Familiar battle lines are being drawn as Illinois lawmakers tackle the issue of an assault weapons ban.
The House sponsor of the bill, Representative Edward Acevedo says such guns are, quote, “weapons of war” that don’t have any place in our communities.
But pro-gun groups say a ban would only deprive law-abiding citizens of weapons used for sport and self-protection. And the Illinois Sheriff’s Association says a ban doesn’t address the real problem… the need for better mental health treatment in the state.
House Speaker Mike Madigan is once again calling his members into session today to discuss multiple amendments on a controversial bill… this time, pension reform.
Lawmakers will debate and vote on proposals ranging from raising the retirement age for public sector workers to ending cost-of-living increases for the foreseeable future.
Public sector unions are gearing up to fight the proposals.
Meanwhile, a separate pension plan is drawing support from both parties.
Republican leader Tom Cross and Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz are sponsors of the bill, which requires workers to pay more toward their pensions and moves future teachers into a “hybrid” pension system.
A Sangamon County judge will allow demolition to proceed on a Depression-era Springfield home, over the objections of a historic preservationist.
Jerry Jacobson and the home’s former owner had gone to court to block the demolition of the Robinson House on West Lawrence… claiming that proper procedures were not followed regarding demolition of a landmarked property.
But Judge John Schmidt ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to intervene in the case.
Even though he acknowledges he will have plenty to do as Springfield’s interim school superintendent, Bob Leming may not spend five days a week on the job.
Leming’s work with the district is structured to allow him to keep collecting the teachers’ pension he began receiving when he retired in 2004. Leming says he can still receive his $108,000 annual pension if he works 100 days or less in the school year. So he says that in his current job as the district’s human resources director, he is only working three to four days a week… and says he may often maintain that four-day-a-week schedule during his three-month stint as superintendent.
Leming will hold the post from April till June while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Walter Milton.
A groundbreaking local airman will be permanently remembered at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport.
The family of Lyman Hubbard has donated some of his medals and memorabilia to the airport museum. Hubbard was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a unit of African-American pilots who helped shatter the military color barrier in World War II. He also served in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts before returning home to the Springfield area.
State health officials are warning that it is still prime time for the spread of norovirus.
The highly-contagious bug is a leading cause of what’s commonly called “the stomach flu,” with vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and chills. It is most common from November to April.
The state public health department recommends regular hand-washing and cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces like doorknobs. And if you contract the norovirus, do not engage in any food preparation until you’re well.
A new bipartisan pension plan is taking shape under the Capitol dome.
House Republican leader Tom Cross and top Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz are co-sponsoring the plan… which aims to reduce pension costs by requiring public sector workers to pay more, delaying cost-of-living increases, and placing teachers hired after 2013 into a “hybrid” plan that combines elements of both “defined benefit” and “defined contribution” systems.
The sponsors say their plan is gaining momentum at the Statehouse… and also contend that it will be found constitutional by the courts.
A longtime Springfield schools administrator has been selected to take over temporarily as superintendent.
Robert Leming will become interim superintendent when Walter Milton steps down at the end of March.
Leming has held a variety of administrative positions in the district over the years, and retired as human resources director in 2004… but came back to that job last year following the resignation of Alexander Ikejiaku.
Leming says he has no interest in the job on a long-term basis, and the search for a new superintendent will get underway soon.
Lawmakers have wrapped up hours of debate on concealed carry legislation without a final vote, or even a clear indication of what will wind up in the final bill.
Under an unusual procedure implemented by House Speaker Mike Madigan, the full House debated more than two dozen amendments individually, adopting a number of restrictions and limitations on concealed carry, as well as an overall framework for concealed carry drafted by pro-gun Democrat Brandon Phelps.
But more hearings and amendments are expected before a final vote is taken.
The Springfield School Board has decided to name Robert Leming as the interim school superintendent after Walter Milton resigns at the end of March.
Leming was brought back into the district late last year as human resources director following the resignation of Alexander Ikejiaku. Leming will only serve until June 30th, while a search for a permanent replacement gets underway.
Cynthia Shambley will serve as the interim human resources director. The board will finalize the selections at its next full meeting on March 5th.
A Mount Pulaski woman is dead following a single-vehicle crash early this morning on Route 54 in Logan County.
State police say 70-year-old Alberta Reiterman was traveling westbound on the highway when her vehicle crossed over into the oncoming lane and then ran off the road, striking a tree and overturning. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police are still investigating and have not determined a cause of the crash yet.
Springfield will host the premiere of a new independent film that was shot here last year by a local filmmaker.
Kimberly Conner says her movie “Jump In” has its roots in her own effort to beat breast cancer… twice. She hopes the movie will prompt other young women to be checked for the disease. But she also says her film is a testament to the level of local talent… and to the cooperation she received from local businesses and artists during the filmmaking process. '
The movie will premiere this Saturday night at the Hoogland Center for the Arts.
Central Illinois is getting its second big taste of winter in less than a week.
Springfield is being spared the worst of it, with 1 to 2 inches of a snow and sleet mixture today, and additional accumulations possible overnight and into Wednesday.
Heavier snow totals are expected in Jacksonville and Petersburg, which are under a winter weather advisory… and up around Peoria, which is under a winter storm warning and could see up to 8 inches of snow today.
Road conditions could be problematic through the day today… stay with 970 WMAY for updates.
An update on a story we told you about yesterday… contrary to claims by Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin, another alderman says he is not pushing to allow new city hires to live in a handful of select villages adjacent to the city as part of a possible residency requirement.
McMenamin told 970 WMAY last week that Cory Jobe was one of two aldermen who had requested that city workers be allowed to live in Leland Grove, Jerome, Southern View or Grandview if a residency rule were reinstated for new hires.
But Jobe says that’s not correct.
He opposes a residency requirement, but says he told McMenamin that he might consider a rule that allowed city workers to live anywhere in Sangamon County.
McMenamin is still trying to line up votes to pass his proposal.
Springfield is right on the brink of a major winter weather event. For now, the forecast only calls for light snow in Springfield and Sangamon County, with one to two inches expected on Tuesday. But a much messier forecast is in store for neighboring communities.
Jacksonville is under a winter weather advisory and could see three to five inches… while Peoria is under a winter storm warning, with the possibility of four to eight inches. So far, no watches, warnings or advisories for Springfield… but that could change if the storm track shifts.
There could be another showdown over guns in the Illinois House Tuesday.
House Speaker Mike Madigan will convene the House at noon Tuesday to consider legislation dealing with “gun safety and unlawful use of weapons.” Concealed carry legislation could be among the items discussed, and that has some gun rights advocates concerned.
The Illinois Carry forum is warning members that Madigan may be plotting to pass a, quote, “nightmarish” restrictive law intended to make it difficult for gun owners to carry their weapons.
Requiring future City of Springfield employees to live in the city could be back on the agenda soon as Aldermen work out what the ordinance may look like.
Nearly three months after Springfield residents passed a referendum supporting some form of a residency requirement for future city employees, aldermen may soon discuss the measure, but they are waiting until after some union contracts are worked out before muddying up their negotiations.
Alderman Joe McMenamin, who pushed for last year’s referendum, says votes are also being lined up through a possible amendment allowing for residents of several other areas in and around Springfield to be eligible for employment.
There’s still no timeline on when a residency ordinance would be in front of aldermen.
Former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Ann McMorrow has died.
McMorrow broke barriers throughout her career, starting when she was the only woman in her law school graduating class, and continuing into the 21st Century, when she became the first woman to head a branch of government in the state of Illinois.
McMorrow passed away Saturday after a brief illness. She was 83.
An Illinois lawmaker wants some rules spelled out on where and how law enforcement in the state can use unmanned drones.
Democratic State Senator Daniel Biss has introduced a bill that would prohibit police from using the drones unless they first obtain a search warrant.
It would also ban putting any weaponry on-board the unmanned aircraft, and would require that any information collected by the drone be destroyed unless it is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The Chicago Tribune reports at least two Illinois counties are considering the use of drones to assist with investigations.
Despite a big Oscar-themed celebration at the Lincoln Presidential Museum Sunday, the actual Oscar ceremony was something of a disappointment for the creators and fans of the movie “Lincoln.”
Even though it had the most nominations, with 12, the Steven Spielberg film took home only two trophies.
But one was for star Daniel Day-Lewis, who won Best Actor for a role that he spent time in Springfield researching.
In another sign of the respect that Hollywood holds for Lincoln, Oscar host Seth McFarlane drew groans from the audience with a joke about Lincoln’s assassination, prompting him to respond: “150 years and it’s still too soon?”
