Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council voted 8 to nothing to pass a difficult 114-million dollar budget Tuesday night. It uses spending cuts and new and increased fees to help bridge a 6-million dollar gap.
Council member Deb Feinen says it wasn't easy balancing the new budget, but she's satisfied with the final result. "We may not have agreed on every piece of the (budget) process," says Feinen. "But we have a budget that does what we set out to do, which is trim about 6-million dollars, so we are prepared fiscally for what's going on --- in the world, not just in our community."
The new Champaign budget includes 114-million dollars in spending, with funding re-allocations that bring up the total to 158-million dollars. To keep costs down, the budget keeps some city positions vacant, and lets others go away through attrition. Some road projects will be delayed or cut back. And the budget includes more revenue from fees ---for instance, Champaign's cable TV franchise fee goes from 3 percent to 5 percent. And there's a new fee for motorists whose vehicles are impounded by police for certain traffic and criminal offenses.
But council members also voted against spending already budgeted money to help design a sewer system to serve future development at the new Curtis Road interchange. That vote came after passage of the budget, and after hearing a complaint from West Washington watershed resident James Creighton --- that the budget included nothing for sewer upgrades in his frequently flooded neighborhood. Councilwoman Marcie Dodds represents that neighborhood. And later, when the council considered funding to design a sewer system for the undeveloped Curtis Road I-57 interchange area, Dodds voted no. "I'm not going to support this," explained Dodds, "because I think that we have too much in-town needs --- infrastructure, watershed and sewer needs --- that we don't need to be building new stuff, for something that's not going to be out there, and borrowing money for it." Plans for the new sewer system include applying for a State Revolving Loan to help pay for it.
Dodds was joined by four other council members. Together, they defeated the joint agreement with Savoy and the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the four acted emotionally. He says they need to start preparing the Curtis Road site for what city officials have said could be the next big wave of new development in Champaign. "It's a project we need to do to be proactive," says Schweighart. "It (the Curtis Road Interchange area) is a location that's fast developing, and this sets it back maybe a year --- or more."
Despite the risk of delaying the Curtis Road sewer system, council members seemed more mindful of James Creighton's complaint, that his neighborhood isn't due for major sewer work by the city until 2025. .
University of Illinois students from Iran say it's incumbent upon foreign media to spread the word of protests in their country following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
More than 40 of these students and their friends rallied in downtown Champaign Monday. One of them, going by the name 'M', says while election fraud in his country is nothing new, two things separate Friday's votes from elections past. M says the huge voter turnout is part of a new reformist agenda there, and that the large military presence during the violent protests is a result Ahmedinejad's ties to the officers. But he says pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi will learn through foreign press that he has the support to challenge election results.
"We think that media is the guardians of democracy,' says M. "We think think that reporters are soldiers of freedom. Our reporters inside Iran, our media, is shot down inside Iran. We expect from the reporters and the foreign media to spread information inside Iran." M says if information of election fraud is spread, the military is faced with either waging civil war against 2 million people, or giving in to their demands. A high-level clerical panel called the Guardian Council is expected to investigate the claims of voter fraud.
An outdoor art installation about Native American history on the University of Illinois Urbana campus vandlized again over the weekend. The director of the U of I's Native American House says it's the 7th attack on the art work.
The latest attack on the exhibit occurred late Friday night to the series of signs created by Native American Artist Edgar Heap of Birds. One sign was bent, and two signs --- directly in front of the campus' Native American House were stolen.
The installation is titled "Beyond the Chief", in reference to Chief Illiniwek, the longtime university symbol which was officially retired a couple of years ago amidst great controversy. The signs in the installation list various Native American tribes as playing "host" to the Fighting Illini --- except that the Fighting Illini name is printed backwards. Native American House director Robert Warrior says the signs pay tribute to tribes that once lived in Illinois, but were forced to leave by the federal government.
