Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden is leaving his office to join the staff of Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).
Next month, Shelden will take over for Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke, who's going to work for Congressman-elect Randy Hultgren of Winfield. The 46-year-old Shelden has been in the office for 13 years. Shelden says Johnson approached him about the job earlier in the week, after learning his current chief of staff was leaving.
"The way things work in the legislative process is so much different than it works in an executive department," Shelden said. "I think there will be times when I'll be a little frustrated about the slow movement of things, and good ideas you want to get done. So there will be a change from that standpoint."
Republican Precinct Committeemen will meet Monday to begin the process of naming a replacement. Shelden said he will not be endorsing anyone, but will talk to anyone interested in the job.
"I want an open process that looks for the many good candidates that we've got, and tries to find somebody who can do this job well and hopefully maintain this office in a way that I'm proud of," he said.
Shelden said he is excited about tackling new issues, but having worked as a policy analyst in Springfield, he's familiar with the legislative process. Shelden said he expects his successor will be appointed by the Champaign County Board in early January, but Champaign County GOP Chair Jason Barickman said it is possible that person will be named by Monday night. The appointed clerk, who would be sworn in by the Champaign County Board in early January when Shelden resigns, would fill the term for two years until the 2012 election.
"I presume people will look at whether or not someone is a Republican," he said. "I think from there Mark has run such a terrific, professional office. Some of the qualifications would probably be who is the person who is electable who in addition to replacing Mark, will run a great, quality office."
Shelden said he was appointed to the office much the same way in April 1997.
"The public needs to remember that we just have an fantastic staff," he said. "Part of my legacy is hiring good people that have run good elections. The first goal of the new county clerk will be to make sure that they are wise enough to lean on the collective skills and talents of those people to get through the next couple of elections.
A company that's now building a wind farm in Iroquois County hopes to receive permits next week to build a second facility that would straddle the Iroquois-Ford County line.
E.ON Climate and Renewables wants permission to build up to 111 wind turbines in Ford and Iroquois Counties near the towns of Loda and Paxton. Most of the turbines would go up in Ford County.
Ford County Zoning Officer Larry Knilands said E.ON officials would like to start work on the project next year.
"They wanted to get a contract signed, as far as a road agreement, construction permit, you name it --- everything taken care by warm weather, so that they might be able to start construction by, say, October (of 2011)," Knilands said.
But Knilands said the signing a road agreement could be the difficult part of the process. He said negotiations on road agreements for two other wind farm projects in Ford County has delayed their construction --- one has been on hold for two years.
"We have to make sure that whatever road agreement we establish the first time around is something that will apply to any other wind farm company that comes along," Knilands said.
E.ON is currently building a separate wind farm in eastern Iroquois County. Both the Ford and Iroquois County Boards are scheduled to vote on zoning permits for the 2nd E.ON wind farm project at their regular meetings next week.
The Ford County Board will meet Monday, December 13th at 7 PM at the Ford County Jail in Paxton. The Iroquois County Board meets Tuesday, December 14th at 9 AM, at the county Administrative Center in Watseka.
A report on civic engagement suggests Illinoisans need improvement in areas ranging from voting to simple acts of kindness.
The National Conference on Citizenship's report uses Census Bureau data to show a decline in the number of voters, particularly young voters, in 2008. Voter turnout fell 3-percent that year, despite the presidential campaign of native son Barack Obama. And Illinois ranked 46th in the past year among those 18 and up who did favors for neighbors, like babysitting.
Study Author Shawn Healy says the report should be viewed as a call to action, and one of those areas are schools - which at one time, weren't solely to prepare us for college or a career.
"They're certainly important objectives, but was to prepare people for their role in a democracy," Healy said. "So that's really critical. And there are some great things going on statewide in that respect. But in this tough environment with fiscal constraints, and top of it the standardized testing that's gripped our country, that's really narrowed the curriculum and really pushed civics aside in that central role for schools to play."
Healy also suggested that Illinois should make voter registration easier. While he says absentee voting has become more accessible in the state, he notes states like Minnesota and Wisconsin allow voter registration on Election Day.
