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Mayor Mwilambwe delays the city council selection over disagreement on his preferred choice

Mboka Mwilambwe sitting at city council meeting
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe had said he hopes the city can fill a city council vacancy by early September.
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Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe is seeking to build consensus for a city council vacancy in Ward 6, when there’s majority support on the council for his initial choice.

The mayor’s attempt to achieve broader support for his nomination has delayed council representation for residents in parts of downtown and southwest Bloomington for over a month and drawn comparisons to his own contentious appointment to the council 10 years ago.

Two sources with knowledge of the situation tell WGLT Mwilambwe sought the council’s approval for Levi Champion, one of 10 candidates who filed for the vacancy in August following Jenn Carrillo’s resignation, two years into their term. A majority of the council had indicated support for Champion, according to the sources.

Champion works for Country Financial as a direct sales supervisor, according to his LinkedIn profile. Champion declined to comment for the story.

Mwilambwe has resisted presenting Champion to the council for formal approval because of some council opposition.

“It’s proving more difficult than anticipated,” Mwilambwe said at the Sept. 27 council meeting when he explained why he had not yet presented a candidate for the council. He initially said he hoped to have a nomination by early September, shortly after the seat became open.

Mwilambwe would not say which council members have expressed support for which candidates, and did not confirm which candidate he has backed, but he said tallying support is a moving target as council members talk with the candidates and amongst themselves.

“Some candidates also talk to those council members and reach out to get to know them and share their views. So that can change,” Mwilambwe said to WGLT.

Ward 4 council member Julie Emig said she would support Champion as the new representative for Ward 6, but she said the mayor should take time to build more support.

“I think it would have been great to have the results sooner, but I fully support the mayor’s time and deliberation because he wants to make sure he has covered his bases and is really trying to achieve as much consensus as possible, which is the right thing to do,” Emig said.

Ward 3 council member Sheila Montney did not say which candidate she supports. She said she planned to meet Champion on Thursday.

“I don’t have an opinion to offer one way or another at this point because I really don’t know anything about him firsthand,” Montney said.

One of the candidates under consideration, JohAnna Chambers, withdrew her candidacy, according to the sources.

Mwilambwe said he is trying to avoid a similar circumstance that preceded his appointment to the council a decade ago. Mwilambwe, who was elected mayor in April, was appointed by then-mayor Steve Stockton to fill a vacancy in Ward 3 in 2011. Stockton appointed him after the council voted down the choice. Bloomington voters later elected Mwilambwe to the seat in 2013 and re-elected him in 2017.

Mwilambwe recalled that his fellow council members told him their vote against him was nothing personal, but he didn’t feel “warmly” received by all of his council colleagues.

“I’d like to avoid that for somebody coming on to the council, so that they can have a good experience and can hit the ground running and not have to worry about that,” he said.

There are clear ideological divisions on the council. Mwilambwe acknowledged that could make consensus difficult.

“I think anything is possible. I’m somebody who is always hopeful and positive,” Mwilambwe said. Mwilambwe said he’s still not certain when he will have a candidate to submit to the council for consideration.

The city has until Oct. 30 to fill the vacancy, or 60 days from Carrillo’s resignation date. The person appointed would serve the remaining 19 months on the term.

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