Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Forum Gathers Input for New Champaign Police Chief

Community leaders and activists have started putting together a list of qualities they want in a new Champaign police chief.

Many of the ideas have already been discussed, but some of the 35 who attended a forum put together by Champaign's Community and Police Partnership (CCAPP) Monday night say they're on the same page. Words like public trust, communication, and integrity were repeated throughout the 1-hour event. City leaders and activists spent most of last night's forum in those small groups answering two questions: What are the top 5 challenges facing Champaign's next police chief, and what four skills should that person possess?

Reverend Jerome Chambers, a former Champaign County NAACP president, says he wants someone who has the people skills to generate a dialogue with the community.

"Be as transparent with them as possible, yet - in leading, have the kind of skill set that says: 'I hear you, because you are important. And how we're going to approach this is not to be stereotypical," said Chambers.

Craig Williams says the next chief shouldn't shy away from changing the ranks within the department.

"If somebody's not doing their job, or if you get so many complaints on an officer, don't be afraid to remove that officer of discipline that officer," he said. "In any organization, discipline is very necessary."

City council member Will Kyles says it's important the city set the new chief up for success, recognizing that the person won't be a savior when he first or she first takes office.

Top challenges for the successor to retiring Chief R.T. Finney were also identified. They include dealing with the increase in youth violence (ages 14-25), further healing in the wake of the 2009 police shooting of teen Kiwane Carrington, and social networking.

The recommendations of the panels will be passed on to a search committee for new chief, as well as the city manager's office. Finney will step down on January 20th.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 26, 2011

Judge Denies Catholic Charities’ Request

A judge has denied Catholic Charities' request to keep doing adoption and foster care placements for the state of Illinois.

Catholic Charities has worked with the state for decades, currently handling about 2000 foster care cases. Sangamon County Judge John Schmidt, who earlier had ruled Catholic Charities had no legal expectation to keep the state contracts, refused to reconsider that decision.

The religious organization said it won't place children with unmarried couples. The issue came to a head when Illinois legalized civil unions back in June. State officials said the group's stance is discriminatory.

Peter Breen, an attorney representing Catholic Charities in the case, said the judge's latest ruling paves the way for an appeal, which is likely to be filed soon, although he gave no timeline. Breen said the group will also ask for a stay, so that it can continue operations while the legal process plays out.

Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services is ready to begin transitioning cases elsewhere, but an attorney for Catholic Charities said it will ask the appeals court to put a hold on any changes.

The group currently oversees hundreds of foster care parents for the state. Diocese in Springfield, Belleville, Peoria and Joliet are part of the lawsuit.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 26, 2011

Federal Suit Challenges Ind. Damage Limit for State Fair Victims

A federal lawsuit is challenging an Indiana law that caps the state's liability for damages at $5 million in the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis on behalf of the estates of three of the seven people killed in the Aug. 13 collapse and three others who were injured. It seeks class-action status on behalf as many as 70 plaintiffs.

The lawsuit says the state liability cap violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, federal laws and the Indiana Constitution.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says he will defend the liability cap and has brought in victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg to help distribute the $5 million to victims fairly and equitably.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 26, 2011

Illinois Seeks to Opt Out of NCLB Provisions

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

On Friday, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan that would allow states to reject certain provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The measure, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush 2002, sought to make schools more accountable for student performance and get better qualified teachers into classrooms.

But President Obama said the law's heavy reliance on annual testing isn't working, which why he announced waivers for states if they offer their own plans that meet federal testing standards.

"We can't let another generation of young people fall behind because we didn't have the courage to recognize what doesn't work, admit it, and replace it with something that does," Obama said. "Our kids only get one shot at a decent education. They cannot afford to wait any longer. So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the plan would not undermine efforts in Congress because the waivers could serve as a bridge until Congress acts.

The Illinois State Board of Education is looking to opt out of some of the No Child Left Behind requirements. The group's spokeswoman, Mary Fergus, said the law isn't a realistic indicator of student success. She said last year, more than half of Illinois' schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the law

"That includes a lot of really good schools, high schools that are sometimes named among the best American high schools," Fergus said. "We have done a lot of the groundwork to be a good candidate for this waiver by adopting the standards and implementing them, passing some laws that tie student growth to teacher evaluations, and working with teachers and educators across the state on that evaluation model."

No Child Left Behind sets out a goal for all of the nation's elementary and secondary students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, or risk losing federal funding. Duncan has said more than 80 percent of schools will not be able to meet that goal.

Angela Smith, the principal at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, was feet away from the president during his announcement about the waivers. Smith was invited with other educators to come to the White House. She said while No Child Left Behind has created more accountability in the classroom, she said it has also set up standards that rise each year and are difficult for schools to meet.

"With going through with the re-authorization, I'm hoping that they can continue to hear what's happening at the school level, and they can bring people together and come up with a solution that's going to be good for kids," Smith said. "This is an opportunity for Champaign schools to step up and say, 'Here's what we did to be accountable, here's some systems that we've put into place, here's some results and evidence.' We could really be leaders in the state, I believe."

It is expected that most states will apply for the waivers, which will be given to qualified states early next year.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 26, 2011

Blagojevich Sentencing Delayed

A federal judge has delayed the sentencing date for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A notice posted electronically Monday at the U.S. District Court in Chicago says simply that Blagojevich's Oct. 6 sentencing date has been "stricken until further order by the court.'' It doesn't offer a reason for the delay.

There had been speculation that the impeached governor's sentencing could be pushed back because of a scheduling conflict with another trial.

