Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 12, 2011

Umbrella Office for Five Scientific Surveys Gets New Name

The head of five research facilities at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says a name change has more to do with identity than anything else.

The Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability is now the Prairie Research Institute. Executive Director Bill Shilts says with the previous name, serving as home for five state surveys was often the source of confusion. But he said the new one ties facilities like the Illinois State Water Survey and Illinois Natural History Survey to others in the country, more closely identified with the Institute's mission.

And Shilts said the five surveys complement one another.

"This is a way to make all of the surveys related to that name," he said. "So that when one survey does something that's of value to the public, to the state, to the university, it reflects on all of the surveys rather than just the individual survey's name like it used to be when we were part of state government."

Shilts said being recognized as an institute with many different disciplines like water, geology, and biological resources gives his facilities a focus for the multi-disciplinary manner in which work is carried out.

The five surveys were established on the U of I campus in 2008, coming from Illinois' Department of Natural Resources. The name change was recently approved by the University's board of Trustees, but state legislators still have to approve it. The Prairie Research Institute has 700 employees and a 2010 budget of nearly $70-million.

Categories: Education, Science

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

McKinley YMCA Sold, to Revert Back to Mansion

An old mansion in Champaign that was converted into the McKinley YMCA could soon become a mansion once again.

Local developer Leon Jeske has purchased the McKinley Y from the Champaign County YMCA for $450,000. He plans to restore the century-old building, and lease it out as a private residence. Jeske stepped in after earlier plans to sell the square-block site to Owens Funeral Home fell through.

Jeske said the building is in essentially good shape. He said much of its interior features are unchanged, despite decades of use by the YMCA.

"They put in some ceiling tiles --- like acoustical tiling, one foot square," Jeske said. "That's not original. But the woodwork is all intact, even where they added a partition or wall, they did not disturb the crown moldings, they just kind of went over them, cut around them. So everything's there."

Jeske said he hasn't yet decided what to do with the adjoining carriage house, or the additions built for the building's YMCA use, including an indoor swimming pool. But he said the additions have separate entrances and could be converted into apartments, and he said the site also has commercial potential.

"It's right across the street from Westside Park," Jeske explained. "I could see a small cafeteria-type restaurant that could serve coffee and cake, and maybe a glass of wine, with a lot of outdoor seating where you could overlook the park."

Jeske said a restaurant would require a zoning change, but he said the site is appropriate for that sort of use.

The facility will continue as the McKinley YMCA until the Champaign County Y's new facility in southwest Champaign is ready to open next year. CEO Mark Johnson said construction of the new facility is moving ahead on schedule, and until it's completed, they're leasing the McKinley "Y" back from Jeske on a month-to-month basis.

Categories: Architecture, Business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

Judge Allows Ind. to Cut Planned Parenthood Funds

Indiana won a key victory in its fight to cut off public funding for Planned Parenthood Wednesday when a federal judge refused to block a tough new abortion law from taking effect.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt denied Planned Parenthood of Indiana's request for a temporary restraining order despite arguments that the law jeopardizes health care for thousands of women.

Planned Parenthood wanted to keep funds flowing while it challenges the law signed this week by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. The judge's decision allows the cuts to take effect immediately.

Pratt said the state has not had enough time to respond to Planned Parenthood's complaint and that the group did not show it would suffer irreparable harm without a temporary restraining order.

The funding cuts are part of a new law that also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

The law could improve Daniels' image with social conservatives as he considers a 2012 run for president. Advocates are touting Indiana as the one of the most "pro-life states in the nation" and praising Daniels for signing the law.

The bill was originally intended to cut all public funding, but Planned Parenthood of Indiana spokeswoman Kate Shepard said the state conceded in court Tuesday that some family planning funds would not be affected. The total amount of funding at issue now is about $1.4 million, Shepard said.

The law also puts Indiana at risk of losing $4 million a year in separate federal family planning grants. It also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health. That's four weeks less than previously allowed.

The abortion provisions would take effect July 1.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

At Retrial, Jurors Hear Blagojevich Curse Obama on Tape

Prosecutors are landing some crushing blows in quick succession in their retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

At 3:35 p.m. Tuesday, David Keahl took the stand. He oversees ethics training for state employees. Keahl said every year Blagojevich took the training which makes clear that it's illegal to even try to trade state action for personal benefits. That goes to one of Blagojevich's defenses that he didn't know he was committing any crimes because he was relying on his advisors, many of whom have law degrees, to keep him from doing anything illegal.

