Tom's Mailbag July 25, 2014

Tom's Mailbag July 25, 2014

Several “Mailbag” questions this week appeared to arrive by the email equivalent of the stagecoach. That is, they came in Thursday night and Friday morning, which sometimes makes it difficult to get answers in time. (The stagecoach is on my mind after the column I wrote for Sunday’s News-Gazette). 

So there are a few questions that will be held over until next Friday. (Questions for Tom? Submit them here)

But here’s this week’s still-plentiful installment: 

Why all the shootings?

“What’s behind the rash of recent shootings in Champaign? What’s the root cause of all the violence? In Danville, the blame often is placed on Chicago. What about here?” 

This isn’t about spillover from Chicago, say local authorities.

“This is homegrown violence,” said Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz. “These aren’t Chicago people. These are local. I don’t blame it on spillover from Cook County gangs. These are local issues and they need to be deal with locally.”

She said authorities need the help of “citizens and organizations to stop this from happening. I think law enforcement understands how difficult it is for citizens to come forward and provide information but if the violence is going to stop, that’s what’s going to need to happen. We need information and assistance from the people who are surrounded by this violence.”

Earlier this week Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said that police believe much of the blame can be placed on “organized groups.” 

“Groups are working together,” he said. “The problem with these groups today is that they are friends today and enemies tomorrow. People are constantly changing sides.

Another Gerard tale

“Tom, the scuttle on the street is that Don Gerard offered to pay for the funeral of gunshot victim Allen Redding and the family declined.  I have been told they didn’t want the mayor playing politics with the funeral. I also witnessed firsthand how Don Gerard selfishly politicized his tax hike vote at the Police and Fire Memorial and made things about ‘him’ and not the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice. Is there any truth to the funeral payment offer and do you feel these types of political shenanigans are appropriate?”

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said there is no truth to your story and that he did not offer to pay for Mr. Redding’s funeral. Mr. Redding, of Champaign, was shot and killed last month on Hedge Road in northwest Champaign. 

“Somebody asked me, they said they were going to have a fundraiser and I said I would support efforts to help out. But no, I don’t have that kind of money.”

I was brought aware that someone not in the family was trying to make arrangements, as people do when there is a tragedy. He asked me if I would support that and I said yes.”

As I wrote last week, it looks like this is going to be along, ugly mayoral campaign in Champaign.

Pride Fest

“Why should the cities encourage open displays of sin? Homosexuality is no worse than any other sin (stealing, coveting etc.) but it should not be thrown up in God’s face like it’s no big deal. I will continue to pray for the leadership of our home and our country.”

“In response to the ‘Pride Fest Will Be Taking to Streets’ article in the July 24 News-Gazette, why should promoting any sexual preference, activity or lifestyle be part of any parade?  Should we have a heterosexual ‘pride fest?’ Why was it necessary to state that ‘there won’t be open nudity and profanity of that nature.’ Duh, is there ever a parade that allows that?

“The article states that ‘it can be a challenge for men who want to dress in women’s clothes to go into stores and try them on in dressing rooms intended for women.’ I understand that it is a challenge. Why don’t they put on any clothes that they want in the men’s dressing rooms?

“Keep sexuality out of the parades and the fast food restaurants. Burger King promotes a gay pride burger and Hardee’s ... well, they certainly have turned their commercials into a sexually, sleazy, sensual way of promoting their food. I could go on and on concerning our TV shows and commercials. This is ridiculous!!!”

“So, what’s with The News-Gazette allowing articles published on the front page that don’t deserve any whatsoever newsworthy coverage?  Today, the 24th, there’s a article that’s written in somewhat code so that you don’t recognize it until you read the next page. Pride Fest is not worthy of the front page nor is worthy of any publication in the Gazette. It’s just another term for the ‘queers party’ that they even claim is ‘family-friendly.’ The Gazette should stop putting garbage like this in it. They shouldn’t be anywhere close to the children’s museum! Keep publishing crap like this in your paper and the next I’ll be cancelling my subscription. Your paper sucks and isn’t worth the ink you print with. I’m sure I’m not the only one that thinks this way.”

I don’t like those nasty Hardee’s commercials either, so Hardee’s doesn’t get my business. If you don’t want to be a part of Pride Fest, vote with your feet and stay out of downtown Champaign on Sept. 6. 

As for the Burger King gay pride burger, holy cow, that is a real thing. It was sold at one Burger King store (in San Francisco) for less than a week. You probably don’t have to worry about seeing them in central Illinois, for a little while.

As the USA Today story about the gay pride burger noted, “The move also demonstrates (Burger King’s) desire to stay connected to its base of Millennial customers. Gay rights is an issue that reverberates strongly with many Millennials both inside and outside the U.S.”

Sad as it may be, tolerance is acceptable to these young people. And apparently it’s the future, both in our cultural and apparently in marketing. Next thing you know some burger joint will be running commercials welcoming refugee kids from Honduras who are seeking a better life here, like my great-grandparents did.

