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September 1, 2014, 6:31 pm
970 WMAY News Archives for 2014-01

Winter Storm Kicks Off Potentially Frigid February


The latest winter storm to set its sights on Springfield isn’t likely to be the last. 

 

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Miller says that after this round of snow and ice moves out of the area, another snowstorm could be right around the corner.  The weather service is looking at the potential for significant snow on Tuesday, although Miller says it won’t be as bad as some people have been predicting. 

 

And that’s just the start of what could be a colder and wetter than average February, according to Miller.

Rutherford Says He's Target Of False Allegations, Accuses Rauner Of Involvement


State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he’s the target of false allegations made by an employee in his office… and accuses one of his opponents in the race for governor of being involved. 

 

Rutherford won’t disclose the nature of the allegations, but says he has brought in an outside investigator to do an independent review of the matter.

 

Rutherford claims that an attorney with ties to opponent Bruce Rauner demanded that Rutherford pay $300,000 to make the allegation go away.  Rutherford says Rauner is trying to destroy him, but says the attempt will backfire.

Body Found On South Whittier; Nearby Schools On ''Soft Lockdown''


Detectives are investigating the discovery of a body in the 2700 block of South Whittier and an apparent crime scene in a nearby residence.

Police have erected tents to protect evidence at the scene from the snowfall, as they try to determine how the victim died and the sequence of events.

The discovery is within line of sight of Black Hawk School and the Early Learning Center, which have been placed on "soft lockdown," meaning children are being kept in place in their classrooms until the situation is secure.

Winter Storm Sets Sights on Springfield This Weekend


The winter that won’t quit will be working overtime this weekend.

 

A winter storm watch is in effect from tonight through Saturday afternoon. For the immediate Springfield area, the storm is expected to bring 1 to 3 inches of snow, followed by a layer of ice.

 

The combination is expected to create very difficult conditions for drivers overnight and during the day on Saturday.

 

The storm is expected to be worse to the north of Springfield. For the very latest on this developing weather situation, stay with 970 WMAY.

Madigan Plan Would Save Illinois Corporations $1.5 Billion


A major business tax cut has been proposed… by Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.

 

The state imposes two major taxes on corporations. Madigan’s plan would cut one of them in half, but leave the other one in place.

 

The result would be to shrink the state’s corporate tax bite from 9.5 percent down to 6 percent. The move would save businesses $1.5 billion a year.

 

A Madigan spokesman says the hope is to generate enough new business activity to make up for that big hit to the state’s revenues.

Gov. Quinn Remains Quiet on Plan to Slash Corporate Tax Rate


House Speaker Mike Madigan’s proposal to slash a key corporate tax in the state is getting a lukewarm reception.

 

Governor Pat Quinn isn’t saying yet where he stands on the proposal.

 

But even the biggest anti-tax voices in the state aren’t entirely sold on the proposal.

 

They say most small businesses wouldn’t benefit, because their owners pay personal income taxes, not corporate taxes.

 

Some Republicans wonder whether Madigan’s proposal will be followed by a plan to move Illinois to a graduated income tax.

Unemployment Notches Back Up in Springfield


Unemployment has moved back up in Springfield. The city’s jobless rate edged up to 7.6 percent in December… higher than it was in November, and in December of 2012.

 

State officials say winter weather in December cut into construction jobs, contributing to higher unemployment in most Illinois metro areas.

 

The jobless rate was higher in December, even though the city had 800 more jobs than it had at the same point a year earlier.

Candidates Put Own Money Into Campaigns


Two candidates in the upcoming March primary are pouring big bucks into their own campaigns.

 

Republican Bruce Rauner has given another million dollars to his campaign for governor.

 

Rauner has now put up three million of his own money in his bid to defeat three rivals for the Republican nomination.

 

And GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis has lent his campaign half-a-million dollars. That’s five times more than Oberweis has received in donations from other sources since launching his campaign last year.

 

Oberweis is one of two Republicans competing to face Democrat Dick Durbin in November.

Historic Home Turned Coffee House Overcomes Controversy and Opens For Business


Five years ago it was at the center of a raging controversy in Springfield.

 

But the saga of the Maisenbacher House appears ready for a happy ending.

 

A ribbon cutting this morning will officially launch William Van’s Coffee inside the historic Lincoln-era home.

 

Lincoln himself may have loaned the money to build the residence… which was moved in 2008 from its original location to its current site across from the Lincoln Home Visitors Center.

 

More than a quarter-million dollars in city TIF money was used for the move, even though plans for the building were far from settled at that time.

 

But now owners Court and Karen Conn say the new coffee house is part of an ongoing renaissance in the area near Lincoln Home and the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Springfield's Ace Sign Company Has Super Bowl Connection


A Springfield company is taking center stage at Super Bowl 48.

 

You’ve probably seen the huge illuminated Roman numerals that are dominant along Super Bowl Boulevard in New York’s Times Square.

 

The nine-foot by 38-foot display was designed and built by Ace Sign Company. The LED display can be synchronized to music.

 

The numerals… representing the number 48… are expected to serve as a backdrop for photos of an estimated million visitors who will pass through Times Square this weekend ahead of the game on Sunday.

Winter Storm Watch Issued For Friday-Saturday; Snow And Freezing Rain Expected


Springfield is set to take another harsh dose of winter.

 

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for the 970 WMAY listening area, from Friday evening through Saturday.  The winter weather will begin with snow Friday afternoon; several inches are possible Friday into early Saturday.

 

But the weather could take a nastier turn on Saturday, with freezing rain forecast.  Forecasters say the city could see ice accumulations of up to a quarter-inch.  Stay with 970 WMAY for the latest on the developing weather situation.

Springfield Company In ''Super'' Spotlight


A Springfield company is taking center stage at Super Bowl 48. 

 

Ace Sign Company designed and built the huge illuminated Roman numerals that are on display in Times Square this week. 

 

The 9 foot by 38-foot display is designed to be synchronized to music, and will serve as one of the most visible symbols of the game for thousands of fans who are converging on New York City between now and Super Bowl Sunday.

Madigan Proposes Corporate Tax Cut


Illinois corporations could see a sharp decrease in income taxes under a proposal from House Speaker Mike Madigan. 

 

Madigan has introduced legislation to cut the corporate income tax rate in half, effective retroactively back to January 1st.  Dropping that rate from 7 down to 3.5 percent will save businesses $1.5 billion a year, according to Madigan’s office. 

 

A second corporate tax would remain intact, for a total corporate tax rate of six-percent if Madigan’s plan is approved.  That’s lower than most surrounding states, and Madigan says that should help Illinois attract and retain businesses.

Controversial Maisenbacher House Reborn As Coffee House


Years after igniting controversy by moving a Lincoln-era home to a new location… with the help of city tax dollars… a Springfield couple has completed the transition of that home into a new downtown business. 

 

Court and Karen Conn will cut the ribbon Friday on William Van’s Coffee directly across from the Lincoln Home Visitors Center.  The coffee house… which will also feature sandwiches, pastries and ice cream… will occupy the 160-year-old Maisenbacher  House, which was reportedly built with the help of a loan from Abe Lincoln himself. 

 

It’s the latest business to go up in refurbished historic buildings along Jackson Street, giving a boost to the area near the Lincoln Home site and the Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Quinn's State of State Covers Wages and Education


Governor Pat Quinn says Illinois is making a comeback… but still needs to do more to help the state’s most vulnerable residents.

 

In his annual State of the State speech Wednesday, Quinn focused on populist themes… urging lawmakers to approve an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, and proposing a “birth-to-five” initiative to make kids better prepared for school and beyond.

 

But critics complain that Quinn failed to acknowledge the state’s grim fiscal situation… and said nothing about how to pay for his proposals.

Online Horse Racing Bets Extended in Illinois


Horse racing lives on in Illinois.

 

The statewide racing schedule had been in jeopardy until lawmakers approved… and Governor Pat Quinn quickly signed… legislation extending the authorization for online betting on races.

 

That betting generates around a third of the revenue for the state racing board, and without the authorization, the board would have not had the resources to oversee a full schedule of races.

 

Horse racing accounts for thousands of jobs statewide.

Back to Business at Springfield Hilton After Fire


Officials are still investigating the cause of a fire that forced the evacuation of the Springfield Hilton Wednesday.

 

The fire broke out in the basement, causing heavy smoke. Fire crews removed some vents from the roof of the Bennigan’s restaurant, and some charred and smoldering material was seen laying on the ground near the building.

 

But there was no apparent structural damage, and the hotel was re-opened several hours later.

Forced Entry and Accelerants Discovered at Recent House Fire


A fire that displaced four people and led to an injury for a Springfield fire captain has been labeled as suspicious.

 

Fire Chief Ken Fustin says investigators found evidence of forced entry and accelerants at the home on Philadelphia Avenue, near Lanphier High School.

 

Two adults and two children who live at the residence were not home at the time.

 

The fire captain twisted his knee while fighting that fire.

 

Fustin says because of the injury, the person who started the fire could face enhanced penalties if they’re caught.

Sheriff Attributes Lower Crime Rate To Drug Task Force Efforts


A crackdown on drugs goes hand-in-hand with a dropoff in crime in portions of Sangamon County.

 

New crime stats for unincorporated Sangamon County show reductions in all major categories, including steep reductions in the number of burglaries and thefts.

 

The sheriff’s department attributes the decrease to the reactivation of the DIRT team and its efforts to clamp down on the local drug trade.

 

Officials say many of the property crimes in the county are linked to drug activity.

Dowson Farms Settles Federal Complaint Over Subsidy Fraud Claims


The owners of a family farm operation in Divernon will pay more than five-million dollars to settle a federal complaint that they fraudulently claimed multiple farm subsidies.

 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had charged Dowson Farms with creating phony entities in order to allow them to collect more subsidy dollars.

 

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing, but does end the government’s case over incidents from 2002 to 2008.

Quinn Hits Populist Themes In State Of The State Speech


With a recurring theme of “getting the job done,” Governor Pat Quinn is calling on Illinois lawmakers to do more to help small businesses and lower- and middle-class workers. 

 

Quinn’s State of the State speech (heard live on 970 WMAY) had some pro-business proposals, including a proposal to slash the price of a license that most small businesses need to operate in the state.  But Quinn also wants to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. 

 

And he called for an ambitious program to better prepare very young children for school.  There was no talk about a price tag for any of those initiatives.

Tabled Ordinance Keeps Costly Perk Intact, Adding To Pension Costs


An ordinance tabled by Springfield aldermen Tuesday night means a lucrative perk for nonunion city workers will stay intact... and that could have a big impact on City Hall pensions.

 

The ordinance would have ended the lump sum payments that workers can receive for unused sick time when they leave the city's employ.  City budget director Bill McCarty says that not only means a hefty one-time payout, the money also becomes part of the basis for determining an employee's pension... potentially boosting their payouts by thousands of dollars a year.

By tabling the ordinance, aldermen ended discussion and didn't hear those details about the impact.  Ward 6's Cory Jobe says the administration needs to communicate better with aldermen about such issues before these proposals come up for a vote.

Firefighter Hurt Battling Suspicious Blaze


A blaze that displaced four people and injured a Springfield firefighter is being called suspicious in origin. 

 

That fire broke out late Tuesday in a home on Pennsylvania Avenue, near Lanphier High School.  Fire Chief Ken Fustin says the occupants… two adults and two children… were not home at the time of the fire.  They are receiving help from the Red Cross. 

 

Fustin says investigators consider the fire suspicious, after discovering signs of forced entry and evidence of accelerants to start the fire.  A fire captain suffered a twisted knee while battling that blaze… and that could increase the penalties if the person who started the fire is caught.

Springfield Gets High Marks For Low Cost Of Living


Local business leaders are touting new numbers that show Springfield is one of the most affordable places to live in the state… maybe even the nation. 

 

The Cost of Living Index gives Springfield an overall score of 94.3… putting it more than five-percent below the national average. 

 

The city scored especially well in utility costs, which were more than 20-percent below the national average and 4th lowest in the entire country.  But Springfield had higher than average costs for health care and transportation.

School Attendance Dropped On First Day Back After Cold Snap


Some parents did keep kids home Tuesday rather than send them back to school in Springfield in bitter cold morning temperatures.  But most kids braved the subzero wind chills and made it to class. 

 

District 186 says attendance on Tuesday was around 78.5 percent.  That compares to an average daily attendance of over 91-percent on a typical January day last year.  In the fall semester from September to December, average daily attendance in Springfield schools was more than 93-percent.

Spielberg To Receive Lincoln Honor


The director who most recently brought Abraham Lincoln to life on the big screen is now receiving a prestigious Lincoln-related honor. 

 

Spielberg will receive the Lincoln Leadership Prize from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation in March.  The award will be presented in Chicago by Sally Field, who co-starred as Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film about the 16th President. 

 

The foundation says the award honors both Spielberg’s filmmaking craft and his charitable works.

Pension Reform Law Challenged in Circuit Court


A new front has opened up in the legal war over Illinois pension reform. A coalition of public sector unions filed a class action lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court Tuesday… calling the new pension law approved last month unfair and unconstitutional.

 

The “We Are One” coalition says it may ask the court to block enforcement of the new law until the legal challenges are resolved.

 

It is one of at least four lawsuits which alleges the new law clearly violates the Illinois Constitution, which prohibits diminishment of public sector pension benefits.

Alderman Table Measure to Eliminate Sick Time Payout


Springfield aldermen have tabled a proposal that would have ended the practice of bulk sick-time payouts for nonunion city employees upon retirement or death.

 

Mayor Mike Houston had proposed the change to reduce city expenses in the future. Payouts of accumulated sick days for union and nonunion workers alike totaled more than $1 million last year, according to the city. But aldermen say they had heard concerns from city employees and others about the proposal.

 

It would take eight votes to bring the measure back before the council.

Springfield Bishop Paprocki's Latest Comments Anger Gay Rights Supporters


Springfield’s Catholic bishop is making waves again with new comments about same-sex marriage.

 

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki told the website LifeSiteNews.com last week that his fight against gay marriage… including prayers of exorcism offered last year… come from love, not hatred. And Paprocki compared it to a parent having to discipline or punish a child that has done something wrong.

 

That comparison furthered angered gay rights supporters.

 

But Paprocki says he’s gotten lots of support from the Catholic faithful and people of other faiths…and says his opponents are trying to advance a secular agenda.

Brady: Elimination of State Dept. of Education Would Save Money, Give Local Control


Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says his proposal to eliminate the State Board of Education would be a money-saver in two ways.

 

Brady says he could reduce the state budget by “tens of millions” of dollars by replacing the State Board with a smaller Department of Education directly under the governor’s control.

 

But he says local districts would also see a savings because they wouldn’t have to deal with costly regulations and bureaucracy coming from the state.

 

Brady says his proposal would give more control to local school boards, teachers and parents.

Propane Shortage Prompts Action From Local Lawmakers


Local lawmakers are taking action to help families cope with a critical shortage of propane.

 

Senator Sam McCann has introduced emergency legislation to expand home heating assistance to help more families who are struggling as the price of the heating fuel has skyrocketed during the harsh winter.

 

McCann’s bill would further ease load limits on Illinois interstates, so that more propane could be trucked into the state more quickly.

 

Meanwhile, Representative Raymond Poe is asking for investigations into allegations of price-gouging and other shady business practices by companies seeking to take advantage of the price spike.

UIS Keeps Prairie Stars Name


Teams at the University of Illinois Springfield will continue to be known as the Prairie Stars.

 

After months of debate over whether the school should adopt a new team name and mascot, a consultant found there was no consensus.

 

So school officials have decided to stick with the name that’s been around since the 1970s, when UIS was known as Sangamon State University.

 

Chancellor Susan Koch says the name is part of the school’s tradition and means a lot to students and alumni.

