NORMAL – R. C. McBride served one four-year term on the Normal Town Council, his term ending in April last year when he could not secure re-election. But thanks to an appointment approved by a Council vote Monday night, McBride will accept an appointment to the Normal Planning Commission. For McBride, it’s a return to where his local political career began because he served as a member of the Commission from 2006 until he won election to Normal Town Council in 2015.

McBride will be filling a vacancy on the Commission created by the resignation of Tejas Jani. Jani was appointed to the Planning Commission last November but will soon be relocating out of the area. McBride’s term on the Planning Commission expires on March 31.

An Illinois State University graduate, McBride is general manager of WGLT FM in Normal and WCBU FM in Peoria, both National Public Radio affiliates. WGLT signed on to take over operations of Bradley University’s NPR affiliate in April 2019.

In addition to his duties in radio, McBride teaches in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. He and his wife, Christy, have three school-age children.

But when the vote was taken by Normal Town Council members for McBride’s appointment, Council members approved it by a 6-1 count, with Council Member Stan Nord casting the lone dissenting vote. Nord has previously stated an objection to taking such votes to approve a committee appointee on the grounds Council members ought to be given advance notice about such appointments to give Council members an opportunity to interview appointees.

Nord said Normal Town Council members only find out about appointees to be approved when they are announced at Council sessions. By comparison, he said, Bloomington City Council members are informed a few days before they take a vote on an appointee. He said that gives Bloomington Council members an opportunity to ask questions about or to the appointee.

“Otherwise, Council members are just expected to just rubber stamp” appointees presented by Mayor Chris Koos, Nord said.

Koos contended the appointment process has been the means used to select appointments by the Town as long as he has been on Council since he was appointed Mayor in 2003. Koos is currently running for a fifth term as mayor in elections to be held next spring. He added there is an interest in using an interview process with people who would be asked to sit on boards and commissions, but Koos said the current political climate in which there is such division of opinion makes finding individuals willing to serve difficult.

Such appointments made “is the Mayor’s appointment, not the Council’s appointment,” Koos said, adding the appointment “comes with advice and consent of the Council.” He added “the majority of the Council” does not want to change the current process.

Updated Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan Presented, Accepted: Council members unanimously approved an updated bicycle/pedestrian master plan created for the Town by St. Louis-based Alta Planning and Design. Kevin Neill, planning associate from that company, presented the plan from his office. The Town original bicycle/pedestrian plan came from this same company in 2009.

The recent update began last November with surveys and in-person conversations, with finalization of the plan taking shape in June, Neill explained. Goals for the plan included matters related to connectivity, safety, equity, quality of life, environment, and economic issues.

The plan brought before the Council included not just sidewalks being increased, but use of sidepaths and shared use paths and trails, Neill indicated. He said there are a number of ways “to create mutual respect” between pedestrians and people who drive, which he showed Council members. Those included: A bike-pedestrian-traffic enforcement program, bike safety education, open street events, and even events like a bike rodeo.

Following the presentation, Council members had comments, starting with Chemberly Cummings, who stated she looked forward to seeing the updated program “being put into action.” Council Member Kevin McCarthy added what he thought was impressive about the plan was the fact that “it’s not the Council’s plan, it’s the public’s plan. The public came together, facilitated by the consultants, to tell us about this asset that we all love.”

Among those who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting was Kellie Williams, vice president of the McLean County Wheelers, a club for cycling enthusiasts numbering around 150 people. “We encourage the Council to accept and support implementation of the bicycle and pedestrian master plan,” Williams said. Although she could not quote statistics, she said she was aware purchases of bikes “had increased dramatically since stay at home orders were issued” in March. She called the master plan debut “well timed.”

Stating the potential the plan offers bike riders and pedestrians, Laurel Schumacher, a board member of Friends of Constitution Trail, said she was in support of the plan. “The plan will only further to enhance and enrich our community,” She said.

