Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gibson City Council notes

The Gibson City Council met on Monday, August 25th.

Gary Stroh of 910 North Melvin St. reported to the Council that a six inch drain line coming into his property was tied into a two inch line that was installed by mistake by an engineer that was contracted by the city. Superintendent Randy Stauffer told the Council about other areas of Gibson City (North Lott Blvd. and Meadow Rue Dr.) where additional work needs to be done as well. Money for the projects is in the budget and were approved by the Council.

The owner of Black and White Confections, Jennifer Thomas, talked to the Council about the city sponsoring the "Gibson City Harvest Festival." Thomas, who is a member of the Revitalization Committee asked if a Council member could serve on the committee. No exact date for the festival in 2015 has been set. It would be held in the downtown area and would incorporate food vendors, music, and other family-friendly activities. After formation, the committee would seek additional sponsorships and participation from other interested groups. The Council asked Thomas to provide more information about the event at a later date.

The owner of the building where Gibson City Meats and Deli is operating, Mick Bradbury, asked the Council about the removal of the two buildings directly north of his property. Bradbury asked, "Are you tearing down these buildings? I'm sure you're thinking about protecting my building at the same time, right? You're going to give him the money to do it. What about the other two buildings?"

"When you bring that down, you have some kind of plan about what you are doing about the other two buildings," Bradbury continued.

Mayor Dan Dickey informed Bradbury that the city is not tearing down the buildings. The demolition will be handled by Lee Excavating and was hired by Randy Arends, the operator of Gibson City Meats and Deli, to do so. The city is helping with the cost of the demolition.

Alderman Dean Kidd asked Bradbury if he had any conversation with Arends about the demolition. Bradbury inquired about a certification of insurance and if the city had one for this project. Dickey suggested a meeting between all parties involved. Bradbury felt that the neighbors of the condemned property should have been informed about this action and that it was a good idea the buildings be removed.

In old business, the consideration of downtown signs was tabled until the next Council meeting.

In new business, the Council approved the planning committees recommendation to allow Mike and Jennifer Carley to sell a portion of their property to Phil and Megan Whitehouse for the purpose of building a private residence. The property will have access to city water and sewer. The Carley's attorney, Ellen Lee reported to the Council that Carley has no plans to sell or develop any other lots located on their property.

The Council approved garbage hauler permits. Police Chief Steve Cushman told the Council that the department will keep an eye out for leakage from garbage trucks on city streets and will take appropriate action.

The Council went into executive session to consider the employment and compensation of city employees. After returning to open session, the Council approved the hiring of Jonathan Dassow as a part-time police officer at the rate of $16.13 per hour.

This week's Illinois crop report

Illinois’ corn and soybean crops are in good condition.
In this week’s USDA crop progress report, corn is rated 52 percent good and 30 percent excellent, and beans are rated 55 percent good and 23 percent excellent.
“I think the story is timely rains through July, which is typically seen as helping the corn crop, and I was somewhat worried about the soybeans, and honestly in August there’s been a number of good rain systems covering large portions of the state, and those August rains tend to be very, very helpful for soybean pods,” says USDA crop statistician Mark Schleusener.
Soybeans are now 94 percent setting pods, ahead of last year (82 percent) and the five-year average (88 percent).  Corn is now 48 percent in the dent stage, well ahead of last year (27 percent) but behind the five-year average (53 percent).
The average temperature last week was 77.4 degrees F, 3.9 degrees above normal – the first warm week in a while – but rainfall was above normal too, at an average of 1.41 inches, which is ¾ of an inch above normal.
Topsoil moisture is 76 percent adequate, 9 percent surplus, 13 percent short and 2 percent very short. In Southeastern Illinois, 32 percent of farmland has surplus moisture. 

The Chicago Bears aren't the only ones in Illinois

Remember the black bear’s odyssey through Northern Illinois earlier this year?
A new law which sets out where the bear and other wild animals fit in Illinois aims to protect both animals and people.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young says the black bear, grey wolf and mountain lion will be under the Illinois Wildlife Code, “which gives the department the authority to draw up some protocols and develop a management plan for these species if and when they are seen in the state.”
Young says the animals are supposed to be kept wild.  They’re not around much as it is, so most people won’t see one in Illinois.
He says you’re not to hunt the animals, but you may take a bear or lion if it is on your property.

