Members of the Gillespie City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to authorize City Attorney Rick Verticchio to send a notice of the city’s intention to sue to Haier Plumbing and Heating, Okawville, the general contractor for the city’s $10 million water infrastructure improvement project completed nearly two years ago.
The action followed a 15-minute executive session to discuss legal issues.
The potential lawsuit stems from the company’s alleged failure to pay more than $32,700 in property damage claims stemming from Haier’s work in Gillespie. Verticchio told the BenGil Post that Haier’s insurer paid three or four claims totaling about $3,000, but stopped making payments when claims apparently exceeded expectations. Six pending claims remain unpaid.
The largest of the pending claims amounts to about $22,000 filed by Adam Kilduff whose home was extensively damaged when his basement was flooded with raw sewage. Kilduff appeared before the council early during Monday night’s council meeting to complain about the delay in obtaining reimbursement for his claim.
Kilduff said his home sustained extensive damage when a work crew severed a sewer line, causing raw sewage to flood his finished basement. He said he has photographs of himself, Mike Ranger and a Ranger employee wearing hip boots and standing in two feet of raw sewage that flooded his basement. While the sewer line was repaired and sewage was removed from the basement, repairs to the finished basement remain undone pending a settlement.
“I just want to get this straightened out,” he said. “Here I am up here almost three years later with the same problem.”
He said his claim was $15,000 when he first filed but has ballooned to $22,000 because of recent increases in lumber prices.
Verticchio told Kilduff the council planned to address the issue later in executive session to determine “how much, if any, they are willing to pay.” Initial claims were paid by the city and later reimbursed by Haier.
Notifying Haier of the city’s intent to sue is a first step toward actually filing a lawsuit against the company. The city’s contention is that Haier is obligated by contract to pay the damage claims. If the issue progresses to a lawsuit, the suit presumably will seek a judgment sufficient to pay the pending claims.
ALDERPERSONS SWORN IN
Before addressing agenda items, newly elected and re-elected council members were sworn in and seated, including newly elected Ward 2 Ald. Dave Link. Verticchio administered the oath of office, using his mother’s Bible for the ceremony, to Link, and re-elected council members Ald. Wendy Rolando, Ald. Dona Rauzi and Ald. Billy Hayes.
Link, who defeated challenger Bryan Waggoner 76-53 in the Consolidated Election last month, steps into a seat vacated by Rick Fulton who chose to not seek re-election.
Hayes was re-elected to represent Ward 3 and Rolando was elected to represent Ward 4, both without opposition, while Rauzi defeated challenger Jared Link, 108-53, to represent Ward 1.
NEW POLICE OFFICER HIRED
On the recommendation of Police Chief Jared DePoppe, the council voted unanimously to hire Elijah Dannebrink, Staunton, as a full-time police officer. The council previously voted to pay for Dannebrink’s Police Academy training, which DePoppe said the candidate completed on Monday.
Earlier in the meeting, as alderpersons reviewed the monthly police report, Chief DePoppe noted an increase in overtime expenditures due in part to having only two full-time officers on the roster. Dannebrink’s hiring brings the number of full-time officers to three.
Council members voted unanimously to declare three properties located at 606 East Chestnut Street, 301 Spruce Street and 1200 South Macoupin Street as public nuisances. The action authorizes City Attorney Verticchio to send notices to the property owners demanding they abate the nuisances within a specified period of time.
Ald. Razzi praised Verdicchio for his work in helping the city clean up derelict properties over the past year since becoming the City Attorney.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do,” Rauzi said. She said five derelict houses have been torn down or are in the process of being torn down. The city has acquired three properties as a result of condemnation proceedings.
“People are paying attention now,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve made a lot of progress. This has all been since Rick came on as City Attorney and I can’t thank him enough.”
FOOD TRUCK ORDINANCE
With two dissenting votes, the council approved an amendment to a recently implemented ordinance governing food truck operations in the city. The amendment clarifies the fee structured to denote that food truck vendors must pay an initial fee of $100 which covers four days of operation, plus $25 for each additional day in excess of four.
Ald. Rolando and Ald. Landon Pettit voted against the amendment, ostensibly over objections to the fee structure.
Earlier in the meeting, food truck operator Grace VanDoren approached the council with an objection to the fee structure. She indicated she would like to set up in Gillespie more often but has found the fee exorbitant. Carlinville, she said, charges no fee whatsoever, while other surrounding communities charge fees that are more lenient.
“It’s deterring businesses like mine,” she said.
Ald. Pettit seemed to agree with VanDoren’s objections.
“I did some math here,” he told the council. “If she set up five days a week, 52 weeks a year, she’d be paying us $6,500. That’s ridiculous.”
