Normal Town Council member Stan Nord has accused City Manager Pam Reece and Mayor Chris Koos of discriminating against him.
WGLT has obtained a legal opinion written by an external attorney hired by the town to review the allegations. That seven-page analysis found no merit to the accusations.
About March 17, Nord complained to Town Human Resources Manager Jenny Keigher that Reece was giving him different information than was provided to other council members. He also accused Koos of instructing town staff not to answer his questions during council meetings. Nord said Koos has emailed town staff and said “Stan’s wasting your time, do not do this.”
Attorney Benjamin Gehrt of the firm Rosemont-based Clark Baird Smith LLP said in the opinion that Nord does not identify the root of the alleged discrimination on the basis of gender, age, religion, race, or other protected characteristic.
“I don’t know what type of discrimination this is, other than I am the minority voice,” Nord told Gehrt.
Gehrt’s opinion noted the job of President of the Town (mayor) is to maintain order and decorum in meetings, and part of that is to ensure debate stays on topic and time. Gehrt said Koos is not discriminating; he is performing a basic parliamentary role common to all legislative bodies in a democratic society.
In addressing Koos’ instruction to staff, Gehrt noted the staff does not report to Nord or to Koos, but to Reece.
Nord claimed in his complaint that Reece reports equally to the mayor and to the council, and therefore Reece should do whatever Nord requests be accomplished. Gehrt said Nord overstates his role and that the city manager is accountable to the council as a whole, not to individual council members, though she can choose to assist individual council members.
“It is ultimately up to the Town Manager how to balance time and resources to achieve the objectives that have been established by the Town Council as a whole,” wrote Gehrt. “To the extent the requests of a council member who holds the minority opinion may be given a lower priority, that is not evidence of any form of prohibited discrimination. Rather it reflects the reality that if the town manager is not responsive to the needs of the Town Council as a whole, she places her job in jeopardy.”
Another element of Nord’s complaint is that briefings Reece conducts with two council members in advance of meetings mean he cannot know whether he gets the same information they do.
Gehrt noted the two-on-one meetings are a common tool used by staff to share information about the agenda with council members in many municipalities while still abiding by the Open Meetings Act (OMA). The OMA prevents discussion of issues related to public business by people who assemble in groups the size of the majority of a quorum or larger. In Normal, that would limit it to two council members. He said the meetings are “not discrimination, just a practical reality.”
Council member Kathleen Lorenz noted the two-on-one meetings long predate Reece’s tenure as city manager. Lorenz said it is common for her to talk one-on-one with other council members about the meeting agenda and issues facing the town.
“You are only as well informed as … in this role you’ve gotta build a network and build relations and maybe that’s what’s kind of coming back to haunt him here. He hasn’t built relations outside his own circle of concern and people he deals with on a regular basis,” said Lorenz.
Nord complained that town staff and other council members knew about recent Rivian expansion plans before he did. He asserted that town plans to extend water service in that area and to improve roads indicate knowledge of the expansion.
Gehrt said that’s not the case. He said the record showed an inquiry in early 2020 about a potential manufacturing operation from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity sparked the interest in the improvements as a way to be prepared for potential development in that area. That particular project did not pan out, Gehrt said.
Lorenz noted the staff and council desire to be prepared appears justified in the wake of the Rivian expansion filing, adding she she finds the timing of the complaint close to the April 6 election to be “curious.”
“I think it’s more political than personal,” said Lorenz.
The complaint echoed a campaign theme from mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli, who is an ally of Nord.
“I have observed that Stan has been particularly more agitated during the campaign all the way since petitions were filed,” said Lorenz. “There has been a greater intensity in the last three to four months. The fact that it’s coming now a week before the election I really just see it as a culmination of some behavior.”
“Being on the losing end of a vote is not a form of discrimination; if anything, it means the politician needs to use his or her best efforts to rally further support for the cause,” wrote Gehrt.
In his opinion, Gehrt also chastised Nord for bringing the complaint.
“All elected officials should refrain from using the town’s Human Resources department as a tool in their political disputes,” said Gehrt.
WGLT has asked Nord for comment on the legal opinion.
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