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In board retreat, SIU trustees react to hiring of Carbondale chancellor's family members

MAKANDA — During Friday’s Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees retreat at Touch of Nature, several trustees reacted with shock and disapproval to January’s news that recently hired SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law were hired in what was apparently a sidebar deal as part of his contract negotiation.

“There was a side agreement that this board did not know about in terms of its terms and conditions,” trustee Phil Gilbert said during Friday’s session. He said System President Randy Dunn sent an email saying there would be no secrets when it came to Montemagno’s contract.

“But there were secrets,” Gilbert said. “My point is that in future administrative hires, there are no secrets.”

Other trustees also expressed displeasure that negotiations happened outside of what the board voted on.

“I was stunned when I read that,” trustee Shirley Portwood said in response to Gilbert. Board secretary Joel Sambursky said what he read about in the news was not the contract he voted for.

“The board needs to be aware of all agreements and approve all agreements because we were all blindsided, at least I was, and I know the chair told me she wasn’t aware of it until Dec. 8,” Gilbert said.

Dunn weighed in, saying things needed to be different in the future.

“Everything in the future will be entered into in writing,” Dunn said. “If it’s not here, we are not doing it.”

Montemagno also on Friday updated the board about the progress of his controversial reorganization process.

The chancellor came armed with a flowchart showing which proposed schools were at what stage — those stages being 90- and 120-day review processes, revisions, faculty and graduate councils approval and Illinois Board of Higher Education approval.

“It’s moving along smartly,” Montemagno said of the overall progress.

Trustees drilled down into the weeds with the chancellor regarding how the reorganization process will work once the proposed changes make it out of committee.


A document showing the proposed reorganization process at SIU Carbondale.

Sambursky asked Montemagno if this process follows contractual agreements with faculty, to which the chancellor said it did. Sambursky said that he was not sure what feedback he should give because the process had itself already been approved.

Board chair Amy Sholar asked would happen if the board voted down a proposed plan or reasonable and moderate extension (RME), a part of the IBHE process to make changes at higher education institutions.

Montemagno said should this happen, they would try to establish what it was that brought the negative vote, and go back to the drawing board to try and rectify the board’s issue.

“Are there any departments that we aren’t touching?” Sholar asked.

“No, not right now,” Motemagno replied. He said that as soon as he says he’s not touching one department, that everyone would want the same treatment, and nothing happens.

Sambursky said he couldn’t get behind anything that didn’t, in his eyes, move the university forward. He said it would be hard for him to support something that just maintained the status quo.

“Certainly my hope is this process doesn’t plan through and we end up leading to being back to where we started,” Sambursky said.

Montemagno said he anticipates about 20 RMEs to be brought before the board, with the first arriving by spring.

Addressing questions about what would happen if some departments are slow-moving with their approval of portions of the reorganization, Motemagno provided an example.

He said, for example, creating “college X” that might house 15 departments under, with five departments each coming from different schools. He asked the hypothetical question that if two RMEs go through and one does not, what happens to those five departments?

Simply put, he said, those departments may end up waiting for a school to be created.

“It’s the process we are going through,” Montemagno said. “We are redrafting and rebuilding SIUC,” he said, adding that he thinks of it in terms of “pre” and “post-eclipse.”

Before the regular meeting, radio and television professor Jay Needham announced to the board during the public comments portion that the School of Art and Design — as well as parts of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts and other creative schools — had come together to form the initial plans for what could be the “creative college,” though he said they had not decided on a formal title.

Needham described the process as an “exciting faculty-driven initiative.” Montemagno also expressed enthusiasm about the proposal.

Trustees also took up discussion about the possibility of SIU pursuing opportunities in Sangamon County to build a satellite law campus. Dunn said he had been in preliminary talks, but did not want to go further without the board's general approval.

There were concerns expressed about potential cannibalization of SIU’s already existent law school. However, Dunn and Montemagno both said there are opportunities to develop a new program at the satellite location that would only add to the school’s portfolio, for example, offering opportunities for lawmakers and capital employees to seek continuing law education from the facility.

