Illinois Public Media News
At least two Champaign city council members believe the local convention and visitors bureau is a valuable asset.
But the level of the city's financial commitment to the Champaign County CVB will be weighed Tuesday night, two months after the city of Urbana chose to pull its $72 thousand in funding and use it instead for public safety. The Champaign County Board later provided a $15 thousand donation of its own.
City council member Tom Bruno calls the area a tourist attraction, but not a natural one that doesn't need the backing of promotions offered by the CVB. Fellow council member Marci Dodds also backs the agency, and sits on its board. But she questions if Champaign's CVB funding should benefit a community no longer supporting the agency.
"Do you want us to go out and say to the other people: 'you need to fully fund," Dodds said. "If you don't, you don't get the benefits of the CVB in quite the same way you did before. And I think that that's certainly something I'm comfortable with."
Dodds said it's a mistake long-term not to promote tourism in Champaign, since it will impact the region economically. She's also surveyed other council members, and says they also support funding the CVB at some level.
Bruno said supporting other communities, like Urbana, is unavoidable.
"It very well may be that it's difficult to attract people to the city of Champaign without having some of them choose to stay the night in Urbana," he said. "So because it's difficult to target that, it still may be in the city of Champaign's best interest to just generically attract people to this region."
Like the hiring of a new police officer, Bruno admits it's hard to track the benefits of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau funding does for the city.
The Champaign city council meets Tuesday night in a study session, beginning at 7. Bruno said he expects the council to take final action on CVB funding by October.
When rules for using portable storage containers come to the Urbana City Council for a final vote next week, they'll be a little more flexible than first proposed.
City officials want to place limits on how big a storage container can be that's left on residential property --- and how long it can stay there. A permit to store the containers in a driveway or yard would be good for 30 days. But Urbana planning manager Robert Myers said they want to allow for situations when more time is needed --- such as during a home construction project.
"Occasionally, construction projects will go on for weeks and even months," Myers said. "So someone may really need to put their personal belongings into storage for a longer period of time, and have a portable storage container in their driveway for longer than 30 days. So in situations like that, the zoning administrator could determine to allow it longer."
Urbana council members worked out the changes during a committee session Monday night. The limit on keeping the containers in a public right-of-way, such as a street or sidewalk, would still be 72 hours, with no extensions. And the volume of container space would still be limited to 20 feet by eight feet by eight feet --- although multiple containers equaling that amount may be allowed.
A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.
A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.
Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.
"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."
The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.
"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."
Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.
"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."
Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.
The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.
The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.
Former Champaign County Public Health Administrator Vito Palazzolo, 55, has accepted a guilty plea for a single count against him related to the misuse of the health district's resources, according to the Champaign County State's Attorney.
Palazzolo had been charged with making unauthorized purchases amounting to roughly $16,500 on personal items, including meals, trips, and tools.
In exchange for a guilty plea of official misconduct, other charges related to theft and misapplication of funds were dropped. Palazzolo was sentenced on Monday to 18 months of probation. He must also pay $5,000 in restitution to the public health district, and serve 50 hours of public service.
"The State's Attorney's Office is very pleased to have resolved this case in favor of the CUPHD, and appreciates the hard work of the Champaign Police Department in assisting in this complicated investigation," Champaign County States Attorney Julia Rietz said.
Julie Pryde took over Palazzolo as public health administrator after he was fired four years ago.
"No place needs this type of distraction," Pryde said. "We have a lot of work to do, and we don't need this type of distraction. So, I'm really glad that this is behind us, and I am pleased that the agency will be getting some restitution back for the questionable purchases."
Pryde said since Palazzolo's departure, efforts to monitor how employees spend the department's money have been beefed up.
The charges against Palazzolo were first filed in November 2009, but the case was delayed due to various motions by Palazollo's previous attorney, Robert Kirchner, who passed away this year. Through another attorney, Palazzolo withdrew those motions and entered the guilty plea.
A University of Illinois spokeswoman says an investigation into College of Law profile data is an example of a new climate on the Urbana campus.
The assistant dean of admissions in the college has been placed on administrative leave concerning median test scores and grade point averages point averages that had been exaggerated for the class of 2014.
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the new climate established by the Board of Trustees and new administrators will distance the university from the 2009 admissions scandal.
"Any organization this large--there are going to be things that happen," she said. "There are going to be mistakes made, there are going to be bad judgments, that sort of thing. I think what sets us apart is how it's been handled. And that's really what's most important for the university, and the integrity of the U of I."
