Town of NormalNORMAL – A number of topics key to the Town of Normal’s future, including the Metro Zone Agreement impasse with Bloomington, and the suggestion of one library for the Twin Cities, were among the subjects discussed during a debate between four candidates up for three Normal Town Council seats. Candidates Chemberly Cummins and Ron Ulmer, both seeking first terms, and incumbents Scott Preston and Kevin McCarthy, each seeking second terms on the Council, met in a debate held at University Galleries at Uptown Station on Thursday, March 23. The one hour debate was organized by the League of Women Voters and broadcast live by Illinois State University’s NPR affiliate WGLT FM.

Metro Zone Rift Discussed: The four candidates discussed the current disagreement over the Metro Zone Agreement. The Metro Zone Agreement is a tax and infrastructure sharing agreement covering portions of the west side of the Twin Cities which had been in effect for 30 years until Bloomington’s City Council voted by a 7-2 count to unilaterally dissolve it.

“The two cities sparring on this agreement is bad for economic development,” Ulmer said. “I would suggest that we just let it go.” He added the disagreement, with both communities’ leaders publicly disagreeing as they have about this doesn’t look good when “the Twin Cities don’t look united.”

Cummings said she was looking for “a rebuild on the relationship” between the Twin Cities regarding the agreement. She said she sees the patching up between the municipalities “as something that can be done.”

McCarthy said he was in favor of “pausing the agreement and coming back to the table” to discuss it with Bloomington officials, a notion he said was mentioned in an editorial in the local daily newspaper.

Preston said Normal Council and Town Staff being able to have conversations with their Bloomington counterparts is what is important, even if leaders in the two communities don’t agree. “Working for the betterment of the larger community is vital,” he said.

Ready For Budgetary Responsibility: On the subject of budgetary responsibility, Ulmer said capping revenues and then looking at expenditures was the way to approach how Normal budgets its funds. But he said he didn’t want to see any further property tax or sales tax increases, as the community witnessed with the sales tax increase toward the end of last year.

Cummings said she believed watching to make sure the Town has enough revenue for expenses, both known and unknown, was important. McCarthy called the Town’s budgeting process “both efficient and effective,” adding that “being able to forecast where you’re going to be five years down the road is important.” He said that was important to the citizens of the Town because “it’s your money. I take that responsibility very seriously.”

Both spending and income are considered when it comes to the Town’s budget, Preston said. He added the money the Town takes in belongs to families and workers who live here and shoppers who come here. Concerning helping set the Town’s budget, he said, “I take that responsibility very seriously. This is the people’s government. It’s our responsibility to provide excellent public services and a quality of life we’ve grown accustomed to love and cherish here in Normal for a long time.”

One Library For Twin Cities?: Some of the questions asked by moderator Willis Kern of WGLT were submitted by listeners. One listener asked why both communities don’t just invest in building a single library. Normal has been looking for a tract of land upon which to build a larger library located south of the railroad tracks in Uptown.

McCarthy said once the two city governments resume talks, floating the subject of a library would be interesting, and would be something he would support.

Preston said once the two communities iron out their differences, there would be “possibilities for us to work together. Libraries are not what they were 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he said, adding, “They are technology driven.” For that reason, he said, he would want to make sure the Town made the best use of its dollars in that area.

Ulmer said he would like the feasibility of combining the two libraries to be looked into. “In this day and age, and with our mobility and all, combining libraries would be great,” he said. He added he would like to see smaller “satellite” libraries established, rather than building a large library. He said the satellite libraries would be in within walking or biking distance and, as a result, citizens “wouldn’t need a car” to get to them.

Cummings, calling libraries “resource epicenters,” said she would like to have libraries provide a space for groups to meet in addition to being where people could check out books and other materials. But to Cummings, such a discussion can only happen after Normal and Bloomington officials rebuild their relationship from the Metro Zone issue. The two sides need to “start a conversation, and take a look at what options we have.”

Supporting Small Business As Big Box Stores Exit: With Gordman’s department store announcing the closing of its store in College Hills Mall, coupled with J. C. Penney announcing it will close its longtime store in Bloomington’s Eastland Mall, the candidates discussed big box retailers and the effort to keep local businesses active in the current economy.

Keeping people employed was the focus here upon the news that Gordman’s would be exiting after being in business at Normal’s mall for 12 years. “We have a fantastic, vibrant community that’s going through a time of transition,” Preston said. “Being able to promote an environment where businesses want to come here:” is where the Town should start, he said. He added, sometimes, that means government needs to step out of retailers’ way. He added having a community that promotes a great quality of life aids in bringing people and businesses with high paying jobs here.

