Bloomington city council supports CIB for convention center, but county ordinance likely needs redoing

By a vote of 8-1 at its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution of support for establishing a capital improvement board (CIB) to serve as the governance structure for an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.

Dissenting on the vote was Kate Rosenbarger, who expressed frustration with the amount of time the council was given to consider the issue, as well as some skepticism about the need for additional convention space.

A CIB is a seven-member group that under state law can be established by county commissioners as a public body,  which makes it subject to Indiana’s laws on public meetings and access to records.

Under state law, a CIB can acquire real estate, build improvements, collect money and hire employees, among other things.

Instead of a CIB, mayor John Hamilton’s administration favors a 501(c)(3) nonprofit as the governance structure for a convention center expansion.

In a public statement released on Tuesday before the council’s Wednesday meeting, Hamilton restated that position.  Hamilton is quoted in the statement saying about a CIB “I will not endorse launching a process that I don’t believe will bring the result our community wants and deserves…”

At the city council’s Wednesday meeting, Bloomington public engagement director Mary Catherine Carmichael repeated the administration’s preference for a 501(c)(3) model. The following day, the administration announced Carmichael’s appointment as deputy mayor, to succeed Don Griffin, who has resigned effective at the end of the year in order to run for mayor.

The mayor’s current opposition to a CIB means the ordinance approved by county commissioners on Nov. 9, which established a CIB, will likely be void, unless there’s a dramatic reversal before the end of the year.

The ordinance establishes a CIB only if the city council and mayor agree to the terms in the ordinance.

The ordinance states “This ordinance takes effect upon passage by the commissioners and the commissioners’ receipt of the city of Bloomington mayor and common council’s agreement with the terms of this Ordinance.” The ordinance continues, “if the terms in this section are not met by January 1, 2023, this ordinance is void.”

Among other things, the terms of the ordinance include an equal 3-3 split between the city and the county for appointments to the seven seats on the CIB, with the seventh appointment to be recommended by the first six. Under the county ordinance terms, the CIB would also be given authority to determine the site for the convention center expansion.

Even the city council’s resolution of support for a CIB would likely fallen short of satisfying the terms of the recent county ordinance.

That’s because an amendment to the resolution, which was sponsored by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith, added many of the conditions that the Hamilton administration has put on a CIB, if a CIB turns out to be the governance structure for the convention center expansion.

One possible scenario now is that the recent county ordinance would be allowed to become void, under its own terms, at the start of the year. The details of an interlocal agreement would then be worked out, before a new county ordinance is passed, establishing a CIB.

The conditions the city of Bloomington administration wants to place on a CIB, which would be memorialized in an interlocal agreement, are included in a Nov. 23 city memo, responding to the Nov. 9 county ordinance.

Not included in Piedmont-Smith’s amendment were three of the administration’s conditions: appointment of the city controller as the statutory CIB controller; authorization for the CIB to have outside, independent audits in lieu of State Board of Accounts audits; and a transfer of county property purchased with innkeeper’s tax money to the CIB within 90 days of the CIB’s creation.

About the first two items that were not included in her amendment, Piedmont-Smith said the CIB could make its own decision about its controller and its audits. As for the land transfer, Piedmont-Smith said that condition had unintentionally been left out.

The council briefly batted around the idea of adding the requirement of an expedient land transfer. County attorney Jeff Cockerill responded to the idea of that requirement by pointing to the fact that the land in question still has debt to be paid off, and that when the debt is paid off, the title to the land has to revert to the county government.

That would make it virtually impossible for the the county to transfer the land to another entity, because the debt would have to be paid off first—within 90 days of the creation of the CIB— which is something the county is not in a position to do, Cockerill said.

The innkeeper’s tax is mentioned explicitly in one of the numbered points of the amendment, which talks about the county’s commitment to continued appropriation of innkeeper’s tax revenues to the CIB, to fund the convention center operations and maintenance.

