Tom's Mailbag Feb. 14, 2014

Tom's Mailbag Feb. 14, 2014

A light week for the mailbag, which is fine. There’s been plenty of news to cover, and there’s a big birthday party to prepare for this weekend. But this week’s questions/comment were about ice skating, the I-57/I-74 interchange, non-payment of garbage fee in Danville, the lowly Cubs, and what you see when you Google “Tom Kacich.”

“Why are there so few options for ice skating in the C-U area?  I  grew up in an area where many towns cover part of a parking lot in ice for the winter and it becomes an outdoor rink. It seems like none of the towns in the area do that here, but there appears to be plenty of demand for ice skating if the crowds at the University of Illinois Ice Arena are any indication.  It can’t be very expensive to do, so why doesn’t this option exist?”

I agree. I also grew up in an area where the village built up small ice rinks on vacant lots and the fire department would come around, open a hydrant and run a hose to the small pond and flood it. We ice skated and played hockey there all winter. But I’ve been in C-U for more almost 40 years and I never recall anything like that here. However, there used to be skating at Kaufman Lake in Champaign and Crystal Lake in Urbana.

No more, said Vicki Mayes, executive director of the Urbana Park District. Skating’s been prohibited at Crystal Lake for about eight years.

“The lake collects storm water and a lot of that water contains salt and other stuff off of the roads,” she said. “Once you get that stuff in the water it makes it hard to know if the ice has frozen evenly.”

Crystal Lake is as deep as 10 feet, she said, raising concerns about the safety of the ice.

Joe DeLuce, executive director of the Champaign Park District, said winters have been so mild of late that ice skating at Kaufman Lake hasn’t been an issue. And he said he doesn’t believe anyone has inquired about it this year.

“But if there’s interest in it again,” he sad, “We can look into it. Have people give us a call.”

Skating is allowed at Champaign County Forest Preserve District facilities like Homer Lake and Lake of the Woods Park, but it’s at your own risk. No one from the forest preserve staff patrols the lakes, ponds and rivers, nor tests the ice for adequate thickness. But I would guess that, even with yesterday’s thaw, the ice will be absolutely fine this weekend. Until Thursday, Champaign-Urbana temperatures had been below freezing since Feb. 1 — a period of more than 11 days.

Let me add, though, that the skating at the Ice Arena is great. I went there last weekend with my daughter and two granddaughters and we had a terrific time for 20 bucks. I raced Julia (11) several times and she darted past me every time, reminding me of the great Vladamir Tarasenko.

If you type in “Tom Kacich” on Google images there is a picture of Bruce Rauner and the famous Fox News commentator Jimmy John (Liautaud), before a photo of Tom in a Cubs hat appears. Shouldn’t Google have included a caption that asks, ‘Which man is most unlike the other two?’”

I like the way you think. I don’t know how much Jimmy John made last year but I’m pretty sure it was north of $1 million. And Bruce Rauner disclosed that he made $53 million in 2012. My net was a little less than that.

Honestly I had never typed my name into Google images before. It’s interesting to see all of the other people whose faces appear: Alan Kurtz, C. Pius Weibel, Josh Dill (independent candidate for Congress in the 13th District), then finally a photo of my good friend Helene Kacich and me at a park in Barcelona, Spain. Then comes U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis; Champaign Mayor Don Gerard; state Sen. Mike Frerichs; my new heroine/girlfriend, the late U.S. Rep. Jessie Sumner; then my ugly mug; then Democratic congressional candidate George Gollin and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus. That’s a pretty interesting group. There also are lots more photos of people I don’t know, including a buxom blonde woman. Really, dear, I don’t know her.

“Can you tell me the ways you can lose the home you own free and clear in C-U? In Danville it seems if you don’t pay the garbage fee for 2 months they turn off the water even if that is current, and slap a sticker of ‘non-occupancy’ on house. I was late paying garbage fee one month and found this out. Seems incredibly abusive. What do other towns do?”

That’s not the case in Champaign or Urbana because neither city has government-provided trash pickup.

As for your actual complaint, something doesn’t seem right here and I’d advise you to call the Danville mayor’s office to get this straightened out.

Although Danville Public Works does garbage pickup in the city, it does not handle the billing. That is done by the Danville Sanitary District.

And Shelly Cumbow, the assistant director for administrative services at the sanitary district, said that her office takes no action at all until bills are at least three months’ past due. “And we don’t put any non-occupancy sticker on the door at all. We never do that,” she said.

“We do have the ability to turn the water off for non-payment of sewer fees,” she said, but not for the non-payment of garbage fees.

