Tom's mailbag April 24, 2015

Tom's mailbag April 24, 2015

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The Champaign school district and questions about science and nature were big topics in the mailbag this week, plus inquiries about a long-vacant house in Champaign and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz’s political future — no, she is not interested in Congress although the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wanted her to run.

New destination for Champaign yard waste

“What is the city of Champaign doing with the leaf bags they are picking up from residents this spring? I have heard that they are not taking them to the Landscape Recycling Center as they have done in past years.”

You are correct. Champaign’s leaf bags have a new destination this spring: Rob Wood’s Champaign County farm. 

Wood is picking up the approximately 75,000 to 80,000 bags at the public works facility, taking them to his farm and using them for livestock bedding and applying it to his fields as fertilizer, said Kris Koester, the administrative services manager and public information manager for Champaign’s public works department.

“The city of Champaign located an alternative option to recycle the extraordinarily high-volume of bags generated by the yard waste collection program for approximately 40 percent of the cost. The leaf bags themselves are recyclable, which is the reason it is important for residents to only put non-restricted items in the bags in order for complete recycling,” Koester said.

“The city estimates we will save $52,000 in yard waste program operational costs and an additional $66,000 in disposal costs. Savings come from a combination of things, including charges to recycle, reduced trips to (Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana) also saves on personnel costs and fuel costs,” he said.

The new program will apply to spring, fall and Christmas tree pickups, Koester said.

Mike Brunk, Urbana’s city arborist, said he was “disappointed” to hear of Champaign’s decision, because the Landscape Recycling Center — which operates under a cooperative agreement between the two cities — depends on the revenue from Champaign’s yard waste to pay for operations. With that loss of revenue, the recycling center may have to raise tipping fees it charges consumers.

“We are looking to get together sometime this spring to discuss what (Champaign’s) future plans are,” Brunk said.

Koch Brothers group involved in Champaign schools bond issue?

“After the failed school referendum WCIA reported that the group Americans for Prosperity had been involved in the campaign to Keep Central Central. This group has deep ties to the Koch Brothers.”

Americans for Prosperity-Illinois did get involved in the Champaign schools bond issue, but it did not coordinate with the Keep Central Central group. Both were opposed to the bond issue but for different reasons.

“We did undertake some efforts in opposition to the Champaign District 4 referendum,” said David From, the director of AFP-Illinois. “Those activities included contacting over 1,000 households with robo-calls and a mailer. We also held two local phone banks to reach out to voters. Our efforts were targeted at voters we identify as being generally fiscally conservative and likely to oppose a tax hike.”

The mailer, which From sent me, noted that the $144 million bond issue, if it had been approved, would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home more than $2,800 over the life of the bonds.

“At first,” said From, “we talked to the group that was opposed to the location of the high school (Keep Central Central). We kinda had the shared goal of a ‘no’ vote but we had different motivations. So we didn’t necessarily sync up. We had the same goal but we didn’t overtly work with them. We didn’t have them come in and make calls or anything like that.”

Nor did AFP-Illinois give Keep Central Central money.

“We don’t give anybody any money, particularly if it’s a political committee. We just spend our money on robo-calls and a mailer,” he said. 

The group got involved in 31 out of about 110 tax increase questions on ballots around the state this month, he said.

“We do that every year, anywhere from 30 to 40. We call it our local anti-tax initiative,” From said. “The basic premise, the reason we started it, was because we saw a lot of places where you look at the ballot and you have no idea what you’re voting on. It can be very confusing.”

Since 2012, the group has gotten involved in 155 tax increase questions, and helped defeat 90 of them, he said.

AFP-Illinois does not file a campaign disclosure report with the State Board of Elections, From said, because it does not endorse candidates and it spends less than $3,000 on each of the tax increase questions it opposes.

