It feels like the Christmas rush at Mailbag headquarters with questions about people who vote in more than one jurisdiction, the hiring of an interim school superintendent in Urbana, gasoline prices, handicapped parking spaces, courthouse security, and bright lights at Carle at the Fields.
Also: the Golden Corral, the tenants at Country Fair Shopping Center when it opened 59 years ago, a missing sculpture in Meadowbrook Park, whether Savoy could create its own school district and a bizarre highway sign on Interstate 74.
Original tenants at Country Fair
"Who were the original tenants at Country Fair Shopping Center?"
When Country Fair opened on Sept. 28, 1959, here was the retail lineup: Goldblatt's Department store, Kroger supermarket, Eisner Foods supermarket, S.S. Kresge variety store, Kaufman's Inc., Janet Lee women's apparel, Kinney Shoes, R&S Shoes's, Shell gas station, Fannie May Candies, Pan Dee's restaurant, KarmelKorn, Bing's Jewelry and Optical, Western Tire and Auto, Butler Co. cleaners and launderers and McBride's Drugs.
Coincidentally, Champaign County Recorder Mark Shelden has posted on his office's web site a 1983 list of 30 Country Fair tenants, among them: Sambos, Zayre, Jewel, the Mann Theatres doing business as Wehrenberg Theatres, Aladdin's Castle and the American National Bank.
Here's a link to the full list ... http://champaigncountyrecorder.com/country-fair-1983/
Double track the CN?
"We've heard several rumors that the Canadian Northern Railroad is going to restore a second track for rail traffic. Is this true, and if so, when will it start?"
That's not likely.
In a presentation to investors this month the CN noted that it has 27 yard, double track or long siding projects in the works and that 24 of them are in Canada. Nearly all of its recent investment in large-scale projects in the United States, the presentation showed, was before 2000. It made no reference of returning to a full double track system on its line to New Orleans.
Vote fraud protections
"With all of the talk about University of Illinois students voting in Champaign County elections, what fail-safe procedure is there in Illinois to make sure that these same students did not vote in their own home county elections? What keeps them from voting twice in our state and national elections?"
It's a Class 3 felony in Illinois to vote more than once in the same election. That should have some effect.
"The first step to guard against double-voting is in the registration process, where the applicant is asked whether he/she is currently registered in another jurisdiction. This allows the clerk's office to contact the old jurisdiction and invalidate the existing registration," said Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Second, the board of elections has a system that identifies people who double vote.
"After each election, we run a statewide review using our voter registration database that identifies those who voted. If someone had a double registration and voted in both venues, they would be flagged and the case would be referred to the appropriate election authorities for further action," he said.
In the 2016 general election there were 65 cases of possible double voting in Illinois that were referred by the board of elections to local law enforcement, including 18 in Champaign County.
Former Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said he sent the information about the alleged double voters to the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office.
"I would check back with them periodically for progress reports and to see if they needed anything else from me, and I never heard anything back," he said.
Incidentally, there were 5,666,118 votes cast in that election in Illinois.
Larger Champaign development
"There is land for sale next to the Villas of Ashland Farms subdivision in Champaign. Have you heard of any buyers that might want to purchase this land to build more villas to expand the Ashland Farm community? Somebody is missing out! Champaign-Urbana area could use more communities like Villas of Ashland Farms for age 55 and older folks."
"The property is currently for sale, we have had interest for a variety of different uses but nothing is in place yet definitively," said Jamie Wilcox of Wilcox Communities, the developer of Ashland Farms.
CPD Facebook page
"What's with the Champaign police Facebook now? It was fun and engaging, shared humorous posts and interacted with the community, but the humor is completely gone and if you send them a message on social media they don't respond. Considering the current national climate surrounding citizens relationships with their local law enforcement, I'd like to think the least they can do is respond to an inquiry sent to them on Facebook."
Champaign Police Department spokesman Tom Yelich said, "We do our best to respond to all inquiries that are shared with us through social media. Unfortunately, we are unable to get to all of them due to the high number of messages received. Community interaction is extremely important to us, and we encourage everyone to continue to engage with us on social media.
"It's certainly not lost upon us how much the community appreciates that back and forth, and it remains a priority of ours but at times our resources get pulled in other directions. However, this is a good reminder for us. Thank you."
Urbana superintendent hiring
ure good to be Preston Williams, huh? I know (the Urbana school district) prefers to operate in secret but can you find out how much discussion there was about these bloated salaries for interim leaders and whether anyone hedged at $1,200 day? That's the kind of thing we've come to expect in Champaign but it doesn't seem like the U-116 way."
