Jenna Dooley

News Director

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield.  She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.

Jenna Dooley/WNIJ

Northern Illinois University bids farewell to its longtime staff meteorologist this week.

Gilbert Sebenste has been passionate about the weather for a long time. He says that, when he was four or five years old, he attended a picnic with his parents when the weather started to turn ominous.

“… then all of the sudden as I am riding a kiddie ride -- it was a helicopter ride that went about 20 feet above the ground -- and as I am spinning around up there, I look west and I see these angry, boiling clouds," he recalled. "I am like, ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’”

Northern Illinois University continues to get "written up" for the way it manages tracking of property and equipment. According to a compliance audit released Thursday through the state's Office of the Auditor General, an inventory certification reported 1,288 items ($1,624,740) of equipment could not be located by the university. The listing included approximately 520 computers, servers, CPUs, or other electronic storage devices.

This finding has been repeated since 2015.

Every two weeks, people can vote in a new poll celebrating the state’s various contributions to the world. It's part of the state's bicentennial celebration. This week’s poll asks voters to choose the state’s greatest innovation or invention. Entries include Twinkies, pinball, skyscrapers, and the TV remote. That’s not all, according to Chris Wills, a spokesman for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Steve Hager

The question of whether the bald eagle population is dwindling in the Midwest continues to confound bird watchers along the Mississippi River.

The organizer behind an annual winter count conducted in January by hundreds of volunteers revealed fewer young eagles along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the bald eagle recovery is progressing at an “impressive” rate.

Victor Yehling/WNIJ

Just a few days remain to educate residents about a major ballot issue in Rockford. In this week’s Friday Forum, Jenna Dooley talks with those involved in getting their message out to voters before they hit the polls on Tuesday.

As the spring primary approaches, more money is going into a ballot question that could change how Rockford leaders make major decisions on behalf of residents. It’s known as home rule and, if you live in Rockford, you no doubt have seen signs around the city asking you to vote either “yes” or “no” on the issue.

Victor Yehling/WNIJ

Officials are optimistic about voter turnout in this year’s primary election in Rockford.

Turnout for early voting in Rockford so far has been “above average,” according to Rockford Board of Elections Executive Director Stacey Bixby.

Early voting began Feb. 21 at the election office. A second location at Emmanuel Episcopal Church opened earlier this month. Since then, Bixby says nearly 1,500 people have voted early in the city.

WNIJ continues to review important races in the upcoming Illinois Primary Election on March 20. So far, we’ve outlined the crowded races for Illinois Governor and Attorney General. On this week’s Friday Forum, we outline the rest of the statewide offices appearing on the ballot. They include Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Comptroller.

WNIJ continues to review important races in the upcoming Illinois Primary Election on March 20. Lisa Madigan has been the state’s attorney general for four terms and was elected as the first female to hold that office in the state’s history. She announced in the fall she would not seek re-election. On this week’s Friday Forum, we take a closer look at the crowded field vying to be the state's next top lawyer.

Steve Hager

An Illinois man behind a longstanding bald eagle count says the latest numbers are alarming. Federal officials say there may be other factors at play.

Chicago Tribune: Bald Eagles Came Back From Brink, But Are Numbers Dropping Again? An Illinois Researcher Fears So

Don’t be alarmed if you see massive wind turbines fall like giant trees along one of the busiest roads in northern Illinois.

There are dozens of wind turbines along Interstate 39 in Lee County, and the Paw Paw Fire Protection District wants drivers to know it’s no cause for panic when they start to come down.

The Mendota Hills Wind Farm, built in 2003, was the first utility-scale wind farm in the state of Illinois.

Drug Enforcement Administration

A northern Illinois coroner is growing increasingly worried about the breakdown of drugs related to overdose deaths.

According to Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz, 124 deaths were attributed to drug overdose last year compared with 96 in 2016.

Of those, he says there was a noticeable increase in deaths involving fentanyl with seven in 2016 and 63 in 2017. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which the Drug Enforcement Administration says is 50 times more potent than heroin.

Jenna Dooley

On Thursday, students at the Spectrum Progressive School of Rockford held selfie sticks with cell phones while they roamed around capturing the normal sights of their classroom. Then, 3D creatures seemingly popped out of thin air right onto their screens-- from dinosaurs to spiders. It’s part of Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program. Google associates train local teachers who then take their students on the virtual adventures.

city of Rockford

There were 18 murders in 2017 compared with 26 murders in 2016. Other violent crimes, auto thefts, and property crimes also were down from the year before.

Still, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Police Chief Dan O'Shea think more can be done and want community engagement to be the focus for prevention this year.

"Obviously, we don't have a banner behind us saying it's 'mission accomplished,' McNamara said. "It is far from that, but I do think we are making great strides."

Chief O'Shea credits community support for those improvements.

Flickr user Luke Jones / "Railroad Tracks" (CC V 2.0) http://bit.ly/2FudahT

Plans for a passenger train linking Chicago and Iowa were sidetracked several years ago, but that hasn’t slowed efforts by some passionate rail enthusiasts to keep the vision alive.

Amtrak operated the Black Hawk line from 1974 to 1981. Before that, there was the Land O’Corn route between Chicago and Waterloo, Iowa, but that ended in the 1960s.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

More Rockford organizations are expressing their positions on a proposal to give city leaders more local control over finances.  

