NORMAL — Normal Mayor Chris Koos is trying to smooth things over with the city of Bloomington after a Normal council member encouraged a business to move from the city to the town.
"Normal Town Council honors the agreement not to poach businesses from Bloomington," Koos wrote in a letter to city officials. "I am most concerned by these breaches of protocols between the two municipalities."
The city and town generally work together to bring businesses to the Twin Cities and don't entice them to move from one municipality to the other. That became an issue in 2017 after Normal issued a statement condemning the city as an "untrustworthy partner," in part for poaching businesses.
Koos wrote in his letter that Normal council member Stan Nord, however, tried to recruit a Bloomington business to move to One Uptown on the Circle in Normal.
Nord also approached Bloomington Fire Chief Brian Mohr about combining departments or stations with Normal.
Koos condemned that as well, writing, "It had been determined that a joint fire station was untenable," and "there has never been any discussion among the town of Normal staff or council as to combining departments."
Nord, who was elected in April after criticizing Koos and his administration, said Monday he wants to find a new tenant for One Uptown offices that the town leases an an unusually high rent.
"I know you have issues with the second floor of One Uptown," Koos told Nord during Monday's council meeting. "I'll be reaching out to other council members to get their input on that."
Nord told The Pantagraph the business approached him after looking at other sites in Normal, and he passed their information to the town staff and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council for follow-up.
"To claim I am poaching from Bloomington is trying to create scandal," said Nord. "I hope the publicity the mayor has brought to this does not hurt this opportunity for the taxpayers to save a lot of money."
On the issue of fire departments, Nord said he and Mohr are childhood friends, and he didn't feel their conversation was inappropriate.
"I wanted to see if there was any chance and to hear the history as to why things didn't work out," said Nord. "My background is in business, so my view is, if something is worth doing, you keep trying until you are successful."
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said the issues "are certainly disturbing."
"I'm very glad Mayor Koos brought them to our attention. I think that helps us to continue the trust we've worked on so very hard," he said. "We've got a total of 17 elected officials (for Bloomington and Normal). Every single one of them can't go it alone whenever they feel like. ... I certainly would hope it would never happen again, on either side of Division Street."
Koos said he hasn't spoken to Nord about the issues, but City Manager Pam Reece has.
"It's not something you'd think you'd have to be told, 'You shouldn't be doing that,'" said Koos. "During council orientation and the council retreat, we talked about the roles of City Council members and of mayor, and it would be pretty clear this was stepping out of bounds."
Koos also clamped down on Nord's comments during Monday's council meeting, saying discussion of routine items is not the right place to re-litigate policy decisions like One Uptown.
"I would prefer if the mayor assumes I'm doing something, he ask before he makes something public," said Nord.
Koos and Renner both told The Pantagraph combining the fire departments wouldn't be possible, in part due to union and labor practices.
"We already work together," said Renner, including sending first responders from one community to the other, depending which department's personnel are closest. "As long as we're working together to provide these services, I don't know that this would necessarily help. ... We're as close as we can get to providing regional public safety without combining them formally."
Dick's Sporting Goods moved from Normal to Bloomington in 2016 with city incentives. Kroger has postponed a plan to move from 1550 E. College Ave. in Normal to a greenfield site down the street in Bloomington after the city offered Kroger a $2.45 million sales tax rebate for the project.
City and town officials talked in 2017 about sharing sales tax by population to discourage further poaching, but those conversations fizzled out.