NORMAL – The first Illinois Governor to address Illinois News Broadcasters Association in 55 years told the gathering of news anchors, reporters, and writers they bring “sunlight to problems that desperately need to be fixed, and lift up the voices of those who haven’t been heard.”

On what was his 89th day in office as Governor of the State of Illinois on Saturday, J. B. Pritzker told a gathering of 120 guests in the Carol A. Reitan Convention Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott that public officials should be reminding the public “how important journalism is to a healthy democracy.”

“If we want a democracy to thrive, our democracy to thrive, we must have a First Amendment that thrives,” Pritzker said in beginning his remarks which lasted 12 minutes. The comment was met by applause from the assembled group.

Without naming President Donald Trump by name, Pritzker added, “You all know the media landscape is changing, newsrooms are shrinking, and the credibility of reporters is constantly being questioned by the highest elected leader in the land. The very definition of facts, reality, and news is under attack.”

“The free press should never be threatened for doing your jobs,” Pritzker said, without citing that journalists have been under threat at a number of campaign style rally events which Trump has held during his term in office. “The First Amendment must always be revered.”

Candidly, Pritzker said, “Sometimes, you’re going to get it wrong. Me, too. We each have an obligation to strive to get it right. But those in political power must be extremely careful that when we disagree with what’s being said, we never the less, fight for your right to get the information out.” He added that actual facts should never be labeled as fake news, a phrase Trump often uses in his disagreement over how the media does its job.

He said there should be a mutual respect between political figures and the media. “We need you,” Pritzker said. “You do the important work of educating the public and holding those in power accountable. Democracy doesn’t work without both sides of that equation.”

Pritzker added he believes being in the position of having to answer tough questions from the media “has made me a better leader.” He said the media has caused him at times to see issues from differing perspectives and he hoped he had caused the press to do the same.

A number of those attending the dinner were college students who were learning their reporting craft, some of whom had been honored by INBA for their efforts. He encouraged them to consider seeking jobs in the profession and stay in Illinois as they do so. “There are downstate communities that need your work as much as big cities do,” he said in addressing them.

“As Governor, I’m working hard every day to make Illinois a place where working families can put down roots,” Pritzker told the gathering.

Plans For Tackling Debt, Gun Violence Coming: He said for a number of years, news concerning Illinois has centered on “instability, debt, gun violence, and lurching from crisis to crisis.” He said he is in the midst of working on plans he has formulated to tackle each of these issues. He said he was “straight forward about our need for revenue, and to balance the State budget without doing it on the backs of the middle class.”

Pritzker’s budget for fiscal year 2020 included $25 million more aimed toward K-12 education in the State, a figure which went higher than the $350 million new dollars added last year through the new evidence-based funding law. In addition, his plan set aside another $21 million in funding for special education grants, $5 million for much-needed career and technical education programs for high school students, and $2 million to help low-income students pay for Advanced Placement testing.

He called his plan “a bridge to solving our deficits permanently using a fair tax.” He said he is working with members of the General Assembly to get the budget passed during this session. Under his plan, Pritzker said, those affected would be those persons in the State who earn more than $250,000 annually. He said that’s 3 percent of the State’s total population of nearly 13 million people.

“People like me should pay more,” said the Governor, who has an estimated net worth is $3.26 billion. He called the State’s current flat tax “regressive and unfair to the middle class and working poor.” He added the Fair Tax he proposes “will put Illinois on firmer fiscal footing.”

He said the Fair Tax would lead to balanced budgets in the future for the State. ”It will create stability for businesses,” Pritzker added, “The Fair Tax would reduce our multi-billion dollar deficit, it would balance future budgets, and reduce pension liability.” He said he believes his plan will help businesses already here, and will encourage businesses to return to Illinois, and allow all those businesses to grow.

He told the gathering the State has a trio of options to try to solve the financial puzzle: Cut funds for K-12 education, public safety, infrastructure, and money State universities receive by 15 percent; Raise the State income tax on all State residents by 20 percent on middle class and working poor; Or pass the Fair Tax he recommends. “I choose fairness,” he said.

He said he respects State Republicans’ right to disagree with his plan, but encouraged State GOP members to present any plans they have regarding the budget so that a dialogue can get underway. So far, he told reporters, that hasn’t happened. He challenged reporters to ask Republican General Assembly members and Senators what plans they have to stabilize State finances.

