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Christopher Kays, For The Southern 

Benton's Cade Thomas drives to the basket against Harrisburg's Carl Russ during the Rangers win over the Bulldogs at Rich Herrin Gymnasium on Thursday, in Benton.

Labor Unions
Gorsuch silent as divided Supreme Court spars over unions

WASHINGTON — With the justice holding the decisive vote silent, a divided Supreme Court sparred Monday over a case that could undermine the financial footing of labor unions that represent government workers.

The justices heard arguments in a challenge to an Illinois law that allows unions representing government employees to collect fees from workers who choose not to join.

Amid colorful, occasionally angry comments from his colleagues, Justice Neil Gorsuch asked no questions during the hourlong session.

The court split 4-4 the last time it considered the issue in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch joined the court in April and has yet to weigh in on union fees. Organized labor is a big supporter of Democratic candidates and interests. Unions strongly opposed Gorsuch's nomination by President Donald Trump.

The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

In many respects, Monday's arguments were a replay of what happened in 2016, when the court took up so-called fair share fees and appeared to be ready to overrule a 1997 high court decision that serves as their legal foundation. But Scalia's death left the court tied, and a lower court ruling in favor of the fees remained in place.

"You're basically arguing, do away with unions," Justice Sonia Sotomayor told William Messenger, a lawyer with the National Right to Work Legal Foundation. The group is representing Illinois worker Mark Janus in his Supreme Court challenge.

On the other side, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has voted against unions in past related cases, scoffed at labor's argument that there is a difference between collective bargaining over government employees' pay and benefits, and unions' political activities, which nonmembers do not have to support.

If the unions lose, won't they have less political influence, Kennedy asked David Frederick, representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Illinois affiliate. Yes, Frederick said.

"Isn't that the end of this case?" Kennedy replied.

Janus says he has a constitutional right not to contribute anything to a union with which he disagrees. Janus and the conservative interests that back him contend that everything unions representing public employees do is political, including contract negotiations.

Janus and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican who has had a contentious relationship with the state's unions since taking office in 2015, were both in the courtroom Monday. "I am confident that they will side with free speech for the people of our great nation," Rauner said of the justices, following the arguments.

The Trump administration is supporting Janus in his effort to persuade the court to overturn its 1977 ruling allowing states to require fair share fees for government employees.

The unions argue that so-called fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half of states already have right-to-work laws banning mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions are concentrated in states that don't, including California, New York, and Illinois.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said wealthy conservative business interests are behind the legal challenge. "They're attacking us because they see a strong labor movement as a threat to their wealth and power," Weingarten said.

Labor leaders fear that not only would workers who don't belong to a union stop paying fees, but that some union members might decide to stop paying dues if they could in essence get the union's representation for free.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested it would be natural for union members to say "I would rather keep the money in my own pocket," potentially seriously cutting union revenues.

"I submit that's a perfectly acceptable result," Messenger said.

The lawyers' arguments and some of the justices' comments appeared to be pitched to attract Gorsuch. Frederick, a former law firm colleague of the justice, made an originalism appeal on the unions' behalf, borrowing a typically conservative argument that judges should look to what the Constitution meant when it was written.

Gorsuch has spoken of his fidelity to reading the Constitution and laws as they were originally intended.

But Justice Samuel Alito, who has written two opinions attacking fair share fees, said Frederick's argument was "something I thought I would never see in a brief filed by a public employee union."

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan stressed again and again how much might be upset if Janus wins, which might appeal to Gorsuch if he is reluctant to overturn the 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

"Property and contract rights, the statutes of many states and the livelihoods of millions of individuals affected all at once," Kagan said. "When have we ever done something like that?"

A decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, 16-1466, is expected by late June.

Rising waters

Hobert Niace of Murphysboro keeps an eye on his poles as he fishes for catfish in the high waters of the Big Muddy River on a sunny Monday afternoon in Riverside Park in Murphysboro. The river is expected to crest at just over 30 feet on Wednesday following heavy rains last week. The Ohio and Mississippi rivers are also rising and creating minor flooding issues.

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Carbondale City Council and Carbondale Park District to discuss future of several public parks

CARBONDALE — The future of a few Carbondale parks is up for discussion Tuesday night at the Carbondale City Council meeting.

