Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Flooding Prompts Debate between Mo. Farmers and Il. Residents

The Army Corps of Engineers is waiting to decide if it will intentionally break a levee to help relieve flooding problems in a Southern Illinois town. But farmers in Missouri are objecting to the plan.

Flooding in Cairo, Illinois is so bad, more than 100 people have been evacuated. It's a town of 2,800 residents at the southern tip of Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

"I'm 50 years old, and I can't recall seeing it higher before," said Sheila Simon, Illinois' lieutenant governor.

She said she hopes the water levels start to go down, or else the Army Corps might have to poke holes in a Mississippi River levee near Cairo.

But farmers in Missouri say that would flood their land and ruin crops. In a statement, Blake Hurst, the head of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said 130,000 acres of farmland could be destroyed.

Missouri has filed a lawsuit to block efforts to break the levee. A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Emanuel Warns Not-for-Profits About Changes

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel says no group is immune from the sweeping changes he plans to make in the city of Chicago.

Emanuel said Wednesday that means changes for non-profits and charitable organizations as well. For instance, he said he no longer wants non-profits and charitable organizations to get free city water in their facilities.

He says it's all part of his philosophy that every group needs to make some sacrifices so no one group has to sacrifice more than it should. Emanuel takes over as mayor May 16. He says nobody is in a "sacrifice-free zone."

Emanuel made his comments at an arts event in downtown Chicago. He was initially asked whether non-profits should pay property taxes. He promised to look into it and give a fuller answer later.

Categories: Business, Government

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Vermilion County Food Company Plans Large Expansion

Henning-based Full-Fill Industries in Vermilion County plans to expand its operation thanks to $2.5 million dollars in state tax incentives, which will be administered to assist in areas such as job training, tax credits, and infrastructure improvements.

Full-Fill Industries, which is owned by the Clapp Family of Danville, produces cooking spray products.

"Family-owned businesses like Full-Fill are the backbone of our economy," Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement. "We must do what we can to give them the tools they need to grow and succeed."

The company plans to double its size by constructing three new high-speed production lines in 25,000-square-feet of new manufacturing space. In addition, it will build a 108,000 square-foot warehouse and distribution building, which will include eight new docks and additional bulk tank storage for edible oils.

Company CEO David Clapp anticipates construction will begin this summer, and wrap up within the next year and a half.

"We've been in business for a little over 10 years and this kind of news is very exciting for us," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime dream come true."

The company currently employs 94 employees, but will be able to hire an additional 150 people for various jobs including management, administrative and production positions.

Clapp adds because of the financial support from the state, the company will start producing cooking spray products for ConAgra Foods, which has relied on service from a plant in Rossville that is expected to close. That plant employs about 170 people, and Full-Fill Industries said there is a possibility it will be able to retain some of those jobs.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Former Attorney Shows up to Wish Blagojevich Luck

The lead attorney at Rod Blagojevich's first trial walked into the courtroom where the ex-governor's retrial is under way to wish his former client luck.

Sam Adam Jr. showed up just before proceedings began Wednesday. He shook hands with Blagojevich and gave one of the ousted governor's new attorneys a hug.

During the first trial, Adam's courtroom style led to clashes with Judge James Zagel and raised the ire of prosecutors.

Current defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky turned to prosecutors sitting nearby on Wednesday and joked that Adam would be giving the opening statement for the defense.

Jury selection hasn't finished, and Zagel has said openings could take place Monday.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 27, 2011

Champaign County Board Members Discuss Compensation Issue

Champaign County Board members haven't had a raise in more than 20 years.

And based on a straw poll conducted Tuesday night, a majority of them don't want to change the method they're paid, earning a specific per diem per meeting plus mileage, rather than an annual salary. But the amount of that per diem has yet to be set. It's currently $45, an amount some call woefully short. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz said it's kept some people from serving.

