Candidate Questionnaire: Jenn Carrillo | WGLT

Candidate Questionnaire: Jenn Carrillo

Feb 25, 2019

These responses were submitted by Jenn Carrillo, a candidate for Bloomington City Council in Ward 6. The questionnaire was prepared by GLT in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McLean County. See more candidate responses.

What in your personal and professional background has prepared you for this position? Include any experience serving in local government.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a burning desire to change the world. As I kid, I was always surrounded by people who struggled hard to have very little, while knowing that there were others out there who had much more than they would ever need. Even then, this struck me as deeply unjust.

As I grew up, I encountered lots of people who told me it wasn’t possible to change the world, that I was naive for believing that things could be different, and that they too were young and idealistic once. This was discouraging, to say the least. But then, when I was 19 years old, I was introduced to community organizing by a group of people I met here in Bloomington-Normal. These organizers didn’t dismiss my anger or my desire for things to be different. They too believed that anger was an appropriate response to a society that violates the values of justice, of human dignity, and they had faith in the ability of everyday people to change the world. They listened to me, honored my struggles, and invested in my leadership. And this intervention had a profound and transformative effect on my life.

Learning how to organize towards action with others who shared the same struggles as I did, grounded me in my values, allowed me to regain my dignity and voice, and helped me transform the pain of living under oppressive systems into energy to fight for change.

I knew then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping others find their own dignity and voice, and to become empowered through organizing. And that’s what I’ve done with my time professionally and personally since.

For the past decade I have been bringing diverse—and often marginalized—people in this community together around the values of justice and equity, organizing with them to change the systems that hold us down, building their leadership, and fighting alongside them for the things they deserve. Together, we have mobilized thousands of people throughout Bloomington-Normal and central Illinois to take action through campaigns around immigrant rights, a fair Illinois state budget, environmental justice, workers’ rights, payday and car title lending, and racial justice, among others.

This kind of experience, drive, and vision is what I believe our community needs, and it is in this spirit that I will co-govern with my community if elected.

What would be your approach to building effective working relationships with other aldermen, the mayor, and city staff?

Like many people in ward 6 and in Bloomington at-large, I have been deeply frustrated by the dysfunction that exists within our current leadership. The toxic dynamic at city hall has made it impossible to advance the issues that people in our city desperately need answers and action on.

I am grateful that most incumbent city council members up for re-election this year have decided to step down and make way for people with fresh ideas that will introduce a new dynamic, and I am hopeful about the energy that this new council will bring in.

You have my commitment that if elected, I will spend time getting to know the people I will be working with, and that I will be honest and genuine with my colleagues in order to build strong working relationships with them.

Being skilled at relationship-building is a requisite of any good organizer and a place of strength for me. Over the course of my career and public life in this community I have been successful in bringing people of different faith communities, political affiliations, racial and gender identities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and countries of origin around a set of common values and goals.

Given the chance, I believe that I can do the same with the council, mayor, and city staff.

In addition to my experience in organizing with diverse groups, I am also a skilled, professional facilitator with experience around restorative practices and restorative justice (which is a process for bringing people together in situations where harm has been done). Recognizing that there are relationships on the council that may need mending, I hope to be able to offer this skillset to help us become a council that can debate, deliberate, and take action to improve the lives of Bloomington residents.

What new programs or initiatives do you think the city should pursue?

I am running for city council, in large part, because I am excited to contribute new ideas around new policies, programs, and initiatives. There are a lot of measures I think Bloomington would do well to pursue—far more than I can accommodate in this answer—but here are just a couple that I’d like to lift up:

(1) I believe that all workers in Bloomington deserve to be compensated fairly for their work and should enjoy fair working conditions. I would like to see the city play their part in lifting up workers by adopting policies that require employees to provide advanced scheduling and paid family, medical, and safe leave.

(2) I’d like to see the city of Bloomington take a look at how we can restructure city fees, service charges, and taxes to be more progressive and equitable. Right now, the people who have the least end up bearing the biggest burden when municipal taxes and fees are enacted or increased. While “everyone pays the same” seems like an intuitively fair way of doing things, this misses the fact that poor people end up paying a greater proportion of their income as a result of flat fees or taxes. For instance, today, a tenant bringing home less than $20,000 per year through a minimum wage job is paying the same water rate as a person who owns a home valued at over half a million dollars. That doesn’t strike me as fair, and I believe this is something the city should definitely consider re-organizing.

