Illinois Public Media News
Saturday is graduation day for the cadets in the Rantoul-based Lincoln's Challenge program.
The program's Director, Peter Thomas, said the 340 at-risk youth started out as high school dropouts from all over Illinois who needed a structured environment to get back on course. They have received training in everything from physical fitness to life-coping skills, having performed at least 40 hours of community service, and taken daily classes in preparation for GED testing.
"What this type of environment does for a young man or a young lady is strengthen them in ways that they can reach out and touch the community that they came from," Thomas said. "They can go out and get jobs; they can go out and give back to the community from which they came. In other words, when an individual leaves here, he or she leaves here as a well-rounded individual.
Thomas said nearly a third of Lincoln's Challenge graduates go into the military, with the rest going on to college or directly into the job market. He said he expects as many as 5,500 family members and others to attend the graduation ceremony. State Senator James Clayborne (D-Belleville) will be the speaker at tomorrow's Lincoln's Challenge commencement ceremony.
The ceremony begins at 11 am at Springfield's Prairie Capital Convention Center. Lincoln's Challenge is part of the National Guard's Youth Challenge program, operating in 29 states and Puerto Rico.
A report out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that pollution levels stayed the same and even improved throughout the state.
The agency gathered data from 80 monitoring sites across the state, and concluded that air quality was good or moderate 96 percent of the time in 2009. The study focused on an array of pollutants, including toxins, soot, and dust. There were 13 days last year when air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups in certain areas, compared to 14 days in 2008. EPA Spokesperson Maggie Carson said pollution tends to be a larger problem in more congested cities, like Chicago and the St. Louis Metro East area. She said there weren't any major red flags raised about the air quality in Central Illinois.
"Central Illinois generally has pretty good air quality," she said. "We're blessed by a lot of white collar, a lot of agriculture (jobs), and neither of these contributes tremendously to air quality problems."
According to the report, The Quad Cities has the lowest level of pollution with good air quality 86 percent of the time in 2009. Other communities to follow include Peoria, Champaign, Normal, and Decatur, which had good air quality more than 78 percent during the same period.
Still, Carson said there are still environmental challenges that the state has to overcome.
"As long as we have industry, as long as we have cars burning gasoline on our roads, we're going to have air quality issues that we're going to have to deal with," she said. "It's just a fact of life in modern American and in this state.
Filmmaker Deren Abram reflects on his years working on films with the late Bob Clark, director of "A Christmas Story" and "Porky's." Abram's documentary "ClarkWorld" includes remembrances from stars like Jon Voight and Kim Cattrall, who credits Clark with launching her career. Abram spoke with Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert.
The Mayor of Decatur has appointed James Duies to fill the city council seat left vacant by Adam Brown's election to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Brown narrowly won the November election to the 101st House District against incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), and he resigned from the city council last month
Duies grew up in Decatur graduating from Eisenhower High School and then studying finance at Millikin University. He later served for a short time on the Decatur police force and eventually moved out of state to work for Evergreen Investments in Charlotte, N.C. before returning to the city with his wife in 2006. Duies is now a global pensions manager at Archer Daniels Midland Company. McElroy said one of the things that set Duies apart from the other candidates under consideration was his experience analyzing pension systems at ADM, which he hopes will be a valuable asset to Decatur as the city grapples with supporting employee retirement benefits.
"Pensions are the biggest thing that we're talking about financially in every community in the state - pension for the police, fire, and AFSCME workers," McElroy said. "It's nice to have someone that you know watches pensions everyday and sees what's going on with the pensions and can lend his expertise. I don't think that hurts anything."
Since Brown resigned from the council after the election filing deadline, people have until Dec. 23 to file as write-in candidates. Duies will be sworn in within the next few weeks, and he said he plans to run in a special election next spring to stay in office.
"I just am very gracious that the mayor has recommended me for appointment, and I can't wait to get started," Duies said. "I'll stay on as long as I can."
