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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Johnston City's Victoria Mueller warms up prior to the Indians game against S-V-W-W. 

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Alexander County job fair aims to connect residents with opportunities

CAIRO — With cars lining the block and a busy showroom Wednesday, it is easy to say attendance for the Alexander County Housing Authority’s Alexander County Career and Resource Fair exceeded expectations.

“When we first started this, we was only planning for a handful, hoping that we could reach somebody,” said Warren Riley, manager for mobility services for Quadel Consulting and Training.

He said the more than 100 people who came through the doors of Mighty Rivers Church in Cairo far exceeded his “wildest imagination.”

Jill VanZandt, southern regional manager for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, was talking to people almost the moment the doors opened. She said she and her team were excited to work with individuals to find paths to gainful employment, and said the people who stopped by to chat and set up an appointment for IDES’ career services all were positive and enthusiastic.

Shelly Mallory was one of those people. The 57-year-old was born in Cairo and recently moved back. She said she hasn’t had steady employment in some time and has been “doing odds and ends” to get by. She said she came Wednesday to find some way to work.

“I’m not picky,” Mallory said. “I’m determined to work.”

She said she would even relocate if she could find a job — she wasn’t sentimental about staying in her hometown.

“I would move in a heartbeat,” she said.

She said she has always taught her children to not be dependent on others and she wants to live that example. “I don’t like to be depending on the government,” Mallory said.

The event was organized by the ACHA and partners like Man-Tra-Con, a regional employment solutions organization. Towanda Macon, the ACHA’s executive director, said Wednesday’s career fair was a way to live out the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s belief that housing authorities are more than just about helping community members find shelter.

“We want to provide people the opportunity to change their lives,” Macon said.

Riley has helped coordinate the relocation process for housing residents — it was announced in April that residents of the Elmwood and McBride housing developments would be forced to relocate after conditions in the apartment buildings were deemed unsafe. He said it soon became clear that residents needed more than help finding a roof over their heads.

In heated meeting, HUD tells Cairo public housing residents they have to move

CAIRO — A gathering of Cairo residents erupted in anger Monday night as federal housing officials informed them that close to 200 families residing in two sprawling World War II-era family housing developments of the Alexander County Housing Authority will have to move out of their units in the coming months, and that there is no immediate plan to provide new government-assisted housing in Cairo to replace the developments they intend to demolish.

“People were being relocated to different parts of the state, or even to different states, and when moving them, we realized that people were moving places but didn’t have a lot of resources and a lot of funds they needed to start a new way of life,” Riley said.

This is when MTC and other similar organizations got involved. Out of this involvement grew Wednesday’s career fair.

The event was open to anyone in the surrounding area, not just housing residents. Representatives from a variety of employers and employment resource centers were there to talk with eager applicants.

Tairus Purchase said he’s been working off and on, some of it construction with his brother, since he was laid off by the city in 2015 — a job he had worked for 18 years. He, like Mallory, said he wasn’t picky. He was looking for “just about anything.”

He said while he didn’t want to have to relocate, he recognized the prospect of finding a job close to Cairo was a tough one.

“You gotta leave Cairo," Purchase said. "There ain’t no jobs here."

He said for many in town and the surrounding area, Wednesday’s job fair was “probably one of the best things that’s happened in a while.”

Tyrell Harris, 19, may have found his career Wednesday. After talking with a recruiter, he planned to sign on the dotted line Thursday over lunch, enlisting with the Marines. He said he has been out of high school for two years and found work at a chicken processing plant in Kentucky. However, because of transportation problems, he was recently let go.

He said he found the Marines so appealing because “it gets me out of here.”

“Cairo is a good place, but it don’t have many opportunities for young people,” Harris admitted.

He said his eye was caught by several job opportunities Wednesday but couldn’t pass up all that he saw the military could offer him.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti made an appearance at the start of the event and said it was an important step for the deep Southern Illinois community.

“This sort of event does provide hope and it also provides education,” she said, adding that many don’t realize the resources available to them from state and federal agencies.

While the job fair was not exclusively about housing residents, Macon did say that she was hopeful it would make a difference to those still in the relocation process. Of the 185 families HUD is helping relocate, Macon said about half have made the transition.

