Nearly 18 months after it was supposed to be seated, a citizens redistricting advisory commission has been appointed by Bloomington’s city council.
Their task is to recommend to the city council new boundaries for the six city council districts, to even out the population imbalances that might have resulted from the 2020 census.
The five members of the new commission were chosen by the council’s selection committee, which met early Friday morning to determine five two-person candidate pools.
The choice between the two candidates in each pool was made by a coin flip.
Under the ordinance that the city council enacted in late 2020—then amended in early February this year, and again in mid-May—the commission was supposed to be seated by Jan. 1, 2021.
The five-member group has to give the city council a recommendation for a new district map by the first Wednesday in September this year. But there’s nothing in the ordinance that says the recommendation can’t come sooner.
That first deadline is just shy of 12 weeks away. The city council has a regular meeting scheduled for Sept. 7, which is the first Wednesday of the month. That means, at the latest, the city council would have a chance on Sept. 7 to decide the council districts that will be used for the 2023 municipal elections.
But the council is not legally obligated to adopt the map recommended by the redistricting advisory commission. Under the ordinance, the council can reject the commission’s first recommended map, but has to take some kind of action by Nov. 1. If the council rejects the recommended map, the rejected map has to be returned to the commission with reasons for the rejection.
An amendment to state law, made by the state legislature earlier this year, gives the council until the end of the year, to make the final redistricting decision, not just until Nov. 8.
Under the city’s ordinance, the commission has until Dec. 1 to respond to the city council’s reasons for rejection and to recommend a final map. The council can take until the end of the year to make a final decision. That means potential candidates for district seats, who are looking to declare a candidacy in early January, might not know until a few weeks before then, what the boundaries are for their district.
The two ordinance amendments made by the council this year were motivated by a lack of applicants who are eligible to serve on the commission.
As originally enacted, the commission was supposed to have nine members. That number was dropped to five. The idea was to reduce the number of required applicants—given that pools had to be established from which the appointee would be chosen, by a coin flip.
Eligibility criteria were also relaxed. For example, in mid-May, the council eliminated the requirement that a commission member has to be a registered voter in the city of Bloomington.
Also eliminated was a prohibition against someone who has served as an officer in a county political party, within ten years of the commission’s formation date. According to city council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, the elimination of that prohibition was what made Amanda Sheridan eligible for appointment—she had served as an officer in the Monroe County Green Party.
Even with the relaxed eligibility requirements, when it established the five candidate pools, the council’s selection committee had to draw from a limited number of applicants.
In the case of the student Republican appointment, there were just two candidates. And one indicated on their application that they would be out of state until mid-August. Under state law, there are limits to how many meetings a commission member can attend remotely through electronic means. The selection committee put both applicants in the pool for the coin flip.
The city council’s selection committee consisted of its three at-large members—who don’t represent any district and are elected citywide. The at-large members are Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, and Matt Flaherty.
The coin flip was administered by Sandberg, who was required to perform the duty under the ordinance, which says the job goes to the longest-serving at-large councilmember. The coin used was a 1923 Liberty silver dollar, provided by Lucas.
Coin Flip Pools: Bloomington Citizens Redistricting Advisory Commission
(asterisks indicate the selected applicant)
Unaffiliated with any party
For additional B Square background, see: Mapping tools released: Anyone can draw new Bloomington city council districts