Zach Dietmeier, an employee of Rivian Automotive, said he was excited to see updates to the plan. He said a number of Rivian employees ride bikes to get to and from work. He added Rivian employees “from across the globe sing the praises of our trail system, using it regularly when they are in town.”

Resident Tim McCue told he has been working to help with the master plan, and added one of the measures of how welcoming a community is includes how accessible it is to its residents. McCue said the new plan “makes so many more resources in our community available to so many more people.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held Sept. 21, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 30, 2020.

• A resolution to accept water treatment plant chemical bids from November 2020 through October 2021.

• A resolution to award a contract to Greenfield Contractors LLC for the construction of a new salt storage building in the public works yard in the amount of $120,685.08.

• A resolution reapproving a preliminary subdivision plan for North Bridge Subdivision.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a collective bargaining agreement with International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local #2442.

• A resolution authorizing participation in the Local Cure Program and related programs.

• A motion to postpone the public hearing process for the text amendment for the One Normal Plaza Planned Unit Development.

By Steve Robinson | September 30, 2020 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – School buses, by the time they arrive at the school they are assigned to drop students off at, are generally packed with youngsters and packed again when it’s time for the students to return home at the end of the day. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members heard there will be a set number of students on each bus in an effort to reduce potentially spreading the disease.

Officials from Cincinnati-based First Student Bus Co. informed Board members at a session held Tuesday, Sept. 29 that among the precautions the transportation provider is taking to keep students safe includes students boarding buses from the rear door and exiting from the front door. Although most full-size buses have seating for 52 students, First Student is reducing that number of students allowed to 44 per bus. The goal of this change is to social distance students as much as possible. Officials for the busing provider told Board members buses will be cleaned after each run, as well as each evening.

District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle provided Board members and the socially-distancing audience members a thorough overview of the return to in-person learning plan. In her explanation, she included how the district came up with the plan, and the metrics being used to make decisions, as well as why the district currently plans to begin using a hybrid plan. She also shared plans for cleaning, social distancing, and air quality improvements.

While that plan is in the works on the belief all of the district’s over 13,000 students would be returning to classroom learning, current numbers show approximately 21 percent of students have selected to be fully remote.

Board members also approved the budget for the district for the 2020 – 2021 school year, including a $12.5 million structural deficit in the Education Fund. The budget will likely include items related to COVID. Prior to the vote, a public hearing was held at which one community member asked what cost-saving measures have been taken by the district. Board members shared that Unit 5 can’t continue to borrow to make its budget, explaining it’s not a sustainable plan, and that seeking out another source of revenue will be a necessity.

By Steve Robinson | September 21, 2020 - 10:25 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance approving a 4 cents per gallon increase in the Town’s Local Motor Fuel Tax, effective Dec. 1. The vote came after a one hour, 32-minute discussion, and was approved by a 4-3 count during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting held remotely Monday.

Following the discussion, Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Karyn Smith, Chemberly Cummings, and Kevin McCarthy voted to approve the measure while Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Stan Nord, and Scott Preston voted to oppose the increase.

Koos opened the discussion on increasing the Motor Fuel Tax amount by saying the Town was choosing what would be the best of four possible options to help the Town increase dollars for the Town’s general fund. The other options Koos mentioned included an increase in either local property tax, reducing available services from the Town, or doing nothing.

Smith stated her support by reminding “road work is expensive, and it’s a fact of life that most road projects are, at least six figures. She pointed out the Town is responsible for 430 miles worth of roads within Normal. She cited that’s enough pavement to stretch in-State from Rockford to Cairo. To do that, she added, “Is expensive.”

“Our citizens want more infrastructure, plain and simple,” said McCarthy. “They are reaching out saying they want more – they’re demanding more, and there’s a cost to doing more. It’s that simple. This is the best of not great options.”

“We have also – all Council members – heard from a tremendous amount of our citizens who do not want to see their local motor fuel tax increased, at this point in time during a global pandemic,” Preston countered. “That is an important piece that I don’t want to have missed in this conversation.”

