Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rock Valley College: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy


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Guest Column: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy

May 24, 2017May 24, 2017 Editorial Staff 0 Comment

By Paul Gorski
Contributor

I am a new board trustee at Rock Valley College and, as I usually do in any of my jobs, I ask many questions. Unfortunately, despite being a board member, I might have to request answers to my questions through formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests rather than a simple “May I see a copy of that contract?” More on that in a bit.

First, I want to thank local voters for electing me as a Rock Valley College Board Trustee. I received nearly 25,000 votes, which is quite a feat in an off-year election for a community college board position. People who know elections tell me those were phenomenal results. Thank you. I am humbled by the support.

Second, I am not now nor do I expect to be in a position of speaking officially for the Rock Valley College Board. The opinions I express here are my own. My opinions will not likely reflect the official position of the board or other board members. I wanted to make that clear because board “policy” states only the board chairman may speak on behalf of the board.

It is also a board policy that only the chairman and committee chairpersons ask the president of the college for certain information. There are seven trustees. One trustee is the chair and three other trustees are committee chairpersons. The three remaining trustees need to direct their questions for the president and staff to one of four other trustees. Sounds like an unnecessary communications hierarchy for a small seven-person board. Talk about red tape.

By the way, according to Merriam-Webster.com “red tape” refers to: “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.” Yep.

When I served on the county board, the twenty-eight board members could ask any staff member a question. The County Board Chairman at the time, Scott Christiansen, encouraged board members to go directly to staff. County staff answered our questions promptly and politely.

Back to the RVC present: the information in question now concerns certain contracts already made and signed part of the public record; and surveys or questionnaires used to determine the need for a new service on campus, also a public record. My initial request for this information was rebuffed, directing me to the board chair and or committee chair to obtain and discuss the issues.

Local residents may request the very same information simply by asking for it, and by mentioning FOIA the college would have to reply in a matter of days. I, on the other hand, a board trustee, have to go through channels, a process where I could be denied, and then discuss it in committee, which would not happen until next month at the earliest. As I mentioned to RVC officials, that workflow does not work for me.

I would like to review these documents, do some research, list my questions, and then discuss these matters with fellow trustees at an open meeting. I think that is a very reasonable request from an elected official.

I am not blaming RVC staff; these policies are board-driven. I am not sure if someone does not want me digging into these issues or maybe we just need some management training for the 21st century: agile, open and transparent leadership training. That said, I repeated my request to the board chair. As I write this article, I have not received a response.

My political friends and foes know that I ask questions. Lots of questions. I ask your questions, my questions and questions to increase the level of discussion on government financing. I have served on the Winnebago County Board, Cherry Valley Township Board, and Cherry Valley Library District Board (very briefly), and I never had to file a FOIA request to obtain documents like this before.

I hope I do not have to file one now. I will keep you posted.

Paul Gorski is a newly elected Rock Valley College Board Trustee who supports open meetings, open government, and equal ballot access to encourage public participation in local government.

Above is from:  http://rockrivertimes.com/2017/05/24/guest-column-a-lesson-in-govt-bureaucracy/

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Belvidere mayor forms ‘Bridge’ to strengthen ties with Latino community

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Belvidere mayor forms ‘Bridge’ to strengthen ties with Latino community

Monday
Posted May 22, 2017 at 12:01 AM Updated May 22, 2017 at 2:44 PM
By Susan Vela
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Mayor Mike Chamberlain was stunned a few years ago to discover that the city’s Latino community accounted for approximately 35 percent of the city’s population.

The nearly 5 percentage point increase in Latino residents since 2010′s U.S. Census Bureau count prompted him to approach local Latino leaders about an initiative that would make both longtime residents and newcomers feel more welcome.

Chamberlain has established a group called Bridge that brings together community leaders of all backgrounds for monthly meetings to share ideas for civic improvement.

“It’s not a political committee. It’s not a committee that has one specific function,” Chamberlain said. “We’re still kind of feeling our way along. I’m just trying to make the opportunity available to see whether we can build something.”