When asked about potential costs for the new location, Dunn said he had ideas that “were not ready for prime time.”

Montemagno said if this is something the university is serious about, they needed to engage law school faculty as soon as they could. Dunn agreed.

Trustees also discussed how to engage faculty and students in increasing retention and bringing in more diverse applicants both from potential students as well as from potential faculty, staff and administrators.

Portwood, after addressing the board on the issue, asked trustees to think on three questions.

“Why did you select the university you attended, why did you stay and why did others drop out?”

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be on April 12 at SIUC.

US says it will hold N. Korea to its promises ahead of summit

WASHINGTON — The White House tried to swat away criticism Friday that the U.S. is getting nothing in exchange for agreeing to a historic face-to-face summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said North Korea has made promises to denuclearize, stop its nuclear and missile testing and allow joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. But questions remained over exactly what North Korea means by "denuclearize" and what the U.S. might be risking with a highly publicized summit that will build up Kim's stature among world leaders.

"Let's not forget that the North Koreans did promise something," Sanders said, responding to a reporter's question about why Trump agreed to a meeting — unprecedented between leaders of the two nations — without preconditions.

She added: "We are not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea."

Still, the White House indicated that planning for the meeting was fully on track.

"The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World. Time and place to be determined," Trump tweeted late Friday.

The previous night's announcement of the summit marked a dramatic turnaround after a year of escalating tensions and rude insults between the two leaders. A personal meeting would have been all but unthinkable when Trump was being dismissed as a "senile dotard" and the Korean "rocket man" was snapping off weapons tests in his quest for a nuclear arsenal that could threaten the U.S. mainland.

North Korea's capabilities are indeed close to posing a direct atomic threat to the U.S. And the wider world has grown fearful of a resumption of the Korean War that ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

The prospect of the first U.S.-North Korea summit has allayed those fears somewhat. The European Union, Russia and China — whose leader spoke by phone with Trump on Friday — have all welcomed the move.

North Korea's government has yet to formally comment on its invitation to Trump. South Korea said the president agreed to meet Kim by May, but Sanders said Friday that no time and place had been set.

The "promises" on denuclearization and desisting from weapons tests were relayed to Trump by South Korean officials who had met with Kim on Monday and brought his summit invitation to the White House. Trump discussed the offer with top aides on Thursday. Some expressed their reservations but ultimately supported the president's decision to accept it, according to U.S. officials who were briefed on the talks and requested anonymity to discuss them.

Still, some lawmakers and foreign policy experts voiced skepticism about the wisdom of agreeing to a summit without preparations by lower-level officials, particularly given the lack of trust between the two sides. North Korea is also holding three American citizens for what Washington views as political reasons.

"A presidential visit is really the highest coin in the realm in diplomacy circles," said Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, adding that Trump "seemed to spend it without getting anything in return, not even the release of the three U.S. captives."

Some say Trump could be setting himself up for failure amid doubts over whether Kim has any intention to relinquish a formidable atomic arsenal that he has made central to his personal stature and North Korea's standing in the world. 

Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official experienced in negotiating with North Korea, warned there is a disconnect between how the North and the U.S. describes "denuclearization" of the divided Korean Peninsula. For the U.S. it refers to North Korea giving up its nukes; for North Korea it also means removing the threat of American forces in South Korea and the nuclear deterrent with which the U.S. protects its allies in the region.

"The fundamental definition of denuclearization is quite different between Washington and Pyongyang," Revere said, noting that as recently as Jan. 1, Kim had vigorously reaffirmed the importance of nukes for North Korea's security. He said that misunderstandings at a summit could lead to "recrimination and anger" and even military action if Trump were embarrassed by failure.

"There is good reason to talk, but only if we are talking about something that is worth doing and that could be reasonably verified," said former Defense Secretary William Perry, who dealt with North Korea during President Bill Clinton's administration. "Otherwise we are setting ourselves up for a major diplomatic failure."

