Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois is losing its police chief.
Chief and Director of Public Safety Barbara O'Connor says she'll be leaving in a few months to take the same job at the University of Connecticut, not far from where she grew up. She's expected to leave for UConn next spring, but a starting date hasn't been set. O'Connor says she's in talks with U of I Chancellor Phyllis Wise about setting up a transition team.
O'Connor became the U of I's chief in 2009, coming from the University of Massachusetts, where she also served as chief. She has since added the role of director for the university's Police Training Institute. The Chief says some of her greatest accomplishments include simply boosting the level of service on campus.
"You really want your officers to come to work with a sense of pride," O'Connor said. "We are service driven, and our primary mission is not us, and it's not about us, it's about our community. The University of Illinois Police Department has a great culture in that regard, so I hope they continue doing great work."
The U of I's Police Training Institute was slated for closure at the end of this month, but was recently given a 6-month extension. O'Connor says she holds out hope that area legislators will find a solution for saving the facility.
O'Connor, who earns $190,000 annually at the U of I, will earn a salary at UConn of $164,700. She grew up in Granby, Massacusetts, and owns a house in in the city of Hadley. O'Connor wil replace retiring UConn Police Chief Robert Hudd.
Champaign City Manager Steve Carter now has authority to explore the use of an outside firm to review a controversial June 5 arrest.
But a bill was amended in Tuesday night's 8 to 1 vote by the Champaign City Council, asking that Carter show them a contract first. Some council members cited the $60,000 to $100,000 cost, and whether such a plan needed passage Tuesday.
The review is being sought after Illinois State Police and the FBI found no violations of departmental policy or civil rights violations tied to a June 5 arrest in Campustown. A police video of the incident showed the young man being pepper sprayed, and the officer was seen placing his hands on the arrestee's neck.
The independent review would also look into the police department's use of force policy. A representative of the Fraternal Order of Police contends Carter, and no officers, is responsible for problems tied to the strategy. Becky Dragoo is a field supervisor for the union, based in Springfield.
"How dare you point and accuse a questioning finger at the very police officers -- your own soldiers -- you sent out with this policy to guide their actions," she told Carter. "And now you dare to try to shift the blame to them for its consequences."
Council member Tom Bruno says he hears comments in the community that the council has been "shopping around" until it gets the answer it's looking for.
"I for one just want on whose conclusion we can reasonably rely upon," said Bruno. "That we know that it's well founded and good police work went into the investigation."
Bruno says everyone involved in the June 5 arrest deserves a thorough investigation, one that includes witness interviews. Council member Michael LaDue says a review needs to be done periodically anyway to uphold what he calls "human infrastructure."
"Instead of fastening and fixating one on incident involving a couple of officers, one of whom deployed pepper spray, and the situation defined in that context is resisting, I think we need a broader analysis -- we need a larger field analysis."
Council member Paul Faraci cast last night's lone no vote, saying most people in his district are opposed to spending the money. He says a new Champaign police chief will address these concerns when that person is hired early next year.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a $330 million package of tax relief to businesses and individuals.
The state Senate approved the business measure 44-9 on Tuesday. The individual tax relief passed 48-4. Both now go to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, a supporter.
Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange see the most benefit. The companies had threatened to leave Illinois without financial help from the state. The legislation offers $100 million in tax relief to them and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
The other measure increases tax credits for the working poor and raises the personal income-tax exemption.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is congratulating lawmakers who adopted the tax-break package, saying it shows what lawmakers can accomplish when both parties work together.
"The final package I think is a balanced approach to help our employers in Illinois," he said. "We understand to have a research and development tax credit on the books in Illinois, not just for one year, but now it's for five years, so we got that established. We got relief with respect to helping smaller businesses. We've extended some of the tax credits that are on the books, and we also were focused on creating jobs and maintaining jobs. And we also were able to help major employers in Illinois."
Experts on economic development say other companies are likely to demand financial incentives of their own. Companies also may play states against each other to get better deals.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Champaign's city council Tuesday night will look into the hiring of an outside agency to investigate a June arrest in the Campustown neighborhood.
The review is also being sought to look at the city police department's use of force policy. On the early morning hours of June 5th, a leaked police dash camera video showed a young man being pepper sprayed as he was picked up for jaywalking. The video also shows the arresting officer putting his hands on the neck of the African-American man in his early 20's.
After a request for review by Illinois State Police, the agency said the officer's actions were consistent with city policy. And the FBI said no there were no criminal civil rights violations. The hiring of a firm is expected to cost $60-thousand-to-$100-thousand. Champaign council member Marci Dodds says it's unfortunate that finances are so tight, but the move is necessary for those involved in the arrest, as well as police department morale.
"It doesn't help matters any that there's a lot of distrust by some portions of the community, specifically, African-American, of the police department," she said. "So the police department can't even get upright before somebody's kicking them. Either they're kicking themselves, one department is kicking the other, or the outside is kicking them."
City council member Tom Bruno was part of the original request for Illinois State Police. He says the agency's effort was 'worthless', without giving the city any direction. And Bruno says getting a firm's opinion is the only way the city, the officer, and man arrested can move on.
"We have a great deal of money invested in the police officer's career," he said. "We want to make sure that if he's done nothing wrong that he can be vindicated and be an effective police officer in the future. If he has done something wrong, we want to know that just as well. We have a citizen who might be aggrieved, we have a video that certainly struck a nerve in the community. So this is what you have to do."
Bruno says he and city manager Steve Carter were told it would take several weeks for an investigation into the June arrest - and was 'shocked' to see State Police had concluded their investigation a couple days later, without interviewing witnesses.
