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August 23, 2014, 10:20 am
970 WMAY News

IDOT Hiring Practices Criticized; Former Secretary Says Governor's Office Directed Political Hiring

The state inspector general says improper political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation started under Rod Blagojevich… but accelerated under Pat Quinn. 


A review of the practice finds as many as 250 people obtained jobs in violation of rules that prohibit hiring on the basis of political connections, instead of merit. 


Former IDOT Secretary Ann Schneider says those improper hires were directed to her by Gov. Quinn’s staff.

No Term Limits Amendment On November Ballot; Rauner Blames Quinn

You won’t be voting on term limits for Illinois lawmakers this fall. 


The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a last-ditch attempt to get the measure on the November ballot, upholding lower court rulings that found the measure violates the state constitution. 


Despite the court rulings Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner pins the blame for the amendment’s defeat on Governor Pat Quinn and, quote, “Springfield career politicians.”

Heat Advisory Through Monday Evening; City Cooling Center Open

It’s as hot and sticky as a swamp this weekend… with a heat advisory in effect through at least 7pm Monday.


If you need a break from the heat, the City of Springfield says you can duck inside City Hall.  Municipal Center East is open 24 hours a day for people to step inside and get cooled off in the air conditioning.


In addition, Lincoln Library's main branch and Municipal Center West are open to the public as cooling centers during their regular hours of operation.

Three People Arrested In January Homicide

Two men and a woman have been arrested in connection with a murder in Springfield back in January. 


Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson says the death of Justin Sharp outside his home on Highland Avenue came during a botched, drug-related robbery. 


24-year-old Floyd Williams was booked on $2 million bond, while 22-year-old Korodney Jones and 20-year-old Demetriana Ross are held on $1 million bond each.  All three are charged with first-degree murder, armed robbery and home invasion.

Riverside Park Deaths Appear to be Suicides

Autopsy results performed on the bodies of two men found shot to death Thursday night at Riverside Park show that both died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, apparently in a suicide pact. The victims have been identified as 76-year-old Ronald H. Hall of Springfield and his brother, 82-year-old Robert S. Hall of Taylorville. The Springfield Police Department continues to investigate the deaths and further details will be released upon completion of the investigation.

Inspector General Rips Hiring Abuses At IDOT; Former Agency Head Blames Governor's Staff

The state executive inspector general says hiring abuses which began at the state Department of Transportation under former Governor Rod Blagojevich continued under Governor Pat Quinn. 


The report says as many as 250 people were improperly hired for political reasons, rather than merit, over the past decade.  Quinn’s office announced Thursday that it would lay off 58 IDOT workers whose hiring had been called into question.


Meanwhile, Quinn’s former transportation secretary says most of the people who were improperly hired by her agency were sent from the governor’s office… and says she and her staff had little opportunity to reject them. 


Ann Schneider tells the Chicago Sun-Times that resumes of political hires came to her staff from Quinn’s staff.  Schneider resigned this summer as the controversy over IDOT hiring intensified.


Libertarian Party Approved For November Ballot

Governor Pat Quinn and Republican opponent Bruce Rauner will have a little company on the November ballot. 


The State Board of Elections has certified a slate of Libertarian candidates, including the party’s nominee for governor, Chad Grimm.  But the board rejected the petitions for Green Party candidates, meaning they will not appear on the ballot in November.

Two Elderly Men Found Shot Dead at Riverside Park

Two people have been found shot to death in Springfield’s Riverside Park.


The bodies of the two elderly men were discovered Thursday evening. Police did not provide any additional information about the investigation, and there’s no word yet on the identities of the two men.


Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on this developing story.

City Continues Hearings of Bel-Aire Violations, Owner Motions for Dismissal

The owner of the Bel-Aire Motel is fighting back against hundreds of building code citations issued against his property by the City of Springfield.


Attorneys for Gopal Motwani accuse the city of unfairly targeting their client, and question how the number of alleged violations could grow exponentially in just a couple of years.


