Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Urbana Police Review Panel Hears Its First Appeal

The resident who filed the first case heard by Urbana's Civilian Police Review Board says it exposes a flawed process.

Aaron Ammons of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice filed the complaint stemming from an incident in September of last year. He says officers arrived outside a relative's home with guns drawn, when it was learned later than officers arrived at the wrong address, and that someone elsewhere was being threatened at gunpoint. Ammons says an officer threatened him when asking what they were doing at his relative's home.

The case was heard and sustained by the CPRB last week. Urbana's police review panel was first formed in 2008. Ammons says he recognizes nothing else will be heard in his case, but hopes the city has learned some lessons. He says those include bringing the officer or officers cited in a complaint before the panel.

"I think from a public standpoint, it's pretty clear," said Ammons. "It doesn't make sense to have a complaint filed,and go to the CPRB, and the very person that the complaint is filed against doesn't have to show up. That's unacceptable."

Urbana Human Relations Officer Todd Rent says the review panel can subpoena witnesses, but not police officers. He says a police commander sits in on meetings in an advisory role only, without a vote. Rent says there are no other appeals currently waiting CPRB action.

Ammons also contends that the Civilian Police Review Board's Chair, Tom Costello, was trying to justify the officer's behavior instead of acting independently. Costello says the group followed the process as prescribed by the city's ordinance. But he says it doesn't mean there won't be a review of how that appeal was heard.

"I think we're going to take a look at it, and see how it went, and see if there's some modifications that we need to make," said Costello. "With any part of the process, this is an evolving process, we have to see how it goes."

Rent says of the 6 complaints filed about Urbana police conduct this year, one is still being reviewed by the police department. With its first appeal heard, Rent says he expects future cases to go more smoothly.

Ammons says CU Citizens for Peace and Justice will be working on suggestions of its own to bring before the city.

Talk of a citizens police review board in Champaign has resurfaced, largely at the urging of city council member Will Kyles, and after allegations of a police beating during the arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.

At Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community. Mayor Don Gerard has said he's open to such a group.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

UI Printing Department Still Open, But Smaller

The University of Illinois printing department will be downsized and reorganized, but will remain open.

The university said in May 2010 that it would close its printing services department. The school blamed a $1 million budget deficit and said the unit couldn't get enough business to cover its expenses. But The News-Gazette reports Wednesday the department will be renamed Document Services and will keep operating.

The department has taken cost-cutting steps. It has reduced its workforce from 39 to 19 and sold printing equipment. In recent years the department's annual expenses were as much as $4.5 million. School officials estimate that figure will be less than $2.5 million for the fiscal year ending in June 2012. The unit's deficit is down to about $730,000.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

SIU-C Bracing For Potential Strike on Thursday

UPDATE: Tenure and tenure-track faculty at SIUC announced a strike late Wednesday night, after contract talks broke down. Meanwhile, three other unions on the Carbondale campus have reached tentative agreements.

A top administrator of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale says she's still hopeful negotiators can reach an agreement on a contract proposal that would avert a looming strike by the school's educators.

Rita Cheng said though the threat of a walkout is real, she remains confident that only a small percentage of faculty and staff will strike, and she said university operations will go on as usual.

"A far majority of our administration, who have been faculty for years, will step into the classroom and teach," Cheng said. "Other faculty across the campus, and retired faculty in the community, have already called and volunteered to cover for classes."

Members of four different bargaining units say they've been negotiating for more than a year for a new contract, and it's time to deal or walk out.

Several issues remain outstanding, involving money, tenure, distance education and job security.

SIU President Glenn Poshard said calls to tie faculty pay to increases in the university budget are not fair to those who pay for the hikes.

"If we're going to say, well let's talk about increases because of student tuition increases, and put aside the fact that the state has cut us drastically, then I guess we put the whole financial position of the university in the hands of the students from now on," Poshard said. "That's not what we want to do, and I don't believe that the faculty want to do this, either."

Poshard said administrators have worked hard to avoid financial exigency, as well as staff cuts and layoffs.

"We've done everything under the worst financial conditions of the state and of the university to avoid doing anything like that, and we haven't," he said.

With the threat of a strike looming on Thursday, the recently formed group known as Faculty for Sensible Negotiations began a signature drive on Monday.

The group wants to determine the faculty interest in retaining or replacing the Faculty Association as their exclusive bargaining unit.

FSN leader and SIU-C Zoology associate professor Mike Eichholz said he has been fed up with how faculty contracts are negotiated since he arrived at SIU-C in 2002.

Eichholz said the signature drive is meant to gauge whether faculty want to continue with the Faculty Association, replace it as a bargaining unit or decertify and negotiate contracts individually.

"You know, we'd like to see an approach where we'd try to work hand-in-hand with the administration to make the university better, instead of an approach where it seems it's an 'us-or-them' approach," Eichholz said. "You know, some of the demands, to me, just don't seem to be appropriate."

