Illinois Public Media News
The two major political party leaders in Champaign County say they were blindsided by Governor Pat Quinn's decision to change Illinois' primary election process.
The governor used his amendatory veto power to write a new provision into a bill involving voter guides. The provision would remove the requirement that people declare which party's ballot they want when they go to the polls. Quinn's revision would mean that poll workers would hand voters ballots for all parties, and voters would choose secretly which one to turn in. However, lawmakers could choose to override Quinn's revision in the fall veto session.
Al Klein heads the Champaign County Democratic Committee but doesn't like his fellow Democrat's move. Klein says it will make his job tougher if he can't find out someone's party affiliation by how they voted.
"There are appointments that currently have to be made on a partisan basis", says Klein. "How do you determine --- other than what the person told you --- what their partisanship was, over the last ten years or so?"
Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman has the same concern as a party leader, but he's ambivalent on whether an open primary is a good idea.
"I think there's a good-government argument that can be made in favor of it, and that's enticing to me", says Barickman. "I think there some maybe more logistical questions as to how party leaders determine who their membership is."
Barickman says Republicans he's talked to are split in their opinion over an open primary. Supporters say if people weren't forced to openly declare a party, more would come out to vote.
Governor Pat Quinn is replacing the head of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice which runs the state's youth prisons.
Kirk Friedenauer has headed up the agency since its inception in 2006.
That's when the Illinois legislature separated the youth prisons from the adult department of corrections with the idea that the state should treat kids, and rehabilitate them.
But the Blagojevich administration didn't give the agency any additional money and little progress was made.
In a recent interview with Chicago public radio station WBEZ, Friedenauer said, "Change that is meant to last and meant to endure, especially within the public arena, is a process, it's not an event, and it has to be one step at a time as fast as you can get there and we're gonna have setbacks."
Quinn says Friedenauer's departure is one part of his plan to move the youth prisons into the treatment focused department of Children and Family Services.
Quinn says he'll announce a new director shortly.
The University of Illinois is enacting a short-term plan to accommodate classes in areas like geology and biology that take place in the Natural History Building.
A recent inspection of termite damage determined that concrete was incorrectly poured when the structure's 1908 addition was built, that meant vacating that part of the building, leaving behind lots of research materials. Clark Wise is Director of Construction Management for U of I Facilities and Services. With the fall semester about six weeks away, he's requested that administrators waive competitive bidding laws for contractors, which the state allows in an emergency. Wise says just over $1 million will allow his staff to stabilize concrete slabs long enough to move research and other classroom equipment to another part of the building, or elsewhere on campus. But Wise says a permanent plan for the Natural History Building will take some time.
"We're starting to just have discussions now on what the permanent solution would be to this portion of the building," said Wise. "And does it make good sense for us just to repair the structural slabs, or should we have a more comprehensive renovation of that area that would take in deffered maintenance and other items that are present currently." Operations Manager for the U of I's School of Earth, Society, and Environment, Scott Morris, says he's confident materials will be moved in time for classes, but says it could be two to three years before repair work on the Natural History Building is complete.
The 1908 addition had to be vacated on June 10th. Wise says other buildings are being remodeled to accommodate all those who were displaced, including about 25 graduate students. But Wise says he's pleasantly surprised the U of I didn't have to rent out additional space.
It's been ten years since the Champaign City Council approved its first honorary street for a ten-year-term. And the council marked the anniversary Tuesday night by endorsing a renewal of the street for another ten years.
Honorary Illini Boulevard follows Kirby Avenue from Mattis Avenue east into the University of Illinois campus, past both Memorial Stadium and the Assembly Hall. Developer Kyle Robeson proposed the street name a decade ago, and requested its renewal this year to recognize the U of I's importance to the
"It's very simple", explains Robeson. "The university is the powerhouse that runs this city. Both cities, Urbana and Champaign. And that's why we're here. Or we'd just be another railroad town."
According to Mayor Jerry Schweighart, Robeson originally proposed Illini Boulevard as an official street name, but the city council decided on the honorary designation instead. Now, Champaign has honorary street signs honoring local civic leaders, athletes, soldiers, police officers, and entertainers. Schweighart says the honorary streets have served the city well.
