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Community-wide Cooperation Among Bloomington Council Forum Topics

Cristian Jaramillo

The future of cooperation between Bloomington and Normal was among the topics discussed Thursday at the WGLT-League of Women Voters Candidate Forum featuring hopefuls from Wards 3 and 9.

With the Bloomington city council agreeing to dissolve the Metro Zone agreement with Normal, and the resulting exchanges between the two mayors including the words "disingenuous" and "untrustworthy," how the two governing bodies move forward is a matter of concern for the community.

During the forum, one of the four Ward 3 candidates, Gary Lambert, said there are inequities built into the structure of the community.

"To think that we're two equal cities, two equal sets of priorities, I think is stretching it," Lambert said.

Incumbent Ward 3 Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe said the primary focus of the council should be on protecting Bloomington taxpayers.

"I felt this agreement was not to the advantage of Bloomington taxpayers. But, I would like to work together in the area of BN Advantage, which is a strategic plan for economic growth for the area. I think we can bring both councils together and think about the bigger picture," he said.

Another Ward 3 challenger, J. Balmer, said he wouldn't have voted to cancel the Metro Zone outright.

"I would have moved to suspend the agreement pending discussion with both parties for a complete re-write of that entire agreement," Balmer said. "I thought it set a dangerous precedent by just canceling it outright."

Bob Clay is also running in Ward 3. He said the deal was an effective tool then but it has aged out.

"The termination clause is probably the most important clause in your contract," he said.

The Metro Zone was established more than 30 years ago as a way for the city and town to split revenues gained from retail operations in an area near what was then a new auto assembly plant. Bloomington's council voted last month to end the agreement due to what it termed as inequitable because the balance of recent tax sharing had favored Normal.

Council members in Normal responded to Bloomington's unilateral approach to ending the deal by saying it had no sunset clause and could only be dissolved if both parties agreed.

Ward 9 hopeful Kimberly Bray also said the lack of an end-date for Metro Zone was a fatal flaw. She also pushed for further cooperation.

"Since the creation of the Metro Zone, we've developed BN Advantage and the Bloomington Comprehensive Plan. These are excellent vehicles for collaboration," Bray said.

Greg Rodriguez, another candidate in Ward 9, said he was disappointed how the Metro Zone deal fell apart.

"I don't think it's beneficial in the long run to either community to continue to maintain separate priorities that you have to then square off against one another," he said.

Another Ward 9 candidate Sheheryar Muftee agreed having in-step priorities within the two municipalities is key.

"Unless we have the same priorities, it is going to be difficult to do anything more," Muftee said.

The candidates also answered questions dealing with surface water protection, the budgeting process, citywide versus ward priorities, how to protect local businesses from online retail options, and the welcoming cities ordinance, which would establish policy protecting immigrants from undue federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement practices. All council candidates at the forum spoke against a proposal floated by Illinois Peoples Action.

Watch video from Thursday's Candidate Forum:

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Willis is a Bloomington, IL, native. During his senior year at Bloomington High School, he finished third in the "Radio Speaking" division of the state speech contest, the only year he competed.