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 hhwevent.simplybook.me 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 www.ccrpc.org/ERA 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).

Monday, February 8, 2021

Housing Authority of Champaign County Updates


This post has some updates on new people at the Housing Authority of Champaign County and some program updates. The HACC has a new interim Executive Director, Lily Walton. The HACC.net website has a commemoration and farewell page and video dedicated to the outgoing Executive Director, David Northern Sr. 

There is also a recent addition to the Board of Commissioners from the City of Champaign, Bailee VanAntwerp. The Commissioner listing still has the previous commissioner, Jim Rose, listed as of this post.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the intergovernmental organization of the Housing Authority, there is a description and overview available at their about page here:

The Housing Authority of Champaign County (HACCA) is a municipal corporation organized pursuant to the Illinois Housing Authority Act. The jurisdiction of HACC includes all incorporated and unincorporated areas of the County of Champaign, Illinois. The Housing Authority is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners. Members of the Board are appointed by the Mayor of the City of Champaign, the Mayor of the City of Urbana and the Chair of the Champaign County Board. One member is a participant in a HACC program. Commissioners serve for five years and have unlimited terms.

HACC was created in 1943 and for many years built, owned and managed only traditional public housing pursuant to Section 9 of the 1937 Housing Act. Faced with distressed Public Housing and ever-decreasing federal funding, HACC began redevelopment of its largest public housing communities in the 1990s using multiple mixed financing methods including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, to create new mixed-income communities. In 2010, HACC became one of only 39 Public Housing Authorities in the country to be designated as a Moving to Work (MTW) Agency.

The Board of Commissioners generally meets on the 4th Thursday of the month from 3-5pm (agenda packets available here). Videos of recent meetings have been posted to their facebook page here. There was a special meeting earlier in January for a closed session, but in the last few minutes, director Northern welcomed the new Commissioner from the City of Champaign, Bailee VanAntwerp.

The regular January meeting (agenda) was split up into two videos on either side of a closed session dealing with employment issues. The public portions are available here, with approving minutes and reports, and here, where they approved the new interim Executive Director, Lily Walton.

Joe Galvan gave public comments as a former regional administrator for HUD. He described the pleasure it was working with the outgoing director and heaped praise and thanks on him and his team at the HACC.

Northern's final report as director is available in the agenda packet here on pages 11-14 of the PDF. The Operations Report following that has a lot of details on the HACC programs, including the YouthBuild program in the news recently. WCIA had a short blurb on the YouthBuild program last month:

YouthBuild was founded by the Housing Authority of Champaign County to help at-risk youth earn a high school diploma and find good jobs.

Recent graduates earned not only high school diplomas, but also OSHA, Flaggers, and NCCER certifications. These certifications help graduates successfully land jobs directly following graduation.

John Taylor II, a now-graduate from Youthbuild, said he is thankful for the staff and other students at Youthbuild for taking the time to get to know him. He said he plans to work for Youthbuild in the future to “help kids like him,” who “want to better themselves.”

HACC Executive Director David Northern said they are actively recruiting participants for the spring. Applications for the program can be found on the HACC website.

Full blurb and video segment here. HACC YouthBuild web page and link to applications here.

There were also updates on the HACC's reentry programs for some of the unique housing challenges for those dealing with the criminal justice system on page 23 of the agenda packet. Snippet:

More information available at the websites of First Followers Reentry and WIN Recovery.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Weather Radio Tower Update: Still Waiting




Since February 2020 we have seen national emergencies from a deadly global pandemic to Russian cyberattacks (on top of previous infrastructure vulnerabilities) to a full blown coup attempt where the U.S. Capitol Building was sacked. We've gone through a tornado season and generally lived in a time where it'd be nice if our emergency weather radios would get us the information we need in the event we had to hunker down over weather or global catastrophe.

Our local NOAA radio tower has been down this whole time. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any definitive news of a replacement even a full year later.

The News-Gazette had an overview of recent updates on the weather radio tower that went down in February of 2020 and still hasn't been replaced with at a new tower location:

A report Monday from NOAA indicated that progress in restoring the service is “extremely slow because we need to find a new broadcast tower to put our equipment on.”

Negotiations that extended through summer and fall for a new tower site fell through...

The new transmitter will be located on a tower in Champaign, but not many are tall enough to do the job.

