Sunday, April 26, 2015

This week's BUG Award winners

GCMS Elementary principal Justin Kean announces this week's BUG (Being Unbelievably Good) Award winners:

5th Grade
Ashley Hyatt
Molly Kroon
Jacob Rutledge
Tyler Lange

4th Grade
David Zbinden
Ty Harden
Seth Barnes
Syda Schlickman

3rd Grade
Ryan Carley
Ella Brake
Allison Spiller
Getty Greer

2nd Grade
Cale Bane
Matthew Allen
Keely Williams
Zack Abinden

1st Grade
Kaida McElhaney
Ely Harden
Sarah Higgins
Claire Day

Kindergarten
Jodi Bauer
Brett Rutledge
Michael Harders
Olivia Wilson

Reducing too many local governments a goal of a house bill

An instrument to reduce the number of local governments in Illinois has enough votes to pass the House.

The bill would allow county boards to dissolve units of government whose trustees are mostly appointed by that county board. The state has about 7,000 units of government.

"We've heard time and time again how difficult it is for local governments to consolidate, to dissolve, to work together," said a supporter, State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon). "One of the other things we've heard is from the County of DuPage and the success they've had with this very law: we've heard (of) significant financial savings and a streamlining of government."

An opponent called the measure "Big Brother." The proposal is effective only in McHenry and Lake Counties but surely has attention of local officials statewide.

Another whiff of "Big Brother," opponents say, surrounds a bill regulating the collection of information from your license plate via police cameras. The bill, which passed despite allegations of racial profiling, would allow police to hold the information for up to 30 months, with a provision to keep it longer.
  • H.B. 229 (consolidation) passed the House, 61-40-4. A motion to reconsider has been tabled, so the bill is not yet going to the Senate.
  • H.B. 3289 (license plate information) passed the House, 75-24-11.

Child advocate groups saluted for their work

Illinois' children's advocacy centers are being saluted for their work.

These organizations help prevent child abuse across the state, and George Sheldon, the director of the Department of Children and Family Services, says they're valuable.

"As I understand it, there are 37 CACs around the state of Illinois, in 92 of 102 counties," said Sheldon, who is new to Illinois, having just arrived from Florida. "That's a remarkable outreach that really assists us in better providing services."

In 2014, these 37 children's advocacy centers conducted 5,400 forensic interviews, including 2,000 on behalf of law enforcement. These led to 1,856 substantiations of child abuse at DCFS, and 1,750 arrests.

Specialty plates program may change in Illinois

Your favorite sports team. A charity or hobby you favor. A special event in your town. Illinois has nearly 200 specialty license plates that do more than simply show you have paid your registration fees for your car or truck.

The way the state does that would change, under a bill which has passed the state House.

The specialty plates would become "one universal plate," says the sponsor, State Rep. John D'Amico (D-Chicago). "Because there have been so many problems with our police officers and law enforcement; there are so many plates on the street."

A driver would be able to get a plate with a blank space to which he or she could affix a sticker affirming their fondness for the University of Illinois, their friendliness to pets, their opposition to breast cancer, and so on. All that would change, D'Amico says, would be the format of a sticker on a "universal" plate, as opposed to the dozens of distinctive plates.

The only No voter, State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), said he didn't accept the idea that police officers have difficulty reading license plates. He also did not like the idea of a "bland" plate to which you would apply the sticker.

H.B. 1081 passed the House, 108-1.

Low Income Energy Assistance Program may be on the chopping block

A program to help low-income household pay their heating bills is on the state budget chopping block.

The governor's proposed budget includes eliminating state funding to the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program wouldn't disappear, because federal money provides approximately two-thirds of its overall funding.

Utility customers pay a surcharge which helps funds the state-backed portion of program. State Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) questions why that money would be going into the state's General Revenue Fund.

"I think people reluctantly pay that surcharge on the meter, understanding, well, one of these days, it could be me. I might need the help," Crespo said.

The explanation offered by Jim Schultz, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is the administration believes those dollars can be used more effectively in other areas. 
'
"The purpose of using these funds in a different way is actually, hopefully, to build even further in economic development to create more jobs and more opportunity," Schultz testified.

Schultz says more than 128,000 households get assistance through the state's support of the program.

Chanute Air Musuem to close by December 30th

One of the last signs that Rantoul at one time held an Air Force base will vanish at the end of this year.

