Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 17, 2010

Mayor of Clinton IL Resigns

The mayor of the DeWitt County city of Clinton has resigned.

Ed Wollet on Tuesday said he plans to move to Springfield at the end of the month. He was elected in 2007 and had previously announced that he didn't plan to seek a second term.

The retired Clinton school teacher says he's enjoyed being the mayor of Clinton but he now plans to move closer to his family so he can spend time with his grandchildren.

Tom Edmunds is the city's finance commissioner, and he'll take over for Wollet.

Edmunds tells The (Bloomington) Pantagraph that it's likely the city council will keep the mayor's position open until the April election, rather than appointing a short-term successor.

(Photo courtesy of Ed Wollet)

Categories: Biography, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 17, 2010

Police Training Institute Expected to Close By End of Year

The University of Illinois plans to close its Police Training Institute by the end of 2011.

The decision to eliminate the training facility comes after a budget review panel raised concerns about the institute's long term economic stability.

The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looking at cost-saving measures at the U of I said there is no justification for the university to provide $900,000 a year to train police officers.

"We believe this decision to be necessary because we cannot justify using resources to fund PTI that derive from student tuition and the shrinking state funding available for our core education and research missions," according to the 'Next Steps' letter released by Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter and Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as part of a recent 'Stewarding Excellence' report. "Fundamentally, our primary mission of educating lllinois' undergraduate, graduate and professional students must remain a priority."

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep the program going.

"The university has a very proud history of supporting law enforcement training," Kaler said. "Funding for this purpose hasn't kept pace with the increase in costs, and so we had to review where this kind of training falls within the missions and the priorities of the campus as a whole."

With the closure of the 55-year-old training program, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh predicts that police training will be moved to the Illinois State Police Training Academy in Springfield. Walsh, who was trained at the PTI and now teaches there, said it is unfortunate that the program will leave the university.

"I think it is advantageous to have it part of the University of Illinois because the police officers then at least socially during the 12 weeks there here can interact with students from literally around the world," Walsh said. "I think it's a good thing for diversity training."

The PTI has cut its expenses by 45 percent in the last three years, and the report said the institute could improve its cost structure by trimming $666,251 from its budget. Still, the commission said the chances that the institute will latch onto additional funding or new partnerships are slim. The PTI is considered Illinois' flagship training facility.

(Photo courtesy of the Police Training Institute)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2010

IL Lawmaker Pushes for Casino in Danville

Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.

If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.

"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."

The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.

Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.

"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."

Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2010

Citizens Utility Board Urges Consumers, Companies to Cut Cell Phone Rates

Following Verizon Wireless' announcement in October that it would refund customers $53 million in unnecessary charges, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has come out with a report assessing Illinois' wireless industry.

The study found that cell phone users could save around $360 a year by identifying billing errors, cutting down on the number of available minutes, and not paying extra for cell phone insurance or roadside assistance.

Bryan McDaniel, a senior policy analyst with CUB, said high wireless rates are costing Champaign residents more than $13 million a year. Across the state he said it is much higher at just under a billion dollars. McDaniel said trimming cell phone bills could help the state's sluggish economy, as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

"If we didn't give that $13 million to the cell phone companies, and instead to local businesses and mom and pop shops, that'd be a good thing for our economy," McDaniel said. "Unfortunately every month, we're throwing away money to these cell phone companies when we don't need to be."

According to the report, the wireless industry should start providing more flexible plans, so that people are not deadlocked into paying extra for features that they do not want.

"Allow people to have 150 minute plans," McDaniel said. "I can't tell you the number of seniors I've talked to who just want a simple 100 minute plan that they can't get anymore."

McDaniel added that consumers also have a responsibility to trim their cell phone rates. He explained that they can visit Cellphone Saver, a free online service that allows users to upload an online copy of their wireless bills - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. Within a few seconds, the website spits out an analysis showing consumers how to cut their costs. The study used the web service to track data from August 2009 though July 2010.

(Photo courtesy of Major Clanger/flickr)

Categories: Business, Economics, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2010

Tuscola Among Six Communities Looking to Land FutureGen Storage Facility

Months after a federal government U-turn in the long-running FutureGen clean-coal project, six Illinois locations have expressed interest in hosting a carbon dioxide storage site that could mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.

The bidders behind one of those locations, though, said Tuesday that their interest is laced with a heavy dose of skepticism after watching what appeared to be politics almost derail the project and then make radical changes in it.

The six locations that submitted bids before Monday's deadline are the city of Quincy; Christian County; the city of Tuscola along with Douglas County; Morgan County; Pike County; and the city of Vandalia along with Fayette County, FutureGen Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The alliance is made up of coal companies and other firms working with the federal government on the project.

