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A divided Pekin City Council opts to keep ethics commission, create a historic preservation code, and deny the county a key ask

The Pekin City Council moved through a packed agenda over three and a half hours on a Monday night characterized by votes split largely along factional lines.

Pekin police chief John Dossey was appointed the city's new interim city manager. He's the second person to hold that role since last October, when the city council fired city manager Mark Rothert for reasons which remain hazy. Interim city manager Bruce Marston was removed last week after unspecified allegations were made to human resources, though he remains as the city's finance director.

Dossey described the appointment on Monday largely as a stewardship role until a new permanent city manager is hired. To that end, the council approved a hiring freeze on new department heads until a city manager is onboarded. Dossey said that person should have an opportunity to build their own team.

Currently, the city's human resources director and economic development director positions are open. The city has struggled with high employee turnover rates.

Dossey's appointment was non-controversial, but other votes saw Mayor Mary Burress and councilmembers Karen Hohimer and John Abel voting as a bloc, with councilmembers Becky Cloyd, Rick Hilst, and Lloyd Orrick opposing many of their positions. That left councilmember Dave Nutter often acting as the decisive swing vote.

The city council voted 4-3 to keep the ethics commission created in August 2021. Since its creation, it has only looked into elected officials, often at the behest of citizen complaints.

Cloyd said the intentions behind the commission are good, but the execution is flawed. She noted each complaint costs the city considerable money, even if it's ultimately thrown out.

"It's not that we're getting rid of ethics, we're just removing something that's being abused and not being enforced," she said.

But Pekin Mayor Mary Burress said the commission should be kept.

"I don't feel we should take it away. We should improve it. We are held to a higher standard, and we should follow those rules," she said.

Councilmember Dave Nutter agreed. He said the ethics commission shouldn't be thrown away just because it wasn't performing well.

The city's ongoing strife with Tazewell County government also loomed large over Monday's meeting. Prior to Burress' election, the council voted to sell land near the county-owned Tobin and Arcade buildings to private developer Randy Price for construction of a new community gymnasium.

Price was a campaign donor to Cloyd, and Burress mentioned the address of his company EnviroSafe is listed as the headquarters of Cloyd's state campaign account in a public call for Cloyd to recuse herself from votes on Price's project included on Monday night's agenda. Cloyd supported the sale of the property to Price, a move she defended.

The county also wanted the parcel now owned by Price as part of its plans to demolish the adjacent Tobin and Arcade buildings to make way for construction of a new Justice Center annex.

Though the county didn't secure that city-owned parcel, it still requested on Monday the vacation of a portion of Elizabeth Street for the construction of a ground-level passageway from the current jail to the new annex.

"We do work well with the county, and we need to keep the rapport going with city and county," said Burress, the former Tazewell County treasurer.

It fell one vote short of the needed supermajority, with Cloyd and Orrick voting no.

Orrick noted a site plan isn't yet developed for the county development. County administrator Mike Deluhery told the council that he didn't want to spend taxpayer funds on the plans until the street vacation was secured. That site plan would have returned to the council for final approval, but it wouldn't have required a supermajority threshold.

The council also approved a new historic preservation code, with Burress, Hohimer, and Abel voting no. The creation of the code and a corresponding commission came about as the county's plans to demolish the Arcade and Tobin buildings became known. The amended version of the ordinance passed altered language allowing for the demolition of historic structures if preservation was deemed "economically infeasible."

Burress ended the meeting by calling on the council to attend services for Pekin Police Officer Daniel Graber, who died suddenly last week. She also announced plans to name Hohimer the new mayor pro tem at the next city council meeting - a title currently held by Cloyd.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.