Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2011

Quinn Signs Medicaid Reform into Illinois Law

Gov. Pat Quinn signed major reforms to Medicaid into Illinois law on Tuesday, calling it a "landmark achievement" as he was flanked by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who said the changes aim to reduce costs, pay bills sooner and target fraud.

But some health care advocates said they're concerned because the reforms to the program that provides medical care to the poor include requiring half of all patients on Medicaid be on managed care by 2015.

"It is a landmark achievement, I think, for health care in Illinois," Quinn said.

Quinn said the Medicaid reform efforts are one part of his plan to "stabilize our budget," as Illinois works to plug a deficit that is projected to hit $15 billion in the coming year.

The governor s office estimates the changes will save between $624 million to $774 million over five years. The program's annual budget is $7.6 billion, about one-third of the state's general revenue fund budget. In Illinois, Medicaid is administered by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and includes about 2.8 million people.

Another cost-saving measure would limit income for future enrollees into Illinois' health care program for children, All Kids, to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

The law emphasizes HMO-style "managed care" and reduces the use of costly institutions for people with physical and mental disabilities. It would require the state to pay Medicaid bills sooner, reducing late-payment penalties. It also would take steps to ensure ineligible people don't sign up for medical care.

Barbara Dunn, executive director of the Community Health Improvement Center in Decatur, said she has doubts and concerns about plans to require 50 percent of patients to be on managed care by 2015. The center also has offices in Champaign and Mattoon and half of the 19,000 patients it serves are on Medicaid.

"It can work for them but I don't see it as a slam dunk," Dunn said. "I think it's going to be very difficult to do."

Gina Guillemette with the Heartland Alliance in Chicago said she is particularly interested to see how the move to managed care affects populations that the group serves, including the homeless and mentally ill.

"How they proceed is really critical," Guillemette said. "I think that attention to what people's needs are and what best practices are in integrated and coordinated care are really going to be important."

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said the bill improves the way government delivers services.

"This is providing better health care outcomes at a reduced cost," Steans said. "We are providing the opportunity to move people out of institutions into home and community-based care settings."

Republicans, like state Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon, said there was cynicism about any success before work started on the legislation. But the changes are necessary, he said.

"This program was on a collision course," Righter said. "It had an unsustainable rate of growth where liabilities were far outstripping the revenues available to pay for it."

Other changes would help ensure that only eligible people enroll in Medicaid. Clients would have to provide additional evidence that they meet income requirements, live in Illinois and, for continuing clients, that they're still eligible.

Jim Duffett, executive director of the Campaign for Better Health Care based in Champaign, said moving patients to Medicaid managed care is a concern.

"We just want to make sure as this process moves forward that there are extra strong consumer protections for people on Medicaid and for the provider community to also be protected," Duffett said.

HFS director Julie Hamos said the state now has a road map to efficient and effective Medicaid.

"This will not be easy," she said. "We are talking about transforming the system.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2011

Illini Union Bookstore Begins Selling Apparel to Support Human Rights

The Illini Union Bookstore in Champaign recently unveiled a new apparel line from a company pushing to end poverty in Central America.

South Carolina-based Knights Apparel Inc. runs Alta Gracia, a manufacturing plant in the Dominican Republic. The company employs about 120 people at the factory, and pays each of them $2.83/hour, which exceeds the country's prevailing wage of $0.84/hour. In addition to this salary increase, the company has allowed the workers to form a union.

The non-profit group Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) said the company's salary boost is just enough to adequately feed and shelter a family. In a statement, the WRC said it regularly monitors the facility to make sure the building is up to code and workers are treated well.

"Formal monitoring activities - worker interviews, meetings with management, meetings with union leaders, factory inspections, and review of factory records - all take place at least monthly and in most cases weekly," WRC spokeswoman Theresa Haas said. "Less formal communications with workers and managers occur on a daily basis."

President and CEO of Knights Apparel Joe Bozich said the company makes less because its paying higher salaries, but Bozich noted that the Alta Gracia clothes are sold to consumers at prices that are comparable to other well known brands, like Nike and Adidas. Bozich said he believes this is a viable apparel option because of the social value associated with the clothing line.

"There's been a large group of students that have been asking for this," Bozich said. "They have been petitioning for this for a number of years, saying give us a product to buy that meets a higher standards in terms of corporate social responsibility."

Illini Union bookstore manager Brad Bridges began selling the clothes a couple of weeks ago. Bridges said he would consider dropping partnerships with other clothing companies if there is a large demand for the Alta Gracia apparel.

