Illinois Public Media News
The new chief of staff for the Mayor of Urbana is a person who's been reporting on Urbana city government for the News-Gazette for several years. The Urbana City Council Monday night approved the hiring of longtime News-Gazette reporter Mike Monson to be Mayor Laurel Prussing's top aide.
The 51-year-old Monson will work with the mayor, and serve as a contact with the city council, city staff, other governments and the public. But he will not be a replacement for former Chief Administrative Officers Bruce Walden. Monson won't be in charge of the budget, and city department heads will not report to him. Monson says Mayor Prussing's management of city government since Walden's departure two years ago is proof she doesn't need another administrator.
"This recession has been telling; you know, there were no layoffs, not even any hiring freezes', says Monday. "Southeast Urbana has developed very well. You know, that was (Prussing's) top priority coming into office, to revive that Philo Road corridor, and she's done it. She's always been a hands-on public official and does a good job. I think that's why she won re-election so well. But she needs some assistance, and I'm going to do the best I can to help her."
Monson covered both city and county government during his 22 years with the News-Gazette. Prussing says a good way to understand something is to explain it to someone else --- and he says that's what Monson has done with local government as a reporter.
"And so I think he's going to be a great asset to the city of Urbana", says Prussing of Monson. "I wanted somebody I could trust. I've known him since 1987. He started out covering the county. And I've always found him to be highly professional and very ethical. And I think he's very nice to people, too."
Monson says he was contacted by Prussing about the chief of staff position about a week ago. Monson expects to start his new job next week. Mayor Prussing says Monson will make approximately 70-thousand dollars a year --- about 50-thousand dollars less than what Bruce Walden made as administrative officer.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he will accept the resignations of four University of Illinois trustees who said Tuesday they are willing to step aside. Meanwhile, though, Quinn is still waiting to hear from the panel's last two members, neither of whom appears willing to go.
Trustees James D. Montgomery and Frances G. Carroll are the only ones who haven't offered their resignations since Quinn called for trustees to step down in the wake of the school's admissions scandal.
When asked Wednesday about the trustees, Quinn said he was encouraged by the news of the latest resignations.
Quinn says he has the authority under the Illinois Constitution to remove trustees for incompetence, malfeasance or neglecting their duties and plans to act this week. But he didn't commit to doing anything about the two trustees left.
Governor Pat Quinn continues to hint that the days could be numbered for University of Illinois trustees who don't heed his request to resign. He says a decision will be made by the time school starts next week.
"I look forward to making sure our University of Illinois' good name is always protected, and I think that's paramount," said Quinn Tuesday at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. "The university had educated many, many people. They are comprised of excellent faculty and hard working students. We're proud of each and every one. We want to make sure the university's good name is not besmirched. And so it's important that the governor stand up for that principle and I will do so within the week.":
Three trustees have already resigned, including Chairman Niranjan Shah. Quinn has been urging the remaining six to quit for more than a week. So far, they haven't stepped down.
A state panel recommended all the trustees should go amid allegations that some pushed for less qualified students to be admitted to the school.
Quinn has been cagey about what he'll do if the trustees don't quit. But he said he has no doubt he has the power to remove them.
When Quinn was asked if there was a chance he wouldn't remove the remaining trustees, he answered - in his words -- not to "hold your breath.''
---Additional reporting by Illinois Public Radio
The Champaign City Council voted Tuesday night to deny Comcast's proposal for a cable franchise renewal. But the two sides will continue their negotiations.
Champaign decided last December to negotiate with Comcast separately from Urbana --- but that hasn't meant fast progress on an agreement. City officials say the two sides are far apart. Councilwoman Marci Dodds outlined some of the points that she says Comcast wants to change from the old agreement.
"Comcast wants additional right-of-way that the city doesn't even have," says Dodds. "They don't want to comply with our city codes. And they don't wish to have a local service office or local office in general. These are all things that they"re asking to eliminate.
The city council's vote to reject the franchise offer from Comcast is a formal step covered by the Federal Cable Act, which is likely to be followed by an administrative hearing requested by Comcast. But both sides expect informal negotiations to continue alongside the formal process. And Comcast District Director Melody Brucker says they prefer to stick with the informal route.
"But if we don't and we have to go formal, that's okay too," Brucker told city council members Tuesday night. "We can do that. And we will continue to provide our current customers and our new customers with the same service and the expectations that they have received from us in the past."
Comcast officials say some of the disagreement may just be misunderstandings that can be cleared up. In the case of keeping a local office, Regional Director for Government Affairs Deb Piscola says that area is now covered by state law, which doesn't require a local office. Piscola expects Comcast to keep its local office, but says the company reserves the right to change its mind.
