Illinois Public Media News
University of Illinois President Joseph White wants to meet with admissions officials to be sure no inappropriate pressure was placed on them to enroll students who otherwise may not have been.
Friday's Chicago Tribune makes reference to a 'clout list' of prospective students who it contends received special consideration over the last five years. The newspaper says one such student who was admitted after initially being rejected by the U of I is a relative of convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko. White says no one should feel pressure to admit a student because someone with political clout takes an interest.
"I have made it clear from the time I'm president that I will never exert such pressure and I never have," says White. "And that admissions officers and other people in the University are not to succumb to such pressure - that admissions decisions are to be based on the merits." White says he will often forward information to admissions officers regarding a prospective student, but that doesn't mean he's urging that the person be enrolled to the U of I. The president does say that lists of inquiries about a hopeful student, some through the urging of politicians, aren't unusual at institutions like the U of I and University of Michigan, where he served as interim president. But White says the Tribune was wrong to call the U of I list 'secret.
A bill to limit campaign contributions passed the Illinois House nearly unanimously in March. But Republicans opposed the bill on a near party-line vote when an amended version passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night.
State Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon voted against the bill in the Executive Committee and on the Senate floor. He says the amendment from Oak Park Democrat Don Harmon would add loopholes that set relatively high limits for transfers between political committees --- and no limits on in-kind contributions, like when one politician pays for TV time or campaign mailings for another. He says that will just concentrate more political power in the hands of the legislative leaders.
"While you've capped everyone else's ability to be involved monetarily in the political system, you have left virtually uncapped the legislative leaders," says Righter, who says the bill would only increase leaders' power when it comes to providing or withholding campaign support.
As amended, the bill would cap campaign contributions at 5-thousand dollars a year from individuals, ten-thousand dollars a year from groups like corporations or unions, and 90-thousand dollars a year from political committees.
Besides Republicans, the reform groups also oppose the bill, including the state Reform Commission set up by Governor Pat Quinn. They want tighter limits on contributions, including caps on in-kind donations. But Quinn is supporting the bill, saying it's the best that can be done at this time.
The measure now goes back to the Illinois House.
The Indiana Supreme Court has heard arguments over who is the rightful mayor of Terre Haute in a legal fight that has gone on since shortly after the 2007 city election.
Attorneys for Mayor Duke Bennett and former Mayor Kevin Burke appeared before the justices Thursday, arguing over whether Bennett was eligible to run for office.
Bennett won the election by 107 votes out of some 12,000 cast, but the state appeals court last fall ruled that the results should be thrown out.
That court sided with Burke's contention that Bennett was barred from being a political candidate because he worked at a mental health agency that received federal funding.
Bennett's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to decide how broadly the federal Hatch Act should apply to Indiana candidates.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he remains optimistic that Illinois lawmakers will raise income taxes to help balance the state budget.
The Democratic governor said Thursday that Illinois won't be able to pay its bills or provide vital services without the nearly $4 billion a tax increase would provide. Quinn says he's confident lawmakers will "live up to their responsibilities'' by passing a balanced budget.
State government faces a budget deficit of at least $11.6 billion. But legislators show little interest in raising taxes. They are talking about passing a budget that would only cover part of the state's annual expenses. That would postpone tough budget decisions until later in the year.
The central Illinois community of Peoria has approved a memorial to singer Dan Fogelberg.
The songwriter _ whose hits "Leader of the Band'' and "Same Old Lang Syne'' helped define the soft-rock era _ was a Peoria native whose music career was nurtured in Champaign-Urbana as a University of Illinois student. He died in 2007 at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.
The city council this week unanimously approved plans to place the memorial at Peoria's Riverfront Park. The man leading the push for the memorial, Hugh Higgins, says he's thrilled by the decision.
Higgins supports a memorial featuring a boulder etched with the lyrics of one of Fogelberg's songs. The project will be paid for by donations. Higgins estimates the cost at around $10,000.
