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Gillespie Council attempts to mediate between feuding lake residents

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Two families feuding at Gillespie Lake appeared before the council Monday. Julie Gerecke (right) and William Jolene Mermis (left) have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone.

Gillespie City Council’s Lake Committee will conduct a hearing in an attempt to mediate between two feuding families who hold lot leases at Gillespie Lake after both couples appeared during the council’s regular monthly meeting Monday night.

Before either party addressed the council, Lake Committee Chair Ald. Frank Barrett told the council, “This is about two families who don’t get along at the lake.” Over the past two years, Barrett said, he, other Lake Committee members and Lake Manager Gary Thornhill have attempted unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute. “Neither one of them has really done anything wrong,” Ald. Landon Pettit, a former Lake Committee member, said. “They just don’t get along. They really don’t need to be next to each other.” Neither party, both of whom lease double lots, has any interest in moving to another location.

Julie Gerecke, who holds a lake lot lease with her husband, Tony, said her family and the neighboring family, William and Jolene Mermis, have an agreement to not talk to one another and leave each other alone. Despite that agreement, however, Gerecke alleged the Mermises have called the city to complain about the Gereckes on 60 different occasions. Gerecke claimed the complaints ranged from the Gerecke’s mowing their grass to their children saying “hello” to the neighbors. The complaints, she said, were all unfounded except one when she forgot a bag of trash. Before she could retrieve the bag, however, the neighbors photographed it and reported it to the city.

Gerecke further complained that Jolene Mermis sometimes drives past their cabin and “growls” at her children.

“We don’t go back and forth and we don’t converse,” Gerecke said. “We had an agreement not to talk and for us to be left alone. We’re tired of it and finally brought it to you. We’re trying to enjoy our time with our kids.”

Bill Mermis told the council that none of Gerecke’s allegations were true.

“The stories being told here are wildly inaccurate,” Jolene Mermis concurred. She claimed a friend of Julie Greece verbally belittled her younger son while she and her son were floating on the lake in front of their cabin.

Both couples alluded to an incident last weekend when the Mermises hosted an ice hockey event on the lake at their cabin. Their adult sons are professional hockey players and reportedly participated in the event. “We thought it would be fun to host an event for the community,” Jolene Mermis said.

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Neither couple was able to describe what actually happened as the council turned the discussion to resolving issues between the two families.

“This is a court matter,” City Attorney Rick Verticchio advised. “There’s nothing this body can do other than possibly take a vote to not renew either of your leases. Short of that, there’s nothing we can do here. The court will issue a no-contact injunction, and if either of you violates the injunction, you will go to jail. That generally is enough to stop the problem.”

Mayor John Hicks suggested a hearing before the Lake Committee.

“I think the Lake Committee should have a hearing,” Verticchio agreed. “But they may decide these people can’t get along and we don’t want that at the lake, and revoke both of your leases.”

Ald. Barrett told the couples who would notify them when a hearing is scheduled. The committee includes Barrett, Ald. Bill Hayes and Ald. Dave Link. Verticchio said he also will attend the hearing.

The council also referred to the Lake Committee to rule on whether or not to rescind a ban issued two decades ago. Former resident Casey Smith, who now lives in Tennessee near Gatlinburg, said he recently inherited his grandmother’s mobile home at the lake and needs to have access to the property to remove her personal property and either sell or renovate the mobile home.

Smith said his grandmother, Rita Smith, took him in soon after his father drowned at the lake in 1993 while the father and son were fishing together. When he was 17, he said, the city banned him from the lake due to repeated behavior issues.

“I put her through hell and I regret that, but she never gave up on me,” Smith said. Now 37, he pledged to the council that he is “not the 17-year-old” he was 20 years ago. He said he is married and raising children of his own.

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Rita Smith died Oct. 29 as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash. She left her mobile home to her grandson.

“I want to pay the lease for at least one year, and by next year, I’ll decide whether to sell it or keep it for a vacation spot,” Smith said, noting that he lives eight hours away.

In a related matter, the council voted unanimously to give the Lake Committee authority to decide whether to seek a “soft” background check or a more detailed state police background check for applicants seeking to lease lake lots. Ald. Barrett said the more extensive state police check can take weeks to complete, while the “soft” checks can be done in-house.

Ald. Pettit noted said Gillespie is the only lake around that does a background check on lessees.

