Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 21, 2011

Danville Considers Tweaking Vacant Building Ordinance

Danville landlords complained about the vacant building ordinance passed a couple of years ago. Now, the Danville City Council is considering some of their suggested changes.

City officials intended to crack down on neglected buildings by imposing a $500 fee if such buildings weren't fixed up within a year. But Corporation Counsel David Wesner said the revised ordinance would allow a longer repair period, if the building owner submits a progress plan to the city. Wesner said if passed, landlords would no longer be limited to a specific time period for making repairs, as long as work was being done in a reasonable period of time.

"What we're saying is that we understand that it may take you eight more months besides the first six to get that roof replaced," Wesner said. "Under this language, that would be OK, whereas before, they would not."

Danville Area Landlord Association Vice President Jerry Hawker welcomes the proposal. He said the one-year requirement --- which included a $500 annual fee for buildings that were repaired on time--- ended up driving landlords away from Danville properties.

"A lot of landlords just quit buying the fix up houses that they knew would take more than a year to fix up," Hawker said. "So those houses have just been sitting vacant. I think this is a very positive step both for the landlords and for the city. "

The proposed changes also include a tighter definition of a vacant building to mean one that is not only legally unoccupied, but also determined to be unsafe, or not properly secured.

Wesner said they incorporated some, but not all of the changes proposed by the Landlord Association into the measure. Hawker said the measure is a result of improved relations between the Landlord Association and Danville city officials.

The proposal goes before the Danville City Council Public Services Committee Tuesday evening.

Categories: Politics
Tags: politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 21, 2011

Video of Champaign Arrest Leaked Online

A police video showing the arrest of a Champaign man in the University of Illinois Campustown area last June has been posted anonymously online. The footage raises questions about the use of force within the Champaign Police Department.

Taken from a police car's dash camera, the video runs for about an hour. It shows an officer pepper-spraying a college-age African American male.

At the start of the video, the young man is shown walking with a young woman on the evening of June 5. The man claims that the woman is his sister.

A squad car pulls up near them and a police officer detains the man. The man's attorney said he was ultimately ticketed for jaywalking and arrested for resisting police, but the resisting arrest charge was later dropped. Within about 10 seconds, the police officer who apprehended him pulls out pepper spray and shoots it at him.

The man is then handcuffed and led into a police car. In another camera angle from within the car, the man urges officers not to touch him. A police officer then puts his hands on the man's neck while he is still handcuffed, and pushes him down to the side of the car out of the shot of the video. After a few seconds, the officer exits the car.

"Take me to jail! Take me to jail!" the man said. "You have no reason to choke me."

The names of the officer and Champaign man arrested have not been released. Illinois Public Media has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Champaign for the arrest record of the incident.

The young man's attorney, Mark Lipton, said both he and his client didn't want this video to surface. Lipton said they don't know who made it public. But Lipton said it is clear that police used excessive force.

"I guess I would hope this would affect police policies, procedures, and training," Lipton said. "I would hope that police would have exercised discretion and had the officer not made any stop for this rather minor jaywalking instant, we wouldn't be having this discussion today."

The Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center linked to the YouTube video Monday morning. The IMC's co-founder Danielle Chynoweth said it is the IMC's policy to allow anyone to publish content to its site. She noted that her group doesn't track the Internet addresses of its posters. Chynoweth said she thinks it is important that the public be allowed to see the video's content.

"This is basically a public venue in which people can post anything to the site," Chynoweth said. "The only decision that the IMC takes is whether or not to feature that. The IMC editorial group chose to feature that story. But any story can be posted by anyone, including any piece of video, audio, photography, etc."

Police department personnel investigated the case, and Chief R.T. Finney issued a finding that the officer's actions regarding 'use of force' were within police and training standards. Meanwhile, Champaign City Manager Steve Carter said a possible investigation of the arrest by state police could start later this week.

"These are very difficult circumstances, and we'll want to take a look at what's the right thing to come out of this for both of those," Carter said Sunday before the video was leaked. "So, the individual case needs to be resolved for sure. Wherever that leads us is where we need to go. "

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he is 'gravely disappointed' the police video was posted online, saying it is counteractive to anything the city is trying to achieve in terms of police-community relations. The mayor added that he is 'very confident' that state police will investigate the June 5 arrest.

"I hoping that despite (the video being released) that whatever actions the city and the state's attorney take aren't compromised," Gerard said.

Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 20, 2011

Champaign Police Arrest Investigation Could Begin this Week

Little has been released regarding a police video of an arrest made last summer by Champaign Police, but City Manager Steve Carter says a possible investigation by state police could start later this week.

