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Gillespie Council votes to approve computer upgrade, accepts high bid to replace heater at water plant

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In a relatively brief and routine meeting, the Gillespie City Council on Monday night approved an expenditure of up to $3,000 to replace computers used by City Clerk workers, and engaged in sometimes heated debate over hiring procedures and the recent purchase of a vacuum truck for the Street Department.

Mayor John Hicks told council members he had not yet solicited prices for replacing City Hall computers but asked the council to approve a spending limit to proceed with the upgrade. The current computer system, he said, is old, slow and sometimes unable to perform certain functions needed for city business. After some discussion, the council set a spending limit of $3,000 and gave the Mayor power to act on purchasing the new equipment.

In a related matter, City Treasurer Dan Fisher lauded Deputy City Clerk Krystal Norville and other workers for their service to the city. He said the staff has been working diligently to supply information to the city’s newly hired auditors in order to complete the annual audit in a timely manner. Additionally, he said Norville is quick and efficient in supplying information to him and other city officials.

“I ask for things almost every day and I know you guys do, too,” he said. “I don’t think we take time to appreciate and recognize everything they do in that office.”

Mayor Hicks reported that the city had to replace a pump at the water treatment plant after it froze during a recent spate of frigid weather. 

“It turns out the heater in that room is not big enough,” Hicks said. He opened two quotes he had solicited from area vendors. Remer Electric, Shipman, offered a quote of $665, while Reid Electric, Gillespie, provided a quote of $770, with an alternate quote for a larger unit of $1,100. Water Plant Operator Dave Pickett told the council the Reid’s lower bid and Remer’s bid were for units that were actually too small to adequately heat the pump enclosure. “The one with the highest bid is actually the heater we need out there,” Pickett said.

“They’ve done work for us out there and they’ve done a good job,” Ald. Landon Pettit said of Reid Electric, “and they’re local.”

Ald. Rick Fulton seconded Pettit’s motion to accept Reid’s higher bid, which was unanimously approved by the council.

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TEMPERS FLARE OVER HIRING PROCEDURES, VACUUM TRUCK PURCHASE

Following a 20-minute executive session requested by Ald. Bill Hayes, a discussion about hiring practices grew heated after Ald. Fulton alleged Mayor Hicks hired a contractor to clean the police station without bringing the issue to the full council. 

“Does anyone else think that’s okay?” Fulton asked.

Hicks said he hired the contractor for $500 per month after the previous contractor said he planned to raise his price from $500 to $800 at the start of the New Year. Making the decision to hire a new vendor, he said, saved the city money. Moreover, he said the Mayor has the authority to hire and fire city employees with or without council participation.

“It was never brought to the full council,” Fulton complained. “Nothing personal, but I just think things like this should come to the council.”

Ald. Dona Rauzi said the city hires new employees “all the time” without council participation. She said she recently encountered a young man at City Hall whom she stopped when he started to go into the City Clerk’s office. “They told me he was an employee at the Water Department. To this day, I don’t know who he was.”

The discussion also grew heated regarding the recent purchase of a vacuum truck for the Street Department. Meeting in special session on Dec. 17, the council approved the expenditure of up to $32,000 to purchase the used vehicle. Upon inspection, it was determined the truck needed several replacement parts. Ald. Pettit said the price was negotiated to $26,000, and new parts were ordered from the manufacturer. As the vehicle was being driven to Gillespie, the vehicle reportedly developed a cooling leak, requiring it to be towed to Carlinville for additional repairs.

“This $26,000 truck is going to end up costing us way more,” Rauzi complained. She said the city has not received the towing bill and has no estimate on the cost of repairs to the cooling system. In addition, she said the city spent $5,000 for replacement parts to put the truck in working order.

Pettit, clearly perturbed, said that he secured a discount on the purchase price because of the deficiencies. Even with the additional expense for new parts, he said, the expenditure is below the $32,000 the council authorized.

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Rauzi countered that the towing fee and repair bill is likely to push the costs beyond $32,000.

“What about the $750,000 you want to spend for the Police Department?” Pettit replied.

At that point, Hicks rapped the gavel and brought the discussion to a close.

Rauzi later reported that she and Police Chief Jared DePoppe had met with newly elected State Senator Steve McClure to discuss the procedures and impacts of creating a Police Protection District. She said Benld city officials have expressed interest in forming a district but actually putting the issue on a ballot could be two or three years away. The Gillespie Police Department currently is the only municipal police department in the immediate area. Gillespie contracts with Benld, Eagarville, East Gillespie and Mount Clare to provide police protection in exchange for a monthly fee. A Police District would be its own taxing body, similar to a Fire District, which would eliminate the need for satellite communities to pay monthly fees for police services.

Rauzi said she and DePoppe also approached McClure about the possibility of securing state funding to help pay for a possible project to remodel space vacated by the Fire Department for use as headquarters for the Police Department. Engineer Dennis Schuette, Staunton, has drafted a tentative plan for the space, located in the northwest corner of the Civic Center, which reportedly would have a potential price tag of $750,000.

Hicks reported that a water line leak below the concrete floor in the vacated space resulted in heaving during a recent period of extreme cold. He said engineers recommend removing the damaged concrete, removing saturated soil and replacing it with CA-4 gravel, and repairing new concrete.

COAL MUSEUM POWER BILL

After Ald. Pettit questioned the amount of money being spent on utilities for the Illinois Coal Mining Museum, the council directed the City Clerk to write a letter to the museum board to explore the possibility of splitting the power bill.

