Illinois Public Media News
The owner of Decatur's only taxi service has shut the company down over what he calls the city's 'unethical businesses practices.'
AOK TNI Taxi owner Anthony Walker says the city's effort to investigate one of his driver, listed as a convicted sex offender on a state police registry, was the last straw. Walker said he claims she was only driving limousines, which is not illegal, but the city contends the employee was operating a taxi after being denied a taxi driver's license since she was convicted of a sex crime.
Walker said his complaints over city Finance Director Ron Neufield stretch back to last spring, and he plans to file a discrimination lawsuit as soon as Tuesday. Walker said the city renewed AOK's license as a transportation company on time last April, but he said Neufield tried to shut it down after saying the paperwork wasn't done properly. Walker said it is unlikely that the taxi company will start up again.
"I just don't forsee me diving back into that," Walker said. "I don't feel received by this community per se with my taxi service, and if I don't feel comfortable with my energy and my efforts and my money, I'll go to Bloomington, Springfield, where I have offices at, and work there."
Walker also provides the limousine and airport shuttle transportation, but shutting down the taxi service means about 20 drivers are out of a job. Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady said other problems with have surfaced, including lapses in insurance coverage that accompany cancellation notices.
"Every time we get a notice like that from the insurance company, of course we have to schedule a hearing," McCrady said. "As you can imagine, it's important that these taxis are properly insured. There has been situations where he's been in accidents and people have been injured. And we discovered the insurance had lapsed in that period of time."
McCrady said AOK TNI also fails to have cars inspected in a timely manner. McCrady said he hadn't heard of Walker's plans for a lawsuit, but says allegations of harassment are unfounded. With the taxi company down, the city will now offer van transportation to disabled residents who can't take city buses as part of the Decatur transit system's 'Operation Uplift' program.
The weather may be improving, but Illinois State Police say the roads in east-central Illinois were still a hazardous place to be on Monday.
Drivers were facing black ice on interstates and other highways - they were re also passing vehicles that have been left stranded on the shoulders in the hours since winds picked up and temperatures bottomed out on Sunday.
Sergeant Bill Emery with the state police post in Pesotum said blowing snow and black ice were still causing problems Monday. He said police were still working on a backlog of reports, including about 50 crashes.
"There's just not enough police and emergency personnel to handle each and every situation," Emory said on Monday. "So we're responding to each one as quickly as possible, and there's several crashes that we're not actually making a report on, if there were no injuries."
Emery said those reports will be done over the next few hours as the immediate problems go away. He said if you slide off the road, the best thing to do is to stay in your car before someone responds.
The conditions have caused two fatalities in the region. 52-year old Edith Janowski-Sherman of rural Champaign was killed Monday morning when her vehicle rolled over at the intersection of two rural roads west of Thomasboro. And Champaign County Coroner Duane Nortrhup says 52-year old Carol Theole of Effingham was helping a towing crew Sunday night when she was struck and killed by a vehicle north of Mattoon on I-57.
A spokesman with one Urbana towing firm said at midday Monday that they still had about 25 calls for help backed up, with a new one coming in every 30 seconds or so.
A deputy clerk for Champaign County said he believes that a move up to the clerk's position will make for a seamless transition.
John Farney has worked for Mark Shelden for nearly four years, in the vital records and elections areas. Shelden will resign next month to become Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson's Chief of Staff. Farney and Champaign City Council member Gordy Hulten will interview for the job before County Republican Precinct Committeemen Monday night.
At least one other unidentified candidate is expected to attend the meeting at GOP headquarters. Farney said he is not concerned about additional names coming forward.
"Frankly, I do hope other people show up and say 'hey, I've got some interest in this," Farney said. "It should be an open process. While I think I'm uniquely qualified for it, the more the merrier I say. I'm always looking forward to bringing more ideas out."
Meanwhile, Hulten said the marketing and sales duties at Devonshire Reality would suit him well for the County Clerk's position, along with 20 years of experience managing political campaigns.
"I've managed staff, managed budgets, been accountable for results, and had to use communication tools to effectively serve our clients and win new business, and those are all things the county clerk has to do," he said. "The county clerk may be the county office that interacts with customers the most."
Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said he is highly optimistic that his party will select a nominee for county clerk Monday night. The Champaign County Board will vote on that person's appointment next month.
A former County Board member and longtime parliamentarian said state law mandates that when a county elected official resigns, that that person's political party must find a replacement. Democrat Steve Beckett said it is also been a matter of custom in Champaign County.
