For the second time in six months, the person serving as the top lawyer for the City of Springfield has resigned.
The city issued a one-sentence statement saying Acting Corporation Counsel John Mehlick has submitted his resignation, effective December 14th. No reason was given for Mehlick's decision to step down. Mayoral spokesman Nathan Mihelich says he was in the meeting when Mehlick informed Mayor Mike Houston of his intention to resign, but Mihelich says Mehlick did not offer any specific reason for the decision.
Mehlick was appointed by Mayor Mike Houston to replace Mark Cullen, who resigned last summer following revelations about his role in the police department file shredding scandal. Mehlick is a retired judge.
Stay with 970 WMAY for updates on this developing story.
An area lawmaker is critical of the fact that judges were left out of the pension reform deal that reduced benefits for most other public sector workers in the state.
Republican Bill Mitchell says judges get a much larger pension than the average teacher or state worker… but they will continue to receive the compounded three-percent cost-of-living increase that is being taken away from the other pension systems.
He says the bill turns judges into a “new aristocracy” and "super-citizens" who can't be touched by the same rules that affect other public employees. Some opponents of the pension bill believe judges were specifically excluded to improve the chances that the bill won't be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.
Two Springfield aldermen say the Houston administration’s handling of the Calvin Christian settlement makes it look like the mayor is guilty of… something.
Both Sam Cahnman and Joe McMenamin made similar statements (live on 970 WMAY's "Bishop On Air") in response to the contention from top city officials that Cahnman should recuse himself from discussions of the settlement in the Christian case because of a potential conflict of interest.
Cahnman has represented Christian in several traffic cases, but he says the administration’s attack on him smacks of an attempt to cover up its own issues.
Sangamon County health officials are picking up the pace of appointments to help local residents get signed up for required health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The health department has scheduled dozens of appointments to assist people in navigating the online signup. But county health director Jim Stone says so far, all of those people have wound up going through the state’s expanded Medicaid program… not the troubled federal website, so he still doesn’t know if the nagging problems with healthcare.gov have really been fixed.
Stone says a full contingent of staff is on standby to help people sign up for coverage before a December 23rd deadline. [To schedule an appointment, call the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.]
A new study of the state’s readiness for a major disaster finds Illinois is in line with most of the nation in its ability to respond to big emergencies.
The National Health Security Preparedness Index gives the state high marks for its ability to test for and detect potential causes in the event of a widespread event involving food contamination, and also for its plans to distribute and dispense medical supplies on a large scale.
But the state ranks below average for its plans to identify and mobilize medical personnel who may be needed in a crisis, and to provide assistance to special needs populations in a public health emergency. State health officials say they’re working on ways to shore up those deficiencies.
The next stop will be a courtroom in the fight over public sector pensions in Illinois.
The General Assembly on Tuesday approved a major pension reform bill that aims to save $160 billion over 30 years by reducing cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age for many workers.
Unions representing teachers, state workers and others say the legislation is an unconstitutional reduction of the benefits that the state has promised to provide, and say they will sue to have it overturned.
A new round of fireworks has delayed a vote on the proposed settlement between the City of Springfield and the reporter who is suing over shredded police department internal affairs files.
Attorney Jon Gray Noll, who was hired by the city to represent it in the cases brought by Calvin Christian, says Alderman Sam Cahnman has a conflict of interest and should not be involved in the settlement discussions.
Cahnman is representing Christian in one of the numerous traffic citation cases that is included in a separate federal lawsuit in which Christian accuses the city of harassment.
The new wrinkle led aldermen to delay a planned emergency passage vote on the settlement.
That vote will now take place in two weeks… when it will require fewer votes for approval.
In other City Council action, aldermen approved a new three-year contract for Springfield firefighters.
The only “no” vote came from Alderman Joe McMenamin, who voices concerns about the contract’s pay raises and its impact on the city’s pension debt.
The council also lifted a moratorium on boathouse construction at Lake Springfield… and approved a program that will encourage minority students to pursue careers in engineering or other fields related to railroad work.
The city, Sangamon County, and Hanson Professional Services will each contribute $20,000 to that effort.
A bill that would have given tax breaks to Archer Daniels Midland and other Illinois corporations, in order to keep some of their jobs in the state, has stalled.
The Senate approved the $88 million package on Tuesday, but the House adjourned without acting on the bill, meaning nothing can happen until the legislature’s spring session.
ADM said in a statement that it is now reviewing its options about where to relocate its global headquarters, currently based in Decatur, and will have an announcement soon.
A scare that prompted a lockdown of a downtown Springfield office building has now become a matter for the police.
A portion of the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services, across from the Capitol, was closed down when a powder spilled from an envelope.
The powder was just baby powder and posed no danger, but a note in the same envelope constituted a “legitimate threat,” according to Springfield fire chief Ken Fustin.
Fustin would not elaborate.
He’s been one of the state’s two U.S. Senators for nearly three years… but Republican Mark Kirk remains an unknown quantity to many voters.
A new survey finds 32-percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him… while an identical 32-percent have a negative view.
