NORMAL — Normal Mayor Chris Koos said he's holding off on filling a vacant Normal appointment to Connect Transit's board until the air has cleared — and he's not in favor of expanding that body in response to recent criticism.
"My timeline is determined by getting the right person on the board. There are a lot of agendas out there making my job difficult right now," Koos told The Pantagraph, referring to filling the seat vacated when John Thomas resigned last fall. "There needs to be a clearing of the air and some common understanding, and that doesn't exist right now."
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, meanwhile, has lined up two appointees who may join the seven-member board this summer — despite community criticism after the board approved fare hikes and a route cut this spring.
Critics have pushed for more transit riders, including those who use the Connect Mobility on-demand service, to serve on the board, and Bloomington Alderman Scott Black said that may be achieved through expanding the size of the board.
"We would have to look at the by-laws to see if we could add a couple of slots — one that is a Connect Mobility user and one that is a regular user," said Renner. "I don't think that is an unreasonable request to have at least one member of the board represent that viewpoint."
Koos prefers to address the issue through regular appointments.
"I think it's valid there is stakeholder representation, but expanding the board is not the way to do it," said Koos. "I take it as a discussion at this point."
Koos said his appointee won't be former mayoral rival Marc Tiritilli, who threw his hat in the ring last month.
"I'm trying to get people that have a broader view and are not coming in with an agenda," said Koos — but it may be a Connect Transit or Connect Mobility user.
He noted Normal appointee Mike McCurdy, the board's chair, is a frequent rider, and appointee Julie Hile works with the transportation industry through her consulting business, The Hile Group.
"I'm sensitive to the fact it needs to be somebody who's aware of some of the concerns right now," said Koos. "All those are in play for my choices."
Koos said he hopes the situation will be eased by Connect Transit's "Connect to the Future" working group, a new body meeting monthly through the fall to examine the system's problems and identify possible solutions.
McCurdy and General Manager Isaac Thorne have said the system needs to raise fares to stay fiscally viable, while critics said that cuts off low-income riders who rely on the bus and those who can least afford it.
"A lot of the issues going forward on this, people should give room for this working group to do their work," said Koos. "It may have an effect on when or who I might appoint."
Fare hikes are set to start in October and continue for four years. The Olive route will stop running July 1.
Maria Nagle contributed to this report.