Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 15, 2010

Champaign County Board Backs Size Resolution

The Champaign County Board has taken the initial steps towards reducing the number of its members after voters overwhelmingly supported the measure to reduce the size of the board.

The 27-member board takes a formal vote next Tuesday on a resolution to reduce that number to 22, but representing 11 districts rather than 9. The board's committee of the whole Tuesday night supported the measure on a 23 to 1 vote. Seventy four percent of voters backed the change in an advisory referendum last month, but Democrat Alan Kurtz said it is possible other proposals could come forward next week.

"People are looking for efficiency and saving of money," Kurtz said. "I think if we had put in 18, or we had put in 25, or any number, they (voters) would have voted for it. 22-11, I still have reservations about that. We can bring in othe resolutions next week. This was an advisory."

Kurtz sits on the county's redistricting commission. He said the resolution does put that panel in a bit of a quandary - since it has to wait for census numbers to determine the 11 new districts. The change would take effect with the 2012 election.

Republican Alan Nudo called a 22-member board a start and a compromise, since the county's Farm Bureau doesn't want single-member districts, but he said this change should appeal to rural residents.

"They will have the chance with smaller district size to have somebody representing them who understands agriculture and rural issues," Nudo said. "I've worked hard at it, and I'm not ashamed at what I've gotten accomplished. They just awarded a number of us the 'Friend of the Farm Bureau' award. But that being said, I would prefer to see more rural representation that's pure."

The only 'no' vote came from Democrat Lloyd Carter Jr., who said problems lie in the board's membership, not its size.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 15, 2010

Remembering Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin’s Life and Legacy

Springfield residents are shocked and grieving at the loss of Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin, who was found dead at his home on the city's west side Tuesday morning. Davlin, a son, father, and grandfather, was a popular public figure who recently announced he would not run for a third term as mayor. Officials say they will not detail a cause of death until an autopsy has been performed. One is scheduled for Wednesday. Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky has more on Davlin's life, and his death.

(Photo by Amanda Vinicky/IPR)

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Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Rep. Cultra Urges Party Leaders to Appoint Aide to General Assembly

State Representative Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) is urging GOP Party leaders in his 105th House District to select his legislative aide to fill his seat in the General Assembly for one day as part of an honorary appointment.

Cultra said Russell Geisler, a retired employee with the Illinois Department of Transportation, has been a valuable staff member and has a long history of working with the Republican Party.

"He's gone to Springfield with me every day for eight years, and I just felt like it's a way that I could say thank you to him personally and from the party for their lifetime of service," Cultra said.

Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman is slated to be sworn into the seat on Jan. 10, a day after Cultra resigns to become a state senator. Barickman was appointed in November by Republican Party chairs in the legislative district to fill out Cultra's remaining House term. Cultra said Geisler would serve Jan. 9, and then resign from the seat to pass it on to Barickman.

Donna Giertz, a Champaign Republican committeemen, said appointing someone to the General Assembly as an award is inappropriate and hurts the Republican Party's image.

"This is a public office," Giertz said. "You don't appoint people to a public office to reward them. That's politics. Have a dinner, give them a plaque, and say, 'Thank you for all you've done.' I just can't believe he's doing that."

If Geisler's chosen for the legislative seat, he would serve on a day when the House is in session and could possible cast votes. Cultra said Giertz would have voting rights, but would not receive pension benefits or a salary. A group of Republican County Chairs in the 105th House District will vote Saturday on the special appointment. They will also decide whether to allow Barickman to take office before the new General Assembly is seated on Jan. 12.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Carle Foundation Hospital Prepares for New Addition

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board has given Carle Foundation Hospital the green light to build a nine-story patient bed tower that will house the hospital's Heart and Vascular institute.

The $200 million project has been on hold for more than a year because of the sluggish economy, but is now moving forward through the financial backing of bonds and private donations.

Included in the new tower will be work spaces for cardiovascular, neuroscience, and intensive care services to better address emergent, acute, and chronic conditions. The new tower will also include 136 single patient rooms that will replace inadequate rooms from older buildings on the hospital campus that date back to the 1960s and 1970s.

