NORMAL – A 4-3 vote by Normal Town Council members during the governing body’s remote meeting Monday night resulted in Council members approving a resolution for entering into an agreement with Midwest Fiber Recycling so the company can operate drop box recycling in town.

Normal’s decision to approve the resolution now hinges on whether Bloomington City Council and McLean County Board members will agree to join the three-year intergovernmental agreement Town Council approved with the Normal-based company. Mayor Chris Koos and council members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy and Karyn Smith voted in favor of the resolution with Council Members Stan Nord, Scott Preston, and Kathleen Lorenz voting to oppose the measure.

When all three sides agree to the intergovernmental agreement, it would last for three years beginning Jan. 1 and running through Dec. 31, 2023. It would mean 7-day pick-up service at four sites in the Twin Cities, with site locations modified by agreement. There would be base processing fees charged by the ton and depending on material type, either paper, cardboard, or mixed containers.

Using drop boxes from 2013-2018, the Town collected recycling, delivering the materials to Midwest Fiber Recycling for processing, according to the report on the matter for the Council by Wayne Aldrich, Town Public Works Director.

In response to a question from Preston, City Manager Pam Reece said language in the agreement was being finalized by parties from each of the three sides. The contract presented to Council Monday, she said, was so Town residents could continue to take advantage of the service.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy explained he saw only positives in wanting to enter into the agreement with Bloomington and the county. First, the Town has a clause that will allow it to opt out of the agreement if there are issues which distress the Town; the Town now is not shouldering the cost alone once the City and County Board vote to approve the measure; and citizens’ desire to continue to use the drop boxes is still in demand. He added the fact that sharing the expense of the program with the City and County is “a win” for Normal.

Preston said he would prefer the Town continue the current agreement where the Midwest Fiber maintains charging the Town $7,500 monthly for the services rendered. He also said he would favor extending the Town’s current arrangement with the recycler.

Nord pointed out an ordinance passed by the Council in 2018 allowed for apartment dwellers to take advantage of recycling services provided by the Town. He then pivoted to the current action, saying, “All of our residents have the ability to recycle. If they have Town trash pick-up, they can recycle at the curb. If they live in an apartment, it’s mandated they have recycling there. That leads me to say this drop box service is not offering something that our constituents don’t already have.”

One resident who addressed Council members on this resolution during public comments urged its rejection. Karl Sila, a former write-in candidate for a Council seat in the general election held in April 2019, said the Council was “asking taxpayers to fund another ‘want,’ not ‘need,’ recycling. He went on to say information in the packet Council members received on the matter indicated over 70 percent of our recycling is not cost effective, and thus isn’t cost effective and uses resources.

“If the Council cares about Normal in these tough financial times, and cares about the environment as well, you should not rubber stamp this proposal spending more taxpayer money on something that sounds good, and you should do something that is good” Sila concluded, finishing by suggesting Town Staff should continue looking for a “more streamlined approach” to recycling considering the community’s present economic situation.

Koos Praises Town Staff Over Response To “Generational” Ice Storm: Town crews went into action to clear streets after the ice storm Koos described as “generational.” “The storm did do a lot of devastation in this community,” he added. “It’s a generational storm. It’s been a long time since I have seen damage like this. And I wanted to acknowledge Town Staff has been on it from day one. They were on the spot quick about getting ice off the streets so you could move about.

“I wanted to give kudos to Town Staff,” the Mayor added. “They always step up when they’re needed, and when they’re needed, they do exceptional work.”

NORMAL – Kyle Brennan was announced as the new Athletic Director for Illinois State University in a Zoom press conference on Dec. 31. Brennan will begin his tenure as ISU’s 12th person to hold that position on Jan. 15. He succeeds Larry Lyons who announced his retirement in October after 30 years with the University, serving as AD since 2013.

Brennan explained his passion for being in higher education saying he nearly didn’t stay with it until one of his professors guided him to the tract his career is at currently. He said he works with athletes “to help them achieve their dreams, not just to help them athletically, but also academically, and socially to help them become great adults as they move forward with their lives.”

