If you thought we were out of the thick of it, think again.
Mother Nature has another round of severe winter weather in store for the Springfield area this weekend.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Ernie Groetsch says light snow may happen overnight into Saturday but the heavy, long duration, snow will pick up Saturday night through Sunday and into Monday.
Forecasters expect there to be between 6 to 10 inches in the immediate Springfield area with ice further south of Springfield.
Groetsch also says that the snow could stick around well into next week with high temperatures only forecast to be up to 20 degrees.
A mixture of ice is expected further south of Springfield.
Snow and drifting snow is expected to cause problems for travelers this weekend and emergency crews are already put out the warning.
In anticipation of 6 to 10 inches of snow to start Saturday night, the City of Springfield is declaring a snow emergency for this weekend through early next week.
Beginning midnight Sunday, parking along snow routes in Springfield will be prohibited.
The city expects to lift the snow emergency at 7 Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile the Sangamon County Office of Emergency Management expects a snow emergency to be declared for rural roads.
County OEM Director David Butt says he expects a Level 2 Snow Emergency to be declared at some point during the snow event.
A Level 2 Snow Emergency for county roads means only emergency trips will be allowed. Gusting winds up to 25 mph are expected out of the north which means east to west roads can see significant drifting.
A reporter who dug up an arrest record that is overshadowing a high school basketball coach’s winning record says he’s not out to get anybody.
Bruce Rusthon tells 970 WMAY’s Kramer Show that his article in this week’s Illinois Times shows that Lanphire High School head basketball coach Blake Turner had a pending felony charge when he was hired by the district.
It’s reported turner had multiple arrests, including for drugs and weapons and other charges.
Springfield Public School Officials said they will not comment on the story at this time.
The Sangamon County Farm Bureau is backing a GOP candidate for sheriff ahead of the March primary.
Undersheriff Jack Campbell picked up that endorsement Thursday.
Campbell says he’s ecstatic that the farming group, which has 10,000 members, decided to back his candidacy.
Campbell, as a lifelong rural county resident, he’s worked with the Farm Bureau on many initiatives in the past few years.
Campbell faces off with former Sheriff’s Deputy Wes Bar March 18th.
Sangamon County is closer to having a pathologist for the first time in over 2 years, and this time it’s going to be a forensic pathologist.
Sangamon County Coroner Cinda Edwards says her office expects the state to issue a license number for Dr. Nate Paterson in the next few business days.
After that, Paterson will need to secure the necessary malpractice insurance.
Edwards say Paterson will have skills in knowledge in several fields of pathology, including pediatric pathology.
Sangamon County has been sending bodies to Bloomington for autopsies since November of 2011.
A man who was shot by a Springfield cop faces multiple charges, including home invasion and sexual assault.
37-year-old Antonio Florence was shot in the hip by an officer who responded to a “dropped” 9-1-1 call late last week.
The State Journal-Register reports Florence is alleged to have shoved the responding officer to the ground, hitting him and even biting him on the face.
Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow says that it appears the unidentified officer followed proper procedure.
In 2003, Florence was sentenced to 12 years for hijacking a car at gun point.
A bill that would make posting sexually explicit images to the internet without the subject’s permission has cleared the State Senate and now heads to the House.
The so called “revenge porn” bill would make the crime punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine of $25,000.
The sponsor of the legislation says sexually explicit photos posted to the internet out of revenge can have devastating consequences.
A bill that would require a prescription for certain cold and allergy medications is an attempt to put a damper on the production of methamphetamine.
The measure introduced by State Senator Dave Koehler of Peoria would make pseudoephedrine a schedule III controlled substance.
Currently drugs containing the ingredient that is also used in the production of meth is available over the counter, though consumers have to show an ID and are limited in how much they can buy per month.
If passed, Illinois would join two other states in categorizing pseudoephedrine as a class III controlled substance.
He may have one of the best records in high school basketball, but it’s his criminal record that is raising some concerns.
Springfield Public School officials aren’t commenting on a story published in the Illinois Times about the extensive criminal history of Lanphire High School’s head basketball coach.
The report from Bruce Rushton highlights a history of arrests for suspected drug and weapons charges of Blake Turner, who became the team’s head coach in 2012.
It’s also reported Turner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery after hitting a man with a vehicle in 2007.
Interim superintendent Bob Hill says he will not comment on the story at this time.
Sangmaon County is close to having a forensic pathologist after several years of sending bodies to Bloomington for autopsies.
Coroner Cinda Edwards says her office is waiting on the state issued license number for Dr. Nate Paterson which could be issued in the next few business days.
Edwards also says it could be another week before Paterson begins the position because he’ll need secure the necessary malpractice insurance.
Sangamon County has been sending bodies to Bloomington since November of 2011 after Coroner Edwards parted ways with the previous pathologist.
Hear Coroner Edwards discuss this and other issues at this link.
The GOP candidates for US Senate are trading jabs with just a few weeks before the March primary.
State Senator Jim Oberweis says his opponent would make for a good candidate for a state representative or state senator, but he’s too young and inexperienced.
Political newcomer Doug Truax says Oberweis has experience losing 5 races in eleven years.
The two face off in the GOP primary March 18th in an attempt to secure the nomination to go up against the democratic incumbent, Dick Durbin.
Hear Jim Oberweis's interview at this link.
Hear Truax's interview at this link.
Services to remember the life of a local media personality have been set for next week.
A celebration of life for the late Bob Murray will be held at the Holy Family Parish Church in Decatur March 7th from 4 to 8 p.m.
There will be a separate ceremony held privately for family.
Murray who spent decades on the airwaves in central Illinois on both TV and radio died Wednesday after battling stage 4 brain cancer.
A longtime Springfield area broadcaster is being remembered this morning.
Bob Murray died at the age of 66 Wednesday after battling stage 4 brain cancer.
A statement form State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says Murray’s integrity, intelligence and enthusiasm were such an asset to everyone who listened and knew him.
Rutherford notes that he had been interviewed hundreds of times by the veteran TV and radio broadcaster.
Murray passed away surrounded by his family, according to reports. Services are pending.
Now that Springfield Aldermen passed a nearly $600 million budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1st, the next major step will be figuring out what to do with a possible inspector general position at city hall.
Aldermen approved an amendment that moves nearly $80,000 from the Mayor’s control and puts it in the hands of the city’s 10 aldermen.
Ward 6’s Cory Jobe, who spearheaded the fiscal maneuver, says in the next few weeks aldermen will work to establish a sub committee to work out details of what a potential inspector general positions would entail.
It’s a two way race for the GOP gubernatorial race for governor, according to a poll released by State Senator Bill Brady.
A release from the gubernatorial candidate says that of 831 registered voters surveyed by phone, including nearly 40 percent of participants who were on mobile phones, Bruce Rauner comes in at 32 percent with Brady trailing at 24 percent.
Candidate and State Senator Kirk Dillard came in a 13 percent while Treasurer Dan Rutherford is in at 3 percent. 28 percent said they were unsure who to vote for.
Reforming pensions and benefits is going to be difficult, according to the Illinois Municipal League.
Illinois Municipal League Legislative Director Joe McCoy says municipal pension funds are using taxpayers as an ATM.
McCoy says he’s hasn’t read a recent Illinois Policy Institute report highlighting the growing unfunded liabilities of public sector pensions like police and fire funds, but he knows the problem isn’t just a Springfield problem, it’s something municipalities across the state are dealing with.
McCoy says labor must work with governments to bring a balance before city services take a hit to fund growing pension liabilities.
A longtime local media personality has passed away.
Veteran broadcaster Bob Murray died Wednesday morning at the age of 66, according to the last media outlet he worked for.
WTAX says Murray died surrounded by his family.
Murray spent decades in local media and most recenlty worked for WTAX for nearly 10 years but took a leave of absence from the airwaves just after Thanksgiving last year, battling stage-4 brain cancer.
Services honoring Murray are pending.
A Springfield woman is recovering from injuries and faces multiple criminal charges after her vehicle was struck by a train early Wednesday morning.
Springfield police say 29-year-old Brandi Surrat of Springfield faces Driving Under the Influence and no valid ID charges after she drove around the barricades for the 10th Street train tacks on Edwards Street in Springfield just before 4 am.
The train stalled for over three hours Wednesday morning as police investigated the accident.
Deputy police chief Dennis Arnold says officers were given three different stories by Surrat because of her level of intoxication. Surrat was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for her injuries.
Arnold says drivers should never attempt to drive around train track barricades and never get behind the wheel intoxicated.
A driver is being treated at a hospital after their vehicle collided with a train.
Springfield police say the train is stalled on the 11th street tracks until later this morning while they investigate the accident.
Initial information about the status of the vehicle’s driver was not immediately available.
East/West traffic will be locked for travelers on Jefferson, Washington, and Madison Streets.
Police say drivers could travel through on as north as Enterprise Street or as south as the Cook Street underpass.
The Springfield City Council is closer to passing a nearly $600 million budget.
Several amendments passed Tuesday, including two that would transfer nearly $80,000 to a contractual services line in the Council Coordinator’s office.
Alderman Cory Jobe says that move is an effort to bring about an inspector general position at the city, though initial details about the job was not immediately available.
Alderman Gail Simpson’s ordinance to take $260,000 out of reserves for the public library to be open more hours was withdrawn. Simpson says she wants aldermen to find ways to keep the library open for more hours.
A final vote on the budget is expected during a special city council meeting Wednesday.
A report putting the City of Springfield on the top of a list of Illinois cities outside of Chicago as having the worst funded pensions is being characterized as inaccurate and biased.
Alderman Joe McMenamin, who has long urged for the city to address the unfunded pension issue, featured a report from the Illinois Policy Institute during the committee of the whole Tuesday.
The report claims that Springfield taxpayers pay 4 times more for worker pensions than workers do and that all the property tax the city collects goes towards pensions.
Budget Director Bill McCarty says the report is skewed because it includes numbers from City Water Light and Power, which is not part of the corporate fund. Several other aldermen also questioned why the report didn’t go through the Mayor’s office first.
McMenamin says that the city needed to hear an outside voice on the pension issue.
A group of state retirees is asking the state’s Supreme Court to consolidate four lawsuits that challenge Illinois’ new pension reform law.
Four different groups of retirees filed lawsuits that challenge the new law as an unconstitutional diminishment of promised benefits.
The groups filed their cases in two different jurisdictions—in Sangamon County and in Cook County.
The Supreme Court would have to decide where combined class action lawsuit would eventually be heard.
The state passed a pension reform law in December.
Over $34 billion in revenue estimates for state government means cuts in the next budget, according to a vote to accept those estimates in the Illinois House.
A unanimous vote Tuesday approved two resolutions that says the House believes there will be $34.5 billion to spend in the upcoming fiscal year for state government.
The revenue estimates are about $1 billion less than what was estimated last year. It’s unclear where any potential cuts to services may come from. Governor Pat Quinn is set to give a budget address March 18th.
The next fiscal year for the state begins July 1st.
It’s a line of credit that pays for a contract dispute settlement.
The village of Chatham has approved a 10-year loan that will pay $700,000 to the City of Springfield to settle a water contract dispute.
The State Journal-Register reports the 10 year loan comes with a 1.25 percent interest rate for the first five years and a rate not to exceed 2.25 percent the final five years of the loan.
The City of Springfield and the Village of Chatham settled the dispute after the village stopped purchasing water in 2012, violating the contract that had Chatham purchasing water up until 2013.
The settlement agreement includes money for damages plus a 99-year lease of city-owned land for a village pump station.
The City of Springfield is one step closer to approving a budget for the coming fiscal year, but without any new funds for the public library.
During Tuesday's Committee of the Whole, Aldermen approved several amendments, two of which would move nearly $80,000 from the Mayor's office to the Council Coordinator's office.
