Illinois Public Media News
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's YouTube comment about President Obama hurt race relations in the city. So say five African-Americans who commented at Tuesday night's city council meeting. But Schweighart says his comments weren't about race, but the U-S Constitution. I
Jerome Chambers of the local N-double-C-P and former Champaign County Board Chair Patricia Avery were among local African-Americans who told Schweighart that his statement doubting that Barack Obama was born in the U-S, showed disrespect towards the nation's first black president. Jamar Brown, who serves on Champaign's Human Relations Commission told the mayor his comments hurt attempts to mend relations between the city and African-Americans in the wake of last October's fatal police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
"When I hear negative comments towards you", said Brown, "one of the biggest things that I've always said to people is that, whether you like him or not, he is still our mayor and deserves that respect. And I will end it by asking, doesn't the president of the United States of American deserve that same respect?"
But Schweighart stood by the comments he made to an interviewer during a Tea Party rally last week.
"My concern was not with the color of the president setting in the United States", said Schweighart. "It was concern with the constitutional questions that I have great concern about. Somehow, it's got turned around to be a racial thing."
And Schweighart says that's a misconception, citing years of working with the local African-American community as a council member and former police officer.
Schweighart had at least one apparent supporter at the Tuesday night meeting. Champaign resident Keith Whited came to the meeting, carrying a sign calling for President Obama's impeachment.
For the first time in decades, all of the countywide candidates in Champaign County will run unopposed.
The filing deadline for parties to slate challengers passed Monday. County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Clerk Mark Shelden and Treasurer Dan Welch - all Republicans - have no opposition in November unless someone files a petition as an independent in the next two months.
County Democratic chairman Al Klein says the incumbents are very strong candidates with multiple terms behind them.
"We have openings in some strong Republican county board districts, so it's difficult to find candidates who could run substantial campaigns," Klein said. "We have one good county board candidate in District 1."
That district, covering the Mahomet area, has also been traditionally Republican, but Klein says he has confident in candidate Eric Thorsland.
Several Champaign County Board races will also be foregone conclusions if no one runs as an independent - Republicans will be unopposed in districts 2, 3 and 4, while Democrats will take at least one seat in district 9. The Green Party has no candidates in any county race this fall.
A new wish list of capital projects for state universities includes $50 million for the eventual renovation of the biggest libraries on the University of Illinois campus.
But the request for capital money forwarded to the Illinois Board of Higher Education would have to pass muster with state lawmakers who are already battling serious financial troubles, and the U of I still hasn't received some of the funds it was promised from the last capital plan, passed last year.
U of I leaders want to transform the main and undergraduate libraries to meet 21st century needs. The library's assistant dean for facilities, Jeff Schrader, says some minor projects are taking place with money the system has on hand.
"We have just gotten approval to start on a $5 million envelope project which will involve replacing windows and masonry pointing. And we have another $2 million project on the FY 2010 capital development budget for the exterior renovation of the main library also."
The overall library plan totals more than $300 million dollars over the next eight years - it would eventually add a first-floor to the undergrad library, which is currently totally underground. It would become a special-collections library while the main facility would also be expanded.
The group working to change the way districts are drawn in Illinois needs more than 280,000 signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. But with the deadline looming, the group may come up short, raising the likelihood that Illinois' system of drawing legislative boundaries -- which often comes to down to pulling a name from a hat to determine which party has a political advantage -- could remain unchanged.
The League of Women Voters has been leading the effort circulating petitions since December. The league's director, Jan Czarnik, says so far the group's gathered around 120,000 signatures. That's less than half of what's needed. Czarnik says petitions are still being circulated. She says getting people to sign on is not the issue.
"It's two weeks before we have to file and if we do fall short, it's only because we haven't had enough people circulating petitions in such a short period of time," Czarnik said.
Petition signatures have to be in to the Secretary of State by May 3. The plan would create an independent commission to do redistricting.
Republican lawmakers tried to get the plan through the legislature which would avoid the need for getting signatures, but Democrats blocked it. Senate Democrats passed a competing plan and sent it to the House. But Republican support will be needed to pass it there, and House GOP Leader Tom Cross says that won't happen.
UPDATE: The Champaign City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement on the Olympian Drive study Tuesday night, on a 6 to 2 vote.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Urbana City Council chamber Monday night as the Urbana City Council voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement on a design engineering study on the Olympian Drive extension.
Council members listened to input from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the road would destroy farmland, and contribute to urban sprawl. Supporters say it would spur economic development. One of the latter was Vice President Steve Brewer of the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. He says unemployed building and construction workers need the jobs that building Olympian Drive would provide. And Brewer siad the community needs the Olympian Drive extension in order to grow.
"I believe that the only conscionable thing to do is to plan for future generations, and this road does that", said Brewer.
Monday night's vote approves the use of a 5-million dollar state grant to pay for the design engineering study, and also land acquisition for Olympian Drive. But land acquisition will be delayed, because it would need the cooperation of the Champaign County Board, which has delayed a vote on the issue until next year. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city of Urbana will focus on the design engineering study first.
