EAST PEORIA — One of the first votes at every regular East Peoria City Council meeting is to approve the usually seven-figure payment of the city's bills. It's as routine as the call to order, invocation and the group pledge to the flag that precede it.

There is no discussion. The vote of the four commissioners and the mayor is always 5-0 to approve. Always.

Lately that has changed,

"Commissioner (Mike) Sutherland," says City Clerk Morgan Cadwalader, calling the roll and asking for the new commissioner's vote to pay the light bill and all the other expenses required to operate a city of 23,000 residents.

"Abstain," Sutherland has said at every full meeting he has served on the East Peoria City Council so far. Elected in April and seated in May, that number currently stands at two.

"Obviously I am new at this," Sutherland said Thursday. "But abstaining is something I knew I was going to have to do, for now."

Sutherland has opted out of spending votes to avoid a potential conflict of interest. The new commissioner owns Sutherland Ace Hardware, 2244 E. Washington Ave., a not infrequent stop for city employees needing to buy stuff that hardware stores are known to stock.

"I'm the only hardware store in town," Sutherland said.

For now, the city will have to shop elsewhere for its hardware goods.

"The city is cycling through invoices some departments have from his hardware store, and he (is abstaining on spending votes ) to avoid any conflicts of interest," Mayor John Kahl said this week. "I sent a directive to all departments after the swearing in that the city will no longer be purchasing from his store until such time he is no longer holding an elected position with the city of East Peoria."

Sutherland said there is currently $400 to $500 worth of unpaid invoices from the city. He'll cast a vote after the bills are paid.

"I wouldn't think it would be more than 30 days," Sutherland said.

Eliminating the city as a hardware customer will be felt at the Ace cash register, Sutherland said.

"It won't make me or break me," he said. "But we've already had to cut back some hours."

So, does he have regrets about running for City Council and winning because of its effect on his business?

"No," he said.

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.