Alderman Cory Jobe says the money will be used for an inspector general post, though those details were not immediately available.
Alderman Gail Simpson's amendment taking nearly a quarter million dollars from cash reserves to the library was removed from consideration. Simpson said that there was too much conflicting information from the library and budget office and urged aldermen to find out how to open library for more hours.
The appropriations budget which includes $253 million for the corporate fund and nearly $340 million for City Water Light and Power was placed on the debate agenda for possible passage Wednesday during a Special City Council meeting.
Aldermen also held in committee and ordinance that would have allowed raises for several attorneys in the Corporation Counsel's office. That could be brought back out in front of aldermen during the full city council meeting next week. There was also a proclamation reestablishing the intent of the city to construct a supplemental public water supply considered by aldermen for possible passage next week.
A report presented to the Springfield City Council that puts the city on top of a list of having the worst funded pensions in Illinois outside of Chicago is being characterized as a flawed study that broadsides aldermen.
During Tuesday's committee of the whole, the Illinois Policy Institute presented a report that says Springfield's unfunded pension liability was severely impacting services and that that taxpayers paid four times more for employee pensions than employees pay for pensions, making it the worst funded in the state outside the city of Chicago.
Several aldermen said IPI is a lobbying organization and criticized Alderman Joe McMenamin for bringing IPI to the city council without going through the Mayor's office, something IPI acknowledged they did not do.
McMenamin says that aldermen needed to hear from an outside voice about the pension issue.
Budget director Bill McCarty says the report is flawed because it does not exclude City Water Light and Power's enterprise fund from the corporate fund, and thereby skews the numbers.
IPI's Vice President of Policy Ted Dabrowski says the report is just the beginning of the conversation about changes that are needed and suggested workers be moved to a 401K-style plan.
Jeff Bigalow from AFSCME Council 31 says IPI wants contracts reopened, wages cut, and benefits cut, and "that's not going to happen."
The City of Springfield tops the list of worst-funded municipal pension systems, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.
A press release from the nonpartisan think tank says researchers studied pension funds outside of the city of Chicago and Springfield was top of the list as scoring the worst and claims “every last penny” the city brings in through property taxes goes towards pensions for city workers.
The report also claims that city residents pay four times more for city pensions that government employees do.
Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin says the report should be a wake up call to the city.
The Illinois Policy Institute is set to share details of the report to aldermen Tuesday evening.
View the report at the Illinois Policy Institutes website here.
A Springfield Alderman is demanding more leadership from the Mayor when it comes to finding money for the public library.
Ward 2’s Gail Simpson says her move to fund more positions at Lincoln Library has been years in the making because constituents need more access to library resources.
Simpson tasked the Mayor and Budget Director to come up with the funds and says the options provided were not suitable, except for taking the funds out of cash reserves.
Simpson says she could move to take the quarter million dollars out of the Mayor’s control, including funds to be used for garage consolidation efforts, and give the money to the library, an amendment that could be made during Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole.
The 2015 Fiscal Year Budget takes effect March 1.
Bad habits need to be broken before a stable financial picture for Springfield's public schools can be realized, according to the district's school board president.
Chuck Flamini says that the district needs to steer away from creating new programs without projecting how much it will cost in the future.
The School board heard about $5 million in proposed cuts Monday that could impact everything from teaching positions to special education programs and technology.
Flamini says the cuts will be difficult to manage, but it's necessary unless a new revenue stream is generated. Board member Adam Lopez agrees with Flamini and says that there may be the need for an additional $2 million in cuts after upcoming contract negotiations with district teachers and staff.
The next fiscal year budget for Springfield public schools is July 1st.
Illinois lawmakers may be apprehensive in publicly supporting the legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state, but privately they support the move.
That's according to the Executive Director of the Illinois Chapter of NORML.
Dan Linn says in private conversations he's had with a number of lawmakers throughout the state and they understand the potential revenue stream taxes on recreational cannabis could provide.
However, Linn says that if the state were to legalize and regulate the drug, they should be careful not to place too high a tax because it could just continue the drug trade on the black market.
Illinois NORML is holding a lobby day Wednesday to encourage voters to contact their lawmakers about reforming marijuana laws throughout the state.
More than $5 million in cuts could be coming to Springfield School District 186.
That’s above the estimated $4.7 million budget shortfall expected for next year’s school year.
The suggested cuts include $700,000 in special education, cuts in teaching positions across the district and even $1.4 million in technology could be on the cutting board.
The proposed cuts come as teachers prepare to enter a new round of negotiations on raises.
The State Journal-Register reports discussions on the proposed cuts will take place over the next few months.
Springfield Aldermen will debate a variety of amendments to the upcoming fiscal year budget that’s set to take effect March 1st.
During a Committee of the Whole tonight, Aldermen will hear more about moving $80,000 from the Mayor’s control to the council coordinator’s office for a possible inspector general position, though those job details have not been worked out.
Discussion is also expected over a proposal for nearly a quarter-million dollars to be shifted from cash reserves to help fund positions at the public library in an effort to have more hours of operation.
The budget ordinance and amendments are scheduled for final passage during a special city council meeting Wednesday.
The Springfield City Council is scheduled tonight to vote on releasing an audio recording of a closed door meeting where city officials discussed the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Judge John Schmidt ruled the meeting was a violation of the Open Meetings Act after the city was sued in court by a newspaper reporter.
Several aldermen say it’s beyond time for the recording to be released.
Ward 5’s Sam Cahnman says he’s been pushing for the release for months.
Alderman Joe McMenamin says it’s unclear how much the city will have to pay in attorney’s fees.
A potential class action lawsuit targeting the administrative fee charged by the City of Springfield when a vehicle is towed has a new name added as a plaintiff—Pure News USA Publisher T.C. Christian Jr..
A statement provided to WMAY News says the father of Calvin Christian III supports the case, but won’t be making any public comments. The elder Christian was added to the case Monday.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Don Birner, says the city of Springfield has collected over $1.2 million in 2011 and 2012 and more than 320 vehicles were forfeited because the owners couldn’t afford the administrative fee to the city, plus any other fees charged by the tow company.
The city says the can not comment on pending litigation.
A group of Macoupin County miners are suing their former employer over health benefits.
The State Journal-Register reports attorneys for the nearly 200 former Crown III miners say Springfield Coal Company and Tri-County Coal Company are obligated by collective-bargaining agreements to provide up to a year of health benefits following a layoff.
Springfield Coal and Tri-County claim they were never signatories to the collective-bargaining agreement.
The case is scheduled to proceed next month.
A Springfield Aldermen says a report scheduled to be presented to the Springfield City Council Tuesday should act as a wake up call for the city to address its growing pension crisis.
Ward 7’s Joe McMenamin says the non partisan think tank the Illinois Policy Institute will present a report Tuesday that analyzes how unfunded pension liabilities are negatively impacting city budgets across Illinois.
Though he wouldn’t share details about where Springfield lands on the list of the top 20 cities outside of Chicago, he says the details should open some eyes to the enormity of the problem.
Several Springfield Aldermen are saying it’s beyond time for the city to release recordings of a closed door executive session dealing with the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
A special Springfield City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday will allow aldermen to vote to release that recording.
Mayor Mike Houston released partial transcripts of that October meeting late Friday and urged Aldermen to vote in favor of releasing the parts of the audio recording.
This was after a judge ruled the city violated the Open Meetings Act by holding the closed door meeting.
Previous attempts by Aldermen Sam Cahnman and Joe McMenamin to release the minutes and recordings of the meeting in question failed to pass the city council.
The City of Springfield’s tow ordinance led to the forfeiture of over 320 family vehicles in 2012, according to an attorney representing what could be a class action suit against the city.
Don Birner says that the city collected more than $1.2 million dollars in 2011 and 2012 and 327 families in 2012 let their vehicles go because they were unable to pay the $500 fine assessed by the city.
That fee doesn’t include whatever charges are placed on impoundment and storage. Birner represents Calvin Christian in the lawsuit, which could grow as a class action suit with the addition of more names.
The city says they could not comment on pending litigation.
More traffic problems because of Springfield's aging infrastructure, this time on Monroe Street.
Beginning Tuesday, the Office of Public Works will begin work to repair a sewer cave in on eastbound Monroe Street at MacArthur Boulevard.
Traffic on Monroe near MacArthur will be closed as well as pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.
The closure is expected to last a week, weather permitting. Motorists are asked to utilize marked detours.
Disregarding “Road Closed” or “Do Not Enter” signs could land you a $250 fine.
The City of Springfield has a full agenda this week.
Three meetings scheduled will touch on several key issues including the budget, a committee of the whole and a full city council meeting.
The committee of the whole Tuesday will be preceded by a full city council meeting that Mayor Mike Houston called for to have aldermen vote on releasing a recording from the closed door discussion about possibly privatizing Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The committee of the whole could feature debate about raises for several corporation counsel staff plus several amendments to the upcoming fiscal year budget.
Then Wednesday a special city council meeting is being called to pass the budget for fiscal year 2015.
Springfield’s water utility is sitting on a good bond rating.
Moody’s bond rating agency recently reaffirmed the water side with a AA1 rating. Mayor Mike Houston says that means an outside firm believes the water division of the utility is in a strong position.
What that means for ratepayers is that if the city were to issue more bonds to fund future water projects, it would cost the city less money.
That’s not the same story for the utilities electric side which is struggling with debt and a low cash balance.
Illinois lawmakers could consider mandating kill switches for cell phones sold in the state.
Legislation proposed at the statehouse would require cell phones sold in Illinois to have a remote switch that would render the phone inoperable if lost or stolen.
State Senator Toi Hutchinson sponsored the bill saying that it would also prohibit wireless telephone service providers and equipment manufactures from charging for the special phones.
After Thursday's tornadoes and torrential rains... on top of near record snowfall this winter... flooding could be the next big concern.
Thursday’s heavy rain and snowmelt threaten to swell rivers and streams. And the flood risk may be especially high on the Sangamon River. High water levels on Lake Decatur are leading officials to release water from the lake into the river… that could cause flooding on the river between Decatur and Springfield.
Those who live near the river, boaters and others are advised to use extra caution around the Sangamon River for the next few days.
Sangamon County has no plans to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples early… despite a ruling from a federal judge in Chicago that says it’s unconstitutional to make gay couples wait until a new state law takes effect in June.
The judge’s ruling only applies to Cook County… and Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello says unless there is further action, he will abide by the state law that legalizes same-sex marriage effective June 1st.
Cook County began issuing licenses within hours of that court ruling Friday, and the first weddings under the new ruling have already taken place.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office has spent nearly $27,000 in taxpayer money for investigations of claims that he sexually harassed staff.
$18,000 went to a former IRS agent who conducted an outside probe, while more than $8,000 was paid to Springfield law firm Brown, Hay and Stephens on a separate similar investigation.
Rutherford refuses to release the findings of those investigations on the advice of counsel.
Illinois State Police will investigate an incident Friday in which a Springfield police officer shot an armed suspect.
Springfield police had responded to a 911 hangup call from a residence on Gregory Court. When officers arrived, they confronted a man with an unidentified weapon. One officer and the suspect struggled, and the officer suffered head and facial injuries. He in turn fired his gun, shooting the suspect in the leg. None of the injuries were life-threatening.
Police Chief Kenny Winslow says it appears the officer followed protocol.
Mayor Mike Houston’s office has released a partial transcript of a closed-door meeting from November in which the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery was discussed.
A judge ordered the release earlier this week, saying the discussion should not have been closed to the public. Houston has called a special City Council meeting for Tuesday to vote on releasing the rest of the transcript of the meeting… saying such a move requires approval of aldermen.