Ulmer said the Town, City of Bloomington, and Economic Development Council should continue working together to attract those kinds of employers in order for the jobs to come here. He added Normal should continue to offer “amenities which continue to make it an attractive community.” He said the Town can afford to do that. He did caution that while the Town has the ability to bring in employers and workers seeking good jobs, “the Town should not overtax them.”

“We definitely have to look at partnering with education and help grow smaller businesses already here in order for job opportunities to continue for residents, McCarthy said. He said the collaboration between employers and local universities helps “give kids real life experiences and connect them to our local companies.”

“What we need to do is focus on are the smaller businesses which are the cornerstone of any community,” Cummings added. She said the Town needs to find ways as a Council, to make sure smaller businesses keep growing. She said while there are resources at the McLean County Chamber of Commerce to aid in that effort, the Town needs to do more as well.

By Steve Robinson | March 23, 2017 - 10:27 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – One might say Kingsley Junior High School put some weight and muscle into its “good news” report to members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board at the group’s regular meeting at district headquarters on March 22. Board members were introduced to a genuine wrestling champion.

Timmy Vaughn, an eighth grader at KJHS, was recognized for having been crowned champion in Illinois Elementary School Association’s State Wrestling Tournament in the 215 pound division. The event was held at Convocation Center on the campus of Northern Illinois University.

In just his second season participating in the sport, and under the guidance of KJHS Wrestling Coach Dave Lehr, Vaughn struck quickly when meeting challengers to achieve this accomplishment.

In his first round at State, Vaughn defeated Jason Farnham of Sterling Challand Junior High School with a fall at 1:58. To get to State, he was victorious in his quarterfinal match against Brody Esp of Joy Mercer County High School, outscoring his opponent, 8-0. He then pinned Jesiah Bradshaw of Quincy in 3:09 in his semifinal. But his championship match against Josh Woodrey of Forrest Prairie Central proved the most challenging, as it took an overtime to achieve a 3-1 victory. That win evened Vaughn’s record against Woodrey for the season.

When he is not wrestling, Vaughn has provided assistance to a student who was part of the English as Second Language, or ESL program. Lehr and KJHS Associate Principal and Athletic Director Eric Hadden introduced Vaughn to Board members. Vaughn is the son of Steve and Melissa Cooper.

Unit 5 mapPublic Comments Include Survey From Candidate: During the meeting’s public comment segment, Solomon :”Sol” Roberts-Lieb, a candidate for a Board seat, presented Board members with a brief recap of a survey he had conducted concerning current impressions of government. Among the findings he presented: Citizens want the governor and legislators to work to help educators; Class size reduction should be a priority; There should be less testing to determine students’ progress; More communication between parents and teachers; and more core subjects being taught should be related to students’ lives.

A second citizen who spoke, Emma O’Hara, a student teacher at Oakdale School, issued an invitation to Board members to attend the Oakdale School 5th Grade Science Fair. That event will be on Friday, April 7 from 9:30a.m.-10:30a.m., and then again from 1p.m.-2p.m.

Bids For Window Replacement, Chiller Work Approved: Board members approved a trio of window replacement projects to be done at district schools. First, the Board approved a contract to be awarded to J. Spencer LLC for work to be done at KJHS at a cost of $154,500. J. Spencer Construction LLC was one of two firms who bid on the project.

For a project involving the replacement of a chiller and related equipment at Fox Creek Elementary School, Board members unanimously approved awarding the work to Peoria-based O’Brien Brothers, Inc. for a bid cost of $118,000. O’Brien Brothers, Inc., however, was the second lowest bidder for the project. However, because the lowest bidder did not meet specifications required for the project, their lowest bid was rejected.

A similar bid circumstance occurred with bids submitted for repairs on a chiller at Northpoint Elementary School. The second highest bidder for the project out of five companies bidding, Springfield-based Henson Robinson, Inc., was awarded the job with their bid of $84,800. Again, as in the bid for the Fox Creek Elementary project, the company that submitted the lowest bid did not meet specifications required for the project.

By Steve Robinson | March 20, 2017 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – At their regularly scheduled meeting Monday, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to amend the rules it has for public comments at their meetings. As a result, citizens wishing to speak at public meetings such as Town Council and sessions held by other Town government groups may request to speak at meetings whenever they wish and the period of time at a meeting devoted to public comments would last up to 20 minutes. Previous Town rules gave speakers a total of two minutes each to address the Council and other governing bodies, with the total public comment period lasting 10 minutes.

