Illinois Public Media News
Jerry Angelo was fired as the Chicago Bears' general manager Tuesday following a team collapse marked by injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a drug scandal involving receiver Sam Hurd.
Angelo had been on the job 11 years, a stretch in which the Bears reached one Super Bowl and advanced to another NFC championship game. An 8-8 record this season, a questionable draft record and an inability to fill big holes, particularly on offense, led to his ouster.
His dismissal comes after a wild season in which the Bears at one point seemed a lock to make the playoffs. A five-game losing streak, however, spoiled a 7-3 start and kept Chicago out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle following an interception during a win over San Diego on Nov. 20. The Bears didn't win again until the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.
It didn't help that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offense without its two best players. Those would be blows for any team, but they were crippling for Chicago. Throw in Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December, and what looked like a promising season turned into a disaster for the team and organization.
The injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth as the Bears tumbled out of playoff contention.
The low point might have been the loss at Denver when Marion Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation. That stopped the clock, giving the Broncos enough time to tie the score. If that weren't enough, he lost a fumble in overtime, helping set up the winning field goal.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a bust filling in for Cutler, going 0-4 as the starter before the Bears turned to Josh McCown. Chicago claimed Kyle Orton off waivers after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears then brought in Josh McCown, and Angelo left himself open to second-guessing when he decided not to go after Donovan McNabb once Minnesota let him go.
The lack of a reliable backup quarterback, continuing issues on the offensive line and the inability to land a top-tier receiver increased the heat on the general manager.
Roy Williams struggled to hold onto the ball and get open in his first season with the Bears after a disappointing run in Dallas. Hurd, another Cowboys import, was quickly waived after being charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine.
The arrest only compounded Angelo's problems. Now, Angelo's out and the Bears are picking up the pieces. For all the criticism, Angelo did have successes. The Bears won four division championships, including the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl and last year's trip to the NFC championship game.
He traded for Cutler and signed Julius Peppers. But he also had a spotty draft record that included such high-profile disappointments as Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman.
Former first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled, and first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury. Angelo also was unable to find a top receiver, through the draft, a trade or free agency. Chicago didn't anyone ready to step in when a solid but aging line that helped the Bears reach the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 began to go downhill.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for deep drops and Cutler took repeated poundings. That changed after Cutler made his feelings clear. The Bears started getting the ball out of his hands quicker, handing the ball off more to Forte and piling up the wins. But just when it looked as if they had saved their season, everything came apart.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A plan to cut service at the Champaign Fire Department has stalled as city officials and the local fire union try to reach an agreement to save the city nearly $420,000 in overtime costs.
The city had set a Jan. 1 deadline to reduce operations for Engine Co. 154 located on West John Street, but recent budget negotiations pushed that date to Jan. 15.
Champaign Firefighters Local 1260 President Chris Zaremba said union members are willing to make concessions to ensure that the truck is available whenever there is an emergency.
"The union is looking at doing approximately $350,000 of that, and the city would essentially match what we're doing to come up with the rest," Zaremba said. "I believe the (union) supports us making some sort of offer to try to keep that company open."
Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said he is cautiously optimistic that an agreement will be reached. However, if there is not a compromise, then service to staff the fire engine would be cut by 75 percent.
While Forsman said Engine Co. 154 is the least busy out of all of the city's fire companies, he acknowledges that reducing service would have an impact on emergency response. If service is reduced for Engine Co. 154, one of the city's adjacent fire stations would have to respond.
"That causes a little bit of a time delay, and causes an area to be uncovered that would normally remain covered during that incident," Forsman said.
A call seeking comment from the city was not immediately returned.
Meanwhile, plans are still in place to stop overnight operations at the front desk of the Champaign Police Department from 7pm until 7am.
Reducing staffing overnight is expected to save the city approximately $140,000. Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said the change will take affect by the middle of January.
"The lobby is not used a lot during those times anyway." Daniels said. "Certainly, we want to keep someone at the front desk at often as possible. Right now, we're being told the cuts should come and that we should implement the cuts, but certainly the council or the city manager's office could tell us otherwise at any time."
Daniels said the department is preparing for the change by modifying the way the public can get a hold of law enforcement when the front desk is closed. Unlike the negotiations going on between the city and the fire union, he noted nothing like that is taking place to prevent the front desk from closing.
Things are looking up for the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul.
After it looked like a bleak financial picture might cause the museum to close, the last year has seen an improved bottom line.
Nancy Kobel is president of the museum's board of directors. Kobel tells The (Champaign) News-Gazette that the museum has enough money to cover payroll until the end of January.
She said that's a lot better than in August 2010 when the museum had only enough money to cover about two weeks of payroll.
Kobel said the board's efforts to promote the museum on the former Air Force base have been effective enough to allow them to stay open on Sundays, something they couldn't afford to do last winter.
Judy Wiegand becomes the Champaign School District's next permanent superintendent this year; replacing Arthur Culver, who left Unit 4 more than six months ago. Wiegand is currently serving in that role on an interim basis. She says she wants to improve offerings in career and technical education, and further develop the STEM initiative, which seeks to boost education in science, technology, engineering and math. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers recently spoke with Wiegand about her goals for the district. She outlines a couple of areas that she wants to see added to Unit 4's strategic plan, which was developed in 2008.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
UCLA players walked off the field at AT&T Park, through the tunnel and into the wrong side of the program's proud history.
