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Ongoing council tensions over Mayor Ali's anti-violence initiatives bleed into S-NET meeting

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Jordan Mead
/
WCBU
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali speaking at the first open S-Net meeting on Friday morning.

The ongoing furor over the city of Peoria's anti-violence initiatives bled into Mayor Rita Ali's first open Safety Network (S-NET) meeting on Friday.

At Friday’s S-NET meeting, at-large council members Zachary Oyler and Sid Ruckriegel accused S-NET of lacking transparency and keeping them “in the dark.”

This set off an intense back-and-forth between Ali, Oyler and Ruckriegel, and other S-Net meeting attendees.

At issue appears to be concerns over the mayor's ownership of the trademark "S-NET" and whether the city manager helped transfer ownership of the trademark to the city.

Ali initially began to meet with community stakeholders to address gun violence last summer.

Ali said she protected the trademark. S-NET began meeting last year when the working group began to hold closed meetings.

“I worked with the city attorney a few months later to get that transferred to the City of Peoria at no cost. I had paid several hundred dollars to purchase and protect that name, but I transferred it fully to City of Peoria,” Ali said.

Records with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show Ali filed to register "S-NET" in June 2019. The trademark was registered to Ali in June 2020. The trademark was not transferred from Ali to the city of Peoria until March 10, 2022. The transfer was notarized by an executive assistant at city hall.

Ali called their comments about S-NET and City Manager Patrick Urich "slanderous."

“Those allegations against our city manager are slanderous. He’s an excellent manager. He is a very knowledgeable and talented manager. To say those things, that he tried to cover something up or he did something illegal, I think that it’s reckless. It’s reckless behavior, and I dispute it,” Ali said.

Oyler called the issues between S-NET and the council “very serious.”

“We are meeting Saturday morning as a council in executive session to discuss this because it is very serious. How this has been handled is very serious," Oyler said.

Ruckriegel claimed he and other council members have many unanswered questions, but neither Ruckriegel nor Oyler brought up any specific concerns when asked to provide them at Friday’s meeting. Both Oyler and Ruckriegel voted against Cure Violence funding.

Ali told both Ruckriegel and Oyler that they must send her a list of questions they need answered relating to S-NET and Cure Violence. She said stating there are “unanswered questions” without presenting any questions to her to answer is “making excuses.”

In response, Ruckriegel said the council too wants to find an appropriate solution.

“That’s why we are here,” Ruckriegel said. “This S-NET meeting, at least from my observation, has been interesting history on the S-NET as opposed to what I think the S-NET meeting really is.”

Ruckriegel said he has tried to meet with the mayor to discuss his questions. Ali said the two had met, yet he had still not addressed his questions to her.

“I want to work with you. I want to know what the questions are. Please send me a list of the outstanding questions so we can begin to move forward,” Ali said.

Peoria has seen 12 homicides this year, and Lt. Earnest McCall from the Peoria Police Department said the numbers have been going up over the last few weeks, which is typical each year around the 4th of July.

Since June 24, Peoria has had seven gunshot victims, and three homicides attributed to gun violence.

The Peoria City Council last week rejected spending $25,000 in American Rescue Plan Act relief money to fund a Cure Violence assessment in a 6-5 vote.

Ali said delaying action is costing more lives in Peoria.

“It’s urgent because people are dying. Again, six people got shot this week, and three of them died. Demographically, it’s disproportionate. More than 80% of the homicides are Black people, and they get younger all the time. We’re talking about a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old who was killed. Many of the people that were in this room know some of those people that were killed,” Ali said.

"Demographically, it’s disproportionate. More than 80% of the homicides are Black people, and they get younger all the time."
Rita Ali, Mayor of Peoria

Peoria Public Schools superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said the claims of dishonesty made by Oyler and Ruckriegel aren't a light matter.

“One thing I will say about the City Manager is he is exceptional. He is brilliant. We work very closely with him. To me, that is discouraging and offensive, and he’s sitting right here listening to this,” Kherat said. “If we lose him, Peoria’s going to suffer.”

Arnitria Shaw, vice president of workforce and diversity at Illinois Central College, echoed the message that any questions the Peoria City Council feels are unanswered need to be put in writing to properly answer them and create more transparency.

“I’ve been involved with S-NET since the very first meeting. I am proud to be associated with the community that came together … we would go out of the room and decide how to collaborate to save not just lives but to save our kids and our families, and the level of negativity that has permeated this gathering today, please do not allow our efforts to be derailed. We know in our hearts what we are doing this for and are more than happy to answer any question as long as they are consistent,” Shaw said.

Given the council has voted down a Cure Violence assessment twice, Ali said if people want to see an assessment, funding will have to come from other sources.

Ali said Cure Violence is an opportunity to bring an evidence-based initiative to Peoria.

“It’s been recommended by the police chief. It’s been recommended by the public health administrator and their teams. It has been proven successful in other cities across the world,” Ali said. “We have to do something different. We have to do something that we’re not doing right now, and it can’t just be a hodge-podge of different programs. It has to be something that’s strategic, something that’s broad-based and something that has been proven to be successful.”

Last year at this time, Peoria had already seen 16 homicides.

McCall said during Friday’s meeting that 10 out of the 12 homicides this year have been solved.

In addition, Peoria has received 321 total anonymous tips from the public. Anyone can send an anonymous tip via text message to the Peoria Police Department by texting the keyword PEORIAPD and their tip to 847411. In the past seven days, Peoria Police have received 18 tips.

Many S-NET meeting attendees say they’d be willing to find an alternative funding source to bring Cure Violence to Peoria.

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.