By Steve Robinson | September 21, 2021 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board received a course on the current state of the district’s finances from its finance director during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Sept. 20, held in the auditorium of Normal Community West High School.

Board members unanimously approved a budget for the 2021-22 school year totaling $212.3 million. Marty Hickman, chief financial officer for the district, talked to Board members about historical budget trends which often create deficits. The budget passed is the same as the tentative one presented before Board members in August.

Hickman reported the fund in which there is the most revenue, the district’s education fund, expects to stay in the black once the new school year ends. He showed the district will take in $121,353,815 and anticipates spending $121,023,837 over the course of this school year. That will allow the district to have money left over totaling $329,977.

Almost 60 percent of Unit 5’s revenue is the result of citizens paying local property taxes while about 20 percent is the result of state funding. Another 10 percent is from federal funding.

But four funds used by the district will be in the red when the new school year ends in June. In descending order, those are: Working Cash, Fire Prevention and Safety, Transportation, and Municipal Retirement.

First Student Bus Co. Presented Update: The session began with Chris Coyle, area general manager for First Student, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based transportation service, updating Board members on progress being made as the new year began, with location manager Nick Sorey at his side. Coyle reminded Board members First Student is transporting students in “a new reality, a Covid environment.” He said that meant dealing with “protocols we have never had to deal with before.” That has included having employees in quarantine for up to 10 days if they contract the disease, causing the company to look for new drivers while others recover.

He pledged the company would continue “to train and retain” the numbers of drivers needed to help the district transport students in a timely manner. Board Member Jeremy DeHaai asked Coyle how long it would be before families could expect service from the company to be routine in terms of regularly-expected pick-up and dropping off students. “We’re committed to working with the superintendent and the Unit 5 staff to get through challenges,” Coyle responded.

Even with vaccinations being obtained, this fall, Coyle told Board members the company struggles to hire enough drivers. He added the company has had to insist sick drivers not come in to work. “We really don’t want people with COVID symptoms to come to work,” he told Board members.

Steven Dean, president of the bus drivers’ union, AFSCME local 2608, spoke to Board members during the meeting’s public comment segment, adding the only solution the company has for meeting the challenging period it’s facing is to hire more drivers.

Coyle added First Student has a goal of 95 percent arrival in their routes. Board Member Stan Gozur double checked with Coyle to see if the company was looking at what he called “habitually late routes.” Coyle said the company does look at those.

NORMAL – As a result of a series of four resolutions passed by Normal Town Council members at their regularly scheduled session Monday night in Council Chambers, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Store, and an RV Park which would be adjacent to it received approval to move forward with construction a 9,800-square-foot gas station with an attached Bojangles restaurant. In addition, developers will add a 13,000-square-foot Speedco tires shop at the northwest corner of North Main Street and Interstate 55.

The proposed site plan also included a sign 200-foot high, which would require Council members to approve an exception for it since the Town limits such signs height to 75-feet. Town staff did recommend a code variance to allow the sign.

In the first of four resolutions discussed, Council members voted unanimously without discussion to approve an ordinance rezoning the property the 30.5 acre truck stop will sit on changing its zoning from Agriculture to B-1 (General Business).

A second resolution approving a site plan for Love’s passed unanimously. Among the amenities planned for the site, according to a report prepared for Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, will be a gas station with a convenience store, restaurant, and dog park; A truck stop with truck fueling, a Speedco tire and repair shop which will include 91 spaces for overnight parking; and a 63-space recreational vehicle park complete with grilling area, trail system, and dog park.

Council members unanimously approved a third resolution conditionally approving a preliminary subdivision plan for the new business, and with a fourth unanimous vote approved the final plat of the travel center subdivision where the business will be housed at the northwest corner of Main St. and I-55.

But while Council’s vote gave the go-ahead for the project, they heard an objection from John Larkin, Hudson, whose father lives on a farm just north of the proposed truck stop. Larkin said he was at that meeting “to advocate for” a fence along the northern edge of the Love’s property.

Among his concerns were activity from the tire repair center which would be open 24 hours, and security which would keep unwanted visitors from going onto his father’s nearly century old 30 acre property. He said he was also concerned about potential trespassers and trash from the truck stop which might end up on his father’s property without some sort of high fencing.

“We’re asking for a more substantial fence, a solid fence, and a sound barrier,” Larkin said.

