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Beverly Bell appointed to complete term on McLean County Board

Beverly Bell swearing-in
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael administers the oath of office to new County Board member Beverly Bell at the board's meeting on Thursday.

The McLean County Board on Thursday unanimously approved Beverly Bell of Normal to fill a short-term vacancy on the board.

Bell, 64, and Illinois State University doctoral student Derek Lough, 35, were the two applicants for the post. They interviewed separately with the County’s Board’s Executive Committee on Monday.

County board Chair John McIntyre, who made the nomination, said Bell was the consensus choice among the board members he polled.

Board members Hannah Beer and Gerald Thompson were absent.

Bell fills a vacancy in District 6 that covers much of the Illinois State University campus and Uptown Normal. Laurie Wollrab, who had been the longest-serving Democrat on the board, resigned at the end of 2021.

The county also is accepting applications for a vacancy in District 4 that includes parts of central and west Normal. Democrat Benjamin Webb announced his resignation this week, effective Friday, because he’s moving out of the district.

According to a Facebook post from McLean County Democrats, Webb plans to run in District 7 in the June primary. That district will include areas east and northeast of downtown Bloomington once the county’s newly-drawn maps take effect.

County administration will accept applications until noon on March 3. The executive committee plans to interview candidates during its March 7 meeting. The full county board would vote on McIntyre’s recommendation during its March 10 meeting. The county is required to appoint someone from Webb’s party. The person will serve the remaining eight months of Webb’s term.

Bell, who is retired, spent more than two decades working for the United States Department of Defense overseas and later spent 25 years with the Normal Police Department. She also previously served on the Bloomington Planning Commission.

Bell has not said whether she plans to run for election when the seat comes up later this year, but she said she intends to make an impact in the time that’s left in her current term.

“I’m not coming in just to warm up a seat and I am not just here because of the color of my skin, or that I am a woman,” Bell, who is Black, said after the meeting. “I have done my work and I have lived a long time and I know some changes need to come to the Bloomington-Normal area.”

Until she was appointed, the 20-member board had non-white member and no Black representation.

Bell said one of her top concerns is mental health, particularly the well-being of McLean County Jail staff and inmates. She pointed to her experience in Europe as an example that she’d like to see adopted among McLean County staff, at least among corrections workers to start.

“One of the things I loved about Germany, if someone is working a lot of hours, you could go up to your boss and say, ‘I need some me time, I need to take a mental health day.’ I would like to see that done a little bit more without that employee being stigmatized, so they can get back and do their job and be safe doing their job," Bell said.

Jail health care

In other business, the county board approved an emergency budget amendment for the county to pay contract health care employees to address staff nursing shortages at the McLean County jail.

The county has contracted with Peoria-based Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH) to add nurses to fill several temporary vacancies. The county moved $100,000 from its full-time employee’s salary fund to its contract services fund.

County administrator Cassy Taylor said the shortage is largely a temporary problem, as the county expects three nurses currently on leave to return within the next two months, but she said the jail’s medical staff is struggling to fill vacancies.

“We are always looking for nurses who are interested in working with that clientele,” said Taylor, noting the nursing shortage is a nationwide problem. “We are really finding a difficulty in finding enough nursing staff across the county and all of our departments that rely on nurses.”

Taylor said the county plans to examine the results of a salary study that should be ready later this year to see if higher wages are needed to attract more nursing applicants, or perhaps changes to their shift schedules. Contract nurses generally command much higher pay than staff nurses.

McIntyre had already signed the contract with ACH under the county’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Road work

The board also approved a contract for the reconstruction of Meadows Road (County Highway 23) in Chenoa Township. The road will be rebuilt from the Turkey Creek Bridge just north of the Interstate 55 bridge to U.S. 24.

Rowe Construction of Bloomington submitted the lowest bid of $7.9 million. According to a memo to the board, some of the funding will come from the state’s Rebuild Illinois program and county reimbursements from the Bloomington Grove Wind Farm, among other sources.

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