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Historic Macoupin County Cannonball Jail open for self-guided tours on July 29, month of August



If you have ever wanted to see the inside of the historic Macoupin County Cannonball Jail, this is your chance.  “Jail House Rock” will be held on Saturday, July 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for self-guided tours and photo ops.  Admittance to the jail will be free. 

Donations will be appreciated and used to purchase items to stage the jailer’s residence on the second-floor parapet. Reno’s on the Road food truck will be on-site selling pizza by the slice and sandwiches.

The goal is to open a tourism center at the Cannonball Jail to help promote the various sites in the county which would appeal to the many visitors traveling through our county.  We are asking for 50 copies of rack cards and/or flyers that highlight the attractions in your area.  You can drop them off at the Courthouse or bring them with you on July 29.  

The Cannonball Jail will be open for self-guided tours every day in August from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 

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Community News

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




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:

  • 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 Lions Club donates 1,375 gallons of lids to non-profit



The Gillespie Lions Club donated 25 55-gallon trash bags full of plastic container lids to the ‘Leaps of Love’ in Highland. The donation took three truck loads, according to Rob Wirth.

Leaps of Love is a non-profit organization who help families affected by childhood cancer. “We strive to engage with families who are struggling or recovering from childhood cancer treatments by offering hope, strength, and encouragement through our signature retreats, events, and outings,” according to the organization’s website. “We depend on the generosity of our volunteers and backers, and we hope you’ll join us in supporting the survivors and their families who battle this disease every day.”

The lids donated by the Gillespie Lions Club will be used to supply composite benches in memory of a loved one who had cancer.

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Community News

Gillespie Council will consider grocery tax




Alderwoman Wendy Rolando discusses flags in the business district.

The Gillespie City Council directed City Attorney Rick Verticchio to draft a new ordinance during a sometimes contentious meeting Monday night, which would impose a grocery tax on unprepared food items sold in the city limits. Mayor John Hicks acknowledged the city no longer has a grocery store, but noted that the Dollar General store and convenience stores in the city sell a limited number of grocery items. 

“We have been notified that the city can collect a grocery tax,” Hicks said. “It’s not going to be a phenomenal amount.”

The one percent grocery tax will replace a state grocery tax that was rescinded as part of the current state budget. The tax also was suspended via executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Verticchio, who participated in Monday’s meeting by phone, said he would prepare an ordinance and have it ready for council action for the council’s August meeting.

In other action, the council authorized the mayor to work with the city’s insurer to expedite repairs to the city garage, approved the final payment for the new boat dock installed at Gillespie Lake, and approved the purchase of 20 American flags for display downtown during patriotic holidays. It was a heated exchange between Street Department workers and a city alderman, however, that lent a contentious tone to the meeting.


A question from Ald. Dave Link about city workers using city equipment on private property sparked an angry response from Street Department workers, including Supervisor Dale Demkey. Link alleged a city worker used a mini-hoe, skidster and truck for a project on a resident’s personal property. The ensuing argument, however, reached no resolution.

“It was city equipment and a city employee who took the afternoon off for the work,” Link said. He demanded to know who authorized the equipment’s use.

“We’ve done it before,” a maintenance worker responded.


“We put a stop to that back when I first came on the council,” Ald. Bill Hayes countered.

Link angrily denied Demkey’s allegation that Link had used township equipment to move a storage building at his downtown tavern, and to remove concrete from property owned by Link. Link said the broken concrete from his project went to the municipality for its use.

“There’s no reason a city employee can’t use that equipment,” Demkey said. “It’s not like we get paid a lot of money.”  Demkey confirmed that he authorized the use of the equipment, and accused Link of targeting the Street Department.

Ald. Hayes said Link was responding to complaints from citizens who saw city equipment being used for private purposes. He said he, too, had received complaints. “If you’re going to do this for one person, you going to have to do it for all,” Hayes said. “You’ve got to treat everyone the same.”

“It’s been this way for years,” Ald. Landon Pettit said. “It’s not the first time this has been done.”

A visitor to the council meeting suggested forming a committee to act on requests to use city equipment. The Army Corps of Engineers, he said, follows a similar practice to loan equipment for “humanitarian purposes.” Establishing such a procedure, the spectator said, would not only standardize how the decisions are made but also protect the city from liability concerns.

“I know this is the way it’s been done in the past and I ‘get’ both sides,” Ald. Dona Rauzi commented. “But is it right?”

The discussion ended with no clear resolution before the council moved on to other business.



The council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Hicks to work with the city’s insurer to expedite repair of some $13,000 in damage to the city shed that was caused when a street sweeper malfunctioned. Reportedly, the hydrostatic system on the sweeper failed, causing the machine to go out of control and crash into the shed. More damage was caused when the operator backed the malfunctioning machine out of the wreckage.

Mayor Hicks said the city has been unable to get an insurance adjuster to view the damage and authorize repairs. In the meantime, he said, a portion of the building’s roof is in danger of collapse. “I’d like to get this done as soon as possible,” Hick said.

Demkey said the Street Department had asked the council to replace the street sweeper for several years. “No one paid any attention,” he said.

“I say we go ahead and fix it,” said Ald. Pettit, “and if the insurance company gives us any grief, we have a lawyer.”

After further discussion, Pettit’s motion to give the mayor power to act was unanimously approved. Hicks said he will contact the insurer to see if he can expedite the claim and, if the insurance company is unresponsive, take action to get the damage repaired.