Other candidates running in the special election include Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel and resident James Thomas Taylor. If five candidates end up running for the seat, then a Feb. 22 write-in primary will take place to narrow the number of challengers down to four who will appear on the April 5 ballot. Three other city council members will also be up for e-election, in addition to Mayor McElroy who is running unopposed.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden is leaving his office to join the staff of Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).
Next month, Shelden will take over for Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke, who's going to work for Congressman-elect Randy Hultgren of Winfield. The 46-year-old Shelden has been in the office for 13 years. Shelden says Johnson approached him about the job earlier in the week, after learning his current chief of staff was leaving.
"The way things work in the legislative process is so much different than it works in an executive department," Shelden said. "I think there will be times when I'll be a little frustrated about the slow movement of things, and good ideas you want to get done. So there will be a change from that standpoint."
Republican Precinct Committeemen will meet Monday to begin the process of naming a replacement. Shelden said he will not be endorsing anyone, but will talk to anyone interested in the job.
"I want an open process that looks for the many good candidates that we've got, and tries to find somebody who can do this job well and hopefully maintain this office in a way that I'm proud of," he said.
Shelden said he is excited about tackling new issues, but having worked as a policy analyst in Springfield, he's familiar with the legislative process. Shelden said he expects his successor will be appointed by the Champaign County Board in early January, but Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said it is possible that person will be named by Monday night. The appointed clerk, who would be sworn in by the Champaign County Board in early January when Shelden resigns, would fill the term for two years until the 2012 election.
"I presume people will look at whether or not someone is a Republican," he said. "I think from there Mark has run such a terrific, professional office. Some of the qualifications would probably be who is the person who is electable who in addition to replacing Mark, will run a great, quality office."
Shelden said he was appointed to the office much the same way in April 1997.
"The public needs to remember that we just have an fantastic staff," he said. "Part of my legacy is hiring good people that have run good elections. The first goal of the new county clerk will be to make sure that they are wise enough to lean on the collective skills and talents of those people to get through the next couple of elections.
A company that's now building a wind farm in Iroquois County hopes to receive permits next week to build a second facility that would straddle the Iroquois-Ford County line.
E.ON Climate and Renewables wants permission to build up to 111 wind turbines in Ford and Iroquois Counties near the towns of Loda and Paxton. Most of the turbines would go up in Ford County.
Ford County Zoning Officer Larry Knilands said E.ON officials would like to start work on the project next year.
"They wanted to get a contract signed, as far as a road agreement, construction permit, you name it --- everything taken care by warm weather, so that they might be able to start construction by, say, October (of 2011)," Knilands said.
But Knilands said the signing a road agreement could be the difficult part of the process. He said negotiations on road agreements for two other wind farm projects in Ford County has delayed their construction --- one has been on hold for two years.
"We have to make sure that whatever road agreement we establish the first time around is something that will apply to any other wind farm company that comes along," Knilands said.
E.ON is currently building a separate wind farm in eastern Iroquois County. Both the Ford and Iroquois County Boards are scheduled to vote on zoning permits for the 2nd E.ON wind farm project at their regular meetings next week.
The Ford County Board will meet Monday, December 13th at 7 PM at the Ford County Jail in Paxton. The Iroquois County Board meets Tuesday, December 14th at 9 AM, at the county Administrative Center in Watseka.
A report on civic engagement suggests Illinoisans need improvement in areas ranging from voting to simple acts of kindness.
The National Conference on Citizenship's report uses Census Bureau data to show a decline in the number of voters, particularly young voters, in 2008. Voter turnout fell 3-percent that year, despite the presidential campaign of native son Barack Obama. And Illinois ranked 46th in the past year among those 18 and up who did favors for neighbors, like babysitting.
Study Author Shawn Healy says the report should be viewed as a call to action, and one of those areas are schools - which at one time, weren't solely to prepare us for college or a career.