Too often, he said, members of minority groups don’t feel comfortable in their hometowns. Chamberlain wants to vanquish any anxieties through discussion and action. He said Bridge volunteer work is a possibility.

But it’ll be up to community leaders to make Bridge work. Chamberlain said he doesn’t “even like the word ‘minority’ or ‘diversity’ ” and wants Bridge to be about the community coming together to coexist to the most comfortable degree.

Some Bridge members say they would like to see more Latinos frequent the downtown business district. Belvidere’s changing community means a large number of State Street businesses are owned by Latinos, such as Taqueria El Molcajete and Los Girasoles Hair Salon.

“I feel comfortable,” said Los Girasoles stylist Lourdes Medina, who still likes Chamberlain’s Bridge.

Lori Mason recently became owner of Sweets & Sundries, an ice cream and candy shop off State Street.

“Anything that promotes business owners is a smart move,” she said. “I do think the downtown area needs help.”

Chamberlain approached Nancy Razon, the Belvidere School District’s bilingual liaison, when he began considering his new committee. She hopes Bridge participants can boost the number of Latino consumers who shop downtown.

Razon said language barriers had been a problem in the past. Some Latino business owners, she said, don’t feel there’s a strong citywide support network committed to helping them adapt to Belvidere.

“If we want to make it a better town, we need to work with the community,” she said.

Bridge has met twice since February. Chamberlain and Razon said about 15 people, mainly representatives from the Latino community, have attended both sessions. The next meeting is set for 8 a.m. Friday in the City Council Chambers, 401 Whitney Blvd.

Jessica Muellner, who represents District 3 on the Boone County Board, has been attending regularly.

“It’s a worthwhile thing,” she said. “I wanted to see the direction that the mayor was going. A lot of people pay a lot of lip service but this is a way to help things. We all get to know each other.”

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392; svela@rrstar.com; @susanvela

Above is fromhttp://www.rrstar.com/news/20170522/belvidere-mayor-forms-bridge-to-strengthen-ties-with-latino-community

Monica’s View of Roger Ailes

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor

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Monica Lewinsky: Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare

By MONICA LEWINSKYMAY 22, 2017

 

Credit Laura Breiling

This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.

Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.

It worked like magic: The story hooked viewers and made them Fox loyalists. For the past 15 years, Fox News has been the No. 1 news station; last year the network made about $2.3 billion.

Some experts have noted that viewers found Fox for the first time because of the crisis. John Moody, a Fox executive editor, reflected on that period: “The Lewinsky saga put us on the news map.” As he put it in another interview: “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true.”

Their dream was my nightmare. My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail — I was the original target of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit and other alleged crimes — or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads to best exploit this personal and national tragedy.

For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn’t leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi) and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock. On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.

Let’s not pretend that Fox News was the only network to cover this story in the gutter. Mr. Ailes’s station may have pioneered this new style of television reportage, but the other cable news channels didn’t hesitate to join the race to the bottom. In fact, in late 1998, when Keith Olbermann briefly left MSNBC, he expressed disgust with the frequent Lewinsky coverage.

Just as television news was devolving into a modern coliseum, the internet came along and compounded this culture of shame and vitriol. Remember: The story of my affair was not broken by The Washington Post, The New York Times or the networks, but online by the Drudge Report. The comments on television and online were excruciating. I ceased being a three-dimensional person. Instead I became a whore, a bimbo, a slut and worse. Just days after the story broke, Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills”?

Our world — of cyberbullying and chyrons, trolls and tweets — was forged in 1998. It is, as the historian Nicolaus Mills has put it, a “culture of humiliation,” in which those who prey on the vulnerable in the service of clicks and ratings are handsomely rewarded.

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Monica Lewinsky in Washington in 1999. Credit Greg Gibson/Associated Press

As the past year has revealed, thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, it is clear that at Fox, this culture of exploitation wasn’t limited to the screen. The irony of Mr. Ailes’s career at Fox — that he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own — was not lost on anyone who has been paying attention.

