Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Emergency Services Staffing Issues


Following up on a previous post noting METCAD staffing challenges reported by WCIA. The News-Gazette also highlighted more details about the work and life-balance challenges for METCAD staff. Below is also more staffing issues with the County's jail, public defender office, juvenile detention center and recent struggles for the Coroner's Office.

Excerpt from the METCAD article:

“We are authorized for 33 full-time telecommunicators and we have nine vacancies,” said Betsy Smith, operations manager for the agency that dispatches police, fire and ambulances to calls for service in Champaign County...

“It’s always been hard for us to get fully staffed,” said Smith, a 32-year veteran of METCAD in Urbana who dispatched for about 20 years before moving into a supervisory role.

“The last two years or so, a lot of things have happened: COVID, civil unrest, social injustice, defunding the police, police reform, mental health issues. I can’t say it’s one thing,” she said of the potential reason for the staff deficiency. 

That full article here. Excerpts from the article on other County staff shortages for criminal justice and emergency services from the News-Gazette:

The Champaign County Jail has a budget for 50 correctional officers but only 43 on staff, said Capt. Karee Voges, who oversees the jails. And with staff out on paid leave, it’s actually 40 people covering 50 spots, she said...

Keith Willis, superintendent of the Juvenile Detention Center, has 10 openings.

“We are authorized for 24 line officer positions and six supervisors. I currently have nine line officer positions open and one supervisor,” he said...

Janie Miller-Jones, Champaign County Public Defender, who recently lost three experienced felony attorneys to higher-paying jobs, persuaded Presiding Judge Randy Rosenbaum to appoint private attorneys — at taxpayer expense — to represent indigent defendants charged with murder until she has more staff and fewer open cases...

That full article with a lot more information here.

Monday, April 4, 2022

County Board Updates Into April


Right off the bat, Vote By Mail ballot requests are now available for the upcoming 2022 primary election on June 28th. Early voting for the 2022 primary will begin Thursday, May 19, 2022. More information available at the County Clerk's website here and the VoteChampaign non-partisan local candidate's guide here.

This post has some County Board related news and highlights from the March regular County Board meeting (video link - note: temporary link from livestream, agenda packet) and other Champaign County updates as we head into the month of April. For previous committee updates, check out our County Board updates from February and Early March. Below are also a couple direct links to presentations at the last Facilities Committee meeting on jail consolidation and planning the move of County government offices to the downtown plaza.

The News-Gazette's Tom Kacich had some information on County ARPA money and the overwhelming need for various infrastructure projects throughout the County. It was part of an opinion column, but had a lot of helpful details and numbers for everybody:

Champaign County has set aside $2 million of its $40.8 million bonanza of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help with badly needed sewer, water and drainage projects in small towns and rural areas of the county.

But it’s not nearly enough.

The county board has received formal requests for construction assistance from five villages, a water district and a drainage district. And more applications are expected; the final opportunity to make a request is at the April 7 meeting of the board’s environment and land-use committee. The total amount needed for sewer and water projects in the five villages alone is more than $25 million.

That full article here.

The News-Gazette also had a listing of candidates filing for County offices (Sheriff, Treasurer, Clerk, County Board seats, etc) here. While many candidates are not facing competition in the primary, some are and many more are facing competition in the general election otherwise. More on local candidates from the VoteChampaign non-partisan candidate's guide here (a project in collaboration with the Champaign County League of Women Voters). More on the VoteChampaign project (formerly known as the Champaign County Voters Alliance) here.

March Regular County Board Meeting:

It was picture day for the County Board, so you'll notice folks a bit more dressed up than usual in the meeting video. The in-person meeting also started off with a rededication of the Shields-Carter Meeting Room now that the room and entrance signs have been updated.

