Bloomington City Council members voted Tuesday to postpone any board and commission appointments until after they can have a public discussion about how those appointments are made.
Council member Jamie Mathy asked that they postpone the appointments “in light of a new council and a significant discussion around various boards and commissions that we’re having all over the city.”
The motion followed public comment from several members of Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit continuing calls for Mayor Tari Renner to appoint members to the Connect Transit Board of Trustees who better represent those who depend on public transit. The board currently has two open seats which Renner may fill by appointment.
But Mathy said the comments Tuesday and broader discussion around Connect Transit weren’t his only motivating factors. He said he’s received several comments from the public regarding both the Connect Transit board and other boards which reflect a lack of understanding of the city’s process to fill those positions.
“I think there’s a lot of miscommunication going on right now in terms of what can and can’t happen, what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, and I think we could all benefit from some open communication before we move forward,” he said.
The council voted 7-2 to approve the motion. As a result, the appointment of four members to the city’s transportation commission, scheduled for Tuesday, and any other appointments will be postponed until after the June 25 council meeting.
Council members Jenn Carrillo and Jeff Crabill opposed the move, saying the council need not halt the appointments before it discusses the issue.
Carrillo also cautioned against conflating appointments to city boards with appointments to the Connect Transit board.
“Fundamentally the nature of those boards that we’re discussing here tonight and the Connect Transit board is different, because it is a different entity and it relies on Normal’s opinion on how things should be run to some degree,” she said.
But Mathy said the conversation is worth the wait.
“These are volunteer positions. It’s not like anybody is being deprived of wages or employment. At most any of these appointments tonight would miss one monthly meeting, and in order to solve the greater issue of transparency and making sure that we everybody's working together, I didn’t see any harm in delaying all appointments until we have a meeting roughly a month from now,” he said.
He also noted the point of the motion wasn’t to challenge the mayor’s executive power to make appointments.
“The mayor can appoint anybody he wants, and I can vote no to anybody that I want, that’s the way that it works. But if we set expectations of what we expect those boards and commissions to do, then the mayor can make better appointments that we all agree with,” he said.
Concerns From Painter
Not everyone on the council shared Mathy’s motivations. Council member Joni Painter voted to table the appointments after airing concerns over a specific appointment to the city’s transportation commission.
In a lengthy argument, Painter said she tried to contact Renner to discuss her reservations about the appointment, but could not get ahold of the mayor. Painter said she would have preferred to have the conversation in private.
“When we have a public conversation about appointments like this and people come out in opposition to someone that the mayor wants to appoint, it’s very embarrassing for that person,” she said.
Renner replied that he didn’t have any missed calls from Painter.
"I don’t know why I don’t see any phone calls, and they’re FOIA-able so certainly anybody can take a look at them to see who tried to call me and when,” he said.
Renner declined to comment on the dispute; Painter was not available following the meeting.
In other business, City Manager Tim Gleason tabled the council’s vote on a proposed contract with Coldwell Banker Commercial Devonshire Realty of Champaign to market the former Mennonite Hospital site. Gleason said the council will pick up the matter for discussion at its committee of the whole meeting June 17. He was not available for comment following Tuesday’s meeting.
The council also unanimously approved the creation of the Downtown Cultural District, the work product of the Cultural Commission formed last summer; and a new contract with the Bloomington Public Library employees’ American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 699 union.
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