Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
The Newport Chemical Depot is now in the hands of the Indiana Reuse Authority.
The U.S. Army signed an agreement yesterday, officially transferring the depot to a civilian body, so that the former weapons facility can be used for industrial development.
For the last several years, the facility in western Indiana had stored 275-thousand gallons of the deadly nerve agent VX. But that stockpile was finally destroyed in 2008.
Conservationists opposed the transfer plan, saying that industrial development would destroy all but 44 acres of Indiana's largest restored black-soil tallgrass prairie. But Phillip Cox, Vice President of the Wabash Valley Audobon Society, admits that plans for preserving the land and wildlife are long-term.
"There's a discussion and agreements with the Department of Natural Resources where there is around 18-or-19-hundred acres that could be designated as a conservation area, but it might not happen for 15 or more years," said Cox.
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana calls yesterday's transfer a new chapter in the facility's history and says it will serve as an economic engine for the region.
The funding situation for Illinois' regional offices of education is still in a state of flux after Gov. Pat Quinn slashed about $11 million in state support for 44 superintendents and about 40 assistants earlier this summer.
However, the Will County Board isn't waiting for the state to restore funding to its Regional Office of Education.
Board members unanimously voted Thursday to provide $2,000 a month in assistance for the regional superintendent and the assistant superintendent. That temporary funding will last until the end of the year, but county officials say it would be reimbursed if state funding is restored.
Will County Board Chair Jim Moustis is urging the General Assembly to override the governor's veto of state funding of regional offices of education. Quinn has said local governments should pick up the tab for those salaries, but Moustis said that is not a feasible long-term solution.
"I mean this would be like saying, 'What if they said tomorrow we're not paying judges? And let the counties pay judges, or you pay the state's attorney.' It's the same type of principle. Wouldn't you think?" Moustis said. "Until there's a viable alternative presented, this is what we have."
The superintendents have been working without pay since July 1. They perform a list of duties-many required by the state-including certifying teachers, doing background checks and running truancy programs.
Despite a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools demanding paychecks from the state, a circuit judge last month upheld Gov. Quinn's authority to eliminate salaries for regional school superintendents across Illinois.
The case of an alleged torture victim under former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge is now in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court. It's the first time in over a decade that a Burge related torture case is in front of the state's highest court. Since then, the former lieutenant was convicted of lying about torturing suspects and was sentenced to prison.
The state supreme court heard arguments for the Stanley Wrice case Thursday morning--they will now deliberate whether Wrice will receive a hearing on his claim that officers tortured him into confessing to a rape 30 years ago. Wrice has been in prison since the 80s for that crime.
Prosecutors for the state of Illinois argue they could convict Wrice even without the alleged coerced confession. Lead attorney Myles O'Rourke called the torture "harmless error" that doesn't affect the outcome of the case. Justices pressed O'Rourke Thursday on what evidence was available, and he acknowledged there are no fingerprints or DNA.
No matter what the outcome, some advocates, like attorney Locke Bowman, say the case will have an affect on the torture scandal as a whole.
"This is the case that presents the Illinois supreme court with an opportunity to exercise leadership in the Illinois criminal justice system and to take a dramatic step if it chooses to help us put this scandal behind us," Bowman said.
Bowman was an attorney for alleged victims in previous torture cases, and he heads the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University. He said justices could use the Wrice case to grant hearings to other alleged torture victims. He said justices could take a few months, if not longer, to decide the outcome of this case.
A Springfield engineering and architecture firm is one of 15 recipients of the U.S. Defense Department's highest employer award.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that Hanson Professional Services Inc. is a recipient of the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is given for "exceptional support'' of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.
Freedom award honorees will meet privately with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in conjunction with a Sept. 22 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Also attending are the workers who nominated their employers for the award.
Officials say since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 1.1 million Guard and Reserve service members have been deployed. They have made up almost half of the U.S. military strength.
Indiana's unemployment rate inched higher in August but remains below the national average.
The state Department of Workforce Development said Friday that the Indiana jobless rate increased from 8.5 percent in July to 8.7 percent, with about 274,000 people seeking work last month. Workforce Development commissioner Mark Everson says that revised numbers from July helped offset some that downturn.
The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.
The state agency says growth in construction and government employment last month wasn't enough to offset job losses in manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.
Indiana's jobless rate is still significantly lower than a year ago, when it stood at 10 percent. Indiana's rate is also slightly lower than rates in neighboring Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
Bondville Residents Worry About Losing Post Office
The U.S. Postal Service is considering shutting down several of its offices in an effort to fill a $10 billion budget deficit. The days may be numbered for one small-town post office in Champaign County.
The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library are joining a new catalog system at the end of the year.
The catalog will include features that aren't currently available to patrons through the current catalog system that's shared by libraries that make up the Illinois Heartland Library System. Among the features in the new catalog are e-mail updates alerting patrons whenever an items that matches a saved search arrives, and a mobile application that allows users to make reservations and renewals.
