Set for April 12: Possible city council vote on removal of Bloomington traffic commissioner because of social media posts

A possible vote on the removal of Greg Alexander from Bloomington’s traffic commission is now set for the city council’s April 12 meeting.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, Dave Rollo made a motion for Alexander’s removal, because of three posts on that Alexander made in November 2022.

The Tweets cited in Rollo’s motion read as follows:

“with all due respect, taking things away from elm heights *IS* exactly how the rest of the city gets help.”

“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?”

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

The Tweets came in the context of a council vote late last year to install a stop sign at Maxwell Lane and Sheridan Drive.

As a traffic commissioner, Alexander had opposed installation of the sign. The traffic commission as a group had recommended against the stop sign’s installation. Alexander sees the city council’s decision, which was contrary to the commission’s recommendation, as showing undue deference to the Elm Heights neighborhood.

The traffic commission is 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.

On Wednesday, the council postponed Rollo’s motion until April 12, in order to allow at least five business days for Alexander to respond in writing.

Postponement passed unanimously, but the motion itself drew complaint from councilmember Steve Volan, who asked: “How many times are we going to do this? I mean, Mr. Rollo has redone his motion twice now.”

Volan’s comment reflected the protracted nature of the council’s wrangling over the question of Alexander’s removal. The two-and-a-half-months-long saga started at the council’s second meeting of the year, on Jan. 18.

At its Jan. 18 meeting, Bloomington’s city council reappointed Alexander to a two-year term on the city’s traffic commission.

The question of Alexander’s appointment was put in front of the council at the Jan. 18 meeting, along with a raft of other appointments.

Alexander’s reappointment was not supported by two councilmembers—Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg—because they were aware of Alexander’s Tweets. Rollo voted no and Sandberg abstained on the whole slate of nominees.

At the council’s Feb. 1 meeting, Rollo made a motion to remove Alexander from the traffic commission. That motion was referred to the council committee on processes, which had been appointed at the council’s first meeting of the year by council president Sue Sgambelluri.

At the time, the committee’s work was not envisioned to include recommendations on procedures for removing members of boards and commissions.

The committee met three times in order to make recommendations about how to handle the situation. One of those recommendations was for Rollo to withdraw his Feb. 1 motion in favor of one that was more precise. The withdrawal of Rollo’s first motion took place a month later, at the council’s March 1 meeting.

At the March 1 meeting, Rollo made a new, more-detailed motion—which was supposed to receive a vote by the council at a future meeting, after Alexander had been given five days to respond in writing. But Rollo wound up withdrawing his March 1 motion on Alexander’s removal. It had become apparent during the March 1 meeting that when the time for a vote came, the motion was uncertain to pass.

This Wednesday’s motion from Rollo was even more detailed. In written form it took up two pages, and required more than five minutes to read aloud.

Rollo’s March 29 motion is different from his March 1 motion in a few different ways.

The March 1 motion gave as one of the causes for removal: “Sent unsolicited hand-written letters directly to members of the public who had appeared at Council meetings, which led to complaints and concerns from those members of the public.” The March 29 motion doesn’t mention the handwritten letters.

Rollo’s March 29 motion adds a Tweet that was not included in the March 1 motion. The additional Tweet reads: “with all due respect, taking things away from elm heights *IS* exactly how the rest of the city gets help.”

Rollo’s March 29 motion also adds a citation to the city’s employee manual, which was not included in the March 1 version. The relevant part of the manual, according to Rollo’s motion, says that employees can be fired for “any action that, whether or not a violation of a regularly established rule, regulation, or policy, is so deleterious to efficient City operations or to the public interest that discipline or discharge could reasonably expected to result.”

To apply the employee manual to members of boards and commissions would require a couple of logical steps. The manual applies to “volunteers.” If members of board and commissions are analyzed as volunteers for the city, then it would also apply to them.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty presided over the three meetings of the committee on council processes. On Wednesday Flaherty said that during the committee’s sessions, there was some discussion about making the city’s employee manual apply to members of boards and commissions—by adopting it as an ordinance or making it a part of a new board member’s orientation.

But during those committee meetings, there wasn’t legal advice given by the council’s staff that the employee personnel manual would apply to board and commission members, Flaherty said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Flaherty asked council attorney Stephen Lucas about the idea of applying the manual to members of boards and commissions. Lucas responded, “To the extent that members on boards and commissions could be considered volunteers. I believe Mr. Rollo felt that that was relevant to the council’s consideration.”

