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Gillespie Council defers action on RV ordinance



Members of the Gillespie City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a routine Certificate of Authority during an unusually brief meeting that was as notable for what the council did not do as for what it did. The Certificate of Authority—a formality that ensures the city is able to buy road salt through the State of Illinois cooperative agreement—was virtually the only formal action taken.

In the absence of City Attorney Rick Verticchio, the council declined to take action on a proposed ordinance governing temporary use and parking of recreational vehicles and camping trailers. The issue was discussed last month with an eye toward drafting an amendment that will limit where such vehicles can be parked, and defining circumstances under which such vehicles can be temporarily occupied. The amendment reportedly is aimed at preventing persons from residing in a camper parked in a residential area. An exemption apparently would allow families to occupy a camper while repairs are underway following a house fire or other disaster. Formal action on the amendment is expected next month.

The council took no action following a 30-minute executive session to discuss personnel and legal issues, including whether or not the city would rescind an order banning Matt Hancock from Gillespie Lake. Ald. Landon Pettit explained to Hancock after returning to open session that the council would not take action without having the city’s attorney present to advise them.

Hancock appeared before the council earlier in the meeting to ask that the city lift the ban. He said he was unaware that the ban had been imposed until he recently received an email. He added that he received no paperwork or mailed notification of the ban. Asked why the ban was imposed, Hancock disclosed he was involved in a verbal altercation with Lake Manager Gary Thornhill.

“The police came,” he said, “but no tickets were issued and they didn’t even take my name.”

Likewise, Mayor John Hicks referred a question from Ellen Collman back to the City Attorney. Coleman was cited for maintaining a public nuisance but has since cleaned up the property to the city’s satisfaction—a fact Ald. Dave Link confirmed. The court case against her, however, apparently has not yet been dismissed.

“I was told this would be done by February,” Collman said. “I need this resolved, please.”

A motion by Ald. Link to use money from the General Fund to buy patch for street repairs died for lack of a second after Treasurer Dan Fisher indicated the city could run afoul of Department of Transportation rules by overspending what it appropriated in Motor Fuel Tax funds for purchasing patching material. Fisher said the low bidder for patch will not be known until April 25 when bids for the current year’s program will be opened.


“It’s not a matter of whether we have enough money in our program,” Fisher said. “It’s also about how much we have authority to spend.” Fisher said the city could not exceed the amount appropriated for patching materials even if it paid for the additional materials with non-MFT funds.

Ald. Pettit reported that a Madison County business person is interested in buying a vacant downtown building but is reluctant to make the investment without knowing whether or not he can obtain a liquor license. The council voted last month to eliminate the quota on liquor licenses, basically empowering the Mayor to approve licenses on a case-by-case basis. Hicks said he was unwilling to approve licenses without knowing the nature of the business because of concerns over saturating the city with gaming establishments.

“Once they have a liquor license, we can’t keep them from getting a gaming license,” Hicks said.

“I think he needs to come here and present his case to the council in person,” Ald. Link suggested.

Mayor Hicks reported that the Water Department plans to eliminate an unused water meter at the Oak Street parking lot owned by the Macoupin County Public Health Department prior to the Health Department repaving the lot.

“Rather than have them pave around it, I suggested we take it out and cast it,” Hicks said.

In other action, the council approved a donation to the Gillespie High School Post Prom event in the same amount the city donated last year.

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CUSD 7 News

School board names new head football coach




Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to appoint Cory Bonstead as the Gillespie High School head football coach for the 2024-25 school year, replacing Dalton Barnes, whose resignation was accepted last month. In other action, the board voted to dismiss Assistant Varsity Football Coach Donnie Allen, and to not renew Allen’s appointment as the high school track and field coach.

The actions bring to an end several weeks of controversy related to the former head coach and assistant coach. Barnes resigned last month as both a high school physical education and social studies teacher as well as the head football coach after parents alleged he and Allen engaged in verbal and physical abuse of student-athletes. An online petition garnering more than 630 electronic signatures accused Barnes and Allen of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student-athletes to act against other student-athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student-athletes with threats and manipulation.”

While Barnes submitted his resignation, Allen did not step down, precipitating Monday night’s actions to sever him from the district.

