Another regular session of the council tonight and the business agenda seems pretty ordinary. But appearances can be deceiving.
Let me back up a little bit. I left work about 5 til 6 tonight, turned on the radio and caught the beginning of Outside the Horseshoe on WCBU. An interesting discussion on the current system of electing At-Large Council members. Supposedly set up to include more minority candidates and opportunities for African Americans to serve on the council. Not that I disagree with that concept, in principal. But did I miss something, or did the rest of you? Didn't we settle all this around 1965 or so? Personally, I would like to see people elected on the merits of their qualifications, not on the basis of their color. You know this slippery slope everyone likes to point to? Well, here we are attempting to slant the odds in favor of one group or another, at the expense of sound leadership. And we wonder why we have corrupt or incompetent leaders. Oh well, back to the Council.
I arrived about 6:20, the council is already reciting the pledge of allegiance. Standing room only in the chambers, due to the large number of proclamation recipients. I'm standing in the hall outside the rear door to the chamber having walked the four flights of stairs due to an inoperative elevator [Reminder to self to get back in shape]. The Salvation Army is the first group to be recognized on their 125th Anniversary. They clear the room, and I manage to get in to grab a chair. Next Proclamation, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Jim Magee speaks briefly and passionately about the devastation of lung cancer in Peoria county. Seems we lead the state in cases, even greater in number than Cook County. The disease has no respect for race, religion, or age, apparently, but Mr. Magee does leave us with a message of hope, saying the treatments and prevention measures are working.
John Sharp is at the Press Table. No sign of Billy or C.J.
Next is the proclamation for Community Foundation Week, and Mayor Ardis introduces Mark Roberts, the founder, CEO, President, and apparently chief cook and bottle washer of the Peoria Community Fund, a not-for-profit foundation that supplies support for other not-for-profit organizations. He speaks to the $8,000,000 in local funds provided to various organizations in 2011, praises contributors for their help, and asks they keep giving to help others.
Last Proclamation is the 2011 Citizens Academy Graduation. 37 people are recognized, about 32 of them in attendance in blue polo shirts with the Citizens Academy logo on the chest. Steve Fairbanks and Jenny Fulton preside, and the Mayor gets a photo op.
The room clears as the council prepares to get down to business. Now an interesting side note, apparently these last folks attended the Citizens Leadership Academy to be more involved in their community, yet when the opportunity to participate as citizens and offer comments about the actions the council are about to take, they leave. Hmmmmm. In the words of the King of Siam, "'Tis a Puzzlement."
Minutes for the previous two meetings are approved, and on to the first item of business - the Public Hearing regarding the 2012 City of Peoria Budget. Mayor Ardis invites members of the community to address the council regarding the proposed budget.
Speaker #1 is Lorraine Bryson, a member of the Tri-County Urban League speaking on behalf of Social Service Agencies. There are many people in the chambers wearing a cut out of a child on their chests, apparently supporters there to represent their agencies. Bryson is concerned that the proposed budget will reallocate CDGB funds to Public Safety efforts instead of these agencies. She speaks passionately as to the services being provided by these agencies, services that include aide for low income families and abused children, elderly, and homeless people. Basically she is arguing, convincingly, that their actions are preventative in nature, and help to reduce the need for enforcement. She believes that the reduction in funds will have long terms effects on the community. She also notes that a reduction in funds from the City will also affect the various agencies ability to receive grants, particularly those who require matching funds. Lorraine concludes by stating the 2010 funds have been used to support more than 1,500 children, provide after school programs for children at risk, provided for at least 1,000 special needs children, and have even been used to help first offenders to rejoin the community and leave the criminal lifestyle.
Speaker #2 is Roberta Parks, a representative of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, who praises the City Council on making the tough cuts that need to be made in order to keep the city strong. Now, if I give a less than accurate account, you have to know that this woman talks at the speed of a locomotive and apparently loves to hear the sound of her own voice. She provides a list of reasons they like the budget, which include the reorganizing of staff structure, the consolidation of departments [the word synergy is used], staff layoffs, reduction of services due to a floundering economy [not her words, but essentially what she said], early retirement of 200 or so employees, shared services [county and city], outsourcing of some services, reinvestment in infrastructure, no significant tax increases, and pension reforms.
