Ice storm: Bloomington mayor vetoes city council resolution on CIB for convention center expansion

A Bloomington city council resolution in support of a capital improvement board (CIB) as the governance method for a convention center expansion, has been vetoed by mayor John Hamilton.

The announcement of the veto came at 3:15 p.m. Friday, the day before Christmas Eve, when local overnight temperatures had dipped as low as –8 F.

The council had approved the resolution by an 8–1 vote at its Dec. 14 meeting. The sole dissenter was Kate Rosenbarger.

Hamilton’s veto statement recites the reasons that the administration has previously given against the use of a CIB, and for a 501(c)(3). Those reasons include the idea that the only way to make a CIB palatable to the city would also make it too “cumbersome.”

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.

County commissioners have already approved an ordinance establishing a CIB, but enactment is contingent on the city council and the mayor’s agreement to the terms in the ordinance. The city council’s Dec. 14 resolution was a step in the direction of agreeing to terms.

Hamilton’s veto statement explicitly rejects the terms in the ordinance. So the county ordinance creating a CIB will become void at year’s end.

The mayor’s refusal to agree to the terms was enough to void the ordinance, whether that refusal came as part of a veto, or as a separate statement. In that sense, the veto and a possible city council override can be counted as political maneuvering.

Hamilton wants to build in more control for the city of Bloomington in the governance of a convention center expansion, because the city has pledged to use its share of the countywide food and beverage tax revenues to fund the project.

If the city council were to approve the resolution again by the same tally, that would achieve the two-thirds majority that is required under city code to override the mayor’s veto. To make the veto stick, the mayor would need Rosenbarger to stay opposed, and to flip at least three more votes.

Reached by The B Square late Friday afternoon, city council president Susan Sandberg reacted to the veto of the resolution, which passed 8–1, saying, “It would not be unusual for a mayor to possibly try to veto something that only passed on a slim 5–4 vote, right?” But vetoing something that passed 8–1 would not make much sense, she said, unless Hamilton is confident that he can talk at least three more members of the council into seeing things his way.

“You know, he may get his way, if he’s a big enough bully to push people around and force the override not to work,” Sandberg told The B Square.

Sandberg is running for mayor next year in a field that includes Don Griffin and Kerry Thomson.

In any case, Sandberg said she expects to put the same resolution on the agenda for a possible override at council’s first meeting next year, on Jan. 11, 2023.

Reached by The B Square, councilmember Dave Rollo said the veto was not consistent with some conciliatory remarks from the mayor at the council’s Nov. 30 committee-of-the-whole meeting. On that occasion, the council was pre-viewing a request from the administration to issue $29.5 million in bonds for several public safety improvements, including the purchase of the western part of the Showers building that houses city hall.

At the Nov. 30 committee meeting, Hamilton alluded to his mid-November decision not to seek re-election in 2023, saying, “I do want to note I am looking forward to 13 months of work with you going forward.”

Rollo said he understood Hamilton to be pointing to a kind of “fresh start” working with the city council for Hamilton’s final year, which did not seem to square up with the veto.

Much of Hamilton’s position in favor of a 501(c)(3) is based on the ability to configure a nonprofit to allow the city of Bloomington the kind of control he believes is commensurate with the level of the city’s financial contribution to the new construction. That financial contribution  is the city’s share of the countywide 1-percent food and beverage tax.

It’s the county council that has the statutory authority to enact such a tax, which the Monroe County  council did in 2017. The purpose of enacting a food and beverage tax in Monroe County was to fund the expansion of the convention center.

In December 2019, negotiations between the city and county over the convention center expansion hit a rough patch. So the county council floated the idea of rescinding the food and beverage tax—as a way to prod the city administration and county commissioners to make some progress.

Responding to a question from the B Square on Friday afternoon, county councilor Geoff McKim indicated that the idea of rescinding the food and beverage tax would probably get floated again, and when it does it “should be seriously considered.”

McKim was serving on the county council in 2017 when the tax was enacted and voted for it. On Friday, McKim said, “I do think we are united in having passed this tax with the full intention that the expansion be a partnership between the city and the county, not a city project.”

The phrase “city project” was a reference to a pitch from Hamilton in early August, that the county should transfer some existing real estate assets, including the convention center itself, to the city of Bloomington. Bloomington would then pursue the convention center expansion on its own, under Hamilton’s proposal.

McKim thinks the county council will stand firm that the project should be a city-county partnership. McKim also pointed to the way the mayor’s veto statement wraps up: “Different views may steer a different course for our community and I respect such efforts.”

For McKim’s part, he indicated, “I plan on continuing to push for that different course—for a publicly owned and managed expanded convention center.”

McKim added, “Personally I would hate to see almost decade’s worth of work thrown away because of the opposition of a mayor with less than a year left in his term.”

Reached by The B Square, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Eric Spoonmore raised the specter that the Indiana General Assembly will notice Monroe County’s lack of progress towards the purpose for which  the food and beverage tax was enacted and could sunset the statutory framework for the tax.

Spoonmore put it like this: “We need to keep in mind that the Legislature has its eye on the continued discord in Bloomington.” Spoonmore continued, “The Chamber urges the other 18 elected officials who formally voted to pursue a capital improvement board [CIB] to remain committed to progress and swiftly take whatever steps necessary to appoint members to serve on the CIB.”

Responding to a question from The B Square, Sandberg addressed the idea of a mayor vetoing a resolution that expresses the will of the council, as opposed to an ordinance that enacts a law. “This is where I have a major departure from this mayor,” Sandberg said. “It’s saying: It’s not my will—and so, I’m going to veto the council’s will, because my will is more important than theirs.”

In the past, on at least two occasions when Hamilton has disagreed with the intention of a council resolution, he has not vetoed the resolution. Instead he has used an asterisk (*) with a note indicating that his signature merely affirms that the resolution expresses the council’s attitude toward a topic.

Hamilton’s veto of the council’s resolution expressing support for a CIB is just his second veto since he took office in 2016. The first one came in 2016, when he vetoed the creation of the parking commission, which had been enacted on a 7–0–1 vote.  The city council overrode that veto on a 9–0 vote.

3 thoughts on “Ice storm: Bloomington mayor vetoes city council resolution on CIB for convention center expansion

  1. The food and beverage tax was very unpopular with voters when proposed. It was passed nonetheless, of course. If the legislature does sunset the tax then it looks like Hamilton’s intransigence will have ironically and no doubt unintentionally fulfilled the will of the people.

    Maybe Santa Claus exists after all.

    1. Mr. Coulter, I enjoy most of your comments, finding myself agreeing with some sentiments you express and entertained by even more that that. In this case, I wish to add a clarification: Namely, that the food and beverage tax was very unpopular with SOME voters; it was very popular with SOME others, and I think, by in large, was ignored by the majority of voters. Certainly, I see no evidence of anything even close to a majority of opposition either at the time of enactment, nor now, close to five years afterwards.

      What certainly is true, which you allude to, is Mayor Hamilton’s entire approach to this issue, as with so many, is worthy of SOME sort of auto-hoisting of the proverbial petard.

  2. The county did its best to bring an expanded convention center to the community, but the project does not have enough support to move forward. It’s time to rescind the 1% hamburger and beer tax and sweep the convention project off the stage. We tried and failed. That is better than not trying.

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