The new boundaries for the six Bloomington city council districts are now settled for the 2023 city elections.
On a 5–4 vote at a special meeting on Thursday, the city council adopted a map that was recommended by a five-member redistricting advisory commission.
The inclusion of two “central” districts, which don’t touch any non-city area, is a feature of the new map that makes it different from the one that was adopted in 2012, which included just one central district.
The map adopted in 2012 has served for the last two city elections, in 2015 and 2019.
The task of drawing new city council districts comes at least every 10 years, in the second year following the decennial census, so that the population of districts can be balanced out.
On the newly adopted map, the prominence of the 3rd Street boundary between Perry Township and Bloomington Township is evident, which is another feature that makes it different from the 2012 map.
The new map falls just one precinct short of dividing the city perfectly along the line between Perry and Bloomington townships.
Along with the two central districts, the map features four districts that touch the periphery of the city, bordering on non-city areas of the county.
Six of the nine Bloomington councilmembers are elected by voters in a geographic subset of the city—that is, a district. The other three councilmembers are elected by all city voters. They’re often called “at-large” members.
Thursday’s 5–4 split decision on the new map came along familiar lines. The majority was made up of Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Ron Smith, Jim Sims and Sue Sgambelluri. The four dissenting votes came from Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Steve Volan.
On Thursday, Volan gave a presentation to supplement the one he gave on Sept. 21, when the council first deliberated on the commission’s recommended map. With both presentations, which included separate slide decks, Volan attempted to persuade his council colleagues to reject the recommended map and return the matter to the redistricting commission.
Volan wanted the commission to create a district that would as nearly as possible encompass just college students—in housing administered by Indiana University dorms and Greek Houses and in predominantly student areas. Such a district would reflect the “ultimate community of interest” in Bloomington, which are students, Volan said.
Volan indicated a belief that with one city council seat virtually guaranteed to go to an Indiana University student, that would serve to activate student participation in civic affairs.
The term “community of interest” got a lot of play during deliberations, because it is included in Bloomington’s ordinance that established the redistricting commission:
Whenever possible, the commission should avoid recommending districts that split communities of interest into multiple districts. These communities include, but are not limited to, political subdivisions, neighborhoods, school districts, historic districts and other areas where residents share common traits and concerns.
The local ordinance describes a process by which the council can reject the redistricting commission’s recommended map and return the matter to the commission with “a written statement of the reasons for the rejection.”
The deadline in the local law for the council to act one way or another is Nov. 1. If the council had rejected the map, then the redistricting commission would have had until Dec. 1 to recommend a different map or double down on its original map.
Instead of reasons for a rejection, Volan showed a slide stating the “instructions to the commission” that he wanted the council to adopt:
Instructions to the Commission
1. Deemphasize 3rd Street.
2. Deemphasize compactness in favor of communities of interest.
3. The ultimate community of interest in Bloomington is the size of a whole district. It should be made one.
Councilmember Dave Rollo questioned the idea of deemphasizing 3rd Street, because it is a township boundary, and “political subdivisions” are specifically highlighted in the city’s local ordinance as a community of interest.
Volan responded to Rollo’s objection saying, “I don’t think people moved to Prospect Hill, caring that 3rd Street is a boundary between Bloomington and Perry townships. People don’t settle north of 3rd Street and…or south of it, because they care about what township they’re in.”
Volan added, “I don’t think the state really cares more about 3rd Street than they do about Prospect Hill, either—if you were to put the question to them.”
Councilmember Piedmont-Smith also discounted the idea of townships as a relevant boundary saying, “I live in Perry township, but I have nothing in common with people who are in Perry township down by Lake Monroe.”
Piedmont-Smith continued, “I really think townships are an artificial line that maybe was in the state legislation as an example of a community of interest.” She added, “But I would rate [township boundaries] pretty low compared with neighborhoods and historic districts and student districts and other other things that bind people together with common interests.”
The local ordinance the city council voted to enact in late 2020 included political subdivisions, that is, townships, as relevant communities of interest.
Among the reasons that Piedmont-Smith gave for rejecting the recommended map was the fact that the recommended map splits the Hoosier Acres neighborhood association into two districts, along Meadowbrook Drive, which runs north-south.
Councilmembers voting in favor of the commission’s recommended map pointed to the criteria that the commission had followed in the ordinance.
Councilmember Jim Sims said, “I just don’t buy the fact that students are not represented.”
About the idea that a council district map could help or hurt student engagement Sims said, “To suggest that this map would do anything to activate or even thwart that, I think is off base.”
Sims said that getting students registered to vote, as well as promoting their community participation would be a better approach.
Councilmember Sue Sgambelluri led off her remarks by responding to Volan’s arguments, establishing that she thinks students are full members of the community. “I wholeheartedly believe students are people and they are residents, and they are our neighbors,” she said.
She continued, “I would love to see increased voter participation among students.” The pivotal question for Sgambelluri turned out to be: Was the commission’s redistricting process conducted with integrity? Her answer: “I think it was.”
Sgambelluri said she thinks a bigger impediment than district lines to seeing a student get elected to the city council are the four-year terms. That time span does not lend itself to the typical calendar that students follow, she said.
Sgambelluri said she had not seen anything about the process the commission followed that would cause her to want to substitute her own judgment for that of the commission—so she supported the map.
The window for residents to declare their candidacy for Bloomington’s city council will open in early January of 2023.
After starting deliberations on Sept. 21, the city council’s vote came at a special meeting called for Thursday, scheduled to last just one hour. The meeting lasted a few minutes longer than that. The B Square recorded the vote at 6:07 p.m. after a 5 p.m. start.
The special meeting was called for Thursday, instead of Wednesday, because Wednesday was not on the council’s adopted annual calendar due to Yom Kippur.
The meeting’s unusual start time (5 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.) and time limit was chosen so that councilmembers could attend the Vi Taliaferro Dinner, which is a Democratic Party fundraiser. All nine Bloomington city councilmembers are Democrats.