Tom's mailbag June 6, 2014

Tom's mailbag June 6, 2014


Today’s mailbag is full of questions and comments about local politicos, whether police should openly carry a weapon, possibly the worst street conditions in Champaign-Urbana, the Danville economy and my memories of visiting the sacred site of the Normandy landings that occurred 70 years ago today.

Mayoral impeachment

“Is there a procedure for impeaching the mayor or either Urbana or Champaign?  If so what is that procedure?”

No, there is no impeachment process for local government officials in Illinois law, although there are some methods of sanction or punishment. One section of Illinois law says that a city council “shall determine its own rules of proceeding and punish its members for disorderly conduct. With the concurrence of two-thirds of the aldermen then holding office, it may expel an alderman from a meeting, but not a second time for the same incident.” 

There’s a broader statute dealing with misconduct, which is a lot like the law that special prosecutors used in Champaign in 1939 when the mayor, four members of the city council and the police chief were indicted on a charge of malfeasance related to vice problems in Champaign. Nothing ever came of that indictment, however.

The current misconduct law reads: “Every municipal officer who is guilty of a culpable omission of duty, or who is guilty of willful and corrupt oppression, malconduct, or misfeasance in the discharge of the duties of office, shall be guilty of a business offense and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than $501 nor more than $1,000. The court entering the conviction shall enter an order removing the convicted officer from office.” 

There’s also the ballot box. Champaign has a mayor election next April; the next one in Urbana will be in 2017.

Wayne Williams’ win?

“I just heard the Democrats recruited Wayne Williams to run against Gordy Hulten for county clerk. For something that was ‘job one’ isn’t this a very uninspiring choice? Does he even have a shot?”

Sure he has a shot, but I don’t believe it’s a good one. I’m convinced this is going to be a good year for Republicans in Illinois and, to a lesser degree, in Champaign County. It’s been close to a million years since a Democrat was Champaign County clerk — OK, only 72 years when Elmer Hoggatt stepped down in 1942 — and there’s no big reason to think there will be a change this year. 

Hulten erred in counting votes in the Democratic primary. Fortunately for him it was in some down-ballot, uncontested races. Although it has some Democratic diehards fired up, I don’t see a great deal of outrage from the rest of the electorate.

Hulten will be able to easily raise money (he spent more than $40,000 in 2012, defeating Democrat Charle Smyth); and he’s already received a donation from Bruce Rauner.

Williams has run for office three times and lost every time. He has a state job in Springfield that presumably will keep him tied up most of the campaign season, leaving him able to knock on doors and talk to groups primarily on weekends. It’s a nonpresidential election year, meaning that a big University of Illinois student vote will be tough to tap. 

Williams’ best hope may be that Carol Ammons’ state representative campaign organization, which was a good one in the spring primary, is able to turn out big numbers of local Democrats in November and help the rest of the ticket. 

Gerard on Facebook

“I noticed that Don Gerard was posting to Facebook around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday (May 26) trying to get people to his fundraiser that night. Isn’t it a violation of state ethics laws to fund raise on state time?”

Mayor Gerard responds: “Like most elected officials, I am not the only person who has access to post from my official Facebook page. As you can see from this screen cap one of my volunteer supporters (Matthew Duco) was the one making posts about the fundraiser on my political Facebook page. 

“Also, while the job of mayor is supposed to be part-time, I make sure to put in a full-time effort and am often taking calls, responding to emails, doing brief interviews or using social media during breaks and lunch time at my university job. The rules have been outlined in an MOU with the U of I and I report to an oversight committee.

“I’m not sure which Facebook posting your reader is referencing, but I can assure them that I did not post it while I was on the clock at my University job.” 

Tough road to drive

“The potholes and torn up pavement on Roland Drive in Dobbins Downs. They have been there for 5 years strong. It’s a shame the township won’t fix the street.”

Kris Koester at the city of Champaign’s public works department says the street is in Hensley Township.

Unfortunately I’ve had no success getting anyone from the Hensley Township Road District to respond to my calls about the condition of the street.

I will vouch for the writers’ comment about Roland Drive. It’s even worse that Windsor Road in Urbana.

What’s going on Green?

“I’ve noticed recently that Champaign Builders Supply has been razed (located on Green Street in Champaign just east of the tracks). Did I miss the story about how that land is going to be used in the future?”

Ace News-Gazette reporter Don Dodson had that story yesterday, detailing plans for, whaddya know?, another apartment complex on the site. This one would be three buildings — but not high rises like some of the others along Green Street — with a cost estimated in the $20 million to $30 million range.

Here’s a link to Don’s story ...

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-06-05/more-apartments-planned-green-street.html

Incumbents who have been dumped

“I know that Republican John Piland was beat as an incumbent state’s attorney by Julia Rietz in 2004. Wondering if I could pick both your knowledge of local history and politics and wondering what other countywide officials lost re-election in Champaign?”

1976 was a banner year for challengers in Champaign County. That year incumbent Republican County Auditor Don Harry was ousted by a young Champaign County Board Democrat, Laurel Prussing, who is now the mayor of Urbana. Also that year incumbent Democratic State’s Attorney James Burgess was defeated by Republican challenger Tom Difanis, now the county’s chief judge. Since that time incumbent countywide officeholders have fared pretty well in Champaign County, except for Piland.

Mayor for life

“How long has Prussing been called Mayor for Life?”

The first reference I could find was in a letter to the editor from Donald Aldeen on Oct. 27, 2011. It seems to have caught on ... with Donald Aldeen.

