Illinois Public Media News
The assistant director of Ohio's prison system has won the top job at the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he is nominating Michael Randle to serve as director of the Illinois prison agency. He calls Randle "the best of the best.''
If confirmed by the state Senate, Randle will take over a system facing major challenges. Its prisons house far more inmates than they were designed to hold, while the size of the prison staff has been slashed by 25 percent.
Randle says he's concerned about the safety of overworked prison guards, but he's staying quiet about any possible solutions until he reviews the situation.
The Champaign school district's Consent Decree has been extended a few weeks past its scheduled June 30th expiration date --- due to scheduling problems with the judge overseeing the case. Federal Judge Joe Billy McDade has extended the racial equity decree until he can schedule a hearing on motions filed by plaintiffs in the case. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says McDade had no open dates in June --- and the hearing may not be held until July 20th or later.
Tomlinson and plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley says this extension of the Consent Decree is only due to scheduling problems. Ashley is seeking a multi-year extension until the Unit Four school district works out problems she says remain with achieving goals set by the decree. But Tomlinson says the district has made a good-faith effort towards all the Consent Decree goals.He says the district's objections to the extension were overturned.
Chrysler is closing one out of every four of its dealerships, and the effect will be felt in central Illinois.
O'Brien Auto Group's Chrysler dealership in Urbana is on a list of nearly 800 closures, as are the Chrysler and Jeep franchises at Danville's Carmack Car Capitol and all Chrysler brands at Tuscola's Four Seasons Auto Plaza. Decatur-based Bob Ridings is losing Chrysler brands at its main dealership as well as those in Taylorville and Jacksonville. The owner of the Carmack firm in Danville, Gary Knight, said he was not expecting to see the notice from Chrysler but had no further comment - neither did a spokesman for Four Seasons.
Chrysler has about 3,200 dealers, but the bankrupt automaker says that's too many. It wants to have stronger, more profitable dealers with better facilities.
Annexation talks with a private landowner are going a little slow, so the village of Savoy is trying another approach to gain jurisdiction over a stretch of Curtis Road --- and to keep a road improvement project moving.
The village board voted Wednesday night to acquire county-owned land in Champaign Township along Curtis Road, east of Prospect. The 20 acres includes land for a water detention basin. But most of it is a narrow strip running along Curtis Road. The county obtained the land for the Curtis Road improvement project, and it was slated for eventual annexation by Savoy. But Savoy officials are acquiring it now, to ward off Champaign Township's effort to hold up the project.
Savoy Mayor Robert McCleary says he wants to avoid any delay in the Curtis Road project, which is intended to make the road ready for increased traffic from the new I-57 interchange. He says acquiring the land from the county ahead of schedule is a good solution. "And if it ever quits raining," he adds, "and they can finish up that first phase, we should be in a position to allow that second phase to keep right on marching, and not have to worry about our federal and state dollars."
Champaign Township has refused to approve work on the stretch of Curtis Road under its jurisdiction, until the city of Champaign grants it concessions in a long-running annexation dispute. In response, the city and Savoy have turned to annexing land along Curtis Road in Champaign Township to avoid delays on the road project. Champaign has reached an agreement to annex privately owned land at the corner of Curtis and Mattis.
The Champaign County Board will vote next week on selling the piece of land to Savoy. McCleary says negotiations with the Lo family for farmland along the same stretch of Curtis Road will continue.
The Champaign City Council did some budget cutting during Tuesday night's study session. Council members approved a series of cuts to the budgets of police, fire, public works and administrative departments. Nearly 2.2 million dollars went on the chopping block. Many of the cuts eliminated positions that are currently vacant, or will become vacant in time, due to retirements.
District Four Councilwoman Marci Dodds voted against the cuts in police service --- the only "no" vote cast against the budget cuts last night. Dodds opposed the elimination of three vacant patrol officer positions. She says losing those positions will make it harder for the police department to staff its Community Assistance Teams --- teams she says have made a big difference in the Garden Hills neighborhood.
"And it could be happenstance, but the fire reductions and the public works reductions seemed less onerous than losing three police officers, particularly when we already have an understaffed district that's growing," Dodds said.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says the Community Assistance Teams will continue, even without the three patrol officer positions. But he says any additional cuts could endanger the program. Finney says while the police budget cuts may affect some programs, it will have no impact on the department's ability to respond to emergency calls. And he says the department is apply for a grant to pay the lion's share of restoring the three patrol officer positions.
The Champaign City Council will continue to hold budget hearings in May. A final vote is expected in June.
Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.
Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.
Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's going to appoint a new head of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Quinn refused Tuesday to divulge who he would name, but he said an announcement was likely later this week.
The governor says a priority will be looking at operations at the Tamms Correctional Center. Some question the long hours inmates spend in solitary confinement at the Alexander County prison.
The corrections department has been run by former Macon County Sheriff Roger E. Walker Jr. since 2003. Department spokesman Derek Schnapp says Walker has no immediate comment.
Quinn didn't say why he was making the appointment.
Walker was an appointee of ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn has kept other Blagojevich hires in his administration.
Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Still Looking for Money to Finish Its Study
Public donations are being sought with hopes of completing an extensive study on the Mahomet Aquifer in just over six weeks.
The Baltimore Aircoil plant in Paxton will close its gates by the end of June, and all 223 workers will be laid off. But the city says it can save at least some of the jobs.
Mayor William Ingold says another manufacturing company ... Colmac Industries... will locate in the city and is going to use parts of the Baltimore Aircoil building:
"They're going to retain one of the lines that was used by Baltimore Aircoil, and they'll retain 20 to 25 employees right away with more coming online later on and keeping the plant going to a certain extent," Ingold said.
Ingold says the city council has approved a $375,000 low-interest loan to create jobs at the Colmac Industries plant - he says former Baltimore Aircoil workers may qualify for those jobs. The company plans to start manufacturing as soon as possible.
Ingold says he still doesn't understand why Baltimore Aircoil feels the need to close.
Five months after the closing of Columbia Center, the Champaign School Board has confirmed that a regional program will teach most of its students expelled from school for the foreseeable future.
Unit Four school board members voted unanimously Monday night to pay 43-thousand dollars over the next two years for an expanded READY program. The Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties operates READY as an alternative program for middle and high school students with behavioral problems. School Board President Dave Tomlinson says READY will be the first choice in such cases. "(The READY program has) been doing a good job for several years," says Tomlinson. "We've transitioned in that (alternative education) category already to READY for this year, so we're going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future."
READY didn't have the capacity this semester to accept all the students that Unit Four wanted to send to it. A few receive home instruction instead --- a program actually designed for students forced to stay home due to medical conditions.
Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Michael McFarland says the expansion of READY should make it big enough to accept all Unit Four students needing alternative education. He says a few with special education needs will continue to be sent to the Circle Academy at the Cunningham Children's Home in Urbana, or the Pavilion Foundation School in Champaign
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