Pritzker said State GOP members’ plan appears to him to be do nothing, “and you can’t do nothing. And that’s fundamentally, what Republicans are baiting us with. They’re just saying ‘no.’” While GOP lawmakers are taking that route, Pritzker said, Republicans haven’t proposed any solutions of their own to help solve the State’s financial matters. He said Illinois has $15 billion worth of unpaid bills to attempt to pay, adding that before his predecessor, Bruce Rauner, was elected Governor four years ago, that figure was $5 billion.

“Undocumented People Are Residents Of Our State”: In a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Pritzker addressed President Trump’s plan to move undocumented refugees to communities that consider themselves sanctuary cities and sanctuary states. Pritzker responded by labeling Trump a Xenophobe and a racist, and said Trump’s threat is based on that. “We have undocumented people in our State today,” he responded. “They ought to be welcomed. We ought to be taken care of. They are residents of our State.”

NORMAL – There were seven “good news” items presented by representatives of three Unit 5 Schools for district School Board members to learn about Wednesday night when the governing body held their regularly scheduled meeting in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School.

Five of those items came from one school alone – Kingsley Junior High School, highlighting sports accomplishments, a total school effort to raise funds to fight a disease, as well as passing along some kindness in the process.

KJHS 8th Grade Volleyball Wins State Title: KJHS’ volleyball team, and their coaches, earned the title of Illinois Elementary School Association 4A State Champions, defeating Champaign Edison Junior High School, 25-23 and 25-22, Board members were informed by KJHS Principal Stacie France. In the process of doing that, France explained, the girls on this team, in effect, repeated at champions two years running having won the 7-4A title last year.

France said the girls on this team have been winning for a while, having registered a record of 51-2 since beginning playing together in 6th grade. The volleyball team is coached by Liz Heideman, along with Maxine Quakenbush. The coaches are assisted by Kerry Myers and Christine Konopasek. Team members are: Jaycee Adams, Alyssa Brown, Morgan Bunn, Anna Dunne, Sophia Feeney, Joselyn Gale, Delaney Hammons, Jenna Heaser, Elizabeth Horton, Ella Lloyd, Jeeya Patel, Kaitlyn Poehlman, Morgan Sutter, Ashley Wilcox and Katelyn Wilson.

KJHS Student Froylan Racey Wrestles His Way To The Top At State: KJHS student Froylan Racey was recognized by France before the Board as the IESA AA State Champion in the 100-pound weight class in Wrestling at State Competition. Racey went 40-2 on the season, winning the Regional and Sectional titles on his way to winning the State title. KJHS’ Wrestling team is coached by Chris Racey along with Chris Merrill.

“Mission For Max” Continues, Gets Recognized: In another “good news” report from her school, France introduced Board members to KJHS teacher Jessie Lynch, and sixth grader Madelynne Chapman, and eighth grader Tyler Chapman. Madelynne and Tyler, brother and sister, like a number of their family members are engaged in helping their cousin, Max Chapman, through “Mission For Max.” Max, is a Parkside Elementary student, and the Chapmans’ cousin. Mission for Max was created by middle school students in hopes of generating awareness of, and raising funds for fighting Peroxisome Biogenesis Disorder (PBD), a rare genetic disorder Max is afflicted with.

When Madelynne approached Kingsley administrators about if there could be a fundraiser to help fight the disorder, she noted that she and her brother had met with Chiddix Junior High School organizers of Mission for Max and had a well-developed plan to bring Mission for Max to Kingsley. The brother-sister duo have a cousin who attends CJHS who had organized fundraising effort there. The cousin, Carson Damery, an eighth grade student at Chiddix Junior High School, has been organizing fundraisers at that school, as well.

As part of their plan, Tyler and Madelynne presented to one classroom at a time to Kingsley’s 846 Cavaliers, wrote morning announcements, and created posters to promote PBD. Awareness, and organized peers to collect donations. Through a week’s worth of fundraising efforts March 11-15 at KJHS, the Chapman siblings and their friends and other students and school staff raised a total of $2,062.30.

KJHS’ NIOT Club Passes Kindness Along: France introduced Board members to news concerning KJHS’ Not In Our School (NIOS) Club, led by teachers Jennifer Ritchason and Courtney Knowles, is a small group of students who have been trying to bring a positive impact to the school’s culture. NIOS students developed an idea for hosting Kingsley’s first ever Kindness Week. Their goal on this event was that every student would spread and receive kindness from one other. As part of Kindness Week, NIOS students organized many activities and opportunities for middle schoolers to support one another through kind acts.

