Tom's Mailbag July 18, 2014
Welcome back, Mailbag readers. All kinds of questions this week ranging from pizza to politics, and stoplights to same-sex divorce.
Please stay with it to the end. We’re taking an important survey (snicker) at the bottom of the ‘bag.
Household hazardous wastes
“When there will be another hazardous waste collection in town?”
There won’t be any in Champaign County this year, said Susan Monte of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. But one is tentatively scheduled for Monticello this fall. Neither a date nor a time is available yet, she said.
The RPC hopes to have another hazardous waste collection in the county next year.
In the meantime she suggests checking a couple web sites for information.
One is a list of area businesses that take specific waste products: http://hhweastillinois.co.nf/household-hazardous-waste-collection/local-...
Another is an Illinois EPA site that soon should be updates with collection information: http://www.epa.state.il.us/land/hazardous-waste/household-haz-waste/inde...
Finally, a countywide residential electronics collection day is scheduled for 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 11 at Parkland College.
“How much does the city of Champaign spend on the lights at Olympian Drive and Saber Drive (one block west of Mattis Avenue). They have been flashing, like sentinels on a lonely post, for five years. Why not turn them off, or just put up stop signs? It would save money.”
That big, lonely expanse of concrete is all that exists from what was to have been the 236-acre Clearview Office Park in northwest Champaign. The city spent millions to extend Olympian Drive into the development, which was to have included a new Christie Clinic and another facility for Carle. But both projects fell through, as have other ideas for the site.
So far there’s nothing there but lots of concrete, the flashing traffic signal and cornfields.
Kris Koester of the Champaign Public Works Department said it cost the city $3 a month for the electricity to operate the flashing lights.
“The city decided that due to light traffic at this intersection, that the traffic signal could be converted to a red flash until an increase in traffic would necessitate the signal’s full operation. Due to the size of this intersection, in addition to its proximity to St. Thomas More (high school) and the interstate exits, stop signs are not the safest option.
“There are other examples of large intersections around the city (Bradley & Duncan, Bradley & McKinley, Fourth & Bradley) which had existing stop signs, but due to safety concerns, red flashers had to be added. The additional safety provided by the lights far outweighs the cost of the electricity.”
Papa Del’s on Green
“What is with the ‘For Lease’ sign I just saw on Papa Del’s on Green?”
Papa Del’s owner Bob Monti indicated today that something’s up, but he couldn’t talk about it.
“My lips are sealed,” said the owner of the iconic pizza parlor that’s been a mainstay in Champaign’s Campustown since 1970. “If you wait a couple weeks I’ll spill the beans.”
“We’ve heard lots about same-sex marriage in Champaign-Urbana. What about same-sex divorce? Have there been any here? Are the rules or laws the same?”
Yes, there is divorce for same-sex couples. Earlier this month former state Rep. Deb Mell, D-Chicago, announced that she was divorcing her spouse, Christin Baker. They had been married in Iowa in 2011. Although the Mells did not marry in Illinois, Deb Mell was a major advocate for same-sex marriage, although she resigned her seat to become a Chicago alderman before she could vote to legalize it in Illinois.
Judge Arnold Blockman, who handles most divorce cases in Champaign County, has had several same-sex divorce cases from civil unions, an employee said. But there has been none from a same-sex marriage performed in Champaign County. The first of those marriages was performed here in February.
“What’s your take on the escalating public dispute between the Champaign school board and the Champaign Park District?”
I don’t see a public dispute, or any dispute for that matter.
It’s essentially representatives of two government agencies looking out for what’s best for themselves and their constituents. Some school board members — I don’t know how many — are interested in making use of some of Dodds Park as the site for a new Central High School. The site does make some sense: it’s open space, not on the fringe of town, on bus lines, easy to build on, and space and facilities could be shared with Parkland College. On the other hand it’s on the same side of town as Centennial High School and the two high schools would be less than 2.5 miles apart; and the school district’s growth is to the north and south, not to the west.
The park district wants to protect its largest park and, especially, wants to honor the legacy of the Dodds family. The park is named for D.C. “Pick” Dodds, who was a Champaign parks commissioner from 1930 to 1971, and was the first president of the Champaign Park District when it was organized in 1957.
On the other hand the park board and school board worked together on an examination of the potential of the Spalding Park site in north Champaign.
So let me put my two cents in and make a big political mess for the frazzled school board members even messier.