Here are some items discussed and some links to jump directly to that part of the meeting:

  • Independent audit report by Baker Tilly on the County's 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Full CAFR here on the County Auditor's webpage. The presentation begins about 9 minutes into the meeting here.
  • There was some technical discussion on committing ARPA funds in steps to ensure flexibility for any unused funds. While the overall spending will likely not be impacted, the County Board will have an opportunity to approve the next round of funding on (e.g. on next year's budget) depending on the ongoing need. This discussion was had on both Rural Housing Rehabilitation Assistance (25 minutes into the meeting here) and the Champaign County Crime Stoppers gun bounty program (about 32 minutes into the meeting here).
  • There was also an update and presentation from the Project Manager on ARPA related projects (see page of 42 (page 45 of the PDF file) of the agenda packet here).
  • There was also a presentation on the Clark Lindsey Village proposal (PowerPoint presentation here, County Executive's memo on the proposal on the agenda packet here on page 48, page 51 of the PDF file). A couple board members raised concerns about labor rights and a possible conflict with the County's stated values. The presentation and discussion begin at the 55 minute mark in the video here.

The April 5th Facilities meeting (agenda here) will also have updates on the new County Plaza space and Jail consolidation planning. At the March meeting there were updates on those same two big County issues:

The April 7th Environment and Land Use Committee will be looking at various proposals / recommendations for ARPA funds (agenda here, additional information on ARPA proposals here).

Other Champaign County News and Updates:

Monday, March 14, 2022

COVID and Health Updates

After a great deal of litigation, resistance, and another pandemic wave, the mask mandate was lifted in Illinois again. Details about the local school districts and college masking will be covered in posts on the C-U Local Cheat Sheet hereWCIA had some local reactions, including from the local health department:

“Even though we are on a downhill with Covid, we are not completely out of it,” Awais Vaid, Champaign Urbana Public Health District, said...

“Just because the mandate has been lifted, does not mean we still don’t recommend people wearing the masks,” Vaid said.

That’s the message from Champaign-Urbana Public Health, after Governor Pritzker announced his plan to lift the indoor mask mandate for many places at the end of the month. Some bars in Champaign say this may not change business very much.

That full article here. Some businesses and services may still mandate masks, including (as of my last check) MTD buses. Also from WCIA:

The State of Illinois may be lifting its indoor mask mandate on Monday, but federal mandates still require masking on public transportation and on the property of public transportation districts.

Because the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District is administered by the Transportation Security Administration, it falls under federal jurisdiction and is subject to federal mandates.

That article here. For the latest news on MTD COVID protocols, see their webpage here. Groups like Champaign County Health Care Consumers are still encouraging masking and good hygiene habits. The latest wave of the pandemic has begun to subside, with hospitalizations, death rates lagging cases again. The latest update in the News-Gazette put the local count at 292 dead with the latest data.

Champaign and Urbana marked the first COVID-19 Victims & Survivors Memorial Day on March 7th. WAND reported that Champaign's proclamation would make it the first Monday of March. More from WCCU:

The cities of Urbana and Champaign, along with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department, declared March 7th as "COVID-19 Victims and Survivors Memorial Day" in both Champaign and Urbana.

Leaders from the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department, and the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department gathered today to honor the lives impacted by COVID-19.

Nearly 300 people lost their battle to COVID-19 in Champaign County, according to Awais Vaid, the deputy administrator and epidemiologist at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department, CUPHD.

That article here. Smile Politely had some additional coverage and links here. The WCCU article quotes health officials explaining that the unvaccinated continue to suffer the greatest odds of severe illness, hospitalization, and death as the pandemic continues.

Other Health Related News:

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Other County Updates

Champaign County Crime Stoppers has increased its reward payment for certain violent crimes, including gun related crimes. From the News-Gazette:

Sharing a tip that helps solve homicides and felony gun crimes in Champaign County will now yield a much higher reward.

Champaign County Crime Stoppers announced Wednesday it will now pay a $5,000 cash reward for tips leading to an arrest in a homicide and a $2,500 reward for tips leading to an arrest in a felony involving a firearm...

The organization previously paid a maximum reward of $1,000.

That full article here and similar coverage from WCIA here. For more updates on local violent crime and thefts, check out the latest Community Coalition meetings. News-Gazette coverage of the February meeting here.

The leader of the Ford County militia group, that firebombed a Minnesota mosque and attempted to firebomb a women's clinic here locally in Champaign, pleaded guilty to various federal charges related to the local incident. Hari has already been convicted and sentenced for crimes related to the mosque bombing. From the News-Gazette last month:

Hari’s plea agreement in Urbana wraps up four years of work by government agents against the former Ford County sheriff’s deputy turned leader of a Muslim-hating militia group dubbed “The Patriot Freedom Fighters,” later changed to “The White Rabbits.”

[Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller] laid out for Long a summary of the Illinois case.

He said Hari’s leadership of the small band of followers, based in tiny Clarence in northern Ford County, wreaked havoc in several Illinois communities, including Champaign, Watseka, Mount Vernon and Effingham, and reached into Indiana...

The plan to firebomb the Champaign clinic fizzled — literally — when the PVC pipe stuffed with an ignitable powder did not catch fire. Morris admitted he broke a window at the clinic and put the homemade bomb inside. Hari had rented the truck that took the would-be arsonists to the office.

More at the full article here. As a previous Cheat Sheet post noted, the local attack preceded the end of surgical abortion services at that local Clinic, and the last of such services in Champaign County and much of the surrounding region. WCIA also had an overview of the guilty plea here.

There has been an update on early work by area County recorders investigating racial covenants in property deeds, including here in Champaign County. WAND had coverage on the new State law that may make it easier to remove the currently unenforceable, but offensive, language from the official paper work. Excerpt:

Full article here. Previous WAND coverage on area racial covenants here and the second part here.

WAND News extensively reported on this topic and similar issues in a 2021 I-TEAM report. WAND News reporter Doug Wolfe uncovered real estate deeds and other documents dating back to the 1930s and 1940s that discriminated against minorities while allowing whites to get bank loans for homes. County recorders helped Wolfe find restrictive racial covenants and racial restrictions in real estate records that still existed in 2021.

[State Sen. Adriane Johnson (D-Buffalo Grove)] believes the new law will make life easier for those who want their property records updated. 

“Although racial restrictive covenants are no longer enforceable, residents have been forced to jump through hoops to strike the harmful and antiquated provisions from their property records,” Johnson said. “By empowering homeowners to easily remove racist language from their property deeds, our state is taking steps to combat a painful relic of the historical harms done to our communities of color and to root out racism in all of our institutions.”

Other County News and Updates:

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Other County Government Updates


This post includes several Sheriff's department updates, some on the local dispatching agency METCAD, and other updates (including an "I Voted" sticker redesign contest).

Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman will be attended a "Coffee with a Cop" outreach event along with other Sheriff's deputies this past Wednesday. From WCIA:

A cup of joe and conversation with a cop. Sheriff Dustin Heuerman said they have done this event before, but this year’s event had one of the best turnouts yet. It is about getting to know the person behind the badge...

“I was talking to a couple of reverends who were here this morning,” said the sheriff. “We’re working on collaborations on how to tackle some of this violent crime from a holistic stance. That’s really the key here.” He said the past couple years have unfortunately proven that no one is immune to the rise in violence and talking about it is the first step in fighting it...

The sheriff said they plan to have more events like this in the summer.

Full article here. A preview of the event was in the News-Gazette here. More Sheriff's Office updates:

In related news, the intergovernmental METCAD agency that handles dispatch for many local and County government emergency services is dealing with staffing issues. From WCIA:

Vacancies are not unusual at METCAD 9-1-1, but they are unusually high right now at the dispatch center that answers all of Champaign County’s emergency calls.

Staff members are often working 12-hour days, sometimes five or more days a week and it’s taking a toll, according to METCAD operations manager Betsy Smith.

It’s not far removed from the trend seen at local law enforcement agencies, and although they’re not officially recognized by state and federal government as first responders, Smith described those fielding initial emergency calls as the first, first-responders. What police, firefighters and EMS see, they hear.

That full article here. One METCAD employee is also being recognized for his work on a tough 911 call.

The News-Gazette had an overview of the Champaign County Housing Authority's YouthBuild program a couple weeks ago:

YouthBuild, now in its third year in Champaign County, is a U.S. Department of Labor-funded program that provides job training at construction sites and educational support for those ages 16 to 24.

The program is now poised to expand with a $150,000 grant approved as part of Champaign’s Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint.

The $1.5 million in federal funding already committed to the housing authority is enough for 84 youths to participate in YouthBuild over three years — 2020 through the end of this year — but there are more than 100 who have been referred to it and are on a waiting list, Walton said.

