Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board of Review - the three-member panel that hears appeals of property tax assessments in the county - now has two new members.
The Champaign County Board voted last month to appoint Democrat Elizabeth Patton and Republican Steve Whitsitt to 2-year terms on the Board of Review - replacing Wayne Williams and Steve Bantz. The third board member, Democrat Laura Sandefur, is in the middle of her term, which ends next year.
The vote came after some county board members noted complaints about Board of Review performance from several areas, including the public, other county officials, and the state panel that hears appeals on Board of Review rulings.
Urbana Democrat Christopher Alix voted for the changes on the Board of Review ... and says he hopes the new lineup will improve its performance.
Restaurant owners had several months to prepare for the new restriction. The smoking ban become law in March, but it didn't go until affect until the start of this month.
Businesses covered by the policy must remove all ashtrays and post signs stating that smoking is prohibited within 8 feet of an entrance.
Liz Hammer works as a waitress at Benjamin's Restaurant in Covington, and she said business has not been hurt by the ban.
"We've only had two people that have even asked us if we still have smoking," Hammer said. "You know, like most people already know it, and the ones that have we just told them that it's gone statewide and we've had absolutely no problems."
Susan Smith runs the Duck's Diner in West Lebanon. She said she began preparing for the transition about three months ago by creating smoking and non-smoking dining areas.
"I lost, I think, two customers when I separated the two because there were two customers who didn't want to go to back, but in turn, I gained customers because I have a non-smoking dining room," Smith said.
Now, Smith said she hasn't seen a drop in business since the smoking ban started up.
Unlike Illinois where you can't smoke in a public place, in Indiana smoking is still allowed at bars, casinos, horse-racing facilities, retail tobacco shops and private clubs.
Backers of the measure say they want to see the law become more restrictive, while critics argue that it should be up to business owners to allow smoking.
U.S. employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, a third straight month of weak hiring that shows the economy is still struggling three years after the recession ended.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2 percent, the Labor Department said Friday.
The economy added an average of just 75,000 jobs a month in the April-June quarter - one-third of the pace in the first quarter.
For the first six months of 2012, employers added an average of 150,000 jobs a month. That's fewer than the 161,000 average for the first half of 2011.
Weaker job creation has caused consumers to pull back on spending.
Europe's debt crisis is also weighing on U.S. exports. And the scheduled expiration of tax cuts at year's end has increased uncertainty for U.S. companies, making many hesitant to hire.
Job creation is the fuel for the nation's economic growth. When more people have jobs, more consumers have money to spend - and consumer spending drives about 70 of the economy.
The woman who served as the chief of staff to former University of Illinois President Michael Hogan has agreed to leave the university.
According to an email sent out by the university, Lisa Troyer has resigned her tenured faculty appointment in the Department of Psychology on the Urbana campus of the University effective Aug. 15, 2012.
The U of I has announced Troyer will get $175-thousand as part of a separation agreement.
In January, Troyer stepped down from the chief of staff post amid an investigation into anonymous e-mails traced to her computer. They were sent to faculty, intended to sway opposition to an enrollment management plan backed by Hogan.
Troyer issued a statement through an attorney: "I have always stated that I did not send any anonymous e-mails, and the Investigation Report never concluded that I did."
U of I Senates Conference Vice Chair Nick Burbules says it's best for all involved to move on.
This is, I think, a very reasonable level of compensation," he said. "It was negotiated, of course, as these things are. But for me it isn't about the money. It's about closing the books on this controversy, and moving forward for all parties concerned. And I think it's the best outcome."
University spokesman Tom Hardy said it will not initiate any disciplinary process against Troyer, saying that the resolution was the result of a mediation conference agreed upon by both sides. Troyer earned $109-thousand as a faculty member.
In March, Hogan resigned over faculty and student criticism of his management style.
Robert Easter took over as U of I president Monday. Burbules says he's very optimistic about his tenure.
Lake Decatur water levels are about a foot below where the city would like them to be for this time of year.
Given the 10-day outlook for precipitation, Water Management Director Keith Alexander says it's more likely Decatur will again seek voluntary conservation measures, like it did late last summer.
