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Local News Archives for 2018-10

Litchfield Superintendent of Schools Resigns

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The Superintendent of Litchfield Schools has stepped down from her position, according to multiple employees with the district.

Debbie Poffinbarger submitted her letter of resignation Monday, effective immediately. Former superintendent John Mullet will take over on an interim basis.

Poffinbarger took over as superintendent in January 2017, after Jeff Strieker resigned for personal reasons. She was given a five-year contract by the school board this January that would have kept her in that position through the 2022-23 school year.

The board will hold a special meeting Thursday to address the matter. The president of the board has not responded to a request for comment at this time.

Board Makes Many Personnel Decisions in October

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Though much of the attention surrounding their meetings focused on high school Principal Doug Hoster, the Litchfield School Board did address other personnel items during their sessions over the past couple of weeks.

During their regular board meeting on October 18, the board accepted the resignation of Brett Holliday, who had been serving as the Director of Building and Grounds and Transportation. They also accepted a letter of intent to retire from Rob Corso, who currently serves as the middle school Spanish teacher. His retirement will take effect at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

On October 22, the board approved the hires of Victoria Knoche and Drew Logan to complete the 2018-19 school year as High School Athletic Directors, effective immediately. These positions will be reevaluated at the end of the school year. Knoche and Logan join Louie Lang at the high school level and Lisa Schaffer, who has been performing junior high athletic director duties.

Over the two meetings combined, the board filled out the coaching staff for the high school wrestling team. Coy Davidson was hired as an assistant coach on October 18, joining his brother Chance, who was previously hired as the head coach. Last week, Mitchell Carter and Gage Agers were hired as volunteer coaches. All four were varsity wrestlers for Litchfield, with both Davidson brothers earning trips to the state wrestling tournament each year while in high school.

The next Litchfield School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 13, at 6 p.m. in the radius room at Litchfield High School.

Nokomis Teen Dies in Crash South of Taylorville


A Nokomis teenager was killed in an automobile crash Thursday afternoon south of Taylorville.

Camren Neisler, 18, was pronounced at the scene by Christian County Coroner Amy Winnans. According to the Christian County Sheriff's Office, Neisler was driving a vehicle north on Christian County Highway 1 at 1:13 p.m. Wednesday. Police said his vehicle crossed the center line and struck a southbound pickup truck that was driven by 29-year-old Zachary Rhodes of Taylorville.

The crash remains under investigation by the sheriff's office, coroner's office, and Illinois State Police Crash Reconstruction Unit. The Taylorville Fire Department and Dunn's Ambulance service assisted at the scene.

The Stiehl-Dawson Funeral Home in Nokomis is in charge of Neisler's arrangements.

Litchfield Approves Contracts for Advertising

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At their meeting last Thursday, the Litchfield City Council approved contracts with three different companies for advertising services.

First, the council approved the renewal of a contract with R&K Outdoor, inc. for an amount not to exceed $7,450 for billboard advertising. The billboard has provided advertising for the city along Interstate 55 since August 2011. The cost for a twelve month lease is $600 per month with a vinyl production and installation fee of $250.

The second approved contract is with Mid-America Advertising for an amount not to exceed $6,830, and is also for billboard advertising. This billboard has been located along the southbound lanes of the interstate since 2013. The initial billboard was located near mile marker 119 near Broadwell, but was moved in 2015 to mile marker 84 near Glenarm.

The other contract is with the publication Heartland Outdoors for an amount not to exceed $2,220. The ad will cover one-third of a page in the publication, be full color and will cost $185 per month beginning in November and run until October 2019. The target demographic for the publication is Midwestern outdoorsmen, and it is heavily distributed throughout Illinois, eastern Iowa, northeast Wisconsin, northeast Missouri and the St. Louis area.

The next Litchfield City Council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 1, at 6:30 p.m.

Board Suspends Litchfield Principal

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Following a hearing that spanned two days and lasted more than seven hours, the Litchfield School Board reached a decision on the discipline of high school Principal Doug Hoster during a special meeting Monday evening.

At 1:20 a.m. Tuesday, school board President Jennifer Reid announced the board determined that Hoster "engaged in conduct that violates board policy which prohibits sexual harrassment of students, including verbal conduct of a sexual nature." He has been suspended for thirty working days through October 30. The punishment is retroactive to September 18. In addition to the suspension, the principal will be required to complete sexual harassment training by January 1, as well as issue a written apology to the students impacted by his alleged comments.

