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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

County Clerk 'Insulted' After Complaint About Staff, Masks

McLean County Government Center
Ralph Weisheit
The Government Center is located along East Street between Front and Washington streets in downtown Bloomington. The building is home to many city and county offices.

McLean County’s clerk says she is insulted by a complaint relayed by Bloomington’s city manager that some of her staff at the Government Center are not wearing their masks.

In an email on Wednesday, City Manager Tim Gleason told Clerk Kathy Michael that a few of his directors who work at the downtown Government Center had complained to him that county employees were not wearing their masks. (The city and McLean County governments share the building.)

“I pushed back and said let’s not start something that can get out of hand,” Gleason wrote. “They replied it is primarily the county clerk’s staff and it is a problem (elevators, bathrooms, smoking area, etc.). Directors went on to say the County Facilities team does an excellent job wearing masks.”

A growing number of scientific studies support the idea that masks are a critical tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Michael replied to Gleason’s email about two hours later, according to copies of the exchange shared with WGLT. She said the clerk’s staff “wear our masks most of the time,” and that “in checking with our legal department and the (governor’s) new mandate, as long as 6-foot distance is maintained, a mask is not required.”

“Perhaps your staff needs a yardstick? If they are too close, they should move back a bit,” Michael wrote.

Michael told Gleason his email was “very insulting to me and my staff” and she would have preferred a one-on-one discussion about the matter. County Administrator Camille Rodriguez, County Board chair John McIntyre, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner were copied on Gleason’s email.

“We don't rat people out, especially our hard-working staff,” Michael wrote. “We go and talk with them with respect just as we treat the public.”

Renner then replied to Michael’s email and said it was “disrespectful, defensive and irresponsible” given the “very temperate reasonable” tone in Gleason’s email.

“This is a public health issue and not a petty political dispute,” Renner wrote. “Neither (Gleason) nor your constituents deserve this behavior.”

Reached on Thursday by WGLT, Michael reiterated that she was “very insulted at the unprofessional way that was handled.”

“For that exchange to happen—normally I’d tell everybody to take a deep breath and not answer an email— but in this case, it was not true,” she said. “Our office has gone above and beyond, and everybody knows that. Especially with all the work that we’re doing now, and engaging with more of the public than probably anybody. We wear our masks. We’ve done 6-foot distancing.”

Gleason and Rodriguez declined to comment Thursday.

The Government Center is located along East Street between Front and Washington streets and is home to many city and county offices. Bloomington plans to move even more city offices and its city council meetings to the Government Center by the end of the year.

Until early August, the Government Center was mostly closed to the public because of the pandemic. The county helped residents through a nearby Customer Service Station. The city set up walk-up service windows at the nearby Grossinger Motors Arena; the city’s offices in the Government Center are still appointment-only.

Michael, whose office administers elections in much of McLean County, including the Town of Normal, alluded to the Government Center’s reopening in her email to Gleason. She told him her staff was “going above (and) beyond, even when some of you decide to open up the building while COVID cases are rising.”

“We were very upset that the Government Center was reopened,” Michael told WGLT. “We were given one day’s notice. … No one seems to know who made that decision.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.