Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Urbana Asst. Police Chief Chosen as Champaign Police Chief

Urbana Assistant Police Chief Anthony Cobb has been selected as the new chief of police for the city of Champaign.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said Cobb has a solid track record based on his 20-year tenure with the Urbana Police Department.

"He's very clear from a leadership standpoint, which is really important about understanding the issues and some of the things that need to be done," Carter said.

Cobb said his top priority will be to improve morale within the Champaign police force.

The issue of police community relations in the department has come under scrutiny in the last few years following the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington.

A number of citizens have also alleged that Champaign police have used excessive force when arresting two African American youths in the last few months.

Cobb said he plans to take a closer look at the department's use of force policy, and work to improve relations with the community.

"Situations and obstacles that we're facing at the Champaign Police Department, those didn't come about overnight and we're not going to get them corrected overnight. It's going to take time. It's going to take commitment. It's going to take effort," " Cobb said. "I would love to get to the point when I'm ready to retire from the city of Champaign, everyone who's back here says he's done a good job."

Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery said she is looking forward to working with Cobb. She said having someone who is familiar with Champaign-Urbana will go a long way.

"He has shown that he is a leader in the community," Avery said. "I think his community policing speaks for itself. So, I think that we're off to a great start with our new Chief Cobb."

Cobb has been with the Urbana Police Department since 1992, starting off as a patrol officer for about four years, later advancing to a school resource juvenile officer, to eventually becoming assistant chief of police in 2010. He was the department's first community policing officer, and he piloted a program related to the Urbana Police Department's current community policing approach.

"A lot of people feel that since I'm an African American from an African American community that's where all my interests and talents are going to lie," Cobb said. "That's not true. I am committed to the citizens of Champaign period."

The last time Champaign had an African American police chief was in the early 1980's with William Dye, who held that position from 1975 until 1982.

Cobb was selected to lead Campaign's Police Department from a field of more than 45 candidates following the retirement of R.T. Finney in Jan. 2012. He will join the Champaign Police Department on March 12, and will earn a salary of $140,000 a year.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

IHSA Blasts Student Athlete Waiver Bill

Illinois Senator Shane Cultra says the State High School Association needs to be more flexible in allowing student athletes to play football.

A bill sponsored by the Onarga Republican opposes IHSA rules, mandating that a student participate in a minimum of 12 practices before they can play in a game, even if that student was away for military training. The Senator's bill would provide a waiver to those students who recently completed basic training.

Cultra's bill was filed after a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Eddie Nuss, was declared ineligible to play his season opener for that reason. Cultra understands the IHSA's concerns about health risks, but says his measure would have safeguards.

"Let the staff of the school examine the student athlete when they come back," he said. "And if they're in great shape, and they think they're probably able to play without the required number of practices, then they're going to make a recommendation to the school board, who would then give them a waiver for how many practices they missed."

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman says research shows military training doesn't necessarily mean a student is acclimated to play football - citing 5 students who died in practice in the US around the country last year due to heat-related illness. He says schools boards aren't medically qualified to make such a call.

"There's quite a bit of research that indicates regardless of the condition a kid comes to the football practice, that they need to be acclimated to play football," Hickman said. "That takes time. Our physicians, our trainers, that our sports medicine advisory committee says that takes at least 12 days."

Physicians on the IHSA's sports medicine advisory committee say it takes 12 to 14 days of practice before a student is ready to play football. Hickman expects those doctors to bring testimony to Springfield if the bill is debated this year.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2012

Jay Selected as County Bd Republican Caucus Chair

Nine-year Champaign County Board member John Jay of Mahomet is the new chair of the county board's Republican Caucus.

Jay was unanimously chosen Thursday night to replace Alan Nudo (Dis 3-Champaign), following his unexpected resignation from the county board over the weekend, when he also withdrew from a state senate race. Jay said he just hopes to continue what Nudo started, and strengthen ties on the other side of the aisle.

"We've got some really serious issues facing us as a board," he said. "They're not Republican or Democrat issues. They're county issues. and we're going to have to address those - the (Champaign County) Nursing Home being one, and the (Champaign County) Jail being another one. So I hope we can come to some resolve on those issues."

The caucus also learned Thursday it will have to fill another county board seat in District 3. Brad Jones of Champaign has served since he was appointed in 2006, but stepped down Thursday night because of the time demands of a job he's taken with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Jay says he and fellow Republicans did all they could convince Nudo to finish his board term. Jay said the two resignations feel like 'losing two wheels on your vehicle at once.'

'Both of those men were leaders, they were both really good with numbers,' he said. "This is a number game, trying to keep our head above water. They're both going to be missed very, very much."

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said both District 3 vacancies could be filled by first-time Republican candidates. Both Jeff Kibler and Don Kermath are pursuing seats in the re-drawn district 5 next fall, but could be appointed to the county board as soon as next month since they live in the current district 3.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2012

Indiana Right-to-Work on Speedy Path in Senate

Indiana could become the 23rd right-to-work state as early as Wednesday depending on how soon Gov. Mitch Daniels decides to sign the divisive labor bill.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Thursday he expects the state Senate to take a final vote Wednesday on the divisive legislation following a Monday committee hearing on the bill.