Bonstead was hired in July 2022 as a high school resource teacher. He has served as an assistant football coach for the past two years. Before coming to the school district, he was an assistant football coach for Galesburg’s Knox College, where he earned his degree. As a formality, the board also officially accepted Bonstead’s formal resignation as assistant freshman football coach and posted a vacancy for that position.

The actions to hire a new head coach and dismiss the assistant coach took place following a one-hour executive session to discuss personnel issues and other concerns. Upon returning to open session, the board voted unanimously to rehire a roster of certified staff members discussed in executive session.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of long-serving district custodian Jerry Balzraine, effective May 31, 2025.

Custodian Neil Balzraine, representing non-certificated employees, read a statement thanking Supt. Shane Owsley, Board President Mark Hayes and other board members for coming to an agreement with the union for a new contract covering non-certificated employees.

“Through night and weekends, we worked hard and got a lot done,” Balzraine said. “These meetings were most professional, cordial and productive.”


Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the new contract, which reportedly was ratified by union members Monday morning.

In other personnel action, the board reappointed winter coaches, including Casey Sholtis as GHS head boy’s basketball coach, Jake Kellebrew as assistant high school boy’s basketball coach, Anthony Kravanya as an unpaid volunteer assistant boy’s basketball coach, Jarrod Herron as scholar bowl coach for high school as well as seventh and eighth grade, Andrea Williamson as high school dance coach, Elizabeth Thackery as seventh-grade volleyball coach, and Celia Jubelt as eighth-grade volleyball coach.

Board members unanimously voted to accept the resignation of middle school paraprofessional James Bryant and to post a vacancy for the position. The board also approved a maternity leave request for BenGil Elementary School paraprofessional Kristin Schoen.

The board voted unanimously in separate actions to accept the resignation of Celia Jubelt as head high school women’s volleyball coach and post a vacancy for the position, and to appoint Matt Brawner as a GHS assistant women’s basketball coach.

Also in separate actions, the board voted to post job openings for a district head cook and a district kitchen employee. Board member Amanda Ross who moved to approve both actions pointed out the openings represent existing positions. “I want to be clear that we are not creating new positions,” she said.


On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Ross, the board green-lit three safety projects to be funded with proceeds of a COPS Federal Safety Grant.

PASS Security of Fairview Heights was the sole bidder for adding door access security for entry to the middle school/high school complex at a cost of $81,210.

Barcom Security with base offices in Springfield, Swansea and St. Louis, submitted the sole bid of $113,000 for an updated fire alarm system for the middle school/high school complex.


Commercial Telephone Systems, Collinsville, also the sole bidder, will install an updated intercom system at the middle school at a cost of $62,769.

“The companies we hoped would submit bids did submit bids and the prices were what we expected,” Supt. Owsley told the board. The contracts call for the work to be completed by two days before the start of the 2024-25 school year.


The board voted to place on file for public review an amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Owsley advised that some numbers in the tentative amended budget are likely to change for the board’s final approval next month. State law requires a 30-day review period, however, even though some data to be reflected in the budget is still being collected.

“I can tell this will change,” Owsley said. “I will have final numbers and a presentation for the board in June.”

Last month, the board directed Owsley to begin work on a tentative fiscal 2025 budget authorized operational expenditures for the period between July 1 and whenever the new budget is approved. Typically, the district finalizes a budget for the current fiscal year in September.


Upon Owsley’s recommendation, the board declared two buses and one truck as surplus property. The three vehicles will be advertised for sale to the highest qualified bidders.


In other words action, the board:

  • Approved a high school course description book for the 2024-25 school year. GHS Principal Jill Rosentreter said there are no major changes from the course description document the district used last year.
  • Approved a revised school calendar. Supt. Owsley said the only change is setting 12:45 p.m. as the dismissal time on days that have early dismissal. Previously, early dismissal times were staggered at 12:30 and 1 p.m. The change is precipitated by the district’s decision to start the school day as the same time for all three attendance centers.
  • Approved a district-wide job description list.
  • Approved a corrected school fees schedule. Owsley said the action was needed because the schedule approved last month was inaccurate due to a computer error resulting from merging fee schedules from the district’s three attendance centers.

