Charlie Schlenker | WGLT

Charlie Schlenker

News Director

GLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island, Illinois and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio and has won numerous state and national awards for journalism. He lives in Normal with his family.

Ralph Weisheit

The House has overwhelmingly approved a five-year, $305 billion transportation bill that boosts highway and transit spending. The measure assures states that federal aid will be available as they plan major projects. Congressman Rodney Davis touts the $7.5 billion dollars for Illinois and the $668 million increase for the state over the life of the bill. He's also pleased with efficiency measures in the legislation.

The State of Illinois owes Bloomington, Normal, and McLean County governments more than 5.4 million dollars according to public officials.

The measure approved by the Illinois House and up in the Senate next week would improve some of that cash flow crunch. The largest single chunk of cash owed local governments is Motor Fuel Tax Receipts. County Administrator Bill Wasson says release of that money would ease the process of going out to bid for road projects next spring.

Curt White

Social critic Curt White has a new argument...and a new book. The retired ISU scholar talks with GLT's Charlie Schlenker about "We Robots: Staying Human In The Age Of Big Data." White usually falls into a topic because he has a strong reaction to someone else's work. This is no exception.

Heartland Community College has been holding high school equivalency classes and english as a second language courses without getting paid by the state.

Heartland's Adult Education Director Tammy Truitt says some community colleges are ending their adult-ed offerings. Heartland is not. They are cutting instructors, increasing class sizes, and cutting time in classes. Truitt says this is very frustrating.

And she says this will affect students, forcing them to take longer to get through the material.

Illinois Wesleyan University

The new President of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington has been on the job for about a month. Eric Jensen is taking the temperature of the community and the campus. Jensen tells Charlie Schlenker he's asking everyone he meets about the particular strengths and opportunities they see in the institution. Jensen says his fundamental impression of IWU as a gem is unchanged.

Higher education is a difficult industry right now. That's according to new Illinois Wesleyan University President Eric Jensen. Many colleges have gone for years without worker pay raises. Jensen tells GLT costs have been pared down ruthlessly and an equilibrium is still developing.

Jensen says he is optimistic about IWU and says it remains a gem.

Jensen says IWU is in a strong position to define itself in a way that other liberal arts colleges may not be able to. He says that will have economic consequences.

 

A Bloomington Normal Brewery has won several national medals for its products. Destihl's Dosvidanya Bourbon Barrel-Aged Russian Imperial Stout won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and two gold medals at the Festival of  Barrel Aged Beers in Chicago. Destihl was competing against 363 beers from 157 different breweries and won Best in Show. The awards coincide with the commercial release of Dosvidanya today. Destihl is the first commercial brewery in the twin cities since Prohibition ended.

The Bloomington Normal unemployment rate edged under 5% last month. The 4.8% jobless rate is down slightly from a year ago. The Department of Employment Security says there were an estimated 4,800 unemployed people in the metro area looking for jobs. The last time the October rate was this low was in 2007 when it was more than a point below the current mark. There were job gains for the month in retail trade, and professional and business services and losses in government, construction, and manufacturing.

Mayor Chris Koos of Normal is speaking out against a wave of xenophobia aimed at Syrian refugees. Koos is among 62 U.S. Mayors who have signed an open letter to Congress saying a ban on Syrian refugees is not warranted.

Koos says the Syrians who become refugees are not radical, and not militant. Koos urges taking a step back from politics and taking a look at the thorough process already in place.

MMNA, Inc.

Kent Ferguson has been looking for a job. He's one of the Mitsubishi workers losing his job with the end of production at the plant in Normal. As part of GLT's coverage of the plant transition, Charlie Schlenker visited again with Ferguson. He has interviewed in several places, a tool making test to gain entry to a pool of applicants for Harley Davidson in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin, interviews in Chatanooga, Urbana, Tesla in California, really all over the place. Kent's experience shows that in manufacturing, as in any profession, your skill set matters.