Public Union Coalition Sues Over Pension Reform Law


A coalition of public sector unions has made good on its threat to go to court over Illinois’s new pension reform law. 

 

The “We Are One” coalition calls the measure approved last month a “pension theft” law, because the group says it is an attempt to illegally take away the life savings of state workers, teachers and others in the state public pension systems.  The class action suit, which was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court, has 25 named plaintiffs… including D’Ann Urish, a Springfield special ed teacher. 

 

The unions say the new law is unconstitutional… and may seek an injunction to prevent it from being implemented while the legal challenge is heard.

Brady Questions Rauner's Electability


A Republican candidate for governor is raising questions about the electability of one of his opponents. 

 

Although Bruce Rauner is the frontrunner in most recent polls, State Senator Bill Brady says Rauner has too many unanswered questions about past business dealings.  He says Rauner companies have been linked to nursing home deaths and lawsuits… and have had ties to Stuart Levine, a figure in the Blagojevich scandals. 

 

Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Brady said Rauner needs to answer questions about those issues… and contends Republicans are fearful that if Rauner wins the primary, those issues could haunt him in the general election.

UIS Keeping Prairie Stars Name


The University of Illinois Springfield is sticking with tradition. 

 

After months of considering possible new options for a team name and mascot, university officials say the school will keep the Prairie Stars nickname that it has used since the 1970s. 

 

A message from Chancellor Susan Koch says the name is an important part of the school’s tradition and heritage, and is meaningful to both students and alumni.  A task force had studied the issue and couldn’t reach a consensus, but the chancellor says she’s confident that keeping the Prairie Stars name is the right move.

Program For Uninsured County Residents Evaluates Future Under Affordable Care Act


A local program that was set up to help uninsured Sangamon County residents get quality health care is assessing its future as more of its clients transition to insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act. 

 

The CATCH program was set up through the Sangamon County Medical Society, matching up uninsured county residents with physicians who volunteer their time to see those patients. 

 

Development director Michele Tucker says the program is helping some of its 1900 clients sign up for Medicaid or private plans… but says there could still be a need for its services even after the March 31st deadline under the federal health care reform law.

Most Area School Open Despite Bitter Morning Cold


It’s another very cold morning in Central Illinois… but in spite of that, most area students are headed back to school today.

 

Air temperatures are colder this morning than yesterday, when classes were cancelled. But the wind chill isn’t quite as severe. And conditions are expected to improve even more by this afternoon.

 

Springfield school officials say the afternoon forecast is a big part of their decision on whether to open schools or not, since kids are actually more likely to be stranded outside after taking the bus home at the end of the day than they are in the morning.

 

A handful of districts are still closed today… you can see our list at wmay.com.

Gov. Quinn Moves to Change Propane Hauling Rules


Governor Pat Quinn has declared an energy emergency in the state because of a critical shortage of propane, which has sent prices soaring.

 

The declaration loosens regulations governing the truckers who haul the fuel in from other states.

 

That includes relaxing load limits and allowing those drivers to spend more hours on the road each day.

 

Propane supplies have dwindled because of the harsh winter, on the heels of a wet fall that required more of the fuel to dry grain.

Springfield Police and Fire Propose Budgets for Coming Fiscal Year


Springfield’s police and fire departments say their new budgets largely hold the line from last year.

 

Both departments will see slight increases in personnel costs, but neither is planning major moves in hiring or equipment. Acting police chief Kenny Winslow says his department would like to purchase some new surveillance cameras for downtown… and another “Sky Watch” system that can monitor problem spots around town.

 

The police department also plans to use fines from drunk driving cases to purchase a new squad car dedicated to DUI enforcement.

City to Debate PI or Inspector General During Budget Hearings


Budget hearings tonight at Springfield City Hall will focus on the mayor’s office… including his proposal to spend $50,000 to hire a private investigator to look into allegations of wrongdoing by city workers.

 

Budget director Bill McCarty says that’s a more cost-efficient approach to get an objective outside review of cases which may involve misconduct… but which don’t necessarily require a criminal investigation.

 

Alderman Cory Jobe has suggested that the city hire a full-time independent inspector general to take and investigate reports by whistleblowers.

Coroner Releases Information on Deaths in McLean County


One of two young people found dead near the Illinois State University campus over the weekend died of a blood clot, according to the McLean County coroner.

 

And the second, unrelated death appears to be from exposure to the extreme cold.

 

Officials say neither death is the result of foul play… although they are still waiting for toxicology tests from the student who was found without a coat in a field in Bloomington early Sunday morning.

Some U of I Students Take to Twitter to Complain About Chancellor Wise


Some University of Illinois students have become Internet celebrities… and not in a good way… for a series of increasingly vicious attacks on the university’s chancellor, after she decided not to close the campus Monday despite the bitter cold.

 

Students who were angry about having to go to class in the frigid temperatures began posting obscene, racist and sexist tweets against the chancellor.

 

Before long, other websites were reposting and drawing attention to them. Many of the worst tweets were then deleted… but not before screengrabs guaranteed them some national notoriety.

Classes Will Resume Tuesday In District 186


Classes will resume Tuesday in District 186.

Temperatures and wind chills will still be dangerously cold in the morning, so make sure children are bundled up. The forecast calls for somewhat more moderate conditions by the afternoon.

Interim superintendent Bob Hill said today that the afternoon conditions are an important factor, since children are actually more likely to be stranded outside after leaving school and heading for home than they are in the morning.

School Closing Decisions Hinge On Afternoon, As Well As Morning, Conditions


The decision to close schools in Springfield can have as much to do with the forecast for the afternoon as it does with the predicted weather conditions in the morning. 

 

District 186 has cancelled classes on four different days this month, primarily for extreme cold and dangerous wind chills.  Interim superintendent Bob Hill says one factor he looks at is whether conditions will still be dangerous in the afternoon… since there is a greater chance of a child being stranded outside after they get off the bus at the end of the day, compared to getting on the bus in the morning. 

 

[Classes will resume in District 186 on Tuesday.  For other school closing information, check wmay.com.]

State's First Hand Transplant Program Launched In Springfield


As many as three people could receive transplanted hands in the first year of a new program now underway through the SIU School of Medicine. 

 

It becomes the first certified hand transplant program in the state of Illinois.  SIU professor Dr. Michael Neumeister says a transplanted hand is often more effective… and less expensive… than a prosthesis. 

 

A $2.8 million grant from the Memorial Medical Center Foundation will pay for most of the costs of the procedure for up to five patients over the next three years.

City Looks At Hiring PI To Investigate Allegations Of Employee Misconduct


Springfield city budget hearings this week will include a discussion on whether the city should hire a private investigator. 

 

Mayor Mike Houston has proposed budgeting up to $50,000 for the services of an investigator who can look into allegations of wrongdoing by city employees and make a report back to the mayor and aldermen.  Budget director Bill McCarty says a PI wouldn’t be appropriate in all cases, but could be helpful to get to the bottom of some situations. 

 

Alderman Cory Jobe has proposed hiring a full-time, independent inspector general to take and investigate claims of wrongdoing.

Some U Of I Students React Badly To Decision Not To Cancel Classes


The decision to keep the University of Illinois open despite Monday’s bitter cold did not sit well with some students. 

 

Chancellor Phyllis Wise became the target of some obscene… and even racist and sexist… online messages after deciding not to call off classes in spite of wind chills well below zero. 

 

The ugly backlash picked up national attention as it picked up steam Sunday night and Monday morning.  Many of the worst tweets were deleted after they began to gain notoriety.

Bitter Cold Closes Area Schools, Reports of Wind Damage Through Area


It’s another morning of brutal cold, and cancelled classes, across Central Illinois.

 

A combination of Arctic cold and violent winds led most area districts to cancel school again today.

 

A recorded message from District 186 says the decision was based on a forecast of dangerous wind chills both this morning and this afternoon, as children are going to and coming home from school.

 

That message also says the district hopes to resume classes on Tuesday.

 

Meanwhile, there are some reports of wind damage this morning, including some streetlights and at least one traffic signal down in Chatham.

 

Stay with 970 WMAY for the latest on the weather, and get our complete list of closings at wmay.com.

Businesses Given ACA Waiver Worry What Happens After Exemption Expires


Some local businesses say that even though the Affordable Care Act hasn’t caused them many problems yet, they remain concerned about what the future of the health care law may bring.

 

Zachary Hoffman of Wiley Office Furniture says, like many others, his business was granted an exemption from some of the original mandates of the law.

 

But he worries that those exemptions will expire for thousands of businesses at around the same time… creating a mad rush to find replacement policies that could make last year’s problems with healthcare.gov look tame by comparison.

 

Business owners, hospital executives and others took part in a roundtable discussion last week with Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, an outspoken critic of the new law.

State Budget Official: Bill Backlog Could be Down to $5.6 Billion


Governor Pat Quinn’s budget director says the state is making some progress in whittling down its enormous stack of unpaid bills.

 

A letter from Jerry Stermer to lawmakers say the backlog of bills could be down to $5.6 billion by the end of this fiscal year, after having been as high as $10 billion at one point.

 

Lawmakers say they’re happy to see some progress… but say the number is still too high, especially after the state enacted an income tax increase that was intended to help pay off those old bills.

Quinn to Deliver State of the State Wednesday


Politics will be in the background when Governor Pat Quinn delivers his annual State of the State speech this week.

 

Quinn is expected to use the speech to lay out a list of accomplishments that could also serve as his case for re-election.

 

Topping that list is expected to be pension reform, which was finally approved late last year, despite being one of Quinn’s top priorities for years before that.

 

The governor could also use the speech to renew his call for lawmakers to increase Illinois’s minimum wage.

State Legislative Candidate Reverses Stance on Temporary Income Tax Hike


A local legislative candidate has had a change of heart.

 

After earlier saying he could support extending the temporary state income tax increase if the money went to shoring up public pension funds, 96th House District candidate Mike Bell now says he is opposed to making the tax hike permanent.

 

But the Republican contender told the State Journal-Register he is not sure how to make up the billions in revenue that would be lost if the tax increase is allowed to expire.

 

Bell is facing Landon Laubhan in the March GOP primary. Laubhan also opposes extending the tax increase.

Fire Closes Springfield Fast Food Restaurant Indefinitely


A Springfield fast-food restaurant is closed indefinitely following a fire Sunday night.

 

Reports say that blaze broke out in the kitchen of the Long John Silver’s/A&W restaurant on Clocktower Drive.

 

Firefighters were on the scene for more than an hour putting out that fire. An exact cause and damage estimate were not immediately available.

Death of Two ISU Students Not Related, According to Authorities


Authorities in McLean County are investigating the deaths of two students near the campus of Illinois State University, but they say the deaths appear to be unrelated.

 

A 19-year-old man was found dead in a field early Sunday. The coroner’s office says there was no obvious trauma, and say the man was not dressed properly for the cold.

 

On Saturday, officials found the body of a 20-year-old woman in her apartment in Normal. The cause of her death is still under investigation.

Classes Cancelled Again In District 186 Because Of Extreme Cold


Bitterly cold conditions have once again forced the cancellation of classes in Springfield District 186 and some other surrounding communities.

 

A forecast with temperatures at or below zero... and wind chills of -20 or lower... prompted district officials to call of classes for Monday (1/27).

 

For other weather-related closings and cancellations, please go to our Closings Page.

Lawmaker Seeks ''Energy Emergency'' Declaration


A local lawmaker says Governor Pat Quinn should declare an “energy emergency” in the state. 

 

High demand during the harsh winter has sent propane prices soaring, as the supply of the fuel shrinks.  Senator Sam McCann says an emergency declaration would change load limit rules on Illinois interstates, to allow more propane to be trucked in. 

 

It could also expand energy-assistance programs for the poor.

Davis Hears Concerns About Affordable Care Act


Congressman Rodney Davis is hearing local concerns about the impact of the Affordable Care Act, now and in the future. 

 

Davis convened a roundtable discussion in Springfield Friday, with doctors, hospital executives and small business owners discussing President Obama's health care reform law. 

 

Even those who said they aren't experiencing major problems at the moment say they're concerned about what will happen when more of the law is implemented over the next two years.

Efficiency Commission Wants More State Financial Support For Local Governments


Sangamon County’s Citizens Efficiency Commission says the state should make up some of the local property tax revenue that is lost because of the large amount of state-owned property in Springfield. 

 

The Commission’s final report pushes for the state to make payments in lieu of taxes… a program known by the acronym PILOT. 

 

That report also calls for rollbacks of burdensome state regulations.

Dust Storm Causes Accidents, Prompts Temporary Highway Closure


Just when you thought you’d seen everything winter had to offer… how about a dust storm? 

 

That’s what closed down a section of Route 108 west of Carlinville Friday.  High winds and dry fields created a dust cloud that reduced visibility to near zero and led to two accidents… including one where a vehicle rear-ended a State Police squad car. 

 

A trooper went to the hospital, but his injuries are reportedly not serious.

Despite Bitter Wind Chills, School Resumes Today


Bundle up and get back to school. Most area school districts are in session today, despite a second straight day of wind chills that are well below zero.

 

District 186 says that temperatures and wind chills should be more moderate by the time kids head home from school this afternoon.

 

But the district is reminding parents to make sure kids are dressed properly for this morning’s bitter cold… and to limit the time that kids are standing outside at bus stops, if possible.

Mayor: Local Bond Issuance Sells More Than $4 Million


Mayor Mike Houston says the results of this week’s infrastructure bond sale show his critics didn’t really know what they were talking about.

 

Aldermen Joe McMenamin and Frank Edwards had complained that advance information about that sale to local investors was hard to come by. But when those investors got the chance to buy on Wednesday, they snatched up more than $4 million of the bonds.

 

Houston says that shows investors had the information they needed… and felt like buying the city’s bonds was a good investment.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Temporary Tax Increase at Forum in Peoria


The four Republican candidates for governor are all saying they would reject an extension of the state’s temporary income tax increase… and offering some ideas about how they would slash billions from state spending.

 

In a forum Thursday in Peoria, Bruce Rauner and Kirk Dillard vowed to make much more sweeping changes to state worker pensions and to radically change Medicaid.

 

Bill Brady also said he would eliminate the State Board of Education.

 

Dan Rutherford said he will undertake a comprehensive analysis of state spending to find places to cut.

Tuition Raises for U of I Freshmen, includes Springfield's Campus


Tuition is going up for incoming freshmen at the University of Illinois Springfield and the other U of I campuses.

 

In Springfield, a new student will pay 94-hundred dollars in tuition next fall… but that price would then be locked in for four years.

 

On the Urbana campus, the four-year cost of tuition, fees, room and board will now top $100,000 for the first time.

Bill Would Fine Adults for Smoking in Cars With Kids


An Illinois lawmaker has reintroduced legislation that prohibits adults from smoking in a car while children are also in the vehicle.

 

Senator Ira Silverstein’s bill would not allow police to pull someone over just for that… but if they were caught in the course of a traffic stop for other reasons, the smoker could face a $100 fine.

 

Similar legislation has been offered in the past… but has never picked up much support.

Springfield Fire Fighter Recovering After Suffering Burns Battling 12th Street House Fire


A Springfield firefighter is recovering from burns to the tops of his ears… suffered while battling a house fire Thursday.

 

That blaze at a home on South 12th Street displaced four residents of the home, including three children. But none of the occupants were injured.

 

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Classes To Resume Friday In District 186


Classes will resume on Friday in Springfield District 186.

 

Even though the forecast continues to call for bitterly cold wind chills on Friday, school officials decided to reopen schools.  A statement from interim superintendent Bob Hill reminds parents to make sure that children are dressed warmly enough for conditions and to monitor their wait outside for buses.

 

The district notes that temperatures are expected to climb into the 20s later in the day on Friday, and the wind chill advisory is expected to be lifted by midday.  The statement from the district says the decision could be reconsidered if weather conditions change in the overnight or early morning hours.