Quick recap: Home rule is available to Illinois communities interested in deciding, among other things, whether to levy local taxes and fees beyond those imposed by state government. Rockford voters got rid of home rule in 1983. This spring, voters will consider whether to bring it back.

Illinois lawmakers who represent Rockford have different opinions on whether it is in the best interest of residents for the city to return to home rule status. Voters will weigh in on the issue on the spring primary ballot. 

Home rule expands local control over taxing and borrowing beyond the laws passed in Springfield.

Rockford is one of just a few of the state’s larger municipalities that does not have that authority.  Voters stripped the city of home rule authority in 1983.

Austin Hansen, Ross Beach

DeKalb County officials tallied up the economic impact of the state football championships, and they are happy with the results.

DeKalb hosted the games over Thanksgiving weekend at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium. The championship match-ups featured 16 teams from around the state, including Batavia, Pleasant Plains, and Rochester.

Estimates show there were nearly 500 booked hotel rooms in DeKalb and Sycamore, an increase from the last time the city hosted the event two years ago. There were another 140 hotel rooms booked in Rochelle.

Susan Stephens

The ground may be frozen in parts of Illinois, but it’s not too early to start thinking about this year's garden.

National Seed Swap Day is held the last Saturday of January.

These gatherings are a way for new and veteran green thumbs to expand their collections by sharing a variety of open-pollinated seeds. Pam Stock, with the Boone County Conservation District, is also an avid seed saver.

Rockford voters will get a chance this spring to decide whether or not to return the city to “home rule” status. In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ's Jenna Dooley explores the potential implications on the city and its residents.

What is "home rule" anyway, and why does it matter in 2018?

Bobbie Holzwarth is a co-chair for the effort to bring back home rule to Rockford. She gives this example:

Pixabay

A group of Illinois lawmakers will exploring the potential benefits to the state in using “blockchain” technology developed for cybercurrency. 

The value of the digital currency Bitcoin has been volatile during its existence so far, but its blockchain backbone could have other uses for the state. Blockchains are encrypted ledgers of transactions that can be shared.

State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, will chair a new cryptocurrency subcommittee.

CDC

A sharp increase in flu activity continues to be seen across the United States and in Illinois.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds more than 20 states are now reporting widespread influenza activity.

That includes Illinois, where increases in the number of cases of the flu have been tracked in most regions of the state.

Midway Village Museum - Digital Collections

Rockford’s Midway Village Museum is making it easier for people to access historic images from the city’s past.

The Museum often is asked for photos to help history buffs for family trees, business research, and school projects. Previously, you would have needed an appointment. Now, more than a thousand of the Museum’s most popular images are available online.

Jenna Dooley

Rockford citizens took time Thursday to remember the lives of homeless adults who died in 2017.

More than 40 homeless adults died in the area in 2017—an increase from previous years. They ranged in age from 26 to 67. The event was hosted by the Rock River Homeless Coalition.

Todd Kisner is chair of the group. He says a handful of social service providers worked in some capacity with the people who died. They communicate with each other throughout the year to track the deaths.

The Northern Illinois University student newspaper will begin receiving student fees in order to save the student-operated Northern Star. According to an editorial published this week, the newspaper received student fees prior to 1996 but opted out due to its financial position at that time.

The Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees could take another vote next week regarding Doug Baker's Presidential Transition Agreement.

A judge ruled last month that the university violated the Open Meetings Act when it approved Baker’s deal this summer soon after he announced his resignation.

DeKalb resident Misty Haji-Sheikh filed the lawsuit and could be entitled to having her legal fees covered. That decision will be made early next year.

The Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Batman: The Dark Knight, are known for including scenes from some of Chicago's most iconic landmarks, but it's the small screen where the state may reap the largest benefits in the future.

The Illinois Film Office coordinates films, commercials, and television productions in the state.

Illinois Film Office Director Christine Dudley expects the rise of streaming services to increase overall productions in the state.

Jenna Dooley

The statistics are sobering. Opioid overdoses have killed nearly 11,000 people in Illinois since 2008. Last year alone, that number was nearly 2,000 -- twice the number of fatal car crashes. State officials estimate that number will continue to explode.

There are many players trying to address addiction head-on. That includes emergency responders, police officers, treatment centers, and family members themselves.

Jenna Dooley

Rockford’s mayor is supporting an effort to return the city to home rule status.

Here’s an example: Since Rockford is not a home rule city, leaders can charge up to $50 in license fees for  video gaming in the city, and there are a lot. Home rule communities can charge into the thousands of dollars. That’s why some critics argue home rule can unfairly target business owners who may absorb extra taxes and fees.

Jenna Dooley

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has been taking a victory lap for the new school funding formula at schools across the state. Such visits can be a low-stakes way for the state’s top politicians to interact with their youngest constituents.

Last month, Rauner took questions from several inquisitive students at Galapagos Charter School in Rockford.

Rauner: So do you have any questions for me?

Student: How much do you get paid?

Most Freedom of Information Act requests come from people outside of the journalism field.

"We get requests every single day from regular citizens who are interested just in knowing what the government is up to," according to Annum Haider, civic engagement coordinator with the Better Government Association. "They are trying to get more information to be more engaged."

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