Illinois Public Media News
After weeks of delay, the Champaign County Board has agreed to seek out a needs assessment study for jail facilities.
The plan to bring in a consulting firm has been discussed for weeks. In Tuesday night's 5-hour committee of the whole meeting, the board agreed to an amended schedule for a criminal justice consulting firm to look at jail capacity needs. That firm will decide costs for either remodeling the jail in downtown Urbana, or expanding the satellite facility. The board is expected to award a contract by late July.
A number of amendments to the request for proposals were shot down. A couple came from Democrat Carol Ammons, who says she's still pleased overall.
"This process has long and tedious for the important reasons, right?" she said. "This is a huge undertaking, and I think we need a complete vetting of what we're going to actually do. And this is the beginning of that process."
Ammons did successfully seek out one motion, asking that a person of color from a minority-influenced county board district serve on a planning team that will also include sheriff Dan Walsh, State's Attorney Julia Reitz, and two other board members.
That suggestion didn't sit well with Reitz, who upset those who remained in the audience.
"Those of us who have volunteered to serve on this committee, to be part of this process, have the best interest of the county, and the system as a whole at heart," she said. "I'm absoutely willing to hear from anybody who has an interest, who wants to say something. But I do not think there needs to be a token person of color on the committee."
County Board Democrat and Facilties Committee Chair Tom Betz threatened to empty the room after members of the public snapped back at Reitz. The suggestion passed on a party line vote of 12 to 11, with all the 'yes' votes coming from Democrats. Ammons will ask the board to appoint her to that panel.
She and other members of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice have been critical of local authorities, saying there's a racial disparity of those incarcerated in Champaign County.
A tax on strip-clubs was approved Tuesday by an Illinois Senate committee.
The legislation would boost the cost of admission into clubs that serve alcohol by $5 per person. Revenue from the tax would support groups that work to prevent sexual assault.
State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) said her proposal would address some of the violence toward women that she attributes to alcohol and nude dancing.
"I understand that this is a pretty contentious subject, largely because it's difficult to talk about in open conversation," Hutchinson said. "We are talking about something that is pretty easy to watch devolve into snickers and jokes about what it is we're trying to do here."
Hutchinson said there's a link between alcohol, strip clubs and crime, particularly violence against women.
However, club owner Michael Ocello said such studies are flawed and outdated. Ocello owns five clubs in the Metro East area, on the Illinois side of the river across from St. Louis. He said a majority of the state's 50 or so strip clubs would not survive the proposal, leaving 2,000 dancers, bartenders and other workers out of work.
"Many of these clubs have been impacted by the worst economy the country's ever seen in years, and a tax of $5 per person will kill most of these small business operations," Ocello said.
The measure was approved unanimously in committee and advances to the Senate floor. But several legislators who voted for it say they want more information before the final vote.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn weighed in on embattled University of Illinois President Michael Hogan.
Earlier this week, trustees told the president in a closed-door meeting that he has to repair a fractured relationship with faculty. More than a hundred influential faculty members have called on Hogan to resign.
Speaking on Tuesday in Chicago, Gov. Quinn said he has faith in the Board of Trustees, but when asked by a reporter if he "has confidence in President Hogan," the governor simply responded that he gets along well with him.
"I know Mike," Quinn said. "I enjoyed working with his predecessor...Mike Hogan, he's an easygoing fellow."
Quinn added that he believes everyone at the U of I should get along.
"My number one interest when it comes to the University of Illinois are the students," Quinn said. "I think they come first."
As governor, Quinn has a seat on the Board of Trustees, but doesn't regularly attend meetings and wasn't at Monday's session.
Board Chair Chris Kennedy said that trustees will review Hogan's job performance over the next couple of months. Meanwhile, the board is scheduled to meet on the Urbana campus next week.
Indiana state agencies will offer unemployment applications, food stamps, counseling and other services to southern Indiana storm victims at a central location in Sellersburg.
The state says the center will open at noon Wednesday on the first floor of Ogle Hall at the Ivy Tech campus a short distance west of Exit 9 off Interstate 65 along Indiana Route 311. After Wednesday, the center will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days a week for at least 10 days
The American Red Cross also will offer basic necessities and essential items there. Among other services offered there will be tetanus shots, disaster recovery information and replacement of driver's licenses, license plates, vehicle titles and registrations.
