Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 17, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 17, 2018

Have a question you want answered? Ask our veteran reporter by clicking here.

Some fun questions this week — about the origin of the business called Kam's and the bell on display at Willard Airport — and some not-so-fun ones, such as the insinuation that The News-Gazette is paid to publish stories about military veterans.

Also queries about election security, a number of traffic intersections, voices of the Illini, political signs, an MTD bus stop, dockless bikes in Savoy and our moral obligation to pick up after others.


Champaign's artificial turf

"How will the new AstroTurf field by Centennial be paid for? Sure hope I'm not helping."

Of course you're helping, it's a public facility on public land. The renovation is part of the $183.4 million bond issue approved by Champaign voters in November 2016.

Urbana High School has had artificial turf football and soccer fields since 2011.

Here's Anthony Zilis' video of the turf from above


Election security

"What efforts are being made locally to secure our election system?"

The voting and vote-counting system locally is and has been secure, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, because it is not connected to the internet.

"The fact that it is completely offline — the term we use is that it is 'air-gapped,' meaning that there is literally a physical gap between the machines and the internet — that air gap gives us a significant level of security that protects us from hacking of our voting systems, the machines that produce the results," he said.

There is also pre-election testing of all voting machines, a process that is open to the public, political parties, candidates and the news media, said Hulten. There is also a post-election audit of certain precincts to make sure that tabulating is accurate.

Further, every vote in Champaign County, where optical scan ballots are used, leaves a paper trail. Some states use electronic voting machines that don't leave that paper trail.

In 2016, he noted, the Illinois State Board of Elections voter registration records were hacked, allegedly by Russian hackers. But there is no evidence, he said, that records were altered.

That's a separate system from Champaign County's voting system, which is completely offline.

"It never touches the internet, and never touches any computers that ever touch the internet," he said. "It is very decentralized. It is owned by Champaign County and maintained and operated and programmed here by Champaign County. It's the same case generally for the other 109 election jurisdictions in Illinois. We each have our own separate, offline voting system."

He said that the county is "significantly more confident that our voting systems are secure."

The voter registration system is a different story because it is online and contains information that has to be shared with other election jurisdictions, such as other county clerks and the State Board of Elections "for the expressed purpose of comparing voter registrations across the state of Illinois. The very fact that our voter registration system is connected to the internet makes it vulnerable."

He said the county works with the state board and the FBI and other federal agencies "to make sure that those connections for our voter registration system are as secure as we can make them."

The state board got about $13 million in the latest state budget to improve security, he said.

Finally, he stressed that the State Board of Elections does not count votes on Election Day under Illinois' decentralized system. In fact, it doesn't officially accept and aggregate the votes from various jurisdictions until weeks after Election Day.


Altgeld bells

"There's a bell for the Altgeld (Hall) bell tower at Willard Airport in front of the TSA line. When I was a student in the late 1990s there was a fundraising effort to either replace or complete the set of bells in Altgeld. I believe there was a display in the Illini Union about how many bells were needed and the cost of the different sizes.

"What is the status of that and is the bell at Willard part of the same effort? Did they get funding for all of the bells they wanted or is it still incomplete? Since that time a second bell tower was built on the South Quad. Does that supersede the Altgeld bell project? I know the Altgeld tower has very limited number of notes that make it hard to play, and the south tower likely has three or more complete octaves based on what I can count. Is the bell at Willard eventually destined to go somewhere or is it a permanent attraction for the TSA line."

University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler has the answers:

"The bell at Willard is there as a permanent display, but it is the same bell that was once used to build support for donations to an effort to complete the set of bells in the Altgeld tower. At some point in the fundraising effort, structural engineers determined that the tower could not support a full set of bells, so the 'sample' bell was moved to Willard as a way to greet visitors and highlight the Altgeld bells."The renovation of the bell area is completed, and both the manual and automated systems are working."


Origin of Kam's

"Why is KAMs called KAMs?"

It's a shortened version of the Kamerer family name. Martin Kamerer was the original owner of Campustown staples Kamerer's Pharmacy and Kammerer's Annex. The former was at 602 E. Daniel St. and the latter at 608 E. Daniel St.

Martin Kamerer owned both, said his son Jack Kamerer, and later operated the Marty K's drive-in on University Avenue.

Originally, Jack Kamerer said, Kamerer's Annex was a restaurant that was especially popular on Sunday evenings when students flocked there for food because residence halls did not serve Sunday dinners. It evolved into a bar and at one time, he said, reportedly poured more beer than any establishment south of Chicago.


