Listen to this article

This week's Mailbag is more crowded than the line of cosponsors who will try to latch onto HB 3824 in the Illinois Legislature — the Just Usage of State Subsidies In Entertainment Act (See that? The JUSSIE Act) — aimed at removing tax credits for any productions employing the notorious actor Jussie Smollett.

It's not quite that overt, of course. The legislation says that the applicant for the tax credit "shall verify that no person hired on the applicant's production has, prior to the date of the application or renewal: (i) been convicted of or pled guilty to a hate crime under Illinois law or a substantially similar law of another jurisdiction; (ii) been convicted of or pled guilty to disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report of a hate crime under Illinois law or a substantially similar law of another jurisdiction; or (iii) participated in a deferred prosecution program for disorderly conduct or for falsifying a police report of a hate crime under Illinois law or a substantially similar law of another jurisdiction."Think that's constitutional?

OK, here are some of the issues addressed in this week's Mailbag: an absentee candidate, potholes at the post office, big-time hockey at the University of Illinois, unwanted phone books, how to get your home water tested and storm water drainage.

The Mailbag receved an email this week from City of Champaign Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom, reporting that eight CU@Work crew members "went out last week and were able to pick up a lot of the trash. We have more to do and have it scheduled over the next few weeks."

They intend to get back along I-74 where trash has collected along the fences in the next week or so, Quarnstrom said, "and once we get it cleaned up put it in as one of our regular routes that we do occasionally."

In CU@Work some homeless people in Champaign are employed to do beautification projects. They work two days a week and are paid $10 an hour, he said.

"It's been extremely successful and we are expecting expansion of the program moving forward," Quarnstrom said.

"Is there any place reasonably close (mileage wise) to go and get your tap water tested? What would it cost?"

Illinois American Water will do a basic water quality test — pH, turbidity, hardness, alkalinity — said Elizabeth Doellmann, the supervisor of water quality and environmental science at the water company.

"We do that for free. They just contact us and we'll come out and collect a sample and do the testing. We're happy to provide that service. But if it's something more complex — I've been dealing with a lady near a gas reclamation site who wanted to test for the stuff that might be in the water from that — that is a very specialized testing that our lab is not capable of doing."

That kind of testing has to be done by a commercial lab, she said.

There's a commercial lab in Decatur at Key Laboratory Services.

Elizabeth Boldizar of Key offered this answer: "The cost would depend on the specific testing parameters the individual was interested in. Each test has a different charge. For example, our standard well test is $35 and includes a screen for total coliform, E. coli, and nitrates.

"We can perform a total plate count on water which is $15, which provides a total bacteria count of the water per (milliliter), but doesn't speciate what the bacteria is. Another common bacteria we screen for is Pseudomonas which is also $15. Lead is a common request and the fee is $66. Arsenic is also requested sometimes and the cost for that is $65.

"If there are specific screenings that a customer is interested in that I have not listed, they can call the laboratory (217-875-2691) for pricing. We provide all sampling kits and bottles to the client. They can pick up kits here at our laboratory at no charge, or the kits can be mailed to them but shipping fees are added. Samples can be dropped off at our laboratory or they can be mailed, but there is a 30-48 hour holding time on most tests, so they must be sent express mail."

"I have not heard anything recently on the possibility of the University of Illinois adding Division I Hockey to its athletic department. We know a study was done, and there was talk of building an ice rink downtown. Has any updates been made on this?"

Nothing yet but it sounds like something may be getting close.

Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning director, said only that "discussions continue."

Kent Brown, assistant athletic director at the UI, added, "No update at this time. We continue to work through the process and hope to have an answer on which direction we'll go by the end of the school year."Commencement at the UI this spring is Saturday, May 11.

"Any new developments in the lawsuit filed against Gov. Pritzker alleging racial discrimination? It made big news back in October 2018 but I have seen little since."

