Pekin mayoral candidates offer their goals for the city: Stop the infighting, fix the roads, cut taxes
The three candidates running to be the next mayor of Pekin acknowledge the city has experienced a degree of dysfunction brought on by political turmoil in recent months, and all of them think they can resolve the tension to get things back on track.
“I do think that it has been detrimental because you can't go on the street and not hear how, ‘What's going on with our city? We've got to go in a different direction,’” said Mary Burress, the former Tazewell County treasurer. “We need good leadership, and that's truly what it is.
“Our best assets that we have in the city of Pekin are our employees and the citizens, those are the best thing that we have going — and to say that we're running a lot of them out of town, it's uncalled for. We have got to pull our city back together, we have to unite, and I have a track record of just doing that.”
Last month, former mayor Mark Luft resigned before the end of his term. Luft already had decided not to seek re-election, partly crediting his decision to ongoing disagreements with some city council members.
Among those disputes was the council’s split vote in October to terminate former city manager Mark Rothert. Council members Becky Cloyd and Dave Nutter — the other two mayoral candidates — both voted in favor of Rothert’s ouster.
“I've gone back over the last six to eight months trying to figure out: where are we at, why did this fall apart? And this is by no means throwing anybody under the bus, but things just happened,” said Nutter, citing Luft’s divided attention between his roles as mayor and 91st District state representative as resulting in communication breakdowns.
“We’ve got to start communicating again; we can't segregate: one council member, two council members. We all have to work together as a team," said Nutter. "Team’s a good word to use ... you got to be functional with it. You have to have a plan. You’ve got to communicate that plan to everybody. We have segregated conversations at times, and I don't like to use the word ‘one-upmanship,’ but that's kind of what it boils down to a little bit.”
Cloyd, who emerged as a chief rival to Luft since joining the council in 2021, won an appeal to have her name restored to the ballot after the Pekin Electoral Board — chaired by the former mayor — voted to invalidate her nominating petitions.
“I have to say that Pekin has changed, even in the recent months. It is getting better, we’re working together,” said Cloyd, who as mayor pro tem is now leading city meetings in Luft’s absence. “Even one of the council members who's also running for mayor, he and I get along great — and we are both running for the same position. I think that says a lot to this community.
“I hope that they'll see that and it will spotlight that you can run for something at the same time, but still get along. You don't have to agree 100%, but you can still work with somebody else. … Right now, we have a good majority of people who are working together to make decisions. What I look at it is, we've had square wheels and we've been sanding those down to where it's not as bumpy; it's a little more smooth until it's well-rounded.”
Burress spent 12 years as county treasurer, and her late husband Bob capped a nearly 30-year career with the Pekin Police Department with a three-year stint as the chief in the mid-1990s. She said her strong family connections to the city factored in her decision to enter the race.
“I want nothing more than to see the city of Pekin thrive again,” said Burress. “The ties are strong; the dedication is strong, and I'm doing it for our future — for my grandchildren, for our children. I want to take my experience that I have as a leader to City Hall. We need good leadership.”
Burress said her first goal for Pekin is “to get our finances in order” without overburdening taxpayers.
“Being treasurer, that's your number one thing: to know where every nickel is, how it's spent, why it's spent,” she said. “I think we need to dig in to the City of Pekin, stop taxing our way out of debt, putting another fine or fee on the citizens of Pekin, running businesses out of town because we've put implemented fines and fees on them as well.”
One pathway to the city becoming more fiscally responsible, she said, is to become more “business-friendly.”
“When you run businesses out of town, the city's levy doesn't cut. You and I are the one picking up those tax dollars. It is so harmful,” she said. “We have to be positive and do everything we can to let businesses want to come to Pekin and make it vibrant again, for them to say, ‘This is where I want my business to grow.’”
Burress said getting the city council members and administrators on the same page is critical to Pekin making progress.
“Attitudes are contagious, and we need to focus forward in a new direction and (be) positive,” she said.
“As treasurer, yes, my name was on the door (and) the buck stopped with me. But it wasn't just ‘me’ or ‘I;’ it was a team. It was a true team to run the county's finances to get a job done. Yes, I'm the type that rolls up the sleeves and gets the job done; that's what I want to see done with the city. I want to see us work together, have that kind of attitude that is positive. We’re not all going to (agree), but we need to stop the infighting in council meetings, get organized before you start into that council meeting, and work truly as a team.”