While she said she understood road upkeep was important, Lorenz said Normal should be addressing how the Town prioritizes spending its general fund dollars. She said although the proposed increase will bring $1 million into that specific coffer, “the number in my mind, very conservatively, we need to bring in is $2 million,” and do so on an annual basis.

She said she has been lobbying for a combination of spending cuts and new revenue sources which would benefit the Town. She added she had “a hard time” accepting the ordinance as it is currently written.

Two Town residents – one in favor of the increase, the other opposed to it – addressed Council members in public comments prior to the discussion on the proposed increase. Normal resident Patrick Dullard spoke in favor of the tax increase explaining, “I believe it’s important to equal Bloomington, especially on a commodity-based tax. “IO think the Motor Fuel Tax spreads around to many users of the roads system, including many out-of-towners therefore lessening the burden on Normal residents.”

Resident Brad McMillan told Council members he opposed the increase, explaining, “Raising the gas tax during this pandemic will hurt those Normal residents most who have lost jobs or significant income during this historically difficult time.” He said adding the cost onto the budgets of struggling families would be, in his words, “Unwise public policy.”

Saying he understands Town infrastructure upkeep must be ongoing, McMillan encouraged Council members and citizens “to look together to find a way to make this happen without adding a heavy burden on those less fortunate in our community during this already tough time.”

Tax Dollars From Cannabis Sales To Begin Arriving In October: With increased incoming Motor Fuel Tax dollars not slated to come in until December, Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece when the Town would begin to see tax dollars coming from cannabis sales, which was approved On May 31, 2019, when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act to legalize recreational marijuana. The State allowed for those sales to begin starting on January 1, 2020. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill June 25, 2019. Revenue from those sales in Illinois was anticipated to reach roughly $1.6 billion annually.

Reece responded the Town anticipated beginning cannabis tax money starting in October.

Amended Site Plan For Evergreen Village Approved: By a unanimous vote, Council members passed a resolution approving an amended site plan for Evergreen Village, 1701 Evergreen Village Blvd.

Evergreen Village officials sought the amended site plan in order to add a second building, two stories high which would serve as a unit to aid residents with memory issues. The new building would be located northwest of the current 3-story assisted living building on the property, and the two buildings would be connected by a single story walkway.

Council members originally approved the site plan for the facility in 2006.

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

• Approval of minutes of special meeting held Sept. 2, 2020.

• Approval of minutes of work session held Sept. 8, 2020.

• Approval of minutes of regular Council meeting held Sept. 8, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 16, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with Illinois State University pertaining to fire service protection.

• A resolution reapproving the final plat of the Iden Subdivision (105-111 W. Locust St.).

• An ordinance amending Chapter 18 of the Town Municipal Code (Personnel) concerning the salary schedule for classified employees.

By Steve Robinson | September 20, 2020 - 10:16 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Cornbelters, The Normalite

NORMAL – Six runs in the sixth inning of the Kernels Fall League contest on Sept. 18 allowed CornBelters 16U squad to coast to a 10-1 win over 16U Hoots at The Corn Crib, getting week three underway.

After their first two batters struck out, CornBelters 16U took a fast 2-0 first inning lead courtesy of Dalton Kruger being walked and stole second, followed by Conner Landstrum’s single. A single by Aiden Boundy followed helping both runners cross home plate for a fast lead.

The 16U Hoots’ lone run came in the top of the fourth inning with one out starting with a triple by pitcher Clayton Garmon, making it home during an out by James Carlson. That cut CornBelters 16U’s lead to 2-1.

CornBelters 16U added two more runs, increasing their lead to 4-1 in the third inning, as Brady Bengston reached first base on a fielding error and make it to second on a single by Jake Morrill. Both men scored on a triple by Dalton Kruger.

CornBelters 16U’s 4th inning started slow, with Caleb Lehman striking out. With one down, Leif Blair singled and was followed by Connor Kearfott who reached first and was put out trying to advance to second as Blair scored, putting his team up, 5-1.