At 3:58, prosecutors played a tape of Blagojevich talking to advisors on a conference call. Blagojevich is cursing President-elect Obama because he won't give Blagojevich anything to appoint his preferred candidate to the Senate. "You guys are telling me I gotta just suck it up for two years and do nothing, give this motherf***** his Senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him!" said Blagojevich.

Blagojevich says the whole world is passing him by and he's, "stuck in this f***ing job as governor now." He goes on to complain that he needs to make money. "Amy's going to college in six years and we can't afford it. I can't afford college for my daughter," says Blagojevich.

At 4:07, before jurors could feel too sorry for the embattled former governor, prosecutors brought an IRS agent to the stand. She said the Blagojeviches brought in $300,000 a year but were in debt because they spent $400,000 on clothes during his time in office.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 11, 2011

Champaign’s Mayor Seeks Details on Unrestricted Funds

Champaign's Mayor wants to know more about nearly $50-million in unrestricted funds in the city's budget plan before signing off on one for the next fiscal year.

Don Gerard said the budget line item of $47-million is earmarked for specific public works projects, as well as the city's parking and vehicle funds. But in a year where emergency services are among the possible cuts, Gerard said he wants specifics.

"I heard a lot of people say 'I'm not comfortable with borrowing money, or 'I'm not comfortable with refinancing our pension bonds," he said. "Well, I'm not comfortable with having 47-million dollars unaccounted for and us cutting urban renewal programs. Nor am I comfortable as a taxpayer, as a man with children, in cutting any services relating to our first responders, including the front desk at the police station and browning out a fire station."

Gerard said he expects to have the information on what the funds are allocated for by next Tuesday's full council meeting on May 17th.

The Reverend Eugene Barnes was among members of the public concerned about the city's proposal to transfer $250,000 in reserves from Champaign's urban renewal fund. He said that would impact redevelopment in the Bristol Park neighborhood. Urban renewal makes up part of $2.75 million in one-time transfers from reserve funds in the budget proposal.

The lengthy budget presentation at Tuesday night's study session also included more than $600,000 in reductions, brought on largely through city employees taking a voluntary separation package. City Manager Steve Carter said impacted departments include public works and building safety.

A few city council members also suggest implementing a package liquor tax to bring in some revenue. Council member Karen Foster suggests the city needs the revenue from a liquor tax, saying it would 'equal out the playing field' with the local food and beverage tax. Council member Tom Bruno agrees it is worth a look.

"If we can gauge what the impact of it would be," he said. "And also if we can take into consideration whether or not we will be particularly causing harm to Champaign businesses because of the possibility - and maybe it's only a possibility - that consumers will change their buying habits."

City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said the idea would mean a lot of work for his department, but his staff already collects Champaign's food and beverage, and hotel-motel taxes. The city council expects to sign off on a budget plan by June 21st.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 10, 2011

Ind. Gov. Daniels Cuts Funds to Planned Parenthood

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a measure Tuesday imposing some of the nation's tightest restrictions on abortions and making Indiana the first state to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana immediately went to court in an effort to stop the law. U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is expected to rule Wednesday on the request.

Daniels, a Republican known as a fiscal hawk, is considering a run for president in 2012. Adding his signature to the abortion bill will likely help his image among social conservatives who were upset over Daniels' previous calls for a Republican "truce" on social issues.

Daniels didn't advocate publicly for the bill, and it wasn't part of his legislative agenda. But he said he supported the abortion restrictions from the outset and that the provision added to defund abortion providers did not change his mind.

He signed the bill into law Tuesday along with 79 other bills. The law cuts off about $3 million in public funds used to pay for services such as birth control, cancer screening and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

Planned Parenthood says the measure is unconstitutional and violates federal law. It says 22,000 patients could be left without access to Pap tests and other non-abortion services.

While the law cuts off the stream of funding for Planned Parenthood immediately, organization President Betty Cockrum said its offices would open Wednesday to see scheduled patients. Cockrum said the organization will use its Women's Health Fund to cover the cost of patients who rely on federal funding for birth control or health exams.

"It's very bad for the state of Indiana," Cockrum said of the law. "It's a very bad direction for public health policy."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the request for an injunction and temporary restraining order on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk said the judge heard arguments from both sides on the temporary restraining order seeking to prevent the defunding the state's 27 Planned Parenthood locations. He said the public funding has nothing to do with abortion and is used to provide necessary medical services, primarily to women.

"Family planning dollars fund preventive health services that are critical to low-income and vulnerable women and their families," Falk said. "It is unlawful, unnecessary and cruel to deny these populations health services that they desperately need."