"I think that we recognize some people that should be recognized" says Schweighart. "We get some requests that we have elected not to honor, for one reason or another. But by and large, it's (gone) pretty good."
Champaign now has more than two dozen honorary streets, and their special signs honor people ranging from local civil rights activist John Lee Johnson to film critic Roger Ebert. Honorary Illini Boulevard is unusual, because it's not named after a specific person. Council Member Marci Dodds says that's an inconsistency which warrants holding a discussion to set formal criteria for honorary street names. But she still voted to renew Honorary Illini Boulevard.
"I think we should go ahead and do it for a host of reasons" said Dodds during the council discussion, "not the least of which is probably the U of I could use our very vocal and visible support about now. But it's very different than other ones we've done. So I'm getting to think that it might be time that we really settle out on what will be an honorary street name, and what won't, so it doesn't look quite so arbitrary."
In addition to Illini Boulevard, other honorary streets in Champaign that don't honor specific individuals include Veterans Parkway to honor local veterans, and Burnham Boulevard to honor the old Burnham City Hospital.
Seven more honorary street names come up for renewal or cancellation next year --- including streets honoring Paralympic athlete Jean Driscoll and rock band REO Speedwagon.
A faculty committee will investigate whether a former University of Illinois religion professor's academic freedoms were violated.
Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter says the Academic Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure should complete its review of Kenneth Howell by time the fall semester starts. The adjunct professor was let go after a student complained about Howell's lessons on Catholicism, when he stated that homosexual sex was morally wrong. Easter says it's the U of I's obligation to present all sides of an issue, and that's valued by the academic community. But he says there are areas that require a review.
"An individual can be viewed as going beyond, if you will, the bounds of educational discussion discourse to advocating a particular viewpoint." said Easter. "And that's the question that seems to be important to addressing this particular case. I think that's why we'd be well advised to have a group of faculty have a look at this." Easter says administrators need to see what the committee says before determining whether Howell is reinstated.
The outgoing chair of the Senate committee, professor Jeff Dawson, says it needs a charge letter from Easter before proceeding with the review. "It will specify the scope of our investigation with respect to academic freedom and tenure." said Dawson. "And there are other issues about long-term relationships between the university and more than one religion group on campus, and the nature of that relationship." Easter says the professor's dismissal has also raised questions about the relationship between the U of I's Department of Religion and St. John's Catholic Newman Center. He says Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Ruth Watkins is looking into whether it warrants further study.
May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology, talks with Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn about a series of events on pollinators. Berenbaum says most plants rely on pollination to survive, and she says there are about just as many species of pollinating insects as there are pollinating plants.
A faculty group at the University of Illinois' flagship campus will review the decision to fire an adjunct religion professor for saying he agreed with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.
Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor Robert Easter said Monday he hopes to have a decision on the firing of Kenneth Howell from the Faculty Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure by the time fall classes start. The review is to determine whether Howell's academic freedom was violated.
Howell taught classes on Catholicism. He was fired at the end of the spring semester after a class discussion of the Catholic prohibition of homosexual sex. Howell says as a Catholic he agrees with it. A friend of an unidentified student complained, leading to Howell's firing.
The Urbana City Council gave the go-ahead Monday night for work on a new bike and walking path along High Cross Road on the city's east end. But the project is now much smaller than first planned.
The problem is the price. The project is now slated to cost a total of 1-point-2 million dollars, nearly twice the price estimate given when the planning was done back in 2005. , An ITEP (IIllinois Transportation Enhancement Program) federal grant is supposed to pay for most of the project. But Urbana Public Works Director Bill Grey says building the entire path at its current price may exceed the limits set by the grant rules. Still, he says scrapping the project and giving the money back would hurt Urbana's changes for landing such grant money in the future.
"I don't want to give you the impression, that if we go with Option Two and put the money back, that we're never going to see an ITEP grant again, so I'm not saying that tonight", says Grey. "I'm just saying it's going to hurt our chances, in competition with other cities, counties, entities that apply for this money. That we're not going to be in quite the same graces. That's all I'm saying."
