Illinois Public Media News
Seven months after coming into office on a vow to clean up government, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed new laws making public records, board appointments and state spending more transparent.
Quinn was joined at Monday's signing ceremony by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She'd championed the legislation to strengthen the state's public records laws.
The new law includes training so public employees know how to comply with public records laws, and it gives the attorney general's office more authority in public records cases.
Madigan's office sought changes in the law to prevent abuse by state offices that looked for ways not to comply or to delay.
Quinn also signed laws that make it easier to get information about the state's boards and commissions and state spending.
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
University of Illinois administrators are unhappy that the state budget doesn't offer much additional money for their budgets-but one is more upset over cuts to student aid.
Chancellor Richard Herman says Illinois has had one of the strongest aid programs for lower-income students through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP grant. He says funding cuts that may jeopardize some students' ability to attend college hits at one of his most treasured initiatives.
"For us to be only at the halfway point in terms of funding is deeply troublesome," Herman said. "I look at one of the things I've been able to bring about, and one of the greatest things for me is the Illinois Promise program, which gets to students with families at the poverty level. It's exactly targeted on a healthy portion of state assistance kids."
Right now the state budget provides for no money for MAP grants in the spring semester. Lawmakers may consider funding MAP for the full year during their fall veto session in two months.
Additions to the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana are coming together, from the new clock and bell tower to some educational aspects inside the building.
People called for jury duty usually wait in a large room before they're summoned into the courtroom. While they're there, they can now step inside a small theatre in one side of the room and learn about Abraham Lincoln's fledgling legal career as an attorney who traveled through Champaign and other area counties. Cheryl Kennedy of the Early American Museum says the theatre is the most prominent expel of several current and future Lincoln displays at the courthouse.
"It's a great opportunity to use some of your time," Kennedy said. "And not only that, we envision more things on the walls out in the foyer, maybe some exhibit cases, and an opportunity to extend that experience past the audio visual program."
The Lincoln exhibits are being assembled as part of the 200th anniversary of the 16th President's birth. The theatre will be dedicated the weekend after next as well as the clock and bell tower as a part of the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival.
Officials with the Federal Reserve say they're committed to returning to Washington with proposals for modifying mortgage loans, and foreclosure mediation. But they also want to hear more from communities hit the hardest by the mortgage crisis.
In Decatur over the weekend, about 500 people from the region heard from the enterprise that creates monetary policy. They also had a chance to apply pressure for changes in lending practices. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports:
The man in charge of the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says he intends to stay put as long as he's wanted. Chancellor Richard Herman's name was attached to some of the controversial admissions decisions based on inquiries from university trustees or influential politicians. Now the U of I is disowning the so-called Category I clout list and trustees have either resigned or have been asked to do so. Herman and president Joseph White also find themselves facing calls to step down. Herman told AM 580's Tom Rogers he still has the support of a broad constituency.
The pastor of St. Mary's Church in Champaign says he's hosting the homeless members of the Safe Haven Tent Community, in keeping with the gospel call to help the homeless stranger.
Father Tom Royer says the dozen or so members of Safe Haven are camping out in a secluded spot on church grounds, and will be staying at the church for the next 30 days. He calls Safe Haven an attempt to respond to the needs of the homeless by offering some sort of safety and hospitality.
"They've been pushed from one place to another and this, I think, is inappropriate," says Royer. "I think that we, as a community, should take into account the needs of these people."
But as long as Safe Haven members are living in tents on church grounds, Champaign Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips says St. Mary's is violating city zoning code. Phillips says he's sent notice to the church that they face possible fines of up to 750-dollars a day if the tent community isn't gone in one week. However, he says if St. Mary's moves the Safe Haven members indoors, the church's Multi-Family Three zoning designation may allow them to stay on an emergency basis.
The Champaign Fire Department's only female firefighter was arrested Thursday on arson charges.
Monica Hall of Mahomet is charged in connection with fires set two vehicles owned by Champaign firefighters --- both hers and that of a co-worker. The fires occurred early on the morning of August 6th, in the employee parking lot of the main Champaign Fire Station on Randolph Street.
Hall has been placed on administrative leave, with pay. An arraignment hearing is expected to be held Friday.
In a news release, Champaign Fire Department says it acknowledges Hall's arrest "with profound regret and disappointment". The release says department officials are cooperating with Champaign Police and the State Fire Marshal in investigating the case.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says a series of admissions reforms as recommended by a governor's panel need to be implemented in 8 weeks. White and about 100 leaders from the U of I's three campuses met in a closed-door meeting Wednesday discussing how to move beyond its admissions scandal. He says a firewall must be built around that area to ensure that no one above the level of Dean whose job doesn't include admissions will be involved in the process. The U of I also plans to adopt an admissions code of conduct, and set up a procedure for handling inquiries from lawmakers or anyone else inquiring about student applications.
White says the first action Wednesday was terminating the Category I list of politically-recommended students. He says the U of I needs to lead by example. "I think the University of Illinois, having been through this, has to correct and over-correct,' says White. "I think the practices that are pretty commonplace in other public universities won't be occuring here because we have to win the confidence of applicants and we have to win the confidence of the people of Illinois and I'm confident we will."
White would not comment on personnel matters, saying it remains to be seen whether the admissions scandal will result in anyone on campus losing their job, including himself. But he does say a U of I Board of Trustees with some new members will make the administration a high-priority item.
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