Macon said her office wants to make sure those who are relocating have exhausted all of their resources and make decisions using all the tools and information available to them, and she said Wednesday was part of that process.

Tom English / Tom English, The Southern 

Some of the units at the Elmwood Place housing complex are boarded up, pictured here in December in Cairo.

Fuel experts say gas prices expected to rise in 2018; yearly average projected to be $2.57

According to the petroleum experts at Gas Buddy, gas prices in the United States are projected to be the highest it has been in a few years.

U.S. oil inventories started the new year with about 50 million fewer barrels of oil than the previous year and exports of crude oil and refinery projects have risen to record levels since restrictions were lifted in December 2015, contributing to less supply as exports rise, Gas Buddy reports.

“Motorists probably won’t be getting pumped up to pay more at the pump this year, but should find some solace in knowing we won’t come anywhere near record prices this year while most of the country will continue to see plenty of prices in the $2 per gallon range,” Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis with Gas Buddy, said in a statement.

While it doesn’t tell the whole story, experts say variables to the direction of gas process are also likely to be influenced by fiscal and monetary policies. Government budgetary moves through taxation and the decisions on interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve have an impact on prices.

“A stronger economy that affords motorists more disposable income matched with greater vehicle fuel efficiency will continue to incentivize Americans to take to the roads and quite possibly lead to a fourth consecutive year of increasing demand for fuel,” said a fuel outlook from Gas Buddy.

Gas Buddy projects that the yearly average gas price in 2018 will be $2.57 per gallon. The month of January will see the lowest prices at an average $2.41 per gallon, while May will average $2.73 per gallon, making it the priciest month of the year. On a yearly basis, a total of $364.6 billion will be spent on gasoline in the United States, up $25.4 billion from the $339.2 billion spent in 2017.

“While many may think there’s no way to feel like you win at the pump, there’s certainly many things motorists can do to soften the blow of paying for gas,” DeHaan said. “One can easily 'outsmart the pump' by shopping around for the lowest price … and by driving smarter to get more out of every tank. Most people complain about high gas prices, but everyone is empowered by these tools and others to spend less.”

Richard Sitler, The Southern  

A man fills up his gas tank at the Pilot gas station in Marion in 2015. 

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Dennis Ball announces bid for Marion mayor

MARION — A new candidate has emerged for mayor of Marion. Dennis Ball announced his candidacy for mayor in 2019 on Wednesday afternoon at Mackie’s Pizza.

Ball, who has made several unsuccessful runs for president, decided to run for mayor because he believes he can help bring well-paying jobs to the community.

“The people are saying they need more money. They are having problems paying their bills,” Ball said.

Ball plans to host an economic summit on his first day as mayor. He wants to get all parties in a room, including the governor, to start the conversation about bringing jobs to the area and growing the economy.

“The City Council’s lack of action has opened doors for new ideas,” Ball said.

Ball believes resources in Southern Illinois are underutilized, such as training available at John A. Logan College, Southeastern Illinois College and SIU. The other economic component that needs to be fixed is at the state level. He added that the debt structure, revenue streams and taxes all need to be reformed.

He has a few specific ideas for the city.

First, he believes every child who wants a bicycle should have one. He plans to host a community family day once a month to give residents the opportunity to hear from the city and have some fun. He pledged to read to children once a month at Marion Carnegie Library.

Ball describes himself as a “radical centrist.” He founded the American Party of America, and last ran for president in 2016. Ball also has written eight books, including “The Ball Doctrine” and “All Serve to Serve!”

His grandfather was Oscar Greathouse, and he says is a related to George Washington, through Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington.

Ball describes himself as very traditional.

“I’m a mom, dad and kids kind of family guy. Gays can come into the party if they support that family structure,” Ball said.

He said his platform will be in the best interest of the family.

Ball was joined by supporters Richard Hagan and Richard Sanders.

Hagan likes candidates who can focus on multiple issues. “We need a centrist element. We need something that forces people to converse on issues and debate issues,” Hagan said.

Rinella to become new Marion mayor

MARION — Mayor Robert Butler announced his retirement on Friday, which means, according to Illinois Code, the city finance commissioner will fill the position of mayor. That means Commissioner Anthony Rinella will become mayor.

Sanders said he supports the family and constitution, so Ball is a good fit for him.

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