Illinois Public Media News
Governor Pat Quinn says shuttered historic sites could reopen by summer.
The Chicago Democrat says he is committed to opening them by June 30, even though his proposed budget calls for leaving them closed.
We've got to get a little more money. We've made some reorganization, so the historic sites are going to get done as quickly as possible," the governor said at a stop in Savoy yesterday.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich closed a dozen historic sites and state parks last year to help fill a budget deficit. After Quinn became governor, he reopened the parks and said he would do the same for the historic sites, including the farm owned by Abraham Lincoln's family in Coles County.
Quinn now says money for reopening them will come from merging the agencies that oversee natural resources and historic sites.
With Champaign County Democratic leadership meeting tonight, there's uncertainty over whether their leader will resign.
Party Chairman Tony Fabri says he's thinking about stepping down from the post and concentrating his time on being the county's elected auditor. Fabri has come under fire for spending little time in the office and being inaccessible since he was appointed auditor in 2006 and won a full term last year. Fabri defends his handling of the auditor's office, which he says has won awards for its performance. But he admits that the backlash has made him think.
"Given the criticism I've been hearing lately -- some of it constructive, some of it just wrong -- some of it's been very helpful and I think I need to focus my attention on the office I was elected to serve," said Fabri.
Fabri won't say if he plans to resign at tonight's Democratic Central Committee meeting or what he'll otherwise tell members. The second-in command in the party leadership, Al Klein, says Fabri hasn't told him anything about resigning tonight, though he says Fabri has brought up the possibility in the past.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has returned 44 maximum-security inmates who were transferred out of Pontiac Correctional Center to the prison.
Pontiac prison was targeted for closing by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who claimed prisoners could be housed more cheaply at Thomson Correctional Center in western Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn announced earlier this month the facility will remain open.
Department of Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said the maximum-security inmates were transferred Tuesday from Menard Correctional Center. The transfer brings the total population of Pontiac prison to 1,105. Schnapp didn't say why the transfers took place.
Pontiac prison was set to close on Dec. 31, 2008, but a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents some prison workers, halted the process.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn is holding to his goal of getting state bills paid within a 30 day period. The governor is touring health-care establishments in downstate Illinois, places that have been waiting months for reimbursements from the state for Medicaid and other expenses. Quinn stood next to the pharmacy inside a supermarket in Savoy this morning to tout a budget plan that includes an income tax increase and additional tax burdens on businesses.
We have to clear off an 11.5 billion dollar deficit and balance the budget. It may take castor oil, but so be it," said Quinn. "The Land of Lincoln is not a deadbeat and never will be."
Quinn's pharmacy backdrop was to highlight businesses he says are hurting because the state isn't paying its reimbursements on time. Mark Black is a Danville nursing home administrator who says he's getting insistent letters from creditors who normally understand the payment backlog.
"If we're in a system where we're not being reimbur4sed and reimbursed on a timely basis, it puts our residents at risk. And it certainly makes it difficult in our community to pay to local vendors the bills that we owe them," said Black.
Quinn is also maintaining his opposition to raising the state motor fuel tax to help pay for a 26 billion dollar capital construction plan for the state.
Officials from the Champaign-Urbana area presented a long wish list Monday night, at a public forum held to hear ideas for spending money from a capital construction bill --- if state lawmakers ever pass one.
The forum in Champaign was organized by Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Bradley. The Marion Democrat is holding forums across the state to find out specific local capital needs.
The transportation project most mentioned last night was Olympian Drive. Only about a mile of the north-side link between I-57 and U-S Route 45 has been built. Champaign Regional Planning Commission CEO Cameron Moore says businesses that moved into the north end of Champaign-Urbana were expecting Olympian Drive to be completed. "The fact that it hasn't been built", says Moore, "is having an impact on their ability to continue to operate efficiently. I also believe that businesses that are interested in coming into the area typically like to locate in growth corridors --- which this is. And being able to complete this significant arterial roadway would simply open up more opportunities for development in the area."
Moore says they're seeking five million in state funding for the 27-million dollar Olympian Drive project. They hope federal funding will take care of the rest.
Illinois lawmakers last approved a capital construction bill in 1999, and Bradley says a new capital bill is long overdue. He's proposed raising the Illinois Motor Fuel tax to fund the transportation component of any capital bill. Some who spoke at the Champaign hearing raised concerns that money would be diverted out of that tax revenue stream to non-transportation projects. Bradley says that could be avoided by additional language in the bill, and by sending the money to the state's Construction Account. He says diversions from that account are not possible.
Republican and Green candidates in the Urbana City election have asked the city clerk to hold a ballot lottery to determine the order in which candidates are listed --- even though the ballots have already been printed.