With coach Rick Neuheisel already fired, interim man Mike Johnson on the sideline and successor Jim Mora watching from the stands, an already odd postseason appearance for the Pac-12's prime punchline came with low expectations.
Kevin Prince threw a costly interception that Terry Hawthorne returned for a touchdown, finishing off UCLA's forgettable season with a 20-14 loss to Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday.
"This is not the way we wanted to go out, to send our seniors out," tight end Joseph Fauria said. "But at the same time, I guess there's some sort of relief for guys that have another year and looking forward to new beginnings."
The final mark this UCLA team leaves will be its record: an embarrassing 6-8 campaign for a bowl team.
All hope at a non-losing record for the Bruins ended when Nathan Scheelhaase added a 60-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter to seal the first victory for Illinois (7-6) since beating Indiana 12 weeks ago.
"It's extremely disappointing," Prince said. "Going for a month thinking about this game, preparing for it, spending a week here, everything leads up to this one moment. And then to fall short, it's very disappointing.
"It's upsetting that we couldn't get one for the seniors."
UCLA was held to 18 yards rushing in its third consecutive loss. Prince threw two TD passes, including one in the closing minute to Nelson Rosario after the game had been decided.
But it was an earlier pass by Prince that proved decisive and helped give Illinois its first bowl victories in consecutive seasons in school history. Three plays after Derek Dimke missed a 37-yard field goal for Illinois late in the third quarter, Prince dropped back and threw to his left looking for Shaquelle Evans.
Hawthorne read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw for the interception and had a clear path to the end zone for the score that gave the Illini a 10-7 lead.
"All gas, no brakes for me," Hawthorne said. "Once I catch it, I'm gone.
Champaign Police are ruling out some areas in the ongoing search for a resident who's been missing since before Thanksgiving.
49-year old Renard Jackson was last seen riding his bike on an errand near his home in the Garden Hills neighborhood on the afternoon of November 26th. Champaign Lieutenant Joe Gallo says a dive team from the Vermilion County Sheriff's Department eliminated parts of Urbana's Crystal Lake Park from their search Friday, after examining bodies of water with scanning sonar.
And earlier this week, canines searched the Garden Hills area, and an aerial search was conducted with the help of Illinois State Police and the state department of transportation. Gallo says authorities will determine their next step soon.
"We'll obviously have to sit down and regroup, and thinking about what our next steps are going to be," he said. "But we will continue until we find him."
Jackson is described as a black male, 6 foot one, weighing about 165 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black hooded jacket with fur trim, and riding a bluish-purple bike, heading north North Prospect Avenue on an errand. The bike and his wallet have since been recovered in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
Any tips can be called in anonymously to Champaign Police at (217) 351-4545 or Crimestoppers (373-8477).
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Police)
A plan by Indiana officials to limit the number of people who can be inside the Statehouse at any given time has angered Indiana Democrats and union officials.
State police, homeland security officials and the state fire marshal's office announced Friday that they've decided to cap the number of people who can be inside the Statehouse at 3,000.
The Indianapolis Star reports (http://indy.st/vceGvi ) that because that includes the 1,700 employees who work in the building, the number of non-employees who could assemble in the building on any given day would range between 1,000 and 1,500.
House Democratic Minority Leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend says the policy is intended to prevent Hoosiers from protesting a proposed ban on workers from being required under labor contracts to pay union fees.
A new law taking effect on Jan. 1 gives police in Illinois more power to arrest people causing trouble on school grounds.
The law establishes school grounds and the sidewalks and public right-of-ways going through them as "Safe School Zones." People who come into the zones after they've been officially warned not to by school administrators, can be arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. That includes students and school employees who have been expelled or dismissed.
The measure was sponsored by State Sen. MIke Frerichs (D-Champaign) and State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana).
Jakobsson said the new law gives police a new tool to deal with people from outside the school who may try to start fights or create other problems with students.
"Law enforcement needs to be able to have a little more of a zone around it to keep these people safe," Jakobsson said. "So somebody who has nothing to do with the school, maybe isn't a student there, or who has been expelled or suspended, shouldn't be on the school grounds or very close to where the safe school zone is."
Jakobsson said the idea for Safe School Zones came from a school resource officer --- that's an in-school police officer --- in the Champaign school district.
The Safe School Zones will apply only when class is in session, and the hour before and after classes and school-sponsored activities.
The family of a man who allegedly committed suicide while in police custody is suing the city of Chicago for wrongful death.
On Nov. 17, Develt Bradford was found hanging while detained at Area 2 of the Chicago Police Department. Three days later, another detainee, Melvin Woods, was found hanging in his cell at the same police station.
Bradford's family has a fusillade of questions and, on Tuesday, filed a civil lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
"If the Chicago police did no wrong, let's find that out. But let's have an independent authority," said Sam Adam Jr., the Bradford family attorney. "What we do not need is 15 years from now to be readdressing this like we had to do with Jon Burge."