In the end, the Urbana City Council voted for "Option Five". That calls for building just the southern portion of the multi-use path at this time --- from Windsor Road, past the Stone Creek subdivision, and out to Po' Boys restaurant and sport complex. The path would not make it out to the future Menard's site or to Walmart. With the reduced plan, the city will pay $310, 000 of its own money - instead of the $1.1 million the city would pay for its share of the full project.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's motor fuel tax plan faces charges from critics who say it would raise gasoline prices in the city. But the mayor and chief of staff told council members Monday night that other towns with their own motor fuel taxes haven't had that problem.
Mike Monson, the mayor's chief of staff, says he talked with officials at six downstate cities with motor fuel taxes, including Danville, Tilton, Galesburg and Peoria.
"I talked to them about the competitive effect, " says Monson. "They seemed to think there wasn't much of a price differential between stations that were within the city that were collecting this tax, and stations in nearby communities and unincorporated areas that didn't have it."
But Monson walked back from earlier estimates that a two-cent a gallon gasoline tax could raise a half million dollars a year for Urbana. He now thinks the number would be more like $350,000. City Public Works Director Bill Grey says that would still be enough to help keep up with street maintenance.
"We really need to do more work with resurfacing streets, and seal-coating, crack-sealing and patching streets", says Grey. "So two cents would be a big help." :
Prussing argues that a 2-cent per gallon motor fuel tax would would be barely noticeable --- if passed on to customers --- because gasoline prices already vary widely from one gas station to another. Prussing says she did her own survey of gas station prices last Friday, and found a 23 cent difference between the highest and lowest prices.
"So a 23 cent difference between two gas stations in the same city is more than ten times as much as a two cent tax", says Prussing. "We don't think the tax will get passed on, but if it does, it's still a very small amount, compared to the daily changes and the differences between stations."
Still Republican Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was unconvinced. She said she worried gas stations just outside the Urbana city limits --- in Champaign to the west and Urbana Township to the east --- could take customers away from gas stations in Urbana, if a motor fuel tax passes.
Mayor Prussing says a city gasoline tax is needed, because revenue from the state's motor fuel tax and Urbana's s general fund have not kept up with inflation. She says discussion of the proposed tax will continue at a later council meeting.
The University of Illinois still has about six weeks to act on a plan to borrow funds in order to make payroll and fund other areas where it's lacking in money owed by the state.
U of I Trustees have already granted administrators the authority to take advantage of a bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn that enables public universities to borrow up to 75-percent of what's owed by the state for up to a year. For the U of I, that's around $210-million. But administrators expect to wait until just before the August 31st deadline to decide whether to act on the measure. Ed McMillan chairs the Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance, and Facilities committee. He says the U of I will continually assess its cash flow before making that decision.
But McMillan says all public universities, particularly those in Illinois, need to keep looking for new funding sources. "As you look at us over the next... let's say three years, you're going to find us working very hard at finding a revenue model that relies upon a different mix of revenue sources," said McMillan. "What that's going to be I don't know. I think you can look around the United States and see several different models that are being tried and successfully being pursued. I don't think any of us have any any predetermination as to what model should be."
U of I Associate Vice President of Planning and Budgeting Randy Kangas says the school could soon seek out a line of credit with a bank if it utilizes the borrowing measure. He notes the state intends to pay its overdue bills by the end of the calendar year... and that short-term interest rates are very favorable. And with Fiscal 2011 just underway, some leaders at the U of I are already thinking of the following fiscal year. Kangas says U of I Trustees plan to seek out about $67-million in state funds for fiscal 2012 by their September meeting. That's in addition to seeking the normal state appropriation of $697-million. Kangas says prior years have brought requests for additional funds of more than $100-million, seeking out help for areas like campus diversity and initiatives to improve graduation rates. He says there hasn't been a change in aspirations, but U of I leaders recognize the reality of Illinois' financial crisis. Kangas says the focus will be to see that top salaries are funded.
"Obviously, the state is in a crisis," said Kangas. "Probably, the nation is still in a crisis in the throws of an economic downturn. However, we have to tell people what our top priorities are. We have to tell the legislature by not fulfilling these requests what we're going to lose when we lost top faculty and staff. So is there a great chance of this being funded? Probably not a great chance." Kangas says there are other 'unavoidables' that are part of that funding request... including utility costs and worker's compensation.
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