On Monday night, Scott Robinson was confirmed by the city plan commission as director of a Bloomington city department that, for the time being at least, is called the planning and transportation department.
The unanimous vote by plan commissioners came after a rare appearance by the mayor at a plan commission meeting, who introduced Robinson as his appointment to head the department.
Mayor John Hamilton intends to rename the department, to eliminate the word “transportation.” The intended move provoked the ire of some city councilmembers, when it was revealed at a recent public meeting of the city council about the proposed 2021 budget. Councilmembers had some objections based on substance, but were also annoyed because the news came as a surprise.
Not a surprise was Hamilton’s introduction of Robinson to the plan commission on Monday night. For one thing, a press release issued a couple of weeks ago announced that Robinson, who was assistant director of the department, was the mayor’s choice to replace Terri Porter. She retired on Sept. 25 after serving as director for about three and a half years.
For another thing, the meeting agenda item about the confirmation named Robinson.
Finally, Robinson appeared to be a clear consensus choice. He has been with the city for 18 years. Brad Wisler, president of the plan commission, called Robinson the “obvious choice,” adding that Robinson was also a “well-qualified, well deserved choice.”
Hamilton told the plan commissioners that the national search for Porter’s replacement included four finalists—one internal candidate and three external candidates. Hamilton called Robinson “a terrific ally and asset to the community and to this department.”
According to the city’s press release, Robinson earned a master’s degree in planning from the University of Wyoming and a bachelor’s in political science and biology from the University of Colorado. As director of the department, Robinson will be paid $101,418 a year.
In his brief remarks to the commission on Monday night, Robinson told them, “I appreciate everybody, working with you over the years and look forward to continue to work with you all.”
Robinson, “I have a great support team that I rely very heavily on. … I’ll let you get on to tonight’s business, but thank you.”
Robinson did key work on the revision to the city’s comprehensive plan and more recently the unified development ordinance (UDO), on which the city council acted late last year. Sometime in early 2021, revisions to the new zoning map, based on some new zoning classifications in the UDO, are expected to be in front of the city council. Robinson will likely be visible as a key figure in that work, too.
The presentation of Robinson to the plan commission by Hamilton for confirmation as department head was not just a courtesy. It’s required under state law. [36-4-9-2(a)(4)]
State law also requires legislative action by the city council to create a new city department. [36-4-9-4]
At the city council’s Sept. 30 meeting, the statute on creating a new city department came up in connection with the possible renaming of the planning and transportation department. On that occasion, city council president Steve Volan questioned whether the same statute on creating a new department would apply to the mayor’s intended renaming of the planning and transportation department.
At the Sept. 30 city council meeting, Bloomington’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, said, “I don’t know exactly about name changes…” But for the creation of the new engineering department, by moving the city engineer and some other staff out of planning and transportation, Guthrie said approval of an ordinance would be required: “Because what we would be doing is creating a new department, an engineering department. So that would require an ordinance, but you wouldn’t address that ordinance unless you approve this change by the budget.”
The budget that the council is being asked to approve on Oct. 14 looks like it presupposes the existence of the new engineering department, both in the salary ordinance and in Form 1 of the official budget.
At the city council meeting on Sept 30, which grew contentious over the issue of the departmental name change, Robinson was asked to weigh in on the topic by director of human resources, Caroline Shaw. Robinson said, “Previously, we were just called the planning department. Planning functions still are the same that we did at that time, as we do now, as far as planning for transportation.”
As far as the engineering function, Robinson said, “Engineering is seen as kind of the capital arm that implements those projects. We’ll still coordinate with [the engineering department]. So the title and name…doesn’t reflect any change in duty we will be doing with the creation of the engineering department.”
Robinson added, “And all the transportation planning functions with Metropolitan Planning Organization, and long range planning are still within the planning department—or planning and transportation today.”