Sunday, October 10, 2021

Jail Updates

There have been a number of recent special committee meetings involving jail consolidation planning and funding. I only briefly touched on the subject in the September Roundup last week. For folks wanting more information on the decisions coming up in the next couple months, here is some additional information and helpful links:

The latest "jail committee" meetings. These are special meetings of the County Board's Facilities Committee and delve more into the planning and facility needs:

The latest special Finance Committee of the Whole meetings dealing with a lot of the ARPA federal emergency relief funds available to the County:
  • 9/30/2021 special Finance Committee of the Whole meeting video. The agenda packet included a list of proposed ARPA funded projects starting on page 3 (page 4 of the PDF file here). During the meeting there was discussion on what direction to give staff on the budget (though no actual votes were taken to appropriate any money at this time). Many Republican County board members advocated for using ARPA funds to ensure the jail consolidation needs were finally addressed. Democrats generally agreed with the need for jail consolidation, but disagreed on whether or how much ARPA funding should go towards paying for it.
Earlier this year the County Board had a presentation from the Sheriff on the safety issues at the downtown and satellite jail facilities. From a January cheat sheet post with links to the video and written reports:
January's Facilities Committee, which usually deals with more mundane planning and projects for the vast properties the County government owns and operates, was a good start. With a new County Board the Champaign County Sheriff had an overview of the Main and Satellite jail buildings, safety issues, and pandemic updates. The agenda packet with safety inspections on both facilities is available here. The full meeting video is available here.
The dire state of the downtown jail means it could be shut down at any time due to non-compliance and other safety issues. The current satellite jail is not currently able to meet the needs required to safely separate and house the entire population. There are both concerns of violence, medical needs and safety issues for staff and those being held in the facilities.

The funding for any consolidation plans was already controversial. There has been a long local fight about whether to invest funds into more jail facilities or local programs and services in the build up to the current crisis (a look at our Jail page that hasn't been updated in a while covers some of the earlier bases). The division is mostly along more subtle and incremental criminal justice reform ideas and those communities and organizations wanting significant action to curtail mass incarceration policies over the past couple generations. The NAACP report on local criminal justice issues is probably a good general place to start on that topic locally.

The opposition to jail funding has generally been an argument to finally address the needs of traditionally underserved communities instead of using the criminal justice system as the only tool to address the problems that emerge from their segregation and neglect. The support of the jail funding has generally been viewing those solutions as long term, while dealing with the current criminal justice system needs. Over the years both sides of the issue often feel that lack of action and support has led to the current jail and violence crises.

Using the federal emergency relief funds may technically apply to a project like jail consolidation under the funding rules. Given the impact of the pandemic to vulnerable communities, however, the use of those funds for a jail instead of the needs of those communities is untenable to some. It provides a funding option to get the jail consolidation project done for a county with almost no wiggle room in its budget already.

In spite of the County Jail being the responsibility of the County government, there was also some open talk of the cities of Champaign and Urbana possibly chipping in with their ARPA funding, given the overlap of use and need. Given the statutory separation of responsibility, however, this would likely be a non-starter with either City government according to some in that same committee conversation.

There does appear to be some signs towards a compromise of some ARPA funding and borrowing to make it happen among Democrats and Republicans on the board. It may end up being a compromise where nobody is happy, but perhaps avoids a bigger catastrophe.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

September Roundup: Evictions and Jail Updates

As folks can certainly tell, we're still very much behind and finding it impossible to keep up with all the recent changes, pandemic related issues, and news coverage. In some ways there's more local government information easily accessible and available than ever. Unfortunately the pandemic also really affected availability and shook up everyone's lives. Hopefully we'll be able to get back up to a regular schedule of coverage again soon. Here's a quick County Roundup of news and issues:

Some of the biggest news is that the eviction moratorium has expired and eviction cases have already begun to flow through the local courts. From WCIA earlier this week:

After a year and a half, the pause on evictions in Illinois is now officially over. That means anyone who hasn’t been able to keep up with rent can face being kicked out of their home.

“It’s absolutely terrifying, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and these are people,” Corinne Chamberlain, from Danville, said...

On Monday, and Tuesday, no cases were filed. Wednesday, there were two. Then, Thursday, 28 evictions were filed, and Friday, four.

Judge Olstead said Thursday’s cases came from the same law firm. He expects a large case load come Monday morning. 57 are on the docket.

Full article available here with links to previous articles on the topic. Assistance information from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission is available here. There was brief coverage of a local protest in the Daily Illini earlier in September here.

From the News-Gazette last week:

Community violence interventions, expanding broadband internet service and help for stormwater drainage issues are among the projects Champaign County Democrats are prioritizing for the use of about $41 million in federal funding the county will get over two years.

The Champaign County Board has received dozens of requests for use of the funds the county will be allocated from the coronavirus relief bill that Congress passed in March, and has devoted several sessions to hearing from community groups, county department heads and members of the public explaining why their projects should be funded...

Republican board member Brad Passalacqua said Republicans haven’t drafted a formal proposal for where the $41 million should be spent, but have made their views known at public meetings.

Republicans support a significant amount of the funds going to solve some of the problems with the county jail in downtown Urbana and the satellite jail and for much-needed broadband infrastructure throughout the county, he said.