Houston Touts Bond Sale Success, Raps Critics


Mayor Mike Houston says the criticism of this week’s infrastructure bond issue may be the result of ignorance. 

 

Houston took some heat from aldermen who said that information about the bond sale to local investors was hard to find in the days before those bonds went on sale Wednesday. 

 

But Houston says $4.5 million in bonds sold out in just hours… he says investors who understand the market had no problem getting the information and making the purchase.

DSI Wants New Look At Mural Rules


Downtown Springfield, Inc. would like another opinion about its mural project. 

 

A planned mural that would have depicted the Old Capitol Farmers Market was delayed last year after the city ruled that it was “signage” that would require a zoning variance. 

 

DSI director Victoria Ringer says she will ask new city attorney Todd Greenburg for a fresh review… and maybe an ordinance… that she hopes would allow future murals to go forward as “public art” and not signage that would require City Council approval.

Tuition On The Rise At University Of Illinois Campuses, Including UIS


Tuition is going up for incoming freshmen at the University of Illinois Springfield and other U of I campuses. 

 

Trustees approved the 1.7 percent increase, raising the cost for a first-year student on the Springfield campus to more than $9400.  Those costs would then be locked in for four years. 

 

The total four-year cost of tuition, fees, room and board at the Urbana campus is now above $100,000 for the first time.

Blood Donations Run Low As Temperatures Plunge


The bitter cold is putting a big chill on blood donations… and prompting the Central Illinois Community Blood Center to put out an urgent call for help. 

 

The center wants to have a three-day supply of blood on hand… but out of eight different blood types, it only has an adequate supply of blood in one of the eight. 

 

You can make a blood donation at the Blood Center on South 7th.  It’s open (until 6 Thursday), 8 to 4 on Friday and 9 to noon on Saturday.

Another Round of Frigid Weather Leaves Most Area Schools Closed


Central Illinois is taking the polar vortex out for another spin this morning. Wind chills in the 20-below-zero range have led most area school districts to cancel classes for today.

 

However, the Springfield high school basketball city tournament will go on as scheduled tonight.

 

District 186 says contractual obligations with the Prairie Capital Convention Center don’t allow the tournament to be postponed.

 

A wind chill advisory is in effect through noon Friday.

 

Experts say frostbite and hypothermia can result if people are not properly protected against the bitter cold.

 

See a list of weather related closings here.

City Close to Finalizing Purchase of Downtown Block


The City of Springfield is getting close to finalizing the purchase of a full city block of prime downtown real estate.

 

Mayor Mike Houston touted the potential of future development during his annual State of Downtown address Wednesday night at the Hilton.

 

The block bounded by 4th, 5th, Capitol and Jackson currently houses the vacant YWCA building, and sits across from the Governor’s Mansion.

 

Houston says once the estimated $1.5 million purchase is complete, the city will put out requests for proposals on how to develop the land, which could become the focal point of a new downtown TIF district.

State Legislative Candidate Laubhan Supports Dropping Income Tax Rate


A local legislative candidate says not only should the state’s temporary income tax increase lapse next year, the state should consider dropping the tax rate even lower than where it was before the increase took effect.

 

But Republican Landon Laubhan says he doesn’t know yet what would have to be cut to make up for the billions in lost revenue.

 

Laubhan… who is one of two Republicans running in the 96th House District primary… also says restrictions in the state’s concealed carry law need to be loosened… saying he would permit teachers and administrators to carry guns in schools, and would even allow concealed guns in amusement parks.

 

Listen to Laubhan's conversation on The Jim Leach Show here.

Proposals Include Barring Gun Ownership for Medical Marijuana Users


It could become one of the most controversial parts of the proposed rules for medical marijuana in Illinois.

 

The first draft of those rules would prohibit medical marijuana users from having either a FOID card or a concealed carry permit… in effect making it illegal for them to own a firearm.

 

The Illinois State Rifle Association says it appears the rule is an attempt to deal with federal gun laws, which prohibit the use of “illegal drugs” by gun owners.

 

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, despite the new state law allowing its use to treat certain medical conditions.

Springfield School Board Faces Another Red Ink Budget


Springfield schools are facing another year of deficit spending… with almost no cash reserves left to cover the red ink.

 

And that could force nearly two-million-dollars in cuts for the next school year. Interim superintendent Bob Hill says even with holding the line on all expenditures… except for modest increases in teacher pay… spending will still outstrip available revenues.

 

Board members say they want to keep any cuts far away from classrooms and teachers… but haven’t said yet how they hope to achieve that goal.

Springfield School Board Approves Contract for Gill as Superintendent


The Springfield school board has approved a three-year contract for Jennifer Gill as the district’s next superintendent.

 

Gill will be paid $195,000 a year when she starts her new position on May 1st. She will also forego health insurance and some other benefits, making her total compensation around $80,000 a year less than former superintendent Walter Milton received.

 

Gill says she will spend as much time as possible in the next three months working directly with district administrators and staff…while wrapping up her current job in McLean County.

Greenburg Approved for Corporation Counsel Position After Weeks of Delays


Mayor Mike Houston’s choice to be the city’s next corporation counsel has finally gotten a green light from aldermen.

 

The City Council approved the nomination of Todd Greenburg, a vote that had been delayed by a couple of weeks as aldermen sought more answers about Greenburg’s past work history and legal philosophy.

 

The vote was not unanimous… Aldermen Frank Edwards and Sam Cahnman voted “no” and Doris Turner voted “present.”

House of Rainbows May Have to Close After City Council Vote


A group of halfway houses serving recently-paroled prisoners could have to shut down soon after Springfield aldermen rejected a zoning change that would have kept them open.

 

The owner of House of Rainbow sought the zoning change after realizing… nearly a decade after the halfway houses opened… that they did not comply with zoning rules for their north-end neighborhood.

 

But aldermen agreed with the Planning and Zoning Commission that the zoning change did not fit with long-range plans for that area.

 

Owner David Kettelkamp says he hasn’t decided on his next move.

Springfield Offers Bonds to Local Investors Today


In case you had forgotten… the City of Springfield is selling bonds to local investors today to help finance its upcoming infrastructure projects.

 

That reminder came out late Tuesday from the mayor’s office… hours after Alderman Joe McMenamin appeared live on 970 WMAY to complain that local brokerages and investors had little or no information about the planned sale. McMenamin later called the process a “farce.”

 

The city says it will make the bonds available to local investors first before taking the sale out to institutional investors on the larger market.

 

Bonds are available in $5,000 increments with interest rates of 1 to 5-percent, depending on their date of maturity.

District 186 Facing More Deep Cuts For Next Year; Reserves Nearly Depleted


The Springfield School Board will have some tough choices in the weeks ahead, as it faces a multi-million-dollar operating deficit for next year with almost no cash reserves left.

 

Interim superintendent Bob Hill laid out the choices for the board Tuesday night, noting that revenues are expected to decline next year after a one-time windfall this year related to the expiration of the Park South TIF. And despite years of cuts, the district's cash reserves have been nearly depleted, down to just $600,000.

 

Even with some reductions in spending, including changes in the high school schedule and the expiration of a costly technology contract with Apple, the school board could have to cut $1.8 million from next year's budget to avoid going into debt.  Board members say they want to keep those cuts away from classrooms and teachers, but it's unclear how to achieve that goal.

School Board Approves Contract For Gill To Become Superintendent In May


Jennifer Gill will take over as the next superintendent of Springfield District 186 on May 1.

 

The school board unanimously approved a three-year contract for Gill at a starting salary of $195,000 a year.  Gill says she will be spending as much time as possible observing and meeting with district personnel even before officially taking over, to get a feel for the issues she will face as superintendent.

Springfield Aldermen Approve Greenburg for Corporation Council Spot


The City of Springfield has a new corporation counsel, and this one was approved the Springfield City Council.

 

Aldermen approved former Bloomington city attorney Todd Greenburg Tuesday, after several weeks of delay. Greenburg left Bloomington in a severance agreement after conflicts with elected officials.

 

Springfield aldermen postponed approving Greenburg two weeks ago because Greenburg was out of town on vacation, and not available for questions.

 

Greenburg says he will jump right in to the office to get to work on the City of Springfield's legal matters. Greenburg replaces several acting corporation counsels who ran the office after Mark Cullen resigned amid the Springfield Police IA file shred scandal.

 

With the approval to be Springfield's Corporation Counsel, Greenburg will officially part ways with Bloomington.

 

Aldermen Frank Edwards and Sam Cahnman voted no.

City Offers Bonds For Infrastructure Improvements to Area Residents Wednesday


It's a chance for you to put your money where Springfield's infrastructure is.

 

The city will offer up bonds for local investors beginning Wednesday through a host of different banks and institutions or by contacting the city's Office of Budget and Management at 789-2191. OBM will put interested investors in touch with JP Morgan, the bond underwriter.

 

Sales for Sangamon County residents will be available Wednesday and then available everywhere else Thursday, according to Mayor Mike Houston.

 

But some aldermen say there has been a lack of information for the public concerning the bonds.  Aldermen Joe McNemamin said there was a breakdown somewhere and it is a "farce." 

 

A press release from the Mayor's office says bonds can be purchased in $5,000 increments and have ranging dates of maturity and interest rates. The city plans to use over $80 billion in bonds over three years to be used for infrastructure improvements.

House of Rainbows Petition Denied by Springfield City Council


A series of Springfield halfway homes that act as a transition for felons fresh out of prison may have to close up shop after aldermen voted to deny a zoning petition by the property's managers.

 

The issue of House of Rainbows' four properties on North 10th Street in Springfield was postponed from the December zoning meeting and an attempt to continue it another month failed.

 

During Tuesday's meeting the petitioner's attorney, Tom Immel, said that there was a last minute call from Art Sutton, the Deputy Chief of Parole with the Illinois Department of Corrections.  Immel said that Sutton wanted to address the city council about the operation.

 

Springfield zoning staff recommended denial of the petition and also said that no one from the Department of Corrections contacted them.

 

Aldermen Frank Edwards said there's nothing that Department of Corrections can say to remove public opposition to the zoning change that would allow the continued operation of the homes.

 

The homes on North 10th Street house 19 residents and have been operating for several years already but were asking for a zoning change to come into compliance with city code after expanding.

 

Opponents of the zoning change said they don't oppose the program, they oppose the zoning change to halfway homes when the area is moving more towards single family, owner occupied homes.

 

Aldermen voted 6 to 4 to adopt the planning and zoning recommendation that denies the zoning petition.

 

Properties owner David Kettlecamp said before the vote that he will be out of a job if he has to shut down.

Shooting Reported on North 8th in Springfield


An investigation has begun into a shooting at the 1200 block of North 8th Street in Springfield.

 

Reports indicate the shooting victim called police. There’s no word of the victim’s condition and an investigation is ongoing.

 

No further details were immediately available.

Davis Says No Improvement In Obamacare


Obamacare may not be getting any worse… but it isn’t getting better, either. 

 

That assessment comes from Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act.  Davis insists that even though problems associated with the health insurance law’s rollout have been corrected, the law remains anything but affordable for most Americans. 

 

Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Davis says whatever benefits the law has created are far outweighed by the burdens and costs it has imposed on most people.

Allgaier Gets Ride For 2014 Sprint Cup Season


It’s a big step forward for local racing star Justin Allgaier. 

 

The Riverton native will compete in every race this year on NASCAR’s senior circuit, the Sprint Cup.  Allgaier finished fifth in NASCAR’s Nationwide series this past season. He ran in a handful of Sprint Cup races in the fall, performing well enough to get picked up for this year. 

 

Springfield-based Brandt Professional Agriculture will be the main sponsor of Allgaier’s Number 51 Chevy for 21 of the 36 Sprint Cup races this season.

Frigid Windy Weather Makes Morning Commute Difficult


It could be a difficult morning drive across Central Illinois.

 

Although snowfall totals were relatively moderate overnight, strong winds are causing blowing and drifting snow, affecting both road conditions and visibility.

 

Very cold temperatures and subzero wind chills could add to the wintry misery today.

 

Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the forecast and driving conditions.

Report: Recent Pension Reform Will Have Minimal Impact on Chronic Budget Deficit


The pension reform plan approved by lawmakers last month will have only a minimal impact on Illinois’s chronic budget deficit, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.

 

The Institute for Government and Public Affairs finds that even though the reform plan would stabilize the pension funds, it won’t stop the rising tide of red ink, which is estimated to climb to $13 billion by the year 2025. That’s only a billion dollars less than the estimated deficit if pension reform had not been approved.

 

The study assumed that lawmakers would not extend the state’s temporary income tax increase next year. If the tax hike is made permanent, the estimated deficit would be cut in half, to $7 billion.

Governor Candidate Dillard Wants to Trim State's Gas Tax


Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard wants to cut some of the tax that Illinois imposes on gasoline.

 

The state tacks a gasoline sales tax on top of other state and federal fuel taxes on every gallon, with the proceeds split between state and local governments.

 

Dillard says he would keep the local share intact, but would eliminate most of the state share… and take what is left to finance bonds for infrastructure plans.

 

He says the move would save the average motorist $200 a year… but it would also take away more than half-a-billion dollars a year out of the state treasury.

Major IL Gubernatorial Candidates Agree Pot Shouldn't Be Legal for Recreational Use


The six major contenders for Illinois governor don’t agree on very much, but they all say the state should not legalize marijuana for recreational use.

 

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, his primary challenger Tio Hardiman, and all four Republican hopefuls say Illinois should not follow the lead of Colorado and Washington.

 

The candidates are split on the wisdom of the state’s new medical marijuana law.

Unity March and Racial Profiling Discussion Mark Celebrations of MLK Day in Springfield


A unity march was one of the key moments in Springfield’s observance of Martin Luther King Day on Monday.

 

Several local groups joined together to sponsor the march between two east-side churches.

 

It was followed by a panel discussion on issues including racial profiling… and the need for law enforcement to work together with the minority community to create an atmosphere of greater trust and cooperation.

State Board of Education Considers Change to Staffing Requirements for Special Ed Students


A push is underway to block a proposed rule change that could affect classroom conditions for special education students.

 

Current state rules say that no more than 30% of students in a classroom can be special ed students.

 

If the numbers go beyond that, school districts have to hire more staff. But the State Board of Education is considering a rule change.

 

Educators say that could put too many special ed students into a classroom, making it impossible for them to get the specialized instruction they need.

 

Teachers unions are using op-ed pieces and direct lobbying efforts in hopes of defeating the proposed rule change.

Icy Accident Leaves Father Dead After Assisting Daughter


A New Berlin man is dead following a freak accident along an icy stretch of road near Springfield.

 

The sheriff’s department says 61-year-old Richard Wiley had gone to the intersection of Old Jacksonville Road and New Salem Church Road to assist his teenage daughter, who slid into a ditch after hitting an icy patch.

 

As he stood near her car, another vehicle also hit the ice and slid into the ditch, striking him.

 

Wiley was pronounced dead a short time later at Memorial Medical Center. No citations have been issued yet, but the accident is still under investigation.

Quinn Says Raising Minimum Wage Part of War on Poverty


Governor Pat Quinn is also continuing to push for an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

 

Quinn is using the Martin Luther King holiday to argue that hiking the state wage to at least $10 an hour would help in the “war on poverty.”

 

Opponents say raising the minimum wage would be a job killer… especially if Illinois moves to increase its own rate to a level far higher than surrounding states.

Durbing's Call for Increase in Federal Minimum Wage Would Benefit Servers


U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s call to raise the federal minimum wage could also mean a big boost for waiters and waitresses.

 

Most servers work for what is known as the “tipped wage,” which has been at $2.13 an hour for more than 20 years. Workers make up the difference with their income from tips. But Durbin says for the average server, that only totals around $9 an hour.

