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Rick Nielson’s Rockford casino gambit pays off

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Register Star

[Rockford] Mayor Tom McNamara said that he recommended to the City Council Monday that Hard Rock Casino should receive the city’s only casino license.

McNamara said Forest City Casino’s application for a far east side casino has uncertainties and Gorman and Co. had no casino operator for a downtown site.

Hard Rock Casino Rockford will be located at the former Clock Tower Resort property on 25 acres at 7801 E. State St. Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, 610 N. Bell School Road, would house a temporary casino until the Hard Rock Casino is built.

Hard Rock International is proposing a casino with 1,500 slot machines and 55 table games, a Hard Rock Café and 1,600-seat Hard Rock Live entertainment venue at the I-90 exit. […]

“It’s going to be cool,” [Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, an investor in the Hard Rock Casino Rockford project] said.

Hard Rock has pledged a minimum $7 million payment to the city every year. The Illinois Gaming Board still has to sign off.


Wait. What? Oh. Nevermind. Carry on, carry on

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* So, I was skimming through this press release today

Building on a strong team of diverse experts in their fields, Governor JB Pritzker announced the following individuals have agreed to serve in his administration:


Nothing really stood out at first. And then I scrolled down to the fifth name on the list

Martin Sandoval

I almost choked. What the heck? Are they insane???

* Then I kept reading

Martin Sandoval, C.P.A., will serve as a Business Administration Expert on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Board of Trustees. With over 25 years of experience in business, strategic planning and financial management, Sandoval is the founding partner of Compass Associates. He previously was a Director of Corporate Development of Sara Lee Corporation and did similar work for organizations such as the McDonald’s Corporation and Arthur Andersen. Sandoval is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Illinois CPA Society, and he has also served as Vice President for the National Museum of Mexican Art, Treasurer of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and Vice Chair of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement. Sandoval earned his Master of Science in Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in Commerce from DePaul University.

Anyway, if you want to see the latest ALPLM Board appointees and a couple of new WIU trustees, click here.


Sterigenics to close plant

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* This will be cause for rejoicing in some circles…

* Press release…

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) released the following statement on the news of Sterigenics not re-opening their Willowbrook facility:

“Sterigenics got the message that we were never going to let them reopen their doors and poison our communities again.”

Earlier this year, Leader Durkin introduced the Matt Haller Act which created the strongest restrictions on ethylene oxide in the nation.

When the courts approved the consent decree on September 20 to allow Sterigenics to re-open, Leader Durkin introduced House Bill 3885 that would authorize any municipality in the state of Illinois to implement a local ban of the use of ethylene oxide within its boundaries. If a local municipality chooses to adopt this authority, any sterilizing companies would be prohibited from using ethylene oxide. This bill has the support of the village of Willowbrook.


* Press release…

Sen. Curran statement on Sterigenics leaving Willowbrook

“This is tremendous news for the people of Willowbrook and the surrounding communities. The risks involved with this facility re-opening were simply too great to the public health. This announcement from Sterigenics is the direct result of the tireless advocacy of Stop Sterigenics and other community organizations who have proven once again that when we all work together, we will not be stopped. Now it is our job to remain vigilant in continuing to protect the health of those we serve,” said State Senator John Curran (R-Downers Grove).

* Congressman Dan Lipinski…

Today’s news marks a victory for everyone who lives in the vicinity of Sterigenics!

This decision by Sterigenics to shut down their Willowbrook plant shows what can happen when public officials on all levels work together along with concerned citizens to protect the health and safety of our communities. This fight has been going on for more than a year and has taken a tremendous amount of work by scores of people, but it was worth it to protect families from further exposure to this dangerous cancer-causing agent. Although this particular fight is over, I will continue to press for a strong federal ethylene oxide standard to protect the health and safety of those who live near EtO-emitting facilities around the country.

* Congressman Bill Foster…

Sterigenics’ decision to permanently close its Willowbrook facility is best for all concerned. From the beginning, the company’s handling of this situation has been insufficiently respectful of the sincere concerns raised by people who live and work in Willowbrook and the surrounding communities. I will continue to work in Congress to make sure the EPA has the resources it needs to protect the health and well-being of all our communities.

* Important point in the Daily Herald story

The company also was unable to reach an agreement to renew the lease on the building it uses on Quincy Street in Willowbrook.