Carter wouldn't elaborate on what he calls 'troubling' behavior by a city police officer on June 5, other than to say pepper spray was used and the officer's tactics were in question. Police department personnel investigated, and Chief R.T. Finney issued a finding that the officer's actions regarding 'use of force" were within police and training standards.

"The responsibility of ensuring a complete and accurate investigation into the actions of police department personnel falls solely within my office as the Chief of Police," Finney said in a statement. "I continue to have complete support and confidence in the men and women who work at the Champaign Police Department."

The names of the officer and Champaign man arrested haven't been released. Although the incident happened in June, Carter only saw the in-car video last Wednesday - brought to his attention by Councilman Tom Bruno. Carter said the primary goal is seeing this case resolved, so there is justice for both the individual and the officer.

"These are very difficult circumstances, and we'll want to take a look at what's the right thing to come out of this for both of those," Carter said. "So, the individual case needs to be resolved for sure. Wherever that leads us is where we need to go. "

Carter said the broader issue is that of policy related to use of force, and how it impacts police complaints. He said that is why outside experts will be brought in to review that policy.

Bruno said he is waiting for a thorough investigation to take place before he jumps to any conclusions about whether excessive force was used in the arrest. He added that this case could have an impact on discussions about a possible citizens police review board:

"When the decision is made to pursue with the idea of a citizens review board - it's instances like this that the public and the city council will take into consideration to determine whether a citizen's review board would be a helpful tool," Bruno said.

There have been new calls for a citizens police review board in Champaign in the wake of the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington. A number of citizens also allege officers beat 18-year old Calvin Miller on the night of his arrest on the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2011.

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles brought up the idea last month of creating a committee to review complaints against the Champaign Police Department. After watching the police video, Kyles questions whether excessive force was used, and that may justify the need for a citizens' police review panel.

"This is an example of why we should have a police citizen review board, and kind of look at these issues," he said. "That is a great argument. Me being the person that brought the citizen review board back up."

Carter and Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz met with State Police on Friday. He said they will decide in a few days whether to investigate the incident.

At the request of the individual's family, there are no current plans to release the police video to the media or public. However, Illinois Public Media has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain footage from the police dash camera.

The city is also in the process of seeking a new police chief. Finney announced last summer that he was retiring, and Deputy Chief Holly Nearing will take over as interim chief on Dec. 5. Both staffing changes aren't related to the June 5 arrest, according to Carter.

Last week, Carter announced four finalists for the police department's top chief.

Related Video: Champaign City Manager Steve Carter talks about the incident


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 20, 2011

Ill. Gets Highest Rating from MADD

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has given Illinois its highest rating for the state's efforts to combat impaired driving.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's glad the organization has recognized Illinois "as a national leader in the fight against drunk driving.''

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crash deaths have dropped by more than 38 percent since White took office.

IDOT reports there were 711 alcohol-related crash deaths in 1999, compared to 436 last year.

This marks the 5th year that MADD has released a national and state rankings report.

The group's rating system focused on efforts including sobriety checkpoints, enhanced penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, among other measures.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Ill. Board Proposes New Rules to Evaluate Teachers

Illinois education officials have taken another step toward dramatically overhauling the way principals and teachers are evaluated.

The Illinois State Board of Education on Friday gave preliminary approval to rules that would require that student performance be taken into account when evaluating public school educators.

The rules now go out for public comment, and the board will reconsider them for final approval after the first of the year.

Officials say the change is part of a national trend as more states link educator performance evaluations to how students are doing.

All Illinois schools are making the change under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010. The legislation was the result of discussions between administrators, teachers, legislators and unions.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Trial Ends in Illinois Redistricting Lawsuit

A trial to decide a Republican lawsuit over the state's new Democrat-drawn congressional map has ended in federal court in Chicago.

The decision now rests with a three-judge panel that promised to work "very hard.'' Deadlines are looming to file petitions for next year's U.S. House races, although the judges seem inclined to push them back.

Prominent Republicans, including all but one Republican congressman from Illinois, have sued to stop the Democrats' map. Republicans say it will decimate their recent gains in Congress and dilute Latino voting influence.

Attorneys representing the state defended the map and said it didn't deprive Latinos of their voting strength. They stressed Latino lawmakers and some interest groups support the new map.

The losing side can eventually appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Exelon Moves Closer to Merger

Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.

Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.

Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.

Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.