In addition during that week, NIOS students wrote over 1,000 positive affirmation post-it notes placing the notes throughout the building, especially on a large poster in the main hallway. Any KJHS student needing a word of encouragement could take a post-it note of their choice. NIOS members are: Carmella Anderson, Mackenzie Engel, Amaya Hursey, Lydia McIntyre, Jersey Miles, Aayushi Patel, Shachi Sharad, Gavin Warner, Kamyra Williams, Violet Jasker, Dylan Millburg and Zinnia Tobin.

KJHS’ Dawn O’Dell Receives Recognition: KJHS’ physical education teacher Dawn O’Dell received public recognition for the job she does at the school, as well. O’Dell provided Unit 5 administrative personnel with information regarding legislation, federal guidelines and successful models for share food systems in schools. Through her informing various district personnel, the district has made changes which support the support of Unit 5 Food Service staff. Among those was the district Board’s adoption of a policy regarding share food programs in Unit 5 schools. As a result, students across the district have access to food which would have been discarded previously.

In addition, earlier this year, O’Dell created what the school calls “the Cavalier Hygiene Closet” stocked with shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, body soap and like items for students in need. This was created, France explained, because middle school students who lack basic hygiene necessities are less likely to attend school and face struggles with peer relationships. France said by creating and providing the Cavalier Hygiene Closet, O’Dell removed barriers to learning for students with the greatest need.

Benjamin Elementary’s “Good News”: Marlys Bennington, principal of Benjamin Elementary School addressed Board members, explaining that recently, the Illinois Music Educators Association (ILMEA) created an All-State Elementary Choir experience for students in 5th and 6th grade. This year, 5th grade students at Benjamin Elementary School who were involved in the chorus program were able to audition and be nominated. Fourteen Benjamin Elementary students auditioned, were nominated and out of that group, six of them were chosen by the State to be a part of the All-State Boys and Girls Elementary All-State Choirs this year.

The students then attended rehearsals after school and prepared music at home to be ready for their concert held Jan. 26 at the Illinois Music Educators Conference with students from around the State, Bennington explained. Special conductors were brought in to work with the students and they attended a rehearsal with the guest conductors in the morning, and then performed a concert together at the Illinois Music Educators Conference in Peoria.

Each group prepared three pieces, and then they performed one piece together as an ensemble. The students recognized for their participation in this experience are: Victor Fernandes, Aubrey Kalitzky, Krishi Kandury, Rylee Larson, Miguel Sanchez-Riggs, and Emerson Winn. Their music teacher from Benjamin Elementary was Lauren Romero.

Glenn Elementary’s “Good News”: Cari Oester, principal at Glenn Elementary School, reported to Board members that on February 21, the school’s Title Reading teacher, Ashley Defreese, faculty and local residents banded together to help with a recent event. Oester explained that “Literacy Across The Continents” brought in over 230 individuals. She further explained parents and students could travel from continent to continent (classroom to classroom) collecting stamps on their passports.

Some continents, Oester added, had parent support in the way of reading books, sharing knowledge of their native countries, or explaining artifacts. Continents also had literacy scavenger hunts and SMART board safaris. At a few of the continents, there were chances to make a craft or write a recipe or take a shot at hockey.

In addition, there were native dances took place in the gym. Normal Public Library staffers brought in virtual reality viewers and took the families on a trip of the Seven Wonders of the world, Oester wrote in a report to Board members. There was also a free food market available to individuals that wanted to take home treats.

“Good News” About School Resource Officers: In the final “good news” report of the evening, Curt Richardson, attorney for the district, made sure school resource officers, local police officers assigned to the schools, received public recognition for the work they do with kids on a daily basis. “Over the last few years, there have been many efforts in our state to reduce or eliminate the presence of law enforcement within schools to eliminate the ‘school to prison’ pipeline,” Richardson told Board members. “However well-intentioned some of those efforts may be, it is our experience and firm belief that the presence of police officers within Unit 5 schools has not only made our schools safer, but has had the opposite effect of a ‘school to prison’ pipeline, instead promoting a ‘school to college or career’ pipeline.”

