Illinois Public Media News
An advisory referendum on the Champaign County ballot next week asks voters if they want their county board to have fewer members, but more districts.
The referendum question on the Champaign County November 2nd ballot reads: "Shall the Champaign County Board size be reduced from 27 members elected from nine multi-member districts with three members elected from each district, to 22 members elected from eleven multi-member districts with two members elected from each district?"
District 4 County Board member Greg Knott (R-Rural St Joseph) said shrinking the board from 27 to 22 seats is a way to weed out less active members. At the same time, he said increasing the number of districts from nine to 11 would ensure better representation and less gerrymandering of district boundaries. For instance, he said rural representation has been diluted on the county board, because rural areas are often combined with urban areas to make up a district.
"To achieve pure rural representation with the current structure is difficult," Knott said. "Having 11 districts really allows more flexibility for those that draw the map to come up with those types of districts."
However, District 7 County Board member Alan Kurtz (D-Champaign) noted that the Champaign County Farm Bureau has gone on record opposing a change in county board size. He said switching to more, but smaller, county board districts would hurt rural representation on the board.
"If we shrink the board and move to different districts, the population of the cities will definitely overtake the population of the rural areas," Kurtz argued.
Under the proposed change, county board districts would be represented by two members each, instead of three. Knott said the change would lead to county board members who are more accountable because they serve a smaller area, and voters would have fewer county board members to track.
"I think when we added that other element of more districts, that's where we hope to improve that quality," Knott explained. "Smaller districts may encourage more competitive elections."
Still, Kurtz said those changes would lead to less diversity on a county board that needs to reflect a diverse population of urban, rural and student residents. He said the current county board is an effective one, where members with diverse views are able to work together on legislation such as the county's wind farm ordinance, and the Land Resource Management Plan.
"If we had major conflicts, if we couldn't get legislation through, if we were paralyzed, if we weren't able to work together, I would say we need to make some major changes," Kurtz said. "But I haven't seen that".
Despite his own feelings, Kurtz said he will follow whatever the voters advise him to do when they vote on the referendum November 2nd. Knott said he expects most county board members to do that same. If the referendum passes and the county board heeds its advice, the number of county board members would change with the 2012 election.
The television airwaves are littered with loud political ads, but chances are you're not seeing any from the race in Illinois' 15th congressional district. The incumbent in that District is holding tight to his campaign war chest, and the Democratic challenger hasn't built up the budget to make many media buys. As Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers reports, the incumbent has kept an unusually low profile.
After sitting vacant since the spring of 2009, a prospective buyer has surfaced for Urbana's Lincoln Hotel.
The city council has given preliminary approval to a deal between the city and former commodities trader, Xiao Jin Yuan. Yuan owns a Hampton Inn in Crescent City, California. He said the Lincoln's European exterior is what makes it unique, but the interior is a different story.
"Walking in there, it's just like walking into a dark castle, or something like that," Yuan said. "It's a little bit depressing, that's my personal feeling. I need to talk to my architect and interior designer. The lighting has to be changed. It's too dark."
The Lincoln dates back to 1921 and designer Joseph Royer.
Yuan formerly lived in England. He said he is used to this kind of structure, and sees potential, as long the hotel can offer modern amenities.
"Some of the people like the old style," Yuan said. "I already own a modern hotel. Why shouldn't I try something new?"
Yuan is working to purchase the Lincoln hotel from its current owner, Marine Bank. Under the agreement with the city of Urbana, he would receive $650,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for initial improvements. Yuan is required to return that money if he sells the hotel before it reopens, but Yuan said he plans on operating the Lincoln until he retires. Additional TIF funds in the $1.4 million dollar agreement would be used for development over a five-year period.
(Photo courtesy of lindsayloveshermac/flickr)
Urbana Alderman David Gehrig is resigning, effective after next Monday's City Council meeting.
A research programmer at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Gehrig would only say he is stepping down due to additional work responsibilities.
"Rather than coming in and doing an 80-percent job or a 50-percent job," Gehrig said. "I think it makes more sense for me to step aside and have someone else come in who can do it do that degree.