“It’s a safety issue, it’s an emergency,” Pettit said. “Let’s get it fixed.”


On a motion by Ald. Frank Barrett, seconded by Link, the council voted unanimously to authorize a $53,275 final payment on a new boat dock recently opened at Gillespie Lake. The payment represents the city’s share of the new dock’s $253,000 total cost. The city received a $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the project.


The council agreed to take donations from the public to subsidize the purchase of 20 American flags to be displayed on downtown utility poles during patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day. Ald. Wendy Rolando said she had sought to purchase new flags for the past four years but had been thwarted by the lack of a budget for the project. She said the brackets for displaying the flags already are on the poles and the Street Department had agreed to place and remove the flags when needed.


“It’s been suggested that we have a fundraiser or offer sponsorships to purchase the flags,” she said, adding she located a source to purchase three-by-five-foot flags with poles for $75 each. 

The council informally authorized Rolando to collect donations to purchase the flags, and several people present committed to donating to the project. However, Ald. Pettit’s motion to purchase the flags outright and reimburse the General Fund with donations was unanimously approved. Pettit said the donation fund also can be used to replace flags as they become worn.


Ald. Pettit suggested amending future employment contracts to include a provision requiring employees to comply with OSHA standards regarding facial hair, after an extensive discussion about a Water Department employee who refused to shave his facial hair. Ald. Hayes said OSHA requires employees at the Water Treatment Plant to be clean-shaven because an emergency with water treatment chemicals could require the employees to wear respirator masks. Facial hair reportedly prevents the respirators from properly sealing around the mouth and nose.

Water Plant Operator Dave Pickett later said the issue was moot because the employee had finally agreed to shave.

Hayes said the employee initially refused to comply on the assumption the rule was an arbitrary decision from Pickett.

“Someone needs to tell him it’s not us, it’s OSHA,” Verticchio said via phone. “I’m surprised they haven’t come down on us already.”

Verticchio said an employee who refuses to comply could be written up and, if he continues to resist, be terminated.

“The only employees this would apply to are people who might have to wear masks,” Hicks noted.


Pettit said future contracts should reference OSHA standards because OSHA rules are subject to change during the employee’s tenure. “It would save our superintendents headaches in the future,” Pettit said.,


The council unanimously approved a resolution enabling the city to pay the Chief of Police an hourly wage in addition to his salary for hours spent on patrol. Verticchio explained the Police Chief has been putting in extra hours as a patrolman because the police force is critically short of personnel. 

“The only reason he’s on patrol is because we are short,” Vericchio said. The department currently is short four full-time officers. “This is not a permanent situation,” Verticchio said, noting the resolution authorizes the supplemental payments through October to give the city time to hire additional officers.

The measure was approved with both Link and Hayes voting “present.”

In a related matter, the council authorized Police Chief Jared DePoppe to send two new candidates to the state’s Police Academy at the end of August in an effort to fill vacancies on the police department. DePoppe said those candidates have not yet been selected but he is actively interviewing applicants. He said one current applicant is expected to complete academy training early next month.

Ald. Janet Odell-Mueller asked if there was any way the city could obligate Police Academy candidates to stay in the city’s employ for a specific period since the city pays for their training. DePoppe said there is no such mechanism, noting the city has paid to train numerous officers who later resigned to move on to other positions.

In other action, the council approved DePoppe’s request to spend $2,122 to buy new radios compatible with ambulance and fire department communication devices.


The council referred to committee the issue of whether to repair or replace a damaged dump truck assigned to the Street Department. The truck bed reportedly is rusted out and in need of replacement, and the truck cab has damage resulting from a collision with a utility pole. 


Mayor Hicks said the city received an estimate of $14,443 to replace the truck bed and $6,470 for repairs to the cab. The cab repairs, he noted, may be subject to insurance coverage.

“That’s half of what it would cost to buy a new dump truck,” Pettit said. He asked if the Street Department could function with a F-450 or F-550 instead. 

The committee is expected to assess whether it would be more cost-effective to repair the old truck or buy a replacement.


No action followed a 40-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues and possible real estate. Ald. Bob Fritz requested the session to discuss real estate, while Ald. Hayes asked to discuss a personnel issue. Ald. Barrett asked to enter executive session to discuss resolution to a lake lot lease issue with Don Corby, who was on the agenda to address the council earlier in the meeting. No public action was taken, however, regarding Corby’s issue.


The council voted to table action on a proposed ordinance to ban bicycles, skateboards, scooters and side-by-sides on all sidewalks adjacent to city streets in Gillespie. Police Chief DePoppe urged the council to revisit the ordinance and eliminate the reference to “all sidewalks.” That provision, he said, would force bicycles onto the street and create safety concerns in residential areas where young children typically ride bikes on the sidewalk.

Ald. Link said the original intent was to ban bicycles, skateboards and similar vehicles from downtown sidewalks only. Ald. Rauzi suggested that there needed to be provisions to differentiate between bicycles, skateboards and similar vehicles and mobility equipment used by disabled persons.

The action marked the third time the ordinance has been tabled. Rauzi initially proposed the ordinance because downtown signage banning the use of bicycles on sidewalks during business hours has no ordinance on the books to back them up.

On Ald. Barrett’s recommendation the council also tabled action on a resolution revising procedures for issuing lake lot leases.



In other action, the council approved the $2,079 purchase of eight new security cameras for the boat dock and campgrounds at Gillespie Lake.

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