Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Houston Opera CEO to Head Lyric Opera of Chicago

The Lyric Opera of Chicago named Houston Grand Opera CEO Anthony Freud as its new general director Thursday, making him the first Lyric head appointed from outside the company ranks.

Freud was chosen after an eight-month international search, Lyric officials said, and he agreed to a five-year contract starting Oct. 1, the opening night of Lyric's 57th season.

"He has an outstanding record of fiscal responsibility and fundraising success," Lyric president and CEO Richard Kiphart said in a statement. "He has also been enormously successful at reaching out to, and engaging, audiences who are not part of an opera company's traditional family. I think he is exactly the right person for Chicago at this time."

Freud, 53, will work with music director Sir Andrew Davis and famed soprano Renee Fleming, who joined the Lyric in December as its first creative consultant. The Lyric Opera, one of the nation's most prominent after New York's Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera., has a nearly $53 million operating budget and 26,000 season ticket holders.

"I am honored to be chosen to lead Lyric Opera of Chicago, which I have so long admired," Freud said in a statement. "The Lyric Board and our superb company of artists, technicians, and administrators are the envy of our field. I have been inspired by the discussions I have had so far."

He called collaborating with Davis and Fleming "an extraordinary opportunity."

Freud becomes the fourth person to head the Lyric Opera and succeeds retiring director William Mason. Salary terms were not publicly disclosed.

Freud began working in Houston in March 2006 and helped create and implement the opera's first comprehensive business plan. Fundraising increased under his leadership and the opera brought in $72 million in donations in three years. Capacity sold has also increased significantly under Freud and is expected to surpass 90 percent this year - up from 76 percent when he took over in 2006. Freud's tenure has also seen 14 new productions and co-productions.

He came to Houston after heading the Welsh National Opera for more than a decade, and is also credited with overseeing an award-winning program aimed at bringing opera to communities throughout Houston. Freud, a London native, graduated in 1978 with a law degree from the University of London's King's College.

"We are enormously proud of the company's achievements under Anthony's leadership these past six seasons. His extraordinary vision and commitment to excellence have made a lasting impact on the company and our community," Glen Rosenbaum, the chairman of the Houston Grand Opera's board of directors, said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that Anthony has chosen to move on to Chicago, we wish him well in his new position."

Currently, the Houston board is working on a management succession plan, Rosenbaum said. In the meantime, Anthony will continue to work with the opera "to ensure that our future projects proceed smoothly with the artistic excellence that is internationally renowned."

(AP Photo/Welsh National Opera, Roger Donovan, File)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2011

IHSA Tightens Policy on Head Injuries

The Illinois High School Association board revised a policy this week regarding high school athletes who sustain head injuries during a game.

IHSA executive Kurt Gibson said students in Illinois have traditionally not been required to seek medical care the day after a head injury. He said according to the new policy, athletes must get care in the days after an incident happens, and they can only take part in a game if given clearance to do so by a licensed health care provider.

"We know so much more about concussions now than we did even a decade ago," Gibson said. "We realize and can see the need to have clear return to play policies in place in order to protect the safety of student athletes."

The policy change follows months of reports about long-term injuries sustained by athletes. The Center for Injury Research and Policy reports that about 20 percent of injuries during high school athletic competitions last year were diagnosed as concussions.

Scott Hamilton, the athletic director at Unity High School in Tolono, said he hopes the guidelines bring to the light the seriousness of sports-related injuries.

"There are so many different degrees of a kid getting hit or a kid falling or a kid bumping his head or two kids running into each other," Tolono said. "I think the important thing that's happening with all this is just awareness.

Categories: Health, Sports
Tags: health, sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2011

RNC Chair Says Illinois in Play for Republicans in 2012

The head of the Republican National Party says he thinks there's a chance the GOP can win Illinois in the 2012 presidential election.

Reince Priebus spoke at the Union League Club of Chicago Wednesday. He downplayed the thought that Republicans in Chicago would be nothing more than financial donors to campaigns, since it's Democrats who control most statewide offices.

"I don't really look at it as donor city or Cook County," Priebus said. "I mean, I look at it as the State of Illinois as a whole. And we're not conceding Illinois."

Priebus also gave insight into the rhetoric Republicans are likely to use in their campaigns against Democratic President Barack Obama.

"The battle we're in is more than just financial," he said. "The battle we're in is fundamentally a battle about freedom. It's a battle about opportunity. And it's a battle about self-determination."

Priebus gave little insight into individual Republican candidates for president.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, at an unrelated news conference, said he thinks Mr. Obama will receive less votes in 2012 compared to 2008, but he wouldn't say Republicans have a shot of winning Illinois in the presidential race.

(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2011

Repair Continues to Power Lines Downed by Tuesday Night Storm

(With additional reporting by the Association Press)

Ameren says its crews are working to turn the lights back on for more than 29,000 Illinois customers who were still without power Wednesday afternoon --- following Tuesday night's severe storm. That number is down from a peak of roughly 83,000 outages in Ameren Illinois service territory.

Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said he hopes to see electricity restored to most households by Wednesday night --- but some work will take more time.

"I'll be honest with you," Morris said. "we're not going to get everybody back on (Wednesday). Some of the damage is very extensive, and we're going to have outages persisting through Thursday. It's going to be Thursday afternoon and into the evening hours and perhaps even into Friday, before every last customer is back on."

Morris said most of the remaining outages are concentrated in southern Illinois, including Carbondale, Carterville, DuQuoin and Mount Vernon. In east-central Illinois, a few hundred households were still without power Wednesday afternoon in Piatt and Macon Counties.

