By Steve Robinson | October 30, 2017 - 10:31 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

lexington logoLEXINGTON – At a meeting with Lexington business leaders Monday, U. S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-18th) said he wants President Donald Trump to succeed in his attempts to, among other things, bring about tax reform because accomplishing that will help America succeed financially.

During a 90-minute session held in a conference room at Breakthru Beverage’s distribution facility in Lexington, LaHood said he doesn’t see potential for Democrats crossing the aisle in Congress to vote for tax reform measures Trump would like to implement.

LaHood said the U.S. hasn’t had comprehensive tax reform for slightly over three decades. He said the plan Republican lawmakers would like to get passed would cut the number of tax breaks from the current 7 “to 3, maybe.”

“We know people are working hard and we’re trying to give the working class a break so they can save money for things like the ability to buy a house, or save for their children’s education.

LaHood said the time the country experienced a 3 percent growth in its economy was 1990 or 1991 and the most it had grown recently was 4 percent nearly 20 years ago. Currently, he said, the country is on the path to 3 percent growth. He explained that when the growth percentage went up previously, the country’s debt shrank.

“We’ve had three quarters of 3 percent growth,” LaHood said in recapping the progress that he has seen this year. “We’ll see how the last quarter goes.”

He said small and large businesses alike, if tax reform is passed, would help reduce corporate taxes by 20 percent and cut taxes for small businesses by 25 percent. “Bringing down taxes will help money go back into businesses in terms of wages and company reinvestment,” LaHood said.

Internationally, the United States’ tax rate, which is between 36 and 40 percent, is steep when compared to tax rates overseas. He cited Ireland’s tax rate of 14 percent, Great Britain’s of 17 percent, and Canada’s of 22 percent to put his point across.

“There’s probably about $3 trillion of cash parked overseas,” he explained, citing Apple Computer’s amount invested in Ireland. Bringing down tax percentages will repatriate those dollars to the U. S.,” LaHood said.

On trade, LaHood said the U. S. must “step up” how it handles trade agreements but not discard the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA. He also said work must continue in Washington to pass a farm bill.

Misc. Items Need Addressing, Too: Other concerns LaHood said need attention by lawmakers include helping strengthen family farming businesses to make them desirable to younger Americans; Updating locks and dams; Updating broadband so it reaches rural areas; and eliminating the national death tax.

Mayor Mentions Lexington’s Goals: Lexington Mayor Spencer Johansson told LaHood that his goal for the Town is to build up Main Street, helping to promote its shops and businesses so that travelers coming off Interstate 55 would consider going beyond the off ramp and come into town. Johansson said he read where the Veterans Administration was going to add a facility in Bloomington. He said that got him wondering why the VA couldn’t consider putting such a facility in Lexington.

“Anytime we can help with an improvement or anytime we can advocate for projects, we will,” LaHood told the Mayor.

Johansson said he wants to see about bringing a Casey’s General Store to town. He said that, in addition to any VA outlet, having the convenience store would be profitable for the Town.

Johansson told LaHood the Town is preparing for the opening off a new water treatment plant next May, and in turn, shutting down the current one.

By Steve Robinson | October 26, 2017 - 10:14 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – One could say Chiddix Junior High School went into orbit to bring back its “good news” report during the meeting of Oct. 25 of Board Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District.

Board members and a small audience present for the meeting at district headquarters learned that CJHS eighth grade student Dhruv Rebba had been working on and successfully achieved a hookup between the school and the International Space Station. The hookup took place on Monday, Oct. 23. Rebba wasn’t alone for the event, however, as roughly 50 students, teachers, and media witnessed the event.

At an event in 2015, Rebba met astronaut Douglas H. Wehlock. That meeting led Whelock to suggest Rebba and CJHS get in touch with Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS).

The very long distance hookup was done in cooperation with Challenger Learning Center, the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Central Illinois Radio Club. As a result of the connection, Rebba and his fellow students got the chance to speak with astronaut Joe Acaba. It took three tries over three school years to arrange, but the 60 students involved with the project were only granted 10 minutes to squeeze in as many questions as they would allow.

Among the questions students formulated through various class discussions and asked Acaba included wanting to know how astronauts stay in shape while on the station; which space travel movie was the most accurate; if the astronauts were able to grow vegetables in space, and how many space walks have the astronauts taken recently. The answer to that last question, Acaba told students was between 3-5 in the last week alone, although he said, that many in that length of time is “pretty unusual.”

