Illinois Public Media News
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.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's comments doubting that President Barack Obama was born in the U-S have led one local Democrat to call for his resignation.
That's the response of Alan Kurtz, a Champaign Democrat and County Board member ... after a brief video clip of the Republican Schweighart at Thursday's Tea Party rally in Champaign showed up on YouTube. The clip records Schweighart answering an unnamed intervewer's question about whether he believes Obama was born in Hawaii:
Interviewer: What do you think of President Obama? Schweighart: I don't think he's an American, personally. Interviewer: You don't think he's American? Do you think he was born in Kenya? Schweighart: You know, if you're not willing to produce an original certificate, like a birth certificate, then you've got something to hide. If he doesn't have something to hide, produce it. Interviewer: So Obama's not a citizen. Schweighart: I don't think so.
Kurtz says he thinks Schweighart's opinion limits his effectiveness as mayor.
"I think it puts him in a unique position of not supporting our president, of speaking without understanding the true facts of the case", says Kurtz. The Champaign Democrat says he thinks Schweighart's opinions are also out of line, because Champaign city officials are elected on a non-partisan basis.
But a Democrat on the city council, Michael LaDue, says that's up to the voters to decide. LaDue says he was surprised to hear Schweighart's comment, because he thought the question of Obama's birthplace was pretty much played out. But he doesn't think the comments reflect on the mayor's ability to lead.
"It's not a local theme", says LaDue. "It's an opinion expressed by a citizen exercising the rights that American citizens enjoy and cherish."
LaDue says Schweighart has been an effective mayor, and he considers calls for his resignation as "over the top" as the mayor's original comments.
Illinois Public Media could not reach Schweighart for comment Friday. But the mayor told the News-Gazette that he stands by the comments, except for one point he wished to clarify --- that he does believe Barack Obama is a U-S citizen, and that he just doubts if he's native-born.
Established political parties in Champaign County are running out of time to name candidates to run for local offices where someone wasn't already slated after the primary.
The deadline is Monday at 5 pm. County Clerk Mark Shelden contends the earlier primary and a new state law requiring signatures on nominating petitions may have dissuaded some from running. "I think that getting a candidate for county board where you only need 20 or 30 signatures... maybe that bar is not so high and it's as big an issue," says Shelden. "But I think certainly for the countywide offices (Sheriff, Treasurer, and County Clerk, each requiring well over 200 signatures for Democrats and Republicans, and 14 for Greens), that new law could be an impediment."
Champaign County Republican Party Chairman Jason Barickman called that a hurdle for some, but he says a slate of candidates announced by his party's central committee Friday proves the political climate has changed for the GOP. "I think we found that there are people who are wanting to step forward and want to effectuate some change," says Barickman. "They want to be responsible for moving the county in a different direction. But maybe more importantly, just feel like it's their role to step and serve the public. And this is a good way to do it."
Champaign County Republicans will submit nominating petitions for County Board seats Five, Six, and Eight. Retired mental health worker Mary Jo Reik is running in District Five. Local volunteer and former Champaign city council candidate Bill Glithero is running in District Six. And Jim Phillips with the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute and U of I student Gina Genero are being slated as candidates in County Board District Eight. Barickman says it's exciting that his party will provide voters in every district with a choice this November.
The State of Illinois is out with an ambitious long range plan for road construction, even amid uncertainty over future funding.
The state wants to spend $5 billion on roads and bridges over the next year. That's nearly double what was outlined in recent plans.
The projects range from new roads, to repairs and efforts to ease traffic congestion.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Mike Carrigan says it will also put people to work.
"When people work, those paychecks go into local banks and it helps those local economies", says Carrigan. "In turn, those local economies help the state economy."
Illinois expects to use a mix of funding for the projects, much of it from the federal government this year. Beyond that, the state would also rely on proceeds from the new video gambling law. But many communities don't want to participate, and that could greatly reduce the amount of money available for infrastructure. Governor Pat Quinn says he's not worried.
"We have ample money in the first several years of our plan here to pay for everything", says Quinn. "I think we can carry forward whatever the case may be."
