The Cairo Project -- a report by the students of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

What is the Matter, part 1 What is the Matter, part 2 What is the Matter, part three What is the Matter, part four Download PDF
What is the Matter with Cairo?
Cair Can Be...

Photo by Claudette Roulo.

The painted windows of Switzer Automotive reflect an abandoned liquor store on Commercial Street.

Part Four

“They like to have broke us,” said Karl Klein, a candidate for mayor in 2007 and former manager of CPU. Klein currently works as a consultant for the company. “Especially during election years. Council members would try to get rates down as low as possible to get better election results,” he said. “This really hurt us.”

After months of negotiations, on Dec. 21, 1995 the Cairo city council signed a lease agreement with Cairo Public Utility Company. Karl Klein and his nephew Larry Klein agreed to pay the city a little more than $600,000 annually over 33 years to independently operate the facility. In return, the company got its own board of directors and could set rates. No city council member was allowed to sit on the board of directors, and the city had no say in rates charged.

Amid cries of injustice and claims by Cairo residents that rates are only helping the rich get richer and poor get poorer; city officials have pondered what path to take. Judson Childs, who was elected mayor in 2007, said he does not know what the city will do about the power company. City Treasurer Preston Ewing said options include breaking the lease signed between the city and utility company or even selling the company to help get the city back on its feet.

Tired of Being a Whipping Boy

What is wrong with Cairo? The people of Cairo are tired of this question. As welcoming as the residents are toward strangers, they long ago tired of being the whipping boy - the gossip - for southern Illinois.

Former Cairo Mayor Wilson says, “We know that we have problems. It's how to go about fixing them, how to get people to work together - now that is the real question. Sometimes people get tired of other people coming in and telling us we have a problem and how to go about fixing it.”

Farrow, the former Chamber of Commerce president, agrees.

“We get tired of people constantly asking, ‘What is the matter with Cairo?’,” she said. “Yes, we have our problems. But what city doesn't? I guess that is the myth I hate the most, that Cairo is a bad town. But the media only show up when something bad happens. There are good things in Cairo. There are a lot of good things, but you never hear about them. So I think people's perception of Cairo is a little off sometimes.”

There is talk around town these days of bio-diesel plants and coal gasification operations. But mostly this seems to be talk.

Still there are tangible changes. After the 2007 elections, city government seems to be escaping the state of dysfunction. New faces sit on the city council, including a new mayor.

The May 26 meeting of the new city council was much different than the cold February one. Police didn't use wands on citizens entering the meeting. There was a roll call. For the first time in months, everybody was there. And the agenda was only one page long.

The city had begun to function again.

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