Illinois Public Media News
The new Early Voting Center at the University of Illinois Urbana campus is open for business, but there's disagreement about the center's location and level of convenience.
Champaign County Democrats wanted the state-mandated early voting center to be in the U of I's Illini Union, but Republican County Clerk Mark Shelden rented an unfinished storefront in the Gregory Place complex on the east side of campus instead. Shelden said the location would suffer less interference from political activity. Election Judge Kathy Hamilton was helping to staff the center on Tuesday, and she said it is a central location, and accessible for people with disabilities.
"If someone is in a wheelchair, there's a ramp right in front of us," Hamilton said. "They can come in, there's no threshold, and it's all on one floor."
Hamilton also noted that on-street parking is readily available. Democratic County Board member Steve Beckett pointed out that all the parking spaces have parking meters. He said free parking is one reason the Illini Union would have been a better spot.
"I knew one of the things said over at the (Illini) Union was, there was going to be free parking in the circle drive," Beckett said. "I was very disappointed about that."
Beckett also complained that about dim lighting, which he said could pose difficulties for older voters like him. Hamilton said that so far, voters in their 30s or above have been in the majority at the Campus Early Voting Center, which exists because of a state law aimed at encouraging student voting. Shelden says he plans to follow up on a letter to Gregory Place development, requesting free parking spaces at the site, and will install additional lighting. He also hopes to see the U of I promote the site,
"I hope the university will send e-mails out to people - they've done that in the past," said Shelden. "Maybe the student government group (the UI Student Senate) that was talking about how much money they were willing to spend on promoting early voting at the union - it would be nice if they would spend some of that money promoting early voting over here."
All Champaign County voters are welcome to vote early at either the campus Early Voting Center, at 700 South Gregory Street in Urbana, or at the Champaign County Clerk's office in the Brookens Center, 1776 East Washington Street in Urbana, through October 28th. Both locations are open weekdays from 8 AM to 4:30 PM, and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 AM to noon.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
Governor Pat Quinn's election campaign took him to some friendly crowds on Monday, including one in Champaign County.
Union members rallied around Quinn in a statewide series of appearances. After the last one of the day before a spirited crowd at Savoy's Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, Quinn felt like his core constituency was primed to get out the vote, even amid questions about apathy among Democratic voters.
"I didn't see any apathy today," Quinn said. "I think a lot of folks are ready to vote, and that's best way to show your citizenship, flex your muscles."
Quinn dished out criticism of Republican challenger Bill Brady's plans to rein in spending, saying programs such as college scholarships for students in need would be in danger of more cuts.
"The working people of Illinois deserve a scholarship program that can help their kids go to (school). I'm running against someone who wants to cut that back. We're never going to cut that back," Quinn said to applause. "We're going to invest in the brains of everyday people. They're going to make our state even better."
The rally also featured welder Matt Langendorf of St. Joseph, whose homemade commercial for Quinn has made it to statewide airwaves.
As Quinn crossed the state, Brady and his campaign bus tour hit Charleston as it swings through southeast Illinois.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
The head of a Champaign social service agency said its name had become too narrow when examining its broad range of services.
New signs are up at the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, changing its name to Community Elements.
CEO Shelia Ferguson said the name change came as a result of three-year strategic plan. She said it reflects the fact that the agency does much more than help those with conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. She said it has also been reaching out to the homeless.
"We also have residential services and shelters and community kitchens," Ferguson said. "So this allowed us to have a dialogue with the community that we're more than mental health, but also to allow people to come meet us, reach out to us, if there needs were other than mental health."
Ferguson said the name change will also help the agency do more with less, by partnering with other social service groups in the community.
"We also need to partner where we can save money, where we can deliver services better, more efficiently," she said. "Where we can deliver services to the people who need then, who aren't community-based because they're limited by transportation or other resources in order to get to us. So you'll see a lot more partnership, a lot more discussing amongst social service agencies to make sure that continuum of care is available to those who need it in Champaign County."
Ferguson said Community Elements is still dealing with slow payments from the state. It's owed about $2.5 million between the last and current fiscal years.
