Illinois Public Media News
Illinois' financial woes could force Vermilion County's Health Department to shut down. Administrator Steve Laker says the state owes the department about $800,000, and the department couldn't pay back a loan from the county for $300,000. Those funds became necessary to meet overall budget and payroll that are largely dependent on grants funded by the state.
At this Tuesday's Vermilion County Board meeting, members are to vote on scheduling a special meeting for December 15th to either terminate or restructure the health department. Laker says his hands are tied. "It just seems to be beyond anybody's control," says Laker. "It's certainly well beyond my control. And the only control that the county board may be able to exercise to stop this bleeding is to eliminate the health department. Now that's a pretty drastic action."
Laker says he'll give a memo to county officials to show what a downsized health department would look like. He says even that will be difficult. "Restructure means - is there some action in between status quo and dissillution? It probably means consideration the elimination of some grant-funded programs just to mitigate the deficit." Cutting the department would mean the end of successful areas like immunization clinics, family case management, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program and its 3,400 clients. And 75 jobs would be cut.
Danville State Representative Bill Black says he's sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn's Chief of Staff to alert him of the situation. Black says Quinn's legislative council replied, and hoped to find a solution. The Republican says he's afraid the state would likely have to seek out borrowing money to bail out the health department and similar agencies.
There's been no decision about giving medication to classmates or other people who may have had contact with an eleven year old girl who died this week in Iroquois County.
The Champaign County coroner says a preliminary autopsy determined that Natalie Johnson of Loda died Tuesday of gram-negative bacterial sepsis - it's a blood infection similar but not identical to meningitis.
Coroner Duane Northrup says he's still waiting for confirmation of test results.
A spokeswoman for the Ford-Iroquois Public Health District says Natalie's family members have been given preventative medications against the contagious disease, but it's not known whether classmates or others will need to be treated.
A public forum on the qualities needed by the next president of the University of Illinois attracted more than a hundred people to the Spurlock Museum on the Urbana campus Thursday.
20 people spoke, most of them students and faculty. Student Senator --- and political science major --- Carlos Rosa named a top priority for students.
"Tuition, tuition, tuition", said Rosa. "I cannot stress enough that me and my classmates, we want a president at this university that is ready to chop at the top, and not chop down on the number of students that can afford to attend this institution".
Rosa and others also said that the next president must be mindful of the need for diversity on campus.
History Professor Kristin Hoganson said she hoped for a president who would resist the "corporatization" of the university, and put a renewed emphasis on teaching and research --- including the liberal arts and humanities. And Hoganson said she wanted someone who would understand the problems of the Urbana campus, in the wake of the recent admissions scandal.
"I think we need somebody who understands that this campus is suffering from an unprecedented crisis of morale", said Hoganson, "and who would be active in addressing the turmoil on the lack of leadership this campus has had recently."
Others at the forum focused on the presidential search process itself. The discussion started when Miriam Larson of the Graduate Employees Organization said she hoped for more such forums in the spring ---"especially", she said, "as we have a more particular sense of what candidates we're looking at"
But Search Committee Chair and U of I Trustee Pamela Strobel said those "particulars" would not be made public. She says details about who's being considered for university president will stay secret, because most candidates don't want word to get out.
"If we started telling the world who our candidates were, we would probably lose 90 percent of them", said Strobel. "They would say'I'm not a candidate', because they do not want to jeopardize their current employment."
Strobel says not even the names of the finalists for U of I president will released. Finalists for the president's post are public knowledge at some universities, such as New Mexico State, where former U of I Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman recently withdrew as a candidate. U of I Interim President Designate Stanley Ikenberry said he doesn't know of any major university that releases names of candidates for president. But Ikenberry says this present search process is the most open one he's seen at the U of I.
A program enabling University of Illinois art students to study at the nation's capital is coming to an end due to cost and low enrollment.
Illinois at the Phillips started in 2006... enabling about 45 students to take courses at the Phillips Collection Modern Art Museum in Washington, DC. Former U of I Urbana Campus Chancellor Richard Herman championed the program... and paid for it through a discretionary fund that he controlled.
The concept was to create something that was self-supporting through private gifts, along with tuition dollars from Washington residents who could also take the classes.
But U of I arts dean Robert Graves says part of that never materialized:
"The hope was that it would generate considerable endowment funds from outside the university, (such as) private foundations", said Graves. "And it was successful to a certain degree in generating income from courses that it gave to Washington DC residents, but not enough to offset the huge amount of state funding that was going into it."
Illinois at the Phillips is projected to cost 600-thousand dollars this year... and Graves says those kind of expenses can't be justified as the U of I wrestles with a tight budget and uncertainty over state funding. Much of the money behind the program goes towards the salary for program director and art history professor Jonathan Fineberg, along with travel expenses.
Interim Urbana Chancellor Robert Easter acted on a recommendation from a 3-member committee this week to end the arts program. Illinois at the Phillips will end after the spring semester.
The state of Illinois' backlog of payments is starting to worry University of Illinois leaders.
Interim president designate Stan Ikenberry says the U of I is still waiting on more than $388 million in state funding that would normally be in their hands by now. But Ikenberry says the university has essentially been unpaid since the start of the fiscal year in July.
