NORMAL – University High School’s boys’ basketball team, seeded 7th when the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic tournament started the day after Christmas finished in 7th place on the third day of the tourney with a 66-32 victory over Machesney Park Harlem on Dec. 28 in a game played at Normal Community West High School.

U-High extended their record to 8-5 following the win, which included owning leads of 14-4 after one quarter and 26-8 at the half. The Pioneers, behind lead scorer junior forward Angelo Bernal’s 15 points on the night, extended that lead to 49-21 by the end of the third quarter. U-High sank 11 three-pointers during the contest. Bernal was joined in double-figures by senior guard Drew Wollenschlager’s 13 points and 11 from sophomore guard D. J. Starr. This game was the second of two Dec. 28 starting with the contest against Peoria High.

Pioneers Force Overtime Against Peoria High: U-High found themselves facing Machesney Park Harlem after losing in overtime to Peoria High at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus, falling to the Lions, 65-58. After trailing at the end of the first quarter, 15-14, and leading at halftime, 24-21, The Pioneers found themselves in charge for most of the third quarter until a basket by Lions sophomore guard Lerone Allen tied the game at 33-all at the 4:01 mark. From there, a trio of unanswered threes – two from Allen and one from senior guard Christopher Williams – closed out the third quarter putting the Lions in front, 42-33.

U-High started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run which started with a trey from senior guard Logan Christensen, reducing Peoria’s lead to 46-40. A free throw by senior forward Joe Brown and a trey by Christensen helped U-High come within two, 46-44, and prompted Peoria High head coach Dan Ruffin to call timeout with 3:35 left.

A trey by sophomore guard Nate Moore with three minutes left and a free throw from junior center Dionysius Hogan pushed the Lions in front, 50-46, prompting U-High to call time with 1:37 left. Coming out of the timeout, Wollenschlager hit a trey to help the Pioneers pull within one, 50-49, with 1:07 remaining in regulation. Coming out of the timeout, Hogan’s jumper with 59 seconds left, put the Lions up, 52-49. Christensen scored a game-tying three with 39.2 seconds left, forcing the game into a 52-all overtime.

The Pioneers found themselves in chase mode throughout the extra stanza, only coming as close as two points behind twice, 56-54 on a breakaway basket by senior guard Alex Wood and 58-56, thanks to a deuce by Christensen. After Christensen’s bucket, U-High called a timeout, but coming back into play, the overtime belonged to Peoria, which saw Hogan hit a deuce and a free throw followed by Lions sophomore guard Staishaun Kelley making 3-of-4 free throws after being fouled twice, putting the Lions’ victory within reach.

Pioneers Fail To Overcome Rock Island’s 4th Quarter Scoring Run: The Pioneers managed to maintain a basket-for-basket ratio for most of three quarters against second seed Rock Island in U-High’s second game of the tourney Dec. 27 – that is until the fourth quarter.

Prior to the fourth quarter, Pioneers trailed the Rocks 13-11 after one quarter, led at the half, 27-22, and found themselves behind at the end of the third quarter, 35-32. Treys by Wollenschlager and Christensen, and senior guard Brandon Merritt helped the Pioneers keep pace with their opponents. But after Pioneers junior forward Angelo Bernal opened the last quarter with a deuce to pull within one of Rock Island, 35-34 with 7:48 left in the contest, two back-to-back unanswered baskets for the Rocks by senior forward Solomon Gustafson lit the fuse on a 16-0 scoring surge which didn’t end until Wollenschlager’s next basket with 51.8 seconds remaining, cutting Rock Island’s lead, 51-36.

Senior guard Alijah Walker-Lee scored the Rocks’ final points which were quickly countered at the final buzzer for U-High with a trey by senior guard Caden Overton. But that loss sent the Pioneers attempting to claim 5th place in the tournament with the Peoria Lions as their next opponent. Against Rock Island, senior guard Alex Wood was U-High’s lone player in double figures with 11 points. Rock Island’s scoring leaders were junior guard Colton Sigel and senior forward Taurean Holtam who scored 13 points each, and 11 from Gustafson.

Pioneers Need Overtime To Win Opening Game Against Chicago Kenwood: The Pioneers trailed Chicago Kenwood during their opening round contest Dec. 26 but managed to corral the Broncos midway through the third quarter, or so they thought. After trailing 12-9 after one quarter and 27-24 at the half. U-High would catch and surpass the Broncos going into the fourth quarter leading, 42-37. But in that final quarter, U-High would find themselves behind again by as much as six, 51-45, on a trey from Kenwood junior guard Martin Kenall. From there, a pair of deuces from Pioneers sophomore forward Kenall Stork helped tie the game, the last of the two shots coming with 50 seconds in regulation.

