Top Regional Story of 2020 #2: The Protests

Civil unrest broke out across the country and in Northern Illinois in early summer after video surfaced of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man living in Minneapolis, for eight minutes. Floyd's death sparked massive outrage across the country, as marchers took to the streets for demonstrations. While most of the protests were peaceful, some took a violent turn. A police car was set on fire in Aurora, while several businesses were damaged. In DeKalb, looters damaged local businesses on Annie Glidden Road and Hillcrest Drive. Peaceful demonstrations were held in just about every county in Northern Illinois, with protestors calling for an end to police brutality. In Kane County, protestors in Geneva marched down Route 38 after bringing their message to the intersection of Third and State streets. Protests were also held in St. Charles, Batavia and Elburn. In Kendall County, hundreds of people attended peaceful protests in Oswego, Yorkville and Plano. In Plano, protesters were met by a small group of counter-protesters, but the event went on without incident. The rioting in Chicago and Aurora prompted concerned downtown Oswego business owners to board up their stores along Main Street for several days. The boards came off the building as concerns over the prospects of local rioting eased.

Top Regional Story of 2020 #3: The Election

The Nov. 3 General Election had one of the highest voter turnouts in U.S. history. Several communities in Northern Illinois also saw record turnout, leaving many races too close to call. Kane County not only saw a record turnout, but the highest number of early and mail-in votes. The McHenry County Clerk's Office reported 237,640 registered voters -- an increase of 19,462 over 2016 -- and 165,512 ballots cast for a voter turnout rate of 70%, matching the 2008 peak. Voter turnout in Kendall County was 76%--the highest since the 1992 presidential election. The Biden-Harris presidential ticket carried the county with 51% of the vote to 45% for Trump-Pence.

Top Regional Story of 2020 #4: Exelon plans to close Byron, Dresden nuclear plants in 2021

Plans remain in place for Exelon Generation to close the Byron Nuclear Plant as well as its Dresden plant in Morris, Illinois in Sept. 2021. Exelon announced its intentions on Aug. 27. The Byron plant has around 700 regular employees. It was licensed to operate for another 20 years. The decision to close it has been “in the works for some time,” according to the Aug. 27 press release. The two plants face revenue shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars because of declining energy prices and market rules that “allow fossil fuel plants to underbid clean resources.” “Although we know in our heads that shutting down the uneconomic Illinois plants is necessary to preserve even more jobs elsewhere, our hearts ache today for the thousands of talented women and men that have served Illinois families for more than a generation and will lose their jobs because of poorly conceived energy policies,” Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Exelon said. “But we are only about a year away from shutdown and we need to give our people, the host communities, and regulators time to prepare.” Exelon has not ruled out keeping the plants open if things change with policymakers. Since the announcement, groups have mobilized to lobby for the plants to remain open. The Byron Station Response Committee is spearheaded by Byron School District Superintendent Buster Barton, whose district received just over $19.1 million taxes from the plant last year. The Byron plant pays one of the highest property tax bills in the United States annually. In 2019, the plant’s main real estate tax bill was $34.9 million. “It just goes to show you how much our community cares about our school district and how important the power plant is to our funding,” Barton said. “We think this committee will help identify and mobilize groups that can spread our message that the power plant should be kept open.”

Top Regional Story of 2020 #6: Shawn's Coffee Shop case

A longtime Sycamore business owner, Shawn Thrower, 62, owner of Shawn's Coffee Shop and Princess Alex Ice Cream in downtown Sycamore will not serve jail time after he was found guilty Oct. 15 of battering a 15-year-old female employee. Thrower was charged in February with two counts of misdemeanor battery after records show he picked her up, slapped her buttocks and bit her on the neck during one of her shifts at the café. He was sentenced Nov. 13 by DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Pedersen to 24 months of court supervision. Thrower testified in his own defense Oct. 15 in a bench trial with no jury and denied battering the girl, though court records show he'd previously told Sycamore police he "grabbed somewhere I shouldn't have." The victim and her mother, of Sycamore both testified and were present for the sentencing. The case brought division for months throughout DeKalb County: Thrower, a longtime, well-liked business man, a 1997 graduate of Northern Illinois University and a star athlete, and the victim, a 15-year-old girl in the first months of her first job, who during the trial and sentencing said she was hesitant to come forward with her allegations because of his public reputation. Thrower’s charges and court proceedings led to strong reactions from the public, including several protests held by local activists standing up for Thrower’s victim. Others expressed strong support of Thrower, patronizing his businesses during the protests and condemning those who spoke out against him.

Top Regional Story of 2020 #7: Turmoil at Joliet City Hall

Controversy keeps swirling around City Hall, creating a situation that one former councilman said makes Joliet "the laughing stock of Illinois." Whether they're laughing or not, state officials were dragged into Joliet controversies a few times in 2020. State police have been investigating Mayor Bob O'Dekirk's involvement in a Black Lives Matter scuffle. And, the mayor called for the state attorney general to investigate the Joliet police's handling Eric Lurry, who died after a January arrest, and a video of the incident. Joliet police have referred a complaint to state police made by Councilman Don Dickinson, who resigned after filing a police report discussing a naked photo of himself and alleging an intimidation scheme involving the mayor. Meanwhile, Joliet continues to look for someone in Illinois or elsewhere to fill a city manager's office that has been occupied by three interim city managers in the last two years.

Top Regional Story of 2020 #8: Derecho hits Illinois

The derecho that swept through the Midwest on Aug. 10 left its fair share of damage in several Illinois communities, including Ottawa, where an EF-1 tornado damaged the Floor to Ceiling business and followed the Illinois and Michigan Canal path to the Fox River. Calling La Salle County the hardest hit area in Central Illinois, Ameren Illinois took nearly a week to restore power to neighborhoods in Ottawa. Matthiessen and Starved Rock state parks shut down for more than a month as crews cleared up debris.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in full force in early March, upending life as we know it by closing schools, businesses and cancelling events throughout the country. The virus has infected hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents, and leaving thousands dead. The ripple effects of this invisible virus impacted all facets of "normal life" as many people traded in their cubicles for the kitchen table for work space and a makeshift classroom for the kids, while essential workers continued to put on a brave face as they showed up for their shifts, despite the potential for exposure to COVID-19. The state of Illinois was effectively shut down until the end of June, when restrictions eased, allowing for outdoor, and then eventually indoor, dining. As the weather got cooler, the debate over opening schools ignited, with some districts in Northern Illinois returning to a full-time in-person schedule, while others experimented with a hyrbid learning model, or stayed in a fully-remote learning model. But the pandemic rages on, as cases continue to surge in Northern Illinois and across the country, while local businesses continue to take the brunt of the restrictions, leaving many empty storefronts as they're forced to close. In Geneva, Fox Fire restaurant filed a temporary restraining order in November against Gov. JB Pritzker's Tier 3 mitigations, which prohibited indoor dining. A Kane County judge granted the order, which was later overturned by a higher court. Restaurants in McHenry and other counties also followed suit.