More at that full article here

Other County Government News Items:

County Board Updates: February and Early March

There was quite a bit going on this month with the County Board for political wonks. The upcoming Committee of the Whole doesn't have much in the way of fireworks on the agenda (video now available here), though perhaps there will be more arguments about food reimbursement rules (more on that below). But this past month or so had a lot of news on the fight over how an Executive Form of County Government should be run, ARPA funding for cover crops through the Environment and Land Use Committee and some Animal Control safety rules to prevent any more euthanasia mistakes and tragedies.

There was some possible legislative solutions to the ongoing legal dispute on the appointment power under our new Executive Form of County government. From the News-Gazette:

That bill (SB 1015) would effectively impact only the two counties in Illinois that have a county-executive form of government, Champaign and Will. But it could affect any others that adopt that form of government in the future.

The bill states that in counties “other than Champaign County operating under the county-executive form of government,” a vacancy is to be filled by appointment of the county executive, with the advice and consent of the county board.

Specifically in Champaign County, it states, the elected county board chair makes the appointment with the advice and consent of the full board. 

That full article here. It goes on to explain that Will County would like to continue its tradition of appointment via their County Executive. The Champaign case is currently being appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court after the Board's latest victory in the courts. If they ultimately prevail through the courts or more uniform legislation in their favor, I'm not sure where that will leave Will County's options. 

The local coverage in Will County suggests they may be more concerned about how the language may still impact them (e.g. on how the Executive's office is organized) in articles here and here (it appears to have a paywall with zero free articles, but a cheaper trial option). From the latest article:

Will County Board members voiced specific concerns about legislation pushed by County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant which could change the way county government functions.

During a meeting on Tuesday, members of the Legislative & Judicial Committee discussed aj amendment to SB 1015, which has already passed the Illinois Senate to the surprise of many county officials on Feb. 24. The bill still needs to pass the House of Representatives to become law...

[Mitch Schaben, Bertino-Tarrant’s chief of staff] also addressed the proposed change to give the county executive control over the “internal operations of the county executive’s office and procure the necessary equipment, materials and services to perform the duties of the office.” Schaben said it’s the same language used for the duties of other countywide elected officials, though board members have argued the executive doesn’t have the same authority as a treasurer or sheriff.

That full article here. A few days prior, there was an article that delved more into the nitty gritty of the Will County Board's concerns about the legislation and the process in both parties.

There was some discussion about the various rules on paying for meals, using a county credit card, and a new Board of Review member's charges (since reimbursed). From the News-Gazette:

But for [Champaign County Auditor George Danos], these purchases — along with some county board members’ recent chastising of the county’s Board of Review chairman for using a county credit card to purchase two staff meals — demonstrate a need for the county to rewrite what he calls an “incomplete and outdated” purchasing policy....

What is clear is if a county department has a line item in its budget for employee recognition expenses, the expenses are permitted, according to Kloeppel.

For departments that don’t have a line item for that purpose, as is the case with the Board of Review, the purchases aren’t permitted, she said.

That full article here. The incident that started this discussion was reported on by the News-Gazette last month here. A quick overview noted that the County was reimbursed as soon as the new Review Board member was made aware of the rule:

The purchases, one for $18.63 from Jimmy John’s and the other for $140 for a year-end celebratory meal from Biaggi’s, were made with the supervisor of assessment’s county credit card.

At Thursday’s county board meeting, Bergee said he reimbursed the county before the credit-card bill arrived after speaking to County Executive Darlene Kloeppel, who told him it was against policy to use a county credit card for meals.

The Environment and Land Use Committee will be considering using some of the County's ARPA funds towards incentivizing cover crop planting locally to help with various related agricultural issues. More from the News-Gazette last month. The minutes from the February ELUC meeting had an overview of the discussion on page 2 and 3 of the latest meeting's Agenda Packet. Excerpt:

It was felt that this needs to go back to the caucuses for discussion and then come back to ELUC in March and then take to the full County Board after that. There were some unanswered questions from tonight that we should let Mr. Uken and the Farm Bureau do some research and come back as an agenda item again next month to discuss in more detail. It would also give the rural districts time to discuss the various water projects and what they may want to fund.