A city building inspector responds that she also doesn’t know how the violations could grow so quickly… she just knows that they have. Motwani, who lives in Florida, could be facing nearly a million dollars in fines if the city’s allegations stick.


The city hopes to eventually have the property condemned and torn down.

Work Begins on Carpenter Street Underpass for Rail Consolidation

Eventually it will allow for easier access to Springfield’s main hospitals. But in the short term, it could make that access more difficult.


Ground was broken Thursday on the new Carpenter Street underpass at the 10th Street tracks.


The $20 million project is the first major phase of a more-than-$300-million long-range plan to consolidate rail traffic on the 10th Street corridor.


Carpenter Street will be closed during much of the two-year project, which is expected to be completed in September of 2016.

McMenamin: Ferguson Unrest Proves Need for Police Residency

A Springfield alderman is reviving discussion on a couple of his pet issues… and tying them to events in the news.


Ward 7’s Joe McMenamin says one way to deal with a looming financial crisis at City Water Light and Power is for the city to finally follow his suggestion of a wage freeze for non-union employees.


Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” McMenamin said the city has to get spending under control, and says freezing non-union wages will give the city more leverage in union contract talks.


He also says the unrest in Ferguson shows why a residency rule should be reinstated for future city hires.


McMenamin contends the police department works best when officers have direct ties to the community.

Police Arrest Homeless Man Who Implied He Had Gun

Springfield police have apprehended a homeless man who had the city’s west side on edge for the last several days.


24-year-old Kyle Maxey created a disturbance on a city bus near Parkway Pointe Tuesday, and implied he had a gun.


He then ran into a nearby hotel, prompting a police search… but Maxey eluded authorities that day.


He was then spotted again Thursday morning, triggering a manhunt that included canine and aerial units.


After several hours, Maxey came out of a cornfield where he had been hiding. No gun was found.

Poe to Travel For Blood Disorder Treatment

A Springfield lawmaker will travel out-of-state in the weeks ahead for a stem cell transplant that could cure a blood disorder.


Representative Raymond Poe tells the State Journal-Register that the transplant will take place in Texas over a three-week period, to replace bone marrow that will be destroyed during chemotherapy that he will receive as part of his treatment for a condition called MDS.


That syndrome is described as a “low-level” cancer of the stem cells that generate blood cells. Poe’s doctor says the Republican lawmaker’s prognosis is good.

Schock Says ISIS Must Be Destroyed, Not Contained

A local congressman says the U.S. should adopt of policy of destroying the terror group ISIS.


And while Congressman Aaron Schock won’t commit to supporting the reintroduction of American ground forces in Iraq to battle those terrorists, he invites President Obama to make a case for doing exactly that.


The Peoria Republican says ISIS is more dangerous than al Qaeda, and says the U.S. needs a more aggressive policy to neutralize the threat it poses.


But Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin opposes using ground troops in Iraq, and Obama has already said that isn’t an option.

Statewide Unemployment Numbers Fall in July

July unemployment numbers are in and it's good news across Illinois.


For the fourth consecutive month, unemployment rates fell in every metro area in the state and most figures are at six-year lows, according to data released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). In the Springfield area, the unemployment rate for July was 6.5%, down from 8.1% in July 2013. Decatur, while still with a high unemployment rate of 9.5%, improved from a 13% rate one year ago.


All 102 Illinois counties saw their unemployment rates fall, for the second consecutive month. The statewide unemployment rate for July 2014 was 7%, down from a peak of 12.2% in January 2010. Nationally, the unemployment rate for July 2014 was 6.5%, down from 10.6% in January 2010.

Bel-Aire Attorneys Want Building Code Citations Dismissed

Attorneys for the owner of the Bel-Aire Motel have filed a motion to dismiss building code complaints against their client. 


During a hearing on those alleged code violations, the attorneys alleged that city officials are biased against Gopal Motwani and are piling on violations unfairly.  City officials insist they are just enforcing the law and trying to eliminate health hazards in the rundown building. 