The larger, national group, Americans for Prosperity “is a conservative 501(c)4 organization that spends money in support of Republicans and against Democrats. The group, like its forerunner organization Citizens for a Sound Economy, was founded with the financial support of libertarian billionaire businessmen David and Charles Koch,” says the group

New high school at the country club?

“I’m surprised I haven’t heard anybody mention the Champaign Country Club as a possible site for the new high school. I was interested to learn there is precedent for such an acquisition. The case of the Phoenixville Area School Board v. Meadowbrook Golf Club is a recent example:




“Have you heard this discussed as an option? I’m guessing it’s easier to condemn Joe Blow’s house via eminent domain than Joe Banker’s golf course.”

I did see this idea proposed in the comments section of a News-Gazette story earlier this year and I have head a few people suggest it off-handedly, but I don’t know that that’s such a great idea. 

The 100 acres of the country club has an assessed valuation of $4.855 million — $1.448 million for the land and $3.4 million for the buildings on the land.

That’s a lot more than the $3.2 million the school district paid for the 80-acre site in north Champaign.

And that doesn’t account for all the costs that would be associated with an eminent domain process, since I think we can assume the Champaign Country Club would not be a willing seller.

I think there are much better options for the new school board to examine, and I’m certain it will be considering them.

Succession planning in Champaign school district

“I am hearing a lot of buzz that (Champaign schools) Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand will only be staying for the remainder of her contract. With so much discussion about the future of (Champaign schools), shouldn’t this be a major component of the public dialogue about the future of (Champaign schools)? What has (the board) been doing to plan for this possible transition and what has been the public’s involvement to this point?”

Champaign school board president Laurie Bonnett responded: “Early on in my board tenure, Dr. Wiegand and I talked about the succession plan based on her stated retirement goal of 2017. Dr. Wiegand’s plans for retirement have not changed. 

“There is still a great deal of time left in Dr. Wiegand’s contract and she remains focused on continuing to make progress on the goals we have jointly established for the District. We have worked with Dr. (James) Gallaher and the administration on the initial stages of succession planning. Now that the date is coming closer, the incoming board can begin working in earnest on the matter.”

Gallaher is executive director of the Executive Leadership Academy at the University of Illinois’ College of Education. Bonnett said that Gallaher “is looking at the bigger picture of leadership development and succession planning” for the school district. “Discussions with the U of I regarding executive leadership training have been taking place for a few years now.”

Vacant house in west Champaign

“There is a house at 2613 W. Kirby in Champaign that has been boarded up for at least 15 years. What happened there that no one can live in it?”

David Oliver, the code compliance manager for the city of Champaign’s neighborhood services department, said department records show that the property “has been monitored on our vacant and boarded list since 11/10/2009. I do not have any records that reflect it was boarded by city abatement action. I would presume it was boarded by the owner. 

“We continue to monitor the property for nuisance abatement issues although there is no record of the city performing abatement actions such as mowing or trash removal.”

County records show that the property tax bill is sent to a couple in Maryland. I tried to reach them for more information but so far have been unsuccessful.

Rietz’ reelection

“Can you tell me when are the elections to vote for state’s attorney? I want to make sure to vote no on Julia Rietz and I do not want to find myself out of the country. Thanks.”

The Democratic state’s attorney said she intends to run for a fourth term in November 2016. 

You might have trouble voting against Rietz, though. Republicans didn’t run anyone against her in 2012, after proving to be a formidable candidate in 2008 (winning 65 percent to 35 percent) and 2004 (defeating incumbent Republican John Piland, 62 percent to 38 percent).

Rietz said she had been asked to run for the 13th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorvlle, but she isn’t interested.

“I was contacted by the (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) but have declined the invitation to run for Congress. I was honored to be asked, but I love my job and will be running for reelection in 2016,” she said.

Broadway Avenue work

“Tom, what’s the status of the city of Urbana project on Broadway Avenue, just south of University Avenue? The sidewalk improvements appear complete, except that the sidewalk is not complete around the railroad tracks.”

