Thursday, August 8, 2019

Champaign County Housing

Yesterday there was a panel on affordable housing by the Housing Authority of Champaign County that included organizations such as the C-U Tenant Union, the NAACP, and politicians at the local, State, and federal level. Full video of the "No Place Like Home" panel is available here on the HACC's facebook page. News-Gazette coverage from today's paper below:
Plenty of units, but rent too high
Rents that are too high, jobs that pay too little and discrimination are adding up to a serious lack of affordable housing for the working poor of Champaign County, according to a group of community and government leaders. Hosted by the Housing Authority of Champaign County, this group came together Wednesday to begin tackling an issue in a community that’s seen many new higher-end apartment developments built in recent years.

That is: There are plenty of vacant rental units, but the rents are well beyond what many people can afford to pay...

About 50 people attended the panel discussion. Others on the panel included State Rep. Mike Marron, R-Fithian, and Champaign Neighborhood Services Director Kerri Wiman.

Housing Authority CEO David Northern said these sessions will continue and will also bring in legislators and representatives from other communities in the county.

More at the full article here (eEdition link here), including brief excerpts from the various speakers. I'll have some additional updates on re-entry housing issues locally soon as well. On the State level, there is a recent report on re-entry housing in Illinois available here.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Tax Lawsuits and Credit Ratings

Champaign County government's credit rating has lost its "negative outlook." More on that below. First, a quick follow up to yesterday's post highlighting various County property tax litigation. The News-Gazette this morning had more information on the decision yesterday requiring OSF to make payments for now:
If the full $729,695 payment isn’t made July 1, however, the hospital would be subject to interest charges at the rate of 1.5 percent per month and the hospital properties would become subject to a property tax lien.

Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney Joel Fletcher said the Department of Revenue has taken only preliminary action on OSF’s requests for exemptions. The county filed an objection to the exemptions, and a final determination by the department is still pending.

How long before that final determination would come is unknown, because the county has also asked the department to hold off on the OSF hearing until after a decision is issued on a separate lawsuit concerning the Carle health system’s property taxes. The Carle case went to trial in Champaign County earlier this year, but lawyers have been filing post-trial documents since then, and when a decision will be forthcoming is unknown.

Bohm said Heart of Mary wouldn’t be irreparably harmed without a temporary restraining order because if the hospital prevails before the Department of Revenue, it would be in line for a refund on its Champaign County tax payment, plus interest.
More information at the full article here and yesterday's post here: Champaign County Roundup.

The News-Gazette also had an update on the County's credit rating after the Nursing Home sale this morning as well:
Champaign County Executive Darlene Kloeppel said this week that Moody’s Investors Service has affirmed the county’s Aa2 credit rating.

The rating is used in part to determine interest rates for a governmental body’s tax debt...

While the county had an Aa2 credit rating before, Moody’s had characterized it as having a "negative outlook," influenced by the money it was spending on the nursing home.

“Moody’s thought they needed to review us because something was at risk,” Kloeppel said. “In this case, it was the nursing home.”

Following the sale of the home earlier this year to a private company, Moody’s re-evaluated the county’s financial situation and determined that the negative outlook was no longer necessary.
Full article here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Warning Signs

This is following up on a previous Cheat Sheet post on the Citizens' Police Academy program here. I wanted to do a separate post on the class that dealt with active shooters and how to respond to them. It's a scenario that many local schools and emergency services have been preparing for with passionate disagreements on how we keep our children safe. It's an issue that often revolves around extremists and their violent actions. The human response to extremism varies from what some would consider naive to what others would consider extremism also. This 10 week program dealt with controversial subjects and differences of opinion on a whole array of issues. This particular class stood out to me as unique due to the extreme nature of the topic.

The instructor was Sgt. Jeff Vercler of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office for over two decades and 21 of those years spent on the METRO SWAT team. He's a tactics expert and has had various training roles with local law enforcement and the Police Training Institute. I think it's fair to sum up his main advice on active shooters as a more aggressive interpretation of ALICE training, which he has described to the News-Gazette in the Legally Speaking podcast (excerpt and links to the podcast here). The classroom advice mirrored the excerpts here:
"Counter. If given no choice, if someone breaches your door and is armed, attack the shooter with whatever and however you can. Just because he has a gun doesn't make him all powerful in a room full of people. Can you grab a weapon? Can you grab anything? I'm talking anything you can throw, project, a fire extinguisher, bug spray, a chair across the face.

"When you get swarmed by a bunch of people, there is little you can do. I can walk in a room and have a gun, I know it sounds strange, but I'm at a disadvantage. You cannot shoot people fast enough if they attack you.

"If you're going to go down, how do you want to go down? Go down fighting. If you just sit there in a fetal position and do nothing, you will become a victim unless the shooter chooses not to make you a victim that day.

"Don't be scared. Gather others."
Interview link here. People will surely debate the political issues leading to such a desperate situation. They would certainly debate the feasibility of having to rely on civilians and possibly children swarming a gunman in a combat situation. Survival can demand desperate measures in desperate situations. I found a lot of the ideas tossed around in the class from arming teachers to the potential complications varied along Thanksgiving Dinner disagreements: varying from solutions with gun control, more guns, mental health, resolving social and/or cultural dimensions. Given the subject, some folks may have been bothered by what the instructor and other classmates had to say. That's probably unavoidable.

What raised red flags for me weren't the political differences, but the "othering." It started off subtle, but early and oddly enough that it was my first note after the introduction referring to the students as "normal people." This was quickly reinforced with imagery and descriptions contrasting those risking life and limb with those walking away. Civilians who took action, even if they died, contrasted with the people described as sitting ducks at the mercy of the killers. Given the subject matter and frustrations within the law enforcement community, this could easily be viewed as highlighting heroes and their sacrifice. Any perceived resentment could have been unintentional.

