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Bloomington City Council narrowly seats Urban to represent Ward 6

The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Oct. 25, 2022, in the Downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, at the downtown Government Center. New council member De Urban is seated second from right.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday night split its vote on whether to approve the nominee for a seat unoccupied since August, but Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe’s tie-breaking vote brought on business owner De Urban as Ward 6 representative.

The 5-4 vote ended a contentious period that found the mayor criticized for his handling of filling the seat vacated when then-council member Jenn Carrillo moved to a residence outside of Ward 6. Council members Donna Boelen, Sheila Montney, Nick Becker and Tom Crumpler voted in favor of Urban’s appointment.

Mwilambwe had said the long period before the nomination was because he was seeking broad consensus among council members, but Monday’s tie showed Urban’s appointment was anything but.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council amended its fiscal 2022 budget, adding nearly $4 million toward water control projects — part of a much-discussed response to this summer’s June floods; and approved spending up to $1.6 million on a separate sewer rehabilitation project.

Ward 6 seat

Among council members voting against the Urban appointment was Ward 7’s Mollie Ward, who was critical of the way Mwilambwe handled the matter.

“The process that we have seen is one that has gone back and forth in ways that are unhelpful and unfair,” she said. Fellow council members Jamie Mathy, Julie Emig, and Jeff Crabill also voted “no” and echoed her concerns.

Referencing applicant Levi Champion being told he’d be nominated, but then having his name pulled, Ward criticized Mwilambwe, saying, "I think that was going back on your word. And I think that was uncalled for, and damaging to the trust.”

Mathy noted that although he knows and likes Urban, he doesn’t believe she is what Ward 6 residents want for that elected position right now.

Along with several other public commenters on Monday, Carrillo decried Mwilambwe’s handling of the search for a replacement.

“Over the last several weeks, I have watched as his administration backed the council into a corner by running down the clock on this appointment,” said Carrillo, who also criticized Mwilambwe backtracking on Champion, and instead floating as a replacement, Karen Schmidt, a longtime council member whom Carrillo defeated in 2019.

Carrillo said Urban’s nomination was “the right wing of this council in cahoots with the mayor to orchestrate a power grab at the expense of the residents in one of the poorest and most marginalized wards in the city.”

WGLT reported Friday that Mwilambwe planned to nominate Urban at the meeting.

A co-owner of a Bloomington antique shop, Urban addressed the council prior to its Monday vote.

She said she looks forward to representing Ward 6. Addressing concerns she’s not as progressive as her predecessor, Urban said she’s taking into account who the voters elected in 2019.

“If that’s what the voice of Ward 6 says, then that’s the voice I need to listen to as well,” she said.

“I would say we’re all hard-pressed to find someone to fill the shoes of Jenn Carrillo,” said Urban, adding, she appreciated Carrillo "stood up for our people for two years.”

Mwilambwe told the council Urban was one of 11 applicants for the seat, and told him she’d support whomever he nominated. The mayor praised her humility and ability to remain calm even when things don’t go her way.

He said Urban will bring a spirit of collaboration and civility that is essential to governing, as well as a strong work ethic and deep understanding of the needs of her ward. He said Urban should not be deterred by the “no” votes regarding her appointment.

“I went through this before,” he said, recalling the mixed reception for his own appointment in March 2011. He started on the council, serving the remainder of a Ward 3 term, and then later was elected.

Flood response

In another matter, the council voted unanimously to amend the fiscal 2022 budget related to two separate projects — using roughly $3.8 million, partly from federal COVID relief money, to speed up the Locust Colton combined sewer overflow (CSO) project, as well as create hydraulic modeling and a design for an East Street detention basin near the Bloomington Public Library.

First, the council approved spending up to $750,000 with Clark Dietz Inc. for engineering costs related to Phase 5 of the Locust Colton CSO elimination and water replacement project. That vote also approved increasing the water fund by $378,000, and the storm water fund and the sanitary sewer fund each by $186,000.

City Manager Tim Gleason told the council the Locust Colton CSO, in progress, had a 2029 scheduled completion date. But Monday’s vote will help shave off two years, he said.

“As a result of storms in late June, the community asked for us to compress this,” he said. In the future, the city may even be also combine phases 8 and 9, so the project could possibly be done as early as 2026, he said.

“Doing something like this does not happen overnight,” said Mwilambwe.

Mathy, who represents Ward 1, said he’d like the council to plan a discussion for how to spend the federal COVID relief funds beyond sewer projects.

Later in the meeting, Gleason noted that at upcoming council committee-as-a-whole meetings, city staff will ask council members for input on those federal relief dollars.

In a separate vote, the council OK’d spending up to $1.16 million with Baxter and Woodman Inc. for engineering costs related to the hydraulic modeling and design for the East Street Basin, and associated sewer system. That vote also increased the FY22 budget’s sanitary sewer fund and storm water fund each by about $580,000.

Ward said the nearly $4 million in spending approved Monday affects wards 1, 4, 6, and 8.

“The glaring hole in this still is Ward 7,” she said, noting the west side was among areas devastated by the June floods.

Public Works Director Kevin Kothe said his staff plans to propose additional hydraulic modeling in the FY23 budget to address Ward 7 and other areas.

Mathy said he worried about areas beyond the reach of the parts of town covered by the basin, especially Lincoln and Bunn streets.

The Evergreen Cemetery area and South Hill also saw flooding, said Mathy. He said parts of Ward 7 and Ward 1 need some attention, in how to mitigate future flooding.

Kothe said improving flood resistance in numerous areas requires multiple phases. “We did need to make a manageable project here,” he said, of the area the detention basin will serve.

Ward 2’s Boelen and Ward 3’s Montney said they were concerned too much money for the detention basin project would be spent on beautification.

As part of its consent agenda, the council also approved spending up to $1.6 million with Hoerr Construction, for an unrelated sewer rehabilitation project. This involves installing about 28,000 feet of sanitary sewer cured-in-place pipe lining.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.