Analysis | Geographic sprinkling of councilmembers in Bloomington still uneven after election: Implications for redistricting?

Now that Bloomington’s municipal elections are over, the composition of the city council from 2020 to 2024 is settled. The new edition of the council, which takes office in 2020, includes four new councilmembers.

Kate Rosenbarger will take Chris Sturbaum’s seat in District 1. Sue Sgambelluri will take Dorothy Granger’s seat in District 2. Ron Smith will take Allison Chopra’s seat in District 3. And Matt Flaherty will fill the member-at-large position currently held by Andy Ruff.

It’s the first time since the transition from 1995 to 1996 that the nine-member council has seen that much turnover.  That’s when Jason Banach was swapped in for Kirk White (District 2), Matt Pierce for Jack Hopkins (District 3), David Sabbagh for Michael Bonnell (District 5), and Rodney Young for Paul Swain (member at large).

The geographic distribution of the current councilmembers tends towards the center of the city. Five live within a mile of the geometric center of the city. Not centrally located are four current members: Jim Sims, Dorothy Granger, Susan Sandberg and Allison Chopra.

The geographic distribution of the new edition of the council doesn’t change the mix much. The Beacon fed Google Maps the home addresses of new members and those of the members they’ll replace. The walking distance calculated by Google Maps between old and new members is around 20 minutes for two of them, and for the other two 5 minutes or less:

  • 1.2 miles (24 minutes) from Matt Flaherty’s place to Andy Ruff’s
  • 1.0 miles (20 minutes) from Sue Sgambelluri’s place to Dorothy Granger’s
  • 0.2 miles (5 minutes) from Kate Rosenbarger’s place to Chris Sturbaum’s
  • 0.1 miles (3 minutes) from Ron Smith’s place to Allison Chopra’s

The trend towards the middle of the city for five out of nine councilmembers could help lead to a council in 2024 that is different from 2020’s council by more than four seats.


In 2022, the second year after the federal decennial census, districts for city council seats in “second-class” cities in Indiana like Bloomington will be redrawn if necessary, according to state statute.  (“Second-class” cities in Indiana are designated as those with a population of at least 35,000 and up to 600,000.)

The criteria that districts have to satisfy include: reasonable “compactness”; respect for precinct boundaries except in certain cases; and balanced population, among other things.

District 6 representative Steve Volan remarked at a recent meeting of the council’s rules committee that among the most significant conflicts of interest all councilmembers face is one that’s set forth in the state statute—it’s councilmembers who decide the boundaries of their council districts. The rules committee was at the time discussing how financial conflicts of interest are handled for individual councilmembers.

The League of Women Voters had advocated for a state level redistricting process that would assign responsibility for redistricting to a citizens commission.  Bloomington’s city council could contemplate local legislation assigning the task of city council redistricting to a different entity other than the council itself.

By altering the boundaries of District 5 just a little, a new District 5 could be drawn for the 2023 elections to include Kate Rosenbarger, Dave Rollo, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Steve Volan. That would guarantee at least three new members for 2024—unless some of the four chose to move their residence, or run for one of the at-large seats. (Flaherty would be easy to include as well, but he has an at-large seat, which means he can live anywhere in the city.)

Of course, redrawing the district boundaries, even a little, has to respect the balance of population and precinct boundaries. So it would not necessarily be easy to stuff four current district representatives on the council into a single district, even if that were the goal.

Here’s an animation illustrating the geographic contrast between the current edition of Bloomington’s city council and the 2020 edition:


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