Traer Council: Erhardt appointed to fill vacancy, downtown discussed

Following the resignation of council member Steve Foster in February, the Traer city council decided to fill the vacancy by appointment.

At the council’s regular meeting on March 1, city clerk Haley Blaine reported there were no individuals that formally expressed interest in the vacancy following a public notice released soon after Foster’s resignation.

At the meeting, two council members made nominations for the appointment. Council member Matt Rausch nominated James Erhardt and council member Laurie Schafer nominated Jon Panfil.

On the first vote between the four remaining council members, each nominee received two votes. Rausch and Trish Kennedy voted in favor of Erhardt while Schafer and Carri Holst voted in favor of Panfil.

After some discussion where multiple members of the council expressed a desire to fill the vacant seat rather than table the issue for another meeting due to the stalemate, a second vote was called.

On the second vote, Erhardt received a majority with votes from Rausch, Kennedy and Holst, while Schafer maintained her vote in favor of Panfil.

If members of the public wish to oppose the appointment, there remains an opportunity to file a petition to call a special election to fill the council vacancy.

A petition would require signatures from a minimum of 15% of the total voters from the most recent election in Traer and would need to be filed at the city office by March 15.

Should Erhardt’s appointment be confirmed, he would be seated for the remainder of Foster’s term, which expires at the end of 2021.

Up for election in November are two seats in the council, including Foster’s seat and Schafer’s seat, as well as the mayor position.

Schafer indicated during discussion that she did not intend to run for reelection.

Erhardt is scheduled to be sworn in as the appointed fifth member of the council at a meeting on March 22.

The council heard from Kris Whitmore, Michelle Podhajsky, Lisa Eikamp and Jon Crisman from the Traer Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

The group was present to voice concerns about what they felt was a lack of available commercial real estate in Traer’s downtown district.

Eikamp, who owns Simply Blooming flower and gift shop, said she was approached recently by two business owners interested in opening retail locations in Traer but that they were unable to find properties available to purchase or lease that would suit their needs. One of the interested parties owns a clothing boutique and the other a nail salon according to Eikamp.

The council briefly discussed a handful of downtown properties they believed were going unused but the consensus was that some of the downtown buildings were stuck under ownership that was unwilling to invest in or divest from the properties.

Following discussion, the chamber group indicated they would look into a mailing campaign to let member businesses know about the interest in downtown retail development. They hope to encourage members of the business community to help connect building owners interested in selling or leasing their properties with the chamber who could help bring the parties together.

The council voted to set March 22 as the public hearing date for a pair of resolutions. The first hearing will be on the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget and the second will be on a proposed loan agreement for a three-part street project.

The street projects would include a broader resurfacing effort as well as a targeted street reconstruction for Walnut Street.

The proposal sets a five-year timeline to complete all three phases of the project.

Spring clean up was set by the council for May 7 and 8. The city will promote citywide garage sale days the weekend before on April 30 and May 1.

On May 7 and 8, residents are encouraged to bring refuse to a dumpster station behind the city library for disposal. City staff will be on hand to assist with unloading.

During council reports, Council Member Kennedy said the city pool was still in search of a pool manager and assistant manager for the 2021 season.

Anyone interested in applying for positions with the Traer Municipal Swimming Pool can find applications at city hall or online at traer.com.

Council Member Rausch reported the fire department’s fish fry on Feb. 19 was well attended with over 700 pounds of fish served. Rausch said the department was planning another fish fry event for the last week in March.

In the city clerk report, Blaine said she heard from Joe Roy with True Builders in Traer about interest in submitting a bid for construction work to rebuild the derecho-damaged shelter house in Taylor Park.

Blaine said to this point it’s been difficult to find contractors interested in bidding the project.