A Springfield man is facing multiple charges after holding police at bay for hours Saturday in his home at the south end of the city.
The incident began when neighbors reported 37-year-old John Hatcher firing multiple shots into the air outside his home on South Park Avenue, south of Wabash, before daybreak. When police arrived, Hatcher retreated into his home and eventually broke off communications.
Police used explosive charges to gain entry, and Hatcher surrendered. Hatcher is facing weapons and other charges related to the standoff. Authorities say they recovered several firearms, including a Glock handgun and an AR-15 rifle. He is also facing drug charges after police discovered evidence of a marijuana-growing operation in his home.
In response to the recent incidents involving a suspected predator posing as a cop, a local instructor will offer a free self-defense class for women.
John Geyston's Martial Arts Academy on West Iles will hold the session on Wednesday, February 27th, from 6 until 8pm. Law enforcement officials will also be on hand to offer advice on women can protect themselves from attack.
Pre-registration is suggested but not required. Call 718-4901 to reserve a spot.
A standoff with an armed man at the south end of Springfield has ended with the suspect in custody.
The 37-year-old man surrendered after police used an explosive charge to blow the doors off his residence on South Park. The incident began before daybreak on Saturdaywhen the man allegedly fired multiple rounds from a handgun and an AR-15 into the air outside his home. Authorities tried to negotiate with him for several hours before deciding to go in after him.
Springfield public school students seem to have a better outlook about their present and their future than many of their peers around the country. That’s according to a Gallup survey that focused on fifth-through-12th graders in District 186.
Nearly 7,000 students locally took the survey, which measured their levels of “hope, well-being and engagement.” Overall, Springfield students scored higher than the national average, and four schools… Sandburg, Laketown, Owen Marsh, and Lindsay… were among the top 10-percent in the nation.
The numbers are seen as important because students who feel more secure and hopeful generally learn better, and are seen as more likely to succeed in school, and in life.
Springfield finds itself surrounded by a lot of misery. But the Capital City itself managed to avoid Forbes Magazine’s list of the 20 “Most Miserable Cities” in America.
Illinois is well represented on the list, though, with three cities in the Top Ten… Rockford at #3, Chicago at #4, and Lake County at #9. And traveling away from Northern Illinois won’t help either. St. Louis also makes the list at #12.
The list is based on many factors, from crime to unemployment to taxes to climate.
The full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down Attorney General Lisa Madigan's request to reconsider an earlier ruling that found the state's ban on concealed carry to be unconstitutional.
That earlier ruling from a three-judge panel ordered the state to repeal its ban and replace it with a reasonable concealed carry law by June. Madigan had asked the full 10-judge panel to review the case, but that request was rejected on a 5-4 vote; one justice did not participate in the discussion on the request for rehearing.
There was no immediate word on whether Madigan would attempt a further appeal of the ruling.
The snow emergencies declared by Springfield and Sangamon County have both been lifted. Springfield's declaration prevented cars from being parked on designated snow emergency routes, while the county's "Level 1" declaration merely served to remind drivers to use extra caution.
But by mid-morning, conditions had improved enough in both jurisdictions to warrant lifting the emergency declarations.
Several Springfield aldermen say they will take the lead on trying to craft a plan to address the city’s infrastructure needs.
Mayor Mike Houston has been promising an infrastructure plan since he ran for the office two years ago, but said this week that he won’t roll out his plan because he can’t find enough support among aldermen to pass it.
Now Aldermen Cory Jobe, Doris Turner and Tim Griffin say they will seek input from government, businesses, labor unions, and the public at large to develop a plan that can pass.
But it’s unclear how they can fund an estimated multi-million dollar price tag, since a majority of aldermen say they won’t support any tax increase to pay for it.
Local DirecTV customers could lose access to Channel 20 programming by late next week.
WICS says the satellite provider will stop carrying its signal on March 1st, because of a dispute between DirecTV and the station’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, over the money DirecTV should pay to retransmit Sinclair’s local signals.
The issue does not affect customers of DISH Network or cable companies.
A statement from Sinclair says it has been trying to negotiate the issue with DirecTV before next week’s deadline, but now believes those negotiations will not be successful.
The winter storm that hit Springfield Thursday has prompted the city to declare a snow emergency. The designation means that vehicles may not be parked on designated snow emergency routes for 72 hours, or until approximately 4:30pm Sunday afternoon.
Sangamon County has also declared a "Level 1" snow emergency, which merely serves as a reminder to motorists to use extreme caution when traveling on county roadways.
Stay with 970 WMAY and wmay.com for updates on the storm, which is expected to drop 5 to 8 inches of snow on the listening area (with the heaviest amounts to the west of Springfield).
Illinois voters are reluctant to break promises on public sector pensions… but they’re even less eager to see their taxes go up to keep those promises.
A new survey from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University finds that a majority of those surveyed don’t want to see cost-of-living increases taken away from state retirees. Public opinion is largely divided on whether the retirement age should be raised, and on the issue of transferring teacher pension costs from the state to local school districts.
But voters are overwhelmingly opposed to making the state’s temporary income tax hike permanent to generate funds for pensions, and don’t want to see the state sales tax expanded to more products and services.
A Springfield historic preservationist will go to court Friday in an attempt to block the demolition of a local landmark.
Jerry Jacobson with Save Old Springfield says a demolition permit has been issued to the owner of the Robinson House at 1801 West Lawrence. But Jacobson claims proper procedures were not followed for a home that had received a designation as a local landmark. The Robinson House was built by descendants of Henson Robinson, founder of one of the oldest existing businesses in Springfield, and was designed by a prominent local architect, Clark Bullard. The 1930 home is described as a rare local example of French Colonial Design.
Jacobson and the home’s former owner are asking a judge to order the city to suspend or revoke the demolition permit.
Local DirecTV customers could lose access to Channel 20 programming by late next week.
WICS says the satellite provider will stop carrying its signal on March 1st, because of a dispute between DirecTV and the station’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, over the money DirecTV should pay to retransmit Sinclair’s local signals. The issue does not affect customers of DISH Network or cable companies.
A statement from Sinclair says it has been trying to negotiate the issue with DirecTV before next week’s deadline, but now believes those negotiations will not be successful.
Two Sangamon County deputies are still working full-time on trying to track down a predator posing as a cop. Undersheriff Jack Campbell says finding the man who has now attempted to pull over at least two women is a top priority for the office.
One victim wound up getting in the car with the man and was assaulted by him, but was able to escape after striking him. A second woman pulled over when she saw flashing light the man had placed in his car, but became suspicious and sped off when he approached her vehicle.
Campbell says if anyone sees the suspect vehicle… an older-model white sedan with a discolored hood… they should call 9-1-1 immediately.
A deal may be in place that would allow “fracking” in Illinois. The term is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses high-pressure to crack underground rock formations and retrieve oil and gas from underneath it.
Supporters say there could be a rich supply of both in Southern Illinois, and allowing fracking could create thousands of jobs in that area. A coalition of lawmakers, business interests, and even environmentalists worked on compromise language on a “fracking” bill. However, another piece of legislation calls for a two-year moratorium on the practice, while scientists study its long-range effects.
Illinois State Police are warning drivers to be very cautious with the winter storm now hitting Central Illinois. They say that if you must be out traveling this afternoon, slow down and leave plenty of room between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. And be sure that your headlights and taillights are on and cleared of snow. But they also recommend that you avoid travel today and tonight unless absolutely necessary.
Home confinement doesn’t mean former Governor George Ryan is confined to his home.
Chicago TV stations report that Ryan was spotted dining out last weekend at a restaurant more than 30 miles from his Kankakee home, where Ryan is serving out the remainder of his sentence on federal corruption charges.
Ryan’s attorney, former Governor Jim Thompson, says Ryan is allowed several hours each weekend to leave home and socialize with friends, as long as he lets the Bureau of Prisons know in advance where he is going.
A man suspected of posing as a police officer and attempting to pull over female drivers in the early morning hours has reportedly struck again.
Sangamon County Undersheriff Jack Campbell says a woman reported being pulled over near Old Jacksonville and Farmingdale Roads early Wednesday morning. But she immediately became suspicious of the man as he approached her car, and sped off. The woman was uninjured.
Campbell says the description of the man's vehicle roughly matches the car used to pull over a teenage driver in the same general vicinity last weekend, but this time the man used a red-and-blue flashing light, instead of the white light used in the first attempt. In the earlier case, the teen got into the man's car, where he inappropriately touched her before she hit him and escaped.
Police are again renewing their urgent warning to drivers to be careful, and to call 911 if they have any doubts about the authenticity of anyone attempting to pull them over. If anyone has information about the case, they should call the sheriff's department at 753-6840.
