Illinois Public Media News
The last in a series of roundtable discussions on an extension of Olympian Drive looked at design options for one day linking the road with US 45 north of Urbana.
But last night's discussion among elected officials from Champaign County, Urbana, and Champaign also produced frustration with the way the forum was conducted, and the lack of cost estimates. The final roundtable discussion held by consultants was described as a private meeting with a public audience. Democratic County Board member Barb Wysocki says she's frustrated that very differing opinions on what should occur with the extension are being 'squashed.' And Wysocki said last night she was disappointed the consultants hadn't read the visioning document for Champaign County called Big-Small-All, a process she helped create. "Those who stuck with the process gave very good input," said Wysocki. "And they were thoughtul, they weighed matters, they were very careful about how they come up with goals and objectives. And for them to admit that they (consultants with Vector Communications) hadn't read it or even heard of it until this (Thursday) afternoon, to me it's unthinkable."
Champaign city council member Deb Frank Feinen, a Republican, agrees the public are being left out of this process, and wants citizens to weigh in on some of the design options. "There may be pieces of this that could qualify for special funding," said Feinen. "I mean, maybe the biker pedestrian or wetlands would qualify for funding we haven't even begun to think about yet. But we have to know that we want that included in the plan in order to go seek that funding."
The $27-point-5 million extension of Olympian Drive could be done in phases, starting with a stretch from Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue. But Democratic Champaign County board member Alan Kurtz contends funding for the full extension would run around $35-million. He says the county has better uses for its motor fuel tax money, including road and bridge repairs. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive project was always meant to be done in phases. "We have enough funding to do this project if you look at it as taking place over time," said Prussing. "We have money coming in every year to the county, they get $3 million in motor fuel tax funds, and can allocate about a third of that to fringe roads, which this would qualify for. And I think we should be asking our Congressman for federal money for Lincoln Avenue."
Prussing says the logical way of doing this project would be to extend Apollo Drive in Champaign to Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, extend Lincoln out to 45, then finish up the west end of the project, extending to I-57. The extension would also rely on Illinois Capital bill funds, and request from the upcoming federal transportation bill. Consultants expect to hold another meeting on August 25th to begin forming a consensus.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn called for the special election Thursday after a recent court ruling found it's required by the constitution and Roland Burris' appointment is only temporary. To avoid the cost of a second election, the vote will happen on the same day as the already scheduled general, November 2nd. So voters will cast two ballots for U.S. Senators that day, one for the upcoming six year term, and one for the few weeks that will remain in the Obama/Burris term.
But there's no time before November 2nd to hold a primary to figure out who will run to be Senator for a month. It's a problem that attorneys and the federal court judge are trying to work out. A likely solution is that the candidates running for the six year term will also run in the special election. Those candidates would include Mark Kirk, Alexi Giannoulias, LeAlan Jones, and the independents who collected more than 25,000 signatures.
An attorney for Burris is fighting against the special election.
The release by the website WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret U-S military reports on the war in Afghanistan shows how the Internet has changed the rules of traditional journalism. So says University of Illinois Professor Brant Houston, who holds the Knight Chair in Investigate and Enterprise Reporting at the Department of Journalism. The documents were first reported by the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel --- but now anyone can read them on the WikiLeaks website. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows spoke with Houston, and asked him what this sort of release of information means for the news media.
Bobby Seale co-founded the controversial Black Panther Party in 1966. The Panthers preached a doctrine of militant black empowerment to end to all forms of oppression against black people. The Black Panther Party was dismantled after 20 years, and Seale and others have taken on non-violent activism. Seale stopped in Champaign to talk to local teachers. He spoke to Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the Party's legacy and how changes in the world have shaped his activism.
The University of Illinois says an instructor who recently lost his job over a complaint about his religious beliefs can continue teaching. However, the university says it will pay those teaching Catholic-related courses rather than have them paid by a church group.
The university said Thursday afternoon that the St. John's Catholic Newman Center will no longer pay adjunct instructors, like Kenneth Howell, who teach Catholicism courses.