The state says several local community action agencies will provide transportation to the center.
The price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline rose to an average of $3.96.9 at the start of the week --- according to GasBuddy.com. That average had dropped by three-cents as of Tuesday, March 6. But that's still an increase of more than a quarter a gallon, according to the gas-price-tracking website.
GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan said several factors are contributing to high gas prices, including concerns about Iran, and problems with oil refinery and pipelines. DeHaan said that refinery capacity in the Great Lakes states typically shrinks this time of year, as refineries shut down for maintenance, in preparation for summer gas production.
"Some of it's planned --- like Citgo just disclosed that they're going to work on their plant in April," DeHaan said. "But as they restart their facilities, and tweak them for summer gasoline, we do have some unexpected issues that creep up."
The Citgo refinery is located in Lemont, west of Chicago. Other refineries in the region are located in northwest Indiana, the St. Louis/Metro East area, southern Indiana and near Toledo Ohio. DeHaan says he doesn't expect the sharp increases in gasoline prices to occur every week --- but he does think another spike is possible later this month.
GasBuddy is currently projecting nationwide gasoline prices to reach $3.75 to $4.15 a gallon by mid-May. But DeHaan said if the current round of price hikes continue, they may have to revise that projection upward.
Hundreds Attend Rally Opposing Dwight Prison Closure
Hundreds of people in northern Illinois have rallied to show their support for Dwight Correctional Center.
Ill. Rep. Candidates Brown & Roman Differ on Gambling Expansion
State Rep. Adam Brown (R-Decatur) and his GOP primary challenger, Rob Roman (R-Chrisman) agreed on most issues at a forum at the Champaign Public Library on Monday.
The Illinois Green Party's state convention drew the party faithful to Macomb March 3-4. But the Greens will need to attract many more true believers if they hope to make an impact.
Around 40 people took part in the convention in the Sandburg Theater at Western Illinois University. The empty seats far outnumbered the party members.
Nonetheless, Illinois Green Party Chair Phil Huckelberry believes most Americans have a lot more in common with the party than they might realize. He called the Greens the "majoritarian" party in the US.
"On issue after issue, we really believe that our position is in line with the majority of the general public, and neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are there," Huckelberry said.
Huckelberry said the Greens oppose handouts to big businesses, they want to see more participatory democracy, and they oppose the escalation of international conflicts.
The Green Party will not appear on ballots during the March 20 primary in Illinois. It failed to earn enough votes during the 2010 election to retain automatic ballot status. Huckelberry said the convention was used to launch a petition drive to gather 25,000 signatures to ensure the Green Party appears on ballots in the November election.
"We hit kind of a wall after 2010 when we lost established party status," Huckelberry said. "We're hoping that this meeting is really going to rev things back up."
The party chose to hold its convention in Macomb after the Campus Greens at WIU made a splash during last fall's mock election at the university.
"Having a campus organization that's a third party be one of the largest organizations on campus, and be the most involved, really drew in a lot of attention," Campus Greens President Staci Buster said.
"I think it impressed a lot of the Illinois Green Party members."
The convention featured policy discussions and the selection of delegates to the party's national convention, which will take place in Baltimore in July. The candidates for the party's presidential nomination are Dr Jill Stein and Roseanne Barr.
The Illinois Green Party also used its convention in Macomb to host seminars on sustainable foods, renewable energy, and strategies for winning local elections.
The Urbana Police Department has picked a new assistant chief of police to replace Anthony Cobb, who will become the head of the Champaign Police Department on March 12.
On Monday night, the Urbana City Council unanimously approved the appointment of Sylvia Morgan.
During her nearly 20-year tenure with Urbana police, Morgan has served as a patrol officer, a detective, and as a sergeant overseeing the street crimes unit. In her new role, she said she wants to work on improving morale within the Urbana Police Department.
"The police aren't always viewed in the best light, so that wears on police officers," Morgan said. "I think it is important and I have a good relationship now with most of the department from working with them every day. So, I think keeping up the morale of the police department would be one of the ways we could try to work well with the community as well."
Morgan is the first woman to serve as the assistant chief of police in Urbana.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Urbana City Council Approves Naming Courthouse After Burgess
The Urbana's City Council Monday night approved a resolution to name the city's federal courthouse after Champaign County's first African-American elected official.
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