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Appearances Press

Presentation at EIU Tonight

I’m heading back to my alma mater Eastern Illinois University to give a presentation about Tales of Coles County, as well as “the legend of Pemberton Hall” and other local ghost stories. It will be from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Paris Room of the MLK, Jr. Student Union at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The event is free but I will have books for sale. If you’re in the area, come on out!

The Daily Eastern News ran a preview article of the event in today’s paper, but I’m told they will be there tonight and do a more extensive article tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to this, and I have to give a big thank you to Morgan and Diane from the EIU Creative Writing Club for setting this up.

Haunted Charleston to be examined

Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:07 pm

The legend of the Pemberton Hall ghost, as well as hauntings across Coles County, will be explored at a presentation Thursday.

Michael Kleen, author of “Tales of Coles County, Illinois,” will examine the historical and cultural contexts of haunting folklore in the Charleston area through his presentation, called “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.”

Kleen said the original talk of the Pemberton Hall ghost has multiple origins, including that a student was murdered in the residence hall during the 1920s and that the spirit of the hall’s first dorm mother still looks after the girls in-house.

He said there have been many reports over the years of odd or paranormal occurrences, including rearranged furniture and doors strangely opening and closing.

Kleen said while there are no records of murder in the hall, he nonetheless feels compelled to examine the history of such urban folklore, regardless of its truth.

Read the entire article at this link!

Categories
Commentary

New Illinois Campaign Finance Law Reduces Transparency

Published October 16, 2013 at the Rock River Times

Changes to Illinois campaign finance disclosure law will make it easier for political bankrollers to hide behind first-time candidates. Public Act 98-0115, effective July 29, 2013, made several changes to Illinois disclosure law, including a $2,000 increase in the threshold for new political committee formation. That means a candidate can now raise or spend up to $5,000 before he or she is required to file with the State Board of Elections.

Previously, the threshold for new political committee formation was $3,000. According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, “Once it has been determined that your campaign has exceeded $3,000 in either receipts or expenditures… it must file a Statement of Organization (Form D-1) with the State Board of Elections within 10 business days.” (A Guide to Campaign Disclosure, Jan. 2013)

Filing with the State Board of Elections means (among other things) that cumulative contributions from an individual totaling $150 or more during an election cycle must be itemized on a publicly available quarterly report. The donor’s name, address, and the amount of his or her donation appear on that report. If the candidate has not reached the threshold for new political committee formation, however, that information remains private.

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Commentary

Those Troublesome TIFs

Published October 2, 2013 at the Rock River Times

In “Trouble with TIFs,” I discussed Tax Increment Financing (TIF), and how TIF districts deprive local governments and school districts of revenue. I also talked about how several studies have shown the unfavorable results of using TIF districts to address blight. In most cases a blighted area was no better off after TIF than it was before, and in some cases it was worse.

There is no doubt that when taken as a whole, Rockford’s experiment with Tax Increment Financing has been a failure. City leaders, however, continue to create new TIF districts and bet on their ability to stimulate growth, despite sobering evidence to the contrary. Not only have TIF districts failed to spur widespread development and raise property values, they threaten to drown our city in a sea of red ink.

In 2010, the consolidated balance for Rockford’s 30 TIF districts was $1.9 million in the red. That deficit was projected to increase to $4.1 million in 2022, before the trend would turn positive. Less than three years later, the consolidated balance for Rockford’s 32 TIF districts was $2.76 million.

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Commentary

Rockford Rewards Failure in Response to Stimulus Fund Scandal

Published September 22, 2013 at the Rockford Register Star

Earlier this month, Rockford City Administrator James Ryan released a memo with his recommendations for how the City should respond to a U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit. The audit covered roughly $599,000 in federal stimulus funds Rockford received in 2009. In part, Ryan recommended returning nearly $300,000 in funds that were improperly spent.

Ryan’s memo outlines a clear failure (whether intentional or not) to follow stimulus fund guidelines on the part of Rockford Human Services Department staff. This failure may constitute, at the very least, a neglect of duties.