Cloyd joined the city council in 2021 and as mayor pro tem, she is currently handling most of Luft’s duties since he resigned. She said her current job as a personal trainer allows her to help people get from Point A to Point B, and she wants to do the same for Pekin.
“We have a lot of positive things happening in Pekin, but we can definitely do better,” she said. “We can do better in communicating to our citizens, the citizens of Pekin. We can do better about conveying interest in what they have to say, we can do better about fixing our roads, we can do better about just making some of the changes and letting them know that they've been heard. I know that at this time we need a leader that's proactive, and I am a proactive leader, not a (reactionary).”
Cloyd said the city’s top need is to improve the condition of the roads.
“It's even a joke, unfortunately, among other communities,” she said. “I used to think it was just our downtown, but I stepped back and actually went up about 10,000 feet and looked at it a little differently, and realized that Pekin’s issues are not downtown. Pekin’s issue begins with our thoroughfare into our city.”
The pavement issues on Court Street have become a deterrent to new business development, she added, and that residential streets haven’t received attention in more than 50 years.
“What we've been doing, unfortunately, in the past is kicking that down the road at the expense of the taxpayer because we pay for those roads,” she said. “That's a basic governmental responsibility, to build the roads and to fix roads. Right now, it's an obstacle course; people are messing up their vehicles, and it's just the long haul of the same thing over and over again without any change, and that's the definition of insanity.”
Cloyd said the city should look at ways to rework its $85 million budget to dedicate more money to infrastructure projects and roads in particular. At the same time, she wants to explore the possibility of tax cuts.
“I think honestly that we need to consider revisiting our tax base, not the base, but the taxes and how we're spending them. I think that Pekin charges too many taxes,” she said. “I think we need to either look at reducing that 2% food and beverage tax that we pay — it’s astronomical—– or doing an across-the-board 1% tax decrease.
“I think we have probably a lot of fat that needs to be cut off, and that's healthy to do that. It's hard to do, but it's healthy and it's better for you. That's how I look at Pekin. We've got to trim some of that to make us more efficient and more healthy and to run more effectively.”
Nutter has lived in Pekin for more than 40 years, and has served on the council since 2019. His work experience includes more than 30 years with Caterpillar and seven more years at Walmart, and he holds an associate's degree in business management. He prides himself on his leadership and research abilities in regard to city management.
“You don't always want to believe what you read or what you hear, so you find out a lot of information just by talking to the people on the street: talking to the city employees, talking to management, finding out what's good, what's bad, what can we change,” said Nutter, noting his four years in municipal government are more than either of his opponents.
“That gives me a little bit of advantage, and I think I can provide the leadership, the guidance, the direction, be a better communicator than we have had in the past. And I've learned along the way what to do, what not to do.”
Nutter has a list of what he calls his “five S’s” of top issues for Pekin to address: Security, safety, streets, sidewalks and sewers.
“They're big dollar items, they're big ticket items. It takes a long time to, let's say, overlay a street or completely tear a street out. We're looking at probably 3-5 years, by the time you start with the engineering or the process through Department of Transportation. We’ve definitely got to make sure our citizens are safe through police; we got to make sure they're secure through our fire department.
“We have a lot of streets that need to be repaired, and we've got off to a good start over the last three years. We have two major projects: Court Street is in Phase Two (and) Derby Street is going to be in basically the initial phase this year. It's going to be a complete tear out of that street.”
Nutter also noted that the city is working with a firm to get more details on what sidewalk improvements will be needed to comply with a settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit regarding proper accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He also said work is underway to detect sewer blockages and other issues in older parts of the city.
Nutter said another one of his main focal points is addressing homelessness in the city, noting it will take a collaborative effort to get a grasp of the issue. He also said there is a lot of potential in plans to revitalize the city's downtown area, but he wants to take a deeper look at proposals developed by Erik Reader’s consulting firm.
“Some of us went on two tours of the buildings of, ‘Here's what I'm seeing, here's what I think we can do.’ We went in empty buildings and I will say I was amazed — some were really, really nice properties that people I think if they want to invest in it with the right business, I think they'd get the population down there. Some of them are going to take a little more effort, but it's possible.
“We've got to have again, going back to the plan aspect, Erik presented a plan to the council and other business people in town. We've got to dissect it because it comes down to like every other business: you’ve got to have the money. We have talked, we've got to find out exactly what's our footing for financial aid downtown.”