Springfield Aldermen are questioning recent actions taken by the Chief of Police and the city's Corporation Counsel about changes in police contracts without council consideration.
Ward 1 Aldermen Frank Edwards says changes to the handling of Internal Affairs investigation reports seems to be "done in the dark of night." Edwards is demanding information regarding the legality of a memo of understanding concerning the destruction of internal investigation files of police officers after four years, instead of the agreed upon five years, as passed late last year.
Aldermen Gail Simpson says that the lack of aldermen being notified of the change shows a failure and "doesn't do anything to help with public trust." Aldermen were alerted to the change because of a citizen's Freedom of Information Act Request.
Police Chief Robert Williams, who appears as a signing member of the memo along side the police union president, says that the decision to destroy the IA records is to be more efficient and eliminate waste. He also says he will not address "conspiracy theories" about destroying IA files of a potential candidate for police chief, who may have had an IA investigation just over 4 years ago.
Edwards fired back that the only person talking about conspiracy theories was the police chief and that the memo "won't hold water." Williams says before signing on to the agreement, he checked with the City's Corporation Counsel office.
Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen says he was not aware of the conversations. He also says that it was a mistake not to include the director of labor relations in the decision.
Cullen says he will get a written legal opinion on the legality of the memo to aldermen soon.
The most recent police contract was agreed upon by aldermen last December.
AFSCME’s contract with the State may no longer be a done deal.
The largest state employees union says it will conduct a re-vote on the contract because the state isn’t keeping one of the promises that was made in the agreement. The deal calls for the state to drop its appeal of a court order granting union workers back pay raises.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan is refusing to drop that appeal because lawmakers have not yet approved the money to fund that back pay.
Prosecutors have dropped more than two dozen charges against one of the brothers accused of killing a Beason family in 2009… but well over 30 counts remain.
The various counts all argue different legal theories of the case against Christopher Harris, but prosecutors say they want to narrow and simplify the case for the jury that will be seated to hear the evidence. Prosecutors have also dropped five counts of attempted criminal sexual assault, related to a 16-year-old victim, Justina Constant, who was found bludgeoned to death along with four other members of her family.
The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that Christopher Harris decided to stay in his cell rather than go to court for the first phase of jury selection.
Two Springfield lending companies have been fined by the state.
The Department of Professional Regulation says Title Cash of Illinois was fined more than $28,000 for multiple violations, including allegedly issuing loan documents that don’t carry the required transaction number or information about repayment. T
he state has also fined Check Into Cash of Springfield $3,000 for failing to post signs… with one-inch type… informing consumers that their loans are intended for short-term cash needs only, and are not intended to address long-term financial issues.
There’s another new pension proposal on the table at the State Capitol… and this one comes from one of the top dogs himself. House Speaker Mike Madigan has added his own amendment to an earlier bill sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton.
Madigan’s proposal is similar to an earlier bipartisan effort which passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but makes some modest changes to that bill’s provisions on cost-of-living increases and on guarantees of state funding for pension requirements. Madigan’s amendment will go before the House Personnel and Pensions Committee on Wednesday.
A judge has delivered a setback to the defense team for accused killer Christopher Harris, just ahead of his trial for the killings of five members of a Beason family.
Lawyers for Harris had wanted to bring up statements reportedly made by murder victims Rick and Ruth Gee, two years prior to the killings, raising concerns about their son Dillen and possible violent tendencies.
The defense claims that Dillen… not Christopher Harris… killed the couple and two other children, and that Christopher Harris then killed Dillen in self-defense.
The Bloomington Pantagraph reports that the judge ruled the statements had been made too far ahead of the murders to be relevant.
Congressman Aaron Schock acknowledges that the Illinois political landscape next year was one of the factors in his decision to drop the idea of running for governor, and seek another term in Congress instead.
Schock announced his decision last week, saying he could do more good on Capitol Hill.
But when asked Monday if negative ads that were run against him this year were a factor in his decision, Schock said everything was a factor… including the field of challengers he might face in a GOP primary or the 2014 general election.
Schock says he has not ruled out seeking a different office in the future.
Congressman Aaron Schock says a number of factors went into his decision not to run for governor next year. Schock announced last week that he will seek re-election for another term on Capitol Hill rather than try for the Republican nomination for governor.
Schock says he thinks he can do more good as a member of the Republican majority in the house. But he also acknowledges that the lineup of potential GOP opponents and the General Election contest were factors in his decision. Schock says he does believe a Republican can claim the Governor’s mansion next year, but he’s not getting behind any particular candidate right now.
The Village of Sherman is showing off its new emergency operations center, a facility staffed mostly by volunteers and constructed with only a few thousand dollars of taxpayer money.
The facility which allows officials in Sherman to track severe weather and other emergencies is housed below ground in the new police department headquarters, a building that was donated last year by Illini Bank.
Authorities say it is safer and more secure than the previous ground-level operations center. Other equipment was donated or was purchased as military surplus at a fraction of its original cost.
A Peoria judge will not let the jury hear a statement that could have been a pivotal part of the defense case for Christopher Harris… accused of killing five members of a Beason family.
Defense lawyers argue that Harris discovered the family being killed by 14-year-old Dillen Constant… and that Harris then killed Dillen in self-defense. They had wanted to introduce a statement supposedly made by Dillen’s mother discussing the boy’s violent tendencies.
But according to the Bloomington Pantagraph, the judge ruled that the statement, from two years before the killings, was too old to be relevant. Jury selection in Peoria is scheduled to start Tuesday.
Senate Democrats say the latest proposal for a new concealed carry law in Illinois will be withdrawn and rewritten before it’s officially filed.
The Associated Press obtained a draft of that bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Kwame Raoul. It calls for granting concealed carry permits only to persons of, quote, “good moral character” who have shown a “proper reason” to have one.
Gun rights advocates call that language too vague and say they want an objective standard where permits could only be denied if a person was a felon or did not get proper training. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats says the bill will be revised.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is making it sound like he’s a lock to jump into next year’s race for governor.
The Kankakee Daily Journal reports that Rutherford confirmed his intentions in a speech to an Iroquois County GOP women’s group over the weekend. Members of that group say that Rutherford told them he plans to run and will make an official announcement in June.
Local groups are seeing early success with a fundraising effort that hopes to eventually restore the façade of the historic building that once served as Springfield’s first African-American firehouse.
When the building was built around 1902 or 1903, the fire department… like most of Springfield… was racially segregated, and black firefighters were assigned to their own separate fire stations.
Donations from groups including the Springfield Area Basic Crafts Council, Operating Engineers Local 965, and the Springfield Project have raised nearly three-fourths of the money needed for architectural and engineering studies for the project.
But it may take another $200,000 to eventually complete that restored façade on the building at 1310 E. Adams.
Water levels are finally starting to drop on the Illinois River at Beardstown and Meredosia.
Levees are continuing to hold following the river crest over the weekend, but officials say they will still monitor carefully, because the receding waters are still putting tremendous pressure on those levees.
State officials have warned that flooding fears may be back within weeks, as snowmelt from northern states sends water levels rising on the Mississippi River and the waterways that feed into it.
A long-awaited trial gets underway today for the first of two brothers accused in the 2009 murders of a Beason family.
The trial of Christopher Harris has been moved to Peoria because of pre-trial publicity in Logan County.
Prosecutors contend he and his brother Jason murdered Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children after going to their home to steal a laptop and sexually assault 16-year-old Justina Constant, one of the victims.
But defense lawyers contend that Christopher walked in on 14-year-old Dillen Constant murdering the rest of his family, and say Christopher then killed Dillen in self-defense.
Family, friends and supporters have gathered in tribute to the victims of last week’s mass killings in Scott County.
