Illinois Public Media News
This week marks the anniversary of one of the largest efforts to raise money for the nation's farmers, who in 1985 were battling lower land values and higher interest rates. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at how this benefit concert has helped small family farms in the last 25 years.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Champaign County Coroner's Office has identified a body found near Longview Monday afternoon as that of a missing University of Illinois German Studies professor.
Coroner Duane Northrup has identified the man as 48-year old Frederick Schwink of Longview. He had been missing since September 9th, and his disappearance prompted a plea for help from local authorities. A farmer discovered the body in a car sitting in a cornfield northwest of Longview Monday. An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning. Northrup said dental records were used to identify the body, and an inquest may be held at a later date. Schwink's death is under investigation by U of I Police, the Champaign County Sheriff's Department, and the Coroner's Office.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden will follow through with plans to make a vacant storefront the early voting site for the University of Illinois campus.
Shelden said he will sign a lease Tuesday to use the property on South Gregory Street, instead of the Illini Union's Pine Lounge. County Board Democrats and the U of I Student Senate oppose the move, saying state law dictates that the location of the polling site should be in a high traffic location, like the Union.
A spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton also said public universities are legally obligated to provide the space, and that local elections officials will work with them.
However, Shelden said political activity in the Illini Union make it an unsuitable location for early voting, and he added the U of I cannot afford what state law mandates.
"Maybe if the state legislature properly funded the University or if Lincoln Hall wasn't in the middle of renovation, and had been completed like it should have been 4 or 5 years ago," he said. "I can give a variety of ways in which the university could have less problems with space if the state of Illinois had done what they were supposed to do."
Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs was a sponsor of a law ensuring that public universities will provide polling places. He said Shelden is trying to 'flout' state law by using the Gregory site for polling. Frerichs also said it 'smells' that the building is owned by JSM Development. One of that company's principals is former Champaign County Republican Chair Steve Hartman.
"This University did offer the space for free," said Frerichs. "He would rather pay money to a private developer than take the space for free, and that doesn't make sense."
Shelden said he did not base his decision decision on politics, but rather, finding a convenient location for voters at an affordable price. It will cost his $800 to lease the site.
Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden believes the dispute over a University of Illinois campus early voting site has been settled, and local officials won't be taking him to court.
Many Democrats on the Champaign County Board and members of the U of I Student Senate want registration and voting at the Illini Union, but Shelden prefers moving it to a vacant storefront about a half mile from there. A new state law requires that each public university provide such a site in a high traffic location. Shelden contends the Union an inappropriate location for early voting because of heavy political activity... and it's hard for those off campus to get to. And he disputes the argument that voters won't find the alternate site at 700 South Gregory Street.
"I certainly would consider it high traffic," said Shelden. "And I think it's a little bit disappointing when people say, 'nobody can find that' or 'nobody knows where it's at.' It's across from Rosati's Pizza which is a really popular campus location. I just don't see that there's going to be any getting students there. It's actually closer to more people where they live than the union is."
Shelden says he's meeting with the student Senate on Wednesday with hopes of convincing them that the Gregory Street location will best serve voters. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says county clerks don't have unregulated discretion over an early voting site. But Shelden says county board members have backed off on talk of going to court over the voting site. County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty also says he'd like to avoid legal action, but he does say students and U of I employees would prefer voting at the Union.
"The union, as I understand it, has set up to allow for parking in the circle drive up front," said McGinty. "It would be free as I understand it. The other location would come with a rent - I think it's $800 a month. There are a lot of people who think the logical location is the union. The clerk has a different opinion. The board doesn't have any control over it. " A resolution on paying for a campus early voting site is on Thursday's Champaign County Board agenda.
One of the big purple insect traps across Champaign County has caught the county's first confirmed emerald ash borer.
The state Department of Agriculture says it found the insect in a trap hanging at the village of Rantoul's Prairie Pine Campgrounds. Spokesman Jeff Squibb says the discovery will likely mean that the quarantine placed over 23 Illinois counties will eventually be extended south to Champaign. Squibb says it's nearing the end of flying season for adult emerald ash borers -- but their destructive work is just beginning, and he says the beetle is likely in Champaign County to stay.
"The adults lay eggs underneath the bark of ash trees," said Squibb. "Those eggs will hatch, and the larvae will start feasting on the inner wood beneath the bark. And it's actually the larvae that causes the damage to the ash trees." Squibb says the quarantine will ban the transportation of firewood from Champaign County to other states, as well as transporting all parts of local ash trees. The pest was also discovered at the Three Rivers Rest Area off Interstate 80 in the Grundy County town of Morris.