There are some positive signs that the younger generation at Fox — James and Lachlan Murdoch — seem to want to change the culture Mr. Ailes created. Last week Bob Beckel, a Fox pundit who made a racist remark to an African-American Fox employee, was dismissed. Would this have happened in the Ailes era?

Although I imagine the desire by the Murdoch brothers to present a clean record to the European Commission reviewing their proposed takeover of Sky News played a role in their thinking, the Murdochs deserve praise for their part in the decision to fire Bill O’Reilly, whose show brought in $100 million a year in ad revenue but who harassed and bullied women he worked with. I hope the Murdochs understand that Americans will no longer tolerate a corporate culture that views hate and harassment as part of running a successful news business.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have a credible conservative point of view in our media — quite the opposite. If we’ve learned nothing else from the 2016 presidential election, it’s that we must find a way to foster robust and healthy discussion and debate. Our news channels should be just such places.

So, farewell to the age of Ailes. The late Fox chief pledged Americans fair and balanced news. Maybe now we’ll get it.

Monica Lewinsky is an anti-cyberbullying advocate and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.

Above is from:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/22/opinion/monica-lewinsky-roger-ailess-dream-was-my-nightmare.html?smid=tw-nytopinion&smtyp=cur&_r=2&mtrref=undefined&assetType=opinion

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Higher property taxes irk Boone County homeowners

 

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Saturday
Posted May 20, 2017 at 2:51 PM Updated May 20, 2017 at 2:51 PM
 

By Cathy Ward

Upset by hefty increases in your Boone County property taxes? Join the crowd, and count us in.

Our property taxes (the first half due June 1) are 9.7 percent higher than last year — well above the inflation rate of about 2 percent. Our tax bill this year is $4,577, up from $4,173 last year.

The big hike for us, and thousands more, was determined by our Belvidere Township assessors. Our tax bill stated that our home is worth almost $17,000 more than last year, up from $160,440 to $177,270. Really? In one year?

Belvidere Township Assessor Tami Torrance told me the increase was based on the fact that home values in our area are rising. She said her staff reviewed sales in our area for the past three years and determined this was a fair value.

Figures from the office of Boone County Treasurer Curt Newport showed 69 percent of Boone County homeowners had higher tax bills, some up as much as 17 percent. Of our county property owners, 31 percent had lower bills.

A 2017 report from taxrates.org, states that Boone County has one of the highest median property taxes in the U.S. We are ranked 113 of 3,143 as a percentage of our median income. That’s not where I want to rank.

What can we do now? Virtually nothing. If we launch a protest and pay late, a late fee will be tacked on. If we pay nothing for a couple years, we could lose our home.

Our tax bill shows we help support nine taxing bodies. The majority of our bill, $3,043, goes to the Belvidere School District. The others in the top three are $597 to Boone County and $292 to the Belvidere Park District.

Torrance and her staff said we should have looked closely at our assessment notice that came out in September. We had 30 days if we disagreed with the new assessment or it could not be changed, unless a substantial error had been made.

The same will be true next year. When we get our assessment notice, we can appeal. Last fall, about 500 property owners appealed their assessments. Dozens and dozens received decreases. Some, I’m told, do it every year. Might be something to strongly consider.

I also was told more than once by the Belvidere Townshhip assessor’s staff that we should have attended meetings of the taxing bodies and objected to their spending habits. The blame, it appears, rests with us. They also said state officials keep adding expenditures to our taxing bodies and not paying for them. As most of you know, the state of Illinois has not had a budget for nearly two years.

I also was told all taxpayers should be certain they are getting all the deductions allowed, such as senior citizen or homestead exemption. Also, I learned, that if local assessors don’t make necessary changes, the state will come in and add a multiplier to all taxpayers. Torrance said she and her staff try to be fair to all.