The city council begins at 7 Tuesday night in the city building,
The number of finalists for the job of Champaign School District superintendent is down to three. A news release from Unit Four says Fort Wayne school administrator Stephen Cobb has withdrawn as a candidate for personal reasons.
Cobb was scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday evening by a school board committee of community members. That committee will now have Tuesday night off, but will meet with other finalists on Wednesday and Thursday night. The finalists are also meeting during the day with other interest groups.
The remaining finalists for Unit Four superintendent are all from Illinois school districts. They are Superintendent Darryl Taylor of the Lincoln Elementary School District 156 in Calumet City; Associate Superintendent Johnnie Thomas of the Arlington Heights Township High School District; and Unit Four Assistant Superintendent Judy Wiegand who will take over as interim superintendent in January.
The Champaign School Board could vote on their choice for district superintendent at their December 19th meeting. The new superintendent will start work at Unit Four next summer.
The University of Illinois' volleyball team is on its way to San Antonio, hoping to put the exclamation point on a 31 and 4 season.
The team is seeking its first national title, and reached its first national semifinal in 23 years after a defeat of Florida on Saturday. Early Tuesday morning, the team boarded a charter bus to Chicago's Midway Airport. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran says it's nice to steal the spotlight from U of I football and basketball for once.
"It's great to see the support and just see the people come out and cheering for us," she said. "I mean, it is a big deal for the program and for the school, so it's nice that we can just be a part of it."
Beltran says reaching the championship game was a goal the team set at the very start of its season. Assistant Coach Jen Flynn Oldenberg says a Final Four berth became more evident as the season went on.
"You never know right away, but it's something we were preparing for and talking about the whole time," she said. "It's something that we were focused on, not in every game, point by point, but it's something that we thought about throughout the year."
The volleyball team takes on USC at 8 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio, following the matchup of UCLA and Florida State. The title game is at 7:30 Saturday night.
A federal judge has agreed to delay the start of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's prison term.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel agreed Tuesday to allow Blagojevich to report to prison March 15. Blagojevich previously was ordered to begin serving his 14-year term on Feb. 16. He was convicted of corruption charges including allegations that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Blagojevich's attorneys asked for more time so he could help his family move into a new home. Zagel also agreed to recommend that Blagojevich be sent to the Englewood prison in Colorado. Federal prison officials have the final say.
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky says he isn't sure why Blagojevich wants that prison; he says the Blagojevich family isn't moving to Colorado.
Former workers at a shuttered auto parts making plant in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park say the plant may have contaminated the area with a cancer-causing chemical.
The Detroit Free Press reports Tuesday that known carcinogen hexavalent chromium was used at the Chrome Craft plant.
Saad Bolos of Madison Heights worked at the plant 17 years and says leaks included a rooftop pipe that spilled into an alley.
The Chrome Craft plant is owned by Urbana, Ill.-based Flex-N-Gate Group, a manufacturer of bumper systems for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. The company says it has fully investigated the claim and says it has no knowledge of leaks or violations.
Flex-N-Gate is owned by Shahid Khan, an Urbana businessman who hopes to win approval this week from NFL owners to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Flex-N-Gate bought Chrome Craft in 2005. In a 2009 lawsuit, Khan said he was a partner in Chrome Craft dating back to 1993.
Four inspections at the plant from 1992 until its closure found 39 violations of environmental laws, according to documents gathered by the UAW.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality plans to investigate the claims about the plant, which closed about two years ago.
Urbana City Council members started a discussion Monday night of plans for a city-run tourism and marketing program. The proposal comes after Mayor Laurel Prussing vetoed city funding over the summer for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The proposal would convert the city's part-time Public Arts Coordinator into a full-time job, and create an additional part-time Community Marketing Associate position to handle promotion of city events. Mayor Prussing said a graduate student from the University of Illinois might fill the position. The price tag --- $37,320 a year --- would be about half what the city of Urbana previously provided to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
During discussion at the city council's Committee of the Whole meeting, Alderwoman Diane Marlin questioned if the city could really afford the extra expensive, and wondered if the city could make better use of resources it already has. Meanwhile, Alderman Dennis Roberts wondered if the effort was enough. He says he'd like to see efforts to promote Urbana run by a professional marketing director.
"And it has to be a person who has more experience than a new graduate student", said Roberts, "however talented we have a pool of. I think that the key person needs to be a professional person, because we're hoping for professional results."
But Mayor Prussing said keeping expenses down was one of the underlying goals of the proposal.
"Ideally, it might be nice to hire someone for $75,000, but I don't think we're in that position", said Prussing. "We have nine vacancies right now." In addition to cost, Mayor Prussing had questioned the Convention and Visitors Bureau's effectiveness, when she vetoed its city funding.
Urbana City Council members will continue their discussion of ways to promote tourism and convention business for the city at future meetings. Meanwhile, council members gave preliminary approval to renewing their annual $95,000 agreement with the Urbana Business Association, for their marketing and promotion activities, including oversight of the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival.
A new report says Illinois' youth prison system is an expensive failure with more than half of young offenders returning within three years of their release.
Many of them go back to prison for trivial problems such as skipping school or staying out late. The report to Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers is being released publicly today by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. The report makes recommendations it says could save money - nearly $80,000 per imprisoned youth each year.
Commission chair Judge George Timberlake says Illinois can do better at a lower cost, while making the public safer. The report was required by state law and is based on an examination of the youth prison system, including observations of prisoner review board hearings, and an analysis of parole revocations.
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