Bloomington council revisits idea of gun violence commission after last week's shootings
Gun violence, and one elected official’s push to create a commission to address the issue, resurfaced Monday night during a Bloomington City Council discussion.
The topic arose again after last week’s triple fatality when a Texas man fatally shot his 6-year-old child and his spouse, before killing himself, according to Bloomington police.
That “brings this year’s number of shooting deaths in our community to five,” said Ward 7’s Mollie Ward, noting it's only the second week of March.
Although some boards and commissions include crime reduction in their missions, Ward said it's not enough. “What we are doing already clearly isn’t working,” she added. Ward has recommended the council establish a city commission to focus on gun violence.
Also at Monday's meeting, the council approved spending about $800,000 on new equipment and vehicles, city staff presented its proposed fiscal 2023 budget, and shared a video looking back at the city’s 2021 accomplishments.
Ward said the Tuesday shootings on Four Seasons Road, and a non-fatal shooting Friday on the city's southwest side, were a stark reminder of the city’s need for the commission.
Bloomington Police said their preliminary investigation suggests the homicides were a result of a domestic violence incident in which the suspect, Lawrence D. Clemons III, killed his biological 6-year-old son, Matthias E. Clemons, and his spouse, Brittney C. Harmon. After killing them, Lawrence Clemons fatally shot himself, police said.
At Monday's meeting, Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe called the event, especially the young boy's killing "heartbreaking," and urged Bloomington residents facing domestic violence to seek help from community resources. He suggested the PATH 211 hotline.
Mwilambwe also praised the city’s first responders for their dedication to the victims and the community.
Ward said the need for a gun violence commission is further evidenced by BPD's crime data map increasingly showing many additional gun violations since she proposed the commission first in July. She noted suicides are not included on that map.
But as other council members joined the conversation, it became evident Ward doesn’t have unanimous support for creating such a commission.
Ward 2's Donna Boelen said the community already is looking into the issue. Rather, what’s needed, she said is better communication to the community. “There are groups that are working on it,” she said.
Boelen said highly trained professionals sit on the Law and Justice Coordinating Council, and the Behavioral Health Coordinating Committee. She also pointed to data collected by the Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center for Economic Development.
Ward 5’s Nick Becker said the city council can only do so much; the community also has to step up and get involved. Like Boelen, he said a focus should be on local groups already in existence, such as the Children’s Home and Aid Society’s and its father coalition aimed at strengthening family structure.
Budget hearing set for March 28
Also at the meeting, city finance director Scott Rathbun shared Bloomington's proposed $270 million budget. Of the city's total budget, the general fund's $122.3 million is its largest.
A public hearing on the plan is set for March 28, at the start of council's next meeting. The budget's expected final adoption is April 11.
The FY23 budget is 7% — or $17.5 million — higher than last year, and includes about $12 million in non-recurring growth. Much of that is boosted by $5.6 million in federal COVID relief.
City's 2021 achievements
Also on Monday, the council watched a seven-minute video created by administrators to highlight the city’s accomplishments of 2021.
Mwilambwe reviewed many of those during his annual state of the city address, including that more than $100 million in new construction that took place in the city last year. Of that, $20 million was new home building.
In other business, the council approved:
- Buying four heavy duty trucks for public works, and auctioning the vehicles being replaced. The nearly $700,000 contract is with Springfield-based Rush Truck Centers; and buying about $100,000 worth of new Parks and Recreation maintenance equipment from Lexington-based Martin Sullivan, The vote also OKs trading in a $20,000 surplus mower.
- A $620,000 contract with Stanley Consultants, Inc., to help design the Meadowbrook Subdivision Improvement Project.
- Spending for its annual road pavement patching program. The roughly $390,000 contract is with Gildner, Inc.