“We’re the only lake around that does a background check,” Ald. Pettit noted. He recommended adding a clause to the lease agreement to inform renters they may be subject to a background check, and that their lease will be revoked if it is discovered they misrepresented their background.

In other action, the council approved an ordinance to eliminate limits on the number of liquor licenses the city can issue, approved an ordinance establishing the fee for lake residents to tap onto a new water line at the lake, and authorized the Chief of Police to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling two existing vacancies on the police force.

LIQUOR LICENSES

After brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to amend the city’s ordinance regarding liquor licenses to eliminate limitations on the number of licenses issued. The amendment enables the city to issue as many licenses as it deems appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved issuing the city’s last liquor license to Gotcha Latte. Ald. Dona Rauzi said the owner doesn’t plan to add a bar to his business but wanted the ability to offer his customers Irish coffees.  Without amending the existing ordinance later in the meeting, the city would have no more liquor licenses available for issuance.

Ald. Link, who holds a liquor license for his downtown business, voted “present” on the issue.

WATER TAP FEES

On a motion by Ald. Pettit, seconded by Ald. Barrett, the council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance to establish tap-on fees for a new water line under construction at Gillespie Lake. Under terms of the ordinance lake residents can pay a tap-on fee of $600 prior to May 31, 2025. After May 31, 2025, the fee will increase to $2,000—the same as the tap-on fee for residents within the city limits.

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The provisions are designed to encourage lake residents to commit to tapping onto the line while it is under construction to eliminate unnecessary excavation.

The council also voted unanimously to approve an ordinance formalizing an action it took last month to increase water rates. The ordinance calls for the addition of a $1 surcharge, increasing by $1 for the next six months and culminating in a total $12 surcharge on the base, minimum water bill. The ordinance also contains provisions to increase the bulk rate charge to satellite communities, which satellites presumably will pass on to their customers.

WATER BILL ISSUES

Ald. Dona Rauzi reported the city has experienced problems with the timely delivery of water bills in the mail. The problem appears to be with the St. Louis Post Office through which mail from Gillespie is routed before coming back for delivery.

“If you don’t receive a water bill by the first of the month, please contact the city,” she advised water customers.

POLICE HIRES

Following a 20-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues, council members unanimously approved Police Chief Jared DePoppe’s request to send two candidates to the police academy for full-time officers, with an eye toward filling existing vacancies on the police force. The identities of the candidates were not disclosed. Typically, full-time officers are recruited from the pool of part-time officers.

The council also informally authorized DePoppe to solicit bids for equipping all local officers with body cameras. DePoppe said state law requires all municipal police officers to have body cameras as of Jan. 1, 2025. He said there are at least two grant programs available to subsidize the cost of the new cameras, but both programs are “reimbursement” grants that will require the city to purchase the cameras upfront with local funds.

According to DePoppe, tentative cost estimates range from $10,000 to $15,000 for the cameras. His plan is to apply for grant funding early this year to avoid a possible glut of applications in October, November and December as other municipalities race to comply with the law by Jan. 1.

AIRBNBs & NUISANCE PROPERTY ISSUES

On the recommendation of the City Attorney and Ald. Rauzi, the council adopted an ordinance identical to one approved by the Benld City Council to govern operation of short-term residential rentals, commonly known as Airbnbs.

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Rauzi said her goal was to ensure such units are inspected by the housing inspector at least once a year. “The Airbnbs need to be inspected at least once a year, just like regular rental properties,” she said.

“What works for Benld should work for us, plus it will make it easier for our police officers to enforce,” Ald. Pettit commented. Verticchio also serves as Benld City Attorney and drafted the ordinance adopted in Benld. Gillespie Police patrol the City of Benld under a contractual agreement between the cities.

Provisions of the new ordinance include:

  • A mandatory $100 annual license for each person operating one or more Air B&Bs.
  • An initial housing inspection at a cost of $75, plus an annual $50 inspection thereafter for each property offered for short-term rental.
  • Units must be rented a minimum of two nights with a maximum of 14 nights to be considered short-term rentals.
  • A hospitality tax of four percent or $25 per night, whichever is less.
  • A minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance with the city named as secondary insured.

