Tom's Mailbag Aug. 9, 2014
A little break in the mailbag monotony this week. Virtually nothing about shootings, school siting, mayoral politics or construction projects.
This week we have questions about gang signs, mold in the problematic satellite county jail, an apparent voter registration snafu at Central High School, whether recyclables are recycled, parking meter revenue, that suspicious Nudo/Bambenek/Frerichs deal two years ago and votes for best all-time local restaurants and best pizza.
A misinterpreted sign
“How come there is a billboard with three real estate agents and one is throwing a gang hand gesture? Is that really appropriate?”
Champaign Realtor Stefanie Pratt found this question both amusing and frightening.
“It says that Stefanie Pratt is the Realtor that rocks,” she said of the billboard. “It’s a rock sign, a rock ‘n’ roll sign. It’s not a gang sign. If you look at rock ‘n’ roll bands like Poison and Def Leppard, they say it’s gonna rock. That’s what that is. I can’t believe someone thought that was a gang sign. Oh my gosh.”
“My friend Bret Michaels, that’s what he does all the time,” she said of the former member of Poison, who now performs on his own. “I’ll send you a picture of him and I from about a month ago, doing the rock sign together.”
OK, but the question isn’t that far-fetched. To my baby boomer eyes — unfamiliar as they are both with gang signs and rock ‘n roll signs (although I still can flash a good peace sign) — that rock ‘n’ roll sign looks something like the one for the Latin Kings, the notorious Chicago street gang. I can see why someone would be concerned, although a real estate agent flashing gang signs isn’t a winning marketing move.
Voter registration complaint
“I attended registration day at Central High School yesterday with my son. I noticed that the school had allowed the local Democratic Party and Ann Callis’ campaign to set up a table to register people to vote. Why were they allowed to be there, should politics like that be allowed in our schools? Why wasn’t there a Republican Party table? Did the school not reach out to the Republicans? Did Republicans decline to participate?”
Kyle Harrison, chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party, offered his take on what happened.
He said that Laurie Bonnett, president of the Champaign school board (and also an aide to state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign), sent an email out to the Young Republican and Young Democrat groups about the three weeks ago, inviting them to participate in voter registrations at Central and Centennial high schools. She said she’d get back to them closer to the dates but never did, Harrison said.
The Republicans never heard back from anyone, he said, until Wednesday — after registration already had started at Central — when they were asked if they were going to show.
Eventually, Harrison said, there was a Republican representative at the Central registration on Thursday, but without the campaign signs that the Democratic registrar had for 13th Congressional District candidate Callis.
Harrison declined to say whether he was miffed about the apparent snafu.
“I think the way it all came together was a little unprofessional,” was as far as he would go.
“There’s a time for politics but maybe not at high school registration,” he said. “I think the way it should have been done is to have (Republican County Clerk) Gordy Hulten’s office there.”
Bonnett agreed that there was a “late communication” problem between her and representatives of both parties, in part because of all the time she’s devoted to various school board issues, including school construction.
“This is not about partisanship. It’s not about the parties. It’s about people understanding how important it is to vote,” she said.
Hulten said his office was not invited by Champaign school officials to do voter registration at any Unit 4 registration events, but was invited to do so at the Urbana school district’s three-day, centralized registration last week. He said “a couple dozen” new voters were registered.
More satellite jail woes
We got a call into the newsroom this week from a man who said his son was an inmate at the Champaign County satellite jail in east Urbana, and that he was alarmed that there was black mold in the showers and kitchen of the 18-year-old facility off of Lierman Avenue in Urbana.
Sure enough, said Sheriff Dan Walsh, there is mold inside the satellite jail.
But the mold is not airborne, he said.
“But we have taken air readings outside of the building and inside, and the inside air is cleaner than the outside, and it’s good air,” said the sheriff.
Dana Brenner, the county’s facilities director who hired the Springfield firm OEHS to sample and test the satellite jail, agreed.
“The good news is that the air quality is terrific inside the satellite jail,” Brenner said. “The air quality outside is much higher in terms of fungi, mold spores, etcetera. So our HVAC system is doing a good job of filtering that stuff out,” he said. “But we definitely have mold contingent from the swab (samples taken from surfaces).”
There is mold on surfaces in both shower areas and in the jail kitchen.
“It’s where you’d expect it would be, in the wet areas,” Brenner said.
He said the county is awaiting a full report on the cause of the mold and also a remediation plan.
He hopes to begin the appropriate cleanup next week, and start making improvements to the jail facilities a week or two later.
“It’s being addressed. We feel pretty good about it,” Brenner said.
Walsh said mold has been “an on and off situation over the years.”
What happens to materials collected in Urbana’s recycling program?
“Where do recycled materials go? Are they really recycled? What’s the market like? Does it really get done?”
Courtney Rushforth, Urbana’s recycling coordinator, has the answers.
“We have two separate places. For our curbside, single-family program the material is sent to ABC Sanitary in Champaign. Our apartment recycling, a separate contract, goes to Community Resource in Urbana,” said Rushforth.
“Both places hire workers that go through the recycling on a daily basis, and they source separate the materials out for the markets,” she said. “There’s newspaper, cardboard, PET plastics, Number 2 plastic like milk jugs. Then they have balers on site where they bale the materials. They have markets to send them to.”
The markets fluctuate, she said, and the recyclers can hold onto the materials until prices improve. The two contractors retain all the money from the sale of the recyclables.
At one time, she said, recycled paper was in demand in India and China. That market has cooled.
