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Marion candidates overcome objections to remain on April ballot

MARION — Two candidates for office in the city of Marion who had objections filed to their candidacies will remain on the ballot.

At 1 p.m., the electoral board for the objection of Jason Powell’s candidacy for commissioner convened to hear testimony from the two men raising objections, John Gordon and James Meadows, and to hear a rebuttal from Powell. The electoral board included Mayor Anthony Rinella, City Clerk Alice Rix and Commissioner Angelo Hightower.

Hearing officer Rhett Barke started by telling those gathered that the standard of proof in this objection is a preponderance of the evidence.

“What that means in legal terms is that it is more likely than not,” Barke said.

First, Gordon and Meadows spoke.

Both men said they did not believe Powell met the residency requirements because he did not turn on the water at his home at 408 Bainbridge Road until June 13, 2018. Gordon had a copy of the city order to turn on water at that address on June 13, 2018.

“All I want out of this election is the best possible candidates for the upcoming election,” Gordon said.

Powell said he believed what constitutes residency is paying taxes, which he did for the property Feb. 5 as part of the purchase agreement. Also, the home was never without water service, and that he lived at that location.

He entered a remodeling contract from Dec. 8, 2017, appraisals before and after remodeling dated Dec. 5, 2017, and Jan. 12, 2018, closing disclosure, a homeowner’s insurance policy and other documents dated Feb. 5, 2018 or before. He also entered a rental agreement on his home in West Frankfort dated March 1, 2018, as evidence.

The hearing was recessed until 3:30 p.m. to give Barke time to prepare written findings.

At 1:30 p.m., the electoral board of City Clerk Alice Rix and commissioners Jim Webb and John convened to hear an objection to Dennis Ball’s candidacy for mayor of Marion.

“The city attempted to send notice to you of this hearing at 204 S. Bentley, and it was returned by the Post Office,” Webb said.

Again, Meadows spoke first, saying he did not believe Ball has resided in Marion. He did not have any documents to prove what he said.

Then Ball had his chance for rebuttal.

“That property (at 204 S. Bentley) I have occupied since the last tenant moved. That was 2016,” Ball said.

Although the property is an empty lot, Ball said his van is an RV and is often parked at that location. He claims the property is in litigation with the city of Marion, and they illegally tore down the home.

Ball produced court documents along with a lease agreement saying he has rented part of a home at 1409 N. Russell St. from James A. Hancock.

He said he entered the rental agreement in case there was a question about his residency in Marion.

Hancock also testified that Ball has stored items in the garage on Russell and rented a room from him.

Richard D. Hagan also testified on Ball’s behalf.

“Whenever he has traveled, he has always returned to Marion as his home base,” Hagan said.

The hearing was recessed until 3:45 p.m. to give Barke time to prepare written findings.

When the hearings reconvened at 3:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., Barke gave the boards his finding that both candidates lived in the city of Marion. Both electoral boards accepted those findings and ruled that Powell and Ball will remain on the ballot for the municipal elections in April.

No deal to end shutdown; Trump says 'could be a long time'

WASHINGTON — No one budged at President Donald Trump's closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through Day 12 over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They'll all try again Friday.

In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private by Democrats asking why he wouldn't end the shutdown, he responded at one point, "I would look foolish if I did that." A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.

In one big shift, the new Congress will convene today with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they'd quickly pass legislation to re-open the government — without funds for the border wall.

"Nothing for the wall," Pelosi said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show set to air today. "We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?"

But the White House has rejected the Democratic package, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a "total nonstarter." Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last "as long as it takes" to get the funding he wants.

"Could be a long time or could be quickly," Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.

Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday's private meeting why he wouldn't consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.

"I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. "He could not give a good answer."

Trump's response about looking foolish was confirmed by a White House official and another person familiar with the exchange, neither of whom was authorized to describe the exchange by name. Trump campaigned saying Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.

At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a "good Catholic" she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican's centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats said they don't want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.

"I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats," Trump tweeted after the meeting. "Let's get it done!"

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there's no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.

Nielsen, participating in the meeting by teleconference, had data about unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a spike in illegal crossings, and she tried to make the case to the group that current funding levels won't suffice, according to the White House.

"We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation," said McCarthy.

He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be "more able to negotiate" once she is elected speaker, as expected today.

The two sides traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration's offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.

The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing essential spending bills for several government departments.

Judge's ruling says no cameras, recorders will be allowed in Saline County Court for Brian Burns trial

HARRISBURG — Judge Walden Morris for a second time has denied extended media coverage of the trial of Brian Burns, the former Harrisburg physician accused of murdering his wife in 2016.

The Southern Illinoisan, along with news outlets WSIL-TV and WSIU public radio, presented a timely request to Morris, as is dictated by state policy handed down in 2016 by the Illinois Supreme Court. The policy says requests must be made to the presiding judge at least 14 days or as soon as is possible before the requested court date.

The request must be made by an appointed media coordinator within each judicial district — WSIL News Director Mike Snuffer is acting as media director for the First Judicial Circuit.

According to the Supreme Court order, extended media coverage is defined as “any media recording or broadcasting of proceedings by the use of television, radio, photographic, or recording equipment for the purpose of gathering and disseminating news to the public.”

