Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night heard concerns from residents about the possibility of a half-way house opening within a residential neighborhood but the lion’s share of the meeting was devoted to executive session discussions leading up to a 5-2 vote to terminate a Water Department employee.
The council met behind closed doors for more than an hour before voting to terminate the worker on a motion made by Ald. Frank Barrett and seconded by Ald. Bill Hayes, Barrett, Dave Tucker, Dona Rauzi and Wendy Rolando voted to approve the termination. Ald. Rick Fulton and Ald. Jerry Dolliger voted against the termination.
The termination, however, is contingent upon whether or not the Laborers Union, which represents city workers, agrees to extend the employee’s probation time. The employee reportedly was within two days of completing a standard 60-day probation period during which an employee can be fired without cause. The council agreed to suspend the termination if the union agrees to extend the employee’s probationary period for an unspecified amount of time. There was no discussion in open session about whether or not the employee would be able to keep his job at the end of the extended probationary period.
The employee attended Monday night’s meeting, and was accompanied by the local union steward. Both met with council members during the executive session. No union officials, however, attended the meeting so no one was immediately available with authority to say whether or not the union would consider extending the employee’s probationary period.
Following the vote, the council returned to executive session reportedly to continue discussions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to terminate the employee.
In other personnel action, the council approved a revised contract for Public Works employees calling for an across the board wage increase of 75 cents per hour.
Council members also unanimously approved a new three-year contract for dispatchers in the Police Department. The contract, which is retroactive to Jan. 3, establishes step increases for longevity in five-year increments and sets hourly wage increases of 50 cents in the first year of the contract and 25 cents for each of the last two years.
The council also approved a request from Police Chief Jared DePoppe to seek applicants for a full-time police officer position.
HALFWAY HOUSE CONTROVERSY
Paul Madden acted as spokesperson for residents in his neighborhood who object to the possibility of a former church being converted to a halfway house to be operated by the Macoupin County Public Health Department. Madden said Dave Manning acquired title to the former Sinai Lutheran Church on Chestnut Street with the intention of opening a business in the building. Madden said Manning has since been approached by Kent Tarro, County Health Department Director, about the possibility of using the space for a halfway house.
“I’ve talked to pretty much all my neighbors and we’re all against it,” Madden said. “We all pay taxes and we don’t want it. I understand a halfway house may be a necessary thing but I don’t think a residential neighborhood is the place for it.”
Madden expressed concerns about safety because a number of residents in the area have young children living at home. Ageless and Dingers, both located in the area, also have underage youths among their clients, Madden pointed out.
A halfway house is defined as a facility that allows people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities, or persons with criminal backgrounds, to learn or relearn skills necessary for them to reintegrate into society and better support and care for themselves. There has been no word from the county on whether or not the facility would accommodate persons with criminal backgrounds.
Mayor John Hicks told Madden the city has not been contacted about the proposal but since the area is zoned as a residential area, a special use permit would be required.
“Before they could do this, he would have to apply to the Zoning Board for a conditional use permit,” Hicks said, “and then the council would have the final decision.”
“They would have to go to everyone living within 500 feet to see if everyone is on board with it,” said Ald. Fulton, who serves on the Zoning Board. “If the Zoning Board says ‘no,’ that’s it.”
City Treasurer Dan Fisher, however, pointed out that the petitioners would have a right to appeal to the city council if the Zoning Board denies the petition.
“That’s why the council can’t take a position before it goes to the Zoning Board,” Fisher said. “It would be like an appellate court telling a trial court how it should rule.”
Madden asked City Attorney Kevin Polo if the council could pre-emptively enact an ordinance to ban halfway houses in the city. Polo said such an action could expose the city to liability depending upon what steps may have been taken toward establishing the facility.
“There’s been a lot of litigation about essentially changing the rules in midstream,” Polo said. “At this point we don’t know what actions, if any, have been taken.” In the meantime, he assured Madden that any business seeking to locate in a residential area would have to petition the Zoning Board for a special use permit.
BLACK DIAMOND DAYS
Landon Pettit, representing the Black Diamond Days committee, briefed the council on developing plans for this year’s Black Diamond Days festival set for June 5-7. Last year’s event with no carnival was less successful than previous editions of the festival. For this year, Pettit said the committee will return to the tried and true.
“Things will be pretty much like they were before,” he said.