Up until that vote, the Town had a 45-day rule for such comments by persons wishing to address Council members.

Normal’s new policy was put into effect just a few days after the State’s Attorney General’s office determined the Town’s original policy was in violation of the State’s Open Meetings Act.

That initial rule was challenged by local resident Craig Stimpert. Stimpert and two other citizens addressed Council members prior to the Council discussion that led to the vote.

Stimpert made a request of the State’s Attorney General’s office to review the Town’s comment policy. Mayor Chris Koos also sought an opinion from the Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s office called the Town’s 45-day rule too restrictive, leading Town officials to draft an amendment to the policy.

But before the discussion among Council members began, they heard from Stimpert and two other citizens, persons holding opposing views, on the subject. Stimpert said he took the action he did in an attempt to see that the Town created a rule that was less restrictive.

Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli said that, as written, the amended rules didn’t address a concern he brought up to Council members. That rule states that whatever a citizen wants to speak on “must be germane to” items listed on the meeting agenda. Tiritilli said removing that rule would help in case Council members themselves spoke on items not on the published agenda.

Resident Garrett Scott, a former Normal Town Council member, told Council members he supported the amended rule as proposed. He said Council members must spend the bulk of their time at these meetings “on items worked out by the Council, Town Staff, and others interested in civic business.” Without being specific, he added some items in public comments “go too far afield.”

Scott proposed the Town consider a quarterly Town Hall-style meeting for those persons who have grievances, as a possible remedy to what he was describing.

Normal Corporation Counsel Brian Day told Council members the Town “sought some clarity” from the Attorney General’s office concerning the original 45-day rule. But, Day said, the Town didn’t get the clarity it was seeking on the matter.

During Council discussion, Council member Kathleen Lorenz said she disagrees with residents who suggest Normal “doesn’t demonstrate an open attitude” with regard to the subject. “Not everybody has the courage to step up to a microphone or even get on the phone” with a Council member, she said.

She added Council sessions aren’t the only means of addressing an issue with these officials, citing the “Coffee With The Council” event held on March 18 at the Community Activity Center. Nine people attended that event looking to have a conversation, Lorenz told Council members.

Council Member R. C. McBride, the other Council member who participated in the “Coffee” event, admitted “the Open Meetings Act can slow down the governing process.” He added, “That’s not an excuse. But that’s reality.”

Liquor Commission Receives Updates: Council members, meeting in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, received an update as to the status of businesses having paid their licenses to the Town. Normal has a total 75 varying businesses within the community which sell liquor in different forms, from packaged to by the glass.

Commissioners also approved licenses for four additional classes of liquor sales. The classification of license (and the number of such license holders following the meeting) are: Class F – Catering (4); Class H – Outdoor Garden (8); and Class I – Wine Tasting (8). There were also 11 entertainment permits granted to businesses by the Town. The Town has been asked by one prospective video gaming business for a license. When the Town approves that license, there will be a total of 14 such businesses in town.

Mayor Chris Koos, in his capacity as Liquor Commissioner, reported that since December, three establishments have been fined for sale of alcohol to minors. The three have all paid the fines of $250 for each business.

The three establishments were: BZILL, doing business as Blaze Pizza, 1601 E. College Ave., Suite A, Normal; Casey’s Retail Company, doing business as Casey’s General Store #2267, 1930 N. Linden St.; and Red Robin International, Inc., doing business as Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews, 107 S. Veterans Parkway. All three of the businesses’ offenses were their first in a three-year span.

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

• Approval of minutes of a public hearing pertaining to the FY 2017-18 Budget on March 6, 2017.

• Approval of minutes of a public hearing pertaining to the FY 2017-18 the Town’s CDBG 2017-18 Annual Action Plan on March 6, 2017.

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting on March 6, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of March 15, 2017.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of refuse containers from Charlotte, N. C.-based Schaefer Systems International, Inc. in the amount of $25,259.

• A resolution to award the bid for the Tamarack Area (Ironwood Subdivision) and Hovey Ave. water main replacement projects to Bloomington-based George Gildner, Inc. at a total cost of $947,743 plus up to a potential $15,000 bonus for early completion.

