Illinois Public Media News


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 19, 2012

Supreme Court Case Tied to Former Urbana Teacher Convicted of Sex Abuse

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday that could determine a school district's responsibility to share information about teachers they have suspended or fired.

Jon White was teaching a grade school in Normal when parents complained he was abusing their daughters. He wasn't charged with a crime at the time, but the school did suspend him.

The next school year he was hired to teach second grade at Urbana's Thomas Paine Elementary. White was eventually found out, and is serving a 60-year sentence for sexually abusing 10 girls. The parents of two Urbana victims claim school officials in Normal should have alerted Urbana about the previous complaints.

Governments usually have wide immunity from lawsuits. But Sean Britton, an attorney for one of the victims, says this is not an ordinary case of government neglect.

"This is not the circumstance where a bomb squad fails to adequately cordon off a bomb and protect members of the public," Britton said. "This is a circumstance where the bomb squad takes that bomb, puts it in a package and mails it to another municipality, and says, 'We don't know what's in that package.'"

Attorney James Kearns represents McLean County District 5, where White taught when the original complaints were made. He told the Urbana school that they are at fault.

"You hired this guy without doing any kind of a check on him at all." said Kearns, who also said the Supreme Court has generally ruled employers have no responsibility in making it public why they terminated a contract with a past employee.

"This court has noted multiple times there's no duty from one employer to another to warn anything about an employee," he said.

Justices could take months to issue a ruling.

In response to this case (SCOIL Case No. 112479), Illinois has made a law that addresses the situation in the future. It requires schools that suspect an employee of abuse to report it to the state.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Champaign Police Lobby to Stay Open 24/7

Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels

Plans for reducing the front desk staff and cutting lobby hours at Champaign Police Headquarters became one of the most controversial parts of budget cuts approved by the City Council last year. Now, despite the staff cuts, police officials say they've found a way to keep the front desk open to the public on evenings and overnights. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows talked with Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels about the new arrangement.

(Photo courtesy of the city of Champaign)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

U. of Illinois to Get New Rail Center

A center dedicated to railroad education and research is being set up on the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The NURail Center will be under the director of U of I Professor Chris Barkan. He said a lot of the work that will take place will focus on improving the safety and reliability of rail transportation. Barkan explained that will include coming up with better ways to transport hazardous materials, and addressing challenges in using rail corridors for both higher-speed passenger trains and freight trains.

"As we want to operate at higher speeds, there's a continuous quest among both the industry and government to further improve safety," Barkan said. "If you look at the data on railroad safety; they've done nothing but get better and better over the last couple of decades. And the idea is that we want to continue that trend."

The U of I is leading a consortium of other universities involved in the project, including the University of Illinois-Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan Technological University, University of Kentucky, University of Tennessee and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

"Illinois has the nation's best programs in rail engineering and transit system development and operation, and these UTC's (Urban Transportation Centers) will help the nation and region prepare for future freight and passenger rail needs," said U of I President Michael Hogan

There are several rail projects are underway in Illinois, including upgrading a Chicago-St. Louis rail corridor for 110 mph service.

Categories: Education, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Taxi Service Comes Back to Decatur

Decatur will soon have taxi service again.

The city council Tuesday night agreed to issue a license to A1 Taxi, a company operated by Anthony Walker.

Walker previously ran AOK Taxi, but his license was revoked after he allegedly used an unregistered vehicle, and made unannounced changes to the company's fleet. City Manager Ryan McCrady said he is hopeful the same problems won't happen again.

"Many people might be surprised that we re-issued a license to a gentleman who was involved in the operations of that company, too," McCrady said. "But at the end of the day, you have to put that stuff aside and figure out what's right for your community. Our community needs a taxi service. We have transportation needs in our community that can't be fulfilled efficiently through public transit, and a taxi service is the best way to solve that need."

McCrady said the city will work with Walker closer this time around to make sure the taxis are safe and the company is well regulated. He added that A1 Taxi should be up at running within a couple of weeks.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Indiana House Dems Want to Challenge Fines in Court

Indiana House Democrats say they'll go to court to challenge the $1,000-a-day fines they face for their legislative boycott over the right-to-work bill.

Democratic leader Patrick Bauer says he believes the House leadership doesn't have the legal authority to deduct the fines from pay checks of members. A similar court challenge is pending from fines imposed on Democratic legislators who took part in last year's five-week boycott.

