The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce has high hopes for 2014.
Chamber CEO Steward Sandstrom says most indicators look quite positive for the coming year. Even a recent uptick in the local unemployment rate appears to be the result of more people re-entering the job market, a sign of increasing confidence in the local economy.
But Sandstrom says the positive signs could still be rattled by uncertainty in everything from the fiscal condition of state government to the impact of Obamacare. [He appeared live Tuesday on the 970 WMAY News Feed.]
Some new laws for the New Year will have an impact on how Springfield police deal with teenage crime suspects.
Previously, a 17-year-old suspected offender was charged and booked as an adult. But a change in state law now requires 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles and taken to the juvenile detention center. Interrogations of teens suspected of violent crimes must also be recorded now under state law.
Springfield Deputy Police Chief Dennis Arnold says the changes won’t be difficult to implement, but will be something that officers will need to keep in mind as the New Year gets underway.
State transportation officials say engineering studies led them to keep the speed limit at 65 miles an hour for the stretch of interstate immediately adjacent to Springfield… even though most of the rest of Illinois’s interstate highways will climb to 70 in the New Year.
IDOT spokesperson Paris Ervin could not say specifically what factors led to the decision, but says the study evaluated conditions including traffic counts and the ability of exit and entrance ramps to handle higher rates of speed.
The new 70-mile-an-hour limit takes effect January 1st, but new signage will go up gradually over the next three weeks… and IDOT officials say you should adhere to the posted speed limit.
Police will be busy over the next few days, looking for speeders and drunk drivers… and, starting at midnight tonight, people who are talking on hand held cell phones behind the wheel.
The state’s new prohibition on using a handset while driving takes effect with the start of the New Year, and state transportation officials say they expect police will be prepared to write tickets if they spot violations.
But the primary focus will still be on DUI prevention.
The New Year holiday is seen as one of the highest-risk periods for drinking and driving.
Mayor Mike Houston’s choice to be the city’s next corporation counsel has made a good impression on aldermen in his first face-to-face meeting with them.
Todd Greenburg offered some details about his departure from his last job as Bloomington city attorney, saying he clashed with that city’s mayor over the release of documents.
Greenburg said the mayor wanted the documents released immediately, while Greenburg said that decision should go before the City Council… a position that appealed to Springfield aldermen during Monday’s committee of the whole meeting.
But Greenburg would not provide information about a letter he sent to the Bloomington city manager in October that led to him being placed on paid leave… saying that revealing that would violate a confidentiality agreement.
His appointment comes up for a final vote next week.
He claims that he is a victim of a campaign of police harassment… but Calvin Christian also admits that he may have unknowingly been driving without a valid license in recent days.
Christian… who was arrested just before Christmas for driving on a suspended or revoked license… tells 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air” that he has received more than 200 citations in recent years and has had his license suspended and reinstated multiple times.
As a result, Christian says he may have lost track of his license status. He says he is now checking daily to see if it’s been reinstated, and until it is, he’s using a chauffeur to get around.
Christian recently won a settlement from the city in an open records lawsuit, but still has a pending federal case over his police harassment claim.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson has entered the Facebook age. Williamson has launched a new Facebook page for his department, with postings on crime stats, job openings, and other information.
Williamson says he only recently discovered the social media site, but thinks it’s the “wave of the future” for his department.
A captain in the department will be in charge of updating the page, a process that Williamson expects will take no more than 15 minutes a day.
The City of Springfield is one step closer to hiring on a new Corporation Counsel in Todd Greenburg.
Greenburg is still getting a severance package from his former employer at Bloomington City Hall where he recently left after having an argument with city officials.
Greenburg says that if Aldermen approve his appointment to be the city's chief legal adviser during next week's full city council meeting, his agreement with Bloomington would end.
Several aldermen praised Greenburg with what they say was his understanding of the importance of Aldermen input in legal matters.
Alderman Joe McMenamin says he appreciates Greenburg's experience in municipal law, but says he has concerns that there wasn't a greater local search or the mayor seeking any input sought from Aldermen. McMenamin also pushed Greenburg on the residency requirement.
Greenburg said if he is approved he will get an apartment and change his legal address. If he is kept on by the next mayor-elect after the 2015 elections he says he will then consider seeking permanent residency.
Greenburg's appointment was placed on the debate agenda for possible passage next week.
Springfield aldermen met Monday, instead of Tuesday because of the New Year's holiday.
The new higher speed limit on most Illinois interstates takes effect on New Year’s Day… but you may want to wait to put the pedal to the metal.
The state Department of Transportation says it could take a couple of weeks to put up new signage with the higher 70-mile-an-hour limit. And the agency is advising drivers to abide by the posted speed limit… meaning that if the sign still says 65, you should drive 65.
The signs won’t be changing at all in the immediate Springfield area. IDOT says the section of interstate immediately adjacent to Springfield will not see an increase in the speed limit.
New Year… same story. State and local police will be out in large numbers over the next few days looking out for drunk drivers and other traffic offenders.
Shannon Alderman with the Illinois Department of Transportation notes that seven people lost their lives on Illinois roadways over the New Year holiday last year… with nearly half of those fatalities linked to alcohol.
Expanded patrols are expected all the way through the first weekend of January… and once the New Year arrives, police will also be looking for drivers talking on a hand-held cell phone behind the wheel. That becomes illegal in Illinois, effective January 1st.
The reporter who is claiming a campaign of harassment by Springfield police admits he may have lost track of whether his drivers license was suspended or not.
Calvin Christian… who was arrested just days ago after his latest traffic stop… tells 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air” that he’s had more than 200 citations in recent years, and as a result, he has been unsure from one moment to the next about the status of his license. But he says he now has a way to check daily about whether it’s been reinstated.
And Christian… who recently got a $30,000 payday from the City of Springfield in a separate lawsuit… says he is using a chauffeur to get around until he gets his license back.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson is bringing his office into the 21st Century… at least the early 21st Century.
Williamson has announced that the sheriff’s department has created a Facebook page to get information to people who wouldn’t ordinarily go to the office’s website. He says it will be used to post news, job openings and public safety information.
Williamson says he just recently discovered Facebook… and while he recognizes it’s been around for a few years, he considers it “the wave of the future” for his office.
Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is vowing to shake up Illinois’s school system… in a way that he says teachers’ unions won’t like.
Rauner is out with a new ad that vows to fix failing schools… with strategies including merit pay for teachers and increased “competition” for schools, a phrase often connected with school voucher programs. In the ad, Rauner says his plan will give control to parents… not union bosses.
If you’re counting the hours until New Year’s Day… and higher interstate speed limits around Illinois… you better ease off the gas around Springfield.
A state Department of Transportation map indicates the stretch of highway immediately around the city will not see the increase to 70 miles an hour on Wednesday.
The current 65 mile-an-hour limit will stay in effect for a roughly 10-mile stretch from the northeast corner of Springfield to the south edge of town.
Among the other top new laws that take effect with the start of the New Year… Springfield’s ban on teen tanning goes statewide.
Medical marijuana becomes legal… but it will still be months before anyone is smoking it. And, of course, concealed carry.
State police say they have eliminated the backlog of FOID card applications… just in time to find themselves swamped by applications for concealed carry permits.
The agency plans a news conference today in Chicago to address many lingering questions about how the process will proceed, once applications are accepted starting January 5th.
Springfield city officials aren’t saying if the retirement of Deputy Police Chief Cliff Buscher is in any related to the scandal surrounding the destruction of police department internal affairs files, including Buscher’s.
Buscher notified department brass earlier this month that he would retire, effective mid-January, but he is apparently taking time off until that retirement date.
A file about a 2008 incident involving Buscher was among those shredded to keep them out of the hands of reporter Calvin Christian.
At the time, Mayor Mike Houston believed the request for the file was an attempt by so-called “factions” in the department to embarrass and discredit Buscher.
But Buscher’s role, if any, in the file-shredding has never been explained.
Abusing 9-1-1 could lead to a Class 4 felony, but that’s only if you are warned you are abusing the emergency system and get arrested and charged.
That’s the clarification from Springfield Police after two incidents earlier this month led to two different outcomes.
Just a few days after State Senator Tony Munoz called 9-1-1 three times to request a sergeant over loud music at a downtown bar, a Springfield women was arrested for abusing 9-1-1 after she called twice to request a sergeant.
Deputy Police Chief Dennis Arnold with Springfield Police says that Carmen White was arrested for disorderly conduct because she was warned about tying up the emergency line.
Munoz was not arrested but was told that he was on the emergency line and a sergeant would contact him through a non emergency line.
Charges against White are not expected, according to the State’s Attorney’s office.
Listen to Carmen White's 9-1-1 calls here.
Listen to State Senator Tony Munoz's 9-1-1 calls here.
Interstates in the immediate Springfield area will not fall under the new higher 70 mile an hour speed limit next year, according to maps released by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
87-percent of Illinois interstates will switch to 70 miles an hour on January 1st… but the joint section of I-55 and I-72 running from the northeast corner of Springfield to the south edge of the city will remain at 65, according to the IDOT map.
The cop at the center of this year’s police department file-shredding scandal is retiring.
The State Journal-Register reports Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher notified department brass that he will retire in mid-January. Buscher is reportedly out of the office until his retirement date.
City officials won’t comment on whether his departure is linked to the file-shredding controversy. The city admitted that it had improperly shredded Buscher’s internal affairs file rather than turn it over to a reporter seeking it through a FOIA request.
One Republican candidate for governor is blasting another… on the issue of experience.
Dan Rutherford says the job of governor is not one for a beginner in Illinois politics. He’s going after Bruce Rauner, the wealthy businessman who has attacked his three rivals for long careers in state government.
Rutherford notes that he also has many years of private business management experience… but says it’s important to have a governor who knows how things work in Springfield. Rutherford says if you were having brain surgery, you wouldn’t want someone with no experience performing the procedure.
Rutherford and Rauner are battling state senators Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady for the nomination in the March GOP primary. [Rutherford appeared Friday on the 970 WMAY News Feed.]
A Springfield attorney and retired prosecutor has been named to the board that will review law enforcement objections to concealed carry permit applications.
Patrick John Chesley spent 30 years in the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The seven-member panel will hear cases when local police believe an applicant should be denied the right to carry a weapon in public.
Springfield’s jobless rate has inched back up again.
Unemployment climbed back to 7.4 percent in November… higher than it was both in October, and in November of 2012. The rate went up even though Springfield added 600 jobs last month.
It’s still the third lowest in the state… while Decatur continues to have the highest jobless rate, at 12.2 percent.
Flu viruses are spreading in Illinois and the leading strain that's being detected in lab tests is H1N1. That's the same "swine flu" strain that caused a pandemic in 2009.
Public health officials still recommend getting a flu shot, noting that this year’s vaccine protects against H1N1. Officials say supplies of the flu vaccine are plentiful for now.
At least one Springfield alderman is already sharply critical of the proposed city budget put forward by Mayor Mike Houston’s staff.
Ward 7’s Joe McMenamin says contrary to the administration’s claims, the budget is not balanced… because it does not do enough to address the city’s growing unfunded liability in police and fire pensions.
Houston’s budget director says the spending plan strikes the right balance between adding money to pensions… and preserving resources for other essential city services.
Mayor Mike Houston is likely to win confirmation for his choice to be the city’s next corporation counsel… that’s the opinion of Alderman Cory Jobe.
Jobe acknowledges that he had some concerns about Houston’s selection of Todd Greenburg… who left his job as Bloomington city attorney this fall after being placed on paid leave during a dispute with top Bloomington officials.
But appearing live on the 970 WMAY News Feed, Jobe said many of those questions were addressed in one-on-one conversations with Greenburg.
And Jobe says he believes that Houston is entitled to have who he wants in the job, and thinks aldermen will approve the selection.
