Illinois Public Media News
The Danville City Council plans to vote on a proposal Tuesday night to raise the salaries of the city's mayor and treasurer.
The council's public works committee last week shot down a measure to boost the mayor's salary from $73,000 to $77,000 and the treasurer's salary from $43,500 to $48,000. These pay increase would be coupled with wage freezes over a four year period. Instead, the committee voted to support a four-year wage freeze with no pay hike. The measure is now headed to the full council.
According to Illinois law, the salaries of elected officials must be set before an election takes place. Alderman Rickie Williams Jr., Ward 1, is running for mayor. He said pay raises to the city's top administrators cannot be justified as the city deals with crippling budget problems and double-digit unemployment.
"If we were to authorize these salary increases, it makes it difficult for us to then go and tell workers that they won't receive salary increases if we provide them to the administration," Williams said.
Alderman William Gilbert, Ward 7, said he understands why members of the council would be apprehensive about giving more money to city officials given the current economic situation, but Gilbert said he would support one.
"I think there's areas in our budget that still need to be trimmed," Gilbert said. "A $4,000 increase over the matter of four years, I don't really see that as breaking our budget."
Gilbert said the city should align itself in a position where it can attract qualified leaders by offering competitive salaries.
The city council will also consider paying alderman based on the number of council meetings they attend, rather than a flat monthly $225 stipend.
Champaign department heads are developing a contingency plan, in case $2-million in cuts are needed.
Those reductions are in addition to the $9-million in reductions the city has already made the last few years. Several pages of suggested cuts will be discussed late next month by the city council. Assistant City Manager Dorothy David said cuts could include customer service jobs in the city building and police department's front desk, and reduced service hours in public works. She said it is getting to the point where snow removal could be impacted, and the city may need to make adjustments in routes and how quickly snow is removed. David said Champaign's resources to run city government are at 2006 levels.
"Even though we are seeing very slow revenue growth, our revenues are not growing as fast as our costs," said David. "When your costs grow faster than the amount of money that you're bringing in, you have to make adjustments. So the economy has really impacted us in that way."
David said if the state takes further action to reduce revenues that it shares with the city, like income tax, that would mean additional cuts. The city council will discuss these proposals in a study session November 23rd, and could develop a plan to implement them in January.
It is likely that the upcoming election will be overseen by the sitting Piatt County Clerk. A challenge to Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades has been thrown out of a county court.
Attorney Dan Clifton argued that Rhoades moved out of the county and thus should not be able to serve the last two months of her term. Rhoades is retiring at the end of the year, and her successor will be determined in the next election. Attorney Dan Clifton had charged that Rhoades and her family had permanently moved to Champaign County - Rhoades had said the move was temporary while they built a new home.
Judge John Shonkwiler dismissed Clifton's complaint.
Deanna Mool, who represented Rhoades, argued that Clifton did not allow a state's attorney or the attorney general to file or deny the challenge first.
"In order to get a declaratory judgment, you have to have some right that's going to be irrevocably harmed," Mool said. "This is just not that kind of controversy."
Clifton said he will not be able to file a new complaint until after Election Day, and he said he is not sure if he will try to challenge Rhodes in the last month of her term.
If no other challenges are filed, Rhoades will oversee the November 2nd election in Piatt County. Clifton stressed that the judge dismissed the case on a legal technicality and did not rule on whether Rhoades is eligible to serve.
University of Illinois students are going ahead with plans to hold a performance during Homecoming celebrating the school's former mascot, Chief Illiniwek.
Honor the Chief Society founder Roger Huddleston had said Thursday that the event featuring the retired U of I symbol would be postponed after the University gave supporters a cease-and-desist order over the use of the "Chief Illiniwek" name and the "ILLINI" trademark on pins, posters, and other merchandise.
However, by Friday U of I student Ivan Dozier, who is known as the "current chief," said that although the Students for Chief Illiniwek society could not afford both a legal fight and the dance, the organization decided late Thursday to ago ahead with the dance.
Huddleston said his group will not be obliged to back the students in case of any legal action, but he said he appreciates their enthusiasm for the Chief, which the U of I discontinued as an official symbol three years ago. Opponents called the Chief racially divisive.
Huddleston said not only can his group not afford the legal fight, and he said moving forward with the performance would jeopardize Students for Chief Illiniwek as a registered group on campus. He said he wants both groups associated with Chief Illiniwek to meet with U of I President Michael Hogan.
