Widmer losing passion for public service

DeWayne Bartels
Merle Widmer, vice-chairman of the Peoria County Board, says his passion for public service is waning. He does not plan to run for re-election.

Merle Widmer’s passion for public service is waning.

Widmer, 83, a North Peorian, is the Peoria County Board representative for District 11 and serves as vice-chairman of the board. After more than seven years on the county board, he is planning to hang up his political aspirations.

Widmer said he does not plan to seek re-election as vice-chairman in November, and when his term expires in two years, he will not run again.

Widmer made the announcement at last week’s Optimist Club meeting, where he spoke.

After the meeting, Widmer sat down to discuss his announcement.

“I want some down time,” Widmer said.

“My passion is burning out. The work stresses me. It’s pulling me down.”

Widmer, in his public life, has always been outspoken. That quality has endeared him to some, and made him a target for others.

Last week, while addressing the Optimists, Widmer was characteristically frank.

Responding to a question about development, Widmer said the city has done nothing to keep costs down.

“When it came to Growth Cell 3 in North Peoria, the city wanted 3,000 acres for growth. The county wanted to give them 700 acres. The city won. We now have higher costs due to sprawl,” he said.

Widmer, on the subject of Bel-Wood Nursing Home, said he questions the wisdom of the home being run by the county. That did not sit well with at least one member of the club.

But, Widmer pressed on with his opinion.

He said the administration says $23 million worth of needed upgrades to the facility will not result in higher taxes. Widmer said he is not buying that.

“We’re one of the few counties in Illinois to still have a county nursing home,” Widmer said.

“I don’t think we should be in that business ... We spend more time on it than any other issue.”

And, when the topic of storm water runoff, sewers and the Environmental Protection Agency arose, Widmer again expressed his views without holding back.

“We need more leadership in this community with common sense,” he said.

“We need leaders who look forward and take baby steps.”

For more of this story see the 7/23 issue of the Peoria Times-Observer.