Illinois Public Media News
The war in Afghanistan is nearing its 10-year anniversary, and Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana has signed a letter with three House Republicans and 57 House Democrats calling for an end to U.S. military operations in the country. The letter follows statements by the Obama administration setting 2014 as the key date when Afghan security forces should be ready to take control of defense operations.
At this weekend's NATO summit in Portugal, President Obama said he's confident the U.S. will be able to go ahead with its troop pullout plan from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Johnson told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that the war in unwinnable and dragging down the nation's debt.
(Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army/flickr)
Republican State Representative Shane Cultra is moving from the Illinois House to the Senate.
Cultra was named as a replacement for Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford at the end of Saturday's day-long caucus meeting in Bloomington featuring GOP chairs from nine counties. The House lawmaker from Onarga will move into the Senate's 53rd District sometime in January, just before Rutherford is sworn into his new role.
McLean County GOP Chair John Parrott said Cultra's eight years of legislative experience won out.
"In these difficult times that are going on down in Springfield right now, a number of people felt on the committee that Shane has served the District well. He is knowledgeable of all the issues. He is a very strong conservative, and we feel that he will do an excellent job."
Cultra's home county of Iroquois made up just 11-percent of Saturday's weighted vote, which is the smallest of any of the counties making up the Senate's 53rd District. Cultra said it is 'humbling' to have been selected from an outstanding list of candidates.
"The slate of candidates was outstanding," Cultra said. "I really went in thinking that I wouldn't get passed the first round. So, I'm just very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity to serve the people of the 53rd Senate District."
Six others sought the Senate seat, including U of I Security Consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board Chair David Zimmerman, and Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman.
Barickman will apparently be promoted to the legislature anyway. Cultra said the six county Republican chairs making up his 105th House District will soon cast a unanimous vote for Barickman, but it is not clear when that vote will happen.
An East Central Illinois lawmaker says he will seek to derail a University of Illinois plan to shut down a center for police training.
University officials announced earlier this week they intend to close the 55-year-old Police Training Institute as part of a broader plan to cut costs. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) has suggested a plan to help subsidize the institute through a surcharge on people convicted of crimes.
"It's a concept that I've utilized in the past," Rose said. "We did the same thing on drug crimes to subsidize drug addiction task forces, and they're a pretty popular concept to taxpayers. Because why should the taxpayers be paying a cost when we could have the criminals themselves foot the bill for law enforcement training?"
Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said he wants to talk to Rose about the idea. Rose explained that his idea was actually suggested some time ago, but no administrators have responded to it until now.
"Parkland College inquired about opportunities to perhaps take it over, again keeping that economic development local here in Champaign County," he said. "But they (U of I administrators) didn't call them back either. I just wonder - how many $200,000 executives does it take to return a phone call at the U of I?"
Rose said he is insisting on a December 7th meeting with not only U of I leaders, but Democratic State House member Naomi Jakobsson and Senator Mike Frerichs, as well as a member of Illinois' Law Enforcement Training and Standards board. Rose said the Police Training Institute fits well with the U of I's mission.
Two candidates for countywide office in east-central Illinois don't want the election to be over yet. They suffered narrow defeats in the November 2nd election, and are taking the first step towards a possible recount.
The step provided under Illinois law is called discovery. Douglas County Sheriff candidate Fred Galey filed for a discovery inspection, which County Clerk Jim Ingram has scheduled for this coming Wednesday at his office at the courthouse in Tuscola.
"(Galey) is requesting that the ballots, the ballot box and voting machines be examined, and that any of the automatic tabulating equipment be tested, and the ballots and recorded votes be counted," Ingram said.
That process will be done for four precincts selected by Galey out of the 19 precincts in Douglas County. Under state law, the discovery process allows a review of ballots in up to 25 percent of a county's precincts. Ingram said he won't conduct the discovery himself, but will instead use the same vendors that provide election services to Douglas County.
The official ballot count in Douglas County shows Galey, an independent candidate, losing to incumbent Republican sheriff Charlie McGrew by 39 votes. Meanwhile, the balloting in Vermilion County shows Republican county clerk candidate Dennis Miller losing to incumbent Democrat Lynn Foster by just one vote. Miller says he also plans to file for discovery, once the vote is officially certified. Marietta West, who heads election services in Clerk Foster's office in Vermilion County, said certification is expected on Monday.