Political yard signs

"Roadside political campaign signs seem to be appearing earlier than ever this year (in especially large quantities for a certain candidate). My questions are:

1) Who in their right mind would vote for a candidate simply because they see the candidate's name on a roadside sign, i.e., are there really people who are that dumb?

2) Is it legal for candidates to place their signs on public property, i.e., street corners, boulevards, parks, etc.? If not, why is nothing done about it?

3) Why are almost all roadside campaign signs for Democrat candidates?"

Let me answer your question with a question: who would vote for a candidate simply because they see the candidate's cheery (or negative) 30-second TV spots?

Now that that is established, we'll address the rest of your questions:

1) How can it possibly hurt a candidate to get her/his name out in the public, particularly in a local election where TV advertising would be much too expensive.

And as Gordy Hulten — who ran campaigns before he became county clerk — noted, "As a candidate signs are valuable to me because they are in each instance a mini-endorsement from the property owner."

2) In Urbana it is legal to place political signs in the right of way. From the city's website: "Signs that are for short-term, timed use shall be allowed in the city's right-of-way as long as the signs are removed immediately following the event. Such signs would include garage sale signs, political campaign signs, significant University of Illinois events (i.e. IHSA tournaments) and fund-raising advertisements for non-profit agencies (i.e. UBA events, Festival of Lights)."

But property owners can remove any political campaign sign directly in front of their property on the public right-of-way.

In Champaign no one is permitted, other than "signs erected by the city or its agents," from placing any signs in the public right of way at any time, said Zoning Administrator Kevin Phillips.

3) Hulten said that he and other local Republican candidates will put their yard signs out "in the next couple of weeks."

He said he believes that signs that go up any earlier "may potentially annoy voters."


Voices of the Illini

"Who was the Voice of the Illini before Brian Barnhart? Does a list of past broadcasters exist anywhere?"

Before Brian it was Jim Turpin, who broadcast Illinois sports from 1980 to 2002. Before Turpin Larry Stewart was the "Voice of the Illini," at least locally on WDWS. There was a long period at the UI, Barnhart said, when several different radio networks and stations broadcast Illini games. For example, Stewart was on one radio network in the 1960s and '70s, while Watseka broadcaster Dick Martin had his own. Neither Barnhart nor I are aware of any list of past UI sports broadcasters.


Champaign intersection

"Near Clark Park, McKinley (Avenue) t-bones at Daniel (Street) with no stop sign. I have witnessed several near accidents. Are motorists heading south on McKinley expected to stop? I'm guessing a stop sign would solve the confusion."

Champaign Public Works Department spokesman Kris Koester said staff will review whether a stop sign is needed.

"According to the State of Illinois Secretary of State's Rules of the Road," he wrote, "'A driver must yield the right of way to other drivers, bicyclists or pedestrians: To cross traffic when on the terminating highway of a 'T' intersection with no traffic control signs or signals."'

"As a rule, the city of Champaign does not normally place stop signs in these situations. However, there are instances where a stop sign has been installed to remind drivers to give right of way to cross traffic. The decision to place signs at an intersection is based on whether the intersection has visibility issues, high pedestrian traffic, or a history of crashes. City staff will take a look at this specific intersection to see if any of these conditions exist, which would warrant the installation of a sign."


North Urbana intersection

"On the corner of North Kenyon Road and Cunningham Avenue, the turn arrow traffic light comes on as the same time as the walk light. While walking across this avenue with the walk light on, I've almost been hit six times by people who are just in hurry to get somewhere. I even wear a lime-colored construction vest when crossing. I was told to call the city of Urbana of Public Works. It said that it didn't know if the state or city owned the road. It never got back to me on the issue. Can the walk light and the turn arrow be synchronized to come on at different times to stop drivers from running over people?"

Bill Gray, Urbana's Public Works director, noted that Cunningham Avenue (US 45) in Urbana is a state highway under the authority of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"Urbana's Public Works Department works cooperatively with IDOT in managing and maintaining IDOT's traffic signals. The Public Works traffic signal technician has checked the traffic signal equipment at Kenyon Road and it is functioning properly," he said. "Motorists and pedestrians always need to use caution especially when travelling along a very busy state route."


Central Urbana intersection

"In Urbana at Main & Lincoln there are dashed white spray paint markings indicating extensions of the center median farther into the intersection. There are similar markings starting at curb line of Lincoln, extending in arcs at the four corners into the parking, about 5 feet from curb. Is the city planning some sort of overhaul to this area?"

We turned to Bill Gray for this question as well.

"Yes, the city is planning on widening the medians and installing curb bumpouts at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Main Street," he said. "There are plans to also install enhanced pedestrian/bicycle signage that will include flashing lights. This work is in the planning stage and will likely occur in calendar year 2019.

