With a new city attorney in place, the Gillespie City Council on Monday night voted to draft a resolution dealing with public nuisance properties and heard from a group of Gillespie Middle School students advocating for volunteerism to address community issues.
Early in the meeting, Mayor John Hicks introduced Rick Verticchio as his appointment to the position of City Attorney following the recent resignation of former City Attorney Dan O’Brien. O’Brien, who also recently resigned as the Carlinville City Attorney, had served Gillespie since March 2021 after long-serving City Attorney Kevin Polo resigned for health reasons. Verticchio represents several other area municipalities, including Benld.
After a few minutes of discussion, the council directed Verticchio to prepare a draft resolution to codify procedures for declaring derelict properties “public nuisances,” and outlining protocol for abating the nuisances. The move represents a more aggressive stance on the part of the city for cleaning up derelict properties. In recent years, Verticchio has helmed Benld’s legal efforts to compel property owners to clean up nuisance properties. The Gillespie resolution, expected to come up for consideration next month, probably will outline parameters for declaring a public nuisance, outline time frames to allow property owners to correct situations on their properties, and detail procedures for taking property to court.
SIXTH GRADERS OFFER INPUT
Gillespie Middle School teacher Kim Henderson appeared before the council with several of her sixth-grade students involved in a class assignment focussing on community improvement. “I like to get my kids involved in community service,” she said. Three of her students accompanied her to read from an essay they wrote dealing with building “a bigger, better Gillespie.”
Henderson, who also is a member of the Grow Gillespie group, said she surveyed her students to identify their primary concerns regarding community development. Their No. 1 concern was cleaning up trash, and providing trash receptacles and recycling bins in public areas. Next on the students’ list was improving and expanding parks to provide recreational opportunities. Finishing out the list was helping the food pantry and getting illegal drugs off the streets. Henderson said she did not prompt the students in any way, allowing them to prioritize their concerns without influence.
Reading from their essay, Gillian Smith called for improvements to city parks. She suggested replacing Big Brick Park with a bigger, better park, and taking steps to clean up and maintain tennis courts. “Without places to play and hang out, Gillespie will not be a bigger, better community,” she read.
Sophie Knetzer read a paragraph emphasizing volunteerism for community improvement. Volunteers, she read, could be recruited for tasks such as picking up trash. “Volunteerism would be an amazing way to make Gillespie a bigger, better community,” she read. Carla Bruhn read a concluding paragraph calling for widespread community involvement.
Before introducing her students, Henderson expressed her own concerns about keeping downtown streets and sidewalks clean and presentable.
“As a business owner, I think it’s important to have clean streets,” she said. She cited accumulations of dirt at the curb where it apparently has been deposited by street sweeping operations. Additionally, she was critical of using weed eaters to trim around planters and sidewalk cracks because the equipment can pick up rocks and damage windows.
Henderson recalled an experience when she stopped to assist several older women who were picking up trash and cleaning planters downtown. She said she helped them load debris into her truck to haul away, which the women appreciated.
“I don’t think that should be the job of 70- and 80-year-old ladies,” she said. “That should be done by street workers.”
Mayor Hicks commented that volunteer efforts are always welcome but volunteerism “is a thing that has gone by the wayside.”
“We need to get more people involved in volunteering,” Hicks said, adding that volunteerism can be contagious. He recalled an incident when he and his wife started cleaning up trash and performing minor maintenance tasks downtown. People started stopping and asking what they were doing. “They’d say, ‘Let me run home and get my shovel and rack, and by the end of the day we had 50 people working.”
Ald. Bob Fritz reported he had solicited a bid from a concrete contractor to repair numerous sidewalks that incurred damage during the water infrastructure improvement project. The vendor, whose identity was not disclosed, offered an estimate of $76,000 to make all of the necessary repairs.
“First of all, $76,000 is too much to award to one person without a bidding process,” said City Treasurer Dan Fisher. “If we paid for it with Water Department money, it has to go by Rural Development (the federal agency that underwrote the project with grants and loan
Ald. Landon Pettit said the repairs might take several years to complete, advocating for doing the project in phases to spread out the cost. Moreover, Ald. Wendy Rolando said each alderman should survey their wards to compile a list of all sidewalks damaged during the project to ensure the city makes repairs to all sidewalks that need them.
“I’d like to compile a list, along with photographs, and let people bid on it,” Hicks agreed. Fisher said the list probably should be submitted to the city engineer and possibly bid as an alternate project in conjunction with the Streetscape program. He said engineers plan to seek bids for the first phase of the Streetscape project in June with an eye toward awarding the contract in July. Phase One will focus on renovating the sewer system in downtown Gillespie by replacing sewer lines that need to be replaced and relining areas where relining is appropriate. The scope of work, once awarded, is expected to take about 45 days.
While no action was taken on the issue, Fritz objected to making sidewalk repairs on a piecemeal basis. “It’s not fair to take care of one place and not another,” he said.
In a related issue, the council voted to reimburse $6,257.80 to Sarah Bertelli for sewer repairs at her home in the 300 block of Western Street. Ald. Dona Rauzi said the repairs were required as a result of damage caused by the water infrastructure improvement project. The reimbursement includes the cost of equipment rental and more than $6,000 paid for work done by RotoRooter.
Hicks urged residents who have damage they suspect was caused by the project to contract the Street Department first to see if city workers can resolve the issue before attempting repairs themselves.
The council voted to contract with Hank’s Pest Control to oversee mosquito fogging operations and complete state-required paperwork for the summer season. The action comes after learning the pesticide applicator license held by the city has expired and no window for renewal exists before spraying will be required. Under the arrangement, a licensed individual will ride along during fogging operations using the city’s truck and chemicals. Hanks Pest Control will then complete paperwork to submit to state authorities.
The cost will be $75 per hour with a three-hour minimum.
LAKE INTERNET SERVICE
The council voted unanimously to switch from Frontier to an independent vendor to provide 4G internet access at the Gillespie Lake Office. Ald. Rauzi said the Frontier has been charging $85 per month, compared with $160 the city will pay for 4G service but the city can suspend service during winter months when the office isn’t open,
Lake Manager Gary Thornhill said the Frontier service is often unreliable, especially when processing credit cards or debit cards.
“How much money do we lose due to the internet service?” Ald. Pettit asked.
“Sometimes I have to send them into town to get money and they don’t come back,” Thornill said. “In a busy month, I’d say it can be up to $1,000.”
In other action, the council:
- Voted to formally grant permission to High School Cross-Country Coach Jay Weber to use public facilities such as the bike trail, soccer fields and railroad right-of-way for cross-country training.
- Authorized hiring two summer workers for the Street Department.
- Gave permission to close a portion of East Chestnut Street for a Corvette show to be held May 14 in conjunction with a 5K run scheduled for the same day.
- Authorized the purchase of six metal panels at a cost of $40 each to make repairs to a damaged section of the exterior wall at the Civic Center.