An announcement on weather.gov indicated officials at the highest levels of NOAA and National Weather Service, along with area congressional representatives, are working on the issue.

Full article here. The National Weather Service continues to have the same basic information:

The NOAA Weather Radio servicing the Champaign, IL area, including the campus of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, went offline on February 13, 2020. A damaged coaxial cable caused repeated outages and finally a full service outage. During the service restoration process, the previous tower space lease was cancelled by the owner, and thus a new transmitter location was required. A new tower location is being sought for a replacement transmitter and to increase reliability of the service in the future.

We will provide updates on the status of the Champaign NOAA Weather Radio transmitter as more information becomes available. This is going to be a very long process, so updates will only be posted about every 30-60 days. 

Why is it taking so long? 

NOAA must find a site and agreement that meets our technical, legal, and financial requirements. A potential lessor will have their own requirements. While we continue through the process, we encourage residents to have multiple ways to receive a warning including enabling wireless emergency alerts on your mobile phone, monitoring local broadcast media, and using trusted weather applications on your mobile phone.

Where are we now in the process of getting it back online? What’s next? 

The lease procurement process continues for a new tower location. After this process is completed and a lease for a new tower location is signed, a structural analysis will be done to ensure the tower can support our NOAA Weather Radio Transmitter antenna. Once the structural analysis is done, we will then execute the lease. Once the lease is executed, technicians will travel to Champaign and install the transmitter. The installation of the antenna and coaxial cable on the tower will be scheduled by the tower crew according to their schedule and the weather.

This isn't very encouraging since this is almost exactly, word for word, what we knew a year ago. From a Tom's Mailbag article in the News-Gazette back on February 28th, 2020:

“I reached out to the NWS to see if there were any possibilities of assisting them,” said Rick Finnie, associate director of technology for WILL. “The NWS is looking for a tower situation that would duplicate their current coverage and we are not able to satisfy their tower requirements.”

The National Weather Service at Lincoln web site says the “outage is due to a damaged coaxial cable, which connects the radio transmitter to the antenna. In addition, a new tower location must be secured to prevent future damage to cabling, which could result in additional future long-term outages. The station will remain offline as the National Weather Service works to relocate the weather radio transmitter to a new tower.

“We have started the process of identifying possible new tower locations for the transmitter. If you have a tower location suggestion, preferably within Champaign County, please contact NWS Lincoln Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) Chris Miller at chris.miller@noaa.gov.

That full Mailbag article available here. I suppose if anybody knows of a possible new tower location, let them know.


Previous updates:

WCIA in September 2020: NWS tower installation pushed to 2021

WICS: Rep. Davis pushes NOAA to fix Weather Radio in Champaign, Piatt Counties

The last Cheat Sheet update on this tower situation was a false hope that it might be back up in 4-6 weeks back in June 2020. 

County Government Updates


This post has some news updates related to County government and information on upcoming meetings this month. The updates have to do with the Champaign County Circuit Clerk's office outreach on cannabis expungement, the annual homeless population survey, and support for eliminating the office of the Recorder of Deeds.

The Circuit Clerk highlighted additional information people effected by State expungements may be unaware of. There is a push to reach out to folks who may have already benefited or could benefit locally. From WAND:

"We actually have a group of 500 cases where people may not be aware that their records have automatically been expunged," said Champaign County Circuit Clerk Susan McGrath. 

The list of individuals whose convictions were presented to the governor for potential pardons authorizing expungement has already been provided to Champaign County and granted by the Champaign County Court. For an individual who believes they fall into this category, they can get a copy of the order granting their expungement from the Office of the Champaign County Circuit Clerk and a certified docket sheet.

Those individuals can also contact the Circuit Clerk’s Office cccircuitclerk@co.champaign.il.us and provide their name, date of birth, address, cell phone number, case number and/or approximate date of conviction. They are encouraged to make this contact either in person or by email by March 1, 2021.

More details and helpful links at the full article here. The News-Gazette had more coverage here.

The annual point-in-time survey to track homeless people in the area took place last week. WAND had a brief overview:

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with the Champaign County Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless, mandates the Point-in-Time survey allowing homeless service providers to track progress made towards ending homelessness in the community.

Since July, the CSPH has added six new members, bringing the number of organizations involved to 35...

