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Mayoral Power At Risk In Bloomington

Alderman David Sage (l) and Mayor Tari Renner (r) have often clashed.

There's a move to weaken the power of the office of Mayor in Bloomington.

Council members will discuss whether to take away mayoral authority to place issues on the agenda and make that task solely subject to a group of aldermen. Under the proposal from Alderman David Sage, a mayor could still sign the request for an agenda item but not solely originate an agenda issue.

Mayor Tari Renner said it's a bad idea.

"And I absolutely oppose any movement to create a Chicago-style ward politics. I think this would move us in that direction," said Renner.

He said it is important for someone who represents the entire city to be able to bring issues to the council for debate.

The driver of the effort to weaken Renner is Sage. Sage has not responded to GLT efforts to get a comment.

Alderman Karen Schmidt said she would not characterize this as a move to strip the mayor of power. 

"The proposal seeks to focus our council work on the priorities we have set together and assure that the work our staff has strong council support," said Schmidt.

Renner said a lack of research on the proposal shows it is purely political.

"It was not vetted. When I talked to the former mayors, they had not heard anything about it. People at the Illinois Municipal League had not heard about it from Bloomington. There was not really much, if any, homework done on this. We do need to talk about the broader implications of taking this power away from the mayor to set the agenda and giving it to the aldermen chosen from nine parts of the city," said Renner.

He said six aldermen signed the request for the issue to be considered. Alderman Joni Painter is one of them.

"I think it's a good idea at this time," Painter said. "Right now, the city is very short staffed, and we need to fill several key positions. In order to maintain a reasonable workload for those who remain, we would like to ensure that what comes across their desk is something that actually has a chance of passing through full council."

She added, "Staff is working really hard right now, and we just want to help them effectively do what's important. What's not so important can move to the back of the line, as it were. That's my motivation for backing this."

Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe said during a recent council retreat that the outgoing city manager provided the council with some feedback on how they could become a higher functioning council for the benefit of taxpayers.

"I see this discussion as a first attempt for us to move in that direction. I believe that building somewhat of a consensus for agenda items on the front end will provide a smoother path for those agenda items to be implemented, ensuring more successes than failures. So in the end, it may be more beneficial to the mayor than initially perceived. I also believe this will result in stronger relationships between the mayor and council members and also among council members. I look forward to this very important discussion," said Mwilambwe.

Alderman Amelia Buragas said she hopes the proposal is not politically motivated.

"We are trying to make sure things don't get out of hand while we're looking to hire several key staff positions."

"The City of Bloomington is facing a number of challenges and we all need to be working together on only those proposals intended to move our city forward. I am looking forward to Monday's discussion and have a number of questions about the potential impact these proposed changes would have on council's ability to be efficient and to bring issues to the public forum for debate," said Buragas.

Renner said the issue is a solution in search of a problem. Painter rebutted that.

"We have a city manager form of government. It is the city manager's job to put items on the agenda," Painter said. "We are trying to make sure things don't get out of hand while we're looking to hire several key staff positions. The drain on staff comes when they have to spend hours compiling information about things that the majority of the council already has a strong opinion about, like a mayoral aide.

"The proposed system would also enable the majority of the council to place items on the agenda that we feel are really important," Painter added. "As a side benefit, doing things this way for a while promotes teamwork within the council."

Renner said Bloomington has an active mayor and city manager form of government, which is weaker than a strong mayor system.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.