NORMAL — To conclude the inaugural season of a league during a year when fans yearned to hear about something else other than an ongoing national political race and an ongoing pandemic, the end of the game between the CornBelters and the Bobcats, both local teams, seemed just what the fans needed.

Although the CornBelters trailed for the first three innings, they did catch up and managed to earn the league’s very first championship trophy, with bottom of the seventh heroics, 5-4, Sunday at The Corn Crib, before roughly 700 people.

The winning run came in the bottom of the 7th as Alex Steinbach’s walk-off single with two on allowed former Normal West football player Peyton Dillingham to cross home plate, giving the CornBelters a 5-4 win over the Bobcats in the Kernels Collegiate League championship game. When the playoffs began, the CornBelters were the top seed, followed by second seeded Bobcats in the four-team league.

Dillingham, who played quarterback at Normal Community West High School, said for him to walk away with having contributed to helping the team win the league championship was “icing on the cake…icing on the cake. It was the best summer of my life. Great time. It would not make sense to come out without a championship. All we wanted to do was come out and win.” He called this summer “the best summer of my life.”

“This year has given these guys so many question marks and to see them come out here and grind it out…30 games isn’t that much but in the time frame they’ve had to be able to come out and push through and come in every day when some of them are just starting to get hot right now,” explained CornBelters head coach David Garcia, who coaches baseball at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville. “For them to finish strong like that, I was really proud of them.”

“We lost first place twice and got it back both times the next day, so it was fun,” Garcia said.

The Bobcats had to play both games scheduled for Sunday because they lost one to the Gems Saturday, explained Bobcats head coach Jake Wegner. Wegner is actually still in college himself although his playing days are behind him, and about to enter his senior year at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

“We got four in the first inning, and Platt settled in and they shut us down,” Wegner said. Platt is CornBelters right hander and Pennsylvania native David Platt.

Game Rundown: The contest started on a four-run first inning by the visiting Bobcats as outfielder Jordan Libman blasted a grand slam home run, putting his team up 4-0. Prior to that, singles by infielder Jackson Chatterton and catcher Keaton Rice, and outfielder Dan Bolt loaded the bases.

A 4th inning double by infielder Austin Simpson scored Steinbach, putting the CornBelters on the scoreboard, 4-1. A bottom of the fifth homer with two on by outfielder Brant Vanaman scored outfielder Lincoln Riley and infielder Kai Moody, both of whom singled.

By Steve Robinson | August 4, 2020 - 6:14 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Sharing bikes for leisure activity in Normal proved creative in the last seven years they had been done through the service known as Zagster. But when the contract with Zagster expired in 2019 after three years, Normal Town officials sought a replacement and thought they had found one in Charleston, S. C.-based Gotcha Mobility, LLC.

At Monday’s Normal Town Council session, done remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Council members unanimously rejected the bid submitted by Gotcha to take over the service. The sticking point for the Town was the cost the company quoted the Town for the service. In their Request For Proposal to the Town for providing 200 bikes, Gotcha proposed a 3-year term at an annual cost of $300,000. The company also proposed to seek sponsorships and advertising revenues to offset the $300,000 cost to the municipality, with the expectation that rider revenues would cover a portion of that amount.

Compared to Zagster’s offer, the price proved too much for the 7-person Council who voted unanimously to reject Gotcha’s proposal. About Gotcha’s proposed pricing, Doug Damery, director of parks and recreation for the Town, wrote to Council members, “its proposed pricing presented significant risk to the Town if offsetting revenues were not raised. For this reason, the Town selection committee (including representatives from ISU and Carle) recommends the Gotcha Mobility proposal for bike share services be rejected.”

In addition to Town representatives looking over Gotcha’s proposal were representatives from Illinois State University and Carle (formerly Advocate) BroMenn Medical Center. In terms of comparison between what the Town did and might have paid for the service between the two companies, the Town’s annual cost for Zagster was $87,000. Zagster’s contract with the Town expired last December. Had Council members approved Gotcha’s proposal, they would have begun their service in Normal next spring.

According to published reports, Zagster’s parent company, New Jersey-based growth equity firm Edison Partners, has announced the sale of nearly all of its portfolio assets in Zagster to Boston-based Superpedestrian. Zagster blamed its decline in business on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dividing One Normal Plaza Into 4 Parts Prompts Council Members Smith, Cummings To Comment: A proposal to divide One Normal Plaza, once the former site of Illinois Soldiers’ And Sailors’ School (ISSCS), into four quarters for business purposes has recently met with opposition from residents who live in the area. Normal Planning Commission members are scheduled to address a zoning text amendment at their Sept. 10 session if that governing body resumes in-person meetings.