Flaherty followed up: “You just said ‘to the extent that board and commission members could be considered volunteers’. Is it your legal opinion that they are considered volunteers?” Flaherty continued, “I mean, you don’t have to answer that now. But that’s my question.”

Flaherty added, “I’m trying to do what’s legally correct with respect to this, but I think there is significant risk in a number of the accusations that have been made, of running afoul of Mr. Alexander’s rights, including constitutional rights.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, public comment was solidly for removal of Alexander from the traffic commission. Weighing in from the public mic for Alexander’s removal were Natalia Galvan, Chuck Livingston, and Eric Ost.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Volan noted that during one of the meetings held by the council committee on processes, traffic commissioner Sarah Ryterband had weighed in supporting Alexander’s continued service on the commission.

Ryterband reiterated similar sentiments at the traffic commission’s first meeting of the year, which took place last week, on March 22.

At the traffic commission’s March 22 meeting, Ryterband said, “I just wanted to express my deep disappointment that a common council member would malign a member of the traffic commission, who is doing an exemplary job as a traffic commissioner.” She continued, “I want Mr. Alexander to know that he has my absolute support.”

Ryterband added, “I am disappointed in his use of social media to express his personal opinions—not as a member of the traffic commission but as a person.”

About social media in general, Ryterband said, “For those who choose to go to social media as a way of communicating one to another, if you’re going to wade into a cesspool, you can expect to be dirty, and to find a lot of filth.” She concluded, “So I would suggest that that’s not the best way to communicate with other humans.”

7 thoughts on “Set for April 12: Possible city council vote on removal of Bloomington traffic commissioner because of social media posts

  1. “I’m trying to do what’s legally correct with respect to this, but I think there is significant risk in a number of the accusations that have been made, of running afoul of Mr. Alexander’s rights, including constitutional rights.”

    This is a red herring. No one is challenging Mr. Alexander’s right to express his opinions. What is being questioned is the proper behavior of an individual representing the City of Bloomington. An individual tasked with receiving and considering public input should not behave in such a way as to suppress attendance and public comment at city meetings.

    Ms. Ryterband is likely correct both about the value of Mr. Alexander’s substantive contributions and the cesspool nature of social media (which sometimes seems more to deserve the name “anti-social media”, based on secondhand reports). But finding fault with those who read profane and hateful posts rather than those who write them is a novel form of victim blaming.

    1. i think there is some confusion between whether a member of a volunteer commission represents the city, or advises it. i won’t be able to clear that up. 🙂

      oh i guess this comment isn’t really fruitful — it would have been more productive if i’d focused on what *actually* harms public involvement — but i just enjoyed trying to put my finger on the nuance:

      i don’t look at my responsibility towards the city or the traffic commission as a privilege for myself. i believe the council has the right to use political or arbitrary reasoning when filling commissions. i think you are correct that eliminating me from the commission is essentially not a harm done to me.

      but…the council chambers have become a public forum for people to air their grievances against me. now, i’m not a perfect actor, especially if you go back a few years i have wasted time talking against individuals directly (like, specifically, Cm Rollo). but for the most part i do not talk about individuals at council. i talk about programs, policies, decisions, official acts. individuals are inevitably involved in those things, but i’m not there to target the people. i learned that lesson slowly — i probably made it to 30 before i stopped believing that you can change an institution just by replacing the ‘bad’ people in it — but i’ve learned it by now.

      but there’s no veil here, there’s no semblance of interest in any substantive issues. they’re not accidentally stabbing me because i happen to be the guy standing behind a policy proposal that they hate. no one is making a case about the decisions made by the traffic commission. i’ve been extremely outspoken on the traffic commission and they’re not talking about it. they are literally using my name directly and saying i’m a bad person — the harm i’m doing is not specific it is merely by virtue of my personal attribute of being bad. there are irrelevant specific accusations. there is innuendo. there are falsehoods and willfull misrepresentations. there are misunderstandings and projections. double standards and in-group/out-group dynamics. it is severe and multi-faceted. there is a character assassination in progress, and at the council public comment podium!

      as a result of this limited decorum i have adopted for my own public persona in council chambers, i am not really in a position to defend myself from these accusations there. and i wouldn’t want to — “nuh uh, they started it by calling me names” is not my idea of a productive public comment when petitioning a government body! and some of the accusations, gosh…anyways, so there are now a large number of accusations sitting out there, unanswered.

      i’m not going to play the victim — i’m a publicly visible person and i don’t expect to do the work that i do without being attacked. but the council is working to avoid being perceived as rubber stamping wild accusations. if they appeared to base their decision on a body of accusations made against me that i have not been given an opportunity to refute, then it would be very easy for them to do actionable damage against me, defamation and so on.

      again, i’m not a victim, but someone in my position could be. and that’s the kind of thing this process is trying to avoid, as near as i can tell. by having an explicit motion establishing the scope of what they are considering, and then asking me to reply to it, they are establishing that they aren’t endorsing wild accusations made by other members of the public. it’s not so much a favor to me as covering their own asses. that’s why they don’t want to be seen to be taking action against an individual without a fig leaf of due process.