Council members voted unanimously to execute a special municipal deed conveying a city-owned residential property at 608 Adams Street to Nick Harrison for $3,750. The residence was acquired by the city via court order after the council declared it a public nuisance. Verticchio said the city agreed to sell it to Harrison on the condition that he renovate the derelict house to abate the nuisance. The $3,750 represents what the city had spent on the property for legal expenses.

The council also voted unanimously to accept a bid of $2,000 from Felix and Cynthia Bertolino to purchase city-owned property at 503 West Chestnut Street.

A burned-out house at 806 Rotary Street was declared a public nuisance by a unanimous vote. The owner reportedly is currently incarcerated in Macoupin County Jail. Verticchio said he plans to talk to the owner about the possibility of him simply donating the property to the city to avoid the legal costs associated with condemnation proceedings.

REVISED MFT RESOLUTION

On a motion by Ald. Bob Fritz, the council unanimously an approved a revised Motor Fuel Tax resolution presented by City Treasurer Dan Fisher. Fisher initially presented a resolution last month but the council declined to approve it after Fritz and other aldermen pointed out what appeared to be errors in calculating the minimum amount of money needed for the city’s annual street maintenance program. Among other issues, Fritz alleged the engineering firm who prepared the resolution underestimated the cost of petroleum-based materials.

The revised resolution increases the appropriation request from $525,000 to $600,000. The resolution now goes to the Illinois Department of Transportation for final approval.

SEWER REPAIR REIMBURSEMENT

The council voted to reimburse Brad and Jamie Bunn $400 they spent to resolve a sewer issue that ultimately turned out to have been caused by a blockage in the main sewer line. The issue was referred to the committee last month after Brad Bunn appeared before the council. At that time Bunn reported he hired Ranger Excavating to dig up his sewer line after the sewer backed up into his basement. It was later determined the main line was clogged, requiring city workers to jet the line three times to dislodge the blockage.

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City Treasurer Fisher said last month that the city’s policy in the past has been not to reimburse homeowners in such situations.

“This wasn’t our fault,” Bunn told the council Monday night. “As soon as the main line was unclogged, our line cleared out.”

Fisher told the Bunns that the sewer line serving their home is likely to be replaced sometime in the future. He said the city is planning to apply for grant money to undertake a major project to replace sewer lines throughout the city, but he admitted that project is probably four to six years in the future. Fisher again noted city policy prohibits paying for back-ups.

“We probably need to review that policy so we can deal with situations like this on a case-by-case basis,” Fisher said. “I think we ought to reimburse them, but we need to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. We need to have documentation so we can be consistent in the future.”

Ald. Pettit moved to reimburse the Bunns and refer the existing policy to committee for review. That motion passed with Ald. Wendy Ottersburg voting “present.”

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

  • Approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and Community Unit School District 7 allowing the school district to capture a percentage of the proceeds from a newly established Tax Increment Financing district. Under the agreement, the school district will get one percent of the first $25,000, plus 20 percent of proceeds in excess of that amount.
  • Voted to approve an amendment to an agreement with Macoupin County, the cities of Bunker Hill, Staunton, Carlinville and Gillespie, and the Village of Royal Lakes, which facilitates an expansion of an existing Enterprise Zone in the City of Staunton.
  • Discussed proposed construction of a new 7,200-square-foot city garage. Mayor Hicks said he is awaiting plans to establish bidding specifications for the project. The new building will have six overhead garage doors facing the street, along with a truck-washing bay. Fisher said the city may be able to use surplus COVID relief funds to pay for the building.
  • Set the date and time for the city’s annual Easter Egg Hunt for 10 a.m., Saturday, March 23, at Big Brick Park.
  • Agreed to purchase an ad in the Gillespie High School yearbook.

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Court News

Macoupin County Courthouse News

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Cases filed during July 7 through July 13. Visit the “Court News” category under the “Community News” tab for other editions.

FELONIES

Timothy D. Conlee, 29 of Gillespie, is charged with aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer, driving on a suspended license, and reckless driving in connection with a July 6 incident.

Dylan J. Arview, 25 of Benld, is charged with driving under the influence while license revoked or suspending, DUI, driving on a suspended license and driving 15-20 mph above the limit in connection with a July 5 incident.

Bobby L. Walker, 35 of Sorento, is charged with driving revoked/suspended with a DUI, driving on revoked license, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, displayed registration plate, and expired registration in connection with a June 27 incident.

