EAST PEORIA — Six suits and one quarter-zip pullover. Three current commissioners. Three retirees. Five business backgrounds, a firefighter and an educator. Seven candidates, five open seats. Standing room only crowd. League of Women Voters and the Fondulac District Public Library hosts. Ninety minutes.
"Thank you for coming out to this candidate's forum," Moderator Roberta Parks said. And the questions began.
One-by-one the seven men gave one-minute answers to audience-penned questions on topics that ranged from road maintenance financing to sewer fees to solving the problem of homelessness. The rapid-fire format gave the audience a chance to plumb for search for differences of opinion and style between the two candidates running for mayor of East Peoria and five of the seven candidates in the running for four seats on the city council. Civility reigned. Agreements outnumbered disputes. Even the audience held its applause to the end.
Current commissioners Tim Jeffers and John Kahl are running for mayor to replace Dave Mingus, who served as mayor for 12 years and opted not to run for a fourth term. Jeffers served three four-year terms on the council; Kahl is wrapping up his first four-year term. The winner will move up to mayor; the loser will be off of the five-person council.
Running for commissioner are three-term incumbent Dan Decker and challengers Mark Hill, Stephen Matheny, Norman Sales and Seth Mingus. Candidates Rocio Matthews and Michael Lee Sutherland did not attend the forum.
Jeffers and Kahl went first. They agreed on the need to hire a city administrator, a position that has been vacant for month, and differed on a question about a sales tax proposal on the April ballot to support Tazewell County schools. Jeffers supported the sales tax increase; Kahl did not.
"Taxation is a last resort of everything," Kahl said. "But in Illinois it never is."
The condition of the city's streets came up more than once, with everyone agreeing that major improvements were needed across the city. Kahl said money to be spent on a proposed roundabout at Camp Street and River Road would be better spent on road repair.
"I think we need more money on streets than on a wish list roundabout," Kahl said. "I don't support spending on a roundabout with money we don't have."
Jeffers defended the roundabout in part because a 70 percent match of state money to pay for it makes the necessary improvement of the intersection more affordable.
Both candidates for mayor named the city's residents as the city's strongest asset. Kahl named the city's debt, much of it from borrowing money in the last 10 years to build the Levee District on former Caterpillar, Inc. property as its biggest liability; Jeffers said it was decisions made in Springfield.
"We are not your enemies in city government," Jeffers said.
The commissioner portion of the forum was equally fast-paced and left no room for fully-formed answers to open-ended questions.
Decker, the only commissioner running for re-election and an assistant chief on the East Peoria Fire Department, said he has enjoyed his 12 years on the city council, and wants to continue his work. As commissioner, he oversees the city's street maintenance program.
"Twelve years we've been talking about the streets," Decker said. "We need to do better."
Sales is a retired manager of DHL Worldwide Express. He said the city needs to attract better paying jobs.
"We need to attract industry," he said. "The lower paying jobs in retail (like those in the Levee District) can not support a family or even (an individual)."
Hill worked at Caterpillar and holds a masters in business from the University of Illinois. He said the city needs a better plan for the future.
"We need to do a better job with our reserves," he said. "It's about $1.2 million now but we need capital reserves and planning better."
Matheny moved to East Peoria in 1992 and is retired from Waste Management where he worked in industrial sales. He served on the East Peoria high school district school board. Matheny said he would focus on funding basic services.
"We need to work on the streets and on basic services," he said. "(And) continue to see economic growth and more (commercial) tenants in the Levee District and around Bass Pro."
Mingus, the son of current Mayor Dave Mingus, is currently a member of the Tazewell County Board and is the principal and superintendent of the South Pekin grade school district. He ran for city council, and lost, eight years ago.
"Eight years ago we were talking about the streets. It's like deja vu. Still talking about it," he said. "Talk is one thing, getting the job done is another thing. Really finding a solution is what I would do. We need to get government right."
The election is April 2.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.