Illinois Public Media News
The Republican-controlled Indiana Senate has approved a change that would allow GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels to appoint a new secretary of state if indicted Republican Charlie White is found to be ineligible, a move Democrats called a blatant power grab that changes the rules in the middle of the game.
Democrats are challenging the eligibility of White, who faces voter fraud charges. They argue that state law requires runner-up Democrat Vop Osili to take office if White is ineligible.
A change approved by the Senate on Monday would instead allow the governor to pick a new elections chief if the winner is ineligible. Republican Sen. Mike Young of Indianapolis says the change was spurred by White's case and that the non-elected recount commission shouldn't determine the election's outcome.
The University of Illinois has taken preliminary steps toward renovating the Assembly Hall and says it hopes to start construction in 2013.
The university has asked for bids from construction managers looking to take on the project and design work. The requests tentatively list the start date as January 2012 with a completion date of June 2015. They indicate the school would like to have the work done in phases so men's and women's teams could continue to play basketball in the arena.
Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said Monday that the school doesn't yet have a good cost estimate. The project still needs the approval of university trustees.
Brown said Illinois is talking with Midwest-based companies about naming rights for the 48-year-old arena but he wouldn't identify them.
A man whose name appears on the title of the University of Illinois basketball coach, the exterior of the Champaign County Courthouse and a part of Illinois Public Media's facility has died.
Jack Richmond and his wife donated the Richmond Journalism Teaching Studio next to WILL's home at Campbell Hall in 1998. Richmond endowed the U of I men's basketball coach's position, and his donations formed the foundation of the county's courthouse bell restoration project. The Richmonds have also funded a number of scholarships for U of I athletes.
Jack Richmond was an avid weightlifter in his college days, when weight training for athletics was relatively unknown. He was 93 when he died Sunday.
Watch a story about Jack Richmond's legacy from UI-7
Federal prosecutors Monday ripped into public comments made by Rod Blagojevich. That comes two days before the former Illinois governor's corruption re-trial begins.
Blagojevich's comments to the media have centered around him saying, "Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes."
The former governor has said that playing all the secret phone conversations recorded by the FBI would show he's innocent and the fact that they aren't all played for jurors is a conspiracy by the prosecutors.
Prosecutors have mostly stuck to the legal issues in court, but U.S. Attorney Reid Schar let loose Monday, telling the judge that Blagojevich's talking points are lies. It's the judge who decides which tapes to play, not the government.
Judge James Zagel, for his part, told the court it would be wise for Blagojevich to restrain himself, saying he could overstep the line if he hasn't done so already. The judge said his comments should be considered a "red flag" for the defense to get their client in line.
Blagojevich's defense attorneys left court without talking to reporters; a rarity for them.
Some Republican political donors got a surprise when they opened their mail recently - solicitations from 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, even though Johnson isn't their representative.
People in Carbondale and Peoria were among those who received letters from Johnson's campaign asking for their help. But Johnson's chief of staff said the letters are not related to a potential upcoming shuffle of Illinois' congressional districts. Mark Shelden said the people who compiled one of the Johnson campaign's fundraising databases are to blame.
"For some reason in their database, some of these people were marked and flagged as being within our district and because of that, they received mail that we hadn't intended," Shelden said. "But we did manage to get a few contributions from outside our district, so obviously we're happy about that."
Shelden said it is highly unlikely that either Peoria or deep-southern Illinois would become part of Johnson's district once reapportionment is done later this year. Shelden said Johnson doesn't solicit campaign funds from adjoining House districts, though he sometimes receives outside donations because of his role on the House Agriculture Committee.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Ruth Wyman, and to note that Renner-Wikoff of Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements.
Urbana attorney and former Champaign County Board member Robert Kirchner died over the weekend. A recording on the phone at Kirchner's law office in Champaign announced the death.
Kirchner was appointed to a vacant seat on the County Board in 2001, and was elected to a two-year term in 2002. He ran again in 2006, losing in a hotly contested primary
Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein remembers an earlier, unsuccessful bid by Kirchner for Tim Johnson's Illinois House seat in 1996. Klein said Kirchner's slogan in that campaign was "Stand Up, Speak Out, Be Heard", and that it was a slogan which fit him well throughout his life and career.
"He was a stand-up guy," said Klein of Kirchner. "He liked to speak up on issues that mattered to him. And he thought everyone should be heard and their views considered which is why, of course, that he was an advocate and a successful defense lawyer."