“If they weren’t making money,” she said of the contractors, “we wouldn’t have a program. I know they can get a good price for the number 1 and 2 plastics, and cardboard too.”
Parking meter revenue, including fines
“There are a lot of parking meter tickets given out daily, and I was just curious as to how much money the C-U area made and where the money went?”
In Champaign the city’s financial plan shows that it took in $1.2 million in parking meter income in the 2012-13 fiscal year, plus about $551,000 in parking fines, about $41,000 in back collections of parking fines, $146,000 in gated lot income, $115,699 in cash key sales, about $470,000 in space rental and about $291,000 in on-street parking permits. Parking is about a $3 million business in Champaign.
In Urbana parking system revenue (meters and rentals) amounted to about $1.3 million in the same period, the biggest chunk of which was about $590,000 in revenue from campus area meters.
An additional $375,000 from parking ticket revenue went into the city’s general fund.
The Frerichs/Bambenek alliance
“In 2012, many of us remarked on the clear cooperation between John Bambenek and Mike Frerichs to muscle Al Nudo out of the state Senate primary. Nudo was a real challenger and would have given Frerichs a real race. It’s clear why Frerichs would want the far weaker opponent in Bambenek but we wondered what Bambenek got out of the deal. Why has no one commented on the fact that Frerichs’ chief of staff helped shepherd Bambenek onto the school board outside an election as the political payment for knifing Nudo in the back two years ago?
You’re right to be suspicious about how that whole Frerichs/Bambenek/Nudo thing went down in the winter of 2012. But to suggest that Bambenek’s appointment to the Champaign school board is some sort of payback is outrageous.
That’s about the most thankless school board seat in a universe of thankless school board seats.
It used to be that serving on the school board could be a steppingstone to higher office, maybe even a judgeship. But no more.
Although it looked at the time like the pairing of Bambenek, a Republican, and Frerichs, a Democrat, got Nudo to drop out of the Republican primary race, Nudo insisted that he was getting out for personal reasons and that he didn’t want to be a part of dirty politics. Frerichs ended up easily defeating Bambenek in the November election. He’s now running for state treasurer. Nudo’s out of politics. Bambenek’s on the school board. I’d argue that Bambenek got the worst of that deal.
I asked him about your theory and Bambenek replied, “It profits man nothing to give his soul for the whole world ... but for Unit 4?”
Champaign Central High School Site, Again
“Suppose Champaign was an island ... and could not expand. Where to put the new high school? Why not put it in the area being developed for Bristol Place? It will be several years before the homes are built there, why not develop this land and then give in exchange, to the city, the land purchased by the school district on West Olympian?”
The biggest problem with the Bristol Place site is the nearby (and busy) Illinois Central/Canadian National tracks. That’s not only be a safety hazard — kids crossing the tracks to get to and from school, the possibility of nearby derailments and hazardous spills — but it presents traffic issues because of the at-grade crossing on Bradley Avenue.
I’m still partial to the Spalding Park site — centrally located, along bus routes, easily expandable — but it’s not my call.
What’s the solution to gun violence?
One reader offers his solution ...
“No tolerance for gun charges, some were dismissed in a case last week ... assign an assistant state’s attorney to do nothing but gun cases ... have State’s Attorney set up a meeting/training sessions with police to go over all gun laws, petition local state legislators to increase penalties for FOID card violations.
“Most of these shootings are done by people ineligible to have a gun in this state but few are ever charged with violating those laws ... figure out where the guns are coming from and don’t deal away gun charges ... but they would rather cry for more gun laws ... I have been a harbinger for pressing the FOID Law, our state’s attorney says it’s only a misdemeanor. There is a felony phase to that statute of a person is already a convicted felon, and it includes a $25,000 fine. Why not ask for the money as well?. :Lawyers making deals with their country club pals on the defense side.”
Favorite C-U eateries of all time
Here are the early returns:
“Favorite place to eat was La Casita where Apple Dumpling is. Burritos with Chili!! And of course, Tritos Grinders. Puts JJ’s to shame.”
“Tom, there are simply too many to count, but how about Dog n’ Suds, Chuck Wagon Diner, Garcia’s on Wright, Doc J’s, and of course Po’Boys? However, the true Waylon and Willie of the old C-U late night dining scene was the Hay Bomb-a La Bamba burrito taken to The Homestretch, placed on top of a Haystack ordered with sausage gravy on the side, then the whole thing blanketed in the sausage gravy. WOW!”
Oh yeah, here’s my La Casita story. My wife and I were there with our son, who was about 3 years old at the. Below the cash register was one of those velvet bullfighter paintings. The little guy pulled it away from the wall and beneath were hundreds of madly scrambling cockroaches. That was our last trip to La Casita.
As for The Homestretch (at the northwest corner of Bloomington Road and Prospect Avenue), my late brother-in-law, John Costello, owned it for many years and made a great living from selling those Haystacks.
Favorite Pizza places?
We got a few more votes from a question that went out last week ...
1) Old Orchard Lanes in Savoy
2) Monical’s in Tolono
Filippo’s Mahomet, Monicals Mahomet and villa pizza in Mattoon
2. PAPA DEL’S
3. OLD ORCHARD LANES
Papa Dels, Rosatis and Jets!
Runner up: Filippos (Mahomet & Monticello)
That’s all for this week. Thanks for the spectacularly interesting questions.
Keep them coming, although I won’t be answering the next batch until Aug. 22.
Like Congress, the mailbag is taking its August recess — except we’ll be gone one week, not five. And we won’t be running for reelection, holding fundraisers or throwing verbal barbs at John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.