"Our team of scientific and engineering experts has already begun review of those proposals, and we look forward to making an announcement on the final site in early 2011,'' FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys said.

Until earlier this year the plan called for building a new power plant in Mattoon, Ill. and storing the carbon dioxide it produced just outside town. But the Department of Energy decided instead to use $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funding to refit an existing coal-burning Ameren plant in Meredosia, Ill., with different technology and pipe the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, to another location for underground storage. That site would also become home to an education center to train people to build carbon dioxide pipelines.

The department said that, with delays in the FutureGen project, other projects had already bypassed the technology it had hoped to use in Mattoon.

The project had already been shelved once by the administration of President George W. Bush, only to be revived under President Barack Obama.

Many people in Mattoon tired of what they saw as politics holding up and changing the project, and the town withdrew.

Tuscola was among the four finalists, along with Mattoon, for the original project, and already had in hand much of the environmental and geological testing needed to bid to store the project's carbon dioxide, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. The area is interested, he said, but needs to know more from the Department of Energy about its plans.

"There's definitely a level of cynicism that we all have,'' he said. "It's obvious with the project, once it's gotten out of the site selection process and has been in the political realm, that's where it's had some problems."

"While we're generally supportive of the concept, we still need to know a lot more,'' Moody said. "In order to do that, we need to keep our name in the game."

Looking at the potential jobs, officials in Vandalia aren't nearly as skeptical, Mayor Rick Gottman said.

Unemployment in the area was 10.2 percent in September, the most recent month for which the Illinois Department of Employment Security has data.

Over the past few years, one major employer, Orgill Inc., moved a distribution center and about 140 jobs out of state, Gottman said. Another, Graham Packaging, has reduced its work force from about 800 to roughly 200.

"We're in a high unemployment area right now,'' he said. "We're looking at ways to create jobs.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2010

U of I College of Media Interim Dean Says Structural Review is Well Underway

The Interim Dean of the University of Illinois' College of Media said the next several months will tell a lot about the department's structure.

The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looked at Media and three other colleges with fewer than 40 faculty members for cost savings. While the 'Stewarding Excellence' report endorsed no specific restructuring plan, the project team said the College of Media must evaluate its internal structure for long-term viability. College Interim Dean Jean Slater said some shared services were underway when the study started, in areas like information technology and human resources, but she said it is too early to see what the cost savings might be.

"At some point we have to assume the cost somehow, but if two colleges are sharing one HR person, or the HR function, then the efficiencies go up and the cost would be reduced individually," Slater said. "But I think it's hard to put a number to that right now."

Interim Dean Jan Slater said the challenge now is finding how large a structure it can support, since the college is solely dependent on tuition, but she said nothing is off limits.

"We do have somebody from outside looking at our information technology structure within the college, how we work things with WILL," Slater said. "Should we be doing more of that? And so we're looking at those kinds of things. We're going to be doing a space study after the first of the year after the construction with Greg Hall is done."

The project team reviewing the college says its biggest challenges include the Department of Advertising's request to transfer out of the college, and adapting the Journalism Department to the changing nature of the profession.

Slater was named Interim Dean of the College of Media in July. When her term is up in July 2012, she said questions about the College's size and mission need to be answered. WILL and Illinois Public Media are part of the College of Media. The same campus project team also reviewed the Schools of Social Work, Labor and Employee Relations, and the Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 15, 2010

GOP Candidates Vie for Senator Rutherford’s Seat

The race for state treasurer ended with State Senator Dan Rutherford (R-Pontiac) clinching a win over his Democratic opponent Robin Kelly. However, now the race for Rutherford's senate seat is heating up.

The front-running candidates are State Representative Keith Sommer (R-Morton) and Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman.

They have given stump speeches to McLean County Republicans in which they have painted themselves as conservative voices.

Barickman took aim at the current proposal in Springfield to increase gaming as a way to ease the state budget crisis.

"Isn't the thing that frustrates us the most that this state government continues to find ways or to dream of ways to get its hands on more dollars?" Barickman asked. "If they can find a way, they'll take it."

Barickman said he also opposes gambling expansion on moral grounds.

Meanwhile, Sommer described himself as a social as well as fiscal conservative, which he said reflects his eight years in the General Assembly.

"I am pro-life," he said. "My voting record says so. I am a strong supporter of the second amendment. My voting record says so. And additionally, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and my voting record says so."

Both candidates have substantial support among the nine GOP County Chairs who will take a weighted vote Saturday. The deciding voice will likely be McLean County's John Parrott who said only that he is leaning strongly toward one candidate.

