Willmore files Democratic candidacy for sheriff

By Colleen Lehmann
Voters going to the polls for the November 4, 2014 general election will have a choice for Douglas County sheriff, as Tuscola resident Edward Willmore officially filed candidacy papers on May 7, 2014 declaring himself a Democratic hopeful for the position. Willmore filed petition sheets containing 45 signatures along with his statement of candidacy, almost four weeks ahead of the June 2, 2014 deadline.

The 61-year-old Willmore is no stranger to the sheriff’s department, having retired as a sergeant on July 31, 2011 after 29 years of service. He started with DCSO in December 1982 as a corrections officer before moving to a deputy position.

Willmore will be facing GOP candidate Fred Galey, who defeated current Chief Deputy Peter Buckley in the March primary to move on to the November ballot.

Because there was no Democratic candidate in the March primary election, Willmore was entitled to run as a Democrat. Had there been a Democrat in the primary, Willmore would have had to file as an independent party. Filing deadline for independent candidates in the upcoming general election is 5 p.m. Mon., June 23, 2014. Write-in candidates would have until Sept. 4, 2014 to file the necessary paperwork.

On May 8, 2014 a lottery was held to determine ballot placement for Republican and Democratic candidates in the November 4, 2014 general election. Democrats won the blind draw, meaning that for all races on the ballot, the Democrat candidate will be listed first, and the Republican candidate second.

Local residents targeted in recent scams

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is warning of several fraud attempts in recent months experienced by local citizens. Chief Deputy Peter Buckley noted the following attempted deceptions took place.

•Impersonation of a police officer–On April 30, 2014, a Villa Grove resident received a telephone call from a male identifying himself as Lt. Timothy Woods with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. (There is no deputy named Timothy Woods working at DCSO) Woods told the Villa Grove resident that the resident had been selected as a juror and the resident had missed a recent jury trial. As a result of missing the jury trial, the resident was found in contempt of court and had been fined $850.

The resident was directed by Lt. Woods to obtain two “Green Dot” Pay Pal cards in the amounts of $400 and $100 and contact Woods with the numbers located on the cards. Lt. Woods explained that the court might accept this lower payment. After the Villa Grove resident complied with the instructions, the resident received another call from Lt. Woods on May 1 and was told the judge required the resident to pay another $350. When the resident did not send the $350, the victim received a message on his/her telephone threatening the victim with arrest unless he/she paid the $350. At that time the victim contacted law enforcement and learned that this was a fraud.

•Identity theft/tax fraud–On April 2, 2014, a rural Tuscola Township resident received a form letter at his home from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This letter was addressed to two people, the victim and another person named Stacy Baker, and the victim was not familiar with anyone named Stacy Baker. The form letter advised the victim that they had received a Form 1040A dated Dec. 31, 2013, however, additional information was required to process the return accurately. The victim went to his tax accountant and learned that the IRS was legitimate and the victim completed the IRS request by checking the box, which read, “No, I did not file this return” and mailed the letter to the IRS.

Shortly thereafter, the victim received a letter from TurboTax, 2510 Commerce Way, Vista, Cal. This letter from TurboTax was addressed to the victim and Stacy Baker. This letter stated, in part, that the victim’s tax refund was insufficient to pay the fees owed TurboTax and that a payment of $31.86 was due to TurboTax. The victim knew this was fraudulent because he had not used TurboTax, did not know anyone named Stacy Baker, and was not expecting a tax refund. The victim contacted TurboTax and after explaining the situation, a TurboTax representative recommended the victim contact local law enforcement because it appeared that Stacy Baker may have stolen the victim’s identity. After contacting DCSO, the DCSO contacted IRS, which was also of the opinion the victim’s identity had been compromised. The IRS suggested the victim bring a police report to the IRS facility in Champaign to file an official report.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal May 14, 2014 edition


Preliminary approval given to Cronus air pollution control permit

–Public hearing on permit scheduled for June 26 at Tuscola High School
By Colleen Lehmann
Forward movement continues to be made regarding the proposed Cronus fertilizer manufacturing plant facility, though a final site decision has yet to be made. Cronus Chemicals’ application for an air pollution control permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) was given preliminary approval—and a public comment and review period has been set, along with a public hearing to take place on Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 7 p.m. at Tuscola High School.

