Illinois Public Media News
An Illinois Senate panel has rejected proposed legislation that would allow Illinois school districts to hold classes only four days a week.
Only two of the 11 members of the Senate Education Committee voted Tuesday in support of the plan to allow local districts to give students a full school year of three-day weekends.
Although the measure received widespread backing in the House, committee members expressed concern that a third day off school would cause problems for working parents.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign, said the measure would simply allow districts to move to four-day school weeks, not mandate them to do so.
A number of rural districts had lobbied for the option in hopes of saving money.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is continuing his attacks on the prosecutors who've hit him with corruption charges and says he isn't worried that a federal judge will slap a gag order on the case.
Blagojevich began his offensive Tuesday when he called the prosecutors "cowards and liars.'' He also challenged Chicago's U.S. attorney to meet him face to face in court if he's "man enough.''
On Wednesday, Blagojevich continued his campaign during an appearance on Chicago's WLS Radio. The Democrat accused the government of being "involved in a big cover-up'' and repeated his comments about prosecutors.
Blagojevich also dismissed the possibility that U.S. District Judge James Zagel could order him to stop talking about the case, saying "this is still the United States of America.''
Zagel has scheduled a hearing later in the day to discuss motions being filed in the case.
Gordie Hulten took his seat last (Tuesday) night as the new Champaign City Council member for District Five, covering the southwest part of the city.
City council members voted 6 to nothing, with Councilman Mike LaDue abstaining, to appoint Hulten to the seat left vacant by Dave Johnson's resignation earlier this year.
Hulten is a sales and marketing director for the Devonshire Group, who's also worked on various Republican political projects, including Congressman Tim Johnson's election campaign. But he says there's little risk that he'll bring partisan politics to the officially non-partisan Champaign City Council
"I think it is less of a concern" says Hulten, "because there is very little business that the city council does that is partisan, or that can be broken down on partisan lines. You know we do very little scorekeeping by which team or which coalition. You know, you see shifting coalitions on the city council much more than you see on the county board of the state legislature. It's much less top-heavy."
Hulten also says he plans to discontinue "Illinipundit", his blog on local politics.
Hulten beat out two other applicants for the District 5 council seat --- retired Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wild and health care consultant Cathy Emmanuel. The council seat will be up for election next spring, and Hulten has said he plans to run at that time.
A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.
The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.
Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.
Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.
"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."
Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.
Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's YouTube comment about President Obama hurt race relations in the city. So say five African-Americans who commented at Tuesday night's city council meeting. But Schweighart says his comments weren't about race, but the U-S Constitution. I
Jerome Chambers of the local N-double-C-P and former Champaign County Board Chair Patricia Avery were among local African-Americans who told Schweighart that his statement doubting that Barack Obama was born in the U-S, showed disrespect towards the nation's first black president. Jamar Brown, who serves on Champaign's Human Relations Commission told the mayor his comments hurt attempts to mend relations between the city and African-Americans in the wake of last October's fatal police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
"When I hear negative comments towards you", said Brown, "one of the biggest things that I've always said to people is that, whether you like him or not, he is still our mayor and deserves that respect. And I will end it by asking, doesn't the president of the United States of American deserve that same respect?"
But Schweighart stood by the comments he made to an interviewer during a Tea Party rally last week.
"My concern was not with the color of the president setting in the United States", said Schweighart. "It was concern with the constitutional questions that I have great concern about. Somehow, it's got turned around to be a racial thing."
And Schweighart says that's a misconception, citing years of working with the local African-American community as a council member and former police officer.
Schweighart had at least one apparent supporter at the Tuesday night meeting. Champaign resident Keith Whited came to the meeting, carrying a sign calling for President Obama's impeachment.
For the first time in decades, all of the countywide candidates in Champaign County will run unopposed.
The filing deadline for parties to slate challengers passed Monday. County Sheriff Dan Walsh, Clerk Mark Shelden and Treasurer Dan Welch - all Republicans - have no opposition in November unless someone files a petition as an independent in the next two months.
County Democratic chairman Al Klein says the incumbents are very strong candidates with multiple terms behind them.
"We have openings in some strong Republican county board districts, so it's difficult to find candidates who could run substantial campaigns," Klein said. "We have one good county board candidate in District 1."
That district, covering the Mahomet area, has also been traditionally Republican, but Klein says he has confident in candidate Eric Thorsland.
Several Champaign County Board races will also be foregone conclusions if no one runs as an independent - Republicans will be unopposed in districts 2, 3 and 4, while Democrats will take at least one seat in district 9. The Green Party has no candidates in any county race this fall.
