Illinois Public Media News
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon vows that the county will maintain its health department, but it may become something residents don't recognize.
By late this year, the department could go without a number of state-grant funded programs, and cut more jobs in addition to the 12 it lost in January. Tuesday night. Vermilion County Board members approved extending a $300,000 loan that it gave to the health department last year. The action gives the health department until mid-July to pay it back. But the board voted down an additional loan of $400,000. McMahon says the department has to assume that it won't receive the $700,000 dollars that it's owed from the state by July. He says that means running a stripped down health department. "Our goal is to maintain a certified health department in addition to restaurant inspections and also a sanitation-sewer division," said McMahon. "Those would automatically stay. We would to whatever it takes to keep those. Any other program that isn't in that immediate program may have to be on hold the state of Illinois straightens out their act."
The Vermilion County Board's options for health program cuts and the additional loan also called for a property tax hike in Vermilion County of around 16-percent. The increase would have paid for not only the health department's shortfall, but additional county offices like the state's attorney and juvenile detention center. "If we hadn't taken the action to eliminate 12 jobs and three programs, the state would have owed us $1.2 million at the end of June," said Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Steve Laker. "Now we're projecting (a deficit of) only $700,000, only the state isn't reimbursing the county for state's attorney's salary, public defender's salary, juvenile detention staff, and probation services staff. And all that adds up to about another $1.2 million. The state owes the county about $1.9 million."
The Vermilion County Board of Health will put forth a new proposal for potential program cuts. It meets at 7 Wednesday night. The Board of Health proposals will be passed on to the Vermilion County Board, which will vote on them May 11th.
Up to 15,000 people are participating in one of the biggest rallies in the history of the Illinois state Capitol.
The secretary of state's office says about 12,000 people marched the streets of Springfield on Wednesday. Even more were on the Statehouse grounds, bringing the total to about 15,000.
The event was billed as a "Save Our State'' rally. It drew state employees, teachers and advocates from social service organizations.
Fired-up speakers urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as "Show some guts!''
Don Dixon is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign and a board member of the Illinois Education Association. He brought 20 students to the state capitol for the rally. Dixon says there will be more layoffs in his district unless the state puts more money into education.
We just laid off 153 people in the second round. The first round we laid off about 50. And it's only going to get worse," Dixon said. "The state has pretty much screwed up entirely as far as funding anything. So bills are being paid late. Eventually we're just going to have to close down if we don't get an increase in revenue and get some sillier things cut out."
Gov. Pat Quinn wants a 33 percent increase in the income tax, but House Democrats have been reluctant to back a hike.
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is continuing his attacks on the prosecutors who've hit him with corruption charges and says he isn't worried that a federal judge will slap a gag order on the case.
Blagojevich began his offensive Tuesday when he called the prosecutors "cowards and liars.'' He also challenged Chicago's U.S. attorney to meet him face to face in court if he's "man enough.''
On Wednesday, Blagojevich continued his campaign during an appearance on Chicago's WLS Radio. The Democrat accused the government of being "involved in a big cover-up'' and repeated his comments about prosecutors.
Blagojevich also dismissed the possibility that U.S. District Judge James Zagel could order him to stop talking about the case, saying "this is still the United States of America.''
Zagel has scheduled a hearing later in the day to discuss motions being filed in the case.
Gordie Hulten took his seat last (Tuesday) night as the new Champaign City Council member for District Five, covering the southwest part of the city.
City council members voted 6 to nothing, with Councilman Mike LaDue abstaining, to appoint Hulten to the seat left vacant by Dave Johnson's resignation earlier this year.
Hulten is a sales and marketing director for the Devonshire Group, who's also worked on various Republican political projects, including Congressman Tim Johnson's election campaign. But he says there's little risk that he'll bring partisan politics to the officially non-partisan Champaign City Council
"I think it is less of a concern" says Hulten, "because there is very little business that the city council does that is partisan, or that can be broken down on partisan lines. You know we do very little scorekeeping by which team or which coalition. You know, you see shifting coalitions on the city council much more than you see on the county board of the state legislature. It's much less top-heavy."
Hulten also says he plans to discontinue "Illinipundit", his blog on local politics.
Hulten beat out two other applicants for the District 5 council seat --- retired Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wild and health care consultant Cathy Emmanuel. The council seat will be up for election next spring, and Hulten has said he plans to run at that time.
