Illinois Public Media News
Champaign's city council has reluctantly signed off on a new two-year contract with its police union.
Most council members supporting the average annual raise of one and three-quarters percent admitted the city couldn't afford it, while leaders are calling for $2-million in cuts. But concerns of the Fraternal Order of Police negotiating an even higher raise through an arbitrator resulted in a six-to-three vote. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said finances are a concern, but was willing to support the contract, saying the FOP met the city halfway.
"Part of what this contract tries to do is take into account where we are at today, and hope for some better times further into the contract," she said. "It's possible we won't have better times further into the contract, and I think we all have to go into this with our eyes open and understand it could mean layoffs or people without jobs." '
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart backed the plan, saying unions in other communites are using arbitration to seek out two-to-three percent raises.
"If we decide to go that route on principal, we have to be ready to find some deeper cuts into the budget to amount to what it's going to cost us, and it's going to set the tone for the other unions that we're dealing with." he said.
But council member Marci Dodds said the city can't afford something that will ultimately lead to layoffs in a city forced to trim $2 million from its budget.
"I can't bring myself to vote for this," she said. "I know how much it is and I know the risk we're taking going to arbitration, if we go to arbitration. I just can't do it. Not this year. Not now."
Council member Tom Bruno voted the plan down, saying there's no guarantee the city would come out worse in arbitration. Aaron Ammons with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice contends the city ignored his group's requests that the contract include a residency requirement for officers. It also wants drug testing for officers in the event someone is accidentally injured or killed, pointing to the 2008 fatal shooting of teenager Kiwane Carrington.
Bruno noted that residency used to be a requirement of officers, and says the city should provide incentives for the union to consider it again. Council member Michael LaDue said the drug test demand isn't unreasonable, suggesting the same could apply to employees that use heavy machinery that could result in accidental injury or death.
The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins Wednesday, April 20 with jury selection. It's been two and a half years since the governor was arrested, then impeached, then tried. Illinois Public Radio's Robert Wildeboer has this audio postcard of highlights from this legal saga that's been marked by political theater.
(AP Photo/Verna Sadock)
The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.
The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.
The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.
A native of England is bringing his vision of year round soccer to Urbana.
The city council has accepted Developer Graham Berry's plans for a 24,000 square foot facility on North Willow Road, west of O'Brien Auto Park.
Berry says he expects to break ground on 'Soccer Planet' next month. He says the visibility from the interstate was a big bonus for the location, as well as the Tax Increment Financing incentives tied to that location. Berry has played in adult soccer leagues that require him to drive to Decatur. Other kids in the area play soccer in cities like Bloomington and Springfield.
But Berry says a local indoor facility built specifically for the sport will open new opportunities for many ages, "...Whether it be a recreational player, a 4-year old who wants to be in a developmental program, learning the game but it's more a social thing between him and his parent or guardian.." he said. "So the competitive player who wants to play year round, this facility is going to provide that."
Berry says the site in Urbana will be state of the art, with a playing surface less susceptible to injuries. "It's not astro turf," he said. "It's field turf. So it's actually a synthetic grass that actually has blades and either rubber infill or matting to protect players when they fall because there's some cushion there."
Berry says the surface will also produce a better bounce for soccer balls. Soccer Planet should be finished by the end of September.
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.
The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.
A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.
But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.
Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.
The Champaign School Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the hope that it might know more about the professional future of Superintendent Arthur Culver, but that meeting has been canceled.
Culver has served in his current role for nearly a decade, and is one of two candidates on a shortlist for the top job with the DeKalb County School System in metropolitan Atlanta.
Culver couldn't be reached for comment, but in an interview with the News Gazette, he stated he thinks he has taken the Champaign School District as far as he can, and that its time for him to "find something somewhere else."
Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson wouldn't comment on what would happen if Culver is not picked for the position in Georgia, but said if he does get it; a national search would begin to replace him.
"We would probably name an interim superintendent for a period of time because we think a national search would take a considerable period of time," Tomlinson said. "Clearly, right now Superintendent Culver is here, and that's who we're looking at."
The Champaign School Board meets Monday, April 25 at 6 PM to talk about personnel issues. Tomlinson wouldn't provide more specifics about the agenda.
Monday's overnight tax filing deadline brought out two very different messages to Champaign's West Side Park.