Moratorium Related To Utility Late Payments And Shutoffs To End In October: City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the moratorium the Town put in effect when the pandemic began in March 2020 related to late payment fees and electricity shutoffs associated with utilities will come to an end in October. “We are looking to lift that moratorium in October which means we will start notifying those customers in our utility billing system of their current status,” she explained. “If they have past due accounts, we will start working with them on a repayment schedule, if appropriate.” She added the Town would look to see if some of these people would be eligible for assist programs. “We’ll work closely to get all the eligible folks appropriate assistance and working on a repayment schedule for our customers,” she explained.

Council Approves Reducing Lots At Evergreen Villas: Council members voted 6-1 to approve a change in the number of lots at the Evergreen Village Planned Unit Development, from 13 down to 12. Council Member Kathleen Lorenz cast the lone dissenting vote. Council members heard from residents including former Mayor Paul Harmon, who spoke during public comments on behalf of roughly two dozen residents who live at Evergreen Village who attended the session. Among their concerns, he said, was that residents found working with the developer difficult, explaining the developer failed to keep some promises made to residents.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of Sept. 7, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 15, 2021.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Peoria-based Koenig Body and Equipment, Inc. for the purchase and installation of snow plow and salt spreading equipment on two Town Water Department dump trucks totaling $81,018 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing adoption of Medicare Advantage Insurance benefit for Post-65 retirees and covered spouses.

BLOOMINGTON – Two Normal Police officers were honored for heroism by a local Sons of the American Revolution group and Daughters of the American Revolution group in ceremonies held Sept. 17 at Grace Church in Normal. Their honors were preceded by remarks by a current McLean County Circuit Judge giving a tutorial on cases he has handled over the years and the role the U.S. Constitution played in some of those cases.

Normal Police Officers Kylie Hepler and Dylan Miller were honored by SAR with that group’s Life Saving Commendation. The officers responded to a call on March 22 to go to an apartment in northwest Normal at 3p.m. What they found at the scene was a victim laying on the floor with a gunshot wound to the abdomen and left shoulder. The victim had lost a great deal of blood from the shoulder injury.

Hepler applied pressure on the shoulder while Miller applied a tourniquet to the victim’s left arm. Once a Normal Fire Dept. ambulance arrived, Hepler pointed out the wounds while Miller helped carry the victim to the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors determined the bullet in the victim’s shoulder had perforated an artery, and the victim was transferred to Carle Hospital in Urbana.

“We all relied on our training at the time of the incident,” Hepler said. She added, “I’m honored to be considered for this.” Miller thought the honor was “pretty cool.”

Hepler, who was on the force two years and Miller a year and a half at the time of the incident. Miller is no longer an officer, opting to work in the community’s private sector.

Normal Assistant Chief Among Other Honorees: Three other men were also recognized by being awarded SAR’s Distinguished Service Certificate. They are: Eric Klingele, assistant chief, NPD, who has 28 years of service; Gregory A. Scott, retired interim Bloomington Police Department, who has 25 years of service; and Michael Kemp, retired chief of Danvers Police Department, who was appointed chief in 2013.

McLean County Sheriff’s Detective Bryan Hanner Recognized For Work In CIRA Bomb Threat Investigation: The organizations also recognized McLean County Sheriff’s Detective Bryan Hanner for his efforts during an investigation of a bomb threat at Central Illinois Regional Airport on Oct. 27, 2020. The threat was determined to be unfounded but Hanner was assigned to complete a follow-up investigation related to the case. He used investigative techniques which help determine the threat came from a suspect living in Florida who made some 56 threats to other airports including Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. When not conducting investigations, Hanner is a field training officer with the Sheriff’s Department, as well as serving as a member of its honor guard unit.

El Paso EMS Randy Stroud Earns Commendation: Randy Stroud of El Paso Emergency Medical Services, was honored with the SAR Medical Service Commendation for his work educating students, helping develop the local EMS service, and aiding in development of field training of other EMS workers.

BPD Officer Matthew Russell, State’s Attorney Aaron Frederick Receive Commendations: Officer Matthew Russell of the Bloomington Police Department, and Aaron Frederick, attorney in McLean County’s State’s Attorney’s Office, were also honored, each receiving SAR’s Law Enforcement Commendation.