The discussion continued in the March meeting a couple days ago (available on the County's YouTube page here around the 10:33 minute mark). By the end of that discussion there appeared to be some technical changes (dates and total funding) to fit within the ARPA guidelines left to resolve for the next ELUC meeting.

There was also an update to the County's Animal Control Ordinance on euthanasia decisions. The rule follows a widely publicized mistake at Animal Control over the holidays the year before. From the News-Gazette:

More than a year after a dog was accidentally euthanized while being detained in Champaign County’s animal-control facility, the county board is poised to vote on a resolution in which a double-check safety procedure is named after the deceased dog.

“Dada’s Rule” would require that two animal-control officers sign off on any euthanasia before proceeding — a practice County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said has already been in effect for many months.  

More at the full article here. The resolution text is available on page 68 of the Agenda Packet and passed at the February 24th meeting. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022

January County Board Updates


The biggest headlines for the Champaign County Board this past month were on approving the purchase of the County Plaza building for additional County office space. The discussion during the County Board meeting itself, even by supporters, warned of the financial risks and work that would come along with the purchase. From the News-Gazette coverage of the approval vote:

On Thursday night, the county board approved the purchase of the downtown Urbana building for $2 million in a 16-5 vote.

After the sale closes, an estimated $18 million worth of work will need to be put into the building before county offices move in, Kloeppel said.

Included in that tentative estimate will be fixing the building’s leaking roof, updating its mechanicals and making accessibility changes along with remodeling for various county departments that will be moving in, she said.

That full article here. There was additional information from earlier News-Gazette coverage on the proposed purchase:

The County Plaza building is about 88,000 square feet and has five stories plus a basement, Kloeppel said. Efforts to buy it were primarily prompted by the need for a new space for the sheriff’s office, currently at 204 E. Main St., she said.

That building, which also houses one of the county’s jails, is deteriorating. The county board has already approved a $20.4 million plan to relocate the jail to the satellite facility at 502 S. Lierman Ave. and build an addition there.

There are other county offices, among them the public defender, which also need room to expand, and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission has also indicated it needs more room, Kloeppel said.

That full article here. WCIA had a preview blurb on the County Plaza vote here and a follow up blurb after the vote here.

Other County Board news: 

More Champaign County Updates on a separate Cheat Sheet post.

Champaign County Updates


The possible nighttime white out conditions with the recent severe winter storm forced County crews to halt road clearing operations overnight according to WCIA:

Champaign County Highway Department will cease plow operations from 6 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday due to the forecasted high winds and white out conditions.

Officials said based on the information that they have received from the National Weather Service, winds will continue to gust at 35 MPH to 40 MPH on Thursday...

Champaign County Highway Department will have plows stationed throughout the county overnight to aid in emergency calls if needed.

Full blurb here.

Petitions for local candidates in the upcoming midterm elections are circulating. It's a good time to help your favorite candidates get on the ballot and get to know who is in the running. From WCIA earlier last month:

Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons asks everyone to be prepared for an influx of people — who want to run for office — bringing a petition to their doors.

Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, Ammons asks all candidates to be masked and bring along hand sanitizer to use in between homes, not just for handwashing but for cleaning pens in between signatures...

The Illinois Primary is set for June 28 this year.

That full article here

If you want to learn more about how to be an effective member of a local board and get more involved in your community or a local organization, there is a free "Board Bootcamp" course coming up this month. From Smile Politely:

If you are a new, current, or prospective board member for a nonprofit organization, The Center for Nonprofit Excellence at the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois encourages you to attend their Board Bootcamp, a now quarterly offering that is designed to help create effective boards. 

The first session of the year is on February 23rd from 4 to 5 p.m. and will take place over Zoom. The focus will be on recruiting new board members.

Full blurb here. More information available at the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois website here.

In other Champaign County government news:

In other Champaign County news:

Champaign County Sheriff's Race


The 2022 election for Champaign County Sheriff is ramping up as we head into the midterms and local primaries and general election later this year. There has been a great deal of news related to the Champaign County Sheriff's Office in the news lately:

Latest Sheriff Candidate Updates:

Former law enforcement officer and current Savoy Village President John Brown may enter the race. From the News-Gazette a couple weeks ago:

More than three decades after his late father left office as Champaign County sheriff, Savoy Village President John Brown has begun circulating petitions to run for sheriff himself.

