Illinois Public Media News
The city of Champaign is instituting changes to its Police Complaint Process --- in the wake of last fall's police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
The revamped complaint process is meant to be simpler and less intimidating, with a PR campaign to tell the public how it works. But all complaints will still be reviewed by the police department --- with appeals going to the city manager. At Tuesday night's city council study session, about a dozen Champaign and Urbana residents said the council should consider a citizens review board or other outside body to hear appeals. Councilman Will Kyles agreed.
"I support what has been brought forth, but I know that an outside voice has to look into these things" said Kyles. "It just has to be or we will continue to have these conversations over the next few years."
Councilman Tom Bruno remains cool to the idea --- he says those who spoke in favor of a Citizens Review Board are in the minority citywide.
"I frankly don't hear a preponderance of the citizens of Champaign asking for one", says Bruno.
City Manager Steve Carter says one new part of the police complaint process will allow residents to opt for working things out with a professional mediator, bypassing the formal complaint process.
"What they really want is to seek some fairness to the resolution, which involves a face-to-face discussion with the officer" says Carter, "so that they can express their feelings at about what happened, and their concern. And then also hear back from the officer about why the officer did what he did or she did,and just arrive at an understanding and just an ability to talk through that."
The mediation option was singled out for praise by several council members, and by several members of the public who criticized the city for not including a Citizens Review Board as part of the complaint process.
Council members voted unanimously to endorse the new Police Complaint process during the study session. No further action is needed
A researcher at Mayo Clinic says a new collaboration with the University of Illinois will enable his facility to interpret the school's research.
The alliance impacting clinical research, bioengineering, and diagnostics has been in the works for about 18 months. Eric Wieben is Director of Mayo's Advanced Genomics Technology Center. He says the two entities complement one another well. For Wieben's line of work, he says DNA sequencing instruments are turning out more data each time they're used. Wieben says an institution like the U of I will improve care for patients by reading more than a billion letters of DNA code in one hour. "Mayo has a lot of patient information and samples that are in the queue for DNA sequencing," says Wieben. "The University of Illinois has world-renowned computing resources and the people who know how to use those to effectively make knowledge out of large amounts of data."
A Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of I, Rashid Bashir, says the goal of an alliance between the two is improving individualized medicine. The partnership will focus on computer-based skills, like tissue engineering. Bashir says this partnership could result in facilities that detect different markers of disease by feeding data through a digital network. He says the two parties have already received about 30 requests from researchers to work on the project, but that number could be growing. "We really hope that it will be open to any and all researchers from the University of Illinois and any researchers and physicians from Mayo Clinic," said Bashir. "Some partnerships have already initiated and we hope many more will come. So it's really kind of an umbrella agreement that gets the two institutions to work together towards these grant challenges for health care."
Both the U of I and Mayo Clinic are placing some seed money into the alliance, but Bashir says the majority of the work will rely on federal grant applications. The U of I and Mayo Clinic will each put some seed funds for the project, but the collaborators will seek out federal grants for most of their research. Mayo Clinic has three campuses, operating in Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona.
Less revenue, less spending, and more vacant positions are features of the budget approved by the Urbana City Council Monday night.
The$ 48 million budget avoids any staff layoffs by leaving seven positions vacant, and by freezing salaries --- although contract negotiations with city unions are still in progress. It also relies on six million dollars in city fund reserves to fill the gap between city spending and projected tax revenues.
In introducing some last-minute revisions, Mayor Laurel Prussing says she had some good news from city Comptroller Rod Eldridge. According to the mayor, "Ron Eldridge says that even though our revenues are going to be down a little bit more for this year, our spending is going to be down even more. So we're going to have more of an ending fund balance than he originally anticipated."
The budget passed on a 5 to 2 vote.
Meanwhile, Urbana council members had mixed opinions during their first discussion of the mayor's proposal for a city motor fuel tax.
Republican Heather Stevenson says the mayor's tax would simply send motorists to Champaign to shop for gasoline --- and they might shop for other things as well.
