Illinois Public Media News
In the upcoming March primary, Champaign County voters will be selecting candidates to run for seats on a county board that is smaller.
The Champaign County Board is slated to slim down from 27-to-22 members next December. The current arrangement ... of nine county board districts with three members each ... will change to eleven districts of two members each. Urbana Democrat Brendan McGinty is a longtime backer of the idea. He said a smaller county board with fewer members per district will be more accountable to voters.
"I want engaged members," McGinty said. "My hope is, a smaller board will by nature be more engaged, because it has to be more accountable. Two members per districts, rather than three, there's frankly no hiding."
But McGinty will not be on the smaller county board. He's one of 10 incumbents who have decided not to seek re-election. Others include current county board chairman Pius Weibel, and longtime members Steve Moser and Tom Betz. Only 17 incumbents filed ballot petitions by Monday's deadline, to run for Champaign County Board slots in the March primary. They were joined by 12 newcomers, including Republican Jim McGuire, a recent candidate for Champaign City Council. McQuire said working together to fix problems is a higher priority for him than winning back the majority that Republicans lost on the county board a decade ago.
"I hope that either way it goes, that when we get together and we do have make decisions for county government, that we work together," McGuire said. "And I think we can. We've got some good people on both sides; that we work together to move things forward for the community."
McGuire said he thinks finances at the county nursing home and the future of the aging county jail in downtown Urbana will be two of the major issues facing him, if he's elected to the Champaign County Board.
Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has left the school to return to Arkansas.
Interim head coach Vic Koenning said Tuesday that Petrino will return to work for his brother, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. Paul Petrino was a Razorbacks coach before coming to Illinois two seasons ago.
Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm will be offensive coordinator for the Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA on Dec. 31.
It is the first departure since Ron Zook was fired Nov. 27 but probably not the last. Koenning says assistant coaches could leave before the bowl game if they get jobs elsewhere. Illinois hasn't named a replacement for Zook.
Petrino's offense tied a team record for points per game in 2010 with 32.5. But during this season's six-game losing streak the Illini scored 11 a game.
Since his own amendment failed, Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) is making another bid to introduce concealed carry in Illinois.
The Republican's measure (the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, or H.R. 3543) would allow anyone who obtains a permit for concealed carry in another state to legally carry the weapon in Illinois. Johnson's bill comes after his amendment to the national Right-to-Carry Reciprocity bill fell in a House committee last month.
Johnson said he expects a legal challenge to follow, regardless of whether action is taken on his bill or the original measure, which awaits Senate action.
"It's absurd that 49 out of 50 states have what's a very modest, simple approach to the issue, and Illinois doesn't," Johnson said. "So when we try to address the underlying issue of reciprocity, it is equally absurd to exclude Illinois from its coverage."
Johnson said it will likely require the GOP to control both the Senate and Presidency in 2013 in order for the original bill to become law. But he noted his bill would not require Illinois to pass legislation of its own, "although I think that's good public policy."
The Congressman said he expects a number of co-sponsors to the measure, noting lawmakers from Illinois like Republicans U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, Adam Kinzinger, and Randy Hultgren had backed his amendment.
Illinois is the only state without a concealed carry law.
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared subdued as his sentencing hearing got under way in federal court in Chicago.
Blagojevich is sitting at a defense table in a dark pinstripe suit. Before the proceedings began, he stood, rubbed his hands nervously and occasionally bit his lip. His wife, Patti Blagojevich, sat behind her husband in the spectators' section. Her brother put his arm around her.
Neither of the Blagojevich's two daughters were in court Tuesday. Among the attendees are more than a dozen jurors from both trials.
Blagojevich is facing sentencing for his corruption convictions, including on charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't say much as he left his Chicago home en route to his sentencing hearing in federal court Tuesday.
Blagojevich was greeted by a crowd of media when he walked out of his house Tuesday. Reporters shouted questions about the sentencing hearing, but the normally talkative Blagojevich didn't respond.
