Twenty five years ago this week, the Champaign area was all about Farm Aid. The 12-hour event in Champaign, Illinois featured more than 40 acts, including organizers Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. It drew in more than $9 million dollars to help the nation's struggling farmers. But beyond raising money, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports that the concert helped shed light on the challenges facing farmers in the 1980s.
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Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden believes the dispute over a University of Illinois campus early voting site has been settled, and local officials won't be taking him to court.
Many Democrats on the Champaign County Board and members of the U of I Student Senate want registration and voting at the Illini Union, but Shelden prefers moving it to a vacant storefront about a half mile from there. A new state law requires that each public university provide such a site in a high traffic location. Shelden contends the Union an inappropriate location for early voting because of heavy political activity... and it's hard for those off campus to get to. And he disputes the argument that voters won't find the alternate site at 700 South Gregory Street.
"I certainly would consider it high traffic," said Shelden. "And I think it's a little bit disappointing when people say, 'nobody can find that' or 'nobody knows where it's at.' It's across from Rosati's Pizza which is a really popular campus location. I just don't see that there's going to be any getting students there. It's actually closer to more people where they live than the union is."
Shelden says he's meeting with the student Senate on Wednesday with hopes of convincing them that the Gregory Street location will best serve voters. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says county clerks don't have unregulated discretion over an early voting site. But Shelden says county board members have backed off on talk of going to court over the voting site. County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty also says he'd like to avoid legal action, but he does say students and U of I employees would prefer voting at the Union.
"The union, as I understand it, has set up to allow for parking in the circle drive up front," said McGinty. "It would be free as I understand it. The other location would come with a rent - I think it's $800 a month. There are a lot of people who think the logical location is the union. The clerk has a different opinion. The board doesn't have any control over it. " A resolution on paying for a campus early voting site is on Thursday's Champaign County Board agenda.
One of the big purple insect traps across Champaign County has caught the county's first confirmed emerald ash borer.
The state Department of Agriculture says it found the insect in a trap hanging at the village of Rantoul's Prairie Pine Campgrounds. Spokesman Jeff Squibb says the discovery will likely mean that the quarantine placed over 23 Illinois counties will eventually be extended south to Champaign. Squibb says it's nearing the end of flying season for adult emerald ash borers -- but their destructive work is just beginning, and he says the beetle is likely in Champaign County to stay.
"The adults lay eggs underneath the bark of ash trees," said Squibb. "Those eggs will hatch, and the larvae will start feasting on the inner wood beneath the bark. And it's actually the larvae that causes the damage to the ash trees." Squibb says the quarantine will ban the transportation of firewood from Champaign County to other states, as well as transporting all parts of local ash trees. The pest was also discovered at the Three Rivers Rest Area off Interstate 80 in the Grundy County town of Morris.
If the city council approves on Tuesday, the city of Champaign will pay $ 470 thousand to the family of Kiwane Carrington, to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even before the Champaign County state's attorney ruled that the shooting of the 15-year-old Carrington last October was accidental, his family had sued the city for wrongful death and survivors' benefits.
Champaign city attorney Frederick Stavins says the $470 thousand settlement is an effort by the city and the family to put Kiwane Carrington's death behind them --- and does not represent an admission of guilt by the city.
"There are no admissions in the case of negligence or wrongdoing," says Stavins. "What this does is, it brings peace between the parties. It allows the parties to go on. Speculating about what would happen now is a moot point."
Carrington was killed last October during an altercation with police investigating a report of a possible break-in at the home of a family friend where the 15 year old often stayed. The officer involved, Daniel Norbits, is appealing a 30 day suspension he received for not handling his weapon properly during the incident.
City Council member Will Kyles says he's ready to approve the settlement, if it's what the family wants. The Carrington shooting led to heavy criticism of Champaign Police relations with African-Americans, especially with young people. But Kyles says those relations have improved in the past year, thanks to increased community involvement.
