Illinois Public Media News
Officials from the Champaign-Urbana area presented a long wish list Monday night, at a public forum held to hear ideas for spending money from a capital construction bill --- if state lawmakers ever pass one.
The forum in Champaign was organized by Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Bradley. The Marion Democrat is holding forums across the state to find out specific local capital needs.
The transportation project most mentioned last night was Olympian Drive. Only about a mile of the north-side link between I-57 and U-S Route 45 has been built. Champaign Regional Planning Commission CEO Cameron Moore says businesses that moved into the north end of Champaign-Urbana were expecting Olympian Drive to be completed. "The fact that it hasn't been built", says Moore, "is having an impact on their ability to continue to operate efficiently. I also believe that businesses that are interested in coming into the area typically like to locate in growth corridors --- which this is. And being able to complete this significant arterial roadway would simply open up more opportunities for development in the area."
Moore says they're seeking five million in state funding for the 27-million dollar Olympian Drive project. They hope federal funding will take care of the rest.
Illinois lawmakers last approved a capital construction bill in 1999, and Bradley says a new capital bill is long overdue. He's proposed raising the Illinois Motor Fuel tax to fund the transportation component of any capital bill. Some who spoke at the Champaign hearing raised concerns that money would be diverted out of that tax revenue stream to non-transportation projects. Bradley says that could be avoided by additional language in the bill, and by sending the money to the state's Construction Account. He says diversions from that account are not possible.
Republican and Green candidates in the Urbana City election have asked the city clerk to hold a ballot lottery to determine the order in which candidates are listed --- even though the ballots have already been printed.
Those ballots list the Democratic candidates first. But the Republican and Green candidates say that without a lottery to determine the order, state law is being broken.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he plans to take the matter to court if Urbana officials don't agree to hold a ballot lottery in a timely fashion. "They're running around like cockroaches when you turn the lights on", says Bradfield, referring to Urbana city officials. "The should just say, 'well, hell, let's try the lottery, maybe we'll get lucky'."
A letter signed by Bradfield and the other candidates was delivered Monday to Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark. It argues that putting Democrats at the top of the Urbana ballot without a lottery unfairly places other candidates at a potential disadvantage.
Besides Bradfield, the letter is signed by Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse, and Green Party city council candidates Gary Storm and Mark Mallon. Republican Heather Stevenson, who's running for a second term on the Urbana City Council did not sign the letter.
City Clerk Phyllis Clark says she's checking with Urbana City Attorney Ron O'Neal before making a decision on the matter. If a ballot lottery led to printing new ballots in Urbana, the cost would run in the thousands of dollars.
Spring break at Champaign Centennial High School is especially sweet for the boys basketball team. The Centennial Chargers and Coach Tim Lavin are enjoying a vacation following their 61 to 59 win over the Oswego Panthers Saturday, to win the Illinois Class 3A Championship. I
Centennial Junior Forward Rayvonte Rice had 21 points, including the two winning free throws in the waning seconds of the game.
The team returned home from Peoria Saturday night to a rally at the Centennial gym.
Saturday's victory earned the Centennial Chargers their first state crown. The Chargers last saw state playoff action in 1984, when they lost the Class AA quarterfinal to Aurora (West), 73-44.
The Champaign Cenntennial Chargers will face the Oswego Panthers Saturday at 12:45 PM at Peoria's Carver Arena, for the Illinois Boys High School Basketball Class 3A Championship.
Rayvonte Rice scored 22 points, including two after an offensive rebound with two seconds left, to lead the chargers to a 66-65 win over defending 2A state champs Chicago North Lawndale in the first of Friday's Boys 3A semifinals.
Senior guard James Kinney also had 22 points for Champaign Centennial.
North Lawndale started the game with a technical foul for a uniform violation. An Illinois High School Athletics Association official said the stripe on the Phoenix's uniform was too long.
North Lawndale was led by senior forward Jonathan Mills' 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Oswego Panthers defeated Chicago Leo 56 to 55 in their Class 3A semifinal match on Friday. Oswego's win came with senior guard Jordan Mitchell's 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Illinois law requires that a lottery be held to determine in what order candidates are listed by party on an election ballot. But that didn't happen in the city of Urbana.
The April 7th ballot for Urbana's municipal elections lists Democrats first. Democratic Mayor Laurel Prussing says City Clerk Phyllis Clark, also a Democrat, decided the sequence according to the order in which candidates filed their petitions. But Prussing's Green and Republican challengers say that violates state election law.
Republican mayoral candidate Red Bradfield says if a lottery isn't held now and the ballots reprinted to match the result --- then at least, notices should be posted at polling places in Urbana, telling voters that the ballots were not prepared in accordance with election law. "This was not a casual oversight", says Bradfield.