Dustin W. Gooch, 34 of Beecher City, is charged with aggravated fleeing/bodily injury, unlawful display of a title, improper use of registration/title, operating an uninsured motor vehicle, and registration light in connection with a June 17 incident.

MISDEMEANORS

Jordan A. Black, 24 of Gillespie, is charged with battery/causing bodily harm in connection with a July 8 incident.

Dustin R. Stieglitz, 37 of Shipman, is charged with aggravated assault/use of a deadly weapon in connection to a June 29 incident.

Steven A. Kroll, 33 of Eagarville, is charged with resisting a peace officer, fire fighter, or corrections employee in connection with a June 26 incident.

TRAFFIC

David B. Brown, 58 of Virden, is charged with cancelled/revoked/suspended registration in connection with a July 3 incident.

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Jennifer L. Roberts, 47 of Worden, is charged with driving on a suspended license and operating an uninsured motor vehicle in connection with July 5 incident.

Andrew L. Connoyer, 31 of Bethalto, is charged with improper use of registration, driving 15-20 mph above the limit, and no valid registration in connection with July 7 incident.

Megan E. Bertoldi, 37 of Gillespie, is charged with leaving the scene in connection with July 11 incident.

DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE FILED

  • Tasha McQuay versus David McQuay

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School board disciplines staff member; hires AD and Student Services Coordinator

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In a relatively brief meeting Monday night, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education approved a “resolution of remedial warning” against an unidentified district teacher, and hired a new Student Services Coordinator and Athletic Director.

The actions followed an 80-minute executive session during which board members presumably primarily discussed personnel issues. The regular monthly meeting of the board was moved up by one week to fill key positions, such as the Athletic Director and Student Services Coordinator, prior to the start of the school year next month. The district was taken by surprise when former Student Services Coordinator Stephanie Bray and Athletic Director Mike Bertagnolli both announced their retirements within days of each other.

Supt. Shane Owsley said the resolution of remedial warning is a disciplinary action representing “a second strike, so to speak.” Neither the teacher or the nature of the infraction was disclosed in open session.

In other action, the board, voted unanimously to hire Shelsie Timmermeier as the district’s Student Services Coordinator for the 2024-25 school year, stepping into the vacancy created by Bray’s retirement, pending confirmation of certification and a background check. In a separate action, the board also appointed Timmermeier as an assistant high school women’s volleyball coach.

Jeremy Smith was hired, also by a unanimous vote, as the district’s Athletic Director for the 2024-25 school year. In a related matter, Smith’s resignation as middle school head baseball coach was accepted. Additionally, the board posted the coaching position as vacant for the coming school year.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Dennis Tiburzi, the board hired Alex Jasper as a high school social science teacher for the coming school year. The board also voted unanimously to hire Tate Wargo as a first-year, non-tenured physical education instructor, pending confirmation of certification. Both positions were vacated as a result of the sudden resignation of Dalton Barnes in April as head football coach, physical education teacher and social science teacher. 

In related matters, the board also hired Wargo Monday night as an eighth grade boy’s basketball coach, and accepted Jasper’s resignation as a district paraprofessional and posted the position as vacant.

In other personnel action, the board:

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  • Hired Amanda Ewin as a one-on-one aide.
  • Hired Anthony Kravanya as a freshman men’s basketball coach.
  • Appointed Melissa Heigert as a volunteer assistant high school softball coach.

In other action, the board gave routine approval to a list of policies provided by the Illinois State Board of Education. 

Supt. Owsley also provided a brief update on the progress being made on safety projects expected to be completed before the start of the school year, including installation of a new intercom system, a card-reader entry system and shatter-proof protective film on exterior windows.

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Community News

Gillespie Library, United Community Bank to host Fraud and Scam Prevention seminar on July 22

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Gillespie Public Library (Photo by Gillespie Public Library)

Friends of the Gillespie Public Library and United Community Bank are hosting a joint “Fraud and Scam Prevention” seminar at on Monday, July 22 starting at 6 p.m. at the Gillespie Public Library.

The seminar will focus on today’s common scams and frauds, which includes imposter and check scams, money mule fraud and those that target seniors. Presenters will be Jenni Alepra of Gillespie UCB and Kennen Bertolis of Carlinville UCB.

The seminar is open to the public and is free of charge. For additional questions, call the Gillespie Public Library at 217-839-3614.

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