EAST PEORIA — For the third consecutive East Peoria City Council meeting, an agenda item to approve a contract agreement with East Peoria firefighters did not result in a contract agreement with East Peoria firefighters.
On Tuesday, the contract vote was pulled from consideration without public discussion.
Mayor John Kahl said he expected a resolution at the council's Nov. 19 meeting.
"I feel good about a positive solution coming out of the next council meeting," he said after Tuesday's meeting. He did not provide details, a complete explanation for his optimism or why there was no vote on Tuesday.
On Oct. 1, the council approved a five-year contract by a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Dan Decker, who is also an assistant fire chief, Seth Mingus, who oversees the fire department’s operations for the council, and Mark Hill voted to approve the contract. Kahl, who opposed what he called a late-arriving clause in the contract to offer a sick-time buy-back program, and Commissioner Mike Sutherland, who opposed the lack of a residency requirement, voted against it.
Two weeks later, the second and final reading of the contract agreement resulted in a 3-2 vote in favor of seeking a new legal opinion on whether it would be a conflict of interest for Decker to vote on the contract. Recently promoted to assistant chief, Decker is no longer a member of the firefighter's union. Unlike most public employees, state law allows firefighters to serve on elected boards.
The new legal opinion from an outside law firm mostly reinforced the opinion of city attorney Dennis Triggs — that case law is not definitive on the issue of conflict of interest — according to Kahl and Decker.
Decker said Tuesday he will vote on the contract at the next meeting only if it is necessary to break a 2-2 deadlock and avoid costly arbitration.
"If it's not needed, I won't vote," Decker said.
Sutherland said he remains convinced that a vote by Decker is a conflict of interest.
The legal opinion he asked for "makes it difficult, if not impossible," for Decker to vote, he said.
The contract provides salary increases of 1.5 percent the first year; 1.75 percent in years two and three; 2 percent in the fourth year; and 2.25 percent in 2024. It is retroactive to May 1, 2019, the date the previous contract expired. That makes the average annual salary increase over the course of the contract 1.85 percent, or slightly higher than the 1.75 percent increase given to other public employees in the city.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.