Illinois Public Media News
The Gateway Studios shutdown ... controversy over the Safe Haven tent community ... and the financial crisis at Restoration Urbana Ministries. All three involved problems with housing for the poor in Champaign. And they were on the minds of Champaign City Council members Tuesday night, as they endorsed a three-pronged approach to city housing problems.
Champaign Council members told city staff to work up detailed proposals on a plan for emergency tenant relocation, for cases like the Gateway Studios shutdown ... a safety net fund to help local agencies provide more emergency shelter services ... and a comprehensive housing study done in cooperation with other local governments.
District Two Councilman Mike LaDue called the proposals conservative, given the scope of the housing problem.
"We're suggesting a very tiny amount of caulk for some very large cracks in the planks that constitute our social platform, through which people fall all the time", said LaDue. "And they will be falling more, and further and with greater frequency as the economy worsens.
But District Five Councilman Dave Johnson said they still have to decide the city's exact role in preventing homelessness.
"Are we a facilitator?" asked Johnson. "Are we the big brother to help these agencies, developers and the federal government to get involved and fund these projects and work together? Are we like (Priceline TV pitchman) William Shatner --- are we supposed to be the "Negotiator" and get this done? Or are we supposed to really be a builder and developer and get into the housing business. I mean, that's kind of the thousand-pound gorilla in the room here. Are we supposed to do that? Is this a fundamental issue that the city should get involved in? And of course, that begs the next question --- where's the money coming from? Who's the funding source? Is the city the funding source? Are our constituents, through taxing, the funding source?"
For now, the city has identified 60-thousand dollars in existing funds to play for two years of emergency tenant relocation, and 30-thousand to help fund the housing study.
Champaign Neighborhood Services Director Kevin Jackson says they'll be back before the council with specifics on the three proposals in December and January.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says part of a new state election law threatens the principle of a secret ballot.
He's filed a lawsuit that would block local elections officials from utilizing the Undervote Notification Law in February's primary. That provision would indicate that someone failed to cast a single vote for a statewide office, like Governor or Comptroller, or even one that's uncontested, like Secretary of State. Shelden says after a tabulating machine indicates an error message, an election judge would give that person the option of keeping their ballot as is, filling out a new one, or completing their ballot. Shelden says people shouldn't be forced to vote for an office if they're not familiar with the candidates, or simply don't care.
"I believe that part of what's going to happen here is the intent is to try to intimidate people into casting all the votes for all the races," says Shelden. "Maybe they haven't made up their mind on a race, and for whatever reason, they want to leave that race blank, and we think it's their right to leave it blank and not be harrassed at this final step in the voting process." The Undervote law was part of the 2007 omnibus election bill. Shelden's lawsuit filed Friday in Champaign County Court would seek an injunction to block the use of the provision in February, but he hopes to have it declared unconstitutional. No other lawsuits have been filed in the state, but Shelden says other county clerks are considering such action, with hopes that state lawmakers will change the omnibus bill. He estimates around 8,000 Champaign County voters will receive the error message if the provision remains in place for the upcoming primary.
New York is only other state to have passed the undervote provision, but an emergency rule was passed there to block the use of it before the state's last election.
Graduate workers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus are a step closer to finalizing a new 3-year contract.
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization ratified the agreement between Thursday and Sunday, forwarding it to U of I administrators. The GEO unanimously voted to suspend a 2-day strike at a membership meeting last Tuesday night, after coming to agreement on protection for tuition waivers. The two sides had already agreed on items like salary, health care, and child care.
Spokesman Peter Campbell says the GEO's 26-hundred members had ample opportunity to cast a ballot from Thursday morning through Sunday, and he's not alarmed that about 350 members turned out for it. "Given all of the work and labor and energy that GEO members have invested, it doesn't really surprise me that this sort of final step would not have quite as high of a participation as the strike authorization vote," says Campbell. Campbell says a small portion of the votes, or just over 30, were against the agreement during the ratification vote. GEO members have been at work since last Tuesday evening.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the ratification will not require a vote from university trustees, as previously thought. She says the ratification vote could come yet this week, and involves five individuals, including the comptroller, interim Provost and Chancellor Robert Easter, and a chief negotiator. But Kaler says those campus leaders had yet to receive the contract from the GEO as of Monday afternoon.
The State of Illinois has established a new office called Public Health Advocate.
The state already has a public health agency... but this role will go a step further... according to the Governor. He says the Advocate will improve health through education. The Advocate will also develop strategies for preventing and treating diseases.... Including asthma and diabetes. Governor Pat Quinn says another task will include making sure residents understand their health insurance options and their public health rights.
As health care has become the most expensive part of state government, Quinn says the Advocate will consider cost conscious measures.
While it's likely you've not heard about the new office until now... it's expected to become high profile in the future. The Public Health Advocate will work directly with local agencies... universities... schools and others.
The Governor used the occasion of American Diabetes month to create the office through an executive order.
Governor Pat Quinn says the public admonishment of U.S. Sen. Roland Burris by the Senate Ethics Committee "speaks for itself.''
Quinn on Friday said he had nothing to add to it.
The governor says he intends to work with Burris through the end of his term in 2011, especially to help veterans and their families.