It is still being decided which features will go to which library. The mobile app, for example, will be available at the Champaign library, but won't be immediately available at the Urbana Free Library, according to Debra Lissak, the director of the Urbana Free Library.
Lissak said both the Champaign and Urbana libraries will continue to share items with the more than 590 libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System.
"We are not leaving Illinois Heartland Library System," Lissak said. "We will still do borrowing between people of other libraries. The other thing I've heard is that Champaign and Urbana libraries are merging. We're not merging our libraries. We're just sharing an online catalog."
Champaign Public Library director Marsha Grove said the new catalog system will be less expensive, and give both libraries more options of how to use its features.
"We're a large library, and Urbana is a fairly large library," Grove said. "We wante to make the catalog more useful for the people in our community."
The new catalog system is expected to be available by the end of the year. People who visit other libraries in the state will still be able to see what items are available in Champaign and Urbana by visiting the website worldcat.org
The U.S. Postal Service may close its Bloomington Mail Processing Center, and some of those services could be coming to Champaign.
The Postal Service is announcing feasibility studies to consolidate ten operations in Illinois, including the 158 Bloomington sorting and handling jobs. By early next year, the agency will have looked at whether it makes sense to move the Bloomington functions to Champaign and Peoria. The Postal Service may also consolidate Effingham's operations into Champaign. The agency's Valerie Welsch said union agreements will determine whether jobs are simply cut or relocated. She said the study for Bloomington will be done in February or March.
The service said it's facing one of the most difficult challenges in history, with first class mail volume dropping by 25 percent in the last five years. Postal Service spokeswoman Beverly Howard said technology changes likely make that a permanent drop.
"We don't look at the volume, even with the economy picking back up, with it coming back to the levels that it needs to be," said Howard, who says the USPS wants to reduce about 40-percent of its capacity in the Great Lakes region.
Howard added that transportation and logistic networks are going to be changed.
"Just the capacity within the processing plant (will be examined)," he said. "Some are larger than others, come can hold certain types of equipment, and in some cases, carrier routes may be in the facilities, so we're looking at all of that."
Letters with postage stamps, or single piece first class mail, has dropped 36 percent in the same period. Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton said he hopes to reach out to the postmaster to find out what role citizens can play in the study. He said he hopes an argument can be made for Bloomington to gain jobs instead.
"Because of Bloomington's central location, I would hope they would consider the possiblity of consolidating other areas into Bloomington," said Stockton. "That's worked well with things like the airport which has gained from its central location."
The postal service will hold public hearings in areas marked for consolidation after it completes the study, and says it will consult its major corporate users, like State Farm Insurance. The Bloomington facility processes 8.5 pieces of mail a week for the Bloomington-Normal, Lasalle-Peru, and Kankakee areas.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to depart for China on Friday to lead an delegation of Illinois business and educational leaders. The governor told reporters this week he hopes his eight day mission will help improve trade relations with the country - and boost Illinois' economy.
Quinn said an increase in exports will create more jobs in Illinois.
"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said."That's part of the job of a governor nowadays, especially in the 21st century."
The delegation is scheduled to stop in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Illinois first opened a trade office in 1983.
Quinn said he plans to sign an agreement with China that would increase soybean exports. China, according to Quinn, is the third largest exporter for Illinois, behind Canada and Mexico.
According to the governor's office, Illinois exports to China have grown recently, totaling more than $3 billion last year. Key exports include machinery, electronics, chemicals and agricultural products.
During his time as mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley made several visits to China to promote business and tourism in the city. Quinn said he hopes his visit will further encourage Chinese tourism to Illinois, which grew to 97,000 visitors in 2010.
The governor also plans to visit Japan for a conference at the end of his trip to China. He is scheduled to return to Illinois on September 24. This is Quinn's second trip abroad this year -- he visited Israel in July.
The plan to merge the Illinois treasurer and comptroller's office is stuck in the state House of Representatives.
Combining the two offices that handle state finances could save Illinois an estimated $12 million, but the legislature hasn't signed off on the constitutional change.
State treasurer Dan Rutherford and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka both favor combining their offices into one. Topinka, a Republican, blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for keeping it "bottled up" in that chamber.
Madigan's spokesman denies that claim, saying the Speaker does believe the two offices have dramatically different duties, and the public's funds are best safeguarded when they're kept separate.
Illinois used to have one fiscal office known as the state's auditor, but in the '50s Orville Hodge used the office to rob the state. Madigan was part of the constitutional drafters who in 1970 separated the office's duties to prevent future scandals. Topinka said she understands that history.
"But the oversight angle of splitting those offices is long gone," Topinka said. "We have other ways of doing it. So now it's time to bring them back and avoid at least 20 percent duplication. That's easy pickings. For gosh sake's what does it take to figure it out? There is honestly no downside. No downside."
The Speaker's spokesman said Madigan believes the consolidation proposal as is doesn't have enough safeguards.
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