Bloomington city council overrides mayoral veto on convention center governance, path forward unclear

A mayoral veto of a Bloomington city council resolution supporting a capital improvement board (CIB) as the governance method for a convention center expansion, has been overridden by the city council.

It was at 3:15 p.m. Friday, the day before Christmas Eve, when Bloomington mayor John Hamilton issued his veto of the council’s Dec. 14 resolution.

In December the council had approved the resolution by an 8–1 vote, with Kate Rosenbarger as the sole voice of dissent.

At this Wednesday’s city council meeting, the outcome of the vote was the same, satisfying the two-thirds majority required under city code to override the mayor’s veto.

On Wednesday as in December, Rosenbarger’s dissent was not based on any support for Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s preferred convention center expansion governance structure, which is a 501(c)(3). Instead, Rosenbarger is skeptical that a convention center expansion should be built at all.

Hamilton’s veto statement recited 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 had already approved an ordinance establishing a CIB, but enactment had been 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, but Hamilton’s veto statement explicitly rejected the terms in the ordinance. So the county ordinance creating a CIB became void at year’s end.

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

Hamilton wants to use a 501(c)(3), in order 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. On Hamilton’s proposed 501(c)(3), the mayor would make four of five board appointments, with the remaining one made by the city council.

What came into somewhat clearer focus during the council’s Wednesday deliberations was the idea that the Hamilton administration intends to form a 501(c)(3) regardless of whatever convention center expansion takes place.

The new 501(c)(3) would manage some of the city-owned venues, like the Waldron Center, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater and the Allison-Jukebox Community Center. The administration sees the new nonprofit as suited also for governing the convention center expansion.

At Wednesday’s meeting, councilmember Steve Volan reported that his brother, Greg Volan, whose Linkedin profile indicates is now budget manager at Chicago Public Schools, had been invited back to Bloomington—having served as the president of the board of directors of the Buskirk-Chumley in the early 2000s. At the time, Greg Volan also served as the city of Bloomington’s IT director.

Councilmember Volan said he supports the idea of forming a 501(c)(3) for managing some of the city-owned properties, but not for the convention center expansion.

It’s not clear what, if any, path forward might be taken by city and county decision makers on a convention center expansion.

Councilmember Ron Smith expressed skepticism that any progress could be made unless some outside help were recruited: “I think we need professional help. What about a professional mediator?”

The B Square may report separately the city council’s Wednesday deliberations in more detail.

Wednesday’s override means that both of Hamilton’s vetoes since he took office in 2016 have been overridden. 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.

4 thoughts on “Bloomington city council overrides mayoral veto on convention center governance, path forward unclear

  1. Along with CM Rosenbarger Isabel Piedmont-Smith expressed reservations about the concept of the convention center in the context of global climate change. Piedmont-Smith nonetheless voted for the resolution. Rosenbarger also cited statistics showing falling convention revenue nationally, though the endpoint was late in the pandemic, so perhaps not the best timeframe.

    County Commissioner Julie Thomas appeared during public comment and indicated that she would loudly and proudly advocate rescinding the food and beverage tax if/when the expansion proposal fails. Go Julie!

    1. How dare Commissioner Thomas threaten to rescind the Food and Beverage tax. It shows she has little desire to cooperate or work together if she doesn’t get her way.

    2. My favorite Freudian slip/accidental clarity of thought moment during the entire Convention Center debacle was County Councilwoman Cheryl Munson (At-Large) during either a Convention Center specific committee meeting or a general meeting of the county council during her comment period: “Well, all convention centers operate at a deficit.”

      They know it’s a net loss directly for the government. She clarified that it helps the community through increased spending at hotels, restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, etc. and I’m sure that’s true. But this entire project is wasteful up until this point. Didn’t they once say that delaying a month costs $100k?

  2. If the expansion cannot move forward because of a justified difference of opinion about governance structure, it would be fraudulent to continue to collect the tax. It is worth noting that it is only the Administration that will not accept a CIB.

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