I wish I had a better feeling about what’s ahead. Torrance said she can’t promise that our tax bills will not be higher next year. “Lots of factors go into these assessments,” she said.

I do have one idea that would be helpful. My husband and I own property in Florida. When we get our assessment notice, the notice includes what our tax bill will be. That makes it easier for us to decide if we want to appeal our bill. Here, we do not know what our tax bill will be until the bill arrives.

Newport’s reports showed that the county this year will collect $96.6 million to serve our 53,000 residents. Amazing.

I would add, however, that we in Boone County should be most grateful to businesses like Chrysler and big land owners who pay what I consider high taxes. Newport’s report showed Chrysler’s bill this year is $1.4 million. Others in the top three are Wal-Mart, $425,684, and KB Farms, $355,487. For the record, the average tax on an acre of farmland rose 6.6 percent from $27.22 to $29.

I think it might be time to send our businesses a thank you note. Hate to think what our tax bills would be if they were not here.

Cathy Ward is a member of the Boone County Board.

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/opinion/20170520/my-view-higher-property-taxes-irk-boone-county-homeowners

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Farm Bureau opposes Great Lakes RR

 

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The Illinois Farm Bureau announced in a press release on Friday that its board of directors voted to oppose the construction of the Great Lakes Basin Railroad.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation filed an application on May 1 with the Surface Transportation Board to approve the 261-mile long railroad along with a toll road which would run from Milton, Wisconsin, to La Porte, Indiana.

The application has a map of a "preferred route" that runs through Grundy County and then to the Will and Kankakee county border starting close to I-57. The highway would run closely along the railroad starting from I-80. The bureau said the projects, both of which are privately funded, would run through hundreds of miles of Illinois farm ground.

“Like the county farm bureaus affected by the project, we are concerned about the impact of the Great Lakes Basin Railroad on private property rights and the potential loss of farmland,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert, Jr. in the release.

The decision to oppose the project came after county farm bureaus sent letters and tried to contact bureau leadership expressing their concerns about private property rights and the potential loss of farmland.

The Illinois Farm Bureau filed a request for an extension of time for public comments about the project. The Bureau said it will file comments opposing the project and it urges its members to do the same.

“Our goal is to facilitate economic growth with minimal effects on the environment and local residents,” The Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc., website states about the project. “While the new railroad will occupy land that currently is devoted to agricultural and other uses, we intend to avoid settled areas and minimize the railroad's impact on the way area residents live their lives today.”

The GLBT website also states it anticipates acquiring no property for the project until the environmental review process is completed and the Surface Transportation Board authorizes construction.

Above is from:  http://www.morrisherald-news.com/2017/05/19/illinois-farm-bureau-decided-to-oppose-great-lakes-basin-railroad/ahuxmms/

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Locals, Kinzinger buck contentious railway

 

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Locals, Kinzinger buck contentious railway

May 10, 2017

By Jim Hagerty
Contributor 

Those behind the contentious 261-mile railroad extension that would meander through parts of Winnebago County took another step toward federal approval, as partners on behalf of Great Lakes Basin Railroad on May 2, filed an application to go ahead with the project.

“This is a historic day for Great Lakes Basin Transportation to file its formal application to construct the Great Lakes Basin Railroad,” Chairman Frank Patton said in a statement. “Our application explains the need for this vital project to the STB (United States Surface Transportation Board) and the public.”

But, it may take a lot to sell the public, which so far has chided the $2.8 billion project aimed at taking freight cars off of Chicago’s tracks, making them better suited for passenger service. The new line would run through LaSalle, Lee and Ogle counties, and pass through Winnebago County west of Rockford. The company would likely utilize eminent domain laws to obtain farmland for the project, something that has spurred significant debate.

“This is the largest rail project this country has seen in 125 years, and they’re using eminent domain laws from 125 years ago to force this through,” Susan Sack told The Times in an earlier report.

Sack helped organize the group, Block GLB, which hasn’t relented since last fall.

