Feisty final mayoral forum for Bloomington Dems

Three candidates are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor of Bloomington: Don Griffin; Susan Sandberg and Kerry Thomson.

No Republicans have declared.

On Monday night, some pre-forum banter among the three seemed a bit more relaxed than for previous events. During their small talk, the trio managed to conjure up an imaginary scenario involving a ukulele duet and parachute pants.

Monday’s forum took place in the auditorium of the Monroe County Public Library.

The event was hosted by the city’s police union (FOP Lodge #88), the fire union (Bloomington Metropolitan Firefighters Union Local #586) and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Local #2487. Questions came from union members.

Putting the questions to the candidates was moderator Amy Swain, who is Monroe County’s elected recorder.

Monday’s event was the last scheduled forum before Primary Election Day, which is May 2, now just a week away.

The candidates were relaxed enough to make light-hearted smalltalk, but were also confident enough to engage each other in a lively, pointed way.

The question of city audits proved contentious.

Thomson stated that the city of Bloomington hasn’t had an audit “in years.”

Griffin responded by saying, “Kerry doesn’t know what she’s talking about in regards to this.” He pointed out that the city of Bloomington had received an audit for its 2020 books.

The 2020 audit was done by a private firm, RSM US, selected by Indiana’s State Board of Accounts (SBA)  It was just recently released by the SBA, in early February 2023.

Given time to rebut, Thomson countered, “I have managed multi-million dollar budgets. I have done that under the direction of a board of directors much like a city council,” Thomson continued, “I understand the checks and balances. And that’s why you get an audit.”

Thomson criticized the city council, which includes Sandberg, when she said, “For the life of me, I can’t understand how the council has continued to approve budgets without seeing an audit.” Thomson added, “A private audit can be done as soon as you close the books, you do not have to wait for the State Board of Accounts.”

Sandberg defended herself by citing the limitations she’s worked under as a long-time city councilmember within the strong-mayor system. “I think it helps to have experience on the city council to know what the city council can and cannot do with regard to a strong mayor system,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg continued, “When you are one of nine on the city council, and you are dealing with something that is a $230-million budget, it would be irresponsible at the end of all of the budget negotiations, all the departmental hearings that we have, for us to scuttle that budget and vote no on the budget.”

In responding to Sandberg’s defense, Thomson said, “I will always look at what we can do, and instead of what we can’t do”. She continued, “That’s what leadership is about. It’s not about a strong mayor system and keeping people in their place.”

Thomson then alluded to a point of Sandberg’s standard background bio—which includes the fact that Sandberg served four times during her 17-years on the city council as president of the council. “If you have four times been president of the city council—the work happens between the meetings. We have to start building bridges and consensus, before we get to a yes or no vote,” Thomson said.

In her initial remarks about audits, Thomson said, “As a leader, I have never closed the books without promptly starting an audit.” She added, “I have all three of the living former mayors on my team—they’re actively giving me feedback and advice.”

About those three former mayors—Tomi Allison, John Fernandez and Mark Kruzan—Thomson said, “All of them engaged private audits and did not wait for the State Board of Accounts. It’s not an excuse that the taxpayers…should accept.”

Griffin took Thomson’s reference to former mayors as an opening to criticize one of former city executives, but did not name him. “And bringing up one of the mayor’s endorsed you, who lost almost $2 million…of taxpayers’ money—probably not a good idea.”

After the forum, Griffin confirmed to The B Square that the episode he was referring to was the embezzlement scandal involving engineering project manager Justin Wykoff, under the Kruzan administration. A Herald-Times news report from 2015 pegged the amount  at around $440,000.

A forum question about COVID-19 vaccines and insurance rate reflected a historical sore point for many union members. The city’s vax-or-test policy was something that had been subjected to collective bargaining, which had prompted a lawsuit over that point.  That lawsuit was eventually resolved through a settlement agreement.