* U.S. Representative Sean Casten…

Illinoisans should have confidence that the air they are breathing is safe. Unfortunately, the actions of Sterigenics made it impossible for those who live and work in Willowbrook and the surrounding communities to have that peace of mind. For that reason, I support Sterigenics’ decision to close their Willowbrook facility. It is a credit to the hard work of the community for coming together to voice their opinion. Moving forward, I will continue to urge the U.S. EPA to do their job and communicate about the potential risks posed by ethylene oxide emissions, as well as the FDA to ensure a robust medical supply chain that will not endanger patient safety.

* Rep. Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst)…

The Matt Haller Act recognized that ethylene oxide sterilization involves a chemical process requiring the utmost care and trust to control emissions. Sterigenics’ behavior these many months destroyed that trust. We also had to repeatedly fight the Illinois EPA’s rubber-stamp approach and efforts to denigrate community members who just wanted truthful answers from the agency who by its very name is supposed to protect them. When legislators and community activists repeatedly found flaws in the scientific evidence; permit standards and other building requirements, the Administration and Illinois EPA repeatedly ignored them to favor Sterigenics. While today’s announcement can be viewed as a solid victory for residents of Willowbrook and surrounding communities, we are prepared to go further to make sure the Illinois EPA ends these lax oversight practices. The state as a whole will benefit from an Illinois EPA that does its job correctly to ensure that the air we breathe is safe.

* Rep. Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake)…

The closing of the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility is long overdue. Sterigenics finally saw the writing on the wall that we in Illinois place the health of our citizens over the profits of greedy corporations. I will always fight companies that look to harm our communities for their own financial gain, and today was a significant step in moving towards that goal.

With Sterigenics finally closed, we must now turn our attention to the two factories in Lake County that continue to poison our residents for their own profit. There is still more work to be done when it comes to keeping our air clean from toxic chemicals such as ethylene oxide, and going forward, companies need to prioritize the health of our communities over profits.

* Jen Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council…

Companies that give people cancer should be put on notice that Illinois is not a welcoming business environment. While it does not cure those who have been made sick due to exposure to ethylene oxide, those living and raising families in the Willowbrook area will finally have peace of mind going forward now that Sterigenics is ceasing operations. This announcement marks a victory for this particular community and the surrounding areas, but more must be done to protect other communities still threatened by ethylene oxide emissions.

The Illinois General Assembly must take action to protect all communities across the state from this cancer-causing chemical. We are hopeful that with the continued leadership of Gov. JB Pritzker and those in the legislature, House Bill 3888 will pass during the upcoming veto session and be signed into law in short order.


Open thread

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I have some important errands to run today. I should be back late this afternoon. In the meantime, please be nice to each other and, in these trying national times, do your utmost to keep the conversation as Illinois-centric as humanly possible. Thanks.


Question of the day

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* AP

Defying the NCAA, California’s governor signed a first-in-the-nation law Monday that will let college athletes hire agents and make money from endorsements — a move that could upend amateur sports in the U.S. and trigger a legal challenge.

Under the law, which takes effect in 2023, students at public and private universities in the state will be allowed to sign deals with sneaker companies, soft drink makers or other advertisers and profit from their images, names or likenesses, just like the pros. […]

The new law applies to all sports, though the big money to be made is in football and basketball. It bars schools from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid. It does not apply to community colleges and prohibits athletes from accepting endorsement deals that conflict with their schools’ existing contracts.

The NCAA, which had asked Newsom to veto the bill, responded by saying it will consider its “next steps” while also moving forward with “efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.”

Rep. Chris Welch filed a similar bill today.

* The Question: Should Illinois pass a similar law to California’s? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please…

bike tracks


Here we go again with more IDOT excuses

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* We’ve talked a couple of times about Rep. Jaime Andrade’s futile effort to shoo the multitude of pigeons and their giant piles of guano out of the CTA’s Irving Park Blue Line station. We’ve discussed how a local woman is making things more difficult by feeding the pigeons. But there’s a jurisdictional issue and some bureaucratic resistance as well

Complicating any clean-up effort is the CTA station’s location under the Kennedy Expressway, which is controlled by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The sidewalk, however, is controlled by the Chicago Department of Transportation. So responsibility is divided among different agencies with their own budgets and approaches to the problem. […]

CTA riders interviewed outside the Irving Park station described the pigeon situation as “gross” and “terrible” and wondered why more netting couldn’t be put up in more areas of the bridge. Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said the agency can’t do this because it needs to have the area open for inspections and other maintenance.

“We’re happy to continue discussing and meeting with all interested parties to see if there’s some solution,” Tridgell said.

