Illinois Public Media News
A new investment group has completed its purchase of the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.
A spokesman for Wrapports LLC says its transaction to buy Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC closed Monday. Sun-Times Media also owns a chain of newspapers in suburban Chicago and Indiana.
Sun-Times Media filed for bankruptcy in March 2009 and was led out of bankruptcy later that year by an investment group headed by Mesirow Financial president James Tyree. Tyree died earlier this year.
While the newspaper has slashed costs and cut dozens of staff positions, the Sun-Times won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for local reporting.
Its new ownership group is led by technology investor Michael Ferro Jr. and Timothy Knight, the former publisher of Long Island, N.Y., newspaper Newsday.
Different communities are asking residents to recycle their Christmas trees instead of throwing them out.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve has set up tree drop off points at three of its forest preserves in Mahomet, Penfield, and Homer. Trees can be dropped off through Jan. 20.
The forest preserve's Director of Natural Resources, Daniel Olson said some of the donated trees are put underwater in lakes and rivers, so that fish can have a place to hide. Meanwhile, he said other donated trees are used to provide nutrients to existing vegetation.
"We chip a lot of it into mulch, and then we do put it around our tree that helps with the health of the tree," Olson said. "It helps with the longevity of how long that tree will be around."
Olson said tree giving appears to be down this year, but he said he expects it to pick up soon.
Urbana is also reminding people to recycle their Christmas trees this season. Each year, the city collects around 1,600 Christmas trees for its annual recycling program.
Urbana Environmental Sustainability Manager Bart Hagston said during the first couple of weeks of January, residents should leave their trees out on the curb before 6 a.m. on days when their recycling is picked up.
"Well, to preserve landfill space, we like to keep these trees out of the waste stream and they also help to provide material which can be used for landscaping projects and that's why we like to send them out to the landscaping recycling center where they'll be grounded up," Hagston said.
People who do not live in Urbana can still recycle their Christmas trees through the city by dropping them off at the Urbana Recycling Center at 1210 E University Ave.
The city of Champaign has a similar recycling program in place from Jan. 2 through Jan. 13. Residents can leave their trees within four feet of the curb by 6:00 a.m. on their scheduled collection date.
Danville city officials will also be collecting Christmas trees from curbs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 13. The trees will be collected and processed through the city's yard waste recycling program. Questions may be directed to Danville Public Works - Solid Waste Division at 431-2288.
People interested in recycling their trees in any of these communities are reminded not to include any extra debris, like tree stands or ornaments.
Sears and Kmart will be closing more than 100 stores after disappointing holiday sales revenue. The holiday season is the most crucial time of year for retailers to haul in a profit, and this year Kmart and Sears fell way short of their goals.
Sears Holdings Corp. owns the companies and is based in Northwest Suburban Hoffman Estates. The corporation says same-store revenue fell 5.2 percent to date for the quarter at Sears and K-Mart.
Both stores blame revenue drops on diminished consumer electronic sales. Kmart also had less inventory on layaway and lackluster clothing sales this year, and Sears saw a decline in home appliances.
Sears has more than 4,000 stores in the US and Canada. Closing 100-120 stores is expected to generate more than $140 million dollars in cash inventory sales. Sears Holding Corp. anticipates additional proceeds from the sale or sublease of real estate holdings.
Earlier this month Illinois passed a huge corporate tax incentives bill to keep companies like Sears headquartered in Illinois. The company was threatening to leave the state if it wasn't given tax breaks.
Indiana State University officials are looking at ways to keep students in college after seeing the retention rate for first-time students fall to a record low 58 percent.
The Tribune-Star reports the rate for African-American students is an even lower 40 percent.
Provost Jack Maynard says the goal is to get the retention rate back up in the high 60 percent range.
An ISU panel is drafting a three-year retention plan to present to President Dan Bradley in January. Ideas could include required tutoring and tighter admissions standards.
Congressional candidates in Illinois have started filing petitions to get their names on the ballot for the upcoming election. Filing was delayed while Republicans unsuccessfully challenged the new Democratic drawn map of districts.
It's already evident there will be some key battles brought on by the changes. The new map has forced two Republican incumbents, Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo, to face off in the 16th District.
In the re-drawn 13th Congressional District, incumbent Tim Johnson of Urbana will be challenged in the Republican primary by Michael Firsching, a veterinarian from the Madison community of Moro who opposed Congressman John Shimkus in the 19th district last year. The Democrats in the race are Bloomington physician David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten.
Meanwhile, the 15th Congressional District, which now includes parts of Champaign County, has a smaller list of candidates. Republican Shimkus from Collinsville is running for re-election against pro-life Democrat Angela Michael of Highland. She's a retired nurse and radio talk show host.