Prior to continuing the hearing in closed session Monday, five people spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting. Some spoke in support of Hoster.

"I have had professional encounters with Mr. Hoster in the past regarding my student, and I have to say that I believe he was as fair as he could be in the given scenario," said Stacy Lamb, a parent of multiple students in the district. "As a parent, I wanted a different approach to holding my child accountable than he ultimately used, but as a citizen of this city, he proved his professionalism to me as an administrator."

Others who spoke utilized their time by criticizing the board and Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger for how the situation has been handled.

"I don't know exactly what's going on with Litchfield, but it's disheartening when I'm asked in Charleston by teachers with Master's Degrees at a high school in Decatur and teachers in Springfield about what's going on with our district," said Laura Bender, who is the parent of two Litchfield High School graduates.

No students spoke on Monday, but some in the crowd were still commenting on the speech given by high school student Alexis Gibson. She spoke during the public input portion of Thursday's regular board meeting, claiming that Poffinbarger broke rules in the way she handled the matter.

"Mrs. Poffinbarger sent a half dozen students to her office where they would talk to a lawyer. She never disclosed that this lady was a lawyer, only her name. Mrs. Poffinbarger never discussed talking to a lawyer with the students' parents. They are all minors, and that is required. Not only were they asked to give statements, she showed them to a person who gave a report against Mr. Hoster. These students trusted their superintendent to keep their confidential statements private."

Hoster will be eligible to return to work on October 31. After the hearing concluded, he returned to Panther Gymnasium at Litchfield Middle School and received applause from the people who were still remaining. He was visibly emotional, and he thanked each person for their support during the ordeal. He said no matter the outcome, he considers Litchfield home.

Student, Parents Criticize Superintendent at Board Meeting

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The drama surrounding the Litchfield School Board, Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger and high school Principal Doug Hoster will continue Monday evening after the board was forced to adjourn Thursday's meeting due to time constraints.

"We're continuing that hearing Monday evening, at 6 p.m. in an attempt to be fair, make sure we're all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and do this the right way," said School Board President Jennifer Reid. She made the announcement at 11 p.m., four hours and sixteen minutes after the board elected to first enter into closed session.

Hoster has been on administrative leave since September 13, following allegations of misconduct. The specific nature of the allegations have not been made public at this time.

Prior to entering into closed session, three people spoke to the board in front of a crowded Panther Gymnasium. One parent, Joyce Towner, criticized the high school for how Hoster and the teaching staff handled a scholarship issue. Another speaker, Valerie Belusko, criticized the board for considering a pay increase for Superintendent Poffinbarger amid the ongoing controversy. However, the most compelling speech came from high school student Alexis Gibson, who challenged the superintendent for her alleged treatment of employees.

"It's important for us to have relationships with our teachers," Gibson said in front of parents, students, teachers and staff. "Teachers feel as if they cannot build a relationship with us because they will receive a target on their backs."

Gibson then accused the superintendent of handling Hoster's investigation in an unethical manner.

"I would also like to bring up how students do not feel comfortable with some of the authorities here today," she said. "Mrs. Poffinbarger sent a half dozen students to her office where they would talk to a lawyer. She never disclosed that this lady was a lawyer, only her name. Mrs. Poffinbarger never discussed talking to a lawyer with the students' parents. They are all minors, and that is required. Not only were they asked to give statements, she showed them to a person who gave a report against Mr. Hoster. These students trusted their superintendent to keep their confidential statements private."

"The person who filed the report said to my friend 'I don't care what Mr. Hoster said. I just want to see how far I can take this,'" Gibson said referring to one of the students who made allegations against the principal.

A number of witnesses were called to testify before the board during their closed session, according to sources familiar with the situation. Due to time constraints, however, not all witnesses were interviewed Thursday. Therefore, the board will hold a special meeting in Panther Gymnasium on Monday beginning at 6 p.m.

President Responds, But Questions About Two Forums Remain

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An official with one of the unions responsible for organizing Thursday evening's political forum in Hillsboro has responded after controversy arose following the announcement that certain local candidates would be skipping the annual Litchfield forum in favor of Hillsboro's.

"Unfortunately our event conflicts with another forum, which was not brought to my attention until after the invitations to the Working Families Forum had been sent out," Springfield and Central Illinois Trades and Labor Council President Diana Carlile said in an email. The council is co-hosting the event with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Laborers Local 1084 and Carpenters Local 270.

When asked why the unions declined to merge their event with the Litchfield Chamber's, Carlile claimed that from a logistical standpoint, she and the other union organizers "could not see a realistic path to consolidate the events since they were in different towns," and that there would have been only a week and a half to communicate the changes to the participants.