We haven’t had too many visits from Old Man Winter this year… but one is on the way. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the 970 WMAY listening area from noon Thursday through late Thursday.
The Springfield area should get snow and sleet during the day Thursday, with accumulations of two-to-three inches… more to the north and west. That could change over to freezing rain Thursday night. Authorities say driving conditions could be very bad during the afternoon and evening hours.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on Thursday’s developing storm.
Alderman Doris Turner says she’s not sure she can trust information coming from the city’s budget director.
Turner is livid at budget director Bill McCarty’s revelation that a reduction in the city’s administrative fee for towing vehicles could blow a $250,000 hole in the city budget. Turner sponsored the ordinance that cut the fee… but says McCarty never revealed the fiscal impact until after the measure was approved Tuesday night.
Now some aldermen are having second thoughts, and Mayor Mike Houston says he may veto the bill. Turner says she’s skeptical of McCarty’s claim, and questions the reliability of his numbers. McCarty stands by the estimate, but concedes that he could have reached out to aldermen sooner.
The president of the Springfield school board still won't talk about the deal to get Superintendent Walter Milton out of town, but insists there's nothing unusual about the backroom negotiations.
Susan White says personnel matters are always handled behind closed doors, and aren't disclosed until there's a vote on them... which hasn't happened yet with Milton's severance agreement.
Until that vote is taken, White says she remains bound by a confidentiality agreement that prohibits her from discussing details of Milton's departure or the transition to new leadership... even though many of those details are contained in documents released this week by the school board's attorney.
Local officials hope public awareness and involvement will reduce the amount of truancy in Springfield schools... especially since many anti-truancy services have been scaled back in recent years.
District 186 will eliminate the job of a truancy intervention specialist as a result of budget cuts. And the Regional Office of Education says it only has three caseworkers to keep an eye on all of Sangamon County.
So those educators hope a new public relations effort by the Faith Coalition for the Common Good will remind students... and parents... of the importance of kids being "in school and on time." The group plans to reinforce that message through yard signs, T-shirts, buttons and more.
Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton will get a six-figure buyout of his contract in exchange for him leaving his job by the end of March.
A separation agreement between Milton and the school board, obtained by the State Journal-Register, calls for the district to pay Milton $177,000… along with possible additional expenses for health benefits if Milton doesn’t find another job right away.
The agreement also spells out the language of a recommendation letter that the board agreed to provide to prospective future employers on Milton’s behalf… and calls for a letter from board president Susan White to be removed from Milton’s personnel file.
Board members still refuse to comment on the reasons for engineering Milton’s exit by March 31st, and have not disclosed who will take over as interim superintendent for the rest of the school year.
A Sangamon County judge has refused to throw out the case against a man charged with carrying a concealed weapon… despite a federal appeals court ruling that the state’s ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional.
Defense lawyers for Donnell Jackson argue that he should not be prosecuted under a law that the state has been ordered to repeal.
But prosecutors say the law was valid and enforceable when Jackson was arrested… and remains so now… and say the case should proceed.
Judge Leslie Graves set Jackson’s trial for June 17th… just days after the court deadline set for Illinois to repeal its ban.
The fine that Springfield charges owners of vehicles towed after being pulled over in suspect of a crime has been cut in half for the first offense ... but it might not take effect.
Originally the fine was $500 for the first time, something critics said is causing people to abandoned their cars. The amended ordinance makes the fine $250 for the first time and $500 for the second and subsequent times.
Mayor Mike Houston says that 85 percent of the vehicles towed when someone was pulled over for DUI, Driving While License Suspended or Revoked between September 2010 and November of 2012. Thirteen vehicles were towed for violating the city's sound ordinance.
Budget Director Bill McCarty says if the ordinance takes effect it will put a nearly quarter million dollar whole in the budget for the police department.
Houston says he may not sign the ordinance. He says that the $500 fine is meant to be a deterent.
As for an ordinance that would cap the number of non-seasonal employees at 1500, aldermen failed to receive a majority vote as Mayor Mike Houston voted present. If passed, the ordinance would have required city council approval of any hires above and beyond 1500.
Supporters said the ordinance would have kept city hall honest and could ultimately lock in more than a million dollars of savings per year. Opponents said they don't think aldermen should be able to tie the hands of the mayor when it comes to hiring.
Meanwhile, aldermen passed an ordinance that would give an additional $1 million to the funds for fire and police pensions. But, several aldermen expressed concern at passing that amount because of the looming infrastructure needs. Eventually, aldermen passed the additional funds with a vote of 9-1.
On the consent agenda, aldermen approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2014 on the consent agenda. The budget comes in just over three percent over last year at $114.7 million. Aldermen also approved a motion that would take a land owner to court using eminent domain. The city wants to use the land owned by CONTECH to extend 11th Street southward.
Illinois is under a court order to allow for some kind of carry law, and in order to comply, the Illinois General Assembly is hearing from gun control advocates and gun rights groups on what kind of law should be crafted.
During a committee hearing Tuesday, gun rights groups say that the state should pass a concealed carry law that states "shall issue," while gun control groups want the state to craft a law that states "may issue."
Lawmakers are under a court order by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to pass a carry law by June 9th. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is appealing the ruling, but it's unclear when that will be heard.
A Springfield alderman and other black leaders say racism is at the heart of the events that led to School Superintendent Walter Milton’s imminent departure from District 186.
Alderman Gail Simpson accuses the majority of the board of marginalizing and publicly belittling Milton, and says there is no other way to view the situation than to conclude that racism is involved. She says the board is trying to take the District back to the 1960s – when Springfield schools were largely segregated, and schools in poor and minority areas were significantly worse than in other parts of town.
Board president Susan White has said in the past that racism is not in any way a factor in the board’s relationship with Milton, but refuses to discuss the reasons behind the plans to part company with him.
The Springfield school board has rejected the idea of making additional cuts to middle or high school athletics… but one board member says they’re only delaying the inevitable.
The athletics budget is being cut by 15% for the next school year, a reduction of around $110,000. Director of school support Robert Schurman pleaded with the board not to make any additional cuts.
Board member Bill Looby says he is now dropping the idea of looking for additional savings from athletics for next year… but says with the district facing another multi-million-dollar deficit a year from now, further cuts to sports will be unavoidable.
The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office is intensifying its efforts to find the alleged predator who posed as a cop and assaulted a teenage girl over the weekend… before he strikes again.
The department has put out a more detailed description of the suspect vehicle… an older-model white four-door with a hood that is a different shade than the rest of the vehicle. The vehicle also has “slider-type” heater controls, another sign that it’s an older car.
Undersheriff Jack Campbell is asking that anyone who may have been accosted by the man, but was too embarrassed to say anything to please come forward. He says anyone with information on the case should call the Sheriff’s Department at 753-6840 as soon as possible.
Supporters of gun rights and gun control will be on hand for today’s public hearing in an Illinois House committee on various bills related to firearms.
That noon hour hearing is expected to touch on everything from a concealed-carry law to a proposed assault weapons ban.
Sheriff Neil Williamson will be watching the hearing closely… he says he hopes the Sheriffs Association stand against an assault weapons ban last week will help steer lawmakers toward a more sensible policy.
Springfield School Superintendent Walter Milton has confirmed that he will leave the district, a decision that he says was made by mutual agreement with the school board.
In a statement read during Monday night's school board meeting, Milton says the decision to leave was prompted by fundamental differences in policy, particularly the board's decision to close the Capital College Preparatory Academy, a school concept pushed by Milton and one which he says was making strides in closing the district's achievement gap.
Milton says when it became clear that he and the board were not on the same page, he sought to "clarify" his employment status by asking for a contract extension, but the request was denied. Milton says he does not question the integrity of any board member, and believes they were acting in what they perceived to be the best interest of students.
Milton continues to pursue other employment, and is a contender for the top schools job in Little Rock, Arkansas. There was no immediate word on who would take over for Milton in the short term, or on the details of a search for a permanent replacement.
Springfield alderman Gail Simpson has renewed her harsh criticism of the Springfield school board over the decision to part company with Superintendent Walter Milton and to enact cuts that she says disproportionately affect low-income and at-risk students.
Simpson was also part of a group last fall that suggested the board's treatment of Milton had racist overtones. She says Milton's departure and cuts like the elimination of the Capital College Preparatory Academy are an "indelible stain" on the community.
Simpson, who describes herself as "unashamedly black," says the board's actions divide the community, and result in a situaton where "those who have, get more, and those who have not, get left behind." She vowed that board members who supported those cuts could pay a political price in the April school board elections.
