Illinois Public Media News
A Springfield engineering and architecture firm is one of 15 recipients of the U.S. Defense Department's highest employer award.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that Hanson Professional Services Inc. is a recipient of the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is given for "exceptional support'' of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.
Freedom award honorees will meet privately with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in conjunction with a Sept. 22 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Also attending are the workers who nominated their employers for the award.
Officials say since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 1.1 million Guard and Reserve service members have been deployed. They have made up almost half of the U.S. military strength.
Indiana's unemployment rate inched higher in August but remains below the national average.
The state Department of Workforce Development said Friday that the Indiana jobless rate increased from 8.5 percent in July to 8.7 percent, with about 274,000 people seeking work last month. Workforce Development commissioner Mark Everson says that revised numbers from July helped offset some that downturn.
The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.
The state agency says growth in construction and government employment last month wasn't enough to offset job losses in manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.
Indiana's jobless rate is still significantly lower than a year ago, when it stood at 10 percent. Indiana's rate is also slightly lower than rates in neighboring Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
Bondville Residents Worry About Losing Post Office
The U.S. Postal Service is considering shutting down several of its offices in an effort to fill a $10 billion budget deficit. The days may be numbered for one small-town post office in Champaign County.
The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library are joining a new catalog system at the end of the year.
The catalog will include features that aren't currently available to patrons through the current catalog system that's shared by libraries that make up the Illinois Heartland Library System. Among the features in the new catalog are e-mail updates alerting patrons whenever an items that matches a saved search arrives, and a mobile application that allows users to make reservations and renewals.
It is still being decided which features will go to which library. The mobile app, for example, will be available at the Champaign library, but won't be immediately available at the Urbana Free Library, according to Debra Lissak, the director of the Urbana Free Library.
Lissak said both the Champaign and Urbana libraries will continue to share items with the more than 590 libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System.
"We are not leaving Illinois Heartland Library System," Lissak said. "We will still do borrowing between people of other libraries. The other thing I've heard is that Champaign and Urbana libraries are merging. We're not merging our libraries. We're just sharing an online catalog."
Champaign Public Library director Marsha Grove said the new catalog system will be less expensive, and give both libraries more options of how to use its features.
"We're a large library, and Urbana is a fairly large library," Grove said. "We wante to make the catalog more useful for the people in our community."
The new catalog system is expected to be available by the end of the year. People who visit other libraries in the state will still be able to see what items are available in Champaign and Urbana by visiting the website worldcat.org
The U.S. Postal Service may close its Bloomington Mail Processing Center, and some of those services could be coming to Champaign.
The Postal Service is announcing feasibility studies to consolidate ten operations in Illinois, including the 158 Bloomington sorting and handling jobs. By early next year, the agency will have looked at whether it makes sense to move the Bloomington functions to Champaign and Peoria. The Postal Service may also consolidate Effingham's operations into Champaign. The agency's Valerie Welsch said union agreements will determine whether jobs are simply cut or relocated. She said the study for Bloomington will be done in February or March.
The service said it's facing one of the most difficult challenges in history, with first class mail volume dropping by 25 percent in the last five years. Postal Service spokeswoman Beverly Howard said technology changes likely make that a permanent drop.
"We don't look at the volume, even with the economy picking back up, with it coming back to the levels that it needs to be," said Howard, who says the USPS wants to reduce about 40-percent of its capacity in the Great Lakes region.
Howard added that transportation and logistic networks are going to be changed.
"Just the capacity within the processing plant (will be examined)," he said. "Some are larger than others, come can hold certain types of equipment, and in some cases, carrier routes may be in the facilities, so we're looking at all of that."
Letters with postage stamps, or single piece first class mail, has dropped 36 percent in the same period. Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton said he hopes to reach out to the postmaster to find out what role citizens can play in the study. He said he hopes an argument can be made for Bloomington to gain jobs instead.
"Because of Bloomington's central location, I would hope they would consider the possiblity of consolidating other areas into Bloomington," said Stockton. "That's worked well with things like the airport which has gained from its central location."
The postal service will hold public hearings in areas marked for consolidation after it completes the study, and says it will consult its major corporate users, like State Farm Insurance. The Bloomington facility processes 8.5 pieces of mail a week for the Bloomington-Normal, Lasalle-Peru, and Kankakee areas.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to depart for China on Friday to lead an delegation of Illinois business and educational leaders. The governor told reporters this week he hopes his eight day mission will help improve trade relations with the country - and boost Illinois' economy.
Quinn said an increase in exports will create more jobs in Illinois.
"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said."That's part of the job of a governor nowadays, especially in the 21st century."
The delegation is scheduled to stop in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Illinois first opened a trade office in 1983.
Quinn said he plans to sign an agreement with China that would increase soybean exports. China, according to Quinn, is the third largest exporter for Illinois, behind Canada and Mexico.
According to the governor's office, Illinois exports to China have grown recently, totaling more than $3 billion last year. Key exports include machinery, electronics, chemicals and agricultural products.