The city had to enforce mandatory restrictions on use by October through most of December.
Alexander says there are plenty of things residents can do to cut down on water use.
"Not only does it help us out with conservation measures, but saves them dollars as well," he said. "Less water use means a lower water bill."
On any given day, Alexander says 75-percent of the city's water goes to commercial and industrial customers. Last year, the city asked restaurants to stop serving glasses of water, unless a patron asked for one.
"Reduce or eliminate all your outside landscape watering that you can possibly do," Alexander said. "Another thing to do would be to consider not doing any new landscape plantings this summer because it's going to be tough keeping those plants alive."
State climatologist Jim Angel says Decatur Airport registered .75 inches of rainfall in June, when normal precipitation for the month is 4.50 a half inches.
The mayor of Champaign was part of a group that met in Chicago Tuesday with Gov. Pat Quinn --- asking him to veto a plastic bag recycling bill.
The measure (Senate Bill 3442) requires businesses that use plastic bags and plastic wrap to participate in a statewide recycling program. But it also bars home rule communities from setting up their own, stricter, rules --- like a ban or fee which the Champaign City Council is considering. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he doesn't see why the bill has to limit the role of local governments.
"In other municipalities around the country, they have done these exact same kind of bills," he said. "Only now, coincidentally, ours has a little caveat that we can't impose fees or bans or have our own ordinances; that they take away our home-rule authority and give the power to the State. I don't need another state program in Champaign."
But the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), said the ban on local rules is so businesses won't be confused about the requirements for plastic bags and wrap throughout the state.
"These stores, like a Target, everybody wants a Target to come into their community," Link said. "Well, they want to know what rules they're playing by in those communities. So, if you do a statewide standard, they know the rules they're playing in all these areas."
The clause in Link's bill barring cities from making their own rules on plastic bags was added just days after the Champaign City Council voted to look at proposals for taxing or banning the bags at local stores. The bill passed during the final days of the spring legislative session, and has been sent to the governor.
Besides Mayor Gerard, the group opposed to the bill that met with Governor Quinn included representatives of Sierra Club Illinois, Environment Illinois, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Chicago Recycling Coalition; Chicago Alderman John Arena, and 12-year old Abby Goldberg of Grayslake, who gathered more than 154,000 signatures against the bill in an online petition drive.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Mayor Don Gerard)
Longtime University of Illinois administrator Robert Easter began work on Monday as the university's newest president. He comes into an office that has been marked by controversy in recent years.
Within the last three years, two U of I presidents have resigned. Easter said he is focused on creating a sense of stability at the university, and making education affordable despite lagging state support for higher education. He told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that he has spent a lot of time over the last few months talking with faculty and students about their concerns.
EASTER: What I'm hearing is we want to be part of any decision, and as a longtime faculty member, I resonate with that. The faculty in some sense are the university. They embody the values of the institution. They embody the knowledge base. They are what make the university. They because of what they do in their individual disciplines within their departments have more insight than any of us in leadership have to what's the best strategy for moving forward. Our role is to capture their insights, to understand them, and then to work within the constraints that we have financial and otherwise to move the institution forward.
POWERS: How have you been able to address their concerns and their comments? Have you been able to in this short amount of time?
EASTER: One of the early conversations we had was around pension reform, and I think in formulating the positions that we have taken and been asked to do so, we've tried to consider their viewpoints on what might work and I think we've been very effective in doing that.
POWERS: On the issue of pension reform, this past month more faculty and staff did retire from Illinois' community colleges and state universities than in recent memory, and for the three campuses at the University of Illinois, retirements for the last fiscal year topped a thousand...large number of people leaving their jobs comes a few months after Governor Quinn introduced a plan that would leave state employees, university workers, and teachers with smaller pensions. With fewer trained and skilled staff on all three campuses, what will this mean for the university next semester?
EASTER: I think it means that we have opportunities, perhaps larger than in the normal year to re-energize our campus, to choose to make directional changes as appropriate, and that's the responsibility of the local level to figure out what that is. It also gives us the opportunity to ask the question where we had two staff doing this previously, could we with technology do that same job with less input, and thus control cost and tuition increases and so forth.
