It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you this will be my last week as the editor of The Cairo Citizen. My wife has been accepted to graduate school in Indiana, so we will be moving there so she can pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. I told her when she applied, if she got in we would go with no questions asked. I guess she called my bluff.
Rest assured, though, there will be a replacement who will start work in the coming weeks and he will be just as vigilant and active in reporting the news as I have tried to be. I will let him make his own introduction, however.
It has been a tremendous honor being the eyes and ears of this community over the last year. I have enjoyed getting to know many of you and am sad I will not get to know many more. Thank you for accepting me and ushering me into your lives and for helping me tell the story of Cairo and southern-most Illinois. I will never forget my time here and will look back on it fondly.
Alexander County is one step closer to starting the buyout process it began almost two years ago.
During the July 16 County Board meeting, Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny announced he had received a granting agreement from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Denny said he signed and sent the document to Springfield to finalize that end of the process. However, the County is still waiting on the granting agreement from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which is providing 25% of the $11.7 million grant. However, Denny has met with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources engineer to discuss the progress of their granting agreement and Denny said he expects to have their agreement in the next several weeks.
Denny said the County has been required by the state to wait on these two documents before they could begin the buyout process.
“The way the State of Illinois works is … if they are funding a project they will not let you start before your granting agreements are in place,” he said.
He said while it has not exactly been pleasant having to sit in wait, he understands why he had to.
“You have to have the legal framework, otherwise you are going to have problems,” Denny said.
Denny and his office have not sat idle these last several months, however. Denny said his office have done all they can do to expedite the process as much as they can. He said prior to getting the granting agreements. They posted job notices for appraisal companies and after receiving bids for the different jobs, made their decisions on who to hire so when the time came, they could make an official decision. Denny said had they waited until after the agreements were received it could have drug out the buyout process for weeks, even months.
During this time the County has brought in the Southern Five Planning Commission to administrate the grant. Regional planner at Southern Five Crystal Davenport will handle the project and said her office is there coordinate with the State and County to ensure property owners have a smooth ride through the buyout process.
Davenport said property owners need to understand that the amount they are offered for their home or property will be based on pre-flood market value and to help the process along, they should be ready to show documentation for insurance or assistance received after for the flood and receipts for work and improvements made to their properties as this will help expedite their appraisal process and ensure they get a fair assessment of their property.
Once the process is able to start, Denny said appraisers will go to each property and assess its value and this may take time. He said it is not possible to get everyone done at once.
Denny said while it may seem like very little progress is being made at the present time, he is confident the start of the process is closer at hand than people may think.
“I think in the next couple of months you will start seeing some to the point of making offers,”he said.
Cairo junior and senior high school students got the chance to argue in public July 20 and instead of posturing and raised voices, the kids were calm and used note cards to get their points across.
Eight Cairo students participated in a debate which centered around the theme of “The Colored Soldier and the Civil War, What Were They Fighting For.” The event, sponsored by the Dusable Museum of African American History and the Amistad Coalition, drew a crowd of nearly fifty community members to the Cairo Library.
The question was simple: Why did Abraham Lincoln free the slaves? Both teams had plenty of answers.
D’Erik Menz’s team argued it was a moral imperative that lead to the decision. They argued that because of his Christian beliefs, Lincoln made the order to abolish slavery.
It did not take long for Keyonte Graham and his teammates to find fault with this logic. It was their opinion Lincoln abolished slavery for political reasons only, citing a famous quote from the former president,” If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.”
Menz and his team were quick to point out, however, this was not the entire quote. They reminded their opponents Lincoln followed this statement by saying, “If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it.”
The dialogue was lively and professional and Brian Brandtner said this was the point.
“You can disagree with people in the real world … but there is a way to go about it and exercises like this kind of reinforces that,” he said. Brandtner, Cairo’s high school basketball coach, trained one of the teams and he said he saw a lot of growth in his debaters in a very short amount of time.
The teams started practicing July 12 and had just over two weeks to get ready. Brandtner said in the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming but once they began to narrow their focus, the students began to get more involved in the research and put their own ideas out on the table for discussion.
“Once you get to the point where the kids are putting their thoughts into it, then you have done your job,” Brandtner said. He added that independent thought is the goal of any teacher.
“As a teacher, as a coach, you want the kids to be as independent thinkers as possible … You want the kids to think critically.”
Jomo Cheatham, project coordinator for the Dusable Museum’s participation with the Amistad Commission, said this kind of education through action is a big part of his group’s initiative.
“The Amistad Coalition’s participation with the museum is to integrate all forms of education so it is not just specifically focused on the subject, but looks at how it can interconnect to other real, live, relevant parts of society,” he said.
He said each student learned just by participating in the debate and he said the results were clear.
“What we saw on display here … [were] some very intelligent young men who were able to speak really eloquently at times and in-depth in some instances about a topic that they probably did not know nearly as well, about a month ago,” Cheatham said.
Cairo superintendent of schools and team coach Andrea Evers agreed.
“I think both teams showed tremendous poise,” she said. “They had passion, they had reasons behind their decisions.”
Menz said through the process of preparing for the event, he realized there are strengths in disagreeing calmly. Graham said he learned it took a calm, clear point to be effective in arguing a point.
