Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution to name Urbana's federal courthouse after the county's first African-American elected official.
James Burgess was selected as state's attorney in 1972.
The 19-to-8 vote means a resolution with Burgess' name will be passed on to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson with hopes of gaining their approval. Burgess' son, Steve Burgess, told the board last night he's already talked with two of those three.
"I am waiting for a decision from Senator Durbin whether or not - not to say it's going to happen, but at least make a decision whether he thinks this is the right thing to by introducing a bill," he said. "He may ultimately decide that it's not, and I'm okay with that. But I think I'm at least entitled to having a decision from them, yes or no."
Burgess' effort to place his late father's name on the courthouse has lasted more than a year. Democrat Tom Betz said he knew and admired Burgess, but says the method for placing any name on a building is flawed.
"I have slowly but surely reached the conclusion that it's such a divisive process that we would be wise not to actually name some of these buildings," he said. "Call it what it is - it's the United States District Court for this district. Just as it's the Champaign County Courthouse. I don't think it needs to bear any name other than that at this point."
Burgess, who died in 1997, was a Democrat. But Betz and four other Democrats voted against the measure: Geraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Ralph Langenheim, and Pattsi Petrie. Republicans Diane Michaels, Ron Bensyl, and Steve Moser also opposed it.
Democrat Chris Alix suggested the idea. He calls Burgess an inspirational story for not only his time as a state's attorney and US Attorney during the 70's and 80's, but as a World War II veteran with the 761st Tank Battalion.
(Photo Courtesy of Museum of the Grand Prairie, Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive)
Champaign's Police union says some members of the community are rushing to judgment on this week's arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.
In a press release issued by the state's Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union mentions the events of Monday's early morning hours, when police say the teen ran red lights, ran over a curb, and his van struck the front of a house after exiting the vehicle. Miller then reportedly ran on foot, and struggled with police before the arrest. The incident has led to angry comments from local activists, including Martel Miller, the teen's father, who claims police beat the teen repeatedly.
The FOP says it's encouraging all citizens of the city, and especially elected officials, to withhold judgment until all of the facts and circumstances have been released. The union says it's 'confident they will demonstrate that use of force was appropriate and reasonable under both department policy and the law.'
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night.
Community leaders and activists have started putting together a list of qualities they want in a new Champaign police chief.
Many of the ideas have already been discussed, but some of the 35 who attended a forum put together by Champaign's Community and Police Partnership (CCAPP) Monday night say they're on the same page. Words like public trust, communication, and integrity were repeated throughout the 1-hour event. City leaders and activists spent most of last night's forum in those small groups answering two questions: What are the top 5 challenges facing Champaign's next police chief, and what four skills should that person possess?
Reverend Jerome Chambers, a former Champaign County NAACP president, says he wants someone who has the people skills to generate a dialogue with the community.
"Be as transparent with them as possible, yet - in leading, have the kind of skill set that says: 'I hear you, because you are important. And how we're going to approach this is not to be stereotypical," said Chambers.
Craig Williams says the next chief shouldn't shy away from changing the ranks within the department.
"If somebody's not doing their job, or if you get so many complaints on an officer, don't be afraid to remove that officer of discipline that officer," he said. "In any organization, discipline is very necessary."
City council member Will Kyles says it's important the city set the new chief up for success, recognizing that the person won't be a savior when he first or she first takes office.
Top challenges for the successor to retiring Chief R.T. Finney were also identified. They include dealing with the increase in youth violence (ages 14-25), further healing in the wake of the 2009 police shooting of teen Kiwane Carrington, and social networking.
The recommendations of the panels will be passed on to a search committee for new chief, as well as the city manager's office. Finney will step down on January 20th.
A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.
A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.
Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.
"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."
The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.
"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."
Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.
"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."
Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.
The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.
The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.
A new study shows race could play a role in traffic stops across Illinois.
An Illinois Department of Transportation and University of Illinois at Chicago study of traffic stops in 2010 found that minorities are more likely to be cited or to be asked for a consent search than white drivers. The research is part of a state rule that requires police to record the details of traffic stops and report them to the DOT. For the last few years, the research has revealed similar results.
Adam Schwartz, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the ACLU wants state police to get rid of consent searches entirely. A consent search is when an officer asks the driver if he or she can search the vehicle. Unlike other searches done by police, a vehicle search can be done without a warrant. All the officer needs is consent from the driver.
"Given the danger of conscious or unconscious bias being in play, we think that consent searches always will yield a disparate impact against minority motorists. It simply is too subjective a technique to apply," Schwartz said.
In June of this year, the ACLU of Illinois filed a complaint to the United States Department of Justice. According to Schwartz, the ACLU wants there to be a federal investigation into Illinois State Police practices, and for the US DOJ to issue a ban on the use of consent searches.
Schwartz said the new study confirms the need for such action.
"We think that it's a technique that can't be cured or reformed," he said.
Monique Bond, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Police Department, said they are in the process of reviewing the raw data and expect an internal review to be completed within the coming weeks. She said that no decision had been made to cease consent searches.