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Community News

City of Benld purchases truck, tables action on building permit changes




The Benld City Council on Monday night agreed to purchase a new truck for the Maintenance Department at a cost of $54,111, retained an auditing firm for the upcoming city audit, and accepted the resignation of the Deputy City Clerk. Council members, however, tabled action on an amendment to the city’s building permit ordinance and tabled action on approving a business license application.

Mayor Jim Kelly opened the meeting by observing a moment of silence for the late Wanda Bernot who previously served the city as City Clerk.

In other action, council members heard a brief update regarding the status of redevelopment work for a sport and recreational park on the former site of the Benld Elementary School. Mayor Jim Kelly said Doug Ratterman of HMG Engineers had visited the site and plans to have a proposal for a new ball field on the site within the next five weeks, at which time the ball field project will be sent out for bids.

“They’ve staked it,” Kelly said, adding the engineers will give the city proposed plans soon. “They’re setting it up for the least amount of dirt moving,” he said.

In association with the non-profit Benld Sports Association, the city is developing the 11-acre site as a sports and outdoor recreation park. Community Unit School District 7 transferred the property to the city several years after a mine subsidence event destroyed the then seven-year-old Benld Elementary School. With the city acting as the sponsoring agency, the project was awarded a $600,000 Open Spaces Land Acquisition and Development Grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Once construction is complete, maintenance and operation of the facility will be the responsibility of the Sports Association.


On a motion by Ald. John Balzraine, the council voted to purchase a 2022 Dodge Ram truck from Victory Lane Ford. Mayor Kelly said that with the addition of a snow plow and required lighting, the cost of the truck comes to $54,111, which will be paid in full from the city’s general funds.

Kelly said the city is not earning enough interest on investments to make it cost-effective to secure a loan for the vehicle. Since Victory Lane is selling the truck under terms of a state bid contract, no bidding process was required.


Council members agreed to retain Scheffel Boyle Certified Public Accountants to perform the city’s annual audit at a cost not to exceed $17,450.


“It will be a regular audit since we didn’t spend more than $300,000 in grants,” said City Clerk Terri Koyne. She said the audit also is likely to be done early because the auditor assigned to Benld is expected to be leaving for maternity leave.


The council took now action on approving an amendment to the city’s building permit ordinance, pending further revisions to be added by City Attorney Rick Verticchio. Essentially, the amendment will require building permits to be issued to the owner of the property, rather than the contractor retained to do the work.

“We have too many solicitor contractors seeking building permits,” City Clerk Koyne said. According to Koyne, the contractors applying for the permit sometimes turn out to be out-of-area contractors who solicited residents to secure a contract. Such solicitations, she said, are illegal without a soliciting permit issued by the city. “I’d love to be able to deny permits for contracts obtained illegally,” she said.

Mayor Kelly said the amendment also should address persons buying a house contract-for-deed. “I’d like for the actual property owner to be the one to apply for the permit,” he said.

Jono Verticchio, representing the Verticchio Law Firm, said the amendment can be written to require permits to be issued to the property owner only. A revised amendment will be presented at next month’s meeting.


The council also tabled action on a business license application submitted by Ed Rieffer. Mayor Kelly said he advised Rieffer to attend the meeting so aldermen could ask questions before approving the permit.

Essentially, council members voiced concerns about the nature of the business Rieffer is proposing. From his description on the application, there were indications Rieffer plans to open a pawn shop, while describing it as a loan business. Pawn shops are subject to additional restrictions and state licensing requirements, according to Verticchio.

“If it’s a pawn shop, it’s a pawn shop,” Verticchio said. “You can’t get around that by calling it something else.”



Council members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Deputy City Clerk Carol Wood, effective May 24.

Mayor Kelly said Koyne and City Treasurer Cindy Crites will screen applicants for the job and forward their recommendations to the full council. The council will have an opportunity to interview recommended candidates before hiring a new Deputy Clerk. In the meantime, Koyne advised she may be working more than 60 hours per month.


The council voted unanimously to add a Ford truck and Crown Victoria to the list of surplus property to be advertised and offered for sale to the highest qualified bidders.