Firearms instructors are warning that it could get very confusing for gun owners to figure out where they will legally be permitted to carry concealed weapons.
The first permits are expected to be issued within a few weeks… but the law allowing concealed carry also has numerous rules prohibiting the weapons in certain locations, such as parks, hospitals and street festivals.
But the same rules also allow people to carry weapons while on bike trails that travel through parks… or to have them if they are walking through a street festival en route to another destination.
Law enforcement and firearms instructors tell the Chicago Tribune there is likely to be a “learning curve” for gun owners to figure out where they can and cannot carry.
A meat smoker appears to have caused a fire that heavily damaged a Springfield home on Christmas Day.
The owner of the home on South 13th Street told fire officials he had been smoking ribs on the back porch.
The flames extended into the home… causing smoke and structural damage estimated at around $45,000.
A Springfield alderman predicts that Mayor Mike Houston’s pick for corporation counsel will be confirmed by the City Council.
Alderman Cory Jobe says he has some questions and concerns about the circumstances surrounding Todd Greenburg’s departure from his last job as city attorney in Bloomington. But he also says many of his concerns were addressed in private conversations with Greenburg… and believes that Houston is entitled to have the person he wants to serve as the city’s top legal officer.
Greenburg goes before the City Council committee of the whole next Monday.
The proposed new Springfield city budget would take in less… and spend less… than in the current fiscal year.
City budget director Bill McCarty says the city will get less revenue because of the expiration of a grant that has helped pay for firefighter salaries… but will also have lower financial obligations because it is retiring some debt service. McCarty says the net result is a balanced budget that spends about one-percent less… without cutting headcount or services.
But Alderman Joe McMenamin says the budget is not balanced… because it continues to underfund police and fire pensions.
It won’t just be speed limit and cell phone changes affecting Illinois drivers in 2014.
Secretary of State Jesse White is pointing out several other new laws that take effect in the New Year. One allows the Secretary of State to deny or revoke a drivers license for a teenager, if it’s determined that they had an unresolved traffic citation at the time they seek the license. Such citations are often not reported to the state. A second new law prohibits court supervision for drivers who cause fatal traffic accidents… unless that driver has an otherwise clean driving history.
Finally, many drivers with handicapped parking placards will no longer get to park for free at meters. The only exception is if the nature of the disability prevents them from reaching or using the meter. All those new laws are effective January 1st.
Governor Pat Quinn has been an active supporter of term limits in the past… but won’t commit to imposing a term limit on himself.
Quinn is seeking election to a second full term as governor, in addition to serving two years after Rod Blagojevich was impeached. Quinn tried unsuccessfully in the 1990s to pass a referendum to impose term limits on state officeholders… and says he remains a supporter of the concept.
But he says the same rules should apply to everyone, and for now, he’s simply focused on trying to win the next election.
Another candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner, is trying to get a term limit question on the 2014 ballot… but it would apply only to lawmakers, not statewide elected officials.
Flu season has arrived in Illinois.
Public health officials say the virus is now being reported in significant numbers on a “regional” basis in some areas of the state.
The “regional” designation is just one step away from an official “widespread” outbreak of the flu. Experts say it’s not too late to get a flu shot, but it will take a couple of weeks for it to become fully effective.
The flu was blamed for 96 deaths in Illinois last year.
A local congressional race has been declared one of the “Most Fascinating” political contests of 2014 by the Roll Call website.
Roll Call says the 13th Congressional seat currently held by Republican Rodney Davis has the makings of a political barnburner next year.
It notes there could be a fierce Democratic primary contest, with two contenders… Ann Callis and George Gollin… both with substantial campaign bank accounts.
Davis is seen as the favorite in his own primary fight, but then will face the Democratic nominee in a district Davis barely won in 2012.
The race has been labeled “Tilt Republican” by Roll Call.
Illinois isn’t the lawsuit capital of America… but it’s close, according to a group pushing for stricter rules governing where and how civil suits can be filed.
The American Tort Reform Foundation puts California at the top of its annual “Judicial Hellhole” report, with New York second.
Illinois comes in fifth, primarily for Madison and St. Clair counties, two jurisdictions often used by lawyers seeking to file class-action suits.
The group says those two counties represent a blatant manipulation of the state’s judicial system.
An Illinois man is facing 22 years behind bars after pleading guilty in a $25 million scam in which he duped investors with a device apparently based on a Star Trek gadget.
Howard Leventhal even named his fraudulent technology after fictional Star Trek doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy.
The “McCoy Home Health Tablet” supposedly worked like a Star Trek “tricorder,” able to pick up readings on vital signs and instantly transmit them to doctors.
The pitch was bolstered with a statement from a Canadian health official, but prosecutors say that was a fake, just like the device itself.
Local signups for insurance under the federal health care reform law are going more smoothly… but far from flawlessly, according to the county public health director.
Jim Stone says there are fewer glitches with the healthcare.gov website, but there are still periods of downtime.
Phone assistance has now been set up to help people who run into snags online. And while local signup numbers through the county health department remain low, Stone says they are picking up.
Yesterday’s deadline to sign up for insurance that would take effect January 1st has been extended through the close of business today.
The Springfield police file on Calvin Christian is getting bigger… and so is Christian’s file on Springfield police.
Christian was arrested late last week on a charge of driving on a suspended or revoked license. Christian was pulled over Friday morning on the city’s east side and was taken to the county jail.
He was out on bond within an hour. Christian has repeatedly been ticketed for traffic offenses, many involving the alleged lack of a valid license.
But Christian… who recently won a big cash settlement in a separate case against the city… has filed a federal lawsuit accusing city police of a campaign of harassment against him.
Sangamon County voters will get to decide if they want the Citizens Efficiency Commission to continue.
The county board has approved a referendum question asking if the panel should be extended.
The commission’s original mandate expires at the end of this year.
A second ballot question will ask voters to approve nine members to serve on the panel, including former Springfield Mayor Karen Hasara, the current commission chair.
The efficiency panel has worked for three years to craft suggestions on ways units of local government can work together, to provide the same services at lower costs.
The Sangamon County sheriff’s department is offering help to county residents who want to apply for a concealed carry permit.
Starting January 6th, a computer terminal will be set up in the lobby of the sheriff’s department that people can use to submit online applications.
The department will also provide a webcam that can be used for the required electronic photograph that must accompany the application.
The sheriff’s office is also working on possibly offering electronic fingerprint scans.
Fingerprints are not required to obtain a concealed carry permit, but will speed up the process.
Sheriff’s department personnel will also be on hand during regular business hours to answer questions about the application process.
Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner may have to battle more than his three GOP primary opponents.
Labor unions are also gearing up to spend millions of dollars in hopes of defeating Rauner in the primary.
Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax blog says Rauner’s anti-union rhetoric has made him “Public Enemy Number One” with organized labor… but the unions want to knock off Rauner in the primary so that they don’t have to choose in the general election between Rauner and Governor Pat Quinn… who is also on labor’s naughty list this year.
All City Water Light and Power customers have had their power restored after the weekend ice storm.
As many as 1,000 CWLP customers lost power Saturday as ice weighted down tree limbs and power lines.
The last of those customers was reconnected around 4 Sunday afternoon.
City crews will likely be busy picking up those downed limbs over the next few days.
Another push is underway to entice Illinois businesses to relocate.
The Politico website reports the state of Indiana has begun an aggressive PR campaign that tries to lure Illinois companies with a promise of lower taxes and other incentives.
Billboards use the tagline: “Illinoyed by higher taxes?”
Indiana says it has managed to get some Illinois businesses to move, but critics say the cost of those incentives may backfire on Indiana.
Congressman Aaron Schock has gotten some time in the national spotlight.
Schock delivered the GOP radio and Internet address over the weekend, and his focus was the Affordable Care Act.
Schock calls the health care law a “ripoff” for young healthy adults… because he says they’re being forced to pay more so that coverage can be made available to older, sicker people.
Schock says the entire law should be scrapped and replaced with a system that offers lower cost, more choice, and more freedom.
Schock’s address did not spell out how those goals would be achieved.
State Representative Sue Scherer says she’s still hitting the bricks in the residential neighborhoods of her district… despite the winter weather.
Scherer recently acknowledged her preference for reaching out to constituents one-to-one… rather than going through mass media interviews.
She issued a press release over the weekend touting those efforts, saying she wouldn’t let a little snow and ice get in the way of meeting voters.
Scherer says people are more comfortable discussing their issues and concerns, quote, “from the security of their own home.”
Two suspects are facing murder charges in the death of an off-duty Cook County sheriff’s investigator who was shot and killed while trying to stop an armed robbery.
Cuauhtemoc Estrada witnessed two men trying to rob his daughter and her boyfriend outside a family holiday party at a VFW hall in Bellwood.
He was shot as he reached for his service revolver.
Police used surveillance video to identify the two 22-year-old suspects, who will make a first court appearance later today.
An injured Chicago Bears player has been arrested on charges of misdemeanor assault and public intoxication after an altercation in a sports bar in Texas.
Defensive tackle Henry Melton reportedly had been asked to leave and was being escorted out when he became violent, striking and biting one of the staff members.
Melton was restrained until police arrived. He is currently on injured reserve after a season-ending injury to his knee in Week 3 of the season.
The Bears have not commented on the incident.
Springfield public works crews may be busy with branch pickup the next few days.
While Saturday’s freezing rain did not cause major problems on the roads, it did claim more than a few large limbs.
The ice is also blamed for power outages that left around 1,000 City Water Light and Power customers in the dark for while Saturday night.
Cook County Republicans have given their endorsement to Bruce Rauner.
Rauner’s campaign says the move shows that he has the backing of the GOP faithful… despite the efforts of “government union bosses” to derail his campaign.
But opponent Kirk Dillard says Rauner’s win has more to do with the money he’s spreading around in political circles… and calls it another form of “pay-to-play.”
One Republican candidate for governor is slamming another over the issue of taxes.
Dan Rutherford says he opposes extending the state’s temporary income tax, but conceded this week that revenue increases may have to be part of the discussion of providing essential state services, paying down the backlog of bills, and fully funding pensions.
But opponent Kirk Dillard says Illinoisans are already overtaxed, and accuses Rutherford of wanting to make that problem worse.
A feared blast of winter weather this weekend doesn’t appear to be living up to the hype.
The storm system moving across the Midwest is bringing some freezing rain and snow to Central Illinois, but nowhere near the dire predictions earlier in the week, which were generated by a forecasting tool used by European meteorologists.
A freezing rain advisory has been issued for the 970 WMAY listening area through 6pm Saturday, but forecasters think the wintry mix will change over to just rain by mid-afternoon, with only light accumulations of ice before that. Sunday's forecast includes just a 30% chance of snow, with accumulation of less than an inch.
Congressman Aaron Schock says President Obama’s health care reform law is a ripoff for young adults.
The Peoria Republican delivered the weekly GOP radio and Internet message. He says Obamacare forces young, healthy people to pay more in order to cover the cost of insuring older, sicker people.
Schock says the law should be scrapped and replaced with a new system which is more fair and less restrictive.
Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard has released tax returns showing he made more than $350,000 last year… and paid state and federal taxes totaling more than $76,000.
Dillard’s income includes his legislative salary and money he made as a partner in a law firm.
Dillard is the third of the four GOP hopefuls to put out tax information. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he will release his returns soon.
Cass County authorities say a house explosion in the town of Virginia could be heard or felt as far as 20 miles away.
Police received calls from people in Morgan and Menard counties after the blast that leveled an unoccupied home. Officials tell a Jacksonville radio station that a propane leak appears to be the cause. No one was hurt, but the home was demolished.
It could be messy this weekend… but it’s looking like Springfield will avoid the worst of the winter storm system that is descending on Illinois.