A memorial vigil was held in Manchester last night, drawing a large crowd of people who are still trying to understand why an acquaintance broke into a residence there and killed five people inside, including a pregnant woman.
Authorities revealed over the weekend that suspected shooter Rick Smith had a shotgun, two rifles and an 18-inch machete with him when he was shot and killed by police last week… but still have not revealed anything about his possible motive.
Governor Pat Quinn is sticking to his guns about what should go into an eventual concealed carry bill in Illinois.
Quinn wants to see the standards about who gets to carry weapons left up to the control of local municipalities, rather than being set at the state level.
But the Illinois State Rifle Association adamantly opposes that, saying it would lead to a patchwork of different laws that would be impossible for gun owners to keep track of, or obey.
The difference of opinion could jeopardize efforts to craft a bill that can win approval of lawmakers and be signed into law before a court-ordered deadline for the state to approve “reasonable” concealed carry legislation.
Local business owners are generally positive about their own prospects for the coming year… but less optimistic about the outlook for the rest of Sangamon County.
A new survey from the University of Illinois Springfield finds about 40-percent expect the local job picture to stay the same… while just over 30-percent expect at least modest job growth in the next 12 months, and just under 30-percent expect at least small declines.
The state of Illinois’s ongoing fiscal problems are also weighing heavily on the minds of local business owners. 80-percent say the state’s budget crisis will have a negative impact on their own bottom line in the coming year.
The local health-care sector is the most optimistic about their own growth in the next 12 months, while employers in the education sector have the least positive outlook.
Sangamon County business owners generally feel good about their own prospects for the coming 12 months, but they’re not as sure about the county’s economy as a whole.
The latest economic outlook numbers from the University of Illinois Springfield show that around 40-percent of employers expect the local job picture to remain roughly the same, while just over 30-percent expect some increase in employment, and just under 30-percent think it will decline.
Employers in health-care related businesses have the most positive outlook, while the education sector is the most pessimistic.
A fund has been established to help with burial and funeral expenses for the victims of this week’s mass killings in the town of Manchester. That fund was established on behalf of Rita Luark, the mother of pregnant victim Brittney Luark and grandmother of the two young boys who were killed along with Brittnehy Luark’s boyfriend and grandmother.
A statement from People’s Bank and Trust says the family does not have the money to pay for all five burials. That fund has been set up at the People’s Bank and Trust branch in the Greene County town of White Hall.
The Illinois Senate has approved a measure that could bring more money to Springfield schools.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic state senator Andy Manar, would give District 186 a payment to make up for the money lost because state government buildings are removed from the property tax rolls. A formula would be used to calculate the payment, based on the current average property value per acre within the district. That amount hasn't been determined yet, but could mean anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 extra for Springfield schools in the next fiscal year.
The state of Illinois has awarded contracts for several big local projects this spring and summer. More than a million dollars in state money will go to complete an upgrade to the perimeter fence at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. Some federal and local money is also involved in that project.
The state will also spend nearly $300,000 to improve sidewalks around Williamsville Junior High School, and more than $300,000 on a bridge near Greenview. Governor Pat Quinn says the money comes from the state’s $31 billion “Illinois Jobs Now” public works program.
Springfield’s unemployment rate is up… and the total number of jobs in the area is down… compared to last year, according to the latest state figures. The numbers from the Department of Employment Security show the city’s jobless rate stood at 7.8% last month… two-tenths higher than in March of 2012.
Meanwhile, the total number of non-farm jobs declined slightly from last year, with the biggest decrease coming in Business and Professional Services. Layoffs in Decatur leave it tied for the highest unemployment rate among major Illinois cities.
An autopsy confirms that one of the five people shot to death in a home in the town of Manchester was pregnant when she was killed.
23-year-old Brittney Luark was also the mother of the two boys who were fatally shot by a gunman who entered their home early Wednesday. In addition to Luark, 5-year-old Nolan Ralston and 1-year-old Brantley Ralston, the other victims were Luark’s boyfriend and the boys’ father, 29-year-old James Roy Ralston… and Luark’s grandmother, 67-year-old Jo Ann Sinclair. A six-year-old girl was also wounded in the attack at the home, and is now listed in serious condition at a Springfield hospital.
Investigators are still trying to determine the connection between the family and gunman Rick Smith, who was fatally shot during a gun battle with police.
Authorities say they’re still trying to figure out why a Morgan County man broke into an apartment in the small Scott County town of Manchester and shot five people to death.
Rick O. Smith
43-year-old Rick Smith also critically wounded a six-year-old girl, then carried her out of the home and handed her to a neighbor before fleeing.
Smith was tracked down less than three hours later, and was himself fatally shot in a gunfight with police.
The victims have been identified as 66-year-old Joanne Sinclair; her granddaughter, 23-year-old Brittany Luark; Luark’s boyfriend, James “Roy” Ralston; and two children, five-year-old Nolan Ralston and one-year-old Brantley Ralston.
State police say they’re investigating the exact relationship between Smith and the victims.
Scott County residents are reeling from the first multiple homicide in the county’s history.
State’s Attorney Michael Hill says such violent crime is rare in his county, but it can happen anywhere.
Ron Drake… who is both the village president of Manchester and the uncle of shooting suspect Rick Smith… says the crime is “devastating,” and says all the community can do is ask the Lord for help to get through it.
Inmates at a maximum-security prison in southern Illinois reported concern about "aggressive cellmates" shortly before a string of killings at the penitentiary, according to a report by an independent group.
Since then, three inmates at the Menard Correctional Center have been killed… and a cellmate is suspected in each case.
Authorities have now filed murder charges in one of those three incidents.
State corrections officials say they are reviewing their policies regarding cell assignments.
Authorities in Scott County are still trying to piece together the motive for a shooting that left five members of one family dead. The murders happened early this morning in Manchester about 50 miles west of Springfield.
Police believe 43-year-old Rick O’Dell Smith forced his way into the home and killed the five victims, including two children. Another child was injured. Police say Smith brought her out of the home and handed her to a neighbor before fleeing. She is in critical condition at St John’s Hospital. Smith died later after being shot in a gunfight with police.
Authorities are still investigating the relationship between Smith and the victims. They have not officially released the victim’s names yet.
Tickets go on sale this Saturday for most of the shows in this year’s State Fair Grandstand lineup.
The fair in August will feature acts ranging from classic rock with Styx and REO Speedwagon, to country stars like Toby Keith and the Band Perry, to current pop stars like John Mayer and Kesha. Tickets for Mayer and Keith are already on sale, but your first chance for tickets to the other Grandstand concerts begins at 10am Saturday through Ticketmaster.
The Grandstand ticket office at the fairgrounds will not open for in-person ticket sales until June.
The state still has a multi-billion-dollar backlog of bills… but Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is promising to push bills related to the ongoing flooding around Illinois to the top of the stack. Topinka says the flood waters affecting nearly half of Illinois counties have caused economic devastation in many communities… and she says affected residents and businesses can’t afford to wait. Topinka says she will expedite payments owed to businesses that have been impacted by the floods… along with any money owed to businesses that have contracted to help with cleanup and recovery in the 44 counties under the state disaster declaration.
Five people have been found shot to death in a residence in Manchester, in Scott County, and the suspect is also dead following a shootout with police.
The tragedy began to unfold with the discovery of the bodies of the five victims early Wednesday morning. The victims had all been fatally shot. A sixth person, a child, was taken to a hospital and is reportedly in serious condition.
Manchester is located about 50 miles west of Springfield. Several school districts in that area called off classes for the day while authorities looked for the shooter.
Police pursued the suspect, and shots were exchanged when they caught up to him several hours after the murders. The suspect was wounded and later died of his injuries at an area hospital. Authorities say he had multiple weapons with him when he was apprehended.
Officials say they are not looking for any other suspects, and there is no danger to the general public. They did not discuss any possible motives for the murders.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on this unfolding story.