Faced with an ongoing deficit, even after millions of dollars in budget cuts, a Springfield school board member has proposed cutting more deeply into the district's athletic budget. But Bill Looby dropped the idea after a majority of the board made it clear that they would not consider any additional cuts.
Athletics are already being cut by about 15% for next school year, a reduction of around $110,000. But Looby says at a time when entire schools are being closed, and with millons of dollars in cuts still looming in future years, the board must consider deeper cuts, at least at the middle school level.
But other board members adamantly rejected the idea, saying that sports are too important as a way to motivate some young people to stay academically eligible. Looby said he would not pursue it further, but warned that the board will have no choice but to revisit the issue when it tackles the budget for the school year starting in the fall of 2014.
A Springfield school board member says he will seek another vote on the decision to eliminate the Capital College Preparatory Academy.
Bill Looby says he believes the projected savings of the closure has been overestimated. The school board voted 4-3 earlier this month to close the school, which is housed in the Feitshans building, in order to save $1.7 million. But district financial officials say that roughly $400,000-500,000 of that savings will have to be spent to rehire teachers to accommodate the move of students into other middle schools.
Looby says that in light of the revised numbers, he wants the board to reconsider the closure at its next meeting. But board member Candace Mueller disputes the premise, saying she was aware of the real impact of the cuts when she cast her vote in support of closing CCPA. And there was no immediate indication that any of the four board members who supported the closure planned to change their vote.
Sangamon County detectives are searching for a man who allegedly assaulted a teenage girl after posing as a police officer and pulling over her vehicle. The incident happened on Old Jacksonville Road early Sunday morning.
The teen told police that a car was stopped on the side of the road as she drove past. The driver of that car then turned on a rotating white light. Thinking he was a police officer, she pulled over. The phony cop eventually had the girl sit with him in his car, where he touched her inappropriately. The girl hit the suspect and fled… the man did not pursue her. The suspect is around 50 years old, five-foot-ten to six-feet-tall, with a thin build.
Authorities remind drivers that police cars have red or blue flashing lights… and say that when in doubt, it is OK to call 911 to verify that an actual police officer is the person pulling you over.
A public hearing Tuesday at the state capital on guns will come with it a message form the Illinois Sheriff's Association, and that message is "don't ban assault weapons." Just days before the hearing called by House Speaker Mike Madigan, 65 sheriff's from across Illinois signed on to a proclamation that opposes a ban on assault weapons.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson says that the proclamation opposes a ban states that sheriff's would only enforce such a ban if it was upheld by the US Supreme Court. Williamson says that guns are a more divisive issue than taxes, gay marriage or abortion.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is off on a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Africa. Durbin’s office says the taxpayer-funded trip is part of the Illinois Democrat’s role as the new chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He will travel to Bahrain, Djibouti (jih-BOO’-tee), and Uganda.
Durbin’s trip will focus on issues related to military readiness, counter-terrorism and counter-piracy efforts, and humanitarian causes. The senator says he will also examine how deep spending cuts would affect those missions if the looming federal “sequester” takes effect as scheduled March 1st.
A top lawmaker has signed on to the effort to ban indoor tanning by anyone under the age of 18 in Illinois.
Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno is the sponsor of a Senate bill that would prohibit indoor tanning by minors, even those who have parental permission. The legislation is similar to a House bill co-sponsored by local Republican Raymond Poe.
Springfield is already under a tanning ban after the City Council approved Alderman Sam Cahnman’s ordinance last year.
Some former Illinois prison wardens are warning of trouble ahead from the state’s decision to move more dangerous inmates into segregation units at less secure prisons.
The move has become necessary because of increased prison overcrowding following the closure of the Tamms supermax prison.
But the former wardens say putting higher-security inmates into lower-security prisons… even in secure segregation units… could pose a danger to staffers who are not used to dealing with those more dangerous prisoners.
The wardens are also concerned about plans to house some inmates in prison gymnasiums temporarily because of lack of cell space.
A Springfield school board candidate says any decision about the future leadership of District 186 should not be made until after the new board is seated.
Katharine Eastvold is critical of the school board for its secrecy about Superintendent Walter Milton’s fate, after revelations that some sort of confidentiality agreement between Milton and the board was drafted.
The board’s attorney has refused to disclose the nature of that agreement, saying it’s only been signed by one side so far.
Eastvold says the board should come clean about Milton’s status… but also says decisions about a possible change at the top should not be made by “lame duck” board members.
It’s a relationship that dates back to the 1940s, but the Chicago Cubs could soon end their ties with WGN television.
The team is expected to offer up its local broadcast rights to other stations when its current WGN deal expires in 2014, and analysts predict the team’s games could go to another station… for much more money.
For decades, the Cubs and WGN were both owned by the Tribune Company, but now that the Ricketts family owns the Cubs, the long-standing deal with WGN could come to an end.
Sangamon County detectives are searching for a man who allegedly assaulted a teenage girl after posing as a police officer and pulling over her vehicle.
The incident happened on Old Jacksonville Road early Sunday morning. The teen told police that a car was stopped on the side of the road as she drove past. The driver of that car then turned on a rotating white light. Thinking he was a police officer, she pulled over.
The phony cop eventually had the girl sit with him in his car, where he touched her inappropriately. The girl hit the suspect and fled… the man did not pursue her.
The suspect is around 50 years old, five-foot-ten to six-feet-tall, with a thin build.
Authorities remind drivers that police cars have red or blue flashing lights… and say that when in doubt, it is OK to call 911 to verify that an actual police officer is the person pulling you over.
The mystery continues about some kind of apparent agreement between Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton and the school board.
The board’s attorney confirmed the existence of a draft agreement of some nature between the parties, but told the State Journal-Register that it did not have to be disclosed because it had only been signed by one side.
Milton and the board have in recent weeks refused to discuss his job status or whether there is some effort to force Milton out before his contract expires next year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the City of Springfield to take action to stop the frequent sewer backups that regularly occur after heavy rains.
City officials tell the State Journal-Register that the order will require the city to do more preventive maintenance on sewers and to invest more money in upgrades. But it’s unclear how much more the city will be required to spend on sewers, on top of its other infrastructure needs.
Governor Pat Quinn will deliver his budget to lawmakers next month… two weeks after the deadline set up in state law. Lawmakers recently approved legislation to grant Quinn the extension. But local Democratic state senator Andy Manar voted against it.
Manar tells 970 WMAY that Quinn had a year to meet the deadline… and says the state’ budget issues are too important to push them back, even by a couple of weeks.
Quinn will deliver his budget address on Wednesday, March 6th. 970 WMAY will carry the speech live from the Capitol.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are filing a flurry of motions in the case of brothers Christopher and Jason Harris… accused of killing five members of a Beason family in 2009.
Defense lawyers want the jury to travel to the crime scene where Rick and Ruth Gee and three children were killed. Prosecutors want to introduce evidence that the brothers consumed drugs and alcohol before the killings.
A hearing on all the motions will be held next month.
A southern Illinois farm with its own homemade syrup operation has drawn the attention of investigators… who mistook the syrup equipment for a meth lab.
Drug agents showed up at the farm near Anna, saying they were responding to a complaint. But after determining the equipment was being used to collect and cook sap, the agents left… with some bottles of syrup given to them as a gift.
The attorney for the Springfield Park District is now involved in the investigation of executive director Mike Stratton.
Stratton is on an unpaid leave, at his own request, after the park board raised questions about several job-related issues, including payments issued to Stratton outside of his normal paycheck.
Board president Leslie Sgro says in a statement that she cannot make any further comment about Stratton or his job status, but says the board will take whatever action is necessary to protect district resources when, quote, “operational irregularities” are found.
As 970 WMAY News was the first to report, recreation director Derek Harms has been named as Acting Executive Director.
There's a new person in charge at the Springfield Park District, at least for the moment. Park District employees have received a memo stating that the district's director of recreation, Derik Harms, has been named Acting Executive Director of the park district.
Harms is handling things while the park board decides the fate of Executive Director Mike Stratton, who is on unpaid leave. Stratton is under scrutiny after receiving more than $2,000 in "salary advances" from the District. Stratton says that's an acceptable practice and that he did nothing wrong, but requested that he be placed on leave until the board completes its investigation.
The commission set up to look at consolidation of some local government functions says it is not shying away from some potentially controversial ideas, like merging Springfield police and the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department. But Citizens Efficiency Commission chair Karen Hasara says the process of looking at some of those big issues is just starting.
Hasara says the commission has been surprised at how long it has taken to research its ideas for consolidation of services, but says that time is necessary to ensure that any changes really will be more efficient and will save money. The commission is scheduled to end its work by November.
Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon says her decision not to run for re-election is a reflection of her personal ambition and career interests... not an indication that she thinks it would be a bad idea to run with Governor Pat Quinn next year. Simon announced Wednesday that she plans to run for a different office in 2014 rather than again serving as Quinn's running mate.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY's "Jim Leach Show," Simon says that she feels like she has accomplished some things as lieutenant governor, but believes she could do more in another office, even though she hasn't publicly decided on what office to seek. But Simon says that was the only basis for her decision, and insists it was not affected by Quinn's political prospects.
No foul play is suspected in the death of a man found on the porch of a home on Springfield's north end.
The 31-year-old male was discovered on a couch on the porch of a home in the 2100 block of North 11th Street, shortly before 8:00 Wednesday morning. While authorities could not immediately say what caused his death, they say there was no indication of homicide.
Springfield police and the Sangamon County Coroner's Office continue to investigate.
Sheriffs from around Illinois… including Sangamon County’s Neil Williamson… say an assault weapons ban is not the way to prevent mass shooting tragedies like Newtown.
The Illinois Sheriffs Association has come out against the proposed ban, and says the state should instead focus on expanding mental health treatment.
Williamson also wants law enforcement to have greater access to information about people diagnosed with mental illness, so that officers are better prepared when responding to situations involving those individuals.
The executive director of the Springfield Park District is under scrutiny over an unusual payment he received… and a park board member has abruptly resigned in protest over a lack of action on the matter.
The controversy was first reported on the Illinois Times website, and involves $2,600 paid to Mike Stratton.
The Times quotes park board member Mark Beagles as saying the payments were described as “an advance on salary” and reimbursement for unused vacation time.
Beagles submitted his resignation when the board did not take action on the matter following an executive session discussion this week, but says he may reconsider quitting the board.
Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton says he loves it in Springfield and wouldn’t leave by choice… yet acknowledges that he is continuing to pursue other job opportunities elsewhere.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Frank McNeil Show” Tuesday night, Milton declined to say if he was under pressure from the school board to find another position, but said that he and his family are, quote, “in a situation where we have to explore and look at different options.”
Milton says that if he is still here when a new school board takes office in May, he hopes there will be less drama and more working together on behalf of children.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson is standing with sheriffs across the state and across the country in opposing a ban on so-called assault weapons.
Williamson called 970 WMAY's Kramer Show Tuesday afternoon and made the announcement just a week before a public hearing on guns.
Speaker Mike Madigan called for next week's public hearing to hear from gun rights groups, gun control proponents and law enforcement officials.
Williamson says there are around 65 Illinois sheriffs that signed on to the deceleration made at a sheriff's convention earlier this month, but others in the collar counties around Chicago were "wishy-washy."
The sheriff says his email has been full because of this issue for a while now and it was time to take a stand.
Making college more affordable is the objective of a package of recommendations from Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. Simon says high college costs are the biggest obstacles keeping young people from completing their degree.
She’s proposing a series of what she calls “game-changing” reforms that include letting students enroll simultaneously in community colleges and universities paying the lower community college rate while still racking up university credits. Simon also recommends exploring income tax waivers for students who agree to live and work in Illinois after receiving their college degree.
Springfield has been observing Lincoln’s Birthday in all the traditional ways. The American Legion conducted its annual pilgrimage to the late President’s tomb, and held a wreath-laying ceremony there. And various Lincoln experts have been leading discussions on aspects of Lincoln’s life and legacy at several of the local historic sites.
While this year’s events are similar to the observances held most years, local planners are already gearing up for much larger Lincoln events in 2015… to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death and the end of the Civil War.
A leading law enforcement group is shooting down the idea of an assault weapons ban for Illinois.
The Illinois Sheriffs Association says the state should really be focusing on improved treatment for mental illness, rather than banning a particular type of weapon. The group says other strategies should also be pursued, including giving police more access to mental health records, and addressing the problem of violent video games.
A pension summit organized by a coalition of the state’s public sector unions does not appear to have accomplished much.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross says there was very little movement by anyone during that discussion in the Chicago suburbs.
Cross and other legislative leaders are pushing for changes in pension benefits to ease the underfunding crisis… while the unions want to raise some taxes and close tax loopholes to raise more revenue for the pension funds.
The son of the late President Ronald Reagan says Reagan’s support of an assault weapons ban in the 1990s may have been the result of his Alzheimer’s disease.
Michael Reagan spoke with reporters in Springfield while in town for the Sangamon County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner.
He told the State Journal-Register that his father did not support gun control laws during his presidency, even after being shot in an assassination attempt.
In the ‘90s, Reagan not only joined other former presidents in supporting the assault weapons ban, he also came out in support of the “Brady bill,” named for Reagan’s former press secretary who was critically wounded in the attempt on Reagan’s life.
A Springfield alderman wants a detailed comparison of City Hall spending here compared to other similar Illinois citie to see if there are alternatives to raising the sales tax to pay for infrastructure. But Alderman Frank Edwards doesn’t see that happening before aldermen finalize a budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1st.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Edwards asserted that police, fire and other city departments are overspending compared to cities like Bloomington-Normal and Decatur. He says if some of Springfield’s spending can be reduced, that could free up money for infrastructure without requiring a sales tax hike, which Edwards opposes.
The largest state employees union says it will probably become clear by the end of this month whether state workers are headed for an unpredecented strike.
AFSCME has warned members to start preparing for a possible walkout, by setting aside money and putting off major purchases. Henry Bayer with AFSCME says Governor Pat Quinn may force a strike by insisting on benefit cuts that could reduce take-home pay by thousands of dollars a year.
Bayer says unless the administration softens its stance during talks scheduled for late this month, the union may not have any options left but to walk off the job.
A coalition of public sector unions is holding a summit on pension reform toda but at least one powerful politician is sitting it out. The “We Are One” coalition invited Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders to attend that meeting near Chicago.
Quinn plans to drop by, but has sent staffers to take part. The same is true for Senate President John Cullerton. And House GOP leader Tom Cross is attending and taking part in the discussion. But Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan is not attending. He sent the unions a letter last month rejecting their invitation and accusing them of being uncooperative with pension reform efforts.
Springfield’s Catholic bishop says he is not surprised that Pope Benedict has decided to retire, although he is a little surprised at the timing. Benedict appointed Bishop Thomas John Paprocki to head up the Springfield diocese in 2010, and the bishop has met the pope on several occasions, most recently about a year ago.
Paprocki says even then, The Pope was noticeably frail. The bishop says it’s surprising that the Pope would announce his resignation right before Lent, but thinks the timing must have been deliberate.
AFSCME is telling state workers to start preparing for the possibility of a strike.
A memo from the union says it hopes that a work stoppage won’t be necessary, but says it may be the only way to stop the Quinn administration from imposing benefit cuts that could drastically reduce take-home pay.
The union memo advises workers to start setting aside money from each paycheck now to serve as an emergency fund in case of a walkout.
The memo does not give any timeline for when a strike might take place.
Springfield Alderman Frank Edwards says the city should do a serious reassessment of its spending… including the money it spends on its police and fire departments… instead of considering a sales tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements.
In a Facebook posting, Edwards… who is a former fire chief and who served briefly as mayor… notes that Decatur and Bloomington-Normal both have significantly smaller police and fire workforces and budgets than Springfield does.
Edwards is opposed to the sales tax hike for infrastructure… a sentiment echoed by many of his Facebook followers.
Despite a court ruling that found Illinois’s ban on carrying concealed weapons to be unconstitutional, Sangamon County’s top prosecutor says that ban remains on the books for now and will be enforced until that changes.
John Milhiser is still pursuing charges against a man who is challenging his arrest on weapons charges, based on that appeals court ruling late last year. But the appeals court issued a stay of its order to give lawmakers time to craft a concealed carry law.
Milhiser says he looks forward to the day that such a law is on the books in Illinois, but says until then he will enforce the law as written.
Public hearings will be held next week in Springfield and Chicago to talk about a wide range of proposed gun laws, but a Downstate lawmaker thinks there should be a broader perspective.
Democrat Brandon Phelps says there should also be a hearing held in deep Southern Illinois, where views on guns and gun laws may be significantly different than they are in Chicago, or in the halls of the State Capitol.
House Speaker Mike Madigan says he wants input from all sides of the issue as the legislature prepares to debate proposals for concealed carry, an assault weapons ban, and other gun laws.
The largest state employees union is telling its members to get ready for the possibility of a strike.
AFSCME has circulated a memo that advises employees to set aside some money from each paycheck and to avoid making major purchases for now, in case there is a work stoppage because of the union’s ongoing disputes with Governor Pat Quinn. The memo was obtained Friday by the Bloomington Pantagraph.