He did, however, comment when someone asked him about Chicago Cubs legend Ron Santo. Blagojevich indicated he was pleased that Santo had finally made it into the Hall of fame.
Blagojevich was convicted earlier this year on 18 corruption counts, including trying to auction off President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.
Much of Tuesday's hearing will be a repeat of what attorneys have already argued in written motions filed with the court but there is one unknown variable: the governor himself.
Blagojevich will get a chance to address the court and former federal prosecutor Dave Weisman said Blagojevich should read a prepared statement and keep it short.
"If you haven't thought through and kind of critically analyzed what you're gonna say you tend to start to say things that hurt you like, 'I'm really not guilty,' which acceptance of responsibility is one of the things the judge should factor in and if he starts to go down that road that's gonna hurt him," said Weisman.
Last week Blagojevich's defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said the governor would not be reading from a prepared statement.
The impeached state executive-turned-reality TV star has good reason to feel anxious and afraid at the two-day hearing in Chicago. He faces the prospect of 10 or more years behind bars.
If Judge James Zagel settles on a sentence Wednesday of more than a decade, that would make it one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a long history of crooked politics.
Prosecutors will ask Zagel to imprison the twice-elected governor for 15 to 20 years, arguing he has not only shirked all responsibility for his crimes but repeatedly thumbed his nose at the U.S. justice system.
Blagojevich has already paid a price in public ridicule and financial ruin, the defense argues in proposing a term of just a few years. They also seem bent on an approach judges often frown upon at the sentencing stage: Continuing to insist their client is innocent.
Both sides could finish their pitches to Zagel during Tuesday's hearing, which was moved to a large ceremonial courtroom to accommodate expected crowds. But Zagel says he'll wait until Wednesday to pronounce a sentence - possibly so he can sleep on it.
The 70-year-old judge, who played a judge in the 1989 movie "Music Box," must answer nuanced questions according to complex sentencing algebra, including whether any good Blagojevich accomplished as governor counterbalances the bad.
In describing the humiliation his family has faced, the defense cited Blagojevich's appearances on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," where he struggled to use a cellphone, and his wife, Patti, eating a tarantula on the reality show, "I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!"
After sentencing, Zagel will likely give Blagojevich weeks before he must report to prison. Once there, the man heard scoffing on FBI wiretaps about earning a low six-figure salary would have to take a prison job - possibly scrubbing toilets - at just 12 cents an hour.
Blagojevich's sentencing comes just days before his 55th birthday and three years to the week of his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest.
The jury deadlocked in his first trial, agreeing on just one of 24 counts - that Blagojevich lied to the FBI. Jurors at his recent retrial convicted him on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery.
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
A CU-CitizenAccess report about nursing homes in Champaign County tells how homes accepting Medicare and Medicaid funding were rated by the federal government. Many of the homes did poorly in the ratings, and an official with one of those facilities said the federal rating system was flawed. An advocate for nursing home residents, Tami Wacker, said the rating system is a useful tool when trying to choose a nursing home, but it's not perfect. Wacker said there is a lot more to consider when looking for the right facility. Wacker is Operations Manager and a Regional Ombudsman with the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. The Bloomington-based agency serves seniors and persons caring for them in a 16-county area. Wacker spoke with Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows.
(Photo by Darrell Hoemann)
An ordinance requiring the shoveling of snow from sidewalks is now on the books in Urbana.
The City Council Monday night passed the measure as a pilot project. The initial plan applies to downtown, Campustown, and part of the Philo Road Business District, specifically, Philo from Florida Avenue to Windsor Road.
Urbana will give property owners 24 hours' notice after two inches of snowfall, and a notice from public works when streets have been plowed. That's less time than Champaign, which provides 48 hours' notice, plus a warning for an additional day for those that don't comply.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says 24 hours was the recommendation of the city's neighborhood safety task force.
"It's a dangerous situation if we have people pushing baby carriages, and we have people walking in the street," she said. "We're trying to make things safe for pedestrians as well as drivers."
