Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 22, 2011

IL Gov. Quinn Grants 85 Clemency Petitions

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn granted 85 clemency petitions and denied 189 others in the latest round of action to clear a backlog of cases left by his predecessor, ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn granted pardons and expunged convictions in most of the cases Friday that included offenses from burglary and drug charges to armed robbery and reckless discharge of a firearm.

This latest action brings the number of clemency petitions Quinn has granted to 467. He has denied 728 other petitions.

Blagojevich left a backlog of 2,500 cases when he was impeached and removed from office in January 2009 after his arrest on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich is currently on trial in Chicago for a second time.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 22, 2011

Chicago Unveils Green Taxi Cab Program

The city of Chicago has launched a program that officials say will help the taxi industry buy hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.

Mayor Richard Daley announced the program on Friday, the same day as Earth Day. It's called the Green Taxi Program and the goal is to help the city reach lower carbon emission goals. It also aims to passengers trips in environmentally sustainable vehicles.

A federal Clean Cities grant will fund the program. The program will use $1 million to reimburse the cost of certain green vehicles.

Hybrids will be reimbursed $2,000 and propane-powered vehicles can qualify for between $9,000 and $14,000. Eletric vehicles don't qualify.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 22, 2011

Indiana Lawmakers Restrict Collective Bargaining for Teachers; Vouchers

Indiana Republicans have made two big gains in education policy. On Thursday a majority of the Indiana Senate approved what could become one of the most expansive school voucher programs in the nation. That comes just a day after the governor signed a new law that restricts collective bargaining for public school teachers.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels visited Valparaiso Thursday to tout the momentum he and the Republican-controlled legislature have seen for their education agenda.

Speaking on the collective bargaining issue, Daniels deflected criticism of being anti-union. He said, under the new legislation, teachers still have the right to bargain over salaries and benefits; they are only losing out on bargaining over things that have nothing to do with educating children. He cited things like like the color of paint inside teachers' lounges or the temperature inside of a school.

"This is the year we really transform Indiana for the better. I'm really very grateful for what the General Assembly has agreed to help us do," Daniels said before the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce at Strongbow Inn. "Now, we have to go and make that system work."

The restrictions on teachers' collective bargaining take effect July 1.

Republican lawmakers are expected to enact more changes in education before the end of the legislation session, which ends next week. Several include changes Daniels laid out in his State of the State address in January.

Next on the list is the school voucher expansion, which the Senate approved Thursday. It could be taken up again by the Indiana House next week. The measure would allow some parents to use public money to send their children to a private school.

"Choice will no longer be limited to the well-to-do in our state. If you're a moderate or low income family and you've tried the public schools for at least a year and you can't find one that works for your child, you can direct the dollars we were going to spend on your child to the non-government school of your choice," Daniels said during his visit to Valparaiso. "That's a social justice issue to me."

Opponents worry vouchers would siphon money from public schools. The voucher issue is contentious; so much so that House Democrats referenced it when they bolted from the statehouse last month.

Another item in Daniels school overhaul initiative would impose a merit pay system on teachers. If it passes, the provision would tie raises in teacher salary to annual evaluations. Unions say that system could short-change teachers who work with students who are tough to teach.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Rahm Emanuel On His First 100 Days in Office

Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is offering a handful of specifics about what he'll accomplish in his first months on the job.

In the first question of a 70-minute interview before an audience Wednesday night at the Field Museum, Emanuel was asked to set some benchmarks he'll no doubt be judged on later: what he will have done 100 days after taking office.

"You want to rush forward all 100 days and I haven't even gotten 100 hours in yet," Emanuel said to the interviewer, Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold. The paper endorsed Emanuel in his campaign for mayor.

Emanuel highlighted some of the things he's done in the transition, most notably key staff announcements.

Among his first moves in office, he said, will be to appoint a board to oversee economic development funds, reorganize some of city government and close what he called the "revolving door" for public employees who take jobs as lobbyists.

Emanuel on Wednesday night also mentioned something he says would not be accomplished quickly.

"I want the culture and the mindset in city government to be one of, we all...deliver a service to the people who are paying the bills," he said.

Emanuel told the audience that won't happen in 100 days - or even in a thousand.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Lincoln Trail Libraries System Nixes Champaign Library Non-Resident Fee

The Lincoln Trail Library System says Champaign's library may no longer charge out of town residents a $200 fee to check out materials.