Brown, a Republican, said Wednesday he’s “99 percent” sure he will run and has already let current Democratic Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman know, as a courtesy.

The son of the late three-term county Sheriff Joe Brown, John Brown will have served in law enforcement 32 years by the time the election rolls around — with 22 of those years in a supervisory and command role — he said.

That full article with a lot of additional candidate information here.

Greg Worrell is running for Sheriff again as well. The News-Gazette had coverage last week:

A Thomasboro man who is launching his second bid for the Republican nomination for Champaign County sheriff said he will be more accountable to the public than others who have held the position...

Worrell, who has spent most of his life in law enforcement and security jobs, first sought the GOP nomination for sheriff in 2018, losing to former Chief Deputy Allen Jones, who received about three-fourths of the vote.

Jones was defeated in the general election by current Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, a Democrat. Heuerman is seeking re-election.

Worrell said he has never heard of a Champaign County sheriff being willing to meet regularly with the public the way he plans to if elected. He believes the public will be able to hold the sheriff more accountable.

Full article with additional information here.

County Courthouse Updates and Weather Closing

The high likelihood of extreme winter weather over the next couple days has led to closings across the area, including government facilities and even the Champaign County Courthouse. IllinoisNewsroom has a list of area closings and cancellations on their website here. Excerpt from the News-Gazette coverage of the Courthouse closing here:

Heuerman reminded motorists who do get stuck in drifts that their vehicles may not be towed right away.

“It is important that those who do not need to be out stay in,” he said, adding that the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency will be working with first responders to help coordinate response to emergency calls for service.

Presiding Judge Randy Rosenbaum said he alerted judges and their clerks on Tuesday to begin rearranging schedules. Anyone with court hearings for Wednesday or Thursday is advised to stay in touch with their attorneys about rescheduling.

More at the full blurb here. In other recent Courthouse news, the ban on electronic devices at the courthouse is changing. From the News-Gazette earlier in January:

The Illinois Supreme Court has decided to enter the 21st century and allow the general public to bring cellphones and other portable electronic devices into county courthouses.

The high court is leaving the choice up to individual counties. Champaign County has opted to embrace the change, reversing a 10-year-old ban...

Phones will be allowed in Jan. 18, giving the sheriff time to get signs ready and court security officers up to speed on the dos and don’ts of cellphone usage.

That full article here. WCIA had a full overview of the rules going into effect here with a link to Presiding Judge Rosenbaum's order on "Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs)" here

WCIA also had a comparison to other County courthouse rules under the changes here.

The Circuit Clerk's information on visiting the Courthouse still has the prohibition listed, however (as of February 2nd):

Prohibited Items

By order of the Champaign County Sheriff, the following items cannot be brought into the Courthouse:

  • Electronic devices of any kind (cell phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches, eReaders)

That information appears to be out of date, but is available on the Circuit Clerk website here.

In other Champaign Courthouse news:

Friday, January 7, 2022

State Races, Redistricting, and Other Updates


It appears that all the legislation dealing with redistricting has finally passed now that the Illinois Judicial District legislation has passed the General Assembly (just awaiting a likely Governor's signature). The Champaign County and C-U Local Cheat Sheets focus almost entirely on local government and local candidates, but the State redistricting runs right through our local communities. 

For a lot of information on the legal process, dates, before and after maps, etc Ballotpedia's redistricting page on U.S. Congressional and State of Illinois General Assembly districts has a lot of helpful information.

The most detailed maps with zoom functions and comparing before and after are on the Ballotpedia website here. There are also some additional maps at the Illinois Democratic Party's page here. Direct links to maps:


The General Assembly's passage of the new State judicial circuit and sub-circuit maps just happened this week. The changes appear to give some Illinois Counties with likely Democratic Party majorities, like Champaign County a bit more party representation opportunities on the court compared to circuit-wide elections that include far more surrounding rural populations and lean more Republican overall. The Springfield State Journal-Register had Capitol News Illinois coverage of the bill and its passage:

Democrats in the Illinois Senate and House pushed through legislation Wednesday night that would create new judicial “subcircuits” in Sangamon, Madison and DuPage counties.