"That's the key ingredient to healing, is community, city and police working together", says Kyles. "And I've seen a lot of that going with, with the Six Initiatives, CCAP, and the countless meetings that don't get broadcast, but occur on a weekly basis."
Kyles referred to City Manager Steve Carter's six initiatives for improving police-community relations, and the Champaign Community and Police Partnership, a city-organized panel of city and African-American community leaders. But Campaign officials have resisted calls from critics to form a citizen police review board, similar to the panel in Urbana.
Attorney James Montgomery, representing the Carrington Estate, says the family is pleased that the lawsuit has been settled. But Champaign City Council approval is still needed before any money is paid out.
A team assigned with looking at the best use of space on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says classrooms need to be better set up with high-tech equipment.
U of I Physics chair Dale Van Harlingen led a team to examine Space Utilization, the last area to be reviewed this year as part of the 'Stewarding Excellence' initiative to trim expenses. Van Harlingen says space is handled well for the most part, and that unit administrators should have the greatest say over how classrooms are used. But he says it's bad for a campus of the U of I's stature to have classrooms that don't equal the facilities of where students learned previously. "The students have come to expect that," said Van Harlingen. "They come from high schools where large investments have been made in technology. And we should be matching that. We should be a model for that. We felt like there should be more space, more attention given to building buildings specifically for teaching - lecture halls, and classroom space instead of only responding to needs of donors."
Van Harlingen says a long-term problem of failing to invest in maintenance is partly to blame when being squeezed for space. Buildings like Lincoln Hall and a portion of the Natural History Building aren't being used now because of structural problems. "I think there's always going to be debate," said Van Harlingen. "I think everyone agreed you should renovate Lincoln Hall. But the question becomes - how far down that list do you go? Because for the same cost of renovating Lincoln Hall, you could build probably several, very good modern teaching facilities."
Van Harlingen also recommends that committees be formed to study space needs in more detail, and get out of all leased space in the Champaign-Urbana area.
The Champaign County Coroner's office has identified the man whose body was found face down in a retention pond in north Champaign yesterday. He's identified as 19-year old Aaron Williams of Champaign. Coroner Duane Northup says Williams drowned.
The body was discovered by a passerby just before 4 pm in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Williams' death remains under investigation by the Coroner's office and Champaign Police.
NOTE: This story was updated at 12:30 PM on Thursday, September 16th.
Parents in the Danville school district who called a special hotline Thursday morning were greeted with good news --- class would be back in session.
The resumption of classes ended a three-day strike by teachers and support staff. District 118 superintendent Mark Denman said he was happy to announce that the two sides had reached agreement on a two-year contract, in a seven-hour bargaining session Wednesday night.
"We have come to a good compromise between both sides that will be mutually beneficial for the district," he said.
The Danville School Board is set to consider the agreement Monday night. Members of the Danville Education Association approved the new contract overwhelmingly at a meeting before classes began Thursday morning, according to Sean Burns of the Illinois Education Association.
Burns said he believes that while union members had to give up some of the things they sought, they gained in other areas that go beyond money.
"Oftentimes, these are really about the relationships, and about people feeling like they're being respected," said Burns. "And I think that the DEA members were standing up for something that they believed in, and for their own self-respect and dignity. And I think that has a lot to do with why they overwhelmingly ratified the contract.
Union Vice-President Corey Pullin, who has been with District 118 for 11 years, said this was Danville's first teachers' strike since 1977. He added that this strike was a sign of how serious his membership was about the contract.
"To my knowledge, we hadn't even taken an intent-to-strike vote since '87," said Pullin. "So just doing that, preparing for all this, was a big step for our members."
Neither side is releasing details about the new contract, until the Danville School Board considers it on Monday night. Pullin acknowledged there is agreement that the district will use federal stimulus money to bring back some laid off staff members between now and the next school year, but Denman has cautioned that while the money may provide some temporary relief to Danville's schools, it is not a permanent fix to Illinois' fiscal problems.