Champaign is negotiating its franchise with Comcast separately from Urbana --- a departure from previous franchise renewals. Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth says he doesn't see a similar vote to reject a Comcast renewal proposal coming up on his city council. But Smyth says his city is facing similar differences with Comcast in their franchise talks.
If they don't do it themselves ... Governor Pat Quinn may force out the remaining members of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. There are already well over a hundred people willing to serve next.
A state panel that reviewed how clout sometimes influenced which students were admitted to the U of I called for all of the university's trustees to step down. While three trustees announced their reisignations, including Chairman Niranjan Shah, six have not. It's not only against the panel's suggestion ... but also the governor's. Pat Quinn says it would be best for the university if they willingly leave the board.
"We'll thank them for their service and then move on", said Quinn, during a signing ceremony for new ethics legislation. "So that's what they should do and that's what the people I think want them to do, and it's time for them to do it."
If they refuse, Quinn hinted he will take it upon himself to remove the remaining members.
"When problems arise, things have to be repaired, I'm there to repair them," said the governor.. And so I'm ready to go."
Quinn called for the trustees' voluntarily resignations early this month, but has not taken any action.
The Governor says approximately 140 people have filled out online applications to be on the U of I board.
The ethics legislation Governor Quinn signed on Monday includes one measure that sets ethical requirements any member of a state board or commission must meet. It also requires information about state board and commission membership and vacancies be published on a government Web site.
Talking or texting on a cell phone was cited as a factor in eight traffic accidents in Urbana over the past year.
Urbana Police compiled the data, as required by a city ordinance that levies heavy fines against drivers when cell phone use or texting is a factor in an accident. The ordinance also bans all texting while driving. Not all offenders cited in accidents were driving cars --- in one case, a bicyclist was using his cell phone when he turned in front of a motorcycle.
The eight cases noted by police total less than one percent of the 1,082 traffic accidents reported in Urbana from July 1st of last year to June 30th of this year. But Alderman Charlie Smyth, who opposes any and all cell phone use while driving, says the data is still useful.
"They're interesting in that it's possible to actually enforce the ordinance," says Smyth. "Granted, it's after the fact, after an accident has happened. But I think doing this sends a message. We need to publicize it. The fact that there's a 750-dollar fine associated with this, I think, is really important."
The city's maximum fine of 750-dollars when cell phone use contributes to an accident is ten times what a new state law banning texting while driving will impose. Urbana Police Chief Michael Bily says officers will use their own discretion when deciding whether to levy the local or state penalties. The new state law takes effect January 1st.
Champaign city council members may take a preliminary vote this week to cut its cable TV franchise agreement with Comcast.
But an attorney working on talks between Comcast and the cities of Champaign and Urbana says the measure will not be as drastic as it seems. Brian Grogan says negotiations with the cable company have been going on in good faith, and a pending council vote tomorrow night to reject Comcast's offer for a franchise renewal won't mean the end of those talks.
"If they believe that the proposal doesn't meet the needs, then it's considered a preliminary denial," Grogan said. "In all likelihood, Comcast would request further proceedings, and the parties would continue to move forward down that statutory process."
City leaders say they've reached an impasse with Comcast over a number of points, including a local Comcast office, use of rights-of-way for cables, and funding for local government and public access channels. The current franchise agreement runs out at the end of October.
Seven months after coming into office on a vow to clean up government, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed new laws making public records, board appointments and state spending more transparent.
Quinn was joined at Monday's signing ceremony by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She'd championed the legislation to strengthen the state's public records laws.
The new law includes training so public employees know how to comply with public records laws, and it gives the attorney general's office more authority in public records cases.
Madigan's office sought changes in the law to prevent abuse by state offices that looked for ways not to comply or to delay.
Quinn also signed laws that make it easier to get information about the state's boards and commissions and state spending.
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
A state-sponsored advocacy group for utility customers in Illinois says cell phone customers generally pay much more than they should.
The Citizens Utility Board has analyzed hundreds of wireless telephone bills as part of a free online program it offers. CUB director David Kolata says those bills offered valuable information on billing practices.
"You upload an online version of your cell phone bill and it automatically recommends the best plan for you," Kolata said. "Since it was introduced last year, about 7,000 people have used it, and the average savings is about 330 dollars a year."
Kolata says more than half of all minutes that people purchase each month go to waste, as well as a large number of unused text messages. He also says about half of all bills carry unnecessary extras, like insurance that doesn't cover much. The online program will compare your plan to other offers by your cellphone provider and its competitors.
You can find the service at www.cubcellphonesaver.org.
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