Normal Town Council member Stan Nord wasted no time bringing up one of his central campaign issues during his first council meeting.
He was sworn in along with Karyn Smith as the council’s newest members Monday night; returning council member Kathleen Lorenz was also sworn in.
Nord has been a vocal critic of the Uptown One project on the circle, including the town paying rent to house some of its offices on the building’s second floor. He again characterized the $35,000 monthly payment as unnecessary spending.
“The town does not receive any benefit from this,” he said. “We’re not putting this money toward an asset—we’re paying it toward rent. It’s excessive.”
Nord said immediate action is needed to start saving taxpayer dollars.
“Up until we start the process, nothing’s going to change, so the sooner I get it out, the sooner hopefully more people will call the other council folks and get them on board to make this a priority,” Nord said, referring to the minimum four council member-backing needed to place an item on the agenda.
Nord suggested the town capitalize on interest in Uptown and sublease the space to another business.
“We need to reduce expenses, and this is low-hanging fruit,” he said.
Nord faced his own critic from the other side of the dais: former Normal Town Council candidate David Shields.
Shields told Nord and Smith “the seats that you occupy come with a long history of respect for truth, honesty, integrity and accountability.”
“The accountability—that starts tonight,” Shields said before listing several allegedly inaccurate statements Nord had made during his campaign, from using a word “that is not a word” to getting the name of a new popcorn shop wrong.
Shields also refuted Nord’s claim that the council told him to hire an attorney in a dispute over land use fees, and that he prioritized the Uptown plan over the needs of Normal residents.
“Mr. Nord has shown us that he is intellectually lazy, and does not always tell the truth,” Shields said, calling for Nord to apologize and make amends for the alleged mistakes.
Shields declined further comment on his statements following the meeting.
“If I insulted someone or said something wrong, I definitely will apologize for it,” Nord said in response to Shields’ comments. “We all make mistakes; I mean I am just human, I’ve made countless mistakes in my life.”
As to whether he’d made any inaccurate statements, “I did have some things that I did publish that had numbers; on the bottoms of pages were all the sources that I cited the numbers, so those were there,” Nord said. “I’m not going to say that I didn’t make a mistake, because we are just people.”
Nord also opposed the town’s monthly payment to support Connect Transit in light of recent controversy surrounding route changes and fare increases.
He said the purpose of public transit is to provide transportation for those who are otherwise unable to get around, either because of old age, a disability or low-income status.
“People that are getting their ridership taken away are the very people that we should be serving,” he said.
Nord moved to ask the Connect Transit board to meet with the council to discuss the issue within the next month, but Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day advised Nord would need to follow the standard agenda-setting process.
Mayor Chris Koos said while he agrees the town needs to pick up the discussion again with the transit board, he wants to give the agency’s newly formed work group time to explore the issue first.
But Nord said he has records of complaints from people with mobility challenges that were lodged four years ago during a route restructuring and again more recently related to a route cut. He said Connect Transit has had enough time to properly address riders’ concerns. He cast the lone vote opposing the payment.
Council members Kevin McCarthy and Kathleen Lorenz said they didn't want to cause the agency to default on payments by withholding funding. McCarthy added the council should be careful not to "re-litigate the whole budgeting process," and that he would not support "making funding a politics game."
Following comments from Nord and members of the public, Council Member Chemberly Cummings urged residents to contact her and others on the council directly about their concerns, rather than accusing public officials of ignoring them.
“You all have this misconception that nobody cares about our community, that nobody is doing anything about your concerns,” she said. “I have been meeting and will continue to meet about the Olive line ... we are looking into options. Not sure what they will yield immediately, because some of these things take time.”
The Connect Transit working group will hold its first meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Normal Public Library.
In other business, the council also approved:
- Extending the enterprise zone to include the proposed Brandt Industries expansion. Including the planned $35 million expansion in the enterprise zone makes the manufacturer eligible for additional incentives, including sales tax exemptions, tax credits and property tax abatements. Interim CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council Mike O’Grady told the council Brandt has exceeded its U.S. sales projections since production began in July.
- A spending plan for the town’s Fiscal Year 2019 Community Development Block Grant award. The nearly $400,000 award will be used to pay for public services at the Unity Community Center and PATH; down-payment assistance for qualifying homebuyers; and street, sidewalk and sewer work in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Residents can give input on the Town’s next CDBG 5-year spending plan now via online survey.
(Editor: This story has been changed to clarify the time span of complaints lodged with Connect Transit from those with challenges to their mobility.
Editor: This story originally contained the error that Uptown One is town-owned, It is not)
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