"There is dedicated family space in each of those rooms, and lots and lots of natural light coming in through," said Stephanie Beever, the hospital's vice president of Business Development. "There's lots of glass in this building that our research has shown will actually help patients improve, get better quicker, and hopefully get home quicker."

Revised construction costs for the patient bed tower are $17 million less than what was originally projected a couple of years ago. Officials from Carle estimate that the tower will have a $100 million impact on the local economy.

Up to 250 workers will be hired to work on the constrution of the new tower. ManorCare nursing home in Urbana will be torn down in January to make room for the new patient tower with construction set to begin in March. The project is scheduled to completed in June 2013. It will be located on Coler Street between Park and Church Streets.

Categories: Economics, Health
Tags: economy, health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Urbana-Lincoln Hotel to Be Named Local Historic Landmark

The Urbana City Council is ready to approve historic landmark status for the old Urbana-Lincoln hotel.

Council members had held off on the vote for six months, for fear of scaring away developers for the downtown hotel, which has been closed for more than a year. But now, the Lincoln has a new owner and developer in Xiao Jin Yuan, who supports the landmark designation, according to City Planning Director Robert Myers. Myers said Yuan has already "plunged" into renovations for the 86-year-old hotel, from work on pipes wiring and other utility-related items to renovations to the building itself.

"He's (Yuan) lining up contractors for a new roof," Myers said. "He has plans to install a new porte-cochère at the entryway, and also new front doors."

The Urbana City Council endorsed local historic landmark status for the Urbana-Lincoln during a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting Monday night, with a final vote to come later. Myers said Yuan has already appeared before the Urbana Historic Preservation Commission, which must sign off on any major exterior changes to buildings with landmark status. Myers said the Lincoln is expected to be open again to receive guests sometime in 2011.

The Urbana-Lincoln Hotel was designed by local architect Joseph Royer, whose other buildings include the Champaign County Courthouse, the Urbana Free Library and Urbana High School. It is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the adjacent Lincoln Square Mall. The hotel was operated most recently as the Historic Lincoln Hotel until closing last year.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Police Say Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin Found Dead In His Home

Illinois State Police were investigating the death of Springfield's mayor, whose body was found in his home on Tuesday after he failed to show up for a court hearing in a probate case involving his late cousin's estate.

Police Chief Robert Williams said officers responded to a 911 call shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday at Timothy Davlin's home and found the 53-year-old Democratic mayor dead.

Williams declined to immediately offer details about how Davlin died, saying the investigation was in its infancy and has been turned over to the Illinois State Police, which also deferred specifics about the matter.

"The situation is very dynamic and evolving as we go,'' Williams told reporters. "That's all I'm at liberty to state at this time.''

The State Journal-Register in Springfield reported Tuesday that Davlin - mayor of Illinois' 120,000-resident capital city since April 2003 - failed to appear in court that morning as ordered in a probate case involving the estate of one of his cousins, Margaret Ettelbrick, who died in 2003. After Davlin's no-show, Circuit Judge Pete Cavanagh removed him as the estate's administrator.

The newspaper reported that Davlin failed to meet a court deadline for a financial accounting of the estate. Patrick "Tim'' Timoney withdrew as lawyer for the estate in October, saying he could not come up with a final accounting because Davlin had not provided documentation. Timoney last week submitted a claim against the estate for more than $19,000 in legal fees.

Cavanagh ordered Davlin and Bradley Huff, an attorney for Catholic Charities of Springfield, to appear for Tuesday's hearing to discuss the accounting and the status of attorneys in the estate case.

In October, the newspaper reported that Davlin owed the federal government nearly $90,000 in unpaid income taxes, and liens had been filed against his home. The lien notice filed in the Sangamon County recorder's office showed that Davlin owed income taxes for the years 2003, 2005 and 2006.

At the time, the mayor blamed the problem on a dispute with the IRS over taxes owed on investments he cashed in to buy the home. Sangamon County property records have shown that Davlin bought the home for $237,500 in 2004.

He earned more than $119,000 a year, according to city payroll records from earlier in 2010.

Gov. Pat Quinn called Davlin's death "truly a tragedy,'' saying in a statement that Davlin "was a great public servant who loved Springfield and its people.''