"Human rights are a big issue with a lot of our students, and we want to provide products that come from a fair wage facility," Bridges said. "I'd like for more companies out there to offer an alternative, so we don't have just one product line from one company"

The factory's clothing is currently sold on more than 200 college campuses.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2011

Illinois High Court will Hear Rahm Emanuel Appeal

Illinois' highest court agreed Tuesday to take Rahm Emanuel's appeal of a decision that threw him off the ballot for Chicago mayor and ordered election officials not to print any mayoral ballots without Emanuel's name.

State Supreme Court justices agreed to expedite the case, but they gave no specific time frame. They planned to review legal briefs only and would not hold oral arguments.

Emanuel has asked the court to overturn a lower ruling that pulled his name off the ballot because he had not lived in the city for a year. His attorneys called Monday's decision "squarely inconsistent" with previous rulings on the issue.

The moves by the high court bought valuable time for Emanuel. The Chicago Board of Elections had said it would begin printing ballots without his name as early as Tuesday, with the election less than a month away. Absentee ballots were to be sent out within days.

Messages left for election officials were not immediately returned.

"I'm confident in the argument we're making about the fact that I never lost my residency," Emanuel said Tuesday at a campaign stop where he picked up an endorsement from the Teamsters Joint Council.

Emanuel said the order on the ballot printing was "an important first step in ensuring that voters are not disenfranchised and that they ultimately get to choose the next Mayor of Chicago."

In their appeal, Emanuel's attorneys called Monday's ruling "one of the most far-reaching election law rulings" ever issued in Illinois, not only because of its effect on the mayoral race but for "the unprecedented restriction" it puts on future candidates.

His lawyers raise several points, including that the appeals court applied a stricter definition of "residency" than the one used for voters. They say Illinois courts have never required candidates to be physically present in the state to seek office there.

By adopting this new requirement, the court rejected state law allowing people to keep their residence in Illinois even if they are away doing work for the state or federal government, the appeal said.

Emanuel, a former congressman who represented Chicago, was gone while he served as President Barack Obama's chief of staff for nearly two years.

The new standard also sets a "significant limitation on ballot access" that denies voters the right to choose certain candidates, the appeal said.

Just hours after Monday's ruling, the campaign to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley began to look like an actual race.

For months, three of the main candidates struggled for attention while Emanuel outpolled and outraised them, blanketed the airwaves with television ads and gained the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton, who came to town to campaign for Emanuel.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, city Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago schools chief Gery Chico suddenly found themselves in the spotlight - and trying to win over Emanuel supporters who suddenly may be up for grabs.

Even as Emanuel vowed to fight the decision, Braun urged voters to join her campaign "with your time, your effort or your money."

Reporters surrounding Chico outside a restaurant asked him if he was a front-runner - something that seemed inconceivable last week when a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed him with the support of just 16 percent of voters surveyed compared with a whopping 44 percent for Emanuel. The same poll showed Braun with 21 percent support, and del Valle with 7 percent.

"I'm trying to get every vote I can from everybody in this city," said Chico, who released records last week showing he had just over $2 million at his disposal, about one-fourth of the money available to Emanuel.

In their 2-1 ruling Monday, an appeals court said Emanuel met the requirements to vote in Chicago but not to run for mayor because he had been living in Washington.

Challengers to Emanuel's candidacy argued the Democrat did not qualify because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years. Emanuel - who quit his job and moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he would not to seek a seventh term - has said he always intended to return to Chicago and was living in Washington at the president's request.

If he doesn't win the appeal, the race takes on a whole new dynamic. In a city with huge blocs of black, white and Hispanic voters, the Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed Emanuel leading among all of them, even though his three top rivals are minorities.

Laura Washington, a local political commentator who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, said if Emanuel is out, Chico, who is Hispanic, could be the big winner in terms of fundraising.

"Rahm has the establishment support, the civic leaders, business community, the money class. And Chico is as close to that type of candidate as anyone," Washington said. "They'd take Chico as a second choice, easily."

Braun would be the big winner among black voters, she said. The recent poll showed Emanuel with the support of 40 percent of black voters compared with 39 percent for Braun, even though two other prominent black candidates dropped out of the race to try to unify the black vote.

Del Valle, another Hispanic candidate, said Emanuel's quandary bodes well for the other candidates, regardless of what the court does.