The Illinois Senate has overwhelmingly approved raising the speed limit to 70 miles an hour on most interstates and tollways around the state.
The vote was 41-to-6 in favor, with supporters saying the change would bring Illinois in line with most other states… and with the reality that many drivers routinely ignore the current 65 mile-an-hour limit.
The truck driver who struck and killed an Illinois State Police trooper on Interstate 55 near Litchfield last year has been charged with reckless homicide.
52-year-old Johnny Felton was taken into custody in his home state of Georgia after being indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury. He will be returned to Illinois for indictment, and will be held on $250,000 bond. He could face 14 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say Felton was speeding when he hit Trooper Kyle Deatherage, who was conducting a traffic stop.
Illinois lawmakers are still debating whether to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for very ill people… but one local lawman says they should reject the idea.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson says giving people access to marijuana for any reason is simply going to make it easier for people who shouldn’t have it to obtain it.
Williamson says introducing cannabis into the mix… even to treat the symptoms of serious illnesses… will make matters more complicated for law enforcement and will become, in his words, a “slippery slope.”
The Springfield school board has accepted the resignations of two employees… including the district’s longtime director of technology Sue Ruff… following the investigation into the unauthorized release of student names and test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy.
The board also approved a motion to apologize to CCPA students and parents over the incident.
A police report indicated the data was provided to a member of the district’s citizens budget review committee, who was permitted to see it.
But board members now say that committee should not have had such sensitive data, and it remains unclear who initiated the effort to obtain the confidential information.
The Springfield school board has accepted the resignations of two employees -- including Technology Director Sue Ruff -- and has approved a motion formally apologizing for the unauthorized release of student test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy.
But some board members are still raising questions about the leak, despite a police report indicating that no crime had taken place. Bill Looby said a member of a citizens budget committee did not have approval to obtain those numbers, contrary to the findings of the Springfield police investigation. That committee member told police he was providing school board members with information. Looby asked if any board members would acknowledge that they had been working with that committee member, but none would do so.
The two employees were among three named in the police report as violating district policy by accessing the data outside of normal procedures, or by trying to cover up that fact. The fate of the third employee will be decided at the next school board meeting in May.
The first candidate has already jumped into the race for Sangamon County’s open sheriff’s seat. Under Sheriff Jack Campbell…the number two man in the department…wasted no time in announcing that he will attempt to succeed Williamson.
Campbell is the sheriff’s hand-picked choice for the job and says there is very little that he would do differently than what Williamson has done in the job. Campbell is a 17-year veteran of the department and was appointed as Williamson’s top deputy in 2008.
A skilled workforce, or the lack of it, has some local business leaders worried.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce says there are not enough skilled workers to meet the demand for such employees, now and in the future. The Chamber says future job growth will focus primarily on jobs that require some kind of degree beyond high school, but six out of ten working-age adults in Sangamon County currently don’t have as much as an associate’s degree.
The Chamber will hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss strategies to cope with the problem.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford is telling Illinois businesses that they have plenty of good reasons to stay put, even as he admits that Texas Governor Rick Perry makes some good points as Perry tries to lure those businesses away.
Rutherford, who is a Republican like Perry, says the state has plenty to offer businesses, including a skilled workforce, an excellent transportation system, and strong cultural and recreational programs. But Rutherford, a likely candidate for governor, says Perry has pointed out valid concerns about the state’s finances and pension crisis, and says that should be a wake-up call to lawmakers.
A new report is raising questions about the widespread use of volunteer auxiliary officers by police departments around the state.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the state agency which oversees the use of auxiliary units acknowledges that its record-keeping is incomplete, making it impossible to determine how many of the 1,000 armed volunteers have received proper training.
27 county sheriff’s departments around the state… including Sangamon County… have such volunteer units, which provide assistance with traffic and crowd control.
That frees up full sworn officers to concentrate on other priorities.
Governor Pat Quinn is touring areas that are battling ongoing… and worsening… flooding. Some of those areas include Marseilles (mar-SAYLZ’), where flooding has heavily damaged the elementary school, which will likely stay closed for the rest of the school year… and Morris, where a hospital had to be evacuated because of the flooding.
With flood waters approaching, Caterpillar is closing its facility in East Peoria for the next few days… and moving some 6800 workers to different locations for the time being. A company spokesman says the move is being made out of an abundance of caution, to protect workers and equipment as the Illinois River climbs to near-record levels.
Locally, the Sangamon River continues to climb, and is now not expected to peak until Monday, at about a foot-and-a-half above flood stage. The swollen river is still expected to affect primarily farmland.
41 Illinois counties have now been declared state disaster areas.
The two biggest stories of the week could both provide opportunities for con artists. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is warning Illinoisans to be careful of scams that claim to seek money to help victims of the Boston bombing, or that supposedly offer repairs for damage related to the ongoing Illinois flooding.
The Springfield school board will vote Monday night on whether to require top District 186 administrators to take unpaid furlough days in the next school year. If the measure passes, 12 top staffers would be docked anywhere from one to five days next year as part of the district’s budget-cutting effort.
Meanwhile, District 186 may end its membership in several professional organizations as it continues to pinch pennies while wrestling with a multi-million-dollar budget deficit. The school board will vote Monday on whether to stop being a dues-paying member of groups ranging from the Illinois Association of School Boards to the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. The move would save around $24,000 a year.
A federal judge has granted class action status to former employees of the now-bankrupt THR and Associates.
The State Journal-Register reports hundreds of workers may be eligible to join a lawsuit claiming the company required employees to work more than 40 hours a week without overtime and violated other wage and labor laws.
However, the judge dismissed the company itself and former owner Jeff Parsons from the suit. Two former managers remain as defendants in the case.
A former major league ballplayer from Springfield has his World Series ring back.
Dick Schofield’s ring from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 1960 championship team was stolen from his home this week. But a local jeweler who bought the ring from two men realized it belonged to Schofield and returned it.
Police are still looking for the men who pawned the ring.
Communities along the Illinois River are bracing for record flooding over the next few days. In Peoria, streets near the riverfront have been closed and shelters have been set up in Peoria and several other river towns.
Governor Pat Quinn has already issued disaster declarations for 38 counties… including Morgan, Mason, Cass and Scott… and says conditions will get worse in the days ahead.
Moderate flooding is still forecast for the Sangamon River, but it is only expected to affect farmland.
Another attempt to pass concealed carry legislation has failed in the Illinois House… even though a majority of members voted for it.
The measure is less restrictive than one that failed a day earlier, and uses the “shall issue” standard that requires the state to issue concealed carry permits to anyone meeting the basic requirements.
The vote was 64 to 45 in favor… but the bill needed a supermajority of 71 votes to pass because it would override the ability of home-rule communities like Springfield to create their own, more restrictive rules.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson will still make a political announcement next week… but he won’t be doing it in his government office now.
A media advisory Thursday… sent by Undersheriff Jack Campbell on the county government e-mail system… said Williamson would be making a political announcement.
Williamson told 970 WMAY News that he was advised by people with “political knowledge” that it would be OK to make the announcement in the government office, but he declined to say who gave him that advice.
A short time later, Williamson announced that the location would be changed.
There’s no word on the nature of the announcement, but the sheriff says it does pertain to next year’s election.
A flash flood warning is in effect for areas downstream of Lake Springfield through early Friday morning.
The release of water from Spaulding Dam this afternoon could send water levels in Sugar Creek rising rapidly. Emergency officials recommend anyone near low-lying areas of Sugar Creek downstream of the lake to evacuate the area because of rapidly-rising floodwaters.
That warning will be in effect until 1:00 Friday morning.
A flood warning has been issued for the Sangamon River as heavy rains threaten to push it out of its banks. That warning affects the Sangamon River at Riverton and Petersburg.