The latest forecast has a risk of some light ice accumulation overnight tonight and again overnight Saturday… followed by around an inch of snow or less on Sunday. But ice and snow totals will be higher north and west of Springfield… especially north of the Illinois River. The 970 WMAY listening area could also see heavy rain at times this weekend… but even heavier rain is forecast for southern Illinois.
The National Weather Service says the forecast has fluctuated for the last few days… but this now appears to be the likeliest scenario for weekend travel.
Springfield’s public works director says city crews will do the best they can to stay ahead of this weekend’s winter weather… but he is asking for patience from the community.
Public Works took some heat after last weekend’s snowstorm for what some viewed as a slow response, especially on side streets and in subdivisions.
Director Mark Mahoney says streets never get cleared as quickly as he, or anyone else, would like, but he says crews will do everything they can to clear main roads and areas around critical facilities like hospitals… and then will get to the less-heavily-traveled areas as time and manpower permit.
They may be trying to beat the Christmas rush, but Illinois State Police are putting out the warnings now about new laws that take effect in the new year.
They include an increase in the speed limit on most Illinois interstates from 65 to 70 miles per hour. But that increase won’t affect roads in eight counties around Chicago and St. Louis.
The other major new law that kicks in January 1st bans the use of handheld cell phones behind the wheel. Hands-free devices will still be permitted… and could be popular Christmas gifts this year.
The final weekend before Christmas could be sloppy for shoppers… and maddening for motorists.
A winter storm system is approaching that could smack Central Illinois with heavy rain, freezing rain or sleet, and snow at various points over the weekend.
Current models indicate the worst snow and ice may be northwest of Springfield… while the heaviest rains may stay to the southeast.
But the National Weather Service says details of the storm “continue to evolve,” meaning the forecast could change.
Stay with 970 WMAY for more details on this developing weather situation through the weekend.
Two people are headed to prison at the conclusion of separate murder trials in Springfield.
23-year-old Samaria Williams has been sentenced to 30 years after pleading guilty to smothering her one-year-old daughter.
The judge in the case ruled that Williams was mentally ill at the time of the killing.
As a result, she will still go to prison, but will be able to receive mental health treatment behind bars.
In an unrelated case, 41-year-old Prie Patterson has been sentenced to 31 years following his guilty plea in the 2010 beating death of Larry Boyer.
Prosecutors say Boyer was killed in his apartment during a robbery.
The semester is winding down with some jittery nerves in two area school districts.
The State Journal-Register reports Glenwood Middle School in Chatham was put on “soft lockdown” Thursday after an unspent shotgun shell was found outside the school.
The incident disrupted a couple of final exams that will have to be made up today.
Meanwhile, a soft lockdown is also in place at North Mac Middle School in Girard after sexually suggestive and threatening graffiti was found in a bathroom.
School administrators say they don’t believe there is a credible threat, but the school was searched and police were called as a precaution.
Springfield Public Schools are getting a seven-figure Christmas gift…a few days early.
The City of Springfield presented checks to District 186 and nine other local taxing bodies Thursday, splitting up the remaining proceeds from the expired Park South tax increment finance district.
The TIF was created to promote development in the area that once contained the old Fiat Allis plant. Almost 25 years later, Park South is a boomtown of development.
And not only will the local governments get the windfall of the remaining money in the TIF, they will see increased property tax receipts going forward, now that those tax dollars are no longer being reinvested in the expired TIF.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is telling anyone who has shopped at Target stores this Christmas season to pay careful and thorough attention to their bank accounts and credit card statements.
Target was hit with a data breach that may have compromised 40 million credit and debit card numbers.
The retail chain says it will work with customers and their financial institutions to fix any problems that result from the breach.
Illinois law says consumers can be liable for up to $50 in phony charges from an identity theft.
State Senator… and GOP candidate for governor… Bill Brady says thousands of unionized state workers should get the back pay raises they were promised years ago.
But Brady says lawmakers should not approve a supplemental appropriation to pay for it.
Instead, Brady says Governor Pat Quinn negotiated the raises, despite the state’s poor fiscal condition… so it’s up to Quinn to find the money in existing budgets to pay those raises.
Governor Pat Quinn is vowing to make an increase in Illinois’s minimum wage a top priority in 2014.
Quinn called for boosting the wage from the current $8.25 an hour, up to $10 an hour, in his State of the State speech earlier this year. Legislation is pending, but hasn’t advanced very far.
Critics say raising the minimum wage will kill jobs in a state with high unemployment… but Quinn says that claim is simply not true.
The governor says the increase will reduce poverty and give workers at the low end of the scale more spending power.
A local lawmaker says he’s not pointing fingers over the collapse of a plan that would have brought hundreds of jobs into Decatur… to make up for the dozens being lost with the relocation of Archer Daniels Midland’s global headquarters.
ADM has agreed to keep those jobs in-state, moving the global operations to Chicago.
But State Senator Andy Manar had put together a tax incentive package that would have also required ADM to create or move 600 new jobs into Decatur, an area hard hit by unemployment.
His bill was blocked by House Speaker Mike Madigan, and Governor Pat Quinn negotiated a deal with ADM that did not include tax breaks, or jobs for Decatur.
Manar says what’s important now is to find other ways to help Decatur going forward.
There is another snag in Illinois in the troubled health insurance enrollment process.
State officials are contacting thousands of people and advising them to start over on their applications if they think they were referred to Medicaid by mistake.
Some 30,000 applicants have been steered toward Medicaid… but some are complaining and want to be in the private insurance marketplace instead.
Even though Medicaid is less expensive than private coverage, it often has severe limits on what doctors can be seen.
Some Illinois doctors won’t even take new Medicaid patients. Monday is the deadline to sign up for private coverage and have it take effect by January 1st.
Calvin Christian’s lawsuit against the City of Springfield over the shredding of police department internal affairs files has been formally dismissed.
A Sangamon County judge agreed with the request from both sides after they completed a settlement agreement that was approved by Springfield aldermen Tuesday night.
Aldermen continue to defend their vote in favor of that settlement, even though they’re complaining about a lack of accountability for city officials involved in the mess.
Alderman Frank Edwards says there are other ways to hold the Houston administration accountable… including through the upcoming city budget process.
They called him “Superjock,” and he was, at one time, one of the best-known disc jockeys in the Midwest, perhaps in the nation.
Legendary Chicago radio personality Larry Lujack has died after a battle with cancer.
Lujack was a popular personality during the Top 40 heyday of radio station WLS.
His “Animal Stories” feature with co-host Tommy Edwards was recreated recently in a series of public service announcements about making sure pets are taken care of in the event of an emergency. Lujack was 73.
Alderman Frank Edwards says the City Council can, and should, keep pressure on Mayor Mike Houston over the police file shredding scandal… even though aldermen approved a lawsuit settlement without making any additional demands for accountability from the administration.
Edwards had complained that the $100,000 settlement with Calvin Christian did not disclose enough about what led to the file shredding. But Edwards voted in favor of it anyway, and a judge dismissed the case at the request of both sides Wednesday morning.
Edwards says he will continue pushing for the release of executive session minutes that can shed more light on the situation… and says the upcoming city budget process could be another way to demand more transparency.
State Senator Andy Manar says Archer Daniels Midland’s decision to keep its global headquarters in Illinois is good for the state and even good for Decatur… but not as good as the tax incentive deal he tried to put together for the company.
ADM has announced that it will move the global operations to Chicago… rather than out-of-state… and will do so without receiving any tax credits. But because Manar’s tax package was not called for a vote in the House, ADM won’t add jobs in Decatur to replace those lost in the move.
Manar says the state needs to do more to help areas like Decatur, with the highest unemployment rate in the state.
The head basketball coach at Southern Illinois University is one of the best known figures in college sports today… but he probably wishes he wasn’t.
Barry Hinson has gained a lot of notoriety for a news conference rant that has gone viral on the Internet. Hinson went off on his team, calling them "Mama's boys," “awful” and “uncoachable.” At one point he said his wife could post a better shooting average, because she knows how to “shot fake.”
SIU’s athletic director says the school is standing by the coach… but says he does regret criticizing one player by name.
The City of Springfield and the village of Chatham have reached an agreement to settle their dispute over Chatham’s decision to end its deal to buy water from Springfield.
The city had claimed a breach of contract for the early termination of the deal. After a daylong session with a mediator, Chatham has now agreed to pay the city $500,000 in damages.
In return, Springfield will grant Chatham a 99-year lease on city-owned land where Chatham’s pump station now stands… at a cost of an additional $200,000. Springfield will also be allowed to use Chatham’s water system to transport water to Loami until a new direct line can be built.
Both municipalities are expected to approve the deal next month.
Springfield aldermen have approved a settlement that ends a lawsuit over the destruction of police department internal affairs files, pays the plaintiff and his lawyers more than $100,000… and leaves many questions unanswered.
A court hearing is set for this morning to finalize that agreement over the suit brought by reporter Calvin Christian.
Christian had sought those IA files through the Freedom of Information Act… but police brass moved to destroy the documents rather than turn them over.
Aldermen approved the deal on a vote of 8-0… with Aldermen Sam Cahnman and Steve Dove voting present… despite concerns that the settlement doesn’t address the full extent of who was involved in the mess inside City Hall.
Mayor Mike Houston says he’s waiting for the results of a separate State Police investigation before handing out more discipline.
Archer Daniels Midland will keep its global headquarters in Illinois… despite the state’s failure to approve a tax incentive deal.
Sources tell the Associated Press that the decision will involve relocating 60 to 75 jobs from Decatur to Chicago.
Initially, ADM had looked at out-of-state locations for the global headquarters, and had sought tax credits as part of a deal to keep that part of its operations in Illinois.
In the end, no tax incentives are involved.
But the decision also apparently means that ADM won’t bring additional jobs into Decatur to replace those that were lost… something that was part of the legislative tax break proposal.
A push is on to get as many as Illinoisans as possible signed up for health insurance before a Monday deadline.
That’s the last day to obtain a plan on the insurance exchanges in order to have it take effect on January 1st.
There is no penalty for failing to meet the deadline, but Brian Gorman with Get Covered Illinois says the sooner you sign up, the more protection you have against serious illness or injury.
The state has launched a million-dollar PR campaign to encourage people to sign up. More details are available at getcoveredillinois.gov.
Congressman Rodney Davis is deflecting accusations of hypocrisy over the health plan he obtained through the federal insurance exchange.
Members of Congress voted to require themselves to go through the exchange rather than keep their previous health plan.
But Davis also voted to prohibit congressmen from receiving a federally-funded employer contribution. Some members of Congress are refusing that money… but a political website says Davis is still taking the employer contribution.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Davis says the conversation shouldn’t be about the employer contribution, but about the major deficiencies in the health care law and the problems it’s causing for American families.
Veteran Springfield broadcaster Bob Murray has announced that he is battling what he calls an “aggressive form of brain cancer.”
An “open letter” from Murray to his fans does not offer details about his prognosis, but says he does hope to return to the airwaves.
Murray has been a fixture on local radio and TV for more than 40 years.
He is currently on an extended medical leave of absence
The civil case a reporter has against the city is close to being resolved after 8 Springfield Aldermen voted in favor of the deal Tuesday night.
Reporter Calvin Christian sued the city of the destruction of internal affairs files he requested through the Freedom of Information Act. Before voting for the settlement, which gives Christian and his attorneys $103,000, Aldermen Joe McMenamin motioned for two amendments.
One, which failed to get a second, would have admonished a list of people involved, including Mayor Mike Houston's assistant Bill Logan, former Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen and Former Police Chief Robert Williams, along with current employees Deputy Police Chief Cliff Buscher and Assistant Corporation Counsel Geannette Wittendorf.
