Illinois Public Media News
The Urbana City Council has put a two-week delay on a vote to endorse the latest revision of the area's Long Range Transportation Plan. At Monday night's council meeting, some members voiced concern over some of the highway projects proposed for Champaign-Urbana during the next quarter-century.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox says the those projects run counter to the plan's own goals for protecting the environment and conserving energy.
"But then the actual implementation", says Bowersox, "when it comes down to what roads would be built, and the projections for how much we'll all be driving shows that the amount we'll be driving goes up a lot faster that population growth, even. So, per-person, we'd all be driving a lot more in 2035 than we're driving today, to live in our community."
Alderman Charlie Smyth says the increased motor traffic would be caused by upgrades of roads on the fringes of Champaign-Urbana that he says are not needed. He was especially critical of a 71-million dollar plan inserted into the long-range plan by IDOT to widen I-74 from Prospect Avenue in Champaign out to Mahomet.
"Where is the justification for expanding I-74", Smyth asked the council. "It's not in the models. There's a statement that says this will relieve future congestion. But there's no modeling that says there's any congestion, even in 2035."
Smyth moved to defer council action on the plan until December 21st, to allow more time for review. But Rita Morocoima-Black of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says that will give them little time to incorporate the council's decision into the plan --- which must be submitted to the state by the end of the year. Endorsement of the plan by local governments is not required, but helps in winning state funding for local road projects.
11 bars in Champaign's Campustown area are accused of promoting and hosting drinking games last month. Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart has issued complaints accusing the bars of violating the Illinois Happy-Hour statute, by encouraging binge drinking and providing special discounts.
The activity occurred during the fall Bar-Scramble that Schweighart says attracted over a thousand participants to Campustown bars on November 7th. He says participants played games in which their scores determined how much they were to drink. Schweighart says he's been a long-time opponent of such drinking games, and he's surprised that so many bars took part.
"They've known for ten years that my rules, they're going to be dealt with very harshly if you involve yourself with drinking games. And by doing this --- an especially in this magnitude. It's kind of in-your-face, we're going to do what we want to
The Barscrambles are held every semester, and sponsored by the Irish Illini, a student group. But Schweighart says this is first time they've been aware of the drinking games, which he was were obvious from the advertising for the event.
The complaints against the 11 bars will be heard at preliminary hearings set for Monday and Tuesday of next week. Schweighart says the bars could accept the penalties the city will propose at that time --- or appeal them to a full hearing, and beyond that to a hearing by state regulators. He says the penalties could range from fines, to something as severe as revocation of a bar's liquor license.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz has completed her review of a state police investigation in the October police shooting death of a Champaign teen.
Reitz confirms she had scheduled an appointment to meet with the family of Kiwane Carrington Tuesday morning, and it's not known how soon the report will be made public after that meeting. But a group led by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice says it's a foregone conclusion the officers involved in the October 9th shooting of the 15-year old won't face criminal charges. They're calling for reviews of the case from a special prosecutor and federal Department of Justice. Those with the civil rights group point to that fact that both officers are currently on the job. Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney remains on duty, while City Manager Steve Carter confirmed last week that officer Daniel Norbits was doing some office work after being placed on paid leave.
The activists also contend that the public can't trust a multi-jurisdictional team that helped state police in their investigation since many of them are friends and often work together. Rhonda Williams is Kiwane Carrington's aunt. "I feel the information probably has been tamperered with," says Williams. "I think that they all stick together with one another and my nephew's not here to tell his side of the story. So basically we're just going on what the officer's story is." Through e-mails obtained through Freedom of Information requests, CU Citizens for Peace and Justice also contends that some key eyewitnesses of the shooting were never interviewed. And the group's Aaron Ammons says it's 'disturbing' that Champaign city council members would send e-mails to Reitz regarding the investigation.
"The Champaign City Council, as Tom Bruno has alluded to on many occasions, is the review board of the Champaign Police Department," says Ammons. "So we find it very disturbing that members of the city council would be sending information to Julia Reitz, who's criminally investigating two of the officers."