House Republicans voted Wednesday to impose the fines after Democrats skipped the House session for the fifth time in 10 days it has tried to meet this month.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma says he intends to begin withholding the fines immediately from the boycotters' paychecks. He says the deductions are legal.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Champaign Avoids Two Cuts in Public Service

The city of Champaign has managed to avoid two cuts in public service that were proposed as part of cuts to the city budget.

One of the cuts would have involved closing the front desk at police headquarters on evenings and weekends. But Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said the department had decided they can keep the desk open with reduced staff. Daniels says the front desk serves a vital role in public safety --- notably for people trying to reach a police officer without a phone.

"There have also been times when people ran into the police department because someone's chased, or they've recently been injured, or they've been in the area and it's freezing cold outside and there have nowhere else to go," Daniels said. "Under the new arrangements, police officers will come in off of patrol at times to fill in for front desk personnel who go on break."

At the same time, members of the Champaign firefighters union have agreed to wage and time concessions in a deal that will keep the 2nd engine company at Fire Station Four fully staffed. The union is providing 55-percent of the funding through wage and time concessions in a side-letter agreement that will run until June 30, 2013. Fire Chief Douglas Forsman said that means they can drop plans to reduce available fire companies on the west side of the city.

"We were always attempting to limit the impact by essentially browning out the least busy fire company in the city," Forsman said. "However, there was going to be an impact, no question about that. And that has been avoided."

The two proposed cutbacks had been among the most controversial ones proposed during last year's cuts to the Champaign City budget. Both became issues during last year's mayoral and city council elections.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Indiana Republicans Approve Fines on Boycotters

Indiana House Republicans have approved $1,000-a-day fines against Democratic legislators who are boycotting over a right-to-work bill.

The Republicans approved the fines in a voice vote Wednesday morning as most of the Democratic representatives gathered in the Statehouse Rotunda for what they called an open caucus meeting to discuss the bill to ban union contracts with mandatory representation fees.

The Democrats began their meeting surrounded by hundreds of union supporters, with more watching from the balconies above.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma had demanded that Democrats end their boycott and give the House enough members present to begin debating proposed amendments to the bill.

Most Democrats resumed their walkout after questions arose about the constitutionality of the statewide referendum they're seeking on the proposal. Bosma calls their action a delay tactic.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Ind. Unveils its 1st License Plate for Gay Youth

Indiana's first specialty license plate that benefits gay causes is now available for purchase.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says the Indiana Youth Group plate has been available since Dec. 28. The plate bears a logo with hands in rainbow colors reaching up out of a circle.

Some $25 from sales of each $40 plate goes to the group serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

Youth Group Director Mary Byrne tells The Indianapolis Star ( http://indy.st/zl90uE ) that Indiana is the second state in the nation with a specialty plate benefiting gay youths. She says Maryland was the first.

The Youth Group sued the state in 2010 after the BMV twice turned down its request for a specialty plate. Both sides later reached an agreement and the plate was approved.

(Photo courtesy of BMV)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 18, 2012

Urbana to Intervene on Illinois-American Water’s Rate Hike Request

The city of Urbana hopes to have a say before Illinois American Water's local rates go up as much as 18 percent, or roughly $7, this fall.

The city council's 6-1 vote means Urbana will spend up to $8,000 in legal fees to join Champaign, Savoy, St. Joseph, Sidney and Philo, with hopes of reducing the amount of the company's latest rate hike request before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Illinois-American wants to raise them for 308,000 customers, seeking $38 million in revenues.

External affairs manager Chris Bacon said much of the request is for infrastructure like fire hydrants, valves, and more than four miles of water main. The company will spend $180 million statewide on these upgrades. Meanwhile, $10.5 million in revenues would make up for a decline in water usage among customers.

Alderman Charlie Smyth said that part of the request isn't fair.

"It really bothers me that people who have conserved, who have cut their costs, are going to get punished via this rate increase," Smyth said. "I think that's totally inappropriate."

But Bacon said customers will be better off in the long run.

"The more customers conserve water, the less improvements that we have to make, making repairs to costly mains, wells, pipes, things of that nature," Bacon said.

If the ICC approves the full amount of the request, it would also mean rate increases of about 25 percent for small local commercial customers. Illinois American made the request last October, and expects the process to take about 11 months.

Alderwoman Heather Stevenson cast the lone dissenting vote. Citing tight finances, she says the $8-thousand should be spent on something else with no guarantee the rate hike request will be reduced.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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