Illinois Public Media News
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.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees has unanimously approved its budget request for fiscal 2012, which seeks five percent more over fiscal 2011.
The total budget for the U of I's three campuses is $5 billion. And a request for fiscal 2013, seeking five percent more, represents an additional $83 million in state funding.
Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr told the board Friday that payments from the state have lagged more than last year, with the state now owing $313-million.
Knorr said the two pillars to the U of I's educational mission, tuition and state support, make up more than 80 percent of the university's needs.
"We have one of those pillars, it's the state funding, that continues to carry the uncertain question about when and how much is going to be paid," he said. "We're certainly looking at the trend, it has been deteriorating over the last three years,"
The U of I was appropriated $689 million for 2012.
Trustees have also approved the appointments of Mike Thomas as the new athletic director, and Phyllis Wise as the new Urbana Chancellor. She replaces the retiring interim Chancellor Robert Easter, who was honored Friday with a standing ovation in his last Trustees meeting.
Easter, who has given nearly 40 years to the Urbana campus, received a standing ovation at the Trustees meeting Friday.
Trustee Ed McMillan said through cost cutting efforts, Easter left the campus in better shape than when he took over as chancellor. But Easter said equal credit should go President Michael Hogan and the U of I Trustees.
"This board has brought respect to the university," Easter said. "It has brought a sense of integrity that permeates our community. And I think that has been critical to the spirit that's allowed us to move forward in a very positive way over the past several years."
Easter was the U of I's Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences for 7 years, and served on the board for International Food and Agricultural Development, appointed by former President George W. Bush.
Wise is slated to start Oct. 1. Trustees also approved the appointments of Lawrence Schook as Vice President for Research, and Christophe Pierre as Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Catholic Charities is delaying its plan to ask a judge to reconsider or stay his ruling that Illinois officials may cut off the nonprofit's state contracts for adoptions and foster care placements.
A hearing had been scheduled Friday in Springfield on Catholic Charities' quest to have a Sangamon County judge rethink or hold off enforcing his recent ruling that favored the state.
A spokesman for the law firm representing Catholic Charities says the hearing has been postponed to give the nonprofit more time to get court papers.
The state Department of Children and Family Services has ended $30 million in Catholic Charities contracts because the nonprofit won't work with unmarried couples in placing children in adoptive and foster homes. Illinois authorities say that violates the state's civil union law.
Despite delays and debunked predictions-and a never-ending wait for Gov. Pat Quinn's decision on a gambling expansion bill-supporters of expanded gambling in Illinois say they expect to find common ground by Oct. 25, the first day of the fall veto session.
The bill, stalled for months due to policy differences, political infighting and Quinn's reluctance to increase gambling venues, remains a top priority.
But the waiting game may be ending soon. Unless Quinn outlines his concerns "in short order," legislative leaders will present him with their own version of a clean-up gaming bill, known as a trailer bill, that will tighten control over the proposed Chicago-owned casino, according to State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), House sponsor of the bill. Other revisions may be coming as well, Lang said.
The options will be limited: Any change risks losing a vote on a bill that was a delicate balance of interests among Chicago, struggling cities such as Danville and Rockford that want new casinos, the horse racing industry and places like Joliet and Aurora where existing casinos fought the increased competition.
An amendatory veto, which would allow Quinn to change the bill and send it back to lawmakers for a re-vote, would be an unwise choice, Lang said.
"Substantial changes would put the speaker in a position of weighing compliance with the (Illinois) constitution on the amendatory veto," said Lang, who is House Speaker Michael Madigan's floor leader. "That's not a good way to go. If the governor thinks we're going to have substantial changes by way of amendatory veto, I think he's mistaken."
Whether lawmakers' power play will work remains to be seen. Quinn is occupied by daily state budget pressures. He announced Thursday a series of employee layoffs and facility closings that also will be a top item of negotiation during the fall veto session.
For now, the gambling bill that narrowly passed the legislature in May is not on Quinn's desk. In an unusual legislative gambit, Senate President John Cullerton is holding the bill in his chamber, even though it passed, for fear the governor will veto it. And by delaying, he is buying time for an ongoing negotiation. Once the bill reaches Quinn, he must act within 60 days or it becomes law.