Full article here. The jail situation continues to be a crisis situation that needs to be resolved before a court ruling or other event forces the close of the downtown jail. Taking money from relief funds meant for the area's most vulnerable population for jail consolidation costs may be a political non-starter however. More on the Sheriff's ask and the committee seeking to address the issue from WCIA here.

Other County government related news items from this last month:

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Catching Up - June County Updates

Sometimes the Cheat Sheet gets behind and we have to catch up. The process involved can be helpful to anyone wanting to get caught up on what's been going on at the County Board and other County government bodies lately. Over the last few years we've attended and watched endless local government and organization meetings with notes filling up the filing cabinet. When we don't have anyone available, we have to play catch up, and we start with the local press. To jump to information on other resources, click one of the links below:

Local Press:

The local press can be complicated for activists on various issues or political ideologies, but as a general rule I'd encourage supporting the local paper. For those with serious grievances, one might have to rely on access through their local library's online tools. For most people, a simple key word search for Champaign County Board on the website will do (sorting by "start time" so you get recent articles as opposed to years ago):

You can usually get more hits by searching from within the News-Gazette's eEdition tools, but you'll have to skip over a lot of Section D legal notices too! Here's a list of County Board articles and updates in June:

There's almost always some hidden gems in the search results that might not appear related to the County Board in the preview text. There's usually an article or two related to County government, if not necessarily County Board business:
  • Barbara Scott, a former elected Champaign County Board member, died.
  • Jonathon Westfield died. He was active in local politics, a former police officer, and criminal justice issues including coordinator at the Youth Assessment Center.
  • There was a profile of Champaign County Auditor George Danos.
  • And there was some concern over profanity at a board meeting and YouTube rules addressed in an article and a letter to the editor.
The May and April County Board updates are covered in a separate post here.

Other local news sources can be more hit or miss on something as specific as the business of the local County Board, but tend to pick up other angles on bigger news items or additional news not picked up by other outlets. WCIA has a "Champaign County" local news page here where you can keep loading articles further back in time or a simple keyword search. For example, from WCIA's coverage in June:

Other area television news stations include WAND and WICS/WCCU which often have some local coverage in Champaign County. WAND's search function is similar to the News-Gazette website. WICS's Fox Illinois web search feature is a bit more limited and will mix in some older results relevant to the keywords as well. For June there was a County government related story worth noting from WICS here:

Between the local newspaper and one of the local tv news station searches you'll probably get a decent gist of what's happening when checking out the agenda of the next County Board or committee meetings you're interested in.

There is almost always more out there if you've got the time or have another preferred local news source. Some good examples of sources we cite regularly here on the Cheat Sheet include the Daily Illini, Smile Politely, and Illinois Newsroom / WILL. Here's some County news item examples that pop up in basic keyword searchers in June:

As you can see, broader search keywords (e.g. Champaign County) on these websites will pop up other local government bodies and issues from the MTD to the Forest Preserve to the Housing Authority. All of which have unique relationships and collaborations with local government, funding sources, and governing bodies.

Of course the most comprehensive source of information about the County Board and County government is directly from the source.

County Board and Government Resources:

Meeting information, including agendas, agenda packets, minutes, etc are available on the County website here. We have some basic information on the overall structure of the County government under the Executive Form of County Government here. The general flow of County Board meetings each month tends to start with committee meetings where a smaller group of County Board members look at a set of issues and items and make recommendations or move resolutions towards the full board for a vote. The Committee of the Whole meetings are generally the next step where all the committee and other resolutions before the board are either moved to the full regular meeting of the County Board for a final vote or discussed, amended, etc.

The regular County Board meeting tends to pass uncontroversial items with unanimous support from the Committee of the Whole before moving on to other votes that can be contentious or pass fairly easily. Certain votes, like budget votes that increase spending, can often require a supermajority to pass.

June's regular County Board meeting agenda packet is available here. The most recent videos of the County Board meetings are available on the County's facebook page (and later the County Clerk's YouTube channel here after it is processed). The June regular County Board meeting is available here.

Even with the beginning of the meeting cut off, the video of just this meeting is over two and half hours long. For folks with limited time, jumping to agenda items of interest can be a bit of a guess and test. I have a process of jumping ahead and listening to hear which agenda item the Board is on to see if I jumped too far, or not far enough.

The debate on the mental health funding resolutions begins just before the 1:42 (hour:minute) mark on the facebook video here with a reading of the first resolution. The resolutions were discussed and voted on together. Both required 15 votes to pass. The agenda had a long description of the item purpose:

This [American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)] funding will be utilized by the CCMHB to expand grant funding for local agencies providing mental health and substance abuse treatment services to individuals and families in Champaign County. This expanded grant funding will allow local agencies to continue to strive to meet the growing need for these services in Champaign County. The CCMHB grant year runs from July 1 through June 30. In order to provide consistent, uninterrupted grant funding for these local agencies throughout the entirety of the upcoming grant year, 50% of the ARPA funding will be utilized from July 1 through December 31 of FY21. The remaining 50% of ARPA funds will be utilized from January 1 through June 30 of FY22.

