Illinois Public Media News
As the national debate over health care ensues, the Illinois Supreme Court is considering a case over a Urbana hospital's tax status. The outcome, claim hospital officials, could lead to reduced medical services and higher prices.
Justices will have to decide if Provena Covenant Medical Center provided enough free or discounted care to poor patients to qualify as tax exempt. The state in 2003 determined the answer was no and forced the Catholic-run hospital to pay property taxes.
Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel defended the state's action before the court. He says the year before, only 300 of Provena's 110 thousand admissions received charity care, not enough to deserve tax breaks.
"It doesn't matter whether an organization itself is charitable," Siegel told the high court. "What matters is whether its using the property for a charitable purpose."
But Provena's attorney, Patrick Coffey, argues the hospital qualifies because it cared for any and all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
"It doesn't matter what amount of charity, here free care ... was given," Cofey said. "Free care was given without limit."
The court's decision has widespread ramifications statewide. If nonprofit hospitals have to pay taxes, there's speculation they would increase prices or cut back services. The high court is expected to issue an opinion in coming months.
A new member of the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees says talks could begin as soon as Thursday morning on seeking out an interim replacement for President B. Joseph White.
In Chicago, Karen Hasara and the two other members of the Ad Hoc Committee on University Personnel Matters are scheduled to meet Thursday for the first time. The former Springfield Mayor says initial discussions towards appointing that interim could be part of that meeting. Most of it is expected to take place in closed session.
Hasara says she respects White for stepping down, saying it was probably in the best interest of the university. But she's unsure yet about what the fate of Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman should be.
"We really haven't gotten into details of what to do about that", says Hasara. "We've gotten letters, quite a few letters in support of him, and of course, the faculty vote not in support. But that will be the next big decision, I believe --- besides an interim
Hasara says she still needs time to read up on all the reports on improper admissions at the U of I, and who was responsible for them. But she says it will be important to get all Trustees together to discuss the future of university leadership.
Meanwhile, David Dorris --- one of the trustees who resigned in the wake of the admissions scandal --- also commends White for deciding to step down. But Dorris says White was not an effective president, and a change was in order.
Dorris says that after contacts with other former trustees, he believes that a majority of them shared his view. He says they arrived at that conclusion, before the admissions scandal broke. "We just thought it was time for a change in direction for the University of Illinois" says Dorris, "because his leadership as the president had been ineffective, and we thought that we could do better."
Dorris accuses White of mishandling the Global Campus project, and events leading up to the retirement of Chief Illiniwek ---although he doesn't include the Chief's retirement itself as a count against him. Dorris also says that the administration under White circumvented the board's rehiring policy, meant to keep employees from collecting a U of I pension and working for the university at the same time. And he accuses White of keeping 30-million dollars off the university's books without telling the board --- money that suddenly appeared in time to pay skyrocketing utility bills.
Dorris was alarmed by Governor Pat Quinn's comments on a Chicago radio station Wednesday morning suggesting that a replacement for White might be named that very day. That's turned out not to be the case, but Dorris says he's concerned that Quinn might be trying to engineer what should be the board's choice of an interim and eventually a permanent president for the university. Quinn has said it will be up to the Board of Trustees to decide White's successor.
David Dorris was one of seven U of I trustees who resigned in the wake of the admissions scandal --- only one, Ed MacMillan, was reappointed by Quinn. Dorris says the next U of I president needs to be a genuinely excellent choice, with stronger academic credentials in place of White's business background.
University of Illinois President Joseph White has confirmed his resignation, effective December 31st, in a letter today to U of I Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy.
That date will end a nearly 5-year tenure that was tarnished by the university's admissions scandal involving politically-backed applicants. University Spokesman Tom Hardy says he expects U of I trustees to hold a special meeting to name an interim president prior to their regularly scheduled November 12th meeting in Springfield. He says that person would assume leadership in January, and along with the trustees, oversee a national search for a permanent replacement, who could be in place by fall of 2010.
But Hardy says White still plans on being heavily involved with the U of I in other areas. "He's grown very close to the university community at large, and Urbana," says White. "He intends to make his home in Urbana and to continue to work with the university in a variety of capacities, chief among them being teaching and fundraising." The 62-year old White came to the U of I in January 2005 from the University of Michigan, where he served as a faculty member and administrator. By stepping down early from a contract that was extended last year, he will forgo a $475,000 retention bonus that would have kicked in next February. His current contract would have expired on June 30, 2011.
More material regarding President White's resignation can be found at the link below.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to receive the resignation of the University of Illinois' president today.
The governor made his remarks on a Chicago radio station and repeated them before a breakfast he attended in Chicago this morning. There's been no official response from White or the University. Joseph White has come under scrutiny from university faculty members and the public for his part in an admissions scandal. Earlier this year - the Chicago Tribune reported the university accepted unqualified students who had connections to political clout. White has served as president since 2005. Chris Kennedy chairs the university board of trustees. When asked at the same breakfast featuring the governor this morning, Kennedy wouldn't comment this morning on White's resignation. Nor would Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman when we contacted his office this morning.
