By ALAN J. ORTBALS
Engineering and architecture firms often act as canaries in the coal mine when it comes to an economic slowdown. Without plans and specifications drawn by engineers and architects, building doesn’t occur, impacting contractors and laborers.
According to David Bender, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois, “it rolls like a wave.”
That’s what’s occurring in Illinois due to the budget impasse between the governor and the legislature, Bender said.
“There’s about a $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance for all state buildings,” Bender said. “That was an estimate about 18 months ago. It’s probably higher now. It’s going to take a long time to catch up if we can ever catch up with that. That definitely is having an impact — not just on engineering firms — but also on the citizens who utilize those facilities whether it be in education or any other state facility.”
The lack of a capital development program is of even greater concern to Bender. He said that even though the Illinois Department of Transportation has a slightly bigger budget than last year, very little of it has to do with design. It’s basically just repaving roads and refurbishing roads — not addressing long term stability or new capacity.
“It’s just putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” Bender said. “We must have a comprehensive capital plan and quickly. The problem we’re going to be facing in a little less than a year from a construction industry standpoint, is that without a capital program that gets engineers designing projects, you’re going to see contractors suffer. You’ll see tradespeople laid off. IDOT has no plans on the shelf. They’ve used everything they had. They’re just looking at patching things, cleaning up, repainting and that’s about it. Right now, as people drive down the roads they see a lot of construction but what they don’t realize is there is nothing coming after this unless there’s a capital plan passed.”
Bender doesn’t hold out much hope that the budget impasse will be broken or that a capital program will be adopted — at least before November.
“You have a governor who says there needs to be a capital plan,” Bender said. “He understands that without a huge investment in our infrastructure that our state is going to lag and get further and further behind in economic growth. You’re going to see schools deteriorate rapidly. You’re going to see unemployment numbers rise. Right now, people are spending an extra $400 per year just on maintenance on their cars because of the condition of our roads.
“The governor is for it,” he added. “The Speaker has indicated he’s for it. The Senate President has indicated he’s for a capital bill. It’s just trying to get them all together after the election and figuring out who’s going to blink first.”
Mike Widman is president of Quality Testing and Engineering, headquartered in O’Fallon, Ill. He said that his firm has been busy working on schools, medical facilities and fire and police stations.
“A lot of the public works projects continued through most of the budget impasse in Springfield,” Widman said. “But it’s gotten to the point where a lot of those jobs have been finished. The budget problem has not affected us too much yet but it’s going to start hurting in the not-too-distant future.”
Widman is not alone.
“I’ve been in business 10 years and this is probably my toughest year,” said Geri Boyer, president of Kaskaskia Engineering Group.
Boyer said that she has offices in Indiana and Minnesota and most of the firm’s work is coming from those other states. The lack of a budget in Illinois means that she can’t plan ahead here in her home state.
“What that does to companies like mine and many other companies is it just puts you in a survival mode,” Boyer said. “You can’t depend on whether they’re actually going to fund transportation so we can’t expand our business here in Illinois. So I’m expanding in other states because they have strong state budgets and strong markets but I can’t expand here in Illinois until the state becomes more stable.”
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
BELLEVILLE — The Southwestern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission offers 270 courses a year to help police train for their jobs. But director David Hayes wonders if any amount of instruction could prepare officers for the kind of carnage his profession witnessed the last two months.
Officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The mass shooting in Orlando. Across the country, officers and the public are under the gun, literally, in a way that has made the year 2016 one of the darkest ever for the men and women in blue.
In recent years, police here have stepped up their training to involve all sorts of scenarios, from active shooter to workplace violence to domestic confrontations. Amid it all is an element of edginess that has law enforcement officers increasingly concerned for their colleagues.
“For every officer who is killed in the line of duty in this country there are two officers that take their own lives that you rarely hear about,” Hayes said, citing the stress of the job.
He has a long history in law enforcement, coming up through the ranks and eventually becoming the chief of the Alton Police Department, where he enjoyed a 30-year career before retiring in 2013. Shortly thereafter he took on the role of SILEC director.
Now, each day is spent making sure that members are trained in the latest tactics of law enforcement, from mental health crises to monitoring social media.
He believes the police departments in SILEC’s seven-county area are as well trained as any in a major metropolitan area. However, he’s also a realist.
“If you’re asking how prepared are they for an incident like we saw in Dallas, you can’t prepare for things like that. When somebody makes up their mind that they are going to kill somebody, there is very little that law enforcement can do to stop it,” he said.
