Illinois Public Media News
Defense attorneys for William Cellini are trying to show jurors that their politically connected client deserved the contracts he got with the state of Illinois.
Prosecutors have put on evidence to show how Cellini used his political connections with the Teacher's Retirement System to get business for his real estate company. They rested their case on Thursday.
On Friday, the defense called Mike Bartletti to the stand. He was an employee of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he described a rigorous vetting process for the companies with which they worked. It was an attempt to show that Cellini couldn't have simply clouted business to himself.
Bartletti also reviewed financial information showing that Cellini's company made high returns on investments for teachers, 13.4 percent over a 5 year period.
Defense attorneys say Cellini didn't need to use illegal means to keep his business with the state because he did such a good job. The defense called three witnesses, and told the judge that Cellini will not testify.
Closing arguments are expected on Tuesday.
The state of Indiana is trying to reinstate its controversial law banning Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood of Indiana and other health agencies that provide abortions.
The state's lawyers Thursday went before a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. Last June, a federal judge in Indianapolis approved a preliminary injunction reinstating Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood that had been cut off after Indiana passed its anti-abortion law. That legislation is now being mimicked by other conservative-leaning states.
"I think it's going to have some significant impact. Certainly, if our arguments don't prevail, that may put a damper on what other states want to do," said Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher. "But if we prevail, it could have some national significance."
At issue is whether Indiana has a right to alter qualifications concerning which health care providers can or can't receive Medicaid, funding that is used to provide health care to low-income people.
In the spring, the Indiana General Assembly approved a measure to prevent Medicaid funds going to any health provider that also performs abortions. The law was drafted broadly, but is seen to be directly aimed at Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
Indiana's own Legislative Services Agency warned lawmakers that the rule change may violate federal law, a position that's also taken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fisher says Indiana is still in the right.
"Under the Medicaid Act, the states have the authority to set the qualifications for Medicaid providers. The argument from Planned Parenthood has been that we are not allowed to reduce patient choices," Fisher said. "We think the law is on our side that - just because one provider (Planned Parenthood) may not continue being a Medicaid provider - that itself is not a fatal reduction in patient choice. There are over 800 other providers where Planned Parenthood has clinics. That still leaves plenty of choice for patients."
Indiana Civil Liberties Union attorney Ken Falk is defending Planned Parenthood. He disagrees with the state's stance.
"This has been couched, I believe, as an abortion issue. But really it's an issue of the state asserting a right that it simply doesn't have to determine provider qualification," Falk said. "The state next year could decide what else can be made a provider qualification. The point is that the state can regulate matters which have some impact on Medicaid. This is not that type of qualification."
Judge Diane Sykes asked Falk if Planned Parenthood would be willing to separate the organization, basically dividing its health services from its abortion services, as the state of Indiana has suggested.
"It's not clear if that can occur under the current statute in Indiana," Falk said. "Freedom of choice belongs to the recipient of Medicaid."
Fisher said the whole issue is really up to Planned Parenthood.
"Planned Parenthood can make the choice itself on whether it wants to be a Medicaid provider or an abortion provider. It's not exactly the case that the statute itself commands any provider to go out of business," Fisher said. "Planned Parenthood makes that choice. The law is on our side. Reducing the range of choices by one? That doesn't mean the law is invalid."
A temporary injunction has barred Indiana from fully implementing its ban on Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood.
The state faces another complication, in that it must also appear before an administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That hearing will address some of the same issues taken up by the federal courts. That hearing takes place Dec. 15 in Chicago.
The Champaign County Board will begin discussion of a permit for the Invenergy wind farm at committee meeting next month, but the county's Zoning Board of Appeals says the permit request should be denied.
On Thursday night, the ZBA voted 5-to-2 last night against the Invenergy project, citing concerns about noise pollution, and disagreement over how to handle the cost of decommissioning the turbines when they're no longer useful.
