Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 03, 2011

Arbitrator Rejects Quinn’s Layoff, Closure Plan

An arbitrator has ordered Gov. Pat Quinn to cancel his plan to lay off state employees and close several prisons and mental facilities.

Arbitrator Edwin Benn ruled Monday that Quinn's plan would violate his agreement with a major union. The Democratic governor signed a deal last year that promised no layoffs or closures if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to various cost-cutting measures.

Quinn says that lawmakers haven't given him enough money to run state government and he is now forced to make cuts.

But the arbitrator says that doesn't make any difference. Benn says the state's agreement isn't canceled because it now claims financial problems.

Quinn is likely to appeal. He is already fighting a similar ruling over canceling union raises.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 03, 2011

Blagojevich Co-Defendant to Stand Trial

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of William Cellini. He's the fifth and final co-defendant of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to go on trial. Prosecutors say he was part of a conspiracy that traded campaign contributions for the governor in exchange for state contracts and business. He's not exactly a household name in Chicago, but the Springfield native is a big deal in his hometown.

At the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, there's a painting that depicts the night in 1864 when Lincoln won his second term as president. The townspeople in the room are celebrating and Lincoln is sitting in a chair, presumably going over election returns. Standing over the president and seeming to advise him is Bill Cellini.

The museum won't comment on whether it's actually Cellini in the painting, but Gene Callahan has been friends with Cellini since 1959 and remembers seeing his friend's likeness on the museum wall.

"The tour guide even pointed that out to me because the tour guide knew we were friends with Bill's," Callahan said.

Bill Cellini is in his late 70s and has been a political insider for a long time, though not all the way back to Lincoln. But the painting is emblematic on so many levels because Cellini has had the ear of the state's top politicians for four decades, and he's always kept himself in the background. He never needed to be the one winning elections, just the one whispering in the ear of the winner on election night.

"Oh, he's very well known in Springfield," Callahan said. "I would say there's no one in Springfield better known than Bill Cellini."

Callahan was a staffer for Paul Simon when he was lieutenant governor and for U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon. He said Cellini, a Republican, had good relationships with politicians of both parties.

"He's meticulous," Callahan said. "When you have a meeting with him he takes notes on what to follow up on. He's outstanding on follow through. He returns his phone calls. He likes to joke. He likes the arts. He's a very fine musician, he's a piano player and very good. He's a fun guy! You know, he's been a good citizen for our town."

Cellini held local political office in Springfield early in his career, and by his mid-30s he was appointed by Gov. Richard Ogilvie to run the state's Department of Transportation and its $1.5 billion budget. With that intimate knowledge of government, he turned his focus to business, but he always kept a hand in politics.

Bernie Schoenburg is the political columnist for the State Journal Register in Springfield, and he said Cellini has been the de facto head of the Sangamon County Republicans for a long time, but he never took the top spot; he preferred the less high-profile, though powerful job, of treasurer.

"He's certainly not a big deal in the typical politician way because you won't see him giving a speech," Schoenburg said. "In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him give a speech. He's not the kind of person who needs that kind of adoration or attention from the public. But he's been a big influence in the background for many years."

Schoenburg said Cellini has been able to turn his political connections into business deals, getting the first casino license from the state, leasing out buildings to the state, developing land with federal and state money and building roads for the state.

In the 1990s, the Chicago Sun-Times estimated Cellini was worth $50 million.

Rich Miller is another political reporter in Springfield. He publishes a newsletter called Capitol Fax and has been observing the political scene in Springfield for a couple decades. He talks about Cellini with a sense of wonder and amazement.

"Usually somebody has, like, one idea in life, okay, that works and then every other idea they have doesn't work, but he kept coming up with new ideas all the time and they always worked, but it was based on a common theme," Miller said. "Government makes people money, certain people money so you be one of those certain people all the time."

Miller said government doesn't build stuff, it hires companies to do that, which means there's always money to be made. That's what he said Cellini did. "He worked harder than anybody. He was smarter than anybody. He looked around harder than anybody at how to make money under every cover to find a possible way to make money in state government, he scoured it from top to bottom and he did! He says there were never allegations that Cellini did anything illegal until these charges related to the long-running pay to play scandal under Blagojevich."

Prosecutors say with the change from Republican to Democratic administrations Cellini worried that he'd lose his clout and therefore his ability to make money. And they say, to curry favor with the Blagojevich administration, Cellini joined a conspiracy with Blagojevich's top fundraisers Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and the late Chris Kelly, to force business people to give campaign contributions to the governor if they wanted contracts with the state.

Cellini's defense attorney Dan Webb said Cellini wasn't part of their crew.

