BLOOMINGTON — While Normal has a new welcoming-city ordinance, it's unclear if Bloomington will climb aboard.
"I'm glad they did the right thing," said Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner about the Normal City Council's approval Monday night of the measure.
Renner and Bloomington Aldermen Diana Hauman of Ward 8 and Jamie Mathy of Ward 1 said Tuesday they favor proceeding with a version of a welcoming-city ordinance, which Bloomington has struggled with for more than a year.
Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black said he supports bringing the matter to a formal vote in Bloomington. Ward 5 Alderman Joni Painter indicated she was not committed at this point. Five other aldermen declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
By a 5-2 vote, Normal council members approved the ordinance, offering residents assurances that Normal police officers will carefully consider their interactions with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and tell residents why officers are requesting their citizenship information.
The Normal measure was developed in private and included talks over two months involving Mayor Chris Koos, ordinance supporters with the Keep Families Together Coalition, Police Chief Rick Bleichner and other town officials.
Renner said Bloomington has a draft welcoming-city ordinance that was signed off on nearly five months ago by city attorney Jeff Jurgens and Police Chief Brendan Heffner, but "for a variety of reasons, including having some City Council members say they didn't even want to talk about it, I did not bring it forward."
Painter, along with four other aldermen — Dave Sage of Ward 2, Mboka Mwilambwe of Ward 3, Karen Schmidt of Ward 6 and Kim Bray of Ward 9 — sent an email to interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen asking him to remove the ordinance from the Feb. 12 council agenda because they weren't ready to discuss it.
"Our version of it was one that would try to ensure that people, regardless of their immigration status, felt welcome, but also make it clear that under some circumstances, especially with sex or labor trafficking, our police have to communicate with ICE and other law enforcement agencies," said Renner.
But it might be the right time now to tweak the draft ordinance and bring it forward, said Renner, adding, "If people don't want it, then they can always vote 'no.' From my perspective we should do that as soon as possible."
While Hauman doesn't see Normal's welcoming-city ordinance as ideal, "we have to start somewhere. Public safety is my main concern, and also not having people live in fear. If a welcoming-city ordinance would do that, I could support it."
"It looks like a good compromise for all," said Mathy.
Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner will leave that position Friday to become a U.S. marshal, and activists said they hope that will change their discussions with the city on a welcoming-city policy.
Heffner declined to comment Tuesday.
"I am concerned that our citizens don't have a similar perception of our police chief that Normal residents have about their police chief," said Hauman. "I hear our chief saying they don't ask about immigration status, and I have to go by what he tells us. The ride-alongs that I've been on, I've never heard a police officer ask about that status."
There also is uncertainty over whether coalition members can agree with Bloomington officials on a welcoming-city ordinance similar to Normal's.
"The leadership (of Bloomington) is different from the town of Normal," said Dontae Latson, president and CEO of YWCA McLean County, which was a founding member of the coalition that has been rallying for 16 months for the creation of welcoming city-ordinances in both communities.
"I think Bloomington first has to show us some sincere interest, and if they want something similar to what happened to Normal, they have to show a willingness to even sit down and have the conversation. We haven't had that up to this point. It's been adversarial. They have to be willing to trust and work along side of us.
"The leaders in Normal ... had a sincere and genuine interest in meeting with us because they wanted to do the right thing," he added.
Painter disagreed with Latson's portrayal of the city's interaction with the coalition.
"I sat down with them. I listened to them, but I didn't want to do anything that would tie the police chief's hands," she said Tuesday. "We'll have to reconsider how we will move forward on this issue."