Talk deemed off-topic, ill-tempered: Backdrop for Bloomington’s resolution on embargo against Cuba

“Who the hell do you people think you are? You’re not the White House!”

That was Dareal Ruble speaking from the public mic at last Wednesday’s meeting of the city council.

He was reacting to a resolution on the meeting agenda that called for an immediate end to the US economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.

The resolution was not controversial for councilmembers—it passed unanimously.

The vote came almost an hour after the resolution was introduced by Dave Rollo, who co-sponsored it with Susan Sandberg.

Rubel was interrupted twice during his allotted five minutes by council president Sue Sgambelluri, who admonished him—for speaking off the topic of the resolution, not for any particular choice of words.

But questions about the kind of tone and demeanor that councilmembers consider acceptable were swimming just under the surface of Wednesday’s meeting—in connection with an earlier agenda item.

Neither Rollo nor Sandberg supported a raft of resident re-appointments to boards and commissions that were approved early on the agenda.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Rollo confirmed to The B Square that he voted no, because the list included Greg Alexander’s reappointment to the city’s traffic commission.

Based on Alexander’s social media interactions, which Rollo described as “aggressive,” Rollo said he think’s Alexander’s temperament is “ill-suited” to serving on a city board or commission.

The unanimous support of the council for the resolution about the US embargo against Cuba never seemed in doubt—even if it drew some scrutiny from councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith. She did not want the council’s expression of support for ending the embargo to include support for ending the sanctions against the Cuban military.

After hearing from Frank Marshalek, who wrote a doctoral thesis on Cuban economic reform, Piedmont-Smith was satisfied. She echoed the sentiments of her city council colleagues, when she said, “I am in favor of lifting the embargo. I think that the United States should have normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba.”

Deliberations included several speakers from CUBAmistad, including Mashalek, which is the name of the group that supports the Bloomington-Santa Clara sister city project. Santa Clara is a Cuban city of around 250,000 people.

The resolution establishing the sister-city relationship with Santa Clara was approved in 1998.

Credited by a 1998 Herald-Time article with the idea of a Bloomington-Santa Clara sister city relationship was Jack Hopkins. That’s the same former city councilmember after whom the city’s social services grants are named.

From the public mic on Wednesday, Ruble ticked through several concerns that he thinks merit the city council’s focus more than Cuba.

He said: “I got the smoke coming out my ears right now, OK? I’m pretty pissed. You drive down by Seminary Park, the woods all around Bloomington, are full of homeless and you’re worried about Cuba?! What about Bloomington, man? You’ve done destroyed Bloomington—the history that we have here is gone.”

Ruble continued, “We’ve got laws, man, enforce those! That’s why [Bloomington police chief Mike] Diekhoff said the other day you’re 20 to 30 officers short. Well, hell, you can’t keep police in this town. They don’t want to work, where their hands are tied.”

Ruble took up the topic of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, saying that it was Antifa that had planned the events “to make it look like it was Trump’s people” who did it. At that point, Sgambelluri gave a second admonishment to Ruble: “Mr. Ruble, I’ll remind you to confine your remarks please to this particular piece of legislation.”

When he reached the end of the allotted 5 minutes, Rubel did not appear to be inclined to stop talking.

After a few more admonishments from Sgambelluri that his time was up, the police officer on regular duty for the council meeting approached the mic. She was joined by police chief Mike Diekoff, who happened to be on hand for another agenda item. The two law enforcement officers led Rubel, who offered no resistance, out of the council chambers.

Even if Ruble spoke only indirectly to the topic of the resolution about the embargo against Cuba, Bloomington resident Greg Alexander talked specifically about it.

Alexander started by saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind that Cuba is a really great nation.” He continued, “One of the most impressive things about Cuba is that they outlawed homelessness—by housing every citizen.” Alexander added, “They deserve a better relationship with their northern neighbor.”

About the council’s resolution, though, Alexander said it would not have any effect. “This council doesn’t control or even advise any part of the federal government,” Alexander said.

