Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Monday he’ll be taking a temporary leave of absence for undisclosed medical reasons.
The surprise announcement was made in an emailed statement Monday afternoon, hours before two scheduled Bloomington City Council sessions. He was absent from Monday night's meetings, as well as a Committee of the Whole meeting in council chambers Aug. 21.
“I have informed the City Manager and the Mayor Pro Tem (Karen Schmidt) of my plans to take a temporary leave of absence for medical related reasons,” Renner said in a statement. “I have made this decision under consultation with my physician and my family. I am thankful that we have a strong and capable city council and city administration to manage the day-to-day activities in my absence. My family and I appreciate privacy during this time as I continue to focus on my health.”
Schmidt, the Ward 6 alderman since 1999, referred to Renner's leave of absence at the start of Monday's regular council meeting. She said the council was "expecting to see him back very soon."
On Tuesday, Schmidt said on GLT's Sound Ideas that Renner would be teaching full-time this semester at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he is a political science professor.
“I’d be surprised if it was more than three (weeks)," Schmidt said of Renner's leave of absence. “I know he thought long and hard about what he wanted to do.”
Renner’s announcement comes as he faces an Illinois State Police investigation into his recent trip to Japan with the Bloomington-Normal Sister Cities Committee. It’s unclear what specifically police are investigating, and Renner has denied wrongdoing and says he hopes for a quick resolution.
Renner, who was re-elected for a second term in April, has come under fire repeatedly for his online behavior responding to his critics. Earlier this month, Renner posted several typo-laden and erratic comments on GLT’s Facebook page in response to several critics who chimed in about his Japan trip and related city spending.
At the time, Renner appeared surprised that his comments were publicly visible.
“I was responding on my cell phone and am terrible with typos if I’m not on a computer,” Renner said. “I would get an absolute F if somebody graded me on text spelling on a cell phone.”
In a related incident, Renner replied to an email from a frequent critic, Bruce Meeks, about the Japan trip, calling him “very sad and pathetic” and as “crazy as they come.” That email was sent by Renner to Meeks at 2:45 a.m. Sunday. Meeks later addressed the Bloomington City Council about the matter. Around that time, Renner also lashed out publicly at the editor of a local conservative blog.
Those were not Renner’s first problems with his online behavior. The Bloomington City Council admonished him in 2015 for comments made on the same conservative blog run by Benjamin. In that episode, Renner argued he was defending his son.
“Well, 99.9999 percent of the time I don’t bother to respond. When it involves somebody that you care about, it’s a little harder, especially when it’s been time after time after time,” Renner recently told GLT’s Mike McCurdy in an interview. He also said he feels “gutted like a fish every day” by his critics.
Ward 7 Alderman Scott Black, one of Renner’s closest allies on the Bloomington City Council, said he hasn’t spoken to Renner recently. When asked if the council has been told about Renner’s medical issue, Black replied: “We know it’s serious enough to warrant a leave of absence.”
“I know it’s a medically related issue. And I’m certainly keeping Mayor Renner and (his partner) Margot (Ehrlich) in my thoughts and wish him a speedy recovery,” Black told GLT.
“I’m very confident in our administration and our council,” Black added. “We’ve proven time and time again that we have the leadership to keep our community moving forward. We look forward to bringing Mayor Renner back with open arms.”
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