Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2009

Champaign Councilman Proposes Northeast Side Family Resource Center

A Champaign city councilman is proposing a "family resource center" to provide services to residents of the city --- but especially to its northeast side.

1st District City Councilman Will Kyles says the need for a center to bring community services into the northeast side became clear to him in his work as outreach coordinator for Congressman Tim Johnson. He says the center could provide services and activities for children, teens, parents --- even ex-convicts trying to make a fresh start.

"We believe in structures, we need structures," Kyles said. "But the issue is that it'll take awhile to rebuild those structures, to redevelop the neighborhood. So in the process of redeveloping the neighborhood, why not have services that are building people up?"

Melorene Grantham of the Peer Ambassadors youth group told the city council a family resource center could provide activities for older teens that are currently lacking in the area. She says that's a need her group found out about from its monthly meetings with youth at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center.

They said they need other things to do to stay out of trouble, like jobs," said Grantham. "We went every month for some years; that was the top thing they say would keep out of trouble."

Kyles says the city of Champaign could work with the community, and leverage state and federal funds to put the family resource center together. But he says it wouldn't happen right away. He hopes the idea can be included among the Champaign City Council's goals for the next 5 to 10 years.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Police Say Chris Kelly Death Was Suicide

Police in the south Chicago suburb of Country Club Hills say their investigation into the death of a friend and fundraiser for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is essentially over. They believe Chris Kelly committed suicide.

Police say that when Chris Kelly swallowed a bunch of pain killers last Friday, it was his second suicide attempt that week.

They say Kelly has also tried to take his life last Tuesday night, just hours after pleading guilty in federal court to bid rigging. Kelly was due to enter prison this Friday to start a three-year tax fraud sentence.

Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans said Tuesday that "based on all the information and the witnesses we know to be involved, we have no other investigation right now unless the toxicology report comes back to be something unexpected."

After attempting suicide last Friday, police say Kelly contacted his girlfriend who picked him up in the parking lot of a lumber yard in Country Club Hills.

She took him to the hospital but he died Saturday morning.

Kelly had been indicted three times by federal prosecutors who hoped to pressure him into testifying against Blagojevich.

(Additional reporting by the Associated Press).


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Cameras, Microphones Briefly Allowed in an Urbana Federal Courtroom

Tuesday's hearing over the consent decree was notable for how it was covered by the news media. Judge Joe Billy McDade allowed electronic media to record the hearing.

University of Illinois journalism professor Steve Helle says cameras and microphones have not been allowed in lower federal courts since 1994.

"The federal courts conducted an experiment between 1991 and 1994 with regard to cameras in the courts. And the experiment was positive, but the Judicial Conference nonetheless voted to ban cameras in the federal courts," said Helle. "There was reconsideration of that policy and they decided to allow cameras in the circuit courts of appeal but still ban them in the district courts."

Tuesday's consent decree settlement hearing took place in federal district court, were cameras and mics are normally banned. But Helle says judges have occasionally "fudged the rules" in civil cases.

In this case, Judge McDade granted an exception for TV cameras that was later extended to all media after a brief meeting with reporters Tuesday morning. McDade told reporters that he had made a mistake in initially approving TV cameras, which he had thought would be for one station's live coverage.

Helle says allowing cameras under any circumstances in a central Illinois federal district courtroom is unprecedented. And he doubts it will be repeated, unless federal court officials decide to change the rules.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

H1N1 Flu Continues a Swing through the UI Urbana Campus

More than 400 cases of suspected H1N1 flu have been reported on the University of Illinois' campus in Urbana-Champaign so far this semester and more are expected.

Dr. Robert Palinkas of the McKinley Health Center says most of the cases have been relatively mild.

University officials have been asking students with suspected cases of the illness to go home until they're no longer contagious or isolate themselves in their residences. Palinkas says most families of undergraduate students have been heeding that advice, as have many students living independently. "We do trust them to comply, and generally we get pretty good cooperation from an individual when they understand the public health aspect of this," Palinkas said.

Palinkas says students and others who suspect they have the flu should come to the university's health center. He also says they're standing by for word on an H1N1 flu vaccine, which he hopes to make available to students and others in October or November.

(help from The Associated Press)

Categories: Education, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Consent Decree Hearing Reveals Resolve, Some Skepticism

What could be one of the final court hearings on the Champaign school district's consent decree is uncovering some doubt over a proposed settlement.

A federal judge invited written public comment on the proposal that would end seven years of court supervision over racial equity issues in Unit 4. On Tuesday, some of those commenters testified in person.

Before those people spoke, Champaign superintendent Arthur Culver answered a concern from Judge Joe Billy McDade that the public skepticism may stem from what happens in individual school - in other words, some staff may revert back to old habits or not share the same concern for equity.

I think it's clear that we're serous about this work," said Culver. "If our staff members aren't coming to work with the same vision and mission that we have set for this district, then there are consequences."

Part of the settlement includes a new committee to oversee future equity issues, such as alternative education or student assignment. Ardice James, with the National Council of African American Men worries that the Education Equity Excellence committee may not have any teeth.

"Who would this committee report to?" asked James. "I feel that this committee should report to the board and more or less be advisory. I also believe that any recommendation that this committee proposes, that the Board of Education should consider that recommendation very strongly."

But Carol Ashley, an attorney for the plaintiffs whose suit led to the consent decree, says that committee will be guided by a third party. It's not known when Judge McDade will decide to accept or deny the settlement.