It’s actually unrelated to Urbana’s Boneyard improvement project.

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gary noted that sidewalk on both sides of Broadway Avenue at the Norfolk Southern Railroad crossing is incomplete.  

“This work is tied to the railroad upgrading the crossing signals and their equipment,” he said. “NSRR has started their work. We hope this will all be completed later this spring.”

Water table on the rise?

“Someone recently mentioned to me that the central Illinois water table has been rising. As I walk through the neighborhood I certainly see a lot of hoses from sump pumps. Is the rising water table one of the problems?”

The water table at the Illinois State Water Survey’s Bondville observation well is around 3 feet below the surface, which is its normal level for this time of the year, said George Roadcap, a hydrogeologist for the water survey.

“The depth to the water table varies depending on the local topography, soil type, and distance to a stream or drainage tile. Over the course of a year, the natural water table in the Champaign-Urbana area can fluctuate from the land surface to as deep as 12 feet below ground in a drought,” he said. “In the winter, spring, and early summer the water table often rises to within a few feet of the surface after a storm. In late summer the water table will start to fall due to evapotranspiration and will not hit a low point until December.  

“In agricultural areas the height of the water table can be suppressed by the dense network of field drainage tiles that are necessary to farm the heavy clay soils in the region.  In town, the height of the table water can be suppressed by storms drains, clay-tile sewers and sump pumps.” 

Here is a link to the data from our well south of Bondville.

“In many communities the deepest natural water tables are commonly found in the cemeteries, which the early settlers tended to locate on higher ground with better drained soils,” he said.  

More goose problems

“The streets and parking lot at the University of Illinois Forbes building, 1816 S. Oak St., in the research park, has been well populated with aggressive, car-challenging Canada geese this spring. There was an event at the building last Friday and, poof! no geese anywhere. Where did the geese go? How did they get there? I work out there and my co-workers and I were wondering.” — Bryan Huff

Steve Breitwiser of the UI’s Facilities & Services office said state and federal laws protect the geese and that the university “is limited in its ability to respond to geese populations on campus. Individuals are encouraged to avoid areas occupied by Canada geese or utilize another route.”

T.J. Benson, an avian ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (coincidentally located at 1816 S. Oak St.), said that geese start separating into pairs at this time of the spring.

“It could just be that the female is sitting on a nest right now so they’re not as noticeable as they were before,” he said. “And I asked one person here and they said that they noticed geese just outside the building again so they’re apparently still around.”

Females lay eggs about every day and a half, he said. And this is the time of the year they’d be nesting.

“And once their clutch of eggs is complete or close to complete she’ll start incubating those and she’ll sit on that nest for about 30 days. She’ll get off occasionally but when she’s sitting on that nest she won’t be noticeable at all. The male would be noticeable in theory,” he said.

I mentioned to him that I saw a pair of geese atop The News-Gazette building in downtown Champaign on Monday.

“I’ve seen it more and more,” he said. “I wasn’t ever used to seeing it but when I started working here six years ago I’d look out my window and see geese standing on buildings and I thought that was weird. I live in southwest Champaign now and I’ll see a goose standing on top of a house sometimes.”

A graduate student studying Canada geese in the Chicago area is tracking them and “has found that one of the ways they cope with winter is they select black rooftops, which stay warmer. They’re doing interesting things to cope with their conditions,” Benson said.

Nobel Prize kerfuffle

“What will UIUC do about this? Please be advised that there appears to be a possible ethics violation or misrepresentation on Dr. Don Wuebbles’ website at  

UIUC where it is stated that, ‘He shares in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’  

(link). This is incorrect.

