After more than two hours of deliberation on Wednesday, the Bloomington city council postponed until Oct. 6 further consideration of new boundaries for city council districts.
The council’s special meeting, now set for Oct. 6, coincides with the Democratic Party’s Vi Taliaferro Dinner—an annual fundraiser that is scheduled to start at the council’s usual meeting time of 6:30 p.m.
That’s why the all-Democrat council voted 9–0 to convene its special meeting for Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. The council set a time limit of one hour.
The council’s annual calendar had already called for a committee meeting on Oct. 6—which is a Thursday, instead of the usual Wednesday. The one-day shift avoids a conflict with Yom Kippur, which falls on Wednesday. The council canceled that committee meeting in favor of the one-hour special meeting.
On Oct. 6, the council could vote to adopt the new map that has been recommended by Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission.
Another option would be to reject the map, and send the matter back to the five-member redistricting commission with the reasons for the council’s rejection.
Or the council could again postpone any decision.
Councilmember Steve Volan reminded his colleagues more than once on Wednesday that he had been the person who wrote the 2020 ordinance establishing the redistricting advisory commission. Volan urged rejection of the recommended map.
Volan wants the redistricting commission to consider starting with one district that is populated exclusively with Indiana University students, thereby ensuring that at least one city council representative is a student.
If the recommended map is adopted, Volan and Dave Rollo will have to compete against each other—if in 2023 they were both to seek reelection to a fifth four-year term on the council. Also put in the same district by the recommended map would be two first-term incumbents—Kate Rosenbarger and Sue Sgambelluri.
On Wednesday, Rollo objected to Volan’s approach, indicating that the role of the council under the ordinance is to review whether the recommended map meets all the criteria spelled out in the ordinance. “I’m really trepidatious about micromanaging the outcome,” Rollo said.
Rollo continued, “I think [the map] should be evaluated on the merits of meeting the requirements of the ordinance. And as far as I can tell, it has—in terms of distribution of population, compactness, avoiding splitting communities and so forth.”
Under the local redistricting ordinance, which was enacted by the council in late 2020, the council has to take action by Nov. 1—either to adopt the recommended map or reject it. If the recommended map is rejected, the advisory commission has until Dec. 1 to respond to the council’s reasons.
As city council attorney Stephen Lucas put it on Wednesday, the advisory commission could either come up with a completely new map or “double down” on the map it has already recommended.
In any case, the council has to make a decision on a new map before the end of the year.
Drawing district boundaries to balance out population is a task the council is supposed to complete every ten years, in the second year following the decennial census.
Last time around, in 2012, the council did not act on the new council district boundaries until Dec. 19. The next city council elections were not set to take place until more than two years later, in 2015.
This time around, the 10-year census cycle, overlaid with four-year city council terms, means the next city elections come up sooner—in 2023, starting with primaries in May.
If a decision on the new district boundaries does not come until mid-December this year, that could have an impact on the potential pool of candidates for the six district representative seats on the Bloomington city council. They would not know what geographic area they will represent until just a couple of weeks before the early-January window opens to file their paperwork.