"Now voters see there's an opportunity to look at the field and give candidates either a second look or in some cases a first look," del Valle said. "People are going to pay more attention to the other candidates.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2011

Court Halts Ballots Without Emanuel’s Name

The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered election officials not to print any mayoral ballots without Rahm Emanuel's name while the justices consider whether to hear an appeal from the former White House chief of staff.

Emanuel has asked the court to overturn a lower ruling that threw him off the ballot because he had not lived in the city for a year. His attorneys called Monday's decision "squarely inconsistent" with previous rulings on the issue.

The high court's order appeared to buy some time for Emanuel. The Chicago Board of Elections had said it would begin printing ballots without his name as early as Tuesday, with the election less than a month away. Absentee ballots were to be sent out within days.

Messages left for election officials were not immediately returned.

There was also no immediate word on whether the high court would hear Emanuel's appeal or when the justices would decide whether to accept it.

"I'm confident in the argument we're making about the fact that I never lost my residency," Emanuel said Tuesday at a campaign stop where he picked up an endorsement from the Teamsters Joint Council.

In their appeal, Emanuel's attorneys called Monday's ruling "one of the most far-reaching election law rulings" ever issued in Illinois, not only because of its effect on the mayoral race but for "the unprecedented restriction" it puts on future candidates.

His lawyers raise several points, including that the appeals court applied a stricter definition of "residency" than the one used for voters. They say Illinois courts have never required candidates to be physically present in the state to seek office there.

By adopting this new requirement, the court rejected state law allowing people to keep their residence in Illinois even if they are away doing work for the state or federal government, the appeal said.

Emanuel, a former congressman who represented Chicago, was gone while he served as President Barack Obama's chief of staff for nearly two years.

The new standard also sets a "significant limitation on ballot access" that denies voters the right to choose certain candidates, the appeal said.

Just hours after Monday's ruling, the campaign to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley began to look like an actual race.

For months, three of the main candidates struggled for attention while Emanuel outpolled and outraised them, blanketed the airwaves with television ads and gained the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton, who came to town to campaign for Emanuel.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, city Clerk Miguel del Valle and former Chicago schools chief Gery Chico suddenly found themselves in the spotlight - and trying to win over Emanuel supporters who suddenly may be up for grabs.

Even as Emanuel vowed to fight the decision, Braun urged voters to join her campaign "with your time, your effort or your money."

"I'm extending a hand of friendship to all the Chicagoans who have been supporting Mr. Emanuel and all those who haven't made their minds up yet," she said. "Going forward, we pledge to work to create a city great enough to provide opportunity for every family. But we can only do this if we come together."

Reporters surrounding Chico outside a restaurant asked him if he was a front-runner - something that seemed inconceivable last week when a Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed him with the support of just 16 percent of voters surveyed compared with a whopping 44 percent for Emanuel. The same poll showed Braun with 21 percent support, and del Valle with 7 percent.

"I'm trying to get every vote I can from everybody in this city," said Chico, who released records last week showing he had just over $2 million at his disposal, about one-fourth of the money available to Emanuel.

In their 2-1 ruling Monday overturning a lower court decision, the appellate justices said Emanuel met the requirements to vote in Chicago but not to run for mayor because he had been living in Washington.

Challengers to Emanuel's candidacy argued the Democrat did not qualify because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years. Emanuel - who quit his job and moved back to Chicago in October after Daley announced he would not to seek a seventh term - has said he always intended to return to Chicago and was living in Washington at the president's request.

Emanuel's lawyers promptly asked the state's highest court to stop the appellate ruling and hear an appeal as soon as possible. Lawyers also asked the court to tell Chicago election officials to keep his name on the ballot if it starts to print them.

Appellate litigation attorney Christopher Keleher said it's likely the court would rule against Emanuel.

"I can tell you from experience that getting a reversal from any Supreme Court is difficult - even more so when you've got a truncated time frame," Keleher said.

But Emanuel said he was forging ahead.

"I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. This is just one turn in the road," Emanuel said Monday, adding that the "people of the city of Chicago deserve the right to make the decision on who they want to be their next mayor."

If he doesn't win the appeal, the race takes on a whole new dynamic. In a city with huge blocs of black, white and Hispanic voters, the Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed Emanuel leading among all of them, even though his three top rivals are minorities.

Laura Washington, a local political commentator who writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times, said if Emanuel is out, Chico, who is Hispanic, could be the big winner in terms of fundraising.

"Rahm has the establishment support, the civic leaders, business community, the money class. And Chico is as close to that type of candidate as anyone," Washington said. "They'd take Chico as a second choice, easily."

