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Bloomington Council OKs Public Arts Commission, Changes to Public Safety Board

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Bloomington City Council met remotely Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday narrowly approved a change to how the city's Public Safety and Community Relations Board makes recommendations and handles outreach. 

But before the 5-4 vote, council members disagreed in a lengthy discussion about whether the change constituted slightly amending bylaws to clarify the board’s purpose, or significantly broadening its mission. 

Also at Monday’s remote meeting, streamed on YouTube because of pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, the council approved a public arts commission long in the works. It also officially made Juneteenth a city holiday, met with Michael Hurt, the city’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer, and learned the city’s budget outlook is improving thanks to an expected $3 million in federal COVID relief grants. 

The Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB) began in 2017 after local civil rights groups pushed for a civilian board to review public complaints against the police. Monday’s vote means the ordinance creating the board now has wording in place specifying its outreach efforts as well.

The PSCRB voted unanimously Oct. 8 to bring the amendment to the council. It first began discussing the changes this summer, amid local and national unrest connected to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and others across the country.

City Attorney Jeff Jurgens told the council Monday the board wanted to clarify the wording of the bylaws.  

“The real power of this board was to be proactive in naming places that we can go above and beyond in terms of our standards for policing,” said Ward 6’s Jenn Carrillo, who before joining council helped lead the push for the board. Carrillo voted in favor of the amendment.

Also voting “yes” were Ward 1’s Jamie Mathy, Ward 4’s Julie Emig, Ward 7’s Scott Black and Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill. 

Those opposing were Ward 2’s Donna Boelen, Ward 3’s Mboka Mwilambwe, Ward 5’s Joni Painter and Ward 9’s Kim Bray. All of them said they wanted more time to consider the proposal, and how it might change the board’s purpose.

Bray said the change enlarges the role of the PSCRB, and she didn’t think it was needed because of the low number of police complaints filed. However, Carrillo attributed few complaints to the PSCRB being only a few years old, saying it will take time to develop trust in the community about the process. Mathy said most of the city’s commissions already can bring recommendations to the council, so the changes would make sense.

Emig said she viewed Monday's vote as a way to align the ordinance wording with the board's existing purpose. “I don’t see this as divisive at all. It’s just another way to add transparency,” she said.

Public Arts Commission

A public arts commission, which has been in the works for several years, finally was approved Monday, in a 6-3 vote. Earlier this fall, Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus brought a commission proposal to the council. But it was tabled after issues were raised about how the projects would be funded, and how the artists would be selected.

Council members Boelen, Painter, and Bray voted “no,” citing a continued opposition to the lack of clarity on public funding. 

In response, Jurgens told the council the budget process would require approval of spending fjor commission purchases.

Carrillo echoed that. “This does not commit us to any amount of money to spend on public art projects,” she said. What is at issue, she said, is whether Bloomington as a community supports this commission, which it has said it does. 

“Most people want to see this move forward,” she said. 

Juneteenth

The council voted unanimously to make Juneteenth an official city holiday. In July, Mwilambwe proposed the local observance. Since then, he and Tyus worked to develop the idea. With Monday’s vote, the holiday will be observed with weekend activities near the date of June 19. 

The Bloomington Human Relations Commission will organize events with educational and economic development components, said Mwilambwe. “We will bring the community together by learning about each other,” he said.

On June 19, 1865, a group of enslaved Black Texans finally learned about the Emancipation Proclamation, that had been issued two years prior during the Civil War. So Juneteenth recognizes the official end of slavery in America. It long has been celebrated as a major summer holiday by Black communities throughout the United States, including in the Twin Cities.

COVID financial impact

Bloomington Finance Director Scott Rathbun told the council Monday that because the city is eligible for about $3.2 million in COVID-response relief, the city’s fiscal 2021 budget projections are looking brighter. 

Rathbun said that last month Bloomington was expecting a $4.7 million deficit this year. However, in applying to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) for the federal CARES act funds, and combining that with savings the city has achieved, projections now call for a budget with $260,000 balance. 

Rathbun said officials are cautiously optimistic. “The real test is to  see how long COVID is going to last, and whether we’re going to need to use those reserves going into 2022,” he said. 

In other business, the council:

  • Heard from City Manager Tim Gleason about changes to how the Grossinger Motors Arena now will be managed with existing city staff.
  • Learned Craig McBeath is dropping “interim” from his title as he becomes the city’s information technology director. 
  • Heard from Mayor Tari Renner that he’ll announce Tuesday who he’s nominating to replace Black, who is leaving his seat Nov. 1. The new council member will serve Ward 7 until April 30, 2021.
  • Heard, during the public comments, from several residents calling, again, for the city to adopt a welcome city ordinance, limiting police and city officials communication with Immigration Customs and Enforcement. A few of the commenters also called on council members to publicly denounce racist conspiracy theories targeting Carrillo, who has faced social media harassment from some local community members questioning her U.S. citizenship.

 
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