Tom's #Mailbag, March 16, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, March 16, 2018

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Happy St. Patrick's Day Eve and Four Days Until All the Slimy Political TV Ads Are Gone Day.

This week's 'Bag sets a record with no infrastructure questions for either Kris Koester at the city of Champaign or Kensil Garnett at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Hope you enjoyed your week off, gentlemen.

But there are questions about snakes in central Illinois, a kidnapping in C-U 47 years ago, a Savoy eyesore, sidewalks in Blair Park, the weekend provision count at the Original Pancake House, whether Betsy Dirksen Londrigan is related to Everett Dirksen, the history of primary election dates in Illinois and whether Carle Hospital is still a regional trauma center.


Front page news

"My question is can you can search The News-Gazette archives from over 40 years ago for a story I'm interested in. I was an undergrad (a senior) at the UI in October 1971. One day, I and three other people (two of them also students) were kidnapped at gunpoint from our apartment and three of us were put in the trunk of a car (the other was in the front seat). After a harrowing drive, we were released unharmed about an hour later. I'd like to get a copy of the newspaper article about this (it was the front page story) if possible."

Here you go. There on the front page of the afternoon edition of Oct. 5, 1971, was the story of Jordanian immigrant Munir All Saleh, who abducted three women and a man from an Urbana apartment. At gunpoint he forced the man and two of the women into the trunk while the third woman — whom he had been stalking and claimed he wanted to marry — was forced into the front seat. The woman in the front seat jumped out of the car while it was stopped in downtown Champaign. A nearby mailman got a description of the car and its license plate and called Champaign police. Meanwhile, the three people in the trunk were released in north Champaign. Saleh said he was "sorry" and drove off. He later was stopped in Rantoul and arrested. None of the four victims was injured.

Snakes on the plains

"After reading the article about Snake Road in southern Illinois, I started wondering what species of snakes are found here in central Illinois? Have any new species been found over the last few years, with the milder winters?"

"Illinois has 38 species of snakes which occur across a diversity of habitats," said Michael J. Dreslik, a population ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey. "Here in central Illinois, we have several species of snakes soon emerging from their overwintering slumber.

"Some large species like the Prairie Kingsnake, Eastern Foxsnake and Gray Ratsnake can grow to a few feet long. Some small species like the Dekay's Brownsnake and Ring-necked Snake live in the leaf litter or duff in grasslands. We also find two types of gartersnakes, the Plains Gartersnake and Common Gartersnake, which feed on earthworms, amphibians and arthropods."

There are three species of watersnakes in central Illinois: the Common Watersnake, Diamond-backed Watersnake and Plainbelly Watersnake, he said.

"Cottonmouths do not occur in central Illinois, as they inhabit the swampy habitats of extreme southern Illinois and some floodplains of the Mississippi River. As for rattlesnakes, the diminutive Eastern Massasauga was historically found in central Illinois; unfortunately, it now currently faces extinction across its range," he said.

Finally, as to whether new species are moving northward with the warmer winters, Dreslik said, "Although it seems the winters are getting warmer, especially as spring approaches, we have not seen any new species of snakes moving into Illinois, we just see snakes emerging from their winter slumber sooner."

Illinois' early primary

"I was wondering why Illinois primaries are usually so early. Most states seem to have theirs in mid- to late summer."

You might think that the primary election date is early so to somehow make things convenient for voters.

However ...

This is Illinois and of course there's a more sinister explanation.

It's all in a Nov. 30, 1970, story from the Chicago Tribune.

It recounts that between 1922 and 1965 party primaries in Illinois always were held on the second Tuesday in April.

In 1965 the Legislature changed the date to the second Tuesday in June. Fifty years ago, for example, it was held on June 11.

"A bill backed by the (Gov. Richard) Ogilvie administration was passed during the 1969 session changing the primary election date to the third Tuesday in March," the Tribune story said. "The main purpose of the change was to get all electioneering out of the way before the Legislature met for even-numbered year budgetary sessions in April."

Sounds like a reasonable explanation, right? But the unnamed author of the story shed additional light on the change, explaining that it had to do with the passage in 1969 of the first state income tax.

"Observers also considered it a move to protect incumbent legislators from wrath over the state income tax, noting that income tax returns were due on April 15.

"The March date also made candidates campaign in winter months, causing hardship to independents who lacked party organization and needed access to the voters to get their names known."

That's probably why the primary date has remained in March.— There was one year, however, when it was moved to early February. The 2008 primary was on Feb. 5., a maneuver Democrats pushed through to give favorite-son Barack Obama some early momentum in his drive to the presidential nomination.

— One more interesting item I was informed of by a good colleague and pal in Springfield, former Chicago Sun-Times reporter (and now University of Illinois-Springfield professor) Charlie Wheeler: the first March primary was in 1970 and the third Tuesday that month fell on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.

In those days state law prohibited the sale of liquor while the polls were open, creating another problem. So the state auditor, a fine Irishman named Michael Howlett, asked the Legislature to make March 16 a state holiday, St. Patrick's Day Eve, so that Irishmen and women could celebrate.

The Dirksen surname

"Is Betsy Dirksen Londrigan any relation to our famous Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen?"

According to Londrigan spokeswoman Kate Martucci, the connection is part of family lore but it was never verified.

"From what I understand her great aunt told her throughout her childhood that he was a cousin but her husband (Tom) did the genealogy and got them back to adjacent villages in Germany," Martucci said. "So the answer is that we don't know for sure."


Blair Park sidewalks

"Some years back, there were plans to complete the sidewalks on the north and west sides of Blair Park in Urbana, but those have never been built. Are there still plans to do so and, if so, is there a timeline?"

