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League of Women Voters may advocate against dividing Normal into districts

Mark Peterson interviewed by baylee steelman.JPG
Staff
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WGLT file
Retired Normal City Manager Mark Peterson spoke Tuesday at a meeting of the McLean County chapter of the League of Women Voters.

The McLean County chapter of the League of Women Voters may advocate against switching the Town of Normal's council from one that is elected on at-large basis to one that is district-based.

The move comes after the group came to a "consensus" following a Tuesday evening presentation of the findings of a League-driven study and input from former Normal city manager Mark Peterson.

Peterson, who held that role from 1998-2017, told meeting attendees that despite claims to the contrary, he does not believe "most people" would be able to tell a difference in how the town is run if the council switched to at-large representation.

"Whether there's a ward system or a district system, I think day-to-day services would be provided in a similar manner," he said. "Oftentimes when these kind of fundamental, systematic changes are proposed, there's some sort of calamity that's going on in the community, some sort of clear failure of local government — and this is oftentimes when people look at changing the electoral methods as a way of fixing it.

"I certainly don't see that here. Do they have problems? Sure they do, but they are addressing them, and I think they do it quite effectively."

Peterson's comments during the virtual presentation echoed the results of a study presented by former League president Laurie Bergner, who said the findings of the group's research indicate the question of switching the council's representation is "a solution in search of a problem."

"There's no problem it's really trying to solve," Bergner said. "The responses we received from virtually every single interviewee are startlingly similar: ... Several noted that the referendum was 'a solution looking for a problem,' referring to the fact that Normal's government has worked extremely well."

Bergner told attendees Tuesday the study's results came after data collection and multiple interviews with former and current Town of Normal and City of Bloomington council members; Peterson, in his capacity as a former city manager; Tari Renner, a former Bloomington mayor and Illinois Wesleyan University political science professor; and former McLean County administrator Terry Lindberg, among others.

What the study lacked, Bergner said, was interviews from proponents of districting Normal — although she noted that wasn't for lack of trying.

"We also reached out to Normal ... council member Stan Nord, former mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli and Krystle Able, who worked with the petition. None of them responded," Bergner said. "We considered their reasons for being proponents of the ward-based system on the public assertions that they make about the referendum."

Meeting attendee Ed Cimoch, who participated in gathering signatures for the referendum question, said he felt the study lacked a "good faith argument" on behalf of a ward system.

"Based on the number of signatures collected, shouldn't the question be, 'Why don't elected officials trust the voters to democratically make a decision?'" he said. "We proved there was interest in this being on the ballot; they said there was none."

The referendum question is currently pending a court ruling on whether the question of dividing Normal into districts or not can even be asked of voters.

Last month, the Normal Electoral Board — made up of Mayor Chris Koos, council member Kevin McCarthy and town clerk Angie Huonker — issued a written order rejecting the petition's efforts to get the districting question on the ballot, saying that question can only be asked of villages, not towns.

In response, attorney and former GOP attorney general candidate David Shestokas filed an appeal on behalf of petitioners, saying that Normal is actually a village.

The League of Women Voters McLean County plans to await the results of that court case before issuing a formal stance and beginning advocacy work related to the position it takes.

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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