"I cannot think of a time in the 10 years that I was on the county board where we replaced an elected official and did not accept the nomination from the respective party, Democrat or Republican," Beckett said.
Beckett added that county board members certainly have the option of voting against the GOP appointee for clerk. He says he did it once himself, when a new county auditor was named, but no one has been rejected.
Saturday is graduation day for the cadets in the Rantoul-based Lincoln's Challenge program.
The program's Director, Peter Thomas, said the 340 at-risk youth started out as high school dropouts from all over Illinois who needed a structured environment to get back on course. They have received training in everything from physical fitness to life-coping skills, having performed at least 40 hours of community service, and taken daily classes in preparation for GED testing.
"What this type of environment does for a young man or a young lady is strengthen them in ways that they can reach out and touch the community that they came from," Thomas said. "They can go out and get jobs; they can go out and give back to the community from which they came. In other words, when an individual leaves here, he or she leaves here as a well-rounded individual.
Thomas said nearly a third of Lincoln's Challenge graduates go into the military, with the rest going on to college or directly into the job market. He said he expects as many as 5,500 family members and others to attend the graduation ceremony. State Senator James Clayborne (D-Belleville) will be the speaker at tomorrow's Lincoln's Challenge commencement ceremony.
The ceremony begins at 11 am at Springfield's Prairie Capital Convention Center. Lincoln's Challenge is part of the National Guard's Youth Challenge program, operating in 29 states and Puerto Rico.
A report out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that pollution levels stayed the same and even improved throughout the state.
The agency gathered data from 80 monitoring sites across the state, and concluded that air quality was good or moderate 96 percent of the time in 2009. The study focused on an array of pollutants, including toxins, soot, and dust. There were 13 days last year when air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups in certain areas, compared to 14 days in 2008. EPA Spokesperson Maggie Carson said pollution tends to be a larger problem in more congested cities, like Chicago and the St. Louis Metro East area. She said there weren't any major red flags raised about the air quality in Central Illinois.
"Central Illinois generally has pretty good air quality," she said. "We're blessed by a lot of white collar, a lot of agriculture (jobs), and neither of these contributes tremendously to air quality problems."
According to the report, The Quad Cities has the lowest level of pollution with good air quality 86 percent of the time in 2009. Other communities to follow include Peoria, Champaign, Normal, and Decatur, which had good air quality more than 78 percent during the same period.
Still, Carson said there are still environmental challenges that the state has to overcome.
"As long as we have industry, as long as we have cars burning gasoline on our roads, we're going to have air quality issues that we're going to have to deal with," she said. "It's just a fact of life in modern American and in this state.
Filmmaker Deren Abram reflects on his years working on films with the late Bob Clark, director of "A Christmas Story" and "Porky's." Abram's documentary "ClarkWorld" includes remembrances from stars like Jon Voight and Kim Cattrall, who credits Clark with launching her career. Abram spoke with Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert.
The Mayor of Decatur has appointed James Duies to fill the city council seat left vacant by Adam Brown's election to the Illinois House of Representatives.
Brown narrowly won the November election to the 101st House District against incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion), and he resigned from the city council last month
Duies grew up in Decatur graduating from Eisenhower High School and then studying finance at Millikin University. He later served for a short time on the Decatur police force and eventually moved out of state to work for Evergreen Investments in Charlotte, N.C. before returning to the city with his wife in 2006. Duies is now a global pensions manager at Archer Daniels Midland Company. McElroy said one of the things that set Duies apart from the other candidates under consideration was his experience analyzing pension systems at ADM, which he hopes will be a valuable asset to Decatur as the city grapples with supporting employee retirement benefits.
"Pensions are the biggest thing that we're talking about financially in every community in the state - pension for the police, fire, and AFSCME workers," McElroy said. "It's nice to have someone that you know watches pensions everyday and sees what's going on with the pensions and can lend his expertise. I don't think that hurts anything."
Since Brown resigned from the council after the election filing deadline, people have until Dec. 23 to file as write-in candidates. Duies will be sworn in within the next few weeks, and he said he plans to run in a special election next spring to stay in office.
"I just am very gracious that the mayor has recommended me for appointment, and I can't wait to get started," Duies said. "I'll stay on as long as I can."
Other candidates running in the special election include Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel and resident James Thomas Taylor. If five candidates end up running for the seat, then a Feb. 22 write-in primary will take place to narrow the number of challengers down to four who will appear on the April 5 ballot. Three other city council members will also be up for e-election, in addition to Mayor McElroy who is running unopposed.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden is leaving his office to join the staff of Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).