The river is expected to crest Saturday, just slightly above flood stage… and the floodwaters will mostly affect farmland. Emergency officials do advise people near the river to use caution and pay attention to river levels over the next several days.
[Meanwhile, a flash flood watch remains in effect for the 970 WMAY listening area through early Friday morning.]
Governor Pat Quinn has activated the State Incident Response Center in Springfield in order to coordinate the statewide response to severe flooding in northern and central Illinois.
Flood waters have hit Chicago especially hard, closing freeways and schools. I
n Central Illinois, some roads are closed or have lots of standing water on them. In Peoria, rescuers had to reach some people by boat. Quinn is traveling to several communities around the state hard hit by flooding.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson has now decided to move what he describes as a “political announcement” away from his governmental office.
The initial notice of the event was sent out by Undersheriff Jack Campbell… using the county government e-mail system. Campbell says he was directed by the sheriff to send the notice for the Monday news conference.
Williamson says he talked to people, quote, “with political knowledge” who assured him it would not be a problem to hold the news conference in the government office. But he declines to identify those people or to talk about the nature of the "political announcement."
After a reporter's inquiry, Williamson now says he will hold the event at a different location to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Springfield District 186 is seeking public comment about a proposed rule change that could have a major effect on special education students.
A post on the district’s website says the State Board of Education has proposed removing all class size requirements for students with disabilities.
According to the district, the rule change would mean no limits on class sizes for special ed students… and no limits on the number of special ed students that could be in a single general education classroom.
The district is asking interested parties to send comments to the State Board of Ed.
More details and a link are available at the Springfield Public Schools website, sps186.org.
Some major Springfield-area projects are on a multi-billion dollar list of state transportation projects planned over the next six years.
Governor Pat Quinn unveiled the list at a Statehouse news conference.
Among the local projects included in the plan are a $19 million widening of Wabash Avenue from Koke Mill Road to Park Avenue… and $9 million to add additional lanes to Dirksen Parkway between Clear Lake and Ridge Avenues.
In a setback to gun control advocates, the Illinois House has overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have given local law enforcement the ability to reject permits to carry concealed weapons.
The proposed amendment drew an angry-reaction from pro-gun lawmakers. Republican Representative Mike Bost accused Democrats of "playing games" that could derail passage of a concealed carry law.
The failed amendment would have created what's known as the "may issue" standard, giving police latitude to reject permits for people who otherwise meet the basic requirements. Pro-gun groups want a "shall issue" standard, where permits would be automatically granted to anyone who meets basic requirements.
A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to provide relief from the symptoms of certain serious illnesses has cleared the Illinois House, even though all Springfield-area representatives voted against it.
The measure creates a four-year pilot program with significant restrictions. It would allow doctors to prescribe, and patients to use, marijuana to combat the symptoms of specific illnesses, from cancer (and chemotherapy) to multiple sclerosis to AIDS.
Critics fear the the legislation will open the door to more widespread use of marijuana. Among those voting "no" were Springfield area representatives Sue Scherer, Raymond Poe, Rich Brauer and Wayne Rosenthal. The bill now goes to the Senate, where supporters think it will pass. Governor Pat Quinn says he's keeping an open mind on the bill.
Springfield District 186 is seeking public comment about a proposed rule change that could have a major effect on special education students.
A post on the district’s website says the State Board of Education has proposed removing all class size requirements for students with disabilities. According to the district, the rule change would mean no limits on class sizes for special ed students… and no limits on the number of special ed students that could be in a single general education classroom.
The district is asking interested parties to send comments to the State Board of Ed. More details and a link are available at the Springfield Public Schools website, sps186.org.
Springfield Aldermen have increased the city's sales tax by half a percent and increased the sewer fee after debating and voting on four different ordinances to fund the city's infrastructure.
During debate Tuesday, Aldermen passed one ordinance that raises the city's sales tax by half a percent with a quarter of that being repealed after the bonds for funding the infrastructure are paid off.
That passed 6-3 with Alderman Steve Dove absent.
Two other ordinances that if combined would have raised the sales tax by an additional half percent failed.
Meanwhile, aldermen passed a proposal that raises the city's sewer fee over a number of years to pay for sewer improvements.
Alderman Joe McMenamin, who supported the sewer fee increase, says that raising the city's sales tax is reckless.
Other aldermen said that there must be more revenue into the city to fund infrastructure.
Springfield faces tens of millions in dollars of immediate infrastructure needs.
Aldermen voted down a zoning variance that would have allowed a new liquor store on a notorious corner.
Ward 6's Cory Jobe stood with the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, the Harvard Park Neighborhood Association and about 100 residents in his ward in opposing a proposed new liquor store to go on the site where Chantilly Lace once stood.
The proposed liquor store layout on the corner of Stanford and 5th Street
The developer, Jeff Hamrick, says that the property is identified with a very busy intersection and urged aldermen to support the project as a benefit for the whole city.
Hamrick says there could be a $120,000 additional tax money coming into the capital city, though some aldermen said those numbers may be a bit inflated.
Meanwhile, Hamrick said there will be significant property improvements for the area and there could be a quarter of a million dollar investment in the community's labor force.
The developer says he has agreed to not sell certain types of packaged liquor.
Opponents say that the planned establishment just another liquor store saturating the neighborhood.
Aldermen voted to deny the variance request, 7 to 2.
A college student from Springfield is among the dozens of people injured in Monday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon.
As 970 WMAY News was the first to report, the young woman was part of a group of sorority sisters in attendance at the marathon when the blast occurred. A press release from the school says the students suffered injuries ranging from cuts to perforated eardrums to concussions. But all members of the group are now out of the hospital and recuperating with family or friends.
The school has asked that the names of students not be released to protect their privacy.
A false alarm in Forsyth. Residents in the Stephens Creek area were evacuated from their homes Tuesday morning when the Forsyth Police Department and Macon County Sheriff’s Office were alerted to possible hand grenades found under a manhole cover.
The bomb squad, from Springfield, identified the grenades as toys and dismissed the threat. WSOY radio reports that Macon County Sheriff Tom Schneider says the images that were taken of the grenades by responding officers looked realistic enough to call the bomb squad for further examination.
There will be no criminal charges filed in the investigation of how confidential student test score data was distributed within District 186.
State’s Attorney John Milhiser agrees with the conclusion of a Springfield police report that said criminal charges were unwarranted. However, three school district employees have been placed on paid leave and are facing disciplinary action next week for allegedly accessing the information or trying to cover up the fact that they did so.
A Springfield-area resident who participated in Monday’s tragic Boston Marathon says he’s determined to race again, despite the chilling effect of the bombings near the finish line.
Richard Sgro says he traveled to Boston to meet up with high school friends from around the country. He finished the race an hour before the bombs went off and was in a café nearby when the blasts occurred.
He says he understands that security will be beefed up at future races, but is also determined that the races will go on. Sgro says he, quote, “won’t let [the bombers] have the last word.”
Two explosive devices detonated near the finish line of the race Monday, killing three people and injuring dozens of others.
Three Springfield doctors are among 250 physicians around the state voicing their support for the legalization of medical marijuana.
The statement says that doctors should not be punished for recommending marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of very ill patients… and the patients should not face prosecution for taking that medical advice from doctors. It was signed by Springfield doctors James LaFata, Stefan Kozak, and Patrick O’Donnell.
Legislation that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with certain specific conditions is awaiting a final vote in the Illinois House.
The district notes in a statement that it’s unclear what may have cause that Washington student to take his own life… and says the reason may never be known. But they are hoping to send the message to other students that there are many other options.
Springfield school officials say they have no evidence that bullying played a role in the apparent suicide of a 13-year-old student from Washington Middle School.