Motwani could face nearly a million dollars in fines if the city’s complaint is upheld.

Ground Broken On 10th Street Underpass At Carpenter

It’s just the first phase of a long… and expensive… project. 


But work is now getting underway to build a new underpass on Carpenter Street at the 10th Street tracks.  Officials say the project will improve safety for drivers, pedestrians, and railroad crews… while allowing direct access to Springfield’s main hospitals without the risk of being stopped by a train.  But during construction, Carpenter will be closed to traffic.


The $20 million project is expected to be completed by September of 2016.

Schock Calls For ''Destruction'' Of ISIS

An area congressman is sounding a belligerent tone against the terrorist group that apparently beheaded an American journalist.


Republican Aaron Schock says he now considers the Islamic State group to be more dangerous than al Qaeda, and says the U.S. policy should be one of destruction… not containment.


But Schock says it’s up to the president to decide if American combat forces would have to return to Iraq to defeat the terrorists.

Rauner Wants Fast Supreme Court Review Of Term Limits Ruling

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has filed an emergency petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court to intervene immediately and allow his term limits proposal to go forward. 


Rauner has been trying to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot… but two courts have now ruled the measure violates the constitution. 


Rauner says the high court should honor the will of the people and allow them to vote on a measure that gets widespread support in most polls.

CWLP Financial Worries Lead McMenamin To Call For Non-Union Wage Freeze Again

If you wind up having to pay more on your City Water Light and Power bill, a Springfield alderman says city employees should have to take a hit, too. 


Ward 7’s Joe McMenamin is once again calling for a pay freeze for non-union employees.  McMenamin points to the fiscal issues at CWLP and says the city needs to get a handle on expenses. 


He contends that freezing pay for non-union workers will give the city leverage in contract talks.


Ferguson Unrest Prompts Springfield Alderman To Raise Residency Rule Issue

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, is giving more ammunition to Alderman Joe McMenamin’s call to reinstate a residency rule for new city government hires. 


Appearing live on 970 WMAY's "Bishop On Air," McMenamin said the police department should reflect its community… and said officers can more effectively police the area when they have roots and ties here. 


McMenamin has pushed to require future hires to live within the city limits, but after early setbacks, he’s indicated that he won’t try to pass it again until a new city council is seated.

Authorities Renew Search For Possible Gunman Roaming West Side

For the second time this week, police have been searching on the west side for a man who may be roaming the area with a gun. 


The agitated man alarmed bystanders Tuesday when he attempted to board a city bus near Parkway Pointe, and implied he had a weapon.  He then ran into a Westside hotel, but eluded police. 


A man believed to be the same individual was spotted in that area again Thursday morning… canine and aerial units were called in, but the man could not be immediately located.

Powder Scare At State Library Proves Harmless

A brief scare at the Illinois State Library has turned out to be harmless. 


The building was closed temporarily after staffers found a white powder in a package that had been sent to the facility in downtown Springfield. 


The package had a Bolingbrook return address, and after locating the sender, authorities determined that the powder was harmless and had been accidentally placed in the envelope.

Term Limits Initiative Struck Down by Appellate Court Days Before Ballot Certification

The drive to put a term limits amendment on the November ballot has hit another wall… but supporters aren’t giving up yet.


An Illinois appeals court has agreed with a lower court that the term limits amendment violates the Illinois Constitution because it goes beyond the “structural and procedural” changes that ballot measures are supposed to address.


The amendment championed by Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner also attempts to cram several unrelated items into a single amendment, according to the court.


Rauner is urging the Illinois Supreme Court to hear his appeal and allow the amendment to go forward. But Friday is the scheduled deadline to finalize the fall ballot.

Candidates Using Social Media to Stake Claims in Upcoming Elections

More candidates are staking their claims for next year’s local elections.


Springfield school board member Adam Lopez announced earlier this week on Facebook that he would seek re-election, rather than running for a different office.


