By Steve Robinson | July 16, 2024 - 10:33 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – At a reception at McLean County Farm Bureau Agriculture Lab, Normal honored a former Council member, Sonja Reece, as the Town’s Person Of The Year. The event took place Tuesday night at Normal’s annual Town Appreciation Reception Tuesday. The reception took place at McLean County Farm Bureau Agricultural Lab. Between 35-60 people attended the annual function which honors a Normal resident for activity they participate in which helps to better the community.

Mayor Chris Koos explained to the gathering of 200 people the person selected for the honor is someone who “has done an exemplary amount of work in our community for our community.” He added the annual event is held by the Town to honor a person for the work that person has done for the community.

“Tonight, we recognize a person who has served the person for decades,” Koos began. He said the person being honored has inspired others but really hasn’t quit while continuing to aid the community. The person honored at this function is currently founder and president of Reece Consulting Services, Sonja Reece.

Reece was a Normal Town Council member first elected in 1991, ending her political stint after 24 years. Reece served as a councilmember the Town for 24 years leaving the Council by not seeking reelection in 2015. The Town’s revamp from being Downtown and becoming Uptown Normal began in 1999 and was completed by 2004.

A total of 200 friends, relatives, and well-wishers invited to the function gave Reece a standing ovation as she stepped to the front of the room to begin speaking. “I’m just so blessed to be a part of this community,” Reece said. “So many things have happened her in the past 50 years. Normal has just continued to be a magnificent decision for us. It was the right place to come, it was the right time to come here. And the friends that I made and the opportunities that you have provided me and my family have been incredible.

“I’m honored for all your friendship and I want it to continue. Thank you for this honor tonight.” When Reece finished speaking, she received a standing ovation from all those gathered.

After the gathering, Reece said the honor “absolutely” came as a surprise to her. “I have been to many of these,” she said, adding, “But there’s a room full of people here that deserve this honor as well.” She said the revamp done of Uptown Normal “is a standing tribute to many of us who were serving on the Council at that time.”

She was quick to add the revamp of Uptown “was not just something I did, but the whole group did” referring to all the Town Council members who helped in shaping the Town’s central district’s current look.

Aside from current interests in the Town, Reece said local elections for the Town, not national politics, is an interest of hers. “I want to get the people interested in running for office and serving the community once in office. She didn’t specify who but she said someone she knew encouraged her to get involved in Town-related politics.

Reece added, “I think it’s my opportunity to encourage others, perhaps younger people who haven’t though about this, to get out and get involved.”

To that end, Reece has become involved with a group called Responsible Cities. Responsible Cities is a political action committee formed by citizens of Bloomington-Normal after the April 2019 election. Their mission is to support leaders in non-partisan municipal elections who are dedicated to enhancing the existing high quality.

“From a local standpoint, Responsible Cities gives people an opportunity to say who’s running” for local office, Reece explained. Members of Responsible Cities, Reece said, looks to interview candidates to find out more about what candidates stand for.

In naming Reece for the honor, Koos said, “Sonja has done so much for so many years.” He added she had a “lifetime of service.”

“She’s just tireless, volunteering in the community,” Koos added. “And it’s all for the betterment of the community. So, it’s hard not to recognize that Reece’s son, Jay Reece, a Bloomington attorney, said he knew about his mother’s honor ahead of the event. “I’m very, very happy for Mom. She’s devoted so much of her life and so much time over the last 51 years when we moved to Normal from Decatur.

“Almost from the beginning,” Jay Reece said, “She got involved doing things civically in the community that was our new home, and this has been a long time coming for her.” Jay said his late father, Jerry, didn’t try slowing her while she was doing something for the community.

By Steve Robinson | July 15, 2024 - 10:27 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – During Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council members unanimously approved authorizing modifications for the boundary of the Bloomigton-Normal enterprise zone. The modification relates to expansion being done to the Rivian Motors property on Normal’s west side.

Illinois legislature created the enterprise zone in 1982 as an incentive program jointly created by the State and local governments which could help communities with their development needs. Some communities used the zones for developmental needs while others tailored projects for either residential or commercial growth.

