Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Judge Throws Out Ind. Sec’y of State Election

A judge has reversed a decision by the Indiana Recount Commission and ordered it to decertify the 2010 election of Indiana's embattled Republican secretary of state.

Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg issued a ruling Thursday reversing and setting aside the Recount Commission's unanimous June decision that Charlie White was eligible to run for office last year despite questions over his residency. Rosenberg ordered the commission to certify Democrat Vop Osili as secretary of state.

Recount Commission spokesman AJ Feeney-Ruiz says White remains secretary of state for now. He says the commission won't take up Roserberg's ruling before late next week.

Feeney-Ruiz says the panel will meet with the state attorney general's office about seeking a stay of Rosenberg's ruling pending an appeal.

White faces trial next month for voter fraud.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Rain May End Decatur Water-Use Restrictions

Water officials in Decatur say that steady, recent rains have raised Lake Decatur's level enough for them to consider ending mandatory water-use restrictions.

Decatur Water Management director Keith Alexander told the Herald & Review in Decatur (http://bit.ly/ukDw2p ) on Wednesday that the lake's water level is just over 611 feet above sea level.

That's still a little low but within a foot or two of the typical winter water level.

Alexander said that if the water level reaches 611.5 feet, restrictions could be lifted.

The city put restrictions on water use in place in October as parts of central Illinois endured drought.

Categories: Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Latino Group Joins Lawsuit Against Indiana Immigration Law

La Union Benefica Mexican has been around for decades in Northwest Indiana.

The group promotes Mexican culture and traditions throughout the year with events and gatherings, but the UBM is taking a more serious tone by joining a federal lawsuit against Indiana's anti-illegal immigration law, S.B. 590.

Although adopted last spring by the Indiana General Assembly, certain provisions of law have yet to take effect since a federal judge's injunction kicked in last summer.

Still, Antonio Barreda, head of the UBM, said the bill discriminates against Latinos, not just those who may be in the United States illegally.

"The law itself could violate not only immigrants but American citizens such as I and many others," Barreda said. "It also gives businesses the opportunity to become even more discriminatory by not hiring Hispanics."

Barreda said UBM is join in its lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or MALDEF. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

In a written statement, MALDEF said the bill "poses severe and immediate threats to the United States Constitution and to the livelihood of anyone who 'looks' to local authorities like an undocumented immigrant."

"This challenge is necessary to send a message to anti-immigrant groups that their efforts to pass Arizona-style legislation in the Midwest are not welcome and will be resisted," Alonzo Rivas, MALDEF Midwest Regional Counsel said in a statement.

The Republican-controlled Indiana State House pushed the immigration legislation, although many Indiana Democrats supported the measure which drew harsh criticism and protest by those opposed to it.

Several more controversial aspects were nixed from the bill, such as giving an Indiana state trooper the right to pull over anyone who appeared to be an undocumented immigrant.

But other provisions, primarily against businesses who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants, remain in the law.

The bill is already being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Indiana is seeking to delay hearings on all challenges to the bill until the U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona's own tough immigration law.

"We will be seeking a stay in this case in addition to the previous case while the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge to Arizona's immigration statute," Zoeller said in a statement. "Indiana will join with other states in seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court that will provide some guidance to states on immigration since Congress has thus far failed to enact or enforce federal immigration policies."

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court announced plans to hear the case challenging Arizona's immigration law this spring.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Urbana Seeking Art Proposals Eligible for Grants

The city of Urbana is looking for people with a creative vision.

It's offering $45,000 in grants that will be split up to support projects that include visual and performance art, design, and new media. Urbana Public Arts Coordinator Christina McClelland said the eligible projects must be free and accessible to the public.

"The city finds that where artists are making projects and where artist groups are doing projects, the quality of life really improves," McClelland said. "It's a real boon to economic development. It just promotes a vital artistic creative city."

Applications for the grants are due by the end of the day on Jan. 10, and the grant winners will be announced in the spring.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 22, 2011

Chicago Man Thought to be Gacy Victim Found Alive

A man thought to be a victim of John Wayne Gacy has been found alive. Ted Szal went missing in the Chicago area in the 1970s. Gacy was a serial killer who killed 33 young men during that time on the northwest side.

Jason Moran, a detective with the Cook County Sheriff's Office, said they tracked Szal down in Oregon after his DNA did not match any of the seven remaining Gacy victims still unidentified.

"Our goal at the Sheriff's Office is that identify the remaining seven but you know when you are able to reunite a family after thirty five years, it's a nice thing to do," Moran said.

Moran also said he is still working through leads to identify the seven remaining victims.

Tags: crime, people

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2011

Bank of America Settlement Stems from Ill. AG Lawsuit

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Bank of America will pay a multimillion dollar settlement to resolve allegations of discriminatory loans by its subsidiary, Countrywide that took place between 2004 and 2007. The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the Illinois attorney general's office.

Back in March 2008, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a fair lending subpoena to Countrywide after a report found that the company sold higher-cost loans in the Chicago area to more African Americans and Hispanics compared to white borrowers.

Bank of America's decision to pay a $335 million dollar settlement signals the largest settlement of its kind over residential fair lending practices.

The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District court of California and is subject to court approval. According to the DOJ's complaint, Countrywide charged over 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile.

Natalie Bauer, who's a spokeswoman in the Illinois attorney general's office, said approximately 15,000 people in the state may be eligible for restitution under the settlement.

"The settlement is one of those ways that we will be able to help homeowners on the ground who are struggling right now as a result of the illegal practices that banked used in the lead up to the crash of the economy back in 2008," Bauer said.

Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said in a statement that the bank does not practice lending based on race.