About 50 supporters of city's Tea Party decried federal government spending, claiming duplication exists in several areas. Political activist John Bambanek said the fault lies with elected officials in all parties. He said a tax hike passed by Illinois lawmakers won't help, only impacting the amount the state can give to pensions.
"We still have over 4-billion dollars in past due bills, and we're still not paying the University of Illinois on time, our schools on time, and our human services on time," Bambanek said. "And it is a spending problem, not a tax rate problem."
Commodities trader Bill Lawless told the group the U.S. spending patterns reflect that of someone who gets several credit cards while only making the minimum payment. He said the federal government spending needs to be cut by 40-percent just to achieve a balance.
Meanwhile, about 30 members of MoveOn.org rallied against companies that they allege are finding ways around paying the 35-percent corporate tax rate. They handed staff members at the Chase Bank downtown Champaign a large piece of cardboard representing a bill for $2-million. Volunteer Robert Naiman said that marks the difference between the taxes the corporation actually paid, and what it should have paid at the proper rate.
"Obviously, we have nothing against the employees in this bank," he said. "Our beef is with the corporate leadership of JP Morgan Chase. They're making the decisions about hiding the profits overseas so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes."
The group says corporations like JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil and FedEx are hiding tax earnings in so-called offshore 'tax havens.'
And there was a small third rally Monday, a matter of feet from the Tea Party Group. Sam Kaufman with the U of I Law Student Labor Action Coalition said its presence of about 12 students was to show elected officials their support for health care reform, and labor-related measures.
(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The landlords who operate the Cherry Orchard Village apartments have been found guilty of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings.
Champaign County Presiding Judge John Kennedy fined Bernard and Eduardo Ramos more than $54,000. They must pay $100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems.
The Ramoses have 180 days to pay the fines. They are also barred from accepting tenants until the sewage problems are addressed.
Cherry Orchard has traditionally been a destination for migrant workers who come to the area during warmer months. Julie Pryde, the administrator with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said the ruling couldn't have come at a better time.
"I was just getting extremely nervous that this was taking so long because summer was getting closer and closer," Pryde said. "We know from history that the place would be completely filled up by then."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County and have faced hundreds of code violations.
Last year, the County amended its nuisance ordinance because of the severity of conditions at Cherry Orchard. The modified ordinance includes a dozen criteria that a building must follow to be considered safe, including access to clean drinking water, plumbing that meets state health codes, and not using extension cords to provide power to a dwelling unit.
Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said many of the conditions outlined in the amended ordinance exist at Cherry Orchard. Hall said his department submitted a complaint with the Champaign County State's Attorney's office under the amended nuisance ordinance to take aim at structural problems that he says exist at Cherry Orchard.
"Well, if there aren't any people living there now, there will someday," Hall said. "And at that point, I would imagine the situation would be even worse by then. If no one lives in a building, it only continues to deteriorate more. It doesn't stop deteriorating just because no one lives there.
Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said her office would only move forward with the nuisance complaint if the buildings on the Cherry Orchard property aren't repaired and tenants continue living there.
"If people do occupy the premises again, we have another complaint to file," Papavasiliou said.
The Ramoses immediately filed an appeal following Monday's court ruling.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate has approved a change that would allow GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if indicted Republican Charlie White is found to be ineligible, a move Democrats called a blatant power grab that changes the rules in the middle of the game.
Democrats are challenging the eligibility of White, who faces voter fraud charges. They argue that state law requires runner-up Democrat Vop Osili to take office if White is ineligible.
A change approved by the Senate on Monday would instead allow the governor to pick a new elections chief if the winner is ineligible. Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis says the change was spurred by White's case and that the non-elected recount commission shouldn't determine the election's outcome.
The University of Illinois has taken preliminary steps toward renovating the Assembly Hall and says it hopes to start construction in 2013.
The university has asked for bids from construction managers looking to take on the project and design work. The requests tentatively list the start date as January 2012 with a completion date of June 2015. They indicate the school would like to have the work done in phases so men's and women's teams could continue to play basketball in the arena.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Monday that the school doesn't yet have a good cost estimate. The project still needs the approval of university trustees.
Brown said Illinois is talking with Midwest-based companies about naming rights for the 48-year-old arena but he wouldn't identify them.
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