Andrade disagreed with IDOT’s explanation, saying netting could easily be removed for inspections. “The problem comes down to who is going to pay,” he said.

It seems like IDOT is always explaining why it can’t do something, or why it’s taking so much time to do something. The whole place needs an attitude adjustment.

This is a public health hazard, for crying out loud. Find a way to fix it. Then move on to the next problem.

I mean, seriously, do they expect me to believe that if Acting Transportation Secretary Omer Osman used that CTA stop every day this would be allowed to continue? No way.


Gone in 30 seconds

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Pretty sure we’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth repeating every now and then. From Finke’s column

The National Conference of State Legislatures recently took a look at rainy day funds, money state’s put aside to help cushion the blow in the event of an economic downturn.

The organization said only two states don’t have an official rainy day fund, although one of them, Colorado, has a “required reserve” fund. That leaves only Illinois without one, NCSL said.

That’s a bit misleading. Illinois has a “Budget Stabilization Fund,” which is essentially a rainy day fund under a different name. Right now, it has $60,000 in it, which the comptroller’s office said will pay less than 30 seconds worth of state bills.

Rest easy.

*Hard sigh*

…Adding… As noted in comments, it makes little sense to establish a large rainy day fund while the state has so much debt. However, building in a bit of fiscal flexibility would still be a decent idea.


There’s a reason why CPS appears to be “daring” CTU to strike over certain issues

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* NBC 5

One day after Chicago Teachers Union members announced they voted to authorize a strike, union leaders began bargaining sessions with the Chicago Board of Education in an effort to keep teachers from walking off their jobs.

Negotiations began around 10 a.m. Friday, continuing for several hours before coming to an end before 4 p.m.

The CTU said negotiations were expected to resume Tuesday. The union is calling for more staffing and a cap in class sizes.

“It’s almost as if they’re daring us to strike over these issues,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a press conference Friday.

Except, a state law passed in 1995 makes things like class size and staffing levels optional bargaining items for CPS. Union members cannot strike over the topics.

* From the statute

If, after a reasonable period of bargaining, a dispute or impasse exists between the educational employer and the exclusive representative, the dispute or impasse shall be resolved exclusively as set forth in subsection (b) of Section 12 of this Act in lieu of a strike under Section 13 of this Act. [Emphasis added.]

* The union’s public position seems to be that the law is unjust and shouldn’t be followed…


Vallas billed almost $900K for those infamous campaign texts

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Heather Cherone at the Daily Line

On his way to a ninth-place finish in the race for Chicago mayor, Paul Vallas racked up bills totaling $885,357 sending unsolicited text messages to Chicagoans touting his campaign, according to documents filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

In addition, when the former Chicago Public Schools CEO closed his Paul Vallas for All Chicago campaign committee on Sept. 11, he still owed Link2Tek — the Asheville, North Carolina-based firm that sent the messages — $535,357 after paying the firm $350,000, according to state records.

Along with the outstanding debt, Vallas’s defunct campaign committee faces an ongoing lawsuit that claims the text messages violated federal law. […]

The class-action lawsuit, filed by attorney James Vlahakis on behalf of Chicagoans Jake Campbell and Jeff Klueh, alleges the system used by Link2Tek is an autodialer “dressed in sheep’s clothing.”

I just never did understand what he was trying to accomplish with the over-reliance on text messaging. I’m pretty sure he didn’t, either.


The Statehouse doors don’t open by themselves

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* We’ve discussed this issue before. Mayor Lightfoot hasn’t yet filled in state legislators about what she wants in the fast-approaching veto session. Here’s Team Tribune

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat who chairs the House Revenue Committee, said Lightfoot has “been pretty forthright and honest about the challenges she faces.” Nevertheless, lawmakers don’t want to wait until her budget speech to find out what she wants from Springfield, Zalewski said. […]

“Something that everyone will have to take into consideration is just what the appetite is for more major actions,” said House Democratic leader Greg Harris of Chicago. Harris said he hasn’t met with the mayor’s office or seen any specific requests. […]

Senate Republican leader Bill Brady hasn’t heard from Lightfoot’s office about proposals that would help address Chicago’s budget deficit, spokesman Jason Gerwig said Wednesday. […]

“The governor wants every city in Illinois to succeed, and he is committed to helping them thrive,” Bittner said in a statement. “The administration continues to have productive conversations with the mayor’s office, and we are hopeful that her requests will receive a warm welcome in the General Assembly.”