(Photo courtesy of Community Elements)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan and a number of campus labor groups say they have started a productive dialogue on issues like employee salaries and affordable education.
Friday's one-hour meeting came a day after many of these unions rallied on campus, giving administrators a failing grade in areas like transparency and accountability. Hogan said it was not a bargaining session, but simply a conversation between people with shared interests.
"I think they would feel very good about having an opportunity occasionally, even only once a semester, or two or three times a year, just to sit in that room (the President's conference room) and not negotiate the details of a contract, but just have a dialogue between interested parties," said Hogan. "I would be very comfortable doing that."
Further meetings haven't been scheduled, but Hogan said the parties already share one common interest.
"That's linking arms in Springfield and trying together to convince our legislators that we're a very good investment," Hogan said. "And if we can get some stability, some predictability, and hopefully increased support out of them, we're able to do more for everybody here."
U of I Campus Faculty Association President and history faculty member Kathryn Oberdeck said it is good to see that groups like hers and the Graduate Employees Organization will be allowed to become part of the decision making process. She said the president and unions will likely have their share of disagreements, but Oberdeck said this meeting was simply about laying the ground work, but she said U of I faculty members continue to have concerns about the voice they will have.
"What sorts of research gets funded and the ways in which the restructuring of the university will reach down and take account of the voices of people who actually work on the ground, and the way that actual process evolves remains to be seen," Oberdeck said. "But I did get the sense that he heard and sympathized with that desire."
Gene Vanderport with the Illinois Education Association said he is pleased with the tone and tenor of President Hogan.
"We feel that this administration may be more in contact with what need to be looking as as priorities," Vanderport said. "We can't get into specifics, but we're pleased with some of the answers we got. I feel a lot better about what our future holds."
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The fatal shooting last year of Kiwane Carrington is the driving spark of this year's Unity March in Champaign-Urbana. The 7th annual social justice march takes place Saturday, October 9th, one year to the day after the 15-year-old Carrington was shot and killed during a police altercation. The march is sponsored by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice, Champaign County NAACP, the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign County, and the Graduate Employees Organization on the U of I campus.
Aaron Ammons of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice said that while he thinks progress in city government has been slow, Carrington's death has inspired many people and groups to make new efforts towards positive change.
"I believe most entities and institutions have opened up, and are trying to see things from a different perspective, since the killing of Kiwane Carrington," Ammons said. "Honestly, I believe some of it is out of genuine desire to change, and some of it is political pressure that comes, but certainly, there's been a lot more talk and a lot more meetings among several different entities since the killing."
Ammons said the Unity March is aimed at inspiring empowerment among victims of poverty and injustice, so they can take their own steps towards change.
"There are things that we can do as far as our own food security," Ammons said. "For example, to grow some of your own food at the community garden, or at your own home. That's a really basic thing that surrounds the idea of empowerment."
Ammons said another example is teaching young people how to act in contacts with police.
The march begins at noon, 906 West Vine Street where the Kiwane Carrington shooting occurred. From there, marchers will proceed north on Prospect to Bradley Avenue, and then head west to the Randolph Street Community Garden. At the garden, fruit trees will be planted in Carrington's memory, and a garden party will be held, featuring food and music. Ammong said the march is open to all.
In addition, a pre-march symposium is scheduled for 6:30 PM, on Friday, October 8th, at the Asian American Cultural Center, 1210 West Nevada Street, Urbana, on the University of Illinois campus. The topic is "Other Deaths and Other Truths" Communities Confronting State Violence". The symposium is sponsored by the "Landscapes of Struggle in Illinois" Focal Point Group of the Independent Media Center of Urbana Champaign.
Last year's shooting death of Kiwane Carrington by a police officer was ruled accidental, but the officer involved, Daniel Norbits, was given a 30-day suspension for improper handling of his weapon, which he is appealing. Critics say the incident is a symptom of long-standing problems in Champaign police-community relations, particularly where African-American youth are involved. Champaign city officials say they've made several changes in police procedures in the wake of the incident.