"The city of Springfield is a better place because of his leadership,'' Quinn said. "He was not only a champion for Springfield, but also for the entire state, and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.''

Davlin announced last month that he would not seek a third four-year term, telling Springfield radio station WFMB he wanted to leave office before getting burned out. Davlin insisted at that time that financial issues had nothing to do with that decision involving the nonpartisan post he called "grueling.''

"No one has any idea what it's like until they've been there,'' he told the station.

Davlin was a political novice when elected in 2003, having been an insurance and investment broker after graduating from a local high school and getting an associate degree from Springfield College before attending what now is the University of Illinois at Springfield.

As mayor, Davlin welcomed the 2005 opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and helped guide the city less than a year later through the aftermath of a tornado, marshaling hundreds of workers and thousands of volunteers in the cleanup effort.

In his biography posted on the city's website, Davlin lists among his credits his creation of an education liaison tasked with working with local schools, his stumping for a student-driven recycling program, and his formation of a task force on homelessness.

Davlin, a father of four, has four grandchildren.

An alderman, Frank Kunz, is mayor pro tem. City law requires that a new mayor be selected within 60 days.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Budget Limitations Damper U of I’s Ability to Catch Copper Thieves

The theft of more than $10,000 worth of copper building materials taken last week from the University of Illinois' Natural History Building has prompted university police to look at efforts to protect its other copper-rich buildings.

Skip Frost, the Patrol Division Commander with the University's police department, said the incident was the largest of its kind on campus in recent memory. Frost said the university is in talks with building contractors to figure what can be done to prevent more thefts from happening.

"What we'd like to do and what we're able to do are two different things," Frost explained. "There are so many things that could be done, including securing (copper) in a better fashion, having better key card access, and improving locks, but you can put all those things in there, that does not mean crime is not going to occur."

Copper prices went up in November, and have continued to rise this month, reaching more than $4.00 per pound. Ameren spokesperson Brianne Lindemann said she expects there will be more thefts from homes and businesses as commodity prices for copper go up.

"You need to secure any building that you have," Lindemann cautioned. "You definitely want to keep some lights on. You just want to make sure that those buildings look like somebody has been in there.

Tags: crime, economy

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 14, 2010

Gordy Hulten Nominated as Champaign County Clerk, County Board Approval Still Needed

Champaign City Council member Gordy Hulten is poised to become the next county clerk after the county's GOP Central Committee chose him Monday night to replace Mark Shelden.

Shelden accepted a job offer last week to become the chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) after 13 years in office.

The two contenders up for the seat were Hulten and Deputy County Clerk John Farney. In an unexpected announcement at the meeting, Farney bowed out of his bid to replace Shelden as county clerk, paving the way for Hulten to take the post. Before he spoke, he passed out copies of his resume and touted his experience. Then, Farney tearfully urged members of the committee to support Hulten as county clerk, which they ended up doing.

"I love Champaign County," Farney said. "I love serving you, but the time is not right for me to become your county clerk, and I'm asking you to all support Gordy Hulten tonight. It's what we need to do as a party. It's what we need to do for better government here in Champaign County."

Farney said he liked his chances at grabbing the appointment, but made a decision early Monday to give up on his bid. He said he was not ready to sacrifice more time away from his family.

Hulten will likely take over for Shelden on Jan. 5, after the Champaign County Board votes on his appointment. He said a vote could happen as soon as Tuesday, Dec. 14 by the Policy, Personnel & Appointments Committee. A second vote by the full county board would then happen on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Hulten said he is humbled by the appointment and added that he does not plan to make any immediate changes to the clerk's office.

"My first order of business is to get into the office and learn, not to go in and make changes," Hulten said. "The office is fantastically run now, so there's no real reason, there's no real motivation to make headlong changes."

The county clerk's term ends in two years until the next general election in 2012. Hulten said he plans he put up a vigorous campaign, so that he can stay in office.

Hulten said he will resign from the Champaign City Council soon, which will open up a search for his replacement. Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart said anyone interested in running for the seat will have a three week window to apply after Hulten's resignation. Schweighart said he was considering former city council members James Green and Vic McIntosh for the seat, but both have conflicts preventing them from returning to the council.

