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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Murphysboro's DeMari Greenwood (21) grabs a rebound in the fourth quarter against Herrin on Friday in Murphysboro. Murphysboro went on to win 54-48 in overtime.


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SIU | Hiring Ethics
State ethics agency to look into hiring of chancellor's family members at SIUC

CARBONDALE — An ethics inquiry into the hiring of Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s daughter and son-in-law has been passed from the university’s internal ethics office to the state inspector general, according to the SIU president.

On Thursday, SIU President Randy Dunn opened up two inquiries into hires related to the chancellor. One investigation involves the hiring of Melissa and Jeffrey Germain, Montemagno's daughter and son-in-law, as part of negotiations of the chancellor’s employment. The other involves Montemagno’s reported recommendation of former colleagues to multiple campus positions.

“Our system Office of Internal Audit, Compliance and Ethics, in reviewing its standards and talking with the state agency, has made a determination that they just need to go ahead and give that inquiry on the family members directly to the Office of Inspector General,” System President Randy Dunn said during an interview with The Southern on Friday in the Stone Center.

Dunn issued the inquiries after an explosive article in the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Egyptian, reported that the university hired the Germains for positions that had been created for them and that were never advertised to the public.

The DE also reports that the chancellor, who was appointed in July by the Board of Trustees, pushed search committees in multiple departments to hire people with whom he had previously worked during his time at University of Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab.

Dunn said the inquiry involving Montemagno’s family members was passed to the state ethics office because the SIU Board of Trustees had a hand in the decision to hire the Germains.

“Because then the board is implicated in that decision and our executive director (of the Office of Internal Audit, Compliance and Ethics) reports ultimately to the board, the thinking is that that just needs to be taken out of the system and go straight to the inspector general’s office. And obviously I’m supportive of that, and in the end, I’m actually glad it’s moved forward that way,” Dunn said.

Family hires

Melissa Germain was hired as assistant director of University Communications on Sept. 1, 2017, with an annual salary of $52,000; Jeffrey Germain began Oct. 1, 2017 as “extra help” in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at an hourly rate of $45, according to hiring documents obtained by The Southern through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Dunn said spousal or partner hires are fairly common in academia and can be helpful when institutions are trying to attract a candidate to an area that has few job prospects, but Montemagno’s request for the hires of his daughter and son-in-law was “atypical,” Dunn said.

“I will say, to the chancellor’s credit, he was very upfront about it. It was clear that this was going to be something that was part of the overall employment package to draw him to SIU Carbondale,” Dunn said.

As the DE reports, the Germains followed Montemagno from University of Cincinnati, to University of Alberta in Canada, to SIUC.

Dunn said he handled a good deal of the negotiations with Montemagno in June, before the chancellor was appointed by the board July 13. The hires of the Germains were agreed upon verbally.

“Through that process, the general counsel and I determined that the hiring of family members was probably not something appropriate for the written contract — did not want to have that sort of ironclad guarantee that was committed to in a written document, but certainly we were aware that this was part of the tacit or unwritten element that Carlo expected to have happen if he was going come here as chancellor,” Dunn said.

Faculty hires

Information about Montemagno’s alleged insertion of former colleagues into multiple faculty searches — and the exorbitant lab startup packages proposed by those candidates — was news to Dunn when he first read about it in the DE, he said.

“I really didn’t have background on that at all, nor was there any prior agreement that was made with the chancellor about that such as there had been with family members,” Dunn said.

Dunn said he feels it is appropriate to make contact with a search committee chair to call attention to a certain candidate for his or her skill set or strengths, but “that’s about where that networking stops.”

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions … but what was reported could suggest that there could be some element of a quid pro quo, or potentially coercion — I’m not saying that happened, we don’t know it. But to the extent that this became a transactional type of thing, that gets into territory that harms the integrity of the search process,” Dunn said.

Future of Montemagno's restructuring plan

Asked whether the reports about Montemagno’s hiring practices could compromise his proposed restructuring plan, which seeks to eliminate the university’s 42 departments and organize degree programs by newly formed colleges and schools, Dunn said it was too early say, but that the chancellor may need to rebuild trust with the campus.