The hearing was a rare event for a federal court in central Illinois. After initially ruling that television crews could videotape the courtroom hearing -- a rarity in the federal court system -- Judge Mc Dade responded to complaints from radio newspaper reporters and opened recording to all media. McDade told reporters before the hearing that he had made a mistake in believing he was approving one station's request to broadcast the entire hearing live, and he opened the hearing up to all recording devices out of fairness.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Urbana Considers Taking the Extra Step on Broadband

Champaign and Urbana are vying for federal grant money to build a network of broadband computer service in underserved areas. But that could entice the cities to look into broadening the service even further.

Urbana city council members have held holding a study session on the subject. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the grant - if the cities win it - could be an opportunity to offer internet, TV and phone service at a competitive rate to nearly all residents.

"What I'd like to see, instead of having something that's going to be taking money from the cities over the future, I'd like to see it set up as a utility so that the cities can provide service to the public, and get revenue so we wouldn't have to rely so much on taxes," Prussing said.

The so-called big broadband project is already working to extend coverage to key community facilities like libraries, along with parts of the cities that may not be covered by private fiber-optic projects. Prussing says the council still needs to decide whether to pursue the federal grant, how much it would want to spend and how to develop a business plan for broadband service.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

Homecoming for More Illinois National Guard Members

After a year of training police and army forces in Afghanistan, members of an Army National Guard unit based in Urbana are back home.

About 80 members of the Urbana Headquarters unit of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall last night. A brief ceremony featured an even briefer speech from Governor Pat Quinn. "We are proud of you Guard members. You're the best of the best, the pride of our nation, the pride of our sate," Quinn said. "May the will of the people be the law of the land, and thank you very much."

But the real highpoint came after the soldiers were dismissed, so they could rejoin their families. Sergeant Paul Ogwal of Champaign received flowers from his family, and a hug from his 5 year old son, Faraji. For the past year, Faraji's contact with his dad has been through phone calls and email, and during leave midpoint through the deployment. Ogwal says that sort of separation can be hard for a young child to understand.

"When I came back on leave I bought a globe," Ogwal said. "And I put his name on Illinois, and I had an arrow pointing to Afghanistan to help him picture where I was."

Another 20 members of the 33rd Infantry's Urbana unit rejoined their families in a ceremony earlier in the day in suburban Rockford. A Champaign unit of the 33rd returned home to Champaign last Friday.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2009

U of I Urbana Academic Senate Passes Resolution Calling on Pres. White & Chancellor Herman to Go

Because of the admissions scandal, the president and Urbana campus chancellor at the University of Illinois should go ---- once "new leadership" is in place. That's the main advice to the Board of Trustees, offered in a non-binding resolution passed by the Academic Senate at the Urbana campus in a special meeting Monday.

The vote was 98 to 55, after Senators heard from president Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman, the two administrators named in the resolution.

White says he had no direct role in the admissions scandal, and had often fought to protect the university against political pressures from the Blagojevich administration. "The notion that I would submit to pressure or apply pressure for admissions or anything else in order to please the high and mighty is dead wrong", he told the Senate.

Herman admitted making mistakes in the admissions process, but asked for a second chance. "Give me the opportunity", he asked the Senate, "to convince you, the Board of Trustees and the public, that my body of work is worthy enough to consider that I be given the opportunity to continue in our cause. Every day, our future accomplishments will be my atonement."

But the resolution says that in addition to admissions reform, the Board of Trustees must hold White and Herman accountable to save the U of I's reputation. Political Science Professor Paul Diehl does not serve on the Academic Senate, but argued for the resolution at the special meeting. Diehl cited instances of intervention in the admissions process in support of a relative, direct orders to admit individuals over faculty judgment, and a 300-thousand dollar "payoff" to the law school as compensation for taking under qualified students --- all as reasons why White and Herman should depart.. "There's certain types of transgressions", said Diehl, "that are just so egregious that they don't merely tip the scale, but they make it come crashing down."

The resolution welcomes invitations from some new trustees for greater Board consultation with the Academic Senate. That's all that survived from a substitute motion that would have called for a review of White and Herman's performance, but would stop short of calling for their removal.

Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver says they proposed that motion after new trustees including Board Chairman Chris Kennedy showed an interest in greater faculty input, during a meeting last Friday with Academic Senate representatives.Tolliver says the level of faculty input proposed would be "unprecedented". But she says she understands the Senate's preference for the original resolution. "It was the consensus of the Senate that it was necessary to make a strong statement", she explained.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2009

Resolution on White, Herman Replaced on UI Senate Agenda

In a late turn of events, University of Illinois Academic Senate members will not be asked if President Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman should step down.

Instead, executive committee members have replaced the proposed resolution with a new one. It leaves the decision on White and Herman up to the new Board of Trustees. The resolution still says the recent admissions crisis damaged the U of I's reputation and says simple reforms to admissions policies won't undo that damage.

But in an email to other Senate members issued late Sunday night, executive committee chair Joyce Tolliver says talks between Senate leaders and new Trustees chair Chris Kennedy on Friday led to the change - in the email, Tolliver says there's promise of a more richly collaborative relationship with the new board.

The resolution will be up for discussion at the full Senate's meeting Monday afternoon at the Levis Faculty Center.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2009

Investigation into Blagojevich Fundraiser’s Death Could Take Time

Authorities say they hope to make more headway this week in an investigation into the death of a former chief fundraiser for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch said police on Monday plan to pursue more interviews and hospital admittance records in the possible suicide of 51-year-old Christopher Kelly. Welch also says they'll subpoena phone records and get a search warrant for a storage locker Kelly might have rented.

On Sunday, medical examiners completed an autopsy and detectives looked into whether drugs found in Kelly's vehicle may have factored into his death. Kelly died Saturday, just days before he was to report to prison to begin a three-year prison sentence on tax fraud charges. He was a native of Champaign.


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