Part of the problem here is that the mayor hasn’t yet settled on what she wants.


EIU’s enrollment comeback isn’t all it seems

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Eastern Illinois University posted a 10 percent enrollment increase last year and a 4 percent increase this year. But, as Gabriel Neely-Streit reports, there’s a catch

Over at least the past two years, the university has begun to include high schoolers enrolled in dual credit courses and dual enrollment programs in its total enrollment count.

The young programs have been very popular, adding over a thousand students to EIU’s overall headcount, and helping the university build strong relationships with high schoolers across the state.

They have also allowed EIU to claim enrollment increases despite a declining on-campus population, possibly muddying the true picture of the university’s size and health. […]

The “dual enrollment” courses are taught by EIU faculty over videochat and online learning platforms at 10 high schools within 60 miles of the university, explained Professor Rebecca Throneburg, Chair of EIU’s Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences, who co-led the university’s early dual credit efforts. […]

Dual credit students don’t pay full EIU prices, she said, yet the university must pay faculty salaries.

Go read the whole thing.


Sandoval’s the one under the gun now

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

At about the same time last week, Chicago-based investigators with the FBI and the IRS swooped into Democratic Sen. Marty Sandoval’s district office, Statehouse office and home residence, removing boxes of documents and seizing computers.

Last November, the feds launched a simultaneous raid of super-powerful Chicago Ald. Ed Burke’s city and ward offices, but they didn’t raid the man’s house.

So, yeah, this is definitely serious stuff. Imagine the evidence the feds had to provide to the Justice Department headquarters and to a federal judge in order to pursue and then obtain a sweeping warrant like that one. You don’t get permission to do all that for a simple fishing expedition, or because the target’s kid got a job or merely to convince the dude to flip on somebody else.

The Tribune reported that Sandoval may have steered business to “at least one company in exchange for kickbacks.” The coordinated federal raids didn’t exactly surprise many Statehouse types. One lobbyist said he was with seven colleagues the day of the raid, and they all claimed to have an unsavory Marty Sandoval story. Another was with 17 colleagues, and all but two had a story about Sandoval, um, “asking” them for various things in exchange for helping them with their legislative agendas.

Officials with the Senate Democrats and the Illinois Secretary of State said they did not have copies of federal warrants, which would be helpful to figure out what the feds were after. That’s somewhat surprising because the Secretary of State controls the Statehouse and the Senate Democrats control their own office suites. Senators themselves do not technically control their offices. The federal agents reportedly showed their warrant to the SoS police when they arrived at the north entrance and then presented it to an employee near or in Sandoval’s unlocked, open office, but no copy was apparently kept.

Nobody knows whether the raids were an outgrowth of current investigations or whether somebody flipped on him or if an irate civilian lodged a complaint. Ald. Burke, for example, got in trouble partly because he allegedly tried to shake down a regular guy who took umbrage.

Sandoval is not only the Senate Transportation Committee chairman, but he is also a member of leadership as the majority caucus whip.

Senate President John Cullerton has refused to remove Sandoval from either position. He’s even said nobody is sure whether the feds are really after Sandoval (which is kind of preposterous because, while the feds can definitely display a mean streak, they’re not gonna raid an elected official’s offices and home because they’re going after another person).

Sandoval hasn’t been charged with anything yet, and we don’t even know what the feds were really after here. They’ve since raided or visited three small towns in Sandoval’s district.

But Cullerton’s stance is not going over well with several members of his caucus. Cullerton has elected as many suburban PTA types as he could over the years, and those folks tend to be squeaky clean people who ran for office to do squeaky clean things. They most definitely did not come to Springfield to defend this kind of stuff.

Sandoval has been on the outs with House Speaker Michael Madigan and his team for years. The feud reached a fever pitch last year when Madigan sided with Congressman Chuy Garcia’s organization and successfully backed Alma Anaya against Sandoval’s daughter Angie for Garcia’s Cook County Board seat.

Madigan’s “general,” 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, reportedly wanted to take Sandoval himself out, but that plan was nixed. Even so, after last year’s conflict and the resulting extreme bad blood, people close to Madigan’s organization figured Sen. Sandoval would eventually be placed on the Garcia/Madigan hit list.

Sandoval prepared for that impending battle partly by raising lots of money and launching a massive play for publicity.