Normal, Bloomington, and McLean County. The Enterprise Zone for the two communities and the county was created in December 1984 in an effort help attract Diamond Star Motors to Normal.

The Town and City report explains Enterprise Zones provide economic incentives to commercial projects starting new investments which can potentially include facility expansion, renovation, or other qualifying improvements. Incentives can include items like: sales tax exemptions for building materials and on personal property used or consumed during the manufacturing process.; utility tax exemptions on gas and electricity and an administrative share of telecom excise taxes.

The original Enterprise Zone for Rivian expired May 2016 and a new designation for an Enterprise Zone was approved by the State Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Jan. 1, 2017. In 2021, Town of Normal, McLean County, Ford County, and the Town of Gibson City amended the intergovernmental agreement and incorporated a standard incentive program which would further support and help generate economic development for the communities and counties.

The Economic Development Council is also involved in helping Rivian concerning a potential expansion to help Rivian prepare to expand its facility. The potential expansion was announced in May as the automaker was seeking to expand its current maximum capacity by 5 sq. miles, from 15 sq. miles to 20 sq. miles.

Amending the Enterprise Zone for Rivian to include property west of its current structure would allow the automaker to complete project details and help them receive sales tax exemption on purchasing building materials for the expansion project.

Public Comment Concerning Hearing Back From Town: Normal resident Ron Ulmer addressed Council members with a concern about a lack of feedback he said he receives about concerns he brings to the attention of Council members or Town Staff. “When there’s no communication, there’s no cooperation, there’s no synergy, there’s no nothing,” Ulmer told Council members. He said not hearing back from Town officials about a concern is the problem from the Town’s end.

He said he did hear from “one department head” about an issue he called about. Ulmer said he and the Town official who called him “had a nice conversation.” He said he has also emailed Town City Manager Pam Reece about a concern he had. Ulmer characterized their phone call saying “we had a nice conversation.” He added Reece followed up with an email to Ulmer Monday.

“If you talk to me or send me an email, or you give me feedback why you can or can’t do something, it makes a big difference,” Ulmer said. He said he gets an email from a Council member who he didn’t name asking Ulmer if he heard from any other Council members. Ulmer said his reply back was “no,” clarifying he never receives replies from them or Mayor Chris Koos.

He concluded he came to Monday’s meeting with “no complaints” other than a request for communication from the Town.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the special meeting of July 1, 2024.

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of July 10, 2024.

• A resolution authorizing a budget adjustment of $175,000 for additional work by J. Spencer Construction LLC for historic property preservation.

• A resolution accepting bids and awarding a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. for the West College sanitary sewer extension – Cottage Ave. to Garden St. Project in the amount of $338,317.

• A resolution to reject bids for the Eagle’s Landing basin shoreline remediation project.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Stark Excavating, Inc. for the Safety Town expansion project at Carden Park in the amount of $147,900 and an association budget adjustment.

By Steve Robinson | July 8, 2024 - 4:19 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – Over $4 million in grants will be coming to the Twin Cities through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen and his fellow members of U. S. House of Representatives. That was information Rep. Sorensen had for Twin City residents, one of the stops he made was Council Chambers at Normal City Hall July 3. Rep. Sorensen also delivered the information during a stop in Bloomington as well during the day.

Among projects which will receive funding from Rep. Sorensen’s efforts are sewer separation in Normal’s central business district including Uptown, as well as redesign and construction work near Colene Hoose Elementary School. Also included among the projects Sorensen backed and got approved by State legislators for Bloomington was sewer separation and anti-flood work.

Rep. Sorensen explained that of 17 projects within the 17th Congressional District, which includes the Twin Cities, he was able to successfully see 15 benefit the local communities. Among the work Normal will see taken care of is Vernon Ave. near Colene Hoose Elementary School being redesigned and construction work done around that area.

Rep. Sorensen said his team compiled all requests from within the district, adding that as he looked over the requests, which one “had the best chance of being able to go through in a divided congress.” He added the projects he wanted to fight for “were the ones I knew, when we put them in the hands of the Appropriations Committee, that we had the best chance of actually getting through.”

