Tom's mailbag May 30, 2014
Welcome back to the Mailbag. First, some housekeeping. Last week we had a comment from a concerned reader about the condition of the structural integrity of the Bradley Avenue overpass over Interstate 57. “Underneath on both sides of the overpass there are large chunks of cement missing. Couple this with the large amount of damage the road surface on top of the overpass endured this last winter, I’m concerned about its structural integrity,” the reader wrote.
The Illinois Department of Transportation responded that replacement of the bridge is on the horizon, but not for at least six years
“The Bradley Avenue structure over I-57 is not part of the current 2015-2020 multi-year program. However, once funding is identified, a complete replacement with a typical section similar to the Windsor Road structure constructed in 2013 is anticipated to accommodate future multimodal needs in the area. IDOT’s intent is to complete this structure replacement along with roadway improvements as funding becomes available from both IDOT and the city of Champaign.”
Also from last week, no one offered any suggestions for what an official Champaign or Urbana municipal flag should look like. I guess I was more enthusiastic about the possibilities of this chimerical question than anyone else. But there’s still time. The mailbag’s always open.
Maybe this next question will prompt more reader reaction (submit questions for next week by clicking here) ...
“Which stop lights are the most annoying in C-U?”
My vote: the stoplight at Fourth Street and Florida Avenue, southeast of Memorial Stadium. It holds traffic on Florida for a long left-turn-only light when no one is turning left. And now it holds Florida/Kirby traffic for long periods even though Fourth Street is essentially closed from both sides (for a repavement project).
The traffic signals badly need electronic sensors; they’re coming but probably not until next year.
This year, according to transportation planner Rita Morocoima-Black, the controller box will be replaced and the lights will be converted to LEDs. The signals won’t be able to work as actuated (smart) signals until the signals at Oak Street and Kirby Avenue are replaced, she said. That will happen next year, it’s hoped.
“Last August, a skull and other skeletal remains were found in the Middle Fork River. A forensic anthropologist was going to study the skull and bones and then turn DNA over to the police crime lab. Not another word was said, that I can tell. Would you be able to shed any light on this? The forensic anthropologist did say that the skull may have been very old.”
The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office is still waiting to hear from the Illinois State Police crime lab about the remains, according to an obviously perturbed Sheriff Dan Walsh.
“We have called several times and have been given different dates. This morning we called again and they said, ‘Very shortly.’ When we asked what that meant, they said. ‘By the end of June,’” the sheriff recounted.
The remains were found in a river inside the Middle Fork Forest Preserve in northeastern Champaign County last August — about nine months ago.
“Just a snarky remark today ... Good thing the Illinois Legislature defeated the ‘cupcake bill’ because we all know there aren’t any serious issues in Illinois to grapple with. Geez!”
As silly as the cupcake bill sounds, it was fairly significant and led to an interesting parliamentary maneuver seldom seen in the Legislature: a vote reversal within three hours of the original vote.
It all happened Tuesday when the Senate voted down, after much debate, a House bill that would have required that people making baked goods at home for sale — like a 12-year-old girl in Troy, Ill. — would have to go through sanitation training and certification that would cost more than $200. The bill the Senate voted down overwhelmingly was heavy on regulation. A few hours later, however, Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, reintroduced the bill, minus the burdensome regulatory amendments he had added. The House bill passed unanimously.
The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial Wednesday, made note of what almost was a gigantic political blunder on the part of the Senate Democrats and Gov. Pat Quinn ...
“Want to sell some cookies, kid? You’ll have to buy a license and take an eight-hour food safety course. You’ll have to properly label all ingredients and register with local officials. One section of Trotter’s amendment mandated that the ‘certified food service sanitation manager of the home kitchen operation shall register with the State-certified local public health department.’ Um, that would be Chloe, sixth-grader.
“Trotter said the changes were necessary to make sure food cooked at private homes would be safe to consume.
“Most of his colleagues disagreed, and Trotter’s bill was rejected. Then he saw the light. He moved the House version, which passed the Senate. So Chloe won.