“You cannot do a massive, wholesale organizational change such as the chancellor’s plan envisions, without having some trust relationship established and without going and selling that program,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the proposed shakeup has been “a fairly top-down plan” and that now is a “delicate time” for organizational negotiation with departments.

“I do think that the chancellor, to the extent possible, has to really dive back in with his faculty, with really the entire body of the university, those internal including staff and students as well as external parties, to get back on-message and show why he feels this plan is the right one and why it needs to have support,” Dunn said.


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Steeleville | Queen of Hearts Jackpot
Dizzying 6-figure Queen of Hearts jackpot draws hundreds to Steeleville Legion every Thursday

STEELEVILLE — It takes Bruce Fiene almost five hours to count the money on Friday mornings — he has to double-check the count before taking that week’s Queen of Hearts ticket sales to the bank.

Queen of Hearts, a weekly raffle that in recent months has swept from town to town in VFW and American Legion halls throughout Southern Illinois, has been a lifeline for many such organization that in recent years have experienced falling membership numbers.

The raffle is fairly simple. Each week, tickets are sold, and one is drawn. The purchaser then picks a number — in the beginning, it's 1 to 54. If the playing card underneath the chosen number is the queen of hearts, the lucky person wins that week’s pot. If not, then the jackpot grows and another ticket is drawn the next week.

Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith THE SOUTHERN 

Bruce Fiene cuts the a number from the Queen of Hearts board Jan. 25 at the Steeleville American Legion. That night a joker card was picked, meaning the pot grew and another ticket would be drawn the following Thursday.

The system sets up an opportunity for a big payoff — both for ticket holders and the organizations hosting the events. Some jackpots in the region have exceeded $1 million, and thousands show up to play.

In Steeleville, Fiene said the last Queen of Hearts series came all the way down to the last card. The pot was around $300,000, but because of a technicality in the rules, only half the money was won — if the ticket-holder is not there in person, he or she can only take home half — and because ticket sales that night were so good, when the raffle started over the pot was right back up to $300,000. It has since grown to more than $700,000.

The event is quite the spectacle. Shoulder to shoulder, the main bar has a line just to get a drink. In the main hall, patrons gather early to get a good seat and a meal — many show up hours before the 8 p.m. drawing time. Some spread out puzzles, others read books, while many find time to catch up with neighbors.

Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith THE SOUTHERN 

Signs indicate maximum occupancy for different rooms in Steeleville’s American Legion Thursday. As the pot for the weekly Queen of Hearts raffle grows — it now tops more than $700,000 — so have the crowds. The boost of about 800 people each Thursday has been a shot in the arm for the struggling post.

Nancy Burrows, of Sparta, sat Thursday preparing her pile of tickets for that night’s drawing.

“Normally I don’t buy this many, but I was feeling lucky,” she said, adding that she obviously doesn’t have the winning formula, nor does she have the winning number.

“If I did, I’d of won it a long time ago,” she said, adding that she hadn’t decided on what number she would choose if her ticket were to be drawn. “I never pick a number until it’s time to go, but so far no one has picked a number I would have picked.”

Burrows said she has played several of the area raffles and has had a lightning strike of luck here and there, but to little effect. She said in Sparta her ticket was drawn the first time she played there, but she was not a big winner that night.

Ellen Mueller sits with her friend Mark Barnett at a table near the bar, their pile of tickets close by. Both come from New Memphis and Mueller said they enjoy coming to these raffles — they were excited enough by the Steeleville pot to make the one-hour drive down.

Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith THE SOUTHERN 

Ellen Mueller (right) and Mark Hudson, of New Memphis, wait for Thursday’s Queen of Hearts drawing at the Steeleville American Legion.

Mueller said she wouldn’t likely be coming to a Legion Hall were it not for the Queen of Hearts. She has a strategy, though. She said she buys $20 worth of tickets no matter how big the pot is.

With such a big potential payout, Steeleville’s Legion sees between 800 and 1,000 people every Thursday, Fiene said — it’s been a jolt for a Legion that was in a bad way about a year ago.

