By: Diane Benjamin
A few weeks ago City Attorney Jeff Jurgens and Mayor Renner gave a talk at the Illinois Municipal League Conference. The topic was new media. I, of course, made sure I knew someone who would be in the room. The Edgar County Watchdogs and I were discussed at length.
This is not a guy from Bloomington and he was not familiar with all the facts surrounding what ultimately led to the Renner censure. I’d even forgotten that it started with Tari recruiting a couple of his students to attack Judy Stearns. This is the story – complete with the Renner comments – where it began: https://blnnews.com/2015/02/10/does-tari-know-that-judy-isnt-running/
Below is the report I received:
Lawyer considers Edgar County Watchdogs “A much different approach” than other internet individuals or groups.
I attended the 2016 Illinois Municipal League Conference and a class was given to those public officials interested “Governing In Today’s Blogosphere” by Sorling Northrup lawyers and the special guest speaker was none other than Tari Renner, Mayor of Bloomington, IL. Naturally since he has been written about a number of times by the Edgar County Watchdogs, I was interested. It was decently attended although not a packed house.
The class material itself was quite comprehensive although it broke no new ground. As soon as it was noted that the lawyer speaking had represented City of Bloomington (paid with municipal money) and praised how the Mayor does things, you knew the whitewash fix is in. In retrospect, what was going on was a biased discussion in another venue than the internet while complaining about bias in the internet. The class was informative as to the laws and what could be done about individuals and groups who write critical things on the internet about public officials and their behavior (very, very difficult to do anything at all). I did like the part about public comment being sure individuals “Be very careful not to discriminate” are treated properly.
The attorney led the discussion (Mayor Tari Renner chimed in) about people write critically about public officials and broke them into basically five groups:
1. The very, very, angry person who hates it all. Mayor Tari did point out that person could have legitimate reasons.
2. Concerned citizens.
3. Political advocates or opponents.
4. People who see themselves as Watchdogs (and organizations) and nobody else covers the issues.
5. Combinations of the above four.
Quotes by Tari Renner: “They have seen the truth and seen the promised land and you are Satan.” “A Bloomington Alderman said it wasn’t the right wing or the left wing, but the hospital wing.” The political scientist recommended to his students that “Everyone should take Abnormal Psychology”.
Then Attorney Jeffrey Jurgens asked the audience if they had heard of the Edgar County Watchdogs and a lot of them had. He said that a fireman had started the organization in Edgar County. It’s a long story. They had some success and then people in neighboring counties asked “Can you help me.” Now they have a big web site going all over. He has talked to the Watchdogs and said one of them was a fairly nice guy to talk who said we never get involved in local politics. It about getting things in compliance with the law and that’s a much different approach than the others. Hmmm….
When a big time Springfield lawyer is very respectful of the ECW and the previous conversation was totally disrespectful of all other citizens in this state who write critical articles about public officials and bodies; that tells you something about fear. Mayor Tari Renner said nothing about the ECW as I recall. In fact, the ECW had previously suggested to Tari Renner that he “maybe seek some psychiatric help.”
Mayor Renner went into great detail about a serious mistake he made. However, he didn’t quite tell everything. Posting a comment basically cussing out quite extensively a blogger for mentioning (in a reply to a blog reader about public twitter statuses, not a story): “proves the relationship. I could go farther. Renner’s son is his Facebook friend, not surprising since it’s a small school” will make you famous. The story itself was about a twitter status between a student (of Professor of Political Science at Wesleyan University Ph.D Tari Renner) and his girlfriend and attacking an alderwoman during public comment at a Council Meeting. Apparently such attacks have happened before and the blogger knew it.
However, at the time, I didn’t know that. What he said was that in February 2015, he got a text message from his son about something put on the internet about his son. Tari didn’t want his son made fun of. Then he proceeded to describe in much detail what happened afterwards. While it was used as an object lesson, something didn’t seem right. Here’s a Mayor with a PhD in political science. Family members are fair game for opponents and press. Afterwards when I found out about the subject being a tweet and the total connectivity of our digital society today (TV & media feeds of Twitter status is everyday stuff), what was the big deal that caused him to react so that got him censured by his own council….
Later, when the lawyer was discussing how to interact with the public, he said you (public officials) don’t want to seen as a shut off. When the Edgar County Watchdogs go into the room they (public officials) fold their arms and shut down and don’t interact. It’s a mistake the attorney considers wrong. You need to interact. He had a conversation with one of the Watchdogs about a township supervisor who hadn’t posted an agenda in 4 years and wasn’t going to do so now. “That’s a legitimate issue.”
The fact that the attorney used the ECW in a positive way as an example to a class for public officials shows that even attorneys can figure out that the Edgar County Watchdogs have arrived. Amazing…
Come to think of it, the blogger Diane Benjamin’s name wasn’t mentioned.
Warren J. Le Fever