If property owners miss the 24 hour deadline, the city would hire a contractor and bill the property owner.
Alderman Charlie Smyth had suggested the ordinance reflect Champaign's, which provides 48 hours' notice. But he understands criticisms that it's too lax a measure.
"I'm just a little concerned that it is different, and making sure that people can coordinate with the private snow removal crews," said Smyth. "(They) work across both cities. So they're going to have to coordinate their schedules and figure that out. I think this complicates things a little bit."
When the council revisits the ordinance in May, Smyth admits there's a lot yet to figure out, including the cost of hauling snow in neighborhoods where there's nowhere left to store it. Mayor Prussing also hopes a volunteer shoveling effort starts in other neighborhoods.
Alderwoman Heather Stevenson cast the lone vote against the ordinance, saying city-owned sidewalks shouldn't be the responsibility of businesses and homeowners.
A public forum is planned this week with the four candidates being considered to replace R.T. Finney, whose retirement as Champaign police chief becomes official in January. During a meeting Monday night at the Douglass Branch Library in Champaign, around 30 people participated in a discussion about issues that they felt the police chief candidates should address.
Champaign resident Artice James talked during the meeting about what it would take to make Champaign a safer community.
"The people need to be accountable for what happens in their community, and the police need to be accountable for their actions, and don't use for what they consider the blue code to protect the bad officers," James said.
Champaign resident Otis Noble III was there with his newborn son.
"You know, I always am encouraged by individuals getting a chance to kind of talk and get some of the things that they need off of their chests," Noble said. "So, in that vein, I believe there are some therapeutic qualities to what's happening this evening, but to be honest I think there's bigger steps to these conversations that I think are necessary."
The topic of police-community relations dominated discussions at the meeting. Some of the people who were there said police officers should be required to live within the city, while others touted a proposal to create a citizens police review board in the wake of the 2009 police shooting death of teenager, Kiwane Carrington and the recent arrests of two African American youth.
Comments from the meeting will be given to members of a subcommittee of the police chief search committee, who will come up with a final list of questions for the police chief candidates.
The finalists for the job will each address the public during a televised meeting Thursday at 7:00pm in the Champaign City Council chambers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reviewed a June 5 arrest by Champaign police. The agency has concluded that no civil rights violations occurred.
The case involves a college-age African American male who was arrested for jaywalking and resisting arrest. Video from a squad car's dash board camera shows an officer pepper spraying and grabbing the young man by the neck.
The city asked for a federal investigation into the arrest after the Champaign Police Department and the Illinois State Police concluded that the arresting officer followed protocol. After studying the case, the F.B.I. said "from a federal civil rights perspective, this review did not reveal any federal criminal civil rights violations."
Champaign City officials say they intend to ask the city council to hire an independent firm to investigate the matter further.
"There will be an additional independent firm selected to complete a thorough investigation of the incident for the appeal of the citizen complaint," according to a statement released by the city.
Patricia Avery, who is the president of the Champaign County NAACP, said she felt that the FBI should have taken more time to review the case before reaching its conclusion.
"It is what it is according to them, but I think many people that have viewed that videotape will still be having questions in their mind as I do of how that decision was made in such a hurry," Avery said.
Meanwhile, a public forum is planned on Thursday evening at the city building with the four candidates being considered to replace R.T. Finney, whose retirement as police chief becomes official in January.
Watch the police footage from the June 5 arrest:
The struggling U.S. Postal Service says it's moving forward with plans to slash its budget by $3 billion by closing more than 250 mail processing centers around the nation, including nine in Illinois.
The cuts announced Monday would slow first-class mail service, ending next-day deliveries of stamped letters.
The list of processing centers to be closed released earlier this year includes facilities in Bloomington, Effingham, Carbondale, Centralia, Chicago, Fox Valley, Quincy, Rockford, and Springfield.
But the fight to save the centers is far from over. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo says the plan makes no sense and Manzullo is demanding the postal service produce data that justify the move. The plan calls for closing a center in Rockford and moving its operations to Madison, Wis.
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