Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Kirby Hospital in Monticello Prepares for Major Upgrade

A five year plan to move the John and Mary E. Kirby Hospital in Monticello to a larger nearby site has entered the final stage in the planning process.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded the hospital with a $31.2 million dollar mortgage loan.

The new hospital will include more surgical space and patient and procedure rooms. Inpatients will also have private suites, with a bathroom, shower and visiting space.

The current 16-bed hospital has undergone a series of renovations in the last several years, but hospital spokeswoman Michelle Rathman said the project will help the hospital address the community's changing health care needs.

"Family members will have accommodations in the rooms for them to stay with their loved ones in the hospital 24 hours," she explained. "Hospitals around the country have moved away from these things like 'visiting hours are over.' That's not the case because families are encouraged to be part of the healing process."

The loan is made possible through the Federal Housing Administration's (FHA) Hospital Mortgage Insurance Program. By insuring the mortgage loan, FHA is enabling the hospital to obtain lower cost financing that is expected to save an estimated $4.6 million in interest expense over the life of the loan.

"FHA is helping to build state-of-the-art health care facilities like this all across the country," said FHA Commissioner David Stevens. "By helping to make these projects possible, FHA also contributes to the financial well-being of communities by creating jobs to stimulate local economies."

Rathman said the replacement hospital is expected to be an economic boom in Piatt County with a combination of construction jobs, more people shopping at local businesses, and new employment.

"Every new full-time employee equates to revenue spent in the community," she said. "Replacement hospital projects make a significant economic impact in so many ways."

Kirby Hospital currently employs about 200 people. Rathman said the new facility is expected to be completed by September 2011, and she projected that it will create up to 15 new full-time jobs over the next five years.

The 71,000-square-foot Kirby Medical Center will be built at the Market Street and I-72 exit northeast of Rick Ridings on a new street called Medical Center Drive. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for Saturday, Nov. 6 at 1pm.

(Artist rendering courtesy of the Kirby Medical Center courtesy of Kirby Hospital)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Piatt County Clerk Residency Case Gets New Judge, Attorney Defends Rhoades

The attorney representing the Piatt County Clerk is contesting a claim that the clerk does not intend to live inside the county.

Pat Rhoades' qualification is being challenged by a Monticello attorney who claims Rhoades is living just across the county line in Champaign County. Dan Clifton charges that Rhoades has registered to vote in Champaign County, and that the Piatt County property she said will eventually hold her family's new home has not been developed. Cklifton had earlier alleged that the property is for sale, but he since has backed off that claim.

Rhoades' attorney Deanna Mool says Clifton has not followed the correct legal procedure. "If you want to have an official removed from office, you have to file what's called an in quo warranto action, It's provided in the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure," said Mool. "It lists certain requirements that you have to follow, one being (that) no individual can sue for that unless the state's attorney and the attorney general have declined to do so. So our motion to dismiss is based on those grounds." However, clifton says he studied the situation and concludes that he didn't have to make the filing.

Mool said she will not address Clifton's residency accusations directly until they are presented in court. Rhoades herself has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

On Wednesday, a Piatt County judge removed himself from the case. A judge from Macon County will come to Monticello to hear the complaint, but no date has been set.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Student Says He Will Push for William Ayers’ Emeritus Status

A student senator on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus wants the U of I Board of Trustees to reconsider its refusal to grant emeritus status to controversial professor William Ayers.

Sophomore Max Ellithorpe said when the trustees voted to deny Ayers emeritus status, they should not have factored Ayers' decision to dedicate his Weather Underground manifesto in part to Robert Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan.

Ellithorpe said the manifesto was a political work published before the education theory professor began his academic career.

"An individual's political views have no place in determining their academic achievements," he said. "A large group of people with very different political views have all appreciated Professor Ayers' work, and I think that's the thing they should be looking at."

Board Chairman Christopher Kennedy --- the son of the late Robert Kennedy --- brought up the book dedication when he voted against emeritus status for Ayers last month. The other trustees voted with him, without comment.

