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SIU | Athletic Department Shake-Up
Tommy Bell out as SIU athletic director; Jerry Kill to take over

SIU Athletic Director Tommy Bell answers questions during a December 2015 news conference. The university announced Thursday that Tommy Bell is out as athletic director.

CARBONDALE — Tommy Bell is out as Southern Illinois University athletic director after Carbondale chancellor Carlo Montemagno decided not to renew his contract, according to a news release Thursday.

The university announced former SIU football coach Jerry Kill, the special assistant to the chancellor, will now oversee the athletic department. Kill is not the interim athletic director, according to a spokesperson at SIU, but is adding to his duties.

"It's time for us to make a change in leadership that will help the program fulfill its potential," SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno said in a statement. "I am deeply grateful for Tommy's service and wish him well for the future."

Kill's new oversight begins immediately.

Bell, the former athletic director at Western Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, signed a three-year deal in 2015 at a base salary of $185,000 that expires May 31.

Kill, who led the Salukis to five consecutive NCAA playoff appearances between 2003-07, returned to SIU in March as an ambassador for the university. A member of SIU's Hall of Fame, Kill went 55-32 from 2001-07, winning three straight Gateway Conference titles. He won the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award in 2004 and the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award in 2007. Kill then left to coach at Northern Illinois from 2008-10 and Minnesota from 2011-15. He was named the 2014 Big 10 Coach of the Year, sent three teams to bowl games and produced six NFL draft picks.

Kill retired from coaching while at Minnesota because of health reasons and became an administrator at Kansas State in 2016 as the associate athletic director. He then returned to coaching at Rutgers in 2017 before stepping away last December.

Kill, who accepted the new responsibility Wednesday afternoon, said he was not sure how long he would be in charge of the athletic department. He is moving forward in trying to fill between 9-11 positions, he said, including the new head coaches for the women's golf program and the new women's soccer team that is scheduled to begin playing as an independent this fall.

"I sweat, bled at this place. I owe the place, because I went a lot of good places because of here," Kill said at a press conference on Thursday at Saluki Stadium. "It's a tough time right now, but people don't realize it was tough when we came in here. We had issues with the campus, this and that. You start winning, everybody forgets that."

Montemagno said he has not yet established a timeframe for Kill's new role and anticipates that Kill will oversee the athletics program for the immediate future. In an email to The Southern on Thursday, he said a permanent athletic director will be selected through a national search sometime in the future. He did not say whether or not Kill would be a part of that search, or a candidate.

Asked if he wanted to be the permanent athletic director, Kill said that was tough to answer because he wasn't completely aware of what the job might entail here, nor had he discussed that option with his family as of yet.

Bell's firing came shortly after he, according to multiple sources, attempted to fire men's basketball coach Barry Hinson following the 2017-18 season.

Bell attempted to raise funds from major donors to buy out the final two years of Hinson's contract, according to multiple sources close to the program who wished to remain anonymous because of their relationships with the department. It is unclear how close Bell got to the approximate $350,000 he would have needed to buy out Hinson's deal, or who interceded to keep Hinson. Sources told The Southern Illinoisan a number of major donors also came to Hinson's defense after the season, as well as Montemagno and other administrators.

Thursday, Bell told The Southern that Montemagno asked him to raise the money.

"I was following the directions of my supervisor, who was well informed of the process," Bell said.

Asked why Montemagno would not renew his contract if he followed his orders, Bell declined to comment.

Montemagno said there was no one incident that led to the end of Bell's tenure.

"There was no single factor that led to the decision," Montemagno said in an email to The Southern. "The decision was based upon the desire to change the direction of the athletics program and take it to the next level. I want to thank Tommy for all he has done for the program and wish him the best going forward."

Many fans were disappointed with Hinson and Bell after SIU chose not to pursue a postseason tournament after winning 20 games for the second time in three years, but the move to try to fire him was even more puzzling. The Salukis finished 20-13 overall and 11-7 in the Valley, four games behind regular-season and conference tournament champion Loyola, with mainly a seven-man rotation.

Forward Thik Bol, a preseason second team all-conference pick, missed the whole year with a knee injury, and backup guard Eric McGill broke his hand when he fell to the floor against Lamar 10 games into the season. All-conference guard Armon Fletcher, the team's top scorer and second-leading rebounder, missed a game after dislocating his kneecap, and starting point guard Marcus Bartley missed the first six games after breaking his right (shooting) wrist right before the season opener.

Hinson, the 2016 MVC coach of the year, finished third in the voting this year.

Guards Sean Lloyd, Fletcher and Aaron Cook all averaged 30 minutes or more per game. Senior forward Jonathan Wiley, a critical backup because he could play multiple positions, tore his ACL in the second Valley game of the season and missed 11 games before returning against Bradley for the final seven games.

Hinson, reached Wednesday, declined to comment on his working relationship with Bell or what happened after the season, but was ardent about his commitment to the 2018-19 team. The Salukis could return all five starters and eight of their top 10 players, overall.