"It costs them more in the evening to pay the babysitter than they're getting in the per diem," he said. "It has really happened. I know one very good board member we lost because of that. No entity goes 25 years without any salary increase. It's really kind of ludicrous."

Champaign Democrat Michael Richards agrees, saying his party has trouble recruiting candidates with the current level of compensation, but Mahomet Republican John Jay said a raise can't be justified after the sacrifices county employees have made.

"So I'm hoping that we don't raise it at this time..," he said. "..In due respect to our employees, and to the taxpayers of this county, until we get our county back into some kind of reasonable fiscal shape."

Urbana Republican Steve Moser said money was never an incentive for him to serve on the county board, saying it's no different from serving on a school board.

County Administrator Deb Busey suggests the board set compensation rates every 10 years, and prior to a change in county board structure. It's expected to have 22 members instead of the current 27 after the 2012 elections. Voters recommended the change in an advisory referendum last fall.

The rates for board members don't have to be set until about six months before a new county board is sworn in, but county board chair Pius Wiebel said he'd hope to do it much sooner.

In another straw poll, the County Board also rejected a suggestion that the title of county board chair become an elected member of the county rather than one chosen by county board members.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Facebook Challenges Chicago-based Groupon

Chicago-based Groupon is getting some stiffer competition.

Facebook has launched a new program that's a direct challenge to Groupon.

You can add Facebook to the increasing list of web sites with products similar to Groupon. Google is also offering its own brand of daily deals sent straight to your Inbox, along with countless smaller web sites.

So can any these discount deals really put a dent in Groupon, one of the fastest-growing companies in the world?

"At the end of the day, I think it benefits Groupon as well," said Andrew Razeghi, who's with Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He said bigger companies can help promote the business as a whole.

"If you get Facebook promoting deal sites, 500 million people, it's only going to help Groupon over time," Razeghi said. "So it'll probably grow the category overall and everybody in it is going to be better off over time."

A Groupon spokeswoman would not comment for this story.

(Photo courtesy of Franco Bouly/flickr)

Categories: Business, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Daniels’ Timeline for White House Campaign Ticking

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, nearing an announcement on whether to run for president, is spending the final week of his state's legislative session pushing for the final pieces of a record that would be ready-made for a Republican campaign: a balanced budget, tax refunds and a school voucher program.

This week's unexpected decision by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Daniels friend, to forgo a presidential candidacy seemingly makes it more likely the Midwestern governor will seek the GOP nomination. Party insiders close to the two men say Barbour and Daniels, whose early careers intersected as aides to President Ronald Reagan, had indicated privately they would not both seek the 2012 nomination.

But Daniels, 62, is not rushing to join the field.

The governor, who typically keeps his own counsel, is staying mum about his plans. Even his closest advisers here say they still aren't sure what he will do.

He's kept open the possibility of a run for months, if only to make sure his top issue - enormous deficits and the national debt - was a serious part of the debate. And he is keeping his pledge to tend to business in Indiana before making an announcement or taking even the most preliminary steps toward a national run.

"He has said he's focused on the legislative session and he would make a decision when that's over," Jane Jankowski, the governor's spokeswoman, said Tuesday. The Legislature is slated to adjourn by the end of this week.

Daniels is the first to acknowledge he's done little to lay the groundwork for a campaign, and his lack of planning has been striking to some who would support him if he ran.

"I don't know if he's got the fire in the belly, drive and desire to run for president of the United States. I haven't seen it," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told The Associated Press. "At this point, I don't think it's likely that he'll run."

Branstad, Republican governor of the first state to hold a leadoff nominating contest, got that impression last week when Daniels called to discuss education policy but made no mention of a presidential campaign.

No "absolute fire in the belly" was the reason Barbour gave for bowing out of the race.

Barbour's announcement surprised many Republicans who had expected the former Republican National Committee chairman to mount a serious campaign based on fiscal issues and the economy. His decision could open the door for Daniels, a hero to the anti-deficit wing of the party, a former pharmaceutical executive, and a George W. Bush budget director. He can check many of the same boxes that many Republicans are seeking: private sector background, executive experience running a state or federal department, balanced state budget.