(3) It seems that like the legalization of recreational cannabis will inevitably be legislated on the state level in the coming months. I would like to see our city bring together a task force of stakeholders that will help Bloomington position itself to leverage this opportunity. If we create an environment that is friendly to this new industry in designated areas of the city (like downtown), we have the potential to bring in new revenue through tourism and the taxation of cannabis. Some of these revenues can then be used to invest in the communities that have been most criminalized and negatively impacted by the failed war on drugs.

(4) Recently, the incumbent attended a forum, hosted at Phoenix Towers, along with Mayor Tari Renner, City Manager Tim Gleason, and ADA coordinator Nicole Albertson. After being pressed by members of the community, city officials expressed that the city is not in compliance with 2010 ADA standards. If elected I will call on city administration to act immediately to bring Bloomington into compliance with federal standards, and will call for the creation of an ongoing public commission that will advise the council and city staff in achieving both the mandate and spirit of the ADA.

When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?

Generally, I am not in favor of using incentives because more often than not, the result is money being transferred from working class taxpayers to wealthy out-of-town individuals and/or companies, with the “promise” that a project will bring good things to the community.

That said, I would support the use of financial incentives ONLY if they are tied to a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) and/or a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

PLAs help ensure that development projects create good jobs for local union workers at prevailing wages. It is my belief that any taxpayer funded project undertaken by the City of Bloomington should be required to have a PLA.

CBAs are similar to PLAs—except that they include the community groups, as well as union labor. Through CBA’s community members and developers can come to an agreement about the benefits that a specific project will bring to a local neighborhood or community.

What specifically would you support to make Downtown Bloomington a more attractive destination for residents, tourists, and business owners?

I believe that we already have a number of excellent recommendations that were put forth by the Downtown Task Force in their 2017 report. Unfortunately, many of these recommendations have gone unimplemented and largely unappreciated. I believe that we should honor the time and energy that stakeholders put into these recommendations by giving them full consideration, and personally, I am committed to ensure that the majority of them move forward if I am elected.

I am very interested in experimenting with ways that we can repurpose Jefferson St. downtown to be a pedestrian friendly public gathering space. And I am also excited about an idea I heard during a listening session that would involve us cleaning up, lighting and “arting up” our alleys. I think has the potential to make our downtown really stand out. Additionally, I would like to explore what could be done to be more aggressive and thorough about snow and trash removal in the downtown area. All of these strike me as relatively “low-hanging fruits”.

When it comes to the bigger, game-changing ideas for downtown, I think our best strategy is to invest in downtown in order to make it easier for people of mixed incomes to reside and recreate there. I believe we can address some our affordable housing needs and our downtown needs by creating programs that will allow local downtown property owners access to funds or loans to help them develop their properties in order to be able to house tenants and/or special projects, such as co-ops or business incubators.

What should be the city’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?

Much like the rest of the country, our community has an affordable housing crisis on its hands.

The wages of working class families have remained stagnant for decades while the cost of housing has continued to increase. It has been reported that a worker working earning minimum wage in our community needs to work 2.1 full-time jobs in order to cover rent and utilities. This means that families are being forced to make impossible choices, such as whether to cover rent or have food on the table. This is unacceptable.

At the same time, many of the units that are affordable are often times in bad shape and sometimes downright unsafe places to live. Nonetheless, many tenants who live in these less-than-adequate conditions often say that they do not report code violations in their apartments for fear that they will be evicted and unable to find another affordable place to live.

In spite of the fact that this is the life-threatening reality for the one-in-five households trying to support themselves with less than $25K in income per year, I have not seen our leaders rise to address this housing crisis with the level of urgency it deserves.

Housing is a human right, a right that should be guaranteed to all Bloomington residents. If elected, I will immediately call on the city to establish an affordable housing task task force, led by tenants and other stakeholders, who would craft and present recommendations for what the city should do to mitigate this crisis.

I would like to see this task force explore the feasibility of measures that have been taken by other communities, such as the adoption of a source of income protection ordinance (and other measures to protect tenant’s rights), the implementation of a vacancy tax, and the creation of subsidies to support new affordable housing.

In addition, I would like to see the city make a commitment to strengthen our existing rental property inspection process on order to ensure that slumlords in Bloomington are not taking advantage this affordable housing crisis to abuse tenants.

City staff say O’Neil Pool needs to be replaced and the public library needs to expand. Should the city pursue those projects? If so, how should they be funded?

Absolutely. People tend to overfocus on the cost of these projects, without recognizing that there is also a very real human and financial cost associated with underfunding these community resources.