Chanute Air Museum, which has operated in the community since the spring of 1994 — just months after the closure of the base the previous fall — will close Dec. 30.

Village of Rantoul officials had asked the air museum to help pay more of its costs of operation. The village had footed most of the bill to keep the museum open and can no longer afford to do that, Jeff Fiegenschuh, village administrator, said.

Fiegenschuh and Rune Duke, airport manager, met with air museum officials Wednesday and received the news.

The closing is caused by a trickle-down effect of BRG Sports ceasing to be a long-time tenant of Hangar 1 at the airport — the lease had generated substantial income for the facility — and the construction of the new Lincoln’s Challenge Academy campus in Rantoul. The academy, which has been paying $18,000-a-year rent and $75,000 a year for utilities, will move out of Grissom Hall, which it shared with the air museum, and into its new campus in 2016.

Other Grissom Hall tenants are Rantoul Historical Society Museum, Rantoul Theatre Group and Rantoul Community Bicycle Recycling Program.

The air museum, which has a monthly operating budget of about $10,000, was paying the village $5,000 a year rent. The rent figure would also have climbed if the museum had remained in the building.

Fiegenschuh said the airport lost half a million dollars last year, and utility costs of $350,000 were a big part in that.

Kobel said air museum officials had studied several options to keep the museum open, including building a new facility and raising sufficient funds to pay the full cost of utilities and rent that would allow for “energy-efficient improvements to the building.” But it soon became apparent that closure was the only viable option.

Even if someone would build the museum a new building, Kobel said, it could not afford to keep it open.

Kobel said the village has done a great deal to help the museum, but Fiegenschuh said the village could no longer continue to pay the costs.

Cope wins dice roll, gives up board seat

Moments after Rod Cope and Phil Whitehouse rolled dice to break their tied vote totals from the April 7 election, the victorious Cope made the surprise announcement that he will be giving up his newly obtained four-year term on the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school board to his defeated opponent.

Cope and Whitehouse both live in Gibson City and work at State Farm Insurance in Bloomington. Whitehouse, 33, who has served on the school board for four years, said Thursday he was aware of the possibility of Cope giving up his seat if declared the winner, but he said he was never told anything “official.”
Cope said he made the decision not long after the two ended up tying for the third and final available seat on the board that was up for election.

Ford County Clerk Linda Kellerhals released certified results Wednesday, showing Cope and Whitehouse each received 463 votes.  Newcomer Miranda Leonard of Gibson City had the most votes with 562, followed by incumbent Steve Swearingen of Melvin with 467, according to official totals from Ford, Champaign, Livingston and McLean counties.

To break the tie between Cope and Whitehouse, the clerk’s office had the two candidates each roll a die at the courthouse on Thursday afternoon — the first time such a tie-breaker had to be used in an election in Kellerhals’ nearly 18 years as county clerk.

Cope rolled first, getting a “6,” before Whitehouse drew a “2.” Because Cope had the highest number, he was declared the victor.

Cope broke the news in the courthouse lobby, with Whitehouse standing nearby, that he would not be fulfilling the term he just won.

Cope said his decision rested on the fact he no longer has children attending GCMS schools, while Whitehouse has kids in the school system. Cope’s youngest son, Bryant, graduated from GCMS High School last year.

Cope noted that he only sought re-election this time around because he was unsure whether there would be a full slate of candidates. Not until after the filing deadline did he know there were more candidates than seats available.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Compton gets natural life in prison for child murder conviction

Convicted murderer Nicholas Compton was sentenced to natural life in prison Thursday for the 2013 death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old son that came after two weeks of ongoing abuse that left the toddler with more than 30 injuries.

Robbie Cramer stopped breathing on March 26, 2013, after he crawled into bed with his mother, Danielle Fischer, and Compton, both of Normal. When he arrived at the hospital, emergency responders and medical staff were immediately suspicious of the large number of bruises, scrapes and abrasions that covered the boy's body.

But it was an internal injury found by forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton during the boy's autopsy that explained the peritonitis that caused the child's death. A bruise on the child's body was linked to the fatal abdominal injury that was left untreated, the doctor said.

Judge Charles Feeney said Compton's cruel and heinous conduct deserved a life sentence.

"By all accounts, the month of March 2013 was an absolutely horrible month for Robert Cramer. That month, that child was essentially imprisoned in a hellhole," said Feeney.