The National Weather Service confirms that it was an EF-1 tornado that touched down in eastern Sangamon County Thursday, damaging multiple farm buildings and knocking over a mobile home in the area.
The twister, with top winds around 110 miles an hour, stayed on the ground for nine miles between Mechanicsburg and Illiopolis. It was one of at least 7 confirmed tornadoes that struck Central Illinois Thursday afternoon. The storms also produced heavy flooding in the area.
Chris Miller of the National Weather Service says an outbreak of February tornadoes is not all that unusual... and he notes that the unseasonably warm temperatures Thursday are usually a pretty reliable sign that severe weather will follow close behind.
Despite a federal court ruling permitting an immediate start to same-sex marriage in Cook County, Sangamon County officials say they don't plan to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until the new state law takes effect on June 1st.
That ruling from a federal judge in Chicago appears to apply only to Cook County, and as a result, Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello says he will continue to proceed under the provisions of the state law that was approved last year. Aiello says he will talk to staff about the implications of the court ruling, but for now he says it appears his office is bound by the June 1st effective date.
Same-sex marriage may be coming to at least part of Illinois sooner than expected.
Ruling in a lawsuit brought by gay couples in Cook County, a federal judge has ruled that there is no reason those couples should have to wait until June to be able to be legally wed. Illinois passed a same-sex marriage law last year that doesn’t take effect until June 1, but the judge hearing the challenge said same-sex couples have already suffered from the denial of their right to marry and shouldn’t have to wait any longer.
The ruling appears to apply only to Cook County, but the lawyer for the plaintiffs hopes other county clerks around the state will act on their own to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Cook County Clerk David Orr says he will immediately begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
Authorities suspect that it was a tornado that caused substantial damage to farm buildings and power poles in eastern Sangamon County Thursday.
Multiple outbuildings were heavily damaged around Mechanicsburg, Buffalo, Illiopolis and Dawson.
One person reportedly suffered minor injuries, but declined medical treatment.
The storm system that came through the area also produced tornado touchdowns in Christian and Morgan counties.
A number of power poles were snapped east and south of Springfield… and flooding was widespread.
Police reportedly had to rescue a driver whose car became stuck in floodwaters along Route 54 near Riverton.
It could become a local soap opera… with new episodes coming out monthly.
Springfield city officials have begun releasing the full 23-hundred page investigative report into the conduct of two city police detectives.
State police conducted the investigation in 2005 after allegations surfaced that Jim Graham and Paul Carpenter had falsified information and committed other offenses in order to build cases against criminal defendants.
Both detectives were eventually fired, although Carpenter was later reinstated.
But the full report had never been released until a court ruling declared that it was a public record.
City officials have now released the first 300 pages of the report… and say they plan to issue more of it every month, after removing any information that could compromise confidential sources.
Mayor Mike Houston’s office says it will review a Sangamon County judge’s ruling ordering the release of minutes and recordings of a closed-door meeting last November.
Judge John Schmidt ruled the mayor and city council violated the Open Meetings Act by holding discussions in secret on the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
Schmidt’s ruling does allow for portions of the minutes and recordings to be withheld.
Alderman Sam Cahnman requested the immediate release of the entire meeting… and says he will push for a City Council vote next week to do just that if the mayor’s office doesn’t do it first.
A candidate for Sangamon County Sheriff wants his department to play more of a role in helping local schools cope with the aftermath of a crisis.
Undersheriff Jack Campbell is proposing the creation of what he calls the School Threat Assessment and Response Team, or START.
Campbell says police routinely respond to an immediate crisis… such as a school shooting or weather emergency.
But he says officers can also be a help afterwards, providing comfort and reassurance to students in the days after that crisis.
Campbell faces retired deputy Wes Barr is next month’s Republican primary.
Contrary to claims from Congressman Rodney Davis, the head of food service for District 186 says tighter federal rules on school lunch menus has not caused students to stop eating in the cafeteria.
In fact, Jan Miller says participation in the school lunch program is higher this year.
But Miller agrees with Davis that more food may be going to waste as students… especially in the middle and high schools… turn their noses up at less familiar vegetables that schools are now required to serve periodically.
Miller says the requirement to provide more fresh fruit and vegetables has driven up costs… and higher federal reimbursements don’t cover all of the increase.
Polls suggest he’s the underdog in his race, but Republican U.S. Senate candidate Paul Truax has picked up a big-name endorsement.
Former U.S. House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has endorsed Truax over GOP primary opponent Jim Oberweis.
Gingrich says Oberweis has a bad track record in statewide races, and says Truax would have a better chance defeating Democratic incumbent Dick Durbin in November.
Severe February storms have caused some damage around Central Illinois.
Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson says there are reports of farm buildings heavily damaged in areas around Buffalo, Dawson and Mechanicsburg… but no homes were damaged and no injuries were reported.
Property damage also happened around Pawnee and Divernon. It was not immediately clear if the damage was caused by tornadoes or straight-line winds.
Torrential rains have also caused widespread flooding, with numerous roads in and near Springfield covered over with water. One man reportedly had to be rescued from a vehicle that was stranded in high water near Riverton.
After years under wraps, the first 300 pages of a lengthy state police report into the actions of two Springfield cops are finally being released.
But that’s only a fraction of the full 2300-page report about Jim Graham and Paul Carpenter. City officials say they can only release a little at a time, because they have to review each page and remove any confidential or private information.
Media attorney Don Craven says his clients are still deciding their next move.
Springfield has lost another battle over closed-door meetings and confidential records.
A Sangamon County judge has ruled that the city improperly closed a discussion in November about financial problems and a possible private takeover of Oak Ridge Cemetery… and has ordered the minutes and recordings of that meeting to be released.
A spokesman for Mayor Mike Houston says the city hasn’t seen the ruling yet.
Jack Campbell says if he’s elected Sangamon County sheriff, he would develop a team that could assist schools in dealing with the aftermath of a crisis or tragedy.
Campbell says police will always be there for the immediate response to an act of violence or a weather emergency, but he thinks it would be helpful for an officer to be on hand in the aftermath of a crisis, to help talk to and comfort students.
Campbell is currently the Undersheriff, but says he’s not implementing the program immediately because it will take time to put together.
Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard says it’s time for an intervention.
Dillard says he’s the only one who can beat current GOP frontrunner Bruce Rauner… and thinks party leaders should lean on the other two candidates in the race, Dan Rutherford and Bill Brady, to step aside.
Dillard tells WLS in Chicago the current scandal surrounding Rutherford… and the fact that Brady lost to Governor Pat Quinn in 2010… makes them both unelectable.
The competition is over in the women's figure skating finals at the Sochi Olympics, and former Chatham Glenwood student Gracie Gold finished...
Gold finished in fourth place, which is where she was after Wednesday's short program as well. Gold fell on one of her triple jumps, preventing her from catching up to the top three. She had the highest finish among the three American women competing in Sochi, and established herself as a contender for the 2018 Games.
The Houston administration is raising red flags about an alderman’s request to divert more money to Springfield’s public library.
Ward 2’s Gail Simpson asked budget director Bill McCarty to find a way to give Lincoln Library the funds it would need to hire extra staff and be open more hours each week. McCarty says that could cost nearly a quarter-million dollars… and says Simpson favors taking that money out of the city’s cash reserves.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY, McCarty warned against that idea, saying that spending down the reserves would be “fiscally irresponsible.” [Aldermen will take final action on the new city budget next week.]
Strict dietary guidelines for student lunches are not driving District 186 students out of the cafeteria.
Those school lunch rules have come under fire from Congressman Rodney Davis… who says schools are being forced by the feds to serve unpopular foods that are leading kids to simply skip the school lunch. But the food service director for Springfield public schools says participation is up this year.
Jan Miller says it does appear that more food is going to waste… especially some less-common varieties of vegetables that schools are required to serve from time to time. Miller says it’s also more expensive to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, and federal reimbursements don’t cover all of that increase.
In another example of an unusual Central Illinois winter, Springfield and Sangamon County are facing the prospect of both flooding and drought this week.
A flood watch remains in effect on Thursday, with the prospect of heavy rain and rapid snowmelt threatening to inundate creeks, streams, and storm sewers. But the still-frozen ground means most of that moisture won't seep into the soil, which may mean that drought conditions will linger.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor still shows all of Sangamon County in at least a moderate drought status, and the far eastern tip of the county is listed as "severe drought."
It’s a promotion for Monsignor Carl Kemme of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Pope Francis has named Kemme to be the 11th bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas.
The 53-year-old Kemme will replace Archbishop Michael Jackels who was named to be the head of the Dubuque, Iowa, Archdiosese.
Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki says Pope Francis has made a wise choice.
The latest weather headache during this long winter is flooding.
Heavy rains combined with rapidly melting snow today will create flooding near creeks and streams… and is also likely to lead to some flooded city streets in Springfield.
Much of Central Illinois will see between a half-inch and three-quarters of an inch of rain today… and totals will be higher in some areas.
A Flood Watch is in effect through 6pm. As always, stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the weather and how it will affect you today.
Springfield’s city attorney says it could take up to nine months to publicly release a State Police investigative report that’s been kept under wraps for years.
The 23-hundred page report on the actions of Springfield police detectives Jim Graham and Paul Carpenter is a public record under state law… but city corporation counsel Todd Greenburg says each page must be thoroughly reviewed, and any confidential information blacked out.
Greenburg says his staff can only get through 250 to 300 pages a month, and says if the job is rushed and the names of confidential sources get out, someone could get killed.
Media attorney Don Craven objects to the time lag, saying state open records laws should not become the “Book of the Month Club.”
Springfield school officials can ask for a cut of future TIF district revenues upfront… but they’re not likely to find any takers at Springfield City Hall.
Springfield economic development director Mike Farmer says he’s opposed to the suggestion from District 186.
He says the point of the TIF is to reinvest its increased tax revenues to promote more development… and taking money out for other needs defeats the purpose of the TIF.
School board members say they’d like to get 10% of TIF revenues right away, rather than waiting more than 20 years to reap the benefits of the TIF.
Former Chatham Glenwood student Gracie Gold is in medal contention at the Sochi games after landing in fourth place after the women's short program.
Gold, the reigning U.S. women's champion, is also the top American in the Sochi standings so far. But she trails current leader Yuna Kim of Korea by more than six points.
The women's free skate to determine the medalists will be held Thursday.
The City of Springfield doesn’t sound too sympathetic to the Springfield school board’s desire to cash in on tax increment finance districts early.
Generally, TIF districts are set up to reinvest increased property tax revenues for a period of more than 20 years… rather than sending that additional revenue on to taxing bodies like the school district. District 186 wants to have 10% of money from future TIF districts handed over immediately.
But Springfield economic development director Mike Farmer says that defeats the purpose of a TIF… and says TIFs are still a good deal for the school district, even if they have to wait a couple of decades for the payoff.
The city of Springfield says it could take months to fill a reporter’s request for a massive report on the conduct of two Springfield police detectives.
The 23-hundred page report on Jim Graham and Paul Carpenter has been kept under wraps for years, but reporter Bruce Rushton of the Illinois Times has filed a FOIA request for it. City attorney Todd Greenburg says each page has to be meticulously reviewed to black out any confidential information… and estimates that his staff can only complete 250 pages per month over the next nine months or more.
Rushton’s attorney, Don Craven, says he has not agreed to that timeline, but continues to talk with city attorneys.
A candidate for Sangamon County sheriff wants to create a task force, where local police agencies can work together on major crimes.
Republican Wes Barr says a task force with multiple agencies would ease some of the burden and expense for the sheriff’s department… which currently provides much of the response when a local police department needs help with an investigation.
