Fox Valley's top stories from 2012
Fox Valley's top stories of 2012 include teachers strikes, tax hikes, politics and crime
Money issues continued to dominate the headlines in 2012 in different forms.
There was a teacher strike in Community Unit District 300, the threat of teacher strikes elsewhere, new taxes in Elgin, investment in Huntley in the form of a new hospital and interchange and Wal-Mart's looming withdrawal from East Dundee.
Other big stories of the year involved the opening of the Red Gate Bridge in St. Charles, a new McDonald's for downtown Batavia and a revised ethics policy for the Kane County Board.
Walking the picket line
Nearly 1,300 Community Unit District 300 educators were dressed in black and white on picket lines Dec. 4 in a one-day strike that marked the Carpentersville-based union's first since 1972.
LEAD 300, the district's teachers union, declared the strike Dec. 3 when a day of negotiating -- after 11 months of talks -- failed to result in a new contract for teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, speech language pathologists and school nurses.
Union members showed up to all 27 District 300 schools on the morning of Dec. 4, forming picket lines outside their buildings from Algonquin at the north end of the district, south to Carpentersville and west to Hampshire. They carried signs calling for a fair contract, lower class sizes and more teachers rather than administrators, all wearing "We LEAD 300" T-shirts. Some students showed up on the picket lines, as did parents. And almost 1,000 union members and their allies gathered for an 11 a.m. rally outside the district's administrative offices in Carpentersville.
A tentative agreement ended the strike before its second day, opening schools to the 21,000 students in the district. A permanent deal is in the works.
A teachers strike in Prairie Grove School District 46 near Crystal Lake was over the same day it began. School district officials announced Oct. 12 that an agreement had been reached with the 74-member Prairie Grove Teachers Association, which represents instructors at the Prairie Grove elementary and junior high schools, both located on Route 176.
Geneva school district residents waited anxiously as the school board and the Geneva Education Association sparred throughout August, September and October, trying to work up a new three-year contract.
Pay raises were the main roadblock, with the school board asking to freeze salaries the first year, including not having automatic raises for seniority or graduate education attained. In November, union leaders called a strike, but a deal was reached the night before. The union also charged the district with committing an unfair labor practice; as of Dec. 18, that charge was still being investigated by the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board.
Elsewhere, Huntley Unit District 158 school board approved an agreement with its teachers union, averting a teachers strike. After two false starts, the union and school board presented teachers with a contract that received 98 percent of the vote from union members.
2012 a banner year for village of Huntley
The good news for Huntley started in July after Centegra Health System finally won approval to build a 128-bed hospital in Huntley, a move one village official said puts Huntley on the road to becoming a complete community.
Centegra officials had sought permission from the Illinois Health Facilities Services and Review Board to build the hospital three times -- and were rejected the first two times they tried.
The $233 million facility will be built on Centegra's existing campus at Reed and Haligus roads, which includes an immediate care facility, doctors offices, a new back and spine center and the Health Bridge Fitness Center.
The completed hospital, which is expected to take in patients in 2016, is expected to bring about 1,100 jobs to the area.
Good times continued to roll in Huntley when construction workers finally completed the widening of Route 47 and began work on a new, eastbound interchange at Route 47 and the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway.
The $69 million project, which has been nearly 20 years in the making, is expected to spur economic interest in Huntley and draw 390 jobs related to the construction alone.
The full interchange and its proximity to the airports has helped Huntley attract attention from area and international business owners looking to set up shop in the village, including FYH Bearing Units, Inc., Japan's oldest and largest mounted ball bearing manufacturer, and Starbucks, which will operate a store within the Regency Square commercial and business park at Route 47 and Kreutzer Road.
Construction on the interchange is expected to conclude next year by Thanksgiving Day.
Money woes continue to plague Elgin
Meanwhile, money woes continued to dog certain communities this year.
The city of Elgin moved forward with its 2012 budget that included new electricity, gas and alcoholic beverage taxes, as well as a refuse fee, higher sales tax and plans for a stormwater utility fee.
The refuse fee was in place all year with the electricity, gas and alcoholic beverage taxes taking effect July 1 along with the increased sales tax. Council members discussed the stormwater utility fee during 2013 budget talks and, if approved, will implement the new fee in 2014.
The new taxes were meant to diversify Elgin's revenue streams, getting away from a reliance on property taxes.
The controversial budget decisions galvanized the community and, in part, led to a crowded city council race. Nine residents put their names in for a single two-year seat and 14 filed for the four 4-year positions.
Big box blues
It wasn't a good year for communities who rely on money from big box retailers.
Wal-Mart announced that it was closing its 21-year-old store in East Dundee and building a super center in neighboring Carpentersville, resulting in a loss of $850,000 in annual non-property tax revenue to East Dundee.
While Carpentersville leaders were overjoyed about the news, East Dundee officials were angry.
