Illinois Public Media News
The financially-struggling U.S. Postal Service is putting thousands of post offices under review for possible closure - including many in east central Illinois.
Two of them are Champaign's Campustown post office and the facility inside the U of I's Altgeld Hall. But most are rural post offices in some of the smallest communities. They include Bondville, Dewey, Ivesdale, Penfield, Royal and Longview in Champaign County as well as Armstrong, Collison, Indianola and Muncie in Vermilion County and DeLand in Piatt County.
Valerie Welsch is with the post office's district headquarters in Saint Louis. Welsch said being on the list does not necessarily mean closure -customers who use those post offices will be given questionnaires before any closing decision is made.
"The local operations manager will make a determination whether they think that's possible," she said. "If they do, that'll get forwarded to the district manager. If he feels it's warranted, then it will go to our national headquarters in Washington, DC for a final decision."
Welsch said if a post office is tagged for closure, there is another 30-day public appeal process. She said the Postal Service is seeing more people use online and other retail services for things like stamps. Welsch also said post offices in communities are sometimes replaced by community postal boxes.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is asking a federal judge for a new trial after being convicted last month on 17 counts of corruption, including trying to sell a vacant U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich's lawyers filed a 158-page motion with 10 different categories detailing why they think the former governor didn't get a fair trial.
In a signed affidavit, Blagojevich stated that he only took the stand because his attorneys assured him he would be able to tell jurors he sincerely believed his actions had been legal. He added that he would not have waived his constitutional right to not testify had he known Judge James Zagel would sustain prosecutors' objections whenever he started talking about the perceived legality of his actions.
In the filing, Blagojevich's attorneys say Judge Zagel tried to read the mind of defense lawyers, limiting which topics they could and couldn't bring up. Attorneys also assert Zagel should have allowed the defense to play secretly-recorded conversations in which Blagojevich talked about appointing Attorney General Lisa Madigan to a vacant senate seat.
Defense attorneys says that prosecutors tainted the jury pool by holding a press conference the day Blagojevich was arrested.
In the filing - defense attorneys say even before the trial began - they tried to make sure people like Juror #116 didn't get on the jury. Juror #116 said he believed Blagojevich was guilty, but the judge let him pass through.
On the other hand - Blagojevich's attorneys say Juror #213 should not only have sat on the jury - but also should get an award - because she said defendants are innocent until proven guilty. That juror was dismissed from the jury pool.
A hearing is scheduled before the judge next week.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says House Republicans are pushing the country to the brink of an economic disaster. But with a debt limit deadline just over a week away, the Illinois Democrat himself opposes a plan that could temporarily avert default.
Durbin Monday talked of the dire consequences to interest rates, if no debt limit deal is reached.
"It is a decision by the Republicans to push us to absolute brinkmanship here and to risk this economy and the jobs that are associated with it," Durbin said at an unrelated press conference in Chicago.
Durbin said he wants a compromise. But he flatly dismissed Republican House Speaker John Boehner's short-term bill to cut spending by about $1.2 billion and extend the debt ceiling for about six months.
"This is exactly the wrong time to do this, with economies failing all around Europe, with our own economy under attack by those giving credit reports, we should not be lurching from one political and economic crisis to another," Durbin said.
Boehner's measure could come to a vote on Wednesday. House GOP leaders have scheduled a second vote Thursday on a balanced-budget constitutional amendment long favored by rank-and-file conservatives.
Durbin said he has been in contact with Democratic leader Harry Reid, who's pushing a budget-cutting plan that would extend the debt limit through 2012 - past next year's election.
With an Aug. 2 deadline rapidly closing, Congress and the White House had limited options to avoid a potential government default that could send the already weak economy into a damaging swoon.
A Cook County commissioner is quietly proposing an ordinance that would require the county's massive jail to release some inmates wanted by immigration authorities.
Sponsored by Jesús García, (D-Chicago), the measure would prohibit the jail from holding inmates based on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement request unless they have been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors, and unless the county gets reimbursed.
The legislation's preamble states complying with the ICE detainers "places a great strain on our communities by eroding the public trust that local law enforcement depends on to secure the accurate reporting of criminal activity and to prevent and solve crimes."
The jail now holds detainees requested by ICE for up to 48 hours after their criminal cases would allow them to walk free. Sheriff Tom Dart's office said the jail turns over about a half dozen inmates to the federal agency each business day.
Dart this month told Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ, that his staff was exploring legal options for releasing some of these inmates. The sheriff said his review began after he noticed that San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey had ordered his department to quit honoring certain ICE detainers beginning June 1.