The park district has included adding walks on the north and west sides of Blair Park in its planned master plan update for the park, said Tim Bartlett, executive director of the Urbana Park District.

"We have done some preliminary planning but do not have a plan schedule in place at this time. Further, we have worked with the city of Urbana — they have an interest also in completing their city sidewalk plan to include Blair Park," said Bartlett. "We have agreed to work together to add them when additional sidewalk projects are being bid and/or when the UPD begins to update the park plan.

"We have a few sites like Blair Park that will allow both the UPD and the city of Urbana to work cooperatively to get key connections in place. Considering we envision a new playground, pavilion improvements and other critical park updates, additional walks on north and west side would be key to those improvements."

Park lights?

"Morrissey Park has had light post concrete pads poured around the perimeter of the walking path sidewalk for several years now. Does the Champaign Park District ever plan to install permanent light posts?"

"There are no plans to add lights to Morrissey Park at this time and we believe the concrete bases are actually for drainage in the park," said Joe DeLuce, executive director of the Champaign Park District.

Champaign employee photos, public safety physical requirements

"Two questions concerning city of Champaign employees: 1) Why aren't all employees required to have their photos posted on the city's web site under each department's 'Meet the Staff' feature? Many of these individuals make well over $100,000/yr. Why don't the taxpayers get to see what these employees look like?

"And what are the physical requirements concerning weight and height for police officers and firefighters in Champaign?"

"Thank you for your inquiry and for exploring the city of Champaign's revamped website — We're nearing completion of a redesign of the city's website, and the new 'Meet the Staff' feature is being implemented as a way to share more information about the employees working for our city," said Jeff Hamilton, the city's communications manager. "We are still working to improve and make this feature more consistent across all department web pages, but once completed, photos of all department heads and managers will be included on our site.

"Some of the city's larger departments have more than 100 employees, and it would be challenging to create a manageable and useful web page to display photos and information about that many people. Next month we will launch another new website feature that we believe the public will also find useful — a searchable city staff directory. The staff directory will list full-time employees by department/division, and will include employee names, job titles and contact information."

As for the question about physical requirements, Hamilton said the city "has rigorous standards for those employed by the city's police and fire departments. The physical requirements to become a sworn member of either department are based on ensuring the individual is physically capable of performing his/her job duties; not specific height or weight restrictions.

"Before an individual can serve as a Champaign Police Officer or Firefighter, applicants must pass a comprehensive evaluation process that includes a physical abilities test and medical examination. Entry-level Police Officers attend the Police Training Institute, which requires participants to first successfully pass the Peace Officer Wellness and Evaluation Report (POWER) Test. The POWER Test is designed to reflect the physical demands of law enforcement activities. Entry-level Firefighters, likewise, must pass a Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) and a Ladder Climb exercise.

"The CPAT is designed to assess an individual's physical ability to perform the tasks performed by a firefighter in the line of duty. All sworn members of the police and fire departments (including command staff) must also undergo a biennial medical examination to ensure the individual is healthy and physically capable of doing their job."

Savoy "eyesore"

"Does the Village of Savoy have an ordinance restricting a hoard outside a private residence? If so, does that relate to a business? The outdoor items at the consignment store at Dunlap and Old Church looks more like a hoard than a business with everything sitting outside the building. It's an eyesore on a heavily traveled road."

"This local business offers collectibles that people seek and it's similar to other businesses that have outdoor sales," Savoy Mayor Joan Dykstra said. "They have been cooperative in adjusting their outdoor presentation when requested by the village.

"However, there is no doubt that this can present a fairly cluttered look. Savoy's long-term goal is to develop the whole block into a wonderful mixed-use development."

She said the village already owns about two-thirds of the block.

Carle Hospital designation

"Is Carle still a Level I Trauma Center? I was told they no longer have a neurosurgeon on staff and patients are taken to Peoria to the closest one. If they are, I'm curious how they still have the designation without a neurosurgeon."

Carle Foundation Hospital is a state-designated Level I Trauma Center and one of only four hospitals south of the Chicago area to achieve the rating, noted Carle public relations coordinator Laura Mabry. She said that neurosurgery patients do not have to be transferred outside of Carle.

"For the distinctive Level I status, Carle meets strict guidelines regarding patient care and is certified to care for the most critically injured patients 24/7. Carle's Level 1 Trauma Center designation comes with a host of requirements, which include neurosurgical coverage," she said. "Since Carle attained Level 1 Trauma Center designation in 1988, nearly 30 years ago, it has maintained uninterrupted neurosurgical coverage and continues to meet all the necessary requirements for a Level 1 Trauma Center.

"We are pleased to offer patients throughout the region access to life-saving care and treatment close to home."

Lots of vittles

"We ate at the Original Pancake House last weekend, and were seated near the coffee station with the orange juice machine. As we watched pot after pot of coffee being made and saw the juice machine go through a hopper of oranges, only to be refilled, we got to wondering: how much coffee, oranges, butter, eggs, etc. does OHOP go through during an average weekend?"

Megan Craciun, the general manager of the restaurant in west Champaign, was kind enough to add it all up:

— 140 12-cup bags of coffee (approximately 13,400 ounces of coffee)

— 800 oranges

— 80 pounds of butter

— 2,100 ounces of eggs

Still nothing happening

"What's up with the recent development on the northwest corner of Springfield and Mattis Avenue? They tore down the church and a couple houses. Perhaps I missed something in the paper. Is it going to be a CVS or other pharmacy?"

No, you didn't miss anything. There is no development yet.

For the third time, no permit applications have been submitted for the site, said Champaign Building Safety Supervisor Larry Happ.

I have declared a moratorium on questions about this site.

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