Fellow Democrat Tom Betz served with Kirchner on the Champaign County Board. Betz, now the county board vice-chair, says Kirchner was always concerned about the long-term impact of county board decisions, and sought inclusiveness in making appointments to county commissions. Betz said his concern for inclusiveness could also be seen in his law practice.
Ruth Wyman is an attorney in Kirchner's law firm, and also a former Urbana alderwoman who, like Kirchner, has been active in the local Democratic Party. In a statement for WILL, Wyman says Kirchner understood that justice was something to work for, not something automatically bestowed at the courthouse. She says Kirchner was ready to take on difficult cases and cash-strapped clients that other attorneys would turn down.
"Bob would develop the legal theories and defenses necessary to see that his clients got justice", writes Wyman, "whether it was the lawsuit to reinstate the Medicare 100 Plus program at Provena hospital for low-income seniors, creating a child dental program for low income children in the county, defending African Americans who were being stopped because of their race, or stopping the strip search of juveniles at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center."
Betz adds that might not been the most profitable career path for Kirchner, but it reflected his values.
"I had my share of disagreements over the years with Bob," Betz said. "But I always felt it came from a position of deeply held principled values."
Kirchner's run for the Champaign County Board in the 2006 Democratic primary pitted him and Lisa Bell against more moderate incumbents, Steve Beckett and Barbara Wysocki. Betz said he felt the differences involved were more a clash of personalities than political views.
The 54-year-old Kirchner is survived by his wife, Gerri, who has also been active in local Democratic politics. Renner-Wikoff Chapel and Crematory in Urbana is in charge of funeral arrangements, which were pending, as of Tuesday morning.
The Service Employees International Union Local 73 has reached an agreement with the University of Illinois over a new contract.
The union represents about 800 food and building service employees on the Urbana campus who threatened to go on strike Monday if an agreement couldn't be reached. But SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin said union members voted with overwhelming support over the weekend to approve a contract, which includes about a three percent pay raise.
"I think it's the best contract we could have gotten, and we're proud of that," Baldwin said. "We know we wouldn't have gotten it without the solidarity of our members, and also our campus allies."
The U of I and the union have been negotiating over a new contract since last summer. Workers began regularly picketing in December. In March, a federal mediator was brought in to help facilitate the contract negations.
Baldwin said a major victory in the contract is a provision allowing workers with seniority to be able to choose certain jobs, rather than leaving it up solely to managers.
"We've been trying to get that for about 20 years," he explained.
Baldwin noted that some workers who have had disciplinary problems or who are doing a poor job in the workplace may be ineligible for this right.
During the contract negotiations, SEIU officials accused the University of replacing some union positions with lower-paid workers, mainly students. Baldwin said that issue is not addressed in this latest deal, but he hopes it is included after the contract expires in July 2012.
An Indiana House committee Friday barely passed an immigration reform bill, even after the bill's most controversial provision had been removed.
In a six-to-five vote along party lines, the House Public Policy Committee approved Senate Bill 590, which now moves to the full Indiana House for consideration next week. The bill no longer includes a provision that would allow state and local police to question anyone they suspect is in the United States illegally. That section was similar to a law passed in Arizona last summer. The Arizonan measure has been blocked from implementation by a federal judge.
But it is possible representatives could try to amend SB 590 before the full House votes during second and third readings. If the bill survives that process, it will move back to the Indiana Senate. That's where the bill's original sponsor, state senator Michael Delph, a Republican from suburban Indianapolis, is lukewarm to his now watered-down proposal.
"I introduced a bill that I wanted to see become law," Delph said Friday in Indianapolis. "This is not that bill."
Political blogs and news reports now speculate that the bill could fail passage because it has been altered too much.
If support does fall short, it would mark the fourth consecutive year that Delph tried but failed to move a "get tough" immigration bill through the Indiana legislature. That is despite the fact that, unlike in previous years, Delph's own party, the GOP, controls both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate. Republicans have not warmed up to Delph's original bill, which opponents had argued would open police to charges of racial profiling.
One Republican committee member, Rep. Tom Knollman (R-Liberty), said he would have voted against the original bill. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, does not support granting police the ability to question those suspected of being in the country illegally. His priority in the immigration reform debate is to target businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
But Delph says getting police involved is now allowed under federal law.