Campus labor unions say University of Illinois administrators continually fail to address issues like affordable tuition, a living wage, and accountability.
The groups used the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education for a noon hour rally on Thursday. About 70 people went from the Alma Mater statue to the Swanlund Administration Building in protest.
Campus faculty association Vice President Susan Davis said this National Day was about addressing concerns for everyone they represent, ranging from food service workers, to students to faculty. Davis said U of I leaders are continually passing the buck and blaming their problems on the state's budget woes.
"What we hear from them is 'after the election we'll be able to do this, after there's a budget we'll be able to talk to you about this,'" she said. "In the meantime, they're making a lot of very radical changes to the administrative structure of the university, and probably also to the educational structure."
Groups like the Campus Faculty Association and Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) delivered three large report cards, giving U of I administrators an 'F' in the areas of access, diversity, and stewardship.
GEO Co-President Stephanie Sewell said changes in one area, like a tuition freeze, is not the panacea for the university's budget problems. Sewell also said that a tuition freeze should not keep the U of I from diversifying its student body by closing the cultural houses and consolidating them into one space.
U of I Associate Chancellor Bill Adams received the report cards when the union walked into the Swanlund building. He said many of these issues were already presented in the recent U of I Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana, but he said leaders are willing to continue the conversation.
"We are as concerned as they are about the issues that they raise," Adams said. "The issues of diversity. The issues of affordability. I think the one thing that is not mentioned there is quality, and the quality somehow has to enter into the equation as we move along."
President Michael Hogan will meet with some of these union heads at the University YMCA on Friday.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Repeated fire code violations have forced the city of Urbana to shut down a north side hotel.
Fire Chief Mike Dilley said several rooms at the Hanford Inn and Suites on North Cunningham Avenue had no working smoke detectors, and the ones that did work failed to trigger the hotel's alarm system. About 30 people were displaced after the hotel closed Wednesday. Dilley said the hotel's management has failed to respond to calls questioning when the problems might be rectified.
"The local representative would not come to the building yesterday (Wednesday), he refused to come," Dilley said. "So we're kind of at a loss for what to do at this point until we get somebody involved as a corporation, at least somebody that's involved who will come take some responsibility for this."
Owners of the hotel could not be reached for comment. Dilley said prior fire code problems at the Hanford Inn and Suites included wiring problems and fire doors not closing properly. He said it is ironic that the closure would occur on Fire Prevention Week, and urges all residents and business to make sure they have working smoke detectors. Dilley said half the hotel's guests were construction workers who were able to find another play to stay.
Kelly Hartford with Urbana's Community Development staff said the city found other families willing to take in the remaining 15 guests, and Hartford is working with the Salvation Army for long-term accommodations.
A University of Illinois faculty group investigating the suspension of an engineering professor concluded Louis Wozniak should be given a chance to defend himself.
The College of Engineering suspended Wozniak before the start of the semester for allegedly sending an e-mail to his students with sexually suggestive remarks and for videotaping them without their consent during one of his lectures.
Wozniak defended his actions, saying the e-mail in question is being taken out of context, explaining that he occasionally uses sexual innuendos to connect with his students, but he said he first checks with them at the beginning of each semester to make sure they are comfortable with that language. He added that the students who were videotaped were notified that they would be on camera.
Wozniak said after he learned about his dismissal in August, he went to the University of Illinois Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure to demand that he be given the right to tell his side of the story.
"(The College of Engineering) can't do this unless the president of the university deems it necessary for the safety of the institution and of the people around me without a hearing," he said.
In its report, the committee stated: "The issue before us is whether the university adhered to the university's statutes in acting as it did, i.e., in failing to afford him a hearing on these allegations and a faculty determination of what sanction should be imposed, if any."
It did not conclude whether action should be taken against Wozniak.
Wozniak was moved to an office away from his department where he is focusing on his research and public service. He said the dean of the College of Engineering, Ilesanmi Adesida, should allow him to clear his name in a hearing or simply put him back in the classroom.