The head of the system says she understands why Champaign's library started charging the fee for residents of Mahomet and Tolono last fall. Champaign library Director Marsha Grove said reciprocal borrowing had become much higher through patrons from neighboring towns than in Champaign and Urbana. Last year, the library lent 700,000 items through the Lincoln Trial system, while Champaign -Urbana residents borrowed about 200-thousand.

Grove said the plan was to evaluate the fee after six months, and the library is sticking to it.

"The board and I will very carefully look at the all the facets of this, and do so, as we have always done, with our primary concern of serving our residents right here in Champaign," Grove said. "That's what we want to do well."

But Lincoln Trail Director Jan Ison said she's surprised to hear the Champaign Public Library board would wait about a month before deciding whether to waive that fee, and she said residents of rural towns still pay taxes for library services.

"They are not non-residents in a legal sense," Ison said. "A non-resident would live outside of any tax-supported public library. And so the residents of Tolono and Mahomet, of those library districts, do pay taxes. Now, those taxes may not be as great as Champaign's tax, which is one of the reasons the board understands that they should perhaps be restricted."

Libraries in the Lincoln Trail system are allowed to limit the items a non-resident patron can check out to five, but Ison called the special use fee 'unacceptable' to both the Lincoln Trail System and Illinois State Library.

The Lincoln trial board said libraries that continue to charge the fee could lose their reciprocal borrowing privileges. Ison said the idea is get Tolono and Mahomet patrons using their local libraries more often.

But no decisions are expected soon. Neither the Champaign Library Board nor the Lincoln Trail Library board will meet until the 3rd week of May.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Storm Shelters Scarce for Champaign Neighborhood

Residents of a mobile home park that has become a center of Champaign-Urbana's Hispanic community has no central place to go in an emergency. As Jose Diaz of the investigative reporting unit CU-Citizen Access reports, residents want the situation to change.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Cherry Orchard Landlords Continue to House Tenants

Despite a court order barring Bernard and Eduardo Ramos from accepting tenants at the Cherry Orchard Village apartments, they continue to do so, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The Ramoses were found guilty Monday in Champaign County court of failing to legally connect the property's sewer and septic systems. They must pay more than $54,000 in fines ($100 per day for 379 days for the unlawful discharge of sewage, $100 per day for 160 days for renting out the property during the health code violation; and $200 for not having a proper construction permit and license when they tried to repair the sewage and septic systems).

The judge in the case, John Kennedy, also issued an injunction, preventing the Ramoses from housing tenants until Cherry Orchard is brought up to code.

The Ramoses submitted a notice of appeal following the ruling.

Public Health administrator Julie Pryde said her department sent a health inspector to Cherry Orchard twice after the verdict. About 20 vehicles were discovered on the property. The health inspector spoke to a tenant who said she confronted Bernard Ramos about media coverage surrounding the trial. Pryde said the tenant was told by Ramos that he is appealing the court ruling, and that there's "no reason to move."

"It's clear that he has been moving people in almost continuously since we told him to stop," Pryde said. "He's actually gone out of his way to tell people that it's ok that they continue to live there."

Pryde said her department is working with different state agencies to help find remaining Cherry Orchard tenants permanent homes.

"I can't even begin to imagine how much time has been spent on this Cherry Orchard situation, and you know none of that money comes back to these agencies," she said.

This is not the first time efforts have been made to find emergency homes for Cherry Orchard tenants. Back in January, Pryde organized a meeting with groups including the Salvation Army, the United Way, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to help get tenants into safe, permanent housing.

Pryde said she would like to see increased enforcement to ensure that the court order is followed. A request for comment from the Champaign County State's Attorney was not immediately returned.

Bernard Ramos and his family have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County; however, several are now or have been under foreclosure during the past few years - with at least seven sold in sheriff's auctions since 2008, according to an analysis of Champaign County Recorder's Office documents.

Cherry Orchard is located right outside of Rantoul, and has traditionally housed migrant workers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Ind. Elections Chief Appeals Ruling

Embattled Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White is appealing a judge's ruling sending a dispute over his November election back to the state recount commission.

Marion Circuit Court officials say the notice of appeal was filed today.

White lawyer Jim Bopp says the judge's ruling improperly asks the commission to decide an issue that's already being decided in a separate criminal case - whether White committed voter fraud.