The representative’s record thus far has not been bad as 13 of 14 requests he made for money for projects needed in his district, went through last year. This year, Rep. Sorensen has 15 requests for funds for projects requested. The funds he sought for the grade school would help improve access to the entryway into the school. Rhetorically, Rep. Sorensen asked, “How do you argue against this type of funding? How do you argue against this type of funding for whenever it rains heavily and floods Uptown Normal?”

He explained State legislators “were being very prescriptive on which one of these projects we were able to put through and which one of these would have the best chance of coming to this Congress.”

Sorensen said “it was almost unheard of to get 13 out of 14” projects approved by Congress. He joked he “has turned out to be ‘the water guy in Congress’ and I’m OK with that because…we’d ignored it for a long time.”

In terms of how soon the projects receiving funds will get started, Normal Mayor Chris Koos said the Vernon Ave. project should be getting started “pretty quickly.” Ryan Otto, Town Director of Public Works and Engineering, said work on the Vernon Ave. project will start with design “with the next fiscal year” which starts in July.

Koos said the Town did receive input concerning Vernon Ave. during an open forum event in September. Rep. Sorensen added he was also contacted by his constituents concerning the matter. About this street project, Rep. Sorensen added, “This was an instance where we couldn’t put the entire burden on the Town of Normal. Well, guess what? The Federal Government is going to come and help out so the taxes don’t have to go up to pay for this.”

Rep. Sorensen explained he needed to try to get funding for such a project so that Hoose Elementary students, when they become adults, don’t wind up paying for such improvements later in life.

Koos said the funding for the Vernon Ave. project will help make the area around Hoose Elementary safer “and make a vital transportation corridor in our community much safer, much more attractive, much more accessible. It’s just real good for the community for a whole and makes a statement that Normal really cares about safety in our community.” Koos hinted that such projects with safety in mind is something citizens will see in the future. He said the Town is looking to make sure its travel is very safe for its citizens.

Koos added not just Normal but communities across the country are going to need to be more attentive toward concerning climate change. He added Normal will have to stay in front of developments concerning climate change and “develop resiliency into our infrastructure so that these flooding issues and extreme weather issues don’t negatively impact as much as they are today.”

Rep. Sorensen explained that such funding is related to “an immediate need” by a community. “So, we can’t allow the bureaucratic red tape to come between this project on Vernon Ave.” Add to that, he explained, that there would not be a serious accident on Vernon Ave. which would again involve a child. He added the community also just can’t hope its able to dodge having another flash flood emergency.

“We have to fix these problems,” Rep. Sorensen said. “But cutting through the red tape is important when we talk about community project funding because these are funds and these are projects that, if we just put these off five or 10 years, there’s going to be such a negative impact.”

Rep. Sorensen explained two things he makes sure of when seeking dollars for projects are the immediacy in receiving the money and how much of an investment receiving the money will be in benefit to the community. He added his staffers understand “we only fight for things that will have increased value as we go on.” He called both projects “positive values for the community.”

Speaking with reporters about President Joe Biden’s seemingly lackluster debate performance against GOP Challenger Donald Trump the night before, after addressing 35 people who attended this event, Rep. Sorensen, a former TV weatherman for 22 years, said he was prone to have an occasional bad day and added President Biden’s performance “did raise serious questions” about his ability to run for and complete a second Presidential term should he win in November.

Rep. Sorensen told reporters he didn’t watch the debate because “it wasn’t going to change my mind.” Asked if President Biden does decide to withdraw and not seek a second term, who would he think ought to be the Democratic nominee, Rep. Sorensen said that is something that would “be up to the political pundits to decide,” adding that right now, he was “more focused on the people of this district and getting the work done for them.”

NORMAL – During Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council members unanimously approved an ordinance which amended the Town’s fiscal year2023-24 Operating and Capital Investment Budget. As part of the Town budget for fiscal year 2023-24, Council members unanimously approved a budget amendment to decrease authorized revenue by $9,112,741 and a budget amendment to decrease authorized expenditures by $19,045,997. Council Member Andy Byars was not present for the meeting.