Last, but certainly not least, is Savino Sierra, our often ignored and somewhat maligned citizen observer. He objects to the cuts in the budget, saying that not only will it result in a loss of leadership and services, but also in morale in the city. He says he has more to say, and will continue to attend meetings to speak to his concerns. God bless Savino Sierra.
The room clears again as the consent agenda is read aloud. Items A, B, C, E, F, H, I, K, and N are approved without comment unanimously. Item G is pulled from the agenda by Beth Akeson, Items D, L, and M are pulled by Sandberg.
Item D pertains to amending the budget for 2011 to authorize the payment of $109,986.00 to the Springdale Cemetery Management Authority. Gary begins to speak and loudly announces the people he wanted to hear what he had to say were leaving the chamber (Lorraine Bryson and her constituents) and asked them to stay to hear this motion. Gary begins by reviewing the history, well known to most of us, of the Springdale Cemetery fiasco that has led to an increasing budget deficit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since the City of Peoria entered into an agreement with the County and the Peoria Park District to maintain and manage the facility, the deficit grows annually. The 2010 deficit was $359,000.00. Sandberg is making the case that because of this obligation, the money to support other programs is not there. Councilman Spears points out that while we own the cemetery, we apparently have little or no control over the budget. He wonders if the council can put a cap on the spending. City Manager Urich we may submit a request to the managing board to request a reduction in budget. Spears answers and says that means NO, we cannot control their spending. Urich admits that the managing board has an open checkbook to administrate the cemetery. Spears points out it will never pay for itself. Urich says, Valid point. I could continue to give you a blow by blow, but the end result is Ardis jumps in and establishes that cemeteries are by their nature a losing proposition, that many volunteers are participating in the maintenance and restoration of Springdale, and there are a lot of issues that are not being considered. Motion is called and passed unanimously.
Item G is an ordinance to vacate Iowa Street from Grant Street in order to further the use of that area to the expansion of the Komatsu company (not stated that way, but the proposal is to further the commercial goals of Komatsu, which is in keeping with the Peoria mandate to provide jobs). Beth Akeson asks that Mr. Ordaz is allowed to speak. He is representing both the Detweiller Marina Association and the Averyville Township Association. His main objection is not to the action itself, but that this was proposed and about to be passed without so much as a by your leave to either of these groups, both of which will be affected by the ordinance and subsequent development. He feels the management of Komatsu and the City should meet with these groups and other affected groups to gather impact on activities or provisions for Quid Pro Quo concessions to the community in the form of bike paths, parks, etc. There is a long discussion concerning the motion, Beth and her supporters are asking for a deferral of four weeks to give all parties a chance to determine the impact. Weaver and others are concerned that the delay might have a negative effect on the business. Mayor Ardis assures him it will not. Gulley does not see the reason for delay and does not think the delay will alter the outcome. He asks the council to vote against the delay. Akeson again asks for support for the delay. Ardis calls the question, the delay is granted with Gulley being the only NO vote.
Items L & M are pertaining to the Police and Firemen's Pension Board Reports. Sandberg has pulled these two items because he believes we are not getting enough return on the investments being made with these funds, and feels we should reevaluate our strategy there. After a lot of meaningless discussion, the decision is made not to change anything, despite Sandberg's concerns. Both motions pass unanimously.
Okay, so here is where I get to make a few comments about the proceedings. As to the budget, I believe Ms. Bryson made some valid points about supporting programs that are preventative in nature. I am certain that the police would agree if they were to give it some thought. If these agencies can care for abuse victims and keep them from perpetuating the chain of abuse, they are worth their weight in gold. I think the city needs to weigh their options carefully. God knows we do need some additional public safety presence in the area, but how about we explore the funds being used by other agencies to see if they can be trimmed. Regardless of what the Chamber of Commerce thinks. Frankly, I am not sure why Ms. Parks even spoke. She had no input other that to tell the council what a great job they did in eliminating jobs, reducing pensions, and reducing public services while allowing other non-essential projects to move forward. And Savino Sierra is absolutely correct. A large reduction in services, the elimination of jobs, and the cutting back of pensions will have a negative effect on morale in this city. Such a reduction will lead to more problems, not fewer problems, and cause additional problems for an already over tasked police force.
As to the other events, I'll let you figure them out.