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Du Quoin
Du Quoin city councilman resigns after retirement fund says he can't collect pension and serve


DU QUOIN — Du Quoin Mayor Guy Alongi said it was “with regret” that he and the City Council accepted the resignation Monday of councilman Dale Spencer — he was forced out after the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund said because he was receiving a pension he earned for previous service to the city, he could not also serve on City Council at the same time.

Spencer was first elected to City Council in 1997, and later worked for the city of Du Quoin. After he retired from the city, he started collecting his pension. He decided in 2014 to come out of retirement and run for City Council again. City Council members are paid $4,800 per year and pay into the IMRF.

Officials in Du Quoin see Spencer's resignation as particularly unfortunate because Spencer thought he had covered his bases when he decided to run in 2014. The mayor's administrative assistant, Andrew Croesman, said Spencer had two calls with the IMRF in which he was told his returning to the Council wouldn’t pose a problem with the IMRF and his pension. That, apparently, was bad advice.

“According to IMRF, since Mr. Spencer previously served in the position of City Commissioner and participated in IMRF, he cannot serve in the position now and elect not to participate in IMRF,” a news release from the city reads. “Therefore, IMRF has indicated that if Mr. Spencer chooses to continue his service as City Commissioner he will be forced to re-enroll in IMRF and will cease receiving his pension benefits.”

Alongi said he remembers the moment two years ago when Spencer was thinking about running. He said Spencer seemed to want to do the right thing.

“He told me, ‘Guy, I’ve got to check and make sure this is not going to affect my pension,’” Alongi said. After Dale called the IMRF, he called Alongi.

“He’s said, ‘I’ve been given the green light,’” Alongi remembered.

Alongi said it was “sad” that a person who was doing good work for the city should have to retire because of a technicality.

“He was the second highest vote-getter,” Alongi remembered of the city’s election results.

The unexpected decision from the IMRF put Spencer between a rock and a hard place — get paid or serve.

“The City and Mr. Spencer received a correspondence from the IMRF Benefits Manager on February 19, 2018, which notified the City and Commissioner Spencer that if he chooses to remain on the City Council, he would be required to pay back his earned pension payments for the period May 11, 2015 through March 2018, and all future pension payments would be suspended,” according to the release.

The fight isn’t over, though. The the city and Spencer plan to appeal the decision. Spencer said flatly that he did not know he was breaking any rules when he ran.

Rhett Barke, the city’s labor attorney, said they have 63 days to file the appeal, which could be approved by a review board but may have to go all the way to an administrative law judge for a final determination.

Barke said the primary reason for the appeal was to ensure Spencer won’t have to pay back the pension payments he received since taking office. But, there’s also an element of principle to the appeal, as well.

“I did everything I was told to do,” Spencer said, adding that had he known, he would have acted differently.

“If they would have said, 'no you can’t run to start with,' I would not have run,” he said.

Alongi said he has to find someone to fill Spencer’s place as finance commissioner soon and hopes to have a name to bring to the Council in March.

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Illinois House Dems set up showdown on gun curbs

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Democrats unleashed a bevy of proposed restrictions on firearms Tuesday, an urgent response to the Florida high school shooting as well as the fatal shooting of a Chicago police officer a day earlier.

Should people under 21 be able to buy guns?

The Judiciary-Criminal Committee approved five gun-control measures including barring anyone younger than 21 from buying an assault-style weapon, prohibiting the purchase of large-capacity ammunition feeders and outlawing civilian use of body armor.

Each was approved on 8-5 partisan roll calls, setting up swift floor action Wednesday with a primary election just weeks away.

The key measures are tailored to address the recent shootings. Authorities say a 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, used an AR-15 to shoot and kill 17 people on Feb. 14. A day earlier in Chicago, Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer was fatally shot near a government building in the city's downtown, and police say the suspect was armed with a semi-automatic handgun that had a 30-round magazine.

"Common-sense legislation to protect the citizens — not just of Chicago but across this country — makes sense," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at the Capitol. "We have an obligation to the citizens that we serve to help keep them safe. It's time we stop talking about this stuff and actually do something about it."

The response is swift but not isolated. At least 10 other states, including Florida, Vermont, Texas, Ohio and Washington, are considering legislative measures or taking other action. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday to restrict gun possession by those who pose a danger to themselves or others.

But Illinois Democrats are in a hurry to take tough action with a primary election that will decide November matchups for hundreds of legislative seats and the governor's office less than a month away.

