$1.4 million in additional anti-violence grants prove divisive around Peoria City Council horseshoe
The Peoria City Council has approved an additional $1.4 million in anti-violence grants, amid a backdrop of rising gun violence. But some council members are skeptical about whether all the programs are the right approach — or if they're producing results.
Twenty-six applications were filed. Applications from the Greater Peoria YMCA, Peoria County Regional Office of Education, Peoria City/County Health Department, Goodwill, Peoria Public Schools, and Peoria Friendship House got the highest scores from the city's Community Development Block Grant Commission.
A literacy component of the $300,000 Peoria Public Schools application received particular scrutiny.
"My concern is that we have people getting shot, people getting killed, cars being stolen burglaries happening in the city of Peoria every single day. And this money is to deal with the most critical needs, to stop the bleeding," said at-large councilman Zach Oyler. "I do not feel looking at this list that we're dealing with the most critical needs to stop the bleeding when we're funding second grade reading."
Fourth District councilman Andre Allen disagreed. He said the root causes of violence have to be tackled.
"The way you address that is holistically, by making sure the second grader is reading, making sure the high schooler learns job readiness skills, so they can translate into a well paying career, so that way they can be a law abiding citizen in our city," Allen said.
Susan Grzanich, innovation officer for Peoria Public Schools, noted the reading component was based on district data.
"We looked at our discipline data, and we said what is at the root of this problem? And as we tracked back, we found non readers were having higher levels of disciplinary issues, especially in terms of violence," she said.
Grzanich said the "Getting to the Roots" program also includes two other prongs: a Peoria violence prevention curriculum in classrooms, and counseling services outside school hours.
Second District councilman Chuck Grayeb, a former Peoria Public Schools administrator, said he was "disheartened" by the district's proposal.
"One of the best anti-violence initiatives that District 150 could implement — I know because I did it for a long time — is enforcing the rules and regulations of the school district and of the schools," Grayeb said. "And I have met with District 150 officials in reference to this. And I'm basically told by them that our hands are tied to mete out discipline."
At-large council member Kiran Velpula questioned why applicants who received funding in the previous $700,000 round last October were receiving more funds, and Fifth District councilman Denis Cyr asked for more accountability measures on how the money already doled out is being used.
"I'd love to see that and to make sure that we're accountable for all these monies. I mean, we're talking about a lot of money," Cyr said.
Allen criticized some of the lines of questioning about costs, saying the council recently spent $100,000 on a water company buyout study that elected officials are unlikely to ultimately follow through upon.
"I don't want us to have a façade of fiscal conservatism when we have people's lives on the line," Allen said.
The violence prevention grants are funded through a variety of state and federal programs. That includes $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, $500,000 from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and a separate $300,000 workforce training grant, also from DCEO.
The omnibus item was split into six separate votes on each program. Oyler and Grayeb voted against the Peoria Public Schools grant. Olyer, Grayeb, and Velpula voted against $400,000 for the health department's Cure Violence program. And Velpula voted against $287,500 for the Peoria Friendship House's workforce training program.
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali said collaboration is needed to reduce crime and gun violence in the city, but the tone of the discussion around the grants concerned her.
"The division really concerns me because this affects all of us. It affects our children. It affects our families, it affects our residents and affects our lives. So I just hope that we can be more open as we move forward," she said.