Illinois EPA issued the formal notice of comment period and public hearing regarding proposed issuance of an air pollution control permit for possible construction of a fertilizer manufacturing facility at 783 East Highway 36, west of Tuscola. Should the facility be sited near Tuscola, it would be producing nitrogen-based granular fertilizers—urea and ammonia—from natural gas feedstock. The resulting emissions from the production process would include nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and greenhouse gases.

Among the purposes of the IEPA permitting process is to determine whether Best Available Control Technology (BACT) will be employed to negate those emissions or keep them within safe levels as determined by law.

“Based on the application, the Illinois EPA has made a preliminary determination that the application for the proposed facility meets applicable requirements, for air permit in particular, and has prepared a draft construction permit for public review and comment,” said Kim Biggs, public information officer with Illinois EPA.

“That determination means it appears BACT is planned for certain pollutants the proposed facility would be emitting. The hearing on June 26 at Tuscola High School will offer the opportunity for the public to make comments and ask questions. There will be engineers on site to answer those questions. All commentary, both spoken and written, will be reviewed and taken into consideration prior to making a final determination on the permit application,” said Biggs.

The draft permit is now available for public review and comment. Those interested in doing so can view it online at www.epa.gov/reg5oair/permits/ilonline.html or see a copy at Tuscola Public Library, 112 E. Sale Street. Copies are also available at the IEPA offices at 2125 S. First Street in Champaign (217-275-5800) and 1021 N. Grand Avenue in Springfield (217-782-7027), but Biggs noted it would be helpful to call first before going to see the copy so that someone is available to assist with the request.

Written comments about the air quality permit may be directed to hearing officer Dean Studer at the Illinois EPA, 1021 N. Grand Ave. E., P.O. Box 19276, Springfield, IL 62794-9276. Comments must be submitted and postmarked by midnight July 25, 2014 in order to be considered.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal May 14, 2014 edition

Council study session centers on Community Building

By Colleen Lehmann
Mayor Dan Kleiss and Tuscola City Council members gathered prior to the May 12, 2014 council meeting for a 30-minute study session regarding possible renovations to the Community Building.

Mayor Kleiss noted that, while HVAC and electrical updating in the facility is necessary and imminent, “Do we want to consider doing more extensive renovation while we are at it, maybe do something so that it can serve multiple purposes?”

Discussion ensued, with possibilities including installing insulation for sound and temperature purposes, adding additional space to the west of the building to accommodate larger wedding receptions and other gatherings, and overall remodeling of the current space for more efficient use.

Council members appear divided on the possibility of the Community Building serving as a permanent home for Actors Rural Theatre Company (ARTCo). Most seemed open to the idea of such a situation on a temporary basis, but concerns with cost (if additional space was built), limiting of access to other potential users, and the precedent it sets had several councilmen hesitant to get on board with the prospect as a permanent solution for the currently-nomadic ARTCo group.

Councilwoman Phyllis Truitt asked her fellow council members to keep an open mind as discussion continues with the theater company about a home site for their productions. Several downtown Tuscola sites have been investigated as a home for ARTCo, but prohibitive renovation costs have, thus far, kept them from moving forward.

Mayor Kleiss suggested having an energy audit of the Community Building be done, to determine what costs would be for those improvements and how they might impact future renovations. City Administrator Drew Hoel will also check into getting engineering cost estimates for some of the various renovation/building options discussed.

•Redevelopment agreement okayed
A redevelopment agreement for Phase 2 of the Barker/Prairie Street TIF project and resulting Doris Subdivision was approved at Monday night’s council meeting. The area in question is south of Barker Street, and will have a 19-lot subdivision, with a road running through it from Barker Street to Northline Road.

Contractor Owen Tucker will take on the construction of the road, site grading, sewers, and utilities for a total cost of $381,000, an amount approximately 25 percent less than what city officials had anticipated. The city will take on the water main work.