Regarding the dispute between Champaign County Board Chair Alan Kurtz and other board Democrats who don’t like Kurtz calling out Gov. Pat Quinn and his Transportation Department for the lack of money to rebuild the I-57/I-74 interchange in northwest Champaign, there was this comment ...

“I feel that Mr. Kurtz is the one that is right here.  I avoid this interchange whenever possible due to the fact that it is so dangerous. Kudos to you Mr. Kurtz.”

Allow me to remind readers there will be an open house about long-range plans for the interchange project from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the county highway department office, 1605 E. Main St., U. IDOT has construction engineering money available for the project, but none of the estimated $130 million it will take to undertake a rebuild of the 50-year-old interchange.

“Why can’t the Cubs get to the World Series?”

Whaddya mean? They were there as recently as 1945.

Interesting that this question comes up today. It was 50 years ago, on Feb. 14, 1964, that the Cubs’ star second baseman, Kenny Hubbs, crashed his single-engine Cessna 172 near Provo, Utah. His body was recovered on Feb. 15.

Hubbs, 22, had been the National League Rookie of the Year in 1962. He was an excellent fielder although not a great hitter. Still, it’s kinda fun to imagine him on those great — but ultimately unsuccessful — teams of the later 1960s and early 1970s. Could he have taken them to another level?


As for the current Cubs organization, they’re finally on the right course, building a farm system.

Once they get their promising minor leaguers into place on the big league club, they can spend money on free agents to fill in the holes and finally become competitive again. I look for a big improvement in 2015. Getting to the World Series in this decade is a possibility.

Finally, happy first birthday today to Valentine’s Day granddaughter Caroline Lou Kacich.

And more good news from the National Weather Service: check out this 6- to 10-day temperature forecast for the period through Feb. 23.

Tom Kacich

The News-Gazette



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Political Observer wrote on February 19, 2014 at 3:02 am

I have a question for Tom Kacich:

On at least two occasions, Mr. Kacich, you've written articles allowing partisan Republican political operative John Bambenek to attack elected Democratic officials Charlie Smyth and Laurel Prussing with highly questionable legal interpretations of Urbana municipal codes.  Unfortunately, neither Bambenek nor you have ever provided a link to the key ordinance in question, which, it turns out, is found here:

1.  In the case of Bambenek's allegations against Charlie Smyth, the law doesn't apply because there's a specific exemption in Sec. 2-20 (i) that says it doesn't apply to activities "relating to the support or opposition of any executive, legislative, or administrative action..."

Since Mr. Smyth's news conference in October 2012 was called specifically to oppose the adminstrative actions of County Clerk Gordy Hulten with regard to the extraordinarily unusual obstacle course Hulten had set up to obstruct grace period voting, the law obviously does not apply in this case.  Bambenek is trying to deprive Mr. Smyth of his freedom of speech to use the City Council Chambers to support or oppose administrative actions (in this case, by County Clerk Gordy Hulten).  Mr. Smyth's legitimate use of the City Council Chambers is protected in the law by the specific exemption given in Sec. 2-20 (i).

2.  In the case of Bambenek's recent allegations against Laurel Prussing, the law once again does not apply because there's a specific exemption in Sec. 2-20 (iii) that says it does not include activities that are "otherwise in furtherance of the person's official duties."  Part of the Mayor of Urbana's duties obviously includes communicating with the public through events such as press conferences, and it's beyond ludicrous for Bambenek to contend that Mayor Prussing isn't allowed to say anything that Bambenek might consider "political" on property that's owned by the City of Urbana.  (Does Bambenek think that the mayor should only give press conferences on privately-owned land in Urbana, or perhaps outside of Urbana altogether, in order to avoid the possibility that something she might say might somehow be taken as "political" by Mr. Bambenek?)

Don't you think that you at least owe your readers a link to the full text of the law that Mr. Bambenek is misinterpreting?  And shouldn't the News-Gazette print some sort of correction to your articles where you point out that non-lawyer Bambenek's fanciful interpretations of law aren't consistent with the specific exemptions that have been written into the law to protect the right of free speech of Urbana employees and elected officials?


I also posted this question originally at the discussion thread here:

Savoyard wrote on February 19, 2014 at 10:02 am

Tom's mailbag:


Do you think you could clearly explain the incentive programs featured in the Feb 16 article? For instance, under the I Hotel, do the incentives mean that when a patron pays the food and beverage tax that amount goes to the owners of the I Hotel and not the city? And do they pay no property tax at all for a specified period of time ? What happens if the value of the property increases over time - does the rebate rise, too? When Yahoo gets a payout for a new job created, is there a minimum time that job has to last ? What about a minimum salary? Are the rebates the same for janitors as they are for software engineers?