In turn, Barr says the task force will allow cops from smaller departments to hone their skills by taking part in major investigations. Barr says the idea has been around for years, but the current sheriff’s administration has not been receptive. Barr is facing current Undersheriff Jack Campbell in next month’s primary.
Congressman Rodney Davis makes no apologies for his recent legislation calling for White House state dinners to abide by the same calorie restrictions imposed on school lunches.
Davis says he’s trying to make a point that new federal restrictions on school lunches are costing local districts hundreds of thousands of dollars… and leaving kids at risk of going hungry. Davis says the rules that mandate certain vegetables to be served… even though they’ve been shown to be unpopular with kids… lead to more wasted food and higher costs.
He says there are other healthy alternatives… but if the Obama administration won’t allow it, then Davis says they should have to live by their own rules.
Three of the four Republican candidates for governor are defending public sector unions… while the fourth says he wouldn’t get rid of them, but would work to diminish their influence.
The role of unions for state workers and teachers was one of the big issues in Tuesday’s debate in Springfield among the four GOP contenders, heard live on 970 WMAY.
Bruce Rauner says public sector unions are a “corrupting influence” on government… and says he would restrict their power by allowing workers to choose whether or not to join those unions.
His three rivals… Bill Brady, Kirk Dillard, and Dan Rutherford… all said the government unions have value, but promised to take a firm stand in negotiations with them.
Springfield’s new police chief says changes are coming to the police department… and some people on the inside aren’t going to like them.
Kenny Winslow was confirmed by the City Council Tuesday night after a half-hour closed-door session to discuss allegations posted on the Springfield Leaks website.
The site alleged that Winslow plans changes to the department’s organizational structure that could affect internal affairs investigations. Winslow acknowledged that he intends to change the “culture” of the department, but didn’t go into specifics.
He did say that he addressed the concerns of aldermen in that executive session meeting.
The vote was unanimous in favor of confirming Winslow.
Dan Rutherford has canceled TV ad time that he’d been hanging onto… but his campaign insists Rutherford is not dropping out of the Republican race for governor.
The state treasurer is still battling allegations that he sexually harassed and politically coerced staffers.
And he’s now facing new questions about his decision not to release a taxpayer-funded outside investigation of those claims, which surfaced in a lawsuit filed by a former employee.
Rutherford says he would prefer to release the information and is, quote, “working it through” to get the information out there… but he says right now, he has to follow the advice of his lawyer to keep the report under wraps.
Two years after he started the job, a longtime friend and former aide to Mayor Mike Houston has won City Council approval for his appointment as a top administrator at City Water Light and Power.
Bob Braasch had been serving in an interim capacity since 2012, after Houston refused to submit the nomination for fear that aldermen would vote it down.
The vote in favor was 7-2… with Ward 2’s Gail Simpson and Ward 5’s Sam Cahnman voting “no,” and Ward 3’s Doris Turner voting present.
In other Council news, aldermen approved the $60,000 emergency appropriation to help Oak Ridge Cemetery make payroll and keep operating through the end of the month.
A Springfield school board member says he’s “tired” of criticism that District 186 is overloaded with administrators.
Mike Zimmers… who is himself a former administrator in the district… says much of that criticism comes from people who don’t really know all of the mandates and responsibilities that school systems have to confront on a daily basis.
Zimmers says he’s hopeful that a proposed efficiency study will provide some more ammunition to respond to those complaints once and for all.
Illinois lawmakers have heard testimony about a proposal to make it illegal to smoke in a car when a minor is in the vehicle.
Supporters say it’s a safety measure no different than requiring seat belts or prohibiting texting behind the wheel. Opponents say the measure is too intrusive.
No vote was taken on the bill.
Meanwhile, another pending measure would impose a tax on sugary soft drinks.
The penny-per-ounce surcharge is intended to fund health education programs.
A Springfield school board member disputes the idea that District 186 is top-heavy with administrators… and says he’s tired of hearing the criticism.
Mike Zimmers… a former district administrator who was elected to the school board last year… says the district has to meet numerous state and federal mandates, and he says that requires administrators to make sure all requirements are met.
The district is considering an efficiency study to look at where costs can be cut, but Zimmers hopes such a study would silence some of the district’s critics.
The Springfield school board is in favor of a more aggressive approach toward tax increment finance districts.
TIF districts are often used by the city to promote development in an area… by taking the increase in property taxes and reinvesting in that area, rather than distributing the money to other taxing bodies, like District 186.
School board member Scott McFarland wants the district to push for a more active role in discussions for any future TIFs, and to push for immediate access to 10-percent of the increased revenues. McFarland says if the city can be persuaded to go along, it could mean hundreds of thousands of new dollars annually for Springfield schools.
There’s not a lot of action so far on a couple of potentially controversial pieces of legislation at the Capitol.
Lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would prohibit people from smoking in cars if a minor was in the vehicle. But no vote was taken on that bill Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a Democratic state senator from Chicago has introduced legislation to impose a tax surcharge on sugared soft drinks. The penny-per-ounce tax would apply to sodas sold in sealed containers. Senator Maddie Hunter says it would fund health programs to counteract some of the health problems associated with too much consumption of sugary drinks… but retailers and manufacturers say it would cost jobs and hurt the state’s economy.
An Illinois lawmaker wants to go a little easier on repeat drunk drivers.
Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz has proposed a bill to let chronic repeat offenders… with four or more DUI convictions… apply for a reinstatement of their driving privileges. Her bill would require the offender to show that they had been drug- and alcohol-free for five years, and to agree to use a breath interlock device in their vehicle permanently.
Nekritz says some past offenders have turned their lives around and deserve a chance to be full participants in society again.
It’s a much improved morning across Central Illinois… good news for drivers, pedestrians, and schoolkids… who hopefully won’t have to wait outside for half-an-hour or more for their buses.
That was pretty typical during Monday’s ice storm, prompting lots of complaints from parents. Interim Springfield school superintendent Bob Hill says in retrospect, he wishes he had called off classes on Monday.
But Hill says the decision had to be made by 5:30am… and at that time, no one knew how bad it would be by 7, when buses started rolling.
District officials say they will investigate ways to better notify families if buses are running late because of the weather.
Students in Springfield will need to have all required immunizations by the tenth day of school next fall… or they won’t be coming back to class until they do.
The school board has given preliminary approval to a new policy that will require those shots much sooner in the school year.
Until now, parents had until October to get their child immunized… but the new policy will mandate the shots by the end of August.
The district says it will work with health care providers to make it as easy as possible for parents to get their children immunized.
Today is the last day to register to vote in next month’s primary if you are not already registered.
That includes 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the general election in November.
This year, for the first time, those teenagers are eligible to vote in the primary if they are registered in time.
The primary will be held exactly one month from today.
The four Republican candidates for governor will meet in a debate tonight in Springfield.
970 WMAY will have live coverage of the event this evening, starting at 6pm.
At least one of the four contenders is actively encouraging people who don’t consider themselves Republicans to cast a vote in the GOP primary.
Kirk Dillard says anyone who wants to end the status quo in Illinois should pull a Republican ballot and vote for him… and he says many Democrats and independents are among those who are tired of how things are going right now in the state.
Officials at Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery have no explanation for why burials there hit an all-time low in January.
But it could be another sign of shifting attitudes in favor of cremation over burial. Only nine bodies were interred at Oak Ridge last month.
Cemetery director Mike Lelys says at least 22 burials are needed each month just to generate the revenue needed to make payroll.
Springfield aldermen will vote tonight on an emergency ordinance to give Oak Ridge another $60,000 so that it can pay staff and maintain operations through the end of the month.
An Illinois legislative committee will take up a bill today that would make it illegal to smoke in a vehicle if anyone under the age of 18 is present.
Democratic state Senator Ira Silverstein’s bill would not allow police to pull a driver over just for that, but if a driver committed another offense and was found to be smoking in the car illegally, the driver could face an additional $100 fine.
The American Lung Association supports the legislation.
The director of Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery has no explanation for a steep drop-off in sales of burial services since December, a factor that is worsening the money problems at the city-owned facility.
Director Mike Lelys says there were only 9 paid interments at Oak Ridge in January… an all-time low. 22 are needed each month just to cover payroll. The drop-off in burials and “pre-need” sales… and a spike in snow removal and other expenses… has created a $60,000 budget hole.
Springfield aldermen will vote this week on an emergency appropriation to keep Oak Ridge afloat through the end of the month.
Tuesday is the last day to register for the March primary election… which in turn will be the first election for dozens of 17-year-olds in Sangamon County.
County election officials say around 100 17-year-olds have registered to vote in next month’s primary. A new state law allows, for the first time, 17-year-olds to vote in the primary if they will turn 18 by the time of the November general election.
Next month’s primary includes contested races for governor, congressional and legislative seats, and Sangamon County sheriff.
A Republican candidate for governor is urging Democrats and independents to cross party lines to help him win the GOP nomination.
State senator Kirk Dillard says he wants the support of anyone who is tired of the status quo in Illinois and wants to end the Democratic stranglehold on state government.
Last week, the president of the Illinois Education Association said some teachers union members are planning to take Republican ballots… even if they are not Republicans… to help Dillard defeat his three rivals, including frontrunner Bruce Rauner, an outspoken critic of public sector unions.
Dillard appeared live Monday morning on 970 WMAY's "Jim Leach Show."
St. John’s Hospital says it provided nearly $40 million in “community benefit” last year… largely in providing health care to indigent people.
The money spent on “Charity Care” and unreimbursed Medicaid expenses accounts for about two-thirds of the $40 million total. Hospital officials say the rest came through educational and public outreach programs, like St. John’s sponsorship of the East Side Farmers Market to promote healthy eating, or a program that encourages kids to get more active through dance.
The nearly $40 million in “community benefit” represents around 9 percent of the hospital’s total annual expenditures.
From public schools to Springfield Mass Transit District to your commute to work, the freezing mix of precipitation is causing headaches for travelers. Springfield Mass Transit District has canceled service this morning until roads become clear.
The Managing Director of SMTD Frank Squires says that one bus slid through an intersection early Monday but that has since been cleared with no reports of injury or damage. Squires says the roads need to be salted along bus routes before service cam resume.
As for Springfield District 186 bus service, Transpiration Director Rick Koopman says that some bus routes are running a bit behind because of road conditions.
Parents can call First Student at 544-7603 for updates on routes.
Once again, the biggest news story in Springfield this morning is the weather. But in a winter dominated by bitter cold and heavy snow, the problem today will be ice.
A winter weather advisory is in effect through 6pm… with a forecast calling for sleet and freezing rain, especially this morning but continuing sporadically in the afternoon.
Although ice accumulation is expected to be less than two-tenths of an inch, that would be enough to create a dangerous icy glaze on roads and sidewalks, and could also cause some smaller tree branches to snap from the weight of the ice.
Total accumulation of snow and ice together could be 1 to 2 inches.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the forecast, road conditions, and any weather-related closings or cancellations.
Likely Republican voters in Illinois want the state’s temporary income tax increase to expire… but a majority of them are pessimistic about that happening.
A Chicago Tribune survey of GOP primary voters finds 63% of them support rolling back the tax hike… but 55% believe the higher tax rate will stay in place, even if a Republican is elected governor later this year.
That same survey also finds that 60% of GOP primary voters want the state’s new same-sex marriage law to be repealed.
The man named by Governor Pat Quinn to be the new director of DCFS pleaded guilty in the 1990s to charges stemming from the theft of thousands of dollars from clients at a Chicago social-service agency.
61-year-old Arthur Bishop was initially charged with felony theft for allegedly setting up a bogus program to help people convicted of DUI get their driving privileges back.
Bishop has long denied any wrongdoing.
But the Chicago Sun-Times says Bishop ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the case, something he says he did because he couldn’t afford to keep fighting the case in court.