Meanwhile, deputy city clerk Rianne Hawkins has a Facebook page touting her candidacy for the city clerk’s job, even though she hasn’t formally announced her campaign yet.


Current city clerk Cecilia Tumulty has to step down next year because of term limits.

Sangamon County Board Approves Carlock Death Settlement

The Sangamon County Board has approved a multi-million-dollar settlement with the family of a county jail inmate who died after a struggle with jail guards back in 2007.


Paul Carlock… also known as “Klutzo the Clown”… was being held on child porn charges when he had that altercation with jailers.


He died later at the hospital. The county does not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, but county officials say settling now is cheaper than continuing to fight the case in court. Carlock’s family will receive more than $2.5 million.


The county has also spent in excess of $2.6 million in legal fees.

Possible Medical Marijuana Dispensary for Downtown Given Initial Approval by City

A top city official indicates that a medical marijuana dispensary could wind up in the heart of the city’s downtown Lincoln district.


Corporation counsel Todd Greenburg tells 970 WMAY that the proposed site for a dispensary would be “west of City Hall” and near Lincoln’s Home.


The Lincoln Home site… which sits on federal land… is actually directly south of City Hall, but a small sliver of downtown where a dispensary could legally be located runs from the Lincoln’s Home area to near the Old State Capitol.


Such dispensaries cannot be closer than 1,000 feet to schools, day cares, or areas zoned primarily for residential use.

This Year's Ethnic Village on Fairgrounds Canceled

A longtime Springfield tradition is coming to an end.


The State Journal-Register reports the Ethnic Festival has been cancelled.


The event used to draw tens of thousands of people to the State Fairgrounds over the Labor Day weekend, but participation by local groups has dropped off and crowds have dwindled dramatically in recent years.


Organizers say they may try to relaunch the event on a smaller scale next year, perhaps at a different location.

Appeals Court Rejects Term Limits Amendment

Bruce Rauner's effort to get a term limits amendment on the November ballot has suffered another setback.


An Illinois appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling which finds the proposed amendment is unconstitutional, because it is not confined to "structural or procedural" changes in legislative operations, as is required by the Illinois Constitution.

Rauner says the measure has widespread public support, and thinks voters should be allowed to have their say on it.  He has indicated he will appeal to the state Supreme Court, but a deadline to certify the November ballot is just days away.

Rauner Fights Back Against Outsourcing, Cayman Claims

“Not every job should be in America.”  That statement comes from Republican Bruce Rauner… defending his former company’s work helping other companies set up overseas operations. 


Rauner says an overseas presence is often essential for companies competing in a global marketplace… and says right now, those companies can’t be competitive in Illinois’s business climate.  But Governor Pat Quinn’s campaign accuses Rauner of “outsourcing” American jobs overseas.


Rauner also dismisses Quinn's criticism over press reports that Rauner put part of his fortune in Cayman Islands accounts as a tax shelter.  Rauner calls it a "red herring" and says it is not an important issue in the race for governor.

Scherer: Balance The Budget By Cutting Waste

With a possible multi-billion-dollar state budget gap looming, State Representative Sue Scherer says the answer is to cut waste… and then cut some more waste. 


Scherer says she “absolutely” believes that there may be billions of dollars wasted in the state budget… and says she will be diligent in identifying it. 


Scherer is opposed to extending the temporary income tax increase that expires at the end of the year.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Could Wind Up In Abe's Backyard (Almost)

We could soon find out if Abe Lincoln and pot go together. 


Springfield’s corporation counsel says the proposed location for a medical marijuana dispensary is somewhere in the vicinity of Lincoln sites, and west of City Hall. 


That could put it near sites like the Old State Capitol or Lincoln’s Home.  That area is one of only a handful of locations in Springfield where a dispensary could go without violating state rules against being too close to schools or day care centers.

New Bel-Aire Hearings Convene Thursday

The owner of the Bel-Aire Motel could face nearly a million dollars in fines as a new round of hearings gets underway Thursday over hundreds of alleged building code violations. 