Total original budgeted revenue for the Town totaled $193,861,947 while total ending budgeted revenue of $184,749,206. That produced a decrease for fiscal year 2023-24 of $9,112,741 for the year.

Total original budgeted expenditures by the Town totaled $208,653,623. Normal’s total final budgeted expenditures totaled $189,607,626 resulting in a net decrease for the Town for FY2023-24 of $19,045,997.

The report to City Manager Pam Reece which Council members saw prior to and during their meeting, prepared by Town Director of Finance Andrew Huhn, indicated a budget amendment to decrease authorized revenue by over $9.1 million and a budget amendment decreasing authorized expenditures by $19,045,997 was required. The Town had auditors conduct an on-site review of all Town accounting records and reports in June.

The report showed the adjustments that created the $9.11 million revenue decrease throughout all of the Town’s funds primarily related to transactions associated with the Town General Fund, Library Special Reserve Fund, various Capital Funds and the Town’s Underpass Fund.

City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the fiscal year “Ending the year in a surplus position is a positive.”

The Town saw revenue increases in its general fund by $3 million, its library special reserve fund by $2.4 million, and its vehicle and equipment replacement fund by $1.6 million.

The general fund increase was the result of “State shared sales tax dollars performing better than expected, as well as other minor revenue increases,” according to Huhn’s report.

Ordinance Amending Town Human Relations Code Approved: Council members unanimously approved amending the Town’s Human Relations Code by adding gender identity as a protected class and amending definitions for race and sexual orientation. The Human Relations Code prohibits unlawful discrimination in employment, public accommodations, financing, and housing. In addition, the code also creates a complaint process where individuals can seek amends for discrimination that occurs within the Town.

The proposed amendment to the Human Relations Code is essentially threefold amending types of unlawful discrimination. First, the amendment adds gender identity as a protected class. Gender identity is defined as “the actual or perceived appearance, expression, identity, or behavior of gender(s), whether or not that appearance, expression, identity or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.”

Second, the amendment changes the definition of “sexual orientation” from the existing definition of “[t]he actual or perceived state of heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality” to “an individual’s actual or perceived romantic, physical or sexual attraction to other persons…”

Lastly, the amendment adds a definition for the term race, explaining: “Race includes traits associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.” This definition mirrors the definition of “race” in the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee, Planning Commission Appointments Announced: Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy announced one appointment each to two separate Town Commissions by Mayor Chris Koos.

Ben Matthews has been appointed to Normal Planning Commission. A lifelong Normal resident, Matthews, employed by Illinois Education Association, is a member of Bloomington-Normal Sunrise Rotary as well as being on the board of directors of Milestones Early Learning Center. Matthews is a graduate of Lincoln College and Illinois State University. His other community activities have included being active with Jacob’s Well Community Church and State Farm Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament. Matthews will fill the unexpired term of Tim McCue on the Commission due to McCue’s resignation and relocating away from the community.

Koos also appointed Eric Stegemann to fill an unexpired term of Eric Sweetwood on the Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee. Sweetwood resigned from the committee and has relocated out of Normal. Stegemann has been active as a volunteer with the Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee Sweetwood is a teacher in Unit 5 School District and recently traveled to Asahikawa as a chaperone for a high school junior year class trip. He is the father of the Sister Cities Committee’s next high school ambassador.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the special meeting of June 17, 2024.

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of June 26, 2024.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to ProVantage Systems for resurfacing project of circular basketball courts in the amount of $26,374.

• A resolution accepting bids and award a contract to Rowe Construction for the Constitution Trail repaving project in the amount of $69,406.67.

• A resolution to approve executive session minutes of January 16, 2024 and of February 19, 2024 and to retain the confidentiality of those minutes.

• An ordinance approving a parking license agreement between the Normal Public Library, Rutherford Suites LLC, and the Town of Normal.

