Why have Metro-Zone talks been in secret?

By:  Diane Benjamin

Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing.  Obviously both local governments don’t think you have that right – just look at the North Main Property the City of Bloomington has $1.4 million tied up in.  The City purchased the land a year ago without ever saying why.

Now the tax-sharing Metro-Zone controversy has appeared.  It didn’t come out of nowhere, both cities have know about it for months.  Governments that want to spend more and more have to find the money somewhere, Bloomington now wants to cut Normal out of getting their share under the 30-year-old agreement.  (thank Jesse Smart for this one)

Most of the properties generating tax receipts are in Bloomington.  Normal was already hurting from Kroger crossing the street to Bloomington without them being told, now more pain courtesy of Bloomington.  Add the complete waste of money subsidizing Portillo’s because it won’t be the destination they dreamed of, and Normal could be in serious trouble.

Here’s a bigger problem.  Why didn’t you know anything was happening?  I thought Tari claimed to be open and transparent.

You don’t know because all of the Council discussions took place in secret – Executive Session.  The Open Meetings Act requires very specific reasons for talking about things in secret.  Since this issue has NEVER been discussed in public, all the Council discussions took place in private.  The reason for many  recent Executive Sessions has been “pending litigation”. How did this issue go from “being discussed” to pending litigation without the public being informed.  Is Bloomington so desperate for money they just started a war with Normal before letting the public in on their plan?

A public presentation of the issues should have been made long before now.  Representatives of both sides should have appeared in Open Session at a Council meeting.  Keep in mind this Council votes to NEVER release Executive Session minutes because they don’t want you to know what was said.

Did City lawyer Jeff Jurgens attend these secret meetings?  Does he know the OMA law?

Just last Monday Bloomington held another Executive Session and used this excuse:

metrozoneIf Metro-Zone has been elevated from discussions to pending litigation, the “discussions” took place illegally in Executive Session.

Of course, it can’t be proved because the Council will never release the minutes.

I wonder why Tari Renner decided to start a war with Normal in an election year.  Are City finances that bad?  Since no data is released anymore, we don’t know.

One more waste of money:

Monday night the Council decided (illegally) not to take the advice of yet another consultant.  Illegally because they casually voted not to use the consultants recommendation for designated truck routes.  Votes can not be legally taken that aren’t on the agenda.  Open Meetings Act violation number who knows!

The consultant was Lochmueller Group.  I found this payment in January, but I have no way of knowing if this is only for the truck route work.  Lochmueller gets hired frequently for research, remember David Hales can spend $50,000 without Council approval.

lock3The Lochmueller report is 23 pages long, it’s included in the Monday documentation:  http://www.cityblm.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=12017






7 thoughts on “Why have Metro-Zone talks been in secret?

  1. If you read pantagraph comments on this story, Renner didn’t want to stop paying Normal. It was a small number of councilmen. I can see the steam coming out of Renner’s ears, and his hands shaking!!

  2. Stated in the minutes from the above referenced link, “Alderman Hauman stated that transportation should be viewed in modern way. Safer biking opportunities and electronic charging stations would make the community more attractive to recent college graduates and businesses.” Is this woman nuts? Biking and electronic charging stations, ha! Recent college students move home with their parents because of massive student debt. They borrow their parents cars to go anywhere and sure the heck can’t afford an electric car.

  3. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. An Enterprise Zone was set up with the help of State funding to attract the car plant to Illinois. B/N entered into the Metro Zone agreement to share both Sales and Property tax revenue from the expected development adjacent to the car plant. Bloomington was more successful by attracting retail establishments (strip malls) whereas Normal relied on the property tax from the car plant and the since failed Outlet Mall. From the time the Metro Zone was established, Normal has generated far less tax revenue than Bloomington creating a $7 Million gap ($1M/year to Normal for the past 7 years) to the detriment of Bloomington tax payers. Where have we heard the amount of $7 Million before? The structural deficit!! The issue of the $7 Million gap from the Metro Zone should have been addressed by the Budget Task Force prior to the 1% Sales tax increase. Apparently, Renner couldn’t convince Koos to end the agreement prior to raising the tax.

    Fast forward to Kroger wanting to expand its College Ave. store by moving across Veterans Parkway to Bloomington. Now, remember the two Mayors wanting to establish an inter-governmental agreement to share Sales tax based on population–60% for Bloomington and 40% for Normal–in order to elevate “completion” between the Town and City. The majority of Bloomington’s Aldermen were NOT in favor of the shared tax concept. Normal’s Mayor and Council “refused” to dissolve the Metro Zone agreement unless Bloomington agreed to share Sales tax. (Extortion or childish behavior? You decide.) Apparently, in November at Mr. Sage’s request, an ad hoc committee consisting of both mayors, Alderman Sage, Alderwoman Buregas and a Normal Council member and both managers began negotiating a solution . There seems to have been a stalemate. Ward 2, Alderman David Sage led the initiative to dissolve the agreement, retroactive to December 31, 2016, with the support of Ward 1 Alderman, Kevin Lower, in addition to Ward 3, Ward 5 and Ward 6 by having the Resolution placed on the February 27 meeting agenda.

    Mayor Renner had nothing to do with protecting Bloomington’s taxpayers as he claims.

      1. There was a “draft” packet for Monday’s meeting attached to the on-line story. Koos’ letter of response was also attached. I do agree the discussions occurred in private because this is the first I heard of negotiations.

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