Illinois Public Media News
The Vermilion County Health Department is cutting four more programs that rely on state grants and 20 additional jobs with it. Department Administrator Steve Laker says the County's Board Of Health was forced into this move after the Vermilion County Board this week rejected a request for an additional loan of $400,000. The state now owes the health department $500,000 - an amount expected to grow to $700,000 by June.
As of May 21st, the department's staff will be nearly half what it was the first of this year, with 32 total job cuts. The four programs being eliminated are Family Case Management, Healthworks Illinois, Healthy Child Care, and the Case Coordination Unit. Laker says that unit's nursing home pre-screenings will be among those areas missed the most. "We're going to work with anybody we can so that hopefully these services get picked up by someone else locally and facilitate that transition, "said Laker. "But we don't have any assurance of that yet."
Laker says his goal now is holding onto the Women, Infants, and Children - or WIC program, and Family Planning, which are federal programs. WIC is exclusively federally funded, while Family Planning relies partially on county money. Laker says both have been running in Vermilion County for about 40 years. "So these are long-standing practices and well-accepted pratices," said Laker. "However, right now, these are times we've never experienced. So we're being squeezed, they're (Vermilion County) being squeezed, and unfortunately, what's on the potential chopping block is these services." Cutting those federal programs would reduce the health department to minimum certified status, reducing its staff by about two-thirds, to about 20 employees. Laker says he's considering other options, including mandatory furlough days for employees. If the department does have to cut WIC and Family Planning, he notes it would have an obligation to pay those staff members their accrued benefits, as well as their unemployment, which is funded by the county.
The officer who shot and killed a teenager during a scuffle behind a Champaign home last fall will be suspended without pay for 30 days.
Officer Daniel Norbits and Police Chief RT Finney had responded to a call on Vine Street last October 9th-in the ensuing confrontation with 15 year old Kiwane Carrington and another teen, Norbits' firearm went off, killing Carrington. The incident worsened already-tense relations between Champaign police and African-Americans in the city. 30 days unpaid suspension is the toughest discipline allowed short of termination under the city's union contact with police.
Retired McLean County judge John Freese was one of two outside experts asked to investigate the incident. Freese found that Officer Norbits violated police rules by not having enough control over his firearm with struggling with Carrington - namely, his trigger finger was improperly placed.
"While the officer was using his left hand to try to take Carrington to the ground, the weapon which was in his right hand had sufficient pressure placed on the trigger to discharge the weapon," Freese said. "And training would have expected the officer to have his finger indexed on the side of the weapon so it would be outside of the trigger guard."
City Manager Steve Carter also used an internal investigation to determine that Norbits failed to maintain control of the weapon. He believes the discipline fits the violation - it's the strongest punishment short of firing.
"The death of a person in Champaign-Urbana is a serious matter for sure," Carter said. "The public has some right to expect our police officers to handle their weapons in a way that doesn't endanger the public."
The other outside investigator in the case, retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair, says the indexing technique is taught to all officers, but it should be reiterated every year to rookies and veterans alike.
"We see this as an opportunity to improve on how we administer our training," said Adair. "Because even if it is a tragic incident, it's still an opportunity for us to learn as human beings. That's what's most important here."
The union representing Champaign Police issued a prepared statement saying it's extremely disappointed by Norbits' suspension. The Fraternal Order of Police labor council says Carrington brought about the tragedy through his own resistance.
In December State's Attorney Julia Rietz decided not to file criminal charges against Norbits or Finney. Earlier this month, the state's attorney's office dropped a juvenile charge against the other boy involved in the incident.
While local agencies struggle to get by because of overdue state funding, Governor Pat Quinn says Illinois will meet all of its obligations for fiscal year 2010.
"We have adequate revenue to pay all the bills", Quinn said to reporters in Champaign on Wednesday. "It's been slow. The payments have been delayed, because we have a mountain of debt that I inherited when I became governor. I'm doing the very best I can to pay our debt down. I have to tell the truth about what we have to do to get that done."
Quinn says the most important thing for lawmakers to do is to pass the increase in the state income tax that he's proposed to help pay for education. But the governor avoided saying whether he thought House Speaker Mike Madigan would allow to vote to occur in his chamber.
"Mike Madigan, the Speaker, is a good friend of mine", said Quinn. "I talk to him every day, practically. But I don't agree with him every day, and he doesn't agree with me. And so we have discussions and dialog. And ultimately, I think the best thing for the people is to have a vote. That's what democracy is, and that's what legislatures are all about. And they should vote on something as revenue for education."
Quinn has proposed a list of what he calls "loopholes" in the tax code that he wants to close --- including a proposed tax on digital downloads and requiring banks to disclose the accounts of tax scofflaws. But he says the one percentage-point increase in the state income tax is his top priority.
The governor also proposes extending the deadline by which the state must pay bills from the previous fiscal year by another four months past the current September 1st date. Administration officials says that would help the state pay service providers first, and relieve the pressure on agencies that have struggling to stay open due to delays in state grant money. The deadline extension is part of a proposal that also includes additional budget cuts and borrowing to pay pensions.
The governor spoke to reporters outside downtown Champaign's Virginia Theater, during opening night of the 12th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival. Quinn introduced the long-time film critic at the festival, presenting him with a copy of a proclamation naming Wednesday "Ebertfest Day" in Illinois. Also during his stop in Champaign, the governor marked the oncoming celebration of Earth Day with a tour of a model solar-powered house designed by University of Illinois students. The "Gable Home" won second place in last year's biennial Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U-S Department of Energy.
Roger Ebert's Film Festival kicked off its 12th annual edition in downtown Champaign Wednesday night, with a showing of "Pink Floyd The Wall", and an appearance by Governor Pat Quinn.