Convention and visitors commission (CVC) president Mike Campbell, who’s associate director of the Indiana Memorial Union, addressed the city council on the topic of the innkeeper’s tax. It’s the CVC that oversees innkeeper’s tax proceeds. Campbell told the council it’s not just operations and maintenance that the innkeeper’s tax funds, but also marketing and promotion.

In addition, Campbell said, the county’s ordinance passed in 1990 [Ordinance 90-13] already prescribes that 40 percent of the innkeeper’s tax revenue has to be put towards the promotion and operation of the convention center.

It was in 1990 when the county council approved an increase in Monroe County’s innkeeper’s tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. It’s the additional 2 percent that has to be put towards the convention center.

Piedmont-Smith’s originally proposed amendment included a line that was struck by a council vote: “If no agreement can be reached, the parties must then establish a 501c3 or alternative governance structure that will maintain the balance.”

County attorney Jeff Cockerill said that line was objectionable, because “If there is no agreement, then it falls to a path that I think one side has already indicated that they preferred. And so I think at a negotiating table, I think that would be a disadvantage.”

Also struck from Piedmont-Smith’s amendment were the specific requirements for equal authority for the county and the city government to make appointments to the convention and visitors commission (CVC). The specific requirements were replaced with the wording “within the confines of state code.”

Bloomington’s administration favors a 501(c)(3) because that would allow the city to have more control than it would, if the CIB option is pursued. The city’s proposal is that on a five-member nonprofit board, the mayor would make four appointments and the city council one, with no appointments made by the county government.

In attendance at the city council’s meeting on Wednesday in support of a CIB as the governance structure for a convention center expansion were: Monroe County commissioner Julie Thomas; Monroe County councilors Trent Deckard and Kate Wiltz; and Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Eric Spoonmore.

After approval of the city council’s resolution, city and county officials might be analyzed as basically in the same situation as they were three years ago, assuming the mayor’s office is willing to negotiate terms of an interlocal agreement on connection with the creation of a CIB.

After several months of wrangling in the first part of 2019 about the governance structure of a convention center expansion—501(c)(3) versus a CIB—by December of that year, the sides appeared to have settled on a CIB, with the specific conditions to be worked out in an interlocal agreement.

This time around, there’s some added urgency to make some progress. That sense of urgency stems from fears that the state legislature could act in its 2023 session to sunset the food and beverage tax. It is the revenues from Monroe County’s 1-percent food and beverage tax that are planned to pay for a convention center expansion.

5 thoughts on “Bloomington city council supports CIB for convention center, but county ordinance likely needs redoing

  1. Piece of cake. The hair-on-fire Hamilton administration has accustomed the common council to considering issues with inadequate information and time.

    And a CIB is the standard, proven way of accomplishing this goal throughout the state. A 501(c)3, on the other hand, is novel and would require much more time and thought.

    1. Except the current convention center is not governed by a CIB.

      Hamilton isn’t the reason the council had such little time. It was the Commissioners and the council leadership.

    2. i think the 501(c)3 would require less time and thought in some sense because coordination would end. if Hamilton was really allowed to name 80% of the org’s board of directors, it would become just an extension of the administration. i think it would proceed much more quickly — especially if Hamilton feels like he has to make all of the important decisions before he leaves office in a year — but at the cost of ending all opportunity for dissent or input. Hamilton has definitely shown a willingness and ability to implement complex and expensive plans behind closed doors.

      of course it would take a lot more thought if the council etc still wanted to try to avoid that result while approving a 501(c)3. 🙂

  2. It seems easy for me to see that the Mayor wants complete (or as close to complete as possible) control over the convention center. He has zero interest in cooperating with the county. Why would the county allow the formation of a 501(c)3 to manage the convention center if it would effectively cut them out of all decisionmaking/management authority of said convention center? Why would any public official allow their government to contribute millions of dollars to a project they have no voice at the table for? That’d be like paying an architect millions to design and build your house, but when you want something about the design changed they go “sorry, not up to you” and ignore your input entirely. Would YOU be happy with the resulting outcome? Likely not. So why does the City expect the County to bend over backwards to allow such an arrangement?

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