Urbana school board President John Dimit responded to your question:
"We started with Preston's last salary before he retired about five years ago. We then applied the increases he would have received had he stayed with us. That equaled $220,000 for a work year of roughly 220 days (the normal 240 less holiday and minimal vacation days). This came to $1,000 per day.
"That would have been his salary if he was a permanent part of our staff, plus he would have earned related benefits, such as Medicare contributions, paid vacation and employer health insurance. Since he is an interim contract employee, he must bear those costs, not the district. Those costs amount to roughly 20 percent of salary, which brought us to the $1,200 per day. This is per day, not per hour, and Preston is going well above and beyond the normal eight-hour day.
"As a final task, we checked with the State Board of Education to find out if this figure was similar to other interim superintendents in Illinois, which it is. Similar calculations were done for the other two interims (interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Jean Korder and assistant superintendent for human resources and professional development Gayle Jeffries), who also are contract employees, not full salaried administrators like our permanent employees."
Meadowbrook Park sculpture
"I want to know what happened to my favorite sculpture 'Swift' by Alissa Neglia at Meadowbrook Park (in Urbana). Was it removed temporarily when the district cut down trees in that area (north side) of park? I also wondered whether the district was thinning trees or removing diseased ones in that area."
"The Urbana Park District provides public art at Meadowbrook Park as part of our Wandell Sculpture Garden collection. Most of the sculptures are on loan to the district from a variety of artists. A few are owned by the Urbana Park District — made possible by generous donations from park patrons," said Tim Bartlett, executive director of the park district. "This is the typical arrangement most sculpture parks. The artists receive a stipend for allowing us to place the sculptures at the park. The loan periods are for two years."
"Swift" was installed in the garden in 2001, he said.
"The UPD has the option to renew the agreements to extend the loan period. The extension allows them to remain for an additional two years — or longer depending on the artist. A few of the sculptures have been at Meadowbrook Park for a number of years," Bartlett said. "In order to bring new art to the park, the district needs to eventually return the sculptures back to the artists after the last loan period expires. New sculpture installations are planned for 2019."
As to your second question he said the park district has implemented a new planting plan for the sculpture garden for two years. "Most of the trees that were donated in the original development efforts were non-native and not fire-tolerant. The UPD manages the sculpture garden landscape with controlled burns — used to manage the other native plants and to help keep out unwanted invasive plant species," he said. "Most of the original species planted are non-native and cannot survive the fire management regime. Our new planting plan promotes all native trees and shrubs.
"The district's staff are planting new trees and shrubs over multiple years and judiciously removing a limited number of non-native trees and shrubs each year. Our goal is to maintain some of the non-native trees to provide shade in that area for the comfort of trail users now until the new and better suited tree and shrub species mature and provide shade. Eventually all of the trees and shrubs can be managed with fire and will not cause any harm to the trees."
"A few weeks ago, someone was interviewing (newly elected County Clerk) Aaron Ammons. He said he didn't have to go through security now. Who else doesn't have to go through security and why? I don't think anyone should be exempt from that. I don't know where his office is and what type of security he is talking about."
In Champaign County, courthouse employees and local attorneys have an ID system that allows them to both possess a cellphone within the courthouse and bypass security screening.
"Past practice has been for head officials in Champaign County government to be given ID cards allowing them the same privileges. On-duty law enforcement officers are also allowed to bypass security while acting in their official capacity," said Sheriff Dustin Heuerman.
Heuerman is reviewing the courthouse security policy "to ensure that it continues to provide both a safe environment for those working in, and visiting, the courthouse and that operations within the courthouse remain efficient," he said.
Bizarre highway sign
"As I was driving on I-74 from St. Joseph to Champaign, I noticed a new (to me) road sign about 2 miles east of the University exit providing the distances to the upcoming Urbana exits. This sign looks to be about 25 feet off the ground, much higher than similar signs I've always seen. What's the deal with this? Is there another sign going in underneath it? Maybe that's why it looked so odd."
"Right around mile marker 188 heading west on Interstate 74, there is an green informational sign about upcoming Urbana exits. This IDOT sign is really high in the air. My question is are there guidelines/laws that are followed for the size and height of IDOT signs. If so, why is this one way up high?"
Kensil Garnett of the Illinois Department of Transportation has your answer:
"The original sign was in violation of the three lines of destination rule in the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) for interstate guide signs. To comply, it was decided that this sign would be split into two signs," he said. "The 'Urbana Exits' portion would be replaced and remain at this location and the 'Champaign Exits' portion would be replaced at a location between Lincoln Avenue and Neil Street in advance of Champaign.