After detailing various active shooter incidents, explanations of the huge capacity of people to do harm, and when we were told we need to embrace the reality and react with force, he promoted the warrior training that had recently been banned by a mayor in Minnesota. The rest of Sgt. Vercler's presentation drew heavily from this "Bulletproof Mind" warrior training. The training seminars are popular with law enforcement and taught by a military expert, Dave Grossman, in training military members to use lethal force, or "Killology," as he calls it. You can watch a full presentation of the seminar on YouTube here. Some previous media reporting, overview, and links to further coverage are available here at the Washington Post.

It divides people into a vast majority of "sheep" protected by a slim percentage of "sheepdogs" from another slim percentage of "wolves." The "sheep" are described as unarmed civilians unwilling to embrace reality and resigned to do nothing while the "wolves" murder them. They've forgotten about 9/11 and believe the media who endlessly denigrate the efforts of our military and law enforcement (the "sheepdogs"). As Grossman explains, law enforcement are the front line soldiers in the war. In the seminars he points to Islamic extremists and Mexican cartels as "wolves," but in the reading material he encourages people to read and which he helped author, he targets Islam specifically. 

In "Terror at Beslan" (detailed book review and link to the eBook here) the primary author and Grossman first start off warning against overreacting to the threat and not blaming all Muslims. Quickly the book goes to advocating everything from arming all civilians to having special forces troops guarding schools, whole chapters explaining the uniqueness of Islam to produce hatred and evil, and suggestions that genocide may be the only solution to the Muslim threat against the United States and Russia. 

To say that the literature that goes with this seminar is horrifying, brutal, and extremist is an understatement. It goes further in castigating civilians enjoying the decadence of American life fought for by armed heroes. The calls to violent action are overt and numerous, as are the definition of in-groups and out-groups. When I say that it is textbook extremism, I'm going to refer to excerpts from J.M. Berger's "Extremism."
Few movements are born extreme. Most emerge from mainstream identities that affirm the merits of an in-group — pride in a heritage or the values of a religion — without stipulating that the in-group must take hostile action against an out-group. Out-group definitions evolve over time, starting with categorization (exclusion from the in-group) and escalating as the in-group develops a more and more negative view of the out-group.
That negative view leads to Grossman promoting the idea that the in-group's survival depends on eliminating the out-group and recruiting the eligible in-group (the "sheep" as he calls them) to join the fight:
The preparation of our country is not merely the preparation of our law enforcement and military. It is the preparation of our nation; of every man, woman and child who claims the title of "American." It is the preparation of every citizen and school employee, but most importantly, of every parent across our great nation...

This is not the kind of war fought only by those valiant souls who everyday don a blue uniform bearing the Stars and Stripes on the shoulder, or who pick up an automatic rifle and shrug weary shoulders into an overloaded rucksack. It is a war that either will be fought by all Americans, or one that will consume our nation.
The crisis and solutions matched with "eligible in-group" recruitment into "extremist in-groups" against a dehumanized "out-group" that must be destroyed is the radicalization process in a nut shell. This is regardless of ideology or extremist group. It can be more complicated and involve less direct jumps from legitimate in-groups being targeted for radicalization with extremist literature and seminars... and sometimes it's textbook:

When extremist rhetoric seeps from the extremist material and into a classroom full of civic minded civilians taking a Citizens' Police Academy course, ending up sometimes verbatim on the slides and repeated statements, it can hit the ear oddly. The animated and repeated demands that "this should piss you off." The "adrenaline junky" explanation for wanting to be in the fight, wanting to be the guy who takes the kill shot, wanting the violence and the danger to come your way, etc. The Grossman seminars ask the "sheepdogs" to embrace the idea of being a killer. To stop the violent "wolves" with superior violence. 

In strictly military training, this may be disturbing to civilians, but more understandable. When the "Killology" guy running the seminar talks about about crisscrossing the nation for 14 years teaching local police officers to be the front line warriors in this war, it gets very odd. You end up with local law enforcement bragging about being an "evil fuckin' warrior," fantasizing about head shots and getting the "shots fired" calls. You end up hearing the absolute disgust and anger at officers who aren't prepared for a combat role in that war. You hear us versus them rhetoric dripping with resentment. You hear repeated calls to train, arm, and be dedicated warriors ready to hunt the enemy down by being "aggressive, decisive, and ruthless."

I don't know how much Sgt. Vercler has been radicalized by his exposure to this extremist material. His repeated references, often verbatim, from that material is concerning. His promotion of extremist seminars, even if widely popular among law enforcement, is doubly concerning. The fact that the material he was regurgitating appears to come from a seminar that offers the next step of radicalization literature and includes advocacy for exterminating Muslims is deeply disturbing. Being part of an eligible in-group targeted by extremists doesn't make one an extremist in and of itself, but there is clear evidence of further radicalization here.

Unfortunately police and military have been heavily targeted for recruitment by extremist groups and movements after periods of military conflict, and America has not been an exception after Vietnam and again with our long Global War on Terror. For further reading on the history of paramilitary movements in the United States after Vietnam, I'd recommend starting with "Bring the War Home." For a basic primer on extremism: "Extremism." 

Nobody likes to think that the people who are supposed to be protecting us could be persuaded by hateful extremists, but that's not how extremism works. It's people who believe they're doing the right thing to protect the people and nation they love. It's regular people, good and bad. None of us are perfect. One of the repeated lessons throughout the Citizens' Police Academy classes, including from Sgt. Vercler, was that police are people too. They aren't perfect either and sometimes they make mistakes.

I imagine some will dismiss all of this as anti-police nonsense in spite of the history and concerns of our own government on modern extremist recruitment in the ranks. Others will use it as an opportunity to paint police generally as racist or hateful. The extremist material referenced is readily available, so I hope that some people will take the opportunity to get more informed and act accordingly whether they agree with my impressions or think I've read too many books on modern extremist movements and am starting to see it everywhere. I'd like to think that our local law enforcement will actively screen for ties to extremist groups that advocate violence against the people they're charged with protecting. Building trust is fundamental to community policing. It's my sincere hope that these concerns can be dealt with in a way that builds trusts rather than adding to suspicions.