“We went from having to borrow money to pay our bills to having money in a bank account,” Fiene said, adding that with the jump in revenue from bar and food sales, the Legion’s bank account grew “100-fold.”

Fiene said theirs wasn’t the only group that has benefited from the trend.

“There’s a bunch of them that wouldn’t have been able to make it,” he said, were it not for the popularity of the game.

Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith THE SOUTHERN 

Mike Kuehnle reads off that night’s Queen of Hearts ticket number Jan. 25 at the Steeleville American Legion. One ticket is drawn each week and the purchaser of the ticket picks a number on the Queen of Hearts board. If the card under that number is the Queen of Hearts, they win the pot. If it isn’t, they still take home $500.

Alan Voice, Du Quoin American Legion’s finance officer, said he taught Steeleville’s Legion leadership about the game a year or two back. He said he’s happy to see them take the idea and run with it, especially if it means they keep their doors open.

In Du Quoin, he said the situation wasn’t as dire as in other places, but the infusion of cash has helped their charitable giving as well as their ability to make some needed improvements to their facilities — he mentioned buying new chairs for the hall as an example.

Both Fiene and Voice said it’s been a struggle to keep member rolls up.

“The old veterans are passing away and there’s just not much participation in the clubs anymore,” Voice said.

Fiene said with the recent buzz over the Queen of Hearts events, they have actually been able to sign a few new people up as members.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing with the raffles, though. As reported in the Belleville News Democrat, some towns were not prepared with proper ordinances to handle such big jackpots. Steeleville’s ordinance had a maximum limit of around $25,000, however, the city recently bumped it up to $1.5 million, Fiene said, and set a cap on the game of 52 weeks.

Fiene said there’s little competition for the game — he said only not-for-profits can host them.

Fiene and Voice said this new raffle seems to be a way to reach out to a younger demographic.

Isaac Smith 

A man eats popcorn Jan. 25 before the weekly Queen of Hearts Drawing at the Steeleville Legion.

“The older people are passing away that loved bingo and the younger kids aren't playing,” Voice said.

The success of the game isn’t without its share of added work and cost. Fiene said he has a team of 30 people who help each week and he still spends more than 10 hours working each Thursday.

“I don’t really have time to eat anything,” Fiene said.

He said while some part of the 15 percent of ticket sales he keeps go to the general fund, a lot of it goes to overhead. He said a bundle of tickets costs $25 on its own and they go through 35 rolls each week. Fiene said he bought $1,600 worth just recently.

Still, it’s all worth it just to see the hall full and to know his organization has a brighter future. He said because of the profits from Queen of Hearts, the Legion has been able to make some upgrades to the building and they have more of these plans coming in the future.

Voice and Fiene said they don’t plan on stopping the raffles until folks stop showing up.

Until then, Fiene said he tells people it doesn’t take much to win — it only takes a $1 ticket and a good guess to be big winner.

“I tell everybody, every ticket’s a winner until eight o’clock,” Fiene said.

Photos: Steeleville Legion's weekly Queen of Hearts raffle reached more than $700K this week

Isaac Smith / Isaac Smith THE SOUTHERN 

Mike Simshauser (left) and Vivian Nelson say the Pledge of Allegiance Jan. 25 before the drawing of that night’s Queen of Hearts ticket at the Steeleville Legion.


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SIU
SIU's University Museum — closed in July due to state budget impasse — will reopen Tuesday

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Museum, which shuttered in July due to the state budget impasse, will partially reopen Tuesday, Feb. 6, according to a staff member.

SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s announcement that the museum would reopen Jan. 1, 2018 was one of his biggest applause lines at the State of the University address in September.

Southern Illinois University Museum officially closes

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University students, faculty and community members stopped by the University Museum on Friday to pay their respects to the 143-year-old institution, a recent victim of the state budget crisis.

Pam Hackbart-Dean, director of special collections, said the delay was caused by staffing issues, as it took some time to hire a curator of exhibits. That post has been filled by Wes Stoerger, an SIU graduate who joined the museum in January.

Susannah Munson, who was on staff at the museum before its closure, is curator of collections. Hackbart-Dean will oversee the museum until a director is hired.