Even after the President's response, questions about the conflict still remain. Earlier this week, Litchfield Chamber President Cory Evans said invitations for their event were sent out in August. However, some of the candidates participating in the Hillsboro event claim they did not receive an invitation until as recently as last Saturday, while some attending Litchfield's say they were notified at least a month ago.

Panhandle Board Approves New Contract for Superintendent


The Panhandle school board approved a new contract for the district's superintendent during their monthly meeting on Monday evening.

After meeting in closed session for nearly two hours, the board approved a five-year contract for superintendent Aaron Hopper. The contract will run thru the 2022-23 school year and was approved by 5-0 vote, with board members Scott Cowdrey and Shane Gilpin absent. Hopper was first appointed as the superintendent in June 2014 after serving as a principal in the disctrict.

In other personnel matters, the board voted to accept the resignation of district bookkeeper and treasurer Tammi Mixen. The motion passed, 4-1, with Linda Brown as the lone vote of dissent. Dee Neisler was approved unanimously as the Junior High Scholastic Bowl Coach, and Kevin Young was approved as a volunteer high school basketball coach, pending the successful completion of all state and local high school requirements. The meeting adjourned at 9:44 p.m.

The next Panhandle School Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 19, at 7 p.m.

Two Forums to be Held Thursday, Sparking Controversy

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An evening that was supposed to feature one bipartisan political forum has turned controversial after it was announced that a second forum will be held in Montgomery County on Thursday.

The Litchfield Chamber of Commerce will host their annual event in the auditorium at Lincoln Land Community College, but it was recently announced that the Springfield Illinois Trades and Labor Council will also be hosting a forum that evening. The latter, however, will be held at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.

According to Litchfield Chamber President Cory Evans, invitations were sent in August to each political candidate of contested races in the area. Evans said that some of the candidates accepted the invitation while others did not respond until last week. That's when, Evans said, he was notified of a second forum happening in Hillsboro.

After learning of the Hillsboro event, Evans said he reached out to officials with the Trades and Labor Council to request merging the two events so that candidates of contested races could be represented in one unified and bipartisan event. However, Evans said a council representative responded that Thursday was the only date they had available to host the event, ignoring the president's request completely.

Trades and Labor Council President Diana Carlile did not respond to a WSMI request for comment on the issue.

According to the Journal-News, candidates participating in the forum in Litchfield will include State Representative Avery Bourne and candidate Craig Barnstable, State Senate candidate Seth McMillan, State's Attorney candidate Andrew Affrunti, Montgomery County Clerk and Recorder Sandy Leitheiser and candidate Jake Leonard, Treasurer Jay Martin, Montgomery County Sheriff candidate Rick Robbins, and County Board candidates Megan Beeler, Roberta Meyer, William Bergen and Perry Jackson.

Those attending the forum in Hillsboro include State Senator Andy Manar, State's Attorney Bryant Hitchings, Treasurer candidate Nikki Lohman, Sheriff candidate Mark Brazel, State Representative candidate Dillon Clark, and County Board candidates Ron Deabenderfer, Steve Traylor and David Loucks.

The Litchfield Chamber's political forum reportedly dates back to the 1990s, and Evans said they strive to keep it nonpartisan and well-organized for everyone involved.

Investigation Into Stolen Property Leads to Drug Arrests


An investigation into stolen property on Vandalia Street led to the arrest of three Hillsboro residents on Saturday morning.

Gordon Barksdale, 59, Michael Lyons IV, 25, and Chelsea Lassiter, 32, were each arrested and cited for Possession of Stolen Property and Possession of Methamphetamine.

According to Chief Randy Leetham, Hillsboro Police Officers arrived at the scene at 809 Vandalia Street at approximately 11 a.m. Officers made contact with the residents and recovered the stolen items. After making contact, police discovered drug paraphernalia, suspected controlled substances and other possible stolen items in plain sight. Once a search warrant was obtained, officers recovered items from at least three separate burglaries. Suspected Heroin and Crystal Methamphetamine were also collected.

In addition to the other charges, Lyons was cited for three counts of Residential Burglary, Criminal Damage to Property, Possession of Ammunition with a Revoked FOID Card, and Unlawful Use of a Weapon. Lassiter was cited for three counts of Residential Burglary, Criminal Damage to Property and Possession of Ammunition with No Valid FOID Card.

All three subjects were taken to the Montgomery County Jail.