Democrats are seeking to have White's candidacy disqualified and their candidate named winner in his place. Judge Louis Rosenberg ruled April 7 that the recount panel should reconsider Democrats' claims that White committed voter fraud by lying about his address on a registration form.

Bopp says such a decision is beyond the scope of the commission's powers.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Invades Illinois

Another Asian import has joined the Asian lady beetle and emerald ash-borer on the list of insect pests in Illinois.

The brown marmorated stink bug first showed up in the Chicago area last fall. By January, it was being seen in Kane County. And just this month, it was spotted downstate in Champaign and McLean Counties.

Kelly Estes of the Illinois Natural History Survey said the insects are a year-round problem, because they gather on and in the sides of buildings when cold weather comes.

"Looking for that place to hide out for the winter, and then in the spring," Estes said. "They move out and will feed on a wide variety of plants: ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as corn and soybeans, and many of the fruits and vegetables that we raise here in Illinois."

The brown marmorated stink bug is a big enough problem on the east coast that insecticides are marketed there to kill them specifically. Estes said experts tell her that insecticides may not be the best approach in Illinois, since the stink bug's numbers are still small.

"For infestations that people potentially have in their homes, just with the potential danger of using foggers and things like that, they're not recommending people necessarily bomb their houses to get rid of infestations," Estes said. "Vacuuming them up and physical removal is what they're recommending right now."

The brown marmorated resembles other stink bugs, but has a speckled body, red eyes, black and white banding along the edge of its body and white stripes on its antennae.

If you see any of them, Kelly Estes wants to know about it for the Illinois Cooperative Pest Survey. She would like to see a photo of any bugs that you find, or better still, a specimen in a crush-proof container. Kelly Estes can be reached at 217-333-1005.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 21, 2011

Houston Opera CEO to Head Lyric Opera of Chicago

The Lyric Opera of Chicago named Houston Grand Opera CEO Anthony Freud as its new general director Thursday, making him the first Lyric head appointed from outside the company ranks.

Freud was chosen after an eight-month international search, Lyric officials said, and he agreed to a five-year contract starting Oct. 1, the opening night of Lyric's 57th season.

"He has an outstanding record of fiscal responsibility and fundraising success," Lyric president and CEO Richard Kiphart said in a statement. "He has also been enormously successful at reaching out to, and engaging, audiences who are not part of an opera company's traditional family. I think he is exactly the right person for Chicago at this time."

Freud, 53, will work with music director Sir Andrew Davis and famed soprano Renee Fleming, who joined the Lyric in December as its first creative consultant. The Lyric Opera, one of the nation's most prominent after New York's Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera., has a nearly $53 million operating budget and 26,000 season ticket holders.

"I am honored to be chosen to lead Lyric Opera of Chicago, which I have so long admired," Freud said in a statement. "The Lyric Board and our superb company of artists, technicians, and administrators are the envy of our field. I have been inspired by the discussions I have had so far."

He called collaborating with Davis and Fleming "an extraordinary opportunity."

Freud becomes the fourth person to head the Lyric Opera and succeeds retiring director William Mason. Salary terms were not publicly disclosed.

Freud began working in Houston in March 2006 and helped create and implement the opera's first comprehensive business plan. Fundraising increased under his leadership and the opera brought in $72 million in donations in three years. Capacity sold has also increased significantly under Freud and is expected to surpass 90 percent this year - up from 76 percent when he took over in 2006. Freud's tenure has also seen 14 new productions and co-productions.

He came to Houston after heading the Welsh National Opera for more than a decade, and is also credited with overseeing an award-winning program aimed at bringing opera to communities throughout Houston. Freud, a London native, graduated in 1978 with a law degree from the University of London's King's College.

"We are enormously proud of the company's achievements under Anthony's leadership these past six seasons. His extraordinary vision and commitment to excellence have made a lasting impact on the company and our community," Glen Rosenbaum, the chairman of the Houston Grand Opera's board of directors, said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that Anthony has chosen to move on to Chicago, we wish him well in his new position."

Currently, the Houston board is working on a management succession plan, Rosenbaum said. In the meantime, Anthony will continue to work with the opera "to ensure that our future projects proceed smoothly with the artistic excellence that is internationally renowned."

(AP Photo/Welsh National Opera, Roger Donovan, File)

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