 

He wants to see the tipped wage rise to around 70% of the regular minimum wage. Durbin says that could drive up the price of eating out, but says a small additional cost for diners would mean a huge help for servers.

Outside Chicago and St. Louis Area, Sangamon County Tops in Number of Concealed Carry Applications


Sangamon County residents appear eager to get their hands on concealed carry permits.

 

So far, 569 applications have been received from county residents… the second-highest total for any county outside of the Chicago or St. Louis areas. That amounts to one permit for every 347 residents, according to the State Journal-Register.

 

The ratio was even higher in neighboring counties. Menard had one application for every 249 residents, Macon County had one for every 257 residents, and in Christian County, it’s 1 in 269.

Contract: Gill to Start as Springfield School Supt. May 1


The proposed contract for Springfield’s next school superintendent includes a salary that’s around $25,000 a year lower than former superintendent Walter Milton.

 

The school board will vote Tuesday on the contract, which calls for a starting salary of $195,000 a year for Jennifer Gill. Gill would also not take health benefits under the contract, because she is covered under her husband’s policy.

 

The three-year contract calls for Gill to start work here on May 1st.

Info of Man's Daughter's Death Appears on Envelope From OfficeMax


It could be an example of data-mining run amok… a suburban Chicago man received a mailing from Office Max.

 

The address had his name on it… and then right below the name, it said “Daughter Killed In Car Crash.” It was true… Mike Seay’s daughter had been killed in an accident a year ago.

 

But now he’s demanding to know how and why that wound up on a mailing list database.

 

OfficeMax says it bought the list from a third party, and is investigating.

Father Killed Trying To Assist Daughter


A father has died after a freak accident that occurred as he was trying to assist his daughter, who had been in an accident at the same intersection just moments earlier.

 

Sangamon County authorities say a 17-year-old girl slid on ice at Old Jacksonville Road and New Salem Church Road Sunday morning, and wound up in a ditch.  She called her father, who drove to the scene.  As he was down in the ditch assisting his daughter, another teen driver approached the same intersection and also slid into the ditch, striking the father.  He was taken to Memorial Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.  As of mid-afternoon Sunday, his name had not been released.

 

Authorities have not issued any citations, but say the investigation is continuing.

Durbin Wants Increase In Tip Wage As Well As Minimum Wage


As part of his call for an increase in the federal minimum wage, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says the "tip wage" should also be increased.

 

Servers can be paid a minimum of $2.13 an hour, on the theory that the rest of their income will be made up in tips.  That rate has not grown in 20 years, according to Durbin, who says even with the tips, the average server is only making around $9 an hour.

 

Durbin wants to see the federal minimum wage gradually increased to $10.10 an hour, and says the tip wage should also be raised to 70% of that total, or around $7 an hour before tips are factored in. He says that could raise the cost of dining out, but Durbin says the economic gains are worth a modest increase in prices.

New Springfield Superintendent To Make Less Than Predecessor; Gill To Start May 1


Incoming Springfield school superintendent Jennifer Gill will start the job on May 1st, under the terms of the contract to be voted on by the school board this week. 

 

The contract calls for Gill to make $195,000 a year… around $25,000 less than former superintendent Walter Milton made.  And Gill won’t be taking district health benefits… the contract says she is already covered under her husband’s policy.

 

The three-year contract is on the agenda for the next school board meeting on Tuesday.  The board meeting was pushed back one day this week because of the Martin Luther King holiday.

Chamber Fires Sandstrom, Cites Need For New Leadership


Steward Sandstrom is out as President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. 

 

The chamber board fired Sandstrom Friday, saying new leadership is needed to meet the chamber’s goals.  Board chairman Tom Fitch says the search for a new leader will focus on finding someone from the Springfield area who understands the history and needs of local businesses.  Sandstrom had been working in Michigan when he was hired here in 2012.

 

Fitch says the parting was “amicable.”  Sandstrom declined to comment.

Bloomington Girl Dies Of Dog Bites; Family's Pit Bulls Seized


A four-year-old Bloomington girl is dead after suffering multiple dog bites Friday night, according to the McLean County coroner. 

 

The girl was at home with a grandparent and a sibling when the attack occurred.  Three family dogs, reportedly pit bulls, were taken into custody by McLean County Animal Control.

Durbin Rips Rauner On Minimum Wage


U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is jumping into a hot issue in the race for Illinois governor. 

 

Durbin says he is working with state lawmakers to encourage them to raise Illinois’s minimum wage. 

 

And Durbin says Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is out of touch for suggesting last month the wage should be lowered.  Rauner’s camp says Durbin’s criticism shows that Democrats are scared of Rauner.

Harold Attacks Davis Vote On Omnibus Spending Bill


The spending bill that will avert another federal government shutdown is now an issue in a local congressional race. 

 

Republican Congressman Rodney Davis voted for the $1.1 trillion package.  His primary challenger, Erika Harold, criticized the vote because the budget cuts pension benefits for many military veterans.  Harold says the measure breaks promises made to veterans.

Chamber of Commerce Board Ousts Sandstrom


Steward Sandstrom has been removed as President and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

 

A press release says the decision was made with the unanimous backing of the chamber's board of directors.  The statement says "new leadership [is] necessary to reach our goals."  It notes that the decision "was not made lightly, nor was it arrived at overnight."

 

No further elaboration was given.  Jim Britton of Express Employment Professionals has been put in charge of the search for a replacement.

Quinn, Durbin Push For Higher Minimum Wage


Raising the minimum wage could be a major election year battle in the Illinois legislature this year. 

 

Governor Pat Quinn told a Martin Luther King tribute breakfast in Chicago that he is committed to boosting the state’s rate to $10 an hour… at least.  And U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says he will work with Quinn and Illinois legislators to raise the state rate… which is already a dollar-an-hour higher than the national minimum wage.

Park District To Emphasize Maintenance Over Growth For Now


The likely new director of the Springfield Park District says his tenure will be a period of limited growth in the district… at least at first. 

 

Derek Harms says it’s important for the district to protect and maintain its existing land and facilities across 35 parks.  That’s a process that is already underway with development of a new budget for the park district, one that Harms says will try to maximize efficiency and perhaps reduce headcount through attrition. 

 

The park board is in contract negotiations with Harms and hopes to finalize a deal with him later this month.

Airport Passenger Counts Jump In 2013


Passenger counts are up substantially at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. 

 

Total ridership last year was up four-and-a-half percent compared to 2012, an increase of more than 6,000 passengers.  The spike was especially pronounced in December, where ridership was up 34% over December of 2012.  The airport added direct service to Orlando-Sanford Airport in November. 

 

Airport officials say passenger growth is a key factor used by airlines as they evaluate whether to keep… or expand… service in a market.

''Lincoln'' Movie Exhibit Officially Opens


An exhibit that officials think will give a boost to the state and local economy is now officially open. 

 

The display of sets, costumes and props from the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln” was formally opened to the public Friday at Union Station, with ceremonies that featured Springfield Mayor Mike Houston. 

 

Officials hope the connection to the film… which was both a critical and box office success… will draw even more crowds to Springfield and to the presidential museum complex.

Faulty Air Compressor Blamed For Scheels Fire


A malfunction in an air compressor gets the blame for the fire that broke out in a storage room at Scheels Thursday night. 

 

The flames were contained to that room… but Springfield fire officials say smoke and water from the store’s automatic sprinkler system caused more widespread damage.  Even so, Scheels was open for business on Friday.  No one was hurt in the fire.

Drought Persists For Sangamon County


Even recent snowfall has not been enough to break the drought that continues to linger in Central Illinois. 

 

Sangamon County remains in the “moderate drought” category, where it has been for months… except for the far eastern tip of the county, which is designated as “severe”. 

 

Statewide, drought conditions are improving, with only one-fourth of the state now considered to be in a drought.  But the driest conditions are in portions of Sangamon, Macon, Logan and DeWitt counties.

CWLP Proposes Lower Budget, Says Ratepayers Profit From Utility Investments


City Water Light and Power’s proposed budget for the coming year is 1.5 percent less than its current budget.

 

Some Springfield aldermen are wondering what’s the payoff for city ratepayers from the reduction in spending. Chief utilities engineer Eric Hobbie says the payoff comes in the form of a stable utility that has a financial cushion to deal with unexpected situations.

 

Most of this year’s savings comes in the water fund… as CWLP winds down an extensive waterworks improvement program.

Proposed Measure Prevents Non-Union Hires at City From Cashing in Sick Time


Future hires for non-union jobs at Springfield City Hall would not get a perk that proved very lucrative for past employees… if aldermen approve a new ordinance.

 

That measure would prevent any non-union workers hired after March 1st of this year from cashing in unused sick time upon retirement or death.

 

Those payouts can amount to thousands of dollars per worker, according to city budget director Bill McCarty. He says the city paid out $1 million in unused sick time to union and non-union workers in the past year.

 

Current employees would still be eligible for the payout… and it remains part of the city’s union contracts, although the amount of the payout has been limited.

Springfield Parks Board Enters Negotiations With Harms for Exec. Director Position


After nearly a year as interim executive director of the Springfield Park District, Derek Harms has been selected to take over the job permanently.

 

The park board voted Thursday night to enter into contract negotiations with Harms, and hopes to finalize the deal later this month.

 

Harms took over when former director Mike Stratton left after board members discovered questionable payouts to Stratton and other employees.

Smoke and Water Damage After Fire at Scheels


A fire that broke out inside the Scheels store in Springfield Thursday night caused smoke damage, as well as water damage from the building’s automatic sprinkler system.

 

Firefighters quickly put out the blaze, which forced the evacuation of the store. No one was injured.

 

The cause is still under investigation. It wasn’t immediately clear how the incident would affect store operations today.

Challenge to Associate Judge Candidate Madonia Petitions Dismissed


The State Board of Elections has unanimously voted to keep Associate Judge John “Mo” Madonia on the March primary ballot.

 

Madonia’s petitions to run for a circuit judgeship were challenged by his Republican primary opponent, Kent Gray. Gray said Madonia’s petitions had multiple flaws, including listing his home address as Springfield, when Madonia lives in Leland Grove.

 

The elections board rejected that complaint, noting that homes in Leland Grove still have Springfield mailing addresses. Gray tells the State Journal-Register he may appeal the decision in circuit court.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Exchange Jabs During Forum


Bruce Rauner says the theme of Thursday’s joint forum with the GOP candidates for governor appeared to be “Beat Up Brucey.”

 

Rauner was a frequent target of his opponents, over his views on the minimum wage and allegations that he used clout to get his daughter into an elite school. But Rauner got in his own shots against his challengers.

 

He accused Treasurer Dan Rutherford of taking large amounts of union money… prompting Rutherford to accuse Rauner of spreading false info about him. Rauner also mocked Bill Brady for losing to Pat Quinn four years ago.

Daughter of Shirley Skinner Arrested Day After Speaking to Prisoner Review Board


Just a day after asking a state panel to release her mother from prison early, the daughter of convicted killer Shirley Skinner found herself in police custody.

 

Debbie Webster was arrested Thursday on a civil warrant out of Cass County for non-payment of attorney’s fees.

 

She was freed after posting $1,000 bond and told to return for a court appearance later in the month. Webster was arrested in Logan County as she attempted to visit Skinner at the prison where Skinner is serving her term for the murder of Steven Watkins in 2008.

Fire Causes Smoke, Water Damage At Scheels; No Injuries Reported


Fire broke out Thursday night inside the Scheels sporting goods store at MacArthur and I-72, forcing the evacuation of the store and triggering the automatic sprinkler system.

 

Firefighters quickly got the blaze under control, but Fire Chief Ken Fustin says the store sustained some smoke damage, as well as water damage from the sprinklers.

 

No one was injured, and the cause of the fire has not been determined. 

Harms Tapped To Run Park District


The Springfield Park Board has taken the next step toward installing interim executive director Derek Harms into the job permanently.

 

Harms has been handling day-to-day operations since former director Mike Stratton left under a cloud last year.  The Park Board voted Thursday to enter into negotiations with Harms on a full contract.

 

Details must still be worked out, but both sides expressed optimism they could work out a deal for Harms to take over the post on a long-term basis.

One Day After Clemency Hearing, Skinner's Daughter Arrested


The daughter of convicted killer Shirley Skinner has been arrested. 

 

Cass County authorities say Debbie Webster was taken into custody as she visited her mother at the state prison in Logan County.  She was reportedly arrested on a civil warrant related to non-payment of attorneys’ fees.  She was released after posting $1,000 bond. 

 

The arrest happened one day after Webster testified before a state panel to ask that her mother be released from prison early.

City Moves To Eliminate Sick Leave Payouts For Future Non-Union Hires


Future non-union Springfield city employees would not be able to cash in their unused sick time when they leave their jobs… under an ordinance that goes before the Springfield City Council next week. 

 

Currently workers can accumulate sick time for years… and receive a lump sum payout for unused days upon retirement or death.  City budget director Bill McCarty says that can amount to thousands of dollars. 

 

The ordinance would end that practice for non-union employees hired after March 1st of this year.  Workers hired before then would still get the benefit.  Union employees also get paid for unused sick time, but the city has worked to reduce the amount in recent years.

GOP Governor Candidates Clash At Forum


The Republican candidates for governor are getting testy with each other, with the primary just over two months away. 

 

They frequently clashed at a business forum in suburban Chicago Thursday.  Dan Rutherford interrupted Bruce Rauner’s closing statement, accusing Rauner of spreading false information about him. 

 

Rauner, meanwhile, called it “Beat Up Brucey Morning” after enduring attacks over his views on the minimum wage and allegations that he used clout to get his daughter into an elite charter school.

Quinn Challenger Stays On Ballot


A primary challenger for Governor Pat Quinn will stay on the ballot… and so will his running mate. 

 

The nominating petitions for Tio Hardiman and running mate Brunell Donald had been challenged on the grounds that Donald listed an incorrect home address on the petitions… something she admitted. 

 

But just hours before the State Board of Elections was set to vote on the case, the objector withdrew the complaint, allowing Hardiman and Donald to remain on the March Democratic primary ballot.

Lincoln Film Exhibit Opens Friday


The long-awaited display of sets, costumes and props from the Steven Spielberg movie “Lincoln” makes its debut Friday at Union Station downtown. 

 

State historic preservation officials hope the touch of Hollywood will attract lots of new, and repeat, visitors to the presidential museum complex.  Adults can see the movie exhibit for five-dollars… or can purchase a combined ticket for the museum and the Union Station exhibit for $15.  Children can see the movie display for free. 

 

The items are on a long-term loan from Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios, and are expected to be on display here for at least five years.

Ald. Files FOIA For Email Information From Communications Director


Mayor Mike Houston’s communications director insists he was not looking at messages sent to aldermen through the city’s website.

 

But Nathan Mihelich says he has made changes to the website’s contact form to ensure that aldermen get their messages more quickly and directly. Nonetheless, Alderman Cory Jobe has filed an extensive FOIA request asking for copies of all messages for aldermen that went through Mihelich’s inbox.

 

Jobe also wants to know if any third-party vendors had access to messages that constituents throught were going directly to aldermen.

Gov. Quinn to Make Final Decision on Skinner's Fate


It could be months before any decision is made on a request to grant early release to convicted killer Shirley Skinner.

 

Relatives of the 78-year-old great-grandmother asked the Prisoner Review Board to set her free because of her age and declining health… including a series of strokes suffered behind bars. But family and friends of victim Steven Watkins object, saying it would be a mockery of justice to let her out after only four years behind bars.

 

Skinner was convicted of shooting Watkins in the back of the head after he arrived at her home for a visit with his daughter. Watkins was going through a divorce from Skinner’s granddaughter at the time.

 

The board will make a recommendation to Governor Pat Quinn, who will have the final say.

