Former Effingham Police Chief Mike Schutzbach and Scott Ealy, a local attorney, are challenging incumbent Jeff Bloemker in Tuesday's election to become mayor of Effingham.
Bloemker, 56, wants a second term as Effingham's mayor. He is a banker and commercial loan officer in Effingham. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Illinois University. In the past several years he has been involved in a variety of city matters starting in 2003 until 2015 when he served on both the City of Effingham Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals board; 2016-17, he worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections as CEO of Industries, a governor's appointment; and for the past four years, since 2015 he has served as the city's mayor.
Other involvements include: EIU Business School Advisory Board; Effingham Noon Rotary, including past president; Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, past board member; Effingham County Health Department, past board member; Heartland Human Services, past board member; and Unit 40 Educational Foundation, also past board member. He and his wife, Nancy have three children, Katie, Sarah and Jack. His parents are JT and Cheryl Bloemker and his in-laws are Bob and Judy Ludwig.
Ealy, 58, believes he has what it takes to be the next mayor of Effingham. An attorney since 1993, he has a practice in Effingham. He has served as legal counsel for Summit Township since 2016; served as the county's First Assistant State’s Attorney, 2013-15; chairman and member, Effingham County Mental Health Board, 1996-2004; adjunct professor of State and Local Government at Lake Land College,1996-1998; press aide / spokesman for Jim Edgar, Secretary of State,1983-1987; director of Radio-TV News Division, Illinois Information Service, Springfield, 1987-1990.
Together, he and his wife, Susan, have five children and four grandchildren. Ealy earned a Juris Doctorate of Law from Mississippi College School of Law; bachelor’s degree in communication, University of Illinois; associate in applied science in radio and television, Lake Land College.
He and Susan serve together in many volunteer capacities, including as Wish Granters for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and as members of the Vision 2020 Alliance For A Healthier Effingham County. They also work together on Relay For Life of Effingham County and as volunteers for Blessings in a Backpack. They are active members of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Effingham. Susan is also a volunteer at Crisis Nursery. Ealy's personal past and present involvements also include the following: Illinois State Bar Association; Effingham County Bar Association; Ballard Nature Center Board; Effingham County Humane Society Board; Effingham County Habitat for Humanity (Incorporating Attorney); Effingham County Youth Court (Judge); Effingham Area Drug Court Team Member; and much more. He is also 5th Grade Boys Basketball Coach at Sacred Heart Grade School in Effingham.
Schutzbach, 55, also believes he should be the next mayor of Effingham. With a lengthy background in law enforcement, he served the Effingham City Police Department for 30 years, with 13 years as chief of police. After graduating from the University of Illinois Police Training Institute with the Scholarship Award (highest individual academic record within the class), he accepted a position at the Effingham Police Department in January 1986 as a patrol officer. He was later assigned to the detective division within the department. Schutzbach received several promotions during his career, including patrol corporal in February 1995, sergeant in November 1996, deputy chief in November 1999, and chief in February 2003. Schutzbach retired from the police department in January 2017.
He attended both St. Anthony Grade School and St. Anthony High School, from which he graduated in 1981. He earned an associate's degree in law enforcement from Lake Land College in 1983; and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University in 1984. He is a graduate of Northwestern University Traffic Institute Executive Management Program, Northwestern University Center for Public Safety School of Police Staff and Command, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy.
Schutzbach’s past public safety experiences also include employment as a Court Services Officer, Probation Officer and Law Enforcement instructor at Lake Land College. His professional memberships include: Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Northwestern University Center for Public Safety Alumni Association, FBI National Academy Associates, Central Illinois Association of Law Enforcement Executives, Southern Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, past Ex-Officio Member of Effingham County Youth Commission, Effingham County 911 Board (Secretary/Treasurer), NENA 911 (National Emergency Number Association), Illinois Police Training and Standards MTU 13 Board and a member of the Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center-Illinois State Review Committee.
His parents are Jerry and Marcie Schutzbach of Effingham; and his in-laws are Weldon and Sharon Probst of Effingham. He and his wife, Crystal, have two adult sons.
The three candidates answered questions from the Effingham Daily News about the job.
What are the top three things you hope to accomplish in the term?
1. Deploy Residential TIF Districts to accommodate re-development of blighted areas and development of green fields. The point is to create an environment that encourages developers and homebuilders to build affordable apartment complexes, duplexes, and single-family homes.
2. Develop roads and infrastructure on the north end of town to ease traffic congestion on Keller Drive. Particularly, create a new thoroughfare that will allow easy traffic flow from the south side to the north side (e.g., Airport Road straight through town to Rickelman Ave.)
