Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts

At last Wednesday’s city council meeting, several speakers during general public commentary time objected to the previous week’s re-appointment of Greg Alexander to the city’s traffic commission.

The commission is an an advisory board that, among other things, recommends to the city council and other city officials ways to improve traffic conditions and the enforcement of traffic regulations.

After public commentary time was finished, council president Sue Sgambelluri said, “We are in conversation with our attorney administrator, Mr. [Stephen] Lucas, and have asked him to research possible steps forward.”

Those steps forward could include an effort to remove Alexander from the traffic commission pursuant to Bloomington’s local code.

Local law says the city council can “for cause” remove a council appointee to a board or commission. The definition of “cause” is specific only for one kind of infraction—excessive absences. But it leaves room for other reasons: “Cause shall include, but not be limited to, failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings of the board, commission, or council…”

A legal question that Lucas will be researching is whether councilmembers can remove Alexander, based on the kind of statements he has posted to the Twitter social media platform.

Some of those Tweets were read aloud during last Wednesday’s public comment by Bloomington resident Stephanie Hatton.

The Tweets were posted by Alexander late last year after the city council approved the installation of a stop sign in the Elm Heights neighborhood at the intersection of Sheridan Drive and Maxwell Lane. The council’s action came against the recommendation of the city engineer and the traffic commission, on which Alexander serves.

Hatton had advocated for installation of the stop sign—it has since been installed—and had done the work to measure out dimensions of the intersection, including the gradient of the hill.

At last Wednesday’s council meeting, Hatton read aloud the following Tweets by Alexander:

haters gonna hate and bloomington democrats gonna lick the shit out from between elm heights’ neighbors ass cheeks.

one of the reasons i suck at organizing is i want to tell people “go to the council and ask for improvements in your neighborhood to help me make the political point that the current fucknuts on there only care about elm heights”. real powerful incentive there

you all understand that i’m petty enough i’m counting down the days until i can go collect video of prominent elm heights neighbors running the stop sign they just bought

it sounds like they are going to savagely penetrate your neighborhood and i want to know what they’re going to use to do that?

The Tweet that uses the phrase “savagely penetrate your neighborhood” came in a thread that started off with a Tweet by Alexander that said:

last december, a couple bought a house in elm heights for $622,000. and less than a year later, the wife was able to go to the council and was allowed to make a 28 minute presentation about the intersection in front of the house she just bought. [..]

Responding to the original Tweet was Regina Moore, who is the former elected city clerk and also a resident of Elm Heights:

Perhaps you were bored because the traffic commission, on which you serve, heard her presentation, voted down her request, but also hasn’t come up with ANY solutions. And did you hear folks who lived in the area for 30+ years? You clearly are not concerned about safety.

Moore later added in a reply Tweet to Alexander:

You should see what’s planned for Hawthorne from 3rd south, punching through to Weatherstone and on to Hillside. $300,000 that’s not needed or wanted. Let’s figure out where that $$ would do more good for bike and ped safety!

Alexander responded by asking Moore:

what are they punching through with?

When there was no response from Moore to that question, Alexander followed up with the Tweet that Hatton read aloud:

i would really like to know. it sounds like they are going to savagely penetrate your neighborhood and i want to know what they’re going to use to do that?

The complete Twitter thread, as far as The B Square could determine, is included below as a screenshot.

In her turn from the public mic last Wednesday, Hatton asked councilmembers: “What do you feel when you hear the phrase ‘savagely penetrate’?” She continued, “And what would you do now tonight, if those words suggesting the perpetration of sexual violence had been directed at your neighborhood, and by association you, by a council-appointed commissioner?”

Alexander attended the council’s meeting last Wednesday, and was sitting in the audience—most of the chairs were empty—about 20 feet away from the public mic, as speakers weighed in critical of his social media posts.

Alexander had led off the night’s public commentary by delivering remarks during public comment time in support of maintaining the city’s greenway program as it is, without an amendment that would put final decisions back in control of the city council. That amendment was put forward late last year by Dave Rollo, but was taken off the agenda for a second reading. It’s likely to be taken up again sometime this year.

