CU-CitizenAccess.org looks back at 2013

December 19, 2013

CU-CitizenAccess.org continued providing high-quality journalism to the residents of east-central Illinois in 2013 with new investigative news packages on public housing, bridge safety, meth use and the Illinois jail system among others.

CU-CitizenAccess.org also produced its first broadcast for Illinois Public Media’s PBS news hour as part of an in-depth look into meth use.

Our reporters continued covering the latest restaurant inspection news and continued to share important insights from the surrounding communities – such as this up-close look at Gifford after a November tornado.

Here’s a look back at some of highlights from 2013:

Meth use on the rise again in Illinois

In Vermilion County, Illinois State Police seized 77 meth labs in 2012, the second most seizures in the state. Once thought to be on a downward spiral, these cases indicate meth use is climbing again. In fact, Illinois registered the fifth-most meth lab seizures and arrests in the country last year, behind Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky.

No vacancy: Getting on waiting lists for subsidized housing can take years

A CU-CitizenAccess.org survey found that about three out of every four public housing authorities in Illinois that issue housing vouchers – also known as section 8 vouchers – have closed waiting lists. That means countless low-income residents not only wait for housing assistance, but they wait to get on waiting lists that are often closed.

Fraternities and sororities fail inspections; Violations take months to fix

City safety inspectors find hundreds of fire hazards and safety violations in fraternities and sororities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign each year, yet it can take months before some violations are corrected, inspection documents show.

Poor conditions in county jails persist as state inspections go unenforced

Trash litters the floors of the Edgar County jail, unknown liquid leaks from the ceilings, and broken locks make it impossible to secure internal doors. The Sangamon County Jail is consistently overcrowded, making living quarters unfit for inmates. These are just a few of the shortcomings in Illinois county jails revealed in a review of hundreds of state inspection reports from the past five years by CU-CitizenAccess.org.

Long delays for funding plague bridge repairs

Illinois state inspectors say the bridge carrying traffic on County Highway 50 over Interstate 74 in Mahomet is in “critical condition” and “structurally deficient.” But an average of 2,550 vehicles – including school buses – still use the bridge each day, although the bridge has been reduced to a single lane since August 2011. The Illinois Department of Transportation planned a multimillion dollar bridge replacement project starting for 2014 to address the problems.

Efforts at transparency in government lost in translation

Illinois state law requires government officials in Champaign County to file forms disclosing financial dealings that might lead to conflicts of interest in their official duties. But a review by CU-CitizenAccess.org of more than 9,000 forms filed by officials during the past five years found that an average of 16 percent of officials reveal any specific information.

Communication breakdown thwarts attempt at government transparency

People who hold a position on a county body are required to file a form with the County Clerk’s Office that discloses their economic interests. Dozens of officials never fill out the form, and failure to file does not result in any fines or penalties. Many of the officials said they did not even know about the requirement in the first place.

Opt-in text alert system leaves many at University of Illinois out

Northern Illinois University recently instituted a new text-message emergency notification system to replace its old system, which only reached about 10 percent of the student population. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has not changed its emergency alert system, even though less than one-third of Illinois’s roughly 42,000 students are signed up for text alerts.

As deaths add up, farmers “walk the grain” unprotected

In July, a 55-year-old man working for Premier Cooperative in Sidney, Ill., suffocated and died after becoming trapped in a grain bin filled with corn. There have been more than 900 of such grain-bin entrapments in the United States since 1964, according to agricultural safety data. His death marked the first grain-bin fatality for Illinois this year.

CU-CitizenAccess co-founder honored with campus-wide award

In May, the co-founder and director of CU-CitizenAccess.org was one of three University of Illinois faculty honored with a campus-wide award aimed at highlighting community engagement projects locally, nationally and globally. The award-winning online news and information service is nationally recognized for its focus on investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east Central Illinois.

CU-CitizenAcces.org wins 2012 Peter Lisagor Award

CU-CitizenAccess.org also won the 2012 Peter Lisagor Award for its collaborative project with Hoy Chicago, which looked at changing demographics and racial issues in central Illinois. The Chicago Headline Club, the largest Society of Professional Journalists chapter in the country, announced the award in May.

CU-CitizenAccess receives national award for project highlighting racial issues in Central Illinois

CU-CitizenAccess.org has won a national investigative journalism award for its collaborative project with Hoy Chicago looking at changing demographics and racial issues in Central Illinois.

Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 4,000 member organization, gave the small multi-platform award to CU-CitizenAccess and Hoy Chicago for the project called Midwest Chronicles.

The project took a deep look at the demographic shift across 16 counties in Central Illinois, including stories on racial issues and data analysis of crime statistics. The project included presentations in video, audio, and text on the organizations' Web sites and a 16 page supplement published in editions of the News-Gazette and Hoy Chicago last fall.