3. Expand and enhance the Effingham Industrial Park. Acquire more property in and contiguous with the industrial park. Create a 4th interstate interchange. Promote Effingham as a logistics and distribution hub to the rest of the world.
SCOTT EALY: Answering this question exactly as directed would be a like trying to choose my favorite child. My campaign has been informed every day by active listening to the voices of the citizens of our city, and by my own thinking, as well. The process has played out under the theme of “50 Reasons Why.” You can read the continuing dialogue with real people at: Facebook.com/ScottEalyForMayor
If elected, I would set the tone for city government in the same manner with which I have set the tone in this election – hard work and a flow of ideas that lift up our city’s great history and its future. Meanwhile, taxpayers would gain confidence that their mayor will hold the line on salary bloat in city government, in part, because I was the only candidate willing to bring up the salary issue and to “connect the dots” that link the salary-based creation of pension millionaires in our city to unacceptable property tax bills.
The people on the south side of the US 45 / Banker St. railroad crossing would not be forgotten when it comes to economic development and safety issues. They would witness a mayor who will fight for them in ways that they had not imagined. There will be a new standard in city government on social media, where our citizens and our issues will emerge as PRIORITY ONE, replacing the current misguided emphasis on personal visits and “selfies.”
Morale in the city would improve as citizens would gain confidence in an administration that would be focused outward rather than inward, with a service-based emphasis on public works, including better lighting and in the provisioning of sidewalks. My administration would be a move back toward the fundamentals of good government with an emphasis on our values, including my proposed “Infant Adoption Act.”
MIKE SCHUTZBACH: Throughout my campaign for mayor, I have highlighted several priorities that I plan to focus on as mayor, with my Number 1 priority to keep property taxes in check. I have extensive experience managing a conservative budget, and I will preserve the priorities of residents, while maintaining the city’s financial stability.
My second priority is to work with new and existing businesses to help them reach their goals. I will focus on workforce development to ensure residents can find careers in the community, and business owners can find qualified workers to fill open positions.
I also hope to create an open dialogue between City Hall and Effingham residents to make sure all residents have a voice in regard to city matters.
What strengths set you apart from the other candidates?
JEFF BLOEMKER: With 25-plus years as a professional business manager, it has honed my skills in organizational development, human relations, marketing, sales, budgeting, and finance. I’ve taken on some of the toughest leadership assignments in Effingham and this has taught me how to process stress, multi-task, and work 24/7. My experiences has taught me how to read people and situations. And, maybe most importantly, it has taught me how to run meetings.
SCOTT EALY: First, I am an “outsider.” I can speak freely about city government in a way the other candidates seemingly cannot. I am beholden only to one goal – to do a great job! Our citizens need property tax relief; yet I am the only candidate raising the issue of salary bloat, and the direct relationship of pension obligations of city government to property tax bills.
City pension obligations are the second largest item on city property tax bills. Pension obligations are based, chiefly, on salary. The kicker? More than one-in-five city employees is receiving annual compensation of more than $100,000-dollars per year. Mind-boggling. The most severe consequences are yet to come. The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that government “can’t take it back” once it has created a whole new class of pension millionaires. Solutions won’t be easy. But, new hires should not expect the same benefits as their predecessors. The taxpayers simple can’t afford it.
Next, I am a firm believer in the private sector. If the cause is right, good citizens come forward and achieve what many thought couldn’t be done. Consider the accomplishments of the late John Schultz, not in business and civic matters, but specifically as founder of The Cross at the Crossroads, an inspiration to millions. Our city’s unique history of accomplishment should be touted. That’s why I proposed the downtown “Walk of Fame” with a proposed list of 40 inspirational achievers who have walked here, including Mr. Schultz.
Also, as an avid reader, I understand what our community is saying on abortion. Consider the popular Facebook post urging government to subsidize, first and foremost, ADOPTION. We can do just that through the Infant Adoption Act that I have proposed. These efforts would be funded primarily through the private sector, in direct response to societal needs.
MIKE SCHUTZBACH : I have exceptional attention to detail, and I have the ability to work respectfully with others. I listen to concerns and help find solutions to problems. I understand the extreme importance of financial stability. I am easy to get along with and a confident leader in stressful situations.
What background or experience do you have that will make you an effective mayor?
JEFF BLOEMKER : My years of experience for starters, will help me if elected to a second term as mayor. I have twelve years in the trenches of the city Plan Commission and the city Zoning Board of Appeals overseeing and conducting land use hearings. Next, I have four years as mayor where the city has witnessed exciting growth in the retail, restaurant, and entertainment sectors.
Four years as mayor where hard-nosed organizational development has yielded a far more effective police department; a new police chief; a new fire chief; and a new city administrator. And less payroll at City Hall is among those changes during my term. And a new, state-of-the-art, fully compliant police station has opened in February.