Mayor Mike Houston’s administration sees those code hearings… and the threat of massive fines… as the best way for the city to gain control of the rundown facility so that it can be condemned and torn down. 


City corporation counsel Todd Greenburg says the city will also continue to put together a chronic nuisance case against the Bel-Aire, as directed this month by the city council.


Ride-Sharing Service Intensifies Fight Against New Regulations

A ride-sharing service that is taking off in Chicago… and considering expansion to other parts of Illinois… is turning up the pressure in hopes of stopping a bill that would impose more regulations on the industry.


The head of Uber says the proposed regulations on Governor Pat Quinn’s desk would stifle the growth of his business and could force the company to rethink its Illinois presence. 


Uber is a smart-phone app that allows people to connect with drivers who can provide rides.  But Uber drivers currently don’t have to have the same licenses that are required for traditional taxis.

Blood Center Cuts Ribbon, Seeks Donors

The Central Illinois Community Blood Center has cut the ribbon on its new administrative headquarters.  But that isn’t fixing its biggest immediate need.


Blood supplies are still alarmingly low… because donations have dropped off sharply over the summer.  The center is asking anyone who can, to give blood before the upcoming Labor Day weekend. 


Blood donations are still accepted at the blood center’s original location on South Seventh.

Springfield NAACP to Convene Public Meeting Next Month in Aftermath of Ferguson Unrest

Some of the tensions that have been erupting in Ferguson, Missouri, in recent days are also a daily fact of life in Springfield… according to the head of the local NAACP branch.


And now the group is convening a community meeting next month to address, and try to defuse, some of those issues.


Teresa Haley says young black men often complain that they are unfairly targeted and harassed by Springfield police. She says there needs to be a frank community discussion… and a commitment on both sides to treat each other with respect.


That meeting is planned for September 4th from 6 to 8 pm at Southeast High School.

CWLP Electric Fund Faces Another Technical Default

City Water Light and Power is facing another big financial crisis… and chief engineer Eric Hobbie warns another electric rate hike is all but inevitable.


The utility is facing a steep drop in revenue because of the relatively cool summer… and that could lead to another technical default on its debt.


The fiscal impact of a second default… and the effects of costly new regulations… will almost certainly force the utility to raise rates to bring in more revenue, according to Hobbie.

Springfield's Medical Pot Zoning Won't Come Until October

Springfield is one step closer to approving rules that would allow medical marijuana businesses in the city… but final approval could still be months away.


Aldermen voted Tuesday in favor of an ordinance that allows the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to hold a public hearing on the proposed rules, which will dictate where cannabis growing and dispensing operations will be allowed.


After that hearing, the commission will make recommendations and send the issue back to aldermen. That’s a process that could take months… but the window to apply for state licenses for such businesses is only weeks away.

Gun Charges Against Springfield Store Clerk Declared Unconstitutional

A Springfield store clerk’s conviction on weapons charges has been overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court… which says the law under which he was convicted was unconstitutional.


Ahmed Altayeb grabbed a gun from behind the counter of the Handy Pantry on West Cook and opened fire on a man who was stealing liquor from the store. The robber fled and was not injured, but Altayeb was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. His attorney argued that the statute violated Altayeb’s 2nd Amendment rights.


The State Journal-Register reports Altayeb is a legal immigrant from Yemen… but faced deportation after his conviction. His attorney hopes those proceedings can be stopped, now that the conviction has been thrown out.

Rauner Calls for State Supreme Court to Take Up Term Limits Case

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is calling on the state Supreme Court to pick up the pace and make a fast final decision on whether a term limits amendment will be allowed on the November ballot.


The deadline to finalize the ballot is rapidly approaching… and Rauner’s term limits proposal is still in limbo, after being ruled unconstitutional by a lower court earlier this summer.


Rauner says he’s upset that the high court didn’t hear a direct appeal of that ruling… and says the courts should stop dragging their feet and make a ruling.


Rauner says the term limits proposal is very popular among Illinoisans, and they should have a chance to vote on it.


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