The Pioneers started the overtime by going on a 6-0 run highlighted by two deuces from Wood and a deuce between those from junior guard Brandon Merritt, pushing U-High in front, 57-51. From there, both sides’ defenses tightened but Kenwood fouls would send Stork to the free throw line twice and Merritt once for a combined 4-for-6 putting the game out of reach for the Broncos and sending the Pioneers on to the second round against second seed Rock Island.

“We had a five point lead going into the fourth quarter but we came out a little sloppy in that quarter and Kenwood took the lead and ran it up by 6 and our guys just stayed together, executed, fought for defensive stops, and possession by possession, we fought for wins on offense and defense and ended up getting right back in the game,” U-High head coach Andrew McDowell explained afterward.

BLOOMINGTON – How some teams should be seeded in tournaments can be tricky to figure out because tournament organizers are working with team schedules and basing their seeding on results of completed games. Seeding a team into a specific slot is not a guarantee that team will successfully maneuver through the tournament to show the predictions made before the start of the tournament were correct.

Normal Community High School’s boys’ basketball team, selected top seed at the 40th annual State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known also as The Classic, unfortunately for Ironmen faithful, proved that seeding doesn’t always equal how that team is destined to finish. Top seeded NCHS finished 5th in the Large School Boys Bracket after beating 6th seed Peoria High, 51-44, Saturday at a contest played at Normal Community West High School.

Senior guard Jimmy Gillispie scored 16 points on the night followed in double-figures for NCHS by sophomore forward Zachary Cleveland’s 13. Sophomore guards Lerone Allen and Nate Moore were high scorers for the Lions, each pocketing 11 points in the contest. The victory improved NCHS’ record to 10-2 on the season.

Ironmen Beats Machesney Park In Third Game, 66-55: NCHS jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead from the opening tip with a deuce by senior guard Jimmy Gillispie and a deuce by sophomore guard Trey Redd. Huskies senior forward Jared Jacobsen countered with a trey of his own to cut the Ironmen’s lead to 5-3 en route to a 11-9 lead going into the second quarter. It would prove to be a sign of how the Ironmen would function, with aid from a pair of technical fouls called against Machesney Park in their 66-55 victory.

Foul trouble for the Huskies in the second quarter, including a technical foul called against the Huskies helped NCHS add a 6-for-10 tally and put NCHS up, 28-17, with 3:09 left until halftime. NCHS owned a 32-25 halftime lead.

A trey by senior guard Mitchell Sauder started third quarter scoring for NCHS, but Machesney Park countered with two treys from junior guard Trenton Tucker. In addition, Tucker, Jacobsen, and sophomore forward Lathan Lewis combining to go 6-for-6 at the free throw line toward the end of the quarter helped the Huskies narrow NCHS’ lead going into the fourth quarter, 49-40.

A trey from senior forward Griffin McCluskey along with Gillespie, Redd, Sauder, and Cleveland each visiting the free throw line for a combined 6-for-8 in the final stanza helped put the game out of reach for the Huskies. Those same three players were the only Ironmen in double figures, with Redd and McCluskey scoring 13 points each and Gillespie pocketing 12. Tucker was high scorer for the Huskies with 12 points followed by Jacobsen and junior forward Dominic McCarren’s 10.

As a result of the win, however, the Ironmen played their last game of the tournament at Normal Community West High School where they took on Big 12 Conference foe Peoria High.

Loss To Metamora, 37-36, Sends NCHS To Loser’s Bracket: NCHS found themselves either chasing or in a tie against 8th seed Metamora when the two teams met Dec. 27 at Shirk Center. NCHS found itself behind early, 9-4 by the end of the first quarter, courtesy of a pair of treys by Metamora freshman guard Ethan Kizer and one by sophomore guard Zach Schroeder. Sophomore guard Trey Redd provided NCHS’ only scoring in the first quarter. The Ironmen trailed throughout the second quarter, but a trey from McCluskey and a buzzer-beating basket by Cleveland helped NCHS cut the Redbirds’ lead at the half down to three, 17-14.

NCHS caught up to Metamora by the end of the third quarter, 30-all, thanks to a pair of deuces from Redd and a couple of Cleveland deuces. Three-pointers by senior guard Gabe Mason and senior guard Landon Ivins contributed to the tie score. After back-to-back deuces by Gillispie to start the fourth quarter, NCHS jumped out to a 34-30 lead with 5:27 remaining.