Ellithorpe argues that the board's vote against the recommendation raises questions about what role trustees should play in academic decisions at the U of I.

"In the past, their role has been hiring, firing and then financial matters," he said. "I think they're moving more into interfering in the academic environment, and that needs to be cleared up."

Ellithorpe says he'll ask the university's Urbana Campus Academic Senate to pass a resolution next month, asking trustees to reconsider their vote.

Ayers taught at the U of I's Chicago campus where some faculty members ohope to get their own campus' Academic Senate to pass a resolution questioning the trustees' emeritus vote against Ayers.

Categories: Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 06, 2010

Parties Expected to Pour Lots of Money Into 101st District Race

There's less than a month to go until Election Day, and one of the more contentious and expensive races is in the 101st District. Adam Brown, a 25-year-old Republican who's on the Decatur City Council, is trying to unseat four-term State Representative Bob Flider of Mount Zion. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2010

Champaign Solar Energy Developer Nets $2.5 Million Grant

A Champaign manufacturer of semiconductors for solar energy has received a more than $2 million grant.

Federal stimulus money will boost production capacity at EpiWorks, and cut down its fossil fuel consumption. The funds will also let the facility add about 30 jobs. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Warren Ribley was at the plant Tuesday to announce the $2.5 million Green Business Development Grant. Ribley said manufacturing through green energy has been a priority for some time. He said more than $6 million set aside for East Central Illinois is primarily aimed at renewable sources, and developing companies that support them.

"We have to have a broad energy portfolio that depends on wind, solar, clean coal technology, and energy efficiency," said Ribley. "All of those things combined help reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum."

Joining Ribley Tuesday were a number of area city and school officials who have received stimulus funds to help their facilities become more energy efficient. Recipients include the cities of Tuscola and Arcola - each for building wind turbines. The Prairieview-Ogden school district is also installing a wind turbine, and Champaign's Bottenfield, Westview, and Robeson Elementary schools are getting new boilers and ventilators. Four of the grants are more than $400,000. The Arcola grant was just over $60-thousand.

During Ribley's visit to Champaign Tuesday, he also said the former Meadowbrook Farms site in Rantoul could one day soon resemble its old self. Earlier this week, Trim-Rite announced it was leasing and reopening the 2,000 acre site that closed earlier this year, and hiring 100 people when it starts operations next spring. Ribley said the newness of Trim-Rite's facilities, its size, and the state of the industry should mean more jobs soon after its spring 2011 opening.

"We are seeing a lot of interest in the food processing area, particularly in animal processing," he said. "That tells us that demand is growing, not only domestically, but internationally. So we think it's just the beginning. Illinois is a terrific workforce, it's a terrific location to move its product anywhere in the world."

Ribley added that several companies looked at the former Meadowbrook site before Trim-Rite committed to it. The company's president pledges the facility will use state-of-the-art equipment and be "the most modern hog processing facility'' in the country.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 05, 2010

Environmental Experts Back Repeal of Groundwater Ordinance in Champaign

Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.

About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.

Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.

"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"

Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.

"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."

Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.

"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."

Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2010

Shuttered Rantoul Pork Plant Slated to Reopen and Employ About 100 Workers

A new operator is now formally in place for a pork processing plant that shut its doors more than a year ago.

Trim Rite Food Corporation is based in the Chicago suburbs -- produces hams, pork loins and other cuts for stores and restaurants. It's agreed to lease, retool and reopen the former Meadowbrook Farms plant west of Rantoul for 5.6 million dollars.

The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says Trim Rite plans to hire about 100 people for the plant later this fall -- the state agency has chipped in $767,000 in tax credits based on job creation and training.

Meadowbrook Farms was a farmer-owned cooperative that ran into financial difficulty soon after it opened the pork processing plant in 2004.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2010

Residency of Piatt County Clerk at Issue in Lawsuit

An attorney in Piatt County has filed a lawsuit to remove the current county clerk one month before Election Day.

