Gillespie with Jeep

Michael Gillespie is Decherd’s new mayor. He is standing next to his Jeep with campaign signage removed. The Jeep played an instrumental role on the campaign trail.

Little did Michael Gillespie realize that a move he made to get the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to help restore the Mt. Garner Cemetery arch would lead to him being elected as Decherd’s new mayor.

Gillespie, who defeated incumbent Robin Smith by a 191-129 vote margin on Aug. 1, said the unrestored arch was the catalyst behind why he tossed his hat into the ring to vie to become Decherd’s highest ranking city official.

“I had no interest in running for mayor,” he said just after garnering the victory. “Had they fixed the arch, I probably wouldn’t have run.”

A founding member of the Decherd Historical and Preservation Society who has an extensive connection to the cemetery where many of his relatives are buried, Gillespie said it was paramount to ask the board to restore the arch to its former condition.

He said two years have passed, and the arch is still being held up by a steel cable which is unacceptable.

Gillespie said the arch led to a major question — if the city couldn’t afford to spend money to fix the arch, what was it spending its money on?

Gillespie said he initially was thinking that he won the election because he was an alternative to the incumbent, “and they didn’t want him in there anymore.”

However, he said he came to believe he won because people may have wanted change based on the campaign platform he had, which is to have an open government with an opportunity for people to participate.

“I want to see more people come to meetings, and if they can’t, at least have the meetings played back on our website, so they can get more involved,” Gillespie said.

He also wants to lean toward his historical roots and promote using Decherd’s historic-building atmosphere to play into future economic development opportunities.

Gillespie said Decherd has vacant historic buildings that could accommodate new businesses. He added that he wants to develop a dialogue with property owners to make a solid move in that direction.

“We have empty buildings that should be full of small businesses,” he said.

Gillespie said Decherd could also use infrastructure improvements to go hand-in-hand with the historic-preservation effort.

He said the city’s park facilities need to be upgraded, and Decherd could use improvements to its sidewalks and bicycle paths.

Gillespie said having ample park facilities are greatly needed.

“Kids need to have someplace to play beside the streets,” he said.

Gillespie said when he became immersed with research for the Historical and Preservation Society, he found out Decherd had an urban planning and renewal development plan dating back to 1975 that has been largely overlooked.

He added that he would like to use it as a template to see what Decherd could build its future from.

Gillespie said his initial period at the office will involve becoming more familiar with the city’s budget that was recently approved before he got elected.

He said the funding has already been decided for the next year, and he wants to thoroughly understand it so he can determine later what financial paths might need to be followed.

Gillespie said that accomplishing his goals for improvement and development will involve seeking grant opportunities and learning how to most wisely spend residents’ tax dollars.

He said that if the budget is handled properly, Decherd should be able to, in some way, afford the improvements residents want.

Gillespie, 66, is a native of Moline, Illinois, whose family moved to Chicago, Illinois, when he was still a child.

His grandparents and other relatives remained in Decherd, and he routinely spent summers in the community he now leads.

He retired as senior operations analyst for Kohler Co. in Chicago four years ago and made the move to Decherd.

Gillespie said his experience in problem-solving and working through audits with Kohler will come in handy in his new job as mayor.

“I want to look at what the community can do better and more cost efficiently,” he said.