The debate and discussion revolved around the timing and a disagreement about why this specific ARPA funding needs to be approved so quickly compared to other funding to be discussed in future meetings. This approval would only be for a small percentage of the overall funding, but related to programs and grants that need more immediate funding. It failed mostly along partisan lines with Democrats in support and Republicans opposing.

A deeper dive into the details of this resolution and the programs involved is available in the agenda packet on pages 98-122 (pages 103 through 127 of the PDF).

County Board Members:

Beyond the arguments you might hear in the County Board and committee meetings themselves, County Board members are generally happy to explain their votes and positions on issues from previous meetings. You can contact them from their contact information on the County website here and district maps on the County Clerk's website here (currently more up to date than the Cheat Sheet with Samantha Carter joining the Board). If you follow them on social media, you might get long arguments on various subjects or links to more information and resources.

Often Republicans and Democrats will simply complain about the other being partisan or political, like Board member Jim Goss criticizing the Democratic majority's redistricting vote last month. This month Democrats complained about the Mental Health care vote, such as on board member Jennifer Traub's public facebook page that took issue with a few Republicans leaving without putting their name to a no vote. Board member Samantha Carter echoed the frustration on her own public page and shared a longer criticism of the Republican no votes and not voting.

One can sometimes find some public comments or even extended arguments by board members on various local social media groups and neighborhood apps as well.

Other Organization Meetings:

Following up with the various impacted organizations and communities related to or directly affected by County Board votes is probably one of the more difficult and time consuming end of catching up on County Board business. It's also probably one of the most important. It'll be interesting to see if there's any discussion on this contentious funding vote in the upcoming Mental Health Board meetings next month at the end of July. 

The previous MHB meeting in June, just prior to the regular County Board meeting had some discussion on the violence in the community as it relates to mental health starting with MHB President Joseph Omo-Osagie and then Executive Director Lynn Canfield at around the 9:15 mark in the meeting video (agenda available here). Lynn Canfield's report directly addressed the County Board resolution, the doubts about whether the vote may succeed, and what that may mean going forward.

Follow up on the rural broadband issue will likely be simpler to follow up as the Board works through the issue in study sessions like the one last night (agenda packet available under the Committee of the Whole page). That meeting video (the first fully in person County Board meeting since the pandemic) is available here. It has presentations on the County's role in broadband expansion, groups and service providers with introductory information on the topic. This is working towards work that will be done by the "broadband committee" going forward.

It's definitely a challenge to keep up with all of the various local government and organizations related to local government on the County level and the C-U Local Cheat Sheet. The goal is still to help make it easier to stay informed and involved in your local government.

May and April County Board Roundup

The most recent June update on the County Board is available here.

In April, the County Board:

The April Committee of the Whole agenda packet is available here, minutes here, and the video is available here

The April regular County Board meeting links: agenda packet, minutes, and video. The County Clerk's presentation slides on election cost savings are available here. There was a brief discussion of why the County Board videos are no longer available at the IBM streaming link. From the minutes:

Board Chair Patterson asked why the meetings are no longer being streamed via IBM, leaving Facebook Live as the only available streaming of the meetings, and that not all past meetings are available on Facebook. County Executive Kloeppel stated IBM has ceased operations and the County is exploring other options; the unavailability of past meetings is due to technical issues with the recording.


The big news from May was the Champaign County district map fight which ended with the Democratic majority choosing the map they preferred over the County Executive's veto (and support of her own redistricting group's recommendations). From the News-Gazette:

As expected, all 14 board Democrats at the Friday evening meeting again voted in favor of the reapportionment map they’d voted for May 20, easily overriding Kloeppel’s veto.

The new map, called the “equity” map, will affect the next decade’s worth of board elections by adjusting boundaries for the 11 districts.

The work of Democratic board Chairman Kyle Patterson, the equity map designates two districts, 6 and 11 in northern Champaign and Urbana, as majority-minority districts intended to maximize minority-voter impact.

More at the full article here. It details Republican complaints on the timing of the Special Meeting for the veto and some technical issues on census requirements that could cause legal problems depending on how closely the late Census data matches two different estimates used by the redistricting maps. Illinois Newsroom had more coverage on the redistricting issue and the veto override here.

There is additional coverage of May County Board meeting specifically over the redistricting map fight from the News-Gazette here and WCIA here.

Links for the Committee of the Whole meeting: agenda packet, minutes, and video.

Links for the regular County Board meeting: agenda packet and video.

There was also the first "Finance Committee Study Session" which had a great deal of community input on various uses for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds coming to the County: agenda packet, minutes, and video. The minutes have run down of the public input at the meeting here on page two. The agenda packet also has public input in the form of numerous letters sent to the committee starting on page two of the packet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Reentry Council and Summit of Hope

There was a virtual "Summit of Hope" for reentry programs and services available in Champaign County last month. It involved many participants and service providers who work with the Champaign County Reentry Council. The Reentry Council has also had a couple meetings since the last update on the Cheat Sheet in January. A quick reminder of what the Reentry Council is:

The purpose of the Reentry Council of Champaign County is to provide a means of communication and coordination among community organizations, public officials, advocates, and others involved in the community response to persons returning to Champaign County from incarceration in federal prison, state prison, or the county jail. The Council also receives and reviews data regarding jail bookings, jail-based screenings, and connections to services for the purpose of coordinating community services and planning. The Council receives regular reports from organizations providing reentry and related services, reviews funding opportunities, and recommends actions which will enhance public safety, reduce recidivism, and improve outcomes for those returning from incarceration and their families.

