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Emails: Accidental 'Oversight' Related to Renner's Japan Trip

Facebook/City of Bloomington
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner shared this photo from Japan on Aug. 1, the same day this email was sent to Renner and aldermen.

Aldermen seeking more information about the use of city credit cards were told about an unintentional “oversight” related to the booking of Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner’s trip to Japan, newly released emails show.

The city’s policies on its credit cards and how it's reimbursed have come under scrutiny in recent months, including Renner’s summer trip to Japan for the Sister Cities 55th anniversary. The city has faced questions about why the city purchased airfare upfront for Renner’s partner, a local teacher who was an official delegate on the trip. She reimbursed the city 18 days later.

Questions about the trip became public around Aug. 1, when Renner was in Japan. In an Aug. 1 email to the mayor and aldermen, City Communication Manager Nora Dukowitz wrote that the city had been reimbursed but that the city was receiving media inquiries about the matter.

“We will continue our review of this matter and enhance our protocols where needed. While it is possible someone could bring this matter to an investigating agency, we believe this to have been an oversight and not intentional,” Dukowitz wrote in the email.

The nature of that oversight is unclear. The city has redacted much of the 16 pages of emails sought by GLT through a Freedom of Information Act request on Aug. 29. The city sought to redact even more from the emails. GLT appealed those redactions to the Illinois attorney general’s office, which found that the city “improperly redacted certain information” and instructed it to be more transparent. The city then released partially redacted emails Thursday.

When asked about the “oversight,” city officials declined comment Tuesday.

“It would be inappropriate for the city to comment further on this topic at this time due to the investigation,” Dukowitz said in an email.

It appears someone did, in fact, bring the issue to an investigating agency. Illinois State Police confirmed Aug. 17 it was investigating the mayor’s office. The scope of that investigation is unclear.

Due to a conflict of interest in the McLean County state’s attorney’s office, the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor (ILSAAP) has been appointed as the special prosecutor in the case, said Matt Jones, public documents compliance officer with ILSAAP.

“We cannot comment further about a pending matter,” Jones said Monday.

The airfare for Renner and his partner was booked on a city credit card by a staff member, not Renner himself. That airfare, totaling $3,671, was booked May 15, records show. In a May 24 memo to the city’s finance department, City Manager David Hales says Renner planned to reimburse the city. That happened June 2.

Renner has denied wrongdoing. His partner was an official delegate on the trip, Renner said. That means "even if the city had paid for (her) ticket, it would not have violated any laws,” Renner told GLT in August, soon before taking a five-week medical leave of absence. He returned to his official duties Oct. 1.

Renner called the investigation the result of “frivolous, ridiculous” charges from a small group of conservative critics. Renner's aggressive online responses to his critics has drawn criticism of its own.

The episode may have factored into a decision this week by Bloomington aldermen to overhaul the city’s rules for spending and reimbursements involving elected officials.

The changes move the city toward a full reimbursement model, meaning elected officials would incur expenses personally and then seek reimbursement. There would be some exceptions that would allow aldermen to ask city administration to pay for, say, airfare or other larger expenses upfront on the city’s credit card.

The new ordinance also prohibits any elected official from having his or her own city purchasing card, or P-Card. Renner is currently the only official with a card in his own name.

Alderman David Sage spearheaded the new restrictions, although it’s unclear what specifically prompted his interest in the new policy. He’s referenced the “recent past” but did not elaborate.

Renner was admonished Monday in a letter signed by six aldermen. They expressed concern about Renner’s behavior leading up to his leave, including the online outbursts directed at his critics.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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