A body has been found in a pond north of Interstate 74 in Champaign.
Champaign Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn says a passerby discovered the deceased male face down in the water just before 4 Wednesday afternoon in the 300 block of West Marketview Drive. Emergency workers used a boat to get to the body.
Dunn says the Champaign County Coroner's Office is investigating. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday morning in Bloomington.
Champaign County Board members voted 15 to 11 in committee Tuesday night to put a referendum making the county auditor an appointed post on the April 2011 ballot. Board members voted the same way they had 13 months ago, when they slated the measure for the November ballot. That vote turned out to be legally premature --- state law says a referendum must be approved to go on the ballot within a year of the election date.
Despite the delay, supporters like Republican Greg Knott of District Four say it's clear that an elected county auditor is not needed.
"Very seldom does the current auditor ever come and really recommend changes or point out things other than the very obvious that the county or departments within the county could use the advice on," says Knott, referring to Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri. "His staff does all the work. So at this point, it's a surplus position, in my opinion."
Fabri, a Democrat, disagrees. He says the auditor's office needs to be led by someone elected by the people, who can act as an independent monitor of county finances. He says referendum supporters are trying to weaken the office because of their opposition to him. But Knott says problems with the office go back several decades in Champaign County.
Fabri also questions referendum supporters for wanting to place the question on the April ballot, after losing their chance on the November ballot. The November election is a general election, expected to attract more voters than the local elections in April. Fabri says the referendum supporters hope to benefit from the lower spring election turnout.
"I think they're trying to game the system. And they think that in the municipal election, when Urbana, for example, has no municipal election at all, and probably won't have many contested school board elections, I think they believe they'll get a better voter turnout for their side of the argument."
But the Democratic co-sponsor of the referendum, Steve Beckett, says the political maneuvering was actually done earlier --- when Champaign County Democratic Chairman Al Klein spotted the state election rule that disqualified an earlier county board vote to bring the referendum to voters in November. Beckett says Klein waited until it was too late to fix anything before bringing up the matter.
"If he had alerted the board prior to the time that he did, we could have corrected the technical problems with the prior draft, and had it on the ballot for this November,", says Beckett.
The District Nine county board member says he also has concerns about holding the auditor referendum in April, but doesn't want to delay it until 2012, when candidates for auditor will be on the ballot, too.
The Champaign County Board will take a final vote on whether to put the auditor referendum on the April 2011 ballot, at their general meeting September 23rd.
The Danville teacher's strike has prompted a couple of community organizations to help working parents.
The executive director of the Danville Family YMCA, John Alexander, said the facility's Days Off program has been extended and operating as if it were a holiday or other day that kids have off from school. He said staff from the YMCA's Before and After School programs have helped out, with child care available from 7 am to 6 pm. The center allowed 22 kids to stay there on Tuesday. With the strike lasting at least through Wednesday, Alexander said he expects that total to go up, but he said some parents still are not sure what to do.
"We're getting calls from parents - they're trying to look at their options," said Alexander. "Especially if they have maybe a relative that's willing to watch the kids a couple of days, they may bring their children in on those other days when a relative or friend may not be able to take care of them. So they're trying to judge just exactly how to take care and handle this situation."
Alexander said the Y's before and after school staff will be available as long as the District 118 strike goes on.
"Their hours are longer because of the fact that we're open from 7 to 6, but we're also not conducting those school responsibilities and what we call our Y-Kids program at each of those for schools," said Alexander. "So, it's a little bit of a trade off in that case. Longer hours, but we do have a rotation of staff to try and pick up the slack."
The YMCA charges $21 a day for the Days Off program. The Boys and Girls Club of Danville is also providing child care in the wake of the District 118 strike. The next negotiations for the teacher's union with the school board and a federal mediator are set for 6 pm Wednesday.