Housing percent of personal budget often unattainable

The rule of thumb is that your housing cost should be no more than 30 percent of your income.
That’s a pipe dream for too many of the poorest Illinoisans, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  It says there are only 30 affordable rental units for every 100 of the lowest income citizens.
“We need government to come in and fill the gap … specifically by funding the federal housing trust fund, which would be a new federal resource,” says Bob Palmer, policy director of Housing Action Illinois.
“There’s a deficit of 321,394 rental units that are affordable and available to extremely low income households, (defined as) those that have income at or below 30 percent of their local area median income,” Palmer says of the Illinois numbers.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Christie helping Rauner's campaign

It’s not just Illinois Republicans and Democrats who are concerned with who wins the governor’s race.
Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner are getting help from the national party organizations. Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, gave a pep talk to Rauner campaign volunteers in Chicago. He warned them that the Quinn campaign will try “every trick in the book” to defeat Rauner.
“Now I see that a court’s ruled that the Libertarian candidate can be on the ticket, but the Green Party candidate can’t,” Christie said. “Another really interesting development. I said to a group of people this morning, ‘You people in Illinois make New Jersey people blush.’”
That decision was not made by a court, but by the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Rauner himself wasn't at the event with Christie. His campaign said he was taking his son to college, though it wouldn’t say where.
On the Democratic side, Vice President Joe Biden is also in Chicago, helping the Quinn campaign raise funds.

Democrats not happy with Quinn's latest veto

The governor Monday vetoed legislation that would have increased regulations of ride-sharing companies, and lawmakers in his own party are not pleased.
Gov. Pat Quinn is justifying his veto by saying local governments can regulate these services, which allow people to hail rides on their phones from drivers who are using their personal cars.
One of the co-sponsors of the bill, State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), argues that Quinn is allowing drivers without commercial licenses to operate commercial vehicles. To Sandoval, that’s similar to what landed former Gov. George Ryan in prison.
“There was a family that died some years ago because there was a governor…whose administration was selling his office for licenses,” Sandoval said. “Does that ring a bell?”
Sandoval believes the veto was politically motivated, since Quinn’s Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, came out against the legislation. 
The bill originally passed both the Illinois House and Senate with more than the three-fifths majority vote that would be required to override the veto.

Ray LaHood wants to tie the gas tax to the inflation index

One of downstate Illinois' favorite sons is urging the road-building community to urge its lawmakers to increase the gas tax and pass a big transportation bill.
“We need to raise the gas tax – and index it” to inflation, said Ray LaHood, a former Republican Congressman and former U. S. transportation secretary.  He said the interstate system and every other major project gets its juice from a tax on gasoline.
“We need to get back to a Congress that passes a six-year bill,” said LaHood.  A two-year bill, such as that recently put into place, does not do as much for jobs and the economy, never mind transportation infrastructure.  “America is one big pothole right now.  I don't have to tell anybody in Illinois that.”
LaHood told transportation interests in Springfield the long-term bill, two of which he saw pass as a member of Congress representing Peoria, Springfield, and Jacksonville over much of the past two decades, provides certainty that the shorter-term bill does not.

Durbin wants to review hot local police are given military equipment

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is open to reviewing how local law enforcement agencies are given military equipment by the federal government.
The issue of local police looking too much like the military has gained national attention because of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Durbin says he’s directed his staff to look at the process by which the U.S. Department of Defense hands over unused military gear.
“Find out how these programs are managed, what kind of equipment is up for procurement by local and state governments, and to really step back and take a look at the big picture as to whether or not all this equipment is necessary, and whether or not we’ve overdone it,” Durbin said.
Local police can currently get such equipment in several ways.  The 1990 National Defense Authorization Act allows agencies to receive surplus military gear at nearly no cost.  Additionally, some agencies may use grants from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase more. 