Over in the southwest suburban 11th, GOP Congresswoman Judy Biggert will apparently have primary opposition while 3 Democrats have also filed, including former member of Congress Bill Foster.
The 2nd District will stretch from the south side of Chicago on to Kankakee. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is expected to face a primary challenge from former Democratic lawmaker Debbie Halvorson in what will likely be among the most closely watched races.
In the 8th District in Chicago's northwest suburbs, Tea Party backed Republican Joe Walsh is trying for a second term. Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who lost a statewide bid in 2010, has submitted petitions and former member of the Obama Administration Tammy Duckworth is expected to as well.
There's an open spot near St. Louis in the metro east where Jerry Costello has retired. Five hopefuls have filed there including former GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate Jason Plummer.
Tuesday is the filing deadline. The primary election will be held on March 20th.
Illinois is one of seven states to win a share of a $200 million dollar education grant in the federal Race to the Top program. The state won more than $43 million, more money than any of the other winners in this round of the competition.
Some of that money will help bolster education in science, math, engineering and technology. State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said Illinois is currently working on creating a system that ties student growth with teacher evaluations.
"About half of that fund will go to local districts out there in Illinois we have 868 districts," Fergus said. "The $21 million will go to those districts that have agreed to accelerate education reform."
The rest of the Race to the Top money will help install new Common Core State Standards that have already been adopted by many other states.
Judy Wiegand is the assistant superintendent of the Champaign School District, and she will become the district's superintendent next year.
"It's great in the sense that we're going to have one universal system for standards that's aligned with college and career readiness standards, and then even more importantly is really the instructional practices and the rigor that comes into the classroom to teach those standards," Wiegand said.
Wiegand said she expects Unit 4 to have the new Common Core standards fully implemented by the 2013-2014 school year. The Obama administration has awarded billions of dollars in Race to the Top funding.
For the second time in two months, Tony Rezko was back in front of a judge Thursday to be sentenced to federal prison. Rezko was a fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Rezko was recently sentenced to 10-and-a-half years behind bars for his role in corruption in the Blagojevich administration. On Thursday, he was back in front of a judge to be sentenced in a different case. This time for lying to get some loans to keep his failing businesses afloat. The case was brought as prosecutors were applying pressure to individuals involved in illegal fundraising for Blagojevich.
Judge James Zagel handed Rezko a seven and a half year sentence, which he can serve at the same time as his other sentence. Zagel also admonished Rezko for entangling, "an honorable man" into his criminal acts. By that he meant one of Rezko's co-defendants who pleaded guilty, but the judge didn't say to whom he was referring.
Rezko will also have to pay more than $4 million in restitution, something his attorney said Rezko cannot afford to do.
As the frail-looking 56-year-old left the courtroom, he smiled at his family, who waved to him and yelled, "Merry Christmas.
An environmental group in Illinois says it's happy that the federal government is following Illinois' lead in requiring power plants to cut down on mercury levels.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would force hundreds of the nation's power plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants.
Max Muller with Environment Illinois said the state passed its own mercury restrictions in 2006, and they have proven to be successful.
"We've shown that in Illinois that mercury can be reduced cheaply, that the lights aren't going to go out, and it does in fact yield very good results in terms of decreasing mercury pollution on the environment that harms health," Muller said.
Muller said the new federal standards are expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90 percent.
But the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has come out against the plan, saying it will destroy jobs and raise energy rates.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller wants to delay two lawsuits challenging Indiana's tough new immigration law because the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the issue in an Arizona case.
Zoeller's office said Thursday it filed a motion in federal court in Indianapolis seeking a temporary delay in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in June granted the ACLU a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana from enforcing two provisions in that law, including one that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants who are subject to immigration court removal orders.
Zoeller spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state also will seek a stay in a second lawsuit challenging the immigration law. That case was filed in northern Indiana this week by a Hispanic advocacy group.
A judge has reversed a decision by the Indiana Recount Commission and ordered it to decertify the 2010 election of Indiana's embattled Republican secretary of state.
Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg issued a ruling Thursday reversing and setting aside the Recount Commission's unanimous June decision that Charlie White was eligible to run for office last year despite questions over his residency. Rosenberg ordered the commission to certify Democrat Vop Osili as secretary of state.
Recount Commission spokesman AJ Feeney-Ruiz says White remains secretary of state for now. He says the commission won't take up Roserberg's ruling before late next week.
Feeney-Ruiz says the panel will meet with the state attorney general's office about seeking a stay of Rosenberg's ruling pending an appeal.
White faces trial next month for voter fraud.
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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