With one alderman sidelined in quarantine, the Gillespie City Council voted unanimously Monday night to hire an interim city attorney to pinch hit for City Attorney Kevin Polo, held preliminary discussions regarding the fate of the Canna Theatre building and pledged to address deteriorating conditions at Big Brick City Park.
The meeting was held in the Gillespie Civic Center to allow for social distancing among city officials and guests. Ald. Jerry Dolliger, reportedly in quarantine, was absent. City Treasurer Dan Fisher and City Clerk Fran Smith participated via the Zoom remote conferencing platform.
On a motion by Ald. Rick Fulton, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Mayor John Hicks to contract with Carlinville attorney Dan O’Brien to serve temporarily as City Attorney while Polo is unavailable. Polo, reportedly recuperating from surgery, is expected to be absent one to two months. During that time, O’Brien will perform necessary legal services such as drafting proposed ordinances and resolutions, and advising the council on legal matters. The resolution notes that O’Brien, who currently serves as City Attorney for Carlinville, is an experienced city attorney.
O’Brien, who also is filling in for Polo with clients, said he will establish temporary hours at Polo’s Gillespie office and make himself accessible to city officials.
“I will try to do as good a job as he did,” O’Brien told the council, “though I’m sure I will fall short in that.”
CANNA THEATRE ISSUE
Previously owned and operated by the City of Gillespie, the century-old Canna Theatre has been offered back to the city, City Treasurer Fisher told the council. He said architect Dennis Schuette has inspected the structure and made note of several deficiencies, and he recommended deferring any decision on the fate of the building until after Schuette provides cost estimates for salvaging the building.
First opened as the Pert Theatre in October 1921, the theater was later purchased by the Frisina Amusement Co. and rechristened as the Lyric Theatre in 1930. Beginning in 1956, the theater was taken over by the Canna Anna civic group, which operated the movie house for several decades. The building was donated to the city in 2003. More recently, the Eisentraut Family of Hillsboro purchased the facility and operated it several years before transferring it to a local church which planned to renovate the building for use as a church and community theater.
Fisher said Schuette said the building needs new roofing on the south side and new brickwork on the west side. Most critically, he said, the building needs new guttering all around the top of the building. Deficient guttering, Fisher said, has allowed water to enter the walls of the brick and masonry structure.
“His opinion is that it’s salvageable but it probably doesn’t have much of a shelf life,” Fisher said of Schuette’s report. “If it goes another year or so, it may not be usable.”
Asked whether the building would have to meet federal Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, Fisher said that would depend upon how the building ultimately is used. If open to the public, he said an existing restroom in the building could be converted to a unisex, handicapped restroom with the other restroom serving as a unisex facility for non-disabled persons.
Fisher asked to put the issue on the agenda for action at a later date after Schuette provides cost estimates for needed repairs.
BIG BRICK PARK
Responding to comments from resident Elise Newman, Mayor John Hicks pledged to send workers to Big Brick Park to address facilities that reportedly have fallen into disrepair. The city announced on Tuesday that the park will be temporarily closed for maintenance.
Newman told the council that she lives next to the park and has observed broken playground equipment and weeds growing around the equipment. “The weeds are as tall as some of the kids playing there,” she said. She said some of the broken equipment has sharp edges that could pose a hazard for playing children.
“I’m not making excuses but we have so much grass to cut right now,” Ald. Frank Barrett commented.
“Our guys have been a little overwhelmed right now having to work on water main breaks,” Ald. Dona Rauzi concurred. Rauzi also commented that a Queen of Hearts game that has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic has pledged some of its proceeds to support city parks.
“Part of it may be that the park technically was supposed to closed until a couple of weeks ago for COVID,” Hicks said. “We’ll get someone down there to look at and see what needs to be done.”
Newman said she’d be happy to volunteer her time to pick up trash and help maintain the park, and Hicks told her such assistance from residents is always welcome.
GOLF CART FEES
The council tabled Ald. Barrett’s suggestion to pro-rate first-year permit fees for persons wishing to operate golf carts and similar vehicles for transportation within the city limits. The council recently approved an ordinance to allow residents to use golf carts in the city limits. Among other requirements, the new ordinance requires the purchase of a $100 annual permit. Since the year is more than half over, Barrett suggested pro-rating the permit fee at $50 for the first year.
City Treasurer Fisher objected to the measure, pointing out that the $100 fee is low when compared to other communities and that the city incurred substantial “start-up” costs to implement the program.
“If someone doesn’t want to pay the $100 this year, they can wait and buy a permit for next year,” he said.
Mayor Hicks pointed out that the ordinance specifies a $100 fee for the permit and questioned whether or not the city could charge a pro-rated fee without amending the ordinance.
Acting City Attorney O’Brien told the council the city should not issue any permits until it has established points at which golf cart users can cross Route 4. Those crossing points will be subject to approval by the Illinois Department of Transportation and will need signage to mark them.
“See,” Hicks said, “we’re not ready to start doing this anyway.”
CITY-WIDE NOTIFICATION SYSTEM
On a motion by Ald. Dave Tucker, seconded by Ald. Barrett, the council voted unanimously to purchase and implement a city-wide notification system to issue notifications regarding boil orders, water main breaks and other emergencies when needed. Tucker said the system is a computer-based system that residents will be able to go online and sign up for. Once enrolled, residents will automatically get city notifications when needed.
“This is a way we can get the information to our customers,” Tucker said. In the event of a boil order, he said the system can be modified to send the notification only to households affected by the boil order.
The cost of the system is about $1 per customer, Tucker said. He estimated an annual cost of $1,500 to $1,800, plus a one-time set-up cost of $350.
COAL MUSEUM LEASE AMENDMENT
On a motion by Ald. Barrett, the council agreed to amend an agreement to lease the former United Community Bank building to the Illinois Coal Mining Museum. The amendment increases the term of the lease from one year to 25 years, which will make the museum eligible to apply for a $30,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Ald. Tucker, who abstained from the vote due to his position on the museum board, said the amendment will not preclude the city from evicting the museum if the building is sold during the term of the lease. The lease includes a provision for the city to revoke the lease with a notice of 120 days.
EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT
The city informally agreed to support an Eagle Scout project proposed by Justin Spencer of Troy to place a welcome sign along Illinois Route 16 on the city’s west side. The city agreed to support the concept but took no action to help Spencer fund the project. Spencer said he will raise about half of the $1,000 cost of the project and asked if the city would underwrite the remaining $500.
Mayor Hicks recommended that Spencer work with a local civic organization to obtain the shortfall.
The sign, which will read “Welcome to Gillespie—Home of the Miners,” will be erected on school district property next to a storage building on the north side of Illinois Route 16. Spencer obtained permission from the Board of Education last month to proceed with the project.
City Treasurer Fisher advised Spencer that he should also consult with the Illinois Department of Transportation to ascertain regulations regarding minimum set-backs for signage located along state highways.
In other action, the council:
- Approved a pay request totaling $320,070.36 to Haier Plumbing and Heating, Okawville, and Curry and Associates Engineers, Jerseyville, for work completed to date on an ongoing project to replace water lines within the city.
- Following a 20-minute executive session, voted to hire Zachary Besserman for a position at the city’s water treatment plant and Ethan Martin for a Public Works Department position.
- Approved the mayor’s reappointment of Brian Page, Mary Fritz and Kathy Ruyle to the Public Library Board of Trustees, and the appointment of Artie Herron to replace Mary Hicks, who recently resigned from the board.