Those people who didn’t attend the very long distance communication in person and Board members were able to see a video of the end result as, at the time of the event, it was shown through the social network Facebook’s “Live” streaming service.

Graduation Rate Percentage Is Up: Board members received details from the district’s 2016-17 Achievement Report from Deputy Superintendent Ray Epperson. Chief among the items Epperson presented to Board members was the fact high school graduation rates have gone up in the last six years eight percent, from 84 percent to 92 percent. Having announced that, however, Epperson sounded encouraged about those numbers continuing forward, telling Board Members, “We’re not planning on staying at 92 percent.”

Annual Audit Report Presented: Board members heard, and approved after receiving, an annual audit report presented by Adam Pulley CPA, from the firm of CliftonLarsonAllen. The audit report, Pulley said, noted just one finding concerning use of an incorrect reimbursement rate on claims paid for the beginning of fiscal year 2017. This particular item was also noted by auditors in last year’s annual report.

Settlement Agreement Approved: Board members unanimously approved a settlement agreement with student apartment owners establishing the earned assessed valuation of certain properties for the tax years 2015 through 2022. The settlement appears to be “slightly above” 2014 EAV figures, Curt Richardson, attorney for Unit 5, told Board members. Richardson reminded Board members “significant increases” in EAV translates to more money coming into the district from taxpayers.

Unit 5 mapBoard Members Hear Proposal For A “Welcoming Schools” Resolution: Board members were introduced to the idea of a resolution to make all schools within Unit 5 “Welcoming Schools.” The “Welcoming Schools” initiative, started by the Human Rights Campaign, strives to make schools accessible and safe for students coming from all types of families. As a result of this, the resolution said Unit 5 is a district “where all students have the right to attend regardless of their immigration status” and that “Unit 5 will protect the rights of all students and their families, including student confidentiality rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), when handling any request for student records or information.”

Two district teachers, and a student who could benefit from such a resolution, addressed Board members. The discussion began with Board members being informed by Normal Community West Social Studies teacher John Bierbaum and Normal Community High School Social Studies teacher Patrick Lawler that to pass such a resolution helps keep kids safe.

“We should take an overt action and emphasize we will do something to keep kids safe,” Bierbaum said.

“This is not about politics to do what is best for our kids,” Lawler added. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, was an immigration policy that began after passage during the Obama Administration in 2012 which allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferment from deportation. It also granted the people in this classification eligibility for work permits. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals—referred to as Dreamers after the DREAM Act bill—were enrolled in the program created by DACA. The policy was rescinded by the Trump administration in September.

Aditi Sharma, a freshman at NCHS joined Bierbaum and Lawler to ask Board members to consider passing the resolution which is slated to be on the Board’s agenda for it Nov. 8 meeting, the only meeting that month because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bloomington School District #87 “vowed to protect immigrant kids,” Bierbaum added, noting that district has already voted to approve such a resolution. “We should take an overt action and emphasize we will do something to keep kids safe.” Lawler added, “I urge you to pass the resolution in support of our students.”

Saying the high schools have helped to build a welcoming culture, Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker thanked the trio for their efforts to bring the subject to the Board for consideration.

Board Members Hear Proposal For A “Farm-To-School” Resolution: Board Member David W. Fortner also proposed the Board give consideration to a “Farm To School” Resolution, helping to bring agriculture to district classrooms. Fortner said he would like to see students examine what local outlets there are which could educate students “not just about food but the ag sector.” He added such instruction is happening “in pockets in our district. This kind of program is good for our students.”

Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, said “such a curriculum attaches itself to STEM,” – teaching related to Science, Technology, Education, and Math – with components of Agriculture added. “Many of our schools have gardens, but they need to develop programs.”

But to get such a program going to be beneficial to students, Daniel added, “”Data must be gathered and which companies and groups will help it continue.” He said, then, there is the issue of “how do you commit to staying to it when the school year is out.” He said that means there is “a lot of work to be done upfront” to get it started.

The discussion among Board members on this topic led to the feeling there are varying concerns needing to addressed before voting on a resolution. Board Member Joe Cleary said he wants to make sure proceeding to begin such a project is “done wisely, effectively, and with purpose.”

Board Member Mike Trask informed Fortner such resolutions need to be drawn up with the assistance of district legal counsel. Board Member Barry Hitchins, saying he favored what was being proposed, told Board Members he didn’t believe using a resolution was the right mechanism by which to achieve it.