It looks to me like the Spalding Park seems to have dwindling support among school board members although I think it was dismissed too quickly by the board members and the public. For example, how many people really believe that an expensive 625-car parking deck — a cost escalator if there ever was one — would be needed for an in-town school on bus lines with 1,700 students? And why would the new Central High School immediately need to have a track, baseball/softball fields and tennis courts? Why not add them gradually as nearby land is acquired, as the Urbana school board did at Urbana High School?
Start with what’s needed most urgently: a larger, more efficient high school building.
Immigration in Champaign-Urbana
“You may want to look at the CCRPC 2012 Statistical Abstract for a longer historical perspective. See http://www.ccrpc.org/dev/2012stats/1Population.pdf (scroll to page 13).
The foreign born population is higher now than at any time in the 20th century. I don’t know if it ever was higher than it is now.”
Thanks for the link.
I found a Census Bureau site — with the estimates from the American Community Surveys — that says that Champaign’s foreign-born population was 13.7 percent in the period 2008-2012, and Urbana’s was 18.9 percent. Overall Illinois was 13.8 percent.
“I was looking at last year’s D-2 Quarterly Report of Citizens for Deborah Frank Feinen, and I noticed that on 6-7-13 Eric and Nancy Bussell had given the Feinen campaign a $2,800 In-Kind Contribution that was described as a ‘200 person hog roast to be used by campaign.’
“I found that kind of intriguing. Was Feinen already indicating a year ago that she’d be running for mayor and was seeking contributions, or was this event supposed to represent a contribution to a city council race (for a 200-person fund-raiser)?
“Since the description said, ‘to be used,’ as if this was going to be held at a future time, I’m wondering if this was some kind of a gift certificate that could have been raffled off to raise money for the candidate, or if it ultimately was held as an event for the campaign? And, in either case, did Mr. and Mrs. Bussell host the event at their rural Philo Township estate?
“Finally, I’m surprised that I only just recently heard of an event that was this large in size! This really sounds like it must have been THE social event of 2013!”
And your point is?
Yes, Feinen had indicated publicly last June that she would be a candidate for mayor.
The 200-person fundraiser you referred to has not occurred.
The story, Feinen said, is that Eric Bussell won a hog roast at a Rotary auction. He decided to donate it to Feinen. She reported the donation around the time she got it.
“It was given to me, even though I wasn’t using it at that time,” said Feinen. “I guess you could argue about when I was supposed to disclose it, but I think it’s better to disclose it then than not. Because if I waited until now everybody would say, ‘But you got it last year.’”
Now, the good news for you: the fundraiser has been scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6 at the Pear Tree Estate on North Mattis Avenue (also known as the Dewey-Fisher Road) north of Champaign. Tickets are $50 for individuals and $75 for couples.
Your question implies some wrongdoing that isn’t there. Lighten up, dude.
Accusations against Gerard
“Was hoping you can shed some light on Mayor Don Gerard being accused of handing out favors for political support or donations. I heard he has promised people keys to the city in exchange for support and one person at council admitted he had bought a group’s raffle tickets in exchange for a campaign donation. While I understand he has a different way of doing things the fact that council members confirm some of this is troubling. Also I keep hearing about an ongoing ethics investigation at the University. Is that true either?”
I can’t decide if your question is fiendish or just goofy. For now I’ll go with goofy.
First you should know that the key to the city doesn’t open the City Building, the police station or any other city-owned property. Have you ever seen one of those glorious keys to the city? They’re nice, but hardly worth a campaign donation of 5 bucks let alone real money.
Gerard estimates he’s handed out eight to 10 of them to the likes of his second-grade teacher, Roger Ebert, Candy Foster, Dave Downey, Lou Henson, Jim Turpin and Loren Tate. When he became mayor, he said, he was given a box with “50 to 100 of them, I don’t really know, with my name and the city emblem on it.”
“It’s a little chunk of metal with your name on it, a ceremonial thing,” Gerard said, perhaps taking some of the magic out of the award.
As for that talk about an exchange of raffle tickets for a campaign contribution, Gerard said you may have overheard a conversation where someone tried to get him to buy $50 worth of raffle tickets for a fundraiser for the Champaign Park District and promised a campaign donation in exchange.
The bottom line here is, have you seen Gerard’s campaign disclosure report? He’s No. 3 in a potential four-way mayoral race with $2,829 on hand — about one-tenth of what Joe Petry has.
Finally, about the ethics “investigation,” Gerard said he had to go to explain Facebook entries from his campaign committee that appeared to have been made during the time he was on his University of Illinois job (a topic in a past “mailbag” column). That query was just part of whole series of Freedom of Information Act requests and accusations made against Gerard in his job at the UI. There have been numerous FOIA requests for Gerard’s time sheets and expense sheets, he said, and several accusations about appearances he’s made on behalf of the city during his work hours. Gerard said he has to disclose his calendar to a campus oversight committee every week.
