Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2010

Union Official Testifies on Conversations with Blagojevich on Senate Choice

Testimony from a labor union official shows ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich angled for job offers and other help from supporters of President Barack Obama.

The SEIU's Tom Balanoff says in November 2008 he acted as a go-between between Blagojevich and members of Obama's inner circle.

In a secretly taped call played at the trial on Tuesday, Blagojevich talks to Balanoff about Senate candidates, including Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.

Then the governor wonders aloud if Obama donors would give millions to start a health care advocacy group Blagojevich could work for.

BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah and then we can help our new senator, Valerie Jarrett, go out and push that. BALANOFF: So let me...let move this idea and...let me put that flag up and see where it goes.

Balanoff testified Tuesday he never had any intention of looking into Blagojevich's idea.

On cross examination, Balanoff acknowledged Blagojevich never explicitly said he'd appoint Jarrett in exchange for personal benefits or favors.

Balanoff also testified that state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias told him in passing, "Maybe (Blagojevich will) appoint me."

When Balanoff told the governor this, he says Blagojevich responded with a expletives aimed at Giannoulias.

Giannoulias' current Senate campaign says his comment to Balanoff about being interested in the seat was made "half jokingly."

Meantime, Balanoff says Blagojevich also dismissed suggestions that Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky get the appointment.

He says Blagojevich told him he wanted to pick an African American, so the governor said - quote - "If Jan could show me she had any ancestors who came over on a slave ship, she'd be fine."

A statement from Schakowsky says the comment "demonstrates Blagojevich's cynical attitude toward the African-American community.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2010

Champaign County Sheriff’s Candidate Faces Challenge to Nominating Petitions

An independent candidate for Champaign County Sheriff faces a possible roadblock in his effort to get on November's ballot.

Jerommie Smith of Sidney says he'll carefully examine the voter registry and contest a challenge from Stephen Frank. The Fisher resident is objecting to more than 1,000 signatures on Smith's petitions - claiming a number of them aren't from registered voters. Other claims from the former law partner of Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh include that the signatures are illegible, voters from outside the county signed the petitions, and that petitions were signed more than once.

Smith, who's from Sidney, says he expected an immediate challenge when filing the petitions, noting Sheriff Walsh hasn't had an election opponent. "I think that anytime you start getting competition, and you throw that out there, and if you can win an election by not having to a campaign, I guess that's what they're trying to do." said Smith. "The question I have is - who checked the voter registry to our petitions? All I know is that he (Frank) filed, and they're claiming an objection to this, and I don't know who checked them, who didn't, and I don't know if it matters or not. But our job is to go through it ourselves to see if their claims are valid or not."

The 3-member Champaign County Electoral Board has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 at the county courthouse to hear Frank's objections. One of that's panel's members, Urbana Circuit Clerk Linda Frank, is the ex-wife of Stephen Frank, and has already said she'll step down for that hearing. Smith calls that an 'admirable' move.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2010

U of I Study Shows Robins Are Competent Hosts of West Nile

A study of the spread of West Nile virus shows it has a new culprit.

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois says robins are unwittingly spreading the virus after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying it. Professor Jeff Brawn heads the U of I's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Unlike crows and jays, which die when they get the disease, he says some robins survive when bitten by an infected mosquito. And Brawn says that's a problem in urban environments. "They seem to be to amplify the virus in their bloodstream but they don't die from it at a real high rate," said Brawn. "So you've got a common bird that the mosquitoes prefer, and one that the virus seems to do very well in, too."

Brawn and a team of U of I researchers are tracking West Nile in Chicago's southwest suburbs. The group has been able to detect what mosquitoes have been feeding on through DNA samples. Brawn says if another mosquito bites a robin, the mosquito gets the virus and can then transmit it to another host, possibly another bird or human. He suggests wearing long sleeve shirts, minimizing outdoor time from dusk to dawn, and using insect repellent this summer to avoid the illness. "It's not like robins are the enemy, and if you see one, you're going to get West Nile virus," said Brawn. "It's just that robins are species that seems to be involved in kind of a epidemiology of the virus."

Brawn's study includes several institutions, including Michigan State and Emory University. It's funded by the National Science Foundation.

Categories: Education, Environment, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2010

Former Chicago Police Officer Convicted of Lying About Torture

A federal jury has convicted former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge of perjury and obstruction of justice charges of lying about the torture of suspects.

Jurors delivered their verdict Monday. Burge now faces up to 45 years in prison.

Burge was accused of lying in a civil suit when he said he'd never seen or participated in the physical abuse of suspects in order to get confessions.

