Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending

From left: Bloomington city councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Ron Smith at the Oct. 31, 2021 announcement of Democrat Penny Githens’ candidacy for District 62 state representative. All nine members of Bloomington’s city council are Democrats.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council made Ron Smith its appointee to the city plan commission for the coming year.

The other councilmember who had asked to be appointed was Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

For Piedmont-Smith it was the second year in a row that she was not the council’s pick as its appointment to the plan commission. The outcome was decided  by the same 5–4 margin. Last year, it was Susan Sandberg who was put in the plan commission seat.

Smith prevailed on the same 5–4 split as last year, which broke down along the same lines as the vote for council president and vice president at last week’s meeting.

The five voting for Smith were: Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, Dave Rollo, and Jim Sims. The four voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Steve Volan and Kate Rosenbarger.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda was a resolution that would eliminate most of the council’s standing committees.

After two hours of debate, mostly in the guise of questions that were put to the resolution’s sponsors, the council voted to postpone consideration of the resolution until its Jan. 19 meeting.

The resolution eliminating several of the council’s standing committees is sponsored by Sandberg, Sgambelluri and Sims.

Standing committees

Most of the standing committees to be eliminated were first established in February 2020. The land use committee, which was established in 2018, would also be eliminated by the resolution

The February 2020 vote establishing several new standing committees was split 5–4.

The only difference between the 5–4 split on that occasion and the 5–4 split for Wednesday’s tally on the plan commission appointment was Sgambelluri’s vote. The four on either side were the same in both cases. Volan, Piedmont-Smith, Flaherty and Rosenbarger were on one side. Sims, Smith, Rollo, and Sandberg were on the other.

Sgambelluri was on the prevailing side both times. She voted for Smith as the plan commission appointee and for the establishment of standing committees in 2020.

Sgambelluri was the ‘swing’ vote on establishing standing committees. So just by itself, Sgambelluri’s co-sponsorship of the resolution eliminating standing committees would likely indicate it will pass, when the council takes up the question again on Jan. 19.

And based on the initial debate on Wednesday—about an amendment that would preserve three of the committees—the council would split along familiar 5–4 lines.

The three standing committees to be preserved under an amendment proposed by Matt Flaherty would be: land use; climate action and resilience; and administration.

Flaherty’s amendment had support from several people during public commentary, who pointed to climate change as a vital issue that warranted its own standing committee.

The counter from Sandberg was that she would, as council president, create a “special committee” to address climate action which is an alternative to a standing committee under Bloomington’s city code.  Any three councilmembers could also establish a “special committee.”

A key difference between a standing committee and a special committee is that the life of a special committee ends “when it has completed its duties and made a report or recommendation to the council.”

In contrast, a standing committee persists until it is abolished by a resolution of the council. And while a standing committee exists, the council president is required to appoint at least three members to the committee.

It was time pressure to start the committee-of-the-whole meeting, scheduled immediately after the regular meeting, that led the council to postpone until next week further consideration of the resolution on standing committees.

The idea had been to refer three ordinances, which were up for first reading on Wednesday, to the committee of the whole, which was supposed to meet the same night. Under city code, such a committee—one to which legislation has been referred—can’t start its meeting after 9:45 p.m.

On Wednesday, as the hour pushed past 9 p.m. parliamentarian Dave Rollo floated the idea of postponing the debate on standing committees until the next meeting. The eventual vote on postponement was 7–2, with Flaherty and Volan dissenting.

After the successful postponement of the debate on standing committees, the council then voted not to refer any of the three ordinances to the committee of the whole. The vote was to hear them at the next regular meeting on Jan. 19, without a review by a committee before that day.

Plan commission appointment: Smith over Piedmont-Smith

The city council appoints one representative to serve on the city’s plan commission.

In councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith’s pitch for the plan commission appointment, she gave three reasons why she should be appointed.

First, she cited her knowledge and experience, based on her involvement with the revisions to the comprehensive plan, the transportation plan, and the unified development ordinance over the last few years

Second, she cited her communication skills. When she previously served on the plan commission, she had communicated to her council colleagues when major decisions were coming up.

Third, Piedmont-Smith pointed to the redevelopment of the former site of the IU Health hospital at 2nd and Rogers streets. Piedmont-Smith represents District 5, which she described as just south of the former hospital site. Her constituents would be impacted by whatever decisions are made by the plan commission, Piedmont-Smith said.

The first of those decisions was teed up for the plan commission by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) on Monday, when the RDC voted to send along for the the commission’s approval a proposed plat for part of the land.

Councilmember Ron Smith said he’d declared his interest in serving as the council’s appointee to the plan commission on Nov. 21 last year. Smith continued by saying that in his two years serving on the city council so far, he had tried his best to observe what the plan commission does, how it impacts quality of life in the city, and how it operates according to state statute.

Like Piedmont-Smith, Smith mentioned the district he represents—which for Smith is District 3 on the east side.

The common thread between the two geographic areas is the IU Health hospital. Piedmont-Smith’s District 5 is close to the site of the former hospital. District 3 is where IU Health’s new facility is located.

About the east side, Smith said that part of town would see continuing development this next year in connection with the construction of the new IU Health facility. Smith mentioned two proposals in District 3 that had been reviewed by the plan commission over the past year: Curry Urban Properties  and the Trinitas development of the old Kmart site.

Smith said that as a social worker, he has experience and training in building bridges. He added that as a previous state government employee he had experience working in complex regulatory environments.

Smith wrapped up his remarks by saying Piedmont-Smith has the needed experience to be an excellent council representative to the plan commission. He added, “I know she’d be a really great plan commission representative.” But he asked for the support of his colleagues, saying he’d represent the council’s views to the plan commission to the best of his ability.

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