Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Urbana Marks Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy

The city of Urbana is paying homage to Abraham Lincoln through a series of video podcasts that guide visitors through a tour of the community.

Lincoln spent nearly twenty years practicing law in Urbana.

City Planner Rebecca Bird said while the podcasts focus on sites Lincoln visited, they also explore the connections between the Urbana of Lincoln's era and the historic buildings that still exist today. For example, Bird said one of the featured structures is the Champaign County courthouse, which was built more than 30 years after Lincoln's death.

"So, the courthouse obviously was not built at the time Lincoln was here, but there was another courthouse at this site. It tells the story of at that time, as well as some of the effects of Lincoln," Bird said. "It's the type of tour that it celebrates our heritage. It's something that will be enjoyable to both residents of Urbana and visitors to Urbana."

The video podcasts are available on the city's website. A walking tour of the landmarks featured in the project will start at 10 AM on Saturday at the Urbana Free Library.

Categories: Government, History, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Unit 4 Faces Gap in Filling Permanent Superintendent Position

Champaign's interim school superintendent says the search for a permanent superintendent is going well.

Dr. Robert Malito said he expects his permanent replacement to be on the job this summer. But Malito said he will have to step down about six months earlier. As a retired superintendent, he can only work as a school administrator for 100 days a year. So, Malito has been working just a few days a week to make his contract with Unit 4 last as long as possible. Still, he said he plans to make sure the district is headed in the right direction when he steps down.

"It's like almost a bus trip," Malito said. "We're 70% there, the bus is running well, the driver is going well, the focus is correct, we just have to finish out the trip. And so, someone else will probably finish out the school year on behalf of Unit Four."

Malito expects to leave Unit 4 in January, about the same time a new superintendent is chosen. But he said that person will likely have an existing contract that prevents him or her from coming to Champaign before the end of June. Malito said the Unit Four School Board will be exploring all options for another interim superintendent for the spring semester.

In the meantime, Malito said the executive search firm School Exec Connect has so far fielded 45-to-50 applications for the Unit 4 superintendent position. The deadline for applications is Oct. 28. Malito said that during November and December, the school board will hold private interviews with seven finalists from the pool of applicants, and the top two or three will be brought to Champaign to meet the public.

The new Champaign school superintendent will succeed Arthur Culver, who stepped down last summer after managing the school district for nine years. Culver recently took over as the superintendent of the troubled East St. Louis school district.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Cellini Tapes Go Back to Early Days of Blagojevich investigation

Prosecutors are playing tapes that are more than seven years old at the corruption trial of millionaire businessman and Blagojevich co-defendant Bill Cellini. The tapes are conversations Stuart Levine had on secretly recorded phone calls. He was on state boards and was taking bribes from businesses that wanted state contracts.

The calls were recorded in 2004, the early days of Rod Blagojevich's time as governor and the early days of the wide-ranging federal investigation called "Operation Board Games."

Levine has pleaded guilty to fraud schemes, and he's cooperating with prosecutors and testifying against Cellini. On the stand he's told jurors how he and Blagojevich fundraisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly plotted to extort bribes from state contractors and how they used Cellini to ask one contractor for a campaign contribution.

Cellini was left out of the planning and didn't know the particulars of the extortion attempt, but prosecutors say he knew that he was part of a scheme to trade campaign contributions for state business. They say he joined in the plot to maintain his own influence with Blagojevich and his advisors.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Two Dead Following Standoff in Piatt County

Authorities say two people are dead following a five-hour standoff in Piatt County Thursday.

Illinois State Police Sergeant Bill Emery said the bodies of Roger and Shirley Sharp were discovered inside the home in rural White Heath. About 4 p.m., Piatt County deputies were called about a possible shooting at home on Wagon Trail Road, near the Intersection of Route 10 and Interstate 72.

Deputies were able to reach Roger Sharp on the phone, who indicated to authorities that his wife was dead. Several police agencies, including U.S. Marshalls, a state police SWAT team, Piatt County deputies, and Monticello Police then surrounded the home, evacuating nearby homes, and setting up a perimeter to protect the neighborhood.

The bodies were discovered about 9 p.m. No more information has been released regarding the deaths. An autopsy will be performed Friday morning. State Police and the Piatt County Sheriff's Department is heading up the investigation.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 14, 2011

Champaign Lawmaker Renews Call to End Legislative Scholarships

A Champaign lawmaker says he is afraid calls to end legislative scholarships will get bogged down in procedure rather than simply getting the job done.

Republican House member Jason Barickman's comments come in response to those by Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who said Gov. Pat Quinn overstepped his authority by using his amendatory powers to try and abolish the program.

Barickman said the simple solution is to call for an up or down vote on H.B. 201, which does away with the program entirely. He said there's too much bickering by leadership in Springfield to end a program ripe with corruption.