But Braun would be the big winner among black voters, she said. The recent poll showed Emanuel with the support of 40 percent of black voters compared with 39 percent for Braun, even though two other prominent black candidates dropped out of the race to try to unify the black vote.

But 27-year-old Thurman Hammond, who is black, said he never cared for Braun and planned to vote for Emanuel "because he was part of the Obama camp."

If Emanuel is not on the ballot, Hammond said, he'll have to do his "homework" on other candidates.

Del Valle, another Hispanic candidate, said Emanuel's quandary bodes well for the other candidates, regardless of what the court does.

"Now voters see there's an opportunity to look at the field and give candidates either a second look or in some cases a first look," del Valle said. "People are going to pay more attention to the other candidates.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 24, 2011

University Community Weighs in on Chancellor Search

It is still early in the search for the University of Illinois' next chancellor, but the university community started weighing in on the hiring process during a public forum Monday night.

Many of the students and faculty members who were at the meeting said they want a chancellor who will represent their interests while considering the financial challenges facing the university.

"This university if it's not led well," architecture student Jake Vermillion said. "Could be severely and radically changed in a negative way."

The state owes the U of I more than $400 million. Vermillion said he is concerned about how the economic climate could affect the School of Architecture, especially as the university mulls over department cuts and consolidations.

That is a concern that has not escaped the committee tasked with finding the next chancellor. U of I Physics Professor Doug Beck heads that committee. Beck said whoever is chosen should have a strong academic history and be familiar with the difficult issues confronting public education.

"With the budget decreasing, the person has to understand in some detail what the consequences are and what possible mechanisms there are for maintaining or increasing revenue from various sources," Beck said, noting that the new chancellor would manage a $1.8 billion budget.

Another common issue brought up at the forum was a focus by the next chancellor to strengthen the relationship between the university and nearby communities.

University leaders say they hope to wrap up the process of replacing interim Chancellor Robert Easter before the next academic year. Easter replaced Richard Herman, who stepped down in October 2009 after an admissions scandal. The new chancellor would also hold the title of vice president.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 24, 2011

Budget Work Begins in Unit 4 Under the Specter of More Cuts

School board members in the Champaign district will have more unenviable work ahead of them as talks begin on a new district budget.

Last year they had to make roughly $2 million in cuts to staff and other expenses to meet a projected budget deficit. For the fiscal year 2012 budget, Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas said Unit 4 will likely have to shed another $2 million in expenses.

Logas said cuts in staff positions may be inevitable, but core curriculum should not be affected. On the other hand, Logas says some specialized courses with low headcounts - mainly in high schools - may not be offered.

"We're not jamming 30 kids into a classroom or anything like that," Logas said. "It's just that some of those classes that we've been able to allow to take place with very small numbers in the past, those are some of the ones we're going to have to take a hard look at and maybe not be able to offer as many of those."

Logas said he hopes that most of the personnel cuts will be resolved through attrition instead of layoffs - but he noted Unit 4 will have to notify potentially laid-off teachers and other staff in March. He said discussions on the 2012 budget begin with Monday night's school board meeting.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 24, 2011

Court: Emanuel’s Name Can’t Appear on Ballot

An Illinois appellate court on Monday threw former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel off the ballot for Chicago mayor because he didn't live in the city in the year before the election.

The decision cast doubt over Emanuel's candidacy just a month before the election. He had been considered the front-runner and had raised more money than any other candidate.

The court voted 2-1 to overturn a lower-court ruling that would have kept his name on the Feb. 22 ballot.

Emanuel plans to appeal the matter to the Illinois Supreme Court. Early voting was set to begin on Jan. 31.

"I have no doubt that we will in the end prevail at this effort. This is just one turn in the road," Emanuel said, adding that the "people of the city of Chicago deserve the right to make the decision on who they want to be their next mayor."

Those challenging Emanuel's candidacy have argued that the Democrat does not meet the one-year residency requirement because he rented out his Chicago home and moved his family to Washington to work for President Barack Obama for nearly two years.

Emanuel has said he always intended to return to Chicago and was only living in Washington at the request of the president.

Emanuel is one of several candidates vying to replace Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who did not seek a seventh term. Emanuel moved back to Chicago in October after he quit working for Obama to campaign full-time.

Before Monday's ruling, attorney Burt Odelson, who represents two voters objecting to Emanuel's candidacy, had little luck trying to keep Emanuel off the ballot.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and a Cook County judge have both ruled in favor of Emanuel, a former congressman, saying he didn't abandon his Chicago residency when he went to work at the White House.

