Illinois Public Media News
The U.S. Postal Service may close its Bloomington Mail Processing Center, and some of those services could be coming to Champaign.
The Postal Service is announcing feasibility studies to consolidate ten operations in Illinois, including the 158 Bloomington sorting and handling jobs. By early next year, the agency will have looked at whether it makes sense to move the Bloomington functions to Champaign and Peoria. The Postal Service may also consolidate Effingham's operations into Champaign. The agency's Valerie Welsch said union agreements will determine whether jobs are simply cut or relocated. She said the study for Bloomington will be done in February or March.
The service said it's facing one of the most difficult challenges in history, with first class mail volume dropping by 25 percent in the last five years. Postal Service spokeswoman Beverly Howard said technology changes likely make that a permanent drop.
"We don't look at the volume, even with the economy picking back up, with it coming back to the levels that it needs to be," said Howard, who says the USPS wants to reduce about 40-percent of its capacity in the Great Lakes region.
Howard added that transportation and logistic networks are going to be changed.
"Just the capacity within the processing plant (will be examined)," he said. "Some are larger than others, come can hold certain types of equipment, and in some cases, carrier routes may be in the facilities, so we're looking at all of that."
Letters with postage stamps, or single piece first class mail, has dropped 36 percent in the same period. Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton said he hopes to reach out to the postmaster to find out what role citizens can play in the study. He said he hopes an argument can be made for Bloomington to gain jobs instead.
"Because of Bloomington's central location, I would hope they would consider the possiblity of consolidating other areas into Bloomington," said Stockton. "That's worked well with things like the airport which has gained from its central location."
The postal service will hold public hearings in areas marked for consolidation after it completes the study, and says it will consult its major corporate users, like State Farm Insurance. The Bloomington facility processes 8.5 pieces of mail a week for the Bloomington-Normal, Lasalle-Peru, and Kankakee areas.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to depart for China on Friday to lead an delegation of Illinois business and educational leaders. The governor told reporters this week he hopes his eight day mission will help improve trade relations with the country - and boost Illinois' economy.
Quinn said an increase in exports will create more jobs in Illinois.
"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said."That's part of the job of a governor nowadays, especially in the 21st century."
The delegation is scheduled to stop in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Illinois first opened a trade office in 1983.
Quinn said he plans to sign an agreement with China that would increase soybean exports. China, according to Quinn, is the third largest exporter for Illinois, behind Canada and Mexico.
According to the governor's office, Illinois exports to China have grown recently, totaling more than $3 billion last year. Key exports include machinery, electronics, chemicals and agricultural products.
During his time as mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley made several visits to China to promote business and tourism in the city. Quinn said he hopes his visit will further encourage Chinese tourism to Illinois, which grew to 97,000 visitors in 2010.
The governor also plans to visit Japan for a conference at the end of his trip to China. He is scheduled to return to Illinois on September 24. This is Quinn's second trip abroad this year -- he visited Israel in July.
The plan to merge the Illinois treasurer and comptroller's office is stuck in the state House of Representatives.
Combining the two offices that handle state finances could save Illinois an estimated $12 million, but the legislature hasn't signed off on the constitutional change.
State treasurer Dan Rutherford and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka both favor combining their offices into one. Topinka, a Republican, blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for keeping it "bottled up" in that chamber.
Madigan's spokesman denies that claim, saying the Speaker does believe the two offices have dramatically different duties, and the public's funds are best safeguarded when they're kept separate.
Illinois used to have one fiscal office known as the state's auditor, but in the '50s Orville Hodge used the office to rob the state. Madigan was part of the constitutional drafters who in 1970 separated the office's duties to prevent future scandals. Topinka said she understands that history.
"But the oversight angle of splitting those offices is long gone," Topinka said. "We have other ways of doing it. So now it's time to bring them back and avoid at least 20 percent duplication. That's easy pickings. For gosh sake's what does it take to figure it out? There is honestly no downside. No downside."