Asked what eventuality they train for, he responded simply: “Everything.”
Hayes’ agency works for the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board. SILEC is one of 14 Mobile Training Units around the state and covers the second-largest territory outside of Chicago and DuPage counties. SILEC covers Madison, St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Washington, Clinton and Bond counties.
The Training and Standards Board is the agency that essentially licenses police officers once they’ve met academy requirements.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Good ol’ Uncle Joe. He passed away and left you his fortune. Sadly, for you, all the details are stored in the cloud.
And you don’t have the password.
Smile you might at a supposed misfortune, but it can happen, and you also could be a victim without a little advance planning to ward off a new financial worry known as “online life after death.”
“For most people whose digital lifestyle doesn’t get much past Facebook, the online life concern doesn’t equate to much,” said Jennifer Davis, with the law firm of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. “Unfortunately when the experience does arise, it’s ended up being quite catastrophic for families.”
She adds: “We certainly encourage people to think about it. Our life is more and more present on line than ever.”
Internet use is no new phenomena but our ability to set up accounts of various sorts gets easier each day. If you die or become incapacitated, those accounts can live on — perhaps in the wrong hands. That includes your bank accounts, your social media sites, your blogs and billing venues of all sorts.
Davis, an officer in the Trust and Estates Practice Group at Greensfelder, has written and done work on the topic with the Missouri Bar Association.
Solutions can be costly when problems do arise. Davis cited the 2005 Ellsworth vs. Yahoo case, known as one of the more famous examples, in which a family was trying to create a scrapbook to honor their son, a deceased member of the military. All the email correspondence they sought was locked away online.
“When they tried to access those emails, they were unable to and eventually had to resort to a court proceeding to get that done,” Davis said. “They got access but it was not unfettered access.”
In another case, family members in California were trying to prove the nature of a loved one’s death in order to collect on insurance, but they were blocked in accessing certain accounts.
Access issues can also arise if an estate is trying to prove a case of medical malpractice and the medical files involved are protected digitally.
“Likewise, I can see it happening if someone is trying to set aside an estate plan on lack of capacity or undue influence. If the information to meet the elements of those claims is all contained in email or other digital assets, then the family would have a number of hurdles to get to that information,” Davis said.
A worst-case scenario is different from person to person and asset to asset.
“One of the most important things people have to remember about this area is there is no universal definition of ‘digital property.’ It is a wide group of assets, and it’s always changing because of the nature of technology. It includes things we can’t even think about,” she said.
ALTON – An overflow crowd of approximately 200 people, hoping to have their criminal records sealed or expunged, participated in the first Madison County Expungement Day hosted June 18 by national plaintiff’s law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy at the firm’s office in Alton.
“The turnout at the event was a testament to how expungement can change people’s lives and give them a fresh shot at employment,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Ted N. Gianaris. “It also was a chance for our attorneys – who work every day on behalf of people throughout the country injured by exposure to asbestos or dangerous drugs – to help people in our own backyard."
The event was presented by the Madison County Circuit Court and the State Attorney’s Office. Fifteen attorney volunteers from Simmons Hanly Conroy and the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation helped attendees navigate the process of removing and sealing petty offenses, misdemeanors and other non-violent crimes from their records. Drug testing also was provided on-site. The event served to expedite the expungement/sealing processes by allowing attendees to file all necessary paperwork and pay filing fees at once. Through normal channels, the entire process can take four to six months to complete.
“Many people who are eligible for expungement are intimidated by the process or don’t know where to start,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Shareholder Amy Garrett. "The courthouse doors should be open to anyone and it's important to make sure we're providing opportunities to give people that chance.”
Event participants also included 25 undergraduate students from the LSAC DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program at Saint Louis University School of Law who shadowed attorney volunteers to learn about the expungement and sealing process. The grant-funded PLUS Program, which includes minority students from across the nation, addresses the lack of diversity in the legal profession and encourages participating students to pursue law degrees.
“The PLUS Program students were extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in this event and learn first-hand about how the expungement and sealing process works, as well as the importance of serving others through the legal process,” said Lisa Sonia Taylor, instructor and director of Multicultural Affairs and Outreach at the SLU Law School. “Participating in events like Expungement Day helps to encourage students to continue their legal education and ultimately bring more diversity to the practice of law.”
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC
Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms and has recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for plaintiffs. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Yaz and Toyota Unintended Acceleration. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.