The Champaign County Board will have to reverse the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals if it wants to locate a wind farm in the northeast part of the county. Board members cited concerns with the Chicago company's standards for noise pollution impacting the yard of a rural resident. County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said the company's standards for noise don't comply with those of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
"This is regarding whether the noise standard applies just at the line of the dwelling, or in the yard outside of the dwelling," Hall said. "It's that simple. Why would have a residential noise standard that only applies inside the dwelling? "
If the permit were approved, and Invenergy went bankrupt in 10 years, Hall said he is afraid no financial lien holder would step in at that point, meaning Champaign County may have to find more money to decommission the wind farm.
Marvin Johnson, who is the highway commissioner of Champaign County's Compromise Township, said he supports the plan. According to Johnson, the township's road agreement with Invenergy would bring substantial upgrades to a 14-mile stretch of road.
"Tremendous benefits to the road district," Johnson said. "Upgrading of roads, financial assistance, things that in our small district, we've probably never be able to come up with. That's why I'm in favor of it."
Despite the ZBA's vote, the Champaign County Board has the final say. Board Democrat Alan Kurtz said the county can't afford not to come to a compromise with Invenergy.
"Our county needs the revenue," he said. "Our county needs clean, renewable energy. Our county needs safe wind farm turbines. This is my opinion, but I personally feel that we need to follow the ordinance. But I think that there are ways that we can always work around any considerable problems."
Kurtz said Invenergy has 'bent over backwards' to comply with what he calls one of the most stringent county wind ordinances in the state.
The Champaign County Board will first take up the proposal at the Nov. 1 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Invenergy was expected to start initial work on 100 turbines in Vermilion County this week. Champaign County's portion of the project would involve 39 turbines.
A wind farm in Paxton is about seven months ahead of schedule, with plans to be on line early next year.
About 100 people attended an open house Thursday hosted by E-On Climate and Renewables, just east of the Ford County city. Nine of the first 77 turbines to be built are now in operation.
Company spokesman Matt Tulis says it's been able to feed off the success of another wind farm it operates in Iroquois County. He says the first turbines went up in late June, and the company has been able to keep up that pace.
"Weather is always a factor," said Tulis. "We like to build these projects in windy areas, and sometimes it's too windy to do construction. But we've really been fortunate here lately, and been able to stay ahead of schedule."
The wind farm plans aren't sitting well with everyone in the area. Cindy Ehrke with the group Energize Illinois says the Ford County Board failed to consider the downside of wind turbines, like noise pollution and the impact on wildlife. Her group has followed wind farm research in sites ranging from upstate New York to Australia. Ehrke says the Ford County Board should have looked at issues ranging from setbacks from property, impacts on wildlife, and noise before letting the Paxton project proceed.
"There's no real teeth to the enforcement of 'what if this does happen if they do go over the noise limit", she said. "What if there's a shadow flicker in somebody's house and it is causing them problems? What is the consequence, and what steps is the company taking? They're just not there in the ordinance."
Ihrke says the wind farm issue has prompted her and two other members of Energize Illinois to run for the Ford County Board. Roberts could also become the home to a wind farm. Two companies will speak at an informational meeting, scheduled for November 10th at the Roberts Village Gym.
The Champaign City Council last considered the idea of a citizens police review board in 2007 ---- ultimately voting to drop the discussion. Since then, the city has been shaken by the police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. Also, city council membership has shifted, and some top police officials have announced their retirements --- including chief R.T. Finney. Will Kyles, the only African-American currently serving on the Champaign City Council, brought up the police review board idea at the Oct. 18 council meeting. He said he had received enough backing from fellow council members to get the subject on the agenda of an upcoming study session. Kyles tells Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows that now is the right time to revisit the idea of a citizens police review board.
The city of Danville is exploring different opportunities to boost revenue.
On Wednesday night, the Public Safety Revenue Committee discussed a five-cent public safety tax that's expected to generate around $170,000. Committee co-chair Nancy O'Kane said that money would be used to strengthen Danville's police and fire departments.
"We're not looking to just go out there and just raise taxes to be raising taxes nor are we looking to give those police officers and those firefighter's raises," O'Kane said. "We're trying to put more officers on the street and more firefighters to protect our city."
O'Kane, who is a former Danville alderwoman, said she hopes the full council votes on the measure by December.
