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At Final Meeting, Renner Reflects On 8 Years As Mayor

The Bloomington City Council meets remotely April 26, 2021.

Outgoing Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner closed his final city council meeting Monday night with reflections on accomplishments from his eight-year tenure, paired with challenges he sees in Bloomington’s future -- including a long-term need to secure a regional water supply. 

“As we face these challenges, I would urge all of our elected leaders to reimagine our city’s services and policies for an increasingly diverse and dynamic community,” he said.

Also during the virtual meeting, the Bloomington City Council approved borrowing $4 million from the state’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cover part of a long-term water main project; approved a nearly $1.1 million insurance contract; and voted to take a formal stand against utility shut-offs in the state.

Renner counted among his accomplishments improved government transparency, noting Illinois Policy Institute ratings that had improved from an “F” to an “A+” during his tenure as mayor. 

Fiscal responsibility is another area where he said Bloomington has excelled, especially as it pertains to handling police and fire staff pensions.

Renner also pointed to a renewed vibrancy in downtown, including locked-in plans for construction of a  nearly $20 million downtown bus transfer center, and the planned $20 million expansion of the nearby Bloomington Public Library. He also pointed to O’Neil Park and Pool’s upcoming $11.8 million renovation. Renner said he was proud of the city’s role in establishing a mental health facility at the McLean County Jail.

And, he said residents on the city’s boards and commissions better reflect the city’s diversity than was the situation when he took office. 

The future challenges Renner expects include preserving Bloomington’s historic core and revitalizing downtown, as well as salvaging Eastland Mall. Long term, he said city leaders must develop a regional water supply, inevitably tapping into the Mahomet aquifer.  And he said while fiscal responsibility is important, another reason should guide elected officials:

“What will count for the future is not how many extra zeros that we may have in our bank account, but rather what we’ve done to make a difference in lives of other people, and especially our children,” said Renner.

Listen to Renner's interview on Sound Ideas on Tuesday:

$4.2 million in loans OK’d

On Monday, the council unanimously approved loan agreements with the Illinois EPA for the second phase of a water project near the Bloomington Country Club that separates the storm and sanitary flow, and will install a new water main.  

Work begins this spring on that second phase of the Locust Street Combined Sewer Overflow Elimination and Water Main Replacement project. The city anticipates a 1.35% interest rate on two 20-year loans. An additional $117,725 to contractor Stark Excavating Inc. will come from city enterprise funds.

Insurance contract

The council also unanimously approved a nearly $1.1 million contract with Arthur J. Gallagher to provide insurance. That’s about 13% higher than last year’s contract. Categories covered include property, liability, excess liability and excess workers’ compensation.

The city’s insurance consultant, Mike Nugent, reported details of the city’s year. The agreement, which includes about $41,000 in broker fees, runs next month through April 2022. The city has used Gallagher as its broker since 2010.

City urges state to avoid utility shutoffs

The council is formally calling on the Illinois Senate to pass HB 2877, a bill that establishes a way for federal aid to go directly to housing and utility providers, in turn helping financially-eligible residents. 

In the resolution, passed unanimously, the council also calls on Gov. JB Pritzer to enact a 30-day moratorium on utility disconnections for non-payment. 

Council member Jeff Crabill, who represents Ward 8, proposed Monday's action, saying the council's vote shows the city wants state lawmakers to take these necessary steps because shutoffs remain a pandemic risk until society has reached herd immunity.

Proposed mobile home park denied

The council voted 7-1 against a proposed 54-lot mobile home park, stopping plans to construct the housing on a 10.5-acre lot on South Beich Road. 

The city's planning commission unanimously approved the preliminary development plan. However, the council overwhelmingly voted to stop progress, citing a number of reasons, including complaints from nearby residents, and concerns about putting future mobile home owners in a risky investment situation. 

Several council members said mobile home owners sometimes run into glitches when reselling homes that require the development owner's approval. Council members Kim Bray and Julie Emig said they weren’t opposed to such a subdivision. But Bray described the project as a mismatch for the site, and Emig agreed.

