BLOOMINGTON — Ahead of a City Council discussion on Monday, one Bloomington alderman has voiced support for Mayor Tari Renner's request for a full-time aide, while another alderman says she doesn't see the need.
Other aldermen said they were looking forward to learning more about the proposal and the rest of the council remained silent on Friday.
Renner contends he needs the aide to help him keep up with the demands that he and most "modern metro city mayors" face.
A formal discussion on the idea is slated for a special meeting of the City Council at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall. The council will meet about an hour in closed session and then return to open session to discuss the mayor's request. The council's regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m.
The council is not expected to take any action on the proposal on Monday.
"Frankly, this is long overdue," said Renner, who is paid $12,000 annually to serve as mayor on a part-time basis. "This would be somebody who would pretty much go everywhere with the mayor, and help with constituency service, communication between the council and mayor, policy making and strategic scheduling of the mayor's time."
"We are not Mayberry anymore," said Renner, referring to the fictitious town that was the setting for two popular television shows in the 1960s and early '70s.
The job of mayor is much more substantial than it was 30 or 40 years ago, he said. "On the books, the job of mayor is listed as part-time. That's a total fiction," said Renner. "It is not a part-time job."
Renner said he "almost always" spends more than 40 hours a week on mayoral duties.
"It is quite common for communities the size of Bloomington, and even much smaller, to have dedicated staff available to assist the mayor and/or city council," said Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Brad Cole in a letter he sent Renner in July.
Renner included the letter in the council's packet of information for Monday's discussion.
"Given the mayor's unrealistic salary, unless you are retired or independently wealthy you're going to have to juggle two full-time gigs, because you're going to have to have something that pays your (personal) bills," said Renner, who is a political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
The council would have to approve an ordinance to amend the fiscal 2018 budget to pay $50,000 for eight months of salary and benefits and $90,000 for a full year, according to a memo drafted by staff to the council.
"I put it in as a political appointment, which means whoever I would appoint, the next mayor could appoint their own person," said Renner.
"This person needs to be a jack of all trades. In a sense, someone who would represent the mayor at certain functions or even neighborhood organizations, who would work with the council on constituency concerns," he added. "I would call it an ombudsman function."
In May, almost immediately after he was sworn in after winning re-election to a second term, Renner said he began talking individually to some aldermen about having an aide to help him.
"Given the strong executive team in the city manager's office, I am hard-pressed to understand why we would need this additional individual," said Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt.
Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black said he supports the position.
"In my time on council, we continue to hear from staff of limited resources to research proposals, review policies, make comparative analysis and shepherd projects to fruition," said Black. "I'm excited to have a dedicated resource to dig deep and ensure the council is getting the best bang for the taxpayer's buck."
Aldermen Diana Hauman of Ward 8 and Amelia Buragas of Ward 4 both said they are looking forward to discussing the proposal in more detail.
"The demands on the mayor are substantial and it does not surprise me in the least that Mayor Renner has asked for assistance so that he can provide the high level of constituent services and efficiency that our residents deserve," said Buragas.
Hauman said, that as of about 12:30 p.m. Friday, the emails she had received on the topic expressed opposition.
"I have received about a dozen emails and they've been asking me not to support this," she said.
Renner wants each council member to follow him around for a week "so that they get some idea of what it is like to be a metro mayor," said Renner. "Unless you've done it, you have no idea of what it is like."
Renner said he is not trying to change Bloomington's council-city manager form of government.
"I've heard some people misunderstand this," he said. "This is not a first step toward making Bloomington a strong mayor form of government.
"It's just the recognition that the mayor has a boatload of things going on, and if the mayor is going to be effective, somebody should be making sure that the mayor's time is used effectively and that the mayor is informed properly about things ... because you can't be everywhere."