If Dart's office follows Hennessey's path or if García's legislation wins approval, Cook County could become the nation's largest local jurisdiction to halt blanket compliance with ICE holds.
"Cook County would be a counter pole to Arizona's Maricopa County," said Chris Newman, general counsel of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a Los Angeles-based group that opposes involving local authorities in immigration enforcement.
García's office didn't return WBEZ calls or messages about his legislation. The offices of Sheriff Dart and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said they had viewed the bill but declined to say whether they supported it.
A spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said late Tuesday her office had not been consulted about García's proposal. A 2009 letter from Alvarez to Dart's office said federal law required the sheriff to comply with "any ICE detainers" lodged with the jail.
In recent months, however, immigration authorities have acknowledged that local jails do not have to comply with the detainers.
Asked for comment about García's legislation, ICE spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa sent a statement calling the detainers "critical" for deporting "criminal aliens and others who have no legal right to remain in the United States."
"Individuals arrested for misdemeanors may ultimately be identified as recidivist offenders with multiple prior arrests, in addition to being in violation of U.S. immigration law," the ICE statement said. "These individuals may have been deported before or have outstanding orders of removal."
Jurisdictions that ignore immigration detainers would be responsible for "possible public safety risks," the statement added.
García's proposal is on the county board's agenda for Wednesday morning. Possible steps by commissioners include referring the measure to committee or approving it immediately.
The cities of Champaign and Urbana are close to signing off on plans that will start construction on the 'Big Broadband' project with the University of Illinois.
The U of I has taken the lead in getting the more than $22-million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant, but is leaving much work to the cities as work starts up.
The university's Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of the grant, said the agreements will explain the relationship between the two cities and U of I with regard to the project. The U of I will then agree to reallocate a portion of grant funds to the cities for the project, along with contracts dealing with construction companies. Smeltzer said these agreements, by and large, mean avoiding disagreement later.
"We're getting some things down in writing that certainly have been in some people's heads," he said. "But you know, if three people have a conversation and not everybody walks away from that conversation with the exact same memory of what was talked about, this is getting it all down in writing so there's really a not a whole lot of room for misunderstanding in terms of who's doing what, and where's the money going, and why."
Smeltzer said the construction contracts for both and Urbana and Champaign's portion of Big Broadband, or UC2B, are expected to go before their city councils by next week. He said that means construction could begin by late August or early September, and the project should be completed on time, by February of 2013.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
The three victims of a fiery plane crash in Rantoul have been identified.
Fifty-six-year-old Jon Buerkett, his wife, 47-year-old Dana Buerkett, and their daughter, 19-year-old Morgan Buerkett, all of Champaign, were killed Sunday when the single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Rantoul Airport.
A preliminary autopsy conducted late Monday by Champaign County Coroner Duane Northup indicates all three family members died from blunt force trauma.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber says severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Tom Fiedler, a friend of Jon Buerkett, said Monday they were co-owners of Melody Music in Champaign, a coin-operated music and equipment company. Dana Buerkett owned her own marketing business and Morgan Buerkett was a University of Chicago student.
The Champaign School District is between superintendents - and while an interim is in place while the search begins for Arthur Culver's replacement, his time in the post is limited. The law allows the school board to employ Dr. Robert Malito for only 100 days, which translates into a complicated calendar that has Malito representing the district for only a few days a month.
Malito retired last year from the top post in the Parkway School District near St. Louis. He has also headed districts in Bloomington and Palatine.
Malito tells Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers that Unit 4 is a goldmine waiting to be tapped because of its achievements at the top levels - but there are obvious challenges.
(Photo Courtesy Parkway School District)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is back from a week-long trip to Israel.
Quinn raved about the trip Monday. He says he hopes he can bring businesses from Israel to Illinois. He also wants to export some of the state's technology there in the areas of biotechnology and water conservation.
He says there is "great opportunity'' for renewed and even greater partnerships with Israel. Illinois has trade representatives there.
While he was there, Quinn signed a sister lakes agreement between Lake Michigan and Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. He says there is great potential in that partnership, which could mean jobs and research.
Quinn's trip was paid for by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.
If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.
The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.
Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.
The recent heat wave in the Chicago area has now claimed 12 lives.
Autopsy reports released Monday by the Cook County medical examiner's office show heat stress was a secondary factor in the death of a 78-year-old woman. The primary cause of her death was heart disease.
Prior to Monday the death toll was 11. Authorities say most people killed by the heat have pre-existing conditions that are made worse by high temperatures. The last similar heat wave in the region in 1995 resulted in more than 750 deaths over a five-day period.
The Chicago area has since developed a heat response plan that includes more cooling centers and well-being checks to the elderly.
The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the upper 80s for Tuesday.
(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
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