The City Council will have a joint discussion with the Carbondale Park District Board of Commissioners regarding a few leases of city-owned parks to the park district. Currently, Turley Park, Tatum Heights park, the Piles Fork Greenway path, Evergreen Park and parts of the Carbondale Superblock (outside of the Super Splash Park) are leased to the park district, but owned by the city.

As a condition of these leases, the park district is responsible for maintaining the parks in good order, condition and repair. Additionally, the district has the authority to develop programming for public use of the parks. The leases on Turley, Tatum Heights and Piles Fork Creek have expired. The lease on Evergreen runs through October 2066 and the Superblock lease runs through November 2021.

According to the city, the district still continues to maintain the three parks with expired leases. City Manager Gary Williams and Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro, along with the park district’s attorney, met in January to discuss the terms of the leases. At that time, the district proposed an extension of the leases for the three parks for an annual stipend of about $150,000 from the city to the district.

The city says the stipend would cover the district’s costs to maintain the three properties. Apparently, the city has plans to involve Piles Fork Greenway path already, so Williams suggested it may be in the best interest of the city to take over management of the creek.

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said Tuesday’s discussion is to find out what the district wants to do moving forward because the sentiment is that the district wants to turn the properties over the city.

“I just want to be able to discuss it,” he said. “With our budget, I don’t know where we are going to come up with $150,000.”

He said there isn’t a good way for two public bodies to talk to each other, so it was decided to do it in an open session where the public can engage if it wants. The city is in talks with Carbondale Junior Sports, which wants to play most of its games at the Superblock. Henry said the city has the baseball diamonds and additional fields to accommodate the organization and it would have a great economic impact for the city.

According to city’s budget projections for the next year, it would cost the city about $320,955 to start a parks division. That includes one-time purchases like buying vehicles, picnic tables, chip-sealing roadways and purchasing other equipment the city doesn’t have, according to Williams.

He said a conservative estimate for the city to maintain the parks on its own after the first year would be about $173,000. He also said the city isn’t in the parks business, so it is possible it could become more efficient over time and reduce its costs.

Renfro said the district is aware of some maintenance that has been deferred and the current budget doesn’t allow for that maintenance to be done. However, she just wants to get the conversation started to come to an amicable solution.

“I am a firm believer that the more opinions and ideas that you have, the greatest opportunity you will have for the best outcome,” she said.

Councilman Adam Loos is hoping to see plenty of public comment Tuesday.

“I hope members of the public come out to share their ideas and comments on this, because it’s a rare opportunity to speak with elected representatives from two separate units of government at the same time regarding a major quality of life issue,” he said.

Loos said if the city takes over the parks, there could be an opportunity for the park district to reduce its property tax levy.

“The City of Carbondale has revenue from the package liquor tax that can be dedicated to park maintenance and improvement, but the Park District has to rely on property taxes,” he said. "If we can help reduce the property tax burden in Carbondale by relieving the park district of responsibility for maintaining these five parks, we ought to do it."

The Southern File photo 

The swings at Lenus Turley Park get a work out on a warm Tuesday evening just before sunset in Sept. 2017

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West Frankfort-based Da Vinci Beverages allegedly owes a local marketing firm between $10,000 and $50,000

BENTON — Da Vinci Beverages is being sued by Marion-based marketing firm James Arthur and Company for several counts of breach of contract.

The complaint, filed in Franklin County Court in December, asks that the court require Da Vinci, a member of the Morthland family of businesses, to pay between $10,000 and $50,000.

The complaint alleges that Da Vinci entered into a contract with JAC in January 2017 for social media marketing and other branding services. They also entered into a broker agreement with the beverage company in July 2016, in which they were required to pay a percentage of gross sales to the marketing firm.

The complaint alleges that Da Vinci neither paid for the marketing services nor made payments as part of the broker contract.

Attorney Aaron Hopkins said Monday that he plans to enter an appearance on behalf of Da Vinci at a future date.

A status hearing was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. April 26 during a hearing held Monday.

Da Vinci is also named as part of replevin action by Peoples National Bank against the beverage company as well as Morthland College Health Services, Morthland Business Enterprises LLC and individuals Emily Hayes and Tim Morthland.

The complaint filed Dec. 12 alleges that the defendants defaulted on a line of credit — one of the multiple counts in the complaint was for a total of about $165,000. The bank seeks foreclose on collateral associated with the loans.