The February Reentry Council meeting had program updates and information on the March virtual "Summit of Hope" event. The April Reentry Council meeting had a couple new faces. Alicia Beck joined as the new Parkland College SWFT director. Among the many programs SWFT offers, Director Beck says they're looking for more people interested in their Construction program. Lieutenant Cory Koker of the Urbana Police Department joined the Council (Lieutenant Joel Sanders is now Chief at another police department). As a leader for the Urbana PD's Crisis Intervention Team (More on CIT and mental health). he's likely to be a critical player in the One Door pilot program being implemented by Urbana and in collaboration with Champaign.

There were two presentations this month at the Reentry Council. The first was by Stephanie Cockrell, Executive Director of The Well Experience. She highlighted the ReNew HER program and other services for Black women and teenage girls. The programs include trauma informed and culturally relevant care that include reentry and other services for well being.

The second presentation was by Caleb Brooks with Navis Health and the upcoming official opening of two homes for substance abuse detox services. The openings will be on April 15th in two Champaign locations.

Summit of Hope

The full video of the Champaign County virtual Summit of Hope event is available on the Champaign County Community Coalition's facebook page here. It is a series of presentations on the latest services and programs available for people reentering the community from incarceration. The State's program webpage has a brief general description:

The Summit of Hope is a community expo that will bring service providers together to provide the necessary services and resources to ex-offenders with the mission to guide and assist ex-offenders with community services to ensure reintegration into the community while reducing recidivism...

Each participant is assisted by a volunteer who guides each parolee through the maze of services and exhibits. Services that will be offered include: State identification, counseling, transportation, food, clothing, shelter, child support services, primary health care referrals, screening for blood pressure, vision, HIV testing and care, veterans’ information, Social Security Administration, employment services, mock interviews, education/training services and a variety of other social service agencies and you. Numerous faith-based organizations will also lend a helping hand to assist this group to get back on the right track and to stay there.

The pandemic restrictions limited the event to a virtual event this year, but it is hoped that eventually an in-person event can be had to better assist locally. The Education Justice Project has reentry services guides here. The Champaign County Sheriff's Office and Rosecrance also offer printed fliers (generally available with the free materials in the jail waiting room) with local services. First Followers Reentry Program can also help connect people to various services and assistance.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

March County Roundup

Early voting has started for everyone in Champaign County for the Consolidated General Election (times and locations available here from the County Clerk's website). A non-partisan candidate guide is available here and more voter information here. More on the Champaign Counter Voter Alliance and election turnout information by Fox Illinois, yesterday here.

We may be a step closer to having a functional weather radio tower again in Champaign County. From WAND:
The U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) has signed a new tower lease to restore NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) WXJ-76 service to Champaign and Piatt counties.

Champaign and Piatt counties have had little to no NWR service since the previous tower became inoperable on Feb. 20, 2020...

According to NOAA, the next step is for a structural analysis to be done soon to ensure the new tower location can support the NOAA Weather Radio Transmitter antenna and associated equipment. Once the structural analysis is done, NOAA will then execute the lease with the tower owner. Once the lease is executed, the installation of equipment can take place.
Full article here. Previous updates here. Last summer it looked like they had found a tower, but that fell through.

In other news relevant to Champaign County government:

  • The Champaign-Urbana Health District in cooperation with Carle Hospital and the United Way released its latest community health plan (coverage from WAND here). The full 2021-2023 Community Health Improvement Plan document is available here and is worth at least skimming for all sorts of local data maps and useful information beyond health care.

  • The recording of the Champaign County Summit of Hope for reentry programs and services from earlier this month is available on the Champaign County Community Coalition's facebook page here.

  • The latest Champaign County vaccination updates were covered by the Daily Illini here.

  • The Champaign County Forest Preserve is still raising funds for its "Peninsula" accessibility project. More on that from the News-Gazette here.

  • A ballot error incorrectly describing a race for two year terms as for four year terms was noted by WCIA, but isn't considered to have any significant impact on voting itself according to the County Clerk. The News-Gazette had additional coverage on the error and voting in the County here.

  • Champaign County Crime Stoppers has a scholarship opportunity for local youths. More on that from WAND here and the Crime Stoppers website here.

  • The University's saliva testing program for local communities was advancing. WAND had coverage on that here. The County Executive noted that a third of the County Staff had been vaccinated and they had arranged a contract with OSF for rapid COVID testing available for staff at the end of the March regular County Board meeting.

  • Savoy has the possibility of becoming another "home rule" locality in Champaign County on the April 6th ballot this election. Illinois Newsroom has coverage of that here.

There are still some openings and vacancies among the appointed positions in the County. The list is available on the County Executive's page here. Information on how to submit an application is available here. An overview of County appointments information is available here on the Cheat Sheet.