The Speaker's spokesman said Madigan believes the consolidation proposal as is doesn't have enough safeguards.
Republican presidential front-runner Rick Perry is planning to campaign in Indiana next month. The Texas governor accepted an invitation from state Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb to visit Indiana. Holcomb announced Thursday that Perry will stop in Indianapolis on Oct. 12.
Perry will be the fourth Republican presidential candidate to campaign in the state. Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made trips last month and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is scheduled to visit Indianapolis Sept. 23.
The combination of the state's late primary in May and nearly solid backing of Republican presidential candidates has typically meant few presidential candidates visiting the state.
That changed with the drawn-out 2008 Democratic battle during which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned heavily in Indiana.
The Champaign City Council is affirming its support for the agency set up to promote tourism for the area. But Mayor Don Gerard says he expects more accountability from the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau from now on.
Council members endorsed a new set of goals, principles and expectations for the CVB at Tuesday night's study session. Among other things, it calls for more proactive marketing from the bureau, and accountability that demonstrates a return on investment.
Mayor Don Gerard said he wants know what the Convention and Visitors Bureau is doing to promote Champaign right now, not just what it's done in the past.
"I want to take a fresh look at things as we're going, as per their day-to-day operations," Gerard said. "I want to know what is it are they doing there, 8 to 5 everyday? What sort of things are they doing? What sort of things are they going after? What sort of things did we used to have that they're either trying to bring back or replace? I just want to hold them to a very high standard."
Champaign is providing $223,000 to the Convention and Visitors Bureau this year --- at a time when Urbana has eliminated its funding. Several Champaign council members used Tuesday night's study session to praise the CVB, while pointing out Urbana's lack of support. The Urbana City Council is expected to revisit the topic at an upcoming meeting.
Lawyers accuse State Farm Insurance of lying about and trying to cover up the amount of company support in a massively expensive race for State Supreme Court back in 2004. A filing alleges fraud against the State Supreme Court.
The case involves a class action lawsuit involving State Farm's policies on use of after-market auto parts in repairs. In 2005, the State Supreme Court overturned a billion dollar judgment against the Bloomington insurance giant with the key vote of newly elected Justice Lloyd Karmeier.
The plaintiffs now want the high court to at least reconsider the case without Karmeier. And they'd prefer the original billion dollar verdict in their favor.
Court papers allege at the time, State Farm characterized its donations to Karmeier as...a limited number of officers and employees making quite modest contributions. In fact, the filing indicates an investigation by a retired FBI agent shows State Farm lobbyist Bill Shepherd helped recruit Karmeier for the race, and funneled loads of money through the Illinois Civil Justice League to Karmeier.
Bill Shepherd also was a member of the Civil Justice League's Executive Committee. State Farm then denied that Ed Murnane, the head of the Civil Justice League, ran Karmeier's campaign, something now confirmed by e-mails. The filing says Karmeier knew State Farm was bankrolling him to the tune of two and a half to four million dollar, or up to 56-percent of all his funding and still failed to recuse himself from the case.
The filing notes the billion dollar ruling in State Farm's favor is either a coincidence or an impressive rate of return on State Farm's investment. In either case, the argument goes, other justices should have disqualified Karmeier from hearing the issue because of a serious risk of actual bias.
The plaintiffs quote a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a different case that....just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause no man should be able to choose a judge in his own cause. The filing says State Farm's immense efforts created a constitutionally intolerable probability of bias and possibly denied them their due process rights.
State Farm responds to the new allegations by saying only that the case was decided years ago and the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the most important change in fighting terrorism over the past 10 years has been a new cooperation between the intelligence and law-enforcement communities. The cooperation is a result of the Patriot Act.
Prior to 9/11, there was a wall between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, he said. The wall arose largely as an effort to prevent domestic spying on U.S. citizens, but Fitzgerald said it meant there were two teams of people protecting the United States, and those teams weren't helping each other. He said he could get more information from an Al Qaida operative than he could get from some people in his own government.
