Illinois Public Media News
The mayor of Villa Grove says the future of the Douglas County community's downtown remains a question mark after fire destroyed a 100-year old building Wednesday night.
Seventeen different departments fought the blaze, many of them staying throughout the night. There were no injuries. The State Fire Marshall is still investigating the cause. Villa Grove Mayor Thelma 'Boots' Blaney said the building was vacant, and most businesses on the north side of downtown, across Main Street, are open. But she said it will take some time for a local bar, beauty shop, and jewelry store to clean up from smoke and water damage.
Blaney said the firewall around the structures did its job, or the entire block would have been lost. She says those helping out overnight Wednesday motivated each other.
"The businesses just stepped up to the plate," she said. "We have pizzas and all kinds of drinks and ice. People were donating. Businesses were donating. You know, they all just stepped up to the plate, and the firefighters helped them keep going too."
Fire departments helping out included those from St. Joseph, Broadlands, Tuscola, Savoy, Philo, and Comargo.
"Right now, our main concern is getting it cleaned up and the safety of everyone, and trying to go from there," Blaney said. "I mean, it's just like everywhere else, you know, Villa Grove has been struggling. Lord knows what's going to hold up for the future."
Villa Grove Police say the buildings that were destroyed formerly housed the local Moose Lodge and a Chinese restaurant, but the structures had been empty for at least 10 years.
The West Nile virus has been discovered in Champaign County.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said one of its mosquito samples from Urbana tested positive for the blood-borne disease. The Public Health District's Jeff Blackford said their test results were confirmed by the Illinois Natural History Survey.
Blackford said that with this evidence of West Nile Virus in Champaign County, it's time for residents to take precautions against catching the disease from a mosquito bite.
"Now is the time to take general precautions when you're protecting yourself when you're out by using EPA-registered insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and long pants whenever weather permits," Blackford said. "And if it at all possible, avoid being outdoors at dawn, dusk or early in the evening, when mosquitoes are most active."
Blackford also recommends changing standing water in bird baths, wading pools and water dishes twice a week, and throwing out old tires and other objects that can collect standing water, as a way to reduce the mosquito population around the yard.
Champaign County is the 12th Illinois county to find a bird or insect sample with the West Nile Virus so far this year. Macon County is also on the list. To date, no human cases of the disease have been reported in Illinois in 2011.
Governor Pat Quinn's press secretary is discounting a charge from Republican John Bambenek that the Quinn administration's appointments to many state boards and commissions violate rules setting out how many members of each party may serve on a panel.
Bambanek said many of the governor's Independent appointees are actually Democrats, according to their voting records in primary elections. Among the examples he cites are Illinois Human Rights Commissioner Terry Cosgrove -- who Bambenek said has always voted in Democratic primaries. He also cites University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Oliver, who was appointed as an Independent in 2009, and voted in a Democratic primary in 2010.
But Quinn press secretary Brooke Anderson said those appointed as Independents to boards and commissions by the governor declared themselves as independents when they first applied.
"Each candidate for an appointment goes through a thorough application interview and comprehensive vetting process," Anderson said. "The majority of the governor's appointments have gone to individuals who applied to our website. Political affiliation is evaluated at the time of the appointment, based on the self-declaration of the candidate, and an additional review of the candidate's voting records."
Anderson also questions the credibility of Bambenek's charges, because his list of examples contains errors and includes several appointees held over from previous governors. In reply, Bambenek said his list is based on information on the Quinn administration's appointments as listed on the state appointments website, as of Aug. 1. He said the website was updated after he released his allegations.
Bambenek said that by appointing Independents who are actually Democrats, the Quinn administration is allowing several boards and commissions to have more Democrats than partisan balance rules allow. He said the practice raises questions about the legal status of those bodies that may have to be resolved by a judge.
Bambanek is running for the Republican nomination for state Senate in the 52nd District, against Champaign County Board member Alan Nudo. On the Democrats' side, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs is seeking re-election.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka is showing her love for animals by helping shelters seek out homes for them, and cut down a little on Illinois' deficit.
Her trek around the state to promote the 'Comptroller's Critters' program included a stop Wednesday at the Champaign County Humane Society. Pictures of dogs, cats, and other animals from 70 shelters are now part of Topinka's web site. She calls the program one-stop shop for potential pet owners without spending more money.
