Column: Bloomington’s next mayor should routinely field questions in public from residents, press

Should the mayor of Bloomington hold a monthly news conference, where any resident or member of the press can ask a question on any topic?

Incumbent mayor John Hamilton does not appear to think it’s very important to make himself available like that.

No such news conference has been held in the last three and a half years, which is the time The B Square has been in publication.

Hamilton is not seeking reelection. But I hope the next mayor of Bloomington thinks it’s important to hold a regular public event where anyone can ask a question.

Most Bloomington voters seem to think so, too.

On behalf of The B Square, Public Policy Polling conducted a recent survey of likely voters in the Democratic Party’s May 2 primary.

Those survey results show that 92 percent of respondents think it’s very or somewhat important that Bloomington’s mayor hold a monthly news conference.

The text-to-web poll was conducted from March 1-3, 2023, and received completed responses from 594 registered voters in Bloomington. The margin of error for the survey was +/- 4.0%.

Hamilton’s lack of actual accessibility to the public and the press could help explain his low approval numbers in the same poll.

Just 27 percent of respondents approved of Hamilton’s job performance, while 39 percent disapproved of his performance.

About one-third of respondents weren’t sure about Hamilton’s job performance. That probably indicates that a lot of Bloomington residents aren’t sure what impact any mayor’s performance has on their world.

I don’t think the Bloomington mayor’s approval rating gets routinely polled by the local press. In any case, I could not find any historical numbers against which to judge Hamilton’s results.

But one standard against which to judge Hamilton’s approval ratings are presidential numbers.

Donald Trump’s final approval rating was 34 percent. To find a lower final approval rating for a US president, than Hamilton’s 27 percent, you have to go back to Richard Nixon. In his final poll, Nixon had an approval rating of 24 percent.

I don’t think holding a routine news conference is some kind of magic bullet that will ensure that Bloomington’s mayor enjoys high popularity.

But a commitment to routinely answering questions in public, from the public and the press, would go a long way towards improving perceptions of the mayor and city government in general.

It might help convince Bloomington residents that their mayor has enough confidence to face those the city’s executive is supposed to serve—the public.

13 thoughts on “Column: Bloomington’s next mayor should routinely field questions in public from residents, press

  1. More government transparency and an opportunity to express one’s views to elected officials would be a most welcome change. Could well result in more public involvement from a better informed electorate.

  2. Mayor Hamilton has held monthly “Mayor” at the Farmer’s Market, which allows the public and press an opportunity to chat with an administrative staff member, ask questions, raise concerns, offer ideas. I wonder if any media ever attended.

    1. Typically the mayor was not present, as you perhaps meant to indicate by the quotes around mayor.

      I regularly attend the Market, but speaking with a staff member – even a department head – is not the same as speaking with an elected official.

      The exercise was, like all the lip service that Hamilton paid to transparency and the democratic process, performative. Apparently only the most mindless partisans have failed to see that. Hamilton and Nixon forever (not)!

    2. yeah that was what i was thinking about too…and the ‘ask the mayor’ segment on WFIU.

      IMO, Hamilton’s legacy on transparency is complicated. he launched the “B Clear Data Portal” which is really very good for some things. but on the other hand, there’s things they refuse to share even after Mr. Askins has done successful public records requests, like parking garage occpancy. i think it’s tied in with his preference for making decisions as closed door negotiations with private partners and campaign donors, and treat the rest of city government as his own personal rubber stamp. he can open up some statistics but the occupancy rate of a parking garage could materially inform a decision that he wants to keep to himself (yes, i’m implying an improper quid-pro-quo driving his parking policy).

      i don’t know how widely known this was but in his first term — and for all i know still today — if you called his office *anyone* could get a 15 minute interview with Mayor Hamilton to chew his ear about whatever was on your mind. he’d eat up a minute of it trying to show you a photo of him and president obama, and spend the rest of the time vociferously agreeing with you…and then do whatever he was gonna do anyways the moment you left the room. i know some people found that process infuriating. but otoh it truly is a kind of access.

      there’s a lot that goes into being transparent and accessible. it’s not all clear cut. some people will feel like you didn’t listen to them no matter what you do. and honestly, given who speaks the most in this town, i’m not sure i’m a big fan of listening! but i’d like to see someone try a different angle on transparency than what Hamilton has provided. honestly, i miss Kruzan.

  3. I don’t know how productive this sort of news conference would be on a monthly basis. If the public were included it would be more like a “town hall” than a news conference. I don’t think it would be likely be helpful to have a small, self-selected group of citizens as the basis of a monthly conference. That could easily devolve into a disinformational forum. Maybe an annual town hall could let people vent and present a social/political opportunity . . . ?

    If a monthly event were a real news conference–a press conference–where well prepared reporters ask and pursue pointed questions, disseminating the results of the conference afterwards with commentary, that could be valuable. I have no doubt that the B Square would make good use of it, but the “press conference” element wouldn’t go much further, since Gannett has silenced the H-T’s editorial voice and reduced it to a skeleton news staff, it’s not clear how much it can make use of a monthly event. (I don’t expect we’ll have a local print daily much longer unless there is a successful effort to purchase the H-T locally or create a successor when the H-T’s now figurative doors are shut.) Doesn’t the mayor regularly answer questions from news staff and the public on WFIU’s “Ask the Mayor” show? At least that’s broadcast.