City of Tuscola will reimburse Tucker for the $381,000 cost. According to Administrator Hoel, “Those costs will be paid out of the Barker/Prairie Street TIF fund. However, it has not built up cash reserves yet, so it is borrowing from the General Fund for the time being. The General Fund will be repaid out of future TIF revenues for the area.”

As part of the redevelopment agreement, Tucker is also expected to build three homes a year in the 19-lot section.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal May 14, 2014 edition


Insanity acquittal in murder-for-hire case

By Colleen Lehmann
A Douglas County judge has ruled a 31-year-old Teutopolis woman who conspired to have her ex-boyfriend and father of her son killed was not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity.

Jennifer Inman was acquitted of the Class X felony charge of solicitation to commit murder during a bench trial on Wed., April 30, 2014 before Judge Frank Lincoln. Inman stood accused of trying to arrange for the murder of Louis Thursh, age 51, of Champaign. She was arrested in Tuscola on Aug. 7, 2013 after an investigation team, led by Illinois State Police Zone 5, gathered statements and additional evidence in the plot.

In an August 8, 2013 court appearance, Inman had acknowledged giving a man $5,000 and a backpack with items designed to help aid in the murder, which she claimed to be doing because she thought he had harmed her daughter. According to court documents, the backpack contained gel soles and glue, latex-style gloves, black skull cap, a Gerber knife, mace, digital camera, cell phone, handwritten maps of the interior of Thursh’s house, and computer maps of his house and neighborhood.

While Inman was initially deemed unfit to stand trial and sent to McFarland Mental Health Center in Springfield, in February 2014 she was declared fit to stand trial from a legal standpoint, insofar as she could understand the proceedings and cooperate with her legal counsel.

Dr. Terry Killian, a Charleston psychiatrist who had examined Inman, diagnosed her with complex delusional disorder. After being acquitted, Inman–who has a history of psychiatric episodes and suicide attempts–was returned to McFarland Mental Health Center for further evaluation and any necessary psychiatric services. She is due back in Douglas County court for a hearing on June 4, 2014.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal May 7, 2014 edition

LyondellBasell plants receive national safety award

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) recognized 11 LyondellBasell sites, including Tuscola, for their commitment to safety. The award is based on data SPI collected during 2013 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

“We are extremely pleased that so many LyondellBasell sites were honored this year by our peers in the industry,” said LyondellBasell VP of Health, Safety, Environment and Operational Excellence Sam Smolik. “We want to thank the Society of Plastics Industry for this recognition and we will continue to work with our peers in the chemical industry as we all pursue safety excellence.”

Top honors–the Gold Distinguished Safety Award–went to eight LyondellBasell plants including Bayport Complex, Mansfield, La Porte and Chocolate Bayou facilities in Texas. Other locations included Fairport Harbor, Ohio, Lake Charles, La., Morris, Ill. and Tuscola, Ill. These plants had no occupational injuries or illnesses, as defined by OSHA.

The Silver Achievement Safety Award was given to the Clinton, Ia. and Victoria, Texas facilities, as these sites had no OSHA recordable occupational injuries or illnesses that resulted in lost workdays or restricted work activity.

The Matagorda, Texas plant earned the Bronze Special Recognition award for a worksite with safety performance that surpasses the national average of Total Recordable Cases in the classification system.

‘Circle’ will be broken with Martin retirement

By Colleen Lehmann
There’s still a genuine twinkle in her eyes and that sudden, infectious laugh—even after 36 years in the special education field, a facet of the teaching profession where burnout is, understandably, an occupational hazard.

And genuine is what North Ward teacher Carol Martin is all about … genuinely in love with her profession and the colleagues she says are the best in the business; and most of all with her students, finding the right way to reach them in order to help them master classroom challenges and life in general.

“I love teaching, coming to work every day, seeing that moment when you’ve finally found the connection with a student that helps them to read, put together a sentence, or understand a math concept. Who wouldn’t love being a part of that? That’s the payoff,” says Martin, who is retiring at the close of this month after having spent the last 36 years of her life in elementary school classrooms, all but the first seven in Tuscola’s school district at the K-4 level.

