Illinois Public Media News
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.
Things could be turning around for an Urbana domestic violence shelter recently forced into layoffs and reduced services.
A Woman's Place has received more than $120,000 in back payments owed by the state. Executive Director Tami Tunnell expects the shelter to remain on an expedited payment schedule for the next six months.
The agency hadn't expected to receive any payments until mid-December. Tunnell says the news came as shock, but she'll take a conservative approach when looking at the months ahead:
"So we're got going to jump and bring everybody back right aw, " Tunnell said. "Hopefully one of these days soon we'll be back to some semblance of normal, but what we'll be looking at is how much we need to set aside in the bank account in case this happens again and the state gets backed up."
A Woman's Place was forced to lay off 10 employees last month, reducing its staff to six. Tunnell says some may be brought back for part-time work around the holidays, but won't do any more hiring until early next year. A Woman's Place had also stopped taking new admissions. It's now serving about 18 families, some staying at the shelter, and others who have found other places to live with the agency's help.
Carol Knowles, a spokeswoman for Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes, says her office is getting flooded with requests each day from various social service agencies. She says the letters from A Woman's Place showed the most urgent need for funding. The state currently has a backlog of $4.4 billion in unpaid bills.
The Champaign police officer involved in the October shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington has continued to do some work for the department --- despite being on paid administrative leave.
Officer Daniel Norbits was placed on leave after Carrington was killed by a shot from his gun during a confrontation that also involved another youth and Champaign Police Chief R-T Finney. But at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, City Manager Steve Carter says Norbits has continued to do some office work for Champaign Police.
"He's been in and out of the department, over time", says Carter, "and he has helped out in what would be considered some light-duty work ---some inventory work, civilian clothes, non-public contact --- a little bit. But his work on those projects has been completed, and he'll continue to be on administrative leave, until at least after the state's attorney makes her decision. And then it'll be evaluated as we go along, in terms of what his status it."
Carter's disclosure came after Martell Miller and Brian Dolinar asked city officials to comment on rumors they had heard of Norbits being back at work.
An investigation of the Carrington shooting --- led by Illinois State Police --- was completed nearly three weeks ago and handed over to Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz. Rietz has said she will not release the report until after reviewing it completely.
The Champaign City Council voted last night to extend the life of its East University Avenue Tax Increment Financing District for another year. That will give the city time to seek a 12-year extension from the state.
Enacted in the 1980s, the East University Avenue TIF District covers the commercial area east of the Canadian National tracks, including University Avenue and nearby sections of First and Second Streets. City officials say the TIF district has helped spur development --- but not as much as in downtown and Campustown. As the city makes plans to seek a long-term extension of the TIF district, City Councilwoman Marcie Dodds says she thinks flood control and beautification work done on the 2nd Street reach of the Boneyard Creek will spur development that can link downtown and Campustown together.
"It'll do it not only geographically and physically, but also psychologically", says Dodds. "For years, it was campus over here and Champaign over there and downtown far away. The two never met. It was even sometimes difficult to get to one from the other. And I hope that this changes that."
Property tax revenue above a certain level in a TIF District is spent within the district, focusing on building renovations, streetscape work and infrastructure improvements.
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
A Saturday memorial service has been planned for an Eastern Illinois University football coach killed in a traffic accident, while his wife and one of his children remain hospitalized.
University officials say the service for assistant coach Jeff Hoover will be held in the student union at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
Hoover died Saturday night while he, another coach and their families drove back from a football game in Carbondale. Officials say the vehicle they were in swerved to avoid a deer and rolled over.
The university says Hoover's wife, Penny, and one of their two children are in fair condition at Urbana's Carle Foundation Hospital. The Hoovers' other child and three other people in the vehicle are all out of the hospital.
The Champaign Unit Four School Board will hold a special meeting next Monday night, to decide what to do about budget overruns for the expansion and renovation of Garden Hills Elementary School. At a study session this past Monday night, board members discussed the news that the project will cost 25 percent more than first estimated --- unless changes are made.
Mark Ritz of the architectural firm BLDD says the Garden Hills project is now estimated to cost 15-point-5 million dollars, in part because renovations requested for the present building are more extensive than expected. He says they could meet the original 12 million dollar estimate by cutting back on those renovations, and making the new wing a little smaller than planned. But Superintendent Arthur Culver says sticking to the original Garden Hills school plan at the higher price would be worth it.
"We can reduce costs", Culver told the school board, "we can reduce those classrooms down to a thousand square feet and so forth. But that's really not ideal. And I was just hoping that we could open our minds up to exploring, maybe going a little bit beyond what we originally expected."
Unit Four Finance Director Gene Logas says the district can afford the higher cost, because the bond issue for this and other construction projects will also be higher than originally planned. But school board members were torn on the question, and wanted more information.
Board member Kristine Chalifoux favored cutting back on the Garden Hills project to bring it in at the 12- million dollar level. But she says there were arguments on both sides.
"I'd love to have a big gym", says Chalifoux, "I'd love it for the community. But it will take away from what we can do --- educationally even --- at one of our other schools. Is that the trade off, we want to decide to make? Now, there's also the other side --- if you're going to do it, do it right, and we'll figure out the next one when we come to it".
Next Monday's special school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, at the Unit Four Mellon Administrative Center.
A proposal to use tax money from Champaign County wind turbine farms to pay for renewable energy for county facilities was voted down by a Champaign County Board committee Monday night.
Members of the Environment and Land Use Committee voted 4 to 3 against Urbana Democrat Sam Smucker's proposal to place a portion of those tax revenues into a special Renewable Energy Fund.
The County Board recently approved regulations for placing wind farms in the area, and expects to receive applications from companies in the coming months. Smucker says when that happens... the county should use a share of the tax revenue to cut its energy costs --- perhaps in league with other local governments.
"One possibility is that we would simply try to move some of our buildings towards solar energy," says Smucker. "Another possibility is that we would try to go in with other governments --- the city governments or the school boards --- and build a wind turbine to power our facilities. All of that's up in the air. But it seems to me the first step is to make sure the resources are there."
Smucker says his proposal would make sure some of the money made by wind farms in Champaign County, is used to help the county. "When a company builds a wind turbine in Champaign County, that energy is going to get sold on the open electricity markets", says Smucker. "So that energy's going to go outside of Champaign County, most likely. But this is the way we can capture some of the growth in renewable energy, and bring it right back home. "
Under Smucker's proposal, the Renewable Energy Fund would collect about 100-dollars per year from each wind turbine built in Champaign County.
Smucker says he may bring his proposal back to the County Board next year. He says his big challenge will be to convince his fellow board members of the need for long-term energy planning.
A Savoy man was expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in connection to a fatal crash that occurred Monday night on Interstate 74 in Champaign.
State Police arrested 27-year old David McClain Tuesday on charges of reckless homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. The wreck claimed the life of 26-year old Yingbo Zhou, a University of Illinois student from China. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says a preliminary autopsy shows the woman died of a traumatic head injury. Four others were injured in the crash. State Police say McClain's SUV crashed into a car in which Zhou was a passenger, and then sped away. According to court records, he had been arrested last month for driving with a suspended license, and faced many other traffic violations in Champaign County the last several years.
Unemployment has crept upward in Illinois' metropolitan areas, including Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Decatur. The state department of employment services says the October jobless rate in Champaign-Urbana and vicinity hit 8.6 percent, three tenths of a point higher than September and more than two and a half percent higher than October of last year. The rate for the Danville area rose to 12.1 percent, with Decatur checking in at 12.7 percent, third highest behind Rockford and Kankakee. The state says Champaign-Urbana lost about 18 hundred jobs when compared to this time last year.
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