On a motion by Ald. Jerry Saracco, seconded by Ald. Dustin Fletcher, the council voted to declare properties at 207 and 211 East Central Avenue as public nuisances. The property owners will be issued citations giving them 30 days each to abate the nuisance to avoid court proceedings.


Ald. Balzraine reported that Macoupin County Animal Control recently trapped 18 feral cats in the city, and plans to return for more trapping programs. He advised city residents to stop feeding stray cats, noting that feeding feral animals is a violation of city ordinance.


The council directed the City Attorney to draft a proposed ordinance making the intersection of Illinois at Kentucky streets a four-way stop. Ald. Fletcher said he asked Police Chief Jared DePoppe about the need for the additional stop signs, who agreed the ordinance is needed.

City aldermen are expected to formally act on the ordinance in June.


Council members unanimously approved the purchase of $3,055 in fittings from Schuette Supplies.



The council voted unanimously to pay $100 to post city water reports on the ILRWA website. City water customers can review mandated water quality reports at

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Community News

Italian-American Days celebrates 70 years Memorial Day weekend



In a vibrant blend of tradition, culture, and community spirit, the Benld Italian-American Days proudly marks its 70th anniversary this year. Established in 1949, this beloved festival has become an iconic event, not only within the Italian-American community but also for all those
who appreciate the richness of Italian culture, cuisine, and heritage.

For seven decades, the Italian Club of Benld, a non-profit organization, has hosted this festival that serves as a hub for celebrating and preserving cherished traditions while embracing the fusion of Italian and American cultures. This year’s event will take place May 24, 25 and
26 at the Benld City Park in Benld, Illinois.

The festival begins on Friday, May 24 at 4:00 pm with food stands opening for service. Connor Family Amusements will provide carnival arm bands from 6:00-10:00 pm allowing unlimited carnival rides for $30.00. Klose Kuarters will provide music for your listening and dancing
pleasure from 6:30-10:30 pm.

On Saturday, May 25, the Italian Club of Benld will host its 3rd Annual Car Show. Car registrations will occur between 8:00 am-12:00 pm with judging taking place at noon. The Italian Club of Benld Car Show is held in the Benld City Park (rain or shine). Registration fee is $20.00. Cars will be judged professionally and trophies will be awarded. The first 70 entries will receive a commemorative tee sponsored by Kravanya Funeral Homes along with a dash plaque.

Festival food stands will open at 11:00 am. Carnival armbands will be offered from 12:00-4:00 pm and 6:00 pm-10:00 pm for $30.00 each armband session. Musical entertainment will be provided by the Jorrells from 6:30-10:30 pm.

The last day of the festival, Sunday, May 26, has always been the highlight of the weekend. One ton of homemade FREE SPAGHETTI will be served from the Lunch Stand from 11:00 am-1:30 pm. The musical line-up for the day includes: Fat Chance from 11:00 am-2:00 pm, Syner-
Gee from 2:30 pm-6:30 pm, and Big Shake Daddies from 6:30 pm-10:30 pm.

Our most favorite tradition of the festival is our Bocce Ball Tournament which begins play at noon. Team registrations begin at 11:00 am in the Beer Stand. The Bocce Ball Tournament consists of both a men and women’s bracket. Carnival armbands will be offered from 12:00-4:00 pm and again from 6:00-10:00 pm for $30.00 each armband session.

One cannot speak of the Benld Italian-American Days without mentioning its sumptuous array of culinary delights. Visitors can indulge in homemade cannoli, homemade Italian salami, tortellini soup, homemade meatball sandwiches, bagna cauda – all available in the Specialty
Stand. Our Lunch Stand will provide American favorites of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, Italian beef. The Fish Stand will offer cod, Alaskan whitefish and fries.


BINGO will be played every night beginning at 7:00 pm.

Whether you’re of Italian descent or simply appreciate the beauty of Italian culture, the Italian Club of Benld welcomes you to join in the celebration of its 70th anniversary. Come experience the sights, sounds, and flavors of Italy and be part of a tradition that has stood the test of
time. Buon divertimento! (Enjoy the fun!)

Questions about the 70th Benld Italian-American Days can be made by calling (217) 825-7052, or you may follow us on Facebook at Benld Italian-American Days.

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