The Joliet City Council on Tuesday approved the Love’s Travel Stop plan while deviating from normal voting practices and amid allegations that the company was willing to pay $100,000 to buy off one community leader who characterized the arrangement as “embezzlement.”
Mayor Bob O’Dekirk broke from his usual practice of voting only in case of a tie to provide the sixth vote needed for a supermajority required on three separate annexations to make the project possible.
The council was divided on the project, which faced stiff opposition from residents in the vicinity of Interstate 80 and Briggs Street where the Love’s Travel Stop will be built.
The council consistently voted, 5-3, in a series of actions involving the annexations of three parcels on New Lenox Road and Briggs Street.
Resolutions approving the annexations required six votes for approval instead of a simple majority.
When only five council members voted for the annexations, City Clerk Christa Desiderio called on O’Dekirk, who added the sixth vote. On the other votes that only required simple majorities, O’Dekirk did not vote.
The mayor in Joliet can vote and always had before O’Dekirk became mayor and announced he would break from tradition and only vote in cases of ties.
Opposition to the project took a new twist Tuesday when Warren Dorris, a former council member and a local pastor, said Love’s offered him $100,000 to buy off his opposition to the project. The money, Dorris said, was equivalent to the value he would lose in his house, which is located near the site of the future truck stop.
“This is the part that’s really egregious,” Dorris said. “They wanted to funnel the money through my church.”
He called the arrangement “embezzlement” and said it could have cost his church, Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, its nonprofit status.
Attorney Michael Hansen, who represents Love’s and made the offer to Dorris and his wife, told the council he had consulted with partners at his law firm and other attorneys before making the offer.
“The advice and counsel of all those individuals was that this offer could be made to the Rev. Dorris,” Hansen said.
Rick Shuffield, vice president of development for Love’s, said the offer was made to Dorris to employ his services as an agent to persuade other neighbors to annex to the city to create contiguity between parcels so that the future travel stop site could be annexed.
“We were trying to get them to annex into the city of Joliet to address this contiguity issue,” Shuffield said.
The project, which is expected to attract 600 trucks and 2,400 cars a day, again faced many opponents speaking before the vote along with a few supporters.
“I am vehemently opposed to Love’s coming to this location,” Ken Jaegger said. “I fear for my life every time I have to get on I-80 at Briggs Street because of the traffic that’s already there.”
Advocates of the plan emphasized that Love’s was not drawing any more trucks to the area, only drawing business from traffic already coming through on I-80.
“The city of Joliet has to control its interchanges,” council member John Gerl said. “This annexation will control that interchange, and it will open up commerce for that area that we have been looking for for 20 years.”
Voting for the project were O’Dekirk, Gerl, Larry Hug, Jan Quillman, Don Dickinson and Pat Mudron. Voting no were Terry Morris, Bettye Gavin and Michael Turk.