Lang, along withSenate sponsor Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, and Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, have been waiting for more specifics from the governor on which parts of the bill make him uncomfortable, but so far the governor has not been forthcoming. Lang and other proponents of the gambling expansion bill spent months crafting legislation with the right ingredients to win approval from a diverse General Assembly. The bill passed the House with only five votes to spare. It passed the Senate with the minimum 30 votes. If Quinn vetoes the bill, lawmakers would need to override his action with supermajorities in both chambers. Supporters would need six more votes in the House and six more in the Senate-likely an impossible threshold on such a controversial piece of legislation..
The more realistic option is to craft a trailer bill that addresses Quinn's concerns while keeping the original bill's vote intact. Starting over, bill sponsors said, is not an option. Many lawmakers who voted against the bill opposed it on moral grounds or voted "no" to protect existing casinos in their districts, which would be hurt by the competition. Ten casinos already exist in Illinois in Elgin, Aurora, East Peoria, East St. Louis, Metropolis, Rock Island, Alton and two in Joliet. The newest casino opened in July in Des Plaines.
Other lawmakers who voted against the bill feared more gambling would not play well in their districts. Those minds would be difficult to change, especially in an election year when they are running in new territories. The boundaries of all House and Senate districts will change for the 2012 election cycle because of redistricting.
When lawmakers return to Springfield this fall for a two-week veto session, some of them may not know whether they are facing competition next year.
"During the periods of time we'll be in Springfield for veto session, the time to circulate nominating petitions (to get on the ballot) will still be going on. So some legislators will be a little nervous about that," Lang said.
Even a follow-up gambling bill addressing Quinn's concerns could be tricky. Just a few cold feet would topple the coalition Lang and Link created last spring to pass the original bill.
For example, Link was able to bring reluctant Republicans on board, including state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield, by adding a year-round horse-racing component at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Lang pulled House colleague Luis Arroyo, Democrat of Chicago, into the "yes" column by promising a stream of casino revenue to a fund that would help homeowners facing foreclosure.
They convinced downstate representatives who would not benefit directly from expanded gambling to support it anyway by committing new money to county fairs, a source of pride for farming communities. They included a Danville casino to the bill, which added one senator and two state representatives as supporters.
As a result, the bill is a delicate pyramid of political trades. Any significant changes from Quinn would be a major setback.
"The timeframe is veto session or game over, right?" said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, who says the bill is the last hope to save his industry. "I think we've showed the governor how our industry is on life support and we need him to sign the bill as is."
In addition to policy differences-Quinn said from the beginning the bill was too big-political infighting has slowed it down.
Quinn and Cullerton share a mutual lack of trust. One flare-up in May prompted Cullerton to call the governor "irrelevant" during state budget negotiations. Cullerton has refused to send Quinn the gambling bill until they reach a compromise, fearing Quinn might remind the legislature of his relevance by vetoing it outright. The bill is trapped in limbo between Cullerton's desk and Quinn's indecision.
The legislation would create the nation's first city-owned casino in Chicago, along with four others around the state. The measure also would allow the state's five horseracing tracks and Chicago's two airports to add slot machines, and it would allow existing casinos to expand.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wants the bill, cranked up the pressure on Quinn several times already and is planning more. The Chicago City Council on Thursday approved a resolution supporting a new casino. In mid-summer, Emanuel publicly unveiledthe projects a new casino would fund and organized a news conference of minority aldermen who called on Quinn to sign the bill. Emanuel also is expected to drum up more publicity by working with downstate groups who want Quinn to sign the bill.
Last week, Emanuel hosted a tour for General Assembly members, bringing them on Chicago Transit Authority buses to the National Teachers Academy to meet with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, followed by a visit to the 911 Emergency Communications Center. They ended the visit at a Millennium Park reception. The Chicago casino wasn't an explicit topic of conversation, but the tour gave Emanuel a chance to outline the city's needs.
Like all of Emanuel's moves, the timing was strategic. Lawmakers next month will be addressing the casino bill, however it plays out. Emanuel desperately wants it. The projected revenue boost for the city alone is an estimated $650 million annually, a huge cash cow for a city facing its own budget pressures.
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