NORMAL — Normal Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer is not backing down on Connect Transit fare and route changes despite a harsh scolding from Normal Mayor Chris Koos.
Grammer, who called for the Bloomington-Normal bus system's board to be replaced last week, said Thursday she wasn't swayed by a Wednesday letter from Koos saying she aimed to "demean and vilify community partners," among other things, by criticizing the board publicly and on social media.
"(It is not) beneficial to belittle volunteer community board members and public employees who strive to provide passionate, diligent and thoughtful leadership to Connect Transit," wrote Koos. "I hope you would also agree that in order to achieve great success as a community, your efforts to demean and vilify community partners are counterproductive."
Grammer said Koos missed the point of what she said, noting his letter didn't address the problems poor and disabled residents will have after Connect Transit's board voted to cut the Olive route and raise fares. She's also criticized the board for failing to look at all feedback emails before voting.
"This whole letter could be summarized as, 'I'm angry; you need to be quiet.' I'm really surprised he would take the time to write it," said Grammer. "The only feedback I'm hearing from the community is, 'Stick with this. Help us get it right. We need public transportation, and it needs to be accessible and affordable to people who want to use it.'"
In response to feedback on the cuts, Connect Transit is building a "working group" with representatives from the city, the town, Illinois State University, riders and others to give feedback and educate the community, said Connect Transit Board Chair Mike McCurdy.
"We listened and heard what people have to say, and I think there's a need for this to make sure people understand the funding mechanisms and realities facing transit, and counter some of the narratives I've seen in the community," said McCurdy. "I would like to have the working group in place before our April 23 meeting."
Grammer also noted the town and township are separate entities with separately elected leadership. The township operates an emergency assistance program that Grammer noted serves many of the people affected by transit cuts.
"It was really humorous that he is criticizing me for using my work time and resources to advocate for the people I was elected to advocate for," she said.
Grammer said she's hopeful the Bloomington and Normal city councils may recall Connect Transit board members, especially given new aldermen and council members will be seated in May.
Koos and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner both said they don't plan to do so, but their councils can work around them under Connect Transit's bylaws.
Koos and Renner said they would discuss increasing funding to Connect Transit, a possible solution suggested by its board to prevent more cuts, but Renner said that's not likely for the city before its next budget, which will take effect next spring. Fare increases are effective Oct. 1.
Renner said he'd like to see cooler heads prevail on the issue after more than a week of sniping.
"It just seems like a massive misunderstanding that something like this would rise to level of removing people, firing people from their positions," said Renner. "The important thing is making sure, if you make a mistake, you don't repeat that, admit it and move on. I think they've done that, and we should be moving on."