(Reported by Dan Petrella and Jay Lee of CU-CitizenAccess)
Champaign County's immigration-service agencies may have to bear some of the burden for the state's burgeoning debt - and they aren't happy about it.
With the state's deficit projected to hit $15 billion by the end of the year, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed large-scale budget cuts for the next two fiscal years, and last week the state Legislature approved a 2012 budget that makes even deeper cuts. This includes drastic cuts to funding for grants to agencies that assist immigrants and refugees.
"These cuts are more than just substantial - they're devastating," said Deborah Hlavna, the director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, 302 S. Birch St., Urbana.
And on top of the cuts to services for immigrants and refugees, the 2012 budget, which awaits the governor's signature, would cut overall funding for the Department of Human Services by nearly $670 million, about 17 percent of its total budget.
"The ripple effect will be enormous," Hlavna said before the Legislature passed its budget. "We're all waiting nervously to see what's going to happen, but it's not looking too good right now."
The final impact of the budget cuts remains unclear. Senate Democrats attempted to restore some of the money for human services by adding it to a bill to fund capital improvement projects. But the House did not vote on the measure before the spring legislative session adjourned. Quinn has suggested he may call lawmakers back to vote on the package during the summer.
The governor originally recommended cutting funds for immigrants and refugees when he presented his budget plan to lawmakers in February.
His proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1, would have seen a $1.7 billion increase overall from this year despite widespread cuts at several areas, including human services, education, public safety and health care coverage. But the budget legislators approved calls for spending $2 billion less than the he proposed.
"These proposed cuts are a horrendous mistake," Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said, referring to Quinn's proposed cuts to immigration services. "We're not happy, to say the least."
Hoyt said that the coalition predicts that at least 15 agencies that serve immigrants will have to close if the proposed cut in funding takes effect. The Asian and Latino communities in Illinois will be hurt the most, he said.
In Champaign County, the Latino population has more than doubled in the last decade, while the Asian population has grown by 55 percent, according to 2010 census data.
This reflects a growing trend in the entire state. The Asian community in Illinois grew by 38 percent in the last 10 years, and the Latino population increased by 33 percent.
The refugee center's Hlavna said that agencies in central Illinois will feel the impact the most because of limited fundraising capabilities in the midst of a growing immigrant community.
"We're lucky in that we only rely partially on state funding," she said. "That won't be true for a lot of others in the area."
Immigration advocacy groups and agencies like Hoyt's have voiced their displeasure over the cuts, pointing to how immigration services make up slightly more than 1 percent of the state's budget.
"We should be giving more funding to help immigrants and refugees, not less," Hoyt said. "This is an issue that isn't going away, and is going - and this cut in funding would be a mistake."
Esther Wong, executive director of the Illinois-based Chinese American Service League, said she has seen immigration agencies face funding problems ever since she began working with Chinese-American communities in Illinois in 1978 - but nothing like what Quinn proposed.
"We have not faced any drastic cuts like this ever before," Wong said. "I didn't believe it at first."
The Latino Partnership of Champaign County will also receive less state funding with the proposed cuts, but David Adcock, the group's treasurer, said he had mixed reactions to Quinn's proposal.
"I can't say I was surprised because I knew everything was going to be on the table. Something needs to be done with the state's financial situation," Adcock said. "Did I think the cuts would be so drastic? No. But it is what it is."
The cuts in funding for immigration and refugee services would lessen financial support for grant-receiving agencies such as the refugee center, but the wider cuts to the Illinois Department of Human Services would compound the pain.
"The weakening of the (Department of Human Services) will hurt the most for all the smaller groups in Illinois," Hlavna said. "We work alongside them all the time and when we can't meet our clients' needs, we will direct them and go with them to the DHS."
The refugee center has adapted to the state's history of slow payments, but the cuts to the Department of Humans Services throws the agency a new curveball, she said.
"We've been waiting on our check for a long time," Hlavna said with a laugh. "We've been smart enough not to depend on their money. But we need their help and their services."
Sarah Baumer, an administrator at the Department of Human Services' Champaign County office, declined to comment on the looming budget cuts, but conceded that they will curb the resources the office can provide.
"Adjustments will be made," Baumer said.
Anh Ha Ho, co-director of the refugee center with Hlavna, said that the major needs of immigrants in Champaign County pertain to issues such as food, money, health care and housing - all of which fall into the jurisdiction of the Department of Human Services.
Local immigration-service organizations such as the refugee center don't provide many direct services, Ho said, rather relying on government agencies like Department of Human Services. A great deal of Ho's time is spent helping clients with paperwork and applications for the services through the department.
"We take advantage of the services in place because that's really all immigrants need," Ho said. "We're here to make sure that they get the help they need."
And in a county in which nearly one out of every 10 residents is an immigrant, the budget cuts to human services will especially affect a Champaign County population that has limited access to non-English-speaking resources.
"We have the immigration population of a big metropolitan city without the big city resources," Hlavna said. "We have to rely on each other and we really have to rely on the DHS."