Taking a turn at the public mic last Wednesday was Elm Heights resident Jeff Richardson, who is a former city council member who served from 1976 to 1979. Richardson turned and gestured towards Alexander, who was sitting in the audience: “I think bullies keep bullying until people say: Enough. We’ve had enough bullying.”

“I stand with Stephanie Hatton tonight, and I would stand with her, regardless of where she lives,” Richardson said.

Richardson said there were people who would have attended the council meeting but feared “that they’re going to be on his target list.” Richardson added, “They don’t want to speak out because they don’t want to get a personal letter at home. They don’t want him videotaping their house. They don’t want him stalking them.”

Richardson was referring in part to a hand-written letter that Alexander sent to Hatton dated Nov. 18, 2022, a couple weeks after the city council approved the Maxwell-Sheridan stop sign.

The final paragraph of the letter reads:

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about Ordinance 22-35, which aims to severely limit the neighborhood traffic calming and greenways programs. But I was wondering if you could help me out by telling me your opinion on it. And maybe any background info you may have. Maybe we can work together?

Another more recent letter that Alexander wrote was sent to Bloomington resident Bess Lee.  Lee had advocated for the council’s resolution for ending the embargo against Cuba, which was approved at the council’s Jan. 21 meeting.

Lee’s husband, Joe Lee, weighed in at last Wednesday’s city council meeting during public comment and mentioned Alexander’s letter, saying “Although it did not contain profanity, or any kind of allusions to rape or sexual activity, it belittled, it was ageist, it called out that it was a waste of time for a city council to represent something in favor of the people of Cuba.”

On the night the council approved the Cuba resolution, Alexander had delivered public commentary that was in support of ending the embargo, but critical of the council’s resolution. Alexander contended it was an effort by the sponsors, Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg, to distract from substantive local issues. “I believe these councilmembers are using this resolution as a distraction from their substantive positions on local policy,” Alexander said.

Following Alexander’s turn at the Jan. 21 meeting, Bess Lee responded with remarks that alluded to Alexander’s words: “I was very sad to hear that young man speak, because I came here open hearted after my experience in Cuba, wanting them to enter the world economy.”

In his letter to Bess Lee, Alexander wrote, “I am 42 years old. Your generation needs to stop calling my generation ‘young man’.”

It was at the same meeting (Jan. 18) when the council voted on the Cuban embargo that Alexander’s re-appointment to the traffic commission, in the same motion as several other re-appointments, was approved by the city council. But that approval came with dissent from Dave Rollo and an abstention from Susan Sandberg. Neither Rollo nor Sandberg said at the time why they did not vote yes on the re-appointments.

During public commentary at last Wednesday’s meeting, Natalia Galvan quoted a Tweet posted by Alexander that was critical of Isabel Piedmont-Smith’s vote in favor of the Sheridan-Maxwell stop sign installation.

i’ve never seen so much cowardice as when Isabel Piedmont-Smith votes. never has someone so convincingly explained that they understand what a deep betrayal their vote is to all that they hold dear. and so often!

Piedmont-Smith’s own use of the word “bullshit” during her report time at last Wednesday’s meeting appeared to factor into the council president Sue Sgambelluri’s ruling that Hatton could quote out Alexander’s profane Twitter posts during her public commentary.

During her report, Piedmont-Smith talked about gun safety laws. Her remarks included this statement: “I urge people at the statehouse and in our federal government, to stop with the bullshit about thoughts and prayers. Let’s actually control who can have these weapons, what kind of weapons they can have.”

Even though there was no objection at the time, a few minutes later, Piedmont-Smith’s choice of words came under scrutiny. Hatton prefaced her remarks from the public mic by saying, “My speech this evening includes quotes that contain profanity. Viewer and listener discretion is advised.”

That prompted councilmember Matt Flaherty to ask Sgambelluri for a ruling on the question of whether to allow quoted profanity. Councilmember Steve Volan cited Piedmont-Smith’s use of profanity a few minutes earlier as a reason to allow it, especially “in the absence of more well defined rules, which this body simply has not ever taken up.” Piedmont-Smith apologized for her use of profanity.