County Board Updates

March was a busy month for local government, and the Champaign County Board was no exception. The biggest issue had to do with the continued delays related to the County's finances. County Board members from both parties appeared to give credit to the improving situation in the Treasurer's office under the newly elected C.J. Johnson, but the fallout from her fellow Democratic Party predecessors has left the Auditor facing questions about his role as an "independent watchdog for taxpayers." Programs that depend on timely audit reports have been put in jeopardy by delays. From the News-Gazette a couple week ago:
Champaign County is facing a potential freeze on its state and federal grant funding because the 2019 county audit remains unfinished.

The county’s Regional Planning Commission and Children’s Advocacy Center have already received notices of a funding suspension from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said more county offices could potentially receive similar notices...

At a special session of the RPC board meeting Friday morning, CEO Dalitso Sulamoyo said the bulk of its $34 million budget — about 90 percent — comes from federal and state grant money, some of which helps pay for critical services for some of the county’s most vulnerable people.
That full article with a lot of additional information here. The RPC's Dalitso Sulamoyo also spoke during public participation at the beginning of the regular County Board meeting (at the 10:25 mark in the video here).

The County Board has approved temporary funding to ensure the RPC continues to function, but it remains critical for the overdue audit to be completed as soon as possible to prevent further loss of reputation and program funding. More from the News-Gazette after the regular County Board meeting (agenda, other handouts, addendum and auditor memo available here, video):
Champaign County will make a short-term loan of up to $5.3 million to the county Regional Planning Commission to help the agency through a state and federal funding freeze resulting from the county’s overdue 2019 audit.

The county board approved the move Thursday night, but not before some Republican members chastised Democratic Auditor George Danos about the late audit and called on him to resign...

Of the $5.3 million loan being made to the RPC from the county’s general fund, $2 million will be covered by reserves and the balance will come from a general-obligation promissory note not to exceed $3.3 million.

The county will pay up to 4.4 percent interest and a $10,000 bond counsel fee on the note, according to Deputy Finance Director Tami Ogden.
That full article here. In coverage following up on this situation, the RPC's executive noted that these issues may arise again if the audit work isn't completed by May 1st. WCIA also had coverage on the audit issue with video segments here and here.

The debate on changing the Deputy Treasurer position and paygrade to better reflect the actual duties of the office was mainly during the Committee of the Whole meeting on March 9th (agenda, video). The position hadn't been reevaluated since 2009. Many of the concerns involved whether one looked at this like a raise for the duties previous office holders held before, or correcting the pay for an office that has long been underpaid for the actual duties it performs compared to its description and paygrade. The board eventually approved the changes, with an additional compromise (lower on the pay scale than the mid-point proposed).

At this same Committee of the Whole meeting, Wayne Williams, Cunningham Township Assessor, raised concerns about redistricting delays because of the 2020 Census data delays. He encouraged approval of the new maps by the statutory deadlines regardless of the Census delays. There was also a helpful presentation for understanding the County's FY2020 Budget with a slides and breakdowns for folks who want to get into the nitty gritty of the County's financial situation. It included an overview of the Nursing Home issues related to the budget still (presentation slides, video at 1:16:40 mark)

Other March Committee Meetings:

The Facilities Committee (agenda, video) is still reviewing and approving the various projects to repair the roof and HVAC damage from the hail storm that damaged numerous County buildings as well as a large project for the Satellite Jail's outdated system (on a similar schedule to the hail damage process). Some RPC staff were complaining about air quality and related medical concerns at one of their offices in a County facility. Testing is being conducted to pinpoint the problem.

The Downtown Jail came up in regards to the indoor recreation room that is currently out of service and need extensive work to be safe and usable again. This raised the issue of how long the Downtown Jail will be operational at all. It remains possible for the facility to be shutdown at any time due to legal and safety issues. Dana Brenner, Facilities Director, expressed his hope that the Downtown Jail facility remains operational at least for the next year. There is currently no workable alternative or plan being actively considered to deal with its sudden closure. This remains a serious problem for the County government. Complicating this is a great deal of vocal of opposition for more investment or expansion of incarceration systems locally and across the nation.

The Environment and Land Use Committee (agenda, video) had part 3 of 5 of its waste management overview (starts at the 11:45 mark of the video).

Saturday, February 27, 2021

COVID Updates

There's always news and information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic coming out every day. It has been a challenge both to keep up with it all and picking a time to highlight that information here. This post provides a recent news roundup and informational links.

As school sports programs are ramping up, there's an increased need to look out for the long term effects and damage COVID may have caused to those children who have had it, even if asymptomatic. From the News-Gazette today:

As school sports have been ramping back up, a local doctor is advising kids who have had COVID-19 recently to get a medical checkup before they return to play.

And by recently, that means having COVID-19 within six weeks of any planned return to sports, according to Dr. Jerrad Zimmerman, a sports-medicine doctor at Carle.

Some kids who had COVID-19 less recently — even many months ago — may also need to be checked out before a return to sports if they have some lingering symptoms, among them fatigue or breathing issues, that may signal a heart risk, he said.

Full article here.

The Daily Illini had an overview of the precautions suggested for the variants now circulating in Illinois and locally contrasted with current local policy:

Many researchers have suggested to double mask and avoid in-person eating, while the county has opened up in-person dining, including limited space at dining halls. The B117 variant, the variant that resulted in the UK’s third lockdown, stands as a threat to the safety of students. 

