Tom's #Mailbag, April 6, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, April 6, 2018

Questions for Tom? Ask them here

Some pretty good questions to the mailbag this week and some less than pretty good ones. Kinda like the weather. And the Cubs. And the Blues. Oh, the Blues are killing me, Smalls. (Happy 25th birthday, "Sandlot".)

Let us, as my late father often told me, focus on the good: questions about distracted driving citations issued locally, that Champaign school district warehouse purchase, smoking fines assessed in Vermilion County, the next electronics recycling event, the Urbana (non-)Free Library and some practice runs for the Champaign Fire Department.

Electronics recycling

"Is there a place where I can take an old computer, monitor and modem for disposal?"

Good timing.

The next local electronics recycling event will be from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, May 19 at Parkland College. (There will be another one in October as well).

Online registration for the May collection begins at 8 a.m. Monday. You must register at

The collection is open to almost every resident of Champaign County. Those communities not participating include Allerton, Foosland, Longview, Philo, St. Joseph and Tolono. The latter three are having their own collections this spring.

Eligible residents who register online can bring up to 10 items. There also is a limit of two TVs per person.

You can bring your computer, monitor and modem, along with printers, videocassette recorders, fax machines, DVD players, video game consoles, scanners, satellite receivers, ink and toner cartridges, microwaves, cellphones, Christmas lights and rechargeable batteries.

More information is available at

Certain computer monitors also can be recycled at Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and Staples. Certain other electronics can be taken to Mervis Recycling, Best Buy and Mack's Twin City Recycling.

Distracted driving citations

"Illinois' distracted driving laws restrict the use of hand-held devices (cell phones) while driving. While traversing the Champaign-Urbana area I encounter distracted drivers on a daily basis. I am wondering how many citations have been issued for Distracted Driving by state and local police departments in the Champaign-Urbana area during the past year?"

Thanks much to Champaign County Circuit Court Clerk Katie Blakeman for providing the following information: in 2017 the Champaign Police Department issued 204 citations for violations of 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2, the use of electronic communication devices while driving.

The Urbana Police Department issued 511 citations during the same period.

So far this year Champaign has issued 37 citations and Urbana has handed out 188.

Agency Name 2017 2018           Total
Champaign County Sheriff's Office 24 10 34
Champaign Police Department 204 37 241
Fisher Police Department 10 2 12
Gifford Police Department                    0 1 1
Homer Police Department 11 1 12
Illinois State Police 84 21 105
Mahomet Police Department 9 3 12
Parkland Police Department 11 1 12
Rantoul Police Department 127 14 141
Thomasboro Police Department 2                    0 2
Tolono Police Department 8 1 9
University of Illinois Police 28 2 30
Urbana Police Department 511 188 699
Totals 1,029 281 1,310


Former Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly made enforcement of distracted driving laws a point of emphasis and his successor, Sylvia Morgan, has continued the practice.

"We do run STEP (Selective Traffic Enforcement Program) details specifically targeting people using their cell phones while driving," said Morgan. "Using your cellphone while driving is extremely hazardous and is against state law. We feel strongly about the importance of trying to cut down on accidents related to distracted driving and as such, we will continue to vigorously enforce this particular traffic law."

More on school district's Pioneer Drive purchase

Last week we were asked to get more details on the Champaign school district's decision to pay $1,519,656 to Shapland Realty for a warehouse at 806-808 Pioneer Drive.

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get appraisals of the property, details on improvements being done by the seller and whether other properties were considered for purchase.

The school district responded with information on the appraisal and the improvements being made but denied our request to find out whether other properties were considered, citing exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. We will ask the state attorney general's office to review that denial.


Meanwhile, the appraisal of the 15,360 square foot warehouse on a 34,328 square foot site, done by Whitsitt & Associates, shows that it is valued at $690,000. The building is 36 years old, the appraisal said, and is in average condition.

In addition the sale agreement calls on the seller to provide a long list of improvements valued at $994,656, including electrical, HVAC, sprinkler system, insulation, plumbing, interior framing and roofing work.

Non-free library?

"Why is it called the Urbana Free Library? Are there libraries that at one time weren't free?"

Actually there were libraries that were not free.

So says Celeste Choate, the executive director of the Urbana Free Library, and Anke Voss, the director of the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana library.