In both races, it is the petitioning candidates who pays for the discovery inspection, and it is up to them to decide if the discovery provides grounds enough to pay the additional expense of asking a judge to order a full recount. Douglas County Clerk Ingram said discoveries rarely lead to recounts. However, Miller, the Vermilion County sheriff's candidate, said he thinks his chances of convincing a judge might be better, because he only needs evidence of one discrepancy to offset his one-vote defeat.
The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution honoring four members whose terms are now up, including longtime Democratic members in District 9.
Steve Beckett was sworn in in 2000, and sat on six committees. He also served on a citizens' panel that sought funds to rebuild the County Courthouse Clock and Bell Tower. Beckett said it is an example of what the community can do for itself.
"It's absolutely amazing. The Clock and Bell Tower family that we gathered, and that we were able to raise the money that we were - and that were we able to get that project done because there are a lot of naysayers that said 'or right, you're really going to rebuild that tower," Beckett said.
Beckett said he is also proud of intangibles, like plans to re-draw county board districts, and an upcoming ballot item concerning the county auditor.
The other District 9 Democrat, Barb Wysocki, served 12 years on the board. In 2005, the former County Board Chair oversaw 'Big. Small. All.' a three-year visioning process for different interest groups.
"Some of these goals have been picked up by smaller organizations or groups like schools, park districts, and the like," Wysocki said. "And I think it really gave a lot more ownership to broader community needs in Champaign County."
Wysocki said she is the most pleased with budgetary planning efforts on the board, including building maintenance. Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry will succeed Wysocki and Beckett next month.
One departing Champaign County Board member said one of the toughest votes in his four years was approving a consultant for the Champaign County Nursing Home. But District 6 Democrat Matthew Gladney said he is happy the board brought in Management Performance Associates, putting the home on the right track.
"It's still got a lot of kinks to iron out, but I think that it's a jewel in the crown of Champaign County," Gladney said. "That is something that I hope the next board looks at maintaining and improving as I think the board has done over the last few years here."
The consulting firm reports improvement in census numbers in recent months. Pattsi Petrie will take over for Gladney in District 6 when the new county board meets next month.
The lone Republican to leave the board is Chris Doenitz of Mahomet, who after 8 years on the board was defeated in the primary by Stephanie Holderfield in District 1. Doenitz said he hopes the new board remembers rural parts of the county.
"There is an area outside of Champaign-Urbana besides municipaities," he said. "There is a rural area out there that needs to be represented, and that's what I've tried to do. And I hope the next board remembers that. Especially if we go to 22 members."
This month's voter-approved resolution suggests the county board be reduced by six members, while increasing the number of board districts from 9 to 11.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees unanimously approved changes to the U of I's administrative structure during its Thursday meeting in Chicago.
The Board of Trustees gave the university the green light to hire a new vice president who will oversee the health science departments at the Chicago and Urbana campuses as well as at training clinics in Chicago, Urbana, Rockford, and Peoria.
The board also voted to expand the role of the vice president for technology and economic development to include a $716 million research portfolio that includes research on the three campuses. The office will streamline research-related policies and processes, which according to the university will eliminate redundancies.
The third proposal that the board approved was a measure that adds the title of vice president to each of the campus chancellors, and specifies that the president of the university will be known as the president of each campus.
University spokesman Tom Hardy said the administrative changes will help the U of I cut costs by allowing University President Michael Hogan to "establish clear lines of authority to begin to consolidate operations."
"You need leadership at the top to drive that process," Hogan said. "Without it, reform doesn't get done or doesn't get done effectively."
Hogan added that a strong administration will ensure the three campuses work together, and advance research opportunities while maintaining distinctive qualities that make each campus unique.
The changes come more than two weeks after the Urbana Faculty Senate rejected the restructuring plan, citing the cost of hiring an additional vice president as one area of concern.
Joyce Tolliver, who chairs the senate's Executive Committee, said the faculty senate is still concerned about some of the administrative changes, but she said she is encouraged that before each meeting, the Board of Trustees will start holding conference calls with chairs of different faculty committees on each campus. This is a move that she said will create more transparency between the Board of Trustees and the rest of the U of I community.
"It's not that there's anything that we asked about before that we're not concerned about now," Tolliver said. "All the questions are still there, but what I am confident about is that they will be answered going forward."
The Board of Trustees targeted a 2012 goal of reducing the university's administrative costs by five-to-ten percent.
Some of the recommendations for consolidating 'back-office' administrative functions throughout the University were outlined in a June report by the Administrative Review and Restructuring (ARR) working group, which made 43 recommendations for potentially $58 million in cost savings.