Financial problems at Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery appear to be getting worse instead of better.
Mayor Mike Houston is seeking emergency passage for an ordinance to pump another $60,000 from the city’s general fund to support Oak Ridge operations through the end of the fiscal year on February 28th.
That’s on top of the $400,000 that had already been budgeted to fill in gaps in the cemetery’s budget.
City officials say sales at Oak Ridge have dropped off sharply during the harsh winter months.
Lottery fever should make a comeback this week.
Another rollover in the multi-state Powerball game will push the top prize for Wednesday to at least $400 million.
That’s the fourth-biggest Powerball jackpot ever, and the sixth-biggest lottery prize overall in U.S. history.
A single winner could take a lump sum of around $227 million. The odds of claiming that prize are 1 in 175 million.
Despite milder weather in the forecast for later in the week, winter has more headaches in store for local drivers first.
A winter weather advisory has been issued for the 970 WMAY listening area from 6am to 6pm Monday. Sleet and freezing rain will create a glaze on roadways that is likely to make conditions difficult and hazardous for anyone on the roads. The President's Day holiday could reduce some of the normal traffic volume, but authorities still advise drivers to use extreme caution.
Ice accumulations of less than two-tenths of an inch are expected, but that could still be enough to make driving difficult, and potentially to bring down small tree limbs. Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the forecast and road conditions, along with information on weather-related closings and cancellations.
Springfield is now several inches closer to its snowiest winter on record. Friday’s total exceeded forecasts, dumping more than five inches on the city… and bringing the season total to within five inches of the all-time record set back in 1981 and 1982.
The snow is also blamed for a pileup collision on I-55 near Bloomington, involving dozens of cars and big rigs. 17 people were taken to the hospital with injuries from that crash.
A state Department of Transportation worker has been killed while helping to clear snow-covered roads in Stark County. 49-year-old Michael Holmes has reportedly gotten out of his plow to help a stranded motorist when he was struck by another vehicle that lost control in the snow. Governor Pat Quinn called Holmes a “hero” who was trying to make conditions safe for drivers, and ordered flags flown at half-staff in his honor.
Police are also investigating whether the snowy roads contributed to a fatal accident in Macoupin County. A Litchfield man is dead and another seriously injured after the vehicle they were in was struck by a train. State police say the driver failed to yield to the train at a rural crossing near old Route 66. Passenger Nicholas Rayphole was pronounced dead at the scene. Driver Brian Irwin was airlifted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he has not seen the report done by an outside investigator looking into allegations that Rutherford sexually harassed male employees in his office… and doesn’t know if he will review the document.
The treasurer’s office is now refusing to release the report, even though Rutherford originally said he would make it public.
The Republican state treasurer tells the Lee Newspapers that he will not drop out of the race for governor, despite the growing controversy.
Oak Ridge Cemetery needs another infusion of cash from the City of Springfield, or city officials say the cemetery might not be able to make payroll this month.
Mayor Mike Houston has introduced an emergency ordinance requesting an additional $60,000 in funding to help the cemetery make ends meet until the start of the new fiscal year on March 1st.
Sales at the cemetery have reportedly nosedived during the harsh winter weather since December.
A Paxton man faces 20 years to life after his conviction on federal drug charges for running a cocaine ring that extended into Springfield.
32-year-old Eddi Ramirez… also known as “Migo”… ran a multi-million-dollar ring that brought in huge quantities of cocaine, as well as heroin, from Mexico for distribution across Central Illinois.
13 other people, including three from Springfield, have been convicted for their roles in the drug ring.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is asking Walmart to follow the lead of the CVS drug store chain… and remove all tobacco products from its shelves.
CVS announced recently that it would phase out all tobacco sales by this fall.
Durbin says Walmart is the nation’s largest tobacco retailer, and contends the retail giant could help millions of Americans kick the habit if it no longer sold the product.
The City of Springfield is having to dig in even deeper to help Oak Ridge Cemetery get out of a budget hole.
Mayor Mike Houston has introduced an ordinance for emergency passage to take another $60,000 out of the general fund to support Oak Ridge operations through the end of this month. That's on top of the $400,000 that had already been allocated for the cemetary in the current fiscal year, which ends Feb. 28th.
City officials say sales at Oak Ridge have fallen dramatically during the harsh winter months, and the extra money is needed for Oak Ridge to meet payroll. Last month, Houston had predicted that he would have to request an additional $50,000 for Oak Ridge, but the money situation is even worse than originally projected.
Mayor Mike Houston will once again seek City Council approval of pay raises for four lawyers in the city corporation counsel’s office.
Council approval is needed for raises of more than five-percent. But aldermen rejected the request earlier this month, saying the ordinance submitted by the mayor was “too vague.”
The new ordinance spells out specifically how much additional money is authorized. Three of the attorneys would receive an additional $5,000 a year… an increase of between 7 and 9 percent. But the fourth… the lowest-paid of the lawyers… would get an extra $10,000 per year, a nearly 25-percent increase. The new ordinance is on first reading next week.
The state’s largest teachers union is promising lots of help for Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard before and during the primary election… but not necessarily afterwards.
The Illinois Education Association is endorsing Dillard, saying he has done the best job among the four GOP candidates in showing support for public education and those who work in it.
The union says it will provide money and organizational support… and president Cinda Klickna says even Democratic and independent union members indicate they may pull Republican ballots this year to support Dillard. But she says the endorsement only covers the primary… and the union will decide later who it will support in the general election.
The endorsement may play into the hands of Dillard’s rival… Bruce Rauner. Rauner has based his campaign on a vow to take control away from public sector unions, like the IEA… which he blames for the state’s pension crisis and ongoing fiscal problems.
A main downtown road is closed completely to traffic so that water line repairs can be made.
City Water Light and Power says it has shut down Monroe between 5th and 6th in order to fix a broken 4-inch fire service line. The water line problem had earlier closed two lanes of traffic on that block, but now the entire block is shut down until repairs are completed.
A detour has been posted.
It’s a Valentine’s gift that most people would rather send back. Mother Nature is sending more snow our way today.
A winter weather advisory is in effect through 6pm.
Snow could be heavy, up to half-an-inch per hour at times, and roads are likely to become quickly snow-covered and potentially hazardous.
The total accumulation is expected to be 2 to 4 inches.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the forecast, roads, and any weather-related cancellations.
An attorney for Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he won't release the findings of an independent investigation into allegations that Rutherford subjected employees to sexual harassment and political pressure.
Rutherford brought in an outside investigator after an employee in his office made the allegations. That employee has now sued Rutherford. Chicago-based attorney Peter Andjelkovich will represent Rutherford in that lawsuit.
He told The Associated Press that it was his decision, not Rutherford’s, to keep the information secret. He said information found during the investigation would be used to fight the lawsuit in court, not through the public.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston predicts aldermen will move to create a new inspector general position for City Hall… one that answers to them, not to the mayor.
Alderman Cory Jobe plans an amendment to Houston’s budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1st, and Houston says Jobe appears to have the votes to pass it.
The mayor says he will support the move… if Jobe can find the money in the budget to pay for it, and if the inspector general is truly independent.
An Illinois State Police investigation into last year’s Springfield police file shredding scandal is apparently still active.
Mayor Mike Houston says he heard from someone who was questioned by state police investigators for three hours just last week.
The mayor notes that the outside investigation came about because he requested an independent review of the destruction of internal affairs files by police department brass.
Houston says he doesn’t know when the investigation will be complete… but says if the investigation finds any current city employees committed wrongdoing, those workers will be disciplined.
Cleanup continues after a train derailment led to the spillage of 100,000 bushels of corn at a grain elevator in southern Sangamon County.
It happened at the Farmers’ Elevator in Lowder. Several rail cars slid off the tracks as they were being backed into place to be loaded with the corn.
Snow and ice on the tracks may have caused the derailment, which sent the cars toppling into supports for the grain elevator’s control room.
Two workers were injured as they tried to evacuate that control room. The corn… which spilled from a loading boom… had an estimated value of $400,000.
The Republican candidates for Sangamon County sheriff are taking off the gloves.
Former lieutenant Wes Barr is raising questions about the quality of training in the department after several jailers were sued for allegedly misusing Tasers against a jail inmate.
Barr says the lawsuit raises questions about how sheriff’s department brass… including his opponent, Undersheriff Jack Campbell, are educating employees on how and when to use Tasers.
Campbell, meanwhile, wants Barr to stop airing an ad that Campbell says is misleading. Barr’s ad says he will increase hiring of veterans in a department that, quote, “is desperately seeking qualified candidates.”
Campbell says the department isn’t hiring right now, but is being flooded with calls from jobseekers because of Barr’s ad.
The new president and CEO of St. John’s Hospital says his experience as both a doctor and an administrator will help him find the middle ground to balance out various interests within the hospital.
Dr. Charles Lucore says the deciding factor will always be what provides the best care for patients. Lucore is a cardiologist who has run the Prairie Heart Institute since 2009.
He sees the Affordable Care Act as both a challenge and an opportunity… since it will give more people access to health care, but could also lead to lower reimbursements to the hospital for providing that care.
A lawsuit accusing Sangamon County jailers of Tasering an inmate who was having an epileptic seizure shows a gap in how sheriff’s department employees are trained to use the devices… according to sheriff candidate Wes Barr.
Barr says he’s concerned about whether deputies and jailers are adequately trained in how, and when, to use Tasers… and says the sheriff’s department only spent a fraction of its training budget last year. Barr faces Undersheriff Jack Campbell in next month’s GOP primary.
The verbal shots are flying in both directions in the race for Sangamon County Sheriff. Undersheriff Jack Campbell is calling on opponent Wes Barr to stop airing an ad that Campbell says is misleading.
Barr’s new ad says he will boost opportunities for veterans to apply to the sheriff’s department, which the ad says is “desperately seeking qualified candidates.” But Campbell says the department is not hiring right now, and says Barr’s ad is leading to a flood of calls that are tying up manpower.
The new president and CEO of St. John’s Hospital says he can bring all aspects of hospital operations together.
For the first time, the hospital will be run by a physician… Dr. Charles Lucore, a cardiologist who has been head of St. John’s Prairie Heart Institute since 2009. Lucore says his background in both medicine and administration will help him lead the entire hospital staff toward one primary goal -- providing quality care to all patients, regardless of their means.
Lucore says one of his early priorities will be the launch of the hospital’s expanded surgical suites, which are scheduled to open this spring. He also hopes to see significant growth in St. John’s Children’s Hospital.
Crews are working to stabilize a grain elevator control room in Lowder after a train derailment early Thursday.
Snow and ice may have contributed to the derailment of several empty freight cars that were being backed into place to be loaded with corn. The cars started to knock over supports for the Farmers’ Elevator control room… and contributed to the spillage of 100,000 bushels of corn from a loading boom onto the ground. Two workers suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Authorities are asking people to stay away from that grain elevator in Lowder while crews work to stabilize and clean up the site.
The effects of the unusually harsh winter are still being felt around Springfield… especially with the city’s infrastructure.
Multiple water main breaks have forced lane closures and repair work on some of the city’s main thoroughfares, including 6th Street. Another break Wednesday night resulted in the closure of two lanes in the 500 block of East Monroe and an interruption in water service to that block.
Mayor Mike Houston says the weather is also taking its toll on city streets in the form of potholes. And he says most patching work will have to wait until winter is over. Houston says any patching work that could be done right now would probably be undone if snow plows have to come through again.
It wasn’t the way he wanted to go, but Springfield Mayor Mike Houston says it appears that aldermen will revise his proposed city budget to include the position of inspector general.