In addition, I have 25-plus years of professional business and management experience, and 25-plus years of high-level civic involvement.
I know Effingham.
SCOTT EALY: With more than 25-years as an attorney, I have found that what separates the best from all the others is preparation -- and relentlessness. If you want to do something in life, including in government, you have to prepare, and you have to ask much (often repeatedly) of yourself and others. If the result you hope to achieve is a worthy one, you must set the standard by being a 'DO'er. In this campaign, I have put my work out there for public inspection.
My ideas include reinstatement of regular office hours, a commitment to lowering the property tax burden by cutting wasteful spending – eliminating “the mayor’s car,” among other perks, and taking on public employee salary bloat. I would fight for those whose lives are disrupted at railroad crossings; establish a privately funded Infant Adoption Act to show that our values are more than mere symbols; and more.
My history speaks of accomplishment. When I worked for my good friend Bryan Kibler, I was the driving force behind the county’s first Heroin / Opioids Task Force. I was the first person to submit a plan of local proactivity, which included the later-implemented use of lifesaving Narcan by our first responders. As First Assistant State’s Attorney, I not only assisted in prosecuting the murderer of Willow Long, I was among the initial volunteer searchers for the then missing child.
When I served as chairman of the Effingham County Mental Health Board, I ensured that funding for service providers be shared for the first time, rather than given solely to one entity in the county. These are only a few lasting examples. I have always been a team player, and I was never “walled off” or unavailable or late when there was work to be done on behalf of my community.
MIKE SCHUTZBACH: With over 30 years of service to the Effingham City Police Department, including 13 years as chief of police, I am proud of my public service record. I have dedicated my professional life to serving the people of Effingham, and I would like to continue to serve the community as mayor. As chief of police, I managed the police department, which included creating a balanced budget, overseeing the daily duties of the department, and working with other departments and organizations to ensure our department was performing effectively and efficiently.
The position of mayor requires a strong community leader, and I know I have what it takes to be that leader. I am prepared to take on the tough challenges and to work with other entities to make Effingham a great place to live, work and play.
As a lifelong resident of the city, I understand the needs of the community, and I understand the importance of community members working together in order to accomplish goals. I am not afraid to stand up and do what is necessary. I am a leader Effingham can believe in.
Is there a parking problem downtown Effingham? What would you suggest the city do to fix the parking issues downtown?
JEFF BLOEMKER: Yes, convenient parking spots can be difficult to find downtown during peak times. The immediate solution is to task the City Public Works & Engineering staff to constantly be thinking about creative ways to add more parking spots close to the restaurants and the county government buildings. And also, we should condition employees of the downtown businesses and the county to park in outlying parking lots. There are nearly 750 parking spots in the downtown area. We aren’t using them as effectively as we can.
SCOTT EALY: Yes, there are significant parking problems in downtown Effingham, and they have been decades in the making. Meanwhile, solutions have been limited by several factors, including geography. There’s simply not enough room.
As a longtime downtown business owner, I myself have strictly abided by the city’s two-hour time limit whenever I experience the need to park in the marked, two-hour spaces. But, not everyone abides by these unemforced rules. I wonder if the city might consider enforcing a FOUR-hour parking period downtown, as a compromise between the competing interests of consumers and those persons who are employed downtown.
On a related note, one scenario that I find especially troubling is the driver who repeatedly takes up more than one parking space – in front of the courthouse, for example – in spaces that provide plenty of extra room for a wide range of parking abilities. This infraction has a ripple effect; so these folks are clearly begging for enforcement action.
An idea for the future would be the city’s purchase of property for a downtown parking garage. Sure, it would be better if someone from the private sector were to step forward on this one, but thus far it hasn’t happened. If elected mayor, I certainly would welcome public input on the continued parking issues in downtown Effingham.
Finally, in one additional area, I believe that it is of paramount importance that the city strictly enforce a prohibition against the so-called “driveway” blocking of city sidewalks. Driveway rights do not extend onto public sidewalks. The primary victims of these “driveway” infractions are our elderly citizens who are forced to step off of the sidewalks and people who use wheelchairs. The blocking of public sidewalks is an unconscionable action and should be treated as such wherever possible.
MIKE SCHUTZBACH: I believe there is a legitimate concern for parking in the downtown area during business hours when the Government Center and Courthouse are open. The city should work with county officials to find potential areas for affordable redevelopment for parking near the downtown area to accommodate citizens doing business at the Courthouse and Government building.
Is there a housing shortage in Effingham? If so, how would you address the city’s housing needs?