Pettit said the committee signed a one-year contract with American Banner Amusements, Marine, to provide rides and games, so the carnival appearing for Black Diamond Days will be different from the one playing Italian-American Days a week earlier in Benld. Local food vendors will move back to the area near the city hall, along with the beer tent and entertainment.
Pettit said the committee also plans a repeat of its Labor Day Weekend Bash at Gillespie Lake based upon the success of last year’s event. Given issues over city workers helping with preparations with the Labor Day event, Pettit asked if it would be permissible for city workers to lend a hand getting ready for Black Diamond Days. In the past, the city has authorized city workers to assist with setting up the stage, moving picnic tables and other tasks.
“We’ve been doing this for more than 40 years,” said Ald. Dolliger, who also serves on the Black Diamond Days Committee. “We put thousands of dollars back into the community. We don’t have the manpower to do everything without the city’s help.”
NUISANCE PROPERTY SOLD
Council members accepted a bid of $1,500 from Harold Besserman to purchase a derelict home located at 205 Francis Street. The city declared the home a public nuisance last year and obtained court permission to abate the nuisance. Clean-up cost in the neighborhood of $8,000 and the city secured title to the property after filing a lien.
A previous attempt to sell the house failed to attract any bidders, in part because of a contract-for-deed provision that would have required the new owner to pay prevailing wages for anyone working on the house. Although a revised contract eliminated that provision, Besserman was the only bidder, submitting his bid earlier Monday just 90 minutes before the deadline.
Under terms of the contract, Besserman is to have the home up to code and ready for habitation within six months.
STREET DEPARTMENT ROOF
On a motion by Ald. Tucker, the council approved the purchase of $3,478.55 in metal to replace the roof on the Street Department building. City workers, including Lake Maintenance Supervisor Gary Thornhill, will provide the labor to install the material. Mayor Hicks said the option to replace the roof with metal was more cost-effective than a bid the city received to replace the roof with a membrane.
“It will give us a better roof for less money,” Hicks said.
The work is expected to be completed prior to opening of the recreational season at the lake in order to not interfere with Thornhill’s other duties.
Council members authorized the Police Department to apply for a USDA grant to cover 55 percent of the purchase cost for a new squad car. Chief DePoppe said the new vehicle will replace a Ford Crown Victoria with a bad transmission. He said new parts are no longer available for the Ford and that a used transmission would cost about $1,400, excluding labor for installation. A new vehicle on a state bid comes with a price tag of $34,985.
The USDA grant is a matching grant requiring the city to fund 45 percent of the cost.
“I know squad cars are very expensive, but they’re necessary,” DePoppe told the council.
WOOD BURNING STOVE ORDINANCE
The council approved an amended city ordinance requiring residents with wood-burning stoves to install a chimney taller than neighboring buildings if there is less than 100 feet in distance between the chimney and neighboring properties. The ordinance was drafted in response to a complaint regarding smoke from a wood-burning stove encroaching on a neighbor’s property.
In other action, the council:
- Authorized Ald. Rauzi to approach the Gillespie-Benld Area Ambulance Service and Unit 7 Fire Protection District to ask for a donation to help defray the cost of the city providing 24/7 dispatching services for those first-responder services.
- Agreed to participate in a grant program administered by Ameren-Illinois to replace more than 250 high efficiency light bulbs at the Water Treatment Plant with LED bulds at a cost of $1,758. Without the grant, the cost of replacing the bulbs would be about $4,500.
- Tabled a proposal on a recommendation by City Treasurer Fisher from Fleming-Tawfall & Co. to perform the annual city audit.
- Tabled a measure to impose a water rate increase on municipalities that have not yet signed renewal contracts with the city to provide water. Most previous satellite communities have signed 40-year contracts with the exception of Lake KaHo and the Village of Dorchester, both of which plan to acquire water from other sources in the future.
- Signed an intergovernmental agreement with the Village of Wilsonville to supply water for the next 40 years under terms of a contract approved last month by the Wilsonville Village Board.
- Approved resolutions authorizing the expenditure of Tax Increment Financing funds in the amount of $2,107.29 for a new furnace at the Illinois Coal Museum, and $2,744.49 for carpeting at the museum. Ald. Tucker, a member of the museum board, abstained from the vote.
- Approved payments totaling $370,419.02 for work completed on the water infrastructure replacement project to general contractor Haier Plumbing and Heating, engineers Curry & Associates, and City Attorney Polol.