Regan Running as Write-In Candidate for Sangamon County Sheriff


A candidate who ran for Sangamon County Sheriff… and lost… four years ago is trying again.

 

Jeff Regan has filed paperwork to become an official write-in candidate in the March Democratic primary. Regan says his responsibilities as acting director of the local Red Cross chapter were overwhelming in the days after the November tornadoes, preventing him from submitting petitions before the December filing deadline.

 

If he gets 360 valid write-in votes in the primary, he will be placed on the November general election ballot to face either Wes Barr or Jack Campbell.

Nominating Petitions Vote From State Board of Elections Coming Soon


The State Board of Elections is expected to vote today on several challenges to nominating petitions for the March primary.

 

In one case, a hearing officer has recommended that a challenger to Governor Pat Quinn remain on the Democratic primary ballot. But Tio Hardiman’s running mate could be removed because she listed the wrong address on her petitions.

 

In a separate case, a preliminary review recommends allowing Sangamon County Associate Judge John “Mo” Madonia to stay on the Republican ballot for a vacant local judgeship.

 

Madonia’s opponent, Kent Gray, challenged his petitions on multiple grounds, most of which were rejected by the hearing officer.

Speed Limit Sign Changes Made Through Sangamon County


The speed limit is now 70 miles an hour on interstates throughout Sangamon County… except for the small stretch from Sangamon Avenue to 6th Street.

 

IDOT has completed putting up the new higher speed limit signs across District 6, which includes the Springfield area.

 

The 10-mile section that remains at 65 includes the span shared by Interstates 55 and 72 just east of Springfield.

 

That decision was based on traffic counts and engineering studies of exit and entrance ramps.

Warning Tickets Being Issued for New Cell Phone Law


Most Illinois law enforcement agencies do not appear to be in any rush to write tickets for violations of the state’s new cell phone law.

 

The law that took effect January 1st prohibits using a hand-held phone behind the wheel. In Sangamon County, deputies have been instructed not to write tickets and to only issue warnings during January. After that, Undersheriff Jack Campbell says it will be up to the officer’s discretion.

 

Other communities are also giving their officers a lot of latitude in enforcing the new law.

70mph Signs Go Up In Parts Of Sangamon County


The first 70 mile-an-hour interstate signs have gone up in Sangamon County. 

 

IDOT says that I-55 motorists around Springfield will have to reduce speed to 65 miles an hour between the Sangamon Avenue exit and the 6th Street exit.  For Interstate 72, westbound motorists approaching Springfield will drop to 55 miles an hour just before the Clear Lake exit… climb to 65 on the stretch that is shared with I-72… and then jump back to 70 after 6th Street, headed toward MacArthur.

 

Not all 70 mile an hour signs are up yet locally, but IDOT says they should be by the end of the week.

Mihelich Denies Seeing Messages For Aldermen; Says Changes Are Being Made To City Website


Mayor Mike Houston’s director of communications says changes are being made to ensure that messages through the city’s website are getting to aldermen more quickly.

 

Some city council members are concerned that website messages were being routed through Nathan Mihelich’s office before being forwarded on to them.  Mihelich says it may have appeared that way because of quirks in the website… but he insists he has not been snooping into aldermen’s e-mails.

 

But Mihelich acknowledges that the way the system was set up, his status as administrator could have allowed him to see those messages… just as any message that comes through a city website could eventually become a public record.

 

Alderman Cory Jobe has filed a FOIA request seeking more information about messages that went to Mihelich, including any that were intended for himself or other aldermen. Mihelich says that request is under review.

Fire Began In Victim's Apartment; Cause Still Unknown


A fire that sent an elderly woman to the hospital Tuesday began in that woman’s apartment… but Springfield fire officials still don’t know what caused it. 

 

The name and condition of the victim have not been released.  She was unconscious but breathing when firefighters responded to that extra-alarm blaze at the Chatham Hills Apartments. 

 

Fire chief Ken Fustin says investigators are still trying to determine exactly how that fire started.

Cell Phone Violations Mostly Draw Warnings... For Now


Most police agencies around the state are giving drivers lots of leeway with the new law that bans the use of hand-held cell phones behind the wheel. 

 

In Sangamon County, deputies have been told not to write tickets for cell phone violations during the month of January, as drivers get used to the new law.  After that, Undersheriff Jack Campbell says it will be up to the officer’s discretion. 

 

Many other Illinois police departments are taking a similar approach to the new law, which took effect on January 1st.

Public Meeting This Month Will Study Possible MacArthur Blvd. Improvements


City and state officials are looking for public input as they develop plans to upgrade MacArthur Boulevard between South Grand and Wabash.  A public meeting is planned for Thursday, January 29th at Southside Christian Church on South MacArthur. 

 

Among the ideas being discussed are access for cars, bicycles and pedestrians… traffic signals… mass transit… drainage issues… and the potential for more green space. 

 

It’s all part of a study to determine the feasibility of such improvements. The study is due for completion by the end of 2014.

Hearing Officer Recommends Keeping Madonia On Judicial Ballot


A hearing officer is recommending that a Sangamon County associate judge should stay on the March primary ballot. 

 

Judge John “Mo” Madonia’s petitions had been challenged by his GOP primary opponent, Kent Gray… who said Madonia’s filing for an open circuit judge seat did not meet legal standards.  Among Gray’s complaints was that Madonia listed his address as “Springfield,” rather than Leland Grove. 

 

The hearing officer ruled against most of Gray’s complaints… and even though he found one charge to be valid, he said Madonia still had enough valid signatures.  The full State Board of Elections will make a final ruling on Thursday.

Jobe Files FOIA Request Over Aldermanic Emails Diverted To Mayoral Aide


A Springfield alderman is demanding stacks of documents related to messages that constituents thought they were sending to City Council members… but which were instead landing in the inbox of the city’s communications director.

 

The FOIA request from Alderman Cory Jobe asks for all emails that were sent to Nathan Mihelich’s inbox since last June… including those generated through the city’s website that were intended for Jobe and three other aldermen, Frank Edwards, Doris Turner and Joe McMenamin.  Jobe is also asking for information about equipment and software purchased by Mihelich for operation of the city’s website. 

 

Mihelich says that while he may have had access to those messages, he did not look at them.  He also says changes are being made to the website so that aldermen get their messages more directly.

Physics Prof Running For Congress Wants To Educate Others On Capitol Hill


A physics professor who is running for Congress says Capitol Hill could use a dose of scientific reality. 

 

George Gollin is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the 13th District seat currently held by Republican Rodney Davis.  Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Gollin said there is plenty of scientific evidence to support the concept of man-made climate change… and he hopes to use his knowledge to counteract those he considers “science deniers.” 

 

Gollin says he would seek to use incentives… such as tax credits… to keep people to adopt better energy habits that could reduce man’s impact on the environment.

Menard County Board Chairman Kirby Dies After Collapsing at Board Meeting


Another shocking death is rocking Menard County government today. County Board chairman Merle Kirby has died unexpectedly.

 

Kirby passed away Tuesday night at Memorial Medical Center, after reportedly collapsing at a county board meeting.

 

Sangamon County Coroner Cinda Edwards says Kirby had a history of medical issues. She attributes the death to natural causes.

 

Kirby's death comes just weeks after the Menard County State's Attorney, Ken Baumgarten, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.

Springfield Aldermen Raise Concerns About Constituent Messages Routed Through Communications Office


Springfield aldermen want to know why some constituent e-mails that were intended for them were instead routed through the mayor’s office.

 

The messages in question were generated through a contact form on the city’s website. Even though messages could be designated to a specific alderman, they were sent first to the mayor’s communications director Nathan Mihelich.

 

Mihelich then forwarded the messages on to aldermen. Mayor Mike Houston says he was unaware of the situation… even though some aldermen say they’ve complained about it for months.

Springfield Aldermen Could Approve Greenburg Next Week


A final vote is now expected next week on Mayor Mike Houston’s pick to be the city’s next corporation counsel.

 

Todd Greenburg spent more time Tuesday night answering questions from aldermen who wanted to know how he would have handled some of the past issues that created friction between the city council and prior city attorneys. Greenburg says, unlike Mark Cullen, he would have notified the mayor and aldermen of a police contract change that ultimately led to last year’s file shredding scandal.

 

But he agreed with John Mehlick’s decision not to give aldermen copies of key records in the lawsuit that resulted from the file destruction. Greenburg says he would have let aldermen review them in his office.

Woman Treated for Injuries, Apartment Complex Fire Being Investigated


A woman is being treated for injuries she suffered in an extra-alarm fire that damaged several units in a building at the Chatham Hills Apartments Tuesday afternoon.

 

Springfield Fire Chief Ken Fustin says crews had to make “multiple rescues” when they arrived on the scene of the blaze at that eight-unit building. An adjacent apartment building was also evacuated as a precaution.

 

There was no immediate word on the victim’s condition, or on the cause of the fire.

Shirley Skinner's Family Members to Appeal for Clemency


Family members will today make a formal appeal for clemency for Shirley Skinner, the 78-year-old woman convicted in the shooting death of her granddaughter’s estranged husband, Steven Watkins.

 

Relatives say Skinner should be released early because of her advanced age and declining health. But family and friends of Watkins oppose the petition. Both sides will appear today before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

 

The board will not take action today but will forward a recommendation to Governor Pat Quinn at a later time.

Sangamon County Waiting on State in Concealed Carry Process


The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department says it doesn’t know yet how many local concealed carry applications are awaiting review by the department… because it still hasn’t gotten approval from the state to review those applications.

 

It’s one example of a system that could become bogged down under the weight of a flood of applications for those long-awaited concealed carry permits.

 

Undersheriff Jack Campbell says the sheriff’s department will try to process applications quickly… but he says the department will be thorough in reviewing those documents to make sure that permits aren’t going to people who have exhibited violent tendencies or signs of mental illness.

Developing: Constituent Emails Sent Through City Website Routed Through Mayor's Communication Office


Springfield Aldermen have concerns about constituent emails sent through the city's website are being routed through the mayor's office. 

 

The issue was raised Tuesday when Ward 6's Cory Jobe asked Communication Director Nathan Mihelich why the aldermen receive emails from the Communication Director forwarding emails sent from constituents.

 

Mihelich says that a recent change through the new website operated by his office, which is an extension of the Houston Administration, is to blame for the automated form message.

 

Alderman Kris Theilen said there have been concerns that past mayors have read emails meant for aldermen only and aldermen must "give our constituents a sense of security" in their communication with elected officials.

 

Mihelich responded that reading emails from constituents to aldermen has not been the policy since he's been working for the city.

 

Joe Davis, the City Council Coordinator, said there has been a significant decrease in the number of emails he's been sent to forward along to Aldermen since the new website was put in place last year.

Firefighters Make ''Multiple Rescues'' In Blaze At Chatham Hills Apartments; One Person Taken To Hospital


Springfield's fire chief says firefighters had to make "multiple rescues" when they arrived at the scene of an extra-alarm fire at Chatham Hills Apartments Tuesday afternoon.

 

One person was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries suffered in the blaze.   The fire was brought under control around 4:30pm.  There was no immediate word on the cause of the fire.

 

 

Campbell: More Important To Be Right Than Fast With Concealed Carry Applications


Sangamon County officials say they won’t hesitate to deny concealed carry applications in cases where they think the applicant may pose a risk to themselves or others. 

 

Undersheriff Jack Campbell says the safety of county residents will take top priority, and says while the county will try to process every application in a timely manner, it will also take whatever time is needed to ensure that permits don't go to people who shouldn't have them. 

 

Local law enforcement has the power to reject concealed carry applications, even if the applicant passes a criminal background check. 

 

Campbell says indications of mental illness or violent behavior could be enough to red-flag an application.  But he admits that he’s concerned about the potential for liability if a county resident is denied a permit and takes legal action over the decision.

Former Schock Aide, Unions Team Up For Anti-Rauner Effort


The former chief of staff to GOP Congressman Aaron Schock has teamed up with some labor unions for a coordinated attack against the apparent frontrunner in the Republican primary for governor. 

 

The Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs is primarily funded with union dollars… and is chaired by former Schock aide Steve Shearer.  He says Bruce Rauner is not a real Republican… and contends a Rauner victory in the March primary could doom the party’s chances in November. 

 

He says other Republicans are also opposed to Rauner… but are scared to take him on, so he turned to unions on the theory that, quote, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Conservative Hero Ben Carson To Appear At Sangamon County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner


Sangamon County Republicans have landed a big name for their annual Lincoln Day event. 

 

Doctor Ben Carson will be the keynote speaker.  Carson is a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon who has now become a popular speaker on conservative causes… after his pointed comments about health care, taxes and other issues during the National Prayer Breakfast last February, as President Obama sat just a few feet away. 

 

The dinner featuring Carson will be held on Tuesday evening, February 11th at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.  Tickets are available online at bencarsonlincolnday.com.

Plans For Lincoln Library Coffee Shop Run Aground


Lincoln Library is pulling the plug on the idea of opening a small coffee shop inside the main branch downtown. 

 

A private donation for renovations on the library’s 2nd floor had led officials to consider  creating a “cyber café” within the library, where people would be able to grab a cup of coffee or other refreshments while surfing the Net. But library director Nancy Huntley says no vendors were interested in taking on the project. 

 

So plans for the second-floor renovation project will be modified, with an expanded computer training area taking the place of the proposed café.

Springfield Women Sue Lincoln Police


Two Springfield women are suing the city of Lincoln and two Lincoln cops… alleging that an illegally-recorded video of them changing clothes was shown to various police officers and firefighters. 

 

The women… who are identified only as Jane Doe One and Two in the lawsuit… are also suing the man who they say videotaped them without their knowledge as they changed clothes at his home following a group run. 

 

The Bloomington Pantagraph says Jackson Johnson was arrested and the tape was confiscated.  But then, according to the federal lawsuit, officer Sean Pettit showed the tape to others, and his supervisor Robert Sherren allowed it to happen.  The women are seeking $500,000 for emotional distress.

Local Law Enforcement's Role in Concealed Carry Being Tested


Just days into the process, police agencies around Illinois are already concerned that they will fall behind as they try to keep pace with the flood of applications for concealed carry permits.

 

Local law enforcement has 30 days to raise objections about applicants whose behavior might raise concerns, even if it doesn’t turn up on a criminal background check. But the concealed carry law did not provide any additional funding for local police to scrutinize those applications.

 

Sangamon County Undersheriff Jack Campbell says his agency won’t rush the process… and will take the time to check each application carefully, even if it takes longer than the 30-day limit.

Springfield's Public Library Budget Increases, No New Staff Proposed


The proposed new budget for Springfield’s Lincoln Library is up nearly nine-percent from the current fiscal year… but library officials say it doesn’t come close to meeting their staffing needs.

 

The bulk of the increase is to pay for replacement of the heating and cooling system at the main branch downtown.

 

But library director Nancy Huntley says she would like to able to add more librarians and security guards to meet the demand from library customers for longer hours of operation.

Attacks Against Rauner Mount in GOP Race for Governor, Focus on Clout


Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is facing a new line of attack… accusing him of using his wealth to buy a coveted slot at a prestigious charter school for his daughter.

 

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Rauner made a $250,000 donation to the school after pulling strings to get his daughter admitted. Another GOP contender, Kirk Dillard, says he wonders what deserving student missed out on their chance to attend the school because their space went to Rauner’s daughter instead.

 

But Rauner is fighting back… accusing all three of his Republican rivals of using clout for political gain.

 

Rauner says Dillard, Bill Brady and Dan Rutherford all used their legislative offices to try and help constituents gain admission to the University of Illinois.

Credible Evidence in 30 Year Old Priest Abuse Case


A Springfield Catholic Diocese review panel finds credible evidence to back up a claim that an area priest molested a minor more than 30 years ago… even though prosecutors and child welfare officials said they couldn’t make a case against the priest.

