions to be open. Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says the Senate was not in session and senators did not comprise a committee or commission.
Public-access lawyer Don Craven doesn't believe the meeting was legal. He says it's unlikely there was anything discussed that couldn't have been said publicly.
A national ranking of counties based on the health of their residents puts Vermilion County near the bottom in Illinois.
Champaign County ranked 31st, Vermilion 96th in the survey put out by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors wanted to put public health in a new light to motivate people to discuss those issues in their communities.
Champaign Urbana Public Health Department administrator Julie Pryde thinks the study will do that, though counties already have a regular four-year process to assess health issues and act on them.
"In Illinois we do something called the I-Plan, which is a local assessment of need, and we're getting ready to do that again," Pryde said. "So I think (the report is) very timely and it will be more data and more information that will help stimulate discussion when we get in these groups."
The study used factors ranging from access to medical care and healthy food to smoking and obesity rates. Vermilion County health administrator Steve Laker says some of his county's low rankings are in areas that use patient interviews rather than raw numbers.
"Self-assessment, self-reported data is always a little suspect," Laker said. "But what they're saying here is true. If they're using the same data everywhere and it's just as suspect everywhere, then it may be relative."
Laker says Vermilion County's blue-collar history has a lot to do with its low public-health ranking. He says community stakeholders are already meeting this afternoon (Wed) to talk about the survey.
The city of Champaign has turned down 33-thousand dollars to help pay for enforcing underage drinking laws among college students for three years. It's part of a federal grant obtained by the Mental Health Center of Champaign County to study ways of fighting underage drinking in college towns. But the Champaign City County voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to drop out of the program.
Councilwoman Deb Feinen said the grant - which she supported -- would have helped pay for law enforcement efforts to curb underage drinking that the city would likely do anyway.
But Councilman Tom Bruno argued that it would only contribute to efforts that drive student drinking to private apartments and away from bars, where he says there's at least some supervision. He said that drinking at private parties during events such as Unofficial St. Patrick's Day is "probably an even greater problem than if it occurs in a bar."
Bruno then challenged council members who had opposed other federal or state grants on principal to oppose this one, too, because he agreed with Bruno. "At this time", said Schweighart, "when money is very tight --- state's broke, cities are broke, federal government's broke, that we should be careful in accepting this grant in a small amount, or large grants in the amount of 30 million dollars that's coming down the pike".
Schweighart referred to the Big Broadband grant that's been sought for Champaign-Urbana, which he opposes. The mayor says he doesn't believe refusing the grant money will hurt Champaign's own efforts at controlling underage drinking.
After the meeting, Feinen defended her vote in favor of the grant.
"All of us have budget problems", said Feinen. "I recognize it's all tax dollars. But we had an opportunity to pay for something that we're going to be probably doing anyway, from another source."
The federal Juvenile Justice grant also involves the city of Urbana and the Univesity of Illinois. Champaign Police Sergeant Scott Friedlein says it will be up to the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, which oversaw the grant proposal, to decide if the program can continue without Champaign taking part.
The deadline for local elections officials to finalize their primary results is now passed. But the outcome of the Republican race for governor remains unsettled, and it may be another week before there's a clear winner.
By now, elections authorities should have all of their absentee and provisional ballots counted. With those totals factored in, Hinsdale Senator Kirk Dillard could clear the 400 vote difference by which he's trailing Bloomington Senator Bill Brady. Dillard admits his chances aren't good. But he says he'll wait until all local tallies are submitted to the state elections board on February 23rd.
"I'd rather be in Senator Brady's position than myself," Dillard said. "But you need to make sure that all the local election authorities, there's 110 of them, have double checked their mathematics. One small error and the race flip flops."
Dillard says the limbo is torture. Brady, meanwhile, says he's confident he'll hold on to victory. "Our experts have told us that you can rest assured that that will hold, in the era of electronic balloting," Brady said. "It's not chad ballot voting anymore."
But Brady says he understands Dillard's desire not to concede given the slim margins.
Dillard says it's too early to consider if he'd request a recount.
Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday for former Champaign County auditor and Democratic Party Chair Gerrie Parr --- who died last week at age 63.
Parr was elected Champaign County Auditor in 1992. She had worked in the auditor's office under her predecessor, Laurel PrussingAs auditor, Parr was frequently at odds with the Champaign County Board's Republican majority --- perhaps all the more so because she had also become the county's Democratic Party Chair. Al Klein holds the post today, and says Parr was a great leader of the party..
"She came on in 1994", Klein says of Parr's chairmanship, "when we were at the nadir of our experience, down to the minimum on the county board, and helped bring the party back until, by 2000, we had taken the county board for the first time in county history."
Klein says Parr was industrious, energetic, and bore no ill will towards anyone during her ten years as auditor and Democratic party chair. He credits her success as party leader to hard work, and an attitude of "get things doneand do what you can and keep on going".
After stepping down as auditor and party chair, Parr held other Democratic party positions, but she also battled cancer. Her death came late Friday at her sister's home in Waukegan, where she was receiving hospice care.
A memorial service for Gerrie Parr will be held Thursday at 1 PM at St. Pat's New Church in Wadsworth, located near Waukegan. Klein says the family plans to hold another memorial service in Champaign-Urbana, possibly in March.
With a 95-million dollar deficit to deal with, the Chicago Transit Authority has sought a cutback in mandatory free rides for seniors. But it's a less urgent matter for two transit agencies in east central Illinois.
Danville Mass Transit allowed seniors to ride for half-price until 2008, when the state required all mass transit agencies in Illinois to let everyone over 65 ride for free.
DMT Director Richard Brazda says they adjusted to the 100 percent discount, thanks to an increase in state funding.
"So at the time that was added, there was also an increase in funding that was provided for the various downstate operators", says Brazda. "So I guess it was felt that there wasn't an issue there, because they were getting additional funding, and therefore the loss of revenue was not significant."
The Illinois House Mass Transit Committee voted 20 to 4 on Thursday to approve a measure (HB 4654) limiting the free-ride mandate to low-income seniors enrolled in the state's Circuit-Breaker program. Brazda says if the measure becomes law, it's up to the Danville City Council to decide if Danville Mass Transit should follow suit.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District says he expects their free-ride policy to remain, no matter what lawmakers do. Tom Costello says the CU-MTD started granting free rides for all seniors and people with disabilities about 7 years ago, before the state mandate took effect.
"We certainly had our plan in place before the state made this move" says Costello, "and we see no reason to change the plan subsequent to the state deciding what they're going to do. Our plan was in effect without regard to what the state plan was."
Costello says they've budgeted for the free rides --- which serve as an alternative to more expensive point-to-point service, which the CU-MTD also provides to seniors and people with disabilities.
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