Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he’s troubled by what he sees as increasingly hostile conduct aimed at elected officials, blaming local media for not doing more to debunk critics who he thinks will scare off others from running for public office.
Renner joined GLT’s Sound Ideas on Tuesday for a 35-minute interview, his first since returning from a five-week medical leave of absence. Renner, who was re-elected to his second term in April, said during Monday’s Bloomington City Council meeting that the “increasing trend toward acrimony in public discussion and a decline in public debate” is a “very, very serious thing” at all levels of government.
“We’ve had frivolous complaints, multiple lawsuits (against the city)—those cost time, energy, money, and frankly it discourages good people, not just now but in the future, from wanting to run and to serve in our community,” Renner said Monday. “And I know some people say, ‘Well if you can’t (take) the heat, get out of the kitchen,’ but that’s almost always (said) by people who have never served one minute in public office or actually had to make real decisions.”
City leaders have been criticized in recent months on several fronts, most recently the fraud investigation into the former U.S. Cellular Coliseum. Questions persist about why it took so long—more than seven years—for city officials and their auditors to uncover the alleged fraud and alert the police.
Meanwhile, Illinois State Police are investigating Renner’s office, apparently over spending related to his summer trip to Japan for a Sister Cities anniversary celebration. Renner has denied wrongdoing against the “frivolous, ridiculous” charges. Aldermen this week voiced support for a new ordinance that will clarify and tighten spending rules for elected officials, including the mayor.
Renner said a small group of vocal critics have “too much influence” on public discourse.
“Frankly the entire local media spends way too much time dealing with rumors and innuendo and non-truths. That’s the essence of fake news, and we deal with that every day,” Renner said.
Meanwhile, Renner declined again Tuesday to reveal the medical issue that led to his leave of absence. In a TV interview last month, Renner hinted it may have been related to stress. Renner said on GLT’s Sound Ideas that the issue will not affect his performance as mayor.
“I think that’s absolutely sufficient. I’m here. I’m ready. And we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead.”
Those challenges include finding an interim city manager before David Hales leaves for his new job in Joliet starting in November. The mayor will also need to weigh in publicly on the Downtown Bloomington Task Force’s upcoming recommendations, including the possibility that the group will propose a major joint library-transit center project on the Market Street garage site.
Renner will then have to lead the search for Bloomington’s next permanent city manager—a first for him as mayor. (Hales was a holdover from previous administrations.) All that will take place as the Coliseum criminal case unfolds, as well as the State Police investigation of the mayor’s office.
“This is a very busy time to be a mayor of Bloomington,” Renner said.
You can also listen to Renner's extended remarks:
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