Martin is quick to point out that most successes in classroom pursuits are a collaborative effort—she refers to it as a “circle”—involving both school and home.

“I’ve always felt there needs to be a circle of involvement—the kids, their parents, other teachers, the administration—for the best results to be achieved. We should all be invested in doing what’s right for these kids so they can become their best selves, whatever that is. I feel very lucky to be able to say that in all my years, with very few exceptions, that’s what I see happen all the time at North Ward and with my students’ parents. And I am continually amazed by the dedication and talent I see from my fellow teachers here; they are some of the best you could ask for.”
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal May 7, 2014 edition

Make tracks to Tuscola Train Day

TrainDay1web By Colleen Lehmann
When it comes to trains and Tuscola, there is a bit of a love-hate relationship, depending on who you ask. The rails played a major role in the city’s founding and history, and Tuscola boasts a somewhat unusual diamond crossing where three lines—CSX, CN, and UP—intersect.

That can be the source of frustration for some residents, who occasionally weary of the numerous times any given day that signal lights flash and safety arms lower to allow unimpeded passage for the clickety-clacking railcars that whiz by (or slowly creep—based on your particular sense of urgency in needing to get across!).

But for many folks, that long pull on the horn is more siren song, wooing them to the tracks to watch the mighty iron horse pass through. Those who love all things train are a devoted bunch, and so for them—and anyone else so inclined—an inaugural Tuscola Train Day event on Sat., May 10, 2014 is just the ticket.

Attend the first-time event and you will find a designated train viewing and photography area, locomotive horn exhibit, railroadiana vendors, HO model train layout, and more. The nearby Tuscola Community Building will be the site for the vendor fair, as well as light refreshments available for purchase, while the parking area adjacent to the Union Pacific right-of-way will serve as the viewing/photography area. Events kick off at 9 a.m. and will conclude by 5 p.m., rain or shine.

Tuscola resident Fred Heilich unquestionably falls into the aforementioned category of train aficionado, and he has essentially been a committee of one in bringing the nationally recognized Train Day event to town. Amtrak has sponsored a Train Day for seven years, celebrating the rich history of the rails in America and stressing the importance of safety. Heilich was in the aerospace industry by trade, but indulged his passion for trains by serving as a volunteer engineer/conductor for the West Chester Railroad—a short line railroad in Pennsylvania—since 1999. He still holds a current engineer’s certificate with the West Chester RR, and is excited to be the driving force behind Tuscola’s first-time hosting of the event.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind, since we moved to Tuscola, to have a Train Day event here, since there is such a significant history and the diamond formation. While my ‘real’ job was as an aircraft flight control engineering business manager in the aerospace industry, I come by my love of trains honestly. One of my grandfathers was a railroad locomotive engineer, and the other was a railroad section foreman,” Heilich noted.

Armed with the desire to organize Train Day, Heilich approached city officials about the proposition.

“I asked the city if there was any kind of backing it could give me, and was fortunate to receive a Tourism grant, and they waived the Community Building rental fee to help gauge interest. Once that was approved I got busy promoting the event. Rail fans and model railroaders are the target audience, but it’s certainly something anyone is welcome to attend, and would be a very family-friendly day.

“I’ve been to a number of communities to talk about the May 10 date, marketed it heavily at the Decatur and Mattoon train shows, and have used social media to get the word out, as well as including it on online railfan calendars and sites. [City employee] Anna Marx has been a big help with getting things organized and with marketing efforts,” Heilich added.

Vendors have shown an interest in coming to Tuscola, says Heilich, with one man bringing 10 tables of merchandise to the Community Building. Team Kika—a support group for Tuscola resident Erica Kremitzki who is currently fighting cancer—will be offering light refreshments for purchase. Two collectors of locomotive horns will be set up in the empty lot where F.H. Jones Lumber Company was formerly housed, and there will be parking in the Cargill lot and in the lot to the west of the Community Building. The traditional parking spaces outside of the Community Building, near the tracks, will be roped off for viewing/photography purposes.