Organization News and Updates

In addition to today's County government related roundup, there were also a lot of County organizations and businesses with County related news and updates from blood donations, to the Youth Assessment Center, Women Build home maintenance training, and agricultural worker mental health courses and sewer system investments. The News-Gazette had coverage a couple weeks ago on a local organization trying to increase blood donations from the younger crowd: 
Community Blood Services teaming with e-sports group to get more millennial donors
A regional blood service hopes to recruit more millennial donors by linking the act of donating blood with something near and dear to many of their hearts — video gaming.

Community Blood Services of Illinois has announced a new partnership with the professional e-sports organization Team Liquid, and will be offering blood drives at video gaming events and incentives for millennials to become blood donors.

The blood service, which operates one of its centers in Urbana, currently draws most of its donors from adults ages 40 and up, and it's also fairly successful at blood drives geared to high school students, according to spokesman Kirby Winn.

But fewer than 20 percent of blood donations come from the millennials ages 20-34, and younger men donate blood at an even lower rate, he said.
Full article with more information here.

The Youth Assessment Center's relationship with the Urbana School District #116 has been formalized. From the News-Gazette earlier this month:
After a school board vote this week on an operations agreement, that could be the status of the partnership between the Urbana school district and Champaign County Youth Assessment Center.

Although the center has long offered its services to those in the district, the agreement formalizes the two groups' relationship and establishes responsibilities on both sides. Establishing that formality has been a goal for Jonathan Westfield since he assumed the center's directorship two years ago.

The operations agreement, if approved, sends case managers into the schools, streamlining communication between individuals served and school officials and easing the burden of families who otherwise would have had to find a way to the center's Champaign location.
That full article here. A link to the latest Urbana School District news will be coming soon here.

Champaign County Habitat for Humanity is offering a Women Build clinic for basic interior home maintenance. Smile Politely had a blurb with links and an overview here:
Habitat's Women Build is a national intiative that gives women an opportunity to learn construction skills and work on home building projects. Locally, Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County hosts clinics on a semi-regular basis that focus on these skills.

On July 13th, they are hosting an Interior Home Maintenance clinic from 9 a.m. to noon at the Habitat for Humanity warehouse, 302 N. Broadway in Urbana.

You will need to register here to reserve your spot. It's $20, and includes a t-shirt and snacks.
Full blurb here.

Carle is offering a mental health course geared towards those working in the agricultural industry and the specific stresses that go along with it. From the News-Gazette today:
An all-day Mental Health First Aid course will be offered in Champaign next month for adults working in the agricultural industry.

The course is intended to help farmers, their families, friends and business associates recognize signs of substance abuse and mental health issues, such as depression and panic attacks, and help remove the stigma from seeking help.

Mental Health First Aid is a program of the National Council of Behavioral Health that has reached more than 1.5 million people in the United States.

The eight-hour class coming up next month at the Champaign County Farm Bureau is being offered through the Carle health system. 
More details and information at the full article here. Mental health and farming was also a topic in the last Farming Updates post on the Cheat Sheet.

And finally, Illinois American Water is going to be investing in sewer upgrades here in Champaign County. From WCIA today:
Illinois American Water is investing more than $12 million to enhance water service to customers in the area.

The work kicks off this summer and includes improvements to the water treatment system and installing over 16,200 feet of water main in Champaign, Urbana and Sadorus.

A bulk of the main replacement work is related to relocating water mains along Wright Street and Armory Street in Champaign as a part of the city’s street reconstruction project.
Full blurb here with a link to additional information on the improvements from Illinois American Water here.

Champaign County Roundup

In this round up I have some various updates related to Champaign County and its County government from property tax litigation, to Courthouse lactation rooms, D.C. lobbying, and an update on the reentry housing issue. I'm not caught up on the County Board meetings yet, but the videos are now up and available at the County Clerk's YouTube channel here. I have an update for the most recent property tax lawsuit item after this morning's News-Gazette overview and description.
OSF suing to prevent Champaign County from taking action on property taxes
OSF HealthCare is taking Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing to court over $1.45 million in property-tax bills issued to OSF Heart of Mary Medical Center of Urbana.

With the first installment on 2018 property taxes due Monday, OSF is looking for a judge to intervene fast.

A hearing in which OSF is seeking an emergency temporary restraining order to stop the treasurer from pursuing action on the tax bills is set for 10 a.m. today before Judge Jason Bohm.

On April 5, the Illinois Department of Revenue issued a property-tax exemption certificate finding OSF Heart of Mary properties to be fully or partially exempt, according to the OSF motion filed this week. Despite that finding, OSF HealthCare’s lawyers wrote, the county treasurer billed the hospital $1,459,391 for all the fully and partially exempt hospital properties...

Champaign County challenged the revenue department's approval of the exemptions for Heart of Mary soon after it happened and is awaiting a hearing on its challenge.
That full article here. OSF's hope for a delay was denied. From WCIA earlier today:
OSF HealthCare’s motion for a restraining order to delay property tax payment on its Heart of Mary Medical Center was denied by a judge Thursday morning.

OSF was granted tax exempt status from the Department of Revenue in April but still received a $1.5 million tax bill from the Champaign County Treasurer’s Office earlier this month...

While OSF will have to pay the bill July 1, it can still have its tax exempt status upheld in the case and be refunded. The sides reconvene August 27 to proceed with the lawsuit.
Full blurb here. Some recent background on this and other hospital tax lawsuits here. About a week ago there was a Tom's Mailbag item that also noted some delays in processing County property tax payments as well. The Treasurer explained the hold up:
Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing explained the delay.

"We have gotten a couple of calls from people worried that their checks have not cleared their bank accounts as quickly as they assumed. So I have explained that the process takes extra time because of the sheer volume of payments we are processing," she said. "Actually the biggest source of delay is the new billing system adopted by the county last year and implemented this year. It is a fine system with many new features, however, it does have a steep learning curve."
That full Mailbag article here.