But the city still maintains a policy under which employees who don’t get a COVID-19 vaccine pay higher insurance premiums than those who do get vaccinated. The question put to candidates at Monday’s forum was this: As mayor, will you stop this practice of a two-tiered system of insurance costs for city employees?

Fielding the question first was Griffin, who just said, “I’m not sure. That’s it.”

Sandberg and Thomson conveyed similar sentiments.

Sandberg said, “I can understand wanting to encourage and incentivize people to the best of their ability to get vaccinations and to get protected, especially those that are in direct contact with the public.” She continued, “I think as the COVID crisis seems to be diminishing and in the rearview mirror, I think we definitely need to take a look at that policy.” She added, “I think a two-tiered policy—people can certainly make the case that it is not fair and give certain people an advantage over others.”

Thomson said, “I think Susan spoke very well.” Thomson continued, “The reality is that a two-tiered system really creates a dichotomy among employees. And I think it’s worth looking at what we can do, to really even the playing fields, not by decreasing health.”

Thomson said that before making a decision she wants to know what the cost differential is, and how many employees the policy affects. Thomson said she is “willing to learn and hear from all sides of this.”

Strategy for soliciting contributions to their campaigns was the topic of a question at Monday night’s forum.

With about $55,000 in contributions, Sandberg has raised the least of the candidates. She said about 96 percent of her donors are from the city of Bloomington, adding, “And that’s the way I wanted it.” Sandberg said she made an early pledge that she would not accept money from big developers.

Sandberg called her campaign “modest,” but said, “We have enough to get our message out.”

Thomson has raised the most of the three, at around $200,000. Thomson said that she’d been told that she’d need to raise a significant sum, because she’s a political outsider. She continued, “I committed myself to doing that, and to ensuring that I could talk to people that I had been working with for a long time—who trusted my leadership and asked them to support me in this new leadership endeavor.” Thomson said, “ I’ve done a great job at that—I have more than 200 donors now.”

Thomson added that she’d been knocking on doors more than 20 hours a week, saying, “I will be a leader who works hard for the people of Bloomington.” She wrapped up saying, “I frankly think that you deserve a mayor who will attract the resources to accomplish a vision and get it done exceedingly well. That’s what our city deserves.”

Griffin has raised about $73,000. About achieving his budget, which he described as “modest,” Griffin said, “I’m pretty much there.” He added that he’s raised all of that money since December 2022.

Sandberg and Thomson got an earlier start, forming their committees in June 2022.

Referring to Thomson’s fundraising total, Griffin said, “I don’t need $200,000 to win this race, and get my point across.”

Griffin referred implicitly to Thomson’s paid consultants saying, “I don’t need to spend $100,000 on messaging from New York and California, because my messaging is from here—because I’m from here.”

At Monday’s forum, advocates for facilities dedicated to bicycle safety, and to calming motorized traffic, probably didn’t hear a lot from any of the three candidates that gave them much reason to be encouraged.

The forum question went like this: Will you be willing to work with your emergency service employees on adjusting or removing excessive roadway obstacles, such as traffic calming devices, or the narrowing of vehicle lanes, that seem to be put in place without a thought as to how they might hinder emergency vehicle operation?

Griffin didn’t rule it out, saying, “I think that’s on a case by case basis.” Griffin continued, “I think, in the future, if collaboration isn’t happening through engineering and planning then it needs to be.”

Griffin indicated he is not inclined to just dismantle infrastructure that had already been installed: “Now, there are reasons for traffic calming devices that have been put in place. So I’d like to talk to the engineers before saying that things need to be changed.”

Sandberg took the question as a chance to express her opposition to the idea of prioritizing bicyclists and pedestrians, saying that streets should be complete for all users.

Sandberg was especially critical of the recently constructed 7-Line separated bicycle lane. “We’ve got to be smart about our engineering,” Sandberg said. She continued, “We can’t overly engineer these projects that are just meant to help one particular user of the streets, that causes issues for another.”