Two free throws by Kizer and a layup by Schroeder for the Redbirds went unanswered by NCHS, tying the game at 34 with just over two minutes left. A pair of free throws by Gillespie with 1:58 left gave NCHS a 36-34 lead. But that was short-lived due to a trey by Ivins with 1:41 remaining, putting Metamora up 37-36 prompting NCHS head coach Dave Witzig to call timeout.

Following the timeout, each side called a timeout inside the game’s remaining minute, Metamora’s timeout coming with 1.7 seconds remaining. Coming out of that timeout, and NCHS having possession, senior guard Mitchell Sauder threw the ball inbounds to Redd who took a few steps, shooting the ball toward the basket, only to see it fall short as the final buzzer sounded with Metamora winning, 37-36. Gillespie was the lone Ironmen in double-figures with 14 points. Redd and Cleveland each contributed 8 points for NCHS. Mason and Landon were high scorers for Metamora, pocketing 12 and 10 points, respectfully.

Ironmen head coach Dave Witzig admitted after this contest he felt his team was “fortunate to only be down by three at halftime because Metamora really outplayed us in the first half. Our press got us back in the game a little bit, but Metamora, from the opening tip, was ready to play and we kind of felt like we were not ready to play. We were a little slow out of the gate and so we were battling the whole time.

“Their guys made a nice comeback and Ivins hit a big three to give Metamora the lead and their shooters were knocking out shots when they were open,” Witzig added. He labeled the contest “a good lesson for us because our guys have to be ready to play a 32-minute game.”

Ironmen Outpace North Chicago In First Round, 54-45: The Ironmen’s opening round win against North Chicago, 54-45 at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center put NCHS on the right path with a 54-42 victory. NCHS led the contest throughout lead 12-9 after one quarter, 24-16 at the half, and 42-28 after three quarters. Witzig said afterward the combination of his team coming fresh off celebrating Christmas combined with playing against North Chicago’s run-and-gun playing style presented a challenge for his team in the opening round. Redd led the Ironmen scoring with 19 points, followed by 13 from Cleveland and 10 from McCluskey. Junior guard Steven Rodriguez was the Warhawks’ lone scorer in double-figures with 19 points.

By Steve Robinson | December 16, 2019 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – An omnibus item on Normal Town Council’s agenda at the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Monday drew comments after being pulled by one council member. It also was the subject of public comment, as well.

A resolution approving financial support of the COMPACT Workforce Development Program in the amount of $25,000 to help the program continue operating in 2020 drew questions from Council member Stan Nord who asked the item be pulled for discussion as well as from two residents who spoke during public comments.

Up until this resolution, the Town had not contributed funds toward this program since February 2018. Following the discussion concerning this matter, Council members unanimously voted to approve it.

During public comments regarding COMPACT, Normal resident Doug Fansler said he wanted to know how the Town found $25,000 to contribute to the program. Another resident, and former write-in Council candidate, Karl Sila, took issue with not being allowed to discuss items not on the evening’s agenda before making comment on the contribution to COMPACT.

Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece about the amount of money the Town keeps in reserve for items that crop up. Reece said she could not give him the exact dollar amount right then, but reminded the first term Council member the Town tries to maintain a 15 percent reserve of cash for expenditures.

Charlie Moore, Chief Executive Officer of McLean County Chamber of Commerce, told Council members the Chamber receives 42 percent of funding from the Town of Normal and 58 percent of it from the City of Bloomington.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said the amount the Town provides “is amazingly small to charge for workforce development.”

Moore told Council members the Chamber has “an untapped number of potential employees and we use best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

A description of the COMPACT program put together by Town Staff explains COMPACT helps prepare individuals to obtain employment in careers currently and into the future so that individuals in McLean County can help “to have individuals and businesses in McLean County prosper.”

In 2018, Council approved funding of the COMPACT program by giving funding to the BN Advantage initiative in the amount of $67,000. Of that total, $25,000 was to be applied to workforce development, $10,000 to quality of life, and $32,000 applied for marketing. In February that year, Council applied $25,000 to McLean County Chamber of Commerce in support of the COMPACT workforce development program.

Moore added the COMPACT program “has an untapped number of potential employees and uses best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

Ordinance Amending Prompts Question From Nord: Another item on the omnibus agenda prompted Nord to ask a question concerning Town involvement. The ordinance in question amended a section of Town Code regarding prohibiting possession and use of cannabis, cannabis paraphernalia, and drug paraphernalia.