A Central Illinois program that helps ex-felons transition into jobs and homes lost its funding this summer. Now its executive director wants to know how a number of new parolees returning to the Decatur area will seek out such services.
Decatur's Promise Community Center used to receive a 100-thousand grant to help those getting out of prison. But most of those funds helped those leaving a prison in East St. Louis, and few of them relocating in Decatur. So the grant ended June 30th, and will be shifted to East St. Louis at a later date. Promise Center Executive Director Reverend Leroy Smith says that makes sense, but he's concerned about the additional 1000 parolees that Governor Pat Quinn plans to release within a month. Smith says the Promise Center is basically a one-man operation, in which he takes a handful of referrals.
"I'm a person who, if I'm making a commitment, I will follow through," Smith said. "And our organization is known to do that."
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith says there's been no breakdown as to where the 1000 non-violent early-released prisoners will come from, but she assures there won't be a logjam of parolees in programs like the Promise Center.
"With that early release of inmates, Governor Quinn has allocated us two million dollars to help with that, which will help us electronically monitor those parolees as well as set up an increase support services that they may need," the spokeswoman said.
Reverend Smith says he still plans to advocate for ex-felons when possible. He still serves on an executive committee for prisoner re-entry under Governor Quinn.
Residents of the tiny Illinois town where five family members were slain in their home are anxiously awaiting any word to settle their nerves after authorities warned them to lock their doors at night.
Investigators are following leads but no arrests have been made or suspects identified in the killings in Beason in Logan County, near Lincoln.
Logan County Sheriff Steven Nichols calls the killings "brutal homicide.'' But he's not providing details about how the family died.
Autopsies were to be conducted Tuesday, but no results have been released.
The victims include a couple and their children ages 16, 14 and 11. A 3-year-old girl also survived the attack. The girl's grandmother identified her as another of the couple's daughters.
Champaign city officials are preparing a zoning change on Green Street meant to encourage continued development in Campustown.
Green Street in Campustown has changed in the past decade. Flood control measures on Boneyard Creek have encouraged construction of tall buildings, and new street and sidewalk design encourages walking over driving. Architect Joshua Daley of Campus Property Management complimented the change during Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session: "I think the incredible transformation of Green Street over the last ten years from Fourth to Wright is an example of a central Illinois city coming back to life."
Now, city planners want to create a zoning overlay on Green Street from 3rd Street west to the railroad tracks, to steer development in the same direction as the blocks to the east. The change would allow for taller buildings, require them to be placed closer to the sidewalk, and reduce commercial parking requirements. City Planner TJ Blakeman says they want the strip malls and other buildings with big parking lots on that part of Green Street to eventually disappear.
"Any time you scoot the building 30 feet back", says Blakeman, "you no longer invite pedestrians as easily into the space. You're inviting a car to park in front of it. So, long term, we don't want to see the parking in the front."
The concept won the endorsement of city council members Tuesday night. Mayor Jerry Schweighart gave his endorsement with the understanding that current buildings on Green Street would not be forced to change.
UI Professor's Innovations Make Him a MacArthur "Genius
If you hear about someone pursuing their wildest dreams with a monetary windfall, the first thing to come to mind might be a lottery winner. But as AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, the latest half-millionaire in Illinois has worked hard for the reward.
The soybean aphid was first discovered in Illinois just nine years ago, but an expert says this growing season was the first time the insect has made its presence known downstate.
University of Illinois crop sciences professor Mike Gray says this year's cooler weather lured aphids to Central and Southern Illinois - and that many people confuse the tiny insects with gnats. They use their needle-like mouths to remove fluids from the soybean plant early in the growing season.
Gray says the aphids will seek out two different plants to survive. He says they must feed on soybeans during much of their life cycle... but they will also seek out buckthorn, or woody perennials found along fence rows to exist and reproduce during the next few months:
"Next year after winter, a soybean plants begin to emerge in farmers' fields, we'll get the formation of winged aphids again", says Gray. "And they will fly from buckthorn into these emerging soybean fields. And they'll spend the summer and the growing season out there."
A single soybean plant can contain hundreds of aphids, or thousands if they go untreated by insecticide. Gray says farmers need to address the problem by July or early August.
The mayor of Urbana says the best way to provide Big Broadband service in Champaign-Urbana is to have city government run the system.
The Big Broadband project's application for federal stimulus money envisions a system where any and all service providers can share the infrastructure and compete against each other. But Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says city government is best suited to provide Big Broadband --- Internet, TV and phone service --- to homes and businesses.
"Other cities have done this successfully", says Prussing, "and they're able to offer the customers a lower price --- and make money for the city, which benefits the customers as taxpayers."
Prussing says city government could get an exclusive lock on operating Big Broadband service by building and owning the final leg of optic fiber to homes and businesses. Except for about 46-hundred homes in underserved areas, that infrastructure won't be included in the first phase of Big Broadband now waiting for federal funding.
The idea was discussed at Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. Prussing says her city --- with possibly Champaign joining them --- may hire a consultant to study the matter.
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