"The Illinois Public Library Act of 1872 authorized townships to establish free public libraries, but there were indeed libraries prior to that act which weren't free. Two kinds of fee-based libraries were 'association libraries' in which members had to pay a fee, and 'circulating libraries' in which people would pay to check out books like video stores do now," they wrote in response to your question.

Although an attempt was made to form an Urbana Library Association in 1854, according to "The Story of The Urbana Free Library: Its Early Days, 1874-1949," (, it was not until two decades later that the idea finally came to fruition.

"In 1872, Urbana men united themselves into a 'Young Men's Library Association of Urbana,' shortly thereafter renamed as the 'Urbana Library Association.' In early February 1873, the reading room was opened, and for a small fee (however, the fee was apparently only required for a short time) anyone could spend the evening among 'the literature of the times.' even the 'ladies,'" they wrote. "Meanwhile, on March 7, 1872, Governor John M. Palmer had signed the Public Library Act, authorizing cities, incorporated towns and townships to establish and maintain free public libraries and reading rooms 'for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of each city.'

"The act had passed the Illinois House by a vote of 124-4, and the Senate by a vote of 34-1 in favor. On July 2, 1874, the Urbana Town Council (not a city yet) created what we know as The Urbana Free Library today. The Association donated its assets to this new venture, and we are grateful for everyone's support of the library from its inception to the present day. In 2018, The Urbana Free Library is 144 years old and is celebrating 100 years in its current location in July. We look forward to celebrating our home in downtown Urbana with our community."

No April fool

"I noticed on Sunday (April Fool's Day) that The News-Gazette released an article saying that they would be disabling comments. I assumed it was an April Fool's joke, but it ended up being true. I totally understand the reasoning for doing so and don't take issue with that, but was the timing intentional or otherwise a factor?"

Would you suspect the same thing of everything else printed in last Sunday's newspaper?

Here's John Reed, the CEO and publisher of The News-Gazette: "To the best of my knowledge, this newspaper has never published a news item as an April Fool's joke. That's certainly true during my tenure as publisher and I can assure you that we never will as long as I'm around. It doesn't make for a very interesting answer, but the only factor at play with respect to the timing is that I never considered for a second that someone might interpret as anything other than what it was."

Building renovations

"I have noticed some construction work going on at the old Sullivan Chevrolet building at 500 North Walnut St. Wasn't there going to be a grocery store there at one time or another?"

About three years ago the Common Ground Food Coop announced that it would build a second store at the site. But in August 2016 it cancelled the plans.

Now, a building permit has been issued for the property for extensive exterior alterations to ready the building for future retail and business occupancies, said Larry Happ, the building safety supervisor for the city of Champaign.


Smoking fines in Vermilion County

"How many bars in Vermilion County has the health department fined for smoking? How much have they collected in the last 12 months? Also, how much overtime have they shelled out for night and weekend, after business hours surprise inspections?"

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request for your information over the last three years.

First of all, no overtime pay reported.

There was one fine assessed in 2016 that brought in a $250 fine.

There were no fines in 2017.

So far in 2018 there have been two fines assessed that have brought in $250.

Daniel Balgeman, the director of environmental health for the Vermilion County Health Department, said that the agency receives 50 percent of fines collected and that the rest goes to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Fire department practice

"The last couple of days (April 2 and 3) on my way to my office, I have seen a big presence of the Champaign Fire Department in the 1400-1500 block of West Kirby Avenue and no evidence of a fire. Are they practicing for various situations in life-saving prior to a building that is soon to be demolished?"

Yes, said Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig, "for a three-day period we were training on a property that is set to be demolished in the 1500 block of Kirby. There is no live fire but we use theatrical smoke to simulate limited visibility environments. We also practiced stretching hose lines, breaching walls, cutting holes in the roof, and other firefighter drills such as venting, entering and search (VES).

"Late last year, we practiced stretching hose lines to the 3rd floor of a vacant fraternity building just prior to it being demolished. That drill helped us to aggressively and quickly extinguish the 3rd-floor attic fire at the Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church at State and University this past January before the fire destroyed the church. Prior to the three-day drill, we issued advisories on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed. You can follow us on Twitter at @ChampaignFire.”