He would enter a race that lacks a clear front runner. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is trying to position himself as the fiscal conservative in the race despite overseeing a health care overhaul in Massachusetts that is strikingly similar to the President Barack Obama's massive health overhaul that many Republicans loathe. Others, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, are struggling to gain attention.

As a candidate, Daniels could trumpet his success in balancing the state budget, weakening teachers' unions and setting in motion a substantial education agenda - all this year.

"He's going to have some victories at the Statehouse," said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker. "He's got the majorities."

Republicans hold 60 seats of the 100-member state House and 33 of the Senate's 50 seats.

"For anyone who underestimates Mitch, they do so at their own risk," Parker said.

Daniels, a political strategist who served in the Reagan White House, called many of the shots in his two gubernatorial races. The last made a huge impression in the GOP: He was the rare Republican governor who won re-election in a state that Obama carried in 2008.

Since taking office in 2005, Daniels has logged victories central to fiscal conservatives' goals: He scrapped the requirement that state employees belong to unions, privatized the state's toll road, turned budget deficits into surpluses and expanded health care to more than 130,000 residents with tax hikes on cigarettes.

As he enters the last two years of his term, he's working to expand his national profile.

Daniels plans to address the conservative American Enterprise Institute next week to talk about his education agenda. If lawmakers don't weaken his plan in the final days, it will include the nation's broadest school voucher program allowing middle- and low-income families to use taxpayer funds to send students to private schools.

His wife, Cheri, is to headline an Indiana GOP fundraiser later in May, a notable shift for a spouse more likely to show up at county fairs unannounced than to take the podium in front of thousands of political activists.

And Daniels is to release a policy book this fall called "Keeping the Republic: Limited Government, Unlimited Citizens."

In Iowa, some of the state's most prominent and potent operatives are eagerly awaiting Daniels' decision now that Barbour isn't in the race emphasizing solving the federal government's fiscal problems.

"I think there's an opening to take up that message," Branstad said.

Des Moines Republican Doug Gross, long involved in party politics in the state, has spoken highly of Daniels, too, and says there's a place in the field for a budget hawk.

Even so, Daniels' suggestion that social issues take a backseat to economic and fiscal concerns would cause him headaches in Iowa. Branstad said evangelical conservatives - who account for roughly half of Iowa Republicans - would hold Daniels to account even though he has a record as a loyal social conservative.

Still, with Barbour out of the race, Daniels could benefit from donors and operatives who no longer have a candidate to back.

His advisers privately acknowledge that he hasn't done the legwork other Republicans weighing bids have done, and that could put him at a disadvantage.

Most GOP presidential prospects have reached out to Iowans - and other voters in early primary states - over the past year to gauge interest. But Daniels has avoided it and declined several invitations to speak in the states.

He also spent his political capital last year working to bolster the GOP ranks in his state Legislature, rather than aiding Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina Republicans, as some 2012 prospects did with their political action committees.

This week as the Barbour decision roiled political circles, Daniels' advisers emphasized that the governor wanted to keep focused on the Statehouse before looking seriously at his own future. They said he worried that even a momentary break could spell havoc for his agenda as governor - and, perhaps, his platform should he run for president.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Search to Begin for Culver’s Replacement

Arthur Culver has resigned as the Champaign Unit 4 superintendent, and now the focus for the school district is finding his replacement.

Culver's last day will be June 30, 2011. He has served as Unit 4 superintendent for nearly a decade, and publically announced his intention to resign during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I really do think that I've run my race, and it's just time to pass that baton," Culver said, who took long pauses to regain his composure. "It's not right to continue to collect a paycheck knowing that I don't have that same passion and fire in the belly that I used to."

