Smile Politely

Checking in on five issues

Three images side by side: A storefront with a white cat painted on the window; the front facade of a post office; an aerial view of solar panels
The Scratching Post on Facebook/Patrick Singer/University of Illinois Facilities and Services

We have a lot of opinions on the Editorial Board, and we have a long history of asking questions and/or making, ahem, the occasional suggestion about how things might be improved in Champaign-Urbana. This week, we thought it was about time to take a look back at some of our previous editorials and see what has or hasn’t changed. 

Unit 4 School District

Then: We’ve written many editorials about Unit 4 (here, here, here, and most recently here). In case you need a quick summary about the recent school board issues, in March 2024:

two Unit 4 school board members, Jamar Brown and Mark Thies, resigned from their positions citing similar concerns about a lack of transparency from administration. It’s worth noting that the men are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and were not necessarily approaching their roles from the same worldview. Both were elected last year, and served less than one year of their terms. Shortly after their resignations, on March 25th, a school board meeting was canceled for lack of quorum after two board members walked out of the meeting in protest. They, too, are troubled by the lack of transparency and what Brown noted were “adult” problems. Among those problems are discontent from the Booker T. Washington community about the reassignment of an assistant principal, that assistant principal filing discrimination charges against the district, as well as the Illinois Attorney General’s office investigating an open meetings violation.  

Now: Almost 30 candidates applied to fill the two vacancies, however they could not make quorum in order to vote for new members. After 60 days without action, the Regional Superintendent, Gary Lewis, assumed control of the process according to state statute. The number was cut down to 12 candidates and the final two should be announced later this week.

Kraft Stink Problems

Then: Last summer, the Kraft plant was causing sewage-type odors for over a month. The smells were apparently caused by “wastewater and a mix of ingredients from decomposing materials onsite” at their sewage pretreatment facility. 

Now: After complaints and multiple news outlets reporting on the issue, Kraft issued a statement to WCIA that said, “We fixed the issue and are working closely with our team of subject matter experts and the Urbana and Champaign Sanitary District to find a swift and comprehensive solution to mitigate the lingering odors.” And it seems they did, as the smell has not been a problem since late August 2023. 

Mattis Avenue Post Office

Then: In February of this year we wrote about the Mattis Avenue Post Office being under “review” to determine its efficiency. We worried then about the effects a decision to close or downsize would have on employees and our mail. There was a Save the Post Office event, but it couldn’t stop the Mattis Avenue processing center from being shut down.

Now: Just last week, on May 20th, US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sent a letter to Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich) and other legislators, stating that plans to convert the Mattis Post Office would be delayed (along with 60 other offices) until at least the beginning of 2025. Current plans for the Mattis facility will include transferring outgoing mail to facilities in the Chicago area and will result in the loss of jobs for an estimated 100 people. 

Municipal Electric Aggregation

Then: In 2022 we wrote all about energy and, more specifically, Municipal Electric Aggregation. MEA is a bulk purchasing of electricity organized by the cities of Champaign or Urbana with the specific goal of making renewable energy more affordable than it might otherwise be in order to allow regular consumers to make green choices and combat climate change. The cities and the selected supplier automatically opt-in all eligible accounts at the beginning of each contract period. Residents receive a letter with directions to opt-out of the program if they so choose.

Now: There has been some confusion around opting out of the program and if there are still benefits and savings to this way of purchasing electricity. Switching to a different company can be cheaper, but those prices can also change from year to year (as opposed to a consistent price for three years) and do not have the same commitment to renewable energy. While we acknowledge that rising costs of everything from groceries to rent is making life a lot more expensive, if you can afford to make green choices and support renewable energy, remaining in the municipal aggregation program is one way to do so. Still, the confusion around energy providers, renewable energy, and pricing can make people vulnerable to scams so make sure you go through the proper channels to change your provider. 

Empty spaces

Then: We’ve written about the untapped potential of County Fair, all the empty spaces (especially the desolation of Midtown), and the cuisines and other places we need in C-U. 

Now: We’re happy to say there has been some movement in this area. Over in Urbana, H-Mart and Hotel Royer are both making incremental progress (and we’re here for it). Champaign’s Midtown is looking spruced up;on the 100 block of University Avenue, a cat cafe is about to open, Groom Culture got a new paint job, and a new building is going in where Ducky’s Formal Wear used to be. One of the problems with many of these new buildings is that the ground floor retail storefronts can be so expensive that they just sit empty. We’re hopeful that this won’t be the case and these buildings will continue to add new life and diverse businesses to the area. 

In Downtown Champaign, there are still some huge vacant spaces, like the former Destihl space and the still empty Art Theater (even though the price has been reduced). The Hound’s Court and Hound’s Rest (in the former Blind Pig bars) are up and running, The Beat will be taking over Market Street on Friday and Saturday nights this summer, and it seems there are (finally!) plans for a new hotel heading for the empty lot next to Sticky Rice. Plans were also just revealed for the new Neil Street Plaza, which will take over the current parking lot (don’t panic, there are still plenty of places to park).

Reflecting back this way illustrates that progress is happening — even if it’s not always exactly what we asked for. These cities of ours continue to grow and change. And we will continue to hold it to high standards via our suggestions and opinions in the hopes of contributing to C-U’s bright future.  

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

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