BLOOMINGTON — A special City Council session set for Feb. 12 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts to discuss a welcoming-city ordinance was canceled Monday at the request of five aldermen who said misunderstandings about the proposal may worsen divisions in the community.
While the special session has been canceled, the regular council meeting intended to go along with it will go on as planned at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
"We'll have the City Council meeting. We won't have it at the BCPA. We'll have it at the City Council chambers at City Hall because we have taken the welcoming-city ordinance off of the agenda," interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen said Monday afternoon.
"We have a number of city councilmen who would not like to have it on the agenda, and we have another version of the welcoming-city ordinance that needs to be looked at," he said.
The council has been considering an ordinance that would declare the city's support for immigrants, regardless of their legal status, and limit city cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The actual text of the ordinance has not been released by the city.
Mayor Tari Renner placed it on the special meeting's agenda and had the meeting moved to the BCPA to accommodate what was expected to be a large public turnout.
Five of the city's nine aldermen emailed a letter Monday asking Rasmussen to pull the proposed ordinance from the agenda.
They said the proposed ordinance is a "redundancy" because the same language is in the state's Trust Act, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in September. They said they worried it would only create misunderstanding between the city's immigrant community and police.
"This ordinance casts unfavorable and unfair criticism on our outstanding police force, which is extremely unfortunate," said the aldermen in their letter.
"Misunderstandings about this ordinance have the potential to cause our immigrant community further harm," the letter stated. "Many citizens now harbor animosity toward those who feel differently than they do, with the result that our community is becoming further divided at a time when all citizens should pull together."
Renner agreed to have the item removed from the council agenda.
"While I don't agree with their logic, given that we've also had a counterproposal from people who are supporting the welcoming-city ordinance, it did seem like we could take a step back, take a look at what our options are and either move forward or not," said Renner.
"I am relieved that they have pulled it from the agenda and given the council time to thoroughly review this," said one of the letter's signers, Ward 5 Alderman Joni Painter, adding she has not seen the counterproposal Renner referenced.
A local coalition, the Keeping Families Together Campaign, favors a welcoming-city ordinance designed to add teeth to the Trust Act.
The state law makes it illegal for a law enforcement agency or official to detain any individual solely on the basis of any immigration detainer or administrative warrant from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after that individual becomes otherwise eligible for release from custody.
Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said their departments follow the guidelines of the Trust Act, but all three said they would be against anything that could otherwise limit investigation strategies, even if they involve ICE.
The coalition has drafted a counterproposal that would prohibit the exchange of information between city employees and ICE except for investigations of felony sex or labor trafficking, said Jenn Carrillo, mission impact director for YWCA McLean County, which is part of the coalition.
The group also includes Illinois People's Action, Illinois American Civil Liberties Union, the Immigration Project, Not in Our Town, the Unitarian Universalist Church, League of Women Voters, Black Lives Matter and New Covenant Community Church.
"What the Keeping Families Together Campaign wants the City Council to do is to debate and vote on the strongest possible ordinance that is going to keep families together in this community without fear of ICE while protecting ... immigrant/police interactions," said Don Carlson of Illinois People's Action.
City attorney Jeff Jurgens is reviewing a new version of the proposed ordinance, said Rasmussen, adding he did not know whether those revisions will be brought to the council at a later date.
The five aldermen — Painter, David Sage of Ward 2, Mboka Mwilambwe of Ward 3, Karen Schmidt of Ward 6 and Kim Bray of Ward 9 — also voiced a concern in the letter about the costs of holding council meetings at the city-owned BCPA.
In their letter, the aldermen cited a cost of $4,324 for two council meetings at the BCPA in December. Of that, the rent for the facility and lighting and sound systems was transferred from one city fund to another, the city had to pay out $1,520 to employees with the theater workers union.