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Cummings, Williams Address Racism, Civil Unrest During Council Meeting

Normal City Council member Chemberly Cummings took the opportunity Monday night to shed a light on the toll of racism, one night after looters ransacked several retail stores in town.

Cummings said earlier peaceful protests and the following civil unrest left some members of the community feeling courageous and hopeful and others worried and fearful.

“It is proof that we are not immunized or inoculated from the infection of racism, nor residual and collateral damage that arises from it,” she said. “The reality is that even if systems are changed, until the matters of the heart (are) adjusted without self-interest involved, we will forever be in a state of war with racism.”

Janessa Williams portrait
Credit Janessa Williams

At Mayor Chris Koos’ request, Normal Human Relations chair Janessa Williams addressed the Council at the start of the online meeting. She said the nationwide turmoil serves as a caution against being “naïve enough to believe (it) cannot occur in our town.”

“We cannot become numb to the murders of black people who have not been convicted of any offense other than being black in America by police officers who continue to perpetuate these murders, most without facing criminal charges let alone convictions for their actions,” said Williams, referencing the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.

Williams highlighted the fact that these incidents have occurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the disease has disproportionately impacted the black community.

“The intersection of these two crises have further heightened the pain, anger, fear and trauma black people in America live with on a daily basis,” she said.

During the “Pledge of Allegiance” at the beginning of the meeting, Cummings held up a message to her camera that read:

Not until there is
(note: the word "ALL" was underlined)

Saying she does not believe in or support violence, Cummings said the community must come together to seek both understanding and a resolution.

“To heal, we must stop pointing fingers, making excuses for any harmful behaviors and be willing to avail our inner self to be changed,” she said, reeling of a long list of inequalities minority communities experience beyond police brutality, including wealth attainability, biased sentencing practices, health care gaps and affordability, and access to home ownership.

“Until we address and acknowledge that color-blindness is racism, dog-whistle politics is real, intrinsic fear of dark skin is ingrained, diversity is a formula and inclusion is a smoke-and-mirror, we will continue to put beautiful curtains and nice paint on a dilapidated house,” Cummings said.

Williams praised the Normal Police Department for training officers in de-escalation tactics and not condoning any brutality or excessive force. But she says more work needs to be done.  

“We need action. Protest rallies, community dialogues and all of those things are nice, but without actionable transparent plans with measureable outcomes nothing really changes,” she said.

Koos thanked both women for providing their perspectives.

“We can never know their world through our lens, and so the comments that they make we have to take to heart and build on,” he said.

Warehouse agreement

Credit Town of Normal
The Town of Normal approved a development agreement for the long-vacant Wildwood Industries warehouse.

In another matter, the council gave the green light to development of a long-unfinished warehouse in north Normal.  

A subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Phoenix Investors LLC will proceed with a $16 million investment at the former Wildwood Industries site that has been vacant for more than a decade.

The one-property tax increment filing (TIF) district at the location was set to expire in December if a developer had not come forward.

“This particular project … it is absolutely a blighted property that needs investment, and this particular investor is experienced,” said City Manager Pam Reece. “Their investment will create, as they indicated, at least 50 jobs.”

Phoenix JCR Normal Industrial Investors LLC, which was registered in Delaware in April, intends to purchase the unfinished warehouse and finish construction. The firm has indicated it has five potential tenants.

“With or without a tenant, the project will get completed,” said Frank Crivello, chairman of Phoenix Investors. “We have found, even with COVID, demand for space for warehousing and manufacturing has been brisk across the Midwest. We’re quite confident we’ll accomplish the mission.”

Outdoor dining

The council also approved an amendment to the COVID-19 emergency declaration, allowing temporary outdoor business operations so bars and restaurants can add or expand outside seating.

Credit Joe Deacon / WGLT
Diners enjoy outdoor service Monday at the Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works location at the Shoppes at College Hills in Normal.

The move comes after much of the state entered Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan on Friday and follows a similar action by the Bloomington City Council last week. Koos noted the rules were put in place last Thursday and the council's vote just codified the action.

“We tried, at the suggestion of the businesses, to keep our recommendations as simple as possible so that the businesses could react as quickly as possible,” said Reece.

Property sale

The council agreed to sell a town-owned lot at 1404 Fort Jesse Road for $25,000 to Laura Dolan, who will be responsible for the 2019 and 2020 property taxes. Stan Nord voted against the sale, objecting to the price being well below the township’s assessed valuation of $90,000.

Originally, Normal had agreed to sell the property three years ago for $30,000 to a developer who intended to build an auto repair shop, but the project fell through and the land was returned to the town.

The new agreement eliminates the town's tax and maintenance responsibilities, but also removes control of the property's development. Dolan would have to comply with various municipal codes to develop the property.

Hudson ambulance service

The town has entered a three-year intergovernmental agreement to provide emergency ambulance service to the Hudson Fire Protection District. The town will be paid $225,000 for the first year, with 3% raises in each of the two following years.

The agreement includes renewal options, and allows either party to terminate the arrangement as long as it gives six months’ notice.

Lobbyist firm

Following a 25-minute discussion, the council also approved a six-month engagement with Turing Strategies at a total cost of $24,000 ($4,000 per month) for lobbying services to enhance state funding opportunities. Staff may seek to extend the pact beyond six months if the service proves valuable.

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