Heilich stressed that safety will be a primary concern on Train Day, and noted “We are asking that the ROW areas of the UP/CSX/CN railroads not be used, as these are private property and would be considered trespassing.”

If anyone is so inclined, Heilich would appreciate help with setting things up on Friday around 4 p.m., and tearing down Saturday after 5 p.m. For more information, contact Heilich at 217-552-4059.

School board not alarmed at taking on full agenda

By Colleen Lehmann
Tuscola Board of Education members and related officials had a number of guests appear at the April 28, 2014 school board meeting—most were invited, one was not. Seven third-graders were present (along with their teachers and parents) to give examples of the biography projects they and fellow classmates have been hard at work on for the last three weeks.

And almost immediately after the conclusion of their presentations and the exodus of children, teachers, and parents, tornado sirens sounded, the uninvited storm sending board members, principals, and other meeting attendees to seek shelter in the school’s pit lab for approximately 20 minutes. Fortunately, no damage occurred and the meeting resumed.

Despite the 2013-2014 school year winding down, a number of subjects related to the 2014-2015 school year were discussed and/or acted upon, as is typically the case during the April board meeting. Approval was given to the 2014-15 district calendar, which will soon be posted on the district’s Web site, and a final draft of the 2014-15 school handbook will likely be ready for approval at the May meeting.

Negotiations are underway with Gould Bus Service for the transportation contract, Supt. Michael Smith reporting that final numbers are still in flux but should be available for the May meeting. The same holds true for an insurance quote with Hillard Insurance Agency, via agent Butch Price, on the school liability insurance policy.

Registration for the 2014-15 school year will be held both online and with a one-day “old school” (pardon the pun) on-site day. Those taking to their computers for the task can do so from June 1-July 31, 2014. The on-site registration day for all grade levels will be held at North Ward Elementary School Tues., August 5 from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

At Supt. Smith’s request, for the third year in a row, his salary for the 2014-15 year will remain frozen at the 2011-12 level. That figure is $110,975.99 for salary, $12,592.01 for pension, and $7,704 for insurance, for total compensation of $131,272. The motion passed with a vote of six yeas and one nay (Darold Spillman). Board member Tim Mooney noted before the vote that while appreciative of Smith’s willingness to freeze his salary for three years, “we really should look at doing something different down the road in all fairness.”

Something that won’t remain the same next year is lunch prices, which due to a federal mandate will be raised by 10 cents. That will make lunch at North Ward $2.35 and at East Prairie and TCHS the cost for lunch will be $2.45. The price increase is effective August 2014.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal April 30, 2014 edition

Fruits of North Ward coin drive highlighted in letter

1A-NW coin drive2web

These photos depict orphans in Ukrainian facilities enjoying fresh fruit purchased with money raised in a coin drive held last month at North Ward Elementary School.

By Colleen Lehmann
K-Kids at North Ward Elementary School in Tuscola held a coin drive in March to benefit disadvantaged children living in orphanages in the Ukraine.

“We challenged the students of North Ward to bring in their coins for a week, and all of the money collected would be sent to the Ukraine Ministries to buy fresh fruit for the orphans. The Ukraine has a large orphan population and the children live in some pretty stark and sad conditions,” explained teacher Beth Linstead, faculty advisor for K-(Kiwanis) Kids.

“We always try to pick one fundraiser a year that is global, to help students realize that what we do here in smalltown USA can have an effect in another country. Last year we collected school supplies and sent them over. This year we decided that collecting money and letting the authorities buy fresh fruit for the orphans was a better idea. Those children do not get fresh fruit/fruit oftend due to the high cost.

“The connection is through [North Ward teacher] Marydith Foster. She and her husband, Jeff, went over to visit and pursue adoption last year and saw the conditions firsthand. She asked us to help out and the students really liked the idea of helping others that are less fortunate. We raised around $275 for the cause, and had a wonderful response from the gentleman in charge of buying and distributing the fruit. It was pretty heartwarming, and makes me thankful,” Linstead said.
–Full story in The Tuscola Journal April 30, 2014 edition