Illinois Public Media News
Stuart Levine, the star witness in the government's corruption case against William Cellini, is expected back on the stand Monday.
Levine is giving an insider account of how people who pay attention to state boards that deal with the mundane business of government can make a whole lot of money. He provided the same insights into government when he spent three weeks on the stand in the trial of Tony Rezko, who was a top fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Stuart Levine has told jurors how he used his position on obscure state boards to secretly pay himself sham fees. He was on the board of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he said that at Cellini's urging, he embarrassed and forced the resignation of the agency's director and then pushed to install Cellini's choice for a successor. Levine said the moves gave Cellini considerable power over the agency, which then awarded Cellini a $220 million business contract.
Prosecutors say there was nothing illegal about that, but they say, to hold on to their power under Rod Blagojevich, Levine and Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions for the former governor.
Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana took part in an hour-long town hall meeting on Sunday in Champaign with Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut.
The town hall was meant to demonstrate bipartisanship in Congress, but it is unclear how that will register with voters leading up to the 2012 election.
Murphy is in his third term in Congress, and he is running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut to replace Joe Lieberman, who is not running for re-election. Murphy said he may not agree with Rep. Johnson on every issue, like the federal health care law, but he said it's important for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground.
"Civility between two members of Congress can lead to civility to a larger public debate," Murphy said. "So, I was thrilled that this meeting was so civil, and it encourages me to put more time into trying to promote that kind of conversation in Washington."
Johnson and Murphy are leaders of the Center Aisle Caucus, which includes Republicans and Democrats who try to show that both parties can come together despite their differences.
Johnson is running for re-election in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional District. He said he is not concerned about the political ramifications that could result because of his efforts to reach across the aisle.
"If cooperation and civility means you lose for re-election, then I'm just going to have to lose for re-election. That's ok. I'm not worried about that," Johnson said.
The roughly 100 people who showed up to the town hall included voters who identify as Independents and Republicans. There were also Democrats there, like 87-year-old Eleanor Ray, who said she plans on supporting Johnson's re-election bid in part because of his willingness to work with Democrats.
"It pleases me very, very much," Ray said. "I think civility is the only path to cooperation in the Congress that's so sorely needed right now."
Some of the topics brought up during the town hall included the war in Afghanistan, the re-authorization of the federal farm bill, and efforts to promote renewable energy.
Johnson said he plans to take part in a similar town hall meeting in Murphy's district in Connecticut.
Hundreds in Springfield and Peoria have joined the protest against corporate greed and economic disparities that began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
About 300 protesters marched in downtown Springfield on Saturday to join a global day of demonstrations. The Occupy Springfield rally was peaceful and there were no arrests. One protester, 55-year-old Joe Feiden of Petersburg, the State Journal-Register he was at the rally because corporations have too much political influence.
Another 300 people staged a march Saturday in Peoria. The Journal-Star reports the group plans to rally every Saturday and may set up a permanent occupation in a park. The mostly liberal protesters included some supporters of Texas Republican Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians.
Another demonstration was held in downtown Champaign Saturday, where a group marched from Main Street to West Side Park.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
A University of Illinois professor who created the first usable light-emitting diode will join Thomas, Edison, the Wright brothers and a select group of scientists and inventors when he's inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame next month.
The university said Friday that 82-year-old Nick Holonyak Jr. will be inducted in a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 3. He will be added to the Hall of Fame along with Nikola Tesla and James Tsui.
Since its creation by Holonyak the LED has become commonplace. It is used in everything from instrument panels to head lamps used by joggers. His work has also helped create household dimmer switches, the lasers central to CD and DVD players, and fiber-optic communication.
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) will be joined by Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut in a town hall forum this weekend in Champaign.
Johnson and Murphy co-chair the Center Aisle Caucus. Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the two congressmen will take questions from the public, and demonstrate that despite their differences, both parties can come together.
"We thought it was a very unusual opportunity to bring these two guys together to talk about ways to improve dialogue in Washington, DC instead of calling each other names," Bloomer said.
Johnson, who is running for re-election in the redrawn 13th Congressional District, will do another town hall in Connecticut in Murphy's district.
Meanwhile, Murphy, who has served three terms in Congress, said he hopes the town hall sets an example for other Democrats and Republicans to work more closely on legislation.
"I think job creation is on the minds of the residents of Illinois just like it is in Connecticut, but I'm really hoping to get a broad sense of what it is that people in his district care about," Murphy said. "It will be interesting to match it up with what I'm hearing back in Connecticut."
The town hall will take place on Sunday at 1:30 PM at the I-Hotel at 1900 South First Street in Champaign.