Jaylin May was found dead at his home Friday. The coroner’s office says the death is “consistent with hanging.”
Online postings were rampant with rumors that the boy had been bullied, but District 186 spokesman Pete Sherman says conversations with numerous students and teachers have revealed nothing to indicate that.
A crisis response team of counselors was dispatched to the school to help students and staff cope with the boy’s death.
Springfield alderman Sam Cahnman has been censured by the state panel that oversees the conduct of attorneys.
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission heard testimony regarding three incidents involving Cahnman, including his arrest for allegedly soliciting sex from two undercover female cops… a charge for which he was ultimately acquitted.
But Cahnman was found to have made a false statement regarding his acquisition of a page from a judge’s appointment book.
The ARDC’s administrator had recommended a 90-day suspension of Cahnman’s law license, but the panel rejected that, in part because of testimony from Mayor Mike Houston and Alderman Joe McMenamin that they had faith in Cahnman’s honesty and integrity.
One of the Springfield-area runners who traveled to Boston for the ill-fated Marathon is safe and sound, having finished well before the explosions that shattered the race.
Joy Guardia was already back in her hotel room when the explosions took place. While she did not hear the blasts themselves, she did hear the sirens from the massive emergency response. Speaking live with 970 WMAY's Kramer, she said that she and others from Springfield who had traveled to Boston were all safe and accounted for.
Guardia says she does not fear for her safety in Boston while waiting to return to Springfield by mid-week, but does wonder what the incident will mean for security procedures for runners and spectators at future major marathons.
At least six runners from Springfield are listed as competing in today's Boston Marathon website. An official with the Springfield Road Runners Club says the initial indication is that all are safe. 970 WMAY News has spoken with one, Joy Guardia, who had already completed the race and was back in her hotel room when the explosions happened; she is unharmed. Relatives of other runners have also contacted us to let us know they are OK.
A phone number has been set up for people seeking information about family members who are competing today. That number is 617-635-4500... again that number is only for family members seeking information about loved ones who took part in the Boston Marathon.
Springfield school officials have been talking to students and staff at Washington Middle School, but so far they've found no indication that an eighth-grade student who apparently took his own life had been bullied.
Rumors of bullying have been rampant since news broke of the death of 13-year-old Jaylin May. The coroner's office says the death is "consistent with hanging." District 186 spokesman Pete Sherman says he cannot say whether Jaylin had been bullied, no students or staff report witnessing anything like that.
A "crisis response team" has been brought in to help Washington Middle School students and teachers deal with the tragedy.
UPDATE (3:22PM): AP says two more devices have been found at scene of Boston Marathon and are being dismantled.
UPDATE (3:19PM): Boston police say two dead, 22 injured.
UPDATE (3:09PM): ABC now reporting fatalities in connection with the apparent bombing at the Boston Marathon. Two devices went off in short succession; a nearby hotel was evacuated amid reports that police had found a third possible device.
UPDATE (2:49PM): Deadspin website has compilation of pictures and video from the moment of the exlposion and the immediate aftermath. Link here.
UPDATE (2:43PM): Boston hospitals report victims with severed limbs and severe burns. Boston police telling people to stay away from trash cans in the vicinity of Boston Marathon route. ABC reporting "dozens" of victims.
ABC News reporting at least two explosions near the finish line, with reports of multiple injuries. Tune to 970 WMAY for live coverage, and check back for updates at www.wmay.com
Extra counselors are on hand for students and staff at Washington Middle School following the apparent suicide of an eighth-grade student.
13-year-old Jaylin May was found dead Friday evening. The coroner’s office says the death appears to be the result of hanging.
District 186 has issued a statement expressing grief over the student’s death, and noting that a crisis response team was dispatched to the school to help students and staff cope with the tragedy.
The full text of the district statement follows:
The faculty and staff of Washington Middle School and Springfield Public Schools are deeply saddened to learn of the reported death of an eighth-grade student over the weekend.
Counselors, teachers, and a crisis response team are at Washington to help our school community deal with this loss. We are doing everything that we can to support our students and our staff through this tragic experience.
On behalf of our staff and students, we thank you for your concern, support, and sensitivity during this difficult time, especially as we learn more about the cause of death and take pro-active steps to reach out to one another.
The two Springfield Schnuck’s stores are among the 79 locations affected by a breach of credit and debit card data.
Schnuck’s now confirms that more than two-million numbers may have been compromised by hackers between December 10, 2012 and March 29th of this year. Some customers have already found fraudulent charges on their accounts.
The company has posted information on its website, www.schnucks.com, including a toll-free number to answer questions from consumers.
A Lincoln woman has been sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison for producing child pornography… in order to get rent money.
Federal judge Sue Myerscough imposed the sentence on 26-year-old Laura Sigler… who used a five-year-old child to create the pornographic images. Sigler and a co-defendant, Anthony Ferguson, were taken into custody in March of last year.
The two were living in a motel at the time they produced the images. Ferguson pleaded guilty earlier and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
It could be a busy week for Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser.
Milhiser is still reviewing police reports about the distribution of confidential student data from the Capitol College Preparatory Academy.
Although three District 186 workers have been placed on paid leave as a result of the investigation, police concluded that no crime occurred.
However, Milhiser says he wants to complete his review before deciding if charges are warranted.
Milhiser is also reviewing documents from the City of Springfield about its handling of three City Water Light and Power workers involved in misuse of city resources and an alleged attempt to intimidate an eyewitness.
Three District 186 employees have been placed on paid leave and could face further discipline, following a Springfield police investigation into the distribution of confidential student data.
While the police report concludes that the conduct of workers likely does not constitute a crime, it spells out apparent violations of school district policy, including an alleged attempt to cover up accessing those student names and test scores.
A Springfield-area state employee has been fired after an investigation found he had taken sexually explicit photos and a video of himself at work and emailed inappropriate images.
The Illinois Executive Ethics Commission says the Illinois Department on Aging fired John Hastings in December. Investigators found 225 pornographic images on his state computer, including 13 explicit images and a video of a man identified as Hastings.
Three District 186 employees have been placed on administrative leave and will face what the district calls “final personnel actions” later this month for their role in the “misuse” of confidential student data.
The actions follow the Springfield police investigation which indicated that several district employees were involved in either accessing a report with student names and test scores on it… or may have sought to alter computer records in an attempt to conceal that access.
Among the employees named in the police report is the district’s technology coordinator, Sue Ruff, who allegedly asked a district employee to delete and cover up records showing another district employee gaining access to the student info. A school district spokesman would not identify the three workers or discuss their possible punishment.
In the meantime, the district will meet with parents of the students whose data was compromised, and is tightening restrictions on who can access that data.
Springfield Police say the distribution of documents containing confidential student data from District 186 does not appear to constitute a crime, but may instead reflect violations of district policies and procedures. However, Sangamon County State's Attorney John Milhiser says he is still reviewing the report and hasn't decided if charges are warranted.
The SPD has released its official report, where it says the unredacted document of student names and test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy was initially given to a member of the district’s community budget review committee… who was authorized to have it. That version was not released publicly, but a copy with the student names redacted was turned over to a State Journal-Register reporter.
The police report indicates that confidential data was not improperly released… but says some district employees may have violated policy by generating the report and then trying to cover up that fact.
[So far, District 186 has not had an official comment on the police findings or whether any employees violated district policies.]
Authorities are warning of the potential for sudden changes in water levels and currents in the Sangamon River as a result of this week's heavy rains.
Decatur city officials plan to release excess water from Lake Decatur into the river, which will in turn dramatically increase river levels, especially in eastern Sangamon County. Emergency management officials say that could affect, and pose potential dangers for, boaters, fishermen, and land owners and residents near the river.
The river is expected to rise by several feet in just the next day or two, according to a press release from the City of Decatur.