"I love my university," he said. "We're not trying to hurt them in any way, and I certainly don't want to hurt the students here. Hopefully we can come to an amicable understanding somewhere down the road here, and we can go on with our lives."
The Honor the Chief Society has held the event the past two years, renting out the Assembly Hall.
(Photo courtesy of the Chief Illiniwek Facebook page)
Preliminary talks have started about building a new Central High School in Champaign.
About 50 residents attended Unit 4's first meeting to look at seven potential sites for replacing the more than 70-year old school. The district will use more than $3-million in facilities sales tax money to buy land for the school by next spring or fall, and a tax referendum for school construction will not go before voters until 2012 or 2013. If it passes on the district's first attempt, the new school would be built about two years later.
David Frye has a son in 7th grade, and said he hopes the work is done by time he graduates.
"That's six years from now. and I guess I've got my doubts at this point that he's going to benefit from this at all," Frye said. "I know there's always this question of, 'what's in it for me?' But what's in it for me is the chance to see my son and my son's friends get to graduate from a nice, modern high school. I'd love to see that."
Frye said his older son was involved in music and sports at Central, forcing him to walk to other school campuses for practice or games.
Unit 4 wants the new school to accommodate 1,500 or more students, with those practice areas on site, and nearby park space. Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson said he estimates a tax referendum would require $50 to $80 million. He said the seven sites are being studied not only with population growth in mind, but the transportation available for getting to them.
Nancy Hoetker is a Central High parent.
"There's a lot of us who currently drive a fair amount to get our children where they need to be here at Central," Hoetker said. "And we're going to be able to do that wherever we are, but there's another population that relies on the public transportation or proximity, and how are they going to be served by these locations."
Of the seven potential sites for the new school, four are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, including one along Olympian Drive. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Unit 4's web site will soon contain a place for sending in comments on those locations.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
(Graphic Courtesy of Champaign Unit 4 Schools)
U.S. House Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) said he would discourage communities in his district from further involvement in the FutureGen project.
Johnson railed against the Department of Energy after it re-worked the coal-burning power plant project, ditching plans for a new plant in Matoon and instead calling to retrofit an existing one in Meredosia.
The change infuriated Johnson, who said Coles County leaders spent millions of dollars to bring the original FutureGen to Mattoon. The Energy Department said it changed course because technology that would have been used at a new power plant in Mattoon was already being used elsewhere. Mattoon withdrew from the project when it learned it would no longer host the FutureGen power plant.
Now, the FutureGen Alliance is looking for a community to host an underground storage site for the plant's carbon dioxide emissions. Johnson said the initial winner of the project -- Mattoon - was cheated out of FutureGen because of the change, and he said communities bidding for the storage site should not get too excited.
"They want to pursue it, I'll help them," Johnson said. "But they ought to be advised that the history of this project has been an absolute disaster from the Bush administration to the Obama administration."
He added that he does not think FutureGen 2.0 will become a reality, saying if it does happen "most communities wouldn't want it."
On Tuesday, the Republican asked a House panel to look into why the new plans for the project did not include a coal-fired power plant in Mattoon, suggesting pay-to-play politics was behind the decision. He argued that an Energy Department official assigned to clean-coal projects is the former head of a firm that was chosen to work on the reconfigured FutureGen.
A spokesman for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said politics appears to be behind Congressman Johnson's call for a review of changes to the FutureGen coal-fired power plant. Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said he wants to know why the Congressman would raise these questions three weeks before an election.
"It certainly raises the question whether he's doing this to get his name in the paper or on the radio, " Shoemaker said. "I don't think this is a serious attempt to get questions answered."
Shoemaker said Johnson has asked questions about the FutureGen project before. Yet, when given the opportunity to meet with the Department of Energy, Shoemaker claimed Johnson refused to meet with the agency's officials.
Johnson shot back, questioning Durbin's own intentions.
"Senator Durbin is the very individual who pulled the plug together with the Department of Energy on a community who had their collective lifeblood in this issue," he said.
FutureGen plans to announce the site of the storage space in early 2011.
Whoever wins the election for Illinois governor will face a budget deficit hovering somewhere around $13 billion. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn supports an income tax hike that would reduce the deficit - but not eliminate it. Republican state Senator Bill Brady says he would start by cutting all areas of the budget by 10-percent or more. There are more ideas out there - from the three other candidates for governor. Illinois Public Radio's Sam Hudzik takes a look at their plans for the budget.
