Bloomington city council sets schedule to consider new district boundaries, could lead to Sept. 21 vote

The first reading of the ordinance establishing new boundaries for Bloomington’s city council districts will come at a special meeting next week, on Sept. 14.

Discussion at a committee-of-the-whole meeting is set to follow, right after the special meeting.

That sets up a possible vote the following week, on Sept. 21—to adopt or reject the new map that has been recommended by the five-member redistricting advisory commission.

The city council also has a work session set for noon on Friday (Sept. 9) that will include the proposed new council districts.

That anticipated schedule was established by the city council at its Wednesday meeting (Sept. 7).

The schedule came after 40 minutes of debate on Wednesday about the benefits and deficiencies of committee-of-the-whole meetings—which is an issue that has plagued this edition of Bloomington’s city council since its term started on Jan. 1, 2020.

The redistricting advisory commission voted unanimously Wednesday morning (Sept. 7) to adopt a report that includes the same map that four members had voted last week to recommend to the city council.

The recommended districts mostly divide the city north-to-south along the township boundary that runs east-west along 3rd Street. There are three districts mostly north of 3rd Street and three districts mostly south of 3rd Street.

Each of the halves of the city has a “central” district that does not touch the unincorporated area of the county.

Wednesday’s city council debate over committee-of-the-whole meetings was prompted by an ordinance that was given a first reading the same night. The ordinance in question is a request from a petitioner to vacate some public parcels near 10th Street and the B-Line Trail.  The planning staff recommendation is to deny the request.

Council president Susan Sandberg referred the public parcel vacation request to a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Sept. 14. Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith countered with a motion to discharge the committee from its assignment.

The split on the eventual vote to refer the item to the committee of the whole was along familiar 5-to-4 lines. Supporting the referral were: Sandberg; Jim Sims; Ron Smith; Dave Rollo; and Sue Sgambelluri. Opposing it were: Piedmont-Smith; Steve Volan; Kate Rosenbarger; and Matt Flaherty.

One of the standard recitations for opponents of committee-of-the-whole meetings was repeated Wednesday—that committee meetings are not supported by the city clerk’s office with long-form narrative minutes. That means, so the argument goes, that committee deliberations are not “on the record,” in the same way that regular meeting deliberations are.

Smith countered that idea by suggesting that the council could simply ask that long-form narrative minutes be created for committee-of-the-whole meetings.

Smith’s suggestion drew a response from Bloomington’s elected city clerk, Nicole Bolden, who cautioned that creating long-form narrative minutes for committee-of-the-whole meetings would take time, which means they would come with a cost.

The debate on committee-of-the-whole meetings set the stage for similar rhetoric across the dais in connection with the setting of the Sept. 14 special meeting, to give the ordinance on new district boundaries a first reading.

The setting of a special meeting for Sept. 14 was accomplished by Sandberg without a vote of the council, because it is within her authority as council president to call a special meeting.

Flaherty objected to the schedule for consideration of the new council district boundaries, in part because of the inclusion of a committee-of-the-whole meeting. He cautioned his colleagues about the way they would be deliberating on the topic at Friday’s noon work session.

Flaherty indicated he has not been able to attend recent Friday work sessions, because of a professional obligation, adding, “But just wanted to remind my colleagues that generally speaking, the work sessions are not meant for much substantive discussion.”

Flaherty continued, “The ostensible reason [for the work sessions] was an extra preview for council of what’s coming—so we’re not surprised, though it shows up in a packet.”

Under the city’s redistricting ordinance, which was enacted in late 2020, the council has to adopt or reject the recommendation of the advisory commission by Nov. 1. If the council rejects the map, it has to give the reasons and punt the matter back to the advisory commission, which would then have until Dec. 1 to respond.

Under state law, the council has to adopt new district boundaries by the end of the year.

During Wednesday’s deliberations, Volan maintained that the council could meet the Nov. 1 deadline without calling a special meeting.

Sandberg’s counter was that if more time is needed for consideration, then on Sept. 21, the matter could be postponed another week or longer.

For interested members of the public who want to inspect the various maps considered by the commission, here’s a link: Esri-based city of Bloomington GIS redistricting tool

For interested members of the public  who want to inspect the recommended map with layers that can be toggled on and off for neighborhood associations, historic districts, and elementary school districts, here’s a link: Google Map set up by The B Square.