Those ballots list the Democratic candidates first. But the Republican and Green candidates say that without a lottery to determine the order, state law is being broken.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he plans to take the matter to court if Urbana officials don't agree to hold a ballot lottery in a timely fashion. "They're running around like cockroaches when you turn the lights on", says Bradfield, referring to Urbana city officials. "The should just say, 'well, hell, let's try the lottery, maybe we'll get lucky'."
A letter signed by Bradfield and the other candidates was delivered Monday to Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark. It argues that putting Democrats at the top of the Urbana ballot without a lottery unfairly places other candidates at a potential disadvantage.
Besides Bradfield, the letter is signed by Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse, and Green Party city council candidates Gary Storm and Mark Mallon. Republican Heather Stevenson, who's running for a second term on the Urbana City Council did not sign the letter.
City Clerk Phyllis Clark says she's checking with Urbana City Attorney Ron O'Neal before making a decision on the matter. If a ballot lottery led to printing new ballots in Urbana, the cost would run in the thousands of dollars.
Illinois law requires that a lottery be held to determine in what order candidates are listed by party on an election ballot. But that didn't happen in the city of Urbana.
The April 7th ballot for Urbana's municipal elections lists Democrats first. Democratic Mayor Laurel Prussing says City Clerk Phyllis Clark, also a Democrat, decided the sequence according to the order in which candidates filed their petitions. But Prussing's Green and Republican challengers say that violates state election law.
Republican mayoral candidate Red Bradfield says if a lottery isn't held now and the ballots reprinted to match the result --- then at least, notices should be posted at polling places in Urbana, telling voters that the ballots were not prepared in accordance with election law. "This was not a casual oversight", says Bradfield.
But Mayor Prussing says the failure to hold a ballot lottery was an honest mistake, and she says it's not clear what the remedy should be. Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says it's not clear to him either. He says reprinting new ballots according to results of a lottery would cost thousands of dollars.
Green Party Mayor candidate Durl Kruse says the order in which candidates appear on the ballot can influence the outcome, especially in races with smaller voter turnouts.
When Champaign County government switches to a single-county-administrator system later this year, the county will hire from within.
The Champaign County Board approved a resolution Thursday night that says the position will be filled by hiring another county employee. But Chairman Pius Weibel would not say who that might be, following a closed-door meeting on the issue.
The county board appointed Weibel and former County Board Chairman Steve Moser to negotiate a contract for the single county Administrator position.
Weibel says they'll have a lot to do before a new administrator is hired. That includes putting together a job description, setting salary limits, and deciding what duties performed by the current two administrators should be moved over to another county position.
Deb Busey and Denny Inman have managed Champaign County government as a team for the past decade. Busey manages Finance and Human Resources while Inman is in charge of Facilities and Procurement. But the county board has decided that system will end in December, when a single administrator will take over. Backers of the change have argued that many of the duties assigned to Inman no longer require a separate manager, because the county is no longer involved in major construction projects like the nursing home and courthouse addition.
A March 22nd News-Gazette article reported that Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri is frequently absent from work, according to office phone records. Now, the Champaign County Board will consider putting a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they want to switch the auditor's post from elected to appointed.
Republican County Board member Al Nudo says the controversy over Fabri's apparent high absentee rate provides an opportunity to consider whether appointing the auditor might provide more accountability and professionalism than elections. But at Thursday's County Board meeting, Democrat Carol Ammons said the proposal coming so quickly after the News-Gazette article looked more like a witch-hunt to her.
"If we're going to look at actual strategic changes to the county", said Ammons, "we look at the auditor, we look at the recorder, we look at all of the non-constitutional offices, and we consider them alike."
Fabri is also Champaign County's Democratic Chairman. Nudo says he's open to discussing the recorder's and coroner's offices, which are held by Republicans. But Democrat Steve Beckett told the County Board Fabri's poor work attendance as measured by his office phone calls is a valid reason for reviewing the auditor's office alone.
"I can't ignore what I read this past weekend", said Beckett. "And it's not a witch-hunt if there's a witch".
Fabri could not be reached for comment Thursday night. According to the News-Gazette, he says office phone use is not a fair measure of his attendance, because he often uses his own cell phone at his desk, to avoid using county phones for political work.
Nudo's proposal now goes to the County Board Policy and Administrative Structure committees, which may take their time in considering it. A referendum on the auditor's office wouldn't show up on the Champaign County ballot until 2010, and any change wouldn't take effect until 2012, after Fabri's current term is over.
Governors can issue pardons but they can't automatically clear a convict's criminal record, according to a new Illinois Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling involves pardons saying two men were innocent and could have their convictions expunged, or officially wiped away.
One pardon went to Stanley Howard, who was convicted of murder based on a confession that may have been obtained through torture. The other went to Dana Holland, who was convicted of rape but was later cleared by DNA evidence.
When they took steps to expunge their records, the courts said no.
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that despite the governor's pardons, the courts ultimately decide whether to expunge convictions.
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