The lactation room was described as "not pretty," but a legal solution under a new law going into effect. From the News-Gazette last week:
The new lactation space is being provided in a small first-floor storage room at the county courthouse in Urbana to meet the requirements of a new state law that took effect June 1.

The law requires any building housing a circuit courtroom to provide a private space for nursing moms to pump breast milk that isn't in a bathroom. The law specifies the lactation room must have, at a minimum, a table, a chair and an electrical outlet.

The lactation space at the Champaign County Courthouse will continue to be used as storage space for paper products such as paper towels and toilet paper, according to county Facilities Director Dana Brenner.

This was the best the county could come up with to meet the new legal requirements, because there's not much available space at the courthouse to spare, Brenner said.
That full article here.

The local lobbying effort in D.C. was covered in the News-Gazette earlier this month:
As part of a lobbying effort to get federal support for area projects, members of the Champaign County First group headed to Washington, D.C., this week to lobby for projects like The Yards in Champaign, extending the Kickapoo Trail to Urbana and piloting a program that could help villages like Royal.

More than a dozen Champaign County business and government leaders spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the nation's capital, advocating to Illinois Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, as well as Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. It was part of a yearly trip for countywide officials to pitch projects and initiatives that could use federal help.

From gripes about Amtrak service to the Mahomet Aquifer and other smaller projects, officials walked up and down the Capitol and congressional offices to rub shoulders with federal officials who just might be able to help.
Full article with a lot of additional information and details here.

And finally, there's been some slight movement on the Reentry Housing Issue that the Champaign County Board had previously encouraged the City of Champaign to take on after recommendations in the Racial Justice Task Force. The latest updates on that at the C-U Local Cheat Sheet here: Housing Ordinance Study Session.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Community Coalition 6/12

Last week the Champaign County Community Coalition met at its new larger venue at the Holiday Inn Conference Center, where they plan to keep meeting at least until December. There are pictures of the event available on the coalition's facebook page here. The meeting started a bit late to allow everyone to find the new location and check out some of the promotional items at the back tables.

After introductions the Unit 4's Goal Getters program had a presentation, including by several students involved in the program (the News-Gazette had a good overview of the program last year here). The overview included accomplishments including Parkland scholarships, and the kids explaining some of their vocational and career goals. The Q&A portion involved a lot of questions about what the community and schools can do to help them succeed. The young men emphasized the need for understanding and engaging kids before judging them. Kids need to know that their community cares about them as human beings and whether they succeed or fail. In our current environment kids can be unaware that anybody out there actually cares what happens to them.

The ideas they presented weren't extravagant. Homework programs, mentoring, realistic success stories, and opportunities to be successful. Those opportunities may be everything from vocational training to work opportunities. There was a real desire to earn money and have financial stability. They reiterated the need for understanding, to have the kids engaged in all of this and keep them involved. They argued that our community is too segregated and that we need to be all together on this to understand what everyone is going through and ensure opportunities are there.

The police chiefs gave their updates on May's uptick in shooting incidents in Champaign and Urbana between people, people in cars, at houses, etc. A lot of the information presented here is preliminary with some arrest follow ups from previous incidents, but the impression I got is that for the amount of rounds fired in various incidents, we're lucky that we didn't have more reported injuries. Urbana's interim police chief has been made permanent. More on that at the News-Gazette here.

Other highlights:

  • Event dates and information for the free activities with Urbana Play Days in the Park.
  • An update on CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative which is again meeting before the Champaign Community Coalition meeting at the same new location.
  • DREAAM House highlighted its programs for building an opportunity pipeline to follow kids 5-24 towards success. This summer they'll be focusing on a lot of outdoor activities (N-G overview of the DREAAM program from last year here).
  • The Urbana "Self-Made Kings" program, a similar concept to the Champaign Goal Getters program, will probably have some kids presenting at the next Coalition meeting.
  • iRead/iCount is still looking for tutors to help with basic reading and soon math skills to help kids increase letter identification and other basic skills where there are gaps as early as kindergarten. 
  • Unit 4 also had information for a Kindergarten Readiness Camp (flyer with more information below - click to enlarge)
  • Head Start is expanding and they very much want people to know they're hiring everything from teacher's aids, cooks, etc. More information on the Head Start expansion from WAND here
  • The University YMCA's New American Welcome Center noted a recent accreditation for immigration law practice and highlighted its services. More on that in an upcoming local refugee and immigration services post.
  • The Youth Assessment Center highlighted their surveys for kids with gift card rewards for filling them out.
There was also a presentation on the Violence Response Forums with updates on the first feedback from the initial forum, a complicated slide on the response model, and next steps. A lot of those next steps involve outreach with various faith based and service providing organizations to connect people with needs to. There's also the practical issues of more volunteers and space options for the project. A key issue they're looking to improve upon is making sure the impacted community and families get connected to the resources they need when these tragedies take their tole on survivors and communities. More information on that and how to get involved below (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Farming Updates

A lot of area farmers were able to get seeds planted recently after a break in the rain. The rain has kept coming however. The latest from the Springfield News-Sun:
Rains continue to pound Clark, Champaign County farms
Persistent rains have put a damper on some Champaign and Clark County farmers and their prospects of a successful crop season.

Rains fell throughout Monday morning and into the afternoon — a common theme for most days so far this June. Storm Center 7 meteorologists predict the rain to continue throughout most of this week, with showers both Tuesday and Thursday.

The high levels of rain can be a nuisance to everyday residents but it can be catastrophic to farmers, Champaign County farmer Tom Nisonger said...

“We have got to get the weather so we can get the corn side-dressed and get the nitrogen on it,” he said. “And if we can’t do that it will reduce the yield.”

Nisonger said he does expect some crops to make it through the continued downpour, but he doesn’t expect his yield to be as big as other years...

