Around Illinois – May 9

May 9, 2012
  • Iowa plane crash hero dies
  • Should multi-ride passes be “forever”?
  • Area schools share “Race to the Top” funds
  • Rahm’s first capitol visit seeks pension help
  • Lawmakers form Asian-American caucus
  • House votes to retain Auditor-General

Hero of United plane crash in Iowa dies

The off-duty United Air Lines pilot who helped save 184 people during a 1989 plane crash in Sioux City, Iowa, has died at the age of 69. Dennis Fitch of St. Charles died this week after suffering from brain cancer.In July 1989, Fitch happened to be a passenger on United Flight 232 when it lost all hydraulic power while flying from Denver to Chicago. The DC-10 crash-landed, killing 111 people.Fitch and 184 others survived, due largely to his troubleshooting from the cockpit floor where he and the crew struggled to control the plunging jet.United pilot Mike Hamilton says what happened that day has become ``a case study in how a crew could work together in an emergency.''

Metra rider sues over expired passes

A suburban Chicago commuter has sued Metra to get back money he lost when his multiple-ride passes expired with unused rides, and he wants to include anyone else who falls into that category.

John DiVito says he paid a total of $109.66 for three 10-ride passes he bought in 2009 and 2010 but made only 11 total trips in the one-year period before the passes expired  -- missing out on 29 rides worth about $66.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Divito’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, argues for treating Metra passes like gift certificates under state consumer fraud laws, meaning they shouldn't expire for at least five years.

The suit also proposes a price solution similar to the U.S. Postal Service approach when stamp prices increase.

DiVito is seeking class action for his claim, noting that Metra sold 1.9 million 10-ride passes and 9.5 million one-way passes in 2011 alone. A Metra spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Area schools will share in “Race to the Top”

School districts in Freeport,Winnebago and Sterling are among 37 districts statewide that will join the Illinois State Board of Education in the federal Race to the Top phase three program. These districts will implement key initiatives aimed at improving school performance and student achievement across the state under the $42.8 million federal grant to Illinois and participating districts.

The State Board’s Race to the Top funds are aimed toward Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education and building a stronger connection to post-secondary education and training.

Also targeted are new, more comprehensive principal and teacher evaluations that tie student growth to educators’ reviews.  Legislation calls for all Illinois districts to incorporate student growth into teacher evaluations no later than fall 2016. Participating Race to the Top districts will pilot these evaluation systems in the fall of 2013.

Rahm seeks support for pension changes

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spent his first visit to Springfield since becoming mayor outlining a framework for cutting Chicago's soaring pension costs.

Emanuel's plan calls for city employees to work longer and pay more into their pensions. He also wants a "pause" in paying current retirees' cost-of-living adjustments. 

He also is asking the state to help pay for Chicago teachers' pensions so the standard of living in Chicago won’t take a dramatic turn for the worse.

"And we know what happens to the city of Chicago does not simply affect the people that live in the city of Chicago,” he said. “What happens to the Chicago economy has profound impact on the state's economy."

Michael Shields, president of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police, says Emanuel is "posturing."

 “What he's trying to do is alarm the taxpayer and pit them against the police officer and the fireman that protect our city every single day,” Shileds said.

While Emanuel's plan is all about Chicago, he suggested state leaders take notice of other cities' problems keeping up with their pension costs. The state determines the level of retirement benefits cities must offer local employees.

The Illinois Municipal League is calling on the legislature to reduce those benefits.

State lawmakers form Asian-American caucus

Illinois legislators formed the General Assembly's first Asian-American Caucus Tuesday.

Kathleen Fernicola, with the Asian American Institute advocacy group, says the caucus is an important step in educating people about issues that matter to Asian Americans.

"We have had many friends in the state legislature,” she said. “Electeds who have actively reached out and understood that in order to represent their districts they really did have to go deep and to approach often very foreign cultures."

So far, 18 legislators have joined the caucus. They are supposed to meet four times a year.

Auditor General wins House approval

William Holland has 20 years serving as Auditor General for Illinois under his belt. He’s likely to spend another decade as a constitutional officer. The Illinois House voted unanimously today to reappoint Holland to the job.

State Rep. Sandra Pihos, R-Glen Ellyn, serves on the committee that recommended re-appointing Holland. She says he's been outstanding as the state's top auditor.

"He serves with great integrity, he serves with great honesty,” she said. “It's the one thing we can look to and say Illinois has certainly done right."

If the Senate follows suit, Holland will be sworn in to his third 10-year-term this August.