Under the proposed amendment, the plaza would be divided into four parts and zoned to be attractive to potential businesses. A meeting of residents and those interested in the future of the property took place July 23 on the property.

At Monday’s session, Council Member Karyn Smith addressed the matter in hopes of clarifying concerns brought to her by area residents. Of concern to residents near One Normal Plaza was the desire of one business person to establish a microbrewery. “Word of this microbrewery and the potential of locating an establishment that would sell liquor caused great consternation among the residents,” she explained.

But Smith added the developer has now abandoned his plans for the microbrewery at that location. As a result, Smith said, “At this time, there is nothing in the works from that developer to locate a microbrewery at this time in One Normal Plaza.

But because that developer’s plan has disappeared, Smith said, knowing that such business plans are out there “brought to light a need to clarify what is desired for One Normal Plaza.”

Cummings Would Like To See More Respect Among Council Members: Council Member Chemberly Cummings picked up on a theme brought about by Council Member Kathleen Lorenz at a Council session last month where she asked for Council members to try to show respect toward others views. At that time, Lorenz directed her comments toward Council Member Stan Nord for what she saw were the methods he used to question Town Staff decisions in bringing items to Council.

For Cummings in this case, she highlighted what she saw as a betrayal of trust on July 23 relating to the One Normal Plaza matter. “I have tried through at least one media outlet to bring education on the matter,” She said. She added she would like to see any Council member avoid using what she called a “savior or white knight syndrome” to help settle matters.

Normal Theater Intake Prompts Discussion: Nord took an opportunity to discuss the revenues from the Normal Theater which has been closed since the pandemic began in mid-March but has found a way to make money by offering movies from small movie distributors to watch on computer.

Nord quoted the revenue taken in during the first quarter of the pandemic – March, April, and May – as being $222 while he saw the Town’s Cultural Arts Office, the wing of the Town which operates the theater, spent over $14,000 on advertising.

On Tuesday, Town Cultural Arts Director Beth Whisman disagreed with Nord’s figures, explaining that between March 20 and July 30, patrons saw 135 screening of movies which netted a gross income of $1,430.79. Of that dollar figure, Whisman said, Normal Theater’s proceeds totaled $648.23.

Whisman explained the theater is working with small movie production companies numbering around 12, who offer theaters their independent films to have patrons see for a certain price. Then, those distributors offer a share of the money taken in back to the theaters. In the case of one distributor, she said, they will offer patrons to pay a certain dollar to view a movie within three days from when it’s ordered and the distributor will then give the Normal Theater a share of what was paid for the movie. Patrons can order the movies by going to Normal Theater’s website, Whisman explained.

Whisman said the film distributors are selling new movies to Normal Theater and others, not old releases.

Council Meetings Done Remotely To Continue: Mayor Chris Koos announced that Gov. J. B. Pritzker declared a disaster declaration related to public health in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Koos announced, “I have determined that in-person meetings is not practical because of the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus stemming from indoor gathering and that remote meetings are in the best interest of the health, safety, and welfare of the Council, Staff, and general public.”

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of July 20, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 29, 2020.

NORMAL – Kathleen Lorenz shared a concern with fellow Normal Council members during the governing body’s regular session on July 20, done remotely, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her concern centered on what she said she has observed as what she saw as “troubling behaviors” during Council sessions. She said what she was about to present to Council members has been bothering her for about the past 15 months.

She said her criticism was not being levied at any fellow Council members’ behavior, but that is was being levied how she believed the Council comprised of 4 men and 3 women could work better together.

Her first concern was levied at Council Member Stan Nord related to how she has observed Nord seeming to challenge how work done by Town staff gets done. She said how Nord phrases questions he puts to fellow Council members during Council meetings is what she found concerning. Nord is one of two first-time Council members elected in April of 2019. Karyn Smith is the other newcomer to the Council.

In Nord’s questions, Lorenz said she hears “a basic mistrust of Town staff that makes up our local government.” She cited that when Nord makes an inquiry about an issue, his question checking to see if there might be a policy on what he is referring to comes with what she identified as an “us versus them mentality.” She explained to Nord that such attitudes “breeds a sense of mistrust. That includes a mistrust in government, a mistrust in all of us, a mistrust in the staff.”

She cited Nord will ask, depending on a particular subject, “Don’t we have a policy on this?” She pivoted by reminding the Council as a whole “we are all on the same team. We all have the word Normal in our title somewhere – Normal City Manager, Normal Town Council person, Normal Police Chief, Normal Water Department. We’re all on the same team.”

Directly, to Nord, she explained that when he asks if there is not a policy related to a certain matter, it comes across as though he doubts what the Town Staff are doing concerning certain matters.