He says simple day to day things, like reading a daily newspaper to get the news, or talking politics with a friend, rarely happen anymore. He says someone only needs to look as far as their local bowling alley.
"Bowling hasn't died. In fact, more people are bowling than ever before," he said. "But we bowl alone. And what used to happen when we were bowling on teams is we would interact with people that we might not otherwise see. We might talk about what's going on in the community - we might even discuss politics."
Healy uses Harvard Professor Robert Putnam's metaphor about the bowling alley to represent society, and the layer that stands between individuals and their government. The 2010 Illinois Civic Health Index was funded by the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation, and the Citizen Advocacy Center.
A lawyer for a police officer falsely accused of shootings along the Illinois-Indiana state border says his client's been receiving hate mail.
Authorities arrested Brian Dorian as the gunman in the Oct. 5 shootings that left one man dead and two others injured. But days later they ruled him out as a suspect.
Dorian was cleared after detectives verified he'd been home logged onto his computer on the morning of the attacks and so could not possibly have been involved.
The investigation into the shootings has apparently stalled, with investigators saying they have no suspects. But attorney Bob O'Dekirk said he fears Dorian will continue to be wrongly viewed with suspicion by some until there is an arrest.
The tax cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans this week includes an extension of tax credits for ethanol --- but another green energy program is not included. Now, supporters of wind and solar energy are lobbying Congress to include an extension of the so-called "Section 1603" grant program in the final tax bill. The program is slated to expire at the end of the month.
The 1603 program converts tax credits for renewable energy projects into up-front grants. Environment Illinois' Max Muller said those grants have helped qualifying companies build 14 new solar, wind energy and fuel cell facilities in Illinois --- resulting in the creation of new jobs at a time of high unemployment.
"Basically, if we don't want to see a precipitous drop in the number of new clean energy projects in Illinois and nationally, we need to extend this program," Muller said.
Among the recipients of 1603 grants in Illinois are nine wind farms, including the Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm in Livingston County near Streator.
Kevin Borgia of the Illinois Wind Energy Association says the grant program provides funding for renewable energy projects at a time when financing is hard to come by, and he said that has led to the creation of new jobs in Illinois.
"I think that the past history with the program is pretty impressive," Borgia said. "And there could be a loss to the Illinois economy if the program does sunset."
In the case of Illinois wind farms, the 1603 grant program has helped only a fraction of the 46 projects that have been built or were slated for construction as of July of this year, according to the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University. Wind farms and other green energy projects will still be eligible for federal tax credits, even after the grant program runs out. But Borgia says the 1603 grants give companies more flexibility when it comes to putting wind farms projects together.
University of Illinois officials on the Urbana campus are moving forward with a series of revenue-generating measures after studying a Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois report released last spring.
The report proposes a host of options to improve the university's financial standing, including raising overall enrollment so that more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition can be admitted. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler noted that the U of I will tread carefully in its efforts to boost revenue by looking at how doing something accepting more students could affect the university's commitment to quality education.
"If you cannot maintain the quality, there's absolutely no reason to do something like that," she said. "Every decision we make about what to implement, what not to implement will have that consideration first."
The Stewarding Excellence report also suggested setting up a system in which every faculty member would be required to submit their teaching, research, and public engagement contributions in an annual report that would be factored into the evaluation of promotion and tenure.
"It just seems unwise to tie any kind of financial metrics based on instruction, or other revenue generating activities into the academic evaluation system," she said.
University of Illinois Interim Vice President and Chancellor Robert Easter said he encourages different departments on campus to find research areas where they can collaborate, and work to develop grant-funded research professorships.
Easter also said the U of I will create a faculty-led commission to explore other income-producing activities like professional development training programs and partnerships with academic institutions in other countries.
The tax cut deal worked out by President Obama and Senate Republicans includes a one-year extension of tax credits for ethanol --- although at 36 cents a gallon, which is down nine cents from the existing 45-cent tax credit set to run out Dec. 31st.
A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, said the one-year extension is shorter than what the Urbana Republican would prefer. Instead, Johnson said he wants a permanent extension of the tax credits.
"If you take these away, as it seems to indicate at this point," Bloomer said. "I think that would have severe consequences for farm states, for central Illinois and the entire Midwest."