“Why are we still paying their power bill?” Pettit asked. “They have their own resources.”

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Ald. Wendy Rolando pointed out the museum has been operating several years and is supposed to be self-sufficient. The museum’s primary sources of income are admission fees and donations.

Mayor Hicks pointed out that the building itself still belongs to the city and the city is responsible for power bills for all city-owned buildings. “We own the police department and we pay the bill for that building,” he said. “We own the museum and we pay the bill for it.” Additionally, he said, the upper floor of the building is being used by the city for document storage.

“Is there any way we can ask them to split the bill with us?” Rolando asked.

After further discussion, the council directed the City Clerk to write a letter to museum officials to ask if the museum would be willing to pay a portion of the power bill in the future.

GPS PROPOSAL & SPENDING LIMITS

Without taking action, the council rejected two proposals from Ald. Bob Fritz to install GPS units in police squad cars and to set spending limits city aldermen could spend without formal council approval.

Fritz suggested that GPS units in squad cars would allow satellite communities to monitor the amount of time squad cars spend in their communities and the number of miles consumed by patrols. Police Chief DePoppe, however, said that is not information he would be eager to share with anyone other than police personnel. Further, he said, the police department provides a monthly report to satellite municipalities detailing service to their communities.

Fritz suggested those reports can be misleading because responding to incidents gets counted as a patrol on the report. The GPS system, he said, would allow satellite communities to document the actual number of miles police patrol each month.

Ultimately, his proposal died for lack of a motion.

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Fritz also failed to secure a motion to set spending limits for city aldermen. He expressed frustration at having to go through a formal process for minor expenditures. City Treasurer Fisher, however, objected to the proposal, indicating the process is necessary to maintain control over total monthly expenditures.

AirBNBs

The council referred to the City Attorney the issue of creating an ordinance to govern AirBNBs in the city. Ald. Rauzi said two such facilities are currently operating in the city, renting residential properties for short-term periods for $75 per night. She said the city currently treats the facilities as any other rental property but she questioned whether or not the city was running the risk of incurring responsibility for hotel taxes.

Jono Verticchio, sitting in for City Attorney Rick Verticchio, said he did not believe the city was vulnerable but agreed to take the issue to the City Attorney for further research and advice.

TREE REMOVAL

The council approved a bid of $1,000 from Steve Heinz, Dorchester, to remove two trees—one on Stump Lane and one located in the campground—at Gillespie Lake.

Ald. Rauzi said Feely Tree Service had not been able to look at a tree on Park Avenue to give her a firm quote for stump grinding but gave her a ballpark price of $50 to $75. The council approved Feeley’s bid to cut down the tree last month but Mayor Hicks asked Rauzi to get a quote for stump removal. On Monday, Hicks directed Rauzi to get a firm quote on the stump removal before beginning on the project.

DORCHESTER WATER LINES

The council briefly discussed with Roger Price a city project to replace water lines to Gillespie Lake that has resulted in excavation near water lines maintained by Dorchester. Dorchester is committed to buying water from the Illinois Alluvial water project when that company is up and running. In the meantime, the village continues to buy water from Gillespie.

Price said village wants assurances that replacement lines are properly capped and do not interfere with Dorchester’s lines. Hicks advised Price to have Dorchester officials consult with Maintenance Department Director Dale Demke to review blueprints and ensure their concerns are addressed.

LAKE LOT RENTAL AGREEMENT

The council voted to amend an agreement signed by lake lot renters who rent two adjacent lots. The agreement originally prohibited rents from erecting “permanent” structures on their second lot. The language amendment deletes “permanent” to ban all structures on the second lot.

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“We have a lot of people pulling in portable sheds and stuff,” said Ald. Frank Barrett, Lake Committee Chair.

TAX LEVY

Council members voted unanimously to approve a $394,402 property tax levy, details of which were discussed during a mandatory public hearing last month.

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School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting

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Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.

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The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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Americana festival set for July 4 at Benld Park

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Jess Barker, The Lodge Brothers, and The New Prairie Drifters are set to take the stage at Benld City Park on Thursday, July 4 as part of the Americana Festival.

The music festival intends to celebrate the birthday and spirit of America with thriving local culture of music, food, and art. It is scheduled to begin at 12 noon and end at 6 pm.

Food will be available for purchase from The Barracks American Table, a new Gillespie restaurant, and skincare products will be available from Nature’s Bliss, a Benld gift shop.

The park is located at 305 North Main Street in Benld. Admission is free.

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Macoupin County Fair underway until Sunday

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Rides, tents, food trucks, music, animals, and plenty of other offerings fill the grounds at the Macoupin County Fair for the 172nd year. The fair is held June 4 through June 9 at the Macoupin County Fairground north of Carlinville.

The oldest county fair in Illinois, the Macoupin County Fair welcomes thousands of guests to the area and unites agriculture, family, and community. The fair continues through Sunday with highlights every evening.

The fair also meets the needs of families on a budget, for just $10 per person you get parking and all-access to the carnival rides. The cost-friendly fun draws in visitors and locals who get to embrace the county’s namesakes.

Tracy Lawrence and Walker Montgomery are set to take the stage Thursday evening, June 6, at 7:30pm. Friday evening features the tractor and truck pull, and Saturday evening is the crowd-favorite demolition derby.

The fair opens every morning at 8am and closes at 12 midnight. For a full list of schedule of events or to pre-pay for entry, visit the fair’s website here.

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