“We should challenge each other to do better, but we should do it with a level of respect,” she said. “Tearing one person down tears all of us down, and it also tears the whole team down.”

She added she felt the Council has “begun to vacillate between some form of flight or fight,” explaining that on some issues, when there are disagreements among Council members, others, she said, stay away and “wait for it to get over, and sit idly by and don’t say anything.” But she added, there will be Council members who will respond to such moments and either defend or refute what has been said. If they aren’t doing one of the other, she said, Council members become observers during those moments.

Lorenz did list four things she said she would like to see the Council work on to improve relations within the group. The four items are: “To hold ourselves to a standard of trust in each other and in Town Staff,” she said; Work to find common ground, which would include working toward 7-0 votes on issues; Not vote in dissention just to be disagreeable; and Avoid casting abstention votes.

On the latter item, Lorenz said sometimes a vote comes down “to being between bad and awful because there is no easy answer, but to abstain shirks that responsibility.”

The fourth item Lorenz recommended was for Council members to be held accountable for watching conduct – to call out tones of mistrust; and calling out points of order when needed.

Trying to meet those challenges, Lorenz said, “will make every first and third Monday a whole lot more productive and a whole lot more valuable. It’s what our taxpayers expect and deserve.”

Reached Sunday for comment, Nord said, “My position and role is to oversee government, which by default means you have to question government.” He cited Dixon, Illinois where a lack of council oversight led to that community’s comptroller being able to embezzle nearly $53 million eight years ago.

“This is the way the whole system was built, with checks and balances,” Nord said.

Concerning what Lorenz sees as mistrust in Town staff on Nord’s part, Nord said, “She may interpret it that way, but I see it as my asking a question, and if I don’t get answers to the question, then, I keep asking ‘til I get the answers.”

Nord said when he has questions, the only person he asks questions of is City Manager Pam Reece, who is, in effect, the only employee the Council has reporting to them.

Lorenz has been bothered by the fact Nord has been asking Town Staff since the national pandemic started how many at-home movies have been sold, allowing residents to watch films at home they would otherwise go see at the Normal Theater were it possible. The Town is selling viewings of films for $12 each. Nord said the Town spent slightly over $5,000 to advertise the films, and he has inquired of Town staff how many have been purchased, and how much money has the Town taken in as a result.

Nord said he last received an update on how much the Town has taken in from that program about a month and a half ago but no further updates since. “When I find that out, I can determine whether that’s a good value,” Nord said. “Without that information, I don’t know if what was spent was a good value.”

Of Lorenz’s four suggestions she said would improve how the Council gets along, Nord said he want to see Council negotiate to arrive at 7-0 votes. “If it’s just an ultimatum, take it or leave it, then that’s going to be a challenge.” He cited an omnibus item from that meeting’s agenda approving a billing service agreement between the Town and Michigan-based AccuMed Billing, Inc. for ambulance billing services for the Town.

Council members voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution with Nord opposing. He said he would have preferred to have had additional information before deciding. “Otherwise, on votes like that, I’m being asked to take it or leave it,” Nord said. He said he wished another company had put it a competitive bid in this case.

“Normal is a diverse community,” Nord said. “We’re not always going to have everybody on the same page for everything. So, I don’t necessary think it’s bad that you’ve got someone presenting an opposing view. Seven and 0 looks like rubber stamp voting, or there’s some party not being represented.”

NORMAL – As the pandemic which the country has dealt with since earlier this year continues, a plan formulated by Normal-based Unit 5 School District to reopen schools in August was unanimously approved by School Board members. The plan received unanimous approval of Board members with the condition that the district’s new superintendent will have latitude to revise the plan as situations develop.

But the plan was met with concern from parents and some district teachers who addressed the Board’s first in-person session since mid-March, held at Normal Community West High School.

The Board meeting was the first one held in person since the district closed school buildings by order of the State and had students engage in remote learning in March. About 125 people social distanced in and around the school cafeteria.

Two Board members – Taunia Leffler and Barry Hitchins – participated by phone, making use of a Board policy which allows for it. This was also the first Board meeting for new superintendent Dr. Kristen Kendrick-Weikle since being introduced in January and starting officially on July 1.

Spectators numbering around 125 spread out to be socially distant in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Some sat in the cafeteria and kitchen area while others sat in rows distancing from one another in corridors near the cafeteria, listening intently to Board members and citizens who made public comments.

Among the mandated precautions the plan devised by the district are: Students must wear masks at all times unless eating or outside; Schools will perform social distancing to the greatest extent possible; Physical education classes will take place while adhering to social distancing guidelines as much as possible and without the use of locker rooms, except for swimming classes.