But 37-percent say they have no opinion of Kirk at all.
Kirk spent more than a year largely out of public view as he recovered from a debilitating stroke he suffered in early 2012.
Attorneys for the City of Springfield say an alderman has a conflict of interest in the case with a possible six-figure settlement, news which led other aldermen to hold the settlement in committee.
Just after a motion for executive session to discuss the settlement Tuesday, John Gray Noll said that Ward 5 Aldermen Sam Cahnman represents Calvin Christian in a traffic ticket from 2012.
Noll says that same traffic ticket is also cited in Christian's federal harassment case against the city. Cahnman says that if he would have known about the conflict of interest, he would have withdrawn from representing Christian.
Corporation Counsel John Mehlick says withdrawing doesn't remove the conflict. Cahnman says he will consult his attorney on how to proceed.
Aldermen voted against executive session and then voted to hold the settlement in committee, both votes Cahnman abstained from. Christian is suing the city of Springfield over the destruction of police internal affairs files he requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
The settlement would pay Christian and his attorneys $103,000 and would also not require the city to disclose any more information. The settlement will be discussed further next week.
Two weeks of intensive details have paid off for Springfield police.
Multiple enforcement efforts aimed at DUI and seat belt offenses generated two dozen citations for failing to buckle up… and 11 arrests for drunk driving. City cops also made 33 felony arrests, captured 58 fugitives and wrote 67 speeding tickets in those details from November 18th through December 1st.
Total numbers, as released by SPD:
24 Seatbelt Citations
2 Child car seat citations
11 DUI arrests
33 Felony arrests
2 Stolen vehicles recovered
58 Fugitives apprehended
27 Suspended/Revoked drivers
75 Uninsured motorists
67 Speeding citations
24 Drug arrests
Springfield fire officials say a suspicious substance that spilled from an envelope in a state office mailroom turns out to be baby powder. But the contents of a letter in that same envelope prompted authorities to treat the incident as a "legitimate threat" intended to strike fear into people, and the incident will be referred to law enforcement as a potential criminal case.
Workers in the mailroom at the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services at College and Monroe downtown were segregated from other employees while the substance was tested. Fire chief Ken Fustin says no one showed any symptoms and no one was harmed.
Fustin would not disclose the contents of the letter that prompted authorities to raise the threat level of the incident. He says there did not appear to be a return address on the envelope.
A Springfield alderman says he may try to postpone tonight’s vote on a proposed settlement of the lawsuit brought against the city by a local reporter.
Mayor Mike Houston has proposed the settlement to pay Calvin Christian and his lawyers more than $100,000 to end Christian’s lawsuit over shredded police department internal affairs files. But Alderman Sam Cahnman is concerned about all the things that alderman and taxpayers still don’t know about the case… details that the settlement does nothing to clear up.
The ordinance is on emergency passage tonight. It would take a total of eight votes to approve the measure this evening. Appearing live on 970 WMAY’s “Bishop On Air,” Cahnman says he will push to delay the vote for at least two weeks so that aldermen can read depositions from the lawsuit and other relevant material before deciding whether to accept the settlement.
One of Illinois’s top insurance companies is “un-canceling” policies for potentially thousands of state residents.
Blue Cross Blue Shield customers had faced the loss of policies that do not comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But after a nationwide backlash, the Obama administration changed the rules to allow companies to offer those policies for one more year.
The Chicago Tribune reports Blue Cross Blue Shield will allow customers to keep those policies… but they could face higher premiums for the same coverage. The company says affected customers may still wish to pursue different coverage options through the federal healthcare.gov website.
The stakes are high as lawmakers return to Springfield today for what is expected to be a one-day special legislative session.
Governor Pat Quinn calls today’s scheduled vote on a pension reform plan “the most important fiscal vote that will ever be taken by the General Assembly in [his] lifetime.”
But public sector unions and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford say the bill is unconstitutional.
And Bruce Rauner… who, like Rutherford, is running for governor… says the bill doesn’t do enough to address the state’s growing pension crisis.
The filing period for the March 2014 primary is over… and no Democrats have submitted petitions to run for any of the three countywide offices that will be on next year’s ballot.
No contenders submitted petitions to challenge GOP incumbent county clerk Joe Aiello or treasurer Tom Cavanagh.
In the race for sheriff, two Republicans will face off in the GOP primary… but for the moment, the winner will not have an opponent next November.
The Sangamon County Democratic Party could add candidates to the ballot after the primary next year… or candidates could try to get on the general election ballot by waging a write-in campaign in the primary.
Several candidates for statewide office got their petitions in with just hours to spare Monday.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon will challenge incumbent Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka next year.
And Michael Webster submitted his petitions to run as a Republican against Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White.
In the race for Attorney General, Republican Paul Schimpf filed petitions just before Thanksgiving for the seat currently held by Democrat Lisa Madigan, who is seeking re-election.
The Springfield school board is gearing up for a long day Saturday.
Board members will interview six semifinalists for the vacant superintendent job behind closed doors.