After that amendment failed, McMenamin motioned for another amendment to admonish Mayor Houston for overseeing employees that would break the law and improperly destroy files.
That amendment also failed to get enough support. The overall deal passed with only Aldermen Sam Cahnman and Steve Dove voting present.
There was also an effort by Alderman Frank Edwards during new business to release executive session minutes from May 7th where aldermen talked about the shredding case behind closed doors. That motion failed.
The next step is a hearing Wednesday morning with Judge John Belz where both sides will enter a motion to dismiss the case.
A million-dollar PR campaign is underway to get Illinoisans to sign up for a health insurance plan ahead of a key deadline next week.
December 23rd is the final date to sign up for coverage and have it take effect on January 1st. Get Covered Illinois… the state’s health insurance marketplace… will use TV, radio and Internet ads, along with a series of signup events, to encourage people to go online and obtain coverage before the deadline.
You can sign up… or get help navigating the system… at getcoveredillinois.gov.
Congressman Rodney Davis has obtained health coverage on the troubled federal exchange… but he says the plan he got under the Affordable Care Act doesn’t meet his definition of “affordable.”
Congress voted to require members to obtain insurance on the exchanges, rather than to keep the plans they already had. Davis said he had trouble for weeks trying to get signed up, but now has found a plan… with a higher deductible, higher co-pays, and a premium that costs $80 more a month.
But Davis continues to have a significant portion of his costs covered by the federal government… even though he voted for a bill this fall that would have eliminated the employer contribution for Congressmen and their staffs.
The Springfield School Board will debate a policy change next month that would require students to have all needed immunizations on the first day of classes.
Current policy allows students to start the school year without the required shots, but students are then sent home if they have not obtained the immunizations by early October. This year more than 500 students were out of school for one or more days because they did not have the shots they needed.
The policy change could also be accompanied by a stronger push by the district to make it easier for parents to get their children immunized, perhaps in one centralized location. But those details are still being discussed.
With snow on the ground… and perhaps more on the way… the City of Springfield is warning residents and business owners to keep their sidewalks clear.
City ordinance requires sidewalks to be clear by 10am on the morning of a snow event. Violators could be fined $250.
But public works director Mark Mahoney says no fines have been assessed so far, and says it’s more likely that if a complaint is received about a particular location, that property owner would simply get a reminder to take care of the problem.
A Springfield woman has been found dead after a fire in her upper story apartment at a downtown high rise complex.
Firefighters arrived at the Capitol Plaza apartments at 12th and Washington to find flames coming out of a 10th story window.
While the flames were contained to the victim’s apartment, other units sustained smoke and water damage, and at least 8 residents were displaced overnight.
The coroner’s office has not officially released the name of the victim or determined a cause of death.
The cause of the fire is also still under investigation.
30 or more high school teaching positions will be eliminated under a new high school scheduling plan adopted by the Springfield school board Monday night.
The new format keeps the seven-period day for students… giving them more opportunity to take electives.
But teachers who had been assigned five classes a day, with two periods for planning and “collaboration,” will now have to teach six classes a day.
As a result, fewer teachers will be needed and 10 or more jobs will be cut at each of the three high schools.
The move will save more than $1 million next year.
The Springfield School Board has unanimously approved hiring former superintendent Bob Hill to return to the top job, temporarily.
Hill will be paid $650 a day for up to 100 days, starting in January.
He says he will simply maintain day-to-day operations until newly-hired superintendent Jennifer Gill can start.
There is still no firm date for Gill to take over the job.
School board president Chuck Flamini says it could be a few weeks… but says it’s more likely that Gill will start at the beginning of the next school year in July.
A Springfield alderman says minority students lack the connections and ability to network that can help them break into competitive fields like engineering.
But Alderman Gail Simpson hopes a new public-private partnership can change that.
Details were unveiled Monday on the Minority Participation Plan, which is aimed at identifying kids as early as middle school with an aptitude for math or science… and steering them into careers in engineering, especially in areas related to railroads.
Hanson Professional Services… which is spearhearing the local railroad relocation project… is putting up $20,000 a year to go along with $20,000 each from the city and county governments.
Illinois State Police say they won’t be equipped to process paper applications for concealed carry permits… and so the agency only plans to accept online applications when the new law takes effect in January.
That is drawing criticism from the main legislative sponsor of concealed carry.
Representative Brandon Phelps says not all gun owners have Internet access or even understand the technology… and says they should have other options for obtaining their concealed carry permit.
The National Weather Service is advising that road conditions could become slippery across Central Illinois in the late evening hours Monday, because of foggy conditions combined with freezing temperatures. That freezing fog could create a glaze of ice on roadways, as well as on sidewalks and other services. Drivers are advised to use caution in the evening and overnight hours.
Students at Springfield's three public high schools will still have a seven-period day next year... but in order to preserve that schedule, the school board has approved changes to the teaching day that will lead to the elimination of 30 or more positions.
The current schedule gives each teacher five classes, with the other two periods devoted to planning and collaboration. But board member Mike Zimmers says that collaboration period has not translated into higher test scores, and says the district can't afford to keep it. By requiring each instructor to teach six classes instead of five, the district can cut 10 or more positions from each school.
The move is estimated to save between $1.2 and 1.5 million next year... helping the district manage an estimated $5 million-plus budget deficit.
The next temporary superintendent of Springfield schools has been in that chair before, but says it will be different this time.
The school board Monday unanimously approved the appointment of Bob Hill to serve as interim superintendent for up to six months, beginning in January. Hill had been superintendent of District 186 from 1991 to 2002, and is coming out of retirement to fill the temporary vacancy. He will serve until newly-hired superintendent Jennifer Gill is able to take over, but that date has not yet been set.
Board member Judy Johnson asked for assurances that Hill would not be making major changes during his brief tenure. Hill offered those assurances, insisting that he will only be there to handle day-to-day issues and maintain the status quo until he can hand the job off to Gill.
A 74-year-old woman was found dead after Springfield firefighters battled a blaze in her 10th-floor apartment at a high-rise complex.
The call to the Capitol Plaza apartments at 12th and Adams came in just before 5:30pm Monday. Firefighters arrived to see flames coming from the window of the 10th-floor apartment. The blaze was contained to that single residence, but other apartments sustained smoke and water damage. At least 8 residents were displaced overnight and are receiving assistance from the Red Cross.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, as is the exact cause of the victim's death.
Some Springfield aldermen say Mayor Mike Houston’s selection for corporation counsel needs to answer some questions about the way he left his last job.
Todd Greenburg had been Bloomington’s city attorney for 23 years… but was placed on paid leave in October, and left in November with a severance package after clashing with the mayor and city manager.
That severance deal also had a confidentiality agreement… but Aldermen Frank Edwards and Joe McMenamin say they want to know more about what happened before they vote on his appointment. A final vote is expected in early January.
A new public-private partnership is aimed at steering more minority students into careers in engineering… especially in railroad-related fields.
Springfield and Sangamon County are each putting up $20,000 a year for the project… and Hanson Professional Services is adding another $20,000.
Alderman Gail Simpson says many minority students lack the connections to break into such competitive fields, and says this program will enhance their chances.
A local lawmaker is still hoping for action on a bill that would give tax credits to a major Decatur employer… but acknowledges she’s concerned that time could run out before that vote is taken.
Democrat Sue Scherer says the House should follow the Senate’s lead and approve the credits for Archer Daniels Midland, in exchange for a commitment from the agribusiness company to add more jobs to its Decatur operations. But House Speaker Mike Madigan has recently criticized what he calls “tax giveaways.”
Scherer says this bill is different and she hopes Madigan will allow a vote… and that ADM will wait a while longer before pulling the plug on the idea.
Mayor Mike Houston is on his third city attorney in less than six months… while he waits for a confirmation vote on the fourth.
Houston has named Steven Rahn to serve as acting corporation counsel for the next few weeks.
Rahn… who is currently an assistant in the city’s legal department… will run things until the City Council votes on Houston’s selection of former Bloomington city attorney Todd Greenburg to take over here.
The office has seen plenty of turnover in recent months… Mark Cullen resigned in July, and a temporary replacement, John Mehlick, had his last day on the job last Friday.
He was a service-station owner who became a beacon for people hoping to keep the magic of Route 66 alive.
Bill Shea converted one of his Springfield gas stations into a museum, full of memorabilia about America’s love affair with the Mother Road.
Shea died over the weekend, just over two weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.
Shea’s museum on Peoria Road has not been open for regular hours since last year, because of his declining health.
A national research firm concludes there is an opportunity to develop hundreds of new residential units in downtown Springfield over the next five years.
The Chamber of Commerce Q5 committee and the city’s SDAT group commissioned the review, which looked at properties in an area from 1st to 12th Streets, and from Carpenter to Lawrence.
The study suggests the housing could run a spectrum from affordable units to upscale condos… to a housing partnership with local universities that could provide space for 160 graduate students.
It’s a blast from the past for Springfield schools.
The school board will vote Monday night on a proposal to bring former superintendent Bob Hill back to the job on an interim basis until next June… or until a new superintendent is seated, whichever comes first. Hill served as superintendent from 1991 until his retirement in 2002. The proposal before the school board calls for him to be paid $650 dollars a day.
Jennifer Gill was chosen this week to be the next superintendent… but contract negotiations with her are continuing, and it’s not clear how soon she’ll be able to start. Current interim superintendent Bob Leming’s contract expires in early January to avoid interfering with his pension.
Mayor Mike Houston has chosen the former city attorney for Bloomington to take over the job of corporation counsel in Springfield.
An ordinance to go before aldermen next week nominates J. Todd Greenburg to fill the post that was vacated by Mark Cullen last summer… and held temporarily by retired judge John Mehlick, whose resignation takes effect Saturday.
Greenburg is available after being placed on administrative leave in Bloomington back in October. That move came after Greenburg reportedly sent a letter with, quote, “a concerning tone” to Bloomington’s city manager. Greenburg received a severance package from Bloomington last month, a move that city officials said could avert a lawsuit over his departure.
This Friday the 13th could be unlucky for travelers, especially this evening and overnight.
A winter weather advisory is in effect for the 970 WMAY listening area… with four to five inches of total snow accumulation expected.
Springfield is likely to see rain late this afternoon, changing over to snow with some light sleet possible early.
The heaviest snowfall will occur in the evening hours, but snow may continue off and on until early Saturday.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on this developing weather situation.
As the investigation continues into allegations of abuse and neglect at the Hope Institute, there’s been a temporary change at the top.
Chief operating officer Clint Paul will serve as acting chief executive officer… after CEO Karen Foley was recently hospitalized for an undisclosed medical condition.
A press release from Hope says Foley’s recovery is expected to take some time. Her condition is said to be unrelated to the ongoing probe at the residential facility for developmentally disabled children and young adults.
At least two young residents of Hope have recently sustained injuries… and two state agencies are looking into conditions there.
The Springfield School Board has turned to a familiar face to be the next superintendent of District 186.
Jennifer Gill spent nearly 20 years as a teacher and administrator in the district. She was one of two finalists to replace Walter Milton… who was ousted by the school board earlier this year.
Gill and the board are currently in negotiations over her contract… including pay and benefits.
Her official start date has not been set… but Gill says her top priority will be a thorough review of the district’s budget and ways to eliminate an expected $5 to 6 million deficit.
A ruling could come soon in the latest lawsuit accusing Springfield city officials of improperly discussing public business behind closed doors.
Judge John Schmidt is waiting for the city to produce a transcript of that executive session meeting last month, where Mayor Mike Houston and aldermen discussed the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Meanwhile, Alderman Sam Cahnman says he will try to revive an ordinance that would force the city to release the minutes and recording of that meeting publicly, even before the judge rules.