“It’s good that senators realized what was happening here — a silly government overreach to stop a 12-year-old with a small (make that very small) business. But what a way to get there.”
“I’m curious what the turnout was, Tom, for the eight Early Voting locations in the spring primary election this year. Could you give us the numbers, separately for Democrats, Republicans and for those who chose non-partisan ballots? Thanks!”
According to Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, the early-vote breakdown for the March 18 primary election was 1,251 Republican, 949 Democratic and 1 nonpartisan.
Those percentages — 57 percent Republican votes and 43 percent Democratic — are a fairly close match to the overall voter turnout — 63 percent Republican and 37 percent Democratic — in the primary.
South West Champaign
“With four prospective candidates publicly interested in running for mayor of Champaign, is that enough to trigger a primary? How many candidates must file petitions to trigger a primary and, assuming a primary is possible, how many candidates would remain on the general election ballot after the primary process?”
There won’t be a Champaign mayoral primary until there are more than four candidates for mayor, and there have to be more than 12 candidates for the three at-large council seats in order for there to be a primary for those offices.
If five or more candidates ran for mayor, a primary would whittle the number to four. That would be the number of choices on the general election ballot next April.
“Just saw Thursday afternoon’s update on the UC2B project expansion. I don’t think Savoy was part of the original plan, but I’m wondering if it may/will be in the future — especially as the private sector becomes more involved. Thanks!”
Yes, officials said Thursday that they hope eventually to expand the service into Savoy.
“The Unit 4 Long-term strategic plan that came out of the 2008 Great Schools, Together project list a number of goals (short-term, mid-term and long-term). How is Unit 4 doing on each of those goals? For instance, one short-term goal is “(h)old bi-annual open forums for the community to participate in upcoming school year plans and assess the previous school year” but I do not recall that being an opportunity in the past couple years.
Similarly, there was a board presentation in March 2012 that reiterated some of those goals and provided projected goals. How are we doing on those goals? For instance, the “(g)raduation rate of minority and SES students” and “(r)etention rate of minority students” both had negative trends at the time of the presentation. Have they improved?
Here’s a response from Stephanie Stuart, the community relations coordinator for Champaign schools:
“The district continues to use the 2008 Great Schools, Together plan as its guiding document and each of Superintendent (Judy) Wiegand’s goals align to the goals outlined in
the Great Schools, Together plan. Each fall, the board of education holds a retreat that is open to the public to review the district’s goals for the year and allow the
community and Board to provide feedback to the superintendent on these goals. For the 2013-2014 school year, this retreat took place on Aug. 5 at Central High School, and the conversation regarding the district goals continued into board of education meetings in September. All of these meetings are open to the community.
“Superintendent Wiegand has also held State of the District addresses the past two years during the spring semester to allow for the community hear about the progress
the district has made on those goals throughout the school year. This year, the event was held in partnership with PTA Council, and took place April 3 at South Side
Elementary School. This was promoted in advance and written about in The News-Gazette and covered in other local media.
“You can view the Superintendent’s Goals and the State of the District address here: Goals: http://www.champaignschools.org/pages/superintendents-corner/district-goals
State of the District: http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/6582
“Regarding your question about graduation rates, we are currently awaiting the final data from the 2013-2104 school year. However, we are pleased to report that in the
2012-2013 school year we saw the overall graduation rate rise. The district graduation rate has increased from 81.4 percent in 2011-2012 to 86.1 percent in 2012-2013 and made
significant gains in increasing the graduation rate of African-American and low-income students. For example, in 2012-2013, the African-American graduation rate rose to 78.3 percent, which is 7.4 percent above the state graduation rate of 70.9 percent. For low-income students the graduation rate in 2012-2013 was 77.8 percent, which is 4.8 percent higher
than the state graduation rate and 5.2 percent higher than the previous year here in Unit 4.
“More information about the latest district report card can be found here: http://www.champaignschools.org/news-room/article/6353
That’s all for this week. I couldn’t get to a couple of questions. We’ll try to get those answered next Friday. I’m looking forward to next week; the Legislature will be out of Springfield and a welcome calm should settle over the state of Illinois.