The data collected from the Point-in-Time count will track the needs of people experiencing homelessness and determine how to distribute the federal funding effectively.

More at that full article here. More information on the Champaign County Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless is available on the Regional Planning Commission website here with meeting information on their webpage here.

The News-Gazette's editorial board is still on board with getting rid of the Recorder's office and so is the current office holder, former County Board member Mike Ingram. From WCIA:

Champaign County Recorder Mike Ingram ran a campaign to do away with his office. Now, he’s preparing a referendum to make that happen...

He says not much would change for employees in his office. The only major change would be that his staff works for a different department head.

Voters will be able to decide on whether or not to merge the two offices or keep them separate in April.

That full blurb here. News-Gazette editorial here. It may be one of the few things most people can agree on these days.


Upcoming Meetings:

There are County Board committee meetings coming up tonight and heading into next week (see the February meeting calendar here). Tonight is the Environment and Land Use Committee (agenda packet) and will be live streamed on the web and facebook. There will be the 2nd part of a 5 part series on waste management. From a previous Cheat Sheet post:

"[January 7th's] Environment and Land Use Committee (ELUC) had Part 1 of a 5 part presentation on waste management issues in the County (agenda here, waste presentation PowerPoint here, and video here). There was also an interesting overview of what the County has to do to get back in compliance on its "noxious weed" responsibilities."

The calendar has a key to the abbreviations, for example the VAC is the Veterans' Assistance Commission . The VAC's facebook page has regular updates on the work they're doing here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

COVID News Roundup 1/26


There has been a mountain of news and updates since our last COVID update post a week ago. That Cheat Sheet post highlighted that officials were announcing sustained reductions in cases, hospitalizations and thus reduced mitigations. Soon after that, Region 6, including Champaign County, returned to Phase 4 guidance without additional mitigation. From the News-Gazette:

Region 6 has moved out of the state’s Tier 1 COVID-19 mitigation restrictions to the less restrictive Phase 4.

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced the change Thursday morning for the 21-county region that includes Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Piatt and Vermilion counties.

The change was based on improving COVID-19 metrics for the region, including a test-positivity rate of 6.5 percent for three consecutive days, plus staffed intensive care unit bed capacity of 20 percent or more for three consecutive days and no sustained increase in COVID-19 patients in the hospital for seven out of 10 days.

That full article here. The previous Cheat Sheet post had a description and links for the recovery Phases and mitigation Tiers to get back on track after outbreaks. For additional local data and vaccine information check out the C-UPHD coronavirus data page and vaccination dashboard. The return to Phase 4 has meant less restrictions on everything from indoor dining to libraries to sports. Here are just some of the stories on loosening restrictions in the area:

There were also some updates on vaccinations (C-UPHD vaccination dashboard):
Unfortunately as we race to get as many people as possible vaccinated and get this pandemic under control, the new more contagious variant threatens to do more damage. WAND had coverage about more confirmed cases of the virus variant spreading in Illinois. The News-Gazette today laid out specific concerns with the University and the new variant possibly coming here.


Other COVID-19 related updates:
  • There is now a memorial established by the Unitarian Universalist church for those lost to the pandemic locally. Reporting from WICS
  • The IFT teachers union has announced a COVID tracker on its website according to WICS.
  • The University of Illinois Board of Trustees says it is still waiting on FDA approval for expanding its testing to more people according to the News-Gazette.
  • WCIA had coverage on continued visitor restrictions at local hospitals.
  • WCIA and WAND had coverage on the University's "Party Patrol" to help ensure adherence to pandemic guidance.
  • The University's "Mom's Weekend" in-person activities were canceled, also from WICS.
  • The Daily Illini had an overview of local COVID trends while students were gone.
  • There was coverage on how COVID is still impacting "Restaurant Week" events locally in the Daily Illini and WCIA.
It was a busy week for local pandemic news. By the time you read this, there will likely be more news and updates!

Regional Planning Commission Updates


As the Cheat Sheet gets back up and running for 2021, it's worth highlighting one of the major resources for services and programs in the area: The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. This post includes a general overview of the RPC and the January commission meeting write up. First, a quick overview from their about page:

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission is an intergovernmental membership organization that provides a variety of programming in the areas of regional, environmental and transportation planning; economic, community, and workforce development; social services; early childhood education; and technical assistance in East Central Illinois. As a multi-faceted government agency, the Commission administers over 100 federal and state grants and contracts with an annual operating budget of $25 million and a staff of over 230 professionals housed in 12 locations serving over 30,000 clients annually.

