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Pekin City Council overhauls ethics ordinance

The city of Pekin's ethics commission is no more. The council voted Monday to eliminate the commission in favor of a hearing officer who will investigate complaints and make recommendations to elected officials.

Kate Swise is the city attorney. She says the council still has a say.

"In cases where the council deems it necessary, [it will] allow the council to refer the matter to the city attorney for prosecution for ordinance violations if it's the type of offense that the council thinks would be appropriate to seek fines or monetary penalties," she said.

Those appearing before the hearing officer will have the right to an attorney in a public hearing, but not in an initial evidence-gathering phase.

The ethics commission was created in August 2021. It had only heard complaints regarding the mayor or council members.

Members of the city council had previously agreed the ethics commission model wasn't working as intended, but differed on whether to replace it with a hearing officer, or allow the council to police itself. Some members say they're concerned a third-party officer may not be impartial.

Public commenters retain 10 minutes to address council

In another matter, the council will allow members of the public to keep 10 minutes each to address council members during their regular meetings.

Mayor Mary Burress supported reducing speakers' time to five minutes. She said it's expensive to pay the contracted city attorney to stay late, and noted staff are working 12-hour days on council meeting Mondays.

But council member Dave Nutter said he supports letting residents have their say.

"Not everything is measured in dollars and cents," said Nutter. "There is the intangible of trying to put the citizenry and the government together. I'm hearing division again."

The motion failed on a tied 3-to-3 vote, with Burress, John Abel, and Karen Hohimer voting in favor of the change. Council member Becky Cloyd was absent.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.