The Daily Illini and News Gazette are both reporting that the admissions dean who was placed on leave is Paul Pless. Kaler wouldn't confirm that information, but would say that assistant dean for academic affairs John Columbo has taken over those duties.
The university's ethics office received a tip last month and the reported inaccuracies were discovered Friday.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed legislation to increase electric rates for consumers across the state.
The measure was part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for infrastructure improvements and a modern Smart Grid. The bill does not guarantee higher electricity prices, but any future hikes could take effect immediately - rather than first going through a lengthy review.
Quinn's action came as no surprise as he already pledged to veto it, saying the legislation didn't have enough consumer protections and would unfairly raise electric rates.
"It may be a dream come true for Commonwealth Edison, but it's a nightmare for consumers in Illinois," Quinn said. "I think we want to make it clear to the public that they should not be gauged with paying unfair rates for something that they don't really feel is delivering better service."
Quinn urged lawmakers Monday to let his veto stand and said everyone should go back to the bargaining table. He said the starting point should be a plan put forth by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utility rate increases.
ComEd said opponents were off base about the legislation known as Senate Bill 1652 or SB1652.
"Despite the rhetoric of the legislation opponents, SB1652 does not guarantee profits, will not result in automatic rates increases and does not strip the authority of the ICC," ComEd said in a statement. "Illinois customers want more than the status quo. We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to help make grid modernization and economic growth a reality in Illinois."
Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said he is disappointed with the governor's decision to veto the legislation.
Morris said among the changes tied to modernizing the state's electrical distribution system would be fewer power outages, an additional 700 thousand smart meters, and improved energy efficiency.
"Because of the regulatory process that we would have to follow without this legislation, it would take at least 30 years to archive what we could do in 10 years with this legislation," he said.
Morris said Ameren is optimistic that there will be enough support in the General Assembly to override the governor's veto.
A youth prison in the Chicago suburbs still does not have suicide-proof beds in all its rooms, including those where kids on suicide watch are kept. This comes two years after a young man incarcerated at the St. Charles facility killed himself.
Some of the rooms at St. Charles already have what are called "safety beds," specifically designed to prevent their use in suicides. But not in the confinement cells, where kids go when they're put on suicide watch.
Prison watchdog John Howard Association warned about this in July, calling it "absolutely unacceptable."
The state's Department of Juvenile Justice noted at the time that a contractor's bid had been accepted for new beds, and the director said he hoped to have them all installed "within the next month or so."
Two months later, those beds are still not installed in those rooms used for suicide watch, according to department spokesman Kendall Marlowe.
Marlowe notes that getting the suicide-proof furniture takes time, as it is made of custom-molded plastic. He says remodeling work has begun at St. Charles, and "anticipates" installation of safety furniture will be completed at all juvenile justice facilities by the end of this year.
Listen at 10:06 am on Tuesday to WILL-AM 580's "Focus" for a call-in program with area health officials.
About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed a health inspection from April 2007 through April 2011, according to a review of inspection records by CU-CitizenAccess.org.
But customers have no easy way of knowing just how sanitary the places at which they eat really are.
Take, for example, Geovanti's Bar & Grill, which failed public health inspections five times from September 2008 through February of this year.
But no one who eats there would ever know, unless they requested copies of the Campustown restaurant's inspection reports from the local public health district.
That's because - unlike many other counties and cities in central Illinois and across the country - the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District currently doesn't publicize the results of its restaurant inspections in any form. Not online, not on placards at restaurants and not in local newspapers.
This means the public has no way way of knowing about health-code violations, such as the live and dead cockroaches found during a November 2009 inspection at Geovanti's.
Owner Anthony Donato said the restaurant works closely with the district to make sure it meets health codes. Geovanti's recently had a voluntary health inspection and passed with flying colors, he said.
Julie Pryde, the district's public health administrator, said the fact that a restaurant is open for business shows eating there is safe.
"If you go into a restaurant and it's open, we've been in there, and they've passed," Pryde said. "And there are times where you'll go to a restaurant, and it will not be open. It may not say, 'Closed by the health department' on the front door, but if it's not open, that's because there's an immediate health risk."
Pryde and other public health officials have long said they want to make information about inspections of the county's more than 1,000 eating establishments more available to the public. They believe providing diners with access to complete restaurant inspection reports will give them the information they need to make the best decisions for their health.
But, after years of talk, they still have not done so.