The store is slated to open in 2015 on Lake Marian Road and Besinger Drive, property owned by the Besinger family, which has had a strong role in the development of Carpentersville.
Frank Scarpelli, a member of the family, is involved in negotiations with Wal-Mart and is also co-chairman of East Dundee's planning and zoning commission. Village President Jerald Bartels said that was a conflict of interest and tried to throw Scarpelli off the commission, but didn't have enough votes to make it happen.
In 2013, East Dundee leaders will spend time trying to secure more businesses to make up for Wal-Mart. They will also be watching to see how the Wal-Mart deal shakes out in Carpentersville.
West Dundee leaders were also reeling from news that a major retailer was leaving.
The sudden closure of Best Buy, which had been around for 15 years, forced village officials to approve a series of last-minute budget cuts totaling $216,000.
The largest savings came by cutting hours for part-time firefighters, a move that limited response times out of one of the village's two stations. West Dundee also moved its 54 employees to a cheaper health insurance carrier, reduced hours for part-time and seasonal employees, eliminated a community service position in the police department, canceled a National Night Out event and decided to hold fewer board meetings.
West Dundee was also hopeful Wal-Mart, which had considered opening its super center near Spring Hill Mall, would come. But a lawsuit that seven people living near the mall brought against the retail giant, scared Wal-Mart away. Wal-Mart later announced it was taking its business to Carpentersville.
An update on several development projects
In October, the Algonquin village board approved a plan to turn the Riverside Plaza downtown condo project into rentals, with the goal of reverting back to condos in 2018.
The building has stood like an empty shell at routes 31 and 62 in the heart of Algonquin since the original developer defaulted on its loans in 2008.
Village officials had high hopes when developer John Breugelmans bought it in 2011, but the stagnant condo market stalled his plans to convert the building into luxury apartments. In the end, the board consented to Breugelmans' request to turn it into apartments, which he said would allow him to get financing.
Could 2013 be the year the building is finally finished and gets its first tenants?
In St. Charles, Red Gate Bridge -- the number one priority of St. Charles officials for the past four years and an infrastructure project discussed for more than 80 years, finally opened to vehicle traffic in 2012. Work continues on the $30 million project as a pedestrian walkway portion of the bridge will open in April.
Campton Hills residents fought a plan to convert the former Glenwood School for Boys into a substance abuse recovery center. Residents said they had concerns about safety, property values, burdening local fire and ambulance service and hurting the village's image. Officials from the Kiva Recovery Center said their 98-bed, inpatient facility would be geared toward recovering professionals and it would run $30,000 for a month's stay. Campton Hills trustees in January are expected to vote on the plan, which already has been endorsed by the village's plan commission.
A replacement McDonald's was built in downtown Batavia; the Golden Corral, stalled by the property owner's financial woes, finally opened on Randall Road in Batavia; and the Merra-Lee Shops in downtown Geneva -- including the namesake store, open since 1928 -- closed in January.
After months of public hearings and detailed review, the Elburn village board in October decided to table a vote on the big Elburn Station commercial, industrial and residential development until after the Anderson Road extension is built. Which is a problem, because the sale of the needed right of way to Kane County was negotiated contingent upon the village approving the development, which would have included about 2,000 residential units. The Anderson Road extension would bridge the Union Pacific railroad tracks near the Metra station, providing a bypass for the railroad crossing on Route 47 in downtown Elburn. The Pouley Road grade crossing would have been closed.
In sports, the Chicago Cubs and the Kane County Cougars inked a partnership that will see the Cougars be a Cubs minor league affiliate in 2013. The deal is expected to bring a whole level of interest to the Cougars and allow Cubs fans a nearby option of seeing prospects in action.
Sherman Health announced in October its intent to partner with Advocate Health Care and join the largest health system in Illinois. The details of the partnership are still being decided, with the formal transaction expected by next summer.
The Elgin hospital sought out potential partners in 2011, narrowing a field of more than a dozen hospital systems to two in July. Oak Brook-based Advocate Health Care was the final choice over Cadence Health, which formed in the March 2011 merger between Delnor Health System in Geneva and Central DuPage Health System in Winfield.
Sherman Health President and CEO Rick Floyd said the partnership will help Sherman adapt to changes spurred by national health care reform. He said stand-alone community hospitals are no longer positioned to be as effective in a world where doctors and hospitals must take more responsibility for outcomes and costs.
News of the year in local politics
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns took some heat in February when it was revealed that he had used his city email account to reply to messages about his campaign for the Republican nomination for Kane County Board chairman. The city council declined to pursue disciplinary action against Burns. The emails contained frank exchanges about Burns' opinions of his opponent and of others, including Congressman Randy Hultgren, who endorsed Chris Lauzen after Burns announced he had Hultgren's support.