"The Lincoln Avenue and Main Street intersection has been identified as a difficult intersection to cross by pedestrians and bicyclists heading to and from the University of Illinois campus to downtown Urbana. These improvements will shorten the street crossing distance and alert motorists of pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the street. The dashed white spray lines are the approximate location for the edge of the improvements. These temporary markings helped city staff visualize the improvements but more importantly staff worked with the fire department to run a fire truck through the intersection to confirm computer simulations of a fire truck turning would work in the real world."


Champaign school playgrounds

We got a few emails from people pointing out an error in last week's Mailbag about playgrounds at schools within the Champaign school district. The school district and I share the blame for misreporting that Carrie Busey School (which at one time was in Champaign and is now in Savoy) sits adjacent to a Champaign Park District playground. It does not.

"The village of Savoy developed, designed and paid for the land, ball field and playground for Savoy residents and in anticipation of an elementary school being placed on the Unit 4 property," said Savoy Mayor Joan Dykstra. "We're very proud of our beautiful prairie park and welcome anyone who wants to use it!"

Carrie Busey is adjacent to the William A. Smith Park at Prairie Fields in Savoy.


Dockless bikes in Savoy?

"The story about C-U's first shareable bike service — — says the (University of Illinois) and the cities of Champaign and Urbana, "solidified an intergovernmental agreement" earlier this year. Has the village of Savoy been in the loop on this? It seems likely that some of the bikes will find their way to Savoy, or does GPS lock the bikes when they venture beyond the city limits?"

Mayor Dykstra said the village hasn't "been directly contacted but have participated in some discussions with Champaign and Urbana folks about it. We haven't had any requests from citizens about it either."


Round Barn bus stop

"Are the changes of the MTD stops being moved to Round Barn from Country Fair now permanent and if because so, will shelters be built by Round Barn?"

First some background: last June the MTD was booted off the property of the Country Fair Shopping Center, where it had operated a transfer area for years. The two sides could not come to an agreement on the cost of making repairs to the Country Fair parking lot.

Here's a story about the disagreement ...

As for a Round Barn shelter, here's the word from Karl Gnadt, managing director of the Champaign-Urbana MTD: "I don't know about permanent, but it unfortunately does not look like it will be short term. We are in active talks with the city about installing a shelter on Round Barn Road. Without a shelter present, we were utilizing a 'warming bus' there last winter. Hopefully we can have everything in place before winter strikes again."


Champaign County administrator

"Is Deb Busey staying in the administrator job full time or just until they find a new full-time person?"

Deb Busey, the former full-time county administrator, has served as a part-time interim administrator since late last year when her replacement, Rick Snider, became the village administrator in Rantoul. She will continue in that role until Nov. 30, when both she and C. Pius Weibel, the county board chairman, complete their work with the county. On Dec. 3, either Republican Gordy Hulten or Democrat Darlene Kloeppel will become the county's first county executive. Voters will make that choice in the general election.


Veterans news stories

"I have noticed an increase in the number of front page stories about veterans in the military. Does the Department of Defense pay The News-Gazette to publish these stories? I remember that DOD had paid the NFL a lot of money to honor veterans at football games and wonder if this is part of a similar effort."

"Definitely not," said News-Gazette Editor Jeff D'Alessio.

The News-Gazette does not accept or demand payment for coverage of its news stories, which would be a grave violation of journalism ethics. In all my years here I don't ever recall anyone else making such an accusation.

Paul Wood's regular Monday stories — "Those Who Served" — has been a staple since 2014, he noted, but there hasn't been any concerted effort beyond that. "That said, when a good story is there for the telling (such as Noelle McGee's July 22 story on Camp Corral at the 4-H camp in Piatt County) we jump on it."


Honey Baked Ham shop

"The Honey Baked Ham store in Champaign appears to be closed. Is this a permanent closure? They haven't been open very long and always busy when we were there."

You must be there at the wrong time. It's open, a store employee said, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


Ethical call

"What's up with lawn care 'professionals' who ignore the presence of litter on lawns and boulevards, and simply mow over it, shredding it into even more, smaller pieces of litter, and then just leave it? They're not doing it by accident, otherwise they would clean up after their mistakes. Do they have any obligation, morally or legally, to pick up litter rather than shred it?"

Thank you for the opportunity to pass judgment, albeit at a less lucrative rate than a sitting judge.

Lawn care professionals are under no legal obligation to pick up and dispose of someone else's litter, just as the rest of us don't have to retrieve trash, dog poop or dead birds off of sidewalks.

Morally, however, I decree that every one of us should pick up litter on lawns and boulevards. But I'll let you pick up the dog poop and dead birds.

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