Senator Roland Burris is in the midst of a two-day tour through some central Illinois cities while still denying offering to pay for his appointment to the Senate.
On Wednesday Burris toured the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - he watched a brief presentation on supercomputers, toured a soybean research lab and met with U of I chancellor Richard Herman.
But the visit is being overshadowed by Burris' appearance in a wiretapped phone conversation released by a federal judge this week. In it, Burris is heard telling the brother of former governor Rod Blagojevich that he'd "personally do something" for Blagojevich's campaign fund if he were appointed to the Senate. Burris says he never gave any money and has been open about it.
"We said that we would look at this transcript and might have to supply some additional information. That's all that we did. There was no attempt to do any wheeling and dealing to not disclose," Burris told reporters. "That did not take place."
Burris said the Illinois House impeachment committee didn't ask about the conversation with Robert Blagojevich when Burris testified - and that's why he said he hadn't mentioned it. He says he's been transparent with that committee, US Senate investigators and others.
The General Assembly no longer wants to put a restriction on how old someone must be to attend the University of Illinois.
No matter how smart or qualified, anyone under the age of 15 cannot enroll at any of the UI's three campuses -- which meant, of course, that a 14-year old high school graduate who last year had wanted to attend the Urbana-Champaign campus could not.
Representative Naomi Jakobsson says in the end, the student enrolled at nearby Parkland College, but it wasn't ideal. The legislature sent a measure to the governor that removes any restrictions.
Jakobsson admits the college lifestyle may be a bit mature for the younger set, no matter how smart they are. "There is a lot that goes on and one has to consider the maturity level of the student, to make sure that they're really able to be in a situation where there aren't kids around," Jakobsson said.
UI hopefuls still have to meet other requirements. They include four years of high school level English and three years of math, or demonstrating the equivalent level of knowledge and skills.
The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."
But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.
It looks like improvements along Curtis Road west of Route 45 will continue without the threat of interruption from Champaign Township. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to convey county right-of-way property along Curtis Road to the village of Savoy --- so the village can annex the land and let the road project proceed.
The land in question is in unincorporated Champaign Township, which had threatened to hold up completion of the road project, unless it won concessions from the city of Champaign in their ongoing annexation dispute. But annexation by Savoy will take away Champaign Township's jurisdictional powers --- although the land will remain within the township.
County Engineer Jeff Blue says the property was scheduled to be handed over to Savoy eventually. "The county never wanted to have any interest in Curtis Road in the long term, says Blue. "It's just a matter of timing, when we were going to convey that property to the village of Savoy. And we chose to do it earlier than later."
The Savoy Village Board voted to accept the land for annexation last week.
Another piece of property needed for the Curtis Road improvement project will be annexed by the city of Champaign. The Champaign City Council approved an annexation agreement with owners of land at the Curtis and Mattis Avenue intersection earlier this week. Curtis Road west of Route 45 is being widened to take in traffic from the new I-57 interchange.
A proposal to bring a fiber-optic broadband network to Champaign-Urbana targets the use of federal stimulus money for much of the project.
The concept would form a partnership between both cities and the University of Illinois. The entities want to apply for federal grant money, which could fund up to 80% of a new broadband system. U of I Director of Networking Mike Smeltzer says it could offer service that's up to 10 times faster than anything currently offered, which might be necessary one day. "So let's say you're the typical American family and you've got 2.4 people living there.' says Smeltzer. "That might mean you have 3 television sets, and if you want to watch 3 HD television programs at the same time, that's about 60 megs of bandwith. You're not going do to that over a 6 meg connection and you're not going to even watch one HD channel over a 7 meg connection." Smeltzer also says UC2B, or Urbana Champaign Big Broadband, should be less expensive than any cablemodem or DSL service.
The federal stimulus funds are earmarked for areas underserved by broadband access. Smeltzer expects local governments, businesses, and the U of I would have to contribute about $6 million combined to match a federal grant. The fiber-optic network would require a few rounds of funding, and about two years to build.
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