When it came to county politics, Kane County voters elected a new county board chairman, auditor, coroner, circuit clerk and eight new county board members in November. The turnover ushered in a new administration headed by Illinois State Sen. Chris Lauzen. Lauzen pledged a flat tax levy and an end to even the perception of pay-to-play and political cronyism in the county.
After more than a year of debate, the Kane County Board approved revisions to the ethics policy that governs their behavior. But two Kane County State's Attorneys have ruled large portions of the code unenforceable, possibly inviting a lawsuit.
In McHenry County, voters overwhelmingly defeated in November a ballot measure -- championed by state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat -- that sought to create an executive form of county government.
Under the executive form of government, the county executive runs the day-to-day operations of the county including the hiring and firing of employees and will also have the power to veto county board decisions.
The county executive, supporters said, would add transparency and accountability to county government, and allow for a stronger county board that would be focused solely on legislative matters
But opponents of the change said the county executive form of government would give the county executive too much power.
Cities, townships and counties across the country had questions on their respective ballots asking voters whether they thought the United States constitution should be amended to keep big money out of politics. A group of Kane County residents, loosely connected to the national Move to Amend group, turned in 14,386 signatures, far surpassing the 12,000 necessary to put a question on the county's ballot. The group may have turned in more signatures than for any other ballot initiative in Kane County history, according to Chief Deputy Clerk Stan Bond.
The ballot question, which appeared in various forms throughout the country, was approved overwhelmingly in every jurisdiction in question, including in Kane County. The Election Day results didn't trigger a change to the constitution but activists hope it will put pressure on elected officials to get the wheels turning on an amendment.
Other education news
In April, the McHenry County College board adopted a 40-year plan calling for the expansion of the college that could cost $640 million -- $278.5 million in the first decade alone. The plan was devised by Wight & Co. and includes new buildings and the renovation of existing buildings.
The plan features a new fine arts center with space for a black box theater and art gallery, a new student life center building and a traditional green, quad area. In the first decade, buildings would be constructed along Route 14.
However, moving forward with the plan is contingent upon finding the necessary funding, perhaps with private-public partnerships, officials said.
St. Charles East High School had an unfriendly repeat visitor in the form of mold. Routine maintenance revealed mold in racquetball courts in the Norris Recreation Center. St. Charles Unit District 303 officials are still deciding exactly what to do with that portion of the recreation center. The mold was remediated.
Crime, courts and convictions
• Acquitted twice on misconduct charges in 2011, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi in January filed a federal lawsuit against two special prosecutors and a computer firm, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and a violation of his civil rights. Former Judge Henry "Skip" Tonigan over the summer settled the lawsuit for $157,000, but did not admit fault. Attorneys are due in federal court again on Jan. 8.
• Two people were sent to prison for the severe beating of a toddler at a St. Charles hotel in late October 2010. Molly Koch, who turned 4 in November 2012, was severely brain damaged in the attack. James Cooper, formerly of Elburn, pleaded guilty and was sent to prison for 15 years. Cathleen Koch, who is Molly's mom and was Cooper's girlfriend at the time, pleaded guilty and got an eight-year term, but a judge later reduced it to four years.
• Mario Casciaro was tried in McHenry County for the 2002 murder of Brian Carrick, 18, over a drug debt. Carrick's body has not been found and a jury could not reach a verdict after a trial in January. Prosecutors vowed a retrial and one is tentatively scheduled for March 18 in Woodstock.
• In one of the ugliest and emotional courtroom scenes of the year, a Wayne man who violated his probation in a drunken driving crash that killed a 2009 St. Charles East High School graduate Cameron Godee was spared prison. Judge Timothy Sheldon sentenced Onofrio Lorusso of Wayne to 30 days in jail and six months with an alcohol monitoring device. The decision from Sheldon, who spared Lorusso from prison the first time, sparked an angry outburst by Godee's father, who was briefly held in contempt of court, and tears from many of Cameron's family and friends.
• A Big Rock woman and firefighter was fatally mauled Nov. 12 by a large mastiff that she recently adopted. Dawn Brown, 40, was a firefighter at the Bristol Kendall Fire Protection District in Yorkville and she and her husband adopted the dog a week earlier. Despite speculation that she could have been fatally injured breaking up a fight between the mastiff and two of the couple's other dogs, officials said they probably will never know what sparked the fatal attack.
• Batavia had its first murder since 2004. Police say on April 30 Latoya M. Baines, 24, stabbed the father of one of her two children to death when she believed he was involved with a woman in a neighboring apartment building.
• North Aurora had two slayings. Martrell Harris, of North Aurora, is charged with stabbing his father Aug. 20 at their home. And Jon S. Neel, also of North Aurora, stabbed a fellow resident of a supportive living center to death, then jumped out of a third-floor window; he died of his injuries.
Staff writers Elena Ferrarin, James Fuller, Harry Hitzeman, Tara Garcia Mathewson and Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.