Southern Illinois University has warned that continued cash shortages could result in missed payrolls. But Ikenberry says the U of I has not faced that problem yet because of revenue from outside enterprises and research grants.
"The longer it goes on, the tougher the challenge," Ikenberry said. "In all fairness, the University of Illinois is probably in the strongest position of any university in the state, but even for us it's certainly an increasing challenge."
Ikenberry says the state needs to work sooner rather than later on a plan to resolve the budget situation through a combination of revenue increases and belt-tightening.
Illinois's two Democratic senators are reacting warily to President Obama's plans for future military involvement in Afghanistan.
Senior senator Dick Durbin issued a terse two-sentence statement saying while the president asked for more time to formulate his plan, he'll take time to respond later.
The state's other senator, Roland Burris, said while he supports the ultimate goal of transferring the responsibility of stability to Afghan forces, he worries how elevated troop levels will affect any future exit strategy.
15th district Republican congressman Tim Johnson was more direct in his response - he says the US should do the reverse and pull troops out of Afghanistan, questioning the wisdom of the war.
As word spread of President Obama's plans to send an additional 30-thousand troops, demonstrations lined the streets in several cities, calling for an end to the 8-year occupation there.
About 30 University of Illinois students and other Champaign-Urbana residents took to the corners of Green and Wright streets, staging brief 'die-ins' every time the stoplight turned red and the intersection was clear.
Groups like the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort and International Socialist Organization say the President has appeared to change his tone about Afghanistan since running an anti-war campaign last year. Protester Karen Medina says Obama's strategy won't begin to help build a government for the Afghan people:
"A lot of people say we're there to promote democracy, and democracy has never been promoted by another country being militarily present," Medina said. "If you really are doing what you're saying you're doing, then either you're lying about wanting democracy there or you're doing it the wrong way."
The groups cite a CNN poll saying that 57% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while Western-run polls show about 75% of Afghans favor negotiations among themselves.
About 70 similar protests were scheduled across the country yesterday.
Things could be turning around for an Urbana domestic violence shelter recently forced into layoffs and reduced services.
A Woman's Place has received more than $120,000 in back payments owed by the state. Executive Director Tami Tunnell expects the shelter to remain on an expedited payment schedule for the next six months.
The agency hadn't expected to receive any payments until mid-December. Tunnell says the news came as shock, but she'll take a conservative approach when looking at the months ahead:
"So we're got going to jump and bring everybody back right aw, " Tunnell said. "Hopefully one of these days soon we'll be back to some semblance of normal, but what we'll be looking at is how much we need to set aside in the bank account in case this happens again and the state gets backed up."
A Woman's Place was forced to lay off 10 employees last month, reducing its staff to six. Tunnell says some may be brought back for part-time work around the holidays, but won't do any more hiring until early next year. A Woman's Place had also stopped taking new admissions. It's now serving about 18 families, some staying at the shelter, and others who have found other places to live with the agency's help.
Carol Knowles, a spokeswoman for Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes, says her office is getting flooded with requests each day from various social service agencies. She says the letters from A Woman's Place showed the most urgent need for funding. The state currently has a backlog of $4.4 billion in unpaid bills.
The Champaign police officer involved in the October shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington has continued to do some work for the department --- despite being on paid administrative leave.
Officer Daniel Norbits was placed on leave after Carrington was killed by a shot from his gun during a confrontation that also involved another youth and Champaign Police Chief R-T Finney. But at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, City Manager Steve Carter says Norbits has continued to do some office work for Champaign Police.
"He's been in and out of the department, over time", says Carter, "and he has helped out in what would be considered some light-duty work ---some inventory work, civilian clothes, non-public contact --- a little bit. But his work on those projects has been completed, and he'll continue to be on administrative leave, until at least after the state's attorney makes her decision. And then it'll be evaluated as we go along, in terms of what his status it."
Carter's disclosure came after Martell Miller and Brian Dolinar asked city officials to comment on rumors they had heard of Norbits being back at work.
An investigation of the Carrington shooting --- led by Illinois State Police --- was completed nearly three weeks ago and handed over to Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz. Rietz has said she will not release the report until after reviewing it completely.
The Champaign City Council voted last night to extend the life of its East University Avenue Tax Increment Financing District for another year. That will give the city time to seek a 12-year extension from the state.
Enacted in the 1980s, the East University Avenue TIF District covers the commercial area east of the Canadian National tracks, including University Avenue and nearby sections of First and Second Streets. City officials say the TIF district has helped spur development --- but not as much as in downtown and Campustown. As the city makes plans to seek a long-term extension of the TIF district, City Councilwoman Marcie Dodds says she thinks flood control and beautification work done on the 2nd Street reach of the Boneyard Creek will spur development that can link downtown and Campustown together.
"It'll do it not only geographically and physically, but also psychologically", says Dodds. "For years, it was campus over here and Champaign over there and downtown far away. The two never met. It was even sometimes difficult to get to one from the other. And I hope that this changes that."
Property tax revenue above a certain level in a TIF District is spent within the district, focusing on building renovations, streetscape work and infrastructure improvements.
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
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