He said the group would prefer all the cards be returned by Friday, but will accept any turned in after that date. He also said he thinks there must be an alternative to the current contract negotiation structure.

"It seems like every time there's a contract negotiation, we end up to the point where there are threats of a strike, a tremendous amount of negative publicity for the university," Eichholz said. "It seems like this time, at first the rhetoric wasn't quite as bad but over the last couple of months it's clearly gotten worse to the point where there's likely going to be a strike - which I think is extremely unfortunate."

Cheng said while it's still unclear what effect the labor strife will have, there will be repercussions for the university.

"This is not where we'd like to be at this time," she said. "We'd like to have positive press, we'd like to be moving forward with our positive messages for our prospective students, and we're getting, instead, this type of coverage on the news.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Cubs Fire Manager Mike Quade

Chicago Cubs manager Mike Quade will not return next season.

Theo Epstein, the team's new president of baseball operations, announced the decision Wednesday after traveling to Florida to inform Quade.

Epstein praised Quade, but said the Cubs will benefit from someone who can come in "with a clean slate and offer new direction.''

Quade got the job after a 37-game audition at the end of the 2010 season, replacing Lou Piniella on an interim basis. The Cubs went 24-13 and he was chosen over Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg for the job last season.

The Cubs ended the year 71-91, finishing fifth in the NL Central.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Illinois Beats Wayne State College in Pre-Season Men’s Basketball

The Illini men's basketball team opened the 2012 season last night with a 79-51 exhibition win over Nebraska's Wayne State College.

The Wayne State Wildcats stayed competitive in the first half, and even led the game at the beginning of the 2nd half. But then, the Illinois points started to add up.

Meyers Leonard and Brandon Paul led Illinois in scoring, with 18 and 16 respectively. Freshman Mike Shaw grabbed 8 rebounds. Wayne State College's Amry Shelby scored a game-high 22 points.

With seven newcomers, much is unknown about this Illini team. Coach Bruce Weber says even the players aren't sure what to expect.

"To me the funniest thing was starting lineup --- most of them have never started, Weber said. "They didn't know what to do. When they introduced them, I don't know if you guys noticed -- they didn't know to go shake hands with the other players, be up at half-court --- they were kind of running around with their heads cut off, shaking the hands of the referee. But it kind of shows you where we're at, as far as a lot of new people."

Injuries kept Illinois newcomers Sam Maniscalco , Mike Henry and Devin Langford on the bench. Sophomore Crandall Head sat out for undisclosed disciplinary reasons -- the first of a four game suspension for Head.

Weber attributes the rash of injuries to the team's aggressive, competitive practices -- where walk-ons Kevin Beradini and Canadian Jean Selus are among the few men left standing.

"We had a day last week where Tracy (Abrams) had his tooth knocked loose, Tyler (Griffey) had stitched in his head, Joe (Bertrand) got a hip-pointer, Mike Henry got a quad strain and contusion, Sammy has been boogered up. And we're down to like, eight, nine guys. Canada (Jean Selus) and Kevin's got a lot of practice time.

The wounded have until Monday to heal. That's when the Illini host Quincy for the next exhibition game of the men's basketball pre-season.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Champaign City Council Hears from Police Supporters, Critics

It has been a little more than a week since the arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller.

Members of the community allege Miller was beaten up by Champaign police. The incident has sparked a debate over police-community relations.

On Tuesday night, supporters and critics of the police department spoke before the Champaign City Council. Nearly 50 people addressed the council within a three and a half hour period. In fact, the council's chambers were so packed that some people had to wait outside until there was enough room.

Jonathon Westfield is a school resource officer with the Champaign Police Department. Westfield, who is African American, said he was taken aback by accusations about animosity between the police department and the black community.

"Crime is universal," he said. "It does not know any age, any sex, any color, any creed. I take great pride in working for the city of Champaign, being a police officer, and I trust in your judgment as elected officials of this community, we cannot address this issue so long as we separate the police from the community."

But other people who spoke, like University of Illinois history professor Sundiata Cha-Jua, had critical things to say about the police department.

"We need a type of policing where the police are on bikes or on foot where they interact with residents, where they build relationships," Cha-Jua said. "Not where they do this 'problem solving' or 'problem centered' type of policing where they roll down on black youth and mass. We need a humane form of policing."

Byron Clark, another critic of the police department, said he would like to see more transparency in the Champaign Police Department.

"The problem is that there is no accountability within the police department," Clark said. "They don't have the ability to police themselves."

A video released this week from multiple police car dash board cameras shows Calvin Miller trying to avoid police, who were after him for driving through a red light and swerving into traffic. Miller then jumps out of his van, and tries to run away.

Calvin Miller's father, Martel, stated at the meeting that his son ran from police because he was scared.

