NORMAL – For a majority of the time they are together passing ordinances in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Normal Town Council members are normally seen as unified on many matters, with a few votes where one or two members oppose a measure. But with the Coronavirus-19 creating fears of catching a contagious and for some, a deadly illness, Council members were in unison at a special session Monday night, just not all present in Chambers.

In spite of the separation, Council members unanimously voted to approve an ordinance giving Mayor Chris Koos and City Manager Pam Reece authority to make as-needed emergency discretionary decision making powers in light of the current crisis. Even though the vote was unanimous, only Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy and Council Member Karyn Smith were physically present for the vote. Koos, and Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston, Stan Nord, and Chemberly Cummings used a current State law which allows, with prior permission, Council members to vote at the meeting by phone.

Koos said the ordinance was first written in 1969 and the Coronavirus situation is the first time any mayor has had to use the ordinance due to a particular set of circumstances. In addition, the ordinance permits a mayor to cancel any board or commission sessions.

“These are unusual times we’re facing,” Koos said. He thanked Council members for their efforts, as well as the efforts of Town staff and residents “who are working collectively and separately to make this Coronavirus as minimal as they possibly can.” He added the situation the Town faced as a result of the virus meant facing situations where a decision had to be made within a number of hours.”

Koos said he had been hearing about the impact this situation with the disease could have had on personal freedoms. He responded to that by saying, “I heard the concerns. There was a lot of concern about freedoms and rights. The Town of Normal has no authority to supersede the State of Illinois Constitution or the Federal Constitution. I will also say I believe in personal rights. I believe in personal freedoms. I spent a year in combat in Vietnam defending those freedoms.” He said neither he nor Council members nor Town staff take such matters lightly.

He added the ordinance allows the Town “to be nimble – to be able to act quickly for the benefit of the residents of the Town.”

The Town said public comment would be asked for, in person and in writing. One person, Rob Howard, told Council members he was concerned the Coronavirus situation for several reasons, one of which was the Town imposing a strict curfew upon residents. The Town received nearly two dozen emails, a number of them cautioned for the Council to avoid passing any measures which would infringe on citizens’ civil rights as it contended with the virus.

In addition to Howard, nearly two dozen people submitted written comments about the Town taking this action, most of them unfavorable. “I wholeheartedly disagree with the proposed emergency measures,” wrote resident John Otto. “While I understand the times call for precautions, I believe giving the power to regulate free commerce, like buying and selling of ammunition and firearms, as well as gasoline, as outlined in Section 25.2-12 of Town Municipal Code is an over reach and entirely unnecessary.”

At the Town Council’s March 16 regularly-scheduled meeting, the governing body voted to delay water service shut-offs. At their next regularly-scheduled session April 6, they will decide whether or not to carry through with scheduled utility hikes. Utility rates were slated for an increase on April

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