The ordinance stalled because of the pending litigation.
But Cahnman says Schmidt indicated that his ruling would not be affected one way or the other if the city went ahead and made the material public.
Longtime Springfield broadcaster Bob Murray is leaving the airwaves indefinitely because of health concerns.
Murray began as a popular top 40 DJ on what was then WCVS Radio in the 1970s.
He was later a weathercaster on both WICS and WAND… and was a morning and midday host here on 970 WMAY more than a decade ago.
No details were given on the nature of Murray’s illness or his prognosis.
Illinois State Police have launched a website that will let gun owners get a head start on their concealed carry permit application.
The website has information on how to obtain a “digital ID” for online permit applications. The site also includes information on getting a fingerprint scan done. Fingerprints are not required to obtain a concealed carry permit… but applicants who supply them will see their permit processed more quickly.
The site can be accessed through a link at the main State Police page… isp.state.il.us.
Jennifer Gill has been selected as the next superintendent of schools for Springfield District 186.
Gill was one of two finalists for the vacancy created when Superintendent Walter Milton was forced out earlier this year. She had been a longtime teacher and administrator in District 186, but left the District in 2012 to take a job in McLean County. She told a community forum Wednesday night that despite her connections and friendships with many in District 186, she would be able to make the tough decisions necessary to balance the district's budget.
The school board will now enter into contract negotiations with Gill to determine, among other things, her salary. The board hopes to complete that process and bring the contract for a final vote at its January 6th, 2014 meeting.
A ruling on a complaint about a closed-door discussion by Springfield’s mayor and aldermen could come later this month.
Illinois Times reporter Bruce Rushton is suing, claiming that the executive session meeting last month on the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery was improperly held away from public view. The judge in the case says he will rule once city officials provide a transcript of the closed-door meeting to the court.
Meanwhile, Alderman Sam Cahnman indicates he will once again push for a city council vote on an ordinance to release the minutes and recording of that meeting. The ordinance was on hold because of the pending litigation, but Cahnman says the judge indicated that his ruling would not be affected if the city chose to release the material publicly.
A state senator called 911 three times as his frustration mounted over the loud music at a downtown bar… and the failure of Springfield police to fix the problem at first.
That’s revealed in 911 recordings obtained by the Illinois Times. On the third call, Senator Antonio Munoz finally identified himself… and told the dispatcher that he had already contacted the director of the state police to complain that Springfield police had failed to stop the music coming from Marley’s Pub… a nightclub located below the downtown residence where Munoz was staying.
A short time later, Springfield police arrested Sean Layton… known professionally as DJ Evo… and charged him with disorderly conduct for the loud music. Munoz has been unavailable for comment.
Two former political opponents are now working together in hopes of salvaging a tax incentive plan that they say could mean hundreds of much-needed jobs for Decatur.
State Senator Andy Manar and Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy… who lost to Manar in that state senate race… are both urging an Illinois House vote on a tax credit plan for Archer Daniels Midland. The deal would give ADM tax credits in exchange for keeping its global headquarters in Illinois… and for creating hundreds of new jobs in Decatur to replace those lost when the global HQ is relocated to the Chicago area.
But their efforts may have hit a wall this week… when House Speaker Mike Madigan came out against what he calls “tax giveaways” for CEOs and “millionaire shareholders.”
One of the finalists to be the next Springfield school superintendent says it would be foolish to ignore issues of race in helping children cope with the challenges they face.
Michael Popp says he tried to be “colorblind” early in his career, but came to realize that the experiences of one group of students is not the same as those of another… and says that reality cannot be ignored as school districts try to close the achievement gap.
Both Popp and the other finalist, Jennifer Gill, spoke to a community meeting Wednesday night… and both said they would try to boost minority hiring in the district, but acknowledged it could be a difficult and long-range process.
The school board could announce its choice for superintendent in the next few days.
Thirty workers at the Hope Institute in Springfield were reportedly put on paid leave for a week in response to an investigation of alleged abuse and neglect at the residential facility.
That’s according to a union representative, quoted in today’s State Journal-Register.
DCFS is investigating a series of injuries… including a broken arm… suffered by a non-verbal 15-year-old boy who lives at the facility for developmentally-disabled children and young adults.
Hope Institute has declined to comment on the allegations or disciplinary action, except to say that it is cooperating with the investigation.
Republican voters in the March primary will find Wes Barr’s name listed first in the GOP contest for Sangamon County Sheriff.
Barr won a lottery conducted Wednesday at the county election offices.
Both he and opponent Jack Campbell turned in their nominating petitions at the start of the filing period last month, so the lottery was required to determine ballot placement.
Campbell will be listed second in the two-man race.
In the race for governor, Bill Brady will be listed first among the four GOP candidates for governor.
On the Democratic ballot, challenger Tio Hardiman will be listed ahead of incumbent Governor Pat Quinn.
However, Quinn supporters are challenging Hardiman’s petitions… and Hardiman is also challenging Quinn’s.
A petition challenge in the race for a Sangamon County judgeship accuses one of the candidates of, quote, “a pattern of fraud” that shows “contemptuous disregard” for election law.
Those words come from Kent Gray… who is challenging the petitions of Associate Judge John “Mo” Madonia for the seat being vacated by Judge Leo Zappa, Junior.
Gray says Madonia’s petitions are invalid because he lists his address as Springfield, rather than Leland Grove… refers to the 7th Judicial “District” instead of the 7th “Circuit”… and turned in petitions that were not of uniform size.
Madonia tells the State Journal-Register that the claims are mere technicalities, and he does not believe he will be knocked off the ballot.
A state police spokesperson has identified the lawmaker who was apparently behind the noise complaint that led to last week’s arrest of a club DJ in downtown Springfield.
The complainant was not identified in police documents obtained by 970 WMAY News… but those documents show the person who repeatedly called Springfield police on December 3rd claimed that he had already notified State Police Director Hiram Grau of the noise emanating from Marley’s Pub.
ISP spokesperson Monique Bond denies that Grau was contacted, but says staffers for state Senator Antonio Munoz did communicate with state police legislative staff the next day about the issue.
After several complaints… all from the same person… Springfield police did take Sean Layton, who works under the name DJ Evo, into custody on a disorderly conduct charge.
Munoz did not return a call seeking comment.
An arrest in Springfield has led to the discovery of a stockpile of drugs, guns and explosives at a home in Colorado.
Springfield police contacted Colorado authorities after arresting someone who they say was transporting 60 pounds of marijuana from Colorado.
Colorado officials then executed a search warrant at a home in Wellington, north of Denver, and discovered the drugs and weapons.
Springfield police are not commenting on the identity of the person they arrested.
An arrest in Springfield has led to a raid in Colorado that recovered guns, firearms, and a large amount of explosives.
Colorado authorities say they carried out a search warrant at a home in the town of Wellington, north of Denver near the Wyoming border.
Springfield police said the suspect they arrested had transported 60 pounds of marijuana from Colorado. Multiple charges are pending in the case.
Wes Barr will be listed first on the ballot when Sangamon County Republicans cast their primary vote for sheriff next March.
A lottery drawing at the county building gave Barr the top slot… opponent Jack Campbell’s name will appear second.
At the state level, Bill Brady’s name will appear first on the GOP gubernatorial primary ballot… followed by Dan Rutherford, Kirk Dillard and Bruce Rauner.
An Illinois State Police spokesperson confirms that the agency had contact with an Illinois lawmaker’s staff about the lawmaker’s loud music complaint… which led to the arrest of a downtown Springfield club DJ.
ISP spokesperson Monique Bond says there’s no indication that state Senator Antonio Munoz (MOO’-nyohs) contacted state police director Hiram Grau or anyone else in the agency while the incident was going on December 3rd. Springfield police records say the unidentified complainant told dispatchers that he had already complained to Grau as he demanded that city police put a stop to the loud music at Marley’s Pub. After several complaints from one person… apparently Munoz… Springfield police eventually arrested the club DJ on a disorderly conduct charge.
Bond says state police learned of the incident the next day, and that ISP legislative staffers communicated with Munoz’s staff about it. But she says the problem is a matter for the city, not state police. [So far, Munoz has not returned calls seeking comment.]
A coalition of non-profit groups is concerned that not enough is being done to ensure that the benefits… and burdens… of railroad relocation are being spread out evenly around the community.
The Faith Coalition for the Common Good entered into a “Community Benefits Agreement” four years ago that was intended to ensure that minorities and east-side residents would have a chance at jobs created by the railroad project. Money was supposed to be set aside for job training… and steps were to be taken to guarantee that residents near the 10th Street tracks would receive help if they were forced to move.
But the Coalition says there are few signs that any of those things are in the works… and they want to keep up pressure on the city, county and state to follow through on those commitments.
The two finalists for Springfield school superintendent are both warning that finding new revenue for the district may be difficult… and more painful budget cuts may be inevitable.
But Jennifer Gill and Michael Popp both say they will try to keep those cuts away from the classroom… and will make those decisions based upon solid data.
The two candidates appeared in separate live interviews this morning on 970 WMAY… both will also appear separately to take questions from the public at a community forum this evening, starting at 5:30 at Grant Middle School.
The full Springfield City Council… with one exception… will debate, and likely vote, on the proposed legal settlement with Calvin Christian over the police department file shredding scandal.
Alderman Sam Cahnman says he will not participate in discussions or votes on the $103,000 settlement.
Cahnman had been representing Christian in separate traffic citation cases involving Springfield police.
Cahnman says he is not aware of any specific rule of attorney conduct that he may have violated… but has decided to stay out of the discussions to avoid an appearance of impropriety.
Cahnman is also no longer representing Christian in those other cases.
A review panel that oversees the conduct of attorneys is upholding a recommendation for a censure of Alderman Sam Cahnman over a 2007 incident.
In that incident, Cahnman obtained a page from a judge’s personal appointment book and included it in a court filing.
Cahnman told the judge that he had permission to copy the page from the judge’s secretary… but she denied that.
A hearing panel found that Cahnman violated two rules of conduct and recommended a censure.
The review panel overturned one of those findings but upheld the other… and still says a censure is appropriate.
The unidentified person whose complaint about loud music led to the arrest of a club DJ last week reportedly had complained to the director of the Illinois State Police before Springfield police responded.
That new revelation is contained in police documents obtained by 970 WMAY through the Freedom of Information Act.
The complainant reportedly called Springfield police three times to demand that something be done to address the pounding music that DJ Evo was playing in Marley’s Pub on the morning of December 3rd.
That individual was the only person to complain, according to police.
During one of those calls he told dispatchers that he had contacted the state police director to enlist his help.
970 WMAY News has not been able to confirm that ISP Director Hiram Grau was contacted.
DJ Evo… whose real name is Sean Layton… was arrested after police say he failed to comply with their orders to turn the music down.
Read more about this story from Greg Bishop's blog.
A Springfield alderman who has in the past called for wage freezes for all city employees now says city elected officials should get a pay raise in their next term.
Alderman Joe McMenamin plans to introduce an ordinance that would permit yearly raises of no more than one-percent for the mayor, city clerk and treasurer, and aldermen… beginning with the start of the next term in 2015.
McMenamin says that with the cost-of-living, a one-percent yearly pay raise is virtually the same as a wage freeze.
A public meeting tonight will give the community the chance to hear from… and question… the two finalists for Springfield’s vacant school superintendent job.
Former Springfield principal Jennifer Gill… and suburban Chicago administrator Michael Popp… will each spend an hour answer questions in that forum that gets underway at 5:30 this evening at Grant Middle School.
The school board will meet in executive session afterward, although no final decision is expected to be announced tonight.
You’ll get the chance to hear from each of the contenders Wednesday morning on the “Jim Leach Show”… Gill will appear live at 7:10, and Popp will join us at 7:40 here on 970 WMAY.