Morris said the severity and complexity of some of the damage is responsible for the extra time it's taking to finish repairs. For instance, he cites the Rend Lake reservoir near Benton, where 12 Ameren power poles were knocked into the water.

"We actually had to bring in specialized equipment," Morris explained. "Because these poles aren't lying by the side of lake, they're in the lake. You have to have equipment that floats --- that can get out there and repair that damage that we done."

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service say its crews are out inspecting some of the storm damage, trying to confirm whether it was the work of tornadoes. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries. Officials say the strong winds overturned some rail cars, at least one tractor-trailer and damaged dozens of buildings.

Categories: Energy
Tags: energy

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2011

Champaign City Council Backs 2-Year Police Contract

Champaign's city council has reluctantly signed off on a new two-year contract with its police union.

Most council members supporting the average annual raise of one and three-quarters percent admitted the city couldn't afford it, while leaders are calling for $2-million in cuts. But concerns of the Fraternal Order of Police negotiating an even higher raise through an arbitrator resulted in a six-to-three vote. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said finances are a concern, but was willing to support the contract, saying the FOP met the city halfway.

"Part of what this contract tries to do is take into account where we are at today, and hope for some better times further into the contract," she said. "It's possible we won't have better times further into the contract, and I think we all have to go into this with our eyes open and understand it could mean layoffs or people without jobs." '

Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart backed the plan, saying unions in other communites are using arbitration to seek out two-to-three percent raises.

"If we decide to go that route on principal, we have to be ready to find some deeper cuts into the budget to amount to what it's going to cost us, and it's going to set the tone for the other unions that we're dealing with." he said.

But council member Marci Dodds said the city can't afford something that will ultimately lead to layoffs in a city forced to trim $2 million from its budget.

"I can't bring myself to vote for this," she said. "I know how much it is and I know the risk we're taking going to arbitration, if we go to arbitration. I just can't do it. Not this year. Not now."

Council member Tom Bruno voted the plan down, saying there's no guarantee the city would come out worse in arbitration. Aaron Ammons with C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice contends the city ignored his group's requests that the contract include a residency requirement for officers. It also wants drug testing for officers in the event someone is accidentally injured or killed, pointing to the 2008 fatal shooting of teenager Kiwane Carrington.

Bruno noted that residency used to be a requirement of officers, and says the city should provide incentives for the union to consider it again. Council member Michael LaDue said the drug test demand isn't unreasonable, suggesting the same could apply to employees that use heavy machinery that could result in accidental injury or death.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

A Look at the Blagojevich Legal Saga

The retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins Wednesday, April 20 with jury selection. It's been two and a half years since the governor was arrested, then impeached, then tried. Illinois Public Radio's Robert Wildeboer has this audio postcard of highlights from this legal saga that's been marked by political theater.

(AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Indiana Senate OKs Bill to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding

The Indiana Senate has approved a bill that would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and give Indiana some of the country's tightest abortion restrictions.

The Republican-ruled Senate voted 35-13 for the bill, which would prohibit state funding to organizations that provide abortion and cut off some federal money that the state distributes. It also would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

Opponents say the bill is "unconscionable'' and would keep low-income women from getting health screenings, birth control and other services Planned Parenthood provides.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bill is unconstitutional and vows to take the issue to court.

The bill now moves to the GOP-led House for consideration.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Urbana City Council Approves Indoor Soccer Complex

A native of England is bringing his vision of year round soccer to Urbana.

The city council has accepted Developer Graham Berry's plans for a 24,000 square foot facility on North Willow Road, west of O'Brien Auto Park.

Berry says he expects to break ground on 'Soccer Planet' next month. He says the visibility from the interstate was a big bonus for the location, as well as the Tax Increment Financing incentives tied to that location. Berry has played in adult soccer leagues that require him to drive to Decatur. Other kids in the area play soccer in cities like Bloomington and Springfield.

But Berry says a local indoor facility built specifically for the sport will open new opportunities for many ages, "...Whether it be a recreational player, a 4-year old who wants to be in a developmental program, learning the game but it's more a social thing between him and his parent or guardian.." he said. "So the competitive player who wants to play year round, this facility is going to provide that."

Berry says the site in Urbana will be state of the art, with a playing surface less susceptible to injuries. "It's not astro turf," he said. "It's field turf. So it's actually a synthetic grass that actually has blades and either rubber infill or matting to protect players when they fall because there's some cushion there."

Berry says the surface will also produce a better bounce for soccer balls. Soccer Planet should be finished by the end of September.

Categories: Government, Politics, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Ill. Treasurer: Pension Battle Belongs in Court

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.

The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.

A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.

But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.

Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Still No Word if Superintendent Culver to Get Georgia Job

The Champaign School Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the hope that it might know more about the professional future of Superintendent Arthur Culver, but that meeting has been canceled.

Culver has served in his current role for nearly a decade, and is one of two candidates on a shortlist for the top job with the DeKalb County School System in metropolitan Atlanta.

Culver couldn't be reached for comment, but in an interview with the News Gazette, he stated he thinks he has taken the Champaign School District as far as he can, and that its time for him to "find something somewhere else."

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson wouldn't comment on what would happen if Culver is not picked for the position in Georgia, but said if he does get it; a national search would begin to replace him.

"We would probably name an interim superintendent for a period of time because we think a national search would take a considerable period of time," Tomlinson said. "Clearly, right now Superintendent Culver is here, and that's who we're looking at."

The Champaign School Board meets Monday, April 25 at 6 PM to talk about personnel issues. Tomlinson wouldn't provide more specifics about the agenda.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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