Bloomington aldermen signaled support Monday for a major overhaul to how the city’s elected officials spend taxpayer money on travel, meals, and other reimbursable expenses.
The Bloomington City Council discussed a new ordinance, proposed by Ward 2 Alderman David Sage, that clarifies existing policies and introduces new restrictions and transparency measures.
Sage said that after gathering a better understanding of how reimbursements work for the mayor and aldermen for different events and expenses, he wants the council to be more responsible with taxpayer money. He said there’s a consensus among aldermen for the changes.
“It seemed to me that our policies needed to be revisited, specifically for us as elected officials. We might be willing to hold ourselves to a higher standard related to that,” Sage said.
The changes would move the city toward a full reimbursement model, meaning elected officials would incur expenses personally and then seek reimbursement. There would be some exceptions that would allow aldermen to ask city administration to pay for, say, airfare or other larger expenses upfront on the city’s credit card.
The new ordinance would also prohibit any elected official from having his or her own city purchasing card, or P-Card. Mayor Tari Renner is currently the only official with a card in his own name, a city spokesperson told GLT.
Renner noted the speed at which Sage’s Oct. 4 request—made via the city’s agenda request form—for council discussion on reimbursements made it onto a meeting agenda.
“It’s an important conversation to have,” said Renner, who was leading his first meeting Monday since returning from a five-week medical leave of absence.
It’s unclear what specifically prompted Sage’s interest in the new policy. In his comments Monday, he referenced the “recent past” but did not elaborate. A message left with Sage on Monday afternoon was not returned. He was not available for comment after Monday’s meeting.
Renner has faced questions—and a State Police investigation—related to his summer trip to Japan as part of a 55th anniversary Sister Cities celebration. The city paid upfront for airfare for Renner and his partner—a local teacher who was a delegate on the trip—though his partner reimbursed the city soon after. Renner has denied wrongdoing against the “frivolous, ridiculous” charges.
City administration emailed the mayor and aldermen on Aug. 1 about travel reimbursements, according to records obtained by GLT through the Freedom of Information Act. That email was sent while Renner was in Japan on the Sister Cities trip.
The content of that Aug. 1 email remains a mystery. The city redacted the text of the Aug. 1 email and related emails requested by GLT, partially denying GLT’s request for the emails. GLT has since appealed that partial denial to the Illinois attorney general’s office.
In a letter to the attorney general’s office regarding that appeal, Bloomington city attorney Jeff Jurgens argued the emails “at issue contain preliminary notes/memoranda, recommendations, express opinions and formulation of potential policies,” which he says exempts the records from being released.
It's unclear if the Aug. 1 email played a role in prompting Monday's discussion or the proposed ordinance. The email was not referenced during Monday's work session.
Renner will appear on GLT’s Sound Ideas on Monday, airing at noon and 6 p.m.
Ward 8 Alderman Diana Hauman said aldermen should be more conscious on carpooling to events to lower transportation and parking costs.
Aldermen did not take any formal action Monday. It could come up for a vote Oct. 23.
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