RANTOUL — The process to change Rantoul into voting districts for the election of village board members will begin next month.
Residents approved a proposal in November that will alter how board members are elected. At present, trustees run on an at-large basis, with registered voters eligible to vote for all candidates. In the future, candidates must run in the district where they reside, and only residents of that district can vote for those candidates.
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said at last week’s village board study session that Mayor Chuck Smith would be announcing the committee that will oversee the “districting or wards in our community” in June.
The change won’t happen until April 2021, when all of the trustee seats will be up for election, with three of the seats elected for two years and the other three for four years as decided by the village board. Afterward, the trustees will have staggered terms. The board will have to divide the village into six districts of approximately equal population on or before Sept. 1, 2020.
In a special meeting prior to the study session, Mayor Chuck Smith recognized and thanked outgoing trustees Chad Smith and Jennifer Fox for their service on the board. They were presented plaques.
Village Clerk Mike Graham swore in four trustees who were elected April 2 — incumbent Hank Gamel, Sherry Johnson, who was appointed to the board last year, and newcomers Mark Wilkerson and Gary Wilson.
Smith said officers and department heads have been selected. They include Eisenhauer, administrator; Pat Chamberlin, comptroller, Danny Russell, ESDA director; Ken Waters, fire chief; Tony Brown, police chief; Greg Hazel, public works director; and Luke Humphrey, recreation superintendent.
Eisenhauer also said the village will be seeking an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant for renovation of Heritage Lake.
A meeting with an architect who will draw up plans for the project was held Monday.
Public Works Director Greg Hazel asked the board to approve payment for additional work required on a North Tanner Street railroad water main replacement, including $5,000 for engineering services and $11,400 for a change order for the project.
Hazel said changes made by Canadian National Railroad necessitated the alterations.
Recreation Superintendent Luke Humphrey asked the board to approve a resolution to accept a 2019 Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grant for $360,000 for improvements to be made to Rudzinski Park. The village’s share of the project will total $40,000.
The state notified the village in February that it had been approved for the project. The agreement to be voted on by the board provides for IDNR to pay the funds to the village.
The improvements will include a new playground, swing set, rubber safety surfacing, parking lot, shade structures, site furnishing and outdoor circuit training equipment.
Humphrey said he is not sure when construction will start, noting much of the time frame depends on when the state gets paperwork back to the village.
Police Chief Tony Brown asked the board to approve purchase of 28 body-worn cameras and accessories for $21,477. He said a state grant will pay for purchase of the cameras for $13,972, but not for $7,475 for the accessories, which will be paid from a forfeiture fund.
He said the police department has had body-worn cameras for about five years.
“The way companies work, they sell you these, then they stop supporting them and move to a new model,” Brown said, adding that having the cameras has been valuable to the police department.
“It’s something now that we see as a critical tool,” he said.
Trustee Hank Gamel inquired about using the old cameras at Hope Meadows, where he is director.
The board heard from four residents during the public comment section.
Chris Collins, who owns a home on Pinecrest Drive on the village’s northeast side, said he was angry because he pays $80 in a “flood tax,” and every time it rains, his street floods.
“We collectively pay more taxes than a lot of other cities, and yet our roads are wretched, except Indian Hills,” Collins said.
He asked why he is paying a flood tax “if it isn’t doing anything. Why am I paying higher taxes when you aren’t fixing our roads?”
Debbra Sweat asked why Rantoul is not represented in the Champaign County Community Coalition, which includes law enforcement, city officials and community health agencies whose goal is to address community concerns such as gun violence, youth opportunities, school improvement, employment opportunities and mental health issues.
She said she was told Rantoul does not “want to associate with this group” because it would put the village in a bad light. She said she believed that sentiment was expressed “by leadership of this community.”
Eisenhauer and Smith said neither of them have said and said the village does want to participate.
Eisenhauer said at least so far, the coalition has been focused on Champaign-Urbana area issues. When more of its focus turns to the Rantoul area, the village will be interested in participating.
Regarding an April 12 Rantoul Press article about the proposed Illinois Autonomous and Connected Track that might be built on former Chanute grounds, Sweat objected to some of Smith’s language when he said the development is “going to bring a lot of people. It’s also going to help us with our school because the population will start to change. Also, our income level will change. This will change the image of our community.”
Sweat said she wonders what Smith’s image of the community is “to make such a statement.”
She asked if the mayor has “secured anything for the citizens of the community” other than the U of I track if it is placed here. She said it will benefit civil service and academic employees and not necessarily the community. Sweat said she doubts it will have any major economic impact to Rantoul.
She also asked if all members of village committees are required to go through Open Meetings Act training and, if so, if they are on file.
Sweat also asked for a town hall meeting on a trauma-informed community, “how to bring this town together to talk about race, social and implicit bias in this community. And I would like to see that move forward with this new board.”
Jasmyne Boyce asked village officials to remain responsive to residents’ concerns that are made public.
She thanked the police department for its work on some issues in the community and said some youth-behavior issues need to be dealt with at home.
“I would hope to see that we have some counseling opportunities, mental health services to address some of these issues,” Boyce said.
She invited everyone to attend the year’s first farmers market, which will be held Wednesday, May 22, at the corner of Garrard Street and Congress Avenue. The market will be open bi-weekly through Aug. 20, and Boyce said hopefully organizers can secure permits for a special event Oct. 4. Boyce said vendors will be coming from all over the state for the market.
Wendell Golston thanked the board for “getting the eyesore” off U.S. 136 — clothing collection bins where items were piling up.
Golston said the community is “so fragmented” and said a literacy problem exists in Rantoul.
“People don’t comprehend,” he said. “They can’t read, which means many ... don’t understand.”
Golston said many parents and children can’t read. Some adults with jobs are illiterate.
“When we talk about the economic condition of this village, which we want to be a city, if you want it to happen to the west end of town, we’ve got to get some literacy in here,” Golston said.
The board also met in closed session for the setting of a price for the sale or lease of property owned by the village and to consider collective negotiating matters.