Citizens to Ensure Fair Transit asked Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner to appoint a Connect Mobility rider and a fixed route-reliant rider to the Connect Transit board.
Renner and some council members said they’re not opposed to the idea.
In a Facebook event description the group called on members to attend and speak at Monday night’s council meeting. Seven individuals spoke on transit-related issues, including five who said the city needs to take action to ensure the Connect Transit board better represents its riders.
Heidi Zimmerman heads Self-Directed Supports, an agency supporting those with intellectual disabilities. Zimmerman said it’s time for the community to take a new approach.
“The current Connect Transit board cannot effectively do its job because it is lacking fundamental inclusion of people who participate in the transit system,” Zimmerman said. “By including people who are reliant on transit, you are strengthening the organization’s ability to better plan, set priorities, and more effectively deliver services.”
Connect Transit Vice Chairman Ryan Whitehouse said it’s unfair to say the current board does not care about or understand rider concerns.
“Our No. 1 role really is to make sure the system can serve the most amount of people for the most amount of time,” he said. “If we don’t look at making some changes, we will be out of money by 2023."
Board Trustee Judy Buchanan said the current seven-member board includes two members who ride the bus regularly.
She said board members can still represent a particular community even if they are not a part of that community.
“If they can appreciate and understand and bring an ability to look at the bigger picture, that’s very important, particularly if we want to create something that will be sustainable, because there are some very basic realities that we must face every time we have a board meeting relative to how we continue to keep ourselves in operation,” Buchanan said.
Renner said he understands Buchanan’s point in selecting board members.
“One of the most important things is having a knowledge of transit and empathy. There are many people who are very well intentioned, they’re trying to do the greatest good to the greatest number,” said Renner.
Still, Renner said he doesn’t believe the request to have board members who regularly use or rely on transit is an unreasonable one.
“We are certainly going to take a look at how we move forward,” Renner said following the meeting.
Alderman Scott Black said he’s felt some frustration himself over the issue.
“People will come to the city council and ask us to change the routes, update the fares, and we really are not in a position to do that, the board is,” said Black.
There are other ways the city could help mend the “disconnect” between the public and Connect Transit, he said.
“Maybe it’s time to review these bylaws,” Black said, suggesting the city could double the size of the transit board and open up seats for additional representation.
“Maybe we don’t double the size of the board as Alderman Black had suggested, but maybe add a couple of slots to the board, maybe one from Normal, one from Bloomington, I don’t know how that would look,” said Mayor Renner.
Black said the city may want to discuss what a fare-free transit system would look like.
“It’s not just an accessibility issue, it’s a financial issue,” he said, pointing to rising costs to maintain and repair roads that could be reduced if more motorists opted to ride the bus.
It’s a discussion some council members said they’d like to explore, too.
“I commend the current Connect Transit board for their service, and I don’t doubt their good intentions at all, but I do think there is a big difference in being able to hear people and then actually carrying those struggles in your daily lives,” said Alderwoman Jenn Carrillo.
“I would definitely be interested in maybe having a committee of the whole to discuss this issue,” said Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe. “I cannot ignore the differences of opinion that I’m hearing."
GLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is also Connect Transit's board chair.
Members of the Bloomington City Council will now be referred to with gender-appropriate and gender-neutral titles.
Council members unanimously approved an ordinance incorporating terms like council member and alderwoman in addition to the official title of alderman.
Renner said he feels the change is long overdue.
“It may seem like a grammatical change, but I think in many ways it’s reflecting the current society rather than the time that the Illinois constitution was adopted,” he said.
City Manager Tim Gleason noted that municipal code still identifies the council members as aldermen.
“Our ordinance doesn’t change that,” he said. “Rather, it provides for the purposes of the city code and for internal use within the city, that the terms of council member and alderwoman, etc., have the same meaning as alderman.”
Newly elected council members Carrillo, Julie Emig and Jeff Crabill said they asked to use terms other than alderman on their business cards and nameplates, spurring Gleason to add the item to the council’s agenda.
In other business, the council:
- Voted to appoint Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe Mayor Pro Tem. The position takes over mayoral duties when the mayor is out of the state or temporarily unable to serve as mayor, according to the city’s attorney.
- Approved a $55,000 settlement in a lawsuit alleging misconduct against four Bloomington police officers. The city denies the officers did anything wrong, but staff said defending the officers in a lawsuit would cost too much money.
- Granted the city’s first chicken coop permit under new rules to allow them in the city to Karla Lane. The special use permit will allow her to to raise up to 12 chickens on 4 acres in the Waterford Estates subdivision at 3402 and 3404 E. Oakland Ave. in southeast Bloomington.
- Approved the extension of the Enterprise Zone to include a future $35 million Brandt Industries expansion. The McLean County Board OK'd the expansion last month, followed by the Normal Town Council. Alderwoman Carrillo asked that the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council track and report to the council any sales tax revenues lost because of enterprise zone incentives.
(Editor: This story has been changed to reflect Connect Transit's change in Judy Buchanan's statement that two board members use the bus regularly. At the meeting she said 'daily.')
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