Drew Logan and Steven Darnell were the next two batters to reach base, Darnell doing it on an error and Bengston doubling clearing the bases, giving CornBelters 16U a 7-1 advantage.

The next batter, Parker Michaels walked and was followed by Morrill who singled. Morrill was followed by Ben Ponce who singled and helped Michaels score to put CornBelters 16U up, 8-1. With two men on, the next batter, Kruger, doubled, sending Morill and Ponce across the plate for the eventual final score.

Yard Goats Beat CornBelters 18U Win Sept. 11 Contest: Week two of Kernels Fall League Baseball action saw local athletes engage in a close game in the first of the two games played at The Corn Crib Friday night while game two ended after coaches mutually agreed to end the game deadlocked at 9-all after seven innings.

A double by Brazelton in the bottom of the fourth helped Jesse Worley from St. Joseph Ogden High home to tie the game, 1-1. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley product Hunter Brewer got credit for scoring the winning run. Brazelton claimed the win, while Alex Willey, a Normal Community West High player, took the loss.

Central Illinois 18U Outlaws, 29ers 18U Sept. 11 Game Ends In 9-9 Tie: In the nightcap game on Sept. 11, two teams with players primarily from outside central Illinois gave fans plenty of action to see, enough that by mutual agreement, both team coaches agreed to end the game after seven innings, with Central Illinois 18U Outlaws and 29ers 18U playing to a 9-9 tie. The majority of the players on the Outlaws roster were high school players from East Peoria area. The majority of 29ers 18U players were from Chicago with one exception – Patrick Mulcahey who was listed as having played high school ball at Bloomington Central Catholic.

Yard Goats Get Past BNBA Hoots, 2-1 In Sept. 4 Opener: The Yard Goats, an 18 and Under team comprised of high school students from Mahomet and Champaign areas defeated BNBA Hoots, 2-1, to open week two of KFL action Friday night. Bloomington High alum Nate Johnson, the Hoots’ leadoff man, singled to start the contest in the first inning.

But that was followed by a pair of quick strikeouts delivered by Yard Goats pitcher Hayden Brazelton, a St. Joseph Ogden High product, shutting down Hoots second baseman and Normal West High’s Mason Buzicky and U-High’s Chase Adams for two of the offense’s three quick outs. A double by Bloomington Central Catholic High’s David Broadbear scored Johnson for the only run in the inning putting the Hoots up, 1-0

CornBelters 18U Win Sept. 4 Opener: CornBelters 18U and Team Game 7 18U on opening night on Friday, Sept. 4 with 18U CornBelters winning, 4-3, thanks to University High’s Evan Kochel’s 4th inning grand slam home run, scoring teammates Adison Worthman (Bloomington High), Eli Hensley (Normal West), and Charlie Vercruysse (U-High). Team Game 7 18U players attempted to mount a 5th inning comeback but weren’t able to overtake their opponents. Players who scored for Team Game 7 18U were Mitchell Murphy (Normal Community), Mac Conklin, and Matthew Davenport (both U-High).

By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2020 - 10:10 pm
Posted in Category: News

NORMAL – Members of the Normal-based Unit 5 School Board heard plenty of comments about opening the school year remotely – most of it in opposition — at their regular session held Sept. 16.

By mid-October, when the second half of the first semester gets underway, Unit 5 officials’ plan is it will be with kids in the classroom, a plan the district had laid out for parents recently.

During their meeting, held in the cafeteria of Normal Community West High School so that social distancing could be used during the current COVID-19 pandemic, a total of 22 people – a mix of parents and teachers – addressed remote learning currently employed by the district. Each speaker’s time was kept using a portable scoreboard clock, some taking three minutes or slightly more to state their cases to Board members.

Parent Amberly Herbst did not lead off the session, but her brief explanation of how remote learning with four boys ages 7, 11, 13, and 14, set the stage for how many of the roughly 40 parents attending felt remote learning was going for many district families. “Even with fantastic teachers, ideal home environment, and four boys who do well at learning, E-Learning falls drastically short,” she said.