A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.
The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.
Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.
Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.
"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."
Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.
Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's YouTube comment about President Obama hurt race relations in the city. So say five African-Americans who commented at Tuesday night's city council meeting. But Schweighart says his comments weren't about race, but the U-S Constitution. I
Jerome Chambers of the local N-double-C-P and former Champaign County Board Chair Patricia Avery were among local African-Americans who told Schweighart that his statement doubting that Barack Obama was born in the U-S, showed disrespect towards the nation's first black president. Jamar Brown, who serves on Champaign's Human Relations Commission told the mayor his comments hurt attempts to mend relations between the city and African-Americans in the wake of last October's fatal police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
"When I hear negative comments towards you", said Brown, "one of the biggest things that I've always said to people is that, whether you like him or not, he is still our mayor and deserves that respect. And I will end it by asking, doesn't the president of the United States of American deserve that same respect?"
But Schweighart stood by the comments he made to an interviewer during a Tea Party rally last week.
"My concern was not with the color of the president setting in the United States", said Schweighart. "It was concern with the constitutional questions that I have great concern about. Somehow, it's got turned around to be a racial thing."
And Schweighart says that's a misconception, citing years of working with the local African-American community as a council member and former police officer.
Schweighart had at least one apparent supporter at the Tuesday night meeting. Champaign resident Keith Whited came to the meeting, carrying a sign calling for President Obama's impeachment.
For the first time in decades, all of the countywide candidates in Champaign County will run unopposed.
The filing deadline for parties to slate challengers passed Monday. County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Clerk Mark Shelden and Treasurer Dan Welch - all Republicans - have no opposition in November unless someone files a petition as an independent in the next two months.
County Democratic chairman Al Klein says the incumbents are very strong candidates with multiple terms behind them.
"We have openings in some strong Republican county board districts, so it's difficult to find candidates who could run substantial campaigns," Klein said. "We have one good county board candidate in District 1."
That district, covering the Mahomet area, has also been traditionally Republican, but Klein says he has confident in candidate Eric Thorsland.
Several Champaign County Board races will also be foregone conclusions if no one runs as an independent - Republicans will be unopposed in districts 2, 3 and 4, while Democrats will take at least one seat in district 9. The Green Party has no candidates in any county race this fall.
A new wish list of capital projects for state universities includes $50 million for the eventual renovation of the biggest libraries on the University of Illinois campus.
But the request for capital money forwarded to the Illinois Board of Higher Education would have to pass muster with state lawmakers who are already battling serious financial troubles, and the U of I still hasn't received some of the funds it was promised from the last capital plan, passed last year.
U of I leaders want to transform the main and undergraduate libraries to meet 21st century needs. The library's assistant dean for facilities, Jeff Schrader, says some minor projects are taking place with money the system has on hand.
"We have just gotten approval to start on a $5 million envelope project which will involve replacing windows and masonry pointing. And we have another $2 million project on the FY 2010 capital development budget for the exterior renovation of the main library also."
The overall library plan totals more than $300 million dollars over the next eight years - it would eventually add a first-floor to the undergrad library, which is currently totally underground. It would become a special-collections library while the main facility would also be expanded.
The group working to change the way districts are drawn in Illinois needs more than 280,000 signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. But with the deadline looming, the group may come up short, raising the likelihood that Illinois' system of drawing legislative boundaries -- which often comes to down to pulling a name from a hat to determine which party has a political advantage -- could remain unchanged.
The League of Women Voters has been leading the effort circulating petitions since December. The league's director, Jan Czarnik, says so far the group's gathered around 120,000 signatures. That's less than half of what's needed. Czarnik says petitions are still being circulated. She says getting people to sign on is not the issue.
"It's two weeks before we have to file and if we do fall short, it's only because we haven't had enough people circulating petitions in such a short period of time," Czarnik said.
Petition signatures have to be in to the Secretary of State by May 3. The plan would create an independent commission to do redistricting.
Republican lawmakers tried to get the plan through the legislature which would avoid the need for getting signatures, but Democrats blocked it. Senate Democrats passed a competing plan and sent it to the House. But Republican support will be needed to pass it there, and House GOP Leader Tom Cross says that won't happen.
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