Illinois Public Media News
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.
What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.
A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.
Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.
I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."
Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.
"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."
But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.
The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.
Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.
Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.
"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.
The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.
After a year of training police and army forces in Afghanistan, members of an Army National Guard unit based in Urbana are back home.
About 80 members of the Urbana Headquarters unit of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall last night. A brief ceremony featured an even briefer speech from Governor Pat Quinn. "We are proud of you Guard members. You're the best of the best, the pride of our nation, the pride of our sate," Quinn said. "May the will of the people be the law of the land, and thank you very much."
But the real highpoint came after the soldiers were dismissed, so they could rejoin their families. Sergeant Paul Ogwal of Champaign received flowers from his family, and a hug from his 5 year old son, Faraji. For the past year, Faraji's contact with his dad has been through phone calls and email, and during leave midpoint through the deployment. Ogwal says that sort of separation can be hard for a young child to understand.
"When I came back on leave I bought a globe," Ogwal said. "And I put his name on Illinois, and I had an arrow pointing to Afghanistan to help him picture where I was."
Another 20 members of the 33rd Infantry's Urbana unit rejoined their families in a ceremony earlier in the day in suburban Rockford. A Champaign unit of the 33rd returned home to Champaign last Friday.
In a late turn of events, University of Illinois Academic Senate members will not be asked if President Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman should step down.
Instead, executive committee members have replaced the proposed resolution with a new one. It leaves the decision on White and Herman up to the new Board of Trustees. The resolution still says the recent admissions crisis damaged the U of I's reputation and says simple reforms to admissions policies won't undo that damage.
But in an email to other Senate members issued late Sunday night, executive committee chair Joyce Tolliver says talks between Senate leaders and new Trustees chair Chris Kennedy on Friday led to the change - in the email, Tolliver says there's promise of a more richly collaborative relationship with the new board.
The resolution will be up for discussion at the full Senate's meeting Monday afternoon at the Levis Faculty Center.
Authorities say they hope to make more headway this week in an investigation into the death of a former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said police on Monday plan to pursue more interviews and hospital admittance records in the possible suicide of 51-year-old Christopher Kelly. Welch also says they'll subpoena phone records and get a search warrant for a storage locker Kelly might have rented.
On Sunday, medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in Kelly's vehicle may have factored into his death. Kelly died Saturday, just days before he was to report to prison to begin a three-year prison sentence on tax fraud charges. He was a native of Champaign.
Six people with diverse backgrounds came together for the first time at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Thursday, and left their meeting as members of the school's Board of Trustees. The goal for them and their fellow members... reforming admissions and deciding if the current University leadership can guide that process. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
University of Illinois trustees have elected Chicago businessman Christopher Kennedy to be their new chairman.
Kennedy is one of six new members of the university's governing board appointed the past few weeks by Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn made the appointments following a series of trustee resignations over the university's admissions scandal.
Kennedy was selected over Edward McMillan, a southern Illinois businessman. McMillan was among those who resigned from the board but was reappointed by Quinn.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago. Earlier this month, he announced that he'd considered but decided against running for Illinois governor and for the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Legal video gambling at Illinois taverns is expected to be in place next year, providing tax revenue for state capital projects and local governments. But some local governments have voted to opt out of video gaming. A Champaign County Board committee will consider such a proposal this fall.
The county board's Policy Committee will hold a full discussion on video gaming in November. But committee members heard both sides of the debate over the social impact of video gambling last night. Tom Fiedler of Melody Music in Champaign is president of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, and he says research has shown legal video gaming adds little to a state's gambling addiction problem, thanks in part to strict limits on how many machines a bar can host. "It's a very low impact situation," said Fiedler. "It's not a destination type of thing. It's five machines. It's more for the casual player; it's a form of adult entertainment."
But University of Illinois Business Administration Professor John Kindt --- who's studied the economic impact of legalized gambling --- compares video gaming to crack cocaine when it comes to gambling addiction.
"When these come into a person's backyard, you're in fact doubling the number of addicted gamblers," said Kindt. "And among young people -- students in particular -- it's even worse. It goes up 200, 300, 400 percent."
The impact on students will mean more to the cities of Urbana and especially Champaign, where many bars specialize in serving students. But each city and village can make its own decision on whether to opt out of legal video gaming. Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz wants local governments to act together on the issue, to avoid creating a patchwork of gambling and no-gambling areas in the county.
University of Illinois negotiators and members of the union that represents graduate student employees held another bargaining session Wednesday.
Graduate Employees Organization members aren't happy with the direction talks are going -- they protested outside the Levis Faculty Center, where negotiations continued with the help of a federal mediator. The grad students' previous contract expired last month.
Carrie Pimblott is the GEO's lead negotiator. She calls the university's proposal for no raises over three years unacceptable - in fact, she claims most union requests are being rejected.
"They came back and said all of the proposals we had suggested that were monetary were untenable because they didn't have the money to do it. And a lot of our non-monetary issues they rejected for various reasons," Pimblott said. "Essentially they came back with a lot of very egregious proposals that not only rejected our central values but suggested that they would want to erode our grievance rights, erode our rights as union workers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says they won't comment on negotiations while they're in progress.
Pimblott says the GEO wants to put pressure on the university through rallies - she says a labor action is not out of the question.
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