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Preston and Nord raise concerns over Town Council's vote on National Fitness Campaign project

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Emma Shores
/
WGLT
During the Jan. 4 meeting, council member Scott Preston asked town staff whether National Fitness Campaign was a for-profit business or nonprofit organization. Preston said it was an important consideration for his vote.
Updated: January 19, 2022 at 1:12 PM CST
This story has been updated with a comment from the National Fitness Campaign. It confirmed it's a for-profit business.

At least two Normal Town Council members have raised concerns about the accuracy of information they were provided by town staff ahead of a vote on an outdoor fitness center.

Council members voted 4-2 (with one absence) on Jan. 4 to authorize town staff to draft a proposal for creating the year-round fitness court in partnership with the National Fitness Campaign. The project is expected to cost around $180,000, including equipment and installation, though the actual cost to Normal is anticipated to be lower, with grants and donations supporting the project.

During the Jan. 4 meeting, council member Scott Preston asked City Manager Pam Reece and Parks and Rec chief Doug Damery whether National Fitness Campaign was a for-profit business or nonprofit organization. Preston said it was an important consideration for his vote.

Reece replied: “It does appear to be a not-for-profit.” Damery added: “I believe they are nonprofit. I don’t know that for a fact.” Mayor Chris Koos also chimed in: “The National Fitness Campaign is a nonprofit organization that has been dedicated to helping communities fund, build, and activate outdoor Fitness Courts for the last 40 years.” (The line read by Koos during the Jan. 4 meeting appears to be from a webpage published by the City of Escondido, California.)

Ultimately, Preston voted “yes.” Preston, who recently announced a run for the Illinois House as a Republican, said he supports creating more health-focused opportunities in Normal.

But the National Fitness Campaign is not actually a nonprofit organization. It is a for-profit wellness consulting firm that “partners with cities, schools, corporations and design firms to fund and build outdoor fitness courts," according to its website.

WGLT asked a Town of Normal spokesperson about town staff’s current understanding of the National Fitness Campaign’s organizational status. The spokesperson referred WGLT to the National Fitness Campaign for comment.

At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Preston asked the town’s attorney, Brian Day, what the procedure would be to revisit the vote, citing his concerns about the business-or-nonprofit status of the National Fitness Campaign. The town’s attorney said a motion to rescind the vote could be considered at a future meeting, but it was too late to place it on Tuesday’s agenda.

It’s unclear if a majority of the Town Council would vote to rescind. Stan Nord and Kathleen Lorenz voted against the project at the Jan. 4 meeting. Karyn Smith was absent.

“City Manager Reece does not have an opinion on whether this matter should be revisited. It is for Council to decide whether to bring this back for discussion,” town spokesperson Cathy Oloffson told WGLT on Wednesday.

During the start of Tuesday’s meeting when the minutes are customarily approved without much fanfare, there was a tense exchange about the issue between Koos and Nord:

Nord: “We have tax dollars being expended, and if there’s a chance that vote may change, then by pushing this off another couple weeks, we’re now wasting taxpayer dollars…”

Koos, interrupting: “Mr. Nord, you’re out of order. We’re not going to have that discussion tonight. I think Mr. Day was quite clear on what the process is, and we’ll bring that to the next meeting. There’s no action coming out of approval of the minutes. You can ask what you want, but Mr. Day has been very clear on our process, and that’s the process we’ll take.

Nord: “OK, I’ve got another question. If a vote was made on materially false…”

Koos: “Mr. Nord, you’re out of order.”

Nord: “Why is that out of order?”

Koos: “Because we’re approving the minutes. We’re not having a discussion about past council actions.”

Koos also shut down discussion about the matter later in Tuesday’s meeting, during the “Concerns” portion of the agenda.

As Preston asked for more procedural information about how the vote-to-rescind could work, Koos said he thought that was an “inappropriate question for Concerns. … I don’t think we should have a discussion during Concerns.”

Smith began to speak: “I think what is being lost is Mr. Day’s…”

Koos: “Ms. Smith, we’re not going to have these discussions in Concerns. We’re going to stick to our agenda tonight.”

Town council member Kevin McCarthy, who supported the National Fitness Center project, was allowed to speak Tuesday. He said if the business-or-nonprofit question was so important to certain council members, they should have inquired on the issue before the Jan. 4 meeting.

“There was a sincere attempt to answer questions posed to staff (on Jan. 4). There was no intentionality behind ‘misleading’ or any other of the salacious words that have been thrown around. It’s unfortunate we have someone trying to cast aspersion about this, when the public evidence is so clear.”

“If there are issues to revisit, we should revisit them,” McCarthy said.

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