On Friday morning, the first remonstrators against Bloomington’s annexations showed up at Monroe County courthouse.
Friday was the start to the formal petitioning process for property owners inside any of the seven areas that Bloomington wants to annex. That’s because Friday’s edition of The Herald-Times carried a public notice of the city council’s adoption of annexation ordinances.
The notice is required to be published in a newspaper as defined under Indiana state law.
Under state law, the 90-day window to submit remonstration petition signatures translates into a deadline of Jan. 6, 2022 at 4 p.m.
Around 9:45 a.m., Ted Ochsner and Jean Donatiello arrived at the courthouse lobby to sign their remonstrance petitions. They’re next-door neighbors who live in the Sterling Woods neighborhood of annexation Area 2.
Sterling Woods is southeast of the intersection of the Rohrer and Snoddy roads. In the formal remonstrance paperwork, Area 2 is also known as South-East Bloomington Annexation.
Ochsner and Donatiello were also picking up the paperwork for their neighbors to sign.
Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith and deputy auditor Chis Muench were on hand in the courthouse lobby to walk the two through the steps of signing their own papers and collecting signatures from their neighbors.
They will be able to collect signatures only from other landowners in Area 2, not any of the other six areas that Bloomington wants to annex.
Even though there’s a 90-day window, Ochsner told The B Square he thinks his immediate neighborhood will have its signatures turned in by Halloween.
Several property owners signed pre-petitions to provide an indication to the Bloomington city council of their opposition to annexation. The annexation of each of the seven areas was approved by a tally of 6–3 on the nine-member council.
During public comment time at the meetings when Bloomington’s city council was considering annexation, opponents said they’d collected signatures from more than 65 percent of landowners in some areas. That high of a percentage would simply stop Bloomington’s annexation bid for that area—if the same number signed the official remonstrance papers.
For other areas, opponents said they’d collected pre-petition signatures from more than 50 percent of landowners, which would be enough to get a hearing in court.
Ochsner said that 51 out of 52 property owners in his neighborhood had signed pre-petitions, saying that they intend to remonstrate. Now comes the time when they’ll need to follow through, and Ochsner thinks they will.
Ochsner added, “We are to be reckoned with.”
When The B Square checked in at the courthouse at the end of the day on Friday, Smith said nine people had stopped by to sign a petition for some area. Smith also reported that a total of 49 signature collection sheets, with 25 spaces per sheet, were picked up.
The potential 1,225 signatures on those sheets would amount to at least a quarter of the total number needed for a successful remonstrance in all the areas.
Remonstrance tallies are calculated area by area. Each area needs to hit the signature percentage threshold on its own. Landowners in some of the areas could achieve a successful remonstrance, while others could fail.
Picking up four of the signature collection sheets at the end of the day on Friday was Susan Brackney. She’s a resident of Area 4, the so-called Central Island. Brackney told The B Square she would start collecting signatures on Saturday morning.
During its meetings on the annexation ordinances, Brackney told the city council that she’d collected pre-petition signatures from more than 65 percent of landowners in Area 4. Now she’ll re-contact those people and ask them to sign the official remonstrance paperwork.
About the idea of picking up the collection sheets on the first day when it was possible, Brackney said, “I wanted to come today to hit the ground running—because this process is arduous. It is a marathon and not a sprint. And I am not a high energy person. I have to pace myself.”
A legal wrinkle that could affect how remonstrance efforts play out is the status of remonstrance waivers. A state law enacted in 2019 invalidated many of the waivers that are attached to properties in annexation areas. That would, all other things being equal, make it possible for property owners with such invalidated waivers to remonstrate.
But the city of Bloomington’s legal position is that the 2019 state law should not apply to its current process, because it started in 2017, two years before the state law was enacted. That process was suspended by an act of the state legislature that was found to be unconstitutional by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Depending on how many signatures are collected and how many of those are from landowners with disputed waivers, the legal status of waivers could wind up in court.
Smith or Muench will be available in the county courthouse lobby during regular business hours for the duration of the 90-day remonstration window, to help people sign petitions or turn them in. Regular business hours for the courthouse means from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In the county courthouse lobby, for the week of Oct. 11 through Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., staff from the county auditor’s office will be giving presentations on the remonstrance process.
The city of Bloomington also has remonstrance paperwork available at the lobby counter in city hall on Morton Street. Visitor parking at city hall, which is not metered, is located on the south side of the building.
Regular business hours for city hall are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bloomington city hall will be closed on Oct. 11. The second Monday in October was declared Indigenous People’s Day by a 2019 city council resolution.
Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith lives in annexation Area 1B. She told The B Square she was the first remonstration petitioner at city hall on Friday morning.