Odelson had said he planned to take the challenge to the state Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Have I stood down at all? No, I've been confident all along because that's the law. That's the way you read the law," Odelson told reporters Monday.

The three main other candidates running - former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former schools President Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle - have been critical of Emanuel during the race, calling him an outsider who doesn't know Chicago.

Emanuel appeared to have gotten a big boost last week when his campaign announced he raised more than $10 million and was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton during an event in Chicago.

A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll also released last week showed Emanuel with the support of 44 percent of those surveyed. The same poll found 21 percent of registered voters questioned prefer Braun, while 16 percent favor Chico and 7 percent support del Valle.

Del Valle said the appeal court's decision bodes well for the other candidates and voters who may have thought the race was a foregone conclusion because the amount of money Emanuel has raised.

"Now voters see there's an opportunity to look at the field and give candidates either a second look or in some cases a first look. People are going to pay more attention to the other candidates," del Valle said.

In its ruling the court said while Emanuel met the requirements to vote in Chicago, he did not meet the requirements to run for mayor because he didn't actually reside in the city for a year before Feb. 22.

"A candidate must meet not only the Election Code's voter residency standard, but also must have actually resided within the municipality for one year prior to the election, a qualification that the candidate unquestionably does not satisfy," according to the ruling.

The residency questions have dogged Emanuel ever since he announced his candidacy last fall. Emanuel tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to break the lease and move out early. The tenant, businessman Rob Halpin, later filed paperwork to run for mayor against Emanuel, only to withdraw from the race a short time later.

More than two dozen people testified on the residency issue at a Chicago Board of Elections hearing in December. The three-day hearing got progressively stranger as attorneys gave way to Chicago residents who filed objections to his candidacy, including one man who asked Emanuel if he caused the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas.

Emanuel's lawyer said he is hopeful the state Supreme Court will take up the case, especially since the appeals court decision was not unanimous.

"I think the fact that there's a dispute within the appellate court certainly makes the case more enticing to the Supreme Court, but I don't speak for them," lawyer Mike Kasper said.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 22, 2011

Chicago White Sox Great Minoso Honored at U of I

The first African-American to wear a major league baseball uniform in Chicago said the sport was ingrained in his blood at an early age, and he owes everything to it.

May 1 marks 60 years since Orestes "Minnie" Minoso broke the city's color line with the White Sox in 1951. He is also the first black-Latino in the major leagues, breaking through with Cleveland two years earlier.

Minoso was honored on the University of Illinois campus Thursday night as part of events commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. He was part of a panel discussion on the Latino integration of baseball, part of two days of events entitled 'Pioneering Latinos: Building a Legacy On and Beyond the Playing Field.'

Minoso said he has always learned to keep a smile on his face, no matter the circumstances. He recalled working in sugar fields as a child in Cuba.

"I had to cut the sugar, clean the sugar field, and plant the sugar field, everything you do, you name it" Minoso said. "I had to get up at 3 o'clock to get ready to make $2.50 a day to find out God opened the door for me to play baseball."

Minoso was honored with an award from the U of I's Latina/Latino studies department, reading: "In recognition of the courage, spirit, and excellence demonstrated as the integration pioneer for the Chicago White Sox."

Appearing with Minoso in Thursday's panel was filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz, Chicago Cubs outfielder Fernando Perez, and moderator and U of I History Professor Adrian Burgos.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Civil Rights, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 21, 2011

Ex-Chicago Cop Gets 4 1/2 Years in Torture Case

A decorated former Chicago police officer whose name has become synonymous with police brutality in the city was sentenced Friday to 4 1/2 years in federal prison for lying about the torture of suspects.

Dozens of suspects - almost all of them black men - have claimed for decades that Jon Burge and his officers electrically shocked, suffocated and beat them into confessing to crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow said the sentence reflected the seriousness of the allegations and, in making her decision, she wondered why a respected officer so admired by his department would resort to such violence.

"My best guess is ambition," Lefkow said. "Perhaps the praise, the publicity and the commendations . . . were seductive and led you down this path."

Burge was charged with lying when he testified in a civil lawsuit brought by Madison Hobley, who was sentenced to death for a 1987 fire that killed seven people, including his wife and son. Hobley was later pardoned.