Meanwhile, Alderman Michael Puhr said whatever course the council takes, it will first survey the public to find out if they would support a new tax.
"You know, in these economic times we do have to watch what we do," Puhr said. "A lot of people in our community are on fixed incomes, but we still have to operate in a positive cash-flow in city government, as well."
Earlier this week, the city council narrowly voted down a measure that would have raised Danville's garbage pickup fee. Puhr said the council will likely consider a revised version of that plan. He said the Public Safety Revenue Committee is also exploring the prospect of charging extra for its public safety services in communities outside of Danville, and impounding vehicles of drivers who are caught under the influence of alcohol or in possession of marijuana.
Illinois Falls Further Behind 'No Child' Education Targets
New test scores show Illinois is falling further behind in meeting the requirements set by the No Child Left Behind law.
Prosecutors have rested their case against the millionaire political insider William Cellini.
Cellini is accused of helping Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly extort a campaign contribution for Rod Blagojevich from Tom Rosenberg, a movie producer who also had a financial company that did business with the state.
In 2004, some business was being held up and Rosenberg asked Cellini to find out what was going on. Cellini got back to Rosenberg and said Rezko and Kelly were holding the state business until Rosenberg made a contribution to the former governor.
Cellini insists he was not an part of a conspiracy to extort the contribution. He was just relaying information about what he was hearing.
On the stand, Rosenberg said he had warned Cellini many times that Rezko and Kelly were crooked and he shouldn't deal with them but he also said that Cellini never asked him to contribute to any politician during the 30 years the two have known each other.
The University of Illinois provides more than $900,000 a year in tuition waivers to cover scholarships for athletes and will continue to provide such support despite a committee's recommendation that the practice stop.
The Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/pZkqNv ) reports that the university has provided the money from its general fund since the 1970s. A campus committee recommended that the waivers be phased out over five years as the university looks for ways to save money. They will instead be reduced.
Associate Chancellor Bill Adams was a member of the committee. He says the school's sports programs would have trouble making up the money if it was eliminated.
The waivers began in the 1970s as a way to support women's sports. Among Big Ten schools, only Wisconsin has a similar arrangement.
A taxi service owner in Decatur says he plans to sue the city for shutting down his company.
Last week, City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet. Assistant City Manager Billy Tyus confirms the cab service was shut down last week after violating city codes.
"The decision to revoke the license was based on the operation of unlicensed taxis," he said. "The city is responsible for licensing taxi services. It was decided that taxis were operated without a valid license, among other things."
AOK Taxi owner Anthony Walker said those allegations don't stack up, and he said he is determined to get his company's license back through a federal lawsuit.
"I know for a fact, 150 percent sure, that I can actually go in and prove every allegation was unfounded and there was no merit to it," Walker said. "With that being the case, I need to do that because my creditability and who I am as a business person in this community, I need to do that."
The city had contracted with Walker's company to provide a pick-up service for people who need help getting to a physician or bus stop.
Tyus said the Decatur Public Transit System will now run that program, but he said AOK will still be able to operate its livery service. The city also claims that a number of other vehicles couldn't be on the street because of technical issues.
Losing taxi service in Decatur is nothing new. And a bar owner in the city says it's come to the point where some sort of collaborative effort is needed to give rides to patrons.
Kim Miller co-owns the Bourbon Barrell, which is located near Millikin University. She said patrons have started to complain since learning that AOK taxi has shut down.
"Our cab situation in Decatur has been ongoing for years," Miller said. "We've had companies come in, they do ok for a while, and then they're gone. I don't know if it's just that we don't have enough customers to keep it going. Because obviously, it's just not bar customers. Other customers just need to do their day-to-day activities."
Miller said there needs to be some serious discussions with other owners and the city about offering some sort of shuttle service.
She says AOK network is offering a $10 shuttle service to or from anywhere in the area. But the company only offers a few vehicles, and Miller said its status is uncertain given the problems with the taxi company.
Bourbon Barrell used to provide free rides to some patrons who were in no condition to drive, but Miller said that's no longer feasible.
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