During his time as mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley made several visits to China to promote business and tourism in the city. Quinn said he hopes his visit will further encourage Chinese tourism to Illinois, which grew to 97,000 visitors in 2010.
The governor also plans to visit Japan for a conference at the end of his trip to China. He is scheduled to return to Illinois on September 24. This is Quinn's second trip abroad this year -- he visited Israel in July.
The plan to merge the Illinois treasurer and comptroller's office is stuck in the state House of Representatives.
Combining the two offices that handle state finances could save Illinois an estimated $12 million, but the legislature hasn't signed off on the constitutional change.
State treasurer Dan Rutherford and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka both favor combining their offices into one. Topinka, a Republican, blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for keeping it "bottled up" in that chamber.
Madigan's spokesman denies that claim, saying the Speaker does believe the two offices have dramatically different duties, and the public's funds are best safeguarded when they're kept separate.
Illinois used to have one fiscal office known as the state's auditor, but in the '50s Orville Hodge used the office to rob the state. Madigan was part of the constitutional drafters who in 1970 separated the office's duties to prevent future scandals. Topinka said she understands that history.
"But the oversight angle of splitting those offices is long gone," Topinka said. "We have other ways of doing it. So now it's time to bring them back and avoid at least 20 percent duplication. That's easy pickings. For gosh sake's what does it take to figure it out? There is honestly no downside. No downside."
The Speaker's spokesman said Madigan believes the consolidation proposal as is doesn't have enough safeguards.
Republican presidential front-runner Rick Perry is planning to campaign in Indiana next month. The Texas governor accepted an invitation from state Republican Chairman Eric Holcomb to visit Indiana. Holcomb announced Thursday that Perry will stop in Indianapolis on Oct. 12.
Perry will be the fourth Republican presidential candidate to campaign in the state. Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made trips last month and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is scheduled to visit Indianapolis Sept. 23.
The combination of the state's late primary in May and nearly solid backing of Republican presidential candidates has typically meant few presidential candidates visiting the state.
That changed with the drawn-out 2008 Democratic battle during which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned heavily in Indiana.
The Champaign City Council is affirming its support for the agency set up to promote tourism for the area. But Mayor Don Gerard says he expects more accountability from the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau from now on.
Council members endorsed a new set of goals, principles and expectations for the CVB at Tuesday night's study session. Among other things, it calls for more proactive marketing from the bureau, and accountability that demonstrates a return on investment.
Mayor Don Gerard said he wants know what the Convention and Visitors Bureau is doing to promote Champaign right now, not just what it's done in the past.
"I want to take a fresh look at things as we're going, as per their day-to-day operations," Gerard said. "I want to know what is it are they doing there, 8 to 5 everyday? What sort of things are they doing? What sort of things are they going after? What sort of things did we used to have that they're either trying to bring back or replace? I just want to hold them to a very high standard."
Champaign is providing $223,000 to the Convention and Visitors Bureau this year --- at a time when Urbana has eliminated its funding. Several Champaign council members used Tuesday night's study session to praise the CVB, while pointing out Urbana's lack of support. The Urbana City Council is expected to revisit the topic at an upcoming meeting.
Lawyers accuse State Farm Insurance of lying about and trying to cover up the amount of company support in a massively expensive race for State Supreme Court back in 2004. A filing alleges fraud against the State Supreme Court.
The case involves a class action lawsuit involving State Farm's policies on use of after-market auto parts in repairs. In 2005, the State Supreme Court overturned a billion dollar judgment against the Bloomington insurance giant with the key vote of newly elected Justice Lloyd Karmeier.
The plaintiffs now want the high court to at least reconsider the case without Karmeier. And they'd prefer the original billion dollar verdict in their favor.
Court papers allege at the time, State Farm characterized its donations to Karmeier as...a limited number of officers and employees making quite modest contributions. In fact, the filing indicates an investigation by a retired FBI agent shows State Farm lobbyist Bill Shepherd helped recruit Karmeier for the race, and funneled loads of money through the Illinois Civil Justice League to Karmeier.
Bill Shepherd also was a member of the Civil Justice League's Executive Committee. State Farm then denied that Ed Murnane, the head of the Civil Justice League, ran Karmeier's campaign, something now confirmed by e-mails. The filing says Karmeier knew State Farm was bankrolling him to the tune of two and a half to four million dollar, or up to 56-percent of all his funding and still failed to recuse himself from the case.
The filing notes the billion dollar ruling in State Farm's favor is either a coincidence or an impressive rate of return on State Farm's investment. In either case, the argument goes, other justices should have disqualified Karmeier from hearing the issue because of a serious risk of actual bias.
The plaintiffs quote a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a different case that....just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause no man should be able to choose a judge in his own cause. The filing says State Farm's immense efforts created a constitutionally intolerable probability of bias and possibly denied them their due process rights.
State Farm responds to the new allegations by saying only that the case was decided years ago and the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.
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