Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Ill. Treasurer: Pension Battle Belongs in Court

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state should give government employees an option between pension plans and then defend the change in court.

The Republican said Tuesday he thinks giving current employees a choice between the current, guaranteed payment pension plan and a new 401(k)-style program would not run afoul of the state constitution. The constitution bars cutting retiree benefits.

A major union says the idea wouldn't raise the same "constitutional red flags'' as simply reducing benefits.

But the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees says Rutherford's proposal wouldn't fix the state's pension problems.

Rutherford says the state cannot afford to fund pensions in its current form. He says the switch would help restore solvency.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Still No Word if Superintendent Culver to Get Georgia Job

The Champaign School Board was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening with the hope that it might know more about the professional future of Superintendent Arthur Culver, but that meeting has been canceled.

Culver has served in his current role for nearly a decade, and is one of two candidates on a shortlist for the top job with the DeKalb County School System in metropolitan Atlanta.

Culver couldn't be reached for comment, but in an interview with the News Gazette, he stated he thinks he has taken the Champaign School District as far as he can, and that its time for him to "find something somewhere else."

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson wouldn't comment on what would happen if Culver is not picked for the position in Georgia, but said if he does get it; a national search would begin to replace him.

"We would probably name an interim superintendent for a period of time because we think a national search would take a considerable period of time," Tomlinson said. "Clearly, right now Superintendent Culver is here, and that's who we're looking at."

The Champaign School Board meets Monday, April 25 at 6 PM to talk about personnel issues. Tomlinson wouldn't provide more specifics about the agenda.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 19, 2011

Tea Party, MoveOn.Org, Each Rally in Champaign on Tax Day

Monday's overnight tax filing deadline brought out two very different messages to Champaign's West Side Park.

About 50 supporters of city's Tea Party decried federal government spending, claiming duplication exists in several areas. Political activist John Bambanek said the fault lies with elected officials in all parties. He said a tax hike passed by Illinois lawmakers won't help, only impacting the amount the state can give to pensions.

"We still have over 4-billion dollars in past due bills, and we're still not paying the University of Illinois on time, our schools on time, and our human services on time," Bambanek said. "And it is a spending problem, not a tax rate problem."

Commodities trader Bill Lawless told the group the U.S. spending patterns reflect that of someone who gets several credit cards while only making the minimum payment. He said the federal government spending needs to be cut by 40-percent just to achieve a balance.

Meanwhile, about 30 members of MoveOn.org rallied against companies that they allege are finding ways around paying the 35-percent corporate tax rate. They handed staff members at the Chase Bank downtown Champaign a large piece of cardboard representing a bill for $2-million. Volunteer Robert Naiman said that marks the difference between the taxes the corporation actually paid, and what it should have paid at the proper rate.

"Obviously, we have nothing against the employees in this bank," he said. "Our beef is with the corporate leadership of JP Morgan Chase. They're making the decisions about hiding the profits overseas so they don't have to pay their fair share of taxes."

The group says corporations like JP Morgan Chase, ExxonMobil and FedEx are hiding tax earnings in so-called offshore 'tax havens.'

And there was a small third rally Monday, a matter of feet from the Tea Party Group. Sam Kaufman with the U of I Law Student Labor Action Coalition said its presence of about 12 students was to show elected officials their support for health care reform, and labor-related measures.

(Photos by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Guilty of Violating Health Ordinance

The landlords who operate the Cherry Orchard Village apartments have been found guilty of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings.

Champaign County Presiding Judge John Kennedy fined Bernard and Eduardo Ramos more than $54,000. They must pay $100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems.

The Ramoses have 180 days to pay the fines. They are also barred from accepting tenants until the sewage problems are addressed.

Cherry Orchard has traditionally been a destination for migrant workers who come to the area during warmer months. Julie Pryde, the administrator with the Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said the ruling couldn't have come at a better time.

"I was just getting extremely nervous that this was taking so long because summer was getting closer and closer," Pryde said. "We know from history that the place would be completely filled up by then."

The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County and have faced hundreds of code violations.

Last year, the County amended its nuisance ordinance because of the severity of conditions at Cherry Orchard. The modified ordinance includes a dozen criteria that a building must follow to be considered safe, including access to clean drinking water, plumbing that meets state health codes, and not using extension cords to provide power to a dwelling unit.

Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said many of the conditions outlined in the amended ordinance exist at Cherry Orchard. Hall said his department submitted a complaint with the Champaign County State's Attorney's office under the amended nuisance ordinance to take aim at structural problems that he says exist at Cherry Orchard.

"Well, if there aren't any people living there now, there will someday," Hall said. "And at that point, I would imagine the situation would be even worse by then. If no one lives in a building, it only continues to deteriorate more. It doesn't stop deteriorating just because no one lives there.

Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Christina Papavasiliou said her office would only move forward with the nuisance complaint if the buildings on the Cherry Orchard property aren't repaired and tenants continue living there.

"If people do occupy the premises again, we have another complaint to file," Papavasiliou said.

The Ramoses immediately filed an appeal following Monday's court ruling.

(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Ind. Senate OKs Change Spurred by White Indictment

The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate has approved a change that would allow GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if indicted Republican Charlie White is found to be ineligible, a move Democrats called a blatant power grab that changes the rules in the middle of the game.

Democrats are challenging the eligibility of White, who faces voter fraud charges. They argue that state law requires runner-up Democrat Vop Osili to take office if White is ineligible.

A change approved by the Senate on Monday would instead allow the governor to pick a new elections chief if the winner is ineligible. Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis says the change was spurred by White's case and that the non-elected recount commission shouldn't determine the election's outcome.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

UI hopes Assembly Hall Work Starts in 2013

The University of Illinois has taken preliminary steps toward renovating the Assembly Hall and says it hopes to start construction in 2013.