• A resolution waiving the formal bid process and authorizing an agreement with Dayton, Ohio-based International Display Systems, Inc., for the installation of an upgrade to the Passenger Information Display System (PIDS) for the new South boarding lobby and South passenger platform.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of LED traffic signal light replacements from Davenport, Iowa-based MoboTrex, Inc. in the amount of $36,552.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing an agreement with Washington, D. C.-based Cardinal Infrastructure, LLC for professional assistance to secure Federal funding for Uptown 2.0 and the Pedestrian Railroad Crossing Project.

• A resolution approving the adoption of the VantageCare Retirement Health Savings Programs for certain classified Normal Fire Department personnel.

• A resolution approving a salary schedule adjustment for classified employees to reflect a cost of living adjustment.

• An ordinance amending Division 4 of the Town’s Fire Prevention Code and Chapter 25 Miscellaneous Division 1 fees.

• An ordinance authorizing the publication of a zoning map.

• An ordinance conditionally and partially approving the final plat of the MP-ONE subdivision by expedited process (2012 W. College Ave.).

Steve RobinsonIn the world of Special Olympics, family is a component of athletes’ lives that receives a high ranking along with all the things it’s dedicated to teach them: Teamwork, sportsmanship, a sense of belonging, some individual skills, and self-worth.

But at many of these events I’ve covered over the years, the parents, grandparents, and siblings come out but sometimes, not as much, any of the siblings’ friends to share in the experience.

Another thing that is missing at Special Olympics competitions that so-called “normal” sporting events have is cheerleaders. This was, after all and for all intent and purposes, a high school basketball game. When was the last time you went to a high school game and there were no cheerleaders?

With regard to that aspect of the event, Rachel Roth, a senior at El Paso Gridley High School, may have started something March 17 at Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus. Roth talked a few of her fellow EPG cheerleaders into coming out to cheer for EPG’s Special Olympics Basketball team during their run for a title.

Roth is the sister of Jordan Peacher, a member of EPG’s team which was making its second appearance at State Basketball. She brought her friends to cheer on the Titans against their first opponent, Rushville Special Olympics.

That meant EPG senior Maddie Morrison, and juniors Lacey Kiefer, and Kailyn Waldemar, all of whom cheer for EPG on sidelines at football and basketball games, would put their skills to use cheering for another Titans team. Morrison said the girls, “figured ‘why not?’ because the joy that the sport brings to Jordan and the other players is greater than anything else we can do for them. It’s just a small act and it lights up their world.”

That meant EPG’s team, and head coach Cindy Martorana and her troops were very happy to see the foursome shaking pompoms and lending encouragement when needed during their first game. EPG team members are: Peacher, Andrew Hartman, Zoey Slightom, Caleb Turner, Brady Neill, Geneva Powell, and Courtney Adkins.

“Jordan and his teammates have talked about coming to State for weeks,” Morrison said. The team qualified for State at District competition, held at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center in January. Morrison said the Special Olympics team members were the ones who planted the idea of having the cheerleaders come to the State Tournament. After the girls agreed to come, Morrison added, team members would say to them when they saw them in school hallways, “Can’t wait to see you!”

“I think I will get joy from seeing this team’s faces light up when they see us at their game,” Kiefer added. “I think it’s just awesome.”

For Waldemar, her experience with Special Olympics came earlier from knowing a cousin who once participated in one of its programs.

Peacher’s Sister Helps With His Basketball Game Skills: Roth said the four siblings in her family, including Peacher, regularly shoot hoops in a local park. In addition to Roth and Peacher, they are joined by an older brother and a younger brother. The foursome spends that time bonding and helping Peacher bolster his playing skills.

As a result of that practice, my brother has excelled quite a lot,” Roth said. And Peacher has returned the favor by attending EPG football and basketball games, to watch his sister and her fellow cheerleaders while taking in Titans games.

What the girls who shook pompoms and cheered got out of this surprised me. Not because of what one of them said but because what she said didn’t seem to take any prodding from the questions I asked (sometimes, for teens of any age, the thought is there, it seems, but the wording isn’t, but it eventually comes forward with a little guidance).

But Morrison had the exact thought for the situation: “This experience we get out of this is greater for us because it gives us a whole different perspective on how to look at life.”

“These athletes take the smallest event and for them, it’s big,” Morrison said. “For us, it’s just the experience of coming here and seeing them happy.”

And after Saturday’s double overtime 38-36 win over Rich Township Saturday at Shirk Center to win their division’s championship, you’ve never seen a happier bunch of players and family members.

As a result, everyone got something out of the experience.