The trial of a one-time fundraiser for Blagojevich, William Cellini, is set to start on Oct. 3. U.S. District Judge James Zagel is the judge in both cases. A new date wasn't immediately announced.

Blagojevich's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, says a federal judge is likely to set the convicted former governor's new sentencing date for late October or early November. He says Judge James Zagel did put off the sentencing because it conflicted Cellini's trial.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2011

UI Students Show Off Solar-Powered Home in Energy Competition

University of Illinois students are taking part in a competition where they are presenting a solar-powered home that they have designed and constructed. It's part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, an event that has attracted students from 20 universities around the world.

Graduate student Beth Neuman is the project manager for the U of I's team. She said her team's entry is designed to serve as an immediate replacement for people whose homes were destroyed by a tornado.

"Last year, multiple tornadoes came through Central Illinois, and we actually visited Streator, Illinois, and they were hit by a tornado, and a lot of families were affected by that," Neuman said. "So, we sort of wanted to focus on a market that was closer to home, and help people in our own community."

Neuman said the portable home can be shipped in two units by truck, with solar panels mounted on the roof. She estimates the cost for a single home at around $260,000. However, she said if it was mass produced, it would be more affordable. Neuman said architecture, affordability, and energy balance are just some of the factors that each home will be judged on in the competition.

The houses in the Solar Decathlon are currently on display at the National Mall's West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. A winner will be announced Oct 1.

Categories: Education, Energy, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2011

VA Health Center in Danville Alerts Vets About Privacy Breach

A veterans health center in Danville has alerted more than 500 veterans of a breach involving their personal information that puts them at risk for identity theft.

The Commercial News in Danville reports an appointment book from the VA Illiana Health Care System has been missing since July 14.

The appointment book included veterans' last names and last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

Illiana director Michael Hamilton says there's no reason to believe the information has been misused or stolen. He says the VA is alerting veterans so they can take precautions against identity theft.

Precautions include requesting a free credit report and placing a "fraud alert'' on credit accounts.

Hamilton says VA staff members are reviewing policies and procedures in hopes of preventing future breaches.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Health
Tags: crime, health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2011

U of Ill. Fundraising Campaign Tops $2.25 billion

The University of Illinois has reached its third largest fundraising goal ever of $2.25 billion.

Money from the Brilliant Futures campaign came from university graduates, corporations and other groups. Foundation spokesman Donald Kojich said private donations are becoming more important, especially in this economy.

"State support for public higher education has declined significantly over the last three decades," Kojich said. "Institutions have raised tuition, but to be able to also be able to have another revenue stream, private giving is now more important than ever."

Money from the fundraising campaign will primarily be split up among the university's three campuses. The Champaign-Urbana campus is slated to receive more than $1.5 billion from the campaign. The Chicago campus will receive $593 million and the Springfield campus will get about $26 million.

"It will go to support a variety of different areas - scholarships, faculty support, student support, various academic programs, could be some capital programs in terms of buildings," Kojich explained.

The U of I Foundation said it raised $2.267 billion in donations, but it will continue the campaign until Dec. 31.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 23, 2011

Plan OK’d to Distribute Stage Collapse Donations

The families of the seven people killed in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse will receive $35,000 each from a relief fund that collected donations for the victims.

The Indiana State Fair Commission approved a distribution formula on Friday that would allocate smaller amounts to the more than 40 people injured in the Aug. 13 collapse.

The formula recommended by victims' compensation specialist Kenneth Feinberg will give $25,000 to those hospitalized for at least 10 days and $7,500 or $3,000 to those hospitalized for shorter periods.

Attorney John Trimble says that formula could distribute about $700,000 of the just under $800,000 that has been donated to the fund. The relief fund is separate from the $5 million the state says it will pay toward legal claims.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 22, 2011

Axelrod: Emanuel ‘Never’ Close to Being Fired by President Obama

A new book claims President Barack Obama was close to firing Rahm Emanuel before his chief of staff left to run for Chicago mayor. But the president's top strategist says the book is littered with fiction.

Ron Suskind's Confidence Men quotes an unnamed source saying Emanuel "would have been fired" if he hadn't moved back to Chicago when former Mayor Richard Daley announced his retirement.

Obama strategist David Axelrod - now back in Chicago - was in the White House at the time, and says Emanuel was "never" close to losing his job.

Axelrod says Emanuel provided strong leadership in the White House, and the president appreciated that.

"Rahm was a enormously positive force in the White House and much of what we accomplished, particularly in those early days when we were teetering on the brink of a depression, was absolutely pivotal. And the president recognized that," Axelrod said. "Rahm provided strong leadership in the White House and that was well appreciated by the president."

A spokeswoman for Emanuel declined to comment.

Suskind also describes the White House headed by Emanuel as a "boys' club," in which women had little power. Axelrod dismisses the suggestion.

"I'm not going to comment on docu-dramas," he said. "The fact is that there were so many just flat-out errors of fact in that book that reflect the overall, which is that it's just not an accurate picture."

That's a characterization also made by a White House spokesman. The author is standing by his book.

Axelrod made his comments to reporters on Thursday in Chicago, after headlining a fundraiser for congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth is running for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' 8th congressional district, against Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Axelrod said his endorsement for Duckworth does not mean the president will follow suit.

"No, I don't expect [he will get involved]," Axelrod said. "He doesn't involve himself in primary campaigns, and these are two friends of his, but obviously - you know, he appointed Tammy to a leadership position in his administration, so he has a high regard for her."

Duckworth, who won the Purple Heart for her service in Iraq, was an assistant secretary in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs under Mr. Obama.

The president also has ties to Krishnamoorthi, who advised Mr. Obama during both his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, and the 2008 presidential election.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

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