“If you want to reassess, you’d have to go back and rescind the ordinance,” Mayor John Hicks told the council, “which can be done.”
SURPLUS PROPERTY BIDS
With one dissenting vote and two aldermen voting “present,” the council agreed to accept a high bid of $2,000 from Mike Bellovich for a city-owned lot located behind the Superbowl bowling alley. Superbowl owner, Harold Besserman, had asked the city to sell the property with the intention of using it to erect a solar panel field to provide some of the electrical power for his business. Bellovich, however, bested Besserman’s bid of $100 for the parcel.
There was a moment of confusion when newly seated Ald. Link moved to accept Besserman’s bid.
“You realize you’re selling to the substantially lower bidder?” Verticchio questioned.
Link then clarified that he intended to make his motion to sell to the higher bidder.
Brought to a vote, the motion passed with Ald. Rolando voting “no,” and Ald Pettit and Ald. Frank Barrett both voting “present.”
In a somewhat related matter, Rolando reported she is compiling a list of surplus equipment that potentially could be offered for sale via sealed bids. She asked city department heads to review equipment currently owned by the city to document which pieces of equipment are no longer being used.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE SWING
Before the meeting adjourned, the council unanimously approved Ald. Rolando’s motion authorizing the Mayor to sign a check to pay for a concrete slab to install a donated wheelchair-accessible swing in the playground at Big Brick Park.
Early in the meeting, Tyler Link, representing HEIDI (Helping Every Individual Develop Independence), addressed the council about the status of the swing the organization donated to the city two years ago. Link said he had checked several times about plans to install the swing but had gotten a “run around” from city officials.
“I’m going to be blunt,” Link said. “This was two years ago and it’s still in the shed. Can we have it back? We have other municipalities that would be glad to take it.”
Mayor Hicks said the city had delayed installation as the city considered a larger renovation project for the park which would include the swing. Ald. Rolando said there also had been issues with finding money in the budget to cover the $2,000 estimated cost of installing a concrete pad for the equipment. At one point, money set aside for the swing was diverted to a sewer project, she noted.
More recently, however, a Darts for Kids event raised money for the project. While that money has not yet come to the city, according to Rolando, it will be enough to pay for the installation.
Link accepted Rolando’s commitment to get the swing installed when the Darts for Kids donation comes to the city.
FIBER OPTIC ISSUES
While taking no formal action, the council discussed at length issues arising from the installation of fiber optic cable in Gillespie, and issues with disconnected water customers restoring connection on their own.
Ald. Bob Fritz said the company installing the cable has been causing problems in the city, including property damage and other problems. Street Department Supervisor Dale Demke said there are areas where the company has installed the cable over the top of city water lines. In some places, the line has been installed between the shut-off valves for fire hydrants, some of which are slated to be relocated as part of the upcoming Streetscape project.
Ald. Rauzi said she was able to track down the head of the company, who agreed communication has been an issue with the installation in Gillespie. She asked aldermen to give her a list of problem areas which she can then convey to the company. Rauzi said the representative she spoke to claimed to have provided the city with a contract but no one has apparently seen the contract. As of Monday night, Rauzi said, she had not received a copy of the contract that was promised to her.
The cable installation is part of a federal project to expand broadband services to rural areas, meaning the city cannot collect franchise fees on the service. Despite the federal involvement, however, the city should be in a position to assign easements and otherwise ensure the installation does not result in property damage nor interfere with city services.
Ald. Fritz also noted a problem with disconnected water customers reconnecting their services without authorization. Tampering with a water meter, he noted, is prohibited by city ordinance and can result in a $300 fine. He urged more diligence in pursuing legal action against persons who reconnect water services that have been disconnected.
“Plus they are stealing water,” Verticchio added, noting that violators could be referred to the States Attorney’s office for criminal charges.
Water Plant Operator Dave Pickett said city workers could put a lock on meters when services are disconnected, but he cautioned against removing the meter.
“I don’t want to start yanking meters,” Pickett told the council. “Some of these people are ‘frequent flyers,’ if you know what I mean.” Repeatedly removing and reinstalling meters could lead to mechanical malfunctions down the road.
Mayor Hicks reported that the former Street Department shed has been razed but the former Police Department building remains standing and could be salvaged.
“I believe it’s worth saving,” Hicks said.
The building had a shared wall with the city shed, which would need to be replaced to make the building weather tight and a short retaining wall would need to be replaced. Following the meeting, several council members went to the site to look at the building and assess its potential for salvage.
In other action, the council voted to donate $500 to the Black Diamond Days Committee to help pay for bands to perform during the festival, set for the first weekend of June at Gillespie Lake.