Nord inquired as to how preventing sale to minors was handled. Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day informed Nord regulation of cannabis is done through Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation, which oversees the licensing of such operations. Council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Community Investment Plan Approved: Council members next heard about the Community Investment Plan from for fiscal year 2019-20 to FY 2024-25. Town officials say they use this document to prioritize major capital investments. Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn told Council members he and his staff were very proud of the document and that it involved spending of $95 million over a five year period.

Public Works Director Wayne Aldridge responded to a question from Council Member Kathleen Lorenz concerning funding for the proposed underpass project at Uptown Station which would be used to make going from one rail line to another easier for passengers. Aldrich reminded the Town received a $13 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation for the project and that the Town itself would be spending a total of $650,000 of its own funds over a two-year period on the project.

On the subject of road repairs, Town Engineer Ryan Otto informed Council members the Town Public Works department coordinates such work with his department to determine repairs needed depending on severity found. Typically, he added, his staff does such repairs from mid-March through mid-November.

When it comes to pothole repair, Aldrich explained the Town tries to take care of major arteries first so as to try to head off needing to do a major repair later on. Council’s vote on CIP at this session was so it could be added to the Town’s overall budget when it comes up for a vote from the Council in January.

The vote on CIP was 6-1 approving with Nord as the lone opposing vote. Following the session, Nord said he didn’t want his vote on CIP to appear to indicate he was agreeing to spend money on, among other items proposed for the Town’s next budget, the Trail East Project. The Trail East Project is a proposed five-story mixed use building the Council approved in January which will be constructed on the east side of the Uptown Roundabout. Nord was not a Council member until his election in April.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Dec. 2, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Dec. 11, 2019.

• A motion extending the Diabetes Disease Management Program for one year.

By Steve Robinson | December 11, 2019 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – A new leader for Normal-based Unit 5 School District will be introduced next month.

Before the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board came to a close at district headquarters on Dec. 11, Board President Barry Hitchins reminded Board members they would be interviewing a total of six candidates who are seeking to serve as Unit 5’s next superintendent. Current Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel announced in September he would be stepping down when the current school year ends June 30 and seeking a similar position in the Chicago area to be closer to family there. Daniel and his wife, Janet, have just become first-time grandparents.

Hitchins announced six candidates have been found the Board wishes to interview. Those candidate interviews would took place Dec. 13 and 14. That candidate list would be narrowed to three and the three finalist candidates would be interviewed Dec. 16, 17, and 19. Hitchins said the announcement of the person to become the next superintendent of Unit 5 would be made once school is back in session sometime in January. The district’s Christmas break runs from Dec. 23-Jan. 6.

Daniel became Unit 5 Superintendent on July 1, 2014 succeeding Dr. Gary Niehaus, who retired after serving as superintendent for seven years.

Vote On 2019 Tax Levy Taken: Also at this session, Board members voted unanimously on approving the 2019 tax levy in time to meet the deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. The County Clerk’s Office will verify the levy in March or April and begin collecting the tax in May or June.

Board Approves $29 Million In Working Cash Bonds: Board members unanimously approved using an amount not to exceed $29 million in working cash bonds with the intent to use them to increase the district’s working cash fund. Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, explained to Board members approving this is the first in a number of steps to getting this matter approved including holding a public hearing in January. Among the items to be purchased include new buses. Hickman reminded Board members the district is responsible for purchasing their own fleet.

Grove Elementary’s “Good News”: In the only “good news” item for this meeting, Grove Elementary School Principal Sarah Edwards introduced Board members to teachers at her school who serve as several members of the school’s Student Support Team. It has become clear that one teacher cannot meet all the needs of every child by themselves. Edwards introduced Board members to Beth Beaty who serves as social worker at Grove. Beaty came back to Unit 5 after taking a few years off to raise her children, and since returning has provided crisis counseling, serves as a lead member of the school’s special education assessment team, and is part of the school’s Behavioral Leadership Team. In addition to all that, Edwards explained, Beaty finds ways to assist our families.

“Most recently she helped a single mother find a new apartment, assisted with her move, and found a way for her to get a reliable car to get to her new job and school program,” Edwards told Board members. I am so proud to work alongside Beth to assist the Grove School Community.

