Tom's #Mailbag, Jan. 19, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Jan. 19, 2018

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In brief the north Champaign Goodwill will reopen soon, Carle will be out of Lincoln Square by summer, U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis and John Shimkus each have one African-American on their staffs, you can park on C-U streets for no more than 72 hours without risk of being towed, a vehicle underpass at Main Street in downtown Champaign would be a bad idea and swear words generally won't get in a newspaper unless you're the POTUS.

And a lot more ...

Goodwill reopening

"Any word on when the Goodwill on Anthony Drive will be reopening? After the burst pipes in late December, there was an article in The News-Gazette stating that the store's management hoped to have it open by the following weekend, which would have been around the first of the year. Last time I went by (January 13), they had a sign on the window 'Closed Until Further Notice.'"

Good news. It will reopen a week from today, said Patrick Anderson, vice president of marketing and communications for Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries in Springfield.

"The flooded store required some serious work and remodeling, but all things are looking good," he said.

Health Alliance and Lincoln Square

"What's the projected timeline for the Carle and Health Alliance offices to move from Lincoln Square to the new building on I-57? Also, is the county government still thinking about moving offices to Lincoln Square Mall?"

They will be out of Lincoln Square by the time summer rolls around, said Jennifer Hendricks-Kaufmann, Carle's public relations manager.

"Work will be complete on the administrative building at Carle at The Fields in the weeks ahead with moves beginning in February and March and continuing through the spring," she said. "Non-clinical departments like Human Resources, IT and Health Alliance will move from various leased spaces throughout the community into this facility that will allow greater efficiency with space use and workflow."

As for any county plans to move to Lincoln Square, that depends on the county selling the Brookens Center. All of that discussion ended when voters rejected a facilities sales tax increase in November 2016.

Fields South extension

"When will the Fields South extension from the Stephens YMCA to Curtis Road be opened?"

The road is complete but discussions are ongoing with Carle, which is the developer of the entire project, said Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester. No date has been set.


Stephens YMCA sign

"Why is there no entrance sign for the YMCA? There actually aren't any helpful signs showing where to go at all. Since the Y sits back off the road and the entrance is also for the subdivision, wouldn't they think it would be really helpful."

Mark Johnson, the chief executive officer of the YMCA, said that it was "not allowed to put a sign on Windsor. We know it would be helpful. Regency (owners of the nearby residential complex) has been very kind to us, but it was not their decision."

Racial diversity of staffs

"I was wondering if you had any information about the racial diversity of (U.S. Rep.) Rodney Davis' full time staff?"

I expanded on your question and asked about the staffs of Rep. Davis, Rep. John Shimkus and Illinois' U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.

From Davis:

"Since I was first elected, my office has had staff from different walks of life, but nearly all of my DC and district office staff grew up in Central and Southern Illinois. We've had several different ethnicities represented throughout my time in office, including African Americans, Asian Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans, but more than just different ethnicities, my staff have come from different backgrounds that reflect many in the 13th District."Some of them grew up in middle-class families, some come from more modest means. Some are the children of immigrant parents. Some were the first in their families to go to college, others chose to serve their nation first or work to support their families. Some were raised by single parents, some are single parents themselves. While the representation of ethnicities in my office have varied, my staff have faced hardships, overcome challenges and experienced successes, not unlike most of the constituents we serve. That is what drives us to work hard for every person in the 13th District."

Davis spokeswoman Ashley Phelps said his office has 16 official staffers. "Eleven are female and five are male. Three of the four leadership positions are currently held by women," she said. "We currently have an African American female serving in the district and have had Asian American and Middle Eastern American staffers in the past. The majority of our staff have always been from Illinois. We've had three veterans on staff since his time in office."

Rep. John Shimkus' 16 permanent staff in Washington and Illinois is 93 percent white, said spokesman Jordan Haverly.

"That's about the same as the 15th District, which according to the Census is 92 percent white," he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin's staff, according to last summer's Senate Democratic Diversity Initiative Democratic Senate staff survey, includes 39 percent who identified as non-Caucasian, including 8 percent who identified as Hispanic or Latino, 24 percent who identified as African-American, 10 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander, 4 percent as Middle Eastern or North African and 3 percent as Native American, Hawaiian or Alaskan.

61 percent were female, 39 percent male.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth's staff, according to the same survey last summer, was 38 percent non-Caucasian, including 9 percent who identified as Hispanic or Latino, 16 percent who identified as African-American, 11 percent as Asian or Pacific Islander, 4 percent as Middle Eastern or North African and 4 percent as Native American, Hawaiian or Alaskan.

53 percent of her staff were female, 47 percent male.