As for the comments from the esteemed journalism critic, I note you obviously read the entire story that you said isn’t newsworthy. Perhaps you meant to write, “The Gazette should continue to write about events and issues that I find interesting and that some people may believe to be controversial. Your paper is outstanding and is worth twice as much as the ink it is printed with.”

In that case, thank you for your comment.

About newly hired professor’s angry tweets

We got a response to the story earlier this week about the newly hired University of Illinois English professor, Steven Salaita, who has been outspoken in his support of Palestinians in essays and on Twitter:

“Just what we need another prof filled with hate and bias. Perhaps if Hamas would stop shooting rockets, the need for counter fire would stop. I wonder what he can teach us about native Americans. Fire him before he gets started.”

Imagine that, a professor with strong opinions. We need to put an end to that too. Who needs free, independent thinking on a university campus?

About the new Champaign Central High School

Many opinions about the proposed Champaign Central High School and the tax increase vote that will be required to get it built ...

“How about asking if people have confidence in the board to undertake this task? One of those yes or no polls at the top of the page. You know we love surveys!”

And you know how those surveys are unscientific and don’t reflect true public opinion?

“In Julie Wurth’s 7/19 article, ‘School district wants Dodds land for Central,’ she mentions, ‘The News-Gazette obtained a copy of the letter on Friday.’ Later in the article is states the Champaign Park District board will likely discuss the issue in a closed session.  I am not suggesting any wrongdoing, but this doesn’t seem like an open and transparent process.  Why do these matters need to be discussed behind closed doors?  Why does N-G need to work to obtain information on this high-profile community issue?”

Here’s a response from Champaign Park Board President Joe Petry: “Thank you for your question about our choice to discuss the school district’s interest in Dodds Park during executive session.  We are very careful about the items that we put on an executive session agenda precisely for the reasons you mentioned — we value openness and transparency.  However, in this particular case we were being asked to consider if there were any conditions under which we would agree to a land swap for a portion of the Dodds Park complex. As in any situation involving negotiation between groups, it is important for each party to have a chance to meet and vet all (even remotely) possible options without presenting them as definite possibilities in a public forum or to the other group. Indeed, the Open Meetings Act exists precisely for that reason: to protect the public’s interest in potential negotiations of the sale, lease or swap of public space. The act is needed because the Park Board, and all other publicly elected bodies, only has authority when acting as a whole. “In order to act as a whole in a situation involving negotiation with another group, we must first discuss any and all possibilities or potential bargaining points without weakening our position or giving away information that could impact future negotiations.

“In the interest of transparency and openness, we released the Park Board’s response to the School District to the press within 24 hours of our meeting.”

Stephanie Stuart, a spokeswoman for the Champaign school district, wrote that, “In Dr. (Judy) Wiegand’s role as Superintendent, collaboration andc ommunication with other community organizations and leaders is essential. School District and Park District leaders meet regularly to discuss ongoing collaborations and how the two organizations can work to meet the needs of the community.”

Other high-school related comments: 

“We have enough suburban sprawl eating up the countryside. Keep Central in a central location.”

“Using Dodds Park for the high school makes perfect sense due to the breathing room it would offer and its proximity to Parkland.”

“I am 100 percent behind this move (to the Interstate Drive site in north Champaign).  As a parent of two daughters at the current Central, it is an embarrassment to go to other communities, much smaller most often, with modern facilities while our children are sweltering away in this outdated, rundown building, lacking even slightly adequate athletic facilities.  This may not make everyone happy, but it is the only sensible choice. Let’s move into the present and offer our kids up to date facilities, and do it now. The longer we wait the more expensive this gets.”

“This location is not ‘Central’ Champaign, and nearly everyone will need to be driven there or bussed.  I am not happy with this location at all, and I hope my child graduates before it is done.”

“The Unit 4 school board has always been to a degree dysfunctional but this year it has descended into complete farce about the time a new board member was appointed. What role right-wing troll and bully John Bambenek has played and do you think the board regrets appointing him now that his antics are sure to cause the referendum to fail?”

“Now that Unit 4 has all but said we get to look forward to Interstate Drive site and a referendum in the fall, what will their backup plan be when/if it fails at the polls? Or do you have a guess?”

Passing a tax increase this November — especially this November — is going to be difficult. It could be a angry electorate that turns out this fall, angry about the state of the nation and especially the state of Illinois and its scandals, gridlock and poor financial condition. If the school board tries a tax increase in November I think it would fail. But it can turn around and try again in April when municipal elections are held. They’d have a better shot then.

As for blaming Bambenek for the school district’s building problems, that’s putting a lot of blame on one board member who has been around for five months. How about targeting the school administrators and board members in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s who failed to look ahead at school needs? 


“Tom, what’s your opinion on the Liz Walden vs. Mayor Prussing controversy? Thursday’s The News-Gazette articles by Patrick Wade report that the city paid $129,873.75 to defend itself in the lawsuit in which the city’s counter-suit led to a collection of $4,164.93. It is hard to imagine such a poor return on investment of taxpayer’s money. Penny wise, pound foolish?”

