Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Ill. Gov. Quinn Kills Controversial Scholarship Plan

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)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Alan Nudo Launches Run for the Ill. Senate

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)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Athletic Director Chosen for the University of Illinois

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)

Categories: Biography, Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Bambenek Charges Quinn Appointments Break Partisan Rules

State Senate candidate John Bambenek claims that many independents appointed to boards and commissions by Gov. Pat Quinn are actually Democrats.

The Champaign Republican said many of Quinn's appointees listed as Independent are actually Democrats as defined by state election law --- because they voted in recent Democratic primaries. One example Bamanek considers to be the most blatant is Illinois Human Rights Commissioner Terry Cosgrove, whose political action committee, Personal PAC, supported Quinn's campaign last year.

"It's no secret that Terry Cosgrove is a Democrat," Bambenek said. "He's voted Democrat his entire life. He's known by Pat Quinn personally; he's known by many of the senators personally. For him to show up suddenly as an Independent when he's up for a state job on a committee that has a partisan balance requirement, it defies credulity that that was not an intentional choice on the part of Pat Quinn."

Other Independents with Democratic voting records listed by Bambenek include Illinois State Board of Education member David Fields (a former Danville school superintendent), and University of Illinois Trustee Lawrence Oliver. Citing that example, Quinn's press secretary, Brooke Anderson, said Oliver had not voted in a primary, and declared himself as an Independent when he was interviewed.

Anderson said many appointees are taken at their word, and some who have been appointed did the same thing as Oliver.

"Each candidate for an appointment goes through a thorough application, interview, and comprehensive vetting process," she said. "The majority of the governor's appointments have got to individuals who have applied to our web site. 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 record,"

Bambenek said that by listing Democrats as Independents, Quinn is violating partisan balance rules on eleven state boards and commissions, and effectively allowing those panels to have more Democrats than the law allows. He says the practice raises questions about the legal status of those bodies that may have to be resolved by a judge.

"It could be that the last man out gets his appointment nullified," Bambenek speculated. "Somebody could turn around and say all the action of that board since this condition was true is null and void. You can stop elements of state government, because of this kind of egregious end-run around the law."

But Anderson said Bambenek's charge against the governor is not credible. She said Bambenek's summary of board and commission members includes errors, and fails to note that many of the members in question were appointed by previous governors. For instance, Independent Capital Development Board member Mark Ladd --- who Bambenek said voted in the 2010 Democratic primary --- was actually appointed in 2002, during the administration of then-Gov. George Ryan. Bambenek also lists Democrat Stephen Toth as a member of the Capital Development Board. But Anderson said Toth, whose term officially expired in 2008, has left the board.

John Bambenek is a Champaign resident who's seeking the Republican nomination for State Senate in the 52nd District. The newly redrawn district includes Champaign-Urbana and Danville. Champaign County Board Member Alan Nudo is also seeking the GOP nomination in that race. Democrat incumbent Mike Frerichs is running for re-election in the district.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Champaign Man Receives $6 Million Jury Award in Priest Abuse Case

A nine-year legal fight by a man sexually abused by a priest in the 1970s is over, now that a southern Illinois diocese and its insurer have handed over $6.3 million to resolve a jury award in the man's favor.

Attorneys for the Diocese of Belleville turned over the checks during a hearing Wednesday in St. Clair County, three years after James Wisniewski of Champaign won the $5 million jury award. The additional $1.33 million includes interest since that verdict.

Wisniewski sued in 2002, alleging that a former priest sexually abused him dozens of times for five years at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem. The lawsuit also claimed the diocese hid the one-time priest's suspected behavior and quietly shuffled him among parishes.

The diocese's attorneys declined comment.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Religion
Tags: crime, religion

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2011

Quinn Picks Giannoulias as Chair of Illinois Community College Board

Former state Treasurer and failed U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has a new post.

Gov. Pat Quinn has picked the 35-year-old Democrat to serve as chairman of the Illinois Community College Board. The part-time position is unpaid.

Giannoulias tells the Chicago Sun-Times that he's "incredibly excited" to help reform Illinois' community colleges. He says a well-educated work force is crucial to putting Americans back to work.

Giannoulias lost the U.S. Senate race to Republican Mark Kirk last year.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

Former Illini Basketball Player Richmond Arrested

Former University of Illinois basketball player Jereme Richmond faces battery and weapons charges.

The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reports Richmond, of Waukegan, was arrested Monday after police say he shoved a 17-year-old girlfriend and threatened to shoot her outside her house. Police drove up as 19-year-old Richmond searched for something in a car while another man waited. Police found a gun in the car.

Richmond is charged with aggravated battery, aggravated unlawful use of weapons, domestic battery and other charges. Lake County court officials say he hasn't entered a plea and doesn't yet have an attorney.

Richmond was heavily recruited but spent one season at Illinois. He played sparingly and was benched for off-court issues before leaving for the NBA draft. He wasn't drafted.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

Champaign Mayor Makes MTV’s ‘Top Five’ List

Champaign's mayor now has a distinction shared by the late rock and roll singer turned U.S. Congressman Sonny Bono, the President of Haiti, and a leader of the band Midnight Oil.