“There is definitely a disconnect between researchers’ concerns about more infectious variants and public policy, not just in the county but in the nation as a whole,” said Nigel Goldenfeld, professor in Grainger. “The criteria for relaxing tiered mitigation levels are heavily based on hospital occupancy and downward case trends and were developed at a time when there was no awareness of rapidly emerging more transmissible and deadly variants such as B117.”

That full article here.

There are some volunteer opportunities that have been in the news related to the pandemic:

  • The CRIS Healthy-Aging Center is looking for volunteers to help with vaccine outreach. Details from WICS here
  • The Hope Center offers groceries to those in need (more information from WCIA here). To get involved with the Silver Hearts they have volunteer information here. The University has information on its Food Assistance and Well-Being program here.
  • Carle Friends program to help people in isolation stay socially connected. Details and links from WAND here.

Other recent local news updates related to COVID:

  • The Champaign County Courthouse is going to be welcoming back jurors and jury trials according to News-Gazette coverage today.
  • This month saw the expansion of vaccine access in smaller towns and rural areas in Champaign County according to WICS earlier this month.
  • Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker toured local facilities here earlier this month. Coverage from Illinois Newsroom here.
  • The VA in Danville has been doing outreach to eligible veterans for the vaccine according to WAND.
  • CU at Home and public health have been working together to ensure access to the vaccine by homeless members of the community. More that from WCIA here.
  • Outreach to local immigrant communities and the New American Center at the campus YMCA was covered by WICS here.

General Updates:

The latest Champaign County COVID data is available from the C-UPHD website here.

The latest updates on vaccinations is available from their website here. The News-Gazettes data updates on vaccination included a helpful chart on 1st and 2nd doses locally by Ben Zigterman:

Full article and more data here.

There are also regular updates with the C-UPHD Administrator Julie Pryde on Urbana Public Television (UPTV6 YouTube Channel here). The most recent interview with Elizabeth Hess is available here from February 22nd.

The Daily Illini also had a recent overview of local contact tracing for anyone interested in how that system works here.

WCIA had an overview of all of the extra work and overtime that has had to be put in at the C-UPHD here.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Consolidated General Election and Early Voting

The Consolidated General Election is Tuesday, April 6th, 2021. Early voting begins for everybody March 12th, (after the primary election results are certified). There are some folks who can Vote Early now if they weren't eligible to vote in a primary (outside of Champaign or Cunningham/Urbana precincts). There is an explanation on Smile Politely here for Early Voting eligibility dates. You can also request your Vote By Mail Ballot here on the Champaign County Clerk's website.

The News-Gazette highlighted an extremely helpful election information resource and non-partisan candidate guide in today's paper here. It's put together by the Champaign County Voter Alliance in collaboration with the local League of Women Voters. From that News-Gazette coverage:

Want to know what Champaign City Council candidates are thinking ahead of the upcoming consolidated election? Wondering about the most pressing needs for the Urbana Park District?


Starting March 2 and continuing to March 11, the League is conducting a series of candidate forums on Zoom.

"The League has a really important role in today's democracy," said Trisha Crowley, president of the Champaign County chapter. "Being a nonpartisan organization, we talk with Democrats and Republicans and try to support our mission, which is to provide information to voters."

Full blurb here. More information at the League of Women Voters of Champaign County website here and links to the previous primary candidate forums here. The Champaign County Clerk has a simple list of the candidate's running on their website here: Meet the Candidates. Note that there are several write-in candidates who may be running in your local races at the bottom of the listed candidates! One Urbana Park District board candidate withdrew from the race already. From a letter to the editor in today's News-Gazette:

If you're like most people, you probably weren't even aware that we just had an election this week. Some only noticed when all the headlines and coverage exploded at once upon the election results themselves. It was a consolidated primary election for municipal offices and it had some painfully low turnout. From WCIA earlier this week:

5,127 out of approximately 68,000 eligible voters, that’s just over 7.5%, cast a ballot in Champaign County’s primary elections.

“This was actually lower for Urbana than it was in 2017,” County Clerk Aaron Ammons said. “It’s unsettling and it needs to change.”


“Unfortunately, turnout in the primary consolidated elections and general elections usually see this type of turnout in Champaign County,” Ammons said.

That full article here. The News-Gazette had more coverage on the turnout here

You'll likely be hard pressed to find anyone who likes the timing of these local consolidated elections. The candidate calendar is even more bonkers as the work to get on the ballot begins before the previous giant even-year general election is over. So why do we do it? Well, according to this twenty year old news story from the year 2001 (oof!):

Before 1982, each unit of Illinois government held its own election, where and when it chose. With consolidated elections, mandated by the state in 1982, elections are set in the same places on the same dates, rotating local races with general elections for county, state and federal government offices...

The goals of holding a consolidated election were to increase voter turnout and save money by doing it all at once.

"Neither has happened," [Whiteside County Clerk Dan Heusinkveld] said.

Full article here. Changes would have to occur at the State level and it may be difficult to find agreement on what might actually increase awareness or interest... a better date? Better outreach? Better civics education? I leave that to the reader to decide.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

County and County Board Updates

This post is following up on previous County Board committee and Committee of the Whole meetings in February (previous Cheat Sheet post here) as well as some other County government related updates. 