"I would welcome the opportunity to be able to answer to these frivolous and false charges that he's made," said Wozniak.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined to comment on the case, simply saying, "The freedoms of tenure are not absolute, but carry with them responsibilities to respect the dignity and rights of all other members of the campus community."
A formal hearing for Wozniak has not been set. Wozniak, who has taught at the U of I for more than 40 years, said he hopes to get back to teaching by the spring semester.
(Courtesy of The Energy Development and Power Generation Comittee)
Preservationists say the University of Illinois failed to follow the proper procedure when going ahead with work on an 1870's farmhouse.
Urbana Campus Historic Preservation Officer Melvin Skvarla said the U of I decided to use $91,000 in residual money to remove the century old additions to Mumford House, based on an architect's recommendation.
Skvarla said that report has been online since early this year.
"The intent was to return the house to its original condition," said Skvarla. "That was stated over and over again - following the recommendations of (architect) Vinci Hamp. The 1892 south addition is probably worse shape than the entire house. The 1922 edition is not even compatible with the rest of the house."
A spokesman for Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency said the U of I never bothered to discuss these plans with an advisory committee appointed by the school's board of trustees. Dave Blanchette said the university should have let that panel weigh in.
"That was the entire reason for forming the advisory committee was to work hand-in-hand with the university to make sure the historic Mumford House was adequately protected," said Blanchette. "To make everyone aware in advance what was planned, and what was going to be done, and let everyone agree to a course of action. We have not had that in the last couple of days."
Urbana Historic Preservation Commission Chair Alice Novak contends removing the additions hurts the structure's historical significance.
"The west side addition is particularly nice in offering living room space, it has a large fireplace, it had a bevel glass window which was removed Wednesday morning, and I don't know where that's going," said Novak. "So if we're interested in really seeing the house used and marketed, it really would be prudent to leave those additions on there."
Novak said the additions were added by Dean Herbert Mumford around the 1900, when his family lived in the house, and are significant to the building.
The $91,000 will also go for painting and weatherization. Skvarla said a full restoration will cost one and a half million dollars, and he said there are no further plans for Mumford House when the current work is done late this month.
Landmarks Illinois President Jim Peters sits on the U of I's advisory panel for the structure. He agrees with Novak that the additions could have been utilized in some sort of reuse plan, but he said if ultimately, the U of I wants to restore Mumford House to its 1871 state, removing the additions may have been the best plan.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Communities and companies interested in hosting the CO2 storage site for the FutureGen project now have some details on what they will need to provide.
On Wednesday, the FutureGen Alliance sent out preliminary site selection guidelines for the project. CEO Kenneth Humphreys said this will give potential applicants an idea of the information they will have to provide.
According to the guidelines, the site used to store emissions from the FutureGen coal-fired power plant will need to be able to hold at least 39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years.
All sites must also utilize the Mount Simon sandstone formation, a formation underlying a large part of Illinois and other Great Lakes states. It is considered a good site for long-term CO2 storage.
The site-selection decision also will consider protection of the environment and public health around the site, how cheaply it can be constructed, and the ability to stay on schedule. Local community support also is crucial.
Mattoon, the original choice to host the FutureGen storage hub, withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant. Humphreys said both Mattoon and Tuscola --- a previous FutureGen finalist --- could be viable sites for the storage hub, if they chose to apply.
"I think that should one of the prior sites want to compete in this process, there may be some additional actions they would need to take," said Humphreys. "But they would clearly be competitive, as would many other communities that have raised their hands with an interest."
Humphreys said about two dozen communities and companies have expressed interest in the FutureGen storage hub. Once completed, the facility will hold CO2 piped in from a retro-fitted power plant in the western Illinois town of Meridosia.
Humphreys said a more detailed "Request For Proposals" will come out in a few weeks, and then the applicants will have three weeks to submit their formal proposals. He said they hope to be able to announce a site for CO2 storage in early 2011. Humphreys added that he has heard informally from some two dozen communities and companies that may be interested in applying for the FutureGen storage site.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
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