Russell has been with BPD two years, during which time he has either initiated or assisted in 94 arrests. As a member of BPD, he has also taken part in the kickoff event of Special Olympics Illinois’ Opening Ceremonies.

Frederick went from being a probation officer in Champaign County to later becoming a 12-year veteran of University of Illinois Police Department, moving up to the rank of Sergeant. In 2017, Frederick joined McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor.

McLean Circuit Judge Lawrence Addresses Gathering: Prior to award honorees being recognized, McLean County Circuit Judge Paul Lawrence addressed those attending the session. “I want to congratulate the law enforcement from this area and our county is outstanding and I know that we all benefit from that,” Lawrence told those gathered. Lawrence practiced law in Bloomington for 17 years before being appointed an Associate Circuit Judge in 2002. In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed him as a Circuit Judge and he was elected as a Circuit Judge in 2012. Currently, Lawrence is presiding judge of the civil division of McLean County’s 11th Judicial Circuit of Illinois.

Admitting he was actually not a Son of the American Revolution, he said, “I am very proud of my American heritage,” as he was a 13th generation descendent of William Brewster, who served as spiritual leader on the Mayflower, one of the first ships that found America.

Lawrence said that as a result of his being on the bench, “I have had an opportunity to interpret the Constitution.” He said it, historically, is the oldest known Constitution in existence currently. As far as State law is concerned, he explained, when his father, William, was practicing law, State statutes could be found in one bound volume. Today, the younger Lawrence said, State laws have stretched out to be found in 10 volumes behind his bench.

“My father said that for every law they pass, they ought to remove one,” Judge Lawrence said. It was a line that brought a smattering of applause from the nearly 100 people gathered for the event. But after saying that, Lawrence was quick to add, “We’re at 10 volumes as life becomes more and more complicated.”

“We get to interpret the Constitution occasionally, but it’s all those laws that have been passed since then that we are really interpreting,” Lawrence explained, adding, “Of course, all of those laws are based upon the Constitution and its general framework, and all of those laws must pass Constitutional muster.”

His court, he explained, handles civil lawsuits, most commonly related to auto accidents, where defendants are being sued for $50,000 or more. He followed that up by explaining the 7th Amendment to the Constitution allows those bringing suit to sue for $20. It was a fact that produced chuckles from some attendees. He explained he has also handled cases related to medical malpractice, asbestos exposure, imminent domain, and sexually violent offenses.

By Steve Robinson | September 18, 2021 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Two long-term Bloomington public servants who helped advance the city’s fortunes over the years were honored at a ceremony where trees were planted and plaques were placed to honor their memories Friday. The trees were planted in front of Bloomington’s Center For The Performing Arts (BCPA).

Richard Buchanan and Judy Markowitz will be remembered by Bloomington residents, and perhaps by residents of both Bloomington and Normal for the efforts they put forth in improving their city. Each served on Bloomington’s City Council for two terms, and each won election as Mayor. Buchanan was Bloomington’s mayor from 1977 to 1985, and later was elected to McLean County Board, and also spent more than 35 years as a Bloomington liquor commissioner.

Markowitz became not only Bloomington’s first female mayor but also its first Jewish mayor, leading the city from 1997 to 2005.

Oak trees were planted on the grounds of the Center to honor their memories. Judy Buchanan, widow of Richard Buchanan, and one of Markowitz’s two sons, Scott Harrison, were present for the ceremony. Her other son, Ian Harrison, was not able to attend the ceremony.

During the ceremony, current Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe honored Buchanan and Markowitz, saying, “They each were incredible human beings in their own right and made a profound impact on the community. I could not think of a better way to remember them than to plant trees in front of the BCPA as both were significant contributors to the quality of life we all enjoy today in this community. Their love of community was only matched by their courage as they often plowed ahead to achieve the goals they set forth for the community, even in the face of stiff opposition.”

Mwilambwe recalled meeting Buchanan as he was trying to get appointed to a Bloomington City Council seat, after which Buchanan decided to throw his support for Mwilambwe’s campaign. “After meeting me and talking a few times, Rich decided to throw his support behind me,” Mwilambwe said. “And in typical Rich way, he went on the radio and told whoever would listen why the Council was wrong in rejecting my appointment. I wish I had kept that recording. He was very colorful in his comments. I can’t help but chuckle when I think of him. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Rich.”

