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p01 jackson centerThe Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities is shown at far right in this rendering. To the center’s immediate left is a planned conference center to host major speakers. From there, to the left, is an existing brick building that will be used for STEM education. To the far left is an envisioned hotel.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    EDWARDSVILLE — Call it a $20 million salute to human dignity — that’s how much Edwardsville benefactor Mannie Jackson is prepared to spend on a project that could transform the community’s Main Street in the next two years.
    As the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities prepares to open Dec. 1 in the former Lincoln School — where $4.5 million is being spent on renovations — plans are also in the works for major expansion of that project.
p01 jacksonJackson    Jackson has acquired multiple properties along North Main Street and is quickly moving on plans for a state-financed conference center, a privately built hotel and a three-story parking garage.
    The parking garage will be built on the opposite side of North Main, at what is now the former, vacant Rusty’s Restaurant, which could be razed as early as this month, officials say. The garage would be set back from Main Street with the idea of luring potential business development in the front of it.
    Ed Hightower, the retired, longtime Edwardsville school superintendent, was named in August to be executive director of the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation, which is collaborating on the project with Lewis and Clark Community College.
    Jackson, 76, bought the vacant Lincoln School — a historic black school, badly in need of repair — in 2008 for $600,000 and donated another $200,000 in 2012 for the creation of an endowment and the Center for the Humanities.

By ALAN J. ORTBALS
    A movement is afoot to change the way Illinois draws its legislative districts and it appears to have legs.
    A group called the Independent Maps Coalition is collecting signatures to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot and recently announced that it is more than half way to its goal.
    The state constitution requires the realignment of legislative districts every 10 years following the national census — a process referred to as redistricting. The aim is to redraw district boundaries to reflect changing demographics. In Illinois, as in many states, the process of drawing those new maps is left to the legislature with gubernatorial approval. The majority party draws the maps; takes it to the floor and votes on it; then sends it to the governor. If the legislature and governor are of the same party, they can draw the maps to protect their majority.
    “In the state of Illinois we allow the party in power to literally redistrict legislative districts so that in some cases it’s impossible for a true and fair election to take place,” said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, who represents the 112th Legislative District.  “And that means you lose some democracy. Districts in Illinois have been carved up in such a manner that it’s almost predictable who is going to win and who is going to lose.”
    The Independent Map Amendment would create an 11-member commission representing the demographic and geographic diversity of the state. The commission meetings and records would be open to the public and the commission would be required to hold public hearings throughout the state. The commission-drawn maps would be required to protect the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities and the maps would be drawn without regard to incumbency or partisanship. Adoption of the maps would require approval of seven commissioners, including at least two Democrats and two Republicans.
    “We (legislators) have a natural conflict when we’re drawing these maps and I think it’s unhealthy,” said state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, who represents the 56th Senate District. “It would be better to have a non-partisan group of citizens draw them. They will be subject to the constitutional requirements of population equity and commonality of interest so you don’t have maps that are imbalanced as far as class or race or age or anything of that sort. Republicans and Democrats will have a level playing field. I think it’s time that Illinois tried that. It could remove some acrimony from the current system, which would  certainly be progress.”  
    The Coalition has a 23-member board of directors with members coming from a broad range of groups. Former Gov. Jim Edgar is a member as well as former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. There are also members representing church and ethnic groups, the Illinois Farm Bureau and the League of Women Voters. Cynthia Canary is its executive director.
    “We have a very diverse board,” Canary said. “It was very important from the beginning to make sure that we had Democrats and Republicans and to make the point that this was a citizens’ initiative and not driven by one particular partisan perspective or another.”  
    The coalition announced at the end of September that it had collected 325,000 signatures on its way to a goal of 600,000. The petitions must be submitted to the State Board of Election by May 8, 2016 — six months prior to the general election in November.  That goal might seem odd as the law requires just 290,216 valid signatures — 8 percent of the number that voted in the last gubernatorial election. Canary explained that they are not taking any chances as this is actually the third attempt at redistricting reform in the last six years with the first two failing.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    HIGHLAND — Like ever-changing technology, the second annual Highland Gigabit Challenge is evolving with the times, this year focusing on what will become Southwestern Illinois’ first “hackathon.”
    Last year’s inaugural event, which honored three start-ups, involved a business plan competition. This year’s has taken a few twists on the road to a new goal — enlisting hackers who can help businesses solve their complex tech problems.
    Events will culminate this spring when competitors will gather for a single weekend to solve problems posed by participating sponsors.
    Sponsors are still being lined up, but one of last year’s winners, Squarefruit Labs, has agreed to be a sponsor and provide technical assistance — as well as one of its “persona robots” as a prize.
    The company is focused on developing, implementing and deploying next generation 3-D printers and integrating them with robotic technology.
    The competition calls for sponsor businesses to comes up with a “problem statement” for which they need a solution, such as security or app building, and they assign a dollar amount of what that solution would cost them. The idea is that the sponsor businesses can get a better, more tailor-made product for a less-expensive cost than if they went to a traditional vendor.
    The competition is particularly aimed at coders and programmers who can make use of Highland’s gigabit level Internet service. The reward for winners will be partly what the sponsor agrees to pay them for solving their problem, and partly the recognition of having solved it — a reputation builder for entrepreneurs.
    “One of the goals is to bring more (tech) businesses outside of Highland into Highland,” said Chico Weber, the chief executive officer of Squarefruit.
    The event will take place in Highland next spring, at 2491 Industrial Drive, the former Tri-Onics site.
    The city of Highland stages the competition, along with the Highland Chamber of Commerce, and is seeking sponsors to get behind it. The idea is to reach out to coders, programmers, entrepreneurs, graphic designers and other interested parties to participate in coming up with creative solutions to the problem statements posed by the sponsors.
    “Highland staged a successful business plan competition last year with the 2014 Highland Gigabit Challenge. This year, the city wanted to conduct another Challenge event that would be relevant to the technology scene, but with a different twist,” stated Lisa Peck, community and economic director for the city of Highland.  “A ‘hackathon’ is a fun, different way to reach entrepreneurs in the technology field and it will be the first one held in the Metro East.

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    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest mass torts firms, is pleased to announce the firm has received the highest possible rankings in the St. Louis metro area for its plaintiff’s practices personal injury litigation and product liability litigation in the 2016 edition of U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms.”
    “We congratulate our attorneys and staff for their hard work and dedication that has helped our firm garner top recognition from U.S. News – Best Lawyers ‘Best Law Firms’ for the third consecutive year,” said John Simmons, chairman of Simmons Hanly Conroy. “This recognition means we are achieving success in making sure our clients – everyday people across the country – have a voice to stand up to corporate wrongdoers.”
    For the sixth consecutive year, Best Lawyers and U.S. News & World Report teamed up to rank U.S. law firms nationally and by metropolitan area. This year’s rankings cover 74 major legal practice areas nationwide and 122 metro practice areas in 185 metro areas. Firms listed in the “Best Law Firms” guide earned a high level of praise from leading lawyers and clients in their ranked practice areas for attributes including expertise, professionalism and responsiveness. To be eligible for a ranking in a particular practice area and metro region, a law firm must have at least one lawyer who is included in Best Lawyers in a particular practice area and metro area.
    The 2016 “Best Law Firms” rankings are published on the U.S. News & World Report website at http://BestLawFirms.USNews.com.
    
About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC
    
    Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms and has recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for plaintiffs. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Yaz and Toyota Unintended Acceleration. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.