County Board Proclaims October as Suicide Prevention Month

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"Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race, orientation, income level or background," Montgomery County board member Megan Beeler said as she read a proclamation Tuesday recognizing October as Suicide Prevention Month in the county.

The board adopted the resolution unanimously after Beeler read it to the room. In the proclamation, she noted some statistics about suicide in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 41,000 people die by suicide each year. She also said that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. And the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 24.

"Every member of our community should understand that throughout life's struggles, we need an occasional reminder that we all silently fight our own battles," she said.

The proclamation was presented to Wayne Wedekind, who serves on the board of directors of Crossover Ministries. The group is a local non-profit organization that assists people who are considering suicide as well as those affected by the loss of a friend or family member to suicide.

The next Montgomery County Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 13, at 8:30 a.m.

Electioneering Map Released for Montgomery County

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The Montgomery County Clerk's office recently announced the boundaries where no electioneering should take place or political signage be displayed at the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro through Election Day.

Electioneering is defined as working for or against or in the interest of a party, candidate or proposition. Illinois law says that if a polling room is located within a public or private building with two or more floors and the room is located on the ground floor, then the markers shall be placed 100 horizontal feet from each entrance to the polling place room used by voters.

After reviewing law and conferring with State's Attorney Bryant Hitchings, County Board Chairman Evan Young and Democrat and Republican county party leaders, no electioneering or political signage will be allowed within all parking spaces located in the inner circle of the Courthouse Square, five parking spaces located on the west side of the Historic Courthouse in front of the Farm Bureau building, and five spaces located on the north side of the Historic Courthouse. Violation of this law could result in a Class A Misdemeanor.

A copy of the electioneering map may be found on the county clerk's website, montgomeryco.com/countyclerk. Anyone with questions is encouraged to call the County Clerk's office at 532-9530.

Early Voting Underway in Montgomery County

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Early voting for the November General Election in Montgomery County is now underway, according to County Clerk Sandy Leitheiser.

Early voting will be held in the Early Voting Room of the Montgomery County Clerk's office, located at the street level basement of the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro during regular office hours, which are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

According to Leitheiser, ballots cast during the early voting period will be processed at the County Clerk's office on Election Day and will not be counted until after the polls close and all Montgomery County precincts' returns have been made public. Citizens who would like more information about early voting should contact the Montgomery County Clerk's office by calling 532-9530 or emailing countyclerk@montgomeryco.com.

School Board Hears Public Support for Litchfield Principal


During a special Litchfield School Board meeting Wednesday evening, two members of the public spoke in support of High School Principal Doug Hoster, who has been on administrative leave since September 13, following allegations of misconduct.

Former school board President Jeff Helgen was the first person to speak in front of the crowded Panther Gymnasium. He began his speech by saying as a former member of the board, he understood the difficult position board members were in as they were not allowed to respond during the public comment portion of the meeting. He then expressed his concerns over the way the board and Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger have handled Hoster's situation, saying he believes certain employees in the district have had targets on their backs, which he said should never be the case. He also said school board members should not have hidden agendas, as some members have allegedly been accused of having.

Helgen also noted the substantial changes in staff that have occurred since Poffinbarger took over as superintendent. He concluded by saying that he believes employees and residents of the district have lost confidence in the board and superintendent. He said he fears the district's reputation is taking a hit negatively and the ability to recruit top employees will continue to be increasingly difficult as a result.

The other person to speak on behalf of Hoster, who was not in attendance, was Scott Schmidt. The gentleman said he has known the principal for a long time, and even called Hoster one of the finest principals the school has had in many years. He also said, "if the district loses him, it will be a sad day."

After Schmidt concluded, the board moved to enter into closed session, where they remained for almost an hour and a half. Once returning to open session at 7:40 p.m., the board voted to adjourn without taking any action.

The next regularly scheduled Litchfield school board meeting is set for Thursday, October 18, at 6 p.m.

Kelly Miller Circus Visits Hillsboro

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Families and fun seekers from around the WSMI listening area visited Hillsboro Monday evening to witness the Kelly Miller Circus.

The Circus performed shows at 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. Monday in the parking lot at the Hillsboro Sports Complex. The show featured Mongolian Acrobats, an Egyptian juggler, a tightrope walker, a hula hoop artist, a pair of clowns and a ring leader who doubled as a fire eater. In order to comply with Illinois and PETA guidelines, the shows were free of exotic animals.

The circus's visit to Hillsboro was made possible by the Hillsboro Sertoma Club.

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