Illinois Public Media News
The third Champaign School District official in the last few months is leaving for a job with the East St. Louis School District.
Unit 4 spokeswomen Beth Sheppard said she is following former superintendent Arthur Culver, who is now the school chief in East St. Louis. Unit 4 Deputy Superintendent Dorland Norris also announced her plans last week to take a job there. Both Norris and Sheppard followed Culver to Champaign about 10 years ago from Texas
Sheppard said she is excited about helping confront some of the challenges students there face.
"It's a district that obviously has a lot of needs right now," Sheppard said. "There is state intervention. There are financial issues. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's an exciting challenge if you're a person who thrives on doing things that others think cannot be done. It's a great opportunity."
Sheppard's last day with the district will be Nov. 4.
Champaign School Board President Sue Grey said she is confident the school district will be able to move forward by filling these positions.
"I would hope that we don't lose anybody further because there's a lot of work to be done at Unit 4," Grey said. "We're a busy district, and we have a lot of kids to take care of. We can't afford to let things fall through the cracks."
A search is underway for a new Champaign school superintendent, who will succeed Arthur Culver. With an Oct. 28 deadline to apply for that job, the school district plans to begin interviewing finalists in November and December.
An Indiana panel is set to tell lawmakers to revive "right-to-work" legislation when they reconvene in January in a move that could set the stage for another showdown with House Democrats, who staged a five-week walkout over a similar proposal this year.
A draft of a report compiled by the Legislature's Interim Study Committee on Employment says businesses refuse to locate in Indiana because it is not a "right-to-work" state. The report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press details three months of study on the contentious issue.
The proposal would ban from unions in the state from mandating workers join their ranks or pay them a fee. Supporters say it would attract more business to the state but opponents, including labor unions, say it creates a "free-rider" problem where workers can enjoy the benefits of union representation without paying any dues.
The Republican-led committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider the report. Republicans hold a one-vote margin on the panel and are expected to approve the report.
"I don't think the state ought to be the ones who decide whether you join a union or not," said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the study panel. Boots largely crafted the report but said he consulted with other members when putting it together.
"Right to work" was one of many Republican measures advanced last year which led Democrats to leave the state for five weeks, effectively depriving Republicans of the number of members needed to conduct business.
Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes, said he is still ardently opposed to the proposal, but was not ready Tuesday to say whether he would walk again on the issue.
"All of the concerns I had, all of those questions, I didn't have any of those answered," said Battles, one of four Democrats on the study committee.
Rep. Gerald Torr, R-Carmel, says he is ready to file "right-to-work" legislation again for next session. It will be the eighth year he's put in the proposal, but he said now he hopes that lawmakers feel like it has been vetted to a point where they can tackle it without the questions that stymied the issue earlier.
Union members, business leaders, economic development analysts and scores of other packed daylong hearings on the issue held over the last three months. But Indiana State AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott said Tuesday she felt the study committee's answer was predetermined when they began their work this summer.
"Clearly their minds were made up before this process began and nothing, not even the facts or testimony from workers, small business owners or community leaders, would sway them from it," Guyott said in a statement Tuesday.
The group did not recommend taking up project labor agreements next year. Boots said that was because the Senate already considered banning PLAs last year and did not approve the measure.
Illinois lawmakers have taken the first steps toward restoring salaries for the state's regional superintendents.
A House committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would take the salaries out of a special tax fund for local government. Now the full House will consider the plan. Gov. Pat Quinn used his veto power to eliminate salaries for regional superintendents and their assistants. He said the state shouldn't pay for local officials when money is so tight.
The superintendents have not been paid since June. Some have been given emergency aid by local governments, while others have resigned.
Quinn suggested paying superintendents out of something called the Personal Property Tax Replacement Fund. That's what a House appropriations committee voted to do Tuesday.
Theo Epstein has officially been introduced as the new president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. Epstein joins the Cubs after a mostly successful 10-year stint with the Boston Red Sox.
"I wouldn't trade my time with the Red Sox, but I do think it was time to move on. They're in great hands and they have a terrific future laid out in front of them, and I was ready for the next big challenge. And this is certainly the ultimate challenge. I'm ready to embrace it and move forward," Epstein told reporters Tuesday in his first press appearance at Wrigley Field.
Epstein left Boston with one year still left on his contract as general manager. The Red Sox and the Cubs have yet to determine compensation for the deal.
Esptein helped the Red Sox win two World Series championships after 86 years without one. He said he thinks he could help the Cubs break their 103-year-old drought.
"We're going to make a foundation for sustained success a priority," Epstein said. "That will lead to playing October baseball more often than not down the road. And once you get in October, there's a legitimate chance to win the World Series. I believe we can do it, and I look forward to helping."
The Cubs finally made the announcement that Epstein would be moving to the Cubs on Friday night, but held off on the news conference until Tuesday, an off-day for the World Series.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Greed and a desire to maintain his influence in Illinois politics motivated a millionaire businessman to join a plot to shake down the Oscar-winning producer of "Million Dollar Baby," prosecutors told jurors Tuesday during closing arguments at the last trial from the federal investigation of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
But William Cellini's attorney insisted prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because their star witness admitted on the stand that he was a liar and cheat whose memory was impaired by decades of drug abuse.