Board Member Jim Hayek, Jr. said Daniel needs to direct resources to look into the matter further, and that such an initiative could be part of the district’s next strategic plan.

By Steve Robinson | October 23, 2017 - 10:08 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWhen it comes to football, it’s becoming like father, like son for Frank West Sr. and Frank West Jr.

Truth is, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to do this story since Frank Jr., now a senior at Normal Community High School and experiencing the think of high school playoffs, was a small boy watching his father play minor league football with the Peoria Pirates of the now-defunct arenafootball2 league.

I covered Frank Sr. when he played for the Pirates in 2002, 2004, and 2005. Back then, I was the Pirates beat reporter for a couple of local daily papers that covered head coach Bruce Cowdrey’s team, and Frank Sr. was one of the more accessible and nicest athletes I’ve ever covered. When Frank Jr. was small, I filed away in my mind the idea of someday interviewing the former defensive back and his chip off the old block.

Frank Sr., now an auto underwriter a State Farm Insurance since 2007 has done some assistant coaching, getting started when he finished playing for the Pirates, beginning the coaching aspect of his life as an assistant with the Bloomington Extreme of the now-defunct United Indoor Football League in 2006. Frank Jr. is continuing to finalize his college plans for next year.

Frank Sr. can lay claim to trying out with NFL’s Arizona Cardinals in 1996 before being cut in training camp, but going on to play in two Canadian Football League Grey Cup Championships with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1998 and 1999, part of a five-year CFL playing career. Both times, Hamilton faced the Calgary Stampeders, winning the first game, but falling in the rematch. He experienced a similar déjà vu with the Pirates, winning the league’s ArenaCup Championship over the Florida Firecats in 2002 only to lose a rematch to them for the title two years later.

When he does choose a college, Frank Jr. said, playing football will need to be a component in his decision. “Football has become a big part of my life,” the younger Mr. West said. “Wherever I go will be because they want me,” he said of his undergraduate degree school choice.

While serving as defensive coordinator with the Extreme, to show his players how their play should be done, Frank Sr. suited up one last time, in 2008 and kept the decision a surprise for his son. “It was a nice surprise to see him play when I was older,” Frank Jr. said. Nowadays, the father has been attending his son’s games, watching him run plays for Ironmen head coach Wes Temples.

Father and son have been sharing the love of playing football since Frank Jr. started in organized ball with locally-based Junior Football League of Central Illinois at around age 5. Frank Sr. proudly boasts he was the boy’s first coach for tackle football. “I knew then, watching him play, how good he could potentially be. He demonstrated the ability and once we started wearing pads and I saw how easily he took it, I saw he had the ability to do some special things.”

One thing young Frank said he learned from his father was to never give up on trying to make tackles, even if it means having to catch up to the runner to do it. Frank Sr. was a Most Valuable Player in high school playoffs in Missouri. Swiping eight interceptions helped the elder West earn that. Frank Jr. does have one stat which puts him one up on his father by having returned a kickoff for a touchdown this season against Peoria Notre Dame.

Frank Sr. said he challenges his son to strive for that kind of success during his playing days. Once his high school playing days are done, Frank Jr. said he hopes to get onto his college team as a walk-on.

“For me, it’s been a pleasure watching him,” Frank Sr. said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun and admiration and all-out joy watching him play the game I played and the game I loved.”

“My dad has some great achievements,” Frank Jr. said. “And I hope I can stay one step ahead.”

I have no doubt that with effort and perseverance, young Frank will find his way to doing just that, with his father proudly watching it all happen.

By Steve Robinson | October 22, 2017 - 10:49 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, U-High

FootballNORMAL – Both University High and Chatham Glenwood were riding streaks coming into the season finale against one another at Hancock Stadium Friday night, but it took an overtime touchdown by Titans senior Jubbar Cross to end the Pioneers’ hopes for making the Illinois High School Association playoffs, with a 37-36 Central State Eight Conference victory. As a result, U-High concluded their first season under head coach John Johnson at 4-5.

A crowd of roughly 650 people at Hancock Stadium watched as U-High held a 15-14 lead going into the fourth quarter. But Cross put Chatham Glenwood (7-2) up, 22-15, with a 65 yard touchdown run followed by junior kicker Austin Schiff’s extra point.

U-High countered using a 17 play, 65 yard drive capped by a 7 yard pass from senior quarterback Doug Holmes to senior wide receiver Mark Widdel with 3:07 left in the contest, which tied the game at 22-all following junior kicker Nathan Clay’s extra point.

