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Normal council adopts flat $13.4M property tax levy; deputy clerk calls Nord email 'intimidating'

 The Normal Town Council meets Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at Uptown Station.
Michele Steinbacher
/
WGLT
The Normal Town Council meets Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, at Uptown Station.

The 2022 Normal property tax levy will be the same as last year’s — nearly $13.4 million — after the town council adopted it Monday night.

Normal leaders have said a year of growth, paired with that levy amount, means they expect the property tax rate to drop about a dime, to about $1.36 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV).

Rising property values have driven assessments up, meaning some people still might see a higher tax bill, despite the tax rate decrease.

Taxes weren't the only focus of Monday's meeting.

More than half the 45-minute session found the council once again rebuking Stan Nord for behavior members deemed unbefitting an elected official.

This time, the issue was Nord sending an email to clerk staff, and some candidates, about how the department should handle posting certain election petition filings.

On Monday, Deputy Clerk Jodi Pomis addressed council, saying Nord's email she received Nov. 29 felt intimidating and unethical.

“I hope you find a way to address this inappropriate behavior,” Pomis said.

Nord said he was sorry if Pomis felt intimidated, as that wasn't his intention. He said the email’s content was meant to be helpful and informational.

But his fellow council members agreed with Pomis, and lashed out, one by one, calling his action politically motivated and inappropriate.

“You effectively had a censure here tonight. It was spontaneous, but people felt very strongly” that Nord’s behavior was unacceptable, Mayor Chris Koos told WGLT following the meeting.

Normal looks to build pension funds with levy revenue

The property tax levy of nearly $13.4 million collected will help Normal budget for its police and fire pension funds, as well as Illinois Municipal Retirement, Social Security, and Medicare funds.

It also covers the Normal Public Library’s annual budget.

A year of growth in Normal has meant the town’s property value increased about 7.25%, bringing its estimated EAV to about $983.5 million.

Council member Kevin McCarthy noted many other taxing bodies are having to increase their levies, but Normal’s growth provided the ability to keep it flat.

The town aims to meet its pension funding requirements by 2040, and this year’s growth will help build those funds, City Manager Pam Reece said in November. The town also will be using money from its general fund to meet the pension obligation, she said.

The estimated tax rate likely will dip from $1.45 per $100 of EAV to $1.36. Because of higher assessments, Normal leaders anticipate that would result in a similar, or lower, tax bill for many property owners.

For example, the owner of an $180,00 home in Normal last year paid about $815 to the town on their property tax bill. Leaders say that same homeowner could see a similar bill for 2022. But it’s dependent on how the home is assessed this year.

A property tax bill in Normal includes payments to nine taxing bodies, with more than half — about 60% — going to Unit 5 school district.

As expected, the council also approved a separate, related ordinance, to abate about $5 million in 2022 property taxes for debt service.

Council unites to decry Nord email

Pomis was among those who received the Nov. 29 email from Nord about candidate filing for the April election.

After the meeting, Koos told WGLT that Pomis understandably “felt intimidated by the email because it suggested that they could be committing a felony, and the email did say, ‘Your boss can’t protect you on that one.’”

Koos said later a formal censure of a council member holds little weight. But it might be an option. He said more discussion is needed on how to respond.

WGLT reviewed the two-page email sent the afternoon of Nov. 29, and Reece’s emailed response to Nord that evening.

Normal Deputy Clerk Jodi Pomis, left, speaks with Normal Town Council members Kathleen Lorenz, center, and Scott Preston, right, after the council meeting Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.
Michele Steinbacher
/
WGLT
Normal Deputy Clerk Jodi Pomis, left, speaks with Normal Town Council members Kathleen Lorenz, center, and Scott Preston, right, after the council meeting Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, on the fourth floor of Uptown Station.

Nord writes that he's concerned certain petitions were not yet posted on the town’s website: Amy Conklin submitted petitions for town clerk, Charles Sila filed for town collector and Robert Shoraga filed for town supervisor.

But none of those are elected offices in Normal's form of town government.

"My intent is to ensure you are aware that it is a felony to knowingly prevent any person from being nominated for elected public office. I don't believe an adequate defense against any felony charge is 'my boss instructed me to commit it' if that were the case," Nord writes in the email.

