Illinois Public Media News
UPDATE: The Champaign City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement on the Olympian Drive study Tuesday night, on a 6 to 2 vote.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Urbana City Council chamber Monday night as the Urbana City Council voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement on a design engineering study on the Olympian Drive extension.
Council members listened to input from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the road would destroy farmland, and contribute to urban sprawl. Supporters say it would spur economic development. One of the latter was Vice President Steve Brewer of the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. He says unemployed building and construction workers need the jobs that building Olympian Drive would provide. And Brewer siad the community needs the Olympian Drive extension in order to grow.
"I believe that the only conscionable thing to do is to plan for future generations, and this road does that", said Brewer.
Monday night's vote approves the use of a 5-million dollar state grant to pay for the design engineering study, and also land acquisition for Olympian Drive. But land acquisition will be delayed, because it would need the cooperation of the Champaign County Board, which has delayed a vote on the issue until next year. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city of Urbana will focus on the design engineering study first.
Urbana will also do its own study on improvements to North Lincoln Avenue in connection with the Olympian Drive extension --- plus a risk analysis on both the North Lincoln and Olympian Drive projects. Supporters of Olympian Drive say the road extension needs an upgraded North Lincoln Avenue to link to I-74. Opponents agree --- they say with North Lincoln improved for heavy traffic, Olympian Drive wouldn't need to go all the way out to Route 45. But North Lincoln Avenue isn't mentioned in the intergovernmental agreements to study Olympian Drive. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana will have to study North Lincoln on its own.
"North Lincoln Avenue is something that Urbana needs to do", says Prussing, "and I think it going to be more trouble than it's worth to try to include it in the $5 million study, because we'd have to get our partners to agree to it. I think this is really an Urbana study.
The Urbana City Council will look at ways to study North Lincoln Avenue --- and also do a risk analysis of the Olympian Drive project --- later in the spring. Mayor Prussing says she hopes the state-funded Olympian Drive study can start later this year.
The Urbana and Champaign City Councils vote this week on a three-party intergovernmental agreement to begin design engineering work on the extension of Olympian Drive along the north edge of the two cities But the Champaign County Board --- which is also a party to the agreement --- will not be
Chairman Pius Weibel says a county board vote on Olympian Drive is unlikely this year, because of opposition on the board, especially among Republicans. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she hopes to change some county board minds --- especially now that the design engineering study will include proposed upgrades for North Lincoln Avenue connecting Olympian Drive to I-74.
"I know that the Republicans had said they weren't going to support it" says Prussing, "but I know one Republican that said he would support it with Lincoln Avenue. So you never know. I just think it's an education process."
County Board Republican Greg Knott says the Lincoln Avenue part is important --- but he wants to be sure there's enough money on hand. Local officials have not yet secured all the money they need to finance the Olympian Drive extension. Knott says he wonders if the state and federal governments can come through on the money they've promised so far.
"Let's be honest", says Knott. "State's broke, the Feds are broke. We don't have anywhere close to getting this money. Show me the money, and then I might be interested in taking a vote.."
Prussing says they do have the state money for the design engineering part of the Olympian Drive project --- if they act this month. She says county board approval isn't needed right now. But it will be, when it comes time to buy up land along the highway extension route.
Sarah Palin says she was taken aback to hear President Barack Obama say that America is a military superpower "whether we like it or not.''
Palin said Saturday night that Americans like being a dominant superpower. She says she doesn't understand a world view that questions whether people like the fact that America is powerful.
The former Alaska governor's remarks came in a question-and-answer session after a speech to about 1,100 people in the central Illinois town of Washington.
Obama said earlier this week that the United States must do its best to resolve conflicts around the world before they grow too serious. Otherwise, America might be drawn into the conflicts "because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.
The Illinois attorney general's office is again investigating claims that a central Illinois elementary school board violated open meetings laws.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy filed the complaint against Pontiac Elementary School District 429.
He alleges the board didn't fully explain why it went into closed session and discussed issues in executive session that should've been discussed publicly.
The complaint involves meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 18.
School district attorney Jeff Funk says the district acted properly.
This is the second time the school board has faced allegations.Residents filed a complaint in February 2009. The school district faced no penalties in that case.
Joy and Keith Wiggle say the emotional cost of living in a home that regularly floods is even higher than the thousands of dollars it takes to repair damage and replace belongings.
The couple lives in Decatur and their home floods often. Joy Wiggle says she's tired of worry. She's had to rescue her dog from its backyard kennel and photographs from lower shelves.
Now, some officials say the couple's efforts to talk to municipalities about flooding problems could lead to a solution.
The couple took their case to members of the Macon County Board at least three times in 2008 and 2009.
That led to lengthy discussions by board members and contributed to development of a hazard mitigation plan for the area.
The attorney who helped convict former Illinois Governor George Ryan on corruption charges has his own ideas on ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich's June 3rd trial.
Speaking at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention over the weekend in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, former Assistant U-S Attorney Patrick Collins says he thinks the case will likely rise and fall on two factors: the former governor's testimony and the jury selection process. Collins, now in private practice, said boiling the case down to those two factors might sound cynical, in the face of all the taped conversations and other evidence that prosecutors have gathered against Blagojevich. He says that body of evidence certainly looks stronger than the evidence he presented against former Governor George Ryan.
"If someone asked me, would you trade the evidence you had for Ryan with the evidence you've seen in the public domain on Blagojevich? In a heartbeat", said Collins.
But nevertheless, Collins says Blagojevich has a solid case.
