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Peoria City Council charts a tentative course for violence reduction spending, but some criticize perceived ponderous pace

Tim Shelley

The Peoria City Council is charting a tentative course forward on violence reduction efforts, but some members of the public are criticizing what they characterize as a sluggish leadership response among elected officials to public safety issues.

Tensions around the horseshoe cooled down a bit during the Peoria City Council's violence reduction funding policy session Tuesday night, as council members reached an informal consensus to put federal and state anti-violence dollars out to bid for various nonprofits.

The city council had previously approved using $1.3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding toward violence prevention efforts in the city's 2022 budget.

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich
Tim Shelley
Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich

City Manager Patrick Urich said the initial recommendation was to spend $200,000 on the violence interruption program Cure Violence, $530,000 for other community-based violence intervention programs, and $500,000 to address violence hot spots through city actions like demolishing vacant properties and adding new lighting to poorly-lit neighborhoods.

But Urich said the council's decision to reject funding for a $25,000 Cure Violence assessment requires an adjustment.

"One recommendation that staff is working on is looking at preparing a request for proposals for violence prevention programming that would allow us to focus on community based violence prevention initiatives," Urich said. "We could model that RFP based on what Indianapolis has done with their American Rescue Plan Funding, and it could be consistent with the Treasury's guidance that on how we could do that we could consolidate the Cure Violence dollars and the other $500,000 for community based violence prevention initiatives into one allocation."

Urich said those requests for proposals could be released for nonprofits to bid on as soon as August. The proposals then would be reviewed by the city's Community Development Block Grant public services commission before coming to the council for final approval.

But at-large council member Zach Oyler said the city council should have more direct control.

One of the resounding things I'd say that's come out of the last three meetings that we've had on the topic is that the council really wants to be engaged in the process," Oyler said. "And I would feel better about it if those RFPs were coming back to us rather than going to CDBG, and if we had additional council meetings to do those reviews ourselves, rather than sending them through another committee."

Nothing precludes Cure Violence from submitting bids on the money up for grabs. At-large council member John Kelly said that's fine with him.

"I don't believe the council had a particular problem with Cure Violence. They had a procedural problem," he said.

But 2nd District councilman Chuck Graham said he won't support giving Cure Violence money.

"Ethical relativism is a slippery slope that has shown more compassion to the criminal than to innocent victims. And I'm talking about Peoria, too," Grayeb said. "This philosophy has given us horrible repressive societies that have no respect for human life, or the rights of law abiding citizens because everything is ethically relative. This will never be 'the cure.'"

A plan to put out at least three RFP's with different state or federal funding sources brooked little dissent on the city council. City Manager Patrick Urich says the federal ARPA money will likely go out before the state dollars because the timeline on when the city will receive the state money isn't certain.

ARPA money applications for be up for review in September. Organizations receiving ARPA money would be obligated to spend the funds by the end of next year - and show the council how they spent it.

1st District council member Denise Jackson said those performance metrics should reassure council members about their transparency concerns.

"We want to make sure that we as a council can do our part in terms of making sure those funds are available, while at the same time making sure that everybody is being as transparent as possible," she said.

But for some members of the clergy, the city council isn't moving fast enough to address violence in the community. During the public comment portion of the meeting, the Rev. Benjamin Nicks Jr. of St. Luke's Missionary Baptist Church criticized the council's perceived lack of urgency to act.

"The perception that I have seen of the City Council is inaction, ignorance and or inability to move. That is a problem. Now, ignorance I can deal with. That means somebody has to be educated and then something can happen from there. But inaction? No," Nicks said. "What needs to happen right now is for weeks after weeks you've had discussions, you've had talks, and nothing has seemed to happen. We need action now."

And Pastor Harvey Burnett of New Bethel Church of God says it's not enough for council members to oppose an anti-violence plan.

"If Cure Violence is not right, where is your plan? If you cannot in good conscience agree to fund Cure Violence, it is not good enough to merely stand against the plan as if you're doing our community some great service," Burnett said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.