Tom's Mailbag March 28, 2014

Tom's Mailbag March 28, 2014


On Fridays. columnist Tom Kacich empties his mailbag (submit questions for next week here).

Since it was the week of spring break, I thought the mailbag would be light this week.

Of course I was wrong.

Spring break, revisited

First, a followup on last week’s question about whether the University of Illinois’ spring break is late this year.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler explained that the academic calendar, set by the campus Senate, is built around the date of Thanksgiving. 

“Thanksgiving fell late in 2013, and that means our Spring Semester dates are later than they would have been last year,” she said.

Here’s how it’s described in the Senate policy on the academic calendar:

3. Spring Semester

3.1 Classes shall begin on Monday eight weeks after Thanksgiving week. If Monday eight weeks after Thanksgiving week is a holiday, then classes will begin on Tuesday eight weeks after Thanksgiving week.

3.2 Classes shall not be held on Martin Luther King Day or during a spring vacation that will be scheduled for either the ninth or 10th week of the semester.

3.3 Final Examinations shall end on Friday of the 24th week after Thanksgiving week.

Marquette School, revisited

A month or so ago we got a question about the Marquette School building in Champaign, which the Champaign school district was in process of selling, with bids to be opened March 12.

Well, it’s still available. 

School board members will be asked Monday night to reopen the process. The school district received two bids for the Marquette, but one did not contain a “fixed amount,” and was conditioned “on another bidder’s bid.”

“Due to the bid irregularity, the district felt the appropriate action was to reject the bids,” the district administration said in a memo to board members.

The administration recommends the bids be rejected, the bid process be reopened and that bids be “in the form of a fixed unconditional dollar amount only.” 

Why no population numbers on Champaign welcome signs?

“Can you find out why Champaign doesn’t post the population on its city limit signs. It’s about the only place that doesn’t except for the places that post elevation.”

I asked retired Champaign City Manager Steve Carter about this and he said “I think we found it difficult to keep up to date. Census data gets old very quickly, and then population figures are estimates. We had the more elaborate entryway on West University coming off of I-72 with population on it, but would get complaints about it not being accurate.”

For the record Champaign’s 2010 official Census Bureau population was 81,055. By 2012, according to the Census Bureau, the population estimate was 82,517.

Mug shots

“Recent mug shots in the paper all show the suspects draped with white from the chin down, with something that looks like a sheet. It must be a new police practice and I’m curious about what caused it and why.”

Champaign County Dan Walsh explained that the white sheet “helps with uniformity. In a later photo line-up we want the witness to identify based on the physical features, not clothing.

“If we are looking at a suspect white male, 50s, gray hair, we prefer, when possible, that all six shown have those identifiers and one with a bright red shirt, for example, does not stand out.

“This is different than an on scene show-up right after the crime,” he added.

Walsh said the white sheet photos have been his office’s practice for several years. 

Ann Callis and George Gollin

“Is it true that Ann Callis did not answer George Gollin’s concession call on Tuesday?”

Yes, both sides acknowledge that former Judge Callis, the winner in the 13th Congressional District Democratic primary on March 18, did not take the concession call from Gollin on election night.

Callis, of Edwardsville, said she was speaking to supporters at the time, and later had time carved out to speak over a secure phone line to her son, who is an Army Ranger overseas. So they never spoke on election night.

The two apparently played some version of phone tag over the next few days, finally connecting on Saturday morning, March 22. The Gollin campaign was somewhat miffed about what it took as a snub.

“In my many years of working politics, I’ve never heard that before, never happened before. It was pretty dumbfounding on election night, that’s for sure. That’s just not how it’s done,” said Walter Ludwig of Washington,D.C.-based Indigo Strategies, who said he’s been involved in political campaigns since George McGovern’s run for president in 1972.

This story might not be over.

A glorious Sunday

“It’s supposed to be 61 and mostly sunny on Sunday. I live in Champaign, and am not working (or volunteering) that day. What should I do with this glorious gift?”

I’m hoping to go to Charleston with my favorite 7-year-old — who has an interest in the Civil War and President Lincoln — for the commemoration of the Charleston riot of 1864. There will be a Civil War encampment at the Cole County Fairgrounds and a reenactment at 3 p.m. of the riot between Union soldiers and Copperheads on the courthouse square in downtown Charleston.

About Gov. Quinn’s now-permanent income tax increase plan

Here are two entirely different reactions from readers to Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to make the tax increase — which is supposed to begin to be phased down on Dec. 31 — permanent.

