Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council is considering a four-cent a gallon motor fuel tax --- a level that would be higher than a similar tax in Urbana, but lower than one in Danville.
City officials say recent budget cuts have reduced spending on street maintenance, at the same time that a "complete streets" strategy is making the work more expensive. At Tuesday night's city council study session, Councilman Tom Bruno said Champaign needs the additional money to avoid the congested streets of big urban areas.
"One only needs to drive in the Chicago area, or the suburbs or southern California to appreciate how blessed we are to have a lack of traffic congestion in Champaign," Bruno said. "If we want to keep that, if we want to maintain that, we have to be able to fund our streets."
Bruno said motorists wouldn't see any change in gasoline prices, because gas station owners absorb the cost to keep customers coming to buy snacks, cigarettes and liquor. But Councilwoman Karen Foster was doubtful, saying the gas tax could hurt other Champaign businesses that use motor fuel in high quantities.
"That will have a huge impact on them by having to buy bulk fuel," Foster said. "It's in the thousands of dollars, it's not just when we go to the pump and you have another $1.20 or $5 on your pump. It's thousands of dollars to these businesses."
Mayor Don Gerard joined four other council members to endorse the motor fuel tax on a 5 to 4 vote. A final council vote is expected in December or January.
In other action at the Tuesday night session, the Champaign City Council voted to give the public an additional opportunity to speak during their meetings.
A city council study session grew raucous three weeks ago, when several people alleging excessive force by police in the arrest of Calvin Miller were not allowed to speak. The council eventually suspended the rules to allow public comments --- but public comment on issues not on the agenda is usually allowed only at regular council meetings only, not study session. Council members changed that rule Tuesday night, voting unanimously to allow public comment on any topic at study sessions as well. Councilman Tom Bruno said the important thing was to keep the rules consistent and clear.
"Because there were people who maybe wanted to speak that night, who stayed away because our rules were clear that there wasn't going to be any public participation that night," Bruno said. "So as long as our rules are clear, I think there's unanimity among us that we like public participation."
Also on Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council voted to approve a new council district map reflecting 2010 census results.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's "very optimistic'' a budget deal can be worked out to keep seven state facilities he'd planned to close open through the fiscal year.
Quinn told reporters Wednesday in Chicago that he hopes lawmakers can get it passed when they return to Springfield on Nov 29.
He says there have been good budget negotiations with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. Earlier this year, Quinn said nearly 2,000 workers had to be laid off and seven state-run centers closed because the state didn't have the money to operate them. A bipartisan commission of lawmakers rejected closing the facilities that include a prison (the Logan Correctional Center) and centers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill.
Quinn says changes need to be made in how the developmentally disabled are care for.
The Faculty Association and the administration at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have signed off on a tentative contract agreement.
FA spokesman Dave Johnson confirms the two sides signed the tentative deal Monday after the union ended its week-long strike Nov. 9.
He says the next stage in the ratification process will be for the union's Departmental Representative Council to discuss the tentative agreement on Thursday.
Then there will be a general membership meeting to give members an opportunity to ask questions about the agreement on Nov. 28, and a vote by all dues-paying members will take place on Nov. 30.
The signing of the FA's tentative deal means the other three IEA-affiliated unions on the SIU-C campus will now hold their own ratification votes after reaching tentative deals earlier this month.
The Association of Civil Service Employees union says it will hold its ratification vote Wednesday. Graduate Assistants United will vote on Monday, Nov. 21. No word yet on when the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association will hold its ratification vote.
City officials in Champaign have completed a review looking at alleged favoritism in the police department.
The review was prompted by an anonymous e-mail sent to city officials on Aug. 18, 2011, which raised internal issues at the police department.
City Manager Steve Carter said during the review, some police employees felt they hadn't been treated with respect on the job. While he said that has impacted working relationships among police officers, he maintained that it has not dampened police service.
"These have been very stressful times really for everybody for budgetary reasons, and obviously police community relations," Carter said. "You're going to have disagreements that occur inside a large organization, and it's just important to try to address those concerns as well as you can, so that you can get back and focus on your work."
According to the review of the police department, Carter said there was no indication of wrongdoing with the process for the lieutenant's promotion exam. However, he did offer up some recommended changes to the test, including eliminating the oral interview and departmental rating sections.
"(The departmental ratings portion) is admittedly a very subjective part of the process," Carter explained. "People's prediction or how they feel this particular employee will do in the new position is not really a performance evaluation."
To make the process more fair, Carter is pushing to add an employee's past performance appraisal ratings to the exam. He also said employees should be allowed to participate in the assessment process.
The Board of Fire and Police Commission would have to approve the suggested changes.
While Carter noted that there is room for improvement within the police department, he said he is confident about its future.
Meanwhile, while the search continues for retiring Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney's replacement, Deputy Chief Holly Nearing will serve in that role on an interim basis.
Nearing, a 29-year Champaign Police veteran, will become the city's first female police chief. She will be responsible for building up trust within the police department.
"I'll have the job of being the police chief and responding to community issues, issues that officers might be having, but also this mending fences role to set the table for the next police chief so he or she has maybe a smoother path," Nearing said.
Nearing will take over for Chief Finney on Dec. 5.
Carter said there are four finalists in the running for the police department's top job, all of whom are connected to the Midwest. They will be interviewed in December, and will then each address the city council during a televised meeting. Carter noted that one of those people will likely be chosen for the job by the beginning of January, and could then start within a couple of months.