Howell taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought. He says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining Catholic beliefs on homosexual sex to his students. The offer asks Howell to teach an introductory course to Catholicism. But U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler would not say whether his re-appointment was related to public uproar over the dismissal. But she says the instructor is expected to stick to some standards. "As with all instructors at the university, we expect that he'll teach in manner that adheres to the constitutional principles that preclude the establishment of religion in a public university context," said Kaler.
He says he was preparing the students for an exam. A student complained the e-mail amounted to hate speech.
Howell could not be reached immediately for comment on the university's decision.
The judge in the Rod Blagojevich case says he will not give jurors a transcript of one of the closing arguments in the former governor's corruption trial.
Judge James Zagel says closing arguments are not evidence. He handed copies of the jury's note to prosecutors and defense attorneys before denying the request this morning.
Jurors are supposed to send notes if they want to ask the judge questions about legal issues or to notify him of other matters, like friction in the jury room.
Blagojevich and his brother, Robert Blagojevich, have pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama gave up when he became president and illegally pressuring people for campaign donations.
The judge has said he doesn't expect a quick verdict -- so it could be a long wait before former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his brother learn their fate.
Jurors in Chicago have begun deciding whether Blagojevich tried to sell a nomination to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
During his lengthy instructions to jurors, the judge said they could make "reasonable inferences.'' And that could be important -- because prosecutors said in their closing arguments that Blagojevich never demanded money in exchange for something. Instead, they said, he merely implied it.
Prosecutors portrayed him as a greedy and smart political schemer who was determined to use his power to enrich himself.
But his attorney characterized him as an insecure bumbler who talked too much and had terrible judgment about which people to trust.
Despite an unsuccessful drive to get his name on the ballot, a candidate for Champaign County Sheriff is confident he can still win the post through a write-in campaign.
Jerommie Smith kicked off his long-shot campaign this week - last month, the county electoral board rejected his petition drive to fill an independent slot on the November ballot, claiming many of the names were not from registered voters. Smith believes there are factors that give him a fighting chance at an upset.
"We look at the number of people who were looking for a choice with those who signed the petition as well as the undervotes (for sheriff) in the last two elections, and we decided that we're in a pretty good position to make a good run at it, especially with all the work we've done and all the people who had supported us," Smith said.
Smith is trying to unseat Sheriff Dan Walsh, who has won two previous terms. He's a former sheriff's deputy who now owns a fitness club in Urbana.
Illinois, along with 18 other states, is still in the running for a competitive federal grant program that promises more than three billion dollars for educational improvements.
The Illinois State Board of Education said the funds will help raise student success and train qualified teachers. The state failed to win enough support from school districts to compete for the first round of "Race to the Top" funding earlier this year - instead, that money went to schools in Tennessee and Maryland. Beth Sheppard is an assistant superintendent in Champaign Unit 4, which is backing Illinois' bid for the money.
"We felt that there was no good reason not to seek the additional funding in these economic times," said Sheppard. "If the focus is on closing the achievement gap, that is a high priority in this school district."
Teachers' unions have also lined up behind the application. State schools Superintendent Christopher Koch said the state has worked harder to get cooperation from local school districts and teachers' unions during this phase of the competition. Koch said Illinois will emphasize its plans to better prepare school leaders for reform when officials visit Washington in August to make their pitch for a grant.
Rod Blagojevich's attorney is scheduled to give his closing argument Tuesday morning and the judge has already warned him that he could be held in contempt of court.
The warning came at the end of the day Monday.
Sam Adam Jr. told the judge that he planned to talk about the fact that jurors have heard all about Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine and yet the government never called either of them as witnesses.
Judge James Zagel said Adam should focus on the evidence that was presented, not the evidence and witnesses that weren't presented.
Zagel said, "You will not argue it.".
Adam told the judge he wouldn't follow the order at which point Zagel told Adam he'd be held in contempt.
Adam told the judge that he was ready to go to jail.
Zagel said Adam was showing a "profound misunderstanding of the legal rules."
He then adjourned for the day to give Adam time to reformulate his argument.
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