Images shown at the trial from security video from Walmart depicted the seriously ill child on a shopping trip with his mother and Cramer hours before his death. Those pictures told the story that the child was unable to convey, said Feeney.

"The Walmart pictures were startling to the court in multiple ways," said Feeney, noting that the couple had purchased over-the-counter medications for the failing toddler.

The judge also cited Denton's testimony that an imprint from Compton's shoe matched an injury to the child's head.

"There's nothing that Robert Cramer could have done to merit such maltreatment," said the judge.
Compton also received 30 years for the head injury and nine years for causing burns to the boy's fingers and cheek.

The 25-year-old had no visible reaction to the sentence.

After the sentencing, State's Attorney Jason Chambers said "the Normal Police Department and (Department of Children and Family Services) did a rock-solid job putting this case together and we are grateful for that. This sentence makes sure that Compton will never hurt another child again."

In his request for the life sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Adam Ghrist said the child became increasingly ill over 11 days "that can only be described as a torturous death."

Defense lawyer Brian McEldowney argued that 28 years was a sufficient sentence. The child's death was a result of an unforeseen medical condition, he said.

"Timely medical attention could have almost certainly saved Robbie's life," said McEldowney.
Compton's mother, Tricia Anderson, was one of four defense witnesses. She described her son as "still a strong-willed, well-mannered, good person."

Robbie's mother faces first-degree murder and child endangerment charges for her alleged failure to take her son for medical care. Her trial is set for September.

Under the protection of immunity that bars her testimony at Compton's trial from being used against her, Fischer testified that she asked him about the growing number of injuries on her son that developed after Compton began watching the child. He denied harming the boy.

She admitted she tried to treat the boy's declining condition herself and kept the boy from his grandparents to avoid questions about obvious injuries.

The child and his mother moved in with Compton shortly before the child's death. They lived in the basement of a friend's home in Normal.

Former state representative Derrick Smith sentenced

Accepting a $7,000 bribe lands a former state lawmaker in prison.
 
Former State Rep. Derrick Smith was facing up to five years in prison, but instead was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Chicago to five months for bribery and extortion. Failing in his attempt to avoid prison time altogether, Smith had little to say afterwards.
 
"I want to thank God, thank the constituents of the 10th district, and individuals, my family and friends," Smith said. "God bless you, and it"s about rebuilding right now."
 
Smith will begin serving his sentence at the end of July. His sentence includes a year of supervision and 360 hours of community service.
 
He was convicted last year of accepting $7,000 in exchange for supporting a daycare operator's application for a state grant. In reality, the plan was set up by the FBI, and Smith was recorded counting the 70 $100 bills given to him by an informant.
 
Smith, who was appointed to a vacant House seat in 2011, was expelled after being indicted in 2012, but then won the seat back in a general election several months later. His conviction last year expelled him again, this time permanently.

Smith talks about better school funding

Illinois' school-superintendent-to-be says poor schools need more help than wealthy ones.
State lawmakers are working on legislation to adjust state funding for schools to help districts that are in need because they have a high population of kids from low-income families, or because they have a poor tax base, or both. Incoming Superintendent Tony Smith says that's the right way to go.
"We need to support kids who are in different situations differently, and that to me is fair, and I think oftentimes the easier thing to do is talk about equal, and that equal will get us there. We live in a country that is absolutely unequal," he said in an interview.
 Like the governor, Smith does not have a position on the specific bill that State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) is sponsoring.
 Smith takes office on May 1. He comes to the position from the W. Clement Stone and Jesse V. Stone Foundation in Oak Park - this organization provides grants to non-profits working in the field of early childhood development - and he was previously superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif.

State's most endangered historic places list published

This year's list of Illinois' most endangered historic places includes the state's own historic preservation office.
 
As part of the governor's proposed budget, funding for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) would be zeroed out. Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, says no other state agency is equipped to help review projects involving historic buildings.
 
"A loss of staff and budget to the SHPO will slow down project reviews, and have a major impact on the real estate development community, job creation, and put Illinois at risk of losing matching federal funds," McDonald said today in Springfield as her organization announced its annual list of the most endangered historic sites.
 
The appropriation to the office in the current fiscal year is $750,000.
 
