Illinois Public Media News
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.
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.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pardoned 11 people and ordered that their criminal records be expunged.
He says it's part of an effort to clear what he calls a "shameful'' backlog of almost 2,500 clemency requests that built up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Crimes committed by those who were pardoned include drug possession, aggravated battery and burglary.
Quinn says this is just the first in a series of clemency petitions he will act on with the goal of drastically reducing the backlog by the end of the year.
He says each person he pardoned underwent a criminal background check.
Mahomet Aquifer Study Short of Funds
A major study on the Mahomet Aquifer has been left unfinished because its state funding was cut off. Now the consortium that oversees the project is trying to raise the money to complete it.
The voters of Champaign County approved a one percent sales tax for school facilities on Tuesday. But the tax proposal faces one more vote before it takes effect. That's a vote by the Champaign County Board. The Board cannot reject the sales tax --- but it could lower it to a half-cent or quarter-cent on the dollar.
But County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he will vote for the tax rate that the voters approved. "The voters voted on it," he says. "I think it would be a disservice not to do that (vote for the full one percent rate), or if we do it, we'd have to have a very good reason."
And Weibel says if the new sales tax rate was reduced, he thinks it would take away the ability of school districts to offer the property tax relief that they promised.
Weibel says the school facilities sales tax will go before the county board's Policy Committee. Its chairman, Tom Betz, opposed the sales tax personally, and says it won't provide meaningful savings for the average homeowner. But Betz says the voters passed a one-percent tax, so that's what he'll vote for, too.
Voters in Champaign County have approved a 1% hike in the county sales tax to help school districts pay for construction projects and pay off bond debt. Champaign joins two other counties in the state with such a sales tax -- several other counties voted on similar referenda on Tuesday. The sales tax was passed with 53% of the vote. Voters in the Urbana Park District also passed a property tax hike.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing won a second term, easily defeating Republican Rex Bradfield and two other candidates. Incumbents David Gehrig, Robert Lewis and Heather Stevenson regained their Urbana City Council seats, and Democrat Diane Marlin won ther lone open seat.
In Champaign, William Kyles defeated Freddie Gordon to win the open District 1 council seat. Incumbents Michael LaDue and Marci Dodds also won. Republican Pam Borowski defeated D'Anne Winston to win the City of Chamapign Township Supervisor seat that had been occupied by Democrat Linda Abernathy. Incumbent Brian Christie held off Democrat Wayne Williams in the City of Champaign Township Assessor race.
Incumbent Dave Tomlinson regained his Champaign Unit 4 School Board seat -- Thomas Lockman will join him along with Stig Lanesskog, who defeated Lynn Stucky by only three votes for the third available seat.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he canceled his predecessor's sweeping ban on campaign contributions from companies doing business with the state partly because it raised constitutional questions.
He also says then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ban aimed to undercut ethics reform _ not advance it.
Quinn's action last week keeps reforms lawmakers approved barring constitutional officers from pay-to-play politics. But it blocks Blagojevich's order including state lawmakers in the ban.
Legislators scoffed at Blagojevich's claim his measure was more comprehensive.
Quinn echoed that Tuesday. He says he doesn't want what he calls "that kind of monkey business'' to seep into Illinois law.
He's also says a flood of new recommendations will address similar ethical issues.
Turnout ranges from very light to steady in the Champaign-Urbana area.
Spirited races are bringing more voters out than a typical consolidated election in some precincts, including at least one in Urbana. At city hall, Sylvia Hallowell says her staff has kept slightly busier than first expected. "We always bring something to do, like a book to read, but we haven't had too much time to do that" Hallowell said.
But in Champaign, the polling place at the McKinley Foundation on the U of I campus has been nearly empty - by 11 a-m, only three voters had come in. However, election worker Chris Wright expects a few more students and neighbors to get to the polls later in the day, as is typical for a campus precinct.
"We were talking earlier about how we experienced probably the highest demand in the last election, and now we're experiencing a fairly low turnout so far this morning," Wright said. "But we're on campus, so we're expecting to have more people as the day evolves."