    I don’t think the Mayor’s unpopularity is due to lack of press conferences. I think the issues concern policy. Perhaps the Mayor could have made his case more effectively with press conferences, but he could as easily have made things worse (and in my view that’s the direction his talents lie). But if the next mayor embraces open interaction with the press and schedules regular conferences with the few reportorial voices we have in town I agree that could be both good in itself and a good way for the mayor to present his or her case and monitor where adjustments need to be made.

  4. The whole city administration has been hiding from the public for the last 3 years. They used the damn Covid mask mandate to hide behind.If you are still wearing your face diaper then you’re the problem. They have hidden behind their computers the whole time. This is a prime example of why we have both the first amendment and the second amendment to counter their abuse of power. On top of that he has spent millions of taxpayers money on creating the homeless problem and the hardened criminal element that is destroying our safe and civil community.

    1. The city had nothing to do with the mask mandate. The mask mandate was a county mandate. And it may have kept a “person” like you from contracting COVID and getting seriously ill. PS: you keep calling the masks “face diapers” in all of your many comments which makes me think you realize most of what comes out of your mouth is excrement. I’ll keep masking and could care less what someone like you thinks.

      1. I got both of the vaccines because of my age. My two college graduates sons asked me to do it for them and I wore the masks when your unelected Board of Health imposed the mask mandate.And I still got the Covid. So you think you that the liberal morons still have the right to tell me what to do

      2. I’m replying to Mr. Schleibaum.

        What we’ve learned from a couple of years of experience with the vaccine is that it reduces the likelihood of getting Covid, but many people still do get it after being vaccinated. Each booster reduces the risk, but it’s still not uncommon to get it–you have lots of company. Where the vaccine record is clearly outstanding is in dramatically reducing cases needing hospitalization and coming pretty close to eliminating fatal cases.

        As for masks, the evidence of most, but not all, studies has been that when most people are using effective masks the spread of Covid is lower, but certainly the spread was eliminated nowhere.

        If your Covid case was mild enough not to require hospitalization, it may have been the vaccine that accounted for that. But it could just be your strong constitution! To test for sure, we’d have to go back in time, reverse your vaccination, and see whether you were still alive to write comments about liberal morons a couple of years later. We can’t do that, but on behalf of liberal morons everywhere, may you continue to berate us in good health.

  5. Low poll numbers were earned. Top down management and a deaf ear to a large part of the community is reflected in these poll numbers.

  6. The mayor is not really interested in public input because, in the end, he is going to do whatever he wants regardless of what the public wants. It’s all about him and always has been…

  7. Active Listening :

    I think that future City Council members and the Mayor would do our beloved community a great service by having open discussions for ideas for new plans BEFORE decisions are made for a vibrant and open future for our fair city.

    I attended one of the 15 minute sessions with this mayor.

    I had recently traveled to my college area which included Athens/Savannah, Georgia, Jacksonville, Florida and Charlottesville, Va and saw some beautiful innovations about supporting artists and art groups and great programs in relationship to unhoused citizens… and I wanted to talk to someone in the administration about what I had seen.
    The mayor listened, seemingly distracted, and announced “your time is up … your 15 minutes are over.” I was surprised. I didn’t realize it was only a 15 minutes appointment.
    And I ask if I could meet with him again, I had a few more things I would like to share, (I had typed these ideas out to hand him), and he said “you will have to wait a year … you only get one meeting a year.”

    One 15 minute meeting a year.

    But you could check that off on a “met with the public” checklist.

    What would it have been like to have someone look me in the eye, for a 30 minute meeting, take a few notes and warmly say they appreciated my input and these were things to think about. That’s all. And what a difference IN FEELING HEARD that would have made.

    I didn’t expect any of these ideas to specifically happen in Bloomington but I was enthusiastic to share what I’d just seen other cities dealing with similar problem, cities closer to us in size and demographics, had successfully done.

    I have experienced this administration as having a perfunctory “check-it-off” box, a “we listen to the public moment” step with no real intention for seeking any new information or enthusiasm for idea sharing behind the interaction.

    Not seeking ideas, resources and expertise in our community, always paying – a great deal of money – to outside experts to tell us what is wrong with our city and how to fix it, is the normative behavior here.
    “We know better, we’ve got the data to prove it”… then moving forward without community by-in and/or positive promotion.


    I look forward to a new Mayoral administration and City Council members who seek expertise in the city… mainly… and SOME outside expertise, through our city’s lens.

    And if we do have community forums regularly, wouldn’t it be great to include some ground rules?:

    Respectful interaction, no cussing or name-calling and shouting and then, you should be allowed to say anything your heart desires about the issue … in a decent way.
    (If you attended many city council meetings these last four years, you would know why I would say these rules are needed.)

    I taught elementary school and that wasn’t too much to ask of the students … in the end, they really liked it… because they learn to actually listen to each other, and, in the end, respect each other and different opinions.

    And for all you teachers out there, do you remember Active Listening?
    I would love to see leaders of our community who are Active Listeners.

    Bess Lee

    1. Yes! You had me at “Active L…”.

      We really do need more active listeners in leadership. At a bare minimum, if I met with the mayor or any other elected official to express ideas or problems, I’d expect them to be able to articulate what those ideas or problems are at the end of our meeting.

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