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.”