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Peoria City Council approves changes to Racial Justice and Equity Commission Charter

The Peoria City Council plans to continue their discussion on short term rentals at their Tuesday, Dec. 12 meeting at city hall.
Collin Schopp
Peoria City Hall

The Peoria City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved amendments to the City/County Commission on Racial Justice and Equity's Charter, with the hope of “improving the commission’s operational efficiency and transparency.”

The Racial Justice and Equity commission was founded in October of 2020, with more than 150 people appointedas members. According to the charter, at least half and at most three quarters of the members, must be racially diverse. Its mission is to "accelerate efforts to institutionalize racial justice and equity within county and city government, and to advance its adoption throughout the region." Its vision is to "end racism in city and county government and to achieve racial equity and justice across our community."

The proposed amendments provide points of clarification on the commission’s steering committee, nominating committees, working groups, and the annual report that it must submit to the county and city.

Fourth district council member Andre Allen praised the work done by the commission’s steering committee to form the charter.

“Nationally, there’s a trend to pull back from these type of efforts right now. And to see that we have a joint commission here that is based off the city and county government, I think that demonstrates what type of community we have here,” Allen said.

At-large council member John Kelly expressed doubt as to whether there is racism in the city government.

“Do we have racism in our city government? This says that we do,” he said, later adding, “Frankly, I don’t know that there is.” And, “We want to achieve racial equity. Perhaps I’m ignorant, but I don’t know what that is.”

Mayor Rita Ali replied that yes, she does think racism exists in the city government.

“My answer to that is yes,” she said, adding, “There was a full report — actually, there was a lot of work that was done prior to the commission coming into existence, that showed workforce barriers, [barriers to] employment, entry, certain opportunities. There’s been evidence of historical, institutional racism not just within the city government but ... throughout the city and the nation, council member.

"And the intent of the commission, which was approved unanimously by both the city and county over two years ago, was to try to remove all elements of racism — institutional racism that may be built into the fabric of policies, practices, procedures.”

Outdoor dining pilot gets the go-ahead

The council unanimously approved a $175,000 infrastructure purchase to launch an outdoor dining pilot program. Downtown establishments in the central business and riverfront areas will soon be able to incorporate sidewalk cafes for outdoor dining. The plan will be funded by an ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) grant.

Multiple council members praised the pilot program.

“It’s just perfect — a perfect area to see and make that connection from downtown all the way up the hill” said at-large council member Dr. Bernice Gordon-Young. “I also really appreciate the fact that [the outdoor dining infrastructure] is interchangeable. And so that means if the business moves, then maybe it can go with them or whatever, but at least it’s not a permanent fixture.”

Also within the area of infrastructure, the council approved two temporary easement payments of more than $60,000 to PNC Bank and Park Place Real Estate, respectively, as well as over $19,000 to Pioneer Industrial Park Inc., to start the proposed Pioneer Parkway and University Street Intersection Reconstruction Project.

The council also authorized necessary steps toward the development of two proposed TIF [Tax Increment Funding[ districts: the Galena Road Industrial District and the “Distillery District” centered around the Black Band Distillery. There will be upcoming public hearings regarding both TIF districts [dates to be announced], registries of interested businesses, and registration rules.

Tackling youth violence prevention

Chief among the legislative agenda topics on Tuesday were the issues public safety and crime in the city, particularly in the downtown area, and especially pertaining to youth.

“Take a look at the number of kids we’ve buried in Peoria, we’ve buried in the last two years between the ages of 18 and 24. And take a look at the number of times they’ve interfaced with the juvenile justice system. We have a problem here,” said 2nd District council member Charles Grayeb.

The council voted unanimously to assign $355,000 of a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services to youth-related violence prevention, $100,000 toward police and fire department equipment, $35,000 toward the Peoria Role Model Project, and $10,000 toward grant writing workshops.

22VA recognized

The first joint city council and town board meeting of the year opened with a proclamation from local veteran artist group, 22VA that works to raise awareness of veteran suicide and expand opportunities for veterans via the arts.

Twenty-two U.S. veterans die by suicide every day on average. The organization asks that folks make it a practice to check in on a veteran on the 22nd of every month. 22VA will soon be installing its annual art exhibit at the Peoria Public Library.

Andrea graduated from Richwoods High School in 2015 and from Grinnell College in 2019. She joined the station as a correspondent in 2023.