Following the ensuing kickoff, Chatham Glenwood began their next drive at their own 36 and got a boost from a 59 yard pass from sophomore quarterback Luke Lehnen to sophomore wide receiver Eli Vogler, putting the Titans on U-High’s 13. The Titans scored on the next play, with Lehnen connecting with senior tight end Cole Hemborough for a touchdown followed by Schiff’s extra point, giving the visitors a 29-22 lead with 1:51 left in regulation.

U-High tied the game, 29-29, as time expired with Holmes connecting with Widdel on a 12 yard scoring pass followed by Clay’s extra point, sending the crowd into a frenzy at the game’s heading for overtime.

The Pioneers scored first, with Holmes connecting with Widdel on a 10 yard scoring pass, followed by Clay’s extra point, putting the Pioneers up, 36-29. Chatham Glenwood countered with Lehnen hitting Cross from 10 yards out followed by a two-point conversion pass from Lehnen to sophomore running back Jason Hansbrough, giving the Titans the victory.

U-High Pioneers footballScoring Started In Busy 1st Quarter: Chatham Glenwood punted to end its first possession after the opening kickoff, and U-High (4-5) started the game from their own 32 and marched downfield in 18 plays, concluding with Clay kicking a 25 yard field goal, putting the Pioneers up, 3-0, with 2:47 left in the quarter.

The Titans countered on their next possession as Lehnen scored from 60 yards out followed by Schiff’s extra point, putting Chatham Glenwood up, 7-3 at 1:47 left in the quarter. Following the ensuing kickoff, U-High lost the ball three plays later, with Titans junior defensive back Drew Dunbar recovering a Pioneers fumble, giving the visitors the ball at U-High’s 47. Three plays later, Lehnen scored from a yard out followed by another Schiff extra point, putting Chatham Glenwood up, 14-3, going into the second quarter.

That score would hold throughout a mostly defensive second quarter during which only U-High would score thanks to Holmes’ 3 yard run with 1:57 until halftime, but Clay would miss the extra point, cutting the Titans’ lead to 14-9.

Holmes was the only player from either side to score in the third quarter, as the Pioneers, starting at midfield after a Titans punt, marched downfield into the end zone in six plays topped off by Holmes scoring from a yard out at the 3:49 mark followed by Clay’s extra point, giving the home team a 15-14 advantage.

“We’ve been preaching that a football game is a fight and you have to keep punching,” explained Titans head coach David Hay following the game. Up until the contest, Hay explained, his team had illness go through it which kept 10 kids out of practices leading up to the game. “We had all kinds of ready-made excuses for not doing well. But I’m proud of these kids because they went out and they didn’t quit.”

Pointing to the gathering of U-High players across the field, Hay added, “That’s a good football team over there. They did a heck of a job. Coach Johnson helped them to get better and better through the year and that’s the sign of a good coaching staff. They presented all kind of challenges to us, and they played us really tough, and should be proud of the effort they put forth.”

Pioneers head coach John Johnson hugged seniors on his team as they walked up to him, his eyes moist. “It was a great football game against a great football team,” Johnson said, adding, “We’ve shown we’ve grown up a lot this year, having gone from 1-and to 4-and-5, but we’re really 5-and-4 in my opinion. But Chatham scored one more play than we did, so, take your hat off to them. We saw some things in the third and fourth quarter that we took advantage of.”

By Steve Robinson | October 16, 2017 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Council members, by a 5-2 vote, approved a resolution authorizing approval of sales tax sharing agreements with Phillips Edison & Company for Greenbriar and College Station Plaza Shopping Centers. Both retail areas are located along Veterans Parkway. Greenbriar Shopping Center houses Fresh Market Grocers, and College Station Plaza houses Bed, Bath, & Beyond. While they are owned by the same company, the shopping centers are divided into two legal entities.

Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the opposing votes.

Phillips Edison & Co. is seeking help because of financial strains caused by Dick’s Sporting Goods relocating from their shopping properties to Empire Crossing Shopping Center in Bloomington. Phillips Edison & Co. hopes additional dollars brought in with the Council’s positive vote will help them to pay for facility improvements which they believe, will help them retain existing tenants whose leases will expire in the next few years.

Phillips, Edison & Co. has, according to a Town Staff report, already spent $400,000 on capital improvements to the facility. The Town Staff report estimates that by approving the agreement, there would be a net revenue gain to Normal over a 10-year period of $4.8 million.