If the city council approves on Tuesday, the city of Champaign will pay $ 470 thousand to the family of Kiwane Carrington, to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even before the Champaign County state's attorney ruled that the shooting of the 15-year-old Carrington last October was accidental, his family had sued the city for wrongful death and survivors' benefits.
Champaign city attorney Frederick Stavins says the $470 thousand settlement is an effort by the city and the family to put Kiwane Carrington's death behind them --- and does not represent an admission of guilt by the city.
"There are no admissions in the case of negligence or wrongdoing," says Stavins. "What this does is, it brings peace between the parties. It allows the parties to go on. Speculating about what would happen now is a moot point."
Carrington was killed last October during an altercation with police investigating a report of a possible break-in at the home of a family friend where the 15 year old often stayed. The officer involved, Daniel Norbits, is appealing a 30 day suspension he received for not handling his weapon properly during the incident.
City Council member Will Kyles says he's ready to approve the settlement, if it's what the family wants. The Carrington shooting led to heavy criticism of Champaign Police relations with African-Americans, especially with young people. But Kyles says those relations have improved in the past year, thanks to increased community involvement.
"That's the key ingredient to healing, is community, city and police working together", says Kyles. "And I've seen a lot of that going with, with the Six Initiatives, CCAP, and the countless meetings that don't get broadcast, but occur on a weekly basis."
Kyles referred to City Manager Steve Carter's six initiatives for improving police-community relations, and the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, a city-organized panel of city and African-American community leaders. But Campaign officials have resisted calls from critics to form a citizen police review board, similar to the panel in Urbana.
Attorney James Montgomery, representing the Carrington Estate, says the family is pleased that the lawsuit has been settled. But Champaign City Council approval is still needed before any money is paid out.
A team assigned with looking at the best use of space on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says classrooms need to be better set up with high-tech equipment.
U of I Physics chair Dale Van Harlingen led a team to examine Space Utilization, the last area to be reviewed this year as part of the 'Stewarding Excellence' initiative to trim expenses. Van Harlingen says space is handled well for the most part, and that unit administrators should have the greatest say over how classrooms are used. But he says it's bad for a campus of the U of I's stature to have classrooms that don't equal the facilities of where students learned previously. "The students have come to expect that," said Van Harlingen. "They come from high schools where large investments have been made in technology. And we should be matching that. We should be a model for that. We felt like there should be more space, more attention given to building buildings specifically for teaching - lecture halls, and classroom space instead of only responding to needs of donors."
Van Harlingen says a long-term problem of failing to invest in maintenance is partly to blame when being squeezed for space. Buildings like Lincoln Hall and a portion of the Natural History Building aren't being used now because of structural problems. "I think there's always going to be debate," said Van Harlingen. "I think everyone agreed you should renovate Lincoln Hall. But the question becomes - how far down that list do you go? Because for the same cost of renovating Lincoln Hall, you could build probably several, very good modern teaching facilities."
Van Harlingen also recommends that committees be formed to study space needs in more detail, and get out of all leased space in the Champaign-Urbana area.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has identified the man whose body was found face down in a retention pond in north Champaign yesterday. He's identified as 19-year old Aaron Williams of Champaign. Coroner Duane Northup says Williams drowned.
The body was discovered by a passerby just before 4 pm in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Williams' death remains under investigation by the Coroner's office and Champaign Police.
NOTE: This story was updated at 12:30 PM on Thursday, September 16th.
Parents in the Danville school district who called a special hotline Thursday morning were greeted with good news --- class would be back in session.
The resumption of classes ended a three-day strike by teachers and support staff. District 118 superintendent Mark Denman said he was happy to announce that the two sides had reached agreement on a two-year contract, in a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday night.
"We have come to a good compromise between both sides that will be mutually beneficial for the district," he said.
The Danville School Board is set to consider the agreement Monday night. Members of the Danville Education Association approved the new contract overwhelmingly at a meeting before classes began Thursday morning, according to Sean Burns of the Illinois Education Association.
Burns said he believes that while union members had to give up some of the things they sought, they gained in other areas that go beyond money.
"Oftentimes, these are really about the relationships, and about people feeling like they're being respected," said Burns. "And I think that the DEA members were standing up for something that they believed in, and for their own self-respect and dignity. And I think that has a lot to do with why they overwhelmingly ratified the contract.
Union Vice-President Corey Pullin, who has been with District 118 for 11 years, said this was Danville's first teachers' strike since 1977. He added that this strike was a sign of how serious his membership was about the contract.
"To my knowledge, we hadn't even taken an intent-to-strike vote since '87," said Pullin. "So just doing that, preparing for all this, was a big step for our members."
Neither side is releasing details about the new contract, until the Danville School Board considers it on Monday night. Pullin acknowledged there is agreement that the district will use federal stimulus money to bring back some laid off staff members between now and the next school year, but Denman has cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.
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