Brennan said upon hearing about ISU’s opening for the AD’s position, “When this job came open, I called every search firm in the country and told them I wanted in on this job. The reason is it has such an amazing history.” Looking at Redbirds sports history, he explained its successes in Softball, Basketball, and Football showed him “a great opportunity to build on such great success that’s already taken place.”

He added the people he came in contact with during the interview process “really made the difference for me.”

Because of COVID-19, all interviews ISU staff did with Brennan were done remotely. He met face-to-face with ISU President Dr. Larry Dietz for the first time the day before the press conference.

Turning his attention to the Redbirds in relation to the Missouri Valley Conference, Brennan said, “I’m competitive. I didn’t take this job because we want to be good. I took this job because we want to be a dominant force in this conference and win championships. This school has everything it takes to do that.”

Shifting gears to another aspect of the job, Brennan added, “Community is very important to us, my family and I.” He explained that means “jumping in with both feet and getting involved in every aspect of the community, and we look forward to that.”

He thanked his family, which includes his wife, Beth, and sons Patrick, Mac, and Murphy. “They’re excited to come,” he said, adding his kids “are coming on a leap of faith.”

“What really attracted me to the position was the people,” Brennan said, who he met at ISU during his interview process. “After all the interviews and time I had with everybody, it really convinced me that this way the right place for my family and to have the opportunity to move forward and have success.”

He also thanked Lyons for conversations they had recently, and ISU Deputy AD Leanna Bordner for her efforts during the interview process. Regarding succeeding Lyons, Brennan said, “I’m humbled. I’ve got big shoes to fill, and I look forward to learning from him as we move forward, as well.”

Brennan said one does not get through life without there being people in life who help along the way, and began his remarks after being introduced by Dr. Dietz by thanking Dr. Chris Hill, athletic director at Utah for 25 of his 31 years at that University. He also thanked current Utah AD Mark Harlan, Barb Snyder, vice president for student affairs at that university, who, Brennan said, gave him some insight into ISU, and that University’s president, Dr. Ruth V. Watkins.

Prior to coming to ISU, Brennan has more than 16 years of combined University and athletic department experience at Northern Illinois University, Texas Christian University, Ball State University and University of Utah.

Dr. Dietz said the search for a new athletic director, which also makes that person a member of the University President’s Cabinet, was unique in that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, “it was the first time we held a Cabinet-level search without all of the candidates coming to the campus. It was different for all of us, but it worked.”

“When Illinois State announced Kyle’s hiring on Dec. 23, I commented that Kyle’s leadership and experiences make him an excellent fit for Illinois State,” Dr. Dietz said. “His terrific attitude perfectly complements his diverse and well-rounded background.”

A member of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association Fellows Program for future Athletic Directors, Brennan has been mentored by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith since 2013. He was hired in 2008 as Utah’s assistant athletics director for compliance and was named associate A.D. for compliance in 2009. In 2011, he was promoted to special assistant to the athletics director, and in 2012, he was named senior associate A.D. for administration. He was named the school’s first deputy athletics director in December of 2014.

Prior to joining the staff at Utah, Brennan served as the director of compliance at TCU in the 2005-06 school year and at Ball State from 2006-08. But his career life hasn’t always been in athletics. Prior to the job he had at NIU, Brennan was an estate planning attorney in Denver, beginning his collegiate athletics work as a graduate assistant at NIU during the 2004-05 school year. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Calvin College in Michigan, and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Denver in 2001.

The press conference opened with Dr. Dietz calling for a moment of silence for Ty Jordan, a freshman at Utah who was also named PAC-12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year. Jordan died of a gunshot wound back home in Texas, according to broadcast and print reports. A preliminary investigation by the Denton, Texas Police Department indicated Jordan shot himself, while reports from a Salt Lake City TV station indicated the gun went off accidentally.

Brennan thanked Dr. Dietz for acknowledging the loss of Jordan, saying, “Ty was very important to his teammates, to the University of Utah and it’s a great loss for everyone there. So I really appreciate the respect and honor that you’ve shown him today.”

