Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stressed public safety remains the city’s top priority while pledging to improve law enforcement practices. City Council member Jenn Carrillo advocated for a complete overhaul of police departments.
At the start of Monday night's virtual city council meeting, Renner and Carrillo joined their colleagues in addressing race relations and civil unrest in response to the death of George Floyd. Renner said he was honored to be a part of several peaceful demonstrations over the past week.
“But we also had some that were not peaceful, and under the circumstances I felt that it was essential—that it was not an option for me not to speak out and reassure Bloomington citizens,” said Renner, referring to last week’s looting incidents. “Our No. 1 priority, as is the case with all cities throughout the world, is public safety and we were on top of the situation.
“However, at the same time it should be clear—crystal clear—that in terms of our law enforcement practices and relationships with the communities and neighborhoods in our great city, that we can do better, we must do better and we will do better.”
Saying she sees herself as an “abolitionist,” Carrillo noted that calls to reduce police funding have emerged across the nation, adding recent events have stressed the need to re-examine policing.
“I think it’s a point for us to think critically about the justice system as it exists today and whether we believe it’s a system that’s inherently good and can be reformed, or whether it’s a system that was built on bad principle and needs to be completely and radically reimagined,” said Carrillo, placing herself in the latter camp.
Council member Mboka Mwilambwe called the video of Floyd’s death while in custody of Minneapolis police “repugnant,” but added it “helped change the conversation.”
“It is now about, and rightfully so, those elements within police forces who have brutalized black people and at the same time tarnished those of their colleagues who have worked hard to do their jobs in the right way,” Mwilambwe said.
While admitting that eliminating police forces may seem “radical,” Carrillo said she wants to see better efforts made to improve everyone’s quality of life and lessen the need for law enforcement.
“That’s not a dig on police, but I for one would like to live in a world where that’s not needed, and I think that should be incentive for all of us,” she said.
Renner pointed to greater use of body cameras, youth interventions, de-escalation training, diversification and improved community outreach in acknowledging strides made by the Bloomington Police Department.
“Of course, there is always room for more progress, progress we can make for the future,” he said. “We have to invest in preventative strategies and invest in social programs, in our citizens … Doing nothing is not an option in Bloomington.”
Mwilambwe praised Police Chief Dan Donath and the entire BPD for understanding the “gravity of the moment” last week in protecting peaceful protesters and taking a measured response to the looting.
“Now comes the hard part, for us to take stock of what we learned about ourselves and the nation and do the hard work to make progress,” he said.
Carrillo bemoaned how attention to rioting and looting has overshadowed acts of police brutality.
“The execution of George Floyd is not that unusual in our country today. That’s the real tragedy here,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city assumed management of Grossinger Motors Arena as the council officially terminated its contract with VenuWorks.
The city’s five-year contract with VenuWorks was set to expire in June 2021, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the separation. However, if Bloomington reaches Phase 5 of Gov. JB Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan before then and the arena is able to host events with at least 3,000 attendees, the city will owe VenuWorks 5% of net food and beverage commissions from those events.
Bloomington has said it will maintain and operate the arena internally. But if the city does decide to hire a new management firm before June 30, 2021, it will owe VenuWorks $5,000 per month up to that date.
The Iowa-based firm has handled management of the former U.S. Cellular Coliseum since 2016. The city-owned venue was operated by Central Illinois Arena Management (CIAM) for 10 years before that. Several top officials from CIAM were later charged in an alleged fraud scheme.
Phase 5 of the state's reopening plan requires testing and treatment for COVID-19 to be widely available throughout the state, development of either a vaccine to prevent spread of the virus, or a sustained period of no new cases being detected.
City Manager Tim Gleason said early indicators show the financial impact from the COVID-19 shutdown might not be as dire as originally thought. He said the staff is “very pleased” to see revenue forecasts outperforming revised estimates.
“Sales tax specifically is exceeding what we had put as a 50% loss projection, probably attributable to box stores having curbside (service), grocery stores and liquor establishments being open as well,” Gleason said.
He said the city received many compliments for accommodating bars and restaurants by allowing expanded outdoor seating to comply with Phase 3 of the reopening.
“Businesses needed this as did our community, and it’s gone very well,” he said.
The pandemic-related local emergency order remains in place, with no modifications made to the order during the meeting. Gleason said the Interstate Center testing location remains open.
The council will vote on an extension of parking enforcement hours in downtown Bloomington at an upcoming meeting after unanimously agreeing to have city staff draft an ordinance on a six-month trial period.
Council member Jamie Mathy, who owns Red Raccoon Games at 309 N. Main St., proposed the initiative to extend the enforcement to 6:30 p.m. He said the share of downtown parking between local residents and retail customers is “out of balance.”
“As more people move downtown, we’re having more of a situation with residents who rightfully want to park as close to their front doors as possible. Yet there’s a conflict arising between residents and businesses where businesses need some place for customers to park at the same time,” Mathy said.
He noted that with 90-minute free parking in place and current parking enforcement ending at 4:30 p.m., drivers who arrive downtown after 3 o’clock don’t have to move their vehicles until the next morning.
“By changing the timing of it, I think we bring everything back into balance where everybody has an equal shot.”
Additional consent agenda items passed by the council included:
- Filing the 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan and the 2020 Annual Action Plan program application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, detailing how the city intends to allocate $420,000 in federal funding aimed at addressing needs related to COVID-19;
- Approving a $628,000 contract with Stark Excavating for the Sunset Road water main replacement project;
- Accepting a bid of $230,000 from Western Waterproofing Company for repairs to the Police Parking Garage;
- Approving a compliance agreement with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency addressing self-reported violations tied to a lime sludge release into Money Creek; and
- Agreeing to vacate part of a utility easement at the site of the former Mr. Quick restaurant at 802 E. Washington St., allowing development of a pizza restaurant to proceed.
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