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Underpass talk leads to altercation between Cities staffer and Normal council member

McCarthy Woodard.jpg
Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy and Cities 92.9 writer Kevin Woodard.

A tense exchange at Monday’s Normal Town Council meeting spilled out into the hallway afterward, escalating into an altercation between a council member and a writer for a conservative media outlet that some feared would turn physical.

The incident happened just outside council chambers Monday night. Council member Kevin McCarthy was involved in a heated conversation with Kevin Woodard, who writes about town government for Cities 92.9. Cities is a conservative talk radio station that has veered far to the right in recent years, deploying an unusual blend of local reporting and advocacy without clear lines between them.

Woodard told WGLT that McCarthy approached him after misinterpreting an earlier exchange Woodard had with council member Kathleen Lorenz. Mayor Chris Koos said McCarthy appeared to be verbally “defending” Lorenz to Woodard, following Woodard’s earlier exchange with Lorenz.

“I made it clear I wasn’t going to take that,” Woodard said of being approached by McCarthy. “It was tense.”

Koos said Woodard made “false lunges” at McCarthy and at one point said “let’s take this outside.” Woodard denied saying that. He acknowledged putting his finger in McCarthy’s face but that he didn’t think “either of us wanted to get physical.”

Koos said he asked Woodard to leave the building.

“There’s no place for this kind of behavior in local government meetings. There’s no place for this. That’s why I asked him to leave the building,” Koos said. “To me, it crossed a line, especially coming from a media source. It’s behavior that I won’t tolerate as a mayor in local government meetings.”

McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. Lorenz told WGLT she did not have “any interest in discussing the post-meeting activities. Would rather let it be. Move on.”

The altercation appeared to stem from discussion during the Town Council meeting about funding for the Uptown underpass project. On a 5-1 vote, the council voted to accept grant funds for the project, which will be primarily funded with federal and state money.

During the meeting, council member Stan Nord reiterated concerns about the project, saying the town leaders were not being honest with the public about how much it will cost and that, if a non-elected private citizen were to do something like that, they would “end up in jail.”

Also during the meeting, Lorenz said she too has had concerns about the project, though she has supported it at key moments. She said there was no evidence of anything “nefarious.”

“I am offended by what Mr. Nord has said,” Lorenz said. “I’m offended by the words you used, to say we’re ‘padding,’ and that we’re being ‘immoral’ and we’re going to end up in jail. This is where you (Nord) and I are very different. Because we can both have concerns about a particular project and want to pay attention, but you immediately and always take it to a toxic and immoral storyline that is just baseless.”

At one point, Koos told Nord he needed a better understanding of the difference between municipal budgeting and forecasting – one of many contentious moments between them at recent council meetings. Woodard said that comment irked him, leading to Woodard’s exchange with Lorenz after the meeting. Woodard said he “felt bad” about being dismissive during the exchange and that, if Lorenz felt he was aggressive toward her, he would apologize. Woodard noted that Lorenz has been willing to engage with Cities in the past, including an interview last month on the Steve Suess Show.

“I was upset because I feel like the mayor is out of place when he does things like that,” Woodard said.

Woodard said he “feels the same way as Stan (Nord)” on the underpass cost issue. The headline for his story about Monday’s meeting on Cities929.com: “Normal Council Blind to Ethics Gap Regarding Underpass.”

Woodard ran unsuccessfully for county auditor as a Libertarian in 2020. He said he’s been writing for Cities since April. He sat in the media section for Monday’s council meeting.

He acknowledged the opinion-based reporting that has become a hallmark of Cities in recent years, calling himself a journalist at times and, at other times, an entertainer. He said Cities is upfront about his political viewpoint: “We don’t say we’re not conservative,” he said.

“It’s a struggle to maintain neutrality as a journalist when you’re reporting from a conservative viewpoint,” Woodard said. “It’s an interesting line to try and walk.”

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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