The rain that is causing standing water in fields across Clark and Champaign County can have a devastating impact on farmers who have already planted. It could drown out what they’ve already planted and the rain could produce a haven for bacteria that could disease the crops, said Brian Harbage, a Clark County farmer.
More at the full article here. A couple weeks back there was a lull in the rainy weather to allow some area farmers to finish planting. From the News-Gazette earlier this month:
After a lot of rain, most area crops are finally in the ground
According to last week's USDA report, only 45 percent of corn and 21 percent of soybeans had been planted. At the same time last year, those percentages were 95 and 84, respectively.

Local farmers, though, have rushed to plant in small spurts. During the small pockets of dry weather, Mark Pflugmacher has stayed up planting as late as 1:30 a.m. and wakes up about 5 the next morning.

This week's dry weather finally allowed him to finish planting, about a month later than he finished a year ago...

The later growing season can have multiple pitfalls.

Days begin growing shorter after the June 21 summer solstice, meaning the plants won't quite receive maximum daylight, and the wet weather made the application of nitrogen fertilizer more difficult. The late planting season would also make an early frost devastating.
Full article here. There were some related wire service news items this past week: Some other Illinois farmers haven't been lucky enough to get their planting done in time: "Illinois Farmers Give Up On Planting After Floods, Throw Party Instead" - Reuters. The News-Gazette had an AP article about how the bailouts to help farmers don't apply to everybody, especially vegetable farmers.

WCIA had a segment on the pressure farmers are under and mental health training being offered this summer:
The optimal planting window for corn has passed. The typical deadline for soybeans is fast approaching. For the farmers who do decide to plant, they’ll be relying on hope for a decent yield.

Health professionals recognize the pressure this is putting on farmers. Carle hospital will be hosting mental health first aid classes this summer. Amy Rademaker, Carle’s rural health & farm safety program coordinator, says, “It’s very taxing. With the weather the anxiety has gone up, depression has gone up. We have tariffs that we’re now dealing with.” The classes will be available to both farmers and their families. Click this link for more information.
That full article and video segment here.

Park and Environment Updates

First, some various funding updates for area parks. From the News-Gazette last month:
Virginia Theatre among tourism grant recipients
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has awarded $1.8 million in grants to increase Prairie State tourism — and the Virginia Theatre in Champaign is among the recipients.

The Office of Tourism announced the 17 recipients of two different grants, saying tourism produced more than $3 billion in tax revenue for the state and local communities last year.

One grant, awarded officially to the Champaign Park District/ Virginia Theatre, is for $50,000. It’s to be used for installation of “modern ‘intelligent’ theatrical lighting.”
The Tourism Attraction Grant program helps develop or enhance tourism attractions to boost visitation and overnight stays in Illinois. There were 13 recipients sharing $1.4 million. Officials say there were four times as many applications for this grant as there was available funding.
Full blurb available in the eEdition (with digital subscription) here. There was also an update by WCIA on Crystal Lake Park (with video segment here):
Work is underway on Crystal Lake Park Rehabilitation Project.

Developers needed the lake level lowered to allow for work on the new multi-use path.

The Park District is paying for this project with a grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.

Carle Hospital matched the grant for a total of $537,000.

They expect the trail to be completed in July. 
Blurb and video segment available here. The Rehabilitation Project has an informational website here as well. The Middle Fork Forest Preserve's Dark Sky designation became official this month. From the News-Gazette eEdition:
Last weekend, Middle Fork River Forest Preserve was officially dedicated as a Dark Sky Park and a new park entrance sign was unveiled during a celebration attended by about 200, including people who were deeply involved in getting the park certified as the first and only International Dark Sky Park in Illinois and one of only 50 in the country.

Mary Ellen Wuellner, executive director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said it was a fun celebration that included a presentation on the importance of dark skies and what individuals can do to darken skies around our own homes, presented by David Leake, director of Parkland College’s

William M. Staerkel Planetarium, who was a driving force behind the park’s new designation. Wuellner said it’s been interesting to see how quickly the park’s designation has attracted visitors and phone calls from people interested in visiting. She said there are people who make a point of visiting Dark Sky Parks, which are listed on the International Dark Sky Association’s website,
Blurb available with digital subscription here. There was also a blurb last week on State funding becoming available to local governments here:
Local governments in Illinois may apply for state grants to acquire or develop space for recreation areas.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced Tuesday that applications will be accepted beginning July 1 for the Open Space Land Acquisition fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The OSLAD program provides 50 percent funding for qualified projects by municipalities that can show they have the ability to finance the remainder of the project.

The money comes from a portion of the state’s real estate transfer tax.
That blurb also available from the eEdition here.

Here are some additional links on the latest updates on various area environmental issues:
  • From April: 5th and Hill Cleanup: Update from WCIA. Update from WCCU. Background from WILL here and from Champaign County Health Care Consumers here.
  • May update on residents suing People's Gas over the natural gas leak in the Mahomet aquifer from WILL with background information as well.
  • May update on Dynegy rethinking its Middle Fork stabilization plans from the News-Gazette here.
  • May update on campus solar power including new Engineering roof panels from the News-Gazette here.
There was also a WCIA article on a state grant to help encourage students to bike or walk to school. More on that here.

Committee of the Whole 6/11

I didn't see any local coverage of last week's Committee of the Whole meeting and the video isn't up on the County Clerk's YouTube page as of yet (it should be here when it's available). The agenda and agenda packet is available here. Amy did the write up for the Champaign County Board Committee of the Whole Meeting 6/11/2019:
Disclaimer: this is the first COW that I’ve attended in 2019, and it is likely that I don’t understand the context of some debates due to missing previous meetings.

Monthly reports were noted as being available for review on their respective Champaign County websites: Treasurer, Auditor, and departments that fall under the purview of Justice and Social Service reports. 

Finance committee took up the majority of the agenda. Interesting items of note during Item VII: Finance, County Executive items 6a and 6b.

During the FY19 General Corporate Fund Budget Projection & Budget Change reports (item 6a), it was announced that Moodys removed the negative outlook and affirmed the County’s AA2 rating.