Longtime parking space

"How long can vehicles be parked on public streets that haven't been moved for weeks?"

72 hours is the limit in both Champaign and Urbana. If it sits longer than that call the police.

From the Urbana city code: "It shall be unlawful for any person to allow an inoperable vehicle to remain on any highway or other municipal property in this city for more than seventy-two consecutive hours, it being declared and determined that such inoperable vehicles are a nuisance and hazardous to the public safety because of such condition."

From Champaign's code: "Abandoned vehicle shall mean any vehicle:

— That remains parked in one location a city street or alley for seventy-two consecutive hours or more; or

— Parked in a city parking lot or in a metered space twenty-four hours in excess of the parking limit for that lot or meter; or

— Parked on a city street, alley or other public property which lacks current, legal registration; or

— Parked on a city street, alley or other public property which has a removed or destroyed or otherwise defaced VIN plate or identifiers required by law."

No stop sign coming

"I've noticed that there is no stop sign at the corner of Michigan and Ogelthorpe in Urbana. Are there plans to install one there?"

There are no plans at this time to install a stop sign at the corner of Michigan and Oglethorpe avenues, said Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray.

"Residents interested in pursuing such requests can complete a Traffic Issues/Concerns Request Form that can be found at the city's web site at or contact Craig Shonkwiler, traffic engineer, at 384-2385."

IDOT web page

"I'm curious to know who at IDOT thought it was a good idea to change the color scheme on the getting around Illinois page, and what on earth their rationale was. Red, yellow and green were obvious and easy for anybody to understand with just one glance. Now it looks like they're doing a gender reveal with their baby blues and pinks which are much harder to understand at first glance. It just seems like a really poor decision."

There were good reasons for the colors, said Kelsea Gurski at IDOT's office of communications.

— The color scheme better aligns with the National Weather Service's color palette for communicating snow and ice.

— The colors also align more closely with those used by neighboring states, creating a more seamless travel experience for those who cross state borders.

— The colors are easier for individuals who are color blind to discern.— By transitioning from the red/green/yellow colors, which already are used by most maps (including Getting Around Illinois) to communicate traffic congestion, the new winter road conditions map allows for users to see both road conditions and traffic congestion if they opt to overlay both of those "layers" on the map.

"The new interactive map, as a whole, provides far more detailed and timely information than the prior one did. In addition to the new colors, it's better technology, resulting in more accurate and timely information on road conditions," she added.

Boneyard drowning

"In one of last week's responses, (former Champaign Mayor) Dan McCollum had the following to say about the maintenance of the Boneyard before it was put underground: 'You could have left an open channel, I suppose, but that leads to another problem. The maintenance of it. People have drowned in it. It's just too closely bordered by all of those buildings.'

"This made me wonder, were there actual records or accounts of people drowning in Boneyard back in the past?"

There was a 2008 murder in which a woman was found drowned in the Boneyard ...

Windsor Swim Club property

"Is the property formerly owned by Windsor Swim Club still going to be developed by the new owners? At one time it was going to developed into a townhouse and apartment complex."

In 2015 developer Gary Olsen — who had proposed the Verdant Prairies project on the site of the old swim club — told the mailbag that "my wife, family and close friends have finally convinced me to sell our property and development plans for Verdant Prairies on Windsor and instead devote my time to family, travel and volunteer work with Rotary and Shelterbox USA."

But the property is still owned by the Olsen family.

John Schneider, Urbana's community development manager, said that since the city council approved a plan for the 4-acre site in February 2014 it "has not received any construction plans for the proposed project."

Old farmstead

"What is the deal with the rundown farmstead on South Mattis just past Kirby?"

I assume you're referring to the old farmstead south of Windsor Road, not Kirby. It's zoned agriculture, it is not in the city of Champaign, it is owned by the Lo family and there's nothing pending at the county planning and zoning office with regard to the property.

Ordinance violation collections

"How much do the city of Urbana and city of Champaign collect on city ordinance violations per year?"

It varies. In recent years in Urbana it has ranged from almost $39,000 to about $23,000.

For calendar year 2016, the city of Champaign collected $519,643 in ordinance violations.


Main Street underpass

"I enjoy the local history section on A-2 of the published newspaper. Many days I am left with questions about the history listed. For example, the 1/17/2018 edition discussed both a coal shortage 100 years ago and a proposal to put a viaduct under the ICRR tracks at Main Street. Was that $1 million viaduct representative of the viaduct that was built there, north of the Champaign Police Station, or was the $1 million the cost to provide an underpass accessible to vehicular traffic? Has The News-Gazette considered expanding this tiny section of the paper to add even just one or two more sentences to provide more context to each story?"In response to your first question, the $1 million cost was to build a vehicular underpass, with approaches. And it was, engineers said, a proposal based on "absolutely minimum standards."

