Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Local Efforts Paying Off in Fight for Dwight

The fight to save Dwight Correctional Center (DCC) looks promising thanks to the efforts of local residents.  Village and GLCEDC representatives have been in Springfield meeting with legislators regarding the funding of Dwight each week since the Governor announced that his budget proposal did not fund operations at DCC.  The efforts of our residents and employees at DCC seem to be paying off, as legislators are well-informed about the "Fight for Dwight".  I want to share a recent story that illustrates how local efforts are paying dividends.

Last week, Mayor Wilkey and I had a conversation with Representative Luis Arroryo from Chicago. Rep. Arroryo is Chairman of the House Public Safety Appropriations Committee and a critical vote in the funding of DCC. As Rep. Barickman introduced us to Rep. Arroryo, I offered him a postcard of DCC containing facts about the impact the closure would have on our community. He responded with a big smile and said that he did not need anymore postcards.  He stated he had a stack of them on his desk "this high", indicating 2-3 inches with his index finger and thumb. Thank you to all the residents who took the time and effort to pick up the postcards from Village Hall and send them to Springfield.  Your work has made a big difference!

Rep. Arroyo shared with us that when he drives home from Springfield he always plans his trip so that he can stop at Route 66 Family Restaurant in Dwight, because "they have have the best roasted chicken and excellent service".  At one of his dinner stops, he noticed that his waitress was wearing a bright green t-shirt with "Fight for Dwight" on the front of it. He asked her about the shirt, thinking it was a sports team or something along those lines. Instead, he got an education on what the Dwight Correctional Center means to the community and how devastating it would be to the community if it were to close. A waitress going about her daily routine makes a lasting impact on one of the most influential and powerful legislator in Illinois. This exemplifies the community spirit and community-wide support for DCC.

The picture in Springfield changes by the hour. Most thought that a vote would be taken yesterday on the House Public Safety Appropriations and a vote would be taken today on the House Budget.  Instead, it looks like today will be the day for the Committee vote.  All the action can be followed online here  Look for the Public Safety Committee meeting and General Session.

Friday, May 25, 2012

IDOT to Host Stakeholder Meetings for High Speed Rail

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will be hosting a series of meetings to bring everyone up to speed on the status of the High-Speed Rail Program which will run from Dwight to Pontiac with trains running up to 110 miles per hour.  In the coming months, IDOT will be working on roadways and implementing safety measures which include quadrant gates, a new signal system, and fencing.  The inaugural run is anticipated to take place in September 2012. 

In preparation of this significant milestone, IDOT and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) will be speaking with key stakeholders along with various educational and public safety organizations.  Furthermore, the IDOT, ICC, and members of the project team will be attending community events to personally communicate information about high-speed trains while focusing on driver education and the safety aspects associated with higher speed trains. 

Wednesday, May 30 2012
10:00am - Noon
Dwight Village Hall
209 S. Prarie Ave

Wednesday, May 30 2012
3:00pm - 5:00pm
Odell Public Library
301 E. Richard St.

Thursday, May 31, 2012
10:00am - Noon
Pontiac City Hall
City Council Chambers
115 W. Howard St

Please RSVP to Friday May 25 to Lisa Mentzer at 630-510-3944 or  Please visit the project website, for up to date project information or to comment on the project.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Village of Forrest Attracts New Business

The Village of Forrest, IL is now home to a new medical equipment installation firm.  H & H Installation Services, Inc. built a new headquarters for the company on Route 47, on the north side of town.  The company specializes in the installation of medical equipment (CT, X-Ray, MRI, etc.) at hospitals, university research facilities, and medical offices all across the US.  H & H has twenty-two employees, 10 of them work in Livingston County.

The GLCEDC provided a Community Development and Infrastructure Grant to the Village of Forrest to assist in the funding of a water main extension and Route 47 improvements for the new business.  More information about H & H Installation can be found on their website.

Larry Vaupel, CEO (left) presents a check to Pat Huette, President of H & H Installations (center) and Village of Forrest Mayor, Jim Gulliford (right) to assist in funding public improvements associated with the construction of H & H Installations' new facility in Forrest, IL.