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago, alleged several campaign workers in the Pritzker campaign were victims of racial discrimination in their months on the job. A hearing is scheduled for April 8 when a judge will rule on Pritzker's lawyers' motions to dismiss the lawsuit, according to Shay Allen, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"Recently, AT&T distributed phone books to their customers by manually placing them on, under or even hanging from, their customers' mailboxes. I had no problem with this. A few days later, an alternative 'phone book' appeared on the ground in front of every single mailbox in our subdivision (and presumably, the whole city). As a phone book, it's far inferior to the AT&T one, and its main purpose is really just to sell advertising. It's basically a large bundle of ads.

"My question is how is it legal to throw these books in the yards of every home in the city? Isn't this littering on a massive scale?"

"Unfortunately," said David Oliver of Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department, "there are no codes prohibiting the distribution of phone books in Champaign."

He said it's similar to the distribution of campaign flyers and door-hangers from lawn care services.

"Rather than just tossing them in the trash, it is encouraged to place the unwanted paper items in the recycling bin for collection," Oliver said.

"Recently, in my neighborhood, I've noticed some interesting techniques to rid properties of stormwater. First, I noticed a homebuilder pumping out a poured-concrete basement foundation into the street that led to a storm sewer. Second, I noticed that multiple residences in my neighborhood aim their downspouts onto their driveways to send stormwater into the street into storm sewers. Are either of these activities permitted? If not, what can be done to get them to stop?"

Both activities are OK, according to Champaign city officials.

"As long as the water does not directly discharge on public or adjoining private property, we do not typically apply enforcement," Oliver said.

"I am in agreement with David on this question," said Norm Reinbold, an engineering technician with the public works department. "It's very common for downspouts to discharge directly to driveway surfaces. They don't generally cause any sort of problems as they only flow during rain events or snow melts when temperatures are above freezing.

"Pumping out a basement with a poured concrete floor is typically a clean-water discharge and is also generally allowed as long as it doesn't create a nuisance or public safety issue. Muddy or contaminated water pumping to the street and storm sewer,s on the other hand, is in violation of the city's erosion-control ordinances."

"There is a road that runs north/south between the Savoy 16 movie theater and the car dealerships. I believe there are four stop signs for the southbound traffic — one roughly every other aisle of the parking lot. However, there are not stop signs for northbound traffic, nor for cars exiting the parking lot. What was the thought process behind this stop sign layout? It seems somewhat random, and I'm not sure if it actually improves safety along this road."

It is private property although Savoy Village Manager Dick Helton said the village of Savoy worked with the owner of the road to make sure north/south traffic could have a way out of the development from Arbour Town Place.

"That was the extent of the village's involvement," he said.

Carissa Bruce, an assistant manager at the Savoy 16 theater, said the stop signs were installed to slow the flow of traffic that sometimes was too fast.

"Who is responsible for the upkeep and repair of the entry ways into the Champaign Post Office on Mattis? All the entries, parking spaces and circle drive leading to the outdoor mail boxes are a total mess — some with some fairly large pot holes. Is there any repaving scheduled in the near future? It sure needs it."

We answered this question about a year ago and were told that a fix was coming. It did but a whole new crop of potholes developed this winter, said Kimberly Caldwell-Harvey of the U.S. Postal Service in St. Louis."They're waiting for the weather to break," she said. "They have the equipment and supplies ordered and they should have everything completed by the end of April."

The entire lot and entry ways needs to be resurfaced, she acknowledged, "but they're looking for the funding" for that.

"The new rural stop signs are very nice, but the T-intersection at 400 E and 1800 N is unique. The signs on 400 E have 'Cross traffic does not stop' on them. However, if the traffic on 1800 N didn't stop (the road does) vehicles would hit the guardrail, careen around, and with some luck fall in Camp Creek. Are there plans to re-open 1800 N west to Route 47 and replace the bridge in the middle? Or would it make more sense to make 400 E the through road?"

Jeff Blue, the Champaign County engineer, said there are no plans to reopen 1800 N to Illinois 47.

"I believe the township highway commissioner intends for that to be an all-way stop. He is checking on it and the situation will be remedied in the near future," Blue said.

"A few weeks back, one of the contested school board races in Urbana didn't have a spot at the forum put on by the League of Women Voters because one of the candidates was out of the country and unable to attend. The candidate is on an extended trip abroad and may not be back for some time. It sparked two questions for me.

