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Illinois House approves bill to clarify Normal's town status after legal challenges

WGLT file
The bill would amend the Illinois Municipal Code to reflect a McLean County judge’s ruling that Normal is an incorporated town and not, say, a village, as some Normal residents had tried to argue in court.

Normal’s status as an incorporated town with six elected trustees and a president may be codified into state law, according to a new bill filed by first-term state Rep. Sharon Chung.

House Bill 3337 passed in the Illinois House by a 67-33 vote on Friday. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, it could put an end to a months-long legal dispute over Normal’s form of government.

The bill would amend the Illinois Municipal Code to reflect a McLean County judge’s ruling that Normal is an incorporated town and not, say, a village, as some Normal residents had tried to argue in court. 

Sharon Chung

“All this is about is good government, streamlining government and saving taxpayer money,” Chung, a Democrat from Bloomington, said in an interview. “To me, this is simple: All we are doing is clearing up language. We've kind of gone back and forth with really making sure that the language is correct, so that there will be no sort of question down the road about what is intended in the language of this bill.” 

The bill’s origins stem from a petition effort last summer, in which a group called Citizens for a Better Normal attempted to get a referendum question on the November ballot; the question asked voters if Normal’s council members should be elected from districts, instead of its current, at-large status.

The town’s electoral board subsequently determined the referendum would not be placed on the ballot since Illinois law allows districting questions to village municipalities, only; McLean County circuit judge Scott Kording upheld the Normal Electoral Board’s ruling in court in September.

Then, three Normal residents attempted to run in the current election cycle for non-elective or nonexistent offices in Normal under the premise that, if Normal was legally an incorporated town, its governmental offices should mirror those of the town of Cicero near Chicago, the only other incorporated town in the state. Normal was chartered as an incorporated town in 1867 and currently operates under a city-manager form of government. McLean County judge Mark Fellheimer dismissed a lawsuit filed by the aspiring candidates, saying Normal’s clerk was under no legal obligation to certify petitions of candidacy for appointed or non-existent offices. 

Normal mayor Chris Koos said he has concerns about privacy protections that he will discuss with the police chief before he votes on a plan to buy license plate reading cameras on July 18.
Emily Bollinger
Chris Koos

“The Town of Normal really did use a lot of resources and time and money … in court,” Chung said. “What this bill really does is just that it sort of clarifies and cleans up the language and in the municipal code just so that we can really clear up any sort of further confusion down the road and hopefully prevent anything like that from happening again.” 

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said the town reached out to Chung shortly after Fellheimer’s ruling to discuss the possibility of legislation. Koos said the timing was such that officials waited to see if there would be an appeal to Fellheimer’s ruling, but none was filed.

“We took a position as the elected leaders of the Town of Normal that we felt that the Town, because of Illinois law and when the town was chartered, that we were not a village, and we were not like Cicero,” Koos said. “So we were defending that position. We're actually just defending what the Town of Normal has been for 160 years.” 

Koos said the financial and labor costs to the town as a result of the court disputes had been “astronomical.”

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