lemond peppers

Lemond Peppers, Urbana’s new community-engagement coordinator, is shown Friday outside the City Building.

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URBANA — For the past two years, Lemond Peppers has worked to engage students at Urbana High School.

His audience is about to get bigger.

Peppers begins Monday as the city of Urbana’s newest community-engagement coordinator.

He’ll replace Preston James, who helped start the Self-Made Kingz program last year with the Champaign County Coalition, the city and the school district.

“This is really to re-engage traumatized African American youth into a system of upward mobility,” he said.

In his new role with the city, he’ll take that experience to work as a liaison between its government and the community.

Peppers will continue engaging in youth programs, work on partnerships with different community members and groups, and provide support to the Civilian Police Review Board.

“It’s a richly unique position to work with our community in a time where I feel that racial disparity is on the rise, and it’s an opportunity to be a bridge,” Peppers said.

He said he hopes to “form and repair connections with the community, police and school district.”

Peppers grew up in Champaign, attended Unit 4 schools and said he has worked on mental health in schools and with youth and families.

“I’ve always been in positions of engagement,” he said.

That’s part of why he was chosen for the position, Mayor Diane Marlin said.

“His experience working with the youth at the high school, his lifelong ties to the community, his background in mental health and public education and a variety of different areas made him a really good candidate,” she said. “And I just thought he brought a real passion and enthusiasm for the job.”

She said his role will be especially important this year “in the wake of George Floyd and all the interest in systemic change.”

“One of the first things you have to do is listen to the community, and you can’t only do that in the context of a city council meeting,” Marlin said. “You have to reach out to folks.”

Also this week, Urbana announced that it has hired engineer Tim A. Cowan to be its interim public works director.

City Administrator Carol Mitten had been also serving in that role for the past two years.

Cowan was hired as a contractual employee through an executive recruitment firm. He most recently worked for Donohue & Associates Inc. and C2 Engineers, LLC. He also has been a civil engineer for Danville.

“Our goal is to eventually appoint a public works director. This interim contract is just a really good interim solution,” Marlin said. “He lives right here in Urbana, and I think this will be a very smooth transition.”

The city has been unable to permanently fill the position since Bill Gray retired in 2018.

At one point, the city even named three finalists.

“We’ve tried multiple times,” Marlin said. “We had two unsuccessful rounds of interviews and recruitment, and then we tried several other options.”