Illinois Public Media News
More than 250 people have signed up for Monday night's Community-Police forum at the Hawthorn Suites Hotel in Champaign. The city of Champaign organized the event in the wake of last October's police shooting death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington. His death put a spotlight on long-standing frictions between police and African-American youth in Champaign.
Deputy City Manager Joan Walls says a diverse group of people have signed up for the forum --- including young people and other community members, neighborhood leaders and police. She hopes their discussions will shed light on ways to break down the barriers that have hindered police-community relations.
"When you get over 250 people in a room", says Walls, "who are committed, who recognize and realize that a tragedy has occurred in our community --- and that it's something we can all agree that we never want to happen again. And whatever it takes for us to pull it together, to really recognize what some of the issues might be, but not only that, identify what the workable solutions are going to be."
While registration for the forum's small group discussions has filled up, Walls says anyone interested can check with the Champaign community relations department to see if there are any last-minute openings. The public can also attend as observers --- and submit their own answers to the forum's main questions through a survey at the city of Champaign website. The Monday night at the Hawthorn starts at 6:30.
The Champaign County Board of Health is waiting for a consultant's report before it tries to resolve a dispute with its services provider.
The C-U Public Health District provides core services for the county through a contract. The county tried to renegotiate that contract early, in order to force re-negotiations of its terms. But the Champaign County Board refused to approve a one-year termination notice.
Stan James is the County Board's Liaison to the Board of Health. He said the consultant was charged with determining exactly what public health services the county is mandated to provide and to describe what options the Board of Health would have if they ended their service contract with the Public Health District.
Not all Board of Health members appear to agree on the value for money of the CU-PHD's services to the county. James indicated his first choice would be to continue working with the Public Health District.
Meanwhile, James wants more information before moving forward: "Moving forward right now we're paying the bills, we're gonna wait for this consultant's report and then find out for sure what's mandated by the state... Hopefully (we'll) sit down with public health and keep working at this. Right now, I think they're doing, in my mind, a great job. "
The consultant's final report is expected in April. The Board of Health is scheduled to meet March 30th.
A group representing University of Illinois faculty members say they want access --- if not a vote --- to the Board of Trustees.
The University Senates Conference --- which represents faculty senates on all three U of I campuses, is asking the Board of Trustees to grant a non-voting ex officio seat for a faculty representative on several of the board's standing committees. That representative would also present a brief report at each board of trustees meeting.
Urbana campus education professor Nick Burbules presented the request at Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting. Burbules says the university's financial crisis may require major changes, but that those changes can't occur without faculty support.
"If we are to be partners in the sacrifices ahead, we need to be partners in the conversation about those sacrifices", said Burbules, reading a statement prepared by the University Senates Conference. "If major and potentially disruptive institutional changes are on the horizon, the faculty who are being asked to continue their unflagging efforts on behalf of this institution, must believe that these changes are about continued academic excellence, and not just cost-cutting."
Burbules says the Faculty Senates Conference would like a faculty member to one day have a vote on the Board of Trustees. But he says that's not part of their current proposal --- instead the non-voting faculty member would keep trustees abreast of what's happening on the U of I campuses, and discuss ideas with them. A bill that would provide faculty with a voting seat on the board passed an Illinois House committee Wednesday. It would also make nearly half the voting seats on the board elected, not appointed.
U of I Board Chairman Kennedy Christopher Kennedy says he's inclined to support the faculty proposal, in the interests of shared governnance. But he wants to poll other trustees before making a formal response.
But Trustee Carlos Tortolero indicated his support right away for inclusion above the committee level. "I, for one, would like to see the day when, instead of being in the back room, you guys are at the table with us", Tortolero told Burbules. "I think that's what partnership is."
NOTE: This story was revised on 3/12/10, to note that the Faculty Senates Conference request applies to board activity at the committee level, and to note Illinois House legislation affecting the Board of Trustees.
The Urbana School Board is close to approving $2 million in budget cuts, to cope with the state revenue crisis.