Alderman Cory Jobe has proposed re-allocating $80,000 from Houston’s budget to fund an inspector general under aldermanic control. The IG would serve as a watchdog to investigate allegations of misconduct by city employees. It’s unclear if that would be enough money for the position, or where additional funds might come from.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Houston said he will go along with the move… if the position is affordable and truly independent.
An Illinois State Police investigation into last year’s file shredding scandal in the Springfield Police Department is apparently still active.
Mayor Mike Houston says he spoke to someone who said he was questioned by state police investigators for three hours, just last week. Houston did not identify the individual, but says it shows that there is a real, ongoing investigation into the matter.
Houston says he’s gotten no indication of when the investigation will be complete, but vows to use its findings to discipline any current city employees who are found to have done something wrong. Several top city officials who had been implicated in the scandal have since retired or resigned.
A Springfield man has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Sangamon County jail guards used a Taser and pepper spray on him because he was unresponsive as a result of multiple epileptic seizures.
The lawsuit was first reported by the Illinois Times. Richard Haley claims that jail staff knew or should have known about his condition, since he had had several seizures during his time at the jail, including one that led to him being taken to the hospital.
But he says on March 20th of last year, guards shocked and sprayed him when he was unconscious, then handcuffed him to a bench for the night. It’s the latest of several lawsuits alleging mistreatment of people in custody by sheriff’s department personnel.
Sheriff Neil Williamson told the Illinois Times he was unaware of the complaint.
Governor Pat Quinn has a lot of blanks to fill in regarding some of the biggest policy and political issues he may face in 2014.
During a stop in Springfield Wednesday, Quinn said legislation is in the works to implement his State of the State proposal to guarantee at least two paid sick days a year for every Illinois worker.
But it’s still unclear exactly how the mandate would work, or whether there would be any exemptions.
The governor is also deferring on two major looming tax questions… whether to extend the state’s temporary income tax increase, and whether to change the state’s flat income tax to a graduated tax system.
Quinn pledges more details on those issues in his budget address March 26th.
The first concealed carry permit in Illinois hasn’t even been issued yet… and some lawmakers are already wanting to change the law.
State Representative Bill Mitchell wants to cut in half the number of hours of safety training required to get a permit. Some lawmakers want to expand the number of places where concealed guns can legally be carried… while others want to impose further limits.
But the original bill’s main sponsor, Democratic Representative Brandon Phelps, says it’s much too soon to make any of those changes. He says the new law needs time to work and be evaluated before big changes are made.
A Springfield man is dead after a crash between a passenger vehicle and a semi at South Grand and Dirksen early Wednesday.
Octavio Ascencio-Ramirez was a passenger in the car that turned in front of the semi around 2:30am.
The truck struck the vehicle on the passenger side. The driver of the car, 22-year-old Krista Spencer, sustained minor injuries.
Police say there is no indication that alcohol was involved. No citations have been issued yet as the investigation continues.
A 23-year-old Springfield man is dead after the car he was in was struck by a semi early Wednesday. Octavio Ascencio-Ramirez was a passenger in the car, which turned in front of the semi at South Grand and Dirksen, around 2:30am. The driver of the car, 22-year-old Krista Spencer of Tallula, was treated for injuries that police say were not life-threatening. Citations are pending as the investigation continues.
ORIGINAL STORY: Springfield police continue to investigate a crash early Wednesday that killed one person and sent another to the hospital.
The accident happened around 2:30am at the corner of South Grand and Dirksen. Police say a passenger vehicle was eastbound on South Grand and attempted to turn north onto Dirksen. The vehicle was struck on the passenger side by a westbound semi tractor-trailer.
The passenger in the car was killed and the driver was taken to the hospital with injuries that police describe as non-life-threatening. The semi driver was uninjured. No citations have yet been issued in the crash, which closed that busy intersection for several hours.
Governor Pat Quinn is still promising to fill in the blanks soon on some of the big issues he’s raised in recent weeks.
Quinn says work is underway on a bill to implement a proposal from his State of the State speech… one that guarantee at least a couple of paid sick days a year for all workers. Quinn said it’s likely to be structured so that workers can earn sick leave based on overall number of hours they work.
Quinn also repeated his support for a tax policy based on ability to pay. But he says he will save the discussion of a possible graduated income tax for his budget speech, now set for March 26th.
After years of banging the drum on the issue, Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin sounds like he’s preparing to throw in the towel over the city’s underfunded pensions.
Appearing live on the 970 WMAY News Feed, McMenamin repeated his concerns over a total unfunded liability that is now six times larger than it was a decade ago. But McMenamin said every proposal he’s made to address the issue has been shot down.
He says the best strategy now may be to wait until the spring of 2015 and hope the city chooses a mayor that’s more focused on addressing that gap in pension funding.
Governor Pat Quinn is pouring another $5 million into a program that has helped hundreds of veterans and active military personnel purchase homes.
That brings the total to $20 million invested by the state in the “Welcome Home Heroes” program. It provides $10,000 in assistance with down payment and closing costs, along with an affordable fixed-rate 30-year loan and tax credits.
Sangamon County prosecutor and Navy veteran Jonas Harger says he and his wife could probably not have afforded their home in Springfield without the program. [Quinn announced the additional funding in a news conference at Harger’s home Wednesday.]
The national commander of the American Legion says he believes Congress will restore full funding for cost-of-living increases in military pensions.
Some of those benefits were scaled back as part of a budget deal that came together in Congress weeks ago. But since then, an outcry has led the Senate to pass a bill restoring the benefits. Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” Legion commander Dan Dellinger predicts the House will follow suit, but he says those benefits should never have been on the chopping block in the first place.
Dellinger was in Springfield for the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Lincoln’s Tomb on the occasion of the late President’s birthday.
Springfield aldermen will finally get to have their say on an administrative appointment made by Mayor Mike Houston… two years ago.
CWLP official Bob Braasch appeared before the City Council committee of the whole Tuesday night ahead of a final confirmation vote next week.
Houston’s longtime friend and former aide told aldermen that he’s been working to make the utility more efficient in the two years since he received the interim appointment.
Houston delayed the confirmation vote for months out of fear that aldermen would reject it.
But only Ward 2’s Gail Simpson has come out publicly in opposition to the appointment.
A Springfield alderman says he’s tired of talks and studies… and says it’s time for the city to take a stand on a second water supply once and for all.
Discussions over whether to build a second lake have dragged on literally for decades… and the last straw for Alderman Frank Edwards may have been a request for a new water demand study.
Edwards says the city needs to show that it is moving forward with the project… in order to pressure the EPA to make a decision once and for all on its environmental viability.
The new Springfield city budget could still undergo some tweaking before final approval later this month.
Alderman Cory Jobe has introduced his amendment to fund an inspector general position that would be under the City Council’s control. Jobe would use $50,000 that had been set aside for a private investigator through the mayor’s office… plus $30,000 proposed for communications director Nathan Mihelich’s office… to make up most of the funding for the new position.
Meanwhile, Alderman Gail Simpson wants to allocate $150,000 to beef up staff at Lincoln Library… but left it up to city budget director Bill McCarty to find the money elsewhere in the proposed budget.
Sangamon County authorities are encouraging people to report phone scams, fake text messages, and other cyber crimes.
In recent years, authorities have generally told people to ignore such messages… since those types of long-distance electronic crimes are mostly unsolvable.
But the sheriff’s department has now set up a hotline where people can call and leave a message about attempted scams.
Undersheriff Jack Campbell says the idea is to collect that information and get it out to the media… in hopes of making others aware and helping them avoid becoming the victim of a scam.
If you are the target of such a scam, call 753-NOT ME (753-6686).
Brutal winter weather in January is getting much of the blame for a decline in local home sales and local prices.
The Capital Area Association of Realtors says home sales were down six-percent in January, compared to the same month a year earlier. The realtors’ group says snow and bitter cold kept many buyers indoors instead of looking at homes.
And that shrinking demand… plus the effect of foreclosure sales… sent median home sale prices plunging 26-percent in January, down to an eight-year-low.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford vows to stay in the race for governor, despite explosive allegations contained in a federal lawsuit filed Monday by a former employee.
Ed Michalowski alleges in the lawsuit that Rutherford propositioned him multiple times… and groped him once… dating back to 2011.
Michalowski also claims that Rutherford pressured him and others to do political work and fundraising to further Rutherford’s ambitions.
Rutherford denies the allegations, and says state records contradict some of Michalowski’s claims.
He also continues to assert that the case was timed to derail his GOP campaign for governor, and suspects rival Bruce Rauner is behind it… although Rutherford can’t provide direct evidence to back up the charge.
Despite having some of the best medical facilities in the state, Sangamon County ranks near the bottom among Illinois counties for overall health and wellness.
A new study suggests the disparity is linked directly to economic factors, including significant numbers of low-income households, lack of health insurance, and even difficulty in obtaining fresh and nutritious foods.
Sangamon County ranks second-best in the state in terms of clinical care… but in the category labeled “morbidity,” which measures overall physical and mental health, Sangamon is 95th out of 102 Illinois counties.
Concerns about Springfield’s unfunded liability for city employee pensions may not be as bad as first feared.
Alderman Joe McMenamin raised the issue last week, revealing that Springfield had a 97-million-dollar unfunded liability for workers covered under the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
The fund’s director says those numbers were accurate for the end of 2012… but the picture has improved significantly since then.
Lou Kosiba says the IMRF had a 20-percent return on investment last year, adding as much as $45 million to Springfield’s pension reserves.
A Springfield alderman plans to introduce a budget amendment in the next several days that could pave the way for restoring an inspector general position at City Hall.
Ward 6’s Cory Jobe wants to put that position under the control of the City Council, not the mayor’s office.
He says workers are more likely to blow the whistle on corruption if they can report it to someone who doesn’t answer directly to the mayor.
Jobe says he and several other aldermen have been brainstorming ideas on how to pay for the new position… but he’s not revealing those ideas yet.
Illinois House Republicans are sounding the alarm over what they say is an attempt to raise taxes by changing the Illinois Constitution.
They contend a joint resolution introduced last year… which remains stalled in committee… could be revived at any time in an effort to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
That proposed amendment would change Illinois’s flat income tax to a graduated tax, where people who make more would pay a higher rate.
Springfield Republican Raymond Poe says that would most likely mean higher taxes for middle-class Illinoisans, not just the wealthy… and says the move would drive jobs out of the state.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has issued a statement denying allegations of sexual harassment from a former employee in his office.
The statement says there are no witnesses to any of Ed Michalowski's allegations, and says state records contradict one of Michalowski's claims. In his lawsuit, Michalowski alleged that Rutherford accosted him during an overnight retreat at Rutherford's home. But travel vouchers purportedly show Michalowski indicated that he had returned home in mid-afternoon on the date in question.
Rutherford's statement also notes that the lawsuit appears to be timed to inflict political damage... and notes that Michalowski is in bankruptcy proceedings and was behind on debt payments.
A former employee in State Treasurer Dan Rutherford's office has filed a federal lawsuit... accusing Rutherford of sexual and political harassment. The explosive charges add a dramatic new wrinkle to Rutherford's campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.
Ed Michalowski accuses Rutherford of groping him on at least one occasion -- during an overnight retreat at Rutherford's home. He says Rutherford also propositioned him on other occasions. The lawsuit also claims that Rutherford pressured Michalowski to do political work on state time and to aggressively fundraise on behalf of Rutherford's political ambitions.
Rutherford has denied the allegations and contends that they are politically motivated, coming just weeks before the March primary. He also accuses Michalowski's attorney of trying to squeeze Rutherford for $300,000 in hush money to make the allegations "go away."
WMAQ-TV in Chicago has posted a copy of the lawsuit. Click here to read the entire complaint.
It appears to be some good news for Springfield, and especially for city workers and retirees.