Next month, Shelden will take over for Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke, who's going to work for Congressman-elect Randy Hultgren of Winfield. The 46-year-old Shelden has been in the office for 13 years. Shelden says Johnson approached him about the job earlier in the week, after learning his current chief of staff was leaving.
"The way things work in the legislative process is so much different than it works in an executive department," Shelden said. "I think there will be times when I'll be a little frustrated about the slow movement of things, and good ideas you want to get done. So there will be a change from that standpoint."
Republican Precinct Committeemen will meet Monday to begin the process of naming a replacement. Shelden said he will not be endorsing anyone, but will talk to anyone interested in the job.
"I want an open process that looks for the many good candidates that we've got, and tries to find somebody who can do this job well and hopefully maintain this office in a way that I'm proud of," he said.
Shelden said he is excited about tackling new issues, but having worked as a policy analyst in Springfield, he's familiar with the legislative process. Shelden said he expects his successor will be appointed by the Champaign County Board in early January, but Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said it is possible that person will be named by Monday night. The appointed clerk, who would be sworn in by the Champaign County Board in early January when Shelden resigns, would fill the term for two years until the 2012 election.
"I presume people will look at whether or not someone is a Republican," he said. "I think from there Mark has run such a terrific, professional office. Some of the qualifications would probably be who is the person who is electable who in addition to replacing Mark, will run a great, quality office."
Shelden said he was appointed to the office much the same way in April 1997.
"The public needs to remember that we just have an fantastic staff," he said. "Part of my legacy is hiring good people that have run good elections. The first goal of the new county clerk will be to make sure that they are wise enough to lean on the collective skills and talents of those people to get through the next couple of elections.
A company that's now building a wind farm in Iroquois County hopes to receive permits next week to build a second facility that would straddle the Iroquois-Ford County line.
E.ON Climate and Renewables wants permission to build up to 111 wind turbines in Ford and Iroquois Counties near the towns of Loda and Paxton. Most of the turbines would go up in Ford County.
Ford County Zoning Officer Larry Knilands said E.ON officials would like to start work on the project next year.
"They wanted to get a contract signed, as far as a road agreement, construction permit, you name it --- everything taken care by warm weather, so that they might be able to start construction by, say, October (of 2011)," Knilands said.
But Knilands said the signing a road agreement could be the difficult part of the process. He said negotiations on road agreements for two other wind farm projects in Ford County has delayed their construction --- one has been on hold for two years.
"We have to make sure that whatever road agreement we establish the first time around is something that will apply to any other wind farm company that comes along," Knilands said.
E.ON is currently building a separate wind farm in eastern Iroquois County. Both the Ford and Iroquois County Boards are scheduled to vote on zoning permits for the 2nd E.ON wind farm project at their regular meetings next week.
The Ford County Board will meet Monday, December 13th at 7 PM at the Ford County Jail in Paxton. The Iroquois County Board meets Tuesday, December 14th at 9 AM, at the county Administrative Center in Watseka.
A report on civic engagement suggests Illinoisans need improvement in areas ranging from voting to simple acts of kindness.
The National Conference on Citizenship's report uses Census Bureau data to show a decline in the number of voters, particularly young voters, in 2008. Voter turnout fell 3-percent that year, despite the presidential campaign of native son Barack Obama. And Illinois ranked 46th in the past year among those 18 and up who did favors for neighbors, like babysitting.
Study Author Shawn Healy says the report should be viewed as a call to action, and one of those areas are schools - which at one time, weren't solely to prepare us for college or a career.
"They're certainly important objectives, but was to prepare people for their role in a democracy," Healy said. "So that's really critical. And there are some great things going on statewide in that respect. But in this tough environment with fiscal constraints, and top of it the standardized testing that's gripped our country, that's really narrowed the curriculum and really pushed civics aside in that central role for schools to play."
Healy also suggested that Illinois should make voter registration easier. While he says absentee voting has become more accessible in the state, he notes states like Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voter registration on Election Day.
He says simple day to day things, like reading a daily newspaper to get the news, or talking politics with a friend, rarely happen anymore. He says someone only needs to look as far as their local bowling alley.
"Bowling hasn't died. In fact, more people are bowling than ever before," he said. "But we bowl alone. And what used to happen when we were bowling on teams is we would interact with people that we might not otherwise see. We might talk about what's going on in the community - we might even discuss politics."
Healy uses Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's metaphor about the bowling alley to represent society, and the layer that stands between individuals and their government. The 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index was funded by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation, and the Citizen Advocacy Center.
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