Adcock, of the Latino Partnership, said that a drop in available assistance by the human-services agency may alter the approach of immigration-services organizations
"It'll be harder for people to get the help they need, so we may have to look into different options available," Adcock said. "We may have to look more towards private resources, whether that's local churches or donors or whatever it is."
Funding was a major concern for Champaign County immigration-service agencies even before the proposed cuts, Adcock said, but they will not have to focus their efforts on tightening budget and fundraising.
"Everyone's been on the bubble and funding will always be a concern," Adcock said with a smile. "But we're still here.
A panel made up of Champaign County Board members and residents expects to forward to the board three district map designs in a plan to re-draw board districts.
Board members have to sign off on a plan to increase the number of districts to 11 by July. The redistricting commission has asked a planner to tweak three maps designed by the county's Regional Planning Commission to emphasize items like population variance, rural districts, and so-called 'majority minority' districts. The Champaign County NAACP and former county board candidate Eric Thorsland have also submitted maps for consideration by the commission and county board.
Commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said it's theoretically possible for an individual or group to submit a map, but the heavy analysis required give them only a slight chance.
"At this stage, it would be a very long shot for (one of them) to be considered," he said. "You'd have to have time to act on it, to diligently compare it and study it before we could adopt it and recommend it to the county board. And frankly, we're running out of time."
Earlier this week, the county board rejected map 1E on a party line vote. Democrats turned down the first map submitted by the Regional Planning Commission, saying it was worse than the current map, disenfranchising African-American voters, and did a poor job of keeping communities of interest together.
The county allocated about $14-thousand for the redistricting process. Winkel said there's enough of that money left to do five more revisions. But County Board Democrat and commission member Alan Kurtz contends the county would be willing to spend a couple thousand more, if required.
"If we need another thousand or two, I'm not sure if that would be a hangup," he said. "The point is, right now, we don't have to worry about that. At this point right now through the next board meeting, we will receive maps based on the budget. Even at that point, even if we reject that map, we'll not have to add to the budget because the commission still has, under the budget, two more revisions."
The redistricting commission's next meeting is scheduled for May 16th. The Champaign County Board meets three days later.
New Census figures show that Hispanics now outnumber blacks for the first time in most U.S. metropolitan areas.
Hispanics became the largest minority group in 191 of 366 metro areas last year. Their population was lifted as blacks left many economically hard-hit cities in the North for the South and new Latino immigrants spread to different parts of the country. That number is up from 159 metro areas in 2000, when Hispanics were most commonly found in Southwest border states.
The new areas for Hispanics include Chicago, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlantic City, N.J., whose states will lose House seats in 2013.
The numbers from the 2010 count are having a big effect in many states, where political maps are being redrawn based on population size and racial makeup.
The leaders of a Champaign group committed to improving police and community relations say they need more participation, and input, from all corners of the population.
About 50 people Monday night attended the first community forum hosted by the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, or C-CAP. The group's goal is finding solutions to policing issues raised by the African-American community. C-CAP member Patricia Avery heads the Champaign-Urbana area project, which works with juvenile delinquency prevention. She says Champaign Police are doing what they can to divert youth from the juvenile justice system.
"We have to work on providing more alternatives for the officers so when they are picking up (youths), they can't just turn them loose on the street," Avery said. "If they come into contact, they have to have somewhere for them to go. So our job as a community is to help them find solutions, find alternatives, for those kids that they do come in contact with."
One such option suggested by Avery is community conferencing - allowing police to place troubled youths before a panel made up of victims, offenders, and supporters to resolve the case among themselves.
Durl Kruse with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice brought up the 2009 Champaign police fatal shooting of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington. He also cited 2010 statistics in Champaign County, showing a disproportionate number of black youths involved in felony and misdemeanor convictions.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the numbers are debatable, but says they were brought up in an attempt to discredit initiatives like the Champaign Youth Police Academy, and other ideas started by C-CAP.
"And to ignore what C-CAP has been doing for over a decade, by just throwing out some statistics from the State's Attorney's office compiled last year, is just not correct," Finney said. "C-CAP understands exactly what's going on in the neighborhoods with our kids. And we have to work on that."
Kruse says C-CAP's partnership will only work when it's allowing everyone, including the police department's worst critics, to be part of the discussion.
Champaign City Council member Will Kyles, who's also on the C-CAP committee, says future forums will need a change of behavior between different cultures. C-CAP will hold quarterly forums throughout the year. The next has a focus on youth. It's scheduled for June 27th at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Indiana Senate has approved a contentious Arizona-style bill to crack down on illegal immigration.
The Republican-ruled Senate voted 31-18 Tuesday for the bill, which contains penalties for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and allows police officers to ask someone for proof of immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
Supporters say Indiana must act because the federal government has shirked its responsibility to deal with illegal immigration. Opponents say the bill will lead to racial profiling and hurt economic development.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has declined to take a public stance on the proposal.
The bill was proposed by Republican Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel. He couldn't vote on his own bill because he's taking the bar exam Tuesday and Wednesday.
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