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.”