Ward 4’s Mollie Ward was the only "yes" vote, preferring the development move forward. She said she supported the property’s owner -- Habitat for Humanity -- in its effort to sell the property. Ward 1’s Jamie Mathy abstained from voting because of a conflict of interest.

Police review board: 11,000 surveyed

The leadership of Bloomington's police review board, -- the Public Safety Community Relations Board (PSCRB) -- presented an annual report Monday, including news that about 11,000 residents had completed an online survey in March.

The board partnered with Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal, the nonprofit anti-hate organization, to conduct the online survey that was open to the public. PSCRB chair Robert Bosquez said results aren't available yet, but the board will share results later this year.

The survey aims to gauge residents' attitudes toward the BPD, and offers input on what respondents believe should be BPD's goals and priorities, he said.

Bosquez said the Bloomington Police Department reported 22 complaints in 2020, 11 in 2019, and 20 in 2018.

Of last year's 22 complaints, the board fielded five review requests, he said. In a case from July and another from September, the board decided after review that no intervention was needed, finding police had followed policy.  He didn't detail the subjects of those two complaints. However, the other three complaints, all from September, centered on whether police should have worn face masks while on duty.

Bosquez said interpretations had continuously changed last fall on face mask regulations, across society. BPD was no different, he said. By the time those complaints came to the board for review in December, BPD had established a clear policy on face masks. So, the complaints were considered resolved by a change in a training deficiency, he told the council.

The PSCRB made two amendments to its board policies in 2020, Bosquez told the council. The first changed rules to allow broader community input, and the second added two members to the board. The new seats are reserved for members between the ages of 16 and 21, he said.

Mayor-elect speaks more on civility

Mboka Mwilambwe, in his last meeting as Ward 3 council member, spoke Monday in the capacity of his next role, as mayor-elect. He told the council he’s directed staff to prepare a statement to be read prior to each meeting’s public comments section. The statement would be worded in a way that respects the rights of free speech, but reminds residents they should speak in a way appropriate for a public space, he said.

"We must also hold ourselves accountable to high standards as well, which includes not only council members, but community members," he said. "What we say in a public space can have a tremendous impact on our community, particularly young people."

This announcement comes on the heels of last week’s council censure of Ward 6 council member Jenn Carrillo. This week, Mwilambwe was defending her: The situation centered on a negative public comment from the April 19 meeting, directed toward her. Mwilambwe paraphrased the speaker, noting the comment basically indicated if Carrillo didn’t like how things are, she should go back to where she came from.  

Mwilambwe said the comment, whether intended to be racist or not, was perceived as such by himself and many on the council. Carrillo thanked him for the sentiment behind his comments. She noted such public comments directed at her were not new.

At the Oct. 26 meeting, several public commenters called on the council to denounce the rounds of racist conspiracy theories targeting Carrillo, which often questioned the status of her U.S. citizenship. This harassment of the council's first elected Latina, often during public comments or on social media, has followed her since her 2019 election.

In other business, the council approved:

  • Spending about $706,000 for several trucks, a side loader and crane carrier. Some of those planned additions had initial bids rejected, and the council OK’d using other purchase agreements to buy the trucks at lower prices.
  • A nearly $191,000, two-year contract, with Cloudpoint Geographics for GIS services.
  • Reallocating about $16,000 in grant funding to allow Gildner Inc. to restore some brick streets. Originally for more than $80,000 to Gildner, the council amended the amount, voting to set aside $67,000 for future use. After a lengthy discussion about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the need for ADA improvements at some local street crossings and sidewalks, the council agreed to make the remainder available for grants in tht area.
  • Preliminary plans for the Davis Block Subdivision, to be constructed on nine single-family lots that are part of 3.5 acres of a Bellemont Road property.
  • Early site plan, and a special use permit, for expansion of the Islamic Center, 421 Olympia Drive. 

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.