EAST PEORIA — A split City Council appears ready to let voters decide whether to change the city's government from the current commission form to the far more common managerial form. The council needs at least three votes to put the question on the November ballot.
"I feel it is in the best interest of the city to put this question to the voters," Commissioner Gary Densberger said during a working session of the council prior to its regular meeting Tuesday evening.
Mayor Dave Mingus, who said he, more than anyone on the council, wanted to open the topic for discussion, appeared to agree with Densberger. Commissioner Tim Jeffers supported a referendum, and Commissioner Dan Decker said he would support a vote on changing the form of government if it came from the people, not from the council. Commissioner John Kahl said he strongly opposed changing to a managerial form of government.
"I don't think change should be driven by the council," Kahl said. "I think it should be driven by the people."
Under the current commission form of government, the four commissioners and mayor each oversee an individual city department — public affairs, accounts and finances, public health and safety, streets and public improvements, and public property. All of those responsibilities would shift to a professional city manager under a managerial form of government. That would leave the council to concentrate on the "big picture" of managing the city's affairs and future. There would still be five members of the City Council under the managerial form of government — four aldermen and a mayor elected in a citywide election, not by ward, as it is currently done.
The issue of a change surfaced years ago in an auxiliary finding of a study of the city's efficiency conducted by the school of government at Northern Illinois University. The study concluded the city would benefit and its practices would improve under the managerial form of government. There are very few commissioner forms of government left in Illinois — in central Illinois, East Peoria is the only one. East Peoria has been governed under the commission form for almost 100 years.
"Our form of government has worked," Decker said.
Mingus called the commission form of government "antiquated" and "not as efficient as it should be."
There are two ways for the question to get on the ballot — by petition of a specified number of East Peoria voters or by a vote of the City Council. Resident Jeff Giebelhausen, a former mayor of the city and advocate for the change, criticized Decker's uncertainty of approving a council vote to put the question on the ballot. He said he would get the required number of voters on a petition to get the referendum on the ballot if the commissioners wouldn't do it themselves.
Giebelhausen said the study's recommendation to change the city's form of government was not merely a good idea but necessary because the city government was in "total disarray." He said it was "appalling and pathetic" that Decker would only agree to vote to put the question on the ballot if he heard from a substantial number of voters who supported it.
"I am extremely, extremely disappointed in the support I've given you (Decker) in the past," Giebelhausen said.
The council would need to approve the question — "Shall the city of East Peoria adopt the managerial form of municipal government? — by Aug. 19 for it to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.