Alexander highlighted the fact that it was Rollo and Sandberg who sponsored the resolution. He called the two councilmembers “stalwart voices against solving our own city’s housing problems.” Alexander alluded to Rollo and Sandberg’s opposition to a zoning change to allow duplexes where only single-family houses were previously allowed.

Alexander also alluded to Rollo and Sandberg’s votes in opposition to an ordinance considered but not approved by the council in 2021 that would have given protections to encampments in city parks.

About Rollo and Sandberg, Alexander said, “Thanks to their leadership, our city has actively rejected many chances to achieve the same justice that the people of Cuba currently enjoy.” He added, “I believe these councilmembers are using this resolution as a distraction from their substantive positions on local policy.”

The friction between the two councilmembers and Alexander is not just about housing policy.

Towards the start of Wednesday’s meeting, a raft of resident re-appointments to boards and commissions was put to a vote—which is normally a perfunctory step. But without any comment, Rollo voted no and Sandberg abstained. While not unprecedented, it’s rare for councilmembers to dissent on appointments like those, especially given that they were all re-appointments.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Rollo told The B Square he had voted no, because Greg Alexander’s reappointment to the city’s traffic commission was included on the list.

His opposition to Alexander’s reappointment was based on social media interactions, which Rollo described as “aggressive.” Rollo described Alexander’s temperament as “ill-suited” for service on a city board or commission.

The interactions Rollo finds objectionable came on Twitter, after the city council approved the installation of a stop sign, at the intersection at Sheridan Drive and Maxwell Lane, which is located in the Elm Heights neighborhood.

The council’s vote on the stop sign went against the recommendation from the city’s traffic commission, on which Alexander served at the time, and on which he still serves, as a result of last Wednesday’s reappointment.

Alexander sees the council’s 7–2 vote 6–2–1 vote to approve the stop sign as demonstrating undue deference to wealthy Bloomington residents who have political influence. As Alexander wrote in one Tweet (he writes everything in lower case): “haters gonna hate and bloomington democrats gonna lick the shit out from between elm heights’ neighbors ass cheeks.”

On Wednesday, following the public comment time on the resolution about Cuba, Sandberg responded to Alexander’s accusation that the resolution was meant to be a distraction from local policy questions.

“I highly resent any implication that this is done for any other reason than respect for people in this community that are standing up for other people,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg added, “That’s what we do here in Bloomington.”

13 thoughts on “Talk deemed off-topic, ill-tempered: Backdrop for Bloomington’s resolution on embargo against Cuba

  1. Who was the second councilmember who voted no on Mr. Alexander’s re-appointment? The article says Rollo voted no and Sandberg abstained, but the final tally (updated) was 6-2-1. Who was the second no vote?

      1. Ah, I had to reread! My morning coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, apparently! Thanks!

      2. Greg, You are difficult to work with. I have admired your passion and many of your convictions, but not your offensiveness ever since we served together on Bloomington Transportation Options for People. You should make an effort to be more civil in your leadership style. It currently reminds me of extreme right wingers: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Consider the January 29 Braver Angels’ live workshop on “Depolarizing Within.”

  2. Mr Ruble’s question may have been inelegantly phrased, but it doesn’t seem that the Council answered it. What indeed is Bloomington’s interest in the Cuba embargo, which at most is an academic question for residents? And why is the Council spending time on it when it has far more urgent and important problems to address here?

    1. It’s not the first time the city has passed meaningless resolutions in favor of larger “progressive” policy platforms on the national/international level. Before this it was nuclear disarmament. Before that it was assuredly something else. It doesn’t mean it’s meaningful or impactful, but it’s a pattern of behavior. Some more critical viewers might say it’s political grandstanding or virtue signaling to politically-charged/involvers voters. “Look at these national policies supported largely by Democrats that I’ve voted in favor of – please ignore my votes on local housing and environmental protections. The national issue resolutions prove I’m super liberal/progressive!”

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