Cellini, 76, has denied allegations he conspired to force Hollywood executive Thomas Rosenberg into making a $1.5 million donation to the Democratic governor's campaign by threatening to withhold $220 million in teachers' pension funds from Rosenberg's investment company, Capri Capital. He could face more than 50 years in prison if convicted on charges that include conspiracy to commit fraud, extortion conspiracy and attempted extortion.
Prosecutor Julie Porter told jurors repeatedly to listen to FBI wiretaps of Cellini because they support witnesses' testimony and the tone of Cellini's voice underscores his guilt.
"That is what corruption sounds like," Porter said as she played one tape in which Cellini seems to chuckle during a discussion of the alleged shakedown.
Porter also scoffed at defense claims that Cellini may have been hoodwinked and sucked unknowingly into a plot hatched by others.
"He was not on the sidelines of an extortion," she said. "Cellini had his eyes wide open and knew exactly what was going on."
Porter alluded several times to Cellini's enormous behind-the-scenes influence in Illinois politics, saying at one point that when he left a message for top-tier officials and political leaders to call him, "They called him back."
But Cellini's attorney, Dan Webb, told the jury the government hadn't made its case. He called star witness Stuart Levine "a whack job."
Prosecutors said Cellini conspired with Levine, who sat on the board of the $30 billion Teachers' Retirement System that controlled the pensions, and two Blagojevich insiders, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
Levine was the only one to testify. He admitted on the stand to cheating a close friend's estate out of $2 million. He also talked about gorging on cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs - sometimes in binges at marathon parties.
"This man ... has lied, cheated and stole throughout his life," Webb told jurors. "And this is the man the government says you should believe?"
Webb reminded jurors that Levine conceded during cross-examination that his memory may have been damaged by his drug use, which continued through the May 2004 attempted shakedown.
Prosecutors say Cellini and the others backed off after Rosenberg unexpectedly threatened to go to authorities. Rosenberg testified he didn't initially suspect Cellini of trying to shake him down but thought Rezko and Kelly were.
Prosecutors say the plan called for Cellini to broach the subject of a donation with Rosenberg, and then the others would turn up the pressure later by asking for a donation and threatening the loss of the pension funds.
Rosenberg described screaming and cursing into the receiver during a 2004 phone conversation with Cellini, who had been Rosenberg's friend for more than 20 years.
"I told Bill I would not be shaken down," Rosenberg recalled telling Cellini. "I would not give a dime to Blagojevich under any circumstances."
No one, however, testified that Cellini ever asked Rosenberg for a contribution or threatened him - a point Webb made repeatedly Tuesday.
Porter conceded Cellini, a life-long Republican, would not have pocketed any of the money. But she said he hoped to ingratiate himself to Rezko and Kelly - two of the closest and most powerful confidants in the new Democratic governor's administration.
His motive for taking part in the scheme, she said, was "continued access, continued clout, continued status.
The Illinois Senate has approved changes intended to help revive electricity legislation vetoed by the governor.
The changes passed 37-20 Tuesday, despite opposition from Gov. Pat Quinn, who earlier in the day said he will work with the attorney general, AARP and other groups to block the legislation.
"I think that veto should be sustained by members of the General Assembly," said Quinn. "And everybody goes back to the drawing board and comes up with a comprehensive energy policy that is not harmful to our consumers and businesses in Illinois or our governments."
At issue is a plan to let power companies raise rates to pay for infrastructure improvements, including high-tech changes called "Smart Grid.'' Critics say the plan guarantees unfair profits and weakens state regulators.
Now supporters are trying to pass a "trailer bill'' that addresses some complaints, such as the size of profits. The idea is that if these changes are approved, a few additional lawmakers may be willing to override Quinn's veto of the underlying plan.
The override would succeed in the Senate if it gets support from everyone who voted for the trailer bill Tuesday.
A Marine Corps recruiter awaiting trial in the deaths of two central Illinois women now has been preliminarily charged with trying to have a third woman killed from jail.
Authorities told the Herald & Review in Decatur (http://bit.ly/rGvkNG ) Monday that 27-year-old Timothy Giles of Centralia has been preliminarily charged with solicitation of first-degree murder. He has not entered a plea and his attorney was not immediately available.
Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider says detectives recorded Giles trying to hire an inmate to kill 27-year-old Casey Eaton of Harristown.
Giles has been involved in a custody dispute with Eaton. Giles pleaded not guilty to killing her mother and sister, 57-year-old Cindanett Eaton and 23-year-old Lindsey Eaton, in August. Giles also pleaded not guilty to attempting that day to kill Casey Eaton.
The city of Urbana's community development staff will work up a convention and tourism promotion campaign in conjunction with the Urbana Business Association.
A plan to fund Champaign County's Convention and Visitors Bureau at a much lower level failed to receive the necessary votes in last night's committee of the whole meeting to move forward.