During 6b, Request for Reimbursement of travel expenses by County Board Member Christopher Stohr for mileage to attend Lincoln Heritage RC&D in Paris, Il. There was a fair amount of discussion over motion to approve this request. If I understood correctly from the back and forth of committee members, the finance committee is working on a policy to address travel reimbursement. They decided that, until the policy is in place, they would approve reimbursements of members who are required to travel outside of the county as part of committee appointment responsibilities. Based on the debate period for this request, it sounds as though a member would rather hold off on reimbursements until the official policy is in place. I received the impression that this discussion has occurred before. It was ultimately approved by voice vote.

During Item VIII: Justice and Social services, new business centered around a discussion of the EMA, with many references to the May pop-up tornado that struck in south Urbana and community reaction to the lack of advanced warning.  References were made to a meeting between some board members, the police, and EMA to discuss what had happened and what might need to happen differently in the future. One Board member mentioned wanting to review policies and procedures. Other board members noted that there is a process for Weather Spotter Certification and that perhaps they could develop a program for locals to obtain this certification.

Item IX on the agenda (Policy, Personnel, & Appointments) was the period of the board meeting with the most debate. New business consisted of the appointments to boards and commissions, which is now under the purview of the County Executive. (See

Three appointments/reappointments were on the agenda: Champaign County Forest Preserve District (1 position), Developmental Disabilities Board (2 positions), and County Board of Health (3 positions). When the committee brought forward the first nomination, Board member Fortado requested that the nominations be tabled until the Thursday County Board meeting. As she explained it, there had been discussion at the Committee meeting of presenting the nominations at the COW, then approving the appointments/reappointments at the Board meeting, thereby providing members with additional time to review the applications. McGuire pointed out that this is not the County Board policy; the policy is to process the COW agenda as it is presented. This then led to an extended debate as to whether the appropriate term for the motion was to Table or to Postpone. Some thought Tabling meant that the agenda items remained on the table (agenda) until the next meeting. Others thought that it ended the discussion period and, therefore, the positions would go unfilled. These members believed that Postponement was the appropriate motion, although at that point the Motion to Table had already been raised. In the end, these appointments were tabled by roll call vote during the course of the meeting, then raised before the end of the meeting and approved by roll call vote to place on the agenda at the Thursday Board meeting for a final vote on the decision to appoint. 
The regular County Board meeting is this Thursday (agenda here) with final approval of some of these appointments. The full agenda packet for that meeting is quite large as it includes amended contracts for the new tax assessment system and the Champaign County GIS Consortium. Both are part of the consent agenda (that allows the board to pass uncontested items with unanimous approval).

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Citizens Police Academy

Several local police departments participate in a free program to educate the public on law enforcement in collaboration with the University of Illinois' Police Training Institute called the Citizens' Police Academy. This year's classes included at least eight police departments, other agencies, some current and former elected officials, etc. The 10 week program consists of a weekly 3 hour night class at the Police Training Institute on campus (free parking was provided) and a few other local facilities. At the end of the program, participants are encouraged to participate in a ride along with their local police department.

The Daily Illini had an overview and coverage of the first day of class back in April:
Police Training Institute begins 10-week course for citizens
The University’s Police Training Institute began its annual 10-week public course, Citizen Police Academy, on April 4. The program is offered to all citizens residing in Champaign County.

The interactive 10-week program will cover topics such as de-escalation, DUI enforcement and crime scene investigations. Students taking the course will also have the opportunity to visit the Champaign County Jail and meet some of the Champaign Police Department’s K-9s...

Michael Schlosser served as a lieutenant for the Rantoul Police Department before retiring. He is currently the director for the Police Training Institute, as well as the main instructor for the 10-week course.

“When citizens have the opportunity to gain knowledge and learn about all the different aspects of policing … then that gives them a better perspective when they’re trying to understand things they see on TV or read in the paper,” Schlosser said...

If the students attend 7 out of 10 classes at the end of the program, they will have the ability to graduate and get a small certificate saying they completed the course.
Full article here. Departments are generally trying to increase awareness of their various outreach programs, so if you have questions about this or any less intensive outreach options they may offer, they'll probably be happy to get you all the information you need. I'd strongly encourage this one if it's possible for you to attend regardless of any views one way or the other on the police themselves. The instructors encourage questions and criticism to have an opportunity to explain their perspective. Signing up was easy, but required a background check.

Below are some highlights from the course:

Week 1: An introduction to the class and how it's laid out. A brief history of the Police Training Institute and the role it plays in training officers from all over Illinois. An introduction to Dr. Schlosser, the Director of the Police Training Institute and general ringleader of the 10 week program. He covered the first subject of de-escalation and "verbal judo" involved in gaining voluntary compliance. Some may notice that some of the "verbal judo" techniques are being used as the class proceeds.

Week 2: Former Champaign County Sheriff, attorney and PTI instructor Dan Walsh explains the structure and authority of various law enforcement agencies in the State of Illinois down to local departments. He also explained various aspects of civil and criminal law, enforcement and prosecution. The limited options in dealing with mental health issues and the current role the criminal justice system plays in mental health intervention and treatment was raised. This is a recurring theme throughout the course.

Champaign Police Deputy Chief Troy Daniels explained "community policing," the history of it, and the principles behind it. Topics ranged from intelligence based policing and spearfishing to the mutual benefits of community policing for law enforcement and the community. He emphasized the sudden dangers involved in policing and argued that police constantly put their life at risk giving people the benefit of the doubt. He also tried to dispel the myth that local violence is a Chicago imported problem. He noted that it is overwhelmingly home grown local disputes between local people and cliques. There was also an overview of the local Crime Stoppers program.

Week 3: At the Willard Training Center by the airport, the class learned about use of force balanced with the situation at hand and the use of Tasers. The seating is a bit more Spartan here, so you might consider bringing a little seat cushion. The material covered various control tactics, from verbal to defensive  depending on the subjects cooperation or aggression. The use of deadly force in response to risk of life or severe bodily injury were detailed as well. Four student volunteers from the PTI, later in their academy training, were on hand for demonstrations. Including to be "exposed to Taser" as they prefer to say instead of "Tasing" someone. Various technical and legal issues were covered on the use of a Taser.

