Since our last update earlier this summer, 11 year veteran of the County Board, Stan Harper has resigned. The News-Gazette had coverage here with a biographical article from a couple years back here. John Farney, a former Champaign County Treasurer and Auditor, was appointed to fill the vacancy in the District 3 seat. Long time County Board member Aaron Esry sits in the other District 3 seat.
There are two seats per County Board districts and vacancies are filled by a member of the same political party that held the seat before, regardless of which party may have majority control over or chairs the board itself.
This Cheat Sheet update highlights a new advocacy group for affordable local nursing home beds, SAFE-T Act / Pretrial Fairness updates as the new law goes into effect, advocacy for affordable jail communication, and other County government news. But it's also approaching 2024 election season and you'll see candidates circulating ballot petitions to get on the primary election ballot. If you would like to be a candidate or support a candidate, the work has already begun. More detailed deadlines and important dates are laid out in the 2024 Illinois Election Calendar here. The County Clerk and Recorder has been promoting Vote by Mail locally and with other area County Clerks in a bipartisan effort in the wider area.
There has been a local push for more nursing home beds in the heart of the county's twin cities, especially with the old Champaign County Nursing home shut down by its new private owners this summer (more on that in a previous Cheat Sheet here). The News-Gazette had coverage of the new collaboration pushing for an assessment of local nursing home bed availability to get the policy process rolling on addressing the issue:
The collaborative is an offshoot of work already begun by a group calling itself Advocates for Nursing Home Care that formed with the closing of one of Champaign County’s few remaining nursing homes, University Rehabilitation Center of C-U, which was formerly the county nursing home in Urbana.
Cathy Emanuel, an organizer of that group, said state public health data is showing a need for 721 nursing home beds in Champaign County (based on population) that will be 310 beds short by the end of this year.
That’s due to the recent closing of University Rehab and a planned reduction in beds at ClarkLindsey’s Meadowbrook Health Center, she said.
That full article here. Earlier News-Gazette coverage of the advocacy group is available here from June and the previous June County Board updates on the Cheat Sheet covered and linked to their large showing at the County Board general meeting that month (jump to that portion of the meeting video here, roughly 10 minutes in).
SAFE-T Act and the end of cash bail (via the Pretrial Fairness Act that was a part of the larger SAFE-T Act provisions) went into effect this month. WCCU had an article on the impact in Champaign County earlier this month:
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz says the justice system in Champaign County is working well together but there are a few hiccups...
Rietz added she does not believe the SAFE-T Act will change the outcome of the justice system in Champaign County.
“I truly believe that in Champaign County, we've been making these decisions all along, and I really don't see this as changing the end result of our process, just the beginning part of the process,” explained Rietz.
There has also been increased criminal justice reform activity surrounding the Champaign County government's budget and a "Request for Proposal" for jail phone and video call systems contract. Several public commentors appealed to the County Board at the September general meeting (jump to video of those comments here). WILL had coverage explaining the issue with some additional helpful links here. One of the activists, Brian Dolinar, involved had an article in Smile Politely discussing his concerns here.
At the County Board's recent Special Finance Committee of the Whole meeting (full video), there were additional public comments by Brian Dolinar on the phone contract issue and some clarifications by Finance Committee chair Stephanie Fortado on the actual costs of these phone calls: $3.40 flat fee per call plus an addition 13 cents per minute after that (remote video calls have higher costs).
The Champaign County Sheriff had been publicly stating that the calls cost 13 cents per minute (e.g. quote from WCIA article here). This didn't mesh with the stated experiences and billing examples by family members and activists who received calls from inmates. Fortado's clarification appears to bridge the gap in some of the fees people were seeing in addition to the per minute rates. The Cheat Sheet will be looking deeper into the communication protocols and costs in the weeks ahead.
In other budget news, a new associate judge was approved for Champaign County. The downside is that the County budget that was already over $700,000 in the red now also has to find room for a new clerk for that judge, as required by law. This was also discussed in the Special Finance meeting (agenda packet, video) last night. News-Gazette coverage on that meeting and the likely increase of the budget deficit here.
Other County Government News:
- Champaign County Coroner to resign in order to take job with Mahomet-Seymour schools, according to the News-Gazette. WCCU also had a blurb on this news here.
- The last general County Board meeting included a presentation on the Mahomet Aquifer mapping project (video here, presentation slides here).
- Farm Bureau to help with building up rural broadband, according to WCIA.
- Champaign County bicycle safety issues growing as use increasing, according to WRSP.
- Last month, the News-Gazette reported that a special prosecutor was denied in a domestic battery case involving a Sheriff's deputy. As of that reporting, he is due back in court in early November.
- The new Champaign County Humane Society facility was quickly overwhelmed by increased need and promoted adoption discounts, according to the News-Gazette. The initial community response was highlighted by Jim Dey in his News-Gazette column.
- Getting to know Champaign County court security officer by the News-Gazette.
- Updates on Champaign County's Drug Court and recertification by the State, from the News-Gazette.