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8:38 am
Fri May 18, 2012

Around Illinois -- May 18

  • Huge mulch fire closes part of Hwy 76 north of Belvidere
  • Illinois Human Rights Commission member fails to win new term
  • Complaints about NATO arrests
  • Appeals court backs decision to block pay raises for state workers
  • Former Blago aide ready to serve 10-day sentence

Smoky mulch fire north of Belvidere

Portions of highway 76 near Woodstock Road in northern Boone County are closed as firefighters battle a giant mulch fire. Smoke can be seen for miles and people are being asked to avoid the area. 

Human Rights Commission

A longtime member of the Illinois Human Rights Commission has been denied another term because of material on his website related the Nation of Islam. Munir Muhammad is an official in the Coalition for the Remembrance of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam for decades. The coalition's website includes a statement saying "race mixing'' and interracial marriage should be prohibited. Supporters of Muhammad's appointment say he's not responsible for web posts, that the offending language would be removed.

But Senator Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, opposed Muhammad's appointment.

"The notion that this website is nothing other than some kind of documentary of someone's beliefs is simply not accurate. And the reason we know that is because it's still on the website, yet today, a month after he said they would come down apparently."

It's not clear from the website whether the coalition endorses that view, or is presenting it to show what Elijah Muhammad believed. A link on the site to a page titled "Our Beliefs" was not accessible after the debate.

NATO-related arrests in Chicago draw complaints

Lawyers for NATO summit protesters say Chicago police have raided an apartment where activists where staying and arrested nine people. The Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild says officers broke down doors in the building in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood. It says they entered with their guns drawn and without producing warrants. Chicago police are refusing to comment.

Guild attorney Sarah Gelsomino says the raid took place Wednesday night and there are no details on any charges. She says the nine activists are believed to be from outside Chicago and from the Occupy movement. One of the guild's lawyers visited them in a West Side police lockup and reported back that they had their hands and feet shackled.

Gelsomino says a bond hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Appeals court sides with Illinois governor in pay raise dispute

A federal appeals court is backing Governor Pat Quinn over pay raises his administration canceled for thousands of union workers. A U.S. District Court dismissed an effort by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to force the administration to pay the raises.

The appeals court ruled the 11th Amendment prevents the union from prevailing because ruling in AFSME's favor would force the state to spend money.

Quinn, last year, canceled raises for thousands of state worker because he said lawmakers didn't give him enough money in the budget to do it. The move reportedly saved the state millions of dollars. In a written statement, AFSCME said it will continue to fight for the pay raises.

Former Blago aide to begin serving short sentence

Rod Blagojevich's former chief of staff will soon begin serving his 10-day sentence for helping the imprisoned former governor attempt to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

John Harris' attorney, Terry Ekl, says his client will enter the McHenry County Jail on Tuesday. Harris' old boss got 14 years behind bars for his multiple corruption convictions. Blagojevich is serving his sentence in a federal prison near Denver.

Harris had faced a maximum five-year sentence for conspiracy to commit bribery. But in sentencing him in March, Judge James Zagel noted how Harris had agreed to cooperate with authorities almost immediately after his 2008 arrest. That cooperation included testifying against Blagojevich.

At his sentencing, Harris apologized and said he should have done more to stop Blagojevich from pursuing illegal schemes.