"That web site already exists," Topinka said. "We don't buy any new programs. We don't hire any new people. We don't get any computers. There's no extra cost to the taxpayers that's already not out there."
Between housing the animals, and euthanizing them if they aren't found a home, it costs $250 to $300. Topinka said it is not close to Illinois' multi-billion dollar debt, but it's a start.
"But billions of dollars and trillions of dollars don't just start clean out of the box," she said. "They start at hundreds. They start at tens. They start low, and work their way up. And if all these taxing bodies in the state of Illinois get hit up, of which we have close to 80, it's still the same pair of pants, different pocket."
The Humane Society of Central Illinois, based in Normal, also is participating in Comptroller's Critters. As of Tuesday, more than 60 dogs, cats, and other pets have been adopted through the comptroller's new program.
The White House has announced new fuel standards for trucks and buses. They will require trucks built between 2014 and 2018 to drastically reduce fuel consumption.
The new standards mean big changes for companies like Illinois-based truck manufacturer Navistar International Corporation, said Basili Alukos, an equity analyst with Morningstar.
According to Alukos, trucks have mostly removed their dangerous emissions. Now, 18-wheelers at Navistar will get their turn at better gas mileage.
"They typically do about a 150,000 miles a year and they get roughly six miles a gallon," Alukos said. "So I mean, it's ridiculous. If your car got that it'd basically make you broke."
Certain big-rigs will be required to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent by 2018. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transporation, this would save four gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.
Navistar has not yet announced what changes they will be making to their new trucks.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A coalition of groups, including the Chicago-based national YMCA, has issued the first-ever comprehensive national nutritional and physical activity guidelines for camps and after school programs.
The standards were issued Tuesday by the Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition and coordinated by the YMCA, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.
They include a common sense-approach including serving fruits and vegetables instead of more sugary, fatty treats; and offering water rather than juices or soda. Half-day programs should offer at least half an hour of physical activity; full-day programs should offer at least an hour.
"Energy balance and appropriate physical activity are critical to good health and preventing childhood obesity, which is reaching record numbers in this country," said project co-leader Ellen S. Gannett, director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. "If out-of-school programs can influence smart choices for children when they're away from home and out of the classroom, they will be an important component in the campaign to fight childhood obesity."
The new standards have already been adopted by the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), and local YMCA's will begin the process of adopting the standards this year.
According to the coalition, more than eight million children nationwide participate in out-of-school programs for at least three hours a day.
Attorneys for torture victims of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge are trying to put some political pressure on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Their attorneys are planning to file a brief Wednesday morning in the case of Stanley Wrice. Former Illinois U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson and former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson are joining congressmen, aldermen and prominent attorneys in signing the document that asks the Supreme Court to order a review of the Wrice case, and the cases of 14 other alleged torture victims who are still in prison.
Wrice says in 1982 he was beaten by police under former commander Jon Burge until he confessed to a brutal rape. He raised the issue in court in 1983 but the officers testified they didn't beat him and the courts ruled against Wrice.
But now there is a long string of evidence - including Burge's conviction - to show that torture did occur, giving Wrice's claims added weight they didn't have 30 years ago. Attorneys aren't asking for Wrice to be freed, but they do want all Burge torture victims to have new hearings in light of all the new evidence regarding police torture.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Gov. Pat Quinn flexed his veto power Wednesday by rewriting legislation in a way that would end the long practice of letting Illinois legislators hand out scholarships to state universities.
Quinn's amendatory veto now compels lawmakers to make a choice about whether to give up the perk as federal prosecutors investigate scholarships awarded by one of their former colleagues.
Because the scholarships are technically tuition waivers, state universities wind up eating the cost of educating the people who receive them. The waivers sometimes have gone to the children of legislators' friends and political allies.
"You can't put perfume on a skunk. This system has had too many problems for too many years and it's time to abolish the legislative scholarship program," Quinn said at a press conference in Chicago.
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records regarding scholarships that former state legislator Robert Molaro granted to a supporter's children, according to copies of two subpoenas obtained by The Associated Press. He awarded them to the children of a campaign donor, although it's not clear that they lived in his district, one of the requirements for receiving the scholarships.
Molaro did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Quinn insisted Wednesday that taxpayer-funded scholarships should be based on financial need and merit.