The White House maintains that Kim has been compelled to reach out for presidential-level talks because of Trump's policy of "maximum pressure."

"North Korea's desire to meet to discuss denuclearization — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump's strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working," Vice President Mike Pence, who has visited the region, said Friday in a written statement.

Jackson County
Carbondale man charged with murder in 2017 fatal shooting suddenly asks for new lawyer, delaying trial


MURPHYSBORO — A Carbondale man charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a teenager one year ago Friday said he no longer wanted to work with his attorney just three days before a jury trial was scheduled to start.

Jarrell Pullen, 23, unexpectedly announced in open court that he wanted to discontinue his relationship with his attorney, Cheryl Whitley of Belleville. The events came after Whitley said she had a document stating an affirmative defense of self-defense.

Neither the court nor the state’s attorney’s office had a copy of the document and Pullen was visibly shaking his head. He eventually said he never agreed to self-defense, adding that he would get a new lawyer and he didn’t want to talk to Whitley “at all.”

Circuit Judge Mark Clarke asked if Whitley could move forward with the case, to which she responded that she and her client had a difference of opinion on how to proceed.

“We have a serious issue right now,” Whitley said. “We have conflicting opinions and I wasn’t expecting him to blurt that out.”

Clarke asked Pullen if it was his intention to use self-defense during the trial.

“Self-defense is like pleading guilty and I am going to confess to something I didn’t do,” Pullen said, adding that he talked to Whitley about self-defense but he didn’t agree to it.

After hearing a few options about how to proceed from the judge, Whitley withdrew as Pullen’s attorney. Pullen asked for court-ordered counsel until he could obtain a new attorney. He said he didn’t know how long that would take.

Pullen is being facing trial in the death of JaVon Trott, 19, of Johnston City. At about 5:30 p.m. March 9, 2016, officers found Trott lying outside the Eurma C. Hayes Community Center after he and Pullen were engaged in an altercation at a private residence across the street. Police allege Pullen fatally shot the 19-year-old.

Before Whitley withdrew from the case, she made an oral motion that Count 8 in the case — unlawful use or possession of weapons by a felon — be dismissed.

Whitley argued that the fact that her client is a felon and was in possession of a weapon could prejudice the jury concerning the other seven charges.

Judge Clarke ultimately severed, which meant the count would be tried separately after the case was over if the state’s attorney’s office wished to do so.

Pullen is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, which carry a sentence of 20 to 60 years in prison. If the jury finds a firearm was discharged causing the death of another person, there is an extended sentence of 25 years to life.

The two murder charges by the state represent alternative theories about how the murder happened, meaning only one conviction can be made.

Pullen is additionally charged with five counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm. Each alleged bullet shot in the case represents an individual charge.



Jackson County
Carbondale man charged with attempted murder granted continuance


MURPHYSBORO — A Carbondale man charged with murder in an August 2017 fatal stabbing asked to continue his trial for a few days while his legal team waits for a lab analyst to recover from surgery.

Nathan Bowles, 36, is represented by Carbondale attorney Christian Baril. In Jackson County Court on Friday, Baril told Circuit Court Judge Mark Clarke he received an email at 5 p.m. Thursday evening with an attachment containing DNA results pertinent to his client’s case.

The case was set to go to trial Monday, but Baril said the lab analyst who sent the results is having surgery and won’t be available for testimony in open court next week. He said he wants to present the DNA in court, but can’t do so without the technician.

Bowles, who is charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery, admitted he was conflicted in court because he wanted the case to be tried as soon as possible. Baril said his client has 32 days left on his right to a speedy trial.

“I really want this DNA, but I don’t want this case continued,” Bowles said.

He said he was bitter about having another continuance due to the fact in November his attorney asked for a 30-day continuance and it took four months for another hearing.

Eventually, Bowles made a formal motion to continue the case, which was granted.

There was no objection made by Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr.

Bowles’ charges stem from an Aug. 27 incident in which he allegedly stabbed an acquaintance in the 400 block of East Sycamore Street.

The jury trial was set for April 16. It is expected to last about two to three days.