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.

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