"Education should not be a political thing where if you know some politician and you're a family member of a donor or something like that," Quinn said.
Under the program, General Assembly members have been allowed to give constituents free tuition each year that equals two, four-year scholarships at a state-funded university. A 2009 Associated Press analysis of the scholarships and state political contribution records found that between 2004 and 2009, at least 41 scholarships went to relatives of someone who gave money to the lawmaker awarding the waiver and at least 42 more went to relatives of other politically connected people, such as donors to other politicians, lobbyists, party officials and others.
Lawmakers have placed restrictions on legislative scholarships over the years, but have rejected Quinn's previous calls for ending the program.
Quinn's amendatory veto doesn't force lawmakers to take action, but it does create a high-profile decision for them to make. They can do nothing and let the bill die, they can override Quinn's changes and keep the scholarships or they can accept the veto and end the scholarship program.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan has previously voted to abolish the program. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said they would evaluate Quinn's veto action "to make sure that it is compliant."
Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno of Lemont praised Quinn's action.
"I have long championed ending the legislative scholarship program which has become rife with abuse and a financial drain on our higher education system. ... Perhaps with the governor's intervention, the legislature will finally realize it is time for this program to end," she said in a statement. Radogno's office said she has opted out of the scholarship program, instead recommending other higher education assistance programs to families.
Quinn said in his veto message that lawmakers should voluntarily stop awarding scholarships until they are barred by law. He also noted that the state's Monetary Award Program scholarship lacks money to cover everyone who qualifies.
"Because of my firm belief in the power of education to uplift and expand opportunity, I believe we must offer the opportunities that scholarships create to those that are the most deserving," he said.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Champaign County Board member Alan Nudo, 63, is running for the Illinois legislature in the 52nd Senate District against Democratic incumbent Mike Frerichs.
Nudo is entering his fifth year with the Champaign County Board. He made the campaign announcement Wednesday morning in Rantoul. Before he can square off against Frerichs, Nudo has to defeat political activist John Bambenek in a Republican primary. However, Nudo said his attention is focused on beating Frerichs in the general election.
"I'm not running against John (Bambenek)," Nudo said. "I want to distance myself against Mr. Frerichs. John's got his own position and he's going to do what he has to do. My job is to provide jobs for the state of Illinois and this district."
Nudo said he would have voted down the 67 percent income tax hike that passed the General Assembly earlier this year with Senator Frerichs' support.
Nudo is president of the development firm, Robeson's Inc., and he said his pro-business attitude will be valuable in his effort to spur job growth in the 52nd Senate District.
"You get a better business environment; a rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "What union member, what trades person, what non-union member wouldn't want to have more jobs created? Why shouldn't they vote for me?"
The newly redrawn district includes Champaign-Urbana and Danville.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Mike Thomas will take the helm of the University of Illinois' athletic department before the season's first football game on Sept. 3.
The 51-year-old Thomas is currently the athletic director at the University of Cincinnati, and before that he had the same position at the University of Akron.
During his tenure in Cincinnati, Thomas is credited with boosting UC's athletic program to national prominence, while raising money for the department's budget by $7 million dollars. He also lowered the annual operating deficit by more than $6 million. Thomas said fundraising will be one of his top priorities at the U of I.
"We need to get out there, and probably raise more money," Thomas said. "With tuition going up every year, it's almost gone up seven percent this year. You know, I think that's going to be key. I think that's a pressing issue, but it always will be."
Thomas added that the U of I's sports teams need to be branded better nationally.
"I think we need to be the king of the state," he said. "If we're doing things the right way, if we're winning at a high level, if we're working with integrity, and our kids continue to get it done in the classroom, our goal is to be a national brand, identifiable from coast to coast."
Thomas replaces long-time U of I athletics director Ron Guenther, who retired this summer after nearly 20 years on the job.
Among the many issues facing Thomas at the U of I are plans to expand Assembly Hall. University President Michael Hogan said that project is still on track to move forward.
"We have hired an architectural engineering firm to evaluate Assembly Hall, and to give us some options on what we might do and what we can afford," Hogan explained. "When Mike gets here, that will be one of his very first assignments."
Thomas' appointment comes one day after the university announced Phyllis Wise would become the next chancellor and vice president of the Urbana campus. Wise is expected to officially start her job Oct. 1, pending approval by the university's Board of Trustees
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
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