The decorated former lieutenant had testified in his own defense, pitting his word against that of five men who claimed Burge and his officers shocked, suffocated and beat them in the 1970s and 1980s.

Burge was fired from the police department in 1993 over the alleged mistreatment of a suspect. He never was criminally charged in the case.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2010

Decatur Economic Official Expects Jobs to Accompany Broadband Announcement

Decatur has become the latest Illinois community to benefit from an update to more than 20-year old telecommunications law.

Governor Pat Quinn was in the city Monday, announcing it now has access to AT&T's super-fast mobile broadband network. Craig Coil is the President of the Decatur and Macon County Economic Development Corporation. He says the city has been behind the curve in luring in new technology, particularly for the business community - and that it's safe to assume to the announcement will lead to new jobs in Decatur. Earlier this month, the Governor signed off on a plan that updates a 1985 law, giving phone companies more flexibility to expand service. The measure allows the companies to change pricing and package deals without having to wait for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Coil says the changes are critical as everyone becomes more mobile. "The day of the land line is guess is, while not gone, certainly diminished over what it had been in past years," said Coil. "Our ability to take advantage of these techologies continues to be a critical factor, along with the ongoing ability of our community to communicate globally and more efficiently and more effectively, so it's a positive for everybody."

Last week, AT&T announced plans to add more than 80 cell sites in Illinois this year, along with the upgrade of 300 other sites. The company has spent more than a billion dollars to bring the 3G broadband network to Illinois.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2010

Committee Challenges UIUC to Make More Money on Research, Admit More Out of State Students

As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.

The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.

"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."

Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 25, 2010

Sen. Brady says Illinois’ Minimum Wage Should Match the Federal Rate

Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says the minimum wage in Illinois is too high to be competitive and it should match the federal rate.

But Brady stopped short Friday of saying he would roll back the state wage... which will go to $8.25 an hour July 1... if elected in November. The state senator from Bloomington says the federal wage of $7.25 should be uniform across the nation so that states with lower rates than Illinois' don't steal jobs away. A Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor adopted a four-year process that upped the state wage each year. This year's bump is the final step.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier this week he "fought hard to increase the minimum wage in our state.

Categories: Economics, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 25, 2010

Champaign-Based Group Conducts 21st Annual ‘Rocket Launch

Once a year for the last 20 years, a park in Champaign becomes a kind of launching pad.

This year, the Great Annual Rocket Launch takes on the theme of 'The Year We Make Contact' - since it is 2010. Awards will include best Science Fiction or Fantasy Rocket and Best Flying Saucer Flight.

Jonathan Sivier with the group Central Illinois Aerospace says there's no telling how complex some of the amateur spacecraft will be. But he says there could be a wide variety of designs this year. "Some things that look like something from a movie or TV show or something like that." said Sivier. "We have a secondary theme of flying saucers, and then every year we have - 'what's the most impressive flight of the day?' 'what's best the best looking rocket of the day?'... it's all very arbitrary." Sivier says the projects vary, but adds he's amazed what some can do compared to when the group started in the early 90's. "There are some little bitty video cameras that are very tiny, but get really good results from their rockets," said Sivier. "And the variety of motors that are available for rockets these days is quite wide."

Sivier and some friends started Central Illinois Aerospace when they were students at Mahomet-Seymour High School. It now has more than 40 regular members, but he says many more come out for the annual rocket launch. It's from 10 to 4 Saturday in Dodds Park, and includes a potluck dinner.

Categories: Science, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 25, 2010

Financial Troubles Extend to the First Line of Assistance for Immigrants

A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 25, 2010

Champaign Co Bd OKs Furlough Day Agreement with AFSCME

22 Champaign County union employees would take unpaid furlough days to help keep the county in the black --- under an agreement that the County Board ratified Thursday night.

he 22 are all members of AFSCME Local 900, which represents about 150 county employees paid by the county's General Fund. County Administrator Deb Busey says they only needed furlough days for a few of the union employees, as part of mid-year budget cuts approved by the county board last month.

"Because the midyear cuts we did that led to these furlough days were done at the department level", explains Busey. "And only six of the departments needed to use furlough days, as part of their solution for the cuts that they had to make."

The departments using furlough days include Administrative Services, the Auditor, the State's Attorney, the Juvenile Detention Center and Emergency Management. The furloughs will range from four hours to three days in length.

Members of AFSCME Local 900 will vote on the furlough agreement next week. If the agreement is ratified, the 22 AFSCME workers will join 57 non-union employees who also face furlough days over the next few months. Busey says Champaign County is also trying to negotiate furlough days for 48 Fraternal Order of Police union members in the county court system.

Categories: Government, Politics

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