Indiana is set to become first state in the union-heavy Rust Belt to ban union contracts that include mandatory fees for representation.

The measure passed easily in the House this week after Democrats ended an off-and-on boycott that had stalled the measure through the start of the session. The final House vote set the stage for the bill to make it into law shortly before 150,000 football fans pack Indianapolis for the Feb. 5 Super Bowl.

"We have a Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the history of this state, even bigger than the (Indy) 500. And that's saying a lot because we've hosted some big events here," Long said Thursday.

"And for those who are threatening to disrupt it, why would we give them that opportunity?" Long asked. "The Senate is in position to move it now, and it makes senses for us to do it."

Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, said Republicans are trying to avoid embarrassment during the Super Bowl by speeding the bill to Daniels. Republicans heavily outnumber Democrats in the Senate 37-13, guaranteeing that Democrats can't use the same stall tactics applied in the House.

"I think their intention is to speed this bill through and send it with wings to the governor's desk and he signs it on Thursday," Simpson said.

Indiana AFL-CIO president Nancy Guyott said union members will continue to talk with Republican senators in hopes of persuading more to vote against the bill, but that the Senate's speed is aimed at shutting out the public.

"It seems that they'll stop at shutting no doors to the Hoosier citizen having a part in this process," she said.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2012

Analyzing What We Eat: Author and Food Activist Michael Pollan

Author Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan thinks of himself as a writer, a professor...and eater. But many people would call him a food activist. The author of controversial books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," Pollan is known for his vivid critiques of industrial agriculture and the modern American diet. He recently spoke with Illinois Public Radio's Véronique LaCapra about his views on food and agriculture - starting with what he sees as a healthy diet.

(Photo courtesy of Ken Light)

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Categories: Biography, Health
Tags: people, health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2012

Nudo Declines Request To Change Mind About Quitting County Board

Alan Nudo's decision to resign from the Champaign County Board appears to be final, according to a fellow county board member who asked him to change his mind.

John Jay said he and two other county board members met with Nudo Wednesday morning, but they were unable to convince the Champaign businessman to complete his term on the board.

Nudo had also chaired the county board's Republican caucus, and Jay said may seek that post when the caucus meets Thursday at 5 PM at the Urbana Garden restaurant in Urbana. At a later date, Champaign County Republican officials will nominate someone to take over Nudo's county board seat. Nudo had chosen not to seek re-election, due to his Illinois Senate campaign.

Nudo resigned from the county board, and dropped out of the GOP Illinois Senate primary in the 52nd District, after a political blogger accused him of sending a contribution to incumbent Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs in a previous campaign. Jay said he thinks that attack on Nudo's integrity was just too much for him.

"He felt like there was being some dispersions cast upon him as not being ethical, which as all of whom that know him know that is not a fact," Jay said. "He is probably one of the most ethical people you'll ever run across. So consequently, he felt bad enough about that, that he tendered his resignation to all of his political affiliations at this point."

Jay said that even Nudo had less than a year to serve on the county board, his decision to resign now is a big loss.

"He (Nudo) has probably been the most influential, hardest working Republican county board member that we have," Jay said. "He actually has been involved in every aspect. He had the time and he had the knowledge and the experience. And he used it on behalf of all of the county."

Meanwhile, the remaining Republican in the state Senate race, John Bambenek, said he is now convinced Nudo was not himself supporting Frerichs, when he co-signed checks from Triple R Development, LLC, made out to Frerichs' campaign. Nudo had told the News-Gazette that his own firm, Robeson's Inc., manages daily accounting duties for the developer, which was why he signed the checks.

Illinois Public Media was unable to reach Nudo for comment Wednesday.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2012

Champaign Boys & Girls Club Won’t Renew Exec. Director’s Contract

The board of directors at Champaign's Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club will let the contract for its executive director expire, and begin a national search for a new one.

Board President Toney Tomaso said there is nothing wrong with the relationship with current director Andre Arrington, but he added that he wants to bring 'new energy' to the organization. Tomaso wouldn't discuss specific aspects of the facility he wants to see improved, but he did say fundraising played a role in the board's decision. Tomaso said the Boys and Girls Club needs to get to a point where it can stand on its own two feet financially based on the community's support.

"So that we don't have repeats of what has happened in the past, where we're reaching out to the community, saying 'gee, there's a chance we could close our doors. Things are really tough right now," Tomaso said. "And they are, for all the non-for-profits around. But as a board, we told ourselves this is not a position we want to be in, nor do we want to continue screaming that to the community."

Tomaso said Arrington will remain on staff at least until his current contract expires on March 8th, unless he leaves before then to take another job. Tomaso said the two of them are friends, and they have a good relationship. He compares this search to what a university or professional sports team goes through when it's looking for new coach.