Among other things, Sandoval placed himself at the center of this spring’s effort to pass an infrastructure bill, holding high-profile hearings around the state and making impossible-to-ignore comments to locals about how they needed to get behind specific tax hikes if they wanted their project money. He’s reported raising $263K in campaign contributions since July 1. But a recent fundraiser got him more publicity than he bargained for when a photo was posted online of an attendee “shooting” a tequila “gun” at a person dressed as President Trump.

And now he’s the one under the gun.

* Related…

* Editorial: Before Illinois spends $45 billion on highways and bridges, Sandoval should hit the road

* Here a raid, there a raid, everywhere there’s a fed raid

* Investigations begin to touch Illinois House Speaker Madigan’s confidants


Report: “Illinois Asphalt King” Mike Vondra raided by feds

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

[Bumped up from late Friday afternoon for visibility and comments opened for discussion.]

* I heard several credible reports about this last night, but then the Chicago FBI refused to confirm this morning, so I figured people closer to the scene would eventually figure it out. Here’s WBEZ

Federal investigators have raided the northwest suburban offices of a politically connected company headed by a longtime, major campaign contributor to state Sen. Martin Sandoval, WBEZ has learned.

Multiple sources said the raid took place Tuesday at the Bartlett offices of Bluff City Materials Inc., one of several companies owned by Michael Vondra, a construction and asphalt magnate with deep political ties in state government.

For decades, Vondra has been one of the biggest players in Illinois’ asphalt and construction industries.

The law enforcement activity in Bartlett came on the same day FBI agents raided the Cicero and Springfield offices of Sandoval, a high-ranking Democrat who has been a state senator since 2003 and is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. […]

But the sources who spoke to WBEZ on the condition of anonymity said that Bluff City Materials was among multiple non-governmental locations also raided during one of the most dramatic weeks in the recent, corruption-riddled history of Illinois.

Vondra has quarries in McCook and Lyons, towns which were both raided yesterday. He also plays a major role in Sen. Sandoval’s annual golf outing. The two men are very close allies.

(Headline explained here.)


*** UPDATED x1 - ACLU warns that February may be too soon *** State delays Medicaid managed care transition for foster kids

Monday, Sep 30, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

[Bumped up from late Friday afternoon for visibility and comments opened for discussion.]

* The directors of DCFS and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services sent a letter late this afternoon to the Child Welfare Medicaid Managed Care Implementation Advisory Workgroup. Excerpt

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Children and Family Services are committed to ensuring that our state’s most vulnerable children and young adults have access to high quality healthcare. They and the families who care for them deserve coordinated, whole-person healthcare and wrap-around services to help them navigate a complex system and lead them to healthy adulthood.

There is nothing more important to us than getting this transition right, and after listening to stakeholders across the state, HFS and DCFS have decided to extend the start date for these programs from November 1, 2019 to February 1, 2020. This delay will help ensure a smooth transition and allow HFS and DCFS to engage further with families, providers and other stakeholders and to monitor the managed care organizations more closely.

This decision comes in the wake of Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert’s harsh criticism of the transition, which will impact 36,000 kids. Legislators and stakeholders have also sharply criticized the move.

*** UPDATE *** Heidi Dalenberg, Director of the Institutional Reform Project, ACLU of Illinois…

We welcome the decision by DCFS to delay the process of forcing the children under their care - our clients - into managed health care. But make no mistake, the announcement of February as a new target date for beginning this process remains arbitrary and aspirational.

Rather than focusing on a date certain, we encourage – and will be making this case directly to State officials – that the emphasis be on assuring that children in the care of DCFS do not suffer disruptions and terminations of critical health care services as the providers and insurance companies figure out this process.

Let’s make sure that we have the process in place and then roll out the launch. There is a long way to go and we are not convinced, based on careful analysis, that it is possible to be fully prepared by February.


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* Pritzker administration vows to temporarily fill spending gaps if federal government shuts down and programs run out of money
* Bulk goes to Chicago, but Joliet, Elgin, Lake County, others to share in $41.5 million state asylum-seeker grants
* Isabel's afternoon roundup
* Lawsuit over 2016 Illinois abortion referral law finally goes to trial
* Exelon, ComEd, Anne Pramaggiore charged with fraud by SEC
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Some Gotion-related news (Updated)
* State, city, mutual aid groups outline asylum seeker/migrant assistance (Updated)
* Ford’s Chicago assembly plant hit by UAW strike
* Coverage roundup: Pritzker defends state’s response to migrant housing, has 'concerns' about Chicago’s tent plan
* Rate the NRCC's hit on Bailey
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