Categories: Business, Energy, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Champaign Co. Board Backs Naming Courthouse After Former State’s Attorney

The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution to name Urbana's federal courthouse after the county's first African-American elected official.

James Burgess was selected as state's attorney in 1972.

The 19-to-8 vote means a resolution with Burgess' name will be passed on to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson with hopes of gaining their approval. Burgess' son, Steve Burgess, told the board last night he's already talked with two of those three.

"I am waiting for a decision from Senator Durbin whether or not - not to say it's going to happen, but at least make a decision whether he thinks this is the right thing to by introducing a bill," he said. "He may ultimately decide that it's not, and I'm okay with that. But I think I'm at least entitled to having a decision from them, yes or no."

Burgess' effort to place his late father's name on the courthouse has lasted more than a year. Democrat Tom Betz said he knew and admired Burgess, but says the method for placing any name on a building is flawed.

"I have slowly but surely reached the conclusion that it's such a divisive process that we would be wise not to actually name some of these buildings," he said. "Call it what it is - it's the United States District Court for this district. Just as it's the Champaign County Courthouse. I don't think it needs to bear any name other than that at this point."

Burgess, who died in 1997, was a Democrat. But Betz and four other Democrats voted against the measure: Geraldo Rosales, Lloyd Carter, Ralph Langenheim, and Pattsi Petrie. Republicans Diane Michaels, Ron Bensyl, and Steve Moser also opposed it.

Democrat Chris Alix suggested the idea. He calls Burgess an inspirational story for not only his time as a state's attorney and US Attorney during the 70's and 80's, but as a World War II veteran with the 761st Tank Battalion.

(Photo Courtesy of Museum of the Grand Prairie, Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Carbon Sequestration Begins at Research Project in Decatur

A research project studying a method to keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere got down to business this week. After three years of preparations, the Illinois Basin-Decatur project began injecting CO2 from an ethanol plant into the ground more than a mile deep.

Robert Finley with the Illinois Geological Survey at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute said the CO2 injections will continue for another three years, until a million metric tons of the gas is embedded in the massive Mount Simon underground sandstone formation. Finley said Mount Simon offers a big potential at a place for storing CO2 emissions.

"The Mt Simon sandstone at Decatur is 1,650 feet thick, and we'll be storing only in the lower several hundred feet of this unit, and this rock unit is quite laterally extensive," Finley explained. "It covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky."

The Illinois Basin-Decatur project is located on the Archer Daniels Midland campus in Decatur, and uses CO2 from an ADM ethanol plant. The U of I's Illinois State Geological Survey is the lead agency for the project, which is one of seven around the country funded by the U-S Department of Energy, and the second to begin actual sequestration. Finley said the carbon sequestration process has started smoothly --- and the long-term question is whether the gas can be pumped underground continuously without leaking.

He said their findings will be applied to another, larger carbon sequestration project, for which ADM is taking the lead. A training and education center for the larger project is being built at Decatur's Richland Community College.

Eventually, Finley said the experience and knowledge gained from the projects at Decatur can help other carbon sequestration projects --- like the FutureGen project which will bury CO-2 emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Illini Improve to 3-0, Injured Football Player in Crowd

Illinois beat Lipscomb 79 to 64 Thursday night, before about 6,000 fans who braved freezing winds to watch the latest installment of the Cancun Challenge at the Assembly Hall.

Lipscomb kept the game close in the first half. Junior forward Tyler Griffey says his team wasn't collecting enough hustle points -- for steals, charges-taken and turnovers -- what's known as the Matto chart after the late Matt Heldman.

"We only had 17 on the Matto, and ended up with 45," said Griffey, "So that (the team) was really stressed at the halftime peptalk. We came out, we had to play harder. Just do the little things. Cut hard, play defense, just get shutouts."

The Illini broke the game open with a 14-0 run, holding the Bison scoreless for nearly six minutes. DJ Richardson and Sam Maniscalco led the Illini with 17 and 15 points, respectively.

Illinois is now 2-0 in the Cancun Challenge. Among the spectators was U of I football player Trulon Henry, who was shot in the hand early Sunday morning when a gunman fired into a crowd at a party at a house on South Lincoln Avenue near campus. Two others were injured, one critically. The gunman remains at large.

Also in the challenge Thursday night, Illinois State beat SIU Edwardsville 68 to 38 for their first game in the tournament. ISU plays Lipscomb tomorrow afternoon. And the 8 participating teams continue play in Cancun, Mexico next Tuesday and Wednesday.

(Photo courtesy of Rob McColley, Smile Politely.com)

Categories: Education, Sports

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