BLOOMINGTON — While Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he was "cool as a cucumber" except when an alderman "screeched" at him at Monday night's City Council meeting, several aldermen are upset with his conduct, including allegedly disparaging them for asking to remove a welcoming-city ordinance from the agenda.
The issue of whether the council should adopt an ordinance limiting local police interaction with federal immigration officials has aggravated an ongoing divide among the city's elected leaders even as some aldermen talk about a joint meeting with the Normal City Council over a common approach to the issue. Where Normal stands on the issue also is in dispute.
Five aldermen — Dave Sage of Ward 2, Mboka Mwilambwe of Ward 3, Joni Painter of Ward 5, Karen Schmidt of Ward 6 and Kim Bray of Ward 9 — sent an email last week to interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen asking him to remove the ordinance from Monday's council agenda because they weren't ready to discuss it. Despite its removal from the agenda, Renner brought up it just before the end of the meeting, which drew about 100 ordinance supporters.
When he did, a sharp exchange of words between Renner and Painter and Schmidt left the two aldermen visibly upset.
"I think you saw my reaction. It wasn't good," said Painter on Tuesday. "Things have got to change or it's going to be an awful long three years (until the end of Renner's current term as mayor)."
Asking Renner to resign is "kind of a moot point," she added. "He wouldn't do it."
Renner said he did nothing inappropriate and there is no reason for him to resign.
"There was nothing that happened (Monday) night that would justify people being that upset," said Renner on Tuesday. "I was as cool as a cucumber, as I recall," except when he raised his voice because Painter "screeched at me."
As Painter was talking about who decides what is on the agenda, Renner interrupted her and she raised her voice in reply, telling him to let her finish.
"I said, 'No, you're out of order' because she started going off," Renner said Tuesday. "The mayor has the authority for who speaks and who doesn't. And I was correcting her."
At that point Monday night, Painter replied to Renner: "I join Karen with a lot of dismay about dragging us through the mud. Not only do you do it publicly when we don't agree with you, but in the paper, on the radio."
Schmidt also confronted Renner at the council meeting about reports that he had criticized the five aldermen last week at an Illinois State University conference. She said Tuesday she spoke emotionally but she was not crying.
"So, Mayor, I have to say to you that it was 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 (delaying the welcoming-city ordinance) and 'popping champagne,' because there is nothing further from the truth," Schmidt told Renner at the meeting.
Renner said Tuesday he doesn't think that was the reason "for why people were crying or upset."
Renner suggested Schmidt was upset because she had been criticized on social media for favoring the ordinance and then siding with those who wished to delay a vote on it.
She said Tuesday she spoke up "because I felt his remarks (at ISU) disparaged the work that has been done on this issue as well as the people who have been working on it."
After Sage asked Renner three times during the council discussion if he criticized the five aldermen at the conference, Renner said he didn't remember what he said.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who was at the ISU conference, said Renner "verbalized his disagreement with a group on his council," but Koos declined to elaborate.
"It's indicative of what we've seen other times," said Sage on Monday night. "These are tactics that are used, and so those of us who don't agree, we have to refuse to be bullied and not be shouted down and insinuated into submission."
Renner started the conversation Monday night by chiding the five for sharing their email with the news media but not with him or other members of the council.
He also disputed the five aldermen's statement in their email that the town of Normal was not interested in pursuing a welcoming-city ordinance, he said.
"They (Normal officials) have changed their mind. In fact Mayor Koos said as well as others that they are very interested in doing what we have," said Renner.
Koos said Tuesday that was not entirely accurate.
"My council outright has not completely rejected this," said Koos. "They are watchful and they want Normal to be considered a welcoming community, but they have issues with a couple of things in that (proposed) ordinance. I think they are open to a solution, but they don't feel it's there right now."
Schmidt said she would be interested in meeting jointly with Normal officials as well as members of the Keep Families Together Campaign, which has been advocating for the ordinance.
"At this stage, (Normal City Manager) Mark Peterson and (McLean County Administrator) Bill Wasson and I are just at the very initial stages of talking about what might happen with this," Rasmussen said Tuesday. "So there is nothing definite, and there is going to have to be a lot more conversation go on before or if we want to move forward on this."
Six aldermen released a letter Oct. 24 criticizing Renner for treating people with whom he disagrees in a way that "violates the shared values of the council" and "brings disgrace to our governing body."
A proposal to strip Renner of the power to place items on council agendas was set aside in November as the council shifted toward stressing working as a team.