Here's how The News-Gazette described the changes that would have to be made:

"According to (engineer Eugene) Dailey's report the entire existing pedestrian underpass structure would have to be removed, and a new 56-foot-wide, steel deck bridge constructed over a 44-foot roadway.

"Construction of approaches would require the intersection of Chestnut and Main streets to be lowered about three feet, Dailey said, which would make curb heights along Main Street at that point unusually high.

"Main street would begin to drop off at Market Street, he said, and Chestnut would begin to drop in front of the Illinois Central passenger station entrance.

"The clearance under the bridge would be only 12 foot, 6 inches, lower than the minimum required by the Illinois State Highway Department."

I think we can see why that expanded viaduct never came about.

As for expanding the page 2 history section, it has not been discussed. I can tell you, though, that often the online version is longer than the version that appears in the newspaper. Just like the mailbag.

Digitized News-Gazette

"I am a subscriber to which provides a digitized, searchable archive of historical newspapers. In addition to the Chicago Tribune their archive includes the Bloomington Pantagraph and the Decatur Herald. Is there any chance that The News-Gazette could add their archive to this site or perhaps make it available in some other way?"

News-Gazette Publisher John Reed responds: "While I won't rule out our future participation, we have no immediate plans to make our archives searchable on this platform. As technology evolves, we regularly review various products to make our historical record available to the public and will consider this option as a possibility in the future."

Curse words in newspapers

"My question is a journalistic one. Regarding the reporting of President Trump's recent comments which include a common curse word, many media outlets are repeating or publishing the curse word verbatim. Is this because it was spoken by the president? It seems the usual reporting of something of this nature would be to use something like, "s___hole countries," in print media and in broadcast media to say something like, "s-word hole countries."

You are correct. It matters who says it and in this case it wasn't just the fact that they were the words of President Trump. But it was an utterly newsworthy quote. Here the president was using an adjective — it doesn't matter that it was "nasty" or "undesirable" or "shithole" or "shithouse" — to make a judgment about which countries from which he felt the United States should accept immigrants.

"The specific, vulgar language the president was reported to have used was really central to the news here," New York Times associate managing editor for standards told the Washington Post. "So it seemed pretty clear to all of us that we should quote the language directly. We wanted to make sure readers would fully understand what the story was about."

The Associated Press used the word in its stories but newspapers and other media outlets were free to tidy up the word to meet their own standards.

"It would be futile to mask the word when the language itself, in reference to Haiti and African countries, was so extraordinary," said John Daniszewski, the AP vice president for standards.

The News-Gazette didn't use the word in print — instead using "(expletive) countries," "slur," "vulgarity" — but did permit it in online versions, sort of the same dichotomy seen on television. Cable news used it verbatim (except Fox News) while broadcast news (except NBC) didn't.

There is some recent precedent here. In a 2010 interview with NBC the network let President Obama use a curse word, albeit a much more tame one: "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick."

Then there was Joe Biden who in 2010 was overheard using what the movie "A Christmas Story" called "The queen mother of dirty words."

Biden was heard telling Obama "this is a big deal" as the president signed the Affordable Care Act.

In that case Fox News reported that quote in its entirety.

Posting N-G stories online

"How come the stories posted online on The News-Gazette Web site all say they're posted at 7 a.m.? I would appreciate some transparency here. If a story isn't posted online until 9:30, I think the story should say 9:30. To say all stories are posted at 7 a.m. is misleading. I know this is splitting hairs, but the truth is important."

The mailbag turns to Niko Dugan, the News-Gazette's online editor for the explanation: "This is an issue with our software accidentally burying stories.

"Outside of breaking news, which goes up as quickly and accurately as possible, we aim to publish content on our website when our metrics tell us the most potential readers are online — generally between early morning and late evening."This means that a lot of stories filed later in the evening are held and scheduled to appear online at 7 a.m. the next day — the same time that the print edition carrying the same content should be on doorsteps.

"Occasionally, the software has a hiccup. At the appointed hour, it dutifully publishes the content, creating the timestamp seen next to the byline, but does not file it in the right areas of the site where readers can see it. We check for this and move these errant stories out of limbo but typically don't update the timestamp when doing so.

"We're working on ways to prevent this, and in the meantime, we'll do our best to update timestamps when it happens. Subscribers also have an automatic backup by way of the eEdition (, which is updated with the current day's paper exactly as it appears in print by 3 a.m. each day."

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