"I'm going to be the head coach at this institution next year, and I love my team, and I love this program," Hinson said. "I'm excited as I've ever been for the upcoming season. We just finished second to a team that went to the Final Four. I know that this program has turned the corner."

Two employees reinstated by Saline County Board

HARRISBURG — The Saline County Board voted to accept two agreements that will reinstate two former employees of the county clerk’s office.

Julie Dunn and Kathy Cummins were fired by Saline County Clerk Kim Buchanan on April 5. Dunn, who worked in the office for nearly 28 years, and Cummins, who has 15 years of service in the county clerk’s office, were discharged even though neither has had any disciplinary actions taken against them, which violates terms of their collective bargaining agreement.

Judy Simspon, field representative for Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 773, filed a grievance on behalf of the women on April 6.

The county board passed motions to reinstate the women to their positions in the county clerk’s office. They will keep their salary, seniority, insurance and other benefits as if they had not been discharged. In the case that Buchanan will not accept the women back into her office as employees, they will be reassigned to other county offices until next a new county clerk is elected. Dunn will go to the state’s attorney’s office. Cummins will work in the treasurer’s office.

Board members, as well as Treasurer Jeff Murrie and State’s Attorney Jayson Clark, asked questions about the effect paying Dunn and Cummins would have on their budgets. The board will make up the difference between Dunn’s salary and the salary for a new clerk in the state’s attorney’s office. They also will pay the salary for Cummins.

Rick Lane asked if this would keep the board and employees out of arbitration.

“As long as both sides keep the agreement, and the goal of the agreement is to keep them whole in every way, salary, insurance and seniority,” Simpson replied.

He asked what would happen to employees currently hired to work in the county clerk’s office after the election. Simpson said the county could lay off employees as long as they followed the procedure spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement.

“I’m helping this situation, but I am also helping myself,” Clark told the board.

He explained that his office has been behind since the retirement of one of its clerks.

Murrie said his office also could use help since taking on the duties of payroll from the county clerk’s office.

“This board has been wonderful and very inspiring in the lengths they have gone to protect their employees,” Simpson said.

“I think as a board we are doing what we should be doing,” Lane said.

“I am very pleased to be going back to work and very appreciative to everyone who helped rectify the situation caused by the current county clerk,” Dunn said.

The women are expected to return to work May 1.

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HUD officials seek feedback on controversial proposals to raise rent and allow work requirements

ZEIGLER — A proposal released Wednesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development suggesting raising the rent on Housing’s poorest residents, as well as giving the option for work requirements to local housing authorities, was meant only to spark a conversation, HUD officials say.

“Basically what are doing is crowdsourcing. We are asking for feedback,” Jereon Brown, HUD spokesman, said in an interview on Thursday.

The proposal in question would raise the income contributions from working residents from 30 percent to 35 percent while also raising the maximum rent requirement on unemployed residents from $50 to $150. The proposed legislation would also give local authorities latitude to impose work requirements on residents.

“This is to allow housing authorities flexibilities,” Brown said. He added that this would not be mandatory for the elderly, disabled and those who were given waivers.

In a memo from HUD Secretary Ben Carson sent to HUD workers, he said the new rent structure was designed replace the current, “byzantine” rate structure with a simpler one that could also better support HUD’s aging infrastructure.

“These reforms would also place HUD’s rental assistance programs on a more fiscally sustainable path.

“Through the Making Affordable Housing Work Act, we are offering Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and property owners a flexible menu of rent structures for work-able HUD-assisted families that is simpler, less invasive and more transparent for landlords and tenants alike,” according to the memo.

Any decision, Brown said, would have to come from Congress.

These discussions in Washington have real-world impacts in Southern Illinois.

Alicia Bowlby sat on her front porch in Zeigler’s senior public housing Thursday — she was enjoying what turned out to be a pleasant break in the weather.

Bowlby said she has lived in public housing in Franklin County for more than 30 years — she was diagnosed with a rare spine disease after high school and has never been able to work. She recently got out of the hospital after suffering a stroke and offered that any increase in her $141 rent would be a hardship.

She lives on $750 a month from Social Security and said she pays her rent and utilities as well as her medications out of that. She said should her rent increase — and it was unclear if she would qualify for the mandatory bump according to the proposal — she’s not sure what she would do.

“I just pray nothing goes up,” she said.

Across town in Zeigler’s family housing, Shelby Roberts lives with her grandchildren. She took issue with the idea that there could be a work requirement attached to residency in subsidized housing. On its face this sounds like a good plan, but Roberts said it just isn’t practical.

“There’s nothing here,” she remarked about her town. “If you make them work, where are they going to find a job?”

Bowlby echoed this sentiment. She said even if someone living in Zeigler or the other rural Southern Illinois housing developments had a job offer, getting to it would be an issue.

“A lot of people don’t have transportation,” she said.

Stephanie Hubler, Perry County Housing Authority executive director, was skeptical of some of the proposed plans. She said it would not be their plan to raise the rent for unemployed households.

“If someone is unemployed in the economy today, there is no money, they have no money,” Hubler said.