Since getting new software to manage inspection reports in 2007, they have spoken about plans for a website that would allow consumers to look up the records online.
In 2008, environmental health director Jim Roberts said he hoped to have the site up the following year.
This spring, he said they were shooting for September. In late August, he revised the time line once again.
"I would hope by January 2012," Roberts said.
He said there are several reasons for the delays.
"First, we had to make sure the system was working as we wanted it to," Roberts said. "The second thing is that I don't have a project manager to do this, so I do this as time permits me to do so."
Meanwhile, since 2003, neighboring Vermilion County has taken the low-tech route of requiring restaurant owners to post letter grades from their most recent inspections in their establishments alongside their health permits.
Douglas Toole is the environmental health director in Vermilion County.
"It's a lot about informing the public," Toole said. "When they go into a restaurant, the public can see the dining area, certainly, and they can see what the restrooms look like and they can see, depending on the place, a small amount of the food-preparation or food-storage area. But a lot of it takes place behind the scenes."
While Vermilion County officials see this as a way of providing the public with information they're entitled to see under the state's Freedom of Information Act, Champaign-Urbana's Julie Pryde see the letter grades differently.
"It's completely worthless," Pryde said.
She said when people see a letter grade, they don't bother to find out what went into earning that grade.
"If you only are looking at one thing, A, I think it will give people a false sense of security, and, B, it might negatively impact a restaurant's business when there's no point in it," Pryde said."Give them all the information or no information at all."
Illinois law doesn't require health departments to publish inspection results online or in hardcopy. But Vermillion isn't the only area county the takes the initiative to make its scores public.
McLean, Macon and Sangamon counties all post inspections scores on their websites.
Manny Martinez is executive chef of Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works, which has locations in Champaign and Normal. Inspection scores for the Normal restaurant are posted on the McLean County Health Department website.
The scores can be deceiving because they don't tell customers whether a restaurant lost points for major violations or for several minor violations that might have little to do with sanitation, Martinez said.
But overall, he doesn't mind the information being available to the public.
"For a restaurant, it doesn't really matter to us, as long as we know we're doing a good job, and we get inspected and we're doing a great job," he said.
How to Obtain a Restaurant Inspection Report
The public can obtain copies inspection reports for specific restaurants by calling the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District's Environmental Health Division at (217) 373-7900, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the district's offices at 201 W. Kenyon Road, Champaign.
Depending on the number of reports being sought, you may be asked to file a Freedom of Information request with one of the district's Freedom of Information officers:
Freedom of Information Officer
Address: 201 W. Kenyon Road
Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: (217) 531-4257
Fax: (217) 531-4343
Deputy Freedom of Information Officer
Address: 201 W. Kenyon Road
Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: (217) 531-2905
Fax: (217) 373-7905
Deputy Freedom of Information Officer
Address: 201 W. Kenyon Road Champaign, IL 61820
Phone: (217) 531-4265
Fax: (217) 531-4343
About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed a health inspection from April 2007 through April 2011, according to a review of inspection records by CU-CitizenAccess.org. But customers have no easy way of knowing just how sanitary the places at which they eat really are. Dan Petrella reports.
(With additional reporting by University of Illinois journalism alumna Jennifer Wheeler, CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey and UI journalism alumnus Steve Contorno)
Former Champaign Mayor William Bland died Friday at the age of 73. Bland passed away at the Champaign County Nursing Home, according to Wolfe Funeral Home in Potomac.
Bland served as Champaign mayor from 1975-79, following a term on the city council. Bland was an electrician who became a local union leader. He was instrumental in the creation of the Workers' Memorial monument at Dodds Park in Champaign.
One of his supporters at the time was school teacher Dannel McCollum, who would serve as Champaign mayor in the 1980s and 90s. McCollum said Bland and his fellow council members made up one of the most liberal city councils in his memory. He said Bland was a very open person, who presided over an inclusive city council.
"But I always had the sense that bill was really a person open to everyone, and I just had a lot of personal respect for bill just for the sense of his open, frank and honest character," McCollum said.
Champaign City Council member Michael LaDue said he has warm memories of Bland in his later years.
"Well he was the sort of person that we in downstate Illinois would like to think of ourselves as being. He personified good sense and good will," LaDue said. "He was an endless font of good will. He was always positive and quiet, and always willing to participate and eager."
Wolfe Funeral Home in Potomac says funeral services for Bland will be held Saturday, Sept. 17 at 1pm, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Champaign.
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