By Steve Robinson | January 2, 2021 - 1:24 pm

On what should have been semifinal day of the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, also known to folks in the area as The Classic, Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus should have been bustling with activity: Players and coaches getting ready for or taking part in contests to get one step closer to possibly getting to a championship; Bleachers and the corridors outside the area teaming with fans; Special Olympics basketball players, coaches, and family members at the lower level basketball courts gearing up for another annual Ron Knisley Memorial Tournament.

But no thanks to a pandemic we have all been experiencing since March, the main gym, named in honor of former IWU head men’s basketball coach, Dennie Bridges, although lit, was silent. The practice courts just outside the big gym was silent and dark, one of the courts was even being used to store exercise equipment.

But this year, although the pandemic nixed the basketball action we have all come to anticipate and be thrilled by, if you went to one of the storage areas near the parking lot adjacent to the facility, there was plenty of activity on what would have been the event’s third day. That was because on Tuesday, Dec. 29, in what would have been the midst of the 42nd annual event, Holiday Tournament organizers held a canned food drive to benefit Midwest Food Bank. Basketball fans and residents are encouraged to stop by and bring canned goods and non-perishable food items for donation.

And from the look of the utility room Tournament organizers used for storage during the five-hour afternoon event, the public, including some teams who would normally find themselves on the hardwood that day, came through with plenty of donations. I don’t have a final total for you here, but I will get one and update you in a future column.

“It’s been a steady stream of cars all day,” explained Chris Highland, a member of the tournament’s organizing committee who coordinated the food drive. The food drive was born out of a suggestion one of its board members, Kraig Komnick, proposed the idea for the event to directors of the Midwest Food Bank.

By the time I got to the event, about 90 minutes into it, officials, some teams, and volunteers who would normally spend all or part of the tournament either keeping game scorebooks or doing public address announcing work had come by with donations to, what looked to me, to be a fairly full room to benefit others. “We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces come through and drop off donations,” explained Mike Wilkinson, a volunteer who serves as finance chair for the Tournament.

In August, when it was clear the pandemic was going to prevent The Classic from taking place, Wilkinson said, “When it was clear we weren’t going to have a basketball tournament, Chris reached out to some of us who have been active in helping and asked what we thought about doing something to benefit someone.

From there, the idea came for a canned food drive.” A few meetings in November followed, Wilkinson said. At that point, Wilkinson approached the other schools which host other games within the tournament to also collect canned goods. Those schools were Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, and Bloomington High School. He said a subcommittee of seven Tournament Committee members helped set up the event, which included organizing and doing publicity to get the word out about the one-day drive. He said he was aware to expect deliveries from Normal Community High School and Bloomington Central Catholic High School during the drive that day, so the kids didn’t want to be left out of action, even if that action wasn’t on the court.

I wasn’t able to catch up with either Unit 5-based school’s teams at this event. But being local “and wanting to do something with the girls” were motivating factors for Bloomington Central Catholic High School to join the Normal schools in donating to the cause explain Debbie Coffman, head girls’ basketball coach at BCC. Lady Saints team members always try to do a service project during the season, but COVID-19 has prevented that from being done, so donating to the Food Bank via the Tournament was the next best thing, Coffman said.

“The kids and their parents collected all their food on a Friday night and we were able to donate it today,” Coffman said, adding their donations filled an SUV. Coffman’s last two years at The Classic have been memorable, having won the championship two years ago and finishing fifth last year.

I asked Wilkinson if seeking donations for Midwest Food Bank could become a regular feature of the Tournament in the future. “It probably will in some form or fashion,” he said. “We have talked about doing something.” He said “something” in past years led to the Ron Knisley Special Olympics Tournament and the annual silent auction, both of which have become integral components of the larger tourney itself. Discussions concerning the future of the food drive are in early stages, Wilkinson explained.

Wilkinson, when he isn’t working or doing volunteer work for the Tournament, said he also gives of his time to volunteer at the food bank, as well.