"If I can save it by going across Wright Street, then I might as well continue to go and spend the money that I've saved, not spending money on gas in Urbana, at the shops in Champaign", says Stevenson.
But Mayor Prussing says a two-cent motor fuel tax would hardly be noticed amidst the ups and downs of gasoline prices.
"Two cents per gallon - the price fluctuations are much bigger than that", says Prussing. "You see 20-cent differences in prices per gallon, so I think two cents is very small."
But Prussing says a 2-cent tax would be enough to bring in another $500,000 a year for the city to spend on improving its streets. Urbana already receives money from a state motor fuel tax, but the mayor says that revenue hasn't kept up with rising costs. Prussing says she'll have her staff do more research on her gas tax proposal, and come back to the council with information on other small cities with motor fuel taxes.
By a 5 to 2 vote, the Urbana City Council has banned the outdoor use of indoor furniture.
Council members Heather Stevenson and Dennis Roberts cast the two votes against the ban. Both of them said the government had no business telling people what they could do with furniture at their own homes and yards. Roberts says he's gotten a lot of feedback from the public on the ban, most of it in opposition.
"They agree that the city is sort of tip-toeing into overregulation of people's habitats and homes", said Roberts.
But Alderman Dave Gehrig argues that the dangers involved in keeping flammable indoor furniture out of doors are too great to ignore.
It's more than a decade since we had a fire death in Urbana, and this is about trying to keep it that way", said Gehrig.
Gehrig cited last month's fire at a rental house on Stoughton Street near Lincoln Avenue. Eight people were displaced --- one of them severely burned --- when fire in a couch on the front porch spread to the entire house.
Urbana Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the outcome could very well have been fatal.
"We dodged a bullet, so to speak", says Dilley. "And we decided, I don't want to ever go to another fire again, and see a young lady of that age, with the type of burns on her body pulled out of a building like, if I can do anything about it. As fire chief, that's my job."
Dilley says indoor furniture stored on a porch or elsewhere outdoors can be easily set ablaze, and a fire can be well underway before people inside the house find out about it.
Urbana's ordinance is similar to one already on the books in Champaign. Repeat offenders will be subject to possible fines set by a judge. The ordinance makes exceptions for furniture brought outside to be sold at a yard sale, or left out for garbage pickup.
Illinois' financial uncertainty has prompted a lot of school districts to move to one-year contracts for teachers.
But a union spokesman says that's not the case in East Central Illinois. The Illinois Education Association's Gene Vanderport says the districts in the area have been pretty fair to those he represents. He says there have been a lot of early settlements with multi-year contracts, including Urbana, and he expects those in Gifford and Rantoul City Schools to settle soon as well. But Vanderport admits it's been a struggle for most school districts. "Nobody's getting rich in public education, that's for sure,"said Vanderport. "We're down to absolute bare minimum of people doing the services that need to be done, to educate the kids. We're not making Buicks, we're educating brains, and it takes X number of people to do that. School boards recognize that we gotta keep feeding our families, and they've been relatively decent across the board in recognizing our needs."
Still, Vanderport says his union and others are trying to settle without asking for too much, while urging state and federal lawmakers to work on a consistent and sustainable school funding formula. "That's why we're for progressive funding mechanisms that aren't in place at this point," said Vanderport. "And we hope to continue to lobby for those, and make those issues election-year issues." Vanderport says negotiations with Champaign teachers are still taking a while. The two sides have been bargaining since January, and he says salary and benefits remain the sticking points. Vanderport says Champaign Unit 4 schools and his union should wrap up talks by August, but he says it's hard to say what the length of the contract will be.
Preliminary tests of a liquid spill near a railroad track in Danville show that residents there aren't at any health risk. Illinois' Environmental Protection Agency hopes to have more information at a public meeting in the city on Wednesday. But agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says the first samples prove that the smell of the fatty acids used in industrial settings are the only problem so far. "We're fully aware that there are odors and the neighbors have experienced them, and this is a problem," says Carson. "Even though there's not a hazardous chemical involved, the odors affect the quality of life of the neigbhors."