The Southern’s request was submitted Dec. 14 and asked for audio, video and still photographic recording of Burns’ murder trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 23.

Burns is accused of murdering his wife, Carla Burns, in 2016. Brian Burns also was convicted in May 2017 of trying to kidnap former State's Attorney Mike Henshaw.

Morris denied the media request on Dec. 19, according to Judici. Morris’ order states that The Southern's request was essentially identical to one made by Snuffer previously in 2018, which was also denied.

The Sept. 20 ruling on that previous request said that the facilities at the Saline County Courthouse “do not currently meet the design criteria as to accommodate nor comply with the requirement for extended media coverage as set forth in 1.4 of the First Circuit Court media coverage policy.” 

Snuffer expressed frustration at the denial.

“I’m disappointed in Judge Morris’ ruling. This is the second time our request for a camera in a courtroom has been denied for the Brian Burns case,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.

“WSIL, as well as other local media outlets, have worked with the First Judicial Circuit in laying the ground work for extended media coverage. We have established the rules. We are simply following the policies that have been put in place.”

According to the Supreme Court order, judges have broad discretion over denying extended media access to a trial.

“Permission first shall have been granted by the judge, who may prescribe such conditions of coverage as provided for in this policy. The chief judge shall have discretion to deny all extended media coverage,” the order says.

Extended media coverage was adopted by the courts in 2012 under a pilot program that was formally approved in 2016.

The Southern Illinoisan Executive Editor Tom English said the newspaper’s interest in having extended media access to this and other trials is multifaceted — he said the paper acts as a liaison for the public, going places they may not be able or allowed to visit. It is also “an exercise of our rights under both state and federal law to document court proceedings.”

English said it is fundamental that the press place checks on how taxpayer money is spent, including on judges' salaries and court operations. 

Snuffer also said it is in the interest of taxpayers to have a bigger media presence in court.

“We believe the viewers and the taxpayers in Saline County have a right to see how this case is played out,” Snuffer wrote.

“Many, many other district courts in Illinois are allowing cameras in the courtroom. We are only asking for the ability to show viewers how their tax dollars are being used in the criminal justice system.”

According to the Illinois Courts website, circuit court judges make $198,075 per year. 


Brian Burns, middle, is led into Saline County Court on Aug. 28, 2017, for a sentencing hearing. Burns was convicted of trying to have former State's Attorney Mike Henshaw kidnapped while he was in jail awaiting trial on a charge of murdering his wife. His trial on the murder charge is scheduled to begin later in January.

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Southern Illinois University
In apparent breach of separation agreement, Dunn won’t teach at SIU Edwardsville this semester

CARBONDALE — Randy Dunn, controversial ex-president of the Southern Illinois University System, will not be teaching at the Edwardsville campus during the spring semester, as had been planned in his separation agreement, according to SIUE spokesman Doug McIlhagga.

“Dr. Dunn will not be teaching classes on the SIUE campus, during the spring semester,” McIlhagga wrote in a Jan. 2 email to The Southern.

Neither Dunn, his lawyers, nor McIlhagga was available to provide further information Wednesday afternoon.

John Charles, the spokesman for the office of SIU System President J. Kevin Dorsey, declined comment, citing his office’s policy of “not commenting on personnel matters.”

When Dunn stepped down from his post last July, his separation agreement with the board of trustees guaranteed him a $215,000 severance payment, plus an 18-month teaching post at SIUE as a visiting professor.

View the full separation agreement between Randy Dunn and the SIU board

His job was set to begin with the Spring 2019 semester, and carry a salary of $100,000 per year.

Per the separation agreement, Dunn was to be employed “in a department in line with (his) discipline,” at SIUE, teaching two courses a semester, and pursuing “research opportunities.”

Dunn’s employment was set to begin on Jan. 1, 2019, however, a search of SIUE’s personnel directory revealed he was not listed among SIUE faculty as of Jan. 2.

Dunn first came to SIU Carbondale in 1995, and spent nearly a decade as a professor and administrator in the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education.

After stints leading Murray State University and Youngstown State University, Dunn returned to SIU as president of the university system in 2014.

He resigned his post in July, after the publication of almost 1,900 pages of internal emails revealed he worked quietly with SIU Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook to advance a proposal to shift $5.1 million from the Carbondale campus to Edwardsville to help rectify a perceived funding inequality between the two campuses.

Dunn's actions surprised some SIU leadership, including SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno, and members of the SIU Board of Trustees, who claimed they had no knowledge of the plan until it was placed on the agenda for a board meeting.

The proposal was voted down, but documents revealed Dunn took other secretive actions that could have hurt SIU Carbondale.

Emails showed he helped Pembrook build political support for legislation that would have split the SIU System into separate Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, with separate boards of trustees for SIUC and SIUE, while divvying up SIU’s schools and programs, including transferring the medical school to SIUE.

SIU Carbondale professors, members of the board of trustees and local lawmakers all called for Dunn’s resignation, and he was replaced on an interim basis by J. Kevin Dorsey, a retired SIU School of Medicine dean, in mid-July.

This is the first time Dunn’s separation agreement appears to have been breached. SIU General Council Luke Crater was not available to comment on the status of the agreement Wednesday afternoon.