Mothers of developmentally disabled adults have confronted Governor Pat Quinn over his efforts to move more such individuals into small community-based settings.
The women approached Quinn after his appearance at a State Capitol rally on gun control. They say their children could be harmed by Quinn's emphasis on community-based care. The women told Quinn that the structure of the institutional setting is better for many profoundly-disabled individuals.
Other disability-rights activists have praised Quinn for his decision to close several of the big developmental centers like the one in Jacksonville. They say the smaller facilities provide more dignity and better care at lower cost.
There’s another twist in the story of those City Water Light and Power workers who were caught using city equipment on city time to remove a tree from private property.
Long after the workers were disciplined… including one who was fired and then rehired… the Sangamon County State’s Attorney is now requesting information on the case with an eye toward possible charges.
The city initially did not pursue a criminal case against the workers, because city attorney Mark Cullen claims that they would have had to profit personally from their actions in order to be charged with theft of services. But State’s Attorney John Milhiser says he wants to take a closer look at the facts of the case.
Illinois senators seeking to eliminate a major stumbling block to new casinos and slot machines in the state went toe-to-toe Wednesday with regulators who say expanded gambling could open the door to political corruption and organized crime.
Gaming officials said they're worried the proposal being considered by the Senate wouldn't give them enough regulatory authority over a Chicago casino - a concern lawmakers said was unfounded.
Regulators also said they don't have enough staff to take on the additional workload and that hiring can take months because of state rules.
Springfield police have released more details about a shooting incident Wednesday morning that led to four men being arrested on Interstate-55.
Deputy Police Chief Cliff Buscher says 31-year-old Carmichael Bennett lost an unknown amount of money playing dice at 1802 Renfro, allegedly took the money back at gunpoint and fled with three other men. The victim gave chase in his car, and the victim’s sister followed in her vehicle. She says one of the men turned and fired several shots at her car near Singer & Eastdale. Officers stopped the suspect’s vehicle at the I-55, Route 29 Northbound ramp and found a handgun in the grass near S&K Buick-GMC.
All the suspects were taken in for questioning. Bennett and another man are facing multiple charges.
The two candidates for Springfield school board subdistrict 5 have finished election night in a dead heat... and may have to wait weeks to learn the eventual winner.
Donna Moore and Katharine Eastvold finished with 749 votes apiece after early and available absentee ballots were counted. But there are still five absentee ballots that were sent out and have not yet been returned. If those five ballots come back within the next two weeks -- and are postmarked April 8th or earlier -- they will be added to the final tally.
If the candidates remain tied when all valid votes are counted, a lottery will determine the winner. The losing candidate can then seek a discovery recount which could again alter the outcome.
Mike Zimmers has won a decisive victory over embattled Springfield school board president Susan White in Tuesday's election. Chuck Flamini was an easy winner over two opponents in subdistrict 7, while incumbent Lisa Funderburg won a close race over Teresa Jones.
The three seats on the Springfield Park Board have gone to incumbent Gray Noll and two newcomers, Robin Schmidt and Grant Hammer. Sandra Douglas missed the cut after trailing Hammer by fewer than 100 votes.
In some of the other big contests from Tuesday: voters in Jerome selected a new village president, Mike Lopez, and also approved a sales tax increase, with the proceeds to pay for infrastructure needs in the village.
Chatham voters chose Tom Gray over Matthew Mau. Tom Rader beat Rich Pottier (poh-TEER’) for Riverton village president.
The four Republican candidates beat three Democratic challengers for seats on the Capital Township board.
And Ginger Payne, Leigh Ann Hughes, Pam Cuffle and Staci McTague won the four seats in the hotly-contested Riverton school board race.
Springfield aldermen seem split about what funding plan to approve for the city's infrastructure needs.
During discussion at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole, aldermen heard from several businesses that were in opposition to three ordinances that if all passed would raise the city's sales tax by a full percent and a raise of the sewer fee.
They also heard from city planners and other Chamber of Commerce members about the need for new revenue.
Aldermen Frank Edwards is asking the Chamber, which supports raising the sewer fee and also a half of a percent sales tax increase, to study comparable cities and their funding solutions.
Meanwhile, there seems to be a consensus to increase the city's sewer fee.
The mayor was absent from Tuesday's meeting and aldermen opted to debate the measures further next week when the Mayor would attend a full council meeting.
A Springfield Police report on the leak of confidential student data from District 186 is now in the hands of State’s Attorney John Milheiser. But neither Milheiser nor police will comment on the findings of that investigation for now.
Police were called in to determine who may have disclosed student names and test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy.
Officials say no further information will be released until Milheiser decides what, if anything, to do with the information from the police investigation.
A Springfield social service agency has been saved from the brink of closure but it’s not out of the woods yet.
Steady declines in grants and donations have cut deeply into revenue for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois. The situation got so bad that the agency couldn’t pay its utilities. But now the Green Family Stores have stepped in with 45 hundred dollars to pay the gas and electric bills.
Owner Todd Green also plans to purchase more needed equipment for the agency and he’s urging other businesses to also step up and help the troubled organization.
Nearly 40 years after being placed under a federal desegregation order, Springfield schools remain far short of their goal of having a workforce that reflects the racial makeup of the community.
In fact, the numbers declined in the current fiscal year, with African-Americans making up less than ten-percent of district employees. The goal is more than 18-percent… reflecting the minority workforce totals in the most recent census.
District officials say budget cuts, teachers union rules and a lack of accountability have contributed to failure to meet the hiring goals.
Sales of foreclosed homes have led to a sharp dropoff in local home prices, according to the Capital Area Association of Realtors.
The Association says the median home sale price last month was down more than 20-percent from the same period a year earlier… dragged down by the low prices being paid for “distress sales” of foreclosed homes.
But the Association says the picture is not as bleak as it appears… once foreclosed homes are factored out of the equation, median prices were actually up more than three-percent last month compared to 2012.
Despite some key school board and park board races on the ballot, voter turnout is expected to be low for today’s local elections.
Based on early voting totals, Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello predicts only about 16 to 18 percent of eligible voters will cast ballots by the time the polls close tonight at 7pm.
But he says turnout could be higher in parts of Springfield, as well as Chatham, Riverton and Pleasant Plains… where there are high-profile contests for school boards, village boards and other offices.
970 WMAY will have complete election returns tonight after the polls close.
Springfield police have completed their investigation into the leak of confidential student data from District 186… and will forward their findings on to State’s Attorney John Milhiser.
Neither police nor school district officials will comment yet on what the investigation revealed… or whether criminal charges are expected.
The investigation has centered on who was responsible for distributing student names and achievement test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy during the debate on whether that school should remain open.
The school district’s lawyer has vowed that information about the investigation will be made public after the state’s attorney takes action on the police report.
The Springfield school board secretary says new procedures are in place to make sure that executive session meetings are properly recorded.
The new system was set up following revelations that portions of three separate meetings were not recorded.
In each case, the missing recordings pertain to the school board’s agreement to part ways with former superintendent Walter Milton.
Board secretary Julie Hammers… who is not in the room during executive session meetings… says it appears that a board member simply hit a wrong button, stopping the recording when he thought he was actually starting it.
She says she will be able to visually monitor those recordings in the future to be sure that they are working… even though she won’t listen in on the closed-door discussions.
Despite giving final approval to millions of dollars in budget cuts Monday night, the Springfield school board has also been forced to approve an increase in the school district’s line of credit… in order to meet payroll.
District officials say the move is a temporary correction for cash flow problems.
The board voted to enact the cuts they agreed to earlier this year… cutting more than 100 positions, including 59 certified teaching jobs.
Because of attrition, a total of 16 teachers are getting pink slips.
Most of them will ultimately be rehired, but the teachers union says the end result will still be fewer teachers and a decrease in educational quality.
