Illinois Public Media News
The assistant director of Ohio's prison system has won the top job at the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he is nominating Michael Randle to serve as director of the Illinois prison agency. He calls Randle "the best of the best.''
If confirmed by the state Senate, Randle will take over a system facing major challenges. Its prisons house far more inmates than they were designed to hold, while the size of the prison staff has been slashed by 25 percent.
Randle says he's concerned about the safety of overworked prison guards, but he's staying quiet about any possible solutions until he reviews the situation.
The Champaign City Council did some budget cutting during Tuesday night's study session. Council members approved a series of cuts to the budgets of police, fire, public works and administrative departments. Nearly 2.2 million dollars went on the chopping block. Many of the cuts eliminated positions that are currently vacant, or will become vacant in time, due to retirements.
District Four Councilwoman Marci Dodds voted against the cuts in police service --- the only "no" vote cast against the budget cuts last night. Dodds opposed the elimination of three vacant patrol officer positions. She says losing those positions will make it harder for the police department to staff its Community Assistance Teams --- teams she says have made a big difference in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
"And it could be happenstance, but the fire reductions and the public works reductions seemed less onerous than losing three police officers, particularly when we already have an understaffed district that's growing," Dodds said.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the Community Assistance Teams will continue, even without the three patrol officer positions. But he says any additional cuts could endanger the program. Finney says while the police budget cuts may affect some programs, it will have no impact on the department's ability to respond to emergency calls. And he says the department is apply for a grant to pay the lion's share of restoring the three patrol officer positions.
The Champaign City Council will continue to hold budget hearings in May. A final vote is expected in June.
Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.
Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.
Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's going to appoint a new head of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Quinn refused Tuesday to divulge who he would name, but he said an announcement was likely later this week.
The governor says a priority will be looking at operations at the Tamms Correctional Center. Some question the long hours inmates spend in solitary confinement at the Alexander County prison.
The corrections department has been run by former Macon County Sheriff Roger E. Walker Jr. since 2003. Department spokesman Derek Schnapp says Walker has no immediate comment.
Quinn didn't say why he was making the appointment.
Walker was an appointee of ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn has kept other Blagojevich hires in his administration.
Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Still Looking for Money to Finish Its Study
Public donations are being sought with hopes of completing an extensive study on the Mahomet Aquifer in just over six weeks.
The Baltimore Aircoil plant in Paxton will close its gates by the end of June, and all 223 workers will be laid off. But the city says it can save at least some of the jobs.
Mayor William Ingold says another manufacturing company ... Colmac Industries... will locate in the city and is going to use parts of the Baltimore Aircoil building:
"They're going to retain one of the lines that was used by Baltimore Aircoil, and they'll retain 20 to 25 employees right away with more coming online later on and keeping the plant going to a certain extent," Ingold said.
Ingold says the city council has approved a $375,000 low-interest loan to create jobs at the Colmac Industries plant - he says former Baltimore Aircoil workers may qualify for those jobs. The company plans to start manufacturing as soon as possible.
Ingold says he still doesn't understand why Baltimore Aircoil feels the need to close.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
Injuries are being reported in southern Illinois in the wake of thunderstorms that packed 100-mph winds that moved across the area Friday.
Health officials say a truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition at a local hospital.
Rosslynd Rice of Southern Illinois Healthcare says about six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
Carbondale Township Fire Captain Mark Black says trees are down and siding from homes is strewn everywhere. He says his firefighters are cutting trees out of the roadway so they can get their trucks out.
The storms forced the cancellation of some commencement ceremonies Friday at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.
University spokesman Rod Sievers says power is out, hundreds of trees are down and many dorm windows are broken. But there were no injuries on .
Sievers says if power returns, commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned.
It's finals week at SIU-Carbondale, and many students have left campus because they were finished with tests.
More than 33,000 Ameren customers are without power, mostly around Carbondale, Marion and Herrin.
Sales tax money from new retail development has helped the city of Urbana avoid any cuts to services or staff in a proposed $48 million budget.
Revenues from the new Meijer store are part of the reason city leaders expect income to exceed expenses for the current fiscal year by $750,000.
But because of the economic downturn, city comptroller Ron Eldridge expects them to break even in the year ahead, meaning the city will hold the line on expenses. But Eldridge admits the city could be face problems within another fiscal year if the economy doesn't bounce back. "It makes no sense to add on a bunch of expenditures if you really, truly think you maybe you've going have to be cutting those expenditures the following year," says Eldridge. "Now nobody really knows, and so it certainly it is cautioned, but I think that's the reasons we try to do those long-term projections - to give people an idea of where we're heading in the future." At the end of the next fiscal year, Urbana will have to negotiate new contracts with its police, fire, and AFSCME unions. And Eldridge says pensions continue to be a problem, as the city can expect to pay 6-million dollars or more in fiscal 2009-10.
The assessed value of property is expected to increase by nearly 6%, largely due to new construction. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana is getting another boost through federal stimulus money. More than a million dollars will cover highway projects on Windsor Road and Goodwin Avenue, freeing up local funds for other repairs.
The city council will hold two study sessions on the proposed budget this month, and will vote to approve the budget at a June 1st public hearing.
House Speaker Mike Madigan wants to get rid of thousands of people hired by Illinois' two disgraced former governors. He proposes firing state agency directors, board members and other employees hired by George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich.
The Speaker says Governor Pat Quinn has not done enough to remove holdovers from the Ryan and Blagojevich administrations. Madigan's legislation would force them out.
He says the action would be "clearly the type of fumigation of the Ryan and Blagojevich appointments that I think the people of the state of Illinois are demanding so we can move away from the scandals of the past."
Madigan says the measure applies to three thousand people ... including 90 boards and commissions, such as university boards of trustees.
Governor Quinn says it's a good idea. "I think it's one that we need to use to reassess everything in state government and if we see anything that we think is improper then we can act accordingly.," the Governor said.
If it becomes law, the employees and appointees would keep their jobs for 60 days. Anyone not rehired would then be out of work.
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