The rest of the list:
  • n  The Arnold-Crowe house, Chicago
  • n  The Black Hawk statue, Oregon
  • n  The Bowen Building (Peoria State Hospital), Bartonville
  • n  Central Park Theater, Chicago
  • n  Condell House, Springfield
  • n  Mid-century modern houses, statewide
  • n  Thatchcot House, Herrin
  • n  William H. Coventry House and Barn, Harvard
  • n  Schulze Bakery, Chicago
  • n  Historic properties in River Edge Development Zones, statewide
  • n  St. James Academy, Lemont

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ford County Circuit Court news

Following is a list of cases filed recently in Ford County Circuit Court:

Felonies
• Mickey H. Lee, 46, of Piper City, for financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person ($5,000 to $50,000).
• Jason R. Pontious, 38, of Paxton, for aggravated battery in a public place.

Misdemeanors
• Joseph D. Schwertfeger, 45, of Marion, for possession of cannabis (less than 2.5 grams).
• Santiago V. Ramirez, 60, of Paxton, for two counts of criminal trespass to a building.
• Ashton K. Luhrsen, 19, of Buckley, for two counts of criminal sexual abuse (more than five years older than the victim), being a sexual predator living near a public park and resisting a police officer.

DUI
• Eric P. Young, 48, of Gibson City, for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Traffic tickets
• Lori Ann Shaffer, 35, of Kempton, for driving on a suspended license, operating a vehicle with suspended registration and operating an uninsured vehicle.
• Eric P. Young, 48, of Gibson City, for disregarding an official traffic-control device and making an improper turn at an intersection.
• A 17-year-old male from Paxton, for operating an uninsured vehicle.
• Kyle R. Walters, 31, of Paxton, for operating an uninsured vehicle.
• Carrie L. Hamilton, 35, of Kempton, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Leroy D. Rutledge, 33, of Rantoul, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Thomas R. Fairley, 46, of Onarga, for overweight on axle.
• Jered A. Pugh, 29, of Hoopeston, for overweight on axle.
• Jamie Diego-Martin, 31, of Rantoul, for driving on a suspended license, using an electronic communication device while driving and operating an uninsured vehicle.
• Karen M. Liggett, 69, of Paxton, for disregarding a stop sign.
• Benjamin D. Gentry, 19, of Saybrook, for driving without a license, disregarding a stop sign and operating an uninsured vehicle.
• Cory S. Couch, 20, of Plainfield, for following too closely.
• Sonyaneka Hoskin, 36, of Markham, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Joseph M. Gillespie, 20, of Ashkum, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Mary R. Ager, 41, of Roberts, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Mackenzie D. Seneca, 22, of Gibson City, for driving 21-25 mph above the speed limit.
• Aaron J. Nettleton, 39, of Gibson City, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Joshua J. Ostdick, no age listed, of Union, for driving 15-20 mph above the speed limit.
• Steven Allen Waugh, no age listed, of Paxton, for failure to wear a seat belt.

Small claims
• Bank of Gibson City vs. Amber and David Boyd of Gibson City.

Arbitration
• Bank of Gibson City vs. Amber and David Boyd of Gibson City.

Chancery/foreclosures
• Suntrust Mortgage Inc. vs. Ellen M. and Gordan G. Golden of Melvin.

Divorces
• Alice J. Gravitt vs. Jimmy Gravitt.
• Jeremiah Joel Ecker vs. Amber J. Ecker.

Gibson City Council receives committee reports

Two committees met for the Gibson City Council on Monday, April 20th.

Police chief Steve Cushman told the Police Committee of the pending retirement of Terri Benningfield who is their administrative assistant. Cushman asked for permission to advertise the future vacancy in area newspapers to start the replacement process.

Shawn Widner and Kerry Roberts of Clark-Dietz engineers gave recommendations to the Downtown Revitalization committee about the new downtown light project.

Two designs were recommended and accepted that included shorter acorn-style LED lights for the middle of each block and taller LED lighting fixtures for the corners. The committee approved the choices.

Alderman John Carlson did not approve the choices because he feels the new lighting won't be as good as what is currently there.

Alderman Jan Hall approved the new lights, but questioned certain items that the United States Department of Agriculture needs before the $99,000 in grant money would be approved for the project.

Clark-Dietz will continue with the design phase of the project and will present revised figures to the Council in the future. If approved, the bidding process for the project will go forward.