The current city council rules for public commentary don’t prohibit profanity.

And the omission of that prohibition appears to have been intentional. In 2010, the council established a rules committee that recommended allowing profanity during public comment.

From the rules committee report: “Staff suggest deleting the prohibition against profanity. Expletives coupled with political speech constitute protected speech. While the Council hopes that speakers are able to communicate their concerns without the use of profanity, the Council cannot prohibit such use.”

Text from a series of tweets goes like this:New Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Nov 3, 2022 last december, a couple bought a house in elm heights for $622,000. and less than a year later, the wife was able to go to the council and was allowed to make a 28 minute presentation about the intersection in front of the house she just bought. [..] Next Tweet Regina Moore @clerkmoore Nov 3, 2022 Replying to @GregAlexander8 Perhaps you were bored because the traffic commission, on which you serve, heard her presentation, voted down her request, but also hasn't come up with ANY solutions. And did you hear folks who lived in the area for 30+ years? You clearly are not concerned about safety. Next Tweet Mary Hrovat @mary_hrovat Nov 3, 2022 Replying to @clerkmoore and @GregAlexander8 Maybe I shouldn't barge in, but I'm beyond astonished at your statement. I can't think of anyone else who has advocated as tirelessly for ped & cyclist safety in Bloomington. He's talking about the fair apportionment of limited resources. Next Tweet Regina Moore @clerkmoore Nov 3, 2022 Replying to @mary_hrovat and @GregAlexander8 You should see what's planned for Hawthorne from 3rd south, punching through to Weatherstone and on to Hillside. $300,000 that's not needed or wanted. Let's figure out where that $$ would do more good for bike and ped safety! Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Nov 3, 2022 Replying to @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat what are they punching through with? Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Replying to @GregAlexander8 @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat @clerkmoore i would really like to know. it sounds like they are going to savagely penetrate your neighborhood and i want to know what they're going to use to do that? 12:11 AM · Nov 5, 2022 Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Nov 6, 2022 Replying to @GregAlexander8 @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat @clerkmoore i have to reiterate my sincere desire to find out what it is they're going to ram through your neighborhood. it sounds dangerous! maybe i can help you fight against it Next Tweet Regina Moore @clerkmoore Nov 6, 2022 Replying to @GregAlexander8 and @mary_hrovat Send me your email and I'll send you the packet. Not one person I know on the street (let alone people who walk & bike there) want this $300,000 project! Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Nov 6, 2022 Replying to @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat I know how to find it, if you'll tell me what it is Next Tweet Regina Moore @clerkmoore Nov 7, 2022 Replying to @GregAlexander8 and @mary_hrovat Look for Hawthorne/Weatherstone Greenway Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 Nov 7, 2022 Replying to @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat GREENWAY??? oh my god i was thinking it was gonna be a highway or a parking garage but this is much MUCH worse!!@!@ Next Tweet FakeGregA @GregAlexander8 ·Nov 8, 2022 Replying to @GregAlexander8 @clerkmoore and @mary_hrovat @clerkmoore i looked into this some more and it's so much worse than i thought!! they're caving to pressure from cyclists who don't even live in elm heights! they demanded a safe low-stress grid across the whole city ...and they're piercing any neighborhood that gets in the way!
Screen shot of Twitter thread in which one Tweet appeared, which was quoted during public commentary.

10 thoughts on “Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts

  1. it seems like a ridiculous thing to be tasked to do, but i feel like Mr. Askins has come up with a pretty thorough accounting of my conduct in question, and i’m impressed by that accomplishment!

    i’d like to add one piece of context, which hardly changes anything but i want to include it just for completeness. after the nov 2, 2022 meeting where the stop sign at Maxwell & Sheridan was approved, Ms. Hatton flagged me down in the parking lot of city hall and started a conversation with me, where she made several points. she said that she was offended that i attacked her for being privileged, and i tried to counter that it is not her fault that the council ignores other neighborhoods. she insisted that her interest in safety was genuine, and i assured her that i believed that it was. she said that my assumption she would not help with safety efforts in other neighborhoods was unfair and erroneous, and i said that i would contact her if anything crossed my mind that she could help with. she did not object to this course of action at the time. i had the impression she was looking forward to the opportunity to prove her good intent, but maybe i misread her.

    anyways, that’s why i sent her that letter, because i felt like she had directly solicited it. after receiving the letter, she told me she did not want to talk to me because she had seen that i had discussed on twitter the process that led to empowering her neighborhood over my neighborhood. i have not contacted her since.