  2. I would suggest Mr Rollo and Ms Sandberg read

    “Against Civility: The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession with Civliity.” It’s available at MCPL.

    “In Against Civility, citizens who care deeply about racial and socioeconomic equality will see that they need to abandon this concept of discreet politeness when it comes to racial justice and instead more fully support disruptive actions and calls for liberation, which have already begun with movements like #MeToo, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, and Black Lives Matter.”

  3. I respect Dave Rollo and my friend Chuck Livingston, but I think everybody just needs to take a chill pill and grow thicker skin. Alexander did not give voice to his tweets in the context of a public meeting. Mouthing off on Twitter is probably in the “grand” tradition of Twitter, but it is a personal response, not representing the city of the commission. Of course it was not nice what he did. So what? I never thought I would be criticizing so-called cancel culture, but this is an example where it goes too far. The council should limit itself to the question of his performance as a member of the Traffic Commission. Period.

  4. “While civility is not silence, meanness is not success.” Stacy Abrams

    Stacey Abrams, founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, spoke in Detroit, Michigan May 29, 2019, and delivered a powerful keynote address on civility.

    “When you dehumanize to make your point, you are no longer arguing, you are demonizing, and that does not lead to civility but it also doesn’t lead to change.”

    Out of these lessons, Abrams summarized her approach to civility through three types of respect: respectful disagreement, respectful engagement, and respectful behavior.

    Respectful Disagreement
    Abrams’ idea of respectful disagreement is rooted in a responsibility to know what you believe, why you believe it and not to believe too much to ensure room for growth and understanding. Further, she explained the necessity of another important responsibility—to know what others believe and investigate why. From there, people can better work toward mutual solutions.

    Respectful Engagement
    Constructive engagement is not about conversion or making others believe what you believe. It’s about convincing behaviors to change and convincing others to work with you because they believe in your objective.

    Respectful Behavior
    To Abrams, civil does not mean silent. Action, even amid disagreement, can still be civil. She emphasized the importance of speaking up to right wrongs, but never by stooping to disrespectful tactics.

    “I will never take on the tropes and behavior of those who diminish me in order to lift myself or my ideas,” said Abrams. “While civility is not silence, meanness is not success.”

    Bess Lee:
    It is not one or the other.
    It is not them Vs. us
    It is something much more powerful, sustainable and can lead to profound change.
    I have tried to live as though you and I are equal and try, as best as I humanly can, to understand you.
    This new SLAM on civility is incredulous.
    I wonder: if these behaviors were being displayed by your opponent, would you be greatly dismayed? If yes, good.
    Humaneness is in all of us.
    It is the desire of humanity to be spoken to decently… there can be more potency and power in strong, steadfast decency than any other human characteristic. Why? Because it is fueled by the belief that love can be at the heart of all things.
    “When they go low, we go high’”
    Michele Obama

    1. “It is the desire of humanity to be spoken to decently”

      Bess – as i said in my letter, i truly am grateful to you for so clearly framing the thing that i oppose. i hope you understood that when i write “thanks!” i mean it with gratitude.

      some of us want more than decent words. 6 months ago, a guy was killed riding a scooter in a bike lane that i use — that my wife used to use, that my kids will someday use — a half mile from my house. the city engineer reported on the fatality, he said that there’s a technical fix he could use to make these kinds of deaths less likely but he can’t do it because of the highly politicized process of road design. instead of providing safety for all road users, the city’s only actual response to that fatality was to ban scooters at night. but i still use that bike lane at night!

      i’m mad as heck and i’d go through a million harsh words — giving or receiving, it makes no nevermind to me — to influence that violent reality. i don’t go to city council to share “a good moment”.

  5. It seems unfair to remove Mr Alexander for standards that don’t exist. Write policies and procedures so everyone knows expectations. If this is so important why drag this out so long.

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