McLean County To Name Redistricting Panel; Joins Drop-Off Recycling Pact
McLean County Board Chair John McIntyre announced Thursday he will appoint a public bipartisan advisory panel that will create three proposed county board maps for the board to vote on in July.
The move follows weeks of contentious debate among board members before they approved a plan to keep the current format of 10 districts and two board members in each district.
McIntyre said he will name the so-called ‘Red White and Blue’ advisory panel on May 24 with help in the selection process from board members Elizabeth Johnston (D) and Jim Soeldner (R).
McIntyre said the committee will use data from the McLean County Regional Planning Commission and will have three options ready for public review by July 8, adding the county will schedule a public viewing of the proposed maps. He said the commission will decide which census data to use since 2020 census data has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The county board would then vote on the proposed maps on July 15, just ahead of the deadline to have the maps adopted for the 2022 election.
“McLean County has always been a leader in best practices and is known throughout the state as a county (that) values innovation and data-driven decision making,” McIntyre said. “This will be one of the first fair map reallocation processes conducted by a governmental body in the state of Illinois.”
Republican board member Josh Barnett previously told WGLT he recommended the county adopt such a commission in March and that McIntyre turned him down. Barnett and several Democrats accused McIntyre and other Republicans on the board of secretly creating maps that would cut the number of districts and force Democrats to run in larger districts with greater Republican representation. McIntyre has denied that claim.
McIntyre also denied the commission was Barnett’s plan, but noted the ideas are similar. McIntyre has created advisory boards in the past to study the McLean County Nursing Home and conduct a search for a new county administrator.
He also said the advisory panel will do its work without any involvement from the County Board until it votes.
“We are hands off,” he instructed the board.
Board member Logan Smith asked if the advisory board’s work would be subject to the Open Meetings Act. Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher Spanos said he will look into that.
Barnett asked if records would be kept and made available to the public, saying the county seems to have no records saved from the last redistricting in 2011.
“I just want to make sure we are not going to be in the same position 10 years from now,” Barnett said.
McIntyre said the county will keep records of all meeting minutes and all data used to draw the maps.
The County Board Executive Committee had previously scheduled public hearings on May 18 and 25 to take feedback on map making plans. Those meetings have been canceled.
In another matter, the county board approved joining an agreement with Bloomington and Normal to continue a recycling drop-off program. The Town of Normal had been funding the program to this point.
Each government body will contribute $65,000 each in the first year. Costs will be adjusted in future years based on use.
Soeldner said he initially wanted to the county to pay only 15%, arguing residents outside Bloomington-Normal would use it less, but was told the program may die without the county’s funding.
“I didn’t want to be part of that. I think it’s a valuable program,” Soeldner said. “Hopefully in the future, they will do a little more to help the rural residents to recycling, maybe by putting a box somewhere closer to the rural parts (of the county).”
The county’s Land Use and Development Committee struck down the agreement last month along party lines, but county administrator Camille Rodriguez resubmitted the plan.
According to a survey done by Normal's Ecology Action Center, about 30% of the program users live outside Bloomington-Normal.
Board member George Wendt cast the only "no" vote. He said the county should have had a greater role in the process before Bloomington and Normal approved their funding.
“We were given this with no choice,” Wendt said.
In a 13-7 vote, the board approved a resolution calling for the Illinois legislature to maintain local control of zoning and land use issues. Johnston asked references to Gov. JB Pritzker be removed from the resolution to make it less partisan.
“We have seen in the last couple of weeks how damaging partisanship can be and I would like our resolution to be targeted at legislation in favor of retaining our zoning rights,” she said.
The amendment to change the language passed 12-8 with all Democrats supporting it. McIntyre, Soeldner, Wendt, Lyndsay Bloomfield, Chuck Erickson, William Friedrich, Catherine Metsker and Gerladd Thompson voted against it.
Johnston said she was concerned about provisions in the proposed Consumer and Climate First Act that would limit height restrictions and setbacks for wind towers.
The board also unanimously approved tax abatement agreements with Rivian Automotive and Brandt Industries. Both manufacturers met targets for hiring and investment in 2020. According to the McLean County Treasurer’s Office, the county will forgo about $64,500 from Rivian and $16,400 from Brandt.
Public commenter Sarah Breeden called on the board to end the practice of including religious references that county board members often make during the invocation at the start of each meeting.
Breeden also called McIntyre’s comments at the close of a recent invocation “condescending” and “weaponizing prayer.”
Board member Hannah Beer sat during the invocation during Tuesday’s in-person special meeting and appeared to remain seated while attending Thursday's virtual meeting.
McIntyre closed the invocation by calling for a “special prayer for those who choose not to stand, that they someday will learn to show respect and honor patriotism.”
McIntyre declined to comment after the meeting.
In an email, Beer said she intends to continue to remain seated during the invocation in the future.
"I deeply value the separation of church and state," Beer said. "These meetings are a place for members and county staff to conduct the business of the county and religion has no role in these matters. However I am respectful of my fellow colleagues' right to express their faith."