Illinois Public Media News
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.
The September 10th meeting of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in Urbana will not be business as usual. The board is meeting for the first time since Governor Pat Quinn appointed six new members --- and reappointed a 7th --- in the wake of the admissions scandal. Quinn himself will make a rare appearance at the trustees' meeting. And the board is scheduled to vote on a resolution putting the stamp of approval on admissions reforms called for by the governor's Admissions Review Commission.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says the first directive of the resolution is the elimination of Category I --- the infamous list of applicants with political connections --- and a ban on anything resembling it.
"We've done away with Category I", says Hardy. "But this says that anything that might appear or seem to take its place --- whether you call it something else --- anything like that tracking list would be out of bounds."
The resolution also calls for setting up written criteria for admissions that are readily accessible to all, and creating a new code of conduct for admissions that will help create a firewall that insulates admissions officers from unwarranted interference.
Hardy says these are the directives President B. Joseph White gave the administration at a special meeting last month, in line with recommendations from the Governor's Admissions Review Commission. White's goal is to have the reforms in place by the start of the new admissions cycle on September 23rd.
WILL will broadcast the U of I Board of Trustees meeting live, beginning at 9, on AM 580, FM 90.9 HD 2 and HD 3, and online at will.illinois.edu. .
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former chief fundraiser pleaded guilty Tuesday to swindling two major airlines as part of an $8.5 million fraud arising from hangar roofing contracts at O'Hare International Airport.
Under his signed plea, 51-year-old Christopher G. Kelly will be sentenced to 57 months in prison. As chief of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich, Kelly bankrolled the now impeached Democrat's rise to the governor's office.
The sentence comes on top of a 37-month federal prison term Kelly must serve after pleading guilty to charges in an unrelated tax-fraud scheme.
Kelly still faces charges as a co-defendant in the same federal indictment that alleges Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate.
It was to be an array of newspaper vending boxes that would also be a work of art. But the Urbana City Council decided Tuesday night to go with just the vending boxes.
Local artist Frederic Beaugeard's "Urbanastand" would have gone up outside the Champaign County Courthouse, combining newspaper vending boxes with displays of historic headlines from old Champaign-Urbana newspapers, . The project would have cost the city of Urbana more than 60-thousand dollars. Mayor Laurel Prussing persuaded the city council to go with something plainer for about 4-thousand dollars.
"We're just going to buy a commercially available newsstand," says Prussing, "which was going to be the centerpiece of the artwork anyway.and so we'll have a nice looking place for people to buy newspapers. Right now there's kind of a jumble of little news dispensers that are falling over each other and falling down."
Alderman Charlie Smyth proposed last month that private donations could pay for most of the cost of Urbanastand. On Tuesday night, he said that was still possible, but only if someone steps in soon to either pay for the project, or organize a fundraising drive.
Meanwhile, the Urbana City Council will now use 9-thousand dollars from money budgeted for Urbanastand to help erect a sculpture near the city building that's been planned for the last 20 years. The city's contribution will help match private donations for John David Mooney's steel sculpture, which incorporates LED lighting. The city's contribution will help match private donations.
Champaign Police want to hear from neighborhoods in order to gear more officers towards crime prevention strategies.
Police Chief R-T Finney will discuss the strategy of 'problem-oriented policing' in the department's annual report before the Champaign City Council tonight. He says the discussions with residents in the past year have ranged from town-hall meetings with neighborhood associations to those focused on one or two blocks. Finney says the complaints start with traffic, but become more specific:
"They'll begin to point out issues other than speeding that really need to be addressed, said Finney. "Some of those issues are drug houses, inattentive landlords who are allowing crimes to occur in their houses, parks that may be affected by certain types of crimes. It may be something like a burglary spree that is occurring in a particular neighborhood."
Finney says often, the solution is as simple as putting up a fence at one home or increasing patrols at a business that sees more service calls.
He says the economy has forced the department to be creative as it shifts officers toward neighborhoods with greater problems. Problem-oriented policing started with meetings in the Garden Hills neighborhood and later moved to homes in the Hill and Church streets areas. Finney says he expects several more neighborhoods will come forth with concerns following tonight's presentation.
One day after University of Illinois trustees meet to reorganize the board this week, they'll meet with faculty representatives. So says a member of the Urbana campus' Academic Senate, who says he's impressed with Governor Quinn's picks for trustees posts from last week. Still, Nick Burbules says the Governor ought to meet with faculty when he makes future trustee appointments.
"Everything I've heard about the new members is outstanding," Burbules said. "But as always, we're as much concerned with process as the outcome, and I think we're going to continue to work to trying to urge closer consultation with faculty governance about how these decisions get made in the future."
Burbules says the board of trustees is scheduled to meet with faculty members on Friday to discuss ways to reform the U of I's admissions process. Irregularities in that system led most of the previous trustees to resign after a recommendation from the governor's admissions review commission.
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