The Governor calls the road plan "fair", all regions of Illinois will have projects funded.
The New Art Film Festival is underway in downtown Champaign's Art Theater. The festival --- which opened Thursday night --- showcases films by local and Midwest independent filmmakers.
Sanford Hess, the Art Theater operator, says the timing for it now was perfect, with the Boneyard Arts Festival also going on in Champaign-Urbana this weekend.
"We're looking at some of the materials that I'd been sent from Boneyard in February, and I just realized it was a great match", says Hess. I mean, here's local artists; they're doing work in a different media - film - but they're local artists."
Hess says the New Art Film Festival also will be a nice lead-in to Ebertfest next week.
The Film Festival will feature more than 20 films of many genres - from comedy to drama to documentaries..
Friday night's movies include the videogame parody "Press Start" produced by Champaign-based Dark Maze Studios. Also on the bill is Robin Christian's film "Act Your Age", featuring the late Pat Morita.
People from Wisconsin down to Missouri reported seeing a meteor that lit up the midwestern sky Wednesday night. It appeared a little past 10 PM.
At exactly that moment, Steve Baron was in the window seat of a Southwest Airlines jet flying from Las Vegas to Chicago. Suddenly, he saw a flash he describes as "impossibly bright."
"Like if you lit magnesium on fire", Baron explained. "It was like daylight outside, only it was the brightest day you've ever seen."
Baron, a vice president at Chicago-based Local TV L-L-C, is a former broadcast meteorologist. But this didn't look like any weather event Baron had ever seen.
Baron said he wonders, "Is it, like, a missile or something? Are we flying over a bombing range? Then it dawned on me that it had to be coming from outer space."
Scientists say he's probably right. The object is presumed to be a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere, or possibly, a piece of space junk.
Andy Ervin is a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities. He says the object was a meteor, "certainly the brightest meteor I've ever seen". Ervin says most eyewitnesses the Weather Service has talked to say it was "exceptionally bright or probably the brightest thing most folks have seen in the sky beyond lightning or the sun".
Forecasters say a meteor shower called Gamma Virginids began April 4 and is expected to last to April 21 with peak activity Wednesday and Thursday. But they couldn't immediately confirm if the Midwest meteor was part of that shower.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Water bills in the Champaign area are expected to go up next month, but state regulators say the local water company won't get the full increase it's seeking.
Last year, Illinois American Water sought an increase of nearly 35% for customers in Champaign-Urbana. But a spokeswoman for the Illinois Commerce Commission says cost estimates for the company, expenses it planned to recoup through a rate hike, were simply too high. The agency has trimmed Illinois American's rate hike request to about 22%. It filed the request with the ICC last May. The company now has about five days to adjust its rates. ICC Chairman Manuel Flores says the company can't view customers as 'an open checkbook'.
Spokeswoman Beth Bosch says the agency had also asked the water company to conduct a cost of service study, to provide a baseline for what some services cost. "These cases when they're filed, they take about a year to go through," says Bosch. "The study they did was done two years ago. So there was some question about whether it was of any value to the case. So that was another issue. And so the commission felt that the company needs to file a timely cost of service study with a rate case, not something that's been done prior." Bosch says Illinois American was seeking $61 million in additional annual revenue - that amount has been reduced by about $20 million. Randy West with Illinois American says the company won't know how much rates will be adjusted until it has time to review the order from the ICC. He says the company has provided the agency with thousands of documents to justify the new rate hike, and a previous one. West says most of the funds from increases in the Champaign area are paying for a new water treatment plant that went on line in late 2008.
Illinois home foreclosure activity during the first quarter of 2010 fell 4.6 percent from the previous quarter, but was still higher than the first quarter of 2009.
A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 45,780 foreclosure filings in the first quarter of 2010. Filings include default notices, auction-sale notices and bank repossessions.
The filings represent one in every 115 housing units in the state. That rate is nearly 17.5 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year and 9th-highest nationally.
Nevada again had the nation's highest foreclosure rate _ one in every 33 housing units.
Other states with foreclosure rates higher than Illinois were: Arizona, Florida, California, Utah, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho and Colorado.
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