Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2009

New Emergency Alert System for Cell Phone Users in Champaign County

You can get information about emergencies in Champaign County by email or text message through a new service being launched this week by local public service agencies

County residents can sign up for the new service at champcoprepares.com. It's similar to the emergency system the University of Illinois set up in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Urbana Fire Department Division Chief Tony Foster says it's easy to sign up. "It asks you general questions like your name and address, your email address, and then what phone number you would like that text or email sent to," said Foster. "It then will allow you to select weather warnings, if you want information from the University of Illinois sent to you, or something else like that. It will prompt and send that information to your wireless device."

Foster says if you work far from home, you can get information for both areas by writing in the zip codes for both places.

champcoprepares.com is getting its official unveiling this week. Foster says other counties in Illinois are also launching the service.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2009

Home Bakers Protest Champaign-Urbana Public Health Ban on Selling Their Wares at Farmers Markets

Home bakers who have been selling their goods at the Urbana farmer's market have been speaking out against a health department order that would put them out of business. For years, the city-operated Market On The Square in downtown Urbana has featured local bakers --- including many who bake in their home kitchens, which don't undergo health inspections. But this month, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District announced a ban on the sale of home baked goods at farmers markets and similar venues. The home bakers say the ban came at the last minute, as their preparations for this year's farmer's market are already underway. At Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting, Alderwoman Heather Stevenson said the ban has upset a lot of people.

"I've -- in three days --- heard from about 20 people," said Stevenson. "That's too many to not say anything."

Dan Erwin of Champaign told the city council that he's been selling baked goods made at his home kitchen at the Market in the Square for 20 years. He said the rules had stayed about the same that whole time. "And then all of a sudden, two days before we're supposed to be signing up for this season", said Erwin, "I got this letter saying, in short, you can't do this anymore."

Mayor Laurel Prussing says a memo she received last night from Public Health District Board Chair Carol Elliott seems to say that the home-baked goods are allowed at farmers' markets after all, as long as they don't involve fillings that require refrigeration. But Prussing says she'll check into the matter further. Urbana's Market on the Square opens May 2nd.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 17, 2009

A Longtime Health Care Advocate Takes Over a Troubled State Board

Illinois's governor has appointed a longtime advocate of universal health care to a troubled state board. The move comes amid questions about whether the board should even exist.

Quentin Young will chair the state's Health Facilities Planning Board. The board regulates where the facilities can be built or taken away. Critics say the board stifles competition ... but Young says a little planning will lead to a fairer system.

"There's no perfect way, obviously, to have balance between regulation and competition. But this planning agency is an attempt to control the devastating cost of health care," Young said.

The board has been a venue for graft and kickbacks, involving close associates of former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Congressman Mark Kirk suggests abolishing the board, calling it, quote: "an opportunity for total corruption." Kirk is thought to be mulling a run for governor.

Incumbent Pat Quinn says the key is appointing trustworthy people. Quentin Young has been a civil rights activist, Pat Quinn's personal physician.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 16, 2009

Flood of Federal Grant Requests Hitting UI Offices

The federal economic stimulus contains millions of dollars in research funding - money the University of Illinois is competing for, against dozens of other research institutions.

That's putting an unprecedented burden on the office that handles grant applications, which has already seen a big increase in grants over the past five years. The director of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Administration, Kathy Young, says they're still getting a handle on the crush of activity.

"We can't staff for what we don't know about yet," said Young. "It's going to be a concerted effort of the existing staff to shoulder the burden and do what we can. My management team and I are looking at what tasks we can parse off to keep the subject-matter experts working on the really critical issues."

Young says temporary staff may be able to handle the rest of the workload. The U of I says the federal government itself is also undergoing a flood of requests for grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy and other agencies that have gotten billions of dollars in research money. Federal officials expect a 60 percent increase in grant activity over the next six months.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2009

Frerichs Backs Legislation to Add Crisis Nurseries to Illinois Tax Checkoff List

A bill to help steer voluntary donations towards crisis nurseries in Illinois has made its second appearance in Springfield.

Crisis nurseries provide free short-term child care for families undergoing emergencies. Stephanie Record (reh-CORD) is executive director of the Crisis Nursery in Urbana. She says the legislation would make more funding possible, at a time when her agency is seeing a drop in grant funding and an increase in demand for services.

"If we get 100,000 people to check off every year, explains Record, "we would be able to remain on there, and then split those dollars between the six nurseries throughout the state".

State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign says his bill passed the Senate last year, but was blocked in the House due to infighting between the House Speaker and former Governor Rod Blagjevich. He's more optimistic about the bill's chances this year. The measure passed the Senate last month, and is being sponsored in the House by Danville Republican Bill Black.