  2. This is all so ridiculous but so typical of government at any level. Let’s call residents names just because they have worked hard to get where they are and live in a nice neighborhood. It’s so true that liberal government just want citizens to be totally dependent on them. They want to be the monarchy and all the citizens their peasants. It’s sickening. This pickering back and forth for a stupid stop sign that just happens to be in “the wrong neighborhood.” So stupid.

    1. While I do agree that the level of bickering/infighting over this single stop sign is a bit ridiculous, I do have to disagree with the take that it’s because it is in “the wrong neighborhood.” The Traffic Commission and City Engineer did not recommend the stop sign be installed because the intersection does not meet the engineering guidelines that outline where stop signs should and should not be installed. I believe Mr. Alexander’s gripe with the process is that the commission and engineer said the stop sign is inappropriate, but the city council bypassed those recommendations on the basis of one constituent’s unprecedented presentation to the council. I believe that Mr. Alexander sincerely believes this was an unfair process/outcome based on the difficulty other neighborhoods have had with getting stop signs/traffic-calming devices installed on their streets.

      I am NOT defending Mr. Alexander’s actions or words or posts on social media. I am just agreeing that it IS a bit unusual how this specific stop sign was approved for installation. And I say this as a resident of Elm Heights.

      1. Actually, city engineer Sibor agreed that the intersection of Maxwell and Sheridan is uniquely problematic but offered no solution. His rationale was that there were no crash reports for the intersection and there are other problematic intersections for which a precedent might be set. Beyond that he could accept but not endorse a new stop sign. You can see this on the CATS recording of the relevant city council meeting.

        But if safety is really what’s at issue we need to note that a resident at the intersection reported calling an ambulance two times in response to incidents. Crash reports by themselves appear to be an inadequate measure.

  3. Unprofessional all around. Airing one’s personal/professional grievances on twitter – especially when working for the Government in any capacity, is grounds for a job loss. I think after the Trump years we’ve all just about had enough of knowing every single thought in some dipstick’s swollen head on whatever topic they want to blather about. It’s just gross.

    1. employment relationships have to navigate a lot of difficult terrain but, for what it’s worth, traffic commissioner is no “job”. we are volunteers and we have no authority, we just make recommendations and then the council does whatever it was gonna do anyways.

      and i’m not sure the moment calls for a social / philosophical treatise on the beauty of social media. but that’s exactly where i’m going. 🙂

      there’s this movement called “better angels.” they are trying to overcome divides by having highly-publicized events where people who want to participate in a public performance of tolerance sit down together to discuss their disagreements. honestly, i’m not impressed by it, but i’m glad people are trying the ideas they come up with.

      but i *do* believe in dialogue. i think there is nothing more toxic than when people fight without talking to eachother. i want people to understand where i’m coming from, and i want to understand where they’re coming from. i don’t want to be a mere caricature of the opposition in their minds. i want to actually understand and empathize with people who i think are harming this city.

      even when it is toxic, even when it is disrespectful, i think it is intensely valuable to know people. to realize that we are all connected, that we all live here, that just because you can say “i lived in this house 30 years” doesn’t mean we’re not all part of the same community. to realize that even if you don’t know me, your children, your neighbors, your employees know me. some of my best friends live in elm heights!

      i think it is important to see eachother when we are angry. these things happen in a vacuum, unless we talk about them. the alternative to toxic dialogue is far too often isolation and disconnection.

      so, i’m pretty disappointed that a few people have decided to criticize me on twitter and impugn my motivations. i feel like i’m a very publicly visible person, and my motivations are extremely transparent. i wish they would be angry at me for what i am, instead of for what i am not. BUT! i would not ask them to stop! i do not believe in some vain principle of freedom of speech, but rather in the concrete process of getting to know people in difficult situations.