“All of this fishiness is getting pretty ludicrous,” he said.
Sheesh, poor citizens of Champaign, are your ready for 10 more months of this political silliness, all over the largely ceremonial mayor’s position?
Gerard and creating jobs
“I found it curious that Champaign Mayor Don Gerard had an event to talk about creating jobs in Champaign but focused on simply the unemployment rate. Many economists have talked about flaws with the rate (that it doesn’t count people who stopped looking for work, for instance) and other effects that make it a flawed indicator.”
“Using the same BLS data the mayor was using, between 2010 and 2013, the Champaign MSA actually has 5,000 fewer people working since the mayor was elected.
“If the mayor wants to take credit for creating jobs, do you think it’s fair to blame him for 5,000 people becoming unemployed on his watch?”
I agree that it’s a big stretch for the mayor of Champaign to take credit for an improving unemployment rate in Champaign-Urbana.
But the numbers you have chosen are equally foolish. You have selected calendar year 2010, when according to the BLS Champaign-Urbana had employment of 109,263. The problem with using your number is that Gerard didn’t become mayor until May 2011. Your end date — calendar year 2013 — when employment was 104,296 does reflect a 5,000-job decline.
Perhaps a more accurate reflection would be to look at non-farm employment in Champaign-Urbana. Since May 2011 when Gerard took office, it has increased from about 107,500 to a preliminary total of 109,800 in May 2014.
The gist of your comment, though, is correct. I believe the mayor of Champaign has a minimal influence on employment in the city. Far more important players are the governor of Illinois, the chancellor of the University of Illinois, the UI board of trustees — all representing the largest employer, by far, in the community — and leadership of the Carle Foundation Hospital and Clinic, the second-largest employer in the community.
Maybe a better measure of the mayor’s impact on the local economy is Champaign’s sales tax receipts. Champaign’s municipal sales tax proceeds increased from $1.18 million in May 2011 to $1.33 million in May 2014.
A follow-up on July 4th fireworks
Lisa Davis, the secretary of the Champaign County Freedom Celebration committee, reported after last week’s mailbag column that the cost of this year’s July 4th fireworks display was just over $40,000, almost half of the celebration committee’s entire $100,000 annual budget. Next year’s budget will be about the same, she said.
“Typically, the fireworks last 26 to 28 minutes. This year it was 30 minutes,” Davis said.
Melrose Pyrotechnics, the Indiana company that produces the Champaign-Urbana fireworks show, said the biggest change this year was the type of fireworks used, Davis said.
“Twenty-five percent of their inventory was new this year,” she reported. “They also used a different shell configuration. The show included kamuro shells (they look like willow trees), several different colored strobes (they look like blinking lights), and a large scene using Niagara Falls shells. They utilized products from seven different countries which added to the variety and intricacy of the display.”
And on that note
Take a little bit of time and listen in to Mike Haile, general manager of WDWS, WHMS and WKIO, as he talked with Urbana native Jeremy Hobson on the NPR show “Hear & Now.” They did a delightful 9-minute segment earlier this week on songs of the summer, generally oldies that evoke summertime feelings.
They played cuts from “Summertime” by Billy Stewart, “That Sunday, That Summer” by Nat King Cole, “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful, “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry (a Mike Howie favorite), “All Summer Long” by the Beach Boys and “Brandy” by Looking Glass.
They also invited listeners to add their own evocative summer songs.
Here’s my list: “Dancin’ in the Streets,” Martha and the Vandellas; “Heat Wave,” Martha and the Vandellas; “Pink Cadillac,” Aretha Franklin; “Summer’s Here,” James Taylor; “Lazy Day,” Spanky and Our Gang; and “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone.
The latter is best known around these parts for being arrested by Paxton police in February 1983, after performing at a number of small clubs around Champaign-Urbana. Sly (whose real name is Sylvester Stewart) was a passenger in a van that allegedly had expired license stickers. Somehow the Paxton police were able to determine, while talking to the driver, that there was a sawed-off shotgun behind a seat in the van. Sly and his four companions were arrested. About 10 days later, however, the charges against Sly and most of his pals were dropped.
As far as we know he’s never returned. Sly is now 71 years old.
OK, so if you have any summer songs that you think Mike, Jeremy or I have overlooked, write in. Readers beware: Earworms ahead.