"Most places well tell you, 'there's nothing wrong with our current coach, but that person's been dismissed, we think the world of them, and we wish them well," Tomaso said. "In this case, we're doing that with Andre. We're just looking for somebody who's going to take us into the future, and get us over those difficult humps, from the standpoint of financial, programmatic, in order to make our future the brightest it can possibly be."

UPDATE: Arrington, who has been with the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club for 10 years, says he's not upset, noting conversations regarding his future have been ongoing for a while.

Arrington says he he hasn't yet thought about his future.

"We haven't sat down and looked ahead that far," he said. "I've always been a person that worked the job that I have, and do the best I possibly can with the job that I have. I'm not the type of person to be looking at another job while I'm doing another (different) job."

Arrington says his greatest achievements include record numbers for fundraising, the number of children served, as well as expanded programs, including those in the STEM initiative, or science, technology, engineering, and math. Arrington hopes the facility's new leader continues to build on the legacy he's established. He will not be part of the national search for his replacement.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2012

Indiana House Approves Right-to-Work Bill

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The Indiana House of Representatives has approved a controversial bill that would ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees from workers.

The House voted 55-41 Wednesday to approve the right to work legislation. If it becomes law, Indiana will become the first state in more than a decade to pass right-to-work .

Critics of the measure chanted "No right-to-work!" outside the House chambers as lawmakers were gearing up to vote. Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Michigan City Democrat Scott Pelath urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

"It makes me ashamed that we would do this, that we would crush people's dreams, that chance for them to make their lives better," Pelath said. "All they want to do is work and earn a wage, and not have corporate America stepping on their necks."

House Republican sponsor Jerry Torr of Carmel said the bill will not depress wages as opponents argue.

"This has nothing to do with busting or trying to end unionism in Indiana," Torr said. "I've been studying this issue since 2003. I'm convinced that it will bring jobs, more employers to Indiana, and I'm doing this simply for the freedom for the individual worker and to help put unemployed Hoosiers back to work."

Of the 44 lawmakers who voted against the right to work bill in the House, five were Republicans.

The measure is expected to face little opposition in the GOP-controlled Senate and could reach Republican Governor Mitch Daniels' desk before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Republicans have struggled with similar anti-union measures in other Rust-Belt states like Wisconsin and Ohio where they have faced a massive backlash. Ohio voters overturned Gov. John Kasich's labor measures last November and union activists delivered roughly 1 million petitions last week in an effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2012

Daniels Gives State of the Union Response

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says President Obama isn't responsible for America's fiscal and economic crises.

But in the Republican response to the State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Daniels says the President has failed to deliver on a promise to fix these conditions.

The Governor says Obama has put the country on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead, while the federal government borrows one of every three dollars it spends.

"The President's grand experiment in trickle-down government has held back rather than sped economic recovery," Daniels said. "He seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars. In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it."

Daniels says Republicans did credit the President for his aggressive pursuit of terrorists with ties to 9-11, and what he calls 'long overdue changes' in public education.

But he also accused Obama of attacking Republicans in Congress as obstacles as the country looks for ways to reform the tax system. Daniels also says Obama has cancelled plans that could have helped the economy, citing his decision to delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

"The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy," Daniels said.

Daniels says he favors a simpler tax system of 'fewer loopholes and lower rates', and maximizing on domestic energy policies, calling them the 'best break our economy has gotten in years.'

Gov. Daniels, who had considered a presidential run himself last year, also said the safety net of Medicare and Social Security need some repairs for the next generation.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 25, 2012

Urbana Schools Hires Next Superintendent

The Urbana School District has hired Assistant Superintendent Don Owen to serve as its next superintendent, replacing Preston Williams.

On Tuesday night, the District 116 school board quickly accepted Williams' notice to retire next year, and voted unanimously for Owen to take over 18 months from now.

Owen has been with the Urbana School District since 1989, and has served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction since 2007. He previously worked as a site coordinator at Wiley Elementary's After School Child Care program, taught history at Urbana Middle School, and coordinated grant-based programs in the school district.

In his new contract, Owen will earn $170,000 annually for four years, starting in July 2013.

He explained that the school board approached him about the job a few weeks ago, when Williams announced his plans to retire. Owen said District 116 was looking for consistency in its strategic plan, and someone who knew the community well. He said he has worked closely with Williams, and calls the next year and a half a continuation of that process. Still, Owen acknowledged that there are other obstacles in front of him.

"The current state funding is one of our biggest challenges," he said. "I think the external pressures on public schools are huge, and we've come a long way in the last five years under Dr. Williams' leadership, and even before that under Dr. (Gene) Amberg's. We'll continue to face those challenges, and look for new and innovative solutions."

Williams says Owen made sense, given his long history with the district, and his ability to take on challenges.

"And that's really what a search is about," he said. "You try to find the best fit for the district - for the relationship with the board of education. And I think with Don having been here for a number of years, the board has had an opportunity to see him under some very stressful situations. They've also seen the type of work he's capable of doing, and he's his own man."

Williams says he'll be ready to take on a new challenge in his life in about 17 months, but needs that time to figure out what that challenge will be.

(Photo courtesy of District 116 schools)

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