      many people have actually introduced themselves to me by hollering at me in the parking lot of city hall as i was minding my own business. a lot of them have been overtly unfriendly. but i wouldn’t give up that possibility to connect for anything. i’m grateful for their boldness.

      the most frustrating thing i’ve experienced is seeing that a lot of people over 60 — even people who have been like a second father to me for decades — are loathe to listen. i am always looking for the exception to this rule but the pattern is something everyone in my generation can relate to. hasn’t this always been the experience of entering middle age, to learn that the people who still call you “young man” don’t listen? will my generation be any different when it is our turn?

      but while they chose not to listen to me, *i* can listen to them. they may insult me a dozen times without once remembering a thing i said, but i can remember them and can learn from them. i am grateful that they talk to me.

      i like reading dipstick blather. i would recommend it to anyone. and if you get tired of my twitter feed, the “unfollow” button is right there. lord knows i use it sometimes!

      to be clear, none of this is a defense for my tasteless decision to use language that caused people to feel threatened. i do not want people to feel threatened and i regret that.

      1. I think your statement here is fine, Mr. Alexander, and I see no problem with your letter to Ms. Hatton. The tweets are what they are and it’s good that you haven’t defended them. But the problem seems to me that your scorched earth approach is generally undermining your goals beyond this episode. As I understand your goals, your primary concern on safety issues is the imbalance of priorities between critical need and line in the queue. I think your general point is unquestionably right, and one that I’d bet most people in Elm Heights would agree with. But their primary job in this regard is the safety of their neighborhood streets; when you seem to scold them for doing their job and use over the top language that sounds angry (which is always threatening) you lose leverage by making it seem as if they are in the wrong. Your quarrel isn’t with them.

        I’m glad to see you cite Better Angels. It’s called “Braver Angels” now. You don’t have the information quite right. The group includes a balance of people on the left and right, and although the idea of public debate is part of the pverall model, the heart of Braver Angels lies in small groups of participants meeting together on a regular basis for discussions loosely moderated by trained leaders. Those meetings are not public (in the two years I was involved with the group here in town, no events were public. All participants first join a day-long training session, because actually hearing people on the political side opposite yours–and speaking in a manner that will let them hear you–is extremely hard. The goal is not to persuade or be persuaded. Participation is an ongoing course in self-control in the hope that more people may start to let go of stereotyping and scorched earth rhetoric.

      2. Bob – I appreciate your reply. And thank you for correcting my misconceptions about Braver Angels! Anyways, it gave me something to think about.

        One thing is that I do not have generally “a scorched earth approach”. I use a diversity of approaches depending on the context. In general, the existence of one venue (albeit a public one) where I am freely profane and abrasive, has not harmed my efforts in other venues where I use more respectable tactics. But of course that is all thrown into question now, with a group of people publicly cherry picking and misrepresenting my conduct.

        And yeah it is a real struggle to exactly nail down who my quarrel is with. It’s some politicians, some pseudo-politicians, and a tiny mob that has grown up around them. Even within Elm Heights they are a tiny minority. No matter how careful I am in my language, I risk alienating a much larger group of people than I mean to.

        So I have chosen specifically a scorching approach to my public campaign against the influence of that group. I have done a lot of speaking, for example, at the council, where I am (I hope) meticulous about confronting the council’s own actions, never the actions of other public commenters. But I have unfailingly called attention to the influence itself. And I have cast that influence in a very negative light.

        This group threatens everyone they come in contact with and I am trying to shine a light on the effects of proceeding in spite of those threats. My biggest fear is that you are of course completely right and that the tiny group of people who can really understand what I’m trying to showcase is nothing compared to the people who are turned off by what little they see of my conduct.

        My greatest hope is that people who have more respectable public personas see the consequences I face for opposing this group and say to themselves “gee, he would’ve gotten away with it if it wasn’t for his foul twitter feed” and are emboldened.

        It is heck of a gamble. And in general I agree that it is worthwhile to be respectful to the person you are talking to, and that there are costs to violating that rule.

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