BasketballBLOOMINGTON – El Paso Gridley High School’s Special Olympics Basketball team, having made it to the Special Olympics Illinois State Basketball Tournament March 17 and 18, came away with a first place medals and a team trophy for their efforts, needing double overtime March 18 to defeat Rich Township School District’s Special Olympics team, 38-36.

EPG’s tallest player is Brady Neill, at six foot tall. The rest of the squad range between five foot and six foot tall. Rich Township had three players who were at least six foot tall making them at least a head taller than most of EPG’s squad, and looked to have the upper hand by halftime. EPG found themselves down 10-8 after one quarter and 20-12 by halftime. But by the end of the third quarter, the Titans finally managed to outscore Rich Township 10-8 in the third quarter to pull within six, 28-22 to open the fourth quarter.

From there, EPG’s noted defensive wall and some man-to-man opposition to Rich Township’s drives to the basket only allowed Rich Township to score one bucket in the final quarter while EPG tallied eight points. As a result, when the final buzzer sounded, the game needed an overtime, tied at 30-30. Andrew Hartman’s layup with 48 seconds left in regulation coupled with a pesky defense led by Neill and Jordan Peacher, getting in the way of opponents trying for a last shot with the clock winding down forced the need for the extra period.

Both teams exchanged two baskets each in the first overtime, leading to the period ending with a 34-all tie, forcing the second overtime. Hartman scored twice in the second overtime to lift EPG to victory and their second consecutive first place finish in State Basketball. For his efforts, Hartman scored 26 points in the contest, scoring that amount for the second day in a row, having done it Friday against Rushville.

“They did it, and I knew they could,” said head coach Cindy Martorana following the hard-fought victory, reflecting on the effort her team put forth. . For sportsmanship, among other reasons, referees awarded Peacher a “Spirit Of The Game” honor from this contest.

“I like to score points,” Hartman said calmly after the championship game. He said playing against a team with bigger players “was a little hard but we took our shots and we won.”

“We weren’t concerned that we might not win,” explained team member Courtney Adkins.

Team Gets Prep Rally And Sendoff Local Police, Fire, EMTs: But earning first place wasn’t the only perk Martorana’s team got to enjoy before the tourney even started, according to one player’s parent.

Jackie Peacher, mother of Jordan Peacher, explained the team got a sendoff for State Basketball befitting of any team going for gold or a championship. She said that sendoff to State included a pep assembly at the local elementary school in Gridley so those kids could share in the experience.

Special Olympics IllinoisAt the high school, students lined the hallways, the team passing through a gauntlet of well-wishing classmates on their way to waiting vehicles. All of EPG High School’s students gave the team members high-fives, explained Natalie Adkins, mother of EPG team member Courtney Adkins, who is an EPG High School senior this year. That was followed by El Paso Police and Fire Departments giving the team an escort from town, complete with lights and sirens, to Route 24, on their way to I-39, where they would begin the drive to Normal.

“I was happy and excited to see it,” Andrew Hartman said. He added his mother has the event on video to treasure the moments.

Jordan Peacher said he saw people standing outside the local Casey’s General Store waving as the caravan went by. “I saw them outside there and so, I rolled down my window and waved back,” he said.

“It was very, very cool,” Natalie Adkins said. “We do it for our other athletes that go to State. And to do it for our Special Olympics team was very cool.”

“I thought it was really wonderful,” Jackie Peacher said of the experience. “The school does that kind of thing for the other athletes when their team goes to State. It was great that the community got together for our Special Olympics team. It was just amazing.”

Titans Start Tourney With Win Over Rushville Special Olympics: The Titans opened the tournament at Horton Field House on Illinois State University’s campus with a convincing 64-22 victory over Rushville Special Olympics. The Titans scored 16 points each in the first two quarters, leading 16-4 in the first quarter and 32-16 by halftime. The Titans added to their point production in the third quarter, outpacing their opponents, 12-6, in the quarter to a 44-20 lead going a fourth quarter where they demonstrated a 20-0 run en route to their first victory. Andrew Hartman a “Spirit Of The Game” honor. Andrew’s parents are Samantha Hartman, and Alfred Della Hartman.

Andrew said receiving the award “makes me happy.” Alfred Hartman, his father, said, following the team’s first tournament game. “We’ve been going to the park to shoot hoops when the weather’s nice.” Since his son has been involved in Special Olympics, he added, his son has shown some leadership on the court. Andrew’s mother, Samantha, added, “Andrew is awesome and he did a great job today.”