Aldermen, Mayor Argue Over Welcoming City Ordinance, Mayor’s Comments

Supporters of the Keep Families Together Coalition packed the council chambers Monday night. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

Supporters of the Keep Families Together Coalition packed the council chambers Monday night. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

A long night of meetings for Bloomington’s City Council ended on Monday with a heated argument between several aldermen and Mayor Tari Renner over the decision to table a proposed ‘Welcoming City Ordinance’.

Renner had added the ordinance to the February 12 special agenda and moved the meeting’s location to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts to accommodate an anticipated large crowd after over 200 people filled the BCPA at a special session on December 18, 2017.

Last week five aldermen sent an email asking Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen to remove the discussion of the ordinance from the council’s February 12 special meeting agenda.

Renner said he felt “blindsided” by news of the email, which did not include him as a recipient, although it was forwarded to local media.

In the email, Aldermen Joni Painter, Mboka Mwilambwe, Karen Schmidt, David Sage and Kim Bray cited concerns that state laws already sufficiently protect immigrants, and that an ordinance may only further dampen relations between the city’s immigrants and police force.

Alderwoman Schmidt tearfully confronted Renner, stating she’d heard from several individuals that Renner had made comments questioning the aldermen’s commitment to the issue.

“I have to say to you, it is with enormous dismay that I heard that you said to a social justice conference at ISU that the five of us were laughing about this and popping champagne, because there is nothing further from the truth.”

Renner said he did not recall the exact nature of the comments made at Friday’s conference.

Ward 5 Alderwoman Joni Painter said this isn’t the first time Renner “dragged aldermen through the mud.”

“You not only do it publicly when we disagree with you in the paper and on the radio, but I have also heard reports of you going to meetings and saying that we’re a problem for you.”

Ward 3 Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe said the email he and four other alderment submitted to Rasmussen wasn’t meant to end the conversation on the welcoming city ordinance.

Both Mwilambwe and Schmidt said, while an ordinance may or may not be the right move to protect the community’s immigrants, they wanted more time for a full community discussion.

Supporters of the Keep Families Together Coalition, a campaign of various local advocacy groups working to institute welcoming city ordinances in McLean County, packed the council chambers Monday night.

Don Carlson, executive director of Illinois People’s Action, addressed the council on behalf of the coalition regarding emails uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request purportedly showing a close working relationship between Bloomington Police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“As these emails revealed, individuals are justifiably afraid that coming to the attention of police in any way may result in police informing ICE,” said Carlson.

In December, Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said an internal search of BPD records revealed no instances of its assistance with any deportations.

Renner said the city’s legal counsel Jeff Jurgens has already met with coalition members to discuss a newly drafted ordinance.

“From my understanding of what the Open Meetings Act requires, given that the council talked about this in public, you can’t just stop it privately,” Renner said. “So at some point this will have to come back to the council in some form.”

What's Next?

This is certainly not the last time the City Council will discuss the welcoming city ordinance, although it is now unclear exactly when those discussions will take place.