Property assessments
“Property tax assessors have been in the news a lot lately. How many assessors are there in Champaign County and how do they relate to each other? 

“There’s a county assessor that handles property tax bills and periodically sends out adjustments, but there’s also a township assessor. What do they both do?”

Paula Bates, the supervisor of assessments for Champaign County, explains the process:

"There are 30 townships in Champaign County. We have 19 township assessors. There are seven multi-township assessors and 12 township assessors that are elected, or contracted by the townships," she said. "The township assessors assess all real property in their jurisdictions and turn in their work to the county assessment office yearly.

"The supervisor of assessments also has assessment authority to assess or make adjustments (equalization factors). Our office also maintains tax maps, property record cards, taxpayer names and addresses, property tax exemptions, assessment notices, provides clerical assistance to the board of review, and provides assistance to the township assessors."

Park trash receptacles

"A few weeks ago, the Urbana Park District removed some of the trash receptacles at Blair Park and moved others. Now there are no trash receptacles near either entrance to the south tennis courts and only one set of receptacles near the north courts — but they've been moved from adjacent to the east entrance to the courts to 20 yards east, near Vine Street. Their location is not obvious for anyone playing tennis. There no longer is receptacle serving the playground. This all seems like a formula for increased littering — when parents with children can't find a place to throw a snack wrapper, tennis players can't find a place to toss their tennis ball cans, etc."

Tim Bartlett, the executive director of the Urbana Park District, asked that you call the agency with your concerns.

"The Urbana Park District has had multiple requests over the past few years to reduce/eliminate the need to routinely drive the garbage truck in the parks, especially around tree root zones/drip lines and where children play, to pick up the daily trash and for the district to consider adding more recycling stations in the parks/outdoor facilities," he said. "Our response has been to conduct an inventory and analysis of all the garbage cans at parks and outdoor facilities to determine the level of service necessary at each location and better gage the amount of refuse collected on a daily/weekly basis.

"The results have allowed us to: reduce the number of underutilized cans in the parks/outdoor facilities, relocate the remaining cans to key points of access within parks near the edges/along paved routes, improve efficiency of staff time, save fuel by limiting the number of route stops, and to increase the number of recycling stations in our parks."

At Blair Park, he said, "we have removed three trash cans, relocated six trash cans to the edges of the park for safer access and added recycling options. And the UPD plans to expand recycling at other parks in the future. The result has provided less soil compaction around tree root zones, improved safety conditions where children play in the parks and more recycled content coming from park sites.

"In addition, staff has not reported more trash around the parks. The UPD is still adjusting numbers and locations based on any changing conditions. Please call our planning and operations facility at 344-9583, if we can provide more information and/or meet with any residents to address any site specific situations."

Chiropractic and the flu

"I noticed a sign outside the chiropractic office on Neil Street stating 'Chiropractics will decrease the risk of getting the flu.' Are they legally allowed to write something like that on a public sign? Seems like people could get hurt from something like that."

I checked with the Federal Trade Commisison and they said they have no role in claims made by chiropractors.

Dr. Doug Matzner, who is a Champaign chiropractor and a member of the State Medical Licensing Board in Illinois, said that research published in peer-reviewed journals showed that chiropractic helps boost your immune system.

"Now, is it dangerous? I think it's pretty well established that manipulation is not dangerous," he said. "In fact it's one of the safest forms of care that you can get."

Gere's Hangar

"A friend bought a mechanical pencil at Gordyville with the words 'Gere's Hangar Route 45 Thomasboro, Ill. Phone 018' inscribed on it. Can you provide any more information?"

Not a lot. I couldn’t find any reference to it in News-Gazette files, in city directories or in the Thomasboro Centennial history.

But our friends at the Champaign County Historical Archives, in particular Karla Gerdes and Donica Martin, found a 1996 obituary for Everett Adams of Rantoul that said that he and his wife “had owned and operated Gere’s Hangar in Thomasboro for many years.”

And they heard from Carole Sworthwood, whose parents bought Gere’s Hanger from her mother’s sister and her husband.

Martin wrote: “Mrs. Sworthwood said her parents (Emma and Everett Adams) owned the restaurant/nightclub from the mid-1940s to early 1950s. She said it was a thriving business with the main draw being fresh Canadian fish on Friday nights and farm fresh pan fried chicken on Saturdays.”

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