"In some respects, because of who he is and how he's played this it may be a little more difficult case than folks are necessarily predicting that this that this is going to be some white wash", said Collins. "I think there's a lot that can happen in a federal court room."
But Collins adds he thinks U-S District Judge James Zagel won't let a circus happen either. Collins says the outcome of the case will rely heavily on the jury selection process and on Blagojevich taking the stand.
The former governor is accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's old U-S Senate seat. Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing.
Last week, Zagel ordered a key document be made public against Blagojevich's wishes. The so-called Santiago proffer outlines evidence federal prosecutors plan to present at the trial. The defense had argued the information could sway jurors.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's comments doubting that President Barack Obama was born in the U-S have led one local Democrat to call for his resignation.
That's the response of Alan Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat and County Board member ... after a brief video clip of the Republican Schweighart at Thursday's Tea Party rally in Champaign showed up on YouTube. The clip records Schweighart answering an unnamed intervewer's question about whether he believes Obama was born in Hawaii:
Interviewer: What do you think of President Obama? Schweighart: I don't think he's an American, personally. Interviewer: You don't think he's American? Do you think he was born in Kenya? Schweighart: You know, if you're not willing to produce an original certificate, like a birth certificate, then you've got something to hide. If he doesn't have something to hide, produce it. Interviewer: So Obama's not a citizen. Schweighart: I don't think so.
Kurtz says he thinks Schweighart's opinion limits his effectiveness as mayor.
"I think it puts him in a unique position of not supporting our president, of speaking without understanding the true facts of the case", says Kurtz. The Champaign Democrat says he thinks Schweighart's opinions are also out of line, because Champaign city officials are elected on a non-partisan basis.
But a Democrat on the city council, Michael LaDue, says that's up to the voters to decide. LaDue says he was surprised to hear Schweighart's comment, because he thought the question of Obama's birthplace was pretty much played out. But he doesn't think the comments reflect on the mayor's ability to lead.
"It's not a local theme", says LaDue. "It's an opinion expressed by a citizen exercising the rights that American citizens enjoy and cherish."
LaDue says Schweighart has been an effective mayor, and he considers calls for his resignation as "over the top" as the mayor's original comments.
Illinois Public Media could not reach Schweighart for comment Friday. But the mayor told the News-Gazette that he stands by the comments, except for one point he wished to clarify --- that he does believe Barack Obama is a U-S citizen, and that he just doubts if he's native-born.
Established political parties in Champaign County are running out of time to name candidates to run for local offices where someone wasn't already slated after the primary.
The deadline is Monday at 5 pm. County Clerk Mark Shelden contends the earlier primary and a new state law requiring signatures on nominating petitions may have dissuaded some from running. "I think that getting a candidate for county board where you only need 20 or 30 signatures... maybe that bar is not so high and it's as big an issue," says Shelden. "But I think certainly for the countywide offices (Sheriff, Treasurer, and County Clerk, each requiring well over 200 signatures for Democrats and Republicans, and 14 for Greens), that new law could be an impediment."
Champaign County Republican Party Chairman Jason Barickman called that a hurdle for some, but he says a slate of candidates announced by his party's central committee Friday proves the political climate has changed for the GOP. "I think we found that there are people who are wanting to step forward and want to effectuate some change," says Barickman. "They want to be responsible for moving the county in a different direction. But maybe more importantly, just feel like it's their role to step and serve the public. And this is a good way to do it."
Champaign County Republicans will submit nominating petitions for County Board seats Five, Six, and Eight. Retired mental health worker Mary Jo Reik is running in District Five. Local volunteer and former Champaign city council candidate Bill Glithero is running in District Six. And Jim Phillips with the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute and U of I student Gina Genero are being slated as candidates in County Board District Eight. Barickman says it's exciting that his party will provide voters in every district with a choice this November.
The State of Illinois is out with an ambitious long range plan for road construction, even amid uncertainty over future funding.
The state wants to spend $5 billion on roads and bridges over the next year. That's nearly double what was outlined in recent plans.
The projects range from new roads, to repairs and efforts to ease traffic congestion.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan says it will also put people to work.
"When people work, those paychecks go into local banks and it helps those local economies", says Carrigan. "In turn, those local economies help the state economy."
Illinois expects to use a mix of funding for the projects, much of it from the federal government this year. Beyond that, the state would also rely on proceeds from the new video gambling law. But many communities don't want to participate, and that could greatly reduce the amount of money available for infrastructure. Governor Pat Quinn says he's not worried.
"We have ample money in the first several years of our plan here to pay for everything", says Quinn. "I think we can carry forward whatever the case may be."
The Governor calls the road plan "fair", all regions of Illinois will have projects funded.
The New Art Film Festival is underway in downtown Champaign's Art Theater. The festival --- which opened Thursday night --- showcases films by local and Midwest independent filmmakers.
Sanford Hess, the Art Theater operator, says the timing for it now was perfect, with the Boneyard Arts Festival also going on in Champaign-Urbana this weekend.
"We're looking at some of the materials that I'd been sent from Boneyard in February, and I just realized it was a great match", says Hess. I mean, here's local artists; they're doing work in a different media - film - but they're local artists."
Hess says the New Art Film Festival also will be a nice lead-in to Ebertfest next week.
The Film Festival will feature more than 20 films of many genres - from comedy to drama to documentaries..
Friday night's movies include the videogame parody "Press Start" produced by Champaign-based Dark Maze Studios. Also on the bill is Robin Christian's film "Act Your Age", featuring the late Pat Morita.
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