Of the work requirement idea, Hubler said from her seat, she thought it would be a struggle for many in her housing authority.

“Jobs in Southern Illinois are harder to find,” she said.

Response to the proposal was rancorous from advocates for the poor. The National Low Income Housing Coalition put a out a release Wednesday condemning the measures.

“The Trump administration’s proposal to cut housing benefits by imposing increased rents and arbitrary work requirements would force low income families to cut back on investments in their future, including education, training, retirement savings, and healthcare,” according to the release.

“This proposal would not create the jobs and opportunities needed to lift families out of poverty, and in many cases, it would make it harder for struggling families to get ahead by cutting them off from the very housing benefits and services that make it possible for them to find and maintain jobs.”

This runs counter to what Carson said his hope was for the regulation changes.

“To the greatest degree possible, our rent policies must encourage families on their path to self-sufficiency,” Carson wrote in his memo.

Brown said one change that would potentially help families would be to increase the requalification period for residents from once a year to once every three years. Brown said this would save housing authorities money by cutting back on the labor required to re-evaluate residents yearly.

Brown reiterated many times that the suggested regulations were there simply to bring in new ideas to the fore as to how HUD could more fairly and economically calculate rents for residents and realign its spending to fit its current needs.

Brown said HUD did not expect to get everything they put in the proposal, however they are thankful for the criticism.

“These are the type of ideas that we are hoping (the proposal) stimulates from everybody,” he said.

“Nothing is cooked,” Brown said of the ideas being proposed. “The ingredients are being poured in.”

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Cairo Housing Crisis
HUD sets deadline for Cairo families to move or face eviction proceedings

CAIRO — Housing and Urban Development officials on Thursday informed about 40 remaining families of two public housing complexes in Cairo that are slated for demolition that they have until June 30 to move, at which time they may face eviction proceedings. 

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that housing officials will work with families facing “extenuating circumstances,” such as an apartment falling through at the last minute as the summer deadline approaches.

But otherwise, according to a Q&A flier that HUD provided to affected residents of the Alexander County Housing Authority, eviction proceedings will begin July 2. “Please note an eviction on your rental record could affect your ability to rent other housing in the future” as “landlords typically use rental and eviction history to select who they will rent to,” the flier stated.

HUD took over the housing authority in early 2016 and plans to return it to local control by the end of the year. Brown said that in addition to the health and safety risks to tenants who remain in the complexes, the housing authority cannot afford to continue paying utility costs past the summer.

Additionally, the flier states that the deadline was selected because officials “wanted to allow time for families with children to complete the school year” in Cairo, and “have time to secure new housing and enroll their children in school prior to the start of the school year in July.” Most families have had to move to other communities because Cairo does not have many private homes for rent that could pass a health and safety assessment. The school year generally begins in mid- to late-August in Southern Illinois.

Brown said the agency’s goal is to “seal off the area” and use the savings for maintenance and upkeep of the remaining 155 ACHA public housing units in Cairo at two highrises and a handful of small developments around town.

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.

Just over a year ago, federal housing officials announced plans to relocate 185 families from Elmwood and McBride because they are no longer safe. HUD is providing each family with a voucher that subsidizes rent in the private market.

Residents of these two complexes have not had to pay rent since last May under the terms of a settlement agreement stemming from a lawsuit brought by some tenants of the long-neglected complexes against their landlord, the ACHA. 

As a result, the local housing authority’s board on Wednesday moved to write off more than $370,000 in uncollected rent debt. Of that figure, about 80 percent was attributed to the rent abatement agreement for Elmwood and McBride residents.

In February, HUD also told about 30 families that they would have to move out of two housing developments in the nearby community of Thebes. Because that decision came much later, Brown said that a deadline has not yet been set for the Thebes residents to vacate their public housing units.  

This past week, Sen. Tammy Duckworth placed a hold on all HUD nominees that are awaiting Senate confirmation because she said the agency “failed to respond to her request for detailed information” regarding its decision to close the Thebes complexes. “It is unacceptable for HUD to make yet another rash decision that uproots dozens of families from their homes without providing a detailed explanation, especially after Donald Trump promised throughout his campaign to help communities exactly like Cairo and Thebes,” Duckworth said in a press release.

HUD responded to the joint letter from Illinois Sens. Duckworth and Dick Durbin shortly after Duckworth’s statement was released. But Ben Garmisa, spokesman for Duckworth, said last week that her hold remains on the nominees because she was not satisfied with the agency’s response.

The U.S. Senate defines a hold as an informal practice by which senators can inform their floor leader that they do not wish for a particular bill or nominee to reach the floor for consideration. Prior to Duckworth's action, there was already a hold on two Trump nominees to lead HUD's offices of Public and Indian Housing and the Federal Housing Administration, which have been stalled for months. The hold on a third nominee pending Senate confirmation to lead the agency's Policy Development and Research office is new, according to a HUD official. 

HUD Secretary Ben Carson made note of his desire to see the nominees approved to allow the housing agency to run at full capacity during a recent Senate hearing on his agency’s proposed budget.