But Mayor Prussing says the failure to hold a ballot lottery was an honest mistake, and she says it's not clear what the remedy should be. Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says it's not clear to him either. He says reprinting new ballots according to results of a lottery would cost thousands of dollars.
Green Party Mayor candidate Durl Kruse says the order in which candidates appear on the ballot can influence the outcome, especially in races with smaller voter turnouts.
When Champaign County government switches to a single-county-administrator system later this year, the county will hire from within.
The Champaign County Board approved a resolution Thursday night that says the position will be filled by hiring another county employee. But Chairman Pius Weibel would not say who that might be, following a closed-door meeting on the issue.
The county board appointed Weibel and former County Board Chairman Steve Moser to negotiate a contract for the single county Administrator position.
Weibel says they'll have a lot to do before a new administrator is hired. That includes putting together a job description, setting salary limits, and deciding what duties performed by the current two administrators should be moved over to another county position.
Deb Busey and Denny Inman have managed Champaign County government as a team for the past decade. Busey manages Finance and Human Resources while Inman is in charge of Facilities and Procurement. But the county board has decided that system will end in December, when a single administrator will take over. Backers of the change have argued that many of the duties assigned to Inman no longer require a separate manager, because the county is no longer involved in major construction projects like the nursing home and courthouse addition.
A March 22nd News-Gazette article reported that Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri is frequently absent from work, according to office phone records. Now, the Champaign County Board will consider putting a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they want to switch the auditor's post from elected to appointed.
Republican County Board member Al Nudo says the controversy over Fabri's apparent high absentee rate provides an opportunity to consider whether appointing the auditor might provide more accountability and professionalism than elections. But at Thursday's County Board meeting, Democrat Carol Ammons said the proposal coming so quickly after the News-Gazette article looked more like a witch-hunt to her.
"If we're going to look at actual strategic changes to the county", said Ammons, "we look at the auditor, we look at the recorder, we look at all of the non-constitutional offices, and we consider them alike."
Fabri is also Champaign County's Democratic Chairman. Nudo says he's open to discussing the recorder's and coroner's offices, which are held by Republicans. But Democrat Steve Beckett told the County Board Fabri's poor work attendance as measured by his office phone calls is a valid reason for reviewing the auditor's office alone.
"I can't ignore what I read this past weekend", said Beckett. "And it's not a witch-hunt if there's a witch".
Fabri could not be reached for comment Thursday night. According to the News-Gazette, he says office phone use is not a fair measure of his attendance, because he often uses his own cell phone at his desk, to avoid using county phones for political work.
Nudo's proposal now goes to the County Board Policy and Administrative Structure committees, which may take their time in considering it. A referendum on the auditor's office wouldn't show up on the Champaign County ballot until 2010, and any change wouldn't take effect until 2012, after Fabri's current term is over.
Governors can issue pardons but they can't automatically clear a convict's criminal record, according to a new Illinois Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling involves pardons saying two men were innocent and could have their convictions expunged, or officially wiped away.
One pardon went to Stanley Howard, who was convicted of murder based on a confession that may have been obtained through torture. The other went to Dana Holland, who was convicted of rape but was later cleared by DNA evidence.
When they took steps to expunge their records, the courts said no.
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that despite the governor's pardons, the courts ultimately decide whether to expunge convictions.
It didn't take long for organizers of the first-ever Illinois Marathon to find the volunteers they needed.
The marathon will be held on the streets of Champaign, Urbana and the U of I campus on the day before Easter. But local police said organizers needed to show by April 1st that they had 350 volunteers ready to help with traffic control, if they wanted to keep their special-events permits.
Marathon volunteer coordinator Mary Anderson says they issued the call for help on Monday, and by Tuesday night, they had enough volunteers signed up to ensure the race will take place. She says they're grateful for the response, but they could still use even more volunteers. Anderson says nearly 8-thousand runners have signed up for the Illinois Marathon and its related races --- and they'll need a total of 2-thousand volunteers. Volunteers will help staff the marathon and related events on Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th.
To volunteer to help on the Illinois Marathon, go to their website, www.illinoismarathon.com, and click on the volunteer link.
Higher education would get a slight increase in funding in a year when many other states are preparing their colleges and universities to accept flat funding or cuts.
Governor Quinn's budget proposal lifts operating funds for higher education by a little over one percent - in the University of Illinois' case, that means a nearly eight million dollar boost from the current year, to around 750 million dollars.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says that's not close to what the school requested, but it's realistic.
"When you look at what's been proposed here, you see an increase in operating appropriations for the University that makes us whole on the 2 1/2% cut that we received in the current fiscal year, and then adds another one percent on top of that," said Hardy.
Governor Quinn's proposal for a capital bill also includes U of I projects, including the long-postponed renovation of Lincoln Hall and money for a new engineering and computer building. But Hardy is expressing caution, saying the state hasn't passed a capital bill in several years.
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