“Private toll roads have been sold to the public as a surefire something-for-nothing bargain – new infrastructure with no taxes,” Block GLB posted on its Facebook page. “But it turns out that the risk for taxpayers is actually substantial. The firms performing traffic projections have strong incentives to inflate the numbers. And the new breed of private finance deals are structured so that when the forecasts turn out wrong, the public incurs major losses.”

The project does not sit well with U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who says not only would it be inappropriate for Great Lakes to seize land through eminent domain, there is no demand.

“I am skeptical of the demand and need for the proposed project,” Kinzinger said in a letter to the transportation board. “Decades of investment by six Class I railroads have made Chicago a national rail hub and with it comes congestion. These rail companies are working in concert with U.S. Department of Transportation, the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago and other stakeholders to improve efficiency within the existing network.”

Kinzinger said the GLBT line will not serve two of the six Class I railroads, calling into question the viability of the project and whether it makes sense economically.

“The proposed line will be detrimental to the prime farm land in northern Illinois,” Kinzinger continued. “According to some estimates, the rail line would require tens of thousands of acres of farm land to be bought or seized. Nearly all of this farmland is considered prime, is some of the best quality soil in the country, and is often the most productive in the country. Furthermore, the project would sever tracts of farmland making it more difficult farm. These are just some of the costs of this project and I do not believe the project’s benefits outweigh them.”

If approved, the privately funded rail project could be finished and up and running within the next 10 years.

Above is from:  http://rockrivertimes.com/2017/05/10/locals-kinzinger-buck-contentious-railway/

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Great Lakes RR brings formal application

 

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May 03, 2017

Investors float $2.8 billion plan to get around Chicago's rail bottleneck

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By Claire Bushey

 

Thinkstock

Photo by Thinkstock

A former software businessman and president of the Union League Club has formally asked a federal regulator to approve his plan to build a $2.8 billion, 261-mile freight railroad line that circumvents Chicago.

The Great Lakes Basin Transportation company, chaired by Frank Patton, filed an application today with the Surface Transportation Board. The company is seeking permission to construct a privately funded railway that would charge other railroads to use its tracks to skirt the congested city. It is an attempt, company President James Wilson writes in the application, "to do something no one has attempted for over a century: to build a new common carrier freight railroad bypassing the Chicago area."

But while the company has 10 principal investors—whose names are redacted from the application—it has yet to obtain funding to complete the project. Nor is it expected, according to the application, until Great Lakes Basin "receives (Surface Transportation Board) authority to construct the proposed line."

Patton, 74, who sold his company Portfolio Dynamics in 2002, has championed the project for eight years. In 2015, the transportation board began studying the proposed railroad's environmental impact. Since then, Great Lakes Basin has asked for an extension, and then a suspension, of the study, while it hurried to provide requested information and finish its formal application by the May 1 deadline.

The proposal lands at a time when the new chief executive at CSX, one of the six major railroads operating in Chicago, has advocated diverting freight traffic away from the city. About 25 percent of the country's freight moves through the region, with 29 to 50 percent of that volume passing through en route to another destination, according to the application.

"If Chicago's rail facilities are overwhelmed by today's freight volume, they will be even less adequate to handle the much greater traffic levels projected for future years," the application says.

The railroad proposed by Great Lakes Basin would skirt downtown by 38 to 89 miles at any given point, the application says. The route runs from near Milton, Wis., in the north, past Rockford, Rochelle and Kankakee in Illinois, and terminates near La Porte, Ind. With 36 interchanges, it would allow 110 trains a day to bypass Chicago.

The railroad could be fully operational within three years of the transportation board's final approval and obtaining construction financing and legal right-of-way, the application says.

The project will be funded through a combination of debt and equity financing. A pro forma income statement has Great Lakes Basin losing $151 million in 2021 but turning a $216 million profit in 2025.

The news was first reported by the Post-Tribune.

Above is from:  http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20170503/NEWS10/170509929/railways-plan-takes-aim-at-chicago-freight-bottleneck