The substance appeared to have come from Double-S Liquid Feed Service on North Bowman Avenue. Carson says some of it spilled as it was being off-loaded, and rain waters carried it into a ditch. She says the area isn't heavily populated, but enough people were adversely affected to call for the meeting. Carson says it's also not yet known how much of the liquid had spilled, but she says inspections of site show small quantities of the substance may have spilled before there. The EPA is working with Double-S and the city of Danville to clean up the site. Carson says if the problem proves to be severe, the EPA could call the Attorney General's office over possible fines or other penalties. The EPA's public meeting over the spill is Wednesday at 12:15 at the Danville Boys and Girls Club.
Scott Lee Cohen plans to file his petitions with the Illinois State Board of Elections to run as independent for governor.
Cohen says he'll file the signed petitions on Monday afternoon in Springfield. His campaign said in a news release Sunday that he's been on a five-week, nonstop campaign to collect the 25,000 signatures needed to get on the November ballot. Cohen's campaign says he has more than 130,000 signatures.
Cohen is trying to revive his political career after being forced to resign as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor when issues in his personal life became widely known.
He says voters "were very anxious'' to sign the petition and he thinks they'll be "just as eager'' to vote for him in November.
The University of Illinois is scrapping plans to spend nearly $100,000 on a sculpture of university President Stanley Ikenberry. U of I spokesman Thomas Hardy says Ikenberry called off the project this week shortly after the Chicago Tribune began asking questions about it. But Hardy would not talk on tape with WILL Radio, saying he felt the Tribune was trying to make a news story out of something that wasn't worth the attention. Hardy did say the $98,000 project was a fraction of the cost of the $75 million Ikenberry Commons residence hall project. The university originally planned to hang the sculpture in the dining hall that's opening this fall. The art was to be paid for with student housing fees.
The Tribune reports that the school hadn't yet signed a contract, but university officials had filed paper work with the state to justify the no-bid, $98,000 purchase. The U of I had reportedly planned to award the project to Urbana-based sculptor Peter Fagan. Hardy says Ikenberry stopped the plan because he didn't want to generate any ill will. The expenditure would have come amid a budget crisis that's led university officials to furlough employees and raise tuition. Hardy says private funding of the sculpture could be explored at later.
Nearly 70 years after opening as a site for producing explosives, about 7,000 acres in Western Indiana are now being prepared for industry. The US Army held a deactivation ceremony yesterday to signal the closure of the Newport Chemical Depot.
When Terry Arthur came to work there 1993, she was told her job would last five years, as the Army set out to store and dispose of the chemical nerve agent VX.
But the 9-11 terrorist attacks brought about a new age... and changed a lot of jobs there as about 200 soldiers were brought into secure the Depot. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert spoke with Arthur:
The Los Angeles Lakers have won their 16th NBA championship, dramatically rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 83-79 Thursday night in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
Kobe Bryant scored 23 points despite 6-of-24 shooting while winning his fifth title with the Lakers, who repeated as NBA champions for the first time since winning three straight from 2000-02.
Ron Artest added 20 points for the Lakers, who shot terribly while trailing for most of the first 31/2 quarters. Yet they reclaimed the lead midway through the fourth quarter and hung on with big shots from Pau Gasol and Artest.
With their fifth title in 11 seasons, the Lakers moved one championship behind Boston's 17 banners for the overall NBA lead.
After the game, hundreds of jubilant Los Angeles Lakers fans poured into the streets near Staples Center, and Los Angeles Police declared an unlawful assembly.
Police urged people to disperse immediately outside Staples Center Thursday night.
A police spokesman says at least two people have been arrested --- both misdemeanors for drinking in public.
Police massed around the arena before the game, aiming to prevent a repeat of the violence that accompanied the Lakers' victory last year.
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