“Currently, at our home, we are surviving but not thriving,” Herbst said. “That’s all I have to say.” Her brief comments were met with applause from attendees.

Parent Kevin Draeger told Board members his elementary school age daughter has gone from being a child who loves being at school to being one who dreads doing remote learning. He added that although he and his wife “fully support public schools, my wife and I took a tour of a private school because of the experience that we’re having right now.” He asked Board members why, if other schools were basing being open on metrics, why weren’t Unit 5 schools currently open.

“Let’s not wait around again for some made-up date in October,” Draeger concluded, finishing by punctuating his comments with, “Let’s get them back today.”

Lyndsey Dickinson, president of Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), the union that represents nearly 1,000 district teachers, told Board members, “First, I have to say to the State first, unequivocally, we want to be back in school in person.” She added UFEA wants to be involved in the decision making process concerning the matter of when schools are opened, as well. She added decisions made at this time “need to prioritize the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.”

She said while UFEA agreed with the original decision to not to return to class this summer, it took issue with the district changing plans and resuming remote learning when the current semester started. She said that decision “was not made by us and not made because of us.”

Dickinson said she has heard some district administrators blame UFEA teachers for students not being back in classrooms. “Those messages are inaccurate and inappropriate and we want them stopped immediately.”

Sarrah Brubaker addressed Board members saying she started a Facebook page for people who want McLean County schools kept open during this time. She said the group had varying concerns including financial burdens families are experiencing and struggles students are having with the remote learning process.

Her husband, Tom Brubaker, told Board members, “COVID and health department metrics are not closing schools. Local leaders decide to close the schools.” He added the Center For Disease Control has recommended schools be open for in-person learning.

Jim Capparelli, a father of two, said Unit 5 teachers “basically gave up” on the kids when COVID-19 first forced school closings in March. “It’s time to check this and see it’s not working,” he added.

John Starnes, the father of a kindergartener and fourth grader, said while the older child is doing well, the younger one is struggling. “The children need structure,” he said. “Being at school together is how we all learned. The children need to be in school, the teachers need the children in school. The parents need the stress lifted off our chests because this is a stressful situation in America” with children not going to a physical school.

The perception that the kids are being given up on by teachers and administrators prompted two Normal Community West High School teachers to come to the defense of their colleagues. The first one to do so was Jim Rumps, who has taught English there for 21 years. “I have seen a lot of teachers come and a lot of teacher go,” Rumps said. “But one thing that stays is passion, and the fact that we can have people who say our teachers gave up is absolutely 100 percent beyond my comprehension. We show up on a daily basis for your kids. We show up for their social-emotional needs. We show up for when we can see them when they don’t understand concepts. To accuse a teacher of giving up is insane.”

Rumps was followed immediately by West driver’s education teacher Brian Cupples who called this past year “the hardest thing I have ever had to do in Education because you don’t have relationships through a computer screen.”

“We’re doing the absolute best we can,” Cupples said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to get back in school and be with our kids.” He added education goes beyond what takes place in the classroom. He said it’s also about interaction with students in the halls of the building, as well. He said it’s about watching kids grow up.

Superintendent Says “We’re Working Hard To Get Our Students Back”: Following the session, Dr. Kristen Weikle, district superintendent, said Unit 5 “is doing our best” with the situation and had reasons which were outlined in a plan provided to parents.

“We are working hard to get our students back, hopefully, at the start of the second quarter,” Weikle said.

Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle added afterward that Dr. Weikle formed a pandemic advisory committee over the summer which has been meeting continuously to work on plans for returning students to their classrooms. “That committee is looking at what must be in place in classrooms so that students and staff can be brought into classrooms safely,” Dr. Pyle added.

UFEA’s Dickinson added afterward teachers are nervous about safety precautions not being enforced or that enough supplies such as hand sanitizer or personal protective equipment, also known as PPEs, will be on hand for teachers and students alike.

Dickinson said much of the blame for the circumstance students and teachers find themselves in is the fault of teachers, and she wishes parents would not look at the situation that way.