In August, the Normal Electoral Board ruled that petitioners' efforts to put a referendum on the November ballot to set up a district-type format was legally invalid. Nord was among the leaders of that effort.

In a council-manager form of government, the council works directly with the city manager. That administrator serves as a go-between with staff, said Koos. “It’s inappropriate and unethical for council members to go behind the back of the city manager and try to do business with staff,” he told Nord after Pomis' comments.

After Monday's meeting, Nord told WGLT he didn't want the misperception that he emailed just Pomis. He sent a blanket email to clerk staff, as well as the three candidates mentioned. The message was to let whoever at the clerk's office know, ‘Hey, here is something that may be an oversight, and people are contacting me,” as their representative, he said.

Normal Clerk Angie Huonker said the situation — of candidates for nonexistent offices marked a first for Normal, so the town’s legal department needed to weigh in on how to handle the filings. Their names later appeared on the town website, alongside existing office elections.

In her emailed response to Nord, Reece said town staff handled their professional responsibility, and met the 24-hour window for posting that is legally required. She also criticized his email to staff, calling his mentions of possible felonies "unnecessarily and improperly intimidating."

On Monday, Reece and Nord's fellow council members said they had confidence and admiration for town employees' job performance, while contrasting that with skepticism and condemnation of Nord's behavior.

"Six of your seven council members are speaking differently than the seventh," council member Scott Preston told Pomis, while praising as "tremendous and competent" the Normal staff.

Finding no support from his fellow council didn't surprise Nord, he said after the meeting.

"It's been that way for a number of years," he said. "When I ran for office, I was running because I didn't approve of the majority of the council and to what they were doing. So, it's no surprise to me that I come into a room and there's conflict, and I'm in the minority."

After Pomis returned to her seat Monday, Nord addressed her, explaining he didn't intend to intimidate, but rather be helpful.

“I do worry for the staff, because I understand you work here. You’re in a difficult situation," he said. "But don’t do things that may not be legal,” hiding under the cover of law. “I don’t want anyone to risk their integrity.”

McCarthy said in recent years, at the national level, Americans have watched elected officials intimidating employees involved in elections. "We don't see that in Normal, Illinois. But, we do now," he said.

Pomis was courageous to speak publicly about Nord's email, said council member Kathleen Lorenz. "If we aren't there yet, we are on the threshold of a hostile environment," she said.

Stan Nord
Staff
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WGLT

"In corporate America when things like this happen, there are investigations that take place, and at times, even jobs lost," said council member Chemberly Harris.

But because an elected official was the protagonist in this case, "We have to say 'Sorry. Come back to work tomorrow. And, there's nothing we can do to give you any, full, resolution,'" said Harris.

Council member Karyn Smith said after reading the email, she could see how Pomis would read it as intimidating, especially listing the possibility of felonies, she said, calling Nord's habit of giving individual to-do lists to Normal administrators "presumptuous at best and arrogant at worst."

After the meeting, Nord told WGLT he chose to contact the clerk's staff because Reece already has been ignoring him as a council member. He also said plenty of other council members discuss matters with town staff — it's just him being singled out.

“If Pam Reece and the mayor order town staff not to talk to me, then I’m going to do what’s in the best interest of the people that I represent,” said Nord, who in 2021,accused the pair of discriminating against him. But an independent attorney found the claim without merit.

Reece said after the meeting that Nord's misrepresenting the way the council-manager form of government works. Council members don't hold the role of just citizen, she said. When an elected official such as Nord sends a missive to town staff, "It's more like your boss's boss's boss getting involved," said Reece.

In other business, the council approved:

  • An intergovernmental agreement with the Normal-based Ecology Action Center for solid waste management services. Normal, Bloomington and McLean County split the roughly $150,000 annual cost.
  • Various bids for water treatment chemicals. Reflecting the inflationary climate, the town is budgeting about 35% more for the chemicals in the upcoming year.
  • A $150,000 contract to replace the water department roof. Western Waterproofing Company was the lowest of three bids. The project required a $13,000 budget adjustment.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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