 

A spokesperson for the Diocese says the review panel did not have to worry about the statute of limitations in making its finding about the allegations against Father Robert “Bud” DeGrand. He’s been suspended from the active ministry since the Diocese learned of the alleged incident in Morgan County in the early 1980s.

 

A Vatican panel will now review the complaint and could permanently remove DeGrand from active ministry, and perhaps from the priesthood entirely.

Chicago Cubs Get New Mascot


The Chicago Cubs may have a need for more pitching and hitting… but the team has filled one vacancy. For the first time, the Cubs have a mascot.

 

“Clark the Cub” will make appearances at Cub games and will also travel to schools, children’s hospitals and other events to promote fitness and education.

 

The creation of the mascot came in response to surveys that found people want a more family-friendly atmosphere at Wrigley Field.

Local Skaters Expect Surge In Interest, Thanks To Olympics, Gracie Gold


The Olympic dreams of former Chatham Glenwood student Gracie Gold are especially meaningful to the people who skated alongside her during her brief time in the Springfield area.

 

Those include the members of the Springfield Figure Skating Club… and Gold’s local coach, Toni Hickey.  Appearing live on the 970 WMAY News Feed, Hickey says it’s a special feeling to watch her former student prepare to step onto the world stage.

 

Gold lived here for about a year before moving to the Chicago area… and then to California… to focus exclusively on training for the Olympics.  She won her spot on the Olympic team after winning the U.S. women’s figure skating championship over the weekend.  Monica Polistina expects more local interest in figure skating as a result of the Olympics in general… and Gold’s local connections in particular.

Rauner Under Fire Over Clout, But Tries To Turn Table On Opponents


A new line of attack has opened up against Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner. 

 

The Chicago Sun-Times says Rauner made a $250,000 donation to a Chicago charter school… after pulling strings to get his daughter into that school.  Some are calling it “pay to play,” but Rauner responds that his three Republican rivals are the real guilty parties. 

 

He says they all used legislative clout to get constituents admitted to the University of Illinois.

Diocesan Panel Rules Sex Abuse Allegation Against Area Priest Is Credible


A review panel has concluded that an allegation that an area priest sexually abused a minor more than 30 years ago is credible. 

 

The panel of the Springfield Catholic Diocese says there is reason to continue the investigation into the past conduct of Father Robert “Bud DeGrand.  DeGrand is currently on leave from several parishes in the Effingham area, but at the time of the allegations in the early 1980s, he was working in Morgan County. 

 

The case was referred to Morgan County prosecutors and DCFS, both of whom found that too much time had passed to build a case against DeGrand.  But the review panel’s finding means a Vatican committee will look at the case and could permanently remove DeGrand from active ministry, or even kick him out of the priesthood.

Democrats Could Field Write-In Candidate For One Or More Sangamon County Offices


One or more Sangamon County officeholders could be facing a Democratic challenger after all. 

 

No Democrats filed for any of three countywide offices on this year’s ballot… sheriff, treasurer or county clerk.  But county Democratic chair Doris Turner says there could be at least one formal write-in candidate submitting paperwork before this week’s deadline. 

 

Turner did not offer details in a live appearance on 970 WMAY.  She said the party had worked hard to recruit people… but personal and family situations prevented some of their most promising candidates from running this year. 

 

Candidates must file paperwork by Thursday in order to get credit for any write-in votes cast for them in the March Democratic primary.

Aldermen Predict Changes To Ward Map


A Springfield alderman says she’s certain a proposed new ward map for the city will be changed before a final vote. 

 

Ward 3’s Doris Turner was among the aldermen who were taken by surprise when Ward 1’s Frank Edwards introduced the map on first reading last week.  Turner says aldermen were still discussing the map when Edwards decided to introduce it in an ordinance for passage. 

 

She says she and other aldermen want to make sure that it’s drawn fairly, so that the voters in inner-city wards will have enough voting strength to be heard on their key issues.

Former Chatham Glenwood Student Gold Gets Gold, Named to Olympic Team


It’s a long way from Springfield’s Nelson Center to the Sochi Olympics… but Gracie Gold has made the journey.

 

The former Chatham Glenwood student has officially been named to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team… after her decisive win Saturday at the National Championships.

 

Gold practiced at the Nelson Center when she lived in the Springfield area… but she moved away several years ago to continue her training full-time.

 

The 18-year-old had a nearly flawless program Saturday night, locking up one of three spots on the U.S. team that will head to Russia next month.

Illinois Lawmakers Refuse Interest in Owed Back Pay


Illinois lawmakers have decided not to seek the interest they are owed after Governor Pat Quinn withheld their paychecks for several months.

 

Quinn blocked their pay in an effort to force the legislature to pass a pension reform plan. A judge later ruled that the governor’s action was unconstitutional, and ordered the lawmawkers to get back pay and interest.

 

But since the judge didn’t specify how the interest was to be calculated, the extra money wasn’t paid. Legislative leaders originally indicated they might go back to court for the interest money… but have now decided against it.

 

The interest could have amounted to an average of more than $100 per legislator.

Better Weather Means More 70 MPH Signs Going Up


You should be seeing more 70 mile-an-hour speed limit signs going up around the state in the next few days.

 

The process of putting up new signs… reflecting the higher limit on most Illinois interstates… was slowed down considerably by last week’s snow and bitter cold temperatures. But some signs have gone up… including some on a stretch of Interstate 55 in Logan County.

 

And, of course, there won’t be any signs going up in the immediate Springfield area. The speed limit on the interstates directly adjacent to the city is staying at 65.

Rauner Receives More Criticism From GOP Group


More opponents are piling on Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner.

 

After a week in which Rauner took heavy criticism for shifting views on the minimum wage, a group set up to oppose Rauner is accusing him of flip-flopping on whether Illinois should be a right-to-work state.

 

The Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs claims that Rauner has touted right-to-work downstate, but downplayed the issue in Chicago. The group is headed up by former Aaron Schock aide Steve Shearer… but is supported by a number of labor unions.

 

Right-to-work laws prohibit workers from being forced to pay union dues, and are generally viewed as an attempt to diminish the influence and effectiveness of unions.

Former Glenwood Student Gold Wins Figure Skating Title, Putting Her On Path To Olympics


She’s come a long way from her days as a student at Chatham Glenwood, skating at the Nelson Center. 

 

Gracie Gold takes the gold at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, making it all but certain she’ll be chosen for one of the three spots on the Olympic team.  Gold was in first place after the short program, and followed that up with a nearly flawless free skate Saturday night in Boston. 

 

The Olympic figure skating committee will choose the three team members, but Gold is now seen as a lock to get one of those three spots.

Illinois Lawmakers Won't Seek Interest On Delayed Paychecks


Illinois lawmakers will not seek the interest payments they are owed as a result of Governor Pat Quinn’s attempt to withhold their paychecks during last year’s pension reform fight. 

 

A court eventually overturned Quinn’s move to block legislative pay, and ordered lawmakers to receive their back pay with interest.  But the court didn’t say how much interest, so the extra money wasn’t paid. 

 

After originally saying they would seek the extra money, legislative leaders now say they’ll drop the matter.

Superbug Linked To Suburban Chicago Hospital Prompts Concerns


A suburban Chicago hospital is the scene of the biggest outbreak yet of what some are calling a “nightmare bacteria.” 

 

The PBS program Frontline says 44 patients at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital have been diagnosed with the drug-resistant bacteria.  It’s supposedly so powerful that it can make other bacteria drug-resistant, too… potentially making treatable infections untreatable. 

 

Frontline says the outbreak is causing concern among public health officials.

Potholes, Flooding Among Leftover Remnants Of Recent Winter Storm


Snow and ice are no longer a problem on local roadways… but one residual effect of the recent severe winter weather could pose a different hazard. 

 

Potholes… sometimes big potholes… are opening up on Springfield streets, apparently the result of last week’s frigid temperatures and the warmup that followed.  Those potholes will be added to a long to-do list for a public works department that is already over-budget because of the snow cleanup.

 

Additionally, some parts of the state are at an increased risk of flooding because of the rapidly-melting snow and ice, along with heavy weekend rains.

 

One bit of good news: almost all Amtrak service in Illinois has been fully restored… a week after the heavy snow and record cold temperatures that descended on the state.  Multiple Amtrak routes were cancelled over the past week because of track conditions and decreased travel demands.

70mph Signs Go Up In Logan County; Posting Of Higher Speed Limit Elsewhere Delayed By Weather


You can now drive 70 miles an hour on sections of Interstate 55 north of Springfield. 

 

The signage reflecting the state’s new higher highway speed limit have gone up on stretches of I-55 in Logan County.  But IDOT says the process of changing out the signs statewide has been slowed down by the severe winter weather earlier this week.

 

There won't be any new signage going up in the immediate Springfield area.  State transportation officials decided to keep the speed limit at 65 on Interstates 55 and 72 adjacent to the Capital City, based on engineering and traffic studies.

Lincoln, Two Other Prisons On Lockdown Because Of Flu


Three Illinois prisons are on lockdown to prevent a spread of the flu. 

 

Only a handful of flu cases have been reported at each of those prisons, including the Lincoln Correctional Center.  But prison officials say they are restricting inmates’ contact with each other in order to stop the bug before it becomes a full-blown outbreak.

Bankrupt THR Accused Of Failing To Pay Employee Withholding Taxes


A bankrupt Springfield company is accused of failing to pay more than $4 million in state and federal withholding taxes. 

 

The claim against THR and Associates and company founder Jeff Parsons could theoretically leave hundreds of employees on the hook for those unpaid back taxes… but a local tax attorney tells the State Journal-Register that it’s unlikely the government would try to force the employees to pay.

Springfield Suspicious Powder Incident Still Under Investigation


The Bloomington Pantagraph reports postal inspectors are still looking into an incident last month in which a suspicious envelope with powder inside was delivered to the governor’s office in Springfield. 

 

Although the powder was harmless, the envelope also contained what authorities described as an “alarming” letter inside… prompting the evacuation of an office across the street from the Capitol. 

 

Concerns were heightened because the incident happened during the contentious debate over a pension reform plan.

Quinn Stays On Ballot, Challenger's Fate Still Undecided; GOP Candidate Tossed Off


A Democratic challenger to Governor Pat Quinn should find out next week if he can stay on the ballot. 

 

Tio Hardiman’s petitions may be ruled invalid because his running mate listed an incorrect address.  Hardiman also challenged Quinn’s petitions, but the State Board of Elections ruled that Quinn’s petitions are valid. 

 

Meanwhile, state elections officials have removed a little-known Republican, Peter Edward Jones, from the gubernatorial primary ballot.

Area Congressmen In Bottom Half Of Capitol Hill Wealth Rankings, Except Durbin


Area members of Congress are near the bottom of the list of the wealthiest lawmakers in Washington… but they’re still doing pretty well for themselves. 

 

Republicans Rodney Davis, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus are all in the bottom half of that list, ranking the personal wealth of 530 House and Senate members.  Shimkus is ranked 305th, with an estimated net worth of more than $700,000.  Schock is at 336, with just over a half-million in assets.  Davis ranks 418th, with an estimated worth of $245,000. 

 

Democrat Dick Durbin ranks highest among local lawmakers… number 242 out of 530, with assets estimated at over a million dollars.  The rankings were compiled by opensecrets.org.

Illinois Projected To Be Dead Last In Job Growth In 2014


Illinois is ranked 50th out of the 50 states for predicted job growth in 2014. 

 

Moody’s analytics expects Illinois will add more than 56,000 jobs this year… a growth rate of less than one-percent. 

 

In contrast, Indiana is ranked 25th among the 50 states, with an expected growth rate of 1.5 percent.  Missouri is 39th, with 1.3 percent.

 

SHA Gets Grants To Help Residents Be More Self-Sufficient


The Springfield Housing Authority is getting more than $185,000 in federal funding to help resident families become more self-sufficient. 

 

The money comes in the form of two grants… one to help people learn skills that will enable them to improve their financial literacy and reduce their dependence on welfare, the other to assist them in finding work that will help them make ends meet.

 

Lawmakers Want Hearings Into Hiring Of Ex-Gang Member For Top Corrections Job


A group of Republican state lawmakers want hearings into how a convicted criminal and former gang member landed a sensitive job in the Illinois Department of Corrections. 

 

The lawmakers say the hiring of Xadrian McCarver appears to be the product of political connections.  They’re worried that gangs are trying to get people into positions where they can access private information about prison guards and their families.

Rauner's Stance on Minimum Wage Unclear


There’s another new wrinkle in the ongoing saga of governor candidate Bruce Rauner and his views on the minimum wage.

 

After Rauner took heat for appearing to call for a reduction in Illinois’s minimum wage, he told media outlets this week that he actually supports raising the federal wage up to $10 an hour, and then hiking the state wage to match it, in conjunction with business-friendly reforms.

 

But that appears to contradict remarks Rauner made back in September… including in an interview on 970 WMAY… when he said he was adamantly opposed to any increase in the minimum wage.

 

Rauner said hiking the wage would, quote, “devastate job opportunities” and take away the ability of business owners to make decisions for themselves.

 

Hear that clip here.

Gov. Quinn to Appeal FEMA's Decision Rejecting Millions in Aid


FEMA has rejected a state petition for millions of dollars in assistance for a number of Illinois communities… to help with the expenses they incurred as a result of the deadly tornadoes that hit the state in November.

 

The state calculated more than $6 million in damages, but under formulas used by FEMA, the amount would have had to be nearly three times that much to qualify for federal aid. Governor Pat Quinn says FEMA’s formula punishes larger states like Illinois and vows to appeal.

 

Illinois’s two U.S. Senators say they support Quinn’s effort to overturn the decision.

Third Street Tracks To Get Upgrades Despite Plans to Eliminate Corridor


Plans are proceeding to make upgrades to Springfield’s 3rd Street train tracks… as part of a process that officials hope will eventually lead to the elimination of that rail corridor altogether.

 

But officials with IDOT say the move toward high-speed rail means they have to make safety improvements to the tracks now, despite the plans to eventually move all of that train traffic to 10th Street.

 

Proposed changes include “quad gates” at most major crossings through Springfield… along with fencing to keep pedestrians away from the tracks, and the possible closure of some crossings.

 

Although high-speed trains won’t travel at top speed through town, the improvements will allow them to move faster than trains currently go on those tracks.

Hill Keeping Seat Warm For Next School Superintendent


Interim Springfield school superintendent Bob Hill is in his first week back on the job… and for now, he still doesn’t know exactly how long he’ll be keeping the seat warm.

 

Hill has returned to the District 186 job only until newly-hired superintendent Jennifer Gill is ready to take over… but her start date still has not been set. Hill says he expects her to take over in “late spring,” but says that could be anywhere from April to June.

 

The school board is still negotiating a contract with Gill, who for now continues to work for the McLean County school system.

 

Listen to Hill on The Jim Leach Show here.

Phone Scam Attempts To Lure People To Provide Bank Information


The scammers are at it again. Many local people report receiving phone calls or texts, supposedly from a local bank, notifying them that their credit or debit card has been compromised.

 

The calls name a specific bank… even though frequently the recipient is not a customer of that bank. Local authorities say it’s all fake, and is just an attempt to get you to reveal personal financial information.

 

They recommend that you just ignore the calls… and never give credit or debit card numbers or other personal information to people who call you on the phone.

FEMA Rejects Tornado Aid To Local Governments; Quinn Vows Appeal


Governor Pat Quinn says he will appeal FEMA’s decision to deny assistance to local governments that were affected by the November tornadoes that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. 

 

The state had sought reimbursement for more than $6 million in costs that local governments sustained in helping residents recover from the storms.  

 

Quinn says the formula used by the feds to determine eligibility for reimbursement is unfair and punishes larger states like Illinois.