Before sending House Bill 3138 to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk with no Republican votes, Democrats who control the General Assembly defended the new proposed subcircuits and other changes in residential qualifications for elected circuit judges in the Chicago area the counties of Peoria, Champaign and Rock Island. They said the plan would give Black and Hispanic judicial candidates more of a chance to get elected...

Republicans said the move is a brazen attempt to fill the bench with Democratic judges who would support Democratic initiatives and philosophies in court rulings.

Full article with more details here. The News-Gazette's Jim Dey had an article critical of the changes here, but it included some helpful descriptions of how some of the court seats would end up elected within Champaign County as opposed to across the full Sixth Circuit region:

Champaign County is among many affected counties. The evolving proposal calls for all three local circuit judges currently elected from the six-county Sixth Circuit to run only in Champaign County in future elections.

This change was proposed several months ago by state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who complained that judges are overwhelmingly White and male.

The transition takes effect on the retirements of circuit judges Jason Bohm, Randy Rosenbaum and Roger Webber.

Champaign County has six circuit judges — three at-large and three resident. The resident judges are Ramona Sullivan, Ben Dyer and Sam Limentato.

That full opinion piece here. More information on the structure of the Sixth Circuit here, list of judges here, map here, and an explanation of circuit versus associate judges here. The Cheat Sheet's judges page is dire need of an update and on the to-do list.

For previous coverage of the redistricting of the County Board districts, see this previous Cheat Sheet post or the News-Gazette coverage here.

Race and Candidates:

There were a couple recent news items highlighting potential candidates for these new districts. The Cheat Sheet won't have a lot of further information and updates about them, but the Champaign County Voter Alliance has had some great non-partisan candidate guides in recent years. The League of Women Voters of Champaign County has candidate events to keep an eye out for as well!

The News-Gazette had updates on incumbent representatives at the State level of government running again. The list includes Representatives Carol Ammons (D - 103rd), Mike Marron (R - 104th) and Tom Bennett (R - 106th). It also includes Senators Chapin Rose (R-51st) and Scott Bennett (D - 52nd).

It could be the first part of 2022 before they know the territory they’d represent — pending a ruling by a federal panel of judges on redrawn maps — but five local state legislators say they all plan to run for re-election 11 months from now.

Full article here.

Now that the U.S. Congressional races this year finally have districts after a convoluted process by the State of Illinois government to deal with late census data and lawsuits. it's becoming more clear who may run for which seat. Some early updates on potential candidates are available for the IL-13 Congressional District candidates so far: Democrats David Palmer and Nikki Budzinski. The News-Gazette's Tom Kacich had some early fundraising information for the IL-13 candidates here. The very recently announced candidates for the IL-15 here (Republicans so far) started off with some fireworks almost right out of the gate.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Champaign County Clerk & Recorder

Swearing in from the Clerk and Recorder facebook page.

The office of Champaign County Recorder has officially merged with the County Clerk's office into the new office of the Champaign County Clerk & Recorder. The News-Gazette had a preview of how the merger was expected to play out last month:

Under changes approved by voters in April, Ingram’s job will be eliminated, the recorder’s office staff and functions will be rolled into the clerk’s office and County Clerk Aaron Ammons will become clerk and recorder on Jan. 1, 2022...

Ingram said the five staff members in the recorder’s office will remain in the same space at the Brookens Administrative Center in Urbana.

The chief deputy in the recorder’s office, Toni Ceaser, will supervise the recorder’s office and report to the chief deputy in the clerk’s office, Angela Patton.

That full article here. WCIA had coverage of the actual transition, reporting a software hiccup that may have been unrelated to the merger itself:

There was a minor slowdown early in the day. Long-time staff members said it was due to a software hiccup that was out of their control and resolved within a couple of hours...

The biggest thing to get used to is a new website. Ammons showed us the new, merged county clerk and recorder site. Now, filing and searching deed records are on the same page as other clerk services.

“People who are used to going to the current recorder of deeds website, they’ll get a little re-direct opportunity to click on,” Ammons said.

The old website will be available for another few weeks to ease the transition, he added.