But even a one-year extension of the the ethanol tax credit, even at a lower rate, would be good news to Illinois Corn Growers Association Board President Jim Reed. Reed said the tax credit has been key to making ethanol available to consumers, but he said it is time to look for a different way to encourage ethanol production, and an extension would give the industry time to do that.
"By it being extended a year," Reed said. "That really gives us the opportunity to stand back and think about what we can do to increase access to ethanol and make it more available to the consumer, and really do what we can help us limit that importation of the foreign oil."
But Clark Bullard with the Prairie Rivers Network said he does not care for the proposed extension of ethanol tax credits. The U of I Engineering professor said so much of the corn crop goes to making ethanol that corn prices are up, leading to higher food prices and environmental abuses.
"It has given farmers tremendous incentives to clear the last little strip of wildlife habitat, and ... bring highly erodible land into production, just to get more acres of corn at this higher price," Bullard said.
Bullard said even if the ethanol tax credit was dropped, federal mandates for ethanol use would still keep production up to a certain level. He supports further research into ethanol made from ethanol made from grasses or wood chips as an alternative to corn.
The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.
The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.
The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.
Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.
"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.
Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.
"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."
Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan has tapped a physics professor to head up the search for new Urbana chancellor.
Doug Beck was also recommended by the campus Senate as part of an online campus poll. He will be working with eight other faculty members, three students, a dean and academic professional. The rest of the committee will be chosen next week. U of I leaders hope to wrap up the process of replacing interim Chancellor Robert Easter by May, well in advance of the next academic year. The interim Chancellor and vice president replaced Richard Herman, who stepped down in Oct. 2009 after an admissions scandal. Beck said whoever is named to the post needs to have a passion for everything the Urbana campus stands for.
"Champion all the great things that happen on this campus, from education to research, so that's the kind of person we're going to be looking for," Beck said. "My role as committee chair, of course, is to try to take the best advantage of the people that are going to be on the committee. We're really going to be looking for the involvement of all the stakeholders here - all the parts of our community on campus... the students, the staff, the academic professionals, faculty, and the administration."
Beck said he hopes to speak with President Hogan about the job description soon. Since the search committee is not yet finalized, and students have final exams next week, Beck says it is unlikely the committee will complete much of its work before the semester break.
Eric Jakobsson was sworn in Monday night as alderman of Urbana's second ward.
Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), replaces former council member David Gehrig. Gehrig resigned from the seat in November citing the work overload. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she appointed Jakobsson, a former University of Illinois biology professor, because of his honesty and ability to make sound decisions.
"Well, I've known him for many years," Prussing said. "I think he's an individual with very high integrity, and what I was looking for with a council member is someone who would have very balanced approach to things, not jump to conclusions, but be willing to listen to people and ask good questions."
Jakobsson said he is ready to get to work on issues like historic preservation and the prospects of setting up a wind farm located outside the city on the University of Illinois campus in South Farms.
"One of the things that I welcome about it is the opportunity to be more fully engaged with the community," Jakobsson said.
At his first council meeting as an elected official Monday night, Jakobsson heard a spirited debate about the proposal for setting up the wind farm. While the project would not be based within Urbana, it would be close enough where city officials can enforce a zoning ordinance. The project has an estimated budget of about $4.5 million dollars, but supporters of the plan raised doubts over whether it would be economically feasible to construct three wind turbines as originally proposed.
Groups touting the plan, including the U of I's Students for Environmental Concerns, shared their voice of support for the project's environmental benefits while property owners raised concerns about the proximity of the wind turbines to their land.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation would help set up the wind turbines, but that grant is slated to expire in May, leaving less time to make last minute changes to the project. Jakobsson said the city wants to see this project become a reality, but he said officials need to explore its impact on the entire community, including residential areas where noise pollution could become a big problem as a result of the wind turbines.
"When the city is given responsibility over an area, the city can't neglect that and the city won't, I'm sure," he said.
Jakobsson plans to stay on the council on a more permanent basis, which is why he is running in next year's city council race against Brian Dolinar of the Independent Media Center. Since both candidates are Democrats, a Feb. 22 primary will determine whose name appears on the ballot.
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