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Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner at a recent City Council meeting.

DAVID PROEBER, THE PANTAGRAPH

BLOOMINGTON — A proposed change in the city code would strip Mayor Tari Renner's power to directly place items on City Council meeting agendas.

A new measure suggested by Ward 2 Alderman David Sage would require the mayor first obtain majority support of the council before placing an item on the agenda.

"I oppose any change in our city structure that would strengthen the ward system and lead to more closed government decision-making. This proposal would do both," said Renner in a text to The Pantagraph on Friday.

"I have no idea about people's motives, but I know a very bad idea when I see one," he added.

The council will discuss the proposal, but no action is expected during it non-voting committee-of-the-whole meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

"This is intended to update our city code so all members of the council — both the aldermen and mayor — would be required to have an agenda request form signed by a majority of the elected aldermen, which is currently five aldermen," Sage stated in his formal request.

Currently, items can be placed on a council meeting agenda by the mayor, city manager and a majority of the council.

"Backroom angling is almost (certain) to result from this proposal," Renner texted. "People will need a majority before it’s even discussed in public. That’s not open government."

Ward 5 Alderman Joni Painter disagreed, saying the change was about fostering teamwork between the mayor and aldermen.

There is nothing in the proposal that would prevent the mayor from putting something on the agenda as long as he gets five aldermen to sign an agenda request form, she said.

"It's not stopping him from doing that, but it is making sure he works with us," said Painter.

"I am astonished at the spin that this story has taken on," she added. "We're not trying to destroy our form of government. We're working hard to maintain it. We're attempting to help the mayor with time-management issues he's complained so bitterly about in the past."

Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt shared Painter's viewpoint.

"I do not see this as decreasing any authority but rather as a way to ensure consensus around projects and new ideas," said Schmidt. "This proposed ordinance continues to focus our efforts on majority-supported priorities. If any of us pull the city staff away from projects we have agreed on to work on other ideas, we lose our effectiveness and fail to accomplish our goals. 

Sage said he is seeking the change to ensure employees' time and taxpayer dollars are used economically.

"When we're working on priorities supported by a majority of the council, it's better use of money and time." he said.

But Renner thinks that in a ward-based system such as Bloomington's, it is especially important for the mayor to play a role in setting the agenda, to ensure all citizens throughout the city are fairly represented.

"As the chief elected executive, the mayor is the only city official elected by all of the voters,"said Renner. "That’s one reason why the agenda-setting authority (for the mayor) was included over a generation ago when we changed from at-large to (ward)-only elections."

City attorney Jeff Jurgens, in a memo to the council, said there are no specific provisions in the Illinois Municipal Code or the Open Meetings Act that address who is responsible for setting meeting agendas, but state law does state that the city council shall determine its own rules of proceeding.

The proposed change, if approved by the council, would not affect the mayor's power to appoint people to city boards and commissions, and ability to call special meetings, said Jurgens.

The city of Bloomington has a managerial form of government, as defined by state laws and city code provisions, he added.

In that form of municipal government, the council is responsible only for creating legislation, meaning local ordinances and resolutions, and payment of expenses. The city manager, who is an employee of the city and not an elected official, is responsible for all administrative and executive functions. 

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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle

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