After those interviews are done, the board will publicly announce the names of two to three finalists… who will return to Springfield days later, on December 11th, for public question-and-answer sessions.
After that, the board will make a final selection and will attempt to negotiate a contract with that person by the end of the year.
Springfield city residents who took advantage of exceptional weekend weather to finish up their raking will get a break from the city’s public works department.
Springfield’s free leaf pickup program was supposed to wrap up last weekend, but Public Works Director Mark Mahoney says the city will keep working this weekend to pick up… for free… any leaves that were bagged up and at curbside by Monday morning.
After that final pass, though, Mahoney says residents will have to purchase stickers to get their leaves and other yard waste picked up.
The City of Springfield is making one more sweep this week as part of its free leaf pickup program.
The free pickup was supposed to have ended this past weekend, but public works director Mark Mahoney says bad weather early in November may have kept some people from completing their raking. Since there was very good weather over the past weekend, Mahoney says there are a lot of people who finally got their leaves bagged and need the free pickup.
He says any leaves that were bagged and put out by the curb by early Monday morning will be picked up this week for free… otherwise, people will have to put stickers on those bags to get them picked up.
State Treasurer… and GOP candidate for governor… Dan Rutherford is coming out against the pension reform plan that goes before lawmakers this week.
Rutherford says in a statement that he doesn’t believe the current proposal would stand up to a court challenge. He says changes to pensions can be made if enough “consideration” is given to workers in exchange for benefits that are lost, but Rutherford says this bill fails to do that.
Another Republican for governor, Bruce Rauner, has also come out against the bill… but he says it doesn’t do enough to restrict pension benefits for public sector workers.
There was Black Friday, and Cyber Monday… and now comes “Giving Tuesday.”
(Tomorrow,) Tuesday, December 3rd has been given that designation locally as part of a nationwide effort to encourage people to donate to charitable causes. In Springfield, there is a specific emphasis on groups and organizations that support early childhood education. Organizers hope the designation will focus as much attention on charitable giving as those other landmark dates do to get people thinking about holiday shopping.
One local program that is seeking help is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which has provided free books to hundreds of Springfield-area preschoolers. A change in a corporate grant has left the program with only enough money for three more months of operation unless a benefactor steps forward.
Another fundraiser is planned later this month to help the victims of the devastating November tornadoes across Illinois and Indiana.
Culver’s restaurants in both states will donate 10-percent of sales on Wednesday, December 11th to the American Red Cross to assist with the tornado relief and recovery effort. In Springfield, Culver’s West on Wabash will participate in the one-day fundraising event.
Culver’s says anyone who can’t make it to the restaurant on December 11th is encouraged to donate directly to the Red Cross.
The Republican candidates for governor are weighing in on the pension reform plan that could come up for a vote in the General Assembly on Tuesday.
Bruce Rauner is the harshest critic… saying it does not save enough money and continues to provide overly-generous benefits to public sector union members.
And Rauner opposes the bill’s provision to establish pension funding guarantees… saying that puts pensions ahead of education and other essential services.
Another GOP candidate, state Senator Kirk Dillard, says there should be more hearings and discussion before a final vote.
But state Senator Bill Brady supports the bill, and defends the push for fast action. He says most of the provisions have been discussed and vetted for months.
State Treasurer Dan Rutherford has so far not commented on the bill.
A 75-year-old motorcyclist from Springfield is dead following a crash Sunday afternoon on Interstate 55 near the Carlinville exit.
State police say Ronald Ames was traveling northbound on the interstate when traffic began to slow.
A vehicle directly in front of Ames changed lanes to pass a slower-moving SUV hauling a trailer.
Ames was unable to avoid striking the trailer. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
More people are reporting that they’ve received fake text messages, informing them that their credit or debit card has been “deactivated” and trying to get them to call a local number.
The messages claim to be from a local bank… but they’re not, and police say it’s an apparent scam.
If you receive such a message, the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office says you should not call the phone number in the text message.
Instead, you should call police.
Springfield aldermen will have several contentious ordinances in front of them for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
One on first reading calls for the immediate release of minutes and recordings of a closed-door meeting last month to discuss the possible privatization of Oak Ridge Cemetery.
That meeting is the subject of a legal challenge, even though Mayor Mike Houston has now dropped the idea of hiring a private firm to run the cemetery.
The other ordinance on emergency passage would put the city into an agreement with Sangamon County and Hanson Professional Services to run a “minority participation program.”
Each of the three participants would pay $20,000 a year for the program, which would try to steer minority students with an interest in science or technology into careers like engineering, or jobs related to railroads.
Another ordinance on emergency passage would settle the police internal affairs shredding case with Calvin Christian for $103,000.
Ordinances on Emergency Passage require 8 votes to pass.
Springfield aldermen will vote Tuesday on a proposal to spend $20,000 a year on a program aimed at steering minority youth toward careers in engineering and other jobs related to railroads.
Sangamon County and Hanson Professional Services would also contribute $20,000 each per year to the Minority Participation Project.
Alderman Doris Turner says with Springfield starting its railroad relocation project, the timing is right for an effort like this.
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