The District 186 school board has given final approval to implement the cuts that were laid out weeks ago. Monday's vote cuts more than 100 positions in the district, including 59 teaching positions.
But because of attrition, the actual number of teachers receiving pink slips is 16. Most of those individuals will be rehired before the start of the next school year as more vacancies arise, but Springfield Education Association president Dan Ford notes that the 16 teaching positions will be gone -- and that will have a detrimental effect on class size and student performance.
Other cuts include adminstrative assistants, math coaches, district mentors, and non-teaching staff.
A new report shows District 186 still failing to meet the minority hiring goals spelled out under the federal school desegregation that dates back to the 1970s.
The district backslid in the current fiscal year, and total minority staff in the district is now below 10%. The desegregation order calls for the district's staffing to reflect the makeup of the community, with about an 18% minority population.
The study says there are several factors that inhibit minority hiring, including the District's practice of filling vacancies late, failure to hold administrators accountable for not meeting the goals, and teachers' union contracts that give veteran teachers "recall rights' which make it harder for new minority teachers to enter the district.
A Riverton man has died of the injuries he suffered when he was struck by a car in a church parking lot almost a week ago.
89-year-old Martin Vala had been in critical condition since the accident last Tuesday morning, when a woman struck him and another man as the two stood talking in the parking lot of St. James Church. The second man suffered minor injuries, but Vala died early Monday morning.
The woman told police that she was blinded by the morning sun and didn't see the men. No charges were immediately filed... but a statement from the coroner's office says the accident remains under investigation.
Springfield police have wrapped up their initial investigation of the leak of confidential student data at District 186... and will soon forward their findings to the State's Attorney's Office.
But Deputy Police Chief Cliff Buscher declines to say whether the police will recommend charges against anyone in the case.
Police were called in after someone released a list of student names and test scores from the Capital College Preparatory Academy in the midst of discussions about whether the school should be kept open.
Buscher says a final decision on how to proceed will be up to State's Attorney John Milhiser after he receives the police report, most likely in the next couple of days.
Sangamon County election officials are predicting another year of low turnout for Tuesday’s off-year elections.
Despite some key contested races for Springfield school board and park board seats… and lively contests in communities like Chatham, Riverton and Pleasant Plains… County Clerk Joe Aiello says turnout is likely to be somewhere from 16 to 18-percent of eligible voters. He bases the estimate on early voting numbers, which Aiello says are down from four years ago, when turnout overall hit 18-percent.
[The polls are open Tuesday from 6am to 7pm. 970 WMAY will have complete coverage of election returns Tuesday night.]
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston says he’s delivering on his promise to provide both smaller government and “world-class” city services. But Houston warns that pensions are a looming serious problem for the city.
He delivered his annual “State of the City” address Monday, and pointed to a $210 million unfunded liability for police and firefighters as a significant problem that he is working to solve.
And Houston warned that it won’t be possible to cut enough money from the budget to pay for infrastructure needs… and the city will either pay now or pay more later.
Aspiring young lawyers may find it harder to clear the bar in Illinois.
The American Bar Association Journal reports that the minimum passing score will increase by four points this fall… and by another four points in 2015. The Illinois bar exam has been seen as one of the easier ones around the country to pass.
The changes were directed by the Illinois Supreme Court, which reportedly resolved to increase the degree of difficulty needed to become a lawyer in the state.
The Springfield school board member who hit the record button on closed-door discussions about former superintendent Walter Milton… only to have those recordings fail three separate times… says he’s disappointed the recordings don’t exist.
But Scott McFarland says there’s no evidence of anything malicious, and cautions against calling the situation a “scandal.” McFarland chalks up the missing recordings of executive session discussions to a software glitch... and doesn’t think there was any kind of “smoking gun” in the missing audio.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office had sought the recordings to determine if the discussions violated the state’s open meetings laws.
The mystery surrounding former Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton’s departure from District 186 is deepening.
The school board has notified the Illinois Attorney General’s Office that recordings of executive session discussions about Milton’s exit agreement “failed.”
The State Journal-Register reports that discussions about Milton were recorded separately from other parts of the executive sessions, but the recordings were not successful on three different dates when various parts of the eventual severance agreement were discussed.
The Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether the district violated open meetings laws by reaching and signing the agreement in private, ahead of a final public vote.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston is still hoping aldermen will approve a big enough increase in sales taxes and sewer fees to take care of the city’s major infrastructure needs, now and for the foreseeable future.
Houston prefers raising the city sales tax by three-quarters of a percent… along with a gradual hike in sewer fees over ten years.
He says that will take care of major immediate needs and pay for a program of ongoing regular maintenance.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce has endorsed a one-half-percent sales tax hike along with the sewer fee increase.
So far, it’s not clear that any of the proposals have majority support on the City Council.
The witness who blew the whistle on City Water Light and Power employees doing private work on city time says he definitely felt intimidated by one of those workers and wanted to testify against him.
A series of rescheduled hearings and communications breakdowns led to Eric Reiss not being able to testify in that disciplinary case.
Eventually, a fired worker was reinstated, in part because the claim of intimidation could not be established.
City officials had told aldermen that Reiss was not cooperative, a claim that Reiss again denied in a live interview Thursday on 970 WMAY.
Reiss accuses the city of “looking the other way” about the theft of city services, but Mayor Mike Houston says the city couldn’t pursue criminal charges because the workers did not personally profit from their actions.
A top state official says the fee for permits to carry concealed weapons should cover the cost of processing those applications and doing the necessary background checks.
But Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon doesn’t know yet exactly how much that might be.
Simon has put together a checklist of items that should be a part of a concealed carry bill… which includes funding, a training requirement, and input from local law enforcement about applicants whose possession of concealed weapons may pose a danger to others.
But she also says any bill must comply with the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce has endorsed part of Mayor Mike Houston’s infrastructure funding plan… but the mayor isn’t sure that support goes far enough.
The business group has given its backing to a one-half-percent sales tax increase and a hike in sewer fees to pay for major projects. But Houston is still hoping aldermen will also approve an additional one-quarter-percent sales tax hike to pay for ongoing basic maintenance of streets and sewers. That would bring the total sales tax increase to three-fourths of one-percent.
Several aldermen remain reluctant to support any kind of a tax or fee increase.
As Illinois lawmakers wrestle with devising a concealed carry law for the state, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon is offering a checklist of ten things that she says have to be a part of the discussion.
Simon has formed a working group of lawmakers to research the issue, and says that has led to the list of essential components of any new law. She says first on the list is to make sure a concealed carry law complies with the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
But she also says it must include a training component, it must give local law enforcement the ability to have input into potentially dangerous applicants for a permit, and it must be able to pay for itself. Simon says she doesn’t know yet how expensive a permit would have to be to cover the cost of background checks and processing applications.
The spring yard waste collection effort in Springfield gets underway Monday.
City residents can leave yard waste in paper bags or cans by the curbside. City crews will move through neighborhoods to pick up the items.
The collection period runs through May 3rd.
City residents who can show proof of residency can also take their yard waste directly to the Evans Recycling facility on J. David Jones Parkway between 7am and 5pm weekdays, and 7 to noon on Saturdays.
What aldermen were told about the firing and subsequent re-hiring of a CWLP employee contradicts what the witness says happened.
In executive session records released by the city’s legal department, corporation counsel Mark Cullen says that eye witness Eric Reiss was uncooperative and if he were to testify at an arbitration hearing, the city would lose the case.
That goes against what Reiss says, who claims he tried to go to an arbitration hearing to provide that side of the story.
The tapes were released after several aldermen requested they be made public.
Hear the first executive session from October 30th, 2012 where Aldermen are told by Corporation Counsel Cullen that witness Eric Reiss was uncooperative:
It’s Spring again. And with Spring comes yard waste. The City of Springfield will be conducting yard waste pickup and drop-off through May 3rd.