Three candidates have filed to run as Republicans for McLean County Coroner. Current Coroner Kathy Davis was appointed to fill a vacancy. Challenging her in the GOP primary next year will be Ryan Gibson and Gary Morefield. Monday was the first day of the petition filing period. The County Clerk's office also says there will be a contested race for County Board in District 10. Josh Barnett will try to knock off incumbent Ben Owens in the GOP primary for District 10 on the County Board.

Bloomington Police say they have arrested three people in a drug investigation, an adult and two juveniles. Officers also say they seized two stolen handguns, ammunition, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia. 20-year old Diondre Thornton-Kirkwood faces charges involving the weapons and criminal fortification of a residence. A 16 year old juvenile was arrested for cannabis delivery. A 15 year old juvenile was taken in on a warrant.

A SWAT team and crisis negotiators helped officers end the standoff that began when police tried to serve a warrant.
 

A federal mediator is meeting for a second time with Heartland Community College faculty union negotiators and the administration. The Union has already authorized a strike as early as next Friday. A five year contract expired at the end of June and the two sides remain far apart on pay and benefit issues, particularly the cost of healthcare. Heartland Trustees will meet Monday to discuss the walkout possibility.
 

Illinois Symphony Orchestra

Christmas garlands and lights have already begun to creep into homes, onto bushes outside houses, and yes, into stores. Tomorrow evening the music starts with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops in the Heartland concert at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Included in that concert is the Twin Cities Ballet Company and the Illinois State University Choirs. GLT's Charlie Schlenker talks with Karyl Carlson, the Director of ISU's Choirs about the the place of a pops concert in today's culture....what it affirms and what it helps people do.

MMNA, Inc.

Since the announcement that Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing in Normal would close, GLT News has been checking in to see how workers and their families are coping. Like most of the people working at the soon to close plant in Normal Jerry Harcharik faces uncertainty.

McLean County Museum of History

The Director of the McLean County Museum of History is retiring. Greg Koos has spent 38 years at the museum and the historical society. Koos says he has lasted that long because he has been in a place where he sees people learn.

OmSharanSalafia / YouTube

As France recovers from the ISIS attacks GLT's Charlie Schlenker talks with an American in Paris. Bloomington-Normal native Ryan Weisheit is a saxophonist with Sweet Megg and the Wayfarers, a retro jazz group touring in Europe right now.

The Bloomington Normal Community may not yet realize just how valuable Mitsubishi workers have been to the community. The plant is halting production at the end of the month. Mike Matejka of the Laborers Local says the United Auto Workers have been involved in many charities over the years.

Matejka urges the community to help in a salute to the Mitusbishi workers at the plant on Tuesday afternoon November 24th.

He says residents should bring signs thanking Mitsubishi workers for all they have done at 2:30 p.m. that day.

Garry Knight / Flickr via Creative Commons

An Illinois State University Political Scientist says the attacks in Paris say something significant about ISIS' deteriorating position. Professor Ali Riaz is the Chair of ISU's Department of Politics and Government. In this interview with GLT's Charlie Schlenker, Riaz says the Egyptian plane bombing, other bombings in the Mideast by ISIS, and now the assaults in Paris, show a shift to a strategy of asymetrical warfare.

Illinois Immigrant rights groups and advocates are blasting Gov. Bruce Rauner's decision to temporarily stop accepting new Syrian refugees in Illinois in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.  

The Arab American Action Network says the decision creates a "fictitious link" between those fleeing war and violence and those responsible for the deadly attacks. The group says it also fuels racist stereotypes.  

The Organized Communities Against Deportations wants Rauner to reconsider.  

Illinois' new medical marijuana shops sold nearly $211,000 worth of cannabis in the first week, with less than a quarter of eligible patients buying so far.  

The state's first regulated marijuana dispensaries opened Monday. Program director Joseph Wright said Friday the dispensaries served 806 customers. They purchased about 460 ounces of marijuana, or about a half an ounce per person, on average.  