Cockrum and Falk declined to comment on how long Planned Parenthood would be able to continue seeing patients if the judge does not rule in their favor.

"I think we'll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow," Falk said.

Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said Planned Parenthood was trying to use a "delay tactic" to keep public funding coming as long as possible. He said he was confident the law would stand.

"Governor Daniels has now established Indiana as one of the leading pro-life states in the nation," he said in a statement Tuesday.

The law puts Indiana at risk of losing $4 million a year in federal family planning grants. It also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health. That's four weeks less than previously allowed.

Daniels says he'll decide soon whether to seek the GOP nomination. Republican supporters say his support for the abortion bill will trump any concerns social conservatives had over the truce on social issues.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 10, 2011

U of I Trustees Meeting Twice in Urbana in 14 Months

The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees hasn't met on its flagship campus since late September.

And there's not another meeting scheduled in Urbana until December. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says the Trustees' schedule this year represents a bit of an anomaly. He says the rule of thumb is that Trustees will meet two to three times in both Urbana and Chicago over the course of a year, along with one meeting on the Springfield campus.

But Hardy says accessibility of space has kept the Trustees from their Urbana meetings in the Illini Union the past few months. And he says there's the availability of the trustees themselves to consider.

"Six of the statewide appointed trustees hail from the greater Chicago area, and the other three are from areas outside of the Chicago area," said Hardy. "Every one of them is a professional or executive who have very busy schedules."

Two months ago, Hardy says one meeting was moved from Urbana to Springfield in an effort to be there at the time the legislature was in session. But lawmakers ended up taking that week off. U of I Trustees will meet on the Chicago campus on June 9th. The next Trustees meeting in Urbana is slated for December 2nd.

Categories: Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 10, 2011

Unit Four School Board Ratifies 1-Year Extension of Teachers Contract

As the Champaign school district gets ready for another year of reduced spending, it has an agreement with teachers to continue another year on their old contract.

The Unit Four School Board approved a one-year contract extension with the Champaign Federation of Teachers Monday night. Teachers had voted to ratify the extension the week before. The new agreement takes effect June 30th.

Unit Four spokesperson Beth Shepperd said extending the terms of the current contract one more year was the realistic approach to financial problems that led the school board to cut spending in next year's budget by about $1.5 million. She called the agreement "a response to current financial situations and uncertainty at the state level."

Shepperd said the contract keeps teachers' salaries steady ---- with no raises except those on the step pay salary schedule.

"The salary schedule is structured so that a teacher moves up with a year's experience," Shepperd said. "They will get that upward movement. But there will be no increase to the overall salary schedule."

The extension also adds another $50 to the district's annual contribution for each teacher's Health Savings Account, for a total of $300.

A Unit Four news release quotes Champaign Federation of Teachers Deb Foertsch as saying she is satisfied with the agreement --- and looks forward to working with district officials for a longer term agreement in 2012.

Shepperd would not make a prediction on whether the school district's finances will have recovered enough by then to allow for a more generous contract.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 10, 2011

U of Ill. President: Faculty Raises are Possible

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan says faculty could receive their first pay raise in three years this summer if current state budget proposals become reality.

Hogan told The News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign on Monday that faculty on campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago could see raises of less than 4 percent.

That figure is based on current funding proposals that would see the university's state appropriation either remain flat as Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed or be cut by up to 3 percent. The Illinois House and Senate have proposed cuts of 1.1 to 3 percent for the state's public universities.

Hogan said he's concerned by the exit of some key faculty members over the past few years.

Categories: Economics, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

State Farm to Close Champaign Office

State Farm Insurance says it will close two-dozen field offices over the next year in three states, including one in Champaign on West Park Court that employs 20 people.

It is part of an effort to save the company $8 million over the next five years. State Farm did a year-long study leading up to the consolidation plan, and found it could save money by centralizing technology while remaining efficient.

State Farm spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said administrative staff will consolidate to Indianapolis, but she said most employees will not be affected.

"A lot of those 13 hundred employees are what we call mobile claim workers, and they will be staying in those communities," she said. "What that means is that they will maybe work out of their home, maybe work out of a car, maybe work out of an agent's office."

The Bloomington-based company says it hopes to retain all the affected employees.

In addition to the State Farm office in Champaign closing, Illinois branches affected by the consolidation are in Marion, Collinsville, Springfield, Peoria, Moline, Rockford, Elmhurst, Tinley Park, and Arlington Heights.

Offices in Michigan and Indiana will also close.


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