JEFF BLOEMKER: Yes, Effingham needs more affordable/employment housing opportunities to keep workers in the city. I encourage the deployment of Residential TIF Districts to accommodate re-development of blighted residential areas and development of green fields (geared for subdivisions). The point is to create an environment that encourages developers and homebuilders to build affordable apartment complexes, duplexes, and single-family homes. The TIF District allows the city to reimburse some of the costs for developers. Another solution is to look for opportunities to annex more property into the city and expand the city limits in an effort to allow the creation of more subdivisions.
SCOTT EALY: There is an affordable housing shortage in the City of Effingham. It’s well documented. But, solutions were nowhere in sight in the hastily convened “affordable housing” meeting thrown together by the city administration in late February, a mere 33-days before our municipal election. I was the first candidate to call for a public forum on the issue of affordable housing, but that was last December. From City Hall, all I got was crickets (no response at all, as I had anticipated).
Suddenly, in February, the city came forward with its grand announcement: “Effingham Mayor Jeff Bloemker recently announced plans for the Mayor's Office to host a Town Hall Meeting at Effingham City Hall on Wednesday, February 27th at 6:30PM. The topic will be, ‘What Is Affordable Housing and How Much Does Effingham Need?’”
Affordable housing is a significant statewide issue, yet this on-the-cusp-of-the-election effort by the city was convened as our legislators were inconveniently away in Springfield. Not a single legislator or state official was mentioned during the city hall meeting, to my recollection. I suspect that our legislators weren’t even consulted. One gem speaks volumes for alleged progress from the city hall session. “Affordable employment housing” was defined by the City of Effingham as housing “falling into the $150,000 to $200,000 price range,” according to a social media post from the current mayor.
The forum at City Hall quickly went off the rails following an initial informative presentation by Dr. Josh Bullock of the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce. The event and its aftermath demonstrate, once again, the substantial disconnect between the current administration and the average person.
Meanwhile, House Bill 2168, an affordable housing measure pending in Springfield, wasn’t even discussed. The legislation was scheduled to be reviewed by the Property Tax Subcommittee of the Illinois House of Representatives on March 21st.
MIKE SCHUTZBACH: I believe there is a limited area for desired (land) development for affordable middle class housing. The city should work with organizations and developers to create additional land usage options for development. Housing has been a concern in the city, and although there has been several new properties constructed in the city over the past few years, I know more can be done by working cooperatively with banks, realtors, developers, construction companies, government bodies and others in creating incentives to develop land for the building of affordable houses. By building new homes, we can welcome new residence into our community, which will result in a larger workforce and the creation of additional tax dollars.
What motivated you to seek election?
JEFF BLOEMKER: The phenomenal success we have realized together in the past four years is exhilarating. It’s lightening in a bottle and you don’t take that kind of good chemistry for granted. And you don’t ignore it. If I win this election I will simply show up for work at City Hall the next day and keep the ball rolling. No down time. This will be my last term as mayor.
SCOTT EALY: Nothing motivated me more than the fact that many citizens of Effingham offer ideas and experiences, but that their voices are not being heard.
There’s a very big disconnect right now between city government and the average person. You don’t see this problem in Effingham County government; nor did I experience anything quite like it in state government. And I know it wasn’t like this when I was a youngster growing up on Mulberry Street, or later as a student at Effingham High School.
I can remember visiting in younger days with several of our past mayors, guys who ran their own businesses with their own money and who decided along the way to work on behalf of everyone. Not for the glory, but because they had something to offer to their beloved city. These were memorable folks.
I reviewed an old Effingham Daily News article recently on the passing of the late Mayor John “Jack” Thies in 2010. “He interacted well with all people,” said one of his friends in tribute. “He could talk with anybody, and people liked him.”
Most of our past mayors, such as Mayor Thies, were “down to earth” and approachable people. Clyde Martin was that way, too, in my experience – both at IGA and on the street. Certainly, I am not near as accomplished as any of these fellows of the past, but yet I think that I could follow in their footsteps.
Mostly, they exhibited an aura of gratefulness and a spirit of goodwill and care toward the coming generations. From my standpoint, what they offered is currently missing, and I’d like to be the person to help restore all of that – for the benefit of my city and its future citizens.
MIKE SCHUTZBACH: I am motivated by the wish to serve the Effingham community and protect our quality of life. I have the skills, experience, long time community involvement and personal commitment to lead the city. I will work hard to preserve residents’ priorities and the city’s financial stability. I have always been financially conservative and will stand with the citizens of Effingham to stop the city from raising property taxes. I will work with local businesses and assist them in accomplishing their goals, utilizing public resources when it makes sense. I will work with local organizations to bring more affordable housing to the Effingham area. Most importantly, I will be the voice at the table for those who have elected me.