An executive with Phillips, Edison & Co., Scott Adair, told Council members the company if the company doesn’t perform as expected by the Town, the company would not receive the anticipated incentive. The arrangement between the company and the Town wouldn’t be about “a handout,” Adair said. “It’s about a partnership.” He told Council members the company has capital of its own “but it’s not in excess.”

Capital used by Phillips, Edison & Co. on the two shopping centers would be used to upgrade new tenants’ spaces, not on existing tenants. “If they don’t generate the revenue, they won’t get the rebate,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members.

Following the meeting, Preston explained his opposing vote, saying, “The thing I kept coming back to is that Phillips, Edison & Co. would or would not undertake these investments themselves without our incentives.” They have enough capital to make investments into their properties, Preston explained, adding that because of that, they don’t need financial assistance from the Town.

Prior to the presentation, Council members heard from former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli and former Normal Town Council Candidate Ron Ulmer, both of whom spoke in opposition to the proposed agreement.

Council Approves Motion To Receive 20-Year Solid Waste Management Plan: Council members unanimously approved a motion to receive a 20-year resource and recovery, or solid waste, management plan submitted to them by the Ecology Action Center. Michael Brown, executive director for the Ecology Action Center gave a brief presentation on McLean County’s history of dealing with solid waste. In the past month, he has given the presentation also to members of Bloomington City Council and McLean County Land Use Committee. Each of those bodies also voted to receive the plan. Following those votes, there is now a 90-day comment period for the public to look over and make comments concerning the plan.

The finalized plan will be brought back to Council members for final approval sometime early next year.

Children’s Museum Director Resigns: Monday’s Council session was the final one attended by Cultural Arts Department Director and Children’s Discovery Museum Executive Director Shelleigh Birlingmair. A Town press release announced she has resigned to accept a Development position at Advocate-BroMenn/Advocate Eureka. Birlingmair has been with the Town since last October. Birlingmair’s resignation is effective at the end of October.

County Planning Commission, Council Hold Work Session: Prior to the Council session, Council members held a joint work session in Council Chambers with members of the McLean County Planning Commission. Vasudha Pinnamaraju, executive director of McLean County Regional Planning Commission and a team which included professionals from the Town and other community groups, presented to Council and Commission members an update on what the community can do to help its citizens as the Town moves into its next 25 years.

Among the suggestions made by a team that worked on a report which put subjects into focus was that infrastructure improvements and public safety go hand-in-hand. A draft of the plan is currently available online at the Town’s website, www.normal.org. At their Nov. 9 meeting, Normal Planning Commission members will vote to send the report on to Normal Town Council for final approval. That could happen as early as the Council’s Nov. 20 meeting.

Liquor Commission Imposes Fine, Receives Payment Installments: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, heard a settled case report concerning a fine paid by Kroger Limited Partnership 1, doing business as Kroger J-347, 1550 E. College Ave., for furnishing liquor to an underage person on July 26. Because this was the second offense in two years for the store, the Town imposed and Kroger paid a $1,000 fine.

Also during this session, Commissioners were informed there were 12 liquor license holders who needed to pay their annual license fee to the Town. Mayor Chris Koos explained to the gathering six licensees had paid their fee in two installments while four others paid in full by the Town’s Sept. 30 deadline. However, as of the deadline, there were still two license holders who had paid the Town and have been sent balance due notices.

Commissioners also approved minutes from a regularly-scheduled meeting held July 17 and a special session called on Aug. 21.

Uptown Holiday Lights Ceremony Held: Between the work session and Council meeting, Town and Illinois State University officials held their annual Uptown Tree Lighting Ceremony. The ceremony, as in years past, has formally been the kickoff event for ISU’s Homecoming celebration. ISU has various events scheduled leading up to Saturday’s Homecoming festivities.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 2, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Oct. 11, 2017.

• A resolution to waive the formal bid process and award a contract to Charlotte, N. C.-based GameTime C/O Cunningham Associates, Inc. for the purchase of modular playgrounds under the U. S. Communities Purchasing Program for Fell Park and Underwood Park in the amount of $112,500.74.

• A resolution approving executive session meeting minutes from July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, Sept. 18, and Oct. 2, all 2017.

• A resolution conditionally reapproving a final plat for the J&M Planned Unit Development – Phase I at Cottage Ave. and Village Ct.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the resubdivision of One Normal Plaza Planned Unit Development by expedited process (former ISSCS Administration Building).