District 116 board members held a special meeting Wednesday night to continue work on the budget cuts. As it stands, the district will lay off teachers at the elementary, middle and high school levels, along with two school nurses, and the district's public relations director. Building and athletic budgets will be cut by ten percent, and comp time will replace overtime pay district-wide.
School Board president John Dimit says they tried to avoid cut that eliminated whole programs. But he says the budget reductions go beyond just trimming the fat.
"We've been into the bone all along", says Dimit. "Any time you're cutting six elementary teachers, six middle school teachers, six high school teachers --- we're cutting in. We're eliminating options for our students. We're increasing class sizes."
But Dimit says the two million in cuts may not be enough, if the 1-point-3 billion dollars cuts in state education funding proposed by Governor Pat Quinn comes to pass.
"The depth of cut that the governor proposed today (Wednesday) is deeper than the base assumptions that we had established when we created out $2 million goal", Dimit says. "If that cut comes to pass, our goal would have been substantially higher than two million."
Governor Quinn says a state income tax increase could prevent the cuts in school funding. But if the statewide cuts take place, Dimit says the Urbana school board might have to resort to deficit spending next year to get by --- or else look for additional spending cuts that don't involve personnel.
The Urbana School Board will fine-tune its proposed budget cuts at a special meeting Sunday night before taking a final vote. Dimit says board members want to see if they modify some reductions so that they have less impact on school programs.
The chairman of the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees says the state budget unveiled by Governor Pat Quinn calls into question Illinois' commitment to higher education.
Chairman Christopher Kennedy says the $697 million that the budget provides the U of I for the next fiscal year makes it difficult for the school to compete when hiring faculty. "There's some question as to whether or not this state takes higher ed as seriously as do other states," says Kennedy. "And if we continue to underfund, if we continue to decrease the funding, if we continue to not meet the obligations that the state has declared that they would meet to these institutions of higher ed.. people will simply not move to Illinois to take those leadership positions." Kennedy addressed Wednesday's U of I Trustees meeting as Quinn unveiled the budget in Springfield. The $697 million appropriation is $45 million less than the state promised this year - that amount coming through one-time federal stimulus dollars. The state now owes the U of I about $500 million - more than that when including $28 million in yet unpaid student assistance through the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP grants.
U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says the university may seek authority from the legislature to borrow money, but will only do it as a last resort. He has yet to see how much Governor Pat Quinn's budget proposal for a 1% income tax hike would generate for colleges and universities. But Ikenberry called the idea a step forward towards Illinois' financial crisis. On a positive note, Ikenberry says the U of I is becoming more self-reliant through private fundraising. He says the University of Illinois Foundation has raised more than 80% towards its $2.25 billion goal in its 'Brilliant Futures' campaign.
The main source of power to the University of Illinois campus burns coal, but a student group wants to convert it to something cleaner.
Environmental groups have also gotten behind a call to make Abbott Power Plant a natural-gas-burning plant. It was built 70 years ago and has burned coal ever since, except for a period in the 1970s when the U of I converted it to natural gas. The university reverted to coal to demonstrate cleaner burning methods using Illinois coal.
Parker Laubach heads Students for Environmental Concerns. He acknowledges that natural gas would also emit carbon dioxide, but it would be a good first step to other alternative sources.
"We want to take incremental steps," Laubach said. "We don't want to be ridiculous and ask to shut down Abbott Power Plant -- we know it's not feasible or reasonable. But they've burned 100% natural gas in the past, and because of that, we feel that they can do it again. There's really no reason why not."
University officials have not yet returned calls seeking a response.
Laubach says the U of I is proposing to to spend $230 million on improvements at Abbott - money he says would be better spent on conversion to cleaner sources. He says research on cleaner coal burning is useful, but so-called carbon-capture technology hasn't been tested on a large scale.
Gov. Pat Quinn says state government is in a battle against a massive budget deficit and it's a battle the state can't afford to lose.
In a speech to the General Assembly on Wednesday, the Democratic governor said the deficit in the upcoming year will reach $13 billion. Quinn says the state has to get rid of that deficit and strengthen state finances or pay the prices for years to come. He's calling for more than $2 billion in budget cuts, including major cuts to education.
