Hey, Wait a Minute | Is Bloomington’s annual budget process like slaughtering chickens?

Note: “Hey, Wait a Minute” is an occasional B Square Beacon series that highlights meeting minutes and other documentation of local government meetings in the Bloomington, Indiana area.

The Bloomington city council’s information packet for its Oct. 7 meeting includes some meeting minutes with dates from 2011.

A failed amendment to Bloomington’s chicken keeping ordinance as recorded in the meeting minutes of Dec. 21, 2011. The amendment that was eventually approved struck outright the prohibition against slaughtering a chicken.

Why are the meeting minutes from nine years ago just now in front of the city council for approval? That’s an interesting story, too. More on that later.

Maybe a little more interesting is the range of topics reflected in those 2011 meeting minutes.

Slaughtering chickens.

Approval of the 2012 budget.

And more.

On Dec. 21 of that year, the council eliminated a prohibition in city code against the slaughter of a chicken by someone who has a permit to keep a chicken flock under the city’s ordinance.

During the same meeting, an earlier version of the code amendment failed. That version would have added the stipulation that the killing of any chickens be accomplished in a humane manner and that the event be kept out of public view.

Another set of meeting minutes in next Wednesday’s packet, from Oct. 5, 2011, is possibly more relevant to some upcoming city council business, which is the approval of the 2021 annual budget.

Adoption of the 2021 budget is currently scheduled for Oct. 14, 2020.

According to the meeting minutes, on Oct. 5, 2011, an amendment to then-mayor Mark Kruzan’s final 2012 budget was proposed by the council, to eliminate $285,000 of expenditures from the cumulative capital improvement rate (CCIR) for 2012. The money went towards the construction of the roundabout at Sare Road and Rogers Street.

The amendment failed on a 4–5 vote, with just Dave Rollo, Steve Volan, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and then-councilmember Andy Ruff, voting in favor.

That year, the vote on the main appropriation ordinance, which also sets the tax rates, was approved on just a 7–2 tally. Volan and then-councilmember Brad Wisler voted against it.

What if three more councilmembers had joined Volan and Wisler that year, causing that vote to fail?

Under Indiana state law [IC 36-4-7-11], “If the city legislative body does not pass the ordinance required by section 7 of this chapter before November 2 of each year, the most recent annual appropriations and annual tax levy are continued for the ensuing budget year.”

If attention is confined to just the general fund levy, a failure to adopt the budget that was first-read at last Wednesday’s city council meeting, would mean accepting just $23,384,919 compared to $24,292,466, which is $907,547 less.

It’s fair to think that, as Democrats, all the councilmembers and the mayor would analyze the loss of nearly $1 million in revenue as a bad outcome. It’s nearly $1 million less in public services that could be provided. That would count as a damaging outcome for anyone who believes that it’s government that should play the pivotal role in protecting health, safety and welfare of all citizens.

So even if voting down the budget is sometimes described as the “nuclear option” for the city council, a better analogy for the budget process might be a game of “chicken” that plays out between the mayor and the city council.

The mayor and the council drive towards each other on a collision course. The mayor could swerve by revising the budget in the ways the council would like. The city council could swerve by going ahead and approving the mayor’s budget, without their requested revisions.

But if there’s a collision, that is, if neither the mayor nor the council is a “chicken,” they would still emerge mostly unscathed. It’s the residents of Bloomington who would wind up as collateral damage in the crash. That’s because they’d get nearly $1 million less in city services. (Of course, a different way to look at that is that it’s $1 million less in tax burden for property owners.)

Last Wednesday, some councilmembers lamented the fact that none of the revisions they’d requested after mid-August, when the budget was proposed, wound up in the final version of the budget, which was presented by the mayor on Sept. 30.

To be fair to the mayor, the council did not take any public votes on requested revisions to the budget, after it was presented in mid-August.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Like the slaughter of chickens by Bloomington residents who harbor them, budget requests from councilmembers are not required under local code to be accomplished “in a humane manner and out of public view.” (The proposed amendment on chickens failed nine years ago on a 2–7 vote.)

That is not to imply that for the council to take a vote at a public meeting on a requested budget revision would amount to inhumane treatment of the mayor.

Based on some of the remarks from councilmembers on Wednesday, when the budget was first-read, there could be some traction for revising the annual budget process for next year, so that it’s no longer so much like a game of chicken.

Now for the part that the most loyal of Square Beacon readers were waiting for: What is up with nine-year-old meeting minutes?

Approval of old meeting minutes

The reason nine-year-old minutes are a part of the city council’s Oct. 7 meeting agenda for next week has nothing to do the topics covered in those meetings. City clerk Nicole Bolden told The Square Beacon it was “pure coincidence” that the 2011 meeting minutes included the vote on the budget that year.

Since she was elected in 2015 and sworn in at the start of 2016, Bolden has been working on a project to fill in a few gaps in old meeting minutes. She’s working her way backward in time. It’s not a legal requirement that she’s trying to satisfy, but rather an archival purpose she’s pursuing.

Bolden said, “While there are some directions in the Indiana Code about the role of the clerk, I did not take on the project to try to satisfy a legal requirement. My personal view was that I should do my best to make sure the council records are as complete as possible. This included filling in as many of the gaps as possible.”

Some of those gaps require starting from scratch with recordings on audio cassettes. The CATS online archive goes back “just” to 2012.

The meeting minutes that the city council is being asked to approve next Wednesday weren’t done from scratch. Drafts had already been created, but not submitted to the council for approval. The clerk’s certificate that’s attached to them in the meeting packet reflects that the minutes being submitted to the city council are “a full, true and complete copy of drafts of the minutes of that meeting and which is kept in this office in the normal course of business.”

Bolden said the decision to include the clerk’s certificate was based on consultation with the Director and State Archivist for the Indiana Commission on Public Records. For minutes that her office prepares from scratch, the certificate is not included.

Regular readers of Bloomington city council meeting minutes will probably notice that the minutes submitted for approval next Wednesday are not as detailed in their narrative as some of the minutes prepared more recently.

Local code does not specify what information must be included in meeting minutes. Local code just says that the city clerk has to “keep an accurate record of all proceedings” and “record motions, and perform other statutory functions at council meetings.”

The statutory requirement for records of meetings, reflected in the Open Door Law (ODL) requires that a memo be kept that includes: the date, time, and place of the meeting; the members of the governing body recorded as either present or absent; the general substance of all matters proposed, discussed, or decided; and a record of all votes taken by individual members if there is a roll call. No narrative of everyone’s remarks is required.

The essential elements required in a “memo” under Indiana’s ODL are similar to the required elements of “meeting minutes” in the open meetings laws of many other states.

Under local city code, Robert’s Rules of Order (RROR) is supposed to get deference for city council meeting procedures not otherwise specified, even if RROR isn’t cited for duties of the clerk. RROR weighs in for less, not more narrative in meeting minutes:  “[T]he duty of the secretary, in such cases, is mainly to record what is ‘done’ by the assembly, and not what is said by the members.”