Gehrig said he came to the decision about a month ago. The Ward 2 Democrat said he will have more say after next Monday's meeting. Gehrig was elected to a 4-year term in April 2009, but has served since August of 2008, when he was nominated to fill the remainder of another term. He said hopes to see a replacement named as soon as possible, but did not offer any suggestions.
Council members applauded Gehrig following his announcement in Monday night's Committee of the Whole meeting.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The former Champaign County Sheriff's deputy waging a write-in campaign for sheriff says poor fiscal management in that department prompted him to run.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney said last year alone, deputies served more than 12,000 summons, subpoenas, and evictions, and attempted to serve 15,000 more. He said that is cutting down on training time for deputies, and their ability to patrol the streets. Smith said the department could also save money by hiring out a private agency to serve those papers.
"You look at the private agency, and see that's a flat fee of 35 dollars," Smith said. "I've spoken to other people that say that most of the time, it only costs us 35 dollars. If you figure the time to pick up that piece of paper and take it and serve it, by the time you pay the deputy's wages, and with mileage, you're probably at 50 to 60 dollars."
Sheriff Dan Walsh said serving those papers only takes a deputy a minute, while the civil duties generate more than $200,000 towards their salaries. He added that his department is hardly in a position to pay an agency, with cuts of more than 11-percent the last couple of years.
"As they're out there serving papers, what's the difference if I'm 'patrolling' or I'm driving down Vine Street to go serve a paper on the Urbana Chief?" Walsh asked. "I'm still there, and if I see something, I'm going to take action. So, I don't think that's a good idea at all, and I don't think it really takes away from their ability to patrol."
Smith's campaign as an independent was cut short because more than 500 petition signatures were declared invalid after a supporter of Walsh challenged them. He said those voters had yet to change their address, and a write-in campaign is a bit of a challenge. He said according to Champaign County Clerk's Office, anyone wanting to vote for him can simply mark 'J Smith' in the write-in space.
Smith, who operates a gym in Urbana, said he is getting a lot of support in door to door campaigns.
Walsh has been sheriff since December of 2002. He said facing his first election challenge has occupied his evenings and weekends, but not regular work hours.
In an election year, the candidate who is already in office tends to have more political clout.
However, Rick Winkel with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs said that is not the case this year in Illinois' 101st district where State Representative Bob Flider (D-Mount Zion) is vying to keep his seat against Adam Brown (R-Decatur).
Combined, the two campaigns have drawn in nearly a million dollars in donations.
This is type of spending is unusual for a legislative race, according to Winkel. He said support for the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bill Brady, and voter cynicism towards the Democratic leadership have trickled down the ticket.
"It's probably not fair to Representative Flider," Winkel said. "But people are pretty angry right now."
To help secure the seat, Flider's supporters contributed close to $280,000 last week to his campaign, with more than half coming from the Democratic Party and its leadership.
Meanwhile, various political groups and individuals poured nearly $150,000 into the Brown campaign.
Flider has served in the General Assembly for four-terms, while his opponent has served less than one term on the Decatur City Council. Winkel said in this race, experience may not be a selling point.
Community colleges will split more than $2 million in federal stimulus dollars for energy efficient projects and job training for students.
The Illinois Green Economy Network is a consortium of nearly 50 community colleges with members that include Parkland College, Lake Land Community College in Mattoon, and Danville Area Community College.
Warren Ribley heads Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Ribley explained that the funds will also help dislocated workers, and allow them earn associate degrees as trained wind turbine technicians and similar jobs.
"We're far beyond seeing energy efficiency and renewable energy be sort of 'buzz words' and a fad," Ribley said. "It's here to stay. It has to be part of our domestic energy policy."
Danville Area Community College will get more than $400,000 to start up a wind energy technician program. Jeremiah Dye, an instructor in that program, has over 70 students right now, but expects that to grow. Dye said the funds will bring wind turbine components to campus.
"Right now, we have to travel to get to a wind turbine that we can actually have access to to do training and things like that," Dye said. "And you kind of wait for one to go down, and then they call and say 'hey, if you want to go along on this maintenance repair, you can. And so it really limits what I can do hands on. But with this grant, we're able to require some different real-world training situations."
