Should mayor and city councilwoman recuse themselves from water company vote?
Illinois-American Water Co. is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the City Council and the citizens of Peoria. A check of various public records reveals that IAWC is using its money and political muscle to protect the millions of dollars it takes each year from Peoria and sends to New Jersey and its big-bank shareholders.
Particularly troubling is IAWC’s “sponsorship” of two non-profit organizations with direct ties to two City Council members, both of whom have raised objections to a public examination of the value of the water system.
IAWC is listed as one of the top contributors to Peoria Promise, a scholarship organization that Mayor Jim Ardis heads as chairman of the board. He helped found it and has touted it as one of his proudest achievements.
On the Peoria Promise website, IAWC is a Promise Partner, one of the five largest contributors, having given between $100,000 and $499,999. For several years IAWC has been a major donor to one of Ardis’ favorite charities.
First District Councilwoman Denise Moore also benefits from IAWC cash. The billion-dollar-plus monopoly is recognized as a founder and one of the largest financial sponsors of WPNV, a South Side radio station. On the station website, Councilwoman Moore is listed as its general manager and, along with her husband Garry, as an operator of the station.
These financial connections raise serious questions whether Ardis and Moore can be objective about IAWC’s long-term future in Peoria.
Indeed the perception – if not the reality – of a legal conflict of interest hangs over Council deliberations.
Even the appearance of a conflict of interest should be disclosed, discussed publicly and addressed. To date, there has been no discussion or disclosure on the Council floor.
It shouldn’t take a citizen inquiry to raise these serious, ethical questions. I ask the full City Council, with the advice of City Manager Patrick Urich and City Attorney Don Leist, to determine whether Ardis and Moore should recuse themselves from deliberations and voting on all issues pertaining to IAWC.
These two instances aren’t the only times that IAWC has thrown around its weight – using our money – to influence Peorians. Just before the Council was to discuss the water system question this spring, two mailings appeared at Peorians’ homes and on billboards across the community.
The mysterious, unsigned documents repeat the same false claims made by IAWC about taxpayers’ money going down the drain and setting a $300 million price on the water system. But IAWC can’t know the price of its system until a formal appraisal is done. That’s precisely what many Peorians are asking for – due diligence to determine the value of the system. And the CEO Council has raised $400,000 for that work. No public money is being requested.
Who is “Protect Peoria Water” that is behind this misinformation? IAWC admitted to NPR that it is “Protect Peoria Water,” along with several of its allies and a Chicago consultant that speaks on the water company’s behalf.
Now comes a flyer in our water bills that’s replete with misinformation and half-trusts. Who pays for the IAWC propaganda? We do.
Peoria voters would be justified to wonder if our elected officials are representing our interests or those of their corporate sponsors.
The bottom line is this: IAWC complains that the Peoria city government can’t be trusted to run our water system. But the company doesn’t hesitate to pass around money to those who lead that government. Is that a contradiction? Is that self-serving hypocrisy? Is this good for Peoria and Peorians?
This is a matter of right and wrong. Peorians need to know with confidence whether it’s appropriate for City Council members with apparent conflicts of interest to vote on this issue that will impact our community for generations to come. As long as IAWC has a private monopoly on Peoria’s most vital natural resource, our political system will remain an opportunity for IAWC to make a hefty profit at our expense.
The writer is on the executive board of Change Peoria, a not-for-profit grassroots political organization.
Institutional racism will destroy America
Century-old racial bias in the United States continues to influence laws and the justice system and must be confronted. There have been many articles in Community Word in recent years documenting institutional racism. If anyone needs further confirmation, go to my blog (www.PeoriaStory.typepad.com) and listen to Ed Yohnka of the Illinois ACLU speaking on “Racial Justice and Police Practices in Illinois” at the annual meeting of the Greater Peoria League of Women Voters last month.
He relied on shocking statistics to support his contention of long-held racial bias:
- 71 percent of all “street stops” also known as “stop and frisk” stops, involve African Americans in Chicago where they are only 32 percent of the population.
- African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be stopped for minor infractions while driving a car, even though all drivers speed at times and change lanes without signaling. “These stops reflect who is targeted,” he said, “not who is breaking the law.”
- African Americans are three times more likely to be asked to consent to a search of the car, even though whites are five or six times more likely to have contraband in the car.
- Arrests for use of marijuana are eight times more likely for African Americans, though all people use it at the same rates.
- Prosecutors charge people because of race. Of 1,000 youthful offenders transferred to adult court, 95 percent were people of color.
- The inmate population is overwhelmingly African American in numbers 10 times greater than whites.
“This isn’t a shock to African Americans,” he said. “We are undermining our system of justice in communities of color.”
The old politics of being tough on crime is code for being tough on people of color. If you want a country with integrity and justice, join the fight to identify and root out institutional racism. Unless we do, racism will destroy this country for you, your children and generations to come.