Susan Stephens

Reporter, All Things Considered Host

Susan’s parents should have known she’d end up in radio: her favorite toys were tape recorders, cameras, notepads, and books. Many years later, she’s an award-winning reporter at her favorite radio station. Formerly WNIJ’s News Director, she asked to return to the role of full-time reporter/anchor/utility player in 2010 (less paperwork, more reporting!). Her #1 goal is to tell the most compelling stories in the fewest words possible…all the better if a little humor can be thrown into the mix.  It should come as no surprise, then, that she can whip up a haiku for any occasion. She also enjoys the Detroit Tigers, learning pioneer skills (Gardening, canning, and the like. Just in case.), traveling with friends, and pretending she’s going to get around to playing her theremin.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

For some kids, summer means packing your shorts and bug spray and heading off to camp. For some local teachers, camp means early morning lectures and late night discussions about race, gender, and privilege. At least it did last week at Northern Illinois University. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens stopped by Social Justice Summer Camp for this week’s Friday Forum.

Illinois Department of Corrections / illinois.gov

The man convicted of killing his six children in their Rockford home in 1978 died Sunday. Simon Peter Nelson died while still imprisoned for the crimes, according to a news release from Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato. He was 85.

Bruscato had been fighting Nelson’s latest attempt at parole. He was up for parole for the 19th time. There was a public petition campaign against his possible release, and his request for parole was to be ruled on by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in July.

datacenter.kidscount.org/il

Illinois ranks nineteenth in the nation when it comes to the overall well-being of children according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, which analyzes the health, education, family, and economic conditions of the nation’s children.

Illinois ranks high in the survey in education (13) and health (10), thanks to pre-school opportunities and the high number of kids with health insurance. But the newest numbers are from 2015 and don’t reflect the impact that the lack of a state budget has had on programs.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

There’s not much left of the prairies and oak savannas that used to cover Illinois. Now the state has found a way to help environmental organizations protect those precious natural areas.

 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The partisan divide in Springfield seems wider than ever as Illinoisans brace for the start of another fiscal year without a budget. Lawmakers adjourned Wednesday without a spending plan. In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens asked Rockford University Economics and Political Science Professor Bob Evans how we ended up here again.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Veterans Choice is a federal program intended to reduce the length of waiting times for medical appointments. We continue our series, “Veterans Choice: Making it Work” by hearing from the people these benefits were designed to help.

There are more than 20,000,000 military veterans in the U.S. More than 700,000 of them live in Illinois. Their health-care needs can be more complicated than the needs of civilians, with exposure to war-zone toxins, complex physical injuries, and the trauma of combat.  

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Winnebago County’s Sheriff dropped the idea Thursday of allowing the federal government to house immigration detainees in his jail. Gary Caruana said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not able to agree to his terms.

In exchange for committing a portion of the jail to the federal prisoners, guarding them, and caring for them, ICE would have paid the county a daily per-prisoner fee; $80 was one figure mentioned frequently during discussions. 

 

 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Emotions ran high at Tuesday night's forum on whether the Winnebago County Jail should open its doors to federal immigration inmates.

Sheriff Gary Caruana is in negotiations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who want to house immigrants with felonies awaiting deportation in unused sections of the jail.

In exchange for housing their inmates in a segregated area of the jail, Caruana wants veto power on who is housed, the option to withdraw from the agreement in 30 days, and $80 per inmate per day.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The Rockford School Board race decided by the flip of playing cards two weeks ago may still be in play.

A discovery recount at the Winnebago County Clerk’s office Thursday morning, according to the Rockford Register Star, indicated possible vote total discrepancies in the write-in race in Rockford School Board Subdistrict A.

Eight write-in candidates ran for the seat in the April 5 election. Initially, Brandi Brown was told she was the winner and even started orientation with school district officials.

Carl Nelson/WNIJ

You may have noticed you paid less at the pump this weekend. 

The price of a gallon of regular is down about 6 cents in Illinois compared to a week ago according to AAA. It's $2.36 per gallon, which is about two cents higher than the national average.

Rockford drivers enjoyed a nearly five cent drop in prices since last Monday, paying an average of $2.29 a gallon. That still isn't close to the cheapest fill-ups in the state: It's $2.09 in Champaign/Urbana.

Pres. Donald Trump has been in office for 100 days -- and one week. He promised to shake things up in Washington. How do his policies and actions at the top trickle down to local political organizations? We asked a couple of local party leaders for this week’s Friday Forum.

           

Paul Stoddard chairs the DeKalb County Democratic Party and Jim Thompson is Winnebago County’s Republican Party chairman.

 

U.S. House members from Illinois voted lockstep with their parties Thursday on the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The plan pushed by Pres. Trump and his administration narrowly passed, 217 – 213. 20 Republicans joined all 193 Democrats in voting against the plan.

In a statement, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16) called passage of the AHCA “the first step in repairing the damages of the Obamacare system.”

WNIJ/Susan Stephens

Anthony Dixon won the race for a seat on the Rockford School Board with a Queen of Clubs.  

Eight write-in candidates battled it out for the sub-district A seat in the April 4 election.

Tuesday, the winner was determined by flipping over two playing cards at the Winnebago County Administration Building in Rockford.