Thomson questioned the decision making process for traffic calming projects and projects like the 7-Line: “I’m just wondering why emergency services aren’t at the table when we’re making these massive decisions,” Thomson said. She asked, “Why are we not asking the people who need a critical path through our city to keep us safe?” Thomson added, “It’s absurd to me that we don’t have all the parties at the table.”

[CATS video: April 24, 2023 city unions mayoral forum]

17 thoughts on “Feisty final mayoral forum for Bloomington Dems

  1. From serving on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission, we discussed bike, ped and traffic calming projects with the planning and engineering staff before they were installed.

    And yes, and it was standard to consult fire department, who has the largest vehicles, about designs where there might be concerns.

    I see this brought up sometimes by opponents of the designs as a suspicion, but so far I haven’t seen evidence that the engineering staff didn’t consider emergency vehicles in designs.

  2. I found the ridiculous question about removing traffic calming devices at 0:50:37 of the CATS video. The candidates should’ve laughed this question off. Whoever wrote it did not cite a single, specific example of how traffic calming measures have impeded emergency vehicle access. The entire premise is a trap, luring candidates into pitting fire/police/EMS against car dieting land-use. This is a false dichotomy. We can have streets that are safe to walk and cycle in AND that allow emergency vehicle access. Don’t listen to salty cops that simply want their dominance via car reinstated.

    Griffin wisely pointed out that these traffic calming decisions are made in consultation with various people, including city traffic engineering and emergency services.
    Sandberg’s fear mongering about the 7-Line is disappointing, but expected.
    Thomson speculated about whether emergency services were included in the conversation (they were for the 7-Line), taking the bait.
    Essentially, a microcosm of this mayoral race.

    1. “Don’t listen to salty cops that simply want their dominance via car reinstated.”

      I don’t think ignoring the police is a position the Griffin campaign wanted revealed.

  3. Summary:

    Traffic calming measures involving vertical deflection are intentionally designed to force vehicles (cars, trucks, bicycles, escooters, etc.) to slow in order to pass over the constructed device comfortably.

    This slowing results in longer response times for emergency services vehicles. The magnitude of the slowing depends on multiple factors.

    Further discussion and details are found in the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration document at


    This document includes:

    In 2012, the International Fire Code (IFC) was updated to specifically address traffic calming and to better ensure coordination with the fire department during traffic calming implementation. IFC Section 503.4.1 states that traffic calming measures placed on fire apparatus access roads “shall be prohibited unless approved by the fire code official.”

    The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provides codes and standards to protect from the danger of fires. The NFPA has many standards relating to a wide range of topics. Standard 1141, titled “Standard for Fire Protection Infrastructure for Land Development in Wildland, Rural, and Suburban Areas,” addresses traffic calming. In Section A.5.2.18, NFPA 1141 states that prior to installation of traffic calming, the authority having jurisdiction “should work with the emergency response departments to ensure traffic calming devices can be negotiated by emergency response vehicles in a safe and timely manner without damage to those vehicles.”

    Implementation of traffic calming should be coordinated with the fire department to comply with local interpretations and requirements of the fire code standards. The International Association of Fire Chiefs agrees that fire officials and engineers will need to collaborate on traffic calming installations to “meet traffic-engineering needs and include the least impact on response time to emergencies.”i

    Measures with Vertical Deflection

    A traffic calming measure that causes vertical deflection to a motorist passing over it forces the motorist to slow in order to pass over the measure comfortably. This slowing of an emergency services vehicle results in longer response time. The magnitude of the slowing depends on multiple factors.

    The following vertical deflection measures have the potential to negatively affect fire vehicles and are typically contentious with fire departments:

    Speed hump
    Speed table
    Raised intersection
    Raised crosswalk

    The Guidelines for the Design and Application of Speed Humps published by ITE, which provides guidelines for the most common traffic calming measure, has detailed many of the existing studies relating to emergency response delay associated with vertical traffic calming measures. The document recommends not installing speed humps on roadways that are primary or routine emergency vehicle routes. Other methods used by cities, and mentioned in the guidelines to minimize conflict with fire vehicles, include limiting the height of speed humps.