The backdrop is that Area 2 used to be under the watch of Jon Burge. A federal jury convicted the former police commander of lying about decades of torturing black men. Bradford and Woods are black. At a press conference Wednesday, Bradford family attorneys sought to make the connection.
Annie Bradford, the mother of Develt Bradford, choked back tears.
"I'm very sad. I'm very disappointed in the way that my son had to go. I just want to know what really happened," Bradford said.
Adam's law firm sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asking that his office investigate the two alleged suicides.
"When a family member calls me with a tremor in her voice ... can you help us to find out what happened in this situation?" said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago), who flanked attorneys at the press conference. "Then of course, I have no choice except to call upon the highest level of legal investigatorial (sic) authority in the country - and that is the U.S. Attorney's Office - to conduct its own independent investigation."
Attorney Victor Henderson said there are too many unanswered questions about Bradford and Woods' deaths. He said an internal police investigation is not good enough, given the Burge history at Area 2.
"Why were the cameras off? How long were they in custody? Let's see the clothes that they allegedly hung themselves (with). Let's have some forensic tests, have some blood tests," Henderson said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment. The Chicago Police Department gave this statement: "The Chicago Police Department takes the treatment of its arrestees very seriously. The incidents that occurred at Area 2 are currently under investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority.
When U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) runs for re-election next year, he'll have to do something he hasn't done in more than a decade - square off in a Republican primary. Two other Republicans from the St. Louis Metro East area are eying the newly re-drawn 13th Congressional district seat.
The last time Johnson had any challengers in the primary was back in 2000, the year he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was up against State Rep. Bill Brady, who later went on to the Illinois senate and won the GOP nomination for Governor in 2010; Sam Ewing, son of former Congressman Tom Ewing; and Jeffery Jones, a dentist in the Bloomington-Normal area.
Johnson walked away with 44 percent of the vote.
"It's like the semifinals of the final four," Johnson said shortly after his primary win in March 2000. "Before you get the championship game, you got to win semifinal and you work on your parameter game. So obviously it's a tremendous significance and it makes you a better candidate. These three individuals made me a better candidate, and I thank them for that."
Now, there is a different group of players in the upcoming primary match who have never held political office and who live in the Metro East area. That is because the new 13th Congressional District - covering much of the old 15th district -now stretches to the southern part of the state.
Veterinarian Michael Firsching of Moro is one of Johnson's two Republican challengers. He ran against Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Collinsville in 2010, and lost in the primary by a wide margin, securing only 15-percent of the vote. Now he is running against a different incumbent, but Firsching said his reasons for wanting to go to Washington have not changed.
"I really was expecting in the last two years we would have seen a huge collapse of the economic situation worldwide, but it's been held off a little bit longer," Firsching said. "I just have a hard time believe that we can go another two years without the bubble that is it going to pop and cause a lot of havoc to everybody's life."
Firsching said he favors a flat income tax, disbanding the Federal Reserve and limiting military engagements to those authorized by a formal declaration of war by Congress. He said he would cut spending on programs that the government can't afford to run, and move all agricultural programs to the states.
"If you have disseminating powers, then you have more local control of it, plus you have more states doing the various programs," Firsching said. "If you just have government running everything, then when they screw up and do the wrong thing, then it's a lot hard to control."
Firsching said he thinks the 13th Congressional district's rural constituency will relate more to his ideas, and support him in the primary.
But Firsching isn't the only GOP newcomer in this race. Frank Metzger, 70, is a retired Iron Worker from Glen Carbon, who now runs his own tree cutting business.
"Retirement's not in the bible," Metzger said. "I'll just work until I drop dead someday."
Metzger has not run for political office before, and he admits he doesn't have any name recognition in the state. But he said politics is in his blood. His father was a New Jersey legislator who also ran for governor. Metzger said he thinks there needs to be more elected officials who represent a broader base.
"The lack of respect for the American people - the working man - distresses me way beyond distress it disgusts me," he said. "The average person does not feel they are represented in the House of Representatives."
As a registered Republican and Tea Party member, Metzger said he believes in smaller government. On economic issues, he is against new tax hikes, but would like cut spending for Planned Parenthood and foreign aide. He supports the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has tried to delay.
"I would like to see our own energy resources developed to the max," Metzger said. "Right now, everything is on hold. There are 10,000 jobs that will open - and union jobs, too - as soon as Obama OK's the pipeline."
Metzger and Firsching have about three months to garner support for the March 20 primary.
Tim Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the presence of these two candidates from an area where the Congressman isn't well-known poses a challenge in the race. But he said it's different from the challenge Johnson faced in his last contested primary in 2000. Back then, there were more prominent names on the ballot, and no one had the advantage of being an incumbent.
"This is a little different sort of situation because I frankly don't really know these guys and they don't have any public policy experience," Bloomers said. "They're just individuals who are angry and frustrated with the status quo."
Bloomer said Johnson is already campaigning in the Metro East area, and has no plans to change his strategy.
The candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 13th Congressional district are Bloomington physician David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.
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