Hobley claimed detectives put a plastic typewriter cover over his head to make it impossible for him to breathe. Burge denied knowing anything about the "bagging" or taking part in it. The indictment against Burge never said Hobley was tortured but accused Burge of lying about participating in or knowing about torture that took place under his watch. Burge has never faced criminal charges for abuse.

While the former police commander denied during his five-week trial that torture took place, Lefkow noted the jury hadn't believed him - and neither had she. In considering a sentence, Lefkow told Burge she took into account his "unwillingness to acknowledge the truth in the face of all the evidence."

Burge stood facing Lefkow as she read a statement and the sentence. Her offer to let him sit given his poor heath drew groans of protest from the victims and courtroom observers, who otherwise sat rapt as the judge spoke. As Lefkow talked about victims' testimony that she'd found particularly moving, Burge's sister-in-law left the courtroom.

Earlier Friday, Burge told the judge he knew his case brought the police department into disrepute and "for that, I am deeply sorry." He insisted he wasn't the person who's been "vilified" by the media but didn't specifically address the allegations of torture and abuse.

Burge was fired from the department in 1993 for mistreating a suspect, and he choked back tears as he talked about how the case cost him his job and his reputation.

"I'm 63 years old, and while I try to keep a proud face, in reality, I am a broken man," he said.

Burge's attorneys and supporters had pleaded for leniency, noting he has prostate cancer, congestive heart failure and other health problems. His brother asked Lefkow to be "humane," saying, "almost any sentence will be a death sentence, and I don't want to see him die in prison."

More than 30 Burge supporters, many of them police officers, sent Lefkow letters to praising Burge's dedication to his job, selflessness and effectiveness as a police officer and investigator. Two jurors from Burge's trial also wrote letters on his behalf, with one suggesting a prison term of three years would be appropriate.

But the judge said she also received letters from Burge's victims, members of the black community and others who argued for a lengthy sentence. One letter she said she'd be haunted by was from an inmate who'd been incarcerated for 30 years for a crime he said he didn't commit but was tortured into confessing to by the police.

"I had the body of a man, but I was a child inside," Lefkow said he wrote in his letter.

Hobley's sister broke down in tears Friday morning as she talked about the effect her brother's case had on their family. Robin Hobley looked directly at Burge and, with her voice breaking, said: "You put us through 16 years of torment . . . of people believing my brother was a murderer, and he wasn't. You have no idea what you did to our family.

"We believed in the system, we believed in the police.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 21, 2011

Proposed Champaign Service Cuts Include Police, Fire Services

Champaign officials are considering a series of cuts that would affect the city's emergency service departments.

The proposal would not lead to any job cuts to the city's firefighting services, but it would mean closing one firefighting company at Fire Station Four on West John Street, on days when overtime is needed to keep the station running. According to Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba, that would have a dramatic effect on the response time on the city's west side, and could hurt other areas if those firefighters are tied up.

Zaremba said he hopes the public provides feedback on the proposed cuts at the city council study session Tuesday night, and in the days ahead.

"Tuesday night being a study session as opposed to a council meeting, your ability to speak publicly is a lot less," Zaremba said. "What we really want to see and what we're really hoping to see in the near future is not our members come out, but educated citizens come out and express concerns about it."

The recommended budget cuts would lead to the elimination of one person at the police station who staffs the front desk during over night hours from 7 pm to 7 am. City Manager Steve Carter said as a result of the cuts, those inquiring about a towed vehicle or similar service would have to wait until morning. However, he noted that they should be calling METCAD 9-1-1 in the event of a crime or accident.

City Manager Steve Carter suggests that is what mutual aid is for, citing the fire that destroyed the Metropolitan Building in October 2008.

"We have several departments from the surrounding area helping us, and we respond likewise when they don't have adequate staffing," Carter said. "No community can afford by themselves to staff at a level that can address any conceivable emergency situation."

The City Building's information desk would also be closed. The city manager's staff would help route phone calls while the general telephone number would be eliminated.

In total, fifteen city positions would be cut if the $3.5 million reduction plan is approved by the Champaign City Council in March. These cuts would be among the most visible aspects of a spending reduction plan that seeks to eliminate a $2 million gap in the current city budget.

The council votes on the changes in March, but Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said there is no set date when the fire department would make the change, suggesting sales tax receipts could improve later in the year. But Champaign City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said that is unlikely based on the predictions of economists.

"One major revenue source has turned from dropping to now increasing slightly, but our costs are increasing in many ways in which we have limited control," he said.

City staff is also recommending a voluntary separation program. Through it, Carter said it is still possible the city could achieve the savings it is seeking without layoffs.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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