A couple of Champaign County Board members are offering very different suggestions to boost what's described as a healthy fund balance.
Democrat Brendan McGinty says the county has exceeded revenue projections this year by about 2-percent, and underspent as well. Meanwhile, the county has downsized through attrition and furlough days, and McGinty says he's still seeking ways to replenish a depleted fund balance, and what he calls 'bare bones' operations.
McGinty says one way would be to conduct an audit of the county's fee structure.
"A lot of people don't want to increase fees, and I understand that," he said. "But when you have not increased fees, and kept up with the cost of delivering services for 30 or 40 years, then you fall behind. And you're missing out on potential revenue that can help the health of the county and help employ the right number of people, because we're pretty trim right now."
One example is a hike in marriage license fees, which did recently go up from 20 to 30 dollars. McGinty says the few thousand dollars coming from it won't make much of an impact. The original proposal called for raising the fee to $75.
County Administrator Deb Busey told the board this week that revenue projections are actually up a bit. County Board Republican Stan James says county government is getting away from its intended purpose, like law enforcement and infrastructure.
"We're getting into a lot of programs that are sort of an outreach or an outshoot, and maybe we need to revisit those like we do with the quarter-cent safety tax," he said. "We give to youth groups. I'm not saying I'm against that, but I'm just saying that it's tax money that could be used to to pay the bills that need to be paid."
McGinty also endorses Republican Alan Nudo's suggestion of offering more private-pay rooms in the Champaign County Nursing Home. He says the county needs to work with hospitals to transfer patients needing long-term care. The state currently owes Champaign county $1-point-8 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
Authorities confirm that members of a couple in Piatt County that were subject of a lengthy standoff Thursday each died of gunshot wounds to the chest, and that the incident was likely a murder-suicide.
County Coroner Debbie Robbins says autopsies were conducted Friday morning on 64-year old Roger Sharp and 59-year old Shirley Sharp. Their bodies were found when investigators entered the home in rural White Heath about 9 PM on Thursday. Robbins said it's not entirely clear how long they had been dead.
State Police Lieutenant Tad Williams said after receiving an initial distress call around 4 PM, the Piatt County's Sheriff's Department reached a man by phone believed to be Roger Sharp, who told authorities his wife was dead.
Several police agencies responded to the incident, evacuating nearby residents until 10 PM.
The city of Urbana is paying homage to Abraham Lincoln through a series of video podcasts that guide visitors through a tour of the community.
Lincoln spent nearly twenty years practicing law in Urbana.
City Planner Rebecca Bird said while the podcasts focus on sites Lincoln visited, they also explore the connections between the Urbana of Lincoln's era and the historic buildings that still exist today. For example, Bird said one of the featured structures is the Champaign County courthouse, which was built more than 30 years after Lincoln's death.
"So, the courthouse obviously was not built at the time Lincoln was here, but there was another courthouse at this site. It tells the story of at that time, as well as some of the effects of Lincoln," Bird said. "It's the type of tour that it celebrates our heritage. It's something that will be enjoyable to both residents of Urbana and visitors to Urbana."
The video podcasts are available on the city's website. A walking tour of the landmarks featured in the project will start at 10 AM on Saturday at the Urbana Free Library.
Champaign's interim school superintendent says the search for a permanent superintendent is going well.
Dr. Robert Malito said he expects his permanent replacement to be on the job this summer. But Malito said he will have to step down about six months earlier. As a retired superintendent, he can only work as a school administrator for 100 days a year. So, Malito has been working just a few days a week to make his contract with Unit 4 last as long as possible. Still, he said he plans to make sure the district is headed in the right direction when he steps down.
"It's like almost a bus trip," Malito said. "We're 70% there, the bus is running well, the driver is going well, the focus is correct, we just have to finish out the trip. And so, someone else will probably finish out the school year on behalf of Unit Four."
Malito expects to leave Unit 4 in January, about the same time a new superintendent is chosen. But he said that person will likely have an existing contract that prevents him or her from coming to Champaign before the end of June. Malito said the Unit Four School Board will be exploring all options for another interim superintendent for the spring semester.
In the meantime, Malito said the executive search firm School Exec Connect has so far fielded 45-to-50 applications for the Unit 4 superintendent position. The deadline for applications is Oct. 28. Malito said that during November and December, the school board will hold private interviews with seven finalists from the pool of applicants, and the top two or three will be brought to Champaign to meet the public.
The new Champaign school superintendent will succeed Arthur Culver, who stepped down last summer after managing the school district for nine years. Culver recently took over as the superintendent of the troubled East St. Louis school district.
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