"This single bill has resulted in lot of talk and no action," Barickman said. "Here we have an opportunity to do away with it, and because of the political jockeying, again we're left with the status quo, which means those legislators who continue to award these scholarships, by law, could give these to their relatives because of political jockeying."

Barickman is a co-sponsor of the House measure, along with Republicans Chad Hays of Catlin and Chapin Rose of Mahomet. Barickman said the numerous incidents of someone abusing the program, as well as Illinois' fiscal condition, should make the fall veto session the perfect opportunity to end what he calls an annual $14-million political perk.

Recently, a federal investigation surfaced in which three current and former lawmakers improperly awarded them. Reports have shown some of the scholarships have been awarded to campaign donors, close friends, and others who don't reside within a legislator's district.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

Champaign Introduces “Smart” Parking Meters

The city of Champaign is giving people another option to pay for parking.

On Thursday, the city installed downtown parking meters that accept credit and debit card payments, in addition to coins. Patti Anderson, a management analyst with Champaign's Public Works Department, said pay stations were originally going to be set up on each block, but she said city officials decided to go a different direction.

"The customer doesn't have to walk down the block," Anderson said. "They don't have to wait in line if there are customers from other cars waiting to get their parking paid for. It's just simpler for them, and that's one of the main reasons we went with it. We think it's a convenience for the customer."

For now, 37 parking meters have been installed downtown, but Anderson said the city will review the smart meters six months from now to determine if there should be more. She said while the technology may change, parking rates will stay the same.

Patti Anderson Demonstrates How the Smart Parking Meters Work:


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

LaHood Says He’ll Leave at End of Obama’s Term

A spokeswoman for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the former Illinois Republican congressman will leave the Obama administration at the end of the president's current term.

The spokeswoman, Jill Zuckman, said LaHood was asked about his intentions at a media luncheon Thursday. She said he gave no reason for his decision and hadn't discussed his intentions with President Barack Obama.

LaHood was congressman for 14 years until retiring in 2008, and a top aide to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel before that.

He had a reputation in Congress as a moderate who tried to foster greater cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. While those skills made LaHood an attractive Cabinet choice, he has become better known as a plain-speaking advocate for safer driving and job-creating transportation projects.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

Stuart Levine Takes the Stand in Cellini Trial

Prosecutors are linking a career criminal with Bill Cellini, the final Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. They've called their star witness, Stuart Levine, to the stand. Just a few minutes into his testimony Wednesday afternoon Levine started down a laundry list of his criminal activity.

He told jurors that he spent decades paying bribes to public officials to get government contracts for businesses that he had an interest in. He also admitted abusing drugs for 30 years.

Levine has admitted his guilt in various schemes to defraud the state of Illinois and he's now cooperating with federal prosecutors and testifying against Bill Cellini. Previously he testified for three weeks in the trial of Blagojevich fundraiser and advisor Tony Rezko.

Levine told jurors he's done business with Cellini for decades, paying Cellini more than a million in fees. He said the two were also personal friends. Prosecutors say the relationship eventually turned criminal. They say Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions on behalf of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in an attempt to keep his own business with the state.

Defense attorneys will no doubt plumb the depths of Levine's criminal life and tell jurors they shouldn't trust a word he says.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 13, 2011

Quinn: Kirk’s Report Exaggerates State’s Debt

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that a recent report exaggerates the state's debt.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., released the report saying the state has $8.3 billion worth of unpaid bills. But the state comptroller said the number is more like $5.1 billion.

Quinn said the state is making progress in cutting its unpaid bills.

"I think (Kirk) probably exaggerated some of the numbers," Quinn told reporters Wednesday at an unrelated news conference. "We have whittled down the bills we have to pay, we still have a long way to go. You know if it's just woe is me and a doomsayer - I don't think that's particularly helpful."

Quinn said creating jobs is the key to improving Illinois' debt standing.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 12, 2011

State Panel Approves Provena-Resurrection Merger

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has signed off on creating Illinois' largest Catholic hospital system.

At its meeting Wednesday in Bolingbrook, the state regulatory panel unanimously agreed to the merger between Mokena-based Provena Health and Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care.

The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including Provena's two hospitals in Urbana and Danville, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.

Sandra Bruce, the president and CEO of the new organization, said it is grateful for the board's unanimous approval.

"We enthusiastically now turn our full attention to creating a strong Catholic health ministry driven by Mission, and focused entirely on collaborating with our physicians, staff, and our communities to deliver patient, resident and family-centered care that is high in quality and value," Bruce said in a press release.

When the merger was announced in July, Resurrection spoksman Brian Crawford said he expected a cost savings to be incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. At a state hearing in Urbana in August, there was little opposition to the move.

It's expected to be finalized Nov. 1.


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