"We discontinued Countrywide products and practices that were not in keeping with our commitment and will continue to resolve and put behind us the remaining Countrywide issues," Frahm said.

The United States' complaint said that Countrywide was aware that the fees and interest rates that its loan officers were charging discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers, but failed to impose meaningful limits or guidelines to stop it.

People who believe they were victims of lending discrimination should e-mail the U.S. Department of Justice at countrywide.settlement@usdoj.gov

Bauer said a settlement administrator will review those claims.

Meanwhile, the Illinois attorney general's office has filed a similar lawsuit against Wells Fargo for discriminatory lending practices.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2011

Wiegand Chosen as Next Champaign Schools Superintendent

Champaign Unit 4 schools has hired from within for the district's next leader.

Judy Wiegand was named the district's next superintendent Wednesday afternoon, succeeding Arthur Culver, who left six months ago.

She is also the first female superintendent in Unit 4 history. Wiegand has been with the district since 1987, starting as a special education teacher, and most recently as assistant superintendent for achievement and pupil services. Wiegand was slated to become the next interim superintendent next month.

"This is a community that wants and deserves the best for its students," she said. "I want to inspire a high level of confidence, trust, and respect for our schools. We need in order to continue to grow and improve."

Her long-term goals include more offerings in career and technical education, and master plans for Unit 4's middle and high schools.

"This is a community that deserves the best, and really the economic vibrancy of the community is going to be related to the quality of the education," Wiegand said. "So I want to make sure we are doing the very best for our students. I also want to take a look at the relationship that we have with our community, and making sure that they have confidence and trust in what we're doing."

Unit 4 School Board President Sue Grey said the district didn't realize what a rising star it had.

"She has all those things that other people who have worked with her have had the opportunity to see," Grey said. "And so as we interviewed her, those were the things that really started coming through in the interview process. I think the light started to go on for all of us, saying - 'Aha - we've got something good here."

Initially, the 49-year old Wiegand didn't want to be considered for Unit 4's top job, saying she wasn't 100-percent sure by the application deadline in October.

"As I continued to work with (Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert) Malito, with the board, I felt a responsibility to step and put my name in, and be considered," she said. "This is a great opportunity."

Wiegand said her priorities include further development of the STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) into the middle and high school levels, and improving offerings in career and technical education.

Unit 4 board member Jamar Brown said public perception is the biggest hurdle that Wiegand faces as she starts her new job.

"Being a part of previous administrations, people wonder if there will be more of the same," Brown said. "I think with her being very professional, and having the vision, and also working with Dr. Malito the last six months, I think she can definitely take this school district to a different level."

"She really is the consummate professional," Grey said. "I don't think we realized who was in our backyard."

Contracts terms for Wiegand haven't been finalized yet, but she expects to begin working on transitioning into the superintendent's job with Dr. Malito early Thursday morning.

The other finalists for the superintendent position were Darryl Taylor, superintendent of a one-school district in Calumet City, and Johnnie Thomas, an associate superintendent at the Arlington Heights Township High School district.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2011

Champaign, Urbana Voters Face Electric Aggregation Vote in March

Voters in Champaign and Urbana will see a referendum on the March primary ballot, asking them if they want their city to launch an electric aggregation program.

Electric aggregation is the concept of bundling together all residential and small business electric accounts within a community, and seeking bids to get lower power prices from retail suppliers.

Urbana environmental sustainability manager Bart Hagston said more than 100 communities in Ameren's Illinois territory are giving voters this option. If they opt to take part, he said their billing routine will stay pretty much the same.

"People would still receive their bill from Ameren, because would still be the lines and the wires that the electricity is coming through, " he said. "You would still call Ameren if there's a power outage, there's just a different supplier for that electricity and they bill through Ameren, so people won't see much of a change."

Hagston says if an aggregation program is approved by voters, the city would then select an alternate electricity supplier through a competitive bidding process. Once a supplier is in place, electric customers would have the option to "opt-out" of the program at no charge. They could continue with regular Ameren service, or choose another alternate supplier, such as Direct Energy or Constellation Energy.

Hagston said for some customers, such as those relying on percentage of income payment plans, opting out wouldn't make sense. He said a consultant will be in Urbana next month to discuss the pros and cons of the aggregation option to community groups.

Meanwhile, the Champaign County Board voted Tuesday night to postpone a decision on the electric aggregate ballot question until May - meaning voters in unincorporated parts of the county will not see the item on their ballots until November at the earliest.

(UPDATE: This story has been revised for clarity).

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 21, 2011

Indiana Settles with Victims of Stage Rigging Collapse

Indiana Settles with Victims of Stage Rigging Collapse

Nearly all of the 65 people who were injured at last summer's Indiana State Fair when a stage rigging collapsed have accepted the state's settlement offer.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 20, 2011

Rep. Johnson Votes Against Sending Payroll Tax Bill to Conference Committee

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday shot down a measure by the U.S. Senate to extend payroll tax relief for two months. The Republican-controlled House instead sent the measure to a joint conference committee, so that both parties can try to negotiate on a compromise.

But Urbana Republican Tim Johnson did not vote along party lines. Johnson said that is because the issue became too politicized.

"To laden this measure down with political agendas and extraneous, irrelevant riders is simply unacceptable," Johnson said in a statement. "Unfortunately, this is part of business-as-usual inside the beltway politics and I refuse to be part of that misplaced strategy."

The House passed a full-year extension of the payroll tax last week, but included many spending cuts opposed by Democrats. If lawmakers fail to reach an agreement, nearly 160 million workers could see a tax hike in January, while almost two million people could lose their unemployment benefits.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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