Congressional candidates discuss student debt

Candidates for a central and southern Illinois seat in Congress disagree over how to solve the student debt crisis.
Ann Callis, a Democratic challenger in the 13th District, says a retired public defender she met is a good example of why the laws need to be changed to allow refinancing.  “She kept on working as a public defender, with a lower and lower and lower lowering of what she was paid in her income.   And because her income was so low, she was able to defer her student loan debt,” Callis said.  “Looking toward her retirement years, she had an enormous amount: about a quarter of a million dollars in debt.”
Callis is taking on incumbent U. S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), who blames Senate Democrats for rates increasing last year.  “They were forced to address this issue immediately upon their return” after a July 2013 recess, he says.  “I think the senator and his colleagues realized that they can't play politics with student loans.”
Playing politics is what Davis is accusing U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Callis of doing; they held a news conference in Edwardsville hours after a bi-partisan celebration to break ground on a railroad project in Springfield.  Davis says the events did not belong on the same day.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What can clean energy do for Illinois?

Can clean energy produce as many jobs in Illinois as coal-burning power plants?

This is the case that environmentalists are making. Patrick Whitty of the Clean Energy Trust met with labor leaders in Peoria to say that there are jobs, particularly in the area of energy efficiency.

“Particularly in Central and Southern Illinois, these are jobs that are maintenance and installers, and that’s in every community across the state. Anytime a new home goes up, building in a new, high-efficiency, perhaps a geo-thermal heating and cooling system, that’s an important part of new buildings that are being built,” he said.

Illinois has 16 coal-fueled power plants, down from 22 a decade ago, so he says the writing is on the wall for coal anyway. The coal that is burned in these plants arrives by train from Wyoming, so jobs in coal production in Illinois are not directly affected by the reduction in coal use for electricity generation here.

Whitty says the state’s renewable portfolio standard has caused the creation of 20,000 jobs, cut wholesale electricity prices by $177 million a year, and reduced pollution by 5 million tons.

In the “clean energy economy” overall, Whitty says Illinois has 100,000 workers making and installing solar and wind equipment, or who are working in the area of energy efficiency.

Lawmakers try to improve Affordable Care Act

Republican lawmakers in Congress have several proposals they claim will improve the Affordable Care Act, but Democrats are skeptical about their motives.

Those changes would include increasing the number of hours worked to be considered a full-time employee, and delaying or eliminating the requirement for businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance.

But what leaves Democrats wary of considering those reforms is when the Republicans touting them, like U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), say they want to get rid of the law altogether.

“I would say we should repeal the Obamacare bill,” Kirk said.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) says he is interested in considering changes to the law, provided the discussion doesn’t turn to talk of repeal.

“If we can start with the premise the Affordable Care Act is sound in principle, but needs to be improved, I’m glad to sit down with any Republican to work on it,” Durbin said.

What worries Durbin is that the Republicans’ real objective is to use those discussions to attack President Obama, which he calls “a waste of time.”

Term limits in Illinois is kaput

Legislative term limits won’t be on the November ballot.

The Illinois Supreme Court denied the appeal of an appellate court ruling that the term limits referendum was unconstitutional. Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for governor and chairman of the term limits committee, says now, he’ll focus on enacting term limits through the General Assembly.

“From here, what we will do is campaign hard supporting politicians up and down the ballot who support term limits and will actively engage in this process to put term limits in place,” Rauner said.

The term limits initiative ran into the same constitutional issues as a 1994 effort led by Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner has criticized Quinn for not supporting the latest push, while Quinn called Rauner a “phony” and asked why Rauner wasn’t around to support Quinn’s attempt to enact term limits 20 years ago.

Third party in Illinois? It's Libertarian

If the subject is a third political party in Illinois, the answer is Libertarian. At least, that is how this year's statewide ballot shakes out.

The Illinois State Board of Elections has ruled that the Libertarians had enough valid petition signatures – and the Greens did not.

Illinois Green Party chairman Rich Whitney points out the Fifth and Twelfth Congressional Districts do have party candidates on the ballot.

Part of the problem, says Whitney, is the “third parties” must collect 25,000 petition signatures, five times the amount the Republicans and Democrats must collect.

It almost looks as if it's set up against him.

“It more than looks like it's set up against us,” says Whitney, “I think it very deliberately is set up against us. You have to gather that many in ninety days. Each sheet has to be notarized.”

The Green Party, Whitney says, is not going away.

Libertarians are on the statewide ballot despite what some would call irregularities by one petition circulator, whose story about her own residency changed, and who could not be identified in a follow-up investigation because, she said, she wore a wig part of the time.