I agree that it looks like a lot of money, but the city had to defend itself in the lawsuit brought by Walden. The only other option was to settle and pay. But this episode isn’t over. The city is up against former finance director Ron Eldridge in a separate, somewhat related case about compensatory payments to managers. The Eldridge case may not be as easy.

Downtown Urbana news

“What is going on at the corner of Green and Race in Urbana?  The former law office building has had the corner fenced off for months with no construction apparent — pedestrians need to walk in the street. What about the hotel in Lincoln Square?  Rumor has it the owner has left town.”

Here’s the word from Libby Tyler, Urbana’s community development director: “The City has ordered structural corrections be made to the building at Green and Race Street and the fencing is necessary to protect the public until these corrections are made. In addition, road improvements to Race Street between Elm Street and California Avenue will soon be made which will make it difficult to construct a pedestrian bypass until the road improvement project is completed.

“The owner of the Urbana Landmark Hotel is back in town and working at the hotel after an extended visit to the West Coast.”

Mystery men in the crosswalk

“What’s up with the small thermoplastic “figures/men” on the pavement in Champaign? They’re small and on the roadway. They appeared around the time of the marathon but are not on marathon routes (just a coincidence?). There is one at the southwest corner of University Avenue and Neil Street. Very strange.”

Great question about these mysterious figures that look like robots. I’m sure someone knows who put them there, and why. Any help?

Road work

“With the road construction on High Cross Road in Urbana, does this mean the Urbana Menards will soon follow? And will Florida Ave be extended to High Cross/ 130 with this project?”

More from Urbana’s community development director, Libby Tyler: “The road improvements along High Cross Road will help to facilitate the future construction of Menards and other future development along the corridor.  However, there is still no firm commitment or date from Menards on when they will start construction of their store and other development.  “Extension of Florida Avenue is not a part of the current road project and will not be triggered by the Menards store.  When any of the properties along the future alignment of Florida Avenue extended to High Cross are ready to be developed, the City will work out a cost-share arrangement to start the construction.”

“When will Windsor Road in Urbana start to be worked on?”

Good news from Urbana assistant city engineer Craig Shonkwiler. Bids on the project were opened last week and the apparent low bid from Stark Excavating was a little more than $4 million. The engineer’s estimate for the work was $4.8 million.

Work could start as early as next month, Shonkwiler said, with about one-fourth to be completed this calendar year and three-quarters in 2015.

“When will 150 and 130 construction be done?”

The U.S. 150 project is projected to be completed in November; Illinois 130 will be done in December.

“Will 4th street on campus be done by the time school starts?”

The Fourth Street work on the UI campus is projected to be completed by Aug. 15, according to a University of Illinois website.

UPDATE: The Fourth Street work may not be entirely complete when students return, campus Facilities and Services spokesman Steve Breitwieser said this afternoon.

"The Fourth Street project is scheduled for substantial completion the week before school begins. Construction crews have been working additional hours recently to finish by Wednesday, August 20, prior to Move-in day. 

"Wetter than normal weather conditions this summer and unforeseen utilities infrastructure rerouting continue to impact project timelines. If necessary, there is a plan where the street would be open and drivable with work continuing after Move-in day."

Calipari pay

Apparently there is a furor about Illinois and Kentucky recruiting the same basketball player, which prompted an exchange about the nothing-has-ever-been-tied-directly-to-him basketball coach at Kentucky. 

“Pay the players as much as Calipari does? The guy has had multiple NCAA violations and titles discounted.”

Sen. John McCain as Cubs manager?

“Long-time listener, first-time caller ... do you think the Cubs would do better if John McCain would quit his job as a senator and focus on managing the team? I will hang up and listen to your answer. Thanks.”

And thank you for that question. I will confess here that I really like John McCain. He has a good sense of humor, likes baseball and is a war hero. He also is a big fan of the late, great Ted Williams. 

And, when given the opportunity, he did not make fun of me. True story: Several years ago I took my sons and nephew on a baseball road trip. We were in Washington to see a game at the old RFK Stadium and did some Capitol Hill sightseeing before the game. While walking down the street we ran into Senator McCain. After shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, I mentioned that we had just met Sen. Dick Durbin at his weekly “Coffee with Constituents.”

Except that what I said was, “We just saw Senator Dirksen at the Durbin Building.” That would have been quite a trick since Everett Dirksen died in 1969 and there is no Durbin Building. But McCain didn’t laugh at me or call me a doofus so I have great respect for him.

As for being the manager of the Cubs, McCain is an intriguing suggestion but I think it wouldn’t be good for anyone’s well-being. McCain is a fighter, seemingly always more than willing to scrap with some country or someone. Under McCain the Cubs probably would lead the league in pitchers tossed from games, hit-by-pitches, beanball fights and broken wrists and fingers, kinda like the Philadelphia Flyers of Major League Baseball. 




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