Mwilambwe’s memory of Markowitz involved his parents, as he explained, “In 2013, I told her that my parents were in town from Congo. She gave me her card and said, ‘Please bring them over to my house when you have a chance, I’d love to meet them.’ Sure enough, I called her one day and we went over to visit her at her home. She was so welcoming and kind to my parents and even gave them a tour of her home. That meant a lot to my parents to the point where they would often ask me how she was doing when I would speak to them on the phone. They were very sad to hear of her passing.”

“As you can see,” Mwilambwe said, “Both Rich and Judy were exceptional human beings who deserve to be remembered not only by us but also by future generations who will continue to benefit from their contributions to our community.”

Of having their loved one become remembered with trees, which include plaques attached to each, both Scott Harrison and Judy Buchanan say they were pleased with the honor. “It’s very nice that the city has done this,” Harrison said. “She loved coming here and I love memorizing my mom anyway I can. It means a lot. This tree will be here for many, many years so everyone can come out here and see the plaque when they come to events here.”

“Our whole family is very grateful for this,” Buchanan’s widow, Judy, said afterward. “It’s also unexpected.” She added her husband “didn’t choose public service as an advocation for any recognition. He wanted to do it. He loved to serve. He did it happily and with gusto, so we’re just happy that others have recognized his contribution and are willing to stand up and thank him.”

When not presiding over Bloomington-related events, Mwilambwe, who works as Equal Opportunity Officer in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access at Illinois State University, spoke to a crowd of roughly 35 people about interactions he had with both Buchanan and Markowitz.

NORMAL – Normal Community West High School had but seconds to try to send their fans home happy Friday night at Wildcat Field. Trailing Bloomington 14-7 in the last couple of minutes of the Big 12 Conference contest, the Wildcats had the football but had not crossed midfield as they sought a big play in hopes of beating the Purple Raiders.

Then, with 19.9 seconds remaining in the contest, senior quarterback Kolton Lindsay connected with junior wide receiver Matthew Marsaglia for a 57 yard touchdown followed by a successful point after try by junior kicker Owen Senn which gave the Wildcats a wild 14-10 win over the Purple Raiders.

To the fans, it was another successful play. For Marsaglia, it came across like a moment of déjà vu because he had done something similar under similar circumstances. The 5 foot-8, 150 pounder told reporters he experienced a near-exact situation playing his freshmen year. Of the play he knew he needed to catch against the Purple Raiders, he said, “I just knew I had to catch this. I knew if I didn’t catch this, it’s going to be so embarrassing.”

But having caught it and scored, there was no embarrassment as Marsaglia put his team in front for the win helping Normal West keep a perfect 3-0 Big 12 Conference record. Normal West is 3-1 overall on the season.

Normal West scored early in the contest on their first series in the first quarter, as Lindsay connected with senior wide receiver Jamarcus Webb on a 9 yard touchdown pass at 8:35 in the first quarter followed by Senn’s extra point, putting Normal West up, 7-0. Both defenses managed to keep their opponents from scoring for the remainder of the half, and each side went scoreless in the third quarter.

Freshman kicker Taylor Anderson helped Bloomington High (2-2 Big 12 and overall) narrow West’s lead, 7-3, with a 24 yard field goal with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter, capping their longest drive of the night consisting of 16 plays going 95 yards for the score.

Normal West wound up punting to conclude the ensuing set of downs, and with the ball back in their possession, BHS went to work from their own 49. Twelve plays later, junior quarterback Marcus Griffin used a keeper play to score with 52 seconds left in the contest, followed by Senn’s extra point to allow BHS to take a 10-7 lead. From there, fans saw Normal West quickly work against the clock while holding back Purple Raiders defenders en route to the victory.

“This was another big game for us to keep learning and get ourselves ready for the postseason,” Normal West head coach Nate Fincham explained. “Bloomington was more physical than us. That’s what it comes down to. They dictated the tempo to us and that’s where our mistakes happened.” He said his team needed to maintain a physical presence and learn to not let up on opponents.

He added his players need to “learn to finish drives, finish blocks, and finish tackles, and we didn’t have that problem the first two weeks. We’ve done a pretty good job of making the plays necessary previously but we did not do the job today.”

“We did what they thought they would do,” BHS head coach Scott Godfrey said in assessing the Wildcats team his team saw. “The play at the end of the game was the difference.”