A walkout could cripple a number of state services, although workers considered essential to public safety, like prison guards, would stay on the job.
Construction is expected to begin in May on the new Hy-Vee grocery store and adjacent gas station and convenience store on South MacArthur.
Company officials tell the State Journal-Register that their acquisition of the former Shell station on MacArthur will allow Hy-Vee to build a larger supermarket and convenience store, and to provide more parking.
Numerous events are planned this week in Springfield to commemorate Abe Lincoln’s birthday.
On Tuesday, the American Legion will conduct its annual pilgrimage to Lincoln’s Tomb for ceremonies to begin at 10:30 a-m. There will also be several lectures and seminars at various Lincoln sites… and the Presidential Museum will hold a news conference Tuesday to unveil a new Lincoln smartphone app.
Beginning June first, vacant foreclosed homes will no longer languish on the market. Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law that would shorten the normally two year process to a few months, so property values and neighborhoods can be protected.
Quinn says the law also would allow Illinois to invest in families by preventing foreclosures in the first place. The bill allocates funds for housing counseling assistance to help households struggling to keep their homes.
A Springfield man is in custody thanks to the U.S. Marshall’s Service in connection to a burglary last weekend at Jersey Mike’s, 2318 Wabash. Police say 29-year-old John L. Carver is being held on $100,000 bond.
A man plowing snow in the parking lot noticed broken glass on the sidewalk Sunday. When police arrived they found a store window broken and money was missing from a couple of cash drawers.
A former Illinois congressman has reportedly agreed to a plea deal that could put him behind bars for years. Several Chicago media outlets say Jesse Jackson, Jr. has signed a plea agreement in which he would admit wrongdoing for converting campaign dollars for personal use.
Jackson would have to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars that he spent on things like a $40,000 Rolex and travel expenses for a woman described as a “social acquaintance.” Some details are reportedly still being finalized, including the fate of Jackson’s wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, who has also been implicated in the misuse of campaign funds.
Organizers of this weekend’s medieval fighting event in Springfield say it’s becoming one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
Competitors from around the country will compete in Springfield… in full armor, using authentic swords and clubs like those deployed in combat centuries ago.
The competition at the State Fairgrounds Saturday will determine the team that will represent the U.S. in international knights competition in France this spring.
Mayor Mike Houston says he hopes to someday bring that world competition here to Springfield. The event starts at 10 am Saturday at the fairgrounds’ Livestock Center… 970 WMAY’s Jim Leach is the announcer for the event.
Classic rock… with an Illinois flavor… will be featured during one of the Grandstand shows at this year’s Illinois State Fair.
Fair officials announced some additional acts signed to perform at this year’s fair, which opens August 8th. Three bands that got their start in Illinois… Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Head East… are all part of the same bill on Saturday, August 10th. The fair has also signed several more country acts to go along with Toby Keith, which was previously announced. The updated lineup also includes The Band Perry, Billy Currington, and a multi-act country show that will feature Gary Allan and Thompson Square.
Tickets for Toby Keith go on sale tomorrow. Sale dates for the other shows have not been set yet.
The Ball-Chatham school district has now confirmed that its ongoing investigation into questionable travel reimbursements involves a former superintendent, Robert Gillum.
The district revealed last month that it had requested an audit of travel records and reimbursements involving a former administrator. That audit indicated that there were discrepancies over a five-year period, and recommended further investigation of the matter with an eye toward possible legal action.
The district has not disclosed what types of travel expenses submitted by Gillum have now been called into question, or how much money is involved in the disputed reimbursements.
An idea floated last month by Springfield's school superintendent to raise money for education appears dead on arrival.
Superintendent Walter Milton proposed that the city of Springfield considerusing its taxing authority to impose a sales tax increase... and to share the new revenue with District 186. Milton told Mayor Mike Houston that he was going to suggest the idea...but Houston says since then, he's had no further contact with Milton about the idea. And appearing live on 970 WMAY, Houston says there's not much point in a follow-up call from Milton.
The Mayor says the city needs its sales tax revenue for vital city services...including infrastructure... and he has no interest in sharing that money with another governmental body.
More jobs, better roads, and safer kids. Governor Pat Quinn says all of those will be the result from a massive spending bill that's now on his desk.
Just a day after Quinn used his State of the State address to ask lawmakers to approve the supplemental appropriation, the Senate followed the House's lead and approved the bill. It devotes more than $600 million to road projects, which Quinn says will boost employment when the construction season begins.
It also takes $25 million in savings from facility closures and uses that to prevent layoffs of child abuse investigators in the Department of Children and Family Services. But Republicans say the state cannot afford the extensive additional spending, which totals nearly $2 billion.
There is a new report of prison violence... this time in Lincoln.
AFSCME says more than two dozen inmates were involved in a massive fight at the medium-security Logan Correctional Center earlier this week. And four employees of the prison were injured in a separate incident last month. They are the latest examples of assaults that have broken out in several prisons as overcrowding concerns intensify following the closure of two Illinois prisons late last year.
AFSCME says the attacks in Lincoln are particularly troubling because it shows that the crowding and violence problems are extending beyond maximum-security prisons and into medium-security facilities like Logan, which houses 50% more inmates than it was designed to hold.
A 58-year-old Decatur man is in custody after authorities found a quarter-pound of cannabis in his car during a traffic stop on I-55 south of Springfield.
An Illinois State Police trooper stopped Clarence Barbee for an obstructed windshield. After pulling him over near the Carlinville exit, the trooper said that Barbee was acting suspiciously. He searched the vehicle and found four bags, reportedly containing pot, on Barbee. Numerous empty bags were found in the vehicle.
Barbee is facing charges including possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. He is being held on $40,000 bond.
Controversial gun legislation… from an assault weapons ban to a concealed carry law for Illinois… will be the subject of two public hearings to be held later this month, including one in Springfield.
House Speaker Mike Madigan has called for the hearings to hear from gun-rights groups, gun-control advocates, and law enforcement on a wide range of proposals. The first of the two scheduled hearings will take place at the State Capitol on Tuesday, February 19th. The second will follow three days later in Chicago.
Governor Pat Quinn is pressuring lawmakers to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. At the same time, the state is under a court order to pass a concealed carry law by this summer.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston is offering some new details on why it’s taken so long to present a plan to fund infrastructure improvements.
Houston had promised such a plan within 30 days of taking office… nearly two years ago. But he still hasn’t produced one.
The mayor tells 970 WMAY’s Jim Leach that his initial plan depended on revenues from selling electricity on the futures market… but then prices plunged, and that was no longer a viable option to pay for the city’s massive infrastructure needs. Houston is now working on a plan that includes an increase in direct sewer fees… and a sales tax hike to finance bonds that will be used to pay for street and sidewalk repairs.
The mayor still won’t say how big a tax increase he’s considering… or when he will present that plan to aldermen.
Pensions are only part of Governor Pat Quinn’s agenda for the coming year.
While Quinn repeated the urgent need for a pension reform plan during Wednesday’s State of the State speech, he also touched on a number of other, potentially controversial areas.
Quinn called for raising the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour over the next four years.
He once again asked lawmakers to pass an assault weapons ban, and said that if the state does adopt a concealed carry law, it must prohibit guns inside many public places, from schools to shopping malls.
And Quinn pushed for online voter registration and an open primary where voters won’t have to declare party affiliation.
Is it another sign that school superintendent Walter Milton’s days in Springfield are numbered?
The State Journal-Register reports that Milton put his house up for sale earlier this week… although he apparently pulled the listing off the market just hours later.
It’s the latest in a series of twists surrounding Milton, who abruptly withdrew from consideration for the top schools job in Madison, Wisconsin this week… and indicated that he is now actively pursuing another job in a different, unidentified city.
Milton has been under fire in recent months for his management of District 186, which is being forced to implement millions of dollars in budget cuts for next year.
Video gambling - It's not just for casinos or bars anymore. The Godfather's Pizza on Dirksen Parkway has become one of the latest local businesses to install video gaming machines. Five terminals went online last week at the pizza place. Owner Mike Monseur says the machines are in a private room, and no one under 21 is allowed inside. He says customer use of the gaming devices has been steady and growing and the feedback has been positive.
Video gambling outside of casinos only became legal in Illinois late last year. Proceeds from the machines are split between the business owner, the state, and local governments.
While Governor Pat Quinn continues to urge lawmakers to take action on pensions, it was not the dominant issue in his annual State of the State speech.