"Once the names are submitted, then the council will interview them, and then it'll take five votes of the council to appoint someone," Schweighart explained.

Before Hulten's nomination, he was considered a leading candidate to replace Jason Barickman as head of Champaign County's Republican Party. Barickman will be sworn as the State Representative of the 105th House District. He was appointed in November to fill the seat that will be left vacant by State Rep. Shane Cultra's (R-Onarga) appointment to State Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford's senate seat.

Barickman said even after he is sworn into the Illinois General Assembly on Jan. 10, he plans to stay on as GOP chair.

"There was some discussion that Gordy as our vice-chairman may step up and serve as chairman, but that's no longer in the cards with him serving as our county clerk," Barickman said. "I intend to stay as the county chairman. That's the end of the discussion.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 13, 2010

Decatur’s Only Taxi Company Shuts Itself Down

The owner of Decatur's only taxi service has shut the company down over what he calls the city's 'unethical businesses practices.'

AOK TNI Taxi owner Anthony Walker says the city's effort to investigate one of his driver, listed as a convicted sex offender on a state police registry, was the last straw. Walker said he claims she was only driving limousines, which is not illegal, but the city contends the employee was operating a taxi after being denied a taxi driver's license since she was convicted of a sex crime.

Walker said his complaints over city Finance Director Ron Neufield stretch back to last spring, and he plans to file a discrimination lawsuit as soon as Tuesday. Walker said the city renewed AOK's license as a transportation company on time last April, but he said Neufield tried to shut it down after saying the paperwork wasn't done properly. Walker said it is unlikely that the taxi company will start up again.

"I just don't forsee me diving back into that," Walker said. "I don't feel received by this community per se with my taxi service, and if I don't feel comfortable with my energy and my efforts and my money, I'll go to Bloomington, Springfield, where I have offices at, and work there."

Walker also provides the limousine and airport shuttle transportation, but shutting down the taxi service means about 20 drivers are out of a job. Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady said other problems with have surfaced, including lapses in insurance coverage that accompany cancellation notices.

"Every time we get a notice like that from the insurance company, of course we have to schedule a hearing," McCrady said. "As you can imagine, it's important that these taxis are properly insured. There has been situations where he's been in accidents and people have been injured. And we discovered the insurance had lapsed in that period of time."

McCrady said AOK TNI also fails to have cars inspected in a timely manner. McCrady said he hadn't heard of Walker's plans for a lawsuit, but says allegations of harassment are unfounded. With the taxi company down, the city will now offer van transportation to disabled residents who can't take city buses as part of the Decatur transit system's 'Operation Uplift' program.

Categories: Politics, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 13, 2010

State Police Struggle to Keep Up with Snow-Related Accidents

The weather may be improving, but Illinois State Police say the roads in east-central Illinois were still a hazardous place to be on Monday.

Drivers were facing black ice on interstates and other highways - they were re also passing vehicles that have been left stranded on the shoulders in the hours since winds picked up and temperatures bottomed out on Sunday.

Sergeant Bill Emery with the state police post in Pesotum said blowing snow and black ice were still causing problems Monday. He said police were still working on a backlog of reports, including about 50 crashes.

"There's just not enough police and emergency personnel to handle each and every situation," Emory said on Monday. "So we're responding to each one as quickly as possible, and there's several crashes that we're not actually making a report on, if there were no injuries."

Emery said those reports will be done over the next few hours as the immediate problems go away. He said if you slide off the road, the best thing to do is to stay in your car before someone responds.

The conditions have caused two fatalities in the region. 52-year old Edith Janowski-Sherman of rural Champaign was killed Monday morning when her vehicle rolled over at the intersection of two rural roads west of Thomasboro. And Champaign County Coroner Duane Nortrhup says 52-year old Carol Theole of Effingham was helping a towing crew Sunday night when she was struck and killed by a vehicle north of Mattoon on I-57.

A spokesman with one Urbana towing firm said at midday Monday that they still had about 25 calls for help backed up, with a new one coming in every 30 seconds or so.

Categories: Government, Politics

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