Eureka mayor gets sparks flying early at candidate forum

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Mayoral candidates Scott Zimmer, left, and Eric Lind, engage with the audience March 18 at a mayoral town hall meeting. It was standing-room only in the Gammon Room of Eureka College’s Melick Library, where the primary cause of concern expressed by voters was the condition of the city’s roads, crosswalks and sidewalks. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

A mayoral town hall meeting was fraught with contention March 18 when departing Eureka mayor Scott Punke took the podium and accused candidate Scott Zimmer of prying into his bank account for personal reasons while working at Morton Community Bank.

Zimmer and fellow mayoral candidate Eric Lind were at the Gammon Room in the Eureka College library for an informal question-and-answer with voters as a preliminary to the April 4 elections.

In a prepared statement, Punke claimed Zimmer was forced to resign from his position at the bank as a result of the allegations. Zimmer, who resigned from MCB in late 2016, returned to former employer Mangold Ford of Eureka, for which he’d previously worked from 1995-04.

Punke, a prison guard at Pontiac Correctional Center, accused Zimmer of prying into city finances, as well.

A Sept. 21, 2016 letter to Punke from Morton Community Bank chief compliance officer Maria Warner, stated Punke’s account was accessed once for a “non-business related purpose, however we do not believe the viewing creates any risk of identity theft, fraudulent activity or any other harm.”

Zimmer was not named in the letter, and Punke’s claim that Zimmer’s resignation was forced is based on verbal communication with the late MCB CEO Jim Mamer, who passed away Nov. 28, 2016.

In a Feb. 3, 2017 letter from Warner to Punke regarding the City of Eureka accounts, Warner stated that “we do not believe that such accounts were accessed by any Morton Community Bank employee that did not have a business-related purpose. There is no indication that these accounts are at an increased risk of identity theft, fraudulent activity or any other harm.”

MCB co-chairman Gordon Honegger confirmed March 20 that Zimmer resigned to run for mayor.

“Scott absolutely left on good terms. The banking industry is changing and there are even more regulations than ever before, making it difficult to work in banking, and I think he’s happy going back to his former employer,” Honegger said. “Customers tell us they’re sad he left, and I am too. He feels very strongly on this mayoral goal.”

Zimmer’s rebuttal to Punke’s accusations reflected that sentiment. “I chose to leave my job because I care more about this than where I work,” Zimmer said, adding that his employment at Morton Community Bank posed a conflict of interest with serving as mayor.

Departing Eureka Mayor Scott Punke (right) waits his turn at the podium Saturday, March 18 at a mayoral town hall meeting hosted by the group “More in Common.” Punke directed a statement to candidate Scott Zimmer, claiming Zimmer was forced to resign from Morton Community Bank for accessing his and another City of Eureka employee’s accounts for personal reasons. Zimmer said holding office posed a conflict of interest with his position at MCB, and that he chose to resign to run for mayor. Officials at MCB supported Zimmer’s comments. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Punke’s confrontation rattled the standing-room only audience of voters on March 18, and, after the event, a Eureka woman said, in passing, to Punke, “That was very low.”

 Issues of top concern

Aside from the personal accusations, residents and candidates did discuss some community matters. Of foremost concern to voters was road, sidewalk and crosswalk conditions in the city.

Eureka struggles with conflicts between its municipal roads and State Rte. 117 and US Rte. 24, which are responsible for crosswalk maintenance on those routes.

“The chip seal is effective and our roads do fare better than others,” Lind said of the city’s road treatments, which do conceal crosswalk markings. The city, he said, is not responsible for redressing the state crosswalks.

Lind does believe the city needs to do a better job of repainting the crosswalks it does control after the reseals them.

Lind has served as Ward 3 Alderman since July 2016. He, as well as Zimmer, is running as an Independent in the mayoral race.

Regarding sidewalks, and lack thereof, Zimmer shared the concerns of other parents over the absence of sidewalks leading to Eureka Middle School, forcing students to take to the ditches and road shoulders when walking to the school.

Both Lind and Zimmer agreed that it would be beneficial to consult with the City of Washington, which has successfully increased walkability in the city, as well as creating a continuity of walking paths and sidewalk access to neighboring Sunnyland.

Other issues that were raised were gambling and liquor licensure. In order to operate a gambling site, it is required that the business also hold a liquor license providing “poured” and “open” liquor.

Recently, Huck’s General Store and another business have applied to become gambling sites, and are on the next city council agenda.

Both candidates believe the items will not pass, and both also are opposed to hosting gambling sites in Eureka.

“We need businesses that create value more than operate just to create revenue,” Zimmer said. “We need to put a number on businesses that don’t have value.”

Since serving as alderman, Lind said he’s worked closely with the Economic Development Council of Greater Peoria, and sees that relationship as a means to develop new businesses in Eureka. Empty storefronts, he said, need remedied.

Along with gambling and walkability, disaster plans, “The Barn Project”, and Eureka Lake access improvements are all in the sites of both candidates, who tended to agree with each other on each issue.

Zimmer lives in Eureka with his 12-year-old son, Jackson, and wife Lisa Bonin-Zimmer, a lifelong Eureka resident.

Lind, a 2014 graduate of Eureka Community High School, received an associate degree in network administration from Illinois Central College and and is a network administrator for St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria.

Lind is 21 and if elected would be one of the youngest mayors in the country.





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