George Davis, Executive Director of the Rockford Human Services Department, first became aware that the Office of Inspector General was looking into Rockford’s use of federal stimulus funds in the fall of 2011.  He told City Administrator James Ryan, “Given our general accounting practices and Department fiscal procedures I don’t expect that we will have any significant issues.”

Categories
Commentary

Questions Raised by Stimulus Funds Memo

Published September 18, 2013 at the Rock River Times

After weeks of delay, the City of Rockford finally released the results of its internal review of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit, which covered roughly $599,000 in federal stimulus funds spent in 2009 and 2010. This memo, written by Rockford City Administrator James Ryan, raises several alarming questions about the possibility of wrongdoing by City staff and its grant recipients. There are, in fact, at least two instances where further investigation may be warranted.

The first demonstrates a clear failure (whether intentional or not) to follow stimulus fund guidelines on the part of Rockford Human Services Department staff, and may constitute, at the very least, a neglect of duties.

George Davis, Executive Director of the Rockford Human Services Department, first became aware that the Office of Inspector General was looking into Rockford’s use of federal stimulus funds in the fall of 2011. He told City Administrator James Ryan, “Given our general accounting practices and Department fiscal procedures I don’t expect that we will have any significant issues.”

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Press

WICD Channel 15 News Visits the 3rd Annual Central Illinois Paracon

Jim Heater and I, photo by David Bales
Jim Heater and I, photo by David Bales

WICD Channel 15 News in Champaign covered the 3rd Annual Central Illinois Paracon this weekend and generously included several quotes from myself, as well as the event organizer Becky Guymon and others. You can watch the video at this link or read an excerpt of the story here:

MATTOON– Psychics, tarot card, crystal, and aura readers, and even ghost hunters. All were on hand in Mattoon Saturday to speak with the public about paranormal activity. Organizers say it’s all part of an effort to better educate a thrill-seeking community.

Dozens of exhibitors and guest speakers were in Mattoon Saturday for the Central Illinois Paracon and Psychic Fair. Paranormal investigation teams from across the area were on hand to demonstrate ghost hunting equipment and techniques…

Several guest speakers have been featured on ghost hunting TV shows, but one speaker says the local interest is often traced to local history. Michael Kleen says, “People like to see something interesting about their hometown, they want to know there’s something going on that’s a little bit out of the ordinary that sort of makes living in the town that they live an exciting experience.”

That popularity has not been lost on the Illinois Metaphysical and Paranormal Society, which hosts the convention. Co-founder Becky Guymon says, “The community’s been great, we’ve had a lot of community support. A lot of people come out, I think everyone’s really interested in it. This is our third year doing this and it gets bigger every year.”

And though not every hunt turns up a ghost, sometimes the learning process is just as important. Kleen says, “The legend is important, you know? I don’t think just because a legend is untrue doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful. So I think it does detract a little bit in a sense. But the ghost stories are always going to be there no matter what.” [More…]

Categories
Commentary

Trouble with TIFs

Published September 4, 2013 at the Rock River Times

Rockford’s 32 Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts cost taxpayers $2.75 million in 2012, according to a recent report by Finance Director Chris Black. That deficit was projected to increase to $11.38 million by 2023, before the trend reverses. This alarming news has led to the creation of a committee to look into the financial status of each TIF district. As long as this committee is impartial and objective, it could represent a positive step toward curbing Rockford’s TIF addiction.

What is a Tax Increment Finance district? In short, TIF districts are designed to help blighted areas by diverting public revenue toward redevelopment and improvement in those areas. The property tax allocated to various government entities within a designated district is “frozen” at the point the district is created. Any future increase in property tax revenue is captured in a fund and used to finance public infrastructure or reimburse private developers.

In theory, improvements spurred by the use of TIF will raise property values, which in turn will generate more money for the fund. This is money that would otherwise have gone to other taxing bodies, such as a county government or school district. This effectively deprives them of that revenue for the life of the TIF district. They continue to receive the same share of property taxes they received when the district was created.