Rauner's Latest Statement On Minimum Wage Contradicts On-Air Views Last September


Bruce Rauner’s position on the minimum wage remains a question mark as the issue continues to stir up controversy in his campaign to become governor. 

 

Rauner this week disavowed comments he made in December, in which he appeared to call for a reduction in the state’s $8.25 an hour minimum wage, back to the federal level of $7.25.  Instead, Rauner says he actually supports raising the federal wage to $10 an hour, and raising the state’s rate to the same level. 

 

But that contradicts the view he expressed in September to a local GOP group and in a live interview on 970 WMAY, when Rauner said he was opposed to any hike in the minimum wage, saying it would hurt the economy and “devastate job opportunities.”  Rauner is set to appear live again Friday with 970 WMAY’s Fritz Pfister, starting at 9am.

Interim Superintendent Says Lack Of Cultural Understanding May Cause Disparity In Student Discipline


Springfield’s interim school superintendent thinks there is merit to concerns that minority students receive unfairly harsh discipline. 

 

Bob Hill… in his first week back on the job… says he hasn’t reviewed specific numbers for District 186, but says the disparity in discipline has been a well-documented problem nationwide.  Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Hill said there is an ongoing problem with a lack of what he calls “cultural competence” among school staff, and says that may lead to stricter discipline of students from different backgrounds. 

 

Federal officials this week issued new guidelines aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of minority students who are suspended, expelled… or even referred to the court system… for infractions at school.

Phone Scam Returns To Springfield


The scammers are back at work. 

 

Multiple local people report receiving calls or text messages, supposedly from a local bank, claiming that a credit or debit card has been compromised.  The calls and texts are a trick, trying to get you to turn over personal information. 

 

Local authorities say you should ignore the call or text, and never give out personal or financial information over the phone.

Public Works: We're Ready For Next Round Of Winter


Here we go again… with another round of snow and possibly ice in the forecast. But Springfield Public Works Director Mark Mahoney says there is a bright side. 

 

He says with each new winter weather event, the response of city crews gets better.  Mahoney says the GPS units on Public Works trucks help his department evaluate what areas may have been missed, and to develop more efficient ways to clear more streets in less time. 

 

Mahoney says if your neighborhood doesn’t get plowed in a timely fashion, you should report it to Public Works dispatch at 789-2246

US Attorney's Office Brought In $11 Million In Fines, Judgments, Back Taxes Last Year


The US Attorney’s Office in Springfield says its work last year brought in more than $11 million dollars in fines, civil judgements, delinquent taxes and restitution. 

 

Some of that total was brought in the local office on its own, while the rest came from cases handled in conjunction with the Justice Department and other jurisdictions.  One fraud case alone, out of Bloomington, produced more than $3.7 million in back taxes and restitution.

 

The Justice Department says the money collected nationwide is nearly three times more than the amount budgeted to run US Attorney’s Offices around the country.

Crimestoppers Says Tips Cracked Dozens Of Cases In 2013


The cop in charge of Crimestoppers says tips to the organization made a big difference in 2013. 

 

Officer Matt Goulet says anonymous tips helped police solve 4 armed robberies and 19 drug cases… and led to the capture of 50 fugitives wanted on various warrants.

 

Appearing live on 970 WMAY, Goulet said calls to the agency also resulted in the recovery of $72,000 in cash, drugs and stolen property last year.

Illinois Minimum Wage Debate Picks Up Steam


The debate over Illinois’s minimum wage is heating up as an issue in the race for Illinois governor.

 

Bruce Rauner is now disavowing the statement he made last month… calling for the state’s minimum wage to be reduced by one-dollar an hour so that it would equal the federal standard.

 

Those remarks drew harsh criticism from Rauner’s Republican rivals and Democratic incumbent Governor Pat Quinn.

 

Now Rauner says he was unclear in those remarks… and tells the Chicago Sun-Times he actually supports raising the federal wage to $10 an hour, and then tying the state wage to that federal level.

Flu Now Widespread Across Illinois


You may have already found this out the hard way, but the flu is now “widespread” across Illinois.

 

State health officials say this year’s outbreak is actually pretty close to an average year… even though 122 people have landed in intensive-care with flu-related illnesses, and at least six people have died.

 

Among the flu strains hitting Illinois hard this year is H1N1… sometimes called the swine flu... which can be particularly hard on otherwise healthy young adults and pregnant women.

 

State health director Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck says it’s not too late to get a flu shot to protect yourself against the virus.

Springfield Aldermen Begin Debating Proposed Ward Map


Some Springfield aldermen say it’s time to vote on a new ward map so that candidates can begin preparing for the 2015 city elections.

 

But others want to slow the process down a bit.

 

The new map goes before the city council committee of the whole next week, but Alderman Cory Jobe predicts it will be held in committee to allow more time for study and possible revisions.

 

You can view the proposed map on the City Clerk's website.

Springfield Police Nab 21 Suspected DUIs During Holiday Detail


Springfield police had little trouble finding people who celebrating a bit too much over the holidays.

 

17 days of expanded holiday patrols in the city nabbed 21 people who were arrested for driving under the influence. A press release says in each case, the driver had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of point-oh-eight.

 

Those holiday patrols were conducted by off-duty officers who were hired back with federal grant money, funneled through the state Department of Transportation.

Sangamon County Lifts Winter Weather Emergency


Sangamon County has lifted the winter weather emergency declaration that had been in place since the weekend.

 

The emergency declaration served as a reminder to drivers to use extreme caution -- or to stay off county roads altogether -- at the height of the snowstorm and extreme cold that hit the area in recent days.

 

But with temperatures on the rise and road conditions getting better, the county says the declaration is no longer necessary.

Proposed New Ward Map Concerns Some Aldermen


A map that outlines new ward boundaries for Springfield’s 2015 City Council elections has been submitted for a vote later this month.  But even though drafts of the map have been circulating for about a year, some aldermen say the process is moving too quickly. 

 

The latest proposal was submitted by Ward 1’s Frank Edwards… who won’t be able to run under the new map in 2015 because of term limits. 

 

Edwards says the map does not make major changes to the city’s 10 wards.  But other aldermen say the map could have a big impact on some wards… and they want more public input before a final vote.

Influenza Now Widespread In Illinois


Influenza is on the increase across Illinois… and the consequences could be deadly.  State public health officials say the flu is now considered “widespread” around the state… and the numbers continue to rise. 

 

This year’s outbreak includes one particularly nasty strain, H1N1, which was linked to a pandemic in 2009.  122 people have required intensive care treatment because of influenza-related illnesses in Illinois this season… and six deaths are linked to the virus. 

 

Public health director Lamar Hasbrouck says it’s still not too late to get a flu shot that can reduce your risk of severe illness.

County Assists Some Concealed Carry Applicants, But Others Hit Roadblock


A handful of people have turned to the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office for help in processing their concealed carry applications… but even that wasn’t always enough to complete the job. 

 

The sheriff’s department set up a computer that members of the public could use to submit applications online, which at the moment is the only way people can apply for a permit. But Undersheriff Jack Campbell says in some cases, the applications did not go through… he says the problem was at the state’s end, apparently related to the large number of applicants accessing the system. 

 

But Campbell says at least two people have successfully submitted applications with the county’s help.  It could take three months or more for the state to process those applications.

Rauner Appears To Modify Stance On Minimum Wage


A Republican candidate for governor may be modifying his views on the minimum wage. 

 

Bruce Rauner has been taking some heat after media outlets discovered remarks he made to an Alton radio station last month, saying he would advocate to lower the state’s minimum wage by a dollar an hour, so that it would equal the rate set by federal law. 

 

But in an interview this week with the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, Rauner did not rule out either increasing or decreasing the minimum wage… saying that any change up or down should be part of a comprehensive effort to improve the state’s business climate.

Holiday Crackdown Nabs 21 Suspected Drunk Drivers In Springfield


Despite weeks of warnings, some drivers still did not get the message about drinking and driving.  And Springfield police say their intensive holiday patrols nabbed nearly two-dozen of those drivers. 

 

The city conducted extra traffic patrols from December 20th to January 5th… and during that time, Springfield cops arrested 21 people on charges of driving under the influence, with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit of .08. 

 

The patrols were funded with federal traffic safety dollars, funneled through the State Department of Transportation.

After Several Snow Days, School Back in Session


It’s back to school today for kids across Central Illinois… for the first time since before Christmas.

 

Their return to class had been postponed for a couple of days by the Arctic blast that put the region in the deep freeze.

 

But temperatures today are expected to climb into the 20s, and road conditions are gradually improving.

 

Even so, IDOT says many motorists are still driving too fast for conditions, and the agency is urging people to slow down on roads that are still partially or completely snow- and ice-covered.

Proposed Washington Park Dog Park Discussed at Public Hearing


The family of a recently-deceased Springfield doctor says it will continue trying to fulfill his dream of building a dog park within Washington Park.

 

Dr. David Hoelzer had pledged to put up as much as half of the $100,000 in private donations that would be needed for the project. But he died unexpectedly late last month.

 

A public meeting on the proposal drew both supporters and opponents. Those against the idea say it would disrupt Washington Park, causing more noise, waste and congestion.

 

But supporters say it would enhance the park and make it even more of a destination. The park board won’t vote on the project until fundraising pledges are secured.

Aldermen Postpone Greenburg Appointment


Springfield aldermen have delayed a vote on Mayor Mike Houston’s choice to be the next city corporation counsel.

 

Todd Greenburg was unable to attend Tuesday’s city council meeting because he was on a long-planned cruise.

 

Alderman Doris Turner asked to postpone the vote until Greenburg was available to answer any remaining questions aldermen may have.

 

That vote is now expected at the next full council meeting in two weeks.

Aldermen Approve $650K in Fees for Infrastructure Bond Sale


The Springfield city council has approved a multi-million dollar bond sale to finance the city’s biggest infrastructure effort in years.

 

That vote also authorizes the city to pay as much as $650,000 in fees to the underwriter of those bonds.

 

Alderman Joe McMenamin voted present, saying he wanted a separate, more detailed contract with the underwriter, spelling out those fees.

 

But city budget director Bill McCarty says the exact amount can’t be known until the bonds are sold… but says the ordinance ensures the amount won’t exceed that $650,000 limit.

City Hopes Fleet Consolidation Garage Will Be Ready By May


The Houston administration is still hoping to consolidate Springfield’s fleet of vehicles and the garages to maintain them under one roof by early May.

 

But there are a few roadblocks to get past first. Work continues on renovating a centralized garage building to accommodate the needs of a diverse fleet of vehicles for police, fire, public works and City Water Light and Power.

 

But the city must also negotiate the new arrangement with the various labor unions representing workers in each of those departments. And city officials say those talks could take months to complete.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Oppose Quinn's Call for Increasing Minimum Wage


All four Republican candidates for governor oppose Governor Pat Quinn’s call to raise the minimum wage in Illinois.

 

But now one has gone further.

 

Bruce Rauner told an Alton radio station last month that the state’s $8.25-an-hour wage should actually be decreased by a dollar-an-hour, to bring it back in line with the federal minimum wage. Rauner says that would give Illinois a more competive business environment.

 

A Quinn spokesperson calls Rauner’s proposal, quote, “cruel and backwards,” and Democratic lawmaker Lou Lang says Rauner is, quote, “delusional.”

Supporters, Opponents Speak Out On Proposed Washington Dog Park


The family of a recently-deceased Springfield doctor plans to press ahead with fundraising for a proposed dog park at Washington Park, following a public meeting that appeared evenly split between supporters and opponents of the project.

 

Around 100 people turned out at the park's botanical gardens Tuesday night to offer their views on the privately-funded $100,000 proposal.  Opponents expressed concern that the project would add to noise and congestion in the park and interfere with other features of the park.

 

But supporters say it would enhance use and enjoyment of Washington Park.  Dr. David Hoelzer had been a leading benefactor of the project before his unexpected death last month, and his family says they will keep trying to raise the necessary funds before a final Park Board vote on the plan.

Council Postpones Greenburg Appointment


The appointment of the city's new Corporation Counsel is on hold until the next full council meeting.

 

Former Bloomington Corporation Counsel Todd Greenburg was on vacation and not available for questions from Aldermen so Ward 3's Doris Turner motioned to keep the mayor's ordinance in committee, a motion that won approval from the council.

 

Greenburg addressed aldermen last week during the committee of the whole where the city council moved to put the ordinance on the debate agenda.

 

Mayor Mike Houston says that he's confident Aldermen will approve Greenburg's appointment in a few weeks.

Temperatures Rise, Conditions Improve, Officials Still Urge Caution


Despite improvements in weather and road conditions, the state Department of Transportation is still encouraging people to avoid travel unless absolutely necessary. 

 

IDOT says many roads are still snow-covered and slick… and the agency says many drivers are traveling too fast for those conditions.  Although temperatures are now above zero, it remains very cold outside… reducing the effectiveness of the salt being applied to roadways.

 

Sangamon County has scaled back its winter weather emergency designation, lowering it back to Level 1.  That simply serves as a reminder to motorists that road conditions may still be less than favorable and drivers should use caution. 

 

The designation had been at Level 2 for the past couple of days… urging drivers to stay off of county highways if at all possible.  The county says rising temperatures and diminishing winds are leading to steady improvements in road conditions.

Springfield City Garage Consolidation Progressing Slowly


The City of Springfield is still hoping to consolidate its various garage operations under one roof this spring… but it’s proving to be a more complex undertaking than originally thought. 

 

Right now the focus is on finalizing the planned renovations on one centralized facility that can accommodate vehicles from the police and fire departments, public works, and City Water Light and Power. 

 

But even after that is completed, the city has to also complete negotiations with the various labor unions representing employees from all those different agencies. And those talks could drag on for months, according to budget director Bill McCarty.

Dillard Rips Rauner's ''Listening Tour''


One Republican candidate for governor is on a “listening tour” of Central and Southern Illinois… but one of his rivals dismisses the trip as a stunt. 

 

Bruce Rauner says he wants to hear from voters and share his vision for Illinois’s future.  But Republican opponent Kirk Dillard says Rauner’s vast wealth… with an income of more than $1 million a week in 2012… makes it impossible for Rauner to identify with the problems of average Illinoisans. 

Dillard says Rauner has supported Democrats in the past… and accuses him of trying to “hijack” the Republican party.

Frigid Weather To Ease Up, Area Closings Still Mount


It’s only slightly less cold today than yesterday… but some small relief is in sight before the day is done.

 

Even so, most schools across Central Illinois are closed for a second straight day, as wind chills continue to linger between 20 and 30 degrees below zero.

 

But before the day is done, the thermometer will climb above zero… and maybe into the double digits. And temperatures will keep climbing the rest of the week… with highs in the 40s possible by the weekend.

Non-essential State Workers To Report To Work Tuesday After Having Monday Off


State workers are expected to report to work on a normal schedule today.

 

Non-essential personnel were told to stay home Monday because of the dangerous weather and road conditions… but many workers never got the message until after they had already braved the elements and made their way to work.

 

A spokesperson for Governor Pat Quinn says the decision was made based on deteriorating conditions… and the word went out as soon as possible.

First Responders Busy During Frigid Weather


The extreme weather kept first responders very busy.

 

State police report assisting 70 motorists in the Springfield area Sunday and Monday. And the National Guard had to be called in to help on Interstate 57 near Effingham Sunday night. Drifting snow and black ice left hundreds of people stranded on the highway.

 

National Guard heavy equipment was used to tow jackknifed semis out of the area… and motorists were taken to nearby churches for food and shelter.

Pana Man Dies Half-Block From Home Because of Cold, Medical Conditions


At least one Central Illinois death is blamed on the cold. 64-year-old Herbert Palmer of Pana was found dead Monday morning, about a half-block from his home.