Some state lawmakers are blaming Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan for the loss of the corporate headquarters for the newly merged Office Depot and Office Max.
Office Max had its HQ in Naperville… but the merged company has decided to operate out of the Office Depot facilities in Boca Raton, Florida.
“Tax implications” were given as one reason for the move.
The Illinois Senate approved a tax break deal last week aimed at getting the company to locate in Illinois… but the House failed to act on the bill.
The Springfield City Council will consider the six figure settlement in the internal affairs file shred case on next week's debate agenda. Aldermen discussed getting more access to various exhibits mentioned in depositions.
Ward 5's Sam Cahnman said he would recuse himself from discussing or voting on the case. It was revealed last week that Cahnman represented the plaintiff in a traffic case that is included in a police harassment case Calvin Christian brought against the city in federal court. Christian says he filed for a substitute attorney to replace Cahnman's representation in the traffic case Tuesday afternoon.
The Pure News reporter is suing the city for the destruction of internal affairs files he requested from Springfield Police. The settlement in front of aldermen would pay Christian and the attorneys from offices of Don Craven and John Meyer over $100,000.
Meanwhile, a move to release the executive session recordings of a discussion about the possible privatization Oak Ridge Cemetery is being held back after the city's Corporation Counsel urged the vote be postponed because of pending legal matters.
McMenamin moved to amend the ordinance to release only the minutes and recordings of the meeting pertaining to the discussion of possible Oak Ridge Cemetery privatization.
Alderman Gail Simpson says that "right, wrong or indifferent," the council should follow recommendations from city attorneys. Ward 1's Frank Edwards said the ordinance should be held back.
McMenamin, who has 35 years of legal experience, says he's acting as an alderman pushing for more transparency. He also notes that that the city's corporation counsel's office doesn't have a great track record.
The amendment passed, but the ordinance failed to get out of committee and could be brought back up for a committee vote in the future.
Bruce Rushton, a reporter for the Illinois Times, has a civil suit against the city claiming a violation of the open meetings act. Corporation Counsel John Mehlick says that the case will be in front of a judge Thursday. Rushton also has filed a criminal complaint against the city, which has been sent to the State's Attorney's office.
The issue of Privatizing Oak Ridge Cemetery was taken off the table after several aldermen stated they would never vote for handing over operations to any entity outside the city.
Calvin Christian has a new lawyer.
The Pure News reporter, who has several pending cases against the city of Springfield, tells WMAY News that he has signed papers to have a substitute attorney represent him in a traffic case that spurred questions about conflicts of interest.
Attorney Mark Wykoff will replace Alderman Sam Cahnman in a traffic violation that Christian cites in a federal harassment case he has pending against the city.
It’s unclear if this action allows Alderman Cahnman to vote in the question of a settlement in the internal affairs shredding case. Christian says Cahman has represented him the past and doesn’t know why the issue wasn’t brought out earlier.
Springfield Alderman will consider a six figure settlement with Christian during tonight’s Committee of the Whole
A review board is recommending a censure for Springfield alderman Sam Cahnman for his conduct in a case involving a page copied from a judge’s personal appointment book.
The review board of the state Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission overturned part of an earlier ruling that found Cahnman had violated two rules of conduct governing lawyers. The three-member panel says it believes Cahnman violated just one of those rules… but still recommended a censure from the Supreme Court.
Cahnman was accused of copying the page from the judge’s book without the knowledge of the judge or his secretary… and then misrepresenting to the judge how he obtained that page.
Another credit rating agency is giving Illinois a somewhat improved score… thanks to the recent pension reform deal.
Standard and Poor’s has changed its outlook on the state’s bonds from “negative” to “developing.”
The state’s actual credit rating remains unchanged at “A-minus”… but the improved outlook is a signal that the credit rating could be boosted in the future, especially if the pension reform deal survives an expected legal challenge.
A Springfield alderman who has called for wage freezes for city workers says he will propose some modest pay raises for aldermen and other city elected officials, including the mayor, city clerk and treasurer.
Ward 7’s Joe McMenamin plans to introduce an ordinance that calls for raises of no more than one-percent per year for each of the four years in those officials’ next term, starting in 2015.
McMenamin says the salaries of aldermen have been frozen for four years. He says the one-percent increase barely keeps pace with inflation… and thus is the equivalent of a wage freeze.
Local home sales were down slightly in November compared to a year ago… but year-to-date sales remain ahead of the pace set in 2012.
New numbers from the Capital Area Association of Realtors show 270 homes sold and closed last month… down from 278 a year earlier, a decrease of less than three-percent. But officials say November of 2012 was an unusually busy month for home sales, so they are pleased that this year’s numbers almost kept pace.
Overall home sales remain more than six-percent higher this year than last.
The company formed by the merger of Office Depot and Office Max has decided on Florida… rather than lllinois… for its corporate headquarters.
Office Depot, Inc., says multiple factors went into the decision… including tax implications. Illinois lawmakers had been considering a tax incentive plan to try to get the merged company to locate its headquarters in Naperville… but the bill was never called for a vote in the House.
It was not immediately clear how many of the company’s Illinois staffers might have to relocate to Florida.
DCFS is reportedly investigating an allegation of possible abuse at Springfield’s Hope Institute… after a 10-year-old boy was found with multiple bruises and a broken right arm.
The State Journal-Register reports the boy is described as “non-verbal.”
DCFS says it has stepped up its monitoring activities at the residential facility for developmentally-disabled children and young adults, but declined to comment further on the nature or status of its investigation.
The Sangamon County coroner now says Menard County State’s Attorney Ken Baumgarten died of a pulmonary embolism… related to an accident at his home last month.
Coroner Cinda Edwards had initially stated that Baumgarten died of natural causes Friday night at Memorial Medical Center, but issued the updated finding late Monday.
Baumgarten sustained broken bones in both feet last month when a horse fell on him… which could have caused a blood clot that traveled to his lungs.
Visitation is now planned for this Friday from 5 to 7pm, followed by funeral services the next day, both at Athens Christian Church.
Menard County officials are turning to an outside agency for help with the day-to-day operations of the state’s attorney’s office… until a replacement is chosen for Ken Baumgarten.
Baumgarten was the only attorney in the office… and handled all criminal prosecutions along with the county’s legal affairs.
The State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s office will handle matters until a new state’s attorney is appointed.
The Menard County Republican Party will submit a recommendation to the county board, which must approve the selection.
That person will serve until next November’s general election, when voters will choose someone to serve out the remaining two years of Baumgarten’s term.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is recovering after undergoing surgery Monday to remove his gall bladder.
Kirk went to a Chicago hospital over the weekend after suffering from stomach pains. Doctors diagnosed gallstones and performed surgery Monday morning.
A statement from Kirk’s office says the senator… who suffered a debilitating stroke almost two years ago… is expected to make a full recovery.
Illinois State Police have purchased a drone aircraft which the agency apparently intends to use for aerial photography of crime and accident scenes.
ISP officials are not saying much publicly about the $25,000 unmanned aerial vehicle, but an internal memo obtained by 970 WMAY News says there are no plans to use the drone for surveillance of criminal suspects… something that would in most cases require a warrant.
It’s unclear whether the drone has been used yet or how often it may be deployed… or whether there are plans to purchase more of the aircraft.
The Mega Millions multistate lottery prize is creeping back up again.
Another rollover last Friday night has pushed the jackpot for Tuesday to $344 million.
A revamp of the game earlier this year was intended to make it harder to win the grand prize… in hopes of driving the jackpot higher and boosting ticket sales.
A single winner who matches all the winning numbers on Tuesday would be able to claim a lump sum after taxes of almost $129 million.
A federal mediator met with teachers and administrators late into the night in Mt. Olive, trying to find an end to the impasse that sent teachers out on strike Monday.
Salary is the big sticking point in the Macoupin County town.
The district is offering two-percent raises for teachers… but the teachers say administrators have gotten much bigger raises and have promised teachers that they would also see larger increases, which haven’t materialized.
Menard County will ask the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s Office to take over criminal cases and the county’s day-to-day legal affairs… until a replacement can be named for State’s Attorney Ken Baumgarten, who died unexpectedly over the weekend.
Baumgarten was the only lawyer on staff in the State’s Attorney’s office. The county board chair says the Menard County GOP will submit a name for a recommended replacement to the county board, which must approve the selection. That person will serve until the next general election in November of 2014, but must then run again to fill out the final two years of Baumgarten’s term.
Baumgarten passed away Friday night of natural causes at the age of 55. Funeral arrangements are pending.
U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is recovering after surgery to remove his gallbladder.
Kirk’s staff issued a statement saying the senator went to the hospital over the weekend after experiencing stomach pains. Doctors diagnosed him with gallstones and performed the surgery Monday morning.
Kirk… who suffered a serious stroke in early 2012… is expected to make a full recovery.
A longtime Illinois Republican official has passed away.
Rich Williamson had served as the state’s representative to the Republican National Committee since 2010… and had previously served as state party chairman from 1999 to 2001. Williamson was also the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in 1992, but lost that race to Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun.
Williamson died over the weekend at the age of 64.
The two finalists to be Springfield’s next school superintendent will have a very busy day Wednesday.
Jennifer Gill and Michael Popp will each take part in a community forum Wednesday evening, starting at 5:30pm at Grant Middle School. At that event, they will answer questions submitted in writing by members of the audience. Both contenders will also meet with a panel of district employees… and go through a final interview with the school board.
Board member Scott McFarland says the board could make a final decision as early as Wednesday night, after those final interviews are concluded… but the selection won’t be announced until a contract is negotiated.
Gill and Popp will also appear live Wednesday morning in separate interviews on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show.”
It looks like the Illinois State Police may be adding drone aircraft to their toolbox.
An internal State Police memo obtained by 970 WMAY says a $25,000 unmanned aerial vehicle will be used to provide photography of crime and traffic accident scenes. The memo indicates the drone craft, equipped with a high-definition camera, would not be used for surveillance of suspects… something that would require a warrant.
ISP officials so far have provided very little information on-the-record about its plans for the drone and how many of the devices it intends to purchase and deploy.
The ACLU of Illinois is giving high praise to Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser… who says his office won’t prosecute anyone arrested for recording police officers acting in the line of duty.
Such recording, without consent of all involved, was prohibited under the state’s eavesdropping law. But Milhiser has notified police agencies that recent court rulings have made that section of the law unenforceable. ACLU Senior Legal Counsel Adam Schwartz says recordings of police during traffic stops and other incidents can protect everyone involved… and notes that Milhiser’s decision now means everyone will follow the same rules.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” Schwartz called Milhiser’s decision “enlightened,” and says he hopes other police agencies and prosecutors follow his lead.
The Mega Millions multistate lottery prize is creeping back up again. Another rollover last Friday night has pushed the jackpot for Tuesday to $344 million.
A revamp of the game earlier this year was intended to make it harder to win the grand prize… in hopes of driving the jackpot higher and boosting ticket sales.
A single winner who matches all the winning numbers on Tuesday would be able to claim a lump sum after taxes of almost $129 million.
Area roads are in better shape this morning… after a light covering of snow and ice Sunday night created hazardous conditions for drivers and caused multiple fender-benders and cars in ditches.
No serious injuries were reported from any of those incidents.
Several school districts, primarily south of Springfield, are closed today because of the weather… they include Taylorville, Pana, Carlinville, North Mac, Panhandle, and South Fork-Kincaid.
Memorial services have not yet been set for Menard County State’s Attorney Ken Baumgarten.
Baumgarten died Friday night at Memorial Medical Center of natural causes. He was 55. He had served as Menard County’s top prosecutor for 15 years, and had recently filed to run for circuit judge.