Burris isn't running for a full term after being appointed by disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The Ethics Committee didn't recommend that Burris be punished, but it admonished him for making "inconsistent, misleading or incomplete'' statements about the circumstances surrounding his appointment.
A new law will help the state get more federal money to pay hospitals that care for the poor.
The state is expecting to get more than $1.1 billion from Washington because the federal government has temporarily increased its Medicaid reimbursement rate as part of the stimulus package.
The money will help the state pay Medicaid bills owed to hospitals and some other providers, including pharmacists.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill Friday at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital.
State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg of Evanston said the money can only be spent on health care and human services. It cannot be diverted to other projects in the cash-strapped state.
Schoenberg said the money should start flowing early next year.
The Champaign Police Department says it's revising its Use of Force policy, to clarify its guidelines on when to use deadly force.
The revised policy took effect last month, but ran into controversy in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting. Critics said it appeared to allow officers to use deadly force on suspects who were escaping or resisting arrest --- even if there's no sign that they have harmed or are likely to harm other people.
Police Chief R-T Finney calls that a misinterpretation. He says new language in the policy will make it clear the department follows state statute, which says that escaping or resisting arrest, is not --- by itself --- grounds for an officer to use deadly force.
"We put the statute (language) into the policy", says Finney. "That didn't seem clear to a lot of people. So we're taking it and kind of rearranging it, and making sure that it reads very clear that what the restrictions of deadly force when the suspect is trying to resist or escape have to have certain criteria."
The policy's language on Tasers has been another point of controversy, since Champaign Police don't' use Tasers. Finney says the language is meant to provide guidance for times when they call in other police agencies that DO use Tasers.
"We will be putting the actual restrictions in the policy and spelling those restrictions out, with a statement indicating that the Champaign Police Department does not deploy Tasers, but make it very clear that when we call other agencies in, here are the restrictions and guidelines (under which) we would call someone else in."
Also under the proposed revisions, language that was taken out of the policy ... on when a police officer may display a firearm ... will be restored.
And there's language that directs the department to send the annual report on its use of force in the past year to the Champaign City Council and Human Relations Commission for review.
Finney says he expects to present the changes to the city manager and city attorney for review in the next few weeks.
Work it out. That was the message from the Champaign County Board Thursday night to the County Board of Health and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. County Board members voted to reject the Health Board's request that they give 12-months notice for the termination of their contract for public health services with the CU-PHD. The Board of Health wanted the termination notice to spur talks to renegotiate their five-year contract with the CUPHD. Board President Julian Rappaport says a hike in CUPHD administrative fees is too high - and that the Public Health District Board defers too much to administrator Julie Pryde - who he says doesn't listen to their concerns. "Basically they don't have to respond to us in any way they don't want to respond to us because it's a contractual arrangment not a geninue intergovernmental arrangment."
But CUPHD Board Chair Carol Elliott accuses the Board of Health of not listening to Pryde when she tells them things they don't want to hear. "The negotiations - there's a lot of tension there because we give information and if they don't agree with it, then that's when they say that we're being unresponsive." Several county board members said the Board of Health and the Public Health District Board need to work things out - perhaps with a mediator - but that a contract termination notice was not the way to encourage dialog.
A committee working for better relations between the Champaign police and the African-American community is scheduled to meet Thursday (November 19th) at 3 PM, at the Douglass Community Center. After a decade of regular meetings, the Champaign Community and Police Partnership is getting more attention, following last month's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a police confrontation. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the group, known as "C-Cap" for short:
Champaign County Board of Health officials are unhappy with the public health services provided for the county through a contract with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. So, in order to re-negotiate, they've asked the County Board to approve a one-year termination notice at its meeting Thursday night.
Board of Health President Julian Rappaport says their arrangement with the CUPHD gives them little flexibility. The Public Health District provides similar health services to both Champaign-Urbana and the county, with the CUPHD administrator acting as the county's health director. Rappaport says there's no incentive for the CUPHD to be responsive to the Board of Health's particular concerns.
"We don't have any ability to set and implement policies that we think would be good policies for the county", says Rappaport. "So the nature of that relationship just completely limits us. Essentially what the County Board of Health becomes is a kind of a pass-through agency."
In addition, Rappaport says the county can't afford a CUPHD budget request for higher administrative costs for next year. A formal termination notice would allow the Board of Health to start negotiating with the Public Health District now, instead of waiting for its contract to expire in 2013. And if the negotiations don't go well, Rappaport says the Board of Health has hired a consultant to look at possible alternatives.
But CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde says there are few changes that can be made to basic state-mandated public health services, especially when little money exists to provide additional services.
"You have core services that your have to provide with Public Health funds", says Pryde. "And it specifies what needs to be done. Anything above and beyond that, there is some discretion. But if you're only covering your costs, you don't have much discretion."
In addition, Pryde says the termination notice would be confusing to the public, giving the false impression that health services might be disrupted. That's what happened in 2003, when a public health services contract ran out before the county and the CUPHD could come to terms on a new agreement. In this case, the termination notice would mean that the Public Health District's current health services to the county would continue for one year, while negotiations proceed.
Pryde says she's very accessible, and the County Board of Health doesn't need a formal termination notice to talk to her.
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