"I don't tell no kids to run from the police," Miller said. "My son was so scared he drove by his house."

After Miller ran, officers chased after him. The police department has maintained that Miller was struck with an police officer's hand and pepper sprayed after trying to reach for an officer's duty belt. However, other people claim the teen was struck repeatedly and hit with a baton. That part wasn't documented on video.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said people need to have a better understanding of how to respond when they are confronted by a police officer. He said that is a large part of improving police-community relations.

"You know, there are a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings on this," Finney said. "You know, community relations are an ongoing issue, and we continue and the city continues to build upon that."

The Champaign City Council is exploring the prospect of creating a citizen police review board, which would oversee complaints directed at the police department. Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

Champaign County Board Sends Wind Farm Back to ZBA

Champaign County's Zoning Board of Appeals will again take up the issue of 30 wind turbines locating north of Royal.

The county board's committee of the whole Tuesday night sent the issue back to the ZBA after seeing a revised agreement from Chicago-based Invenergy on the decommissioning of turbines. The zoning board had recommended against the wind farm due to the salvage value of turbines if Invenergy were to go out of business. The ZBA again takes up the issue Thursday.

The full county board will again vote on the wind farm at its November 17th meeting. At that meeting in two weeks, the board will also vote on a road use agreement forwarded Tuesday that ensures maintenance of a two-mile stretch of county roads used during wind farm construction.

Democrat Christopher Alix says it's the ZBA's job to review special use permits, and should see the revised language.

"I don't think it's our position as a county board to weigh in on weather wind power is good or bad or profitable or not," he said. "I think our obligation is just to make sure whatever they do is not putting the neighbors at inconvenience or putting the taxpayers at risk."

Republican Alan Nudo suggests county officials work harder to come up with a better salvage value of Invenergy's 30 wind turbines, suggesting that the county board might be too large a body to address that issue.

"I didn't sense any groundswell when I made the suggestion," said Nudo. "And you can't manufacture that. You have to see if people are interested in maximizing the agreement we have with them. And so far we've been thrown this salvage value, and I just don't feel good about relying on that for decomissioning."

County Board members voted 23 to 1 to forward the special use permit to the ZBA, with Republican Steve Moser casting the lone dissenting vote.

Invenergy attorney Michael Blazer says new language ensures that whoever the company finances the project with will also be obligated to decommission the turbines in the event they ever take over the project. He says Champaign County now has 'absolute protection' against liability. Invenergy officials also ensured county board members that wind turbines would be placed at distances that adhere to Illinois Pollution Control Board standards, stating that noise pollution won't be a concern.

Blazer says it's still possible wind farm construction will start this year in Champaign County, noting work is already underway on Vermilion County's portion of the project, about 100 turbines near Kickapoo State Park.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Cubs Introduce New GM Hoyer

Jed Hoyer was introduced as the Chicago Cubs new general manager, joining Theo Epstein in a partnership that they hope can bring a World Series championship to a team without one since 1908.

Hoyer left the San Diego Padres after two years as their GM. Also coming to the Cubs from the Padres was assistant GM Jason McLeod, who also worked with Hoyer and Epstein in Boston where they helped the Red Sox win championships in 2004 and 2007.

McLeod will be in charge of scouting and player development for the Cubs. Epstein was introduced as director of baseball operations last week after leaving the Red Sox with a year to go on his contract.

Hoyer was introduced Tuesday as the 15th GM in Cubs history.

Categories: Sports
Tags: sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Index to State Economy Takes Dip

The University of Illinois' Flash Index went up a full point in September, only to drop back down by half a point in October. But economist Fred Giertz says the new reading of 98.3 isn't all bad news --- because the index to the state economy is still higher than it has been all summer.

"Last month's increase was probably a little bit overly optimistic, but it didn't fall back down to the old level," Giertz said. "So over the two-month period, it shows a very modest gain, which is good news, compared to what many people were fearing, which was a double dip recession back a month or two ago."

A hundred is the dividing line between economic growth and contraction in the Flash Index. And it is now a full three years since the Index last showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Index hit a low point of 90.0 in Sept. 2009, and there have been fears that levels might fall again, indicating a double-dip recession. But Giertz said the overall improvement in the Flash Index, along with other indicators, make a double-dip recession more and more unlikely.

"These things are always a question of what the probabilities are," Giertz said. "But some people were talking about a one in three or one in four chance of a double-dip, maybe six weeks ago. Now that probably is down to one in ten. But that one in ten is still there. So it's always a chance that might happen, but less likely than it was before."

Giertz said modest improvements in the national economy also argue against a double-dip recession.

The Flash Index is based on analysis of Illinois tax receipts --- and Giertz said only sales tax receipts showed any real improvement last month.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Jury Convicts Powerbroker William Cellini

A federal jury found William Cellini guilty Tuesday of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The conviction is the latest in the long-running investigation into the Blagojevich administration, and it's likely one of the last trials in "Operation Board Games," marking the end of an era of political scandal in Illinois.