Quinn specifically rejects the idea of across-the-board cuts, which have been proposed by his Republican opponent for governor. He calls that a "chain saw'' approach.
The Champaign County Board is getting ready to create a separate commission to come up with new county board district boundaries after the new census is completed. The proposal survived vigorous debate Tuesday night at the county board's committee-of-the-whole meeting.
Backers of the Redistricting Commission say it would take the task of redrawing the county board district map out of the hands of partisan politicians. Outside of four seats for county board members, the commission would feature seven independent at-large members from diverse backgrounds - nominated by the county board chair and approved by the county board. Democratic County Board member Sam Smucker challenged the proposal --- he says the county board is best suited to redraw the district map, because it's an elected body.
"I just disagree with (the) idea that this committee, which is going to be not elected but selected, is somehow the even-handed committee" says Smucker.. "The even-handed committee is the will of the voters."
But backers like Urbana Democrat Steve Beckett say the Redistricting Commission would follow strict standards in redrawing the county map, and be free of political interference.
"Is it such a terrible idea to vote this before open in public. Where everybody can see what you're dong?" said Beckett.
The measure passed the committee-of-the-whole 16 to 8, with support from most Republicans and half the Democrats present. A final Champaign County Board vote is expected later this month.
Meanwhile, a proposal for a county board with fewer members and single member districts attracted just four speakers at a public hearing last night. Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz says he'll schedule a 2nd hearing --- perhaps at a different location --- to gather more comment.
The Chairman of the Iroquois County Board says a proposal to close the county jail may not be perfect, but is worth looking at for three to four months.
Ron Schroeder commends County Sheriff Eldon Sprau for at least coming up with a cost-saving measure. It's costing about $600,000 a year to operate the aging jail, which was built in 1964. Sprau says at this rate, his fuel budget will be exhausted in six months, keeping deputies from patrolling. Schroder says taking prisoners to Kankakee County would save about $250,000, and enable Iroquois County to hire back four sheriff's deputies who lost their jobs last week. However, closing the jail would mean 10 correctional officers. Schroder says the only other alternative, a voter-backed public safety tax, has seen no success with voters. "When the public safety tax for remodeling the jail failed, then we went to a public safety tax to keep the people on staff, that failed," says Schroder. "We went to unions and asked for somebacks - that failed. So you tell me what we're supposed to do."
Officials in Kankakee County have already agreed to house prisoners from Iroquois County. But Watseka Police Chief Roger Lebeck says the county's savings would mean additional costs for him, paying another officer overtime while one of his officers took a prisoner to Kankakee. Lebeck suspects closing the jail would mean more I-Bonds, or prisoners who are issued notices to appear in court. "You must show up at that date and time, or else a warrant will be issued for your arrest, that kind of thing,' says Lebeck. "We don't I-Bond on felonies, there's no bond amount set for that statutorily, and that's something a judge sets so normally they sit in the jail until they see the judge. So domestic batteries, those kinds of things, they'll have to go to the jail."
Schroder says Iroquois County Board members expect to hold several meetings before holding a vote on closing the jail.
Removing one-way signs from a residential street doesn't usually attract a lot of attention - but the city of Champaign is calling a traffic-pattern change this afternoon a big step forward for one neighborhood.
12 years ago neighbors asked the city to convert portions of four streets in the Bristol Place neighborhood into one-way street. The thinking was that the inconvenience would discourage crime on those streets.
Eugene Barnes of the community group Metanoia Centers has watched crime slowly decline in that area since then. But he gives the traffic pattern only a small share of the credit.
"We had drug dealing and prostitution. And it takes a different shape over a period of time -- you learn to adapt to new situations," Barnes said. "So along with urban planning, you've got to look at the human factor (and) what else is going to be involved with that. Just one-way streets alone are not that great a deterrent."
Still, Barnes says neighbors today asked for the resumption of two way traffic on the streets - he says the neighborhood has improved since 1998, but he says neighbors and police will have to keep up their surveillance.
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