More at their website here. What you'll find with local governments is that a lot of the funding and collaborations for various programs and organizations go through the Regional Planning Commission. It acts as a conduit between funding sources (Federal, State, or private) to actual boots on the ground organizations offering assistance and services to people in your community. WICS highlighted a recent example with the Champaign County Sheriff's Office last month:

Sheriff Dustin Heuerman and the Champaign County Sheriff's Office have set three initiatives for 2021.

They pertain to Justice Diversion, increasing community relations, and continuing the work of their Special Enforcement Team...

The first initiative is working on Justice Diversion.

They will be working in partnership with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission to get a social worker to help with certain cases that police get called to.

Full article here. More coverage on these CCSO initiatives at the News-Gazette here.

The commission itself is run by a Chief Executive Officer Dalitso Sulamoyo and commissioners representing local governments across the County. For example, Urbana Mayor Marlin is the chairperson of the commission as of 2021. The chair rotates from year to year (the previous chair was Savoy Mayor Joan Dykstra). There are also two community members serving as commissioners.

As with the last meeting, the discouraging numbers from the 2020 Census played a major role. From the November meeting minutes:

[Planning & Community Development Director Rita Morocoima-Black] presented the final numbers of the Census 2020 to the Commissioners. She commented that the numbers were not very encouraging for the Champaign County area. The numbers are lower than what the staff was hoping the numbers to be. Also, it is believed that the numbers do not include the numbers from the University. The Village of St. Joseph had 85 percent response rate.

The numbers were compared with the numbers from the 2010 Census and the news is not good. It was expected to have better numbers in comparing with 2010, but that is not the case. In Champaign County, numbers were down almost two percent. The City of Champaign was down almost six percent. The City of Urbana was down almost one percent. The Village of Savoy was down almost seven percent. The Village of St. Joseph was up four percent. The Village of Rantoul was down almost four percent. The most discouraging numbers were from the University District. This can be attributed to COVID. It is uncertain if the numbers for the University are correct. 

The full November meeting documents here (video, minutes). This helps provide some context for this January's meeting notes below.


January 22nd Commissioners Meeting:

The meeting video is available here (meeting documents, agenda, and agenda packet). There was some beginning of the year business to attend to, including the new rotating chair and approving the meeting calendar (with some revisions for remote Zoom meetings as opposed to the usual in person location).

Concerns about the 2020 Census were brought up in the last meeting as well as January's. Early indications appear to suggest that there was a significant 2% response drop from 2010. Various funding is often directly based on Census data, so this could have impacts on funding of all sorts of programs and assistance in the coming years.

In the Planning and Community Development Director's report the Census data and products will begin to be available at the end of February with overall counts in early March. Unfortunately the local counts and full details may not be known until July 31st later this summer. 

Workers comp claims and costs are down due to the impacts of pandemic restrictions. Claims are usually due to in-person incidents such as trips and falls.

The tentative launch date for additional emergency rent assistance in the County is February 26th. It was noted that landlords have been frustrated in trying to encourage tenants who qualify for assistance programs to get through the process or even convince them to apply (even though they're eligible). There was discussion about possible outreach to build trust and encourage participation. Lisa Benson, the Community Services Director, noted that there is difficulty in getting proper documentation and there is a need for in-person assistance to help people through the process.

Dennis Roberts of the Urbana City Council and the Workforce Development team at the RPC highlighted a successful beautification project collaboration they hope will inspire more collaborations with local governments and the RPC team there.

The Workforce Development team also highlighted a University committee established to address racism in the community, including a subcommittee on workforce participation. There will be public engagement coming up on ideas and historical steps in the community to move forward. There was some discussion about the energy of addressing racism locally often involving "reinventing the wheel" of beginning steps as opposed to building off of previous work. Champaign City Council at-large member Will Kyles volunteered to participate.

Chief Executive Sulamoyo didn't present his own report and left the robust division reports speak for themselves this month. The meeting went into closed session to deal with employment matters before adjourning.