Illinois Public Media News
Talks will resume Friday morning between Teamsters Local 226 and representatives of the First Student bus company, which runs transportation services in the Danville School District.
The two sides have been mulling over a new three-year contract for the district's 70 bus drivers and 22 bus monitors who respond to 56 routes. The union wants those employees to get higher wages and benefits.
After more than four months of contract negations, Maureen Richmond, a spokeswoman for the bus company, said she had hoped to reach a resolution by now.
"We do believe that the compensation and benefits package that we've offered to the union representatives is a fair market value, especially given the current economic conditions," Richmond said.
Richmond would not release details of the proposed contract.
Union members have not formally announced plans to walk off the job and strike, even though its members have been without a contract since August 1.
A representative from the Teamsters Union could not be reached for comment.
A voter guide put out by a local health care advocacy group shows rough adherence to political party lines when it comes to health care issues and Illinois candidates.
Of the candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, only Congressional candidate David Gill (D-Bloomington) responded to the survey from the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, but state Senate candidate Al Reynolds (R-Danville) and State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Champaign) took part.
The group's director, Claudia Lennhoff, said even though this year's health care overhaul is a national undertaking, state lawmakers' views on health care play a big role.
"So much of the implementation of national health reform actually happens at the state level and requires state legislatures to pass laws in order to enact some of the health reform changes," said Lennhoff.
While Jakobsson supports implementing the health care bill, Reynolds opposes it. However, Reynolds and Jakobsson agree that the state should enact controls on rising health insurance premiums.
East Central Illinois Republicans say Governor Pat Quinn is lying when saying that the early release of prisoners has been 'stopped cold.'
Mahomet State Representative Chapin Rose said the governor's latest campaign ads are misleading. He cites the Department of Corrections data that indicates more than 2,000 prisoners, including violent offenders, that have been set free since July.
"The day his ads began to run, that very day they released (someone convicted of) aggravated unlawful use of a weapon," Rose said. "There's a murderer in here. Aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Battery of a pregnant person. Numerous firearms offenses. All let out since (Quinn) told the people he stopped the program."
In July, a bill sponsored by Senator and gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) went into effect requiring the Department of Corrections to require public notification of the prisoners granted Meritorious Good Time Release.
Early this year, Governor Quinn did away with a program called MGT Push, but also suspended all other early release programs. Sharyn Elman, a spokeswoman for Illinois' Department of Corrections, called the accusations "completely false and political posturing."
"The Governor terminated MGT Push as of December of 2009 and no prisoners have been released under MGT Push," Elman said. "MGT was suspended in January of 2010, and no awards have been granted since that time."
Rose noted while the programs are technically over, the state has not revoked the good-time credit of prisoners who earned it, and that is why some prisoners are still being set free. He said Governor Quinn is relying on semantics and not awarding any new credit to prisoners in order to claim the programs have been suspended or shut down.
The Rantoul Township High School board unanimously voted Monday night to suspend Superintendent Janet Koroscik over allegations of misconduct.
School Board member Marla Deem would not go into detail about the charges, except saying students and faculty have complained about Koroscik's leadership.
"There are just some issues that have been brought to the board's attention that we feel need to be addressed," Deem said. "It would be in the best interest of everyone involved not to let those issues out until the research has been completed."
Deem said she does not know exactly how long it will take before the school board concludes its investigation, but she said it could go on for at least a month.
Koroscik is not allowed on school premises during the suspension. She started working for the Rantoul Township High School District on July 1, 2009 on a three-year contract. She praised her own efforts in tightening security in the school, trying to boost test scores, and offering healthier food in the student cafeteria.
Still, she said during her tenure, she has had a tumultuous relationship with the school board, at times accusing its members of abusing their powers. Koroscik said she suspects that she is the target of a "witch hunt" brought on by a school board dissatisfied with her.
"I've done nothing wrong," Koroscik explained. "I just plan to get this situation resolved in the best way, so it doesn't hurt the school (and) the community."
Coincidently, the same day Koroscik was suspended, she returned to work full-time from medical leave, recovering from a blood clot in her leg. She said if the school board exonerates her, she would consider returning to work.
"I don't know how I could possibly continue to work with people who intentionally tried to destroy my career and never even gave me a chance," she said. "It was never my intention to leave Rantoul."
Koroscik refrained from saying whether anyone from the school board should resign.
While the school board investigates the charges, Principal Scott Amerio will serve as interim superintendent.
(Photo courtesy of Rantoul Township High School)
An advisory referendum on the Champaign County ballot next week asks voters if they want their county board to have fewer members, but more districts.
The referendum question on the Champaign County November 2nd ballot reads: "Shall the Champaign County Board size be reduced from 27 members elected from nine multi-member districts with three members elected from each district, to 22 members elected from eleven multi-member districts with two members elected from each district?"
District 4 County Board member Greg Knott (R-Rural St Joseph) said shrinking the board from 27 to 22 seats is a way to weed out less active members. At the same time, he said increasing the number of districts from nine to 11 would ensure better representation and less gerrymandering of district boundaries. For instance, he said rural representation has been diluted on the county board, because rural areas are often combined with urban areas to make up a district.
"To achieve pure rural representation with the current structure is difficult," Knott said. "Having 11 districts really allows more flexibility for those that draw the map to come up with those types of districts."
However, District 7 County Board member Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) noted that the Champaign County Farm Bureau has gone on record opposing a change in county board size. He said switching to more, but smaller, county board districts would hurt rural representation on the board.
"If we shrink the board and move to different districts, the population of the cities will definitely overtake the population of the rural areas," Kurtz argued.
Under the proposed change, county board districts would be represented by two members each, instead of three. Knott said the change would lead to county board members who are more accountable because they serve a smaller area, and voters would have fewer county board members to track.