"We issued a work order for the Freeway Sign Maintenance Contractor to perform that work. The contractor was supposed to split the sign, move the 'Urbana Exits' sign down, and then cut off the top of the posts to fit. Instead, they just removed the bottom portion and left the 'Urbana Exits' sign at the top. We agree that it looks bizarre and have already contacted the contractor to get it fixed."
"What does Savoy have planned for the empty building on the northwest corner of Dunlap Avenue and Church Street?"
Nothing yet, said Dan Davies, the zoning administrator in Savoy.
"The village has no immediate plans for that building at this time," he said. "It could be part of a larger project in the future."
School district detachment rules
"If Savoy wanted to go the way of Mahomet and Monticello (both of which I believe have smaller populations) and create their own school district, what would be the process for getting out of the burden of the Champaign Unit 4 district? Could the residents of Savoy simply vote to create their own district or to even join Unity Unit 7?"
We answered a similar question last spring and checked with Regional School Superintendent Jane Quinlan to make sure there hasn't been a change in state law since. There hasn't. It would be a difficult undertaking.
"I checked with Michelle Heninger, Illinois State Board of Education, and there is no provision nor anything in current law that allows a community to pull out of a unit (K-12) district and form a new district," Quinlan said. "The available option is to detach from one district and petition the regional board of school trustees to annex to a contiguous district. The petitioners of the detaching area have to show significant direct educational benefit for the petitioners' children."
"What determines the location of handicapped parking spaces? I noticed many times where the designated parking spots are neither the closest nor most convenient to a business entrance/exit."
Under Illinois law "accessible parking spaces must be placed on level pavement on the shortest accessible route to an accessible entrance," said the Illinois attorney general's office.
People who see improperly marked accessible parking spaces or facilities with no such spaces should contact the Disability Rights Bureau of the attorney general's office at 500 South Second St., Springfield, Illinois 62701. The phone number is 1-217-524-2660. The TTY number is 1-877-844-5461.
"Is there a gentleman's agreement between local gas station operators to use commodity pricing (I believe it's called) where gas just suddenly jumps 45 cents though no new product has been delivered? If a station wanted to use more of a retail theory of 'actual cost of product + X%,' is there anything preventing it from doing so besides being blacklisted by other operators? Finally, could the state of Illinois make a law requiring all stations to give 24 hours notice before increasing the per-gallon price more than 5 percent?"
If there is such an agreement it isn't being followed. Gasoline prices have varied greatly in recent weeks, and were significantly lower in Urbana earlier this week. For example, prices were $2.039 a gallon at the Mobil on University Avenue (near Carle), $2.049 at the Meijer in Urbana and $2.059 at the nearby BP on Philo Road.
But they were $2.269 at the Schnucks in Savoy, $2.279 at the Mobil at Edgebrook and Neil in Champaign and $2.339 at the Marathon at Columbia and Neil in Champaign.
As for your last question I suppose such legislation could be introduced but I doubt it would get anywhere. The gasoline merchants would suggest — reasonably, I think — that similar legislation should be applied to the price of bread, butter, beer, beef, milk and other staples.
"Why is the new Carle complex at Staley Road and I-57 so brightly lit after working hours? As I drove by at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, many of the office lights were on and all of the parking lot lights were on even though there were only a few cars in the lot. If safety for overnight employees is an issue, perhaps they could designate one section of the lot and only light that area. Lighting all the acreage is not economical or environmentally aware."
Carle at The Fields features the highest-possible energy efficiency and lowest-possible impact to the environment, including LED lighting throughout the building, said Jamie Mullen, a spokeswoman for Carle who consulted with Tom Johnson, Carle's executive director of facilities.
"LEDs use less energy and don't require replacement as frequently as fluorescents, which can harm the environment if not disposed of properly," she said, "Lights remain on for environmental services cleaning crews in the evening, and emergency exit lighting stays on after hours. Because LED exit lighting provides excellent light, the building appears fully lit even though minimal lighting is in use. Parking lot lights remain on for optimal employees and visitor safety."
"Did Golden Corral change their mind about opening in Champaign. There was such an excitement ... then nothing else has been updated."
"I can't seem to get an update on whether or not as to if Golden Corral is still coming to Champaign, and if so when is the possible opening date. If you could give me any info it would dearly be appreciated."
Some good news for the fans of this restaurant chain: the property at 1202 W. Anthony Drive, Champaign, where a building permit had been issued for a Golden Corral, was sold in September to Hawary Holdings LLC of Orlando, Fla.
And Cindy Kleven, a communications specialist at Golden Corral's corporate headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., said this week that construction would start at the site "in the spring."