Culver said he first started thinking about moving on from the Champaign School District last summer. Just until this week, he was on the shortlist for the top job in the DeKalb County school system in Georgia, but withdrew his name as a finalist.

"When I look at the recent events surrounding that search, I just felt it was in my best interest to remove myself and withdraw," Culver said. "I'm sure at some point they will discover a great superintendent that will lead them through their troubled waters."

Culver wouldn't give specifics about other professional opportunities he is interested in pursuing, but didn't rule out staying in Champaign County.

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson touted Culver's achievements during his tenure, including a successful end to the district's Consent Decree, bringing up achievement levels for students of all races, three years of having a budget surplus, and a high school graduation rate that went from just below 90-percent to nearly 96-percent.

Tomlinson said the search process for the next superintendent will begin as early as Thursday, April 28, and that an interim superintendent will be named by July 1st. Tomlinson said while there are currently six people within the school district who are qualified for the job, a national search will take place to find the next superintendent.

"We have no one in mind at this point," Tomlinson said. "That will be a process of an unknown length."

Culver said he will be part of the transition process. He added that he hopes the next superintendent makes cutting down on disciplinary problems among students a priority.

There will be a series of public forums in the coming months to gather community input about the search. Anyone interested in being part of the search team should send an e-mail with their interests and qualifications to U4BOE@ChampaignSchools.org.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Report: Breastfeeding in Illinois Hinges Partly on Race, Income

Almost half of African-American mothers in Illinois never breastfeed their newborns, according to a report by state and university researchers and a nonprofit group called HealthConnect One.

Among new black mothers in 2008, about 45 percent did not start breastfeeding their infants, according to the report, "Illinois Breastfeeding Blueprint: A Plan for Change." That figure compares to 21 percent for whites, 14 percent for Latinas and three percent for Asian-Americans.

The report also shows income disparities. The rate of low-income white mothers in the state who never started breastfeeding babies born in 2008 was 36 percent.

"Hospitals should be doing more to encourage breastfeeding," said University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist Deborah Rosenberg, who analyzed data for the report.

Looking at all new Illinois mothers, the report says the number who did start breastfeeding was almost 78 percent by 2008 - up about eight percent from 2000. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set a national goal of almost 82 percent by 2020.

Starting breastfeeding does not mean keeping at it. Twelve weeks after giving birth, just 47 percent of Illinois mothers were breastfeeding, according to the report. Of those, almost half were not breastfeeding exclusively.

"Many women go back to work then," Rosenberg said. "It means that employers need to be supportive of breastfeeding."

Rosenberg said resources for lactation consultants and peer counselors are also falling short.

HealthConnect One, based in Chicago, published the report Monday in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Human Services and the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health.

Next month the group and its partners plan to begin formulating a five-year action plan for hospitals, government agencies, employers, insurers and community groups.

Federal health officials say breastfeeding helps babies avoid obesity, infections and chronic diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 26, 2011

Cairo, Other IL River Communities Bracing for Severe Flooding

The far southern Illinois city of Cairo is giving residents the option of voluntarily leaving as the Ohio River continues to rise.

Police dispatcher Cheryl James says, as of Tuesday morning, eight families have notified police that they're clearing out. Alexander County Emergency Management Coordinator Marty Nicholson says Cairo's levee and flood wall are holding their own against a river that's expected to reach a record 61 feet on May 3. Nicholson says the concrete flood wall at Cairo can hold back water levels up to 64 feet. On Tuesday, the river already had topped 56 feet.

The Mississippi River is also the center of attention for emergency officials. Already, St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties in Illinois are under a flash flood watch.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello and Republican Rep John Shimkus met Monday with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials.

Afterward, the lawmakers said they encouraged the corps and IEMA to work closely with local officials in coordinating plans to deal with flooding.

According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., a storm system that blew through northeast Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on Monday will likely move into Illinois on Tuesday. It is expected to cause substantial flooding in a corridor that runs from Illinois to Arkansas.


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