The plan to give the CVB $18,800 needed six votes, but only received five. Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was absent. Opponents include Alderman Eric Jakobsson, who raised concerns with the lack of information and links on the Bureau's website. Mayor Laurel Prussing still contends the CVB still hadn't proved it was providing a return on the city's $72,000 investment.
"They're operating in a market that is completely dominated by the University of Illinois, and what they do isn't going to make one difference one way or the other," Stevenson said. "The major thing is people come here for a football game, a basketball game, for (the U of I's) Krannert Center. What CVB says on their website or doesn't say on their website isn't going to make any difference to that."
The original amount for the CVB was vetoed by the mayor, and the city council failed to override that veto in July. Community development staff is expected to prepare a report in the coming weeks.
Alderman Dennis Roberts questioned how those employees can take on such duties, and stay apprised of local events. Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson argued that it only made sense to market businesses and special events on a regional basis.
"It doesn't make sense for our staff here in community development to be promoting a couple of things on our side of the line, but for us not to be able to tell people to go see Hardee's Reindeer Ranch or to go tour the (U of I's) supercomputer or to see other amazing things in Champaign County," Bowersox-Johnson said. "So ultimately if we all try to do our own little piece of this puzzle, I don't think we'll market Champaign County as well."
But since Urbana will forgo CVB funding for the time being, Bowersox said the city owes it to local businesses and shops to do a good job.
Two University of Illinois faculty members from Turkey say small villages near the site of Sunday's earthquake will suffer the most as they await relief.
A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the southeastern town of Ercis, injuring more than 1300 people and killing hundreds of other people.
Anthropology professor Mahir Saul is from Istanbul in western Turkey, but has spent time in other parts of the country. With the entire country on a fault line, Saul said quakes of a lesser magnitude are a regular occurrence. He said Ercis may be fortunate in that the death toll from Sunday's earthquake isn't much worse.
Saul said deaths and injuries from quakes can often be blamed on the way some buildings were constructed.
"Of course, this is a low income region of the country, and probably some of the buildings were not very well built because people do not have the means," Saul said. "Every time you have something like this, unusually the government is blamed for not enforcing tighter building regulations, for not inspecting, etc, and suspect this is going to happen in this case, too."
Saul said Ercis itself can be easily reached by rescue crews, but he said neighboring villages could be hard to access.
U of I Linguistics professor Ercan Balchi is also from Istanbul. Balchi said there will be an effort within the country's government to reach even the most remote areas.
"I don't think it matters what part of Turkey this earthquake took place, people would react the same way," he said. "They would send aid as they can. So the political atmosphere would not affect the relief efforts in the area."
Both professors say the winter-like conditions in the evening around the country could be the greatest obstacle in getting relief to small villages.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says federal support for Amtrak service should be preserved.
Speaking Monday afternoon at the Illinois Terminal Building in Champaign, Durbin said an appropriations bill introduced by House Republican would slash Amtrak funding by 60 percent, and eliminate 1,800 jobs in the state. Durbin urged lawmakers in Washington to maintain Amtrak funding, saying it is critical to the state's economy.
"We are not going to cut everything at the federal government level," Durbin said. "There are some things that we're going to even increase. I think when it comes to transportation infrastructure that's the last place we ought to cut."
Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper said with ridership up over the last decade, now is not the time to cut funding for passenger rails.
Meanwhile, Durbin said the Republican spending bill would also force Amtrak to eliminate a route that passes through Champaign from Chicago to Carbondale. With many UIUC students originally from the Chicago area and many other faculty members who travel to Chicago for meetings, U of I President Michael Hogan said Amtrak is a necessary service for the university community.
"Taking the train into Union Station and back here at the Illinois Terminal is much more than just a convenience," Hogan said. "It also means hundreds if not thousands of fewer cars parked around our campus. "
The University of Illinois is researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line for 220-mph trains between Chicago and Champaign. The spending bill introduced by House Republicans would provide no money for high-speed and intercity rail projects.
"Faster trains could hold the power to bring a new twenty-first century wave of prosperity, and to address concerns about fossil fuels and the environment, highway congestion, and the security related inconveniences of air travel," Hogan said.
Sen. Durbin has pushed an amendment to restore $100 million for high speed and intercity rail, which he said wouldn't require additional revenue.
Durbin also talked about President Obama's $447 billion jobs plan. Last month, the president announced the measure, which would be supported by tax increases on the wealthy. Senate Republicans blocked efforts to pass the full version of that legislation.
Still, Durbin said one aspect of the bill that could still have a chance at making it through Congress seeks to modernize the nation's schools, with about $1.1 billion going to Illinois and supporting as many as 14,500 jobs in the state. He said that would help schools - like the John Hills Magnet School in Decatur - that are struggling to make necessary upgrades.
"It has an old heating system. It has no air conditions to speak of. It has asepsis issues. The list goes on and on," he explained. "The president pays for this by increases taxes on those making over a million dollars a year by one half of one percent, and unfortunately we can't get a single Republican to vote for it."
A bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress has until Nov. 23 to find at least $1.2 trillion in budget savings. Critics have expressed doubt that the bipartisan panel will overcome its stark political differences.
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