NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

ISU Professor Questions Limit On Renner's Agenda-Setting Power

Charlie Schlenker
Lori Riverstone-Newell is an Illinois State University professor.

An Illinois State University political science professor says a Bloomington alderman's proposal to reduce the mayor's agenda-setting power is a disservice to the city.

Lori Riverstone-Newell specializes in politics and local government at ISU. She said on GLT's Sound Ideas on Monday that she does not believe the proposal from Alderman David Sage would benefit the city. 

She said the city manager council form of government arose in the early 20th century in reaction to machine politics. Many cities shifted again at mid-century to restore some mayoral powers as larger cities encountered difficulty moving quickly on some issues.

"There is a real need for someone to be able to say, hey, we really need to look at this. And if you take away the Mayor's ability to add items to the agenda, we lose that oversight, that wider vision," said Riverstone Newell.

She said requiring five signatures to place an item on the agenda might mean the council could avoid addressing tough issues.

"In my opinion, it is not for the betterment of the council," Riverstone-Newell said. "If Mayor Renner were adding tons of items to council meetings and running the agenda off the road, that would be one thing, but that is not what I have heard. I have heard this is a political move to reduce the mayor's power generally."

The proposal has garnered six signatures from aldermen since it was introduced by Sage a few weeks ago, which allows for the issue to be considered. If passed, Renner could still sign the request for an agenda item but not solely originate an agenda issue. 

Riverstone-Newell said that a restructuring of the agenda process is probably legal but certainly open to a court contest.

"It means the council is opening the city up for litigation," Riverstone-Newell said. "Now, come on, is that a proper use of public money? I would say that there might be other ways to accomplish what they want without taking away the power of the mayor and without opening up the city to expensive litigation in the future."

How would Riverstone-Newell resolve the matter?

"I would recommend they get rid of the ward system or that they go to a hybrid system and bring in a few at-large members, and barring that, I don't see that council willing to delude its power in this way," Riverstone-Newell said. "Barring that, I think they need to recognize the law as it stands and the norms across the nation ... I think they need to figure out how to work in that system."

Listen to the full interview

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
Nate Head is a social media intern for GLT. He's a student at Illinois State University.