Champaign County's METCAD 911 staff says a disruption to service this morning was the result of a cut cable on the University of Illinois campus.
A construction crew accidentally cut the cable at Illinois Street and Matthews Avenue, by the U of I's Noyes Lab, about 8-30 a.m.. METCAD says the worst of the problems were over in an hour, when some of its staff went to Rantoul's Police station to help anyone not getting through to the dispatch facility. Anyone in the county who's unable to use 9-1-1, should call 333-8911. Greg Abbott, METCAD's deputy director of technology, says if callers don't get a ring right away, they should use the alternate number.
So far, he says only a small part of Urbana was impacted. Abbott says it's a good thing the AT & T line was cut at a time when phone traffic is slow. "Usually once everybody gets to their offices or to school in the morning our call volume drops off until around noon," said Abbott. "So if it had to happen, that was probably a good time for it to occur."
The cut line has also affected phone lines to businesses in the area. Customers at the Urbana Schnuck's weren't able to use debit cards for purchases on Thursday. Abbott says the cut line impacted some banks and cell phone towers as well. A-T & T spokeswoman Brooke Vane there's been extensive damage to several cables and the company expects complete restoration to take several days. She says crews will be working around the clock. Vaine says splicing pairs of cables together at the same time is a tedious process.
Sen. Roland Burris' appointment by a disgraced governor made him an oddity and something of an outcast in Washington. But on Thursday he said that his time in the U.S. Senate, however short, was a "towering testament" to the American Dream.
Delivering a farewell speech on the Senate floor, Burris said he was proud of what he accomplished in just under two years in Washington.
"Together we have achieved passage of the most ambitious legislative agenda since the Great Depression," Burris said. He called his time in the Senate "the honor of my lifetime."
Burris cited more than 60 bills he sponsored and 300 others he co-sponsored during his time in office. He said he was particularly proud of his work on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul and increasing funding for Pell Grants.
The Democrat was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris will make way for Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won an election to fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term on Election Day. Kirk will be sworn in after Thanksgiving.
Burris is the Senate's only black member and when he leaves, there will be none -- a fact Burris said was painful to him. He used much of his speech to call for more diversity in government.
The great-grandson of a slave, Burris said his time in the Senate was "a remarkable testament to our nation's ability to correct the wrongs of generations past," but also said that is departure is a "solemn reminder of how far we have to go."
"I am today the only black American member of this Senate ... when the one 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable."
Burris has not announced what he plans to do after leaving office, but is expected to return to Illinois.
Nine candidates are vying to fill out the remaining two years of State Senator Dan Rutherford's term in the 53rd district - now that he has been named Illinois' next Treasurer. Republican leaders from nine counties will caucus on Saturday, and may take a straw vote to narrow the field of candidates down to three or four.
But McLean County GOP Chairman John Parrott Jr said a final vote vote is not expected until after the Thanksgiving holiday, probably December 4.
The field widened Wednesday, when State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton withdrew from competition for family reasons. Onarga State Representative and Iroquois County Party Chair Shane Cultra said it only seems logical to pursue the seat after eight years in the House, and 14 years before that on the Iroquois County Board, but Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman is also pursuing the seat. Cultra noted that could be a problem in Eastern Illinois.
"Because we're splitting the vote over here, and there's several new people now that are entering the race from McLean County and I think there's possibly a couple from Tazewell County," Cultra said. "So on the first ballot, I don't see anyone having enough votes to win."
Sommer's decision revives the candidacy of Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman who had expressed interest until deferring to Sommer. Zimmerman said he would do well in Springfield.
"I think I bring a lot of things to the table," Zimmerman said. "One would be just a lot of common sense. And my experience on the county board has taught me that 'you know what? We just can't spend more than we have."
The other front-runner for the post had been Jason Barickman, a Champaign Attorney and Champaign County party chair.
The GOP chairs will conduct a weighted vote on Saturday, based on the counties' populations. The largest ones in the Senate district are Tazewell, McLean, and Champaign Counties,but Cultra contended that the senator may not even emerge from Saturday's vote since multiple ballots may have to be cast for one person to receive just over 50-percent of the vote. He said names with the fewest votes will be removed from the ballot on each attempt.
Other announced candidates include former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin, University of Illinois Security consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board member John Ackerman, Washington Mayor Gary Manier, former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy, and McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorenson.
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
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