By Steve Robinson | June 24, 2024 - 4:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Normal-based Unit 5 School District’s School Board unanimously approved amending its budget with an increase property tax revenue and reducing its expenditures. Board members unanimously adopted a $216 million budget for fiscal 2024 in September assuming there would be an approximately eight percent increase in local property tax revenue. Fiscal 2024 ends June 30, 2024. No members of the public spoke to Board members at a public hearing prior to the Board voting to approve the budget.

During a May School Board meeting, in May, a spending plan which had been reworked showed an additional $3 million from property taxes, interest income and State and Federal resources. Because of that, Unit 5 was able to keep $3.5 million in its working cash accounts to cover a deficit in its education fund.

Unit 5’s attorney, Curt Richardson, informed there were 23 administrative procedures and exhibits for review by Board members. The majority of them have been run by Board members for review prior to the meeting. He asked that Board members review the items and get back to him concerning those items by June 17.

“Good News” Concerning ACT-SO: Former Board member Meta Mickens-Baker appeared before Board members to introduce members of NAACP’s Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) team. ACT-SO is the abbreviation for Academic Cultural Technological-Scientific Olympics. Mickens-Baker explained the competition is also known as “the Olympics of the mind.”

The students who addressed the meeting were Bradley Ross Jackson, Joselyn Allen, and a recent Normal Community High School graduate who will attend Atlanta, Ga.-based Morehouse College this fall. He explained he competed in Oratory events and won three gold medals. Allen competed in Dance Contemporary winning a gold medal and will be attending the University of Kentucky. Bradley Jimis told Board members he competed at ACT-SO in Original Essay winning a Silver medal, and will be attending University of Missouri in the fall.

Superintendent Has Comments Introducing New Administrators: Dr Weikle introduced new administrators for Unit 5. The first to be introduced was Dr. Francis Borrell. Dr. Borrell, a native of Spain, has taught Spanish having taught in Chicago. He is a National Certified Teacher and holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, as well as a Translation, Gender, and Cultural Studies. Most recently, Dr. Borell taught World Languages at Illinois State University.

Jill Schenk was next introduced and is a 21-year education veteran, having been at Normal West for 18 years. She has held varying positions since being in the District including Department Chair and Special Education teacher. She told Board members the new job is “a great opportunity for me and I am excited to step into this role.”

Megan Peterson was introduced as a human resources generalist for the District. Previously, she had been working in human resources for Chestnut Health Systems. She told Board members she was happy to be returning to Unit 5. For her, she said, was “like returning home.”

Robert Vazquez, a Unit 5 employee for 15 years, was introduced as the new custodial manager for Pre-K through fifth grade, most recently serving as head custodian at Benjamin Elementary School. He said he looked forward to making sure District schools are “clean, safe, and welcoming to everybody.”

Jeremy Crusy was introduced as the new custodial for grades 6 through 12 for the District. He has been a custodian in Unit 5 for 13 years including being a custodian at Benjamin Elementary School from 2011-2022, and head custodian at Normal Community High School. He told Board members, “I’m just super excited for this opportunity.”

In Board comments, Board President Jeremy DeHaai welcomed the new administrators and added, “I look forward to seeing you help our district grow and improve.”

Summer School In Session For 950 Students: Dr. Weikle also said Unit 5 schools have 950 students in summer classes across District schools. She said Pre-K through 8th grade students are focusing on literacy, math, and socioemotional learning while students in grades 9-12 are in the middle of driver’s education and credit recovery. She added the District’s special education department is offering extended school year learning concentrating on students’ individual goals. All of these programs run through the end of June, Dr. Weikle explained.

District Receives Grant From ISBE: Dr. Weikle added Unit 5 has received a Freedom Schools Grant from Illinois’ State Board of Education. She said the grant is part of a multi-cultural enrichment program focusing on literacy, civic engagement, and esteem activities for students at middle school grade levels. Freedom Schools run through mid-July.

Moment Of Silence Remembers Deceased Grove Elementary Teacher: The meeting began as Board President Jeremy DeHaai asked for a moment of silence to recall Grove Elementary School Teacher Amy Burns Moore. Moore, a second-grade teacher at Grove Elementary School, was murdered by her estranged husband May 29. Following shooting Moore, her estranged husband, Matthew, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.