Quinn introduced Ebert, who came to the Virginia Theater stage as the near capacity audience rose to their feet to welcome him. The 67-year-old Ebert is a native son of Champaign-Urbana. He attended Urbana High School and the University of Illinois, before launching his career as a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times and on a long-running TV show.
The governor presented Ebert with a proclamation naming the festival's s opening day as "Ebertfest Day" in Illinois. Reading from the document, Governor Quinn said that Ebert "has guided, informed and challenged Illinois moviegoers, championing films of every genre that lesser critics have ignored or demeaned".
The proclamation also praises Ebert for showing "extraordinary grace and unflagging courage in the face of serious illness, continuing to write with passion, strength and confidence about film, about life, and about the essential connections between the two."
Speaking through a laptop-mounted voice synthesizer, Ebert thanked the governor. "You took office at a difficult time, and brought honor back to the state's highest office", Ebert said through the device. "This is a most meaningful award, and with permission, I would like to share it with everyone involved in Ebertfest."
Ebert uses his annual film festival to highlight movies he feels deserve first-time or renewed attention. His choices range from Hollywood blockbusters, to little-known independent and foreign films, everything from silent movies to musicals.
Roger Ebert's Film Festival continues through Sunday in Champaign-Urbana, with movies shown at the Virginia Theater, and panels on film at the U of I Illini Union. Thursday night's s schedule includes a showing of the extended version of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now", with the film's sound designer Water Murch as a guest.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon vows that the county will maintain its health department, but it may become something residents don't recognize.
By late this year, the department could go without a number of state-grant funded programs, and cut more jobs in addition to the 12 it lost in January. Tuesday night. Vermilion County Board members approved extending a $300,000 loan that it gave to the health department last year. The action gives the health department until mid-July to pay it back. But the board voted down an additional loan of $400,000. McMahon says the department has to assume that it won't receive the $700,000 dollars that it's owed from the state by July. He says that means running a stripped down health department. "Our goal is to maintain a certified health department in addition to restaurant inspections and also a sanitation-sewer division," said McMahon. "Those would automatically stay. We would to whatever it takes to keep those. Any other program that isn't in that immediate program may have to be on hold the state of Illinois straightens out their act."
The Vermilion County Board's options for health program cuts and the additional loan also called for a property tax hike in Vermilion County of around 16-percent. The increase would have paid for not only the health department's shortfall, but additional county offices like the state's attorney and juvenile detention center. "If we hadn't taken the action to eliminate 12 jobs and three programs, the state would have owed us $1.2 million at the end of June," said Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Steve Laker. "Now we're projecting (a deficit of) only $700,000, only the state isn't reimbursing the county for state's attorney's salary, public defender's salary, juvenile detention staff, and probation services staff. And all that adds up to about another $1.2 million. The state owes the county about $1.9 million."
The Vermilion County Board of Health will put forth a new proposal for potential program cuts. It meets at 7 Wednesday night. The Board of Health proposals will be passed on to the Vermilion County Board, which will vote on them May 11th.
Up to 15,000 people are participating in one of the biggest rallies in the history of the Illinois state Capitol.
The secretary of state's office says about 12,000 people marched the streets of Springfield on Wednesday. Even more were on the Statehouse grounds, bringing the total to about 15,000.
The event was billed as a "Save Our State'' rally. It drew state employees, teachers and advocates from social service organizations.
Fired-up speakers urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as "Show some guts!''
Don Dixon is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign and a board member of the Illinois Education Association. He brought 20 students to the state capitol for the rally. Dixon says there will be more layoffs in his district unless the state puts more money into education.
We just laid off 153 people in the second round. The first round we laid off about 50. And it's only going to get worse," Dixon said. "The state has pretty much screwed up entirely as far as funding anything. So bills are being paid late. Eventually we're just going to have to close down if we don't get an increase in revenue and get some sillier things cut out."
Gov. Pat Quinn wants a 33 percent increase in the income tax, but House Democrats have been reluctant to back a hike.
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is continuing his attacks on the prosecutors who've hit him with corruption charges and says he isn't worried that a federal judge will slap a gag order on the case.
Blagojevich began his offensive Tuesday when he called the prosecutors "cowards and liars.'' He also challenged Chicago's U.S. attorney to meet him face to face in court if he's "man enough.''
On Wednesday, Blagojevich continued his campaign during an appearance on Chicago's WLS Radio. The Democrat accused the government of being "involved in a big cover-up'' and repeated his comments about prosecutors.
Blagojevich also dismissed the possibility that U.S. District Judge James Zagel could order him to stop talking about the case, saying "this is still the United States of America.''
Zagel has scheduled a hearing later in the day to discuss motions being filed in the case.
Gordie Hulten took his seat last (Tuesday) night as the new Champaign City Council member for District Five, covering the southwest part of the city.
City council members voted 6 to nothing, with Councilman Mike LaDue abstaining, to appoint Hulten to the seat left vacant by Dave Johnson's resignation earlier this year.
Hulten is a sales and marketing director for the Devonshire Group, who's also worked on various Republican political projects, including Congressman Tim Johnson's election campaign. But he says there's little risk that he'll bring partisan politics to the officially non-partisan Champaign City Council
"I think it is less of a concern" says Hulten, "because there is very little business that the city council does that is partisan, or that can be broken down on partisan lines. You know we do very little scorekeeping by which team or which coalition. You know, you see shifting coalitions on the city council much more than you see on the county board of the state legislature. It's much less top-heavy."
Hulten also says he plans to discontinue "Illinipundit", his blog on local politics.
Hulten beat out two other applicants for the District 5 council seat --- retired Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wild and health care consultant Cathy Emmanuel. The council seat will be up for election next spring, and Hulten has said he plans to run at that time.
A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.
The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.
Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.
Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.
"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."
Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.
Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.
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