“Reasonable. Sustainable. Surely puts Republicans and Democrats alike in the spotlight for the public to see whether they are serious about “Doing the right thing” or simply continuing the political power struggle. Many citizens struggling in the city share the same problems as many those downstate. This budget recognizes the inalienable rights of all Illinois’ children.”

and ... 

“They lied to us from the beginning and never did plan on dropping the tax. We already pay taxes for our schools, where does this money go? And the lottery was going to solve all or education problems, where has all that money gone?”

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before in Illinois.

Twice during the 1980s, Gov. James Thompson signed temporary income tax increases. But the tax rate only went back down once. 

A temporary income tax increase Thompson signed in 1989 eventually was made permanent under Gov. Jim Edgar. 

Interestingly, Edgar now says that making this latest tax increase permanent is a good idea, although he said lawmakers should have put stricter spending controls into effect when the tax was raised in 2011.

“Governmentally, it’s the right thing,” Edgar told the Associated Press of making the tax increase permanent. “Politically, it will be a tough sell. You’ve got to show that you’ll be tight with the buck as you can.”

Willard Airport’s future

“If (Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District) buses were coordinated with flights, people might use them. Arrive one hour before each flight, depart 30 minutes after each arrival.  Go straight to the downtown Champaign Transportation Center.  The Lansing, Mich., bus service had this figured out 45 years ago.  Maybe we can do the same.

“Regarding, airport/more service: American owns DCA.  United owns Dulles.  CMI/Washington, DC is a major route during the academic year.  Even Ozark realized that; why not AA or UA?  The other route AA might pursue is a second flight to Dallas each day.  While we in C-U would like all three major airlines to serve each of their hubs with hourly service, that isn’t going to happen.  One hopes the new study focuses on how we can realistically get more flights of convenience, not flights of fancy.”

and...

“You featured the marketing plans for Willard Airport in today’s News-Gazette. As someone who flies, please let me explain my views, which are typical.

“Many years ago I flew out of Willard to connecting flights frequently and it was very convenient. Now I usually go to the Bloomington airport. There are three reasons that people use Bloomington and not Willard: 1. Prices to fly out of Willard are often overpriced (I have found usual ticket prices at about $600 for a RT trip to Chicago); 2. Parking is free in Bloomington and not at Willard; 3. Willard lacks a choice of timely and frequently used destinations such as early morning flights to Chicago and St. Louis, Florida, Dallas, Indianapolis, etc.

“Of all these problems, connecting flight pricing is perhaps the worst, as well as lack of early morning connecting flights.”

Two things: There are other factors that determine MTD service to Willard Airport, including the class schedule for students in the University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation (which is soon shifting to Parkland College from the UI). And Bill Volk, the director of the MTD, said that flight schedules are so fluid that it’s difficult to coordinate airline arrivals with bus service. Flights frequently are delayed or even canceled entirely. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to schedule a bus to Willard to meet an 8:15 p.m. or 9:25 p.m. flight that isn’t coming. This is an issue the MTD board is going to have to grapple with in the coming months.

Second, I know that it’s only once a day, but there is a 7:30 a.m. flight from Willard to Dallas/Fort Worth.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand, and the economies of airline service is one of them.

What’s up on Windsor Road?

“What is being built on Windsor Road in Urbana, just east of the Carle Clinic? We have noticed earth moving equipment at work and are wondering what it will be.”

Nothing’s being built there, said Mike Martin, the director of residential development for the Atkins Group. At last not yet.

The land is being cleared so that fill clay from nearby work can be placed on the property and it can be built up.

For now, there are no plans for the land, he said.

This winter’s heating degree days

“In years past on the weather page The News-Gazette would list average number of degree days with current count. Can someone make that come back? And how do degree days this winter stack up with last year’s and the average?”

The degree days listing is still there, in the column on the left side of the page next to the weather map. Today’s report said that Champaign-Urbana has had 5,912 degree days this season (although I don’t know when the “season” started). My own calculations show that C-U has had 4,748 degree days since Dec. 1 and that the normal for that period is about 4,000. So yes, more proof that this has been a colder than normal winter.

Champaign County miscount

“I’m not sure I understand all the silence from Gordy Hulten on the problem of counting the votes, Tom.  He said he originally knew about the problem on Wednesday the 19th, the day after the election, but the first public word about difficulties of any kind (other than in reader comments in last week’s Mailbag) came from Al Klein in a press release on Monday the 24th.  Then, the first public acknowledgement from Gordy didn’t come until his statements to The News-Gazette that finally appeared late in the day on Tuesday the 25th, a full week after Election Day.

