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Thirty-one days into its operation, the new Sholem Aquatic Center complex in Champaign drew nearly 34,000 users – and that includes three rainy days. Last year, in a shortened season, the old pool had an attendance of 54,016. Two years ago, in a complete season, it drew 51,904. If that's not proof enough that the park district board made the right decision in opting to move from a traditional swimming pool when it rebuilt the old Sholem Pool, consider this: the facility has been so successful that the park district believes it has the money to make improvements, perhaps as soon as next year.
The $6.6 million aquatic center, which opened in early July, differs from the old Sholem Pool because it features a zero-depth activity pool, a lazy river, a tube slide and an enclosed body slide, along with a more traditional eight-lane, 25-meter pool. It's attracting more young families who stay longer at the facility, said park district executive director Bobbie Herakovich. Proof of that is that concession sales so far this year almost equal all of 2005.
Chicago aldermen are playing a game of "employment chicken" over an ordinance requiring so-called "big box" stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Lowe's to pay a "living wage" to their employees in Chicago stores.
The proposal, approved 35-14 by the city council, is stupid and counterproductive.
A tentative agreement last week between Ameren Corp. and the state of Illinois heralds a new – and welcome – era of cooperation on air pollution control in Illinois.
The agreement, which still needs to be approved by the Illinois Pollution Control Board and the state Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, would significantly cut sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions from the six coal-fired power plants Ameren operates in Illinois. If successful – and Ameren contends its "multi-pollutant control strategy" will be – the utility's power plant emissions would surpass federal standards and prove that utilities can meet more stringent requirements.
Amendments to the state Open Meetings Act, signed recently by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, update the state law that mandates that most governmental bodies (there is, unfortunately, a gaping exemption for "the General Assembly and committees or commissions thereof") meet in public. It's the public, after all, that pays the bills.
The General Assembly earlier this year modernized the Open Meetings Act, recognizing that it's now possible for governmental bodies to "meet" even when no one is in the same room. In recent years, members of the Champaign school board and the Urbana City Council participated in open meetings by telephone speaker boxes. In order to restrain that practice before it became misused – how would you feel about a city council meeting where every council member called in from home and no one was in the council chambers? – the Legislature established some rules and cracked down on abuses of other electronic communication.
If Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka hopes to win in November, she'd be better off stifling the talk about which candidate – herself or Gov. Rod Blagojevich – has more ties to disgraced former Gov. George Ryan. It's a debate she can't win.
On Tuesday, Topinka criticized Blagojevich for refusing to say why his campaign owes Winston and Strawn, a Chicago law firm, more than $687,000 in legal fees.
Yes, it has been steamy of late – five days in a row with highs of greater than 90 degrees.
But as the old-timers will tell you, you ain't seen nothing.
Some stories get repeated so much that they often lose their impact. Most Illinoisans know, for example, that despite an improving economy both nationally and in the Midwest, the state's financial condition is still awful. We didn't know how awful until last week when the Rockford Register Star, using the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports filed by each state, found that Illinois was one of only three states to finish fiscal year 2005 (the year ending June 30, 2005) with a deficit.
Wisconsin and North Carolina also had deficits but Illinois' ($3 billion) was the biggest.
If any more proof was needed of the dangers of driving while using a cell phone, it came last week at a coroner's inquest in Urbana. There it was reported that an Illinois State Police investigator apparently became distracted while talking on a cell phone as he drove through rural Champaign County, crashed and was killed.
Sgt. Rodney Miller, 40, a respected, 16-year member of the State Police, died in a traffic accident on May 12 after he failed to stop at a stop sign, apparently slammed on the brakes of his police cruiser, skidded 30 feet and then struck a utility pole. He left a wife and two children.
Two months ago, U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert of Plano broke the record for longest-serving Republican speaker of the House, a mark that had been set nearly 100 years earlier by Danville's legendary "Uncle Joe" Cannon, who was speaker from 1903 to 1911.
Hastert, whose past includes time in the Illinois House and as a high school wrestling coach, may now be looking at the record for longest-serving speaker without a break. The longest-serving House speaker was Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat who held the position from 1977 through 1987.