With already so few things for young people on the Westside to do, why did our council decide to neglect O’Neil Pool until it was at risk of not being able to reopen? And why was it ever up for debate whether or not we should continue to invest in this community resource-- particularly with a surplus in last year’s budget?

The same logic applies to the library. If we know that this is the only place where certain members of our community can have access to the internet—which is an essential tool to education and employment—why have our representatives continued to kick the can down the road instead of making a commitment to fund the library’s expansion?

This to me is not a question of resources, it is a question of priorities. If we believe that these projects are important enough to our community members, we will find a way to fund them.

A recent Governing magazine investigation found a big disparity in median incomes between white and black households in Bloomington. What can the city do to address this and other inequalities that exist within the community?

Unfortunately, the very first obstacle we face in addressing this and other issues around racial disparities is our leaders’ unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of racism in our community—no, not back when Miller Park lake was segregated—today!

Structural racism is real, still very much alive in our community, and our leadership will continue to perpetuate it unless they are cognizant of it and how it operates.

Two years ago I was involved in the campaign to establish the PSCRB, and I am saddened to say that when confronted with the reality that black people in our own community are twice as likely to be pulled over and four times more likely to be searched than their white counterparts, few, if any, council members conceded that this was an example of systemic racism.

It will be extremely difficult to address the racial disparities that exist in our community (including the one mentioned in the question above) if we are not willing to have open and honest conversation about the ways in which black and brown communities have been, and continue to be disadvantaged, and if we are not willing to aggressively make up for the wrongs of the past.

We can begin to address these disparities by adopting a race-conscious analysis of the way we construct policy at a municipal level. For example, if we increase garbage fees, we need to think: how does this affect communities of color—black communities specifically? If we create an incentive program, we need to think: how can we make sure that people of color have access to this benefit?

More concretely, while we may not be able to influence incomes directly, we can give communities of color a greater chance at prosperity by adopting economic justice initiatives designed to lift up those living in poverty and those in the working class. Examples of these include: raising our local minimum wage, restructuring fees based on ability to pay, creating programs to support entrepreneurs from low-income backgrounds.

Finally, we must be willing to make specific, intentional investments towards the growth and wellbeing of these historically underserved communities.

What additional steps should the city take, if any, to better protect and serve local immigrants, especially those who are undocumented?

There are a great deal of things that our city could do to bring immigrants of all statuses into the fold of our community, but all of those efforts would require trust and community buy-in to be successful. Unfortunately, that trust is something that our immigrant community currently lacks towards the city of Bloomington—and rightfully so.

Two and a half years ago, our immigrant community witnessed a man who ran a campaign rooted in racism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant fervor be elected president of the United States. One of his first acts after being inaugurated was to direct ICE to deport any immigrant present without authorization--regardless of past criminal history, family relationships, or community ties.

Terrified, members of our undocumented community reached out to the elected representatives of the City of Bloomington via their advocates, seeking protection, and asking the city to make a simple promise: to keep ICE and our local police separate.

The actions that followed on the part of the city only served to deteriorate the already fragile trust which existed between our municipality and our undocumented community.

Trust was broken when it was revealed by community groups that the Bloomington Police had been routinely in close communication with ICE, often times offering up information about the status of local community members. This is in spite of the fact that our former chief of police and our council denied that any such behavior had taken place.

Trust was broken when council members—like my opponent, who claimed to be a champion of the welcoming ordinance in private meetings with advocates and undocumented community members—organized to remove the ordinance from the agenda so that they would not be forced to vote on it.

And trust has continued to deteriorate ever since because, in spite of the fact that deportations are on the rise and a neighboring community aims to open a for-profit private detention facility, our city still has not taken a bold stance to protect the immigrants that contribute so much to our community.

The treatment of immigrants under the current presidential administration is abhorrent, with thousands of children being permanently stolen from their parents, and immigrants of all ages dying while in ICE custody. At the same time, ICE’s mass deportation machinery is growing. Every day, it is better funded, better organized, and more capable of sweeping through our town, snatching up those of us without the privilege of being born on the right side of a border.

It is times like these that truly define our values as a community. Our city needs to stand on the right side of history and protect every Bloomington resident—regardless of where they were born—by doing everything in its power to prevent the separation of families until we have a congress that is willing to enact real and humane immigration reform.

If we are a city that believes that the lives of our immigrant neighbors matter, we must be willing to protect them and codify these protections into policy with the strongest possible welcoming city ordinance, which unequivocally separates the functions of local police from the functions of ICE.