The use of force scenarios demonstrated an attempt to apply the most simple and effective tactics to deal with chaotic situations with endless variables, all within the legal limits set by courts and legislatures. A lot of the questions and concerns raised were dealing with those variables and complications.

Week 4: Judge Jeff Ford of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court explained DUI Court, DUI statutes and enforcement as well as Drug Court programs and drug enforcement. State Trooper Tony Micele explained DUI enforcement details on everything from sobriety tests and the legal framework they have to operate within to help ensure convictions. He repeatedly emphasized that they were "not out to get people," but also that these offenses have deadly consequences for both offenders and innocent people.

Week 5 was on active shooters and responding to them. I'll be covering that class in a separate post and link it here when it's up.

Week 6: Tours of the Champaign County satellite jail and METCAD. The jail tour was instructive regardless of one's views on the various contentious issues on jail expansion, criminal justice reform, etc. Some of the logistical and security issues are made more clear regardless of what future direction one supports. It can also make clear the very real safety and security concerns with a county budget stretched to the brink when you see how that affects the lives of both the jailed population and jail staff. The life and safety of everyone in the facility (staff or inmate) depend on other people being able to assist them and functioning equipment.

The METCAD presentation was similar to the one I saw with the Champaign City Government 101 course, but I was able to get an update on the backup center that was being upgraded. The backup center ran a couple hours of a shift back on April 14th and on its way to being ready to handle operations if the main METCAD facility goes down for some reason. Here's a quick overview of METCAD from a previous post:
Champaign County's METCAD system handles calls for 25 Fire Departments including Champaign and Urbana Fire Departments as part of its emergency dispatch services. This is on top of their services to 12 area police departments. It's an impressive collaborative agency with employees of the City of Champaign, an Urbana location, in a County building, and U of I phone systems. Its board has administrative and public safety representatives from local governments, the University of Illinois and rural representatives of police and fire departments.
The Q&A part of the presentation got into some of the technical hurdles in the long term goal of a fully integrated system and software updates to the system with varying local government and police department communications systems.

Week 7: Mike Metzler, the Chief of Police in Mahomet and a PTI firearms instructor led the class at the Tactical Training Center focusing on firearms and tour of the gun ranges. This class covered a lot of technical details on typical law enforcement firearms and an overview of marksmanship training. It highlighted the various training and requirements, including scenarios to prepare officers for situations they may face one day. The instructor explained the differences in various firearm laws, such as Illinois Firearm Owners ID card versus concealed carry permits. He also explained the difference and downsides of "open carry" laws in other states.

Week 8: Lt. Bruce Ramseyer of the Champaign Police Department explained Crime Scene Investigations and how a real life Crime Scene Unit operates locally versus what one sees on television. In real life people aren't experts or technicians in everything, a lot of the work is low-tech and certain testing is done by other laboratories and everything takes a lot longer. He explained the differences between elected coroners and (often appointed) Medical Examiners and their differing responsibilities. The whole process involves constant paperwork and a huge amount of evidence storage.

He explained how fingerprints are collected, analyzed and compared. He then covered a variety of evidence collection, chain of custody, and even his trip to "the body farm" at the National Forensics Academy. He outlined good calling advice if you contact the police. He encouraged people to not jump to conclusions, take a breath, and try to think positive — look for the facts.

Week 9: SWAT, K-9 and Bomb Squad demonstrations. Down at the U of I Stockyard Pavilion families were invited as well to check out the hardware, canine cops and explosive demonstrations. There were overviews of the local Metropolitan Emergency Tactical Response Operations (METRO) SWAT Unit, the types of K-9 dogs and their training, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams and robots.

A couple highlights included the multi-agency collaboration that forms our local SWAT team, including the SWAT medics who operate unarmed and work through a collaboration with Carle via the University of Illinois Police Department medical support unit. K-9 dog vests are available, but their use is limited by a more common danger to the dogs: overheating. The EOD unit is also a collaborative unit, currently with 6 techs split evenly from the Champaign Police Department and University of Illinois PD. There were a couple big booms in this class session.

Week 10: States Attorney Julia Rietz and Judge Randy Rosenbaum (who was the public defender years ago) explained the roles of the prosecutor and the public defenders office in the legal process. The SA explained various issues such as the plea bargain process, limits on evidence admission, and legal requirements and rights that have to be ensured. The former PD explained in more detail the rights of the accused and the ways how public defenders are appointed by the judiciary.

Afterwards those who attended enough classes graduated and got a certificate of completion and thanks from the chiefs of the participating police departments for taking the time to get to understand law enforcement better. Contact information and forms for scheduling a ride along with your local department was then sent out.

What next?

I'm looking forward to the ride along opportunity when that gets scheduled. I still have to finish the post on the Week 5 course on active shooters and catch up on several other topics that I've been collecting information on lately, including immigration and refugee services locally.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Property Tax Bills Sent

In an updated to the delayed property tax billing this year, the News-Gazette had a short blurb last week with the County Treasurer saying they have been mailed out:
Champaign County property-tax bills now in the mail
The county treasurer's office said the bills for 2018 taxes payable this summer were mailed Friday, so property owners should be getting them this week.

The first installment payment will come due July 1, according to the treasurer's office.

The bills were mailed a bit later than the last tentative mailing date, which was May 28.

Tax bills are running about a month behind due to a delay in receiving the county multiplier from the state and new technology being installed in county offices involved in the tax billing cycle.
Full blurb here. Previous Cheat Sheet post on the previous delays here. The delays have caused some sharp criticism of the Treasurer and and County Clerk by the County Board's Finance Chair, Jim Goss at previous meetings.

Willard Airport Updates

Here's a roundup of government news items on Willard Airport over the last month. First off, last month, the airport was able to secure a federal grant for runway improvements:
Federal grant will fund Willard runway upgrade
University of Illinois Willard Airport hopes to begin work on a runway improvement project next year with the help of a $9.9 million federal grant.