Dan Clifton is an assistant deputy state's attorney in Champaign County - he contends that Republican Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades doesn't qualify to serve because her family moved to a house just over the Piatt County line last year. Clifton says a Piatt County judge is scheduled to hear his complaint Wednesday morning.

"What I'm hoping the court will be able to do is look at the facts of the situation, which are fairly simple, and look at the law, and declare whether or not she is still an inhabitant or whether she ceased to be an inhabitant.," Clifton said. "If she ceased to be an inhabitant, then I'm asking the court to declare the office vacant." If that happens, Rhoades' chief deputy would step in until the county board appoints a replacement to fill out the term.

Rhodes has not returned a phone call seeking comment. She has told the county board that she has been living in Champaign County temporarily while she and her family build a house in Piatt County. But in his suit Clifton claims that Rhoades has a registered as a voter - and voted - in Champaign County, and the property where the house was to be built is now for sale.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2010

Champaign Supporter of Voter Recall Fights Recall Amendment on November Ballot

A Champaign political activist said he supports the idea of allowing voters to recall state elected officials. However, he said he is not backing the particular recall amendment on the Illinois November ballot.

John Bambenek said there are several things he dislikes about the governor recall amendment, but he added that the fatal flaw is the requirement that at least 30 lawmakers sign on to any recall proposal before any voter petitions can be circulated. That is 20 from the Illinois House and ten from the Senate, with at least 16 members of the general assembly coming from the sitting governor's party. Bambanek said if such a recall law was in place when Rod Blagojevich was governor, it would not have made any difference.

"If you recall back to Blagojevich, the Senate Democrats were unanimous behind him, and many of the House Democrats were overwhelmingly behind him," said Bambenek. "You wouldn't have gotten those 16 Democrats, even with Rod Blagojevich, until the day he was arrested."

Bambanek said such a requirement guarantees the recall process will never be used, and he said no other states with a recall process require prior permission from lawmakers. He added that other states that permit recalling governors also allow recall of all statewide elected officials.

Bambenek is launching a campaign to to defeat the Illinois proposal. While other opponents argue that giving voters any recall authority beyond regular elections would be bad government, Bambenek said defeating this particular recall amendment is the only way to give a stronger recall proposal a chance for approval in Illinois.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 04, 2010

Treasurer Candidates Spar Over Campaign Contributions

The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois treasurer are sparring over campaign contributions.

During a stop in Bloomington, Il. on Saturday, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford of Pontiac accused his Democratic opponent, Robin Kelly, of accepting campaign contributions from banks, and he cautioned her to follow the state's campaign finance laws.

Kelly, who is the chief of staff for current treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, said Rutherford has violated campaign finance laws, and she added that there is no reason for him to be concerned because she has taken an ethics pledge to not take any money from banks or bank executives.

"I have not taken any money from any bank owners or any banks, whether we have contracts with them or not," said Kelly, who admitted that she has taken campaign contributions from banks during her time in the Illinois legislature. "I take money from bank PACS, but we don't do business with bank PACS. I think they've given me $500 hundred dollars."

Kelly accused Rutherford in September of violating pay-to-play laws by accepting $3,500 in contributions from several banks that do business with the treasurer's office. Rutherford later returned about $900 in contributions from Pan American Bank, which bid on a contract worth more than $50,000.

State law forbids candidates from accepting contributions from businesses bidding that much money. Rutherford said at the time he accepted the contribution, information about the contract was not made public by Kelly's office, but the treasurer's office maintains that it was public information with the Office of the Comptroller and the State Board of Elections.

With a month to go until election day, both candidates say they need to cover more ground before November 2nd. Rutherford said he plans on focusing his campaign in the Chicago region counties of Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and Dupage. Kelly said she plans to continue targeting the entire state. The third party candidates in the race include Libertarian James Pauly and Green Party candidate Scott Summers.

(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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