“Because of several serious misunderstandings globally, the IPCC issued a statement during 2012 on the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize as follows  


“The prize was awarded to the IPCC as an organization, and not to any individual associated with IPCC. Thus it is incorrect to refer to any IPCC official, or scientist who worked on IPCC reports as a Nobel Laureate or Nobel Prize winner. It would be correct to describe a scientist who was involved with AR4 or earlier IPCC Reports in this way: “X contributed to the reports of the IPCC which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007”

(See also: Laframboise, D, 2014, The IPCC and the Peace Prize: in Moran, A, editor, 2014, Climate Change: The Facts 2014, Melbourne, Australia, Institute  

of Public Affairs, p. 218).

“In fact, Dr. Wuebbels’ accomplishments in Atmospheric Sciences far outweigh his involvement with IPCC and stand out without the Nobel Peace Prize entry.

“Substantive questions can be raised as to why the incorrect statement appears on the good doctor’s website. Time will tell if UIUC will investigate or mandate a change in accordance with IPCC policy.”

— George Devries Klein

Professor Wuebbles responds:

“George Klein is wrong. Please go to our website (link). 

“Under my bio, it says: ‘He has been a Coordinating Lead Author and contributed to a number of the reports of the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. 

“Also, there is a similar statement in my CV at (link).

“Now many of us loosely do say we share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize because we were the authors of the volumes for which the award was based. I also have a plaque in my office from IPCC about the contributions I made to the awarding of IPCC getting the Nobel Peace Prize. So does that count as ‘sharing?’ I and others think so in the spirit of the word but the IPCC statement about this is correct.

“In any case, my bio and CV do not say ‘share.’”

Wuebbles acknowledged that at one time his page said that she shared the prize, but it no longer does.


Back next week when I promise I’ll get to a couple questions that have been sitting around for a while, plus all the new comments/queries to the ‘bag. Good luck to all the runners in town for the marathon: may the wind be with you no matter which way you’re running, and the rain not seep into your shoes.

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Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on April 24, 2015 at 2:04 pm

I believe the house at 2613 W. Kirby belongs to the family of J. B. Lenoir.

Rocky7 wrote on April 24, 2015 at 4:04 pm

 Regarding Dr. Wuebbles website, the item to contibuted "Tom's Mailbag" was sent nearly a month ago.  As the article stated, Wuebbles acknowledged that "at one time his webpage said that he shared the prize, but it no longer does." At the time the item was contributed to Kacich, that is what the website said so it is incorrect for Wuebbles to say 'Klein is wrong.'  I agree that the website was changed after a certain party tipped off the director of SESE.

kaw wrote on April 24, 2015 at 8:04 pm

I believe the home on West Kirby is the site of the double homicide of Mae Francis Halcrombe and her daughter, Soynda Halcrombe, on Feb. 22, 1988.  Ex UI football player Harry Gosier pled guilty to the crimes at his trial, which was moved to Chicago due to pre-trial publicity.  The story at the time was that Mr. Halcrombe boarded up the windows and would never allow anyone to live in the home again.  

nick wrote on April 24, 2015 at 8:04 pm

 kaw- I believe that you are correct. I remember that day and the impact that it had on many people.
 It was a very tragic event for all who were involved and for the community in general.

Son of a Barrelmaker wrote on April 25, 2015 at 7:04 am

County assessment records show that the home at 2613 W. Kirby is owned by the family of J. B. Lenoir and has been for years.  I don't think it is the same house where the Gosier murders occurred.  Google returns lots of links regarding J. B. and his life.


Tom Kacich wrote on April 27, 2015 at 9:04 am
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The Harry Gosier crimes occurred at 2305 W. Kirby Ave.

Gosier, a former University of Illinois football player now serving a life sentence at the Menard prison, killed two women and beat his estranged wife in the horrific incident.


kaw wrote on April 29, 2015 at 9:04 am

Tom, thanks for the response and the correct location of those horrendous crimes.  I used to live several blocks from this West Kirby area.  Neighbors on Kirby gave me the explanation for the particular home (pictured) being boarded up.  Interesting that the neighborhood lore is incorrect.  I'm eager to learn the explanation for the home in the 2600 block.