First appointments by Sgambelluri as new Bloomington city council president: Special committee on council processes

After serving the past two years as vice president of the Bloomington city council, Sue Sgambelluri has been chosen  by her colleagues as council president for 2023.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the vote on Sgambelluri’s selection was 8–1, with dissent from Steve Volan. Even though the vote was not unanimous, the split was not as severe as last year’s 5–4 tally that gave Susan Sandberg the gavel for 2022.

One big source of contention for the last three years on Bloomington’s city council has been disagreement about how the legislative process should be handled, and the role of committees in that process.

The legislative process was the topic of Sgambelluri’s first act as council president, after assigning seats on the dais. She established a four-member special committee on council processes, to be chaired by Matt Flaherty, who served as parliamentarian in 2021.

As members of the new committee Sgambelluri also included herself, new council vice president Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and this year’s parliamentarian, Dave Rollo.

Rollo served last year as parliamentarian. Piedmont-Smith has served as vice president twice in the past—in 2018 and 2009. She also served as president in 2010.

Indiana state law requires city councils to choose a president and vice president every January . Bloomington adds a parliamentarian.

Piedmont-Smith’s selection as vice president was unanimous. Only Volan voted against Rollo as parliamentarian.

The 5–4 split that put Sandberg in the president’s chair last year has recurred often enough that the groups making up each side are sometimes called by close watchers of the council “the five” and “the four.”  Making up “the five” are: Sgambelluri; Jim Sims; Susan Sandberg; Ron Smith; and Dave Rollo. Making up “the four” are: Volan; Matt Flaherty; Kate Rosenbarger; and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

For the three offices chosen on Wednesday, Volan voted along “party lines.” He voted for Piedmont-Smith as vice-president—which made her selection unanimous—but against Sgambelluri as president and against Rollo as parliamentarian.

Before each of their votes, Volan asked Sgambelluri and Piedmont-Smith about their view of time limits for speaking turns. Each indicated they are favorably inclined towards time limits. Before getting a question from Volan, Rollo preemptively stated that he is in favor of time limits.

On Wednesday, Sgambelluri pointed to some remarks made by Flaherty late last year about the formation of a committee to try to address legislative processes, among other topics.

It was at the Dec. 7, 2022 meeting of the council when Flaherty talked about the idea of forming a committee to review several topics: legislative process generally; building a racial and social equity analysis into the legislative process; board and commission reform; and public engagement.

Almost a year earlier, in January of 2022, Flaherty had made a bid to preserve the council’s administration committee as a way to reform legislative processes, including the budget process, as well as boards and commissions. But to start off 2022, the council voted to eliminate the administration committee, along with several other standing committees that were formed in January 2020.

The administration committee was supposed to have assumed the responsibility of a special rules committee appointed in mid-2019 by then-president of the city council, Dave Rollo. But neither the rules committee nor its successor, the administration committee, ever made recommendations to the council about systematic changes to the council’s meeting procedures.

Other committee appointments made by Sgambelluri on Wednesday included:

  • Climate action and resilience committee: Flaherty, Piedmont-Smith, Rollo (chair), and Smith.
  • Jack Hopkins social services committee: Sandberg (chair), Sims, Rosenbarger, and Smith.
  • Sidewalk committee: Sandberg, Sims (chair), Rosenbarger and Volan.

Sgambelluri said on Wednesday that she would confer with councilmembers about various council appointments to boards and commissions before making those assignments at the council’s Jan. 18 meeting.

Among those assignments will be the appointment to Bloomington’s plan commission.

For the past two years, the plan commission appointment has been contentious. Last year, Ron Smith was appointed to the plan commission, over Isabel Piedmont-Smith, on a 5–4 vote.  The year before, the plan commission spot went to Susan Sandberg over Piedmont-Smith, also on a 5–4 split vote.