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Column: Civilians of Peru: Request to please be civil

Craig Sterrett
Craig Sterrett

I have a variety of duties for the newspaper, and in the past couple of months, temporarily covered Peru. Reporters and editors have a job to act as gatekeepers — deciding what needs to be published for all to see and what doesn’t.

One thing I shy away from is neighborly disputes. But occasionally, they bubble over into a public venue.

We did write about a neighborhood issue this spring when it led to battery charges, and I didn’t write much about a separate situation that came up at a Peru City Council meeting.

One dispute led this spring to a well-publicized charge against a Peru man who allegedly pushed a senior citizen, and the incident was videotaped and posted on social media. Locally, the post went viral.

I’m not going to include any of the parties’ names in today’s article. The accused in the neighbor-pushing case will have his day in court, and it will come up again.

But what predicated the confrontation? Less-publicized than the videotaped incident, I’m told, were two city ordinance violation tickets issued in early spring to the man who’s facing the battery charge as well as a ticket to another neighbor. They live on a street that dead-ends at a ravine. They’re not accused of dumping, but rather of bringing in clean fill material and altering the level of the earth on their property without a permit.

I believe there’s a potential lawsuit or civil action in the works against at least one of the residents near the ravine, but unless something’s filed, I’m not sure there’s going to be a blockbuster story there. It’s a neighborhood dispute that bubbled over into alleged violence.

Relations with the people next door can become tense, especially if they’re the “give-them-an-inch, they’ll-take-a-mile” types.

Folks, you have to keep your cool.

Here’s another example: I didn’t see anything wrong with two families from a neighborhood coming to a city council meeting to complain about what they said was a lack of police attention to a problem property. But since it was a neighborly issue, I avoided writing about it, out of respect for privacy and to avoid repeating unconfirmed allegations about specific individuals. I hope this matter gets resolved.

Two women from a neighborhood slightly south of the YMCA came to the council with complaints about neighbors, alleging they’re constantly doing drugs in the house, smoking pot outside in view of neighborhood children and mocking neighbors. The residents, who said they are at their wits’ end, said the police don’t do enough about the situation, and one woman who spoke at the meeting said the chief never had come to meet her.

Police chief Doug Bernabei said since the two decided to speak about neighbors in a public meeting, then he would have to respond in the public meeting. He said the department responded to all of the calls, and if he didn’t go, someone from the department did. He said his chief deputy responded to one of the calls on what was supposed to be a day off.

He said the residence that was the subject of complaints has had more police visits and ticket written and arrests (sometimes of visitors), than any address in the community. The chief said some strides have been made to clean up around the property. He said sometimes the complaints have been valid, and sometimes not. He said after one complaint about alleged drug use, an officer arrived and two people were outside, sharing a cigarette.

Economic strategy: I reported earlier this summer that Peru officials received council permission to spend city funds to pay a Chicago law firm to meet with the firm’s clients, who are developers or represent companies who could bring businesses and jobs to the Illinois Valley.

At the time, Peru Mayor Scott Harl said while it’s important to distribute information about what Peru and the Illinois Valley have to offer to new business and industry, it’s more important to “stand in front of” and meet and greet people who can make things happen.

Peru authorizing spending for that meeting in Chicago reveals a lot about the city’s strategy right now for bringing in jobs: To take an active role rather than merely putting information out there and waiting for someone to come along.

Last week, we published a story about the North Central Illinois Economic Development Corp., and listing which municipalities still are paying to be members of the group, which ones are out and which ones are “on the fence.”

Peru previously approved renewing as a member of the organization, and then the NCIEDC director, Ivan Baker, resigned. Sometime before or after that resignation, a decision was made to not release funds to NCIEDC. So, I’m not sure whether Peru is all of the way “out” or “on the fence” until seeing who is hired as a replacement.

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