This week's County Board meeting (agenda packet, addendum, video) started off with the appointment of a new Democratic member for District 6, Jenny Lokshin (District 6 page has been updated). The rest of the meeting focused quite a bit on dividers for the Circuit Clerk's office staff and rapid testing for County employees. The rapid testing would be derived from the UI saliva test developed locally. From the News-Gazette coverage:
In addition to authorizing Kloeppel to negotiate a contract for testing county employees, the county board also Thursday authorized a budget amendment that would cover up to $70,000 in testing expenses...

The cost will likely run $10 to $20 per test, she said, but, “I think I can get it for $10 a test.”

Testing may begin as soon as in March, and county employees will probably be going to UI State Farm Center for testing, Kloeppel said.
Full article here. WCIA also had coverage here. The News-Gazette had more background on this issue in its article previewing the topic before the County Board meeting here.

Public participation in the meeting included continued concerns about the management of the Champaign County Animal Control Department in light of recent incidents, including the mistaken euthanization of a family pet. County Board Chair Kyle Patterson highlighted several of the first black County and Countwide office holders in Champaign County for Black History Month. He also highlighted the likely record tenure of County Board member Lorrain Cowert who has served on the County Board for 36 years.

There was a long discussion and debate on the Circuit Clerk dividers. A handful of Republicans questioned the urgency and long term need of the dividers. Democrats and the Circuit Clerk herself highlighted an ongoing need for both noise control for the call service staff and safety during the pandemic, which may be a long term concern. The proposal failed to gain the 15 votes required for a budgetary amendment. The No votes were Republicans Esry, Goss, Harper, Michaels, Passalacqua, and Paul. McGuire recused (I believe due to a potential conflict of interest) and Jodi Wolken was absent from the meeting.

Another item that received bipartisan opposition and did not pass was a health care contract negotiated by the County Executive. Discussion revolved around the County Board not being included in the process by the County Executive again. The UI saliva testing proposal received support from the board for negotiations with amended language. The County Executive can negotiate for tests up to a $70,000 commitment and assuming weekly volunteer testing as the norm. As noted above that passed over some Republican opposition.

At the end of the meeting the vote on the health care contract was discussed. Board members asked for additional information to consider voting on the contract again at the next meeting with that additional information. Members Michaels and McGuire suggested they might be able to support it in a future vote with more information. The Executive affirmed that it can be brought up at the next meeting and there's still time to approve it within the deadlines. The meeting adjourned just before 8:30pm.

Other County News:

The News-Gazette reported a new associate judge, Matthew D. Lee, will be appointed to the Sixth Circuit:
When he’s sworn in Feb. 25, the Champaign County bench will be back to its full strength of 11: five associate judges and six elected circuit judges.

Associate judges serve at the pleasure of the circuit judges.

Lee will step into the post vacated two weeks ago by the retirement of John Kennedy, an associate judge for 20 years.
That full article here.

The County Clerk has been in the news the past few weeks with the local municipal primary elections coming up and Early Voting already begun (more on the C-U Local Cheat Sheet here). The News-Gazette had coverage of the public testing of voting machines here. Tom's Mailbag answered questions on who makes voting machines for Champaign County here. WICS had an article earlier this month with the initial early voting being down from the high turnout general election here.

Sample ballots and other voter information links are available on the Champaign County Clerk website here. Specimen ballots were printed in the News-Gazette (subscription eEdition links here and here). The News-Gazette also had an update on the non-partisan group in Champaign County promoting voter turnout in cooperation with the League of Women Voters. The Champaign County Voter Alliance also produces the non-partisan candidate guide in Champaign County.

There are continued concerns about Census delays and how that may impact election timelines and the data used for various programs and services in the area. Illinois Newsroom had an overview this week:
The U.S. Census Bureau announced Friday that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other delays, it will not be able to deliver the detailed, block-level data that states need for redistricting until Sept. 30, long past the deadline spelled out in the Illinois Constitution for the General Assembly to approve new maps.

That’s also a full month after candidates are scheduled to begin circulating petitions to run for office and qualify for the March 15, 2022, primary election. The petition period begins Aug. 31 and filing begins Nov. 22, according to a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Full article available here. The Regional Planning Commission noted their concerns about the Census delays at their January meeting (Cheat Sheet post on that here). The Regional Planning Commission was also in the news for LIHEAP assistance available for utility bills. From WCIA:
Through the RPC’s LIHEAP program, people can catch up on their utility bills, and cover themselves for any extra usage over the coming weeks. The RPC’s director, Lisa Benson, said to apply for benefits as soon as possible.

State moratoriums end March 31. Benson said the RPC is already anticipating a large influx of applicants in the coming weeks. If you have already received benefits, you can apply to have your utilities covered by the RPC’s Emergency Rental Assistance program.
Full article here.

Tom's Mailbag had an answer to the question on how cannabis tax money is collected by the State and then the portion of the tax money the County is eligible for is returned to the local governments here.

Friday, February 12, 2021

County Board, Committee and COW Meetings

Leading up to February's regular County Board meeting, there have been some moments worth highlighting in the other committee and Committee of the Whole meetings so far this month. A couple highlights include a massive rental assistance grant and funding due to pandemic hardships. The Champaign County Democratic party nominated Jenny Lokshin to be appointed to fill the District 6 vacancy. DeShawn Williams resigned from the seat to take a position within the County Treasurer's office.

