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Lowering the volume

When I returned to covering Morrison City Council meetings last month, I felt as if I had entered a new environment.

For much of this year, my bosses had assigned other reporters to Morrison meetings, so I missed the first ones after the April city election.

Much had changed.

Mayor Everett Pannier had taken office, succeeding Roger Drey, who decided against seeking re-election. Pannier swiftly announced he wouldn't keep City Administrator Jim Wise.

That personnel change made a lot of difference.

Even Wise's critics acknowledged he was smart and qualified for the job. But he struggled to get along with council members.

Sure, he had staunch allies in a couple of council members and the mayor. But that wasn't enough. The council has eight members, and some seemed ready for him to leave. One of them, Marti Wood, publicly called for his ouster.

Wise, who served 2 years, created antagonism when it seemed wholly unnecessary. In one instance, he was found in violation of the state Open Meetings Act when he kicked a resident out of a public meeting, saying the man had been rude earlier to city employees. In another case, when a council member asked how much a proposed tax would bring in revenue, Wise told him he would reveal that information once the council took a vote on the issue. (The audience heckled him, prompting the mayor to order Wise to provide the number.)

Pannier, by contrast, apparently wants peace.

The other day, the mayor presented an alternative site for the city's new sewer plant – on the edge of town. Last year, the city floated the idea of rebuilding the current plant and adding a lagoon at Waterworks Park. Neighbors protested, fearing their property values would plummet.

One of those residents, David Jindrich, was so mad that he ran for mayor with the promise that he would find another site.

Although city officials stressed they hadn't made a final decision, it seemed as if Waterworks was the only alternative.

Pannier, a former General Electric plant manager, took a fresh look at the situation. He announced the city was seeking offers from private landowners. It turns out a local family wanted to sell its 30-acre estate, which was away from homes and, according to the city, cost no more than the Waterworks site. The council unanimously approved the more rural site.

On other issues, Pannier has sought calm. In 2011, a planned path for pedestrians, bicyclists and snowmobilers sparked opposition from two residents, who said it would be too close to their homes. The city recently adjusted the plan, which no longer includes the path in front of the houses.

Pannier has a low-key, unexcitable style, which may contribute to the new peace. As with any mayor, he'll certainly encounter controversies during his term. So far, though, he has succeeded in lowering the volume.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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