Richardson then introduced the officers to Board members. The officers, police departments, and (schools where they serve as Resource Officers at) are: Jeremy Flood, Normal Police (Normal Community High School); Curtis Payne, NPD (Normal Community West High School); Annie Frey, NPD (Parkside Junior High School, Chiddix Junior High School, KJHS); and Shad Wagehoft, Bloomington Police (George L. Evans Junior High School).

Citizens Advisory Council Recap Presented: Board members heard from Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the district, with a review of topics studied by the district’s Citizens Advisory Council during this school year. Among the subjects discussed this year, Brown told Board members, were: Food service, Finance, and what subjects students learn beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. Brown said weather during the school year kept CAC members meeting the scheduled six times this year, having to cancel two sessions. As an interesting side note, Brown reminded that all of the current Board members had previously been CAC members.

Project Bid Winners Announced: With Randall Middleton from the architectural firm of Middleton Associates, Inc. present, bid winners for a trio of projects the district was needing to complete this year were announced. A resurfacing project at Parkside Junior High School was awarded to H. J. Eppel and Company, Inc. That firm was one of two firms to bid on the project submitting a winning bid of $194,980. Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, told Board members this project would be the first on behalf of the district for the Pontiac, Ill.-based firm.

The assignment of installing a geothermal bore field at Kingsley Junior High School went to Goodfield, Ill.-based TCI Geothermal which submitted a low bid of $419,000. Only two companies submitted bids for this project, Adelman told Board members.

The assignment of replacing a remote terminal unit (RTU) in the HVAC system at KJHS went to Springfield-based Henson-Robinson Co. for their bid of $384,827. Henson-Robinson Co. was among four firms which submitted bids for this project.

Harden Resignation Draws Questions: Three members of the public addressed Board members sought answers concerning the recent resignation of Dr. James Harden, the district’s former Executive Director of Human Resources and Student Services. Recent published reports indicated Unit 5 Board members approved a separation agreement with Harden in March. Since then, claims of harassment have been reported related to the resignation. Because this involves a personnel matter, district administrators and Board members have given no comment to the media.

By Steve Robinson | April 2, 2019 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Campaigning for tax incentives that benefit the community rather than to be considered useful to lure big name businesses to town, Stan Nord appears to have struck a chord with Normal residents if unofficial results from Tuesday’s Town Council election was any indication. Nord placed first in balloting in the election for a seat on the Normal Town Council. Results showed Nord received 2,873 votes, or 20 percent of the vote, leading all competitors.

And he wasn’t the only newcomer now with a seat on the dais in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Karyn Smith finished third in the race which had two incumbents, six declared challengers, and a write-in candidate. Smith had 2,043 votes, or 14.22 percent of the vote. Incumbent Kathleen Lorenz placed second in the results with 2,087, or 14.53 percent of the vote.

Incumbent R. C. McBride placed fourth in his quest for a second term on the Council, receiving 1,849 votes, or 12.87 percent of the vote. Challenger Dave Shields placed fifth receiving 1,558 votes or 10.85 percent of the vote. Challenger Pat Turner placed sixth with 1,425 votes, or 9.92 percent of the vote; Joel Studebaker placed seventh with 902 votes, or 6.28 percent; and ISU student Alex Campbell landed eighth with 616 votes, or 4.29 percent of the vote. Write-in candidate Karl Sila received no ballots, however there were 1,011 write-in votes submitted, accounting for 7.04 percent of ballots counted, unofficially.

However, there are still 350 mailed ballots yet to be counted by the County Clerk’s Office before the race results will be declared official.

Candidates were in two camps within walking distance of each other in Uptown to await results. One camp, comprised of Normal Town Council members and supporters and Shields checked results in the banquet room on the second floor of Medici Restaurant, while Turner, Studebaker, and Campbell were in the lounge of the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center with supporters. While Smith’s whereabouts Tuesday were not known, Nord, who had attended the Normal Town Council meeting Monday, said he planned to spend the evening gathering his campaign signs that had been distributed.

“I’m really disappointed R. C. didn’t prevail,” Mayor Chris Koos said afterward. “He has been a stalwart as a supporter of the community. But we have a new council and we have to move forward, and we have to be collegial and work together.” He said it will be up to the five members currently seated on the Council to set that trend for the new members.

Jeff Fritzen, who announced last fall after three terms on the Council recently, and had three terms on the Council in the 1980s and 1990s with one four-year hiatus in-between, said afterward, “I can’t say I’m shocked. I can say I’m disappointed. So many people have loved what’s been going on in the Town of Normal for the last 20 years, and then somebody who decided to be negative was the best way to run a campaign comes out as a leading vote-getter, and that’s a disappointment to me.”