Warrior adds that if the attacks on the art installation are because of the Chief Illiniwek controversy, then it's an embarrassment for the university community. "I understand there are people in this community who continue to be upset that the university retired its former mascot," says Warrior. "And it's certainly their right to be upset. I fail to see how it is their right to engage in criminal actions against an art exhibit that seeks to be part of an education enterprise on an educational campus."
Warrior says the two signs that were stolen paid tribute to the Ho-Chunk and Peoria tribes. The Peoria tribe --- once in Illinois but now located in Oklahoma --- is the modern remnant of the Illini Confederation, which the name Chief Illiniwek refers to.
The repeated attacks on the "Beyond the Chief" installation began in March. U of I Police say they have surveillance video of the latest act of vandalism, which will be posted on their website. the video shows a college-age white male, wearing dark-colored shorts and a T-shirt. Sgt. Tony Brown says anyone with information about the attacks should call U of I Police at 217-333-1216 or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS or online at http://www.champaigncountycrimestoppers.com/ .
Updated: June 16, 2009
The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."
The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
A teachers' union is taking issue with its district's policy requiring them to do medical procedures they say school nurses should provide.
The Mahomet-Seymour Education Association has been pressuring the school board to sit down and negotiate a protocol for those procedures - some students, especially those with special needs, sometimes require catheterizations, shots and other needs. But 5th grade teacher Linda Meachum says school nurses aren't dispatched to do those tasks, and it's been up to teachers.
"We should hire additional medically licensed personnel to take care of all students' medical needs," Meachum said. "No other staff member, as a condition of their job, should be required to perform medical procedures."
Mahomet Seymour superintendent Keith Oates has been unavailable for comment - he has said in the past that teachers have always been asked to change catheters, and the policy is not new. The union is demanding that medical procedures be negotiated, and they may file an unfair labor practice claim if the district doesn't bargain. Mahomet-Seymour's current teachers' contract expires next year.
Retired federal judge Abner Mikva says he wants to bring some transparency to the admissions process at the University of Illinois, and ensure that students are admitted on merit and not "political clout". Mikva has been named by Governor Pat Quinn to chair a seven member commission to investigate U of I admission practices and issue a report in 60 days. The commission was formed after news reports revealed that some less-qualified students had been admitted because of political connections. Mikva talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the new commission and its goals.
A Champaign County Board Policy Committee member who called for discussion of whether the county coroner, recorder and auditor should be appointed rather than elected, now says he's leaning toward keeping at least two of them as they are.
Democrat Brendan McGinty spoke at the close of the last of three Policy Committee hearings held this week on the issue. McGinty says he supports keeping the coroner and recorder elected, but hasn't decided about the auditor. The Urbana Democrat says the auditor in Champaign County has tended to lack the specific professional skills needed for the office. Auditor Tony Fabri testified Wednesday night that his job was to fight for and defend the work done by his professional staff. But McGinty questioned whether the auditor's staff needed an elected auditor to act as their sword and shield.
"I think a county engineer, a supervisor of assessments, a county administrator, other appointed positions in the county, provide their own sword by doing their job -- provide their own shield by providing information and being experts at what they do," McGinty said.
Still, he said he was impressed by some who spoke in favor of an elected auditor at last night's hearing, including former State Senator Rick Winkel, and Urbana Mayor --- and former auditor --- Laurel Prussing.
The Policy Committee will discuss the issue again in August. The Champaign County Board could vote to put a referendum on one or more of the three offices on the 2010 ballot.
There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says he's receptive to an outside look at the U of I's admissions procedures.
But university spokesman Tom Hardy says until Governor Pat Quinn steps into the discussion over a list of prospective students who may have gotten improper admission assistance from political leaders, a task force announced last week will handle the task.
"If the Governor announces something that could work with that or separately or would supersede that, we'll certainly abide by whatever the governor's prerogative is," Hardy said.
Hardy says that task force would include people from outside the University, but critics say it wouldn't be a completely independent investigation. Monday night, President White told a Chicago TV interviewer that an investigation into the so-called "Category I" admission list should be as independent as possible.
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