The jury found Cellini guilty of two of four counts, including:

Count 2 - Conspiracy to Extort - Cellini knowingly joined a conspiracy - He knew what Rezko and Kelly were about and he didn't walk away and he knew they were trading state contracts for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.

Count 4 - Aiding and Abetting Bribery - Cellini knowingly aided and abetted an agent of a state agency (Levine in his role as a TRS trustee) in corruptly soliciting something of value in connection to official state action.

However, the jury found Cellini not guilty of two other counts, including:

Count 1 - Conspiracy to defraud - Defendant knowingly joined a conspiracy to use Levine's role as a public official to defraud the people of Illinois, specifically the teachers who entrusted Levine to act with their best interests at heart.

Count 3 - Attempted Extortion - Cellini knowingly attempted, with Levine, to get money from Rosenberg. They threatened to hold back Rosenberg's $220 million allocation believing that that would force Rosenberg to pay the bribe. This count also requires that the extortion could have potentially affected interstate commerce which it would have as the $220 million would have been invested in companies nationwide.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the conviction sends a message to people trying to make backroom deals in Illinois.

"I think people ought to understand that as a result of 'Operation Board Games' we can not only convict the governor, but convict Ed Vrdolyac and convict Bill Cellini. It sends a message that federal law enforcement will work together as partners and investigate vigorously and will bring charges as appropriate," Fitzgerald said.

Cellini's attorney Dan Webb said the jurors threw out what he called the most serious charges against his client.

"The conspiracy to commit extortion which could very well be one act on his part, but whatever it was, it didn't even rise to the level of being attempted extortion. And I'm grateful for that result from the jury," Webb said.

Webb plans to file an appeal.

The investigation into the Blagojevich administration began because Stuart Levine was using his power as a trustee on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board to try and squeeze bribes out of hospital administrators who had matters before the board. When Levine's activity was reported, the FBI put a wiretap on his phones and Cellini had the misfortune of being in contact with Levine at that time.

Cellini was charged in connection to Levine's work on another board, the Teacher's Retirement System, the board that pays out teacher pensions and collects and invests the money. Cellini had won a contract to invest $220 million dollars for the fund, and prosecutors say, in an attempt to keep the contracts coming, he sought to curry favor with the new administration which meant doing business with Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

From the tapes, it seems clear that Cellini knew what Rezko and Kelly were about. In a May 8, 2004 phone call Cellini tells Levine about a contractor he knows who does work for the state.

CELLINI: He's talkin' about these guys Tony and Chris because they are out uh, according to him...essentially hammerin' people for contracts uh, with with contracts for fundraising.

LEVINE: Mm hm.

CELLINI: And, and I gotta tell you I'm a nervous wreck over it myself.

LEVINE: You think they are?

CELLINI: Oh, oh...

LEVINE: Oh you know they are?

CELLINI: I know they are.

In that same call, Levine lays it out pretty clearly for Cellini that they're trading contracts for contributions. Levine and Cellini are discussing Tom Rosenberg who is refusing to give a contribution even though he's got $220 million hanging in the balance. Levine has put a hold on that business hoping to get a bribe but Rosenberg threatened to go to federal authorities.

"The way I think that this should be handled is that they shouldn't take a political contribution from him and he shouldn't get an allocation," Levine said on the FBI recording.

Cellini counsels Levine to take a middle road. He says TRS should give Rosenberg a small allocation, something like $25 million because he won't be able to publicly complain about that. On the tape Cellini laughs, and in her closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Julie Porter told jurors that that was the sound of corruption.

Cellini does seem worried about the way Rezko and Kelly do business but prosecutors say he had a choice. He could have walked away but he didn't want to lose his clout.

"It may be that there is nobody checking yet," Cellini is heard saying on FBI recordings. "That there is nobody investigating what they're doing yet, but there's so much going on that there's no question that it will happen because too many people are talking about how you get things done."

Cellini tells Levine that he recently had to counsel Chris Kelly who was distraught about a newspaper article. Cellini says he told Kelly that the scrutiny would only increase.

"If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you and in the course of the conversation says do you know Bill Cellini, just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs and they know that we have talked on the phone, that we have called each other 4,700 times so you can't say, oh, I've heard of him, or I barely know him because they know that we've called, talked back and forth," Cellini said.

Cellini is the last Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. Blagojevich staffers John Harris and Lon Monk both pleaded guilty and testified against the former governor. Chris Kelly committed suicide. Robert Blagojevich was tried but prosecutors dropped the charges after the jury was split on his guilt. No sentencing date has been set for the former governor.

Tony Rezko, the brains behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration, is scheduled to be sentenced November 22.


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