Normal Town Council member Stan Nord said he believes the town’s membership in the McLean County Chamber of Commerce could produce conflicts of interest.
Nord raised his concerns Monday during the first council meeting of the new year, suggesting the Chamber’s civic activity could be tied to financial support from the council.
“The Chamber actively endorses political candidates, so by the town being a member if somebody doesn’t vote to give the Chamber money could they not endorse them next year? Those are just conflicts we have,” he said after the meeting.
Nord brought the matter up during a discussion after he removed an item addressing town expenditures from the omnibus vote agenda.
“If the Chamber needs money, they should come and ask us – say ‘hey, we need money’ and we can vote yes or no to give it to them based on the reasoning that they provide,” he told reporters. “But if we’re going to voluntarily choose to be member of the Chamber ... that kind of puts a little bit of a conflict of interest there.”
Nord presented figures showing the town gave the Chamber $35,000 over the first nine months of 2019 after paying $43,000 in 2018.
According to city manager Pam Reece, the Chamber’s endorsements are handled by the organization’s independently funded Political Action Committee, which has a separate board of directors. Corporation counsel Brian Day said that as long as town funds do not go to the PAC, there is no conflict of interest.
But Nord said that separation doesn’t change the appearance.
“Pick a membership group, whatever that may be,” he said. “If that body comes to us to ask for money and we’re a member of that membership group, there is a conflict there.
“There is lots of stuff that has been going on in politics for years, and if we don’t change the things we’ve been doing we’re going to be on the same route that got us here in the first place.”
Reece said Nord’s concerns are legitimate in regard to assuring the town is not involved with a PAC, but she insists the membership is still a valuable and appropriate use of public funds.
“As we’re certainly a significant employer, and we have an interest in supporting our commerce – our economy, that we have found value in being a member of the Chamber,” she said.
Nord acknowledged his business is a Chamber member and he previously received a Chamber endorsement.
“I am very, very pro-business. Super pro-business,” he said. “But I think business and government should not be doing things together. Government should be independent of business.”
Mayor Chris Koos did not attend Monday’s meeting, which featured a light agenda with no general orders or new business. In addition to approving minutes from a previous meeting and work session and accepting the expenditures, the council also unanimously approved a final development plan for the third phase of the J & M planned unit development near 1000 S. Cottage Ave.
The four-phase project originally approved in May 2017 calls for 37 rental duplexes on a nine-acre lot. Reece called the project a “very successful development.”
“They’re popular and they're serving a need in terms of folks that are looking for that type of housing,” she said.
Prior to the regular council meeting, the liquor commission conditionally approved a pair of licenses: one for the new owners of the uptown Hyatt Place hotel, and one for the AMC Normal movie theater.
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