There’s been no official word yet on who will take over the state’s attorney’s office for the remainder of Baumgarten’s term.
He is survived by his wife, former Channel 20 anchor Susan Finzen, and two children.
A public meeting will be held Wednesday for the community to meet the two finalists for Springfield’s vacant school superintendent job.
The school board narrowed a field of six contenders down to just two… former Springfield principal Jennifer Gill… who now works in McLean County… and Michael Popp, an administrator in the Indian Prairie school district in northern Illinois.
The community will get to hear from both candidates at a meeting that begins at 5:30pm Wednesday at Grant Middle School.
It’s official… you can now record video and audio of police in Sangamon County as they carry out their official duties.
The practice of recording anyone… including police… without their consent is prohibited under the state’s eavesdropping statute.
But that portion of the law pertaining to police was thrown out by a federal appeals court, making it unenforceable.
WICS Newschannel 20 reports that Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Milhiser has notified police agencies that there’s no need to arrest people recording police in the performance of their duties, because his office will not prosecute.
A Chicago man with more than two dozen criminal arrests on his record is now making over $110,000 a year as an administrator in the state Department of Corrections.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that many of Xadrian McCraven’s arrests were later thrown out and expunged… but he did plead guilty to a weapons charge in 1989 and was convicted in a domestic battery case in 1998.
He was fired from a job at DCFS last year, but sued… and as part of the settlement, was transferred to the job at DOC.
Menard County State's Attorney Ken Baumgarten has died unexpectedly. Baumgarten passed away Friday night at a Springfield hospital. He was 55.
Baumgarten had served as Menard County's top prosecutor for 15 years, and recently began a campaign for circuit judge. He was married to former Channel 20 news anchor Susan Finzen; the couple had two children.
Sangamon County Coroner Cinda Edwards says Baumgarten died of natural causes. He was injured last month in an accident at the family's home, but it's unclear if that was a factor in his death. No autopsy is planned, according to Edwards.
Pension Reform is now the law of the land and a public sector union coalition isn’t happy.
Governor Pat Quinn signed the measure to shore up Illinois worst-in-the-nation pension crisis.
The We Are One Coalition promises a court fight, claiming the measures passed by lawmakers this week is an unconstitutional diminishment of benefits.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford who is running in the GOP primary for governor opposed the legislation saying there is a constitutional argument.
Rutherford hopes for an expeditious resolution to the issue and says that all parties should have a role in the final outcome.
The resignation of the City of Springfield’s Acting Corporation Counsel had nothing to do with recent dust ups over questions of conflicts of interest, according to Mayor Mike Houston.
The mayor says that John Mehlick did have some frustrations with dealing with Aldermanic requests, but this week’s exchange with Ward 5 Alderman Sam Cahnman dealing with possible conflicts of interest didn’t play a role in his decision.
There were also questions about Mehlick’s role in a case involving FOIA Shred Case Plaintiff Calvin Christian when Mehilick was a judge, but Houston dismissed that concern as a possible conflict of interest.
Houston says Mehlick informed him of his plan to depart the city way before this week’s city council meeting. Mehlick’s last day is December 14.
Houston says he will actively seek a replacement for the office.
The mayor also says he is still seeking a replacement for a police chief.
Both offices were left vacant earlier this year in the wake of revelations over the destruction of police internal affairs files.
Mayor Mike Houston calls a DJ recently arrested in downtown Springfield a “liar.”
The incident early Tuesday morning downtown Springfield involved the arrest of Sean Layton, also known as DJ Evo.
Layton tells WMAY he was told by the arresting officer that orders were given by Mayor Houston after he the mayor received a call from a lawmaker who was staying above the bar Monday night. Houston denies that he had any role in the arrest.
Layton was arrested for disorderly conduct.
In an effort to trim more from the Springfield School Budget, teachers could be asked to take on one extra period a day.
Interim Superintendent Bob Lemming tells the State Journal-Register that the move could save the school district more than $1 million, from an already estimated $6 million that needs to be cut from the upcoming budget.
The move could eliminate a collaboration period teachers have to work on things like new common core standards and move them to spend more times with students.
The Springfield School Board could take up the measure later this month.
Meanwhile, members of the school board will be meeting with candidates to take on the superintendent job behind closed doors this weekend with planed public session with the final two or three candidates next week.
Those who were hoping to see Willie Nelson a couple of months ago will get their chance late in 2014.
The concert scheduled for this past September at the Sangamon Auditorium was postponed when the 80-year-old country singer became ill.
Organizers announced the concert will now take place August 12th at Sangamon Auditorium. Tickets are on sale now.
Ticket holders from the postponed September show can have the same seats. Those who have tickets and are unable to make the rescheduled concert have until January 24th to request refunds.
Pension reform is now the law… and soon it will be the subject of a lawsuit.
Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill almost as soon as it reached his desk. Quinn says the $160 billion plan is a vital part of fixing Illinois’s fiscal crisis… and he believes the courts will uphold it for that reason.
But public sector unions say no amount of savings trumps the state constitution… and they say they are preparing a suit that will seek to overturn the new law because it unfairly reduces current and future pension benefits.
Year-to-date jobless claims in Springfield are at their lowest level in more than a decade.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce says the figures for September and October were delayed because of the partial federal government shutdown… but the numbers appear to be worth the wait.
Around 8500 jobless claims have been processed locally so far this year… compared to around 10,000 at the same point a year ago. The Chamber says it’s the best showing since 2002.
Mayor Mike Houston admits that it may not be easy to find another local attorney to take on the job of corporation counsel for the city.
Two people have resigned from that post in less than six months… Mark Cullen back in July because of the police department file shredding incident, and now his temporary replacement, John Mehlick, has resigned.
Houston says Mehlick had multiple reasons for leaving, including frustrations over his dealings with aldermen. And the mayor says that frustration isn’t lost on other local attorneys, who may be reluctant to take on the headaches associated with the job.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston has some blunt words for the club DJ who accused him of pulling strings to get the DJ arrested.
Houston says Sean Layton… who goes by the name DJ Evo… is, quote, “a liar.” Layton was booked on a disorderly conduct charge Monday night after police said he kept blaring his music at a downtown bar, creating a nuisance.
Houston denies any involvement with the incident, and suggests Layton is simply trying to cause controversy or make a name for himself.
The “Help Wanted” sign is out again in Springfield’s corporation counsel office.
Retired judge John Mehlick, who had been serving as Mayor Mike Houston’s top lawyer since the summer, has submitted his resignation, effective December 14th.
A spokesman for Houston was in the meeting where Mehlick announced his decision, but says Mehlick did not offer a reason for his departure.
Mehlick stepped in after Mark Cullen resigned as corporation counsel following revelations about his role in the police department file shredding scandal.
But in recent weeks, Mehlick has clashed with aldermen on several issues… including their claims that he has dragged his feet on drafting ordinances for them.
Two Springfield aldermen say their issues with the Houston administration go straight to the top… and suggest that the most recent public dispute makes it look like the mayor has something to hide.
Houston and his legal team said this week that Alderman Sam Cahnman has a conflict of interest and should not be involved in discussions over settling the police department file shredding lawsuit.
Plaintiff Calvin Christian has retained Cahnman to defend him in several recent traffic citation cases brought by the city.
But Cahnman… who has demanded more disclosure from the mayor’s office about the file shredding case…says it looks like the mayor just wants to silence him. Alderman Joe McMenamin agrees.
A local lawmaker is questioning why judges are being singled out for special treatment on the issue of pension reform.
While the bill passed this week makes significant changes to four of the state’s five public pension systems, the system that governs pensions for judges was exempt.
Republican Representative Bill Mitchell of Forsyth says that decision makes judges a “new aristocracy” who don’t have to face the same rules or challenges as other public employees.
Critics of the pension reform bill contend judges were left out in order to improve the chances that the bill would withstand a court challenge.
A DJ at a downtown Springfield club… who was arrested this week for playing music too loud… says he was targeted by someone with high-level connections.
Sean Layton, who works under the name DJ Evo, is charged with disorderly conduct and a city noise ordinance violation.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Kramer Show” Wednesday, he believes the complaint originated with a state lawmaker who was staying in an apartment above Marley’s Pub… and contends that official contacted people high up at Springfield City Hall to force a police response.
City officials deny the allegation.
A police report indicates Layton repeatedly failed to comply with requests to turn down the level of bass in the music.
Sangamon County officials say thousands of county residents are uninsured… but so far, only dozens have approached the county health department about trying to find a policy under the Affordable Care Act.
The health department is now meeting with residents who have signed up for one-on-one appointments to navigate the state and federal insurance exchanges.
Around 15 people have found coverage… all of them under the state’s expanded Medicaid program.
County health director Jim Stone says his staff hasn’t yet had to take the revamped federal healthcare.gov site out for a spin… but he expects that will happen soon, and he hopes the site truly works better than it did in the weeks after it was first launched in October.
For the second time in six months, the person serving as the top lawyer for the City of Springfield has resigned.
The city issued a one-sentence statement saying Acting Corporation Counsel John Mehlick has submitted his resignation, effective December 14th. No reason was given for Mehlick's decision to step down. Mayoral spokesman Nathan Mihelich says he was in the meeting when Mehlick informed Mayor Mike Houston of his intention to resign, but Mihelich says Mehlick did not offer any specific reason for the decision.
Mehlick was appointed by Mayor Mike Houston to replace Mark Cullen, who resigned last summer following revelations about his role in the police department file shredding scandal. Mehlick is a retired judge.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on this developing story.
An area lawmaker is critical of the fact that judges were left out of the pension reform deal that reduced benefits for most other public sector workers in the state.
Republican Bill Mitchell says judges get a much larger pension than the average teacher or state worker… but they will continue to receive the compounded three-percent cost-of-living increase that is being taken away from the other pension systems.
He says the bill turns judges into a “new aristocracy” and "super-citizens" who can't be touched by the same rules that affect other public employees. Some opponents of the pension bill believe judges were specifically excluded to improve the chances that the bill won't be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.
Two Springfield aldermen say the Houston administration’s handling of the Calvin Christian settlement makes it look like the mayor is guilty of… something.
Both Sam Cahnman and Joe McMenamin made similar statements (live on 970 WMAY's "Bishop On Air") in response to the contention from top city officials that Cahnman should recuse himself from discussions of the settlement in the Christian case because of a potential conflict of interest.
Cahnman has represented Christian in several traffic cases, but he says the administration’s attack on him smacks of an attempt to cover up its own issues.
Sangamon County health officials are picking up the pace of appointments to help local residents get signed up for required health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The health department has scheduled dozens of appointments to assist people in navigating the online signup. But county health director Jim Stone says so far, all of those people have wound up going through the state’s expanded Medicaid program… not the troubled federal website, so he still doesn’t know if the nagging problems with healthcare.gov have really been fixed.
Stone says a full contingent of staff is on standby to help people sign up for coverage before a December 23rd deadline. [To schedule an appointment, call the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.]
A new study of the state’s readiness for a major disaster finds Illinois is in line with most of the nation in its ability to respond to big emergencies.
The National Health Security Preparedness Index gives the state high marks for its ability to test for and detect potential causes in the event of a widespread event involving food contamination, and also for its plans to distribute and dispense medical supplies on a large scale.
But the state ranks below average for its plans to identify and mobilize medical personnel who may be needed in a crisis, and to provide assistance to special needs populations in a public health emergency. State health officials say they’re working on ways to shore up those deficiencies.
The next stop will be a courtroom in the fight over public sector pensions in Illinois.
The General Assembly on Tuesday approved a major pension reform bill that aims to save $160 billion over 30 years by reducing cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age for many workers.
Unions representing teachers, state workers and others say the legislation is an unconstitutional reduction of the benefits that the state has promised to provide, and say they will sue to have it overturned.