Tournament organizers have adapted and added items to the roster of side events during the tournament. Here’s hoping the food drive soon finds itself among those extra features in the future, as it will prove beneficial, not just to those folks Midwest Food Bank serves but to those players, coaches, and fans who give of themselves by donating to it.

By Steve Robinson | December 22, 2020 - 10:37 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The Town of Normal has always taken pride in the fact that, even when there were daunting construction projects such as the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and the Hyatt Hotel in progress, the Town’s bond rating remained at a high level for creditors to make note of and residents to have some pride in. Toward the end of Dec. 21’s Normal Town Council session, City Manager Pam Reece let Council members know the Town was notified by Fitch Ratings, a top credit rating company with offices worldwide, has reaffirmed the Town’s triple-A bond rating.

“I cannot tell you how excited we are to hear that news,” Reece told Council members during the Council session held remotely as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. “We did not ask them to do a review. It was just one of their standard reviews.” She thanked Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn and the Town Finance staff for their efforts. She also thanked “all the Town departments who worked very hard to be fiscally responsible, also to the elected officials.”

Reece said receiving the Triple-A bond rating “is an affirmation that supports that we have ample reserves, and what the credit bureau calls superior budgetary flexibility.” She said the credit bureau noted “the Town takes an active role in economic development.” She thanked all those involved in helping to achieve the rating.

All Council members offered Reece and the staff congratulations on the achievement. Fitch first assigned a Triple-A rating to the Town in April 2010.

Capital Investment Plan Presented: Huhn presented Council members with the Town’s annual report concerning its Capital Investment Plan (CIP) for Fiscal Years 2021 through 2025. Huhn explained to Council members the Town has about 130 projects the Town would like to see addressed totaling $100,008,233 in cost. The largest item to be addressed with those funds, roughly 47 percent, will address needs concerning water and sewer utility service. Council members voted 6-1 to approve the plan with Council Member Stan Nord casting the lone opposing vote.

The second biggest concern which will be addressed, taking up roughly 30 percent of the funds is transportation development. Huhn said that will include maintaining roads, bridges, sidewalks, and curbs. The next category of items to be addressed using 18 percent of funds is capital assets which primarily includes all types of vehicles used by varying Town departments including police, fire, and facilities management. Parks and open space development will receive 3 percent of the funding, while public facilities will be addressed using 2 percent of the money.

Children’s Museum Update: Council members heard from Beth Whisman, Town Cultural Director and director of Children’s Discovery Museum concerning what CDM and the Normal Theater, both of which have been shuttered since the pandemic began in March have been doing despite those closings. Whisman said CDM has given away 8,000 Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math – or STEAM – activity kits to keep students engaged.

She said STEAM kits have been provided to a number of local agencies which children benefit from including: Unit 5 and Bloomington School District 87; Unity Community Center; Bloomington Day Care; YWCA; Bloomington-Normal Boys & Girls Club; Heartland Head Start; and Scott Early Learning Center.

Whisman said the closure has given CDM staff time to work on protocols necessary for when the Museum can open its doors again to visitors per Restore Illinois guidelines. She said CDM has received over $28,000 in grants for education outreach. She added that “when you have 140,000 visitors on a regular basis coming through your building, it’s rare that you have a few months to do big projects all at once.”

She informed Council members CDM staffers have used time while the museum was closed to the public to making improvements to both exhibits and to the building itself. She added the Museum store “has been vital to the Museum, keep a front door the public, providing access to our take-home kits and curbside service as well as our in-store sales opportunities.”

CDM has managed to maintain their revenue streams through its annual Halloween event and sales of its “Camp In A Box” kits, Whisman added. She said CDM will continue to offer its “Daily Dose Of Play” online as a means of keeping kids active once the weather gets colder once playtime is forced indoors.

One Committee Appointment, Two Committee Reappointments Announced: Before the Council session closed, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy announced the names of new members to two separate public boards and the reappointment of another individual to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

Michael Pettorini has been reappointed to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission. He was originally appointed to the Commission to fill a vacancy in March and as a result of this reappointment will now be serving a full term which expires Dec. 31, 2023. A 30-year resident of McLean County now residing in Normal, Pettorini is employed by State Farm with expertise in matters centering on facilities management, project management, and property management.

