Column: In Bloomington, serving as mayor is a big job, so get ready to vote

In the city of Bloomington, the job of mayor is not ceremonial.

That’s different from many cities across America, which use the council-manager form of local government.

In cities that use a council-manager style of government, the city council hires a city manager to oversee the city’s administration and operations, including the appointment of department heads.

The mayor in a council-manager system will typically preside over city council meetings and serve as the city’s representative on various formal occasions. That’s why the council-manager form of local government is sometimes called a weak-mayor system.

But Bloomington is a strong-mayor city, where it’s the mayor who oversees the operations of city government and hires the department heads.

This year, Bloomington voters will elect a new mayor to a four-year term. Incumbent John Hamilton has announced he is not seeking re-election.

So it’s worth putting some time into learning about the candidates and making an effort to vote.

Bloomington has a strong-mayor system, not by our own choice, but because it is just like all other cities that are classified as “second class” under Indiana state law.

(It’s no slight to be called a “second class” city in Indiana—the only “first class” city under state law is Indianapolis.)

A strong-mayor system means that the job of mayor in Bloomington is a serious full-time job, which heads up the executive branch of local government and provides a check and balance against the legislative branch, which is the city council.

The job of Bloomington mayor has been full-time for more than 70 years.

How do we know, that in 1950, service as Bloomington’s mayor required a full-time effort?

It’s because according to the 1950 hand-written US census, living at 515 N. Park St. in Bloomington, there was a 35-year-old man who worked in the industry of “city government” who lived in a household with his 33-year-old wife, their two sons, his 19-year-old sister-in-law, and a 63-year-old housekeeper.

That was Bloomington’s mayor at the time, Thomas H. Lemon. The population that year was measured at just 28,160 people, or about a third the size Bloomington is now.

The 1950 records also say that in the week before the census taker knocked on his door, Lemon worked 72 hours. That’s six 12-hour days.

Today’s full-time position of mayor pays a salary of $131,458.

In 1951, which is as far back as salary records are easily findable, the mayor was paid $5,700 a year. That’s roughly equivalent to $71,000 today.

There are three candidates in the Democratic Party’s May 2 primary race. There are no candidates for mayor in the Republican Party’s primary. It’s still possible for the Republican Party to put a candidate on the ballot by the July 3 deadline.

Whoever wins the Democratic Party’s primary might still face a candidate in the Nov. 7 general election who is unaffiliated with any party. Joe Davis is collecting signatures to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate, but has not yet submitted the required 352 signatures.

Where can you find information about the three candidates in the May 2 Democratic Party primary? Here are links to candidate profiles compiled by The B Square for each candidate:

Those profiles include loads of links to original document filings, plus information from the League of Women Voters.

Some voters got their first chance to see all three Democratic Party mayoral candidates in the same place at the same time last week at Aver’s Public House.

Several more candidate forums have been scheduled over the coming weeks.

The Democratic Women’s Caucus event set for March 2 at 6 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library is just for women candidates—for all offices, including mayor, city clerk, and city council.

The League of Women Voters has compiled a handy list of upcoming candidate forums, even if all details for all events are not nailed down, as of the date of publication of this column.

For example, a March 21 mayoral candidate forum, to be hosted by the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, does not yet have a location settled. Check back with the LWV web page for updates.

You can put a lot of effort into learning about the candidates, but you won’t be able to make your vote count, unless you are registered to vote in the city of Bloomington.

To vote in the May 2 primary, you have to be registered to vote by April 3. To check your registration status or find your polling location, or to see who will appear on your ballot, visit the online Indiana Voter Portal.

Early voting begins on Tuesday, April 4 at Election Central, 401 W. 7th St., Suite 100 in downtown Bloomington.

Monroe County’s Election Central has information about on absentee voting by mail or by travel board.

To sum up, the position of Bloomington mayor is a full-time job.

So Bloomington residents owe it to themselves to put at least a little time into learning about the candidates.

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