Next, Edwards honored the Grove Elementary Learning Behavior Specialists team. Jennifer Hawkins, Michele Kinley, and Katie Matthews make up the LBS team at Grove. “They work tirelessly to plan interventions, accommodations, and modifications to ensure that our students have equitable access to an excellent education at Grove,” Edwards told Board members. “They develop strong relationships with classroom teachers to plan instruction and develop goals and objectives. They regularly communicate and build trust with our families for strong and positive working relationships.”

Edwards also shined a spotlight on Kindergarten teachers Veronica Collins and Nikki Dillow, who encountered a unique issue with one student this year. Early on, they realized he was not talking at school — at all. Rather than letting time go by and hoping that he would become more comfortable, they took a unique approach to the problem. Collins called the family and built a trusting relationship. From that, the family opened their home to Collins to come and talk with the student, where he was more comfortable. Then each week, they took an additional step. One week they walked to school, talking with the boy the entire trip. The next week they planned a play date with a peer after school. The following week they invited the student’s mother in to start volunteering in the classroom.

All of these steps, Edwards explained, build comfort and trust with the student. “I am so proud to say that the student walks in the front door and says hello and talks at school, all because of the extra efforts of this pair of educators,” Edwards said.

Recently, the State of Illinois released their school designations, and Grove Elementary has been rated as Exemplary, Edwards informed Board members.

Board Receives Update From First Student: Board members received an update from officials of the district’s transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co. during the session. Chris Coyle, area general manager for the company, began by telling Board members he admitted the company had some struggles at the beginning of the year but that the issues which plagued the company at the start of the school year had been resolved.

The company has been at “95 percent on time performance for the last six weeks,” explained Roger Moore, a senior vice president for the company. “We’re confident that with the recruiting, the compensation package we have that we can keep that level of 95, 96 percent or higher going for the remainder of the school year.” He credited the current positive economy for being able to have potential employees come their way to seek employment.

“The bar keeps going higher and higher to try to retain drivers,” Moore added. Coyle said that as of this meeting, locally, First Student stands at having a 97 percent staffing level for drivers. However, he did admit he is borrowing drivers from other communities to fill vacancies for between 8 to 10 drivers calling in daily to not report for work.

“Rather than put it on the backs of the community, we’re bringing folks in,” Coyle said, explaining some of those drivers are borrowed from adjoining states. He added that from May through December, the company has hired 36 drivers while losing 15 drivers. He said the company has raised it wages by $2 to help keep employees.

First Student has had a contract with Unit 5 since 2012 but there has been conversation about not renewing the contract as late as November last year after a series of delivery issues. With the contract under examination for renewal again, Coyle told Board members, “We think we have a good team and can continue with the district. We know the district very well. We know you have different options and that you were, once, doing this in-house. You could extend with us – that’s our desire – hopefully, tonight we have shown you we are operating at a high level. We’re confident we can maintain it.”

Board Member Mike Trask told Coyle and Moore he “continues to struggle with issues” related to communication between the district and the busing provider, calling those issues “horrific.”

“At the end of the day, we’re paying you a significant amount of money to handle this operation and it’s not our problem to fix driver shortages or communication issues,” Trask told the men. “It’s not what we’re supposed to be doing. You talk about the size of your operation but I cannot figure out why the communication part is as poor as it is.

“I don’t know where I am on this issue,” Trask added. “All I know is we have a community that doesn’t have the trust that they should have in their bus company in transporting the kids to and from their house.”

On another matter related to busing, Coyle stated First Student has “a very good relationship with AFSCME,” the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, represented by AFSCME Council 31. Prior to signing an agreement with First Student, Unit 5 bus drivers were represented by AFSCME Local 2608 and Council 31. A total of over 200 drivers are represented by Local 2608.

During public comments, Renee Nestler, staff representative for Council 31, told Board members the local hopes to agree with First Student on a second contract for drivers. “With whatever decision the Board makes regarding the transportation employer for next fall, our expectation is that our union contract is honored and followed.”

2020-21 School Calendar Previewed: Board members got a sneak peek at the district’s 2020-21 school calendar, courtesy of Dr. Ray Epperson, deputy superintendent. He explained to Board members that district staff were asked to complete a pair of questionnaires in order to fill in certain dates on the calendar. With regard to one survey, Epperson said in the first questionnaire, most respondents said they wanted to continue having Friday, April 2, designated Good Friday, as a non-attendance day. Epperson said 77 percent of the staff said they would prefer to have that day off. He said with that response, the district then wanted to find out what day worked best for staff as the start day for the new school year.

