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After spending 15 years in prison, man wants to build tiny-house community for the homeless

CARBONDALE — During Eugene Khoshaba’s 15 years in federal prison, he spent a lot of time dreaming about building a house scarcely bigger than a garden shed.

Tiny houses have surged in popularity since the 2008 financial crisis, offering a mortgage-free alternative to traditional homes. A growing number of faith-based and human services groups in cities and towns across the U.S. have proposed building tiny-home villages for the homeless or low-income populations.

While he was incarcerated, on a meth charge, Khoshaba found himself watching a television show about tiny home construction, and inspiration struck: He realized he wanted to someday build a tiny-home community for homeless people.

“I said, ‘I’m gonna get out, and that’s what I’m gonna do,’” Khoshaba said.

After he was released from prison in September 2016, Khoshaba was living in transitionary housing and came to an open-house event at Carbondale’s Center for Empowerment and Justice, an organization that advocates for returning citizens and underserved populations.

“(The open houses are) one of the most beautiful things, I think,” said Bernie Henneberger, who volunteers at the center. “It’s kind of magical. People from the community meet up with people coming out of prison, and it helps build trust, which is a really important thing.”

The center’s founder, Southern Illinois University law professor Jim Chapman, encouraged Khoshaba to pursue the tiny home project. Earlier this year, Khoshaba supervised the construction of a 180-square-foot structure, with the help of Center for Empowerment and Justice volunteers — along with some curious onlookers.

“What we found, when Eugene and folks were physically building the house … folks from the community would stop by, they would ask what it was, they would even stop and put a few nails in, especially shingling the siding there,” said Jennifer Fertaly, director of the Center for Empowerment and Justice. “One or two nails or hammer swings at a time, a lot of different people have gotten involved with it. So that was the best part.”

The inside of Khoshaba’s tiny home is still unfinished, but it will eventually contain a shower, a kitchenette, a sleeping loft, a foldout table, bookshelves, a television and an air conditioning unit. Henneberger hopes to apply for a permit with the city to install the structure on the center’s property on North Washington Street.

The structure was featured as a parade float in Carbondale’s annual Lights Fantastic celebration. Khoshaba and others at the Center for Empowerment and Justice hoped the tiny home — decked out in 10,000 lights for the occasion — would bring attention to the housing needs of displaced community members.

“For our work with returning citizens, stable housing conditions is a huge issue,” Fertaly said. “I’ve had folks go back to prison because they missed a day of work. Often they wind up in a motel; they can’t pay the motel bill, and without an address, paroles get violated. Often there’s more to it than that, but it’s happened over very simple things, and the root of that issue is a (lack of a) stable living situation.”

Khoshaba has been comparatively lucky — he has his own apartment in Carbondale, walking distance from the center.

“I do have a place. It’s just, that was my vision and I like helping other people. I hope and pray that my dream does come true. Because there’s a lot of people that are needy, people pushing shopping carts or whatever, people coming out of prison, people sleeping behind the gas station, behind the dumpster, and that does hurt me,” Khoshaba said.

In a phone call Friday, Carbondale Mayor John “Mike” Henry said the idea of a tiny-home village for the homeless has long been on the city’s radar. He said city leaders had considered placing such a community in Bleyer Field, the site of the old high school football field, but that the project has stalled.

“We’ve had the conversation (about) a couple different venues, but it doesn’t seem to be getting much traction, for whatever reason,” Henry said. He added that he has been in conversation with the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless in the hopes of extending some of the program’s affordable housing initiatives to Carbondale’s vacant rental properties.

The Center for Empowerment of Justice has been a part of that ongoing conversation about an eventual tiny-home community for the homeless, but for now, Khoshaba’s project offers a tangible prototype.

“Instead of talking about it for a really long time, we have a tiny house. So it’s a different road to further the conversation, and we hope to encourage action sooner than later,” Fertaly said.

Although his dream of building a tiny-home community might be a long way off, Khoshaba said volunteering at the Center for Empowerment and Justice provides another fulfilling way for him to help others.

“I want to be here because, honestly, if it wasn’t because of this place, when I got out of prison coming out of the halfway house, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Khoshaba said. “I could’ve been taking the wrong road. But over here, I’m going straight, and I love it. We need more people to come here to keep them off the streets — drug dealing, violence, all that.”

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New solar array could be first of many for Pinckneyville

PINCKNEYVILLE — The finishing touches were put on the city of Pinckneyville’s first solar array Friday and city clerk Larry West thinks it must be some kind of governmental record.

