By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
New Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting is proud to be coming home again.
Fuesting was sworn in as Police Chief during Tuesday’s Effingham City Council meeting. In the audience were his wife, Jennifer, children, Tyler and Tori, and his father, Mark, a former Effingham Police officer now working with the Illinois Gaming Board.
After the council meeting, Fuesting made it clear he is happy to be coming home to work in his hometown.
“It’s always been my dream to work for the Effingham Police Department,” Fuesting said. “I will be getting into the police station and meeting with the employees. It should be a smooth transition. Some of the needs of police work are the same in communities whether they are large or small.”
The 44-year-old has worked in law enforcement for 22 years. He has served as a precinct captain in St. Louis County with experience in criminal investigation, special operations and working with the public as well. Two years ago, he was part of the response to protests in Ferguson after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a law officer and the violence that resulted in that St. Louis area community.
Fuesting intends to have community outreach as his top priority in Effingham.
“Feedback on what we’re doing is important. And I want to build on the current programs used by this department,” he explained.
Fuesting’s first official day on the job will be Jan. 3. Retired Effingham Police Chief Mike Schutzbach will help with the transition. Schutzbach has been serving as Effingham Police Administrator since he retired a few months ago. Fuesting said that arrangement is a good reflection on the city leadership.
“That shows the caliber of leadership in Effingham that they extended Mike’s command,” Fuesting said.
His decision to seek the position in Effingham came as a surprise to his family members. Now, his wife, who comes from Effingham as well, and children are getting used to the change. Tyler is a student at a community college in Missouri, while Tori attends grade school.
It will be an adjustment for the Fuesting children, but it helps that their parents are coming to their hometown.
In other business, the council heard concerns from Karen Cheatum on plans to build a road into the Rollin Hills Subdivision for a connection with a new fuel station.
Cheatum said the roadway would cut into a residential neighborhood and increase traffic flow to a risky level. She and her neighbors expect to see lost semi-truck drivers as they miss a turn.
“They’re going to be wandering around our subdivision with this new road. And they’re going to be running into our yards,” Cheatum warned as she asked the city to steer the new connection toward Jefferson Avenue.
City Commissioner Merv Gillenwater offered similar concerns with the roadway proposal. City Administrator Jim Arndt, who lives in Cheatum’s neighborhood, said the subdivision could benefit from added roadway access with Keller Driver producing a “Fogger” dilemma for drivers now.
Cheatum plans to bring more residents to a future city council meeting and seek a public hearing on the issue.
The council learned how improvements for the Oakridge Street CSX Railroad crossing, coupled with the closure of the Haney Street crossing, could bring the city closer to a quiet zone for rail traffic in the city. The city has been working with CSX Railroad and the Illinois Commerce Commission to work out an agreement for funding on the project affecting the Oakridge and Haney crossings.
The city must bring three more crossings into compliance with lighted crossing gates to quiet the locomotive whistles in the future. The crossing work was up for discussion Tuesday and the council will consider a future vote on the agreement.
An old bait shop site at 801 Old South Maple Street is being considered for duplex development. The Effingham Plan Commission voted for rezoning the property from light industrial use to Family Duplex Dwelling usage or R-3B.
The council also heard a request for funding to help the CEO program. If approved, the city would donate $1,000 over three years to assist with the program that promotes transformational education and also economic development by encouraging local young people to invest in their hometowns. The program has spread to several states since it started about 10 years ago in Effingham.
“It changes attitudes. Instead of thinking ‘I can’t wait to get out of this place,’” CEO educator Craig Lindvahl said. “They start to think ‘This would be a great place to live.’”