What happened when 65 Normal residents and town council members sat down to talk about how the town should plan for the next 15 years?
“I saw people that philosophically or politically are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and they were discussing and trying to reach agreement,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who attended the town’s first-ever citizen summit at the Community Activity Center Thursday night. “It was really refreshing to see.”
The public meeting sought input to aid in the upcoming strategic plan update, asking attendees to consider the town’s current state, future aspirations, and next steps toward that vision. And it seems things went perhaps smoother than last week’s Thanksgiving dinner conversations.
“The feedback we got tonight was people would like to do this again,” Koos said; he added the town is considering making the summit a semiannual event.
Meeting facilitator Lyle Sumek asked each table of six — one council member and five residents — to jot down everyone’s ideas, then vote to narrow down the handful that would be compiled for town staff and council to review.
Conan Calhoun, Kathy Arbogast and Rachel Hile-Broad all found accessibility played a key part in their vision of a better Normal.
Arbogast recalled how Lawrence, Kansas, built accessible playgrounds for kids that may have trouble navigating traditional playgrounds. Calhoun said he’d like to see improved walkability throughout the town. “There are many parts of the community when you’re walking through that are just cave-darkness,” he said. Hile-Broad hoped to see public transit become the first choice of transportation for a variety of riders.
Council Member Stan Nord joined a table discussing economic development issues like property taxes and private-public partnerships.
Nord ran for his council seat last year on a platform of reducing government spending and the taxpayer burden. Not everyone who spoke shared his perspective, and that’s important, he said.
“They were able to voice those opinions, regardless of who’s right or who’s wrong, doesn’t matter, because I’m not gonna be right to everyone. But letting people talk, and put that out in the open, diffuses a lot of the sentiment that, ‘Oh, my voice doesn’t matter.’”
Nord said the town still isn’t doing enough to encourage open dialogue between the town and the public.
“At the Normal Town Council meetings, the public still is not allowed to come and talk about whatever they want, they can only talk about things on the agenda,” he said.
Nord said he also looks to the City of Bloomington's committee of the whole meetings as an example to follow.
“They’re having a separate meeting where they’re not there to vote, they’re there to just talk about things, and come to some sort of consensus before they have a vote. So in Normal, we skip that.”
While the conversation was flowing at Thursday night’s meeting, it’s unclear whether relations between council members have softened since last month’s contentious strategic planning retreat that found Nord and fellow newcomer Karyn Smith pitted at times against the rest of the council.
Asked whether relations between himself and fellow council members had improved, Nord said while he hopes relations will continue to grow, “The community relations are more important to me than my relationships with the other council members, because I work for the community, I don’t work for the other council members.”
“We were all elected by different perspectives in the community,” he continued. “The perspective that elected me kind of aligns with my perspective, and I do realize that I may have conflict with those on council who are elected by a group that has a different perspective. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We don’t have to all come together. We just have to represent the perspectives that elected us.”
At last month’s retreat, facilitator Lyle Sumek warned the council their deteriorating working relationship could jeopardize their ability to act on important issues.
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