Starting Tuesday, the museum will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

“It’s going to be kind of a soft opening,” Hackbart-Dean said. A larger official opening will be held March 8.

The museum, previously part of the College of Liberal Arts, is now under the Library Affairs umbrella.

“It’s a natural fit. We’ve always worked really well together, the library and the museum, especially special collections and the museum, so it’s a good fit, a good partnership,” Hackbart-Dean said.

Exhibits in the north gallery will include steel sculptures by Aldon Addington and artwork by Larry Bernstein. Another gallery will change out each month; for the first month it will feature ethnographic works from Afghanistan.

“We’re very excited, and we really appreciate the community support and campus support that we can reopen, and we hope that people will come back and continue to support the museum. It’s been around for over 150 years, and we’re back,” Hackbart-Dean said.


bhetzler / THE SOUTHERN FILE PHOTO 

Molly Edwards-Britton of Makanda places flowers outside of the University Museum at SIU on June 30, 2017 in Carbondale. Supporters of the museum placed flowers throughout the day to mark the closure of the museum due to the state budget impasse. The museum is set to reopen on Tuesday, Feb. 6.


Washington
AP
Trump says Russia-probe memo proves bias; Dems say no

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declassified a top-secret congressional memo Friday and suggested it proved the investigation of his presidential campaign and Russia was fatally flawed from the start. Democrats said the document did nothing to clear him or his campaign, and the FBI called the memo inaccurate and incomplete.

Butting heads just as they had before the memo's release, Trump and his critics stuck to the positions they had staked out in the weeks leading up to the hotly disputed release of the memo prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. The memo makes their case — and Trump's — that politically motivated abuses in the early stages of the FBI's investigation made it worse than worthless.

The Democrats, having none of it, said the four-page memo merely cherry-picks Republican talking points in an effort to smear law enforcement and undercut the current federal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, said the GOP document "mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information" and its release "will do long-term damage to the intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies."

The memo's central premise is that the FBI relied excessively on anti-Trump research funded by Democrats in seeking a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign associate and that federal authorities concealed the full details of who was paying for the information.

The disclosure of the document is extraordinary since it involves details about surveillance of Americans, national security information the government regards as among its most highly classified. Its release is likely to further escalate an intra-government conflict that has divided the White House and Trump's hand-picked law enforcement leaders.

Trump, who lashed out at the FBI and Justice Department on Friday morning, refused to express confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and is mentioned by name in the memo.

Asked if he was more likely to fire Rosenstein, and if he still had confidence in him, Trump retorted, "You figure that one out."

A senior White House official said later the administration expects Rosenstein to remain in his job.

Trump has been telling confidants he believed the memo would validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him. Though the document had been classified since it deals with warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the White House declassified it Friday and sent it to the intelligence committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, for immediate release.

The development also comes amid an ongoing effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to discredit the investigation by Mueller that focuses not only on whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia but also on whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Republicans seized on the memo's allegations to argue that the FBI's investigation was politically biased.

The memo does not address obstruction questions that have led Mueller to express interest in interviewing Trump. But it does reveal the FBI investigation actually began in July 2016, months before the warrant was even sought, based on information involving a separate Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, who has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Mueller inherited the probe in May 2017. Four people have so far been charged in his investigation.

Trump said Friday of the information in the memo: "I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace."

Earlier in the day, he tweeted: "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people."

The memo offered the first government confirmation that the FBI in October 2016 obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, on the basis that agents believed he might be an agent of a foreign power — Russia. That warrant was signed off on multiple times, including by Rosenstein.

In a statement, Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser and came on the FBI radar in 2013 as part of a separate counterintelligence probe, said, "The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America's democracy."

The memo asserts that opposition research conducted by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, "formed an essential part" of the initial application to receive the warrant. It's unclear how much or what information Steele collected was included in the application, or how much has been corroborated. Steele's research into Trump and Russia was compiled into a series of memos, or a dossier, containing salacious allegations.

The FBI routinely relies on multiple sources of information when it obtains surveillance warrants. And the memo makes clear that the FBI believed there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power and a judge agreed — four times over.