Instead, Quinn offered a wide-ranging list of ideas for the coming year… urging the legislature to approve a road construction bill, legalize same-sex marriage, adopt an assault weapons ban, and allow Illinoisans to vote in primaries without declaring party preference.
Quinn did warn that unfunded pensions still threaten to drain dollars needed for other state priorities, but did not spell out any new ideas for resolving the crisis.
City Water Light and Power says it’s out of appeals and out of options… so it will have to repay nearly $800,000 in money it got from FEMA for expenses incurred in response to the tornadoes that struck Springfield in 2006.
The utility insists it followed FEMA’s own rules in applying for reimbursement of expenses. But FEMA says CWLP claimed, and received, payments that it shouldn’t have gotten.
The repayment to FEMA will wipe out nearly half of the city’s $2 million electric emergency repair fund.
Just days after being named one of the top two finalists for the school superintendent job in Madison, Wisconsin, Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton has withdrawn his name from consideration for that post.
Milton made the decision Tuesday night, just two days before he and the other finalist were scheduled to meet with the public in Madison as part of the final interview process.
Milton told Madison school officials that the job was, quote, not the right fit.
But the Wisconsin State Journal reports that Milton’s withdrawal came after Madison officials raised new questions about his prior work history, including hiring practices and questions about reimbursements.
Milton remains under contract with District 186 through the summer of 2014.
Mayor Mike Houston says a sales tax increase may have to be part of his forthcoming plan to pay for extensive infrastructure improvements.
Houston is under pressure from alderman to produce a plan to pay for tens of millions of dollars in needed street, sidewalk and sewer repairs… something the mayor initially said he would produce within 30 days of taking office, nearly two years ago.
The mayor says that while video gambling will generate some revenue for infrastructure, it won’t be enough… and a sales tax increase may have to be part of the mix.
Houston still has not set a specific date for completing the plan and presenting it to aldermen.
The investigation will continue into possible irregularities involving travel vouchers and reimbursements for a retired Ball-Chatham school administrator.
Officials say an initial report delivered verbally by the district's auditors finds a lack of documentation to support travel reimbursements over a five-year period.
The auditors recommend further investigation with an eye toward possible legal action.
Ball-Chatham officials did not identify the administrator in question.
A statement notes that the questionable payments span three different school boards, but does not provide further details about how the problem was uncovered, or when a final decision will be made on the next steps to be taken.
Springfield school superintendent Walter Milton has withdrawn his name from consideration for the top job in the Madison (Wis.) school district, according to Madison media accounts.
Milton had been one of two finalists for the job, and had been scheduled to meet with community members, teachers and students at a forum in Madion Thursday night. According to media accounts, his abrupt decision follows questions that arose about past controversies, including hiring practices and an audit of some of his expenditures in previous jobs.
News that Milton had been seeking the Madison job prompted a backlash in Springfield as well, as critics complained about his job search while presiding over millions of dollars in budget cuts for District 186. The Madison school district issued a statement that quoted Milton as saying the Madison job was "not the right fit." A District 186 spokesperson could not offer any additional details about Milton's decision or what impact it may have on his status locally.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston says that some kind of sales tax increase may be necessary to fund the capital city's infrastructure, but not how much of an increase there should be.
During a conversation about a possible commission to discuss with the public possible funding sources for the capital city's crumbling streets and aging sewers, aldermen repeatedly differed to Mayor Mike Houston, who ran on a platform of providing an infrastructure plan.
The question is not just what needs to be done, but how to fund it.
Mayor Houston says that any money raised for infrastructure would be used for a bond issuance. Once that money is pledged, it can only be used for infrastructure needs.
Houston points to the potential growth of gambling revenue being devoted infrastructure needs, but several aldermen talked about needing some kind of tax increase.
The mayor told the press after the meeting that there may need to be a sales tax increase in order to generate the kind of revenue needed to address some looming problems.
When asked how much of a sales tax increase would be needed, the mayor said that is still be calculated. Just last week Public Works said there are over $80 million of needs over the next three years.
Meanwhile, Springfield aldermen passed an ordinance stating that amplified music at special events must end at midnight, and alcohol sales at those events must end at 11:30. An amendment to the ordinance clarified language about special permitted liquor licenses granted by Aldermen.
An Illinois Senate Committee cleared a gay marriage bill Tuesday afternoon. A similar measure was passed by the same committee earlier this month, just as the last General Assembly was winding down. A floor vote on the measure was scrapped because supporters didn’t think they’d have the necessary 30 votes to move the legislation forward.
According to the new wording, the language states that places of worship do not have to open their doors to marriage ceremonies for same-sex partners.
The investigation will continue into possible irregularities involving travel vouchers and reimbursements for a retired Ball-Chatham school administrator.
Officials say an initial report delivered verbally by the district's auditors finds a lack of documentation to support travel reimbursements over a five-year period. The auditors recommend further investigation with an eye toward possible legal action. Ball-Chatham officials did not identify the administrator in question.
A statement notes that the questionable payments span three different school boards, but does not provide further details about how the problem was uncovered, or when a final decision will be made on the next steps to be taken.
In the wake of budget cuts that will leave two Springfield school buildings vacant, a school board member is expressing concern that not enough has been done to get ready for what comes next.
Scott McFarland says his big concerns are helping parents and students at Wanless and Pleasant Hill schools adjust to a new building. Those students will attend classes in the Feitshans (FIGHT’-shuns) building this fall.
But McFarland is also worried about the future of the vacant schools. He hopes the district will either occupy or sell the structures quickly, so that they don’t drag down property values.
Springfield’s school superintendent says his future career path is now in God’s hands.
Superintendent Walter Milton isn’t talking about his job prospects here or elsewhere, even though he is a finalist for the top schools job in Madison, Wisconsin. Milton has come under fire from some for searching for work… even as he is overseeing millions of dollars in budget cuts to local schools.
But Milton says he is a man of faith, and wherever God wants him to be is where he will be. If Milton does not land the job in Madison, he remains under contract for District 186 until the summer of 2014.
Lincoln Library’s main branch downtown is getting a renovation that will bring a section of the library out of the 1970s and into the 21st Century.
The makeover of the second floor will include the construction of a “cyber café” and reading room. The $500,000 project is being paid for by a donation from the Joe DeFraties Foundation… named for the founder of Chilli Man Chilli in Springfield.
Mayor Mike Houston and library officials say the project will be the first update of the second floor since the main branch was built in 1977. They hope the new features will bring more people into downtown and into the library.
Artist rendering of proposed reading room and cafe
Three Springfield schools will be closed as part of nearly $7 million in budget cuts approved by the school board Monday night.
A divided board voted to adopt more than $5 million in cuts proposed by Superintendent Walter Milton, including the closure of Wanless and Pleasant Hill schools, with those students to be relocated to the old Feitshans building.
The board rejected a list put together by a citizens committee, with one exception… the closure of the Capitol College Preparatory Academy.
Opponents say those school closings will devastate poorer neighborhoods and disproportionately affect the North End and East Side.
More than 100 jobs were eliminated, including elementary and high school teaching positions and security jobs at the middle and high schools.
But middle school teachers and elementary school librarians were spared.
An Illinois House committee has approved a bill that would dramatically increase licensing fees for doctors… with the money to be used to pay for the state department that oversees the licensing and investigates complaints against physicians.
The measure goes to the full House, but the powerful State Medical Society opposes it, saying the state should find money elsewhere in the budget to pay for the investigation unit, rather than forcing that cost onto doctors.
Springfield police are encouraging city residents to register some of their most prized possessions online.
Officials say the “Report It” website allows people to securely store serial numbers, item descriptions, pictures, and even scanned copies of receipts… which can be retrieved in the event of a home burglary.
Police Chief Robert Williams says city police have already recovered more than $10,000 worth of stolen merchandise that was returned to its rightful owner because of the documentation stored on the website.
The Springfield School Board has rejected a list of cost-cutting recommendations from a citizens advisory panel, with one major exception: voting to close the Capitol College Preparatory Academy.
Students, parents and staff of CCPA argued in favor of the school, and board member Judy Johnson accused her colleagues of being "elitist" and "cold-hearted" for their vote to eliminate the school, which was aimed at putting kids who have struggled in other school environments on a college track.
But the divided board eliminated CCPA on a 4-3 vote. Other recommendations from the panel, including a proposal to close Iles Middle School and transfer those gifted students to Franklin, were rejected, also on a vote of 4-3.
The Springfield School Board has voted to cut $5.4 million from next year's District 186 budget, including the closure of two North End elementary schools and the reduction of dozens of teaching positions. But the board did reject nearly $1 million in additional cuts, including middle school teaching positions and elementary school librarians. A divided board also voted to preserve funding for post-secondary coaches, who counsel students on college options, and to retain the Illinois Math and Science Academy after-school program.