Nord and Smith will take the oath of office along with Lorenz at the Council’s May 6 meeting.

Roser, Pyle, Kalitzky Win First Terms On Unit 5 Board: The last year for Normal-based Unit 5 School Board has been one of abrupt change. Within months of each other, three Board members submitted resignations, all the result of job transfers or job changes that had those members exiting the community. Three citizens stepped into to fill the posts knowing they would have to run for elected office in this election to keep their seats. All of them would be on the Board for four years.

Amy Roser assumed a seat on the Board last July filling a seat following the resignation of Jim Hayek, Jr. Hayek, a State Farm employee, left the area due to a job transfer in Phoenix, Ariz. last spring. Unofficial results show Roser was the leading vote recipient among the five contenders for the four-year term positions. The unofficial tally she received was 3,655 votes, or 23.62 percent of the vote.

Audiologist Dr. Kelly Pyle assumed a seat on the Board in August, filling a vacancy left by Joe Cleary, who departed for a job in California last summer. Pyle placed second among the four contenders seeking a Board seat. She got 3,319 votes, or 21.45 percent of the vote.

Barry Hitchins currently serves as Board President and came in third in the balloting to win his four-year term, with 3,004 votes, or 19.42 percent of the vote.

Alan Kalitzky is running for a first full term, coming in after applying for the position after David W. Fortner resigned last spring to take a job in Chicago. As a result of Tuesday’s balloting, Kalitzky placed fourth with 2,867 votes, or 18.53 percent of the vote.

LaNell Greenberg, prior to establishing a career as a consultant, worked for Unit 5 for 12 years. In Tuesday’s balloting, unofficial totals show she came in fifth registering 2,627 votes, or 16.98 percent of the vote.

Board members Mike Trask and Meta Mickens-Baker were up for reelection this time around for two-year stints on the Board, Mickens-Baker garnered 4,146 votes, or 50.05 percent of the vote while Trask garnered 41.38, or 49.95 percent of the vote.

By Steve Robinson | April 1, 2019 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council

NORMAL – A Normal resident’s attempt to expedite having Normal Town Council members approve a final plat of property he owns in a subdivision evolved into a disagreement over a fee the Town charges for sewer rates which, the resident and the Town admit should have been paid by the property’s prior owner.

The matter was further complicated by the fact that the resident lodging the complaint is also currently a candidate for an open seat on the Normal Town Council.

Stan Nord, one of nine candidates seeking to take a seat on the Council, accompanied by his attorney, Ryan Powers, addressed Council members during Monday’s regular Council session in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, informed Council members he refuses to pay a sanitary sewer tap-in activation fee of $6,700 for land he owns at 2012 W. College Ave. Nord bought the property in 2017 and contends he won’t pay a fee that otherwise would have already been for before now when sewer service was activated for that area.

Brian Day, Corporation Counsel for the Town, explained fees stay in place and don’t “go away” even when the Town doesn’t collect such fees from previous owners of the property. He added Nord was aware of the cost of the fees because Nord exchanged emails with the Town about them.

Nord said if he were to take the situation into the courts, it would set a precedent for Normal being accused of charging “ghost charges.” Koos countered that, calling that notion “ridiculous” and “a wild accusation.”

With a 6-1 vote, Council members voted to send the matter to the Normal Planning Commission to review. Council Member Chemberly Cummings cast the lone opposing vote. Following the meeting, Nord told reporters the fact this matter came before the Council now was a coincidence. He added had it come up were he to be seated on the Council as a result of winning election, he would excuse himself from any Council discussion about it.

Nord is one of six residents who were running for an open seat on the Council with Council Member Jeff Fritzen’s decision last fall not to seek another term. Incumbents R. C. McBride and Kathleen Lorenz were also running each for a second term on the Council.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held on March 18, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of March 27, 2019.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a three-year agreement with St. Louis, Mo.-based Gateway Fireworks Displays for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $330,973.02 for the Underwood Park and Maxwell Park parking lots project, including the base bid, alternate 1 and alternate 2, and a related budget adjustment of $16,827.02.

• A resolution to award the bid for the Bryan Street water main replacement project to Bloomington-based George Gildner, Inc. at a total cost of $184,487 plus up to a potential $15,000 bonus for early completion.