The majority of staff, two-thirds, voted they would prefer to have institute days on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 17 and 18, followed by Wednesday, Aug. 18 as the first day for students to start school. He added that a couple of scheduled institute days for teachers have been moved from Mondays to Fridays. He said the reason for that has to do with there being a number of holidays which fall on Mondays. As a result of institute days on Mondays, some students missed out on attending art, physical education classes, or scheduled study hall in the school library. Making the change would eliminate students missing those classes, Epperson said.

With the change that was made, the four institute days teachers need were split evenly between Fridays and Mondays. Epperson said there will be a total of 12 “late start” dates – dates when school starts late so teachers can attend in-service sessions – with six in the fall and six in the spring. Should there be no use for the five snow days or any other days when school is cancelled, the last regularly-scheduled day of classes would be Wednesday, May 26.

Insurance Renewals Approved: Board members also unanimously approved renewal of insurance policies for the district. Those include property and general liability insurance, school board liability insurance, workman’s compensation, automobile, and group medical.

Next Board Meeting Jan. 15: With the Christmas holiday coming, there will be no second Board meeting this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Jan. 15 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | December 6, 2019 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Town of Normal officials invited residents to provide input on a number of issues at a Town Summit meeting held Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Community Activity Center at One Normal Plaza.

Participants were invited by Normal Town Council members where 60 residents gathered around seven tables to discuss varying topics concerning the community. At each table, a Town official took notes which would be turned in to Normal Town Council members. A Normal Town official took notes at each table, including Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer. Mayor Chris Koos and the Town’s six Town Council members sat in at each table but their assignment, under the rules established by the facilitator of the event, Lou Sumek, were strictly to be observers. He referred to those participating at each table as “discussion teams.”

Sumek, who operates a Florida-based firm which specializes in planning and overseeing such functions, explained that after the three-hour session, he would write a summary of what the citizens had to say which he would present to Council members to mull over during a Council summit scheduled for Dec. 7.

“Citizens will give you, if you engage them, a couple of hours,” Sumek said. “But they need to be engaged during the session. This isn’t the Council giving a presentation. This is Council listening to its citizens.” Sumek said from what he was witnessing at the event, “There were some real common themes emerging here.”

Sumek said he tries to hold the discussion teams at each table to six people each. Any larger than that, he said, and some drop out of the conversation. From his perspective, Sumek said, “You warm them up and then you let them go. The more ideas we hear, the better off we are.”

Sumek added the Town came to him wanting to know how residents felt about the current version of the Town’s Strategic Plan for future years. He said Town officials were looking for input on the plan and get it in a short amount of time. Sumek said he recommended the format for the meeting which was held, and Town officials agreed to try it.

“Our strategic plan look out 18 months to 24 months, really, kind of short term,” explained City Manager Pam Reece, who was among the officials present. “The Council is always looking at it and updating it. She explained the session Council members had scheduled for the day after this summit, Friday, Nov. 6, would involve thinking about things the Town could do over the next 18 to 24 months to get to where residents think the Town ought to be on certain matters.

Many of the summit participants raised their hands when asked by Sumek if they had lived in the community for 25 years or longer, with only a couple lifting arms if they had been here less than 25 years.

Jim Riker would qualify as one of the folks who has been in the community 25 years and said the folks at his table seemed in agreement on many of the things they felt the Town needed to accomplish going forward into the future. “We’re concerned about the Town’s debt,” Riker said were among items concerning the group he sat with.

In addition, Riker said the group at his table agreed that “we want the Town to stop the Uptown Normal project beyond where it is, and to not go beyond that, to the south side.” The project he was referring to not wanting to see started is the proposed Trail East project, which would include a 5-story mixed use building situated on the east side of the Town Roundabout.

He said the people at his table were of the belief the Town needs to stop increasing fees and “see where we are at and pick the right projects. We need to attend to infrastructure and roads, sewers. We need to get police and fire pensions fully funded.” That last item referred to the Town voting to fund those pensions at 90 percent rather than 100 percent by 2040 as proposed by the State.

Rachel Hile-Broad said she was at a table with folks who agreed the Town is headed in the right direction in a number of ways and if an improvement could be suggested, it would be that “there needed to be more avenues of communication for citizens with Council members and the Town, such as this one.” Hile-Broad said the Trail East project did not come up at her table. “There was a lot of affirmation about what the Town is doing at our table.”

Hile-Broad, however, did say there is always room for the Town to improve. She did say the Town’s debt did come up and was a point of disagreement among participants at her table. On that issue, Hile-Broad said, the members at her table came to an agreement the Town should employ “sustainable financing” as a means how to pay for projects going forward.