The district will continue providing breakfast and lunch under the plan, with students only allowed to remove masks for eating. Under the plan, only 50 students at a time will be allowed in cafeterias to allow for social distancing.

Pre-Kindergarten students will attend half-day, either morning or afternoon; Kindergarten through fifth grade will attend in person five days a week, and sixth graders through high school seniors will attend in person Mondays and Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, teachers will lead remote discussions, followed on Thursdays and Fridays by students engaged in learning and working on assignments at their own pace.

Before the vote, during public comments, 13 people spoke, all in opposition to the plan. A few were district employees. Michelle Kraft, a Benjamin Elementary School second grade teacher, told Board members those who teach in the district are aware in-person learning “is best whenever possible.” She said the district plan for social distancing aren’t realistic when it comes to working it at younger grade levels. “The plan says to do social distancing the best that you can, but how can you in a busy second grade classroom?,” she asked.

Lyndsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association, the union that represents nearly 1,000 district teachers, told Board members. “When the pandemic hit, our members immediately adjusted and adapted, working remotely to support the growth and learning of our students. She called remote learning “an immense challenge for our students, their parents and caregivers.”

She stated UFEA did not “directly participate in the development of this plan,” established by the district’s pandemic advisory committee. “We would have liked to work collaboratively with the district on the development of the plan.”

Following the meeting, Dr. Kendrick-Weikle countered Dickinson’s claim concerning whether UFEA members were included as part of the advisory committee for input. “They were included in the pandemic advisory committee,” she said. “They were provided opportunities to speak up.” The superintendent specified Dickinson was present for a meeting held on July 17 in the district office when the district’s initial plan was reviewed prior to the plan being publicly announced.

“I am concerned the plan does not do enough to address the number of bodies in class each day,” added teacher George Van Winkle in his public comments, pointing out there are as many as 25 students or more in an average elementary school classroom, a number that jumps to around 30 or more once kids enter junior high and high school. He asked how, one aspect of the plan, splitting class sizes alphabetically, would assure class numbers would keep kids safe from potential exposure to the virus.

Tyler McWhorter, a teacher at Normal Community High School, asked Board members to vote in favor of the plan if they felt it was good enough to use in order to send their own children back to class, a request which received a smattering of applause from attendees. He also issued a challenge to Normal Town leaders and officials from the City of Bloomington, McLean County, and local State leaders to “come spend a full day in one of our schools under this new plan because we are past the point of merely discussing it in terms of public education.”

Prefacing her comments with the number of people who have lost lives as a result of the pandemic, Aditi Sharma, who will be an NCHS senior this fall, added, “There is one thing we should never be forced to compromise, and that is the safety of our families. Opening schools now is irresponsible and dangerous. People are tired, frustrated, and misinformed. As a result, they are not social distancing and wearing masks, especially teenagers.”

“Can you fully assure that students are social distancing in school of over 2,000 kids, who are being divided into three groups only for attendance?’ Sharma asked Board members, reminding that “teenagers are impulsive and don’t always listen to authority. Take it from me, a teenager.”

Contract With Laborers’ Union Approved: Board members also approved a contract with staff members who belong to Local 362 of Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents full-time and part-time custodians.

By Steve Robinson | July 20, 2020 - 10:26 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – At their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, done remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Normal Town Council members received a financial snapshot as to how the Town is holding up through the event’s first quarter. The result appears to be Normal is holding its own and may even be doing better than most communities in the area.

Town Financial Director Andrew Huhn provided a recap of what expenses the Town has seen increase while others have been untouched as a result of the pandemic which saw businesses either limit hours or close entirely until given approval through a State-directed reopening plan.

Huhn stated Normal financially found itself, in general, either at or above expected numbers in terms of incoming revenue during the first quarter of the year. In addition, he added, the Town saw savings in the form of fewer expenses related to cultural arts and parks and recreation programs and activities which were postponed or cancelled as a result of the shutdown

He added a number of factors played a role in the Town being able to remain in good financial shape at the early stages of the crisis. Those factors ranged from the Town being able to hang onto savings from cuts in programs and salary to local electric car manufacturer Rivian Automotive’s opting to not accept a $1 million payment from the Town.

Mayor Chris Koos credited City Manager Pam Reece and Huhn for their efforts regarding the Town budget during the crisis, and in addition, asked residents to continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing as a means to keep the Town from having to experience any future shutdowns.

At a Council session in May, Reece and Huhn provided Council members a report concerning how they thought the pandemic could affect the Town’s general fund. Estimates made by Town officials predicted COVID would impact the Town to the tune of $10.4 million. But at Monday’s session, Huhn and Reece explained the Town has seen a drop in revenue of around $7.8 million in revenue to be expected in several tax categories.