The project, installing a 428-kilowatt solar array on the city’s wastewater plant, started in June and will be online next week.

“It’s blown me away how quickly this went up,” West said. Of the process, he said getting the paperwork done and getting the decision through the City Council — it was a unanimous vote in favor — took the longest. But once construction started, he’s been pleasantly shocked every time he has visited the site.

“They started on this project about two weeks before Thanksgiving around Nov. 6,” he said.

West said it started with a phone call. Jessica Holder told him about Straight up Solar in Carbondale and about the zero investment needed by the city through a power purchasing agreement.

“I thought, ‘Yeah right. I’ve heard this before,’” West said. However, the more he looked into it, the more real it became. All the city had to do was pay to put a fence around the panels.

“We worked through the numbers, it’s going to save the taxpayers a lot of money over the long haul,” he said.

He said that savings will be half a million dollars over the next 25 years. This could go up, though. He said as a part of the PPA the tax incentives passed on from the city to Straight Up Solar will disappear in seven years. At that point, West said the city could purchase the array from the company at just 25 percent of the $900,000 — about $220,000.

“That would be an absolute no-brainer,” West said. If the city owned the panels themselves, the savings for taxpayers could increase.

West said he has already been looking to have more panels put up on city property using the same PPA model. Right now he is eyeballing the public library, the street department and economic development buildings. West also said he is in talks about putting a similarly sized array up on the new wastewater facility the city will begin constructing in the next year.

“I’m hoping that the residents see this as a good move with their tax dollars and a good move to help out their environment,” West said.

According to a news release from the city, the array will produce about 90 percent of the facility's power. 

Southern Illinois voters to elect seven circuit judges

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to accurately list the name of judicial candidate Amanda Byassee Gott.

Southern Illinois voters will elect seven circuit judges and one appellate court judge in November. Six of those seats are in the First Judicial Circuit.

Judicial candidates are nominated in the primary election in March and elected in the general election in November.

John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute said many attorneys aspire to be judges.

“These are highly-coveted seats. People who have been in the legal field think being a judge is the apex of their career,” Jackson said.

The number of seats that are open is unusual. Jackson does not remember another time so many seats needed filled.

“There’s usually a scramble when there’s an open seat. (With) an open seat somebody new is going to win,” Jackson said.

To run for judge in Illinois, a candidate must be a citizen of the United States, an attorney licensed to practice in Illinois and must live in the district or circuit for the seat.

“Usually they have worked up some seniority and worked up some experience, especially if they are trial attorneys,” Jackson said.

The First Judicial Circuit is comprised of Alexander, Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union and Williamson counties. Two of the open seats are for at-large positions to fill the vacancies of Judge James R. Moore and Judge Mark H. Clarke.

Judge Carey C. Gill of Carterville, a Republican, was appointed to fill Moore’s vacancy in January 2017. Gill practiced as an attorney for 16 years with Barrett, Twomey, Broom, Hughes and Hoke.

The other candidate for Moore’s seat is Jason A. Olson of Marion, a Democrat. He serves as an assistant state’s attorney in Saline County.

Two candidates want to fill Clarke’s vacant seat. Republican Amanda Byassee Gott of Marion has practiced law in Marion for 18 years and has 10 years of experience as family law mediator.

Democrat Tyler Edmonds of Anna is in his third term as Union County State’s Attorney and serves on the boards of States Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor and Southern Illinois Child Death Investigation task force.

Four resident circuit judge seats are up for grabs in the First Judicial Circuit.

Three candidates are running to replace Williamson County Resident Judge Phillip G. Palmer Sr.

Republican Stephen R. Green of Marion is an attorney practicing with Armstrong and Green in general law practice and serves as Marion city attorney

Democrat Phillip G. Palmer Jr. of Marion is an attorney with Brandon and Schmidt law firm in Carbondale, handling medical malpractice, personal injury and insurance law.

Democrat David W. Lawler of Marion served as assistant state’s attorney in Williamson County and founded of Lawler Brown Law Firm in 2012 with his brother Adam and friend Nick Brown.

Two candiates will run for the vacancy created by Williamson County Resident Judge Carolyn Smoot’s retirement.

Republican John W. Sanders of Marion was appointed resident judge upon the retirement of Judge Smoot on Nov. 30, 2016, and was an attorney in Marion before his appointment.

Democrat E. Ryan Hall of Marion practices labor and employment law and served as assistant Williamson County State’s Attorney from 2002 to 2010.

Three candidates are in the race for the seat of Jackson County Resident Judge William G. Schwartz.