The 14th Annual Illinois Leadership Conference

The 14th Annual Illinois Leadership Conference is brought to you by University of Illinois Extension and is an interactive workshop bringing together community leaders, elected officials, and volunteers to assist in planning efforts by focusing on assets and opportunities.  It will be held at the Keller Convention Center in Effingham on Wednesday, June 6 from 9am - 4pm.  For more information click here

Monday, May 14, 2012

Write the Illinois House & Senate Appropriations Committee!

The GLCEDC and the Village of Dwight are going to be providing postcards and pre-printed labels to send to members of the House Appropriations - Public Safety Committee as well as members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  You can pick these up at the GLCEDC office as well as at the Dwight Village Hall, and give your legislators your feelings on the importance of the Dwight Correctional Center is to your community.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicago Tribune Takes Aim at Members of COGFA

Recently, the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board took a swipe at members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) claiming that because they voted against the Governor’s plan to close Dwight Correctional Center and other Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities, the lawmakers are “part of Illinois’ problem”.

What the editorial board seems to imply is that any budget cuts are good, regardless of the long-term consequences the cuts could bring.  This myopic and short-term thinking is the root of Illinois’ problem, not lawmakers who try to plan for the future by understanding the big picture.  After all, if the Tribune Editorial Board’s only litmus test for budget cuts is that the State spends less money in 2013, we could eliminate road maintenance and construction, snow plowing, and State Police operations and save millions.  Yet, nobody would propose these cuts because these are principal responsibilities of state government and would cost taxpayers more over the long-term.  Similarly, if the State shirks one of its most fundamental responsibilities of operating an effective criminal justice system, taxpayers will pay dearly in the future with increased costs for social programs, local police protection, and jail operations.

The Illinois General Assembly passes more than 300 new laws every year.  Additionally, lawmakers have taken discretion away from judges by passing mandatory sentencing laws.  The ramifications of these actions include an overcrowded prison system that is operating at 140% capacity.  How effective can a prison system be at reforming criminal behavior when it is operating at 140% capacity? It is probably as effective as a school system would be at educating children if it were operating at 140% capacity. 

Rep. Raymond Poe states that the Governor has no long-term plan for prisons.  This is evident by the fact that just 9 months ago, the Governor proposed closing Logan Prison, citing the $8.3 million in capital improvements that is needed at the facility. Now, the Governor’s plan is to make the Logan facility an all female prison and close the Dwight facility and states that the conversion will only cost $540,000, failing to account for the $8.3 million needed for capital improvements.  The fact is that the savings being touted by the Governor will not materialize.  Unfortunately, DOC is constantly responding and reacting to political winds as they swirl around the Capitol and to politicians who use State facilities as pawns in their budget debates, instead of creating a long-term plan for Illinois’ prison system.  Any actions taken without this sort of plan being in place will only aggravate an already precarious situation.

Rep. Patricia Bellock, Rep. Raymond Poe, Sen. Michael Frerichs, and most of the other members of COGFA understand that the Governor’s latest plan is a bad idea that will cost the taxpayers more in the long run.  By closing the transition centers, prisoners being released into society will not be given the opportunity to obtain the job training and life skills that will help them become productive and self-sufficient members of society.  Operating a prison system at 140% capacity reduces the effectiveness of the reform, rehabilitation, and education programs.  Closing these facilities may save the taxpayers money next year, but it would surely lead to increased recidivism rates and social welfare expenses that will cost us more in the future.  

It is time for lawmakers to start looking beyond next year’s budget or the next election cycle and begin considering the long-term consequences and costs of their actions.  Most members of COGFA have figured this out and are insisting their colleagues and the Governor consider the consequences of legislative proposals over the long-term.  This represents a change to the way Springfield has operated in the past and the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board should encourage this change, not take swipes at those leaders who are implementing it. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

COGFA Votes Against the Governor's Proposal to Close Dwight Prison

At their hearing on May 1, COGFA voted 7-3 to keep Dwight Prison open. Dwight Mayor Bill Wilkey, Village Administrator Kevin McNamara, and GLCEDC CEO Larry Vaupel attended the hearing, along with several employees of the prison and AFSCME representatives. While this is encouraging news, the fight to keep the prison open is not over. We have begun to meet with members of the Public Safety Appropriations Committee in order to convince them to keep the prison funded in next year's budget. Another lobby day is scheduled for next week.  The Committee should finalize their budget within the next 2-3 weeks.