Meanwhile, Parkland College is getting $375,000 to train analysts to inspect buildings for modern energy building codes, and Lake Land is getting a series of grants totaling more than $800,000 - projects there include the construction of two wind turbines and initiating a thermal efficiency program.
Ribley was at Parkland College in Champaign on Friday to announce the grants.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Illinois State University has fired a McLean County board member from his job with the university's Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that ISU sent 48-year-old Robert Nuckolls a certified letter on Wednesday informing him of his termination. The action came a month after Nuckolls was indicted on criminal charges related to a dispute with a woman who said Nuckolls restrained and injured her after she tried to end their relationship.
Nuckolls is charged with felony unlawful restraint and misdemeanor counts of domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of domestic violence.
The Pantagraph reports that attempts to contact Nuckolls for comment have been unsuccessful.
(Photo courtesy of the McLean County Government)
Champaign's Virginia Theatre is nearing the end of renovations to its lobby and exterior, and will open again to audiences.
However, the nearly 90-year-old facility will be closing again in the next couple of years for handicapped accessible seating, plaster work inside the theater, and electric work. The $500,000 grant was part of the Illinois Jobs Now capital program.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said an exact closure date will be within two years of when the grant is initiated. So it could be as soon as next summer, but she said the key is to avoid conflicting with Roger Ebert's Annual Film Festival in April. The work is expected to take at least six months.
The Park District got half of what it requested for the state grant, so Auteberry said the ADA compliance and other work will have to be pared down.
"So we're going to take a look at what we submitted, which initially included replacement of the current seating and replacement of all the plaster work inside the entire house," Auteberry said. "But it also included some acoustical infrastucture improvements upgrades, and electrical and lighting work on stage."
The next performance this year is the annual Chorale concert on New Year's Eve. Auteberry says the public will notice changes right away, including new carpeting, exterior and interior doors, and plaster work.
The Park District staff is also working with a sign company to take down the old theater marquee, and design for the new one to be put up in the next few weeks. The current work on the Virginia was paid for with a bequest from the estate of the late Michael Carragher, and other private funds.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign Park District)
The University of Illinois dedicated the Timothy Nugent Residence Hall and the Student Dining and Residential Programs Building on Friday in Champaign. The dormitory and dining hall are both handicap accessible.
The dormitory, which is University Housing's newest residence hall in more than 40 years, features proximity readers and large elevators to accommodate wheel chair bound individuals. The rooms also include technology to help students get in and out of beds and showers.
"This building was planned with the notion that students with disabilities could use each and every part of the building," explained John Collins, director of University Housing.
The new dorm's namesake is Timothy Nugent, who is director of emeritus for the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). Nugent established the center more than 60 years ago. He said society's views of people with disabilities have come a long way.
"I never expected anything this wonderful," Nugent said.
The U of I's commitment to providing accessible facilities for students with disabilities was an important factor for student John Burton, a junior from Indiana studying engineering, when he was deciding where to go to school. Burton, who has spinal muscular atrophy, praised the University for making Nugent Hall an inclusive dormitory for students with and without disabilities.
"It allows you to make friends and meet new people, so that's kind of nice," Burton said. "Although Nugent Hall is the first of its kind, we have the opportunity to lead the way for other universities to follow."
In addition to providing independent living for students with disabilities, the new dining facility will also reduce the university's carbon foot print by using less water and electricity. The dining hall will also use leftover residue oil that is processed from fried foods, and then convert it into bio-fuel for cars and buses on campus.
University president Michael Hogan said the new dining hall is the second green building of its kind at the U of I next to the Business Instructional Facility. Hogan said he predicts the environmental impact of the dining hall will save the U of I money, especially as it looks to trim its budget.
"If you can save your energy cost, you can save a lot of money, so anything that keeps our air conditioning bills down, anything that keeps the lights off when not necessary, anything that reduces our water use," Hogan stated. "That all saves the university money, and of course saves the planet."
The new dining hall is named after former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, who estimated that the savings generated because of the dining hall's green technology could equate to "several million dollars" within the next 50 years.
"It's not jump change," he said. "It's very important to us."
Hogan said he hopes the U of I considers making more buildings on campus environmentally friendly. The rest of Nugent Hall is currently under construction. An additional 350 beds will be added by the fall of 2012.
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