Rachel Lund has been appointed to serve on the Normal Planning Commission. Lund will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Dave Shields, who resigned from the Commission due to relocating out of Normal. Lund’s term on NPC expires March 31, 2023.

Through her employment at State Farm Insurance, Lund is involved with the Women’s Networking Group as well as the User Experience Research Group. She has previously worked as an Engineer of Human Systems Integration at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA. Her accomplishments while at NSWC Dahlgren included serving as Department Chair of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Social Media Manager of the Human Factors Engineering Technical Advisory Group.

Mandava Rao has been appointed to serve on the Board of The Twin Cities’ public transit system, Connect Transit. Rao will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Mike McCurdy, who resigned from the Board due to a job-created relocation out of Normal. Rao’s term on the Board expires June 30.

Rao was named Normal’s Citizen Of The Year in 2016, and a year later, was also recognized by Telugu Association of North America (TANA) with a prestigious service award at their 21st national convention for rendering services at national level.

Rao has numerous civic activities to his credit including being a founding member of the Minority and Police Partnership, an active leader within Not In Our Town, past president of the McLean County Indian Association, and has served as chairperson of the Town of Normal’s Human Relation’s Commission.

NORMAL – In this day and age, working for one company or organization in one’s career could be considered rare, possibly even unheard of. But the Town of Normal has a number of employees who achieved reaching milestones in terms of length of time employed. Prior to Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session, held remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Chris Koos recognized those persons who have worked for the Town and achieved such milestones.

Koos said such recognition for employees reaching job milestones or publicly reaching retirement has usually taken place during the Town’s annual Mayor’s Appreciation Reception, generally held in mid-summer. But the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the event from taking place this year.

Employees With 35 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Greg Troemel (Inspections Dept.), and Brenda Peden (Normal Public Library).

Employee With 30 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Mari McKeeth (Normal Library).

Employees With 25 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Scott Danielson, John McMann, Greg Mohr, and Bob Shumaker (Fire Department); Ron Stoll (Police Department); Eric Ashenbremer, and Ed Thomas (Public Works Dept.).

Employees With 20 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Terry Whalen (Engineering Dept.).

Employees With 15 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Jenny Raisbeck (Cultural Arts); Andrew Huhn (Finance); Amy Couillard (Normal Library); Chris Kelley, Chris Onsrud (Parks and Recreation); Shane Bachman, Warren Dobson, Jim Ferguson, Jeremy Flood, and Todd VanHovein (Normal Police Department); Andrew Casali, Cody Friedlein, and Chris Pipp (Public Works); Troy Knollenberg, and Chris McCammon (Water Dept.).

Employees With 10 Years Of Service (And Town Department): Chad Phillippe (Facilities Management); Carlos Aguilar, Matthew Johann, Matt Swaney, and Jared Zobrist (Normal Fire Department); Jon McCauley, Eric Sage, and Mindy Vaughn (Normal Police Department); and Dallas Woodworth (Public Works).

Retirees Recognized, Too: Employees who have decided to retire were also recognized by Mayor Koos. That list of retirees, (the department they worked in), and their years on the job are: Ed Collins 30 years, Kevin Henderson 26 years, and Darrell Reeps 25 years (Normal Fire Dept.); Mindy Dance 22 years (Innovation and Technology); Sheila Elgin 29 years (Inspections Dept.); Craig Humphrey 31 years, and Helen “Jeanne” Moonan 36 years (Normal Public Library); Brian Quinn 25 years, and Michael “Paul” Smith 26 years (Normal Police Dept.); and Tom Butler 32 years (Parks and Recreation Dept.).

The person who was recognized as having the longest tenure of all of those retiring this year is Paul Filter, who is retiring after 44 years as part of the Town’s Public Works Department.

Koos said the list was “pretty impressive,” and closed the announcement by saying, “Thank you all for your time with the Town of Normal. I hope you stay connected to Normal.”