MTV just came out with this list of the top five musicians with political credentials. At number five is Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, who had a 20-year tenure as a rock and roll artist. He performed with LeRoy Bach, who went on to play with Wilco, Liz Phair, and Iron & Wine.

Gerard was also in the 90's band 'Steve Pride and his Blood Kin' with former Wilco member, the late Jay Bennett. Gerard was also a founding member of the local band 'The Moon Seven Times.'

"At the time, it was a completely different landscape," he said. "I think for the most part we really wanted to make music, put gas in our van, have a couple of beers, meet some girls, and maybe you know, put out a record and sell a thousand copies. Back in the day, it was kind of innocent."

Gerard credits his music career for propelling him into public office.

"Politics is a lot like being in an independent band," he said. "You're trying to do your best. You're trying to put something out there that people are going to like, and you get out and try to promote it and spread the word, and try not to screw up."

Categories: Biography, Music

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

State Funding for Higher Ed. Still Concern for New UI Chancellor

The next chancellor of the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says she is ready to get to work.

Dr. Phyllis Wise spoke to members of the university community Tuesday about her upcoming role at the U of I. Wise is currently the provost and executive vice president at the University of Washington. But she is expected to start her new job at the U of I in a couple of months.

Wise said she knows a lot about the financial challenges facing universities. She said UW has dealt with deep funding cuts in recent years from its state legislature.

"In Washington, they provide relatively little amount of money toward our overall budget," Wise said. "It's been pretty grim, but the state legislature really realized that they could not do it themselves, and they gave us tuition delegating authority."

Wise said UW administrators raised tuition by 20 percent, after increasing it 14 percent during each of the two previous years. She also said financial aid was increased at UW to expand the pool of students eligible for assistance.

Last spring, tuition at the U of I went up by 6.9 percent for the next school year. Wise said she suspects she will have a big role working with the Illinois General Assembly to convince lawmakers to raise state support for higher education.

Chris Kennedy, who chairs the U of I's Board of Trustees, said he is confident Wise's experience as a researcher and administrator will help the university boost support from the state and individual research grants.

"I think the fact that we were able to recruit her sends a strong message all over the United States that the University of Illinois is a place for great researchers and academic achievers," Kennedy said. "We want to increase our research grants and contracts because those are the grants and contracts that attract the great researchers. Those great researchers attract the great graduate students, who attract the great students. You have this tremendous snowball effect."

Kennedy said he expects the Board of Trustees will unanimously approve Wise's appointment, so that she can start Oct. 1st. If approved, all three U of I chancellors will be women for the first time.

Wise was chosen about three weeks ago after a nearly nine-month search, but her appointment wasn't made public until last week, according to UI Physics Professor Doug Beck, who led the search committee.

U of I President Michael Hogan has confirmed that Wise will earn $500,000 a year and $100,000 per year deferred if she stays in the position for five years.

Wise would replace interim Chancellor Robert Easter, who took the job after the 2009 resignation of Richard Herman following an admissions scandal.

"We are at a pivotal time in higher education," Easter said. "What's the future of a major research university like this? I think we're perfectly poised to discover that future. My advice (to her) would not be bashful to thinking about the faculty and leadership about how we move ahead aggressively in areas that will create our future."

Easter said following his two-year stint as interim chancellor, he hopes to gain emeritus status. He also said he plans to occasionally come back to the U of I to teach in the Department of Animal Sciences.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 09, 2011

ComEd: Smart Grid Could Save Customers $2.8 Billion

Commonwealth Edison says smart grid technology could save customers more than $2.8 billion over the next 20 years.

ComEd released an analysis Monday from Black & Veatch that puts the cost of installing smart grid as less than or equal to the savings.

Mike McMahan, vice president of Smart Grid and Technology for ComEd, said a rate hike of $3 per customer would cover the cost of the technology, and it would be made up soon after the smart grid was installed.

"We estimate at least $2 of that would be returned to the customer on their bills at the end of the deployment period and there would be an additional $1 in savings associated with fewer outages," he said. "So benefit to the consumer that doesn't pass through the utility."

McMahan said the savings identified in the analysis would come from three major changes. First, the smart grid technology would eliminate manual meter reading, and thus meter reading jobs, because the smart meters would send information directly to ComEd. This would also mean, according to ComEd, more accurate bills and fewer service visits. Secondly, McMahan said smart meters would detect electricity theft and therefore cut down on energy losses. Lastly, McMahan said the new technology would bring enhanced disconnection and reconnection of services, minimizing collection costs during storms, power outages or even when a renter is ending their ComEd service.

Yet all of this rests on the signature of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Earlier this year, legislators in Springfield passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act that would authorize rate hikes for both ComEd and Ameren customers to foot the smart grid bill. Quinn has said he would not sign the measure, as he wants power companies, rather than consumers, to pay for smart grid.

The bill doesn't sit well with members of the Citizens Utility Board. Executive Director David Kolata said he supports installing smart grid, but he does not think this bill is the way to do it.

"I think this analysis is further evidence that smart grid would be good investment for consumers -- we do think it's something that will save consumers money in medium and long term," Kolata said. "It's the other parts, though, that are problematic. You have to make sure you get those right. It's serving as Trojan horse for significant regulatory changes that apply to all ComEd's costs -- if it was just smart grid, it would have passed already."

The bill is currently on Gov. Quinn's desk.


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