Another poll worker in Urbana agrees that last fall's historic presidential election has translated into more people taking their voting responsibility seriously - she also says the economy may be getting more voters interested.
Polls are open until 7:00 - AM 580 will have election results during the evening.
A car chase by authorities in two area counties Monday night led to the fatal shooting of a suspect and an investigation by Illinois State Police.
Champaign and Douglas County deputies chased the man after a Villa Grove police officer says he was assaulted in the town after investigating a suspicious vehicle. All officers followed the man out of the community to Interstate 74 to the Oakwood area. There, police stopped the vehicle using 'stop sticks' just before 11 last night. Officers say the man then got out of his car holding a knife and a machete, and were unable to subdue him with tasers. After the man initially fled on foot, deputies say he approached them with both weapons, and officers multiple shots at him in self defense. The suspect died at the scene, and an autopsy is planned for today. Vermilion County Coroner Peggy Johnson identifies him as 23-year old Ocuwatofunmi Kaiyewu of Missouri City, Texas.
Other officers at the scene were from the Vermilion County Sheriff's Office and University of Illinois Police. Three officers, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn, and U of I Chief Barbara O'Connor, were placed on paid administrative leave, which the departments say is normal procedure.
Members of Governor Pat Quinn's s commission on reform found support for change --- but not agreement on all the details --- at a town hall meeting that drew about 45 people to the law school at the University of Illinois Urbana campus on Monday.
The 15-member Reform Commission last week called for capping campaign contributions at 5 to 50-thousand dollars for political organizations, corporations and unions ... and 24-hundred dollars for individuals. Donations from lobbyists and trusts would be banned outright.
At the town hall meeting, U of I law student Mike Wilson had doubts. He thinks campaign contribution limits would favor candidates who already have money. "Don't contribution limits encourage the rich to run for and dominate elections", he asked, "especially elections for state legislatures, where individuals have a limited number of contributors, due to a small amount of people in a given district?" He likened the result to a "millionaire's club".
Reform Commission Chairman --- and former federal prosecutor --- Patrick Collins said Wilson made a good point. He suggested that the ultimate solution may lie with another commission proposal --- public financing of campaigns.. "The only way to counter balance the millionaire's club," said Collins, "is to give folks a public stipend, where they're owned by the people in five-dollar chunks, rather than owned by the 25-thousand-dollar-a-year givers."
In its preliminary proposals last week, the Reform Commission suggested trying campaign financing on a trial basis for judicial candidates only.
In addition to Collins, members of the Reform Commission at the town hall meeting included City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman and the Reverend Scott Willis. The Baptist minister who moved from Illinois to Tennessee in 2004 feels the impact of Illinois' corruption scandals in a searingly personal way. In 1994, the gas tank on his van exploded when it was struck by a mudflap bracket that fell off a truck on I-94 in northern Illinois. The expolosion killed six of Willis' children. A federal investigation into corruption in the office of then-Secretary of State George Ryan found that the driver of the truck paid a bribe to obtain his license.
When asked about the political factors underlying his personal tragedy, the Reverend Willis paused for several seconds. Finally, he said it came down to money, and the willingness of some in state government to hand out favors --- such as an undeserved truck driver's license --- for campaign contributions. Illinois state employees now take annual ethics training, but not until they've been on the job six months. Willis says by then it's often too late. "By that time, the ethics test doesn't really mean anything", he says, "because they've already learned the ropes of how things have been going on before. And money's a big part of that --- fund raising within the different departments and so on. So if anything, it's the love of money --- I'm a preacher --- it's the love of money, and the need of money to be able to get power."
The first round of recommendations from the Illinois Reform Commission calls for training state workers on ethics in their first month of employment, instead of the sixth.
Chairman Collins says their recommendations will need public support to win approval from lawmakers. Legislative leaders have set up their own joint committee to study reform, and Collins says his commission has been invited to address the legislative panel.
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