Federal Grant to Help CUMTD Purchase Hybrid Buses
Several Illinois communities are getting a portion of a $5 million federal transportation grant to purchase hybrid buses. The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District will use some of that money to replace its older buses powered by gasoline and diesel.
Illinois coach Ron Zook isn't interested in talking about job security.
Zook told reporters Tuesday that he would end his weekly news conference if anyone asked about his job following four straight losses and a weekend of off-field trouble for his players.
He kept his promise, walking out after he was asked if had talked to his players about handling questions about his future.
The seventh-year Illini coach started the season with six wins, but has now watched his team lose four in a row.
Over the weekend, starting linebacker Trulon Henry was shot in the hand at a party where two other people were shot. In another incident, two other reserve players were arrested following a fight on campus. Zook suspended them.
The death of a 10-year old student has prompted the Georgetown-Ridge Farm School District to bring back some programs in addition to traditional counseling methods.
Authorities are calling Ridge Farm 5th grader Ashylnn Conner's death an apparent suicide. She died Friday, and family members believe bullying played a role. Georgetown-Ridge Farm interim superintendent Kevin Tate said grief counselors have recommended the district bring back a peer mediation program, and implement PBIS, or positive behavior intervention systems.
Tate said the district discontinued some of these programs due to staff changes or finances. But he said they will be reinstated, along with anti-bullying policies that staff is training in year round.
"The workshops and the practices that they do throughout the year - a lot of them are about bullying," Tate said. "There are different levels, different age groups, and different training, so I think the district has continued to work on that, regardless. And when something like this happens, they'll take a look again, and work even harder."
Tate said the hired counselors that are helping the district, specifically those at Ridge Farm Elementary, will write a report and administrators will make suggestions based on those recommendations.
Funeral services for Ashlynn Conner will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Bethel Baptist Church in Georgetown. Ridge Farm Elementary will be closed to allow students and staff to attend.
The U.S. Supreme Court may soon decide if it's constitutional to make Americans buy health insurance. Illinois' two U.S. Senators are both in favor of the Court taking up the issue, but for different reasons.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk thinks President Obama's controversial health care bill should be overturned.
"In a limited government which defends our rights, I do not believe the federal government has the power to force you to buy anything, especially from a government-controlled entity," Kirk said in a press conference on Monday.
Kirk said he expects the decision to be five judges on one side, four on the other, but he isn't sure which way it'll go.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he's glad the high court will rule, because messy state court battles can hopefully be avoided.
"I think it is part of individual responsibility in this country that you have health insurance so there is protection for you, your family and for the rest of us," Durbin said.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in March and a ruling is expected by late June.
A Congressional House Committee rejected an amendment on Monday night to give gun owners more rights in Illinois.
The proposal, pushed by five Republican congressmen in the state, would have updated legislation to allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their handguns across state lines.
As it stands now, the bill wouldn't apply to areas that bar concealed carry, like Illinois. Urbana Republican Tim Johnson, who is one of the backers of the amendment, addressed the House Rules Committee on Monday.
"This just puts us in the situation the same as any other state, and saves a lot of confusion and provides for uniform laws," Johnson said during a House Rules committee hearing. "I think it's extraordinarily important."
Cosponsors of the amendment included Illinois Republican Congressmen Bobby Schilling, Aaron Schock, Randy Hultgren and Adam Kinzinger. Even though the amendment didn't make it as part of the larger concealed carry legislation, Johnson said he plans to introduce the measure again.
Meanwhile, opponents of the bill say the concealed carry legislation would interfere with more stringent gun regulations that exist in other states. If the Republican-controlled House passes the legislation, it will likely face an uphill battle in the Senate where Democrats hold the majority.
Friends of those affected by the weekend shootings near the University of Illinois campus are sending their thoughts and prayers to the victims.
Members of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity were among the nearly 300 people attending a candlelight vigil on the Urbana Quad Monday night. Many spoke about U of I graduate Brian Reed, who friends say was critically injured early Sunday. Two others were hurt, including U of I football player Trulon Henry - but no arrests have been made. Henry is recovering after being shot in the hand.
U of I graduate Steven Martin identified himself as the third victim in Sunday's incident. Martin was treated and released Sunday after being shot in the leg. He told the crowd at the Quad that the events of early Sunday are surreal to him.
"Just keep in mind - ain't nothing worth that level of violence," he said. "You keep your head up, we're going to keep our head up, and keep moving. Just realize, we're here for one thing - that's for a better tomorrow."
2009 U of I alumnus Robbie Moore says word spread quickly of Sunday's incident, and many came from out of town to offer support.
"Twenty-five to 30 (fraternity) brothers are here - not even just from this chapter," he said. "Word spread around. We put it on Twitter. We let everybody know where to come, and we all came. And these people are coming from Illinois State (University), Chicago State, Southern (SIU), Northern (NIU), everywhere."
Moore says Reed is from the Chicago area, but was back in Champaign with hopes of attending law school. He told the crowd the events of early Sunday morning should prompt anyone to have a new perspective on life. Martin says the vigil said a lot about the quality of people on campus.
Prior to the vigil, the U of I's African-American Cultural Center hosted a support forum. Urbana Police are still seeking the man who fired into a crowd of about 100 people at a house on South Lincoln Avenue around 3:30 Sunday morning.
Anyone with information should call the Urbana Police Department at 217-384-2320. Callers can remain anonymous by contacting Champaign County Crime Stoppers at 373-8477 (TIPS). President Hogan says counselors are on hand to assist students, faculty, and staff. Anyone needing immediate assistance can call the Emergency Dean at 217-333-0050.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
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