“Now it’s some 10 days after the election and we’re still waiting to hear if the votes have been counted and verified.  Why has there been so much silence from Gordy on all this?

“And further, have there been any reactions from other public officials who might have some oversight responsibilities with regard to the conduct of our elections, like the State Board of Elections, Julia Rietz and even Al Kurtz (who, in the latter case, might want to determine whether county funds are being appropriately spent on administering our elections)?”

I don’t know that Hulten, the Champaign County clerk, has been silent on the problem, although he surely didn’t broadcast that there was an issue. He said once he discovered the issue — miscounts on bottom-of-the-Democratic-ballot races for 13th and 15th Congressional Districts committeeman and committeewoman, and for all precinct committeeman races, he called the state board of elections, the Champaign County state’s attorney and Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein. 

The new tabulations are to be released today, Hulten said yesterday afternoon. They were completed Thursday morning and are being rechecked. These aren’t even the official results, Hulten said Thursday. Results can’t be made official until April 1, under state law. And those official results will be different from the numbers scheduled to be released today. Provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots will be included in the official count.

I would assume that Hulten is embarrassed about the error and realizes it will become a political issue, especially if Democrats are able to find a candidate to oppose him in November. But he’s been upfront in acknowledging the miscount, even agreeing to do a video interview with The News-Gazette’s Rick Danzl to explain the issue (http://www.news-gazette.com/video/2014-03-25/champaign-county-election-r...).

Champaign schools policy on personnel issues

“The former principal of Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign explained that she was leaving her job in Unit 4 because the timing was right for her. She will be paid for the rest of the school year. When a Unit 4 custodian, cook, bus driver, secretary, teacher’s aide or teacher resigns from a position they are no longer paid. The pay stops immediately. 

“Could you explain why administrators in Unit 4 are paid when they no longer work for the school district? Are administrators paid as consultants after a resignation? Do you  

know if any bus drivers, cooks, custodians or aides have been paid as consultants? Since school administrators are paid much more than anyone else on the staff of a school they are obviously the most essential employee in a school. How can a school operate when personal timing issues demand that the chief administrator must leave?

“Is the administrative salary grid so low in Unit 4 that principals are being lost to timing issues and the desire to explore other opportunities? Should Unit 4 raise administrative salaries to keep principals? Thanks.”

I put the question to Stephanie Stuart, the community relations coordinator for Unit 4.

“Regarding Ms. (Lisa) Geren’s departure, while we are not able to comment specifically about her situation, we do not believe that her departure is in any way reflective of the

salary and benefits offered to our administrators. We believe the salaries and benefits offered to all of our employees are highly competitive for the area.

However, sometimes there are individual circumstances that would require an employee to leave mid-year. In those cases, we ensure that the affected school is adequately supported. We wish Ms. Geren the very best in the future.” 

###

Thanks for all the great questions. Looking forward to more next week, and especially eager for Monday — Opening Day — when baseball returns to the frosty north. The mighty Cubs open in Pittsburgh, where it’s forecast to be a pretty nice day, sunny and 60 degrees. 

I’ve endured frostier Opening Days at Wrigley Field, although the teams were a lot better then and it made up for the cold. Opening Day 1969 was the best, when Willie Smith hit an 11th-inning homer and the Cubs beat the Phillies, 7-6. It was the first time I’d ever been on the field. Sitting in the bleachers, hundreds of fans jumped over the outfield wall — this was before they installed those “baskets” — and celebrated on the field before being escorted away by Andy Frain ushers and Chicago police.

 

Finally, a personal note. First son Matt and his wife, Jackie, are headed to North Carolina to begin new lives. The Champaign-Urbana Firmands and the Kacichs will miss them but we wish them all the best in their new ventures and adventures. They got a nice send-off last weekend from lots of friends and family at Champaign’s Orange and Brew Saloon. Jackie and Matt have promised not to forget us and to someday return for CUBS Night at Danville Stadium and to march with us in the July 4th parade.

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Lostinspace wrote on March 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

“In years past on the weather page The News-Gazette would list average number of degree days with current count. Can someone make that come back? And how do degree days this winter stack up with last year’s and the average?”

You don't really answer the question in terms of "the average."  In fact, the weather data has been pretty sloppy lately.  Time of sunrise listed as "N/A"? Precipitation amount available for Danville, but not for Champaign?