Residents may drop bagged or loose yard waste to Evans Recycling at 2100 J. David Jones Parkway from 7am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and from 7am to Noon on Saturday. Residents need to show proof of residency. Or residents may place bagged yard waste at the curb beginning April 8th to be picked up by Friday, May 3rd. Only paper yard waste bags will be accepted, or loose yard waste in a bin clearly marked “yard waste.”
The City of Springfield is telling the state to "go stuff it" when it comes to enforcing building codes for energy conservation. That's after aldermen passed an ordinance that guts the capital city's energy conservation enforcement measures.
Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen says that contractors must abide by state law that says new construction must comply with the latest published International Energy Conservation Code. Alderman Frank Edwards says the ordinance means the State of Illinois, not the City of Springfield, will have to pay for inspectors to enforce the codes.
Not everyone was on board with the measure. Alderman Gail Simpson says it sends a bad message to residents that the city will use a loophole to get around enforcing the energy conservation codes.
Springfield police nabbed a robber within moments of the robbery.
A call was made to the police department that a man had entered the Northend Pantry on Black Avenue just after 9pm Tuesday, fired a shot into the ceiling and demanded cash from the employees. When a description of the suspect was aired, an officer responding to the call saw a man who matched the description at 2nd and Calhoun. After hearing more descriptive information on the police radio, 20-year-old Remarco Smith tried to flee, but Officer Redpath was able to grab him and force him to the ground.
Officers found a stocking cap with holes cut out (that can be used as a mask), money and the weapon used during the robbery in his backpack.
Springfield’s Corporation Counsel has reviewed and released recordings of executive session meetings from October 30th and November 6th where officials discussed disciplinary action against several City Water, Light and Power employees.
The audiotapes will be kept at the City Clerk’s office for public inspection. Those who are interested in copies should contact Deputy Clerk Rianne Hawkins at 789-2216 (extension 104) or visit the City Clerk’s Office.
The City of Springfield is continuing its review of a weekend incident where an officer used a Taser on a pregnant woman during a parking lot altercation… but so far, officials say it appears proper procedures were followed.
The incident is in the spotlight because a bystander shot cell phone video of the struggle between officers and the woman… and posted it on YouTube.
Police say the woman was trying to interfere as officers attempted to take her boyfriend into custody… and say the Taser was the safest way to make her comply with police orders.
The City of Springfield is investigating an incident that led a Springfield police officer using a taser on a pregnant woman over the weekend. A viral video posted on YouTube (caution: graphic language) shows the incident right as a police officer approached a woman with a stun gun. The officer then forcibly throws the woman to the ground using his taser. The woman is clearly heard in the video saying she's pregnant.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston says he's grateful everyone is safe and not injured, but currently the mayor says all indication is that proper procedures were followed.
The officer that used the taser is still on duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
No ordinance necessary -- The City of Springfield will release records for four executive sessions dealing with last year's tree trimming incident. The issue of a CWLP employee using city equipment on city time to trim a tree on private property resurfaced after a rate payer addressed the city that he felt his credibility was called into question when it came to testifying in the case. Alderman Frank Edwards pushed for an ordinance to release the tapes. Mayor Mike Houston says that the city's legal department will soon release the records without the need of an ordinance.
The City of Springfield is saying "go stuff it" when it comes to enforcing building codes for energy conservation. That's after aldermen passed an ordinance that guts the capital city's energy conservation enforcement measures. Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen says that contractors must abide by state law that says new construction must comply with the latest published International Energy Conservation Code. Alderman Frank Edwards says the ordinance means the State of Illinois, not the City of Springfield, will have to pay for inspectors to enforce the codes. Not everyone was on board with the measure. Alderman Gail Simpson says it sends a bad message to residents that the city will use a loophole to get around enforcing the energy conservation codes.
Springfield city government will have to keep within a certain number of employees after aldermen voted in favor of capping the workforce at 1,500 people. The measure sponsored by Aldermen Joe McMenamin and Steve Dove would split the headcount into two side: the corporate side and utility. Mayor Mike Houston has said he doesn't see the ordinance as being necessary, but wasn't clear if he would veto the ordinance. McMenamin says that the ordinance will hold future mayoral administrations accountable when it comes to keeping the workforce limited. Once signed, the mayor would have to come to the city council with an ordinance to go beyond the 1500 threshold.
A budget proposal from Governor Pat Quinn to cap shared income tax with cities across the state doesn't sit well with the capital city. Springfield aldermen voted in favor of a resolution to oppose the Quinn's proposal to cap shared income tax money at 2012 levels. Springfield Budget Director Bill McCarty has said Quinn's proposal could cost the city up to $1.3 million a year, and even more in the years to come. The president of the Illinois Municipal League attended the city council meeting Tuesday to applaud the city for taking a stand.
On the consent agenda, aldermen approved the Legacy Sports Complex proposal, and also voted for a $55,000 contract with Layne Christensen to provide what could be the last review of city gravel pits before the Army Corp. of Engineers and EPA approve the long debated plans for Hunter Lake.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk has become one of the most prominent Republican officeholders in the country to support same-sex marriage.
Kirk links his support to a change in perspective following his debilitating stroke last year. He issued a written statement saying, quote, “Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back-- government has no place in the middle.”
Kirk says since his return to the Senate in January, he has tried to conduct himself with an open mind and greater respect for others.
The full text of Kirk's statement:
"When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.
Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back-- government has no place in the middle."
Springfield police say they used appropriate and justified force when a pregnant woman was tasered during an altercation with officers over the weekend.
A video of the incident has now been posted on YouTube (WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE), and shows an officer attempting to subdue the woman as she tried to intervene with police who were restraining her boyfriend in the parking lot of Best Buy. The officer ordered the woman to comply or risk being tasered… when she did not obey the commands, she received what police call a “drive stun,” where the taser is applied directly against her leg.
Deputy police chief Cliff Buscher says police followed proper procedure and did what was necessary to minimize risk both to the woman and to the officers involved in the altercation. The woman and her boyfriend are both facing charges, and the incident remains under review.
The president of the Springfield school board says the next superintendent of District 186 should make less than former superintendent Walter Milton.
Susan White says the salary should be in line with those in other “area” school districts… even though Springfield is the largest district in the area.
White’s opponent in next week’s election, Mike Zimmers, says he’s not sure that Milton was overpaid… and thinks the job of running Springfield schools should pay a salary comparable with other large urban school districts around the state.
Two Republican state senators say downstate schools are getting a raw deal when it comes to state funding.
Bill Brady and Jason Barickman released a study showing that Chicago gets a disproportionate percentage of state funding for poverty grants, special ed funding, early childhood education programs, and more.
The Republicans say those numbers refute Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan’s contention that downstate schools are getting a free lunch on teacher pension funding and should have to pay more of those costs.
A new arrest warrant has been issued against a former Cass County woman, caught up in a bitter visitation battle with the parents of her murdered husband.
The State Journal-Register reports Jennifer Watkins is facing criminal contempt charges after failing to appear in Cass County for another hearing on the court-ordered visitation that was granted to Dale and Penny Watkins.
Their son, Steven, was murdered by Jennifer Watkins’ grandmother… and they have been trying to see Steven and Jennifer’s daughter Sydney ever since.
An Illinois grandmother is no longer facing a threatened termination of her “unlimited” digital phone service.
Fox News reports that Comcast threatened to cut off the service after 72-year-old Ilene Henry made hundreds of calls over the course of an hour… casting votes for her favorite American Idol contestant.
The company had said that the woman’s dialing patterns were “inconsistent with residential phone use.”
But after Henry and her granddaughter complained, Comcast has now backed off the termination threat.