Residents were able to see the session either online via Zoom streaming service, or broadcast live on YouTube.

Council Unanimously Approves Amending 2019-20 Operating & Capital Investment Budgets: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance amending both the Town Operating Budget and Investment Budget for fiscal year 2019-20. The Town sought Council approval to amendment to increase revenue for FY2019-20 in the amount of $6,993,298 and a budget amendment which would increase authorized expenditures in the amount of $5,536,177.

Normal’s Town-wide revenue budget saw a net increase in the 2019-20 fiscal year of $6,993,298 boosting that revenue to $137,099,109. Among the reasons for the boost included the Town transferring surplus from the general fund to the Roadway Fund and better than expected revenue results in the General Fund.

The State of Illinois contributed to the Town’s financial health, too, according to Huhn’s report. Also part of his report was that the Town also received an additional $258,000 in Motor Fuel Tax funds from the State’s 19-cent gas tax increase. In terms of other funds from the State, the Town reported there were no significant decreases in monies received.

The Town-wide expenditure budget also saw an increase of $5,536,177, to $134,475,579.

Council Unanimously Approves Expansion Plan Sought By Rivian Automotive: Without discussion, Council members unanimously approved an amended site plan for Rivian Automotive, located at 100 N. Rivian Motorway on Normal’s west side. Among the items counted as part of the electric vehicle manufacturer’s plan were plans to expand the current building with additions which would range in size from 39,000 sq. ft. to 262,000 sq. ft. for a total of 576,000 sq. ft. The company would add landscaping as required by Town code.

Normal Planning Commission held a public hearing for the Rivian project on July 9. No members of the public testified. The Planning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of the plan as submitted.

Council Unanimously Approves Preliminary Plan For Pheasant Run Subdivision: Council members unanimously approved a preliminary subdivision plan for a 102.6-acre subdivision located north and east of the intersection of Raab Road and Linden Street. The majority of the subdivision is zoned R-1B Medium Density Residence District, with a couple of areas zoned R-2 Mixed Residence, known as Pheasant Run subdivision.

The Preliminary Subdivision Plan for the Pheasant Ridge Subdivision was approved by the Town Council in September, 1994 and shows a future roadway connection to the currently undeveloped property northwest of Pheasant Ridge. A preliminary subdivision plan provided to the Town lays out the lots, streets and outlots.

In order for this neighborhood to expand, Normal Planning Commission members needed to reapprove the preliminary plan proposed for it. Normal Planning Commission members did just that during a public hearing for the reapproval on July 9. Two members of the Pheasant Ridge Homeowners’ Association spoke, after which NPC members unanimously approved the plan to send it on to Council members.

Pair Of Nussbaum Trucking Requests Approved: In a single unanimous vote, Council members approved a resolution reapproving the final plat of Nussbaum Transportation’s second subdivision and Nussbaum’s Third Subdivision, located at 19336 North 1425 East Road. In a report to Council members submitted by Town Planner Mercy Davison, it was explained that approving the final plats was conditional, in part, on the developer filing various certificates with the

Town within 90 days. But, one of the required certificates – the drainage certificate – was recently submitted.

Because the original 90-day period for filing for plats has expired, the Town Council needed to reapprove the final plats prior to the Town Clerk recording both with the County.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the public hearing of July 6, 2020 pertaining to the proposed amendment of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Citizen Participation Plan.

• Approval of the minutes of the public hearing of July 6, 2020 pertaining to the proposed revision of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program’s 2020-2024 consolidated plan and program year 2020-2021 action plan.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council meeting of July 6, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of July 15, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an agreement with the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program Environmental Reviews.

• A resolution to award the bid for the Oak Street water main replacement project to Bloomington-based George Gildner Inc. at a total cost of $545,600, plus up to a potential $15,000 bonus for early completion.

• A resolution to award the bid for the replacement of a standby emergency generator for the West Booster Station to Wilcox Electric at a total cost of $119,900 and authorizing an associated budget adjustment of $19,900.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Peoria-based Hoerr Construction Inc. for the 2020 sanitary and storm sewer cleaning and televising contract in the amount of $411,664.40.

• A resolution approving three year continuing service agreements and hourly rates and direct costs for professional engineering and architectural services for 2020-2023 for various Town departments.

• A resolution Authorizing a first addendum to the billing service agreement with AccuMed Billing Inc. for ambulance billing.

• A resolution considering release of executive session minutes from June 19, 2017; And Feb. 18, April 15, and December 16, all 2019.