Should bump stocks be banned?

Other plans include a ban on bump stocks , the devices that turn rifles into automatic-style weapons and were used in the Las Vegas mass shooting in October. An Illinois prohibition of the same type failed in the General Assembly last fall.

Representatives of the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois opposed the measures, calling them incomplete and poorly drafted. They said they were a constitutional overreach in some cases.

"This bill is a confiscation bill," Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the firearms dealers, said in describing the ban on assault-style weapons. "There are serious 4th Amendment due-process concerns for the state to be confiscating your material possessions."

Vandermyde said when the federal government banned assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines in 1994, existing magazines were not affected. Under the Illinois proposal, he contended as many as 25 million magazines of 10 rounds or more would have to be turned over by the 2.2 million Illinois gun-card holders.

Should there be limits on high-capacity magazines?

Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, suggested that a proposed hotline that would take anonymous calls about people who might pose a danger to themselves or others could be abused by ex-spouses, spurned lovers, or even political opponents.

"As a member of free America, this is one of the scariest bills I've ever seen," Wheeler said.

The sponsor of high-capacity magazine prohibition, Rep. Daniel Burke, acknowledged his legislation has some shortcomings, but he refused to hold it from a floor vote to address them — a courtesy sponsors often promise to get committee approval.

"We are very anxious to send a message not only to the Chicago Police Department and those who have suffered as a result of gun violence in our society, but to anyone who would look at Illinois," the Chicago Democrat said. "They'd say, 'Yes, they are finally taking some action, they're finally moving in the right direction, they've finally listened to what has happened in our state and in our world.'"

Holiday Inn Express to begin construction by the end of the summer

MURPHYSBORO — The Holiday Inn Express at the corner of Illinois 13 and 127 in Murphysboro should begin construction by the end of the summer, according to developer Joe Koppeis on Tuesday at the Murphysboro Council meeting. 

Koppeis said the hotel will have 75 rooms and the final conceptual drawings will be complete by Friday and turned in to IGH, which brands include Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, EVEN Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, Hualuxe, InterContinental, Kimpton Hotels and Resorts and Staybridge Suites.

He said the most recent delay in the development came from him attempting to make a few changes to the structure of the hotel. In the Sparta Holiday Inn Express, Koppeis said many people use the exercise room and sparingly use the pool, so his thought was to increase the size of the exercise room in Murphysboro and eliminate the pool. However, that plan was rejected because Holiday Inn wants all the hotels to be uniform throughout the country.

As for additional tenants at the site, Koppeis said he has a letter of intent executed with a fast food restaurant but did not name the establishment. He also said he has been working with three convenience stores and gas stations but can’t move forward until the fast food restaurant deal in complete. He said Save-A-Lot and The Dollar Tree are interested, but there have not been concrete conversations.

Koppeis said Tuesday that bid documents should go out in the next 30 days and before the end of the summer, construction should get started. He said construction will take bout a year to complete, pending some IDOT permits that are still needed for an additional entrance north on 127.

The developer said he will attempt to work with local contractors including building a statue of the Big Muddy Monster on the premises.

“We have a long list of local contractors and will be receiving bids from all of them,” Koppeis said. “We always try to do whatever we can wherever we are.”

He also said the company is in Murphysboro to stay.

“We are not building and then leaving,” Koppeis said. “I think it will be a good project for the community and a good project for all of us.”

He said the total investment is “way up in the millions.” Typically, he said a shopping center is about a $10 million investment and a hotel is about $7 million.

As a joke, he called Mayor Will Stephens a “pain in the butt” due to constant communication but said it was a compliant.

“You are the reason we are here,” Koppeis said. “Because of the interest and the follow up that you made with us.”

The site was home to the former The Apple Tree Inn, which was was demolished about two years ago. The demolition also included the Apple Dome pool, a number of houses and the clearing of timber leading to the Big Muddy River. In the fall of 2015, the area was declared a Tax-Increment Financing, or TIF, district. That designation allows taxes collected over a base amount to be used for economic development within that TIF district.

Koppeis purchased the property at auction in May 2015 for $125,000. Former owners of the property include Vincent Piece, Nitaben Patel, Vinus Patel and Kirit Purohit, who owned it for about eight years after buying the motel from Angelo Fiorino. He owned the property for 31 years.

Fiorino purchased the property on July 4, 1976, but he said it was constructed in the 1950s. He said the former owner Glenn Williams built a 20-unit motel called A.F.D.K., named for his daughter.