A new wish list of capital projects for state universities includes $50 million for the eventual renovation of the biggest libraries on the University of Illinois campus.
But the request for capital money forwarded to the Illinois Board of Higher Education would have to pass muster with state lawmakers who are already battling serious financial troubles, and the U of I still hasn't received some of the funds it was promised from the last capital plan, passed last year.
U of I leaders want to transform the main and undergraduate libraries to meet 21st century needs. The library's assistant dean for facilities, Jeff Schrader, says some minor projects are taking place with money the system has on hand.
"We have just gotten approval to start on a $5 million envelope project which will involve replacing windows and masonry pointing. And we have another $2 million project on the FY 2010 capital development budget for the exterior renovation of the main library also."
The overall library plan totals more than $300 million dollars over the next eight years - it would eventually add a first-floor to the undergrad library, which is currently totally underground. It would become a special-collections library while the main facility would also be expanded.
Fair Map" Redistricting Proposal Struggles for Signatures
The group working to change the way districts are drawn in Illinois needs more than 280,000 signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. But with the deadline looming, the group may come up short, raising the likelihood that Illinois' system of drawing legislative boundaries -- which often comes to down to pulling a name from a hat to determine which party has a political advantage -- could remain unchanged.
UPDATE: The Champaign City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement on the Olympian Drive study Tuesday night, on a 6 to 2 vote.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the Urbana City Council chamber Monday night as the Urbana City Council voted unanimously in favor of an intergovernmental agreement on a design engineering study on the Olympian Drive extension.
Council members listened to input from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the road would destroy farmland, and contribute to urban sprawl. Supporters say it would spur economic development. One of the latter was Vice President Steve Brewer of the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. He says unemployed building and construction workers need the jobs that building Olympian Drive would provide. And Brewer siad the community needs the Olympian Drive extension in order to grow.
"I believe that the only conscionable thing to do is to plan for future generations, and this road does that", said Brewer.
Monday night's vote approves the use of a 5-million dollar state grant to pay for the design engineering study, and also land acquisition for Olympian Drive. But land acquisition will be delayed, because it would need the cooperation of the Champaign County Board, which has delayed a vote on the issue until next year. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city of Urbana will focus on the design engineering study first.
Urbana will also do its own study on improvements to North Lincoln Avenue in connection with the Olympian Drive extension --- plus a risk analysis on both the North Lincoln and Olympian Drive projects. Supporters of Olympian Drive say the road extension needs an upgraded North Lincoln Avenue to link to I-74. Opponents agree --- they say with North Lincoln improved for heavy traffic, Olympian Drive wouldn't need to go all the way out to Route 45. But North Lincoln Avenue isn't mentioned in the intergovernmental agreements to study Olympian Drive. Mayor Laurel Prussing says Urbana will have to study North Lincoln on its own.
"North Lincoln Avenue is something that Urbana needs to do", says Prussing, "and I think it going to be more trouble than it's worth to try to include it in the $5 million study, because we'd have to get our partners to agree to it. I think this is really an Urbana study.
The Urbana City Council will look at ways to study North Lincoln Avenue --- and also do a risk analysis of the Olympian Drive project --- later in the spring. Mayor Prussing says she hopes the state-funded Olympian Drive study can start later this year.
The Urbana and Champaign City Councils vote this week on a three-party intergovernmental agreement to begin design engineering work on the extension of Olympian Drive along the north edge of the two cities But the Champaign County Board --- which is also a party to the agreement --- will not be
Chairman Pius Weibel says a county board vote on Olympian Drive is unlikely this year, because of opposition on the board, especially among Republicans. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says she hopes to change some county board minds --- especially now that the design engineering study will include proposed upgrades for North Lincoln Avenue connecting Olympian Drive to I-74.
"I know that the Republicans had said they weren't going to support it" says Prussing, "but I know one Republican that said he would support it with Lincoln Avenue. So you never know. I just think it's an education process."
County Board Republican Greg Knott says the Lincoln Avenue part is important --- but he wants to be sure there's enough money on hand. Local officials have not yet secured all the money they need to finance the Olympian Drive extension. Knott says he wonders if the state and federal governments can come through on the money they've promised so far.
"Let's be honest", says Knott. "State's broke, the Feds are broke. We don't have anywhere close to getting this money. Show me the money, and then I might be interested in taking a vote.."
Prussing says they do have the state money for the design engineering part of the Olympian Drive project --- if they act this month. She says county board approval isn't needed right now. But it will be, when it comes time to buy up land along the highway extension route.
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