    Damage to fire vehicles is another concern of fire departments. Opinions by some critics in the 1990s and early 2000s were that traffic calming measures caused damage to fire vehicles.ii For example, the stress of traveling over speed humps could lead to increased repairs and shorter vehicle life. However, the early studies found no data to substantiate the claims.iii In addition, isolating the exact cause of wear and tear on a vehicle can be difficult, whether it was caused by the relatively infrequent crossing of speed humps or the crossing of other frequent undulations in a roadway network, such as potholes, manhole covers, drainage dips, etc.

    Two vertical deflection measures have been developed specifically to accommodate fire vehicles. These measures should be considered in a location where mobility of fire vehicles is a high priority:

    Speed cushion (also known as speed slot, speed lump, and speed pillow)
    Offset speed table

    1. Thanks for sharing some facts about traffic calming and emergency vehicles.

      People throw around “But what about emergency vehicles?!” in response to projects were vertical deflection is not even involved, like the 7-Line or with just an assumption that the planning and engineering staff had never considered it. As you found, it’s standard practice to consider emergency vehicles on traffic calming conditions projects.

  4. I thought Kerry would know better. A non profit board and its executive director are nothing like a Mayor and city council. A non-profit board hires and fires and supervises the executive director. Nothing like city council and mayor. There are different laws for audits of 501 c 3s, which the city is not

  5. Mr. Griffin again seems the most logical and informed candidate of the three mayoral hopefuls. To plan to start tearing out traffic calming devices because some people complain about the need to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe seems very shortsighted since global warming will require more of both in our transportation mix. And by the comments I’ve read it seems all interested parties were consulted before roadways were modified.
    Still, I can’t imagine anyone living in Bloomington not voting for Mr. Griffin as he has the foresight to want to continue the modest annexation proposals put forth by our current mayor to include those living in the donut and fringe areas of our city in our tax base. As one candidate suggested she would make annexation voluntary, I hope she gives everyone currently paying city taxes the opportunity to opt out if we decide we don’t want to pay our city taxes. Bloomington taxpayers in conjunction with our government have made our city one of the most vibrant, inviting, and culturally exciting places to live in Indiana and with Mr. Griffin in charge I think that will continue to be the case.

  6. It will be a pity if the next mayor tries to roll back the progress we’ve made in supporting bikes and pedestrians and discouraging single-occupant car trips as specified in the transportation plan.

    1. During the pandemic the city administration has taken an East Third Street that was already a traffic jam when Indiana University when School is open. And instead of improving it like the Bypass. Instead it’s even more C F because they added bicycle lanes instead. Plus they are building over 700 units of apartments on the old K Mart property. The Bill C Brown is also a multi million complex

      1. That section of 3rd Street is also State Road 46 and is managed by the state. That was INDOT’s project. The state traffic engineers looked at current and projected traffic volumes and determined they could improve motorist safety and still meet “Level of Service” goals for traffic flow with two travel lanes and a dedicated turn lane. I use that turn lane and appreciate it. The design results in some leftover space on the road, hence the bike lanes.

  7. Susan Sandberg just sealed it for me. I will absolutely not vote for her. She clearly has no priority of fighting climate change or promoting environmental sustainability if she thinks that the streets should give cars equal footing to bicycles and pedestrians. She really does want to take Bloomington back 40 or 50 years. But part of being a progressive is supporting progress, and sometimes progress means making difficult changes. You can’t have it all. You can’t have lots of cars and reduce climate emissions. You can’t encourage bicycles and walkers if the streets are unsafe for them. You can’t restrict apartments and duplexes close to downtown and save the open lands on the outskirts of town and provide enough housing for everyone. Susan is a contradiction and doesn’t seem to understand the implications of her own policies.

    Also, as someone who lived on South Lincoln street for many years, I can tell you that the WORST speeders were the police cars who would roar down the street at speeds in excess of the speed limit. Not with lights on. Not with sirens on. Just because there were several blocks without stop signs and they could. The traffic calming devices helped that dramatically.