"It used to be, 'Why should I share something with you? What is your need to know? And if someone finds out I shared it, how am I going to justify myself to my boss that I gave out that information?' That's been reversed. People now think, 'What is my duty to share? And if it's found out that I have information that I didn't share with someone, how am I going to justify to myself that I sat on it?'" he said.
Fitzgerald said now law enforcement regularly meets with the intelligence community, and he says that's been a key tool that wasn't available before 9/11.
He focused his comments in a speech Monday on assessing the war on terror, but Fitzgerald also took questions from the audience of business and civic leaders. One of the questions involved public corruption and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Fitzgerald wouldn't comment on Blagojevich's case, but he says too many people think corruption is a problem just for law enforcement.
"If I could have a dollar for everyone who's ever come up to me after we've convicted someone to say, 'Yes, we knew he or she was doing it all the time and we wondered when someone was going to get around to do something about it,' and I bite my lip, but I want to just smack them up side the head and say, 'Well the person you wanted to do something about it was you,'" Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald has been the U.S. Attorney in Chicago for 10 years. That's an unusually long tenure, but he says Chicago is his home and he loves his job and he has no plans to leave it.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
The National Weather Service says smoke from a forest fire in Minnesota is spreading into sections of northern Illinois.
The weather service says the smoke started moving into Illinois on Tuesday because of northerly winds moving behind a cold front. The fire is more than 400 miles northwest of Illinois. Forecasters say the smoke is expected to continue spreading across much of northern Illinois through Tuesday evening. Westerly winds are forecast in Illinois early Wednesday.
Residents should expect hazy skies and a burning odor. The fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a lake-dotted region along the Minnesota-Canada border, was sending a plume of smoke and haze across the Upper Midwest.
Those with burning eyes, respiratory conditions and difficulty breathing should use caution.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is airing another concern about gambling expansion that would add a new Danville casino and four others in the state.
Quinn has repeatedly harped about insufficient regulation in the bill and on Tuesday he said he was worried it could shortchange education funding.
But Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said Illinois would still get millions of new dollars if the expansion is approved, even with changes in the sliding scale for taxing casino revenues.
Quinn has talked down the expansion but the governor doesn't have the legislation yet to sign or veto. Lawmakers have held on to it since May to try to deal with Quinn's concerns.
Lang says Quinn has discussed items but not provided a specific list of changes to the bill.
At least two Champaign city council members believe the local convention and visitors bureau is a valuable asset.
But the level of the city's financial commitment to the Champaign County CVB will be weighed Tuesday night, two months after the city of Urbana chose to pull its $72 thousand in funding and use it instead for public safety. The Champaign County Board later provided a $15 thousand donation of its own.
City council member Tom Bruno calls the area a tourist attraction, but not a natural one that doesn't need the backing of promotions offered by the CVB. Fellow council member Marci Dodds also backs the agency, and sits on its board. But she questions if Champaign's CVB funding should benefit a community no longer supporting the agency.
"Do you want us to go out and say to the other people: 'you need to fully fund," Dodds said. "If you don't, you don't get the benefits of the CVB in quite the same way you did before. And I think that that's certainly something I'm comfortable with."
Dodds said it's a mistake long-term not to promote tourism in Champaign, since it will impact the region economically. She's also surveyed other council members, and says they also support funding the CVB at some level.
Bruno said supporting other communities, like Urbana, is unavoidable.
"It very well may be that it's difficult to attract people to the city of Champaign without having some of them choose to stay the night in Urbana," he said. "So because it's difficult to target that, it still may be in the city of Champaign's best interest to just generically attract people to this region."
Like the hiring of a new police officer, Bruno admits it's hard to track the benefits of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau funding does for the city.
The Champaign city council meets Tuesday night in a study session, beginning at 7. Bruno said he expects the council to take final action on CVB funding by October.
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