Republicans united?

“You had a good article about how Democrats are uniting together following some contentious primaries. Are you seeing any indication this is also true following the Erika Harold vs. Rodney Davis matchup? That one also got pretty heated.”

For the most part Republicans say the party is united behind Davis although there is concern about the level of enthusiasm. One local member of the GOP described it as “tepid.”

Davis, now two years removed from his selection as the 13th Congressional District Republican candidate, still has work to do in Champaign County. He hasn’t won an election here yet. He got 37 percent in the three-way general election in 2012 and only 28 percent in the three-way Republican primary in March. His disadvantage is that he’s not from Champaign County and some Republicans are still unhappy with the way he was chosen the candidate, in a closed-door meeting among GOP chairmen in the district.

“We’re as united as Republicans get behind anyone,” was the way one local GOP precinct committeeman put it.

Here’s what Davis could use: a “unity” announcement featuring him and Harold, the Urbana attorney who did so well against him in the primary (getting 70 percent). I’m not sure what the chances are of that, but it undoubtedly would add some oomph to his campaign.

Danville’s recovery

“Do you see Danville recovering or staying static as far as its economic situation?”

Danville’s economy pretty much mirrors the rest of the state’s. The good news is it’s getting better: the unemployment rate has improved in the last year, dropping from 9.3 percent in April 2013 to 8.9 percent in April 2014. Municipal sales tax collections in the city improved a bit that month, from $457,869 in April 2013 to $489,099 this April. 

The bad news is there’s a long way to go, and Illinois’ recovery continues to trail most of the rest of the country. 

I think this is mostly a political issue, one that should be the primary discussion point in every state-related election race this summer and fall. Ask each candidate for governor, state senator or state representative what believe they can do to hasten Illinois’ recovery.

Police officer openly “carrying”

“I have a question about police rules or practice in Urbana-Champaign. So I’m ordering at Maize takeout here on Green Street in town (around 5:45 p.m. Thursday), and there’s a guy in a pickup with his teenage sons. He’s not working, in his own truck. Gets out to come up and order and I notice he’s packin’ — got a pistol in its holster. Then I notice he does have a shirt with an insignia that says “Champaign special weapons and tactics” (I realize that refers to “SWAT” team).

“So, I’m curious. Is it OK for this guy to just carry around his pistol even when he’s off work? I certainly respect him and his job (if it’s a real insignia) but I frankly find it offensive to see a gun in a public space unless this guy just happens to be really hungry on his way home from work. But he’s in his own vehicle and his sons are with him.”

I called around about what regulations are at individual jurisdictions.

In Champaign, Chief Anthony Cobb said, off-duty officers can carry but their weapon should be concealed and they should also be carrying a badge to identify themselves as a police officer.

In Urbana, department policy is that officers are not required to carry a weapon off-duty but if they do it is supposed to be concealed. They too are required to carry a badge or some kind of visible identification.

At the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, custom and practice is concealed if off-duty, said Sheriff Dan Walsh. But there isn’t a specific policy, he said.

From his experience, Walsh said, an accidental showing can occur when clothing is moved about and an officer may not realize that his weapon is visible.

Ammons or Williamson?

We asked readers to tell us who they thought would win the 103rd state representative race between Republican Kristin Williamson and Democrat Carol Ammons. I’m not sure what this means but the results were unanimous for Ammons.

Among the many comments ...

“I think Carol Ammons will win - the election will be another example of the power of grassroots campaigns.”

“I think Carol Ammons has built the volunteer infrastructure to carry her campaign to victory in November.”

“I enjoyed reading your column and agree, this race should be about the issues, not personal and professional attacks. That’s why I think Ammons will win. She’s already shown us that’s how she campaigns and that’s what people want. Thanks for asking.”

Other UI contracts not renewed?

“Re: James Kilgore, unless we are sick of the topic, but I am a little curious as to how many others did not have their contracts renewed at the UI. I haven’t seen any petitions for them which is why I was wondering.”

A University of Illinois spokesman said that the university’s Human Resources department won’t know about non-renewals until fall because departments are still planning for the upcoming academic year at this time.

Jimmy John’s donation

A random comment:

“It is really great that Jimmy John’s owner supports our community so well.  My husband and I eat there a lot, I get the tuna with salad on top the most, tastes great and is good for me!  Tell him thanks for us, please.”

D-Day

Fifteen years ago this month I was fortunate enough to travel to Europe and to spend a day in Normandy and to tour the D-Day beaches, bluffs and hedgerow-lined roads, inspect the coastal bunkers the Germans built to defend the France they had conquered and to visit the Normandy American Cemetery, located just off the coast between the Utah and Omaha beach landing sites on June 6, 1944.

I still believe it is among the most beautiful and the most emotionally evocative spot on Earth. I feel privileged to have been there and to bear some sort of witness to what happened there 70 days ago today. June 6, 1944, in my opinion, is one of the greatest days in modern history. And I don’t think we’ll never be able to appreciate the planning and preparation for that day, the utter joy it eventually created on two widely separated continents, but also the heartache and loss it left so many families in Europe and North America.

An NPR story this morning recalled for me how magnificent that glorious site is (even with the signs warning tourists on the bluffs of wild boar): Read it here

And how about this story and photograph of President Eisenhower on the 10-year anniversary of the invasion he led?

Many thanks to all those Allied soldiers, living and deceased, who were a part of that day.

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alabaster jones 71 wrote on June 06, 2014 at 9:06 pm
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I, too, would like to thank Jimmy John for his generous tax write-off.