"I think the evidence at trial will establish that whatever Levine, Rezko and Kelly discussed among the three of them, it's very clear that Cellini was not part of those discussions," Webb said.

Webb is a partner at Winston and Strawn, the law firm where former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson is also a partner. It's the same firm that represented Gov. George Ryan. Webb wouldn't let Cellini comment for this story.

Webb is already fighting against the idea that Cellini must be dirty just because he's a savvy political insider. It's an argument he'll likely make to the jury.

"Bill Cellini learned what it's like to work hard," Webb said. "He is smart. He made some good investments and he's been successful in the business world, but that's hardly a crime."

Gene Callahan, Cellini's friend since 1959, he has a hard time believing Cellini is guilty.

"He was honest in every dealing I ever had with him without exception," Callahan said "The problem is here, when you lie down with dogs with fleas, you can get fleas and the people that were lying down with Blagojevich were suspect of getting fleas."

Callahan said he doesn't know the law and doesn't know what the jury will do, but he said he hopes his friend is not guilty of the crimes for which he is accused.

Cellini's trial starts Monday with jury selection and and is expected to take two to three weeks. Opening arguments could start Tuesday morning.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

US Rep. Shimkus Meets with Champaign County Chamber of Commerce

Whether a federal court sides with Democrats or Republicans on their versions of a Congressional map, Illinois' 15th District would still include parts of Champaign County.

Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), 53, would end up in that district, and he and most other GOP lawmakers are challenging the Democrats' map as part of a lawsuit. The suit contends that the map is unfair to minorities and Republicans.

Shimkus, who hasn't declared his candidacy, visited members of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning. He said he's hopeful the Democratic map won't stand up in court.

"I mean the Democrats thought we were over," he said. "They got more than they bargained for, and in our system of government, how are conflicts solved? Through the courts."

One difference between the maps is that the GOP's version would place less of Champaign and Vermilion Counties in the 15th district. Under either map, that district would contain all of Edgar, Coles, and Douglas Counties, but not the cities of Champaign or Urbana. Those areas would fall under a redrawn district inherited by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana), who plans on running for re-election.

During his meeting with chamber members, Shimkus was asked about the economy. He said the debate over raising the debt ceiling created more uncertainty about the state of the economy. He said his constituents want Congress to just stop spending.

"We know the economy, we know the job issue is difficult, but they really want to get control of this fiscal position," he said. "I think we did that by having that fight (with the debt ceiling debate), and now we just have to move forward."

As a Congressional Super Committee looks at ways to save more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, Shimkus said entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, should be considered for possible cuts.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

Champaign Police Investigating 3 More Attempted Child Abductions

Champaign Police are boosting patrols around school zones after getting reports of three more attempted child abductions, bring the total to 8 being investigated this week alone.

White male suspects are sought in each case of these latest reports. One occurred about 6 p.m. Tuesday on the city's north side, at the corner of Bradley Avenue and Bloomington Road. A 13-year old old girld says two men in a red truck if she wanted a ride. On Wednesday afternoon around 2 p.m., a man corner of Hollycrest and William reportedly offered a nine-year-old boy some candy. That suspect is described tall and skinny with long shoulder length hair.

And Friday morning about 8:15 on the Pine Street near Elm, a 10-year-old boy says a male suspect asked he wanted a ride. That man is described as in his 40's with long blond hair and a blonde/brown beard. He was driving an older model red truck with a silver bumper with dents on the passenger side.

The Champaign Police Department is working with the Champaign County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, and the Illinois State Police.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

Ind. Gov. Disputes Report on Persuading CME Group to Move

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is disputing a report that his office is luring a Chicago-based company across the state border.

Crain's Chicago Business reports the Republican governor is offering the CME Group $150 million to move its headquarters to Indiana.

Daniels would not comment on his efforts to move the CME Group, but he denies the information came from his office.

"Anybody who might be looking at bringing jobs to our state, we respect their confidence and it would hurt our chances if we ever spoke openly before an agreement was reached," Daniels said.

Indiana has been advertising in Illinois to try to persuade businesses to move after Illinois raised the personal income and corporate tax earlier this year.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

State Releases List of Non-Compliant Public Pools

The state of Illinois has released the list of non-compliant public pools that will be shut down tomorrow because of a drainage issue.

Illinois' Department of Public Health announced this week that new drain covers are needed so swimmers won't get trapped.

In Champaign County, that list includes one municipal pool and three motels. Rantoul's Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center, which is closed for the season, is on the list.

One of the motels listed, the Historic Lincoln in Urbana, has been closed since 2009 and undergoing massive renovations under a new developer. The county's list also includes Champaign's Country Fair Apartments and Lake of the Woods Apartments in Mahomet.

