Consultant on Bloomington boards, commissions: Uniform process, mergers recommended

On Wednesday, the city of Bloomington released a 38-page report from the Novak Consulting Group with recommendations on revising the structure of the city’s 49 different boards and commissions and improving the way their work is supported.

The image links to a .pdf of the Novak Consulting Group report.

The report was presented on Wednesday night to Bloomington’s city council by Novak’s Jonathan Ingram. The city paid Novak $38,900 for the work.

The council gave the report an uneven response.

Many of the recommendations involve standardizing the way boards and commissions operate, so that support staff, current members, applicants for appointments, and the watching public have a uniform and reliable experience.

Drawing the attention of city councilmembers were recommendations on merging some of the city’s boards and commissions with dedicated constituencies. One example is the recommended consolidation of the parking commission, the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission, and the traffic commission.

Another proposed merger would combine the commission on sustainability and the environmental commission.

Councilmember Ron Smith gave an enthusiastic response, saying, “It was a great report. Fantastic.” He added, “I’ve long thought that we have too many boards and commissions, and they could be consolidated.”

Less sanguine was councilmember Steve Volan, who called the report “very interesting” before establishing that Novak had been hired by the mayor’s office, not the city council, to do the work. Volan asked Ingram how the project had been defined: Was the main goal to reduce staff time devoted to supporting boards and commissions?

Staff time was just one of several parameters, Ingram said. The most important consideration for weighing the consolidation of commissions is whether there are overlapping focus areas. “If there is an opportunity to create a more consistent and holistic vision in a particular subject matter, that’s really kind of the first and most important factor to consider” Ingram said.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty established that the council had not been consulted about the project scope. He told Ingram, “I don’t think I’m mistaken that the council wasn’t invited to weigh in on what should be reviewed or analyzed.” Flaherty asked, “Was it discussed at all whether the city council should have some input on that directive and what things we should be examining?”

Ingram told Flaherty that was something that had been worked out before Novak was hired—he could not address the question.

Appearing to be independent of the recommendations about merging some boards and commissions are suggestions in the report about how the work of all boards and commissions can be supported better.

Those kinds of recommendations include: requiring a standard kind of brief annual report to the mayor and city council about the group’s work; required recording of audio or video of meetings, with timely posting of that material to the city’s website; a transparent application process that includes regular communication to applicants; an onboarding process for new board and commission members; an onboarding process for staff who are assigned to be the liaison to a board or commission; and the centralization of all board and commission oversight in a single staff position.

One of the problems that these logistical recommendations are meant to address is the filling of vacancies, especially those that have been persistent.

Filling vacancies: Ordinance 22-04

The one piece of legislation on the council’s Wednesday agenda was Ordinance 22-04, which is intended to help make vacancies easier to fill on two commissions: the parking commission and the redistricting commission.

Under Ord 22-04, which was unanimously approved, one parking commission seat, for which the mayor has been the appointing authority, would be changed to a city council appointment. When the parking commission was established in 2016, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton vetoed it. But that veto was overridden.

Also under Ord 22-04, the number of spots on the redistricting commission is reduced from nine to five spots. New city council districts have to be decided by the council sometime before the end of 2022. None of the appointments to the redistricting commission have been made since it was established in late 2020.

The redistricting commission is supposed to be seated every 10 years on the first of January in the year after the decennial census—which would have been Jan. 1, 2021. That was supposed to put the city’s redistricting commission in place in time to track the county’s precinct drawing work, which always takes place in the year before the city council has to redraw its district boundaries.

The city’s redistricting commission was supposed to be a vehicle for the city to provide input to the county in its work to redraw precinct boundaries. The required number of applicants (18) has not been achieved, and the city council has not been able to seat the commission.

Contract with Novak: Work finished in spring 2021

Related to councilmember questions about the definition of the project is the scope of work in the $38,900 contract with Novak.

Article 1. Scope of Services: Raftelis [new parent company of Novak] shall assist the City by executing the project described in the proposal submitted October 13, 2020, which is hereby incorporated herein by reference as Exhibit A, in a satisfactory and proper manner in accordance with direction provided by the City’s representative or designee.

But Exhibit A in the contract document is not a project description. It’s an E-Verify Affidavit.

The last installment of the contract was paid on April 16, 2021, based on the city of Bloomington’s online financial records.

The city of Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, responded to an emailed question from The B Square about the delay between the completion of the work and the public release of the study. Carmichael described the cause of the delay a lack of “personnel bandwidth.”

Carmichael wrote, “With Covid, the flood, and all the ongoing projects we have, this roll out effort got postponed.” The flood mentioned by Carmichael resulted from a heavy rain in mid-June 2021.

Table: Payments made for Novak Board and Commissions Report

Payment Date Description Vendor Amount
2020-12-24 Org Assess OOTM/Board and Commissions Raftelis $2,676
2021-01-22 Org Assess OOTM/Board and Commissions Raftelis $5,470
2021-02-19 Org Assess OOTM/Board and Commissions Raftelis $5,470
2021-03-19 Org Assess OOTM/Board and Commissions Raftelis $20,304
2021-04-16 Org Assess OOTM/Board and Commissions Raftelis $4,980
TOTAL $38,900

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