"I think when we added that other element of more districts, that's where we hope to improve that quality," Knott explained. "Smaller districts may encourage more competitive elections."
Still, Kurtz said those changes would lead to less diversity on a county board that needs to reflect a diverse population of urban, rural and student residents. He said the current county board is an effective one, where members with diverse views are able to work together on legislation such as the county's wind farm ordinance, and the Land Resource Management Plan.
"If we had major conflicts, if we couldn't get legislation through, if we were paralyzed, if we weren't able to work together, I would say we need to make some major changes," Kurtz said. "But I haven't seen that".
Despite his own feelings, Kurtz said he will follow whatever the voters advise him to do when they vote on the referendum November 2nd. Knott said he expects most county board members to do that same. If the referendum passes and the county board heeds its advice, the number of county board members would change with the 2012 election.
The television airwaves are littered with loud political ads, but chances are you're not seeing any from the race in Illinois' 15th congressional district. The incumbent in that District is holding tight to his campaign war chest, and the Democratic challenger hasn't built up the budget to make many media buys. As Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers reports, the incumbent has kept an unusually low profile.
After sitting vacant since the spring of 2009, a prospective buyer has surfaced for Urbana's Lincoln Hotel.
The city council has given preliminary approval to a deal between the city and former commodities trader, Xiao Jin Yuan. Yuan owns a Hampton Inn in Crescent City, California. He said the Lincoln's European exterior is what makes it unique, but the interior is a different story.
"Walking in there, it's just like walking into a dark castle, or something like that," Yuan said. "It's a little bit depressing, that's my personal feeling. I need to talk to my architect and interior designer. The lighting has to be changed. It's too dark."
The Lincoln dates back to 1921 and designer Joseph Royer.
Yuan formerly lived in England. He said he is used to this kind of structure, and sees potential, as long the hotel can offer modern amenities.
"Some of the people like the old style," Yuan said. "I already own a modern hotel. Why shouldn't I try something new?"
Yuan is working to purchase the Lincoln hotel from its current owner, Marine Bank. Under the agreement with the city of Urbana, he would receive $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for initial improvements. Yuan is required to return that money if he sells the hotel before it reopens, but Yuan said he plans on operating the Lincoln until he retires. Additional TIF funds in the $1.4 million dollar agreement would be used for development over a five-year period.
(Photo courtesy of lindsayloveshermac/flickr)
Urbana Alderman David Gehrig is resigning, effective after next Monday's City Council meeting.
A research programmer at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Gehrig would only say he is stepping down due to additional work responsibilities.
"Rather than coming in and doing an 80-percent job or a 50-percent job," Gehrig said. "I think it makes more sense for me to step aside and have someone else come in who can do it do that degree.
Gehrig said he came to the decision about a month ago. The Ward 2 Democrat said he will have more say after next Monday's meeting. Gehrig was elected to a 4-year term in April 2009, but has served since August of 2008, when he was nominated to fill the remainder of another term. He said hopes to see a replacement named as soon as possible, but did not offer any suggestions.
Council members applauded Gehrig following his announcement in Monday night's Committee of the Whole meeting.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The former Champaign County Sheriff's deputy waging a write-in campaign for sheriff says poor fiscal management in that department prompted him to run.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney said last year alone, deputies served more than 12,000 summons, subpoenas, and evictions, and attempted to serve 15,000 more. He said that is cutting down on training time for deputies, and their ability to patrol the streets. Smith said the department could also save money by hiring out a private agency to serve those papers.
"You look at the private agency, and see that's a flat fee of 35 dollars," Smith said. "I've spoken to other people that say that most of the time, it only costs us 35 dollars. If you figure the time to pick up that piece of paper and take it and serve it, by the time you pay the deputy's wages, and with mileage, you're probably at 50 to 60 dollars."
Sheriff Dan Walsh said serving those papers only takes a deputy a minute, while the civil duties generate more than $200,000 towards their salaries. He added that his department is hardly in a position to pay an agency, with cuts of more than 11-percent the last couple of years.
"As they're out there serving papers, what's the difference if I'm 'patrolling' or I'm driving down Vine Street to go serve a paper on the Urbana Chief?" Walsh asked. "I'm still there, and if I see something, I'm going to take action. So, I don't think that's a good idea at all, and I don't think it really takes away from their ability to patrol."
Smith's campaign as an independent was cut short because more than 500 petition signatures were declared invalid after a supporter of Walsh challenged them. He said those voters had yet to change their address, and a write-in campaign is a bit of a challenge. He said according to Champaign County Clerk's Office, anyone wanting to vote for him can simply mark 'J Smith' in the write-in space.
Smith, who operates a gym in Urbana, said he is getting a lot of support in door to door campaigns.
Walsh has been sheriff since December of 2002. He said facing his first election challenge has occupied his evenings and weekends, but not regular work hours.
In an election year, the candidate who is already in office tends to have more political clout.
However, Rick Winkel with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs said that is not the case this year in Illinois' 101st district where State Representative Bob Flider (D-Mount Zion) is vying to keep his seat against Adam Brown (R-Decatur).
Combined, the two campaigns have drawn in nearly a million dollars in donations.
This is type of spending is unusual for a legislative race, according to Winkel. He said support for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bill Brady, and voter cynicism towards the Democratic leadership have trickled down the ticket.
"It's probably not fair to Representative Flider," Winkel said. "But people are pretty angry right now."
To help secure the seat, Flider's supporters contributed close to $280,000 last week to his campaign, with more than half coming from the Democratic Party and its leadership.
Meanwhile, various political groups and individuals poured nearly $150,000 into the Brown campaign.
Flider has served in the General Assembly for four-terms, while his opponent has served less than one term on the Decatur City Council. Winkel said in this race, experience may not be a selling point.
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