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Normal Council approves proposal for new museum strategic plan

Stan Nord
Normal Town Council member Stan Nord received rebuttals to the premise of several questions lodged at Monday night's council meeting.

Normal town staff and council members called out council member Stan Nord on Monday night on several issues when he questioned town practices, including a bill for a drainage study in Uptown.

When Nord asked whether the study included underpass drainage, City Manager Pam Reece referred him to an earlier email answer to the question indicating it did not.

Nord then tried to say it is shortsighted to pay for the study and not include underpass drainage. Mayor Chris Koos rebuffed Nord by referring to the email to Nord's question made well before the meeting.

"Mr. Nord, I would point out in the email response to you that was addressed, and that drainage issues would be part of phase two design," said Koos.

Nord also questioned why public input isn't being sought in Children's Discovery Museum exhibit planning, only to be told several ways it is taken into account.

"We work with our local schools, home schools as well, as you mentioned earlier. We work with child care facilities that we partner with, anybody that wants to have input, our museum families, visitors, we actually have quite a bit of stakeholder input," said museum director Beth Whisman.

Whisman said the strategic planning process is intended to gather public input as well as survey what other museums do.

Nord said it would be nice to have some of the grant money the museum brings in given back to the town to alleviate taxpayer burden to help operate the museum. Town staff said that already happens, depending on whether the grant pays for exhibits or operations.

"Just to alleviate any confusion that may be generated by that (Nord's remark), the Shuttered Venues grant did go to the general fund to offset lost revenue from the COVID year, and to help the operation because of the pandemic. That is the purpose of the grant," said Reece, adding the museum captured more than $500,000 in grant money last year.

Nord also questioned staff why the museum foundation isn't paying for the facility's strategic plan. Staff noted the plan is part of the budget for the current fiscal year previously approved by the council. The foundation raises money to pay for the much more expensive exhibit installation, and the town historically has paid for planning, said Reece.

The previous strategic plan created a decade ago led to five new exhibits. Foundation board head Rob Widmer told the council in public comments at the start of the meeting the foundation raised more than $1 million in private donations toward installation of those exhibits.

Nord also questioned the request for proposal (RFP) that resulted in the $50,000 contract for the plan coming before the council. He wanted to know the amount of the other bids. Staff and council members noted there were no bids and that the RFP process takes historical performance, references, and expertise into account as well as price.

"This is a normal, typical financial proposal that we see executed regularly and routinely. This is nothing out of the ordinary. The request for proposal is also about qualifications and not just about dollars and that's the difference," said council member Kevin McCarthy.

Whisman noted all four responses to the call for the strategic plan were about the same, with one that was $8,000 higher.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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