"Can an elected official start serving their term without appearing in person to be sworn in or installed in their seat?

"Also, many elected and appointed roles in the state say current officials serve until their duly elected/appointed replacement takes their place. Is this true for school boards? Just curious what would happen if a school board candidate is elected in April but can't physically show up for a meeting until four or five months later. Can they be sworn in remotely? Does the current board continue to serve until the new board member is installed? Seems like an important question to answer with the hiring of a new superintendent in progress."

The school board candidate referred to in this letter is Karie Brown-Tess, who is in Chile on a Fulbright grant for the remainder of 2019.

State law does not proscribe how the oath of office is taken. It says only that a school board must seat its new members within 28 days of the election.

And, according to the Illinois Association of School Boards, there are no legal restrictions about being in the country while running for the board or during one's board term. Illinois, unlike other states, does not have meeting-attendance requirements by statute (some states say a board member who fails to attend X many meetings is automatically removed). Despite that, a particular board may have its own attendance rules.

"Before an individual takes a seat on the board, he or she must take an official oath, administered as determined by the board, in substantially the form as written in the school board," said the Illinois Association of School Boards. "Boards should check their local board policy to determine how the oath is taken."

And Urbana school board President John Dimit said the board's attorney is researching the question.

"Our initial read was that the oath can only be taken in person, but it is a grey area," Dimit said. "We have no rules in this situation since it has never come up before and we have relied upon state statutes. I would think this has mostly occurred before in the instances of where a winning candidate moves, changes their mind, or dies prior to taking office and is unable to take the oath.

"As for the second question, yes the current office holder remains in position until the oath can be administered to the successor.

"The follow up is whether this type of absence is covered by our rules for attending meetings remotely. For instance, you cannot attend electronically because you are on vacation, but you can when the absence is somewhat mandatory, such as a medical leave or a mandated job trip. Since this absence is education-related, while it is a distinct honor, it isn't mandatory. For this community, perhaps the closest comparison might be a sabbatical. To ensure that any decision made on this topic is correct, we are again asking our attorney research the answer. What is certain is that any electronic attendance cannot be counted when determining a quorum."

"While listening to 92.5 in the car today I noticed that they are playing a new ad about getting cut off which starts with a loud car horn. Is that legal? It sounds exactly like some other driver alerting; that's dangerous."

I have given up on getting an official response from the Federal Communications Commission about this issue. After three weeks of emails and phone messages, I'm waving the white flag.

There apparently is nothing prohibiting broadcasters from using such sound effects in commercials, although they are advised to be cautious in doing so. That's what I found from an internet search.

Here are the words from a 1970 FCC advisory to radio stations, reportedly prompted by the song "Indiana Wants Me" by Dean Taylor, which included siren sound effects: "The selection and presentation of advertising and other promotional material are, of course, the responsibility of licensees. However, in this selection process, licensees should take into account, under the public interest standard, possible hazards to the public. Accordingly, in making decisions as to acceptability of commercial and other announcements, licensees should be aware of possible adverse consequences of the use of sirens and other alarming sound effects."

"Is there any chance of getting a top-tier gas station near the Carle at the Fields area? Now that the Mobil at Springfield Avenue and Staley Road has been replaced by yet another Circle K (that does not carry top-tier gas), the closest one (according to Google) for people who live in southwest Champaign is at Mattis and Bradley avenues."

As was reported earlier this week, a Haymakers convenience store and gas station will be built this year at the northwest corner of Curtis Road and Fields South Drive at Carle at the Fields.

There are no plans for another gas station at the development, said Carle spokeswoman Laura Mabry.

"I live in Tuscola. There has not been a Meijer circular ad in my paper (News-Gazette) for the last three Sundays. Why not?"

News-Gazette Media CEO and Publisher John Reed responds: "Advertisers determine the specific localities to which they want their inserts delivered, and The News-Gazette has very little input into the process. Our general suggestions to readers who are frustrated by the fact that they don't receive a particular circular is to contact the business and share their concern."


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).