[As of 9:30pm, the board was still considering a separate list of proposed cuts put forward by a citizens committee, including the possible closure of the Capital College Preparatory Academy.]
A candidate for Springfield school board objects to the method that will apparently be used to vote on deep budget cuts tonight. The school board agenda indicates up-or-down votes on two long lists of cuts, including the elimination of dozens of teaching positions and the closure of two elementary schools.
School board candidate Katharine Eastvold says voting for the cuts as a group gives board members a way to avoid being held accountable for each individual reduction. She wants separate votes on every cut, to force board members to be on the record for each one and to defend their votes.
The meeting starts at 6:30 tonight at the Southeast High School auditorium.
Springfield police are encouraging city residents to use a website to register their most valuable possessions.
Police Chief Robert Williams says using the site for secure registration of serial numbers, item descriptions and other identifying information will make it easier for detectives to return stolen items back to their rightful owner. In fact, Williams says in just a short period of time, police have already recovered and returned more than $10,000 in merchandise to local businesses and residents.
The website where items can be registered is reportit.leadsonline.com. The service is free, according to S.P.D.
Even as his current school district prepares for the possibility of millions of dollars in budget cuts that he recommended, Springfield School Superintendent Walter Milton may be on the brink of leaving for a new town.
Milton is one of two finalists for the top schools job in Madison, Wisconsin.
He and a top official of the Chicago Public Schools will appear at a community forum in Madison later this week before a final decision is made.
More than 200 people asked to be considered for the Madison job, and 65 candidates were screened before the field was narrowed to the final two.
The Springfield School Board is expected to vote tonight on proposals to slash more than $7 million from next year’s budget.
Cuts proposed by Superintendent Walter Milton would eliminate more than 100 positions, many of them teachers, and would lead to the closure of two elementary schools and the relocation of the Capitol College Preparatory Academy.
The board will also vote on cuts proposed by a citizens committee, including the closure of the college prep academy and an end to the middle school program at Iles.
The board meeting is set for 6:30 tonight at the Southeast High School auditorium.
Some Illinois bar owners say they're already profiting from video gambling games that went live statewide last year.
In December, players across Illinois lost nearly $7 million.
Establishments kept $2.45 million, the state earned $1.75 million and cities and counties combined made about $350,000.
Springfield is hoping to use its cut of video gaming proceeds to help pay for infrastructure improvements, but says it’s too soon to know yet just how much money it can count on annually from the machines.
Springfield School Superintendent Walter Milton is one of two finalists for the top schools job in Madison, Wis.
Milton and a top official from the Chicago Public Schools are the final remaining contenders out of 65 original applicants for the job, according to the Madison school system. They will both appear before a community forum later this week.
It's not the first time Milton has been up for consideration for a job in another district since arriving in Springfield. He has also had clashes with some school board members, prompting several African-American leaders to accuse the board of racism in its dealings with Milton.
It could be a long, difficult meeting of the Springfield School Board Monday night.
Board members are expected to vote on more than $7 million in proposed cuts from next year’s budget. If approved, the cuts would result in teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and the closure and consolidation of two elementary schools. Most of the cuts have prompted a negative backlash.
The board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 Monday at the Southeast High School auditorium.
An Illinois lawmaker says concealed carry is coming to Illinois, so now it’s up to legislators to craft a rational “common sense” bill to implement it.
Democratic Representative Ken Dunkin took part in a town meeting Saturday to hear from Chicago-area residents about their thoughts on a concealed carry bill… which a court has ordered the state to pass within six months.
A Springfield woman has died from the injuries she suffered in a traffic accident downtown Friday night.
49-year-old Sara C. Richardson was pronounced dead in the emergency room of Saint John’s shortly after that crash at 9th and Jefferson.
Richardson was one of two people in an SUV that collided with another vehicle at that intersection. The other person in the SUV was also seriously injured… two people in the other car had minor injuries. The accident is still under investigation.
The panel that oversees the conduct of judges and lawyers has recommended a six-month suspension of the law license for a former county judge.
The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission found that Robert Hall engaged in “dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation” in moving to dismiss a traffic ticket that had been issued to the daughter of another judge.
The Illinois Supreme Court will have the final say on any professional discipline against Hall.
He came up just short last time… but Republican State Senator Bill Brady is edging closer to another try for the governor’s mansion.
Brady has sent an e-mail to supporters, saying that he is “laying the groundwork to finish the job” he started in 2010, when he narrowly lost to Governor Pat Quinn.
Brady would be part of what is expected to be a crowded field of Republican contenders for governor, a list that could also include State Senator Kirk Dillard, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Congressman Aaron Schock.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission accuses Exelon of deliberate deception related to the financial health of funds set aside for cleanup of the company’s nuclear power plants, including the one in Clinton.
The NRC says Exelon underestimated the money it would need to clean up and restore nuclear plants after they are decommissioned, One report says the cleanup funds may have as much as a billion dollars less than what would be required under federal rules.
The City of Springfield is looking to use eminent domain to acquire property for a planned extension of 11th street, but they are having problems with the land's owner according to an ordinance.
The measure on first reading Tuesday will condemn the property between Stevenson and Lincolnshire, currently owned by Contech, in order to extend 11th street southward. In the ordinance, it states that despite good faith negotiations, the city has been unable to purchase the property.
Eminent domain allows for private property to be taken for public use in exchange for fair market value. The ordinance says the city's corporation counsel will go to court to acquire the land according to Illinois law.
A new ordinance proposed to the city council will cut the current tow fee in half. Currently, if a person is pulled over in suspicion of certain felony crimes or city ordinances violations, the vehicle can be towed and impounded and the owner of the vehicle charged with a tow fee of $500.
The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Alderman Doris Turner, would drop that fee down to $250. Other previously raised concerns of the current tow law, like administrative hearings and or fees being refunded if the person is found innocent, are not addressed. Aldermen will take up the reduction of the tow fee in two weeks.
A Springfield aldermen will soon vote to appropriate one million dollars from the current fiscal year budget to pay police and fire pensions. The underfunded pensions has been a regular topic during unfinished business in city hall.
Mayor Mike Houston's administration says they will continue to find money where they can to put into the fund, but they are cautious of doing too much too fast, something they say could jeopardize other vital city services.
An ordinance in front of Aldermen would limit the number of employees the city can hire to 1,500.
The proposal from Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin says the council finds it necessary for economic reasons to limit the number of workers, excluding seasonal employees. McMenamin is also asking for aldermen to receive a monthly report of the city's headcount.
Springfield police are promising a heavy presence on local roadways Sunday… watching out for people who have enjoyed the Super Bowl a bit too much.
Super Bowl Sunday is one of the most dangerous days of the year for alcohol-related crashes and fatalities. Police are promising extra patrols during and after the game in order to catch drunk drivers.
A top state lawmaker is in a romantic frame of mind. Senate President John Cullerton is aiming for a final Senate vote on Valentine’s Day for a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Cullerton says he thinks he has the 30 votes needed for final passage.
He hopes to move the bill through a Senate committee next week, setting the stage for final passage on February 14th. If that happens, the bill would still have to pass the House before Governor Pat Quinn could sign it into law.
In an effort to address Springfield’s crumbling infrastructure and the tens of millions of dollars necessary to address the issue, one aldermen is urging the city to join with the business community to form a working group.
Ward 6 Alderman Cory Jobe says not addressing the issue will keep future businesses from investing in the capital city.
But, unlike past committees that provided potential revenue solutions with little support, Jobe says this time there must be results.
In a press release, Jobe says the city and business community must work to educate citizens about the infrastructure needs.
The alderman plans to formally recommend the committee at Tuesday’s full city council meeting.
Springfield aldermen say they will have to consider all options as they look for tens of millions of dollars to pay for infrastructure repairs in the years ahead.
Even though the Public Works Department is seeking less money in its budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1st, Director Mark Mahoney warns that Springfield needs to spend more than $85 million in the next three years just to halt the decay in the city’s network of streets, sidewalks and sewers.
Alderman Gail Simpson is again raising her idea of a 1.5 percent tax on dining out, which she says could generate nearly a million dollars a year for infrastructure.
The gun debate continues around the country… and on Capitol Hill.
Republican Congressman Rodney Davis says there is no need for an assault weapons ban because the firearms that he considers to be actual “assault weapons” are already banned.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Davis says he would consider other proposals, such as expanded background checks, but only if they are accompanied by measures to expand access to mental health treatment… which he says is the real issue raised by recent mass shootings.