Urbana will also do its own study on improvements to North Lincoln Avenue in connection with the Olympian Drive extension --- plus a risk analysis on both the North Lincoln and Olympian Drive projects. Supporters of Olympian Drive say the road extension needs an upgraded North Lincoln Avenue to link to I-74. Opponents agree --- they say with North Lincoln improved for heavy traffic, Olympian Drive wouldn't need to go all the way out to Route 45. But North Lincoln Avenue isn't mentioned in the intergovernmental agreements to study Olympian Drive. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana will have to study North Lincoln on its own.
"North Lincoln Avenue is something that Urbana needs to do", says Prussing, "and I think it going to be more trouble than it's worth to try to include it in the $5 million study, because we'd have to get our partners to agree to it. I think this is really an Urbana study.
The Urbana City Council will look at ways to study North Lincoln Avenue --- and also do a risk analysis of the Olympian Drive project --- later in the spring. Mayor Prussing says she hopes the state-funded Olympian Drive study can start later this year.
The Urbana and Champaign City Councils vote this week on a three-party intergovernmental agreement to begin design engineering work on the extension of Olympian Drive along the north edge of the two cities But the Champaign County Board --- which is also a party to the agreement --- will not be
Chairman Pius Weibel says a county board vote on Olympian Drive is unlikely this year, because of opposition on the board, especially among Republicans. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she hopes to change some county board minds --- especially now that the design engineering study will include proposed upgrades for North Lincoln Avenue connecting Olympian Drive to I-74.
"I know that the Republicans had said they weren't going to support it" says Prussing, "but I know one Republican that said he would support it with Lincoln Avenue. So you never know. I just think it's an education process."
County Board Republican Greg Knott says the Lincoln Avenue part is important --- but he wants to be sure there's enough money on hand. Local officials have not yet secured all the money they need to finance the Olympian Drive extension. Knott says he wonders if the state and federal governments can come through on the money they've promised so far.
"Let's be honest", says Knott. "State's broke, the Feds are broke. We don't have anywhere close to getting this money. Show me the money, and then I might be interested in taking a vote.."
Prussing says they do have the state money for the design engineering part of the Olympian Drive project --- if they act this month. She says county board approval isn't needed right now. But it will be, when it comes time to buy up land along the highway extension route.
Sarah Palin says she was taken aback to hear President Barack Obama say that America is a military superpower "whether we like it or not.''
Palin said Saturday night that Americans like being a dominant superpower. She says she doesn't understand a world view that questions whether people like the fact that America is powerful.
The former Alaska governor's remarks came in a question-and-answer session after a speech to about 1,100 people in the central Illinois town of Washington.
Obama said earlier this week that the United States must do its best to resolve conflicts around the world before they grow too serious. Otherwise, America might be drawn into the conflicts "because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.
The Illinois attorney general's office is again investigating claims that a central Illinois elementary school board violated open meetings laws.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy filed the complaint against Pontiac Elementary School District 429.
He alleges the board didn't fully explain why it went into closed session and discussed issues in executive session that should've been discussed publicly.
The complaint involves meetings on Feb. 1 and Feb. 18.
School district attorney Jeff Funk says the district acted properly.
This is the second time the school board has faced allegations.Residents filed a complaint in February 2009. The school district faced no penalties in that case.
Joy and Keith Wiggle say the emotional cost of living in a home that regularly floods is even higher than the thousands of dollars it takes to repair damage and replace belongings.
The couple lives in Decatur and their home floods often. Joy Wiggle says she's tired of worry. She's had to rescue her dog from its backyard kennel and photographs from lower shelves.
Now, some officials say the couple's efforts to talk to municipalities about flooding problems could lead to a solution.
The couple took their case to members of the Macon County Board at least three times in 2008 and 2009.
That led to lengthy discussions by board members and contributed to development of a hazard mitigation plan for the area.
The attorney who helped convict former Illinois Governor George Ryan on corruption charges has his own ideas on ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich's June 3rd trial.
Speaking at the Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention over the weekend in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, former Assistant U-S Attorney Patrick Collins says he thinks the case will likely rise and fall on two factors: the former governor's testimony and the jury selection process. Collins, now in private practice, said boiling the case down to those two factors might sound cynical, in the face of all the taped conversations and other evidence that prosecutors have gathered against Blagojevich. He says that body of evidence certainly looks stronger than the evidence he presented against former Governor George Ryan.
"If someone asked me, would you trade the evidence you had for Ryan with the evidence you've seen in the public domain on Blagojevich? In a heartbeat", said Collins.
But nevertheless, Collins says Blagojevich has a solid case.
"In some respects, because of who he is and how he's played this it may be a little more difficult case than folks are necessarily predicting that this that this is going to be some white wash", said Collins. "I think there's a lot that can happen in a federal court room."
But Collins adds he thinks U-S District Judge James Zagel won't let a circus happen either. Collins says the outcome of the case will rely heavily on the jury selection process and on Blagojevich taking the stand.
The former governor is accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's old U-S Senate seat. Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing.
Last week, Zagel ordered a key document be made public against Blagojevich's wishes. The so-called Santiago proffer outlines evidence federal prosecutors plan to present at the trial. The defense had argued the information could sway jurors.
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