Bloomington’s city council OKs 2020 budget, declines to set pay for police, cites ongoing labor talks

On Thursday night, Bloomington’s city council approved just five of the six items on its agenda that make up the legislative package covering the roughly $170 million budget for 2020.Single Bar Barchart of City Budget

The one item that didn’t get approved was the salary ordinance that sets police and fire salaries—they’re part of the same ordinance. It was put off, with a motion to table, which passed 9–0 on the nine-member council.

The decision to table the question appeared to be based on a hope for some kind of breakthrough in collective bargaining negotiations between the city and the police union.

A meeting with the city, the police union and a mediator, is scheduled for Oct. 24. The talks, which started with four meetings in 2018, did not conclude with an agreement by the end of that year, which was the end of the contract. So Bloomington police have been working thorough 2019 under a so-called “evergreen” clause.

Councilmembers also got clarification Thursday night that the proposed salary ordinance for 2020 means police would paid the same next year as they were in 2018. “It doesn’t appear that anyone wants that,” councilmember Steve Volan said.

Two factors seemed to give councilmembers the comfort they needed to entertain the idea of putting off a vote on the police and fire salaries.

They learned Monday night from council attorney/administrator Dan Sherman that they did not need to pass the salary ordinance by Nov. 1—which is the deadline for passing tax rates and appropriations. They also learned from controller Jeff Underwood that he had authority to pay firefighters and police through the end of 2019, based on the current salary ordinance.

The council will need find time to approve a new salary ordinance by the end of the year if police and firefighters are going to get paid in 2020. That will mean fitting it into a schedule packed from now until the end of the year with hearings and deliberations on the updated Unified Development Ordinance.

The council heard again on Thursday night from representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), who reiterated basic talking points they’ve raised at previous council meetings: Low compensation affects the department’s ability to recruit and retain police officers.

Speaking for police officers on Thursday night was 13-year BPD veteran Jeff Rodgers. The one thing he asked the council to do was not to pass the budget until after the Oct. 24 meeting. If the council approved the budget that night, he said, the city would have no reason to continue to negotiate with the union. Not voting to approve the budget that night would put some pressure on the mayor and his negotiating team, Rodgers said.

Responding to the idea that the council should put pressure on the administration in the collective bargaining talks, councilmember Susan Sandberg said she did not think it was appropriate for the council to insert itself into the negotiations.

Sandberg’s view contrasted with that of councilmember Allison Chopra, who said it is the council’s role and duty to put public pressure on other public officials, if the council feels those officials are not doing the right thing. Chopra called for a “major, major change, a drastic change,” saying that it is important to pay public servants the way they should be paid.

Councilmember Andy Ruff asked the FOP how exactly a vote to approve the salary ordinance would compromise the union’s bargaining position. When FOP president Paul Post took the podium to respond, he described the situation as one of maintaining “momentum” in the talks, because it took a long time to get things moving.

Ruff said he felt like tabling was the most neutral thing the council could do.

Asked by The Beacon after the meeting what would happen if the council eventually passed a fire and police salary ordinance, but no contract agreement had been reached, Post said, “The short answer is, I don’t know.” One possibility, he said, is that an extension to the evergreen clause could be made. The goal in any case is to ratify a new contract by the end of the year, Post said.

Responding to the same question, Underwood said the thing he needed in order to pay the police was a salary ordinance.

The other elements of the budget package were approved on 9–0 votes. Those included the budgets for Bloomington Utilities, Bloomington Transit, the tax rates and appropriations for the city’s budget, a salary ordinance for city employees besides fire and police, and a salary ordinance for elected officials.

The salary ordinance for elected officials got a mention during the back-and-forth about the consequences for not approving the salary ordinance for police and fire. Chopra asked Underwood what would happen if the council failed to pass Ordinance 19-22—referring to it by number only. Underwood said, “We wouldn’t pay you all!”

Chopra responded: “That’s an idea!” Volan chimed in: “Easy for you to say!” Volan was referring to the fact that Chopra did not seek re-election, so will not be a part of the council that takes over on Jan. 1, 2020.

When the salary ordinance for elected officials was up for its vote, Chopra said she felt the councilmembers earned at least what they were paid, especially her colleagues, who were able to put more time into the job than she could—that’s why she is stepping aside.

Two items in the budget package—tax rates and appropriations and the salary ordinance for other city employees—prompted councilmembers to reprise some of the same points they’d made on several occasions during the budget process.

Isabel Piedmont-Smith was sharply critical of Mayor John Hamilton’s decision not to establish as part of his 2020 budget a new cabinet-level position to address climate change. As an alternative, Piedmont-Smith said that she requested that a councilmember be allowed to sit in on an internal climate change work group, consisting of department heads, which the mayor has established. But he’d refused, she said.

“I asked for some crumbs,” Piedmont-Smith said, and the mayor said no. She felt this was indicative of the mayor’s attitude towards the city council. She called “petty” the idea that there should be an artificial boundary between the administration and the city council.

A specific question Piedmont-Smith had asked at the budget’s first reading, on Sept. 25, didn’t have an answer from the administration on Thursday: Does the flat amount per day paid to crossing guards work out to be a living wage when calculated per hour? The city’s deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen, assured Piedmont-Smith that he’d check into it. If the hourly-rate equivalent worked out to fall short of the living wage standard, Renneisen would increase the amount to rectify that shortfall, he said. Evident was Piedmont-Smith’s frustration that an answer to a question that had been posed a couple of weeks ago, had not been answered.

Volan echoed Piedmont-Smith’s frustration with what he called a certain “dismissiveness” on the part of the administration towards the city council. The administration’s omission of a parking cash-out program from this year’s budget was a sore point, Volan said. Volan generally complimented the administration’s thoroughness in responses to written questions that councilmembers had submitted. He held out the following response, related to climate change, as exemplary:

#48 Volan: You’ve had to implement a philosophy across the city: the increase of diversity. What advice do you have for the rest of the city to implement a philosophy of addressing climate change?
Community & Family Resources (Beverly Calender-Anderson) Although I am not a subject matter expert on climate change, I believe when you examine the notion of changing behaviors and beliefs for the good of the many, there are a few tried and true philosophies. The ideal scenario is for the commitment to come from the top. Mayor Hamilton believes in addressing climate change and regularly discusses this with department heads. In implementing any new philosophy, we believe that in order to reach people, we must educate, engage and entertain our target audiences. Like diversity, climate change may give the perception that people have to “give up” something in order to impact change. Residents need to be educated not only about the statistics and urgency of the issue but also on what will be gained or how they are enriched in the short and long terms.

Rollo echoed Piedmont-Smith’s call for a director-level climate position. His remarks were more conciliatory towards Hamilton’s administration. Rollo said that it was appropriate for the administration to have an internal working group, of which the council was not a part, pointing to the different roles of the executive and legislative branches of government.