More information and details about the overall transition and how the office operated through the handover from WCIA here (includes video segment).

The last Champaign County Recorder of Deeds, Mike Ingram, ran on a campaign of eliminating the office he was to be elected to. In his farewell message he included his background as a local musician and played some songs from the County's records vault (video available on his facebook page here).

Monday, January 3, 2022

County Board and Jail Updates

Champaign County Board and most of the committee meetings in January appear to be virtual as opposed to in-person again. For example, tomorrow's Facilities Committee meeting agenda has this message at the top:

Pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order establishing a pandemic disaster in the State of Illinois that covers the County of Champaign, and the County Executive’s determination that holding this meeting in person is not prudent at this time due to health concerns with rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations being reported in the county, this meeting will be held remotely via zoom. Public comment also will be taken remotely. The public may watch the meeting live or via recording on the County’s YouTube Channel.

In the public participation section of the agenda it notes that he public comments will be through the Zoom app and links to instructions and meeting information. Previous meeting videos are available here with meeting agendas and documents available here.

The County Board member information and district links on the Cheat Sheet should be up to date now. With all of the vacancies, appointments, and legal battles I had gotten behind on the current board. For example, Bethany Vanichtheeranont was appointed September 23, 2001 to the vacancy created by Jordan Humphrey in District 5 when he resigned due to a move outside of the County.

In a more prolonged legal fight, Wayne Williams was appointed on December 8th, 2021 to fulfill the term of Titianna Ammons unexpired term in District 11 after she resigned due to health reasons earlier this year. News-Gazette coverage here of the related legal battle on the appointment between the majority of the County Board and the County Executive.

That legal battle resulted in some odd agenda items, special meetings, and a couple other attempted appointments by the County Executive to the vacancy in District 11 that were either dropped (e.g. Angela R. Clark Terrall) or voted against (e.g. Lola Jones).

Other County government updates are in a separate Cheat Sheet post here that include updates on housing assistance, the Forest Preserve District, animal control, and a number of Sheriff's Office and corrections news links.

Jail Consolidation Vote Followups:

Last month's County Cheat Sheet updates linked to local news coverage on the Jail consolidation vote that passed in the November County Board regular meeting. Following up on that vote, CU-CitizenAccess had an article with some of the more recent updates on the Jail Committee and discussions on renovations, health care improvements, and more.

Preceding the jail consolidation vote there was a great deal of public participation from local activists and citizens (jump to public participation in meeting video here). The arguments and data presented in the five minutes allotted for each participant to comment generally get reduced to for or against in the meeting minutes. From the posted minutes of the 11/16 meeting:

Sherry Steigmann of Urbana asked the Board about the cost to borrow the funds to pay for the County Jail renovation and expansion.

Rob Dalhaus of C-U at Home spoke about homeless shelters in the county and requested American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding for emergency shelters.

Mark Enslin of Urbana spoke in opposition to jail funding.

Matt Soyland of the Party of Socialism and Liberation spoke in opposition to jail funding and urged the funding of social services instead.

Captain Karee Voges, Champaign County Correctional Superintendent, spoke about a recent evaluation of the jail facilities by the state, noting the downtown jail is wholly inadequate; she urged the board to pass jail funding.

Micah McMahon, Correctional Officer, spoke in support of jail funding.

Brian Dunn of Champaign spoke in opposition to jail funding and urged funding social services instead.

Drake Materre, University of Illinois Master of Public Health candidate, spoke in opposition to jail funding and urged funding social services instead.

Allan Axelrod of Urbana spoke in support of funding social services.

Brian Dolinar of Urbana spoke in opposition to jail funding.

David Cisneros of Urbana spoke in opposition to jail funding and urged funding social services instead.

Chelsea Birchmier of the Champaign County Bailout Coalition spoke in opposition to jail funding and noted that since the passage of the cash bail reform in the state legislature, to take effect January 2023, there has been a steady increase in bail amounts.

Hiba Ahmed of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice read a statement in opposition to jail funding and urged funding social services instead.

Luke Lee of Champaign spoke in opposition to jail funding.

Full meeting minutes available here. The minutes also summarized some of the technical details and amendments discussed prior to the final voice vote.