New numbers from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund suggest the city’s unfunded liability for pensions is not as bad as a city alderman indicated last week. Alderman Joe McMenamin said the city owes about $97 million to the IMRF.
The group’s executive director says those numbers were accurate at the end of 2012… but since then, the IMRF generated a 20-percent return on its investments, potentially cutting the city’s unfunded liability in half. Lou Kosiba says the numbers are still being crunched… and a final accounting for the year is expected by April.
Alderman Cory Jobe plans to press ahead with his idea of hiring an independent inspector general to look into allegations of wrongdoing at City Hall.
Jobe says he will introduce an amendment to create a line item in the aldermanic budget so that aldermen could hire someone outside of the mayor’s direct control to take whistleblower complaints. Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” Jobe says he’s working with other aldermen to identify potential funding sources for his idea, but did not say what ideas are being considered.
Mayor Mike Houston’s budget seeks $50,000 for his office to hire a private investigator who can be called in as needed as problems arise.
A group of Illinois House Republicans is warning that Democrats are planning a tax increase… disguised as tax fairness.
A number of GOP lawmakers… including Representative Raymond Poe of Springfield… held a news conference in Decatur to warn about a proposed constitutional amendment that has been stalled in committee since last summer.
The Republicans fear there will be a move to place the measure on the November ballot, and to sell it as a move to make the wealthiest Illinoisans pay more of their fair share. But opponents say a progressive tax could wind up raising rates on many middle class Illinoisans.
The keynote speaker at Tuesday night’s GOP Lincoln Day dinner in Springfield says he’s concerned about the political climate in America… and sees parallels to Nazi Germany.
Dr. Ben Carson is a noted neurosurgeon who became a conservative celebrity a year ago with pointed comments at the National Prayer Breakfast, with President Obama seated nearby. Since then, Carson has become a Fox News commentator and a hot ticket on the lecture circuit.
He says today’s political parties don’t debate issues… they demonize their opponents, and he compares the strategy to Hitler’s divide-and-conquer approach against political enemies.
Carson speaks at the event that starts Tuesday at 6 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. Tickets are available through the website bencarsonlincolnday.com.
Some Springfield aldermen are supporting Alderman Cory Jobe’s proposal for an independent inspector general to look into allegations of wrongdoing at City Hall.
Mayor Mike Houston has proposed keeping a private investigator on retainer, a less expensive proposal than hiring a full-time inspector general.
But Alderman Sam Cahnman says there may be problems at City Hall that won’t surface unless workers believe there is a truly independent person to investigate their complaints impartially.
Hearings on the proposed new city budget continue this week…a budget must be approved by the end of the month.
A group headed up by Republican Congressman Aaron Schock’s former chief of staff is out with a bulk mailing slamming leading GOP candidate for governor Bruce Rauner.
The Capitol Fax website first reported on the 12-page full color mailer, sent to Republican primary voters around the state. It accuses Rauner of being a Democrat trying to hijack the Republican primary… and says the wealthy venture capitalist has used his political connections to land lucrative contracts for himself and his businesses.
The flyer also slams Rauner as pro-choice… and says Rauner’s wife is, quote, “radically pro-abortion.”
The former treasurer’s office employee who has claimed that his rights were violated by State Treasurer Dan Rutherford now says he will file a lawsuit over his allegations early in the coming week.
The still unnamed worker has alleged that he was a target of harassment and claimed Rutherford pressured him to do political work on state time.
Rutherford says the allegation is politically motivated and contends it’s being driven by Bruce Rauner, one of his opponents in the Republican primary for governor.
Exelon expects to decide by the end of the year whether it will close its Clinton nuclear power plant.
The plant has reportedly been losing money for years, as steep drops in the wholesale price of electricity mean that it costs more to generate power there than Exelon can recover by selling it on the open market.
Closing the plant would likely be a devastating blow to the economy of Clinton and Dewitt County.
Setting up a dispensary to provide sick people with medical marijuana in Illinois won’t be cheap.
Proposed new state rules for pot dispensaries call for a non-refundable $25,000 application fee from anyone hoping to open such a facility. Licensees would have to pay $100,000 annually to renew their permit, and local government could also assess fees.
It could be months before the rules are finalized and medical marijuana can be distributed in the state.
A new exhibition of work from famed photographer Annie Liebovitz opens this weekend at the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield.
It features dozens of shots of places and items connected to legendary figures… including a number of pieces with ties to Abraham Lincoln.
Liebovitz was in Springfield Friday for a preview of the exhibit, which she describes as a personal journey.
Even though it’s as cold… or colder… this morning as it was yesterday, students in Springfield District 186 are headed back to school today.
The district made the decision to resume classes this morning based in part on a forecast that calls for temperatures to climb into the teens by the end of the school day.
Most other area school districts are also back in session today after two days off because of the snow and extreme cold.
Sangamon County isn’t standing in the way of any local concealed carry applicants so far.
The sheriff’s department says it has reviewed more than 200 applications for concealed carry permits from county residents, but hasn’t objected to any.
Local law enforcement is allowed to raise objections if officials believe an applicant may pose a threat to themselves or others.
In Cook County, the sheriff’s department has red-flagged more than two-percent of the applications it has received, mostly because of prior arrests or orders of protection.
Springfield has seen an improvement in the city’s crime rate.
Figures released Thursday show there were four murders in Springfield last year… compared to 10 in 2012.
But overall, crimes against persons were virtually unchanged year-to-year.
However, property crimes like burglary and theft were down significantly, leading to an overall 12-percent reduction in crime from 2012 to 2013.
Springfield city officials still insist there was nothing improper in the way a resolution was approved this week… but they’re going to hold a special city council meeting next week to re-approve the same resolution, just to be safe.
The resolution provides an official city statement about activities at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a document needed for the facility’s grant-writing efforts. It was placed on first reading for Tuesday’s council meeting, but was moved to emergency passage and approved immediately.
Attorney Don Craven says that violates state laws requiring advance notice before final action is taken. New city attorney Todd Greenburg says the city met the requirements of the law, but will hold a second vote next Tuesday in order to settle the matter.
Some Springfield aldermen say they still have the same concerns today that they had two years ago, when Mayor Mike Houston first appointed a longtime friend and former aide to a $95,000-a-year job at City Water Light and Power.
Houston did not submit the appointment of Bob Braasch for a City Council vote then, because he said he did not have the votes to get it approved. But the nomination is now on the Council’s agenda… and Alderman Frank Edwards says Houston may have re-opened a can of worms.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” Edwards says the vote on the high-paying job is likely to reignite concerns over spending and the financial health of the utility.
Get your bookbags packed, kids.
Springfield public schools will be open on Friday, after two days off because of severe winter weather. The forecast still calls for extreme wind chills in the morning, but conditions are expected to improve by the time kids head home from school Friday afternoon.
Crime rates for 2013 in Springfield are down significantly compared to 2012.
There were four murders in the city last year… compared to 10 a year earlier. But assaults and sexual assaults were higher.
Property crimes were down dramatically. The overall rate for all crimes, against persons and property, was down 12-percent year-to-year.
So far, no red flags.
The Sangamon County Sheriff’s Department has reviewed more than 200 local applications for concealed carry permits… but has not objected to any so far.
By comparison, Cook County has objected to 240 concealed carry applicants… more than two-percent of its total applications… based on past arrests or orders of protection against them.
The Springfield City Council will get a do-over on a routine resolution that has turned suddenly controversial.
The resolution, which acknowledges the operations of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum for the purposes of grant applications, was moved from first reading to emergency passage without advance notice Tuesday night.
Attorney Don Craven says that violates state open meetings laws. The city disagrees… but has decided to call a special meeting for next week to reapprove the ordinance and end the conflict.
Mayor Mike Houston didn’t seek a City Council vote on a key CWLP appointment two years ago because he was concerned that he didn’t have the votes. Now Houston has submitted Bob Braasch’s appointment to the Council, but some aldermen say the concerns they had two years ago are still present.
Alderman Frank Edwards says it’s tough to justify appointing a friend of the mayor to a $95,000-a-year job when the utility still has financial problems.
Republican governor candidate Kirk Dillard can’t afford TV ads right now… so he’s going with online ads in hopes of reaching primary voters through social media.
The ads primarily go on the attack against GOP frontrunner Bruce Rauner. One of Dillard’s ads points out that Rauner owns more homes than Mitt Romney… and says Rauner can’t relate to the needs of average families.
A traffic note… southbound I-55 will be closed down at the South Grand exit Friday morning so crews can try to remove a tractor-trailer that slid off the highway during this week’s snowstorm and got stuck in a ditch.
Starting at 9:30am Friday, southbound drivers will be diverted off the interstate at South Grand and directed to proceed south on Dirksen. They can get back on the highway at Stevenson Drive.
State police don’t know how long it will take to remove the disabled truck.
If it isn’t snow, it’s bitter cold.
For the sixth time this winter, Mother Nature is keeping students in Springfield and most surrounding districts out of school.
Today, it’s because of wind chills expected to be as cold as 25-below zero at time.
There have now been so many snow days that District 186 won’t be able to make them all up, although five days will be added on to the originally scheduled end of the school year.
To get more on closings and cancellations in the area, go to wmay.com.
This winter has been taking a toll on students, on drivers… and on local government budgets.
The city of Springfield has now spent around $200,000 more than was originally budgeted for overtime in the public works department, thanks to the well-above-average snowfall.
Mayor Mike Houston says the department should be able to cover the extra cost by moving money from other line items, and shouldn’t need a supplemental appropriation before the end of the fiscal year later this month.
If you’re finding it difficult to stay comfortable in your home during these bitter cold snaps, a local builder has some unconventional suggestions.
Fred Pryor of Illinois Builders and Contractors advises turning on your ceiling fan… on low, and in reverse.
Pryor says that will draw warm air in and spread it out more evenly through the room.
Something as simple as setting out a pan of water can also help put more moisture into the air in your home, which will add to your comfort level.
Illinois lawmakers are giving Governor Pat Quinn what he asked for.
The General Assembly has approved a measure allowing Quinn to move his annual budget address back by a month.
That means the speech on March 26th will fall after the primary.
Republicans say Quinn did that deliberately to avoid having to answer questions about the state’s temporary income tax hike before voters go to the polls.
Quinn says he needs more time as he crafts a five-year budget plan for the state.
A Republican candidate for governor now concedes he was “insensitive” in remarks he made this week about people on unemployment.
State senator Bill Brady said in a debate this week that manufacturers are having trouble hiring back laid-off workers… because those workers are “enjoying” being on unemployment.
Brady now tells the State Journal-Register editorial board that he wasn’t really thinking about those Illinoisans who are on unemployment, but who don’t want to be and who are actively looking for work.
Several days of controversy have not changed the plans of Republican candidate for governor Dan Rutherford, who is buying his way onto the television airwaves this week.
Rutherford is purchasing ad time in several Downstate TV markets.
Up until now, only GOP rival Bruce Rauner had the funds for a TV ad campaign. Rutherford’s camp says the message of the ads will be positive.
The ad buy comes on the heels of revelations that a male employee in Rutherford’s office has threatened to file a formal complaint alleging harassment.
Rutherford contends that complaint is politically motivated.
Local investigators still have no suspects and no big breaks as they try to find a killer.
Sangamon County Undersheriff Jack Campbell says there are no new developments in the death of 25-year-old Justin Sharp, who was found shot to death along Whittier Avenue last week.
Detectives obtained a search warrant and retrieved items from Sharp’s home, two doors down from where his body was found.
There’s no word yet on what they found, or whether it will produce clues about who shot Sharp.
For the sixth time in a month, winter weather has forced the cancellation of school in Springfield District 186.
A wind chill advisory for Thursday morning, with predicted wind chills of 25-below zero, led district officials to call off classes again. School was also cancelled on Wednesday because heavy snow had left many bus routes impassable.