"The most controversial part of this bill, at least according to press accounts, has been with this issue with enforcement with law enforcement," Delph told the House committee at a hearing Thursday. "The Congress in its wisdom gave state and local governments several years ago the power to use state and local enforcement basically as a force multiplier. That's part of the bill."
The revised House bill would revoke certain tax credits for businesses that hire illegal immigrants and would check the immigration status of criminal offenders. It also would require the calculation of how much money illegal immigration costs the state; then, the state would send a bill to to the U.S. Congress for reimbursement.
About 800 food service and building service employees on the Urbana campus may go on strike as early as Monday, April 18.
Members of the Service Employees International Union local 73 are demanding better pay, and urging the University to stop using lower-paid, temporary workers to cover permanent union jobs.
The two sides have been negotiating over a new contract since last June. A federal mediator was brought in last month to help facilitate the discussions.
University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler said even if workers go on strike, students should not notice any disruptions in service next week.
"We'll have management staff and other staff who will keep the operation going," Kaler said. "The dinning menus will be the same, The hours will be the same. Students will have their trash removed."
Kaler said the University will have its vendors prepare some meals normally done in house.
She also said the University has offered pay raises to union workers, and acknowledged she is confident an agreement will be reached.
SEIU members held a rally Thursday on the Urbana campus. They are expected to vote this weekend to go on strike, according to SEIU officials.
The bench trial of Cherry Orchard Village landlords Bernard and Eduardo Ramos continued Friday afternoon in Champaign County Court.
The Ramoses are accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six out of their eight apartment buildings on the property, located right outside of Rantoul. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The landlords have pledged to take responsibility for the property, promising to have the six apartment buildings that are in violation of the county's health ordinance re-opened by this summer.
There is typically an uptick in occupancy at the apartment complex during the warmer months due to an influx of migrant workers to the area. A 2007 migrant camp license application for the property reports there are at least 48 family rental units at Cherry Orchard.
Champaign County prosecutor Christina Papavasiliou is pushing for an injunction that would prevent people from living in the apartment buildings until the sewage problems are fixed.
"The injunction would be a cautionary measure," Papavasiliou explained during Friday's hearing. "It would do no harm to the defendants."
The prosecution is seeking $550 in restitution for expenses incurred by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District on this case.
Though occupancy at the property is unknown, public health officials estimate at least eight single men continue to live there and have noted several cars parked outside apartment buildings. Papavasiliou said she wants the Ramoses to be fined for making the property available to tenants during the ongoing violation, but she said she is not sure that count will hold up in court.
"It's just so hard to prove that people were living there," she said. "Because these are all migrant workers...I just didn't get a hold of anyone willing to come forward."
Earlier in the week, Bernard said he and his father should not get blamed for the sewage and septic issue since the Bank of Rantoul owned the property when state health inspectors first noticed a problem in 2007.
"We got blamed for things other people did," Bernard said. "If anything was done to the property, we have nothing to do with it."
The property is currently owned by Bernard's sister, Evelyn.
Bernard and Eduardo could each face a one-time fine of $1,000 for attempting to repair the septic systems without proper permits and licenses. Taking the stand Friday and acting as his own attorney, Eduardo defended his actions and the actions of his son, Bernard, for trying to fix the property in 2007 when they first noticed sewage seeping from a septic system.
"I do not own any license," Eduardo admitted. "When we have a case of an emergency like that, we can't just wait and proceed. Every good citizen should take care of the people around us."
Papavasiliou stated that the Ramoses could have caused more damage by trying to fix the property without proper training.
During the trial, the Ramoses have tried to distance themselves as managers and owners of Cherry Orchard. Papavasiliou said under the law, they are obligated to maintain the property, which she said they have neglected to do.
"The defendants have based a large part of their testimony that they're not owners of the property," Papavasiliou said. "There's no grandfather clause for septic systems, regardless of how they found the property when they became owners."
The Ramoses have owned more than 30 properties in Champaign County, and have faced hundreds of code violations. Several of these properties, including Cherry Orchard, have been under foreclosure, according to the Champaign County Recorder's Office.
The Ramoses ignored a request for comment after Friday's hearing. In a 2009 interview with CU-CitizenAccess.org, Bernard Ramos said city housing inspectors have targeted him because he is Hispanic and rents to illegal immigrants. He said his financial problems were due to the decline in the economy and unemployment, which affected his tenants' ability to pay rent.
Presiding Judge John Kennedy said he will issue a ruling Monday, April 18 at 11:00 AM.
(Photo courtesy of Julie Pryde)
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