Green Thumb Industries CEO Ben Kovler says the numbers are "a very strong start." 

Town of Normal

Town of Normal staff are suggesting it is worth $190,000 of taxpayer money to eliminate a problem property on North School Street. The Town Council will decide whether to buy a house in the 600 block of North School and end its status as a student rooming house.

The century old house has a history of code violations and poor repair. Staff say students who leased it for the fall term even moved out.

McLean County is trying again for an enterprise zone renewal. Last year's attempt did not gain approval from the Governor. On Monday, the Normal Town Council will take up the revised request. The existing enterprise zone formed back in 1982 to bring the Mitsubishi plant to Normal expires next June. All other units of government in the proposed zone must also sign off on the application.

The new plan includes local property tax abatements for prospective new businesses that create 50 jobs within the zone and involve more than $5 million in private investment.

A McLean County jury has convicted a man of home invasion. Prosecutors say Samuel Siatta delivered a cut to the head of a person in the victim's residence.

Siatta will be sentenced on the Class X offense at the end of January. He will be eligible for 6 to 30 years in prison.

The State's Attorney's office says home invasions are serious cases because they usually involve a person entering or remaining in someone else's residence and threatening or injuring them with a weapon.

The owner of the Pantagraph Newspaper in Bloomington is highlighting some financial results ahead of its fiscal year end reports next month. Lee Enterprises reports it cut fourth quarter costs more than revenue fell.

Total revenue was down 4.4% for the quarter ending in September. Cash costs dropped 7.8% or nearly $10 million. Lee says the decline in overall revenue is an improvement from the previous quarter.

For the full year, Lee has paid down nearly $79 million in debt. Its principal debt remains about $726 million.

The Director of the McLean County Health Department is trying to reassure County Board members that funding for drug court will not be jeopardized next budget year. Last week the department agreed to fund drug court at the same level as last year. Now the health board has approved spending less direct money than was talked about earlier. Health Department Director Walt Howe says the difference is that they want service provider Chestnut Health Systems to try billing Medicaid for the service first and then asking the county for payment.

OSF Healthcare

OSF Healthcare is raising the lowest wage it is paying workers to $10 an hour. That's $1.75 per hour higher than the minimum wage in Illinois. Kristin Williams is the OSF's Vice President for Compensation and Benefits. Williams says the move stems from the religious organization's social justice values.

She says the federal poverty line for full time workers with families was one of the guides used to establish the new minimum.

Devyn Corp., Tarter Construction, Farnsworth Group

David Bentley has been active in downtown Bloomington for 20 years, buying property, rehabbing it, and running it. His latest proposal includes developing the Pantagraph building into a boutique hotel. Bentley tells GLT's Charlie Schlenker he partnered with the city in 2007 and 2008. He agrees with Mayor Tari Renner that a downtown hotel will help the coliseum as it has the economy in Uptown Normal.

The city working with consultants SB Freidman to vet a proposal from Bentley's Devyn Corporation and Jeff Giebelhausen plan for the Front and Center block.

Mike Bernico / Bike BloNo

A new study says the largest single chunk of bicycle versus auto accidents in Bloomington Normal happen to bicyclists who are using sidewalks. Michael Gorman of the advocacy group Bike BloNo says it's safest for cyclists to behave like motorists and follow the rules of the road on the streets because cyclists are more visible to people around you.

Gorman says bikers are most visible when they are behaving like motorists and following the rules of the road, but car drivers may not notice bikers when the head into an intersection from a sidewalk.

A McLean County Circuit Judge has sentenced a Bloomington man to 14 years in prison on a child pornography conviction. 31-year old David Mariani of Chatsford Court had earlier pleaded guilty to distributing images. Police say they found more than 2,000 images of young children on Mariani's computer as part of a statewide crackdown on child porn by law enforcement and the Attorney General's office. Numerous other charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

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