Click here for updated information on area school closures, and stay with 970 WMAY for the latest on the weather.
You may want to stock up on some shorts for your kids… they’re going to need it when the school year extends well into June.
It’s yet another snow day for Springfield and most other school districts across Central Illinois, thanks to the latest winter storm to hit the area. Several weather spotters report snowfall totals of around 7 inches in Sangamon County.
There’s a chance for another inch of snow before the winter storm warning expires at noon. That will be followed by blowing and drifting snow… and then by a wind chill advisory as temperatures fall through the afternoon, leading to overnight wind chills as cold as 20-below zero.
As always, stay with 970 WMAY for the latest on the weather… and you can always get the latest closings and cancellations at wmay.com.
Road crews have been hard at work overnight trying to stay ahead of this major snowstorm.
Main roads in the area appear to be snow-covered but drivable. Side roads may still have a thick layer of snow on them.
In Springfield, the challenge is a little greater because the city is trying to stretch a thin supply of road salt. Public works director Mark Mahoney says the city arranged to buy enough salt… but getting it here has been difficult because river ice has slowed the barges that bring it into Central Illinois.
He says crews are being “conservative” in their use of road salt.
Springfield Mayor Mike Houston has made his choice. Houston has picked Kenny Winslow to become the next chief of police.
Winslow has held the post in an interim capacity since last summer.
The mayor says Winslow has no connection to the file shredding scandal that cast a shadow over the last days of former chief Robert Williams.
Winslow says among his goals will be changing the community’s perception of the department.
Almost two years after he was installed in a $95,000-a-year job at City Water Light and Power, a former aide to Mayor Mike Houston will finally get a confirmation vote before the Springfield City Council.
Bob Braasch was named to the job in an interim capacity in February of 2012. Houston submitted the appointment to the Council, but withdrew it when it appeared it did not have the votes to pass.
The mayor contends city law allows him to keep people in interim appointments indefinitely. When asked why he’s now reintroducing the confirmation ordinance after two years, Houston said he had forgotten about the appointment until recently.
Springfield aldermen have rejected pay raises for four lawyers in the city’s corporation counsel’s office.
The Houston administration had sought raises of “more than five-percent” for the lawyers… saying it’s tough to retain good people because those attorneys can make so much more elsewhere.
But aldermen said the wording of the ordinance was too vague. Mayor Mike Houston says he will reintroduce the ordinance.
It's yet another snow day for students in Springfield District 186. The district cancalled classes for Wednesday because of the winter storm that is dumping heavy snow across Central Illinois.
UIS, LLCC, and most local school districts have also called off classes for Wednesday. For the latest cancellation information, click here, and stay tuned to 970 WMAY for updates on the weather.
It may not be what Springfield drivers want to hear, but the city’s public works director says crews will be “conservative” with their use of road salt during the latest winter storm.
Public works director Mark Mahoney says that the city has already used about six-thousand-tons of salt this winter… and has just a few hundred tons on hand.
Replenishing the supply has been difficult at times because ice has slowed the river barges that bring it to Central Illinois. Mahoney hopes to stretch the city’s current supply to deal with the effects of as much as 7 inches of snow.
The City of Springfield has declared a snow emergency, effective at 8pm tonight. The declaration means that cars should not be parked on-street along designated snow routes, in order to clear a path for snow plows. Vehicles that are still on those routes after 8pm could be towed. The city expects the snow emergency to remain in place for 48 hours.
Several surrounding communities have also issued snow emergency declarations, including Riverton, Sherman and New Berlin. Some schools are dismissing early and some events are cancelled… call ahead before you venture out, and be sure to check our closings list at wmay.com.
Now it’s just a matter of hours until winter delivers yet another pounding to Central Illinois.
A winter storm warning takes effect at noon… around the time that snow is expected to move into the Springfield area. There could be two to three new inches on the ground by the time you head home from work… and several more inches overnight. Total accumulation is now expected to be 5 to 7 inches in Springfield.
Blowing and drifting snow will add to the problems for motorists. Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the approaching winter storm.
The employee who claims he was a victim of harassment by State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has resigned his position in the Treasurer’s office, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The worker’s name still has not been revealed publicly, but multiple reports say he is accusing Rutherford of making unwanted advances and pressuring employees to do political work on state time.
The employee told the Sun-Times a formal complaint could be filed within days.
Rutherford has denied the allegation… which he contends is politically motivated.
A parents group continues to push the Springfield school board to find more revenue for the city’s schools.
Invest in 186 wants to put a temporary four-year property tax hike on the ballot. The group estimates the average household would pay 10 to 12 dollars more per month for four years… by which time it hopes the district’s financial situation will have stabilized.
It’s still unclear if there is enough support on the school board to move ahead with any tax hike proposal this year.
A legislative committee says Illinois’s school funding formula needs to be drastically revised.
State Senator Andy Manar headed up the group, which has been meeting since last summer. He says less than half of state funding for schools is allocated on the basis of which districts have the greatest need.
The committee says almost all state funding should be distributed on that basis.
But that could be a tough sell for lawmakers from areas which are making ends meet under the current formula, but which could lose funding if the system changes.
Governor Pat Quinn wants some more time before he lays out his proposal for next year’s state budget.
Quinn is asking lawmakers to let him move his budget address from late February to March 26th. In that speech, Quinn is expected to discuss his thoughts on the state’s temporary four-year income tax increase… which will expire at the start of 2015.
Moving the speech pushes that politically-risky issue until after the March primary.
But a Quinn spokesman says a majority of budget addresses over the last 20 years have been delayed.
The investigation continues into the first homicide in unincorporated Sangamon County in more than a year.
The coroner’s office used fingerprints to identify 25-year-old Justin Sharp. He was found dead of a gunshot wound in the yard of a home on South Whittier Friday morning.
County detectives obtained a search warrant for Sharp’s home… two doors down from where his body was discovered. Undersheriff Jack Campbell says investigators found signs of a struggle there.
They also found three pit bulls in cages and took them into custody. Campbell did not say what else was recovered in the search.
So far, there have been no arrests and police have not identified any suspects in the killing.
A Riverton man has been arrested after going to the post office to pick up a package that police say contained a big shipment of marijuana.
The package was damaged in the mail, and postal workers detected the odor of marijuana. They contacted the Sangamon County DIRT team, which attempted to deliver the package to Shawn Hamilton.
When they couldn’t reach him, they left a note for him to pick up the package at the post office. He was taken into custody after retrieving the parcel.
The Sangamon County Coroner has identified the victim of a homicide whose body was found last week along South Whittier Avenue.
25-year-old Justin Sharp died of a single gunshot wound to the back. Sharp had not been carrying identification, and the coroner’s office needed fingerprint verification to confirm his identity.
Sangamon County detectives say the body was found two doors down from a house where signs of a struggle were discovered.
A committee studying education funding in the state says the system is unfair and getting worse… and says it needs to start changing right away.
State Senator Andy Manar says less than half of state money for public schools is awarded based on a local district’s need or ability to cover its costs. As a result, he says the poorest school districts often have the highest tax rates… but still can’t make ends meet.
The committee proposes creating a simplified funding formula that will be mostly need-based. Manar says he hopes lawmakers can look past whether some districts will get less funding as a result… and focus more on the big-picture need for change.
Illinois taxpayers now have more access to information about the money they’re turning over to the state.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has unveiled a new Tax Return Alert system. Taxpayers can sign up through the comptroller’s office website, and can then check on the status of their refund check… or get an email or text notification when the money is sent to the bank. [Topinka will talk about the program more during a live interview Tuesday morning on 970 WMAY's "Jim Leach Show."]
Meanwhile, Topinka’s opponent in the comptroller’s race, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, is announcing her own innovation… a tax “receipt” that breaks down where state tax dollars are sent. For example, it shows that around 24% of tax dollars go to education, and almost 15% to pensions. Electronic tax filers will receive a link to view the receipt.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he went public with allegations made against him before his opponents could… because he believes the whole saga was politically-motivated and intended to embarrass him at the worst possible moment.
Rutherford revealed last week that a worker in his office had made the unspecified claim against him… and that an attorney had tried to get Rutherford to pay hush money.
Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Jim Leach Show,” he was asked why he didn’t go to the police with that apparent blackmail attempt. Rutherford said a move like that would depend on the findings of an outside investigator that he brought in to review the allegations.
Regardless of what the groundhog predicted yesterday, this long, cold, messy winter is far from over.
The 970 WMAY listening area is under a winter storm watch starting at noon Tuesday… and continuing through noon Wednesday.
The National Weather Service now predicts that Springfield will get 6 to 8 inches of snow, along with blowing and drifting from winds up to 25 miles an hour.
The storm is expected to create very difficult conditions for drivers.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on the forecast and other vital information to help you ride out the storm.
The city of Springfield may bring in an auditor to review the money paid out in employee health insurance claims.
A similar audit of prescription drug payments found around a half-million dollars in overpayments that the city was able to recover from its insurer.
Budget director Bill McCarty says there’s reason to believe that similar results could be found in a broader audit of insurance claims.
If aldermen approve the proposal Tuesday night, the auditor would receive a percentage of any overpayments that are recovered.
Some air travelers are unhappy with Allegiant Air.
The carrier… which operates direct flights from Springfield to two different Florida destinations… left hundreds of passengers stranded Friday in Florida when fog prevented planes from taking off.
One passenger told the State Journal-Register that police had to be called to the airport in Punta Gorda when travelers became angry over the cancellation of their flight.
The airline says it will reimburse travelers for unused tickets and will pay “reasonable” expenses for those who had to pay to find another way home.
Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley remains in the intensive care unit in a Chicago hospital after taking ill during a business trip to Arizona.
Daley returned to Chicago after complaining of not feeling well, and was taken to the hospital upon arrival.
Chicago media reports say the 71-year-old former mayor had experienced “stroke-like symptoms.” Daley fell ill on the same day that his nephew pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of another man during a bar fight ten years ago.
But a spokesman says Daley began experiencing symptoms before that plea was entered, and doesn’t think the two events are related.
Early-morning freezing rain is creating lots of problems for Central Illinois drivers.
There are multiple reports of slick roads because of the freezing rain. A wintry mix is forecast off and on Saturday, which means problems could persist for a large part of the day. Lincoln Land Community College called off Saturday classes at all locations. For more info on weather-related closings, click here. And for updates on weather and road conditions, stay with 970 WMAY throughout the day.
This weekend’s winter weather is just a taste of what could still be waiting for us over the next few weeks. The National Weather Service is predicting a colder and wetter than average February. And the next big blast of winter could be right around the corner. More snow is expected Tuesday, with a possibility of several inches of accumulation Tuesday night.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says an allegation made against him by an employee in his office is unfounded and politically motivated. But the attorney for the accuser says the allegation is serious and real.
Rutherford won’t discuss the nature of the complaint against him, but sources tell the Chicago Sun-Times that it involves a harassment claim brought by a male employee of the office.
Rutherford says the attorney tried to get him to pay hush money… and he contends the attorney has ties to Bruce Rauner, one of Rutherford’s rivals in the GOP primary for governor.
Sangamon County authorities aren’t saying much about the discovery of a body along Whitter Avenue Friday morning.
The young male victim was discovered by a passerby. Undersheriff Jack Campbell says police found signs of a struggle at a residence two houses away from where the body was found.
Three pit bulls were taken from the house, but officials haven’t said what, if any, connection they might have to the man’s death.
It could be another sign of economic recovery locally.
Last year, Springfield posted the lowest number of new jobless claims in more than a decade.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce says not only are fewer people losing their jobs, but more businesses are hiring people… suggesting an even stronger jobs picture for 2014.
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