“It takes a lot to win … It takes a lot of information,” he said.
Menz said he really enjoyed participating in the debate and hopes he get the chance to hone his skills on a team. Evers said because of the success this first debate, she is strongly looking into starting a debate or forensics team at the Junior/Senior High School.
Cairo has become home to a strong population of wild dogs and it seems there is no one around to help.
The City of Cairo has not had dogcatcher in two years despite the growing need for one. Mayor Tyrone Coleman said the stray dog problem has been keenly on his mind. He said he has watched even in his own neighborhood as an abandoned house has been overrun with stray animals. He said he intends to do something about it, however he is not sure how.
Cairo’s animal control program was shut down by the state in early 2011 because its dog kennels were not up to code according to state laws. Instead of repairing the pens, the City had to shut down the operation entirely because they simply did not have the funds to make the necessary updates to meet state code.
City Council member and Cairo police commissioner Richard Pitcher said that the fact there is no one designated to handle the stray dog problem puts stress on his police officers.
“It’s an added workload for our officers that are already stretched pretty thin,” he said. Pitcher said despite their heavy workload, his officers have to take each stray dog call seriously.
“It is not something you can just dismiss or take lightly because some of these animals can be vicious,” he explained. “The last thing you want is for one to get a hold of a kid.”
Courtney Wilson agrees.
Wilson, a mother of three and a resident of 35th St. said she has had to take real precautions when letting her kids go outside because of the stray dog problem. She said the dogs in her neighborhood have killed other animals and even have come after her and her kids. She said she wishes there was someone to come and collect the animals, but does not see that happening anytime soon because of the City’s finances. She is not far off the mark. In numerous City Council meetings, the issue of hiring a dog catcher has come up, but the measure is always shut down because of the City’s dire financial state. They simply cannot afford one.
To read the State Statute on animal control, it could be inferred that dogcatching is the County’s responsibility.
“The County Board Chairman with the consent of the County Board shall appoint an Administrator. Appointments shall be made as necessary to keep this position filled at all times … The Board shall provide necessary personnel, training, equipment, supplies, and facilities, and shall operate pounds or contract for their operation as necessary to effectuate the program,” section 3 of part 510 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes states. However, Alexander County state’s attorney Jeff Farris said this does not help Cairo. He said because it is incorporated and has its own book of city codes and regulations, the County is not responsible for Cairo’s dog problems.
Coleman does not see it this way. He said based on part 24 of the statute, the City may hire and use its own dog catcher, but the County is still required to have it’s own animal control that serves all of the incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.
Because the Cairo and the Alexander County read the law differently does not mean they cannot work together.
Coleman said he hopes that by working with the County something can be done to resolve the City’s problem. The County board has given nearly $2,000 to the City to build six doghouses as well as provide new water and feed bowls, which will at least provide a place for captured dogs to be taken. Alexander County Board chairman Harold McNelly said if the county could do more to help Cairo with its stray dogs, it would.
“Does it need it,” McNelly asked. “Badly.” However, he said the County is just as bad off as Cairo financially and for the time being, paying for the kennels is all they can do.
These new pens are a start, however. Pitcher said right now, even if officers were to catch a dog in town they would have no place to take it which means, short of finding its owner, there is very little the police can do with calls regarding stray dogs at this point.
Building new kennels is part of the battle, though there is still the matter of finding the funds to hire someone to actually catch the dogs. Coleman explained the position does not stop at catching a stray, there is also keeping the dogs fed and their pens clean as well as filling out all the paperwork involved, of which there is a lot. He said there would need to be someone on full time or a series of people hired part time to fill the position. Coleman said this next step is an expensive one and the City is still trying to figure out how to make it.
Until the time comes when Cairo finds a way to employ a dogcatcher, Coleman said he will continue to hope the City’s luck holds out and that no one gets hurt. He said in the time since they disbanded their animal control program two years ago, there have been very few reported incidents where people have been hurt by stray dogs.
Durring his arraignment July 16 , Kyree Wright plead not guilty to three counts of aggravated battery.
Wright is charged with the beating of Glenn Klett, which took place June 13 in the parking lot of the Dollar General at 1308 Washington Ave. in Cairo. During his preliminary hearing July 2, Wright was given a bond of $50,000, which he was unable to make. During proceedings July 16, Wright’s attorney asked that his bond be lowered to $20,00. Judge Mark Clarke denied the request. He is scheduled to reappear in court Sept 3 for a pretrial and again Oct. 8 to begin his jury trial.
Wright was arrested June 21 and was initially denied bond. During his preliminary hearing, testimony was given by Alexander County Sheriff Tim Brown regarding the evidence against Wright. He testified to the authenticity of a police report, which stated that a Cairo police officer responded to a call June 13 to the Dollar General Store parking lot. Upon arriving at the scene, the officer saw Glenn Klett sitting in the parking lot, bleeding from his head and leg. When asked to describe what happened, Klett said after exiting the store he was approached by two men, one with a bat. He said he was hit with the bat and kicked and when a woman came to help the two ran away.
He also testified that an eyewitness was able to identify Wright as one of the perpetrators.