If the bill becomes law, crisis nurseries in Illinois would join ten other charities to which Illinois taxpayers may donate part of their tax refund. Frerichs says he doesn't agree with legislators who say that bringing in a new charity will hurt levels of giving to those already on the tax checkoff list.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2009

Tea Party” Rally in Champaign Draws a Crowd to West Side Park

A nationwide day of protests linked to the federal tax deadline included a 400-person rally in Champaign.

The gathering was one of hundreds of so-called "tea party" rallies meant to vent about what participants call excessive taxation. But organizer Kevin Waite says the target of the protest went beyond economic worries.

"Certainly there is some anger, and a lot of people here are not only here for the financial issues but peripheral issues as well, because we feel that as time progresses our liberties are being diminished," Waite said.

Becky Brouillard of Rantoul says she's never taken part in political activities, but she says recent stories of the bailout and stimulus bills sparked her anger - but she says that anger is directed at members of both major parties.

"I know this has been spun as being about Obama and different things, that's not it," Brouillard said. "I think that's it's just a general unrest about where the federal government's going."

Randy Stufflebeam called on participants to engage in a new revolution, though not an armed revolution - yet. The 2006 Constitution Party candidate for Illinois governor was the keynote speaker.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2009

Non-Binding Referenda Go Ahead in Champaign, But are Blocked in Urbana

For the second year in a row, voters at the annual town meeting in Urbana have turned down a request to place an advisory referendum on the ballot supporting Instant Runoff Voting.

The vote at Tuesday night's annual town meeting for Cunningham Township in Urbana was 82 to 13 against putting the referendum on next year's primary ballot. One of the opponents was Champaign County Board Member Tom Betz. He says most Urbana voters agree with him that Instant Runoff Voting is not a fair way to conduct elections, "because it disenfranchises voters". Betz went on, "It allows a second place candidate to potentially win. I believe in majority rule, and this is not majority rule. It's anti-democratic. I don't even believe it's lawful in the state of Illinois."

But supporters of the proposal accuse Democrats of denying voters the chance to make their own decision on the matter.

Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the ballots for the candidate with the least votes is recounted using the voters' second choice, and so on, until a majority winner is chosen.

Meanwhile, over at the City of Champaign town meeting, the vote was 29 to 4 in favor of putting a non-binding question on the 2010 primary ballot in favor of a property tax hike for Township General Assistance.

Champaign voters previously approved a non-binding referendum for more Township aid for the poor last spring. But they've twice defeated referenda calling for actual property tax hikes. Randall Cotton, who sponsored the question at the town meeting last night, says they'll have to work harder to get their message across. But he says the support for the funding is there. "There's a growing group of people who are really very acutely interested in this issue," says Cotton. "And of course, it's more timely and important now than any time before in recent memory, because of the incredible downturn in the economy."

Cotton says the referendum that City of Champaign voters will see next year will provide more details than previous ones. He says it will point out that Champaign's funding for General Assistance is less than 10 percent of the average funding levels for Springfield, Bloomington and Peoria. And the resolution will call for a cap on how much property tax bills can go up.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 15, 2009

Champaign to Contiinue Awarding Grants to Social Service Agencies for Two More Years

The Champaign City Council has changed its mind, and will continue to award grants to social service agencies for another two years. But there will be new strings attached.

The grants, using federal funds, were scheduled to end July 1st. The city of Champaign was taking a different approach to social service funding --- working with the school and park districts to create its own initiatives targeting troubled neighborhoods, such as Garden Hills.

But city council members decided at last night's study session to continue granting money to local social service agencies through 2012, using 300-thousand dollars in city funds tagged for urban renewal. City Manager Steve Carter says these grants will only go to agencies ready to follow the pattern of the city's neighborhood initiatives. "It will be very much targeted," said Carter, "both in terms of geographic location in the community and the types of programs we're looking for."

Champaign officials changed their minds, because they saw local social service agencies losing funding due to the slumping economy, while the need for their services increased. At the same time, officials with the agencies argue the city funding can be crucial in obtaining matching grants, making city funds go further. "Essentially, ten thousand becaomes near enough 200-thousand dollars," said Tom Sullivan of the Center for Women in Transition.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2009

Blagojevich Enters Not Guilty Plea to Federal Charges

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.

Today's plea makes official Blagojevich's denial of political malfeasance that authorities say included a scheme to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich looked relaxed as he stood in court today alongside his brother, who also pleaded not guilty in the scheme.

The former governor didn't make a statement before the plea, but he told a throng of reporters as he entered the courthouse earlier that he's "innocent of every single accusation.''

Blagojevich also is charged with planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business. And prosecutors contend heplotted to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 14, 2009

Zoning Rules for Wind Farms Pass Champaign County Board Committee

Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.

The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.

Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.

County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.

In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.


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