(Photo courtesy of Daniel Schwen)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Interim Chancellor Robert Easter recently returned from a week-long trip to India. Easter met with university, business, and government officials to discuss research partnerships in areas ranging from agriculture, to information technologies, to climate change. He also talked about the prospects of opening a campus in India, and opportunities for graduate education.
There are about 400 undergraduate and more than 460 graduate students from India currently studying at the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers spoke to Easter about the relationship developing between India and the University of Illinois.
UPDATE: This story was updated October 15th to include comments from Alfred Ivey, attorney for Jeshuan Manning-Carter and Laura Manning.
The teen arrested last October when 15-year old Kiwane Carrington was killed during an altercation with Champaign Police has filed a lawsuit against the city.
In the suit filed October 6th by 16-year old Jeshaun Manning-Carter and his mother, Laura Manning - they contend that it was Police Chief RT Finney, and not officer Daniel Norbits, who fired the bullet that killed Carrington. The shooting was ruled accidental, and no charges were filed. Norbits remains on leave while contesting a 30-day unpaid suspension. The lawsuit filed by attorney Alfred Ivy reads that Finney "fired a shot downward into the chest of Kiwane Carrington, killing Carrington."
Champaign Deputy City Attorney Trisha Crowley said the allegations are completely false, and she added that the city will vigorously defend them.
"There's been extensive internal and external investigations by law enforcement agencies and others," said Crowley. "The evidence has always been extremely clear that Chief Finney was not the shooter in this case."
Alfred Ivey, the attorney for Manning-Carter and his mother, says he filed the suit using the story Manning Carter gave him - a version of the shooting incident that he says went untold because the teenager was traumatized by Carrington's death.
"I saw this (Manning-Carter's delay in speaking out) as him trying to get himself back in balance", says Ivey. "Because, instead of being allowed to grieve properly for his best friend, who he saw shot and killed in front of him, he's now fighting a criminal case."
Manning-Carter was charged with resisting a peace officer, but the charges were later dismissed.
The family of Kiwane Carrington recently settled with the city after a separate lawsuit, agreeing on an amount of 470-thousand dollars.
It has been just over a year since Carrington was killed following a report of a break-in at a home on West Vine Street. The home was used as a starting point for this year's Champaign-Urbana Unity March, held October 9th
Illinois EPA Chief Doug Scott came to Champaign County Wednesday to announce funding for three local projects aimed at cleaning up local air and water.
Scott visited the Champaign-Urbana MTD bus garage to announce a $445,000 Clean Diesel grant --- backed by federal stimulus money --- to retrofit 43 diesel buses with special exhaust filters designed to keep diesel particulate from getting into the outside air.
"They capture about 90 percent of the diesel sub-particulates, and 75-80 percent of the hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted from diesel engines," Scott said. "This will provide more clean air for the employees and also for the public, the staff, the students at the U of I who ride the buses or walk near the bus routes."
The CU-MTD worked with researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences to choose the right filters for their buses and the local climate, as well as setting protocol for installation and maintenance.
While in Urbana, Scott also announced $47 million in federal stimulus and state loans to finance improvements at the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District's Northeast Wastewater Treatment plant in Urbana.
Later, Scott visited the small Champaign County village of Homer, which is receiving more than $10 million dollars in state grants and loans to finance the construction of its first-ever wastewater plant and centralized sewage collection system. The project will replace the individual septic systems currently used by Homer residents and businesses.
During his Urbana stop, Scott also said the Illinois EPA is working to meet a federally imposed deadline for strengthening state regulation of large confined-animal farms, known as confined-animal feeding operations (CAFO).
The federal EPA has given its Illinois counterpart until the end of the month to complete an inventory of the state's CAFO's, overhaul its inspection program and set procedures for investigating citizen complaints.
Scott said his agency has been working on the issue for the last couple of years, and expects to have a "good response" for the federal EPA's demand.
"We take this issue very seriously," Scott said. "We know that these facilities have the potential to cause some large (scale) pollution, and we know that it's important for us to get the best handle we can on that --- both in terms of permitting, but also in terms of enforcement. And that's the steps we have been taking, and what we will continue to do."
A federal EPA report last month found widespread problems with Illinois' oversight of large-scale cattle, hog and chicken operations, and the huge amounts of waste that they produce. The report found state inspection reports that failed to say if a CAFO was following pollution laws or not, and many cases where the state failed to get farms to comply with those laws.
The report also indicated that the Illinois EPA's enforcement powers are too weak. Scott said he will ask state lawmakers next year to give his agency authority that is currently left to the state attorney general.
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