EAST PEORIA — Voters in November will choose between retaining the city's commission form of government or reverting to a form it abandoned 100 years ago.
The City Council maneuvered a tangled knot of municipal arcana and uncertainty before deciding in a split vote Tuesday night to place a referendum on the November ballot to stick with its current form of government or dump it in favor of a default form of government and a lot of unanswered questions.
The referendum on the ballot will read some variation of "Shall the city of East Peoria retain the commission form of municipal government?"
If a majority of voters approve the referendum, the form of government will not change. If a majority of voters reject the referendum, the commission form of government would be abolished, and in its place would be an aldermanic form of government that currently lacks details of what it would look like or the authority it would have.
"The (referendum) question is simple," said Commissioner Gary Densberger, who voted against placing the referendum on the ballot. "Its implementation is anything but."
The vote was 3-2 to place the question on the ballot, with commissioners Dan Decker and Tim Jeffers and Mayor Dave Mingus voting in favor.
"Let the voters decide," Mingus said.
Commissioners Densberger and John Kahl opposed the referendum question.
Before the vote to retain the commission form by a referendum, the council rejected a proposal for another referendum, this one to change the government to the managerial form. That vote only had the support of Densberger and Mingus.
The managerial form of government places the authority of the day-to-day management of the city in the hands of a city manager. That authority currently resides in the hands of the four commissioners and the mayor, who make up the council.
East Peoria currently has a city manager, Jeff Eder. But under the commission form of government, he lacks many of the responsibilities of the daily operation of the city.
Mingus supported the switch to the managerial form. He said less than 2 percent of municipal governments are the commission form — four commissioners and a mayor, with each member overseeing a function of municipal government, like public safety and public works, for example.
"Most of the country has abandoned (the commission) form of government," Mingus said.
To further confuse the issue, a petition drive to retain or reject the commission form of government by referendum collected more than 200 signatures. A misread of the petition requirements by supporters meant they fell short of the necessary 25 percent of signatories, around 450 names, who voted in the 2015 mayoral race. That left a city council vote as the only available avenue to place the issue on the ballot.
Decker said he felt that the 200-plus signatures, though legally insufficient to place the question on the ballot, was sufficient evidence of at least some public support.
"This is not something I would bring forward," Decker said earlier Tuesday. "But 200 signatures on a petition is not insignificant."
Densberger said the aldermanic form of government would lead to confusion, uncertainty and potential lawsuits. He said it was unclear how many people would serve as aldermen, potentially, maybe four, maybe five, maybe as many as 14 under certain conditions.
Also unclear was whether aldermen would be voted at-large or if city wards would need to be created to be represented by aldermen.
"I respect the (petitioner's) effort," Densberger said. "But (a change to the aldermanic form of government) is far too ambiguous and would be a step backward for the city of East Peoria."
The referendum question to retain the current form of government will be 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.