Republican Steven M.J. Bost of Murphysboro is an attorney with Miller and Bost, Attorney at Law in Murphysboro, serves on Jackson County Board and is major in U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Democrat Brian L. Roberts of Murphysboro is an attorney in Carbondale.

Christy W. Solverson of Carbondale was appointed associate judge in Jackson County in 2005 and is a member of Judicial College Board of Trustees and the board of Southern Illinois Women for Health and Wellness

In the race for the seat Massac County Resident Judge Joseph Jay Jackson, four candidates are running to fill the vacancy.

Republican Cord Zachary Wittig of Metropolis is a partner in law firm of Kruger, Henry and Hunter in Metropolis, Massac County Public Defender and serves with National Guard JAG Corps.

Republican Joseph J. Neely of Metropolis is an attorney in Metropolis.

Republican Rick W. Abell of Metropolis is a lawyer with Kruger, Henry and Hunter in Metropolis and served as assistant Massac County State’s Attorney and city attorney for Metropolis and Brookport.

Democrat Paul F. Henry of Metropolis is a lawyer with Kruger, Henry and Hunter in Metropolis and served as Metropolis city attorney.

Voters in Perry, Randolph, Washington, Monroe and St. Clair counties will fill an at-large vacancy of Judge Vincent J. Lopinot in the 20TH Judicial Circuit.

Republican Paul J. Evans of O’Fallon is an attorney with Evans Law Firm in O’Fallon and served as state representative in the 102 District Illinois House.

Democrat John T. O’Gara was appointed associate judge in March 2016 and was a public defender and noted criminal defense lawyer.

Two candidates will face off to fill the vacancy of Judge Richard P. Goldenhersh in the Fifth Appellate District of Illinois.

Republican David K. Overstreet of Mount Vernon was assigned to the Fifth District Appellate Court in 2017, served as circuit judge and was an attorney with Neubauer and Overstreet in Mount Vernon.

Democrat Kevin T. Hoerner of Belleville is an attorney with Becker, Hoerner, Thompson and Ysursa in Belleville, practicing in Illinois and Missouri, and is an assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois and assistant state’s attorney in St. Clair County.

Rauner touted Daley's appointment

SPRINGFIELD — A state purchasing regulator whom Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner now claims is heavily influenced by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan was recommended for the post by the governor's office, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press on Friday.

Chief Procurement Officer Ellen Daley , who is at the center of a storm over a canceled $12.5 million Rauner administration contract, responded to the criticism Friday, telling The Associated Press: "I am neither influenced nor biased by politics."

Rauner said Thursday that Daley is under the "heavy influence" of Madigan, who is Rauner's political rival, after she nixed the sole-source deal Tuesday, declaring that Medicaid consulting assistance to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services from McKinsey & Co. should have been competitively bid.

But in a March 18, 2015, email, Jason Barclay, then Rauner's general counsel, recommended Daley for the job. Barclay sent the email to Chad Fornoff, executive director of the independent Executive Ethics Commission .

Daley told the AP in an email Friday that state law bars her from political activity.

"I neither seek (from) nor owe political favor to Gov. Rauner, Speaker Madigan, or any other politician," Daley wrote.

The McKinsey contact is part of a $63 billion program to move 800,000 low-income Medicaid clients into managed care health plans, with assigned physicians and a focus on illness prevention. Democrats have criticized the plan because the Rauner administration did not conduct a strict bidding process.

Daley said Tuesday that the McKinsey deal should have been offered to the lowest and best bidder, too. She nixed the administration's claim that it was exempt from bids under an exception for lawsuit-preparation assistance.

Rauner spokeswoman Patty Schuh said that the procurement officer "on several occasions — in writing and verbally — confirmed the contract was exempt from the procurement code. What changed?"

Rauner didn't offer specifics in claiming that Madigan, who is from Chicago and is chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, "controls a lot of the procurement people through his patronage operation." Madigan spokesman Steve Brown labeled it "empty talk" and Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, demanded Rauner show proof or apologize.

During a stop Friday in Quincy, Rauner laughed and sidestepped a question about McSweeney, saying, "The legislators who work closely with Madigan need to get on the right program." He added that his administration's goal for the Medicaid revamp is "to save taxpayers money and to provide high-quality services, high-quality health care at the most affordable rates possible."

McSweeney was unmoved. In a statement after seeing the Barclay email, he said, "Gov. Rauner needs to immediately apologize to Ellen Daley?, members of the General Assembly and most importantly the people of this state for not telling the truth."