At least three other candidates have also asked for consideration. Champaign County Precinct Committeeman John Bambenek said he does not have enough support to succeed Rutherford. However, he made a presentation to McLean County Republicans anyway. Bambenek said he is a stickler for constitutions, which he explained are intended to limit governmental power.

"We have a balanced budget clause in our state constitution," said Bambanek. "You cannot spend more than you have revenues - very simple. The last two years, we didn't even pretend to cook the books, We just said 'eh - we're ignoring that."

Former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin and former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy have expressed interest in the seat.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 15, 2010

Revolving Loans Offered to Struggling Nonprofits

Nonprofit groups in Central Illinois can start applying for low-interest loans of up to $15,000.

The loans are being distributed by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, which received a $100,000 grant from the Marajen Stevick Foundation to run the program.

Joan Dixon, executive director of the Community Foundation, said the state's economic woes have had a ripple effect on many businesses, resulting in staff cuts and program reductions. Dixon said after reviewing more than 120 nonprofit groups, she found that the most pressing concern among struggling organizations was the state's five to six billion dollar backlog of unpaid bills. She said the loan is not meant to be a temporary solution.

"This would be a way - we hope - for a not-for-profit to bridge the gap between their situations right now, and when they get their state promised checks," she said. "If the situation is very dire, and $15,000 is just going to buy you another month, that might not be the right approach to take, but we would help them try to figure those kinds of things out."

Groups that apply for the loan would be charged a $25 dollar registration fee and required to show detailed financial records. The loans, which would carry a one to two percent interest rate, would have to be repaid within 12 months.

Dixon said she hopes the program can continue revolving in this way, so that many nonprofit groups can benefit from the loan.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 15, 2010

Parties Choose Their County Board Caucus Leaders

The two party leaders are in place as the Champaign County Board organizes for another year.

Democrats on the board chose to re-elect current board chair Pius Weibel at a caucus last night, with Tom Betz as Vice-Chair. Weibel had faced competition from fellow board member Al Kurtz. Meanwhile, Republicans voted for Alan Nudo to succeed Greg Knott as its party's caucus chairman. Knott has decided to run for the Parkland College Board of Trustees. John Schroeder will serve as the Republicans' vice chair.

Democrats will retain a 15-12 advantage in the county board when it reconvenes next month. At that meeting the entire new board will choose its chair and vice-chair.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 15, 2010

Field to Replace Longtime Chicago Mayor Widens

The race to replace Chicago's longtime mayor took better shape Sunday as two more candidates joined a crowded field that also includes former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and state Sen. James Meeks, the pastor of a Chicago megachurch, both formally announced their campaigns during a busy weekend in the race to take over for Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley, who has led the country's third largest city for more than two decades, surprised many by announcing in September that he would not seek a seventh term.

The two Democrats and Emanuel, who made his official campaign announcement Saturday, pushed the field of declared candidates to five, and another well-known politician is expected to announce soon.

"We need a leader who will bring people out of this division and this turmoil to a place called unity and peace," Meeks told a roaring crowd of more than 400 supporters at a rally Sunday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Meeks, who got the backing of the former head of the Illinois Republican Party at the rally, focused heavily on his plans to improve the quality of Chicago public schools. It's a cause he has championed as a state legislator in his call for better school funding, which now relies on property taxes and can mean disparities between rich and poor areas in the state.

Earlier in the day, Davis also pledged to be a unifying force in the city who would represent the interests of all the city's residents.

"I will be the mayor for every racial and ethnic group, reaching out to all will be the benchmark of a Danny Davis administration," Davis told more than 100 supporters at a downtown Chicago hotel.

Davis, who has been in Congress since 1997, was tapped earlier this month by a coalition of black leaders as their preferred candidate over other finalists, including Meeks and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Braun, the country's first black woman senator, has already opened a campaign office and plans an official announcement soon.

The coalition, which included elected officials, business owners and activists, had hoped to avoid splitting the black vote by uniting behind one candidate. Members said they chose Davis, who previously served on the Cook County Board and the Chicago City Council, because of his broad government experience.

Davis didn't offer specific policies at his Sunday announcement and admitted he didn't have the answers to all the city's problems, including its financial woes.

"All of us know that there are no simple solutions to very complex problems, and I don't pretend at the moment to have an answer to all our financial problems and the financial difficulties which face our city ... no one does," he said.

But Davis said he has never run from a problem and promised to work to create jobs and economic opportunities. He also said he would do everything in his power to save children from drug use, abuse, incarceration and poverty.

Davis was re-elected Nov. 2 with about 80 percent of the vote to another term representing a congressional district that spans economically and racially diverse areas from Chicago to the western suburbs.

The mayoral race also includes City Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, who have already declared.

Categories: Government, Politics

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