In media reports, Reitz calls her work completely objective, and said it's outrageous to suggest that her office would violate its ethical obligations.
As world leaders discuss climate change at a summit in Copenhagen, environmental advocates say Illinois and other states can be -- and, in cases, are -- policy leaders.
There's international pressure on the United States to adopt stricter carbon emissions standards to combat global warming. It's a policy Brian Granahan, an attorney with Environment Illinois, supports. But even as a debate continues with the federal government, he says the U.S. is making progress.
"When it comes to America's response to global warming, what's happening on Capitol Hill, while it tends to dominate the news, it's really only half the story," Granahan said. "States have great power to reduce global warming pollution within their borders. And many states are using that power to implement clean energy policies that rival those anywhere in the world."
Granahan says Illinois is a prime example. The state will require electric utilities to get a quarter of their load from renewable sources. A new state law requires new homes be constructed according to an energy efficient building code.
Critics question how much good standards aimed at climate change will do, especially if they come at the detriment of the state's, and the nation's, business climate.
Illinois' financial woes could force Vermilion County's Health Department to shut down. Administrator Steve Laker says the state owes the department about $800,000, and the department couldn't pay back a loan from the county for $300,000. Those funds became necessary to meet overall budget and payroll that are largely dependent on grants funded by the state.
At this Tuesday's Vermilion County Board meeting, members are to vote on scheduling a special meeting for December 15th to either terminate or restructure the health department. Laker says his hands are tied. "It just seems to be beyond anybody's control," says Laker. "It's certainly well beyond my control. And the only control that the county board may be able to exercise to stop this bleeding is to eliminate the health department. Now that's a pretty drastic action."
Laker says he'll give a memo to county officials to show what a downsized health department would look like. He says even that will be difficult. "Restructure means - is there some action in between status quo and dissillution? It probably means consideration the elimination of some grant-funded programs just to mitigate the deficit." Cutting the department would mean the end of successful areas like immunization clinics, family case management, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program and its 3,400 clients. And 75 jobs would be cut.
Danville State Representative Bill Black says he's sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn's Chief of Staff to alert him of the situation. Black says Quinn's legislative council replied, and hoped to find a solution. The Republican says he's afraid the state would likely have to seek out borrowing money to bail out the health department and similar agencies.
There's been no decision about giving medication to classmates or other people who may have had contact with an eleven year old girl who died this week in Iroquois County.
The Champaign County coroner says a preliminary autopsy determined that Natalie Johnson of Loda died Tuesday of gram-negative bacterial sepsis - it's a blood infection similar but not identical to meningitis.
Coroner Duane Northrup says he's still waiting for confirmation of test results.
A spokeswoman for the Ford-Iroquois Public Health District says Natalie's family members have been given preventative medications against the contagious disease, but it's not known whether classmates or others will need to be treated.
A public forum on the qualities needed by the next president of the University of Illinois attracted more than a hundred people to the Spurlock Museum on the Urbana campus Thursday.
20 people spoke, most of them students and faculty. Student Senator --- and political science major --- Carlos Rosa named a top priority for students.
"Tuition, tuition, tuition", said Rosa. "I cannot stress enough that me and my classmates, we want a president at this university that is ready to chop at the top, and not chop down on the number of students that can afford to attend this institution".
Rosa and others also said that the next president must be mindful of the need for diversity on campus.
History Professor Kristin Hoganson said she hoped for a president who would resist the "corporatization" of the university, and put a renewed emphasis on teaching and research --- including the liberal arts and humanities. And Hoganson said she wanted someone who would understand the problems of the Urbana campus, in the wake of the recent admissions scandal.
"I think we need somebody who understands that this campus is suffering from an unprecedented crisis of morale", said Hoganson, "and who would be active in addressing the turmoil on the lack of leadership this campus has had recently."
Others at the forum focused on the presidential search process itself. The discussion started when Miriam Larson of the Graduate Employees Organization said she hoped for more such forums in the spring ---"especially", she said, "as we have a more particular sense of what candidates we're looking at"
But Search Committee Chair and U of I Trustee Pamela Strobel said those "particulars" would not be made public. She says details about who's being considered for university president will stay secret, because most candidates don't want word to get out.