"They're certainly important objectives, but was to prepare people for their role in a democracy," Healy said. "So that's really critical. And there are some great things going on statewide in that respect. But in this tough environment with fiscal constraints, and top of it the standardized testing that's gripped our country, that's really narrowed the curriculum and really pushed civics aside in that central role for schools to play."
Healy also suggested that Illinois should make voter registration easier. While he says absentee voting has become more accessible in the state, he notes states like Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voter registration on Election Day.
He says simple day to day things, like reading a daily newspaper to get the news, or talking politics with a friend, rarely happen anymore. He says someone only needs to look as far as their local bowling alley.
"Bowling hasn't died. In fact, more people are bowling than ever before," he said. "But we bowl alone. And what used to happen when we were bowling on teams is we would interact with people that we might not otherwise see. We might talk about what's going on in the community - we might even discuss politics."
Healy uses Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's metaphor about the bowling alley to represent society, and the layer that stands between individuals and their government. The 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index was funded by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation, and the Citizen Advocacy Center.
A lawyer for a police officer falsely accused of shootings along the Illinois-Indiana state border says his client's been receiving hate mail.
Authorities arrested Brian Dorian as the gunman in the Oct. 5 shootings that left one man dead and two others injured. But days later they ruled him out as a suspect.
Dorian was cleared after detectives verified he'd been home logged onto his computer on the morning of the attacks and so could not possibly have been involved.
The investigation into the shootings has apparently stalled, with investigators saying they have no suspects. But attorney Bob O'Dekirk said he fears Dorian will continue to be wrongly viewed with suspicion by some until there is an arrest.
The tax cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans this week includes an extension of tax credits for ethanol --- but another green energy program is not included. Now, supporters of wind and solar energy are lobbying Congress to include an extension of the so-called "Section 1603" grant program in the final tax bill. The program is slated to expire at the end of the month.
The 1603 program converts tax credits for renewable energy projects into up-front grants. Environment Illinois' Max Muller said those grants have helped qualifying companies build 14 new solar, wind energy and fuel cell facilities in Illinois --- resulting in the creation of new jobs at a time of high unemployment.
"Basically, if we don't want to see a precipitous drop in the number of new clean energy projects in Illinois and nationally, we need to extend this program," Muller said.
Among the recipients of 1603 grants in Illinois are nine wind farms, including the Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm in Livingston County near Streator.
Kevin Borgia of the Illinois Wind Energy Association says the grant program provides funding for renewable energy projects at a time when financing is hard to come by, and he said that has led to the creation of new jobs in Illinois.
"I think that the past history with the program is pretty impressive," Borgia said. "And there could be a loss to the Illinois economy if the program does sunset."
In the case of Illinois wind farms, the 1603 grant program has helped only a fraction of the 46 projects that have been built or were slated for construction as of July of this year, according to the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Wind farms and other green energy projects will still be eligible for federal tax credits, even after the grant program runs out. But Borgia says the 1603 grants give companies more flexibility when it comes to putting wind farms projects together.
University of Illinois officials on the Urbana campus are moving forward with a series of revenue-generating measures after studying a Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois report released last spring.
The report proposes a host of options to improve the university's financial standing, including raising overall enrollment so that more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition can be admitted. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler noted that the U of I will tread carefully in its efforts to boost revenue by looking at how doing something accepting more students could affect the university's commitment to quality education.
"If you cannot maintain the quality, there's absolutely no reason to do something like that," she said. "Every decision we make about what to implement, what not to implement will have that consideration first."
The Stewarding Excellence report also suggested setting up a system in which every faculty member would be required to submit their teaching, research, and public engagement contributions in an annual report that would be factored into the evaluation of promotion and tenure.
"It just seems unwise to tie any kind of financial metrics based on instruction, or other revenue generating activities into the academic evaluation system," she said.
University of Illinois Interim Vice President and Chancellor Robert Easter said he encourages different departments on campus to find research areas where they can collaborate, and work to develop grant-funded research professorships.
Easter also said the U of I will create a faculty-led commission to explore other income-producing activities like professional development training programs and partnerships with academic institutions in other countries.
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