Four swim clubs in Macon County could be impacted. The Decatur Surf Club, Sun and Fun Swim Club, and Holiday Park Swim Club, and Mt. Zion Swim Club are part of the list, as is the Decatur Family YMCA. But the Y's Exective Director says that listing was error on the state's part.

The operator of the one community pool in Paris on the state list says he's aware of the drainage issue, and the pool closed two years ago. Will Welsh, Executive Director of the Paris Community YMCA, said the Y hopes to collect the $3,500 dollars necessary to fix the pool and reopen it by next summer.

The Paxton Park District Pool is also listed, and closed for the year. On its web site, a message from the district says the community is doing all it can to reopen sometime in 2012.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 30, 2011

Appeals Court Asks for Briefs in U of I Lawsuit

The University of Illinois has argued in federal court that student records should remain protected under federal privacy laws.

Friday's hearing before a three-judge panel in Chicago stems from the 2009 admissions scandal at the U of I. The Chicago Tribune investigated the so-called 'Category I' list of well-connected students who were admitted over more qualified ones. The newspaper sought the names as part of its coverage and sued after the university refused.

U of I attorney Sam Skinner said both the university and Tribune want an expeditious decision by an appellate court regarding student records, including their names and addresses, as well as those of their parents. At issue is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Skinner contends not complying would jeopardize federal grants and financial aid.

"We believe that we need to know from a federal court that we're not violating federal law before we disclose it and putting federal funds in jeopardy," he said. "And I think we're going to take some additional briefs, but this matter will eventually wind up in federal court because it's an interpretation of federal law as it relates to federal funding."

Both sides have two weeks to file those additional briefs to explain why the case should be heard in federal court rather than state court. Skinner said he expects a decision in the next few months.

Categories: Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 29, 2011

Champaign Police Looking for Connections in Attempted Child Abductions

A Champaign Police official says they're working to determine if any links exist between a series of attempted child abductions in the last several days.

Deputy Chief Troy Daniels says there doesn't appear to be anything connecting the suspects. His department has contacted the FBI's behavioral unit to analyze the 5 attempted abductions that have occurred since September 20th. Four have taken place in Champaign, and fifth was in the Dobbins Downs neighborhood on the edge of the city.

The most recent report came from northeast Champaign Wednesday, where the mother of an 11-year old said a man in a minivan approached the girl at a bus stop, and left once the parent got his attention. A separate incident on the west side Monday, but reported Wedesday, involved an 11-year old boy who was approached by a male driver who offered him a ride, and the child ran away.

Black males with separate descriptions and vehicles are sought in each of those cases, and white males are being sought for two other incidents this week. Daniels says it's not unheard of to have suspects start such behavior at the same time, and they're completely unrelated.

"So that's a possibility, and it's also possible that as more publicity occurs, we look at each case very carefully and we scrutinize the information that's been being given to us to make sure it's accurate and true," said Daniels. "We do believe that we have cause for concern on these cases and we have a number of people that are working them."

Daniels says anyone who might see suspicious activity that could be related to the recent reports is encouraged to Champaign Police or Crimestoppers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 29, 2011

Sen. Kirk says Libya Doesn’t Need More Aid from US

United States Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) says the U.S. doesn't need to give any more aid to Libya.

Kirk joined Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a meeting with the head of the National Transitional Council. He said the delegation met with some of Libya's current leaders and toured the destroyed U.S. embassy complex.

Speaking in a conference call Thursday from Libya, Kirk said the country has enough money to support itself. with at least $100 billion seized from former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

"I had my worries that those funds were not being released on time, but I was reassured by key figures -- the chairman, the prime minister, and the finance minister -- that they have adequate resources for their capacity right now," Kirk said.

Kirk also said he wants to end the no-fly zone over Libya to encourage civil aviation.

Kirk said Gadhafi's image also has been ripped down from dozens of billboards. He called it the "remnants of a cult of personality.''

A NATO-backed rebellion ousted Gadhafi, who remains on the run and is suspected of hiding in the southern desert.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 29, 2011

Body Found Tuesday Identified as Danville Woman

Authorities have identified the body found north of Champaign Monday morning as a Danville woman.

The Champaign County Sheriff and Coroner's office say 43-year old Angelica Vasquez had been reported missing by her husband. Her body was discovered Tuesday morning along Rising Road, just north of Bradley Avenue.

Authorities used fingerprints to identify the body, and are treating the case as a homicide investigation. Sheriff Dan Walsh says his office is not releasing any details on the cause of death.

The Champaign County Sheriff and Danville Police Department are handling the investigation.


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