 

Christian County authorities believe Palmer had left his home in his car, but became stuck a short distance away. He was attempting to walk back home in subzero temperatures when he collapsed.

 

The sheriff’s department says Palmer had medical conditions that, along with the cold, contributed to his death.

Springfield Fire Respond to Fire and Freezing Pipe Breaks


Springfield firefighters have also been kept busy during the cold snap.

 

Firefighters battled a blaze early this morning at a vacant house on New Street.

 

That fire started in the basement of the home and spread to the first and second floors.

 

A fire captain reportedly fell through a floor in that structure, but was not seriously injured and remained on the job at the scene. The cause of that fire is under investigation.

 

Fire Chief Ken Fustin says it’s been a busy 24 hours for his department, especially because of water pipe breaks related to the bitter cold. Those breaks can trigger automatic alarms and boost the risk of electrical fires.

Springfield Set to Approve $650K in Bond Issuance Fees


The City of Springfield is ready to issue bonds to help pay for infrastructure improvements later this month, but they must first approve a supplemental appropriation to cover the issuance fees.

 

An ordinance in front of Aldermen tonight would approve a supplemental appropriation of up to $650,000 to pay for the issuance fees. Budget Director Bill McCarty says it’s unlikely the issuance fees will be that much, but that amount is what it is estimated to cost if the city were to issue all $80 million in bonds all at once.

 

McCarty says the plan is to issue the $80 million over the next three years. The first bonds this year will be available January 22nd for Sangamon County residents and then January 23rd for anyone else.

Approval of New School 186 Superintendent Delayed


A vote on a contract for Springfield’s next school superintendent has been postponed temporarily.

 

The school board had planned to approve that deal with Jennifer Gill at Monday’s meeting… but they say because of the holidays, they’ve been unable to complete all of the details.

 

However, board members and Gill say there are no unexpected snags, and they expect to have that final vote in two weeks. In the meantime, former superintendent Bob Hill is now officially taking over on an interim basis until Gill can start work.

 

Hill replaces another interim superintendent, Bob Leming, who had to step aside or risk affecting his pension.

Christian County Man's Death Linked To Extreme Cold


The death of a Christian County man appears to be related to the severe cold snap. 

 

Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp says 64-year-old Herbert Palmer was found dead in the snow about a half-block from his home in rural Pana Monday morning.  It appears that Palmer’s car had become stuck in the snow a short distance from his home and he was attempting to walk to his house when he collapsed in temperatures well below zero. 

 

A statement says a combination of medical factors and exposure to the extreme cold caused his death.

Springfield Public Schools Closed Again On Tuesday


It's the Christmas vacation that wouldn't end.

 

Springfield School District 186 has cancelled classes for the second straight day because of the extreme cold conditions.  Wind chills Tuesday are expected to be just as dangerously cold as Monday, in the range of minus-25 to minus-35.

 

For other weather-related cancellations, go to the "Closings" page at wmay.com.

State Workers Unhappy About Timing Of Decision To Close Government Offices


Monday’s bitter cold weather led Governor Pat Quinn to close most state offices… but the timing has made many state workers unhappy. 

 

On social media and online message boards, many workers say they didn’t get any notification at all until after they had braved the cold weather and bad roads and made their way to work. 

 

A press release from the governor’s office didn’t go out to the media until after 8:30am.  It said workers should stay home except for those essential to public safety… like State Police, prison guards, and Illinois Emergency Management Agency staffers. 

 

State facilities are scheduled to return to normal operations on Tuesday.

Doctor Warns Of Serious Health Risks From Extreme Cold


In this extreme cold weather, frostbite could literally be just seconds away. 

 

Springfield physician Calvin Bell of Memorial Express Care says exposed skin will freeze in less than 30 seconds when temperatures are in that ten- to twenty-below-zero range.  And frostbite can be as damaging as a severe burn… causing permanent pain and nerve damage. 

 

Even if you are bundled up, Bell says you should only be outside for short periods at a time, to prevent frostbite, hypothermia and other health risks.

State Offices Close Down Because Of Extreme Cold, Hazardous Conditions


Most state workers are getting an unexpected day off because of the severe cold snap gripping most of the state.

 

The Quinn administration has closed down most state offices and told workers to stay at home, except for personnel who are essential to public safety functions: such as State Police, prison guards, and Illinois Emergency Management Agency staffers.

 

The Illinois Secretary of State's Office and its drivers service facilities are also closed, and most other statewide constitutional offices are closed for the day as well.

Bitter, Dangerous Cold Grips Springfield Area


It’s one of the coldest mornings in memory across Central Illinois today… with high temperatures staying well below zero, and wind chills as cold as 40-below or worse. 

 

Most schools… and even some businesses… are closed today because of the dangerous cold and poor road conditions.  Sangamon County has declared a Level 2 winter emergency, indicating that people should stay off the roads unless travel is absolutely essential.  IDOT says it has hundreds of trucks and personnel working to clear roads, but most major highways remain snow- and ice-covered. 

 

Among the services being affected by today’s bitter cold is health care.  Both the SIU Healthcare clinics and the Sangamon County Department of Public Health clinics are closed today, although the health department’s administrative offices are open.

 

You can see a list of closings and cancellations at wmay.com, but you should call ahead before venturing out anywhere today.

Springfield City Officials Won't Discuss Assistant City Attorney's Exit


In a story you heard first on 970 WMAY, an assistant Springfield city attorney who played a role in last year’s file shredding scandal has left her job.  But city officials aren’t saying whether Geannette Wittendorf’s departure was voluntary or not. 

 

Wittendorf originally signed off on the destruction of police department internal affairs files, even though there was a pending FOIA request for the documents.  And she was involved in several e-mail exchanges which gave the final green light for the shredding, over the objections of at least one senior police department official. 

 

Wittendorf’s last day was Friday.

Concealed Carry Applications Being Accepted Online


The online application process for a concealed carry license is now up and running. 

 

Sunday was the first day for gun owners to apply online for the required permit.  For now, only online applications are being accepted, and some people reported the State Police website was slow and sluggish Sunday. 

 

Once an application is submitted, state police will have 90 days to process and approve or deny it.  If the applicant does not submit fingerprints, the state can take an additional 30 days to conduct a background check.

Extreme Winter Weather Closes Schools, Some Businesses


Heavy snow and dangerous cold are combining to close most school districts across Central Illinois Monday.  Some businesses are also closing or adjusting hours because of the severe weather conditions, as temperatures are expected to stay well below zero all day Monday.

 

For a complete list of the latest closings and cancellations, click here.

 

For updated road conditions, visit gettingaroundillinois.com.

 

 

Sangamon County Declares Level 2 Winter Emergency


Sangamon County has raised the weather emergency designation to Level 2 -- meaning that travel is hazardous on all county highways, and emergency personnel may not be able to assist stranded motorists.

 

Travel is discouraged, and drivers are reminded that abandoned vehicles can be ticketed and towed.  If a vehicle is disabled, drivers are urged to call the sheriff's department to report it.

 

The Level 2 emergency will remain in effect until further notice.

Assistant City Attorney Linked To File Shredding Scandal Leaves Her Job; City Spokesman Won't Say Why


An assistant Springfield city attorney who was involved in the decision to shred police internal affairs files last year is no longer with the city.  Geannette Wittendorf’s last day was Friday. 

 

A spokesman for Mayor Mike Houston confirms Wittendorf’s departure, but won’t say why she left or whether her departure was voluntary, saying it’s a personnel matter.

 

Email exchanges indicate that Wittendorf was among the city officials who gave the green light for the destruction of internal affairs records a year ahead of schedule... despite the fact that those records were the subject of a pending Freedom of Information Act request.  Wittendorf had been scheduled for a deposition in the resulting lawsuit over the file shredding, but the deposition was cancelled when the city moved to settle the case.

 

Wittendorf remained on the city payroll, but was reassigned to different duties within the corporation counsel's office after the scandal broke.  Houston had indicated that he was waiting for the completion of a State Police investigation before taking any action against individual employees who may have been involved in the document destruction.

Winter Storm Warning Saturday Night Through Monday Morning; Heavy Snow, Dangerous Cold Expected


A combination of heavy snow and painful cold could make this one of the worst winter weekends in a long time in Central Illinois.  A winter storm warning has been issued from Saturday evening through Monday morning. 

 

The Springfield area is expecting up to 7 inches of snow… with heavier totals expected in areas to the south.  That will be followed by dangerously cold air… with Monday’s high temperature staying well below zero, and wind chills as cold as 40-below.

 

Springfield and other area communities have declared a snow emergency, meaning cars cannot be parked on designated snow routes

 

Another potential problem from the bone-chilling cold snap… water pipes that can freeze and burst.  City Water Light and Power recommends wrapping exposed pipes in insulation or heat tape.  The utility also advises running faucets at a trickle during extreme cold… the flow of water can prevent freezing.

 

Some state and local government facilities will be open to serve as “warming centers” for residents who don’t have adequate heat to protect them from the dangerous cold snap moving into the area.  Springfield’s Municipal Center East lobby is open 24 hours a day.  On Monday, Lincoln Library’s main branch will also be open as a warming center.  So will state Department of Human Services offices on Walnut, and on Martin Luther King Drive.

Calvin Christian Arrested Again For Invalid License


Calvin Christian has been ticketed… yet again… for driving on a suspended license. 

 

The State Journal-Register reports that Christian was pulled over Thursday after police saw a car with illegal window tinting.  Christian was taken to the county jail after officers discovered his license was invalid. 

 

Christian… who says he has received more than 200 citations in recent years… is currently suing police, claiming harassment. He recently told 970 WMAY that he is taking care not to drive on an invalid license, and said he had hired a chauffeur to drive him around.

Dog Park Discussion To Go On As Scheduled, Despite Benefactor's Death


Despite the recent death of a main benefactor for the project, a public hearing will proceed Tuesday to discuss plans for a proposed dog park at Washington Park. 

 

Doctor David Hoelzer had pledged to put up as much as half of the $100,000 cost of the project before he died unexpectedly last week at age 60. 

 

The public hearing will be held Tuesday at 5 at the Washington Park Botanical Gardens.

Campbell Releases Tax Returns


Sangamon County sheriff candidate Jack Campbell has released his 2012 tax returns. 

 

The joint return filed with his wife shows a combined taxable income of around $173,000… on which the couple paid $37,000 in federal and state taxes. 

 

GOP primary opponent Wes Barr says he will also release his tax returns soon.

Heavy Snow and Sub-Zero Temperatures Forecast for Central Illinois


Roads are in better shape across Central Illinois this morning… but winter is winding up to deliver another one-two punch to the region.

 

The National Weather Service is warning of the possibility of heavy snow Saturday night into Sunday… with a possibility of six or more inches accumulation in parts of our listening area.

 

That will be followed by some of the coldest weather to hit the region in years… with low temperatures Monday and Tuesday as cold as 15-below zero, and wind chills between 30 and 40 below.

 

Stay with 970 WMAY for updates through the weekend on this dangerous weather system.

Houston: Linking Buscher Directly to File Shred is Jumping to Conclusion


Mayor Mike Houston says people who are trying to link outgoing Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher to last year’s police file shredding scandal are jumping to conclusions.

 

Houston continues to defend the delays in handing out discipline to people connected to the controversial decision to destroy internal affairs files… including Buscher’s… a year ahead of schedule.

 

Buscher has remained on the job since the incident unfolded…and is retiring with full benefits this month.

 

Houston says people just assumed that Buscher played a role in the scandal, but he says those assumptions are not based in fact.

Memorial Health Systems Affiliate Set for Jacksonville


Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville is set to become an affiliate of Springfield’s Memorial Health Systems.

 

Passavant and Memorial have signed an agreement to that effect, pending approval of regulators.

 

The 93-bed hospital has 900 employees… and would become the second-biggest facility in the Memorial system, which also includes hospitals in Taylorville and Lincoln, in addition to Memorial Medical Center.

 

Both Passavant and Memorial officials say national health-care reform makes it essential for health organizations to work together to improve service and reduce costs.

Second Lawsuit Challenges State's Pension Reform Plan


A second lawsuit has now been filed against the pension reform plan that was signed into law last month… and more litigation is likely to follow.

 

The class-action suit by the Retired State Employees Association follows a similar case filed by a group of retired teachers.

 

The retirees’ group says the pension law is unconstitutional, because it takes away cost-of-living benefits for thousands of retired workers.

 

The suit also objects to the provision of the law that exempts the pensions of judges.

 

Public sector unions are also planning to file suit on behalf of current government employees and teachers.

Beanie Babies Creator Could Get Probation for Tax Evasion


The creator of Beanie Babies faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on tax evasion charges this month in federal court in Chicago.

 

But attorneys for Ty Warner say he should get probation instead… in part because of his unhappy childhood, with a schizophrenic mother and absentee father.

 

Warner became a billionaire with the sale of the plush toys, but has now admitted evading taxes by stashing millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts.

 

In addition to the possible prison time, Warner is also facing a back-tax bill of $16 million and fines in excess of $53 million.

Another Lawsuit Filed Over Pension Reform Law


Another lawsuit has been filed challenging the pension reform plan approved by lawmakers and signed by Governor Pat Quinn last month. 

 

The Retired State Employees Association has filed a class-action suit on behalf of more than 60,000 retired state workers who would be affected by the new law and its changes to cost-of-living benefits.  The lawsuit… like a similar complaint filed last month by retired teachers… says the law violates the State Constitution’s protections for public sector pensions. 

 

The named defendants… including Governor Pat Quinn… will have 30 days to respond to the complaint.

Houston To Seek More Money For Oak Ridge Cemetery


Springfield Mayor Mike Houston plans to ask aldermen for another $50,000 to underwrite operations at Oak Ridge Cemetery in the current fiscal year… saying the original $400,000 subsidy of the cemetery may not be enough. 

 

The city has had to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars toward cemetery operations for the last several years, but the situation may be getting worse.  Houston says expenses have been cut as far as they can, but revenue is not keeping pace with expenditures. 

 

Even so, Houston won’t ask for more than the current $400,000 subsidy in his new budget for the next fiscal year.  He says the budget proposal is balanced, and seeking more for Oak Ridge next year would throw it out of whack.

Area Snowfall Totals Near 3 Inches, More in Northern Illinois


The first snowstorm of 2014 has left most local roads snow-covered and slippery.

 

Weather spotters indicate around three inches of snow fell since last night in the Springfield area.

 

Snow totals are heavier in northern Illinois, with more lake-effect snow expected in Chicago today.

 

More than 400 flights at O’Hare International Airport were cancelled on New Year’s Day because of the snowstorm.

Fewer Homicides Than Previous Year in Sangamon County


2013 was a less deadly year in Springfield and Sangamon County than the previous 12 months.

 

The State Journal-Register reports there were only five homicides in the county last year, compared to 14 in 2012.

 

But local law enforcement says such fluctuations in yearly murder totals are common, and don’t signify any kind of a trend.

 

Only one 2013 homicide is still listed as unsolved… no arrests have been made in the July death of Norma Lipskis of Rochester.

Report: IL Supreme Court Justices Got Campaign Funds From Organized Labor


The Illinois Supreme Court justices who will decide the fate of pension reform in Illinois have benefited significantly from campaign donations made by many of the key players in that political fight.

 

That’s according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

Six of the seven justices have taken contributions from organized labor… which opposes the pension plan that passed last month… or from business groups, which support the proposal.

 

Several justices have also received donations from a political action committee controlled by House Speaker Mike Madigan, who sponsored the controversial pension plan.

Illinois Grows in Population, Slightly


Illinois closed out 2013 with a small increase in population.

 

Latest Census Bureau numbers show the overall population in the state has grown by about 52,000 people since the 2010 census.

 

But that’s one of the slowest rates of growth in the nation, less than one-half of one-percent.

 

Only two states have lost population since 2010… West Virginia and Maine.

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