According to letters sent to Dixon and fellow write-in candidate Brandi Brown, a total of 517 ballots cast for the eight write-in candidates in the April 4 election resulted in a tie.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

An immigrant detention center in the Winnebago County jail could help solve the county’s budget troubles. It could also seriously damage the relationships between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

photo courtesy of City of Rockford

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey has a new job lined up when he leaves office May 1st.

Matthew Apgar / Daily Chronicle

A 77-year-old Seattle man has been granted a Certificate of Innocence in the 1957 kidnapping and murder of a Sycamore girl. 

Jack McCullough was not in court in DeKalb County today when Judge William Brady announced his decision. This clears the way for McCullough to receive up to $85,000 from the state for wrongful conviction. He served four years in prison before his conviction was vacated last year.

7-year-old Maria Ridulph was kidnapped near her home in Sycamore in 1957. Her body was found several months later. The case is still open.

Governor Bruce Rauner made Rockford one of the stops on his two-day trip across Illinois. He met with a large group made up mainly of his fellow Republican elected officials.

Rauner criticized Democrats in the state Legislature and blamed them for the budget stalemate. He urged them to make Illinois more business-friendly. He told reporters after the event, “I’ll judge myself by how strong the economy in Rockford grows over the next two and six years, while I am governor. And we need a strong economy for everybody in Illinois.”

youtube.com

Rockford business owner, bandleader, and local television icon Al Grace has died. He was 98. Grace owned Al Grace Appliance in Rockford and was known for the big personality he showed off in his wacky commercials, which ended with the tagline “Appliances…and other neat shtuff.”

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Faculty members at  Northern Illinois University may be more involved in future evaluations of the school’s president.

 

NIU President Doug Baker faced a grilling from the Faculty Senate Wednesday: they considered taking  a “vote of no confidence” in the fourth year president. Instead, faculty members approved an invitation from NIU’s Board of Trustees to be part of future annual evaluations of the president.

 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Now that the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act has been tabled, one Congressional Democrat from northern Illinois says it’s time to work together to make the existing law better.

17th District Rep. Cheri Bustos says she’s on the same page with President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan on two important changes they want in the health care law: they all want people to pay less for premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, as well as prescription drugs. She says where they differ is how to get there.  

Peggy Doty

Monarch butterflies have started their long, three-generation migration north. Last year, a late-winter storm reduced their numbers drastically. It could be two months before they show up in Illinois again, but there are ways to start preparing for their return.

photos courtesy of the campaigns

Rockford voters will choose a new mayor April 4. Mayor Larry Morrissey decided last year he wouldn’t run for re-election, after 12 years in office.

Janie Wilson Cook

Former Rockford State Senator Joyce Holmberg died this week at the age of 86.

Holmberg was first elected to the State Senate in 1982 but had been very involved in the Democratic Party for decades. She was urged to run for what was dubbed “The Woman’s Seat” by Vivian Hickey, who had also served as Senator in the 34th District.  

Rockford University

Rockford police detectives say they didn’t find evidence of foul play in the deaths of two Rockford University students last weekend.

   

The two died in the garage of their off-campus apartment. Preliminary autopsy results show they died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Police say they believe the deaths were accidental.

 

Facebook.com

A Democratic State Senator from Evanston is running for governor. Daniel Biss announced live on Facebook today that he is a candidate, then took questions from viewers.

Biss has served in the Illinois legislature since 2011, first in the House and now in the Senate.

He has been an outspoken critic of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, leading a PAC called “Leading Illinois For Tomorrow.” It paid for millions of dollars in advertising trying to link Rauner with then-candidate Donald Trump in the minds of voters.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded fell for ten straight days nationally, but is up a few cents in Illinois. 

The average price in the state is $2.35 a gallon, up a little more than a penny from a week ago. 

Springfield has the cheapest gas in the state, at $2.19. Rockford's average is $2.24, down a penny from last week. A year ago this week, prices in Rockford were below the $2.00 mark, at $1.97. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Update, 3/16/17 12:30 pm: This morning, the district released Wednesday's student attendance totals for all grade levels.  The official average attendance across the district was 77%. That's down from 92% the previous Wednesday. 

School attendance was down in Rockford on the first day of a three-day strike by school support workers.

Elementary school attendance in Rockford Public Schools was at 81%. That's down 12% from last Wednesday. Some parents had a hard time getting their children to class without school bus service.

rps205.com

Hundreds of Rockford School District employees are picketing at schools throughout the city as a three-day strike gets underway.

Google Maps

Illinois has joined a group of states supporting a temporary restraining order against President Trump’s revised travel ban.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined colleagues in twelve other states and the District of Columbia in filing an amicus brief Monday supporting the state of Hawaii in its case against the revised Executive Order on immigration. They argue that the latest travel ban still contains unconstitutional parts of the original order.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Back in 2005, a young lawyer running as an Independent shocked the establishment by beating the Democratic incumbent in the Rockford mayor’s race. Now, 12 years later, he’s ready to hand the keys to his 8th floor city hall office to the next mayor. In today’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sat down with Larry Morrissey to talk about his three terms as mayor and his plans for the future. 

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