"If we started telling the world who our candidates were, we would probably lose 90 percent of them", said Strobel. "They would say'I'm not a candidate', because they do not want to jeopardize their current employment."
Strobel says not even the names of the finalists for U of I president will released. Finalists for the president's post are public knowledge at some universities, such as New Mexico State, where former U of I Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman recently withdrew as a candidate. U of I Interim President Designate Stanley Ikenberry said he doesn't know of any major university that releases names of candidates for president. But Ikenberry says this present search process is the most open one he's seen at the U of I.
A program enabling University of Illinois art students to study at the nation's capital is coming to an end due to cost and low enrollment.
Illinois at the Phillips started in 2006... enabling about 45 students to take courses at the Phillips Collection Modern Art Museum in Washington, DC. Former U of I Urbana Campus Chancellor Richard Herman championed the program... and paid for it through a discretionary fund that he controlled.
The concept was to create something that was self-supporting through private gifts, along with tuition dollars from Washington residents who could also take the classes.
But U of I arts dean Robert Graves says part of that never materialized:
"The hope was that it would generate considerable endowment funds from outside the university, (such as) private foundations", said Graves. "And it was successful to a certain degree in generating income from courses that it gave to Washington DC residents, but not enough to offset the huge amount of state funding that was going into it."
Illinois at the Phillips is projected to cost 600-thousand dollars this year... and Graves says those kind of expenses can't be justified as the U of I wrestles with a tight budget and uncertainty over state funding. Much of the money behind the program goes towards the salary for program director and art history professor Jonathan Fineberg, along with travel expenses.
Interim Urbana Chancellor Robert Easter acted on a recommendation from a 3-member committee this week to end the arts program. Illinois at the Phillips will end after the spring semester.
The state of Illinois' backlog of payments is starting to worry University of Illinois leaders.
Interim president designate Stan Ikenberry says the U of I is still waiting on more than $388 million in state funding that would normally be in their hands by now. But Ikenberry says the university has essentially been unpaid since the start of the fiscal year in July.
Southern Illinois University has warned that continued cash shortages could result in missed payrolls. But Ikenberry says the U of I has not faced that problem yet because of revenue from outside enterprises and research grants.
"The longer it goes on, the tougher the challenge," Ikenberry said. "In all fairness, the University of Illinois is probably in the strongest position of any university in the state, but even for us it's certainly an increasing challenge."
Ikenberry says the state needs to work sooner rather than later on a plan to resolve the budget situation through a combination of revenue increases and belt-tightening.
Illinois's two Democratic senators are reacting warily to President Obama's plans for future military involvement in Afghanistan.
Senior senator Dick Durbin issued a terse two-sentence statement saying while the president asked for more time to formulate his plan, he'll take time to respond later.
The state's other senator, Roland Burris, said while he supports the ultimate goal of transferring the responsibility of stability to Afghan forces, he worries how elevated troop levels will affect any future exit strategy.
15th district Republican congressman Tim Johnson was more direct in his response - he says the US should do the reverse and pull troops out of Afghanistan, questioning the wisdom of the war.
As word spread of President Obama's plans to send an additional 30-thousand troops, demonstrations lined the streets in several cities, calling for an end to the 8-year occupation there.
About 30 University of Illinois students and other Champaign-Urbana residents took to the corners of Green and Wright streets, staging brief 'die-ins' every time the stoplight turned red and the intersection was clear.
Groups like the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort and International Socialist Organization say the President has appeared to change his tone about Afghanistan since running an anti-war campaign last year. Protester Karen Medina says Obama's strategy won't begin to help build a government for the Afghan people:
"A lot of people say we're there to promote democracy, and democracy has never been promoted by another country being militarily present," Medina said. "If you really are doing what you're saying you're doing, then either you're lying about wanting democracy there or you're doing it the wrong way."
The groups cite a CNN poll saying that 57% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while Western-run polls show about 75% of Afghans favor negotiations among themselves.
About 70 similar protests were scheduled across the country yesterday.
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