Environment and Land Use Committee 2/4

For those just getting started, ELUC is a standing committee and often the starting point for policy issues that fall under the categories in its name. The County Board's rules lay out the responsibilities and structure of the various committees on pages 17-20:

This month's ELUC meeting (agenda, video) had part 2 of a 5 part presentation on Solid Waste Management in the County starting at roughly the 10 minute mark (slide presentation available here). Links for part 1 of the Solid Waste Management presentation are available at the bottom of a previous Cheat Sheet post here.

The committee also recommended approval of an authorization for an umpcoming Hazardous Waste Collection event. They discussed the location details at Marketplace Mall as opposed to Parkland, which agreed to do electronic recycling events, but not hazardous waste collection. Tom Kacich had more information on the event in his Mailbag column earlier this month:

An Illinois EPA-sponsored household hazardous waste collection event will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 10, at the Market Place Shopping Center.

Residents must pre-register for this event at by selecting from available time slots. Online registration will remain open until all the time slots are full.

Online registration will begin March 8, said Susan Monte, recycling coordinator for Champaign County.

Full mailbag article here. The committee also discussed the increased costs, due at least in part from the pandemic situation. A sale of a property was approved, but was left off the consent agenda to ensure other board members got a chance to hear about the details instead of being lumped in with other non-controversial items.

Committee of the Whole 2/9

The Committee of the Whole (agenda, video) began with a closed session, so there was a long portion of the meeting video with little to no activity until roughly the 1:16 h:m mark. There was no public participation, but Board member Jen Straub relayed an issue brought to her by a concerned citizen in Communications. She raised a concern that a County Board member was publicly quoting "Q Anon" conspiracies regarding the recent insurrection in Washington D.C. and making light of violence against women.

Democrats and Republicans expressed concerns about a lack of County Board input on redistricting maps expected after the Census, the need for public transparency, and a general agreement on maintaining 11 districts with 2 members each. More on the Census from a previous Cheat Sheet post on Regional Planning Commission discussions here. News-Gazette coverage from Tom Kacich here.

On a budget approval item for the Coroner's Office, member Fortado noted that it included payment for services rendered by contractor Shiping Bao. She noted a controversy about his past work involving the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. She argued his involvement was regrettable, but that the payment was still required and needed approval.

There was some discussion of the partitions to be installed at the Circuit Clerk's office, primarily for COVID related safety issues, but also for the benefit of employees who have had to endure an open concept call center and the noise issues that go along with that. The discussion included the reason vaccinations weren't available to staff, designated essential, but not frontline, and why the services required personnel at the courthouse location (access to court documents and in-person court services). There was also a little bit of a back on forth on possible savings on options with the materials to be used.

A Rental Assistance grant through the Regional Planning Commission for $6.2 million dollars was the biggest deal of the meeting. Board members welcomed the assistance for both tenants and landlords and encouraged people to get the word out on the program. Member Fortado praised the short turnaround time for getting the grant and into a functioning local program. From the RPC website:

The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult for people across the country, especially renters who have been unable to work, experienced reduced hours, or lost their jobs. Now through its new Emergency Rent Assistance program, the RPC is looking to help renters in Champaign County by providing funds to cover past-due rent and other past-due bills like power, water, and sewer.

Champaign County residents can start the screening process by contacting the Emergency Rent Assistance program call center at 877-548-4205 between 12-7pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays. In order to promote safety during the pandemic, the RPC’s offices (1776 E. Washington Street in Urbana) will be open by appointment only and those without appointments will directed back to the call center to schedule an appointment. Facemasks will be required.

Households prioritized for assistance include those with an individual who has received unemployment payments from the State of Illinois (IDES) for 90 days prior to applying, and those with an income at or below 50 percent of the area median. The RPC has set up a special page on its website at with more details on eligibility requirements.

More information at that page here.

Another moment of strained relations with the County Executive arose over the "Employee Health Insurance & Related Benefits Broker Consultant Services" by both Republicans and Democrats for being left out of the process again. There did not appear to be any disagreement with the results, but that the County Board was cut out of the process. There was general consternation at the County Executive's excuse that relevant members hadn't been appointed yet, when it was the Executive herself who had not yet appointed them.

Justice & Social Services Committee Chair Leah Taylor noted that she will be raising Racial Justice Task Force recommendations and issues at the next Committee of the Whole meeting on March 9th. More on the Racial Justice Task Force on our page here.

Zoning Board of Appeals 2/11:

We usually don't cover ZBA meetings so much as they tend to be extremely technical and legal exercises. This month's meeting (agenda, video) involved a great deal of public interest and input on a cannabis growing facility proposed in the Philo area. There was a large file full of letters opposing the facility and the impact it might have on the community and families. There are also a lot of project details in the preliminary memo and supplementary memo in the meeting documents. 

The first 52 minutes of the meeting dealt with the approval of a separate grain elevator project that was approved with all of the various conditions that go with such a project. The rest of the meeting got into the board members and members of the public questioning the applicants for the special use approval in the agriculturally zoned district. The meeting had to be extended a couple times briefly and eventually continued to a future meeting after it ran well past the normally allotted time (roughly 3 hours and 20 minutes total).