The university has asked for bids from construction managers looking to take on the project and design work. The requests tentatively list the start date as January 2012 with a completion date of June 2015. They indicate the school would like to have the work done in phases so men's and women's teams could continue to play basketball in the arena.

Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Monday that the school doesn't yet have a good cost estimate. The project still needs the approval of university trustees.

Brown said Illinois is talking with Midwest-based companies about naming rights for the 48-year-old arena but he wouldn't identify them.

Categories: Education, Sports

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

UI Benefactor Jack Richmond Dies at 93

A man whose name appears on the title of the University of Illinois basketball coach, the exterior of the Champaign County Courthouse and a part of Illinois Public Media's facility has died.

Jack Richmond and his wife donated the Richmond Journalism Teaching Studio next to WILL's home at Campbell Hall in 1998. Richmond endowed the U of I men's basketball coach's position, and his donations formed the foundation of the county's courthouse bell restoration project. The Richmonds have also funded a number of scholarships for U of I athletes.

Jack Richmond was an avid weightlifter in his college days, when weight training for athletics was relatively unknown. He was 93 when he died Sunday.

Watch a story about Jack Richmond's legacy from UI-7

Categories: Biography, Community, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Prosecutors Rip into Blagojevich’s Public Comments

Federal prosecutors Monday ripped into public comments made by Rod Blagojevich. That comes two days before the former Illinois governor's corruption re-trial begins.

Blagojevich's comments to the media have centered around him saying, "Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes."

The former governor has said that playing all the secret phone conversations recorded by the FBI would show he's innocent and the fact that they aren't all played for jurors is a conspiracy by the prosecutors.

Prosecutors have mostly stuck to the legal issues in court, but U.S. Attorney Reid Schar let loose Monday, telling the judge that Blagojevich's talking points are lies. It's the judge who decides which tapes to play, not the government.

Judge James Zagel, for his part, told the court it would be wise for Blagojevich to restrain himself, saying he could overstep the line if he hasn't done so already. The judge said his comments should be considered a "red flag" for the defense to get their client in line.

Blagojevich's defense attorneys left court without talking to reporters; a rarity for them.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Johnson Fundraising Mail Goes Outside District, Staffer Blames Database Error

Some Republican political donors got a surprise when they opened their mail recently - solicitations from 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, even though Johnson isn't their representative.

People in Carbondale and Peoria were among those who received letters from Johnson's campaign asking for their help. But Johnson's chief of staff said the letters are not related to a potential upcoming shuffle of Illinois' congressional districts. Mark Shelden said the people who compiled one of the Johnson campaign's fundraising databases are to blame.

"For some reason in their database, some of these people were marked and flagged as being within our district and because of that, they received mail that we hadn't intended," Shelden said. "But we did manage to get a few contributions from outside our district, so obviously we're happy about that."

Shelden said it is highly unlikely that either Peoria or deep-southern Illinois would become part of Johnson's district once reapportionment is done later this year. Shelden said Johnson doesn't solicit campaign funds from adjoining House districts, though he sometimes receives outside donations because of his role on the House Agriculture Committee.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 18, 2011

Atty and Fmr Co Bd Member Robert Kirchner Dies

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Ruth Wyman, and to note that Renner-Wikoff of Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements.

Urbana attorney and former Champaign County Board member Robert Kirchner died over the weekend. A recording on the phone at Kirchner's law office in Champaign announced the death.

Kirchner was appointed to a vacant seat on the County Board in 2001, and was elected to a two-year term in 2002. He ran again in 2006, losing in a hotly contested primary

Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein remembers an earlier, unsuccessful bid by Kirchner for Tim Johnson's Illinois House seat in 1996. Klein said Kirchner's slogan in that campaign was "Stand Up, Speak Out, Be Heard", and that it was a slogan which fit him well throughout his life and career.

"He was a stand-up guy," said Klein of Kirchner. "He liked to speak up on issues that mattered to him. And he thought everyone should be heard and their views considered which is why, of course, that he was an advocate and a successful defense lawyer."

Fellow Democrat Tom Betz served with Kirchner on the Champaign County Board. Betz, now the county board vice-chair, says Kirchner was always concerned about the long-term impact of county board decisions, and sought inclusiveness in making appointments to county commissions. Betz said his concern for inclusiveness could also be seen in his law practice.

Ruth Wyman is an attorney in Kirchner's law firm, and also a former Urbana alderwoman who, like Kirchner, has been active in the local Democratic Party. In a statement for WILL, Wyman says Kirchner understood that justice was something to work for, not something automatically bestowed at the courthouse. She says Kirchner was ready to take on difficult cases and cash-strapped clients that other attorneys would turn down.

"Bob would develop the legal theories and defenses necessary to see that his clients got justice", writes Wyman, "whether it was the lawsuit to reinstate the Medicare 100 Plus program at Provena hospital for low-income seniors, creating a child dental program for low income children in the county, defending African Americans who were being stopped because of their race, or stopping the strip search of juveniles at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center."

Betz adds that might not been the most profitable career path for Kirchner, but it reflected his values.

"I had my share of disagreements over the years with Bob," Betz said. "But I always felt it came from a position of deeply held principled values."

Kirchner's run for the Champaign County Board in the 2006 Democratic primary pitted him and Lisa Bell against more moderate incumbents, Steve Beckett and Barbara Wysocki. Betz said he felt the differences involved were more a clash of personalities than political views.

The 54-year-old Kirchner is survived by his wife, Gerri, who has also been active in local Democratic politics. Renner-Wikoff Chapel and Crematory in Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements, which were pending, as of Tuesday morning.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

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