    Also, yes, Kerry Thompson does not seem to recognize that running a non-profit and running a city are two different things.

    I don’t love Don Griffin. There are many things he has said that I disagree with him on. But he’s the only one who seems to have a grasp on how the city runs and also how to manage development in a sustainable way.

    1. Um… electric cars are a thing, aren’t they? They should be included in transportation planning, too, shouldn’t they? Did I miss a rousing endorsement of the internal combustion engine by Sanderg, or something?

      1. Smart Allecky comment but I’ll respond, as an electric car owner. First, the Biden Administrations stated goal is that by 2030 50% of new vehicles sold will be electric. This is great news, but we will continue to have a huge number of gas powered cars emitting carbon dioxide. And even though electric cars are much preferable to gas, they are not perfect. They too use electricity, which right now in Indiana is primarily coal. Projections show that drivers will continue to choose larger SUVs and trucks over smaller cars as those are created in electric versions, which poses an incredible danger to pedestrians and bicyclists. Cars are dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians, and the heavier the vehicle, the more dangerous. Tens of thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians are killed each year, and electric vehicles will not solve this problem. The only solution is to provide infrastructure to protect them. Many studies have shown, and years of implementation in places like Denmark and the Netherlands have demonstrated, that bicycle infrastructure that segregated bicycles from cars makes it much safer. Safer lanes make it more likely people will ride their bikes. More people on bikes means it’s safer for all bicyclists because cars are more aware of their presence and calibrate their driving accordingly. Also more people on bikes means less need for parking spaces, a perennial problem. So, no, this is not about the combustible engine versus electric vehicles, this is about looking at the problem as a whole and recognizing that by “equalizing” car transport we are in fact favoring it.

  8. the comments on this article are fantastic! i love you all.

    i am always excited to see someone mentioning Wykoff and his embezzlement. that was an important moment to me because the complete failure of the mayor and the head of Public Works to supervise the engineering division created a lot of problems that were even more significant than half a million in stolen money.

    i will absolutely 100% be voting for Griffin but nonetheless i thought it was a poor “glass houses” moment for him because under Hamilton’s administration, Parks overtly and with political forethought stole $3.4M from the bike and ped budget by boldly lying to the council when getting approval for the 2018B series bicentennial bonds. that’s way huger than what Wykoff was convicted of, though it’s probably less than the amount that Wykoff wasted on car-centric designs that later had to be ripped out and done over (for example, Hillside & Henderson — what a revolution in character that intersection experienced after Wykoff was thrown out!)

    as for the fire truck access at traffic calming…i’m gonna just go a step beyond the other comments here: the question was founded on a bold lie. engineering absolutely considers fire truck access for every bike and ped project. the idea that they don’t is a willful distortion of reality for a harmful end. our engineers have basically given up on the idea of achieving safe travel speeds on all of the busiest classes of our roads. and even in roads where they feel a mandate to reduce travel speeds, they still base the design around fire trucks. again and again, i ask, “why is this design so half-hearted?” and someone from planning or from engineering responds to me with some form of “because that’s what survived review by the fire department.”

    (parks department, economic sustainable development, and public works also seem to have inappropriate veto power over efforts to prioritize safe travel speeds, isn’t that crazy. oh! and, elm heights neighborhood association does too. i don’t mean to single out the fire department!)

  9. can you imagine going to a town hall meeting with don griffin as mayor and him telling a citizen that they do not know what they are talking about!! mr know it all.

    not ready for primetime.

  10. I want to thank Bloomington Bsquare for allowing a healthy debate in the comments section and providing the best coverage in Bloomington of the upcoming election. The former H-T did provide a forum for discussion of policies and candidates, but has failed completely under their current owners. We are fortunate to have the Bsquare keeping democracy alive.

    1. +1 on this comment. I’ve never felt so informed and engaged on the local elections and on the functioning of our city and county government until BSquare (nor so dismayed with how it actually functions, but that’s another story). This site is a true treasure to Bloomington.

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