A new round of fireworks has delayed a vote on the proposed settlement between the City of Springfield and the reporter who is suing over shredded police department internal affairs files.
Attorney Jon Gray Noll, who was hired by the city to represent it in the cases brought by Calvin Christian, says Alderman Sam Cahnman has a conflict of interest and should not be involved in the settlement discussions.
Cahnman is representing Christian in one of the numerous traffic citation cases that is included in a separate federal lawsuit in which Christian accuses the city of harassment.
The new wrinkle led aldermen to delay a planned emergency passage vote on the settlement.
That vote will now take place in two weeks… when it will require fewer votes for approval.
In other City Council action, aldermen approved a new three-year contract for Springfield firefighters.
The only “no” vote came from Alderman Joe McMenamin, who voices concerns about the contract’s pay raises and its impact on the city’s pension debt.
The council also lifted a moratorium on boathouse construction at Lake Springfield… and approved a program that will encourage minority students to pursue careers in engineering or other fields related to railroad work.
The city, Sangamon County, and Hanson Professional Services will each contribute $20,000 to that effort.
A bill that would have given tax breaks to Archer Daniels Midland and other Illinois corporations, in order to keep some of their jobs in the state, has stalled.
The Senate approved the $88 million package on Tuesday, but the House adjourned without acting on the bill, meaning nothing can happen until the legislature’s spring session.
ADM said in a statement that it is now reviewing its options about where to relocate its global headquarters, currently based in Decatur, and will have an announcement soon.
A scare that prompted a lockdown of a downtown Springfield office building has now become a matter for the police.
A portion of the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services, across from the Capitol, was closed down when a powder spilled from an envelope.
The powder was just baby powder and posed no danger, but a note in the same envelope constituted a “legitimate threat,” according to Springfield fire chief Ken Fustin.
Fustin would not elaborate.
He’s been one of the state’s two U.S. Senators for nearly three years… but Republican Mark Kirk remains an unknown quantity to many voters.
A new survey finds 32-percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him… while an identical 32-percent have a negative view.
But 37-percent say they have no opinion of Kirk at all.
Kirk spent more than a year largely out of public view as he recovered from a debilitating stroke he suffered in early 2012.
Attorneys for the City of Springfield say an alderman has a conflict of interest in the case with a possible six-figure settlement, news which led other aldermen to hold the settlement in committee.
Just after a motion for executive session to discuss the settlement Tuesday, John Gray Noll said that Ward 5 Aldermen Sam Cahnman represents Calvin Christian in a traffic ticket from 2012.
Noll says that same traffic ticket is also cited in Christian's federal harassment case against the city. Cahnman says that if he would have known about the conflict of interest, he would have withdrawn from representing Christian.
Corporation Counsel John Mehlick says withdrawing doesn't remove the conflict. Cahnman says he will consult his attorney on how to proceed.
Aldermen voted against executive session and then voted to hold the settlement in committee, both votes Cahnman abstained from. Christian is suing the city of Springfield over the destruction of police internal affairs files he requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
The settlement would pay Christian and his attorneys $103,000 and would also not require the city to disclose any more information. The settlement will be discussed further next week.
Two weeks of intensive details have paid off for Springfield police.
Multiple enforcement efforts aimed at DUI and seat belt offenses generated two dozen citations for failing to buckle up… and 11 arrests for drunk driving. City cops also made 33 felony arrests, captured 58 fugitives and wrote 67 speeding tickets in those details from November 18th through December 1st.
Total numbers, as released by SPD:
24 Seatbelt Citations
2 Child car seat citations
11 DUI arrests
33 Felony arrests
2 Stolen vehicles recovered
58 Fugitives apprehended
27 Suspended/Revoked drivers
75 Uninsured motorists
67 Speeding citations
24 Drug arrests
Springfield fire officials say a suspicious substance that spilled from an envelope in a state office mailroom turns out to be baby powder. But the contents of a letter in that same envelope prompted authorities to treat the incident as a "legitimate threat" intended to strike fear into people, and the incident will be referred to law enforcement as a potential criminal case.
Workers in the mailroom at the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services at College and Monroe downtown were segregated from other employees while the substance was tested. Fire chief Ken Fustin says no one showed any symptoms and no one was harmed.
Fustin would not disclose the contents of the letter that prompted authorities to raise the threat level of the incident. He says there did not appear to be a return address on the envelope.
A Springfield alderman says he may try to postpone tonight’s vote on a proposed settlement of the lawsuit brought against the city by a local reporter.
Mayor Mike Houston has proposed the settlement to pay Calvin Christian and his lawyers more than $100,000 to end Christian’s lawsuit over shredded police department internal affairs files. But Alderman Sam Cahnman is concerned about all the things that alderman and taxpayers still don’t know about the case… details that the settlement does nothing to clear up.
The ordinance is on emergency passage tonight. It would take a total of eight votes to approve the measure this evening. Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” Cahnman says he will push to delay the vote for at least two weeks so that aldermen can read depositions from the lawsuit and other relevant material before deciding whether to accept the settlement.
One of Illinois’s top insurance companies is “un-canceling” policies for potentially thousands of state residents.
Blue Cross Blue Shield customers had faced the loss of policies that do not comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But after a nationwide backlash, the Obama administration changed the rules to allow companies to offer those policies for one more year.
The Chicago Tribune reports Blue Cross Blue Shield will allow customers to keep those policies… but they could face higher premiums for the same coverage. The company says affected customers may still wish to pursue different coverage options through the federal healthcare.gov website.
The stakes are high as lawmakers return to Springfield today for what is expected to be a one-day special legislative session.
Governor Pat Quinn calls today’s scheduled vote on a pension reform plan “the most important fiscal vote that will ever be taken by the General Assembly in [his] lifetime.”
But public sector unions and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford say the bill is unconstitutional.
And Bruce Rauner… who, like Rutherford, is running for governor… says the bill doesn’t do enough to address the state’s growing pension crisis.
The filing period for the March 2014 primary is over… and no Democrats have submitted petitions to run for any of the three countywide offices that will be on next year’s ballot.
No contenders submitted petitions to challenge GOP incumbent county clerk Joe Aiello or treasurer Tom Cavanagh.
In the race for sheriff, two Republicans will face off in the GOP primary… but for the moment, the winner will not have an opponent next November.
The Sangamon County Democratic Party could add candidates to the ballot after the primary next year… or candidates could try to get on the general election ballot by waging a write-in campaign in the primary.
Several candidates for statewide office got their petitions in with just hours to spare Monday.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon will challenge incumbent Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka next year.
And Michael Webster submitted his petitions to run as a Republican against Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White.
In the race for Attorney General, Republican Paul Schimpf filed petitions just before Thanksgiving for the seat currently held by Democrat Lisa Madigan, who is seeking re-election.
The Springfield school board is gearing up for a long day Saturday.
Board members will interview six semifinalists for the vacant superintendent job behind closed doors.
After those interviews are done, the board will publicly announce the names of two to three finalists… who will return to Springfield days later, on December 11th, for public question-and-answer sessions.
After that, the board will make a final selection and will attempt to negotiate a contract with that person by the end of the year.
Springfield city residents who took advantage of exceptional weekend weather to finish up their raking will get a break from the city’s public works department.
Springfield’s free leaf pickup program was supposed to wrap up last weekend, but Public Works Director Mark Mahoney says the city will keep working this weekend to pick up… for free… any leaves that were bagged up and at curbside by Monday morning.
After that final pass, though, Mahoney says residents will have to purchase stickers to get their leaves and other yard waste picked up.
The City of Springfield is making one more sweep this week as part of its free leaf pickup program.
The free pickup was supposed to have ended this past weekend, but public works director Mark Mahoney says bad weather early in November may have kept some people from completing their raking. Since there was very good weather over the past weekend, Mahoney says there are a lot of people who finally got their leaves bagged and need the free pickup.
He says any leaves that were bagged and put out by the curb by early Monday morning will be picked up this week for free… otherwise, people will have to put stickers on those bags to get them picked up.
State Treasurer… and GOP candidate for governor… Dan Rutherford is coming out against the pension reform plan that goes before lawmakers this week.
Rutherford says in a statement that he doesn’t believe the current proposal would stand up to a court challenge. He says changes to pensions can be made if enough “consideration” is given to workers in exchange for benefits that are lost, but Rutherford says this bill fails to do that.
Another Republican for governor, Bruce Rauner, has also come out against the bill… but he says it doesn’t do enough to restrict pension benefits for public sector workers.
There was Black Friday, and Cyber Monday… and now comes “Giving Tuesday.”
(Tomorrow,) Tuesday, December 3rd has been given that designation locally as part of a nationwide effort to encourage people to donate to charitable causes. In Springfield, there is a specific emphasis on groups and organizations that support early childhood education. Organizers hope the designation will focus as much attention on charitable giving as those other landmark dates do to get people thinking about holiday shopping.
One local program that is seeking help is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which has provided free books to hundreds of Springfield-area preschoolers. A change in a corporate grant has left the program with only enough money for three more months of operation unless a benefactor steps forward.
Another fundraiser is planned later this month to help the victims of the devastating November tornadoes across Illinois and Indiana.
Culver’s restaurants in both states will donate 10-percent of sales on Wednesday, December 11th to the American Red Cross to assist with the tornado relief and recovery effort. In Springfield, Culver’s West on Wabash will participate in the one-day fundraising event.
Culver’s says anyone who can’t make it to the restaurant on December 11th is encouraged to donate directly to the Red Cross.
The Republican candidates for governor are weighing in on the pension reform plan that could come up for a vote in the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Bruce Rauner is the harshest critic… saying it does not save enough money and continues to provide overly-generous benefits to public sector union members.
And Rauner opposes the bill’s provision to establish pension funding guarantees… saying that puts pensions ahead of education and other essential services.
Another GOP candidate, state Senator Kirk Dillard, says there should be more hearings and discussion before a final vote.
But state Senator Bill Brady supports the bill, and defends the push for fast action. He says most of the provisions have been discussed and vetted for months.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has so far not commented on the bill.
A 75-year-old motorcyclist from Springfield is dead following a crash Sunday afternoon on Interstate 55 near the Carlinville exit.
State police say Ronald Ames was traveling northbound on the interstate when traffic began to slow.
A vehicle directly in front of Ames changed lanes to pass a slower-moving SUV hauling a trailer.
Ames was unable to avoid striking the trailer. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
More people are reporting that they’ve received fake text messages, informing them that their credit or debit card has been “deactivated” and trying to get them to call a local number.
The messages claim to be from a local bank… but they’re not, and police say it’s an apparent scam.
If you receive such a message, the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office says you should not call the phone number in the text message.
Instead, you should call police.
Springfield aldermen will have several contentious ordinances in front of them for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
One on first reading calls for the immediate release of minutes and recordings of a closed-door meeting last month to discuss the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
That meeting is the subject of a legal challenge, even though Mayor Mike Houston has now dropped the idea of hiring a private firm to run the cemetery.
The other ordinance on emergency passage would put the city into an agreement with Sangamon County and Hanson Professional Services to run a “minority participation program.”
Each of the three participants would pay $20,000 a year for the program, which would try to steer minority students with an interest in science or technology into careers like engineering, or jobs related to railroads.
Another ordinance on emergency passage would settle the police internal affairs shredding case with Calvin Christian for $103,000.
Ordinances on Emergency Passage require 8 votes to pass.
Springfield aldermen will vote Tuesday on a proposal to spend $20,000 a year on a program aimed at steering minority youth toward careers in engineering and other jobs related to railroads.
Sangamon County and Hanson Professional Services would also contribute $20,000 each per year to the Minority Participation Project.
Alderman Doris Turner says with Springfield starting its railroad relocation project, the timing is right for an effort like this.
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