The grant was announced Friday by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The money will be used to reconstruct one of the three runways at Willard.

New pavement, underground wiring and a lighting upgrade will be done on one of the airport's two commercial runways, said Willard Interim Executive Director Tim Bannon.
Full blurb here. WCIA had some additional information in their blurb here.

In the past week there were a couple other updates on Willard. An update on the hiring of a new executive director was in the Just Askin' column in yesterday's News-Gazette:
It should be soon, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

"Candidates have been interviewed, so we are hopeful to wrap up the search within the next couple of weeks," she said in an email.

The previous executive director, Gene Cossey, left in February to begin a similar job at an airport in northeastern Tennessee...

Since he left, the assistant director of operations since February 2018, Tim Bannon, has been serving as the interim executive director.
Full blurb here. Smile Politely also pointed out that the airport's Master Plan update will be taking public input soon as well. More information will be uploaded to the CMI Master Plan website on that soon. Excerpt:
This Master Plan will define modern design efficiencies to reduce normal day to day costs for the Airport and its users.  The update will also consider additional options to provide passenger amenities and help create new revenue possibilities for Willard.
You can participate in this process by offering your input on plans as they develop. As parts of the plan become available to the public, they will be posted here, and you can find out how to add your comments here — something that may be worth your time if are a frequent traveler through CMI. 
That blurb here. CMI Master Plan website here

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

County Jail Facilities Discussion

The beginning of plans for the future of Champaign County's jail facilities took shape last night at the County Board's Facilities Committee meeting. Members of the community, including some local activists used the public participation opportunity to express concerns about a variety of issues.

  • Getting the most bang for our taxpayer buck by using U of I expertise in better designs that themselves could pay back dividends.
  • Concerns about expanding jails and putting money into buildings instead of programs for improving people's lives.
  • Alternatives to jailing for transgressive behavior. 
  • Openness to ensuring the needs of people in the satellite jail are met with improvements, but concerns about the mentally ill being jailed and a lack of investment in people and services outside of jail.
  • A call for an assessment of options with jailing alternatives that could be more cost effective and beneficial. He highlighted a reintegration program in Sweden that deals with the most extreme cases of terrorism that may have applications in criminal justice rehabilitation.
  • A visiting law professor with expertise in correctional law and restorative justice stressed the critical need for an overall master system plan from the beginning to the end of the process. She argued that a facilities plan should be DOA. She reiterated recommendations from the 2013 and 2017 criminal justice task forces for a coordinating council.
Sheriff Heuerman and Captain Voges of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office were first up on the agenda and laid out an informal presentation. The Sheriff noted his academic background in criminology and some shared concerns with the community. He said that the down town jail needs to be closed, that the plan needs a community approach, and a jail alone will not solve our problems. 

He stressed that there are some good things happening already inside the jail and before people get to the point of being jailed. He's passionate about helping people before they end up in jail, a result he considers a failure. He laid out a few key points:
  • He was willing to work on jail alternatives.
  • He's in support of lowering capacity (number of people they can jail), but increasing usable space for programs and safety.
  • He doesn't want mentally ill patients in the jail, but that is a current reality that must be dealt with.
He emphasized that there are serious safety and liability issues, especially with the downtown jail which could be shutdown for at any time by a retiring judge or for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires safe jails and the down town jail is used for separating inmates (e.g. gang rivalries) that would otherwise try to kill each other, people with separate needs, and inmates that have to be housed individually. The satellite jail logistically has no way to absorb these inmates and keep them separated.

He agreed that simply having more beds would inherently cause an incentive to fill them. He wanted to avoid the concept of "jail expansion" as he doesn't want more beds. They offer lots of programs and want to offer more, but they currently don't have the space to expand. Captain Voges explained that the community is mostly unaware of the numerous programs the jail has going (23 at the beginning of this year with a few more added already) while having only one classroom space.

Voges noted that the downtown jail isn't just behind the times on ADA requirements and technology, but they're having serious door and security issues where doors that need to be secure are "just popping." 

The board members' questions covered a lot of basic details, while others got into issues like the effect of Bail Reform locally. The effect was bigger in other areas that didn't already have some of the reforms Champaign was already implementing. Some hit on issues covered in a previous Cheat Sheet post on jail updates. An inmate with TB, for example, was isolated at facilities in Piatt County designed for that according to Captain Voges. She was answering a question on options to move down town jail inmates to other counties which got complicated.

She noted that she has a good relationship with jail administrators of area counties, but few are interested in taking on inmates that are someone else's problems. The others would only be willing to take the best inmates (i.e. without serious violence issues or medical needs). A couple or a few here and there may be all that's possible.

Board member Rector emphasized the separation issue as being the key issue, but hard to explain to people. He encouraged the Sheriff and staff to do what they could to inform the public on this. I have personally toured the facility and I'm not sure how best to explain it yet. That'll be a Cheat Sheet post for another day.

After the jail discussion the Facilities Committee went through the rest of the agenda rather quickly with updates and a quick approval. Here are some highlights:
  • The sidewalk to the former County nursing home is nearing completion with the last few feet. There'll be some earthwork afterward to fill in around that'll get done as the weather allows. Member Ingram asked about the zig-zag, which was apparently to best line up with the County administrative building access and Nursing Home access, and also the park district owning a patch of property.
  • The need for the Courthouse chiller replacements after short lives were explained as a design issue. The proximity to each other and their intake shortened their lives. Sheeting to separate the airflow has been implemented to deal with the issue.
  • And the lockers for the Courthouse guests who need to store prohibited items have arrived and will be installed soon. The Sheriff hopes that the quarters collected by the locking mechanism will go to maintenance of the lockers. They're already working with the States Attorney and others to inform the public and will have change at the Sheriff's office (after someone asked if we were going to need to buy a change machine next).
The meeting adjourned at 7:45pm.