No gambits played by Bloomington city council: Doris Sims to be appointed to new city nonprofit board

Doris Sims is the Bloomington city council’s appointee to the five-member board of City of Bloomington Capital Improvement, Inc. (CBCI)—the new nonprofit recently formed by mayor John Hamilton’s administration.

Sims is former director of Bloomington’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department. She retired from that role in early 2021. She’s married to city councilmember Jim Sims.

Support for Doris Sims as the council’s appointee to CBCI was enthusiastic and uniform across the dais at the city council’s Wednesday’s meeting.

But some councilmembers, including Jim Sims, took the occasion to criticize the four-to-one split in appointments that was established in the bylaws for the CBCI board—four for the mayor and one for the city council.

On Wednesday, there was some discussion by councilmembers about the idea of not making an appointment to the board, as a way to express the council’s displeasure at the uneven split, and to leverage a change to the bylaws.

But Jim Sims weighed in against making a political chess game out of the appointment. He put it like this: “[Doris] wants to do this service.” He added, “So anything that we might discuss or lead to, that could cause her to be a pawn in this deal will not happen this evening—at least from my standpoint.”

The vote by the council expressing support for council president Sue Sgambelluri to go ahead and appoint Doris Sims was 6–0–2. Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg abstained. Kate Rosenbarger was absent.

Under the bylaws of the CBCI, the city council president can appoint the council’s representative to the CBCI, or the council can appoint someone to the board through a resolution.

Typically, appointments to boards and commissioners that the city council has the authority to make under state or local law cannot be made by the city council president acting alone, and do not require a resolution on the appointment. Generally, under state law, city council resolutions have to be presented to the mayor and are subject to veto.

The concept of the CBCI as a new nonprofit was originally floated by mayor John Hamilton’s administration as an alternative to a capital improvement board (CIB) as the governance structure for the planned convention center expansion. A key difference between a CIB and a private nonprofit is that a CIB is a public body subject to Indiana’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.

But the scope of CBCI, as currently defined, doesn’t include the convention center expansion. Instead, the CBCI is supposed to focus on: arts sector projects like the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, the Waldron Arts Center; jobs and tech sector projects like the Trades District; and the redevelopment of the former IU Health hospital site at 2nd and Rogers streets.

It was not just the 4–1 split on appointments that Jim Sims criticized on Wednesday. He objected to the fact that the bylaws say that if there’s a vacancy “because of death, resignation, removal, disqualification” then it’s the remaining board members, not the appointing authority, that makes the replacement.

On Wednesday, councilmember Steve Volan reprised the criticism of the 4–1 split for board appointments that he made at the council’s Jan. 11 meeting. The context of the Jan. 11 meeting was the council’s override of the mayor’s veto of the council’s late 2022 resolution expressing support for a CIB as the preferred governance for the convention center expansion.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, Volan said about the 4-1 split for board appointments: “That doesn’t show a lot of trust or faith in the council, either. It should be at least three to two.” Volan added, “So I think that indicates there that the administration’s goal is control, no matter what the cost.”

On Wednesday, Volan said, “If we don’t like that, we have to ask: What are we willing to do about it?” What Volan proposed was for the council not to assent to naming an appointee “until we negotiate a better administrative arrangement.”

Councilmember Dave Rollo said he had submitted a lot of questions to the council’s attorney about the scope of the new nonprofit and its funding sources. He added, “I have a lot of trepidation for making an appointment to this CBCI—it may be interpreted as giving my consent [to the board’s appointment structure].

Rollo characterized the Hamilton administration’s approach to forming the CBCI as “rushing to get things moving without the participation of the stakeholders.” That approach, Rollo said, “seems to be the modus operandi of the administration, unfortunately.”

Susan Sandberg said “I think this entire process lacks the transparency and the public debate that something of this importance absolutely requires.” She added, “I don’t recall casting a vote or having a public discussion as to even the merits of a 501(c)(3), which is basically privatization in a nonprofit private corporation, a board to take over decision making about city assets.”

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith to some extent agreed with the concerns that other councilmembers had raised, but wondered why they had not been raised before. Piedmont-Smith said, “I agree that the process has not been as transparent and inclusive as it should have been.”

Piedmont-Smith continued, “But I’m also a bit puzzled, because last week we had the deputy mayor, Mary Catherine Carmichael, here to answer questions about the CBCI. And these issues were not raised at that point.”

She added, “Certainly we have been notified, six weeks ago about the formation of [CBCI]. So if there were serious concerns among my colleagues, then I don’t understand why they were not raised earlier.”

The sentiment that seemed to prevail for the majority of councilmembers was expressed by Matt Flaherty like this: “I share a lot of the concerns raised by my colleagues. I don’t feel a need necessarily to withhold appointment at this time over those concerns.”

Flaherty added, “ I think there are a variety of ways in which the council could work in the coming weeks and months to ensure a more collaborative process…that we are comfortable with, with respect to how the CPCI operates.”

2 thoughts on “No gambits played by Bloomington city council: Doris Sims to be appointed to new city nonprofit board

  1. If one doesn’t sense an unfortunate smell to this scheme, far beyond this 4-1 concern, then one should not be in local governing or, for that matter, thinking about good local government. The purposes listed in the CPCI bylaws mirror that of the traditional purposes of city government itself. Is this an attempt by JH to govern beyond his political graveyard?

    I’m sorry, Isabel, that my thoughts on this matter were not issued earlier, but tardiness, mine and that of your council colleagues does not in itself negate the concerns regarding the goals and proposed operations of this end run scheme. I truly am mystified by your point that tardy critical reflection on something this major must be disregarded.

    Years ago Hemingway described a good education as one that rendered a built-in crap detector to the learners. I sincerely wish our local decision makers would employ their crap detectors on this “innovation.”

    The appointment of the talented and personable Doris Sims to this nonprofit, non governmental board doing government’s work, on the other hand, gives me hope, despite my doubts, that the CPCI will be beneficial to Bloomington.

  2. Just curious why Jim Simms did not recuse himself from voting on appointing his spouse to a city board?

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