Illinois Public Media News
Illinois state lawmakers are joining legal experts, clergy and mental health officials in pressing Gov. Pat Quinn to address what they call a human rights crisis at the state's only supermax prison.
The group has sent a letter to the governor, urging him to intervene in the operation of the Tamms Correctional Center in Alexander County.
Critics say that's where some inmates have been held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years.
The letter asks Quinn to sign an executive order that stops the placement of mentally ill prisoners at Tamms, bans long-term solitary confinement unless an inmate is deemed a threat and sets up oversight.
The state's new corrections chief, Michael Randle, is reviewing Tamms' policies at Quinn's request.
Organizations that help the poor in east-central Illinois are giving out more and more assistance. But there may be many people who for some reason or another have not made that call for help. In the latest of our series of stories in connection with the outreach project "WILL Connect: The Economy," AM 580's Tom Rogers introduces us to people who decided to make the leap and reach out for aid, and people who encourage others to do so.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn say's he'll take action Wednesday regarding two University of Illinois trustees refusing to step down. The school is embroiled in a controversy over admissions practices.
Quinn had said he wanted all U of I trustees to resign by the start of the school year. On Monday, that deadline came and went, but two trustees - Drs. James Montgomery and Frances Carroll still haven't submitted their letters of resignation.
Quinn has hinted that he'd fire the trustees if they don't step down. But both say they'll fight any attempt to remove them from the board. They say they didn't do anything wrong, regarding the admissions scandal that's engulfed the school. And they say that means the governor has no grounds to fire them. Both holdout trustees are prominent members of the African-American community, and they've gotten some high-profile backing.
Despite Quinn's threats, he won't say what his plan of action will be.
State Representative Bill Black says he will not seek another term in the Illinois House. The Danville Republican says he's making the announcement now, to give potential candidates time to prepare for the Illinois primary in February.
Black is longtime member of the Republican leadership team in the Illinois House. He's a Deputy Republican leader in the chamber, and GOP spokesman for the House Rules Committee. But he says he's gotten the most satisfaction as a legislator out of the bread-and-butter accomplishments that may seem mundane --- but are important to many people in the 104th House District.
"Are the state routes paved, are the bridges in good shape? Have we been able to upgrade water and sewer projects and school construction?" says Black. "And in all of those, I think we've been reasonably successful. I haven't gotten everything done that I've wanted to do. But I can look anybody in the eye, and say, I've tried. I've tried my very best."
Black first announced his retirement two years ago, but changed his mind and won re-election in 2008, after the Republican nominee for his seat, Scott Eisenhauer, withdrew. Black says that was a fluke, and he's confident that a strong Republican candidate will stay in the race for 2010.
Meanwhile, Black says he will resign his House seat early --- if Governor Quinn decides to appoint him to serve on the University Of Illinois Board Of Trustees. Black is a U of I alumnus, and says serving as a trustee would provide "a different set of challenges" for him.
The water utility for the city of Danville takes issue with an advocacy group's report that consumers may be subject to higher-than-allowable traces of a farm chemical.
The report from the Natural Resources Defense Council cited government figures suggesting Danville's water supply had exceeded standards for the herbicide atrazine.
But Kevin Culver, a compliance officer with Aqua Illinois, says the NRDC's numbers are from 2004, and since then, recent EPA tests found no detectable levels of atrazine. However, Culver says atrazine is a concern since Danville's drinking water source, Lake Vermilion, includes lots of farm runoff. He says the utility filters out the chemical with a simple process.
"It's actually the same component in your home water systems that they say to use, and one of the recommendations is activated carbon to remove it at home," Culver said. So it's the same type stuff, although we use a lot more of it during the growing season."
Chemicals like atrazine have been linked to birth defects and hormone disruptions in animals, though the federal Centers for Disease Control has not found the same effects on humans.
The union representing a majority of Illinois state workers wants a judge to halt plans for government layoffs. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has filed suit in Johnson County, home of the Vienna Correctional Center.
It's in response to Governor Pat Quinn's plan to cut as many as 26-hundred jobs across state government, some as early as next month. Quinn says the plan would provide savings for the cash-strapped state. But AFSCME Spokesman Anders Lindall says the layoffs could create other problems...
"We need to know how will the work be done in whatever agency we're talking about," Lindall said. "Will this significantly increase caseloads in the Department of Human Services? Will it cause further shortages in state prisons that drive up overtime costs and make conditions less safe?"
AFSCME's lawsuit argues the state should be prohibited from going through with layoffs until it finishes bargaining with the union over the impact of job cuts. No hearing date has been set. Quinn's office did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Illinois' top education and health officials have issued a "Dear Parent'' letter recommending seasonal flu vaccinations for all school children in the state. The letter also urges parents to get their kids vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus when that vaccine becomes available this fall.
It's aimed at parents of children in the state's nearly 4,000 public K-through-12 schools, plus private schools. The letter is posted online in English and Spanish, signed by state Education Superintendent Christopher Koch and Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon Arnold. They're urging schools to include it in back-to-school materials for parents.
The letter urges parents to talk to their doctors or local health department about where to obtain flu shots or nasal spray vaccines, although many schools eventually will offer them.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn says the governor may have delayed action against two University of Illinois trustees who refuse to resign but isn't backing down.
Marlena Jentz says the governor will act against James Montgomery and Frances Carroll later this week. Quinn had said he'd act yesterday Monday to resolve the conflict with Carroll and Montgomery.
The delay has led to criticism from one likely political opponent. Quinn's chief Democratic primary opponent, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, says the governor should have resolved the situation before classes started this week.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and Democratic gubernatorial candidate William "Doc'' Walls, meanwhile, want the governor to let Montgomery and Carroll stay.
Quinn asked all nine university trustees to step down over the school's admissions scandal. Seven have resigned.
With the economy shaky and unemployment up, more people are turning to food pantries for help in getting enough to eat. In east-central Illinois, food pantries -- and the regional food bank that supplies them -- say more people are coming to them for help, some of them for the first time. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The new chief of staff for the Mayor of Urbana is a person who's been reporting on Urbana city government for the News-Gazette for several years. The Urbana City Council Monday night approved the hiring of longtime News-Gazette reporter Mike Monson to be Mayor Laurel Prussing's top aide.
The 51-year-old Monson will work with the mayor, and serve as a contact with the city council, city staff, other governments and the public. But he will not be a replacement for former Chief Administrative Officers Bruce Walden. Monson won't be in charge of the budget, and city department heads will not report to him. Monson says Mayor Prussing's management of city government since Walden's departure two years ago is proof she doesn't need another administrator.
"This recession has been telling; you know, there were no layoffs, not even any hiring freezes', says Monday. "Southeast Urbana has developed very well. You know, that was (Prussing's) top priority coming into office, to revive that Philo Road corridor, and she's done it. She's always been a hands-on public official and does a good job. I think that's why she won re-election so well. But she needs some assistance, and I'm going to do the best I can to help her."
Monson covered both city and county government during his 22 years with the News-Gazette. Prussing says a good way to understand something is to explain it to someone else --- and he says that's what Monson has done with local government as a reporter.
"And so I think he's going to be a great asset to the city of Urbana", says Prussing of Monson. "I wanted somebody I could trust. I've known him since 1987. He started out covering the county. And I've always found him to be highly professional and very ethical. And I think he's very nice to people, too."
Monson says he was contacted by Prussing about the chief of staff position about a week ago. Monson expects to start his new job next week. Mayor Prussing says Monson will make approximately 70-thousand dollars a year --- about 50-thousand dollars less than what Bruce Walden made as administrative officer.
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