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Mayor Mwilambwe says long-term 'health' of the city council is weighing on his decision for Ward 6 vacancy

Mboka Mwilambwe
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe is in his first term.

Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said Monday the long-term interpersonal “health” of the city council is one of the factors weighing on his delayed decision on the Ward 6 vacancy.

The west-side ward has been without a council member since Jenn Carrillo resigned Aug. 31. The six weeks without representation include a narrow 4-to-3 vote on flood assistance in late September. Mwilambwe said he would’ve liked to have someone in place by Sept. 1, but he’s taking his time because he wants to find someone who can achieve the “broadest amount of consensus” with the other council members and the community.

“One of the misconceptions about the position, in my opinion, is that it’s not just about the ward. It’s not just about Ward 6,” Mwilambwe said. “We have to take a number of things into consideration.”

WGLT previously reported that Mwilambwe initially sought the council’s approval for Levi Champion, one of 10 candidates who filed for the vacancy in August. After apparently running into some council opposition to that choice, Mwilambwe subsequently floated former council member Karen Schmidt as an alternative — even though she didn’t initially apply for the position. (Schmidt lost the seat to Carrillo in the 2019 election.)

Speaking Monday on WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Mwilambwe declined to comment on whether Schmidt was still under consideration. But he stressed that Schmidt was not looking to re-join the city council and that others brought her name up—not the other way around.

Jeff Crabill, a first-term council member who serves much of far southeast Bloomington, slammed the idea of appointing Schmidt, calling the effort “an effort to appease the three conservatives on the council who have made it clear they refuse to vote for any progressive.”

Mwilambwe said Crabill was entitled to his opinion.

“You’ve heard some people express concern about Karen Schmidt. So if I said, 'OK, I’m not going to appoint her,' would that be appeasing them? Council member Crabill has made it clear that he wasn’t in support of Karen Schmidt. So would that be considered appeasing him? I don’t know,” he said.

Mwilambwe added: “I really don’t want to get into these kinds of things. What I’m mainly focused on is really the health of the council over the long-term, so we can find a way to work together and make the decisions the public expects us to make, for the benefit of the community.”

Mwilambwe said he’s working as quickly as possible to make the appointment, which must happen by Oct. 30.

“I’m working hard. I’m trying the best I can, because yes, I think about the residents of the ward and I’d like for them to have some representation as soon as possible,” he said.

Library expansion

Meanwhile, the mayor said he was “very pleased” with the latest iteration of Bloomington Public Library expansion plans that came before the council in September.

The council was presented with two options: one costs $20.7 million, the other $2 million more. The difference is a two-level parking structure. Library director Jeanne Hamilton said the expansion and renovation includes wider aisles, more accessible shelving, sensory-friendly rooms, a drive-up window on the first floor, a nursing nook, new meeting rooms, a computer lab, a maker's lab, and recording studios for podcasts.

Mwilambwe said he liked what he saw.

“I felt the previous plans that were presented were a little too ambitious,” he said. “This particular plan provides the footprint that would allow the library to expand some of its programs, because they really are capacity. But at the same time, it’s also a much more affordable option.”

The mayor said the plans make the library more inviting.

“I’ve always found it odd that you had this (library) on Olive Street, but there’s really no entrance on Olive Street. You almost have to get in through the back,” Mwilambwe said. “The renovation provides an opening onto Olive Street and a connection to downtown as well.”

Mwilambwe praised library leaders for enduring years of iterating and multiple rounds of feedback from the council.

“They’ve taken the feedback that they’ve received. Which at times was really tough feedback to take. And they’ve made a really nice project,” he said.

The council is expected to make decisions about financing (borrowing and tax levy) in November, with construction starting possibly as soon as April 2022.

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