POWERS: Do you see a lot of people taking on multiple roles in the next year because of all of this?
EASTER: Yeah, I do. I think we have a long tradition in units when there are retirements that others step in to make sure that the programmatic needs are met, that the quality remains constant, but at the same time, we may well find ourselves needing to bring some people back if they're willing to fill in on a part time basis. As you well know, the legislature did put some boundaries around that, and as we have those conversations going forward a year from now, we'll be very conscious of those boundaries.
POWERS: What is your plan right now in terms of tuition?
EASTER: The board of trustees put in place a policy...I think two years ago now thinking back when it took place...that constrains the increases in tuition to (the rate of inflation), and my goal would be to stay within those boundaries. As cost increase, inevitably tuition reflects that. If we go through a period of minimal cost increase, one would hope we would have minimal tuition increases.
POWERS: The University has had a rough period over the last few years. It's been marked by the admissions scandal, the enrollment management policy that was highly criticized, resignations of two presidents...what do you say to prospective students who look at the U of I and ask themselves, 'Why should I go here? This place doesn't necessarily seem to have its act together.'
EASTER: The University of Illinois is a very robust organization, and the true values of the university lie within the faculty. They lie within the staff, the very competent staff. They lie within the department leadership, and college leadership, and campus leadership. I think those intuitions, those individuals are incredibly strong. The ship, if you will, is rock solid, and I have absolutely no problem telling anyone that this is still a great institution.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Two county clerks from downstate Illinois are asking to intervene in a lawsuit over the state's gay marriage ban.
The Thomas More Society late Friday filed a request on behalf of Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb, seeking to intervene in the lawsuit filed in Cook County by 25 same-sex couples who were turned away when they tried to get marriage licenses from Cook County Clerk David Orr.
The move to intervene is being spearheaded by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a conservative non-profit law group. All of this comes just a couple of weeks after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she would not defend the state's same-sex marriage ban against the lawsuits, because she, too, thinks it violates the Illinois Constitution. In early June, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also filed court papers indicating she would not defend the state law.
There's good news for four Champaign-Urbana area startup companies.
The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports the companies have been approved to receive investments from the Invest Illinois Venture Fund that was set up last year.
Under the program, companies can receive up to 25 percent of their own lead investments from the state.
The companies that have been approved but haven't yet received any money from the state are Caterva, ANDalyze, Diagnostic Photonics and Nuvixa.
The goal of the fund is that it will replenish itself. The newspaper reports that once a company is viewed as self-sustaining, the state could stop investing and the proceeds from its investment will be used to help other companies.
The new state budget eliminates funding for the Illinois Cares Rx program, which helped pay prescription drug costs for low-income Illinoisans. Some of those beneficiaries can find help from other programs. Now, two Champaign-Urbana lawmakers hope to pass a bill to help seniors with no other options.
Before it was cut as part of Medicaid reform, Illinois Cares Rx helped more than 180,000 people with disabilities. The proposed Seniors Pharmaceutical Assistance Relief program would help an estimated 80,000 seniors only. But sponsors Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) in the state Senate and Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) in the House say the measure would save money in the long run.
'Prescription drugs are part of modern health care," Frerichs said. "If a doctor says this is part of your treatment to regain your health, to retain your health, and someone goes home and says I can't afford them, and doesn't take them, it's going to cause other problems, and those will come back to us in the Medicaid system."
But Jakobsson admits finding the money in recently signed budget will be a challenge.
"I think we're just going to have to look at the rest of the budget, and as some things were vetoed out of the budget, maybe there might be some money to cover this," Jakobsson said.
Jakobsson and Frerichs hope to see their measure voted on during the fall veto session. Meanwhile, they are talking to lawmakers and legislative leaders to build support for their proposals.
Frerichs and Jakobsoon introduced the proposal in both chambers (as Senate Bill 3923 and House Bill 6178) during the last week of the spring legislative session. Decatur Republican Adam Brown is co-sponsoring the House measure.
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