“Some people are more industrious,” said board member Harold Byers of such prolific signature-gatherers, adding many of them are professionals brought in from out of state.

Friday, August 22, 2014

GCMS Board of Education notes

The GCMS Board of Education met in a regular session on Thursday, August 21st.

Approved by the Board:
  • the budget for the Ford County Special Education Co-op for 2015. Coordinator Rick Brackman reported the district will receive $65,602 that was overpaid for the 2014 school year
  • the contract between the district and the CAPS after school program held at the elementary school. The sponsorship allows CAPS to add five additional students. Superintendent Anthony Galindo stated the program is of great value to the district, students and families. The CAPS program contract is for one year
  • a resolution to allow health FSA carryover for $500 beginning on September 1st, 2014 
The following resignations were accepted:
  • Connie Kemnetz as a custodian effective on August 29th, 2014
  • Erica Timm as a paraprofessional effective immediately 
The following hirings were approved:
  • Emily Chase as a part-time hearing-impaired teacher beginning this school year at a rate of $129.09 per day (a pro-rated rate that she would receive as a teacher according to the negotiated salary schedule)
  • Mindy Whitehouse as the varsity girls basketball coach at the high school
  • Stephanie Johnson as the intramural volleyball coach
  • Melanie Cail as a classroom aide for GCMS beginning this school year
  • Lacey Gleeson as the eighth grade girls basketball coach
  • Amber Lutz as a classroom aide for GCMS
  • Melissa Salyards as a crossing guard for $49.25 per day 
The following people were approved as volunteer coaches:
  • Kaley Cushman for high school volleyball
  • Robbie Denkins for high school freshman football
Superintendent Galindo reported to the Board that the district retained membership in the IASB and that he completed his training for OMA and FOIA.
Galindo discussed the EFE Parkland Academy Program that is in cooperation with Parkland College. Area students may participate in the program that allows students to travel to Parkland College for classes that would earn dual credits. If approved, the program would not begin until the 2015 school year. Galindo will gather more information about the program and that transportation and class costs need to be considered as well.
September 23rd, 2014 at 6 P-M was set as the Hot Topic Night for the district at the high school. Administration and staff will share what the district is doing to encourage a growth-mindset within the staff and students, the power and purpose of failure, and strategies for parents to build a growth-mindset at home. Hot Topic Night is open to the public.

Bank of America settlement nets Illinois $300 million

Illinois' share of a national settlement with Bank of America is $300 million.

$200 million will go to cover losses incurred by state penison systems. The remaining $100 million will go to consumer relief.

"This also isn’t the first settlement we’ve had with Bank of America. In fact, it’s the fourth settlement with Bank of America,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Madigan says there could be more settlements from other banks down the line.  
Nationally, the settlement with Bank of America adds up to $16.6 billion, which is the largest deal the Justice Department has made with a financial institution for their role in the 2008 mortgage crisis. 

IDOT laying off employees in wake of illegal patronage hiring

The Illinois Department of Transportation is doing some house cleaning after being accused of illegal patronage hiring.
The agency is laying all 58 of its staff assistants. IDOT has been accused of using that title to get around rules against politically motivated hiring. IDOT’s acting secretary Erica Borggren says those practices have led to the public not trusting the agency.
“That’s because there haven’t been systems in place,” Borggren said. “These kinds of decisions can’t happen, whether they were intentional or not, they couldn’t happen, so we were looking to restore the confidence through these reforms.”
IDOT was sued in an attempt to force an investigation into these very positions, as well as to appoint a federal hiring monitor to the agency. Borggren claims the layoffs are not related to that lawsuit. 
Borggren was appointed acting head of IDOT after her predecessor, Ann Schneider, resigned after it was revealed her stepdaughter had been hired at the agency.

Durbin chimes in on Amtrak delays

US Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is renewing his push to reduce Amtrak train delays in Illinois.  
Durbin held a meeting with state and federal officials Wednesday in Champaign to discuss delays caused by freight train interference on lines owned by Canadian National. Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott was among those in attendance.
“If they’re not hitting their on-time performance numbers, we are allowed to hit them with damages,” Elliott said, “and those damages will actually go to Amtrak to build the infrastructure that they require to make on-time performance better.”
Durbin says trains on Amtrak’s Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route have been late around 50 percent of the time this year.